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(1962/1969) Satyajit Ray's story of a rich family vacationing in the mountains; the marriageable daughter is under pressure to marry a rich engineer she doesn't love. BILLED WITH Aranyer Din Ratri. Satyajit Ray's answer to Renoir's A Day in the Country. A modern-day excursion to the countryside subtly changes a quartet of friends. Stars Soumitra Chaterjee and Sharmila Tagore. (RvB)
(1962/1971) In Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalayas, an affluent Calcutta family undergoes changes. Satyajit Ray's first color film, played out in location under the world's second-highest mountain, Kanchenjungha. BILLED WITH Sikkim, North American theatrical premiere of Ray's documentary about the formerly closed-to-outsiders kingdom; when the nation was annexed by India, the film was censored. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) The less said, the better. (Capsule preview by JA)
Full text review.
(R; 110 min.) Aiming for quirk and hitting murk, Robert Altman's mortally flawed Kansas City is a muddle of noir plotting and slaved-over production design. The film is set in a vague 1930s period but with streaks of wartime prosperity and music throughout. A large ensemble of characters rotate around two extremely peculiar performances. First, there's a nearly unintelligible Harry Belafonte as gangster Seldom Seen. All too audible is Jennifer Jason Leigh as Blondie, a half-bright Jean Harlow worshipper who kidnaps a society housewife named Carolyn (Miranda Richardson), hoping to exchange her for her own husband, Johnny (Dermot Mulroney), currently in the captivity of Seldom Seen. A movie about music that was all about the fury of living ought to have some fury itself, but Kansas City is a glum and sour picture. (RvB)
(1965/1970) Two stories by Satyajit Ray. The Coward is set on a remote tea plantation, where a screenwriter has turned up to do research and is shown the ropes by a friendly blowhard planter (Haradhan Banerjee); by sheer coincidence, it turns out that the planter's sensitive wife is a figure from the writer's past. In The Holy Man, a fake swami beguiles a rich man and his daughter; the son-in-law decides to expose the fraud. BILLED WITH The Adversary. Political conflict in a Calcutta family seen against the background of the 1970 Emergency, an Indian situation of student radicalism and government reaction akin to what was going on in the United States at the same time (though the situation was far more drastic in India). An unwilling college dropout (Dhritiman Chatterjee) tries to find work, while interceding between his ardent capitalist sister (Krishna Bose), a good-looking personal assistant to a rich man, and his brother (Debraj Roy), a Che-worshipping terrorist. (RvB)
(1984) John G. Avildsen's follow-up to Rocky, with Ralph Macchio as the beat-up little boy who gets martial arts lessons from a kindly old Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki "Pat" Morita). Reagan-era cinema at its most senescent; the movie made $90 mil. (RvB)
(PG-13; 118 min.) Like Disney's tune "Someday My Prince Will Come," Manhattan career gal Kate (ever-perky Meg Ryan) finds love with a 19th-century duke (a very charming Hugh Jackman)but not until the final reel. The Back to the Future time-travel machinations that bring them together are best left unscrutinized. The plot and performances are worthy of '40s Hollywood, but the banter is not. Although it is Ryan's annual romantic comedy, Kate & Leopold is more instructive as a guy's chick flick. The chivalrous duke delivers lessons in etiquette nobler than Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son. (DH)
(PG; 93 min.) Kazaam is as silly as Shaquille O'Neal looks in a genie costume, but the film, slickly packaged with a moral and a fairy-tale ending, makes for good children's entertainment. Twelve-year-old Max Conner (Francis Capra) leads an inner city, single-parent life. Running from bullies, Max falls (literally) upon the boom box that houses genie Kazaam (Shaquille O'Neal). In the time it takes to grant Max three wishes, Max finds his long-lost and corrupted father, Kazaam becomes a rap superstar (as if), a greedy music underworld boss attempts to gain control of Kazaam, and Max dies and comes back to life. Though the film often resembles an extended Shaq music video, and the plot is painfully contrived, it manages to convey an antimaterialism message. Ignore the offensive ethnic stereotypes that pervade Kazaam, and you've got suitable family fun. (BY)
