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(R; 115 min.) Mario Van Peebles plays his dad Melvin eerily well in this story of how Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song started a Black film revolution. Anyone who loves independent film should see Badasssss!, not just to get some context for Melvin's importance and the history of blaxploitation, but also because this is one of the best movies ever for showing how fucked up it can be trying to actually get a groundbreaking film made. The apparently real-life freaky characters (as played to fully bizarre effect by David Alan Grier, Adam West and others) that Mario as Melvin had to surround himself with to get the movie financed made and playing in an actual theater are the highlight. (SP)
(R; 142 min.) Writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu team up once again for a portrait of society's social ills, this one even longer and less enjoyable than Amores Perros or 21 Grams. Skillfully made, but terribly overbearing, the film crosses four stories. The first three loosely interweave miscommunication and violence among three cultures: Moroccan shepherds, Americans on vacation (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) and Mexicans working in Southern California. The fourth tale, about a Japanese businessman father (Koji Yakusho) and his deaf daughter, connects more tenuously, and only seems to be there to boost the film's supposed social significance. The Academy will probably find something profound in this beautiful-looking mishmash, but the profundity exists only in the intent, not in the execution. Gael García Bernal co-stars. (JMA)
(PG; 97 min.) With its positive themes, 1995's charming Babethe story of a good-natured pig who realizes his unorthodox aspirations through cooperation with his fellow animalsseemed like the perfect children's movie. That's why it is all the more disappointing that Babe: Pig in the City, the sequel to Babe, doesn't have a shred of the original's intelligencelet alone even a hint of its heartand uses brutal tactics to reinforce the first Babe's worthy message of decrying cruelty to animals. The sequel's fairy-tale-styled sets recall the original's whimsy, but this tale of the charismatic pig Babe coming to the big city in an effort to raise money to save the Hoggett farm is a lesson in life's dark side too grim for most kids. With scenes that include a dog nearly being simultaneously hanged and drowned, and a vicious housecleaning by bloodthirsty animal control officers, Babe: Pig in the City would prove difficult to sit through for most people who care anything for animals, not to mention the small children who will want the myriad Babe toys and other tie-in products. And the film is every bit as coldblooded as its marketing strategy; unfortunately, in its fervor to advance a strong pro-animal message, the film may alienate the tots it was trying to reach with a misguided approach to animal issues that's Machiavellian at best and utterly ineffective at worst. (HZ)
(R; 122 min.) John Singleton wrote and directed this drama about a 20-year-old guy (Tyrese) who struggles with his responsibilities as the father of two children by different women. Ving Rhames also stars.
(PG; 94 min.) This comedy is as fun as a screaming toddler with a full diaper, and twice as aromatic, but the stench that permeates Baby Geniuses can only come from the depressing decay of Kathleen Turner's and Christopher Lloyd's careers. Turner and Lloyd are completely squandered as a pair of scheming scientists who try to exploit for diabolical corporate ends their child development research findingsthat all babies hold the secrets to the universe until they turn 2 years old, at which point they lose their omniscience and become regular dumb humans, as all adults are. Maybe this "clueless grown-up" theory is simply a means of explaining away the movie's astoundingly terrible script, which is rife with dialogue so inane it makes you wish for more potty jokes, and pilfers every movie catch-phrase in recent memory, all apparently to showcase Baby Geniuses' sole gimmick: computer animating its cute little toddler stars so that they actually give voice to the wisecracks they were merely thinking in the Look Who's Talking franchise. John Travolta's career bounced back from that low point; hopefully Turner's and Lloyd's will recover from this one. (HZ)
(PG; 85 minutes) The Baby-Sitter's Club is a bad comedy laced with a few flimsy moral lessons. If this film wasn't trying so hard to be profound, it might be a little easier to accept the complete absence of a plot. The story's main attempt at contenta side plot about one girl's relationship to her fatherends up having no point and no resolution. Unlikely scenarios are rationalized with a few narrated sentences, and we are left with a collection of questionable events, some unconvincing characters and a few minor violations of federal law. (BB)
(PG-13; 101 min.) An irritable old curmudgeon of a grandfather (Peter Ustinov) has secretly built up his fortune to $100 million dollars. Upon his death, he leaves his entire estate to his only grandson, Jimmie Shannon (Chris O'Donnell) with the proviso that he be married by 6:05pm on his 30th birthday, which, as luck would have it, is the day after the funeral. Though a bachelor at heart, Shannon has already tried twice to ask his long-term girlfriend, Anne (Renée Zellweger), to marry him, but he flubbed so badly that she refused both times. To collect his inheritance, Shannon sets off to find a bride who will accept the long list of terms and conditions his grandfather has set. His frantic search through his past girlfriends (played by Brooke Shields, Jennifer Esposito, Mariah Carey and others) turns into soul-searching self-discovery as he realizes he's finally ready to tie the dreaded knot (especially with this new $100 million incentive) and Anne is the only girl for him. Inspired by the Buster Keaton classic Seven Chances, the movie culminates with thousands of angry women in bridal gowns chasing one panicked groom-to-be through the streets of San Francisco. Funny how the image of thousands of women chasing a groom seems desperate, while thousands of men chasing a bride would seem romantic. Definitely targeted at an audience that wholeheartedly appreciates the value and unrestricted freedom of the single life, it paints a grim ball-and-chain picture of married life, but if you can get past the battle-of-the-sexes premise, the film still has its charm. (SQ)
(1946) A "bobby-soxer" was a post-World War II teenager who wore short white socks with her shoes instead of the traditional stockings. Shirley Temple, all grown up, plays a 17-year-old enamored of an older man, who is sentenced by a judge (Myrna Loy)People's Court-wiseto escort the teenager around. A hit, though it certainly sounds deadly, what with Cary Grant forced to act like a rah-rah teen by court order. Another contraindication is the scriptwriter, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that year: Sidney Sheldon, later known for such bonbons as The Other Side of Midnight, Rage of Angels, Bloodlines, etc. (RvB)
(Both 1947) Late-period Shirley Temple fare. In The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Temple has a crush on a suave older man (Cary Grant). BILLED WITH That Hagen Girl, in which Temple plays an orphan supposed by a small town to be the illegitimate child of a wealthy family. (RvB)
(R; 87 min.) Backstage is a documentary about a concert tour with Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man and Redman, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, DJ Clue, Amil, and Ja Rule. Which concert tour? I think it's the "Hard Knock Life" tour, noteworthy because it got so many publicly feuding rappers to join forces, but this is guesswork since director Chris Fiore doesn't provide any information for the uninitiated. (Even Dimension films, son of Miramax, son of Disney, which is selling this film, doesn't seem to know at its website when this tour was or what it was called.) If there'd been violence during this tour, it might have ended the possibility for more touring by rap groups, under suspicion of fomenting violence. What this movie stresses is that even though the groups may be ruthlessly focused on "riches and bitches" on stage, they're also businessmen who often as not have families to support. The prep-school educated Damon Dash, founder of his own record company, Roc-a-Fella, recognizes that hip-hop is, as he says, "a sweet hustle but a fucked-up hustle." I'll restate that: to some of these performers, then, hip-hop is a hustlea quick buck to be made, not a lifetime investment in art. Only occasionally does something sincere and heartfelt break out of the posing, woman-hating and self-promotion. One example: when DMX says of his own reportage of violence in his America: "What I see brings tears to my eyes/and what I holla at a nigga brings ears to my cries." Chalk up the failure of this movie to one inexperienced and (understandably) intimidated director. Fiore presumes to laugh at the groupies and fans while being played just like they are, when he and his team try to interview surly, inarticulate and sometimes stoned performers. P.S. Steve Harvey was right. (RvB)
(1985) Michael J. Fox and a frizzy-haired scientist (Christopher Lloyd) ride the red gull-winged DeLorean into the past to fix a troubled family's destiny. In the 1950s, the parents are played by the "rawther" hot Lea Thompson and the exceedingly peculiar Crispin Glover. Contemporary critics decried this movie's Reaganautic subtext. It's all there. Director Robert Zemeckis let his retrograde thing hang out later in Forrest Gump. The scene of Fox teaching the black kids how to play rock & roll is, as critic Michael Weldon observed, one of the most irritating movie moments of the decade. This observation means a lot, since (bearing in mind that not much survives of cinema 1900-1910) the 1980s were roundly the worst decade for cinema of the last century. In this movie's defense, it had charm, impressive effects and Lloyd. You can hate Reagan and still remember it fondly. (Plays Oct 15 at midnight at Camera 7 in Campbell and Oct 16 at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.) (RvB)
(1952) "The devil always shows up when he's in trouble," a fellow file-room temp-slave once told me. Kirk Douglas stars as an untrustworthy movie mogul, Jonathan Shields, who, facing ruin, tries to round up three of his former protégés for a comeback project. In flashback, they remember previous encounters with him. "He [Douglas] required very little directing, for he grasped the Jonathan Shields character immediately. We'd both met many such people during our years in Hollywood," said director Vincente Minnelli. Shield's reluctant ex-employees include Lana Turner as a troubled female star based on Diane Barrymore (the voice of her Shakespearean father is an uncredited Louis Calhern), Walter Pidgeon, and Dick Powell as a writer married to a high-flown Southern lady (Gloria Grahame, who steals the show). (RvB)
(Both 1952) Kirk Douglas stars as an untrustworthy movie mogul, Jonathan Shields, who, facing ruin, tries to round up three of his previously burned protégés for a comeback project. "He [Douglas] required very little directing, for he grasped the Jonathan Shields character immediately. We'd both met many such people during our years in Hollywood," said director Vincente Minnelli. Shield's reluctant ex-employees include Lana Turner as a female star based on Diana Barrymore (the voice of her Shakespearean father is an uncredited Louis Calhern), Walter Pidgeon and Dick Powell as a writer married to a high-flown Southern lady (Gloria Grahame, who steals the show). BILLED WITH Lust for Life. Under Minnelli's direction, Douglas gives his most memorable role, as Van Gogh (to Anthony Quinn's Gauguin). There's madness in Douglas that harmonizes with Van Gogh's own passions, and the visuals are a pinnacle of 1950s cinema. (RvB)
(R; 147 min.) Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are reteamed from the 1995 hit, as Miami vice cops under the supervision of a raging chief (Joe Pantoliano, never worse). In this battering, brutal film, the sadistic cops of film noirrageballs like Robert Ryanare revised as wacky heroes who can wreck people's homes and belongings because they're the stars and they're cuteand the people whose lives they assault are from places like Haiti and Cuba, countries that don't count. It's not a movie, in short, that you'd want to go see to take your mind off Iraqunless, of course, you like to fantasize about the brutes being exterminated. Michael Bay's disgusting sequel has a certain technical flair, as in a shootout where the camera whirls between two sides of a wall to watch both the defenders and the assaulting cops. Seeing this immediately after Pirates of the Caribbean, it was hard not to wish that Gore Verbinski had a little of Bay's slick technical finesse in the seagoing fight scenes. That said, Bay's soulless, vicious and drastically unfunny aesthetic may seem like the wave of the future for those who despair for the future of the American movie. There's hope. Since Bay's skills are merely technical, someone younger and more proficientand with a warmer feeling for human beingswill be along shortly to bump him off the job. (RvB)
(PG-13; 112 min.) The CIA, acting with more astuteness in fiction than it demonstrates in real life, enlists a con man (Chris Rock) to replace his missing twin brother/secret agent. Also stars Anthony Hopkins.
Full text review.
(Unrated; 109 min.) Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's latest may be his most serious and commanding venture to date. An erotic tango of murder and intrigue, Bad Education is a love letter to film noir, with a nod to Hitchcock's Vertigo, especially that film's plunge into obsessive love and multipleand mistakenidentity. While at Catholic boarding school, 11-year-old Ignacio and Enrique fall in love. When the headmaster, Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez-Cacho), who is sexually abusing Ignacio, discovers the boys together, he expels the friend in a fit of jealousy. Flash-forward 16 years: Ignacio (Gael García Bernal), an out-of-work actor calling himself Ángel, turns up at the production office of Enrique (Fele Martínez), now a renowned filmmaker. Proffering a screenplay about their childhood experiences and Ignacio's fatehe became a drag queen and transsexualIgnacio hopes the script will provide the breakthrough role to rocket him to stardom. Meanwhile, Manolo, who shed his name and collar but not his hypocrisy, also shows up; a tangled web of sex, blackmail and murder ensues. Almodóvar, who never loses control of the intricate plot, manages to weave in a movie-within-a-movie conceit and take a few shots at the film industry while he's at it. (SW)
(R; 88 min.) The film's source is David Gilman's noted play, Ghost in the Machine, which uses not just the scheme but also the theme of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The festivities depicted in a round of academic partying are variations on Martha's "Hump the Hostess" and "Get the Guests." As in Woolf, the hosts, husband Wes (David Strathairn) and wife Nancy (Bonnie Bedelia), are middle-aged academics, childless and hating it. Their guests for the weekend are Matt (Saul Rubinek), an old lover of Nancy's, and his stunning young date, Kim (Caroleen Feeney). Kim, who is studying game theory, represents the kind of callous scientific mentality that all liberal-arts majors loathe. The play is lighter than Woolf. What's at stake isn't the end of humanitybut the end of the humanities department. This story of betrayal, lies and double-talk is just a cozy entertainment, sometimes lacking in sufficient acridness. (RvB)
(R; 81 min.) While on assignment as a photojournalist in Nepal, kindly Uncle Ted (Michael Pare, Eddie and the Cruisers) is bitten by a mysterious beast (a mountain goat, perhaps?) and after discovering that he suffers from man-by-day-vicious-werewolf-by-night syndrome, returns home to the Pacific Northwest, where he inadvertently terrorizes his sister, a no-nonsense lawyer (Mariel Hemingway, who frowns thoughtfully in each scene) and her young son (Mason Gamble). For Pare's alter-ego, fur, teeth and slobber were combined to make an animatronic varmint that is ugly enough to scare but lacks any real menace because it jerks and shudders slightly with each mechanical snarl. The unintentionally comic highlight comes when Pare (in human form) and Thor, the family dogthe only one to figure out Uncle Ted's big, bad secret square off in a staring contest and the monster-man warns his canine adversary that "his time will come." (HZ)
(1987) Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, the upcoming Lord of the Rings trilogy) directed this low-budget comedy about four not-too-bright members of the New Zealand National Air and Space Defence League who must save humanity from aliens planning to make humans part of the menu at their intergalactic fast-food chain.
(R; 119 min.) From a two-hour channel surf of WB-style urban comedy (a sometimes hilarious Jamie Foxx as a knuckle-headed Brooklyn thief) to MTV NIN video tribute (director Antoine Fuqua employs quick cuts, odd camera angles, and slow-motion carnage) to plodding USA Network policier ( a tag-team trio of scriptwriters dumb-down plot lines from Conspiracy Theory and 48 Hours) and back, Bait never settles into any type of movie other than scrambled. As in Any Given Sunday, Foxx displays moments of star magnetism in an overlong movie. Fuqua can't choose between the funny, if trite, urban riffs, conspiracy theorizing, and pitting a tough cop (David Morse) against a whispering psychotic genius (Malkovich manqué Doug Hutchison), so he gives us 40 long minutes of each. He should've fished or cut Bait. (DH)
Full text review.
(R; 111 min.) In the middle of the Reagan years, a terminally ill father, Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis), is planning his daughter's future. He lives alone with 16-year-old Rose (Camilla Belle) on an abandoned commune. The island is under pressure by a developer, but Jack's main problem is Rose. As she grows, her adoration is turning from filial to carnal. In a coldly businesslike move, Jack ships in his mistress, Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and her children: a shrewd hulking boy, Rodney (Ryan McDonald), who is likely gay, and a feral troublemaker (Paul Dano). The characters play out the falling apart of 1960s dreams, probing how the search for personal freedom conflicts with the importance of the group. The most hard to predict of all of the five is the angry, intruded-upon Rose. As Rodney says, she is completely innocentin a word, dangerous. Day-Lewis (director Rebecca Miller's husband) is fascinatingly arrogant, with his Scots accent and tribal tattoos; the performance is full of both Olivier-like felineness and cruel force. The actor gives strength and depth to this allegorical approach to the problem of the unsettling of America. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) Secret agents Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu square off in the hunt for a secret weapon.
