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(PG-13; 136 min.) Director Tom Carter (no relation) helmed this true-life story of Richmond High School coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), who made national news when he locked out his 13-0 basketball team after he learned that some members were flunking their classes. He insisted on a C+ average in hopes of getting his players college scholarships, even with what would certainly be low SAT scores. The film was shot in L.A., a foolish economy, since the real city of Richmond would have given Coach Carter a unique lookand unique isn't the word for Coach Carter (see Hoosiers, Dangerous Minds, High School High, etc.). Among the players is Kenyan (Rob Brown, star of Finding Forrester), who finds himself torn between his career and his duty to his pregnant girlfriend (the singer Ashanti). Rick Gonzalez has the Sal Mineo part: Tino Cruz, the attitude-ridden kid who Carter turns from a punk into a man. The ending has some integrity, but Jackson has played this part so often that his attention wanders. (RvB)
(PG; 95 min.) Jane Austen-loving Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) decides to stretch her meager annuity by imposing herself on her relatives, the raving Starkadders of gloomy Cold Comfort Farm. Most notable of a loony bunch is Uncle Amos, lay preacher of the Quivering Brethren, scares his sinning flock into Parkinsonian tremors. Ian McKellen's Amos flashes a false smile as he lets his congregation know the bad news: there will be no butter waiting for them in Hell. Schlesinger, after grim hack work like Pacific Heights, bounces back with this rich and faithful framing of Stella Gibbons' 1932 literary satire. (RvB)
(R; 119 min.) Have you seen the trailer for this? I love how they work in the phrase "Cold Creek Manor" to, like, every sentence in the damned thing. "Would you like some coffee?" "Why, yes, I'd enjoy drinking a cup of coffee ... in Cold Creek Manor." That gimmick never works! But I'm still a sucker for trailers like the one for Cold Creek Manoras in, I actually am dying to know what's going on in Cold Creek Manor, the fictional setting of Cold Creek Manor. I'm also intrigued by the fact that Cold Creek Manor is the latest film from Mike Figgis, the director of Leaving Las Vegas, Timecode and Cold Creek Manor. In conclusion, Cold Creek Manor is an intriguing Cold Creek Manor for those looking for a Cold Creek Manor film with a little something Cold Creek Manor. (Capsule preview by SP)
(Unrated; 85 min.) A 90-minute ethnic joke with great scenery. A Japanese salaryman (Matatoshi Nagase) treks to Iceland to propitiate the spirits of his dead parents. Lili Taylor and Fisher Stevens, playing ugly Americans, yammer at each otherthey're the ethnic joke within the ethnic joke. Director Fridrik Fridriksson portrays his country as a nation of eccentrics. The Icelanders sing for no reason, endure horrible winters stoically and eat gross food. The film is one joke played and played againhow ironic to be lost in Iceland during the dead of winter! But irony repeatedly commented upon is irony that has lost its savor. (RvB)
(R; 119 min.) It seems that any time critics like Tom Cruise in a movie, they say he's given up his "flashy" roles and become a "real actor." It's the official line that keeps on giving, no matter how many times it's dusted off, and it's been broken out again for Michael Mann's overachieving thriller. What a load of crap! Of course Cruise has always been a "real" actorand he can be a great actorbut he never gives up his flashy roles. In Collateral, he's at his best, and this is a role that's literally nothing but flashthere's no subtext or even background to his hit-man character, who kidnaps cabdriver Jamie Foxx and forces him to drive him to a night's worth of contract murders. Cruise's silver-haired killer is all look and attitude, and he's fascinating. Foxx needs more roles this good. And Mann is at the top of his game, delivering a glowing, pulsing love letter to Los Angeles that finally captures the essence of the city he's been trying to nail for nearly 20 years. (SP)
(R; 115 min.) Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a fireman whose wife and child were accidental victims in the bombing of the Colombian Embassy. Unfortunately, the government won't get tough with the terrorists. This intransigence forces Schwarzenegger to sneak into the bush to track down Cliff Curtis' head terrorist, "El Lobo." The film was shelved for five months after the terrorist attacks last September. Director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) includes a little speech about how enduring a Yank-sponsored massacre in Guatemala turned El Lobo against the Stars and Stripes, but you have to be listening very closely to catch these few almost-muttered sentences. The Arnold-film template is stronger than any political commentary; any motivation here just gets in the way of the scene of the villain badmouthing our nation: "You Americans are so naive!" If we buy this picture, that'll prove our naiveté handsomely. (RvB)
(PG-13) Sometimes a director—Simpsons vet Tom Brady, let's say—has an obese sitting duck in his sights, and an overpowered automatic weapon, and still he only wings his quarry. David Koechner, working overtime like a Wal-Mart manager, plays Coach Fields, the generic has-been trying to whip the Heartland State Football team of Plainfolks, Texas into shape. His new team is a gang of rejects, including a conceited black showboat and a butter-fingered kid whose father wanted him to play baseball. Sourcing the estimated 7,000 such movies released in the last few years, Brady gets a few sequences that would pass muster in a Mad magazine "Scenes We'd Like to See" pictorial: a nice steal from Remember the Titans, a switcheroo from Coach Carter (where Fields dresses the team down for being academic successes), the Trojan football team arriving in a giant condom...and during the game, a shot of an empty seat labeled "Reserved for the Coach's Wife, Who Left Him." Some help from Melora Hardin (The Office) as the coach's wife who shows such good sense by leaving. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) After a relaxing vacation of some four years, comedian Jerry Seinfeld decides to polish up his act and head out on the road for a concert. This shot-on-digital documentary shows what happened next.
