a song in her heart: Milos in Passionada.
Big Fat Portuguese Romance
By Ann Morrow
Directed by Dan Ireland
There isn’t anything earthshaking about Passionada,
the story of a widowed Portuguese mother and a washed-up gambler
who give each other a second chance. And that’s part of its
appeal: Written by two first-time screenwriters, Schenectady
natives Jim and Stephen Jermanok, the film has a leisurely
and amusing realism that goes a long way toward making a predictable
situation fresh and affecting. So does the setting of a Portuguese
community of New Bedford, Mass. Although the characters’ working-class
milieu is prettified (easy enough, since it’s on the seashore),
the enclave’s colorful culture has the flavor of authenticity.
Raven-haired bombshell Sofia Milos is Celia Amonte, a cabaret
singer whose husband was lost at sea seven years previous.
Celia works in a factory by day and watches over her beautiful
and newly boy-crazy daughter, Vicky (Emmy Rossum), by night.
Celia herself doesn’t date; she’s devoted to the memory of
her husband, who is forever young, dashing, and madly in love
with her in her beloved photo album. Celia shares a two-family
house with her wise but meddlesome mother-in-law (Lupe Ontiveros),
and the three woman sometimes get on each other’s nerves,
but without rancor. The family is grounded by traditional
values, and Celia has no desire to move beyond the time-honored
way of life of their fishing village.
When Celia is approached by Charlie Beck (Jason Isaacs) after
a performance, she quickly sizes him up for the ne’er-do-well
womanizer he is. Make that was—after hearing Celia
belt out a song body and soul, Charlie is smitten, a fortuitous
turn in his deepening dissatisfaction with his meaningless
life. Charlie has already done time for counting cards, and
after getting caught at a local casino, he finally realizes
that being a gambler is a losing proposition. But to entice
Celia out on a date, he employs some sleight-of-hand involving
a Porsche and a yacht, both belonging to a wealthy couple
(Seymour Cassel and Theresa Russell) he knows from Monte Carlo.
Will the love of a good woman reform him? Can Celia find it
in her tempestuous heart to forgive his venial sins of infatuation?
And more important—at least to moviegoers weary of mindless
summer blockbusters—will their mature but heated romance be
able to withstand director Dan Ireland’s rose-colored lenses?
The answer is yes, yes, and sort of. Isaacs is utterly natural
and likeable as the scheming but sincere card shark; it’s
easy to see why this A-list Hollywood villain (The Patriot,
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) would appear
in this small-budget indie. Not only does he play the lead,
but he also gets to talk like a real person. And so does everyone
else: Wry and pithy dialogue is the film’s strongest draw.
“What are we here, girlfriends?” chastises Celia when Vicky
tries to play matchmaker. (Vicky is so full of herself that
her eyes widen at her own insouciance.) And Celia’s repertoire
of fado songs (kind of like Spanish torch songs) is a knockout.
The earth doesn’t move during Charlie’s and Celia’s wary courtship,
but their articulate turbulence is likely to keep a smile
on your face all the way through. And after a long, dank summer
of onscreen sleaze and violence, there’s a lot to be said
Comes to Mike’s
Directed by Eitan Gorlin
First-time filmmaker Eitan Gorlin’s biting and rueful The
Holy Land is as pessimistic about contemporary Israel
as one might expect. Gun-crazy ideologues, greedy collaborators,
demented religious zealots and innocent whores exist side-by-side
in a country where every stray knapsack is a potential bomb,
and every lamb (literal or figurative) is ripe for sacrifice.
Gorlin’s film finds some wicked black humor in this, and a
love story that isn’t too sweet to be believed.
When 20-year-old rabbinical student Mendy (Oren Rehany) tells
his rabbi father that he wants to move to Jerusalem because
it may help him regain the “spark” that has gone out of his
vocation, his father gives him his blessing, and more: The
father confesses being jealous because, in Jerusalem, God
is in “every stone, every glass of water.” God seems to be
absent from the Jerusalem Mendy discovers, however—and if
God’s not totally absent, then He is definitely keeping to
Then again, Mendy’s move to The Holy Land’s ground
zero is made in religious bad faith. Distracted from his studies
by youthful lust, Mendy is advised by a sympathetic rabbi
to get it out of his system by visiting a “harlot” (and if
she’s not Jewish, the rabbi adds, all the better).