(1998/1996) Donnie Yen directs and stars in Ballistic Kiss, a local premiere about a tenderhearted hit man who has a crush on a female cop (Annie Wu). BILLED WITH Dr. Wai and the Scripture Without Words. Jet Li stars in a Walter Mitty-like adventure about a blocked writer and the two-fisted adventure hero, Dr. Wai, he's created. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Similar to Blades of Glory, but not as funny, this stagnant, uninspired comedy lazily references Enter the Dragon and dozens of other sports and action movies, while lead actor Dan Fogler borrows his shtick from Sam Kinison and Jack Black. A once-promising ping-pong contender, Randy Daytona (Fogler), infiltrates a high-stakes tournament in the hopes of bringing down its evil host, Feng (Christopher Walken). Director and co-writer Robert Ben Garant (Reno 911) can't deliver a single joke without forecasting it. George Lopez as an FBI agent and James Hong as the blind master essentially repeat their own one-note gags throughout, while Maggie Q plays a poorly written love interest. Only Walken manages to depart from the monotony with his now-trademark loopy line deliveries. (JMA)
(G; 74 min.) Cute but predictable, Balto is, at the very least, entertaining and well made. Based on a true story (though I suspect not much more is true but the name of the dog and the disease), Balto follows the cartoon adventures of a half-wolf who saves an Alaskan town from an outbreak of diphtheria. The story is unwaveringly formulaic: rugged, handsome hero with goofy-yet-wise sidekick meets sexy, ultrafeminine potential girlfriend and self-absorbed villain and succeeds in solving all of his own problems (plus the rest of the town's) by the end of the film. The end product would go quite nicely with pancakes, but since small children aren't usually bothered by movie syrup and follow-the-recipe scriptwriting, it's easy to overlook moments that would be annoying in most any other film. Balto has enough action to sustain a reasonably high level of tension most of the way, and although the moral is brazenly in-your-face, it's one that most children would probably benefit from. (BB)
Full text review.
(Unrated; 110 min.) Dai Sijie's first novel was a bestseller in 2003. Dai has since adapted Balzac for the big screen. Based on his own experiences, the film takes place during Mao's Cultural Revolution. Two students, Ma (Ye Liu) and Luo (Kun Chen), are put in a re-education camp. Then two good things happen: one involves art and the other, of course, a girl. The girl is the village tailor's daughter, known as the Little Seamstress (Xun Zhou). The boys set out to introduce their new friend to the glories of French writers. She becomes entranced, falls in love and moves beyond, the boys just as shocked as she at her eventualand sophisticatedtransformation. Balzac is a slight film about the power of plot and the abject nakedness of human life without art. The end piece, set some 25 years after the main plot, is jarring and betrays Dai's lack of experience as a filmmaker, but the journey to that precipice is gentle and joyful. (GG)
A very tough Eastern, as opposed to a Western, Bandit Queen is set in North India, in desert canyon country that any cowboy-movie junkie could think of as a subcontinent version of Monument Valley. The film is derived from the true story of Phoolan Devi, who in the early 1980s ran a gang of bandits that massacred 24 people on St. Valentine's Day, 1981. Bandit Queen boasts exotic locations and Seema Biswas' convincing performance as Devi, but loses power right after the climactic bloodletting; what follows is underpowered. (RvB)
(PG-13; 123 min.) Scriptwriter Harley Peyton's previous work The Whole Nine Yards took the funny-criminal genre to a level of facetiousness it hadn't seen since the 1960s, back when scriptwriters and directors alike used to get stoned to influence themselves. Bandits surpasses them all for abject vapidness. The Sleepover Bandits are aggro Joe (Bruce Willis) and the sensitive hypochondriac Terry (Billy Bob Thornton), nonviolent bank robbers on their way to "Paradiso del Mar" in Mexico. Director Barry Levinson seems to aim for the improvised qualities of the French New Wave, but this stale, winking script doesn't have any freshness to it. For a movie that contains a joke about how Kate and Terry can't stand black-and-white movies, Bandits is strangely awash with devices from a legion of old films: It Happened One Night, Miracle of Morgan Creek, Band of Outsiders and Jules and Jim. There are some pleasantly familiar locations in Marin and Sonoma County, including the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa and a Clover Milk truck in an accident scene; and there are occasional graceful touches by lovely Cate Blanchett as a messed-up housewife who decides to accompany the two heroes on a long caper. But Bandits demonstrates not just a movie, but an entire type of movie to be on its last legs. (RvB)
(1953) The Band Wagon addresses Astaire's age and declining career wittily instead of self-pityingly. As a movie star on the decline, Astaire goes to New York to star in a revue, there to be consoled by fellow pessimist Oscar Levant. The number best remembered is the parody of Mickey Spillane, danced with Cyd Charisseanother clever way Astaire lampooned changing times. The lesson Astaire teaches: art made for a "generation"and hucksters love the biblical sound of that wordwon't last till the next generation. Artfor example, an Astaire danceis either timeless it's just more future trivia. (RvB)
(1953/1952) Wish you could see another movie as good as Singin' in the Rain? You can't, but The Band Wagon, directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by Betty Green and Adolph Comden, is the next best thing. The first image is of Fred Astaire's top hat and cane about to be put under glass in a museum, while Astaire (playing Astaire, pretty much) prepares to be put out to pasture. He leaves Hollywood and returns to 42nd Street, finding what once was a sea of black coats and white ties is now a riot of color: Times Square is in the process of becoming what it was going to be when Travis Bickle found it. Thanks to the help of a young actress (Nanette Fabray), this tuxedoed, genteel figure of the Art Deco 1930s finds harmony with the widescreen brassiness of the 1950s. The highlight is the show-stopping Mike Hammer-themed "Girl Hunt" number, in which Astaire has his best duet with long-legged Cyd Charisse. It's a late-period performance in which a little of the weariness showsas it does in Stewart and Bogart toward the end. Despite the signs of age, Astaire demonstrates his unique, timeless grace that defies the haste of life. BILLED WITH The Bad and the Beautiful. An old proverb: "The devil always shows up when he's in trouble." Kirk Douglas stars as untrustworthy movie mogul Jonathan Shields. Facing ruin, he tries to round up three of his former protégés for a comeback project. In flashback, they remember previous encounters with him. "Shield's reluctant ex-employees include Lana Turner as a troubled female star based on Diane Barrymore (the voice of her Shakespearean father is an uncredited Louis Calhern), Walter Pidgeon and Dick Powell as a writer married to a high-flown Southern lady (Gloria Grahame, who steals the show). (RvB)
(1953/1943) Wish you could see another movie as good as Singin' in the Rain? You can't, but The Band Wagon, directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by Betty Green and Adolph Comden, is the next best thing. It's got the old 1930s backstage musical structure, but it's more mature. The first image is of Fred Astaire's top hat and cane about to be put under glass in a museum while Astaire (playing Astaire, pretty much) himself is readied to be put out to pasture. He leaves Hollywood and returns to 42nd Street, finding what once was a sea of black coats and white ties is now a bustling riot of color. He goes to work for an avant-garde director modeled on Orson Welles, played by British song and dance man Jack Buchanan. Robust moments ensue, particularly in the Mike Hammer-themed "Girl Hunt" number, in which Astaire has his best duets with long-legged Cyd Charisse. The anthem "That's Entertainment" celebrates the high and low ends of performing art, which Astaire summed up with a natural grace that's still unequaled 50 years after his prime. BILLED WITH Cabin in the Sky. It's a Faust story in which Petunia the good (Ethel Waters, very much the stereotypical mammy) vies against a bad girl (Lena Horne) for the soul of Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson). In delirium, Joe veers between a segregated heaven and hell. As always, hell is more interesting, having Louis Armstrong as an idea-imp and Lucifer Jr. played by the rumbling baritone Rex Ingram. Though it was a film suspected of racism, Cabin in the Sky reveals its anti-racist sympathies in a few minutes of the astonishing John W. Sublett as the gambler Domino. Sublett sings the Ford Dabney/Lew Brown tune "Shine," a song that sums up the African American tradition of transforming a barb into an ornament. (RvB)
(1953/1949) Wish you could see another movie as good as Singin' in the Rain? You can't, but The Band Wagon, directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by Betty Green and Adolph Comden, is the next best thing. The first image is of Fred Astaire's top hat and cane about to be put under glass in a museum, while Astaire (playing Astaire, pretty much) prepares to be put out to pasture. He leaves Hollywood and returns to 42nd Street, finding what once was a sea of black coats and white ties is now a riot of color: Times Square is in the process of becoming what it was going to be when Travis Bickle found it. Thanks to the help of a young actress (Nanette Fabray), this tuxedoed, genteel figure of the Art Deco 1930s finds harmony with the widescreen brassiness of the 1950s. The highlight is the show-stopping Mike Hammer-themed "Girl Hunt" number, in which Astaire has his best duet with long-legged Cyd Charisse. It's a late-period performance in which a little of the weariness showsas it does in Stewart and Bogart toward the end. Despite the signs of age, Astaire demonstrates his unique, timeless grace that defies the haste of life. BILLED WITH Meet Me in St. Louis. Minnelli's cherished musical about the 1903 World's Fair in St. Louis and a family's awakening to the new century is nostalgia, but it's nostalgia with shadows, emblematic of the bleak year in which it was made (the darkness is overheard in its hit, the diminuendo wartime Christmas carol "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). The film offers a lot: not just the pleasantness of watching unruffled lives but a Halloween sequence that's a highlight of 1940s film. Minnelli claimed he was trying to capture a child's "wistful longing for horror." Includes Judy Garland's best performance and the irresistible Margaret O'Brien as the family's little sister. (RvB)
(Unrated; 107 min.) This satirical look at the college music scene chronicles the rise of the fictional Raleigh, N.C., Circus Monkey, four slackers who are as neurotic as they are musically talented. Its self-described "alterna-pop"all the songs are written about the love of the lead singer's lifecatches the attention of road audiences and a local record company, both of whom would usually rather rock to the tune of talentless heavy metal bands. Bandwagon follows the band members' personal conflicts, the music industry's sleazy workings and the efforts of the Monkey boys to stay true to their artistic vision when the powers that be only like 'em because they fit the suit. Although sometimes trite, Bandwagon redeems itself with humor, endearing characters and some very clever lines. (KR)
Highlights: Anomaly (2006), a 16-minute feature on extreme athletes; Aseimut, a record of Olivier Higgins and Melanie Carrier's 3,000-kilometer bike journey from Mongolia to Calcutta; Conversing With Aotearoa/New Zealand, an animated documentary about the land and its people; Mountains Without Barriers, about an ascent up an Italian rock tower by three specially abled climbers (two who are blind, one who is legless); an excerpt from the show The Top 20 Classic Boulder Problems of North America; and Unchained: New World Disorder VI, about free-ride mountain bikers. (Plays Mar 15 at 7pm in Los Altos at the Eagle Theater at Los Altos High School; doors open 6:30pm. Tickets $13 REI members, $16 general; tickets must be purchased in advance at REI outlets.) (RvB)
(R; 97 min.) Goldie Hawn's delightfully sleazy star turn as an aging groupie trying to keep what's left of her teased blonde head stuck back in the '60s is at once a silicone and botox restoration of the free-spirited roles she played 30 years ago and an epilogue to her daughter's performance as a saintly fellatrix in Almost Famous. She's as cute and corroded as a rusted VW bug with a Day-Glo flower on its hood. Susan Sarandon is nearly as good as her former "Banger Sister," now living primly in Phoenix. The plot is little more than an elongated sitcom, but it's a great excuse to see these foxy Earth mamas (almost grandmas) strut their stuff. (DH)
(Unrated; 120 min.) Bang Rajan tells the story of 18th-century Ayutthaya villagers attempting to stave off two separate hordes of Burmese invaders. It's a ferociously unfair battle, but the Ayutthaya underdogsall cut muscles and bad teethsacrifice their lives for pride, country and warrior status. The epic showdown during the finale runs like Braveheart without the digital shortcuts. It also barely contains any dialogue, allowing director Tanit Jitnukul to reveal, through acting and facial expressions, the casualties of war. Wipe away the blood and guts and savor the grandeur of this important moment in Thai history. (TI)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Despite B.A.P.S.' constant censure of greed, most everyone onscreen is protesting a little too much. Nothing but dollar signs could explain why so many otherwise talented performers would mistake this stuff for comedy. B.A.P.S. channels a parade of hideous stereotypesslow-witted African Americans, gold-digging women and moreinto a kind of black Beverly Hillbillies, in which two well-meaning bumpkins (Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle) get suckered into a scheme to dupe a dying millionaire (Martin Landau). From Martin Landau mugging it up in gold lamé to acclaimed British actor Ian Richardson (Brazil) mincing around as the frosty yet tender-hearted English butler to Berry getting squirted in the face by a bidet, it's hard not to feel a twinge of hope that these actors' self-imposed humiliation was lucrativethat way, at least somebody will have gotten something out of this mess. (HZ)
A millenarian state-of-the-world report, Baraka is a documentary without words, shot in gorgeous 70mm. Filmed in 17 countries, Baraka as did Godfrey Reggio's similar 1983 Koyaanisqatsi) shows the infernal devastation humanity has wreaked on the planet. Director Ron Fricke doesn't intend a nose-rubbing; he does find redemption for the viciousness and stink of humanity in the search for the divine. Baraka is a great technical achievement, but I still prefer Koyaanisqatsi for the unforgettable Philip Glass soundtrack and for its lack of religious determinism. (RvB)
(PG; 94 min.) Majid Majidi, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film for the Iranian feature Children of Heaven, directs this story of unlucky love in modern-day Tehran. Seventeen-year-old Lateef (Hossein Abedini) is a tea server at a construction site where many illegal Afghan refugees work. When he's unwillingly promoted to heavier labor, he discovers that one of the workers is actually a female refugee named Baran (Zahra Bahrami) disguised as a male. The budding romance between them is broken up by labor inspectors, and Lateef goes on a journey to the heart of the Afghan expatriate community to find her. (RvB)
(PG-13; 102 min.) The first movie surprised the hell out of everyone by making back five times its budget, so now the Cube and crew are back for more snipping. And since Anthony Anderson went to jail at the end of the first one, saving us from a second film's worth of J.D., this one stands a chance of being even better. (The funniest thing I ever read about the first film was a message-board post called "this movie sucks" by somebody using the name "RadioheadForLife." Yeah, 12-year-old indie spazz, I really expect you to get this movie. Thanks for playing.) (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 99 min.) Without downloadable Pamela Anderson Lee pictures, Internet-usage statistics would plummet faster than the neck line on the Baywatch star's leather corset in her first feature-film role: comic-book mercenary Barb Wire. Anderson Lee's claims to fame are abundantly displayed in this live-action cartoonno surprise. What is unusual is that Barb Wire frames its explosive set pieces with a gender-reversed Casablanca plot. Barb is a cynical nightclub owner in a war-torn future who still carries a torch for a resistance fighter (Temuera Morrison of Once Were Warriors) who needs help sneaking his wife (Victoria Rowell as Paul Henreid) past a Nazi-like Col. Pryser (Steve Railsback is Conrad Veidt). Clint Howard, Ron's demented little brother and legendary cult-film star, reprises Peter Lorre; Zander Berkeley (Leaving Las Vegas, The Grifters, you name it) substitutes for Claude Rains; the ineffable Udo Kier, who has worked with Andy Warhol and Werner Fassbinder, plays Barb's loyal assistant (the Marcel Dalio role); and Val Kilmer wannabe Jack Noseworthy struggles with the difficult part of Barb's blind alcoholic brother (I think he's supposed to be Dooley Wilson's Sam, but the analogy starts to break down about here). It's at least as much fun as Play It Again, Sam, and the body count is much higher. (MSG)
(1967) The French expression "L'esprit d'escalier" means that little voice that tells you some witticism you could have used before you left the room, usually when you're on the staircase heading for the door. But as far as the 1967 film Barefoot in the Park was concerned, the real spirit of the show could be considered the staircase itself. The running gag concerns those elevatorless New York flats, with their steep staircases zooming up without apparent end, like some Expressionist nightmare. Neil Simon's particular inspiration was in using this staircase throughout this sweet little story of a pair of newlyweds (Jane Fonda and Robert Redford) who are attempting to live on love in a fourth-floor walkup. It was a huge hit, spun by the flacks for summer-of-love appeal ("Break the rules! Make love! Fall over laughing!" ordered the posters). Those who preferred more seasoned performers would be able to gaze softly at the aged but soulful Charles Boyer as a bachelor neighbor. No great shakes, but the location work made a big impression in its day: it features some of the same milieu in Breakfast at Tiffany's, New York when it was New York, before the advent of Trumpgranite illuminated by river light. What a view, even if you had to court cardiac arrest on the staircase for it. (RvB)
(G; 75 min.) Set in Merrivale, Steve Gomer's Barney's Great Adventure is pure saccharine and a shameless marketing ploy. It's the story of cynical young Cody's (Trevor Morgan) journey from Barney disbeliever to Barney believer. The trip starts when a wishing star falls from the sky in the form of a rainbow egg and ends when a dreammaker (a little koala-bear-looking creature every little kid will want) hatches. It's one thing for Barney to smile all the time, but the young girls in the film (Kyla Pratt and Diana Rice) must have rubbed Vaseline on their teeth to keep those smiles pasted on their faces. No one is that happy! The overly posed musical numbers are stiff and forced. Though the nasally purple dinosaur underestimates children's intelligence, they still adore him to the dismay of parents and Barney-bashers. One good thing for anyone obligated to take a youngster to the film is the mercifully short 75-minute running time. (SQ)
(R; 103 min.) Heavily plotted for a dim-bulb comedy, BASEketball does try to critique the decline of sports ethics, in the midst of the sub-adolescent gags. BASEketball itself is a driveway sport based on free-throw basket shooting, without the distracting athleticism otherwise required in basketball. Two Milwaukee-based inventors, Coop (Trey Parker) and Doug (Matt Stone), make it up in the back yard of a boring fratboy party, convincing the squares that "this is a game we picked up in the 'hood." Thanks to the intervention of a billionaire (a humiliating guest appearance by Ernest Borgnine) the two foolsand their tag-along chum Squeak (Dian Bachar)become nationally famous, corrupt millionaire athletes who soon see the error of their ways. As in There's Something About Mary, the whole thing is too damned long, but Parker and Stone are as every bit as funny here as they are on their cartoon show, South Park. Highlights: excerpts of a TV show so gross that it's a natural for the Fox network next season, and some heartless child-labor gags. (Newscaster: "Children work in these factories... youngsters not even old enough for prostitution.") (RvB)
(R; 95 min.) Cluttered, noisy, would-be mindbender about a Rashomon event in the Panama jungle. The crime is teased out by visiting DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) and a female M.P., Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen). They interrogate the only two survivors of an Army Rangers training mission gone awry: Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi), the delirious, dying homosexual son of a highly placed general, and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt), who refuses to talk at first. Eventually, the investigators hear of a savage drill sergeant named West (Samuel L. Jackson), fragged by his men during the middle of a hurricane. And then the story starts to get twisted. Those anticipating a Pulp Fiction reunion should be advisedTravolta and Jackson have no scenes together. Basic counts as a nice try, however, with Steve Mason's photography making the military base and the set-street of Panama City look humid and sensual. It seems like there's a row of neon-lit nightclubs outside every window. Travolta has a high time, loafing around as a slouch with a lot of muscle on him; he looks as thick-necked as Henry Rollins. There is some intermittent electricity in his flirtation with Nielsen. But director John McTiernan seems to think of this film as a compelling mystery, despite the fact that James Vanderbilt's script, either as written or as rewritten, doesn't make a bit of sense. And McTiernan keeps returning doggedly to the plot. If this was meant to be a modern version of The Big Sleep, it should have had more shady characters and more flirtationand fewer scenes of soldiers yelling at each other in the rain. (RvB)
(R; 114 min.) Director Michael Caton-Jones' ennui-inducing sequel to the 1992 mega-lox; it stars Sharon Stone, seemingly victimized by the same sci-fi cosmetics that were slathered over her in Catwoman. Her Catherine Tramellhack novelist and possible murderessis up to her old tricks in London; this time, she is tantalizing a recently divorced psychiatrist named Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey, a sort of depressed Liam Neeson). The doctor is being considered for the "Douglas Chair" at the local university, but the Ludwig von Drake-accented head of the department has his doubts. So does Charlotte Rampling, Glass' mentor, also easily manipulated by the evil Tramell. As a cop looking in on Tramell's potential crimes, David Thewlis gives an excellent impression of an actor with his nose to the grindstone. The cool Britannic locations include the most over-exposed edifice in today's cinema, the Gherkin Building. In the various modern crypts, especially Tramell's marble-lined mausoleumlike condo, the photography by Gyuka Pados is every bit as dank as the Budapest subways he shot in Kontroll. Speaking of cold, forbidding stone: the lead is whittled by plastic surgery, blanched by concretelike makeup and digitally fiberglassed until she looks as pliant as a surfboard. When she stretches out in what's supposed to be feline stance, I heard a female voice nearby saying, "She doesn't need a shrink, she needs a chiropractor." She's less hypnotic black widow than singles' bar cougar. (RvB)
(PG: 105 min.) A drama set in 1918 in the countryside of Washington state. Peter Coyote stars as a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse who tries to end prejudice against two new students who are German war orphans.
