Birth Jonathan Glazer. (R) Nicole Kidman plays Anna, whose husband Sean died ten years ago and who is now engaged to Joseph (Danny Huston). But one night a ten-year-old boy (Godsend's Cameron Bright) wanders into their apartment to tell Anna he is, in fact, the reincarnated Sean. Anna doesn't believe him but desperately wants to, and in short order she, too, becomes convinced this sullen little boy is her dead husband. With its glacial pacing, classical score, solemn vibe, stylish settings and Academy-awarded casting, Birth wants to be treated as a Serious Film with sober motives. But there's no getting around it: Birth offers the nuttiest apologia ever for pedophilia. If the sexes were reversed, it's doubtful the movie would even get a wide U.S. release. What's most troublesome is that the filmmakers want to have it both ways: They do everything to convince Anna and the audience this kid is Sean, and that it might indeed be OK to run off with a ten-year-old if you're in love, then cop out just before she's about to throw away her entire life. It's downright icky. Opens Friday, October 29, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)
Dig! Ondi Timoner. (unrated) Opens Friday, October 29, at the Tivoli. Reviewed in this issue.
Ray Taylor Hackford. (PG-13) Opens Friday, October 29, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
Saw James Wan. (R) Two men awaken from unconsciousness in a large, dingy bathroom. They are chained to opposite ends of the room, and between them is the body of a man who has apparently blown his own brains out. The younger of the two men, Adam (screenwriter Leigh Whannell), is a photographer; the older, Lawrence (Cary Elwes), is a doctor. Both have envelopes in their pockets containing microcassettes, and Lawrence's also has a single bullet and a small key. It's a trap set by a man known as Jigsaw, who singles out people whom he feels don't properly appreciate life and places them in closed settings that require either self-mutilation or the murder of another person in order to escape. Scored by Nine Inch Nails' Charlie Clouser, James Wan's movie is for those who already own the bootleg, uncensored cuts of NIN's videos and think Natural Born Killers wasn't sufficiently bloodthirsty. It's brutal horror, where anyone can die at any time, and gorehounds will love it. Average folks may find it too intense. Opens Friday, October 29, at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Vera Drake Mike Leigh. (R) Another (slightly flawed) gem from writer/director Mike Leigh. It's 1950 in England, and fiftyish Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) lives with her loving family: kind husband (Phil Davis), awkward daughter (Alex Kelly) and spirited son (Daniel Mays). Vera is the picture of maternal kindness, but she has a secret. When her day is through, she meets urgent women in squalid apartments and performs an act that she refers to as "helping young girls out." Secrets must come out, and the film takes its turn toward high drama exactly halfway through, when the police show up at the Drakes' apartment to question Vera. From then on, everything rolls downhill, which should not be surprising but which is, perhaps because so few films are willing to allow the entire course of events to go to shit. The lengthy denouement may be too maudlin for some audiences, and the misery is plentiful; the fierce loyalty of Vera's family might strike others as slightly absurd. But what comes through is a great deal of emotional truth. Opens Friday, October 29, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Melissa Levine)
Voices of Iraq Archie Drury, Martin Kunert and Eric Manes. (unrated) We visit the cradle of Western civilization, circa now, as 150 digital video cameras roam war-torn Iraq. Former MTV producers Eric Manes and Martin Kunert teamed with actor and Gulf War veteran Archie Drury to assemble the footage shot by Iraqis. The editing features loads of children -- always easy audience manipulation -- but the collective voices vary widely on politics, religion, war and gender roles, proving revelatory beyond the network news. Some openly admit missing the relative "peace" of Saddam's undeniably tyrannical regime, while we observe Web-streaming propaganda ("Bush, Blair and Sharon sold humanity"), and many others enthusiastically welcome Westernism (via "democracy, computers and the Internet"). From the Tigris to the marshlands, Fallujah to Abu Ghraib, mourning to celebration, the overall effect is scintillating and very engaging -- literally history in the making. Expect to see a lot of documentaries along these lines, but surely each will enhance the mosaic of our understanding. "We resent the current situation," declares one man holding his baby daughter, "and she just farted." Life, apparently, goes on. Opens Friday, October 29, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Gregory Weinkauf)
Zelary Ondrej Trojan. (R) Czech producer/director Ondrej Trojan's extraordinary drama of love and war focuses on a rocky marriage of necessity between a sleek young sophisticate from Prague (the delicately beautiful Anna Geislerová) and a country bumpkin (veteran Hungarian star György Cserhalmi) who wipes his nose on his sleeve and sleeps with his sheepdog. To escape the Nazis in 1943, urbanized Eliska must flee to crude Joza's remote, impossibly lovely mountain village (Zelary), change her name, marry him and somehow adapt to a hamlet with goats in the street. The wonder of the film, although inevitable from the start, is that love does find a way for this odd couple, through reinvention of self, while artillery thunders on in the distance. Adapted from an autobiographical novel by Kveta Legátová, this vivid exploration of the human animal creates a romantic alchemy that's raw, unsettling and touching. Opens Friday, October 29, at the Tivoli. (Bill Gallo)