Friday, January 30, 2009

DVDebuts: new work from Burger, Ritchie and Hong

Do not miss under any circumstances Neil Burger's THE LUCKY ONES. Within a day or two I'll have more to say about this unusual film on Guru: GreenCine's Movie Review blog. Just out on DVD this week, it both is and isn't the "Iraq" movie of the year. And the more I think about it, the better it gets.

TrustMovies finds it difficult not to get immediately wrapped up in any Guy Ritchie movie (yes, he even quite liked Revolver) and ROCKNROLLA is no exception. Nasty, fast and frisky, it introduces us to a raft of characters, all criminal, from the the seedy to the posh. And because these characters are played by the likes of Gerard Butler (below, right, with Mark Strong), Thandie Newton and Tom Wilkinson (who is as different here as you will have seen him), the movie's a very easy watch. The usual Ritchie style is present: slick, quick editing; speedy storytelling that forces us to keep up; and the conflating of stories and characters into a heady mix. Oh, yes -- and violence that is often as amusing as it is alarming.

This time there's another interesting element afoot: Homosexuality is seeping into the contours of the Ritchie gangster oeuvre, and in a manner both funny and inclusive. Does this presage a change in British attitude? Together with last year's surprising documentary A Very British Gangster, this film indicates that Brits may be coming to understand that the "gay" thing is more a part of their society than earlier suspected. Male sexuality, in fact, may be capable of a greater range of enjoyment than was heretofore imagined. Ooooooh, scary! But as shown here, maybe kinda fun -- and hot.

If you're a fan of the films of Sang-soo Hong, you'll have already seen or queued up for WOMAN ON THE BEACH. If not, the movie's a good place to begin. This South Korean director does small but rather lengthy minuets in which his characters dance around everything, including each other, while offering up some witty, thoughtful conversation. Comparisons to Rohmer are not inapt, though France and Korea vary widely as to culture and history. I found Hong's newer film much more interesting and enjoyable than his earlier Woman Is the Future of Man, perhaps because its character are in the film business, which adds a layer of self-reverential irony and humor to the mix. In any case, this slight story of a business trip to a off-season resort by a film director, his underling and the latter's composer girlfriend makes for two-hours-plus of subtle excavation into behavior, conversation and character.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

DVDebuts: "Children," "Ember," "Barcelona" and a good "Deal"

There's something about a good, solid, epic tale told well that can't help but produce an audience-grabbing movie. With his recent endeavor THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI, Canadian director Roger Spottiswoode proves he's still got what it takes to make just such a film. This surprisingly over-looked and underseen "true" story about British "adventurer" (according to Wikipedia) George Hogg may be hagiography riddled with questionable events, sentimentality, and not a little Hogg-wash, yet it is put together so professionally, pushing all the right buttons at all the right times, written and acted well enough by its star cast (check out the faces on the poster above: Radha Mitchell, Jonthan Rhys-Meyers, Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh) plus good work from all its non-stars -- especially those "children" -- that it pulls you along from beginning to end without seeming to exert undue effort. And it works beautifully, if typically.

So why did not this highly enjoyable movie find an audience in the U.S., particularly since it was released by Sony Pictures Classics, whose films usually hit their mark--and their audience? Along with the riveting story, we get at least a fair sense of the politics and pressures that were going on in the China of that era: Japan invading and massacring Chinese civilians, with the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek fighting with the Chinese Communists, thus making fruitless any strong resistance to Japan. We also see the horrors and destruction of wartime more clearly than in many films of this type. The loss and unrelenting grief that accompanies war is brought home with particular force. And a couple of the wartime "action" scenes, such as the one shown above, are handled briefly but spectacularly.
The movie is also quite beautiful to view. Scene after scene rolls by featuring compositions and cinematography (by Xiaoding Zhao) that are stunning. By the time of the credits, offering visual/verbal testimony and thanks to Hogg by the now-elderly "children" still living, I think you'll be more than pleased to have taken a chance on this film.

TrustMovies was only toying with the idea of renting CITY OF EMBER when he encountered Glenn Heath Jr's review on Match Cuts, after which he went immediately out to his local video store and brought a copy home for the evening. Glenn's right: This movie has as least as many interesting ideas on its plate as does that overrated Dark Knight, while remaining, to these eyes, a lot more entertaining. (It's short, too: There's no wearing out a welcome here.) The enormous cast, made up of so many great pros from Bill Murray to Martin Landau, also includes good performances from the younger set: Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway. This is yet another case of a mainstream movie which may actually be better than its audience deserves. It failed theatrically, but the DVD release should take up some of that slack.