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(R; 82 min.) Overhyped artist Julian Schnabel is responsible for this moderately entertaining drama about a young and handsome New York painter who was as much the victim of the overhyped art market of the 1980s as he was of his own hungry arm. Basquiat went from a cardboard box in Central Park to a limousine seat next to pop-art star Andy Warhol (David Bowie), and yet he OD'd at 27. Jeffrey Wright of Angels of America gives a sharp and intelligent performance as the artist. If you question the circumstances of Basquiat's plummetor for that matter how much he had to loseyou never question the intensity that Wright brings to the part of the doomed star. With luck, Wright's fame will outdistance Basquiat's. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 136 min.) George Clooney dons the bat-suit for this fourth visit to Gotham, where he teams with Robin (Chris O'Donnell) and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) to defeat the evil forces of Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman).
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(PG-13; 140 min.) Christopher Nolan's thrilling, if grueling, story of the origin of Batman is by far the most realistic and best plotted of the Batman movies. It tells of the hero's rivalry with a villain who shares his own terrorizing methods (the supercilious Cillian Murphy, excellent as "The Scarecrow," with his rotting burlap mask and fear-inducing powders). In the two-sided part of abrasive playboy and masked night-prowler, Christian Bale makes the masquerade work as it never did before on screen. Since the vigilante is a beginner, there's more suspense to Batman's early adventures. He's clumsy, slamming into thse sides of buildings when he's trying to make an invisible getaway. He learns fast, though. In the best sequence, a raid of a harbor loading dock, Batman swoops between the rows of cargo containers, never letting himself be seen. He's only a flash of black, or the noise of an offscreen scuffle. He picks off gunmen one by one, scaring them blind. With radar, he can summon batscyclones of them, like the emptying-out of a 1000 Carlsbad Caverns. As Wayne's childhood companion who grows up to be a DA, Katie Holmes makes this the first Batman movie that has a heroine rather than a hostage. Despite Holmes, the movie is short on dashing romance. There's little sign here of Batman's inner Zorro. And you miss the sense of the injured child in Michael Keaton's version, how Keaton brooded in the dark. The finale with a stolen ray gun and a runaway train sequence is inferior to the Third Avenue El sequence in Spider-Man 2. The more exciting lead-up to it, a Halloween-like battle of hallucinations in Gotham, gets dropped in favor of the usual explosions. Still, it's action cinema at its most thrilling and thoughtful. (RvB)
(PG-13; 140 min.) As previewed at the IMAX in the Metreon in San Francisco, the effect has its pluses and minuses. It goes without saying that the sound and the size are impressive. The screen is some three times taller than an ordinary movie screen, but because of the rectangular frame, the projected image doesn't reach the floor. This was actually a plus. Thanks to the border of negative space on the bottom, there's less of that vertiginous feeling of falling into the IMAX screen caused by both the immensity of the screen and the steepness of the auditorium seats. Unfortunately, the digital copying sacrifices visual depth, brightness and color. It's the usual problem: the blacks aren't saturated, and the whites give up that familiar ghostly glow around their borders. Some of the most low-light scenes, like the schooling at the League of Shadows' temple and the siege of Arkham Asylum, seriously lose definition. Ultimately, Batman Begins in IMAX is sufficiently roller-coastery, but you'd want to save it for the second viewing. (RvB)
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Scrubbed of its psychological roots, the new Batman is the gaudy, dumbed-down spectacle the money-men wanted all along. Jim Carrey, funny, but not as funny as Jim Carrey thinks he is, plays the Riddler. Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face, a roaring gangster with a split personality, uses the royal "we" as a running gag. It's a cluttered film, and the attempts to address the troubled side of Batman are just stumbling blocks for the cute but boring Val Kilmer in the title role and the just plain boring Nicole Kidman. Flashier and less dispiriting than Die Hard III, it is just as empty. As always, director Joel SchumacherFlatliners, Falling Downpeeps into the abyss and then scurries backward into hiding. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) We all know that bats are shy, fascinating, vector-control mammals with wings. Duly noted. Even so ... those leathery wings, those saliva-speckled fangs, those wrinkled noses. Yeech. And it is the "yeech" factor that makes Bats so much fun. No new ground here to get in the way of the special-effects title demons as they munch their rubbery way through Gallup, Texas. Mad government scientist (Bob Gunton) tampers with genes of lab bats in effort to create winged killing machinesonly to be destroyed by his own misbegotten progeny as his punishment for defying nature. (Memo to that guy with the supermodel eggs for sale: It could happen to you, pal.) Said superbats fly the coop and threaten to spread unchecked across most of the Western Hemisphere. Only a beautiful blonde batologist (Dina Meyer, who broke into acting on Beverly Hills 90210nuff said); her wisecracking, bat-loathing comic-relief assistant (mononamed Leon, who got his start as the living saint in Madonna's "Like a Prayer" video); and a skeptical small-town sheriff (hard-working Lou Diamond Phillips) stand between civilization and an ammonia-scented flood tide of bat guano. The bats themselves leer menacingly, chatter disgustingly and descend in great dark clouds upon their hapless victims. Due to the limits of the film's animatronics budget, said victims are sometimes required to thrash wildly while the camera swings violently back and forth in order to simulate bat frenzy. Hey, whatever works. Many explosions, electrocutions and squashings satisfy the audience's need for revenge. To sum up: Bat's Entertainment. (MSG)
(PG-13; 87 min.) Rowan Atkinson reprises his TV role as the rubber-faced comic grotesque Mr. Beancomplete with cheap, ill-fitting suit, glottal-baritone voice and almost prehensile snoot. The transition to feature-length film unhinges the character. Making him a hero to root for somehow drains away the alienness of the little character. Instead of us being taken to his world (a la Pee-wee's Big Adventure), he's taken to ours. In the film, Bean is the much loathed but unfireable security guard at a London art museum. He is shipped off to L.A., where, it is hoped, he will bollix the unveiling of Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black (a.k.a. Whistler's Mother) in its new location at a rich, tasteless museum. Bean does, but he also has to bring together a feuding family lead by the hopeless Peter MacNicol and a very tense Pamela Reed. Director Mel Smith previously made the neglected Jeff Goldblum/Emma Thompson comedy The Tall Guy; but only the first half of Bean is consistently funny. Smith does score some good points about Yank ostentation. The schemes for marketing Whistler's mom aren't any gaudier than some of the ancillary merchandising I saw at that Paul Cézanne retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last year (anyone for a Cézanne doll?). Still, it would be easier to laugh at Smith's American stereotypes if he hadn't coated the film with such stereotypically American sentiment and cuddliness. (RvB)
(1998/1996) Local premiere. Anthony Wong, the rogue cop villain from Hard Boiled, stars as the Hank Quinlin of Hong Kong. Here, he's breaking in a young rookie who is shocked at his methods. Gordon Chan (Final Option) directs. BILLED WITH Mongkok Story. A young no-hoper becomes a triad boss in the slummy Hong Kong neighborhood of Mongkok. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 108 min.) A snub-nosed, urgent Parisian remake of James Toback's Fingers (1978) by Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips). Thomas (Romain Duris, a guttery, compact version of Daniel Day-Lewis) calls himself a "real-estate broker." In fact, he's a leg breaker, who scares squatters out of desirable properties. The life he's made for himself is disgusting, but the truth is it wasn't Thomas' doing; he just got pulled into his father's sleazy business. And his dad (Niels Arestrup, looking as fat and squalid as a blood-engorged tick) is starting to soften and fall apart. At this point, the junior thug takes an interest in classical music. The music makes him less willing to stay up half the night, prowling the bars with his friends from the wrecking crew. The split begins in earnest when Thomas is caught covering for a friend's infidelities by the man's betrayed wife, Aline (Aure Atika). Audiard has a fine knack for cutting away from each scene's boiling point. Duris' uncompromising performance doesn't just keep you from telling if he believes his own convenient lies, it even keeps you from caring whether he's telling the truth or not. (RvB)
(1926/1920) Vive la morte, vive la guerre, vive la Legion Etrangère! Tainted by scandala hubbub around a stolen sapphirethe Geste brothers enroll in the French Foreign Legion. In North Africa, they're assigned to the hellhole Fort Zinderneuf, overseen by a half-mad sergeant (Noah Beery) and surrounded by furious Bedouins. Imagine my happiness one morning when I was walking around the old harbor in Marseilles, and I actually saw the legion's scary-looking stucco gates, which were open and waiting for more damned souls. Stars William Powell and Neil Hamilton, who used to claim that being a silent-movie actor had helped him get the gestures right for playing Commissioner Gordon on the Batman TV show. BILLED WITH When the Clouds Roll By. Sort of/perhaps a parody version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. A mad doctor named Metz (Herbert Grimwood) uses hypnotism for nefarious ends on Douglas Fairbanks Sr., then better known as a slapstick comedian than a nimble hero. Drugs, of a sort, are part of the surrealismin the form of that supposedly psychotropic food, the Welsh Rarebit (that snack that used to send Little Nemo into nightmares). (RvB)
(PG; 104 min.) Neither fans nor foes of Fran Drescher are going to find much to get excited about in this bland vehicle for the shrill star of The Nanny. Drescher has toned down her high-decibel shtick in this modern-day Cinderella story about a New York beautician who becomes a governess to the children of an Eastern European dictator (Timothy Dalton). As usual, beware the governess, who will not only worm her way into papa's heart but also unwittingly spark the overthrow of the country's communist regime. Dalton looks strangely relieved that Pierce Brosnan has left the handsome Eastern European dictator roles to him; ironically, his character is a bit like a James Bond adversary, campy accent, imposing frown and all. Except for the occasional nasty jab at countries more "backward" than the United States, the film is relatively inoffensive, and that's the best thing that can be said for it. (HZ)
(PG-13; 112 min.) Similar to All About Eve: the Early Years performed by marionettes, Sally Field's directorial debut oscillates between jaw-dropping obviousness and TV-Movie pathos. Mona (Minnie Driver) is convincing less as a lonely would-be beauty queen driven to win the "Miss American Miss" pageant than as a star-spangled bee-atch. Her long-suffering best friend Ruby (helium-voiced Joey Lauren Adams) is a shoe-in for the codependent Hall of Fame. Ruby raises Mona's borne-out-of-wedlock daughter (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), so Mona can compete in pageants. Sally Field scrambles parts of her best rolesoutlandish costumes (Flying Nun), pathological behavior (Sybil), and blue collar agitprop (Norma Rae) into a camp classic. (DH)
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(R; 113 min.) Guys, if you missed your sensitivity lessons todaywell, you can skip this movie too. Through obvious and flawed morality tales about a group of none-too-bright men and the women they torment with their insensitivity, Beautiful Girls vainly attempts to portray all the male no-no's that result in guaranteed female rejection. The film's most useful tip? Pedophilia is not an alluring quality, a concept that Willie (Timothy Hutton) ignores as he develops disturbingly strong affections for the 13-year-old girl next door. It's definitely a nice try that the film assertsalbeit quite conspicuouslythat our social obsession with women's beauty is, more than anything, a marketing device. But the film ends up doing both genders a disservice. (HZ)
(Not rated) Written, produced and directed by Aptos resident Nadya Wynd, the movie tells the story of a woman who transforms herself from an inhibited acting student into an award-winning Broadway actor with the help of her acting teacher and psychotherapy. Benefit showing for Survivor's Healing Center.
(R; 107 min.) "War is like love," wrote Bertolt Brecht. "It always finds a way." But somehow the survivors endureeven prosperjust beyond its shadow, suggests Jasmin Dizdar in Beautiful People, his kaleidoscopic portrait of a group of Bosnian refugees trying to make sense of their new lives in London, circa 1993. Strangers in a strange land, their sense of wonder and confusion is succinctly captured in a film that applies comedy like a salve and accepts the deepest absurdities as routine occurrences. Drawing on a huge cast of characters, the former-Yugoslavian writer/director takes on the human condition and the way synchronicity sometimes creates order out of chaos. It's a style of storytelling commonly associated with Robert Altman, although Dizdar's vision is not quite as sprawling and considerably shorter (under two hours). The result is a film that leaves you wanting morea refreshing change of pace in a winter dominated by three-hour movie behemoths. Whimsical, tragic, but ultimately hopeful, Beautiful People is an intelligent though flawed look at life after wartime. Particularly clunky is the too-rapid redemption of some fairly unredeemable characters in the film's final momentsa regrettable dip into blatant sentimentality. Still, Dizdar is first-person-familiar with the material's emotional landscape, so it's hard to fault him for celebrating survival. (NM)
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(R; 90 min.) A comedic drama of everyday Londoners, Beautiful Thing ranges from kitchen-sink grittiness to the rounded edges of an after-school special about a young boy's realization that he's gay. Unfortunately, Glen Berry as Jamie handles his adolescent gayness with impossible aplomb, while Scott Neal, who plays Ste, the battered kid Jamie falls for, gives an indistinct performance. Director Hettie Macdonald's fear of being too depressing means that the film evaporates into a "suddenly, all the characters turned gay" finale. I understand the importance of having an at least mildly upbeat ending. It's not the happy endings I mind, it's the unlikely ones.
