The Time Traveler’s Wife. As a sucker for time-travel romance (I’ve considered joining the dewy-eyed souls who make yearly pilgrimages to the lake where Christopher Reeve went loop-de-loop for Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time), I’m over the moon about this movie, which smooths out the psychological dissonances in Audrey Niffenegger’s fine novel but is still an emotional workout. With no warning (though often when drunk or stressed), Eric Bana’s Henry is whisked back into the past or ahead to the future, which would be more fun if he knew where he was going and his clothes went with him. At age 40 or so, Henry leaps back in time and wins the heart of a girl named Clare, played by lovely Brooklynn Proulx, then Rachel McAdams. (It’s a measure of my affection for this film that I didn’t dwell on the standard implications of a naked fortyish man calling out from the bushes to a 6-year-old girl.) Ultimately, there’s no explanation for Henry’s gift beyond a “genetic abnormality,” and since he can’t alter the past—“butterfly effect” shmutterfly effect—the film is steeped in fatalism. It ends up evoking all our emotional waverings—the ways in which we abandon lovers to relive the past or anticipate the future, only sometimes connecting in the moment. Gracefully directed by Robert Schwentke, the film has a perfect performance by Bana, rangy and haunted, never at home in his body. The sole jarring note is Henry and Clare’s first dance at their wedding—to Broken Social Scene’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I might have suggested, “Love Will Keep Us Together.”
Passing Strange. The Broadway rock opera by Stew (just Stew) and Heidi Rodewald is captured on film by Spike Lee, who sells the material hard but doesn’t, for once, interpose himself. A full-throttle onstage band and a singing narrator (Stew again) chart the journey of an African-American youth called, uh, Youth (Daniel Breaker) as he searches for fulfillment—first with his mama (Eisa Davis) on the south side of L.A. (via church gospel, then rock and roll), then in Amsterdam (sex, drugs), then in Berlin (anti-bourgeois rants), then back home, always leaving people who love him behind. The first act is camp, but as the various artistic philosophies accumulate, something magical happens: This musical about the evolution of an artist becomes a metaphor for itself. When Stew (who’s Youth grown up) lectures his younger self that life is “a mistake that only art can correct,” the show’s reason for being couldn’t be more crystalline. The cutting is hyperkinetic, yet Lee is always in synch with the cast’s phenomenal energy. He’s in their thrall—and so are we.
The Headless Woman. Guilt and alienation from Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel, so arty, enervated, and allegorical it might have been made by a European in the early sixties. And yet the lead actress, María Onetto, holds you through the longueurs. The aging, affluent dentist hits something with her car—we barely see it, but we and she know what it is—stops, breathes, closes her eyes, and after an eternity drives away. Everything onscreen conspires to remind her of what she fled: a deluge, a digging gardener, a dead animal on her kitchen counter. Under dry, bleached-blond hair, she blinks slowly, her face placid, her manner blandly abstracted—but you can feel her insides churning, despair carried by acid reflux.
District 9. Part pseudo-documentary, part Kafkaesque conversion melodrama, part astounding splatterfest. To call this the best shrimp-from-outer-space South African apartheid allegory ever made does not begin to do it justice. But it’s a start.
Go to the Projectionist the week of release for reviews of four August 28 openings: Ang Lee’s marginal (in all senses) Taking Woodstock; R. J. Cutler’s The September Issue, a remake of Dracula’s Daughter (just kidding, it’s an Anna Wintour doc); Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, a sequel to his underrated Halloween remake that departs from the John Carpenter storyline for a more “personal” orgy of sadism; and Still Walking, the latest dysfunctional family drama from Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows).