Close Your Eyes
Opens Fri., April 23, at Meridian and Metro
The title of this stale-off-the-shelf British occult serial-killer flick invites the obvious joke, but even following the suggestion in the title won't make this film any less ludicrous, because you'd still have to hear it. A somewhat shady American therapist with borderline clairvoyant powers (ER's Goran Visnjic) is living a seedy existence in London, helping people quit smoking via hypnosis, while his very pregnant wife (LOTR's Miranda Otto, taking three career steps backward) nags about their financial prospects. (They also have a daughter of 10 or so, who might as well have "third-act victim" stamped on her forehead.) One of the psychic's patients is a low-level cop (Shirley Henderson from Intermission), who discovers his mind-reading powers. She's minding a mute 11-year-old girl who's been traumatized by her encounter with "the tattoo murderer," who preys upon such innocent lasses. Naturally the shrink winds up helping her with the case.
From there, Eyes falls into standard police procedural stuff of the sort done much better on TV, overlaid with a patina of black magic, immortal 16th-century French heretics, body snatching, and paranormal mumbo-jumbo likely to remain unsurpassed in sheer ridiculousness until the Exorcist sequel arrives. Periodically, through the shrink's sessions with the mute girl, we take somewhat interesting CGI–tweaked journeys back into her occult ordeal. Then we have to grapple with his considerably less interesting memories of his own trauma back . . . in . . . Seattle!
In a movie this bad, you're almost overjoyed at that special little nugget of extra badness, which arrives when the hypnotist explains how a Seattle patient of his tragically died. Freed from aquaphobia, the kid promptly went for a swim in the nearest lake, where he drowned, Visnjic glumly intones, because in April, "the ice had only just melted." Which reminds me that I ought to put my furs and sealskins into summer storage about now. I think I see the glaciers receding from Capitol Hill. (R) BRIAN MILLER
Confessions of a Burning Man
Opens Fri., April 23, at Big Picture
People who attend Burning Man put a lot of effort into making it as hard as possible to describe. (I've been there myself four times.) Trying to pin it down in a sentence, or even in a 90-minute documentary, is quixotic. It seems untrue to the event's anarchic spirit. Then again, making pronouncements about what is and isn't true to the event's anarchic spirit is itself untrue . . . etc., etc. You see where this is going.
Burning Man is an annual campout in the northwestern Nevada desert during the week before Labor Day; there, its residents (30,500 people last year) build a temporary utopian city. It's a post-apocalyptic state fair, Mardi Gras on Tatooine—the snappy metaphors are many, most ending with the words "on acid." Guidelines are few: You're responsible for bringing everything you need and taking out all trash you generate; no exchange of money is allowed; no spectators, only participants; bring something to share, preferably art.
Filmmakers Paul Barnett and Unsu Lee attended in 2001, following around four virgin Burners who transformed (as so many do) from bewildered gawkers to proselytizers. Granted, Barnett and Lee had to spray a light coating of narrative arc on the experience, otherwise it wouldn't be a film, just footage. But their instincts are sharp: Whenever Confessions is threatening to turn into The Real World: Nevada, they cut back to the random surrealism the fest provides in abundance—a minibus covered in yellow fur, perhaps, or a chess set made out of dildos.
One lesson I've gleaned from Burning Man: Abandon your preconceptions. Your first impressions of the documentary subjects here will probably be wrong. Among them, Kevin, an inner-city filmmaker and rapper—i.e., a keepin'-it-real badass escaping the hood—comes off as artificial, self-important, and patience-tryingly shallow. Anna, born to privilege as a Getty, is perfectly happy to become a blank slate and relish whatever's thrown at her. Artist Samantha makes her mark etching a huge mandalalike labyrinth in the clay desert floor, a classic example of the sort of do-it-yourself, simple-but-beautiful creativity that Burning Man inspires.
The annual event—begun in 1986—has its controversies, which the film doesn't shy from mentioning: It's extremely white, and, bless its anticonsumerist heart, attending does require a chunk of disposable income. (Tickets are $225 as of this writing, $250 after July 31.) The contradiction between the twin ideals of "be self-reliant" and "be generous," which most Burners happily overlook, can produce a little tension.
