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CAPSULE REVIEWS

Insights into the artists

August 29, 2008|Gary Goldstein; Kevin Thomas

The age-old question "What is art?" is again considered in the colorful and spirited documentary "Beautiful Losers," an absorbing look at how a circle of dispossessed young artists from the 1990s eventually found its way to mainstream success.

The film, directed by Aaron Rose, whose influential Alleged Gallery in Lower Manhattan began as a grungy party spot-exhibition space for such do-it-yourselfers as Ed Templeton, Geoff McFetridge and Shepard Fairey, immerses the viewer in a world of anything-goes creativity and eccentric self-expression. The artists' wares, a range of pop visual styles born of the skateboarding, graffiti, surf and hip-hop cultures, won't be for every taste, but the way Rose (with an assist from co-director Joshua Leonard) presents their eclectic work is both disarming and inventive.

Less successful are the interviews with the artists themselves, a committed but benignly narcissistic bunch whose penchant for brooding incoherence or random thought can prove more frustrating than insightful. Fortunately, Rose's on-camera turns as a kind of "I-was-there" guide through the various incarnations of the Alleged Gallery and its starrier alumni, help give this freewheeling portrait a welcome heart.

-- Gary Goldstein

"Beautiful Losers." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Landmark's Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A., (310) 281-8223.

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'King' fails to get royal treatment

Returning to the screen after a two-decade absence, writer-director Jiri Menzel has adapted his "I Served the King of England" from a novel by major Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, having based his Oscar-winning 1966 "Closely Watched Trains" on another Hrabal book. Menzel retains his jaunty absurdist sensibility, but lightning has not struck twice. The new film is so leisurely paced and overly long that what means to be at once charming yet darkly satirical lapses into tedium and barely comes alive.

After 15 years in prison Jan (Oldrich Kaiser) is released in Communist Czechoslovakia in the early '60s and sent to live in a derelict mountain community to maintain its gravel road. The unexpected presence of a beautiful young woman causes Jan to look back on his life as a waiter (Ivan Barnev) with his eye ever on the main chance. Swiftly moving up the ladder, Jan works in swanky hotels and restaurants awash in sex, gluttony and gorgeous women, with plenty left over for him.

Lacking totally in moral imagination, Jan becomes an opportunist when World War II breaks out but is unprepared for the postwar Communist takeover. As a quirky fable, "I Served" pales in comparison to Volker Schlondorff's film of Gunter Grass' "The Tin Drum" -- but it does look gorgeous.

-- Kevin Thomas

"I Served the King of England." MPAA rating: R for sexual content and nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. In selected theaters.

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Sex that isn't sexy in 'Gay Sequel'

Nearly a decade ago, Todd Stephens wrote an affecting semiautobiographical script for "Edge of Seventeen," in which a Sandusky, Ohio, high school youth struggles to accept his homosexuality. He then wrote and directed the tender "Gypsy 83," in which a pair of Sandusky outsiders take off for New York.

Stephens' career seemed off to a promising start, but he has explained that, because of distribution problems with "Gypsy 83," finally released in 2004, he was "very angry" when he wrote -- and then subsequently directed -- "Another Gay Movie," a grimly raunchy gay sendup of teen movies that was successful enough to spawn his newest work, "Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild!," which finds four pals (Jonah Blechman, Jake Mosser, Aaron Michael Davies, Jimmy Clabots) off to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a spring break. It scarcely seems possible, but this sequel is even bleaker, with stale nonstop gross-out humor and sex that couldn't seem less sexy. (Perhaps Stephens is still angry.)

Stephens' stabs at contrasting pathos come off as merely maudlin. Tired cameos by drag queens RuPaul and Lady Bunny and other celebs don't help. The sad irony for Stephens is that these two "Anothers" -- and there's apparently a third in the works -- will almost surely be seen by more people than his first two efforts.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild!" MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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