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(1972) Cabaret is the American musical at its smartest; it's malaise-era filmmaking at its most watchable. Though it has aged beautifully, this Weimar-themed film seemed indescribably apropos when it came outthe invincible Nixon had been re-elected for another term. Among the chronically paranoid (i.e. moviegoers), it seemed that nothing could stop the slide into disaster. In the midst of political misery, Cabaret's snapshot of Berlin on the brink was an understandable hit. Star Liza Minnelli was never better than as Sally Bowles, as half-naked and as emotionally exposed as Marilyn Monroe. Her Sally is a sponging nightclub singer in Berlin on the eve of the Nazi takeover; the would-be tough girl falls for the proper Englishman Michael York, hoping vainly that he can pull her chestnuts out of the fire. Sally's desperation bleeds through the fake-cheerful surface of her act and into the strange nightclub where she works. The hallucinogenic sordidness of the Kit Kat Club is embodied by the snakelike MC (Joel Grey, who took the best supporting actor Oscar.) Grey's line "Zo! Where are your troubles now?" is the epitaph of an evil eraa sick joke against those who tried to escape their hard times through sex, drugs, music or movies. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Vulnerable real-estate developer Matthew Broderick tries the trick of bribing the cable installer to get a free TV hookup, but the installer (Jim Carrey, parodying John Malkovich's obscene lisp), takes it as a proposition and decides to be best friends with his customer. The channel-surfing narrative leads to a few moments of blackout comedy, including cameos by Janeane Garofalo as an oppressed waitress at an awful medieval-themed restaurant; Tabitha Soren at her post on MTV; and director Ben Stiller as a fratricidal ex-child actor. As originally drawn out, the cable guy is a good metaphor for TV itself: an entertaining chum that turns into a 24-hour-a-day bully. Unfortunately, the film has been turned into a vehicle for Carrey, who, comedically speaking, is a bully himself, and not necessarily an entertaining one. Even the Three Stooges used to lay back a little to build up a gag; Carrey keeps firing, and the camera never rejects a joke, whether it's Carrey slapping chicken skin on his face to imitate Hannibal Lecter (who wasn't deformed, you'll recall) or repeating the word "Penith! Penith! Penith!" to get a big hand from the 12-year-olds in the audience. Even they thought it was only funny the first time. (RvB)
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(R; 121 min.) Caché (Hidden) won director/writer Michael Haneke the award for best director at the Cannes Festival in 2005. Some anonymous videotapes are delivered to the house of a Parisian couple: Georges (Daniel Auteuil), who hosts a book-chat program on TV, and his wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche). The tapes are meant to stimulate a memory, but of what? The mystery eventually leads to a grieving middle-aged man named Majid (Maurice Bénichou) and an incident of shocking French police violence against Algerian protestors in the early 1960s. The atmosphere of guilt is particularly timely in France, newly torn with riots that are part of tragedies acted out 40 years ago. (RvB)
One of the prerequisites for entering the International Order of Goofballs (North American Chapter) is the ability to spout Caddyshack lines on request. "This is my partner Wang! No offense!" "I smell varmint poontang, and the only good varmint poontang is dead varmint poontang." "You'll get nothing and like it!" "Hey, everybody! We're all gonna get laid!" For those considering IOC membership, bone up as Ted Knight, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and the world's most ridiculous animatronic gopher go nuts at Bushwood Country Club. (TI) (1980) Scenes from the class struggle at Bushwood Country Club as described by the doomed satirist Doug Kenney, co-scriptwriter and co-founder of The National Lampoon. It's the country-club elite (Judge Elihu Smails, played by Ted Knight) vs. a still-in-Saigon groundskeeper (the rare Bill Murray), who in turn opposes a famous gopher puppet, which rodent would seem to be some sort of symbol for the tunneling Viet Cong, outwitting everyone. The deathless Rodney Dangerfield steals the show as a nouveau-riche member who offends the WASP sensibilities of the older club men and women. ("Is that your son? Very nice, very nice. Now I know why tigers eat their young.") Comedian Gretchen Rootes opens for the film. (RvB)
(1954) Powerful but often tiptoe version of Herman Wouk's novel about a fictional uprising on board a U.S. Navy ship. Humphrey Bogart gave a famous performance as Captain Queeg, a cracked martinet who goes to a court martial ranting about some strawberries stolen from the ship's mess. The U.S. Navy was at pains to remind the audience of its proud history, so free of mutinies-which may be why the movie polishes the brass, so to speak, with laments and recriminations among Queeg's accusers. (The very similar film A Few Good Men was a little harsher on the officer out of bounds played by Jack Nicholson.) The Caine Mutiny was a much honored hit; impressed with the film, an aspiring Cockney actor named Maurice Micklewhite changed his name to Michael Caine. (RvB)
(1953) Doris Day shoots up the Old West in the musical's title role; Howard Keel strides across the screen as Wild Bill Hickok. (AR)
(1993) On a trip to Armenia, a Canadian husband and wife slowly drift apart. Atom Egoyan directs himself and real-life spouse Arsinée Khanjian. Part of the Summer of Love Crimes film series.
(1980) The famous Penthouse-produced big-budget sort-of porno version of life in ancient Rome returns just in time for the millennium. Money talks, which is why the cast includes such luminaries as Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud.
(1999) Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfuz's 1947 Cairo-based novel Midaq Alley was the source for this made-in-Mexico-City drama. We see three separate lives, observed on a Sunday afternoon: a middle-aged man is frightened by his own homosexual tendencies, a young woman falls in love and a past-her-prime landlady still waits for a husband. Stars Salma Hayek and Maria Rojo. (RvB)
(1935/1931)) William Wellman's classic adaptation of Jack London's novel stars Clark Gable, Loretta Young and Jack Oakie. BILLED WITH Platinum Blonde, featuring Jean Harlow in a sprightly comedy about a rich girl who longs for some excitement and marries a reporter (well, it's Hollywood after all). Also stars Young and Robert Williams. Directed by Frank Capra. (MSG)
Before Tarantino, before the Sundance indiewood film, before Miramax, before Project Greenlight and Dame Judi Dench, Camera One has been there showing the riskiest and most rewarding movies of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and today. Now, as the Camera Cinemas prepare to move their operation to the former UA Plex, Camera One is celebrating the end of a long run. On May 13 at 8pm, KFJC presents a pre-closing night show of Mansion, Sin in Space, Bodies in the Basement, Fingerbangerz and Space Travellerz. At 6pm on May 14: A Farewell to Camera One, with a retrospective of odds, ends and trailers. The night includes San Jose's Kill Squad, giveaways and surprises, and $1 popcorn and soda. (RvB)
(1928/1932) Buster Keaton becomes a newsreel photographer for Hearst in Manhattan, getting caught in a gang war while doing his best to court the girl of his dreams. Clark Wilson at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. BILLED WITH Speak Easily. An early sound film teaming Buster with Jimmy Durante; Keaton plays a professor hornswoggled into backing a ludicrous stage review. Also starring the ill-fated Harlowesque actress Thelma Todd. (RvB)
(1937/1936) With her bouquet of camellias concealing a bloody handkerchief, Greta Garbo has been the definitive Camille for decades. She plays Marguerite, the very highest-priced sort of concubine in 1840s France, an ex-milkmaid who has only learned how to read in the last few years. She's occasionally ruthless, but when the mask drops, you see a woman wearied by illness and harlotry: "a figure with the late sun behind it," as critic Otis Ferguson described Garbo. Somehow her training as a courtesan has been flawed, and her heart is uncontrolled. The role of the consumptive, noble Marguerite is absolutely right for Garbo, who never was the most polished actress of the classic period in movies. She doesn't have the Comédie Française-style perfection of Carole Lombard or Claudette Colbert, the other great cinematic beauties of the time. And Garbo's reluctance, refusal or inability to "nail down" the part is what makes this possibly creaky story live. Garbo's irresoluteness as a performer and as a person is perfect for a woman like Marguerite. This may be her best part--since I'm alienated by hauteur, I never understood what the appeal of Garbo was until I saw Camille. What is it about her? The freshness, the mixture of frailties and dignities, the low, murmuring voice (one scene here is practically played in whispers), the remarkably expressive mouth. "It's hard to talk about Garbo, really," director George Cukor said in a 1964 interview, "for she says everything when she appears on the screen. That is Garbo ... and all you can say is just so much chitchat." Also stars Laura Hope Crews, very droll as the wheezing procuress who trained Marguerite, and Henry Daniell, touching as the proud, hurt baron who tries to buy Marguerite. As his unfortunate rival, Armand, Robert Taylor has just the right combo of handsomeness and weakness. He's as callow as the women usually are in a man's picture, and Marguerite's reluctance to succumb to him often looks like harsh common sense. BILLED WITH Romeo and Juliet. From MGM at its best to MGM at its most saurian. Norma Shearer (Juliet) is old enough to play Mrs. Capulet; Leslie Howard is in her age bracket as Romeo; and the processionals, the artificial flowers and the clowning by Andy Devine don't leaven this production. However, this version does contain John Barrymore, "who could play Mercutio with his eyes closed, and almost did," as critic John Douglas Eames once quipped. (RvB)
The IMAGE film group of Palo Alto hosts an afternoon of discussion and film about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. A variety of video clips will be screened, including an amateur film shot secretly inside the Topaz camp in Utah by Dave Tatsuno of San Jose. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion of former internees.
