By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Area K: A Political Fishing Documentary
Directed by Nadav Harel and Ramon Bloomberg
Frontiers of Dreams and Fears
Directed by Mai Masri (at Anthology Film Archives, October 3 through 9)
This double bill pairs intimate visions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seen through different microcosms. The term "Area K" refers to a border zone in the Mediterranean between Israeli and Palestinian waters. For the Gaza Strip's impoverished inhabitants, fishing is a source of revenue, but Israeli security has long cordoned off this major breeding ground. Begun before the start of the Al Aqsa intifada, Nadav Harel and Ramon Bloomberg's engaging film follows an unusual joint venture between Gaza fishermen and residents of a coastal Israeli settlement, who arrange for access to Area K in exchange for Palestinian manpower. The camera contrasts dreamy undersea shots with life above water, where tensions escalate following political crises. But the film's focus on people pursuing their living with scant concern for ideology gives it a hopeful note.
Mai Masri's Frontiers of Dreams and Fears is a moving portrait of two young Palestinian girls: Mona, 13, who was born in Shatila, a refugee camp in Beirut, and Manar, 14, who lives in the Dheisha camp outside of Bethlehem. Both of their families fled Palestine during Israel's 1948 War of Independence. The girls meet online and become pen pals; later they get together in person at the border between Israel and Lebanon, exchanging souvenirs and embraces through the barbed wire. Masri makes their poverty and displacement, but also their teenage exuberance and imaginings, vivid and compelling. But the film gives no sense of why their longing for an idealized homeland presents such a thorny political problem for Israel, which they refer to only as "the pre-1948 territories." That state won't just fade away, despite the dreams of children. Leslie Camhi
Sweet Home Alabama
Directed by Andy Tennant (Touchstone, in general release)
If those Big Giant Head posters of Reese Witherspoon didn't telegraph torment, just imagine her scolding you in an extended feisty fit. Again, despite her relentless vim and winsome facial symmetry, Witherspoon is just too dialed-up to be America's Sweetheart. And in Andy Tennant's Hepburn homage (The Philadelphia Story meets Breakfast at Tiffany's), her spin as Melanie Carmichael (nee Smooter), a Deep South scruff turned Fashion Week design darling (godawful wardrobe notwithstanding), lacks both Kate's sly ambivalence and Audrey's sad grace. The plotgal who traded good-ol'-boy hubby for NYC glitz and returns to get divorced before marrying urbane mayor's son rediscovers her true loveseems like a Cinderella slam dunk, and sultry Josh Lucas (as Melanie's Hud-era-Newman-clone ex) and Ethan Embry (as the ex-couple's non-threatening gay pal) conjure a low-key sense of mischief. But the clunky yee-haw script full of tired bitch/angel oppositions and Witherspoon's school-play petulance cranks the twang to a blare. Laura Sinagra
With the exceptions of pornography, Super Mario Bros., and Robert De Niro's character in Brazil, movies don't care much about plumbers. Not so with Pipe Dreams, a witty, low-key romantic comedy starring Martin Donovan as your fix-it-all fantasy (he's competent, he overcharges only those who can afford it, and he's not given to wanton displays of his butt crack). When his sexy-brainy screenwriter neighbor (Mary-Louise Parker) disses his job after a one-night stand, he steals her script and gets a casting director friend to help him impersonate a film directora chick-magnet profession that allows him to go madly tooling for strange. The dialogue, by Walsh and Cynthia Kaplan, is sharp and nimble (when an agent asks who represents him, the faux director mumbles, "Gosh, I don't even know what district I'm in"), but the pace is too steady and leisurely for comedy. Even so, the romance here has an intriguing slow burn. Justine Elias
Directed by Luis Mandoki (Columbia, in general release)
Dumped by a studio fearful that a child-abduction thriller might be in poor taste what with all the real child-abduction thrillers on the evening news, Luis Mandoki's brisk hack job pushes no more buttons than Connie Chung Tonightthough, for better or worse, it's perverse enough to stage the traumatic event as a spouse swap. While an asthmatic tyke (Dakota Fanning) cowers in a cabin with a threateningly dim oaf (Pruitt Taylor Vance), brains of the operation Kevin Bacon swings his dick at panicked but gutsy mom Charlize Theron in her lakeside manse, and speech-slurring, eye-rolling consort Courtney Love ambushes anesthesiologist dad Stuart Townsend in his hotel room. Thus partitioned into queasy two-handers, the film proceeds to obliterate the simmering sex terror with a round of crash-boom-bang. Voraciously game and deploying an outsize pre-Malibu affect like she's still angling for Nancy Spungen, Love alone succeeds in going toe to toe with the climactic freeway smashup.Dennis Lim
Produced by impresario Ram Gopal Varma, this scary-silly riff on the classic "never pick up a hitchhiker" cautionary tale features one of India's latest heartthrobs, Vivek Oberoi, as Arvind, a young SUV-jockey who, while whisking his honey off for intended elopement (her cop daddy doesn't approve), runs into trouble on a desolate stretch of road outside Delhi. As paramour Laxmi, buoyant Antara Mali shows much midriff (a hilariously overheated song and dance sequence about "true love" features double-digit costume changes). And director Rajat Mukherjee provides J.Lo video-scapes for Sandesh Shandilya's bhangra-flavored guitar-screaming dance-pop. As the car-jacking comic-monster maniac Babu, Manoj Bajpai leers through a laudably complex take on the lovesick thug (he murders indiscriminately but won't rapeor will he?). The film's reliance on that old saw about women loving fascists makes for a sexual tension that's alternately arousing and depressing. L.S.
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