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(Unrated; 112 min.) Larry Fessenden's NY underground film about Sam (Fessenden) a hard-drinking young man messed up by the loss of his father and a break-up from his girlfriend. On Halloween, Sam is picked up by Anna (Meredith Snaider), a girl who loves the nightlife as much as he does. Perhaps delusional from too much alcohol, Sam begins to fantasize sexual encounters in which the vampirish Anna is drinking his blood. Fessenden previously did the shorts No Telling (1991), Hollow Venus (1989), The Rocket Movie (1987) and Experienced Movers.
(PG-13; 104 min.) The problem with cybergeek actioners is that the ecstatic bond between nerd and machine doesn't readily translate to the big screen. There's a limit to how much suspense you can generate with the control-alt-delete command. In Hackers, director Iain Softly gamely deploys an arsenal of visual tricksfast motion, blazing computer animation, MTV editingto soup the action up to Pentium speeds. But if the sizzling graphics sidestep the boy-and-his-keyboard syndrome, they also come off looking like that Inside Intel commercial. The plot pits a clique of high-school hackers with cool handles like "Cereal Killer" and "Acid Burn" against "The Plague," a venal computer nerd from the Baby Boom generation (played by Fisher Stevens, resembling a chubby Bono). When the good hackers stumble upon The Plague's profit-skimming software, many skateboard chases ensue, keeping events rolling until the young hackers can save the day with the control-alt-delete key. Lead hacker "Zero Cool" (Jonny Lee Miller) appears to have seen Matthew Broderick in War Games a few times too many, and he isn't assisted by the script, which at one point has him making sexual entendres about RISC chips. (JW)
(1944/1930) Not the best of Preston Sturges; his seemingly boundless talent here shows signs of drying up in Hail the Conquering Hero. A fourth-generation soldier (Eddie Bracken) gets kicked out of the military for his health but is adopted by a party of homeward-bound vets. BILLED WITH Animal Crackers. Before there was Ernest Shackletonwell, not really before, but not too long afterthere was Capt. Jeffrey T. Spaulding (Mr. Groucho Marx), the African explorer who, with courage and defiance, risked his life for science, hey, hey! A great raconteur, Spaulding can tell you African lore you'll never hear on the Nature Channel: "One night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I'll never know." This hero and his young secretary, Horatio (Zeppo Marx), rest from these travels at the fancy estate of a plump and wealthy goose (Margaret Dumont). To earn their keep, they foil art thieves and dally with visiting riffraff: the pianist Emanuel Ravelli (Chico Marx) and "The Professor" (Harpo Marx). A co-star is the sweet-faced singer Lillian Rothone of the first actors ever to make a buck with a book describing her battle with alcohol. Music and lyrics by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar. (RvB)
(1944/1946) At the Dog Watch bar in San Francisco, six crapped-out Marines just back from Guadalcanal run into a runty civilian (Eddie Bracken) who rejoices in the name Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith. This mope was a Marine himself, for a few weeks before chronic hay fever got him a medical discharge. The shame of having let down his name and his family's distinguished military tradition has made him hide in San Francisco. After a few drinks the Sarge (William Demerest) has the bright idea of disguising Woodrow as one of the gang, so he can go back to his mom once again. Unfortunately, word leaks out of the "hero's" return, and there's not one but four brass bands waiting for him at the railway station platform. This is lesser Preston Sturges, flawed by an essentially one-joke premise, a part that mostly requires Bracken to turn 40 shades of green, and a leading lady (Ella Raines) who's more about glamour than about engaging quirks. However, the routines about small-town politics are very cutting. And the one and only Demerest, the Sultan of Snarl, never had a bigger part, not even in Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, where his clowning makes your jaw drop. His Sarge is a gravelly war hero who has an elastic notion of heroism: "Ya got a statue in the park and the birds sit on it." Justifying the elaborate lies he's telling: "It's the truth, ah, but we're changing the names a little so as not to give out military information." The rich shrug that Sarge makes in church, as the pastor pours it on Woodrow from the pulpitthis little gesture is the summation of both Sturges' tasty cynicism and his amused, helpless acceptance of American boobery. (The Swift Boat debacle certainly gives this a little relevance, too.) BILLED WITH A Night in Casablanca. In the French colony all is not well. Three managers of the Hotel Casablanca have been murdered in the last month, and there's some skullduggery about a vanished planeload of loot and a secret Nazi toupee. The scar-faced Count Pfefferman (Sig Rumann) is involved. He is clearly no hero to his valet (Harpo Marx), whom he regularly addresses as "schweinhundt." Nor does he impress the owner of the Yellow Camel Cab company (Chico Marx). The new hotel manager, Ronald Kornblow, promises to worsen the local situation. Here is a slouching, cigar-smoking creature in an ill-fitting tropical suit and a jaunty fez; Kornblow is played by an actor whose temerity has never met its equal onscreen. Groucho has a too-little celebrated foilslinky Lisette Verea, who performs "Who's Sorry Now?" in English and French. Weilding a cigarette holder, Verea does that old silent-movie heartthrob trick of blowing a little smoke in her leading man's face. Groucho gives her a cigar blast back and says through the clouds, "This is like living in Pittsboig. If you can call that living." Frank Tashlinpioneer of movies that are live-action cartoonswas an uncredited rewrite man. (Plays Mar 25-27 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)
(1988) "There's a dance / They call it 'The Roach' / It's takin' the cities from coast to coast!" Early 1960s hits like "The Roach" are the backbone of John Waters' mainstream-friendly film, now a Broadway hit. Baltimore 1961: Ricki Lake plays Tracy Turnblatt, chubby heroine of the struggle to racially integrate TV's The Corny Collins Show. The show stealer is Divine as Tracy's mother Edna; though fearsomely overweight and crabby, she's a mom you'd want on your side. Very rich and full of startling celebrity cameos. Strangely, there's a very touching make-out scene here, composed of such elements as ridiculously tonguey interracial kissing, a puddle of rainwater, a reflected moonbeam, Toussaint McCall's rapturous soul ballad "Nothing Can Take the Place of You" andthis being a John Waters moviea live rat. (RvB)
(R; 82 min.) Call it pot, weed, grass or reefer, this movie is all about marijuana. It's made for pot heads, friends of pot heads and people who can laugh at red-eye, the munchies and a giant hookah named Billy Bong Thornton. When Kenny (Harland Williams) gets put in jail for accidentally killing a diabetic police horse, his friends (Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Diaz and Jim Breuer) cook up a plan to raise the money to get him out to save his, shall we say, virtue from a love-struck inmate. What follows is a zany adventure filled with stoney mishaps, strange occurrences and star cameos, including Tommy Chong, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Willie Nelson. This is not brilliant cinema, but director Tamra Davis' movie is funny much more often than it's not. What's baffling is there's no 4:20 show locally. (SQ)
(R; 106 min.) Expanded from a 2004 short film, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's Half Nelson is a highly intelligent, emotionally ambiguous film that constantly surprises by sidestepping conventionality. Ryan Gosling turns in an admirable performance as a dedicated inner-city junior high school history teacher, who also happens to be a drug addict. When one of his students, Drey (the equally good Shakira Epps), catches him lighting up, the two simply become friends. The film continuously dabbles near familiar plot threads, only to snap back. The Lolita plot that seems so obvious never comes, and Drey's growing relationship with a charming neighborhood drug dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie), never goes where we think it will go. Even the ending provides no concrete resolution—only a snippet of hope. (JMA)
(PG-13; 99 min.) And way beyond too fat for this kind of action film. Steven Seagal goes undercover to thwart an attack on the new Alcatraz.
