In Brief

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

R, 97 minutes

“Wah-Wah” is the unfortunately named first foray into writing and directing by seasoned British actor Richard E. Grant. It is the semiautobiographical retelling of his childhood growing up in the insular and isolated world of the colonial British Protectorate of Swaziland just prior to its independence.

A fraught family drama, “Wah-Wah” revolves around the young Ralph Compton at ages 12 (Zac Fox) and 14 (Nicholas Hoult) and his father Harry Compton (Gabriel Byrne) as they confront their abandonment by his beautiful and selfish mother, Lauren (the elegantly exacting Miranda Richardson). The movie begins a perfect exercise in cool restraint. The neutral palette and spare late-1960s production design compliment the brilliant evocation by the main characters of a particularly British and particularly acid expression of family dysfunction. The Comptons tear each other apart with a cold violence and detachment utterly alien to American sensibilities.

After his mother’s departure, Ralph returns home from boarding school to discover his father has remarried an airline stewardess (Emily Watson) whose entrance into the movie is heralded with oddly inappropriate 1940s swing music, as if to signify the sense of freedom and unconventional joie de vivre she will bring to the community. This new liberation extends to other aspects of the film as well, including a few ill-advised special effects and an escalation of dramatic intensity to the point of silliness.

This is a shame, because Mr. Grant has been blessed with a cast of rare talent and proficiency. There is the sense that Mr. Byrne could play his entire part backwards and with his eyes closed, his portrayal of the charming and well-intentioned Harry Compton and his descent into alcoholism is so adept, so effortless. But the script has him throwing too many things and engaging in histrionic excess throughout. Ms. Richardson is a cool blonde to delight Hitchcock himself, and Ms. Watson does as well as she can with such an awkward stereotype of a character as the frank and quirky American. The underlying issues of colonialism are only alluded to with an unresolved and uncomfortable ambiguity and in the end the excellence of the actors cannot redeem the generally disappointing nature of the film. Also it is not advisable under any conditions to employ baby talk in the title of your movie whatever justifications exist in the script.

– Iris Brooks

PG-13, 102 minutes

For connoisseurs of Lindsay Lohan schadenfreude, “Just My Luck” is a feast. Ms. Lohan plays Ashley Albright, an unremarkable young woman who is perpetually, irritatingly lucky in life and work, until she kisses Jake, a cursed schlemiel (Chris Pine), and swaps fortunes. That’s when the face-first plunges into mud piles, near-electrocutions, crushing job loss, and night-in-jail smackdowns kick in.

It’s a joy to behold and gives a raggedlooking Ms. Lohan an excuse for looking so much worse for the wear. But it might prove scant solace to non-teenage viewers unenchanted by this fairy-tale comedy of reversals illustrated through endless pratfalls and standard New York success worship (the latter no surprise, with one screenwriter an alumna of “Sex and the City”).

Ashley goes from having a nice Fifth Avenue apartment and a P.R. position to working in a bowling alley and living in a cramped share with her devoted friends. (The horror!) The Prince Charming story meets “The Cooler” as she hunts for Jake to kiss and recoup her luck. Jake, who’s so nice he takes care of a neighbor’s kid, has since signed the band he represents with a record mogul whom he saves from a car accident. She can’t quite remember his face, since the big kiss happened at a masquerade ball she had organized for said mogul. That was in headier times, before she did things like accidentally drop her contact lenses in kitty litter.

Such scatalogical humor runs rampant and reflects the revealing fears below all this: either you’re rolling in money, or you’re rolling in something else. When Ash briefly restores her luck, it comes tellingly in the form of a new charge card from her old boss. There’s some barely explored friction between unlucky Ashley and her friends, who are long accustomed to unblessed lives. Call it “Friends With Luck.”

– Nicolas Rapold

PG-13, 121 minutes

Actually, the dream began a while ago, not on the pitch but in some producer’s office: “Goal! The Dream Begins” is the first in a trilogy of films targeting the footstomping throngs of soccer fans across the globe. Part two is already in the can (which can leave a critic feeling a little ineffectual), and a similar aura of inevitability suffuses this film, an underdog story with one or two triumphant moments.

