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Fistful of Peanuts

Weak week: Kung Fu Hustle. Advertised as "a new comedy unlike anything you have ever seen before." Uh-huh. Or perhaps ever wanted to. A hunk of martial-arts madcap in which a gang of axe murderers will form a celebratory chorus line after their mincing leader has felled a rival (felled him face-first by slicing off his leg in full stride with a thrown tomahawk), but will soon run afoul of a handful of kung-fu geniuses living in peaceful obscurity in a Shanghai slum called Pig Sty Alley. The Lion's Roar, secret weapon of a henpecking cigarette-puffing landlady in hair curlers, will trump a bunch of axe wielders. But the Toad Style of the Kwan Lun School, the province of an unprepossessing old man locked up in Hannibal Lecter isolation, will trump that. And then the Buddha's Palm, a celestial gift to the Chosen One, will trump that. For those who haven't found martial-arts movies to be silly enough already, this assemblage of vaudeville characters, slapstick sight gags, and Looney Tunes violations of the laws of nature will further test their limits (if any). To be sure, the brutalization of bodies for the fun of it should not bother anyone who can see no difference between, say, a cartoon coyote and a flesh-and-blood human. Director, co-writer, and star Stephen Chow (it took me a while, as I wasn't familiar with him beforehand, to figure out which one he must be) has given the thing an intermittent touch of perceptible, intelligible direction, not to be confused with perceptive, intelligent direction. The unintermittent, unrelenting direction of it, in any event, is toward a new outpost, a new milestone, in the puerilization of the action film.

A Lot Like Love. The course of romance commences seven years ago, with anonymous mutual enrollment in the mile-high club in the lavatory of an LAX-to-JFK red-eye, and it proceeds from there in fits and starts, after progressively diminishing intermissions (three years, two, one, one-half), without either party ever really getting to know the other, or getting to be known to the viewer, either. All that matters is that they look good together, or separately, and have a good time. "They" are a would-be and then has-been dotcommer and a would-be actress and will-be photographer, portrayed respectively by Ashton Kutcher, whose specialty is an almost ventriloquial ability to speak through a frozen smile, and Amanda Peet, whose specialty is a lusty rapaciousness (my, what big teeth you have, Amanda!) suggestive of a brief, breath-catching recess in a marathon bout of lovemaking. Add, behind them, an album's worth of pop songs, and British director Nigel Cole will prove to you that he can not only make comedies for tittery oldsters (Saving Grace, Calendar Girls) but can just as well make one for tittery youngsters.

Don't Move. While waiting for his fifteen-year-old daughter to emerge from touch-and-go surgery for a head trauma, a doctor examines in flashback his double life as the upstanding husband of a cool blond beauty and as the rough lover, in fact rapist in the first place, of an earthy dark peasant. It's almost worth swimming through the suds for the principal performances of Penelope Cruz, disguised behind a gap-toothed orthodontic prosthesis, a putty nose, and raccoon rings of eye makeup, and the soulful, thoughtful Sergio Castellitto (the endearing Italian chef of Mostly Martha), a sort of not so bored or blasé Giancarlo Giannini, so openly tormented that you might be disposed to absolve him of all his sins. Castellitto also directed, and the least you can say for him in that capacity is that he is attentive to his fellow thespians whenever he can tear his gaze away from himself.

Walk on Water. A cold-blooded Mossad assassin, under the guise of an Israeli tour guide, cozies up to the two adult grandchildren of an ancient Nazi still at large. Shaken but not stirred by the recent suicide of his wife, he is not happy with his assignment, especially once he learns that the grandson with whom he has been showering at the beach, peeing on a campfire, etc., is gay. Suspense, either mortal or sexual, is minimal; and the ashen image of this cheapo production appears on the verge of fainting from malnutrition. Notwithstanding all that, filmmaker Eytan Fox (Yossi and Jagger) is not opposed to outright hokum: the homosexual, at his father's seventieth birthday bash, will lead the Hitler's Youth generation in a Jewish folk dance, and the assassin who is physiologically unable to cry will find occasion to open the floodgates, and the happy ending careens all the way to giddy.

Oldboy. Kick-ass Kafka, from South Korea, and from filmmaker Chan-wook Park, about an ordinary citizen imprisoned without charge in a shabby apartment, framed during his stay for his wife's murder, set free after fifteen years, and allotted a matter of days to answer the questions of who imprisoned him and why. Additional questions: why fifteen years, why a matter of days, and what made him into the inexhaustible fighting machine we see before us today? The questions give the viewer more to hang on to than just the (literally) bone-crunching, tooth-pulling violence, or the carnival-sideshow spectacle of the hero wolfing down a live octopus, or the sickly, sallow color. The answers, as far as they go, seem disproportionately and disappointingly mundane.

* * *

Recent deterrent to regular attendance at Landmark theaters: the Stella Artois beer commercial masquerading as a "short," with full cast and crew credits. I've now seen it five times in two weeks at all three theaters, the Ken, the Hillcrest, the La Jolla Village. Or rather, three times, plus two hasty retreats to the lobby to wait it out.

