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(1950/1949) The title for In a Lonely Place comes from a poem by J.M. Synge, but the sentiment is all Nicholas Ray, cinema's reigning Mr. Vicissitude, whose furious work mirrored the bipolar disorder that tormented him. Humphrey Bogart has extraordinary range here as screenwriter Dixon Steele, 86ed from the movie studios for his drinking and his terrible temper. Suffering from postwar syndrome, a "rage that only requires a victim" (Ray's own words), Steele finds his last human hope in the form of his neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), an ex-kept woman trying to retrieve her self-respect. When Steele is accused of a murder, their fragile affair is strained to the breaking point. During the making of In a Lonely Place, Ray was separating from Grahame, his wife at the time. There's a theory that the atmosphere of loss, of life going haywire, is due to the real-life split-up. Bogartwho could be something of an empty threat in his later moviesis dangerous one last time here. BILLED WITH They Live by Night. If you loved All the Real Girls, check out Ray's first film, a dreamy, soft-spoken love story that unfolds against the background of a typical gangster movie. A clutch of unsuccessful prison escapees who survive by robbing banks ("They're thieves, just like us") hide out somewhere in the general vicinity of Oklahoma. Yet Ray elides most of the action here, bringing us into focus on the aftermath of botched jobs and small hauls. The emphasis is on the helpless love of the youngest member of the gang, Bowie (San Jose's Farley Granger), and the ignored girl Keetchie (Cathy O'Donnell), who as Ray put it, is so plain that she's beautiful. Despite some early and impressive use of helicopter-mounted cameras, this movie doesn't get off on violence, and even brings some sorrow into the blowing up of an automobile (its radio is playing as the car burns). RKOundergoing a change of managementshelved it, retitled it and released it abroad, where its fatalism found some fans and apt comparisons to the work of Robert Bresson. Still, it's hard to imagine any time or place when a film this delicate and haunted would have been a hit. Howard da Silva co-stars as the one-eyed crook who holds Bowie's life in thrall; Marie Bryant is the nightclub singer who forecasts the lover's fate in her song "Your Red Wagon." Remade in 1974 by Robert Altman as Thieves Like Us, with Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall as Bowie and Keetchie. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 90 min.) Outed in front of millions, high school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline), who is three days away from his marriage, is in a frenzy of denial. Previously, the only clue to his sexual preference was perhaps a too-fervent worship of Barbra Streisand. He's guilty, in other words, but circumstances make him a hero. While Kline gets more mileage out of a deer-in-the-headlights gaze than most people can get out of a Toyota, In & Out is an ensemble comedy that cuts away to the peripheral characters, tops the gags and tops them again. Leading the supporting cast is Tom Selleck as a TV reporter with a double agenda. Bob Newhart, funnier as he grows more decrepit, is a malevolent tortoise of a principal. Joan Cusack plays Kline's fiancée; her strangely stilted, V-shaped smile is mirrored in the plunging neckline of the wedding dress she wears through most of the film. In & Out is a comedy that shows some faith in the goodness of human nature, a faith that every little bit must somehow help. The film's spirit is as refreshing as its jokes. (RvB)
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(PG; 115 min.) It is incredible. Forbidden by law to practice his vocation as a masked superhero, the yearning dad Mr. Incredible is recruited as a private consultant, only to stumble across a plot by a new and powerful enemy. Mining the Fantastic Four and the James Bond adventure You Only Live Twiceand adding more than a little bit of Alan Moore's Twilight of the Demigods graphic novel The Watchmen, director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) has concocted a superdrama of family reconciliation. He does this without stinting the real pain of a father who fears he's become useless. And yet the movie doesn't stint the mystery and adventure that are essential to superhero lore. Generally, a film loaded with this much explosions and robot fighting doesn't have its heart in the right place. With Holly Hunter as the voice of stay-at-home superheroine Elastigirl, NPR's sweetheart Sarah Vowell as the shrinking teen Violet, and Jason Lee as the father-issue-stricken villain Syndrome. (RvB)
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Randy Dean (Laura Holloman)gas-station attendant, aspiring rock musician and potential high school dropoutgets tangled up with a beautiful girl named Evie (Nicole Parker). The result is a dilemma instead of a tragedy. It's a summery comedy free from melodrama; the world's idiot rage at two girls in love is kept almost to background noise. Holloman radiates unlettered intelligence as the young heroine. This sweet, low-key movie is better than any romance that's been released this year. (RvB)
(PG-13; 108 min.) A young woman makes friends with an elitist group of wealthy college students but encounters danger when she tangles with the group's leader.
(PG-13; 150 min.) Great special effects. Even greater clichÈs, from President Bill Pullman's consoling words to a new orphan ("Yes, mommy's sleeping") to Randy Quaid's rehabilitated drunk (he's played the part more often than Walter Brennan). The movie is so full of other moviesfrom Earth Versus the Flying Saucers to Top Gunthat it's like something sewn together after a night of channel surfing. Independence Day deserves credit for its color-blind casting of Will Smith as the savior of the planet, but the rest of the world still wises up and fights the aliens under the banner of the U.S. It's jingoism disguised as a kid's fireworks show. (RvB)
Even if you often find yourself bothered by cinematic inconsistencies, it is not very likely that your kids will notice some of the more annoying moments in this film about a little boy and his magic cupboard. Apart from a few overdone sweeping musical scores, a somewhat dubious message about alcoholism and that nagging question that remains in the viewer's mind long after the film ends (just where did they get a razor small enough to keep the little Indian's head so smooth for so many days), it's a pretty good story. Rather E.T.-esque in its appeal, the film follows the adventures of the boy Omri (Hal Scardino) and Little Bear, a three-inch toy who comes to life after being stashed inside a cupboard that has the power to turn plastic into reality. There is a very thinly veiled moral to the story, but it is not obnoxious or overly preachy in its presentation, and although there are more than a few moments oozing with some pretty shameless Velveeta, they are overshadowed by the genuinely funny and entertaining nature of this modern fairy tale. (BB)
(1989) Third and schmaltziest of Steven Spielberg's B-movie pastiches, with the Holy Grail as the treasure that Indiana (Harrison Ford) seeks. But the grail is a symbol of better understanding between the generations. In other words, this is the dreaded men's-movement movie at its stickiest, with Sean Connery as the estranged dad this adventurer was looking for all along, without even knowing it. The views of Petra in Jordan are fascinating, anyway, and the staging of a Nazi rally outside a familiar Treasure Island landmark is effective. When in Valencia, Spain, visit the cathedralhome of the actual accept-no-substitutes Holy Grail! No, you're not allowed to touch it. (RvB)
(1984) Lucas/Spielberg reconstitution of vintage serials, featuring Harrison Ford as one of the old hat-act adventurers. He heads to India where they eat bugs. As Indie's fussy leading lady, Kate Capshaw has a voice that's like poison oak for the ears. The opening sequence in 1930s Shanghai is kinetic fun, and of course, the film is fondly remembered by ex-children. Derived, heavily, from the eminently preferable Gunga Din (1939). (RvB)
(Both 1958) A well-off London bachelor (Cary Grant) pretends to have a wife to keep his girlfriends from making untoward demands; one, an actress (Ingrid Bergman), sees through the ruse. Stanley Donen directs this made-in-England feature reuniting the leads from Notorious. BILLED WITH Houseboat, the kind of film that director Melville Shavelson would do again and again, all the way up to Yours, Mine and Ours in 1968: the slightly dysfunctional family comedy that launched a hundred sitcoms. Grant, an unelected Washington, D.C., official and a single man"an undomesticated animal"decides to care for his estranged children. Due to some dubious circumstances, the four move to a decrepit houseboat. With them comes the Italian maid Cinzia (Sophia Loren). The movie is nothing more than a series of interferences to keep Sophia and Cary apart. The two have a rapport--Loren's vivaciousness counters Grant's fascinating abstraction. Certainly, she looks famous in a gold lamé gown, but it's almost impossible to watch them without the kids interrupting. (RvB)
