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(1912-17) The first great screen comedienne, Mabel Normand was also one of the first great screen casualties, dead at 36 from tuberculosis and high living. Normand was a model who posed for renowned turn-of-the-century illustrators like James M. "Uncle Sam Wants You" Flagg and Charles Dana Gibson. She switched to the movies and a friendship (and more) with comedy pioneer Mack Sennett, for whose Keystone production company she was the first of many pretty girl-next-door types to be the recipient of slapstick comedy. The festival showcases Normand's feature Mickey (1918), about a prospector's daughter who comes to New York to tame the local heels. Other shorts on view include some of the two-reelers Normand made with Fatty Arbuckle, including Fatty and Mable at the Fairnamely, the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair. Silent with organ accompaniment. (RvB)
(1922) Fritz Lang's silent adaptation of Norbert Jacques' serialized novel tells the tale of a super criminal of Bondian proportions.
(1922) An allegorical crime epic by Fritz Lang about a master criminal.
(1948) Orson Welles is the most visual of all screen adapters of Shakespeare. His lean screen version of Macbeth takes place on a stark, impressionistic set, and the ominous, inky shadows and vertigo-inducing angles bring to life the play's elemental themes with a brooding ferocity.
The classic Shakespeare play is updated to modern-day Silicon Valley in an experimental film by James Morgan, a student in the Cadre Laboratory for New Media at San Jose State University. The film was made in a single take using four simultaneous video streams in various locations around San Jose.
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(R; 102 min.) Macabre fun. Wasting away, haunted by some unspeakable crime, a machinist named Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) wanders through his life. His companion: a fat, jolly, toothy and Southern specter called Ivanplayed by John Sharian as if he were Great Brando's Ghost. With his ribs exposed and his belly stretched tight over his internal organs, Bale looks like he walked out of Dachau. The running joke throughout is "If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist." Bale's starvation is stunt acting at its most extreme. Like a fakir, Bale gains respect for his own self-punishment. His Reznik has a prostitute friend, Stevie, played by the usually self-punishing Jennifer Jason Leigh. Beaten at her own game here, Leigh gives up, lies back and plays her hooker slow, drawling and easygoing, and thus hasn't been this much of a pleasure to watch since Miami Blues. At heart, The Machinist is a slice-of-cake thriller, a compliment to the tradition of Hitchcock, in luscious widescreen, with composer Roque Banos rolling in Bernard Herrmann like a dog in wet grass. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 115 min.) Andrés Wood's Machuca has moments of vivid clarity and power, mixed randomly with clunky samples of other coming-of-age films. The action takes place in Chile during the 1973 socialist reign of President Allende. Well-to-do Gonzalo Infante (Matías Quer) attends a private school. Several working-class students are also invited to attend. Feisty Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna) sits behind Gonzalo. When Gonzalo helps Pedro cheat on an English test, the boys become fast friends. The film revels in its best moment when Gonzalo joins Pedro at his after-school job, selling flags at a left-wing rally, then turning around and selling different flags at an opposing, right-wing rally. The film also introduces a romantic tingle between Gonzalo and an older working-class girl (Manuella Martelli), but never really captures the magic of a first love. (JMA)
(1926) Silent Italian fantasy adventure features muscle man Bartolomeo Pagano (the Steve Reeves of his day). Tricked into visiting hell, Maciste must fend off demons and monsters.
(1973) Hit comedy by Louis de Funes about a racist French industrialist forced to disguise himself as a rabbi to escape from Arab terrorists. Released on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, it still found an audience for its message of tolerance. Also stars Suzy Delair and Miou-Miou. (RvB)
(PG; 86 min.) "Seinfeld or Friends on a desert island," opined a publicist, hoping deadline-weary critics would snap at the bait. The animation's sturdy, and it's cutethe kind of cute that becomes painful. The adult draw is a group of celebrity voices who apply themselves with loads of zeal but not much humor. The plot: at the Central Park Zoo, a motley group of jungle animals escape their comfortable surroundings. Do-gooders believe the animals are aching to head back to Africa, but on the freighter there, a group of commando penguins hijack the boat. Eventually, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) and Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) end up at the court of a king of lemurs (Sacha Baron Cohen) and it's all so very much for the under-fives. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 129 min.) Opera is bound to make a rough transition to the screen because its tension comes from the live performance. The French import Madame Butterfly was made at pains not to look stage-bound, but it is as free of passion as Puccini's music is full of it. The film is one long tableau vivant, shot with his camera sitting still and not fidgeting, like a good boy. Because of Mitterrand's over-fidelity and a cast of fine singers who happen to be poor pantomimists, Madame Butterfly is a failed experiment. Mitterrand has screwed the Puccini. (RvB)
(1932) A harmoniously contrasting double bill: dedication-unto-seppuku vs. Mae West's easier attitude toward love. Madame Butterfly is the nonsinging version of the opera. Sylvia Sidney, a Jew from Rumania, plays the (literally) self-sacrificing Japanese heroine. (Sidney's last performances were high spots in some of Tim Burton's films; she plays another suicide condemned to civil servitude for eternity in Beetlejuice.) Sydney's quiet intensity gets some of the desired emotional effect from this old warhorse. Cary Grant co-stars as the faithless Lt. Pinkerton. Pauline Kael wrote that Grant wasn't really Grant until the era of the screwball comedy. He is slightly awkward here. However, you can see a star on the rise in Grant's carefree scenes at a teahouse, in the way he finesses Cho-Cho-San's discovery of a photo of a blonde in her husband's suitcase, and finally, in the sight of how something in him wakes up because of a look on the poor deluded girl's stricken face. (RvB)
(1977) Simone Signoret stars in Moshe Mizrahi's story about an older woman who looks after the children of prostitutes.
(1926) Silent Italian fantasy adventure features muscle man Bartolomeo Pagano (the Steve Reeves of his day). Tricked into visiting hell, Maciste must fend off demons and monsters.
(R; 102 min.) It's the same plot they've been slapping together like Lego blocks ever since the independent movie boom began: two hapless L.A. guys want to be mistaken for gangsters. This weak vanity production by Jon (Swingers) Favreau and his star Vince Vaughn is nominally about a pair of buddies trying to graduate as bicoastal gangsters. When hired to escort his lap-dancer girlfriend Jess (Famke Jannsen) to bachelor parties, Bobby (director, co-writer Favreau) screws even that simple task up. He and his friend from childhood days, the criminally inept would-be boxer Ricky (Vaughn), are hired as routine muscle by an elderly gangster (Peter Falk, looking sadly feeble) and flown to New York to escort a payoff. There, the two demonstrate what Spike Lee once described as "alligator mouth and hummingbird ass" as they make the rounds of Manhattan under the supervision of a gangster (Sean "Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Squiddly P. Diddly" Combs). Aside from the fact that it was clever enough to hitch a ride with the swing revival, Swingers had charm of the patter of young harmless guys acting bad. Made, the follow-up, demonstrates what happens when an artist who had his eyes on a pretty low prize gets it. Favreau and Vaughn indulge themselves throwing around money and tanking it up in hotel rooms, pushing around waitresses, stewardesses and bellhops, and acting like pigs in slop. You'll love the fag joke. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) In this live-action kids' film based on the popular series of children's books, Frances McDormand (Fargo) takes the cloth as the guardian of adventurous Madeline (Hatty Jones).
(PG, 110 min.) Only an icy-hearted cynic could disparage this joyous, infectious documentary. Three classrooms of mostly working-class New York City 11-year-olds take required courses in merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot and swing dancing before entering a competition with other schools. The film examines the overall positive effect dancing has on the children's self-esteem and takes care to spend a little time with the contest losers. In shooting, filmmakers Marilyn Angelo and Amy Sewell were either incredibly lucky or employed a genius editor; the film spills over with miraculous little moments, capturing a telling glance or a smile, a word, a laugh or a cry. Though it lacks the crushing suspense of the very similar Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom is a clear winner. (JMA)
(PG; 98 minutes) Here's yet another children's film about environmental protection; an excellent idea, but one that's increasingly looking like a marketing device rather than a chance to teach a meaningful lesson. This is especially apparent in Magic in the Water, which despite its token messages about parental involvement and ecology, becomes a shameless advertisement for Oreos, thanks to the mysterious penchant for the cookies shared by the film's young hero, Ashley (Sarah Wayne), and Orky, the inflatable rubber rip-off of the Loch Ness monster that Ashley discovers in the lake at the family vacation home. There are a few genuine moments in the transformation of Ashley's workaholic father (Mark Harmon) into a devoted dad as he and his kids try to save Orky from the bad guy who's dumping toxic waste in the lakeevidentlyfor fun. But a film that's so quick to be preachy should probably admit the possibility that big corporations are more likely to be behind socially irresponsible behavior than an individual who just enjoys being evil. (HZ)
(1960) The inspired American remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and Brad Dexter as seven mercenaries hired to protect a Mexican village from a small army of banditos. The head villain is the New York stage actor Eli Wallach, who parlayed this part into a title role in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (which will be rereleased in a widescreen restoration later this summer). Elmer Bernstein's suitably magnificent theme music hasn't been forgotten. (RvB)
(1963/1937) A young husband's anger at his wife's taking a job turns to shame when he loses his own job. Satyajit Ray's tale of a young couple's adjustment to life shows not love conquering all but instead the slow, difficult effort to overcome centuries of old prejudices. Beautifully acteda real telescope to the other side of the world. Moreover, in its kindness to the egos of both sides, it's a model for how to make a feminist film. BILLED WITH The Awful Truth. Easy-living Manhattanites (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) go their separate ways because of trifling jealousy and a general tendency to lose track of one another. Unfortunately, a custody battle over "Mr. Smith," the dog (and what a dog! Asta was to comedy what Lassie was to tragedy), forces the couple to keep re-encountering one another before the divorce decree is final. Director Leo McCarey fills up the time before reconciliation with slapstick and sophisticated comedy. It's not as perfect as Preston Sturgesto quote a running gag here, McCarey doesn't have a continental mind. And the very best comedies challenge the common prejudices instead of reaffirming them. But here's the kind of essentially cozy, cleverly gaffed writing that inspires the best sitcoms. Dunne, posing as Grant's sister, is at her most fun bringing a load of Pittsburg into a chilly room that's strictly Bar Harbor. As the world's dullest millionaire, the immortal Ralph Bellamy delivers ersatz Big Sky platitudes and flashes a half-bright grin that recall Ronald Reagan like no other actor. Bellamy's skill at conjuring up tedium is countered by Grant, with a voice full of false enthusiasm: "So, you're going to live in Oklahoma!" (RvB)
(1963/1964) A young husband's anger at his wife's taking a job turns to shame when he loses his own job. Satyajit Ray's tale of a young couple's adjustment to life shows not love conquering all but instead the slow effort to overcome old prejudices. Beautifully acteda real telescope to the other side of the world. BILLED WITH Charulata. "The setting is a Western-style mansion, the décor is Victorian, the dialogue strewn with references to Western politics and literature. But beneath the veneer of familiarity the film is chockablock with details to which he [the Western viewer] has no access. Snatches of song, literary allusions, domestic details ... all give the film a density missed by the Western viewer." This film-critic-proofing comes from an interview with director Ray in Sight and Sound (quoted by Andrew Robinson in his book on Ray). Ray has a point: A character identified as a "brother-in-law" in the subtitles is actually a cousin. In fact, Charulata is a dense and slow film, pregnant with details of the struggle to liberalize India. And yet it's impossible not to respond to the plight of Charu (called Charulata as a pet name), played by Madhabi Mukherjee. She represents the plight of any woman who masks her intelligence in the name of love. The time is 1879, where an earnest limousine-liberal heir, Bhupatgi (Shailen Mukherjee), has started a newspaper aligned with the British left. His raffish cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) arrives to help out but finds himself drawn to the neglected wife, Charu. The fact that there is such a high level of propriety in this ménage makes this relationship between Charu and Amal more complex. Does she want Amal as a lover, a friend or a pet? (RvB)
(1963/1975) A young husband's anger at his wife's taking a job turns to shame when he loses his own. Satyajit Ray's tale of a young couple's adjustment to life shows not love conquering all, but instead the slow, difficult effort to overcome centuries of old prejudices. Beautifully acteda real telescope to the other side of the world. Moreover, it's a great model for how to make a feminist film. BILLED WITH Jana Aranya. Failing his civil service exams, Somnath (Pradip Mukherjee) becomes a salesman, much to the chagrin of his top-drawer family. On May 21, 1999, Sandip Ray, son of the master filmmaker (and a filmmaker in his own right), will make a guest appearance at the theater, along with Ray expert and UCSC professor Dilip Basu. (RvB)
A Bollywood feature by Farah Khan, starring Shahrukh Khan and Amrita Rao.
