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(PG; 91 min.) Jared Hess' strange, strange new movie seems willing to imitate the cult status of his previous film, Napoleon Dynamite. But as common wisdom says, you can't make a cult classic on purpose. Jack Black creates a sustained performance within the very loose guidelines of his character, a Mexican priest who dreams of fame as a masked wrestler. Only when he gives up glory for the sake of the church's orphans does he succeed (and win the love of the cute nun, played by Ana de la Reguera). Hess' blocky rhythms and offbeat pacing give way to many unexpected laughs, but Mike White's script (co-written by Hess and his wife Jerusha Hess) takes the characters through an all-too familiar arc. Hector Jimenez co-stars as Nacho's tag-team partner. (JMA)
(Unrated; 92 min.) As Nadja, the daughter of Dracula, Elina Lowensohn prowls the bars of the East Village, where her angst and pallor naturally lure lovers to her. She's particularly obsessed with Lucy (Galaxy Craze), little knowing that Lucy's lover, Jim (Martin Donovan), is the nephew of Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Fonda) himself. Director Michael Almereyda is outfoxed by scriptwriter Michael Almereyda. Nadja's endless, languid verbal flounceries ("I don't know anyone who doesn't have a hole in their heart") make you long for the heft of a good sharp stake. The inventiveness of the visuals, however, keep you from walking out. (RvB)
(1964) Constance Towers plays a prostitute with an exceptionally sordid past who tries to relocate to the small town of Grantville, only to face prejudice and violence. This spectacular yet nonjudgmental melodrama by Sam Fuller has an unforgettable beginning; the film was just plain too much for viewers of the time, and Fuller only worked in America twice in the next 16 years. Also stars Patsy Kelly. (RvB)
Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding) draws on all of her experience as a filmmaker to visually link Calcutta and New York. There's a devastating image of an extended-stay room that's as white as death, and the tour of the Taj Mahal is a triumphant passage. This demonstration of Penn's range may break him out of low-brow comedy material he's been stuck in since Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. (RvB)(PG-13; 122 min.) The journey of a first-generation Bengali-American. Based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, it follows Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and his wife, Ashima (Tabu), making their way in New York and raising a family. Their first-born, Gogol (Kal Penn), becomes an architect at Yale, and flirts with joining the power elite. Circumstances draw him back into the roots he knew, and cared, little about. It is startlingly akin to Jewish assimilation novels of the 1950s and is awfully hard on the WASPS. Still, director
(PG; 97 min.) Emma Thompson follows up her Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility screenplay with this utterly predictable, yet garishly charming children's tale, adapted from Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda books. The seven Brown children, led by eldest boy Simon (Thomas Sangster), are naughty beyond belief. Their frenzied, widowed father (Colin Firth) has burned through 17 nannies before finding the magical McPhee (Thompson), with her bulbous nose, warts and protruding tooth. For good measure, there is a wicked auntie (Angela Lansbury), an evil would-be stepmother (Celia Imrie) and a kindly maid (Kelly Macdonald). Director Kirk Jones, whose Waking Ned Devine had a lovely sparkle, here establishes and sustains a dawdling pace, falling back on some cutesy CGI and a cake fight(!), although he still draws enthusiastic performances from the makeup-coated stars. (JMA)
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(PG; 86 min.) You can look at Napoleon Dynamite as either the final word on nerd-dom or the last nail in their coffin; either way, we've seen the überdork, and he wears a bitchen pair of moon boots. Our hero, Napoleon (Jon Heder), lives with an even more nebbishy older brother (Aaron Ruell) and a grandmother fixated on her pet llama. When she gets into an accident, the boys' Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) comes to "baby-sit." Rico has problems of his own, like a penchant for anachronistic machismo, a moustache 30 years past its sale date and a fixation on 1982. The best part of director Jared Hess' debut is his accumulation of details designed to sketch out the land-of-the-lost feel (Trapper Keepers! Corny pop music!). Unfortunately, that's where the movie's comedy begins and ends, as Hess seems to feel that the mere existence of these oddball characters stuck in a fashion-faux-pas world is enough to fuel endless guffaws. The film's schlock-and-awe amassing of kitsch could sustain a short film, but it just isn't enough to power an entire feature. (DF; 2004)
Sideways for fruit-punch drinkers. A cult favorite set in the Idaho flats, where an exiled emperor of the nerds (Jon Heder) holds court. Heder is very comic, particularly in demonstrating that simmering anger with which the outcast holds off the normals. The no-doubt self-named Napoleon Dynamite is never more himself than when he's lashing out. Thus the funniest line in the movie is addressed to that nerd of the animal world, a llama: "I'm coming, Tina, ya fat lard!" This beloved movie starts to decay right at the point where the midnight crowd is starting to drowse, about one hour in. Everyone talks about Pedro's election campaign, but not enough people talk about how good Tina Majorino is as the sweetly drippy nerdette Napoleon courts. (RvB; 2005)
In case there was any doubt that Napoleon Dynamite is the newest and hottest cult movie going, there's now a Napoleon Dynamite Quote Game that people play on the Internet, where one person does a quote from the film, and then the next person does another quote whose first letter is either the first or last letter in the previous quote. These threads go on foreverthough I'm here to tell you that "Tina, you fat lard, come get some dinner" is used like a "Get Out of Jail Free" cardproving once again that quotability is what makes or breaks a cult movie anymore. (Maybe it was always like thatisn't the Ramones' "Gabba Gabba Hey" pretty much what's kept Freaks on the radar for the last couple generations of movie lovers?) The second most important factor would probably be a memorable misfit (or misfits) at the core of its story. Napoleon Dynamite has that in spades in the form of the Nerd President for Life played by Jon Heder. The next step would be turning the quote game into a Drinking Game, though I am not personally volunteering to do so. I'm still heartbroken that the general populace adapted my Big Lebowski Drinking Game without proper credit. OK, so it was just "drink when anybody says some form of 'Dude.'" It was still my big Million Dollar Idea, and now it's ruined! Ruined! Don't let it happen to you! (SP; 2005)
The Children's Discovery Museum hosts three days of films and videos submitted in competition by young (ages 9 to 18) filmmakers. Friday's program (7-9pm) explores the creative process. Local entries will be screening all day Saturday and Sunday. Finalist will be on hand to meet the public Saturday at 4pm.
