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(1990) Spike Lee's study of a driven musician (Denzel Washington).
The Rio Theater reminds viewers that they don't make 'em like they used to. This week-long retrospective of modern classics begins with Ridley Scott's dystopian noir, Blade Runner (1982; screens Thursday), starring Harrison Ford as a detective on the trail of dangerous replicants in the near future. Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) plays Friday-Saturday, followed by his 1987 look at the Vietnam War, Full Metal Jacket (Sunday-Monday). Bonnie and Clyde, Arthur Penn's 1967 blood bath, plays Tuesday-Wednesday.
(1994; 76 min./1997; 73 min.) Jon Moritsugu appearance: two by the comedic 16mm underground filmmaker. In 1997's Mod Fuck Explosion, Desi Del Valle (Costa Brava, et al) and angry Amy Davis play in a star-crossed romance complicated by incest and gang warfare. Victor of Aquitaine co-stars; music by Unrest, Dixieland and Barbara Manning & the SF Seals. Also: Fame Whore, a tender story of fame and the people who rip each other's throats out to get it. The characters include a world-famous tennis player, outed to his intense chagrin, and a man whose best friend is a talking imaginary St. Bernard. (RvB)
(R; 94 min.) Three disaffected youths (Claire Danes, Omar Epps and Giovanni Ribisi) are forced to work as undercover cops to avoid prison. The soundtrack's blaring trumpets and wacka-wacka guitar shout in no uncertain terms that this movie is "in"inept, inane, incomprehensible (which is a poor joke, but at least you haven't wasted money on it). The movie has one outstandingly weird scene, howevera nudge-nudge-wink-wink segment about the mobster boss (Michael Lerner) and a trio of fake-out Hansons that is sick enough to be interesting. (BC)
(PG-13; 123 min.) An extremely loose adaptation of the 1722 Daniel Defoe novel. I haven't read itneither have you (did you know it's set in colonial America?), but you can probably suppose there wasn't a scene in the novel in which the heroine laments of how she has kissed so many frogs, hoping that one was a prince. Our titular heroine (Robin Wright) progresses from a prostitute to a noble woman, a wife and a mother, thanks to marriage to a temperamental but soulful painter. Moll Flanders takes place in an age of great conversations, but you'd never know it from watching this. Luckily, the film is not a total loss. Stockard Channing is purringly wicked , as a cruel madam, and the production values are so plush that they may overwhelm the undemanding. Moll Flanders also has its share of unintentionally funny moments. There's nothing quite so risible as a grand old theatrical part with an inept actress in it, and Wright is roundly inept, dancing around in the fountain to show happiness, praying on camera (as well she might) and charging with 20th-century grit over the top into the machine-gun fire of her misfortunes. (RvB)
(1950) Dialect comedy star Gertrude Berg played Molly Goldberg on radio and TV from the 1930s to 1954; she was a Bronx yenta, with two lovely children, prone to gossip. (Behind the scenes, though, tragedy lurked, as the McCarthy era witchhunt made a fatality out of Philip Loeb, who played the father of the family.) In this feature film spinoff, Molly receives a gentleman caller: an old flame who is now wealthy. (RvB)
(PG-13; 117 min.) Forget the title's smile, where is Julia Roberts' grin? In this distaff Dead Poets Society, she plays a too easily repressible free spirit: a bohemian art history professor arriving at a snooty women's college during the frigid '50s. She's rebuffed by a phalanx of students on the mommy track, led by an unlikable Kirsten Dunst. The confused script almost says something about women coerced from World War II factories into '50s model homes, but its dramatic edges are beveled into a dull drama enlivened by the likes of Marcia Gay Harden as a spinsterish comportment professor. A splendid cast of actresses make the most of their underwritten roles, but the script's contradictory view of women's work and family is as inscrutable as the Mona Lisa's smile. (DH)
(R; 92 min.) Even the rapid-fire witticisms of comic star Chris Tucker can't stop Money Talks from being anything more than standard action fare. But the typical implausibilitiesfor example, that the police (yes, even in L.A.) would mistakenly suspect a smalltime ticket scalper (Tucker) of a bloody, commando-style prison break featuring explosives and a getaway helicopterusual car chases and familiar stuffed-shirt buddy/partner (Charlie Sheen) who proves himself in the end aren't necessarily stumbling blocks. Money Talks pulls off these stock devices well enough to recommend it as decently entertaining matinee fare. (HZ)
(R; 103 min.) Two New York City transit cops (Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson) bumble their way into a scheme to rob a subway car full of dough. But they aren't just partners, they're also brothers-foster brothers, 'cause one's white and one's black, geddit? Robert Blake, as their ridiculously peevish supervisor, pouts around like he hasn't pooped in weeks, the action is all lumped at one end, and the dialog was maybe lifted from a comic book. This is a subway train of a movie: noisy, obnoxious, predictable and stinky. (BC)
(1952/1942) Professor Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) has a lab chimp that invents a serum of youth; when the ape prankishly doses the water cooler with it, everyone in the lab (including crusty old Charles Coburn) starts behaving like a child. The script is by three of the most celebrated writers in HollywoodI.A.L. Diamond, Charles Lederer and Ben Hechtwith Howard Hawks directing. Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe co-star. BILLED WITH The Major and the Minor. Disguised as a youth to try to get the half-fare railroad ticket, Ginger Rogers meets returning soldier Ray Milland, who finds himself getting some unsettling ideas about the erstwhile youth. (RvB)
(1946/1947) A semicomic remake of the Valentino epicderived from Booth Tarkington's novelwith a periwigged Bob Hope as a barber in the court of Louis XV (Reginald Owen plays the monarch). The haircutter insults a nobleman and is sentenced to the guillotine. Reprieved, he's sent on a secret mission to Spain, but that means certain death if he's discovered. Joan Caulfield and Joseph Schildkraut co-star. BILLED WITH My Favorite Brunette. On his way to a date with the gas chamber, a San Francisco baby photographer with delusions of being a private detective (Bob Hope) finds out the governor has refused his reprieve ("I know who to vote for next time!"). This parody of film noir, shot at Carmel and Pebble Beach, has a slow middle section. Still, it boasts an amusing femme fatale (Dorothy Lamour), Peter Lorre as a knife thrower and Lon Chaney Jr. as a muscleman who can crack walnuts in the crook of his arm (Chaney spoofs his famous role as George in Of Mice and Men). The hard-boiled dialogue is cooked to perfection: "I had a lump on my head the size of my head ... inside it; Toscanini was conducting The Anvil Chorus using real blacksmiths." (RvB)