(PG; 150 min.) Director Frank Darabont (The Green Mile) and writer Michael Sloane blend the plot of Preston Sturges' Hail the Conquering Hero with The Return of Martin Guerre. In 1951, Pete (Jim Carrey), a newly blacklisted writer fleeing Hollywood, turns up as an amnesia case in an idyllic small California coastal town, where he is identified as Luke, the missing-in-action son of the local movie theater owner (Martin Landau). With his father, Pete renovates the derelict Majestic Theater and renews the spirit of the town. As the love interest, Laurie Holden is as authentically cold and prim as the icy blondes the movie studios preferred in their golden age. Carrey's James Stewart stylings are banal and showy. The film superimposes the music of "The Star Spangled Banner" on the neon of a theater marquee, likening the destiny of a majestic nation with the urgency of selling tickets. Under the guise of patriotism, this film takes Hollywood narcissism to a new low. (RvB)
(1965) "Sam, of course, felt that if he'd been given a totally free hand, Dundee would have been the film we all hoped for. Frankly, I doubt it. Looking back, I think we all wanted to make a different sort of film. Columbia wanted a cowboy and Indian story, I wanted a film that dealt with the basic issue of the Civil War, and Sam, as it happened, wanted the film he later got to make. Very few directors get two chances to make the same film. Sam did, and the second time around it turned out very well. It was called The Wild Bunch. ... [As for Major Dundee], there's the smell of a great film there, somewhere among the ruins."Charlton Heston, The Actor's Life. Sam Peckinpah's rambling Western concerns a troop of American cavalry who cross into Mexico to reclaiming three kidnapped children from the Apaches. They're led by Heston, who is always at his amoral best in mid-'60s action pictures; his horse soldiers include Richard Harris, James Coburn, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson. Released at the time in a studio-cut 124-minute version, this is the 136-minute reconstructed version, whichvery unusual in this old-movie-savoring Bay Areawasn't previewed for the press. What gives? (RvB)
(PG-13) Scott Bakula and Corbin Bernsen star in this third installment of the Major League comedy franchise, about a washed-up pitcher (Bakula) who ends up playing on a minor-league team of misfits.
unknown folk-pop still listened to in Laos and north Thailand and among the poor in Bangkok. Called "Morlam," it's on its way to being pushed out by the easier and more popular Western rock. The group Corpus Callosum plays live before and after the show. (Plays Feb 28 at 7pm at the Stop Art Gallery, 333 Santana Row, San Jose.) (RvB)The world's oldest free-reed instrument is the sheng, a bundle of bamboo stalks that looks like the "fascia" (the bundled-stick icon of the Roman Republic and the root of the word "fascist"). This Asian instrument is said to imitate the cry of the phoenix and is the direct ancestor of the guts of the accordion. The Isaan speakers of north Thailand call the sheng a "khaen" and have used it as the center of a kind of music mostly unknown by Westerners. Ciné16's Geoff Alexander has collected video CDs of this
(1937/1938) Leo McCarey's other famous tearjerker besides An Affair to Remember stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as an aged couple separated by their children (Fay Bainter and that excellent supporting actor Thomas Mitchell), who have no room for them both. Strangely, it anticipates Ozu's Tokyo Storyan influence? BILLED WITH Four Daughters. What people talked about wasn't the daughters but the performance of a young suitor; John Garfield makes his debut. Michael Curtiz directs. (RvB)
(PG-13; 80 min.) Jamie Kennedy, who stars in a pleasurable knockoff of TV's Candid Camera called The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, plays B-Rad (Brad), a would-be rapper from Malibu, the richest part of Southern California. "It's hard-core in the 'Bu," he drawls. His faux ghetto fabulousness angers his father (Ryan O'Neal), who is running for governor. To "scare the black out of him," the politician's assistant hires two actorsSean, a Juilliard grad (Taye Diggs), and PJ (Anthony Anderson, from Kangaroo Jack), a veteran of the Pasadena Playhouse. The two (who are apparently gay, but the film doesn't make an insult out of it) pretend to be dangerous ghetto thugs in order to cure B-rad of his "gangstaphrenia." By the time the good-looking comedienne Regina Hall turns up as an authentic lady of South Central, the question of whether the gangsta mentality is a pose or an authentic subculture gets mulled over by director John Whitesell. B-Rad's final decision"I ams who I says I ams"sidesteps the matter of whether the kid adopted the forbidden pose just to get attention from his parents. Often novel, sometimes funny and sometimes repetitive, the movie is essential viewing for anyone pondering the idea of Eminem. (RvB)
The movie that failed to make "snootches bootches" a national catchphrase. Kevin Smith generally ends up apologizing for this movie whenever he makes a public appearance. I'd prefer an apology for Jersey Girl. (RvB; 2004) (R) Extremely silly but not aggravating look at several characters wandering a mall. The story focuses on T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee) as they try to win back their recently departed girlfriends; meanwhile, their two pals Silent Bob (director Kevin Smith) and Jay (Jason Mewes) try to head off a TV broadcast of a local game show produced by the adult nemesis of the picture, Svenning (Michael Rooker). The film is in the obvious mold of Rock 'n' Roll High School and the Beach Party movies, but Smith's main problem in this inferior follow-up to Clerks is that he's trying to mold outsiders as insiders, which is why Jay and Bob ring truer and are more fun to watch than T.S. and Brodie. Even at his most infantile, Smith still is the among the smartest of Gen-X screenwriters, and there are passages in which the setups almost redeem the blown punch lines and sub-Benny Hill humor. (RvB; 1995)
(1941; NR; 101 min.) Humphrey Bogart stars as gumshoe Sam Spade in John Huston's letter-perfect adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled novel. The sterling supporting cast includes Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr.
A fish-out-of-water comedy, using three-day-old fish. Eugene Levy plays Milwaukee dental supplies salesman Andy Fidler, hooked up with an angry ATF agent, Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson), each needing the other to crack a stolen guns racket. The city of Toronto plays the city of Detroit, with about as much believability as the previously mentioned two players, and the policier side of this buddy comedy doesn't have any engine. Remake king Les Mayfield (Flubber, Miracle on 34th Street) directs. On the whole, Mayfield's buttermilklike mildness (broken by gastrointestinal humor) takes this out of the irritating category. The powder-white Levy's inimitable slow-speed reactions, his meek quacking like a ruptured duck and his insistence on the civilized virtues keep him sweet and likable as always. But it's dismaying to see the actor who should have won the Oscar for A Mighty Wind dropping his pants and doing fart jokes. Moreover, The Man has a nasty, punitive side. "I'm going to beat you like a runaway slave," Vann tells a black squealer, in the movie's lowest moment. Jackson's violence is everything the vengeful racists ordered. (RvB) (PG-13; 83 min.) Do you know that Samuel L. Jackson will appear in any movie? I am not kidding you. The guy is currently involved with a project called Snakes on a Plane. It is about snakes that are on a plane. Again, the look of complete seriousness on my face right now, if you could see it, would provide evidence that I am not using a fictional supposition to provoke amusement. Compared to Snakes on a Plane, I'm sure this action comedyin which Jackson and Eugene Levy argue about who is the Man (the good Man, not the Man everybody wants to stick it to) and try to solve a crime togetheris a masterpiece. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R) Vin Diesel loses his wife to drug dealers and vows endless revenge.
A mother (Angela Lansbury) with political aspirations bigger than Elizabeth Dole's manipulates her son (Laurence Harvey), a Korean War hero, into attempting to assassinate a presidential candidate. Only Frank Sinatra stands in the way. John Frankenheimer's political thriller was buried for a long time in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. Its politics are ultimately a little muddled, but the visuals (in glorious black-and-white) still look advanced. (AR)
John Frankenheimer's 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate addressed our national red scare. The new version by Jonathan Demme likens the war on terror with the Cold War. Thus the film presents itself as a radical entertainmentor rather, it would be a radical entertainment in a world where Frankenheimer's original film didn't exist. Demme's version seems to be set a couple of years in our future when the war on terror has gone badly. Trying to solve the riddle of a recurring nightmare, a troubled Gulf War vet named Marco (Denzel Washington) uncovers a conspiracy. The Manchurian Corporation is trying to create its own vice president. Its candidate is an estranged congressman named Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). For all its paranoia, Demme's movie is warmer and fuzzier than Frankenheimer's. Demme takes it to the corporate elite, but chokes on the hook. We all know how the corporations forge themselves political candidates today. Writing checks to a PAC is a lot more efficient than kidnapping and brainwashing. (RvB) (R; 130 min.) I've been on a serious Denzel Washington kick latelyI even watched Man on Fire and Out of Time, if you can believe it. Now, just in time for me to get my fix, comes Washington in a remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 paranoia classic. Unlike the vast majority of remakes, the idea of modernizing this film, which was ahead of its time in the '60s, is a good one, and I love the idea of switching the backstory to the Gulf War. And god knows Jonathan Demme owes us a good remake after he butchered the Charade update The Truth About Charlie. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1962/1957) A famed paranoid thriller, with a screenplay by the recently deceased George Axelrod (read a full-length tribute to Axelrod). BILLED WITH Pal Joey. Frank Sinatra stars as John O'Hara's self-centered crooner, torn between Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. Highlighted by a suite of Rodgers and Hart songs ("Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "My Funny Valentine"). (RvB)
(Unrated; 85 min.) Slow and odious documentay that won the Grand Documentary Prize at Sundance this year—shock value always wakes up a drowny audience. Director Jason Kohn marries an impressionistic technique with gore in this story of crime in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There's a brisk market in bullet-proof cars—and frequent and grisly kidnappings. One lady, whose ears were taken by kidnappers, describes her ordeal, as we get to watch a plastic surgeon at work rebuilding ears from rib cartilage. Manda Bala ("send a bullet") demonstrates that interesting subjects don't necessarily make for an interesting film; interviewees include both Brazil's Attorney General Claudio Fonteles and Assistant AG Mario Lucio Avelar. Both were on the case of a corrupt high-ranking politician, Jader Barbalho, who was accused of siphoning off $2 billion in development money. Barbalho, who runs the Brazilian state of Para like a fiefdom, gets a quick but unenlightening stay in front of Kohn's camera. The central metaphor is the world's largest frog farm, similar to the frog farm Barbalho allegedly used as a front. The big artificial swamp is supposed to rhyme with Sao Paulo, a pond with too many human frogs in it, eating and mutilating one another. We see the bullfrogs from tadpoles to the slaughter house to the tongues and smacking lips of the diners, and feel we're in the hands of a filmmaker who is happiest making our skin crawl, and weirding us out with these foreigners. This is the artiest version of Mondo Brazil imaginable. (RvB)
(1968) The title means "The Money Order," an uncashable check that arrives to first bless, then blight, the life of a villager. Directed by Ousmane Sembene, perhaps Africa's best known filmmaker.
(Unrated; 120 min.) An Oscar-nominated documentary about charismatic South African leader Nelson Mandela. Includes archival footage and interviews with Mandela and his sisters and ex-wives. Sanctioned by Mandela himself, it is advertised as the only authorized film biography of this historic figure.