(1942/1944) Some critics have noted the similarities between Keeper of the Flame and Citizen Kane. The difference is obvious. Kane is among other things a critique of the dark side of populism. Keeper of the Flame is instead the worst kind of populism, a paranoid drama in which the American impulse to find heroes is blamed soundly on Godlessness, twice by two different characters. Spencer Tracy plays a reporter searching for the truth behind the life of a beloved, legendary figure: a World War I hero and founder of the "Forward America" movement. Katharine Hepburn is the great man's widow, who protects her late husband's memory despite his unsavory side. Modern viewers will be way ahead of the film. For all the endless talk of the loss of American innocence and the culture of cynicism, the film does show the consequences of the kind of blind trust that's mostly extinct today. The film is stagy and deservedly considered the worst pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, although Hepburn does look very modish in her widow's weeds, designed by Adrian. And there's an interesting supporting cast, including the husky, sulky young Forrest Tucker, looming over Tracy and looking like Ralph Fiennes on steroids. The most interesting part is the photography by William Daniels, which probably planted the idea of the Kane parallels in so many critics' heads: Daniels, who started out as one of Erich von Stroheim's cameramen on Greed, went on to shoot Brute Force and Naked City. His brooding, early film noir photography is always convincing, even if the story isn't. BILLED WITH Winged Victory, a wartime propaganda comedy/drama about the training of Air Force pilots for the war in the Pacific. The cast includes actual servicemen, among them Sgt. Edmond O'Brien and Corporals Lee J. Cobb, Red Buttons and Barry Nelson. Judy Holliday made her film debut here. George Cukor directs. (RvB)
(PG-13, 129 min.) Edward Norton displays a surprising knack for slapstick in this easygoing New York romantic comedy about a hip Upper West Side rabbi (Ben Stiller) and his klutzy but equally hip Catholic priest buddy (Norton, who also directed), both in love with the same female childhood friend (Jenna Elfman) whom they haven't seen in years. What keeps the movie from turning into a tepid two-hour sitcom are Stiller's physical comedy skills; a series of genuinely funny gags involving the young clerics at work (in one hilarious scene, Stiller tries to enliven a synagogue service with a gospel choir); and an intriguing depiction of an ethnically diverse New York, which puts the all-white metropolis of Woody Allen movies and "Must-See TV" sitcoms to shame. Unlike most other white comedy directors, Norton doesn't include characters of color in his cast and then make them bland or stereotypical; he actually gives them character. Brian George and Ken Leung steal the film as, respectively, a jaded Sikh bartender and an Asian American karaoke salesman who fakes a heavy accent to attract customers. Leung's performance is a clever mockery of every single thick-accented, shady Asian stereotype that has stunk up the screen. (JA)
(PG-13; 84 min.) Vey iz mir! To reverse that famous ad campaign for Levy's bread, You don't have to be Jewish to find this one unfunny. Mistakenly revived from two years in bad-movie limbo due to the popularity of TV's Entourage, this sitcom sans laugh track stars Jeremy "Ari Gold" Piven as an uptight Hollywood type from Brentwood, ready to rent out Dodger Stadium for the bar mitzvah of his son, Benjamin (Daryl "Spy Kid" Sabara). To surprise his family, Benjamin invites his long-estranged granddad (Garry Marshall), who has been making like a hippie with the Navajos and living with a blonde shiksa half his age; in the role of "Sacred Feather," Daryl Hannah's nervousness here give new meaning to the proverb "frozen like a Daryl in the headlights." Grandpa sasses dad ("Who are you calling an alter kocker, you little pisher!") and goes au natural in the Jacuzzi, and everyone who has been waiting for Garry Marshall's nude scene can consider themselves fulfilled at last. In the presence of the old mensch, Benjamin learns to be a man and finally understands the true meaning of Conservative Judaism. Only Krusty the Klown in the Marshall role could have improved matters. Directed by Marshall's offspring, Adam. (RvB)
