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(1983) A late Robert Bresson film about the machinations of the upper classes and the destruction of a workingman.
(R; 120 min.) French director Claude Chabrol tries to chill you instead of electrocuting you. The obviously doomed members of the Lelièvre family are good people, examples of liberals who, when they hear the word "revolver," reach for their culture. They're so kindly, and remote and out of touch that they don't recognize the Angel of Death roosting in their own servant's quarters. The trouble begins when Mrs. Lelièvre (Jacqueline Bisset) hires a new maid, Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire). Sophie is cold enough that you'd suspect her of being a cyborg. The only bright spots in her life are television, which she adores, and her new friend, Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), the pushy, snoopy, half-crazed postmistress of the town, who bears a festering grudge against the world. Sophie and Jeanne are an accident waiting to happen. The tension builds up waiting for them to do their worst, but the movie doesn't scream at you about television being the culprit, a la Natural Born Killers. (RvB)
(1982) Gerard Depardieu plays a detective who travels to Mexico to find the disappeared daughter of a plutocrat. The plute's accountant (Pierre Richard), who fancies himself a detective, interferes with the investigation to comic effect. In French with subtitles. (RvB)
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(R; 138 min.) Curtis Hanson's solid, knowing L.A. Confidential is the smartest and handsomest vintage L.A. movie in 25 years. Hanson and his co-scriptwriter, Brian Hegleland, have done everything they can to give their sharp adaptation of James Ellroy's seemingly unfilmable novel the impact of immediacy. The plot is full of twists and turns centered on a few subjects: a massacre in a cafe and the L.A.P.D.'s early-'50s practice of beating up out-of-town gangsters who tried to operate in L.A. The movie's dynamic is fueled by two very opposite cops. The ambitious Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the son of a martyred police officer and a real Joe College. To provide a direct contrast to Exley, the film introduces us to a bloodier cop, Bud White (Russell Crowe), who is used as a blunt instrument by his superiors. Danny DeVito, never shorter, plays the editor of the scandal sheet L.A. Confidential. James Cromwell (Farmer Hoggett of Babe) has his best part yet as Dudley Smith, a cold devil of a police officer. Kevin Spacey is hugely funny as the ironical, self-amused police/Hollywood liaison. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 115 min.) Not as flamboyant as Backdraft, but it has its old-school, modest appeal. In flashback, a trapped fireman (a blessedly low-key Joaquin Phoenix) remembers 10 years of his career under the leadership of a bred-to-it, cool-under-the-collar captain (John Travolta). I guess everyone likes to watch a building on fire, and the assortment here is guaranteed to tickle any arsonist. It begins with the nightscape of a five-alarm grain elevator fire, looking like a castle in flames. In the flashback, in a boarded-up slum house, a seemingly routine blaze drops open a trap door that incinerates one of the crew. Phoenix does a slow, scary Spider-Man act on a high-rise office building with a hysterical man trapped on a ledge. Saved for last: a macabre wintertime apartment fire. Try to leave before the final montage. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 104 min.) Ladies in Lavender takes a ramble through a remote village in Cornwall, reveling in the local eccentrics as if they were so many caricatures on parade. Instead of recoiling in horror at the sight of so much encrusted rusticity, director Charles Dance acts like a chirpy travel guide. The distinguished leads deserve better, although they don't get it. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith play Ursula and Janet Widdington, a pair of sisters who live in a cottage by the sea. Janet's husband perished in the Big One; Ursula is, we are led to believe, a permanent spinster. One day, a young Polish violinist (Daniel Bruhl) washes up on the shore. The sisters tend for this boyish invalid until he is seduced away to a better future by a Bohemian painter named Olga Danilof (Natascha McElhone). Dance updated (and padded out) his source, a short story by William J. Locke, moving the action from the early 1900s to 1936, in order to add some frisson about the impending war and raising the ages of the sisters by more than 20 years, which makes Ursula's burgeoning desires farfetched rather than a wistful last chance at love. (MSG)
(R; 87 min.) Lorne Michaels never met a three-minute TV sketch that he didn't like for an hour-and-a-half-long feature film, and accordingly, The Ladies Man is no better or worse than most of the films inspired by a one-joke Saturday Night Live character. The film's humor isn't particularly inspired, but Tim Meadows has charm enough as stuck-in-the-'70s playboy Leon Phelps to make The Ladies Man watchable. Meadows' parody of randy blaxploitation heroes isn't so outrageous as to be without heart, and it's Phelps' misguided earnestness (apparent in even his baldly raunchy pickup lines), rather than his retro libidinousness, that makes for the best laughs. (HZ)
(1934) Gold diggers besiege a nitrate magnate (Cary Grant); a telephone switchboard operator (Frances Drake) is the cause of it all. (RvB)
(PG-13; 98 min.) Heavily modeled on Ocean's Eleven, but no disgrace to its source (just as Ocean's Eleven itself was no disgrace to its sources, come to think of it). A wealthy vendor of worthless patent medicines gets stung by an intrepid group of pan-American thieves, led by Emilio (Miguel Varoni) and Alejandro (Fernando Colunga). The heist's ingenuity lies in disguising the thieves as illegal immigrant laborers, all the better to slip under the suspicious noses of the snake-oil millionaire (Saúl Lisazo, very much a Latin version of Charles Napier) and his lethal guards. While it is clear from the framing and the cut corners that director Joe Mendenez is a longtime television vet, this has a great deal of funk and cleverness to match the tiny budget. And this low-on-violence, high-on-scheming romp has a strong pro-labor message in it. In Spanish, with English subtitles. (RvB)
(1941/1933) Henry Fonda plays the backward but filthy rich brewing scion "Hopsy" Pike (Horace Pike's son, of Pike's PaleThe Ale that Won for Yale). He's just returned from a year up the Amazon studying snakes. On the ship home, he encounters a card sharp named Eugenia "Jean" Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck). Distrust and commerce alike complicate perhaps the most purely chemical romance that golden age Hollywood gave us. Stanwyck's purring seduction of the hapless Hopsy still enthralls, especially in a scene where she describes, pretty much to the point of climax, what it is she likes in a man. Still the real strength of this movie is the way writer/director Preston Sturges orchestrates a symphony of comedic styles, from gusty slapstick to sarcasm (chiefly by William Demerest, the Sultan of Snarl) to brilliantly elevated wordplay (an elderly dame pronouncing her favor on a banquet: "The fish was a poem.") What's even more lovable is the film's defiance of conventional morality in its motto: "The good girls aren't as good as you think they are, and the bad ones aren't as bad, not nearly as bad." Stanwyck is, well, a poemthat level, uncoy gaze, that Brooklyn rasp filtered through layers of hard-bought breeding. This actress was the most versatile leading lady the studio system ever produced. You must see this movie. It's a film up at the top of the pyramid with Citizen Kane and His Girl Friday. BILLED WITH Baby Face. In 70 minutes, Stanwycka tavern keeper's daughtersleeps her way to the top of a skyscraper. See why Mae West used to claim that it was Stanwyck who pioneered the path West later took. (RvB)
(Both 1933) Lady for a Day is Frank Capra's little-known comedy about a street-corner apple peddler who's saved enough money to send her daughter to finishing school. May Robson, Warren William and Guy Kibbee co-star. BILLED WITH Gold Diggers of 1933. The first of a series of Warner Bros. musicals about the war between art and commerce, with art always represented by the endearingly callow Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler and commerce usually represented by Kibbee, the expert comic portrayer of repressed but secretly lecherous money men. Once that part of the plot was set, the rest was strictly a matter of lining up the chorines into berserk production numbers by Busby Berkeley. The ones here are beauts: e.g., Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell and Keeler dressed up in gold coins singing "We're in the Money." The "Forgotten Man" number adds some Brechtian social commentary to the mix: escape from the escapism. (RvB)
(1948) "It's a bright, guilty world" in Orson Welles' dazzlingly film noir about a too-bright Irish lad (Welles himself) tempted by a too-beautiful woman (Rita Hayworth) and lured into a murder scheme involving two high-profile, low-ethics lawyers (Everett Sloane and Glenn Anders). The action moves from New York to Mexico to Sausalito and San Francisco in a series of exquisitely photographed set pieces. At a beach party on the coast of Mexico, Welles' character delivers a memorable speech about sharks circling in the waterwhile the point of his anecdote slowly dawns on some human sharks; two lovers meet in the Steinhardt Aquarium, their faces juxtaposed against magnified moray eels that express in piscine terms their murderous impulses; and in the justly famous finale, gunshots shatter the multiplied images of two desperate targets (it was filmed in the house of mirrors at the old Playland by the Sea in San Francisco). (MSG)
(1955/1949) The funniest British movie ever made. 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 Studios 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 sweetly 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 as an unusually timid wide boy and Herbert Lom (the straight man from the Pink Panther movies). (RvB)
(Both 1938) Alfred Hitchcock's real international breakthrough film, The Lady Vanishes, is an entertainment with a moral about the coming war. It's all about the disappearance of a nice old lady named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who vanishes during the course of a train ride back to England from the Balkans. As a folk-music student (Michael Redgrave) and a tourist (Margaret Lockwood) search for her, they work their way down a list of their fellow travelers—maybe, literal Fellow Travelers with an unnamed foreign threat. They include a too-chipper brain surgeon (Paul Lukas), a heavily accented baroness (Mary Clare) and a pacifist (Cecil Parker). Comic relief is provided by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford (later reteamed in 11 other movies, including Dead of Night as the pair of rival golfers). As Orson Welles claimed to have seen this 11 times, The Lady Vanishes had its mark on The Third Man and elsewhere. BILLED WITH Young and Innocent. On some slight circumstantial evidence—the missing belt of his raincoat—Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) is accused of a girl's strangulation and heads for Cornwall to find the real killer. He's helped in his pursuit by the suitably young and innocent Nova Pilbeam. After car chases and a mine cave-in comes the real climax: a famous 145-foot shot across the top of a dance hall during the midst of a crowded tea dance. Based on Josephine Tey's novel A Shilling for Candles. (Plays Jan 25-26, 2008 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)
