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Full text review. (North Bay)
(R; 85 min.) Critics have worn their bosoms to a nubbin snuggling this very little movie from Dublin, and it is fair to try to dissent a bit. The very short and very sweet Once is the tetchy romance of a Dublin street busker/vacuum-cleaner repairman (Glen Hansard) who falls for a demure and much younger single mom from Czechoslovakia (Marketa Irglova) separated from her husband. The Man—he's identified like that, as per silent movies—is still wrecked from his girlfriend leaving for London; the latter remains on some tentative continuing terms with her husband. During the time they have together, the Man and the mom jam and work on and record a couple of songs. Director John Carney, a video maker associated with Hansard's band the Frames, makes this a poor folks' musical that shows us working man's Dublin and a brief motorcycle view of the coast. Of the two songs, the ballad "Falling Slowly" didn't drill into the cortex as easily as the catchy folk rocker "When Your Mind's Made Up," in which Hansard's full-throttle sincerity is tempered by a rhythm section. His sincerity is advertised by his guitar, and a lot of people will think it is the saddest guitar they have ever seen—Hansard's acoustic dreadnought has been scratched open with gaping holes by too-vigorous strumming. Seeing the movie, I knew how the guitar felt. That instrument boasts the same kind of integrity advertised by the murky, bleedy night photography when the lady walks out in the night to get batteries from the corner shop. It is the kind of sincerity that begs for a little insincerity, it is the kind of movie that is so tender it just falls apart right in front of you. (RvB)
(1990) In a departure from his more serious action fare, John Woo directed this comic actioner starring Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung as a trio of international art thieves.
(1942) Not just its rarity but its reputation for bad taste recommends Once Upon a Honeymoon. It's a burlesque version of the story later used for Notorious. Reporter Cary Grant keeps tabs on a woman (Ginger Rogers) involved with a German baron (Walter Slezak) whom she fails to recognize as a Nazi. Rogers and Grant end up in a concentration camp and hilarity ensues. Directed by Leo McCarey. (RvB)
Cary Grant stars in Once Upon a Time as a Broadway producer who discovers a caterpillar that dances to "Yes Sir, That's My Baby"; the caterpillar (which doesn't dance onscreen) vanishes, breaking the heart of the little boy (Ted Donaldson) who discovered the bug. Janet Blair and William Demarest co-star; director Alexander Hall based the film on a popular radio play (My Friend Curley by Norman Corwin). He was accused by critic James Agee of trying to use two-by-fours when he should have used gossamer. The film is most memorable as the target of the late Chuck Jones' unforgettable satire "One Froggy Evening." (RvB)
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(Unrated; 107 min.) Director Linh Viet's supernatural parable about the modernization of Vietnam. Around 1900, Lord Nguyen (Dung Nhi) attends a house concert in Hanoi. The performers are Tam (San Jose's Don Duong), a player on the three-stringed lute. He accompanies the singer To (Nga Thuy). It is an open secret that these two musicians are in love, despite To's marriage to another man. When the show ends in violence, Tam takes refuge at Nguyen's estate, but a tragedy unhinges the landlord, and only music can save him. On one level, this is a story is of decadence akin to Satyajit Ray's films about well-born futility in the face of the rising power of colonialists. While the budgetary constraints show, the landscapes and customs are an eyeful. The two performances of traditional ca tru music are the most exciting moments. Nga Thuy's singing sounds to Westerners like nothing less than Nina Simone at her most doom-laden. (RvB)
(1991) Dynasty-founding martial arts classic is the tale of Wong Fei-Hong, the hero teacher and scholar of the 1800s who left his mark on the world of martial arts, just as he did in dozens of Hong Kong movies. Here played by Jet Li, Fei-Hong fights off colonialist Europeans with the help of sidekicks Jacky Cheung and Kent Cheng. (RvB)
(1991) A perhaps even livelier sequel, with Rosamund Kwan repeating her role as Li's seductive Aunt Yee. In this opus, Fei-Hong finds himself in the service of Sun Yat-Sen himself, helping to head off the radical White Lotus organization and their plan to massacre all the foreigners in China. (RvB)