(1949/1948) The 1950s Loretta Young epitomized the movie star as great dignified swan, and Come to the Stable is the perfect example of the kind of fare most people think of when they hear the name of the late actress. Here Young plays a charitable nun from France. She and a partner (Celeste Holm) come to a New England town called Bethlehem to establish a hospital for children. With the help of a religious painter (Elsa Lanchester) who loans them a stable to stay in, the nuns start fundraising among the tight-pursed citizens of the town. It was nominated for six Oscars. One of the nominations was for Clare Booth Luce, who wrote the original story. Luce was one of the last century's most calculating courtesans. She'd written The Women years before, but had become canny enough to tell which way the post-WWII wind was blowing. BILLED WITH Rachel and the Stranger, which sounds much, much more like a good time. Scriptwriter Waldo Salt, best known as an award these days, wrote this romantic Western about an indentured woman (Young) purchased by a widower farmer of the 1820s (William Holden). Neither get along very well until a dashing Indian scout (Robert Mitchum) arrives with a more appreciative eye for Rachel's good qualities. The film sports top-of-the-line photography and was a hit for RKO. It's based on a pair of short stories by San Francisco writer Howard Fast (Spartacus). (RvB)
(Unrated; 98 min.) At the most basic level, this is beautifully photographed gay erotica, set mostly on the Atlantic coast of France during summer vacation. Director and co-writer (with star Stéphane Rideau) Sébastien Lifshitz has stessed the visual qualities at the expense of the narrative; the film seems attenuated, like a short story expanded for a feature film. The narrative covers the end and the beginning of an affair; told in flashback, it's the tale of the first important love of Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaim), who meets a raffish young man, Cédric (Rideau), from a broken family. Much of the film concern the boys' furtive attempts to keep a relationship going despite the prying eyes of Mathieu's family, especially Cedric's antagonistic Aunt Annick (Marie Matheron). Often sexually explicit, the film is chilled and formal. On the one hand, the family's discussions are as believable as a documentary, and the staging of the affair over a period of a year and a half keeps this film smart. On the other hand, the actors seem chosen for their chiseled profiles and porn-star physiques; they're not great emoters, which explains why Come Undone has more erotic and cerebral than emotional appeal. (RvB)
(R; 87 min.) Here's one sure to make Jerry Falwell's hit list (what doesn't these days?), although Commandments isn't as "faithless" as it would seem. This philosophical black comedy stars Aidan Quinn as Seth Warner, a man who views a string of personal tragedies as acts of divine retribution and decides to break all Ten Commandments to get revenge on God. As he commits one holy no-no after another, Seth's sins turn out as good deeds, including befriendingand eventually wooinghis kindly sister-in-law (Courtney Cox) and arranging some long-deserved payback for her contemptible husband (Anthony LaPaglia). And that's where Commandments proves it hasn't completely diverged from that old time dogmaalthough it has some fun with the hard and fast rules of organized religion, the film upholds the oldest one in the book: ultimately, the good get rewarded and the bad get punished. But Commandments never really gets up in the pulpit to say so; for all its brooding panoramas of clouds and ominous lightning strikes, for the most part, this divine comedy sticks to entertaining, and skips the preaching. (HZ)
(PG-13; 81 min.) What's the statute of limitations on political humor? Company Man cranks the laff machine way back to 1961 to wring a few more gags out of the Kennedy administration's little indiscretion in the Bay of Pigs. With the benefit of hindsight, the Cuban missile crisis is stuffed silly with material for reckless satire and broad slapstick (nyah nyah, Oliver Stone), which director Douglas McGrath is keen to. He's the fellow who reminded everyone a few years ago with Emma that Jane Austen was a pretty jolly broad, and as writer, director, and star of Company Man he dusts off every heckle that 40 years has garnered. He plays Allen Quimp, a hen-pecked grammar teacher whose disappointed father in-law explains to him that "this is a great time to be white in America." With all the class and racial cards stacked in his favor, though, Quimp is still a schlep until he bumbles his way into the CIA and is shuffled off to a listless, backwater Banana Republic where Castro's overthrow of Bautista is regarded as little more than a delay in restaurant service. McGrath, along with co-writer/director Peter Askin (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), hauls out every tired crack about Cuba to patch together the insane espionage antics leading to the Bay of Pigs. McGrath is pretty funny, in spite of the worn-out material. He's a geek to the core, constantly correcting the grammar of the motley cast complimenting his Everyman: Sigourney Weaver as the control-freak wife, Denis Leary as a hardened CIA agent, and John Turturro as a trigger-happy revolutionary commando who's convinced he can assassinate Castro with an exploding doormat. If McGrath works his schtick as a stand-in for all the WASPy dweebs in power, there is no end to the comic material 20th-century American history will offer him. (PC)
(R; 115 min.) "The Jail Bird," a department of corrections airplane used to shuttle dangerous convicts, is taken over by one of the passengers, Cyrus "The Virus" (John Malkovich). Also on board is the very image of Southern chivalry, Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), whose presence isn't worth the dignity of an explanationseven years in jail for defending his pregnant wife?! In Alabama?!? Eventually, Cage cleans up the aerial mess, with land support from John Cusack. The expected happy ending takes place under a snowstorm of dollar bills from a blown-up armored car; there's nothing hidden about the crassness, anyway. Simon West directs with a lot of velocity and not much mechanical skill (you never know which fireball is coming from where, and he doesn't set up the playing field during the battle scenes to make for suspense; the explosions come in about as unexpectedly as commercials in a TV broadcast). The fancy dialogue by Scott Rosenberg is somewhat more startling because of the curve balls it lobs. Malkovich is as polysyllabled as William F. Buckley Jr.; as the country's worst serial killer, Steve Buscemi utters odd monologues meant to show us how insane he is. The outré lines act as spice for the shootings and impalements. As the old joke about summer-lobotomy movies has it: The special effects aren't much, but the acting is pretty good. An all-star cast keeps the interest, despite the boring explosions. Cage's seriousness (he's about as ironic as Roy Rogers here) similarly keeps you involved and frequently entertained, even if you've seen every trick on screen here thrice. (RvB)
A musical celebration for the Beatle.