(2004) Profiles of three self-described Israeli "ortho-dykes"Orthodox Jewish lesbians who fight their own consciences as much as they fight the traditions that keep them sinners. "Miriam-Esther" is the mother of 10, a woman who waited 20 years to act on her dearest wishes; Ruth is a still-married lesbian who manages to keep her family intact while staying over at her lover Neta's house twice a week; Yehudit takes a wife named Tal, but her parents boycott the wedding ceremony (endearingly, the two dispute over which one is going to break the glass). Maybe the best sequence is a discussion between Rabbi David Stav and Yehudit on the Torah's forbiddance of "Mesolelot"lesbiansa reasoned exchange of conflicting views, in which Stav eloquently defends the letter of the law, and Yehudit just as eloquently defends the reality of her feelings. (Interestingly, some rabbis interpret the status of women in Talmudic law to make a relationship between women less scandalous than a male-female act of adultery or even as bad an offense as the scandal of showing uncovered hair.) Since some of the participants understandably didn't want their faces shown, director Ilil Alexander films outside the walls and windows of Jerusalem. Much of the film shows shadowy figures behind curtains, seen in different seasons during the liturgical calendar of Passover, Sukkot and the preparation for the Days of Atonement ("No scenes were shot during Sabboth or Yom Tov," says a title card at the beginning.) Even as the dialogue explains the women's sense of exclusion, the images also sum up the loneliness of lives outside their society. The screening includes a discussion with director Alexander and Rabbi Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos. (Plays in Mar 8 at 7:30pm in San Jose at the Hoover Theater on the site of Old Hoover Middle School, 1635 Park Ave, near Naglee, Advance tickets available through Sjjff.org.) (RvB)
The Cinematheque at the Towne Series! presents three films by director Kevin Smith, creator of Jay and Silent Bob. The retrospective includes Dogma (1999), a strange comedy about the war between Good and Evil, starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee and Alan Rickmanand is guaranteed to offend somebody. Next up is Clerks (1994), the film that started Smith's career. With a minimal budget, Smith creates a very funny slice of life at a grotty convenience store. The trio of films is rounded out by Chasing Amy (1997), in which cartoonists and friends Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) tussle over a female comic-book artist, Alyssa Jones (Joey Adams). (AR)
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(R; 98 min.) A circle of jerks face the year after college graduation as best they can. Grover (Josh Hamilton) loses his girlfriend to an overseas program in Prague. Meanwhile, the Jughead figure, Otis (Carlos Jacott), takes a McJob at a video store run by a frustrated filmmaker. It's an unusually un-self-pitying movie for a young man's autobiography; director/writer Noah Bambauch captures not only the hopeless machismo of the boys in their self-imposed stasis but also the finer side of the story. He refuses to make "Get a Life" the moral of the tale and suggests that there's more to the lure of never leaving college than the creature comforts made infamous by Animal House. (RvB)
Will Ferrell needs a particular kind of childish, carefree character to play for his brand of humor to work, and he is dreadfully miscast in this wretched family-friendly soccer comedy. The film feels as if it were callously vomited out by a machine, along with a couple of spare parts and some putrid grease. Ferrell stars as Phil Weston, a passive schmuck who agrees to coach his son's losing team to compete with his dad (Robert Duvall), who coaches the front-runners. With former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (as himself) lending a hand, it all comes down to the predictable "big game." Duvall has the only funny line, and so that no one has to sit through this turkey, here it is: "I take a vitamin every day. It's called a steak." Jesse Dylan (American Wedding) directs, if you can call it that. (JMA) (PG; 87 min.) That's how you would have had to drag me to this Will Ferrell kids-sports comedy before I became obsessed with Anchorman. Now I have to go see everything he's in. I know! It is very sad! Obviously, others are affected by this blind devotion to Ferrell, and of course most of us wish we could be spending quality time with him in something like Melinda and Melinda, but hey, if it's gotta be a Bad News Bears-meets-SNL thing, there's not a whole lot we can do about that. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1923) Charlie Chaplin's most successful blend of comedy and pathos. In England, a tramp finds a baby and tries to raise it has his own. In the title role is Jackie Coogan who, at 4, was described by Chaplin as "the most amazing person I ever met in my life." BILLED WITH the shorts The Count and The Pawnshop (both 1916). In the former, Chaplin shows off his facility with dance; the latter was called "of all Chaplin's films ... the richest in gag invention," by Chaplin scholar David Robinson. Gene Turner at the organ. (Plays Apr 2 at 7pm in San Jose at the Divine Science Center, 1540 Hicks Ave; $7, a benefit for the nonprofit's organ and music fund; 408.293.3838.) (RvB)
(1927) Silent-film comedian Harold Lloyd stars as the runt of a macho family of boys. (RvB)
The gimmick of time travel in the movies is getting to be about as old as time itself. But that's not to say a few fun moments can't still be squeezed out of a vintage formulaa very few. When Merlin mistakenly conjures 14-year-old Calvin Fuller from the present day back to the time of King Arthur, the jokes that naturally follow such temporal tampering are pretty much predictable, although some are clever and give rise to imaginative creations by the village blacksmith. With a storyline that you can predict three plot points before it happens, you might think you've time-warped and seen it all before, but an abundance of high adventure and court treachery does provide lots of excitement. Between sword fights and jousts as he tries to help Arthur save his failing kingdom, Calvin also manages to woo the king's daughter, a romance which will probably meet with jeers from most younger children. (HZ)
First-time director Larry Clark is Dick Clark's evil twin: the oldest dying teenager. Besides contracting AIDS and riding skateboards, the eponymous kids careening around Manhattan are no worse than bad kids from the 1930s. (They're third-generation Dead End Kids in more ways than one: Screenwriter Harmony Korine is Bowery Boy Huntz Hall's grandson.) Shot with a shaky cinema verité camera, this crude masterpiece plods like a documentary. The random acts of mindlessness and senseless acts of cruelty never stop. When a girl's being date-raped in a drug-induced sleep, the 16-year-old's ankle socks wave from her upraised legs like twin flags of surrender, not of innocence, since the film possesses none, but surrender of hope. (DH)
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(Unrated; 87 min.) San Francisco filmmakers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine's new documentary takes a close look at Tim Rollins' celebrated South Bronx art studio, in which the teacher bullies and praises a group of fatherless children into disciplining themselves and creating on canvas. Watching Rollins putting a student's portfolio on the sidewalk after he turns up absent one too many times, one can easily sense his dedication and tough love. Watching the students draw, there's also no question about either their talent or their seriousnessor that the art world tends to pigeonhole them, to view them in the light of their street credibility instead of their talent. (RvB)
(1997) A German horror/comedy about an attack of flesh-eating prophylactics. (RvB)
(R; 92 min.) James Woods is outstanding as Depression-era psychopath Carl Panzram. Panzram's story was published in 1970, as explained in bracketing sequence narrated by the elderly version of Panzram's jailer and friend Henry Lesser (Henry Gould). In Leavenworth, Panzram tells his tale to the young Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard). Director/writer Tim Metcalfe handles period slang well and weaves historical figures unobtrusively through the story. Unfortunately, Metcalfe has picked up a few bad habits from executive producer Oliver Stone: inept flashback montages, overly dramatic music and ineffective women characters. The movie makes the useful point that there are some people upon whom the moral lesson of the death penalty is lost, and Woods communicates something else that's important: how satisfying, how joyous, it must be to be a really first-rate actor. (RvB)