(1933/1932) This week, the Stanford revives some rare musicals. Hallelujah, I'm a Bum concerns Bumper (Al Jolson), the mayor of the hobo jungle in Central Park, who rescues the suicidal mistress (Madge Evans) of his buddy, the real mayor of New York (Frank Morgan, looking very tired). The tunesnone well knownare by Rodgers and Hart. Jolson's appeal has vanished utterly. The wide, conniving gap-toothed face is like a yokel comedian in an Eastern European movie; and the voice has basically what you'd want for an early sound star: loud. And in this lesser movie, perhaps only of historical interest, he's caught in a schmaltzy plot. He pours show-biz oil on troubled waters (represented by silent comedian Harry Langdon as a Communist agitator called Egghead who keeps trying to stir up the happy hobos with a bunch of foolish ideas). Lastly, the film's suffused with too much racism to shrug off. Incidentally, Harry "Haywire Mac" MacClintock's famous song, from which this movie lifted its title, doesn't turn up here. BILLED WITH The Kid From Spain. Discovered hiding in a girl's dormitory, Eddie Cantor and his buddy Robert Young head for Mexico, where Cantor is forced to disguise himself as Don Sebastian, the bullfighter (and, again with the black face!). Cantor got the idea from the life of his friend Sidney Franklin, the Brooklyn-born matador once interviewed by Lillian Ross of The New Yorker (it's collected in Ross' book Reporting). When asked if he feared the bulls, Franklin replied, "Death, shmeath, as long as I've got my health." This million-dollar musical (back when a million dollars meant something) features Paulette Goddard, Lucille Ball, Betty Grable and Jane Wyman among the thinly dressed chorines. Dance sequences by Busby Berkeley. (RvB)
(R; 109 min.) In the 1978 original, John Carpenter spent about three minutes introducing the killer, Michael Myers. Rob Zombie's remake spends at least 45 minutes doing the same, carefully going over every detail of his motivation—and in effect muddling it. This in turn leaves far less time for Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and friends, and so the climactic killings slide by with no emotional connection. Zombie's movie is predictably gorier than Carpenter's. But where Carpenter used creepy, gliding hand-held camerawork, Zombie goes with jerky, hand-held fare, all in close-up and much of it obscured. All suspense is gone, and all that remains is Zombie's little tributes to his favorite actors, songs and movies. Only Malcolm McDowell brings something fresh to the role of Dr. Loomis. (JMA)
(R; 88 min.) Another blood-fest starring the insatiable, impossible-to-kill Michael Myers and a whole host of supporting characters with impossibly low IQ points (yawn). This film is so banal and predictable that it isn't even sort of scary. The plotif that's really what it isfollows the pointless adventures of a masked murderer and his uncannily stupid victims, who do all the things doomed horror-movie characters are supposed to do, such as walking alone into dark basements, following strange noises and happily occupying the former home of a serial killer. Like every other bad gore film, The Curse of Michael Myers follows the same old formula: each victim takes a ridiculously long time to die, and it never seems to occur to anyone to turn on a light. Michael's strange desire to kill every member of his family and anyone else who happens to be in the neighborhood is, of course, blamed on an evil pagan cult that is apparently worshipping himanother overdone and offensive movie stereotype that frees filmmakers from the burden of hiring a real scriptwriter. (BB)
(R; 82 min.) This sequel to the moody, enervated original film has few surprises. What makes it sometimes intriguing is the underrated Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, now a California private-school headmistress still (!) pursued by her supernaturally homicidal, masked brother, Michael. There's no twist to this brief film, but it does give Curtis a few opportunities to act. In her best scene, she reveals her hidden past to a new boyfriend (Adam Arkin). If only Curtis were allowed to go more to piecesto have more snarling conflict with her 17-year-old son, John (Josh Hartnett). If only Curtis were again part of an oppressive landscape that coughs up monsters. The weirdly static small town in the first Halloween was the best part of the horror. Even before the knife attacks in the original, Curtis seemed to be wandering in this zombieville numb with angstin a migraine aura. Curtis' efforts are half-undone by the hack director Steve Miner, but there are instances of smartness here. Best of all, as in Scream (whose success was the reason this sequel was made), horror-film fans aren't treated like stooges. (RvB)
(R; 94 min.) Clueless teens spend the night in slasher Michael Myers' house on Halloween eve. Jamie Lee Curtis shows up to remind viewers that this franchise actually had a well-made beginning.
(2000) Not the plot, but the place, make this Tunisian import diverting. In Naceur Ktari's film, Tunis is a stronghold of secularism untroubled by the tides of fundamentalism washing over the region. Slah (Noureddine El Ati) is a theatrical director freshly recovered from a nervous breakdown. He begins research on his new play, but falls for a woman he encounters through a chance accident. His wife (Ines Baili) remedies the situation. The theme is very 1960s: crazy directors needing their muses and their wives understanding somehow. Despite the dated material, the locals and scenes of a still relatively open North African society are encouraging. (RvB)
(PG-13; 92 min.) The only genuine moment in writers Nora and Delia Ephron's purported tribute to sisterhood is a manipulative speech given by Georgia (Diane Keaton), a ruthless, successful magazine publisher who turns on the crocodile tears during an address to a roomful of starstruck businesswomen. Georgia's self-satisfied calculation rings true because it sums up the entirety of Hanging Up; in particular, her weeping, fawning audience of women could only represent the Ephron sisters openly admitting contempt for their own audience. Keaton also directed this film about three sisters, of whom Georgia is the eldest; Eve (Meg Ryan), the middle child, is a harried mom with a home business and the burden of single-handedly caring for their senile father (Walter Matthau); Lisa Kudrow is Maddy, the youngest, a self-absorbed soap-opera star. Pressed by too many demands, Eve is overwrought (and unduly so, most other characters too-obviously insist), but she's clearly the heroine of this tale of sibling spite and fashionable dysfunction. You see, in the Ephrons' version of womanhood, the only good kind of woman is the all-sacrificing mommysuccessful career women like Georgia and Maddy can only be cruel and selfish. But even the most conscientious moms aren't off the hook here: the film's maternal types may bravely bear the weight of the world on their shoulders, but because they have martyr complexes, the Ephrons suggest that they deserve it. At least the movie does get one thing right: women do face more demands than ever these daysof course, most of us don't have the time to wallow in this kind of indulgent self-loathing. (HZ)
(1988) A biopic about Hannah Senseh (Meruschka Detmers), a Jewish Hungarian poet who left the relative safety of Palestine to go underground as a resistance hero in Europe, with graphically tragic results. Also stars Ellen Burstyn, David Warner, and Donald Pleasence. (RvB)
(PG; 98 min.) Tex Avery, faced with an assignment from producer Walter Lantz, said, "Shucks, you can't do anything with a fuzzy wuzzy little penguin." Avery stuck it out (and his 1955 "Legend of Rockabye Point" was nominated for an Oscar), but no one ever spit milk through their noses thinking of a Chilly Willy cartoon. Here we go again, then: Mumble (Elijah Wood) the Antarctic penguin can't sing and thus can't find a mate. He does have one talent—an ability to tap dance. When he learns of the existence of "aliens" (human beings) who may be responsible for the lack of fish, he determines to trek over the ice and meet them. March of the Penguins meets Lord of the Rings when the penguin hooks up with the harrumphing Lovelace the Guru (a Rockhopper penguin voiced by Robin Williams) and five Adelie penguins (another Williams voice here, this time doing Latino dialect). First, it's too cute; then it's too cruel, since during the trek Lovelace is strangling with a plastic six-pack ring around his neck: remember how the strangling dog was such a deal breaker for so many in Babe: Pig in the City? (Also directed by George Miller, of Mad Max fame.) Why this particular method for adding tension? Mumble's dance moves (derived from the steps of Savion Glover) are charming for a number or two, but then the film gets too wearisome for anyone over 6. It's another CG cartoon that seems to have been fitted out with so many elements that no one could tell where it was meant to go. (RvB)
(PG-13; 102 min.) Happy Gilmore may not be a hole in one, but the latest Adam Sandler comedy has not completely missed its mark. The only man in ice hockey to stab another player with the blade of his skate, Gilmore (Sandler) is gifted with the driving ambition and the necessary violent streak to play the game, but he lacks the talent needed to fulfill his lifelong dream. He soon discovers, however, that he has a natural knack for golf With the help of golf legend Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers), Gilmore learns to improve his game while taking on Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald), an uppity champion player eager to regain the spotlight. While Happy Gilmore provides a few good laughs, including a scene in which Gilmore and game show host Bob Barker duke it out, there are never any truly hilarious moments. For those who enjoyed Billy Madison and other recent attempts from the Saturday Night Live gang, Happy Gilmore may live up to expectations; otherwise, wait for the video. (NP)
(PG; 106 min.) Director Zhang Yimou, usually up for social-realist seriousness, has created a robust comedy with an unfortunate tragic finish. A hapless, sponging retired professor, Zhai (played by the comedian Zhao Benshan) is apparently given to proposing marriage to just about anyone. His newest marriage vow is to a hideo-comic fat lady (Dong Lifan). The awful woman is single-parenting the kind of spoiled and overfed child referred to in Chinese slang as "a little emperor"; moreover, the mean woman treats her blind stepdaughter, Wu Ying (Dong Jie), as wickedly as the stepmother treated Cinderella. To sweeten up his greedy wife to be, Zhai convinces her that he's connected with the management of a fancy hotel. However, he's then pressured to get Wu a job as a legitimate masseuse. While the model may be Italian neorealism, the film is a reminder of how much neorealism owed to the tales of poverty and outlandish money-making plans in the movies of Lloyd, Chaplin and Keaton. The little blind girl is clearly borrowed from Chaplin's City Lights, just as the professor's strategy of using scissors to chop inexpensive carnations into "roses" plays like an ingenious joke from the great days of silent comedy. The film turns tragic in the end to honor the downbeat finales of neorealism, but it seems like a cheat: you're left looking for that one last great piece of trickery to cap the film. (RvB)
(PG-13) Whoa! Keanu Reeves plays a gambler who finds the means to pay off his debts by grudgingly taking a job as a coach for a Little League team.