The big flamer's foster father, Larry Harvey, exec-produced this documentary about the annual festival. Four people are followed as they attend Burning Man: actress Samantha Weaver, San Francisco cabbie Michael Winaker, L.A. "Jill of all trades" (and heiress) Anna Getty and outta-Hunter's Point filmmaker Michael Epps. Unfortunately, directors Paul Barrett and Un Su Lee work in the touch-and-go style of MTV's The Real World, where you don't learn enough about these four oddly matched characters. Moreover, the feelings I had watching this documentary are the exactly same feelings I'd have if I'd returned to a cheap tropical resort I loved and found it overrun with beautiful people. However, I am Mr. Negative Energy, and the New Age doesn't give everybody hives. It's a tribute to Harvey's hard work and principles that the Nevada fest survives, even at something like six times the population I saw it with. This documentary seriously addresses the white middle-class quotient of the Burning Man attendees, and the scenes at the Mausoleum had me in tears. (RvB)
(PG) If you're like me, you lie awake at night fretting over whether Lindsay Lohan or Hilary Duff will win the erotic mud-wrestling contest. Wait, did I just say "erotic mud-wrestling contest?" I meant "fierce personal and professional rivalry that causes them to steal each other's boyfriends and ban each other from their parties." Anyhoo, this movie based on the popular book stars Lohan as a stuck-up teenager who loses her "most popular" status when her family moves to New Jersey. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 100 min.) Debbie Isitt's mockumentary plays like a single joke from This Is Spinal Tap, stretched to the point of transparency. The title magazine hosts a "most original wedding" contest, inviting three couples to stage their dream ceremonies: a tennis wedding, a Busby Berkeley musical and a "naturalist" (i.e., naked) wedding. Martin Freeman (The Office, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) leads the ensemble cast, but the adorable wedding planners (Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins) steal the show. Isitt breaks the cardinal rule of fake documentaries by allowing her camera into situations to which a real documentary crew would never have access. Her satire dies along with her mistake, and we're left only with a desperate, and only partially successful, attempt at sweetness. (JMA)
(R; 98 min.) Avatar of film critics Manny Farber visited the San Francisco International Film Festival last week; I shook his hand in the vain hope that some of his genius would rub off. Even though Farber quit reviewing film decades ago, some of the tendencies he remarked upon are still alive and well. The copy of Being and Nothingness Cusack carries in Identity is an almost perfect example of what Farber called "The Gimp": intellectual parsley, as it were, on a cinematic plate of chipped beef on toast. Confidence, by contrast, is exactly what Farber was describing in his 1950 essay "Ugly Spotting" (collected in the recently reprinted Negative Space). There, denouncing film noir that wasn't noir enough, Farber noted the "forced cleverness that turns each stock character into the echo of an eclectic writer." That's Confidence in one sentence. Dustin Hoffman has 20 marvelously ratty minutes playing a gangster who calls himself the "King"; this polymorphously perverse figure is avid enough to rattle the plaster off of Ed Burns, who plays the brains of the operation. As the mystery girl he's using for a scam, Rachel Weisz isas alwaysbeautiful but banal. Some Cheech and Chonging by the estimable pair of Luis Guzman and Donal Logue fails to lift the film out of its forced cleverness. Director James Foleya neo-noirist whose highest mark was the film of Glengarry Glen Rosstries to puts some new tricks into this old dog of a story. That's why the first half is a little more engaging than the second half, when the novelty of the effects has worn off, and the plot twists are all too easy to follow. Love that Hoffman, though. (RvB)
(1983) François Truffaut's last movie is a murder mystery about a man rescued by his loyal, intrepid secretary. The handsome Fanny Ardant, Truffaut's lover in real life, plays the secretary. (RvB).
This startlingly cheesy blockbuster is hackwork with a difference: an almost psychedelic screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, weirder by far, though not as funny, as his screenplay for Joe Vs. the Volcano. Director Frank Marshall digs in his heels and plays it as straight as if the jokes were lost on him. An African jungle expedition is contracted to take a talking gorilla back to the Congo to cure her nightmares. The real goal is a giant diamond for a corporate criminal's laser beam; King Solomon's mines are in it, too. The script is late-show parody. There aren't many gags beyond Tim Curry's Transylvanian dialect. (RvB)
(PG-13) Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame got the writing credit for this film, though it's basically Some Like It Hot in reverse. And when I say "basically," I mean exactly. Check it: Two female singers get involved in a mob mix-up in Chicago, forcing them to land a gig on the cabaret circuit as drag queens. I know you're thinking, "Surely, gender-bending hijinks don't ensue," but that's where you're wrong! Ensue they do, when a man falls in love with them. Vardalos also stars as Connie. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(R; 125 min.) A sad-sack paranoiac (Mel Gibson) panics when he realizes that They really are out to get him. The middle act drags and the ending is bogus, but lots of loopy dialogue and a hideo-comic torture scene make this black comedy/thriller funny and exciting. Gibson is terrific; Julia Roberts is acceptable as the love interest; and Patrick Stewart makes a competent villain, hampered though he is by having to spend most of the movie with a big set of bite marks on his snoot. (BC)
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(R; 128 min.) Fernando Meirelles' version of John Le Carré's novel is a triumph of the cerebral thriller. Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is found bushwhacked in a Land Rover. Her apparent lover, a Kenyan doctor, is missing. Tessa is survived by her husband, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a middle-aged nullity. Investigating his wife's murder, Justin unearths a scandal: a multinational company is treating AIDS with suspicious medicine. Meirelles shoots on the run with hand-held cameras and rack-focusing. His avant-garde approach complements the sturdy material. Fiennes fits the scenario of betrayal like a turkey fits an ax. The ripe-lipped Weisz evokes the appropriate air of privilege and bad nerves as a countess' daughter with the fatal avocation of doing good where everything has gone bad. Watching The Constant Gardener, I had the sense that I was seeing the first 21st-century political thriller. (RvB)
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(R; 117 min.) Un-actor Keanu Reeves stars as Vertigo comics hero John Constantine. Cancer-riddled and damned, he "deports" demons who have intruded into the Earth: that neutral zone in the "détente between of ultimate super powers." Investigating the suicide of the twin sister of a policeman (Rachel Weisz) he discovers a plan by the infernal forces to repossess the earth. This Gnostic comic-book adventure is long but entertaining, with the forces of Good (Tilda Swinton) and Evil (Peter Stormare a delight as His Satanic Majesty) cooperating on some level that humans don't know about. Novice director Francis Lawrence isn't as derivative as he might be, and he oversees impressive visual ideasa five-story neon cross on the side of a hospital, or a Los Angeles in Hell, with still-gridlocked cars abraded by acid smog, and flaming palm trees tossed by Satan's own Santana. Reeves, who has walked the shadow line so often he has corns, keeps the film from being pretentious. Be warned that the action sequences in the last third aren't any breakthrough. With the Uncle Festerish Pruitt Taylor Vince, who meets Tantalus's fate in a liquor store, and Djimon Hounsou as the Lord of the Crossroads, Papa Midnight. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 145 min.) Space travel, like anything else run by the military, is a lot of hurrying up and waiting. In this grossly overlong film by Robert Zemeckis, the payoff (a trip to the star Vega) is delayed for subplots galore. Strong-willed scientist Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) receives a signal from aliens that turns out to be the plan for a spaceship, but before she can take the ride we're expecting, there must be debates with both government officials and the peculiarly written love interest Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), who represents religious qualms about science. The final ride is both intimate and wild with expensive, colorful effects, the two hours of waiting lead to yet another tease. The supporting cast includes John Hurt, as a deceptively sinister billionaire, and James Woods, uninvolved as yet another vicious presidential thug. (RvB)
(Unrated; 90 min.) Scholars John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve head to a remote convent in Iberia to determine if Shakespeare might have been a Sephardic Jew instead of a Warwickshire country boy. Marital frictions complicate the quest. This is to my knowledge the first local appearance of a film by the venerable (he's closing in on 90 and still working) Manuel de Oliveira, Portugal's most reputable director, who is much lionized by the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum, carpet knight of the avant-garde. (Rosenbaum once reviewed an Oliveira film that wasn't even playing in town, ending the review maddeningly, "What a pity you didn't see it.") Is The Convent film festival fodder or a neglected classic? You decide. (RvB)
(PG-13; 85 min.) Queen Latifah is turning herself into a cottage film industry. She came up with this story, and also appears in this comedy about a guy who signs a $30 million deal with the New Jersey Nets, then throws an old-school barbecue to prove his success hasn't changed him. Things go perfectly. Not. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1989) Swiftian satire or wretched excess? Due to the sex and the violence (and as Spot 1019 guitarist Peter Tripodi once said, "Violence is a universal language"), this is Peter Greenaway's most accessible and yet most outrageous film. It seems to be inspired by the French Car Cultureolution and the Reign of Terror, an allegory I'd love to see some intrepid writer "unpack," as they say in grad school. In an alternative London, a wealthy ogre of a criminal boss (Michael Gambon) is cuckolded by a book collector. He takes terrible revenge and is revenged upon in turn. This basically revolting film is humanized by Helen Mirren, who has the smothered eroticism of the young Queen Elizabeth II. (See the "God Save the Queen" episode in Julian Temple's terrific Sex Pistols documentary, The Filth and the Fury, where he lingers, in slow speed, over some color documentary footage of the then-girlish queen, waiting on horseback and looking very ready and willing.) The film is splenetic and horrible, but after a splenetic and horrible decade, it tends to look more like entertainment. For pity's sake, leave the children at home. (RvB)
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(R; 102 min.) Sylvester Stallone stars as the sheriff of a close-knit community of New York police officers who is forced to choose between protecting his "own kind" or enforcing the law. Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta also star.