What's the deal with THE DEAL? Here's another very enjoyable movie with enough "cred" that you'd imagine it would have found at least a limited theatrical release. Could the problem have been its title -- which was also the name of another popular film made for British TV in 2003 but seen on these shores only last year? Maybe. Comedies about moviemaking are often a lot of fun, and this Deal is no exception. In fact it is one of the most enjoyable I've seen in some time, thanks to the witty and inventive script (by its star William H. Macy and co-writer/director Stephen Schacter from Peter Lefcourt's novel) and direction that is smart and to the point.

All concerned seem to know Hollywood moviemaking (and moviemakers) like the back of their hand (which, appropriately, they give them). What's more, they appear to actually appreciate the kind of games that are forever being played, even as they realize the ridiculousness of all this. For some, this "both ways" view will render the satire a tad toothless, but for me it simply made the film more fun. The light, sweet touch that the filmmakers and their cast apply to the entire endeavor makes for sheer pleasure much of the time. That cast includes Macy (this time playing a schlub with real smarts) and Meg Ryan (who is so very good here), both shown above, plus Elliott Gould and LL Cool J (below, with Fiona Glasgott)-- who nearly steals the movie as the black action star suddenly gone "Jewish."

What more can be said about Mr. Allen's VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA than has already been spouted? It's the filmmaker's best in a long while. Though nothing great, it does provide pleasant enough viewing and listening, as four true stars -- and yes, I am including Rebecca Hall (below left), who holds her own against compatriots Javier Bardem (above left), Penelope Cruz (above right) and Scarlet Johansson (below right) -- take us to the netherlands of amor and back. Barcelona looks lovely and the conversations provide (as Woody's usually do) some thoughtful grist for the western world's neurotic love mill.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Manchevski's SHADOWS opens at NYC's Cinema Village

I still remember how impressed I was seeing Milcho Manchevski's Before the Rain back in 1995. The manner in which he chose to tell his story, the sumptuous cinematography, the sterling work from actors Rade Serbedzija and the late Katrin Cartlidge -- they all came together so well that the movie won a fistful of awards & was nominated for Best Foreign Film.

When his next movie, the 2001 big-budget Dust, opened and mis-fired badly, many of us, I think, chalked it up to some sort of sophomore slump. Now that his third film SHADOWS (Senki) has appeared, it seems the slump is still with us.

Not nearly as foolish as Dust but nowhere near as accomplished as Before the Rain, Shadows is a kind of ghost story that draws from folk tales coupled to the past of its characters, with a little sociology and psychology tossed into the mix. I use the word "character" with some tentativeness, however, because our protagonist (played by Borce Nacev, partially shown below, left) hasn't really got one. We see him only briefly, via a family argument, before he is nearly killed. He then spends the rest of the film coming to terms with the results of his injuries, which include ghosts and what not, being very scared, trying to figure out what is real and what is not, spying, screwing, and carrying on like the crazy nut he just might be. But since we never had more than a glimpse of who he was, pre-accident, the fellow does not exist except as a cipher who galumphs from scene to scene.

The rest of the cast exists as satellites revolving around our cipher: mainly his Alpha-female mom (played by Sabina Ajrula) and an absolutely gorgeous young first-time actress named Vesna Stanojevska (above) who comes into his life rather bizarrely, as does just about everything else in the film. Well before the two-hour running time drew to a close, my mind had tired of all the back-and-forth game-playing so I did not particularly care what happened or why. In fairness to Shadows, my companion found it more tolerable than I, and we both agreed that the ending had its moving moments. But in tossing so many disparate elements into his pot, the writer/director can't reach home with any of them: not the horror, psychology, thrills, mythology, history, medicine nor even -- yes -- Lady Macbeth. The director is on record as saying that his film tries to imagine what might happen if Shakespeare's character "had lived today and survived to have a grown-up son who might try to come to terms with her overbearing presence and her transgressions of the past." Okey-dokey. Whatever you say, Milcho.

