This intoxicating film by Lucrecia Martel (La Ciénaga) stars María Alche, a young Argentinean actor, and I'm tempted to say she's all the reason you need to buy a ticket. It's impossible to take your eyes off her, not because she's beautiful, exactly, but because her face registers religious and sexual conflict with an alarming intensity.
Amalia (Alche) is a young Catholic girl who lives in a hotel with her divorced mother and her uncle. Then a conference of doctors at the hotel puts Amalia in contact with a man named Dr. Jano. Unfortunately, the contact is literal.
When Amalia catches him rubbing up against her in a crowd, she reacts not with fear but with an insatiable curiosity that is both altruistic and cruel. She's an innocent taught to save sinners, but in her impulse to pursue her frotteur she's uncannily aware of his deepest fears. Martel's direction is equally acute; even as the cinematography becomes more and more disorienting and hazily erotic, the emotional core of the film tightens incrementally until you have to remind yourself to breathe. ANNIE WAGNER
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
Opens Fri June 10
There are a lot of filmmakers more respected than Robert Rodriguez, but I've yet to see one who's more fun--ever since his homemade action flick El Mariachi took over Sundance in 1992, the guy's never stopped making cheap, kickass movies, from From Dusk Till Dawn to Spy Kids to Sin City.
Rodriguez's latest contribution to kiddie cinema is The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D, and this time, he's gotten one of his kids involved--his six-year-old son, Racer, is credited as Rodriguez's co-writer. There are some great moments here--like the first 10 minutes, which promise a dark, imaginative, and emotionally involving film is to follow. Sadly, that movie never shows up. Instead the Rodriguezes cram the screen with hyper-colored CG and a boring plot that has something to do with daydreams, unlikable superheroes, a villain (the tremendously unfunny George Lopez), and a giant cookie-eating monster (the tremendously unfunny David Arquette). If El Mariachi, Sin City, and even Spy Kids showcase the best of Robert Rodriguez's instincts, Shark Boy and Lava Girl is a montage of the worst. For better or worse, where else are you going to see David Arquette dressed up as a giant cookie-eating monster? No, wait--that's definitely for the worse. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Opens Fri June 10
Press screenings are a strangely mixed blessing for film critics--a free, velvet-roped (or more accurately, masking-taped) seat in the press row is surely a perk, but it comes at the expense of sitting in a packed theater full of weird film parasites and--even worse--other critics. So considering that I spent the 20 minutes that preceded High Tension (not to mention a good amount of spillover into the movie itself) under oppressive nerd fire from a group of 30-something men in the press row behind me--barking about their trips to Comic-Con International, their affection for Katie Holmes ("I'd date her, if only because she looks like a young Lynda Carter! Snort!"), and the current status of their three-part Masters of the Universe documentary--you may want to consider the brief review that follows a little biased.
Notable more for its nation of origin than anything else, the French slasher High Tension is pretty unremarkable--an awkwardly formulaic update of the slasher genre of the '70s and '80s (complete with cartoonish gore, unnecessarily loud florescent lights, creepy dolls, a gratuitous shower scene, and, of course, a dubious plot twist) unsuccessfully aimed at American horror audiences' bloodlust. It's a cheap, dubbed, and largely artless affair--in other words, one that was hardly worth the mental anguish forced upon me by my fellow critics. ZAC PENNINGTON