(R; 101 min.) In Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's sensational 2002 Hong Kong policier, the glass-walled high rises of the city trap the characters in a maze of reflections. In this deadly fun house of double exposures and double identities, clarity is achieved only when the protagonists face each other down on a rooftop that exposes the entire Hong Kong skylinewith office towers and apartment complexes stretched out between the harbor and the distant hills. At last, they have transcended the confining warren of the crowded streets to face their fates on a higher plane. In a satisfyingly dense, knotted plot, a cop (Tony Leung, Broken Sword in Hero), goes underground with a local gang. In reverse fashion, the gang boss's protégé (Andy Lau) has been planted high up in the police department as a mole. Eventually, each man is charged with discovering and outing the other. The crissing and crossing proliferates as the police and mobsters (distinctly mirror images in a corrupt society) bug each others' cell phones and transmitters during stakeouts and chases, occasionally intersecting in sparks of violence like exposed wires in frayed cords touching. The pacing is relentless (don't let your attention wander, or you'll never catch up again), and the acting superb. Soulful Leung, with his scraggly goatee and air of resignation, evokes Jean-Paul Belmondo; Lau, with a face made up of sheer jutting planes, is like a cross between Alain Delon and Lee Van Cleef. Their final encounter is a stunning showdown that leads to yet another surprise in a film that has enough twists for three thrillers. And indeed, there are two interlocking prequel/sequels to the film, which with any luck will turn up soon in theaters. Highly recommended. (MSG)
Matthew Broderick's restrained direction and performance show a respect for the audience that's rare in cinematic high tragedy. Infinity, adapted from the memoirs of Richard Feynman, concerns the famous physicist's doomed first wife, Arline (Patricia Arquette), who suffered from a lingering illness while Feynman worked for the Manhattan Project. The story isn't buried under nostalgia; it gives the sense that even educated people were a bit more arrogant and abrasive in the prewar days. Feynman has a cocky streak that could possibly rub you the wrong way; similarly, Arquette is painstaking not to make her character a protofeminist or an angel in training. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 109 min.) The clumsy probing of a wound isn't good for it, despite how well-meaning the doctor is, or how much the patient might need attention. Though it might deserve an E for effort, a bit of ersatz Garson Kanin titled In Good Company fails to put the healing touch on the agony of the layoff. Dennis Quaid is a middle-aged sales department head at Sports America (read: Sports Illustrated). At the beginning of Paul Weitz's comedy/drama, Quaid's Dan Forman has gotten the bad news. His magazine has just been gobbled up by a foreign raider, and his new boss is an eager 26-year-old named Carter (Topher Grace). Carter doesn't realize that his optimism wouldn't be enough to overcome the real purpose of his new assignment: he's going to be lopping heads in the name of the bottom line. Matters worsen when Carter falls for Dan's young daughter, an NYU student (Scarlett Johansson). In Good Company starts out with a real problemthe merge-and-purge layoffs that are leaving millions unemployed. But even when it does a montage of layoffs, In Good Company is fundamentally terrified of coming off as anti-business, and retreats from its implications back to the happier, safer terrain of the young love story. This isn't a relief, either. Johansson is a sharklike tennis player who's in the midst of transferring to NYU. She's supposed to be finding her way as a woman, but underracting won't save an underwritten part. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) A remake of the justly forgotten Alan Arkin/Peter Falk picture of 1979, but this wretched film is really built on the lines of Father of the Bride. Michael Douglas and Robin Tunney are secret agents who have to attend Douglas' daughter's wedding. The danger man and his assistant hang out with the bride's father, a fussy Chicago podiatrist played by Albert Brooksnaturally, this phobic and sissified doctor ends up involved with a dangerous mission. Seeing Brooks stooging for Douglaswhom no one ever considered the comic typeis tragic to longtime fans of one of the original anti-comedians. When Brooks bares his butt for a thong joke, something dies inside you. No relief is offered when Candice Bergen, as Douglas' ex-wife, shows up to trot out the oldest New Age jokes this side of a Dharma & Greg episode. Note that one of the writers credited is Ed Solomon, who directed Levityis this movie the reason he lost his mirth? The In-Laws has a sort of redeeming quality in the form of David Suchet, doing a Pepe le Pew part as a gay Frenchman who has the hots for Brooks. When Suchet bats his spaniel eyes, he gives us a moment of subtlety in this overblown nightmare of a comedy. (RvB)
(PG-13; 115 min.) Richard Attenborough's old-fashioned romance is, so the credits inform us, based on a true story. Sadly, unlike Fargo's tongue-in-cheek caveat, In Love and War's warning can't be taken with a dollop of irony to make the historical pill go down more easily. A young (age 18) Ernest Hemingway, while volunteering as a Red Cross ambulance driver in WWI, fell in love with a nurse named Agnes Von Kurowsky. When she dumped him, the future Nobel laureate became a bitter man incapable of forming a lasting relationship... but, hey, he also got the idea for A Farewell to Arms. And so the complex skein of experience that produced one of the most influential prose voices of our century has been reduced to the dynamics of a Harlequin novel. Chris O'Donnell plays Hemingway as golly-gee all-American kid, while Sandra Bullock gives an honorably moist-eyed performance as the conflicted Agnes. The real culprit is Attenborough, who can turn even an intimate drama into Gandhi. (MSG)
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(R; 111 min.) Seeking a redeeming value in John Boorman's In My Country, a movie as wet and dismal as an Oregon Sunday, the viewer might make a stretch and praise the excellent Brendan Gleeson, who plays De Jager, a racist torture-master of South Africa. De Jager is so evil he keeps a lair full of poor taxidermed animals who watch Samuel L. Jackson overact with their impassive glass eyes. In My Country concerns the 1994 Truth and Reconciliation Reports that came after the fall of apartheid. A caravan of judges and bishops recorded some 21,000 testimonies about police and paramilitary brutality. It's a subject rich with drama. Unfortunately, the real focus isn't on the disappearances and the tortured; it's on the reaction of outsiders and how their hearts bleed to hear of it. Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche) is an Afrikaner poet who is covering the inquests for the radio; her fruity narration distances the subject further. Jackson plays a Washington Post reporter named Whitfield, who has a temper about the entire proceedings, but he's particularly pissed at Anna for being a member of the Afrikaner nation. Can't these two kids realize they're crazy about each other? And unfortunately, it is just that simple. Fortunately, a sidekick (Menzi "Ngubs" Ngubane) is there to stall the inevitable. (RvB)
(1939) In the Connecticut countryside, Kay Francis marries Cary Grant to get his money and status, driving him to illness through her bitchery. Meanwhile, Carole Lombard, a widow with a child, waits for him to get a divorce, which Francis first promises, then withholds. This John Cromwell-directed soap opera wasn't a common topic for Francis, Grant or Lombard, but it has its fans. (RvB)
(1964) In one of the most lyrical proofs that film can be poetry, the swooping handheld camera of Mikhail Kalatozov takes flight above the fields and city streets of Batista's Cuba in 1964, documenting the exploitation of the working class and the excesses of the rich. Acting as worthy heirs to Leni Riefenstahl's agitprop, Kalatozov and poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko take a long view of the country's path to Communism in five visually rich episodes. "Don't avert your eyes. Look! I am Cuba. For you, I am the casino, the bar, hotels and brothels. But the hands of these children and old people are also me." (DB)
(1961/1947) BILLED WITH Black Narcissus. In the Himalayas, 8,000 or so feet upopinion variesthe seraglio at Mopu is newly inhabited by a troop of nuns. Despite the altitude and their heavy canvas costumes, the women are bewitched by the lure of Indiasymbolized by a precipitous cliff, the kind of id-slide only pre-1960s movies could do right. Most dangerous to the head nun (Deborah Kerr) is the local British official (David Farrar), who wears the hat of Robinson Crusoe and the costume of Peter Pan. We deduce he's gone native. He's especially dangerous to a Wendy who finds out she can't flyKathleen Byron, immortal as the passion-stricken Sister Ruth. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's masterpiece of exotica is as ambitious a piece of artifice as the sound era could boast; the ethereal Technicolor has brought back fans for decades. Screened in a nitrate print. Filmed entirely in Sussex and London, amazingly enough. (RvB)