SHADOWS opens Friday, January 30, for a run at one of NYC's better foreign/independent film venues: Cinema Village.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

MICHAEL SHEEN: An Appreciation

The review by Manohla Dargis in Saturday's NY Times of the third film in the Underworld franchise set me to reminiscing on the splendid talent and unusual career of

actor Michael Sheen (above in Underworld, at right in Blood Diamond), two of whose early films should be on any fan's must-see list: HEARTLANDS, from 2002, and DIRTY FILTHY LOVE, a British television movie from 2004.

It's the latter film -- in which OCD, coupled with a bit of Tourette’s Syndrome, gets quite a going-over -- that made me so very aware of this actor. The movie features Shirley Henderson's usual good work and a star-making performance from Sheen that few here in the U.S. ever saw. So good -- specific, immediate and real -- is Sheen in this role that I actually believed that the producers had hired an unknown actor who suffered from Tourette's and/or OCD. So completely does Sheen pull you into his world that you’ll wince and look away from embarrassment as you watch his character try to negotiate life. Thanks to the combination of intelligent screenplay (Jeff Pope with actor Ian Puleston-Davies), direction (Adrian Shergold) and performances (the ex-wife is portrayed with more understanding and kindness than is often found in this sort of film, and many of the subsidiary characters are given more than the usual minimum of reality), the film avoids melodrama, at least until toward the end. Even then, you may forgive this, as I certainly did, due to Sheen’s magnetic work. The film's final visual makes a beautiful, understated declaration.

Immediately after seeing Dirty Filthy Love, the first thing I wanted to do was to find out more about the actor who had played the lead. I searched the Netflix and Blockbuster catalogs and came up with another movie of which I'd never heard: Heartlands -- which went immediately to the top of my queue. Written by Paul Fraser and directed by Damien O'Donnell, the movie is, first of all, so visually beautiful to view in terms of composition, clarity and color that I found myself trying not to blink for fear of missing yet another splendid touch. Even the beginning, set in a heavily "industrial" neighborhood, manages to look interesting. Then, two-thirds of the way through, there is a "grainy" section in an amusement park, and damned if that isn't beautiful, too. More important, Heartlands is that rare movie in which, despite a story about infidelity and loss, it's little acts of kindness that take a front seat, and you find yourself increasingly joyful due to the simple, caring things that one person does for another. This is not something one encounters often in films. The main character is a poor schlub, played beautifully by Sheen, who initially appears borderline feeble. But as he begins to re-order his life, he--and the movie--grow stronger and better. The entire cast (there’s a wonderful cameo from Celia Imrie) is aces, and one particular scene continues to haunt my mind: As the Sheen character looks through a window at dancing club-goers, the difference between living and desperately trying to live is captured without a bit of verbal moralizing. In its quiet and thoughtful way, Heartlands left me feeling more buoyant than has any film I've encountered since (and I saw it several years ago). I hope that you'll be graced with the same response.

Because I only looked in the Netflix catalog, rather than on the IMDB, I did not realize until much later all the many films in which Sheen had already appeared and which I had seen without recognizing the actor -- including the original Underworld. Yet I remembered being impressed with the urgency of the character he played. There was a ferocity and need present in this performance that wiped the floor with what lead actor Scott Speedman (a performer whose work I often admire) was doing. Sheen has the kind of visage that, if not terribly handsome (Brad Pitt and George Clooney need not worry), is certainly pleasant-enough-looking from role to role. And yet he is one of those actors who disappears into each new character, taking his looks along with him -- which is why he is not immediately recognizable. Yet each performance is recognizable (and memorable) because of the vitality, specificity and -- aw, hell, I'll say it -- the "sheen" that he brings to it. While the actor is able to convey a sense of keen intelligence -- occasionally coupled to something feral -- in roles such as that of everyone's favorite piece of Prime Minister sleaze in The Queen (photo, above) or The Deal, some of his best work has come from roles such as Dirty Filthy Love and Heartlands, in which he essays a physically/mentally impaired or unusually clueless character.

