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(G; 77 min.) An animated story about an orphaned boy in Poland, based on children's stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
(PG-13; 99 min.) On the one hand, it's a story of a working-class girl with liberal-arts longings walling herself alive as an economics major. Catherine, called Katie (Katie Holmes), is finishing her thesis on "Emerging Ancillary Matrixes in the Global Wireless Market." On the other hand, it's a thriller; Katie is stalked by the boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) who broke her heart. He disappeared 20 years ago. Now he's back, and a none-too-competent cop with a drinking problem (Benjamin Bratt) is investigating. Naturally, the policeman falls in love with the girl he's protecting. There's some effort to make this film a cerebral thriller like the film Laura, with a cast of decadent college eccentrics and a maybe-dead, maybe-alive figure at the center. But the missing man isn't charismatic, and Holmes can't carry the picture, which leads to a twist ending that presumes a terrific amount of police incompetence. (RvB)
(R; 96 min.) This feature debut from Spanish director Nacho Cerdà instantly sets itself apart from other horror films by focusing on a 40-year-old woman, Marie (Anastasia Hille), instead of the usual band of brain-dead teens. Learning that her mysterious, unknown birth mother has left her some property, the adopted Marie journeys to Russia, meets the twin brother (Karel Roden) she never knew she had and gets stuck in a house full of ghosts. Cerdà quickly lets slip his woeful lack of skill with a curious, "arty" predilection for switching camera focus in the middle of a shot, as well as aggravating, jerky camera work and jumpy editing. The film gets away with one or two good scares, but the circular, "surprise" ending is nonsensical and unsatisfying. (JMA)
(1948) A pair of dim-bulb Florida shipping clerks (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello) receive a variety of unlucky crates, including the coffin of Count Dracula (with one very vigorous vampire inside) and a box containing Frankenstein's monster. Then the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) shows up, occasioning the famous exchangeWolf Man: "You don't understand. Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf!" Costello: "You and 50 million other guys!" Bela Lugosiin his last performance as Dracula per seis teasing and avuncular ("Vat ve need around here iss some new blood"). Far more inspired than it sounds. With a cameo by Vincent Price's voice as the Invisible Man. (RvB)
(1948/1944) A pair of dim-bulb Florida shipping clerks (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello) receive a variety of unlucky crates, including the coffin of Count Dracula (with one very vigorous vampire inside) and a box containing Frankenstein's monster. Then the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) shows up, occasioning the famous exchangeWolf Man: "You don't understand. Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf!" Costello: "You and 50 million other guys!" Bela Lugosiin his last performance as Dracula per seis teasing and avuncular ("Vat ve need around here iss some new blood"). Far more inspired than it sounds. With a cameo by Vincent Price's voice as the Invisible Man. BILLED WITH Arsenic and Old Lace. In a decrepit Brooklyn Victorian, a pair of sweet old ladies follow the serial killer's trade. Like some of George S. Kaufman's popular comedies, the forced drollery of Arsenic and Old Lace (written by Joseph Kesselring and adapted for the screen by Julius and Philip Epstein) has aged badly, and star Cary Grant was never himself in this kind of desperate laugh-seeking venture. Some help comes from Peter Lorre and Raymond Massey, the latter in the part Karloff played on Broadway. (Plays Sep 18-21 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1962/1959) Narsingh (Soumitra Chatterjee) is a hot-tempered ex-taxi driver from a warrior code-of-honor Rajput background. Stuck in a border town, he encounters both Christians and drug runners. Part of the ongoing Satyajit Ray retrospective. BILLED WITH Some Like it Hot. Two half-frozen and broke Chicago musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) of the Jazz Age accidentally witness a gangster massacre. Disguised as women in an all-girl orchestra, they hit the road for Florida. Their new pal in the orchestra is the tightly clad Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe, never better), a ukulele player with a weakness for saxophonists. Lemmon and comedian Joe E. Brown (your standard comedic Palm Beach millionaire) wrap up the film with a famous last line. This capping bit of dialogue seems to predict that, in the years to come, the then-frozen differences between the genders would thaw. The women's disguises change the attitudes of the men, giving them a new perspective and secret knowledge. ("Now you're gonna see how the other half lives!" Curtis threatens.) The last great screwball comedy. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) In the midst of a lot of fake Salinger (especially the negligible Tadpole), this was the best coming-of-age movie of 2002, set in the New London (which seems as intoxicating as Swinging London was in the '60s). Two great jobs for Toni Collette, by the way, between this and her suburban siren in The Hours. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 121 min.) Too bad Gene Hackman, as the president, and Judy Davis, as his conspiratorial chief of staff, aren't on screen longer. Unfortunately, Absolute Power isn't about this smiling, slimy politico and his Lady Macbeth of an assistant. Alas, this is actually a Clint Eastwood picture. Clint plays Luther Whitney, last of the gentleman jewel thieves, who declares a vendetta on the crooked chief executive. Cobbled together from ancient movie tropes, this worn old shoe of a film treads along dutifully until it stubs its toe on an astonishingly improbable ending. It's hard not to consider the whole thing Eastwood's revenge on the Clintonsthe two powers that be, shown here as a hopeless philanderer and a mean bitch. But it's probably better for the Clintons to have Eastwood as an enemy then as a friend. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Steve Pink, John Cusack's writing partner on Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, makes his directorial debut with this flat comedy based on a flimsy premise and filled out with the usual "snowballing lie" plot. Rejected from every college (even the local community college?), Bartleby (Justin Long) and his misfit friends invent their own school, the South Harmon Institute of Technology, the acronym of which is the basis for over half the movie's jokes. For some reason, everyone who visits the school assumes that Bartleby—who looks like a student—is in charge. Characters are cribbed directly from Animal House, except that everyone learns a lesson—the film is gutted in the pursuit of a safe PG-13. Lewis Black adds fun as a cynical ex-professor. Blake Lively co-stars. (JMA)
(PG-13; 91 min.) It's more than just the repelling sentimentality that makes Jerry Lewis so toxic. Lewis' sheer egotism, the inability to let anyone else have a part of one of his scenes even to build bigger gags uponthese, too, Jim Carrey has learned from his mentor. This inferior, infrequently funny sequel has the pet finder Ventura in a stereotyped Africa, making peace between two tribes fighting about an albino bat; the slight twist is that Ventura hates bats, which may be a joke about his work as the Riddler. The animals he works with, especially a brilliant monkey named Spike, just rip the scenes away from him; such is the law of the jungle. Director/writer Steve Oedekerk (who led Carrey through the superior independent film High Strung) has some good ideas, like a rich shot-for-shot parody of Cliffhanger, starring Carrey and a raccoon. Simon Callow, the dry comedian who played the vicar in A Room With a View, is an imperturbable straight man. Still, Carrey is his own worst enemy, dizzy with clout, drunk with self-love. In his rise to fame, he has followed a different pattern than most movie stars, who start as originals and end as parodies of themselves. Carrey, who started his Ace Ventura character as a parody of the obscene self-satisfaction of the action star, now manifests that self-satisfaction at the expense of everything else. (RvB)
(1953) Jean Simmons stars in an adaptation of Ruth Gordon's autobiographical play. Spencer Tracy co-stars, and Anthony Perkins makes his debut. (RvB)
(PG; 71 min.) Not content to trash Frank Capra movies with ill-advised remakes, Adam Sandler now insists on being an animated character. Enough is enough.