(Unrated; 110 Min.) Riotous wrong-identity comedy about a mild-mannered shoplifter named Loris (Roberto Benigni) mistaken for a serial killer. Loris is a cinematic essay on smothered lust, studied covertly by the police psychiatrist (Michel Blanc) and ineptly taunted into crime by a police woman (Nicoletta Braschi). Benigni's movie persona goes far beyond that peculiar infantilism coated with self-satisfaction that characterizes Jerry Lewis and his devotees (most lately Jim Carrey). The Italian comic is best described as having taste where it counts; the movie doesn't traffic in gore. At the same time, Benigni is a wonderfully raunchy physical comedian. (RvB)
(PG; 91 min.) Halloween, about 25 years ago: in a small Middle American town, a haunted house goes off its rocker. In this computer-animated horror story, the phrase "may be too intense for small children" comes to mind—when the rotting planks gape like gnashing, snaggled teeth, when the house going ambulatory on a pair of twisted oaks. But if it's not for kids, who is it for? The answer is that it tries to serve the aging-children market through nostalgia: a minor Siouxsie and the Banshees tract is on the end titles. There's studious nostalgia for antique computer games; the look isn't the superrealistic animation of Polar Express, but rather a big head, tiny body Rankin-Bass look; the hero DJ (Mitchel Musso) looks like he was derived from that stop-motion Christmas special where Fred Astaire played a mailman. It has a punk-rock baby sitter with a boyfriend who looks like a gargoyle version of Tom Petty, and a Goonies-ish sidekick (Chowder, a geeky pudge who wears a cape around his neck). The cartoon's best moment is the flashback explaining the curse; that's when it stops being a Steven Spielberg thrill ride and something more like one of Tim Burton's odes to his demented youth. The vocal talents are of a high level—Steve Buscemi as cracked geezer, Maggie Gyllenhaal as the baby sitter and Fred Willard as the square dad. It's not all bad, but it seems untimely; Monster House's appearance in theaters now seems meant as a warm-up for the Halloween DVD release. (RvB)
(PG; 102 min) The recent Jane Fonda visitation at the Rio and the run of early Fonda features at the Del Mar no doubt put many in the mood for her film comeback. So what if it's a romantic-comedy vehicle for J.Lo? (By the way, who cares if she hates that nicknameshe deserves it. Even better, I suggest the entire country agree to refer to both her and Ben Affleck as "Bennifer" in perpetuity.) Bring on the next chapter in Fonda's life so far: scenery chewing. (Capsule preview by SP)
(G; 84 min.) Set in a bizarro world populated entirely by monsters, the spiffy new Disney/Pixar workplace satire Monsters, Inc. centers on inner company turmoil at the title corporation, which is in the business of scaring human kids out of their beds at night. The film's clever sight gags range from the snail-like janitor who keeps mopping up after his own trail of slime to the Saul Bass-style logo for the monsters' sushi hangout Harryhausen's (named after the creature effects legend, whose sensitive Troglodyte in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was perhaps an inspiration for the film's John Goodman-voiced hero Sulley). How did Disney let this monster out of the closet? Somehow, the makers of Monsters, Inc. were able to sneak some anti-corporate-crime satire into their film when the Disney corporate bigwigs weren't looking. Or maybe Disney is more willing these days to laugh at its own megalomaniacal tendencies. Whatever the case, Monsters, Inc. is yet another irreverent and inventive feature from Pixar and another example of why the Bay Area computer animation studio may be the best thing that ever happened to Disney cartoons. (JA)
(1930/1931) Ernst Lubitsch's early musical with Jack Buchanan as a count posing as a hairdresser and Jeanette MacDonald as a countess he courts. BILLED WITH The Smiling Lieutenant, with Maurice Chevalier as a guardsman ordered to marry a drab princess. Also stars Miriam Hopkins and Claudette Colbert. (RvB)
Full text review.
Beautiful views of Italy's Lake Como dominate this wispy tale of a sort-of love triangle between a peppery old major (Edward Fox), a middle-aged photographer (Vanessa Redgrave) and an impulsive and often cruel nanny (Uma Thurman). It must be the ex-war correspondent in director John Irvin that makes him overshadow this swatch of gossamer with news of the upcoming WWII. Fox, never a romantic lead even in his prime, overplays the major past comic temper into caricature. Even by the generous standards of a swans-and-servants movie, A Month by the Lake seems ephemeral: better than a coffee-table book only in that you can't spill coffee on it. (RvB)
(1975/1979) A Monty Python double bill that should serve as a distinct corrective to filmgoers inclinded to take Kingdom of Heaven and The Passion of the Christ too seriously. (Opens Fri in Campbell at Camera 7.)
(1983) With this last movie, the Pythons split apart; rivalries within the gang made it their riskiest and angriest movie. This film might be called the last gasp of furious 1970s satire, which succumbed in favor of the skit-bound, power-elite-comforting comedy epitomized by Saturday Night Live in its last 20 years of decline. That kind of comedy, in other words, in which the funniest imaginable concept is a fashion victim: someone who hung onto a style, a haircut, a type of music or a trend too long and didn't get with the ever-changing program. Repeat the formula for decades and decades; you'll make a mint, and no one will ever tire of it. ("Tom Arnold III is 'The Guy Who Rides a Pocket Bike and Listens to the Hives!' 2017's funniest laff-hit download!") The Meaning of Life, however, gets more to the core of meaningless lives, nasty, brutish and short. Incidents include death by salmonella, death by high explosives, death by overeating involuntary liver donation, attacks by tigers and the English public school system. Finally, a beautiful song for ugly people, by a pink-tuxedoed Eric Idle about the inadvisability of finding hope on Earth. (RvB)
(R; 104 min.) Such a glittery title seems a sure promise of unsurpassed romance, but the issues in this film are a bit closer to real life than the world's favorite weepy-eyed lover. Based on an autobiographical play by Ellen Simon (Neil Simon's daughter), the film portrays how a woman, Rebecca Lott (Elizabeth Perkins), with the help of family and friends, copes after the sudden death of her husband. Supporting Rebecca as she adjusts to being "the W-word"as she describes widowhoodis her neurotic best friend, Sylvie (Whoopi Goldberg), her artistically angst-ridden young sister, Lucy (Gwyneth Paltrow), and her stilted but ultimately loving stepmother, Alberta (Kathleen Turner). Simon's witty and moving work affectionately explores women's roles and their relationships with each other and the overall exemplary performances by this strong cast offer portrayals of "real" women that we've all met before, but haven't seen very much of onscreen. (HZ)
(PG-13; 112 min.) Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon struggle to come to terms with the death of their daughterand the troubling presence of the daughter's boyfriend (Jake Gyllenhaal).
