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(PG-13; 90 min.) Anaconda at least does the audience the favor of recognizing the inherent nonsense of its premise without underscoring the point with gags, as Congo did. Director Luis Llosa figured correctly that Jon Voight, as a Paraguyan Judas Priest, was enough ham for one movie. Somewhere in Brazil, a group of filmmakers and their girlfriends (including Jennifer Lopez) have boated upstream to photograph a shy tribe of natives. They pick up a shipwrecked weirdo (Voight) who pretends that he isn't looking for the dread anaconda. The computer-generated serpent is the prize in this laughably empty package, even if it doesn't have a plot to hiss in. There's no theme to Anaconda besides "don't play with giant serpents." (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) What's up with this title? Apparently, the makers of this film are hoping that if you're not that into snakes, you might be sucked in by the botany angle. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 95 min.) This reprise of most of the gags and situations in Analyze This pokes along without any real comedic purpose. The story is based loosely on real-life Mafiosa Vincente "The Chin" Gigante's faked madness. Robert De Niro's mob boss Paul Vitti pretends to be insane to get out of jail and is placed under house arrest in the custody of his psychiatrist, Dr. Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal). As a mark of further redundancy, Vitti gets a job as a technical adviser on a Sopranos-like show called Little Caesara film this loose didn't need to remind viewers of something done as tight as The Sopranos. De Niro is amusing when he acts like a scary uncle. Anthony LaPaglia lets his real-life accent show as an Australian actor playing a New Jersey wiseguy (something he's done frequently in real life). Intimidating Cathy Moriarty-Gentile, De Niro's co-star in Raging Bull, is very forceful as a female mob boss who may be considering a hit on the newly freed don. Director Harold Ramis' sketch-comedy roots haven't been overcome in more than 20 years of directing; this hit-and-miss comedy (a lot of miss, very little hit) is like an hour and a half of so-so television. (RvB)
(G; 93 min.) Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (An American Tail) have outdone themselves with Anastasia, the story of Anya (voiced by Meg Ryan), a feisty orphan searching for the key to her past. Con man Dimitri (John Cusack), out for the reward her grandmother (Angela Lansbury) promises for her return, convinces her she could be Anastasia, the long-lost heir to the Romanov throne. Anastasia is the animated heroine for the '90sshe's sensible, strong, determined, not easily swayed by a man and stands up to the delightfully wicked Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd). Like most big-budget animated films based on fact (think Disney), this one falls short in the historical accuracy department. The animation, however, is brilliant, with backgrounds evocative of classical masterpieces and figures that move realistically. This is a fun movie for adults and childrenit's funny and kind of sexy. There's a dynamic tension between Dimitri and Anastasia, while Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer) and Sophie (Bernadette Peters) have a touchy-feely relationship. Bartok (Hank Azaria), Rasputin's hilarious, if reluctant, sidekick, steals every scene he's in. The songs are memorable and the closing credits deliver a nice coup for country singer Deana Carter, who delivers the theme song, "Once Upon a December," as the credits roll. (SQ)
(1956/1934) In accordance with the long-delayed interment of the Romanovs in Russia, the Stanford Theater is presenting this double bill plus some rare home movies of the Tsar Nicholas visiting the soldiers and enjoying some summer games. (These are, I think, the same movies shown about 500 years ago under the title Tsar to Lenin, then exhibited with hectoring narration by Max Eastman. Critic Robert Warshow describes the films in his book The Immediate Experience). Anastasia is based on the life of Anna Anderson (or Andersen), the half-sane impostor who claimed to be the tsar's daughter. Peter Kurth's credulous book Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson tells the story; it was filmed in 1986 with Amy Irving in the title role. Though "Anastasia" was certainly snobbish and anti-Semitic enough to have been a genuine member of the Russian royal family, she flunked the DNA test posthumously. In the most famous filmed version, Ingrid Bergman plays an amnesiac woman groomed by White Russian swindlers; the chief of them is played by Yul Brynner, whose graceful strides belie a monochromatic acting style. It's quite stagey, but fortunately Akim Tamiroff lurks about as a henchman. BILLED WITH The Scarlet Empress, the Marlene Dietrich/Erich von Sternberg farrago on the life of Catherine the Great. Quite easily the best movie made about the whole crazy dynasty. It's like a mainstream version of the Marquis de Sade celebrating the loss of a convent girl's virtue. Dietrich plays the innocent German princess corrupted by a nest of mad royals, including Sam Jaffe (an evil Harpo Marx look-alike with a toy guillotine) and Louise Dressler as the profane old Empress. The cinematography is superb beyond all reason, with Dietrich's face filtered through shimmering clouds of smoke and glimpsed behind layers of gossamer veils. I wonder who ended up with custody of all of that wonderful furniture? (RvB)
(1959/1937) James Stewart stars as a small-town lawyer from the U.P. in Michigan vs. a city-slicker prosecutor; they contend for the fate of an accused murderer (Ben Gazzara) who claims he went temporarily insane after his wife (Lee Remick, who, despite many boring mommy parts in the 1960s, was luscious when she was younghere, as well as in A Face in the Crowd). On the sidelines, Eve Arden and Arthur O'Connell play their characteristic roles (as sassy woman and heavy drinker, respectively); the film was notorious as the first Hollywood movie to mention semen. Duke Ellington did the soundtrack. BILLED WITH Charlie Chan at the Olympics. The detective (played by Warner Oland, a Norseman) investigates trouble at the Berlin Olympiad, where his son is on the U.S. swim team. Having never seen this one, I'd suppose that the much-commented-upon Asian stereotyping may be less interesting than the way the film would have handled the rising Nazi threat (a tiptoe matter in the cinema of the time). (RvB)
(PG-13; 91 min.) And so does Will Ferrell bet the goodwill he's built up with his funny (sometimes funnier than the film) bits in Zoolander, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, etc.and his single starring role, in Elfon this first film from former SNL writer Adam McKay. 'Cause he's the sole selling point of Anchormanunlike S&H, it doesn't even have a culty TV franchise to provide some buy-in for its campy vision of the '70s at their stupidest. Unless I'm wrong and America thinks a movie about a clueless San Diego TV anchorman in the 1970s is high-concept at its finest. But I doubt it. No, if you go to this film, you're going because you think Ferrell can make anything funny. And if you don't go, he's going to be up shit creek. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1956) Brigitte Bardot cuts a bloody swath through several unprepared men, including Jean-Louis Trintignant, Curt Jurgens and Christian Marquand. (RvB)
No narrative is as potentially fraught with peril as a story of farmworkers dealing with their lot; too often, observation is replaced by patronization, a pitfall avoided by Severo Perez's remarkable film. In one low-key scene after another, Perez tells the tale of a few years in the early 1950s in the life of migrant laborer Marcos Gonzales (Jose Alcala), focusing on his annual journey between the Midwest and the South to harvest sugar beets in Minnesota and hoe irrigation troughs in Texas. Perez, late of Luis Valdez's El Teatro Campesino, gives the story a visual range and a touch of magical realism. The film is peopled by individuals, not virtuous stereotypes. (RvB)
(1945/1950) Agatha Christie's much-filmed murder mystery, here done by René Clair. It is the tale of an island where a mysterious figure is unleashing rough justice upon 10 miscreants. Judith Anderson, Barry Fitzgerald and Louis Hayward co-star. BILLED WITH Seven Days to Noon. An idealistic physicist gives England a week to cease its nuclear researchor else he'll nuke London. A much-praised, much-copied thriller, co-written by Paul Dehn (film critic, mastermind of the later Planet of the Apes movies and co-scriptwriter on Goldfinger.) (RvB)
(Unrated; 105 min.) A drama about two people in love and on drugs (not recreational, but therapeutic). John Lynch and Jacqueline McKenzie star in director Michael Rymer's debut feature.