(PG-13; 105 min.) The original title for this Barbershop franchise spin-off, in which Queen Latifah reprises her character Gina Norris from Barbershop 2, was Hair Show. The new title is much better. So, that's something. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 90 min.) This movie rockstwo devil's-horn salutes up. Beavis and Butt-head wake from a dream to find their beloved television missing. After a few "uhs," they meet a disgruntled defense worker (Bruce Willis) who mistakes the dunderheads for hit men and flies them to Vegas to "do" his estranged wife (Demi Moore). She retaliates by planting a biological biohazard chip in Beavis' pants, and the FBI (headed by the voice of a cavity search-obsessed Robert Stack) joins the chase. The long, strange trip takes B&B to Washington, DC by way of the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest and Old Faithful. What the movie lacks in latitudinal direction, it makes up for by crucifying the mundanea talent that endears the cartoon pair to everyone except pseudo-intellectuals. I counted three genuinely funny parts. The rest of the laughs are of the "heh-heh" variety. For those of us over 25 who enjoy B&B in long-suffering solitude, watching the dynamic duo on the big screen is a big coming-out party. Don't worry, shrouded in darkness, nobody knows you're a CEO. (TSI)
(PG; 106 min.) Jeff Daniels and Cicely Tyson star in a family comedy about a young girl and her friendly dog. Awww!
(PG-13; 114 min.) As a shylock, Chili Palmer knows what happens to those who are a day late and a dollar shortand yet, here he is in this day-late, dollar-short sequel to Get Shorty. F. Gary Gray directs this time, as Chili (John Travolta) maneuvers his way into the music business, the better to help out a widow (Uma Thurman) and a promising singer (Christina Milian) being held back by inept management. On the way, Palmer calmly outwits a variety of bizarre L.A. hotheads, including a nasty old record company owner (Harvey Keitel), an irritating wigga (Vince Vaughn), a dangerous music producer (Cedric the Entertainer) and a gay bodyguard with showbiz aspirations (the Rock, oddly enough the funniest person in the movie). The change of angle makes all the difference: whereas before Palmer was making it up as he went along, in this sequel he's already in a position of power, and thus less interesting. There's little that's really magic here, despite a few instances of fun: Thurman's drunken sprawl on a sun bed, a tribute to the first sight of golden girl Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger, or the Rock getting himself a fine rhinestone-cowboy outfit, as the soundtrack dredges up Sonny and Cher's disastrous "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done." But the set pieces don't thrill you: the dance reuniting Thurman and Travolta ought to be less dirty-dance, more romantic. The B-movie plotting looks more B-movie here, too, with the old trick of sending someone into the room with a gun every time the characters get stuck, happening so many times that even Philip Marlowe would complain about it. And the one authentically streety-looking person in the filma gunman played by the late Robert Pastorelliturns up dead too soon. Where before Chili was a charming hustler, now he seems smug, and so does this movie. (RvB)
(PG; 87 min.) A film that proves that Hollywood's romance formula, by any name, reeks as much as ever. Even when masked by heaps of colorful blooms and the surprisingly appealing team of Mary Stuart Masterson and Christian Slater, that tired old "love conquers all" theme still makes its familiar stench known. Judging from the multitude of references it makes to the fact that thorns must co-exist with the beauty of a rose, the film aims to portray some brand of reality, but in too-consciously trying to combat stereotypical screen relationships, Bed of Roses reinforces them, right down to some recent favorites: the unloved, workaholic woman and her sensitive boyfriend who knows better now, having already suffered through a successful career. Thanks to Masterson and Slater, this dysfunctional romantic comedy does offer a few honest moments, but overall, the circumstances of their relationship are too unbelievable, not to mention an unlikely conclusion that would probably send our "happy couple" to therapy for years. (HZ)
(1934/1933) Why go to medical school, when buying a diploma from a "croaker" (a doctor with a drug problem) is so much cheaper? The fox-faced art deco heel Warren Williams takes this route and soon finds himself in business as a sawbones, with a medical patsy (Donald Meek) doing all his work for him. So far, so good, until someone gets hurt. Robert Florey directs. BILLED WITH The Mind Reader. Ex-snake-oil-salesman Williams wraps his head in a turban and makes a lateral move into the clairvoyance racket; Constance Cummings co-stars as his easily gulled wife. Look out for Mayo Methot, who was Humphrey Bogart's evil-tempered and hard-drinking third wife. (RvB)
(Unrated; 93 min.) Director Thom Fitzgerald's follow-up to his surreal dysfunctional family drama The Hanging Garden is a nostalgic story of gay Hollywood in the 1950s. Neil O'Hara (Josh Peace) leaves Nova Scotia for California and falls in with Bob Mizer (Daniel MacIvor), the real-life founder of the Athletic Model Guild. Mizer's photo magazines full of near-nude muscle men in crytpo-classical poses were the closest thing the '50s had to male porn. Mizer was careful to sell these magazines as educational material for the instruction of artists. Unfortunately, the authorities wised up, and Mizer's less well known business interestas a procurer for male hustlerswas revealed in the courtroom. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 104 min.) A celebration of Northern California's regional specialness, in a film that is as warmhearted as it is cotton-headed. Richard Gere stars as a nationally known, corduroy-wrapped scholar named Saul Naumann. His searching into the cabalaJehovah's own game of Bogglehas led to a brick wall. Currently, Saul is pressuring his daughter, Eliza (Flora Cross), the narrator. He wonders if her ability to win spelling championships is divinely inspired. Ignored and sorry for it, his eldest son rebels by taking up with a Hare Krishna (Kate Boswortha deft bit of casting). And the lady of the house, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), has some vague intrigue that involves her prowling of abandoned houses of strangers. Instances of computer animationa graphite pencil shedding letters or an origami bird taking flightare pretty but essentially childish. We may not know where God lives, but local directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel certainly know how to make the Bay Area look like heaven. The film is not for the spiritually tone-deaf who derided What the Bleep Do We Know!?; the doubts this movie inspires are not about God but whether expert visuals can really transcend a movie's innate squishiness. (RvB)
A cocooning couple (Geena Davis and the world's greatest actor, Alec Baldwin) are lightly killed and then harassed by heartless gentrifiers (Catherine O'Hara, Jeffrey Jones and the young Winona Ryder, a wistful goth). Driven to distraction, the gentle ghosts hire a demon they shouldn't havethe free-lance hobgoblin Betelgeuse, "the bio-exterminator" (Michael Keaton). If, as we were arguing last week, there was no worst decade for cinema than the 1980s, then Beetlejuice was an ultraviolet light in the general darkness. It was a troubled film, shepherded by David Geffen, who hired novice director and animator Tim Burton to direct this postmod version of Topper. Burton wanted Sammy Davis Jr. to play the lead but was overruled. The studio suggested putrid titles like House Ghosts and Scared Sheetless; Pauline Kael, who called this "a comedy classic," supposed that the film's name referred to the star Betelgeuse, which appears to astronomers to change its size, even as the strange little hobgoblin played by Keaton knows how to miniaturize. No one expected it to be a hit ($32 million in two weeks, back when that was money); it proved that a comedy could be successful without Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson. Burton changed the look of fantasy cinema with his next film, Batman. (RvB) (1988) A pleasant, bland New England couple (Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin) are killed by a terrier and go to Purgatory, where they are remanded back as ghosts to haunt their own house. Due to the vagaries of time/space, when they return, their house has been gentrified, tenanted by two unbearable New York yuppies (Catherine O'Hara and Jeffrey Jones) and their pining Gothette daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder, never better). Unhappy ghosts, haunted by the living, the two hire a freelance consultanta grotty, gamy "bioexorcist" who calls himself Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton). This early comedy by Tim Burton is essentially a macabre live-action cartoon. "I loved it," Burton said in Burton on Burton, "because I'd read a lot of scripts that were the classic Hollywood cookie-cutter bad comedy. It was really depressing. Then this script came through the door, and after Hollywood hammering me with the concept of story structure, where the third act doesn't work, and it's got to end with a little comedy, or a little romance, the script for Beetlejuice was completely anti all that; it had no real story, it didn't make any sense, it was more like stream of consciousness." The black-light cinematography, Burton's low-tech effects (many of which go back to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and Keatona vile, irresistible horror clownmake this a wild and sometimes wistful look at the next world and this one. The memorable score is by Danny Elfman with help from Prokofiev, Grieg and Harry Belafonte. (RvB)
(PG-13; 108 min.) It's a refreshing change to find a suspense-drama that is actually content to let you fret right along with its charactersand that keeps its ending a relative surprise. Boasting ample suspense, Before and After, based on the novel by Rosellen Brown, takes an uncommonly rewarding risk in mixing moral issues with entertainment, usually a fruitless combination. The story focuses on two parents (Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson) who must defend their teenage son (Edward Furlong) when substantial evidence suggests that he murdered his girlfriend. Overall, director Barbet Schroeder (Kiss of Death, Car Cultureersal of Fortune) uses a light but effective touch in contrasting the ethical choices of the parents with the demands of police and prosecutors, except for the occasional soapbox-style spiel on personal principles. And although Before and After doesn't really push a panacea for the questions it raises, to those who suffer from the fascination for all things legal these days, the film offers a singularly damning definition of "justice." (HZ)
(R; 80 min.) Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy pick up where they left off nine years ago in a romance by Richard Linklater.
(R; 117 min.) Though Sidney Lumet's filmography doesn't lack for great movies, the 83-year-old director seems to have entered his twilight years with a newfound confidence and vigor. His previous film, Find Me Guilty, and this new drama surrounding a jewel robbery are among the best of his career. Two debt-ridden brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) decide to knock over their parents' jewelry store, but their plans go awry. Lumet constructs the movie in a complex series of flash-forwards and flashbacks that cleverly peel back the layers of moral decay, as well as slyly, underhandedly earning our sympathy for the hapless siblings. Using skilled framing and lighting, the film visually captures the sinking feeling of despair as the plot works its cruel tricks of fate. (JMA)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Pilot Owen Wilson is shot down in Eastern Europe and discovers atrocities. Gene Hackman, going against the advice of his military superiors, mounts a rescue mission.
(PG-13; 101 min.) Michel Gondry's follow-up to The Science of Sleep is another exploration of creativity and self-expression; unlike Science, it has a fairly firm a-to-b-to-c plot, even if you can tell that's not where Gondry's heart lies. Video-rental clerk Mos Def panics when magnetized motormouth Jack Black erases the inventory at the throwback store, which still specializes in VHS tapes; the twosome (aided by Melonie Diaz) replace the lost films with low-budget, high-concept remakes—whose popularity may even save the doomed store. Black's hyper energy serves the movie well, and Def makes a loose, laid-back lead. The trio's awkward journey takes them from imitation to creation (and a biopic of hometown hero Fats Waller), but the film is like the re-created movies it revolves around: low on plot, long on charm and inventive enough to not outstay its welcome. Still, it's a lesser movie than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Gondry's work as a writer/director makes one wish he'd get back to working with writers stronger than himself. (JR)
(1958/1932) A purring witch (Kim Novak) and her purring Siamese familiar, Pyewacket, put the hex on an unsuperstitious Manhattanite. The Novak/Jimmy Stewart vibe, made deathless in Vertigo, is here played for bruised comedy; snowy New York (as photographed by James Wong Howe) subs for the heights of San Francisco. This movie has a blessed slowness to it, particularly in a scene where the witch empties New York for the sake of her beloved; while it's a trifle, it seems poignant, probably because of the way Stewart looks at the impassive catlike Novak. The movie includes Elsa Lanchester, the fondly remembered comedienne Hermione Gingold, the cool French jargon singers the Brothers Condoli and Jack Lemmon as a Greenwich village warlock, happily wailing away on the bongos. Pyewacket won the Patsythe animal Oscarthat year. BILLED WITH The Penguin Pool Mystery. Edna May Oliver: Britain's last line of defense. She was, in fact, American, though in such parts as the nurse in the MGM Romeo and Juliet, Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice or Aunt Betsy Trotwood in David Copperfield she seemed as cold-showered and cold-shouldered as the best single Englishwoman. Here, she plays Hildegarde Withers, schoolteacher by trade, detective by avocation, helping out the more ornery Inspector Piper (James Gleason). The two investigate the murder of the director of the Battery Park Aquarium, found swimming, face down, in a tank of his own penguins. The suspects include Mae Clarke and Donald Cook. RKO spun this out: future Withers and Piper mysteries included Murder on the Blackboard (1934), Murder on a Honeymoon (1935), Murder on a Bridle Path (1936), with Helen Broderick as Withers. (RvB)
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(1967) Severine (played by Catherine Deneuve, greatest of belle indifferents) is a frozen Parisian housewife thawed by afternoon freelancing at a modest three-women brothel. Director Luis Buñuel, who was nearly 70 at the time, gives the story a presciently feminist approach: This is not, I repeat, a movie about the degradation that all women are supposed to want. Buñuel, always the devil's advocate, has no outrage over Severine's cheating, instead sanely taking the fantasy at face value, only suggesting the background that made Severine decide to rebel. (RvB)
(1960/1954) There were many authentic dumb blondes in the movies, but Judy Holliday wasn't one of them. The yellow hair was supposedly her own, as was the fluffy namea translation of her birth name, Judith Tuvic ("Tuvic" means "holiday" in Hebrew). She was probably the brainiest of all actresses to put on the curls and negligee of the blonde clown. Holiday began as a cabaret comedian, whose partners were Betty Comden and the late Adolph Green, partners on Singin' in the Rain. In the Comden/Green musical Bells Are Ringing, her last film, she plays an answering-service owner who falls for the terminally debonair Dean Martin. Songs include "Just in Time" and "The Party's Over." BILLED WITH It Should Happen to You. Ordinary little shop girl Gladys Glover (Holiday) rents a billboard at Columbus Circle to promote herself, and the trick worksmuch to the discomfiture of her honest documentary-maker boyfriend (Jack Lemmon). In the meantime, a soap company covets her choice advertising location and sends representative Peter Lawford to finesse the billboard out of her hands. While the mid-'50s NYC locations are time-capsule delights, and while Holiday's wise-foolishness is beguiling, my favorite moment is a speech in which she holds off the lecherous Lawford. To get him talking (and to stop him nibbling her ear), she asks him if he's lonely, living there in that bachelor apartment all by himself. Yes, he admits, lowering his eyes. "You could get a parrot," she suggests. "You could be talking to it, and it could be talking to you. I mean, you wouldn't be talking to each other, but it would be talk." (RvB)
(R; 95 min.) A drama starring rappers DMX and Nas as an ambitious street hustler and a family man.
(1927/1938) Word up, homeboys! Original Gangsta and Master Pimp Francois Villon in da house, representing da hood of med-EVIL Paris, 1433. OK, I'll stop, and I swear to God I'll never do it again. Look, it's not my fault I have to live in an era when underground cultural discourse is based on jump-rope chants. And there must be some desperate French teachers out there trying to draw parallels between today's thug-lifers and the mysterious criminal poet maudit Villon. Putting baggy pants, gold chains and a backward baseball cap on Villon wouldn't be the first indignity he's had to bear. He evolved from a dangerous cutthroat (and brilliant versifier: "Where are the snows of last year?") into the Victorian swag artist of Swinburne's too-genteel translations. From there, Villon became an affable scalawag of early-1900s operetta and thus a frequent sight in films, including this silent version starring John Barrymore as Villon matching wits with the sly Louis XI (the one and only Conrad Veidt). In the meantime, our thief/poet courts the king's daughter. The remake, If I Were King, is as dark, rich and delicately bittersweet as a $4 truffle. Preston Sturges' script shows that he'd read Villon and understood the threat of the noose underneath the surface gaiety. Ronald Colman's gentleness also makes Villon seem mortal as well as immortal, if you see what I mean. Check it out, homies. (M.C. RvB)
(R; 104 min.) An awfully good haunted-pigboat movie by David Twohy (director of the cult film Pitch Black), with a script co-written by Darren Aronofsky (Pi). The U.S.S. Tiger Shark is a World War II submarine on patrol in the North Atlantic. "It used to be a big ocean," says a crew member. Now it's alive with German destroyers carrying depth charges. The jinxed sub rescues three survivors of a British hospital ship (including Olivia Williams). The already spooked crew members have their natural sailor's misogyny inflamed because of the bad luck of having a girl aboard. But they begin to fear that there's a Nazi traitor among the three rescued. Meanwhile, the incidents of inexplicable bad luck begin to mount. The acting skipper, the arrogant Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood, who was JFK in Thirteen Days) helps to cloud the already cloudy circumstances around the death of the former captain, who may be dead but apparently isn't gone. Twohy, who has great visual flair, uses computer animation as a spice, instead of as a main course. The painstaking research shows, but it isn't showy (except for maybe some too self-conscious use of archaic slang). In short, Below's not just a reprise of Das Boot but a unique film that sails nimbly between the demands of two different genres. (RvB)
(1952/1942) In Anthony Mann's adult Western, James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy play adventurers who sign on to deliver settlers to the Oregon territory. But everyone loses their heads when gold fever strikes. Rock Hudson co-stars; filmed on location in the northwest. BILLED WITH The Falcon Takes Over. Looking for his girl, a just-out-of-prison ex-wrestler named Moose Malloy (Ward Bond)"as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel-food cake"stirs up trouble in Los Angeles. He hires that debonair detective known as the Falcon (George Sanders) to investigate. Yes, it's Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely adapted to the needs of the Falcon franchise. Imagine that novel, which has never received the definitive adaptation it deserves, being acted by MacMurray and Stanwyck, and directed by Billy Wilder, as a follow-up to Double Indemnity. (RvB)
(1959) A love triangle between two men and Imperial Rome. Charlton Heston stars as the Jewish hero Ben-Hur, whose close friendship with a nobleman Marcelus (Stephen Boyd) turns ugly when political differences grow between them. It is a troubled epic, with multiple rewrites, bad weather, the producer dropping dead of a heart attackand yet the film is big Hollywood in a way that won't ever be quite as big again. Though the stories Gore Vidal tells of a stodgy epic subverted by a subliminal gay love plot are appealing, they may not wash in the light of Heston's memoirs, where he describes much struggle over motivation and actingand hard workto bring himself up to director William Wyler's high standards. ("Willy's the toughest director I've ever worked for.") Shot in Cinecitta on the scale of the ancient Roman carnivals, including a galley fight and the famous chariot race. "The four-horse team gave me less trouble than I remember in Egypt with two. Maybe it's like a lot of other things: the first two are the hardest," wrote Heston in The Actor's Life. (RvB)
OK, Cujo he's not, but Benji is still one cute canine.