(R; 110 min.) A San Francisco killer is committing reenactments of the handiwork of well-known monsters such as Dahmer, Bundy, et al. Serial killer expert Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver) joins forces with detective M.J. Monahan (Holly Hunter). The jailed Hannibal Lecter figure who helps them is played by Harry Connick Jr., who is actually not bad. What could have been career maintenance for Hunter and Weaver turns out to be bright and even terrifying at points. Weaver and Hunter score some fine scenes off of each other, and director Jon Amiel lets Weaver mutter, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" when figuring out that the killer's lack of a pattern is a pattern all its own. (RvB)
(PG-13; 86 min.) The goofy long-lost son of a mafia kingpin must pose as an FBI agent to clear his father's name.
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(PG; 75 min.) Pale, frail Victor (Johnny Depp) finds himself in the embarrassing position of having affianced one woman, Victoria (Emily Watson) while being unwillingly married to another (Helena Bonham Carter doing the voice of the most beautiful cadaver since David Lynch's Laura Palmer). The corpse in question is rather a knockout, count the ways: the fine-boned hand, the flush mark of a rotted spot on her cheek, the azure shadows under her eyes. In a stop-motion-animated film where the color is muted as close to black-and-white as possible, this bride is radiantly blue. The film has the charm and uncanniness of an antique toy. This age-old technique has both density and fragility; depth and lambency. And it has sudden surprises, tooas when the bride's tattered veil stirs in a studio-made evening breeze. (RvB)
(1997) A character study of a depressed New York criminal forensic examiner named Chase (Geno Lechner) under dual emotional siege by an ex-lover, a Haitian diplomat (Jean-Michel Martial), and her current lover, a married New York gubernatorial candidate. Directed by Raoul Peck (Lumumba) the film is killed off early by uniformly unbelievable acting, and a lack of authentic Manhattan atmosphere. In one memorably weird moment, Chase claims that the Abner Louima scandal was "just routine," ignored by the public. While it's nice to have a memory-refresher about what the reputation of the NYPD was before Sept. 11, such improbabilities sink this sometimes ridiculously affected film. (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) Finally Chow Yun-Fat has made a Hollywood movie that showcases his enormous talent. Quite possibly one of the coolest action stars in the business, Chow and his talents were wasted in his previous American venture, the all-action, no-substance The Replacement Killers. There he was stiff and leaden; yes, he could handle a gun like nobody's business, but where was the depth and complexity of his Hong Kong films like The Killer and Hard-Boiled? The Corruptor relies less on action warfare and more on the intensity of its actors and the complexities of the Hong Kong style of filmmaking. Both Chow and Mark Wahlberg turn in fine performances as an experienced cop and his idealistic new partner, respectively, who investigate organized crime bosses in Chinatown. Wahlberg reveals new depth, and by simply slicking back his hair, Chow conveys more emotion than most actors do reciting three pages of dialogue. The plot, though rather simple, showcases the intricacies of the Asian crime drama: its Chinatown is riddled with layers of corruption; loyalties are divided and everyone has his own agenda. But The Corruptor's characters are flawed yet sympathetic, the chemistry's well-developed, and delightfully, there's no typical Hollywood ending here. (KR)
(Unrated; 92 min.) Marta Balletbo-Coll wrote and directed this wispy Spanish import (in English) and stars as Anna, a dithering, low-sexed lesbian monologuist who falls for Montserrat (Desi del Valle), a cute Israeli seismologist. Pizzicato violins pluck as the two go on a trip to the Costa Brava, a Big Sur-like region on the coast of Spain. The relationship is loving but troubled: Montserrat knows she loves a woman but isn't sure she wants to be a capital-L lesbian. The film's unruffled quality and handsome scenery recommend it, but it starts to wear out its welcome after the first hour. (RvB)
(PG-13; 118 min.) Mostly rousing, elegant and well-dressed version of Dumas' noble old tale, with James Caviezel as the betrayed Edmund Dantes, who hatches an elaborate revenge in the dungeon of the Chateau d'If. The film moves well throughout, and there are clever reminders of the way this story was one source for the tales of Batman. Luis Guzman, usually typecast as an urban petty criminal, is excellent as the count's confident and conscience. Guy Pearce is similarly good as a sadistic, dissipated aristocrat (in the final scenes, he has brandy veins on his ridiculously high cheekbones). Director Kevin Reynolds only occasionally shows the clumsiness he displayed in Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. You can see his bad habits in a dumb quip at the finale and in his stinting the count's revenge. (In the book, the count went after his enemies root and branch; here he's more easily sated.) (RvB)
(G; 88 min.) Pretty much completely tapped out of ideas for new movies, Disney turns to one of its theme-park rides for a musical comedy about some singing and dancing bears. Features the voices of John Hiatt, Elton John, Don Henley and Queen Latifah (!?).
