Runs Fri., Jan. 23-Sun., Jan. 25, at Little Theatre
Sold into the vast Southeast Asian sex trade at ages as young as 10, the half-dozen women interviewed in this devastatingly frank documentary have survived unimaginable abuse, often perpetrated by foreign businessmen. Yet somehow, director Gayle Ferraro keeps her cool, laying the voices of subjects' testimony over traveloguelike images of the cities and villages of Burma and Thailand, with increasingand perhaps unfair emphasis on its leering male population. At one point, 17-year-old ZuZu, first raped at age 10, looks into the camera and says, "I wonder what English-speaking people will think of this. Please don't think badly of me." (NR) CHUCK WILSON
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Opens Fri., Jan. 23, at Varsity and others
Or, Dude, Where's My Long-Term Memory? The premise: Ashton Kutcher has come unstuck in time. His college-student character, Evan, evidently suffered frequent blackouts during a childhood littered with suburban horror. Apparently, he saw the pedophile father (Eric Stoltz) of his sweetheart, Kayleigh (Amy Smart), set up scenes for a kiddie-porn home movie, then lost consciousness. He also seems to have witnessed the buildup to an explosion that killed a mother and child, then he looked on as Kayleigh's psycho brother prepared to burn a dog alive. Yet these traumatic events remain curiously unseen in Butterfly, because Evan can't remember them. So after a long prepubescent prelude in which Evan is played by child actors, it's time for our hero to finally piece together his fucked-up past (courtesy of several effective time-travel/alternate-universe sequences), right the aforementioned wrongs, and safeguard his future.
New Line is billing Butterfly as an "intriguing new direction" for Kutcher, but the film merely proves that even child actors can kick his himbo ass on-screen. The kind of existential sci-fi concepts brought to vibrant life in adaptations of Borges and Dick are dumbed down here to Kutcher level. It's a shame the movie's central device isn't realif the producers could go back in time and replace Kutcher with Billy Crudup, then plop M. Night Shyamalan in the director's chair, we might have the potential for something memorable. As it is, Butterfly becomes just another unpleasant experience to repress. In fact, I've forgotten it already. (R) NEAL SCHINDLER
Opens Sat., Jan. 24, at Big Picture
What sounds like the dullest documentary ever madeabout an American power company bringing electricity to Tbilisi, Georgiaturns out to be a fascinating and timely examination of how Western free-market thinking collides with Third World reality. The Third World? Yes, that's about how far Georgia slid after gaining independence in the early '90s, thanks largely to the corruption of recently deposed president Eduard Shevardnadze. We meet an earnest and surprisingly idealistic band of AES-Telasi workers and managers in 1999, then follow them through the next three-odd years of successes and (more frequently) failures. Ponytailed Brit Piers Lewis is the unlikely hero of the story, in whichmore unlikely still, for a documentarywe're actually rooting for capitalism to take hold. The country literally jumps from abacus to laptop.
Several English-speaking Georgians work for AES, or speak from their positions in the media, and it's impossible not to like them, toono matter how weary and cynical they've become after centuries of invasion and oppression. (Russia was only the most recent in a long line of occupiers). The Shevardnadze government won't pay for the electricity it steals from the people, causing the impoverished peopleunaccustomed to individual bill payingto demonstrate against AES. Poor Piers and his colleagues are caught in the middle. As he says of the company's bold plans, "It's really coming togetheras the country, unfortunately, is not." (NR) BRIAN MILLER
Runs Fri., Jan. 23-Thurs., Jan. 29, at Varsity
Recently, The New York Times more or less appointed Satoshi Kon to the throne of Japanese anime. Well, sorry, no. Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) may say he's not going to make any more animated films, but Miyazaki's brilliant Studio Ghibli partner Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) hasn't sworn off, Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop) is just hitting his stride, Yoshiyaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll) is not chopped liver . . . oh, never mind. Kon got off to a late but great start as an anime director with Perfect Blue, a twisty little thriller that used the medium brilliantly. His 2003 follow-up, Millenium Actress, was less imaginative and more conventional, but you still couldn't have done it live-action for less than $200 million.
Godfathers, by contrast, could have been made just as easily and just as well as a live-action flickand has been so done, in fact, at least three times (including once by John Ford, in 1948's 3 Godfathers, starring John Wayne). Instead of Old West outlaws nurturing a orphaned baby, here we have a homeless wino, a transvestite, and a teenage runaway in snowbound modern Tokyo. "Adult" situations, salty language, and graphic brutality provide a tough surface to a narrative and a sensibility of pure nougat. Don't get me wrong it's first-class nougat. If you can stomach the sentiment-drenched Capra of Lady for a Day or the strenuous fancifulness of Death Takes a Holiday or Harvey, you may get a kick out of Godfathers. It certainly shows us a side of modern Japan we're not likely to see otherwise. As animation, however, it shrinks the envelope. (NR) ROGER DOWNEY
WIN A DATE WITH TAD HAMILTON!
Opens Fri., Jan. 23, at Kirkland Park Place and others
Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth) has the worst last name in the world and a huge crush on matinee idol Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). She watches his movies and weeps and squeals while her best friend/secret admirer, Pete (Topher Grace), sits loyally beside her, sinking ever lower in his seat. As the title implies, Rosalee is about to experience the thrill of dating Tadafter winning an online contest, the West Virginia ingenue gets whisked off to big, bad Hollywood, barely absorbing Pete's advice to guard her "carnal treasure." What makes Date fun is that the stereotypes we're primed to sniff out the jaded movie star, the innocent heartland girlare exposed as illusions early on. Rosalee's no fool. She knows Tad's game but plays along for a while, just to see how it feels to date a star. Tad, for his part, is not the scabrous cad we initially take him for, just a handsome, clueless guy in search of happiness.
Bosworth may look like Malibu Barbie, but she handily balances Rosalee's wide-eyed perception of Tinseltown with the kind of realism that small-town life engenders. Grace, meanwhile, makes scrawny, besotted Peteanother key figure in the mainstreaming of Geek Allurean underdog to root for. That's not because the formula tells us to, but because he's genuinely endearing (as indicated by the chantilly sighs of countless women at the sneak preview). Date's only misstep is the inclusion of bit parts for Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes; their superfluous "comic relief" (as Tad's agent and manager, respectively) just distracts from the charming heart of the story. But all is forgiven; with enough smart, quirky writing for 10 typical romantic comedies, this sweet fable is a probable sleeper hitand the year's first real date movie. (PG-13) N.S.