An actor likely to be referenced by a question such as, He was in that movie, too?, the performer began his career as one of the leads in the popular and very dark three-part British mystery series Gallowglass (from 1993 and available here on DVD -- or maybe not: See Ginger's comment below. I just looked for Gallowglass and could not now find it anywhere, either). Since then, Sheen has never been adverse to taking smaller roles in bigger films, as he did in Oliver Parker's so-so Othello ('94) and the Neil Jordan misstep Mary Reilly ('96). I remember him better from his role in Wilde as Robbie Ross opposite Stephen Fry's Oscar. The under-seen and not-so-terrible-as-you've-heard remake of The Four Feathers came in 2002, followed by Sheen's working with and for Fry again in the latter's memorable and too-little-seen Bright Young Things. (I believe that's a very bright and young-looking Sheen in the poster above, second from right, next to the fabulous Fenella Woolgar, who ought to have won every award in the book for her terrific performance in this film.) Then came Underworld, The Deal (made for British TV in 2003 and only seen here last year, and the dreadful Timeline. 2004 saw Sheen appear with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore in the entertaining Laws of Attraction, and the following year in Ridley Scott's yes-but-it-did-well-overseas epic Kingdom of Heaven.

Sheen hit it big in 2006 with his leading role in The Queen and another small support job in Hollywood's phony-baloney try at the "cause"-cum-entertainment movie Blood Diamond. In 2007 the actor returned to his "severely outsider" mode as the handicapped Art (show above in wheelchair, with Melissa George, left and Ron Livington) in Music Within, giving us another indelible, so-real-it-hurts character -- and in a much better cause-related movie.

Now, within a month's theatrical release of each other come Frost/Nixon and the latest Underworld segment . Will most moviegoers make the connection between the fellow playing the light, quick, smart TV interviewer and the angry, violent werewolf progenitor, shown above? Not a chance. (There won't be that much audience overlap on the two films, in any case.) But for those aware buffs who want to discover all that Mr. Sheen offers, consider this an advisement to rent Dirty Filthy Love, Heartlands and Music Within. For a start.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


My lord -- what have we here? Is REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA some kind of rip-off of The Phantom of the You-Know-What? Well, sort of, though its music and lyrics are hardly up to the above-pedestrian level of that vaunted Lord Webber warhorse. Yet Repo does have -- no? yes! -- Sarah Brightman (below, sporting rather special eyes) sharing the screen with the likes of -- no? yes! -- Paris Hilton (reclining, further

below), with both of them singing, or perhaps being dubbed by Marni Nixon (I jest: Marni did classier projects). The movie also has as its director, Darren Lynn Bousman (even further below, w/cigarette, a la Français), the fellow partially responsible for much of the SAW franchise. If Saw brings to mind blood and violence, be prepared, as this "musical" has to do with folk having their organs and faces "repossessed" when they fail to pay for the transplant or plastic surgery. Often, in fact, the floor is slippery with blood. I'd guess you'd call this one a "slasher musical."

Yet even slasher musicals must give some thought to their music and lyrics, and it is here that our movie falls short. Perhaps flat. The lyrics -- often spoken when not sung -- are pretty dreadful and the music is utterly humdrum, if noisy. This combination does not make for the memorable -- unless, of course, it is bad enough to be camp. Which Repo is not. Occasionally it is interesting and, visually, it's rather fun (the comic-book style drawings that decorate the screen from time to time are quite welcome). The story, too, has some merit, even if we've seen it a few times previous: father/daughter angst, sci-fi trimmings and a villainous, power-hungry family).

The cast also includes the likes of Paul Sorvino, who has a voice; Alexa Vega, who has not much of one; and Terrance Zdunich (right, center), a good-looking long-haired guy who essays the role of Grave-Robber and who also wrote the book, lyrics, and music. He should not over-tax himself in this manner. Repo! The Genetic Opera is based on an earlier stage production which must have been somewhat successful to garner this filmed version -- which is, as you may have guessed, not terribly good. Yet, I suspect it will find its place on the midnight movie circuit because it is unusual and offers just enough of the bizarre and spectacular, the gruesome and gory, to appeal to a certain percentage of today's tastes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

DVDebuts: the wonders of food and travel OUR DAILY BREAD, LAST STOP FOR PAUL

To celebrate yesterday's announcement of the Academy Award nominations for this past year's films, let's turn to a couple of award-winning movies -- one an American independent, the other a foreign documentary -- that slipped in under the radar last year. The American indie, LAST STOP FOR PAUL, is touted on its web site as "the most award-winning independent film of 2007," boasting some 45 different international film fest prizes. The Austrian/German documentary about the food that makes its way onto European dinner tables has also received some nominations and awards, and though OUR DAILY BREAD has elements in common with Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation, its tone and approach are markedly different.