(R; 104 min.) Talk about excess baggage! Angel Eyes is a romantic drama that brings two unlikely people together in an interesting twist of fatenot only once, but twice. Sharon Pogue (Jennifer Lopez) is a Chicago cop with a tough professional exterior, but who struggles with a personal life that is full of private regrets due to an abusive father. Catch (Jim Caviezel) is a silent brooding wanderer with private regrets of his own; his wife and son were killed in a deadly car accident. We're talking about two people with more issues than you can imagine, clearly not in emotionally stable places, falling in love with each other. With plenty of painful secrets that both are tentative to reveal, this good-looking, troubled pair helps each other see that there's plenty in life still worth living for and provides those needy heart strings with a romantic, though extremely unlikely, plot to play on. (LB)
(1953) Quintessential tough guy Robert Mitchum stars as a too-smart guy who falls under the spell of a too-beautiful woman (Jean Simmons) in an Otto Preminger film noir.
(1987; R) Robert De Niro plays a strange man (with a tinge of sulfur) who hires Mickey Rourke to solve a mystery with supernatural overtones. Alan Parker directs. (AR)
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(R; 117 min.) Made from a novella by A.S. Byatt, Angels & Insects is set in the 1860s, when Englishmen, thanks to Darwin, were coming around to the suspicion that they might not be descended from angels. Mark Rylance plays Adamson, a naturalist. Through his association with an upper-class Victorian family, we get to examine a segment of English society. This sounds clinical, but Byatt's novel is an almost Nabokovian assembly of tricks and puzzles. Director Philip Haas doesn't quite have the assurance that Byatt has with this kind of material, but he has substituted some gratuitous sexalways appreciated in a Victorian setting. The female leads are remarkable, with Patsy Kensit's blonde sex kitten contrasted with Kristin Scott Thomas' brooding brunette. (AB)
(1959) One of the best film titles our cinema has ever offered us. Producer Sid Pink sent his film about rocket jockeys to the lab to be developed; maybe he should have sent it to Mars instead of Hollywood, because the negative came back ruined. With the gusto of a true showman, Pink decided to exhibit The Angry Red Planet as the first film made in "Cinemagic." Under the effect of truth drugs, a woman astronaut remembers her strangely colored ordeal on the red, rough and sore planet Mars. (Was it alljust a dream?) Mars seethes, griping about Earth, its sloppy next-door neighbor with dissolute habits, wild all-night parties and unkempt forests, so unlike the clean, quiet, well-groomed surface of Mars itself. Yes, the solar system was a nice place once, before Earth decided to move in. The peevish, resentful planet is full of creatures with three eyes, sentient amoebas and the horrifying rat-bat-spider: not a rat, not a bat, not a spider, but all three combined into one monstrosity. Don't try to pet it. This unflinching look at conditions on Mars was formally protested by the Martian embassy, despite claims by the filmmakers that they were just telling it like it is. "Let the chips fall where they may!" said the producers gruffly, cigars clenched in their teeth. And good for them! It takes more than a red sash, a top hat and a swallowtail coat to turn a tentacled creature into the equal of a human being! The Angry Red Planet headlines the Psychotronix Film Festival, a benefit for KFJC radio. (Plays Jun 5 at 7pm in Los Altos Hills in Room F-12 at Foothill College; $5 donation for KFJC; bring $2 in quarters for parking; the campus police ticket, even on Saturday nightsfor which they will be doomed, not just in this world, but in the next.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 87 min.) At last a high school film that unflinchingly looks at the number-one killer of young adults; experts agree that more teens die annually of embarrassment than any other cause. The appealing title character (Charlie Talbert) is a large freshman offensive lineman with a fondness for science and a paralyzing crush on the girlfriend (Ariana Richards) of his tormenting quarterback (James Van Der Beek). Fortunately, Angus has the support of an Oscar-winning mother (Kathy Bates) and grandfather (George C. Scott) who lend the film more dignity than it deserves. Like Carrie, Angus is elected homecoming royalty as a prank, but this humiliation rite is more an earnest morality tale than De Palma's bloody vengance story. As lumbering and endearing as the title character, Angus the movie won't be as popular as Clueless, but it's a nice second choice. (DH)
(PG-13; 89 min.) Rob Schneider stars as a regular guy who takes on animal characteristics after receiving organ transplants from several different animals.
(1932/1931) Based on a play by Philip Barry, The Animal Kingdom is a love triangle among the intelligentsia. A publisher (Leslie Howard) is intrigued by a smart, artistic woman (Ann Harding) but decides to marry a much more intellectually limited lady (Myrna Loy) for the sake of security. BILLED WITH Private Lives, an adaptation of Noel Coward's play about ever-so-British heartbreak, with Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. (RvB)
(Unrated; 85 min.) A collection of animated shorts, including works by Don Hertzfeldt and Bill Plympton.
Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt collaborate on the third year of the national traveling show of short animated films. Max Hattler is on hand from England with Collision, an abstract computer-animated work, in which traditional American designs collide with Islamic art. San Jose State's Shrunken Head Club, a group for animators, will be screening some of their works. Co-producer Hertzfeldt, the immortal creator of Billy's Balloon and Rejected, sends in the local debut of his ambitious 17-minute-long effort, Everything Will Be OK ... unless he is frozen alive or devoured by Sasquatches at Sundance first. Genius stop-motion animator Pes (last heard of in the '06 Spike and Mike show) exhibits Game Over, a salute to the ancient age of video games. Plus more. (Plays Jan 26 at 6:30 and 9:30 in San Jose at the California Theatre; see www.animationshow.com for details or call 866.468.3399.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 147 min.) The appealing match of Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat invigorates the familiar true tale of the culture clash Englishwoman Anna Leonowens experienced when she came to Siam to tutor the king's children in the mid-19th century. The most famous incarnation of Leonowens' story is the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, and although many of its songs may have rightfully become beloved classics, its story doesn't do the Siamese monarch much credit. Anna and the King is as much of a sweeping romantic epic as the musical (and it has the gorgeous costumes and scenery to prove it), but gives us King Mongkut of Siam as a person rather than a 1950s caricature. Hong Kong action star Yun-Fat brings his usual charisma to a rich performance as the king, making him not only a shrewd ruler, but a swoon-worthy romantic foil for the Victorian-proper Anna, played by Foster with typical artfulness. It's the wonderful chemistry between Yun-Fat and Foster that keeps this somewhat overly long costume drama from being an exquisitely beautiful bore. (HZ)
(1946/1947) Rex Harrison stars in Anna and the King of Siam (the source for the musical The King and I) as the monarch who hires an English governess (Irene Dunne) only to fall in love. BILLED WITH The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a splendid spectral romance starring Gene Tierney as a Victorian widow who rents a seaside cottage that turns out to be inhabited by the ghost of a prickly but attractive sea captain (Harrison). Director Joseph Mankiewicz and co-star George Sanders add some satire to what could have been a too-sweet construction. Bernard Herrmann's moody soundtrack makes the world of the spirits tangible (a trick he repeated for Vertigo). (RvB)
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(PG-13; 110 min.) Not having seen Jacqueline Bisset as the suffering adulteress in the 1985 television version, I'm in no position to say whether Sophie Marceau is the worst Anna Karenina yet. Marceau is neither a dazzling beauty nor a particularly adept actor, and she depends on one sulk for a great deal of communication: I miss Russia, I miss my son, I miss going to the opera. As Vronsky, Sean Bean projects a count as trustworthy as a door-to-door salesman. Director Bernard Rose (Candyman) leads a cast of second-raters, among whom James Fox stands out like a colossus. As Alexi Karenina, Fox radiates the sad, absurd dignity of the cuckold, the pride that covers the wound. Rose tries to tart up the material with gory child births and miscarriages, with the arterial spray from a shot horse, with an awkward nude love scene between Vronsky and Anna, but the modern sensations don't make up for the old-fashioned aspects: from the Russian-movie tropes (like the smoking locomotive slowly crossing the wide screen) to the awkward dialogue ("Princess Kitty, may I have the quadrille?"). (RvB)
(PG-13; 108 min.) Director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) enters his sophomore slump here. Playing like an artifact from screenplay school, Annapolis follows Jake Huard (James Franco), an anti-authoritarian misfit who barely gets into the U.S. Naval Academy. His predictable trouble includes flirting with the girl (Jordana Brewster) at a bar before discovering that she is a superior officer and later trying out for the big boxing match. The film rolls out the oldest, stalest chestnuts, including the father who doesn't understand, the tough company commander (Tyrese Gibson) who doesn't believe and the tubby plebe who can't quite make it. And while Lin's camera locks onto every clenching jaw muscle, he obliterates the fight footage with blurry close-ups and jagged cuts. It's a yawn. (JMA)
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A traveling selection from the festival will be screened. (RvB)
Works by three Bay Area filmmakers are featured in this screening of 21 films from the annual Ann Arbor Film Festival, a competition which showcases independent 16mm films. The local works to be screened are: San Francisco filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt's Human Remains, a documentary which looks at intimate details in the lives of five infamous men without mentioning their significance in history; also a film by San Francisco's Eun-Ha Paek that makes use puppets and animation to portray commonplace objects metamorphosing into nightmarish creatures in a child's imagination; and "Don't Run Johnny," by San Francisco filmmaker Tom E. Brown, a short about a gay man's reaction to learning he is HIV-positive.