(1966) The French title means, approximately, "The Great Wander"as opposed, perhaps, to The Great Escape. Terry-Thomas and the French comedians Bourvil and Louis De Funès star in a story about shot-down RAF pilots in Nazi-occupied Paris trying to get to freedom in various outrageous disguises. Claude Renoir photographed; Georges Auric composed the music. (RvB)
(R; 115 min.) Whoever just named Maine the best place to raise a child obviously didn't check out Lake Placid. Somehow (the explanation is too tortured to repeat), a 30-foot crocodile has hied itself from Asian waters (frequent-flyer miles perhaps?) to a rustic lake in the backwoods of Maine, where it likes to snack on unsuspecting fish-and-game types. Bridget Fonda (as the obligatory beautiful young scientist) bickers ceaselessly with the laconic state ranger (Bill Pullman) designated to exterminate the aquatic menace. She hates mosquitoes and country bumpkins; he doesn't want to be bothered by a big-city meddler. Can marriage be far behind? Oliver Platt fills the resulting charisma void as a flamboyant crocodile-worshipping interloper. Forget the failed attempts at outdoors screwball comedy (there's a reason Man's Favorite Sport? is Howard Hawks' least-loved film) and concentrate on the croc, an extremely well-done reptilian special effect, particularly in the land, sea and air-attack finale. Whenever the beast is lurking, Lake Placid provides the shameless frights we go to summer matinees for. As an added treat, animal-rights activist Betty White shows up as the monster's biggest defender. (MSG)
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(Unrated; 116 min.) A cruel foreign investor, Fiore (Michele Placido), and his cat's-paw, Gino (Enrico Lo Verso), pick the decrepit Spiro (Carmelo Di Mazzarelli) as their straw man for a tax-shelter scam in ruined Albania. Spiro, however, wanders off at every opportunity. When Gino finally finds him, they both become part of the hoards of refugees seeking passage to Italy. The film hits levels of such horror that you have to laugh to keep from weeping, although director Gianni Amelio is optimistic enough to posit the survival experience of the Albanian people as evidence of the triumph of humanity. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 109 min.) Ken Loach's Land and Freedom is a "good war" movie about the heroism of the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The inevitable nostalgia slows the story, but the film has a certain lightness and excitement missing from post-Vietnam battle movies. David (Ian Hart) volunteers, leaves England and is welcomed to the self-governing militia, where he befriends his fellow soldiers, especially the cool and competent Blanca (Rosana Pastor). The center of the story is the attack on a village, a long but very fresh and immediate sequence. If the rest of the film had been so imperative, Land and Freedom would have been a great movie instead of just a good, engrossing one. (RvB)
(R; 115 min.) It's the winter of 1941, and three girls from the city have joined the "Land Army," volunteers who came to the English countryside during WWII to replace drafted farm hands. Prue (Anna Friel) is very working class, Ag (Rachel Weisz) is a middle-class intellectual and Stella (Catherine McCormack) is meant to be the heroine. The pessimistic farmer Mr. Lawrence (Tom Georgeson) thinks that the three ladies will fade, but he is surprised to see how dedicated they are to farm work. After some time in the countryside, the girls' thoughts turn more to men. All three are interested at various times in Lawrence's son Joe, played by the uninspiring Steven Mackintosh. Director David Leland, who worked such magic in his story of postwar England, Wish You Were Here, is defeated this time. This is a Disney version of the war. Telling the three women apart is something like looking for gradations in the personalities of the Spice Girls. (RVB)
The zombies have taken over, and a few thousand humans hole up in the Pittsburgh city limits. The most privileged live in a luxury condo tower under the rule of the penthouse dwelling Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, in a cold-fish performance explicable only by illness or disinterest). The degraded survivors of the city's working class live at the base of the tower in a permanent shabby carnival of vice and violence. Kaufman employs a group of paramilitary employees who raid abandoned stores in the suburbs for canned goods and booze; two hired guns, played by Simon Baker and John Leguizamo, are trying to save up enough to buy their way out of the compound. New among these shock troops is an ex-prostitute, rescued from a deadly game of chance (the as-always debauched Asia Argento). And the antihero is a zombie named Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), who slowly comes to consciousness: he becomes a general of the Living Dead. Following his trend-setting 1968 Night of the Living Dead, Romero did the 1979 Dawn of the Deadremade in 2004 in a version that was hardly as deathless as the zombies themselves. Romero's 1985 Day of the Dead was more than just a return to the material; it was probably the most graphically gory film ever given a theatrical release. I don't want to be as big a revisionist as Roger Ebert, who denounced the first Night of the Living Dead in Reader's Digest, only to later acclaim this installment. Still, I have to admit that the gore effects in Day of the Dead were so thorough that I lost my appetite for this angle of slapstick. Whether it's the R-rated cut demanded by Universal or Romero's late-in-life impressionism, the gore here is more for impact than for a full meal of gorehound chow. There are plenty of wish-they-weren't memorable shots, such as a human arm being stripped of meat like a barbecued rib. The baleful humor and sardonic social commentary are as impressive as the effects. Plainly it's the work of a filmmaker whose imagery deserves comparison with Goya's The Horrors of War. (RvB) (R; 92 min.) Raaaaar! Zombie mad! Zombie need brains! Zombie also think zombie movie need brains! Ha! Pretty funny joke for zombie to make, considering zombie brain no work too good! Anyway, zombie happy to finally be in George Romero zombie movie again! Zombie miss literary themes! Also social commentary! Also, Danny Boyle make zombie run fast in 28 Days Later, which zombie no like! Zombie enjoy leisurely zombie stroll! That what zombie talking about! (Capsule preview by SP)
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(PG-13) The possibilities for transforming a video game vixen into a film character are endless. If the prospect could talk, it would say "hello, creativity and imagination, I have found a place for you in film. The magical plot turns and stunning effects of a video game will be yours on celluloid." What director Simon West seems to have said, though, is "bring on the formulas, call in the derivations. Lara Croft's coming to town." Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is a strong woman with big breasts, lots of money, a mysteriously missing father, some sort of training in archaeology, and a soft spot for a greedy co-worker. That's about the extent of her character development, but why waste time on new characters when there are so many needy clichés in the world, suffering quietly from disuse? As Lara and her cohorts/enemies race the globe, destroying historical treasures and lively monkey statues in order to capture the ancient relics that will give them control of time, one gets the sense that two hours playing a video game would have been more engaging. (DB)
here for a chat with mountain-bike-racing legend Jacquie Phelan about The Cradle of Life.) Two movies in, and this franchise is not only hemorrhaging critical punctuation in its title, it can't get its shit together for an actual decent film. The Lara Croft films have nearly four hours of movie between them, and I honestly don't think they've ever managed to be good for more than a couple of minutes at a stretch. This sequel is even worse than the originalif that's possiblebut it has three of the same basic problems. First, the plot is nonsensical to the point of being infuriating: this time, the myth of Pandora's box is supposedly true, and an evil biological-arms dealer wants to get a hold of it. I'm being completely serious when I say that this is a premise even Ed Wood wouldn't have touched. Second, Croft again has the chance to save humanity and thwart her nemesis' plans multiple times throughout the film simply by destroying a key object in her possession, but stupidly doesn't seem to realize this. Third, it's cynical and sexist that a female action hero so obviously based around sex appeal doesn't get to have her Bond/Indy-type romantic moments. Perhaps that's what 20 years of the anti-sex school of feminism has given us: the notion that a woman cannot be both strong and sexual. It's pathetic here to see how low the filmmakers will stoop to keep Lara from having any fun (more cynical and Puritan, even, than killing Diana Rigg at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service just so Bond doesn't have to deal with married life in the next film). The gaffes in Cradle of Life are equally stupendous. In one scene, Lara has her face pushed into broken glass; five minutes later, her face has returned to flawlessness. (Is she based on a video-game character, or is she an actual video-game character?) Meanwhile, she gets shot at literally hundreds of times in this filmluckily, through some recruiting snafu, the bad guys hired gunmen who were trained to shoot only at railings, buildings and clouds. And boy, are they accurate! It's even sloppier and less entertaining than it sounds. (SP)(PG-13; 130 min.) (Click
(PG; 93 min.) Bill Murray is the one Saturday Night Live graduate who seems to have read the scripts before choosing to make the movies. In Larger Than Life, Murray reunites with director Howard Franklin (Quick Change) and co-stars with a brilliant elephant named Tai (Operation Dumbo Drop and The Jungle Book). Murray, a human-potential consultant, having inherited the animal from the father he never knew, must herd the beast across country. The movie is adept in comedic moods ranging from the sardonic (Murray's laconic command "hide" to the eight-ton behemoth) to the lyrical (riding the animal through Alpine lakes in the Rockies). Roy Blount Jr.'s script provides elegant, classic screwball, especially in a passage with Lois Smith as a tattooed lady that evokes the spirit of Preston Sturges. Unfortunately, Blount's script has no third act, and the film turns prolix about the time Murray and his beast arrive in New Mexico to save an adobe church. Still, Larger Than Life builds on its situations and doesn't trade on the easy jokes (there are no elephant dung jokes, hard as that may be to believe in 1997). The film even delivers some moments of pure rapture, as when Murray tries to convince an airport security guard to let his pachyderm through the metal detector: "She's not just an elephant; she's a role model." (RvB)