A screening of award-winning films and videos produced by youth from the U.S. and Canada. As part of the festival, workshops on filmmaking will be offered weekly throughout the month of October at the Children's Discovery Museum. The workshop for Oct 17, "Storytelling With a Camera," features cinematographer and editor for KTEH-TV Ric Getter discussing how to use various elements of film and video technique to tell a story. Workshop is at 1pm.
(1978) Even in its day, and even with the help of low-grade marijuana, this movie was not considered quite as funny or as drastic as the Chris Miller short stories it was based upon. Yet John Belushi left his biggest footprint as Bluto, the slob-legend of the frat house. Belushi's scene of gobbling up the food at the cafeteria, set to the sweetie-sweet "Theme from A Summer Place," is gross comedic magic. The recent sadism accusations leveled at UC-Berkeley's frats (and elsewhere) proves the dangerous side of supposedly innocent fun: "Before one knew it, what had been a fond and ironic remembrance of conflicting emotions had been transformedónow it was a rerun, a revival of stereotypes. ... With '50s nostalgia, the [Baby] Boomers disobeyed that all-important dictum of Satchel Paige: 'Don't look back. Something may be gaining on you.' They did look back. Something was. Its name was Ronald Reagan."Tony Hendra, satirist and born-again Catholic(!). (Plays Jul 13 at sundown in San Jose at San Pedro Square. Bring your own lawnchair; www.cinequest.org; free.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 82 min.) Apparently the fact that Van Wilder made its money back four times over convinced someone important that there was still a reason to drop the long-since-meaningless prefix "National Lampoon's" in front of random comedies. Here's another! Two guys try to marry rich by hooking up with old ladies in Beverly Hills. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 93 min.) There is very little originality in this film about a group of delinquent high-school students who guzzle beer, smoke pot and vomit their way to Washington D.C. to visit the president. The story relies heavily on bathroom, sex and fart jokesa formula that was overdone more than a decade ago. The characters are recycled versions of the reused versions of many movie stereotypes: the idiotic, easily fooled school principal, the stuck-up student-body president who wants to get into Yale, the nerd, the fat kid, the stoner and the ditzy schoolteacher. The group predictably thrashes everything in its path, spends a lot of time passed-out on the floor and performs various other moronic acts that are about as entertaining as a jar of dirt. (BB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn get involved in a smuggling ring when they take jobs as security guards.
(PG; 125 min.) Pretty much as exhausted as our own national treasury. Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, a name that combines the name of the man on the $100 bill with the name of the world's richest man. It's the first signal of director Jon Turteltaub's method of mixing a religious awe of big bucks with patriotic imagery. Treasure hunter Gates seeks a map on the back of the original Declaration of Independence that will lead him to the lost treasure of the Knights Templar. Opposing him in this hunt is the unscrupulous millionaire Sean Bean; his unwilling assistant is a lady archivist (the unsteady starlet Diane Kruger, lately Helen of Troy). Cage dutifully makes himself bland for the show, and only in instances does he show a flash of the wildness that once made him unique. Uniqueness isn't at all a word you could apply to the director or the plot. This repetitive adventure film probably achieved No. 1 status due to lack of competition in the action/adventure field. It's an overwritten caper, with three lines of dialogue where one would do. The visuals similarly repeat themselves. In the pre-title sequence to Goldfinger, Sean Connery's James Bond shed his ninja suit to reveal evening clothes; Turteltaub has Cage go through these same motions, but the director needs three separate shots to work the gag. (RvB)
(1984) Barry Levinson's film about a baseball player (Robert Redford) with God-given abilities. It is one of the first and most flowery of the '80s New Age moviesand too ripe even for some of the most devoted baseball worshippers. Randy Newman's celestial score is the gleaming polish on this awe-machine.
(1935/1937) Remember the scene in Woody Allen's film Bananas where the political prisoner is being tortured by a record of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy's "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp"? Allen's more serious now, and I suppose we all ought to be when assessing the MGM operetta. Naughty Marietta sports Victor Herbert's music (including the air "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life") in a story of a French princess (MacDonald) who flees to Louisiana to romance a backwoodsman (Eddy). It was one of many teamings for "the Iron Butterfly and the Singing Capon," as S.J. Perelmana scenario writer for the pairassures us MacDonald and Eddy were secretly known at MGM. BILLED WITH High, Wide and Handsome. Something a little more relevant and a lot more exotic: a musical set in 1859 about evil oil men (Akim Tamiroff and Alan Hale, the latter playing a character called "Walt Brennan") opposed to some Pennsylvania farmers (including Randolph Scott). The rustics join forces with visiting showbiz types (including Irene Dunne and Dorothy Lamour) to stave off the marauding capitalists. Features elephants, bearded ladies, a lynch mob that film critic Tom Milne likened to something out of Fritz Lang's Fury, and the tune "The Folks Who Live on the Hill." Rouben Mamoulian directs. (RvB)
(1924) Buster Keaton's biggest hit at MGM, The Navigator, is a story of a dumb but resourceful millionaire, a derelict ocean liner and a woman (Kathryn McGuire) that all drift off to the cannibal islands. Remembering Keaton, one remembers the sequences: a depressing 78 RPM record of "Asleep in the Deep" that spooks him, his scene of making breakfast for two in a galley built for 500. (RvB)
(1966/1969) You could call Nayak (The Hero) the Bengalese version of Lost in Translation. Uttam Kumar, who was in real life a big-time Bengali movie star, plays an actor, torn with discontent and self-loathing, on his way to New Dehli to receive an award. On a train ride, he's interviewed by a plain-Jane reporter (Sharmila Tagore, in glasses) and the discontents of fame emerge. BILLED WITH Aranyer Di Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest), Ray's movie about the '60sa road trip of four Calcutta youths escaping urban strife in the hills and dallying with the local tribal women. (RvB)
(R; 141 min.) In this formulaic actioner, leading men Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey do their best to bring dimension to blandly written, honor-bound hero roles that otherwise do little to spotlight the talents that made the actors A-listers in the first place. Jackson is convincing enough as Danny Roman, a well-respected negotiator with the Chicago Police Department who is framed for murder after his partner is killed for investigating an embezzlement scheme among fellow officers. Spacey is equally believable as Chris Sabian, the top hostage negotiator whom Roman demands after he takes some hostagesamong them, the police official he believes is the chief conspirator. There's intentional irony, of course, in fact that the bad guys have framed such a highly regarded officer and that the rest of the police force so readily swallows their story; but in this inferior tale, the true irony is that the villains are portrayed as such greedy goons that their targeting of Roman seems mere ineptitude rather than sinister plotting. Worse, their strictly "shoot first, ask questions later" tactics negate the advertised battle of wits, despite the presence of Spacey's character. (HZ)