(1969) A masterpiece. While the plot edges on incoherence, Sergio Leone successfully blends operatic aspirations with the good-guy and bad-guy Western movie plot. As the pinprick-pupiled hired enforcer, Henry Fonda is the most frightening villain in cinema history (either him or Mitchum in Night of the Hunter, anyway). Charles Bronson, with an unusual gentle, pursed smile, is Harmonica, the cryptic antihero who plays the movie's four-note theme. As in Leone's earlier For a Few Dollars More, the music fails to stir the killer's memory until his last moment of life. Playing the rich widow Fonda and Bronson contend for is Claudia Cardinalein Leone's lens, her face, hair and body are a symphony of shades of brown. Don't miss the opening sequence, a cinematic aria about the preciousness of water on the prairie, with a squeaking windmill as the chorus. It's a triumph of editing and wide-angle shots, contrasting the inhuman beauty of Woody Strode's passive face with the wideness and blankness of the desert. The larger-than-life emotions match the wide-open prairie. Dry as the scenery is, it's hard to watch without moist eyes. (RvB)
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(PG; 113 min.) Director Tim Reid has created a film deeply corny in spots, with intrusive narration by screenwriter Paul W. Cooper. The village of Glen Allan, Miss., seen from World War II to the civil-rights movement, is a sort of African American Walton's Mountain. Cliff (Willie Norwood Jr.) is raised by his great-grandfather (Al Freeman Jr.) and an extended family of friends and relations. As he grows up, Cliff faces discrimination and prejudice, although he's given classics to read by a severe but decent old white lady (Polly Bergen). The story avoids most of the cruelty of a cruel era, and it wouldexcept for some relatively tame scenes of childbirth and bar fightingbe a good kids' movie. (RvB)
(1952) Nicholas Ray directs Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino in a noir drama about a hard-boiled cop who encounters a blind woman during a search for a killer.
(PG-13; 80 min.) Jet Li action-thriller in which a man's evil alter-ego travels through parallel universes, killing versions of himself.
(1999) The story of the Black September attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics, told from both sides and carefully reconstructed through computer graphics and the news footage of the time. What emerges in this Oscar-winning documentary is an analysis of poorly coordinated police response by the German hosts. This true-life horror story is, of course, all the more relevant because of recent events. One deletion seems extroadinary: the Palestinian terrorist here interviewed mentions he grew up in Chatilla refugee camp, and there's no mention of some of the events that occurred there (a skeleton in the closet of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon). (RvB)
(PG; 105 min.) The film feels as gorgeous and frustrating as wading through holiday crowds at the mallthe trappings and people are pretty, but you really don't get very far. As harried Manhattan single-parent careerists (a rakish columnist and an overworked and underlaid architect, respectively) who meet un-nice when they're stuck with the kids one Monday, George Clooney has a star's charm and Michelle Pfeiffer is a deft comic performer. Yet the stars' charisma can't overcome the rote script, which shows the difficulties of finding love during this overscheduled decade in an unintentionally humorless way. One Fine Day bills itself as a romantic comedy, but it grates like social realism. (DH)
(G; 110 min.) Although the Magic Kingdom's marketing gurus have long since insured that 101 Dalmatians would be "101 cute, little, spotted ways to make a buck," happily this live-action remake of Disney's animated canine adventure is far from being merely all bark. The film retains the original's playfulness but uses its live-action characters to bring a sort of glamorous sophistication to the tale about scores of Dalmatian puppies that must be rescued from crazed furrier Cruella DeVil (a wickedly chic performance by Glenn Close). The strong cast includes a lovably dowdy Joan Plowright as Nanny, and her fellow Brits Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams, who bring extra humor to their roles as Cruella's incompetent henchmen. For the most part, even the canine stars look surprisingly spontaneous. With a wildly garbed Close leading the way, the movie is blissfully over the top in every aspect but one: perhaps realizing that there's only so much room for talking-animal movies, nary the nonhuman utters a word. The animal characters are portrayed instead through well-chosen actions and sparingly used animatronics. In the rare recognition that no remake can ever dethrone original, Disney has created a new and wholly different movie that, in its own way, is nearly as enjoyable to watch.
(G) The sequel to 1996's live-action retelling of 101 Dalmatians finds the formerly fur-obssessed Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) apparently reformed and a new champion of animal rights. But when she buys a dog shelter and puppies begin disappearing, Cruella's probation officer, Chloe (Alice Evans), becomes suspicious. Gerard Depardieu also stars.
(1937/1939) Deanna Durbin rounds up an orchestra of the unemployed, including her father (Adolphe Menjou). Also stars Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer and Alice Brady. BILLED WITH Rose of Washington Square. Alice Faye stars as a singer unhappy about the shiftless man in her lifea roman à clef so easily undone that Fanny Brice sued, figuring that 20th Century-Fox had raided the story of her life with the similarly troublesome Nicky Arnstein (as seen in Funny Girl). Performers include Al Jolson and Louis Prima (backing up Alice Faye on "I'm Just Wild About Harry"). (RvB)
(1934/ 1936) Norwegian ice-skating champion Sonja Henie debuts in One in a Millionas a skating star who becomes a movie star. Adolphe Menjou, the Ritz Brothers (they're pretty funny) and Don Ameche co-star. BILLED WITH Three Smart Girls, which is something of an early version of the Parent Trap plot, only with three daughters instead of two; here we see the debut of Deanna Durbin, a teenage opera singer who became Universal's biggest star of the 1930s. Also stars Ray Milland, Binnie Barnes, Alice Brady and Franklin Pangborn. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) A strange one. It is symptomatic of the mix of small-camera credibility, subngellow's script about a 16-year-old dying of cancer in Marcus Hook, Pa., on the Delaware River. Dylan (Michael Angarano) has weeks to live, and a Make-a-Wish style foundation has come to get his last request, which is supposed to be a fishing trip with a local football legend. Instead, Dylan voices his innermost desire, which is a date with supermodel Nikki Sinclair (Sunny Mabrey, seemingly cast because she looks like Charlize Theron at 30 paces). The self-destructive Nikki learns to appreciate life from this dying teen, who also gets counseling from the spirit of his dad (an unbilled Ethan Hawke). The film's scope may be too small to permit going over the question of whether it's ever right to guilt-whip a woman into a date. However, the small-town locales are authentic, and Cynthia Nixon expertly underplays the grieving mom. As Nikki's manager, Gina Gershon upstages the heroine in every scene they share, but then, Gershon is more like the stuff last wishes are made of. (Steyermark previously directed Gershon in Santa Cruz scriptwriter Cheri Lovedog's Prey for Rock and Roll.) When this works, it's reminiscent of Kevin Smith and John Hughes movies at their best; when it goes wrong, it's worse than any of Hughes' or Smith's missteps. (RvB)
(PG-13; 87 min.) It may have been a mistake to hire a Frenchman to remake a movie by the Japanese mad genius Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer), but while director Eric Valette fails to do anything with the derivative plot (borrowed shamelessly from Ringu, Ju-On and other Japanese classics) or the interesting cast, he manages an unusual, appealingly quiet tone. Unlike most knocked-off horror remakes, this one forgoes relentless, shaky-cam nausea and actually finds time for rest breaks, and even uses old-fashioned makeup effects instead of hollow, computer-generated horrors. Shannyn Sossamon stars as a girl whose friends receive mysterious cell-phone messages and meet their untimely deaths. Ed Burns plays the cop who believes her story. Adapted from a novel by Yasushi Akimoto. (JMA)
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(R; 103 min.) Wesley Snipes stars as Max Carlyle, a successful director of TV commercials from L.A. On a trip to New York, Carlyle has a one-night affair with a married German woman named Karen (Nastassja Kinski). His crisis worsens when Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), Max's old friend starts succumbing to AIDS. The movie has a crass, leering quality that sets your teeth on edge. Director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) draws out the romantic sexual tensions in the material, but the plot is as rigged as the Cutty Sark. (RvB)