(1949) The late Garson Kanin and his wife, Ruth Gordon, mull over the question of what makes men and women put up with each other. In Adam's Rib, the scriptwriters examine and discard the usual explanations: the physical pleasure the sexes take in one another's company, the contentment of property shared. Finally, Kanin and Gordon suggest that men and women are drawn together because of an intoxicating mix of resentment and admiration. In an invigorating, touching opening without dialogue on the streets of New York, Judy Holliday (debuting) tracks down and shoots her straying husband. The aftermath of her crime is the rest of the story: the would-be murderess is contended for by a husband and wife: a prosecutor (Spencer Tracy) and a public defender (Katharine Hepburn). On one level, the film is a debate between male justice and female mercy, with Tracy arguing for equal punishment under the law and Hepburn making some ringing arguments against male privilege. George Cukor directs with the wit of a courtier and the curiosity of a scientist. He uses novel techniquessuch as a long scene of an empty stage, with the voices of the stars on opposite sides out of camera rangeto help the audience imagine the tender feelings between the husband and wife. Other moments suggest the still simmering passion between them as they become excited by their duels in the courtroom. Like industrial spies, filmmakers have been trying to copy the Cukor/Kanin/Gordon formula ever since. It seems to have died with its inventors. (RvB)
(1991) Not half-bad adaptation of the TV show, considering how formulaic the plot is. Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci are all extremely well cast as the comic-gothic family derived from Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoons. Christopher Lloyd co-stars as a putative Uncle Fester. Barry Sonnenfeld directs. (RvB)
(R; 101 min.) Stalking is hardly a friendly activity, but the casting of the would-be stalkers in Addicted to Love is so unlikely that it deliberately takes most of the menace out of a practice usually considered more frightening than romantic. Matthew Broderick and Meg Ryan are comfortingly nonthreatening as Sam and Maggie, jilted lovers who become partners in spying when they discover that their respective exes are seeing each other. The two stake out the new paramours' apartment, spying from an abandoned building conveniently located right across the street from the love nest. Intentionally or not, although the film says nothing remotely new about love, it does offer an interesting spin on the voyeuristic aspect of human nature, highlighted by some appealing photography that makes good use of light and reflection. The comedy is pretty much featherweight, but French actor Tcheky Karyo steals some scenes as Anton, Maggie's snooty ex-boyfriend. (HZ)
Full text review.
(R; 82 min.) The brainiest vampire movie yet. Lili Taylor stars as a philosophy grad student who gets bitten by a vamp. She becomes a nihilist, wandering the New York streets junk-sick and convinced that the all-important lessons of history are nothing more than a mask for human weakness and chaos. In its suggestion that vampirism is nothing but the will to power taken to its ultimate extreme, this allegory (by the writing and directing team of Nicholas St. John and Abel Ferrara, who directed Bad Lieutenant) gives the old legend some much-needed new blood. (RvB)
(1991) An insurance man (Elias Koteas) peeps in on the lives of his customers. Directed by Atom Egoyan.
(G; 73 min.) The furry red monster from Sesame Street who inspired the formerly much-sought-after "Tickle Me Elmo" doll now has his own feature film, but it shouldn't pose the headache that tracking down that coveted plaything might have (Elmo's cloying third-person speech pattern notwithstanding.) The beloved children's character, a Muppet monster version of the average 3-year-old, does have a unique charm, which shows through in this cute, generally appealing film for the preschool set that expands on characters from the TV show. Elmo's beloved blanket ends up getting transported to Grouchland, the home turf of Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo, desperate to retrieve it, follows the blanket to this strange world, where he encounters some musical guest stars who clearly enjoy hamming it up: Vanessa L. Williams has a cameo as the Queen of Trash and Mandy Patinkin belts out a few tunes as a villain so greedy and mean-spirited, even the citizens of Grouchland don't like him. Elmo learns important lessons about sharing and friendship, delivered in songs that are tolerably entertaining, no less. (HZ)
(Unrated; 95 min.) In this French comedy/drama, a free-spirited young man leaves behind his boyfriend and his hometown to go on a road trip in a search for his father.
(PG-13; 95 min.) By liberally dipping into the well of existing futuristic film imagery (Total Recall, Twelve Monkeys, Back to the Future), Eddie Murphy's latest creates a familiarbut nevertheless neatwaking moon dream. The film is about an infallible hero of the moon underworld (Murphy as Nash) and his quest to save his happening nightclub by combating the evil forces trying to redevelop the moon's Little America. On the light side, Nash offers a world we really should have (the one the cartoons and the '50s car ads told us was coming). It's got personal hovercraft, humanoid robots and weeklong nights. The movie also shows off an excellent cast. With blaxploitation queen Pam Grier, British goofball with creepy white teeth John Cleese, American goofball with creepy white teeth Randy Quaid and Peter Boyle (a subtle, but funny man), Nash is packed with personality. On the dark side, however, the movie underuses Grier, who plays Nash's mom, and Boyle, who plays a helpful ex-cop. Also, the dialogue is distractingly trite, as is the insidiously sexist passive supporting-actress role (Rosario Dawson) and the female French-maid robot programmed to bend at the waist. That said, the film is worth seeing for the robots, the hovercraft and the age-defiant Murphy. (AG)
(G; 90 min.) An overly earnest live-action version of Collodi's cautionary tale, much too slow, helped out by some okay computer animation and better-than-average puppetry by Jim Henson's Puppet Shop. Pepe (not Jiminy) the cricket makes little more than a token appearanceperhaps the concept of a conscience was deemed too foreign for American children to graspbut the villains chew up victims and scenery with unchecked glee, providing most of the fun, and the terrific costume and set design capture the underlying Munchausenesque horror that Disney sidestepped entirely. Martin Landau is moist-eyed and clammy-handed as Geppetto, but he's still a towering oak compared to Jonathan Taylor Thomas, that piggy-eyed toothpick, whose actual presence as the real live boy we are spared until the closing scenes. (BC)
(1994) Terence Stamp steals this picture about a troupe of Australian female impersonators heading for the casinos in Alice Springs in a pink school bus. It's a lovable, pleasant, lightweight comedya tranny Three Coins in the Fountain. It was remade, poorly, as To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar. (RvB)
(1938) Errol Flynn takes on the authorities in Michael Curtiz's high-spirited version of the familiar story. Olivia de Havilland plays Maid Marian. Also stars Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains. (AR)
(1939/1940) Let's not get into a political thing, but this supposedly escapist evening at the movies might be on the piquant side, what with the Powers That Be, and the Conditions That Prevail. The Adventures of Robin Hood is a bit slower than you remember, but it does have the definitive Sherwood Forest (played by the live oaks of Chico, Calif.) and Errol Flynn in his best role as a lithe, tough Robin, who "speaks treason fluently." Moreover, the film includes the 19-year-old Olivia de Havilland, making Natalie Portman look plain by comparison. BILLED WITH The Mark of Zorro. The story of the enigmatic avenger of California, a land plagued by misrule and greedy landlords, then as now. Rouben Mamoulian directs the film as a series of black/white contrasts: white-hot, sun-struck villages and the black rider who awakens them. Let me count the ways: Tyrone Power's on-the-spot decision to pose as a satin-loving pantywaist ("Swordplay is such a violent business"); our hero's entrance, dousing a candle with a flick of his blade, making it seem as if a dark room is illuminated by Zorro's glowing eyes. The catlike Basil Rathbone as Capt. Pasquale, nastily switching his sword back and forth in his eagerness to perforate someone, anyone, in preparation for the lethal close-quarters duel in finale. Fine character-actor support is provided by Eugene Pallette as a fighting Franciscan and the interestingly kinky Gale Sondergaard as the bored wife of the alcalde. Composer Alfred Newman chimes some exotic chords on a celesta to mimic her luxuriousness. (RvB)
(PG; 100 min.) Fearless Leader (Robert de Niro) gets a movie contract and materializes in the real world with his henchpeople Boris Badenov (Jason Alexander) and Natasha (Rene Russo). The Prussian mastermind plans to narcotize the world with bad televisionespecially a zombifiying show titled "Three Spies and Their Horse, Who Is Also a Spy." The FBI orders its agent Kathy Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to bring the evil trio's opponents Rocky (voiced by the great June Foray) and Bullwinkle (Keith Scott) into our sphere. The debut by director Des McAnuff, who brought the Who's Tommy to Broadway, is alternately mawkish and sour. The by-the-screenwriter's-handbook plotting is an insult to the daydreamlike freedom the old Bullwinkle Show TV episodes had. And the film is loaded with sentiment, thus making it too sugary for those over 5. Rocky helps Kathy find her inner child, though. Perabo, later to star in Coyote Ugly, seems to have been picked for childishness. Short and with prominent front teeth, she's a physical match for Rocky, but as an actress she has all of the blinding twinkly qualities of Pia Zadora in her prime. The film insists that Rocky and Bullwinkle appealed to the child in our heartsas a former child who loved them, I remember the two as appealing to the little adult in my heart. With their grown-up jokes and situations, The Bullwinkle Show was a show like The Simpsons, and what jokes I didn't understand I was avid to find out. Making the witty show into a feature film is as problematic as it would be to make a Simpsons moviewhat could be plot enough for an hour and a half? The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is too stalemated for a road movie, too forced and contrived for an adventure movie, and none of the live actors really manage to make the 2-D parts more than stiff sketch comedy (though Alexander does an honest-to-Akim-Tamiroff accent as Badenov). The dusty locations and washed up cityscapes aren't any relief from the cartoonishness. Instead of recalling Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle recalls Howard the Duck. With cameos by John Goodman, Whoopi Goldberg and Jonathan Winters and, as usual, Janeane Garofalo. (RvB)
This documentary tells the story of an African nation which, a little more than 100 years ago, using mostly knives and spears, fended off colonization by the well-armed Italians.