(NC-17; 104 min.) In a Nazi concentration camp, a gay man named Max (Clive Owen) disguises himself as a Jew to avoid the punishments handed out to "perverts." The pink-triangle-wearing Horst (Lothaire Bluteau) breaches Max's disguise, and the two fall in love. Director Sean Mathias deserves praise for low-budget ingenuity: he has turned some English and Scottish industrial ruins into both Weimar-era Germany and a concentration camp. (English ruin Mick Jagger is also aboard, in drag and looking distressingly like Judy Davis.) The depressing film is good for the soul, one supposes, and news to those who didn't know that Hitler rounded up gay people (along with Gypsies, Russians and the mentally handicapped). Still, this film adaptation of the celebrated play is a chore to watchit looks like a species of especially masochistic performance art. The ending, as baroque and grim as the finale of an opera, is less cathartic than a reprise of the traditional old movie fate of homosexualstoo beautiful for a world as cruel as this. Or so they'd have you believe. (RvB)
(PG-13; 115 min.) Based on the 1,000-plus-year-old epic poem and directed by Robert Zemeckis, this 3-D, computer-animated action film boasts some ridiculously thrilling moments and goes heavy on the gore (great gushes of blood spatter all over) and treats the sex with kid gloves; when Beowulf (voiced by Ray Winstone) first battles the beast Grendel in the buff, Zemeckis laughably goes to great lengths to hide the hero's manhood behind various props and sets. And Grendel's mother (voiced by and modeled after Angelina Jolie) has high-heeled feet! The 3-D isn't used in any particularly interesting way, but though the realistic-looking people still have dead, soulless eyes, Beowulf is still an improvement over Zemeckis' creepy kids' movie The Polar Express, simply because the cuddly family element is gone. (JMA)
(R; 118 min.) It's a common thing for novelists to write about friends, but that doesn't mean it's always a good idea. Why bright up-and-coming writer Harper's (Taye Diggs) first novel offers so thinly veiled a tale about himself and his old college pals is never really clear, although generally well-meaning guy that he is, perhaps he seeks a kind of repentanceand if so, he gets a lifetime's worth as the best man at the wedding of his longtime friends Lance and Mia (Morris Chestnut and Monica Calhoun). Diggs' unassuming charm and charisma make him a natural leading man, and he heads up an appealing ensemble cast of names that should become bigger (Harold Perrineau Jr. and Nia Long, in particular) as Harper's best buddies from college days, most of whom are squirming, however silently, over their literary counterparts. Harper's truth-telling, though ill-timed and ill-advised, does help shatter Lance's stone-age illusions about wedded bliss. In fact, fluffy stuff that it is, The Best Man deflates the myth of a fairy-tale marriage just enough to make its familiar romantic-comedy material fun again. (HZ)
(1944; 64 min.) Robert Mitchum stars in his first big role in a tightly wound film noir directed by William Castle. Kin Hunter plays a newly wed whose husband (Dean Jagger) is too sinister by half. Sometimes titled When Strangers Marry.
(1985) John Cusack's Lane Meyer is so depressed over losing his girlfriend, he even mucks up trying to kill himself. Repeatedly. Dark and funny, this cult-classic teen comedy is rife with quotes, the most popular being "I want my two dollars!"
(1986) John Woo classic about two brothers on different sides of the law, one a criminal and the other a rookie cop. This epic features lots of Woo's trademark balletic gunfights but plenty of introspective drama, too. Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung star.
(1988/1991) Chow Yun-Fat plays a New York restaurateur, the identical twin brother of his gangster character killed at the end of the first A Better Tomorrow. Cool, plump-faced Yun-Fat is Hong Kong cinema's best embodiment of the triad gangster, though Yun-Fat certainly can be a mannered performer: "At times it seems likely that Chow will simply smirk his opponents to death," remark Hammond and Wilkins in their study of Hong Kong movies, Sex and Death and a Bullet in the Head. John Woo directs. BILLED WITH Once a Thief. A trio of art thieves in Paris are perplexed by the usual Parisian love triangle: Chow Yun-Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung co-star. (RvB)
A collection of Betty Boop and other Fleischer Studio Talkartoons from the early 1930s.
(PG-13; 90 min.) This one should go straight to video without a whimper. Chris Farley's hysterical Matt Foley motivational-speaker character from Saturday Night Live provided more belly laughs than the 90 minutes he hogs here. Farley plays Haru, the fabled Great White Ninja, who leaves his stable to protect a shapely counterfeiter's girlfriend (Nicolette Sheridan). The bumbling Haru screws up everything for himself and his brother (Robin Shou), who is sent to protect him. Farley is one of the better physical comics of the day, but this film doesn't provide his ample talents any justice. He runs into doors, hits himself with nunchucks, ruins a teppan dinner. The collaborative laughs he conjured up with David Spade in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep are mimicked by a visibly uncomfortable Chris Rock. Rock is not on screen more than 10 minutes and spends most of them chasing a chicken. Farley ought to consider his offers better, otherwise he'll end up like Foleythrice divorced, living in a van down by the river. (TSI)
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(1981; R; 82 min.) Lucio Fulci's Italian horror import is being rereleased by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder company. It takes place at a neglected New Orleans hotel that serves as a portal to a zombie-filled hell. Placing Fulci in a trinity with horror masters Dario Argento and Mario Bava is stretching a point. Fulci isn't a decadent poet like Argento or an obsessive Gothic like Bava. Still, Fulci deserves credit for sheer nastiness, for his willingness to pour caustics on a mannequin head and to stare at the results. Those who are out of their eyeball-gouge stage, entertainmentwise, might find Fulci's handling of moods more impressive. One tracking shot approaches slowly through the courtyard of a shuttered New Orleans Victorian; here Sergio Salvati's photography is as good as Vittorio Storaro's. (RvB)
Monterey-based Steve Rosen and Terri De Bono's documentary (which was a hit at the Pacific Rim Film Fetival in Santa Cruz, where it had its premiere) returns for another engagement. The film, narrated by Pat Morita, uses archival footage and interviews to chronicle the experiences of Japanese-Americans who fought in Europe in a segregated Army unit (the 442nd Regimental Combat Team), facing prejudice from their own fellow soliders as well as from the enemy.
(R; 127 min.) Angelina Jolie goes adventuring again, this time as a socialite traveling around the world to various conflicts and discovering war is bad. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(Unrated; 94 min.) The existentially conflicted assassinpaid to kill but nagged by doubts!is a nearly irresistible subject for filmmakers. Beyond Hypothermia, a Hong Kong action film by Patrick Leung, ups the ante by focusing on a female killer (Wu Chin Lin of Eat Drink Man Woman). Outwardly cold (figuratively and literallyher body temperature is lower than normal), she is burning up inside with angst, and her only measure of peace comes in the arms of a local noodle cook (Lau Ching Wan). The romance between Lin and Wan is convincing, but it is the action sequences that fuel Beyond Hypothermia. The climactic blood bath is a showdown fought with automatic weapons and careening cars that escalates to a crazed crescendo that is all at once breath-stopping, laughably absurd and surprisingly touching. (MSG)
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John Boorman's great new thriller concerns the physical and spiritual journey of American tourist Laura Bowman (Patricia Arquette), who has suffered a terrible loss: the murder of her husband and child during the course of a burglary. On a vacation tour of Southeast Asia, she wanders off on an illegal journey into the Burmese hinterlands with a professor-turned-guide who takes Laura to meet his former students, opponents of the ruling regime. Laura is a hero who grows with the viewer's admiration, as she overcomes peril after peril. Boorman has made a great pacifist action movie, celebrating not the hero with the biggest ammo but the hero who is brave enough to stare down a gun. (RvB)
(PG-13; 97 min.) As in films like The Piano and In the Company of Men, the best performances in the Academy Award-nominated German movie Beyond Silence are by actors playing speechless characters. Howie Seago and Emmanuelle Laborit (Children of a Lesser God), both hearing-impaired themselves, play Martin and Kai, deaf parents of a hearing daughter, Lara, with a gift for the clarinet. Kai is warm and playful, with a sense of humor about her disability, but Martin is stubborn and defensive despite his fierce love for his daughter. At one point, he signs at her, "Sometimes I wish you were deaf, then you'd live totally in my world." Precocious Lara is forced to be her parents' sign-language translator, often twisting conversations for her own benefit. As the film begins, she worships her musician aunt Clarissa (Sibylle Canonica), but when Lara becomes a teenager, she's caught between her father's anger at her independence and Clarissa's manipulative attempts to claim Lara as her own. The actor who plays Lara as a child (Tatjana Trieb) is so delightful that it's a disappointment when she grows up, but Sylvie Testud, who plays the teenage Lara, has her own quiet charm. Visually, the film has astonishing moments (there's one remarkable scene in which the shadows of Lara and her boyfriend cavort in front of a massive wall of graffiti), almost as if director Caroline Link wants to prove how rich a world without sound can be. (MG)
(1949/1946) "This is the story of evilfor our souls' sake, it is salutary for us to view it in all its naked ugliness once in a while. Thus may we know how those who deliver themselves over to it end up like the Scorpion, in a mad frenzy. stinging themselves to eternal death." Once Warner Bros. gets that off its chest, we're prepared to watch Bette Davis in a Morticia Addams wig mock her home ("What a dump!"), the mill town she lives in ("Life in Loyalton is like sitting in a funeral parlor waiting for the funeral to begin. No, it's like lying in a coffin, waiting for them to take you out") and motherhood ("You certainly go in for mass production, dontcha?" she tells a mom of eight). But the lion's share of her contempt is aimed at her kickworthy husband, a self-sacrificing small-town doctor (Joseph Cotton). Freely plagiarized from Madame Bovary, this uproarious King Vidor melodrama is so juicy they have to sponge off the projector between reels. Yet it's a tribute to Davis' remarkable intensity that it you feel sympathy for this rageball woman and share her contempt for the bumpkins and square-dancing stiffs around her. Sometimes Vidor's thick expressionist impasto works, as in the finale, with a hell-bound locomotive, steaming and smoking, waiting at the station for the dying Davis. Years before the Belgian picture A Woman in Flames featured a woman immolating herself to prove a point about female entrapment and dismay, Davis tosses and turns in bed, illuminated by the burn-off of sawdust outside her open window. A primary inspiration for Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Beyond the Forest is not without a feminist subtext if you look at it from certain angles. And with the cautionary label and Max Steiner's musical Niagara on the soundtrack, it's damned funny. Certainly, it's the film that taught Divine everything she knew about the craft of acting. BILLED WITH The Dark Mirror. Your basic evil-twin drama. A dead trifling doctor and sisters Ruth and Terry (Los Gatos' Olivia de Havilland) are twin suspects grilled by a baffled detective Thomas Mitchell, who as always looks like he could use a cold beer. Minor fun, but not particularly compelling. It's too much the gimmick murder. Newly restored print from the UCLA archives. (RvB)
(R; 102 min.) One might imagine that professional wrestling doesn't need documentingwhat you see is what you get. Barry W. Blaustein's documentary, however, discovers some telling moments during an extended trip through the upper reaches of the WWF and the lower rungs of fly-by-night tours. In addition to an extended visit with big-name masochist Mankind (who turns out to be a loving father), Beyond the Mat also spends time with mid-level celebrity Terry Funk, who's wrestling with the idea of his own retirement. But the film really takes off when it focuses on fading star Jake "the Snake" Roberts. Not that long ago, Roberts was one of the wilder, less consumer-friendly stars of wrestlinga lean (relatively), muscular villain with a decidedly nasty edge. These days, a dissipated, flabby Roberts plays for small-town wrestling fans in high school gyms. With a whiskey voice, Roberts confesses to sexual promiscuity, crack smoking and failed relationships with his own distant father and with his alienated children. Tragic isn't exactly the word for Roberts, but he lays bare his tortured soul with distressing and riveting intimacy. The scenes in which Roberts attempts a reconciliation of sorts with one of his children is almost too painful to bearboth father and daughter seem utterly oblivious to the presence of the camera, and yet, somehow, they are actors in roles they can't escape. (MSG)
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(PG-13; 118 min.) Kevin Spacey's labor of love is a tribute to Bobby Darin. In playing Darin as a restless musician, aware of a potentially fatal heart condition, Spacey makes no special pleading. As a musician and a human being he has his limits. Within these limits, Beyond the Sea is more rousing as a lot of the larger musicals try to be. The film coasts over the singer's life. A frail child, he is doted on by his mother (Brenda Blethyn). He has a teenybopper hit with "Splish Splash" and goes on to court starlet Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). John Wilson and Rob Ashford's thrilling arrangements have a brassiness that sounds like live music. And Spacey sings sufficiently like Darin to keep memories of the real thing at bay. From toupee to tux, Spacey has Darin's number, and my favorite line is when the singer consoles his upset wife, "No matter what happens, you'll always be Sandra Dee." That truism sums up Beyond the Sea. Being Bobby Darin, like being Sandra Dee (nee Alexandra Zuck), is not the most glittering prize in the world, but it is certainly not nothing. (RvB)
(1969) Roger Ebert's finest hour was co-writing the script for this filmas opposed to his weakest hour, hiring "Curly Gene" Roeper. (Where did he find that muscle-headed jock, anyway? Through a male-modeling agency?) This Russ Meyer-directed sequel to the Jackie Susann penny-dreadful features the Carrie Nations, a rising rock group tormented by personal troubles. Thus, though related only in name, the film follows the scheme of the first VOD (aspiring starlets in trouble), upping its ante with lots more drugs and toplessness. Starring the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Edy Williams, Charles Napier and two Playboy playmates, Dolly Read (Miss May 1966) and Cynthia Meyers (Miss December 1968). Fun fact: this film was the source of the line, "It's my happening, and it freaks me out, baby!" quoted in Austin Powers. Morally uplifting; 100 percent free of square-headed film critics apparently hired for their eye candy appeal. (Confidential to R.E.: The worse mistakes are the mistakes you're afraid to unmake. Call me back.) (RvB)
(1956/1960) Bhowani Junction is a wide-screen epic about the downfall of the Raj in India, with Ava Gardner as a woman whose three relationships with different men tell the story. Stewart Granger and Bill Travers co-star. Filmed in Pakistan. BILLED WITH Heller in Pink Tights. Based on the story of Adah Issacs Menken, who scandalized Victorian audiences with her climactic "nude" horseback ride in the play Mazeppa. (Actually, she was wearing a pink leotard, as the unusual title of this unusual film suggests.) A Louis L'Amour novel was the source for the film, which is director George Cukor's only Western. A blonde-dyed Sophia Loren plays the free-spirited actress barnstorming the old West; her co-stars are Anthony Quinn and old-time silent stars Ramon Novarro and Edmund Lowe. (RvB)
