The Big Animal (Milestone)
It's a simple yet lesser known law of comedy: Camels are always funny. There are the jaws that drool and chew side to side, the front legs that move like a human's, the humps -- but mostly it's the eyes: There's something of Buddha in a camel's eyes. The Big Animal has gotten attention for its script penned by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, and it's full of deft comic performances. But it's Rubio the camel that carries the film. After being left in a Polish village by a circus, he's adopted by a man (Jerzy Stuhl, who also directs) who loves him. It would be wrong to call this a Jesus parable, but it is about how people muck up the miracles handed them, as the other villagers scheme and fume about their neighbor's new pet. It's a short film (71 minutes), and that's a good thing -- there's really not much here. But man oh man, that camel. Get Rubio an agent. -- Jordan Harper
Down in the Valley (ThinkFilm)
Edward Norton has given a lot of brilliant performances in a lot of bad movies, from his breakout role in a Richard Gere thriller to his recent stint in an Orlando Bloom vehicle. Add to that list Down in the Valley, in which he plays an anachronistic cowboy who romances a modern-day teenager (Evan Rachel Wood). Both turn in great performances. So far, so good. But someone behind the camera thinks he's smarter than he is, and soon a movie about interesting people becomes a movie about movies and symbols and zzzzz . . . Oh, sorry. Down in the Valley is too big for its britches, but it's still worth watching for Norton, who's able to salvage goofy dialogue and sell unlikely scenes. It'd just be nice to see him not have to do those things next time. -- Jordan Harper
Lady Vengeance (Tartan)
Supposedly this is the final chapter in South Korean director Park Chan-wook's revenge trilogy (started by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy), but it feels like he could riff like this forever. Gorgeous, violent, and sometimes very funny, Lady Vengeance is simply one hell of a movie. It starts as the story of a woman, released after serving her prison term for brutally murdering a young boy, who gets a job at a bakery. From there it leaps back and forth in time, twisting the plot and the knife until you're forced to set up camp at the edge of your seat. One scene in particular, in which a group of bereaved debate whether to take brutal revenge on the person in the next room, could carry a film all on its own. Park may feel the need to explore other ideas, but he's welcome to roll out another trilogy's worth of revenge. -- Jordan Harper
The Big Animal
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Roger Ebert made the mistake of attacking Chaos for being "ugly, nihilistic and cruel," in the process creating the only reason to see the piece of shit. If you're the type who would seek out a film because it repulsed mainstream critics, understand: This is the cinematic equivalent of an Insane Clown Posse cover band. Buried in its adolescent naughtiness is an utter lack of talent, wit, originality, or technical skill. It's the story, kind of, of a bunch of clichéd crazies who torture a couple of girls to death -- and any fan of transgressive film has seen that scenario done far better than it's done here. Just in the past year, a 10-minute scene in The Devil's Rejects covers every base this movie reaches for, and does it with style. So, sick-thrill seekers, don't believe the hype. -- Jordan Harper