Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 25 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 25

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THE INTERNATIONAL The International is an action flick with smarts, but that's not to say the brain and the brawn always coexist easily. Clive Owen stars as an Interpol agent who, with the help of a New York assistant D.A. (Naomi Watts), tries to bring down a banking institution that's long been involved in illegal activities on a global scale (backing coups, purchasing weapons, that sort of thing). Although loosely based on a real-life scandal, The International adheres more to cinematic conspiracy-theory conventions, thus emerging as a pale shadow of such great works in the same mold as The Parallax View and The Manchurian Candidate. Still, director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) keeps the film moving (Run Clive Run would have been an acceptance title, given how much mileage Tykwer gets out of his star), and there's one spectacular (if overlong) shootout at the Guggenheim Museum that's alone worth the admission price. **1/2

I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG Don't let the Harlequin Romance title fool you: The French import I've Loved You So Long is a potent drama that steers clear of undue sentimentality and forced bathos, relying almost exclusively on two strong central performances to stir up audience awareness and emotion. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a former doctor who's just been released from prison after serving a lengthy sentence for murder. She moves in with her younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein) and her family, and immediately sets about trying to find a job. But no one feels comfortable around her – more so after they learn the shocking nature of her crime – and she finds life on the outside a struggle. Still, its harshness is nothing compared to her inner turmoil, and it might be up to her sibling to save her from herself. Both actresses are remarkable in a thoughtful film that's ultimately about the necessity of coming to peace with oneself. ***

MILK The China Syndrome, Wall Street and even Casablanca are examples of movies that happened to be in the right place at the right time – that is to say, life imitated art (or vice versa) as each picture's release neatly dovetailed with real-life incidents that in one way or another mirrored what was happening on-screen. Milk follows suit: Although it's set in the 1970s, it couldn't possibly be more relevant; for that, we have to blame those hideous anti-gay measures that recently passed in California, Florida, Arkansas and Arizona. Back in the '70s, Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn) fought against similar hysteria: Tired of homosexuals such as himself being treated as second-class citizens, he found himself drawn to political office as a way in which to fight for equality. Eventually elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he continued to grow in stature and influence, a career ascendancy which did not sit well with Dan White (Josh Brolin), the board's most conservative member – and, as it turned out, its most trigger-happy. The Oscar-winning 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk offered a flawless look at the career of this passionate progressive, so it's a testament to the richness of Gus Van Sant's direction and Dustin Lance Black's screenplay that this fictionalized version feels authentic in its every movement. As Milk, Penn delivers the performance of his career, and he's backed by a superlative cast containing only one weak link: Diego Luna as Milk's insecure lover, Jack Lira (James Franco fares much better as Harvey's previous lover, Scott Smith). But this is a small misstep in an otherwise excellent production full of passion and purpose. ****

PUSH If Push comes to shove, then the only sound advice is to stay away from the theater and re-watch X-Men on DVD. Certainly, that's an infinitely superior mutant movie, yet don't think Push's plagiarism ends there: It's almost a given that the pitch meeting found the film's creators, uh, pushing the picture by declaring, "It's X-Men meets Jumper meets Heroes meets The Matrix!" Had they any sense of integrity, they would have ended the sentence by adding, "Only not very exciting or enjoyable!" In short, here's another sci-fi muddle that never breaks out of its geekspeak ghetto, with David Bourla contributing an overly busy screenplay that doesn't always come together and Paul McGuigan providing draggy direction that takes this far past the point of audience involvement. Set in Hong Kong, the film centers on the Division, a U.S. government branch whose members are tasked with seeking out folks with psychic abilities and either recruiting them or (if that fails) killing them. These psychics have different powers, which places them into one of several different categories: Pushers, Watchers, Movers (but, alas, no Shakers), Bleeders, etc. Nick (Chris Evans), a Mover, has tried to maintain a low profile, but once Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a teenage Watcher, shows up and insists he help her find Kira (stiff Camilla Belle), a Pusher who holds the answer to taking down the Division, all hell breaks loose, as Division agents (led by Djimon Hounsou as a suave Pusher) and evil Asian psychics try to take them down. Some interesting ideas soon get buried under a jumbled narrative, a choppy shooting style and an unflattering visual scheme – all of which combine to make viewers feel as if they're watching a movie from inside a spinning clothes dryer. **


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