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(1925) Rudolph Valentino plays a Russian noble who dons a mask to retrieve his stolen lands. The film was a bid for roles of a more macho nature for the androgynous star. Valentino did his own stunt work in the runaway-coach finale. Louise Dresser plays Catherine the Great; the actress was later to steal Von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress as Empress Elizabeth. Silent. (RvB)
(Both 1933) World War I drama about the disintegration of a renowned American flying ace of the RAF (Fredric March) whose nerves give way under the strain of watching so many of his men die. Cary Grant plays his best friend, who does him one last kindness. Carole Lombard has a few minutes onscreen as a woman March meets while on leave. (RvB)
(1953) When a wife (Danielle Darrieux) pawns the earrings given her by her husband (Charles Boyer), a series of troubling events follows. Also stars Vittorio De Sica. Directed by Max Ophuls. Part of the Summer of Love Crimes series.
(1948) Fred Astaire stars as a 1912 vaudevillian who loses his conceited dance partner, Nadine (Ann Miller). At a bar (and under the influence), he decides to pick a chorus girl at random to be her replacement. He chooses well: Hannah Brown (Judy Garland). The uncertain girl spends the movie proving that even though she's not an elegant piece of work like Ann Miller, she has good points of her own. Meanwhile, Peter Lawford, in the secondary role, is very secondary. Garland's lovable performance of "Down on the Farm," a novelty tune by Irving Berlin, beats the film's most famous number, the kind of repulsive tramp-comedian tune "A Couple of Swells." Note also a dandy comedy song called "Snooky Ookums" about the agony of overhearing baby-talking lovers. It seems to be a consensus among musical fans that Miller is a showoff. But her almost disturbing sensuality deserves more praisecheck out her ballroom dance with Astaire early in the film, as opposed to the more typical Miller moment: the cold, impressive pre-Jennifer Beals audience-slayer she whirls out at the end while draped in a flamingo-colored gown. (RvB)
(Unrated; 75 min.) A German documentary about musical films made in Eastern Europe between 1934 and 1973.
Full text review.
(1999) Regis Wargnier's red-baiting, Oscar-nominated sprawler chronicles the plight of French émigrés to the Soviet Union in 1946. Alexei (Oleg Menchikov), a physician, and his pretty wife, Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire), arrive in the USSR, and the sun never really shines again. Marie doesn't even have her bags unpacked before she's being slapped across the face by a commissar. Alexei, the typical weakling husband in this kind of drama, tries to live with the Soviet oppression, even taking up with a pretty Russian girl named Olga (Tatyana Dogileva). Meanwhile, Marie is gently seduced by her landlady's son (Sergei Bodrov Jr.), a champion swimmer who speaks French and has plans to escape from the USSR. Interminable, and as shallow as bad television. (RvB)
(1927) The loves of Laurita (Isabel Jeans), who draws men to divorce and suicide. Based on a Noel Coward play. Silent. (RvB)
(PG; 94 min.) This rock-bottom kid's movie features Matt LeBlanc as Jack "Deuce" Cooper, a minor-league pitcher in his first season. Jack chokes at times of crisis; as a form of hazing, the coach (Jack Warden) assigns him to take care of Ed Sullivan, the ape that knows how to play third base. The monkey (a midget in a clever but easily discernible and unspeakably disturbing chimp suit) gives the team spirit. Through his love for the unclean simulacrum, Jack learns to loosen up. As driven by product placement as this nonsense is (there's a name-brand item in every frame), they still couldn't find a minor-league baseball team willing to rent out its name, which is significant. Having avoided Friends so far, I'm not sure if LeBlanc is supposed to be the cute boyfriend or the cute villain of the show, but his utter lack of charisma is forgivable in the light of his unconcealed hostility towards the "chimp" as well as the "cast" and the "movie." Director Bill Couturié's one-take, hack-it-out direction likewise shows his taste, to take the money and get into cereal commercials as fast as possible. Best line: "I'm gonna spank that monkey!" (RvB)
