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(PG-13; 87 min.) Like a cross between Charlie's Angels and Enter the Dragon, the action in Corey Yuen's new film revolves around an annual tournament on a remote island. The world's best fighters attend, including a professional wrestler's daughter (Jaime Pressly), a British master thief (Holly Valance) and a Japanese Princess (Devon Aoki). Behind the scenes, the villain (Eric Roberts) cooks up a preposterous scheme involving nanotechnology. The film shies away from eroticism but contains plenty of skimpy outfits and perfectly sculpted bodies, and Yuen's computer-assisted action sequences move with speed and precision. The script is riddled with annoying expositional dialogue, and the karate chops outweigh the acting chops, but it's a great example of unpretentious, second-gear celluloid, generated quickly, cheaply and for the fun of it. (JMA)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 96 min.) Rawson Marshall Thurber's quite funny slapstick comedy based on traditional sports-team stories, with the slouchy Vince Vaughn (at last, an Oliver Reed for the USA!) as a crapshack gym owner being forced out of business by the Globo Gym next door. Ben Stiller, who co-produced, is paroxysmal as White Goodman, the '70s-drunk hustler who owns the bigger gym. Aside from the familiar pleasures of watching someone beaned by a ball"Dodgeball is a game of violence, exclusion and degradation," intones one commentator, trying to make this sound like a good thingthe movie gets into the American mania for character-building through sports and razzes the notion. With Christine Taylor as the slim blonde banker caught between Goodman and Vaughn (who at one point tries to gift her with two expired movie passes and a coupon for a back rub). (RvB)
(Both 1936) Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton star as wealthy retirees from Zenith, Ohio, who go on the European tour. Abroad, a seemingly strong marriage develops pressure cracks, as both are attracted to others: he to a widow (Mary Astor), she to an English nobleman (David Niven). William Wyler directed this mature and unpredictable adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' novel, in which the trouble was making sure Chatterton played the part of the wandering wife sympathetically. In her extremely well-written memoirs, Astor noted that Chatterton was cast as a woman desperately holding on to her youth, which is what the actress was in real life. "It touched a nerve." BILLED WITH The Lady Consents. Herbert Marshall plays a philanderer whose wife (Ann Harding) seems to be acquiescing to her husband's affair, all the better to reclaim him later. (RvB)
(PG; 96 min.) Little Red Riding Hood usually didn't escape the jaws of the wolf when her tale was told prior to this century, and this latest cinematic version of Marie Louise de la Ramée's 1872 children's book, A Dog of Flanders, offers a taste of how harrowing fairy tales used to be. A Dog of Flanders bridges the gap between the two with the tale of Nello, an impoverished orphan living in early 19th-century Flanders, and his struggles to become an artist. Although he has friends and supporters, among them his best friend, Aloise (Farren Monet), and a noted artist, Michel LeGrand (Jon Voight), Nello (Jeremy James Kissner) faces scorn and cruelty at the hands of some of the villagers because of his poverty. The film can be slow-moving in its chronicling of Nello's day-to-day hardships; the dog promised in the title seems more of a prop than a character; and a quasi-afterlife sequence brings to mind a bad Sunday school film crossed with The X-Files. Nevertheless, the film has a quiet charm. It's beautifully filmed with a painterly eye, and its themes of compassion, honesty and perseverance are admirable. Too bad its plodding pace makes A Dog of Flanders best for a child who's already learned the virtue of patience. (HZ)
(R; 93 min.) There are no bad dogs, just bad dog movies. This ensemble comedy (with too many parts) revolves around a dog park, where city dwellers run their canine substitutes for lost lovers or four-legged babies-in-training and meet cute people. Luke Wilson, a cipher in the lead, has joint custody of his pooch after his girlfriend leaves him for a randy bike messenger. Natasha Henstridge, that alien gal from the Species series, is surprisingly earthy as a kids' show host on the rebound. As in any city, the residents talk too much and the dogs have too little to do. Kids in the Hall director Bruce McCullough and an appealing cast can't house-train this pooch. (DH)
(1945) A Betty Grable film based on the tale of one of the best-known turn-of-the-century sister acts. One number, "Darktown Strutters Ball," features a pair of colossal 50-foot-tall robot legs with size-60 feet beating time to the musiccertainly the most berserk moment in the history of the American musical. (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) The real Domino Harvey (1969-2005) was actor Laurence Harvey's daughter, briefly a model and more regularly a bounty hunter. Keira Knightley plays her with an appealing ferocity, while Mickey Rourke happily gnaws the scenery as her bounty hunter boss, Ed. Even the film's preposterous caper yarn, partially conceived by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), might have worked with a bit of finesse, but Tony Scott's motley direction kills the entire enterprise. "He has the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth," chides one line of dialogue, and that seems to be Scott's opinion of his audience; the film appears as if shown through a magic lantern, set afire, photographed through constantly switching lenses and bounced around on an outboard motor, while being edited by monkeys. (JMA)
With a hint of collusion in their eyes, as if they know they're venturing into awfully cloying territory, Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway are witty and dead-on in their efforts to bring this conservative fairy tale to life. Too bad the material is so interminably whimsical. Depp is the titular Don Juan, a romantic who believes he's the world's greatest lover. Brando is the shrink on the scene when Don Juan considers suicide, believing that his one true love has forsaken him. Don Juan DeMarco is at once a father-son fable, a cautionary for middle-aged marrieds and an earnest dramatization of the myths of heterosexual romance. (EP)
(R; 121 min.) An undercover FBI agent (Johnny Depp) befriends a wiseguy (Al Pacino) and worms his way into the Bonanno crime family in the late '70s. We've seen a lot of this beforethe dramatization "based on a true story," the agent's whiny wife (Anne Heche), the mooks and made men with their leather blazers and wing collars. Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) borrows heavily from GoodFellas, competently if not remarkably, with effortless dialogue and a fine cast. The problemif it can be called a problemis that Pacino is too good as the doomed, small-time soldier who reaps what he sows. So what if he's a killer with a heart? He's still a killer, and the hell with him. (BC)