(1992) John Woo directed this actioner that stars Chow Yun-Fat as a tough Hong Kong cop, who, after losing his partner in a shoot-out with Triad-related gun smugglers, teams with an undercover cop (Tony Leung) in an effort to stop the mob's gun smuggling.
(1964) Ironical pop stars George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are chased around England by their demented female fans. Director Richard Lester creates the modern style of the music video in stunt-film techniques designed for TV commercialsspeed-up and slow-motion, ultra-close-ups juxtaposed with helicopter shots. It seems as if he were trying to make rock music itself visual, trying to show on screen the tension between shout and murmur, chorus and verse: the call of the singer, the screaming response of the crowd. After A Hard Day's Night, rock influenced the way the movies looked and felt. Ringo is the one I picked in the schoolyard game where you had to choose just one Beatle to be your friend for life. In one slow, thoughtful moment in this frantic film, Ringo walks off a hangover by an unclean canal on a Sunday morning, his ordinarily soulful face given that saintly look a hangover always gives youmy favorite passage in the film, though most prefer the glimpse of the plain blonde girl weeping her heart out over George. Youth won't endure, but chronic Beatlemania never dies. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 101 min.) A Vegas-busted drifter, John (John C. Reilly), accepts a cup of coffee from a solicitous older man, Sydney (Philip Baker Hall). John desperately needs the kind of direction that the experienced Sydney provides, and the two quickly become a team of sorts, working the casinos. When John gets himself entangled with a half-bright waitress, Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), and a threatening hood, Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson), he turns to Sydney for salvation. Hard Eight hedges its bets before revealing Sydney's secret reasons for "adopting" John and Clementine, but the emotional surprise is not worth the wait. First-time director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson's skill at storytelling hasn't caught up with his gift for dialogue and willingness to give his actors (particularly the marvelous Hall) room to maneuver. (MSG)
(1956) Humphrey Bogart plays an ex-sports writer hired by Rod Steiger to promote a formidable-looking but weak fighter (hence the title). Real-life pugilist Max Baer co-stars; the film was Bogart's last feature. (RvB)
When critics of Hollywood say there should be more films featuring minorities, they're probably not talking about this movie, which touted its diverse ethnic cast as "that Asian guy from American Pie and that Indian guy from Van Wilder." But then, this isn't a movie for leftist intellectualsit's a movie for stoners. It is, in fact, a movie for the stoniest of the stoned. At the same time, it's also a subversive take on the teen comedyJohn Hughes (or more to the point, American Pie) shot through with social satire. And like, say, Super Troopers before it, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is definitely one of those movies where you either get it or you don't. (SP; 2005) (R; 83 min.) My neighborhood video store, "We're Hanging On by Our Fingernails Video," has a sun-blasted, blue VHS copy of the 1988 movie Mac and Me. Question: Does the law of research require that I rent it for the sole purpose of finding out whether that forgotten E.T. rip-offstarring a muggly rubber alien who joneses for McD's and befriends Ronald McDonald himselfis actually worse than Harold and Kumar, a sub-Cheech and Chong pantsload similarly created to give the White Castle franchise some college student cred? Underdog investment banker Harold (John Cho) and his roommate Kumar (Kal Penn) are Hoboken potheads. They get the munchies and drive to Cherry Hill, N.J., site of the nearest White Castle. They make it. The end. Ah, but the adventures they face on the way! Getting caught hiding in a toilet stall between two girls at Princeton who have "the taco trots"! Getting a flat tire and being rescued by a string-wart-covered maniac (Christopher Meloni, kind of the high point) who is married to a promiscuous farm girl (Malin Akerman, whose topless scene was also a temporary reprieve). Director Danny Leiner imitates the old Bing and Bob format, with Cho as the excitable but prissy sucker and Penn as the smooth, amoral hustler. Borrowing Hope and Crosby's finely honed act gives this supposed comedy some shape, as does this version of a standard funny-animal scene in a "road" picture (the two get an escaped cheetah high). Wait till video. Then wait longer. (RvB; 2004)
(1972) Locally shot cult film about a wealthy but morbid young eccentric (Bud Cort) who caps his love affair with death by falling for an elderly bohemian (Ruth Gordon). There was a time when two tickets to this and a marijuana cigarette counted as a date. How well it has aged (along with its Cat Stevens score) may depend on when you first saw it. Unlike many hippie films, it's still remembered fondly, probably because it was well aware of an aura of doom that was already clouding over the flower-people's skies. Probably, it's easier for more people to critique a childhood toy than to evaluate this movie without emotion, but its lasting popularity says it all. (Like so many cult films, it was a flop in its time; Gordon claimed that it took 20 years for her to get any royalties from it.) (RvB)
(PG; 97 min.) With lightning-quick montages, funky camera angles and up-to-the-minute fashion costuming, parts of Harriet the Spy look as slick as a standard MTV video and almost as insubstantial. But this film by Nickelodeon, the kids' TV network, offers a generally sensitive slice-of-life story (based on the book by Louise Fitzhugh) for the prepubescent set. Eleven-year-old Harriet (Michelle Trachtenberg) is inquisitive to a fault. Encouraged by her all-knowing nanny, Golly (Rosie O'Donnell in a stock performance), Harriet writes down everything she sees in an effort to bolster her skills as a budding author. But she ends up rousing the ire of friends and family when her brutally honest notes are accidentally revealed. Older children will appreciate this as an entertaining and occasionally dark tale about fickle elementary school friendships. (HZ)
Full text review.