(1955/1948) James Stewart in his dogged days during the 1950s. In Anthony Mann's tough-as-nails Western, filmed in the north part of New Mexico, Stewart plays a searcher looking for the men who sold weapons to the Apaches. He encounters a rancher (Donald Crisp) and his two sons, who leave him for deadthence, the revenge. In the stark, widescreen compositions, Mann anticipates Sergio Leone; in this performance as hard-bitten Wyominger, Stewart gives a performance that anticipates, but surpasses, the loner cowboys Clint Eastwood would play (again and again). Recommended; the effects of adult Westerns like this are seriously diminished on home video. BILLED WITH Call Northside 777. An innocent man is imprisoned; a Chicago reporter (Stewart) combs the city's teeming Polish district to find evidence to free him. Henry Hathaway's drama uses extensive Milwaukee Avenue locations, giving an Eastern European slant to this drama. Richard Conte co-stars as the prisoner. (RvB)
(1986) It's no Silence of the Lambs, but director Michael Mann's adaptation of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon does have a place for Hannibal Lecter in a generally skillful serial killer mystery. The detective who gets dangerously close to the mind of the psycho is William L. Petersen, who now gathers evidence for CSI. (MSG)
(PG-13; 127 min.) Sometimes, adequacy is, well, adequate. This newest version of Dumas' fifth and final novel about the Three Musketeers is a refreshingly straightforward, uncamped take on the fool-proof story. The tale tells of the corrupt young King Louis XIV and of the iron-masked prisoner kept in his dungeons. John Malkovich plays a poisonously bitter Athos, whose son is killed in the same way and for the same reason as the biblical Uriah. Malkovich's dead-serious acting is, indeed, the key to the movie. His burning intensity and clipped, studiously toneless words show the pride after a fall. One actually forgets about the fact that the action is taking place far in the past, since Malkovich's sorrow is essentially timeless. Gerard Depardieu delivers all of the really coarse comedy here, but he's forgiven when he roars out a splendid "I am Porthos, and I defy the king!" Jeremy Irons plays a suitably subtle Jesuit Aramis. Gabriel Byrne is, however, a hangdog D'Artagnan, whose Celtic gloom doesn't suggest that there's a fun-loving Gascon inside him, buried underneath the years of disappointment. Oh yes, this film not only has perhaps the best actor today, Malkovich, but also perhaps the most popular, Leonardo DiCaprio, who tries (uselessly) to assay the baby-faced menace of the young Orson Welles. DiCaprio's puppishness doesn't have any depths to sound, and it remains to be seen whether he is going to transcend his latest role as the prettiest face in box-office history. (RvB)
(PG-13; 97 min.) Tommy Lee Jones has been typecast as a soldier or cop for years now, which seemed a little tragic until ads for this comedyin which he plays a Texas Ranger assigned to protect some cheerleadersstarted coming out. U.S. Marshals is probably looking really good right now. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(Unrated; 87 min.) Dirk Shafer, 1992 Playgirl man of the year, directed this appallingly self-promoting mockumentary about his own experiences as a closeted centerfold. Real-life footage of Shafer's appearances on TV with Joan Rivers, Maury Povich and Phil Donahue is mixed with obviously restaged real-life incidents of Shafer's, uh, reign. The essence of a mockumentary's success is that it ought to bamboozle the viewer. The sirens and bells go off so early during Man of the Year that the viewer quickly realizes it's a rigged account of a noncontroversy. (RvB)
(PG-13, 115 min.) Barry Levinson's comedy plucks elements from Warren Beatty's Bulworth as well as from previous Levinson films Good Morning, Vietnam and Wag the Dog, but ultimately disappoints. Robin Williams plays a Jon Stewart-like political comedian who decides to run for president. Laura Linney co-stars as a programmer for a big computer company, designer of a faulty new computer ballot. Though poised as a lively, vicious satire, the movie quickly backs down, worrying instead about delivering "likeable" characters, a typical three-act story and a silly romantic payoff. American politics gets off easy; even Chris Rock's Head of State had more guts. Christopher Walken co-stars, and it is good to see Jeff Goldblum dominating his precious few scenes. (JMA)
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(R; 90 min.) Pregnant teenager Laurel, short for Lo (Aleksa Palladino), is in serious denial about the upcoming blessed event, and so she hits the road with her little sister Manny, short for Amanda (Scarlett Johansson). Breaking into a country house, the two stumble across a childbirth video and realize the trouble they're about to be in for, and so they decide to kidnap a touched-in-the-head baby boutique cashier (Mary Kay Place). An inoffensive little movie, but wispy, and finished off with a ridiculously positive ending. (RvB)
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(R) OK, remaking movies is one thing, but remaking movies from 1987 is just nuts. And yet, here we have it, a remake of the 1987 film based on the book by A.J. Quinnel. Denzel Washington plays an ex-Marine whose one purpose in life is to take revenge on the bad guys who attacked the family he was hired to protect. The action has been moved from Italy (in the original film) to Mexico City and Tony Scott directs. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 110 min.) While Jane Austen scholars debate the addition of a few risqué scenes in this latest adaptation of Austen's novel Mansfield Park, the author herself would probably approve of the nontraditional spirit of the film, even if she frowned on some of writer/director Patricia Rozema's specific devices. Austen expertly skewered the stodgy pomp and circumstance of society in her day, so maybe she wouldn't be too quick to dismiss an interpretation of her tale that so aptly mirrors the attitude of her vivacious and intelligent heroine, Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor). Rozema infuses the film with a playfulness, toying with unusual camerawork and occasional slightly snarky asides to the audience just to the point that it illustrates Fanny's irreverence, which is beautifully conveyed by O'Connor. But Rozema also explores the underbelly of the world of rich and powerfulparticularly accentuating the hypocrisy of Fanny's uncle, Sir Thomas (Harold Pinter), a pious, upstanding citizen who is also a slave trader. (HZ)
(1976) An alien being (David Bowie, naturally) walks among us, pretending to be the head of a major corporation in Nicolas Roeg's bizarre sci-fi allegory. Also stars Rip Torn and Candy Clark. (AR)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Although this spy satire doesn't have as many quotable gags as Austin Powers, it's a better movie. You don't expect a modern comedy to remind you of Buster Keaton's magnificent Sherlock, Jr., but the humor in The Man Who Knew Too Little is based on the same theme: a little man takes the lessons of pulp fiction too seriously, and the silly received ideas of how crime busters act turn out to be the only way to save the day. Bill Murray stars as Wallace Ritchie, a video clerk who pays a surprise visit to his prosperous brother, James (Peter Gallagher). To get Wallace out of his hair, James buys him a ticket to an interactive avant-garde theater that stages its melodramas in actual streets and houses; Wallace answers the wrong phone call and gets caught up in a real-life plot to restart the Cold War. Murray and director Jon Amiel take the spy thriller apart from the inside (Austin Powers was an outside job), considering the parallels between the arts of espionage and actingand acknowledging that the appeal of 007 wasn't so much his clothes, cars and women, as much as it was the lure of being superior, smooth and pregnant with secrets. Murray is never funnier than when he's trying to be a blasé devil who insufficiently conceals his coarseness. The film, however, is remarkably uncoarseone of the few modern comedies without the toilet jokes. (RvB)
(1956/1936) Rather a lot of Doris Day, singing her murderously perky hit "Que Sera Sera." Yet undertones abound in Alfred Hitchock's color remake of his brilliant English thriller of 1934. On holiday in North Africa, an "earnest and quiet" American (said Hitchcock) played by James Stewart overhears news of an assassination plot; to buy his silence, the conspirators kidnap his child. Hitchcock's indispensable collaborator Bernard Herrmann plays the role of conductor in the key scene at London's Royal Albert Hall, still a masterpiece of visual storytelling. BILLED WITH Charlie Chan at the Race Track. On a steamship from Honolulu to Los Angeles, Chan investigates the death of a man, apparently kicked to death by a thoroughbred horse. (RvB)
(1927) One of the few films directed by the ill-fated Paul Leni (who made the much-imitated The Old Dark House). It's an adaptation of Victor Hugo's dark story of Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), a nobleman's son mutilated on the order of King James II: his face sliced like a Halloween pumpkin into a fixed smile as punishment for a jest of his father's. The tale demonstrates the thin line between horror and melodrama in the silent period. Mary Philbin plays the blind girl who loves the disfigured man. Veidt's smile, according to Batman's creator, Bob Kane, was the inspiration for the Joker (though when Jerry Robinson was drawing the evil clown, he seemed to have been referring more to the grimace and bushy eyebrows of Spencer Tracy's Mr. Hyde). Dennis James accompanies the film on the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (RvB)
(1929) Dziga Vertov's delirious experimental film profiling Moscow at work and play is a long montage with no narrative and yet a key work in early documentary. Moreover, it is a conclusive argument that realistic film need not be all suffering and nothing but. "More touching, more historically informative and comic than any Russian film of the period. Who can say what its influence has been?"(David Thomson). (RvB)
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(G; 80 min.) The Cutest Story Ever Told. Viewers make noises they haven't made since they were unwrapping their Christmas presents, beholding fleecy, apparently smiling penguin chicks toddling and flapping their little vestigial wings. There was nothing cute about the filming conditions: 80 degrees below zero temperatures, 100 mph winds. How the penguins mate, preserve their eggs and survive these brutal winters is the subject of this documentary. The photography is splendid. True to their names, these emperor penguins are imperially handsome. Their oily feathers gleam like freshly laid fiberglass, and their old-gold-colored sideburns are burnished by the wind. Unfortunately, the narration is more implacable than the weather. "It's a story of love," burrs Morgan Freeman. It's actually a story of instinctwhich may be even more pure and beautiful, considering the wrongs done in the name of love. (RvB)
(R) It's hard to know what to say about this ridiculous idea for a film, in which a Jewish princess-type is forced to take over a hip-hop label, except that they managed to get Damon Wayans. It could be something to hold you over until next year's Homey the Clown. (Capsule preview by SP)
(Unrated; 90 min.) As Margaret Cho gets older, the thicker the crust and tougher the bite. In Assassin, the Korean-American self-proclaimed "Fag Whisperer" moves beyond identity politics just slightly to sharpen her political identity. She's pro-gay, anti-death penalty and, most of all, anti-stupidity. She goes off on the pope, Terry Schiavo, Schwarzenegger, Bush, Björk and Ziyi Zhang ("She looks like she needs directions"). Assassin sometimes feels more like an extended session of therapeutic leftist punditry and less of a comedy show. In what is the most telling sequence, she recounts a story of being deluged with hate mail after telling a naughty joke (outrage from her riff "George Bush is not Hitler; he would be if he applied himself" filled her inbox for weeks). You wish there were more of those actual moments of outrageous commentary instead of her recounting the aftermath. (TI)
(NR) A six-day offering of 17 anthropological films selected for New York's Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival (the largest documentary showcase in the country), this traveling version covers subjects from albinos to Zaire.
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(R; 101 min.) In its intimate scale, a thriller as tight and effective as Clouzot's The Wages of Fear. Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is a small-town Colombia girl who finds herself pregnant and out of options. She decides to take the fatally risky job of a drug muleingesting more than a pound of cocaine in latex-wrapped capsules. Director Joshua Marston makes a noteworthy debut in this well-researched story, and in the lead, first-timer Moreno gives one of the year's best performances as a heroine on the other side of the drug wars. (RvB)
(R; 110 min.) Two middle-aged people hurt by love struggle to put aside their fears in this romance set in Marseille.
(1920) Kenneth Clark described Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as "a sort of Ariel" ("To fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curl'd clouds."The Tempest). As the avenging spirit of old California, Fairbanks brings exuberant humor to this still-startling physical comedy. (He's also the best Don Diego ever, suggesting not foppery as much as slack-jawed inbreeding. He plays with his silk handkerchiefs in nerveless hands, making a "handkerchief bunny" that he adorably feeds a pinch of snuffto the pretty contempt of the female lead.) The annual screening of The Mark of Zorro is an event. It is a physical experience, like listening to James Brown's music or seeing a grand-slam breaking through six innings of crafty pitching. Arrive early; this movie always draws a crowd. (RvB)
(1940/1938) Total disappointment the other night. We don't have cable, so whatever the Saturday-night movie is on KQED, the same is watched. Imagine my delight when I find out The Mark of Zorro is on; I stay up late specifically for it. And what is it, if not the foulest bait and switch: The Mark of Zorro (1974), a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the Tyrone Power version, adorned with the 1940 version's Alfred Newman soundtrack. Vandalism! Opening: the polo grounds at Will Rogers State Park ("Spain") with a nice colonial-era layer of smog in the background. Frank "I'm bored" Langella is Don Diego, later Z. As Diego comes home, the Dons (looking like the day-job telephone solicitors they probably were) meet to discuss California's troubles ("Gentlemen, these devils threaten the very toupees on our heads!"). In comes the villain, Ricardo Montalban. Montalban can certainly massage a syllable, but when he's fop-baiting Don Diego he has to crane his neck to do it, because Frank "I'm so louche" Langella is towering over his nemesis by at least a head. I figured the sword fight wasn't going to save this. Fortunately, the Stanford is showing the real 1940 The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power. Let me count the ways: Power's spot decision to pose as a satin-loving pantywaist ("Swordplay is such a violent business"); our hero's entrance, dousing a candle with a flick of his rapier when he comes to visit the governor at night, making it seem as if a dark room is illuminated by Zorro's glowing eyes. Eugene Pallette snorting out "Puppy!" at the thin-blooded fop. Gale Sondergaard looking quite debauched, especially in the picnic sceneNewman chimes some exotic chords on a celesta to mimic her luxuriousness. The catlike Basil Rathbone as Captain Pasquale, nastily switching his sword back and forth in his eagerness to perforate someone, anyone. BILLED WITH The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn, speaking treason (fluently) as the outlawed lord turned guerrilla. Olivia de Havilland, reportedly crushed on her co-star, is a sweet Maid Marian. The production was filmed in part near Chico. Also stars Alan Hale, Claude Rains and Trigger (de Havilland rides the later-famous pony). (RvB)
(1940/1938) Ever since the 1940 The Mark of Zorro, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Tyrone Power, was released, it's been compared unfavorably to the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. original. As a Fairbanks fan, I did it myself, and I take it back. Mamoulian directs The Mark of Zorro as a series of black/white contrasts: white-hot, sun-struck villages and the black rider who awakens them; the close-up of Zorro's dark mask and the white highlights of his eyes. The film was made under the looming clouds of war, expressing fury at tyranny and championing the guile and the vigor to fight it. Indeed, it stars one of cinema's finest crypto-fascist villains, Basil Rathbone's Captain Pasquale, on point throughout the picture. Pasquale has an ugly habit of swishing his sword blade in conversation, preparing himself and the audience for the lethal close-quarters duel in finale. Fine character-actor support is provided by Eugene Pallette as a fighting Franciscan and the interestingly kinky Gale Sondergaard as the bored wife of the alcalde. BILLED WITH If I Were King. Ronald Colman stars as François Villon, the Parisian poet/thief of the 1400s; some of his verse is translated here by Preston Sturges, who scripted this beguiling swashbuckler. Rathbone is unexpectedly comic as the crotchety Louis XI. (RvB)
(1920/1932) Kenneth Clark described Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as "a sort of Ariel" ("To fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curl'd clouds."The Tempest). As the avenging spirit of old California, Fairbanks brings exuberant humor to this still-startling physical comedy. (He's also the best Don Diego ever, suggesting not foppery as much as slack-jawed inbreeding. He plays with his silk handkerchiefs in nerveless hands, making a "handkerchief bunny" that he adorably feeds a pinch of snuffto the pretty contempt of the female lead.) The annual screening of The Mark of Zorro is an event. It is a physical experience, like listening to James Brown's music or seeing a grand-slam homer breaking through six innings of crafty pitching. Arrive early; this movie always draws a crowd. Chris Elliott at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. BILLED WITH Mr. Robinson Crusoe. Fairbanks goes to Tahiti, as a playboy who bets he can live for a year on a desert island. He does, inventing many gadgets (including a radio), and meets an island girl who later becomes a chorus girl in the Follies. W.C. Fields' frequent collaborator Eddie Sutherland directed. (RvB)
(1940/1942) The story of the enigmatic avenger of a California plagued, then as now, by misrule and greedy landlords. Highlights: (1) Tyrone Power's spot decision to pose as a satin-loving pantywaist ("Swordplay is such a violent business"). (2) An entrance our hero makes, dousing a candle with a flick of his rapier when he comes to visit the governor at night, making it seem as if a dark room is illuminated by the masked hero's glowing eyes. (3) Eugene Pallette snorting, "Puppy!" at the thin-blooded fop. (4) Gale Sondergaard looking deliciously debauched, especially in the picnic scene (Alfred Newman chimes some exotic chords on a celesta to mimic her luxuriousness). (5) Basil Rathbone as the villain, switching his sword back and forth like the tail of an angry cat. Other versions of this story may be faster; none is as velvety or as sexy. BILLED WITH Rings on Her Fingers, Rouben Mamoulian's version of a Preston Sturges-type comedy, with Henry Fonda as a clerk mistaken for a millionaire zeroed in on by a pair of con artists (Spring Byington and the talented heavy Laird Cregar). The bait: a shop girl (Gene Tierney). (RvB)
(Unrated) A drama with music about the Kurds in Iraq. Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses).
(1964) An early Jean-Luc Godard film about the alienation of modern women kicks off a series titled Summer of Love Crimes at UCSC.