(PG; 123 min.) The story of Queen Esther, as told with all available cyberanimation and shot in Rajasthan, where the extras are plentiful, and where actors like Omar Sharif, Peter O'Toole (very good as Samuel) and John Rhys-Davies can rumble out crypto-biblical threats. A sop to us few remaining sword-and-sandal fans, and possibly lucrative, since it is intended for the Bible-thumping market (and I guess the Jewish film fest here and there). But the film's limits are clear right up front in the title. As Esther, a.k.a. Hadassah, former Miss University of Georgia Tiffany Dupont delivers lines like "I'm of the wind"; the serious Jew-hater villain (James Callis) pays off a henchman and tells him, "Speak of me, when you lavish your wife with scent." Someone lavished this script with scent, and the skunk wants it back. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) Brazil's Bruno Barreto (Four Days in September) directed this garden-variety police story. It stars Stephen Baldwin as plainclothes cop Bo Dietl. Dietl has some risky friendships. His partner (Chris Penn) is in a downward spiral from drinking and degenerate gambling. Richie (Mike McGlone), an old childhood friend of Dietl's, is in an organized-crime family, a connection that subjects the officer to unwelcome attention by Internal Affairs and the FBI. The fact that Richie's girlfriend, Joey (Gina Gershon), is becoming attracted to Dietl makes matters more tense. In real life, Dietl was one of the detectives who cracked the case of the raped nun in Spanish Harlem (the basis for Abel Ferrara's far superior Bad Lieutenant). One Tough Cop is, however, a real-life cop's self-aggrandizing fiction based on himself and fleshed out with fictional characters. The film is certainly only authentic in bits and pieces. The smoky Gershon glides through a few scenes, but she's wasting her time in a film like this when she and Jennifer Tilly ought to be out remaking every Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake movie ever made. Dietl may know what he's talking about, but as portrayed by Baldwin he's too good to be true: an officer who only uses excessive force when it's justifiedand never on the wrong party, of course. (RvB)
(R; 127 min.) Simply the presence of sublime onscreen sufferer Meryl Streep, let alone the story, promises that One True Thing will be a multi-kleenex movie, and although this family drama doesn't disappoint on that count, strong performances all around make the film more than just a better-than-average tearjerker. Renee Zellweger is excellent as Ellen Gulden, an ambitious young magazine writer who strives for the approval of her self-absorbed literature professor father (William Hurt). Seemingly at odds with the chilly intellectual airs affected by dad and daughter is the indefatigably capable wife and mother, Kate (Streep), who gives Martha You-Know-Who a run for her money with domestic skills and far surpasses her when it comes to sunny personality. On a visit to her parents, Ellen learns that her mother has cancer; mostly to please her father, she moves home to aid in her mother's recovery. Predictably, Kate's cancer worsens, and in the course of caring for her, Ellen learns that there's far more to mom than she had given her credit for. At the same time, Ellen becomes disillusioned with her father, finally realizing his flaws. Sure, such a tale is hardly uncharted territory, but director Carl Franklin's delicate steering of the growth of the relationships between Ellen and both her parents lends new power to a familiar story. (HZ)
(1961/1955) James Cagney stars as a Coca-Cola executive named C.P. MacNamara. While stationed in Berlin, MacNamara's daughter takes up with a communist. The film is based on a farce by Ferenc Molnar (who wrote the source stories for everything from You've Got Mail to Carousel), but it's a barky, dated picture whose percussive jokes miss as often as they hit. Despite Cagney, it has the all the appeal of a drum solo. Billy Wilder directs. BILLED WITH The Seven Year Itch. While the cat's away, a middle-aged book editor (Tom Ewell) schemes up a tryst with the half-bright blonde upstairs (Marilyn Monroe). It's Billy Wilder's PG-rated version of a then-sexy play by George Axelrod. The film's attitude toward adultery is a little more sane than, say, what we get in Unfaithful. Still, only the fantasy sequences, with some S.J. Perelman touches, are genuinely funnyas is Oskar Homolka as a Viennese psychiatrist who's written a book titled Repressed Urges of the Middle-Aged Male. When I was a kid, Sonny Tufts was considered the worst actor in the world. See Tufts here as the studly author Ewell is jealous of and judge for yourself. Monroe-fanciers have kept this movie out of oblivion, but she's not as alive here as she is in the later, greater Some Like It Hot. Playing a woman so overheated that she has to wear refrigerated underwear, Monroe has one famous scene in which she cools herself over a subway ventilator. The scene was shot in Manhattan outside the Trans-Lux Theater at 2am; thousands watched, trying to see what blew Marilyn's skirt up. Among them was an enraged Joe DiMaggio, Monroe's husband at the time, who considered her display the last straw. According to legend, nightclub owner Toots Shor failed to console the great baseball player with this homely comment: "What are you so upset about? You knew she was a hoor when you married her." (Note: I saw this on an especially lousy pan-and-scan video; the CinemaScope version at the Stanford may well add enough brashness to carry the movie.) (RvB)