(2002) Young Master Potter (sweet, bland Daniel Radcliffe) is blocked by a cringing computer-animated house elf named DobbyJar Jar Binks' more obsequious cousin, complete with wiggling ears. When he gets to school, there's a new instructor, the inept and full of himself Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), not to mention Harry's nemesis, Draco (Tom Felton), and his equally supercilious father, Lucius (Jason Isaacs). Meanwhile, Harry has to thwart an ancient force, connected to a prophecy of doom for Hogwarts. Part of the appeal of English-boarding-school movies is the idea of luxury and exclusivityof lounging around the solitude of ancient stones. The second Harry Potter movie, made by raised-in-Sunnyvale writer Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus, seems desperate. It hustles you through Hogwarts like a tour guide with an eye on the clock. (RvB)
(PG-13; 157 min.) Not as good as the last one; better than the first two. It's fair to call Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the series' Thunderball; bigger, more sprawling and with an underwater sequence. The Goblet of Fire is the first prize in a Tri-Wizard Tournament between Hogwarts' rivals in France and Bulgaria. Though 14-year-old Harry is too young to be in the tournament, some enchantment recruits him. Bad news, for not every apprentice wizard makes it out alive. Mike Newell is the first English director of the series, and he drops in British slang that gives the film needed flavor. Still, the cast of British thespians is a reliable pleasure: Alan Rickman as the Borgiaesque Professor Snape; the ghost, Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson), who died from looking upon a basilisk, tries to spy on Harry's nakedness; Maggie Smith has but a few lines, but gives them all her unmatchable Victorian severity. Best is Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson), a war-wounded flask-guzzler, not quite sane, blasted beyond good and evil. Thanks to Gleeson's force as an actor, the spinning artificial eyeball strapped to his head isn't the most uncanny thing about old Moody. The highlight is the duel between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and a large and furious Hungarian dragon, but that comes early, and the following special effects are very uneven. Watching some indifferently animated flying horses, a character sighs, "That's not something you see every day," a character sighs, and the answer should be "No, only every year." (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) The film follows the one- way ride of Jim Davis (Christian Bale), a messed-up vet, honorably discharged after six years as an Army Ranger. He hangs out in L.A. with his homie Mike (Freddy Rodriguez of Six Feet Under). Jim's excuse for letting it all slide is that he's just been rejected from his dream job in the LAPD. Bale epitomizes the hard-working actor who submerges himself in a role: If a part doesn't quite fit, Bale makes it fit. Writer/ director—emphasis on the writer—Dave Ayer has a terrific film on his hands—at least for the first two-thirds of. He makes an unusually brave political statement about the kind of people our government chooses for international wet-work. Happy recollections of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant come to mind when watching this grimy, cold-eyed and knowing study of male compartmentalization. But then Ayer succumbs to a fatal mistake. He seemed to realize that what he had here was so good that it might be acclaimed as "an acting tour de force." Losing all economy of motion, the film shuffles through a series of successive endings, and what once was an amoral cruise through truly scary lives clunks into a cul-de-sac. (RvB)
(1946) One of the first fast-food chains was the Harvey Company's string of restaurants along the westbound railroad lines; this musical tells the story, sort of, with Judy Garland contending for John Hodiak against Angela Lansbury. Mostly remembered for the show stopper "Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe." (RvB)
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(Unrated; 95 min.) Over the course of 24 hours, we follow African Hubert (Hubert Kounde), Jewish Vinz (Vincent Cassel) and Arab Said (Said Taghmaoui)three disaffected Parisian minorities broken down into the clean, calculated demographics of the cartoon kids at Burger King. The trio spends the day aimlesslyhanging out, talking about the guns most of them have only seen in the movies, missing the last train home, and spending the least pleasant night roaming the streets of Paris in the history of cinema. Director Mathieu (Cafe au Lait) Kassovitz tries to get some life in the movie through snappy camera work and Dragnet-style time references, but this just seems pure conceit. (RvB)
(PG; 99 min.) Dispirited, so to speak, adaptation of the best ride at Disneylandas such, one more treasured piece of your past mangled onscreen. And it looks all the worse compared to the outstanding Pirates of the Caribbean. If the No. 1 plot in Hollywood is "estranged family rebonds," No. 2 has to be "workaholic dad learns the importance of quality time." Is No. 2 worse than No. 1? Is there some gentle, organic-to-a-script way of explaining to North America's children that the cornucopia of goods they expect as their due has to be paid for somehow? In the movies, workaholism is always a choice someone has made deliberately, just to be mean to their kids. Eddie Murphy plays a slick Louisiana real estate agent who is summoned to a bayou mansion in the hopes of selling it. He brings his wife (Marsha Thomason) and two grating child thespians who are supposed to be his kids. A spooky butler (Terence Stamp, no relief) and the dashing lord of the manor (Nathaniel Parker) appear to be in on some ghostly conspiracy. Parker, who played TV's Inspector Lynley and who once played Jane Eyre's Rochester in a little-noted film of Wide Sargasso Sea, has an interesting air of decadence that recalls the young Peter O'Toole. A little more romantic energy between him and Thomason would have given the adults something, but she's so much the mommy that she can't look like anyone's reincarnated lost love. (Get past the been-there CGI and one poorly staged cadaver attack, and there's an almost inaudible whisper of protest against the laws that once prevented white people and black people from marrying one another.) Speaking of Rochesterwatch Eddie Murphy earn his quadrillion-dollar paycheck being chased by ghosts and think of all the guff young hotheads once gave Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Mantan Moreland (or for that matter, the guff Murphy once gave Bill Cosby). The movie's a waste, but the saddest part is watching Murphy running through it, grinning like a man being skinned alive. (RvB)
(1963) A classic of the old-scary-house genre. Stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn knocking about a mansion full of supernatural spirits. Taken from Shirley Jackson's famous short story "The Haunting of Hill House."
(1968) The Monkees, a.k.a. the Pre-Fab Four, were three actors and one guitarist hired to be a rock band for a TV show through an ad in the L.A. Times. Songwriters such as Neil Diamond, Carole King and Neil Sedaka composed their hits. Rallying in their only feature film (with the help of director Bob Rafelson and writer Jack Nicholson), the group delivered a painful Monkee bite to the hands that fed them, demonstrating their general discontent with being nothing but empty bell-bottom pants and tapered shirts on a kiddy-TV show. Children who thought the Monkees were really four buddies who lived together in a wacky house were flabbergasted by this bizarre, angry film with its borrowed stylings from Fellini and Antonioni and its scraps of Vietnamese war atrocities. But it actually holds up better than the TV episodes because of its beautifully scary psychedelia. ("The porpoise is laughing, goodbye! goodbye! goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!"lyrics from the fine title track, "The Porpoise Song.") The cast of celebrity flotsam included Annette Funicello, Teri Garr, Carol Doda and Victor Mature, who went from muscleman to West Pico Boulevard TV repairman with the sort of good grace and humor that any 15-minute movie star ought to emulate. Note also visits from the ghost of Bela Lugosi and the living Frank Zappa, who aims an unequivocal put-down at drummer Davy Jones. What is the moral of the story? Celebrity, even of the celebrity of the talented, is always engineered. The Monkees had talents that even their keepers didn't dream of. Brilliant kitsch, sometimes art. It'll tighten your wig. (RvB)
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(R; 132 min.) Charlize Thereon plays Gilda Besse, champagne heiress, post-Lost Generation Parisian artist, and bisexual. Redundantly narrated, her story is told by Guy (Stuart Townsend, tweedy, bookish Anglo-Irish) who is increasingly politicized by the gathering World War II. At times, the couple share their space with a dark, tough Spanish burlesque artist (Penélope Cruz). About as hot as it gets is a two-gal tango, in clumsy homage to the famous dance in Bertolucci's The Conformist. John Duigan (Sirens) directs this sprawling and often laughable historical romance, enlivened by Stephen Berkoff as Charlize's Von Stroheim-like father. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Chris Rock plays Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C., alderman who becomes an unlikely Democratic presidential candidate after the other one dies in a plane crash. Looked upon as a buzz kill, Gilliam turns heads by hiring his bail bondsman brother (Bernie Mac) as his running mate and speaking his mind instead of reading off the teleprompter. Gilliam is the anti-candidate, riding around in a tour bus with No Limit-style graphics. He alienates his handlerswho secretly want him to lose so they can pull the minority vote in 2008but he captures the imagination of a voting public searching for straight talk ("That ain't right" is his catch phrase). Beyond the obvious gags seemingly pulled from a Simpsons teen-flick parody (the matrons partying to Nelly's "Hot in Herre" for instance), Head of State is like an extended version of Rock's "Black President" routine (a piece of which appears in Bowling for Columbine). Rock makes a few scathing statements about race and politics, but the corny parts and formulaic finish dumb the film down. And that ain't right. (TI)
