ELECTILE DYSFUNCTION (2008, directed by Mary Patel & Joe Barber, 93 minutes, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Philadelphia City Paper columnist Mary Patel teamed up with co-director Joe Barber for this exhausting but not exhaustive look at the gaping flaws in the U.S. electoral system. It’s a Grand Central Station of talking heads, all delivering little more than soundbites. And while I love a diversity of opinion, I’m not sure what unique perspective Elliot Gould and Schoolly D bring to the stew. Freely mixing in the angry and clueless public with disgustingly hardened insiders, Electile Dysfunction never drums up a thesis on the subject besides saying that money has corrupted the system (stop the presses!). Left out of the conversation is any mention of the folly of electronic voting, and the inside players who register and count the votes far away from public scrutiny. Also missing is a way out of this mess, but what do you expect from the “hard” news documentary that can’t resist a putting dick joke in the title?
Wed. April 9, 7 p.m., Prince Music Theater
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EPITAPH (2007, directed by The Jung Brothers, 98 minutes, South Korea)
With the endless American remakes and variations coming from every country across Asia, the bloom is off the rose when it comes to the spooky ghost stories launched by Japan’s J-Horror genre. Danger After Dark used to be full of them, but this year holds only two, both from South Korea: Black House (unreviewed but playing at 9:30 p.m. at the Ritz East) and the 1940s wartime period piece Epitaph. Thing start out promisingly, with the action centered around a Korean hospital held under occupation by Japanese forces. A beautiful young stiff is admitted to the hospital and slowly a young intern finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. With its lush photography and its literary storytelling, Epitaph begins to look like an intriguing expansion of the genre. Before you can say “boo” though, the film falls back into all the cliches of the genre: spooky girls with hair in their faces, heads that jump into the frame unexpectedly and a labyrinth of plot twists that tempt you to write the whole plot off as “atmosphere” rather than try to untangle what the hell might really be happening. At least the plot’s historical specificity should preclude it from being resurrected as a Hollywood vehicle for Lindsay Lohan. — D.B.
Wed. April 9, 7:15 p.m. Ritz East
Thu. April 10, 9:45 p.m., Ritz East
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It’s great that the Philly Film Fest is here to overload our senses once a year, but buffs intrigued by film history’s nooks and crannies can be found on the second Thursday of every month at Andrew’s Video Vault (The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St.). It’s a particularly reverent mood tomorrow tonight, with two of the most daring films ever made about religion: a screening of the 1959 film Nazarin from Luis Buñuel, and the sure-to-unnerve oddity from the far off year of 1991, The Rapture.
Nazarin (still unavailable domestically on DVD) was made during the Spanish-born director’s time in Mexico, making no-budget masterpieces. Buñuel was raised with a strict Jesuit upbringing and it is from the soul that we view his portrait of a priest who finds nothing but trouble when he begins to act on the teachings of Christ. It begins when he shelters a prostitute accused of murder, leading to his expulsion from the Church. His journey to the depths of faith and doubt parallel and diverge from Christ’s journey in fascinating ways, and Buñuel lets us know that a modern-day Christ would not find our supposedly enlightened times much more welcoming than his own.
The Rapture is one of two odd films directed by novelist Michael Tolkin, screenwriter of Robert Altman’s The Player. The former Mrs. Tom Cruise, Mimi Rogers (who reportedly introduced him to Scientology) plays a swinging sex addict who becomes disillusioned with screwing couples picked up in the airport bar. She dumps her lover and hooks up with pre-“X-Files” David Duchovny, who is a follower of an Apocalyptic sect of Christians who see the Rapture in dreams of a glowing pearl. Tolkin keeps a Kubrick-style distance from the action; like Julianne Moore in the germophobe-drama Safe, we’re not sure if Mimi is crazy or not. He doesn’t keep you out in the fields waiting for the Great Pumpkin either: The film delivers a climax sure to send you to the exits muttering something to yourself. –D.B.
Andrew’s Video Vault
Thurs. 8 p.m. FREE!
The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. Philly