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(PG-13; 87 min.) Not to be confused with Alice Wu's forthcoming Saving Face, this Face is a different cross-cultural, cross-generational tale set in New York City. Bai Ling plays Kim, a rebellious teen whose fling with a handsome ne'er-do-well brings Genie (Kristy Wu) into being. Unable to deal with the stress, Kim bails to Hong Kong, passing her maternal duties off to her mother (Kieu Chinh). Sixteen years later, Kim returns to New York with hopes of reconciling with her now-grown daughter—whose relationship with a black man (played stiffly by Naughty by Nature's Treach) shakes the family's matriarch. I wanted to hate Face—do we really need another cross-generational Asian American drama?—but so help me, I got sucked in. Some of the characters elicit groans of predictability, and Treach is no Sidney Poitier, but Bai Ling makes a great save with her performance as the tortured mother seeking to reconnect with her daughter. (TI)

Full text review.
(R; 140 min.) John Woo's berserk homage to Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face is a story of faces peeled off and grafted back on—what actor wouldn't love it? John Travolta (as an obsessed cop) and Nicolas Cage (as the most joyful terrorist in years) switch faces with plastic surgery and chase each other. Absurdly heightened emotions are reflected in a bigger-than-life screenplay by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary (Cage, chokes, "When this is over, I want you to take this face and burn it!"). In velocity and force, it's much more like the sort of picture that made Woo's name in Hong Kong than the pallid Broken Arrow. Gina Gershon is engaging as yet another bad girl, and Joan Allen is thorny and smart as Travolta's neglected wife. (RvB)

Facing Windows
Full text review.

Factory Girl
(R; 87 min.). At one point fashion tsarina Diane Vreeland (Illeana Douglas) tries to comfort a typically drugged-up Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller), who is upset that her mentor/hypnotist Andy Warhol has called her "sordid." Vreeland comments, "it's better to be called sordid than boring." Fair enough; this movie is both sordid and boring. Documentary director (and, unfortunately) feature filmmaker George Hickenlooper leads Miller through this would-be Oscar-bait story of a beautiful woman wrecking herself with drugs. It gives a group of today's actors a chance to play avant-garde dress-up. For a time, Sedgwick has it all, swanning through the tinfoil paradise that was the Factory, being the other self of Warhol, the beard he never grew. Then comes the split-up, after she finds love with the Musician (Hayden Christensen was playing Bob Dylan, until Dylan found out and sicced his lawyers on this production). And yet Dylan comes out best in this story: the film implies that he was the real man who could have rescued this patrician, incest-raddled model from her own dragons. It also suggests she was a dewy innocent hypnotized by the Slovakian evil of the pitiless Warhol (Guy Pearce, rotting under white makeup and lip rouge, and looking like a debauched clown in a James Ensor painting). The mix of real people with unreal dialogue makes one prefer Harold Robbins' methods. (RvB)

The Faculty
Full text review.

Fade to Black
(R; 109 min.) This documentary of Jay-Z's 2003 homecoming show at Madison Square Garden comes on the heels of his recent tour cancellation and alleged pepper-spray incident involving R. Kelly. Not good timing. However, the show—which represented a shift in pop music when the solo rapper sold out the Garden in two hours—looks dynamite on celluloid as the Brooklyn rapper pulls guests Pharrell, Mary J. Blige, Foxy Brown, ?uestlove, Ghostface Killah, Beyoncé and even R. Kelly. The film also shows studio footage behind the making of The Black Album. Jay is shown collaborating with producers Timbaland, Kanye West, Rick Rubin and others. Hova's facial crunches listening to the Timbaland's "Dirt Off Your Shoulders" beat for the first time is golden stuff. Still, Fade to Black doesn't provide enough context. Jay's youth in the Marcy Projects is absent. There is nothing addressing the concert in depth, his relationship with Beyoncé, the Danger Mouse sampling brouhaha or beef with Nas. The film also assumes that everyone is familiar with the Roc-a-Fella Records family—a few quick name subtitles would go a long way in helping rap newbies identify Freeway, Beanie Siegel and Memphis Bleek—the Trot Nixons to Jigga's Big Papi. Fade to Black would have made a great DVD and methinks in two weeks when the movie disappears from theaters, it will. See it now for the full effect. (TI)

Fahrenheit 9/11
Full text review.
(R; 110 min.) Michael Moore's incendiary exposé of the Bush administration and its horrifically failed policies both domestically and in Iraq is a masterpiece of the documentary art. Fahrenheit 9/11 is Moore's most mature and nuanced film to date, and certainly his most ambitious. The film goes straight for the jugular. And it draws blood for the better part of two hours. Moore dices up the Bush administration from the 2000 election debacle right through to the most recent revelations from Iraq. It's a tour de force of montage cinema—the juxtaposition of imagery creating a message far greater than the sum of its parts. It presents Bush as not only an incompetent leader—by now that conclusion is hard to escape—but arrogant, vapid, condescending, mean-spirited and lazy as well. It is not an endearing portrait. (GD)

Fair Game
(R; 89) You know you're in trouble when you spend the entire movie rooting for the protagonist's death. But you can't just blame Cindy Crawford for the awe-inspiringly bad Fair Game, although her performance is so wooden it makes Al Gore look like Mr. Charisma. The movie combines every action-flick cliche with an entirely nonsensical plot. William Baldwin plays a laughably dense cop protecting Crawford's character from garden-variety bad guys with the requisite foreign accents. About the only selling points of this film are the unintentionally funny one-liners and hackneyed plot twists that allow for the gratuitous shots of Crawford's breasts. While being chased by the Russian mob, for instance, Baldwin suggests that Crawford change into a clean tank top. Producer Joel Silver and director Andrew Sipes obviously spent millions on the overblown (pun intended) action sequences when the money would have been better spent on a script doctor and an acting coach. Then again maybe not. (JD)

Fairy Tale: A True Story
(PG; 99 min.) Fairy Tale: A True Story is based on the story of two young girls, Elsie (Florence Hoath) and Frances (Elizabeth Earl), credited with taking authentic photographs of real fairies. A intriguing premise, yes, but it seems that director Charles Sturridge was more concerned with bringing all the historical elements of this incohesive story together than creating a dynamic film. The result is a disjointed narrative that wanders in many directions and never really goes anywhere. The fairies are a mysterious presence seen almost exclusively as flitting shadows and silhouettes with minimal human interaction. Though the charm of living fairies is appealing, these flat characters offer little to the story; they merely exist. Hoath and Earl are delightful, and seasoned actors Harvey Keitel and Peter O'Toole lend a hint of balance to this otherwise off-kilter film. Overall, however, Fairy Tale is a slow, meandering movie that leaves many questions unanswered. Surprisingly, younger members of the audience seemed to enjoy this quiet little film. Maybe they could see something that critical adults couldn't—much like the young girls could see the fairies. (SQ)

Full text review.
(R; 91 min.) Paul Mazursky's marvelous antifarce features a triangle of a captive housewife (Cher), her cheating husband (Ryan O'Neal) and an uncertain hit man (Chazz Palminteri), hired by the husband. The roles change and broaden as you watch them; the characters, deluding themselves and each other, are forced into a little more truthfulness, sometimes at gunpoint. Cher excels in a role that calls on her to use her bare feet and legs as much as her deeply wounded eyes and voice to contrast her character's misery with her stirring lust. Even the ending, which is smooth to the point of slickness, can't rob the pleasure of discovering a mature sensuality in Cher. (RvB)

Full text review.

