Eight Must-sees

MY SASSY GIRL (Yeop Gi Jogin)

Korean filmmaker Kwak Jae-Yong's 2001 continental blockbuster began life as an online diary, in which Kim Ho-sik detailed his relationship with his off-the-wall college girlfriend. At face value, Kwak's movie is a low comedy of humiliation, with a whiplash romance gradually developing between baby-faced schlub Kyun-woo (Korean pop singer Cha Tae-Hyun) and a maddeningly sadistic waif (Jeon Ji-Hyun). When they first meet on a late-night subway, she's drunk and, just before passing out, looks up and calls him "honey." The other passengers, assuming Kyun-woo to be the nameless girl's boyfriend, demand he look after her. So he does, and they eventually wind up at a motel. But the longer Kyun-woo sticks with her, the more he is intrigued by her sorrow. Unfortunately for him, once this "sassy girl" realizes she's got him wrapped around her finger, she becomes even stranger, unleashing dramatic mood swings and sociopathic behavior. But underneath her brash exterior, it becomes obvious she has genuine affection for him. The Sandlerian yocks eventually boomerang toward an investigation of grief—and the suffering beneath the surface of all screwball. The turnabout can be devastating enough to make you dread the upcoming DreamWorks remake, which Bend It Like Beckham helmer Gurinder Chadha just signed on to direct. (Michael Atkinson) (Edwards Island. Thurs., April 22, 1:45 p.m.)


Proteus

PROTEUS

If you have ever been lucky enough to visit LA's wonderfully strange Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT), all I have to tell you is that this film would make a perfect exhibit there and you'll know this is something you absolutely must see. Of course, if you've never been to the MJT, Proteus becomes a much trickier sell. By all rights, David Lebrun's documentary about 19th century artist/biologist Ernst Haeckel should be astonishingly dull stuff, and in the hands of most filmmakers, it easily could be, but Lebrun takes a lyrical approach that's completely hypnotic. Through the use of limited but supremely effective animation and some tersely poetic narration read by Marian Seldes, we are introduced to the life and work of Haeckel, the man who coined the word "ecology" and whose name was once a household word, but who is now known only to a handful of geeks. The pacing is handled wonderfully, and every time your attention threatens to wander, the microscopic undersea creatures that Haeckel studied and drew will begin to flash by at a near-subliminal rate, so unutterably alien and beautiful that you can instantly understand why Haeckel was more than willing to spend his life behind a microscope. But even if your tiny mind can't take it all in, this is the kind of picture you can feel free to just sit back and bask in, letting all those fascinating images and pretty words wash over you. The film takes us back to an era when the depths of the sea where as mysterious and exciting as outer space is today . . . and makes it mysterious and exciting all over again. (GS) (Edwards Island. Tues., 5:30 p.m.)

VODKA LEMON

With a wry pH balance between Kaurismški and Paradjanov, this Armenian comedy about a post-Soviet mountain village, its boondocks cemetery, its single bus and two sexagenarians finding love in the ruins is a wonder, filthy with eccentric images, unpredictable relationships and an acerbic but generous view of life on the pauperized edge of nowhere. With no work in town, the best, brightest and most of the youngest have left, and everyone left behind hustles to scrape together an existence, selling prized (and unprized) possessions, including marriageable daughters. As bleak as the film makes the town out to be, Paris-based Kurdish filmmaker Hiner Saleem packs in enough warmth and humanity to prevent Vodka Lemon from leaving a sour taste in your mouth. In other words, the omnipresent sense of melancholy is offset by the dignity shown toward people watching their hometown become a ghost town. Through it all, Saleem displays the visual confidence and subtle screwball rhythms of a master. (MA) (Edwards Island. Fri., 8:30 p.m.)


Super Size Me

SUPER SIZE ME

You might say Ronald McDonald took a beating at the most recent Sundance Film Festival. In Super Size Me, the fest's most popular doc, director Morgan Spurlock embarks on a monthlong McDiet and videotapes its fouler effects by way of proving that a Big Mac attack is as real as cancer. The question is whether this relatively little movie will manage to reach the type of folks whom Spurlock captures largely from the waist down, his occasional shots of their faces blurred in postproduction so as to obscure the issue of consent. No doubt the bulk of these super-sizers lack the slumming filmmaker's close medical supervision, and Spurlock, who plays his repeated blood and cholesterol tests for big laughs as much as statistical evidence, doesn't seem to include the awareness of de facto corporate food poisoning as being among his many privileges. Important nonetheless, the film may be most effective in convincing time-crunched visitors to the Golden Arches that, on a short lunch break, it may be preferable to starve. (Rob Nelson) (Regency Lido. Tues., 5:30 p.m.)

Edwards Island Cinemas, 999 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach; Regency Lido Theater, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach; festival info: (949) 253-2880. Screenings are $5-$10. For full schedule, visit ocweekly.com or newportbeachfilmfest.com. Need more reviews? See The film section in Calendar.
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