(1957/1938) An Affair to Remember is the classy weeper that inspired Sleepless in Seattle. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are star-crossed lovers who meet aboard an ocean liner and are nearly sundered by fate many times along the way. In CinemaScope, it is a different movie from the one truncated and shown on TVand certainly more than just the object in Sleepless director Nora Ephron's object lesson that men and women are different creatures. Notes critic Jonathan Rosenbaum in his essay "Entertainment as Oppression": "It's probable, of course, that producers and marketing 'experts' at 20th Century-Fox back in 1957 decided, long before Nora Ephron, that An Affair to Remember was to some extent a women's picture. But even if they did, it's important to bear in mind that a division of labor still existed then between creative people and sales people; regardless of what the producers thought and regardless of what the ads said, [director Leo] McCarey could still turn out a movie that could make someone like me cry." BILLED WITH Holiday, George Cukor's drama about a wealthy, boyish heiress (played by Katharine Hepburn) who travels to broaden herself. Cary Grant co-stars, with the high-principled Lew Ayres and Edward Everett Horton. (RvB)
(Not rated; 105 min.) This 1951 John Huston classic stars Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as two very different and strong-willed characters who butt heads during a trip downriver in Africa during World War I.
(1951/1954) The gin-soaked Cockney river rat Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) has his boat, and his heart, requisitioned in service of the king ... or more specifically in the service of a "psalm-singing, skitty old maid": Katherine Hepburn. The unlikely adventure/romance has aged beautifullyboth leads showing off their specialties (careless man, learning to care; unbending lady, learning to soften). BILLED WITH Beat the Devil. It suggests a remake of director John Huston's own The Maltese Falcon written by Joe Orton, and it characterizes the white man's burden as a bag of loot. The lounging adventurer Billy Dannreuther (Bogart), stuck in a podunk Italian beach town, has a tip on some uranium fields in Africa; he's waiting with several fellow adventurers for transport there. His partners include Robert Morley, subbing for Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre (as a German-accented "Mr. O'Hara"), his hair dyed an alarming platinum blond and with lectures on the importance of trustworthiness on his tongue. They're terrified of being discovered, and an extra note of urgency is sounded: one of their number, Maj. Ross (Ivor Barnard), a hit man with Rosicrucian sympathies, has knifed someone important in London. During the forced wait, Dannreuther's wife, Maria (Gina Lollobrigida), takes a liking to an upper-class Englishman named Harry Chelm (Edward Underdown). Fortunately for Dannreuther, Chelm has a neglected wife: Jennifer Jones, looking better in cat's-eye sunglasses than anyone has ever looked since. The adventure of a few shady men trying to rip off Kenya holds up a cracked mirror to imperial pretensions, specifically British imperial pretensions. (There's a joke here about the care and feeding of the British manor lawn that'll never let you see Masterpiece Theatre the same way again.) Supposedly, Bogart loathed the picture ("Only phonies like it"). Too bad Bogart was blind to its merits; his is a warm but acrid sunset performance, and it inspired a well-deserved cult. If Beat the Devil doesn't make a lot of logical sense, forgive it: as Jones sighs, "Charm and dependability so seldom go in the same package." (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) Pierce Brosnan is obviously not going to let all this bad blood with the Bond producers get him down. Who needs 'em? If he can't play a secret agent, he can always fall back on playing a thief, as he does again in this latest film from Rush Hour director Brett Ratner. Pursued by Woody Harrelson, he starts itchin' for the proverbial last big score. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 120 min.) The fifth and final 2006 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film arrives with a whimper; it's not particularly bad, but unmemorable. Its one attribute is the unique and charismatic actor Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale), with his impossibly pointy cheekbones, beady eyes and reptilian lips that look as if they're about to slide right off his face. His Jacob runs an orphanage in India and returns to Denmark for a meeting with a bigwig. There, he discovers the daughter he never knew he had, and the expected hysterics ensue. Director Susanne Bier (Open Hearts) attempts to draw thematic connections across her tentative yarn but can't quite make them reach. Her handheld, digital camerawork provides an ultrarealistic, immediate feel but also highlights the film's cautious, dramatic sidestepping. (JMA)
(PG-13; 111 min.) Meg Ryan stars as Jackie Kallen, a real-life woman from Detroit who managed several big-time boxing careers. Ryan reportedly told Kallen, "This is my Erin Brockovich." I fully support everyone having their own Erin Brockovich, but considering that Against the Ropes was actually made in 2002 and has had its release date jerked around for nearly a year, I think Ryan is going to have to settle for that Santa Cruz thing where it's your Erin Brockovich if you believe it's your Erin Brockovich, and no one can take that away from you. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1991/1943) A stranger appears, claiming to be a long-lost uncle. It was Satyajit Ray's last film; the then-dying director's voice appears on the soundtrack, singing. BILLED WITH Shadow of a Doubt. A bright, trusting niece (Teresa Wright) with a bit of a crush on her uncle (Joseph Cotton) begins to suspect the man of being the "Merry Widow Murderer." Hume Cronyn is memorable as one of those placid small-town folks with a taste for gore literatureor worse. One of Alfred Hitchcock's key essays on the subject of betrayal; it was filmed in the then-idyllic town of Santa Rosa. (RvB)
(PG; 100 min.) Since Metro alum Zack Stentz, who co-authored the first Cody Banks movie, didn't work on this one, I don't feel so bad admitting that Frankie Muniz annoys the hell out of me. Kiddies can get a second helping of him here as a secret agent who has to pretend he's a "normal kid" at a boarding school in order to foil a plot to take over the world, while their fathers will prefer to wait for the release of the upcoming porn spoof Agent Briana Banks: Destination Las Vegas. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1935/1938) Based on Eugene O'Neill's unusually cornfed memory play about youth in a small New England town of '06. Eric Linden plays the young hero, who is exposed to the temptations of the flesh in the same sense that a child might be exposed to a vaccine. Spring Byington plays his mother, and Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore are his two adult role models (one drunk, one sterling). BILLED WITH Love Finds Andy Hardy. It's said that the Andy Hardy series got its momentum from the success of Ah, Wilderness!; more Americana during troubled times. This is the fourth film in the series, with young Hardy (Mickey Rooney) involved with a new girl in town (Lana Turner). (RvB)
(PG-13; 146 min.) If any of this summer's blockbusters deserved Freudian analysis, A.I. is it. Made as a joint project between Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, the film is as much Oedipus 2050 as a robot Pinocchio. A robot manufacturer (Sam Robards) and a grieving mother, Monica (Francis O'Connor), beta-test the latest generation "mecha"a boy cyborg named David (Haley Joel Osment) that has the ability to love and respond to love. When Monica's natural-born son, Martin (Jake Thomas), is thawed out, the real boy's sibling rivalry poisons the relationship between robot and mother. Monica abandons David in the woods, and he heads off to find "The Blue Fairy" from Pinocchio in hopes of becoming a real boy. On the road, David meets the fugitive sex-bot Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, who gives this dead-serious picture some cool wit). The stickiness of the plotand the film would be too sticky if it weren't for Osmentis amplified by John Williams' music. Yet in patches, A.I. has more mood than Spielberg's evinced in years. A.I. is Spielberg fingering the wounds of a childhood that will, I guess, never heal. (RvB)