(1953/1948) Born in Brixton to a British theatrical family, and the daughter of a noted vaudeville comedian, Ida Lupino went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. In Hollywood, she evolved from delicate leading lady to hard-boiled girl with a fatal weakness for big lugs. Lupino became the first major woman director of the post-silent age, working for the big screen and TV (including a few memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone). It figures that it would take a woman to direct such an essentially sympathetic look at a man with two wives. The Raymond Burr-like sad sack Edmond O'Brien plays a traveling salesman with a businesslike marriage in San Francisco, though he spends weeks at a time in L.A. One lonely Sunday, he picks up a tough but forlorn waitress (Lupino), impregnating her and marrying her. His compartmentalized life breaks down when his San Francisco wife, Eve (Joan Fontaine), decides that she'd like to adopt a child, and the exacting head of the adoption agency (Edmund Gwenn) uncovers his deception. This film doesn't jerk tears, despite a plot that sounds like an ordinary back street drama. Due to Lupino's disinterest in the stereotypes of good girls and bad girls, it's a film that's very easy to take seriously. BILLED WITH Road House, something more on the line of dirty fun. Even the villain's nameJeftysets your teeth on edge. Jefty's played by Richard Widmark (who, even reflected in pastiche by Frank Gorshin on the Batman show, was one scary customer). The spoiled bastard owns a bowling alley/cocktail lounge in the sticks. He imports a sort-of singer/pianist (Lupino) from Chicago, thinking that what he pays her includes sleeping privileges. She balks at the arrangement, not bothering to be diplomatic about the refusal. When Jefty's assistant, the handsome but dull Cornel Wilde, goes sweet on this tart little cookie, murder isn't too far off. Under Jean Negulesco's direction this delicious tale bristles with wisecracks, most of them delivered by its pint-sized but lionhearted heroine. The nitrate print of this good-looking noir (photographed by Joseph LaShelle) comes from the UCLA Film Archive. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) How cool would it be if this movie was about a fabric-softener heist? Exactly! So cool! Buck up, though, it is an Elmore Leonard adaptation starring Owen Wilson, from the director of Grosse Pointe Blank. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1932/1930) Bing Crosby, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, the Mills Brother, the Boswell Sisters and Kate Smith show off their chops in a revue movie with a modicum of a plot. BILLED WITH Follow Thru. Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll star in a rarely seen golden comedy. (AR)
(1935/1936) This one is the kind of brash musical review the sensitive Sullivan in Sullivan's Travels was rebelling against. Jack Oakie plays a popular singer kidnapped by a countess (Lyda Roberti), while various other mental cases (Akim Tamiroff, Burns and Allen) wait in the wings. The Big Broadcast itself includes Bing Crosby singing "I Wished on the Moon," with lyrics by Dorothy Parker. Also on the bill: Those phenomenal tap dancers the Nicholas Brothers (worth the price of admission right there), Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Ethel Merman, that prototypical boy-band the Vienna Boy's Choir and Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears. BILLED WITH San Francisco. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that there was an Indian legend that the site of San Francisco had risen out of the water one day and would, some day, sink back under. While we're waiting, enjoy this MGM musical with the title song that's the SF anthem. Jeannette MacDonald is torn (as aren't we all) between sacred and profane love, represented by gangster Clark Gable and a priest (Spencer Tracy). It's all climaxes with the quake you've been waiting for (20 minutes of it!). (RvB)
(1936/1937) Benny Goodman and his Orchestra vs. Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony in a Battle of the Bands. Losers get their heads shaved, in accordance with the draconian Orange County rules of such contests. Since the aristocratic mop on Stokowski's noble head is a match for Goodman drummer Gene Krupa's own Sideshow Bob-style hairdo, this is a matter of much suspense for the audience, which waits for results while watching the likes of Martha Raye, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Burns and Allen. "After something like this, the deluge or something," wrote critic Otis Ferguson. BILLED WITH Shall We Dance. This time, Fred Astaire plays a ballet dancer and Ginger Rogers a cabaret artist; the soundtrack is by George and Ira Gershwin, with such classics as "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "They All Laughed" and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." (RvB)
(1937/1938) The S.S. Gigantic and the S.S. Colossal, a pair of ocean liners, race across the Atlantic to see which is the fastest. Unbeknownst to the Colossal's backers, the world's unluckiest man, T. Frothingell Bellows (W.C. Fields), has been ordered to board the ship by the rival owners of the Gigantic. The Gigantic's conniving owner is indeed Bellows' own twin brother, S.B. Bellows (also Fields). Unfortunately, Frothingell goofs and boards the wrong ocean liner, bringing bad luck aplenty to his own brother's ship. This jinx is compounded when the Gigantic rescues, from a shipwrecked yacht, T.F. Bellow's equally unlucky daughter, Martha Raye (Raye is the Kristen "Third Rock From the Sun" Johnson type, or maybe it's the other way around). See, they call these musical-comedy plots intricate when actually it's just a matter of summing them up right. Meanwhile, an ex-wife-plagued crooner played by Bob Hope (debuting) sings his signature tune, "Thanks for the Memory." Also: performances by Kirsten Flagstad (singing Wagner), comedian Ben Blue, Dorothy Lamour, Tito Guízar singing "Zuni Zuni" and Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra. BILLED WITH Break the News. Very rare Rene Clair/Cole Porter musical, made in the U.K., about a vaudevillian who stages his own death for publicitybut then an innocent man is arrested for murder because of the stunt. Jack Buchanan, later a performer in '50s American musicals, produced and stars. (RvB)
(1936) A detective (Cary Grant) and a manicurist (Joan Bennett) team up to investigate a jewel theft that's a front to bilk insurance agencies. Raoul Walsh directs. (RvB)
(PG; 93 min.) David Leary has been teased, taunted and tormented by bully Roscoe Bigger all his life, and he's not going to take it anymore. Though undoubtedly not a shoo-in come Oscar time, Big Bully is an enjoyable film in which the kids teach the adults a lesson or two about life. Leary (Rick Moranis) spent his entire fourth-grade year running and hiding from the school bully, Bigger (Tom Arnold). Leary's parents saved his young life by moving the family to the safety of Oakland, but when Leary returns to his hometown years later to teach creative writing at the same school, he meets up with Bigger once again. The evil streak in Bigger, who is now a mild-mannered shop teacher, is resurrected at the sight of Leary. Blessed with its share of funny and heartwarming scenes, Big Bully is a simple, yet charming, film for the young and old alike (though perhaps more for the young). (NP)
(1983; 103 min.) Lawrence Kasdan's baby-boomer drama followed a weekend's worth of reminiscing and miscellaneous whining by a group of former student radicals gathered for a reunion. Tom Bereneger, Glenn Close, William Hurt and Mary Kay Place star.
(PG-13; 95 min.) Adam Sandler broaches stepfatherhood in his sixth chronicle of the developmental phases of the Northeast corridor male, following childhood (Billy Madison), separation from mother (The Waterboy), courtship and marriage (The Wedding Singer), and the late 20th-century career change (Happy Gilmore). Perhaps he's preparing the midlife adolescents in the audience for the cloacal nature of child rearing with ostensibly humorous scenes of vomiting, public urination and expectoration. The child-custody courtroom scene where Sonny's (Sandler) own father questions his son's quite dubious qualifications for fatherhood hints at a primal terror worthy of Kafka; however, the exchange evokes a sweet sentimentality for those audience members with the stomach for creamed corn à la Capra. Ultimately, Big Daddy is clumsier than The Wedding Singer, but isn't child rearing always more uneven than romancing, even for the feckless Sandler man? (DH)
(G; 88 min.) A kid (Frankie Muniz) plots revenge on the producer (Paul Giamatti) who snatched away his planned movie. Also stars Amanda Bynes.
(Not rated, but strong language and adult subjects) Filmed on digital video, Big Fuckin Score is a "high concept, low budget" full-length movie that follows a group of pimps and pushers around Santa Cruz County as they hustle each other for sex, drugs and money. Think Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harryor Jackie Brown done with Philly accents. Stars Sachi Henrietta, Seth Sonstein (who also produced, directed and edited), Kevin Kroiz and John Otts.
(R; 107 min.) A documentary by Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney and Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam) about the strange and unresolved case of the deaths of rappers Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Broomfield's thesis is that the ultimate responsible party is Suge Knight of Death Row Records, a charge that Knight denies. Includes lots of source footage plus plenty of Broomfield's patented in-your-face style of filmmaking.
(PG; 100 min.) Despite a predictable ending and a semi-implausible story-line, I actually found myself kind of enjoying this film about a group of apathetic kids who are encouraged to form a soccer team by their new schoolteacher. The Big Green is blatantly feel-good in true Disney style, but it has enough quirks to keep it from slipping into a formula children's movie. Such oddities as a green goat, the strange practice of covering oneself in Cheetos for the thrill of becoming a living bird feeder, and a goalie who has reoccurring hallucinations that the opposing team is filled with knights, zombies, terminators and giant soccer balls impart an almost surreal effect on the overall story. The bonus of this film lies in its positive depiction of a Latino immigrant who becomes the star of the soccer team. Of course, there are also enough bad-guys-we-love-to-hate, peewee heroes and syrupy moments to keep The Big Green from being overly thought-provoking, but that's okaythis film really doesn't need to be much more than a good time. (BB)
(1953) Fritz Lang's celebrated film noir about a cop determined to bust a city crime ring. Stars Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin.
(R; 99 min.) Hong Kong New Wave director Che-Kirk Wong (Crime Story) makes his North American debut with furious stunts, wild gunplay and bizarre potty humor. Mark Wahlberg plays Melvin Smiley, a Maalox-chugging hit man who can't stand not being liked. He's being played for a chump by his girlfriend (Lela Rochon of Waiting to Exhale), his fiancée (Christina Applegate) and his best bro, Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips); even the geek at the video store is rude to him. To top it off, Cisco frames him in the kidnapping of their boss' goddaughter, Keiko (newcomer China Chow, who's cuter than lace pants). The Big Hit doesn't always work, but when it does it's tops. Hong Kong legend John Woo executive produced. (BC)
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(1998) A holy fool (the Dude, played by Jeff Bridges) of a Hollywood layabout, mistaken for a detective, is set on a Philip Marlowesque task to find the straying wife (Tara Reid) of a wheelchair-bound Pasadena millionaire. In his path is a thinly disguised version of the German techno-band Kraftwerk"They're nihilists, Dude. That's worse that Nazism. At least Nazism is an ethos." This defective detective story parodies how film noir went from ripeness to rot decades ago. While the Coen brothers send up the private eye movie as effectively as Bob Hope's My Favorite Brunette, The Big Lebowski has a core of poignancy, and that's its appeal to slackerkind. No man or woman is so lazy that they don't feel they have a code, just like Marlowe did. Down these mean streets a man must go who is so drunk he doesn't know where he's going. The filmdismissed by most critics at the timeis now apparent as one of the best movies of the 1990s. In the role of the human tumbleweed, the Little Lebowski, known as "Dude"ex-roadie, former member, along with six other guys, of the Seattle SevenJeff Bridges brought a new level of vulnerable warmth that serves him well in Seabiscuit. The llama-eyed Steve Buscemi is rather touching, and Sam Elliott is uproarious as his Cowboy Bard, who sometimes has to stretch a little to find the right words. When will someone double-bill this with Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, its natural companion? (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Looking for plot? Not here. Depth? Not here either. But if you're looking for really bad bathroom humor and fat jokes, Martin Lawrence is your man, and Big Momma's House is your plan. The good news: it works. Playing a detective who goes undercover as a lovely suspect's (Nia Long) long-lost granny, Lawrence gets to show his ever-growing chops at physical humor. No unexpected turns, just flat-out gut-busting guffaws as Lawrence does Hattie Mae taking karate lessons, or Hattie Mae fending off her elderly suitor. Although he gets more press for self-destructive behavior, Lawrence is underrated as an actor and producer. He's definitely worth catching with Tim Robbins in the sleeper Nothing to Lose. Long deserves a better role in this flick than passive eye-candy. The gal knows how to turn in a performance (catch Soul Food). This is matinee fodder, when the workday's getting too much and it's time to play hooky. (KL)
(PG-13; 99 min.) Martin Lawrence returns as Martin Turner, an FBI agent who must once again go undercover as Big Momma ... wait a minute, Big Momma is a guy? Holy shit! I had no idea. Martin Lawrence is a very convincing woman. I even went out with Big Momma once, and I couldn't tell. Martin Lawrence, you bastard, you broke my heart! (Capsule preview by SP)
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(R; 107 min.) At once an incisive, intimate character comedy, perfect in its details, and a sage comment on assimilation, the captivating Big Night is set sometime in the late 1950s, but it goes against the trend of strict nostalgia. It focuses, in a low-key way, on what may well be the last banquet at an Italian restaurant. The fine but ailing place is run by the Pilaggi brothers (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci), who can't compete with the pizzazz of the Italian eatery up the street. The owner of the other restaurant, who recognizes the Pilaggis' talent, decides to send his great personal friend Louis Prima for dinner at their place. The brothers go crazy fixing the ultimate meal, and it's magic, a screen feast to match Babette's. Prima, of course, fails to materialize, and the brothers' quarrel over their trouble ends in a fight. The tale is a natural one for actors: the meal must go on. But the humor with which co-director Tucci leavens Big Night appeals to discerning palates: dry in his and Shalhoub's serio-comic feuds, acrid in Campbell Scott's keenly funny turn as a crafty Cadillac salesman. (RvB)
The newly restored version of Howard Hawks' classic adaptation of Raymond Chandler's famous detective story differs by a few minutes from the one originally released to theaters. The extra footage, pieced together by the UCLA Film Archive, helps to sort out the story's famously tangled narrative. Detective Philip Marlowe (Bogart) is hired to keep tabs on a millionaire's nymphomaniac daughter; in tracing her, he becomes wrapped up with blackmailers and murderers. No one has ever cared as much about the plot as they have about Hawks' staggeringly impudent directionor as much as they cared for Lauren Bacall, who plays the tough good girl who assists Marlowe. The Big Sleep is all style and little substance, but what confident style. (RvB)
(1946/1954) Easygoing L.A. private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by a crippled general to keep tabs on his nymphomaniac daughter, who is wrapped up in a case of blackmail and murderall a matter of less importance to Marlowe then matching wits with the ladies over cocktails. No one has ever cared as much about the plot as they have about Howard Hawks' staggeringly impudent directionor as much as they cared for Lauren Bacall, who plays the smoky-voiced, tough good girl who assists Marlowe. For once in the movies, the playing field is leveled between women and menas seen in the friendly rainy-day tryst between Marlowe and a bookstore clerk (Dorothy Malone), a scene supposedly improvised on the spot. It's just about the most confident movie ever made and one of the most watchable (and rewatchable). Also stars tragic little Elisha Cook Jr. and the unweaned Martha Vickersone of the screen's finest nymphomaniacs. BILLED WITH Sabrina. Audrey Hepburn plays the daughter of a chauffeur on a Long Island estate. She has nursed a crush on the family's younger playboy son (William Holden), but the responsible elder brother (Bogart) eventually turns her head. Billy Wilder's mix of the mordant and the playful was just about right here. (RvB)
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(R; 97 min.) At its best, The Big Squeeze is knowingly disreputable film noir spoof about a bored wife who hires a drifter to get her husband's money. The wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) is introduced with a slow pan up her bare legthe point of view of her leering husband (Luca Bercovici). The husband is a churchgoing, abusive former baseball player who is keeping the news of his recent $130,000 insurance settlement from his wife; when Tanya gets wise, she persuades the drifter, Benny (Peter Dobson), to hustle it away in exchange for half the proceedsand, he thinks, all of her. With the men outnumbering the women 3 to 2, De Leon's script gets plenty of mileage out of the line, "So, did you sleep with her?" Whether these are jokes about male sexual paranoia is hard to say, so sketchy is the film's tone. In its first half, The Big Squeeze tries to evoke a sweaty, neon-drenched bar culture populated with glistening, duplicitous beauties of both sexes; in the second, it wants to be a wacky, sunlit comedy. (RN)
(1986) John Carpenter directed this special effects-laden martial arts/actioner farce starring Kurt Russell as a trucker who gets embroiled in Chinatown intrigue when he must help rescue his friend's fiancee from a mad magician. Also starring James Hong and Kim Cattrall.
(PG-13; 111 min.) Underground motorcyclists battle for supremacy on the mean streets. Stars Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke, not to mention Kid Rock.
(1989) Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves (in arguably his best role ever) star as two teen slackers flunking history class who get a chance to travel back through time.