Of the works previewed the best was The Internationale, Brooklyn filmmaker Peter Miller's history of the labor anthem. Miller's half-hour long documentary on a song that unites eras and peoples is more than just inspirational; he points out that "The Internationale" represents pure hope separated from the sorrows and wrong turns of history. Tom Schroeder's Bike Ride smoothly animates James Peterson's first-person account of a 43-mile bike ride, from his home in Blaine, Minn. to surprise his girlfriend Carrie at her parents' place in the town of Milaca. The ride was culminated by her dumping him, presumably for being the kind of unsteady, impulsive guy who would ride 43 miles to see someone on a whim. Other offerings: Scurry, Kathleen Lolley's very cool multimedia animation of a bunny's escape from a financial district full of blighted animals; Luke Jaeger, whose Out the Fire turned up in a previous Ann Arbor Fest, once again animates a vintage song: Old Joe's Hittin' the Jug (music by Snuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys); Stanley is Londoner Suzie Templeton's Roald Dahl-ish claymation story of a man, a woman and a beautiful cabbage; Nine Lives (The Eternal Moment of Now) is a portrait of the artist's cat by the found-footage wizard Jay Rosenblatt of San Francisco. (RvB)
[email protected]). Dead Pan by Rick Raxlen is the jauntiest meat-is-murder film ever made. Here we see memories of grisly organ meat served at a too-formal dining-room table, contrasted with treated film and appropriated pictures of Olive Oyl and Elsie the Cow. "Our tongue sandwiches speak for themselves!"Mad Magazine. The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal is Portland, Ore., artist Matt McCormick's similarly deadpan examination of the blotting out of street tagging. He claims the beige, gray and brown paint expunging graffiti on concrete is the latest art-world thing; to prove his point, he contrasts city-mandated graffiti paint-overs with the soft rectangles of a Rothko painting. Frederick Baker's Austria 05 2000 follows the graffiti trail through Vienna, where there are signs of resistance to nationalist/racist politician Jorg Haider for those who look. Reaper Sheeper Treasure Keeper is akin to Fritz Lang's silent classic Destiny. It's Dave Lieber's amiable story of a clay-animated Grim Reaper and his lousy goddamn job. Torn from the comforts of home by the clock striking midnight, he rubs a tired hand on his bony forehead as he peruses a list of "People to Kill Today." But he's rescued from his toil by a carnivorous sheep and a group of car-pooling pirates (their car radio drones, "The price of doubloons is down today"). (RvB)KFJC hosts the highlights from America's oldest experimental and shorts film festival. The highlight is San Francisco filmmaker Daniel Gamburg's Tsipa and Wolf, the Michael Moore Award winner for best documentary. The opener, Madame Winger Makes a Film, fits into the fest's endorsement of appropriating found art. The madam, a lovable New Orleans Southern belle (voiced by Meredith Pogue), gives useful lessons on the various grades and qualities of film stock, and how to develop in your bathtub, all while plugging a guide for the beginning filmmaker ingratiatingly titled Recipes for Disaster (more info:
Brittle sugary '60s synthetic harpsichord backs up a perfectly androgynous singer as s/he repeats a lament: when I ask her to walk with me, she says no no no no no no no. On the screen, we see everything from numbered projector leader. A live beating heart. Tarzan and Jane. TV's Bewitched with Samantha chastising her daughter Tabitha. Some forgotten sweet-faced starlet of the long-dead past ("She's a pretty little doll, who says no no no no no no.") The return to images of water, in pools and rivers, are the symbol of a lover's inconstancy. The violent juxtaposition of images in Yes? Oui? Ja? by Frankfurt's Thomas Draschan achieves something the other experimental films in this year's Ann Arbor Film Festival road show seem to miss. Through a collage of images, it sets up its own story even without an imposed narrative. I'd say the 3 1/2 minute film is about an unhappy lover, maybe male, maybe female, cursed with longings that go back so deep into the past he/she can't remember where they began. It occurs to me, right now, that all the women I've been most attracted to in my life"my type"all looked like my first babysitter when I was 6, which coincidentally is about the time most of Draschan's images were freshly minted. This road-show selection from the Ann Arbor Film Fest includes a new short by San Francisco's amazing Jay Rosenblatt: Friend Good. Also: The Good Son by Brooklyn's Michael Sandoval, which expertly contrasts the tensions between Jaime Sorano Sr. and Jr.: the dad, a pious Filipino immigrant and preacher; his son, a smoldering kid fascinated with pit bulls, body building, martial arts and all the trappings of bully-boy culturewho is yet a good son. Closer to Heaven by Diane Bonder, also of Brooklyn, is a one-minute memoir of her dead father, using snippets of phone messages, weather reports and excerpts of a life of frantic travel contrasted to the stillness and uneventfulness of an old man's life in Wisconsin. Teatro Roots by Kristin Pichaske, late of Stanford's documentary program, chronicles the story of local hero Luis Valdez and the Teatro Campesino, including rare home movies. Nutria by Ted Gesing is about a severely damaging but awfully cute exotic species, the nutria. It looks like a beaver with a rat's tail. The creatures, which multiply mercilessly, are gnawing away Louisiana's bayous. This has led some chefs to try to harvest them for the New Orleans tableamazingly, no one here describes them as "nutria-tritious" ("It tastes like chickenlike bad chicken," opines one kid). They're cute enough to be a mascot for the New Orleans Zephyrs minor-league baseball team and yet plentiful enough that a game warden feels fine about holding one pitifully squealing nutria by its tail. Disrepected as it is, the nutria is plainly not going anywhere, but I bet Gesing is going places. The Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival is America's oldest 16 mm film fest; this is still the place you want your short film to be playing. It plays three nights as a benefit for that local treasure KFJC-FM (89.7), one of the last few radio stations where they can still play the Dixie Chicks if they feel like it. (RvB)
