The Guatemalan Handshake
Opens Sat Jan 17
The Guatemalan Handshake certainly doesn't suffer from a lack of trying. The debut feature from director Todd Rohal is long on "quirk" (Rohal's short films include the indicatively titled Hillbilly Robot and Knuckleface Jones), and it features enough eccentric characters and scenarios for three movies—it's just too bad none of them gel into anything cohesive.
Will Oldham stars as Donald Turnupseed, the mild-mannered town oddball who witnesses a bizarre power surge, then goes missing. His best friend, a young girl named Turkeylegs, searches for him, and along the way has run-ins with the town's ker-RAZY cast of characters (many impressively played by non-professional actors). There's the crazy Guatemalan guy who drives a school bus full of baton twirlers, the crazy lady who misses her dog and makes his portrait out of Kibbles 'n Bits, the crazy skating-rink employee named Stool who can't roller skate, the crazy guy called Lunchmeat—need I continue?
Handshake has no deficit of impressive moments and stylistic innovation, but in its desperate, manic need to impress and cram gimmick upon gimmick into every scene, The Guatemalan Handshake reminded me too much of the supremely annoying Garden State. (But instead of the Shins, we get Mongolian throat singing. CRAZY!) CHAS BOWIE
Music and Lyrics
Drew Barrymore is not just a familiar face around Blockbuster's romantic comedy aisle; she has narrowed her career down to focus on such productions almost exclusively. There's something humble about this cheerful lowbrowish-ness of hers, but things have gone too far when she quits acting altogether. In Music and Lyrics, she's Sophie, the most common denominator Drew yet, a bland composite of her other, not-so-distant roles in 50 First Dates, Never Been Kissed, etc.
An overripe Hugh Grant plays Alex, an ex-pop star trying to wring the last drops of work out of his legacy. The chemistry between his lazy, unserious character and Drew's non-entity is forced, and the plot that brings them together is porn-level in triteness: She fills in as his "plant lady"(?!), then demonstrates a third-grade rhyming ability, and next thing you know, they're having all-night songwriting sessions and collaborating with teen pop sensations.
I'm not one to dismiss romantic comedies as a genre, and I do so love to root for the underdog, but I urge you not to waste your time with this—the modern era has brought us too many other cheaply had guilty pleasures that are far more worthwhile. Most of them, in fact, star Drew. MARJORIE SKINNER
2006 Academy Award Nominated Shorts
Opens Fri Feb 16
These two programs of shorts—divided into live-action and animated—don't disappoint. Standouts are the live-action West Bank Story and the animated The Danish Poet. West Bank is a hilarious farcical take on West Side Story, with Israelis vs. Palestinians in competing falafel stands—it's hard not to love a musical where the heroine wears a fast-food uniform and a visor with a ginormous kabob stuck through the middle. This well-acted film's only competition is Binta and the Great Idea, a sweet and beautiful story from Senegal about life in an African village. In comparison, the remaining three live-action shorts are a bit (ahem) short on "wow power," but they're decent, filled with philandering Mormons, clueless Spaniards, and naked old people. Two nominations for the animated category were unavailable, but of the three I saw, The Danish Poet was easily the winner: A simple and understated story of a Danish poet who, through a series of coincidences, ends up with a beautiful wife and muse. The film reminded me so much of a conglomeration of my favorite children's books that I couldn't help but love it immediately. COURTNEY FERGUSON