The boys' casting coup Harris, meanwhile, is reliably dissipated — even humorously so, at times — without either villainizing Charlie's mistakes or aiming for pity. But it still feels cobbled together from the scraps (prime scraps, still) of this veteran's career, and the Millers treat their star player almost too reverently to make him a galvanizing, chaotic figure in the boys' deferred lives. It all gives "Touching Home" a feeling of getting walked around its bases, rather than hitting singles, doubles and triples to score its points.
"Touching Home." MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic material involving alcoholism, language, brief violence and for smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Often unreadable subtitles cannot dim the brilliance of Karen Shakhnazarov's "Ward. No. 6," an inspired reworking of Anton Chekhov short story. This beautiful, elegiac film presents an indelible portrait of the head of a mental institution, Ragin (Vladmir Ilyin), eventually ending up an inmate himself. Ragin's fate unfolds in deliberately disjointed fashion within the framework of a faux documentary.
We learn that Ragin, a bald, middle-aged man had wanted to become a cleric but instead went into medicine on pain of being disowned by his father. Ragin spends half his income on books, drinks more vodka and beer than he should but is lovingly cared for by an elderly neighbor woman who serves as his housekeeper. He also has a friend who persuades him to vacation in Moscow, but an unending round of strip clubs and slot machines only intensifies his depression.
Ragin's unraveling is triggered by his realization that Gromov (Alexey Vertkov) is the only intellectual he has found to debate with in 20 years in a town "without theater or art."
Since the film is firmly rooted in Chekhov, it is philosophical and fatalistic, steeped in a despairing view of the human condition, lightened by a humorous sense of the absurd. Lots of meanings could be read into "Ward No. 6," but Shakhnazarov and her equally gifted colleagues wisely leave the viewer to make of it what he or she will.
"Ward No. 6." Unrated. In Russian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.