(PG; 97 min.) When young Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers), along with his frazzled mom and practically nonexistent little sis, moves to Washington state following his father's unexpected death, his world is in the dumper. Everything changes when Josh meets up with Buddy, a golden retriever with a yen for shooting hoops. With the help of his new-found canine companion, Josh becomes a town hero, takes his middle school basketball team to the state finals and sticks it to Buddy's former owner, slimy party clown Norm Snively (Michael Jeter). Full of heartwarming subplots, predictable uh-ohs and formulaic kiddie humor, Air Bud may be slapstick, sickeningly sweet and barely strays from the Mighty Ducks template, but it also manages to be strangely endearing. (KR)
(G; 90 min.) A golden retriever joins the Timberwolves, his young owner's junior high school football teaman interesting precedent, if the Texas Longhorns or the Chicago Bulls get into the act. The different dogs who do the various stunts don't look much like each other, and Perry Anzilotti and Nora Dunn as a pair of bargain-basement Boris and Natasha villains are tiresome when they aren't dreary. It's obvious the producers didn't give a damn about this movieso why should anyone else? (BC)
(R; 125 min.) The modern action movie is like a 120-round boxing match. Even if it is executed with precision and style, after two and a half hours, you begin to wish one side or the other would throw in the towel. Harrison Ford plays the two-fisted president of the United States, hijacked with wife and child by some Russian nationalists. The crowd is encouraged to welcome back its old foes: the Godless, heavily accented, child-endangering, woman-killing Communists. Director Wolfgang Petersen's undeniable technical skill is shown in camera tricks that make the jet seem as big as a warehouse. His best effect, however, isn't the somewhat fake-looking computer-generated aircraft; it's his burying of a traitor in the crowd aboard Air Force One. He displays this villain from time to time, like a magician reminding you of a picked card. At moments, Ford, with his battered, sweating face, tries to show us a man choking down the dawning knowledge that he is as guilty of terrorism as the terrorists. His attempts to flesh out this shallow pulp fail; speeches about the president's own guilt in killing civilians, hissed out by head commie Gary Oldman, don't mitigate the nonsense. Air Force One is successful junk, but nothing either Petersen or Ford does tips the balance back from the essential moral idiocy of the story. (RvB)
(1980) An inspired, 1,000-joke burlesque of a bunch of doomed-flight movies, from the Airport series to less-well-remembered white-knucklers like Zero Hour and Fate Is the Hunter. Airplane! spawned a litter of terrible satires, but this original has Robert Stack, Peter Graves and Leslie Nielsen parodying the strong-jawed characters that previously made their fortunes. Everyone has a favorite joke in this one: mine is the parody of Helen Reddy's singing-nun bit in Airport 1975, with an actual Peter, Paul and Mary song used to make matters worse. (RvB)
(R; 86 min.) Alan Smithee is the name that the Directors Guild of America uses to mask a director whose work has been so interfered with that he or she wants a pseudonym. What might have been expected of An Alan Smithee Film ... Burn Hollywood Burn was a tour through the life and times of the imaginary Smithee; what is actually on screen is a story of a director named Smithee (Eric Idle) stealing the negative of a rotten movie he directed. (A similar situation was treated to much better comic effect in Michael Covino's 1993 novel The Negative.) Idle is squandered in the title role, and the stars in cameo roles (Jackie Chan, Whoopi Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone and publicity hog Sandra Bernhard) give less than you'd hope for at an autograph signing. Director/writer Joe Eszterhas wanted to make manifest our worst fears about the movie business, and he did one thing right. The producer Robert Evans has a few appearances here that'll leave you shaking in your boots. Evans looks like the Hideous Sun Demon from too much time poolside; with his nasty, insinuating voice, he sounds as if he might have been Jack Palance's vocal coach. Aside from the shivers the very sinister Evans inspires, the movie has nothing to recommend it. Eszterhas is like a blind dog that wants to bite the hand that feeds him but can't find the hand. Who is he madder at: the system that has paid him so well or at himself, for whoring out to it? You can't tell from watching this mess. (RvB)
(PG; 115 min.) A girl and a boy (Thora Birch and Vincent Kartheiser) set out to rescue their father (Dirk Benedict) when he crashes his small plane in the Alaskan wilderness. It's a fantasy in the old-school Disney style, with friendly natives both human and animal, and much of it is very likeable. Charlton Heston rasps and grimaces as one of a pair of nasty poachers, the cliffhanger sequences are pretty scary, and the polar bear cub that follows the kids around is adorable. But it's just too darn long for little ones to sit through without a couple of potty breakswhich may explain why all those helicopter shots of the (admittedly gorgeous) scenery got left in. (BC)
(R; 96 min.) Kevin Spacey's directorial debut tells the story of three amateur thieves who hole up in a bar after the police mistake them for wanted criminals. Faye Dunaway, Gary Sinise and Matt Dillon star.
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(R; 165 min.) As Hamlet said, "Dost thou think Alexander looked o' this fashion... and smelt so?" Except for Angelina Jolie's snake-chewing performance, there's not a fun moment in this epic. Director Oliver Stone relates Alexander's progress to the bloodier Greek myths, making the god-emperor's epic career one long mixed metaphor: he's Oedipal, but his mother is a Medea, and ambition makes Alexander a Prometheus who gets his liver eaten by the buzzards of war. Under this burden of lore, Colin Farrell can be excused for giving such a ruinously neurotic performance. (It's really as if they had cast Anthony Perkins.) Rosario Dawson has the unhappy role of his wife Roxane, whose thick Central Asian caftan turns out to be more rippable than Jolie's silk toga. "The beauty of Alexander is that he won," Stone claims. No, the real beauty was the ideal of Alexander, the dream of a philosopher's brain in a soldier's body, epitomized in the parable of the Gordian knot. Stone portrays Alexander as a conqueror overcome by conquest, like a glutton overcome by food. He's making some agonized but impenetrable comment about the corrupted idealism of Americaand his own declining powers as an artist. Neither the story nor the statement behind it makes sense. No relief is provided by Anthony Hopkins as a droning Ptolemyour confused narratoror Val Kilmer as Philip of Macedonia, or Christopher Plummer as Aristotle. (RvB)
(1938/1940) Tyrone Power is a San Francisco society boy who turns his back on serious music for a career in vaudeville in Alexander's Ragtime Band. Alice Faye and Don Ameche co-star in this brash, ingratiating musical with some 30 songs by Irving Berlin. BILLED WITH Tin Pan Alley. Faye and Betty Grable co-star as a sister act in a musical about the early days of pop music. The Nicholas Brothers tap-dance to "The Sheik of Araby." (RvB)
(1938/1942) Featuring 30 songs by Irving Berlinthe best of which are performed by Ethel Merman, oddly enough. It's a love triangle begun in San Francisco 1915, where the scion of a good family (Tyrone Power) decides to give up everything for ragtime and Alice Faye, but she goes to New York, he becomes a doughboy and the always affable Don Ameche enters the picture. BILLED WITH The Palm Beach Story, probably the best-loved of Preston Sturges' screwball comedies. Claudette Colbert runs away from her broke husband (Joe McCrea) in hopes of finding a sugar daddy. Some of the plutocrats she meets: the fusty but sweet John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), the oracular old Texas Wienie King (Robert Dudley) and the armed, dangerous and drunken members of the Ale & Quail Club. No other director managed the combination of slapstick and literary comedy as well as Sturges, but sometimes he's so ruthlessly funny that he tends to alienate the sensitive. But The Palm Beach Story has a resilient love story at its core, making it the perfect introduction to this massive talent. (RvB)
