Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>In the Loop</em> Vs. <em>Shrink</em>

<p>British satire <em>In the Loop</em> stars James Gandolfini as a U.S. general struggling with his British counterpart to stop the build-up to the Iraq war in the midst of military intrigue and ludicrous media missteps. <a href=";ei=5083">A.O. Scott at the Times</a> raves, "The plot is as intricate and elegant as a computer circuit board, though at times it looks more like a tangle of crossed wires. The short summary is that everybody betrays everybody else, that opportunism trumps idealism and that telling the truth is a matter of tactical calculation rather than ethical imperative.</p><p></p>"Nobody’s motives are pure, and when it’s all sorted out, the killing will start. The audience, meanwhile, is likely to die laughing. While <em>In the Loop</em> is a highly disciplined inquiry into a very serious subject, it is also, line by filthy line, scene by chaotic scene, <strong>by far the funniest big-screen satire in recent memory."</strong>

<p>Kevin Spacey plays an LA therapist with issues of his own in Jonas Pate's new movie <em>Shrink</em>, which reminds <a href="">Stephen Whitty at the Star-Ledger</a> of "a recurring nightmare in which I finally decide to get professional help for my myriad emotional issues, and go to see a therapist. When I get there, he's Kevin Spacey. Oh wait, that's not a nightmare. That's the movie I just saw...Seriously, though—<em>Kevin Spacey, Therapist. </em>It could be a good idea for a Saturday Night Live sketch. People show up for their sessions and get 50 minutes of smug superiority and Mametian invective.</p><p></p>"Unfortunately, <em>Shrink</em> is not a comedy. Not on purpose, anyway. Instead, it's one of those endless knock-offs of the much better <em>Magnolia</em> (itself inspired by the far, far better <em>Short Cuts</em>), in which an ensemble of L.A. characters don't quite connect until, in the end, they sort of do... <em>Shrink</em> is a mess too, full of fake moments and Deep Thoughts sentiment.<strong> It's the kind of film in which people stare regretfully into mirrors a lot.</strong> Well, I have a lot of regrets too, including this movie, but tops today is the fact that Spacey still feels the need to crash the Hollywood pity party."

<p>Indie-ish rom-com <em>The Answer Man</em> stars the excellent Jeff Daniels as the curmudgeonly author of <em>Me and God</em>—a book "that has redefined spirituality for an entire generation and has been translated into over 100 languages"—and Lauren Graham as the single mom who melts his heart or something. Nathin Rabin <a href=",30778/">at the Onion</a> questions its merits: "At <em>The Answer Man</em>’s hollow core lies a groaning irony: Daniels is an answer man without any answers. If anything, he’s even more lost than the spiritual seekers looking to him for guidance and wisdom... The film’s resemblance to <em>The Squid And The Whale</em> does it no favors; where that film felt ripped from the ugliest, most painful recesses of real life, <strong><em>The Answer Man</em> feels like a second-hand pastiche of dozens of superior films and a battery of screenwriting manuals."</strong></p>

<em>Sooo</em> hard to decide <a href="">which pan to pick</a> for the new 3D rodent kids movie <em>G-Force</em>. Oh, let's go with <a href="">Ty Burr at the Boston Globe</a> (while it still exists); he says the thing "represents an inconceivably tragic waste of a brilliant idea. Frankly, if you can’t squeeze a decent movie out of talking 3-D superagent guinea pigs—complete with itty-bitty night-vision goggles and jet-propelled grappling hooks—you may as well throw in the towel and consider a career in insurance... Here’s a game I play, by the way: When actors I generally respect show up in one of these silly summer behemoths, I always wonder if they have college-age kids. <strong>You’d be surprised how often they do. Steve Buscemi does, and tuition isn’t getting any cheaper."</strong>

<p>Reviews are mixed for <em>Orphan</em>, starring Vera Fermiga and Peter Sarsgaard who adopt a child and have things go haywire after that. The Washington Post's <a href=",1156297.html">Ann Hornaday says</a>, "It's hard to know where -- and with whom -- to begin when assessing the depraved, worthless piece of filth that is <em>Orphan</em>, a high-gloss horror show about a well-meaning couple who bring home a 9-year-old girl to join their family, only to discover, way too late, that she's a homicidal psychopath," while Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times <a href="">gives it three-and-a-half stars</a>, "The climax is rather startling, combining the logic of the situation with audacity in exploiting its terror. Yet you have to hand it to <em>Orphan.</em> You want a good horror film about a child from hell, you got one. Do not, under any circumstances, take children to see it. Take my word on this."</p>

<p>In this summer's second big romantic comedy, <em>The Ugly Truth</em>, Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler respectively play a morning show producer unlucky in love and a boorish talk show personality. Whether they fall in love is besides the point: <a href="">Manohla Darghis of the NY Times laments</a>, "<strong>That tap-tap-tapping sound you hear is another nail being driven into the coffin of the romantic comedy</strong>... When it comes to the old straight-boy-meets-straight-girl configuration with big-studio production values, however, you might as well forget it, at least if you’re a woman. Outside of Judd Apatow, who has carved out a niche and inspired something of a subgenre with movies about funny, smutty but sincere man-boys puzzling their way through adult heterosexual relations, the romantic comedy is <strong>nearly as dead as Meg Ryan’s career. </strong></p><p></p>"In the best of these films, the women aren’t romantic foils, much less equals: they’re either (nice) sluts or (nicer) wives, and essentially as mysterious and unknowable as the dark side of the moon. In the most calculating (<em>The Hangover</em>), they are strippers with hearts and racks of gold or emasculating shrews. Which leads to <em>The Ugly Truth</em>, <strong>a cynical, clumsy, aptly titled attempt to cross the female-oriented romantic comedy with the male-oriented gross-out comedy that is interesting on several levels, none having to do with cinema." </strong>