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(PG-15; 105 min.) Prachya Pinaew's Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is as refreshing as a week at Phuket. The star, the corded-with-muscle Thai action hero Tony Jaa, is a spring-heeled hero, whose martial arts and stunt work are free of digital effects or wirework. Ting (Jaa) is a student of Muay Thai"Nine Body Weapons"who volunteers himself on a mission from Buddha. He quests for the Ong-Bak, the head of a sacred statue, stolen from his village by an antiques trader. Ong-Bak is the definition of "more fun than guns." Physical prowess wins over gunplay, including risky stunts like the unwise "pants on fire" maneuver. Basic as the movie is, it bursts with ethnographic pride and color, and it is entertaining from the opening sequence all the way to the finale. (RvB)
(1981) Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda cope with growing old. Jane Fonda plays the snippy daughter.
(1942) In a squalid seaside town in Ecuador, pilots face death daily hauling mail over the Andes. We meet the pilots at their hangout, Dutchman's, and learn of their fierce code through the arrival of a stranger, a visiting showgirl. Only Angels Have Wings is a beloved cult item that brings out the eloquence in many a critic. Jean Arthur's brave, classy heroine facing off against Cary Grant's supposedly disinterested pilot is some people's ideal vision of grace under pressure, in men and women alike. If seen late at night, it might look like a forgotten classic of director Howard Hawks' career. But despite the atmospheric sets, it's often preposterous even beyond the common level of a picture about male heroics. Compare it to the similar but superior Henri-Georges Clouzot film The Wages of Fear, which is smart enough to ask the right questions about what the cargo was, why these lives are so cheap and who sent the men to die in the first place. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) A shy ad exec meets his dream girl on the El train and then loses her to the crowds. Will love conquer?
(1949/1951) Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra spend 24 hours singing and dancing their way through the Big Apple. Stanley Donen directs. Includes "New York, New York." BILLED WITH An American in Paris, in which Kelly romances Leslie Caron to a brilliant Gershwin score. Also stars Oscar Levant and Nina Fich.
(1954) Both a gratifying drama, and a honeyed message film in favor of snitching. At this point, the partisan struggles it reflected are forgotten, and all that's remembered is how fetching Brando looks with a piece out of his eyebrow. Longshoreman Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is caught between the gangster-led union of his brother (Rod Steiger, never better) and the civilizing mission of his girlfriend, schoolmarm in training Eva Marie Saint. The much-imitated taxi scene (De Niro assayed it at the end of Raging Bull) is one of Brando's best moments on screen, wherein you can see the wounding and wounded quality of the incomparable actor. (RvB)
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(R; 79 min.) Samuel Beckett meets Jaws. Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) are workaholics who take a less-than-paradisiacal package vacation somewhere in the tropics. During a scuba trip, they're left behind in the open water. Stinging jellyfish and hungry sharks menace them; they float through a lightning storm. They're worn by dehydration, hunger, nausea andprobably worst of allsome really serious spatting. At such moments, one suspects director/writer/editor Chris Kentis doesn't want us to feel too bad for this couple. Sharks are an endangered species; vacationing North Americans aren't. But between the indifferent acting and the bleary, digitized horizons, you can't draw a bead on where the director's coming from. You miss the stark beauty and depth a John Boorman or a Nicolas Roeg could have brought out of this watery horror story. Open Water is effective enough to cast a pall over many a snorkeling expedition to Molokini. But on the level of acting, directing and cinematography it's only an adequate treatment of a horrific situation. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Another of Jackie Chan's movies is given the Americanizing treatmentthe usual cutting, dubbing and the addition of a schlock-rock soundtrack. This time, the source is Chan's remarkable Armour of God series, the artist's salute to the James Bond films that wired him up as a kid. As Agent Condor, Chan searches out a cache of Nazi gold buried under the Sahara desert. The highlight is an astonishing flying martial-arts battle conducted inside a live wind tunnel. The sequence, which took some four months to create, is more than just one of the high points of Chan's career; it's one of the most audacious moments in modern Hong Kong cinema. (RvB)
