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(PG-13; 86 min.) A fright-wigged David Spade plays Joe Dirt, a half-bright janitor abandoned by his parents as a kid; he finds a luscious blonde girlfriend named Brandy (Brittany Daniel) but leaves her to go comb the USA to find his mom and dad. During his travels he encounters a daffy hit man in hiding (Christopher Walken), the proprietor of an alligator farm (Rosanna Arquette, worn by age, but still plaintively pretty), and a nerdy Native American (Adam Beach, reprising a similar role from Smoke Signals). It's told in flashback during a radio broadcast by Zander Kelly (Dennis Miller), a supposedly arch drive-time radio talk show host, who keeps belittling and insulting Dirt. We're meant to be laughing with Miller, but that's a task even the proverbial laughing hyena on nitrous oxide couldn't handle (some very damned old jokes in the mix here, including one about Tokyo Roseproperty of Bob Hope?). The framing device serves nothing more than to instill the wish that someone would drop an anvil on Dennis Miller. An OK gag about a dog's scrotum and a scene saluting the redneck love affair with fireworks are the brief high points. Mostly the film is about what a hick Dirt is, and how he and his stupid mullet haircut and trailer-trash wardrobe deserve to get covered in shit. And while (naturally) the movie turns sweet at the end ("We love you, Joe Dirt") this film still has the soul of a schoolyard bully. Joe Dirt does its appointed job of comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. (RvB)
(PG-13; 85 min.) Director and writer John Payson plainly knows his animation and comics, and that's the best thing you can say for Joe's Apartment. The nauseating scat humor combines with an even more insulting inability to rally interest in the two-legged characters. There's no story, just the aimless wanderings of Joe (Jerry O'Connell), who lives in a New York apartment full of singing, dancing cockroaches. Joe's bad-guy landlord is a decadent, reptilian, leathery old sinner, radiating enough menace to make Manuel Noriega look like Aldous Huxley, and I was about to herald this unknown actor as a new low in screen sleaze when I discovered he was Don Ho. Playing "Tiny Bubbles" every night for 30 years does something to a man's soul; Ho ought to be in more movies. The animated roaches, making their terrible puns in high-pitched, speedy voices, are the only bearable part of the show. You get a ratio of one minute of roach to 10 minutes of human; although there's something arresting about cockroaches putting on a Busby Berkeley-style water ballet in a toilet bowlit's the part of the movie that makes you feel that you've really seen somethingJoe's Apartment is a savage bore, and probably the low-water mark of its division until someone comes up with The Budweiser ToadsThe Movie. (RvB)
(PG; 98 min.) Better than Joe Dirt and Joe Black combined, Joe Somebody (Tim Allen) is a freshly divorced dad working in a drone's cubicle at a big pharm company. After an office bully smacks him down and takes his parking space, Joe tries to salvage his honor by challenging the bully to a fight in three weeks. A strong supporting cast, especially Jim Belushi as a Steven Seagal-type on the decline, bolsters the dubious proposition that corporate life is grade school with carpeting. Equal parts Charles Atlas ad and What Color Is Your Parachute? pamphlet, Joe Somebody aims low and scores. (DH)
(Unrated; 124 min.) California fans of English punk rock had a hugely distorted vision of the movement. What seemed to us like an egalitarian, universal, folky form of pop turned out to be rooted in fierce ambition, inter-neighborhood squabbles and an almost military dress code. Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten shows how one man and one band transcended those limits. In this documentary, the campfire is director Julien Temple's intelligent symbol for what we all hoped punk was: an alternative to the rock-god experience, a comfort to the poor and rootless. Temple films various groups of people, movie stars and broken-down musicians alike at various fires: one on the palisades above the Hudson River, one on the side of Mulholland Drive and one on the banks of the Thames; he intercuts footage of Strummer's band the Clash during the course of its career. The young John Mellor (Strummer's birth name) was the son of a foreign-office diplomat. Before he was 6, he had lived in Iran, Egypt, Africa and Mexico. In a British boys' school—illustrated here by snatched moments from Lindsay Anderson's If ... —the young Mellor learned how the British class system worked. He got out and became an art student. He seems to have wanted to be the next R. Crumb. Changing his name to Woody (in honor of Guthrie), Mellor arrived in London at the end of the hippie era. He changed his name again and formed a popular band called the 101ers. At that point, one of those sinister impresarios who work behind the scenes in English rock discovered him. "Meeting Bernie Rhodes was the best piece of luck I ever had," says Strummer in an interview tape. Rhodes introduced Strummer to a new set of musicians, and Strummer cut loose his old friends and band members. It was a firing line that continued as the Clash rose during its 10-year lifespan; Temple intercuts to a cartoon shooting gallery, with band members as sitting ducks. The extraordinary achievements of Sandinista! and London Calling were shadowed by the personal woes of any band, not to mention Strummer's own misery when he heard that U.S. troops were painting "Rock the Casbah" on the noses of their bombs. The more success, the less feeling of connection with the audience he felt. Strummer wandered through Europe and America. Eventually, he started up in his father's trade of diplomacy: DJing music to 40 million listeners on the BBC World Service during the last four years of his life. (Strummer died in 2002.) The director had been filming Strummer since 1976 and gently but firmly underscores the chaos of Strummer's personal life. Wisely, Temple doesn't consider that matter as interesting as Strummer's music. This invigorating film demonstrates Strummer's cordiality, his mission to snap mind-forged manacles around the world. I saw the man only once, near the end, at Shoreline Amphitheater at the Hootenanny show. I had to make an agonizing choice between watching him and watching X, which was playing at exactly the same time. I could look over my shoulder anyway and see Strummer's pleasure in performing a scad of old Clash songs for a couple hundred people. At that moment, he was everything I always hoped punk rock would be. (RvB)