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(Unrated; 121 min.) Cahit (Birol Unel) is a 40-year-old Turkish immigrant who does cleanup work in a bar in Hamburg. In a tailspin one night, Cahit drinks some beer and goes for a drive, whamming his car into a wall. In the hospital, he meets a girl named Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), in for a failed suicide. "You're Turkish? Marry me," she says. Her plan is to get out from under the thumb of her traditional family, and Cahit goes along with her scheme. Head-On earns an easy spot on the 10-best list for 2005. The car crash at the beginning sets the tone. This bitter comedy, with tragic highlights, is about the force of love hitting frail human beings. This doomed romance shames Hollywood chick bombs, and the eventual renewal of the scarily hilarious Cahit even gives the pessimistic a boost. (RvB)
(PG-13; 91 min.) Freddie Prinze Jr. and Monica Potter fall flat in this romantic comedy about modern love and misunderstanding, New York City style. The unfortunate running joke of the film, that the couple consistently meet when Prinze's canine pal mauls Potter, may be the worst-timed comic attempt imaginable considering the recent Bay Area dog attacks. The adorable co-stars, beautiful supporting cast, which stars supermodels, including Shalom Harlow as Potter's aspiring model roommates, and hip city girl fashions create some moments of pleasing eye candy. But director Mark Waters' (The House of Yes) attempt at breaking from indie film to mainstream romance ends up feeling empty of any trace of the soul that made his previous films soar. (MS)
(PG-13; 123 min.) The adventures of a team of confidence women, who are mother (Sigourney Weaver) and daughter (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Director David Mirkin (formerly of TV's Get a Life) does his awkward best to re-create the golden era of screwball comedy, filming in Palm Beachsite of Preston Sturges' 1942 classic The Palm Beach Storyand telling a tale of lady con-artiststhe subject of Sturges' 1941 The Lady Eve. There are prime moments by Gene Hackman, as a nasty old liver-spotted pirate of a tobacco millionaire, and Weaver, as a teasing bride and a spurious Russian countess ("Don't come inI'm nyaked"). The film's diluted by the lower jokes: a mistreated corpse and a nude statue with a big wang. Worst is Jason Lee, who plays the loveor rather, Loveinterest, seeing hidden niceness in Jennifer Love Hewitt. Weaver is a star, but Hewitt is a starletall she has is her looks. So the subject of Heartbreakers could have been an elegant con-artist mother teaching her daughter a little classWeaver's elaborate teasing of Ray Liotta in the film's opener is a work of diabolical art, whereas Hewitt's approach is as common and direct as an armed robbery. The movie too, ends up cheaply, with Weaver getting desperate and grabby in Heartbreakers' search for a rehabilitating, safe, sane ending. (RvB)
(R; 110 min.) Elaine May directed the 1972 original with uncanny skill and brilliance and somehow balanced its difficult situation: a schmuck falls in love with another woman while on his honeymoon. For their new remake, directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly and star Ben Stiller desperately re-work the character to make him more "likeable," and henceforth, unexpectedly underline the hateful, repugnant nature of the idea. Both the Farrellys and Stiller seem to have run their course; the film is flabby and the jokes are tired, and all that's left is easy potshots at the usual targets. Blonde Malin Akerman plays the dumped wife, although she's far less annoying than the loser husband, while plucky Michelle Monaghan is wasted as the romantic newcomer. (JMA)
(R; 172 min.) Writer/director Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans) knows what makes an action thriller work: Guns is fun. In Heat, master thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) decides to pull a bank heist under the nose of dedicated detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). They play cat-and-mouse; Hanna even flags McCauley down on the freeway and invites him out for coffee. It's the first time De Niro and Pacino have appeared on screen together, and their interplay is marvelousDe Niro remote, bleak, amused, and Pacino summing up their relationship with the merest twitch of a cheek. Val Kilmer is supposed to be the third star, but he's little more than another of the fine supporting cast. It's not really his fault; Mann doesn't give him enough to do. It's just as well, though. With Pacino and De Niro circling each other like two prime prize-fighters, on friendly terms but each determined to win, the only way not to get knocked silly is to stay out of the way. (BC)
(R; 96 min.) After the fast but shallow Run Lola Run, German director Tom Tykwer has headed for deeper, more rooted material. Heaven has the skeleton of an action movie, but it's really about transgression and repentance. Philippa (Cate Blanchette), an English teacher living in Turin, blows up the office of a drug kingpin. The police capture her with remarkable speed. As Philippa demands the right to testify in her own language, she needs an interpreter. One volunteers, a young and angelic policeman named Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), who quickly falls in love with her. The purifying of the two lovers begins with a passage through a railroad tunnellike deathand arrival into limbo in a town removed from the world. Together they reclaim a lost state of grace, from confession to contrition to penitence. Heaven is as free from humor as a Jesuit's argument. This film works through a system of symbolism so inflexible that this movie might as well be based on an algebra textbook. (RvB)
(R; 132 min.) Ex-cop and one-time rummy Robicheaux (Alec Baldwin) gets tangled up in the New Orleans underworld when he and his wife (Kelly Lynch) rescue a little girl from a plane wreck out in the bayou. Director Phil Joanou (Final Analysis) gives us a dark, violent thriller that, unfortunately, is as slow as a hound dog in Julyit's not the heat, it's the humidity, as they saythat ultimately is not so much an erotic thriller as a neurotic one. But the intricate story, a wealth of nasty bad guys and a consistently good cast make wallowing through all the timeouts to share Robicheaux's pain excusable, though not entirely touching. Special bonus points go to Mary Stuart Masterson as the good-time gal who finally has enough, Eric Roberts as a hapless baddie and Teri Hatcher (of TV's Lois and Clark) for handling her admittedly not very challenging role with more skill than one might expect. (BC)
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(Unrated; 105 min.) Victor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is an overweight cook at his mother's pizza joint. The arrival of lovely young Callie (Liv Tyler) invigorates Victor while it antagonizes both Delores (Deborah Harry), a career waitress, and Vic's mother (Shelley Winters). Avoiding the wrath of both women, Vic daydreams of leaving the pizza parlor for a nearby culinary academy. Heavy may sound like one of those movies that is good for you, but Vic has an undertone of menace in addition to a lot of gently quiet desperation. Not all smoulderers go off, and it's to the credit of director/writer James Mangold that he holds the story in check, suggesting possibilities of passionate outburst as well as portraying quiet desperation. (RvB)
(R; 136 min.) Despite a preposterous setup and a messy structure, Spike Lee's He Got Game manages moments of incredible poignancy. It's the story of Jake (Denzel Washington), a man who had such high hopes for his son he named him Jesus (Ray Allen). Jake pushed Jesus to be a basketball star, destroying his family in the process. As the film begins, Jake is in prison for murder and Jesus in the top high-school basketball player in the country, drowning in an avalanche of national attention and cash inducements from agents and coaches. Here's the ridiculous part: New York's governor is a huge basketball fan, and he arranges to have Jake furloughed for a week to convince his estranged son to attend the governor's alma matter, Big State. If Jake succeeds, the warden promises him an early release. Meanwhile, everyone else wants a piece of Jesus as well, from his craven uncle to his two-timing girlfriend. Washington gives a stunning performance as a man torn between making amends and saving himself, but Allen (a basketball player for the Milwaukee Bucks) is a blank as too-good-to be-true Jesus, a boy who supports his kid sister, paints his girlfriend's toenails and refuses allor almost all)of the juicy "gifts" offered to him. There's never any indication of which school he really wants to attend, so the extent of the sacrifice that his father asks him to make is unclear. Interspersed with all this is a fairly pointless aside on the lure of drugs, quite a bit of gratuitous soft-core, silicone-enhanced sex, and that old Hollywood standby, a hooker with a heart of you-know-what (played by Milla Jovovich, who is very good despite her cliched character). If Lee had only cut out all the extraneous stuff, He Got Game could have been a powerful film about a father and son who remain bonded to each other even though their relationship is painfully beyond salvation. (MG)
(R; 110 min.) David Mamet's film about a career con artist (Gene Hackman) trying to retire.
(PG-13; 91 min.) Jamie Foxx and Nia Long star in a comedy about an engaged couple on their way to a romantic getaway. When Long finds out that Foxx spent her nest egg on a shiny new sports car, she leaves him to fend for himself in a one-horse desert town.