(R; 131 min.) If there are two things we know from the movies, it's that the military builds character, and that prison builds character. Ergo, a stretch in a military prison must be the most character-building experience a person could have. Didactic director Rod Lurie (The Contender) was a West Point grad, and he keeps this verbose but sometimes efficient action picture a constant homage to the uniform. James Gandolfini has the thankless role of the villainous warden Col. Winter, a role he plays fussily, with a pair of bifocals, a flourished handkerchief and a room full of antiques. (Lurie spells it outthe Colonel has a Salieri record he listens to; he's a jealous second-rater.) As a three-star general locked up in jail for a forgivable war atrocity, Robert Redford plays, basically, Jesus with medals. The prison riot in the second half is at first exciting, with the prisoners improvising weapons and working according to strategy, but then more and more elaborate weapons start appearing on the scene and the battle becomes as fraudulent as the film's premise. (RvB)
(R; 103 min.) A one-time wastrel (Rob Morrow) crusades for the life of a convicted killer (Sharon Stone) in a Southern state where they execute prisoners by boring them to death. He's trying to get her death sentence commuted to life because she was high on crack when she did the murder (that's going to get sympathy from jury and audience, all right). All the elements for a suspense-filled prison drama are here, except: suspense, drama and a sadistic lesbian warden supervising the compulsory shower scene. Actually, there is no shower scenethis is Stone the Serious Actor, armed with a competent cinematographer and competent supporting cast, and far out of her depth. It's actually possible to read her mind: "Okay, in this scene I'm really, really angry. Take deep breath; scowl. Okay. Now in this scene I'm really, really, really angry," and so on. Last Dance is said to be Stone's Oscar bid; if so, she should save herself some embarrassment by staying home and watching the Academy Awards on TV. (BC)
(PG-13; 112 min.) Wayne Wang directs this romantic comedy with weepie overtones right out of his Maid in Manhattan phase. Queen Latifah plays a drab, withdrawn department-store clerk who learns she only has three weeks left to live. A foodie, she grabs her life savings and blows it on a ritzy vacation in Prague, where a top chef (Gerard Depardieu) cooks for a five-star hotel. Wang captures the film's opulence in his attractive widescreen frame, and he luxuriates in Latifah's robust charm. But there has to be something for the trailer, and so we get the usual collection of snowboarding and base-jumping pratfalls. LL Cool J co-stars as the insecure love interest, and Timothy Hutton plays the twitchy villain. Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman adapted J.B. Priestley's 1950 screenplay. (JMA)
(1979/1985) (1979) John Woo directs Damian Law and Wei Pei in Last Hurrah for Chivalry, a Hong Kong action film with lots of sword work. BILLED WITH Heroes Shed No Tears. A high-octane war film by director Woo. Stars Eddy Ko and Lam Ching-Ying. (AR)
(1998), Asher Tlalim's documentary about the town of Guba in northern Azerbaijan, a Sephardic hamlet cut off from the outside world for more than 300 years.
(R; 105 min.) Zach Braff stars as Michael, a young man on the verge of fatherhood, who succumbs to a fling with a sexy college student (Rachel Bilson) in this remake of Gabriele Muccino's 2001 film from Italy. Celebrated scribe Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) carries over the plot point for point but fails to capture the emotional spaces between; certain behavior doesn't make sense. The ensemble cast, including Jacinda Barrett—as Michael's betrothed—and Casey Affleck, swings erratically from stoic to hysterical. And in a film about choosing adulthood over juvenility, the grown-ups are the weakest characters of all: Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner as Michael's future in-laws stumble through their awkward roles, grasping at elusive moments of truth. Tony Goldwyn directs. (JMA)
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(R; 103 min.) The promising Last Man Standing turns out to hide a disappointing and cruel actioner. Bruce Willis plays "John Smith," an anonymous gunman who sells his services to both sides in a Prohibition-era town divided between Irish and Italian gangsters. The trick of the oft-told story lies in being a step behind the amoral antihero, not being able to guess his motives as he switches loyalties as easily as he crosses the street. Unfortunately, director Walter Hill leaves no room for guesswork. You are ushered through the story like a child. In his voice-over narration, Smith yammers away like a speed-freak, making Last Man Standing dully literal at the same time that it tries to blow us away with superior firepower. "We have to make a choice between good and evil," Smith pontificates, and the camera show us a crossroads. I wouldn't have been surprised to hear Smith telling us over a gunfight, "Without saying anything, I walked in and filled the bad guys full of lead." Last Man Standing has a good 10 minutes of Christopher Walken playing a fearsome thug. But 10 minutes do not a movie make, and Last Man Standing is as plain and featureless as its array of gangsters, all shot under the same dusty red light. (RvB)
A bid to reproduce E.T., complete with the tearful finale. Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, in the Drew Barrymore role, is a little girl who loves her new stuffed rabbit "Mimzy," a toy from the future that washes up on a beach in Puget Sound. Also in its futuristic toy chest is a talking crystal that teaches her brother Noah (Chris O'Neill) the secret of a higher math than anything existing in 2007. The Last Mimzy plays out for awe rather than real magic; the toys are more like Baby Einstein than anything truly sinister. The edge on this fantasy is further planed down by a math teacher (Rainn Wilson) and his Buddhist fiancee, the goofy redhead Kathryn Hahn of Anchorman. Hahn comes closest to the Melinda Dillon-cum-Teri Garr vibe that this movie needs; meanwhile the kids' affluenza-struck parents (Timothy Hutton and Joely Richardson) conduct themselves distractedly, like figures in a TV commercial who bought the wrong product. The Last Mimzy's poor title and antiseptic surface keep it in the kid movie ghetto. Producer-turned-director Robert Shaye (whose last direction effort was 1990's Book of Love) somehow allowed an especially forceful piece of Intel corporate placement that shakes much of the charm right off this film. Based loosely on the classic 1943 short story "All Mimsy Were the Borogroves" by Lewis Padgett (like "Lewis Carroll," a pseudonym). (RvB)
The premise of this romantic adventure is intriguing enoughthat a tribe of Cheyenne has survived undiscovered in the woods of Montana until the present daybut whatever creative potential The Last of the Dogmen had gets lost in a host of stereotypical characters and a plot that doesn't explore an inch of new territory. From the perpetually angry sheriff (Kurtwood Smith) with a vendetta against Rugged Individual Extraordinaire, Lewis Gates (Tom Berenger), to the pretty but slightly chilly anthropologist, Lillian Sloan (Barbara Hershey), to the pouty pack of Indians with arrows always at the ready, we've seen these awful characters before. Only Zip, Gates' canine pal, enjoys a unique personalitythe actor couldn't read the script. The story is merely Dances With Wolves '95, especially when Gates has to save the tribe from possible destruction by the sheriff and his troops. But the film's biggest disappointment is that the development of the relationship between the Cheyenne tribe and their visitors often gets sacrificed to developing the banal romance between Gates and Sloan. (HZ)
(1935) A love triangle set in North Africa, during World War I: British Secret Service agent Claude Rains, Royal Army officer Cary Grant and Rains' wife, Gertrude Michael. (RvB)
Former San Josean John Guiterrez's documentary about spoken-word artists David Nelson, Gylan Kain, Abiodun Oyewole, Felipe Luciano, Umar Bin Hassan, Jalal Nurridin and Suliamn El Hadiprobably best known for their performances with Gil Scott-Heron. (RvB)
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(R; 105 min.) Independent director Henry Jaglom's 11th film is either one of his best or maybe just his most accessible. The film is a study of a theatrical family that gathers together at a large summerhouse on Labor Day weekend. The matriarch, an aged performer (the late Viveca Lindfors), puts on a play every summer for an assortment of friends, neighbors and family. Among the guests are a celibate director (André Gregory) and a successful but frustrated Hollywood actress (Victoria Foyt). This year, the play is Chekhov's The Seagull, but in a sense, the play-behind-the-play is The Cherry Orchard, since the house is about to be sold. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) Some graduate students learn that the revolution isn't a dinner party in this interesting political comedy by Stacy Title. It's obvious and unevenly cast but sports a provocative, sour punch line. The students (including Courtney B. Vance) invite conservatives to their house to discuss politics. The first guest (Bill Paxton) is just reactionary but genuinely homicidal, and in the ensuing fracas, they kill him. Convinced that purging the landscape of crypto-fascists one by one may be their duty, the students decide to have further right-wing guests over for talk and a glass of arsenic-laden wine. These include a priest (Charles Durning) who thinks that AIDS is God's punishment, a Rush Limbaugh look-alike (Jason Alexander) and an ultraconservative TV commentator (Ron Perlman). The sometimes crass simplicity of the parodied right is made up for by the genuinely confrontational ending; the movie may not always have brains, but it has guts. (RvB)
(1973) Bernardo Bertolucci's infamous study of aging sexual pathology (in the form of Marlon Brando doing the nasty with Maria Schneider) once seemed like a breakthrough. Now it looks a bit silly by comparison with Bertolucci's still-ravishing The Conformist. (AR)
UC-Santa Cruz's CineMedia Project presents four Latin American classics over two evenings. The conference kicks off Wednesday night with Glauber Rocha's Barrevento and Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus. Thursday night's schedule includes Luis Buñuel's La Joven and Argentinian filmmaker Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's Piel de Verano (this film will be shown without English subtitles).