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(Unrated; 106 min.) The elderly Arnaud (Michel Serrault) has lead a distinguished life as a judge and businessman. Now, writing his somewhat indulgent memoirs, he hires a bright and attractive secretary (Emmanuelle Béart), young enough to be his granddaughter, to help him type the book. This highly urbane tale of intellectual romance has force and irony; director Claude Sautet paces the story well and gives it witty turns of phrase, gently underscoring the subtext of an old man's realization that he failed to remake the world. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 92 min.) John Kennedy Toole's The Neon Bible is a book of memories told by a sheltered adolescent, David (Jacob Tierney), who lives with his warm theatrical aunt (Gena Rowlands) and his frail mother (Diana Scarwid) in the Depression-era South. In Terence Davies' film, the town is almost a wax museum, shown in long, silent takes broken only by public singing. Continuing the method used in Distant Voices, Still Lives, Davies fills the film with beautiful compositions. Through this shadowy surface, the sudden flares of violence have a real-life incomprehensibilty. The problem is that Davies is making the same film again and again, and all that's changing is the quality of the production valueshe has hundreds of extras where he once had dozens. (RvB)
Sen. James Exon would be disappointed. Hacker Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) doesn't access any pornography in The Net even though she spends life online. She does, however, encounter a powerful software program sought by some cybercrooks (led by smoothie Jeremy Northam) who wipe out her existence by tampering with her files, changing her name and giving her a criminal record. The plot won't convince anyone with a modicum of computer smarts, but the idea that our personal identity is extremely fragile (composed as it is of a tissue of official documents) resonates with considerable force. (MSG)
(PG-13) Another fairy-tale performance from Drew Barrymore as a painfully awkward copy editor assigned to an undercover high school redux in a film that plays Carrie for laughs. An editor (an undermedicated Garry Marshall) at the Chicago Sun-Times sends hopeful reporter and former high school pariah Josie Geller (Barrymore) back to school to uncover the trouble with white suburban kids these days. The script could have been written on the back of an envelope, but the film does reveal those repressed memories of high school humiliation. Josie transcends her former outsider status with help from her slacker brother (David Arquette) and a math teammate (Leelee Sobieski, a lovely poster child for geek chic). Barrymore hams it up like her grandfather John in a stoned rasta dance-hall routine; in close-ups, she's endearingly flustered by her cute English teacher (Michael Vartan). (DH)
(R; 90 min.) A drug and crime epic with DMX.
(1984) A little boy (Barret Oliver) magically enters a book he's readingit's the story of the kingdom of Fantasia, where the people's hopes and imagination have been swept away by a mysterious disease. Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot) directed this hit kids' film, which is what Sid and Marty Krofft would have done if they had had $27 million. It's a cavalcade of mid-1980s ILM effects for the discerning fancier of Reagan-era cheese. As The Simpsons informs us, The Neverending Story was sued in court by lawyer Lionel Hutz for false advertising. (RvB).
(1939/1941) At the spa of Bad Gasswasser, Switzerland, a peevish hypochondriac named Kidley (Bob Hope)heir to the Kidley's Beans fortuneis consulting a specialist about his stomach. The local doctor (Monty Woolley) goofs and switches the millionaire's medical record with a dog's. Bad news: the rich man is diagnosed with a case of "Acidus Canus": stomach acid so powerful it can dissolve bones. According to the doctor, Kidley will literally digest himself from the inside out within one month. Bolstered with philosophical consolation from his manservant Jeepers (Ernest Cossart), Kidley involves himself in the case of another guest at the spa: an oil princess (Martha Raye) being forced into a marriage with a wastrel aristocrat named Prince Smirnoff (Alan Mowbray). The man she really loves is a bus driver back home in Texas (perennial hayseed Andy Devine). Preston Sturges is one of three hands credited on the screenplay of this unjustly forgotten screwball comedy, derived from a 1912 farce. Never Say Die often seems more like Sturges in his prime than, say, some of Sturges' lesser movies out past Unfaithfully Yours. Can it be that Sturges originated the gag here about "the pistol with the cross on the muzzle," later stolen outright for the most famous scene in the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester? No one would have noticed the joke was pinched, since Never Say Die was a flop, dumped after a one-week run in New York. Probably, it failed because of miscasting. Hope is obviously trying to do a Jack Benny part here. The difference between the two personasBenny's pedantic fussiness vs. Hope's nervous wisecrackingmay have been enough to drive off the few who showed up. Still, Never Say Die deserves a new life. The Universal Studios Germanic Village setswhere the famous monsters roamedhave, like parts of Europe, a lot of fake-European charm. Gale Sondergaard plays a comic version of one of her usual man-killers. Rayehere, an overripe version of Ginger Rogersdoes some more restrained comic acting for a change. What a life she hadas turbulent as Judy Garland's; in fact, Garland stole one of Raye's six husbands. Born backstage in a Montana theater, Raye stuck with the stagey mannerisms through her life, ending her career in Sid and Marty Kroft productions such as H.R. Pufnstuf. While Hope is known for his USO work, Raye actually did combat nursing: wounded three times, she held an honorary rank as a lieutenant colonel in the Marines. BILLED WITH Caught in the Draft. Hope plays a pampered movie star who finds out that army life is no bed of roses, though he's consoled a little by the colonel's daughter (Dorothy Lamour). The late Eddie Bracken co-stars. (RvB)
(R; 102 min.) A beautiful police psychologist (Rebecca de Mornay) with "unresolved issues" is being stalked by a mysterious someone. Could it be the sort-of creepy guy upstairs (Dennis Miller) who has the hots for her? Her handsome hunk of a new boyfriend (Antonio Banderas), who digs into her life but reveals nothing of his? How about an agent of her current subject of research, a serial sex-killer (Harry Dean Stanton) trying to cop an insanity plea? Could be ... but probably not. An entirely adequate thriller, despite more than a few loose ends, that would make a fine second featureif they still made B movies on purpose. (BC)
(R; 91 min.) A young woman falls in with the wrong crowd at her university (isn't that what higher education is for?). Mia Kirshner, Meredith Monroe and Dominque Swain cut a wide swathe through the campus quad.