Thanks to approximately 19 second chances, Santiago (Kuno Becker), a strapping lad from the Los Angeles barrios, gets to try out for Newcastle United. Getting there involves catching the eye of a rangy British scout (Stephen Dillane) who happens to be in town, and defying the wishes of his stubborn landscaper father (Tony Plana, sporting exquisitely manicured eyebrows).

Once in England, Santiago’s main occupation should be playing awesome soccer for our entertainment, but his main duties entail concealing an asthma condition from the team and striking up an instant friendship with their squillion-poundsalary star (Alessandro Nivola, as effortlessly charismatic as in the recent indie treasure “Junebug”). He also gets the girl (Anna Friel, as the team nurse) and proves the team’s tough-talking manager (Marcel Iures) wrong.

Since there’s never any doubt as to Santiago’s prospects at overcoming the script’s obstacles, Mr. Becker, a star of Mexican telenovelas, doesn’t have much to do but deliver lines with conviction and dribble (the ball, not drool). Stadium scenes at least ramp up the excitement with some well-turned plays, so perhaps the film’s drawn-out feel comes from being the preparatory film of a trilogy. (Then again, that’s what everyone said about “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.”) There remains at least the meager amusement of watching the film’s laborious cameos by international soccer stars probably go unnoticed by American audiences.

– N.R.

unrated, 129 minutes

A few years ago, the French director Cedric Klapisch scored a big hit at home with “L’Auberge Espagnole,” a zippy confection about the 20-something growing pains of Xavier and his mostly attractive friends and lovers. The briskly edited romantic entanglements, student milieu, and faux introspection made for a respectable divertissement a few pegs above an MTV soap.

“Russian Dolls,” playing at the IFC Center, catches up with a few of the inhabitants of that crowded Spanish apartment share five years later, and a few things have changed. Xavier has found gainful employment of a sort, cobbling together the series of compromises that are a young writer’s early career. His close friend Isabelle (Cecile De France, lately of the slick horror flick “High Tension”) is a successful financial analyst, while his dyspeptic ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tatou) has had a child, whom he sometimes babysits.

But the most interesting development is that Romain Duris, who plays Xavier, has since triumphed as the impossibly charismatic real estate crook and pianist manque bebopping through “The Beat That My Heart Skipped.” That performance, one of the best of 2005, is hard to forget while watching Mr. Duris as the stickarmed tamped-down neurotic Xavier go through the paces of Mr. Klapisch’s television-serial cinema. The giddy sense of danger Mr. Duris achieved in “Beat” seems to underline all that’s just giddy and plastic about this endeavor.

That’s not to say that Mr. Klapisch tries for something profound and misses, because “Russian Dolls” is primarily entertaining and often even sweet. But as with the first installment, Mr. Klapisch has a tendency to retreat from promising bittersweet notes or character complication as soon as they might threaten tempo or vibe. In a way, it’s best to see “Russian Dolls” independent of “Auberge,” if only to meet Xavier and company for the first time, and avoid the urge to demand more.


Cartoons: No Laughing Matter?

It’s been 10 years since Film Forum premiered an all-animation program, which makes “Cartoons: No Laughing Matter?” (running through May 23) a bit of an event for those who appreciate alternatives to features. The sometimes bewildering tonal highs and lows across these eight shorts let everyone come away with something, ranging from the fearful floating dreamscape of “The Flooded Playground” by Lisa Crafts to the rambunctious satire of Debra Solomon’s “Everybody’s Pregnant.”

“Who I Am and What I Want” opens the program, which might seem an odd choice, as a rollicking, robust entry in the finest tradition of lunatic misanthropy. Chris Shepherd and David Shrigley seem to follow wherever their simple, thick black lines on white backgrounds lead them, in this playful autobiography presented by a lovably unlovable hollow-eyed fiend.

J.J. Villard’s Bukowski adaptation “Son of Satan” twitches in and out of its effectively bilious woodcut look, while Suzie Templeton squeezes a thousand clouded-over Sunday afternoons of pathos and mood into the five minutes of “Dog.” She finds a haunting image in an apparently agoraphobic father hanging out from the front door to reach his son’s sick dog.

The justified finale of the program is Suzan Pitt’s “El Doctor,” an endlessly fantastical night with a drunk Mexican doctor, reeling with him across a landscape of self-creating myth and folk-art riffs.

– N.R.

The New York Sun

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