(R; 124 min.) Denzel Washington plays John Hobbes, a police detective investigating murders that seem to have been committed by a serial killer he has just sent to the gas chamber. There's only one answer to that enigma, and Hobbes soon unwraps it—the real killer is Azazel, a minion of Satan who can leap from body to body with the touch of a hand. There are a few credibility problems (why does Azazel wait until his first host body is executed before making the leap to another?), plus the photography is muddy and some key lines are garbled. But Washington, who has taken over the clean-cut-but-dangerous character that Bogart used to do so well, manfully carries the movie right through to the OK trick ending. (BC)

Fallen Angels
(Unrated; 96 min.) Wong Kar-wei's 1995 movie, called "the most exciting film of the year" by Sight and Sound, makes its local debut after the arrival in the U.S. of his other films: Happy Together and Chungking Express. The plot(s): hit man Wong Chi-Ming (Leon Lai) is ready to retire from his calling, despite the professional and personal qualms of his employer, Angel (Michele Reis). The hit man also has a thing with a punk-rock girl who calls herself Baby (Karen Mok). He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a ex-con who redeems himself through the uses of a camera. Once again, Wong uses a prismatic storyline, chopping up mood and narrative. He's playful and self-referential (Zwihu was struck dumb as a child when he ate a can of pineapple that was past its due date, as per the symbolic cans of the stuff in Chungking Express). Again the director records the fluorescent nightscapes of Hong Kong—the all-night diners and markets—in a way that makes the scene there all his own. Wong has marked his own territory. You can love him or hate him—some of us prefer to do a little of both. (RvB)

The Family Man
(PG-13) This Capra-esque romantic drama is loosely centered around Christmas, which may explain why it seems so unfinished. There's a sense that the filmmakers were in a rush to get the movie into the theaters in time for the holidays and threw the unsatisfying conclusion together as desperately as a last-minute gift. Nicolas Cage stars as Jack Campbell, the cocky president of a high-powered New York investment company, who chose his career over his college sweetheart, Kate (Téa Leoni), more than a decade ago when he left her crying at the airport. With the Ferrari, the designer wardrobe, the penthouse in the sky and more money than God, this successful bachelor thinks he's got it all. But on Christmas Eve, a mysterious figure named Cash (Don Cheadle) gives Campbell a "glimpse" of what might have been. Campbell spends the next few months clumsily playing "Daddy" to his two charming kids and pretty much bungling his role as a husband in this alternate reality set in the suburbs of New Jersey. Disgusted by his sub-par clothing, ordinary job and blue-collar friends, Campbell never seems smitten by the life of a family man and he spends the bulk of the movie trying to figure out a way to get back into the fast lane—or at least onto the freeway. The one brief moment he looks comfortable with his new lot is quickly snuffed out and we're quickly returned to the cold wealth of Campbell's classy New York apartment on Christmas morning. Torn between two lives, Campbell wants to have his cake and eat it too, and goes in search of Kate. It's almost interesting that the movie allows both characters to fully explore the potential of their chosen careers without matters of the heart interfering (the Kate he didn't marry became a confident career woman who's about to jet off to Paris to head up her company's new office), but it doesn't really work for this particular story. The abrupt ending offers absolutely no closure and there's no real assurance that the business-driven power couple will manage to rekindle their old flame. (SQ)

The Family Stone
(PG-13; 102 min.) Designed as another one of those chaos-at-the-holidays comedies, The Family Stone coasts along on a bobsled of great performances, notably Diane Keaton as the matriarch. Eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home for Christmas his tightly wound girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker), who then fails to make an impression. She calls in her sister (Claire Danes) for backup, causing romantic complications. Writer/director Thomas Bezucha scored an art-house success in 2001 with his delightful gay romantic dramedy Big Eden, but his new script lacks the same polish. Though the laughs are intact, serious subplots about cancer, deafness and gay couples adopting babies add an unwelcome weight that shifts the whole thing off-kilter. Craig T. Nelson, Rachel McAdams and Luke Wilson play other members of the hapless Stone family. (JMA)

A Family Thing
(PG-13; 109 min.) A Family Thing restlessly teeters between real sentiment and far less interesting sentimentality. Robert Duvall plays a white and very much set-in-his-ways Arkansas man named Earl Pilcher. When he discovers that the mother he never knew was black, Earl is forced to rethink his whole life. James Earl Jones stars as Earl's African American half-brother, a Chicago policeman named Raymond, who greets Earl's interest in his true heritage with a mix of bitterness and grudging hospitality. The always tense but often touching interaction between Duvall and Jones generates the film's best moments. To a limited extent, the two manage to transcend the good ol' boy and tough-cop stereotypes. Working to unite the brothers is sassy Aunt T. (Irma P. Hall), another mediocre character saved from stereotype through a good performance. Michael Beach brings some needed believability to the story as Raymond's son, Virgil, who is reluctant to accept his new uncle. (HZ)

Family Viewing
(1987) Atom Egoyan's early film takes a close, very close, look at the inner life of one family.

The Fan
(R; 149 min.) A mean boss, a screaming harpie of an ex-wife, a whimpering weenie of a son and a disapproving old biddie in a Stanford baseball cap drive a down-on-his-luck knife salesman berserk. Oh, and the San Francisco Giants' new star player (Wesley Snipes) hasn't been earning his $40 million salary, which really ticks our man off. This thoroughly unpleasant movie would make some sense if its protagonist weren't a major-league jerk to begin with. (There's a sense that the producers wouldn't recognize a jerk if they saw one—in the mirror, say.) A few real-life baseball players flesh out the background, including one-time Philly John Kruk, nearly unrecognizable in a clean uniform. (BC)

FanimeCon '98
This Japanese animation festival features gaming, costuming, video theaters, an art show and cultural events. Guests of honor include Hiroyuki Yamaga, director of Wings of Honneamise and voice actor Scott McNeil.

FanimeCon '99
Guests at the convention are critics Gilles Poitras (The Anime Companion) and Frederik Schodt (author of the best guide in English to Japanese comic books, Manga! Manga! A World of Japanese Comics). If Gigantor, Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy were as important to you as Pokemon and Sailor Moon are to your children, you may want to learn more about the range of moods and styles offered by this wildly popular Japanese art form. (RvB)

Fantasia 2000
Full text review.

Fantastic Four
Full text review.
(PG-13; 105 min.) Unbeknownst to non-nerds, who don't care anyway, this is actually a remake. The first Fantastic Four movie was made in 1994 for about a million dollars, and is certainly the worst comic-book film ever made. It was never actually released, and Stan Lee claims that it was never meant to be (a ploy to retain the licensing rights, says he). Among bootleggers, it is famous for unintentionally hilarious bits like a point-of-view action shot from Alicia Masters, a character who is famously and totally blind. My point: sometimes there's reason to be thankful for a comic-book movie with a gazillion-dollar budget and a little bit of talent, even if it's Jessica Alba and the director of Barbershop. (Capsule preview by SP)

Cheesy. An almost complete disappointment redeemed slightly by Michael Chiklis' beautifully ugly monster the Thing. Watching Chris Evans as the Human Torch—bragging, showing off in snowboarding sequences and at the X-Games—it all recalled Harlan Ellison's words about the management at DC comics in the mid-1980s: "Their idea of creativity is to make Green Lantern a teenage asshole." Ioan Gruffudd's compete lack of presence as Reed Richards is miscasting that complements the miswriting—they must have been hoping he was Jeff Goldblum, but Gruffudd is more like Richard Chamberlain, a television-caliber actor who blurs when he's projected to cinema size—and Jessica Alba's beauty isn't as overwhelming as the arrogance she projects here. Tim Story's direction is stodgy and repetitive, but the most dismaying part is the new story behind Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). It's a sad fate for a figure who haunted so many children's nightmares. That terrible worm in his iron cocoon was stolen wholesale for Darth Vader—George Lucas even inverted Von Doom's initials as the signature on his piece of lucrative plagiarism. Before his transformation, McMahon looks like a minor-league version of Kevin Spacey. After the cosmic rays, he's a ringer for the metal-man robot in Terminator 2—just one more strike against a movie in which we've seen all the effects before, and the acting isn't good enough to make them new. (RvB)

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
(PG; 92 min.) Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) attempt to get married, but their nuptials are interrupted when the Silver Surfer (embodied by Doug Jones and somberly voiced by Laurence Fishburne) turns up, wreaking havoc and paving the way for planet-eater Galactus. Despite some improvements over the 2005 film, director Tim Story (Barbershop) is still stuck with the original's losing formula. The Z-grade cast ranges from mediocre to awful; the most promising, Michael Chiklis as the Thing, is passed off as a glorified comic relief. The main problem is that these wealthy, famous and respected heroes face gigantic, simplistic conflicts with no everyday emotional connection. They just don't get the down-to-earth problems that Spider-Man or the X-Men face. Chris Evans co-stars. (JMA)