series begins Nov. 14 in San Jose with screenings of Honey for Oshún (6pm) and The Escape (7pm). Honey director Humberto Solás will appear at the screening. The series runs through Nov. 17 at various locations.The
(1944) The high-toned mystery Laura exerts a mesmerizing effect on many people, even though it seems to hang on one good gimmick and one memorable theme song. Clifton Webb has some fine moments, though, as Waldo Lydecker, a wizened-up version of Walter Winchell, and Judith Anderson and Vincent Price also make amusing suspects. Gene Tierney stars as Laura. (RvB)
(1944/1947) The high-toned mystery Laura exerts a mesmerizing effect on many people, even though it seems to hang on one good gimmick and one memorable theme song. Clifton Webb has some fine moments as Waldo Lydecker, a wizened-up version of Walter Winchell, and Judith Anderson and Vincent Price also make amusing suspects. Gene Tierney stars as Laura. BILLED WITH The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, one of the best and smartest Hollywood romancestangy in a way that few of them are. A Victorian lady novelist (Gene Tierney) rents haunted Gull Cottage by the sea, only to find it visited by the dashing and irascible ghost of a sea captain (Rex Harrison). As he dictates his memoirs to the widow, he falls in love, but she's lured by all-too fallible flesh and blood in the form of one of George Sanders' most dreadful men, "a perfumed parlor snake" who writes bestselling children's books. ("Lord knows, I loathe the little brutes.") The ultraromantic score is by Bernard Herrmann. (RvB)
(Both 1951) Alec Guinness stars as an oppressed bank clerk who schemes to rob the Bank of England in The Lavender Hill Mob. Music-hall luminary Stanley Holloway co-stars, as does Audrey Hepburn in a small part. BILLED WITH The Man in the White Suit, Alexander Mackendrick's satire of planned obsolescence. Guinness plays a meek little inventor who develops a cloth that never wears out and never needs cleaningnaturally, this invention throws the textile industry into a panic. (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) Another sorry attempt to make the Internet seem scary, Lawnmower Man II resurrects cyber-genius Jobe, the once-simple gardener who, through the magic of virtual reality, has been converted into a bald psycho bent on conquering the planet. While Jobe gazes maniacally at the screen of his computer, the world's most evil three-piece-suit-wearing conservative does battle with Dr. Trace, the world's hippest dreadlock-donning liberal. The result turns out to be a real watch-checker (dull and not even slightly scary). Before the first five minutes of the film are over, it is already obvious what will happen, how the story will end and what the sets will look like. With a plot based on technology and virtual reality, the total absence of excitement, intrigue, mystery or suspense should have at least been offset by some interesting computer animation, but the film even falls short in that category, providing perhaps 15 minutes of so-so graphics combined with superimposed images of flying people and various other unconvincing bits of imagery. (BB)
(1962) How England gave up its best to make Iraq British (a recent issue of The New Yorker described the old, forgotten and disfigured military cemetery in Kut). David Lean's epica relic of an age when movies weren't just big, but smart, tootells of Col. T.E. Lawrence, the British agent provocateur who stirred up nationalist revolt in "Mesopotamia" during World War I. The plan was to protect both the Suez Canal and the oil supply from the hostile Ottoman Empire of the Turks. The Arab world as we know it was precipitated by Lawrence, and the world has been reaping the benefits and suffering the consequences ever since. What this movie is about is a man, played by the messianically beautiful young Peter O'Toole, and his friend Ali (another looker, Omar Sharif). The two battle against the sadistic Turks, particularly the Bey Jose Ferrer, whose mistreatment of Lawrence is a little more clear in the uncensored versions. The photography in Super Panavision 70 by Freddie Young (billed as "Frederick A.") made this a monster hit. With Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins and Anthony Quinn. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore as relatively young lawyers in love. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 104 min.) Producer Matthew Vaughn (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) makes his directorial debut with this fun, snappy crime caper that begins with a wryly understated take on the "one-last-job-and-I'm-out" subgenre. Daniel Craig plays the nameless hero, a meticulous, low-profile drug dealer who accidentally falls in with an unsavory crowd when he reluctantly agrees to track down a missing gangster's daughter in addition to unloading a pile of ecstasy. Michael Gambon and Colm Meaney shine in two of many colorful supporting roles. Although Vaughn's directorial vision is less overtly stylish than originally slated director Guy Ritchie's, Vaughn balances the movie's many plotlines with his own crisp energy, as evidenced by the amazing scene involving Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" and a pot of hot tea. (JMA)
here for an interview with Amanda Pepper mystery author Judy Greber about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.) London, 1899: Most of the figures of Victorian popular fictionfrom Mr. Hyde to the vengeful Sikh known as "Captain Nemo" to the aged African adventurer Allan Quatermainare recruited to a kind of Justice League of the British Empire. Their target: a masked criminal known as "The Phantom," who burgles the Bank of England with a tank and seems ready to precipitate World War I 20 years early. Working from Alan Moore's graphic novel, director Stephen Norrington (Blade) hatches what I'd call the summer's biggest disappointment. What a waste: Ace sets, superior costumes, Jason Flemyng's Hyde, who could beat up the Hulk any day of the week, vampirette Peta Wilson, with her tiny batlike ears and needle-fine teeth (playing Mina, the "turned" widow of Jonathan Harker), not to mention Moore's clever conceitall are smashed up into one terminally confused action film. Norrington has the kind of sensibility perfect for Lexus commercials, for blending menace and expensive decadence, for mixing lowering skies and chrome and black leather. But he doesn't have any sympathy or understanding of how the shock of World War I changed everything. Nor is he able to wreak horror out of the way this team of superheroes might be able to sniff the disaster ahead of everyone else. The terror of impending nightmarish history is the one superpower that really matters in Moore's speculative fictional comic books: that's the edge Ozymandius has in The Watchmen and the power the masked-monster hero has in V for Vendetta. Without understanding the full weight of what the League is trying to postpone, all you have is a rushed, forced and inane action movie, in which the destruction of half of Venice and the injury of that immortal Nautilus goes unmourned. Playing Quatermain, the discoverer of King Solomon's Mines, the unwilling courtier at the throne room of Ayesha, "She Who Waits, She Who Must Be Obeyed," Sean Connery is for a brief moment his old self. Nothing in this movie matters as much as the moment when his Quatermain figures out and pronounces the name of the villain responsible for all the trouble. Connery, at least, had read the books. It was a privilege to be in a Bay Area theater where there were enough people who had read them, too, hearing them murmur "aha" when Connery identified the culprit. (RvB)(PG-13; 112 min.) (Click
(2005) Slideshow and presentation on the crisis in the townships of South Africa.
(Unrated; 100 min.) Director David DeCoteau's romantic comedy about a young man's romance with an older, more worldly man.