(PG-13; 90 min.) DJ Qualls stars as a high school kid who gets some lessons in cool when he ends up in yprison. Also stars Eddie Griffin. Call it Scared Hip.
(R; 94 min.) The film is proof of the saying that sometimes it would have been more entertaining if they'd just ditched the movie and filmed the deal memo. Francois Velle's film is an amusing rewrite of The Emperor's New Clothes set in development hell. All the charactersall but one, sycophants, rageballs and liarsare driving themselves crazy trying to get their hands on an imaginary script. Jordan Bridges plays Kevin, an oppressed producer's assistant, who, in an angry, prankish moment, creates a bogus script that sets the gossipy town into a bidding frenzy. The high point is a telephone screaming competition between rival producers (Dan Hedaya and Charles Rocket). Paul McCraneusing the mannerisms of a perverted villain in a Thomas Harris novelplays the studio head, and Heather Donahue, in her first noteworthy role since The Blair Witch Project, is Molly's downtrodden staffer. On what must have been a low budget, Velle does make L.A. look like a fairy land; the film is bushy with palm trees and scarlet with sunsets. Also, the dialogue has the industry double-talk down pat: regarding a failed script, a secretary says, "The beats fell in the right places, but they didn't fall hard enough." (RvB)
(PG-13; 122 min.) The four Newton brothers, failures at punching cattle and picking cotton, spent the early '20s robbing banks from Canada to the Rio Grande. This gangster Western is based on the memoirs that Joe and Willis Newton dictated before they died. It's too one-sided to be credible: Willis the mastermind (Matthew McConaughey) gets the best lines; little brother Joe (Skeet Ulrich) is the eternal innocent, even when he's sticking a shotgun into a bank-teller's face; and every one of the brothers is just a darlin' at heart. But, despite a few wincers in the dialog, the likable cast (with Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio as the other two brothers) and top-shelf production design make this a lot of fun. (BC)
(PG; 86 min.) Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen get in trouble in the Big Apple. Also stars Eugene Levy.
(PG-13; 107 min.) With the Knight Initiative already out there, this film is the next worst thing for nontraditional families. Everything feels forced about this awful comedy/drama; even real-life pals Rupert Everett and Madonna don't actually seem to like each other much onscreen, although they star as best friendsRobert, a gay man, and Abbie, a straight womanwho become parents after a drunken one-night stand together. The two friends raise their child, Sam, as a family, and all goes well until Abbie meets Ben, her Mr. Right (Benjamin Bratt), and Robert, fearing his parental rights are threatened, sues over custody of Sam. Madonna and Everett spend most of the film trading catty remarks and a good supporting cast is utterly wasted (Ileana Douglas and Lynn Redgrave fare the worst in throwaway roles) but far worse, The Next Best Thing does little justice to its subject matter. The film seems intended to open minds about gay parents, but all it really demonstrates is that it isn't just straight parents who can behave cruelly during custody battlesand that Madonna likes yoga and has a new single out, a cover of "American Pie." The argument in favor of nontraditional families doesn't need staged courtroom declarations about what makes a true parent to prove that unorthodox families can work. Nevertheless, The Next Best Thing desperately tries to boost itself up on this kind of high dramaotherwise it would have just been a film about a happy family. (HZ)
(R; 93 min.) The title credits are up in smoke as two homeboys provide amusing commentary (when director Steve Carr's name appears, they say, "He owe me money"); then Next Friday slows, as if stuck behind an MTA bus at rush hour. Rapper/actor Ice Cube again plays Craig Jones, a South Central booster hustled to suburban Rancho Cucamonga to avoid vengeful jailbreaker Debo (Tiny Lister Jr). Craig's semi-Oreo cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps) provides some laughs as a wannabe player, along with human pit-bull Victor Valdez as a Chicano gangleader in the tract home next door. Despite the running dog-doo gags, chronic reefer jokes and chitterling-circuit turns by John Witherspoon and Don "D.C." Curry, Next Friday is a tired retread. By comparison, Friday (1995) was as tight as the skin on a hot link. (DH)
(Not rated; 27 min.) Filmmaker Lori Beraha looks at U.S.-Cuban relations through a Cuban Passover seder that brings together two Jewish communities. Special screening is followed by a talk with Beraha. $10 donation.