Fantastic Planet
(1973) Based on a novel by the Czech fantasy writer Stefan Wul, the story has a Planet of the Apes scenario with some novel twists. The Draags are the lords of their planet. They stare out of lidless, blood-red eyes and have salamander frills for ears. The Draag children keep Oms: human beings long ago exiled from Earth, who only stand as high as a Draag's finger. An Om named Terr is adopted as a baby by an adolescent Draag named Tiwa. Tiwa likes to dress up his little pet in Peter Max versions of Pierrot costumes, but Terr runs away and meets the feral Oms living in a nearby park. Director Rene Laloux collaborated with Czech animators, who drew on modes in Eastern bloc pop art; the characters have the colorful, vivid style of figures on those beautiful Polish movie posters. (RvB)

The Far Country/The Saint Strikes Back
(1954/1939) An example of the pleasures of the basic Western, particularly when acted by James Stewart and directed by Anthony Mann. In Alaska, a pair of cowboys try to make some money during the gold rush by driving beef to Skagway, but a corrupt marshal (John McIntire) stops them in their tracks. Walter Brennan is unusually touching as Stewart's saddle pal; Ruth Roman—a starlet of the time—plays the dance-hall gal. Mann shot this in the Canadian Rockies, around Jasper and Banff. BILLED WITH The Saint Strikes Back. Lesley Charteris' loungy anti-criminal is played by George Sanders, who investigates the murder case of a framed friend in San Francisco. Supposedly the best of the series, which later foaled Roger Moore's TV show and, in the fullness of time, some very embarrassing James Bond movies. (RvB)

Farewell, China
(1990) A drama about mainland Chinese who emigrate to the United States and the challenge of making a new life in New York.

Far From Heaven
Full text review.

Full text review.
(R; 110 min.) One of the year's best, a crafty and strangely heartfelt crime story set in deepest Minnesota during the winter: film blanc. A car dealer (William H. Macy) contracts the kidnapping of his own wife; the kidnapping is botched by amateur criminals (particularly Steve Buscemi in one of his most serious jobs of acting lately). What seems at first a contempt toward the blandness of Minnesota becomes a tribute to it; condescension boomerangs into sincerity, and dialect comedy yields to Zen enlightenment. Frances McDormand's outstanding, nuanced performance as pregnant cop Marge Gunderson is the film's highlight. (RvB)

The Farmer's Daughter/The Story of Alexander Graham Bell
(1947/1939) Loretta Young won an Oscar for her portrayal of a down-home Swedish girl from Minnesota who falls for a congressman (Joseph Cotten). BILLED WITH The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. Don Ameche stars as the inventor, Henry Fonda plays Watson, and Loretta Young is the deaf girl Bell married. In the old days, wise-guys referred to telephones as "Ameches," for as long as a joke that pale could be allowed to survive. (RvB)

The Fast and the Furious
(PG-13; 107 min.) An action-adventure about cops who infiltrate a group of street racers during an investigation of stolen goods. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez star.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
(PG-13; 104 min.) This piece of junk is so bad that even Paul Walker turned it down. A redneck military brat (Lucas Black) gets into so much trouble racing smirking bullies that he is sent to Tokyo to live with his father. He immediately hooks up with more smirking bullies, only this time he must learn "drifting," i.e., sliding sideways on all four tires. Of course, he shows the Japanese experts how it's done. It's not clear who comes out worse here, the Japanese, women in general or the "funny" African American sidekick (Bow Wow) who befriends our terminally uninteresting hero. Justin Lin directs (on the heels of the equally bad Annapolis), hammering and twisting his mangled footage for maximum noise and jumbled assault. Sonny Chiba was somehow persuaded to play a yakuza. (JMA)

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control
Full text review.

Fast Food, Fast Women
(Not rated; 96 min.) Sometimes ineptness likes to masquerade as charm, and the independent movie Fast Food, Fast Women tries for that disguise. In it, a circle of New York ditherers try to connect with soulmates. Chief among them is Bella (Anna Thomson), a motherly waitress hitting 35, and, hey, you'll love the opening scene: Bella goes and lays down in traffic "because I wanted to add some excitement to my life." She also likes to hang out nude on her fire escape offering herself to any man who will come her way. Kooky behavior, you'll agree, but what can you expect from a woman who really wants to start having children. The man who notices her the most is Bruno (Jamie Harris, son of Richard), a swinging single cabby who has suddenly been saddled with the custody of a pair of children he fathered in an absentminded moment. Since Bella's friend told her to soft-pedal announcing her desire for children, the wench has lied, saying that she hates kids to avoid scaring off this latest man. Director/writer Amos Kollek is best known as the son of perennial Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek; he's also been the director of seamy fare such as Whore 2 (the sequel to Ken Russell's last film). By the time of an ending that out-sentiments Frank Capra, Fast Food, Fast Women has fulfilled the promise of airheadedness it delivered in its first image of Thomson laying herself down for the cars to hit her. (RvB)

The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)
Full text review.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(1982) Best and the brightest of the '80s teen movies, though it spawned a still-toxic layer of brat-pack movies that today's nostalgists (ironists? What's the difference, in this case?) persist in watching at midnight. Based on Cameron Crowe's undercover memoir for Rolling Stone, this movie follows the crowd at a suburban Los Angeles high school, where the denizens include: then USC Trojans football player Forest Whitaker (debuting), Jennifer Jason Leigh and a never-better Sean Penn as the surfer Jeff, with the most perfect Southern California drawl existent. Except for my sister's. Phoebe Cates is particularly sweet in a diving board scene, set to a tune by the Cars. The sequence where the seductive power of Led Zeppelin music is explained is a minor comedy classic. Filmed on location at the Galleria. (Plays Oct 7 at midnight at Camera 7 in Campbell and Oct 8 at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.) (RvB)

Fat Albert
(PG; 90 min.) Hey. Hey? Heee ... nope. I'm just not interested enough. (Capsule preview by SP)

Father of the Bride
(1950) Not bad, and certainly an improvement on Steve Martin's remake. Spencer Tracy stars as a solid middle-class dad facing the life-disrupting wedding of his daughter, with all the ruinous expense and uncomfortable hobnobbing with strangers the ritual entails. Elizabeth Taylor plays one radiant bride; the cast also includes Joan Bennett (as a good girl for a change), Billie "Glinda the Good Witch" Burke and Leo G. Carroll. (RvB)

Father of the Bride Part II
(PG; 120 min.) This movie screams, "Just look at how sappy life can be!" The filmmakers apparently spent so much time trying to make the script "zany" that they forgot that "zany" usually equals "stupid" and "unentertaining." Father of the Bride Part II is a microwaved casserole consisting of leftovers from the last 20-or-so similar Hollywood pregnancy movies, featuring Steve Martin as a father who really does not want to become a grandfather. The story gets even "zanier" when his wife announces that she is also pregnant. Martin spends a lot of time running around with over-exaggerated expressions on his face, but none of it changes the reality that the story itself is just not very funny. The fact that mother and daughter both go into labor on exactly the same night is way too convenient, thanks, and unless you believe that rapid labor contractions can stop just long enough for a meaningful conversation to occur, the whole movie is fairly absurd. (BB)

Fathers' Day
(PG-13; 101 min.) A loser playwright (Robin Williams) and a high-powered L.A. lawyer (Billy Crystal) both get a call for help from a long-married ex-girlfriend when her teenaged son runs away from home. For a time, each believes himself the father, which provides occasional laughs. This low-horsepower vehicle has two flat tires (Crystal and Williams) and no steering wheel (director Ivan Reitman, who also co-produced), so it's a wonder it doesn't end up in the ditch more often than it does. (BC)

(R; 97 min.) Luscious 16-year-old Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) comes under the sway of a loathsome manipulator (Mark Wahlberg) who butts heads with her overprotective father (William Petersen). Her family is a mess already, badly formed from the remnants of two previous marriages, huddled behind gates, guards and security cameras at the end of a peninsula in Puget Sound. But no locks protect us—or imprison us—as effectively as the ones we put on our own hearts, and those locks are more deftly picked by those who would rob us than by those who would rescue us. And blah, blah, blah. This latest from director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) resembles Wahlberg's previous persona, Marky Mark: solidly constructed but predictable, contrived and mildly distasteful. (BC)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Full text review.

