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Preview of documentary by Luane Beck (Intentions) about religion and gay people; it includes interviews with Mel White of SoulForce and Alan Chambers of Exodus, the ministry that preaches to the so-called "ex-gay." Events include a silent auction and a Q&A with director Luane Beck.
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(1972) Presenting the rise, the fall and the absorption into the American master class of a family named Corleone. We see the terrible Sicilian village the Corleones hail from, a mausoleum guarded by men with rifles. And we see them heading into another desert, as they go to tend the newborn Las Vegas. Along the way, the family is whittled down by murders. And the warning of their patriarch (Marlon Brando as a hoarse, paunchy, regal Don Vito Corleone) goes unheard: "A man without a family is not a man." Ours is a country where great morality and great wealth are obsessions, so it's not surprising that the best films made here (Greed, Citizen Kane and The Godfather) are about the gain of money and the loss of the soul. The death of the soul in The Godfather is presented with such conviction that even an atheist can feel the loss of something intangible as the doors close on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). (RvB)
(1974) In America of the 1950's, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) consolidates his criminal empire, spreading it to the newly opened gambling meccas in Nevada and Cuba. He's still trying to seek out legitimacy despite the blood he has to spill to grease the wheels of his enterprise. In flashback, 40 years earlier, we see how Michael's father, the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) came to Ellis Island as a starving immigrant child and how he established his family dynasty. The movie is a brilliant, sustained epic on the cost of assimilation. Michael has the strength to carry out the purging of the people around him, but he hasn't got the moral purpose that would let him live with the idea of killing strangers to save his family. He has too much of the New World's ethics in him, and it sickens him unto death. Francis Ford Coppola's film is the much-cited example of how a sequel can be as good as the original; the short lapse of time between the first and the second film may explain the two pictures' unity of style and integrity. Photographer Gordon Willis and composer Nino Rota return, as do actors Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale and Abe Vigoda; newer cast members include the legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth, a thinly disguised version of Mayor Lansky. The Godfather Part II isn't a rehash but an expansion on the original theme, as Balzac wrote, of how there's a crime behind every fortune. (RvB)
(PG-13; 102 min.) God-awful. When 8-year-old Adam (Cameron Bright, who has the wiggliest eyeballs since Elijah Wood) is clobbered by a car, grieving parents Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Greg Kinnear are contacted by an old acquaintance. He's a world-famous biologist (Robert De Niro) who promises he can re-create their dead son. Since the procedure is illegal, the couple relocate to a remote Canadian suburb, donning new identities. The cloning is a success, but on his 8th birthday, right about the time Adam was killed, this new Adam becomes prone to night terrors, hallucinations and the infrequent homicidal tendency. Having played Frankenstein's monster, Robert De Niro grasps the other end of the mad doctor's stethoscope. Since he takes the part of this clonester too seriously, there isn't much for him to do except to rattle some Tibetan metal balls in his hand in what he hopes will be an intimidating fashion. He rouses himself for a moment at the end, in a church, where he accidentally sets a Bible on firethis week's heavy-handed religious reference. Kinnear, the Bob Cummings of '04, manfully wrestles with the moral implications of the situation. The fretted question"Resolved: Cloning a dead child is Immoral"is the reason for both the film's fatal slowness as well as its guffaw-inducing attempts at seriousness. Director Nick Hamm, a noted figure in London theater, previously made a film the press notes describe as "The Bottom Line, a documentary about the crisis of culture." Hamm has just exacerbated that crisis with this would-be thriller, which raids every bad-kid movie from The Omen on down. (RvB)
A weeklong salute to the big lizard. The screenings include 20 different Japanese monster movies. Plus: guest appearances by Russ Tamblyn, John Stanley and many others. (Plays Nov 17-23 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco; see www.sfgodzillafest.com for details.)
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(PG-13; 130 min.) Sure, maybe John Kerry was a war hero, but does he have the leadership to boldly push forward, even when the experience of history, the wishes of most of the people on the planet, and common sense itself urge him to hold back? Does he have the manliness to stick with a dangerous, half-baked plan? Or the guts to lie like a one-man army of telephone solicitors if the plan should go hideously wrong? In this reporter's opinion, perhaps not. Still, George Butler's documentary about Kerry's wartime experience is enlightening. Based on Douglas Brinkley's book Tour of Duty, this film resets the stage of Vietnam (with the requisite Philip Glass music to curdle your blood), informing the inexperienced viewer of the origin of such terms as "free-fire zone" and "body-count." There are more than enough interviews to convince the viewer that the swift-boat patrol strategya watery version of the search and destroy missions being carried out simultaneously on the landwas a very hazardous assignment, and that Kerry was brave to climb aboard. On camera are Sen. Bob Kerrey, the celebrated Vietnam historian Neil Sheehan and the best interviews I've seen all summer long with the Rove-fucked war hero/former Sen. Max Cleland. (RvB)
(1933) If you were raised in an era when American musicals were dancing white elephants, the low-budget, sexy and slightly grimy Warner Brothers musicals of the '30s are a shock equivalent to finding steamy love letters in grandma's trunk. Pre-code, kitschy and wild, the Warner Brothers musical is exemplified in Gold Diggers of 1933. The film was made at the bottom of the Depression. Naturally, it's about the class struggle: the courtship between patrician Dick Powell and working (chorus) girl Ruby Keeler. As always, the Elmer Fuddish Guy Kibbee is the comic relief, and as always, impersonating a nooky-struck plutocrat. Also as always, Joan Blondell is aboard, dubbed by Marian Anderson, singing "Remember My Forgotten Man"as fine a piece of fake Brecht as you'll ever see. But Brecht never imagined Ginger Rogers in a gold-coin-covered bikini singing "We're in the Money" in pig Latin. And who but the deranged genius choreographer Busby Berkeley could conceive of a hoarde of platinum-blonde women carrying neon violins, arranged in the form of a 100-foot-long lit-up neon violin? (RvB)