In Last Stop for Paul two young California frends/co-workers, played by Neil Mandt (pyramiding, above left, and directing center -- with Eric Wing, foreground -- and Marc Carter (photographing, above right), travel around the world to a BIG party in Thailand, stopping along the way to scatter the ashes of a third friend. A title card at the beginning informs us that this is based upon a true story ("based" being the operative work, as much of what happens seems extremely unlikely though bizarre and always, finally, fortuitous). Mandt and Carter also act as director and photographer respectively, and many of the rest of the cast were recruited on-spot and made to forge ahead a la improvisation or a little rehearsal. Given all this, it's an amazement that the movie turned out watchable. It did, but not a whole lot more than that. The two guys seem like doofuses supreme, and their constant prattle, not to mention their rather limited interests, struck me at least as that of very young men. There's little build to any of this, and although some viewers are said to have been moved by the goings-on, yours truly was not. I actually found the DVD's special features -- the "making of" and the "story of the movie" somewhat more interesting than the film itself -- and the two leading men considerably more likable narrating than acting.


In one scene of Last Stop..., the protagonists discuss how many chickens must be needed around the world to provide for all the restaurants that serve them to diners. If they'd seen the German/Austrian documentary Our Daily Bread, they might think twice before ordering any variation of that particular dish. Directed and co-written (with Wolfgang Widerhofer) by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, the film is nearly silent, other the ambient sounds of the food-related workplaces that the filmmakers visit. We hear occasional snatches of dialog between workers (in German or Polish, I believe) without any subtitles to translate. Otherwise, we simply view how the food we eat -- vegetable and animal -- has been harvested and prepared for market. The film offers no explicit judgments, nor does it try to push its viewers in any direction. This is disconcerting for awhile, as we are now so used to being told how to feel and what to think. Slowly, though, one's own judgment will probably make itself apparent.

Because the documentary was made in Europe, I suspect that what we are viewing is infinitely cleaner, more sanitary and health-conscious than much of what we would see had the film been shot in America -- particularly over these last eight years of Republican/damn-any-standards rule. This very cleanliness has the odd effect of making the movie seem even more difficult to watch and consider. And, as with any good story, the filmmakers save their best for last: the meat department. The images seen here will sear themselves onto your permanent memory card.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

DVDebuts: COLD PREY offers chilly Norwegian scares

Because it's so difficult to find a decent "scare" movie -- partic-ularly in the over-used, tawdry & about-to-insult-
us-again mode of Friday the 13th -- I'd like to recom-
mend a fright fest from Norway entitled COLD PREY (Fritt vilt in the original language). Jumping off from the usual "a group of young people go away for the weekend" scenario, director

Roar Uthaug and writer Thomas Moldestad set their tale high in the snowy mountains (gorgeous!) and then in a deserted ski lodge where some nasty things happen.
Because the kids are a step up from the usual imbeciles one encounters in most American films of this genre, and due to the filmmakers' speed and intelligence in handling their exposition, the movie builds tension creepily and believably, with very few missteps. The cast, as expected of this genre, is young and attractive but also talented enough to goose the movie onto a higher level. With only nine characters total, and as good as everyone is, interestingly enough it is the female roster who outshines its male counterpart in both attractiveness and talent. The women characters seem a bit smarter, too, particularly Jannicke, played by the feisty and pert Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, below. (That's Viktoria Winge, above, whom foreign film buffs may remember from the recent Reprise.)

I don't want to mislead you here: Cold Prey is definitely in the horror/slasher movie mode, one of which I am generally not fond. But I found the location much more interesting than most in this genre; the cinematography (by Daniel Voldheim), bleached of much of its color, is oddly beautiful; and the rather typical plot is with handled with more care and expertise than expected. You'll probably figure out some, but not all, of the surprises along the way, and the ending is a particularly good one: briefly and subtly explaining certain things -- but only to a point. A big success in its home territory, the film has already spawned a sequel (which opened in Norway toward the end of last year), though I cannot imagine it will be anywhere near as good. On the DVD extras, in the "Making Of" section, you'll find an unusual "alternate ending" done via storyboard ("We couldn't afford to shoot it," the director explains) -- which is fun but would have made a much more obvious and overdone choice. I, for one, am glad they didn't have the budget.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

DVDebuts -- Not quite politics-as-usual: SWING VOTE and CHOOSE CONNOR

Two political films -- one a big-deal mainstream movie (SWING VOTE), the other a tiny independent (CHOOSE CONNOR) -- arrived and sank theatrically last year and have recently made the move to DVD, where they'll probably receive a lot more attention. Deservedly. One's as dark as the other is light (and, yes, slight 'n bright) but both should be seen, mulled over and argued about. How did they get so lost in last year's shuffle?

