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Isherwood passed away in 1986, but Bachardy still lives in the house they shared and still paints attractive young men in stages of undress. He speaks in an English accent that is distinctly Isherwood’s. The creepiness dissipates the more you get to know him. After Bachardy became successful in his own right, he and Isherwood had periods of estrangement, took lovers, and pushed the limits of domesticity. But he was there at Isherwood’s deathbed, drawing him compulsively, then drawing his body for hours after his passing. The sequence, like the movie, is stunningly open and heartfelt. We look at those final drawings of Isherwood and sense what Bachardy is doing: capturing surface details in a feverish attempt to go beyond them—to get to the core of his lover’s being. Chris & Don is the rarest of documentaries: a realistic portrait of the human spirit.

Given that meter maids and meter men are among the most reviled human beings on the planet (critics come close), a love story between meter people doesn’t sound too enticing. The director of Expired, Cecilia Miniucchi, doesn’t shy away from the matter: The uneasy courtship happens between scenes of drivers’ dashing up and shouting, “I’m here! Don’t do this! Asshole!” It’s very traumatic. But somehow the more torturous the movie gets the more touching. Samantha Morton is Claire, a nice meter maid who takes care of her stroke-victim mom (Teri Garr) and hasn’t had a boyfriend in years. Jay (Jason Patric) is single, too, and even though he’s ruggedly handsome, it’s easy to see why he’s alone. He’s poison. Tight and prickly, he abuses what little power he has—over those unlucky enough to be parked at expired meters and those unlucky enough to fall for him. Patric has never backed down from his characters’ dark sides, and Jay is among the most bilious romantic leads in history. But you know what Claire sees in him: a wounded bird who might, with nurturing, fly. Morton is one of those tingly actresses whose skin barely covers her soul, and to watch her search for tender mercies in a crazy-hostile world is a gift. The film is appallingly good.

It seems only yesterday that M. Night Shyamalan cast himself in Lady in the Water as an author who receives a message from a narf, who tells him the story he’s working on will inspire a child who will grow up and change the world. The theme of Shyamalan’s The Happening is just as grandiose—the end of human life—but his confidence seems gone. A high-toned revenge-of-nature horror picture, it’s a little depressed, with only gross-out shocks (gushing jugulars, bodies run over by lawnmowers) to relieve the torpor. Something is making people stop what they’re doing and kill themselves. Bad reviews can’t be the culprit because it’s not just megalomaniacal filmmakers who are affected. Philadelphia science teacher Mark Wahlberg makes the vaguely creationist case that science is inadequate to explain the higher mysteries, like why honeybees are disappearing and his wife (Zooey Deschanel) has gone frigid. Wahlberg figures it out the way Paul Giamatti in Lady in the Water figured out the narf was endangered by a rogue scrunt—in big, furrowed-brow close-ups that would kill the career of a lesser actor. All that’s missing is the head alien of Plan 9 From Outer Space dropping by to lecture the populace for disrespecting nature: “Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”

The Incredible Hulk
Directed by Louis Leterrier.
Marvel Enterprises. PG-13.

Chris & Don: A Love Story
Directed by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi.
Zeitgeist Films. NR.

Expired
Directed by Cecilia Miniucchi.
MCR Releasing. NR.

The Happening
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Warner Bros. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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