Fear City
(1994) At the Cannes Film Festival, a splatter movie called Red Is Dead about a vengeful Communist killer after the fall of the Berlin Wall debuts. But when a series of projectionists end up murdered—each butchered with a hammer and a sickle—a film critic (Chantal Lauby) must investigate. (Plays Jul 13 at 7:30 in Palo Alto at the Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd; part of the French Film Series; see for details.) (RvB)

Full text review.

(R; 95 min.) More like a snack, but certainly better than average. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton's Project Greenlight-winning script has a group of mixed unfortunates, all identified in little subtitles that suggests their life expectancy, trapped in a desert tavern by razor-clawed, long-toothed carniverous monsters. Director John Gulager is more convinced than he ought to be that he is breaking all the rules by feeding the least likely characters to the beasts first. As J. Hoberman put it, the gore audience is the most egalitarian in the world, and they don't care who gets it as long as somebody does. So when Feast claims that Hot Wheels (Josh Zuckerman) is supposed to be spared because handicapped people never get it, you have to respond, "Hello, what about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre?" Feast certainly has its moments, as when the severed phallus of one of the creatures scoots around the floor like a frenzied chihuahua, and when a baby creature—a Tasmanian devil-like whirlwind resembling a skinned chimp—gets trapped in an ice chest. But Feast lacks the really bizarro dialogue necessary to advance it into genuine cult status, and the attack sequences are filmed in the same sputtering digital that makes every other horror film of today visually incoherent. Some Gore Award of Merit ought to go to Gulager's pappy, the renowned old cowboy actor Clu, as the unflappable barkeep at this den of doom, and Judah Friedlander's slow demise from maggot-loaded xenobarf is a pretty reliable chuckle-getter. (RvB)

Feast of July
Full text review.
(R; 118 min.) English writer H.E. Bates' best works—including the novel Feast of July—concern unspoken desires and inchoate feelings. So it comes as no surprise that the emotional nuance driving the characters in Bates' novel was lost somewhere along the journey to celluloid. Rather than being complex, the beautiful Bella Ford (Embeth Davidtz) comes off as incomprehensible after she is taken in by the Wainwright family following a near-death experience, setting off a battle for her affections among the three Wainwright sons. Director Christopher Menaul gives us a bloody miscarriage, a hanging complete with sound effects, a sex scene in a shepherd's hut and a working-class duel between two harvesters wielding sickle and rake. (GY)

Feast of Love
Full text review.

Feeling Minnesota
Full text review.
(R; 95 min.) Is it that Keanu Reeves only signs on to subpar movies, or is it just that a movie seems all the worst for his being in it? Reeves plays Jjaks (the funny name due to a typo on his birth certificate) who, since youth, has been in bitter rivalry with his brother, Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio). Jjaks decides to attend his brother's wedding, not knowing that the ceremony is a sham. Sam got the bride, Freddie (Cameron Diaz), as a present from his gangster boss, Red (Delroy Lindo). Jjaks, of course, falls for Freddie, and they try to run away together to Las Vegas. In hot pursuit are outraged husband Sam and the law, represented by Dan Aykroyd. Freddie and Jjaks don't get far—the brothers fight it out, injuring each other, and Freddie gets shot. Director/writer Steven Baigelman's picture seems modeled on Jonathan Demme's Something Wild, but he has no compassion for the characters. The movie is mostly humorless slapstick. Even nonsense ought to have a focus, and this patronizing, contemptuous picture overextends its welcome on quirks, a gratuitous Courtney Love sequence (admittedly, Love looks fairly healthy for a change) and oh-so-ironic worship of faded stars like Ann-Margret. (RvB)

Felicia's Journey
Full text review.

Fellini Satyricon
(1970) The name of the director in front of the title of the famous Roman satire is hardly necessary. This is unmistakably a Federico Fellini film, full of excess (sexual and gustatory) and visual overload. (AR)

Female/Night Nurse
(1933/1931) The sly Ruth Chatterton plays Alison Drake, head of Detroit's Drake Motors. Drake uses her male employees for nighttime company and then dumps them in the morning, "like Napoleon dismissing a ballet girl," as her manservant says. As needed, she transfers the boys to Montreal whenever they start to get sticky or lovelorn. (One who almost gets exiled to the snows is later cowboy star Johnny Mack Brown, called "Cooper" in a reference to Gary.) Drake recruits a new engineer, Thorn (George Brent), who is working on that revolutionary automotive breakthrough: the automatic transmission. Good as he is at his job, he's no pushover, and Drake goes wild for him. A fast and entertaining pre-Code comedy, with innovative direction by Michael Curtiz—lots of rear-projection, fussed-over camera angles and much location work at a time when films were commonly stagebound (it was partially filmed at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House in L.A.). The ending is an insult to the ladies and probably has something to do with why this otherwise bright and impertinent movie is little known today. BILLED WITH Night Nurse. Joan Blondell and Barbara Stanwyck star as heroic nurses in a drama of kidnapping and murder starring a typically louche Clark Gable. William Wellman directed. (RvB)

Female Perversions
Full text review.

Femme Fatale
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Ferris Bueller's Day Off
(1986) Easygoing piece of nothing about playing hooky from high school, written and directed by John Hughes, as a milestone down his path downhill. Matthew Broderick is inoffensive as always in the lead. An actor named Alan Ruck steals the picture with his parody of an old spiritual: "When Cameron was in Egypt's land..." Jeffrey Jones and Charlie Sheen co-star. A TV series was spun off from it, as was an indie film titled The Night Ferris Bueller Died. (RvB)

Fest der Schonheit
(1936-37) Fascist film at its finest. Leni Riefenstahl's tone-poem on the 1936 Berlin Olympics; the documentary exhibits the grace of the athletes and the horrifying splendor of the Third Reich at its peak. (RvB)

Festival Express
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Festival in Cannes
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(Adults only; 86 min.) The British documentarian Nick Broomfield (Hollywood Madam) continues his exploration of sex work by interviewing the professional dominatrixes at Pandora's Box, a Manhattan dungeon offering every kind of humiliation for people who have the money to pay for it. Adults only.

Fiddler on the Roof
(1971) The sing-along version of the big musical, with Topol as Teyve the milkman, Isaac Stern on the soundtrack and vintage Yiddish film star Molly Picon (Yiddle With a Fiddle). (RvB)

Fidel: 40 Years of the Cuban Car Cultureolution and Its Leader
The Peninsula Peace and Justice Center hosts a screening of a new documentary by Cuban filmmaker Estela Bravo. The film, Fidel: 40 Years of the Cuban Car Cultureolution and Its Leader, lives up to its title, offering biographical information on Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but also exploring the history of the Cuban revolution up to the present day. In Spanish with English narration and some English subtitles.

Fierce Creatures
(PG-13; 93 min.) The cast of 1988's A Fish Called Wanda reunites in a real winner. A Rupert Murdoch-like conglomerate has just purchased a very nice English zoo and is downsizing all of the animals that aren't vicious, on the grounds that the public wants to see violence. Pointman John Cleese is acting under the supervision of company representative Jamie Lee Curtis, who is being sexually pursued by the estranged son (Kevin Kline) of the conglomerate's owner. Kline again pulls off the trick of being swaggering and brash without being aggravating, and Curtis' tender love scene with a gorilla is arguably the most pleasing moment in her acting career. A Fish Called Wanda was a comedy of manners about the national differences between the English, a people with too many manners, and the Americans, a people without enough of them. Fierce Creatures, a mellower, more thoughtful film, is not just a prime comedy but also an extraordinarily strong artistic statement about how the corporate practice of merging-and-purging is ruining the lives of almost everyone. (RvB)

Fierce People
(R; 107 min.) Fifteen-year-old Finn (Anton Yelchin) spends the summer with his newly sober mom (Diane Lane), a masseuse, on the estate of a wealthy crackpot (Donald Sutherland). Adapted from Dirk Wittenborn's book, Griffin Dunne's movie starts as a perfectly acceptable black comedy. The laughs suddenly cease after a brutal rape sequence, and Dunne desperately and vainly tries to rework the remainder of the movie as a metaphysical coming-of-age story, with comparisons to tribal customs, as well as a misguided, paper-thin whodunit. Accompanied by a sober piano-and-violin score, Dunne's touch is far too timid to do the material any real justice, and the result is a terrible betrayal. No wonder this spent two years on the shelf. Chris Evans and Kristen Stewart co-star. (JMA)