(1981) Bertrand Tavernier's transplanting of Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280 into the rattiest village in French-colonized Africa, circa 1936. A beat, belittled policeman (Philippe Noiret), despised by everyone, including his wife (Stephane Audran), gets his violent revenge on those who patronize him. Isabelle Huppert co-stars as the cop's mistress. A brilliant, quirky, disturbing movie. (RvB)
(R; 116 min.) In this multiple-recall tale larded with trace elements of A Few Good Men, Denzel Washington plays Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Serling, who is assigned to present a posthumous Medal of Honor to a Medevac pilot, Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), killed during the Gulf War. Because of his bad conscience over his own experiences in Operation Desert Storm, however, Serling decides to find out the true circumstances of Walden's death. As Gen. Hershberg, Michael Moriarty all but brays out, "Cover-up!" The more obvious villain, a combat veteran named Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips), solves the moral dilemma tidily. Patrick Sheane Duncan's script is indifferent, and too much flashbacking combined with Washington's less internal than inert performance rob this worthy film of any narrative focus. Ryan's shortcomings as a dramatic actress are obvious to anyone who has seen one of her movies. (RvB)
(1944) Betrayed by Rita Hayworth. In Cover Girl, a Brooklyn nightclub dancer, the discarded Gene Kelly, waits for her to come to her senses. Songs by Jerome Kern and Ira Gerswhin include "Long Ago and Far Away." Shown in a Technicolor nitrate print. (RvB)
(PG-13 min; 94 min.) "Are there no limits? Filth, raunch, violence and hate rule pop culture. Has showbiz finally gone too far?" says the cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly, showing some 3am doubts about the movies and music they've previously flogged. Seeing the headline was hopefulmaybe, soon, we will see something that looks like it's gone farsomething, anything, that'll proverbially push the proverbial envelope, as the proverb has it. As for Coyote Ugly, why, it's safe for the frailest teething babe: a flash of this here, a glide over some of that, yes, but, really, nothing except clean and unambiguous father/daughter love, an illustration of the rewards of hard work, and good old fortune-cookie-motto philosophy. We begin in the red-meat heartland of South Asbury, New Jersey, where a delectable little mushroom has sprouted up. Her name is Violet, she's played by Piper Perabo, and she has a dream to go to New York City to become a singer. She has bad luck selling her tape to hard-hearted music industry types. Down to her last dollar, she's sitting in a beat-up cafe when she sees a trio of girls in tiny multicolor outfits, brandishing a wad of dollars at anyone who wants to look. Mary Kay saleswomen? No, Coyotesthey work at the quasi-underground bar Coyote Ugly, where they Riverdance on the bar, hose down the patrons with seltzer and go "Woo! Whooo! WHOOOOOO! Yeah!." So our problem, and you can set your watch by it, is: does our shrinking Violet have the guts to be a Coyote? And what about her dad (John Goodman) and her Australian boyfriend, who think the bar is just using her as a glorified b-girl,forcing her to bare her midriff to vend $4 bottles of Bud? Sales. That's what this movie is about. As Lil (Maria Bello), the tough-talking, gold-hearted owner of the place, tells Violet, "You have to appear available but never be available." Not only is that a dandy definition of the look-but-don't-touch side of capitalism in general, and advertising in particular, it also sums up this movie. Did you really think you were going to peep Piper Perabo's peach-pink posterior? Puh-lease, it's PG-13! A little thong is all you get. While the Coyote dancers do the breast-bumpin' dance, they stress firmly that they aren't lesbians. Flash-cut so that you can't see a thing, the dance sequences have neither lyricism nor eroticism. And film's slower seqences are even less exciting: Perabo's performance of sub-Alanis songs ("Can't Fight the Moonlight" is the title of one of them); Goodman glowering after he finds out what his little girl is up to. Somewhere else there's vulgarity. A movie like this chaste, antiseptic corn argues eloquently for the need for real filth and raunch. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) Mark Dacascos (the best part of Brotherhood of the Wolf), Jet Li ('nuff said) and DMX (Exit Wounds) tangle over stolen diamonds in a stylish martial arts and gunplay adventure. Directed by veteran cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak.
(R; 100 min.) It would be magic indeed if this film boasted an inkling of the wisdom its title implies. Although for the most part, The Craft is typically campy teen thriller fare, the movie does manage to squeeze in a number of adequately entertaining nightmarish scenes created by convincing computer trickery. Pouty, pierced and bedecked in black, schoolmates and veritable Prozac poster kids Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Bonnie (Neve Campbell) don't fit in at their snooty L.A. private school. But when newcomer Sarah (Robin Tunney) takes up with the outcasts, the girls' previous dabblings in witchcraft are transformed into real powers. We soon learn (no prize for guessing) that there's nothing as treacherous as a vengeful adolescent witch, especially the volatile Nancy. Some of the tricks she conjures may inspire the snake-phobic to squirm in their seats (and any real witches to leave the theater). (HZ)
(R; 87 min.) Jason Statham plays an L.A. hit man named Chev. Injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart slows; he goes on a crime rampage to keep the adrenaline pumping. And now a story from the Obona tribe of West Africa: An ant crawls to the brothel of the elephants with a speck of gold tied to his back. He selects the most comely of the pachyderms, saying, You will be my ngonga for tonight. After she is mounted by the ant, the two are spied by Chinga, the monkey, who observes from a nearby tree. The playful Chinga hurls a cocoanut at the she-elephant's head. "Ouch!" she cries, and the ant responds, "Take every inch of it, you slut." Watching Crank, advertising vets Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's uncredited filch of the noir classic D.O.A., is just like being the female elephant in this ancient legend. All the tough talk and the furious cutting don't add up to a thrill, despite the film's insistence that every second is absolutely killing us dead with raw action. Take it all, slut! claims the duo, as the audience barely moves under their repetitive prodding. Very speculative gangster talk ("Who would have thought that bitch had the stones to kill me in my crib!") informs their digital hoo-haw. Let me be among the first 1,000 to claim that if Chev had gone to watch this at a theater, he wouldn't have made it five minutes. Also starring Amy Smart in a role of such dumbness that she must have been picked for name irony alone. And in the worst John Leguizamo performance by a non-Leguizamo, Jose Pablo Cantilio plays the bald-headed crime boss. As in another Obona legend, he and Statham are the two bald men who get together and make an ass out of themselves. (RvB)
