New Reviews

Come Early Morning; The Ground Truth; Harsh Times; Night of the Living Dead 3D; The Return; Vivah

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CLIMATES
See "Heavy Weather" (Edwards University, Irvine)


THE GROUND TRUTH
Among the many virtues of Patricia Foulkrod's immensely moving documentary about veterans of the Iraq war is the measure it takes of how far we have come since Vietnam in sympathy for American soldiers who serve abroad. The men and women she interviews are a self-selected group—mostly National Guard members and those who signed up for the Marine Corps—who began as patriots and ended up, if they had the strength, as activists against the war. Using their commentary as background, Foulkrod takes us through the entire process, from the lavish promises of recruitment (one enlistee told recruiting officers he had seen Top Gun and was dying to "blow shit up") through the feral brutalities of basic training, and on to the killing fields of a war nobody told them would be conducted primarily against civilians. A war waged with superior technology ensures both a higher survival rate and many more physical and psychological disabilities, and both the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs emerge as hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the array of problems faced by returning soldiers. Had Foulkrod made room for testimony from vets who came back from duty still convinced they were fighting a just war, we might be even more appalled. For as one of her subjects tells her, "If you're a good soldier, you'll be a bad civilian." (Ella Taylor) (Chapman University, Irvine Lecture Hall, 1 University Dr., Orange. Tues., 7:30 p.m. Free.)


STRANGER THAN FICTION
See "Hearing Voices" (Countywide)


also showing


COME EARLY MORNING
By dawn at the latest, as per the title, Lucille (Ashley Judd) will squeeze back into her jeans and flee another stranger's house, the screw-'em-and-split routine having something to do with her emotionally unavailable dad (Scott Wilson). But this evasive construction contractor never counted on hooking up with Cal (Jeffrey Donovan), a very, very nice guy who lends a slow hand in turning their one-night stand into a weeklong recline. Authentic Arkansas locations—cramped bars, dusty roads, a swamp in which Lucy and Cal catch frogs to eat—help vaguely distinguish a movie that comes on like a minor-key reprise of Judd's breakthrough Ruby in Paradise and every other rural indie melodrama to grace Sundance since. Judd's typically lived-in performance helps, too: Lucille, with her stringy, unwashed hair, plus a slow-to-heal cut on her face from a saloon catfight, remains fully watchable even when the character's psychology is contrived. Arkansas-bred writer-director (and actress) Joey Lauren Adams puts a little country twang on the soundtrack to keep things light and bouncy until Lucille's tears start to flow, yours being unlikely to follow. (Rob Nelson) (Edwards University, Irvine)


A GOOD YEAR
See "Heart Attack" (Countywide)


HARSH TIMES
Cops-gone-wild movies and TV shows are the Angry White Guy counterpoint to thug-life melodramas: fantasies of abusing rather than seizing power, operating above the law rather than outside it. This caffeinated fit of antihero worship—the directorial debut of screenwriter David Ayer, who made detective with his bad cop thrillers Training Day and Dark Blue—straddles the genres: a ballistic ex-Ranger (Christian Bale) strung taut as razor wire misses his shot at the LAPD, only to get drafted by Homeland Security for dirty work in Colombia. To let off steam, he convinces his wary but susceptible buddy (Freddy Rodriguez) to blow off his job search and upwardly mobile girlfriend (Eva Longoria) for a substance-abusing sojourn through South Central. A south-of-the-border invasion ensues, followed by the inevitable cathartic violence. But whatever political statement Ayer intended to make with his Gulf War veteran turned human time bomb is swamped by the movie's obnoxious badass envy. Ayer sets Bale's bad guy up as a racist hot-head yet marvels at his macho nerve, and the actor responds with a gloating display of American-psycho fireworks, the kind of vein-popping show-boating that might as well be performed in a mirror. Harsh times? You can't imagine. (Jim Ridley) (Countywide)


NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D
As anyone who has perused the bargain bin at a DVD store lately may have noticed, George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead has fallen into the public domain, making it fair game for re-release, re-edit, and remake by anyone who chooses to do so. One particularly hideous DVD edition featured newly shot footage that had been integrated into the original film. So it's worth pointing out that this 3D feature is NOT a technical upgrade of the Romero movie (like that newly enhanced Nightmare Before Christmas recently released), but a full-on remake with the same character names and basic premise. Director Jeff Broadstreet (Dr. Rage) and screenwriter Robert Valding aren't exactly out to scare us, making half the characters into potheads and casting Sid Haig as a crazy mortician responsible for the whole zombie thing. But they do deliver on the gore and nudity fronts, and you don't often see such things in 3D. The familiar title helps with the marketing, but hurts by inviting comparison with a classic; as a 2D remake, it wouldn't pass muster. (Tom Savini's 1990 redo is far more respectable.) As an original film with a different title (Stoned Dead, perhaps?), Night would entertain on cable or video. And as a 3D zombie flick on the big screen, it offers something new and fun: zombies, breasts, and copious joint-passing coming right out of the screen. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)


THE RETURN
The Return gets this year's award for most misleading poster, with its image of an empty-eyed, gray-skinned zombie/ghost that appears nowhere in the movie. You might, however, feel a little empty-eyed and zombie-like yourself after emerging from this languid story. Sarah Michelle Gellar, who wouldn't know a good movie script if it staked her in the heart, plays an agricultural product rep who occasionally has hallucinations about a mysterious ponytailed man in bluejeans. As she travels to a small Texas town to try to figure out why, she sometimes hears noises, sees her eyes change color in the mirror, and runs into deserted barns. Also, an angry coworker surfaces periodically to try to rape her for no apparent reason. A halfway decent editor could easily chop this down to 30 minutes without losing any plot points, but it would still be a tedious slog. Sam Shepard makes an appearance as Gellar's dad, and single-handedly shows up everyone else onscreen by displaying actual human characteristics. In fairness, the final plot revelation is so ludicrous you'll probably never guess it. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)


VIVAH
The only important thing missing from Sooraj Barjatya's Vivah (Wedding) is a major cathartic dance number, like the ones that were so exhilarating is his all-time Bollywood classic Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! (What Am I To You). In many ways, Vivah marks a return to form for the director after a couple of films that were overblown to the point of kitsch, but it also overcompensates by playing everything in minor key. As usual with Barjatya, there's almost no plot in the conventional sense. A beautiful and devout small-town girl named Poonam (Amrita Rao) and a go-getting Delhi businessman's son named Prem (Shahid Kapoor) meet for the first time and fall in love when they are brought together by their doting parents as arranged-marriage prospects. The film then follows along on a series of family outings and meals and games as the young lovers' affection deepens in the months leading up their wedding. The central romantic storyline is only a vehicle for a lovingly detailed depiction of an idealized way of life. Everything in Vivah hinges on the obligations and rewards of living in a hierarchical "joint family"—obligations that are seen as liberating rather than confining. From the moment he gets engaged, Prem accepts total responsibility for Poonam's well being, which in turn gives meaning to his life. (Calling this point of view old fashioned doesn't begin to cover it: it's so defiantly retrograde that it becomes a critique of narcissistic "modernity.") But one of the secrets of Barjatya's past success was his effortless mastery of Bollywood's aesthetic of excess. A restrained and tasteful Barjatya movie—one that doesn't uncork single up-tempo dance number—is only half alive. (David Chute) (Laguna Hills 3; Naz 8, Artesia)


previews:


CASINO ROYALE
Thurs., Nov. 16, 11:59 p.m. (countywide)and Fri., Nov. 17, 12:01 a.m. (AMC at the Block, Orange)


HAPPY FEET
Fri., Nov. 17, 12:01 a.m. (AMC at the Block, Orange)

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