At 42, the Ann Arbor Film Fest is the nation's oldest experimental 16 mm film fest. Annually, a selection is shown here as a benefit for college radio station KFJC. While this event is a must-see for local film fanciers, and while I only saw a handful of the 22 films to be shown this weekend, what I did see was a disappointmentshoegazers and thumbsuckers, in one case peppered with found slaughterhouse footage (an unforgivable attempt to deepen shallow work with the suffering of pigs). The highlight was Avi Mograbi's Detail (8 min.), a cinema vérité account of an encounter between an Israeli armored vehicle and a group of furious, wounded Arabs. Mograbi captures both angles of the futile conflict at once. A deliberately clumsy translation makes the scene harder to figure out quickly: "She has blood," complains one of the Arabs. "Go, go, go away. I don't care. Drive away from hereI cannot let you," grates the loudspeaker aboard the Humvee. Blurting out its contradictory orders, the vehicle swivels back and forth like a pacing cat. A wind comes up, as if to resolve the irresolvable situation. Most haunting is the final moment, when the door opens and we peer at the shadows of the drivers as if they were the aliens stirring inside a flying saucer. Fish Don't Talk: A Memoir by Rick Raxlen combines sensitive Jonathan Franzenish memoirs, Chet Baker's "My Old Flame" and some evocative home movies. Harmony by Jim Trainor is a piquantly animated confessional booth for animalsa pygmy chimp apologizes for her sexual excesses; a lion admits, "I killed my girlfriend's children." (RvB)
The traveling show from America's most distinguished festival comes with a higher ratio of worthwhile films to dreck than any other fest I know about. Highlights: Afraid So. Found-footage wizard Jay Rosenblatt brings imagery to a number of bad possibilities, from delayed planes to terminal cancer. It is based on a poem by Jeanne Marie Beaumont. Peter Sillen's Grand Luncheonette concerns the last day of business for Fred Hakim's Times Square hot-dog stand, about to be evicted by the forces of the Mouse; yet another Disney Store looms over this mom-and-pop business. Ringo by Dave Monahan is a Western-movie collage, roping in Roy Rogers and John Wayne to act out Lorne Greene and Don Robertson's thoroughly dramatic shootout ballad. Some help from Sergei Eisenstein. To the music of John Adams' piano solo The Phrygian Gates, Eric Dyer's captivating Copenhagen Cycles tours the Danish capital by bike, using zoetropes, kaleidoscopes and computer animation to display the city as a series of wheels within wheels. Steve Furman's Ride of the Mergansers deserves to be double-billed with March of the Penguins. A hidden camera in a Minnesota nesting box watches the fledging of some rare and adorable hooded Merganser chicks as they take that first step outside—100 feet down; the great leap forward edited to appropriate music by Wagner. Sea Change by Joe King and Rosie Pendlow is a tour of a seaside mobile-home park in which day and night fall at random; it is simultaneously ominous and welcoming, ethereal and homely, rich and strange. (Plays Jun 10 at 7pm and Jun 11 at 6pm in Los Altos Hills at Foothill College, Appreciation Hall. Bring $2 in quarters for parking meters.) (RvB)
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(PG; 122 min.) Before seeing this fine documentary, I had begun to fear that Anne Frank had passed out of living memory. Thanks to Nazi bookkeeping and more than a dozen people's reminiscences, however, it's possible not only to trace what happened to Frank but also to encounter people who knew her in the last months of her life. It seems almost like a miracle that such a record (including some rare home-movie footage of Frank) exists. The documentary provides some new information to supplement the famous diary. I didn't know that the Franks were German, for example, and that in one of those sickening ironies of 20th-century history, father Otto Frank had been a German soldier in WWI. (RvB)
(1950/1952) Betty Hutton stars as Annie Oakley, a markswoman with man troubles, a part previously played by a shy Barbara Stanwyck in the 1930s. The George Sidney musical includes 11 tunes by Irving Berlin, including "Anything You Can Do" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." BILLED WITH Singin' in the Rain. This beloved musical is based on the difficulties of the transition from silent to sound films. In a nostalgic business, it argues for everything a musical should be. The film includes a great rapturous number based on what was then an old tune, with Gene Kelly's water dance, a city wiseacre's point of view throughout and some fascinating young women: Cyd Charisse and Debbie Reynolds, who was still wet behind the ears (and not because of the artificial rainstorm, either). That line: "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nuthin'." (RvB)
(1977) Anhedonia was Woody Allen's original title for this loose mixture of romance and satirical fantasy, but the inability to experience pleasure wasn't a problem experienced by the audience of this sharp, touching comedy. Here, Allen skewers the narcissism of Alvy Singer, his autobiographical character; sadly, in his later films, he justifies self-centeredness. Mostly, one remembers the nice subtext of the battle between L.A. hedonism and New York ponderosity, and how Diane Keaton, with her California-grown beauty, won the match. No one has made ditziness quite as lovable since. (RvB)
(PG; 88 min.) Aside from the stunt casting (Meryl Streep is wasted in the role of the Ant Queen, spouting a few regally monotone lines), the usual heavy-handed family movie messages about cooperation and whatnot and the ample jokes about human bodily functions, The Ant Bully is actually an inoffensive animated entertainment with a few scenes funny enough to rouse parents to attention. An ant wizard (voiced by Nicolas Cage) invents a potion to shrink a troubled human boy (voiced by Zach Tyler) to ant size. Julia Roberts voices the kindly ant charged with teaching him how to get along with others. But the master stroke of casting is Bruce Campbell, whose amused delivery seems slightly ahead of the material, and gives it the looseness it so desperately needs. (JMA)
(PG-13; 120 min.) This buggy geek-chic thriller could inadvertently help Microsoft's legal defense. Antitrust implies that the richest software magnate on the planet (a slump-shouldered Tim Robbins looking but not sounding like Bill Gates) not only puts his competitors out of business but pushes them off this mortal coil. Open-source idealist and Stanford DSP wizard Milo (Ryan Phillipe) joins the magnate's evil empire at N.U.R.V. software in Portland, where he works with the least pallid programmers in the Pacific Northwest. The plot lacks a paranoid's or programmer's irrefutable logic. The performances are also unconvincing, except for Robbins and a subtle big-screen debut by IP address 10.17.192.12 as itself. (DH)
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(Unrated; 103 min.) On the day of her death, Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) remembers her 50 years as a matriarch farmer bringing love and kindness to a rural town where previously "men's loud voices ran roughshod over the women's silence"as if there were nothing but noise in the one, and nothing but wisdom in the other. Director/writer Marleen Gorris made the breakthrough picture A Question of Silence, and there are flashes throughout the sweetness of Antonia's Line of a hard-edged sensibility. If you find matriarchy as cinematically boring as patriarchy, you'll probably want to go elsewhere. (RvB)
(1985) A documentary about the visionary architect by Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara.