Aside from the high density of Disney-brand cheese, Operation Dumbo Drop is a cool adventure. From behind Walt's rose-colored glasses, the Vietnam War becomes a site for wacky, heartwarming excitement. The action gets rolling when the VC discover the American-friendly tendencies of a village on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and ruthlessly kill the village's beloved elephant. To get back in the villagers' good graces, American Green Berets Doyle (Ray Liotta) and Cahill (Danny Glover) must replace friendship, doing the ethical thing even if it costs you your status, and, of course, the obligatory poop/puke jokes that kids are supposed to love. (KF)
(1959/1961) A pleasant alternative to K-19: The Widowmaker. Cary Grant and Tony Curtis star in a twist on the then-popular Mr. Roberts plot, with Grant as a submarine skipper and Curtis as his intrepid, though crooked, fixer. Comic trouble ensues when the sub has to transport a group of evacuated nurses from the Philippines to Australia during the opening stage of World War II. Blake Edwards directs. BILLED WITH The Grass Is Greener. Grant plays Victor, an English earl in straitened circumstances. First, Victor reaches for his culture and then for his revolver when his wife (Deborah Kerr) is lured away by a visiting American oil millionaire (Robert Mitchum). Stanley Donen directed and produced, which is a promise of class, but promise is all this dated, facetious West End trifle offers. It's the kind of erstwhile sophisticated marital comedy made archaic by the 1960s, even if its Production Code-defying storytelling is now a lost tongue. The film features a montage of typical romantic places where an unmarried couple aren't spending their time. We see an empty table at a chic restaurant, an unmanned picnic spot and a couple-sized space in crowd of slow dancersall indicating that the unmarried lovers are elsewhere, in bed together offscreen. Anyway, Grant proposes the play's argument as nobly as he can. Mitchum opens his sleepy eyes a little wider than usual upon sight of Kerr, as if he likes what he sees. He puts a little dirt under this effete play's fingernails. Pity that Kay Kendall wasn't around to play the part of Grant's hard-drinking ex-girlfriend. Jean Simmons looks most chic in Dior's best, but she's rather unseasoned. Donen's direction includes an early use of split-screen and an apropos application of Noel Coward's "The Stately Homes of England" for the theme song. Lastly, note the sweet if irrelevant title sequence of unclothed babies enjoying the summer sun, frolicking in the grass; it's directed by Maurice Binder, who later photographed a much more diverting assortment of naked babes under the titles of the 007 films. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Jack Black and Colin Hanks star in a comedy about a high school senior trying to get into Stanford.
(R; 102 min.) If I see a movie called The Order, promoted with a trailer that promises a story about some crazy religious order that's somehow tied to a conspiracy within the Vatican, I expect to see that movie. This movie by L.A. Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland is not really about "the order," nor is it really about a conspiracy within the Vatican. In Europe, it's being promoted under the breathtakingly more accurate title The Sin Eater, being as it is about a person who eats people's sins. But under any title, this movie is so boring, ludicrous and confused it makes me want to shake my fists at heaven and scream, "Why, God? Why?" But then, what's the point of talking to her about it? She'll wait for it to hit the 99-cent bin at the video store, if she bothers with it at all. Oh, to be omnipotent. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1980) Robert Redford directs Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsh in an emotionally draining drama about a family torn apart by the death of a son. (AR)
(R; 125 min.) Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie star in this bodice-ripping thriller about a mail-order bride (Jolie) with a dark past whose secrets threaten the fortunes of her new husband, a wealthy Cuban businessman (Banderas).