(1941) A trio of Texas girls (including Betty Grable and Carole Landis) head for Florida to meet millionaires but encounter the likes of Don Ameche and Robert Cummings instead. Includes the song "You Started Something." (RvB)
(1941/1952) A trio of Texas girls (including Betty Grable and Carole Landis) head for Florida to meet millionaires but encounter the likes of Don Ameche and Robert Cummings instead. Includes the song "You Started Something." BILLED WITH Singin' in the Rain. This beloved musical based on the difficulties of the transition from silent to sound films is everything a musical should be, really: one great rapturous number based on what was then an old tune, with Gene Kelly's remarkable water dance, a city wiseacre's point of view and some fascinating young women: Cyd Charisse and Debbie Reynolds, still wet behind the ears (and not because of the artificial rainstorm, either). (RvB)
(1987) In Brooklyn Heights, a young Italian widow (Cher) falls in love with precisely the wrong manthe maimed brother of her new fiance. Nicolas Cage made his first big impression as the young baker and became one of the most consistently fascinating movie actors of the subsequent 10 years (Vampire's Kiss, Raising Arizona and the like). Unfortunately, big-budget scripts swept him up. Here he is again, young, handsome and never as dangerous as he thought he was, adding a bass growl to this sometimes sugared romance. (RvB)
(1943/1935) Two comedies starring the irreplaceable Jean Arthur. The More the Merrier is George Stevens' comedy about the wartime housing shortage in Washington, D.C., starring Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn. BILLED WITH The Whole Town's Talking, a lesser-known John Ford comedy in which Edward G. Robinson plays dual roles: harmless Arthur Jones and armed and dangerous "Killer" Mannion. (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) If this were the San Francisco Chronicle, the "Little Man" would be sawing logs with a beard like Rip Van Winkle's. Director John R. Leonetti's Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is possibly the worst sequel ever. The simplistic plotif you can call it thatis this: bad guys try to take over the universe; good guys fight to save it. The video game is more exciting. This movie is full of gravitationally incorrect acrobatic martial arts that are more like gymnastics than fighting. The primitive computerized special effects will remind you of Clash of the Titans more than Starship Troopers, and Leonetti uses crazy camera angles to hide the inconsistencies. The actors deliver the poorly written dialogue with zero pizzazz, emoting affected boredom throughout. Overall, this so-called action movie completely lacks punch, kick and everything else. The best scene is when two female warriors battle in the mud. Had I not been reviewing this movie, I would have cut my losses and walked out after the first 15 minutes. (SQ)
(R; 99 min.) Most Awful is more like it. Keenen Ivory Wayans stars as an ex-Marine sniper framed for the murder of the first lady. It's a moron's delight of ponderous one-liners (Wayans can't act worth a damn), fist fights, car crashes and slow-motion explosions. It has one redeeming quality: Jon Voight as a sociopathic general, seething with all the petty sadism of a school-yard bully shaking kids down for milk money. (BC)
(R; 113 min.) The main character in the screen adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, Howard W. Campbell Jr. (Nick Nolte), is a playwright turned Nazi propagandist. Looking back at the work he did before the war, Campbell notes his plays were "as political as chocolate eclairs"a judgment that could sum up not only the politics but the substance of Vonnegut's own work. Keith Gordon, the reliable director who made The Chocolate War and A Midnight Clear, had the taste to tackle this project without changing the ending; still, the film is didactic to a fault, pushing a lesson about the importance of shunning Nazism, which most of the audience is not going to need. (RvB)
(1997) Video documentary about the many faces of the mother-daughter relationship through interviews with diverse and multicultural groups of women and girls. Produced and directed by Santa Cruz's Marigold Fine and May Wolff, LCSW. (RvB)
(PG-13; 119 min.) A sometimes inspired but more often ridiculous supernatural tale of a grieving Washington Post reporter (Richard Gere) who mysteriously arrives in an Ohio River Valley town in West Virginia, where the locals are being disturbedby what?: a harbinger of death, most often described as a red-eyed, 7-foot-tall Mothman (perhaps the Bat Boy of Weekly World News fame?). This creature likes to make late-night prank calls and oblique predictions of doom. As a local police officer, Laura Linney is the soul of poised acting, forgoing even the usual heavy accent performers use when playing a Southerner. Alan Bates is delightful as a deranged parapsychologist who suggests that the Mothman is a beast "immortally trapped in the hellish death realms." Still, director Mark Pellington blows a potential Sixth Sense mood with carelessness toward his performers. You can never really tell what sort of relationship Linney and Gere have. Pellington uses blue filters to freeze off the audience's butts and toasts the images with every computerized trick in the software manual (you could call this Photoshop: The Movie). If this flops at the box office, it may be another example of the failure of second sight. It's based on a true story, and I am the Queen of Romania. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 128 min.) Director Walter Salles gets almost everything right in his movie about the young Che Guevara. The Motorcycle Diaries is both a buddy movie and a glorious road picture. Ernesto Guevara (the devilishly handsome Gael García Bernal) goes on long ramble around the length of South America with Alberto Granada (Rodrigo De la Serna). Together, this modern Quixote and Sancho Panza leave their comfortable lives in Peron's Argentina. On the way, Ernesto runs up against the reality of how brutally the haves and have-nots are divided in South America. The only time The Motorcycle Diaries gets too saintly is in the ending, when Che is lounging at a leper colony. Salles repeats his points he's made one too many times; and it's a tribute to Bernal's charisma that the leper-hugging never seems emetic. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) A diabolical mouse torments a pair of dopes (Nathan Lane and Lee Evans). This is a truly peculiar film, drenched in ladles of Tim Burton sauce. The script is by Adam Rifkin, director of the cult item The Dark Backwards, and it looks like a Rifkin movieit's set in a parallel-universe '30s "Delaware," in a decrepit string factory and a dank, moldering Victorian pile of a house. Just as in The Dark Backwards, the remarkably strange look is just a stunt, some innovative visuals over the kind of slapstick you can see coming and see going for a mile in both directions. Still, the late William Hickey, who looked like he was on death's door for nearly 20 years, has a lovely, bright-eyed death scenelooking weirdly vigorous in it, too, the way they say some people die. Lane and Evans (Funny Bones) are often very funny. The script, though thematically similar to an "Itchy and Scratchy" episode, has a punch line. The mouse is too cute to live, but he does. The direction is by first-timer Gore Verbinski, who sicced the Budweiser frogs on us. One devastating moment: the mouse goes for a snooze in his sweet little bed and is shocked out of his slumber by a pneumatic nail gun. The contrast of the mouse-size bedroom and what, to our perspective, is a human-sized danger, makes for one of the most outstanding moments of horror in the year. (RvB)
Short films on the subject of the Bay Area homeless crisis.
(1932/1945) Harold Lloyd plays a Kansas boy who comes to Hollywood in the early days of sound. BILLED WITH The Road to Utopia. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby contend for Dorothy Lamour as the three search for gold in the Klondike. Robert Benchley narrates the tale; the film debuted the song "Personality." (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 120 min.) This is one of those films where you go, "OK, this has to be a remake of something," but according to the studio, this film about two spies who are married is in no wayand apparently they can't stress this enoughrelated to the '90s TV show about two spies who pretend to be married. Hey, can you blame them for not wanting to hitch their wagon to a failed Scott Bakula vehicle? Anyhoo, while the premise for this movie is as vapid as any by-the-numbers Hollywood action film (this couple is supposedly in love, but spend the entire movie having great fun trying to kill each other), director Doug Liman has not made a bad film yet, and the smart money says he's not about to start with this one. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG; 86 min.) Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis' amusing 1990 TV series Mr. Bean reversed Atkinson's snide, loquacious Blackadder character and turned him into a nearly speechless buffoon, a distant cousin to Chaplin's Tramp or Tati's Mr. Hulot. The 1997 Bean stretched his brief vignettes into a thin, exasperating, three-act feature film. The new sequel is more clearly divided into individual sections, independent of plot, and keeps intact the character's murmuring nondialogue. It's an improvement, and even intermittently funny. In rainy London, Mr. Bean wins a trip to the South of France and runs into all kinds of trouble while getting there. He eventually tries to help reunite a lost Russian boy with his father. Willem Dafoe co-stars as a pretentious American filmmaker at Cannes. (JMA)