The plan in 2000 was to give some Emory University students some digital cameras and laptops and see what they came up with. Since the initial experiment, the Campus MovieFest has spread to a website, where they claim 4 million hits, and a nationwide showcase with sponsorship by Turner Movie Classics. The SJSU finale on Sep 13, with the best local entries, will be hosted by Margaret Cho; on Sep 20, the California Theatre in San Jose is screening some of the best of the fest from local and national schools. No previews, but on the site we see a blend of new technology and traditional college humor, including Walden V, a trailer for a horror movie sequel, in which Henry David Thoreau is called back to the cursed pond for one more battle to the death with his satanic foe John Locke ("And here I thought you'd make this easy for me, Transcendentalist!" Locke cackles). Raymond, a story of a bully's payback, introduces the unseen till now "pink turkey" scene; and Two Chalk Thieves is a commemoration—maybe an unconscious one—of the centennial of the first-ever animated film, 1906's Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. (Plays Oct 13 in San Jose at 7pm at the SJSU Event Center, Oct 16 in Santa Clara at 7pm at SCU's Mayer Theater, Oct 16 at 7:30pm in Palo Alto at Stanford's Cubberly Auditorium, and Oct 20 at 8pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St, San Jose. Free to students. See www.campusmoviefest.com for details.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 96 min.) Set at a raging party the night after high school graduation, this comedy by directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan draws from elements of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Car Cultureenge of the Nerds, Heathers and other teen classics. Lauren Ambrose was obviously cast because of her resemblance to brat-pack queen Molly Ringwald, while Peter Facinelli looks more than a little like former teen heartthrob Tom Cruise. Still, Can't Hardly Wait has its own fresh charm due largely in part to its characters and in part to its consistent sense of humor. Throw together a prom queen (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a jock (Facinelli), a low-key nice guy (Ethan Embry), a social outcast (Ambrose), a geeky whiz kid (Charlie Korsmo), a wannabe homeboy (Seth Green) and a myriad of other stereotypes, and the result is a funny, sometimes painfully accurate, portrayal of the high school experience. (SQ)
(1944) Deanna Durbin stars as a wealthy girl of the Old West in pursuit of her boyfriend, an army lieutenant. Songs by Jerome Kern and Yip Harburg, none of which have name recognition. (RvB)
(1944) A British soldier, his American counterpart and a "land girl" (a city girl recruited to farm work) spend a brief vacation in the cathedral city. Stars Eric Portman, Sheila Sim and Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets). (RvB)
(PG-13; 107 min.) It has similarities to dime-a-dozen chick-flicks, the ones that are federally required to have a scene of a past-her-prime actress sitting in pajamas and eating ice cream out of the carton. But Debbie Brown's Kate in Cape of Good Hope seems a little tougher than the average denizen of a ladies' movie. (Any time an actress teases a man with a joke, and doesn't smile when she's telling it, it's practically a role for Angelina Jolie.) Brown has an edge on her, looking as she does like a cross between old 20th Century Fox star Alice Faye and Jodie Foster. She's saddened by her disappointing personal history and by a long affair with a rich, heartless married man. Kate turns the soft side of her personality toward the dogs she shelters at an animal rescue center. Her right-hand man there is a Congolese refugee (Eriq Ebouaney) who was trained as an astronomer but who can get neither work in his field nor a passage out of the country. Mark Bamford's movie is a surprise, in that it's not as feel-good as it's painted. The troubles in South Africa are still roiling under the surface. A boy begging for coins uses a dog with a bandaged foot: "When I put the bandage on my foot, I didn't get as much money." When Kate gets mugged, the event has an everyday quality to it, and Bamford notes the security guards and window bars on every building. And when Kate complains, "Why does anyone want a purebred, the mutts are so much smarter," the line has resonance in a nation that used to practice apartheid. (RvB)
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(R; 110 min.) Director Bennett Miller's startlingly sinister biopic suggests Truman Capote died from the complications of artistic childbirth, after foaling his true-life crime book In Cold Blood. In 1959, the writer heard of a massacre in west Kansas. Capote phoned New Yorker editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban) to try his hand on an article. When Capote voyaged to Kansas, he brought an assistant, a writer named Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), later author of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the midst of writing, the project expanded to book length; it grew intractable and hard to resolve. Thus also was Capote's odd friendship with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr). What started as symbiotic turned parasitic. Capote manipulated Smith for more and more facts, all the way to the foot of the gallows. Executive producer and star Philip Seymour Hoffman recreates the bizarre authorthe gleaming golden hair, the cream-white face, the appetite for strained banana baby-food mixed with J & B Scotch. In the scenes of interviews, Capote has the age-old pleasures of a detective movie: the eccentric investigator whose odd methods open up suspects; the drabber assistant whose clarifications keep the detective on track. In the latter role, the tremendous Catherine Keener is the film's moral sense. Her goodbye to Capote is a scene to be placed next to Valli's wordless rejection of Joseph Cotton in The Third Man. As for Hoffman, he has been for a long time an actor in search of a huge performance. He's found it. (RvB)
(1935) Every buckle in sight gets swashed in another Curtiz's classic, this time about pirates. Flynn and de Havilland star. (AR)
(R; 129 min.) This ponderous love-and-war story has just enough substance to suggest that Louis de Bernières' novel, from which it was adapted, might be a good read. And after seeing the breathtakingly photographed settings of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, one might think: what better place to peruse that novel than on the beaches of the gorgeous Greek island of Cephallonia, where this World War II tale takes place (and where the movie filmed on location). Captain Corelli's Mandolin functions beautifully as a travelogue, filling the screen with peacock-blue waters, bleached, rocky landscapes and timeworn tavernasif only the central romance, between the ravishing daughter (Penelope Cruz) of the village doctor and a captain (Nicolas Cage) from the Italian army occupying the island, had half the zest with which the scenery was filmed. (HZ)
(1936/1935) Two starring the uncanny Shirley Temple. In the first, the child star sings and dances her way through a tale of the troubles facing the foster daughter of a lighthouse keeper (Guy Kibbee). All is well until Shirley is menaced by a truant officer. In Curly Top, Temple sings her signature tune, "Animal Crackers." In the depths of the Depression, Temple made $300,000 a year; she was also the top box office star for four years, 1935-38, eclipsing such performers as the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Astaire and Rogers, and Clark Gable. These dull stats are brought to you as a reminder (unnecessary to the serious movie fan) that top ticket sales does not always equal top quality, and that time tends to sort these injustices out. (RvB)
(R; 85 min.) Apparently not even that stupid billboard controversy was enough to get people interested in this eighth-generation rip-off of Saw, Scream and a pile of other better films. You'd think newbie horror geeks would be interested in a director who made a movie called The Killing Fields—especially if they didn't know what it was actually about—but after The Scarlet Letter, Roland Joffé just plain reeks of unwatchability. Writer Larry Cohen used to make weird and great indie horror flicks like God Told Me To and Q; now he cranks out high-concept but low-interest thrillers like Phone Booth, Cellular and this. Star Elisha Cuthbert might as well hop on that has-been train now; she couldn't act her way out of a serial killer's basement cell. Which is what she's stuck in here—the world's richest serial killer, I might add. The guy must have spent millions on his state-of-the-art no-fun house, though we're never given a clue as to how. The "twist" is obvious from about 30 minutes in—waiting for it to finally unfold is more painful then watching the torture scenes, which mostly seem borrowed from Fear Factor. (SP)
(1976) Gypsy Cinema presents a '70s touchstone. The Southern California sun beats down hard on the workers and customers rolling through Boyars Car Wash. As the day progresses, the workers talk about love, sex, responsibility, parenthood and their dreams while suffering the neighborhood's characters. Released in 1976, Car Wash is the light and funky prototype for Ice Cube's Barbershop and Queen Latifah's Beauty Shop franchises. The ensemble cast is terrific including Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Franklyn Ajaye, Antonio Fargas, Professor Irwin Corey, Garrett Morris, the Pointer Sisters and a soundtrack by Rose Royce. (TI)
(1928/1933) Marion Davies showing off her considerable gifts as a comedienne, though her protector William Randolph Hearst preferred her in more dignified fare (where she tanked). In Cardboard Lover, she's hired to pretend to be a fiancee by a tennis pro (Nils Asther, later of Frank Capra's best movie, The Bitter Tea of General Yen): the object is to protect him from a man devourerHungarian vampirette Jedda Goudal. Dennis James at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. BILLED WITH Peg O' My Heart. Davies stars as a plebian Irish girl who inherits a fortune and comes to live with a snooty British family. (RvB)
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(R; 87 min.) Mike Leigh's new film arrives right after the Labor victory in England, and it's a less angry work than usual. Two old friends remeet for a weekend after a six-year separation. Lynda Steadman's meek Annie has been toiling at a dull job; brittle Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) has a more lucrative post at a stationery company. The two ordinary women are also seen as the scrawny, scabby students they once were. Cartlidge is an angry-eyed, fierce actor, but the movie doesn't have enough of her ice, and a series of coincidences, each more improbable than the one before, softens the plot. (RvB)
(1938/1939) Unethical psychiatric techniques are exposed in this RKO musical, with Fred Astaire as a therapist who cultivates transference in his latest patientGinger Rogers. It seems that she can't figure out why she's broken her engagement with Ralph Bellamy three times, though fans of Bellamy's myriad performances as stodgy fiances won't need counseling to understand Ginger's plight. Songs by Irving Berlin include "I Used to Be Color Blind" and "Change Partners." BILLED WITH The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. And who could forget the Castle Walk? Apparently, everybody. This last Rogers and Astaire musical is set in the years before the Great War, where the dance team has triumphs and tragedy. Edna May Oliver plays their agent; the songs are all revivals of turn of the century popular hits. (Plays Dec 8-9 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1915/1926) The most beloved of all operas, played silent and in one hour's time. However, the noted singer Geraldine Farrar made a lasting star out of herself even without her voice. BILLED WITH La Boheme, directed by King Vidor as his follow-up to that early experiment in naturalism, The Crowd. The always-frail Lillian Gish plays Mimi, and Garbo's heart-throb John Gilbert plays Rodolphe. Reportedly Gish went without fluids for three days to look particularly parched and feverish in the finale. This double-bill, complete with organ accompaniment, comes courtesy of the Stanford Theater Foundation and plays as part of Cinequest. (Plays Fri at 7:30pm in San Jose at the California Theatre.) (RvB)
As part of a weekend with noted Jewish scholar Yale Strom, Congregation Beth David presents a screening of Strom's film about a Jewish shamas from a small Jewish community in the Carpathian mountains. A Klezmer music concert follows the film.