(Both 1935) Greetings from Lake Waxapahachie, N.H., where the celebrated Wentworth Hotel is beginning its season. The idle and not-so-bright rich are descending in force. Most famous of the plutocrats are the Prentisses: Mama (Alice Brady), widow of old Prentiss, the Fly-Paper King, is a parsimonious dragon trying to ride herd on her two children. Humbolt Prentiss (Frank McHugh) has already survived four costly marriages to chorus girls ("Well, we must keep the family name going," he explains). The somewhat wilder daughter Ann (Gloria Stuart, later of Titanic) is about to be handed over in a strategic marriage to the unmanly Hugh Herbert as T. Mosley Thorpe, whose energies and fortune center on the creation of the definitive 1,800-page book on snuffboxes. Meanwhile, peppy young medical student Dick Curtis (Dick Powell) plights his troth with Dorothy Dare, the hotel's hostess. This is a real plight, since she has a roving eye and hopes to win a millionaire before the season is over. And a grand avant-garde Russian theatrical director (Adolphe Menjou) is hired to direct the summer resort's charity show, which happens to include 56 full-size snow-white pianos that march across the room in military drillsuch is suspension of disbelief in a Busby Berkeley musical. The piano number, "The Words Are in My Heart," is a Vienna-style hesitation waltz engineered by black-clad stagehands underneath lightweight piano shells. What's really impressive in this Depression-era musical is how the subject of money eclipses the subject of love. Love is represented in calendar-art terms (Powell and Stuart, duckied-up in mid-1800s formal ware and frosted with cherry blossoms). The film's true energies and story lie in how the sharp-eyed girls will quarry the money from the rich dumb Prentisses and Thorpes of the world. Gold Diggers of 1935 begins with a lesson in what happens when you work for gratuities, with every staffer and bell captain chiseling their underlings. And the musical concludes with the justly famous blues song "Lullaby of Broadway," which reminds one of Bertold Brecht and Edith Piaf in the way it communicates how much nightlife costs these "gold diggers." (What's in a euphemism?) The number consists of the reveries of a nightclub singer (Wini Shaw) who comes out of the blacked-out screen at the size of a match head and grows. Her face literally fades into a map of Manhattan. Twenty-four hours in the New York Floating World (with images that owe something to Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera) end on a balcony outside the Nightclub of the Living Dead. Bold stuff from Berkeley, whose early filmsthis was his first as a directorhad a sinister side underneath the frippery. BILLED WITH Go Into Your Dance (a.k.a. Casino de Paris.) The only musical to link real-life husband and wife Ruby Keeler and Al Jolson in a story of a heel (Jolson) reformed by the shooting of his gal. Akim Tamiroff is in it, and the numbers include: "She's a Latin From Manhattan," a reprise of Jolson's lunch-disrupting "Mammy" from The Jazz Singer and an appearance by the ill-fated torch-singer Helen Morgan. (RvB)
(PG; 92 min.) The phantoms, monsters and wild animals of classic children's adventure movies have been replaced by Mom's evil alcoholic boyfriend in this strange tale of treasure-hunting and family dysfunction. If there is a point to this movie, I'm not sure what it could be, but the story goes something like this: two teenage girls (Christina Ricci and Anna Chlumsky) in search of a legendary treasure embark upon a rather unentertaining adventure that ends in an equally uninteresting battle against a psychotic, greedy drunk guy named Ray. The film commits several leaps in logic that are utterly astounding and doesn't even attempt to save itself by explaining away numerous unlikely scenarios or morphing its storyline into something other than a bad emulation of reality. Gold Diggers is little more than a vague, unsuccessful attempt to plant a social statement into a teenage-buddy/adventure movie, and even fails at the menial task of lavishing its audience with the warm-fuzzies. (BB)
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(PG-13; 130 min.) James Bond meets the Anti-Bond: a renegade agent (Sean Bean) who voices all of the legendary agent's doubts. The character of 007 has been slightly overhauled for Pierce Brosnan, on whom the mask of Bond fits well. For a change, the women hold up their half of the opusand not a moment too soon. Famke Janssen, sexually aroused by killing, is a memorable henchwoman; Judi Dench is a superb, no-nonsense M. Once again, 007 is wrapped up in a world-saving plot with a smashing finale. This is easily one of the best of the series. (RvB)
(1964) After two more or less serious adventures, the Bond series went cosmic. The number of extras killed on camera grew to the triple digits, the villains became hugely cartoonish and Bond began to stake his life against the fate of the world. In this wild opus, 007 encounters the industrialist Auric Goldfinger (the very droll Gert Frobe), a gold smuggler with ambitions to become the Napoleon of crime. Considered one of the best of the series, probably because of the nice rapport between Connerygenerally a bit aloof in his love scenesand the warm actress Honor Blackman (as Pussy Galore). (RvB)
(1925) Charlie Chaplin's epic comedy about the Little Tramp's misfortunes in the Klondike, filmed during a ferocious winter in the Truckee Pass. Dennis James accompanies the film on the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (RvB)
(R; 115 min.) Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Affleck makes his directorial debut with this gripping film, happily making up for his recent string of turkeys, duds and flops. Based on Dennis Lehane's 1998 novel and set in Massachusetts, the story involves an abducted little girl. The media makes a circus of it, and the cops can't find anything, so the girl's aunt (Amy Madigan) hires private eye Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend/associate (Michelle Monaghan). Like many actor/directors, Affleck elicits fine performances from everyone, including Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. He also has fun with detective movie motifs, the tough-guy talk and verbal showdowns, but he's more interested in the complex moral tangle the story becomes; he handles the outcome with unrelenting toughness and expert patience. (JMA)
