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Wednesday, October 18

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Airbags

A couple of programming notes about this week's releases. First off, the kidnapping psycho-drama Captivity was not screened for critics, which is a shame because I would probably derive some sick thrill from watching Elisha Cuthbert bound and gagged. Alas. One other new film, Steve Buscemi's Interview, was screened for critics, but I somehow managed to miss the screenings. Every indication is telling me this is a fine offering, so check it out at Pipers Alley if you can.

Looking at what's opening this week, this might be one of the most well-rounded and overall best weeks of new releases we've had this summer. You may have to dig around the movie listings to find out where some of these movies are playing in town, but there are quite a few really great ones to choose from.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Unlike many of you, I've never read a Harry Potter book in my life. I'll admit, at first it was because I just didn't care. But over the years, as the films have rolled out faithfully ever year and a half or so, I've actually been keen to discover whether those of us unfamiliar with the Harry Potter saga were seeing it translated to the big screen faithfully enough that we were getting the gist of the countless characters and winding plot twists. I know few films can capture every nuance of its source material, but I've decided to see every one of these films before I dive into the books in 2010, just to see if the cinematic Potter holds up as a stand-alone entity.

I've enjoyed all the films to varying degrees over the years and had no trouble keeping all of the relationships and ever-more-complicated plotlines straight in my head. The fifth installment of the film series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, marks the first time I genuinely felt a knowledge of the book's inner workings might have helped me enjoy the adaptation more. I don't know what details from the book were missing, but the film hints that layers of far more interesting connections and relationships are afoot. I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and the idea that there will only be two more entries in this phenomenal series is only now starting to sink in.

Order of the Phoenix feels like a transitional work, complete with more exposition than most younger viewers will probably be able to fully grasp. The plot essentially sets up what will clearly be a monster battle in the final two films. As a result, the importance of certain characters — many of whom have been largely shoved to the background in the last couple of movies — are now becoming clearer. I was especially pleased to see Gary Oldman's Sirius Black, Alan Rickman's Professor Snape, and even Jason Isaacs' Lucius Malfoy play major roles in this story. There are a couple magnificent scenes in which Snape attempts to teach Harry how to protect his mind from potential invasion. But when Harry turns the tables and briefly enters Snape's memories, holy crap, the things we see reveal so much. It still amazes me how many great actors have lent their talents to this universe. To see Emma Thompson as the sniveling Prof. Trelawney or Maggie Smith or Robbie Coltraine or Julie Walters or David Thewles or Brendon Gleeson in such small parts that if you blink you'd miss them is kind of fun. Plus, the film's final battle between Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, who simply eats up every scene he's in and asks for seconds) and Michael Gambon's Dumbledore is nothing short of perfection.

The film also introduces two new characters to its evil arsenal. Imelda Staunton's Dolores Umbridge, who swoops into Hogwarts from the clearly corrupt Ministry of Magic and takes over with her strict policies and love of punishment, and Helena Bonham Carter's Bellatrix Lestrange, who escapes from Azkaban Prison clearly set on causing as much destruction and mayhem as possible. Bonham Carter whips out her best goth girl makeup and hairstyle, and reminds me once again why I've always lusted after her. And while she's only in the film a brief time, I suspect her return is eminent and will be devastating. While I'm willing to believe that the character of Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) will get more interesting as time goes on, her introduction into the Harry Potter world is somewhat underwhelming compared to the new baddies brought in with this film.

One of the most welcome surprises in Order of the Phoenix is just how strong the kids' acting has become, with Daniel Radcliffe as Harry really coming into his own as a dramatic force. His performance as a tormented, emotional adolescent plagued by horrible nightmares, visions that torture his waking hours, and constant attacks on his fragile mind is one of the film's most welcome revelations. This is the first time I've felt any performance in one of the Harry Potter films ought to be considered for an acting prize. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as Hermione and Ron also get opportunities to emote and give us hope that these talented young actors might have a shot at impressing us in a post-Potter world.

The film's plot is actually several smaller plots, some of which are resolved (or so it would seem) by the end of the movie and others that clearly will carry on until the last page/frame of The Deathly Hallows. When I say that Order of the Phoenix is a transitional work, I mean that no one story dominates the proceedings. We get Umbridge's overtly undermining schemes at the school, while we also dig deeper into the gathering of both dark and light forces for the coming clash of the wizard titans. The connections between Voldemort and Harry are more deeply explored without truly being resolved. As a testament to the overall greatness of author J.K. Rowling's storytelling, this is the first of the films that actually made me crave the next installment. I'm desperate to know how certain aspects of this story pull together in the next part of this adventure. November 21, 2008 is already marked on my calendar for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I look forward being one of the few people in the audience who hasn't got a clue what's going to happen next.