"I know how deeply you believed in the goodness of the human family ... you taught us as children that we were taking the first tiny steps to a new glorious medium that had been predicted in the Bible, and called the Universal Language"from a letter written by Lillian Gish to D.W. Griffith the day she received news of his death. In Griffith's still-exciting pastiche of A Tale of Two Cities, Dorothy and Lillian Gish are Norman peasant girls who come to Paris just in time for the French Car Cultureolution. This early epic never loses the human scale, thanks to the achingly pure acting of the Gishes, who pantomime the mysterious bond of sisterhood as few actresses have since. Griffith's cause was to expose the Bolsheviks, and the film is electrified with America's first fright by the Russians. But the father of commercial cinema also seeks to outline the French Car Cultureolution in sometimes touchingly naive but always passionate terms. Dennis James at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (Plays Sep 15 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1949) Jean Cocteau's dreamlike film about a poet (Jean Marais) and his attraction to the Princess of Death casts a hypnotic spell on viewers. In one of the most startlingly special effects in cinema history, the characters pass through a mirror made of quicksilver to enter the Underworld. Also stars the remarkable Maria Casares (Children of Paradise). It shows as part of the French film series.
(PG; 83 min.) The Farrelly brothers' (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber) newest nausea-fest takes viewers on a ride through the body of junk-food junkie Frank (Bill Murray). The movie opens with Frank swallowing a mayonnaise-coated hardboiled egg he's swiped from the floor of a chimpanzee cage. When his diet-wise and disgusted daughter Shane (Elena Franklin) protests, Frank shushes her with "the 10-second rule" if it's been on the ground for fewer than 10 seconds, it's edible. Viewers then careen, together with the masticated egg, into the "City of Frank," a digitally animated township populated by the characters who regulate Frank's bodily functions. Laced with pop music, a love interest voiced by Brandy and a science-class message of the evils of poor diet, the movie rarely breaks out of kid-sanctioned gross-out humor. The infrequent live-action sequences are the exceptions, giving the adults in the audience a few outrageous one-liners to walk away with. (LS)
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(R; 120 min.) Laurence Fishburne is the first African American to play Othello on screen, which is worth noting, but ultimately irrelevant. What if the breakthrough actor had been Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis? Fishburne delivers the fail-safe death scene credibly, but in this skeleton version (director Oliver Parker threw out the lion's share of the text), the lines are demotic, painfulwhen Othello modestly says, "Rude am I in my speech," it's too true. He and Desdemona (Irene Jacob) are betrayed doubly by the Iago of Kenneth Branagh, who gives the pair as thorough an upstaging as you are ever likely to see. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) This horror movie achieves its effects without gore or noteworthy computer effects. The lady of the manor, Grace (Nicole Kidman), is a war-widowed Englishwoman living on the Channel island of Jersey in 1945. She's a fragile creaturesome terrible trauma has blown holes through her memory. Her two children have a berserk horror-movie disease: they'll burst into grievous sores if they're exposed to light. Daughter Anne (Alikina Mann) enjoys frightening her very delicate little brother, Nicholas (James Bentley). The question is, then, whether she's teasing Nicholas at night with made-up ghost voices or whether some previous occupant of the house possesses her. The admirable Fionnula Flanagan is hugely entertaining as the servant Mrs. Mills, so urgent that it seems as if her every line of dialogue is italicized. (RvB)
(PG-13; 131 min.) Juliette Lewis is Carla Tate, the retarded youngest daughter of a wealthy Bay Area family who strives for independencethe "other sister" of the film's title but as the controlling mater Tate, Diane Keaton makes this contrived weeper more like The Other Character. Lewis offers an overall proficient performance, but Keaton disappoints as Carla's shrill socialite mother who seems far more concerned about how her country club peers see Carla than her daughter's quest for self-sufficiency. Admittedly, Keaton doesn't have much to work with, as Alexandra Rose and Blair Richwood's script reduces the relationship between mother and daughter to almost nothing more than a class conflict. When Lewis' character is left to her own devices, there are a few winning moments of chemistry with new boyfriend Daniel (Giovanni Ribisi). (HZ)
(1923) Buster Keaton plays a top-hatted fop of the 1840s who goes to inherit some property in the American South and wanders straight into a blood feud. Highlights include Keaton's vision of an early train ride, which is more beguiling than any model train ever built, and the finale, in which Keaton dangles over a waterfall. Chris Elliott plays the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (RvB)
(R; 95 min.) This story of three girls growing up and growing apart while beating the NYC summer heat turns on subtle shifts in tone. Director Jim McKay (Girls Town) gracefully moves the documentary-style handheld camera around "issues" like teen pregnancy and divorce to find the real strength of the film in the powerfully organic performances of the three girls. The sophomores' confused and listless summer is countered by the boot-camp discipline of a champion marching bandthe real-life Jackie Robinson Steppers. We won't know how successfully the girls will find their footing after the summer is over, but equal dramatic weight is given to shoplifting clothes, visiting Dad at his night job, and idly lying in the bedroom with a carton of ice cream listening to pop songs on the radio. And, really, when you're 15, aren't all those things equally important? (PC)
(PG-13; 100 min.) A snowboarder hoping to open his own snowboarding park is thwarted when his girlfriend returns to town.
