YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


'American Radical': Norman Finkelstein fights how he sees fit

Also reviewed: 'Children of Invention,' 'Cry of the Owl,' 'Mother' and more.

March 12, 2010
  • A mother's single-minded drive to provide for her family leaves little time for her kids, who become almost eerily resourceful as a result in "Children of Invention."
A mother's single-minded drive to provide for her family leaves little… (Chris Teague )

An enthralling Korean mystery

The enthralling, unpredictable, yet highly accessible "Mother" from Korea's Bong Joon-ho, takes the predicament of a fiercely devoted single mother (Kim Hye-ja, in an Oscar-caliber portrayal) determined to get justice for her simple-minded son, Do-joon (Won Bin), arrested for the murder of a teenage girl by lazy, indifferent police, and turns it into a dazzlingly multifaceted epic of stunning surprise. The mother's realization that she must investigate the murder herself if she is to have a hope of saving her son allows the film to become a murder mystery -- and much more.

Suspense and danger are just the beginning, for "Mother" contemplates both the dark humor and incipient tragedy of the random collisions of character and fate. Bong lays bare the casual, reflexive cruelty of society, streaked as it is with indifference and corruption. Incidents and individuals frequently prove to be not what they seem. At its heart, it is a probing of mother love carried to extremes in various and unexpected ways; Bong, as nervy as Quentin Tarantino, evokes the profundity of Sophocles only to compound one bleakly comic irony upon another.

-- Kevin Thomas "Mother." MPAA rating: R for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use. In Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.

Whether you agree with the politics of author-scholar Norman Finkelstein, the polarizing subject of the documentary "American Radical," or not, there's no denying the guy's got resolve. This outspoken son of Nazi concentration camp survivors is so entrenched in the inflammatory case he's been making for years -- that Israelis and American Jews have exploited the Holocaust to justify their ongoing opposition to Palestine -- that it has clearly shaped and informed his entire adult life.

Yet for all of his intractable passion on the issue, Finkelstein's prickly, obsessive approach often brings to mind the pick-a-side rantings of a zealous cable news host; some will likely find his views more conflated than convincing. However, co-directors David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier don't pass judgment on Finkelstein (they leave that to such supporters as Noam Chomsky and detractors as Alan Dershowitz), faithfully trailing him across the globe as he tangles with college students and TV interviewers and huddles with Hezbollah and Palestinian refugees.

While this tenure-challenged Middle Eastern studies professor is hardly pleasant cinematic company, it's tough to look away.

-- Gary Goldstein "American Radical." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

Troubled immigrants

That the phrase "get rich quick" is so often followed by the word "scheme" is clearly off the radar of Elaine Cheng (Cindy Cheung), the enterprising if naive mother of writer-director Tze Chun's wonderful "Children of Invention."

A Chinese immigrant with a foreclosed suburban Boston house, an expired work visa, two small children and an unsupportive ex-husband, the needy Elaine becomes embroiled in a pyramid scam. Elaine is by no means a bad or purposely negligent mother, but her single-minded drive to provide for her family leaves little time for her kids, who become almost eerily resourceful as a result.

When Elaine is arrested for her unwitting involvement in the illegal investment ruse, her sensible, budding inventor son Raymond (Michael Chen) and feisty daughter Tina (Crystal Chiu) must survive in her curious absence. Though the siblings' alone time thankfully avoids any Dickensian rabbit holes (this is, after all, a gentle film), their glum ramen dinners, prickly teamwork and nervy journey into downtown Boston are absorbing and deftly played. Chen and Chiu's genuine, rarely cloying performances along with Cheung's urgent sincerity add immeasurably to this timely film's many modest pleasures.

-- Gary Goldstein "Children of Invention." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. In English, Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

'Owl' is elegant but slow-paced

A conjurer of unpleasant behavior among the ordinary, author Patricia Highsmith has been a favorite of filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Minghella. Her 1962 novel "The Cry of the Owl" -- about a doomed depressive caught up in obsession and murder -- has now received its second film adaptation (after Claude Chabrol's French version in the '80s).

British writer-director Jamie Thraves, who hails from music videos, works up a crisp, elegantly foreboding visual bleakness as he drags divorcing aeronautics engineer Robert (Paddy Considine) from peeping tom -- spying on the normal home life of stranger Jenny (Julia Stiles) -- to noir sucker.

Los Angeles Times Articles