Rescue Dawn

A decade ago, writer-director Werner Herzog directed Little Dieter Needs To Fly, an extraordinary documentary about a one time Dieter Dengler, said to be the only American to ever break out of a Laotian POW camp. He crashed his plane (on his first mission, no less) behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, and spent his time in the camp with fellow Americans and American sympathizers who had been there for years. They were scared, starving, and without hope. But Dengler absolutely refused to remain a captive and spent months plotting not only his escape, but the escape of everyone in the camp, located in a dense jungle that served as more of a prison than the prison itself. His story of life in the camp as well as outside, attempting to make it somewhere where American soldiers might find him (if they didn't mistake him for the enemy and kill him inadvertently), is unforgettable, and Herzog has done a phenomenal job adapting his inspiring documentary into an equally powerful feature.

Rescue Dawn's Dieter (who died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 2001) is played by Christian Bale, an actor who still finds ways to surprise and amaze me with his range. Between playing Batman, his scarily skinny turn in The Mechanic, his heroic turn in The Prestige, and his downright schizophrenic work in last year's Harsh Times, Bale's abilities to delve into the heart of his characters appear limitless. He embodies the boundless energy and heroism (sometimes heroic to a fault) that Dieter became known for. Spending years in a prison camp simply wasn't going to be his fate. And it's clear from this film that his spirit was infectious. There are two other American prisoners in the camp, and it's clear their will has been broken. Gene (played by the Manson-looking Jeremy Davies) and Duane (a startling turn by Steve Zahn) find themselves caught up in Dieter's whirlwind of planning, spying on the guards, and planning for an attack that will set them free.

Herzog's visual approach to the film is fairly free-spirited as well. We're never quite sure how much time has passed in and out of the camp, which may be confusing to some but I found it wholly appropriate, since in all likelihood the soldiers had no idea what day or month it was either, especially once they escaped into the jungle. Oh, and if you think I'm spoiling anything by telling you they escaped, I'm not. As nerve-wracking as the scenes in the camp are, Dieter and Duane's journey trying to find the border into Vietnam and link up with potential rescuers is often painful and awful to watch, despite this being a PG-13 movie. The men soon find out that the only thing worse than not being rescued is to see the means of your rescue right in front of you and have it slip away. Herzog wants Rescue Dawn to be as much of an endurance test for his audience as he clearly made it for his actors. There are few minutes that went by while watching this film where I didn't put myself in Dieter's shoes (when he had shoes) and wonder how well I would have done standing with him during this time in his life.

Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (the film I'm guessing many will compare Rescue Dawn to) and the companion making-of documentary Burden of Dreams are all the evidence one needs to show that the German filmmaker's obsession with truth and authenticity trump all other things, including the safety and sanity of his cast and crew. Rescue Dawn feels dangerous and made me incredibly uneasy as I watched it, but there is no doubt in my mind that's exactly Herzog's intention. He also fills his film with extended, oddly placed shots of nature or activity that doesn't really move the story along but feels like we're seeing moments that aren't scripted, adding to the spontaneous nature of much of the movie. It's in these small moments we get to know these men and their surroundings.

Herzog has spent much of the last few years focusing on his documentary filmmaking (with My Best Fiend and Grizzly Man being the best known of the bunch), and I think that shows in Rescue Dawn, a movie that should take great pride in delivering a completely believable survival nightmare that few of us could even conceive of, let alone live through. Bale, Zahn and Davies may have re-set the standard for prisoner-of-war films, while Herzog remains the borderline crazy genius who was smart enough to cast them. This inspired film will test your limits, your empathy and your definition of heroism.

To read my exclusive interview with Rescue Dawn co-star Steve Zahn, visit Ain't It Cool News.