(PG) Here's Marxist pop that beats the pants out of Verso's anniversary edition of The Communist Manifesto. The politics are straightforward in this featurea cartoon ant speaks: "It's the workers that control the means of production." Wildcat strikes break out, and an evil military leader co-opts the revolution, just like Napoleon did. This computer-animated feature from Dreamworks could be retitled Ten Days that Shook the Anthill. A worker ant, Z-4195 (voiced by Woody Allen), meets the slumming princess (Sharon Stone), daughter of the ant queen, who sneaks into a worker's bar for kicks. Z falls in love. He joins the army in hopes of seeing her from afar, but emerges as the lone survivor of a war of aggression against the termites. Hearing about "Insectopia," Z heads out for rural escapism in a garbage dump, but love for the captured princess calls him back to save his colony from a military coup by the princess' fiance, the military dictator General Mandible (robustly voiced by Gene Hackman). The politics of Antz are extraordinary in a Hollywood film, but the style isn't anything new; it's the familiar Spielbergian rollercoaster slamming along jerkily from episode to episode. A film that never lets up isn't necessarily a good thing. I didn't miss the terrible showtunes that litter the average full-length animated moviebut I did miss the breaks in the action they provided. True, Allen has an ingenious opening scene of the discontented ant on the couch of a psychiatrist. ("I think I'll just curl up in the larval position.") Despite this, there's little chemistry in the relationship between the princess and the worker; Allen needed a Carole Lombard/Diane Keaton typea queenly dipto bounce off of. Instead, he has Stone, a star humorlessly showing off her feist. Even a political animated cartoon has to deal with the old problem of what the romantic leads see in each other. Antz' allegory is fatally weakened by its social democrat streak, its insistence on a partnership between royalty and labor. Or maybe it's just that Stone is less interesting than Z's fellow worker Azteca, voiced with the Latino Mae West accents of Jennifer Lopezwho is every bit as devastating in cartoon form as she is in the flesh. (RvB)
(PG-13; 114 min.) Based on the book by Mona Simpson, director Wayne Wang's Anywhere but Here takes a close look at a mother-daughter relationship. Susan Sarandon stars as Adele August, an unconventional single mom who whisks her reluctant 14-year-old daughter, Ann (Natalie Portman), away from her cozy small-town life in Bay City, Wis., to reinvent herself in the posh setting of modern-day Beverly Hills. Creating honest, believable characters, Wang's film boldly presents the eccentricities and imperfections that exist within real people. Sarandon brings out the complexity of the well-meaning but nutty Adele, from her vibrant, extroverted personality to her underlying motivations: she desperately wants her daughter to have a better, fuller life than the one she made for herself. Portman gives Ann strength, wisdom beyond her years and a cool, controlled reserve that balances Adele's impulsive, often irresponsible nature. As Queen Amidala in George Lucas' prequel Star Wars: Episode IThe Phantom Menace, Portman was criticized for her flat, emotionless delivery, but supporters insisted she acted appropriately, with all the dignity of a queen. As Ann, Portman is still flat on the surface, but because she's portraying a conflicted teenager who's had to grow up too fast, her deadpan delivery works. There is a convincing depth and a complicated love in the relationship between Ann and Adele, and watching them test their independence, learn to stand on their own and grow as people in the process is a rewarding experience. (SQ)
Tom Hanks is just one among a stellar cast in this dramatized reenactment of NASA's star-crossed flight to the moon. Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton join Hanks in the lunar module as fellow astronauts; Gary Sinise is their grounded comrade. Although the dramatic story of the mission necessarily focuses the film mostly on plot, Apollo 13 makes a strong effort to explore the humanity of the astronauts and those they left on the ground. While the majority of thriller-genre films celebrate brawn over brains, what's most compelling about Apollo 13 is its obvious deference to the intelligence and ingenuity of the astronauts and the engineers at mission control alike. (HZ)
(1969) Catherine Deneuve and Lemmon star in a comedy about a man and a woman, trapped in unhappy marriages, flying off to Paris together. Mostly unseen in the past 40 years, it's memorable for Dionne Warwick's theme and a highly influential race to the airport scene that's turned up in about 100 movies since. The cast includes Myrna Loy, Charles Boyer, Harvey Korman, Sally Kellerman and Jack Weston, the Danny DeVito of his day. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke). (RvB)
(1955/1956/1959) With this trilogy, based on the novels of B. Banerjee, the Calcutta-based director Satyajit Ray became the principal art-house representative of India. It's a burden too big for any one artistwhat one American director sums up his country, a country that's not quite as complicated as India? Yet Ray's breadth of vision still dazzles today. Inspired by Jean Renoir and influenced by Vittorio De Sica, Ray was a polymath talent, heir to a Bengali culture analogous to the Transcendentalists in New England during the 1800sculture vultures who aimed to bring a new layer of simplicity and modernism to their nation. These "bramos" were under the influence of the titanic figure of Rabindranath Tagore, musician, educator, Nobel Prize-winning author. Ray was educated at Tagore's school, but the director's playfulness is a family tradition; his father was a well-known writer of light verse and an inspired cartoonist. Ray's films can seem still, slow, mandarin, puritan. Yet in everything from composition to psychological complexity, Ray proves himself clearly a master. In this trilogy, we see the journey of Apuand yes, Matt Groening did name the character from The Simpsons in his honor. Pather Panchali (Song of the Road, ), the first film in the trilogy, follows Apu in his youth in a remote village; Aparajito (The Unvanquished) takes him to the holy city of Benares. Apur Sanar (The World of Apu) concludes the trilogy with the triumph and tragedy of a young writer. (RvB)
(R; 87 min.) And if you think the title is uproarious, wait until you see Max Maiellaro and Dave Willis' animated "movie." It runs 79 semiwritten minutes—five of which are death threats against bootleggers—about the misadventures of a bolus of hamburger meat, an egotistical milkshake and a bag of French fries with a goatee. It is exactly like watching a kid play with his food for more than an hour, with everything that would go through a kid's mind: robots (a duckbilled cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past); monsters (mostly escapees from vintage video games); and the dawning of horniness (the search for "women of the opposite sex"). Two credited members of Time-Warner's standards and practices keep anything seriously edgy out of the picture. Speaking of the picture, this is more visually paralytic than the "illustrated radio" of TV's animated era; clearly it's just Hanna-Barbera by another means. (RvB)
A program of seven films, including Tunisian director Ferid Boughedir's sexy and charming Halfaouine, Boy of the Terraces (June 6 at 5pm). Bye Bye (June 6, 9pm) also from Tunisia, records the troubles of recent immigrants to Marseille; Karim Dridi directs. Once Upon a Time: Beirut (June 5, 9:30pm) and Daizy Gedeon's Lebanon: Imprisoned Splendor (June 6, 7pm), narrated by Omar Sharif, are both about the religious strife that split that country apart and cost 200,000 lives. Nasser '56 (June 5, 6:45pm) is an Egyptian-made epic lionizing the nationalist leader and his decision to take control of the Aswan High Dam, both a symbol of Egyptian strength and a major eco-disaster. The Mountain (Al-Jabab) (on the bill with Lebanon: Imprisoned Splendor, June 6 at 7pm) is a Palestinian film about a girl from Galilee resisting an arranged marriage. (RvB)
(G; 73 min.) This movie wants to be Aladdin but isn't even a good rip-off. It is appallingly trite, nearly impossible to sit through and relies almost entirely on clichs and the incorrect assumption that within a story set in "historical" times, any verbal reference to a modern idea will be funny. The film contains the usual anorexic, double-D cup princess who feels unfulfilled by her life of luxury, a poor cobbler who falls in love with her (and can't bring himself to take those annoying tacks out of his mouth) and an idiotic king who sleeps a lot and freaks out rather unconvincingly when the magic golden balls that are supposed to protect his city are stolen by an accident-prone thief. The animation is clumsy, the backgrounds are cheap and the dialogue doesn't even appear to be coming from the characters' lips. The villains are wholly unfrightening, the climactic battle-scene makes no sense whatsoever and we are never quite sure why the cobbler progressively turns from a white guy into an Arab. The only good thing about this film is that it is very short. (BB)
(PG; 85 min.) Ice Cube returns in this unwarranted sequel to Are We There Yet?. Sadly, nothing is sacred, and this new film is an official, credited remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Nick (Cube) moves his new family to a big country house and frets and fusses while it falls apart, and the local contractor, the sensitive, skillful Chuck (John C. McGinley), helps. Cube in the country conjures up some promising ideas, but this family-friendly movie avoids fish-out-of-water humor in favor of an annoying clash of personalities and learned lessons. Despite his trademark scowl, Cube can't keep himself from looking sheepish, and that's where the title comes in. Nia Long co-stars and Steve Carr directs. (JMA)