(PG; 90 min.) Two half-wits (Joe Pesci and Danny Glover) tangle with a killer on their dream fishing trip to the Everglades. The jokes are signaled so far in advance that even these morons could see them coming. Worse, several gags keel over from old age before they reach their punch linesnot because this is a comedic juggernaut, steaming along and squirting out half-formed ideas willy-nilly because we're getting to the good stuff any minute now, but simply because no one cared. Someone has definitely gone fishin' ... the producers, trolling for suckers. (BC)
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Underpowered remake of junkman turned auteur H.B. Halicki's 1974 car cruncher. As a director who died for his artand why won't a few of our top box-office directors follow his example?Halicki really knew how to punish those breakdown-prone post-Tet Offensive clunkers. Here, the only moment of exhilaration comes in the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River, where Nicolas Cage pauses exquisitely over the button for the supercharger in a 1967 Shelby Mustang. Director Dominic Sena (the pretentious serial-killer drama Kalifornia) thinks that the subplots in this film matter. See, Cage's character, Memphis, isn't stealing cars for the fun of itit's for his brother, man. A British villain named Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), who hates America, has Memphis' brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi), as a hostage. Here's Robert Duvall as lovable old Pops, called Otto; that mute character, the Sphinx (Vinnie Jones), does that Silent Bob shtick of only saying one thing, but making it count. Lead Angelina Jolie, as a car thief called "Sway," is a too-sweet fatale, with her ropy blonde dreadlocks and alarming snow-white skin. (RvB)
(1939) In a new Technicolor print, the saturated colorsthe reds and blacks, especially profoundare only part of the reason a current audience might greet Gone With the Wind with the exclamation "What a dark movie!" A revisit hauls you through war, spousal rape, miscarriage, illegitimacy, adulterynot bad for a film that epitomizes the family era in cinema. It's been suggested that the American Civil War was a restaging of the English Civil War, a battle of northern Puritans against Southern cavaliers. The courtship of Scarlett and Rhett is like a mirror of the war, with conflict between the northernized Rhett (from Charleston, but he don't talk it) and the sometimes dippily romantic Scarlett (a shrewd, even cutting performance by Vivien Leigh; she was from Indiamight she have known such people as Scarlett from her days in the Raj?). Not much room here, so let's honor the famous names: producer David O. Selznick, who hauled truckloads of red Georgia earth to Culver City; Max Steiner, composer of the appropriately rich score; William Cameron Menzies, the hard-working production designer, who gives the eye a new treat in every scene. Uncredited but deeply felt: Ben Hecht, who gave the script a much-needed hard-boiling. It is overstuffedparticularly in the last draggy hour. It's deeply racist, and it's cast with some of the worst child actors ever. And a rock-ribbed feminist could object to the "staircase scene" (even a feminist as good-humored as Angela Carter suggested that Rhett Butler needed his kneecaps broken). Still, Gone With the Wind is that unimaginable thing, a flexible masterpiece: thrilling, vivid, moving and funny when you least expect it. (RvB)
Fireworks covers some of the same territory) and his young gunsel exact revenge one by one on the scattering crooks. The deliberate distance from the characters is ultimately frustrating, because Gonin raises a number of interesting but baffling possibilities by foregrounding the homosexuality of several of its characters in a way that most movies in the genre discreetly sidestep. (MSG)In broad outline, the Japanese gangster film Gonin (made in 1995 but just now getting a U.S. release) reads like an entry in the handbook of caper plots. An in-hock nightclub owner, Bandai (Koichi Sato), enlists the aid of a some bottom-dwelling underworld types (an ex-cop, a pimp, a downsized salaryman and a gay hustler) and plans a daring raid on the coffers of the gangsters he owes money to. Beyond that, attempting to sort out the motivations and details of director Takeshi Ishii's high-styling hymn to neon-lit ultraviolence is nearly impossible. So much of the action takes places in the distance, in the shadows or in color-drenched fast cuts that keeping track of the characters is a futile task. When the job goes very, very wrong, Gonin becomes an increasingly abstract exercise in the art of the hunt, as a one-eyed assassin (played with Chow Yun-Fat supercool by mutlipurpose filmmaker Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, whose own
(PG; 83 min.) An alien dog from the dog star Sirius arrives on earth to witness the progress of Earth's colonization; the animal (voiced by Matthew Broderick) is upset to see that Earth dogs have taken the easy way out, posing as pets in exchange for treats. Very much for children only; pity the adults who must go along while their children are served up a generous helping of dog-doo jokes. The voices include Brittany Murphy and Carl Reiner (too bad Reiner couldn't have written his own material). Liam Aiken is bearable as the space-dog's owner. (RvB)
(PG; 103 min.) Nickelodeon's Good Burger is as much fun as being slimed with a bucket of Gak. Although the movie has a few guilty, chuckle-inducing lines (thanks in large part to innuendo and sarcasm), Good Burger uses slapstick to excess. Simpleminded Ed (Kel Mitchell) and calculating Dexter (Kenan Thompson) both work at Good Burger, a mom-and-pop fast-food joint. When corporate chain Mondo Burger opens its doors across the street, Good Burger's livelihood is threatened. So the unlikely heroes, Ed and Dexter, fight the evil corporation to save their jobsEd because he loves it and Dexter because he needs the cash to repair his mother's car, which he crashed driving without a license. After some spy work, sabotage and quick thinking, the illegal practices of Mondo Burger are revealed and Good Burger is saved. But not before small children are encouraged to drive without licenses, engage in violence during miniature golf and mock a mental asylum. (BY)
(R; 120 min.) Patricia Arquette, Dermot Mulroney, Ellen DeGeneres and Don Johnson star in a black comedy about love affairs and crimes of passion.
