Around the Bend Jordan Roberts. (R) Jordan Roberts' debut as writer-director, a therapy session masquerading as quirky dramedy, has one thing going for it: Christopher Walken's performance, which chucks his wearying clunky tics and pause-for-the-clause delivery in favor of the subtlety and warmth on display in Catch Me if You Can. Walken plays Turner Lair, the long-disappeared dad of grumpy, limping Jason (Josh Lucas), who's raising his son and grandfather while waiting for his wife to divorce him. Turner's an ex-con with secrets to spare, and he shows up on Jason's doorstep just in time to say goodbye to his own father, a loopy archaeologist named Henry (Michael Caine, still in cloying Secondhand Lions mode). After Henry kicks the bucket at a KFC, a chain for which this movie acts as odd infomercial, Turner, Jason and Jason's cutesy son Zach (seven-year-old Jonah Bobo) go on a road trip to dump his ashes, eat fried chicken and dig up old family secrets in search of a weepy catharsis. It's touching in spots, occasionally funny, but also manipulative; the Lairs are fairy-tale figures roaming The Real World, and Roberts isn't yet skilled enough to reconcile the disparate attitudes, so the movie comes off as willfully eccentric when it should have been charmingly touching. Opens Friday, October 22, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Robert Wilonsky)
The Grudge Takashi Shimizu. (PG-13) Opens Friday, October 22, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
I Heart Huckabees David O. Russell. (R) Opens Friday, October 22, at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed in this issue.
Primer Shane Carruth. (PG-13) In his debut as writer, director and actor, Sundance Grand Jury Drama Prize-winner Shane Carruth uses mundane settings to fashion something unnerving and confusing. At the outset we see four guys in ties talking techno-nonsense in a garage; imagine someone reading stereo instructions written by David Mamet. Even they don't seem to know just what they're constructing. Finally the quartet whittles down to a duo, Abe (David Sullivan) and Aaron (Carruth), who come to realize that their homemade invention turns back time. They discover they can live 36-hour days, which seems like a good idea as long as they stay holed up in a motel room so no one sees them, including their future selves. But eventually Abe and Aaron turn on each other. One of them, it seems, has violated their agreement not to alter the future by corrupting the past. The movie's a paradox and a puzzle, bereft of laughs but a comedy nonetheless, and absent of tension but thrilling anyway. Things don't always make sense, but if you give in to the movie, it's not nonsense either. Opens Friday, October 22, at the Tivoli. (Robert Wilonsky)
Stage Beauty Richard Eyre. (R) A thousand pardons for the language, but this is an absolute fag-hag fiesta. It's also a marvelous entertainment: witty, wry, insightful and universal -- like Shakespeare in Love with more vogueing and buttocks-clenching. Superb Billy Crudup leaps several bounds beyond his many variations on "the lost, troubled, wandering guy" (World Traveler, Big Fish, etc.) and becomes Edward "Ned" Kynaston, a seventeenth-century Shakespearean actor whose specialty -- whose life, really -- is playing women. He's anybody's gal until Restoration laws are repealed by Charles II (Rupert Everett) and suddenly his humble dresser Maria (Claire Danes, determined to corner the Paltrow market on cutesy faux-British accents), assisted by a wealthy patron (Richard Griffiths), leads girly women in reclaiming the stage from girly men. We're meant to celebrate her slow commitment to womanhood while accepting Kynaston's stumbles toward masculinity, but their shared dynamic feels strangely like a PSA for how not to be gay. That aside, screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of his play is delicious and beautifully helmed by British stage veteran Richard Eyre. Opens Friday, October 22, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Gregory Weinkauf)
Surviving Christmas Mike Mitchell. (PG-13) "Oh shit, he's still alive," says funny Catherine O'Hara of not-funny Ben Affleck in this dippy mess, and it's impossible not to empathize. The Afflected One plays -- natch -- an obnoxious millionaire, and you may cheer when James Gandolfini bashes him with a shovel. Sadly, the movie continues. Soulless Chicago ad executive Affleck, desperate for family at the holidays (sponsored by Marshall Fields), hires the aforementioned unwashed to play his "parents," with Christina Applegate as his idiotic "sister"-squeeze and Josh Zuckerman as the petulant little "brother," who, amusingly, resembles an underdeveloped clone of Trent Reznor. Saccharine mayhem ensues, with a tiny cameo from Udo Kier and bad cover-snippets of the Waitresses and Poison, as director Mike Mitchell (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo) wrenches paltry giggles and cheap warmth from a screenplay that makes Son in Law seem like Sam Shepard. But wretched Affleck is the real liability. "I'm feelin' a little ripped-off here," he squeaks for us, later admitting, "It's kind of my fault you got sick." Bingo, Ben. Opens Friday, October 22, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)
The Yes Men Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith. (R) Introduced by mutual friends, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno have been collaborating on political puckishness since 1996. Initially, they developed "identity correction" Web sites, designed to "target the biggest criminals and...steal their identity to make them more honest." In practice, this manifested in a fake G.W. Bush site with the tagline "Drug-free since 1974" and a WTO site that announced its own dissolution. Before long, the Yes Men were receiving e-mails and speaking requests from people who thought the sites were real. They said yes. Bichlbaum first appeared at a conference in Salzburg, impersonating an officer of the WTO; later he spoke on European CNN, professing that the people in power make the rules, and so be it. The Yes Men is a straightforward documentary, dutifully following its subjects, and it has a great deal of fun. But it never attempts to know more than they do, or to encourage them to look deeply into themselves. As a result, the film is a little flat. Opens Friday, October 22, at the Tivoli. (Melissa Levine)