(R; 88 min.) At his favorite breakfast spot, New Yorker Ed (Matt Ross) spies Natalie, Lee for short (Callie Thorne). He tries shyly but persistently to court her, and that's about all there is to the gentle, cheerful Ed's Next Move. A few songs by the San Francisco folk trio Ed's Redeeming Qualities form the spine of the movie, in the same way that Simon and Garfunkel were the backbone of The Graduate. It's a low-key outfit, lovable precisely because it doesn't expect to knock your socks off, and director/writer John Walsh is never so honest as when he doesn't present Ed's Redeeming Qualities as world-beaters. Ed's music is thoughtful, the opposite of rock music based on a scheme of physical attraction first and mental attraction second. Which is also the point of Ed's Next Move. Of course, the other side a relationship based on mutual inoffensiveness is a general lack of chemistry. You may wish it were otherwise, but that's the movies for you, always encouraging your worst instincts. Lack of chemistry shows up on screen writ large in Ed's Next Move , and the movie is ultimately as indistinct as it is agreeable. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) A movie billed as a comedy and featuring Whoopi Goldberg ought to be funnyno such luck. Goldberg stars as Edwina "Eddie" Franklin, an avid Knicks fan and a New York City limo driver who just happens to be lucky enough to chauffeur Wild Bill Burgess (Frank Langella), the new owner of her favorite, yet failing, team, which languishes in last place under its current coach, Dennis Farina (Get Shorty). After listening to a few tips by the enthusiastic Eddie, Wild Bill decides to give her a shot as head coach. Eddie, of course, must whip her lackluster players into shape, and she does just that in very formulaic fashion. There are several serious, tension-filled scenes but surprisingly few jokes. The only real guffaws to be had come from the cheesy, moralistic messages (education is more important than being a basketball starwell, maybe), obviously intended more for a public-service announcement than a feature comedy. (NP)
(R; 115 min.) Bear (Bart) vs. Baldwin (Alec) vs. Billionaire (Anthony Hopkins) in the Alaskan wilderness. It's the '90s, so the winner is obvious. The scenery has a blank beauty that adds nothing to the drama. Elle Macpherson plays Hopkins' trophy wife. Watch for her attempted sad scene; when supermodels cry it's neither pretty nor plausible. Baldwin, who plays a fashion photographer whom Hopkins suspects of cuckolding him, is no match for David Mamet's underwritten mano-a-mano-a-mammal tale, but Hopkins lends quite, undeserved, dignity to the action. Since arriving in Hollywood, director Lee Tamahori, who made Once Were Warriors, has underachieved twice with tough-guy tales: first Mulholland Falls and now a very dull Edge. Perhaps if Bart the Bear had won the heart of the supermodel. (DH)
(PG-13; 122 min.) A small, skidding cable channel decides to follow a North Beach video clerk named Ed (Matthew McConaughey), broadcasting his every move. Director Ron Howard shoots the slender tale fast and on the cheapwith extensive product placement as a satire on product placement. As Cynthia, the creator of the show, Ellen DeGeneres vibrates with nervous energy, but her character doesn't get a big, triumphant joke at the finale. DeGeneres looks trapped in unease. Even the inside joke that DeGeneres had to deal with some true network vulgarians, just like the ones she's satirizing here, doesn't make her any funnier. Veteran gagsters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have based EDtv on a French film, Louis 19: le rois des ondes. EDtv is inferior to the Real Life, Albert Brooks' 1979 satire on this brand of television. Still, the movie is more coherent about television culture than The Truman Show. (The Truman Show wasn't about TVit was about religious faith.) EDtv scores some smart gags on the gogglebox, and Woody Harrelson is often inspired as Ed's muscle-headed brother. But McConaughey's self-regard is tangible and unpleasant; he doesn't look like someone who would find it bad to be observed day in and day out. McConaughey's the Robert Mitchum type without Mitchum's mockery; I don't think McConaughey's in touch with the slight sense of fraudulence and humility that makes a real movie star function. Jenna "Dharma" Elfman plays Sherry, the girl next door if next door is in San Francisco. Her early scenes are full of charm. Later, though, her character is damp and draggy, a brake on Ed's ambition. (I concurred with the 71 percent of USA Today readers, polled by EDtv fans in the movie, who were glad to see Sherry go.) One small irritation: the scene in which Harrelson calls all video store clerks idiots. This is intemperate. Harrelson's career depends to some extent on tape sales, so he should have the same advice Hamlet gave, regarding the mistake of insulting actors: "After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live." (RvB)
(PG; 112 min.) A drama about an 8-year-old Cherokee boy, who, after losing his parents, goes to live with his Indian grandma and grandpa and learns the wisdom of the Cherokee way of life.