(R; 96 min.) Conspicuously absent from this romantic comedy are any genuine laughs or romance. The unfunny, uninteresting Charlie (Dane Cook) has been hexed: every girl he sleeps with is destined to next meet her true love. When he falls in love with Cam Wexler (Jessica Alba), he tries to break the spell. The makers of this shameful waste of celluloid have padded their work with fat jokes, homophobic jokes, gratuitous nudity and various bodily functions, while harboring a fundamental hatred for women. Moreover, the filmmakers made Alba's character a caretaker of penguins at the aquarium, in a sleazy, desperate attempt to cash in on the recent "penguin fever" garnered by March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. Dan Fogler co-stars as the typical "vulgar best friend." (JMA)
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(PG; 90 min.) David Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney's black-and-white biopic about how the newsman brought down Sen. Joe McCarthy. Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov remember the way "The Tiffany Network" shamed Murrow by forcing him into Person to Person celebrity interviews. We see Strathairn's burning contempt as he sits on a dumpy plaid chair after an interview with Liberace. The assignment is a kind of punishment handed down by CBS's head, William Paley (Frank Langella). Clooney's knockout film couldn't be more timely. The questions that Strathairn's Murrow raises about TV are still unanswered: Can it ever be a tool of information and education? After four years of post-Sept. 11 deference and cowardice by the press, journalists deserve the rebuke heard here: "We are not descended from fearful men." (RvB)
(2002) Michel Reilhac's selection of a dozen vintage French silent porn reels, circa 1905-1930. These primitive, anonymously directed pornographic movies were said to have been shown at brothels, as a way of describing the services available. They range from the primitive (1905's The Hairdresser consists of one medium shot of a coquettish topless redhead combing her hair) to the more involved: The Musketeer's Dinner from 1920 is like a Dutch master come to XXX life, elaborate in both costumes and in positions. The actors range from saucy to skanky, with the kind of bodies people really have: hairy, asymmetrical, often with plump little bellies. Sometimes, the man gets naked and the woman stays clothedyou can hear the hubbub in a thousand film theory classrooms already. Sadly, the intertitled commentaries are lad-mag stoopid, with more slang terms for courting-tackle than Sizzler has for a chunk of burned steer. Seeing the infancy of pornthis playful, tender, polysexual world, you morn its dull old age today, so full of hard faces and distended silicone tits. Includes Eveready Hardon, c. 1920, which isn't French, but American; this uproarious stray piece of smut has been reliably attributed to the father of animation, Winsor McCay. Adults only. (RvB)
(R; 161 min.) In a still from 1972's High Plains Drifter, Clint Eastwood rides by a pair of tombstones reading "Siegel" and "Leone." "Siegel" means Don Siegel, Eastwood's director in Dirty Harry, and Leone is Sergio Leone. Eastwood's been directing for 30 years, and he hasn't buried Sergio yet. Leone's 1966 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the director's third Western. It was filmed in Spain with Eastwood, following the team's international successes A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Angel Eyes is "the Bad," a grinning assassin played by Lee Van Cleef. Blondie (Eastwood) is a better-behaved gunman. Both are searching for a cache of gold coins. A large (fictional) U.S. Civil War action interferes with the trek to find the treasure. Caught between these men is the viewer's surrogate, homely Tuco (the ripe and funny Eli Wallach). In this desert of scavengers, Tuco is the most honest scavenger of them all. Leone wanted to do a modern-dress version of Don Quixote, and in many ways, this is the story of Sancho Panza's revenge. Tuco is too treacherously human to be used by either good or evil to do its will. Unlike most directors, Leone worked from the completed soundtrack music first. Ennio Morricone's magnificent theme includes choral "ayahayahahs" that were meant to sound like the howls of coyotes. The beasts' cries are disrupted by a frenzy of bugle calls for the doomed Civil War clash over a worthless bridge. Leone shoots the grand battle through telephoto lenses, with 1,500 extras and 60 tons of black powder. His camera zooms into the mouths of cannons apparently firing themselves. According to critic Cenk Kiral's interview with Leone's biographer, Christopher Frayling, the Italian director was the son of a silent-film director, a socialist Roman exiled by Mussolini. The younger Leone loved American movies but was disillusioned by the GIs who occupied Italy in 1944. Unlike the directors who followed Leone (Quentin Tarantino and John Woo are especially devoted to his memory), this great director of Westerns was less interested in violence than the moment of anticipation of trouble, which he drew out to extreme, surreal length. An example is the opening scenes in this film, in which Van Cleef stares down a family man he plans to murder at his dinner table. In wide-screen Techniscope, the search for mercy in these pinprick eyes is as futile as the search for water in one of Leone's blasted deserts. (RvB)
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(PG; 93 min.) This is a modernized version of Lady Windermere's Fan, replete with Wilde's own dangerous relativism. It's the play where Wilde comments, "Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality." Setting his version on the Amalfi coast in the 1930s, director Mike Barker takes more than a few liberties with the text. One of his better innovations is making "Meg" Windermere (Scarlett Johansson) an American, so that her backward insistence on propriety makes as much sense as a Victorian lady's prissiness. The play is about a domestic misunderstanding. The young, newly married wife Meg is on vacation with her husband, Robert. This woman of rigid principles is particularly alarmed to find Robert consorting with a notorious divorcee, Mrs. Erylnne (Helen Hunt). Meanwhile, the slouching Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore) takes advantage of the situation. The film is in much better shape than the dreadful remake of The Importance of Being Earnest. (RvB)