Talk To Me

Not that this has any bearing on the quality of her films, but director Kasi Lemmons (probably best known prior to becoming a director as Jodie Foster's roommate in Silence of the Lambs) is the first African-American female director to have made three films made and released in theaters. Her first film was the family drama Eve's Bayou, which marked a much-needed change of pace for Samuel L. Jackson's acting career at the time and is just a staggeringly fine film overall. Now Lemmons teams with Don Cheadle to tell the true-life story of Washington, DC, radio DeeJay and political commentator/activist Petey Greene Jr. during the 1960s and '70s. The movie also tells the parallel story of Green's partner in crime Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who gave Petey his first shot on the radio and continued to produce and manage him to a top-rated television talk show and stand-up comedy appearances (in addition to his gift for gab, Petey also could tell a joke and hold a room in his grip).

I grew up in the DC area, but I'm too young and too white to remember Greene's radio show. I do, however, have a vague recollection of his TV talk show, which was often bizarre and heated. But the real reason I remember Greene is because Howard Stern has repeatedly cited him as a major influence on his decision to speak his mind, tell the truth, and hold back nothing about his personal life on the radio. Whether they know it or not, a lot of popular African-American comics owe a lot to Greene's on-stage storytelling abilities. His stand-up strayed from the "set-up/punchline" routine, as we weaved some of the funniest stories about life in jail or growing up poor.

Talk To Me begins the first time Petey and Dewey cross paths. Dewey is visiting his brother (Mike Epps) in jail; Petey runs a prison radio show. When the two men pass each other in the prison hallways, Dewey jokingly says Petey should look him up when he gets out. Thanks to Cheadle and Hustle & Flow's Taraji P. Henson (playing Petey's girlfriend Vernell), Petey makes it to the studio and eventually gets his shot on the air, during which he freezes. A rough start, but eventually he finds his footing and his nerve and delivers a controversial, outspoken and racy show that set the standard for politically charged (especially on the issue of race) radio. In small but fun performances, Cedric the Entertainer and Vondie Curtis Hall (Lemmons' real-life husband) play other DJs at the station, who at first resist Petey's stream-of-consciousness delivery, but eventually recognize him as a man of the people (and a man who brings unbelievable ratings). Martin Sheen's role as station owner E.G. Sonderling has the unenviable role as one of the film's only white character, but he manages to rise about the underwritten part and bring some real depth to the character, who spends a lot of time waving a finger at Greene's antics.

But many of the supporting characters vanish in Cheadle's presence. Simply put, I've never seen him deliver a performance like he does here. Like many, my love and respect for Cheadle goes back to 1995's Devil in A Blue Dress, and he's proved himself time and again in high drama and low-brow comedies. There's nothing the man can't achieve. But as Petey Greene, Cheadle gives us one of the most fully realized and fleshed-out characters of his career. Most people who see this movie will remember one sequence in particular for the rest of their lives: a re-creation of the D.C. riots after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and the way Greene stayed on the radio for hour after hour in an effort to keep his city from burning to the ground. Shortly after that terrible day, the station and city arranged a free concert featuring James Brown and hosted by Petey that began with a rant by Greene that should be taught in public-speaking classes. Cheadle could not have nailed these events any better if he had been there when they happened. It's the film's emotional high point, and Cheadle's best moment on screen ever.

After we experience the rising star that was Petey Greene, we see how he systematically self-destructed and, to a degree, committed professional suicide, epitomized by an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (beautifully re-created by Lemmons). In Dewey's attempt to introduce Petey to the mainstream, he forgot one key issue: Petey didn't really want to be accepted by all of America. That level of success was simply not important to him, and it clearly scared him a bit.

Talk To Me has its flaws. The film's second half seems less focused than everything prior to the MLK events. Despite Ejiofor's admirable acting talents and as clear as it is that Dewey was critical to Petey's success, his story as a successful program director and eventual station manager isn't as interesting as Petey's. He's the straight man who responds to Petey's antics, and that's a tough role to play. Despite its shortcomings, the movie tells an important piece of black history, entertainment and activism that simply doesn't come up the way it should. Perhaps because Greene was a regional celebrity, his story just isn't a fixture in the culture, but it's clear from this telling of his life story that his influence is far reaching and crucial. With Talk To Me, Kasi Lemmons has made her most accessible work, and Cheadle gives the performance of a lifetime.

To read my exclusive interview with Talk To Me director Kasi Lemmons on Ain't It Cool News.

