In a less competitive year, Jeff Goldblum would have had a shot at an Oscar nod for his performance in "Adam Resurrected," in which he plays Adam Stein, a mental patient irrevocably haunted by his Holocaust survival. This original drama is less glum than it might sound, thanks to Goldblum's spirited, go-for-broke portrayal and director Paul Schrader's distinctive translation of Noah Stollman's script (based on the controversial novel by Yoram Kaniuk).
Set in 1961 at an experimental sanitarium for Holocaust survivors in Israel's Negev desert, the film is punctuated by beautifully shot black-and-white flashbacks to Adam's younger days, first as a successful Berlin cabaret magician and circus impresario and later as a wartime captive, along with his wife and daughters, at the Stellring concentration camp. The desperate Stein stayed alive there by becoming, literally, the "pet dog" to the sadistic if conflicted Commandant Klein (an excellent Willem Dafoe), while his family perished.
Back in 1961, Stein, crazed from the residual guilt and trauma, gets by on randy charm and clown-like charisma -- in addition to some abstractly supernatural powers -- seducing the sexy asylum nurse (Ayelet Zurer), outmaneuvering the hospital's head doctor (Derek Jacobi) and playing Pied Piper to the other inmates. But when he discovers a boy hidden away there who thinks he's a dog, Stein sets out to save the child and thereby save himself.
The parallels between the boy-dog and Stein's own "dog" days at Stellring can get heavy-handed, and the scenes of Stein leading the youngster around on all fours, not to mention nurse Gina's sexually submissive "barking," are a bit much. Nonetheless, "Adam Resurrected" has resonance.
-- Gary Goldstein
"Adam Resurrected." MPAA rating: R for some disturbing behavior, sexuality, nudity and some language. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
Danger clearly lurks in this 'Tunnel'
Imagine if the movie-within-the-movie in "Tropic Thunder" -- the leaden action-melodrama stuffed with cliches about Vietnam -- had stayed on track, and you would end up with something not dissimilar to "1968: Tunnel Rats."
Having recently tried his hand at the sledgehammer-subtle satire of "Postal," this latest entry from prolific filmmaker and tireless self-promoter Uwe Boll finds him nominally branching out. What that apparently means is that "Tunnel Rats" is a movie being turned into a video game rather than Boll's usual directive of adapting a game that already exists.
Rather than get to the heart of the story, centered on a unit trying to ferret the Viet Cong from a warren of cramped underground tunnels, Boll spends an interminable amount of time letting the actors (unknowns with the exception of Michael Pare) ramble around camp. For a nominal action film, it sure takes awhile to get going.
Once the troops do drop into the tunnels, the film devolves into a nonsensical series of small-scale set-pieces, far too many of which seem to involve scrambling for something lost in the dark.
With "1968: Tunnel Rats" Boll continues to show himself to be an unusually versatile filmmaker -- outrageously awful in any genre.
-- Mark Olsen
"1968: Tunnel Rats." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 617-1033.
Homeless family seek's 'God's' miracle
It's a minor miracle that the compelling drama "Where God Left His Shoes" turned out so unfussy and unsentimental given a narrative deck so stacked it could tip over at any moment. Yet writer-director Salvatore Stabile keeps his affecting story hurtling forward with such grit and integrity it's easy to forgive its loaded setup and occasional lapses in detail and logic.
John Leguizamo plays Frank Diaz, an unemployed boxer forced into a homeless shelter with wife Angela (Leonor Varela), 10-year-old stepson Justin (David Castro) and small daughter Christina (Samantha Rose) after the family is evicted from their apartment. A few months later, on Christmas Eve morning, subsidized housing opens up for the Diazes -- that is, if Frank, now a day laborer, can prove he's working somewhere "on the books" by 6 p.m.
With the mouthy Justin in tow, Frank ricochets around New York City in search of a legitimate job as an escalating series of obstacles and indignities befall the freezing, squabbling pair (Leguizamo and Castro's heated exchanges are priceless).
The movie mostly works against expectation and is admirably untidy. Stabile also makes vivid use of Manhattan on a clearly modest budget.
-- Gary Goldstein
"Where God Left His Shoes." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 617-0628.