(1985) Children find a pirate map and start a quest for a treasure guarded by a gross family. The stars are Josh Brolin, Sean "Samwise" Astin, Corey Feldman, Martha Plimpton and Ke Huy "Short Round" Quan, co-star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It's based on a story by Steven Spielberg, and the screenplay was written by Chris Columbus, the semi-Spielberg director of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It has developed a considerable following over the last 18 years among those who saw it as children and have never forgotten the experience. (RvB)
(1968/1937) Satyajit Ray's berserk musical fantasy The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha focuses on a pair of talentless itinerant musicians (Tapen Chatterjee, Rabi Ghosh) who end up bringing peace to a pair of warring kings. The "evil king" is actually just misled by his prime minister (Jahar Roy), called "the best villain Ray has created" by Ray expert Andrew Robinson. The highlight is a 6 1/2-minute dance routine in a haunted wood, with the wolfishly grinning monarch of the ghosts (Prasad Mukherjee, posed underneath carnival lighting) watching a battle by India's dead; the sequence is like a cross between Richard Lester's musical sequences for Help! and Tim Burton. A hit in Bengal, the film is almost never seen in the West. BILLED WITH 100 Men and a Girl. Ray was a huge fan of Deanna Durbin, even praising her on his Special Achievement Oscar appearance, in what turned out to be a deathbed farewell to the world. Durbin was Universal Studios' mortgage lifter, its answer to Shirley Temple. Here, the classically trained soprano plays a faithful daughter who gets work for her father (Adolphe Menjou) and 99 other unemployed musicians, including orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski; he also co-starred in Fantasia and was once brilliantly impersonated by Bugs Bunny. (RvB)
It reeks. This lame, live-action kids' film features Gordy the piglet on a journey to rescue his family from slaughter. Gordy's vegetarian premise is admirable enough, but as soon as its porky star begins having conversations with humansand, worse, said humans aren't at all surprised by the garrulous swinethis antibacon movie becomes more of an object of ridicule than a protest. In all fairness, our porcine protagonist is, as the movie liberally points out, very lovable, and the portrayal of slaughter as cruelty to animals is a valiant effort, although there are many slaughterhouse scenes that would terrify small children. (HZ)
(PG; 125 min.) Gospa is a very flawed yet well-intentioned film, inspired by the true story of how some children from a then-Yugoslavian village in 1981 claimed to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary and how the priest of that parish defended the children's visions, to the infinite displeasure of the totalitarian government. Martin Sheen plays the priest, Jozo Zovko, sympathetically enough, if a bit too anxious for piety. Michael York turns in a believable performance as the lawyer who defends Father Zovko when he is eventually tried for treason. Despite the potential of such a unique real story, this film sometimes demonstrates less subtlety than made-for-TV fare in its heavy-handed dialogue and direction. But the sensation that this film is better suited to the small screen's "affliction du jour" set could easily be attributed to the fact that it features a hand-wringing, red-eyed Morgan Fairchild trying to look demure in a habit. (HZ)
(PG; 103 min.) The story of an R&B singer whose father gets sick. Features Clifton Powell and Yolanda Adams.
(R; 90 min.) Frequent NYPD Blue director Davis Guggenheim's feature debut is this humorless college-campus thriller, as phony as the faux-vérité camerawork on Blue. Co-screenwriter Gregory Poirier's previous work, the historical drama Rosewood, is a much superior film with a similar theme: how the spreading of a rumor leads to mayhem and tragedy. To demonstrate the power of gossip for a communications studies class project, three college roommates (James Marsden, Lena Headey, Norman Reedus) spread a nasty rumor around campus about a rich girl (Kate Hudson) known for her vow of chastity. But the experiment gets out of hand when the girl accuses her boyfriend (Joshua Jackson) of date rape, the local police launch an investigation and one of the roommates begins behaving suspiciously. By the time Gossip unveils its penultimate plot twist, moviegoers won't care what happens because none of the characters are interesting, and they'll spend most of the film distracted by the laughably spacious apartment that these three dirt-poor college students somehow manage to afford. (JA)
(R; 115 min.) Writer-director Allison Anders' greatest achievement is her decision to keep Illeana Douglas the center of attention as a Carole King-like singer/songwriter, even as the plot of Grace of My Heart meanders its way through American pop-music history from the girl-group eras to the dawn of female folk singers in the early '70s. Anders holds her camera tight on Douglas' hugely expressive features, allowing the rich play of emotions on her face to direct the course of the melodrama. The movie opens in 1958, with Douglas' Philadelphia heiress Edna Buxton taking first place in a singing contest, which earns her the special attention of producer Joel Millner (John Turturro), who puts her to work as chief songwriter for a Shirelles-like group and changes her name to Denise Waverly in order to conceal her wealthy background. Denise writes a song about unplanned pregnancy just before creating one of her own with a bohemian intellectual (Eric Stoltz), at which point Grace of My Heart becomes increasingly dependent on a string of boyfriend characters to sketch its version of pop life in the '60s: Denise gets steamrolled by Beatlemania when it causes her music-journalist lover (Bruce Davison) to leave town; and she experiences the counterculture through her relationship with Jay Phillips (Matt Dillon), a boyish surfer-group guitarist whom Anders strains to equate with Brian Wilson. By the time Denise finally does make it bigafter her ridiculous stint pulling up turnips in a hippie communethe film's hallucinogenic sense of time makes you wonder if Anders is likening her to Carole King or Nancy Sinatra. (RN)