Joshua

Those of you with small children will either adore or completely reject this thoroughly freaky little thriller starring two of our greatest actors and one new young actor who blows everyone out of the water his hard-to-read delivery that unnerved me to the core. The premise of Joshua is not that the title character is evil; it's that he might be. Newcomer Jacob Kogan plays him as a kid who is hyper-observational by nature. His youngish, Upper West Side Manhattan parents (Sam Rockwell as Brad and Vera Farmiga as Abby) are slightly clueless about the depths of Joshua's intelligence or his ability is scheme. As the parents introduce have their second child into the family dynamic, it's clear that Joshua is attempting to deconstruct the new arrangement and how to cope with it. Director/co-writer George Ratliff (director of the awesome documentary Hell House) asks a lot of tough questions. Should a child's intelligence frighten an adult? Can a well-raised child become a sociopath at an early age? When does paranoia become fact? Are these suspicions about Joshua all in the heads of the parents or is this kid just plain bad? So my question to you is, are you willing to accept a kind of horror film in which the villain is a 9-year-old, who is not possessed and appears peaceful and content at all times?

Farmiga's Abby has had issues with post-partum psychosis before, so her suspicions about Joshua's intentions toward the new baby are at first dismissed as the condition returning. Her brother (Dallas Roberts) dotes on Joshua and encourages his talents as a piano protégé, so Joshua clings to him because he doesn't suspect the child is up to no good. Farmiga does what she's done well many times before: she has a complete and slow meltdown on camera, and it hurts to watch her loose her mind. With her trendy, pixie-ish haircut and great clothes, she's the model of a great mom. She doesn't treat her kids like accessories, but that doesn't stop her from suspecting Joshua of wrongdoing. Counter to practically every role I've ever seen him in, Rockwell is the film's calming force. Trying to balance his busy work schedule (his boss, played by Michael McKean, is constantly checking up on his progress) and his wife's declining mental condition, he doesn't see what Abby does until he takes time off to spend more time at home.

If our worst fears about Joshua are true, his ability to manipulate adults (including social workers, police and therapists) and falsify drawings and stories to support claims against his parents is uncanny but still highly believable. Ratliff and co-writer David Gilbert have structured a screenplay that could have easily gone overboard with Joshua's evilness, but never quite does. They opt instead to keep things based in reality and always leave the option open that Joshua has done nothing wrong (even thought it's more fun to think he has). Does Joshua want his new sibling dead, or does he want to reconstruct his family to one that seems more suited to the kind of upbringing he thinks he might like? Either prospect is mind-blowing.

The powerhouse acting in Joshua is the main reason to get your asses into the theater and see it, but the layered and well-thought-out story structure is the reason to stay. This is a gripping piece that reminded me a whole lot in tone and look to Rosemary's Baby, another nontraditional horror film that still found many ways to get my heart racing. To those of you who actually love your kids, well, I don't think Joshua is going to change that much. You might just look at them with a bit more suspicion for a while. This is a movie that actually has the guts to tell this wildly unconventional story, and do so in a highly effective and entertaining voice. You may end up liking it, even if you have to adjust your way of thinking for a short time to do so. It opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

Read my interviews with Joshua director George Ratliff and co-star Vera Farmiga on Ain't It Cool.

Introducing the Dwights

This little film reminded me how much I miss the days when there seemed to be a new film from Australia every month. I'm not sure if fewer films are being made Down Under or if just fewer of them are making it stateside, but I sincerely hope this movie is a sign of things to come.

Considering I had zero expectations (which is different than having low expectations) and knew virtually nothing (outside of the names of some of the cast members) about this dark family comedy, Introducing the Dwights (called Clubland in its native country) really surprised me with its pitch-black wit and big heart. In fact, it struck me as the kind of film John Waters might have made if he'd lived in Australia. I'm in no way saying that director Cherie Nowlan (who came out of television; I believe this is her second feature) was inspired by Waters, but there are elements that would have seemed very much at home in one of his films. I especially appreciated the way the film whole-heartedly embraces its white-trash, booze-soaked vulgarity in the form of Brenda Blethyn's Jean, the dirty-housewife stand-up comic who clings to her two grown sons and her prospects for a career breakthrough as if her life depended on it.

Son Tim (Khan Chittenden) runs a small moving company during the day and drives Jean to her stand-up gigs at night. It doesn't leave him much time for a personal life, and that's just find with Jean. Tim's brother Mark (Richard Wilson from The Proposition) is mildly retarded, and taking care of him when mom's working or rehearsing is Tim's third job. The brothers are extremely close, and mom reminds them every chance she gets that having them at a young age put an end to her career, which is only now beginning to pick up again (at least in her mind). The boys' absentee father (Frankie J. Holden) lives in town and also pulls double duty as both a department store security guard and a country singer specializing in Conway Twitty tunes. When Mark meets the beautiful Jill (newcomer Emma Booth; expect to see more of her in the future) while moving her into a new apartment, he is immediately taken by her kindness and patience with his awkward social skills. Naturally, Jean is threatened and does what she can to sabotage any attempt by Mark to escape her nest. Her being drunk and embarrassing every time Jill comes over to visit goes a long way toward those ends.

