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The Italian American Heritage Foundation's seventh annual film festival features a screening of Lamerica, the acclaimed 1995 film about two Italian buisinessmen who become entangled in a get-rich-quick scheme. Following the film is a reception at Wine Galeria and d.p. Fong Galleries.
The 1964 I Am Cuba tells of the revolution that toppled the dictator Batista and installed Fidel Castro in his place. Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov and his collaborators follow the fates of different sectors of Cuban life: a reluctant prostitute, a farmer about to be pushed off of his land, a student slaughtered during a demonstration against the government, and finally a poor man blasted out of his home by government bombers. To people who prefer dramatic unity, story and character development, I Am Cuba is sort of a waste of time. But to those interested in the mechanics of filmmaking, in the art of direction and photography, I Am Cuba is a phenomenally well-made movie. (RvB)
(PG; 84 min.) There's an uncredited, sturdy old Western-movie plot embedded in Chris Wedge's computer-animated feature, filmed once by John Ford as Three Godfathers, about three misfits escorting a baby across the wastes. In this instance, the wastes are the ice-age glaciers of 20,000 years ago. Here, the three baby-sitters are Manfred the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), the chattering, annoying Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo, who seriously needs to give it a rest) and Diego (Denis Leary), a turncoat saber-toothed tiger who is an errand boy for butchering cats (being a mammal, he eventually warms to the foundling). All three learn about teamwork, but the lesson's hard to take when it's our elephant version of John Wayne who's the most attractive characterpartially because he doesn't respond to Sid's dumb clowning or sticky protestations of friendship. Uneven writing and gag creation plague this film, but it does lead to a powerful death scene, undone in the usual way by the worst narrative habit filmmakers picked up from E.T. (PS: The nervous "scrat" [half squirrel, half rat] that was in the coming attractions is only a peripheral character.) (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 88 min.) Matching up middle-aged wrath with middle-of-nowhere locations, The Ice Harvest tries to be something sour to complement the holiday-season sweetness. It's set in Wichita, during a Christmas Eve ice storm. Billy Bob Thornton, as a midlevel strip-club owner named Vic, is about to be put out of business by Christian political crusaders. So, in search of a last big score, he's yoked with an untrustworthy partner named Charlie (John Cusack). Charlie is full of tense misery, being a local Mafia lawyer who has just filched $2 million from his employers; the usual stacks of hundreds in the traditional leather satchel. All the two have to do is sit tight during an ice storm and wait for the driving conditions to be right. That dawn, they'll be at Kansas City, where each of them will take separate planes to some torrid spot in the citrus belt. Naturally, the simple plan of these bandits is complicated by mutual greed. And there's female pressure by the film's fatale, RenataConnie Nielsen, trying to be Lauren Bacall, by glazing her lower lip with Revlon and husking her voice. It must have looked great on paper ... but by the time Platt's dropped his pants for a laugh, it's apparent that director Harold Ramis has no idea what to do with The Ice Harvest. At times, he thinks it should be a foul Laurel and Hardy pastiche. Ramis restages the famous L & H bit of the duo moving a piano over a swinging bridgehere it's a decaying wharf over a frozen lake, and the piano is a trunkload of hit man. At other times, Ramis tries to be tough as nails, with shooting matches used to supplement knee-in-the-crotch-level slapstick. There's a rationale for anti-holiday programming. Thornton's Bad Santa is a perfect example. But when such movies fail, they're like the experience of going to a bar on Christmas by yourself. The thrill of sacrilege soon fades, and the air of gloom descends and won't lift. (RvB)
(G; 92 min.) Look at me, I'm the Ice Princess! I think I'm so frickin' great! I can land a triple! Hey, Ice Dork, Evgeni Plushenko was landing quads by the time he was 14! Come to think of it, why doesn't anybody do a movie about that guy? I would go see a movie about anyone who said, "I skate for the people. Besides, it's pleasant to supply Russia with golden medals." (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 95 min.) An irksome variation on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, set in a rain-soaked, flea-pit motel in the middle of Nevada. A group of mostly unlikable characters, who couldn't hurry up and die fast enough, are picked off by an unknown person. Director James Mangold (Cop Land, Heavy) rounded up a noteworthy crew of independent-movie stalwarts to play the soon-to-be-slaughtered, including John Cusack and Ray Liotta. Oddly, it's Amanda Peet that one cares the most about. Playing the story's prostitute, Peet shows unshakable determination to be ornery. Her honest resolution to be a short-tempered bad girl just about might have made Femme Fatale work. By contrast, Clea DuVall has never been more unwatchable; she's not a scream queen but a whine queen. As the nominal maniac, the Uncle Festerish Pruitt Taylor Vince bats his eyes in a close-up so tight only his mother could love it. The film's last line, "A whore doesn't get a second chance," would be a great motto for moviegoers, if only you could get them to remember the names of certain directors. (RvB)