(PG; 88 min.) The '90s movie that revives the beloved but kitschy sitcom possesses a definite modern-day realism. Rather than portraying the Cleavers as picture-perfect, the film shows us Beaver (Cameron Finley) and family actually dealing with some true-to-life problems. The Cleavers, whose home life is complicated by Ward's sky-high expectations and the boys' vain attempt to meet them, even visit a family psychologist. Everything ends happily ever after but not before the boys tell a few white lies and Beaver's feelings get stomped on. But even with the obvious modernization of the Cleavers, the all-American family still retains a certain cornball absurdity. Sadly, despite '90s jokes and references, the female roles in the film are no better than the superficial ones of the '50s and early '60s. (BY)
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(R; 115 min.) Ben (Nicolas Cage) loses his job before the titles rolland somewhere lost the desire to do anything other than drink himself to death in Las Vegas. Cage is our least guileless actor. Here, he's dark but not funny or cute; he's sincere only when he says "Don't ever ask me to stop drinking" to a Vegas prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue)a type once called the hooker with a heart of gold, now called codependent. Shue bravely allows her prettiness to be battered by bad lighting and makeupshe's not pretty on the inside. Mike Figgis (Internal Affairs) has directed the greatest film about alcoholismthus the saddest, without the false piety of When a Man Loves a Woman or deodorized romanticism of Barfly. (DH)
(1995) A.k.a. Happiness Is in the Field. Étienne Chatiliez's fable about a harassed small businessman (Michel Serrault). One day on television, he sees a program in which a women is looking for her long-lost husband; he discovers himself the exact look-alike of the man in question. This gives him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to escape the plague of his job and his unhappy marriage. (Plays May 25 at 7pm at the Palo Alto French Ciné Club, 1313 Newell Rd, Palo Alto.) (RvB)
(1982) On the eve of his retirement, a bank clerk (Pierre Mondy) gets an unusual present: a hooker. Claudia Cardinale plays Mondy's wife. (RvB)
(1970) An impenetrable quote from Buddhist lore introduces this top of the line late-period film noir. The gist of the quote seems to be that during our lives it's our destiny to encounter and re-encounter certain peoplea circle of fate we can't escape from. Jean-Pierre Melville's superior heist movie was never released in its full version in the U.S. (and cutting it must have made it incoherent, dooming it). It follows a handful of criminals and police arranging themselves around a silent, tense, low-tech heist of a heavily guarded jewelry store in the Place Vendome. Leader of the gang is Alain Delon, as Corey, still pale and hollow-eyed from five years in prison. While Delon's forceful power-walking through Paris made Melville's Le Samourai a snooze, here he's commanding (is it only the longer hair and the mustache that makes the difference?). His partner in crime is the Sam Rockwell lookalike Gian Maria Volonte; and the third member of the gang is a freshly dried rummy who once was a marksman (Yves Montand). Circling them like a hawk is a distrusted Corsican cop (Andre Bourvil, anticipating James Cromwell in L.A. Confidential)a widower who lives for his three fluffy housecats. Director Melville was a man who loved American culture so much he named himself after our most profound novelist. He's borrowed some popular Yankee film ideas here, particularly the unspoken but powerful comaraderie throughout Howard Hawks' films, and the bit about the ex-drunk shootist in Hawks' Rio Bravo (later parodied in Blazing Saddles). However, Melville's precise compositions and his flawless visual storytelling are all his own. The renowned cinematographer Henri Decae's vistas of France at its most wintry and alluring make this movie a genre classic that embarrasses current heist pictures as talky, attitudinous and cluttered. Le Cercle Rouge isn't perfect. A delirium tremens scene here is a little dubious, perhaps even gaudy. Otherwise, this one couldn't be cooler if it had Robert Mitchum in it. (RvB)
(PG-13) It's official: teddy bears don't go to heaven. In the aftermath of the Rapture, when God has pulled all of his faithful from this earth, clothes, jewelry and teddy bears are all left behind. Left Behind: The Movie's director, Vic Sarin, is especially struck by the sight of various rapt children's discarded teddy bears. He shows us three abandoned snuggle-bears in 10 minutes. Sarin tops the lost teddies with two separate shots of a faithful though unraptured dog sitting by empty trousers in the grass: His Master's Pants. If you're waiting for more colorful end-times flapdoodle than this, you might as well hang on for the real rapture. You won't find what you're looking for in Left Behind: The Movie, neither the Anti-Christ cackling it up in his mansion, nor the triple-six forehead branding of quivering martyrs. Left Behind: The Movie was released last Halloween on video, and is now, months later, coming to the screen in what a press release modestly terms "a bold but effective marketing stroke of genius." It'll take more than genius to push this lox. Left Behind begins on the morning of the rapture, and sticks around to the political ascent of Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie). A well-loved Mother Theresa type, Carpathia takes over the U.N. using a super wheat-growing formula as leverage. Meanwhile, he blackmails the Arabs into allowing the rebuilding of Solomon's Temple, a sign of upcoming Armageddon. Our hero, Kirk Cameron, is Buck Williams, TV newscaster for "GNN." Cameron was the star of Growing Pains; he may not be growing anymore, but he's certainly a pain. His Buck pieces the truth together with the help of a paranoid conspiracy theorist (Jack Langeduck, in a small performance of really noteworthy badness.) There's not much of an" official story" to swallow, thoughthe authorities claim that radioactive fallout made 132 million people disappear. The same plot is here, then, as in The Omega Code. A worldly newscaster is persuaded to faith. A weaker-vessel blonde woman goes to work for the Anti-Christ, who is easy to spot because he's essentially the only person in the movie who has a foreign accent. There's so much focus on talking, repentance and prayer that there's no time to dramatize the sudden disappearance of about 130 million of the earth's population. To a certain mentality, professing love but preaching wrath, everything is a sign of the coming apocalypse. But it's not the message but the telling of it that makes Left Behind a frost; why did Sarin and his producers Peter and Paul Lalonde decided that this fire sermon ought to be delivered in the hushed tones of an episode of Seventh Heaven? It's the reasonable tone of Left Behind that leaves you grimmed-out. (RvB)
(1998) In Antwerp 1972, Chaya, an unbelieving Jewish college student, gets in touch with her religious heritage. Directed by actor Jeroen Krabbe, the cast includes Isabella Rossellini, Maximilian Schell, and Chaim Topol (Fiddler on the Roof).
(PG-13; 96 min.) This comedy stars Reese Witherspoon as an L.A. society girl who enrolls at Harvard Law School in order to be near her ex-boyfriend but, rather than winning back her ex, finds herself with a promising law career instead. Luke Wilson also stars.
(PG-13) Reese Witherspoon succumbs to sequel fever.
(1964) At the risk of tautology, one could describe Louis de Funes as the Inspector Clouseau of France. De Funes starred in six popular comedies as the inept policeman Ludovic Cruchot. Here, Cruchota bumpkin from the provincesis assigned to a Baywatch gig policing the seaside resort and is shocked, shocked, to discover that nude bathing goes on. Then he's implicated in the theft of a Rembrandt. The film debuted the same year as The Pink Panther, which had the same number of sequels and basically the same plotan interesting case of coincidence that it would not be safe to get Cruchot to investigate. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) Not even hit-and-miss dubbing and a lame, slightly cumbersome new title can put a damper on this American release of Jackie Chan's 1994 Hong Kong hit Drunken Master II. Chan reprises the role of turn-of-the-century Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hong, which he originated 15 years earlier in the first Drunken Master, the breakthrough flick that established Chan's brand of rousing, gracefully choreographed martial arts sequences and Buster Keaton-esque physical comedy (the Wong role also made a star out of Jet Li in his Once Upon a Time in China series). Though Chan is way too old to play twentysomething Wong, he's in his physical prime here, managing to pull off lightning-fast kung-fu moves with the vigor of a person half his age; there aren't any signs of him slowing down yet, like in his more recent movies. The Legend of Drunken Master pits Chan's alcoholic Popeye (hard liquor is to his character what spinach is to the cartoon sailor) against greedy thugs plotting to steal cherished Chinese artifacts for aristocratic British culture vultures. It features some of Chan's most thrilling kung-fu sequences of the last decade, including a striking set piece in which Chan and elderly Manchu soldier Lau Ka Leung (the film's original director, who quit after clashing with Chan) fend off never-ending swarms of henchmen and a climactic battle with long-legged nemesis Ken Lo (Chan's real-life bodyguard), whose double-jointed, high-kicking fighting style makes him look like an evil Rockette. (JA)
(1995) Only in France could a whole movie be made about people who pass a copy of Kierkegaard's Diary of a Seducer back and forth. Stars Chiara Mastroianni and Jean-Pierre Leaud. (AR)
(PG; 98 min.) Children naturally embraced the series of gloomy tales penned by Mr. Snicket of San Francisco. It was natural; positive, happy, nonviolent stories of love and fulfillment didn't quite jibe with what the brighter kids could see going on around them. The film version by Brad Silberling (Moonlight Mile) is this year's Christmas pantomime movie, akin to the English holiday entertainments with their broad acting, ornate costumes and fairy-tale plots. Unlike the fetid How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat, this item was made with taste, wit and an unusual amount of confidence. As narrated by Snicket (Jude Law), the story is told of the three tragic Baudelaire orphans (will Snicket successfully inculcate a generation of children with a taste for Les Fleurs du Mal?one can only hope): the children are the brilliant Violet (a young actress with the authentic Victorian name Emily Browning), her bookworm brother, Klaus (Liam Aiken), and their teething infant sister, Sunny (played by a pair of ultratalented 2-year-olds named Kara and Shelby Hoffman). It is the Baudelaires' misfortune to become wards of the decadent Count Olaf, a greedy aesthete who only wants their money. Though he's learned to roll his Rs like a crap-thespian, and though he's at his funniest posing as a chin-whiskered old salt called "Captain Sham," Jim Carrey proves once again that the word "less" is not in his vocabulary. (When Carrey gets ripe, you long to see what Ian McKellen would have done with Olaf.) And Meryl Streep, as the neurotic Aunt Josephine, proves again that she's a light comedian, not a heavy one (and the comedy here gets quite heavy). Most at home are Timothy Spall as Poe the fubsy banker and Billy Connolly, quite warm as an affectionate herpetologist called Uncle Monty (hello, Withnail and I devotees). The syrupy ending is the most unfortunate of these unfortunate events. (RvB)
(1961) During the Nazi occupation of France, a young woman (Emmanuelle Riva) who believes in Communism challenges the local priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo). When his clever responses disarm her, the two begin to meet regularly. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Part of the Summer of Love Crimes series.
(G; 90 min.) Naturalist Hugo van Lawick's love of African wildlife brings a uniquely appealing personal angle to this documentary about a leopard cub living in the Serengeti National Park. Through vividly stunning cinematography, van Lawick follows a young male leopard for the first two years of his life, likening the cub's coming-of-age saga to that of his own son, who grew up exploring Africa with his father. Despite the undeniable charm of a baby-animal story, however, small children will not enjoy The Leopard Son. The film embraces all aspects of life in the wild, including many scenes that illustrate how the food chain works. In fact, in a demonstration of the interdependence of all species, The Leopard Son presents compelling vignettes of life on the Serengeti for a number of the animals there. This first film by the Discovery Channel proves a successful collaboration, with a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Stewart Copeland and the crisp narration of Sir John Gielgud to accompany van Lawick's magnificent images. (HZ)
(2000) Director Caroline Vignal's tale of young Solange (Julie Leclercq), an unwilling virgin in a small town outside Toulouse.