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Weak week: Kung Fu Hustle. Advertised as "a new comedy unlike anything you have ever seen before." Uh-huh. Or perhaps ever wanted to. A hunk of martial-arts madcap in which a gang of axe murderers will form a celebratory chorus line after their mincing leader has felled a rival (felled him face-first by slicing off his leg in full stride with a thrown tomahawk), but will soon run afoul of a handful of kung-fu geniuses living in peaceful obscurity in a Shanghai slum called Pig Sty Alley. The Lion's Roar, secret weapon of a henpecking cigarette-puffing landlady in hair curlers, will trump a bunch of axe wielders. But the Toad Style of the Kwan Lun School, the province of an unprepossessing old man locked up in Hannibal Lecter isolation, will trump that. And then the Buddha's Palm, a celestial gift to the Chosen One, will trump that. For those who haven't found martial-arts movies to be silly enough already, this assemblage of vaudeville characters, slapstick sight gags, and Looney Tunes violations of the laws of nature will further test their limits (if any). To be sure, the brutalization of bodies for the fun of it should not bother anyone who can see no difference between, say, a cartoon coyote and a flesh-and-blood human. Director, co-writer, and star Stephen Chow (it took me a while, as I wasn't familiar with him beforehand, to figure out which one he must be) has given the thing an intermittent touch of perceptible, intelligible direction, not to be confused with perceptive, intelligent direction. The unintermittent, unrelenting direction of it, in any event, is toward a new outpost, a new milestone, in the puerilization of the action film.

A Lot Like Love. The course of romance commences seven years ago, with anonymous mutual enrollment in the mile-high club in the lavatory of an LAX-to-JFK red-eye, and it proceeds from there in fits and starts, after progressively diminishing intermissions (three years, two, one, one-half), without either party ever really getting to know the other, or getting to be known to the viewer, either. All that matters is that they look good together, or separately, and have a good time. "They" are a would-be and then has-been dotcommer and a would-be actress and will-be photographer, portrayed respectively by Ashton Kutcher, whose specialty is an almost ventriloquial ability to speak through a frozen smile, and Amanda Peet, whose specialty is a lusty rapaciousness (my, what big teeth you have, Amanda!) suggestive of a brief, breath-catching recess in a marathon bout of lovemaking. Add, behind them, an album's worth of pop songs, and British director Nigel Cole will prove to you that he can not only make comedies for tittery oldsters (Saving Grace, Calendar Girls) but can just as well make one for tittery youngsters.

Don't Move. While waiting for his fifteen-year-old daughter to emerge from touch-and-go surgery for a head trauma, a doctor examines in flashback his double life as the upstanding husband of a cool blond beauty and as the rough lover, in fact rapist in the first place, of an earthy dark peasant. It's almost worth swimming through the suds for the principal performances of Penelope Cruz, disguised behind a gap-toothed orthodontic prosthesis, a putty nose, and raccoon rings of eye makeup, and the soulful, thoughtful Sergio Castellitto (the endearing Italian chef of Mostly Martha), a sort of not so bored or blasé Giancarlo Giannini, so openly tormented that you might be disposed to absolve him of all his sins. Castellitto also directed, and the least you can say for him in that capacity is that he is attentive to his fellow thespians whenever he can tear his gaze away from himself.

Walk on Water. A cold-blooded Mossad assassin, under the guise of an Israeli tour guide, cozies up to the two adult grandchildren of an ancient Nazi still at large. Shaken but not stirred by the recent suicide of his wife, he is not happy with his assignment, especially once he learns that the grandson with whom he has been showering at the beach, peeing on a campfire, etc., is gay. Suspense, either mortal or sexual, is minimal; and the ashen image of this cheapo production appears on the verge of fainting from malnutrition. Notwithstanding all that, filmmaker Eytan Fox (Yossi and Jagger) is not opposed to outright hokum: the homosexual, at his father's seventieth birthday bash, will lead the Hitler's Youth generation in a Jewish folk dance, and the assassin who is physiologically unable to cry will find occasion to open the floodgates, and the happy ending careens all the way to giddy.

Oldboy. Kick-ass Kafka, from South Korea, and from filmmaker Chan-wook Park, about an ordinary citizen imprisoned without charge in a shabby apartment, framed during his stay for his wife's murder, set free after fifteen years, and allotted a matter of days to answer the questions of who imprisoned him and why. Additional questions: why fifteen years, why a matter of days, and what made him into the inexhaustible fighting machine we see before us today? The questions give the viewer more to hang on to than just the (literally) bone-crunching, tooth-pulling violence, or the carnival-sideshow spectacle of the hero wolfing down a live octopus, or the sickly, sallow color. The answers, as far as they go, seem disproportionately and disappointingly mundane.

* * *

Recent deterrent to regular attendance at Landmark theaters: the Stella Artois beer commercial masquerading as a "short," with full cast and crew credits. I've now seen it five times in two weeks at all three theaters, the Ken, the Hillcrest, the La Jolla Village. Or rather, three times, plus two hasty retreats to the lobby to wait it out.

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