Animator Plympton, the backbone of the Spike and Mike Sick and Twisted Animation fests, is a man who loves to melt fat. He draws big, beef-fed, pipe-smoking confident faces of 1950s dads and the distended bosoms and constricted mouths of Eisenhower-era beauty queens in evening gown. Then Plympton does to them what the Armour company does to a side of beef. He processes them. He renders them like tallow, slicing them, turning them into goo, extruding them through tiny spaces and twisting them like saltwater taffy. Often grosssometimes lyrical (as in his best known short, Your Face)Plympton's work still has shock value 20 years after he began. The reason is his ace draftsmanship; when he squashes and stretches his subjects, there's as much Gray's Anatomy in the mix as there is Chuck Jones. Plympton will talk, show some of his work and answer questions at a special event hosted by the SJSU Animation/Illustration Program. (RvB)
(R; 110 min.) Directed by Brit theater veteran Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot is the story of a coal miner's son who prefers ballet slippers to boxing gloves. Newcomer Jamie Bell plays Billy, whose weekly boxing lesson is brightened by the unanticipated arrival of Mrs.Wilkinson (Julie Walters) and her gaggle of tutu-clad prancers. It's 1984, Great Britain's miners are on an extended strike and the class's usual rehearsal space has been coopted by a union-run soup kitchen. Billy, who's "crap" as far as fighting goes, becomes fascinated by the ballet and begins taking classes in secret. Typical to the triumph-of-the-underdog genre, Elliot's protagonist must prove to those who misunderstand him that he's a contender for greatness, if only they'll get out of the way. Initially, Billy's dad absolutely forbids him to dance, even disregarding Mrs. Wilkinson's impassioned plea that his progeny is a candidate for the Royal Ballet. His lessons and seemingly, his dreams, end, but still Billy dances. He dances up the walls in his backyard. He dances in the streets in the snow. And in the film's most show-stopping sequence he throws a whopping angst-driven tap-tantrum to The Jam's infinitely catchy "Town Called Malice." It is in scenes like this that the otherwise cliché-ridden film achieves a rollicking weightlessness, wholly due to young Bell's ebullient performance. Sadly, when the music stops the energy dips so dramatically, it rarely recovers. (NM)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Check your cerebrum at the popcorn counter, you need only the reptilian part of your brain to appreciate the low-brow-ridge humor of Pauly Shore's latest film. Pauly and his pal (Stephen Baldwin) play two room-temperature-IQ junior college students who mistake a biosphere for a new mall and end up locked in for a yearlong experiment. Baldwin's a sexy foil for the oleaginous Shore; his eyes are as deep and blue as a birdbath. They're best buds; they even chew each other's toenails. The film features a green theme, a cameo by the president's brother, and a vintage New Wave soundtrack including the Ramones singing "Spider-Man." Biodome is an idiot's delight. (DH)
(1988) Forest Whitaker stars as wizardly saxophonist Charlie Parker, dead at 34, arguably heroin's most lamentable casualty. In Clint Eastwood's biopic, we see him in the last few months of his life in a flashback-ridden odyssey between jazz clubs, tenement halls and a Camarillo hospital. (RvB)
(R; 118 min.) An American version of the popular French farce La Cage aux Folles, The Birdcage is faithful to the original, which, even after almost 20 years, doesn't need much of an update. In fact, with the well-worn if undefinable "family values" crusade still looming large, the story proves just as timely for this decade. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane star as Armand and Albert, a gay couple who must masquerade as both heterosexual and right-wing when the future in-lawsan ultraconservative U.S. senator and his wifeof Armand's son pay them a visit. Williams and Lane both give enjoyable performances, although Lane has a tendency to overplay. Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest do equally well as the senator and his prim wife, folks as interesting as mayonnaise sandwiches. The story's scant updates actually heighten the comedy, from nasty little references to the "cultural elite" to a few well-placed digs at Bob Dole. One of the funniest scenes gets in some venomous political jabs with mere exaggerations of the some of the far right's most extreme stances. (HZ)
(1963) On one level, a terrifying thriller about nature on the warpath; on another, an often almost avant-garde tale of karmic payback for a family that has lost the ability to understand one another. Hitchcock's still-influential disaster film is innovative in a number of realms (every zombie movie ever made owes this picture a "thanks to ..." credit.) Jessica Tandy, as the sad, distant mother, is almost as impressive as the attack ravens. Filmed extensively in Northern California, particularly in Bodega Bay. Watch the skies. (RvB)
(1963/1960) The Birds is loaded with ideas like the phone-booth scene: "Here, the human beings are in cages, and the birds are on the outside"Alfred Hitchcock to François Truffaut. But The Birds transcends its ahead-of-its-time "When Animals Attack" gimmick. You expect the birds. What you don't expect, upon rewatching, is how the film stings you with instances of communication breakdown within a Bodega Bay family. It's as if the birds are the wrath of nature visited on a group of people who can no longer bear to speak to one another. Stars Tippi Hedren, gone from Sego to seagulls, her peculiarly cold persona cracked into hysteria by the assault of beaks and claws. Rod Taylor plays the man attracted to her but repelled by unfinished business with his mother (Jessica Tandy). The electronic chirps and screeches on the soundtrackthere is no musicare by Bernard Herrmann. BILLED WITH Psycho "To me it's a fun picture" (Hitchcock to Andrew Sarris). And yet Anthony Perkins gives it a tender side; he's a tormented Universal Pictures monster of the old school. (After four sequels, his Norman Bates probably would have ended up teamed with Abbott and Costello, if they'd lived long enough.) Perkins plays a mother-fixated loner, operating a moribund motel somewhere in the lower San Joaquin valley; Janet Leigh plays the guest who checks in but doesn't check out. Shot on the cheap with a small crew and a string-quartet soundtrack, this powerful-and fun thriller continues to influence hundreds of much lesser films. (RvB)
(R) Tepid, and plainly the work of too many hands, but Nicole Kidman's most rabid fans will find depth in it. It's a Manhattan fairy tale, co-written by the eminent scriptwriter J.C. Carriere. Anna (Kidman), a well-off widow, is about to yield to pressure to marry a fatuous society man (Danny Huston, doing his modern-day Joseph Cotten again). On the day her engagement is announced, a little boy (Cameron Bright) materializes out of Central Park. This 10-year-old claims to be Anna's dead husband reincarnated. As in his previous film, Sexy Beast, director Jonathan Glazer cooks up a bravura opening sequence: Anna's previous husband jogs up to his rendezvous with death through a Central Park so snowy and silent it might be a country road in New England. And once again, Kidman proves she's better off in macabre material; when she flirts with the strange little dybbuk, it's creepier than anything in Saw. Still, the lofty title is a warning: this is a stilted and airless movie. When Lauren Bacall, as Anna's mother, makes a little joke ("How is Mr. Reincarnation enjoying his cake?") it's as if someone shot off a rifle in the theater. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) A Russian mail-order bride (Nicole Kidman) proves to be more than meek Ben Chaplin can handle in this multinational thriller.
(1947) Whether it's a more restrained angel movie, or whether it's Cary Grant who's playing the angel in questionThe Bishop's Wife is a rare exception to the angel-movie breed, with Grant coming to spiritually revive a bishop (David Niven) who is more interested in worldly matters than in his business as a soul savior. Loretta Young plays the wife who takes a more than religious interest in the celestial visitor. (RvB)
(1975) Ex-Marine, ex-newspaperman and hard-boiled auteur Richard Brooks (Deadline, USA; Looking for Mr. Goodbar) directed, wrote and produced this Western about a 700-mile horseback race. The cast includes Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Ben Johnson and Ian Bannenand for youth appeal, Columbia Studios' male ingenue Jan-Michael Vincent, the Brad Pitt of the '70s. Betcha Vincent gets shot in this picture. In his heyday, Vincent was a sacrificial figure. He represented all the young men being killed in Vietnam, which the movies of the time almost always mentioned allegorically and almost never mentioned directly. (Women of a certain age will remember how sad they were watching Vincent having his fine blonde hair shaved off to join the Leathernecks in the 1970 antiwar TV movie-of-the-week Tribes or how they cringed watching him roughed up by rednecks in 1976's Baby Blue Marine and 1974's Buster and Billy.) (RvB)
(G; 106 min.) Original 1971 filmed version (not the 1994 redux) of Anna Sewell's classic novel about the trials and tribulations of a 19th-century horse that passes from owner to owner. Stars Mark Lester, Walter Slezak, Peter Lee Lawrence and Ursula Glas.
(R; 84 min.) Bob Clark executive produced this remake of his 1974 cult classic, and writer-director Glen Morgan professes to be a huge fan, so maybe it's no wonder that this tale of sorority sisters stalked by a killer is so much more fun than the god-awful ads would suggest. The original inspired John Carpenter's Halloween, and Morgan in turn takes so much from Carpenter in his restructuring of the story that it almost seems like an inside joke (he steals from not only Halloween, but Halloween 2, even though he must know that no one wanted to see a horror movie move to an absurdly empty hospital ever again). He also obviously asked Santa for inspiration from Wes Craven, and boy, did the fat man come through—there are elements of Nightmare on Elm Street and The People Under the Stairs, and the scary-phone-call setup from the original has been seriously Scream-ified. Even in its attempt to provide a complete backstory for the famously cryptic 1974 film, this movie does not take itself even remotely seriously. It's campy and gory and a viciously jolly alternative for holiday cynics. (SP)
(PG-13; 109 min.) There was a time in the '70s and early '80s when the life of the trucker was glorified in popular culture in TV shows like B.J. and the Bear and movies like Smokey and the Bandit. Director Kevin Hooks rolls back to that era with Dukes of Hazzard-style car chases and CHiPs-style explosions, and it's a fun ride. Patrick Swayze plays Jack Crews, a recent parolee and ex-trucker trying to get his life back together, a task that involves driving a illegal load for his crooked boss (Graham Beckel). While Swayze plays his character with cold concentration, his supporting cast, an odd band of misfits, adds a great deal of humor. Ironically, country crooner Randy Travis plays a really bad singer/songwriter, and although somewhat stilted at times, Travis proves to be an OK actor. Meat Loaf plays a Bible-quoting bad guy hell-bent on hijacking the trailer. With a notable soundtrack (including a cover of Eddie Rabbitt's "Drivin' My Life Away") as well as intense action scenes filmed on the open road, Black Dog is above average action fare. (SQ)
(Unrated, 87 min.) The loss of Marlon Riggs (1957-1994) to AIDS is especially tragic in the light of this last film, a deep, satisfying examination of the question of black identity. Riggs approached this topic from both an insider and an outsider's perspective: first being both black and gay; later, as he was dying, on the other half what Susan Sontag called the most important division of humanity: the sick and the well. Black Is ... Black Ain't is a collage of images and interviewsfrom the Delta to the cities, from suburbanites to farmerson such social constructs as music, speech, rural roots, food, history and masculinity. Riggs found variables in all subjects, especially the last; bell hooks is especially sharp on the problems of a new patriarchal revival in African American thought: "If the black thing is a dick thing, we're in trouble." Black Is ... Black Ain't is a search for the 1,001 colors of which Malcolm X spoke as the true color of the black people, discussing in this search two sadly popular shades: "too black" or "not black enough." Riggs' demise is a great loss, but fortunately, this sage, moving documentary preserves the open-minded, warm and provocative filmmaker's last work, summed up by a quote from Zora Neale Hurston: "There is no The Negro here." (RvB)
(1999/1995) Osamu Dezaki's Black Jack is an anime about a futuristic surgeon named Dr. Black Jack who goes after a supervirus. BILLED WITH Ghost in the Shell. Cop versus diabolical hacker in 2029. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Martin Lawrence stars as an amusement park employee who gets transported to 14th-century England.
(1929/1932) In Blackmail, a lecherous artist (Cyril Ritchard, later famous for his Captain Hook on television) is stabbed by his model, whose real boyfriend is the police detective later assigned to solve the murder. The film is noteworthy for director Alfred Hitchcock's use of "the Schufftan process": German cinematographer Eugene Schufftan's method to blend mirror images with actual backdrops. (What a résumé Schufftan had: Carne's Quai des Brumes, the smart René Clair fantasy It Happened Tomorrow, Franju's Eyes Without a Face, The Hustler. ...) Hitchcock used mirrors to recreate several rooms in the British Museum for the finale, a chase amidst the museum's statuary. BILLED WITH Rich and Strange. A sadly unpopular oddity of Hitchcock's, as impressive as it is little known. It begins with an ambitious shot that starts as a close-up in the columns of a business ledger and ends as a crowded office disgorges its clerks at 6pm. One of the clerks, Freddy (Henry Kendall), is discontented with his stifling life. He denounces his boredom to his contented wife, Emily (the pretty Joan Barry): "The best place for us is the gas oven." Because of an unexpected inheritance, the couple leaves for an around-the-world vacationrecreated with stock footage. The two of them have shipboard affairs: Emily, with an aboveboard wealthy planter in Malaysia, Freddy with an imitation princess. It's the stuff of urbane comedy, but Hitchcock gives it teeth, sensuality and morbidity. Here are the roots of Hitchcock's later concern with a man's urge for adventure battling with his fears of marital chains, seen later in Vertigo and Rear Window. (RvB)
(R; 88 min.) Fleet-footed Jet Li reigns in this rerelease of his 1996 Hong Kong action film, Hak Hap. Li (Once Upon a Time in China, Legends of Shaolin) stars as Tsui, a member of an elite military squad of chemically altered super-soldiers known as the 701 Squad, who leaves his life of butt-kicking behind to become a mild-mannered librarian. But when Hong Kong drug lords (those mandatory Triad kingpins who appear in just about any Hong Kong flick) start dying in bizarre and extremely messy ways, Tsui realizes his former squad pals are back in action. Enter the Black Mask, and a new crime-fighting career. Bad dubbing and predictable plot aside, Black Mask gives mainstream American audiences a chance to see Li's mastery of martial arts. Although his performance as the heartless villain in Lethal Weapon 4 made the otherwise dull movie, Li proves once again he's meant to play the leading man. (MS)
(PG-13; 86 min.) If a babbling drunkard with a Beavis and Butt-head noisemaker were poking me in the arm with the end of a pencil, it would be less annoying than watching Black Sheep. If you think Saturday Night Live has been impossibly unwitty lately, SNL veterans Chris Farley and David Spade have managed to create a film that makes the top-ten worst SNL sketches look brilliant by comparison. Black Sheep is the story of a gubernatorial hopeful who is constantly embarrassed by his brother's moronic attempts to assist his campaign. Perhaps story is too strong a word. Here's the real plot: Chris Farley yells, wriggles around and things fall on him. Then he yells some more. More things fall on him. David Spade covers his face in embarrassment. Occasionally, things fall on him too. Mostly, Farley just yells. In between yelling, there are several oozing moments of pseudo-sentimentality complete with sitcom-quality piano accompaniment. (BB)
(1998/1982) Two by director Ching Siu-Tung (The Heroic Trio, the Maggie Cheung film excerpted in Irma Vep; Executioners and Chinese Ghost Story 1-3). In A Black Sheep Affair, a local premiere, secret agent Chi Man-Cheuk goes up against airline hijackers and a cartel of Russian arms dealers. BILLED WITH Duel to the Death. A brawl in the Ming Dynasty pits Chinese martial artists against their Japanese rivals. (RvB)
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(R; 120 min.) A slick, cartoonish bloodfest, Blade has some fantastic set pieces, trippy cinematography and a few truly witty conceits. But it also has a plot so frustratingly illogical (even for a horror/thriller/ superhero movie) that all but the most taciturn viewers will be tempted to shout at the screen. Worse, leading man Wesley Snipes, who ordinarily oozes gravity and charisma, is as thick and leaden as Sylvester Stallone. Still, Blade's vision of vampires as a shadowy elite with influence over the police force, government and hip nightclubs is perfect for our conspiracy-obsessed decade, and several scenes are more supernaturally stylish than anything in the otherwise superior Lost Boys. But without at least a minimally lucid story line and characters worth caring about, visuals, music and atmosphere aren't enough, even for a summertime popcorn flick. (MG)
(R; 108 min.) Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a recovering hemaholic vampire, able to bear daylight and dedicated to fight the bloodsuckers who killed his mom. He's Batman, but he's also a samurai, and he has big guns too. The first film directed by Stephen Norrington was a competent exercise in chrome and leather nada, a luxury car commercial with gore. This far superior sequel was directed by the imaginative and stylish Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone). Here, Blade is recruited by the vampire aristocrat Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschman, with makeup that makes him look like he's carved out of blue cheese). With a team of untrustworthy vamp commandos called "The Blood Pack," Blade hunts a new mutant strain of nosferatu called "Reapers," who resist bullets and sport impressively machined unhingeable mandibles. The action takes place in the sewers of Prague, and his back is never safe. He's got to watch out for the villainous Ron Perlman and even the vampire love interest Nyssa (Leonor Varela). The film is so violent that it's poetic. When the vampires disintegrate, it's like burning paper, with hot embers shooting everywhere. Blade II's comic mania recalls the original From Dusk Till Dawn for excitement and hilarity; the fight choreography by Donnie Yen recalls the best of Hong Kong. Obviously not for those repelled by what the MPAA calls "strong pervasive violence, language, some drug use and sexual content" (and numerous impalements, bloodbaths, bushido brain surgery, more guts than a slaughterhouse, etc.). (RvB)
