Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Films in Brief

Directed by Pascal Chaumeil
Opens September 10, 2010

Heartbreaker proves that the French can make formulaic comedies has dully as we do. In this tepid, rarely funny romantic farce, Alex (Romain Duris) heads a small agency that breaks up relationships: tapped by a millionaire to make sure that his daughter Juliette does not marry her British fiancĂ©e, Alex initially balks at the compressed time frame. But, thanks to his financial problems (involving a huge Serbian threatening physical harm), he agrees and is soon in Monaco tracking Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), despite the fact that she seems perfectly content with her fiancĂ©. Gradually, Alex wears Juliette down—the ending is so improbably happy that a Hollywood remake must be in the cards.

Pascal Chaumeil's plodding direction actually shoehorns two 25-year-old pop-culture touchstones into the movie: Juliette loves both Dirty Dancing and Wham!, so we are subjected to eye-rollingly awful sequences where that movie and George Michael's tunes take over. The slapstick moments are equally desperate, and the lengths to which Alex goes to break up Juliette's engagement are amusing only in their impossibility. Duris is game but too puppy-doggish to be believable as a lady-killer, while Paradis has no charisma, charm or acting ability. The question Heartbreaker raises is: what does Johnny Depp see in her?

Directed and written by Goran Paskaljevic
September 9-15, 2010
Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street

Goran Paskaljevic's films concern the disintegration of not only his former country Yugoslavia but also Balkan culture due to nationalistic factions. Honeymoons continues that theme in its story of two couples—one Albanian, one Serbian—attempting to escape the traps their lives have become by starting anew in Western Europe, where the pressures they face from the uncooperative authorities mean that nothing is assured for their future.

Paskaljevic usually keeps his characters in extremely close quarters, and the unbearable tenseness of their situation spills over to the audience. (One of his most memorable films was actually titled Powder Keg in Serbia, but called Cabaret Balkan here.) Although Honeymoons' first half meanders as these people go about their daily lives, the always-troubling undercurrent reaches its climax in the brilliant final sequence, as the director demonstrates the obvious irony in his title. Although Honeymoons lacks the urgency of Paskaljevic at his best, it poignantly explores a new world that's anything but brave.

My Dog Tulip
Written, directed and animated by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger
September 1-14, 2010
Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street

If there's any doubt that Christopher Plummer is the premier actor in the English language, then his performance in My Dog Tulip should put it to rest. I'm admittedly biased, since I recently saw his mesmerizing Prospero in The Tempest at the Stratford Festival, but what Plummer does with the voice-only role of J.R. Ackerley in this droll and touching adaptation of the old man’s memoirs about living with his beloved canine is simply astonishing.

Plummer’s plummy intonation gives magnificent voice to a man whose unflappably British front is gradually worn away by his beloved dog. Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rossellini provide strong support, while Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s simply-executed animation is wittily evocative of Ackerley’s autumnal prose, but this is Christopher Plummer’s show all the way.

The Romantics
Written and directed by Galt Niederhoffer
Opens September 10, 2010

Smugly irritating in tone, writer/director Galt Niederhoffer’s The Romantics—based on her own novel—shows the travails of seven college friends who get together for the wedding of two of them. The wrench thrown into the mix is that Tom is marrying Lila instead of Laura, who was his (mostly) steady girlfriend of the past several years. As the friends arrive the evening before, typical frictions are trotted out, epitomized by a predictable rehearsal dinner scene culminating with Laura’s nervous toast (why she agreed to be maid of honor is one question no one asks).

Unable to probe too deeply into her characters, Niederhoffer resorts to such yawn-inducing devices as the groom's disappearance and the bride's sister inadvertently ripping the bridal gown while trying it on (don't ask). Finally, the wedding stand-off between Lila and Laura is uninvolving, since neither woman is much more than a cipher. Josh Duhamel's Tom is the exact opposite of the irresistible catch he’s supposed to be, while Anna Paquin's Lila is a bland spoiled little rich girl. It's too bad that executive producer Katie Holmes—whose exceptional performance might surprise many—can’t compensate for the blanks opposite her.
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