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Tim Burton's newest is a collage of everything from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers to Yojimbothis time it's a Chihuahua with the human hand in its maw. In its frequent borrowings from 1950s science fiction, Mars Attacks! resembles a parody version of the equally derivative, but much less entertaining Independence Day. Jack Nicholson plays two underdeveloped parts, and most of the other name stars turn in one-joke cameos (Michael J. Fox is self-centered, Jim Brown is tough, Annette Bening is ditzy, Martin Short is horny), so the alien invaders must carry the show. These Martians are not exactly special-effects marvels; when they're on, everything looks a little ridiculous. The aliens were such invulnerable bores in Independence Day. The Martians in Mars Attacks! are sportsthey enjoy their work. They can fly, but they'd rather chase people down the road in 100-foot-tall robots. In between assaults, the creatures lounge around their saucers in their shorts, performing unclean experiments on Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan that are so awful that you can't help but laugh at them. But it's uneasy laughter; even in parody, Burton presents images so strange and melancholy that they stick with you, as in the shot of a pair of living severed heads shyly courting each other. Burton's homage to the bug-eyed monsters of yesteryear demonstrates that images of those men in rubber suits still have emotional power. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 107 min.) Marianne Sägebrecht (Sugarbaby and Bagdad Cafe) plays an unlettered but wise maid in the marvelous, bittersweet Martha and I. The story takes place on the eve of WWII in Czechoslovakia. Director/writer Jiri Weiss tells the tale through the reminiscences of Emil (Ondrej Vetchy), a young man shipped off by his parents to live with his Uncle Ernst (Michel Piccoli). After catching his younger wife in bed with a lover, Ernst divorces her and impulsively marries his maid, Martha (Sägebrecht). The class difference between them is bad enough, but a Jeweven an atheist like Ernstmarrying a German in Sudetenland could not go unnoticed. Weiss looks at the story with the abstract fatalism of someone displaced in his time by both communists and fascists. (RvB)
(PG; 110 min.) The real-life sci-fi writer David Gerrold, who created the Tribbles for Star Trek, wrote an autobiographical novel about a gay sci-fi writer adopting a troubled child. Director Menno Meyjes further fictionalizes the story by removing the gay factor, and by having everyone learn valuable lessons before the happy ending. John Cusack plays the widowed writer, and the full-lipped, floppy-haired Hollywood moppet Bobby Coleman plays Dennis, who pretends to be from Mars. Despite the film's laziness and mawkishness, however, Martian Child has some lovely sections. Amanda Peet plays the writer's friend, and their relationship nicely takes its time. And the cinematography by Robert Yeoman (The Darjeeling Limited) sometimes places the characters within quiet, reflective moments, like in a moving car, surrounded by restless patterns of light. (JMA)
(1955) What do you wanna do, Marty? I dunno. Do you wanna Marty? Ernest Borgnine stars as a nondescript guy from the Bronx who manages to find love in a hard world. Borgnine and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky won Oscars for their work on this kitchen-sink drama. (MSG)
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(PG-13; 93 min.) Another story of eccentricity and catastrophic illness, Marvin's Room is bearable largely because of Diane Keaton's acting and Jerry Zaks' impressionistic direction. The story is based on Scott McPherson's family-therapy play about a dysfunctional menage drawn together by a medical emergency. Lee (Meryl Streep) and her hostile son, Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio), have come to Florida to visit Lee's ailing sister (Keaton). The film tweaks a few feelings about disintegrating family ties and then soothes them with sentimental bits like trips to Disney World. It may be about the real pain of illness and estrangement, but Marvin's Room is as escapist as anything with explosions in it. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 87 min.) It's 1979; the Iran hostage crisis has sparked anti-Iranian jingoism, but all that Iranian-American New Jersey high schooler Mary Armin (Mariam Parris) wants is to hang out at roller discos and become the next Jessica Savitch. But then a visit from an Islamic college-student cousin (David Ackert) forever changes the fully assimilated Mary. Filmmaker Ramin Serry's understatedand now timelyfirst feature will resonate with anyone from an immigrant family who remembers all too well how adolescence was twice as difficult for them because of their race. The strong, mostly Iranian cast that Serry has assembled will leave some viewers asking, "Where have these actors been hiding this whole time?" Kudos to Serry for giving these neglected and typecast actors the richest roles they've ever had, in a thoughtful, affecting film that answers questions about the misunderstood Iranian culture and raises new ones as well. (Note: The special free screening will include a post-film discussion with the director.) (JA)
(Unrated; 60 min.) Karen Watson's documentary explores the mystical murals created by UCSC founder and art historian emerita Mary Holmes, easily one of the most charismatic lecturers on the hill in her lengthy prime. The film visits the elderly visionary at her mountain-top compound and details an incredible body of artwork constructed over the years and now enshrined in a chapel to goddesses through the ages. Those who know Holmes will not find the teacher, the engaging intellect or even the point of these paintings in the self-conscious film. But as a rare glimpse at Holmes' fascinating artwork, it's worth a viewing. (CW)
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(R; 117 min.) Based on a 1990 novel by Valerie Martin, Mary Reilly retells the familiar Robert Louis Stevenson story from the perspective of a young Irish housemaid (Julia Roberts) who comes to work for the good doctor Jekyll (John Malkovich), whose troubling medical experiments turn him into the ravening Mr. Hyde. Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton will almost certainly be knocked for "softening" Hyde, even though, in fact, they've expanded on his evil. Jekyll is something of a cold, Victorian fish of undetermined sexual bent, and Malkovich is the perfect actor to convey a repressed man with bad sexual wiring. Admittedly, Roberts is not much of an actress; even so, she behaves well in a difficult role. (AB)
(1952/1951) A marriage seen backward, from its finale at a divorce court as a judge (Madge Kennedy) listens to both sides of the story from the husband and wife. In this innovative Garson Kanin/Ruth Gordon comedy with tragic overtones, Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray star as the hurting couple. Also stars Sheila Bond, John Alexander and the late Peggy Cass. BILLED WITH The Model and the Marriage Broker. Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder's partner on Lost Weekend and Sunset Blvd., wrote and produced this unusual comedy about a matchmaker (Thelma Ritter) who takes a risk when she decides to interfere with model Jeanne Crain's affair with a married man. It's a rare starring role for Ritter, four-time Oscar nominee, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Ritter's wizened face was capped with a beagle's nose. Onscreen, she could smell a phony from five miles away, and anyone ignoring her advice usually was sorry for it at the end of the movie. It was Ritter who warned Jimmy Stewart in vain about the price of being a peeping tom in Rear Window; it was also Ritter who overheard Anne Baxter's long tale of woe in All About Eve and commented, "What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end." (RvB)
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(Unrated; 124 min.) A drama of a brother and sister (Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil) whose closeness has interfered with their ability to love others; they have banded together for emotional protection against their irascible old mother (Marthe Villalonga), from whom they stood no danger of being killed with kindness. It is an honorable, often engrossing film but fundamentally not very lively, and certainly not innovative after years of similar experiments during the 1960s. Director Andre Téchiné (Wild Reeds) has his partisans, but his symbolism strikes me as being all too literal, compromising the undeniable subtlety of the acting. (RvB)
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Thrilling, but you have to overlook the occasional dull scenes of Anthony Hopkins (as the elder Zorro) teaching Antonio Banderas (as this year's model) not to be such an impetuous hothead. Otherwise, this romantic action film is everything you'd want from a Zorro movie: a tale of a dashing, masked hero of the 1840s cleaning up Californiathen as now, plagued by political corruption and avaricious landlords. The casting of Banderas is inspired; he has the right blend of mockery and machismo for the role. Banderas is Alejandro Murieta, brother of the legendary bandit/hero Joaquin. After his training, the new Zorro goes up against an evil Spanish ex-governor (Stuart Wilson) looking for a political comeback-while romancing the governor's comely daughter (Catherine Zeta-Jones.) The opening scene shows the first Zorro since Douglas Fairbanks' original to look so gravity-free. The stunt work and swordplaychoreographed by Robert Anderson, who originally worked with Errol Flynnare better than any seen in years. (RvB)
(PG; 80 min.) After all of his health problems, it's nice to see the chronically underrated Dana Carvey back in action and playing 8 million different characters in this movie. But then again, what's with that Turtle Guy thing? That ain't good.
(PG-13; 106 min.) Die Hard in a day school, with a sarcastic teen (Vincent Kartheiser) in the Bruce Willis role. The flip hero relies more on hacking skill than physical prowess, as does the film. Once again, the only mastermind in this movie produced the computer graphics. Despite leaden dialog, Patrick Stewart camps it up as the well-mannered evil genius leading a vaguely defined band of terrorists (disgruntled soccer fans, apparently). They kidnap the children of the wealthy at a private school and plan to exchange them for a CEO's ransom. Kartheiser is the kids' only hope. Mayhem ensues. Masterminds is at that awkward stage between children's film and adult actioner; it vacillates from harmless G-rated nerf violence to the pixillated gore found in video action games. (DH)
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(R; 96 min.) A raunchy, polychrome comedy with Pierce Brosnan savoring his own rottenness and Greg Kinnear unexpectedly pleasurable as a man who learns to get a little fun out of life by taking lives. Killer Julian Noble (Brosnan) is drinking in a Mexican hotel when he runs into the American salesman Danny Wright (Kinnear). Julian and Danny end up spending a night boozing together. Later, Danny accompanies the lonely Julian for a few days of examples of on-the-job assassin training. Here, as in The Tailor of Panama, Brosnan is an anti-Bond, a suave but crooked slouch. (RvB)
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(R) Alejandro Lozano's insignificant crime-spree comedy is as derivative as it is slow. Steel magnate Oscar Cabos (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) starts the story by beating up Jaque (Tony Dalton), his future son-in-law, because he is in bed with his daughter, Paulina (Ana Claudia Talancón). Some kidnappers snatch Cabos' janitor, thinking that he is Cabos. Meanwhile, the real Oscar Cabos rides around in the trunk of Jaque's car while the none-too-brilliant young man and his best pal, Mudi (Kristoff Razcinsky), cook up a scheme to get the boss home. Finally, the two innocents have the temporary brains to call up an old buddythe retired lucha libre wrestler Ruben, alias Mascarito (Joaquín Cosio). It is hard to get mad at something that's this spinelessly eager to please. It is also hard to pay attention to something in which neither the violence nor humor has any sticking point. (RvB)
(R; 96 min.) Janeane Garofalo plays a wise-cracking Boston workaholic who's sent to Ireland to dig up her senator boss' familial roots. What she happens upon is the country's biggest matchmaking festivities, and she winds up the object of everyone's affections, particularlyand true to the form of romantic comediesSean (David O'Hara of Braveheart), the one guy on the Emerald Isle she butts heads with. What ensues, from the romance to the stab at political commentary, is pretty predictable stuff, but the Irish backdrop is picturesque and the soundtrack is rollicking. While this is Garofalo's first take at carrying a picture, it's the same role she's played in every film and it's getting tired. Where her quips were once jaded and quirky, they now seem hostile and just plain mean. (KR)
(PG-13; 120 min.) Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell play con men in a Ridley Scott movie.
(PG; 93 min.) The imagination of children's author Roald Dahl was limitless. Alas, that's the biggest stumbling-block for Matilda, a somewhat dark comedy based on a book by Dahl. Matilda faithfully recreates Dahl's outlandish style but unfortunately, the effect is that the film's events waver between being entertainingly absurd and just plain ridiculous, which suggests that the antics of supernaturally-gifted little Matilda (Mara Wilson) and the bevy of creepy grown-ups around her might best have been left to the imaginations of young readers. Nevertheless, it is fun to see Dahl's characters come to unreal life on the screen, especially the villainous ones, of which there are a number including Matilda's grossly inattentive parents, Harry and Zinnia Wormwooddelightfully hammed to the hilt by Danny DeVito (also the film's director) and Rhea Perlmanand The Trunchbull (Pam Ferris), a militaristic headmistress who is crueler than any educator even Dickens ever envisioned. As Matilda, Wilson gives a genuine and winning performance, avoiding the sugary pouting and posing of many child actors. (HZ)
A documentary by Grant Washburn and Lili Schad that follows wave-rider Jeff Clark and a group of fellow expert surfers as they take on the world-famous wave known as Maverick's at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay.
(2007) A deeply important documentary, and an entertaining one, too; the blatant greed and malice it chronicles beats any onscreen villainy you'll be seeing elsewhere this year. Wharton School alumnus-turned-filmmaker James Scurlock observes America's credit-card crisis and how it has worsened in the last 30 years. Scurlock illustrates his points with quaint vintage educational films (1960's The Wise Use of Credit with Regis Toomey as "Mr. Money"). Scurlock also finds tragedy: modern-day survivors of loved ones who committed suicide over their credit-card debt. Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren—an eloquent, mesmerizing speaker—identifies how America's dependence on easy credit has spread to the government, which is rapidly digging its way into oblivion. On the homefront, predatory rates, inadequate screening processes and underhanded collection techniques are turning the middle-class into serfs, beginning with college students and working their way up. Go see Maxed Out, but for God's sake don't put the ticket on your credit card. (RvB)
(PG; 101 min.) A seventh-grader, thinking that his family is about to move, plots his revenge on the school bulliesonly to find out that he's not moving after all.
