Sarah Townsend's "Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story" illuminates the life and career of the protean, gender-bending comedian-actor through an astonishing collection of footage. Beginning with home movies from Izzard's childhood, the film moves through years of performances on the street and in small clubs to a triumphant West End debut, at which time he declared himself a transvestite, to his international acclaim as a stand-up comic and as a stage and screen actor.
This fine documentary, understandably years in the making, commences with Izzard's humiliating experience in being accused of using old material in a new show and unfolds as he launches a British workshop tour of his 2003 comeback, "Sexie," as a prelude to a world tour that culminated later that year in London's vast Wembley Arena, where he played before 44,000 fans over four days. Townsend's extensive interviews with Izzard backstage and elsewhere frame the performance footage as well as encounters and reminisces with friends, colleagues and fans.
Izzard spent his early childhood in a pleasant Belfast suburb, his happiness cut short by the death of his mother. Later, he was thrown out of Sheffield University because he was so obsessed with performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For years, Izzard was sustained by iron-willed determination.
He is a short, chunky, rugged man, and when he assumes drag he goes for androgyny. It's a look he finds comfortable, and it also frees him from gender in the wide-ranging commentary that underlies his comic sense of the absurd. His easy, unapologetic acceptance of his onstage transvestism allows his audiences to respond in kind. Only once has he been physically attacked, in a Cambridge street, and he stood his ground in the ensuing fight. Although the film implies that Izzard is heterosexual, it does not delve into his private life. Townsend saves her most poignant moment for near the end, when Izzard, reflecting upon his mother, says, "Everything I do is trying to get her back."
Kevin Thomas --
"Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. At the Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.
Good, clean fun -- on dirt bikes
Corbin Bleu may have graduated from "High School Musical," but he stays close to his Disney roots in "Free Style," a squeaky-clean sports flick about a poor kid with big dreams (and bigger hair) trying to make it in motocross.
The inoffensive family film, directed by genre veteran William Dear ("Harry and the Hendersons"), trades heavily on Bleu's natural appeal and its unerring belief in sportsmanship, loyalty and the fact that girls with permed hair are not to be trusted. But for all the flying dirt, the motocross scenes never take off, lacking both coherence and excitement. And that's a crippling flaw for a movie that revs its engines for a good half of its 94 minutes.
Bleu's character, Cale, lives with his single mom (Penelope Ann Miller) and little sister (Madison Pettis) in a Washington town. The idea that Bleu could be related to Miller is vaguely addressed when little sis, tired of being teased about her appearance, asks, "Are we white or black?" Cale's response: "We're whack!"
The movie revels in that kind of good-natured, sitcom-style corniness as Cale struggles to overcome his humble roots to win a spot on a professional motocross racing team. Along the way, Cale encounters enough obstacles and calamities to make him kin to the long-suffering academic in "A Serious Man." But unlike that Coen brothers' hero, there's never any doubt about Cale's destiny. Problem is, the silly way he arrives there might fill you with a different type of existential despair.
Glenn Whipp --
"Free Style." MPAA rating: PG for language, some sensuality and thematic material. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In selected theaters.
An autistic boy's
Director Michael Orion Scott's lovely documentary "The Horse Boy" follows author and human rights activist Rupert Isaacson and his psychology professor wife, Kristin Neff, as they grapple with raising their autistic 5-year-old son, Rowan, a beautiful but near-unmanageable child prone to severe tantrums, incontinence and inward retreat.
But when Rowan shows an affinity for a neighbor's old mare -- and riding her with his dad almost magically calms the boy -- Isaacson does some research and connects the dots in a wildly forward-thinking way.
That is: What if they took Rowan to Mongolia, the one land where both horses and shamanic healing are still essential parts of life, to see if these influences would somehow quell the child's disorder?
The family's eventual trek across Mongolia, strikingly shot by Scott and lovingly narrated by Isaacson, is remarkable not only because they actually survived the grueling adventure (with the invaluable help of a native guide), but for the curiously transformative effects it had on Rowan. Was the boy's progress ultimately a result of the ancient mystical healing he received? That answer remains as mysterious as autism itself.
Nonetheless, the film, which also contains brief interviews with several autism experts, proves an extraordinary journey of the heart and spirit, and a stirring testament to parenthood.
Gary Goldstein --
"The Horse Boy." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At Landmark's Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles.
Leave this couple off your invite list
The scrambled-narrative romance "Peter and Vandy" has the decided disadvantage of arriving a couple of months after the similarly structured "(500) Days of Summer," a movie sporting a sunnier sheen, more appealing cast and an actual reason to care about the outcome.
Not that Jay DiPietro's small-scale starter movie, an expansion of his own two-character play, doesn't deserve a certain respect for effort. The film is artfully edited, with the jumbled scenes assembled in a manner that illuminates the main characters. But those characters -- a scruffy Ethan Hawke-like ne'er-do-well and a chirpy Greenwich Village art dealer -- are a little too ordinary for their own good. Their "authenticity" frequently trumps their ability to engage us.
And, really, let's just come out and say it: Peter (Jason Ritter) is a jerk. Not that Vandy (Jess Weixler) comes off as a huge prize herself, but Weixler at least gives her enough spunk to make Vandy a kicky, girl-next-door type. Vandy and Peter meet cute (which, in this timeline, happens about a third of the way into the movie), then go through typical couple stuff -- awkward "I love yous," sexual shenanigans and petty arguments.
During one of those fights, Peter berates Vandy for the way she makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's not really about the sandwich, of course, but Peter's own feelings of inadequacy. Still, this kind of infantile outburst should be cause for immediate dismissal. And if it doesn't have that effect on Vandy, it definitely does on the audience.
Glenn Whipp --
"Peter and Vandy." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood and Edwards University Town Center 6, Irvine.