Flick of the Week: Chicken with Plums

Chicken with Plums A truly splendid film by the writer and directors of Persepolis about a heartbroken violinist Nasser-Ali Khan (Mathieu Almaric) in 1958 Tehran who decides to die after his violin is broken. He comes to this decision after he tries to replace it with Mozart’s Stradivarius–in a magical sequence set in Houshang’s (Jamel Debbouze) wondrous shop. Nasser-Ali thinks of several ways to kill himself, and they are all presented in amusing vignettes. But this imaginative film–full of curlicues of smoke and storytelling–illustrates how Nasser-Ali spends his last eight days. He reflects on pleasure, boredom, despair, legacy, and the heartbreak in his life.

Chicken with Plums looks fantastic–with dazzling lighting and visual gimmickry as stories appear within stories. One terrific sequence has an animated slide show presenting the future of one character as a bright and broadly played farce. But the real aim of this delightful film is the way it emphasizes its belief that through art, we come to understand life. Nasser-Ali is told by one of his mentors that life is a sigh you must seize. Chicken with Plums is a film you must see; it is artful and truly understands the exotic and delicious mysteries of life.

Also Opening

Backwards Backwards is the position crew members row in, but it is also the direction Abigail’s (Sarah Megan Thomas) life is going after she quits her Olympic team having been selected as an alternate–again. She returns to suburban Philadelphia and moves in with her mom (Margaret Colin), eventually getting a job coaching rowing at Union, where her ex-boyfriend Geoff (James Van Der Beek) works. Backwards is a completely unsurprising sports drama. The competitive Abigail learns to gain the trust of her athletes   and teach them how to “find the art in rowing,” as she discovers how to find herself. Thomas, who wrote, stars, and produces is adequate in the central role, but she never really makes Abigail’s internal struggle palpable or heartfelt. Her flirtations with Geoff also fail to ignite sparks, though Van Der Beek is adorable and affable in his limited role. But if the emotions are given a backseat in Backwards, the rowing scenes are winning. The shots along the Schuykill river and Boathouse Row show the beauty of the environment, and one of races generates some real dramatic tension. However, too much of the film focuses on physical training montages that stretch out the running time without moving the drama forward.

Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best Playing exclusively at the terrific Lansdowne microtheater Cinema 16:9 Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best is an indie film as scrappy as its characters and as unwieldy as its title. Down-on-his luck singer/songwriter Alex (writer/director Ryan O’Nan) is still reeling from a bad breakup and unable–and unwilling–to hold down a day job. He works part time as a musical moose, performing for mentally disabled kids in a scene that is as humiliating as it is sounds. When Jim (Michael Weston) an aggressive stranger who plays musical instruments for kids, begs Alex to go on tour with him, the unlikely pair hit the road. The film actually clicks when these two man-children make music together. But when Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel) tags along as their manager, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best falls into predictable love story/road-movie tropes.

The quirky performances and enjoyable music are barely enough to bridge the film through its third act, in which Alex visits his uptight, religious brother (Andrew McCarthy). Cue facile messages about following one’s dreams and conquering one’s fear. O’Nan and Weston have good chemistry together, and there are amusing cameos from Jason Ritter and Wilmer Valderrama, but The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best mostly has its characters flying their freak flags without providing them any wind.

Dredd 3D Judge it or dread it, but Karl Urban stars in this remake of Judge Dredd. In 3D.

End of Watch Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Peña are Los Angeles cops in over their heads when they get mixed up with a drug cartel.

Hello I Must Be Going This charming offbeat romantic comedy-drama concerns Amy (Melanie Lynskey), who is “having a hard time at the moment.” She is living with her parents Ruth (Blythe Danner) and Stan (John Rubinstein) in their stylish Westport house. Depressed–she sleeps late, wears the same t-shirt, and mopes around when she actually moves. Amy is going nowhere slowly. When her father has an important business dinner, Amy agrees to attend, and it is there that she meets Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a 19 year-old actor, who steals a kiss from her in private. When Amy is asked to “show Jeremy around town,” they connect further and start sneaking around, having clandestine sex and depending on each other for emotional support. Through this May-December relationship, Amy starts to gain a sense of confidence, which helps her somewhat as she continues to make mistakes, behave badly, and suffer a general malaise. Hello I Must Be Going succeeds because the rapport between Amy and Jeremy is genuine. Viewers will want them to be together–because they click, despite the age difference and their parent’s business relationships. The film has several amusing moments, though most involve Amy facing some kind of humiliation–vomiting, being caught in compromising positions by Jeremy’s mom (Julie White), or getting drunk. But Lynskey, a tremendous character actress who rarely gets a leading role, shines. She makes Amy sympathetic (even when she’s most pathetic) and her transformation is credible. It’s clear that Jeremy is meant to be irresistible, and Abbott plays the young lover with noticeable aplomb. In support, Blythe Danner gives a strong performance as Amy’s frustrated mother, and White is in top form as Jeremy’s wacky parent. This indie film is a real sleeper.

The House at the End of the Street Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) befriends a neighbor (Max Theriot) who she should be wary of in this horror film.

Keep the Lights On Ira Sachs’ QFest award-winning drama concerns the co-dependent relationship between a documentary filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt, in a remarkable performance) and his drug-addicted lover (Zachary Booth).

The Trouble with the Curve Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams co-star in this father and a daughter baseball drama. Insert chair joke here.

The Master Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on a “cult” not unlike um, Scientology. With Philip Seymour Hoffman as the cult leader and Joaquin Phoenix as the follower.

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Gary Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based film critic who thinks Sandra Bullock mambos. He likes eating ethnic food and watching ethnic movies—though not necessarily both at the same time or from the same country.

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