(PG; 97 min.) Carpool's plot revolves around reckless driving (the majority of the film is an extended car chase) and armed robbery, but the film is definitely kid-friendly. Though guns are frequently wielded and cars are smashed into piles of unidentifiable aluminum, a gun is never fired, no one dies or even so much as gets a scratch. Some may call the writing optimistic; I prefer to call it ridiculouseven for a prepubescent action-adventure flick. Daniel Miller (David Paymer), a perpetually punctual, anal-retentive advertising exec is told to assume the carpool responsibilities for a day when his wife is sick. The simple act of picking up a carload of kids and delivering them to school becomes an absurd day-long adventure when the Miller minivan is used as the getaway car of Franklin Laszlo (Tom Arnold), owner of a struggling carnival who decides to rob a bank to pay his employees. Harmless, immature Franklin is the "bad guy" and cranky, too-mature Daniel is the "good guy," but the kids side with Franklin anyway. In dodging completely incompetent law enforcers, the "good guy" learns a little something from the "bad guy," the two become friends and everyone lives happily ever after. (BY)
(R; 104 min.) Miscasting and laughable symbolism make folly out of Carried Away, an adaptation of Jim Harrison's novel Farmer. Dennis Hopper plays Joseph Svendena teacher in a two-room school house somewhere in a bleak corner of Flyover Countryas a little man losing what little he has. Joseph's torpor is ended by the arrival of Catherine (Amy Locane), an unstable 17-year-old who seduces him in his very own hay loft. Through these literal rolls in the hay, Joseph rediscovers his lyrical side, but naturally, trouble is waiting. Catherine's father (Gary Busey) has guns and likes to talk about shooting coyotes ("They're just dogsanything they can't eat or fuck, they piss on") as if smelling the chicken feathers on Joseph's breath. Bruno Barreto made the Brazilian sex comedies Doña Flor and Her Two Husbands and Gabriela, but his return to sex-positive material is uneasy and unlikely, considering a story that superimposes Latin morals on Lutheran terrain. (RvB)
(R; 123 min.) An outstanding performance by Emma Thompson highlights the unlikely relationship between the acerbic but soft-hearted critic Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) and his loyal, longtime companion, painter Dora Carrington (Thompson). Blessedly irreverent, pleasingly light and strangely sad: a comedy with a tragedy at its heart, set in the British countryside of the 1920s. Thompson, though somewhat miscastshe's nobody's boyish androgyneis allowed for the first time a full-blown performance, and her hopeless love of sly, quipping Strachey makes for an often powerfully emotional tale. (RvB)
(1942) You must remember this. In a remarkable studio re-creation of North Africa, an elaborate story of wartime loss and love is played out. Club owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is confronted by his old lover (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband (Paul Henreid), who try to shake the isolationist Rick into action against the Nazis. Not a movie, but the movies, as Umberto Eco argued; in Casablanca, every film genre is sampled and merged, played by a cast that included 34 nationalities. Remembering Casablanca, it's the individual moments that persist: Peter Lorre's squeal as he's dragged away by the Gestapo, Claude Rains' offhand delivery of the famous line that sums up the corrupt, lazy policeman's methods, Bogart's crumbling obstinacy and Ingrid Bergman's soft tears. (RvB)
here). Club owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is confronted by his old lover (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband (Paul Henreid), who try to shake the isolationist Rick into action against the Nazis. Not a movie, but the movies, as Umberto Eco argued; in Casablanca, every film genre is sampled and merged, played by a cast that included 34 nationalities. Remembering Casablanca, it's the individual moments that persist. There's Peter Lorre's squeal as he's dragged away by the Gestapo, Claude Rains' offhand delivery of the famous line that sums up the corrupt, lazy policeman's methods, Bogart's crumbling obstinacy and Ingrid Bergman's soft tears. BILLED WITH The Big Sleep (buy the DVD here). Easygoing 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, a matter of less importance than cocktails and matching wits with the ladies. 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 smoky-voiced, tough good girl who assists Marlowe. One of the most confident movies of all time, and certainly one of the most watchable (and rewatchable). (RvB)(1942/1946) You must remember this. In a remarkable studio re-creation of North Africa, an elaborate story of wartime loss and love is played out in Casablanca (buy the DVD
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(R; 108 min.) Lasse Hallström's latest award contender is like an 18th-century Wedding Crashers, Casanova (1725-98), played by a still-mumbling Heath Ledger, tastefully seduces every young lady in Vienna until he falls for The One, Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller). The smartest and the hardest to get, she writes feminist tracts under a pseudonym. These two make a rather dull couple. But fortunately, a winning, scenery-chewing Oliver Platt shows up as Francesca's official betrothed, and Jeremy Irons matches him as an evil Puritan instigator. The funnier the film grows, the more miscast Ledger seems; he's too humorless for the bawdy hijinks (Brad Pitt would have been perfect). The film's finest attribute is undoubtedly its sets and costumes, photographed with fetishistic exquisiteness. (JMA)
(R; 180 min.) Martin Scorsese's new film plays not like a saga but like a looping, riffing exercise in pure style. The plot follows the rise and fall of casino manager Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro); his mobster friend Nicky (Joe Pesci); and Sam's sucker-hustling wife, Ginger (Sharon Stone). But De Niro and Pesci aren't playing charactersthey're filling in as iconic markers in Scorsese's tapestry of image and sound. For about 90 minutes, the current running through Casino is very live and very electric. Unfortunately, the film is three hours long for no useful reason. Like a drum soloist who doesn't know when to quit, Scorsese leaves his audiences wanting less, not more. (MSG)
The spirit world's amiable adolescent joins up with Hollywood's resident spooky girl, Christina Ricci (The Addams Family), and newest nice guy on the block, Bill Pullman, for a fun look at life in the afterlife. Although the "living" characters are often just as transparent as their ghostly counterparts, this is one of those rare movies that can squeak by mostly on gimmicks alone. Diaphanous animation blends well with live-action scenes, making for some convincing apparitions that haunt a whimsically stylized mansion and its occupants, who include a treasure-seeker and her henchman (Cathy Moriarty and Eric Idle) and a painfully optimistic living therapist for the dead (Pullman) and his daughter (Ricci). (HZ)
Catalepsy is the psychogenic state in which an unconscious person can be manipulated into position, as if they were a puppet. Perhaps naming a film series after the condition is a little derisory to the actors, but this second installment of the avant-garde film night has some interesting material. Previewed were In the Blood by Gary Paul Wesler, a vampire comedy in black and white, in which a hapless group of guys are picked up at a bar by the brood of Dracula (with a stop for drinks at the Drain-U Blood Bank.) Maybe the funniest things were an establishing shot of a castle that I believe is taken from a miniature golf course (but hey, it works!) and a session at the deathbed of Count Dracula where he denounces his current generation ("this household of dingbats") for having polluted themselves with promiscuity. Apparently, vampires are subject to AIDS as well. Soundtrack by Concrete Blonde. Also: Westland Armitage's Untitled Erotica #6, a short film in one camera setup. The jazz tune "Can't Get Out of the Dream" plays over the couple in question. They are posed in a situation reminiscent of one sequence in Ken Russell's Women in Lovethe one where Glenda Jackson is pinned down during the course of a sleepless night by the bulk of her lover (the late Oliver Reed). Greater Than Half by Andrew Carnwath of Virginia was the highlight of the three previewed. Without dialogue, Carnwath observes the day-to-day rituals of a man who collects his own bodily fluids, and how he meets a friend. It's a consistently intriguing, often shuddery short film; Ryan Gill's photography is top-drawer as is the rigid, ghoulishly underplayed performance by Jimmy Anthony, in a dual role. (RvB)
(1939/1942) The original Old Dark House filmdone memorably in the silent films era by Paul Leniis given the Bob Hope treatment in The Cat and the Canary. It was his first lead role. Contestants for a will must spend a night in a haunted mansion in the Louisiana swamps, where a bizarrely masked figure tries to literally scare the wits out of an heiress (Paulette Goddard). BILLED WITH My Favorite Blonde. Hope plays Larry Haines, a vaudeville star who's teamed with a trained penguin. On a train to L.A., Haines and the bird wind up in a parody version of The 39 Steps, with Hitchcock's star from that primal spy movie: Madeleine Carroll. Nazis (George Zucco and the ever-kinky Gale Sondergaard) hunt the trio. When Carroll tells Hope she's a British agent, he responds, "Too late, sister, I've already got an agent." (RvB)
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(PG-13; 101 min.) Four years ago, Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce gave up brain-dead thrillers like The Bone Collector and reinvented himself as an effective political raconteur with Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American. His newest work, based on a true story, takes on apartheid in 1980 South Africa. Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) is wrongly accused of terrorism and arrested. After his ordeal, he decides to stand up to his oppressors—ironically, by becoming a terrorist. Tim Robbins, with an accent, plays the morally ambiguous interrogator (similar to Kenneth Branagh's character in Rabbit-Proof Fence). The thrillerlike script by Shawn Slovo (Captain Corelli's Mandolin) lets the story's seams show; it is a bit too neatly constructed, but Noyce's skills are as sharp as ever. (JMA)
(PG-13; 111 min.) Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) loses her fiancee in a fishing accident on the eve of their wedding, so she moves in with three of her beau's old high school pals while she recuperates. Written and directed by Oscar nominee Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), this chick flick alternates weepy, routine moments with silly humor—though the coming attractions trailer showcases only the latter. Garner has a fragility about her that has never really fit into her superhero roles but which works here, but a miscast Timothy Olyphant plays the bland replacement for Gray's affections. Thankfully, the more spontaneous Kevin Smith (yes, the Clerks filmmaker) and Juliette Lewis are on board, and their natural rhythms override Grant's by-the-numbers script. (JMA)
(PG-13; 140 min.) Frank W. Abagnale Jr.'s memoir is deceptively filmable. This story of a spectacularly successful bad-check/bunco artist includes plenty of adventures, but it has no roots; the book is mainly a mechanical guide to crimes you can't commit any longer. You could call the story hard-boiled, but when the teller is someone as essentially soft-boiled as Steven Spielberg, well. ... Abagnale's story becomes clogged into (yet another) object lesson about a kid who goes bad because of a broken home. The heavily fictionalized biography is filmed as the history of a bright kid (Leonardo DiCaprio) acting out. During several prodigious scams (posing as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer at different stages), Frank draws the attention of a square but loyal FBI agent (Tom Hanks in one of his Gump roles). By telephone, the criminal taunts and befriends the agent. The movie is about how stern authority takes this young wild one into hand, but how legal authority must be tempered with love. Phony, in a word; phony and moralizing, in three. The '60s nostalgia for the relics of jet-age travel is fun (great to see the Pan Am building rebranded), and it was even pleasant to see Mitch Miller's homely puss again in a TV clip, but the film is as long as it is slight. (RvB)