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(R; 100 min.) Maybe the success of the original 1966 Alfie was due to the device of having the amoral leading man played by Michael Caine addressing the camera. It worked in Olivier's Richard III, where the well-spoken villain includes us in his thoughts. In this post-Maxim era remake, Law plays the Alfie Elkin, a limo driver drifting through life in Manhattan. Law as Alfie is a rare, perfect match of actor and role. Law's sometimes arrogant way with women seems forgivable, thanks to the barely hidden doubt in his face and voice. He's a chameleon, hiding amid a New York in which the colors are always electric and always changing. And he changes his style slightly for every tryst. He rebounds off woman after woman: the single mom Marisa Tomei; Nia Long as Lonette, his best friend's girlfriend; Jane Krakowski as the married woman he coldly dallies with; Sienna Miller as the physically flawless but utterly unbalanced girl he picks up during the holidays; and Susan Sarandon as the wealthy older woman he tries in earnest to impress. This Alfie is more judgmental than the original, and that figures. As the Cowboy almost says in The Big Lebowski, it would have been good to know Alfie was out there taking it easy for the rest of us. (RvB)
(Both 1937) Eddie Cantor plays a hobo wandering through the desert who comes across a film crew making an Arabian Nights movie. After accidentally drinking a sleeping potion, he dreams he's the sultan's adviser and cooks up an ancient Persian version of the WPA and income tax. Music by the immortal Raymond Scott Orchestra, composers of many a tune used by Carl Stalling for his Warner Bros. cartoon music. BILLED WITH Wake Up and Live. Alice Faye is the "Wake Up and Live" girl on a popular radio show. She intercedes in the then well-known feud between bandleader Ben Bernie and fearsome gossip columnist Walter Winchell. (RvB)
(1933) The noted production designer William Cameron Menzies and Joseph Mankiewicz co-wrote this quaint adaptation of the classic, which mixes up Through the Looking Glass with Alice in Wonderland. Charlotte Henry isn't much of an Alice, and the adapters treat Carroll's lines as airy nonsense, instead of the sometimes disturbingly significant writing it is. (Only Edward Everett Horton's Mad Hatter and W.C. Fields' unsettling Humpty Dumpty makes one conscious of the depth of Carroll.) The masks are captivating and bizarre, perhaps an influence on the Radiator Lady in David Lynch's Eraserhead, and there's a noteworthy cast behind them. As the lugubrious Mock Turtle, in a bovine leather head with swiveling eyes, Grant looks like La Vache Qui Pleurait, the Crying Cow cousin to Laughing Cow on the cheese packet. (His acting gives a sense of the British Christmas pantomimes Grant played in back when he was Archie Leach.) Jack Oakie narrates "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (animated by Leon Schlesinger's studio, later the home of Porky Pig and Daffy Duck). Unfortunately, Gary Cooper is a frost as the White Knight, so embarrassed under his stage whiskers that he forgets to recite "The White Knight's Song." (RvB)
(1986) This sequel to Alien, directed by James "King of the World" Cameron, finds Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the sole human survivor from the first film, crashing the home planet of the aliens who killed her fellow crew members.
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(R; 109 min.) Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children) helms this fourth installment of the Alien series in which Ripley is resurrected 200 years after her death when a team of scientists experiment with alien and human genetics.
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(PG-13; 100 min.) Since the dawn of timeor at least since The Flintstones Meet the Jetsonsmankind has longed to see its favorite franchises come together in a single film. So it was with Freddy vs. Jason, so it shall be with AvP. This concept has been on the table for yearsthere's even an in-joke reference in 1990's Predator 2, where the skull of an Alien alien is among the trophies in the Predator's ship. Personally, I dug the original Dark Horse comic this idea was based on. And after going through so many scripts over so many years, I figure they have to have come up with something good, but then this is Hollywood we're talking about. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 100 min.) In this British import, a sort of gay version of The Odd Couple, Jason Flemyng plays Tonio, a self-absorbed perfectionist dancer who hooks up with a therapist named Jack (Anthony Sher, who just played Disraeli in Mrs. Brown). Nancy Meckler directs from a script by Martin Sherman (author of Bent and A Madhouse in Goa). (RvB)
(1950) The recent AFI broadcast about the top 100 films had its downside, especially Ted "The Colorizer" Turner doing that scary thing with his eyelids while misinterpreting the message of Citizen Kane as "Be nice to people or no one will go to your funeral" instead of "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?" Still, seeing All About Eve, a crisp satire about nothing serious, named as one of the leading 100 treasures of film demonstrates that even the sort of people who compile these lists have a weakness for flamboyant displays of mean wit. Bette Davis, at her best, plays veteran theater actress Margo Channing, displaced by an ingenue (Anne Baxter) in the same way bindweed displaces a daisy. George Sanders plays vinegar-blooded critic Addison De Witt, who introduces himself with the first of a series of impieties, paraphrasing Matthew 6:28: "I toil not, nor do I spin." Marilyn Monroe has a small part as a naive ready for the picture business, and four-time Oscar nominee, always-a-bridesmaid, Thelma Ritter co-stars as the moral center of the film, a maid whose nonsense detector throbs like a bad tooth. (RvB)
(1950) Bette Davis plays veteran theater actress Margo Channing, stalked by a disingenuous ingénue (Anne Baxter). George Sanders plays vinegar-blooded critic Addison De Witt, who introduces himself with the first of a series of impieties, paraphrasing Matthew 6:28: "I toil not, nor do I spin." Marilyn Monroe has a small part as a naive ready for the picture business, and four-time Oscar nominee, always-a-bridesmaid Thelma Ritter co-stars as the moral center of the film, a maid who sees through the false lovey-doveyness of the theatrical crowd. (After Baxter tells her sad, sad life story, Ritter snaps, "What a performance. Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end.") BILLED WITH The Man Who Came to Dinner. Ex-Harvard professor and bosom chum of Cole Porter Montgomery "Monty" Wooley stars as an exasperating radio celebrity immobilized with a broken hip at the country home of some previously worshipful culture-vultures. Archaic, but Wooley's august persona is still amusing. Bette Davis plays his secretary; Jimmy Durante and Reginald Gardner (in the Porter part) co-star. (Plays Sep 11-14 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(G; 82 min.) Cat lovers may bristle a bit at this animated kids film because it apparently reasons that if all dogs go to heaven, then cats must go to that other place. The film's devil, after all, is a large, pointy-clawed feline. Very young children may also balk at the evil looks of the towering, catlike demon who enlists a scheming bulldog angel to pilfer Gabriel's Horn from doggy heaven. Fortunately, the film's good guy, Charlie (voiced by Charlie Sheen), another canine angel, is all charm and becomes human enough to make for an enjoyable hero. Joined by pal Itchy (Dom DeLuise) and love interest Sasha (Sheena Easton), Charlie roams earth once more to retrieve the stolen horn. The quest is accompanied by the requisite assortment of musical numbers, which are just catchy enough not to inspire howling in any pups who might happen to be nearby. (HZ)
(R; 90 min.) Sisters Alex and Sylvia Sichel make their filmmaking debut with this coming-of-age story about two teenage girls living in New York City.