(1948) Cary Grant and Myrna Loy play Mr. and Mrs. James Blandings, "Two little fish in the deep, deep waters of Connecticut real estate." And since real estate oft surpasses sex as the most lively topic of conversation, this vintage comedy still holds up well. Grant is a Manhattan adman given to snap judgments; his wife (Loy) seems to have a bit of a past with the couple's best chum, a justly cynical lawyer (Melvyn Douglas). The style-blustering dad, infuriatingly sleek wife, precocious daughtersall are familiar from sitcoms, but director H.C. Potter doesn't make the slapstick overemphatic. The film glides along amusingly while dealing with a subject of real trauma: a chump in the hands of his contractors. Several scenes are still harrowing; several gambits, such as the "fruit orchard in the backyard," are still in use by today's agents trying to unload their own termite-ridden shacks. The film is certainly required viewing for anyone in the market for a first house and is superior to the sort-of remake with Tom Hanks (The Money Pit)and more humane, too (as in a fine little bit of laconic humor by Harry Shannon as Tesander the well digger). P.S.: The rejected ad jingle for Wham Hams, as recited by a deadline-crazed Grant: "This little piggy went to market / as meek and as mild as a lamb /He smiled in his tracks / as they slipped him the ax /He knew he'd turn out to be Wham." (RvB)
(1934/1936) Gary Cooper stars in Frank Capra's fable of a small-town man who inherits a fortune, faces city snobbery and charms a reporter (Jean Arthur). BILLED WITH It Happened One Night. An heiress (Claudette Colbert) jumps off her family's yacht; a working-class reporter (Clark Gable) tracks her down to find out why. It's invigorated by the class differences between the rough-housing Gable and the pampered Colbertnot to mention the gritty locations of bus stations and motels, unseen in the context of a comedic love story before. Still, Gable's contempt for the heiress seems to be turned up too many notches. The way he cuts her down to size has an out-of-proportion angry streak, thoroughly endorsed by the director, Frank Capra. (RvB)
(PG; 145 min.) Although not exactly the masterpiece that its title character hopes to compose, this drama offers a number of genuine moments and, refreshingly, sticks up loudly for a couple of losers in many a recent wrangle over government spending: education and the arts. Richard Dreyfuss gives a likable performance as Glenn Holland, a musician who turns to teaching as a fall-back career and whose affinity for the profession, over the years, transforms him into a beloved mentor. However, the hard work of teaching seems a bit glossed over with sentimentality as are many of the personal challenges that Holland and his family face, and as in most films that span any length of timeespecially the '60sthe sense of nostalgia swirling through Opus is probably heady enough to sell a substantial number of soundtrack albums. The film is often sappy to a fault, but a little manipulation in defense of education and funding for the arts seems justified these days. (HZ)
(1953) This film is one of the few successful violations of the rule that states you can never make a movie quite like the one that made you want to make movies in the first place. Director Jacques Tati was the best student of Keaton's films ever to become a director. Mr Hulot's Holiday is at heart a silent comedy with sound effects. The dialogue (some in English, some in French) has nothing much to do with the action; the words are more overheard than heard. It's a series of adventures by Tati's character Hulot, who has come to a tatty, or rather, Tati, beach resort for the holidays. The man is a great stork with a mincing, scissoring step. His body is tilted forward in a polite, even obsequious angle, the babyish face (much like Bud Cort of Harold and Maude) is crowned with a crushed hat. In his teeth, he clenches a dormant, oversized tobacco pipe that gets in everyone's face. This model for both John Cleese's Basil Fawlty and Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean executes a series of gaffes, misunderstandings and social misdemeanors. His misdeeds include everything from disturbing a funeral to brooding over an obnoxious record of "Tiger Rag" that splits the silence of the depressing resort hotel like an atom bomb. There's a girl he likes (she's uncredited, a pretty blonde), but their only date is ruined. Even this bad luck doesn't seem to break the man's uncanny, and yet completely undeserved, poise. This comedy brims with inspired sight gags and charm, while conveying wistfulness at the fleeting quality of pleasure, the hopelessness of connection. (This film is so deliberately disconnected that there's even a title card apologizing for the film's randomnessmost, I suppose, will accept the apology happily.) (RvB)
(PG; 87 min.) The ecologically conscious philosophy "reuse, recycle and renew" seems to be moonlighting these days as a Hollywood business practice. As part of the ongoing effort to conserve filmmakers' brain cells, nearsighted 1960s cartoon character Mr. Magoo is the latest animated personality from the past to be re-created in a live-action version, which plunders the slapstick capabilities of Naked Gun trilogy star Leslie Nielsen in the title role. Worse is fish-out-of-water Malcolm McDowell, who is painful to watch as the mastermind of a plot to steal the world's largest ruby. Predictably, Magoo blunders into the burglary and eventually winds up with the purloined jewel, but even wild stunts well-orchestrated by Hong Kong action director Stanley Tong (Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop) don't alleviate the boredom of a one-joke character transformed into an hour-and-a-half-long sightor in this case, lack of sightgag, as a matinee audience brimming with silent children attested. (HZ)
(1943) Mr. Lucky is a different kind of wartime propaganda, much more in the vein of Casablanca (and it would make a perfect double-bill with the Bogart classic). The anti-hero calls himself Bascopolous, a name he assumed from a dead chum. He's a draft-dodging Australian hustler (Cary Grant) who runs a gambling boat. He sees a wartime charity run by society dames as a chance to profit from his specialized skills at games of chance. Unfortunately, a do-gooder heiress (a pretty but colorless Laraine Day) reforms him. Don't leave for popcorn before the big scene of Grant and Day in a deserted Connecticut mansion; here's more proof that it wasn't just charm but a bit of menace that kept Grant afloat in Hollywood for 40 years. This film was a hit, though its mix of nimble light comedy, gangster drama and romance doesn't blend well. However, the film, made at RKO, with production designed by William Cameron Menzies (Gone With the Wind) shows the same kind of unique theatrical touches that turn up in Val Lewton and Orson Welles filmssuch as the repeated shot of a huge pier shed door closing like a curtain going across the screen. (Don't expect to hear Henry Mancini's famous cocktail-jazz theme music: that was composed for a 1959 TV show based on the film, starring John Vivyan as the debonair gambling man.) (RvB)
(G; 96 min.) Zach Helm, the talented writer behind Stranger Than Fiction, makes his directorial debut with this mildly delightful family movie. Dustin Hoffman plays the magical, ancient title character, who plans to turn over his enchanted toy store to his helpers, manager Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), an uptight accountant (Jason Bateman) and a nerdy kid (Zach Mills). Refreshingly, there are no evil villains plotting to shut down the store; the entire movie focuses on these misfits trying to discover who they really are. Helm packs his frames with special effects and fantastic toys, even if the picture itself feels somewhat grounded. Regardless, the cast mingles in happy harmony, and the film is effortlessly cheerful and often quite funny. Alexandre Desplat provides the dazzling, uplifting score. (JMA)