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(R; 126 min.) Maximum Risk doesn't clobber you with its soundtrack; it doesn't make the heroine a complete bimbo; and it isn't shot in any of the usual places. The credit goes mostly to Jean-Claude Van Damme's new director, Hong Kong's Ringo Lam. You don't expect depth from someone named Ringo, but you do expect speed and rhythm, and Lam doesn't disappoint. The plot, such as it is, concerns a Frenchman (Van Damme) traveling to New York to find the men who killed his twin brother. The thrill sequences include a shoot-out in the middle of a crowded city square, a rolling chase through a subway yard and three breathtakingly rough martial-arts fights. (RvB)
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(R; 94 min.) Maybe ... Maybe Not, a smash hit in Germany, has as its centerpiece handsome and helplessly promiscuous Axel (Til Schweiger), who has just been kicked out by his girlfriend, Doro (Katja Riemann). He ends up at the apartment of Norbert (Joachim Krol), a gay man who develops a crush on him. The film is based on two popular adult comic books by Ralf Konig, and director Sonke Wortmann has made a comic-book movie with lots of velocity and not much dimension. Still, it's a witty and diverting, and the idioms are translated so well in the subtitles that you don't ever feel the jar of culture shock. (RvB)
(1937/1938) MGM's biggest hit of 1937 is a variation on the Trilby story, with John Barrymore as a stern music teacher whose pupil (Jeanette MacDonald) is beginning to stray; the tunes include everything from "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" to Beethoven's Fifth with lyrics. BILLED WITH The Great Waltz. MGM's view of the life of Johann Strauss, the Waltz King, with Viennese singer Luise Rainer and Fernand Gravet. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstien II. (RvB)
(R; 98 min.) You never know what's enough until you know what's more than enough, wrote William Blake. Similarly, you never know what's more than enough until you see an actor turning writer/director/producer and directing himself as he plays a saintly handicapped person. In Maze, Rob Morrow (Quiz Show) plays an artist named Lyle, who is afflicted with Tourette's syndrome and who carries the torch for Callie (Laura Linney), the pregnant girlfriend of his best pal, Mike (Craig Sheffer), who has impulsively headed for Burundi for six months. Maybe Lars von Trier could have taken the bathos out of this plot, but Morrow cuts himself almost Jerry Lewis levels of slacks as he tics and rages, splatters women with wine and paint, and loyally resists the advances of the woman he loves. Linney's prettiness, subtlety and wisdom (seen in You Can Count on Me) defy the pregnancy jokes and the pattest of pat endings. (RvB)
(PG; 109 min.) Tom Arnold and Tim Curry star in a comedy based on the TV series.
(Unrated; 85 min.) In Putney once, I got called a "burger-eating Yankee prat" by a Mike Leighian North London street psycho. OK, I had been busted for coming out of McDonald's. My dining choices that rainy evening consisted of either a McDouble or a septic curry, which had been sitting under a chip shop's sunlamp since the Dave Clark 5 were on the charts. If only I'd known about the McLibel suit I would have choked down the petrifying vindaloo and peas, rather than display foreign insensitivity. In London, two protestorspart-time bartender Helen Steel and ex-postman Dave Morrishad been handing out leaflets describing the unsavory aspect of Your Kind of Place. Let them count the ways: the fat, salt and sugar content; the environmental depredation; the cruelty to animals; the use of the clown. The result: a libel suit from McDonald's, which the gentle but persistent Morris and Steel fought in the law courts for 15 years. Franny Armstrong's documentary is a witty, sympathetic documentary of the fight, which this February ended in the European Court of Human Rights. The movie which credits Ken Loach as "drama director"includes dramatic re-enactments of the trial. Interviewees include Eric (Fast-Food Nation) Schlosser, who sums up the problem: "Fast food isn't cheap foodit's very expensive in the long run." (RvB)
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(R; 90 min.) Delightful, yet often bawdy, tale of tangled suburban Angelenos. A kind, lonely performance artist (director/writer Miranda July) tries to get her latest piece together, distracted by longings for a man she's just met, a newly separated shoe salesman (John Hawkes). In a parallel episode, July follows a pair of randy teenage girls who like to harass the males; here, the director shows us the best comprehension of teen-girl talk and action since Ghost World. July's subject matter isn't the betrayal of innocence. Rather, it's the childishness that never really leaves sexuality. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) The inoffensively cute Lindsay Lohan (Freaky Friday) plays Cady, a home-schooled innocent dropped into what you could call the John Hughes suburbs of Chicago. The school is a mess of cliques, but the clique de tutti cliques is the Plastics, run by three disgraces: the rich and vapid Gretchen (Lacey Chabert), the moronic blonde Karen (Amanda Seyfried) and queen bee Regina (Rachel McAdams). Invited to join the Plastic's table, Cady is first repelled, than tempted and then absorbed. This often highly funny piece is directed by Mark Waters. Significantly, he's the brother of Daniel Waters, whose script for Heathers was reportedly even wilder than the resulting film by Tiburon's Michael Lehmann. Mean Girls is far less mean than Heathers; it's a little more deliberately therapeutic and pretends to engage the issue of homophobia while backing off from it. Significantly, the real-life singer Janis "I Learned the Truth at 17" Ianwhose name was borrowed for the goth character hereis still an open lesbian, whereas this character named after her just gets mistaken for one. Scriptwriter Tina Fey has been the subject of some of the drooliest press coverage since Madonna's apogee. She plays the clumsy math teacher who helps rescue Cady from the web of hypocrisy she has weaved. Fey, a regular on Saturday Night Live, has timing, but she seems television-sized and vague on camera, and her gag-writing is spotty. What Fey does have, though, is a sharp sense of story structure and a heartfelt appreciation of good old-fashioned feminism: when she spelled out the film's motto, "Calling each other sluts and whores makes it easier for the boys to call you that," it was gratifying to feel a wave of satisfaction rolling through the mostly teen female crowd. Waters' use of quad screen is a real highlight, but Seyfried gives the best performance; even Fey's fairly ordinary blonde jokes work like magic when Seyfried delivers them. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) An Owen Wilson-and-Chris-Tucker-less Jackie Chan tries to bounce back from The Tuxedo, his flop about a suit that bestows supernatural powers, with this story of a medallion that ... uh ... well ... does ... something. OK, fineyes, it also bestows supernatural powers. Look, you made Jackie cry! Are you happy now? (Capsule preview by SP)
Short films on social issues. Slip of the Tongue, about the ineffable pleasure of being asked what race you are. In Transit, about the problem of reproductive health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Water Warriors, on how the residents of Highland Park, Mich., fought their out-of-control water bills. How Wal-Mart Came to Hazlett, about how a certain big bad neighbor helped themselves to the wetlands—too bad for you, underearning waterfowl. Night Visions, considering the torment of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. Eyes on the Fair Use of the Prize, about the fate of a famous documentary, now priced out of print by copyright restrictions on the archival footage. (Use CNN, pay, literally, $90 a second. It's not just a bad idea, it's the law.) Organic snacks and socializing follow. (Plays Nov 17 at 7:30pm in Palo Alto at the Unitarian Hall, Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 550 E. Charleston; www.worldcentric.org/filmseries/current.) (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure meets Caddyshack in Steve Boyum's Meet the Deedles, with prairie dogs instead of gophers. Twins Stew and Phil Deedle are irresponsible rich Hawaiian surf bums sent to Wyoming's Camp Broken Spirit by their father to become "real men." Mistaken for Yellowstone park ranger rookies, they are expected to solve the pesky "P-dog" problem created by madman Frank Slater (Dennis Hopper) in an attempt to steal Old Faithful. Full of impossible stunts, funky contraptions and kooky characters, Meet the Deedles is better than one might expect, and like most of their schemes, it's just dumb enough to work. Phil and Stew are adorable characters and speak a curious dialect entirely their own ("That is so Gilligan"). As an added bonus, this playful comedy offers one of the most disgusting kisses ever caught on film. (SQ)
(1989) Peter Jackson's gross puppet show is a predecessor to his later success with Dead Alive. (RvB)
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(PG-13) With so many mediocre comedies these days built around a useless but obligatory animal-cruelty gag several deformed, inbred generations removed from the dog bit in There's Something About Mary, the Farrelly brothers must be rolling over in their graves. What, they're not dead yet? Oh, sorry, I sometimes forget, possibly because they themselves wish they were dead after looking back at the five movies they've done since Mary. Or maybe because they seem completely irrelevant now that safe, status quo directors like Jay Roach have stolen their act. Surely neither Meet The Parents or this new sequel could have existed without the Farrellys, and yet what seemed cutting edge in the '90s has now been tamed for maximum palpabilityjust enough tastelessness to give Grandma a giggle, and plenty of puff humor to fill up the running time. Plus side: No matter how middle-of-the-road this film is, it'll still be the best movie De Niro has appeared in since the original Meet the Parents. For a man who's spent this century starring in films like Men of Honor, Showtime, 15 Minutes, Analyze That and Godsend, this is classy, classy stuff. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(1944) Vincente Minnelli's cherished musical about the 1903 World's Fair in St. Louis and a family's awakening to the new century. Most viewers fondly remember Margaret O'Brien's performance as the irrepressible little sister. There's also a few of Judy Garland's best songs here, especially "The Trolley Song," and a sad Christmas carol meant for a wartime audience, but popular wherever Christmas seems to have lost its charm: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." (RvB)
(1944/1950) Vincente Minnelli's cherished musical about the 1903 World's Fair in St. Louis and a family's awakening to the new century. It's nostalgia, but it's nostalgia that still bears the shadows of the bleak year it was made (the darkness is overheard in its hit, the wartime Christmas carol "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). The film offers a lot: not just the pleasantness of watching unruffled lives but a Halloween sequence that's a highlight of 1940s film. As Minnelli noted in his memoirs, "The children fantasize Halloween as blood and thunder and get involved in all sorts of malicious mischief ... almost a wistful longing for horror; [it] wasn't the sweet and treacly approach so characteristic of Hollywood." Includes Judy Garland's best performance and the irresistible Margaret O'Brien as the family's little sister. BILLED WITH Father of the Bride. Not bad at all and certainly an improvement on Steve Martin's remake. Spencer Tracy stars as a solid middle-class dad facing the life-disrupting wedding of his daughter, with all the ruinous expense and uncomfortable hobnobbing the ritual entails. Elizabeth Taylor plays one radiant bride. (RvB)
(1944/1945) Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis is prime Americana about St. Louis' Smith family, waiting for the great 1903 World's Fair. The film is famous for a number of reasons, especially Margaret O'Brien's beloved performance as the impish little sister of the family and a variety of songs, including the diminuendo wartime carol "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." BILLED WITH Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, starring Edward G. Robinson as the wise father of a Norwegian farming family in Wisconsin, with O'Brien again playing the irrepressible daughter. (RvB)
(1944/1949) Vincente Minnelli's cherished musical about the 1903 World's Fair in St. Louis and a family's awakening to the new century is nostalgia, but it's nostalgia with shadows, emblematic of the bleak year in which it was made (the darkness is overheard in its hit, the diminuendo wartime Christmas carol "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). The film offers a lot: not just the pleasantness of watching unruffled lives but a Halloween sequence that's a highlight of 1940s film. Minnelli claimed he was trying to capture a child's "wistful longing for horror." Includes Judy Garland's best performance and the irresistible Margaret O'Brien as the family's little sister. BILLED WITH The Secret Garden. The surefire children's novel, starring O'Brien in her last childhood role. (RvB)
Being famous is more of a curse than a blessing for the popular British band Radiohead, as revealed in this on-the-road documentary by Grant Gee. The film focuses on a trying tour the band make in 1998. (AR)
(PG-13) Christian film detailing the end of the world.
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(PG-13; 99 min.) Melinda and Melinda opens at a bistro table. Sy, a celebrated comedy playwright (Wallace Shawn, most cherubic), is having a cordial dispute with tragedian Max (Larry Pine). Their subject: Is the nature of life essentially comic or tragic? Both the humorist and the tragedian embellish the slender outline of a story. A strange woman shows up unannounced at a dinner party at which her more successful best friends from college are dining. In the tragic version, Melinda (Radha Mitchell) arrives filthy and exhausted after a Greyhound ride from the Midwest. Her appearance adds a load of trouble to the already wobbly marriage of the rising indie-movie director Laurel (Chloë Sevigny) and her husband, a falling actor named Lee (Jonny Lee Miller). After having ruined her life for love, the hard-drinking Melinda is falling in love with a too-smooth jazz pianist (Chiwetel Ejiofor); he is called Ellis Moonsong, and those with a little French will think, "Moonsong is derived from mensonges, 'lies.'" It's an affair doomed to end badly. In the other wing of the film, the same story is replayed. This time, the disappointed husband is now puppyishly inept and even has a dog's name: Hobie (Will Ferrell). His wife, Susan (Amanda Peet), is incubating a low-budget film called The Castration Sonata. Into this troubled flat comes the uninvited Melindathis time a sillier girlwho shows up with a bellyful of sleeping pills. Director Woody Allen shuffles between the two halves, linked with devices that turn up in both versions: romance with a pianist, a magic lamp that brings tragedy when it answers one prayer, farce when it answers another. Unlike in his serious films, here Allen is more conscious of the artificiality of the intellectual pose. It is a story told from the beginning, in quotation marks. And yet the comedy pleases me more. I wasn't driven to tears by the film, but by laughter. And after Anything Else, it's very moving that Allen could put it together one more time. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 137 min.) Deracinated kimono-ripper based on the popular novel; the season's most potent barbiturate. A poor fisherman's daughter who becomes the great geisha Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang). She faces the decline of her circumstances and her art after World War II. Her fixed star during this voyage through life is a love for a man she cannot have (Ken Watanabe). It's bound to be the first "Japanese" film that lots of our enlightened fellow citizens will have seen. The ESL-school dialogue isn't aided by any visual flair or big acting. Some respite is provided by Gong Li as the sadistic geisha Hatsumomo, and by Michelle Yeoh as the maternal Mameha. (RvB)
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(R; 120 min.) An aged French gunman named Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) is recruited for a job in Belgium Two of Antwerp's brighter copsdisheveled detective Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt) and slick detective Vincke (Koen De Bouw)hunt down Ledda, who double-crosses his employer and leaves a trail of stiffs. He's furious because he is supposed to put two bullets in a child prostitute. And you don't touch children in this business. The problem with the film are those elements that probably got it sold for the American remake. The plot is too easy to figure out. If a person lives in a castle and keeps a taxidermed polar bear next to his desk, he's the villain. Still: Local color to the max, cityscapes of this rough-hewn, oil-derrick-littered city under its glowering North Sea skies. For backstory, we get a touch of the Catholic Church's former don't- ask-don't-tell policy regarding child abuse. (RvB)
(1950/1957) Fred Zinnemann's honorable semidocumentary about paraplegic patients at a VA Hospital. It's aged, and there are elements of commercial compromise in it, but Marlon Brandoin his movie debutgives a very unglamorous performance as a former athlete and army lieutenant now confined to a wheelchair. As Ken Wilozek, Brando lets his harshness, hostility, arrogance and hurt show with no attempt to apologize for it all. This performance let the world of smooth, gutless actors know that there was a lion loose. Also stars Teresa Wright as his wife-to-be; the typically underrated Jack Webb as a fellow patient; Orson Welles regular Everett Sloane as the terse doctor; and 45 patients at the Birmingham, Va., hospital as themselves. BILLED WITH A Face in the Crowd. What if Elvis became dictator? This berserk Elia Kazan movie has a crypto Elvis called Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith!), who, on the basis of a hit called "Mama Guitar," becomes a celebrity. Then the trouble begins when he allows himself to be manipulated by Southern kingmakers. The film is perhaps of some relevance during the current presidential election, though W does not actually play guitar. A very chemical Lee Remick (debuting) plays a Lolita of a cheerleader. (Plays Oct 22-24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(Not rated) Psychosexual thriller about a young drag queen, a sadistic older woman and the debutante who comes between them. Wild photography, dark humor and a cult-film, underground spirit.