(PG-13; 132 min.) Not nearly hellacious enough. Mike Mignola's comic-book hero for Dark Horse is par for the course for second-generation mainstream: graft Wolverine's sideburns, orneriness and taste for beer and cigars onto the Thing from the Fantastic Four, and there you have it: Hellboy, a demon foster-raised by Earthlings. He arrived here in 1944, in the very promising pre-title sequence, when Hitler's occultists (under the direction of Rasputin himself) tried to raise an ultimate weapon from the hell dimensions. What they got, instead, was a little red devil partial to chocolate bars, who is about as satanic as Hot Stuff from Harvey Comics. In 2004, he's now about 20 (he grows in "reverse dog years"); he's played by Ron Perlman and made up with red skin, polled horns and square teeth. Searching for some tentacled devil dogs trying to steal a sacred relic, he encounters villains ready to send over the world to the apocalypse. Perlman has great gravity as an actor. Selma Blair is unusually pale and interesting as Liz, the love interest, a woman who can't control her spontaneous bursts of badly CGI'd blue flame (though she's not nearly as scary as the fire maidens in the titles of Die Another Day). Director Guillermo del Toro helps himself to an all-you-can-eat buffet of superhero clichés. The film takes a notable step down from his Blade 2. The only real evidence of del Toro's unique macabreness is in the assistant villain, a Nazi android powered by clockwork; the sinister keys and springs in this satanic "tik-tok" man remind one of del Toro's early success Cronos, with its mechanical hell scarab. Nevertheless, Hellboy is strictly for fanboys. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) In deep space, a mad astronaut gets a robot to play with one of Satan's Rubik's Cubes; the robot utters a pitiful bleat and blows up. In flashback, we find out that the man responsible for this interesting experiment (Bruce Ramsay) is a descendent of the creator of the original creator of the cube in 18th-century France; his descendants are cursed to try to figure out a way to destroy it. In a modern-day story, an inventor (also Ramsay) labors to create an anticube. The whole series at this point has become an example of the banality of evil. Helmed by the reclusive cult director Alan Smithee, auteur of such films as Ghost Fever (1987), the recut version of Dune, Shrimp on the Barbie (1990) and The O.J. Simpson Story (1995). (I suppose I should explain that Smithee is Director's Guild slang for "I. M. Noman": the name gets used whenever a director has petitioned to have his credit taken off a film.) Smithee's one inspiration is directing the prissy Goth monster Pinhead (Doug Bradley) to give no spin to lines like "I will buy his suffering with the bounty of pain." Not even Abbott and Costello could wake him up. Unmenacing, mournful, skulking around like a lost member of the Cure, Bradley's Pinhead looks as if he wishes he could ask someone for an enema. (RvB)
(Unrated; 72 min.) Unique among documentaries, because it bears more good news than bad, The Hemp Car Cultureolution describes the potential of Cannabis sativabeyond its most famous purpose, of course. As a crop, it's hardier and less rough on the land than cotton. As a source for paper and cardboard, it could spare lumber. Now for the bad news. The government shows little sign of allowing hemp to be grown commercially. The problem is, of course, that Cannabis contains the Schedule 1 narcotic THC. It's hellish stuff. THC is a potentially mind-altering and lethal substance that could conceivably kill a user, though millions of dollars in government studies have failed to provide a single example. Documented cases of flute-playing and excessive corn-chip eating have resulted from consumption of "pot"; thus, the regrettable necessity of making cancer, glaucoma and AIDS sufferers grovel for their THC. Although the movie is well documented on the pro side, director Anthony Clarke failed to interview marijuana's opponents, or petrochemical-industry spokesman who might rebut the claim that ethanol from hemp could replace America's dependence on fossil fuelseven soybeans can't do everything. (RvB)
(G) Disney's famous VW returns in this aptly named dark tale of crime and punishment: after Herbie's wife is murdered by a gang of thugs, the former "Love Bug" takes to the street as a vigilante, running down crooks and doling out his own brand of justice, Fahrvergnugen-style. OK, not reallyit's just an updated Herbie movie for kidsbut you gotta admit, that title is just asking for it. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(G; 86 min.) Having the four easy choices of Hercules as a bully, a square, a joke or a complete vacancy, Disney took the last path. This Herc is not very proactive, so the filmmakers throw the hero around and jazz up the film as much as possible with loud music and cutting. Hercules is the child of the very functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) celestial family of kindly Zeus and Hera. Hades (voiced by James Woods) takes the baby to Earth and tries to kill it, but Hercules (voiced by Tate Donovan), under the schooling of a satyr (Danny DeVito), becomes a celebrity. Trouble arises when he is undone by Megara (voiced by Susan Egan). The score is more proof of the lamentable state of the musical. The usual Alan Menken brand cream cheese is laid out with jangling lyrics by David Zippel (City of Angels). (RvB)
(1941/1948) Robert Montgomery stars as a prizefighter who is killed too soon by the forces of heaven (embodied by Claude Rains) and then brought back to Earth in a new body. This Capra-esque fantasy was much imitated and remade (most recently in 1978, as Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty). BILLED WITH Sitting Pretty. Clifton Webb, best known as the insidious Waldo Lydecker in Laura, plays a comically fussy baby-sitter named Belvedere; he brought the character back for two sequels. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Director Mark Piznarski (My So-Called Life) aspires for the small-town pathos of William Inge's plays, but Here on Earth is no Picnic. Arrogant heir-head Kelley Morse (Chris Klein, better-used in Election and American Pie) drives his prep-school graduation present, a Mercedes convertible, across the tracks to Mabel's Diner. He flirts with the teenage waitress, Samantha (Leelee Sobieski). Her boyfriend Jasper (Josh Hartnett in the pained Billy Crudup role) drag races Kelley; they crash into and burn down the diner. Samantha ostensibly falls for Kelley, after he shows his sweaty pecs at a construction site like Lucky Vanous in the Diet Coke ad several years ago. Like the soda, Here on Earth wraps attractive packaging around a container of phony sweeteners and artificial stimulants. (DH)
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(PG; 105 min.) The locally produced effort is a superior entertainment for tweens directed by Mark J. Gordon and executive-produced by Lisa Gordon. The shot-in-New Zealand comedy is about a young girl's pash for Queen Elizabeth, as well as her effort to get the monarch into her small town. Middleton, New Zealand, in 1953 evinces the kind of boredom that time has made picturesque. When not mooning over her sovereign, young Elizabeth (Sally Andrews) is drilling in the schoolyard with the girl grenadiers. She's also warding off her dangerously bullying brother, Stuart (Craig Elliot). An elderly Maori woman (Vicky Haughton) lives in what the local white kiwis consider an eyesore shack. When the possibility increases that the queen might come to the area on tour, Stuart and his vandalizing friends get into action. At this point, Sally has already learned so much about the unhappy history of her nation that she is ready to side with the Maoris. Despite the undertones of exposed racism, the film is heavy on the sweetness and light and tends to feel like a vintage piece of Commonwealth kids' literature. (RvB)
(1924/1923) Ronald Colman plays a nobleman without money who poses as a heart specialist, the better to court an heiress (Constance Talmadge). BILLED WITH Our Hospitality. Buster Keaton plays a top-hatted fop of the 1840s who goes to inherit some property in the American South and wanders straight into a blood feud. Highlights include Keaton's vision of an early train ride, which is more beguiling than any model train ever built, and the finale, in which Keaton dangles over a waterfall. Dennis James plays the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 99 min.) Not just a gorgeous martial arts movie but also a heroic explanation of the essence of Taoism. In the time before recorded history, China's first all-powerful emperor has waged total war to unite his nation. He waits for the arrival of a man-with-no-name warrior (Jet Li), who brings him great news: the two assassins the emperor dreaded most, Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), are vanquished. It is at about this time that seasoned moviegoers realize that the emperor has made a big mistake: he's let Death into his palace. Cheung has the kind of beauty that isn't staled even by films that are really about her beauty and almost nothing else. She's introduced here, disheveled in a peach-red kimono, her hair over her face, having her tea out of a small jade bowl; the scene recalls the most gorgeously besotted uses of color in Michael Powell movies. And Zhang contrasts the close-ups of the flights and flashing swords with the widest shots since Sergio Leone's Westerns: deserts vast as Death Valley, courtyards the size of airport runways, filled with thousands of plumed knights in black armor, and forests of flying arrows. What keeps Hero from being glutting is its essential, almost totalitarian, simplicity. An example is the brutal redness of a single ideograph on a billboard-sized scroll: a present to the emperor, a barbed lesson to him in statecraft. (RvB)
(1998/1986) Two hit men from opposing tongs, once bitter enemies, are betrayed by their leaders in A Hero Never Dies. They join forces and seek revenge. This local premiere of a film by Johnny To (Lifelines) stars Leon Lai and Lau Ching-Wan. BILLED WITH A Better Tomorrow, John Woo's action classic about an aging gunman and his conflicted loyalty to his brother, a policeman. This was the first film in which many westerners saw Chow Yun-Fat for the first time. The boyish but brooding gangster is a sleek, troubling presence; the moonlike face rarely changes even when he pulls out a pair of automatics. (RvB)
(PG) The animated TV series gets the big-screen treatment as Arnold and pals fight gentrification.