(PG-13; 90 min.) The title character is named "Jackie" and played by Mr. Nice Guy himself, the incomparable Jackie Chan. In Melbourne, Australia, Chan's character is a popular TV chef who becomes wound up in some business with a switched video tape, which is fought over by both a gang of nattily dressed coke pushers and a grubby motorcycle outfit. The seemingly boneless martial artist has a jaw-dropping fight versus the ensemble inside a construction site, in which buzz saws, grinders and cement mixers are the weapons of choice. Chan is reunited with director Sammo Hung (Project A). Hung, a chubby, florid type, was a fellow student of Chan's at the Peking Opera School and proves it in a cameo with one marvelous stunt in which he swoops over the streamlined surface of a car from fender to fender. Richard Norton, the terrorist ocean-liner jacker in Chan's City Hunter, returns as the strangely affable Caucasian villain whose mansion Jackie renovates with a two-story bulldozer. There are some dead spots here and there, but Chan's artistry is as delightful as ever. In English, with the occasional subtitle. (RvB)
(1955) Jack Lemmon's first important movie role (he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for it) came as the conniving Ensign Pulver. Pulver is the fixer onboard a forlorn WWII supply ship stuck in the middle of nowhere during the Pacific War. The ship is helmed by the brass-balled James Cagney but calmed by the knightly officer Mr. Roberts (played by Henry Fonda in a role he'd performed for seven years on Broadway). It was nominally co-directed by John Ford, who was fired a week after production started; he was replaced by Mervyn LeRoy. It had a 1964 sequel, Ensign Pulver, for which Lemmon was AWOL. (RvB)
(1939/1950) A Boy Ranger leader (James Stewart) goes to Washington to clean up the Senate, with only his secretary (Jean Arthur) for help. Meanwhile, a chorus of cynics observe and predict doom. On the bright side, director Frank Capra has an all-star lineup of cynics: the great character actor Thomas Mitchell, an expert at portraying unstable but likable drunks, co-stars with Claude Rains, Eugene Pallette, Guy Kibbee and Edward Arnold (Avarice, Gluttony, Sloth and Wraththat's four of the Seven Deadly Sins right there). The film was thundered against by Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley. Sen. James Byrnes of South Carolina was more specific: "Here is a picture that is going to tell the country that 95 out of 96 senators are corrupt, that the federal, state and municipal governments are corrupt; that one corrupt boss can control the press of a state; that the newspapers are corrupt; the radios are corrupt; reporters are corrupt. ... The thing was outrageous..." (quoted in Joseph McBride's essential Capra book The Catastrophe of Success). Today's viewers may be less than shocked by these conclusions. The film's intimate momentssuch as the drunk scene between Mitchell and Arthur, supposedly coached by Howard Hawksoutdoes the big patriotic heartstring-pullers like Stewart's filibuster, a vague blob of populism. Yet there's real bravery in this film, and it was Capra's highlight, before the coda of It's a Wonderful Life. BILLED WITH Harvey, a genteel comedy about the DTs. Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart), a wealthy inebriate, begins to say too much about his imaginary friend, the "pookie" Harvey (a 6-foot-tall talking rabbit); his relatives seek to toss him in the Laughing Academy for it. A little thing, but fondly remembered. (RvB)
(PG-13; 104 min.) This Bernie Mac film about a guy who discovers he's really three hits shy of his "record" 3,000and has to go back to the major leagues at age 47 to get themis meant as comedy of the lightest kind. But that ain't going to save it from baseball fans, who I guarantee will eat it alive over even the smallest mistakes. For instance, the record for career hits is actually 4,256, held by Pete Rose, and the Brewers were in the American League in 1994. Look, already I've got my dander up, and I don't give a flying crap about baseball. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 102 min.) It's a rare treat when Hollywood can laugh at itself. Unfortunately, despite what the first half hour of Mr. Wrong might promise, you're in for no such good fortune with the rest of this romantic comedy. Martha (Ellen DeGeneres), a successful TV talent coordinator, falls in love with the apparent man of her dreams, Whitman (Bill Pullman), just as the familial pressure on her to get married reaches its fever pitch. As we discover that Whitman is really a clod with slightly psychotic tendencies-and a literally psychotic ex-girlfriend-zany adventures ensue, mostly minus any real humor. With all of its deliberately camped-up cliches, the initial courtship is good for some laughs, although it's kind of strangethe dialogue in these scenes is a dead-ringer for that of any other screen romance, only in Mr. Wrong, we're not expected to take it seriously. The relief in that phenomenon almost makes this a movie worth seeing. Almost. (HZ)
(PG-13; 104 min.) Mrs. Winterbourne tells the unlikely story of Connie Doyle (Ricki Lake), a down-and-out pregnant teen who, through a very convoluted twist of fate, is mistaken for the young widow of a wealthy Bostonian ne'er-do-well. Taken in and doted on by her supposed husband's ailing but no-nonsense mother, Grace (Shirley MacLaine), Connie seems unable to clear up her mistaken identity but very quickly captures the heart of her stern, would-be brother-in-law, Bill (Brendan Fraser). Fraser is all charming boyishnessthough you can tell some of the cornier scenes really amuse himas a character who goes from dull to dorky in less time than it takes old money to scorn nouveau riche. In fact, starting with Connie's rather suspicious assimilation to her new family, the story progresses at a strangely break-neck paceas if plot development shouldn't get in the way of romanceand you're left with the feeling that some of the more provocative details may have been left on the cutting-room floor. (HZ)
Disney's newest animated feature, Mulan, adapted from a Chinese legend, is a respectable film with a strong female lead. It's the engaging story of a young Chinese woman whose outspoken personality makes it difficult for her to fill the role her tradition-bound society expects. Bringing dishonor to her family, Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) lives with shame. Desperate when the Hun army, led by the menacing Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer), invades China, she disguises herself as a man to serve the Imperial army in place of her ailing father. With the help of Mushu (Eddie Murphy), a small lizard of a dragon, as well as lucky cricket Cri-Kee, she becomes a brave warrior and earns the respect of her male peers, including her captain, Shang (B.D. Wong). Under her resourceful hand China emerges victorious and Mulan brings honor to her family. Despite its war-torn setting, Mulan offers a great deal of comedy. The musical numbers are tolerable and the film is beautifully animated with vast Chinese landscapes and expansive gardens. However, its most refreshing quality is its ability to present a woman who's both physically and mentally capable, without portraying her as an object of sexuality. (SQ)
(R; 107 min.) In the 1940s, a quartet of untouchable LAPD detectives (Nick Nolte, Chazz Palminteri, Chris Penn and Michael Madsen) have carte blanche to run the mobsters out of town. One day, the four are assigned to solve the murder of a loose-living woman (Jennifer Connelly). This same dead girl is the ex-lover of both Nolte and the head of the Atomic Energy Commission (played with a cane, a wheeze and a hesitant mad-scientist speech by John Malkovich). The tale never gets into the abject strangeness it courts, and still it conveys a sense of big issues just underneath the surface, about how great power entails great responsibility. Thus it's played deadly straight, so that Nolte can suffer guilt over his conduct. Or is it oxygen deprivation? The costumes look tight on Nolteno good tailor of the age would have allowed such a prosperous customer to be strangled by his shirt collar, which is exactly what Nolte shows signs of in raspy diction, glassy eyes, a mouth that droops open like a tortoise's. Give director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) his due in knowing how quick a fight breaks out but blame him for some anachronistic sensitivity in the form of a long string of humorless psychiatrist jokes by Palminteri. All told, this is the weirdest thing since The Two Jakes. Beyond the costumes and the distracting but immaculate computer work that resurrects fleets of vintage cars, it doesn't have much style or sense. Thanks to the violence, you won't feel that nothing happened, but you will be hard-pressed to explain what did happen. (RvB)
(PG-13; 110 min.) This tiresome comedy works the It's a Wonderful Life premise in reverse: instead of discovering what life is like without him, Michael Keaton finds out what it's like when there's too many of him. Unfortunately, given Keaton's overblown pratfalling, it's apparent that one of him is plenty. Keaton plays Doug Kinney, a guy so appalled at having to work and help raise his kids that he has himself cloned to avoid the responsibility of doing both. Kinney #2 is the gruff, workaholic clone who takes over his original's job, and when the demands of family also become a burdenin scenes that echo Keaton's Mr. Momalong comes offensively effeminate #3. Useless as a clone and as a comic device is muttering, slobbery #4, strangely reminiscent of Keaton's Beetlejuice. The film's scant chuckles come when the doubles misbehave and develop lives of their own, confounding co-workers and Kinney's long-suffering wife (Andie MacDowell). There's some cloning going on here, all right, but computer trickery can't make it interestingwe've seen Keaton do this all before. (HZ)
