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O brother, where art thou: Deft but dour Danish digi-drama

Coming to us without a Dogme assignation or project number, Susanne Bier’s Brothers revisits and expands the soap-operatic terrain of her last film, Open Hearts, shooting handheld and digital and close enough for the actors to fog the lens. Pixel-choked underexposure is a given. As Lars von Trier and his cronies have amply demonstrated, it’s a strategy that requires a nervy conceptual rigor or an eloquent dramatic progression. But the setup kept summoning the name of Danielle Steel from the bowels of my reptile brain: The titular brothers, career military man Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) and dedicated fuckup Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), reunite upon Jannik’s release from prison, only to have Michael get shipped off to Afghanistan soon thereafter. Michael leaves behind his ravishing wife, Sarah (Connie Nielsen), and two impish daughters; Jannik seems primed to fill the gap, particularly after Michael’s chopper gets shot down and he is declared dead.

To Bier’s credit, the story doesn’t turn out too predictable, pivoting on a clumsily visualized moment of Deer Hunter trauma, but it remains half conceived, grouting the leaks with dreamy transitions of reeds waving in the breeze and, via constant intercutting of characters sitting and thinking, sentimental suggestions of telepathic congress. The climactic act—dominated by furniture-wrecking domestic violence and high-octane psychodrama that smacks, incongruously, of The Shining—is something of an attention-getter, and the acting is earnest and honest. (Nielsen, a Dane in her first Danish film, is so radiant her performance seems almost beside the point.) Bier’s handling of the young girls is especially deft; in a panderingly written role, Sarah Juel Werner is a walking wound. But Brothers emerges as no less or more than Bier’s claustrophobic compositions and unimaginative choices. MICHAEL ATKINSON


Written and directed by Amanda Micheli

Runaway/Goodmovies, opens May 6, Quad

It’s no secret that Hollywood is the most exclusive of boys’ clubs (quick: how many women have won a Best Director Oscar?) but Amanda Micheli’s documentary finds a fresh angle via the intersecting stories of two stuntwomen: Jeannie Epper (Lynda Carter’s double on Wonder Woman) and Zoë Bell (Lucy Lawless’s on Xena: Warrior Princess). Amid plentiful clips of high falls, fistfights, and car chases, Micheli shows the unique challenges faced by women in this notoriously macho field, not the least of which is performing punishing scenes in revealing costumes that leave little room for padding—we see multiple takes of Bell slamming her shoulder into the ground attempting a harness move. Even with her immense physical abilities and model-actress looks, Bell struggles to find post-Xena employment in a hypercompetitive job market. For Epper, contemplating liposuction to stay in the game as she moves into her sixties, opportunities are even fewer. Near the end of Double Dare, Epper receives a career achievement award from her mostly male peers—she’s a legend in her own time, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to land a job as a stunt coordinator. JOSHUA LAND


Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Warner Bros., opens May 6

In the original 3-D House of Wax (1953), Vincent Price plays a lisping sculptor who makes a literal killing on Broadway with his parlor of waxened cadavers. Only a nominal remake, this update is appreciably slow to establish its boilerplate slasher premise—college kids with car trouble enter a ceriferous fun house in a derelict small town. Nevertheless, for gore aficionados (and probably no one else) the murders are worth the wait. At least two prominent reviewers claimed to have walked out on the recent Amityville Horror remake because they were offended by its barbarism. Amityville‘s unremarkable, CGI-dependent violence looks squeamish, however, next to House‘s conventional effects and makeup, destined for years of study in the pages of Fangoria. First-time director Jaume Collet-Serra lingers over the victims at lengths discomfortingly gratuitous even by slasher standards. But he also demonstrates a droll touch, particularly in the opening scene of a morbid family at breakfast, and in the best set piece, where the killer stalks his prey in a movie theater as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? screens. A phobia about working-class rural Americans fuels the slasher genre, and although House‘s fictional Ambrose, Louisiana, comprises the expected white-trash stereotypes, give Collet-Serra credit for using his negligible actors well. After Paris Hilton’s doomed teen whines that “there’s no rednecks in New York,” her demise reads like a scene we’d like to see on The Simple Life. BENJAMIN STRONG


Directed by Vadim Jean

MGM/Gold Circle, opens May 6, Angelika

“I like . . . a dark . . . road,” intones David Lynch (Martin Short) at the start of this Hollywood cautionary tale. Funny as the recurring bit is, it’s the deux ex machina for a story with all the narrative tug of a four-year-old’s backyard adventure. Lalawood can’t replicate the inspired fatuity of Comedy Central’s Primetime Glick, which worked because of the friendly proximity of big-time movie actors to Short’s fat, incompetent, register-hopping host; somewhere in the sickly middle, their auras tangled. Here, Glick’s a nobody till he goes to the Toronto Film Fest and scores the only interview with a reclusive star, becoming a celebrity overnight and getting caught up in a murder mystery. Jan Hooks reprises her role as his gassy, medicated wife, Dixie, providing Glick several opportunities to define his formerly nebulous sexuality. In what appears to be post-psychotic-break mode, John Michael Higgins (A Mighty Wind‘s Terry Bohner) gives a spiritedly obnoxious performance (which will someday be funny) as the “European” handler of alkie post-star Miranda Coolidge (Elizabeth Perkins). Give ’em a handicap for making a 20-minute man go 90—still, it’s not enough. DARREN REIDY


Written and directed by Chris Kennedy

Opens May 6, Quad

If the Sopranos were put into witness protection and deported to Australia, they might wind up in a movie like A Man’s Gotta Do. John Howard plays the James Gandolfini role, a surly fisherman named Eddy, who supplements his income with work as an underworld heavy. Yvonne (Rebecca Frith) is the Carmela to his Tony; frustrated by her husband’s neglect, she considers infidelity. Director Chris Kennedy’s one twist on the otherwise familiar scenario is not a welcome one; instead of exploring the moral dilemmas of Eddy’s vocation, he focuses on lovelorn daughter Chantelle, giving actress Alyssa McClelland the opportunity to croon a series of hackneyed love songs between bouts of moping and whining. The only thing more inexplicable than the loathsome score is the story’s determination to impregnate all its major female characters. Fuggedaboudit. MATT SINGER

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