(1998) The second film in the "Golden Heart" trilogy by Lars Von Trier, a trilogy begun with Breaking the Waves, and just completed with Dancer in the Dark. In modern-day Copenhagen, a commune forms around the charismatic leadership of Stoffer (Jens Albinus) and dedicates itself to psychological warfare on the bourgeoisie. The group uses "spazzing"acting like imbeciles in publicto aggravate the solid citizens around them. On the one hand The Idiots looks like the movie Jerry Lewis would have sold his soul to make, in which pathos and comical drooling are reconciled. On the other hand, the cast is fierce and intelligentespecially Bodil Jorgensen, who plays the most reluctant member of the communeand the film comes to an overpoweringly well-acted point about the pitilessness of Scandinavian repression. In America, where we're freer to act like idiots if we please, the film may not seem quite so revolutionary. But this is the best film yet from the bare-bones Dogme 95 group. The Idiots has been idiotically censored with heavy black computer generated bars, blazoned over an orgy scene reminiscent of the grainy Danish sex-education docs which once filled late-'60s porn theaters; only the explicitness kept this worthy film from a U.S. release until now. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) Not since Pinocchio turned into a donkey on Pleasure Island has there been such hair-raising punishment for the cardinal sin of laziness. Anton (Devon Sawa) is a hemp-smoking teenage sloth; one day he awakens to find that his hand has become victim to an ancient curse that only strikes the extremely lazy, causing the idle hand to take on a life of its own and kill. The movie isn't anything newit mines key scenes in Evil Dead 2, in addition to several versions of the Hands of Orlac story, including the best version, 1935's Mad Love with Peter Lorre (not to mention Lorre's later picture The Beast With Five Fingers). The cartoonish violence (including, stupidly, a cat being swung by its tail) is way too much for the average viewer. Cat excepted, though, it's just right for nihilist jokers 16 years or older. Seth Green, Willow's werewolf boyfriend from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is amiable as half of a pair of friendly zombies who join up with Anton because they were too lazy to go to heaven ("The music there sounded like Enya," he says, shuddering). Vivica A. Fox stars as the demon-slayer who drives a Winnebago, thus explaining at last the tardy arrival of the cavalry. Toothsome Jessica Alba wanders around as the half-clad heroine, and marijuana saves the day. ("I needs my spinach," says one of the zombies, as he tokes up to get enough strength to fight off the attack of the bad hand.) Music by the Offspring and others. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) Just-friends Lucy and painter Joe (Sarah Jessica Parker and Eric Schaeffer) made a pact in college to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge if neither found true love by the time they turned 30. Time's running out. She's a therapist with a sadistic streak, and he's a peeping Tom with a dorky haircut. Will Lucy and Joe discover at long last that they were meant for each other? Sure! Will they jump off the bridge together? No such luck. Schaeffer, who directed and co-wrote this painfully forced romantic comedy, is intermittently amusing in his tongue-tied enamorment of the model next door (Elle Macpherson), but there's a fine line between endearing wackiness and annoying affectation. He jumps over to the wrong side of the line with both feet, like a kid jumping into a puddle. Unfortunately, he's not the only one who ends up covered with muck. His paintings (by Sam Messer) are nice, though, and so's the soundtrack by Marry Me Jane. (BC)
(R; 98 min.) A bitter and dated preppy comedy about a 16-year-old boarding-school dropout (Kieran Culkin). The film is fairly close to its model, Catcher in the Rye, but insensitive and not very funny either. While director/writer Burr Steers reduces his actors to cultural stereotypes, they never get a chance to bite back. It's a misogynist film, with Susan Sarandon as a castrating bitch of a mother. (RvB)
(R; 101 min.) As an actor and a rapper, Master P (Hook Up's producer/cowriter/star) is no Tupac Shakur. But if Tupac is so fuckin' great, how come he's so fuckin' dead? That joke's sampled from Jack Nicholson in Prizzi's Honor. Master P samples most of Ice Cube's Friday, without the props or humor. Cameos by Snoop Doggy Dogg and much of the hip-hop community are wasted in this whack demi-comedy concerning two South Central, uh, entrepreneurs in the cellular phone business. If it were a crime to mock retards, dis the ladies, exercise relentless bad taste, and produce self-serving seeing-eye films paced worse than rush hour on 237 (likely, if Lungren's elected), then Master P. will soon find himself on Death Row. (DH)