Full text review.
(R; 127 min.) Hans Weingartner's serio-comedy about a trio of disaffected Berlin revolutionaries who gravitate from disobedience to kidnapping a businessman (Burghart Klaussner).
(1949) Spencer Tracy plays a cantankerous millionaire who loses the love of his wife and son in Edward, My Son. Deborah Kerr and Ian Hunter co-star. (RvB)
(1990) A young Frankenstein of a foundling (Johnny Depp) with garden shears for hands finds his way in a bland suburb, with the help of a kindly Avon Lady. A bit awfully wistful, though Depp is mesmerizingly strange, and the waltz Danny Elfman wrote for the soundtrack worms its way into you. On the whole, full of appeal to the odd child in us all. (RvB)
(Unrated; 117 min.) Shohei Imamura's Cannes-award-winning surrealist drama about a businessman (Koji Yakusho of Shall We Dance?) who rebuilds his life after spending time in prison for the murder of his wife.
(R; 93 min.) A comedy about what happens when a hit man's luggage, containing the gruesome proof of a recent job, gets switched at the airport. Stars Joe Pesci.
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(118 min.) An emotionally retarded businessman named Harry (Daniel Auteuil) imports American-style motivational techniques to Europe. Every morning, he rises from his lonely bed, gets stuck in traffic and goes to auditoriums to teach people how to smile and look confident. Matched against this story is the contrasting tale of a happy, transcendental young man with Down's Syndrome, Georges (Pascal Duquenne), who runs away from his group home to go back to the place where he grew up. Harry almost runs over Georges on a narrow country highway. The two embark on a series of adventures: Georges finds a girlfriend and Harry learns to rediscover his emotions. The magical-realist methods director/writer Jaco van Dormael uses are adroit. There's an inspired opening montage depicting Georges' imagination of how the world was created. Van Dormael makes sure that the characters are grounded. Georges, though lovable, is a genuine handful. He's messy and noisy, giving to howling when he's thwarted. Auteuil uses his considerable skill to keep deep existential despair from looking like self-pity. The vision of his ruined marriagehelped by a quiet, brief but powerful performance by Miou-Miou, has real pain in it. But The Eighth Day is such a heavy reminder of the importance of being sensitive to those who are different that the perhaps insensitive ending seems to subvert the films' appeal to the emotions. The fine technique encloses a very soft-witted message (namely, that the mentally handicapped are closer to God than us smart-alecks), which itself doesn't exactly do wonders for the public intelligence. (RvB)
(PG-13; 99 min.) David Arquette, Doug E. Doug and Scarlett Johansson fend off enormous asocial arachnids.
(R; 106 min.) Director Leon Ichaso (Pinero) rips into this biopic of Puerto Rican–born singer Hector Lavoe, who was at the forefront of the 1970s salsa music movement, using crazy rhythms and ragged images that could almost have come from a time capsule. But El Cantante eventually succumbs to the typically broad biopic canvas, hitting nothing but highlights and missing the singer's soul. Jennifer Lopez narrates on camera as Lavoe's wife, Puchi, although the film ignores that potentially focused point of view. Lopez's real-life husband Marc Anthony plays Lavoe with a warm, rich singing voice, but he's not skilled enough to project much past Lavoe's trademark dark glasses, worn throughout most of the film. Yet when the characters shut up and sing, El Cantante pulses and sways. (JMA)
(1921) A silent French melodrama full of atmospheric degradation. Directed by Marcel L'Herbier.
