Film

Bosnia Burma Vietnam
(October 24 through 27, at Anthology Film Archives)

For Which Way Is East, documentarian Lynne Sachs and her sister Dana recorded a 1994 trip through Vietnam. The women's diaristic reflections—of activities like descending into the underground tunnels once inhabited by Viet Cong—acknowledge that their presence as curious Americans alters the reality before them. It's a smart and lyrical film, though at times their Sarah Vowell-isms grate. Lisa DiLillo's similarly imagistic Burma doc, Tongues Don't Have Bones, devotes more diegetic face-time to long-suffering democratic party leaders, including Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who recount the ravages of a five-decade-long military rule, focusing on 1988's smashed student uprisings and 1990's violently sabotaged elections. DiLillo weaves in the illustrative poetry of Kyi May Kaung, and lingers on religious iconography, suggesting that government-sponsored temple restorations are a tactic to distract the populace from political action. (Also screening: the 15-minute House of Drafts, an Internet-based collaboration with artists in Sarajevo.) —Laura Sinagra


Paid in Full
Directed by Charles Stone III (Dimension, opens October 25)

As superficial as his 1999 short film True, the inspiration for Budweiser's "Whassup?" commercials, Charles Stone III's feature debut is set in a 1986 Harlem that doesn't look much like anywhere in New York. (It was partially shot in Canada.) Based on true events, Paid in Full tells the story of Ace (Wood Harris), a shy dry cleaner who becomes the head of a cocaine empire. Ace supposedly recruits (and corrupts) young men like his former self, but the movie never shows him interacting with anyone who might cause him to feel a pang of guilt. Predictably, he comes to realize that his BMW convertible isn't worth the drug-trade risks. "Who did this to you?" frantic ER staffers ask Ace, after he's shot by thugs. "I did," he replies. Any questions? —Ben Kenigsberg


By Hook or by Crook
Directed by Harriet Dodge and Silas Howard (Artistic License, opens October 25, at the Screening Room)

Harriet Dodge and Silas Howard's desultory buddy flick is Midnight Cowboy by way of Judith Halberstam. Criminal-minded Shy (Howard) leaves Kansas in her best suit for San Francisco, where she meets the unhinged Valentine (Dodge), whose verbal tics are more Rain Man than Ratso Rizzo. Refreshingly, this tale of stone butch blues is rarely treatise-like; sexuality never devolves into agitprop. It founders, however, in execution: Long, inchoate scenes are burdened by overwrought plotlines (Valentine's search for her birth mother; time in stir). But the film is buoyed by moments of pleasure, too: Joan Jett's hammy cameo; Stanya Kahn's loopy Billie, Valentine's devoted lady; handsome cinematography by Ann Rossetti; a snippet of the Geraldine Fibbers' "Lilybelle"—a fitting analogue to "Everybody's Talkin'." —Melissa Anderson


Formula 51
Directed by Ronny Yu (Screen Gems)

A mere five minutes beyond the opening credits, Samuel L. Jackson, as the Liverpool-bound drug chemist Elmo McElroy, utters his signature word, motherfucker—the first of some 155 fuck-derived expressions in Formula 51. In this dull-witted caper, thugs are forever throwing up their hands and saying, "Now let me get this straight! You just did what?" before recapping the plot or shooting a gray-toothed punk in the head. Working from a script by first-timer Stel Pavlou, a Liverpool liquor-store clerk enamored of Tarantino and Ritchie, director Ronny Yu (The Bride With White Hairand Bride of Chucky) stages the requisite mayhem that ensues as L.A. and U.K. dealers try to steal Elmo's designer-drug formula. Emily Mortimer and Robert Carlyle generate heat as criminal lovers, but most of the cast just engages in embarrassing scenery-gnawing. —Justine Elias


Food of Love
Directed by Ventura Pons (TLA, opens October 25, at Cinema Village)

David Leavitt's look-ma-I'm-gay novel The Page Turnergets a televisual gloss from Spanish veteran Ventura Pons, a cargoload of British character actors in tow. Vacationing in Barcelona, 18-year-old Bay Area piano student Paul (Kevin Bishop) enjoys Gaudi-postcard fling with musician idol (Paul Rhys) while monstrous divorcée mom (Juliet Stevenson) plays unwitting third wheel. The film then relocates to New York, where Paul, now at Juilliard and a favorite among the predatory middle-aged homosexuals who evidently comprise the uptown classical-music elite, must come to terms with his mediocre talent and contain the inevitable maternal meltdown. Stevenson's performance is at once clueless and fiercely committed, a volatile combination that pays off in the best scene: the mother of all PFLAG meetings. —Dennis Lim


Abandon
Directed by Stephen Gaghan (Paramount)

In Traffic writer Stephen Gaghan's directorial debut, a McKinsey recruiter tells eager college prospects that "your Derrida, your poetry la-di-da" get you coffee in the outside world, where "you're at the mercy of market forces." As if a deconstruction-savvy consultant weren't psychologically thrilling enough, Abandon puts super-senior Katie Holmes through the prey-purview paces while simultaneously commenting on Holmesian comeliness, an exercise facilitated by the fact that her character is also named Katie. Hardly a nuanced portrait of a young woman's breakdown, the film nevertheless works up a few scares, particularly a tense call-number hunt in the library stacks. Benjamin Bratt underplays an AA-attending police detective investigating the two-year-old disappearance of Katie's ex. When Bratt and Holmes succumb to the other kind of abandon (at the mercy of market forces, as it were), the plot machinery creaks louder than the bedsprings. —Ed Park


The Transporter
Directed by Cory Yuen (20th Century Fox)

Master criminals are so busy procuring rocket launchers in The Transporter that it seems they just plum forgot how to drive stick. For this, they hire wheelman Frank Martin (Jason Statham), who never asks for names, ups his prices, or moves his facial muscles. When an irrationally disgruntled employer blows up his favorite getaway car and his house, Frank wreaks vengeance. A veritable frenzy of insert shots (dashboards! driving gloves! steely eyes in the rearview!), The Transporter kills time between car chases and martial-arts bouts with random scuba-diving footage apparently culled from producer–co-writer Luc Besson's The Big Blue. Shrieky heroine Shu Qi's dumb-gaminery exceeds that of Roseanna Arquette's benchmark 1988 performance in the same role. This time, the Besson-waif is gagged, bagged, and repeatedly thrown in a car trunk before (or perhaps until) she gratefully mounts the impassive hero. —J. E.

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