(R; 104 min.) This so-called thriller spiritlessly drags along for 90 minutes and then fizzles into a timid and unlikely climax. Even the film's chief gimmick, presenting the action in real time, becomes a mere reminder of how slowly the movie progresses. Out of a flailing script, Johnny Depp does conjure up a few nail-biting moments as Gene Watson, the quintessential average Joe who is forced into an assassination plot against California's liberal (!) governor (Marsha Mason) when his young daughter is held hostage by members of the plot. Unfortunately, Christopher Walken's deliciously sinister talents are wasted as the omnipresent villain, a character condemned to prolonged bouts of ominous lurking in his role as henchman for the far-reaching assassination conspiracy (comprised, it turns out, of nothing more interesting than a gaggle of conservatives in a snit). In a better film, the heavy reliance on devices straight from Hitchcock might be a homage to the master of suspense; in Nick of Time it seems like a rip-off. (HZ)
The Nickelodeon Theatre celebrates its 30th anniversary in Santa Cruz with an all-night movie marathon. The festivities begin with a screening of Ghostbusters, the 1984 comedy starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver that spawned the pop culture phrase "I've been slimed." Next up is James Cameron's 1991 sci-fi action flick Terminator 2, starring the buffed borg Arnold Schwarzenegger and the equally buffed Linda Hamilton in a race to save the future. William Castle directs Vincent Price in 1959's The Tingler, a sci-fi horror flick that will change the way viewers scream forever. El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez's low-budget 1992 Spanish-language renegade action movie, continues the marathon, followed by The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953), Roy Rowland's fantastical musical version of Dr. Seuss' bookthe only live-action adaptation of Seuss, until Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, due in 2000. Nathan Juran's 1958 fantasy The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is next, followed by Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces (1970), as the emotionally complex (surprise!) Robert Eroica Dupea. Peter Bogdanovich's 1971 look at life in West Texas, The Last Picture Show, starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Johnson and pre-Moonlighting Cybill Shepherd, is next. Concluding the cinematic festivities is Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 masterpiece about nuclear war, precious bodily fluids and wartime paranoia.
(1946) This film's bad reputation is well-earned. Through some awful reverse alchemical formula, director (Michael Curtiz) and four luckless writers turned the Cole Porter catalog into a lead pipeline of clichés. Here are more than two dozen songs in which the indefinite sums up the ineffable: "You Do Something To Me," "You've Got That Thing." "Just One of Those Things," "What is this Thing Called Love," "Let's Do It." The between-the-lines qualities of the titles are matched in the wordplay and melody; unfortunately, the songs are staged against their grain with true '40s brash Technicolor flamboyance. Mary Martin's famous strip (to a chaste little green swimsuit) to "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" is done in Eskimo regalia; Porter's supreme "Begin the Beguine" is given the Latin American fantasia bit, with sombreros. The plot follows the life of Porter, which, let's face it, wasn't exactly Golgotha. Played by Cary Grant (the real item looked more like the young Walt Disney), Porter composes the catchy "Yale Fight Song." After this success, Porter faces modest but insistent familial pressure to become a lawyer. With the help of the self-defrocked professor Monty Woolley, Porter slips the legal leash and begins his career as a composer. Woolley deserves a footnote. The bearded curmudgeon, born "Edgar Montillion Woolley" and best known for The Man Who Came to Dinner, was indeed in real life an ex-Yale academic gone astray. If only someone had cast him as King Edward VII in a story of turn-of-the-century British roguery! Meanwhile, Porter begins his courtship with Linda (Alexis Smith). It's not gallant to blame this movie on Smith, but of all the tough female Warner Bros. cookies, Smith was the most resistant to crumbling. Moreover, her character is the wet blanket of the century. The love stuff has to be endured. Fortunately, every third song has something to recommend it. The film also contains Woolley's interpretation of Porter's sophisticated yet sinister murder ballad "Miss Otis Regrets"the ideal version. The scene of Grant outdoors with an open collar at the grand piano performing "Anything Goes" beside the likable Ginny Simms is Porter as he ought to have been. (RvB)
(PG; 110 min.) To prove himself to his son (Jake Cherry), Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) gets a job as a night guard at the New York Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits come alive at night. Stiller correctly plays straight man not only to the army of CGI beasties but also to some of the world's best comics. The trio of Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs alone could carry an entire movie. But we also get the unlikely and amusing team of Owen Wilson (who appears without credit) and Steve Coogan, as well as Ricky Gervais as the museum manager and Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt. Some forced father-son conflicts and other bits of business occasionally drag the movie down, but its snappy, capable delivery eventually wins out. (JMA)
(PG 13; 84 min.) Consisting largely of visual and physical comedy, A Night at the Roxbury is based on Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell's Saturday Night Live characters, the club-hopping, head-bobbing Butabi brothers (sort of a modern version of Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guys). Like most SNL spinoff movies, A Night at the Roxbury is little more than an extended sketch with a simple storyline. Steve and Doug Butabi live for clubbing, and their biggest dream is to start their own club; their second biggest dream is to get into L.A.'s exclusive Roxbury Club. The characters, costumes and infectious techno soundtrack (featuring Haddaway's "What Is Love" and a cover of "Disco Inferno" by Cyndi Lauper) make this movie outrageous. Those who like the SNL sketch should get a kick out of it, but those who don't probably shouldn't bother. (SQ)
