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Movie Reviews: Zombie Strippers, Floating Life, Lost in Beijing

By L.A. Weekly Movie Critics
Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - 1:16 pm


THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM The plot is pure choose-your-own-adventure: A bullied wuxia fanboy from South Boston (Michael Angarano) is teleported back into a LARP fantasia of feudal China, where he’s singled out as the long-anticipated “Chosen One” prophesied to topple a despotic warlord. Our nominal hero then recedes behind the two Mr. Miyagis who adopt him: a Lisa Bonet–bewigged Jackie Chan and warrior-monk Jet Li (English line readings: 75 percent intelligible). This is the first collaboration between Kung Fu’s Astaire and Kelly, and, as that, it disappoints. Like so much in Rob Minkoff’s movie, the fight arrangements by choreographer Yuen Woo-ping aren’t so much bad as undistinguished: The camera placement is off, the tempo unvaried, and Chan’s movements are obscured by his piled-on robes. The cinematography lacks storybook indelibility; Collin Chou’s Jade Warlord is a stock archvillain (though Bingbing Li’s bullwhip-toting “white-haired demon,” announced with apocalyptic reverb, is lovely) ... and then there’s the scene where Li actually pisses in Chan’s face — a degradation that will seem familiar to viewers incensed by the demographic-outreach casting of white-dude Angarano. Taken as a whole, though, it’s an amiable lost and found of epic-adventure tropes. As I still illogically treasure Willow, many a 10-year-old who sees The Forbidden Kingdom will remember it fondly in spite of its flaws. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)


GO  FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT Funky? Beyond. As for where the forest might be, to whom contact is made, and what might happen the second or third time around, beats me — over the head, repeatedly, with a blunt, slap-happy doofus stick. Written and directed by a trio of Japanese filmmakers (Katsuhito Ishii, Shunichiro Miki, Aniki), this epic J-pop WTF mashes sci-fi, sitcom, romcom, clowning, dreams, dancing and outlandish Croenenbergian fantasia in a dizzying kaleidoscope of brash non sequitur. We begin with the Mole Brothers, hosts of a white-on-white slapstick variety show being watched by a recumbent spaceman prior to launching his bioplastic pod into a miasma of intergalactic protozoa. From there we meet Little Mataru, a bored schoolgirl who daydreams herself into an inscrutable superhero contest with cutesy robots and spinning space blobs; Guitar Brother, a lovesick troubadour and eldest of the Unpopular With Women Brothers; Notti and Takefumi (too complicated to explain); and the Babbling Hot Springs Vixens, a clutch of voluble young salesgirls on holiday, who narrate tales of the Alien Piko-Riko, The Big Ginko Tree and Buck Naked and the Panda. And that’s just the first half. If there’s a theme to Funky Forest, it’s the transformative power of the imagination through dreams, music, performance and freewheeling pomo crazy time. Hug these trees! They hug back. (ImaginAsian Center) (Nathan Lee)


KISS THE BRIDE “Our obsession with marriage ... it’s masochistic,” says one queer character in C. Jay Cox’s Kiss the Bride, a “scrappy indie” that successfully manages to reproduce, on a shoestring, anonymously professional big-budget asininity. Matt (Philipp Karner), an out-and-proud staffer at Queery magazine, gets a surprise invitation to the straight wedding of the long-out-of-sight high school best buddy who, way back when, turned Matt on to the joys of banging dudes. Reunited in the “podunk town” of his youth with the perpetually shirt-free Ryan (James O’Shea), that shared secret prods Matt into an, “Is he or isn’t he?” investigation. Adding to the confusion is Ryan’s fiancée (played by vast-faced Tori Spelling, an unlikely siren to tempt men out of deeply entrenched sexual preference), with whom both men are taken. Along with a gallery of hastily sketched caricatures visiting for the nuptials, the comedy is heavily reliant on naughty double-entendres (e.g., an “I’m coming” gag that was stupid when it was in American Pie). In the film’s endless countdown to the exchange of vows, complete predictability is avoided only thanks to its openness to the fluidity of sexual identity — which isn’t enough to make this anything more than the most ignoble outing in bi-curious screen hijinks since France produced Poltergay. (Regent Showcase) (Nick Pinkerton)


THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES Riddled with high concept, this florid adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s 2002 novel is a horror picture of sorts that plays off a Columbine-style high school shooting from the victims’ point of view. For all I know, the author, who’s also a poet, took a delicate approach to this fraught conceit, but moviegoers may mistake The Life Before Her Eyes for an unduly long L’Oréal commercial featuring softly lit film stars moving languidly with swinging hair through overbearingly premonitory weather. All but derailed by director Vadim (House of Sand and Fog) Perelman’s fondness for the slow-motion sequence, The Life Before Her Eyes stars Evan Rachel Wood, shortchanging her considerable talent yet again, as Diana, a troubled small-town teen whose undisciplined appetites are tempered by her friendship with churchgoing good girl Maureen (Eva Amurri, giving her all to a thankless task). Fifteen years after the two friends are improbably commanded by the high school shooter to choose which of them should die, Diana, played by Uma Thurman in various attitudes of vague distress, is living a golden life edged with portents of Something Amiss. A twist that offers fertile potential for subtle meditation on growing up, conscience and roads not traveled ends up buried beneath insect metaphors, lurid flashbacks and a thunderstorm that creaks with the climax to come. (The Landmark; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)


LOST IN BEIJING Two modern couples of distant social strata convene at crotch-level in Lost in Beijing. Lin Dong (Tony Leung Ka-fai) is the moneyed owner of a rubdown parlor, and Liu Ping Guo (Fan Bingbing), one of his masseuses, goes home to a cell of an apartment and her husband, An Kun (Tong Da Wei), a high-rise window cleaner. One evening she gets crocked and passes out at work, then comes to with the boss on top of her — and who should bear witness but hubby, squeegeeing outside. Pregnancy intensifies the crisis, but as Dong’s wife (Elaine Jin) is infertile, he submits an indecent proposal to purchase the baby. The selling point here is director Li Yu’s tangle with government censors over the movie — admirable — and maybe what I take for granted is something that mainland China needs to see. But we’re past the curious (Yellow) days that could call a tit revolutionary, or convince the pocket-pool crowd to brave subtitles. The prevalent shooting style is monotonous naturalism, as the camera buzzes between contentious actors and trolls after anything on the move. No performance registers quite so much as the capital city itself, a burgeoning-but-sepulchral range of skyscrapers receding into a Sheetrock-toned sky. (Grande 4-Plex) (Nick Pinkerton)


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