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(NC-17; 100 min.) David Cronenberg's cinematic icicle represents an almost-perfect transformation in tone and image of underground writer J.G. Ballard's 1973 shocker about the lubricious joys of vehicular mayhem. With its fetishist's-eye view of the world, Crash transpires in an aura of complete amorality. The protagonist is named for the author. James G. Ballard (James Spader), a film director of some sort, and his troublingly beautiful wife, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), live in a high-rise condo overlooking a vast freeway. Both pursue separate adventures during the day; both come home in the evening for some impersonal rear-entry sex. On his way to work one morning, Ballard is injured in a crash that kills the other driver. His leg repaired with dozens of metal rods, Ballard begins sleeping with Dr. Remington (Holly Hunter), the physician who is the widow of the man he killed. Through Remington, Ballard and Catherine encounter Vaughan (Elias Koteas), the grubby, scarred leader of a cult that worships car crashes. Despite its deliberate provocations, however, Crash is actually a sand-dry satire on our wheeled society, a hyperbolic story about joining the winning side in the war between automobiles and people. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Pretty/ridiculous. Mangled by a cold-footed studio, and handicapped by an instant reconciliation, the film tries its best to come alive; such life as it has in it, it owes to Kirsten Dunst. She's impressive as Nicole, the self-destructive daughter of a congressman (a Tom Hayden type, played by Bruce Davison). Nicole is snapped out of her rounds of promiscuity and substance abuse by the attentions and good example of the virtuous East LA exchange student, Carlos (Jay Hernandez); he hopes to go to Annapolis to become a Navy pilot. While Dunst weaves up a role out of a few movie clichés and a dozen glitter-covered T-shirts, Hernandez isn't quite so adept; he seems to be as boring as the boring role he's playing. Dunst has to provide the chemistry for both of them. Director John Stockwell tries to cook up some surface dazzle to try to disguise the movie's essential gutlessness; the best that can be said about it is that it's more proof that Dunst is the real thing. (RvB)
(R; 102 min.) Wacky Aunt Lucille (Melanie Griffith) leaves the small-town South in 1965 to become an actress in Hollywood. She'd kill for a part on the Bewitched television show, literallyshe's poisoned her abusive husband and carries his head around in a hatbox. Neophyte director Antonio Banderas gives too much screen-time to Griffith, his wife, and shortchanges the real story, which is about what our narrator, Peejoe (Lucas Black of Slingblade), does when he witnesses the sheriff (Meat Loaf) kill a black kid for swimming in the whites-only swimming pool. The two stories poison each other: the macabre comedy of Lucille's road trip turns crass and childish, Peejoe's dilemma is dosed with enough smarmy sincerity to make Jerry Lewis wince. A bright spot: Lawrence Tierney as a no-bullshit judge. You can almost hear him telling Banderas to shut up and let him work. (BC)
Forget the dry title: if a French movie ever made a difference in your life, the place to be tonight is at Santa Clara University. A group of important figures from the film world will be on hand: Bertrand Tavernier, the brilliant movie historian, critic and director (Round Midnight, Que La Fete Commence, Pop. 1,215); New York Film Festival director Richard Peña; and Tom Luddy, frequent collaborator with Francis Ford Coppola and co-director of the Telluride Film Festival. The discussion tonight focuses on globalization, which is having the same kind of homogenizing effect on film that it is in all other realms of commerce. Hollywood movies generate 80 percent of movie revenue in Europe; "Only the subsidy system keeps French movies alive," says Louis Menand in the Feb. 17-24 issue of The New Yorker, in his article boosting the importance of American movies. (Naming a list of '70s American directors, Menand concludes, "They brought the cinema back to America," as if "the cinema" was a yachting trophy.) The panelists will analyze the cultural trade imbalance and outline possibilities for saving diversity. (Discussion Feb 28, 6-8pm, Santa Clara University, de Saisset Museum, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara; free; 408.554.5498.) (RvB)
(Both 1954) The Stanford's 3-D series continues with a pair of horror/sci-fi classics. In The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Richard Carlson must cope with the ravages of the Gill-Man, who develops an unhealthy (if ultimately touching) crush on Carlson's female assistant Julia Adams. Also stars Whit Bissell. BILLED WITH It Came From Outer Space, again starring Carlson. Invaders from the stars find themselves stranded in the desert. Also stars Barbara Rush. (MSG)
(1982) George Romero directs a compilation film based on short horror tales by Stephen King. Stars Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver and Ed Harris. Watch out for the cockroaches.
(PG-13) A sitcom stretched to 90 minutes, The Crew is as dumbly warm as any film featuring retired Mafiosos, matricide, geriatric bowels and more topless women than a Spice Channel rerun. Four senior wise guys (Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Dan Hedaya, Seymour Cassel) contrive to move encroaching yuppies from their seedy Miami Beach hotel, the Raj Mahal. The Crew appeals to fans of sub-borscht-belt humor (a Jewish deli named Sol and Pepper's figures prominently) and the TV show The Golden Girls. Screenwriter Barry Fanaro wrote most of the show's episodes; his pat TV style smoothes the coarseness of the many toilet jokes and strip-bar scenes. Much of The Crew is as false as a South Beach bust line; only the unsinkable Lainie Kazan looks like she belongs in Miami Beach. (DH)
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(R; 87 min.) Those alert to the fast con will realize that Criminal is a remake. Its source is a crafty Argentine movie titled Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens). The original script's amoral trickery was probably irresistible to the Yankees, but it's not all here in the remake. Argentina's economy gave Nine Queens a final twist. The last laugh was on the hustlers, as they were all outwitted by the biggest confidence scam of all: Argentina's financial crisis. The payoff, if it had come, wouldn't have been worth much more than the dollar-sized strips of newspapers stuffing a wallet in a pigeon-drop scam. Without the background of political con-artistry, Criminal seems minor, a pastime movie. It's as if you remade Cabaret in mid-1970s Manhattan. Certainly the sexual politics and decadence would work fine, but without the looming Nazism there wouldn't be the right contrast shadowing the desperate, hustling figures in the foreground. (RvB)
(Unrated; 90 min.) Purely as an exercise in contrived titillation, director François Ozon's Criminal Loverscertainly offers the whole catalog of shockers, but though there are hints at some profound themes, Ozon can never turn away from sensationalism long enough to explore them. Teen sexpot Alice (Natcha Régnier) has discovered just how much clout her sexual allure has with boys, and in the ultimate test of her power, she asks her shy, virginal boyfriend, Luc (Jéremie Renier), to help her kill Saïd (Salim Kechiouche), a classmate at their high school. After burying the body deep in the woods, the young killers blunder across a mysterious hermit (Miki Manojlovic) living in the forest. He locks Alice and Luc in his basement, where, it turns out, he is also storing the unearthed body of Saïd. Eventually, he makes Luc into a sort of half-servant, half-love slave, but Alice, the instigator of their crime, must stay starving in the cellar, imprisoned with Saïd's bodyit's not hard to guess where she eventually turns for sustenance. For what it's worth, the performances are strong: Régnier does a chillingly good job of showing us what a cool-headed, sweet-faced monster Alice really is beneath her "feminine" hysterics, and Manojlovic inspires a few surprising moments of sympathy, but the actors only serve to remind how much more interesting Criminal Lovers could have been if Ozon had actually delved into the issues of violence, power and sexuality that his film raises. Compounding that frustration, Ozon lays on the irony thick, with innocent bunnies scampering throughout the film and a Disneyized shtupping scene featuring a waterfall and a host of woodland creatures looking on. But more obvious still than the heavy-handed irony is the well-worn moral of this souped-up Hansel and Gretel story: that the only dark force lurking in the forest is within ourselvesand this irrelevant shock-fest was apparently designed to appeal to it. (HZ)