(1935/1948 ) The two films here are the most polished of works by the Marx Brothers and Preston Sturges, which recommends them right there. But neither are they the all-out funniest productions of these geniuses of comedy; the swankiness tends to impair them a little. In A Night at the Opera, the Marx Brothers take on the world of classical music and are saddled with a "love interest" of Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle, which makes for popcorn breaks, anyway. Home of the famous "stateroom scene." BILLED WITH Unfaithfully Yours. Now, your workaday critic will mention that Rex Harrison's character, Sir Alfred de Carter, is based on Sir Thomas Beecham, but few would explain why the wounded pride of a symphony conductor would be pricked by his brother-in-law's snobbery. Here's why: Beecham, the eminent conductor, was the scion to a laxative company that pioneered the craft of the advertising blitz. At one notorious point, they handed out free Christmas carol books with the following verse "Hark, the herald angels sing / Beecham's Pills are just the thing / Peace on earth and mercy mild / Two for man and one for child." As the (relative) parvenu, de Carter, Harrison is easily perplexed (just like the parvenu Othello) into extremes of jealousy, and Sturges' comedy on this most ridiculous of conditions matches Harrison with a wife (Linda Darnell) too beautiful not to be straying. As he conducts the orchestra, Sir Alfred imagines three different perfect murder schemes set to Rossini, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Deathless bits, but what a pity they couldn't land James Mason, Sturges' first choice for the role. (RvB)
(R; 114 min.) A ridiculously naive assistant DA (Andy Garcia) learns to his sorrow how justice works in New York. Veteran director Sidney Lumet gives the film a strong, almost dialogue-free beginning sequence in which a drug dealer named Jordan Washington escapes from the police. Then the dealer surrenders on his own. In the courtroom, Washington turns out to have a temper like King Kong'sthis, right after we've seen how cool he was under fireand the picture goes slowly and irrevocably wrong. The decline begins right at the point at which Garcia, the son of one of the officers shot during the escape, is hand-picked to prosecute the case against Washington. (You'd think there'd be a judge somewhere who'd have something to say about that particular turn of events.) Ian Holm co-stars as Garcia's father, the wounded cop; Richard Dreyfuss plays an apparently slimy criminal lawyer who turns out to have a heart as big as all outdoors. The only noteworthy performance is given by James Gandofini as Holm's partner. Gandofini's death's-head smile of disbelief at his own bad luck during his last scene breaks through the movie's literally and figuratively dim surface. (The photography is notably poor; when romantic lead Lena Olin tells Garcia how good looking he is, you wonder how she saw his face through the murk long enough to be able to tell.) (RvB)
(1948/1946) A very rare one, and what a beautiful title, too, borrowed from poet Francis William Bourdillon (1852-1921). The much-reused plot by Cornell Woolrich is the story of a once-phony psychic (Edward G. Robinson) who starts to have disturbingly real visions of a woman's death. Gail Russell and William Demarest co-star; directed by John Farrow. BILLED WITH Strange Illusion. Edgar Ulmer's drama, slightly based on Hamlet, about a prophetic dreamer (James Ludon) who believes that his father has been murdered by his mother's new husband. Sally Eilers co-stars in the Gertrude role, with fox-faced pre-Codesman Warren Williams as the new husband. (RvB)
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(1993) Most fans of this film consider it a triumph of stop-motion animation and a great alternative holiday flick for the misfits (not the band, although you gotta chuckle at the idea of Glenn Danzig putting his own spin on "Kidnap the Sandy Claws, throw him in a box, bury him for 90 years, then see if he talks" as he chortles along in front of the TV). Me, I dig it because the soundtrack is sort of the last good Oingo Boingo album. The other thing I find fascinating about this film is that I doubt a director's vision has ever mattered so little in terms of shaping the artistic direction and content of a major film. The Nightmare Before Christmas so thoroughly and completely belongs to writer-producer-production designer Tim Burton that most people don't realize it was actually directed by Henry Selick. Producers, of course, hijack films all the time, but in terms of the unmistakable creative imprints on the finished film, we might very well assume that Burton and associate producer-star Danny Elfman threw Selick in a box and buried him for the entire production of this film. (SP)
"German expressionism combined with Dr. Seuss," co-director Tim Burton (with Henry Selick) calls this claymation classic. The jolly, macabre king of Halloween, Jack Skellington, discovers the portal to the realm of Christmas, where happiness reigns. ("Absolutely no one's dead!" he exclaims.) He schemes to take over the job of bringing about Christmas. Despite the warnings of the woman who loves himSally, a ghoulish version of Raggedy AnnSkellington proceeds. Unknown to our hero, the real Santa Claus ends up in the dungeon of the villain of the piece: the Boogie Man, an animated burlap bag full of bugs. The film merges Halloween with that other haunted holiday, Christmas. Christmastime often overwhelms people with the memories of long-gone loved ones and lost childhoods. One could object to the film as a bid for an extended Christmas season lasting from Oct. 31 to the end of December. The film favors not yuletide sentiment but the idea of Halloween as the best day of the year. The happy cadaver Jack, the patchwork Sally busily taking a needle to her sawdust limbsthese are what interest the filmmakers, not stodgy Santa Claus. Unfortunately, directors without Burton's sensitivity and his taste for black light and comedy turned murk into a new cliché. But The Nightmare Before Christmas still looks rich and strangehappy proof that a filmmaker's personal obsessions will age better than any decision by committee. (RvB)
(Unrated; 92 min.) Hassan Zee's drama focuses on a Pakistani woman who must decide whether to accept an arranged marriage or follow her own heart.
(1955) A traveling preacher with the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles pursues innocent victims in Charles Laughton's magnificently moody rural noir allegory (with a screenplay by James Agee, based on the novel by Davis Grubb). After dispatching Shelley Winters, Mitchum chases a pair of children down an almost mythical river path to meet his match in the form of silent-film star Lillian Gish. An utterly unforgettable film.