The one constant for all Burners is the environment, and conveying the physical feel of the desert is where this film excels—daytime's burdensome heat, dust, and sweat; dusk's exhilarating serenity; nightfall's cleansing and revivifying, when the entire city lights up and Burners vibrate with energy. As it happens, I was planning to take a year off from this summer's gathering; after seeing this film, I'm not sure I can. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT
I'm Not Scared
Opens Fri., April 23, at Egyptian
Italian novelist Niccolò Ammaniti is no Stephen King, and we should be thankful for that. He helped write the screenplay for this '70s-set kidnapping drama, which skirts King territory with its premise but ends up being much better for its sun-bleached sparseness. There's something wonderfully gothic, almost like a fairy tale, in Scared's evocation of two distinct realms: the sunny summer wheat fields where 10-year-old Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) and his buddies play; and the dank, dark pit in the earth where Michele one day discovers . . . a corpse, a monster, or possibly something even worse.
Initially, Michele keeps this secret to himself. He's a bit of a lonely child, and this mysterious subterranean figure becomes a kind of pet or alter ego to him. (Details that I won't divulge emerge crisply but slowly.) In the hamlet in Italy's rural south where Michele's family lives, visitors are nonexistent. Nobody seems to have a job. The crackly old transistor radio and black-and-white TV hint at the existence of Milan and civilization, but they seem as distant as the moon. It's hard to tell which child belongs to which clan; they play together like wild dogs. (The worst, the ringleader, is simply called "Skull.") There's so much space, so much sky that there's no limit to where they could run or what they might find. But they have to come home for supper.
Gradually, as the identity of the pit dweller emerges, Michele begins to view his parents with suspicion. His world view has already been shaken, and soon his imagination runs wild. Why is his father, Pino, gone so much on business? Who are Pino's menacing co-workers, one of whom keeps a gun in his suitcase, who come to stay with his family? And why, after Michele and his kid sister Maria are put to bed, does everyone gather around the hushed TV for the latest news about a child being ransomed from a wealthy Milan family? Fond of storybooks and comics, Michele is just old enough to be aware of what's happening in his insular village, but not quite old enough to connect it with the outside world.
Although Scared deals with mortality and lost innocence with fine restraint and specific detail, it does shrink from an ultimately dark conclusion out of the Brothers Grimm. There should be a higher cost for Michele's dark knowledge. But director Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) generally steers his film clear of sentimentality. This is no simple Stand by Me ode to childhood pals and unbreakable bonds. Families are shattered and friends lost forever. Crows and snakes and many other creatures slither through the frame, while others turn up dead for the children to poke and prod with sticks. In Scared, the cruelty of nature and its harsh seasons of life and death are felt equally by man and animal, whether they live in the wheat fields, beneath the ground, or in a seemingly normal home. (R) B.R.M.
MC5: A True Testimonial
Runs Fri., April 23–Thurs., April 29, at Little Theatre
No better time than the present for an MC5 documentary, what with the watered-down state of popular rock—and the coming summer Democratic National Convention. What does the seminal Detroit proto-punk band have to do with politics? A lot, actually. Its members are renowned for their drug-fueled quasi-politics, and they even put on a riotous show outside the '68 convention in Chicago. And let's not forget the instructive battle cry, "Kick out the jams, motherfucker!" from their now classic debut album—rhetoric John Kerry would be hard-pressed to match. Among the extensive interviews here with the three surviving band members, former drummer Dennis Thompson insists on the band's continued relevance: "MC5 should still be around! There should still be an MC5 right now!" Some pretty amazing live footage from the '60s would seem to support his case; and these portions of the movie make Testimonial a must-see for fans. But be warned: Like most films of this ilk, there's something almost tragic about revisiting guys who lived that hard and that fast. Guitarist Wayne Kramer seems to have made a great recovery, but the same cannot be said for bass player Michael Davis. (NR) LAURA CASSIDY
Opens Fri., April 23, at Pacific Science Center
You have to admire the truly beautiful landscapes of this 45-minute Imax-format nature documentary and the diverse, exotic animals it depicts. My favorites include the monkeys with gargantuan noses and pot bellies, the sidewinding snakes, and the schools of colorful fish that dance across the screen to a thunderous score. For parents likely to be dragged along by their kids, it's a little too reminiscent of The Lion King (also produced by Disney), and it seems as though Simba might emerge atop a mountain any moment. Narrator Robert Redford's soothing voice should at least keep mothers entertained, while their children presumably stay amused by jungle scenes and underwater shots. The people highlighted from "traditional civilizations" from Namibia to Thailand are fascinating with their tight-knit communities and absolute reliance on nature. Whether children will appreciate how these societies manage to escape modern, materialistic culture is a different issue. After the show, they may still clamor for the Fun Forest next door, where they can gorge themselves on pop, candy, and rides. (G) HEATHER LOGUE