(1984) Gérard Depardieu and Pierre Richard co-star as chums. Each thinks that the other is the father of the adolescent son of their mutual lover. Directed by Edouard Molinaro (director of the original La Cage aux Folles). (RvB)
(2003) (A.k.a. Strayed.) A young French widow (Emanuelle Beart) flees the approaching German army, and finds a protectoran unsavory young man. The renowned Andre Techine directs (The Wild Reeds). (Plays Jun 1 at 7pm at the French Cinema Club, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto.) (RvB)
(1993) A child comes to terms with his father's sex change. (RvB)
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(R; 174 min.) Director Claude Lelouch's film version of Les Misérables isn't a remake of Victor Hugo's novel, it's a film "about" Les Misérables. The storythe stories, actuallyrevolve around a barely articulate French boxer named Fortin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) whom people are always comparing to Hugo's Jean Valjean. Exactly why isn't apparent, but that doesn't stop people from reading Hugo to Fortin at the drop of a hat. It also doesn't stop Lelouch from drawing parallels between Fortin's bravery in saving a Jewish family during WWII and Valjean's own renowned bravery. Lelouch is well-meaning, I suppose, but the parallel stories in Les Misérables don't make you think about how contemporary Jean Valjean's story is, they make you think about how dated it must be if it needs stories like Fortin's to drag it into the 20th century. (AB)
(PG-13; 129 min.) It's probably not completely the fault of the chatty pair that sat behind me in the theater that they talked for the entire two hours of this latest adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Despite the fact that the epic tale has been condensed aptly into only two hours and that the film offers some engrossing momentsthanks to a largely excellent castthis version of Les Misérables has a plodding pace that would rival the most densely written of Victorian novels. Fortunately, Liam Neeson is a natural for protagonist Jean Valjean, the reformed convict who devotes his life to good works. Geoffrey Rush, too, is eerily convincing as the antagonist supreme, Inspector Javert, who hounds Valjean for more than 20 years, and this adaptation offers some scenes which masterfully explore the novel's themes of redemption and goodness through Valjean and Javert's bitter lifelong conflict. With dank scenery and lighting, director Bille August has adeptly captured the hopelessness of poverty that Hugo criticized, but the dark world he creates is so impenetrable that the long-awaited redemption he builds up to ultimately never comes. (HZ)
(1955/1937) Frederic March as the bread thief Valjean; Charles Laughton (bald for the occasion) as Javert. BILLED WITH You Only Live Once. Facing conviction under the early version of the three-strikes law, the hard-luck-ridden Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is about to marry the secretary of his public defender (the delicate, yearning actress Sylvia Sydney). The two go on honeymoon, but the world won't leave them alone. "The last romantic couple in the world," Jean-Luc Godard called these characters in Pierrot le Fou; they're a primal version of the doomed lovers fleeing the law in so many movies since. Fritz Lang directs. (RvB)
(1993) The hit comedy about medieval time travelers stuck in today's Parisremade as the American flop Just Visiting. (Plays Aug 10 at 7:30pm at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd; $5/$7; see www.frenchcineclub.com for details.) (RvB)
(1942) A Michel Carné about two traveling minstrels in 15th-century France who fall in love with two sisters. Part of the Summer of Love Crimes series.
(R; 82 min.) If the Spice Girls weren't evidence enough that lusty new-school feminism has been irrevocably declawed, we now have Let's Talk About Sex, a raucously awful film about, as the characters never tire of saying, "dating and mating in the '90s." A TV-talk-show within a film, the movie follows three beautiful Miami housemates as they make a try-out talk show pilot in which girls, well, talk about sex. Half of the movie is given to interviews (some real, some scripted) with women about favorite positions, kinks, pet peeves and sexual skillsthere's tons of giggling, you-go-girl naughtiness. The rest of the film is about the housemates' insipid dramas. There's Jazz, the would-be Oprah who's still pining for her ex-fiancé; Michelle, whose worldly, do-me facade hides her heartbreak over her mother's rejection; and Lena, a classic doormat. These conflicts get resolved after-school-special style in scenes so pitifully maudlin they're almost campy. This is a film in which the line "I'm only human, I hurt, I feel, I have needs" is uttered with teary deadpan earnestness. (MG)
(1940/1939) Bette Davis stars as a blackmailed lady of a rubber plantation, who seems ready to get away with murder. BILLED WITH Dark Victory. Beautiful and doomed Long Island society woman Davis faces the end, with the help of her warm-blooded Irish horse trainer (Humphrey Bogart) and her surgeon (George Brent). Rarely is this tear-jerking material handled so tastefully; rarer still does an actress handle it with the dignity of a Bette Davis. According to Bogart's biographer Jeffrey Meyers, producer Hal Wallis tried to hire Sigmund Freud himself as a technical adviser on this drama. Ronald Reagan has a small part as a worthless drunk playboy. (RvB)
(1948/1940) Max Ophuls' romance is a De Maupassantish story of a woman (Joan Fontaine) who can never get a famed musician (Louis Jordan) out of her heart. BILLED WITH Rebecca. Fontaine plays the new wife of British nobleman Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). She finds a chilly welcome at de Winter's English manor, Manderley. Her husband seems distracted, bitter; her housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is in open revolt against her. Gradually, she begins to fear that the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, was such a paragon that she will never be able to match her. Alfred Hitchcock was lured to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick to make a film about the Titanic and ended up working on this instead. "It's not a Hitchcock picture, [but] it has stood up quite well to the yearsI don't know why," the director told Francois Truffaut. It was the only Hitchcock movie to win a Best Picture Oscar. It must have been the women's vote; I suspect that Rebecca means more to women than any of Hitchcock's other films, especially in the way it plays upon senses of inferiority and the worst fears about the silences of men. (RvB)
Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Men in Black).(R; 100 min.) Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter and Kirsten Dunst. Written and directed by Saratoga native
(1993) Haitian parents flee the Duvalier regime, leaving their three daughters vulnerable to the sadistic secret police, the infamous Tonton Macoute. Directed by Raoul Peck (Lumumba), former Haitian Culture Minister.
(PG-13; 86 min.) A lawyer (Jim Carrey) finds his life painfully complicated when his neglected, five-year-old son (Justin Cooper) gets his birthday wish: a father who is unable to lie for an entire day. That puts dad at a distinct disadvantage in the courtroom, as his modus operandi is to suborn perjury. Director Tom Shadyac (The Nutty Professor) gets surprising range out of his star; while setting up the gags, Carrey is almost subtle, making his manic struggles not to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth just that much funnier. Too bad about that gooey ending. (BC)
(R; 114 min.) Johnny Depp plays John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester and one of the 17th century's most famous dirty poets. Like a less refined Marquis de Sade, he seduces women and behaves badly while in a constant drunken stupor. Samantha Morton provides a lift as budding actress Elizabeth Barry, whom he takes under his wing. Depp gets to practice his slurring Pirates of the Caribbean English accent while boasting, "You will not like me." This should have been a bracing antidote to honey-colored twaddle like Casanova, but director Laurence Dunmore films everything through a corrosive brown fog, obscuring and muffling the film's life force. John Malkovich co-stars, wearing a fake nose as King Charles II. Stephen Jeffreys adapted his own play. (JMA)
(R; 127 min.) In its consistently warm and upbeat look at anti-Semitism and racism, Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights seems like a pilot for a high-quality TV program. The film follows the Kurtzman family through a year in an affluent Jewish suburb of Baltimore in the early 1950s. The head of the family, Nate (Joe Mantegna), runs a decaying burlesque house. Son Ben (Ben Foster) initiates a chaste, sincere romance with an African-American girl named Sylvia (Rebekah Johnson). Ben's older brother Van (Adrien Brody) is also involved with someone whoin the logic of the 1950sis outside his race: a WASP princess named Dubbie (Carolyn Murphy). (RvB)
Worthy of its lofty title. Pam Walton, a documentary maker from Mountain View, screened one-third of this, the episode "Death to Life," at Cinequest 2001. "Death to Life" records the death of Joyce Fulton. In the opening scenes, we see her, wasted, beyond speech, with a "threshold singers" group around her to help her out of this world. Moving backward in time, Walton observes the process of terminal cancer over the course of two years. In a sense, we see Fulton moving from sick to well, becoming the person she was on the day she celebrated retiring from teaching high school. The second episode, "Life to Death," is a reminiscence of Mary Bell Wilson, a self-described "Katharine Hepburn type" (who yet has a high hope of riding in the Dykes on Bikes quotient of the San Francisco Pride Day parade). Wilson faces up to her own losing struggle with lymphoma. The third section is titled "Life." In New York in winter, we see what becomes of Joyce's friend, the artist Nan Golub. Golubwho has transformed herself into a black-leather-jacketed, platinum-dyed and sunglasses-wearing city womanties the three parts of this documentary together. The artist sketches out a cartoon family tree of the women, and suddenly we have better idea of who they were when they were young, and we realize these affluent older women were once young battlers on the frontline of gay liberation. Walton returns to images to make this trilogy one smooth piecethe iconic use of the Statue of Liberty, a head-shaving party for a woman about to undergo brain surgery, which is matched with scenes of Golub trimming her own hair. What might have been misunderstood as morbid is revealed as a celebration of life. This is moving work from a director whose compassion doesn't overwhelm her bravery. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 80 min.) Arthur Dong's searing documentary provides a nationwide survey of a half-dozen imprisoned men who have killed homosexuals or who have killed out of homosexual panic. There are moments in Licensed to Kill that are like looking into a gutter and suddenly seeing your reflection. Two of these killers are affable, even likable, and they're anxious to tell their stories, as if murder had somehow cleared their minds. Director Dong, who himself was beaten up 20 years ago, is a very brave man to have put himself through this; it takes no little amount of strength to watch it. (RvB)