(1968) For some inexplicable reason, the Camera Cinema's management decided to follow Thanksgiving by booking a movie about being trapped by zombie family members who eat giblets and wolf down grisly meat torn off bones. George Romero's breakthrough movie, shot in authentically unglamorous Pittsburgh locations, tells of a virus that turns the dead into ravening monsters. This low-budget film laid down the "rules" of the zombie movietheir hunger, their wrathand was the source for 28 Days Later and a million other movies since. Vegans beware. (RvB)
George Romero made his name with this low-budget horror classic about zombies terrorizing a house full of terrified humans. The special effects came from a butcher shop, but the film is both intense and weirdly funny. Listen for one of the great lines of all time, as a local yahoo zombie-hunter points to his prey and quips, "He's dead. He's all messed up." (AR)
(R; 96 min.) A much-delayed thriller that probably could have spent another few years rotting in the vaults without anyone noticing. It's a bland giallo (Italian splatter/sex movie) remade from a Norwegian original. Ewan McGregor stars as a law student with a night job in a dank, neglected morgue who is harassed by a necrophiliac killer. Despite a rewrite by Steven Soderbergh, it's a very uninteresting thriller, more irritating than genuinely sadistic. Like some trials, it could have benefited from a change of venue; the L.A. milieu doesn't match with the atmosphere of abandonment and desperation the movie tries so hopelessly induce. A good cast is squandered, including an uninvolved Patricia Arquette and Nick Nolte, who is just plain preposterous as a sinister police inspector. One line from a character summing up the murders gives it all away: "It's just like one of those movies on USA network." (RvB)
(R; 114 min.) This Russian film defeated the mighty Lord of the Rings trilogy to become the top-grossing movie in its home country. A flashback explains that after a great battle the forces of darkness and light came to an uneasy truce. Night Watchers would keep an eye on the forces of darkness, and Day Watchers would do the same for the forces of light. This has continued throughout history until Night Watcher Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) steps into the picture. Because of him, a vampire is dead, an ancient prophecy is about to come true and the apocalypse is coming. (It's basically a very serious Ghostbusters.) Director Timur Bekmambetov photographs everything in great swirls of blue-gray; his camera jumps and soars during fight scenes, and when a car engine starts, he shows all the pistons and turbines firing and spinning. Even the animated English subtitles appear to bow to the commands of the characters' wills. All this sound and fury is an attempt to cover up the fact that there's very little to care about. (JMA)
(1932/1930) Boris Karloff, who had already been in 68 films, gets to play a nice-guy gangster named "Happy" MacDonald in Night World. He co-stars in a tale of a drunk playboy (Lew Ayres) and a chorus girl (Mae Clarke) who find romance amid the backstories of a swank nightclub. The dance sequences are directed by Busby Berkeley. Keep an eye out for the noted black actor Clarence Muse as the doorman; Muse (according to Daniel J. Leab's indispensable book From Sambo to Superspade) held an LL.B. degree and made 50 movies in 25 years. Some were horribly patronizing (Whitey, the groom in Frank Capra's Riding High). Yet Muse deserves credit for walking off the set of Song of the South after Disney, which had hired him as a consultant, refused to take his suggestions for leaching some of the racism out of that still-banned film. BILLED WITH Madam Satan. Ooh la la! Very stilted Cecil B. DeMille farce about a married playboy (Reginald Denny) who leaves his far too dignified society wife, Angela (Kay Johnson, who appears to be suffering from indigestion). "Say, Bob, have you left home for good?" asks his drinking buddy Roland Young. "I've left home for good ... for the good of all women!" he answers. But these two top-hatted wastrels get their just deserts aboard a zeppelin, where a fancy costume party is upstaged by the outrageously French-accented Madam Satan (actually, Angela in a devil suit). In a zone of its own between operetta and Ken Russell, Madam Satan has the fluidity of concrete. Still, stick around or else you'll miss the rather tremendous costume ball, with a floor show dedicated to the Spirit of Electricity and the crazy-legged Lillian Roth in a golden pheasant outfit. (Roth's sad storybooze, battering husband, Bowery, AAwas filmed in the hit I'll Cry Tomorrow. Her life was another example of the rule that no one who looks that happy can really be having a good time.) (RvB)
Regularly scheduled programs of silent films. A Gentleman of Paris (1927). The antics of a titled rascal (Adolphe Menjou) whose enjoyment of life is about to be reigned in by marriage. It's directed by the aristocratic Harry D'Abbadie D'Arrast (Laughter, Topaze), who gave up film in the middle of the Depression and spent his last 30 years in Monte Carlo. Plus Long Fliv the King (1926) which sounds like some tedious two-reeler about 1920s man's constant war with his Model T Ford (a.k.a. "flivver"—a piece of inexplicable and extinct slang). In fact it's a story of Princess Helga of Thermosa (Martha Sleeper) trying to thwart tradition by marrying a condemned man (Charlie Chase). Saturday Afternoon (1926) is Harry Langdon's penultimate film for Mack Sennett, a story of a blue-collar cluck who escapes from his castrating wife, right after the end of the mandatory half-day shift that workers used to have on Saturday, shortly before the labor unions put the kibosh on that evil practice. Unwillingly drafted to be wingman to a post-dated swinger with a handlebar mustache (Vernon Dent), Langdon meets disaster. First he's half-killed by being trapped in a rumble-seat; later, he's soundly trounced in a fistfight, damage that leaves him with the wistful, blinking expression of a child who has just told there's no Santa Claus. Frank Capra is the co-writer, and—though I've never seen this elsewhere—I suspect Capra is one of the two men who help to extricate Langdon from a collision with a telephone pole. Greg Pane at the piano. (Plays at Jan 12, 2008 at 7:30pm at the Niles Essanay Museum, 37417 Niles Blvd, Fremont; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org). (RvB)
The Cure (1916). Charlie Chaplin puts his booze-cruise into dry dock in this sanitarium-based comedy. Also: Dog Shy (1926) with Charlie Chase; Frozen Hearts (1923) starring Stan Laurel; and We Faw Down (1928) with Laurel and Hardy. Frederick Hodges at the piano. (Plays Jan 19, 2008 at 7:30pm in Fremont at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org) (RvB)
Sat., Jan. 26, 2008: The Black Pirate (1926) with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as the survivor of a pirate raid, who goes undercover to bring them to justice. The primordial pirate film, in two-strip Technicolor; Billie Dove is the hostage whom Fairbanks dares all to rescue. Also: Two Gun Gussie (1918) with Harold Lloyd as a mild saloon piano-player mistaken for a gunman. And: Don't Park There (1924), Will Rogers, driving in town to get a bottle of horse liniment, discovers the horror of the modern parking problems. Jon Mirsalis at the piano. (Plays Jan 26, 2008 at 7:30pm in Fremont at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org) (RvB)