(R; 111 min.) A black comedy that bleaches out to oatmeal-gray by the last reel. Loren Dean plays a psychologist named Dr. Mumford who is treating several neurotic types in an imaginary Northern California town, also named Mumford. Dr. Mumford's patients include a wealthy lady named Althea (Mary McDonnell), who has a major compulsive-shopping habita habit easily traceable to neglect by her awful husband, Jeremy (Ted Danson). Mumford's other patients include an obese pharmacist with an uncontrollable sexual-fantasy life (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and the lonely billionaire "Skip" Skipperton (Jason Lee). Among these many sufferers, Dr. Mumford's favorite patient is Sofie (Hope Davis), purportedly stricken with Epstein-Barr, but apparently only in need of some male attention. It's an interesting cast, but these characters are only types, whose eccentricities are contrasted with the inhuman smoothness of the doctor. It would take some master plotting to weave these characters into a neurotic's version of Our Town. At first Mumford seems like a story of Ripley, novelist Patricia Highsmith's talented wolf who feeds on the rich, silly sheep of the world. Then, Dr. Mumford turns into a good shepherd: a practitioner who may not have a degree but has lots of heart. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) Some explorers, led by Brendan Fraser, search for the legendary City of the Dead. There, they accidentally bring to life the cursed onean undead mummy who becomes all-powerful. The 1932 original with Boris Karloff is a very slow picture, but it has thrilling qualities this digital-effects-laden waste of time lacks. Karloff embodied the weight of 30 centuries; his hushed tones as he describes what he endured for love were more spine-chilling than any physical threat. The original's somber mood is nothing but Cairo syrup to today's bloody-minded little kids. So director Stephen Sommers has made this an Indiana Jones knockoff. Fraser, clad in Banana Republic clothes, is thoroughly dislikable. This movie is primordial corn: gibbering Arabs, Playstation monsters, a drunken British playboy character as comedy relief. Of the many effectshighly uneven in qualitythe best one is a re-creation of ancient Thebes. The rest of the movie fails to live up to this glorious kitsch vision at the beginning. All that comes after is a too-familiar adventure picture in which there's not very much seen of the title character. (RvB)
(1932/1931) Both immortal monsters with all the time in the world, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are co-billed in these two very slow but compelling films. Bela's Dracula is a stately, centuries old creature, with private jokes only he understands; Karloff's Mummy has survived dry centuries of solitude. To a modern viewer expecting shock, these are two unbearably static moviesand yet these two performers' peerless conviction in these roles kept them playing unearthly creatures for life. (Later, Lugosi was buried in his Dracula cape. Though reports of his death may be uninformed.) (RvB)
(G; 82 min) The fretful muppet Gonzo, of the round head and curled proboscis, is racked with nightmares about being the last member of his species. One morning, his alphabet cereal begins spelling out messages from outer space. Miss Piggy, working as a "coffee pig" at a TV station, broadcasts word of Gonzo's messages, which attracts the attention of a malevolent government agency. It's interesting that the Muppets haven't changed their style in 30 years. These creatures still evince the Old Hippy Dream of communal living in a beat-up Victorian, with a psychedelic school bus in the driveway. (Though the film doesn't ignore the down side of that life: the long lines to the bathroom or the communal cooking experiments that go bad.) Muppets in Space is laid-back, hippie-style; it's good to see a children's movie that isn't shrieking with hysteria. The critters still out-express a good third of the Screen Actors Guild. It is especially funny to see Gonzo pantomime his Spielbergian awe before the majesty of space, Miss Piggy gaping in stage fright before a live television camera and Kermit the Frog worrying about the upkeep of the house (apparently, the lease is in his name). (RvB)
(1984) The gang of puppets heads for Broadway.
(R; 102 min.) Washington, D.C., homicide cop Harlan Regis (Wesley Snipes) runs into high-level flack when he investigates a murder in the presidential mansion. Daniel Benzali (of TV's Murder One) tootles away on his usual one-note symphony of contempt as the White House security chief; Dennis Miller cracks wise but does little else as Regis' supposed partner; and Alan Alda is properly reptilian as the national security advisor. Co-star Diane Lane is unbelievablesupposedly a Secret Service agent, she seems about as smart as a bucket of paint. It's an OK movie but not really what you'd call a thriller. You got your sex, your violence, your sweaty paranoia, your jackbooted thugs (except they wear Rockports and earplugs), but it's drugged by implausibilities. This is fiction, not the CIA; we have the right to expect secret agents who can cover their tracks, an Olympic gold-medalist sharpshooter who can shoot straight and red herrings that don't stink. (BC)
(1934/1933) Gertrude Michael sings a song about the wonders of marijuana and gets killed on stage. Who done it? Police officer Victor McLaglen grills the various show-biz types, who obediently perform their numbers. These nightclubbers include game show star Kitty Carlisle, Jack Oakie, Charles "Ming the Merciless" Middletona likely suspectand Clara Lou "Ann" Sheridan. But the real stars, as far as posterity (that's us!) is concerned are Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The best-known song herein is "Cocktails for Two," later deathlessly rendered by the original Spike Jones. BILLED WITH Too Much Harmony, starring Bing Crosby as a singer stuck out in a small town who discovers a first-rate comedy team (Jack Oakie and Skeets Gallagher). (RvB)
(2000) Real-life story of the Pepin sisters (played by Sylvia Testud and Julie-Marie Parmentier), the maids who caused a national scandal in France when they rose up and slaughtered their employers. The story inspired Genet's play The Maids. (RvB)
Two Weddings and a Funeral could be the alternate title of this too-sweet, interminable Australian import. Muriel's Wedding is filled with some of the visual gaudiness and Abba worship of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but unfortunately, it is much more soggy. The action is set in the beach town of Porpoise Spit, where the ungainly Muriel (Toni Collette) is obsessively scheming for a white wedding. Her high-haired, low-moralled, snooty girlfriends have a good laugh at her, but naturally, she manages to overcome them after what seems like near eternityno one leaves the theater until everyone has been rehabilitated, including Muriel's promiscuous pal Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) and even Muriel's excruciatingly mean father. (RvB)
(PG-13, 96 min.) Romantic comedy icons Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore team up for the first time in this surprisingly deft, witty film from writer/director Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice). Grant plays a discarded 1980s pop star, a second banana from a Wham!-like group. An opportunity arises to write a song for a Shakira-like performer (Haley Bennett), and he recruits the help of the girl who waters his plants (Barrymore). The pair click beautifully. Both are in top comic form, and Grant fires off hilarious quips every few minutes. Lawrence gets other details right, such as the sound quality of the singing and concert scenes, and newcomer Bennett brings a wonderful, mature calmness to her performance. Best of all is the spot-on tribute to 1980s music videos. (JMA)
(Both 1934) Here's a really rare one, co-written by Billy Wilder and based on a Kern/Hammerstein operetta. An opera singer (Gloria Swanson) and her lover, a composer (John Boles), bring in a pair of lovers to try to make each other jealous. Interesting cast: Al Shean (without his partner Gallagher), toothless cowboy sidekick Fuzzy Knight, Marjorie "Ma Kettle" Main and early Frank Capra star, manly-man Hobart Bosworth. BILLED WITH The Cat and the Fiddle In Brussels, Latin lover Ramon Navarro falls for an opera singer (Jeanette MacDonald). The songs include "The Night Was Made for Love." (RvB)
This umpteenth retelling of Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckling novel reimagines the tale of D'Artagnan and the three musketeers with martial arts choreography by Xin Xin Xiong (of the Once Upon a Time in China films).