(1925) Circa 1850: Visiting Californian Don Cesar de Vega (Douglas Fairbanks Sr.) is the toast of Madrid after he holds off a wild bull escaped from the toreadors. The queen invites de Vega to her court. There, Cesar attracts the attention of Dolores, a general's daughter (a young and ravishing Mary Astor). Unfortunately, Cesar is wrongfully implicated in a murder and has to go underground to clear his name. Eventually, he sends out a call for help from his father, Don Diego de Vega: Zorro. Zorro appears in only the last 15 minutes of this lesser Fairbanks film, notable for some novel uses of a bullwhip and the usual bracing stunts by the starlike Zorro, the greatest man in America in his day. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) This spoof of "growing up in the 'hood" movies is just as aimless as its meandering title. With only a "coming of age" theme serving loosely as a plot, Don't be a Menace is almost more of a series of vignettes, a few which bring some chuckles, but more often have all the humor and brevity of recent Saturday Night Live sketches. In fact, in the film's few clever jokes and its stabs at Hollywood's portrayals of life in South Central seem to be traces of the trademark biting humor that Don't be a Menace's co-writers and stars Marlon and Shawn Wayans have helped supply in a better family venture, In Living Color. The best moments are in some over-the-top parodies of stereotypical 'hood denizens, such as the hero's virtually pre-pubescent dad or a prolific woman whose multicultural brood has apparently been sired by half of South Central. Unfortunately, like so many other spoofs, the handful of genuine laughs here may not be worth sitting through the rest of the movie. (HZ)
(R; 122 min.) Wim Wenders reteams with his Paris, Texas co-author Sam Shepard for this new road movie. This time, Shepard stars, playing an inconsequential cowboy actor who walks away from the set of his latest film. Visiting his mother (Eva Marie Saint), he learns that he once fathered a son (Gabriel Mann) during his younger days. The mysterious longing of the previous film is gone, replaced by Shepard's weak, needy hero unable to connect with anyone. Likewise, the other characters fire dialogue at one another but none of it sticks. Still, Wenders comes up with some beautiful moments, mainly in capturing the story's specific sense of place, the wide-open roads and the hope that there's still something left to find there. Jessica Lange, Tim Roth and Sarah Polley co-star. (JMA)
(1995) Eliseo Subiela's love story, which played at Cinequest 1996, concerns a couple in Buenos Aires who believe themselves to be reincarnated. Stars Dario Grandinetti and Mariana Arias.
(1965) D.A. Pennebaker's famous documentary about Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England evokes an era of intense self-exploration and creative growth (not to mention a bit of petulance) in the famous troubadour's career.
(R; 124 min.) There's very little to say about this formulaic thriller, knocked off from The Silence of the Lambs by Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls). Michael Douglas plays Dr. Nathan Conrad, a supermarket-paperback paragon of a New York psychiatrist. He's forced to use his medical skills to ease hidden information about a kidnapping out of a schizophrenic mental patient named Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy, bland even in that rag-doll-fondling mental patient role coveted by all actresses). Except for the grimy location work, Don't Say a Word is almost bereft of style. But it doesn't have any punch, either. This preposterously plotted exercise is supposed to be dead serious, though it's illogical to the extreme: How could a man who committed murder on a subway platform full of witnesses only get 10 years in prison for it? Why do the criminals go to all this trouble, when a quick visit to some public records office would give them the information they're willing to kill for? (RvB)
(R; 112 min.) Two angels look after the soul of a fighter. This Spanish comedy by Agustín Díaz Yanes stars Penélope Cruz and Victoria Abril.
(G; 85 min.) Right on the heels of Hoodwinked, the Weinsteins have another animated feature from their new company. This one is a French production they picked up featuring the voices of Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon and Whoopi Goldberg about magic diamonds that can freeze the sun if they fall into the wrong hands. It seems to me that Jimmy Fallon would definitely qualify as "the wrong hands" for nearly anything, including magic sun-freezing diamonds. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 100 min.) Take that, all you people who complained that previous video-game movies were too much like actual video games! This movie looks exactly like a demo for the video game it's based onit's even got the weapons bobbing at the bottom of the screen, first-person-shooter style. I'm unclear why the producers would bother to spend $70 million filming that when they can just run footage they've already paid for from the actual game and it'll look the same. They could even replace The Rock with a digital algorithm. I guarantee no drop in acting caliber. (Capsule preview by SP)
Doom the video game takes place from the player's P.O.V., requiring the player to run around and shoot aliens and mutants in a 3D maze. Doom the movie doesn't expand on this idea much, and it's a deadly bore. The Marinesled by the Rocktravel through a kind of digital globular transporter to Mars, where they must round up the baddies. The dialogue is mostly expositional, and in-depth characters are scarce; the actors contemptuously sneer their lines at one another, perhaps to cover up their crippling ennui. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave) forgoes his usual shaky camera in favor of darkness, predictable jump-scares and soulless fighting. Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike play the siblings who save the day. (JMA)
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(Unrated; 82 min.) Zoned-out young kids Jordan White (James Duval), Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) and Xavier Red, nicknamed "X" (Jonathon Schaech), run for their lives after a fatal altercation with a Vietnamese convenience-store clerk. In Gregg Araki's latest film, the trio is forced to fleewell, to drive slowly with sunglasses on their eyes and put-upon looks on their facesfrom Technicolor motel to Technicolor motel, while the police and a gang of thugs (played by the band Skinny Puppy) look for them. It isn't as bad as Araki's Totally Fucked Up or as much of an invasive procedure as its model, Natural Born Killers, but it has the same core of self-pity. (RvB)
(R; 79 min.) Local director Mark Decina's well-received indie romantic drama about a post-dotcom affair sneaks into town for a quick opening. The action unfolds in San Francisco and focuses on a shy computer animator and his attempts to make contact with a lovely woman he meets in a bar.