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(R; 120 min.) Based on a true story, the film tells of young Chava (Carlos Padilla Leñera) waiting in dread for his 12th birthday during the civil war in the '80s in El Salvador. At that time, he'll be swept up by the army press gangs. Director Luis Mendoki doesn't spare the terrors of the civil warthe automatic-weapon fire that commences every night, keeping Chava's barrio pinned down behind mattresses. The intensity of the danger is contrasted with Chava's crush on a schoolteacher's daughter (Xuna Primas). The most lyrical scene is the image of boys camping on the tin roofs of their shanties to hide from the soldiers. These nights give Chavo and his friends the sight of thousands of stars. Innocent Voices is like that; it doesn't neglect the stars even when it follows the polished boots trampling the mud. (RvB)
(R; 140 min.) Or, how to make $34 million in the first week by pandering to homophobic 16-year-olds teased by the shots of Jessica Biel in her underwear. (This, by far the best scene in the movie, takes place after the first hour, so show up late, and then wonder why we eventually end up getting a better view of Ving Rhames' body double's ass. What is this movie trying to tell us?) Adam Sandler plays a pasha of a NYPD fireman, complete with a small harem; it was bad enough when Sandler thought he was Jerry Lewis, now he thinks he's Dean Martin, too. His best buddy, Kevin James, needs medical benefits, and so he proposes they marry to get them. What follows is a Dumpster load of septic fag jokes, mostly a lot of sniggering about "What you people put up your ass." Despite the fact that firefighters have some sweet benefits—certainly, they deserve them—this movie doesn't mention the word "union" anymore than the season's other romantic comedies can mention the word "abortion." It's schizophrenically inconsistent—the result of being the most notoriously rewritten film of the last five years, with sad legions of screenwriters trying to turn this one odious high-concept joke into an actual film. The actual hypocrisy of the queer-bashing followed by Sandler's but-seriously-folks tolerance isn't more of a shock than some piss-poor nightclub insult comedian buttering up the audience after abusing them. The saddest part is seeing Dan Aykroyd trying to control his distaste as he works to make something out of nothing dialogue: "I'd rather change my grandfather's diaper than watch two heterosexual men kiss." At what stage of the rewrites do you suppose they added the discreet word "heterosexual"? (RvB)
(Unrated; 98 min.) Falling in love and failing in art, Edgar (Bruno Putzulu) wanders through Parisblack-and-white and grimin the aftermath of a project that disintegrated. Jean-Luc Godard's abstract new film is an essay in two parts. The first takes place at street-level Paris, with one indelible shot of a homeless man sleeping in the rain on a park bench. The second half is a flashback to two years before in Brittany, in saturated digital video. Blink and you'll miss love at first sight as it strikes Edgar when he sees "Elle" (Cecile Camp). The Brittany sequences involve Edgar's attempts to make a film, though he's outbid by Yankees. Like Godard, I deplore the great cinematic leap into the candy factory represented by the success of Spielberg and Lucas. But his arguments here are vague and crabby; he doesn't seem to know his enemy. It's depressing to see a mind as profound as Godard's bent on these old man's crochets. (RvB)
(NC-17) Brian Grazer-produced documentary concerning the amazing story of pornography's first crossover hita film that today's audiences know, if at all, by reputation rather than sight. An ex-hairdresser named Gerard Damiano shot it in a series of rented or stolen Florida locations for a budget of $16,000; it starred a freckly, half-bright Long Islander named Linda Boreman, who gained universal fame as Linda Lovelace. It was the mid-1970s. The mighty sucking sound of Nixon going down the tubes was an obbligato to Lovelace's own specialty, demonstrated here (so beware). Deep Throat became national news, snickered about by the likes of Rowan and Martin and Bob Hope, and fretted about by Dick Cavett, Erica Jong and Norman Mailer. (People of taste preferred Damiano's later The Devil in Miss Jones; and, in fact, the now grandmotherly Georgina Spelvin is interviewed here, along with the usual cultural suspects, including, inevitably, Gore Vidal.) With a gross of $600 million, Deep Throat is judged to be the most popular film of all time; and now it would seem that the Mob got a hefty portion of it. Lovelace became the first martyr of porn, going on to testify that she was beaten into performing, though it is suggested she testified at the behest of Ed Meese in his since-forgotten crusade against smut. Yet it was her leading man, the jaunty Harry Rheems (a mustachioed cut-up with a thing for Groucho Marx), who actually faced a five-year prison sentence. The documentary is a three-ring media circus in which the performers include Annie Sprinkles, the loathsome Roy Cohn and rapeologist Susan Brownmiller. It is researched up the wazoo, but the documentary's Hard Copy-like style and firm, unyielding story arc leave a little to be desired. It's the old-timersnot counting Norman Mailer, given the last wordwho tend to envision pornography as a prospect with all of its happiest and most exciting days behind it. On the contrary, it still remains to be seen what can be done with this most disreputable child of art and commerce. (RvB)
(Unrated; 105 min.) A Norwegian film about two criminal investigators who journey to a small town to help local police solve the murder of a young girl.
(R; 124 min.) Director Jon Turteltaub and writer Gerald DiPego (both of Phenomenon fame) have created a film which does a considerably inferior job of exploring the same idea as William Golding's novel The Lord of the Flies (and the subsequent films based on it). Even excellent performances by Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. are not enough to save this contrived examination of the "beast within," which tells the story of a brilliant primatologist named Ethan Powell (Hopkins), who literally went back to humans' roots by living for two years among gorillas in Africa. Accused of several vicious murders in the jungle, he has been extradited to the U.S. and awaits a mental competency hearing; Gooding is the eager young psychiatrist who evaluates him. Locked up in a prison for the criminally insane run by cruel bureaucrats who quietly condone the brutalizing of inmates, of course, Powelland his appalling surroundingsteach the doctor a thing or two about the true nature of the human condition. As if the prison itself weren't clue enough to how primitive humans really are, a sadistic guard hammers home the message: Who's really civilized? Duh, it's the animalsbut most pet owners could tell you that. (HZ)
(R; 108 min.) Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's highly intriguing Borgesian supernatural drama proposes the existence of communicable luckluck, that is, that can be donated or extracted from a person. The luckiest man in the world, hooded like a hangman, lives in a bunker underneath a desert casino of almost Martian remoteness. (Sam, his name is; he's played by Max von Sydow, who looks much more robust here than he does in Minority Report.) Engorged with the good fortune of others, he gambles for what might be considered more than just the lives of his opponents. In what follows, a formerly lucky gambler named Federico (Eusebio Poncela) trains Tomas (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a criminal with a reservoir of good looks, for a contest with Saminstructing him in strange showdowns with contenders in the world of luck-contests. Meanwhile, Sara (Monica Lopez), a police officer scarred and emotionally ruined from a car crash, tries to crack Sam's gambit. From the peculiar title on, Intacto is both spooky and plausible. It isn't hard to swallowjust hard to follow. Fresnadillo's vortex of plots is sorted through, and there are times when the viewer is left beached. However, the film is certainly recommended for fans of the bizarre and the mysterious. (RvB)
(1933/1931) It's a race to Wu-hu, China, to be the first bidders on the amazing new inventiontelevisionwhich, startlingly, allows pictures to accompany radio broadcasts. In the lead: W.C. Fields, who pilots his propeller-equipped automobile, The Spirit of South Brooklyn, into the lobby of the International House Hotel. This 70-minute stream-of-consciousness comedy is filled with cameos, including turns by Rudy Vallee, Bela Lugosi (as a Russian warlord), George Burns (back when he was a nipper) and the since-forgotten radio comedian "Colonel Stoopnagle" making some prop-comedy jokes about the Technocracy movement. Aside from Fieldsians, old-movie hepsters will be most interested in Cab Calloway's song about the perils of marijuana, "(Have You Seen That) Reefer Man." Tragically, such "reefer men," to use the parlance of our times, were much in attendance in '70s revivals of this bit of vintage cinematic wackery. Didn't we know the danger? If only we'd been able to push a magic button and time-travel to the year 2001, to read and be properly chastened by Matt Smith's stern anti-pot editorial in the SF Weekly on Feb. 15. Smith referred to marijuana smokers as people "who sit and stare at light bulbs all day," when they could all be doing something more enlightening, such as memorizing Smith's fearless pro-developer, slacker-scourging editorials. Mr. Smith, please. We're so tired of sitting and staring at the light bulb all day. Help us to be just like you. Mr. SmithMattcan't you hear our plea? BILLED WITH Palmy Days. Eddie Cantor stars as a clueless assistant to a gang of spiritualists (led by George Raft) who are out to fleece a millionaire bakery tycoon. To foil them, Cantor dons girl's clothes and blackface. Cantor's once crowd-pleasing minstrel act now revolts musical fans who might enjoy other aspects of his pictures: the cheesecake (these pre-Code Goldwyn pictures are lingerie city), Cantor's spirited performance of "My Baby Says Yes, Yes," the high-kicking dancer Charlotte Greenwood, the photography by Gregg Toland and the musical numbers by Busby Berkeley. And the light bulbs ... so, so pretty. (RvB)