(PG; 91 min.) Ice Cube gets the most extensive onscreen battering since that donkey in Au Hasard, Balthasar. Supposedly, it's all in the name of fun, but fun's not really an element in this conjunctivitis-inducing children's film. Cube plays Nick, a happy Portland bachelor who thinks children are "cockroaches." To impress a lady (Nia Long), Nick volunteers to fly her chronically misbehaving offspring up to her workplace in Vancouver. Insert plot summation of Planes, Trains and Automobiles here, being sure to add most of the jokes from the Home Alone series (John Hughes has a lot to answer for). The scene of Cube wrestling a deer is relatively comic, which is more than can be said for the slow destruction of his brand-new Lincoln Navigatorarguably, the SUV is the most sympathetic member of the cast. The kids deserve a battering themselves. Whichever of the four writers who tried to retrofit these demons with likeability should have thought of more convincing character traits than "asthma," "a beautiful singing voice" and "they came from a broken home." It's claimed at the end that there's nothing more lonely than a 50-year-old bachelor, but what's the upside in nurturing a pair of violent, attitudinous walking billboards like these? There's something here to insult both sexes: first comes the routine about how women and men can't be friends ("The friends zone is for losers!"); later the film puts words into the mouth of one of the most well-regarded men in baseball. Let's hope Satchel Paige's children got a huge check for selling out their dad. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 86 min.) The disgusting backstage joke told and retold in baroque variations in The Aristocrats isn't outrageously funny, but that's what makes telling it a challenge. Anyone can coast on a good gag. For this documentary, co-directors Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza assembled a large cross-section of the comedy world: everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Eric Idle, from George Carlin to Billy Connelly. As for the winnahs at this particular cutting session, we have a tie. Sarah Silverman riffs up a bright bit about recovered memory. The squinting Gilbert Gottfried, with his sandblaster voice, was born to tell this infamous joke, just as Chopin was born to play the piano. As a film, The Aristocrats is a choppy piece of work, with editing that occasionally breaks the rhythms of the performers. It's the quintessential example of a talking-heads movie. Still, it's a remarkable look into the heart of darkness of humor. (RvB)
(R; 117 min.) A poly-sci professor (Jeff Bridges), who specializes in conspiracy theory, makes friends with Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, the nice couple across the street. It turns out (after a lot of film) that said nice couple are the upper-middle-class agents of an unspecified group that harbors an unspecified grudge against the federal gummint, and they plan to blow everybody up real good. A nifty tip of the hat to Rosemary's Baby helps a bit, but snoozy direction and a plot that hinges on an extremely unlikely coincidence make for dreary watching. (BC)
The Anime Resource Group presents the Northern California premiere of a new animated action adventure from Japan. Set far in the future, the film takes place on Mars, where humans and robots live together in an uneasy peace. Before the screening, there will be a concert on the Towne Theater's Wurlitzer organ. (MSG)
(1993) The third Evil Dead movie. A satanic curse hauls Ash back to the Middle Ages, wherein a jackass version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Courthe introduces besieged medievals to such useful tools as the 1973 Oldsmobile, the flamethrower and the stump-borne sawed-off shotgun. As told by Ash (Bruce Campbell), currently a Megalomart clerk, to an incredulous cashier (an uncredited Bridget Fonda). Dumb as a bagful of hammers but perfect midnight viewing. Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) directs. (RvB)
(R; 85 min.) Back-dated finding-my-father drama, with seriously heavy KFC product placement. Jason (Josh Lucas), a dull dog of a banker, takes care of his son (Jonah Bobo) and his decrepit granddad, Henry (Michael Caine, in a bummer role). One evening, the father that Jason never knew appears on the doorstep. He is called Turner, and he is played by the lean, haunted, accept-no-substitutes Christopher Walken. Henry dies, leaving, by way of a last will, a map that causes three generations of the family to head out across the Southwest in a beat-up orange hippie van, stopping at various Col. Sanders outlets on the road between Los Angeles and Albuquerque. Together, they bond and eat dead chickens. If anyone could have saved this movie, it would have been Walken. The actor's solitude and nervous estrangement are (as always) as convincing as the rest of the movie is fraudulent. (RvB)
(1956) While the current Disneyfied version looks like it has its charmsand Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan are born entertainersDavid Niven must remain the quintessential Phileas Fogg, the phlegmatic Englishman who wagers to circle the globe in under three months. Mexican cinema's favorite comedian Cantinflas plays Passepartout, and the trusty character actor Robert Newtonhe's the actor who taught pirates to say "harr-r-r-r"plays the dogged but misguided detective Fix. Very long but a genuine spectacle, particularly in widescreen Todd AO, and the cast has a record number of celebrated cameos, making it an indispensible wild card in a game of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." S.J. Perelman got the co-screenwriting Oscar, an award he didn't deign to pick up in person. (RvB)
(PG) One has to wonder why the producers of yet another film in which Jackie Chan is paired with an eccentric Westerner in order to provide a thin premise on which to hang lots of fight scenes would even bother to try cashing in on the "marketability" of the 1872 Jules Verne novel. What marketability would that be, exactly? Memories of the 1956 David Niven film? I don't know, but apparently there's also a remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth in production. Does it star Chris Tucker? (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 109 min.) Fairly big and convincing special effects and a strong finale help out this half-bright story of an alien invasion. In the lead is the hopeless Charlie Sheen, who, after sending up his own actorly mannerisms in Hot Shots!, brings back memories of that parody every time he widens his eyes. Sheen plays Zane, an obsessed radio astronomer who audits 42 seconds of noise from a distant galaxy. After he reports his findings to his boss (Ron Silver), Zane finds himself sacked and blacklisted by the astronomy community. He travels to Mexico to track the source of a broadcast response to the alien chatter and there meets a meteorologist (Lindsay Crouse) for some clumsy missed romantic opportunities. (As Zane puts it, "Algorithms I trust. Boolean logic I trust. But beautiful womenthey mystify me.") The Arrival isn't very forceful; the narrative drive meanders, and it's not nearly paranoid enough, but the alien fiends have quite an impressive subterranean ranch, a relatively foolproof plan of conquest and the usual guilt-inducing but good-for-us message: "If you can't take better care of this planet, you don't deserve to stay here." (RvB)
(1944) 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. (RvB)
(PG; 102 min.) To save his family's farm, the real-life Arthur (Freddie Highmore) visits the land of the Minimoys (becoming a CGI creature in the process), battling a villain (voiced by David Bowie) and befriending a princess (voiced by Madonna). Unlike most of the soulless, polished, CGI-animated kids' products that dominated 2006, Luc Besson's movie has the nerve to show up like a misshapen factory reject, with actual human handprints on it. Clumsy and derivative, it nonetheless aims to have fun, like a child coloring outside the lines. Yet its particular low-rent energy might have been better served in an all-live action film. Other voice talent includes Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Snoop Dogg and Anthony Anderson. Mia Farrow appears in the flesh as Arthur's granny. (JMA)
(Both 1937) Jack Benny, in his first important movie part, plays an ad man torn between two models for a big silverware account. Ida Lupino is his favorite, but socialite Gail Patrick is preferred by the boss (Richard Arlen). To break the stalemate, the film heads to Florida for a musical extravaganza. Numbers include "Public Melody #1," starring Louis Armstrong, with Martha Raye dancing in black face (thanks to this scene, writes Raye biographer James Robert Parish, Raye was later denied an apartment on the grounds of being a suspected mulatto). Hayseed comedian Judy Canova and her siblings, Anne and Zeke, also co-star, with the Yacht Club Boys (Bing Crosby's ex-group), gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, singer Connie Boswell, New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno and cartoonist/engineer Rube Goldberg. BILLED WITH On the Avenue. Warner Bros. director Roy del Ruth and perennial WB juvenile Dick Powell went to Fox for this Irving Berlin musical, which co-starred Alice Faye and the Ritz Brothers. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 138 min.) The story of the unlikely bond formed by an acid-tongued romance novelist (Jack Nicholson), a single mom (Helen Hunt) and a gay artist (Greg Kinnear) whose fates intertwine thanks to an unusual dog named Verdell. Directed by James L. Brooks.
