Alex Proyas's Dark City may have scooped The Matrix with its lithe quoting of Metropolis and La Jetée, but unless somebody cut my Ecstasy with agony, it sure seems like Garage Days, his attempt at frisky and wry rock 'n' roll gonzodelica, is spotting trains that left the station a few years back. Actually it's hard to peg an exact year on the aesthetic of this feel-good Aussie local-kids-make-bad jumble, with its vaguely '80s haircuts, AC/DC tribute culture, '00s-era retro-duds, Dave Navarro-ish preening rock rivals, '70s-throwback souse band-managers, and saturated colors that recall mid-'90s Levi's ads.
The amiable story tracks a scrappy crew of dubious Sydney musicians who, thanks to the tangled sex life of a big-time producer (a spot-on, Robert Evans-like Marton Csokas), get a serendipitous big break. It's a sort of That Thing You Don't Do, with a running joke that, despite several bounce-off-the-wall montages (fueled by the likes of the Violent Femmes and Sparklehorse), we are coyly prevented from getting any sense of the central entity's chops. Proyas's trademark kinetic brio is, of course, still a thrill to vidi, but from the Amélie-style hyper-hopscotch through the childhood of amiable slacker frontman (Kick Gurry) to the bullet-time drug-binge voice-over by his drummer (Chris Sadrinna), it's clear that the band's internecine struggleseven with their ante upped by infidelity, addiction, and pregnancyaren't going to provide enough grist for Proyas's visual mill. As fun as a heads-on-fire LSD-party sequence may have seemed on the storyboard, you really start to feel like our Crow-master will be glad to get back to shattering extraterrestrial jailhouse glass and shoving jagged buildings up out of the earth like fault-line stalagmites. Indeed, it's only the rendering of mental illness that provides Proyas ample freedom, as the band's guitarist (Brett Stiller) grapples with a sexed-up schizophrenia complete with a ravenous blood-bathing, grave-humping goth babe.
No such surreality is in store for those who choose to check out Entertainment Weekly It-lister Mandy Moore's new vehicle How to Deal. Unless you count the uncanny amount of tragedy befalling our favorite bottle brunet. Producers smooshed the plots of two Sarah Dessen teen novels into one flick, which means we have to deal with Moore dealing with parental divorce, Dad's marriage to a bimbo, Sis's fussy wedding, a school friend's sudden death, our best pal's pregnancy (she's keeping the baby, natch). And, oh yeah, first love. As Mom, Allison Janney easily dominates every scene she graces, as does Morning Zoo jock papa Peter Gallagher. Moore's whinier here than in churchy weepie A Walk to Remember, but playing opposite Trent Ford, who, as her rakish beau, affects a chin-down, three-quarter boffo stare in every shot regardless of circumstance, her spunky resolve still brands like honesty.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.