(R; 96 min.) Roger Avery, Quentin Tarantino's since-estranged collaborator on Pulp Fiction, made his debut with this Parisian heist picture starring Julie Delpy. Director Avery is memorable as the man who told the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, "I have to take a piss," after they handed him an Oscar; he went on to make an odd, irritating but occasionally inspired film out of Bret Easton Ellis' crappy Bennington novel The Rules of Engagement. This screening is the first in a summer series of French films. (Plays May 4 at 8pm in Palo Alto at the Palo Alto Arts Center, 1313 Newell Rd.) (RvB)
(1949/1955) The English comedies produced at Ealing Studios by Michael Balcon have a reputation as sophisticated but immaterial entertainment. Yet two of the best films Balcon worked on certainly have a lot of acid flowing through them. Set in the Edwardian era, Kind Hearts and Coronets is a satire on hereditary succession. Dennis Price plays the disinherited grandson of a duke who is convinced that he was born to be a member of the ruling class. Cheated out of title and love, he schemes to murder every member of his family who stands between him, heedless of Tennyson's 1833 poem "Lady Clara Vere de Vere": " 'Tis only noble to be good/Kind hearts are more than coronets/and simple faith than Norman blood." The attack on the class system is subtle, confident and witty, and unlike most of the Ealing comedies, it's sexy. Joan Greenwood plays Price's life-long love, who snubbed him and married the most boring man in London, for the sake of money and status. "The British cinema allowed audiences to see and hear just enough of Joan Greenwood to let them know what they were missing," notes critic David Thomson. I'd underscore the phrase "and hear." Greenwood, slim, blonde and smoky, had one special attribute: the most insinuating, purring voice in the movies. In addition to Greenwood, Kind Hearts and Coronets also features a number of hilarious performances from one man, Alec Guinness. Guinness, unfortunately best known as boring old Obi-Wan Kenobi, plays all eight members of a genteel ducal family, including: henpecked amateur photographer, bluff naval officer, soft-minded vicar and homely old duchess. The playwright and actor Miles Malleson plays the hangman given to writing inspirational verse; if he looks familiar, it's because he was also the kindly old undertaker who offered us a ride in his hearse in Dead of Night ("Room for just one more inside!"). BILLED WITH The Ladykillers. Guinness again, disguising his meek face with false front teeth. He's ostensibly the leader of a string quartetactually, a ruthless mob of robbers. Hiding out in the boarding house of a sweet granny, the group plots a burglary and decides that the old lady knows too much and has to be done away with. It's a comedy, yes, but it's not puffy. The gang is genuinely unsavory, and there's an element of realistic threat to the nine-lived landlady. The gang includes Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom (the straight man from the Pink Panther movies). (RvB)
(G; 80 min.) The only thing in this animated version of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical reminiscent of the original is the songs (although even they are completely butchered). Other than the tunes, though, this The King and I is a complete waste of time, even for the child audience it's targeted at. I've seen better animation in Nintendo 64 games, and the reworked situations were ludicrouslike Anna and her son battling a serpent (a serpent in The King and I ?) with a tepid rendition of "I Whistle a Happy Tune"and must every animated flick have a cuddly animal? But all of this could be overlooked if it were not for the very worst part of this The King and Iits offensive portrayal of Asian people. With insensitive caricatures and the disturbing insinuation that the Western way is the only way, this The King and I manages to take a charming story of tradition, love and acceptance and turn it into a completely demeaning piece of drivel. (KR)
(PG; 95 min.) A large family reunites for the funeral of a long-despised relative in this comedy based on a stage play. LL Cool J, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox and Toni Braxton, Cedric the Entertainer and Whoopi Goldberg star.
Full text review.