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(PG-13; 97 min.) The Daredeviless sequel to the underwhelming Daredevil is maybe a bigger disappointment. No one expected much from Ben Affleckdespite the advantage that he was playing a blind character who had the chance to express even less than usual through his eyes. But Elektracreated by Frank Miller, the Tarantino of comic booksis a charismatic omnipotent female assassin of some interest. As directed by Rob Bowman (The X-Files) and played by the soggy, pouty Jennifer "Alias" Garner, the avenger combats an ancient group of evildoers called "The Hand." When she fails, she's Yoda-ed by Terence Stamp, playing Elektra's ex-teacher "Stick." This shot-in-Vancouver actioner is short on the martial arts and long on chilly, nigh-unphotographable northern light. Mostly it's about Elektra's surrogate inner child Abby (Kirsten Prout) who needs mothering. Garner grieves. Mourning does not become this Elektra. (RvB)
(1958) The earliest of all Vietnam malaise thrillers. Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet), a disgruntled ex-paratrooper in Paris, is working for a despicable businessman, though he's in love with the boss's wife (Jeanne Moreau). Julien kills the boss and makes it look like a suicide, but matters go wrong when he's stuck in an elevator while escaping. Photographer Henri Decae's vistas of Paris at night, crossed on foot by Moreau, are the epitome of chilly romanticism. There's also a consistently fascinating subplot about a young punk who steals Julien's fancy car, taking it (and a featherbrained florist) out on the road; the couple ends up at a motel for an impromptu champagne party with a wealthy German ex-soldier. The older man turns out to be so nice a guy that the punk's political convictions can't stand up to the challengean early example of director Louis Malle's later brooding over the nature of collaboration, continued in his films Lacombe Lucien and Au Car Cultureoir les Enfants. This ostensibly simple policier and thriller never stops analyzing the question of how to keep one's honor amid widespread corruption. Miles Davis did the soundtrack. This film begins a springtime series of French New Wave films, which ought to be seen by budding directors still figuring out how to operate their new digital cameras. In such films as Cleo From 507, The 400 Blows and Breathless, young starving directors revolutionized cinema, not by copying the old plots but by spinning off them. (RvB)
(PG; 95 min.) As a federal Wildlife Marshal high on his (nonexistent) power in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, or as a middle-aged man recapturing his wilder days in Old School, SNL alum Will Ferrell has made his mark as the straight-laced, unremarkable guy leaping into discordant situations. He ups the fish-out-of-water aspect tenfold in Elf, a sweet Christmas tale about a human orphan who finds his way into Santa's gift sack one Christmas, ending up at the North Pole, where the elves (with Bob Newhart as Papa Elf) raise him as their own. Of course, elves are small and boys grow biga situation that provides most of the visual gags in the first half of the film, until Buddy, sensing that he's just not like the other elves, decides to travel to New York to find his fathera bah humbug publishing mogul (James Caan). Director Jon Favreau navigates the Christmas cheer without dipping too far into cheesy territory, thanks largely to the castincluding doe-eyed Zooey Deschanel as Ferrell's love interest. Ferrell, in his elf suit for most of the film, elevates a stereotypical heartwarmer to a comedic gem, his naivete and childish enthusiasm transcending holiday schmaltz. (DB)
(1994) The singer Vanessa Paradis plays a tough girl of the streets who searches for her long lost father. Gerard Depardieu co-stars. Songs by Serge Gainsbourg. (RvB)
(PG-13; 114 min.) For a short while, Cate Blanchett embodies Elizabeth's radiant, crafty brilliance that makes watching her so much fun. But when she meets the dashing explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and gets jealous of her lady-in-waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish), she drops all of her captivating control and begins emoting all over the place. She remains hysterical when the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), brings on the Spanish Armada attacks. The film's laughable camerawork and amateurish editing capture the story from behind pillars and partitions and 50 feet straight up in the air. Things worsen when Blanchett isn't on camera: director Shekhar Kapur unveils a catalog of leering, ridiculous villains who aren't worthy of her time. Geoffrey Rush returns as Elizabeth's adviser. (JMA)