(R; 92 min.) The plot of this one has passed through the minds of a million film students; 999,999 shook their heads and said, "Nah, too ridiculous." And then came the millionth, director Matthew Parkhill. In London, a broke actor named Kit (Gael García Bernal)half Brazilian, half English, with a Liverpool accentfalls into a mad Latin passion for a Spanish dancer, Carmen (Natalia Verbeke). Like him, she's spontaneous, poor and given to chugging red wine out of clay cups when the effete English around her prefer theirs from crystal glasses. Unfortunately, she's about to marry a rich dullard, Barnaby Caspian (James D'Arcy). As both Barnaby and Kit put the pressure on her, hints rise up of her past as an abused woman back in Spain, where an evil former boyfriend splashed acid on her. But nothing is as it seems; the story keeps developing new twists until it twists apart into a series of unlikely events, guaranteed to leave the audience pissed off. We're never supposed to think any given event is "real," being possibly staged for the purpose of crime or art. What we see here is supposed to be logical because we saw it and bought it in other movies (Betty Blue, Run Lola Run). This is Bernal's first English-language movie, and it's bad enough to be his last. Verbeke's sex-bomb qualities are defused by a vicious personality. She sucker punches people, with a swooping sound-effect that's like something from a Rocky movie. After catching one of these roundhouses, you have to ask why Kit comes back for more. The photography is a persuasive argument for the abandonment of digital cinema, until the techniques improve; the imagery is flat, dim, ugly and broken up with jolting bursts of light. (SWOOSH! goes the sound-effect.) It's the camera punching us, just as Carmen punches pretty much every man in the movie. (RvB)
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Mina Shum's marvelous film tells the story of a 22-year-old aspiring actress named Jade Li (Sandra Oh) who walks a tenuous tightrope of dual lives. On one side is her traditional Chinese-Canadian family; on the other is her contemporary world, with a struggling acting career and a non-Asian beau. Shum is the Woody Allen of a new GenerAsianaccurately tapping into the neurosis of the yellow and proud. She prefers subtle jabs to outright militancy without sacrificing message for style, and Double Happiness' portrayals are refreshing, its characters achingly believablenot marinated in schmaltz or stereotype. (TSI)
(1944) The deathless film version of James Cain's steel-trap mystery novel in which a hustling insurance salesman outsmarts himself, a heartless blonde loses an unwanted husband and a worn, fatherly little troll almost figures the scam out. It's an unusually graceful tale of murder directed by Billy Wilder with Barbara Stanwyck as the femme fatale Phyllis. Stanwyckthe most versatile of Hollywood studio leading ladiesexcels in everything the role requires, from the harsh chemical allure, the salty dialogue and the serious-as-cancer underpinnings. Fred MacMurray is the perfect sucker who narrates the story from the edge of the grave; Edward G. Robinson plays his smart, sad boss, who gives him a light for his last cigarette. (RvB)
(R; 105 min.) Focusing on themes of betrayal, vindication and a mother's undying love, director Bruce Beresford's Double Jeopardy manages to be a predictable but well-paced thriller. Ashley Judd stars as Libby Parsons, an affluent woman whose marriage has had its share of ups and downs. But it's clear she loves her husband, Nick (Bruce Greenwood), and positively dotes on her young son, Matty. On a surprise romantic getaway she is horrified to awaken to a grisly scene and no trace of her husband and shocked when she is wrongly accused and convicted of her husband's murder. Too late, she discovers Nick isn't dead; he's off living the high -life in San Francisco. After six years of anger-driven workout sessions in prison (where she learns about double jeopardy, which essentially says you can't be convicted of the same crime twice), Libby is paroled and transferred to a halfway house run by the weary, down-and-out Travis Lehman (Tommy Lee Jones), and she quickly begins her obsessive quest for her son and her contemptible husband (who becomes increasingly despicable as his slimy, amoral behavior descends to unthinkable lows in a Louisiana cemetery). As an actor, Judd has the confidence, strength and timing to adequately carry the film. However, the chemistry between her and the other characters (with the exception of the few scenes with her son) feels subdued. It's also unfortunate that the movie didn't keep its secrets a little better. Giving so much away in the trailers left an already obvious film with very little room for surprises. (SQ)
(PG-13; 88 min.) Orlando Jones plays a successful businessman who, framed for a crime he didn't commit, switches identities with a street-hustler acquaintance (Eddie Griffin), only to find he is even more of a wanted man when he is masquerading as his friend.
