Brief Encounters

Bad Boys II, The Cremaster Cycle, Garage Days, Mule Skinner Blues, The Sky Is Watching, and The True Meaning of Pictures.

BAD BOYS II Opens Fri., July 18, at Metro and others Well, you bitch long enough about the death of the bitterly homophobic, hard-R, buddy-cop shoot-'em-up, and finally Michael Bay returns with a camera on one shoulder and a grenade launcher on the other. 1995's Bad Boys gave Bay license to "direct" Armageddon, Will Smith the freedom to sabotage every Fourth of July with a smarmy sci-fi blockbuster, and, worst of all, Martin Lawrence another 15 minutes of infamy. This sequel is the nadir of all three unholy careers splattering midair, a curiously addictive orgy of ultraviolence and contemptuous, multiracial button pushing. Miami detectives Smith and Lawrence are charged with busting a Cuban ecstasy kingpin. Every 15 minutes, they blast through an overstuffed turkey of a mini-movie, as Bay cops David Fincher's obnoxious "first-person shooter" approach from Panic Room, mostly to follow hollow tips ripping through foreheads and ass cheeks. Only the leads' hyperactive, inspired Lethal Weapon-style sniping justifies this lurid 140-minute nightmare. (R) ANDREW BONAZELLI THE CREMASTER CYCLE Runs Fri., July 18-Thurs., July 24, at Varsity Now that you've seen last week's Cremaster 3 and are caught up in the whole hysteria surrounding Matthew Barney ("the most important artist of his generation," per The New York Times' Michael Kimmelman), it's time to check out the other four installments of the Cremaster cycle. What are these films about? Hell, what are they not about? For starters, they're not about Björk, with whom Barney had a baby daughter last fall. But they are about biology and reproduction; more specifically, they're all linked by Barney's fascination with the process of sexual differentiationhow male and female forms emerge from the womb, with gonads either ascended (female) or descended (male). And we all know, having done our homework, how the cremaster muscle controls the testicles' rise and fall. Cremaster 1 (1995, 40 min.) is pure Busby Berkeleychorines marching in formation on blue AstroTurf in an empty stadium. Above, in twin Goodyear blimps, elaborately coifed and composed '50s stewardess figures lounge about like models in a Robert Palmer video. Beneath a grape-laden table, a blonde (Marti Domination) awkwardly, painstakingly swipes the fruit, then arranges it in patterns that the chorines follow. There's a similar striving for shape throughout the Cremaster cycle. In part 2 (1999, 79 min.), Gary Gilmore (Barney) defines himself through violence (a gas-station murder). Then, before the firing squad, he undergoes a metamorphosis like that of Houdini (Norman Mailer), who boasts of becoming the cage from which he escapes. The same notion of becoming-transcending informs Cremaster 4 (1994, 42 min.), which intercuts between motorcycle sidecar racers (covered with creeping gonads) and a tap-dancing dandy of a red-haired satyr (Barney) with budding horns. Parts 1 and 4 are the most fun in the cycle: strange, bracing, and new; not at all dull or pretentious. But Barney's concluding part 5 (1997, 54 min.) feels exhausted, cluttered with borrowed formsopera, the proscenium arch, classical Budapest architecture, Ursula Andressalthough filled with lovely tableaus. In part 4, the motorcycles are tied to testicles that refuse to descend; here it's pigeons that strain to do the job, yet still the director won't let them. His films are about the urge toward definition, but not definition itself. They're inconclusive and unstable, like the Vaseline he uses to construct ephemeral props and sculptures. By turns gooey, gorgeous, gory, and great (though never consistently so), the Cremaster cycle succeeds by never succumbing to a final shape. (NR) BRIAN MILLER GARAGE DAYS Opens Fri., July 18, at Varsity Ever noticed how well-off most of the people in "struggling young bands" are when depicted in the movies? The newest film from Alex Proyas (Dark City) will have you wondering just how much better the economy is in Australia compared to the United States. The made-for-MTV Days follows the members of an inept but incredibly photogenic Sydney band and their idiot manager/roadie (Russell Dykstra) as they fall in and out of love with one another. Chief among these star-crossed lovers are singer Freddy (David Spade look-alike Kick Gurry) and Kate (Maya Stange), the pregnant ex- girlfriend of guitarist Joe (Brett Stiller). The movie's primary joke is that the band is actually terriblewhich is how you know the film isn't American. Because if it were, the band would sound exactly the same, but we'd be told it was actually good. (R) MICHAELANGELO MATOS MULE SKINNER BLUES Runs Thurs., July 17-Sun., July 20, at Little Theatre Though this 2001 documentary's premise (amateurs making a movie) and setting (a Florida trailer park) aren't particularly original, its eccentric subjects set this film apart. Most notable is Beanie, who's a lot like that friendly old man with poor hygiene who plops down next to you on the bus and just won't stop yakking: At first you wish he'd leave you alone, but by the end of the ride, you kind of want to take him to lunch. At times, Blues is frustratingly slow; its monologues overflow with truisms; and the shaky handheld cinematography is nausea-inducing. But whether you roll your eyes, giggle, gag, or wince at their quirks, Beanie and his gang offer a compelling glimpse into the world of Southern povertywhich, like this film, is not something you'll encounter frequently. Thank God. (NR) KENNEDY LEAVENS THE SEA IS WATCHING Opens Fri., July 18, at Seven Gables Akira Kurosawa wrote this just before his 1998 death. While no masterpiece, it's got some nice stuff in it. We start in a 19th-century bordello full of geisha-garbed hookers with hearts of gold. The softest heart, of course, beats in the breast of the cutest and most virtuous hooker, O-Shin. She keeps falling in love with clients, despite Madame's daily warnings. First up is a samurai who flees into her arms after stabbing a pal in a fight. She hides him; he breaks her heart, though he doesn't mean to. Then another samurai falls into her life, and history repeats itself. (The movie could be called Geishas Who Love Samurais Too Much.) The draw here isn't the desultory story, but the absorbing characters, great outfits, and lovely imagesthe bordello isn't as pretty as the house in Raise the Red Lantern, but it's reminiscent. A sensational-looking hurricane whips up to give the film an out-of-nowhere finale. (R) TIM APPELO THE TRUE MEANING OF PICTURES: SHELBY LEE ADAMS' APPALACHIA Runs Thurs., July 17-Sun., July 20, at Little Theatre The rest of the country has long mocked and maligned the residents of Eastern Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains. They're stereotyped as inbred, moonshine-drinking, violent hillbillies, obstinately clinging to a backward culture fostered by generations of poverty and isolation. Photographer Shelby Lee Adams, who grew up in the region, has chronicled these people in startling black-and-white images for some three decades, as reflected in this documentary. He claims he's trying to restore some dignity to Eastern Kentucky with his art and that his subjectsmany of whom are like family to himhave no complaints about how he portrays them. Some critics accuse Adams of demeaning the mountain residents; and to a viewer only familiar with Deliverance-style clichés, the images may confirm such stereotypes. The critics have a point, but Adams' articulate defense is also convincing. It's the kind of debate where you find yourself agreeing with whoever is talking. This worthwhile doc will make you think hard about cultural relativism and the limits and responsibilities of making art. (NR) K.L.

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