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(PG-13; 123 min.) Orlando Bloom plays a failed corporate exec who heads to suburban Louisville to iron out some family matters after the death of his father. On the flight to Kentucky, he is accosted by a flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who joins him as he meets his relativesstock comic types all. Meanwhile, Bloom fields desperate phone calls from his mother (Susan Sarandon) and his sister (Judy Greer). This rom-com from Cameron Crowe, the director of Jerry Maguire and Say Anything, was poorly received at the Toronto Film Festival. Crowe quickly whittled off an hour. What remains is no longer three hours of sprawling twaddle; now, it's two hours of misshapen twaddle. (RvB)
(G; 95 min.) To say this extremely loose adaptation of the Gail Carson Levine Cinderella-type fantasy novel is "controversial" is an understatementhave you seen what fans of the book are writing about this movie online? That's not very nice! (Capsule preview by SP)
(2001) A large-breasted innocent (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) in "Carpathia" ends up spending the night in a remote, cursed castle owned by Lord Vladimere Hellsubus (Richard "Riff-Raff" O'Brien, auteur of The Rocky Horror Picture Show). The nobleman's diseased senses are tuned to such an acute pitch that the slightest noise and softest light are unbearable; it would seem that bad jokes and puns would be enough to send him into madness, and this happens in due course. This is the indie-film handiwork of Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson, who is basically Mae West in a shroud, and it's directed by her husband, Mark Pierson. It's a lovingly detailed satire of the Corman/Poe movies, dedicated to Vincent Price and filmed in Romania, which, happily, looks just like Transylvania does in a Universal horror movie. The best moments are inside gags based on the originals in The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tomb of Ligeia and The Fall of the House of Usher. (When the castle starts to fall apart from the weight of its own evil, Elvira supposes it's an earthquake and shrugs it off: "No problemo," she chirps. "I'm from California.") Scott Atkinson does a marvelous British cad. As for the star, let's just say her structure is holding up to the ravages of time much more nicely than did the melancholy House of Usher. (RvB)
(PG; 127 min.) The latest in the parade of Jane Austen films is the weakest, with a cast of mixed merit and mediocre cinematography. Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a matchmaker who is not quite so adept as she believes she is. Misapplying herself in this department to her friend Harriet (Toni Collette, of Muriel's Wedding) she causes much social chaos. Polly Walker and Juliette Stephenson are highlights in small parts, eclipsing the lead. Director Joseph McGrath also wrote Bullets Over Broadway, a popular comedy that combines refined broadness with a tendency to patronize lesser characters; his script and direction continue this trend toward obviousness, heightened by the uneven casting. (RvB)
(G; 80 min.) The "groove" of the title is the most musical thing about this latest Disney animated feature, and that's definitely a change for the better. Without the usual spate of catchy, forgettable tunes and maudlin ballads weighing it down, The Emperor's New Groove has more freedom for some likable comic touches and even a smidgen of character development, which is especially fortunate given the excellent voice casting. David Spade's snide tones are perfect for Kuzco, the self-absorbed emperor of a beautiful South American country who learns about friendship and compassion after Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt), a disgruntled courtier, turns him into a llama and steals his throne; he must trust a kindly peasant (voiced by John Goodman) to help him regain his power. The animation has both sharpness and charm that this uncommonly modest Disney effort showcases nicely. (HZ)