The timeliest film fest this year makes its local debut. The films are TBA but should include Ebrachim Forozesh's Children of Oil, about an Iranian family's drama about life with an absentee father in the oil fields in the south. Ahmad Zahra's On Common Grounds concerns a nondenominational group of Jews, Muslims and Christians who built a Habitat for Humanity-style house in Mexico. Born in the USA is a documentary of Muslims living in America today. Shorts include several music videos and director Hesham Issawi's T for Terrorist, starring Tony Shalhoub and Sayed Badreya; it is a Hollywood Shuffle-style comedy about the typecasting of Arabs (and Arab-Americans) as mad bombers and murderers. Admission for the entire day is $10. (RvB)
(PG-13; 88 min.) Haggard Sarah (Diane Lane) and Jake (John Cusack), both divorced, meet through Internet dating services and share a few wonderfully messy, funny encounters. But writer/director Gary David Goldberg (creator of Family Ties) must cook up ways to keep them apart for 88 minutes, and that's when Must Love Dogs goes to the dogs. A supporting cast of annoying busybodies meddles unpleasantly in the love lives of our two misfits, while soggy pop music saturates the soundtrack. A love triangle with Dermot Mulroney begins interestingly, but is snipped off with a lazy shrug. Only Christopher Plummer, as Sarah's widower father, brings a little grace to the proceedings. This may be the summer's only film not aimed at teenage boys, but it still feels unshaped and underdeveloped. (JMA)
(PG; 93 min.) A lovable chimpanzee named Jack gets a new lease on life on the hockey rink in this family film.
(PG-13; 100 min.) Paternity suits were never funnier as Strom Thurmond's family bares all in a new reality moviewhoops! Wrong script again. Who's vetting these submissions anyway? Actually, Eddie Griffin, Anthony Anderson and Michael Imperioli must deal with fatherhood when their girlfriends get in the family way.
(PG-13; 105 min.) As always, most of this romantic comedy's funniest scenes were in the trailer, but for a change, the stuff that fills in the gaps between wacky moments is actually decently entertaining as well. Julia Roberts plays an antiromantic careerwoman whose hardened façade crumbles when her former fling and long-time best friend, Michael (Dermot Mulroney), announces his imminent wedding to a perky socialite (Cameron Diaz). At this news, Roberts discovers her own hidden love for Michael and resorts to a number of devious measures to call off the wedding. Although the perpetually fluffy Roberts makes as believable a jaded schemer as Jesse Helms would make a charming Santa Claus, her performance as a comic actor is generally fun, and she plays well off Rupert Everett, who displays his singing voice in the role of Roberts' long-suffering new best friend. (HZ)
(PG-13; 85 min.) Star and co-producer Ashton (That '70s Show) Kutcher surrounds himself with comedic actors and a screwball director, Jerry (Airplane, Naked Gun) Zucker, but they're five comics in search of a screenplay. The skeletal premise has lovable schlubb Kutcher house-sitting for his tyrannical boss (Terence Stamp) while squiring the title character (Tara Reid). The boss's former secretary (Molly Shannon) and estranged son (Andy Richter) invade the house. By now the theater should shudder with laughs; instead, it's quieter than a Quaker meeting hall. Gags and characters come and go randomly. Didn't Stanislavski say that a minute-long piss-on-the-carpet bit means nothing without context? (DH)
(PG; 95 min.) The plot's in the title. Journalist Willie Morris (Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle) spent his wonder years in small-town Mississippi during World War II. An irrepressible terrier drags the shy kid from behind the books out into the world. Harry Connick, Jr.'s sonorous narration and the yellowish photography remind us that this was a literary memoir. Muniz's appeal and the dog's charm scuff-up a sentimental view of bravery (an uncredited David Arquette as a football hero turned soldier), bullying, and segregation. The film ambles as slowly as a southern afternoon toward a quirky, pro-PETA conclusion: underfoot every great man is a dog. (DH)
(1964) The film of the beloved stage musical is oversized, but it boasts Rex Harrison as the snide elocutionist Prof. Henry Higgins, who transforms a cockney flower peddler into a society lady. Audrey Hepburn, no one's idea of a mudlark, co-stars as Eliza. There are some terrific songs: "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face," "On the Street Where You Live" and "The Rain in Spain." Quite stiff and cautious, actually, but the old-time music hall star Stanley Holloway gives it a lift (as Liza's Doolittle's reprobate dad, who sings "Get Me to the Church on Time.") (RvB)
My Family intimately chronicles 60 years in the history of a Chicano family in Los Angeles. Paco (Edward James Olmos), the eldest Sanchez son, narrates the story of his family from its founding in pre-Depression years to its growth, struggles and triumphs during the '60s, '70s and early '80s. Through three Sanchez generations, the film recalls the time when the border between California and Mexico was "just a line in the dirt" and shows how ironhanded immigration laws and racist ideology created a border not only between countries but also between denizens of the same city. Olmos and Jimmy Smits headline a cast of superb actors who bring the Sanchez family to heart-breaking and joyful real life. (HZ)
(PG; 93 min.) This reworking of the 1960s TV show is not horrible but by no means kitschy brilliance, either. An agreeable castJeff Daniels, Christopher Lloyd, Elizabeth Hurley, Daryl Hannahfrolics around, mugs for the camera and generally acts quite silly. Hurley camps it up as an inept daddy's girl TV anchorperson, Lloyd is over the top as the alien "Uncle" Martin, and Daniels is, well, pretty much the Daniels he was in 101 Dalmatians and Trial & Error, bumbling and kindhearted. The original Uncle Martin, Ray Walston, makes a brief, under-used cameo as a government agent sniffing the trail of the visiting alien, and what sounds like the voice of Seinfeld's Newman takes the form of Uncle Martin's unbelievably grating-on-the-nerves spacesuit. A bare-bones plot (alien crashes to earth and tries to return home with the help of the reporter he befriends), juvenile humor and mid-range special effects teeter-totter My Favorite Martian between annoying and palatable depending on your age, mood and threshold for inanity. (KR)
(1940) It's spun off a once-beloved piece of Victorian verse, Tennyson's "Enoch Arden" (which, in its finish, also seems to have inspired the money scene in Stella Dallas). But My Favorite Wife is also a rehash of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne's previous hit, Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth. The plot is the same, as well as the ending. Even the dog is clearly a second-rater compared to Asta. Dunne plays an anthropologist stuck on a desert island after a shipwreck; her husband (Grant), convinced she's dead, remarries (to Gail Patrick). Only Dunne's timely reappearance helps keep the marriage unconsummated. Then word leaks out about Dunne's own potential indiscretion while on the island: a possible liaison with a studly scientist (Randolph Scott). Grant, being Grant, keeps many of the scenes afloat with his own inimitable comedy. It's directed by Garson Kanin. While Kanin would greatly improve in visual style in later years (with classics like Adam's Rib and Born Yesterday), here the awkwardness of rhythm and camera placement are notable compared to the work of a sharp operator like McCarey. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) It's difficult to discern whether it's comedy or merely a penchant for the bizarre to envision Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton chumming it up on a road trip. The parade of presidential characters in My Fellow Americans is certainly familiar, but how funny is it to see them all again so soon? Jack Lemmon and James Garner play ex-presidents and bitter rivalsLemmon, an affable Republican, and Garner, a womanizing Democratwho must work together when they interfere in an illicit arms deal hatched by current president Dan Aykroydthe ultimate smarmy sneak in a combination of George Bush and Richard Nixon. Abundant with empty social consciousness, the film is as predictable as an unfulfilled campaign promise, although Lemmon's performance is likable enough, and the script occasionally tosses off a few fun, nasty one-liners. Despite its portrayal of Washington, DC as seething with corruption and psychoses, much of the intended satire fails because the presidents' platitudes give it away; it's clear My Fellow Americans was made by someone enamored of the political world and not by a good-natured critic of it. (HZ)