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Un Hijo Genial/My Son Is a Genius (2004). Jose Luis Massa's Argentinian film about a child who witnesses an art heist. (Nov 18, 10am, San Jose at the Mexican Heritage Center.) El Rapto, a.k.a. The Kidnapping (1953). This vintage ranchera musical stars Jorge Negrete, the Mexican David Niven, as a rancher cheated out of his land by back taxes. The new owner is the imperious Aurora (the simmering Maria Felix) who thought she bought the land fair and square, little realizing that crooked town bureaucrats pocketed the money. When Negrete presses his ownership, Aurora cooks up a phony rape chargea strategy that backfires when, in accordance with age-old peasant law, the court decides Aurora's "attacker" must marry her. A musical Taming of the Shrew story highlighted with five terrific traditional numbers, including an authentic hat dance. (Nov 18, 6pm, at the Mexican Heritage Center.) Magos y Gingantes, a.k.a. Wizards and Giants (2003). Children's movie for ages 6 and up. (Nov 21, 12:30pm, at the Mexican Heritage Center.) Farmingville (2003) Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini's investigation of a hate crime in Long Island. The murderous assault on two illegal day-laborers turned out to be only the beginning of troubles. When the town tried to establish a hiring hall for the illegals, the divisions worsened. The documentary is as frightening as it is fair-minded, and it's a warning of more hatred and division to come. (Nov 21, 2:15pm, at the Mexican Heritage Plaza.) Un Amor Silencioso (2003). Actress Vanessa Bauche will show for a Q&A session. (Nov 21, 4:45pm, at the Mexican Heritage Center.) Korda-Vision (2004). A documentary about the photographer who took the most famous picture of Che. (Nov 21, 7:15pm, at the Mexican Heritage Center.) Dirt (2003). (Nov 19, 6pm, in San Jose at the Camera 12.) Hector (2003). (Nov 19, 9:15pm, in San Jose at the Camera 12.) ANC Hip Hop Car Cultureolution (2003). (Nov 20, 2pm, in San Jose at MACLA.) Neruda! Presente! (2004). (Nov 20, 6pm, at MACLA Gallery.) (The festival runs Nov. 1821; see www.latinofilmfestival.org for details.) (RvB)
[email protected] Row. This week highlights documentaries. Nov 12 at 2pm at MACLA: Relatos desde el encierro (a.k.a. Tales From the Inside). A profile of women in a Mexican prison by Guadalupe Miranda. Nov 12 at 6pm at MACLA: Tropico de Cancer. Hardscrabble indigenous life in the Mexican desert, where anything that moves can be captured and eaten. Nov 15 at SJSU at 6pm: Pablo Neruda! Presente! Isabel Allende narrates the life of the deathless poet. Nov 16 at SJSU at 6pm: Race Is the Place. Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles survey racism using documentary and found footage. (Plays Nov 12-16 at MACLA, 510 S. First St, San Jose and at King Library, SJSU; see www.latinofilmfestival.org for details.) (RvB)This bay-circling festival opens locally on Nov 18 with a party and screening of the 2004 Mexican film Temporada de Patos at the Ciné
Several cities around the world, including Palo Alto, host a simultaneous film festival. The program features two hours of international short films. The local installment of the festival takes place May 15 at 10am at the Aquarius Theater in Palo Alto. For details, see http://www.pleiadesfestival.com.
A program of short films from around the world. The two-hour package plays in a number of cities globally this week. See www.pleiadesfestival.com for details.
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(PG-13; 128 min.) Sylvia Broome is a translator at the U.N. whoHitchcock styleoverhears an important conversation regarding the assassination of a visiting African dictator. Her bosses bring in the U.S. Secret Service's visiting Dignitary Protection Squad, including Catherine Keener and Sean Penn. Penn plays an agent named Tobin, distracted by some at-first unspecified loss. Penn has a legitimately bittersweet scene emoting sadness at a cowboy bar in New York City. Dropping his wedding ring in an empty cocktail glass, he takes over the jukebox to make everyone listen to Lyle Lovett's "Pony Song." Despite the vat of heartbreak soup Tobin is supping upon, he's still tough enough to be dubious of the U.N. and its policy of giving tin-pot dictators a place to speak. By contrast, Sylvia is mistrustful of trigger-happy Americans. Together they try to find the assassin, while Sylvia's African brand of healing begins to salve Tobin's American wounds. There isn't even much hope to be had from the vistas director Sydney Pollack shows us of the U.N. building, which here looks like a World's Fair pavilion that someone forgot about. (RvB)
(1984) Author Angela Carter and first-time director Neil (Interview with a Vampire) Jordan collaborate on a scarlet, symbolist retelling of Little Red Riding Hooda tale of a young virgin and a seductive werewolf. Carter, avatar of the sex-loving feminist, took as the moral for the story "If there's a beast in man, it meets its match in women." Angela Lansbury plays Grandma, sinister and full of bad advice. (RvB)
(2001) Gavin Hood's new film version of the epic novel by Nobel Laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis). It's an all-ages story of the adventure of a pair of children wandering the ranges of Africa. In Polish with English subtitles. (RvB)
(PG-13; 97 min.) Another of Lawrence Kasdan's offspring scratches a directorial itch. Jonathan Kasdan's first film has a distinctive artificiality to it, as if someone from isolated privilege were trying to understand the problems of real people. His main character, softcore porn writer Carter Webb (Adam Brody), is a quirky Ferris Bueller type who always has something witty to say. When his movie-star girlfriend dumps him, he flits off to suburbia to live with his grandmother and finish his novel. There, he meets a woman with cancer (Meg Ryan) and her beautiful teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart). His cutesy wisdom apparently enriches their lives. Ryan, who reappears here after a three-year absence from the screen, attempts to charm her way through her character's illness, but Kasdan's clueless psychological insights leave her stranded. (JMA)
(1976; NC-17; 105 min.) This controversial 1976 Japanese film actually looks a little more radical in its 20th-anniversary re-release than it did the first time around. The plot is based on a true story that happened before WWII in Japan. As told by director Nagisa Oshima, the story unfolds at a country inn, where a married man and a girl from the brothel he ran with his wife have discovered in each other their most boundless lusts and come to a sort of unspoken pact to fuck to death. The film is not so much about a man trying to devour a woman or vice versa; the two are really trying to consume themselves. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 85 min.) A documentary about Henry Darger, a self-taught outsider artist who spent decades creating hundreds of strange drawings depicting an imaginary world. Filmmaker Jessica Yu uses a variety of techniques, including animation, to bring the drawings and Drager's story to life. (Opens Fri at CinéArts @ Santana Row.)
(R; 117 min.) Writer/director Paul Haggis follows his Oscar winner Crash with another "message" film, riddled with dialogue about and images of Iraq, and how it turns soldiers into unfeeling monsters. This time, however, the message is combined with an uninspired detective story that suffers from too many false conclusions. A career military man (Tommy Lee Jones) learns that his son has returned to the United States from Iraq but has disappeared. He decides to conduct his own investigation, with the help of a lowly, but spunky young police detective (Charlize Theron). Wearing no makeup and bulky clothes, Theron is stuck as the dreary single mom and picked-upon female in an all-male workplace, but Jones gives a nifty performance, with his rocky, clipped way of revealing clues that others have overlooked. Susan Sarandon co-stars. (JMA)
Afghan comedian Haji Kamran stars in a locally filmed action-comedy also starring Wali Razaqi and Danielle Rose. (RvB)
(R; 105 min.) Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire), who thinks she's going into her psychiatriasts office, meets Willam Faver (Fabrice Luchini), who turns out to be a tax accountant; when the woman unburdens herself, he gallantly listens, not bothering to correct the mistake. This film by Patrice Leconte (Man on a Train) is unseen by our reviewers.