(Unrated; 116 min.) An epic by Zhou Xiaowen, set in the Chin dynasty in 200 B.C.E.when the first emperor of China proclaimed himself, branding and enslaving thousands of his enemies to build the Great Wall. This gory epic, with hundreds of extras, follows the relationship of the emperor-to-be with the greatest musician in the land, his former childhood friend Gao. The musician is repulsed by the greed of the monarch and endangers himself further by an affair with his lord's crippled daughter. Great production values and gorgeous photography, but the various beheadings and killings set up a sense of dread of what must be an especially nasty fate waiting for Gao. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) Alligator-mouthed, hummingbird-assed, 3,000th generation photocopy of Scarface, starring the increasingly irritating John Leguizamo as a Bronx cocaine boss. Arguing that he's really just another businessman, Leguizamo's Victor Rosa teams up with a Wall Street type (Peter Sarsgaard). The tycoon's trashy girlfriend (Denise Richards) vamps our hero, while his loyal pregnant girlfriend (Delilah Cotto) at first approves of their new upscale life, then complains bitterly. What profit hath a man who gains fancy white friends but loses his crew. Director Franc. Reyes tries for what seems like improvised dialogue. This makes for an unbroken chain of gangster-movie mantras; you'd swear you heard every line thrice. Leguizamo, who executive produced, bids to promote himself out of more typical roles (punk, junkie, squealer, punk junkie squealer). He's thoroughly unimpressive, a Chihuahua acting like a pit bull. Isabella Rossellini has 10 impressive minutes as "La Columbiana," a New Jersey queenpin. She steals the film by rolling the lame dialogue in her mouth as if it were vintage port. (RvB)
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(PG; 126 min.) The real prize in the marketing package, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is the best of the revived Star Wars trilogy. This is the episode that stresses the budding but doomed romance between the roguish Captain Solo (Harrison Ford) and the much tougher-than-usual Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Ford is at his prime herenot callow anymore and not yet burdened with that harried, vaguely embarrassed persona he grew like a shell later in his career. Fisher, a dark-eyed beauty, never looked better. The movie deals with its biggest casting problem handily, by isolating Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, who is becalmed in a swamp with a rubber puppetwhere he belongs. David Prowse (body) and James Earl Jones (voice) transcend that not-inconceivable problem of emoting with a bucket over your head. Escorted by a wonderfully catchy theme, Vader strides through the movie, dust trailing on the edge of his black, black cape, practicing his favorite management technique: psychically strangling his underlings, presumably to encourage the others. (RvB)
(PG-13; 103 min.) At a New Mexico Costco (thinly disguised as "Super Club"), two adversaries war over the new cashier (Jessica Simpson): one is a favor-currying swine Vince (Dax Shepard), the other is Zack (Dane Cook), a rebel. What Zack the rebel needs to learn is that the best way to rebel isn't to be a scruff who turns up late—no, what he really needs to do is apply himself and angle for those gold stars: "The way to bite the system is to kiss it on the hand," as Harry Shearer sang many moons ago. Pretty much blind to the possibilities of comedy in a Costco (imagine what Keaton or Tati could do with all of those goodies), director/co-writer Greg Coolidge grinds through all the gears on this vehicle, a lot more high-mileage than the 1981 Honda the film keeps trying to jest about. Simpson—a blankster in a blank part—is the first "irony blonde": vain enough to bleach her hair, next-doorsy enough to show the dark roots. Speaking of goodies, the loving photographic treatment of the lady's famous rack is an excellent illustration of the cinematic principle "put the light where the money is." (RvB)
(1933/1932) "My code is smash or be smashed!" Warren Beatty in the bedroom, and J. Montgomery Burns in the boardroomthat describes snazzy letch Warren Williams, "whose mean exterior concealed a meaner interior" (Thomas Doherty, in his book Pre-Code Hollywood). Williams pursues a married shopgirl (Loretta Young) through the corridors of the department store he owns. It's 75 minutes of the kind of drama that got the Production Code enacted in the first place. BILLED WITH Beauty and the Boss. Determined to avoid office temptation, a boss (Williams) hires the homeliest secretary he can find; he settles on a very pretty Marian Marsh, who slouches, wears a disfiguring hat and carries a lumpy handbag. Despite these obstacles, she, too, turns on Williams' love light. (RvB)