(R; 90 min.) Jean-Claude and the Rod Man: good. Mickey Rourke: bad. That's all you need to know about the nonsensical plot of Double Team, the new action film by transplanted Hong Kong director Tsui Hark. Woven through some truly nutty non sequitur narrative maneuvers (the rip of TV's The Prisoner is particularly mystifying) are a few top-notch thrill-ride set pieces: an exploding swimming pool; a kick-boxer with a switchblade clenched in his toes; an innocent-bystanders-be-damned shoot-out at an amusement part in Amsterdam; Van Damme pumping impromptu iron with a bathtub and a bucket full of rocks; fingerprint dissection (a good time to split for some popcorn); and a knock-down-drag-out punch fest in a hospital nursery full of bewildered babies in bassinets. The drunk at the end of my row loved it, shouting out his approval with every blow. What better recommendation is there than that? (MSG)
(G; 77 min.) This feature-length film based on the children's animated TV series, Disney's Doug,, about average 12-year-old nice guy Doug Funnie, has a slightly darker edge than some kids' fare, perhaps in part because it's set in the social snake pit that is middle school. Although pre-teen woes get their due in Doug's First Movie , as Doug struggles to keep the affections of his longtime love, Patti Mayonnaise, larger community concerns take center stage, albeit in a strange way: Doug and his friend Skeeter find themselves responsible for Herman, a kindly monster who has crawled from a local lake polluted by Bluffco, the company owned by the town's wealthy "benefactor." The two friends have to protect Herman from Bluffco, which, looking to avert a PR disaster, wants to destroy the monster created by its pollution. Like its roundabout socially responsible message, Doug's 1st Movie is more subtly enjoyable than wildly entertaining, but it fills the bill for a spring-break matinee. (HZ)
(R; 88 min.) Credibly set in the indie record stores, dingy rock clubs, stale rehearsal spaces and glum recording studios of the Pacific Northwest circa 2001, Down & Out With the Dolls is a rock & roll movie that requires audiences to have a pre-existing emotional connection with, and investment in, the underground rock scene. Kurt Voss' film zooms in on the whirlwind ride of newly formed all-girl indie garage group the Paper Dolls in the post-punk, post-grunge Portland music underworld. A rough, rowdy and risky journey to the brink of success and excess culminates with a rock & roll bash at the girls' place (naturally dubbed the Doll House) that ends very badly. Based on the semiautobiographical story of rock drummer Nalini "DD" Cheriel, this dark, dramatic comedy bares the ugly conflicts of female egos in all their back-stabbing glory. Appropriately seedy and substantially unglamorous, the girls and their stories have the ring of authenticity. Voss (Sugar Town, Border Radio) brings dimension to both with his effective character development and integrated subplots. Actual musicians were cast in the lead rolesincluding bisexual Lilith Fair alum Kinnie Starr, Coyote Shivers of "Sugarhigh" and other infamy, and Zoë Poledouris, who co-wrote the score to John Waters' Cecil B. Demented and composed the music for Down & Out With the Dolls. Cameos include Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister as Joe, the weirdo who lives in the closet, plus L7's Janice Tanaka and Inger Lorre (formerly of the Nymphs). (SQ)
(1940/1945) A vacationing Betty Grable heads to Argentina with a race horse promoter (Don Ameche); both are distracted by the charms of South America, so far away from the Depression and the brewing Second World War. Both are perturbed by one Carmen Miranda, a fulsome, malapropistic entertainer who performs the irresistible title song. Was this the Buena Vista Social Club of its day? Certainly, it introduced a large and surprised audience to Latin music, and complaining about Miranda as a representation of all South Americans is essentially like complaining that Shirley Temple was supposed to be a representation of American youth. Shown in a Technicolor nitrate print. BILLED WITH Yolanda and the Thief. Fred Astaire and Frank Morgan are American con men hiding from the law in South America who decide to fleece a convent reared heiress (Lucille Bremer). The naïve girl mistakes the predatory Astaire for her guardian angel. ("What sublime innocence," as W.C. Fields once said to a goat.) In what director Vincente Minnelli described as "the first surrealistic ballet ever used in pictures," Astaire does a pas de deux with his guilty conscience in front of stylized South American props (llamas, rock-washer women). (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) Submarines used to be called pig boats, which is appropriate for this drowning pig of a movie. Kelsey Grammer plays a lieutenant commander whose last chance to stay on the promotion ladder means accepting command of a WWII-era diesel sub, to be used in an antiterrorist war game headed by an admiral (Bruce Dern) who, for some reason, hates our hero. Grammer is pleasant enough, but he is constantly upstaged by his support comedians. Sometimes that's good; often it isn't. The sub is crewed by the usual misfits: the addle-brained guy who makes funny noises; the fat guy who eats bad food and then cuts a greasy one; the little ratty guy who yells a lot; the curvaceous gal who ends up with a uniform five sizes too small. Head writer Hugh Wilson created the Police Academy series, which this movie resembles right down to the moronic chortles coming from the back row of the theater. One thing in its favor: it's short. (BC)
(2002) A documentary about the life of railroad hobos and the graffiti they leave behind as signals for those who pass by.
(PG-13; 87 min.) The Emmy-winning writers from the late, lamented Chris Rock Show have a bit of an off day with the Chris Rock vehicle Down to Earth, an attempt to please both the PG-13 audience and older fans of his HBO talk show that only ends up sanitizing the best elements of Rock's caustic humor. In this remake of a remake (Warren Beatty's 1978 Here Comes Mr. Jordan update, Heaven Can Wait), Rock stars as unsuccessful Bed-Stuy stand-up comic Lance Barton, who, because of a mix-up in heaven, dies way before his expected due date and pleads with the head angel (Chazz Palminteri) for a return to Earth and another chance at the mic at the Apollo. The angel agrees to send Lance back, but he has to spend the rest of his life in another man's body. Smitten with a pretty community activist (Regina King) who's protesting the business practices of an old white industrialist, Lance chooses to be placed in the millionaire's body so he can get to know her; the film's most constant running joke has Lance forgetting that the sight of an old white guy nodding his head to the sounds of DMX can be quite strange. As demonstrated in their previous comedy, the amusing but amateurish American Pie, directors Chris and Paul Weitz are skilled with sight gags but aren't as adept at shaping a movie around those gags. Though the film is ramshackle, there are clever bits like Chris Rock Show fixture Wanda Sykes as a disgruntled maid and Rock's vision of heaven as a crowded club where only hot women seem to be able to get past the velvet ropes, and luckily, we're spared the obligatory scene of the early-'90s SNL alum frightening moviegoers with his not-exactly-toned bare buttocks (examples: Mike Myers, Norm MacDonald, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Rock himself, in Dogma). The extensive scenes of Rock doing his stand-up act make you realize maybe Down to Earth should have been made into a concert film instead. (JA)
(PG-13; 98 min.) Down to You is the nicest, that is, the dullest, romantic teen comedy of the last year. From a post-college netherworld, Al (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Imogen (Julia Stiles) tell the camera how they met and what happened before the audiences sees the liaison, akin to ESPN color commentary on a football game but with fewer grunts and bruises. Writer/director Kris Isaccson has the eye of a filmmaker, not just a channel surfer, but he keeps his actors as immobile as sculptures. And the dialogue was fashioned by a carpenter. By treating everyone decently, Down to You is as edgeless as a Nerf toy. (DH)
(PG-13) Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor revisit the Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedies of the 1960s.
