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Film Openings

Week of October 26, 2006

Al Franken: God Spoke. (Not Rated) Unfocused but brisk (and a tad revealing), this documentary bio of Air America muckraker, Saturday Night Live vet, and presumed Senate hopeful Al Franken plays like a standup comedy film to the extent that its subject is rarely if ever offstage. (Even the tireless crusader's slooow rise from the hotel bed to greet Election Day 2004 can't help but appear scripted; such is the nature of celebrity docs.) Directors Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob catch their star launching the "liberal radio network" with The O'Franken Factor, facing off against Michael Medved and Sean Hannity, playing Saddam Hussein for the troops on his USO tour, impersonating Henry Kissinger for Henry Kissinger, and shedding a tear at John Kerry's concession speech. As the satirist turns to face the voters in Minnesota, flip-flopping on whether to scrub his potty mouth, the film is most compelling for its suggestion of how politics and showbiz are at once incestuously entwined and, perhaps, irreconcilably different. God Spoke would be a campaign tool except that the star's stridency, however entertaining, suggests a limited potential for conversion. When it comes to dick jokes in Keillor country, all bets are off. (Rob Nelson) CPP

Catch a Fire. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue. CPP, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, PF, RON, STCH, STCL

Color of the Cross. Jean-Claude La Marre writes, directs and stars in this film, which questions commonly held beliefs about Jesus Christ's final hours — and suggests that his killing might have been in part because he was a black man. (NR) J14, RON, SP, STCL

Death of a President. (Not Rated) Manufactured history guarantees a manufactured controversy: Gabriel Range's Death of a President, which docudramatizes the 2007 assassination of George W. Bush, has been preceded by a long, raucous fanfare. Excoriated on talk radio, damned as a snuff film, and banned by two theater chains, the British production has also garnered celebrity dis-endorsements. Dramatically inert but a minor techno-miracle, Range's movie is a faux documentary with fake talking heads and seamless digital effects. Invented characters are gumped into actual news events and vice versa. The editing and audio sleight of hand are nearly as impressive. Bush is but a special effect. Death of a President is really a movie about 9-11 — an essay on a national tragedy used to create an even greater tragedy. It's also a movie about itself — a demonstration of reality shaped to fit a particular hypothesis. But the film's warning about blowback has its own unintended consequences: What follows the assassination is so awful that anyone might be excused for leaving the theater convinced of the urgent need to keep Bush alive. (J. Hoberman) TV

The Queen. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue. PF

Running With Scissors. (R) Adapted from Augusten Burroughs' wacky memoir of coming out as a gay teen in his adoptive guru's carnivalesque commune, this inevitable Oscar contender has been shaped by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy into an enjoyably overwrought ode to the kid's miraculous survival of everything from parental abandonment and pedophilia to bad '70s fashion. It works as further proof of a classic Me Decade maxim: That which doesn't kill you makes absolutely fabulous material — provided your mother doesn't use it first. As deadbeat mom Deirdre, a pill-popper who dumps Augusten in her shrink's hot-pink shack of a Victorian mansion, Annette Bening calculates the precise sound of each pharmacological slur right down to the milligram. But even more impressive is her ability to humanize a character that in other hands would look like a vicious satire of '70s New Age feminism. Burroughs, played from age 13 to 16 by wide-eyed newcomer Joseph Cross, serves as the straight man, so to speak, in a screwball farce where the inmates are running the asylum and the actors — Brian Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, and Joseph Fiennes — are given free reign to ricochet off the walls. Still, like the book, Murphy's deadpan celebration of neurosis makes a valiant effort to repress its comedy — which of course makes it funnier. (Nelson) CPP, PF, RON

Saw III. On his deathbed, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) gets his apprentice, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), to carry out his dirty work. First on the list: kidnapping a doctor who can keep the psycho killer alive. (NR) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Zen Noir. (Not Rated) Any hopes that Marc Rosenbush's film might transcend its unimaginative title are dashed almost immediately, as manic fadeouts, fade-ins, and overlays of portentous symbols give way to mannered dialogue and bad jokes. The thin plot involves a detective (Duane Sharp) who gets a tip about a murder at a Buddhist temple and goes to investigate. Nonsensically, we've already seen the "murder" — a monk falling over dead, without provocation, during meditation. The script tosses us a few red herrings before morphing into a didactic (and stultifying) lesson in spiritual enlightenment. Along the way, it commits a few crimes of its own, against noir, Buddhism, and filmmaking. For one: Sharp's detective, a sweaty jumble of nerves, lacks even a twinge of allure; the actor stammers and stutters, indicating distress rather than acting it. Debra Miller, playing a female practitioner, fares better, but the weird and remote interplay between the two is speciously sold as romance. ("What's a lay person?" "A person who can still get laid.") It's a long 71 minutes. (Melissa Levine) TV

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