(PG; 94 min.) Most people think this movie about kids robbing a bank so their father can get an operation is a rip-off of Spy Kids. But no, actually it's a remake of last year's Dutch hit Klatretosen. That film was a rip-off of Spy Kids. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG; 82 min.) A stink is still worse for the stirring, says the Spanish proverb. Bearing that thought in mind, should The Cat in the Hat (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, just to be annoying) be reviewed at all? It's "the boss is coming over, everything has to be perfect" premisewho the hell parties with their boss at home? Perfection must reign in the house where the Cat (Mike Myers) visits, up to his chronic mess making. And during this stovepipe-hatted monster's visit, he gets a kid to spell out S-H-I-T, makes a garden joke about a "dirty ho(e)," leers at Paris Hilton and pops a symbolic boner when he sees a picture of the kid's mom. The good taste continues to the color scheme, which ranges from chartreuse to puce, with highlights of Pepto-Bismol pink and blackberry-yogurt purple. The director is Tim Burton's ex-production designer Bo Welch, debuting with a sleazy, ugly blockbuster that cannibalizes the noteworthy work Welch did on Edward Scissorhands. This multiarmed machine for the shucking of toddlers is a new low in kid's movies. That said, it has to be added that the kid actors here really deserve this kind of picture: the children are played by the abrasive Spencer Breslin and Dakota Fanning. After this and I Am Sam, Fanning really ought to be sent back to the Dakotas. Amy Hill does some "yellowface" acting as a Taiwanese babysitter that should finally let Gedde "Long Duk Dong" Watanabe off the hook. The most honest heartfelt line in it is when the Cat emits a cash-register's "cha-ching!" after plugging Universal Studios' amusement park. (RvB)
(PG; 83 min.) Cat fanciers bewareFluffy gets a mighty bad rap in this canine-skewing animated and live action film. The dogs and cats of the world fight on in the age-old battle for humans' affections, each side armed with an impressive array of high-tech weapons and communications devices. However, this epic power struggle is hardly a paltry matter of who gets more treats and playtime with the humansMan's Best Friends fear that the felines' ultimate goal is much more sinister: to enslave us bipeds (and as we learn, humans already have been in cats' thrall, back in ancient Egypt). Slightly dubious history aside, this comic adventure film offers some solid family entertainment as the beagle puppy Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire) blunders into the service of the canine elite, unwittingly taking on the toughest assignment of all, to protect a scientist (Jeff Goldblum), who is developing a vaccine to eradicate human allergies to dogs. The professor's work is, not surprisingly, the target of the feline forces, led by the fluffly white Persian cat, Mr. Tinkles (well-voiced by David Hyde Pierce), whose egoism and half-baked schemes recall the smarter half of the cartoon mouse duo Pinky and the Brain. Definitely, it's the clever, genre-spoofing touches, rather than the familiar adventure story (replete with a shoddy ending), that makes Cats and Dogs fun: an attack by a squad of Siamese cat ninjas wearing night vision goggles, or an encounter with an adorable but deadly Russian Blue spy cat who has a stash of fancy weapons that would make 007 envious. (HZ)
(G; 88 min.) A song-and-dance cat (voiced by Scott Bakula) comes to Hollywood to make it big, but runs up against a species barrier. Except for the ham-handed racial allegory, the plot is straight out of the 1930s. So are the jokes. It's got irony, however: Our hero complains that the movies have become big and loud and glitzy and soulless--in a cartoon that's big and loud and glitzy and soulless. Paired with Pullet Surprise, a newly released yet oddly familiar Foghorn Leghorn/Pete Puma cartoon recycled by Chuck Jones, with voices by Stan Freberg and Frank Gorshin. (BC)
(Unrated; 95 min.) This irritating verité documentary follows a couple of weeks in the life of Christy Turlington as she does the strut 'n' snarl on the ramps at Milan, Paris and New York, facing the various aggravations that only the most expensive flesh is heir to: enduring having her hair washed, being made to slather on cold cream and forced to kiss the air around the faces of one-named designers. Last year's Unzipped was a bright, funny look at the types that populate the Vogue world. Catwalk is, by contrast, almost an infomercial for Turlington, Inc.; director Robert Leacock is positively drunk on her fabulousness. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 90 min.) Average to below-average superhero movie, with Halle Berry as the avenging Catwoman, masked, cracking a whip and sashaying in high heels. Batman's out of the picture; instead we get a cop named Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), who is a hunk, we're reminded frequently, as if the filmmakers were in doubt. Those visual tactics that make a TV commercial drill itself into your cortex render Catwoman easy to ignore. Surely, what makes cats fascinating is the way they spring from deepest repose into frenzied action. The one-name director Pitof, deeply uncomfortable with the repose part, treats the romance dispassionately, as material that's essential to the plot yet uninteresting. Heavy computer toasting makes everything look as if it had been given a thick coating of Saran Wrap and then a digital filming under ecology-friendly light bulbs. The virtual city (it's not Gotham) looks like an ambitious HO railroad set. The graphics are flat, and the white highlights on the faces are chalky and pasty. (RvB)
(R; 109 min.) Underwater photography of fish swimming into nets accompanies the narration of hero Nick (Arie Verveen), a drifter who floats into your basic The Fisherman Always Rings Twice plot in Caught. A neglected but still toothsome woman, Betty (Maria Conchita Alonso), is married to the ichthyomaniac fishmonger Joe (Edward James Olmos), who hires Nick to bone shad at his Jersey City fish store. Nick, drawn fatally to Betty, feels the pangs of conscience as he scrapes scales under the paternal gaze of the older man. Watching Joe's knife flash, we realize that Nick's the one who's going to end up on iceand not with lemon wedges next to him, either. Robert M. Young (Dominick and Eugene) directed this lard-butted neorealist melodrama, inexpertly updated from Edward Pomerantz's novel Into It . Young never seems to know when enough is enough. Joe's passion for fish is stressed so many times that you're afraid he'll end up evincing the vice of The Simpsons' Troy McClure. Verveen's stolid, sub-Brad Pitt smoldering is made almost laughable by his narration: "I had to stay to see how the story came out," he says rather shamelessly at one point, trying hopelessly to explain why he didn't just get the hell out of there. Derivative, mediocre, predictableif Caught were a fish, you'd throw it back. (RvB)
(R; 95 min.) Having just been released from prison for a crime in which he didn't willingly participate, Darryl Allen (Bokeem Woodbine) is a ready-made deer in the headlights for the duplicitous Vanessa (Cynda Williams), a seductive psychic who entangles him with a host of kooky criminals. Among Vanessa's associates are some Rastafarian warlords looking to get even after she skipped town on them with the loot from a heist. As he evades the Rastafarians, Darryl is also desperately trying to avoid getting a "third strike" on his record, but it turns out that his employeranother friend of Vanessa's, so you know he's troubleruns a limo service for crooks visiting L.A. With an indiscriminate meld of realistic moments of tragedy and weak melodramaand with a menacing tarot reading, an effeminate sleaze bag and a pungent whiff of misogyny thrown inthis urban fairy tale/thriller is as full of holes as the bullet-riddled bodies that show up at every turn. (HZ)
(PG-13; 97 min.) I like caves. I like caving. I like Nick Cave. But seriously, I was sick of Alien rip-offs by 1985's Creature. Here it is 20 years later, and people are still trying to get blood from the stone-cold concept of people being chased around an enclosed setting by nasty monstropoids. This one has Cole Hauser, Piper Perabo and a bunch of other divers getting slaughtered by them in an underwater cave network. What's bizarre is that The Descent, a British film about this exact same thing, is out too, and they're both basically Aliens vs. Predator without the Predators. Hey, at least Creature had Klaus Kinski! (Capsule preview by SP)
Spring Festival (1991; shows Sep 20) is Huang Jianzhong's study of a family reunion during the holidays and the conflict that breaks out between the traditional parents and the youth. (RvB)
(Unrated; 85 min.) Amiable, pretty and multi-culti, accent on the culti: A Parisian Cinderella story by Venezuelan director Fina Torres, with a title that promises metaphysical grandeur but which delivers a featherweight comedy. Escaping a marriage, the wide-eyed Ana (Ariadna Gil) comes to France and matches wits with a mean videomaker named Celeste (Arielle Dombasle). Celeste is so cartoonishly evil that animated flames shoot out of her eyes. This fluffy comedy teases the status quo with its polysexuality and its paganism, but its kittenishness begins to pall after the first half hour, and Celeste herself doesn't have enough nastiness to add spice to this spun sugar. (RvB)
(R; 105 min.) Tarsem Singh's debut has aspirations that often lift it above the commonplace: certainly there's enough style here to make The Cell complement of drugs. What is The Cell, if not a more visually ambitious version of one of the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies? Jennifer Lopez plays Catherine Deane, a psychiatrist who uses a computer program and sedation to link with the minds of a comatose serial killer, Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio). Her purpose is to find where he's hidden his latest live victim, in an automated variation of the inescapable Houdini water-torture glass booth. In a cinematic world where serial killers can practically fly through the air and walk through the walls, D'Onofrio's wounded Carl looks helpless and tragic. Despite the hushed seriousness of The Cell, some may laugh anyway. The mind of this supposedly ignorant, isolated Baptist woman-killer looks like a whole year's worth of back issues of Artforum, complete with Japanese draperies and quotes from everything from Dave McKean's illustrations for Vertigo Comics to the animal-chopping artwork of taxidermist/artist Damien Hirst. Singh samples as much as directs, and The Cell is nothing like the elaborate and unique fantasies of Lynch or Cronenberg. It's too easy to cite the visual sources in almost every scene. The ending, in which Catherine evolves from postcard madonna to woman warrior, seems especially enslaved to the conventions of the everyday serial-killer picture which The Cell worked so hard to avoid. (RvB)
(PG-13; 89 min.) Maverick filmmaker Larry Cohen is best known for his low-budget but genuinely challenging horror films like It's Alive, Q, God Told Me To and The Stuff. But he also has an interesting career as a Hollywood writer, starting with blaxploitation films in the '70s and including everything from episodes of NYPD Blue to the thriller Phone Booth. So while it's easy to write off a B-grade thriller like Cellular without a second thought (though it does at least have the star power of Kim Basinger), I'm holding out some hope for it based on the fact that Cohen came up with the story, about a guy who gets a call on his cell phone from a woman who says she's been kidnapped and that her abductors are going after her family next. You never know what L.C. is going to throw at you in an otherwise unassuming genre film. (Capsule preview by SP)
(Unrated; 102 min.) A bright and dismaying documentary, based on Vito Russo's rather tragic history of the depiction of gay people in movieswho progressed from jokes to monsters. The central montageof homosexuals and lesbians dutifully trouping to suicide or murder in excerpts from The Detective, Suddenly Last Summer and Advise and Consenttakes one aback. Tom Hanks is among the interviewees; Hanks' hero in Philadelphia, as sexless as Gump himself, stands as a symbol of a new maturity in cinema: a mostly hollow symbol, for as gay director Jan Oxenberg comments, "It remains to be seen whether an audience will accept a gay hero who lives." (RvB)
(PG-13; 91 min.) Perhaps more appropriately titled Beavis & Butt-head Become Middle-aged Sports Fans, this labored comedy boasts all of the juvenile stunts of the terrible cartoon twosome but without a scrap of credible satire. Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern play two armchair athletes so obssessed with the Boston Celticsindeed with all things sports-relatedthat when the Utah Jazz threatens to wrangle the championship title from their beloved team, they put whatever small brains they may have together and kidnap the Jazz's obnoxious star player, Lewis Scott (Damon Wayans). Wayans sails through the whole mess as though he's ignoring the lame script; Aykroyd and Stern merely cough up some stock loser characters. The film attempts a few jabs at sports idols and fans alike, but most of the jokeslike the filmgo nowhere: At one point, Stern's character whines that he'd rather be a Cambodian boat person than face the Celtics' losing the title. (HZ)