(1958/1957) George Lucas has long acknowledged the debt his Star Wars trilogy owes to Akira Kurosawa's adventure tale Hidden Fortress. Toshiro Mifune plays a feudal general who protects a princess on a treasure quest; two goofball sidekicks provide comic relief, not unlike the robots in Star Wars. BILLED WITH Throne of Blood, Kurosawa's remarkable translation of Macbeth to Japan. Mifune plays the samurai king who murders his way to the throne and pays for his ambitions with a particularly pointed death. (MSG)
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(R; 102 min.) A psychiatrist (Robert De Niro) must discover the truth about the mysterious friend named "Charlie" who is haunting his daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning); this murderous Charlie has access to their house and, for some reason, only materializes when De Niro is asleep. Seeing Emily torment her father with oddball drawings and cryptic comments is funny, if not quite spooky. And De Niro is most at home when he's driven to the warpath. The films he has been performing in lately in would inflame anyone's rage. (RvB)
(PG-13; 115 min.) A perky Marin lawyer (Ashley Judd) rushes to defend her husband (Jim Caviezel) when he's accused by the Army of a decade-old war crime; her only hope is an ex-military lawyer (Morgan Freeman) with a drinking problem. The odd-couple premise might have worked if the film hadn't muddied the waters with a red tide of red herrings. That sinister black truck? Just somebody asking for directions. That hand reaching for a gun in a pocket? Just fishing for a cigarette. Further distancing us from any semblance of logic are peripheral character cutouts like the skanky sister (Amanda Peet), the sopping-wet-behind-the-ears junior attorney (Adam Scott) and the friendly golden retriever. The trailers give tantalizing hints of Freeman getting to cut loose with a crusty, anti-authoritarian performanceunfortunately, they are only hints. Even an actor as fine as Freeman can't hold up under this avalanche of legal-thriller clichés. (MSG)
(R; 86 min.) Two thrill-starved women (Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack) stumble onto a bank robbery and play along.
(R; 85 min) Fourth installment of a fantasy saga that pits a 16th-century supernatural in the modern world against its human mortal enemy. Spawned a TV series even as the Highlander movies got more and more inane.
(PG-13; 86 min.) About 30 minutes worth of good ideas are scattered through near 90 minutes of this long-overdue parody of Blackboard Jungle movies. To give the filmmakers credit, they seem to have seen a number of them, all the way back to Rebel Without a Cause and High School Confidential (raided heavily for the film's ending), and the best jokes are steeped in the numerous, even countless, clichés of the genre. (The school here, Marion Barry High, is said to have had a "three Fs and you're out" policy). After a promising beginning, the ideas run out, and the movie's plot gets in the way of the jokes. Jon Lovitz, as the white-bread teacher come to inspire his "gangsta" students, eventually becomes annoyingly moist; Lovitz isn't slick enough to be the star of this kind of quick-gag comedy, and he's a very weak straight man. Director Hart Bochner, of the repellent PCU, directs without facility for slapstick and with a distinctly women-hating bent. Female stars Tia Carrere and Louise Fletcher, the latter really treated like a bimbo by Bochner, look genuinely annoyed by the end of the movie. (RvB)
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(R; 91 min.) Every one knows the clichés of the slasher genrethe lonely house, the pitiless monster, the surviving virginbut a lesser-publicized routine is honored by director Alexander Aja. He's made the first 20 minutes of High Tension so bland, so tedious that wrathful boredom sets in, and you're quite ready to see someone get it in the neck. High Tension begins with a long drive and a twitty conversation between law students Alex (the one-named actress Maiwenn) and Marie (Cecile De France) in a car driving through a highly unscenic part of France. It's a windblown prairie, with ugly high-tension lines leading the way to the nearest nuclear power plant. Alex, who has scarier teeth than Carly Simon, is baring her ivory as she complains about her boyfriend and his taste for Brazilian girls. Marie, a diffident number with a Jean Seberg haircut, gripes about the tenor of the conversation. To make matters worse, the dialogue is dubbed, lazily, inconsiderately, by someone doing French-accented English. Presently the two girls arrive at the last house on the left, a farmhouse deep in the countryside. They're greeted by an eminently disposable dad, mom and a little kid in a cowboy suit. All, we're assured, will be filleted by the heavy-breathing killer before too long. But it still takes time for the film to shift into gear. What's next is like a walk-though at the Museum for the Easily Startled. Like that bathroom mirror? Change the angle and SURPRISE, there's another face in it! How about this cage of parrots: birds that speak, uncanny! A china doll with a crack in its face: look, its eye is missing! A clothesline creaking in the wind! A cornfieldwho knows what walks between the rows? A wind-up bear that plays a little tin drum! Not as scary as a wind-up cymbals monkey with bulging eyes, but, still. And finally, for the most horrifying plot point of all: potential lesbian attraction! If lesbians don't curdle your blood, call the Red Cross right nowthey need your hemoglobin for anti-coagulants! Speaking of blood, High Tension delivers its share. The R rating means a bit more freight than this week's Dimension teenchopper. A slashed throat effect is particularly jump-worthy. Aja shows something almost like taste when he lets the worst of Alex's ordeal take place off-camera, with horrible snuffling noises inflaming the imagination. Dispensing with the French tradition of thrillers that twist the nerves rather than severing them, Aja tries for a 1970s grind-house look, by filming in a part of Europe that looks as much like Nebraska as possible. He also brings on an very American car chase, between the killer's rust-bucket torture van, and a muscle car complete with the Confederate Stars and Bars on the back. Unfortunately, what you look for in homages is a chance to top the originals (as in Kung Fu Hustle) rather than to chart the pathetic eagerness with which they sink into familiar routines. (RvB)
(1967) C&W singers Ferlin Husky and Joi Lansing are riding a bus out of Vegas that breaks down in the middle of nowhere. They meet really scary people, including a tottering, tragic Lon Chaney Jr., the personal muscle protecting a Chinese spy called Madame Wong (Linda Ho). What's left of Basil Rathbone and John Carradine hold down the fort, while perennial Guy Inagorillasuit George Barrows ("Ro-Man" in Robot Monster, the title role in Gorilla at Large) menaces the cast as only a savage jungle anthropoid with a zipper down his back can. Directed by Jean Yarbrough, TV veteran and filmmakershall we tiptoe through his credits? We shall: Dog Blight, King of the Zombies, Hiya Sailor, So's Your Uncle, Here Come the Coeds, and others; he was also wrought two films featuring the disfigured horror star Rondo Hatton, The Brute Man and The Creeper. This memorably-titled cornpone movie is part of a weekend long celebration of rockabilly in this venerable kustom-car, tattoos and shit-kicking music loving-establishment. Live music by Glen Earl Brown Jr. and the Dickens from Chico and San Francisco's the Rounders. (RvB)
(R; 107 min.) Death Valley, 1987, driving through the desert with my mom. Me: "Hey, look, there's a billboard for Papa Jupe's Tenderloin Baby Stand." Mom: "Ha, ha, save me the toes." Alexandre Aja's shot-in-Morocco remake of Wes Craven's jaunty little ogre story from 1977 isn't likely to be the subject of such light intergenerational banter. Here the cannibals aren't Mansonites; they're more-sinned-against-than-sinning Quasimodos who say "Arrgh, snarl" when they attack. Unfortunately, Billy Drago, who can actually act, is cheated out of much dialogue as Jupiter—especially the deathless lines about "tenderloin baby." At times, Aja seems to be commenting on ugly Americanism: this is the first movie in a while with a flagstaff impalement or that grouped tableau of mannequins around TV like '50s suburban families. The latter has some of the uncanniness of Ed Kienholz's dioramas, made slightly more eerie by tomandandy's typically excellent sound collages. But then Aja changes course, making the second half the story of the toughening of the son-in-law Doug (Aaron Stanford), a Democrat wimp who learns the importance of guns. The Hills Have Eyes has all the usual problems of today's second-wave splatter: the digitally filmed incoherent fight scenes, and the sequences that introduce you to a squabbling family of vacationers who seriously need killing, and then the disgust that ensues when they get what's coming to them. This remake is the work of a director who doesn't even know where the irony lies anymore. (RvB)
(R; 89 min.) This sequel to the remake of Wes Craven's 1977 cult horror flick is not a remake of the sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part II from 1985. It is, however, basically a rewrite of Mind Ripper, the 1995 film produced by Craven and co-written by his son Jonathan. This one was also co-written by Jonathan, this time with help from dad. Mind Ripper was supposedly originally planned as The Hills Have Eyes Part III, but ended up as a bad rip-off of Alien. This movie is the legitimate sequel to Alexandre Aja's 2006 The Hills Have Eyes remake, but nonetheless ended up as a bad rip-off of the Alien sequel Aliens. All of these connections will no doubt be useful for whoever comes up with the The Hills Have Eyes Edition of Trivial Pursuit, which will itself be more fun to play than this movie is to watch. Once Aja declined to return the jig was probably up, but director Martin Weisz stumbles on every part of this thing, and even the shock scenes (particularly a rape and a mutant birth) are pointless and boring. The worst part is that the Cravens' script is actually a pretty interesting metaphor for the U.S. occupation of Iraq (with desert mutants as insurgents and National Guard troops as lost souls sent on a mission they don't understand and doing anything they can to survive—at one point they even joke that they're glad they can't be prosecuted for war crimes), but except for a few minutes in the middle when a friendly-fire controversy injects some real emotion, Weisz can't even begin to pull it off. (SP)