(R; 145 min.) Ridley Scott's latest suffers from a snoozefest of a trailer, but the actual film, set during the Crusades, is a timely political parable about religious war and the possibilities for religious peace. (Capsule preview by SP)
"You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood"director Merian C. Cooper to Fay Wray, quoted in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. A movie crew searching locations on Skull Island discovers a primordial gorilla eight times human size; they haul him back to New York as a popular attraction, but the crowd is too much for him. The classic seems less quaint on every subsequent viewing; as the great apes are pushed to extinction, the unease and guilt in the audience rises at watching the hunting of the lethal but tragic monster. This showing is part of the outdoor Dinner and a Movie series presented by Cinema San Pedro. (RvB)
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(PG-13) King Kong Ape meets girl. Ape gets girl. Ape loses girl. Ape rides wave of publicity into multimillion-dollar deal for '70s remake with Dino DeLaurentiis. Ape flees Hollywood in disgrace after remake flops. Ape briefly attempts to find means of travel to Planet of the Apes. Ape is convinced by director Peter Jackson to come out of retirement for one last job. And that pretty much brings us up to date. (Capsule preview by SP)
(2006) One intelligent moment amid the bad late-show dialogue of Blood Diamond is a reference to the Belgian Congo and how the soldiers who administered that horrendous colony had a practice of amputating hands from the living as a method of punishment. This kind of horror and many others—reflected in a warped mirror in Joseph Conrad's best-known novel—was the subject of Adam Hothschild's superb historical investigation, King Leopold's Ghost. Tonight is a benefit preview screening of Pippa Scott's documentary adaptation, as a fundraiser long-lived magazine of investigative journalism Mother Jones. Guests include James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard, Scott and Hochschild. Tickets are $75-$250. (Plays Dec 10 at 5:30pm in San Francisco at Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio, 1051 Edie Road.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 79 min.) Billy Mitchell has held the world record on the video game Donkey Kong since 1982; Steve Wiebe wishes to challenge that title; and the winner will make The Guinness Book of World Records. Seth Gordon's documentary is not particularly journalistic but rather refreshingly, and specifically, skewed. Gordon paints the champ—with his bizarre mane of coifed heavy-metal hair—as arrogant and conniving, while the challenger comes across as a lovable hard-luck case; thus the film magnificently, and almost inadvertently, captures the story of the American Dream. Its 79 minutes is packed with unexpected, dramatic ups and downs, as well as information about the history, rules and behavior of the video game world. It could have been more thorough, but hardly less entertaining. (JMA)
(Unrated; 95 min.) Beautifully muted photography puts a Buddhist distance between the performers and the harrowing setting of the Chinese province Sichuan's famine 60 years ago. An aging street performer (Zhu Xu ) wants to teach his craft to a male heir. He buys a child with a secret (Zou Ren-ing) at a market, the first of many unmaskings during this beautiful film. The King of Masks is the first film Wu Tianming (River Without Buoys) has directed since he exiled himself from China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. This story of the small wonder an artist brings to the harsh streets is a beautiful allegory for Tianming's dilemma, reminiscent of Bergman and Fellini's 1950s traveling circus films. (DH)
Is this the Farrelly brothers' best film? Well, since they haven't made a good film yet in this century, I guess there's really only their first three to choose from. They all have their rabid champions, but even though There's Something About Mary has Jonathan Richman, I gotta go with Kingpin. Certainly Woody Harrelson has never been funnierand he was pretty damn funny on Cheers! (Natural Born Killers does not count.) Chris Elliot, we miss you. Well, I miss you. Bill Murray is great in this one, tooand he really did bowl three strikes in a row! (SP; 2005)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Anthony Anderson, Leila Arcieri and Jay Mohr star in a comedy about a man faking his own kidnapping. What will these clever filmmakers think of next?