(1959) Sam Fuller directs this tabloid-powerful story about a pair of LAPD homicide detectivesone white (Glenn Corbett), one Asian (James Shigeta)who fall in love with the same witness to a murder. The competition between them raises the issue of racism. (AR)
An American submarine's school-book executive officer (Denzel Washington) locks horns with his old-school captain (Gene Hackman) during a nuclear standoff with Russian rebels. Their radio's out, the captain believes they've been ordered to launch their nukes, the XO thinks they've been ordered to stand down, the crew has to choose sides, and they're being stalked by a Russian hunter-killer sub. As one would hope, the sub's essential claustrophobia has been put to great use. Crimson Tide is a fine example of the thriller done right. (BC)
(1950/1953) An obscure onewhy? The plot sounds like it would submit nicely to remakes: Cary Grant, a vacationing doctor in South America, is extorted into performing brain surgery on an ill dictator (Jose Ferrer); it was Richard Brooks' first film as a director. BILLED WITH Dream Wife. Grant wants a traditional wife, but Deborah Kerr, playing a career diplomat, refuses to give in. (RvB)
(R; 109 min.) Dr. Ernst has a predicamenthe's caught between his greedy hospital and the two feuding daughters of a comatose patient. The new Sidney Lumet film is sketchy and episodic, but there are some intriguing threads. As a nurse, Helen Mirren is powerful, especially when performing a unique variation of the finale of The Grapes of Wrath. Fans of Albert Brooks won't want to miss him done up in Will Geer/Mark Twain makeup and playing a folksy, boastful old monster of a physician ("When ye have those lawyers crawling over ye, that's when ye know you're a doctor!"). Weaker elements include Kyra Sedgwick as a slutty model; Sedgwick improves on Jayne Mansfield's porpoise squeal by amplifying it to an ear-piercing theremin shriek, if you can call that an improvement. James Spader's Dr. Ernst is too naive to live, let alone to practice medicine, and the big populist ending doesn't fit the vaudeville tone of the whole. Still, the film deserves points for its idealism and laudable attempts to wrestle with the nightmarish state of American health care. (RvB)
(PG; 95 min.) Much like the first two, with the same ancient situationsincluding the one where the out-of-towner hero Mick "Crocodile" Dundee (Paul Hogan) thinks that a valet parking attendant is trying to steal his car. When his wife (Linda Kozlowski, most taut of skin) gets a temporary newspaper job in Los Angeles, Croc heads for the city and encounters ethnic criminals whom he thrashes as in days of yore. Many contrasts are drawn between the stuck-upness of L.A. and the friendliness of Aussies to convince the Australian viewer that everything's better down under. This might be a good film to punish the kids with. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) Wait, the crocodile hunter is saving crocs? We thought maybe poachers had their own TV show now. Oh well, anyway, Steve Irwin gets himself involved in some crazy plot about government agents trying to capture one of his crocodiles. Who thinks up this stuff?
(1947; unrated; 86 min.) A young Robert Mitchum plays Sgt. Pete Kiely. Cooling his heels after the war, Kiely toils in the peacetime army, in some sort of bureaucratic position that he refuses to dignify with a description. Mitchum shares several powerful scenes with that underrated actor Robert Young, who plays Captain Finlay, a police detective cracking a murder that happens Friday night and is wrapped up before Monday dawns. Young's cop has a Jesuit's suspicion of menand a sorrowfulness for the sins of the world. Mitchum's Kiely is something else, maybe the devil when he's not out on a mission scooping up unwary souls. The great Robert Ryan plays the self-injuring Job caught in the "crossfire" of Young's angel and Mitchum's devil. In contrast to Young, Mitchum is unsurprised at the stink of humanity. A veneer of politeness covers over a great deal of insolence; he's unable to get upset much about the possibility of someone he knows being a killer. It was a persona that Mitchum massaged masterfully through a long career of playing tough guys.
(R; 117 min.) Sean Penn's new film (as director and writer), The Crossing Guard, is a real movie, not a contrived action clone. Freddy Gale (Jack Nicholson) is a middle-aged man whose life is irreversibly changed when his daughter is killed by a drunk driver. He starts to obsess over John Booth (David Morse), the man responsible for his daughter's death, until, piece by piece, his life unravels. For once, there's a reason for the madness of a Nicholson character. At its best, The Crossing Guard has the visceral emotional appeal of John Cassavetes' semi-improvised psychodramas, but with the satisfaction that can only come with finely drawn characters. (AB)
(PG-13; 94) Britney Spears, Zoë Saldana and Taryn Manning motor over the open highway in a girl-bonding movie.
(1994) A rock musician (the late Brandon Lee) is murdered. A year later, he comes back from the grave as the avenging killer known as the Crow. Lee plays it straight and tough as the Crow, and production designer Alex McDowell has created a remarkable backdropa Detroit of forlorn, burnt-out Victorians and multistory slums where the rain and the cruelty never stop. The computer animation brings the imaginary city to life through swooping camera movements. Even if the plotting is often adolescentit's a suburban teen's reverie of undying love, persecution and powerthe mood of this film sinks into you. (RvB)
(R; 105 min.) A homicide victim (Vincent Perez) rises from the dead to seek vengeance for himself and his murdered son. Long on looks and strikingly short on substance, this mannered and self-consciously stylish adaptation of James O'Barr's graphic novel takes 25 minutes to set up the premise and 45 minutes to present the first plot complication, when someone in the film crew apparently realized that a hero who can't be killed doesn't have much at risk, and therefore is not terribly interesting. But perhaps director Tim Pope takes so long for fear of overestimating his audience's intelligence. (Who is his audience? Paint-sniffers?) Punk iconofossils Iggy Pop (as villain No. 2) and Ian Dury (as a tattoo artist) could have inserted some sort of perverted energy into this dreary mess, but they're held back. Richard Brooks (of TV's Law & Order) is oddly apt as villain No. 1: like The Crow, he's handsome, ponderous, and clueless. (BC)
(1928/1934) The adventures of a working-class couple: he (James Murray) is a clerk at a vast office, and she (Eleanor Boardman) does her best to keep him from the snares of the immense city. With its nonstar cast and extensive use of street locations, this is considered one of the masterpieces of American silent filmmaking, with scenes that influenced talents as different as Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder, though such quotations may prove what critic Andrew Sarris said, that director King Vidor was a creator of great scenes rather than great movies. Tom Hazelton at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. BILLED WITH Our Daily Bread, Vidor's self-produced sequel, in which the Sims head for a farm in the country. A new cast takes over, and the film wasn't as well received as the original: Our Daily Bread was denounced as communist by the Hearst papers, and as capitalist by the Communist papers. Karen Morley and Tom Keene co-star. (Plays Sep 1 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
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(PG-13; 115 min.) Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis star in a screen adaptation of Arthur Miller's drama about the Salem witch trials.