15 Minutes
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The Fifth Element
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(PG-13; 127 min.) The aliens in the completely silly The Fifth Element show up like landlords every 300 years, ready to take over the Earth. Only love, the Fifth Element, keeps them at bay. Everyman hero Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is still unshaven even in the year 2300, while The Fifth Element of loooove is embodied by an Aphrodite figure named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). Leeloo and Willis fight not just aliens but their fifth columnists as well, most notably Zorg (Gary Oldman). The Fifth Element cements Luc Besson's title as France's worst director. Despite the computer-generated towering future cityscape, the film gives zero sense of how tomorrow might work. (RvB)

50 First Dates
(PG-13; 90 min.) Oahu-based cocksman/veterinarian Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) falls for Lucy (Drew Barrymore), a girl with short-term memory loss after a car accident. He's forced to recourt her when she wakes up every morning, and he thus learns to transcend his own selfishness. Directed by Peter Segal, who did the similarly condescending heterosexual white-rage-propelled Anger Management, this lummoxy comedy fails to recapture the magic of the Sandler/Barrymore team in The Wedding Singer (even using a selected number of 1980s dance-hit covers on the soundtrack). The film tries to be all things to all people: sticky romantic sunsets blended with dick jokes, mixed with cute Disneyish reaction shots of Sea World-style walruses and penguins. Video love letters turn up between instances of Rob Schneider, doing a part in brownface as a shiftless, pakaloko-smoking Hawaiian sidekick. Supposedly, there were Hawaiians incensed by Lilo and Stitch—wait till they see this. Sandler's such a big noise that he even drew Dan Aykroyd (in a joke-free part as a doctor) and Sean Astin (doing the muscular homosexual with a lisp gag). Barrymore is certainly cute, blonde, roguish and plump (she really ought to play Mae West), and she breaks through Sandler's arrogance in a way none of his other co-stars do. Still, the plot's insistence that she has to be treated as if the accident never happened makes her, essentially, a childish character. Her Lucy even paints on the wall like a kid and plays with her food. There's something to be said for the William Demeresting of the actor playing Lucy's father, Blake Clark. As for its star—what can you say? Every French person gets to hear about how unforgivably bad-taste it is for them to be partisans of Jerry Lewis, whether they like Lewis or not. Usually they hear about it from Americans, who turn around and make a No. 1 box-office star out of Sandler, who has all the worst characteristics of Lewis—the jerkiness, the narcissism, the sappy sentimentality and even the sulfurous wrath of late-period, talk-show circuit "Scary Jerry." What is eating this comedian? (RvB)

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(R; 119 min.) An ambitious young man from New Jersey finds himself at the center of the disco world when he lands a job at the trendy New York disco Studio 54. Stars Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell and Mike Myers.

Fight Club
Full text review.
(1999) Manly, yes, but women like it, too. A violent, hideo-comic parody of the men's movement, which is both subtler and crazier than the source novel. The unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton), an exhausted businessman bleating for reparenting, gets the Big Bad Daddy of his wildest dreams: the slobby but charismatic terrorist Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, never better). Helena Bonham Carter is a stitch as Maria, the transient girl Durden picks up, sleeps with and drops. Pitt and Norton change the mood of the film, letting the humor of the book move to the forefront, allowing the novel's endorsement of the violent life look more like a ridiculous pose and less like a stab at philosophy. In the press notes, novelist Chuck Palahniuk endorses his characters' fights: "We are a nation of physical animals who have forgotten how much we enjoy being that. We are cushioned by this kind of make-believe, unreal world, and we have no idea what we can survive because we are never challenged or tested." Truly spoken like a man who sits in a room all day and conjures up make-believe, unreal worlds for a living. The movie wasn't a financial success. Probably this was because of the way it exposed the pathological side of those movie-fed fantasies of the lone hero who beats the world into shape. In Fight Club, as in real life, these men only end up clobbering themselves. (RvB)

The Fighting Temptations
(PG-13; 123 min.) A tired-of-the-game ad man (played by a tired-of-the-game Cuba Gooding Jr.) is lured back to his hometown in Georgia to attend his aunt's funeral. According to the terms of her eccentric will, he will inherit $150,000 if he organizes her church choir so that they can win a national competition. Meanwhile, he falls for a single mom named Lily (Beyoncé Knowles). Jonathan Lynn's hacky, workaday direction and the UPN-level script are a match for Gooding and Beyoncé's uninflected acting. But Knowles isn't there to act, she's there to sing. Her version of "Fever" is forcefully sexy, but the staging lacks intimacy. I wish Lynn could have photographed her like Jessica Rabbit. (Because the way Beyoncé is seen here, she's the definition of a diva: a performer who's pouring her heart out to herself.) The Fighting Temptations isn't half the movie it should be, but it's loaded with cool musical interludes, including the Car Culture. Shirley Caesar's opening solo and the all-too-brief view of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Melba Moore deserves mention as an out-of-it church lady, and Steve Harvey is not bad doing his "What Would Pryor Do?"' riff as a low-watt radio station announcer who shills for a funeral home ("Our coffins look so good, you'll wish you were dead"). Interestingly, Lynn has made the movie colorblind—the Bethel Baptist Church here is integrated, which no one comments upon. The wishful thinking about racism is probably excusable in the context of a feel-good musical. (RvB)

Film Festa 10
The Italian American Heritage Foundation presents a cinematic afternoon that focuses on celebrating Italian ancestry. The event begins with a screening of Edoardo Winspeare's 1997 film, Pizzicata, which tells the story of an Italian-American G.I. fighting in World War II who unexpectedly begins to discover his roots when he is rescued behind enemy lines in his ancestors' homeland. The film is followed by a dinner and program featuring two guest speakers: Historian and writer Robert Rizzolo will discuss his encyclopedia of Southern Italy and Stan Roberti speaks about POINTER (Pursuing Our Italian Names Together), a national network dedicated to exploring Italian genealogy.

Film Guild at De Anza College (2004)
Japanese horror master Hideo Nakata's Ringu 2 and Dark Water, the original versions of two Nakata films scheduled to be released in remakes this year. BILLED WITH Adel's Liquors by Gino Do. (Plays Feb 25 at 7pm in Cupertino at De Anza College, at Room ATC 120 at the Advanced Technology Center.) (RvB)

Film Guild at De Anza College (2005)
A religious extremism double feature. Hell House (2001) Too good to be true, but it is anyway. George Ratliff's documentary observes the Assemblies of God's Trinity Church in the outskirts of Dallas. Every Halloween, the leaders try to lure in jaded teens with a Christian evangelical haunted house. In skits, skull-masked demons tempt teenage punks into fatal sins; local actors then stage the aftermaths of botched abortions, drug O.D.s, suicides and AIDS. In the end, sinners writhe in a hellmouth made of red lightbulbs and tinfoil. Such hell houses are built even here in the Bay Area—a Santa Rosa outpost caused a media stir a few years back. Hell House exemplifies religion at its most ugly. Still, the human tragedies—disease, divorce—that cause Trinity Church's congregation to embrace a cross that's this rugged are treated with all due respect. BILLED WITH student shorts and an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Gingerbread." After a pair of children turn up murdered, witch panic hits Sunnydale, and the blameless wiccan Willow is set to be burned at the stake by the Mothers Opposed to the Occult, or MOO for short. (Plays Mar 18 in Cupertino at De Anza College, Advanced Technology Center, Room ATC120, 7pm. Free.) (RvB)

The Filth and the Fury
Full text review.

