THE SOULER OPPOSITE
7 p.m., Monica
(also 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, Monica)
Comic meets girl. Comic pursues girl. Comic dates girl. Girl stops thinking comic is funny and their relationship turns into no laughing matter. But the movie, overall, is oddly endearing even as it sweeps toward a too-slow conclusion.
Screenwriter-director Bill Kalmenson
, a former comic himself, believably conveys the comic's life and angst. The suffering here, professionally and romantically, seems entirely realistic.
In a romantic comedy where one-liners are an integral part of the proceedings, comic Barry Singer
) milks his eternal adolescence and mistrust of relationships, using those topics for fuel in his stand-up comedy act.
Finally finding someone he can care for, younger woman Thea Douglas (Janel Moloney
), Barry discovers it's nearly impossible to lower his defenses as he hurtles into sensitive areas of his life, like love, commitment and trust.
Meloni does a stand-out job as a stand-up comic in this ingenuous romantic comedy. There are legitimately touching scenes -- as when he finds himself in a family situation with Thea's clan and is genuinely moved by their affection. Moloney, for her part, is appealing and believable as a political activist with a sense of humor and romance. Timothy Busfield
has a decent, supporting comic role, but his contribution to the film could have been pushed further into dark comedy.
Overall, the characters have a refreshing, natural feeling, and that's likely to bring "Souler Opposite" a wider release than the festival circuit.
BAT OUT OF HELL
4:30 p.m., Mann's Chinese
(also 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Monica)
A French gangster film with grisly executions, bloody gun battles and deeply buried secrets that drive a young crime boss' son (Arnaud Giovaninetti
) to confront his ruthless sire, director Xavier Durringer
's "Bat Out of Hell" is mildly interesting with its glimpses of seedy Paris and the usual morally reprehensible suspects, but not enough to fully engage domestic audiences overloaded with such fare.
At its murky core, the lead's rocky relationship with his father is the most intriguing thing going on, but most of the film is a feverish few days of attacks and reprisals as two gangs go to war. One develops sympathy for Giovaninetti's lost soul and his loyal comrade-in-arms (Gerald Laroche), but the film as a whole, co-written by one-time prison inmate Jean Miez
, is only sporadically involving.
JOURNEY ON THE HOUR HAND
9:30 p.m., Mann's Chinese
(also 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Monica)
It's not every day you see Turkey, Hungary and the Czech Republic collaborating on an existential mystery about an itinerant clockmaker who gets tangled up in the time-space continuum, but that's exactly what gives "Journey on the Hour Hand" its exotic allure.
After an intriguing start, however, the storyline undergoes a metaphysical meltdown -- imagine an episode of "The Twilight Zone" written by Kierkegaard -- and never quite recovers.
Director Omer Kavur does a good job in laying on the atmospherics and lead Mehmet Aslantug
makes an effective everyman, but the film's pace is so numbingly measured that on more than one occasion it really does feel as if time has come to a complete stop.
10 p.m., Monica
Fast and frenetic, but even more so if one is familiar with the exquisite period films of Chinese director Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern", Shanghai Triad"), "Keep Cool" is an amiable comedy that captures the passionate lives of a loosely connected trio in Beijing and takes off when a bookseller (Jiang Wen
) pursues a sexy young woman (Qu Ying
). After the expected initial brush-off, he tracks her down to an apartment complex and, in a fairly amusing gambit, hires passers-by to yell out his messages of love, a ploy that eventually succeeds.
But she is also involved with a nightclub owner, who sends thugs to discourage the persistent bookseller. In a violent encounter on the street, an aging researcher (Li Baotian) is drawn into the scenario when his portable computer is smashed to bits and he seeks compensation from the frustrated young lead. They form an alliance and set up a meeting with the nightclub owner to further their own agendas. Fine performances aside and with respect to the subtext about changes going on in Chinese society, "Keep Cool" is good but not great, which is, alas, what one expects from such a supremely talented international filmmaker.
WITHOUT A MAP
4 p.m., Monica
Trekking into too-familiar territory, writer-director Peter Turman
takes us into the lives of a Hollywood wannabe writer and his quest for meaning in life and a successful romantic relationship. It's the voyage of discovery a lot of young people must make and which young filmmakers are wont to share with audiences.
The writer character, Martin Philip
Tanzini), hates his job and struggles to get his icy, sexy girlfriend Anna (Lola Glaudini
) to take their relationship seriously.
After they go through one more volatile breakup, Martin meets ad executive Jamie (Robin McKee
) and they seem to hit it off all right, a rarity for Martin. Except, of course, he's still obsessed with Anna.
"Without a Map" frequently feels like it's treading into Woody Allen
territory about a quiet, intelligent fellow at odds with the universe who ruminates endlessly about relationships and his place in the world. All this gets a bit tiresome, and a primary device -- the use of quirky, documentary style asides as the characters talk about themselves or about Martin -- also feels like a familiar technique.
Turman provides us with a competently assembled film, but some scenes are lit too dimly and dialog frequently meanders undramatically and repetitiously in the quest for verisimilitude. But then, that's the point -- a film about ennui and spiritual desolation among the aging young.
AN AMBIGUOUS REPORT ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD
10:15 p.m., Mann's Chinese
(also 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Monica)
After a five-year absence, Czech director Juraj Jakubisko
returns with another lyrical, epic parable about the human race that boasts beautiful imagery and a milieu that both seriously and comically asks what's in store for us as the third millennium dawns. It's also a compelling family saga that begins with the massacre by wolves of nearly an entire village after gung-ho hunters leave it unprotected.
Among the survivors are a young, pregnant bride and the deceased groom's 10-year-old brother, who because of his heroism is promised the bride's baby girl in marriage. Seriously depopulated, the village hangs on and the young hero grows into a stern, hardworking man (Milan Bahul) while the remarried bride (Deana Horvathova) still plans to see him wed her pretty but still-immature daughter (Klara Issova).
In typical Jakubisko fashion, the story seems to stray, but not too far, when the arrival of a circus leads to a drunken night of wagering after which the village's many lonely widowers suddenly find themselves with new mates. But this new influence includes the dispirited circus owner (Joachim Kemmer
), who convinces them to grow illegal poppy and cannabis crops that bring down the usually distant representatives of modern law enforcement.
With earthquakes that selectively tilt houses and a half-crazy local constantly reassuring everyone that Nostradamus predicted 1,000 years of peace, "Ambiguous" moves on to a socially disruptive relationship between Bahul's jilted groom and Horvathova's free spirit. Magical and wondrous and a bit long, but a treat for fans of Jakubisko, the film is likewise a terrific introduction to an original, compelling cinema artist.