(R; 100 min.) This intellectual gut-muncher delivers many thoughtful provocations in addition to the obligatory zombie blasting. It's directed by Michele Soavi, who was an assistant director for Dario Argento, and as in Argento's films, mood trumps narrative. Rupert Everett plays Dellamorte, the caretaker of a cursed cemetery. When a stunning widow (Anna Falchi) shows up, Dellamorte desperately tries to court her with a sightseeing tour of the graves. Soavi tells this wildly absurd story with a straight face, sometimes relying on deliberately ripe kitsch and easily veering from genuine inspiration to Ken Russell-style too muchness. (RvB)
(PG-13; 113 min.) Center Stage's sublime dancing nearly leaps over its clumsy acting and an arthritic plot as old as the talkies. This backstage drama centers on Jody (dancer Amanda Schull), a ballet student at New York's American Ballet Company (a thinly-veiled ABT). Her acting, like her character's dancing, lacks technique but has heart. She's fallen for the troupe's arrogant principal dancer (ABT star Ethan Stiefel), in one of many stumblebum subplots far worse than those on television's best Clearasil dramas (such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Yet when the dancer-actors shut up and dance, the film soars. (DH)
In the lead here, Keanu Reeves. Which says it all, doesn't it? Director Andrew Davis does the trick used in Speed of throwing Reeves around so fast that you never see him stand still and act. Davis jostles Reeves through his part as machinist Eddie Kasalavich who is working on a University of Chicago cold fusion project. Our Keanu is escorting home British scientist Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz). He returns for his motorcycle just as the whole laboratory goes up in a sizable explosion detonated by mysterious military-industrial complex agents from the SPECTRE like organization C-Systems, buried in a huge underground laboratory from where they tweak the world's destiny. Unfortunately, all we get for a Blofeld is the highly unmenacing beardo Brian Cox. Davis sets up the story fluidly and with a minimum of dialogue in the beginning, but then the movie plods across the tundra, mile after mile. The script groans with retreaded lines, sometimes scrambled even given their bad-movie simplicity (Says Cox menacing his lieutenant Freeman, "If someone's going down for this, it is not going to be I.") If the climax is both preposterous and effective, it's to be expected; action movies, no matter how derivative and poorly cast, have strong, even explosive, beginnings and end; it's just all of the stuff inbetween the first fifteen minutes and the last fifteen minutes that really ages you. (RvB)
(R; 110 min.) In the latest John Grisham adaptation, Gene Hackman plays a Klansman who helped detonate a fatal bomb in the 1960s. The Chicago lawyer (Chris O'Donnell) working to stay the old man's execution turns out to be his grandson. Much squabbling ensues as we wait for the inevitable intergenerational clinch. The script roils with stock Grisham clichés"I am pursuing the truth by any means necessary!"and the inconsequential O'Donnell is a soprano trying to sing baritone. Hackman is the pearl in this pigpen, keeping The Chamber from being as tedious as A Time to Kill. Even through a wire screen, he his sketchily written, unlikely character come alive. (RvB)
(1927) Before they created King Kong, producers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack were globe-trotting documentarians. Chang, about the life of a Thai rice farmer, is sometimes staged and dated, but the critter-photography (especially of the title character, a bad tiger) suggests the very real hazards the two faced far away from the safety of Hollywood. (RvB)
(1963/1964) In Paris, a new widow (Audrey Hepburn) with a dislike of being lied to is surrounded by a quartet of fibbers, all in search of a stolen fortune left to her by her late husband. The suavest of the four is Cary Grant, but even he may be willing to kill her to get his hands on the money. It is an eminently pleasurable film, thanks to Maurice Binder's hip titles, one of Henry Mancini's best soundtracks, Hepburn's Jackie Kennedy-type Givenchy outfits and the offhand use of tourist Paris sites (it's as if the people who made the movie went there every weekend). Here, for one last time, Grant was his old self. He's not denying his age, but rather using it as a shield to make the willful little Hepburn more ardent. How unself-conscious about his age is Grant? So much so that he even puts on his thick glasses for a moment to see the view from the rooftop that one of the villains proposes to throw him off of. Is Grant's honesty the reasonfor once, only oncethat this a plausible romance and not just a movie about a vain old star with a girl too young for him? More likely, it's some star quality particular to Grant, a quality that vanished forever when he retired. Also features James Coburn as a Texas psycho and Walter Matthau as a CIA agent who is perhaps not on the level. Stanley Donen directs. BILLED WITH Father Goose, starring Grant as an old Aussie stew bum on a South Pacific beach during World War II who ends up helping the war effort (and taking care of a French girls' school). A bit, nay very much, too cute. (RvB)
(1963/1967) In Paris, a new widow (Audrey Hepburn) with a dislike of being lied to is surrounded by a quartet of fibbers. The suavest of the four is Cary Grant, but even he may be willing to kill her to get his hands on the money. It is an eminently pleasurable film, thanks to Maurice Binder's hip titles, one of Henry Mancini's best soundtracks, Hepburn's Jackie Kennedy-type Givenchy outfits and the offhand use of tourist Paris sites. Here, for one last time, Grant was his old self. He's not denying his age, but rather using it as a shield to make the willful little Hepburn more ardent. BILLED WITH Wait Until Dark. A very effective thriller about a blind woman (Hepburn) under siege by three thievesprimarily an evil beatnik memorably played by Alan Arkin. (RvB)
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(PG; 120 min.) Long but amusing and dark, and closer to Roald Dahl's original book than the 1971 version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It's the fairy-tale story of a poor boy who wins a tour of famous but off-limits chocolate factory. Charlie (Freddie Highmore) is escorted by his favorite grandsire Grandpa Joe (David Kelly, Waking Ned Devine). Wonka himself (Johnny Depp) is an Edwardian dandy with a distaste for human contact. Burton has smoothed all the faces with digital erasers, to make the flesh look like talcum-covered vinyl. As the chocolatier, with his rubber gloves and spruce pageboy haircut, Depp has a face the color of a lavender Necco wafer. "Everything here is edible," declares Wonka grandly. Before he quickly adds that cannibalism is wrong, he raises the possibility that he himself is made out of some weird candy. Director Tim Burton is so often heckled about his slapdash plotting that there must be some resonance in Willy Wonka's defense of what he does: that (eye) candy doesn't have to have a point. Let others raise questions of sugary aftertaste, and worry the fate of children gorged on the artificial. Co-starring the excellent Deep Roy, who looks like a wizened, brooding baby, as the entire race of chocolate-worshipping Oompa Loompas, and Christopher Lee as Willy's dentist father, the source of his anxieties. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) An ass-slapping good time, in which bad guys (including Demi Moore) are thwarted and friendships glorified. The perky threesome (Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore) do fearsome damage in their stilettos, all the while flirting fearsomely with the camera. Director McG's second attempt is again pure mindless summer fluffthe plot is of no consequence, but the big screen references and celebrity cameos (the Olsen twins, musicians Pink and Eve, and original Angel Jaclyn Smith) keep the eyes alert. Originals from the first filmLuke Wilson as the sweet boyfriend, Matt LeBlanc as the clueless boyfriend and Crispin Glover as the freakare joined by newcomer John Cleese as Lucy Liu's father, who is convinced that she's a prostitute, and the new bumbling Bosley, Bernie Mac. The film melts away into the summer heat. (DB)
(1964/1963) A publisher encourages his wife (Madhabi Mukherjee) to become a writer; it's based on a novel by Tagore. BILLED WITH Mahanagar. A city clerk loses his job; and to the immense injury to his pride, his wife (Mukherjee) becomes a saleswoman. Director Satyajit Ray handles the dispute between husband and wife with a sensitivity that other feminist filmmakers would do well to emulate. Mukherjee is flying in from India to attend the screenings. (RvB)
(1964/1954) "The setting is a Western-style mansion, the décor is Victorian, the dialogue strewn with references to Western politics and literature. But beneath the veneer of familiarity the film is chockablock with details to which he [the Western viewer] has no access. Snatches of song, literary allusions, domestic details ... all give the film a density missed by the Western viewer." This firm critic-proofing comes from an interview with director Satyajit Ray in Sight and Sound (quoted by Andrew Robinson in his book on Ray). Ray has a point: a character identified as a "brother-in-law" in the subtitles is actually a cousin. In fact, Charulata is a particularly dense and slow film, pregnant with details of the struggle to liberalize India. And yet it's impossible not to respond to the plight of Charucalled Charulata as a pet nameas played by Madhabi Mukherjee. At heart, she represents the plight of any woman who masks her intelligence in the name of love. The time is 1879, where an earnest limousine-liberal heir named Bhupatgi (Shailen Mukherjee) has started a weekly newspaper called the Guardian, aligned with the British left (observe the bust of Gladstone over his desk). His raffish cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) arrives to help out but finds himself drawn to the neglected wife Charu. The fact that there is such a high level of propriety in this ménageand the fact that Charlu isn't the kind of woman who would have an affairmakes this relationship between Charu and Amal more complex. Does she want Amal as a lover, a friend or a pet? The music is at a peak for Ray's films; the scenes on the swing set and the opening, of Charu peering out at singers on the street, are both exquisite. Based on R. Tagore's 1901 novel, Nastanir ("The Empty [or Broken] Nest"). Ray felt this film was his best. BILLED WITH Sabrina. Audrey Hepburn plays the daughter of a chauffeur on a Long Island estate who for years has nursed a crush on the family's younger playboy son (William Holden), but the responsible elder brother (Humphrey Bogart) eventually turns her head. (RvB)
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(R; 111 min.) This frustrating film is the last installment in what director Kevin Smith calls his New Jersey trilogy (along with Clerks and Mallrats), and it's his most serious-minded work to date. Smith is desperate to confront his audience's homophobia in language it will understand. Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee), comic-book artists, lead placid lives until they encounter fellow cartoonist Alyssa Jones (Joey Laurel Adams). Unfortunately for Holden, Alyssa likes women, but the two still become close friends. Banky's native prejudice against dykes surfaces when Holden declares his love to Alyssa. Surpriseshe yields, deciding that what had once been her lesbian identity was really just a label. Smith's most glaring weakness as a filmmaker is his inability to create female characters. Alyssa isn't a real person; she's a sounding board for Holden, an affectionate challenger to the boy's grossest stereotypes, a sort of St. Lesbian. Smith's getting wiser, but if he doesn't get wiser still, his original work is going to end up as untouched by real life as the average Hollywood movie. Kevin Smith is one of the smartest people making Gen X movies, but that hasn't kept him out of trouble. (RvB)
(PG-13; 120 min.) Roman Holiday sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security: the overprotective president's (Mark Harmon) frustrated daughter (Mandy Moore) decides to slip away from her restrictive Secret Service agents (Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra) by jumping on the back of a young photographer's Vespa and riding off into the Prague night; unfortunately, the photographer (a very good Matthew Goode) is one of those Byronic and darkly handsome British Secret Service agents. So she spends the entire movie under surveillance as Goode behaves more like her big brother than her first love. Moore doesn't sing here, and she can't really act. The wan script delivers neither romantic nor comedy. The film provides little fun for 'tweener girls but reassures their nervous dads. (DH)
(PG; 80 min.) Three women learn that they share the same guy. Stars Roselyn Sanchez, Sofia Vergara and Jaci Velasquez.