(R; 92 min.) Billed as a romantic comedy, All Over the Guy is actually more like a catastrophic cinematic collision between Will and Grace and Clean and Sober, pairing "crap-a-larious" sitcom banter with movie-of-the-week-style examinations of Very Serious Issues. Dan Bucatinsky (who also wrote the screenplay) stars as Eli, a nerdy X-Files fan with the worst dating karma on the planet. For romantic reasons of their own, Eli's straight buddy (Adam Goldberg) and the buddy's would-be girlfriend (Sasha Alexander) set him up on a blind date with Tom (Richard Ruccolo), a hard-drinking tough guy. The mismatched dudes don't click, then do, then don't, and on and on. By the very welcome conclusion, All Over the Guy has left more loose plot ends than an episode of Three's Company. Unfortunately, it's also three times as long. (PS)
(R; 120 min.) People who make a whole lot of money for a Hollywood studio are often rewarded with anything their heart desires: often enough, the form that desire takes is making a movie based on the story of their own life. This is exactly what screenwriter Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) has done in Almost Famous, his fictionalized autobiopic about his life as a rock critic, circa 1974. Crowe has pepped up his story considerably by sending himself on the road with Stillwater, an up-and-coming rock band (read: Grand Funk Railroad). Even so, Almost Famous lacks plot, big-time. What drama it has relies on the gosh-oh-gee fact that Crowehere recast as young William Miller (Patrick Fugit)is only 15 years old; a somewhat distasteful subplot about young groupies; and many scenes of Miller's mom (Frances McDormand) shouting, "You come home, right now!" into the telephone. Crowe (who directed as well as wrote the script) displays a deft (if corny) touch with the soundtrack, and at times imbues the viewer with the same fervent love of '70s rock music that clearly carried his younger self on wings of song to a successful career as a screenwriter. (GA)
(PG-13; 90 min.) A long, torturous journey through harsh territory, leavened only by knowledge that someday the trail would end. Such was the sojourn of Lewis and Clark in their search for a Northwest Passage. Such is the trial of Almost Heroes' audience watching a pair of Lewis and Clark wannabes attempt to beat their more famous foes to the Pacific coast. We see Christopher Guest direct TV's Chris Farley (as the coarse tracker similar to Clark) and Matthew Perry (as an upper-class fop not unlike Merriwether Lewis) with the earnest ineptitude of his role as theatrical director Corky, in Waiting for Guffman. The script needed a stay in rehab longer than its two TV stars did. Farley's gluttony gags pall puritanically, given his death from overindulgence. Despite jokes flatter than Nebraska, the film's still likable. Almost Heroes proves that a Lewis-and-Clark-for-laughs plot isn't idiot-proof, just idiot-resistant. (DH)
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(R; 96 min.) Christian Slater goes looking for answers when his friend's death turns out to be connected to the demon world.
(R; 104 min.) The average garden spider weaves sturdier material than this weary sequel to Kiss the Girls. Dr. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) once again profiles a wily criminal, hampered slightly by some case of post-traumatic funk after witnessing the badly computer-animated death of his partner in the film's opening. His new case is to solve the needlessly complicated kidnapping of a senator's daughter. At the scene of the crime, Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (the mechanical Monica Potter), who had been assigned to guard the kidnapped girl, offers her help as new partner for the lone psychiatrist. Our master kidnapper (glowering Michael Wincott) has executed one of those theme crimesan homage to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, hardly an act of criminal genius. A copycat might want to copy a cat that actually had some style. Our villain's scary recital of convicted kidnapper Richard Bruno Hauptman's last wordssomething about how "the book hasn't been closed yet" are treated here mendaciously, as "Ha ha ha ha, here's my evil threat from beyond the grave," instead of "Don't fry me! I'm innocent! I didn't do it!" What else goes on here? Some Russian red herrings introduced and dropped; and a foot-chase around Washington, D.C., occasioned by a game of cellular phone Simon Sez, a bit done so much better in the recent Hannibal. Directed by Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, now are hack), Along Came a Spider is a style-free potboiler that confuses "unlikely" with "surprising." If, for example, the snatch had been engineered by a giraffe at the National Zoo, the audience would have to admit they hadn't seen it coming ... but would they believe it? The heavy hand of coincidence ("That's right! Me! The giraffe! I was right over your noses the whole time! Ha ha ha ha!") weighs down the film's twists. It's oppressive to watchexcept for the 10 minutes of D.C. locations, most of it full of rainy drear and blear in VancouverJerry Goldsmith's music racks the violins for two hours, trying to install some tension into the show; and a squandered, tired Freeman lets the trenchcoat do the acting for him. (Maybe the lowest point is the confrontation between criminal genius and brilliant psychiatrist; Freeman barely gives the guy the time of day before threatening him with hellfire.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Dead as a mackerel gross-out/romantic comedy by John Hamburg, co-writer of Meet the Parents (but more significantly, in this case, the writer of the unforgivable Zoolander and the indie time waster Safe Men). Ben Stiller plays Reuben Feffer, a nebbishy insurance risk assessor who has just married, with the intention of settling down in New Jersey. During the St. Barts honeymoon, the wife runs off with a French scuba instructor, played by Hank Azaria, in what's apparently a terrifically seamless vinyl muscle suit. While grieving, Reuben runs into an old junior high school friend named Polly Prince (a disinterested Jennifer Aniston). The deal is that Polly is the exact opposite of Reuben, a free spirit who loves ethnic food and travel. She takes every risk, while he avoids them all. Stiller is so apt at playing fussbudgets, it becomes a mystery that Polly sees anything in his characterand, conversely, why he'd dare her world, filled as it is with odd foreigners and the potential for intestines-disrupting spice (and, yes, Along Came Polly is just that basic). Since the movie doesn't show us much of the fun of chronic adventuring or the coziness of settled life, the characters seem completely ill-suitedyou can't believe anyone imagines they're meant for each other. In a performance heavily sourced from John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Stiller's gross buddy, a Former Child Star. If Hoffman were as good as everyone says he is, he could have enlivened the filmif something like Along Came Polly isn't the torture test, what is? Bob Dishy does the Silent Bob trick (he only says one thing in the movie, so it's deeply profound); Alec Baldwin, with his voice pitched down to Rodney Dangerfield's range, acts out a few toilet jokes that one doubts Dangerfield would touch. (RvB)
(R; 117 min.) Director Nick Cassavetes dimly channels his father John with this rambling crime drama, based on real events. When a crazed party animal (Ben Foster) fails to pay his debts, a small-time drug lord (Emile Hirsch), kidnaps his brother (Anton Yelchin). The catch is that the young teen begins to enjoy the party life with its endless supply of pot and girls. Cassavetes directs a huge cast of pretty, fresh-faced actors (notably a not-bad Justin Timberlake) as well as a few hammy veterans (Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Harry Dean Stanton), allowing for sporadic and bizarre character invention. It's no The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and its final section chucks freedom in favor of formula, but it has moments of genuinely kooky energy. (JMA)
(1981) A psychedelic wolfman movie, written by the last of the Clifford OdetsiansPaddy Chayefskyand filmed by the one and only (thank God) Ken Russell. Some mushrooms and an isolation tank send professor William Hurt zizzing into the past, where his regressed primordial awaits, slavering for blood. Look for some weird-with-a-beard moments during Russell's Celebration of the Lizard hallucinations, including dwarves, Jesus and a multi-eyed goat. Exactly what you want to see at one in the morning, especially if you tend to doze through the sermon at the end: "We put up with all the guff about following the genetic trail back to the primal unity because we want an entertaining fantasy, and then Paddy Chayefsky gives us the lesson he thinks is good for us: Stay home and love your wife and kids"the late great Pauline Kael. (RvB)
The Santa Cruz Hillel Foundation hosts three evenings of films about Jewish culture. Friday's films focus on Jewish womanhood with the shorts "Gefilte Fish" and "Chicks in White Satin" and the feature Like a Bride: Novia Que Te Vea, a coming-of-age story of two young Jewish women in Mexico City during the 1960s. Films featured Saturday examine the Jewish-American experience with the short "Generation Exodus" and the feature DogsThe Rise and Fall of an All-Girl Bookie Joint, a comedy about young Jewish women in New York and their lives in disorganized crime. Sunday offers an "Israelis and Palestinians" double feature: Nadia, about a young Palestinian woman's struggle to become a doctor as she attends a Jewish boarding school; and Final Cup, about how an Israeli man and his PLO captors are brought together by World Cup soccer when Israel invades Lebanon. General admission: $10 all three nights/$4 one night. Students: $5 all three nights/$2 one night.