(R; 98 min.) In a film where gangstas and lesbian cops battle zombified miners on Mars, whining about an underdeveloped main character is like complaining about the PA system at a NASCAR race. Nevertheless, Natasha (Species) Henstridge looks too healthy to portray a case-hardened cop in a mining colony on Mars. Carpenter's mining his own films for plots, excavating chunks of Assault on Precinct 13 and Prince of Darkness, but all that matters little once the zombies start carving up citizens, and outlaw leader Desolation Jones (Ice Cube) grabs two machine guns for some high-caliber retaliation. (DH)
(PG) International espionage will never be the same after Rowan Atkinson joins British Intelligence (maybe this explains that whole confusion about the Iraq/Africa/uranium dossier).
(PG-13) National Lampoon's Vacation movies are appropriated for an African American cast. If this is considered payback for Elvis stealing "Hound Dog" from Big Mama Thornton, there is no cosmic justice. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1946) The best-known performance by Larry Parks, whose career was destroyed by the blacklist, even though he became the first actor to testify before HUAC. ("Do not make me crawl through the mud like an informer," he begged before giving up some names. Despite his capitulation, he only worked in three more movies.) The musical was the biggest hit in Columbia's history to date thanks to Parks' expert lip-syncing of Al Jolson's songs. William Demerest, Sultan of Snarl, co-stars as Jolson's best pal and guiding light. (RvB)
(G; 83 min.) Singing vegetables get stranded and listen to pirates tell tales of a little boy named Jonah in this whale-of-a-tale animated feature.
(PG-13; 95 min.) The cartoon of Josie and the Pussycats never acquired the following of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, even though the series (based on some 1960s Archie comic books) ran for only a season less than Scooby and featured some cross-over episodes. But this tongue-in-cheek live-action Josie by all rights should far surpass the upcoming Scooby-Doo remake (especially since that film's said to be wrangling with a CGI canine sleuth). The Pussycats, a small-town band made up of best friends Josie (Rachel Leigh Cook), Valerie (Rosario Dawson) and Melody (Tara Reid), blunder into the right place at the right time and become the Next Big Thing (supplanting the too-perfectly named boy band, duJour), courtesy of two megalomanical record execs, Wyatt (Alan Cumming) and Fiona (Parker Posey). The pair is responsible for a never-ending parade of "overnight success" bands; their actual business, however, could at last offer an explanation for Top 40: the music's really a medium to corner the teen market with mind-controlling subliminal messages urging "buy, buy, buy." In fact, product placement is the ultimate ironic device of Josie and the Pussycatsused cleverly to mock the ubiquity of corporate sponsorship and perhaps even more cleverly, to further it. Every surface here than can be plastered with a label is, but it's really real product placementan evil-genius scheme worthy of the villains? The film isn't without a subtler intelligencefor instance, it tries to address how exclusively white most bubblegum acts are, but disappointingly drops the idea quickly. Machiavelli would blush at the film's self-aware sales-pitching "satire." but even so, the anti-commercialism message here comes off as more sincere than the recent similarly themed live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and it's worth the price of admission if only to see prefab pop so thoroughly spoofedeven if this fun, fluffy bit of nonsubversive subversion doesn't exactly bite the hand that feeds, no matter how much it pretends to lick its chops. (HZ)
(1978/1941) Detective Feluda (Soumitra Chatterjee) from The Golden Fortress returns. In the holy city of Benares, a priceless bejeweled statue of Ganesh has been stolen. Plenty of local color, as director Satyajit Ray returns to the site of his classic Aparajito. BILLED WITH The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is on the trail of "the stuff dreams are made of": a gem-encrusted figure of a falcon, pursued by a lethal gang of San Franciscans. John Houston's classic features a peerless castSydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Elisha Cook Jr.with peerless namesCaspar Guttman, Joel Cairo, Brigid O'Shaughnessy and the gunsel's gunsel, Wilmer. (RvB)
(1942) There's an auteur behind Journey Into Fear, but it's not director Norman Foster, who merely took over for Orson Welles. Although it's lesser Welles, Journey Into Fear still bears the unmistakable marks of the great director. Based on an espionage novel by Eric Ambler, Journey Into Fear tells the convoluted story of a boatful of suspicious characters, a arms-smuggling scheme and a killer with the world's thickest eyeglass lenses. The shipboard scenes, full of sinuous tracking shots through crowded bulkheads, are particularly memorable, as is a nightclub act featuring Dolores Del Rio that displays Welles' love for magic and sleight of hand. Joseph Cotton plays the kind of decent but hopeless out-of-it American he was to hone to perfection in The Third Man. Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane (Bernstein from Citizen Kane) also star. Wellesimperfectly disguised in a fake nose and fur hatshows up as the manipulative Colonel Haki. (MSG)
(R; 96 min.) A road trip turns ugly when two brothers and a friend (Leelee Sobieski) get on a truck driver's nerves.