(1988) A Russian tall tale based on folk stories about a traveling minstrel. Directed by Sergei Paradshanov (The Color of Pomegranates). We like the alternative title better: Hoary Legends of the Caucasus.
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Eight days of features from India, Japan, Korea, China and more.
March is normally spent waiting for Duke's spectacular flame-out of the NCAA tournament, but for the past couple of years, film festival craziness has invaded the South Bay. The SF International Asian American Film Festival's pilgrimage to San Jose is a three-day event, with 13 films representing multiple styles: shorts, features, documentaries celebrating and demystifying the Asian and Asian-Pacific American experience. Here are a few selected highlights (visit asianamericanfilmfestival.org for schedule).
A View From Topaz (Sat, 12pm, Camera 12). Apr 1942-1945. While interned in Topaz internment camp in Utah during World War II, San Jose businessman David Tatsuno surreptitiously shot hours of film with an 8mm Bell & Howell camera. A View From Topazculled from the footageis like being in David Tatsuno's living room with him providing the narration: a young girl skating on a makeshift ice rink, the Mochizuki ritual, plenty of beautiful sunsets, carp kites hanging from barracks. Yet for all the reminiscing, one can make out the guard towers and fences in the background. Matsuno's memory is sharp, able to recall names, places, contexts and minutiae (like how an internee played for the Utah basketball team that went to Madison Square Garden and beat St. John's). David passed away this year at age 92; I'm sure Michelle Malkin would love to indict David posthumously for espionage. Sorry, Michelle, A View From Topaz is a very special 90 minutes, admitted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congressan honor bestowed to only one other home movie: the Zapruder film. A conversation with Tatsuno's son and daughter follows the film.
Punching at the Sun (Sat, 7pm, Camera 12). Tanuj Chopra directs the youthful opening night feature film about a desi teen from Queens trying to cope with the loss of his hoops legend older brother. He stumbles through on-and-off court relationships and perceptions of race in post 9/11 New York City. Afterward, celebrate with director Tanuj Chopra at Gallery Anno Domini.
Kieu (Sun, 4:30pm, Camera 12). Produced and shot around San Francisco, Kieu concerns the experience of a massage parlor worker striving for faith and substance in the face of her apparent contradictions. Kieu is one of those stylish indie films with deep inner dialogues, flashbacks, poetry breaks, deafening silences and food-prep scenes that make you hungry.
American Fusion (Sun, 9:15pm, Camera 12). The cross-cultural comedy by which others shall be judged. Yvonne is 49 years old and "waiting for her life to begin." She navigates work and family, brought up on advice like "If I hit you, it means I love you" and "Never take what a Chinese says at face value." When a handsome dentist played by Esai Morales enters her force field, she must battle with her crazy family and her libido. As the title suggests, American Fusion has chemistry and wonderful scenes. Cameos by Fabio and Pat Morita (in one of his last roles) keep viewers wondering what comes next. (Camera 12, 288 S. Second St, San Jose, 408.998.3300, Fri-Sun, various times; $10-$15) (TI)
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(R; 95 min.) Sean Penn stars as "Samuel Bicke," a would-be assassin in a story based on the real-life Samuel Byck. Bicke is played by Penn in the actor's patented insignificant-shrimp mode, with a sad little mustache, moony eyes and a wardrobe containing few natural fibers. Bicke's 1974 is spent working for a physically massive businessman, a fleshy store owner (Jack Thompson). Bicke is tormented by this sleazy boss, who chortles over Nixon's corruption. He admires the president as a great salesman who suckered the nation twice. Sam hopes to start a business of his own with his chum Bonny (Don Cheadle). He is also trying, hopelessly, to win his ex-wife Maria back (Naomi Watts). The title is rooted in the past, but the film is implicitly about the current dilemma, not 1974this explains the amount of time spent castigating the lying Nixon as the source of Bicke's problems. The movie is suggesting that "it's Bush's fault." (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) Top professional assassin Sylvester Stallone is being gunned for by younger and hungrier killer Antonio Banderas; meanwhile, the former has fallen for resourceful thief Julianne Moore. Director Richard Donner, of the Lethal Weapon triad, has gotten rid of exposition and back-story to allow for as much action as possible; you can tell he's been watching some of the imports from Hong Kong, which puts him at that much advantage over many American directors of the genre. But Assassins is truly dispirited hackwork, featuring a bored, even contemptuous-looking Stallone, who must be as tired of starring in action movies as Donner is of making them. Neither Banderas nor Moore can get a response out of Stallone; when you can't rise to actors like that, you're probably on the verge of a crisis. The film is completely unremarkable, except for Donner's puckish habit of putting political subliminals all through the movie: a "Pro-Choice" T-shirt on a big-chested waitress and several animal-rights comments, for instance. It was the only evidence of human involvement in the movie. (RvB)
(R; 109 min.) The original film on which this is based is John Carpenter's best overall movie, despite being itself basically a remake of Rio Bravo (he famously credited the editing of Precinct 13 to John T. Chance, which is the character John Wayne played in Hawks' film). I swear, there's something about Carpenter's original that nails exactly what a B-movie ought to bea cast with no recognizable names but a lot of talent, an airtight story, some creative twists and storytelling that evokes a visceral response (in this case, incredible suspense). I can't say it looks good for this remake featuring Ethan Hawke in a severely altered story about a police captain who has to unite cops and prisoners against a siege by gang members looking to bust their leader out of jail. But I can say, sadly, that considering how Carpenter's career has gone in the last decade-and-a-half, French director Jean-François Richet probably did a better job with this remake than Carpenter himself could at this point. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 124 min.) Shut out of the Wall Street old-boy network, lone-wolf financial whiz Laurel Ayres (Whoopi Goldberg) fabricates a white male partnera Howard Hughes of a player who won't take meetings. The Associate is billed as a screwball comedy, but it's clever rather than funny. Director Donald Petrie (Grumpy Old Men) calculates too much; the movie is too muscle-bound and half an hour too long to achieve true headlong screwiness, despite a good script, fine performances all around and a couple of well-placed cameos. Diane Wiest turns in a particularly deft turn as Goldberg's (not so) mousy assistant. Unfortunately, Wiest's closing scene delivers the final blow to what could have been a competent comedy: When Ayres' lounge-lizard ex-associate (Tim Daly) shows up to beg for a job, Wiest doesn't just turn him down; she digs the high heel in, then laughs in his face. Any screwball comedienne worth her Chanel No. 5 would have spurned him gracefullyand waited until he had slinked away before delivering a languid final line. (BC)
(R; 112 min.) Johnny Depp often portrays men not quite earthbound. So of course, when his character returns from a botched space shuttle mission, his wife (Charlize Theron) suspects that something otherworldly inhabits her husband. Viewers may notice that the plot of The Devil's Advocate inhabits The Astronaut's Wife: gorgeous and vulnerable good wife Charlize Theron and her good-old-boy husband (Depp) move from the South to dark, satanic New York City. He impregnates her ungently. Charlize has a pixie cut just like Mia Farrow's in Rosemary's Baby: Hollywood shorthand showing something's awry in her uterus. Her marriage and pregnancy have complications; the film is developmentally delayed. Vertiginous camera angles and icy-blue set designs don't offset a suspense-free plot and the sight of the most knot-headed and unintentionally laughable aliens since Ed Wood's last space opera. (DH)