I realize I've painted Jean out to be a monster, and sometimes she most definitely is, but she's also hilarious (drunk or sober), scared, and in a kind of alcohol-drenched pain. In another actress's hands, Jean would have been impossible to embrace with any level of sympathy, but Blethyn (a two-time Oscar nominee for Secrets & Lies and Little Voice) doesn't demonize Jean with her performance, and that's the key to the film's success.

The relationship between Tim and Jill is bumpy, partly because she's something of a party girl and he's a virginous mama's boy. The more Jill draws Tim out from under his mother's wing, the more chaotic things become. Introducing the Dwights is filled with loads of uncomfortable, but still hilarious, sequences of this extended family (which also includes Jill's roommate and Jean's old show business pals) maneuvering around each other or simply slamming into each other in a drunken stupor. The film isn't afraid to be loud, offensive or messy, but it also doesn't shy away from being touching at times. And it pulls it off without seeming schizophrenic. In many ways, the film reminds me of the quirky Australian comedies I fell in love with during the 1980s, but the satisfying and extremely funny Dwights is much darker and cynical. And none of those films had Brenda Blethyn at their center, putting in another remarkable performance.

To read my exclusive interview with Introducing the Dwights star Brenda Blethyn on Ain't It Cool News.

Broken English

When I reviewed Hal Hartley's Fay Grim recently, I went on and on about my long-time love for Parker Posey, who surprised me once again with this more gentle and subtle performance in Broken English the feature film debut from Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of John and sister of Nick. Unlike either of those filmmakers, Zoe takes a quieter, less chaotic approach to her first work about Nora (Posey), a guest services coordinator (primarily for VIPs) at an upscale Manhattan hotel who has thrown herself into her job because her personal life in non-existent. Her best friend is Audrey (Drea De Matteo from "The Sopranos"), who seems to have an ideal marriage, which of course in films like this means she's unfulfilled and restless.

Early in the film, Nora meets a famous actor Nick Gable (Justin Theroux), and the two seem to connect on a very deep level (at least that's what he tells her before they sleep together). She soon finds out he has a long-term girlfriend and simply used her as a place filler while he was in New York shooting a movie. To avoid losing her mind, she decides to accept a party invitation at the home of a co-worker, but is set to leave after one drink. On her way out, she meets Julien (Melvin Poupaud, recently seen in Time To Leave and Le Divorce), a hard-to-read, somewhat pushy Frenchman, who seems immediately taken by Nora. Still stinging from her last romantic encounter, Nora does everything in her power to seem unappealing to Julien, but his carefree attitude ensures that he will not give up. After a proper date the next day, she finds herself falling for him as she shows him her New York, and he, in turn, is dazzled by her. It is only after a couple of truly blissful days together that Julien announces that he's going back to Paris the next day and wants Nora to come with him. She's not that spontaneous, and as soon as he's gone, she regrets her safe decision.

Soon, Nora and Audrey are off to Paris to have fun and look for Julien. Shortly after arriving Nora realizes she's lost Julien's number and has no way of finding him. As the trip nears its conclusion, Nora decides to stay an extra week to keep looking. It's a desperate and slightly pathetic move, and Nora knows it, but this quest seems important to establishing a pattern in her life that she needs to see through. Cassavetes' script is funny, sweet and honest, and Posey's portrayal of Nora is note perfect as a woman who has built a career out of pleasing others without taking care of her own needs in the process. She's a self-aware character who knows her faults and attempts to break out of her familiar patterns to become more adventurous and romantic.