(R; 115 min.) Usually when the bulk of a movie's jokes are given away in the trailer, there's hardly anything left in the film worth sitting through; happily that's far from the case for Life. The comedy/drama may be a vehicle for comedians Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, but the pair does a lot more in the film than toss off a few wisecracks and collect their paychecks. In 1932 Harlem, Murphy is a big-talking pickpocket and Lawrence is a prissy would-be banker who are thrown together on a trip to Mississippi to purchase bootleg booze in order to satisfy some debts. Once in the South, the two end up framed for a local's murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in a hard-labor camp. Naturally, the unlikely friends' bickering makes for the lion's share of the film's gags; however, Murphy and Lawrence both bring appeal and depth to their characters as we follow them from the 1930s to the present day in an entertaining story that isn't always played for laughs. (HZ)
(R; 108 min.) As the opening manouevers in the Bay Area Subway Series of 2000 begin to take shape, this documentary revives the memory of a baseball legend: the Jewish Detroit Tigers slugger who was a national hero during the 1940s. A hard-hitter who menaced Babe Ruth's record, Greenberg is remembered by interviewees including Bob Feller, Maury Povich, the late Walter Matthau and Alan Dershowitz ("I always thought he'd be the first Jewish president.") (RvB)
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(R; 118 min.) More sourball than screwball, this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink drama/comedy is about the world-renowned Zissou (Bill Murray), a combination of Jacques Cousteau and Ernest Hemingway. He's a has-been documentary filmmaker with money troubles and a rusty, ex-futuristic ship. The sense is that he doesn't even like the sea that much anymore, but a new passenger on The Belafonte engages him: it's the illegitimate son (Owen Wilson) he never met. The dour adventure film is enlivened by hallucinatory sea creatures animated by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), a few plaster-lagoon underwater moments and a soundtrack of Bowie hits, played samba style. It's unquestionably inventive, and it has a glittering castWillem Dafoe as the German first mate, Cate Blanchett as a superficially tough reporter, Anjelica Huston as Zissou's disappointed wife. The script, by director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and his collaborator, the New Yorker writer and indie filmmaker Noam Baumbach, is full of droll, blasé lines. Unfortunately, most of their wit evaporates between the page and the actors' lips. Anderson's only 34. If this story has autobiographical elements, it's indecently early for these kinds of lamentations of a misunderstood and burned-out filmmaker. (RvB)
(R; 128 min.) Kevin Kline stars as an architect stricken with a terminal case of cancer who decides to knock down an old sea-cliff shack and construct a beautiful building. While working on this dream house, he patches things up with his ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his estranged teenage son. Life as a House suggests that only construction work and careful fatherhood can really redeem today's effete youth, who grow up sexually confused thanks to virtually single-parent households. A more somber lead actor might have pulled this neoconservative material off; Kline, like Robin Williams before him, overdoes it mercilessly. (RvB)
(1941) The 11th in the series, with Judy Garland once again the local girl jilted in favor of the newcomer (Barbara Dane). (RvB)
(1985) A sci-fi-space-vampire-armageddon thriller based on Colin Wilson's novel Space Vampires. London is taken over by zombies with a beautiful space vampire as their leader. Patrick Stewart, Steve Railsback and Peter Firth star. (RvB)
(Unrated; 110 min.) There's a disturbing disconnect between the two halves of Life Is Beautiful. But writer, director and star Roberto Benigni, Italy's most beloved comic actor, ultimately redeems the film through sheer indefatigable charm and clear-eyed warmth. As the movie begins, Guido, a Jewish waiter with dreams of owning a bookstore, falls in love with the luminous Dora (Benigni's real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi). Dora is unhappily engaged to a local fascist bureaucrat, but Guido wins her away with an increasingly whimsical and enchanting series of romantic stunts. This half of the movie is magic; Benigni is a magnificent physical comedian with a sweet-natured, Chaplinesque pathos. In the second half, Guido's wit and spirit are set against the Nazis, and the film becomes much more problematic. Guido and Dora are leading an idyllic life with their adorable son (Giorgio Cantarini) when the three are deported to a concentration camp. Determined to shield the boy from the terror of the camps, Guido convinces him that it's all an elaborate role-playing game with a magnificent prize for the winners. It takes supreme hubris for a comedian to imagine his humor saving his family from the Holocaust, and there are places in the film where Benigni comes close to trivializing tragedy. Despite the film's dubious premise, though, Guido's sustained effort to create a fantasy world for his son is bittersweet and heroic. (MG)
(R; 104 min.) With the makers of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting at the helm, a movie less ordinarygood or badwould have seemed to have been a given, but this romantic adventure shows none of the team's previous imagination or intelligence. An overly quirky tale of a sensitive loser (Ewan McGregor) who kidnaps his rich boss' beautiful and cynical daughter (Cameron Diaz), the film can't even claim the distinction of being sensationally terrible; it's plain mediocre. The only device in John Hodge's script that deviates from the usual "unlikely couple" love story is guidance from two less-than-benevolent angels (Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter) who must make loser McGregor and debutante Diaz fall in love or face exile from heaven. Their desperate, violent measures to unite the couple are pretty pointless, but it's almost refreshing to see the now ubiquitous guardian angels portrayed as acting in self-interest for a changethey're former humans, after all. But the filmmakers could have used some divine guidance themselves to remember that their past successes had some substance behind the jaunty camera angles and oh-so-marketable soundtrack. (HZ)
(1950/1942) A pair of models, one rising (Lana Turner), one descending (Ann Dvorak), mull over their careers and their romances in A Life of Her Own. Ray Milland and Louis Calhern co-star. BILLED WITH Her Cardboard Lover. This is the third version of an old farce about a man who hires a woman to pose as his bethrothed in order to get some peace from his jealous girlfriend. (One of the versions was a Buster Keaton sound film, The Passionate Plumber.) George Sanders and Robert Taylor co-star. It was Norma Shearer's last film. (RvB)
(PG-13; 99 min.) Lanie (Angelina Jolie), a newsreader for a Seattle TV station, thinks she has it all: a helmet of badly bleached hair, a lifetime pass to the gym and a fiancé who plays for the Seattle Mariners. But one day, a transient (Tony Shalhoub) warns Lanie she's going to die in a week, so it's time for her to learn life lessons at the hands of a lowly cameraman (Edward Burns) whom she slept with and dumped. It's a robotic comedy without a single believable relationship in it, directed by Stephen Herek (Mr. Holland's Opus) and co-written by Dana Stevens and John Scott Shepherd (Joe Somebody). Herek's pointless digital jazzingKoyaanisqatsi goes to Seattledoesn't disguise the film's slowness or vapidness. Life or Something Like It is a TV commercial advertising the sensitive lifeand Altoids breath mints, which get the longest product-placement scene yet! (I'll bet they made a mint, ha ha.) After her makeover and that terrible dye job (Marilyn Monroe after the Nembutal), Jolie looks every bit as false as Madonna does when she pretends to be anything but Madonna or a woman something like Madonna. Does Jolie's core audience really want to see her reluctantly teased into bed while Jewel's syrupy "This Way" plays softly on the soundtrack? And those who argued (ceaselessly) that Jolie was a feminist butt-kicking icon in Tomb Raider can feast themselves on the scene where she reduces a fellow female newscaster to tears (it's Stockard Channing and well she might weep, being caught in this film). The reason the newscaster cries is that Lanie reminds her on camera that she chose career over children and romance. Life or Something Life It is another slap in the face for the women in the audience disguised as a chick flick. (RvB)
(R; 97 min.) A SWAT team encircles The Breakfast Club in Light It Up. High achievers of color in a decaying NYC high school inadvertently take a cop (Forest Whitaker) hostage after protesting the suspension of their favorite teacher (Judd Nelson, remembered for '84's The Breakfast Club); Nelson removed the students from a classroom that lacked heat, as does the film. Writer/director Craig Bolitin substitutes the warm decency of the kids, cops and teachers for the heat-causing friction of white flight to the suburbs and subsequent abandonment of inner-city public schools. By leaning more toward earnestness than sensationalism, the film resembles a droning lecture where a vital subject lacks passionate delivery. (DH)
(PG) Lil' Bow Wow finds an old smelly pair of Michael Jordan's shoes and becomes a miniature NBA powerhouse. (And this kid gets his own moviewhy?) Basketball nuts may be tempted by the chance to see their favorite NBA stars act, but you've gotta wonder about the box-office drawing power of Vlade Divac, since fans of his flopping get to see him give an Oscar-worthy performance every time another player gets within two feet of him during the regular season.
(1992) The magical-realist saga of a Mexican family, illuminated with recipes for their home cooking. It is the Gone With the Wind of Latin food porn, sumptuously directed by Alfonso Arau (longtime character actor, and director in his native Mexico). Eat first before you see it, or you'll be too hungry to make it through. (RvB)
(PG; 80 min.) Disney at its best. This colorful, anarchic cartoon features a very high caliber of gag-writing (Disney's real weak spot in recent years). A mutant alien monster named "Experiment 626" escapes to Earth, where it's mistaken for a Hawaiian poi-dog. Adopted by the odd girl Lilo (Daveigh Chase), it wreaks havoc. The deliberately destructive pet also attracts the attention of an already nosy child-protective-services agent named Mr. Bubble (Ving Rhames, essentially reprising his role from Pulp Fiction); meanwhile, a posse of inept alien dogcatchers chase the monster. The bright and lively conception includes everything from the easy-to-read satire of E.T. to the clever modeling of Lilo on Charles Schultz's neurotic kids from PeanutsLilo has a lot of Sally Brown in her. Even the use of Elvis music seems, in this offbeat context, fresh. ("Devil in Disguise" is Stitch's theme song.) The film is probably too wild and intense for children under 4. (RvB)
(Unrated; 90 min.) Griffin Dunne's mockumentary about a woman on the verge of film stardom.