(PG-13; 93 min.) Tolerable enough, at least for an era in which when you mention the word "Sturges," most people think "Motorcycle rally," not "Preston." The Coen brothers work here from a screwball screen story by Matthew Stone and Robert Ramsey, the duo responsible for Destiny Turns on the Radio and the turkey Big Trouble. For every element of elegance shown by the Coensand the unsinkable George Clooneythere's something coarse and off-timed to counterbalance it. How about Cedric the Entertainer hollering, "I'm going to nail your ass!" at a man he's blackmailing. How about the line repeated 10 times? Clooney plays the king of divorce lawyers, Miles Massey, called in to protect a philandering millionaire (Edward Herrmann) from his alimony-hungry wife. Unfortunately, seeing Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Miles falls desperately in love, despite the sinking realization that she's a man killer. Zeta-Jones' curvy smile gets a workout, as does Clooney's trick of straightening out a crick in his neck in times of confusion. The patrician Herrmann, probably hired because of his resemblance to Rudy Vallee, has to do some red-faced lust and rage scenes that seem particularly ugly. Oddly, the funniest moment is a guitar-playing priest dripping sweetness over an already sugary Simon and Garfunkel song. The last third is most characteristic of Stone and Ramsey, unfunny slapstick and a botched murder plot (though the actor Irwin Keyes, who plays the hit man Wheezy Joe, seriously needs an interview in Psychotronic Magazine: get a load of those IMDb credits!) (RvB)
(1916) As the Eternal Mother rocks the cradle, and the Three Fates loom in the shadows behind her and her child, we're told of Intolerance in four different eras: at the siege of the titanic city of Babylon by Cyrus the Great, about 550 B.C.E.; at the massacre of the Huguenots in Paris in 1572; in a nameless city slum in 1916; and in Judea in the year of our Lord 33, when "the Man of Men, the greatest enemy of Intolerance" is sold out by Pharisees and escorted to the cross. This "Sun-Play of the Ages" was the work of cinema's first Icarus, David Ward Griffith. Working with a camera that was about as complicated as a pencil sharpener, he created an epic that cinema has triedand usually failedto live up to. The wealth of images can't help but be a mixed metaphor at times, mixing modern-day Prohibitionists and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. The acting by Seena Owen (as Princess Beloved) is silent-movie thespianing at its most awkward. But the episode of the shooting of strikers has the power of Eisenstein's more fabled Odessa Steps sequence, and Mae Marsh's scene of peering though a window to see her baby is a heartbreaker. Here's the DNA of cinema, with the grandest spectacle mixed with quietest intimacy. The technique's improved, but the ambition and confidence and restlessness of Griffith still stun the viewer in 2002. With Dennis James at the Wurlitzer organ. (RvB)
(R; 104 min.) Circumstances sometimes force cops to behave badly while acting in the public good. Crooks' addled good intentions often land them in jail, labeled bad men. That's part of the muddled message of In Too Deep, in which good actors are trapped in a bad movie. Omar Epps, in a step up from Mod Squad, plays Cincinnati detective Jeffrey Cole. He goes deeply undercover to catch the biggest dope dealer downtown, "God," played by the deceptively soft-spoken rapper LL Cool J. The film starts fast as Cole earns entrance into the gang by drive-by-shooting a turncoat dope peddler, assisted by his mechanical pal "Suzy the Uzi." The film then flashes back two years to Jeff's police academy graduation. Jeff endears himself to a wizened police captain (Stanley Tucci, who, always looking offscreen, looks like he's waiting for his agent to call) and later goes undercover to snare "God." LL Cool J at first sounds too quiet to be the menacing leader of a dope ring, but his low tone belies the savagery of a beating he later delivers with a pool cue. His "speak softly but carry a big stick" eruption is the film's most suspenseful moment. The rest of the film is as predictable as a generic "I try to do right by my peeps, but a gangster's life is no fun" gangbanger rap. Jeff indeed gets in too deep; he behaves more like crook than cop. His captain pulls him off the case and puts him out to pasture literally, in an upstate New York farmhouse. The photography in the country scenes is as soft and fuzzy as a Kodak moment. However, these pastoral moments drag like a month of Sundays. We're as impatient as Jeff is to return to the city for the inevitable showdown. By then he's a good/bad cop in good/bad movie. A cameo by the majestic Pam Grier shows that In Too Deep had the firepower, but missed the target. (DH)
(PG-13, 110 min.) The plot, with its underwater treasure hunting, sharks and drug-dealing villains, would sink almost any late-night cable or straight-to-video extravaganza, yet director John Stockwell (Crazy/Beautiful, Blue Crush) somehow manages to keep it afloat. He even generates an air of comfort around our two less-than-interesting stars: Paul Walker and Jessica Alba, playing divers in the Bahamas who look for sunken treasure but also find a planeload of illegal drugs. Obnoxious Scott Caan and Ashley Scott show up to help, but it is Josh Brolin as the divers' wealthy rival, who steals the film with his savory line readings. The underwater photography is often lovely, though it turns shaky during scraps. Alba's bikini-swathed derriere, however, outdistances any amount of expensive camerawork, stunts or effects. (JMA)
(PG-13; 96 min.) In this fourth adaptation of Jack Finney's novel, Nicole Kidman stars as a psychiatrist and single mom whose ex-husband (Jeremy Northam) suddenly begins acting strange. Before long, this strange behavior turns into an epidemic, an alien takeover on a molecular level. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel makes it sound almost enticing. But that's because the movie has no idea how to portray the individuality that humans would lose in the deal; Kidman spends long periods pretending to be a victim, her face blank. Hirschbiegel drains the story's genuine terror, brings the unspoken, unwritten subtext into the periphery and explains everything. Essentially, The Invasion has already joined the pod people collective. Veronica Cartwright, also in Philip Kaufman's superior 1978 adaptation, co-stars, as does an underused Daniel Craig. (JMA)
(R; 105 min.) This coming-of-age story employs nostalgia to dress up the old adage that money can't buy happiness. Although the saying is true enough, it plays out more like "pity your local business tycoon and his dysfunctional family." Inventing the Abbotts relies on soap-style plot twists to generate sympathy for the Abbotts, a respected wealthy family in 1950s small-town Illinois. Jacey and Doug Holt (Billy Crudup and Joaquin Phoenix) are the sons of pater Abbott's late business partner; the working-class brothers, due to a combination of past scandal and teenage lust, find their lives inextricably entwined with those of the comely but troubled Abbott daughters (Liv Tyler, Jennifer Connelly and Joanna Going). The collective despair of the Abbotts would be more interesting if the entire town didn't seem to suffer from an epidemic of sullenness as well. As proof that misery can be universal (as if you wouldn't agree after half an hour of Tyler's perma-pout), for all the fist-fights and other angry confrontations intended to "clear the air," nobody ever seems to want to stop sulking, even when there's good reason to. (HZ)
(PG-13; 97 min.) Promising high school student Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) tangles with the wrong enemy, the tough but captivating Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva), and winds up beaten and left for dead in the woods. But Nick is still alive and trapped in a ghostly state in which no one can hear or see him, and he must set things right to save his own life. Based on a 2002 Swedish movie, The Invisible contains an intriguing idea, brought only sporadically to life by director David S. Goyer (Blade: Trinity). The movie is saturated with a grotesque overuse of music (both pop and orchestral) but manages a few inspiring moments around Nick and Annie's strange relationship. One scene in a dance club is nearly worth the effort. (JMA)
(R; 98 min.) A woman (Jordana Brewster) sets out to learn the truth about the death of her older sister (Cameron Diaz), a free-spirited bohemian. Based on a novel by Jennifer Egan.