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(Unrated; 93 min.) Jack O'Connell's 1968 documentaryupdated with some modern-day reminiscencesobserves the Summer of Love in 1967. The interviews mostly immobilize the film; despite the hippies' laudable aims, they were not great conversationalists. The refusal to identify the talking heads may be a way of showing solidarity with the girl who thinks astrological signs might be more important than names. Nevertheless, one can pick out Herb Caen, who claims to have been smoking grass ever since he was a police reporter in Sacramento. Far more interesting is the scene in which O'Connell's camera races around a roomful of trippersand one dozing tabbyto sum up the fleeting moods of an LSD trip. (RvB)
(1980/1935) Goopy and Bagha (Tapen Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh), Bengal's answer to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, head out to the Kingdom of Diamonds, where they match wits with a scientist who has invented a brainwashing machine. The political content was clear enough that the movie's lyrics ended up as political graffiti painted on the walls. BILLED WITH A Night at the Opera. Playing here because it's Satyajit Ray's desert island movie, but it needs neither excuse or introduction. The Marx brothers take on the world of classical music, without the hindrance of Seep. However, they're saddled with a square-pleasing "love interest" of Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle, which makes for popcorn breaks, anyway. (There must have been people who left the film saying, "I couldn't stand those vulgar brothers, but Kitty Carlisle was divine!") Home of the famous "stateroom scene," and the symphony orchestra chumped into playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." (RvB)
(1959) The most emotional film of the French New Wave. As such, it gave those far too smart for Hollywood romance a little something to swoon over for themselves. But how well has it aged? The sparse story tells of two lovers. One is Japanese, a survivor of Hiroshima, the other a French girl who was mistreated for collaborating with the Nazis. Through repetition of words, writer Marguerite Duras contrasts love's cost with holocaust. What a romantic film it is, then, since it suggests that all manner of heartbreakfrom a breakup to mob violence to atomic warare ultimately alike. The problem is that, in a larger sense, such a view robs us first of perspective and then of our sanity. And as this film is humorless, it's especially susceptible to parody. Emmanuele Riva and Eiji Okada co-star as the lovers. (RvB)
(1940) Big-city newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) faces the simultaneous loss of his ex-wife and his star reporter: Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), who proposes to remarry, move to the sticks and have kids. Meanwhile, an execution is scheduled, and only Hildy has the smarts and the spirit to expose it as politically motivated railroading. Grant's Burns is the distillation of every type of movie comedy into one man. Grant uses slapstick, irony, cartoon reactions, silent-film mugging and Hamlet's own wordplay to confound the marks around himand all the people in the world are his marks, except for Hildy. "It's hard to think of anybody but Cary Grant in that type of stuff. He was so far the best that there isn't anybody to be compared to him," said director Howard Hawks. Though overlooked on the American Film Institute's best-of list, His Girl Friday is easily one of the best films ever to come out of studio-era Hollywood. The cast includes a prime lot of comic types: Billy Gilbert, Porter Hall and Ernest Truex. And, as always, there is Ralph Bellamy, playing Hildy's projected husband, an insurance salesman who wants to move his sweetheart into his mother's house in upstate New York. "Albany's a mighty good insurance town. Folks take it out pretty early in life there." (RvB)
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(R; 95 min.) David Cronenberg's fable about the killer inside many family men is an icily calm film. It is so controlled that you wish a little for more heat and less light. The surface is placid, but there is tension throughout; during the rounds of the ordinary family life, you're kept alert by the sense that you'll hear the sound of breaking glass at any second. But a drama about how any meek person could turn out to be a killer isn't that deep; it's been said and done many times before. Still, this adaptation of a graphic novel has a convincing cast, led by Viggo Mortensen and the superb Maria Bello as an Indiana husband and wife who are split up by the arrival of gunmen. Ed Harris is macabre fun as a scar-faced killer with a long memory. (RvB)
(Not rated; 90 min.) Christopher Livingston's Hit and Runway is another entertaining, but slightly flawed, indie that satirizes the popcorn genre. It's about a dense, very hetero Italian guy named Alex (Michael Parducci) who dreams of writing hit screenplays and making billions in Hollywood. When Alex realizes he can't write, he seeks out the talents of struggling playwright Elliot (Peter Jacobson)a neurotic, gay, Jewish guy who gets to mutter most of the movie's witty dialogue. Hit and Runway occasionally slips into the stereotypes it condemns, but it's worth seeing for its unique take on a gay-straight male friendship, and for its well-intentioned jabs at big-budget moviemaking. (DG)
(PG-13; 115 min.) If nothing else, this appealing romantic comedy from director Andy Tennant (Ever After) will fuel the feud between the sexes, opening up some fascinating dialogues after leaving the theater. Until then, Will Smith portrays Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a so-called "date doctor" who teaches males to read women's elusive signals and to make the right moves. Of course, he falls for beautiful gossip columnist, Sara (Eva Mendes), and can't follow any of his own advice. Hitch is sorely in need of tightening; the many subplots and silly slapstick interludes tend to pile up over the long running time. But Smith's knockout comic performance, with its perfect pitches and pauses, ultimately saves the day. Mendes stretches out in her most generous role to date, effectively matching comic jabs with Smith, while Kevin James (The King of Queens) provides able support as Hitch's current client. (JMA)
(R; 83 min.) The original The Hitcher (1986) stumbled into cult status after Siskel & Ebert reviewed it on their TV show, expressing their physical repulsion and moral outrage. The new remake probably won't offend anyone, except with its drooling, numbing stupidity. Two college students (Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton) hit the road during spring break and encounter a creepy hitchhiker (Sean Bean). The baddie kills everyone around except, inexplicably, our heroes, and they in turn fail at every conceivable opportunity to capture their foe or get away. Director Dave Meyers (from music videos) is so inept he even fumbles the rudimentary "jump/shock" scenes. The general idea can be traced back to Steven Spielberg's tense, cunning 1971 movie Duel, a far better way to spend your time. (JMA)
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(PG-13; 120 min.) Fans of Douglas Adams' signature franchise are among the most fervent in the galaxy. You can already find them raging all over the Internet about whether this movie is the best or worst possible film that could be made from the materialand most of them haven't even seen it yet. Many have complained that the movie isn't faithful enough to the bookthese are the newbies. The hardcore fans are the ones who respond to that with one of the following facts: (1) Adams wrote the original script before his death and is in fact the one who introduced most of the big changes; (2) the book is not the original source material anywaythe BBC radio shows came first; (3) every incarnation of Hitchhiker's has been intentionally altered by Adams to be different from the one before it. What's especially interesting is that the Del Mar Midnight Movie series has made this one of the only films it has shown as a midnight pick in its opening week. It would indeed seem to be an instant cult movie, and the number of in-jokes built into this sucker (look for actors and robots from the BBC television version, and even an image of Adams' face, for instance) is staggering. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1998) Israeli road movie about a motley crew of travelers gathered in an '85 Volvo.
(Unrated; 109 min.) The new Jet Li movie begins when an aging war criminal named Tsukamoto is murdered by a masked assassin. Ready for this possibility, the old man has left behind a multimillion-dollar legacy to pay for a killer to avenge his death. Hit men from around the world gather to try for the bounty. Meanwhile, Tai Feng (Li), a down-at-the-heels aspiring assassin from mainland China, gets picked up by a tubby assassin's agent, Sam Wong (Eric Tsang), who figured he can whip the kid into shape. Hitman is a heavy-on-its-feet vehicle for the humble, loveable Li. Despite (or because of) the emphasis on human interest, the fight scenes are the most interesting parts, especially a brawl in an elevator shaft in which the battlers duck bullets and counter-weights. (RvB)