(PG-13; 106 min.) BBC veteran Julian Jarrold directs this utterly vapid distillation of a "true story." When his father dies, Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) feels guilty, gives up his new life in London and takes over the financially wobbly family shoe factory in Northampton. In an unlikely coincidence, Charlie meets a drag queen, Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who complains of ill-fitting boots. From there, it's not hard to picture the inevitable runway show in Milan, populated by sassy, strutting drag queens. Unfortunately, Lola is only for show. Completely desexed, she has no love life or physical attractions to speak of. Meanwhile, we are supposed to care as Charlie dumps his conniving big-city fiancee (Jemima Rooper) for the small-town charms of his co-worker (Sarah Jane Potts). (JMA)
(R; 118 min.) As the pioneer sexologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey, Liam Neeson gives a recessive, quiet performance, embodying the doctor's rigor and remote precision. He's a Vulcan; I wonder if Neeson got anything from watching Leonard Nimoy. The young Alfred is raised by a strict, unloving minister (John Lithgow). He marries the plain Clara McMillen (Laura Linney), more out of chumminess than passion. Director Bill Condon shows Kinsey's early career, as a biologist who collected 1,000,000 gall wasps, insects half the size of an ant. After being frustrated at the lack of a worthwhile text on human sexuality, he commences his own research leading to the 1948 study Sexual Behavior of the Human Male. The book is a bestseller, making Kinsey both a celebrity and a pariah; his studies enable the doctor to finally act upon his own buried bisexuality. Kinsey has bursts of humor, as befits a movie about the uncomfortable, sometimes ridiculous subject of sex. Neeson demonstrates Kinsey's sense of purpose and grim ambition while the excellent Linney succeeds as the funny part of the movie: giving up a helpless shrug or flashing a kittenish smile when she takes a little revenge on her husband. She's sweetly brisk in her delivery of Clara's Bartlett's Moment: "Ever since Dr. Kinsey took up sex, I hardly ever see him." While the film ends sluggishly (due mostly to the conventional patterns of a biopic), it is sensitive, smartly acted and ultimately very timely. (RvB)
African-made animated feature about a wise hero-baby who defeats a greedy, all-devouring witch. As in Hayao Miyazaki's work (Spirited Away), it's not a matter of good and evil but of harmony and discord; Kirikou doesn't come to fight but to outwit the woman and find out what's made her go wrong. The National Geographic-style nudity might be a caution to some parents. Directed by Michel Ocelot with music by Youssou N'Dour; in French with English subtitles. (RvB)
(1934) A familiar kind of Hungarian farce and an intriguing curio: The head (Cary Grant) of the famed Temple of Beauty salon in Paris marries his star model (Genevieve Tobin) while ignoring his faithful yet unglamorous secretary (Helen Mack). Songs include "Corn Beef and Cabbage, I Love You"exactly the kind of air you'd expect to hear sung by posh French beauticians. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) David Schwimmer plays Max Abbit, a sportscaster with an annoyingly (and unfoundedly) large ego, caught in a whirlwind engagement to a beautiful editor (Mili Avital). When the prospect of fidelity chills his feet, he asks his recently heartbroken best friend, Jay (Jason Lee), to put the moves on her to test her loyalty. What follows is a sometimes formulaic but generally enjoyable story, cleverly narrated by a cynical, chain-smoking wedding hostess (Bonnie Hunt). Schwimmer tries hard to bust out of his best-known character (Friends' usually docile Ross) by peppering Max's dialogue with profanity and proving he can be a real ass. Since Jay is a nice guy, the contrast in personalities adds a necessary dynamic to the love triangle. The eclectic cast, comprised of a sitcom star, indie actor and an unknown, believably mirrors real-life relationships that don't always make sense. (SQ)
(R; 103 min.) Who knew that screenwriter Shane Black had a movie as insouciant as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang in him? Black has matured, and he has a been-through-the-ringer star, Robert Downey Jr., whose bedeviled face gives the jokes a little souldare we call the man who played Chaplin "Chaplinesque"? San Jose's own John Ottman provides very swinging music; the locales are the Googiest coffee shops, party pads and motels of L.A. Moreover, Black has a marvelous babe, Michelle Monaghan, wicked and lethal. The plot. Well, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang has more plotzing than plot. Harry Lockhart (Downey), a New York burglar, is mistaken for a method actor, sent to Hollywood at Christmas and taken under the prickly wing of a detective called Gay Perry (Val Kilmer, beefy and snarly) to learn how to look street smart enough for the purposes of an upcoming bad movie. In this role, he's mistaken for a detective by Harmony (Monaghan), who worships a pulp hero called Johnny Gossamer. The villain is one of those "barred-window boys" (cf The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler). From the evidence of this ridiculous but pleasurable pastiche, Black still thinks Chandler was the only writer who ever lived. It's a common L.A. delusion, and one I'd hardly feel like disabusing him of after seeing this treat. (RvB)