(PG-13) Mira Sorvino is Amy, a workaholic architect who falls for a blind masseur, Virgil (Val Kilmer), she meets during a weekend getaway. Despite their fledglingif passionaterelationship, Virgil allows Amy to whisk him away from his quaint Adirondack hometown to New York City for an operation that gives Virgil his vision for pretty much the first time in his life, but with generally disastrous results. Although Virgil discovers the beauty of the visual world, which sighted people tend to take for granted, he is violently disoriented by his transition to being a sighted person and has to rely on the surprisingly impatient Amy for support. Kilmer's performance is likable and convincing, and he and Sorvino have some winning moments of chemistry, but the script always cuts them short, retreating into formulaic romantic fare. That "seeing" isn't necessarily visual and that sighted people can be blind to the world around them are compelling ideas, but At First Sight lectures and scolds on these points rather than exploring them further, which really raises the question: If there are so many wonderful things out there to see and experience, why waste your time with this mediocre movie? (HZ)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Thanks to krunk, Atlanta is presented as the same kind of teen wonderland that California was in the Beach Party movies. Times have changed, and there are a few pit bulls added to the mix, but the dynamic is the same: a group of mixed-class (if all black) teens enjoying their vacation at the roller rink, swimming pool and golf course, with various jobs to keep it going. ATL is actually very summery; music-video vet Chris Robinson is most engaged by the roller derbies that mark every Sunday night. Unfortunately, the two main actors are the least interesting characters: Lauren London as a girl who calls herself "New New" and the narrator, musician T. I., who is as out of it and semiembarassed as Elvis was in his last movies. Tear-stained memoirist Antwone Fisher has some kind of a hand in writing this. (Richard von Busack)
(PG; 110 min.) Kirsten Sheridan, who helped write her father Jim Sheridan's overcooked In America, directs this awful drama, so soggy that her previous work looks positively austere. Freddie Highmore plays the title character, an orphan looking for his musician parents (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers). He turns out to be a prodigy and tries to "summon" them with his music. August's journey relies less on talent than on pure, stupid coincidence, accompanied by nervous camerawork and a near-constant barrage of middlebrow music. Robin Williams is at his worst as an exploiter of talented children, and even Terrence Howard seems lost. More appalling is the movie's slapdash treatment of black musicians, seen as inferior to—and grateful for—the little white whiz kid. (JMA)
(PG-13; 88 min.) Mike Myers plays Austin Powers, agent of MOD (the Ministry of Defense), a character defined by a lace cravat, a blue crushed-velvet flared-leg suit and a habit of breaking out into fevered dance steps at the least provocation. Myers is intent on bringing back the milieu of the really peculiar spy movies of the late '60s: Casino Royale, Modesty Blaise, the Matt Helm quartet, and here they are: the single entendres, the Geritol drinker's idea of psychedelic patter ("It's my happening, and it freaks me out, bay-bee!") and the bald, scarred, world-dominating, kitty-petting villain, Dr. Evil (also Myers). Certainly Austin Powers is in better condition than any other Myers movie. Still, the film is thinly plotted even by comparisonespecially by comparisonwith the Bond-era spy films. (RvB)
(PG-13; 104 min.) Will (Richard Gere), an aging womanizer, gets redeemed by the love of Charlotte (Winona Ryder), a good woman half his age (and then some), but Will faces a sort of karmic payment for his past crimes against females: this pretty young thing who "Loves Him for Who He Is" is languishing with a terminal heart condition. Joan Chen directed this romantic drama, which, on a par with Will, has appeal only in appearance. Chen infuses the film with a lovely, eerie luminescence, making it glow with bright autumn leaves and pale winter light that looks enchanting to sweltering audiences seeing it in August. Still, it's somewhat surprising that Autumn in New York was directed by a woman because the smarmy, wily Will always has the upper hand, in spite of a handful of protestations from Charlotte that she knows what's what between them. This imbalance seems mostly due to the creepy parental overtones in the relationship: she's lost both of her parents and he's estranged from a long-lost daughter; perhaps Will might be better off taking Charlotte for trips to the zoo and the ice cream parlor than to his bed. But no matter, the heart knows no age limits, and, as we learn when Will inevitably strays, apparently no bounds of forgiveness either. Charlotte's frail beauty and fleeting life are set up to make Autumn in New York glamorously tragicshe swoons often, and even the arrival of a heart surgeon by helicopter is heralded by angelic choral musicbut the film's conclusion offers a message for women that's just plain tragic. Love may be able to transform the worst scoundrel, but only with the help of a Good Woman, of courseCharlotte even admits as much, declaring to Will that "I've saved you for other women." After all, what do intelligent, free-spirited young women actually have to live for but the chance to save the right man? (HZ)
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(PG-13; 91 min.) The film version of The Avengers is the mangled result of what's said to be a fine script. The plot is much like a long episode of the show. The Avengers are called out to battle a weather-controlling extortionist named Sir August de Wynter, played by Sean Connery. Ralph Fiennes makes a clenched John Steed. Obviously, Uma Thurman's Peel is a glad sight in that cat suit, but her malaise-coated archness doesn't melt; she's giving an imitation of Diana Rigg's suavity. In one of the few memorable scenes, Steed rescues Peel, bruised and wet-haired from a snowdrift. The lonely image sums up the mood of the film. The insultingly bad English gentry jokes, the cheap quips and even the climactic fight scenesall can't warm the chill out of the theater. (RvB)
(1937) Easy-living Manhattanites (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) go their separate ways because of trifling jealousy and a general tendency to lose track of one another. Unfortunately, mutual custody of "Mr. Smith," the dog (and what a dog! Asta was to comedy what Lassie was to tragedy), forces the couple to keep re-encountering one another before the divorce decree is final. The title refers to the truth the couple can't face: they're perfect for one another. Still, this one's undertone is a reminder of what a war of nerves and wills a marriage can be. Director Leo McCarey fills up the time before reconciliation with slapstick and sophisticated comedy. It's not as perfect as Preston Sturgesto quote a running gag here, McCarey doesn't have a continental mind. And the very best comedies challenge the common prejudices instead of reaffirming them. But here's the kind of essentially cozy, cleverly gaffed writing that inspires the best sitcoms, and the bits the actors have are often champion. Dunne, posing as Grant's sister, brings a load of Pittsburg into a chilly room that's strictly Bar Harbor. As the world's dullest millionaire, the immortal Ralph Bellamy's ersatz Big Sky platitudes and half-bright grin weirdly recall Ronald Reagan in his prime. Best of all, we have Grant's voice full of false enthusiasm: "So, you're going to live in Oklahoma!" (RvB)