(R; 106 min.) The imaginary Huckabees chain of big box stores, fronted by dippy model Naomi Watts and ruthless exec Jude Law, runs up againstor rather, runs overa dweeb (Jason Schwartzman) who is a green-space activist; following his betrayal, this depressed Candide finds new spiritual mentors: a calm, smiling all-is-oneist "existential detective" (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife and partner (Lily Tomlin). However, even this double ray of hope is darkened by the arrival of a cruel French existentialist, played by Isabelle Huppert, the most perverse-looking woman in the movies since the death of Gayle "The Spider Woman" Sondergaard. Never mind the fallacies, this is a straining, unfunny movie. Its everyman is so pusillanimous it's hard to follow him as a representative of questioning humanity. In other words, Schwartzman is not a presence strong enough to carry a movie. Don't mention Rushmore, which was really carried by its soundtrack, not by its lead actor. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) Like Candyman, this heart-stopping horror picture brings to life a chilling urban legend. Four teens are having the time of their lives when something goes terribly, terribly wrong--something so hideous that it destroys their lives. Full of horrifying, in-your-face scare tactics and gruesomely visceral death scenes, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a watch-through-your fingers kind of movie. The pain the characters feel throughout the deluge of suspenseful moments and gory action scenes is so real it's tangible. This movie effectively takes the horror genre in a different direction than Scream by not mocking itself and by giving the audience only minimal comic relief. (SQ)
(1945) Michael Powell filmed the romance I Know Where I'm Going in the Scottish islands, where a headstrong girl (Wendy Hiller), contracted to marry a rich man, is diverted by a storm and a Royal Navy officer. (RvB)
(PG; 79 min.) This smarm-fest stars teen idol Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Jake Wilkinson, a self-absorbed college student who learns the holiday lessons about family and goodwill toward humanity that have been feel-good entertainment staples since Ebenezer Scrooge's Christmas Eve transformation. A big man on campus at a posh Southern California college, Jake scoffs at returning to New York to see his family for Christmas until Dad offers him a vintage Porsche as incentive. But Jake finds himself stranded in the desert in a Santa suit when his exam-cheating arrangement with the school jocks backfires, and penniless, he has to race cross-country to get home in time to snag the Porsche and derail the potentially eternal ire of his girlfriend, Allie (Jessica Biel). If home is really where you're supposed to be during the holidaysand I'll Be Home's preaching leaves little doubt about thatthen stay home and rent Planes, Trains and Automobiles instead. (HZ)
(PG-13; 113 min.) Kirk Douglas' last film, which is kind of sad. Not co-star Ted Raimi's last film, which is also kind of sad, but that's another story. Anyway, Douglas plays an old man who goes to a mystic to find out what happened to his estranged son. He is shown three versions of his son's lifewhich one really happened is part of the twist. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1994) Riotous wrong-identity comedy about a mild-mannered shoplifter named Loris (Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful) who is mistaken for a serial criminal. Loris is stalked by a hyperbolic police psychiatrist (Michel Blanc) and lured by a gorgeous but inept policewoman (Nicoletta Braschi). Not a PC film, though lovers of overstatement can get a chuckle: says Blanc on the real criminal, "This man is the Mozart of vice." We all may not be Mozarts, but most of us like to play around a little, and a large part of Benigni's comedy derives from the fact that Loris is guilty: guilty of garden-variety lechery that he's much too nice to act upon and much too ridiculous to conceal. (RvB)
(1994) During the 1950s, a humble Italian postman learns lessons in love from the poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) in exile from Chile. Massimo Troisi, an actor known mostly for comedic parts who died shortly after this film was completed, makes this film memorable, as does the tango soundtrack by Luis Enrique Bacalov. Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who seemed destined for bombshelldom, has had only one more notable part: that of the girl who keelhauls 007 from a balloon in the pretitle sequence of The World Is Not Enough. (RvB)
Camille Cellucci, visual effects producer for Titanic, comes to Palo Alto to address IMAGE, the Independent Media Artists group, a nonprofit co-op of local independent directors and documentary makers. Cellucci, an effects expert on The Abyss, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and others will discuss her work. Plays Apr 30 at 7pm in Palo Alto at the Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto; free for IMAGE members/$10 for general public; 650/562-3485. (RvB)
The Independent Media Artists Group (IMAGE) hosts an evening with the creative team behind the 1997 independent Dream With the Fishes with guest speakers writer/director Finn Taylor, producers Mitchell Stein and Laurie Miller and editor Rick LeCompte. (Plays June 30, 7:30pm at the Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto; $7; 650/562-3485.)