(PG-13; 90 min.) Undoubtedly, these days, it's a rare movie that's short on stupid humor. But Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It suffers from just that uncommon complaint. Brooks doesn't live up to his previous standards of absurdity in his latest spoof. Although the film naturally features Brooks' usual assortment of sophomoric sex jokes, pratfalls and sight gagsincluding a running jest at repressed British sexuality and a rump-shaped headdress for the count that bears a striking resemblance to one that appeared in a more earnest vampire moviethe formerly outrageous writer and director has mellowed his satire considerably, much to the loss of the schlock-comedy world. Casting Leslie Nielsen as the insatiable blood-sucker seems a promise of unlimited silliness, but Nielsen's talent for making the inane hilarious isn't tapped to its potential. (HZ)
(2002) Considering its silent-movie roots, this dialogue-free version of the ultimate Gothic tale moves faster than any filmed version of Dracula. Director Guy Maddinan inspired cult filmmaker from Manitoba, with a career-long love of German Expressionismpantomimes the tale, bringing out implicit Asiatic-peril elements in the old story (with the help of an elegant Chinese Drac, played by Zhang Wei-Qiang). The production design/art direction by Deanne Rohde recalls Edward Gorey, and Mahler's music is danced to by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) This terminally New Agey ghost story takes a risibly uplifting turn at the end, deep in the most spiritual part of the Amazonian rain forest. Obviously, the script has been rewritten to a fare-thee-well. Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) is a Chicago doctor who loses his pregnant wife when she's on a solo "Doctors Without Borders" sojourn in Venezuela. With only her diseased macaw, Big Bird, to remember her by, Darrow mourns. But then his wife's former patientshalf-dead children in the pediatric cancer wardbegin to deliver cryptic messages from the next world. The film is frequently unintentionally comic, as during a possessed-psychic-parrot attack. Three Stooges fans in the audience may want to squawk out, "Awk! Find the letter!" during this scene. No consolation from Kathy Baker as a token lesbian neighbor, or from Linda Hunt as an eerie nun channeling the next world. In sulking over his losses, or verbally attacking those who try to soothe him, Costner's never been wetterand yes, I did see him in Waterworld. (RvB)
(PG-13; 108 min.) Early in the 10th century, a dragon slayer (Dennis Quaid) and his quarry (voiced by Sean Connery) join forces, first to fleece frightened villagers and later to battle a wicked prince (David Thewlis). Fittingly, it was shot in Slovakia, a benighted land if ever there was one. Much of the dialogue is the sort of fake-out Elizabethan English spouted at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and Dina Meyer is absolutely dreadful as the female lead. Connery takes some getting used to as the animatronic dragon, but he wears well. The special effects are fun; Quaid isn't bad; Thewlis (Naked) makes a fine villain, with his bad teeth and spitty lips; and Pete Postlethwaite (The Usual Suspects) is an added pleasure as a monk turned reluctant warrior. (BC)
(PG-13) Very loosely based on Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle stories, director Betty Thomas' modern adaptation stars Eddie Murphy as Dr. John Dolittle, a successful San Francisco doctor with a loving wife (Kristen Wilson) and two daughters (Kyla Pratt and Raven-Symoné). His life is turned upside down when Rodney (voiced by Chris Rock), a pet guinea pig, begins talking to him. Word quickly spreads through the animal kingdom that he can understand them, and all kinds of critters flock to him for medical attention. What follows is a funny movie that tugs a bit at the heartstrings. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of cheap shots taken; however, the bathroom humor is balanced with more substantial comedy and lively characters, with the cast of animal voices including Norm Macdonald, John Leguizamo, Garry Shandling, Julie Kavner and Jenna Elfman. It's the carelessly done special effects and choppy editing that take away from the film. Unlike the seamless believability of the talking creatures in Babe, the talking animals in Dr. Dolittle are rarely convincing enough to allow the audience to believe that animals share human speech patterns. (SQ)
(PG; 85 min.) There's not much animal magnetism in this sequel. Eddie Murphy is a barely interested ringmaster to the forest animals here. Meanwhile he has strife with his family: his seemingly PMS-ridden wife (Kyla Pratt) and his distractingly nubile daughter (Raven-Symone), who has a hip-talkin' boyfriend (Lil' Zane). The family dynamics are familiar to viewers of antique sitcoms. Watch how the Wheel of Time transforms Murphy to Dick Van Patten. The plot is a little fresher. Dolittle is recruited by forest animals to do something about the logging that's leaving the critters homeless. (Unfortunately, the film doesn't use its opportunity to show off some of the amazing clear-cut landscapes the West offers the filmmaker.) To convince the courts to intervene, Dolittle has to get a pair of endangered bears to matejokes on that count are meant to spice up the film for adults. The usual Dr. "doo-doo little" toilet jokes are on display here. Both Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin and a bear actor named Tank add a little zest. (RvB)
(R; 136 min.) Typically muddled Stephen King adaptation in which four friends blessed with special powersa "gift" from a handicapped boy they befriended as adolescentsmust face a brutal alien menace. Riddled with loose ends and patent absurdity, including enough flatulence for a lifetime, Dreamcatcher manages to build a lot of suspense and a fairly entertaining group of characters while unraveling the story of the scariest intestinal worm in film history. Morgan Freeman, as the addled commando who's been chasing the alien for 25 years, is a study in stilted dialogue, while Jason Lee, as one of the group of friends, manages to retain some charm. One of the biggest reasons to see Dreamcatcher is not the film itself, but what precedes it: The Animatrix, the animated short based on the world of The Matrix. (DB)
(PG; 102 min.) Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning nurse a horse back to health with dreams of racing it in the Breeders' Cup in this inspirational true story of a horse named...Dreamer. You weren't thinking Seabiscuit there for a minute, were you? 'Cause that makes Dreamer angry. In fact, Dreamer told me that if you compare it to Seabiscuit, it will fight you. Have you ever been in a knife fight with an inspirational-true-story horse? Take it from a man who lost three fingers and a kidney to Hidalgo: just walk away. (Capsule preview by SP)
John Gatin writes and directs the uplifting (cheesy) story about a (predictably) down-on-his-luck horse trainer (Kurt Russell) who is given a broken-down yet still-champion-caliber horse (poor man's Seabiscuit) as severance pay from his dastardly (plot device) former boss. It's up to the trainer's plucky (annoyingly perky) daughter (Dakota Fanning) to push both man and horse to great heights once again. (Who cares?) (JL)
(Unrated) A collection of experimental short films directed by San Francisco Art Institute students.