(1950/1952) Americana film with Clifton Webb as the father of a family of 12; in the sequel Belles on Their Toes Myrna Loy takes over the management of both the family business, and the family. (RvB) Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
(PG; 99 min.) Steve Martin film about a family with 12 kids. What's fascinating is that Fox was clearly all hot and bothered about remaking its 1950 film of the same name, even going so far as to give writing credits to Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, the real-life New Jersey parents of 12 who struck pay dirt when their memoirs were adapted into the original (and still fairly well regarded) film starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. And yet, as far as I can tell, this "remake" about Martin moving his small-town Illinois family to the big city after he gets a football coaching job retains absolutely none of the original story, except for the fact that there are 12 kids. Even the names have been changed (the last name is nowget that big groan readyBaker). So, does that mean that one has to own the rights to this book just to make a totally unrelated film about how funny it is for a family to have 12 children? For some reason, that really creeps me out. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(PG-13; 95 min.) A Nabokovian tale of memory and long-buried family secrets, nailed together with stories of cooking. Nana Djordjadze's film is pleasurable enough for the first two-thirds, but then the story transforms itself into magical-realist bathos. In present-day Paris, gallery owner Anton Gogloladze (Jean-Yves Gautier) is assembling a show of the work of Pirosmani, an artist from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, when he meets Marcelle (Micheline Presle). The aged lady is the descendent of a hero of Anton's: the author, opera singer, gigolo and all-around Edwardian reprobate Pascal Ichac (Pierre Richard). Ichac was also a master chef, and Marcelle has a copy of Ichac's authoritative book on Georgian cuisine, which leads us to flashbacks of Ichac's picaresque adventures in Georgia in the 1920s. To give this episodic film weight, Djordjadze focuses in the last third on how bad things became under communism and ends up ruining the film's finish with his political heavy-handedness. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 113 min.) Rob Marshall's adaptation of the Broadway musical, which debuted in 1975 and which was revived in 1996. It's based on the 1942 screwball comedy Roxie Hart, about a self-promoting would-be nightclub star (Renée Zellweger), her rival (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the hot-shot lawyer they both share (Richard Gere). It features the words and music of John Kander and Fred Ebb. The film seems like dated work, with its tired double entendres and retreaded mid-'70s dourness. One is grateful for the blues number by Queen Latifah and the "Cellblock Tango" routine, with the dancers taking up those angular, splayed Expressionist spasms that made the fame of Chicago's original choreographer, Bob Fosse. Still, the film is blighted with three leads whose singing and dancing abilities are marginal. Marshall relies heavily on editing to conceal their inexpertise, but this attack just makes the routines all the harder to see and even more overemphatic and quaint than they are already. (RvB)
(1999) Director Lisa Gossels uncovers the story of a remote rural French village that protected her father and more than 400 Jewish children smuggled out of occupied Europe during the Holocaust. (RvB)
(1945) A film about love and acting. On a poor Parisian street in a theatrical district in the 1840s, a group of lovers find an elusive happiness. Director Marcel Carné filmed under harrowing conditions during the last days of the Nazi occupation in Paris. With that in mind, I'm especially humiliated to say I've never seen this, despite the dozens of times it played at the Fox Venice theater, that huge old movie house where I saw all the classics I could. Jean-Louis Barrault plays a mime; his picture was on the poster, and I think I had the popular allergy to mimes long before everyone else picked it up. Having confessed to that philistinism, all I can add is that Children of Paradise has long been considered the most beautiful and auspicious of date movies, and that even the most astringent critics get a catch in their voice when they discuss this film. The cast includes Maria Casares and Arletty, who has a memorable rebuff to a rich man who wants her affection as well as her body ("You have to leave something for the poor"). (RvB)
(Unrated; 60 min.) Documentary of six childhood survivors of Japanese internment follows their confrontation of enduring stress and trauma from the historic event. Filmmaker Satsuki Ina and subject Howard Ikemoto answer questions after the special screening.
(2000) Rather soapy story of the tempest-tossed romance between the poète maudit Alfred de Musset (Benoît Magimel) and his much-plagued inamorata, the young George Sand (Juliette Binoche). (RvB)
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(R; 112 min.) This outstanding comedy takes place in a parallel-world version of Australia, where a union leader named Joe Welch (Richard Roxburgh) has brought the nation to a standstill. Told in flashback, the story combines the faith of a fervent Stalinist with elements of The Omen. In the 1950s, hard-core believer Joan (Judy Davis) reaches out to Stalin (F. Murray Abraham). The aging, querulous ruler sends for her, and she brings his illegitimate child back to Australia. Joe grows into his mother's revolutionary leanings, rising to crypto-totalitarian power even as Joan's hopes crumble with the Berlin Wall. A story this involved needs a first-rate performance to make it hang together, and Davis is outstandingmad, hot-eyed, always lovable. She's comic when she's being moved to the marrow by the nearness of Stalin; and she's poignant in later years, when she has to recognize the nature of the beast. (RvB)
(R; 102 min.) Skeet Ulrich and Cuba Gooding Jr. are two young men caught up in a military intrigue surrounding a new top-secret chemical weapon.
(1974) Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) sticks his nose where it doesn't belong in Chinatown, Roman Polanski's masterful modern noir. Faye Dunaway is the woman nailed to Noah Cross (John Huston), and that's Polanski himself cutting Nicholson's nostril ("That must hurt." "Only when I breathe."). (AR)
(1998/1994) Tony Leung plays an innocent man framed and sent to prison where he must endure brutal treatment in Chinese Midnight Express. Billy Tang directs. BILLED WITH Fist of Legend. Jet Li stars in a remake of Bruce Lee's Chinese Connection. (AR)
The second installment of the Chinese Torture Chamber series stars Yoland Yan as torturee; highlights include "prolonged execution," better known as "the death of a thousand cuts" or "being stuck in a theater watching Patch Adams." BILLED WITH Raped by an Angel II: The Uniform Fan. A crazed dentist with a fetish for uniformed women wreaks havoc. A tough female cop, whose sister is one of his victims, swears to bring the rapist in for counseling so that after years of therapy he can get in touch with his inner child and understand the error of his ways. Athena Chu-Yan, Francis Ng and Jane Chung co-star. Adults only! (RvB)
(1940/1931) "If you can't sleep, it's not the coffee, it's the bunk." With these cognitive-dissonance-inducing words, a likable young clerk named Jimmy (Dick Powell) at Maxford Brothers coffee company tries to win a $25,000 slogan contest. What might seem like a Capra story takes a different turn under the direction of Preston Sturgesthe only-in-America story goes haywire as the prize is first seemingly awarded, than withdrawn. Ellen Drew co-stars as Jimmy's skeptical girlfriend. Circling around the leads like hawks among pigeons is Sturges' usual gangWilliam Demerest as the holdout on the advertising slogan jury, archsissy Franklin Pangborn, slicker Al Bridge, et al. "The film is the work of a man who makes hard things look like doing it the easy way, rather than vice versa"critic Otis Ferguson. BILLED WITH Monkey Business. Stowed away in four separate barrels of kippered herring are a mustachioed slouch, a mute blond harpist, a dubious Italian and a jaunty young nullity. At New York harbor, all Marx Brothers disguise themselves as Maurice Chevalier. Songs include "You've Brought a New Kind of Love to Me." (Plays Mar 4-6 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1940/1937) Christmas comes early to innocent Dick Powell, who thinks he's won a jingle contest ("If you can't sleepit's not the coffee, it's the bunk") and starts spending money he doesn't have. Preston Sturges directs. Also stars Ellen Drew and Franklin Pangborn. BILLED WITH Shall We Dance, a magnificent introduction to the dance and cinematic magic of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Features "They All Laughed," "Let's Call the Whole Thing off" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." (MSG)
(1983; 98 min.) Peter Billingsley, Darrin McGavin and Melinda Dillon star in a perennial holiday favorite based on Jean Sheperd's memoir about a boy's Christmas mishaps in the 1940s. The film skillfully skirts the sentimentality that usually sinks this kind of seasonal treat. (MSG)
(PG) Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis try to hide from the holiday rush in a comedy by Joe Roth.
(PG-13; 109 min.) It's funny how Hollywood works. Four years ago, after the success of Pitch Black, writer-director David Twohy came up with the idea for a nonhorror, action-sci-fi trilogy of sequels that would follow Vin Diesel's character Riddick from that film around the galaxy. First the studio said okey-dokey, then they hired a bunch of other writers (including A Beautiful Mind's Akiva Goldsman, as if that makes any damn sense) to do something completely different for the Pitch Black sequel. Then the Lord of the Rings trilogy went through the roof and suddenly everybody wanted Twohy (and his idea for a series that he calls "the evil twin of Star Wars") back. Bam! Three-picture deal. And, miles of studio red tape later, here's the first one. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 131 min.) Another dose of cod-liver oil from the iron spoon of novelist John Irving, who grafts together classic novels with the baroque threats encountered in antique high school mental-hygiene films. The Cider House Rules, plugged as the Irving film adaptation that has the maker's mark on it, is, actually, not at all faithful to the tone of the book. Director Lasse Hallström has scrubbed the tale of the typical mutilation fantasies that have made the author's fortune. Sadly, wistfully, as if he realized there wasn't much to be done with the role, Michael Caine plays Wilbur Larch, a gruff but kindly obstetrician, flawed only by an ether habit, who runs the orphanage in St. Cloud's, Maine, performing safe, ungrudged abortions in the 1940s. One of the orphans, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) grows to become Larch's surrogate son and apprentice. But after objecting to abortion, Homer leaves the shelter to become an apple picker, falling in love with Candy (Charlize Theron), the golden-haired fiancée of the farm's heir. Hallström applies a gentling touch to the material, succeeding in making the whole thing look like a faithful modern adaptation of a bad novel of the late 1940s. The occasional shock is understated, as befits a director who has scant appetite for Irving's brand of death and dismemberment. (RvB)
(PG; 97 min.) I know "modern update" teen movies like this are usually super annoying, but c'mon, this Hilary Duff movie does have Jennifer Coolidge (a.k.a. Stifler's mom a.k.a. That Hilarious Actress with the Big Lips From Christopher Guest's Mockumentaries) as the Wicked Stepmother. (Capsule preview by SP)
A monthly subscription series of distinguished yet-to-be-released films. Screenings are followed by a discussion with moderator Michael Fox and guest speakers.
(1988) Giuseppe Tornatore's memory film about a director who returns to his Sicilian village for the first time in 30 years and finds the movie theater, the place he cared for most, is on its last legs. Stars Philippe Noiret as the theater projectionist who deeply touches the life of a young boy. (RvB)
The festival returns after a tumultuous year's absence. (It was canceled last year, due to concerns about Sept. 11. The catastrophe is marked this year by an evening of short films.) For this installment, the festival has programmed Egyptian dramas and even a contemporary silent film from Sudan (Insan; Nov. 12 at 12:30pm). The lion's share of films, however, are about the strife between the government of Israel and the Palestinians. Key among the films is a series of documentaries by Mai Masri and Jean Chamoun. Frontiers of Hopes and Fears (Nov. 11 at 6:45pm) shows life in two separate refugee camps, where two young girls are growing up. Like the dispossessed in Northern Ireland, they're living on grudges, political parades and bagpipe music. Manar, of the Dheisha camp near Bethlehem, is a budding photojournalist who ends up cheering on the kids who throw rocks at guard towers. In Shatila, on the Lebanese border with Israel, we see the more fanciful Mona. Meanwhile, the march of Israeli settlements continues, and children sing Palestinian anthems with lyrics like "I will sacrifice my life." No One Need Cry (Nov. 11 at 4:30pm) is a short video witnessing Israel's wrath; the director filmed four days after Israeli troops hit the Jenin refugee camp with bulldozers and tanks for the crime of harboring weapons. These films reflect some of the rage and hate that no amount of weapons-building is going to relieve; they also show how the unkillable hope for peace triumphs over the all-too-explicable desire for revenge. (RvB)
Full text review.