(PG-13; 92 min.) Set in New Jersey in the 1970s, Gracie tells the story of a family coping with the death of their brother Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer), a red-hot high school soccer star. Sister Gracie (Carly Schroeder) copes by urging her family to let her take the boy's place on the field. Insert an hour of sexist patronization and training montages here until everyone wises up and realizes that Gracie is the next Pele. Certainly, some of the scenes are more lived-in than others: the news of the crash itself, indicated by the girl waking up to the red police lights flickering on her bedroom wall, or Gracie's brief but interesting attempts to run wild at the New Jersey shore. I'd wager that director Davis Guggenheim and producers Elizabeth and Andrew Shue gave this story a bit of a class downgrade, since the improvident, moving-van operating father (Dermot Mulroney) sure doesn't look like he went to Harvard, which is where Shue's father captained the team in real life. (RvB)
(1967) A really evocative soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel and one memorable shot (Dustin Hoffman framed behind a woman's bent leg) make Mike Nichols' social comedy memorable. Hoffman, as the confused little ex-student Benjamin, discovers that his elders are lechers and foolsand seeks out the one innocent woman he can find to help him fight their powers. Unfortunately, that woman is the daughter of Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) his parent's best friend, with whom he's been having a pointless affair. Even after 25 years, The Graduate should have an impact on any set of people sprung out of college and unsure what to do with their livesthough as you get older and more comfortable, you just can't help feeling that Mrs. Robinson was wasted on him. For its revival, a new 35mm Panavision print in Technicolor has been struck. (RvB)
(1932/1935) Like many 73-year-old hotels, a bit run down and coasting on the old reputation. Grand Hotel is an influential and much celebrated anthology film based on Vicki Baum's noveland a predecessor of the disaster movies of the 1970s. Everyone with a memory called Airport "Grand Hotel on wings," for instance. Greta Garbo plays the exhausted ballerina Grushinskaya, who is sleepless despite satin pajamas and the best hotel room in Berlin: "I've never been so tired in my life ... not even the Veronal can help me sleep." Giving her a reason to brush the sleep from her eyes is a soi-disant Baron (John Barrymore, a professor of the art of delicate blackguarding). As Pauline Kael observed, the 25-year gap between Garbo and Barrymore's ages meant nothing, since Garbo's weariness synced up with Barrymore's own dissipation. Also starring John's brother, croaking Lionel, as an old dog having his day; Joan Crawford as a knowing trick of a stenographer; and Wallace Beery as a Teutonic tycoon on the brink of business collapse. BILLED WITH Anna Karenina. Garbo's second time as Anna, after the silent version Love; fans tactfully say that one notices nothing but the actress, and the railroad-side finale is a triumph of her art. Fredric March is not as deathless as Vronsky, but Basil Rathbone and Freddie Bartholomew are perfectly cast as the tragic lady's husband and son. (RvB)
(R; 109 min.) Expelled from Harvard, an American named Matthew Bruckner (Elijah Wood) joins a "firm"a group of London football hooligans. Star Charlie Hunnam's grudges against Yanks would draw more water if every single mannerism the actor had wasn't drawn from Brad Pitt. Director Lexi Alexander has been claiming she wants to be the female Michael Mann, but she doesn't demonstrate an attention span suited for anything but TV commercialsmood, logic and the very issue of football violence are shuffled aside to make an uplifting movie about gang war, suited to an audience of orcs. Alexander's deaf ear and blind eye to the class-structure in England make matters worse. (RvB)
(1984) A bit of Xmas relief by the admirable Joe Dante (Looney Tunes: Back in Action). A mysterious pet bought from the store of Keye Luke sires a hoard of scaly vandals that go on a rampage. The sweet-faced Phoebe Cates and Zach Galligan play the teens who try to ward off the plague. Cates tells a storystolen from a Gahan Wilson cartoonabout why she's always dreaded Christmas, but that's only part of the hoard of in-jokes guaranteed to delight animation and science fiction fans. The film spawned a number of imitations and a superior sequel written by Berkeleyite Charlie Haas (who scripted Dante's movie Matinee). (RvB)
(R; 91 min.) Detroit musicians and junkies Spoon (the late Tupac Shakur) and Stretch (Tim Roth) decide to quit heroin and quickly discover how thoroughly understaffed and indifferent the public health system is. Shakur gives a clear, honest performance in a sometimes ridiculous script; Roth, showing off his knowledge of ebonics, reminded me of how Sammy Davis Jr.'s blackness would be joked around with in a Rat Pack movie. Gridlock'd is often like a heroin version of Richard Donner's 1968 Salt and Pepper, especially in the way Stretch and Spoon's friend Cookie (Thandie Newton) functions as Shirley MacLaine used toto prove the dear male friends more obviously straight. In flashback, Cookie offers herself to both men simultaneously; equally stupid are the scenes in which she performs some free-form jazz poetry as Spoon twangs on a bass and Stretch doodles on piano. Still Gridlock'd has its points. Director/writer Vondie Curtis-Hall ought to quit writing but keep directing. The look of urban clinics and welfare offices, the views of people who wait in them for help, and the scenes of the social workers are very convincing indeed. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) Four skaters try to crack the big-time in this comedy. Skateboarding may not be a crime, but films like this that get dumped in the middle of August usually are. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(R; 103 min.) Werner Herzog's startling documentary about the passion and death of a fellow filmmaker. In October 2003, an Alaskan grizzly bear killed and ate filmmaker Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. Though he'd spent 13 summers photographing the bears, Treadwell was an unlikely mountaineer: a beardless, blond-haired chatterbox with a lisp. Still, he had the bravery and persistence to get close to the bears. Though he always had the camera in the right place, it's likely he was so close that his familiarity bred contempt. Unlike Treadwell, Herzog understands the weight of what he's watching. Herzog's handling of the videotape of the death of Treadwell and Huguenard is an act of intelligent discretion, contrasted against a culture where we expect to hear every scream. Choosing not to make a snuff film, Herzog shows his own humanity. Wise yet spare, this is the most moving documentary of the year. (RvB)
