By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Friday, April 23, at 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, April 25, at 7:15 p.m.
Few things are more tragic and sympathetic than an artist getting thematically lost in his own subject matter, and in this bewildering, sometimes astonishing, and all too frequently bungled documentary about the suicidally courageous filmmakers in Taliban-ruled Pakistan, director George Gittoes undergoes just such dramatic folly. A seasoned Australian "war artist," Gittoes embarks on a stark look at Pakistan's film industry, which churns out shoestring melodramas and action flicks under the murderous snouts of the Taliban. Gittoes can't resist flaunting his own bravery as a stranger in a strange land, but the images of bombed video shops, bonfires of CD cases, and Kalashnikov-toting extremists provide plenty of ballast for Gittoes's sky-bound sense of himself. But as the film progresses, even the intractable Gittoes realizes he's bitten off more than he can chew. As he meanders through the fire and smoke of a nation at war with itself, he stuffs political intricacies, staggering abuses by the Taliban, and brushes with death into a film already crowded by his own ego. By the time he fronts his pocket money to finance two action films, his bravery (which is by no means counterfeit) becomes grandstanding—what is to his cast and crew a vocation becomes to Gittoes a dangerous whim. The film ends with a sucker punch—Gittoes finds himself at ground zero of a teenage suicide bombing and is stripped of all his pomp in a gruesome confrontation with reality. But the preceding film sadly underperforms on a breathtaking concept. There's plenty of historical and spiritual grit in Gittoes's film—you just have to blot him out with your thumb from time to time to get at it. —David Hansen
Tuesday, April 20, at 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 28, at 4:15 p.m.
To call a feature-length documentary "informative" is the height of faint praise, but it's the most that can be said of Felix Moeller's limpid, less-than-exhaustive examination of the historical and personal repercussions of Veit Harlan's cinematic career. The Third Reich's Spielbergian master of melodrama and propaganda has been largely whitewashed from the annals of modern filmography, mainly due to his intensely anti-Semitic film
Jew Suss, a work commissioned by Goebbels and executed by Harlan with damning zeal, for which he was twice tried and acquitted for crimes against humanity. Harlan uses two generations of the filmmaker's extended family as its only mouthpiece in its attempt at a nuanced, personal portrait of Harlan and the repercussions of his career, a decision that poses a fatal logistic and thematic pitfall for the doc. Despite what the title suggests, the Harlan clan is a well-adjusted unit, only distantly troubled by the work of the long-dead filmmaker, and their testimonies smack of apologism, dispassion, and, all too infrequently, bald analysis. Jew Suss is a film on which the blood of six million-plus people has partially spilled, and using the admittedly dark inheritance of Harlan's descendants is a historical misfire. The sumptuous details of Harlan's trials are omitted in favor of ho-hum anecdotes about his character. By tilling such an arid acre, Moeller ends up with a film in which nothing, not even a monumental work of hate cinema, casts much of a shadow. —David Hansen
Sunday, April 25, at 9:15 p.m.
Watered-down Jungian analysis meets a GLAAD-approved weepie in Peter Bratt's second feature, starring brother Benjamin (who also produces) as a neck-tattooed macho man who will finally realize the damage his rock-hard masculinity has caused during a funeral for a teenage gangbanger, his tears mixing with the rain. As subtle as a punch in the face, La Mission nobly continues a necessary conversation about homophobia, but paves the way to hell with its own good intentions. Che Rivera (Bratt), a 46-year-old widowed MUNI bus driver, spends his off hours boxing, cruising in his lowrider, raging against the gentrification of his San Francisco neighborhood of the title, and inviting his UCLA-bound son, Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), to pickup basketball games. Jesse, however, prefers male bonding of a different sort, like Castro boy-bar fun. When Che discovers evidence of Jesse's night out, it's gay panic at the Frisco: He pummels and disowns his son. As the Bratts tick off the usual coming-out-narrative plot points, La Mission strains to be both a thoughtful tale of one man's emotional rehabilitation and a critique of outmoded, sclerotic patriarchal customs in Latino culture. It's a laudable goal, but one that too often becomes nothing more than a series of teachable moments—suitable for awareness training at a PFLAG meeting but too earnestly didactic to have much lasting effect. —Melissa Anderson
Saturday, April 17, at 7:15 p.m.
The Square—indebted to The Postman Always Rings Twice—fails to raise (James M.) Cain. The feature-helming debut of stuntman Nash Edgerton, co-written by brother Joel, this Down Under noir confuses incoherent body pile-ups with "twists." Cheating construction-site manager Ray (David Roberts) and beautician Carla (Claire van der Boom) want to ditch their Sydney spouses and start anew, with the help of a duffel bag full of cash stashed in the attic by Carla's mulleted husband. An arson plot goes wrong, a halfwit is impaled, a baby is imperiled, a blackmailer is chained to a motel sink—all convoluted plot developments (with multiple holes and inconsistencies) that add zero suspense but increase your suspicion that the Edgerton boys simply thought more was better (as opposed to 2008's excellent pared-down Postman rethink, Jerichow). Or maybe they were hoping to distract viewers from their film's most lethal flaw: two adulterous leads as sexless as Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Australia. —Melissa Anderson