The festival's local screenings continue at Camera 12. About Baghdad (2003): Man (and woman) on the street interviews in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam. (Oct 6, 6:45pm). Adrift on the Nile (1971): In the 1950s, political stagnation leads to discontent and decadence among a group of Egyptian artists. Based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz. (Oct 6, 4:30pm). Arna's Children (2003): Documentary about Arna Mer, a woman from a Zionist family who married a Palestinian. (Oct 8, 5pm). Everything Is Gonna Be Alright (2003): During the year following Sept. 11, a broad stratum of Arabs in New York is followed by director Tamer Ezzat. (Oct 7, 5pm) The Kite (2003): Star-crossed love between a Druze border guard in Israel and a Lebanese girl. Directed by Randa Chahal Sabbag. (Oct 7, 8:30pm). Rachida (2003): An Algerian woman is forced to hide from terrorists in a remote and sinister village. (Oct 8, 8:30pm). Sleepless Nights (2003): A Cairene Friends. Four couples deal with romance in this Egyptian romantic comedy. (Oct 6, 8:45pm). Travail D'Arab (2002): The title, which means "An Arab's work," is racist French idiom for "jerry-built." The comedy concerns a just-out-of-jail laborer named Momo (Mohammed Ben Moussa), who seeks work in the south of France, where anti-Arab sentiment is sometimes common. (Oct 7, 6:45pm). We All Loved Each Other So Much (2003): A profile of the Arab diva Fairuz, who has kept her home in Beirut through all the years of change, from delightful Mediterranean seaport to war-torn urban nightmare. (Oct 8; 6:45pm). (Plays through Oct 8 at Camera 12 in San Jose; see www.aff.org for details.) (RvB)
The first annual East San Jose Chicana/Chicano Film Festival will showcase short films by filmmakers from San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Texas. Many of the filmmakers will be on hand to discuss their works. The festival also features performances of poetry, teatro and music by local artists, the dedication of a mural at the MACSA Youth Center, food and karaoke.
The seond annual East San Jose Chicana/o film festival features screenings of more than 16 films, which include Morgan Rosales' Under a Tribal Sun, Later Days Productions' Barbacoa, Edward Rodriguez's Super Pulga's Quinceañero, the documentary Los Angeles, Mural Capital of the World and George Sanchez's Homemade Sneaks. The event also features a fashion show, guest speakers Danny De La Paz, Alurista, Pepe Urquijo and Roberto Duran, poet Paul Aponte, performance artists Bactun 12 and live music with Blues Experiment. The festival will be held Nov 20, noon to midnight at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave, San Jose. Suggested donation $5. Mayfair neighborhood residents get in free to all events. Meet the filmmakers and artists and enjoy music by Los Otros at a pre-festival party held on Nov 19, 8-11pm at 235 N.10th St, San Jose. Suggested donation $5. For more information, call 800.486.7132.
A charming romance for the springtime. The film, based on the novel by Maeve Binchy, chronicles the joys and sorrows of three young women leaving behind the innocence of their tiny Irish village and stepping into adulthood at college in Dublin. Newcomer Minnie Driver is radiant as a thoughtful young lady struggling to reconcile her strict Old World, Catholic upbringing with her new-found, collegiate insights and sexual stirrings. All-American boy Chris O'Donnell does an admirable job as well, affecting an impressive Irish accent and the same youthful vitality that brought him fame in Scent of a Woman. (SG)
(Both 1941) Orson Welles' famous debut film remains the great touchstone of American cinema. This seemingly inexhaustible epic swiftly and deftly tells the story of one newspaper magnate (Welles as William Randolph Hearst and a host of contradictory American dreamers) and his rise to wealth and fall to emotional regret. The cinematography, the acting, the dialogue, the musicall are dazzling. BILLED WITH The Maltese Falcon, John Huston's tidy, smart adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel, with Humphrey Bogart as the perfect Sam Spade. Also stars Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr. It's hard to imagine a better night at the movies than this double-bill. (AR)
(R; 100 min.) A bitterly funny satire of the abortion debate that will make pro-lifers and pro-choice folks alike go a little bit red in the face. Laura Dern is excellent as the title character, Ruth Stoops, a pregnant, homeless drug addict who is thrust into the middle of the abortion war when a judge charges her with endangering her fetus through drug use--and then, in an aside, suggests she can "take care of the problem" while in jail. Once both sides get wind of her situation, a series of wild clashes erupts between pink- and blue-clad, sermonizing Baby Savers and grim-faced Choice advocates who resort to near-guerrilla tactics. Although the parodies of militancy on each side are entertaining, the rabid political circus they portray is not far from the truth, especially when it becomes clear that neither faction is as concerned about Ruth and her individual choice as they are about the "message" she could send the nation with her decision. Citizen Ruth is at once intensely political and adamantly antipolitics; it takes to task the politicizing of a completely personal issue. (HZ)
(R; 121 min.) The shooting of a police officer and a little boy threaten the administration of Mayor John Pappas (Al Pacino). It's easier to think of what went wrong than what went right. The original script was written by Ken Lipper, former deputy mayor to Ed Koch. Nicholas Pileggi, Bo Goldman and Paul Schrader worked on it, and all of the hallmarks of a committee job are present: shaky back-stories, strange relationships that wobble between the poles of intense regard and businesslike friendship, and knock-out scenes that don't knock out (Pappas tries to out-orate the minister at an African Methodist funeral; it's the plight of the white bluesman writ large, but naturally, the congregation falls for it). Bridget Fonda, as a crusading lawyer, is the heterosexual interest intruding on the passionate friendship of the mayor and Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack), the moral center of the story. The miscast Fonda is tough, perhaps, but New York, perhaps not. It was someone's inspiration to make Cusack a southern boy moved to New Yorkboth accent and ethics break out at unexpected moments. All in all, City Hall is the sort of thing now done better on TV, where the shifts of character can be rationalized throughout the course of a season; here the disparate parts add up to a genuine mess. (RvB)
(1931) In this beloved classic by Charlie Chaplin, the Little Tramp finds out about the difference between "to seem" and "to be" in a modern city. He befriends a millionaire, who only recognizes the Tramp when he's drunk; he falls in love with a blind girl, who mistakes him for a gentleman. (RvB)
(PG-13; 110 min.) A sugary remake of Wim Wenders' great Wings Of Desire (1988). Meg Ryan plays a cardiac surgeon haunted by an angel named Seth (Nicolas Cage), who longs for the sensations of human life. Dennis Franz, in the Peter Falk part, explains handily what Seth must do to become human, and he does itend of story. There's none of the mystery of the original; the imagery, already appropriated by TV commercials (see Jonathan Pryce's mysterious Lexus watcher-angel), looks artsy-fartsy against the cuteness. Director Brad Silberling is a TV vet who previously made Casper. He and screenwriter Dana Stevens have changed Wenders' abstracted, remote, not necessarily compassionate, angels into New Age harbingers of good will, love and God. Cage has never been less watchable; his is a wet, awkward performance as he mopes over Ryan through metallic-blue contact lenses. Some director might find the way to bring out Ryan's essence, some sort of lightweight charm and simplicity, but she prefers tough-girl roles that are badly unsuited for her. Remember her carrying on in When a Man Loves a Woman? (Her dream project, according to gossip columnist Liz Smith, is a Sylvia Plath biography.) So as a fierce surgeon dealing with this celestial stalker, she tries to turn up the toughness. She informs him "a woman's threshold of pain is nine times higher than a man's." It must be from watching women's pictures. (RvB)
(R; 117 min.) Jimmy Cremmins (Matt Dillon, who co-wrote and directed) is an insurance agent fleeing the crooked company that has just defaulted on a fortune's worth of claims. He heads to Phnom Penh, capitol of Cambodia, to track down the Harry Lime-like boss (James Caan) who hired him. While there, he runs into the usual suspects: Stellan Skarsgaard, Natasha McElhone and Gerard Depardieu. Obviously film noir ensues, particularly since Berkeley's Barry Gifford (who did the noir study The Devil Thumbs a Ride) co-wrote. Unseen by our reviewers.
(1998/1988) From Mabel Cheung, the director of Painted Faces, comes City of Glass, a romance about an aging couple's last chance for happiness. Shu Kei and Leon Lai co-star. BILLED WITH Tiger on Beat. Chow Yun-Fat and Conan Lee are slapstick cops in search of the murderer of a drug dealer at the behest of the dead man's sister. The climactic chain-saw duel is remembered fondly by sophisticates. (RvB)
(R; 97 min.) A group robbery of a diamond store goes wrong, leaving one thief, Roy Egan (Harvey Keitel), beaten up but alive and plotting revenge on the traitor (Stephen Dorff). City of Industry is great-looking violent pulp, filmed in the industrial asshole of southern Californiaincluding a finale shot in the very same Sante Fe Springs gasworks where Jimmy Cagney met his incendiary end in White Heat. Director John Irvin haunts the oil refineries and trailer parks watching Keitel at work. Irvin was a war correspondent once, and there's authenticity in the way he shows you how violence looks and feels. At times, Keitel's primordial anger is stirring. (And there's a very strong scene in which he tells a bedridden, suicidal pillhead named Sunny about a killing; she can only repeat, brokenly, "I just can't get my mind around it.") Unfortunately, the script, by newcomer Ken Solarz, is derivative and pumped full of typical action-picture sawdust (like a car crash and an explosion); and Famke Janssen is unbelievable as the good girl who, insanely, decides to help Egan. The preposterous happy endingprobably the first happy ending anyone's ever had in Port Arthur, Texasmakes the movie look mangled. City of Industry is wobbly work but studded with scenes that you'd love to see more of. (RvB)
(R; 112 min.) Visually stunning, lush fantasy about a dream thief named Krank (Daniel Emilfork) and the children he buys from criminals in a decrepit port town. Among his victims is a moony little urchin who is sought by his brother, the strongman One (Ron Perlman). Those who saw Delicatessen, the last picture by the French team of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, will know what kind of highly unsentimental, kinetic, evil humor awaits, but The City of Lost Children is built on a much grander scale than their other feature--it's as big a spectacle as Batman Returns but immeasurably smarter. (RvB)
(1987) Director Ringo Lam's tale of a Hong Kong undercover cop with divided loyalties. Chow Yun Fat, star of the superb Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, stars as Ko Chow, a street cop who infiltrates a group of international gun-runners. He fits in so well that he's suspected of collusion with them by his superiors. Because of this film's theme of an undercover cop's dillema, City on Fire is often cited as the source for the 1992 Reservoir Dogs. But what film wasn't a source for Reservoir Dogs? (RvB)
(1991) A bum steer of a comedy about an ad man (Billy Crystal) signing up for a dude ranch. The story is studded with gags old enough to draw Social Security checks. (RvB)
(Unrated; 1952; 105 min.) Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas and Robert Ryan star in Fritz Lang's adaptation of a Clifford Odets tale about a drifter and the two men who vie for her. Also stars Marilyn Monroe and was set in Monterey's Cannery Row.
