New reviews: ‘Chaos Theory’ and ‘Refusenik’

I’ll leave it to scientists and philosophers to decide if the cascade of minor disasters and crises created by acts of miscommunication that could only happen in the movies that make up the comedy Chaos Theory live up to the scientific concept. I only know that this overworked and underdeveloped script feels less chaotic than simply random.

chaostheory-poster.jpgRyan Reynolds plays workplace efficiency expert Frank Allen, a successful author launching a career as a corporate lecturer (based on his early efforts, it doesn’t look promising). He lives his life by his own rules, by lists and clocks, which means the tools of his trade will be his undoing in the real world: he misses boat, hits his lecture late, and the cascade effect (of sorts) puts him in what would in any other film be the right place at the right time – he gets a panicked pregnant woman to the hospital in time – that goes all wrong. The mishaps could have been cleared up in five minutes, but then there would be no movie and Frank wouldn’t toss away his well ordered philosophy to live for the moment and give in to whim.

The cause and effect is sketchy at best, but it ends with the once dependable Frank chain-smoking like a fiend and guzzling coffee by the gallon, as if fueling himself into a state of hyperactive sensation. Instead of “to do” lists, he now scribbles every whim on an index card and deals out his fate: Tarot by way of truth or dare.

The brief exhilaration of his bender of unmediated impulse proves to be a very short high for Frank, of course, but director Marcos Siega doesn’t even manage to give that much of a charge. Meanwhile the inevitable lesson of parenthood and responsibility gets buried so deep in the shuffle that it takes a speech to bring it home.

With a title like “Chaos Theory,” one might expect a little runaway energy or a dash of wild spirit under the antics, but there’s little punchy anarchy in this controlled experiment. Reynolds, so commanding in the framing sequence as the wily father with a life lesson, seems adrift in a sloppy story that is less chaotic than indifferently random.

I review the film in the Seattle P-I here.

refusenik_wa.jpgAlso reviewed this week: Laura Bialis’ documentary Refusenik, her portrait of the thirty-year movement to free Soviet Jews. We know that the Soviet revolution to free the Russian people from oppressive Czarist rule simply replaced one oppressive authoritarian regime for another, but anti-Semitism became national Soviet policy under Stalin.

The title refers to the name given to Soviet Jews who petitioned (in huge numbers) to emigrate to Israel, knowing full well that their requests would be systematically ignored and they would be fired from their jobs and discriminated against for their acts, and many of them imprisoned for their acts of “dissent.” Bialis outlines the efforts from both within and without the Soviet Union as a small group within the American-Jewish community attempted to publicize the plights of the millions of Soviet Jews and bring the campaign to the international stage.

We’ve seen portraits of dissidents before. What is revealing here is the heretofore unseen civil-rights movement, small but dedicated, that began in the 1960s behind the Iron Curtain.

Bialis parallels their efforts with the slow-growing network of communities outside the Iron Curtain dedicated to bringing international attention to their plight. Their own words tell the story, through revealing archival footage (including some shot clandestinely inside the Soviet Union) and new interviews with some of the most active refuseniks and outside activists.

Read the complete review in the Seattle P-I here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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