Opens Fri., April 23, at Metro
This long-delayed release could be writer-director-star Stephen Chow's bid to become the Weird Al Yankovic of Hong Kong cinema. Like Yankovic's 1989 spoof-o-rama, UHF, Soccer offers broad genre parody, slapstick, and sight gags at every turn, and a comedian who couldn't act his way out of a tin can—in the leading role, no less! But hey: UHF is stupid fun, and so is this ridiculous flick, which came out in Asia three years ago but was postponed for American distribution because, well, marketing a kung fu action-comedy about soccer can be tricky. The film concerns a former soccer prodigy, "Golden Leg" Fung (Ng Man-Tat), who was crippled by a band of enraged fans after a missed penalty kick at the China SuperCup tournament. A few decades later, Fung is a manservant to former teammate Hung (Patrick Tse, leathery as hell), who currently coaches China's top squad, Team Evil. With the help of Sing (Chow), a young man trained in the Shaolin school of kung fu, Fung assembles a team of soccer-playing martial artists and blazes a trail back to the SuperCup to avenge his shattered leg and sink Team Evil. Not unlike last year's Ping Pong, Chow's comic-bookish ode to oddball underdogs raises athletics to the level of mysticism, shoveling on the special effects and charm in equal measure. (PG-13) NEAL SCHINDLER
PSpike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation
Runs Fri., April 23–Sat., May 1, at Varsity
In the real world, if a scarified, half-naked, beer-bellied dunce were to sharpen a pencil in his ear, pop zits on his chest and suck the goo, then willfully impale his foot on a rusty nail, we'd give Steve O a standing O and clamor for an encore. No shot in hell he follows that up by tying a loose tooth to a doorknob, slamming the door, and tugging his brain out through his nostrils.
This is why we need and adore cartoons, specifically this annual omnibus, now celebrating its silver anniversary of exposing already deeply troubled stoners to the foulest underground animation in the world. Even though the fest once debuted artists who would later put the pixie dust in Pixar (including Toy Story director John Lasseter), today it largely favors the (literally) brainless waves of mutilation found in Gregory Ecklund's Lloyd shorts detailed above. Unfortunately, the turd-to-gem ratio is about 5-to-1, and widening every year. For every macabre, wry abstraction from veteran Bill Plympton (a man and a woman relax on a park bench, respectively cradling, ahem, a wiener dog and a pussycat), there's a glut of uninspired lead balloons like the weak suburban wanksta parody Mama, I'm a Thug and the Pixar-esque, beer-commercial-ready Australian dud Cane Toad.
Co-artists Breehn Burns and Jason Johnson unleash both of the most uproarious standouts with their Here Comes Dr. Tran and Beyond Grandpa. The latter simply features still sketches of a crotchety grandpa self- explanatorily titled "Propositioning the Mailman for Sex," "Fuckin' Around With a Chicken," and "Cookin' Up a Cat." Anything Jackass can do, the Spike & Mike crew can do nastier. (NR) ANDREW BONAZELLI
13 Going on 30
Opens Fri., April 23, at Metro and others
Finally Jennifer Garner's annoying girl-next-door brand of quasi-naïveté has been used for good. Her pouty-lipped saccharine act is appropriate, because her character is supposed to be acting that way: Jenna is a 13-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old's body. At her 13th birthday party, the awkward teen makes a wish to be just like the glamorous thirtysomethings in her favorite fashion mags. Her wish is granted and—you guessed it—hilarity ensues. But it's not just Big reprised with makeup and Manolo Blahniks. Modern times provide the movie a fresh cache of material. After Jenna's transported from the 1980s to the 2000s, she's as perplexed by the ringing cell phone in her pocket as she is grossed out by the naked boyfriend in her shower.
Turns out she's a successful fashion magazine editor in Manhattan. And after the initial elation of having a closet full of shoes, limo service to hip parties, and breasts, Jenna discovers—you guessed it—that being an adult is less fun than she'd thought. The women in her circle are mean, conniving, and power-obsessed. You know what comes next—Jenna and her 13-year-old heart teach them all a lesson. So it's an out-of-body formula flick, but not a bad one thanks to Garner and the other bodies on view. As Matt, Jenna's now grown and fully handsome former childhood best friend, Mark Ruffalo has a unconventionally attractive quality that makes him oodles more interesting than Hollywood's usual bland leading men. He's believable in a genre that usually isn't. Garner, on the other hand, is going to have to grow up, and she won't be able to depend again on lucky casting to achieve an adult role. (PG-13) KATIE MILLBAUER