Despite its focus on women and the presence of a hunky Frenchman, Broken English doesn't come across like a sappy Nora Ephron comedy. There are quite a few laughs here, but the film is most definitely a drama about a woman on the verge of drowning in her own self-pity. Thanks in large part to inspiration provided by her own mother (played beautifully by Cassavetes' mom, Gena Rowlands), Nora refuses to take her stagnant life lying down, and that's a nice change in films that cover this type of ground. I've always felt the ultimate compliment you can give a first-time filmmaker is simply saying, "I can't wait to see what they do next," and that's exactly how I feel about Broken English. Zoe Cassavetes shows a real talent for this material, and I eagerly await her second film. The movie opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

Macbeth

Set in modern-day Melbourne, Australia, and adapted to tell the story of rival organized crime groups, this telling of Shakespeare's Macbeth is an ambitious and energetic, if not entirely successful, take on one of the Bard's bloodiest plays. Keeping Shakespeare's language, but updating the setting, director Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper) fills his version of this story of revenge, paranoia and pussywhip-dom with more blood, sex and screaming than you'll probably get from your local theatre troupe.

Macbeth (Sam Worthington) is a top buttonman for crime lord Duncan (Gary Sweet), but Duncan still favors his own less competent son Malcolm (Matt Doran). Pressed on by his scheming wife (and a trio of hot, young, soothsaying witches), Macbeth assassinates Duncan and takes over the gang, while throwing suspicion on Malcolm in the process. Lady Macbeth goes wonkers, Macbeth gets more and more paranoid of those around him, everyone is out for blood, trees move, and you find out how a man is not "born of woman." Oh fun! It's always been a great, angry tale, which is probably why it's been remade and altered so many times on film. (Kurosawa's Throne of Blood is my particular favorite.) This version, with its highly attractive cast and energetic direction, is certainly never boring, but the ultra-cool take on this material seems a little unnecessary, kind of like more recent vampire movies where all the vamps hang out in nightclubs and look like fashion models.

Still, I liked this cast, especially Victoria Hill's Lady Macbeth. She's beautiful and crazy; my favorite kind of lady. And her slow decline into insanity is nicely realized. Worthington's take on Macbeth is also quite well done. I especially liked the unexpected orgy between Macbeth and the witches. Note to all filmmakers: Nudity always improves a Shakespeare production. There's not much more to the film than what is on the surface, but it's a great story that is in no way ruined or even damaged by Wright's treatment of it. Think of it as a bloody version of "Melrose Place." The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

Time

The still thriving South Korean film industry is seeing more and more of its works hit our shores every year, and that's a thrilling prospect by any standard. One of the more contemplative, but no less exciting, filmmakers from that nation is Ki-duk Kim, who I have been a fan of since his 2000 bloody drama The Isle. I was introduced to his film Bad Guy a couple years ago, but by then I'd already seen Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring, 3-Iron and Samaritan Girl. The latest of his films is called Time, and it's the story of a turbulent romance between a young couple so in love with each other, they can't be in the same cafe together without exploding into an argument. The woman, Seh-hee, is convinced her boyfriend, Ji-woo, is constantly checking out other women because he's tired of her face. She tests this theory one night in bed when he seems unwilling to respond to her advances until she suggest he think of another woman while making love. The next day she disappears leaving no indication where she has gone.

Ji-woo is in agony, and every attempt to date someone else during the subsequent six months seems to go horribly wrong, until he meets a lovely waitress named See-hee. It should come as no surprise that the two women's names are remarkably similar, and the new woman seems to have an instant connection to Ji-woo, even though they barely know each other. Since the focus of the film is looks and the excitement of being in love with someone new, and the film opens with grotesque footage of various types of plastic surgery, you can probably guess what happened to Seh-hee, but that isn't the point of the film. Ji-woo hasn't figured it out yet, and it's that horrible anticipation to the reveal that has us tense for much of the film.

Ki-duk Kim has a true gift for making the everyday seem strange and sometimes twisted, and with Time, he may have outdone himself. His films are usually quiet affairs, punctuated by often very violent moments. He's not as splashy as Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) or Joon-ho Bong (The Host), but they are dripping with atmosphere and solemn mood. There are moments are absolute strangeness in Time, such as when Ji-woo has a reunion with Seh-hee, but in order to disguise her new face she wears a cardboard cutout of her old face. We understand what's going on, but Ji-woo is baffled and thinks she's playing games. When he tells her he's seeing someone else, she actually gets jealous. When he tells the girlfriend about the meeting, she gets jealous. It's the same damn girl folks; she's getting jealous of herself. I mentioned earlier that beautiful and crazy is my favorite combination; that is one crazy lady. Time is more troublesome and confrontational than Kim's earlier works, but that's him maturing as a director. This is a magnificent work with two great performances at its core, and a succession of insane propositions about the world's obsession with looks and physical perfection. The film opens for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to steve@steveatthemovies.com.

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