Film

 Dummy
Written and directed by Greg Pritikin
Artisan, opens September 12

If ever an indie needed Project Greenlight's mandated slickness and access to Matt-'n'-Ben's piggy bank, it's Greg Pritikin's Spartan, tonally schizoid rom-com Dummy. Instead, it has Adrien Brody in his last pre-Pianist role, leading one to assume that the film—which veers torpidly from antic humor to mortifying sentimentality—would have remained shelved were it not for his Oscar coup. Brody plays Steven, a nerdy clerk who decides to pursue his dream of ventriloquism after losing his job and falling for his unemployment counselor (Vera Farmiga). Dummy's laughs revolve around Steven's one-dimensionally neurotic family (including Illeana Douglas) and a punk-rock pal (the decidedly multi-dimensional Milla Jovovich), while the curdled plot, and Brody himself, who must be awfully thankful for Roman Polanski, flounder listlessly. Mark Holcomb


Forbidden Photographs
Directed by Bill Macdonald
Little Villa
Opens September 12, Cinema Village

Surely a better documentary than this slipshod video cheapie could have been made about legendary alt-cult photographer Charles Gatewood, whose astounding images of burly bikers, tattoo-and-piercing freaks, horny hippies, and other American outsider types serve as a unique and influential brand of DIY anthropology: His best-known contribution appeared in Re/Search's Modern Primitives, and thereby helped launch a worldwide body-mod craze. Though punchy interviews with scene members succeed in conveying the admiration and respect Gatewood has earned in said communities for his unflinching yet oddly humanist work (one feisty dominatrix says Gatewood's art "reaches out and grabs your fucking balls and demands to be looked at"—could any artist ask for a better pull-quote?), the queasy combination of ogling camerawork, cue-card-read statements, iffy structure, poorly mixed sound, and horrendously inescapable 8-bit-video-game-meets-'80s-porn-synth background music constitutes its own unique form of anti-audience sadism—sans safe words. Ed Halter


So Close
Directed by Corey Yuen
Strand, opens September 12, Landmark Sunshine

The trailer for So Close is mouth-agape hot. In a glass-metal matrix, two assassin sisters and their cop nemesis throw jump-cut shade after each stilettoed chop-sock, pummeling goons to drum'n'bass thwaps. Climaxing with wild-eyed Zhao Wei in sword-slashing crab-run toward a mafioso and Shu Qi's punctuating sneer-wink, it suggests Charlie's Angels sans puppet-masters. Too bad these scorchers can't have more fun. Police babe Karen Mok and her rookie partner happily send up Training Day yin-yang, but a resolution gifting world-surveillance software to the cops, plus slo-mo action over the oft reprised "Close to You," stretch past bullet time into nap time. Laura Sinagra


Warrior of Light
Directed by Monika Treut
New Yorker, September 12 through 18, BAM

Devoted documentarian of bad girls, gender outlaws, and academic agitators, Monika Treut focuses on Brazilian activist Yvonne Bezerra de Mello. Sorbonne-educated and married to a hotelier, Bezerra de Mello tends to the children of Rio's slums. Although enjoying leisure class trappings, she is no limousine liberal: The founder of Projeto Uerê safe house, she provides food, medicine, and physical affection. Segments of kids learning capoeira and a visit with a macumba priest run too long, but the best moments feature Uerê's children themselves, such as Vanessa, who wants to be an anthropologist. Melissa Anderson


The Order
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland
20th Century Fox, in release

This ghost-in-the-Vatican thriller regurgitates enough occult clichés to deserve its own special circle of hell. Hunky priest Heath Ledger investigates the death of his mentor, a Carolingian mystic whose hole-y cadaver suggests voodoo at work. The culprit emerges as of Benno Fürmann's "sin eater"—an undead jet-setter who expiates clients' sins through noisy, CGI-aided ingestion. Bitter enemies, they nevertheless seem perpetually on the verge of making out, leaving Shannyn Sossaman's tagalong to wilt from neglect. David NG


Millennium Actress
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Go Fish, opens September 12, Loews E-Walk

Kon's debut, 1997's Perfect Blue, had half a dozen endings, none conclusive: When it seemed near closure, preceding scenes were revealed to be dreams, Caligari-esque delusions, or films-within-films. Kon darts more purposefully across the reality/fantasy axis in Millennium Actress—in which aging star Chiyoko recounts her life story to a doc crew. Flashbacks integrate with scenes from her films, and it becomes difficult to discern between the two—cinema is equated with memory. Unfortunately, the trippy disorientation ultimately devolves into outright confusion. Ben Kenigsberg


Luster
Written and directed by Everett Lewis
TLA, opens September 12, Quad

An endearingly saccharine queer melodrama, Luster follows a group of gay men and women sorting out crushes and crises during a mid-'90s weekend. Soulful poet Jackson (Justin Herwick), desired by employer-friend Sam (Shane Powers) and rich-kid Derek (Sean Thibodeau), has designs on a torture freak and—eeeww!—his own hunky cousin. Lesbolicious couple Alyssa and Sandra (Pamela Gidley and Susannah Melvoin) provide shoulders on which all can cry. The climactic shocker is far too exacting, but Lewis nails the milieu, and has the sense to not spell out every motivation in capital letters. Mark Holcomb

 
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