(PG-13) There have been several adaptations of Alan Paton's novel, but none has achieved anything approaching the scope of what South African director Darrell James Roodt has managed. James Earl Jones plays Stephen Kumalo, who comes to Johannesburg to find his son, only to discover that the boy has killed a white man during a burglary. If there's a serious flaw in the film, it is that Paton's vision has been simplified somewhat. Paton was aware, as even few blacks in the late 1940s were, that the most serious problem facing South African blacks was not racism per se but the breakdown of traditional life and values brought on by the lure of the industrial cities. (AB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) OK, so the girl is being chased by the killer in the woods, and then she trips over nothingthe old chase-and-trip. Only this time, she pulls out her cell phone and tries to call one of her speed-dial numbers for help. Wait, what's that noise? The killer's phone is ringing! C'mon, that's pretty funny! Which is why it sucks that this movie about high-school kids who start a "lying game" in their school by inventing the story of a serial killer on the loose is being sold as a slasher flick. It really isn't. Rather, it's a shallow but damn entertainingand plenty wickedthriller on the order of Cruel Intentions. It steals from eminently stealable sources like Scream, The Game and, of course, Heathers, the fountainhead of all college-prep flicks with any black humor to them at all. This one has a ton, and the twists are the best in any film so far this year. So if it does qualify as a slasher flick, it's 100 times more fun than those crappy slasher flicks we had to watch growing up in the '80s. Some things never change though: If the actors playing the students are young enough to have been anywhere near a high school in the last five to 10 years, I'll eat my hat. (SP)
(PG-13; 99 min.) 1944. Two soldiersone, an intellectual Finn named Veiko (Ville Haapasalo); the other, an older Russian lieutenant named Ivan (Viktor Bychkov), who seems doomed for counterrevolutionary tendenciesare sheltered by a young Samithat is, Laplanderwidow named Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso). Complicating the lack of a common tongue among the three is the fact that Veiko was a sniper, clad in a German uniform by his fellow soldiers so he wouldn't retreat. For his lack of inclination to fight, he was chained to a rock. Not understanding Veiko's personal history, you can watch the first part of the film in confusion ("Why are those Finnish soldiers being so relatively nice to that SS officer; why don't they shoot him?") Because of the uniform Veiko wears, Ivan believes the boy to be a Nazi, and this increases the tension when it becomes clear that Anniwho hasn't had a man in four yearsis the amorous type. Filming in the starkly beautiful Karelia area, Alexander Rogozhkin makes this a light, fresh take on the traditional antiwar film, with a good deal of ambient comedy. It's a droll film, different from cinematic near relations like No Man's Land and Hell in the Pacific. Juusoa genuine Sami reindeer farmer making her acting debutis a beguiling natural performer ("Four years without a man and then two at once. Have the spirits read my thoughts?") (RvB)
(PG-13; 96 min.) Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson team up for the first time since Scream 2, trying to get their careers back on track by putting a postmodern spin on the werewolf film. (Capsule preview by SP)
(Both 1944) The sequel to The Cat People, with a little girl haunted by the ghost of her mother (Simone Simon, the original panther woman from The Cat People). BILLED WITH Mademoiselle Fifi, Val Lewton's detour from horror at RKO, a compression of de Maupassant's short stories "Boule de Suif" and "Mademoiselle Fifi." (No doubt about it"Mademoiselle Fifi" is a more marketable title than "Tallowball.") Simon plays a slimmed-down version of the butterball prostitute "fat as a pig" whom some snobbish Normandy burghers first pimp out and then cut dead. This intriguing-sounding film, set around the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, is based on the same story that was said to have inspired Stagecoach. Director Robert Wise makes parallels between the Prussians of 1870 and the Nazis of 1940, thereby stressing the spirit of resistance instead of the spirit of capitulation (which would seem to reverse de Maupassant's superb story, an all-too-accurate forecast of the sorrow and the pity to come). (RvB)
(PG; 123 min.) Not quite as good as Cabin Boy, and as tension-free as an episode of Johnny Quest, this graceless monstrosity follows the treasure-hunting adventures of a lady pirate (Geena Davis) and her assistant, a scalawag played by Matthew Modine. Modine knows something about Errol Flynn's body language and has a certain boyishness that makes his scenes work from time to time. The horrifically miscast Davis, however, is lost thoroughly. At one point, she is trading slightly elegant witticisms with Modine, and the movie perks up for a secondshouldn't pirates have some fancy words to speak?before settling back into a snooze, disturbed only by Davis' directing the camera's attention to a pet spider monkey ("Awwww!," said the audience, on cue). The dialogue, even pronounced over the noise of Dolbyized sound effects, is inacceptable by television standards ("I'm all at sea with things nautical," quips a character). Even Frank Langella, looking like a million doubloons, can't raise up this one's pulse as Davis' evil pirate uncle, Black Dog. The expensiveness of the sets and the ships makes it all worse, somehow; it's dispiriting when not even explosions, tall ships and tropical islands can get a picture's heart started. (RvB)
(R; 129 min.) Tran Van Huy's follow-up to The Scent of Green Papaya is similarly dense, beautiful and moody, but it's also a problematic, violent picture, laden with symbolist anguish. A Saigonese bicycle cabbie (Le Van Loc) turns gangster; unbeknownst to him, his sister (Tran Nu Yen Khe) is being prostituted by the leader of his gang, The Poet (Hong Kong film star Tony Leung-Chui Wai). At its most mundane, the film suggests that money is an unsuitable thing for poor people to have. It's a too simplistic story told with eloquence. Still, despite the sometimes frustrating wrenching violence, Cyclo is a hypnotic, colorful movie. The approach is as fascinating as the locales, and Khe has the sort of purity the silent movies celebrated. (RvB)