Mendy meets his harlot all right, a young Ukrainian beauty
named Sasha (Tchelet Semel). Rather than work off his lusts,
however, he falls in love. He also falls in with a motley
crowd of expatriates and freaks at a lively dive called Mike’s
Place. Mike (Saul Stein) is a garrulous ex-war photographer
with money problems and a taste for dope, drink and women;
Mike takes a fatherly interest in the young saint, tutoring
Mendy in the ways of sin. Other regulars include a gun-toting
settler from New York who styles himself “the exterminator”
(Arie Moskuna) and an Arab named Razi (Albert Illuz) with
murky business connections. Unlike the regulars at Rick’s
Place in Casablanca—a setting this film is clearly
referencing—the desperate denizens of Mike’s aren’t looking
to get out. They’re reveling in their desperation.
With their selfish lusts, mixed motives and apolitical dealings,
Gorlin seems to suggest, these people are the moral mirrors
of the self-absorbed religious types on both sides of the
conflict. Good-humored they may be, but they prove to be as
culpable for the violent bloodletting as any zealous believer.
While the fate of the romance between Sasha and Mendy is foreordained,
the film’s ending remains in doubt right up until the tragic
last images. In The Holy Land, the question isn’t whether
the innocent are doomed; it’s which lamb will be slaughtered.
the Eighth Circle of Hell
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Like plagues of locusts, they come at regular intervals. The
Order—an occult thriller seemingly left over from the
1999-2000 glut of cryptically imbecilic bible studies such
as Stigmata, Lost Souls, End of Days,
and Bless the Child—is not embellished with stuttered
tracking shots of startled doves, nor does it have Gabriel
Byrne among the cast. Even so, this numbing exercise in ecclesiastical
malarkey can be considered the worst of the lot.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, auteur of the colossally
silly A Knight’s Tale, The Order is an abysmal
example of how the filmmaker (Conspiracy Theory, Payback)
dispenses with simple logic to pander to a concept. In this
case, the concept is a centuries-old blasphemous practice
that briefly undermined the power of the Catholic Church.
Heath Ledger plays the erudite priest, Father Alex, who discovers
this practice, and the film opens, as these things usually
do, with the death of the head of his order. The Carolingians,
as they’re called, are an obscure (and fictional) sect dedicated
to casting out demons. Members of the order need only to brandish
a crucifix while yelling “I order you back to hell!” to be
rid of pesky tormentors from the underworld (making the job
a lot easier than it was in days of The Exorcist).
Anyway, the order is now down to two: Father Alex and Father
Thomas (Mark Addy) from Ireland. Accompanied, temptingly enough,
by an alluring artist (Shannyn Sossaman) recently released
from an insane asylum, Alex goes to Rome to investigate the
suspicious suicide of his mentor. Ledger, Addy and Sossaman
starred together in A Knight’s Tale, but they have
less chemistry than total strangers.
While perusing the requisite rare manuscript, Alex finds a
clue: It’s a sin eater, and this one goes by the self-promoting
name of William Eden (German actor Benno Furmann). For a price,
he “eats” the sins of the wicked, who then receive the divine
equivalent of a get-out-of-hell card and ascend to heaven
without passing Go. Eden is similar to a vampire, but with
better perks, like walking around in daylight and having sex.
The downside is that consuming the sins of others and being
bombarded by the departed’s evil deeds produces something
akin to a bad acid flashback, or so the cheesy freak-out effects
would have us believe.
The pursuit of the sin eater takes the two priests through
the blurry murk of the Eternal City to an S&M nightclub
where the dungeonlike VIP room is presided over by a hooded
figure on a throne. Since the hood doesn’t have any holes,
it’s a wonder Oh High and Mighty One can breath, let alone
recognize an acquaintance from across the Atlantic. According
to this mystery man, the answers to really tough questions
are known only by the dying, and right on cue, two men are
hanged on the spot. One of them obligingly answers Alex’s
unperturbed query before death spasms set in. To top off this
ludicrous bit of business, Thomas later returns to the club—alone.
Aside from the gratuitously sicko set pieces, the film is
depressingly slack, with characters intoning psuedo-arcana
with all the conviction of reading directions off a bottle
of allergy relief. Meanwhile, the talentless Addy is saddled
with lines of campy humor that only increase the film’s quease
factor. Slick, icky, and moronic, The Order inspired
one online pundit to announce: “I order this movie back to
hell!” To which I’ll add: “And Helgeland with it!”