Film Reviews

Short Cuts

Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi This Israeli dramedy is certainly not the most maudlin boy-meets-world movie released here this year (that'd be Valentin), but writer-director Shemi Zarhin doesn't exactly surprise either. Precious Shlomi (Oshri Cohen) is essentially a mildly autistic teen Rain Man, master of instantaneous mathematical solutions but, you know, misunderstood. His parents split up because his busybody mother (Esti Zakheim) caught her "hot-blooded Moroccan Jew" husband (Albert Illouz) fooling around with some fez-fondling floozy. Shlomi thus seeks solace with his curmudgeonly Francophile grandfather (Arie Elias) and by deciding whether to get his first sexual "upgrade" with the local bad girl or to get googly-eyed with the local good girl, who, naturally, also happens to be Moroccan. There's some enjoyable slice-of-life material scattered throughout, but the delivery feels like mediocre television. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

--Gregory Weinkauf

Evergreen This well-intentioned but rather lackluster coming-of-age drama is the type of modest, low-budget effort that used to be synonymous with the term "independent cinema." The feature debut of writer/director Enid Zentelis, Evergreen revolves around 14-year-old Henrietta (newcomer Addie Lund), who moves with her loving but nearly destitute mother, Kate (Cara Seymour), into her grandmother's leaky shack. Despite what seems like a lifetime of bad luck, Kate is determined to get a job and make a life for herself and her daughter. Henrietta, however, is embarrassed by both their poverty and her mother's new boyfriend (Gary Farmer). When classmate Chat (Noah Fleiss) asks her over, she becomes infatuated with his middle-class, seemingly perfect parents (Mary Kay Place and Bruce Davison) and all but moves in. She doesn't notice Dad's drinking and Mom's agoraphobia, or the tension in the household. The actors are capable, but the direction feels stilted, the pacing sluggish and the story obvious. --Jean Oppenheimer

Oasis This engrossing feature from Korean novelist and filmmaker Lee Chang-Dong (Peppermint Candy) warms up slowly but evolves into warm, vital and unforgettably compassionate cinema. Sol Kyung-Gu plays a black-sheep ex-con who emerges from prison and immediately screws up everything he touches. That is, until he dares to touch a delicate shut-in afflicted with cerebral palsy (Han Gong-Ju) who bears a link to his previous crimes. What begins with an attempted rape gradually unfolds into a thoughtful and complex study of human weakness and misapprehension. Meanwhile, the couple's extremely ill-fated romance reveals magical moments of grace and even the banishment of scary shadows. The geek love overstays its welcome, and the film features enough palsied freakouts for five after-school specials, but the director's top-notch script and the open, expressive performances drive this one home, so brace yourself. --G.W.

September Tapes Hard to watch, with its handheld SpastiCam inducing nausea, and harder to stomach, with its turning September 11 into the punch line of a sick joke, the debut from writer-director Christopher Johnson belongs to the distasteful genre of war porn. George Calil plays Don "Lars" Larson, a documentary filmmaker who sneaks into Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden; with him is sidekick-interpreter Wali Zarif (Wali Razaqi), who keeps reminding Lars to stop flaunting his white skin and his idiotic behavior, which lands him in the den of arms dealers, in jail and in the lair of a bounty hunter who says he knows where bin Laden's hiding. Johnson, filming on location, advertises his movie as the lost tapes of Lars and Wali, à la The Blair Witch Project; what we're seeing, ostensibly, are the travels and travails of two adventurers who didn't return from the battleground. But September Tapes, with its torturously high-minded narration and ludicrously low-road shenanigans, uses the terror attacks of 2001 as the setup for an infuriating gotcha finale. --Robert Wilonsky

THX 1138: The George Lucas Director´s Cut Why the reissue of George Lucas' artsy-fartsy 1971 debut isn't billed as "the special edition" is unfathomable; with its extra five minutes of footage and the addition of some 100 computer-generated sequences and characters that make an old movie look shiny and brand-new, this is an entire makeover. But let the purists debate the digital fix-'em-ups; it looks (and, more important, sounds) better than ever, and the CG add-ons work wonders till the final 10 minutes, when there's literally too much monkey business to fend off the unintentional chuckle. The chilling story still holds, the withdrawn performances from Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance and Maggie McOmie (in her first and last film) still stand, and the oppressive themes still wash. Lucas was no prophet, but his futuristic dystopia, in which the government sees everything and controls everyone through depressants, doesn't feel like it exists a long time ago in a galaxy far away. THX 1138, in fact, remains Lucas' most meaningful film. --R.W.

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