The Independent Media Artist's group hosts David Rosen, author of Off-Hollywood: The Making and Marketing of Independent Films (Grove Press) and Julie Mackaman, a consultant to TV and film producers. Discussions on how to raise money for independent film will be followed by a networking session. (Nov 19 at 7:30; $7 for nonmembers, free for members; Room H1, Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto; 650/845-1598.) (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 117 min.) As Sandy, a drifting mom nursing her boredom in the most-tree-lined part of suburban New Jersey, Sigourney Weaver easily takes over Dan Harris' film. Imaginary Heroes takes place during the course of the senior year in high school of Sandy's son, Tim (Emile Hirsch). The family starts to disintegrate after a tragedy that happens early in the narrative. The one who dies was the family's golden boy. Tim, by contrast, is quiet, and furtive. Tim is literally injured. He bears bruises he refuses to talk about, while he deals with the guilt and alienation of his family. His father, Ben (Jeff Daniels), gradually metamorphoses from a human being into a sort of walking ratty terrycloth bathrobe. The story is held together with the question of who roughed up Tim. The suspects include a high school bully and Tim's bad-boy friend Kyle (Ryan Donowho). As a teenage alienation film, Imaginary Heroes is unusually dry-humored. It knows all the comic forlornness of a bright kid's life. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 94 min.) As sumptuous a serving of Piper Perabo as millions of Pipermaniacs here and on the off-world colonies could ever ask for. Our heroine plays a newlywed facing a crisis of sexual identity. Rachel dwells in an affluent part of London and is preparing for an upper-class wedding to Hector, or Heck for short. On the way to the altar, Rachel notices an unfamiliar face in the crowd: florist Luce (Lena Headey). Struck by her, Rachel tries to set up the flower vendor with her pal Coop (Darren Boyd). But Luce is not fated to be dated: she's gay. Luce and Rachel are reduced to staring at one another whenever they meet. What would seem to be a flaccid performance by Matthew Goode as Heck is actually a satire of the bland leading acting common to upper-class English romantic films. Goode is so chopfallen and mojo-free he could be auditioning for the role of Prince Charles. (RvB)
(Not rated) Despite setting out like most surf-film producers with a trio of young hotshots and an intinerary taking them to the world's hottest breaks, filmmaker Marshall Hattori ends up with a documentary spelling out a clash of surfing cultures. Features Kelly Slater's younger brother, Stephen, Roxy model and up-and-coming pro Veronica Kay and surf artist Christian Enns.
Among the features on the big, really big screen: Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West, Bugs! 2D, Top Speed, Our Country, Pulse: A STOMP Odyssey. Coral Reef Adventure: Dive Into the South Pacific, Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West, Everest: View From the top of the World, Blue Planet: A Space Film about Earth, Fires of Kuwait, Majestic White Horses; Helicopters in Action and Mexico. All seats at all shows are just $7. (RvB)
(1934) Claudette Colbert, Louise Beavers and Warren Williams star in a famous melodrama about the interwined fates of a woman and her African American maid.
