Landmark case no film milestone
Based on the true story of an abused woman whose fight to overturn a murder conviction helped change the way victims of domestic violence are treated under British law, “Provoked” wheedles so relentlessly on its heroine’s behalf that by the end you almost wish they’d just lock her back up.
Squeakily earnest and noble in the extreme, the film stars a transcendently lovely Aishwarya Rai, one of India’s biggest stars, as the battered Kiranjit Ahluwalia, whose 10-year arranged marriage to comic-book sadist Deepak (Naveen Andrews from “Lost”) ends when a half-baked plan to burn his feet so he can’t chase her anymore results in his death. In the Manichean universe of “Provoked,” bad people are very, very bad; good ones are very nearly angels; and good ones who do bad things at the bidding of bad ones end up drinking themselves into oblivion while leaving the beer bottles scattered about to make sure we know it.
Miranda Richardson plays Ronnie, the cellmate who teaches Kiranjit to stand up for herself, and various others fill out other stock types reduced to their most basic essence. Director Jag Mundhra expends so much energy and screen time to sway us to take Kiranjit’s side -- really, we’re on her side, we’re on her side -- that he doesn’t have much left over for anything else, and the women’s rights activists who turn her seemingly lost cause into a landmark legal victory end up looking like something out of “Encyclopedia Brown.” Chopped into episodes headed by typewritten dates, “Provoked” turns the case of a lifetime into something straight out of Lifetime.
-- Carina Chocano
“Provoked.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. At selected theaters.
WWII internment fuels ‘Pastime’
A moving, heartfelt drama, “American Pastime” uses the iconic sport of baseball (and to a lesser extent, jazz) to illustrate both the frustration and humiliation experienced by Japanese Americans during their internment in World War II, as well as an expression of their patriotism and heroism.
Set at Topaz Relocation Center near Abraham, Utah, the film focuses on two families on opposite sides of the fence dealing with the sacrifices and prejudices triggered by the war effort.
Director Desmond Nakano, who co-wrote the script with Tony Kayden, does a fine job in evoking the events and era and in guiding his actors through emotion-filled scenes. However, much of the plot revolving around a climactic baseball game is trite and detracts from the overall drama.
Gary Cole stars as a camp guard and over-the-hill minor league catcher who still nurses autumnal hopes of a wartime call-up by the New York Yankees. Young Aaron Yoo, as a sax-blowing diamond prodigy, and Sarah Drew, as Cole’s daughter, are charming in their star-crossed lovers’ romance.
-- Kevin Crust
“American Pastime.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle’s Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A., (213) 617-0268. Available on DVD May 22.
‘Duck’ neither fish nor fowl
“Duck,” which invokes its title as both a noun and a verb, is a poignant, meandering drama starring Philip Baker Hall as a forlorn man struggling to find purpose in his so-called golden years and unexpectedly discovering it in the form of a motherless duckling. Hall plays Arthur, a retired history professor who has outlived his wife and son and finds himself slipping into destitution.
The inherent silliness of Arthur’s conversations with the duck, whom he dubs Joe as they traverse L.A. in 2009, is balanced by Hall’s absolute dedication to the cause. The film is essentially a series of episodic encounters between the unlikely traveling companions and various people they meet along the way. It’s no wonder that Arthur chooses to embrace Joe, considering how poorly most of the humans he encounters treat him.
Writer-director Nic Bettauer hits upon some important themes, including homelessness, environmentalism and the plight of the elderly, but not enough care has gone into developing the subsidiary characters who merely come across as types. Much of the journey becomes redundant, and the film likely would have been more effective as a 20-minute short. Sad and funny, the most depressing thing about the movie may be discovering the identity of the U.S. president two years from now.
“Duck.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At the Los Feliz 3, 1822 N. Vermont Ave., Hollywood, (323) 664-2169; AMC 30 at the Block, the City Drive, Orange, (714) 769-4AMC; and the Regal/Edwards Westpark 8, 3755 Alton Parkway, Irvine, (949) 622-8609.