The Final Cut
(PG-13; 104 min.) Ain't much call for the adjective "Egoyanish," so even though The Final Cut cries out for this word, it's unique. Robin Williams—soon to be described as "sinister former comedian" if he keeps this stuff up—stars in this futuristic parable about cinema and the preservation of memory. An implant called "Zoe" ("life" in Greek) allows human beings to record a copy of their lives from birth to death. Apparently, the sole application of this marvelous invention is for funeral services: a "remembering" that projects the deceased's life for viewers. Williams' Hakman is a monastic editor who shapes these 60-to-70-year-long epics into an hour's worth of footage, using an AVID-style editing machine called a guillotine. But this craftsman is dead inside, ever since a childhood trauma, and no one can reach him: neither a girl he's sleeping with (Mira Sorvino) nor his old-friend-turned-nemesis (Jim Caviezel). The Final Cut is a plush movie, shot in widescreen with a symphonic score and featuring the expensive-looking Stephanie Romanov (former evil executive from Wolfram and Hart on TV's Angel). Having created an epochal technology, director Omar Naim couldn't figure out a new application for it, or really delve into how it would change the world. Tarnation, also opening this weekend, is a better suggestion of what a life might look like in recorded form. Despite its heavy debt to Atom Egoyan's Family Viewing, The Final Cut is almost free of humor and horror, and the would-be upbeat ending is a sellout. A very nice try, anyway. (RvB)

Final Destination
(R; 93 min.) There's no rhyme or reason to director James Wong's grisly teen thriller. Devon Sawa stars as Alex Browning, a 17-year-old high school student who's inexplicably paranoid about flying to France with his classmates. Minutes before the plane's take-off, he bolts in a sweaty terror convinced that the plane will explode in the sky. It does. As a result, the few friends, classmates and the teacher that were removed from the plane with him think he's a freak and treat him like he's a monster—with the exception of Clear Rivers (House on Haunted Hill's Ali Larter), an independent bohemian type who "feels what he feels." When the survivors start dying in bizarre accidents, Alex realizes (with a little help from a grinning mortician played by Candyman's Tony Todd) that they've cheated death, and he spends the rest of the film trying to decipher and outsmart death's design. The darkly lit film is definitely creepy, but it leaves too many questions unanswered. It never explains how or why Alex has visions of the future. The character development is thin and the plot structure poor. Just when it seemed it couldn't get worse, the film wimps out in the end, wrapping things up too quickly and leaving unnecessary room for a sequel. (SQ)

Final Destination 2
(R; 100 min.) A.J. Cook and Ali Larter star in a horror film about kids trying to outrace death foretold.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
(PG-13; 98 min.) Animator/director Hironobu Sakaguchi has created the highest standard of visual realism for this film, derived from the interactive game series. Having said that, Shrek still seems more like the wave of the future, while this seems to be only a technical stepping stone. The plot goes like so: In 2065, Earth has been reduced to a wasteland, and what's left of humanity cowers in fortresses. The cause of this trouble is an armada of alien ghosts, who kill by the slightest touch. Dr. Aki (Ming-Na), who survives as human with a chunk of alien virus contained within her, is searching for eight "spirits" which, when linked, will allow the humans to defeat their invaders. Her dad (voiced by Donald Sutherland) is the futzy old bald-headed scientist who tries to tame the impulsive girl. Meanwhile, General Hein (presumably short for "heinous" and voiced by James Woods) is itching to use the Zeus Cannon on these invaders. This doomsday weapon, Aki feels, will just drive the critters deeper into the earth. To rescue her "spirits," Aki gets the help of her old boyfriend, an Army captain (voiced by Alec Baldwin). Amid canned dialogue, computer game-style ray-gun fights, and situations utterly familiar to science fiction fans, it turns out that the key of the film has something to do with the Gaia hypothesis—the idea that the planet is a living being and that all souls return to it. (Following this theory, movies would be getting smarter as the human race aged, but, as we've seen ...) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within doesn't just seem computer animated, it seems computer fabricated: it's a waxy replica of a space opera with such heavy allegorical overtones that the film implodes. Sometimes Final Fantasy seems to be an elaborate allusion to natural treatments for cancer; sometimes it seems to be about pacifism succeeding where the big guns fail. The firework-laden finale is a puree of all the world's religions, from animism to Buddhism to blood sacrifice, explained in elaborate double-talk via radio broadcast by Donald Sutherland to two characters trapped inside what looks like a five-mile high, neon-lit rotting pumpkin. (RvB)

Final Solution
Rakesh Sharma's riveting but frightening documentary investigation into religious strife in India between Muslims and Hindu. In particular, the film focuses on the alarming rise in anti-Muslim nationalist rhetoric in the flashpoint Gujarat region: talk that sounds very much like the overture to an ethnic-cleansing campaign. In the aftermath of a terror attack by Muslim extremists on Hindus (the horrific Godhra train bombing, which took 58 lives), innocent Muslims were dragged from their houses, raped, beaten and sometimes burned alive. Opportunistic Hindu demagogues running for the Indian national assembly fanned age-old religious hatreds, demanding economic boycotts and worse. Sharma will be at the screening for discussion afterwards. (RvB)

Finding Forrester
Full text review.

Finding Neverland
(PG; 101 min.) Johnny Depp, with a light Scots accent, is very sweet as the playwright James Barrie. And the too-little-used actress Radha Mitchell is impressive as his neglected wife, who hides her loneliness under a cold, correct shell. But this stagy for-the-children version of how Barrie composed Peter Pan isn't close to the facts of the case, and it's not a very compelling alternative to the truth. Like a slow Terence Rattigan play, Finding Neverland belabors Victorian repression with a love triangle, in which single mother Kate Winslet is the third member and Julie Christie is the conservative granddam. The Czech locations make for an unconvincing impression of Victorian London (compared to how plausible Prague was as Whitechapel in Depp's From Hell, for example). Inoffensive, but a snooze. (RvB)

Finding Nemo
Full text review.

Full text review.

Fire Down Below
(R; 107 min.) Someone is dumping nasty pollutants into Appalachian coal mines; an EPA Marshall has mysteriously died; and the towns folk aren't talking. Who do you send in to find blend in with the natives, win their trust, and uncover the evidence to prevent an ecological disaster? How about a leather trench coat wearing, nose-breaking, porch-fixing Steven Seagal. The reserved Seagal plays Jack Taggart, an EPA Marshall who goes undercover as a missionary handy man in order to avenge the death of his friend, send pollution tycoon Orin Hanner (Kris Kristofferson) to jail, and woo local babe Sarah (Marg Helgenberger) along the way. While the film doesn't always make sense, and the subplot dealing with the death of Sarah's father has nothing to do with anything, overall Seagal's latest flick is surprisingly watchable. In other words: everyone who deserves to get wacked by Seagal does. Bonus points for a grand finale involving spurting glow-in-the-dark toxic waste, but try not to think to hard about just how Seagal manages to escape. (MJ)

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Fire on the Mountain
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(R; 114 min.) The massively sculpted Canadian Rockies tower over massively sculpted former Raider Howie Long, who towers over the rest of the pipsqueak cast in this wet firecracker of a movie. Jesse (Long) is the chief smoke jumper (firefighters who parachute into forest fires) in a Wyoming wilderness blaze engineered by the briefly incarcerated train robber Randy Earle Shaye (William Forsythe). Yes, it's Backdraft meets The Fugitive—only much, much worse. The inept photography frames every scene like a tipsy holiday snapshot. The unconvincing special effects look like a protracted Universal Studios ride. Run, Howie! Here come the computer-generated flames! Firestorm sorely needs some computer-generated suspense. Long's boyish beefcake has a future in low-dialog actioners. Now could someone mercifully transfer Firestorm to flammable nitrate stock? (DH)

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(PG-13; 120 min.) Majorly inept thriller starring a cross Harrison Ford; watching him glower for two hours is like a long lunch with Dick Cheney. At Seattle's fictitious Landrock Pacific Bank, Jack Stanfield (Ford) is extorted by a thief (Paul Bettany) who has taken his family hostage. The film is so square that we're never allowed to be on the crafty thief's side; he has no style or wit. The script doesn't throw the women a bone, either—no help from Virginia Madsen as the wife, the teenage daughter (Carly Schroeder) or the adoring secretary, Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub from 24). Richard Loncraine's poseurly small-camera film has that flatness that always turns up in the work of filmmakers easily wowed by technology—the kind of people who argue that the last Batman movie would have been more compelling if it had been all about the Batphone. (RvB)

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First Daughter
(PG; 105 min.) Katie Holmes stars as the offspring of the president (Michael Keaton). With Marc Blucas (yes, Buffy's much-despised boyfriend Riley) as the love interest.

