Short Takes: Movie reviews in brief
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and some violence; 121 minutes; opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.
Some people emulate Ernest Hemingway by teasing livestock in Pamplona. Writer-director John Duigan ("Sirens") attempts Papa-hood by creating a limp romantic triangle against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Gilda (Charlize Theron) is a party-loving heiress who eventually shares her Paris apartment and bed with Guy (Stuart Townsend), an idealistic Brit, and Mia (Penlope Cruz), a Spanish nursing student determined to defend her home from the Nazi-backed fascists. Amid scenes of silk-sheet sexuality are gritty historical re-enactments and half-baked histrionics, but it plays as drab melodrama and unintentional comedy. Theron, though, proves her Oscar win for "Monster" was no fluke - because she certainly acts better than this leaden drama deserves.
I Am David
Rated PG for thematic elements and violent content; 95 minutes; opening today everywhere.
David (played by Ben Tibber, a plucky newcomer) escapes from the Communist-era Bulgarian labor camp in which he grew up and is told by an unseen collaborator to go north to Denmark. This puts the boy on a harrowing journey, aided by an Italian family and later by a Swiss granny (Joan Plowright), as he learns to handle such freedom-loving virtues as spending money and trusting other people. The moral uplift of this story (adapted from an Anne Holm novel) is weighed down by writer-director Paul Feig's plodding delivery and overbearing nobility - personified by Jim Caviezel as a self-sacrificing camp prisoner (who again works opposite Bulgarian actor Hristo Shopov, who played Pilate to Caviezel's Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ"). How David escapes, alas, is less compelling than wondering how this drearily earnest movie escaped the Hallmark Channel.
Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence and language; 103 minutes; opening today at the Tower Theatre.
Director Ramona S. Diaz presents a galling portrait of self-delusion by having her subject, former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, hang herself with her own words. Diaz's camera tags along as Imelda explains how a naive farm girl became an icon to her nation, building an extravagant lifestyle only because she wanted to give beauty and hope to poor Filipinos. The other people Diaz interviews - family friends, diplomats, dissidents and journalists - give another version of the story: of President Ferdinand Marcos' reign of corruption, martial law, torture, murder and theft, and of Imelda's complicity in it. The difference between the truth and Imelda's version of it produces more tension than most thrillers.
Warriors of Heaven and Earth
Rated R for violence; in Mandarin with subtitles; 120 minutes; opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.
This Eastern Western - set in 8th-century China and centering on an imperial agent (Nakai Kiichi) who befriends the renegade army officer (Jiang Wen) he was sent to arrest - serves up a riveting story by writer-director He Ping, a deliciously nasty villain (Wang Xueqi), some crackerjack swordplay and landscapes that give Monument Valley a run for its money (gorgeously shot by Zhao Fei of "Raise the Red Lantern" and Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown"). The movie has so much that's great that you forgive when it veers into Indiana Jones territory. Ignore the special effects, though, and savor the Old West themes of nobility and honesty, nimbly translated into Chinese.