Hungry Hearts

Looking to crash out of a humdrum existence: Aniston with Reilly in The Good Girl
photo: Dale Robinette
Looking to crash out of a humdrum existence: Aniston with Reilly in The Good Girl

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The Good Girl
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Written by Mike White
Fox Searchlight

Blood Work
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Brian Helgeland, from the novel by Michael Connelly
Warner Bros.
Opens August 9

Secret Ballot
Written and directed by Babak Payami
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens August 9 at the Quad

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As tin woodsman Eastwood supplies the movie's heart, Jeff Daniels brings a disorienting touch of dumb-and-dumberness to the proceedings, playing the ultimate sidekick from hell: "Don't any clues lead to the beach?" Paul Rodriguez adds heat as a volatile police detective, with dame of mystery Wanda De Jesus on hand to complete the ethnic subtext characteristic of Eastwood's work since his late-'60s westerns. The protag's you-know-what is in the right place, although structurally speaking, Blood Work is founded on the hero-villain doubling that may be found in Eastwood's cop films from Dirty Harry through Tightrope to In the Line of Fire.

Moody and succinct, Blood Work cuts quicker to the chase than the star's recent genre films. It's also exceedingly well shot by Tom Sterns, a first-time cinematographer but longtime cowhand at Eastwood's Malpaso production company. The climactic shipboard action sequence is considerably helped by Stern's use of guttering, reflected lights to create a shadow play, scored by the clank and complaint of rusted metal.




The latest bulletin from the land of allegory, a/k/a Iran, Babak Payami's Secret Ballot unfolds on the Persian Gulf resort island of Kish, against the elemental desert-island landscape familiar from last year's art-house hit The Day I Became a Woman. Secret Ballot, which is also derived from a story by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is a subtler piece of work. On national election day, a ballot box parachutes down from the sky, and a bemused young soldier whose normal routine is guarding the deserted beach gets assigned to accompany a government bureaucrat in gathering the votes. To his ill-concealed amazement, the official turns out to be female—a likably innocent enthusiast who arrives from the city in a cumbersome full-length chador.
Together, this odd couple chase down voters—sometimes literally—by jeep and, at one point, by boat. The bemused, albeit loquacious, Sergeant Rockhead plays peasant Sancho Panza to the idealistic agent's earnest Quixote as she searches for ballots, cheerfully copes with unanswerable questions regarding the rules for voting, attempts to navigate the male world of the local cemetery, and patiently explains that God is not an "approved" candidate. Methodical, measured, and gently tedious in its comedy, Secret Ballot is a purposefully reductive movie—which may be why it's so successful at lodging itself in the brain. The bureaucrat's persistence is mirrored by the filmmaker's. The long takes, middle-distance framing, and generally static camera suggest a form of "ABC art." So does the premise. How many possible variations can Payami work on the situation? Secret Ballot is didactic in a peculiar, teasing fashion. Is the voting an empty ritual? An exercise in futility? Is this a satire of Iranian democracy or does it question the idea of democracy itself? Perhaps this intelligent and acute filmmaker would like to observe our next election in Florida.
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