First Kid
(PG; 100 min.) The opening of First Kid is an ironically timely postscript to the Democratic Convention, where the public saw poised and smiling the Authentic First Kid, Chelsea Clinton. Luke Davenport (Brock Pierce), in contrast, is bratty, uncontrollable and self-pitying, caught in a totally inglorious role as the child of too-prominent parents. Simplistic enough for children yet sarcastic and slapstick enough for adults, First Kid appeals to a broader audiences than most made-for-prepubescents films. Sinbad plays secret service agent Sims, assigned to "baby-sit" Luke. Sims, with his crazy fashion sense and youthful energy, is able to relate to Luke like no other secret service agent (most of whom have been unable to manage Luke and consequently, are fired from the job). But Sims goes above and beyond the call of duty, becoming Luke's only friend and trying to immerse Luke in a normal kid's life. Thanks to Sinbad's fast talking antics and under-his-breath comebacks, preteen subjects are handled with mature humor. (BY)

First Knight
It's a wicked day when Sean Connery is cast as an afterthought to Richard Gere. But the veteran actor shouldn't feel too insulted, since everything in First Knight is secondary to the numerous gruesome battle scenes that plague the movie. Despite First Knight's generous gore, uneven casting is its true bane. With the ever-regal Connery perfect as Arthur and Julia Ormond playing a strong Guinevere, Gere tackling Lancelot makes him stick out like a peasant at court. That's not entirely Gere's fault, since the shabbily written role of Lancelot transforms the errant knight into a sensitive 1190s guy who, more than anything, seems created to provide an excuse for Gere to parade around the woods in a peasant shirt. (HZ)

The First Wives Club
Full text review.
(PG; 110 min.) When The First Wives Club doesn't take itself seriously, it's a good time. Annie, Brenda, Elise and Cynthia—in flashback—attend college together in 1969 before the movie starts in earnest with Stockard Channing's Cynthia committing suicide because her husband left her. The three remaining women discuss their own sorrows and dream up a plan to revenge themselves on the ex-husbands who used them and dropped them. When Bette Midler plays the spirit of triumphant feminism unleashed, even Roseanne has nothing on her for pure menace. Here Midler, as Brenda, is funny because she's so downcast. Similarly, Goldie Hawn is rich as Elise, a hoarse, pickled old star, demanding lip service from Rob Reiner, in a cameo as her plastic surgeon. As for Diane Keaton, well, even her character is named Annie, as in Hall—the ultimate urban neurotic. In the last and least third, the three witches turn benign, using the money they've extorted for a do-gooder project, and the movie dissolves into a musical number and group hugging. It's even more of a weakness that the film never seems to acknowledge the connection between maliciousness in the office and the home. We're supposed to be surprised that the first wives were treated with the same bottom-line viciousness that typifies corporate America at its worst. The first wife is just a domestic example of downsizing, but The First Wives Club naively doesn't make that equation. (RvB)

A Fish Called Wanda
(1988) It could be called the next stage in Monty Python's development—a heist movie parody with the same wild wordplay and eccentricities that made the troupe famous. The great John Cleese stars as a crooked barrister involved with a criminal gang of inepts. They include a would-be suave gunman (Kevin Kline) who is under the impression that "the central message of Buddhism is 'every man for himself'"; other usual suspects are an aquarium-loving neurotic (Michael Palin) and a sleek moll (Jamie Lee Curtis). The highlight is Cleese keeping his temper as he tries to grill some information out of the stammering Palin. The sequel, Fierce Creatures, is much better than you've heard. (RvB)

The Five Senses
Full text review.

Five Star Final/Blessed Event
(1931/1932) Edward G. Robinson plays a tabloid newspaper editor who grows a conscience after he's party to the reopening of a long-dead murder case. H.B. Warner—the man they always hauled out to play Jesus in the late-silent/early-sound period—turns up as the persecuted family man tormented by Robinson's scandal-mongering. BILLED WITH Blessed Event. A semimusical about the newspaper business. That peerless impersonator of cynical journalists, Lee Tracy, has his best role as a Walter Winchell-style gossip columnist, merrily blighting the lives of celebrities. His favorite target is a dumb juvenile singer, Dick Powell (for the first time in a Warner Bros. movie.) (RvB)

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(Not rated; 100 min.) Acclaimed Spanish director Carlos Saura (The Hunt, Cria) celebrates his affinity for dance and theater with a documentary on the art of flamenco.

(Unrated; 118 min.) Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. directed this stylish and likable slice-of-life comedy romance, set in the more comfortable reaches of Indian-guest worker IT life. The film takes its name from an upscale bar where some of the action occurs. It's shot in the suburbs of New York, but it includes scenes nominally set in San Francisco. The movie's writing and acting transcend the narrative problem of a truckload of characters dumped on the viewer in the first 10 minutes. The various stories sort themselves eventually. Bharati Achrekar is a standout among the dozen characters, as a traditional mother coming to terms with her son's marriage to a blonde American girl; this kind of part, played for breezy ethnic humor in lesser movies, is gently done by Achrekar. Comparisons to My Big Fat Greek Wedding are, happily, unwarranted; Flavors is shtickless. The episode of a lonely housebound wife (Sireesha Katragadda) whose husband is almost never home is similarly touching. Comedy relief is provided by three young men—"the bench crowd"—hanging out in a smallish apartment; they're bitter laid-off programmers who are in no hurry to get back to work and resume the 12 hour days. Their sequences provides an contrast to the promise of easy money to be made temping for the "MIB" corporation. MIB, what a puzzling anagram. I wonder if a computer could solve it. (RvB)

(R; 111 min.) The Unlikely Friendship Story, with its many pathos-milking life lessons, has become all too likely in films these days, so there's no real surprises in this tale of the friendship between Walt, an arch-conservative security guard (Robert De Niro) and Rusty, a drag queen (Philip Seymour Hoffman)—except for the pleasant surprise that, at least in this case, good acting can compensate for a predictable plot. The gruff, self-righteous Walt suffers a stroke, and when he grudgingly decides to undergo physical therapy, part of his rehabilitation includes singing lessons with his neighbor, Rusty, a transvestite at whom he's uttered his share of epithets. De Niro and Hoffman offer wonderful, rich performances as antagonistic opposites; their characters' verbal sparring matches are pretty standard stuff, but De Niro and Hoffman make such formulaic devices believable and make such a formulaic film refreshingly enjoyable. (HZ)

(R; 97 min.) A hacker (Stephen Baldwin) with muscles in his head that he's never even used steals $25 million from the Cuban Mafia and lands on a Georgia chain gang. Shovel fight! Shootout! Fistfight! Hillbilly getaway music! Another shootout, yadda yadda yadda. Laurence Fishburne looks tired as the undercover cop helping our hero through the numerous implausibilities, impossibilities and pulled-out-of-the-air plot devices. Yummy Salma Hayek (Desperado) is sorta the love interest, only she just disappears after a while. And who could blame her? Writer Preston Whitmore and director Kevin Hooks couldn't make up their minds what they wanted to steal from. We get shades of The Defiant Ones, The Fugitive and even a Cracker Columbo (Will Patton): "Y'all mind explainin' that ag'in? It's a bit tough fer a country boy." Yup, this here's a head-scratcher, all right. (BC)

Flesh and the Devil
(1926) Greta Garbo stars as a yearning flirt who pursues her man (John Gilbert) undeterred by a few of her own marriages along the way. The film is memorable for the kind of melodramatic finale Lars von Trier keeps trying to recreate--and notable for the idea that Gilbert and Garbo were in such a torrid affair at the time that the director reputedly had trouble breaking up their clinches. Silent. (RvB)

Flight of the Phoenix
(PG-13; 112 min.) Everything that's wrong with movie trailers today is on grotesque display in the preview for this film. First, they basically ask: "Can this bunch of lovable losers who crash-land in the Mongolian desert (Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, etc.) find a way to escape? Then they show you the answer! And then they show you whether or not they succeed! The weird thing is that the previous movie-spoling-trailer champion is Cast Away, also a film about a survivor of a plane crash attempting to escape form exotic exile. Do movie execs think audiences are too wussy to handle not knowing whether castaways make out all right? I mean, geez, we made it through several seasons of Gilligan's Island OK. (Capsule preview by SP)