(PG-13) Director John Schultz's Drive Me Crazy (which cops its name from Britney Spears' latest, "[You Drive Me] Crazy") is another formulaic "when worlds collide, opposites attract" teen flick, this one starring Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) and Adrian Grenier (The Adventures of Sebastian Cole). Perky and popular, Nicole (Hart) is Miss School Spirit. She goes to the right pep rallies; she goes to the right parties; she knows the right people; and she's organizing one of the biggest events her school has ever seen: its centennial celebration. Everything is perfect until the toothy star basketball player (Gabriel Carpenter) she expects to take her to the monumental high school event decides he's "in love" with a rival team's cheerleader. To win Brad's heart (at least for one night), she convinces her next-door neighbor and childhood friend Chase (Grenier), who's just been dumped by his alluring causehead girlfriend (Ali Larter), to team up with her to make them both jealous. It's Grenier's cool rebellious charisma (he looks like a softer Benicio Del Toro) that gives this film the extra boost it needs, along with Chase's best friends, who are cool in their geekiness. Ultimately, the inevitable happens, the plan backfires and Chase and Nicole realize they'd rather be with each other than their initial flames. It's a sweet teen romance that's good for what it is. (On a side note of local interest, the Palo Alto girl group the Donnas contributes two performances to the film, going by the name of their previous incarnation, the Electrocutes.) (SQ)
(PG-13) Sylvester Stallone's over-produced and under-developed car-racing movie is preposterous to say the least, and even comical at times, as cars, like frogs, bounce, leap, and even jump into the lake, in every conceivable angle on the big screen. Unfortunately, Sly's screenplay never makes it out of the pit and onto the track. Talented rookie Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), team owner Carl Henry's (Burt Reynolds) golden child, is on his way to a possible championship. Unable to focus on the track, however, Carl decides to bring his old friend and ex-driver Joe Tanto (Stallone) back as the kid's spiritual "been there done that" guru. Cold-hearted rival and reigning champion, Beau Brandenberg (Til Schweiger), and his confused girlfriend/ex-girlfriend Sophia attempt to add drama to the plot while Tanto's campy ex-wife (Gina Gershon) adds the right humorous touchshe seems to be the only one who realizes how outlandish the entire project is. (LB)
(PG-13; 98 min.) Almost but not quite better than Keeping Mum—that other English movie with spiritual discontents. Oh, for the day when the British cinema tossed off lines like Kind Hearts and Coronets' comment that good families always send their most feeble-minded members into the clergy. Rupert Grint—young Ron Weasely from the Harry Potter films—stars as a 17-1/2-year-old mom-pecked, church-afflicted virgin. To make extra money, Ben hires himself as an aid to a scandalous old theatrical Dame Eve (Julie Walters). She drank her way into obscurity and is best remembered for a terrible soap opera she did. The lady, avowing she has but a few months left to live, gives Ben (as in Braddock, as in The Graduate) life lessons to the sugar-frosted soundtrack accompaniment of Sufjan Stevens, the Van Dyke Parks that this era deserves. When reading aloud, Walters does more with the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt than Laura Linney can do with the unflattering role of castramother. Director/writer Jeremy Brock's best move is twofold: signing on a twinkling Scots girl named Michelle Duncan to play the designated deflowerer and hiring a live Scottish salsa band called Salsa Celtica: Afro-Caledonian jazz is pretty potent. (RvB)
Everyone has a dark side, Robert Louis Stevenson contends in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So is it misogynist that Evil personified is a woman in this pseudo-spoof of Stevenson's novel? Frankly, accusing this movie of such deliberate malice would give it too much credit. If anything, it's a vehicle to demonstrate cool computer-morphing tricks and to make silly gender-switching jokes. Frustrated scientist Richard Jacks (Tim Daly) drinks a gene-altering potion and literally gets in touch with his feminine side, treacherous Helen Hyde (Sean Young), in a periodic transformation that plays havoc with his life. No surprises here, Ms. Hyde takes over at some inopportune moments, and Richard returns in equally unfavorable circumstances, getting caught in drag about five too many wacky times. As we watch Young's character get chased by Richard's horny co-workers, you could say that the film makes a comical commentary on sexual politics in the workplace... nah, that would also give it too much credit. Regardless, it's a comedy without the laughs. (HZ)
(1962) James Bond (Sean Connery), agent 007 of the British Secret Service, heads to the colony of Jamaica to investigate the killing of the bureau chief. Once there, he discovers that a half-Chinese/half-German mining baron named Dr. Julius No (New York method actor Joseph Wiseman) is involved in the missile-launching troubles at Cape Canaveral. The first installment of the most popular cinematic serial in history is a bare-bones film; interviewed on the Scottish BBC recently, Connery enjoyed reminiscing about how the producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had to dig sand personally for one beach scene. Still, for a low-budget movie, it has quite a lot of class, thanks to Monty Norman's smoky soundtrack and the young Connery, an Edinburgh lad (very much from the wrong side of the tracks) soon to be considered the most sophisticated male star of the '60s. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Says the title blurb: "The death of Mona Dearly wasn't so much a whodunit, as a who didn't." Actually, it's more of a "who cares?" Danny DeVito, who stars as a chief of police, executive-produced this depressing, fangless comedy. It must have seemed similar to DeVito's Throw Momma From the Train, but Drowning Mona makes that earlier film look like Rules of the Game. There's six or so laughs in this cloddish slapstick story about a murder of an unwanted woman (Bette Midler) in an upstate New York town; there's plenty of suspects, but no real reason to care who's responsible. Squandered are William Fichtner, the pyramid scheme-addicted cop in Go, as Mona's abused husband and Jamie Lee Curtis, who can't buy a thrill as a promiscuous waitress. Casey Affleck is okay in the Zeppo Marx part;the younger Affleck works a light presence, a pretty face and an amusing, toneless adolescent accent, as if he hadn't gotten used to his voice changing yet. Everyone else in the cast got what's coming to themparticularly Neve Campbell, who seems to have reached the limits of her acting ability in one especially bad comic crying scene. Drowning Mona is director Nick Gomez's first comedy. Here's hoping it's his last. The camera of the former indie wunderkind (who directed Laws of Gravity, New Jersey Drive, and Illtown) is down the throats of the castthough weirdly, Midler mugs less in these clubbing slapstick horrors than she does in her serious dramas. Gomez thinks it's hugely amusing that everyone in the town here drives Yugosbut this wretched mess isn't built much better than the average Yugo, either. (RvB)
(1962) Stanley Kubrick's satire of cold warriors. A U.S. Air Force general (Sterling Hayden), stricken by impotence, believes that fluoridated water is the culprit and decides to first-strike Russia. Meanwhile the president and the joint chiefs of staff try some quick but inept damage control. Ken Adams did the excellent production design (he later was the architect for the villain's headquarters in the 007 movies). It's memorable for the three performances by Peter Sellers: as the Adlai Stevenson-type president Merkin Muffley (no doubt that pubic name was co-writer Terry Southern's idea of a joke), as ineffectual RAF officer Group Captain Lionel Mandrake and as Dr. Strangelove, a national security adviser popularly but wrongly supposed to be modeled on Henry Kissinger instead of on the still at-large Edward Teller. (RvB)
(PG-13) Nick Cannon stars in a drama about a drummer from Harlem and his efforts to excel with a marching band at a college in the South.
(1933) The acme of the Marx Brothers' art. The film is a satire on the business of war, with profiteer Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) seducing wealthy aristo Margaret Dumont; meanwhile intrepid agent provocateurs Chico and Harpo keep hostilities boiling. Raquel Torres, a sleek Latin spitfire, gives Groucho something to sink his teeth into. As an anti-war film, it's peerless, because it doesn't give the nobility of war any room-witness Groucho exulting, "Look at them! They're fleeing like rats!" while machine-gunning his own advancing troops in their backs. (RvB)
(1933/1941) Duck Soup represents the acme of the Marx Brothers' art. The film is a satire on the business of war, with profiteer Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) seducing wealthy aristo Margaret Dumont; meanwhile intrepid agents provocateurs Chico and Harpo keep hostilities boiling. Raquel Torres, a sleek Latin spitfire, gives Groucho something to sink his teeth into. As an antiwar film, it's peerless, because it doesn't give the nobility of war any room. Witness Groucho exulting, "Look at them! They're fleeing like rats!" while machine-gunning his own advancing troops in the back. BILLED WITH The Lady Eve. Henry Fonda plays the backward but filthy-rich brewing scion "Hopsy" Pike, heir to Pike's Ale, the Ale That Won for Yale. He has just returned from a year up the Amazon studying snakes. On the ship home, he encounters a card sharp named Eugenia "Jean" Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck). Distrust and commerce alike complicate perhaps the most purely chemical romance that golden-age Hollywood gave us. Stanwyck's purring seduction of the hapless Hopsy still enthrallsparticularly when she describes, pretty much to the point of climax, what it is she likes in a man. Still, the real strength of the movie is the way writer/director Preston Sturges orchestrates a symphony of comedic styles, from brassy slapstick (by William Demerest, the Sultan of Snarl) to throbbing-violin romantic comedy to wordplay that's as wistful and elevated as a woodwind section. The movie has a motto our sad world still hasn't comprehended: "the good girls aren't as good as you think they are, and the bad ones aren't as bad, not nearly as bad." And, as a dame says of a fish course at the Pike's banquet, Stanwyck is a poem. That level, uncoy gaze, that Brooklyn rasp filtered through layers of hard-bought breeding ... simply, here she is at her best, the most versatile of all Hollywood leading ladies. You must see this movie, which is at the top of the American movie pyramid with Citizen Kane and His Girl Friday. (Plays Feb 18-20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(PG-13) Of course it's stupid. What else would one expect from a movie that stars Ashton Kutcher (best-known as numbskull horndog Michael Kelso on Fox's That 70's Show) and the goofy Seann William Scott (of American Pie and Road Trip fame)? But director Danny Leiner's Dude, Where's My Car? also succeeds at being a moronic teen farce that will have anyone capable of thinking like a teenager, and not worrying about silly things like plot, laughing from start to finish. This ridiculous movie is the story of two dimwitted slackers, Jesse (Kutcher) and Chester (Scott), who wake up after a night of debauchery and can't remember what they did or where they left their car. Retracing their footsteps leads them down a path filled with unlikely characters and events. Full of sight gags (the bubble wrap never gets old), word comedy (the "Dude/Sweet" play on the old Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" routine) and absurdly funny characters, like the mysterious person who lives in the closet (played by "Stuttering" John Melendez) a la Lazlo Hollyfeld in Real Genius, the roving unit of five "hot chicks" and two beefy Nordic guys who come across as the "Not So Ambiguously Gay Duo," this movie could well be destined for late-night B-movie cult status. (SQ)