Sat., Feb. 2, 2008: This week: Charley's Aunt (1925). The early and sure-fire drag comedy with Sydney Chaplin as the strange chaperon from Brazil, where the nuts come from. Also: Felix Minds the Body (1925) featuring the wonderful, wonderful cat, and British comedian Lupino Lane in Good Night, Nurse. Judy Rosenberg at the piano. (Plays Feb 2, 2008 at 7:30pm in Fremont at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org) (RvB)
This week's program: Midwinter 2008 Comedy Festival. Feb. 15: Six sound comedies by silent stars, including Harry Langdon in His Bridal Sweet (1935), and Laurel and Hardy in The Chimp (1932). Feb 16: three programs of silent comedies, including a morning sequence of Keystone Comedies, a 4pm program of W.C. Fields in It's the Old Army Game (1926)—Mr. Elmer Prettywilly goes through everything but waterboarding at the hands of children, women and other peace-disturbers. A 7:30pm program of Hal Roach comedies features his work from the late 1920s. Feb 17: Three separate programs, including a 1:30pm set including Buster Keaton in 1922's The Frozen North. All-festival pass $30 (cheap!); advance tickets for the $5-suggested-donation individual programs are seriously recommended. (Plays Feb 15-18 in Fremont at the Edison Theatre, 37417 Niles Blvd; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org.) (RvB)
Regularly scheduled programs of silent movies. This week: Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) is perhaps the most seen—and most influential—of all silent films. The model of the dystopic science fiction film, it follows a workers' revolt in a city of subterranean cruelty and towering idleness. Essential viewing. Also: The Eclipse (1907). George Melies explains astronomy for you. A debonair clean-cut moon gets in the face of a grimacing sun with surly eyebrows. Later comes the arrival of "the stars that still sojourn, yet still move onward; and ever where the blue sky belongs to them" as Coleridge wrote. Here, these heavenly bodies are played by chorus girls with pretty legs, scooting about the firmament on the backs of comets, or riding sidesaddle on the crescent moon. Plus, a different kind of celestial divinity: Buster Keaton bringing his can-do spirit to the construction of that state of the art dwelling, The Electric Home (1922). Molly Axtman at the piano. (Plays Feb 23 at 7:30 in Fremont at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org.) (RvB)
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(R; 115 min.) This multipart film by Rodrigo García (Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, Ten Tiny Love Stories) is like a ride in a car with a bad transmissionit keeps stalling and starting. Two episodes stand out. Sissy Spacek as Ruth, an older woman on the verge of an affair, sits sad and tiny on a polyester motel bedspread. Kathy Baker is typically acidic and intelligent as an angry mastectomy-patient-to-be. She wrestles with an electric hospital bed, while her helpless husband (Joe Mantegna) tries hopelessly to soothe her. By contrast, Lisa Gay Hamilton's daughterly meltdown complete with gun brandishing is overdone. The film is rushed and visually dank, and its "only connect" philosophy would be easier to understand if these stories were only connected by mood and theme and meaninginstead of hooked up with cameos appearances by the characters from the other episodes. (RvB)
(PG-13; 103 min.) Baby-on-Bored is more like it. This shaky comic showcase for our favorite Brit assures us that Hugh Grant saved his most embarrassing antics for on-screen. As freaked-out expectant father Samuel Faulkner, Grant heads a cast of generally strong performers, including Robin Williams, Jeff Goldblum and Joan Cusack, who all, usually, have found better outlets for their talents than a weak comedy about the wackiness of maternity. In fact, the chief trouble with this typical expectant-parent comedy is its script, written in presumably about nine minutes, which relies on the fact that Hapless Hugh and a celebrity cast will pull off a handful of far-fetched sight-gags that make the Keystone Cops look subtle. Jokes that had the possibility of being funny, such as Samuel's gravity-defying drive through San Francisco to get his wife to the hospital, are quickly overused and lose their humor. Grant has nothing more to do than fall on his butt a few times and ultimately act stutteringly sensitive. Maybe all he really wanted was a quick buck. (HZ)
(1933/1939) All about Paris's bad effect on the communist spiritalthough visiting the site of the Communards' martyrdom only strengthened my left-wing resolve. Melvyn Douglas slouches his elegant way through Ninotchka as a persuasive demigigolo, involved with a White Russian grand duchess in reduced circumstances. ("I suppose one gets the face one deserves," Ina Claire says, surveying herself in the mirror; the quote turns up here several years before its usual attribution to George Orwell.) A Soviet commissar named Yakischova turns up with the duchess's jewels, trying to sell them to raise money for the USSR. The gigolo must turn his charms upon her, but she (Greta Garbo) is quite immune. She drinks vodka but winces at champagne. "Don't make an issue of my vomanhood," she frowns, poring over a map of Paris as if it were an overdue bill. Garbo is hilarious here, sending up her usual roles as a weary, mannish man killer. Wearing what look like waterproof stockings and speaking as tonelessly as a Martian, Garbo is the immovable object of totalitarianism, undone by the irresistible force of romance. Unfortunately, Ernst Lubitsch's movie is not as smooth as Douglas. It's sometimes lead-footed in moments of levity. Garbo is made to wear a haute-couture hat that would be hooted out of camp at Burning Man. And when she is made to utter a stage laugh, there's a note of capitulation in it. But the politics are deftsatirizing both the USSR's aims to make "fewer but better Russians" as well as the golden hindsight of the aristocratic class. Douglas comments that "problems are never solved by bowing from a balcony"a thought to tide one over during the next presidential photo opportunity. BILLED WITH Queen Christina. "Precisely, the story of a woman who grew up in the belief that the world is a place of solitude, then suddenly discovers the power to communicate with its enchantments," writes Tom Milne in his book on director Rouben Mamoulian. Greta Garbo plays Queen Christina of Sweden, the 17th-century monarch who refused to marry. This (scarcely accurate) romance hazards a guess as to why. Recently enshrined in Bertolucci's The Dreamers. (RvB)
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(R; 190 min.) The wild tale of Tricky Dicky and his delightful crew is such a good one that I doubt even director Oliver Stone could harm it. Anthony Hopkins turns out to be a natural for the part. Visually dense beyond the point of distraction, Nixon is not as easy to watch as the individual performances. The It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World approach to history that Stone favors makes for tableaux that never pay off. It's one thing to get Bob Hoskins to play J. Edgar Hoover as a cynical homosexual; it's another to find something for him to do. On the bright side, Stone doesn't lie too much about history this time. (RvB)