(R; 104 min.) Celluloid turkey is more like it. A rank Western/noir set in Montana about the friendship between a mechanic named Clay (Joaquin Phoenix) and a charming serial killer named Lester (Vince Vaughn). Clay almost takes the blame for the suicide of the husband of the trashy girl he's been screwing. To help Clay out, Vaughn stabs her to death, but the killer is shocked to find out how ungrateful Clay is. Vaughn's sometimes enjoyably flamboyant overacting is a warm-up for his upcoming role as Norman Bates in the Psycho remake. As for the rest of the cast, Georgina Cates is repellent as the promiscuous baby-doll adulteress, whose death in the middle of sex is an act of violence director David Dobkin thoroughly endorses. Lastly, as a mean but inept FBI agent: the mean but inept Janeane Garofalo. Why is she onscreen? It's not her comic timing, it's not her monotonous voice, and you can bet the house it's not the way she looks. Garofalo's shtick is one expression, aggrieved self-righteousness. This cranky, nunnish little actor gives less to the camera than anyone else this decade. Matt Healy's script is littered with coincidences and holes, and it's surpassingly misogynist. Except for a few near-anonymous victims, the two women in the story are the whore (Cates) and the virgin (Garofalo). Apparently the meanness of Clay Pigeons didn't register with the exec producers, the Scott brothers, Tony and the oh-so-feminist Ridley (Thelma and Louise, G.I. Jane). (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 91 min.) Hushed but bland thriller that restages the dispute between the haves and have-nots as the kidnapping of a Pittsburgh tycoon named Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) by one of his former employees, Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe). First-time director Pieter Jan Brugge (a longtime producer) shifts clumsily back and forth in time. The film shuttles between the snatching of the executive from the stone gates of his suburban Pittsburgh estate to scenes of the victim and kidnapper trudging across the countryside. Wayne's wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), a stony woman given to endless laps in a frigid swimming pool, comes to terms with both her love and bitterness toward her husband. A FBI agent, Fuller (Matt Craven, cast against the grain), invades Eileen's private life, forcing her to confront her husband's mistress. (This mistress took to being fired from her job after sleeping with his boss rather wellno lawsuits or anything.) While the movie tries to open a can of worms, it can't come to any conclusions other than the classes ought not to war. And in an actor's duel, someone of Redford's class doesn't have much of a chance in the ring with Dafoe. (RvB)
(1962) Reality catches up with superficiality as a pop singer waits for the results of a cancer screening in Agnes Varda's early New Wave film. Stars Corinne Marchand, Eddie Constantine (the hard-boiled detective from Godard's Alphaville), Michel Legrand and Anna Karina (another Godard favorite). This screening is part of the Palo Alto French Film Society's Essential New Wave series. (MSG)
(1934/1942) Claudette Colbert is very hot stuff indeed as the lounge-pajama-clad Queen of the Nile, posed amid wonderful sets constructed out of gold and plaster of Paris. The film is preposterous but sporadically historically accurate: "Her costume is by no means the Hollywoodean fantasy it appears to be," wrote Jon Solomon in The Ancient World in the Cinema. Director Cecil B. DeMille hired a curious cast for the Sphinx to sharpen her claws upon, including the famous Yiddish tragedian Joseph Schildkraut as Herod and Henry Wilcoxon as a neurotic Marc Antony. BILLED WITH The Palm Beach Story, which is probably the most popular and best loved of Preston Sturges' brilliant screwball comedies. Colbert runs away from her broke husband (Joe McCrea) in hopes of finding a sugar daddy. Some of the plutocrats she meets: the fusty but sweet John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), the Texas Wienie King (Robert Dudley) and the armed and dangerous members of the Ale & Quail Club. No other director managed the combination of slapstick and literary comedy as well as Sturges, but sometimes he's so ruthlessly funny that he tends to alienate the sensitive. But The Palm Beach Story has a resilient love story at its core, making it the perfect introduction to this tremendous talent. (RvB)
(1994) Brian O'Halloran is your host to Dante's li'l infernoa suburban stop 'n' rob in an upper-lower-middle-class section of New Jersey, next door to a video store where the No. 1 hit is the kid movie Happy Scrappy Hero Pups. Holding up the front wall are a pair of marijuana-impaired lowlifes (Jason Mewes and director/writer/chief cook and bottle washer Kevin Smith). Customers, seeking all the convenience of life from porno to cottony toilet paper, crowd the place. But there's room for you inside. (RvB)
(1994/1997/1999) All-night-long marathon of the misadventures of Kevin Smith's stoner duet. It opens with his breakthrough convenience-store opera, Clerks, which attendees will expect to be able to quote from memory; its brooding follow-up, Chasing Amy, carries the important message "be kind to lesbians, especially if they really aren't all that lesbian." Ben Affleck rehearses for a later date with sexual confusion in Gigli, and Joey Laurel Adams debuts and sinks without a splash. The most openly silly of the three is Silent Bob, with the two fools on their way to Hollywood. A good way to spend the evening while waiting for Wondercon to open in the morning. (Plays Feb 17 at midnight at Camera 7 in Campbell and Feb 19 at midnight at Camera 12 in San Jose.) (RvB)
(R; 97 min.) For his seventh feature, Kevin Smith echoes his first, but this gleeful comedy feels less like a desperate move than a recharging of the batteries. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson (no relation to me) reprise their Dante and Randal roles, now thirtysomething and working at a Mooby's chain restaurant after their convenience store burns down. Smith cooks up a romantic triangle between Dante, his fiancee (Jennifer Schwalbach) and his boss (Rosario Dawson), but the film gets more mileage from its bountiful, foul-mouthed dialogue (topics range from Jesus to Lord of the Rings). Smith avoids juvenile tittering and instead captures a playful, irreverent tone, like a grown-up going for one more jump in the mud puddle. Jason Mewes and Smith return as Jay and Silent Bob. (JMA)
(Both 1935) How the British got India, as told by the British, with emphasis on the love life of Robert, Baron Clive (Ronald Colman), victor at Plessy. From the ads: "Six words from a woman changed the map of Asia!" The woman in question is Loretta Young. Also starring Colin Clive, perhaps a relation to the famous general, and C. Aubrey Smith, naturally. Nitrate print from the UCLA archives. BILLED WITH Zoo in Budapest, one of those special, rare filmslike Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, Carne's Le Jour Se Leve, Scorsese's After Hours and Carol Reed's Odd Man Outthat take place during the course of a night. A runaway orphan (Loretta Young) sneaks over the fence into the zoo and spends an evening in the company of a free-thinking zookeeper (Gene Raymond). Remembered fondly for Lee Garmes' photography and often likened to the best of Murnau. (RvB)
(R; 129 min.) Based on Richard Price's sprawling novel, Clockers is a bloody feast of bullet-perforated bodies and blasted lives. Spike Lee's film chronicles the life of 19-year-old Strike (Mekhi Phifer), who distributes dope to a teenage squad of crack dealers. Strike wants a "promotion," but there's a catch--he must gat a guy to get it. Somehow, his straight brother winds up taking the fall. From there, the story develops into a whodunit involving a couple of detectives (Harvey Keitel and John Turturro, who turn in serviceable performances). As Strike's boss, Delroy Lindo is chillingly good, exuding a menacing charm. The real gem, however, is newcomer Phifer. As the clean-headed manchild, he is by turns belligerent, bedeviled and vulnerable. (NB)
(PG; 93 min.) Jesse Bradford plays an inventor's son who figures out how to stop time. Also stars Paula Garces, Michael Biehn and Julia Sweeney.
(1971) In the near future, a violent, raping juvenile delinquent (Malcolm McDowell) becomes a subject in a government experiment, which uses aversion therapy to curb his behavior. However, the therapy suppresses the good in him, as wellhis lyrical side: the part of him that loves Beethoven. Stanley Kubrick's extremely violent film has an expensive futuristic look that's kept it alive over the yearsor is it just that violence is a universal language? At best, A Clockwork Orange seems to be a film about the futility of the urge for revenge. The source novel was written by an Englishman whose wife was gang raped by American soldiers. Yet this film doesn't have much regret in it, or much of the tangled feelings a civilized person has when savagery intrudes into his life. In this film, people who are brutalized turn into brutes, instantly. Kubrick sees the injuries we inflict on each other as one sick joke. Thus, A Clockwork Orange is most popular with nihilist young jokers. Kubrick, so indifferent to actors during his color films, really lucked out with McDowell, who turns out to be the one human being in the movie, and one of the few in his films. (RvB)
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(R; 100 min.) Viciously claustrophobic version of Patrick Marber's celebrated play in which a quartet of splenetic Londoners unload on each other in the name of truth-telling. Jude Law and Julia Roberts are steadily in their own usual roles as fickle metrosexual and dissatisfied love object, respectively. (At what point does an actor's groove turn into a rut?) Clive Owen and Natalie Portman are the rougher, streetier pair. She is a stripper; Owen is a dermatologist with a crude whore-mastering streak. Owen's Dan has a famous speech, an anti-Hallmark moment about how "the heart is a fist wrapped in blood." When did he last see a heart: in medical school? (The Seinfeld joke about how dermatologists don't save lives comes to mind.) Mike Nichols directs this dour, ping-pongy exchange of barbs. It's unforgivably unfunny. Both Marber and Nichols seem to have had the idea that the antagonism inherent in comedy would be better off bare and exposed. But stripping away the pleasure principle from the film reduces all human motives to a power struggle. It's like Marxism without the light at the end of the tunnel. Something this aggravating has to be deep, critics will reason, but watching Closer is like getting a whipping for something you didn't do. (RvB)
Clueless is a satire gone awry, unsuccessful in mocking the vacuous lifestyles of Beverly Hills teens. Supposedly poking fun at superficiality through ridiculous overexaggeration, Clueless only glamorizes materialism and offends minorities with insensitive jokes. Alicia Silverstone plays popular Cher, goddess of conformity. Silverstone, in all her talentless beauty, is more of a model reciting lines than an actress, whining and overacting with all the expertise of a soap-opera star. The feeble plot revolves around Cher's own romantic escapades and her attempts to play Chuck Woolery to her friends. Lacking a point or even a trace of a moral lesson, Clueless will cement stereotypes into clueless minds. (BY)
(1946/1941) British plumbing is no joke, but Ernst Lubitsch's swan song is a comedy on this topic. The film is a metaphor for changing timesa joke on those to whom class mobility was as distressing as a backed-up drain. The heroine (Jennifer Jones) is a warm-hearted orphan whose secret superpower is the ability to fix unenthusiastic English drains. Through trifling circumstances, Cluny is forced into an engagement with a damp and disapproving pharmacist. Richard Haydnwho had a graceful scene in Ball of Fireplays the one drip Cluny can't fix; his reading of the line "I could relish a crumpet," is dialect comedy at its richest. Fortunately, she is rescued by an emigrant professor (Charles Boyer) who is working on a text on "Morality vs. Expediency"Lubitsch's life-long theme. Stiff in points, and Jones has a clumsy drunk scene, but it is frequently sublime. BILLED WITH Lady Hamilton, (a.k.a. That Hamilton Woman), a relatively accurate account of the life and demise of a Welsh blacksmith's daughter who became the true love of England's most heroic sailor, Viscount Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier). The highlight is an 1800 New Year's Eve embrace in which Nelson can tell his mistress, "Now we have kissed for two centuries." The direction by Alexander Korda is very stodgy, meant to needle the patriotic impulses of Britons facing down Hitler. (Olivier, roused to the effort, would later make two defter pieces of propaganda: Fire Over England and Henry V; two films that, no doubt, had as much to do with winning the war as the lend-lease program.) That said, Lady Hamilton is lavish for the time and place; the glittering cyclorama of the Bay of Naples includes a smoking Vesuvius. It concludes with a battle of Trafalgar. The bathtubbish re-creation of this battle isn't half as wet as Miklos Rozsa's throbbing score. The film survives on the strength of Vivien Leigh, whose Emma has the best elements of both Miss O'Hara and Miss DuBois. (RvB)