(PG; 76 min.) Brendan Fraser stars as the cartoon Mountie trying to woo Nell Fenwick (Sarah Jessica Parker) and foil the mustachioed villain Snidely Whiplash (Alfred Molina). Hugh Wilson, who also directed and wrote the gaggy, crummy adaptation of George of the Jungle, has created another farrago "based on characters developed by Jay Ward." Wilson's big idea was to dump those characters and set the film in the present day, bringing in machine guns, motorcycles and tanks. Whiplash takes over a town, salting a mine and convincing the world that there's a gold rush. The virtuous Dudley loses home and position but is tutored in the martial arts by Eric Idlein what we can only hope is the century's last parody of Kung Fu. You'll look for relief in vain from Molina's Whiplash, who isn't a patch on the best kid-movie parody of melodramatic villainy, Jack Lemmon's Professor Fate in The Great Race. Molina looks desperate and unhappy, as if the work were beneath him, which it is, of course. And Parker is barely present. What's good about Dudley Do-Right is a dance sequence, a show-stopping revue performed Vegas-style by a nation of dinner-theater pseudo-Indians. The number is like one once described by Gilda Radner in It Came From Hollywood as "Bury My Heart at Radio City Music Hall." (RvB)
(PG-13; 106 min.) Now, I'm all for fan loyalty, but when my girlfriend tells me she won't go see this movie because it "compromises the integrity of the original series," I can't help but seriously consider relationship counseling. Just what integrity would that be, exactly? Personally, I suspect Burt Reynolds was born to play Boss Hogg. And I know for sure Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott are fulfilling every ounce of their acting potential playing Bo and Luke Duke. Jessica Simpson is Daisy Duke, and this was directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, the erratic comedic genius behind Super Troopers. (Capsule preview by SP)
The Dukes of Hazzard feature film isn't intolerable or offensive so much as it is just plain stupid, but in a laid-back, cheerful kind of way. Borrowing from the 1979 TV show, the plot revolves around an evil plan by Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and a hot-rod race, which of course the Duke Boys will enter and win. There are fewer "fart" jokes and pratfalls that one would expect, and even a couple of fairly brave gags about cultural tension. But writer John O'Brien and director Jay Chandrasekhar pretty much stick to their own limited vision, flaunting their haphazard casting (Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson) and lackluster filmmaking like the Confederate flag on General Lee's roof. (JMA)
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(PG-13; 100 miin.) An orphaned cheetah cub is found at night on an African highway. Xan (Alex Michaletos), the little boy who finds him, nurses him to adulthood. In turn, the animal protects him and solaces Xan during the loss of his father, Peter (Campbell Scott). Carroll Ballard, best known for The Black Stallion, once again shows his sure eye, his gift for understatement, his humor and his admirable refusal to ram home the big emotions. Seeing Duma feels like watching a classic as it unfolds. (RvB)
(PG-13) Eric Christian Olsen and Derek Richardson bring us the early years of dimwits Harry and Lloyd.
(PG-13; 105 min.) An evil wizard (Jeremy Irons) and a young empress (Thora Birch) are caught in a power struggle in a movie based on the popular role-playing game.
(PG; 88 min.) This movie is not just confusing and pointless but also slightly disturbing. If you like your kids, you might want to forgo the prospect of exposing them to this un-charming little romp into the gross, twisted and annoying world of filmmaker Ken Kwapis, whoever he is. Dunston Checks In is the abundantly stupid story of a very clever orangutan who has been trained by his evil, buck-toothed, overbearing British owner to steal jewels from hotel rooms. The "fun" begins when Dunston decides that he doesn't like his job anymore and befriends the hotel manager's son. The rest of the movie goes like this: Dunston makes a mess in every room of the hotel (most of the time without, incredibly, alerting anyone to his presence), gets chased, and has at least three blatantly sexual encounters with hotel guests. The outcome of each individual scene can be predicted about a half-hour in advance and there are more holes in the script than there are in most golf courses. It's odd to think that Jason Alexander from TV's Seinfeld actually agreed to play the part of the hotel's luckless manager. Maybe they told him he could keep the hairpiece. (BB)
(PG-13) Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore can't get along with the tenant in their new condo. Danny DeVito directs.
(PG; 97 min.) A documentary about the Baja 1000 off-road race. Made by Dana (Step Into Liquid) Brown.
(R; 101 min.) Craig Lucas' Gaul, like Caesar's, is divided into three parts. The most credible is the sequences involving Campbell Scott's film producer Jeffrey seducing a reluctant scriptwriter. Robert (Peter Sarsgaard) can barely keep civil during the length of a meeting. He's written 15 scripts on spec. His latest is the most personal and the most difficult: an autobiographical piece about the death of his lover to AIDS. But even as touchy a writer as Robert is put off by the enthusiasm Jeffrey is showing. The producer wants to give him a million dollars, and is already dropping the name of Robert's favorite director Gus Van Sant. Lucas, who wrote Prelude to a Kiss and The Secret Lives of Dentists, is directing for the first time, and he's made a film as visually lurid as the subject matter is cold-hearted. Patricia Clarkson's Elaine, Jeffrey's wife, takes care of the second part of the filmas a former writer who likes Robert more than anyone she's met in a long time. She is a woman who used her independence of mind to get to a social class where independence isn't really appreciated. To learn more about Robert. Elaine haunts him with anonymous Internet conversation, pretending to have supernatural knowledge of him. The third part is the weakest; it's the segment where Robert turns deadly. It's beyond Sarsgaard's skills to make the transition from Buddhist to killer in record time. (He does it by twitching a little.) (RvB)
(R; 84 min.) Comedian Eddie Griffin onstage and backstage.