(PG; 107 min.) Michael Lehmann's My Giant is a quiet little movie that helps restore one's faith in humanity. Max (Gheorghe Muresan) is a gentle giant perfectly content with his simple existence among Romanian monks until Sammy (Billy Crystal), a down-on-his-luck talent agent, comes along. Sammy sees dollar signs all over the scholarly 7-foot-7 Max and bribes him to try his hand at acting with the promise of seeing his long lost love. Max trusts Sammy, not realizing he's an opportunist who has alienated everyone in his life. This developing friendship takes Sammy on a soul journey, and he rediscovers what really matters in life. Kathleen Quinlan as Sammy's weary wife and Zane Carney as his devoted son are necessary elements to this emotional story, but it's Muresan's portrayal of the sensitive giant that gives the film its tremendous heart. Producer Crystal has been developing this story since working with the late Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride, and it's his best work since City Slickers. (SQ)
(1936/1934) Two films that sum up the art-deco age in filmmaking: a suave, streamlined, screwball comedy billed with the best of the 1930s musicals. In My Man Godfrey, a Depression-era debutante (Carole Lombard) decides to add to items sought in a scavenger hunt "a forgotten man": a homeless man living in a hobo jungle. She finds the elegant William Powell and brings him home to her wealthy but uncouth family: grand dame Alice Brady, Mischa Auer (once a member of a rival team of Three Stooges, showing off his gorilla impersonation) and the sulfurously tempered Eugene Pallette. BILLED WITH The Gay Divorcee,which is the first Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical in which Fred is mistaken for a professional divorce co-respondent (a job explained in Evelyn Waugh's novel A Handful of Dust). The actual co-respondent, played by the outrageously Italian accented Erik Rhodes, arrives to add to the confusion. Songs include "The Continental," "Night and Day" and Betty Grable and Edward Everett Horton knocking knees to the tune "Let's Knock Knees." (RvB)
(1985) Philippe Noiret and Thierry Lhermitte star in a French young-cop/old-cop comedy.
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(Unrated; 99 min.) In Hutchinson, Kan., in the 1970s, two young men grow up, never really getting to know one another. One is a bespectacled mama's boy, Brian (Brady Corbet), who is obsessed with the idea that he's been abducted by aliens. Only being stolen and probed could explain a five-hour hole in his memory. The other boy is a snake-hipped feral kid named Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who becomes the town hustler. Gregg Araki's film about pedophilia explains the complex, shameful feelings of a victim and outlines the way warped love can changes the perspective on every sexual adventure that comes after. While using the dubious literary device of recovered memory, Araki wields it with skill and sensitivity. (RvB)
(R; 119 min.) Rocky plays hockey in a preposterously affable Alaskan hamlet located not on a map but in a TV screenwriter's (David E. Ally McBeal Kelley) twee imagination. The men of Mystery subsist on their weekly Saturday hockey game, led by Sheriff John Biebe (Russell Crowe, giving the film unearned gravitas). The women make supportive TV comments like "you stayed [in town] for the hockey; I stayed for you." Sinister urbanism threatens Mystery: a Wal-Mart-like superstore might shutter local businesses; a loss to the NHL's New York Rangers would kill the town's "dignity and illusions," says the local judge (Burt Reynolds). Many appealing actors waste oxygen spouting dialogue lifted from a Tony Robbins motivational video. A courtroom appeal to the "heart" of the hockey team is more mawkish than any syrup slung by Frank Capra. (DH)
(PG-13; 74 min.) A barely expanded but still uproarious episode of the cult-TV show. It features the usual hosts: mad doctor Trace Beaulieu, gormless Wisconsinite Mike Nelson and low-tech puppets Tom Servo and Crow "T." Robot. Stuck in space, Mike and the robots are forced to watch unfortunate movies, during which they make impertinent comments. The experiment here is This Island Earth. In what can truly be called the movie-within-a-movie, ham-and-egger Rex Reason stars as a stalwart scientist, and the ineffable Faith Domergue plays another scientist, with whom Reason seems to have had some kind of Last Year at Marienbad affair. (RvB)
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(R; 84 min.) The film tells a simple story of how Mona (Natalie Press) was trapped and how she frees herself. As an immigrant, director Pawel Pawlikowski sees things in England that the locals don't. At 17 or so, Mona is free from parental authority. Her mother is dead. Her family's pub is being converted into a storefront church by her brother, Phil (Paddy Considine), who found Jesus in jail. One afternoon, she sees the girl who will be the object of her affection. Tamsin (Emily Blunt) is temporarily out of boarding school and staying with her troubled family. The chemistry works hard and fast: a tough publican's daughter and this fairylike aristo. As the affair develops, it is complicated by the Christian revival in town. The covert lovers vs. the straights in town: that dynamic justifies Pawlikowski's title reference to 1967. Pawlikowski always stays on the erotic side of prurient, from the first dab of a kiss to Mona and Tamsin sinking out of sight into the depths of summer wildflowers on a hillside. The two sharp performances by the leads contrast with the heat-struck love affair. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Agony, in a word. Superhero fantasies don't necessarily have to be misogynist, but this one is, despite Uma Thurman giving yet another pungent performance in yet another deeply troubled film. (Firing her agent may not be enough—a firing squad might be called for.) She's "G-Girl" (and why is she called "G-Girl?"), a meteor-powered superwoman unlucky enough to get involved with Mark Saunders, a wincing and spineless architect (Luke Wilson, bottoming out). How bad off is he? Bad off enough to accept romantic counseling from his would-be stud best pal (Rainn Wilson; you needed cuddly and you got cruddy). When Mark dumps her for no good reason, G-Girl goes ballistic, and the frightened mortal gets help from the superhero's nemesis, Professor Bedlam (a lost Eddie Izzard). Anna Faris' presence here merely proves that not every movie can be saved by Anna Faris. Neither romantic enough to be a date movie nor exciting enough to be a superhero movie, it's the kind of wreck that makes you want to circle around the world backward at the speed of light, to get that hour and a half of your life back. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) Still morose three years after breaking up with his girlfriend, Warren (Noah Wyle of ER) goes home to rural Maine for Thanksgiving. His elder sister, Mia (Julianne Moore, who's bloated a bit since she ventured into bush country in Short Cuts), despises everyone. Dad is emotionally crippled too, which Roy Scheider indicates by not emoting. The film is self-conscious, meagerly plotted and painfully constipated. Two pluses: Laurel Holloman is a kick as the kooky kid sister, and Blythe Danner is terrific as the mom. (BC)