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(PG-13; 98 min.) Men in Black is in great shapetrim, speedy and Godless. Better even than special-effects man Rick Baker's marvelous work on the aliens is the lack of comfort offered at the end. Smith plays an NYPD officer who encounters K (Tommy Lee Jones), a member of the Men in Black, and joins the hunt for extraterrestrials, including a hilarious Vincent D'Onofrio in a borrowed, ill-fitting human skin wrapped badly on his exoskeleton. On the debit side, the film doesn't develop some of its comic ideas and uses Linda Fiorentino for crass laughs. But the basic ideathat there is an unseen world inside this world and that this other world isn't benign, as in the films of Tim Burtonis a compelling one. (RvB)
(R; 128 min.) While Cuba Gooding Jr. can be a real gooding-two-shoes on screen, this solid biopic with the awful title"What, De Niro in another Mafia movie?," you're thinkinglooks at the military with less dewy eyes than any picture in years. "In years" includes such ordeals as Saving Private Ryan and G.I. Jane, which both fell hard for the usual myths like a half-bright kid watching a recruiting commercial on TV. Men of Honor follows the struggle of Carl Brashear (Gooding), a sharecropper's son who became the first African American Navy deep-sea diver. Brashear's full to bursting with character when he arrives in boot camp, so Men of Honor doesn't take for granted the armed forces' claim of building up men through tearing them down; thus scenes of a Navy base circa 1948 in which unfairness and racism is everywhere. The punishments are infantilewe see a sailor in the parade ground, pants down, walloping a pot with a stick and bellowing "I stole a pie" over and over again, and his hoarse voice becomes just part of the background of another scene. We see a gaga commanding officer up in a rickety crow's-nest of a building, swishing a flyswatter and doting on his pet bulldog. The kind of man who thrives in this forlorn base is a lifer, the raging diving instructor, a sawed-off cracker played beautifully by Robert De Niro and named, like the famous evangelist, Billy Sunday. The actual action sequences are underwhelming; Brashear and his fellows are clad in those canvas and brass rigs like the little plastic diver in the bottom of a household aquarium, and you can never get a sense of who's who in the water. Still, Gooding does look smart in his uniform; he turns on some potent charm courting a well-built librarian named Jo (Aunjanue Ellis). He's also vamped at one point, too, by Charlize Theron, who really is most enjoyable as a character actress playing pre-1960 baby-faced bad girls (it's when she's a lead actress that she gets so unwatchable). I'd also mention quickly how much better Michael Rapaport, here as a stuttering sailor from Wisconsin, is getting in every new movie. (RvB)
As part of a major celebration of the life of the avant-garde choreographer, Stanford presents some of Cunningham's dance films. On Mar 3, 7pm, the series screens Points in Space about the avant-garde choreographer. The film repeats Mar 6, 3pm. The series winds up with a world premiere showing of Views for Video, the most recent collaboration between Cunningham and filmmaker Charles Atlas.
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(R; 138 min.) Intense, brilliantly cast film by Michael Radford (Il Postino) from his intelligently edited version of the play. This approach emphasizes the wrath and tragedy of the despised Jew Shylock (Al Pacino). Pacino makes you understand how discrimination warps a man; unlike what the movies usually tell us, nobody becomes a better man for being spat upon. Pacino hasn't been this good in a decade. He astutely uses his tendency to croak, to bump his syllables as he speaks; he flashes us the twinkling mad glee he gets from violence during his recent flamboyant roles, such as Lucifer in The Devil's Advocate. But here, Pacino also draws tears with the magnitude of Shylock's loss. Watching him, you understand that woman the poet Heine observed weeping over the moneylender at the theater in London in the 1830s, crying "That man was wronged!" Lynn Collins is a pale Botticell-ish Portia. Sheltered on her isle of Belmont, she gets a shock at Shylock's rage, and the bloodiness of the world. Jeremy Irons plays Antonioat last, dialogue worthy of Irons' lovely Ironic drawl. The gay element newer scholars have divined is played sotto voce and left pleasingly ambiguous; whether Antonio and his dear friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) got to that stage is left up in the air. Still, even before Shylock gets his bond, it's plain the merchant Antonio's heart is cut out already. (RvB)
(Unrated; 99 min.) Merci Pour le Chocolat is Claude Chabrol's latest. And in the leadplaying another stiff-backed, polite murderesswe have Isabelle Huppert demonstrating almost Expressionist levels of repression. Huppert plays a chocolate heiress named Marie-Claire "Mika" Muller. She lives with her husband, André (Jacques Dutronc), a noted pianist, who has a son from a previous marriage, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly). A young woman arrives: a piano student named Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis), who is possessed by an odd idea. She heard from her mother that once there was almost a mix-up of babies at the hospital, and now she believes that it's possible that André is her real father. In her playing, André hears a reflection of his own talent. This new friendship disturbs Mika. Perhaps Jeanne wouldn't have intruded in her household if she knew Mika might be capable of murder. Merci Pour le Chocolat has its points. Mika spends her free moments crocheting an uncuddly-looking Afghan from brown yarn. When spread around her, it's the shape of a spider web. But the film's alternate title, Nightcap, says it all. In old age, Chabrol is applying himself to abrade the viewer's nerves as gently as possible, like a cabinet maker applying the finest grit sandpaper. Unfortunately, this opus is so well bred, it's hard to stay awake for it. The way Chabrol directs here, he seems to have been imbibing from Mika's barbiturate-laden aperitifs. (RvB)
(R; 148 min.) Bruce Willis has played so many gruff cops with booze, pills and woman troubles, a good heart and too much testosterone that he practically could do it in his sleep. In Mercury Rising, he pretty much does. As an FBI agent breaking all the rules to protect an orphaned autistic boy who broke the government's unbreakable computer code, Willis goes through the motions just fine, but the question remains: Does anyone really care? Alec Baldwin is relegated to a bit part as a one-dimensional sleaze claiming to be a patriot, and the film's brief-but-annoying attempt to appeal to the Gen-X crowd comes off like a bad Volkswagen commercial. This movie has promise but with a mish-mash of undeveloped characters and a plot that never takes off, it never manages to live up to its potential. (KR)
(1932) One by Dorothy Arzner, one of the few women to direct movies in studio-era Hollywood. In Merrily We Go to Hell, Sylvia Sidney plays an heiress who marries a hard-partying reporter/playwright (Fredric March). Cary Grant has a small part. (RvB)
(1934/1932) The spicy much-filmed operetta (once in a decadent version by Von Sternberg) is retold in post-Code timesno sign of the eponymous corset. Prince Danilo (Maurice Chevalier) is required by his father the king to marry the country's richest widow (Jeanette MacDonald), but Danilo hexes the job by mistaking one of the floozies at Maxim's for said heiress. Ernst Lubitsch directs. BILLED WITH One Hour With You. Archrogue Chevalier, happily married to MacDonald, tries to defend his chastity against the blandishments of Genevieve Tobin. It is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's silent The Marriage Circle, with George Cukor billed as "dialogue director," after he was fired from the picture by producer Lubitsch. (RvB)
(1935/1934) The spicy story retold in post-Code times, heavy on the MGM gingerbread. The confectionary plot is mostly familiar in its parody form (in the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup). Prince Danilo (Maurice Chevalier) is required by patriotism to marry the country's richest widow, but Danilo hexes the job by mistaking one of the floozies at Maxim's for said heiress. The Merry Widow represents neither Chevalier's or director Ernst Lubitsch's finest hour, despite some pleasant touches throughout. BILLED WITH The Gay Divorcee. The best Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire movie. A song-and-dance man is mistaken for a professional divorce corespondent (q.v. Evelyn Waugh's novel A Handful of Dust for details on that sordid occupation). Ginger, disgusted by this long-legged lounge lizard, has to be lured in by Fred's ability to dance ... hence the magnificent "Night and Day" number in which pursuit and surrender are played against the most alluring art deco settings the movies ever gave us. Sumptuous comedy relief here, too, for those of us who are never going to dance like Fred and Ginger: Edward Everett Horton as Fred's understandably nervous traveling companion, and Erik Rhodes, the Steve Martin of his time, as the actual corespondent Tonetti, the original tasseled Italian loafer. "Fate is the fool's name for fortune." (RvB)
(PG-13; 126 min.) Stop me if you've heard this one before. Theresa Osborne (Robin Penn Wright) is a Chicago Tribune writer too busy to have a boyfriend. Her office follows the standard Mary Tyler Moore layout, complete with fat, gruff, kindhearted editor (Robbie Coltrane) and Rhodaesque (Rhodesian?) wise-gal best friend (Illeana Douglas, the thinking-man's Calista Flockhart). While on vacation at the seashore, Theresa discovers a bottle with an anonymous romantic message insidean open letter of regret and longing from a widower addressed to his late wife. Theresa prints the message in her paper, and though the sentiments seem to have been transcribed from a Harlequin paperback, they open the hearts of readers everywhere. Smitten, our heroine heads for the Carolina coast to find the messenger. He turns out to be Garret Blake (Kevin Costner), a sensitive boat builder still devastated by the memory of his dead wife. Some critics will call Message in a Bottle the most romantic movie of the year. Indeed, it is the perfect 1999 romance: a love story about a man and his grief therapist. (RvB)
(PG-13; 84 min.) Set on a sunflower farm, this haunted house story interestingly juxtaposes its bright exteriors with its creaky interiors, and features one standout scene: a teenage girl (Kristen Stewart), clutching her baby brother, waits as a ghost approaches her from behind. The boy can see it, and she can't, and the flashy directors from Hong Kong, Oxide and Danny Pang, wait an impossibly long time before the payoff. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie forgoes any more innovations, lazily borrowing from other people's horror movies—the undulating shrieks on the soundtrack (Poltergeist), the massing, pecking crows (The Birds) and even a creature skittering along the ceiling (the Exorcist films). (JMA)
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(Unrated; 135 min.) Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky created this intimate, sometimes devastating study of the meltdownand reconstitutionof Metallica, supposedly the most successful heavy metal band in history. The Northern Californian band hits 20 with severe growing pains. The members of the band, nicknamed "Alcoholica" for its wretched excess, break down, and the bass player gets fired. Lead singer James Hetfield goes into rehab and comes back fragile. Drummer Lars Ulrich makes friends all over the Internet by testifying against Napster. In the meantime, a half-finished record awaits completion, and the rockers bring in a highly paid therapist to patch things up between them. The movie's the opposite of I Am Trying to Break Your Heartyou don't hate this band for trying to work on its problems. And you don't have to be a fan of Metallica to be enthralled and entertained by the process. Berlinger and Sinofsky's sympathetic yet never gullible treatment makes everyone human. And by the time the band members reach the other end of the tunnel, they win sympathy for their attempts to express themselves honestly, as artists and as people. (RvB)
(1994) Mathieu Kassovitz (Hate) directed this gentler story of an African student and a Jewish bike messenger who are rivals for the hand of a Caribbean girl. (RvB)
(R; 117 min.) San Francisco Police hostage negotiator Scott Roper (Eddie Murphy) tangles with a psychotic jewel thief while playing the ponies and romancing an ex-girlfriend. Metro is a good-looking movie but strictly off the shelfoverwrought music, gun fights, car crashes, car crashes, car crashes. (The best one has Roper in a classic Cadillac convertible, hooked broadside on to a runaway cable car careening down Powell, helpfully telling people down the street to "get out of the way!") The problem isn't with the castMurphy moves easily between melodrama and comedy, though there's little of the latter, and Michael Wincott makes a scary villain. But Dirty Harry and Bullitt already own this beat; in comparison, Murphy's Inspector Roper has all the power and raw male energy of Barney Fife moonlighting as a rent-a-cop. San Francisco's top police hostage negotiator (Eddie Murphy) comes face to face with a psychotic killer. (BC)
(R; 101 min.) Bourgeois is beautiful in this tale of the road-not-taken, which stars Christian Bale as Chris, a 30-something family man living in a London suburb known as Metroland in the mid-'70sthe same sleepy neighborhood he grew up in. Chris begins to re-evaluate his lifestyle when old friend Toni (Lee Ross) comes back to town after years of absence. World-traveling, partying Toni scorns Chris' settled life and Chris begins to reminisce about his youthful ambitions and escapades, in particular his passionate affair with a beautiful woman in Paris during the late '60s. Based on a novel by Julian Barnes, Metroland covers little new territory in exploring "the meaning of life"or perhaps the lack thereofbut it is appealingly filmed and intelligently acted. Bale is quietly tortured as he wonders if that's all there is; Ross brings depth to a well-meaning bully and Emily Watson gives an especially understated, smart performance as Marion, Chris' sarcastic but sympathetic wife. (HZ)
(PG-13; 107 min.) All this very good anime has in common with Fritz Lang's classic is a cyclopean city and a female messiah who is also a robot weapon. In a subtitled (yeah!) animated version of the great Osamu Tezuka's 1949 manga, the city of the future has just completed an enormous ziggurat. This tower, uncomfortably similar to the biblical Tower of Babel, conceals a weapon that can short out the electrical grid of the world. The city's dictator, Duke Red, is planning to cement his leadership by passing on the crown of the city to a cyborg daughter he's cooking up in a forbidden laboratory. And all around him, the oppressed human and robot populations are at the brink of war. The duke's evil plans are thwarted by the typical Tezuka team: a blustering, bumbling old Japanese uncle with a walrus mustache and his schoolboy nephew. This adventure has a beautiful palette of colors, and whenever the plot gets thick, you can zone out over the startlingly good backgrounds. Tezuka's musing over the humanity of robots parallels Philip K. Dick's work across the Pacific. Children who grew up with Tezuka's cartoon Astro Boy were already apprised of the sensitive hearts of the metal breed. Metropolis thus not only has visual scope but is touchingthough it's not for young children. The only jarring note is the soundtrack. Someone overseas thought, "Neonoir, ergo vintage jazz," and went for Dixielandnot the right kind of music to accompany a riot in a robot ghetto. Plus, the final destruction of the ziggurat is accompanied by Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You." It's the wrong kind of pathos. (RvB)
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(1926) Fritz Lang's classic is arguably the most popular of all silent films today, specifically because it's about the future instead of the past. In this dystopian science fiction classican epic with thousands of actorsworkers are fed to machines while a leisure class lives like gods in the clouds. Brigitte Helm is unforgettable as a cyborg agent provocateur disguised as a latter-day Joan of Arc. Still-nimble octogenarian Bob Vaughn is at the keyboards of the Towne's Wurlitzer, celebrating the anniversary of the Towne Theater's silent film series. (RvB)
Michael Mann's sublime surfaces and delicious, deep-focus framing can very easily seduce the most discerning audience members, but even a cursory glance at his storytelling collapses this house of cards. Whereas he once set the trends, he now follows them. Based on the hit 1980s TV series (which Mann executive produced), Miami Vice cribs from virtually every undercover cop/drug-lord movie ever made. Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Rico Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) play at smuggling, while Crockett indulges in an awkward romance with the drug lord's second-in-command (Gong Li). Mostly, the characters gather in cool locations, look really serious and read expositional dialogue in a low murmur. On the plus side, the movie features arguably the most gorgeous cloud footage ever assembled. (JMA) (R; 146 min.) Ring, ring! Michael Mann: Hello? Don Johnson: Hey, old buddy, it's Don! MM: Don ... help me out here. DJ: Johnson! Don Johnson! MM: Oh. Look, you can't be in the movie, so don't even ask. DJ: What? C'mon, I AM Sonny Cricket! MM: Crockett, Don. The character's name is Crockett. DJ: Whatever! The point is, you don't know what it's been like having to wear socks for the last 16 years. I'm chafing here! MM: I'm sorry, there's just no way. DJ: So that's how you want to play it, huh? Well, for your information, I found Philip Michael Thomas living behind a mattress recycling center, and we're going to make our own Miami Vice movie! A friend of mine has one of those cell phones that takes pictures, and we're going to shoot it by my pool and put it up on YouTube! Then we'll see who's the movie guy who makes movies! I'll show you! I'll show the world! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Click. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(PG; 110 min.) John Travolta plays an angel in a new romantic comedy. Andie MacDowell and William Hurt co-star as the cynical tabloid journalists sent to investigate his appearance on Earth.
