dir. Michael Arias
Opens Fri July 27
The colors are the first thing: Rich and robust, each frame is full of rich blues, sparkling greens, bloody reds. And then there's the detail, infinitesimal and maddening and dazzling, from barely noticeable streaks of rust on worn metal to bright skies sliced by thousands of drooping power lines.
The next thing you notice is the cinematography: Eschewing anime's usually static perspective, Tekkon Kinkreet literally and figuratively shakes things up. Simulated handheld cameras subtly jostle the frame; faux-steadicam shots track along hallways and bounce through chase sequences. Overall, there's a fresh verve to Tekkon Kinkreet's visuals that's astonishing. If only the story were anywhere near as good.
Tekkon Kinkreet follows two ruffian kids, Black and White. Able to fly and jump through the worn-down, skeezy, and colorful city known as Treasure Town, Black and White are eventually pitted against an eeevil land developer who wants to turn Treasure Town into a glitzy recreation spot. Perhaps aware of what happened to Vegas and Times Square, the charming Black and White resist. Sure, it's more complex than that, but those are the underwhelming basics.
With action that ebbs and flows and a tenuous story that doesn't quite bind all of the stunning imagery together, the film's a decidedly mixed bag: A joy to look at, Tekkon Kinkreet can't quite muster enough narrative momentum to keep it from just being eye candy. Gorgeous, yes, but hardly filling. ERIK HENRIKSEN
dir. Scott Hicks
Opens Fri July 27
Food is like, so totally hot right now. Not eating it, mind you—just the calorie-free, vicarious thrill of watching movies about it. Unfortunately, though, there aren't even thrills of a vicarious sort in No Reservations—sure, it's about a chef, and it takes place in a kitchen, but the film has no interest whatsoever in either the actual culture of making and serving food or the experience of eating it.
Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is an uptight chef who becomes guardian of her young niece after her sister is killed. She has no idea how to take care of a kid—but when free-spirited, opera-singing Nick (Aaron Eckhart) is hired as her sous chef, trite and predictable things ensue. All of this relies on the supposed charm of Zeta-Jones, who's about as personable as a brick of raw tofu. Meanwhile, Eckhart gives one of the most stomach-churning performances in recent memory. (Advice to all aging, leather-faced leading men: Feathered hair does not a heartthrob make.)
There is an undeniably sensual element to eating that can lend itself well to films about food—but here, food is simply the plot device that allows Catherine Zeta-Jones to smoosh her face against Aaron Eckhart's. So unless that's the direction your sensual pleasures lie, stay away from this one. ALISON HALLETT
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox dir. Sara Lamm
Opens Fri July 27
I'll give the hippies this: They have good soap. (How often they use it is a point of contention, but I digress.) Dr. Bronner's castile soap has been in my shower since I was in college, and it's not going anywhere soon. Partially this is because of the soap, but mostly it's because of the label, which is crammed with near-microscopic text and contains a rambling philosophic diatribe that features god, morality, "Spaceship Earth," and about 900 exclamation points. It's pretty excellent.
Less excellent is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox. Examining the soap and its maker, Emanuel H. Bronner, the documentary delves into Bronner's philosophies and history, including how his parents were killed in the Holocaust, how he stayed up all night talking into a tape recorder, and escaped a mental institution. It also focuses on Bronner's family, including his fantastically annoying son, Ralph, who travels around, desperately telling anyone about his dad and the soap his family still makes.
There's interesting stuff here, but Sara Lamm's film has the same (nonexistent) structure as Dr. Bronner's soap bottle label. Long-winded, repetitive, and full of irrelevant tangents, the film stretches on for 88 minutes. Just as a point of reference, the soap bottle, entertaining as it is, is best read in 15-second installments. ERIK HENRIKSEN