<a href="">Screening at Anthology</a>, Lee Anne Schmitt's sobering documentary <em>California Company Town</em> explores the landscape of California towns built and abandoned by the industries that necessitated their creation. <a href="">Andrew Schenker at Slant</a> calls it, "social and aesthetic document of promise betrayed... as she travels up and down the coast, the filmmaker documents a full range of public detritus: failed utopian projects, misguided land schemes gone to seed, and most significantly, the abandoned communities created by various California business concerns—oil, lumber, the military—to house their workers, only to, first, suppress any attempts of these workers to improve their conditions and, later, to close up shop altogether, leaving entire decimated villages in their wake.<p></p>"Schmitt's working method is to transpose period archival footage—often just audio tracks—onto original 16mm visual material, supplementing the found footage with contemporary radio broadcasts, rock and folk music, and her own context-filling narration. At one point, the filmmaker, in a voice bowed with sorrow, relates how she watched a mill worker spend his entire evening drinking a solitary six-pack in the doorway of his house, the sadness of the observation counterpointed by the calm desolation of a few fixed takes of the mill itself. More often, the audio and video tracks directly collide as the positive rhetoric of ancient boosterism audible on the soundtrack finds its natural corrective in the damning evidence uncovered by Schmitt's camera. While these juxtapositions may occasionally tread a little too close to an easy audio/video irony, <strong>the desolate gravity of the visuals always speaks for itself."</strong>

<p>British documentary <em><a href="">The English Surgeon</a></em> follows the work of 58-year-old neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. And it's no ordinary work: After seeing the decrepit conditions of Ukrainian hospitals, with little equipment and few trained staffers, he repeatedly visits the region and works with a local doctor on surgeries. The <a href="">Toronto Globe and Mail's Liam Lacey writes</a>, "The film shows Marsh, a man of dry wit, humility and impressive self-possession under pressure, as he leaves his London home with a crate full of medical supplies... To say conditions in the Kiev hospital are primitive would be an understatement. In one 15-minute sequence, Marsh performs brain surgery with a modified handyman's drill, on a patient who is under only a local aesthetic. If it succeeds, the man will be cured of his epilepsy and live a normal lifespan. If Marsh fails, he could leave the patient half-paralyzed or alter his intellect and personality."</p>

<em>Paraiso Travel</em> chronicles the harrowing experiences of a young Colombian couple newly arrived (illegally) in Queens from Medellín. <a href="">The Village Voice's Melissa Anderson</a> sneers, "Depicting the horrors of illegally crossing the U.S. border so starkly that even Lou Dobbs might shed a tear, <em>Paraíso Travel </em>plays its immigrant song with only one chord... No cliché about journeying or ironic use of 'paradise' goes unused; when Marlon arrives in Atlanta for his rain-soaked cathartic moment, the pitch of the melodrama is so deafeningly high that only employees at nearby Tyler Perry Studios could possibly hear it. <strong>Those who make it to the finale will be rewarded with a gorgeous end-credit sequence. Everything else is <em>paraíso</em> lost."</strong>

<p>Written by filmmaker Chris Fuller in 1997 at the age of 15, <em>Loren Cass</em> was filmed entirely in St. Petersburg, Florida over the course of 14 days in early 2004 on almost no budget. Set during the aftermath of riots that broke out in October 1996 after the shooting of a young black man by white police officers, the film concerns a group of adolescents careening through dirty downtown St. Pete. <a href=";ei=5083">Nathan Lee at the Times</a> swoons, "<em>Loren Cass</em> is the best film finally playing near ... well, some of you at least. Opening on Friday on a single screen in Manhattan [<a href="">Cinema Village</a>], <strong>this sharp, gutsy indie is one of the year’s great discoveries."</strong></p>

<p>Austrian film <em>Import/Export </em>uses parallel story lines to tell the tale of a Ukrainian nurse seeking non-skilled employment in Austria and a broke Austrian trying to help his step-father sell video gambling machines in the Ukraine. Directed by Ulrich Seidl, the film screens at <a href="">Anthology Film Archives</a> as part of a seven film survey of his career thus far. The Village Voice's <a href="">Scott Foundas says</a> the film "arguably offers the toughest (and toughest to stomach) portrait of individuals tempest-tossed by the currents of the new global economy... Everything and everyone is for sale, like the prostitute that Pauli's stepdad pulls by the hair and makes bark like a dog in a fleabag Ukrainian brothel—a somewhat predictable pièce de résistance, but an unsettling one nevertheless."</p>

<a href="">The IFC Center screens</a> Joel and Ethan Coen’s stunning directorial debut <em>Blood Simple</em> at midnight this weekend. Come for the <a href="">Hedaya</a>, stay for the <a href="">M. Emmet Walsh</a>.

<p>At midnight this weekend <a href="">the Sunshine screens</a> <em>Deadgirl. </em>To be honest, we've never heard of it, so here's what they're telling us: "When high school misfits Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) decide to cut school and find themselves lost in the crumbling facility of a nearby abandoned hospital, they come face-to-face with a gruesome discovery: a woman whose body has been stripped naked, chained to a table and covered in plastic. When both react to the situation in extremely different ways, the boys soon find themselves embarking on a twisted yet poignant journey that forces them to decide just how far they're willing to stretch their understanding of right and wrong."</p>

<p>Starting Wednesday, <a href="">BAMcinematek begins</a> its five-day tribute to the brilliant yet short-lived actor John Cazale (Fredo from <em>The Godfather</em>), starting with <em>Dog Day Afternoon</em> (pictured), which will be paired with the NYC premiere of documentary <em>I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale</em>. Remembering Cazale, Al Pacino once said, <strong>"All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life. He was my acting partner."</strong></p>