(PG; 97 min.) Only the very foolish don't heed the warning self-evident in the fact that Jerry Lewis is so popular in France. Nothing, really, against the Frenchit's just that it is easy to see how a culture with a much higher wackiness-tolerance than even our own might actually enjoy the goofy pranks in this dreadful French kids' fare. Dubbing is the least irritating aspect of this movie about a workaholic French businessman who, while visiting the Venezuelan jungle to finalize his divorce from his first wife, discovers he has a 13-year-old son who has been raised in the native tradition. The novice papa gets snookered into bringing war-painted, arrow-toting junior back to Paris with him, much to the peril of local pigeons and fish. Despite the tiresome "One World" theme it harps on, the film doesn't do much to demonstrate the universality of anything outside of Paris. It does, however, present an excellent argument against free trade: the United States produces enough bad movies alreadywe don't need to import more. (HZ)
(PG-13, 80 min.) This film is awful in too many ways to count. With his face digitally pasted onto the body of a little person, Marlon Wayans plays the title character pretending to be a baby to retrieve a stolen diamond he has ditched in Kerry Washington's purse. Despite plenty of opportunity, and the rampant stupidity of everyone involved, he still drags out his scheme for an entire weekend. It goes without saying that the film is not funny (guess how many groin jokes there are), but it also tries to pluck the heartstrings with its big ham-fists. Shawn Wayans plays the sensitive wannabe dad. Co-star Chazz Palminteri offers the best commentary: "I'm surrounded by morons." It is based, without credit, on a Chuck Jones cartoon, Baby Buggy Bunny (1954). (JMA)
Angered that another studio is daring to unleash a full-length, big-budget animation feature (Anastasia) during the holiday season, Disney strikes back with a big-budget (for the advertising anyway) re-release of The Little Mermaid (gender-stereotype alert).
(PG-13; 88 min.) In this patchy but frequently hilarious parody of the typical millennium movie, Adam Sandler plays Nicky, the son of the Devil come to earth to help out his poor dying dad (Harvey Keitel). Aided by a talking dog named Mr. Beefy and his new girlfriend (Patricia Arquette, frumped beyond recognition), Nicky hunts for his two wicked stepbrothers, escaped to earth, where they "upset the balance of good and evil." That Little Nicky describes the balanceinstead of the warbetween good and evil, shows that the film is not as dumb as it looks. Sandler's accent seems to be a moron's idea of Al Pacino, which is clearer when there's a very good joke about the film Scarface. And the digital effects are creative; they're used not to scare or impress but to amuse. The fine cast includes Jon Lovitz as a crass voyeur; Michael McKean as a possessed chief of police; and Rhys Ifans, the roommate from Notting Hill, as your well-spoken English type of demon. Finally, as Lucifer, Nicky's granddad, there's Rodney Dangerfield, in small but important doses. (RvB)
Frances Hodgson Burnett probably rolled over in her grave more than once during the making of this "adaptation" of her children's classic. Much of this latest rendering of Burnett's book suffers from Hollywood's hallmark hypersensationalism, although the basic plot remains: unfailingly kind 11-year-old Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews) is sent to boarding school by her wealthy father and must face the torments of headmistress Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron) when she suddenly finds herself impoverished. Forgoing literary faithfulness, the film has a beautiful look about it, with sumptuous costumes and sets, and a fantastic, gothic palace of a house to put it all in. (HZ)
(PG; 107 min.) Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Angarano and David Gallagher star in a drama pitched at the family audience about a young musician and the new kid in the neighborhood.
The story of Little Shop of Horrors has a weird history, but the most recent twist was perhaps the weirdest: the original DVD for this film, which finally made available over 20 minutes of footage that had made up the original ending, was recalled, catapulting it into legend as the second-most collectible DVD in history (after Criterion's recalled edition of Pasolini's Salo). That ending featured the main characters getting eaten and Audrey's minions taking over the world to the tune of "Don't Feed the Plants." Director Frank Oz switched it for the better-known happy ending after it bombed with preview audiences, but producer David Geffen owns the footage. When he learned Oz had put it on the DVD, he ordered it recalled. You can get it on eBay now for somewhere around $300. In an unrelated story, the thing that creeps me out about this movie is that I truly believe Orin Scrivillo, DDS, is probably the closest thing most of us have seen to what Steve Martin is really like under that forced-smile comedic exterior. I think about a lot of odd things. (SP) (1986) Rick Moranis as Seymour, a nebbishy clerk at a florist's shop, who, seeking to develop a new kind of flower, spawns a large, talking man-eating plant. Broadway star Ellen Greene is very pleasant as the girl Seymour loves, Audrey (the deadly plantwhich bellows "Feed me!"is named Audrey II). Steve Martin, leathered up like a biker, has a memorable comedy number about the pleasures of dentistry. It was an expensive flop, which most Roger Corman fans point to as the punishment for remaking the master's shot-in-48-hours work. However, this wasn't at all a sellout; this musical completely maintains the weird charm of its ultra-low budget sire. (RvB)
(PG; 95 min.) Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry Maguire) plays a lonely little boy who befriends a young vampire in this horror-comedy for kids. Thank heaven for little ghouls?
(1932/1933) Here's the opening salvo in an extensive festival of films directed by George Cukor, marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. Cukor's 40-year career in Hollywood included some of the brightest and most sophisticated entertainments in the history of the movies. He was the man who directed John Barrymore's Mercutio and Garbo's Camille, who directed Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Yes, Cukor was gaythere are some fairly low jokes about that in the otherwise superb Gods and Monsters. Yet the director had a better sense of the physical side of romance than most heterosexual directorssee the almost Brando-like slouching of the simian, virile Broderick Crawford in Born Yesterday, and how the sexual current between Tracy and Hepburn in Adam's Rib keeps their marriage afloat in rocky seas. Little Women (1933) begins the retrospective, with Hepburn playing the striving Jo; the rest of the cast includes Frances Dee as Meg, Joan Bennett as Amy and Adna May Oliver as Aunt March. BILLED WITH A Bill of Divorcement. Once, Bugs Bunny asked Elmer Fudd, "Is there any insanity in your family?" The rabbit picked up that line from this movie, which teamed Katharine Hepburn (debuting) and John Barrymore in a faithful version of Clemence Dane's play. (RvB)
(PG-13; 130 min.) Shaky, choppy director Len Wiseman, of the two Underworld films, exceeds all expectations with this clean, exciting fourth Die Hard. It's about computer terrorism, but it feels like a throwback to the days of movies before computers, with actual cars blowing up and actual stuntmen falling down shafts. Returning as John McClane, Bruce Willis brings a winning personality to the action, jumping visually into the fray like a punching bag brawler. A computer nerd (Justin Long) is McClane's unwilling sidekick (like the Samuel L. Jackson character in the previous entry). Based on a 1997 Wired article by John Carlin, the ludicrous script can't fill in all the holes, but gets by on wit and speed. Timothy Olyphant and Maggie Q co-star as baddies. (JMA)
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(R; 91 minutes) This making-a-movie movie has a wispy subject, but director Tom DiCillo, former cameraman for Jim (Stranger Than Paradise) Jarmusch and director of Johnny Suede, gives it some heft. As director Nick Car Culturee, Steve Buscemi, with a beard, long hair and a suffering expression, looks like Don Knotts on the Cross as he deals with the numerous pitfalls of nonunion filmmaking. It all builds up to a classic punch line involving a nervous actress, an antique smoke machine and an aggrieved dwarf, who is sick of having his person exploited as a metaphor. Despite these comic horrors, the film is mixed with a sense of admiration for movies. (RvB)
(R; 102 min.) The awkward title sounds a loud, clear warning: Here's yet another vague demi-romance patched together with retro music. As in Bette Davis' day, the heroine chooses between career and man. Holly Hunter plays Judith Nelson, a professional nurse recently separated from her husband, a Manhattan cardiologist. Judith meets a pair of new friends: Liz (Queen Latifah), a torch singer at a jazz club, and her co-op building's doorman, Pat (Danny DeVito). The two help Judith pull herself together after the breakup. Pat is supernaturally understanding of Judith's money and moods; throughout the movie he's a plain, boring nice guy, wearing that sugar-coated expression that's made Robin Williams such a trial to watch. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) This unexpected sequel to Jerry Maguire features little Hilary Duff as a junior high schooler who realizes she has been spelling her name wrong all her life and that she's really the daughter of a famous sports agent. Then she tracks down "Uncle" Cuba Gooding Jr., who teaches her how to say "Show me the money!" and drink Pepsi One while warning her about the dangers of ruining your acting career by agreeing to do movies like Chill Factor and Boat Trip. Just kidding! You wish that's what this movie was about. Really, it's a Disney kid's movie where Duff goes to Italy and becomes a pop star. One kind of cool and weird thing, though, is that Disney hired Jim Fall to direct it a surprisingly progressive move, considering that Fall is best known for the gay romantic comedy Trick. (Capsule preview by SP)