March 9-15, 2006
screen picksScreen Picks
39 Pounds of Love (Sun., March 12, 2 p.m., $8, National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut St.) If ever there was a movie to define mixed emotions, this is it. Dani Menkin's documentary follows 34-year-old Ami Ankilewitz, the Texas-born son of a Mexican mother and an Israeli father, whose dystrophic body is almost literally skin and bones. After his unrequited crush on his 21-year-old Romanian caretaker ends badly, Ami, now living in Israel, decides to fulfill several lifelong dreams at once: crossing the U.S. by car, visiting his estranged brother and tracking down the doctor who said he wouldn't live past the age of six. So far, so inspirational.
The trouble with 39 Pounds is Menkin's steadfast determination to render Ami's journey in feel-good terms, despite the many troubling questions it raises. Not least of them is the sense that Ami is encouraged to embark on his life-threatening quest by the presence of Menkin's cameras, an issue Menkin patently lacks the sense to address. (He's seen once, on camera, playing air guitar in the back of Ami's rented RV.) Although Menkin is at pains to prove that Ami is just like everybody else, the movie patronizes him by treating him with kid gloves; no one steps in to warn him that falling in love with his caretaker is a good way to get his heart broken, or ask him why he wants to risk his life to show up a doctor's careless prediction. Worse, Menkin clumsily stage-manages events with reckless disregard for the truth are we supposed to believe that Ami's mother just happened to show up in Texas at the exact moment he and his long-lost brother saw each other for the first time in years? Or are we just supposed to forget the finer points and reach for the tissues? Audiences may be moved by Ami's bravery and determination, but he deserves a much better film.
Carrie on Cary (Mon., March 13, 7 p.m., County Theater, 20 E. State St., Doylestown) No, that's not the official title of this County Theater evening, which finds Inquirer critic Carrie Rickey musing on the evolution of the suave icon Pauline Kael called "The Man from Dream City." But Cary Grant, a vaudevillian before his days in Hollywood, never shied away from a good-bad pun, and neither will we. Rickey's talk repeats the following Monday at the Ambler Theater.
Pulse ($26.98 DVD) Making a belated U.S. bow just months before the Miramax remake (apparently faithful enough to steal a climactic shot), Kyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 chiller takes place in a vaguely futuristic dystopia where dead spirits are using the Internet to take over our world (although the release delay means they're doing it via dial-up). Inspired by the Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori, where otherwise healthy young people shut themselves up for years on end, Pulse conjures a disconnected world in which adult presences barely register and apparently happy youngsters kill themselves or simply disintegrate without warning. As with Kurosawa's terrifying Cure, it's best not to try and pin down Pulse's plot too firmly, but the movie's mastery of space and mood is formidable, and Magnolia's DVD does a fine job of reproducing the movie's dimly lit images (though not so good as to make up for its minimal theatrical release). It's impossible to imagine an American movie plumbing the depths of Pulse's pessimism, to say nothing of its eerie obscurity; there's more exposition in the remake's trailer than in all of Kurosawa's movie.
Three Extremes ($27.98 DVD) Dumped into a theater last fall without notice, this three-part Asian horror anthology deserves at least one-third better. Park Chan-Wook's Cut is a gruesome but unenlightening retread of his familiar vengeance themes, and Fruit Chan's Dumplings ups the queasiness quotient with the story of a wrinkled actress whose anti-aging remedy involves munching the flesh of aborted fetuses. (Want more? A feature-length version graces disc two.) But Takashi Miike's Box, the omnibus' closing segment, is a work of restraint and subtlety uncommon to the gonzo auteur. Miike, whose abortion-themed episode was scrubbed from Showtime's Masters of Horror, loves to provoke, but here he does it with creepy, open-ended compositions and an oblique, time-hopping story that zeroes in on a traumatic, and possibly imagined, event in a novelist's childhood. Profoundly linking creativity, imprisonment and guilt, Box uses stillness as a weapon.