(PG-13; 102 min.) A well-built but derivative comedy. A meek art gallery auctioneer (Hugh Grant) discovers that his fiancée, Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn), is the niece of a ranking Mafioso and the daughter of a convicted felon (James Caan). As always, Grant is lightweight and inoffensiveand even funny when he's posing as the Kansas City mobster Mickey Blue Eyes, who has an accent halfway between Paul Muni's Scarface and Elmer Fudd. Mickey Blue Eyes is less cute, better-written and more tough-minded than Analyze This. Livening up the plot is a gag about psychotic paintings passed off as fine art (one of the pieces is titled "Die Piggy Piggy Die Die.") Unfortunately, the subplot about the crazy artist gets dropped before it could be built, and this is a film in major need of a subplot. Grant may have been compared to Cary Grant by critics in search of an easy parallel, but Hugh Grant doesn't know how to balance his seductive qualities with the screwball humor. You don't see how Michael might have been attracted by the ruthlessness of the Mafia. Nor do you see how the exoticness of Tripplehorn makes up for the threat of death from her dangerous relatives. (The big romantic scene between Grant and Tripplehorn features a toy stuffed animal; so much for exoticism. But then Tripplehorn may have been cast merely because her wide-apart eyes match Grant's.) (RvB)
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(G; 85 min.) A beautiful French documentary on insect and pond life, ranging from good-sized spiders to bugs so small that a raindrop literally knocks them for a loop. Microcosmos begins with a swooping shot, just like the one near the beginning of Blue Velvet, showing us the life teeming at the roots of the grass. With a very big lens, high-speed film and infinite patience, the filmmakers observe insects in their birth and death and copulation. (RvB)
(1939/1944) A broke and unaccompanied woman (Claudette Colbert) arrives in Paris, determined to net a rich husband; meanwhile, she's hired by a roué to lure away his wife's lover. The sophisticated comedy Midnight stars John Barrymore in his last good film and Don Ameche as a humble but unbowed cabbie. BILLED WITH The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, a bracing antidote to the excesses of WWII nostalgia, a cure for Saving Private Ryan-induced dyspepsia and one of the boldest comedies in the history of the movies. This is Preston Sturges' urbane yet anarchic farce about Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), a small-town maiden who confuses the stirrings of puberty with the pangs of patriotism. Inadvertently, she ends up drunk and impregnated and in search of a nominal husband. The man presents himself in the form of drippy, pining swain Eddie Bracken, the Steve Buscemi of his age. Now, the story is worthy of Fassbinder at his most aggrieved. And more than one woman I've known couldn't handle the comic slant on a tale that was deadly serious business once upon a time. Maybe it's callous, then, but The Miracle of Morgan's Creek demonstrates Mel Brooks' Law: "Tragedy is what happens to me; comedy is what happens to you." As I see it, the film is one of Sturges' best, a deathless satire demonstrating the writer/director's expert timing, sarcasm and verbal wit. Here can be seen a phenomenal combination of high and low comedy, and a sharp eye for the hidden talents of an actor (consider William Demarest's terrific bit as Trudy's boiling-mad father). It's brave enough that Sturges suggested that even a "Good War" stimulates home-front lust. It's perhaps even braver that he came up with a finale that not only draws parallels to the Nativity but also guffaws over the willingness of a public to drop moral objections when presented with a brilliant propaganda coup. Also stars Porter Hall as a lawyer who delivers a withering lecture on the horrors of marriage and family, Diana Lynn as Trudy's brainy sister and Akim Tamiroff and Brain Donlevy recreating their roles from Sturges' The Great McGinty. (RvB)
(1939/1932) Claudette Colbert plays a broke chorine who arrives in Paris determined to find a wealthy benefactor. A poor but honest cabby (Don Ameche) and a charming but corrupt Parisian (John Barrymore) contend for her heart. Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote the script for Mitchell Leisen's direction. BILLED WITH One Hour With You. Archrogue Maurice Chevalier, happily married to Jeanette MacDonald, tries to defend his chastity against the blandishments of Genevieve Tobin. It is a remake of Lubitsch's silent The Marriage Circle. (RvB)
(1969) A naive country boy (Jon Voight) hopes for success in New York only to find himself reduced to hustling. His only friend turns out to be a memorably scuzzy bum named Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The film was a scandal of sorts in its day, earning an X rating. (AR)
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(R; 120 min.) Kenneth Branagh's new film is the story of an actor, Joe Harper (Michael Maloney), torn between his god (Shakespeare) and Mammon. Offered a part in a lucrative movie, Harper decides instead to stage Hamlet. Maloney has a wild gaze like Gene Wilder in his prime but nothing really to fix that stare upon. Among the cast of has-beens are John Sessions as a cross-dressing Queen Gertrude; Julia Sawalha as an Ophelia with 20-400 vision; and Celia Imrie as an androgynous set designer named Fadge. The essence of comedy is surprise, but A Midwinter's Tale is a surprise-free movie, starting with its familiar premise that actors are a raunchy, selfish lot. Their rehabilitation into a troupe of crowd-pleasers, however, is a species of grim surprise. (RvB)
(PG-13; 106 min.) The Mighty is a generally stellar film for young adults, with some appeal for grown-ups. Based on Rodman Philbrick's novel Freak the Mighty, the movie explores the friendship of two 13-year-old misfits, physically imposing but painfully shy Max Kane (Elden Henson) and brilliant, outgoing Kevin Dillon (Kieran Culkin), whose body has withered with a degenerative disease. With the Arthurian legend as their inspiration, the pair not only find strength in their friendship to overcome the persecution of their peers, but pull off some good deeds for others as well. Some mist-filled fantasy sequences featuring Arthur and his knights, and a truly menacing villain for the boys to defeat, give the story plenty of depth, while the themes of friendship and acceptance make it a tale well worth telling. (HZ)
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Mira Sorvino as Linda, a hooker who transcends gold-heartedness into beatification, is the best part of this very weak and too-sweet Woody Allen comedy. The Allen surrogate has tracked Linda down, since she was the natural mother of his adopted son; drawn to her, he defies a Greek chorus warning of impending doom. A very hangdog Helena Bonham Carter co-stars as the wife. The scenes of courtship between Linda and Michael Rappaport (as a dumb boxer who wants to leave New York and go farm onions) are among the weakest in Allen's work, and a forced happy ending borders on an insult to the intelligence. (RvB)
By now, many parents may want to call them the Mighty Moneymaking Power Rangers. Nevertheless, these adolescent action-figure icons won't disappoint wee fans with their first feature film. There's no shortage of action with the movie's array of battle scenes between the Power Rangers and the henchmen of the unstoppable, evil Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman), as our teen heroes in vinyl fight to prevent Ooze from taking over the world. Just as grandiose as the villain's master plan is the overall look of the movie. Computer animation and special effects give Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie an over-the-top glitziness that works well for this kind of kids' film. (HZ)
(PG; 90 min.) Around the year 1000 in Tibet, the hero-saint known as Milarepa (Ginoyan Lodro) emerged. According to the stories he was a wealthy man disinherited by his relatives; through suffering, he was put on the path to enlightenment. Director Neten Chokling, working with Western producers, created this as the first half of Milarepa's story. It is much less rough-hewn than most of the films we have been seeing from this altitude (and it is at high altitude; filmed in the Spiti Valley, around 13,000 feet up in the topknot of India). Digital special effects are brought in to demonstrate Milarepa's magic power, such as levitating rocks, raising thunderstorms and conjuring demons out of smoke and glowing sand. In the back of the Westerner's mind are the pop figures who scaled the Himalayas to find revenge, like the Shadow and Batman in the Christopher Nolan version. But unlike the everyday revenge tale, the object lesson is clear and strictly Buddhist: Turning divine powers against "frail flowers"—mortal human beings—just magnifies the power of suffering. The film is far smarter than The Brave One, in short, though occasionally amateur acting fights it out with incomparable local color. (RvB)
(1945/1947) Joan Crawford won the Oscar for this perfect definition of the woman's picture: a movie in which none of the men under age 60 are really worth a dime. Here, Crawford found an opus completely suited for her brittle nerves, her ambient hostility and quivering need for love. It's a wheel worthy of Crawford's sternly padded shoulder. James M. Cain's novel is the source for this tale that, coincidentally, is just as relentlessly overproduced as the MGM film version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Mildred (Crawford) is abandoned by her cheating husband (Bruce Bennett) and sexually harassed by his former partner, Wally Fay (Jack Carson, TV yukster and the guy who played the little-no-neck-monster breeder Gooper in the Elizabeth Taylor/Paul Newman version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Rebounding, as only Crawford could, Mildred gets freshly entangled with a snazzy heel from old-money Pasadena (Zachary Scott). Despite these men, she becomes a famous restaurateur, starting a string of drive-in restaurants closely based on the long-gone L.A. chain Dolores'. Mildred's triumph as a businesswoman is undone by her daughter (Ann Blyth), a conceited young maiden with a Costco-sized ego. The stain spreads, and eventually Crawford is forced to stuff a revolver into the pocket of her mink coat and go clean it up. BILLED WITH The Unsuspected. Claude Rains stars as a radio mystery-theater host deluded into thinking that a man with his experience can commit a murder and get away with it. It doesn't happen that way. Michael Curtiz directs. (RvB)
(1990) The Coen Brothers' stylized noir take on a gangster movie in which a crime-boss (Albert Finney) and his henchman (Gabriel Byrne) woo the same woman (Marcia Gay Harden); meanwhile the boss grapples with whether to rub out her troublemaker brother (John Turturro).