The Santa Cruz Hillel Foundation sponsors a series of screenings at UCSC and the Nickelodeon. The most notable entry is The Last Days (Unrated; 87 min.) Five Hungarian Jews, a doctor at Auschwitz and a sonderkommandoa liaison between the Nazis and their prisonersall recount their experiences during the Holocaust. The contrast of modern and historical footage snaps past and present together, making the unimaginable real. Butterflies and grasshoppers sport over the rusty rails that lead to the gates of Auschwitz; the ovens aren't really much bigger than a medium-sized pottery kiln. The soft-spoken narration of these elderly men and women tells of arch-cruelty and strange acts of mercy. James Moll's stunning documentary breaks open even the most sealed-up emotions about the great crime. Steven Spielberg was the executive producer. (Special screening Thu in Santa Cruz at the Nickelodeon as part of the Alternative Jewish Film Festival.) Other films include Florentene (Unrated; 180 min.), a drama about life in a Bohemian section of Tel Aviv; director Eytan Fox will be in attendance. (Saturday at 7pm in UCSC Classroom Unit 2.) On Sunday, there will be three shows in UCSC Classroom Unit 2: At 4pm, Song of the Siren, a drama based on the novel by Irit Linur, and Unknown Secrets: Art and the Rosenberg Era. At 6:30pm, Havana Nagila: The Jews of Cuba and Not a Buddhist: A Meditation. At 8:15pm, Party Favor, directed by Lisa Udelson, and Freud Leaving Home, directed by Susanne Bier.
No doubt banking on the cuddle appeal of their fuzzystar, the filmmakers overlooked some little detailsthe script, for instance. Oddly enough, some beautiful shots of the Chinese Himalayas and scenes of a baby panda playing in the forest are actually almost compensation for a plot that's a chain of very unlikely coincidences. When 10-year-old Ryan Tyler (Ryan Slater) visits his father, who works at a panda preserve in China, he becomes jealous of his dad's devotion to his furry charges. But then panda poachers appear in the forest, and Ryan and Ling (Yi Ding), Dad's Chinese assistant, have to save a cub from these villains. Ryan's sudden affection for the little bear seems about as convenient as the cub's strangely easy rescue from the poachers' clutches, but somehow you end up rooting for Ryan anyway, which probably has more to do with the added-in footage of a real baby panda than what's going on in the movie. (HZ)
(1936) A very little-known Cary Grant film shot in England. A young heir decides to forgo his fortune and help poor people. Mary Brian co-stars. (RvB)
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(2001) Audrey Tautou stars as the Parisienne pixie who vows to do good deeds after Princess Diana dies in the car-crash. Heavy on the nostalgia for when Paris was Paris, this moviewith its cartoonish, magical-realist touchesis perfect for the midnight-movie circuit. (RvB) (Plays Fri at midnight in Campbell at Camera 7 and Sat at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.)
(R) A toothless black comedy, destined for renown as the most overpraised film of the yearthe same honors earned by the very similar dysfunctional-family "comedy" Happiness last year. A suburban worm (Kevin Spacey) turns. He drops out of his job to work out, listen to rock, smoke pot; he at long last tells off his castrating wife (Annette Bening) while cherishing shy hopes for his daughter's slutty pal (Mena Suvari), whom he dreams about in flowery rose-petal fantasies. The story has a certain boldness: old guy seducing underaged young girl. And the failures of American Beauty aren't Spacey's fault. Still, the film is diluted both by much, much apology and by the purer romance of Spacey's daughter (Thora Birch) with the boy next door, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), a sensitive, beaten-up youth who looks at life through the lens of a video cameraprecisely as James Spader did in sex, lies, and videotape. American Beauty might seem profound to members of the audience who are still deep in the "I hate my parents" stage, but it's unfunny, clichéd work with a repellently wistful strain running through it. The film's hazy, mostly speculative critique of suburban life is as embarrassing as the most self-pitying moments at a poetry slam. Director Sam Mendes is the theatrical director who revived Cabaret as a hit. Like many first-time theater people working in the medium of film, he doesn't know when too much is too much; Bening overacts atrociously, with eyes like cartwheels. (RvB)
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(R; 88 min.) Tough but good-hearted junk dealer Don (Dennis Franz) plots out a retaliatory burglary. He sold a buffalo nickelhence the title of David Mamet's 1975 play American Buffaloto a collector for too little, and it's driving him nuts. Don is planning to strike, using as his accomplice a local kid, Bobby (Sean Nelson of Fresh). Enter Teacher (Dustin Hoffman), who, with a torrent of words almost persuades Don to embrace Teacher's belief that there is no trust in the world. In 21 years, the hard language of American Buffalo has been freely borrowed by movies and theater. The shock effect is gone, and now the play seems almost like a poem, built on the drumming rhythm of people talking to hear themselves talk. The three-character play is set inside a secondhand shop, and there it stays for the film version, with the exception of a few exteriors shot in some interesting urban squalor. Still, American Buffalo doesn't have power, probably because Hoffman doesn't connect with Franz and Leonard. That the two main performances don't appear to be taking place on the same stage may be due to director Michael Corrente's editing; we need to see both Don and Teacher, one reacting to the other, to understand when Teacher's drilling at long last hits a vein. (RvB)
(PG-13, 107 min.) Not exactly a stinging satire, but rewarding just for its timeliness, Paul Weitz's comedy opens on a U.S. president (Dennis Quaid) who suddenly decides, for the first time, to read the newspaper. Concurrently, the acerbic host of an idiotic TV talent show (Hugh Grant) decides to shake things up by incorporating an Arab contestant (Sam Golzari). The Cheney-like Vice President (Willem Dafoe) worries that the newly enlightened commander-in-chief will undo their stranglehold on the United States, so he arranges a guest spot on the show. Rather than sharpening his barbs, Weitz wastes a great deal of energy on the film's likeability factor; some characters (like Quaid's) spring unexpectedly to life, while others flatten out completely. But it definitely feels good to see these parade floats skewered and deflated. Mandy Moore co-stars. (Jeffrey M. Anderson)
(1973) Appealing nostalgia, based on George Lucas' youth as a cruiser in Modesto in 1962 and filmed in the small-townish streets of San Rafael and Petaluma. Richard Dreyfuss plays the one who carries a paperback book in his back pocket; Paul LeMat is the Elvis/James Dean midnight cruiser, Mackenzie Phillips ("Your car is as ugly as I am!") plays the precocious teenage girl; and Suzanne Somers is the blonde imago. On the radio, we hear the real-life DJ Robert Weston "Wolfman Jack" Smith, who spent his 1960s broadcasting from an un-FCC-restricted 250,000-watt Mexican transmitter at XERF, across the river from Del Rio, Texas. A no-budget hit, American Graffiti catalyzed nostalgia for the decademuch to the disgust of some who'd lived through it. The film launched TV's Happy Days, Sha-Na-Na and those restaurants where they sell you a milkshake that costs $6. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) Just as today's movie audiences have tired of listening to hippies complain about Nixon, so might they also be riled at hearing middle-aged punkers moaning about the long-dead Reagan, who was president before they were born. It is the ex-punk-rocker in me that leads to such a snap judgment of Paul Rachman's talking-heads-heavy doc about the scene, circa 1980-84. Straight-edge musicians who eschewed drugs and booze made up some of the bands; others, such as TSOL, were drunken renegades. What the nationwide scene had in common was undifferentiated, tireless energy and a rage that wouldn't quit. Of the footage here, Bad Brains really looks the best—and now it turns out the band's bible was Napoleon Hill's primal self-help book Think and Grow Rich. Rachman offers tantalizing little excerpts of MDC, DOA and Flipper (performing its deathless "That's the Way of the World") in contrast with home movies of noisemakers from all sides of this nation. Violence and ridiculous territoriality were part of the slow poison that did in this mostly male movement. Dance floors began to get more and more like the football gridirons that the original punkers were trying to avoid; when the hardcore punkers dwindled, it was unusually easy to see why. (RvB)
(PG-13) Courtney Solomon's film version of the story of the Bell Witch, a ghost of the 1820s that haunted generations of a Tennessee family. There's a first-rate account of the ghost in the folklore book God Bless the Devil! Tales From the Liar's Bench (University of North Caroline Press, 1940). Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek and Rachel Hurd-Wood co-star. (RvB)
Yes, another film festival in November, this one in San Francisco. Nov 7, noon, Embarcadero Theater: 12 animated and documentary short films. At 7pm, various shorts and a feature: Chiefs and Champions, the First Nation's Chief Roger Adolph of British Columbia was 1963 bantamweight champ of North America. The Colony is Jeff Barnaby's story of a no-hoper who loses his girlfriend and takes it out on the roaches in his trailer. Seeking Bimaadiziiwin, in which a First Nation's woman finds healing in group therapy. Finally, Jay Craven's feature film Disappearances. A half-cracked Quebec farmer (Kris Kristofferson) gets into the rum-running business during prohibition, despite the advice of his psychic sister (Geneviève Bujold). Nov 8, 11am, Palace of Fine Arts: Program of shorts. At 7:30 pm: Gathering Together. Documentary of the Coast Salish's Muckleshoot Tribe's hosting of a once-illegal potlatch, bringing together canoeing nations from all over the northern hemisphere. And Four Sheets to the Wind, a feature by Oklahoma's Sterlin Harjo about the many burials of a young man's formerly inert, now dead, father. Nov 9, 10am, Palace of Fine Arts: Shorts from Native Americans. At 7:30pm: Making the River. Jimi Simmons went pretty much straight from foster homes to the penitentiary. At Washington State Penitentiary, he was accused of killing a guard and sentenced to hang, San Jose's Karen Rudolph organized Simmons' defense and later married him. Nov 10, 6pm: awards ceremony. (Plays Nov 2-10 in San Francisco at various locations; www.aifsf.com) (RvB)
(1951/1952) The Gershwin score is the salient feature of the Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron musical An American in Paris, which introduced America to French impressionism. Nina Foch and Oscar Levant co-star. BILLED WITH Singin' in the Rain, which is much closer to my idea of perfection. It is a wise-guy parody of the early days of sound film, with Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor conniving to help a pretty but squawky actress (Jean Hagen) make the transition to sound. Hagen's comic relief is deathless: no one will forget her Ode to a Movie Star's Sacrifice: "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'." (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) This Western actioner tells the tale of young guns Frank and Jesse James (Colin Farrell and Gabriel Macht) running into trouble with a lawman (Timothy Dalton) after they try to save their hometown from a greedy railroad baron.