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(R; 114 min.) It hasn't been the best year for Dracula. The libelous Van Helsing was bad enough; Blade: Trinity is even more down for the Count. Following up Guillermo del Toro's fine sequel, Blade 2, new director David S. Goyer (a perennial B-movie screenwriter) soaks in video-game aesthetics so thoroughly that you wonder where the joystick went. Set in Seattle (Vancouver, of course), the film mostly takes place in a badly computer-generated office building leased by the shape-shifting immortal Dracula, called "Drake" (Dominic Purcell). Having had enough of humansmaybe he saw a preview of this sucker?Drake rises and tries to take over the world. Goyer soaks the film in spurious geek chic, even unto including "Trinity" in the title to lure in the Matrixies. In critic R. Meltzer's phrase, Goyer is one of that vast army of people who made the word "cool" useless forever. One other foot soldier in that army: vampire hunter Ryan Reynolds of Van Wilder, easy winner of the 2004 "Most Annoying Sidekick" trophy with oak-leaf clusters and special-circumstances citation. Abigail (Jessica Biel) is basically there to plug the iPod. Parker Posey, as the villainess Danica, struts out some peculiar high-fashion outfits. Features an excerpt from the 1960 filmed-in-Big Sur all-Esperanto movie Incubus, starring William Shatner. Oh, to be watching that one instead. (RvB)
(1982) In Los Angeles in the near future, an embittered bounty hunter (Harrison Ford) tracks down four genetically engineered slaves who have escaped from the off-world colonies. While hampered with a narration track and a happy ending on its original release, this extremely influential and moody science fiction/detective story casts a spell, channeling the guilt and pessimism of Raymond Chandler, echoing his diatribes about the pollution, futility and despair of Los Angeles. (Chandler is the real source, even if Philip K. Dick is credited with the source novel; Dick's pathos about a world in which animals are all but extinct is only brushed against here.) Memorable in the cast: the late Brion James as a replicant who doesn't like the word "mother"; Sean Young as a beauty too pure to be real; Daryl Hannah, whose inhumanly good looks are used for terror; and Rutger Hauer, who gets a little Christ-like after acting throughout the movie like a blond Satan. (RvB)
(1982/2007) Preceding its rerelease on DVD in a special edition, this visionary mash-up of film noir and science fiction has its images digitally spruced, and some of its imagery made clearer: the purpose of a dream sequence closes what was once an open question left at the end. In Los Angeles in the near future, an embittered bounty hunter (Harrison Ford) tracks down four genetically engineered slaves who have escaped from the off-world colonies. While hampered with a narration track and a happy ending on its original release, this extremely influential film channeled the guilt and pessimism of Raymond Chandler, echoing his diatribes about the pollution, futility and despair of Los Angeles. (Chandler is the real inspiration, even if Philip K. Dick is credited with the source novel; Dick's pathos about a world in which animals are all but extinct is only brushed against here.) Memorable in the cast: the late Brion James as a replicant who doesn't like the word "mother"; Sean Young as a beauty too pure to be real; Daryl Hannah, whose inhumanly good looks are used for terror; and Rutger Hauer, who gets a little weirdly Christ-like after acting throughout the movie like a blond Satan. (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) Will Ferrell plays a rock & roll ice skater with a whirlwind sex drive, a heavy-lidded gaze and an ego twice the size of his brain. Banned from skating after fighting with his by-the-book rival (straight man Jon Heder), they are forced to become a pair in order to continue. Several skating luminaries appear in cameos. First-time directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck can't quite balance their spoof of the skating world with the "inspirational" story, the villains and the love interest, but Ferrell makes up for everything with his flawless delivery, both subtle and outrageous. He has by now established a bona fide comic persona—a deadpan channeling of the adolescent id—that ranks him alongside Harry Langdon and the other great screen clowns. (JMA)
(PG-13; 106 min.) There's a pattern forming in Brendan Fraser's roles. Characters like Link (Encino Man) and George (George of the Jungle) are naive in the ways of modern society, but possess very endearing qualities that make them lovable. His character in Blast From the Past is no exception. Fraser stars as Adam, a man born and raised in a bomb shelter, where his parents (played by the nutty duo Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek) took refuge when they mistakenly believed the Big One hit. After 35 years the locks open and Adam steps out into a scummy section of present-day Los Angeles where he meets Eve (Alicia Silverstone), a jaded young woman of the '90s. After waiting his whole life to see the sky and to meet a girl, Adam becomes smitten with Eve, who, though cynical at first, warms to his wide-eyed innocence, old-fashioned values and genuine sweetness. Spacek and Walken offer some great moments of comedy, as does Dave Foley (of Kids in the Hall and NewsRadio), who plays Eve's best friend and confidant. Though there are a few holes and awkward transitions, this romantic comedy holds together fairly well, and director Hugh Wilson makes good use of the contrasts between the '60s and the '90s. (SQ)
(1974) When a railroad baron (Harvey Korman) sizes up an old western town for destruction, only a drunken gunslinger (Gene Wilder) and a stylish sheriff (Cleavon Little) can save themunfortunately for the racist burg, the sheriff's a' nearing . . . that's to say, he's of the African-American persuasion. Blazing Saddles starts as very knowledgeable parody of westerns and of race mattersthe hand of co-scriptwriter Richard Pryor is very visible hereand it ends as a set of frame-breaking gags that sometimes seem as sophisticated as Buñuel and sometimes as hackneyed as Saturday Night Live. What pops into the memory: a pranked Frankie Laine's serious theme song, Mel Brooks as Governor LePetomane (named after the real-life turn-of-the-century cabaret "fartiste" who could trumpet "La Marseillaise" on stage). Also: ex-football player Alex Karras gentling a horse, and, later, poignantly, summing up his existence: "Mongo only pawn in game of life." There's Madeline Kahn's Dietrich imitation in her eminently quotable song, "I'm Tired," a parody of "The Laziest Girl in Town" heard in the movie Stage Fright . . . there are great inside gags here about all manner of trivia, and all you punters remember is the most historically influential of screen fart jokes, the campfire scene. (RvB)
(1985) A film by German experimental director Alexander Kluge, a novelist who turned to cinema. (RvB)
(R; 116 min.) Cult favorite "Beat" Takashi directs and stars in this new entry in an old franchise, about the scruffy but lethal ronin. The swordsman hero has had a huge imprint on American pop culture, from Frank Miller's Daredevil comics to Quentin Tarantino's movies. Unseen by our reviewers.
(1958) Delicious crunchy outside, disgusting gooey inside: a meteorite lands near Smoochers' Point, where a group of typical '50s teenagers are sitting in their cars, chewing on each other's lips. Drawn by the crash of the meteor, that most bored of all bored teenagers, Steve McQueen, pokes the space rock with a stick; it cracks open to reveal a nasty piece of space taffy that dissolves flesh. After snacking on a few local yokels, the malevolent jelly grows large enough to engulf a movie theaterthat'll teach them to stay at the drive-in where they belong. (The last movie the unlucky audience sees is, according to psychotronic film scholar Michael Weldon, the fascinating 1955 indie horror film Dementia, a.k.a. Daughter of Horrorwhich is also worth a revival.) The acting highlight is by one Olin Howlin, as the old weirdo who is the first to be eaten; his pathetic snivelling is actually quite affecting. The snazzy saxophone-laden theme song is by Burt Bacharach; follow-ups include the unwatchable 1972 Larry Hagman-directed Son of Blob (merrily rereleased in 1982 as "The movie J.R. shot"). This screening kicks off Gypsy Cinema's annual summer shows, with three weeks at the Circle of Palms outside the San Jose Museum of Art followed by five nights at St. James Park. The Blob is shown in conjunction with the museum's current modern-design exhibit, "Blobjects & Beyond." (Plays Jul 8 in San Jose at sundown in the Circle of Palms by the San Jose Museum of Art; free; bring your own lawn chair.) (RvB)
(Both 1931) A boy-meets-girl story, featuring a pair of grifters: James Cagney (a bellboy with big plans) and that weary-eyed but easygoing Joan Blondell. BILLED WITH Taxi! Cagney stars as an independent cab driver fighting a big corrupt union. Loretta Young co-stars as the woman who tries to tame him. This modest, brief (a mere 68 minutes) domestic drama is a very sweet, touching slice of New York life, rendered without condescension toward the working-class characters. Young was never lovelier or more appealing. (RvB)
(1932) The complete four-word entry under "Cary Grant" in Marlene Dietrich's 1961 alphabetically listed dictionary Marlene Dietrich's ABCs: "Grant, CaryThe champion." She plays a cabaret dancer who performs in a gorilla suit; Grant is her fan who loans her some money when her husband (Herbert Marshall) needs surgery. The proud husband finds out, the marriage ends and Dietrich is reduced to living first in New Orleans, then in Parisuntil the Champion re-enters the picture. (RvB)
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(R; 100 min.) The third collaboration between director Bob Rafelson and actor Jack Nicholsonfollowing Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)is a disappointment: They should be capable of more than a midlevel detective story. Nicholson plays Alex Gates, a shady Miami dealer in fine wines who schemes to burglarize the house of one of his customers with the help of a cockney safecracker (Michael Caine). Gates' involvement in the robbery is very personal, since he's having an affair with the rich victim's nanny, Gabrielle (Jennifer Lopez). Nicholson is in sunset now, but he still flashes his trademark reptilian charm in a stiff dance he does with Lopez. The film seems artificial; it's balanced not on the carrying out of a crime but on the moral dilemma the crime poses. Since most of us (more's the pity) never really have the opportunity to sell out our loved ones at any price, it's hard to take Blood and Wine as anything more than a diversion. (RvB)
(R) A chilling tale of half-human, half-vampire creatures in 18th-century Romania (is there any place or time you'd rather be?). The cast is to salivate over: MADD poster girl Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Madsen in a mullet, Billy Zane, Michael Paré, Meat Loaf, Geraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier and Academy Award winner (as the trailers keep reminding us, as if anyone alive still remembers Gandhi) Ben Kingsley.
(R; 110 min.) "The trench is dug within our hearts / And mothers, children, brothers, sisters/ Torn apart."U2, "Sunday Bloody Sunday." The film is director/writer Paul Greengrass' re-enactment of Northern Ireland's version of the Boston Massacre: the Jan. 30, 1972, bloodshed in Londonderry that left 14 civilians dead and 12 injured. The shootout began when British soldiers from the 1st Parachute Regiment confronted what they deemed an illegal rally: a peace march organized by a member of parliament named Ivan Cooper (played by James Nesbitt). The British soldiers, who claim they were fired upon, emptied their guns into the crowd. While film critic David Denby of The New Yorker can claim that this film "fudges the issue" of the soldiers' guilt, in truth, even 30 years later the circumstances of the event are unclear, which is being investigated by the Savile Commission, a tribunal called in 1998 and still under way today. The documentarya success on the film-festival circuitshows the chaos of the tragic day, whose legacy is still felt in Ireland. Unpreviewed. (Capsule preview by RvB)
(R; 110 min.) One purpose of the film journalist is to make excuses for both very young actresses and very old actors. In the case of Clint Eastwood, critics have been glossing over his careless choice of scripts, mostly because he has a grand, old-movie persona. He's like a time-honored restaurant that people keep returning to because they have fond memories of its old days, and the customers try to overlook how run down everything is. Blood Work is a gimmick mystery. Terry McCaleb (Eastwood), a retired FBI profiler who is recovering from a heart transplant, is approached by Graciella (Wanda De Jesus), the donor's sister. Turns out that the donor was murdered in an unsolved case. A few decades ago, it would have been the police who'd be telling Eastwood that the case was closed and to go home; now it's his cardiologist (Anjelica Huston). Meanwhile, Eastwood's neighbor"Buddy," a yacht-harbor rummy, played by Jeff Danielsis recruited to help the detective track down the killer. The plotting is a Matlock special, from the dialogue ("Where were you on the night of January 22?") to the shootout in a derelict boat. The performances are very poor, from the Sondra Lockean lead acting by de Jesus to the noisy, clumsy comedy relief from Paul Rodriguez as an ornery cop. The only thing that distinguishes this from the lowest of Eastwood's pictures is a preposterous twist ending that the charitable will call audacious and the honest will call dumb. (RvB)
(R) The Full Monty with scissors, Monty's screenwriter Simon Beaufoy sets the National British Hairdressing Championship in the Yorkshire rust belt. The result is a dog's breakfast: some very good British actors portray an estranged hairdressing family (Alan Rickman and Natasha Richardson play ex-spouses) but they don't quite tease out a plot with too many tangles. The film feels like a BBC soap opera, where a few too many actors lend dignity to lines that don't deserve them. That said, the fish-out-of-water formula (Hairdressers + North England = Hilarity) generates a few smiles, the attractive cast doesn't embarrass itself, and the retro '70s soundtrack (another Monty holdover) is easy on the ears. Blow Dry is certainly the feel-good hairdressing movie of 2001. (DH)
Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Double Life of Veronique) directs a study of a young Parisian woman's return to the world of emotions from a self-created void. As befits a man who directed ten short movies about the Ten Commandments, Kieslowski begins with a telling quote from First Corinthians commending charity. Even so, the arguments for and against the isolated life are given equal weight, and the woman's decision never seems inevitable. The cerebral qualities of the film are made flesh by Juliette Binoche's vivid but subtle performance in the lead. (RvB)
(PG-13; 103 min.) Much better than its ads on the side of a bus. The title refers not to the economic burden Hawaiians labor under to live in paradise but to the thousands of gallons of water pummeling a surfer after a fall. The film captures underrepresented elements of surfer life: the sport's danger, reggae and chick surfers living in poverty. Blonde and bland Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) can't decide between training for the Oahu Pipeline Challenge, riding herd on her tweener sister or romancing a vacationing NFL quarterback. The film can't decide whether it's Dirty Dancing with sand in the crotch or soggy sisters doin' it for themselves. An underused Michelle (Girl Fight) Rodriguez could be Hollywood's tuffest muff since Pam Grier. Like the coral-lined shore break at the Banzai Pipeline, Blue Crush is beautiful but shallow. (DH)
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(Unrated; 89 min.) The film was improvised during a week on the set of Smoke. Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel), the manager of a Brooklyn cigar shop, sells smokes and listens to stories. Auggie's customers are more uptown than in SmokeLou Reed, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael J. Fox and Roseanne stop by. Free of the calculation that marred Smoke, Blue in the Face is a more likable movie; the story isn't fraught with conveying the importance of connection with your fellow man. There are a few fine jokes and even some realistic ardor when Roseanne, as the store-owner's wife, makes a pleading pass at Auggie. (RvB)
(1980) The passage of time has made John Landis' excessive car-crash-laden comedy look a little better, if only by contrast with the 8 million Saturday Night Live spinoffs since. One still misses John Belushi's comedy, the insouciant way he threw an automobile cigarette lighter out of the car, as if it were a spent match. (At least we have the great Jack Black as consolation for the loss.) And maybe you have to have been stranded on the roadside many times by those lousy Detroit clunkers of the 1970s to truly appreciate the spectacle of their punishment: watching them get blown up, smashed and dropped. There is no forgiveness for the underuse of John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and James Brown, all of whom make Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's silly but unbelievably popular tribute act look as minor as it was. Henry Gibson is memorable playing an Illinois Nazi. (RvB)
(PG-13; 124 min.) With Jake in the cold, cold grave, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) reforms the band with new personnel: "Mighty Mac" (John Goodman) and an orphan named Buster. It's unfunny, perfunctory garbage. For the big car crunch, director John Landis wantonly catapults about 30 autos into a heap, which he photographs from numerous angleshard-core porn for the bunch in Crash. Still, there are moments of quality in this junker. Aretha Franklin reprises "Respect" from the original movie. Watching her is something like going to see a national monument, only with less inevitable disappointment. Sam Moore leads a rousing gospel chorus, and there's a "monk's reward": a surprise postcredit scene of James Brown singing "Please, Please, Please," refusing to be comforted by his cape, which is draped around his shoulders by Goodman. Hardhearted indeed, a lady who could listen to James Brown's begging unmoved! (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) The dead returned to life in many good movies this summer; however, Blue Streak exhumes the moribund cop-buddy genre with far fewer laughs than planned. Martin Lawrence plays a burglar who hid a goiter-sized diamond in a construction site when the heist went awry. He returns from two years in prison to find an LAPD precinct station on the site. So he impersonates a cop and is soon promoted. The film's few comic moments come not from the creaky premise but from Lawrence's impromptu dances for joy. The film's other 90 minutes are as dull as traffic school. Give Blue Streak a 3 for laughability and an 8 for danceability. (DH)
(1986) Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern, representatives of all that is good, fresh and innocent about small-town America, get a taste of the dark side when they investigate a severed ear and a ripe, traumatized nightclub chanteuseand end up face to face with a vapor-snorting Dennis Hopper. David Lynch at his best. (RvB)