(Unrated; 74 min.) Animator Bill Plympton's follow-up to The Tune chronicles the life of Grant, a married man who is mutated by emissions from his TV satellite dish. This burst of radiation gives Grant an extra brain lobe that endows him with the godlike power to rearrange matter. Grant's prankish whims cost him marital bliss, and his new abilities attract the unwelcome attention of the military-industrial complex. As an artist, Plympton is a master of caricaturing the big, pink, beefy faces of 1950s American master-class types, so packed with cholesterol and self-confidence that they bulge and wobble and burst. As a full-length animator, though, Plympton's not at his best; his pace is killingly slow. (RvB)
(1933) "Am I making myself clear?"Mae West. A lady lion tamer named Tira but billed as Sister Honky Tonk (West) tires of bossing cats around and decides to set her sites on more dangerous game. She romances a millionaire who balks at the altar and pays the price for it later ($1 million). Grant plays the unfortunate plutocrat's lawyer who falls for the bad girl. West at her best. (RvB)
(Unrated; 96 min.) The overrated, sappy and annoyingly precious 1993 film version of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club was completely undeserving of its reputation as a breakthrough for Asian American cinema because it recycled the same old Asian stereotypes that most critics claimed it was avoiding. A film that's more honest and more deserving of being called a breakthrough is Margaret Cho's sharp, raucous stand-up concert film, I'm the One That I Want, shot at the Warfield Theater in her hometown of San Francisco (where she has a huge gay following). In this screen version of her hit one-woman show about her rocky road through fame, the Korean-American comic attacks Hollywood stereotypes of Asians (like the ones in The Joy Luck Club) with a zealousness and outspokenness so rarely seen in Asian American performers in movies that it will make you forgive cinematographer/director Lionel Coleman's static approach or Cho's awkward transitions from humor to I-will-survive seriousness. Besides stereotypes, Cho also hilariously comments on the network suits who meddled with her lame 1994 attempt at TV stardom, All-American Girl, a sanitized sitcom version of her stand-up act; her network-mandated weight loss ("The first thing you lose on a diet is brain mass"); her alcoholic past; sexual experimentation; the clumsiness of drunken sex; and the men in straight porn flicks ("It's always some guy with hair like Jo from The Facts of Life"). But I'm the One That I Want is at its most exhilarating when it serves as an Asian American performer's long-overdue middle finger to clueless, racist Hollywood. (JA)
(R) A shipboard farce is Stanley Tucci's disastrous followup to his tragicomic Big Night. The Imposters dives for the memory of scores of screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s, and belly-flops. Tucci, who wrote and directed, casts himself and Oliver Platt as a Laurel and Hardy-like pair, bad 1930s-era actors so desperate to perform that they improvise fight scenes on the street to try to capture the attention of passersby. One improvisation nets Arthur (Tucci) and Maurice (Platt) a sort of reward: a pair of free theater tickets to go see an acclaimed no-talent British theatrical star Jeremy Burtom massacring Hamlet. The Hamlet of Jeremy Burtom (Alfred Molina) is The Imposters' lone highlight. Burtom is a painted-up crap-actor whose terrific histrionics on stage are only matched by his nastiness. Just as Arthur and Maurice are denouncing Burtom in a local bar, the rotten star arrives with his entourage. A scuffle breaks out, the police arrive, and Arthur and Maurice go hide from the cops in a packing crate on the docks. As the two snooze, the crate is hauled aboard the S.S. Intercontinental. Maurice and Arthur are trapped aboard the ship as stowaways; as they look for hiding places, they accidentally discover a bomb plot and other dangerous intrigues. This luxury liner carries a motley crew for its transatlantic crossing. Among them: Lili Taylor, with a fetching '40s coiffure, as the chipper head stewardess; Isabella Rossellini as a deposed queen; Billy Connolly as a brawny homosexual tennis player with some sort of D.H. Lawrence complex about wrestling; and Campbell Scott as a Von Stroheim-like Prussian steward named Meistrich. It'd take real genius to organize all of these various orders of people into a farce, so Tucci can't really be held entirely responsible for failing. Using blackouts and title cards, he tries to shuffle scenes around, for tag-team comedy. If every other sketch worked, the film might be passable, but not even every fourth or fifth episode delivers a laugh. Scenes trail off into nothingness and gags fall flat. (RvB)
(2003) Novice director Sam Jones' account of the way the band Wilco spent the year 2001. The film supplies yet another indictment of the bottom-line fever that keeps the music industry loathed and loathsome. (RvB)