(R; 110 min.) This teen sex comedy has "pitched its tent in the palace of excrement," as Yeats said a century before There's Something About Mary. American Pie is Porky's with good SAT scores. Four horny high school seniors are desperate to lose their virginity before the prom. They approach the task with the subtlety of a gang tackle. Only a romance between lacrosse jock Chris Klein (Election) and choir geek Alyson Hannigan shows any tenderness. The others are sideswiped by hostile sex, perfunctory sex and CU-SeeMe Internet sex (the film shows more violation of privacy than violation of privates). The onanistic title gag owes much to Portnoy's Complaint and Portnoy wasn't chopped liver. Like its subject, American Pie is sweaty, awkward, rude, and a relief once it's over. (DH)
(R; 100 min.) I was never really a huge fan of the first American Pieits shifts in mood from farce to pathos were as clumsy as Jason Biggs' attempts at third base, but the movie had its moments. It was the first teen sex comedy to poke fun at the alpha-male attitudes of the genrethat's why many female reviewers loved itbut it did so without turning into a lame male-bashing fest and by attempting to understand both genders' perspectives. Plus, any comedy with a character as unique as Eddie Kaye Thomas' intellectual hipster Finch or a sight gag as twisted and hilariously executed as Biggs' violation of baked goods deserves some points for originality, a word that can't really be applied to American Pie 2. The sequel, which follows the characters on their summer break from college, recycles gags from the original: Biggs' Jim once again gets caught with his pants down by his dad (the always terrific Eugene Levy), another elaborate ploy to get poo-tang backfires and everyone in the neighborhood somehow witnesses it (the ladies always get the upper hand in the Pie movies), and so on. Yet the sequel doesn't feel tiresome, and it has an edge over its predecessor: the uninteresting characters in the cast (dead wood like Thomas Ian Nicholas as Kevin) are shunted aside, and the funnier ones are given more emphasis. (JA)
(PG-13; 120 min.) After The American President, it's not hard to guess which way director Rob Reiner will be voting next November. But an unabashed political agenda is undoubtedly the most provocative quality in Reiner's new film about love and politics. The American President explores the method to the federal government's madness in dealing with issues like gun control and environmental protection, offering an interestingly sympathetic critique of those politicians who must choose between strongly committing to social responsibility and gleaning votes for re-election. The central plot features a romance between widower President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) and Sydney Wade (Annette Bening), the hired gun of an environmental lobby group, but the film also grapples with the recent issue of the proper character of the president, and that ever-popular if rather elusive ideal of family values. Despite its potential, the presidential romance ends up as soggy and predictable as most on-screen courtships, although Douglas and Bening both turn in enjoyable performances. (HZ)
(R) There were 40 good minutes in American Pie, and 20 good minutes in American Pie 2. I don't think I have to tell you what the law of diminishing returns holds in store for American Wedding. Then again, they brought back Eugene Levy, so all is not necessarily lost. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 100 min.) This runt of the litter lifts the premise but none of the style from 1981's An American Werewolf in London. Any movie in which French skinhead werewolves chase Julie Delpy through the streets of Paris can't be all bad, but this film takes worst of breed. The mangy jokes were exhumed from Porky's outtakes. In the movies best scene, Andy (Tom Everett Scott) and his two student buddies, rescues Seraphine (Delpy) from a suicidal leap off the Eiffel Tower. Ninety minutes later, you wish she had succeeded. The film too often looks and sounds like a weekend tour of the City of Light with a trio of drunken frat boys. Sequels suck? Au contraire. This one bites. (DH)
(PG; 88 min.) After they shit-canned Fahrenheit 9/11 for being "too political," you had to wonder: So, what kind of documentary would Disney be willing to put out? Here, friends, is the answer. It would be completely off the mark to say this attempt to inspire Americans with stories of other Americans is right-wing or pro-Bushpart of it is about Ben of Ben and Jerry's, and it features a John Cougar Mellencamp song, for God's sake. But whatever the sincere intentions of director Louis Schwartzberg, you can't help but think that Disney saw this film as a chance to shove some safe, status-quo feel-goodism into America's apple pie hole. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 120 min.) America's Sweethearts follows two soon-to-be divorced megastars (Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack) as they try and appease a voracious public that only loves them as a couple. Billy Crystal plays the veteran publicist who schemes to get the duo back together, and Julia Roberts is the female star's once-homely sister who loves ... guess who. Watching Hollywood take jabs at itself is always fun, and Christopher Walken lends some humor as a reclusive director, but Joe Roth manages to create the same shallow plot that the script derides. It's only worth seeing if you're in need of mindless entertainment, and if you can stomach Roberts' ubiquitous grin. (DG)
(Unrated; 102 min.) Just having graduated from UCLA, Kazu (Konkona Sensharma) arrives in Delhi, dazzled by her first trip to India. At a party, she meets a conceited MBA student named Kabir (Ankur Khanna); this chance encounter leads Kazu to find out the truth about her own roots. In this fictional investigation of India's uneasy recent past, writer-director Shonali Bose revisits the anti-Sikh violence of 1984. These riots, which left an estimated 5,000 or more dead, was payback for the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The government complicity in this bloodshed, the subsequent cover-up and the refusal to bring the killers to trial is all part of the canvas here. (Bose actually worked at the relief camps where survivors of the attacks fled.) But Bose also focuses on the intimacy—the local color, the humor and the rapport between women that all female visitors to India come back raving about. And there's the usual musical sequence found in any Indian film, too, though it's very unusual: a Hindi adaptation of Gershwin's "Old Man River," changing the Mississippi to the Ganges. (Opens Jul 20 at Naz Cinema in Fremont.) (RvB)