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(R; 92 min.) Hoping to earn his way into the family mob business, Matty (Barry Pepper) and his pals (Vin Diesel, Seth Green and Andrew Davoli) take on a money-courier job that goes real bad, real fast, leaving them stuck in a wind-blown Montana shit-hole facing off against a corrupt sheriff (cadaverous Tom Noonan, who played the original Francis Dolarhyde in Manhunter and a chilling child-killer on an X-Files episode). This New York wise-guys territory has been minded to exhaustion, but when the gang hits the hinterlands, the film takes some sharp, blackly comic turns. As the elder-generation mobsters, Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich avoid the road of excess to superb effect. Green, although oddly cast as an Italian, plays a bumbling cokehead to perfection. And Vin Diesel, as the enforcer of the group, dominates his scenes, especially during a speech about the ethos of street fighting delivered to a hapless local bully. The ending turns pat, but the film (made before Diesel's rapid stardom and then mysteriously shelved) deserves its second chance. (MSG)
(R; 129 min.) The movies are already packed with portraits of pathetic schlubs who—through the guidance of benevolent, beautiful women—learn to grow up and accept life's responsibilities. Judd Apatow's Knocked Up is no different, but it feels more honest, as if it were coming directly from one schlub's grateful, personal experience. Drunk and lucky, Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) takes home Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) for a night; eight weeks later, he gets a call about his impending fatherhood. Apatow uses his generous running time well, tugging his hapless protagonists through organically hilarious ordeals, from a potentially cheating brother-in-law to unread pregnancy books. He dampens any impending slapstick, however, with his brilliant, deceptively ragged dialogue; the situations live and breathe via his finely tuned talk. (JMA)
(R; 90 min.) Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark directs this actioner starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a CIA agent who must stop a Russian mafia conspiracy that threatens to unleash terrorism around the world.
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(PG-13; 105 min.) Full of the dappled sunlight, antiestablishment humor and slightly overripe women that epitomize modern Czech comedy, Kolya is sugary at times but always tart. Zdenek Sverak (father of director Jan Sverak) plays Frantisek, an apolitical aging cellist in the last days of Russian occupation in Czechoslovakia. To make some extra money, Frantisek agrees to marry a Russian woman for money so that she can stay in Czechoslovakia. She temporarily disappears, leaving her 5-year-old son, Kolya, in Frantisek's custody. Naturally, the lad humanizes Frantisek and opens his eyes to the marvels of the world. Such stories of the old man and the kid are lucrative movie muck, and the child playing Kolya (Andrej Chalimon) is an unregenerate young Moldavian ham. Sverak is a student of commercial westernized camerawork, so the film doesn't look static even when the plot gets that way. (RvB)
A real necessity, considering the great leaps in Korean cinema during the past 10 years. The event takes place at various Bay Area locations. Local highlights include Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War, the spectacular Korean War epic with director Je-gyu Kang in attendance (Feb. 11, 5pm, Cubberly Auditorium, Stanford University), and Jin Jang's mystery black comedy Murder Take One (Feb 9, 7pm, Cubberly Auditorium). (Plays through Feb. 12 at different Bay Area locations; see www.mykima.org for details.) (RvB)
(1979) What sounds like that episode of Seinfeld in which the real Kramer met the Kramer who was to play him in Jerry and George's pilot is actually a once highly regarded and now somewhat tedious divorce drama. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are the splitsville couple. In a then daring reversal that anticipated such masterpieces as Mr. Mom, Hoffman's character stays home and takes care of the kid. (MSG)
(PG-13; 94 min.) An anthropology professor (Richard Dreyfuss) uses his two young sons to pull off a hoaxsome might call it fraudby getting them to dress up as a primitive tribe from the backwoods of New Guinea. He becomes a media star as well as an academic giant, but his worry over his own intellectual dishonesty and what his bad example might do to his children is limited to wondering if he'll be able to get away with it. He's not even above getting a younger female colleague drunk, dressing her up in costume and secretly filming them doing the snake dance in order to meet a contractual obligation. Man, somebody smack this guy. (BC)
(PG-13; 100 min.) Kevin Sorbo brings his Hercules character to the big screen in director John Nicolella's uninspired and tedious Conan wannabe Kull the Conqueror. Set against a backdrop of scantily clad slave girls, pseudomedieval peasants and lots of sweaty chests, Kull comes across like a big-budgeted episode of Hercules minus a coherent plot line or character development. Sorbo does a decent job as Kull, the barbarian from Atlantis who seems to come out of nowhere only to be crowned king of Valusia. Contenders for the throne decided to resurrect a 3,000-year-old witch, Akivasha (played by a red-haired Tia Carrere), to seduce Kull away from his slave girl/love interest Zareta (Karina Lombard) and kill him off. Once their evil plot is discovered, there is little more to the film besides a brief quest to the Isle of Ice for magic to defeat Akivasha and a very weird appearance by Harvey Fierstein as the eye-rolling pirate Juba. The film might have been enjoyable to a younger audience, but several cheesy sex scenes and constant cheesier violence make it hard to recommend to anyone. (MJ)
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(R; 95 min.) As executive producer Bill Borden notes, Kung Fu Hustle is like a one-movie history of the martial-arts moviethe beginning is staged like the Bruce Lee era, the middle is in the style of Jackie Chan and the end is loaded with Matrix-y "It's raining men" effects, with the Axe Gang flying and caroming off the walls. The film is packed with vintage martial artists. The movie salutes are inventive. Hero gets a nod in a murderous harp attack. So does The Hulk. Kung Fu Hustle is as coarse as burlap underwear. Yet it's a movie that can be understood from Greenland to Tasmania. The movie is probably an insult to people who take fight movies seriously, and it's been described as the baroque stage in kung fu cinema. If that's so, why doesn't it feel like a last gasp? (RvB)
(PG-13; 81 min.) Steve Oedekerk directs himself in a comedy about martial arts.