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Movies tell us what's troubling, but true


In the brief lull between the avalanche of ImageOut films and the onslaught that is High Falls, I decided to unwind... by watching a bunch of movies. To be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to do, but the films I saw helped to remind me of some troubling yet fundamental truths.

1. Eating in a restaurant calls for a terrifying leap of faith.

If the notion of faceless strangers preparing your food doesn't already make you paranoid, it will after you see Waiting..., a game yet lame attempt at sweetly raunchy comedy a la this summer's The Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Waiting... has its moments, but the only thing that will be on your mind during the ride home from the theater is the potential desecration of your next meal. Well, that and "the penis-showing game."

Writer-director Rob McKittrick obviously spent time in the food service trenches before creating the wispy script for Waiting..., which follows the hijinks of the crew at Shenaniganz. It's one of those restaurants lousy with fake memorabilia and sub-par grub where the weary servers contend with crazed diners and a hostile kitchen staff when they're not trying to bed (or at least stall) each other.

The story, which involves one guy trying to get out of the waiting game and one guy trying to break in, isn't so much a plot as it is an excuse for occasionally funny set pieces involving stomach-churning revenge on the nastier customers and tricking various co-workers into looking at an array of phallic compositions.

Smirky Ryan Reynolds is the star of the film, but Waiting... belongs to indispensable character actors Luis Guzmán as the oversexed cook and Alanna Ubach as the foul-mouthed powderkeg. The film's ultimate message probably had something to do with following your dream or whatever, but the most important lesson here is an ancient one: Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

2. The world is full of shortsighted hypocrites.

Alcohol is acceptable, as are recreational and prescription drugs. And while thumbsucking doesn't exactly lend itself to social situations the way the aforementioned therapies do, it's a harmless, legal way of taking the edge off. So if Justin (Lou Pucci), our hero from Thumbsucker, wants to do a little germy self-soothing, what's the problem?

Justin's dad (Vincent D'Onofrio) doesn't hide his disgust with the infantile habit, perhaps because of all the correction money paid to Justin's hippie orthodontist (Keanu Reeves). But the debate coach (Vince Vaughn) notices that Justin seems distracted, which leads to a diagnosis of ADHD and a Ritalin prescription that turns the former introvert into a cold, debating fiend. Add some flashbacks, dream sequences, and a starstruck mom (Tilda Swinton), and you might need a little Ritalin, too.

Thumbsucker is the latest in a long line of eagerly anticipated Sundance exports that inevitably disappoint. It's not without its charm --- Reeves and Vaughn stealing the odd scenes, with Pucci channeling the wistfulness of a Gilbert Grape-era Johnny Depp --- but it could best be compared to throwing a really ripe tomato against a brick wall: Some of it stuck, some of it didn't, and it went all over the place.

3. Love is agonizing and should be avoided if possible.

We all conveniently forget this fact until Wong Kar-wai reminds us. 2046 is his latest film and serves as sort of a companion piece to earlier heartbreakers like In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild, with damaged characters from both those works surfacing in this one on their endless quest for connection. But Wong has made a career out of keeping people who belong together apart.

2046 is ambitious and imperfect, though a viewer's patience will be rewarded by this Chinese box of a movie which finds Tony Leung reprising his role from Mood as Chow, a writer in 1960s Hong Kong. The title of the film refers to both the number of the hotel room from which he derives inspiration as well as the futuristic place he writes about that contains swooning androids and a one-way bullet train. He's also inspired by the luscious women walking in and out of his life, usually with his help.

But no man could really be worthy of these stunners: Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi (both star in the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha), as well as former Wong leading ladies Carina Lau (Days), Faye Wong (Chungking Express), and Maggie Cheung (Days and Mood), who occasionally manifests as Chow's lost love Su Lizhen. Vintage cheongsams, neon, and rain have never looked so sexy. Or sad. Or hopeful.

Waiting... (R), directed by Rob McKittrick, is playing at Canandaigua Theatres and Tinseltown | Thumbsucker (R), directed by Mike Mills, is playing at Little Theatres and Pittsford Cinema | 2046 (R), directed by Wong Kar-wai, is playing at Little Theatres through Thursday, October 13.