(1994) Sardonic comedy about a French movie star's double, who is engaged on a reckless campaign of sexual harassment and other forms of misbehavior. The meek actor Michel Blanc stars with gorgeous comedienne Carole Bouquet and the tough, funny Josiane Balasko, last seen here in the bisexual comedy French Twist. (RvB)
(R; 106 min.) For those who think Nicolas Cage's career has gone downhill since Valley Girl, Grosse Pointe Blank is just the thing. Telling the story of a hit man (John Cusack) attending his 10-year high school reunion, the film proves once and for all just how good Cusack can be when he gets an interesting character to play. Complications include an ex-girlfriend (Minnie Driver) he once stood up on prom night, government agents and a rival assassin (Dan Aykroyd, for once stretching his comedic muscles in a well-written part) who's pressuring him to join a newly formed hit men's union. The result is a strangely enjoyable mix of noir violence and '80s nostalgiaas if Quentin Tarantino had directed a sequel to The Breakfast Club. Far more terrifying than any of the many stabbing and shootings, though, is the gruesome spectacle of the balding, paunchy, reunited classmates gamely attempting to dance to the New Wave hits of their collectively lost youth. (ZS)
(PG-13) Inevitably, it's paler the second time around. A haunted house in Tokyo reaches out beyond its walls to destroy even those who have casual contact with it. Its victims include an American exchange student (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who has come to do some volunteer work with a mute, derelict old lady (a well-cast Grace Zabriskie). Director Takashi Shimizu remakes his Ju-On with increased logic (probably because of the script by Stephen Susco); the story makes more sense but has less fright power when we have a clear idea of what's going on. Two key scenesthe appearance of a ghost who doesn't realize he's a ghost, and a broken-bodied specter climbing down a staircasehave been altered to lesser effect. This is true despite so many of the original elements, including the sudden comings and goings of the weird toddler; Yuya Ozeki reprising his role as the ghost of a murdered child, who has a black cat as a familiar. The American cast is a help. Gellar's always-present slight air of melancholia is deepened by her being a gaijin in Japan. The isolation of transplanted Westerners is part of the film's mood, especially in a parallel episode with the angry-looking actress Clea DuVall, who plays a Yank businessman's wife. While The Grudge is definitely more elegant than mall-horror fare, its strictly for those who can't get a copy of the original. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) In this sequel to the 1993 hit, Lemmon's character is now married to Ann-Margret, but Matthau's grumpier than ever. His off-handed misanthropy makes wise-guy Kevin Pollak (as his son) seem humane. Sophia Loren (as a visitor who wants to refashion a bait shop as a trattoria) is radiant, once again transforming material to earthy from crude. Never mind the story; Grumpier Old Men is not plot-, dialog- or character-drivenbut actor-driven. Lemmon and Matthau deftly time their banter; unfortunately, their lines lack the originality and wit of, say, Beavis and Butt-head's patter. St. Sophia's a wonder of the world, and even Burgess Meredith, who made his film debut when Sophia was a toddler, has fun as Lemmon's randy old man. We should all do so well at their age. (DH)
(1930) George Cukor co-directs an adaptation of a popular play. An irascible London lawyer (Cyril Maude) is called out to untangle the mystery of a missing diamond. Nitrate print from the UCLA archives. (RvB)
(1993) Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon star as a different sort of odd couple: small-town Minnesotans devoted to ice-fishing. They were monosyllabic enemies for more than 50 years, and then they're stimulated by the arrival of a new girl in townthe ever-vivacious Ann-Margret. There's a lot to be said for a time-honed act like Matthau and Lemmon'sthe old bloodhound vs. the jittery terrier, but this has the slow rhythms of a sitcom; all that's missing is the laugh track. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) Debut film by Santiago Parra includes an inexpensively staged version of the pretty legend of the Virgin Mary (Sandra Estil), Juan Diego (José Carlos Ruiz) and his miraculous tilpa. As told here, the story includes a pair of stooges who slap at each other for gusty comedy relief. Meanwhile, modern-day searchers have to confront their own skepticism about the sacred image. The evidence of divine origin is shot back and forth by the characters as they enjoy the local sites; if you're going to have an unwinnable religious discussion, by all means have it on a flower boat at Xochimilco. The somberly offered evidence is all there to pique the faithful; for instance, the story that Nobel Prize winner Richard Kuhn declared that the pigment in the Virgin's image was not of this earth. Beamed in from heaven or painted up quick by scheming padres trying to catch a ride on the goddess Tontazin? Who cares? The origins of this beautiful and easy-to-love religious icon are less important than the maternal grace she represents: a grace so common it requires no proof. In Spanish with subtitles. (RvB)
(105 min.) Guantanamera explores such themes as death, socialism and the power of the American dollar in Cuba with a story that adds a twist to the road-trip genre: a cross-country funeral procession. Gina (Mirta Ibarra) is an economics professor who has been forced out of her job. Adolfo (Carlos Cruz), her socialism-obsessed husband, has been demoted to the position of overseeing funerals in Guantanamo. Adolfo gets a chance to win back his "prestige" when Gina's aunt suddenly dies, giving him the opportunity to test a new system for transporting the dead to their final resting places. Along for the ride is Cándido (Raúl Eguren), the grieving longtime love of Gina's aunt, whose haunting visions of a little girl clad in old-fashioned black clothing adds an appealing aspect of magical realism. (HZ)
(PG-13; 136 min.) Andrew Davis' U.S. Coast Guard drama essentially recaps Top Gun and other basic training films, except that instead of Tom Cruise as the cocky young hotshot, we get Ashton Kutcher, and for the crusty old veteran we get the not-so-crusty Kevin Costner. After an on-the-job accident, rescue swimmer Ben Randall (Costner) reluctantly agrees to teach at the academy, where he meets Jake (Kutcher), a former high school swimming champ. Davis once excelled at "B" action pictures, and he punctuates the film with clear, exciting rescue scenes. But not even he can deflate the movie's noble seriousness or trim its interminable running time; it's as if the movie were petrified of disrespecting the USCG in any way; like a trainee stuck underwater, it forgets to breathe. (JMA)