(1986/1987) Local premiere of a Sammo Hung film modeled on Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express. Hung and Yuen Biao co-star. BILLED WITH Eastern Condors. An American arms dump left over from the Vietnam War is about to be seized by villains, so some commandos fly in to get their hands on it first. Bits of The Dirty Dozen and The Deer Hunter adorn this psychotronic action picture, complete with that element most necessary for a bizarre film: a token slumming Oscar winner, in this case the ill-fated character actor Dr. Haing S. Ngor. Directed by chubby dynamo Hung, soon to be famous on TV as the opening act for Walker, Texas Ranger. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 134 min.) Clint Eastwood is at his most assured when he has a propulsive script without too many treacherous subtleties. In plain, Eastwood isn't out of his depth in Million Dollar Baby, even if he hasn't changed his same old shallow ideas. The director honors the supposed cleanliness of violence, probing the cuts and sucker-punching the audience with a chunk of emotion. The Million Dollar Baby of the title is a female palooka named Maggie (Hilary Swank) who seeks training from a reluctant manager, Frank Dunn (Eastwood). Frank refuses to get Maggie started on the grounds that he won't train girlsand at 31, she's too old to start. Though Maggie eventually becomes a big-money fighter, Dunn's fears of disaster turn out to be right. Swank's simple, tough girl has authentic dignity, and there probably isn't a film that couldn't be smoothed by Morgan Freeman's honorable old voice narrating it. But some episodes with Dunn's priest and Maggie's contemptuous hillbilly family are embarrassingly directed. How much admiration Million Dollar Baby deserves depends on how much you can submit yourself to the tunnel vision of the coachas well as to the legend of Eastwood, as he'd love to see himself: an unquestioned old man, who has by his side a woman that knows enough not to question himwho always calls him "Boss." (RvB)
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(PG; 97 min.) More proof that it is the well-intentioned films that really are the hardest to watch. In the north of England, a freckle-faced motherless little boy, Damian (Alex Etel), converses with his imaginary friends, the saints. One afternoon, a Nike gym bag full of pound notes falls off a train, crashing like a meteor into the boy's cardboard playhouse. When Dorothy (the irritatingly brisk Daisy Donovan), a charity worker, receives a small bankroll from Damian, she alerts his father. But soon the thief (Christopher Fullford) who stole the money arrives. After 28 Days Later, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, director Danny Boyle proved himself the most sanguinary moviemaker north of London, and this kid's-movie script hasn't completely purged him of his customary tang. Boyle is collaborating with Francis Cottrell Boyce in a clumsy effort to induce a spirit of charity into the children of the audience. Millions isn't poor in spirit, just poor in plot. The running joke about saints who turn up to give Damian a little advice is ultimately more distressing than the ceiling baby in Trainspotting. (RvB)
(R; 102 min.) Mexican horror-film phenom Guillermo del Toro lets loose the mystery bug in the Cronos device from his debut film, and the result is a horde of man-sized, man-eating roach-mantis mutantseven the sight of F. Murray Abraham's pock marks can't stop them. Mira Sorvino plays an impossibly young entomologist (she must have earned her Ph.D. before she was old enough to drive) who has been fooling with Mother Nature (when will science ever learn?). For her penance, she must descend to the lowest rungs of subway hell beneath the streets of New York to wipe out the carapaced horrors she helped create, while Josh Brolin, Jeremy Northam, Charles S. Dutton and Giancarlo Giannini provide the necessary bug meat. Del Toro gives the familiar monster-movie tropes a thick patina of visual and aural panache (the subterranean sequences reek claustrophobia, the opening credits are the best since Seven and ominous clicking noises throughout the film echo the beasts' leg-scraping attack cry) and effectively parcels out the shocks for maximum frights. The goo factor is right off the meter, especially when the forces of good start smearing roach slime all over themselves to mask their human odor. At this point, an empty popcorn box will come in very handy. (MSG)
(R, 105 min.) Eight hopeful FBI profilers arrive on a secluded island to complete a weekend of training. Unfortunately, a real killer is in their midst and begins picking them off one by one. Unlike most music video-trained wannabes, veteran pop-junk director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) brings in a crisp, unpretentious flick. A decent, likeable "B"-list castincluding Christian Slater, Val Kilmer, Patricia Velasquez, Kathryn Morris, Jonny Lee Miller and LL Cool Jflesh out the rest. But Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin's screenplay delivers characters so aggravatingly stupid that it is unlikely that they have ever even seen an FBI movie, much less actually gone through the training. Their every brain-dead move is designed to cover up the implausible story's beehive of inconsistencies. (JMA)
(1944/1930) A bracing antidote to the excesses of WWII nostalgia, a cure for Saving Private Ryan-induced dyspepsia and one of the boldest comedies in the history of the movies. Such is Preston Sturges' urbane yet anarchic farce about Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), a small-town maiden who confuses the stirrings of puberty with the pangs of patriotism. Inadvertently, she ends up drunk and impregnated and in search of a nominal husband. The man presents himself: the drippy, pining Eddie Bracken, the Steve Buscemi of his age. The film is one of Sturges' best, a deathless satire demonstrating the writer/director's expert timing, sarcasm and verbal wit. Here can be seen a phenomenal combination of high and low comedy. It's brave enough that Sturges suggested that even a "Good War" stimulates home-front lust. It's perhaps even braver that he came up with a finale that draws parallels to the Nativity; it also guffaws over the willingness of the public to drop moral objections, when presented with a brilliant propaganda coup. BILLED WITH Animal Crackers. Early in the game for the Marx Brothers, and it looks it, with a camera nailed to the floor and indifferent sound qualities. But essentially nothing could tarnish this. It's a tale of a Long Island weekend gone haywire because of an art theftthe suspects include a dubious Italian; a mute, blond-wigged incarnation of the great god Pan; and a sponging African explorer always on the hunt for big game: this weekend his sights are set on a wildebeest-sized dowager, Margaret Dumont. (Plays Feb 11-13 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1943/1929) A bracing antidote to the excesses of World War II nostalgia, a cure for Greatest Generation-induced dyspepsia and one of the boldest comedies of classic-era Hollywood. Such is Preston Sturges' tale of Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), a small-town maiden who confuses the stirrings of puberty with the pangs of patriotism. She gets drunk and impregnated, and must search for a nominal husband. Just the man presents himself in the form of a drippy, pining Steve Buscemi type, played by Eddie Bracken. It's brave enough that Sturges suggested that even a Good War stimulates home-front lust. It's perhaps even braver that Sturges came up with a finale that draws parallels to the Nativity and follows that by mocking the willingness of a public to drop moral objections, if presented with a brilliant propaganda coup. Sturges' usual gang is in full flower here: William Demerestan ex-World War I vet, just as he presents himselfis unforgettable as a bilious town cop; Al Bridge, with the greatest Brooklyn accent of all time; Al Bridge as a lawyer who delivers a withering lecture on the horrors of marriage and family; and Diana Lynn as Trudy's brainy but bratty sister. Akim Tamiroff and Brian Donlevy re-create their roles from Sturges' The Great McGinty. BILLED WITH The Cocoanuts. A peppy Irving Berlin fox trot introduces the screen debut of a motley band of brothers: double-talking Florida realtor Groucho; mute lecher Harpo; conniving ethnic Chico and varsity schmuck Zeppo. Groucho dazzles and baffles, as necessary, with various viaduct-building schemes. ("Do you realize that property values have gone up 1929 since 1,000 percent?"). Due to the primitive acoustics of the sound film, the cast has to stand and speechify. Yet speeches like Groucho's verbal nosegays to the well-upholstered widow Margaret Dumont are speeches certainly worth crossing town to hear. (RvB)
(1962) Patty Duke made a name for herself as the young Helen Keller; Anne Bancroft matched her scene for scene in the part of Annie Sullivan, the dedicated teacher who helped Keller discover the world. Directed by Arthur Penn. (AR)
(PG-13; 126 min.) This could have been a provocatively introspective picture for Barbra Streisand had The Mirror Has Two Faces not become so mired in clichés. With a theme firmly entrenched between "beauty is skin deep" and "love conquers all," the characters are so stereotypical that the film is guilty of exactly what it criticizespretty sentiments and scenery with very little depth. Streisand is a supposedly plain-Jane literature professor with a hang-up about her looks thanks to her glamorous and vainglorious mother (Lauren Bacall) and sister (Mimi Rogers); Jeff Bridges is a math professor who is so nerdy that the mere thought of sex makes his knees buckle (it's surprising he doesn't try to use pocket protectors in place of condoms). Streisand and Bridges strike up a loving but platonic relationship, with Bridges seeking a transcendentmeaning sexless"courtly love" that he heard Streisand describe during a ludicrously staged class lecture. Ironically, for a film starring a well-known singer, the soundtrack alone is almost enough to sink the whole thing, chiefly because of the recurring, chirpy "Love Theme" composed by Streisand that makes you suspect that any moment our "homely" but lovable heroine will start mugging it up again as Fanny Brice. (HZ)
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(PG; 101 min.) Any movie that opens with sock puppets can't be all bad. And MirrorMask, which does, certainly isn't. A vivid match-up of the endless imagination of scripter Neil Gaiman with the reliable imagination-delivery infrastructure of Jim Henson Productions, this movie is never short on weird ideas that look very, very cool. That the plot turns around the black-and-white duality of ink drawings and the untapped magic of books is further proof that this is a dream project for fans of Gaiman's work (hey, after the sheer torment he went through over the never-realized Sandman movie—"It's in development hell and may it rot there," he once said—his fans should be happy he still has the wherewithal to deliver any movie). Throw in some Monty Python humor and another of the Alice-in-Wonderland fever dreams that are the constant refuge of challenging artists working in a formulaic young-adult genre, and it's game on. But at the risk of requiring a spoiler warning, what the hell is this movie trying to say? That it's best for girls to hide away in pre-adolescence rather than give one's self over to the "dark side" of dressing in black and kissing boys? I would consider that lame even in the cheesiest kids' movie, but coming from Gaiman it's downright unsettling. (SP)
(PG-13; 110 min.) An FBI agent goes undercover to find a maniac who is threatening the Miss USA contest. Star and producer Sandra Bullock is a type the movies don't give us, ever since Barbra Streisand became a monument: a bratty, quick, self-deprecating New York girl with a sharp sense of humor. But this sloppy comedy (directed by Daniel Petrie) is aimless. Bullock grossly overdoes frumpiness; she's as lost and as irritating as any other sleek light comedian plunged into slapstick. No relief from Benjamin Bratt as the male love interest; Bratt's apparent conviction that he is an Aztec God gets mighty wearisome (Antonio Banderas could have shown him how to play this kind of partmachismo blowing a gasket.) However, Michael Caine, as a beauty contest consultant, has the best lineswatching Bullock galumph down the street, he grumbles "I haven't seen a walk like that since Jurassic Park." Also starring William Shatner, who is infinitely more funny when he's trying to be serious. The last half hour is the best; the product placement for Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's gives way to Bullock's tips on self-defense, which as she says, every girl should know. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 115 min.) Finally, a sequel to provide some closure on all the questions left unanswered by Miss Congeniality! Like: Will Sandra Bullock trip clumsily but cheekily yet again? And, most importantly: Who's the cutest snoogums in the movies? Who's the cutest snoogum woogums? Is it you, Sandra? Is it you? Oh, yes it is! Oh, yes it is! Note the pink Bullock outfit in the poster and the "cute" subtitle, all oh-so-unsubtly indicating the producers are hoping to turn this into a franchise a la Legally Blonde. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(PG-13; 111 min.) The Impossible Mission Force is ratted out during a routine mission, and agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must find the betrayer. If you could harness the power of Cruise's self-regard, you could run the lights of Los Angeles. Fortunately, Brian De Palma's direction saves the day. The subtext-free TV show is darkened: the trickery backfires on the spooks, and loyalties are as easily donned and removed as the rubber masks that fooled so many spies and dictators in the past. It is a kinetic, thrilling adventure, but the incidental dialogue clunks like a dropped wrench during a hushed burglary. (RvB)
(PG; 123 min.) During the first mission to Mars in 2020, three of the four astronauts are killed by a supernatural tornado. A rescue mission is sent after them to learn why they died. From the opening hug-fest of astronauts to the weepy finaleeven the alien is cryingthis is an outer-space epic that plays heavily to the emotions. The film's theme is sacrifice. Certainly, director Brian De Palma has a knack for suicide scenes, as could be seen in the finale of Snake Eyes. Don Cheadle is solid playing a Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and Tim Robbins is also touching as the kind of astronaut that could be put on the cover of Life magazine. De Palma uses the camera weightlessly in scenes of artificial gravity in a space station. The problem: the plot is iron-poor, thieving ideas from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Abyss. Dull, apparently digitally simulated dialogue explains everything before you see it, and when you do see it, the computer graphics are no surprise. Mission to Mars is as square and humorless as its title. Yet since what passes for humor in the average space epic is fit for 6-year-olds, the earnestness is unique. It's startling to have tears jerked in the midst of a small fortune in computer graphics, and Ennio Morricone's huge score seems worthy of the outer-space scenes, the best in the picture. (RvB)
(PG; 92 min.) Miss Potter tells the staid story of the young author (Renée Zellweger). In 1902, Potter chafes under parental authority as she avoids an arranged marriage. The focus of her life is in her art. Finally, she meets the similarly patronized Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor). As Warne's sister, Millie, Emily Watson brings more presence than the star. Simper queen that she is, Zellweger relies on her familiar wry twist of the mouth: the scrunching gesture of a woman constantly biting into that too-sour dill pickle that is our lives. (RvB)
(R; 127 min.) Writer/director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) returns to Stephen King territory with drastically different results. A creepy, mysterious mist and the unseen, dangerous beasties that lurk therein traps several dozen people inside a New England grocery store. With a nod to George A. Romero, the natural leaders emerge, namely a local artist and father (Thomas Jane) and a nerdy, but wise clerk (Toby Jones). But an abrasive religious zealot (Marcia Gay Harden) begins forming her own hierarchy. The film isn't particularly chilling (it eventually explains the creatures' origin), but The Mist provides food for thought with its downright vicious assertion that humans are equally as monstrous as anything supernatural. Darabont gives the material lots of breathing room, though sometimes overexplains his subtexts. (JMA)