(1943) The fictional story of a destroyer called the H.M.S. Torrin, sunk off Crete in 1941. Its commander is the carefully restrained Captain Kinross (Noel Coward, who wrote the script; "In spite of all temptations/to belong to other nations/He remains an Englishman!H.M.S. Pinafore). The survivors clinging to an oil-soaked raft (including Richard Attenborough, making his debut here), remember their ship and their loved ones. Very high-class, as these things go. It's wartime propaganda at its most refineda children's bedtime-story version of World War II in which the dead all die happy with wistful smiles on their faces. David Lean directs. (RvB)
(2003) This drama about the rise and fall of a San Francisco Mission District startup takes in a range of citizens; the characters are everyone from an unbalanced homeless girl (Radha Lorca) to a ruthless exec (Kerry Gudjohnsen). All are involved in the creation of the initial public offering for Hot-Tot, a company that helps pick desirable genetic features ("We're in the peopling business"). Writer/director Daniel Gamburg shot on digital beta but worked hard to make the compositions cinematic, even by taking the production up to Tahoe. Visually the film works, and there are more than a few affecting performances. (Plays Sep 23 at 7pm in Mountain View at the Hahn Auditorium of the Computer History Museum, 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd; $15 general admission, $10 for museum and CINEQUEST members.) (RvB)
Outfoxed. MoveOn.org helped produce this anatomy of the Fox News Network. Internal memos leaked to director Robert Greenwald show top-down dictates of the order of the day on the air and which approach is to be taken on a day's reporting. Montages prove it: more than a dozen each repetitions of subjective ideas such as "John Kerry looks French" or "John Kerry is a flip-flopper"; the contrast is made to rapt coverage of Bush's speeches, usually proceeded by a visually shrieking bulletin (FOX NEWS ALERT! PRESIDENT BUSH ADDRESSES GRATEFUL BUMPKINS!). As this painstakingly assembled montage of lies, slurs and hot air demonstrates, the Fox News Network is using scare tactics to keep the nation ill-informed, hostile and divided. (Shows Feb. 10 at 7:30pm in Building 200-034.) Control Room. The double-meaning title of Jehane Noujaim's documentary refers to the Coalition Media Center's office in Doha, Qatar, 700 miles from Baghdad. In this small warehouse, a very nice and caring military liaison named Lt. Josh Rushing helped Fox, NBC, CBS, CNN and others to as much information as the military felt it was safe to give them. The film evinces a certain nostalgic quality for the phase of the war where the press was "controlled." Amid the sort of fawning coverage that The New York Times ended up having to apologize for, the satellite-TV network Al Jazeera made itself invaluable. Though it was small, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld thundered against it too many times to quote. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera was in Iraq showing its 40 million viewers the carnage behind the rhetoric: the bloody children, the anger and the rubble. (Shows Feb. 13 at 7:30pm in Meyer Forum; the documentary will be introduced by As'ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at Berkeley.) (Screenings take place on the Stanford University campus.)
(1996/1992) Maggie Cheung plays herself, a Hong Kong movie star visiting Paris on assignment, in Irma Vep. She's been cast into a low-budget, derivative and unnecessary remake of Feuillades' classic 1915-16 serial, Les Vampires; the production symbolizes the decline of the French film into imitation and inanity. (This decline is also represented, in a cameo, by Jean-Pierre Leaud as the film's fatally nervous director.) If the movie within a movie is dumb, Cheung is real. Her good qualitiesher sincerity and unpretentiousnesstemporarily save the doomed production from itself. Olivier Assayas' witty, romantic study offers Cheung, gorgeous in a cat suit, stalking the roofs of Paris. He also satirizes the worst of her fans: those who love Hong Kong action movies and only Hong Kong action movies. BILLED WITH Tokyo Decadence, the adventures of a Tokyo prostitute; sexy yet hackneyed as so many of these stories are. (RvB)
We figure that Chicago homicide detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) must be a human because he eats stuff. He gorges on sweet potato pie and ladles sugar into his coffee. That's about it for characterization. Why does he seem so less human than the robots he loathes? He particularly hates a murder suspect, the emotional robot "Sonny" (Alan Tudyk did the voice), whom the detective suspects of murdering its creator (James Cromwell). Director Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) delivers a film free of mood. I, Robot takes place in a bright, scrubbed 2035. Humanity has fully embraced the machine without second thoughts. Against this terminally vague background, the show is stolen by the brooding "Sonny" with his gentle eyes and translucent off-white plastic skin, like the shell of an iMac. He does look smarter and more sensitive than the rest of the cast. (RvB) (PG-13; 115 min.) Isaac Asimov may or may not be rolling over in his grave, but his heirs are certainly rolling in dough. That's not to say that this is going to be a bad sci-fi/action filmon the contrary, early reports suggest it will surprise many doubters and that director Alex Proyas (much loved among sci-fi fans for the promising but uneven Dark City) has finally found his mark. But Asimov fans looking for a faithful adaptation of his work know they're in trouble when they see that his work is credited as "suggesting" the story rather than providing the basis for it. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 85 min.) The Zorro of Imperial China strikes! Master Yuen Wo Ping, choreographer on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directs this Hong Kong actioner. More fun than a barrel of iron monkeys. (RvB)
(R; 105 min.) The shooting of Andy Warhol by the unhinged feminist-separatist Valerie Solanas is, weirdly, endorsed in Mary Harron's film, which plunges into the nest of bitchery and glitz that was Warhol's Factory in the mid-1960s. The notion of the would-be assassin as a feminist martyr occurs probably through excessive love of Lili Taylor's fine, furious, but ultimately monochromatic performance as Solanas. Taylor fans will want to see the film, especially because the superb previews hint at a violent comedy about a mad confidence-woman breaking into the citadel. Unfortunately, the whole thing is a lot more staid than its exciting trailer. (RvB)
(PG-13; 127 min.) In the near future, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and his beautiful colleague, Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson), live and work in a sanitized building. The only promise that life in this whitewashed world seems to hold is a random lottery that grants the winner a trip to "the island." Of course, the curious Lincoln realizes that something is wrong with this setup. He rescues Jordan and escapes. For director Michael Bay, though, the word "escape" translates into about 40 or 50 minutes of chases and explosions, which would be fine if he had any idea of how to execute or control them. The actors are lost in the void. The scrappy McGregor has been reduced to running and jumping, while Johansson has never looked better, but never once does her character register any kind of passion or pulse. (JMA)
(PG-13; 96 min.) The Island of Dr. Moreau, a near-preachy commentary on genetic experimentation, is the intellectual's horror film. There are no monsters, because the real terror is the depravity of human nature, and the themes of colonization and dehumanization echo those of Conrad's Heart of Darkness: Englishman Edward Douglas (David Thewlis), the only survivor of an airplane explosion, is "rescued" by Montgomery (Val Kilmer), the assistant to Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando). Douglas is transported to Moreau's Island, a tropical laboratory for genetic tamperingand home to a tripe of cross-bred "people-beasts." In tinkering with their genetic makeup, Moreau tries to "create men out of beasts and gods out of men" but succeeds only in containing, imprisoning and mutilating naturea sobering message for a fright film. (BY)
(Both 1997) Andy Lau plays a police detective up against a crime kingpin (Tony Leung) in Island of Greed. BILLED WITH Downtown Torpedoes. Teddy Chan directs a tale of three mercenaries (Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jordan Chan, Wong Hap-Hei) on a last mission. (RvB)
(1945/1943) Although The Isle of the Dead is the least of Val Lewton's films, it is as good in sections as anything the producer did. For its oddity, it's a brave, even existential film. A Greek general nicknamed "The Watchdog" (Boris Karloff) is mopping up after a bloody campaign in the Balkans war of 1912. At the suggestion of an American reporter named Davis (Al Gore look-alike Marc Cramer), the two go to a nearby cemetery island to visit the grave of the general's wife. The grave has been violated. Now investigating the matter, the general stays over as the guest of a Swiss archaeologist expatriate living on the island. The film shifts into a standard haunted-house motif: the guests are stranded because of a septicemia plague outbreak, and they die one by one. One old woman, Madame Kira (Helen Thimig), believes that the real culprit is a "vorvolaka"a vampire/succubus taking the form of a lovely young woman. The guestsand this part is much more like Camus' The Plaguefind solace against the possibility of death through their various faiths in medicine, personal will and God. Finally, an evil accident makes a monster out of one of the trapped guests. Karloff rarely had such deep material to work with. He's made to believe in the uncanny, and then he's broken by it. The film also stars Ellen Drew as the suspected vampire, Ernst Deutsch (the "Baron" in The Third Man) as the cold yet heroic Dr. Drossos and Skelton Knaggs in a cameo as the plague's first victim. A man whose face was as strange as his name, Knaggs plays the mute Finn in The Ghost Ship. BILLED WITH The Ghost Ship. For many years, this film was legally unavailable, which must have something to do with its neglected reputation. It's a bare-bones sea story with Richard Dix as a worthy ship's captain who is startingslowly and unpredictablyto snap. It's generally compared to Jack London's The Sea Wolf, but its treatment of megalomania is less melodramatic, more of a call for pity. A one-of-a-kind film with a tragic mood that isn't easily shaken. (RvB)
(R; 105 min.) Bette Midler stars as infamous Valley of the Dolls author Jacqueline Susann in this biopic of the best-selling novelist. Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing and John Cleese also star.