Swing Vote was released nationwide in August, when the Presidential campaign was going into overdrive; Choose Connor had its limited released in NYC, L.A. and DC mid-October, as voters were counting down the days till the election. Fear, I think, was what most of America was currently experiencing -- on the Democratic side that another loss would set our country back irretrievably, on the Republican that the power held so strongly and for so long was about to be lost. By this time, no one one wanted to hear Swing Vote's message about democracy and the importance of the ballot box nor feel Choose Connor's decency-corrupted punch to the solar plexus. Everyone simply stayed glued to the polls, learning who was leading or behind on any given day: If your choice pulled ahead, some of the fear abated. Now that the election's come and gone, as bad as things still look on so many fronts, we can at least begin to think straight (or gay, if that's your bag) once again.

Joshua Michael Stern's (director and co-writer with Jason Richman) Swing Vote posits a couldn't-really-happen scenario in which a Presidential contest comes down to a single state (sound familiar?) and then to one precinct and a single vote. Considering how badly behaved have been so many of the country's voting machines over the past decade (Diebold, anyone?), a believability objection based on anything to do with votes is hereby tossed out. Anyway, this is a fantasy, as has been every feel-good political movie in history -- Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, State of the Union and all the other glorious Capra-corn. Swing Vote is simply another in the long line of "political" films in which the right people (some of the wrong ones, too) give over to their better nature. Certain scenes in the film may also recall Ace in the Hole, but without Billy Wilder's nasty edge.

What makes this Kevin Costner film (in which the star is loose and louche, a little tubby but still very sexy) so much fun is that when it all comes down to one vote, everything changes, even as it remains business-as-usual. Both parties -- their candidates and PR flacks -- pull the same stunts usually directed to entire constituencies but here offered to just one man. Funniest are several TV commercials made simply to show the Costner character that the candidate endorses his view. Beliefs, even set-in-stone policies, shift with the wind. It's the final, feel-good portion of the film that I believe set a few too many teeth on edge. Swing Vote would have us believe that both parties are finally able think clearly and do the right thing for the American people. This, after the last eight years? With fundamentalist thinking and acting from our administration and Nazi-lock-step agreement from a Republican Congress (until power began to fade: only then, suddenly, did it understand compromise), the movie's idea of non-partisan behavior seems too quaint by half. Still, this is fantasy. And if we're willing to accept it in our romantic comedies, action movies and sci-fi/horror, why not in political films? So take care, viewer: If you give over to Swing Vote, even a little, the ending will leave you feeling very good indeed.

Choose Connor, on the other hand, is having none of this. Practically a user's manual on how to first co-opt and then corrupt a likeable, if naive, young man who wants to make certain that his politicians do the right thing, writer/director Luke Eberl's movie is whip-smart about people and politics. That Eberl was just 20 when he wrote and then directed his film I find downright uncanny. He's cast it well, too. Steven Weber (above, left) is terrific as the politician, exuding exactly the right mix of charm, occasional honesty and steel innards. Alex D. Linz (above, right) as his acolyte makes a perfect foil; you can believe his every word, idea and stance. As the pivotal character Caleb, who bridges Weber's world to that of Linz, Escher Holloway (below) possesses the kind of quiet charisma that should have us seeing much more of him in future.

The downside of being a very young writer/director is that you want to sometimes stuff in more than your movie can handle. Choose Connor is so good for so long in simply showing us how small compromises deaden souls even as they launch careers that Eberl did not need to add his big "secret" to the mix. Doing so turns drama into melodrama, intelligence into overkill and throws the film off balance. And yet: The culmination of this "event," which has been foreshadowed nicely as the film moves along, clarifies and enhances the sexual character of the two young men and helps focus the film, if briefly, on their fraught but genuinely interesting relationship. And once he's introduced his over-the-top hook, the writer/director manages to navigate the remainder of his movie surprisingly well, leaving us and his "hero" in an anything-but-feel-good place. Is Choose Connor a cynical film, as some critics have said? I don't think so. In too many important ways, it is too close to reality for a dismissal this easy and flippant. See it, because despite its stumble, the film is as good or better than anything else we've been offered politically of late.