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CAPSULE REVIEWS

30ish son can't end a visit home

September 05, 2008|Kevin Thomas, Sheri Linden, Robert Abele

At once poignant and ruefully amusing, director Azazel Jacobs' third feature, "Momma's Man," finds Mikey (Matt Boren) visiting his parents (Flo and Ken Jacobs) while on a business trip to New York City, only to discover that he can't leave.

It's a key strength of this subtle, beguiling film that Mikey hasn't been living a seemingly dysfunctional life in California, where he has a lovely wife (Dana Varon) and a baby daughter, a pleasant apartment and a decent job.

The film is a comment on the stresses of fast-changing modern life, with its sense of loss and dislocation that make the security of Mikey's parents' bohemian artists' loft, his beautiful, nurturing mother's tender attentions and his childhood mementos so irresistible a security blanket for Mikey; he keeps postponing his return to California and soon discovers that he can't even step outside his parents' apartment.

Jacobs wrote the role of Mikey especially for Boren, who as a paunchy, unhandsome guy in his 30s fearlessly allows Mikey to seem at times an outsized baby.

But Boren shows us that Mikey is much more than that, and the filmmaker's actual parents, Flo Jacobs, a painter, and Ken Jacobs, an avant-garde filmmaker, emerge as an attractive couple of much sensitivity and intelligence, handling their son's sudden mid-life crisis with concern and restraint.

Mastery of tone is everything here, and Azazel's control, combined with his wit, perception, discretion and easy command of the visual and of his cast makes "Momma's Man" a gem.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Momma's Man" Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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'Ping Pong Playa' serves up laughs

Yet another comedy about an immature, smack-talking Chinese American NBA wannabe who discovers his inner grown-up through the challenge of a table-tennis tournament? "Ping Pong Playa" breathes fresh life into the tired, bloated sports-comedy formula -- while remaining utterly formulaic. The movie doesn't take its broad, jokey premise terribly far, but it manages to sustain a goofy-sweet comic energy and offers sly observations about assimilation, sibling rivalry and the art of competitive maternal bragging.

The unlikely director of this winning silliness is Jessica Yu, whose superb documentaries explore such rarefied matters as outsider art ("In the Realms of the Unreal") and the nature of fanaticism ("Protagonist").

Yu's co-writer, Jimmy Tsai, makes an assured big-screen debut as Christopher "C-dub" Wang, a 20-something layabout who takes great, aggressive pleasure in correcting white people's mispronunciations of Chinese names and blocking the shots of kids half his size on the basketball court. He also rides a child-size scooter. When injuries sideline his mother and upright doctor brother, he reluctantly answers the call to carry on the family pingpong tradition. Gleefully tackling Asian stereotypes, the movie isn't above indulging in others, yet it never strikes a condescending attitude.

-- Sheri Linden

"Ping Pong Playa" MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, including some sexual remarks and drug references. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. In selected theaters.

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A coming-of-age tale, nimbly done

A diverting cross between "Peter Pan" and an emo-era "Vertigo," director David Mackenzie's "Mister Foe" stars Jamie Bell as a troubled teen named Hallam whose abiding grief over the death of his mother has turned him into an inveterate Peeping Tom, a defiantly odd lad given to creeping around his own Scottish estate, treehouse retreats and bouts of face-painting.

After a scary confrontation with Stepmom (Claire Forlani) -- whom he thinks murdered his mom to be with Dad (Ciaran Hinds) -- Hallam bolts for the big city, where he espies a business-suited blond beauty (Sophia Myles) who's a dead ringer for his mother. What ensues is both a thrillingly dramatized obsession and a strangely affecting love story, carried out amid the rooftops, rainy alleyways, building guts and bedrooms of Edinburgh, an urban maze of the soul that offers hidey holes young Hallam will either lose himself in or crawl out of into the daylight of maturity.

Although it's nice to see Mackenzie (who made the sexually nihilistic "Young Adam") find uplift in the erotic, what helps drive "Mister Foe" is how deftly he turns chasm into intimacy between Bell and Myles, both of whom give sharply observed, charismatic portrayals. Ultimately Mackenzie's tidy resolutions undercut the psychological depth, but as offbeat coming-of-age yarns go, "Mister Foe" has a commanding fleetness.

-- Robert Abele

"Mister Foe" MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At the Landmark, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A., (310) 281-8233.

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Samurai tested in 'Love and Honor'

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