(1955) Robert Aldrich's hard-edged adaptation of Mickey Spillane's novel incorporates a ration of nuclear-age anxiety in the form of a Pandora's box full of glowing destructive energy. Ralph Meeker stars as the tough-guy detective Mike Hammer. Plays with Episode 9 of the silent epic Les Vampires. (MSG)
(1955/1946) Robert Aldrich's intoxicatingly weird but always powerful subversion of a knuckle-sandwich movie, Kiss Me Deadly, is double-billed with the most epigrammatic of all film noirs. Mike Hammer, the commie-hating private eye in Mickey Spillane's novels, is caught between smug U.S. government officials and sadistic foreigners as he searches for a stolen suitcase full of some kind of lethal glowing atomic "what's it." If the Maltese Falcon is what dreams were made of, what Hammer seeks is the stuff of nightmares. Playing the thug hero (hammer by name, hammer by nature) is Ralph Meeker, who took over for Marlon Brando in the original Broadway run of A Streetcar Named Desire. The film is much imitated, everywhere from Alphaville to Repo Man. The flamboyant cast includes Cloris Leachman (debuting, and done away with in a still-horrifyingly sadistic manner); Albert "Dr. Cyclops" Dekker as a sinister foreigner; Nat "King" Cole; and the lazy-eye poster boy Jack Elam. One of a kind. BILLED WITH Out of the Past. Out of the game, or so he supposes, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is in the midst of a new life as a gas-station owner in the High Sierra. He's hunted down by the gangsters he served back when "we called ourselves detectives." The compass spins around as Bailey recalls his semilegal career on both coasts and in Mexico, and the love he had for a cheating beauty (Jane Greer). Meanwhile, his control (Kirk Douglas) turns the leash he has on Bailey into a noose. Everyone has a favorite quotable line from this dizzying noir; mine is Douglas' threat: "You're going to get it, but you won't know when you're going to get it. Every time you pick up the phone, you're going to think, "This is it.'" (RvB)
(1953/1948) Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel star in the screen adaptation of Cole Porter's musical take on The Taming of the Shrew. Also stars the inimitable Ann Miller. BILLED WITH Easter Parade. Miller taps her way through a star-studded Irving Berlin musical with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. (RvB)
(R; 105 min.) When will the villains in Jet Li movies ever learn? In Li's latest, Kiss of the Dragon, when a corrupt French inspector (Tcheky Karyo) sends his thuggish minions to capture Jet Li alive, the martial arts superhero dispatches them to bone-crunching deaths. Li plays Liu Jian, a leading cop from Bejing sent to Paris to help French police bust a notorious drug kingpin. When framed for murder, Li fights for his life using implements of destruction including guns, grenades, chopsticks, and even acupuncture needles. While bodies blown in half and bloodshed do distract, Li's grace and effortless class make the gore much easier to bear. Bridget Fonda plays her cliché character, the damaged junkie hooker-with-a-heart Jessica, nicely. But the best scene pits heroic Li against an evil martial arts studio. (MS)
(R; 120 min.) This haunting and terrifying suspense thriller takes the viewer into the mind of Casanova, a faceless spook who "collects" exceptionally beautiful, talented young women. Director Gary Fleder uses suspended, dreamlike sequences and fast-paced, furious action scenes to achieve a remarkable sense of realism. His exquisite deployment of natural lighting brings an even greater sense of reality to this visually stunning mystery. Morgan Freeman plays the character of the calm forensics psychologist with an easy flair, much like he did in Seven, and Ashley Judd's strong, no-nonsense manner makes her completely believable as Casanova's defiant one-that-got-away. With settings that include a subterranean gothic dungeon evocative of The Silence of the Lambs, Kiss the Girls movie charges through a dark series of plot twists and turns punctuated with a few surprises and a horrifying climax. (SQ)