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(R; 123 min.) The film version of Thomas Hardy's novel doesn't have the flexibility of a book that sprawls in time and space and is marked by ghastly tragedy. It's not a gritty movie, although director Michael Winterbottom is unashamedly depressing, and the film conjures up an impressively daunting sense of Gothic gloom. Unfortunately, heroine Kate Winslet looks too modern by half. She plays the tricky, passive-aggressive Sue (rightfully accused of being a flirt in the book) as a protofeminist, with a few Holly Golightly-style girl-kook proclivities. The morose Jude (Christopher Eccleston), with his thousand-yard stare, hollowed cheeks and aura of failure, persistently reminds you of that other famous victim of a bad marriage, Al Bundy of Married... With Children. (RvB)
Full text review.
"I am duh law!" Sylvester Stallone bellows as Third Millennium policeman, judge and executioner Joseph Dredd. The incorruptible but emotionless Dredd is framed and sent to prison but escapes to find his persecutors with the aid of Obi-Wan Kenobi stand-in Max Von Sydow. A joke about "recycled food" sums up both the quality and the essential nature of the film, which plagiarizes freely from Star Wars and Blade Runner. What spirit the movie has is cornered by Armand Assante as the villainous Judge Rico. Unfortunately, you don't get much Assante, but you get a whole lot of Stallone, who emanates startling self-love, suffering nobly like Jesus on a postcard when he's not pistol-whipping criminals who ask for it. (RvB)
full text review of Julius Caesar. BILLED WITH Desiree. Marlon Brando, the Napoleon of actors, plays Napoleon (with an English accent), and like the emperor makes the best of a bad situation. With the witty Brando is Jean Simmons as the love of Napoleon's life; Merle Oberon as the fuming Josephine; and Michael Rennie as Marshall Bernadottethe only Napoleonic dynast whose descendants are still on a European throne, as far as I remember, although memory's also uncertain as to whether Rennie is the one who teaches Desiree her first Swedish word: "Skoal." (Plays Dec 10-12 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)(1953/1954) See the
(PG; 100 min.) And you thought Monopoly was a long game? Alan Parrish is a 12-year-old boy who gets sucked into Jumanji, a magical board game, and emerges 26 years later as his grown up self (Robin Williams) when two kids (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) discover the game and take up where Alan left off. The result is an adventure film that's actually entertaining and not always predictable. The game unleashes the perils of the African jungle on its players, which allows for some unusual special effects, such as a stampede of elephants, rhinos and zebras that charges through a house or a poisonous vine that grows faster and more tenaciously than bermuda grass. But strangest of all, the filmbased on a book by Chris Van Allsburgleaves intact much of the surreal creativity of the author and illustrator, a rare phenomenon indeed. (HZ)
(PG-13) After Swingers and Go, it wasn't hard to imagine director Doug Liman making the leap to big-studio action; following The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper's breezy, fun, hollow spectacle demonstrates that Liman may have taken that leap a little too far. Hayden Christensen (as flat here as he was playing Anakin Skywalker) stars as a small-town sad sack who learns he can teleport; goodbye, nowheresville; hello ... anywhere. But with great power, to paraphrase Marvel comics, comes great backstory; Christensen is soon embroiled in a war between "Jumpers" like himself and the flinty, squinty "Paladins" (led by Samuel L. Jackson) who hunt and kill them. Jumper is an overstuffed hour and 25 minutes that plays like a trailer for the franchise Fox obviously hopes will follow; with Jamie Bell as a fellow freak and Rachel Bilson as Christensen's high school sweetheart, Jumper's globe-spanning special effects action somehow feels both bloated and sparse. (JR)
(G; 78 min.) Mowgli tries suburban life but can't resist the call of the wild. With the voices of Haley Joel Osment, John Goodman and Phil Collins.
