dir. Lou Ye
Opens Fri March 21
Living Room Theaters
Infused with almost as much sex as dramatic angst, Summer Palace chronicles the young adulthood of Yu Hong (Lei Hao), a student at the Beijing University in the late 1980s. There she meets Zhou Wei (Xiaodong Guo), a fellow student and the love of her life. Much happiness, nudity, and cigarette smoking ensues.
In what turns out to be the most frustrating aspect of the rather epic film—which spans until its core characters are well into their 20s—Yu Hong's penchant for self-sabotage eventually ruins the relationship, though she and Zhou Wei remain friends, their linkage far from severed. She seems less actually nuts than impressed with the idea that she might be nuts (all too common in that self-obsessed life stage), and throughout Summer Palace, she's hell bent on creating problems and ruining her own happiness.
Outside of the occasionally eye-roll- inducing emoting, Palace is a great snapshot of late-1980s university life in Beijing, a cosmopolitan melting pot of nationalities and intellectualism that's brought into alarming focus during violent, chaotic protests on campus. The film's almost exhausting in its scope: Splitting into multiple storylines when some of the characters in Yu Hong's circle move to Germany and lose touch, Summer Palace is an expansive portrait of youth, politics, and love that draws together the inclusiveness of those experiences across cultures. MARJORIE SKINNER
dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Opens Fri March 21
Lloyd Center 10 Cinema
The Hammer is pretty terrible. There's exactly one funny line in the entire thing, and it involves Adam Carolla and Kissing Jessica Stein's Heather Juergensen on a date at the La Brea Tar Pits. Looking at children there, Carolla says, "Look at these kids. They look pissed off that they're not at Disneyland. I would sue my parents if they took me here."
See? And it's not even very funny.
And that is all you get for over 90 minutes. The Hammer is about—well, if you've seen Rocky, then you know what it's about. A down-on-his-luck boxer (Carolla) falls in love, wins some fights, and learns a very important lesson. Basically, if you took the first and last Rockys, subtracted all the heart and gritty East Coast working-class ambience, and then sprinkled a little Saturday Night Live all over it, you would get The Hammer. And here's what really burns: The "story" was "created" by Carolla. Adam Carolla created the story of Rocky? I HAD NO IDEA! HE IS A GENIUS. GIVE HIM AN OSCAR! KIALA KAZEBEE
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation
dir. Cao Hamburger
Opens Fri March 21
Fox Tower 10
Mauro (Michel Joelsas) is an adorable 11-year-old moppet whose parents drop him off at his grandpa's house in São Paulo so they can "go on vacation." Mom and Dad are in an awfully big hurry to get out of town, though, so they dump Mauro on Grandpa's doorstep without bothering to confirm that the old man is still breathing.
With a dead grandpa and his parents long gone, Mauro is largely left to his own devices. Grandpa's curmudgeonly neighbor reluctantly keeps an eye on him, and the local Jewish community helps out with a latke or two, though no one is quite sure what to make of the young goy with the absent folks.
Soon it becomes clear that Mauro's parents have gone into hiding for political reasons. The repressive military regime of 1970s Brazil patrols the borders of Mauro's world, while he watches World Cup soccer games and runs around with neighborhood kids. As the military cracks down on subversive activities in the neighborhood, Mauro's understanding of the nature of his parents' "vacation" begins to change. The boy's tentative forays into adulthood are depicted with subtlety and skill, making for a coming-of-age film as poignant and sweet as any in recent memory. ALISON HALLETT