(PG-13; 96 min.) Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson make an odd-couple espionage team in a new action comedy based on an old TV show.
(2006) The festival continues with Things Behind the Sun (May 9 at 7:30pm). It could be nicknamed Little Miss Sunstein. In Tel Aviv, a messy family's only sane and loving member is the young Didush (Tess Hashiloni), a watchful 10-year-old girl. The family is caught in midcrisis: grandfather Abraham is paralytic in the hospital and ready to die. On the whole, the family's general feeling about the demise is "Good riddance." Abraham's son Itzhak (Assi Dayan, son of Moshe Dayan), the pearshaped, dead-behind-the-eyes paterfamilias, runs his warehouse store and comes home in a state of silence. His wife. Smadi (Sandra Sade), prepares a one-woman show of scandalous paintings. Eldest son and Domino's courier Amit (Zohar Shtrauss), age 27, has no more serious interests than bongs and floozies. Daughter Namma (Tali Sharon), from Haifa, works in the computer business; Mom tells her, "I never worry about you." Fine. Namma has plenty of worries about herself. She's a great big lesbian, and her new tryst, Michal (Hilla Vidor), wants to push right her out of the closet. Shafferman watches this bunch without judging their transgressions—even at the risk of stymieing the viewer. Is the mom trying to wound her family with passive-aggressive paintings? Other more forgiving images—the old snapshots posted on the refrigerator door—bear witness to the accommodations this tangled-up family decides to make with its past. On May 16 at 7:30pm, Frozen Days (Israel; 91 min.). Director Danny Lerner starts right out with a title sequence that looks and sounds like Hitchcock's Vertigo, so that we know we're in for an extreme makeover. Low-level Tel Aviv dealer Miao (Anat Klausner, like a young Ashley Judd) chats with a sympathetic guy online, but before they can really meet, a suicide bomb at a club leaves him burned and totally covered in bandages. Miao, slowly estranged from her own disaffected life, moves into the mystery man's apartment, dons his clothes and starts to answer to his name, until she cracks up like Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion. The film doesn't delve too deep into issues of psychological transference, but it does have a satisfyingly tricky ending, and the black-and-white photography (with one color interlude for a rave) is superlative. Then, on May 20 at 3pm, Avi, Avi. This small-camera documentary includes an interesting adage: Israeli-born, Toronto-native filmmaker Avi Lev claims that in Israel, it's not six degrees of separation, it's just one. Lev meets a Canadian ally, also named Avi, an artist who happened to have been married once to the first Avi's childhood crush. The director airs his guilt about being a "yored"—a runaway who emigrated from the Promised Land; when he returns, he's suffused with nostalgia for the Israel he knew as a young man. Very much like a home movie. BILLED WITH West Bank Story. This year's Oscar winner for best live action short restages the famous musical in a worse neighborhood than the one where the Sharks and the Jets used to stab each other while dancing in beautifully choreographed ecstasy. (Plays in San Jose at Camera 12. Part of the Israeli film fest ISreel 2007; www.sjjff.org.)
(R; 96 min.) Jennifer Love Hewitt is turning into quite the scream queen, putting her ample lungs to use in the stylish but irritatingly dull sequel to I Know What You Did Last Summer. After surviving the first film, Julie James (Hewitt) and Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.) embark on a long-distance romance as Julie escapes to college in Boston and Ray works the boats in their hometown. Julie is still tormented by her fear of hook-handed fisherman Ben Willis (Muse Watson), so when her spunky roommate (pop singer Brandy, TV's Moesha) wins a trip for four to the Bahamas, it sounds like just the ticket to take her mind off last year's murders. Set during hurricane season in a virtually deserted resort, what follows is a gory slasher whodunit in which Hewitt spends most of her screen time soaking wet, her chest heaving. Forgettable characters and an unexciting villain leave the audience no one to root forafter all, Ben Willis is no Freddy Krueger. Without the talents of Scream horror guru Kevin Williamson, who scripted I Know What You Did Last Summer, this sequel becomes little more than formulaic open-ended schlock. (SQ)
(PG-13; 99 min.) A 6-year-old Russian orphan, Vanya (played by the remarkably expressive Kolya Spiridonov), is to be adopted by an Italian family, but refuses to give up hope that his birth mother will come looking for him. It sounds like the kind of glossy coming-of-age twaddle that has plagued art houses for years, but director Andrei Kravchuk gives the film a Dickensian spirit, full of dire twists, nasty villains and other colorfully seedy characters; Vanya's biggest help comes from a redheaded teenage prostitute (Olga Shuvalova), whose income goes to the thugs that run the orphanage. The film finds a refreshing place between depressing realism and soft, protective attitudes toward children and their adventures; it actually celebrates Vanya's irrepressible ingenuity and determination. In Russian with English subtitles. (JMA)
(PG-13; 104 min.) Maybe the highlight was some imbecile shouting, "I'd like to get into her cradle of life," at Angelina Jolie during the trailer for the new Lara Croft movie. By contrast, The Italian Job was, as promised, a job, with Mark Wahlberg once again remaking a '60s thriller. And once again he's named Charlie, with that other Charlie (or rather, Charlize) trying to form her features into a look of shyness and demureness to shoot back at him. You've seen more chemistry between the leads at a fifth-grade play. There have been Therons and Wahlbergs ever since the dawn of movies; they abide somehow, turning up again and again and never improving, never seeming to develop any personality, never showing nuances. But acting wouldn't be much help to this thriller. It's about a heist of gold from the estate of the L.A. home of a double-crossing fellow robber, played by Edward Norton, who's not real involved. Both the beginning (a speedboat chase through the Venice canals) and the ending (a trio of supercharged Mini Coopers barreling through the L.A. subway system) are directed with unenthusiastic frenzy by F. Gary Gray. The comedy-relief Seth Green and Mos Def (who does fine reaction shots) get a few more miles out of this retread; one running gag about the invention of Napster features a cameo by Shawn Fanning, for what it's worth. (RvB)
(1934/1936) An heiress (Claudette Colbert) jumps off of her family's yacht; a working-class reporter (Clark Gable) tracks her down to find out why. It Happened One Night, a favorite romantic comedy, is invigorated by the class differences between the rough-housing Gable and the pampered Colbertnot to mention the gritty locations of bus stations and motels, unseen in the context of a comedic love story before. (This real-life background for the fairy-tale romance is no doubt a large part of what '30s audiences adored.) But I'm not a fan of this classic; Gable's contempt for the heiress seems to be turned up too many notches. The way he cuts her down to size has a cruel streak, which is obviously endorsed by the director, Frank Capra. BILLED WITH My Man Godfrey. On the other hand, if Carole Lombard were in the Colbert role in It Happened One Night, Gable would have had an even match. Lombard was the best of all '30s comediennes: elegant enough for romance and tough enough for slapstick. (She was discovered, it's said, playing baseball in a sandlot.) Here, Lombard is a rich girl who looks for a "forgotten man" as part of a scavenger hunt. "A scavenger hunt," she explains, "is just like a treasure hunt, except in a treasure hunt you find something you want and in a scavenger hunt you find things you don't want and the one who wins gets a prize, only there isn't a prize, it's just the honor of winning, because all the money goes to charity if there's any money left over, but then there never is." (RvB)
(1944/1940) The rarely revived It Happened Tomorrow seems to be the inspiration for TV's Early Edition. Dick Powell plays a reporter who has access to tomorrow's newspaper, and in one issue he reads of his own impending death. Rene Clair directs. BILLED WITH Christmas in July. An early Preston Sturges comedy in which the likable juvenile Powell believes himself to be the winner of an advertising contest. Sturges fans, whenever confronted with the cognitive dissonance that advertising inspires, console themselves with Powell's winning slogan, "If you can't sleep at night, it's not the coffee, it's the bunk." (RvB)
(Unrated; 90 min.) Writer/director Brian Sloan probably didn't realize how aptly he titled his uneven comedy about Bob (Alexis Arquette) and Brendan (Christian Maelen), former college roommates who rekindle an unrequited love at mutual friends' wedding several years after graduation. The title's indecisiveness pervades the film, which offers some genuine laughs right alongside irritating stereotypes and negates several of the most intriguing scenes by tacking on musical montages with lyrics that simplisticallyand needlesslyreiterate the situation. On the worthwhile occasions when Sloan's script and direction invoke more than just passable imitations of Sturges screwball or musical Gen-X angstbut still cull the best qualities of both genresI Think I Do offers some entertaining romantic comedy. (HZ)
(PG-13; 90 min.) A family dramedy with Kirk and Michael Douglas. Also features Bernadette Peters and Rory Culkin.