(PG-13; 97 min.) Isn't it kind of weird that 95 percent of people who go to see this movie won't realize it's a remake of Stanley Kramer's 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? It's not that Kramer's film has been forgotten, it's just that when people were talking about a remake a couple of years ago, no one suspected they were talking about a comedy starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher. Why, if I didn't feel the need to slavishly report to everything Bernie Mac does because he's so damn funny, I'd have a mind to skip this. (Capsule preview by SP)
(G; 88 min.) Someone here didn't understand the concept of leaving well enough alone. Gumby, the amiable animated star of TV claymation shorts since 1956, appears in his firstand hopefully onlyfeature-length movie. The film's intentions are as well-meaning as the little green guy himself but, unfortunately, just as ineffectual as a blob of clay. Gumby and his band, the Clayboys, hold a benefit concert for farmers when they hear that a loan company, run by none other than Gumby's arch-enemies, the Blockheads, is planning to foreclose on local farms. At the concert, the Blockheads discover a strange quirk about Gumby's dogwhenever the band performs, the dog cries tears that turn into pearls. Yeah, whatever. So the Blockheads plot to kidnap the dog and later, the entire band. Eighty-eight minutes, five robot clones, two music videos and one big, long chase scene later, you're wondering how the Hollywood ideal has even managed to corrupt everyone's favorite Plastocene hero. (HZ)
(R; 88 min.) Harmony Korine (who wrote the screenplay for Kids) directs a gritty film about some disaffected teenagers in a small town in Ohio. It's not a documentary, but it eschews narrative and character development in favor of a meandering, episodic style. The incidents recorded in the amoral lives of these rootless teens include some particularly unpleasant and downright nasty moments, so don't go expecting Slacker. Look for Linda Manz, the narrator in Days of Heaven, in her first role in 20 years.
(1939) Gunga Din, the grandfather of the Indiana Jones movies and a hugely entertaining Hollywood opus about the Raj. The film is based on Kipling's very serious barracks ballad, but one doubts he'd recognize it. Director George Stevens and screenwriter Ben Hecht (among others) transformed and mocked what was then a common kind of movie about rollicking, battling fraternal soldiers, complete with the usual canny sergeant (as always, the ex-boxer Victor McLaglen). In this tall tale, soldiers of the Royal Sappers stationed on the North-West Frontier hold the line against an uprising by the strangler-cult of Kali. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Cary Grantat the peak of his athleticismplay the ripping-yarn Victorian adventure for all it's worth. Not only is this sheer fun, but it has a certain relevance today. Read this most un-PC film as a parody of what's going through the minds of the most bloodthirsty strategists and TV newspaper columnists, many of whom were thumbing feverishly through their Kipling to find something sobering to say about Afghanistan. It was shot very expensively in the California high-desert country, which looks quite a bit like the Hindu Kush; the photography is by Joseph H. August, but at times you'd swear it was the work of Ansel Adams. Sam Jaffee stars as the title carrier, a bhisti (water carrier) who becomes a saint; Eduardo Ciannelli plays the Anti-Din, the thug leader"Brothers! Kill for the love of killing! Kill for the love of Kali!" (RvB)
(R; 102) This comedy stars Liam Neeson as a stressed-out federal undercover agent trying to bust a mafioso (Oliver Platt) in a sting operation. Sandra Bullock also stars.
(R; 94 min.) An Indian dance teacher (Jimi Mistry) becomes famous for all the wrong reasons when he moves to New York. Also stars Heather Graham and Marisa Tomei.
(1955/1957) Good ol' reliable Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) bets his associate Skyso called because of his sky's-the-limit betsthat he can't put the make on a very pretty Salvation Army sergeant (Jean Simmons). The film of Frank Loesser's brash hit musical features Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson, the role Sinatra probably would have preferred, and a role for which Gene Kelly was the first choice. The fact that Brando had never sung onscreen didn't stop things. As producer Samuel Goldwyn's biographer A. Scott Berg put it, "Goldwyn spent $5.5 million overproducing the movie." One result of the overproduction is Oliver Smith's remarkable 42nd Street set, even if it tends to dwarf the cast. Vivian Blaine (as Adelaide) and Stubby Kaye re-create their stage roles. BILLED WITH Jailhouse Rock. Elvis Presley stars as a punk of a singer who gets humanity lessons, the hard way. Elvis is very surly, surprisingly so, and the scene where he tells off an older jazz fan ("Man, I don't know what the hell you're talking about") is so abrupt it always gets startled laughter. Seeing Elvis here, especially in the phenomenal title numbera jail-themed song and dance for a TV showit's impossible to imagine his vitality would be squandered in so many subsequent bad movies. The ill-fated actress Judy Tyler plays the lead here; the actress got her start as the eye-candy Princess Summerfallwinterspring on the hit marionette show Howdy Doody. (Plays Oct 29-31 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 101 min.) Julia Stiles is a little like Keanu Reeves. She seems like a good reason to see a movie, but isn't. It's hard to know why Reeves got that way, but Stiles deserves to be liked. She is good in State and Main, and she brings a likable confidence to her role as a rebel high schooler who is pretty but, ironically, doesn't like to date in the otherwise horrible 10 Things I Hate About You. She does it again in A Guy Thing as the inspirational cutiepie who shows someone else's fiance (Jason Lee) that he's marrying the wrong attractive cousin (the once curvaceous Selma Blair). Still, she makes bad movies. If you'll notice, ads for A Guy Thing are conspicuously devoid of critical acclaim messages like the always informative "A hilarious romp." In this case that's because the movie sucks. (AG)