(PG; 111 min.) The marquee said it all; I had a choice among Booty Call, Private Parts and Jungle 2 Jungle. To narrow matters further, Private Parts and Jungle 2 Jungle have the same themethey're both about crass, self-centered men who learn how to be nice guys by having a kid. It's one of those tricks that only works in the movies. In Jungle 2 Jungle, Tim Allen plays a commodities trader who has to jet down to Venezuela to finalize his divorce with his wife (JoBeth Williams), a volunteer doctor with an Amazonian Indian tribe. Allen learns that he has a 13-year-old son his wife never told him about, and the son (Sam Huntington) begs to visit the Statue of Liberty. Loincloth and all, the boy accompanies Allen back to New York to eat people's pets and pee in their potted plants. Allen is the perfect analogue for the Dean Joneses and the Tim Conways Disney used to sell. Co-stars David Ogden Stiers and Martin Short cheer the film up occasionally. Jungle 2 Jungle is free of any discernible style, as if the script had been milled to remove all personality. What's left after the sanitizing is little-boy hostility toward women and jokes that would have had to be more thoughtful to be called racist. (RvB)
(R; 92 min.) Takashi Shimizu's chilling horror story about obligation: an anxiety-inducing subject anywhere, but particularly so in Japan. In a leafy suburban house, the ghost of a murdered woman carries out its thirst for revenge by infecting stranger after stranger. The spiritenvisioned variously as a dark walking cloud and as a staring toddler with his pet black catvanishes innocent people or leaves them gibbering with madness. To his great credit, Shimizu makes the film terrifying without extensive gore effects. The most frightening scene is almost without effects: a contorted ghost, daubed with blood, its joints cracking, crawls down the stairs toward its paralyzed victim. Logic takes a back seat in Ju-On. There are jumps in timein one case, a gap of several yearsthat are barely announced. It's very easy to get lost, and it's bound to be frustrating for some. And one of the dream sequencesa bed covered with black catsis more like a civilized person's version of heaven than a glimpse into hell. But Ju-On is a consistently disturbing film with its own kind of reality. As in David Lynch's horror films, there's speculation going on between the lines about who and what ghosts are, what they want and what they might be likeand how they might interfere with the electromagnetic spectrum or bend time and space. Megumi Okina plays Rika, the social worker who stumbles into this chain of retribution (she'll be the one Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing in the upcoming American remake). There was a time when actressesthe late Fay Wray was onewere famed for their intensive power to scream; Misa Uehara, who plays the school girl Izumi, has a shriek that should make her name. (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) Court TV is more compelling than this irksome suspense-drama that capitalizes on the current strange trend of litigation as entertainment. Demi Moore plays it extra-feistynow there's a switchas a single mom who is blackmailed by a henchman for the Mafia when she serves as a juror for a case trying a Mafia boss for murder. Alec Baldwin plays the deranged henchman with as little effort as the garden-variety psychotic commands. Abundant menacing scenes with Baldwin staring vacantly at surveillance photographs of our heroine are more than ample indication that he's not all there. Baldwin's performance is scary enough, but there's something tiresomenot to mention painfully predictableabout an all-knowing villain whose singular, unfaltering power strangely seems to extend far beyond even that of the Mafia, to say little of the law. (HZ)
(R) Former actor Fisher Stevens' comedy about a group of friends who are disturbed when two of themsupposedly in a monogamous relationshipare discovered kissing. Stevens uses animation and fantasy sequences to stretch out the tale; stars include Kyra Sedgwick, Patrick Breen (who scripted) and Marisa Tomei as a dominatrix. (RvB)
(1936/1938) Shirley Temple's dad loses his money in the Wall Street crashor, shall we say, the first Wall Street crashand has to live in the basement of the building in which he once owned a penthouse. Fortunately, Shirley has a plana benefit showand prosperity is just around the corner. BILLED WITH Stowaway. Malaysian pirates kidnap Temple and spirit her off for unimaginable mistreatment, but she comes up smiling! Actually, our heroine, an American orphan in China, reforms a nightclubber (Robert Young) and hides out on his ship. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy honeymoon in Europe with disastrous results.
(PG-13; 88 min.) A comedy about a French count from the 12th century who accidentally gets transported to modern-day Chicago by an overzealous wizard. Starring Jean Reno, Christina Applegate and Malcolm McDowell.
(PG-13) Basketball season is over, so it's time for basketball movies. Miguel A. Nunez Jr. gets his walking papers from the NBA and decides to go undercover in drag in order to play in a woman's league. Also stars Vivica A. Fox, Lil' Kim and Kevin Pollak.