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Knight at the Movies: 3 (Drei); The Descendants; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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More than a decade after the worldwide success of his breakthrough picture, Run, Lola, Run, that's still German writer-director-musician Tom Tykwer's most recognizable credit. Marvelously inventive and filled with clever camera tricks (not to mention its hot musical soundtrack), Lola is still a great, intensive cinematic thrill ride. So, too, I think is Tykwer's dazzling Perfume: The Story of a Murderer—a picture that so enraptured me with its visual, musical and sensual density upon first viewing that I'm still in awe of the experience.

However, Perfume, with its admittedly acrid subject matter and Tykwer's bland follow-up and his first U.S. production, The International (a so-so thriller about banking cartels) didn't much elevate his profile with audiences (though the former, I am happy to say has its fierce defendants).

Also, I don't expect that the alternately icy/humorous tone of 3 (Drei), the writer-director's latest that's set back in Tykwer's native Berlin, will find much mainstream appeal either—though it, too, may have its passionate advocates. This time, however, I'm not among them. Not surprisingly, it has taken a booking by the specialty house, the Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., for Tykwer's 2010 movie to finally reach Chicago (beginning Nov. 18).

3—the story of Hanna and Simon, who both fall for Adam—is obviously a backhanded homage to late queer director John Schlesinger's 1971 bisexual love triangle, Sunday, Bloody Sunday. However, unlike Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson (who competed for the affections of the bemused, emotionally distant hunk played by Murray Head), neither of Adam's lovers in Tykwer's roundelay is aware of the competition—and Adam doesn't know that the two are a wedded couple who have each drifted into the affair as their marriage has reached a state of sexual dormancy at the 20-year mark.

Hanna (Sophie Rois) is a fiercely intelligent TV journalist with a biting sense of humor while Simon (Sebastian Schipper) is a gentle, studious art rep with a shy, toothy grin who inexplicably finds himself physically attracted to his first male. The blond Adam (Devid Striesow), a genetic engineer, is a true bisexual and is drawn to both. (He's also keeping time with a male co-worker and who knows how many others.) Hanna and Simon each find it easy to maintain routines while incorporating plenty of hot sex on the side with Adam. However, soon the lust is being complicated by deep feelings and by the time the three-way affair is exposed, both Hanna—who is now pregnant—and Simon have fallen in love with Adam.

The movie is shot and edited in the striking visual style Tykwer is noted for but the gleaming colors, hard-edged Berlin locations and use of David Bowie wailing "Major Tom" on the soundtrack don't exactly call to mind a warm romantic comedy. The movie's too sleek and chilly.

The other problem is one of character. It's not the sophisticated, "terribly adult" solution the trio comes up with that's the sore spot—it's that by the time we get there we've lost interest in the outcome as Adam, the sensual man-toy, is such an emotive cipher it stretches the already thin layer of credibility. By that point, I didn't care if these 3 (Drei) ended up as 2 (Zwei)—or 1 (Eins).

"Paradise can fuck itself," George Clooney comments with a wince at one point, gazing around at the Hawaiian scenery that provides the backdrop in The Descendants, Alexander Payne's long-awaited follow-up to 2004's Sideways. That rueful, ironic aside pretty much sums up Payne's dramedy in one fell swoop. Like Payne's other films—Citizen Ruth, Election, etc.—it's both painfully insightful and unflinchingly honest, yet emotionally satisfying.

Clooney plays the distracted father ("I'm the backup parent") to two troubled girls whose mother has slipped into a coma after a boating accident and the financial head of valuable family trust. Clooney has a deadline in which to decide what to do with a generations old beachhead property that native islanders don't want him to sully and his extended family wants sold for the lucrative payout it promises. As the deadline approaches, Clooney's character finds out that his wife had been planning to leave him for another man and, with daughters in tow (and the surfer dude boyfriend of the elder), decides to track down the man and confront him.

I love Clooney—who plays a smart cookie who has trouble tapping into his emotions—in roles like this. The part's not much different than the characters he essayed so stunningly in Up in the Air and Michael Clayton. There's something about these fast talkers who try to quip their way through potentially fraught personal situations that resonate within the nimble, fearless actor that is a pleasure to watch.

The movie's based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings that Payne adapted, along with co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Although it's not quite a black comedy, it's still filled with the patented Payne quirky characters—supporting roles filled by experts like Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard and, especially, Beau Bridges. The exotic locations (which often have a rather foreboding look) and the spot-on, often chirpy Hawaiian songs on the soundtrack add to the irony of Payne's welcome return to cinema.

Film notes:

—Get out your nun habits and Nazi uniforms: The annual Thanksgiving screenings of Sing-A-Long Sound of Music return to the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., for four showings Nov. 25-27. Once again, audience participation is strongly encouraged at this annual showing of the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical classic, the 1965 Best Picture Oscar winner that stars Julie Andrews as the klutzy nun-turned-stepmother/vocal coach of the endless Von Trapp brood and stern but kindly father Christopher Plummer , as they are forced to flee the Nazi regime. The fun starts with an audience vocal warm-up, pre-show costume parade and goodie bags.

—Recent DVDs of note: Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer co-star in Beginners, based on the real-life experiences of writer-director Mike Mills, whose widowed father came out to him at the age of 75, determined to embrace the "gay lifestyle." This wistful black comedy, delicate and sure of tone, contains some of the year's best performances (by McGregor, a pixilated Plummer and Melanie Laurent as McGregor's French girlfriend) and has just been released. It contains a commentary track from Mills and a short making-of featurette.

Cheyenne Jackson, the openly gay Broadway headliner appears along with Jason Butler Harner (as his partner), Julia Ormond, and Illeana Douglas in the gay-themed drama The Green. The movie focuses on the serious trouble a theatre director at a private high school gets into when accused of impropriety by one of his students. Though plot heavy, the heavyweight cast helps to pull it off. It's available from Wolfe Video with a batch of bonus features.

Check out my archived reviews at or . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.

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