(1934/1938) Mr. Muckle, the blind man, goes shopping, as a fellow shopper howls for kumquats and a lost passerby searches for Carl La Fong, capital L, small a, capital F, small O. Mr. Harold Bisonnette, the shopkeeper, later tries to take a nap, but finds his slumber disturbed when the merits of two different emetics (syrup of squill vs. ipecac) are debated at length by a pair of female pinheads. Inheriting his Uncle Bean's property, he and family immigrate to California whereas all us lifelong Californians knowyou can just stretch your arm out the window and pick an orange. The old vaudevillian W.C. Fields based this series of sketches on his own act, as well as some material written by a since-forgotten humor writer named J.P. McEvoy. Endorsing as he does the merits of the quiet, contemplative life over the botheration of noisy, demanding fools, Mr. Fields has since been hailed as a saint in all world religions. Co-starring that mute yet eloquent argument for infanticide, Baby Leroy, and Kathleen Howard as Mrs. Bissonette. (You'd better not let Mrs. Bis-on-nay hear you call her Bisonnet.) BILLED WITH A Slight Case of Murder. A slight little something directed by San Jose's own Lloyd Bacon and starring Edward G. Robinson as a beer baron whose men decide to rub him out when he goes straight. Based on a play co-written by Damon Runyon; the then-daring jokes about the mistreatment of corpses seem to anticipate a lot of today's comedies. (RvB)
(1946) The Stanford Theater's annual screening of the holiday favorite; it sells out, so advance tickets are advised. By its popularity, this film reveals what people truly think of Christmas: in brief, that it's a guilt-haunted festival honoring the longest night of the year, in which anxieties about money and worries about the future prey upon the mind. Our Christmas stories of ghosts and despair suggest an ancestral terror: our fear that this particular year will be the fateful solstice when darkness shall not cease its advance of one minute a day. Rather, it will rather continue that advance, tick by tick, until everything turns black forever. (How this scenario fits in with the popularity of the stop-motion cartoon Frosty the Snowman is an essay discussion for another time, although the "Island of Misfit Toys" is a philosophical concept worthy of Sartre.) Frank Capra's based-on-a-pamphlet fable is animated by James Stewart's kindliness as self-sacrificing George Bailey, who decides to take his own life when he's ruined by a chortling banker (Lionel Barrymore). Bailey is saved by a silly apprentice angel (Henry Travers) who decides to show him what the world would be like without him. The movie wasn't a success, and Variety said that the "public seem to have more or less forgotten" James Stewart and Frank Caprathis judgment quoted in Joseph McBride's biography of Capra. If the film alternates moments of film-noir clarity with more typical Capra clowning, remember that Dorothy Parker, Clifford Odets and Dalton Trumbo were among the hands that sanded up the screenplay. McBride notes that Trumbo's version had Bailey as a suicidal politician who'd gone corrupt: "He was his own Potter." The movie has smothered such self-doubts and fantasies of celestial redemption, in such a way as to eventually make it the most American Christmas movie ever. (Plays Dec 24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1954/1959) Tired of being a face in the crowd, Gladys Glover, a model from Manhattan, rents a billboard in Columbus Circle and becomes celebrated for celebrity, much to the discomfiture of the boy who likes her, Jack Lemmon. Star Judy Holliday was arguably the smartest actress to wear the curls and negligee of the blonde clown. She began as a cabaret performer. Her partners were Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Here, in collaboration with writers Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon and director George Cukor, she had opportunities for prime, almost free-associative comedy: note the scene where she fends off a pass from Peter Lawford. To get him talking (and to stop him nibbling her ear), she asks him if he's lonely living there in that bachelor apartment all by himself. Yes, he admits, lowering his eyes. "You could get a parrot," she suggests. "You could be talking to it, and it could be talking to you. I mean, you wouldn't be talking to each other, but it would be talk." BILLED WITH Some Like It Hot. Two half-frozen and broke Chicago musicians of the Jazz Age (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) accidentally witness a gangster massacre. Disguised as women in an all-girl orchestra, they hit the road for Florida. Their new pal is the tightly clad Sugar Cane (Marilyn Monroe, never better). Lemmon and Joe E. Brown wrap up the film with a famous last line that seems to be a message to the future about how the years to come would thaw the frozen differences between the genders. The last great screwball comedy. (RvB)
(PG; 101 min.) If feel-good movies make you want to puke, this one is kind of like eating bad potato salad. But if you believe that two people (Kirstie Alley and Steve Guttenberg) can fall in love in about ten minutesand you are willing to buy into a surplus of unlikely coincidencesIt Takes Two is, well, cute. The story is a variation on an old theme (The Parent Trap). Two friends (Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen) concoct a number of intricate strategies designed to trick their unsuspecting parents into falling in love with each other. Only this time, the two friends just happen to look exactly like one another ... and no, they are not even supposed to be separated-at-birth identical twins. Despite such implausibilities (and there are many more), It Takes Two delivers some laughs. Food-fights are forever guaranteed to entertain the children in the audience, and it's always kind of satisfying to see a spoiled rich Barbie get gum in her hair. (BB)
(1943/1946) The roots of I Walked With a Zombie are in the same vein as Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, and yet it's a credit to both books. A Canadian nurse (Frances Dee) comes to the Caribbean island of San Sebastian as the caretaker for a woman rendered mindlesslikely by a zombie curse. Director Jacques Tourneur establishes a mood of retribution, colonialism poisoning the colonizers, and it's got nothing to do with "the natives" infecting the whites. Here are chickens come home to roost, as we see in the repeated shots of the Europeans' totem: the figurehead of the first slave ship that they brought to the island (an arrow-riddled San Sebastian). now used as a garden fountain and referred to by the islanders as "Ti [uncle] Misery." Stars Tom Conway, George Sanders' look-alike and act-alike brother, in the Rochester role; a small part by the calypso singer Sir Lancelot, and the imposing Darby Jones as the mute Carrefour. Often the dance sequenceswith worshippers calling out the name of the actual voodoo lord Papa Legbaseem like photographs for Zora Neale Hurston's study Tell My Horse. Here's more evidence of the intelligence producer Val Lewton brought to what could have been grade-B horror. BILLED WITH Bedlam. Boris Karloff plays Sims, the head of the first and most infamous of mental hospitals. Set in London in 1761, it's the story of a courageous Quaker investigating conditions in the madhouse, in a plot line later used for Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor. Bedlam wasn't a success; still, it was one of the most well-researched looks at Georgian times ever seen in a Hollywood movie. Note that a story here of "human statuary" turns up in films as diverse as Goldfinger and The Draughtsman's Contract. Still, the denouement gives horror fans what they were looking for, too. In present-day Lambeth in South London, the site of Bedlam is now the grounds of the U.K.'s best collection of exhibits related to the two world wars, the Imperial War Museum. The irony is noted by every visitor: one house of madness replacing another. (RvB)
(1949) Frequently successful attempt to merge a service comedy with a bedroom farce. Filming in the ruins of postwar Germany, director Howard Hawks stages this rambling, funny story of a couple whose sex roles are wiped away by the requirements of military bureaucracy. Cary Grant, as a French attaché named Henri Rochard, is teamed up with an ex-lover, an American female officer he both lusts after and loathes, Catherine (Ann Sheridan). The fact that the lovers are perhaps named after the pair in A Farewell to Arms is pretty funny in itself, but Hawks sends the squabbling lovers deep into occupied Germany, where their romance is interfered with by one stage of military bureaucracy after another. Grant, outfitted amusingly in a kepi and tunic, keeps insisting he's French, but acts as Cary Grant always does. (RvB)