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
(PG; 90 min.) Despite appearances by high-profile actors like Broadway's Cabaret star Alan Cumming in a dual role as the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagged and the Great Gazoo, and everyone's favorite witch, Joan Collins, as Wilma's snooty mother, Pearl (Elizabeth Taylor in the original feature film), director Brian Levant's prequel to the 1994 dud The Flintstones (also directed by Levant) proves an ineffective attempt to redeem the series. To be fair, the casting is much better than the first big-screen Flintstones movie, with The Full Monty's Mark Addy as Fred Flintstone, 3rd Rock From the Sun's Kristen Johnston as Wilma Slaghoople, Stephen Baldwin as Barney Rubble and Ally McBeal's Jane Krakowski as Betty O'Shale. The colorful sets are appropriately cartoonish, and the animated prehistoric beasts a welcome addition—particularly Dino as a newly hatched dinosaur pup. It's unfortunate that the movie misses both its potential audiences. Aside from its vivid visuals and sight gags, it's not really designed for young children, yet it lacks the over-the-top camp factor that would appeal to nostalgic adults. (SQ)

(PG; 105 min.) A surly teenager, Sandy (Elijah Wood), spends a summer in the Florida Keys with his beachcombing uncle (the Lizard of Aus, Paul Hogan). Sandy cheers up when he meets a pretty girl (Jessica Wesson, making her debut) and an orphaned dolphin. After they've accepted each others' quirks, all get together for some wholesome family fun: nailing the local bully (Jonathan Banks), who dumps barrels of dioxin in the water when he isn't taking potshots at dolphins. Not really a remake of yet another Baby Boomer TV show, but rather a stand-alone kiddie movie that parents and baby sitters will be able to tolerate. Three advantages over the TV show: no brother Bud; soulman Isaac Hayes as the sheriff; and a huge hammerhead shark who's scary enough to make rug rats spill their popcorn and cry for mama. (BC)

The Flip Side
(Unrated; 80 min.) For those who swore off Pinoy movies after American Adobo, Rod Pulido's excellent debut feature is here to rescue you. The film tells the story of a proud brown brother, Darius Delacruz (Verwin Gatpandan), who gets politicized while away at college. He returns to his suburban home, walks around the house in a bahag (tribal loincloth) and encourages his streetwise brother and coconut sister to embrace their Filipino culture. The siblings blow him off for acting like a FOB, and the parents can't comprehend the newfound militant living underneath their roof, so Darius reconnects with the grandfather, Lolo (Peping Baclig), a Bataan Death March survivor who plays Lotto in the hope of returning to the Philippines. This is a hysterical film about identity and family that is in touch with Fil-Am culture in all its idiosyncrasies. The set decorations are all there: the Spam, the bagoong, the barrelman, the wooden fork and spoon on the wall. Filmed in black and white, it has the same stark approach and pacing as Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, and yes, The Flip Side was made guerilla-style—out of love and maxed credit cards. Like banana ketchup, it's the right blend of salty and sweet, the suburban and the street. (TI)

(Unrated; 85 min.) Hal Hartley's new film takes part in three installments. In part one, Bill Sage struggles with his relationship to girlfriend Parker Posey. In part two, a young American living abroad has an affair with a an older man. In the final episode, a ménage à trois turns ugly in Tokyo.

Flirting With Disaster
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(R; 100 min.) The film is built with the intricacy of a vintage screwball comedy. Director David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey) shows us some truly funny, polymorphously perverse situations. Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller), who is adopted, convinces his wife, Nancy (Patricia Arquette), to join him on a pilgrimage to find his real parents. Temptation, misdirection and mistaken identity dog the travelers until they discover Mel's birth mom (Lily Tomlin), an ex-old lady of a Hell's Angel turned gracious hippie-liberal hostess. The sophomore picture is what separates the lucky first-timers from the filmmakers whose work is going to be worth watching in the future. Russell's hilarious second film suggests that there's more to come. (RvB)

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Flower of Evil
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The Flower of My Secret
Full text review.
(R; 100 min.) This droll and sophisticated Pedro Almodovar comedy melts into enough drama to give it real thrust. Leo (Marisa Paredes) is living a double life as the troubled writer of serious fiction and as a successful romance novelist. Her public and private identifies are menaced by a crisis of the heart: Leo's unwillingness to face the fact that her marriage to Paco (Imanol Arias) has not only died but decomposed. Can she find happiness in the arms of the slightly goofy editor Angel (Juan Echanove)? The marvelous visuals include chic art direction and off-beat framing of the heroine through windows and mirrors, to give an ironic, dissociative quality to her plight—Leo's situation is ridiculous, but she never is. (RvB)

(PG; 92 min.) Short for "flying rubber." Absent-minded professor Phillip Brainard (Robin Williams) develops the stuff by accident. Flubber is a faithful remake of the 1961 kid's movie The Absent Minded Professor, and Williams is preferable to Fred MacMurray, who absolutely cultivated blandness in his Disney years. Williams is tame here—he's playing straight man to the little animated blob. Les Mayfield (Encino Man) directs, but producer John Hughes fouls the movie at moments with plenty of his trademark slow, vicious slapstick. (The Three Stooges never had all of these camera setups; taking in the much anticipated violence from different angles makes it looks sickeningly clinical.) What especially hasn't aged well is the plot thread about the fiancée stranded three times at the altar; Marcia Gay Harden is dignified under the circumstances. But there's another woman—a small robot with a crush on Brainard, voiced by Jodi Benson of The Little Mermaid. Weebo the robot has a video screen she uses to display bits of old movies that show her emotions. The filmed snippets play havoc with the mood—never quote from a picture better than your own. Still, Weebo has charisma, and her fate (she gets reprogrammed into an obedient daughter) leaves a vacuum. Some of the women in the audience are going to slink out, slapped down by the movies again. (RvB)

The Fluffer
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Fly Away Home
(PG; 110 min.) When her mother dies, a 13-year-old New Zealand girl (Anna Paquin) comes to live with her estranged father (Jeff Daniels) in rural Canada, passing from grief to petulance to sullenness until she discovers a nest of Canadian goose eggs, which she decides to hatch and raise. The drama is derived mostly from father and daughter coming to terms with each other while figuring out how to teach their gaggle of geese where to go in the winter and how to get back. Carroll Ballard and Caleb Deshanel, the same director and photographer who did The Black Stallion, keep the tone nearly as light as the ultralight aircraft father and daughter fly, with only a wisp of drama—the villains being too contemptible to take seriously. The movie, however, is lovely to look at, often astonishingly so (as when the group flies through downtown Baltimore in the fog), and skillfully walks that fine line between sweetness and sappiness. And Canadian geese, of course, most noble of creatures, are always a great pleasure to watch. (BC)

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Flying Down to Rio/Lady for a Day
(Both 1933) Playboy song-and-dance man Gene Raymond loves Dolores Del Rio, unhappily affianced to a Brazilian tycoon. It all gets sorted out during the flight to Brazil, which took longer in the 1930s; fortunately, Raymond's plane is equipped with a grand piano so he can work on some songs (including "Orchids in the Moonlight"). As his accordion-playing "assistant loafer," Fred Astaire learns of a dance trend called "The Carioca," once he's taught by his partner Ginger Rogers. It was their first time together. The famous finale—a dance review carried out on the wings of low-flying planes—suits Del Rio's wish for "crazy beautiful happiness." BILLED WITH Lady for a Day. An early Frank Capra hit about an elderly apple seller (May Robson) who puts on a charade to convince her daughter she's actually a millionairess; a typical crowd of Damon Runyon gangsters (including Warren Williams) lend their talents to help. (Plays Oct 27-28 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)

Flying Down to Rio/You Were Never Lovelier
(1933/1942) You've heard the title song to Flying Down to Rio—Bugs Bunny used to tap-dance to it. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are fourth and fifth billed in this musical about a pilot and songwriter (Gene Raymond) who naturally has a grand piano installed in his plane so that he can serenade his girlfriend (Dolores Del Rio). As Raymond flies to South America, chorus girls climb out on the wings and have a dance above Rio de Janeiro. Astaire and Rogers perform their first onscreen dance: "The Carioca." BILLED WITH You Were Never Lovelier, one of the more obscure of Astaire's musicals. He plays a hired hand at the Latin American nightclub belonging to Rita Hayworth's old-fashioned father, Adolphe Menjou. (RvB)

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