The second anti-Rupert Murdoch feature filmthe first, of course, was the James Bond adventure Tomorrow Never Dies. MoveOn.org helped produce this anatomy of the Fox News Network by the very un-Michael-Moore-like director Robert Greenwald. Outfoxed is a surprisingly reasonable exposé of Fox News' crippling biasnot a slant or a tendency, but a constant howling partisanship that mixes opinion with fact. Internal memos leaked to Greenwald show top-down dictates of the order of the day on the air and which approach is to be taken on a day's reporting. Montages prove it: more than a dozen each repetitions of subjective ideas such as "John Kerry looks French" or "John Kerry is a flip-flopper"; the contrast is made to rapt coverage of Bush's speeches, usually proceeded by a visually shrieking bulletin (FOX NEWS ALERT! PRESIDENT BUSH ADDRESSES GRATEFUL BUMPKINS!). It's hard to decide what's the low point here. Maybe it's the unedited feed of then-presidential candidate Bush shyly courted by a supine Carl Cameron, a Fox reporter whose wife worked for the Bush campaign. Maybe it's the moment of bullying commentator Bill O'Reilly losing his temper at the meek Jeremy Glick, antiwar son of a murdered World Trade Center employee. ("Anyone who hurts this country at a time like this will be targeted," trumpets O'Reilly, whom someone seems to have elected pope.) But as this painstakingly assembled montage of lies, slurs and hot air demonstrates, the Fox News Network is using scare tactics to keep the nation ill-informed, hostile and divided. Interviewees include Al Franken, Eric Alterman, Rep. Bernie Sanders, critic James Wolcott and Walter Cronkite. (RvB) (Unrated; 75 min.) Scientifically speaking, the fact that you are even reading this means that there is approximately a 217 percent chance that you are aware that the Fox News Channel's reporting is a wee bit slanted toward the conservative. It also, however, means that there is a 131 percent likelihood that you have never been able to endure more than five minutes of watching Fox News before your Tourette's-like swearing drowns out the television speakers. The problem here is obvious: how can you fault the ultraconservatives who condemn Fahrenheit 9/11 without even watching it and then turn around and discredit Fox News if you're not willing to take the timeand presumably the huge dosage of anti-anxiety medication requiredto logically analyze exactly why Fox News is so horribly wrong? Happily, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism does the analyzing for you. In it, the case is made that Fox reporting is not merely conservative news, but is, rather, intentionally distorted right-wing attack politics masquerading as journalism. The case is made through interviews with media experts and ex-Fox News employees, internal memos from the network and countless clips of Fox News itself. And between the muddying of the facts and a disregard for the rules of journalism, a picture emerges of an organization bent on calculated propaganda that is disturbingly effective and tied inexorably to the goals of the Bush administration. It would be a relief to dismiss Fox News as just a conservative news organization, but the problem is that its sensationalism, fear-mongering and extremist views have become like crack for much of America, which has in turn influenced the rest of the news media. For many, Fox is the source of their "facts" and the basis of their beliefs. And with the "facts" they believe often being patently untrueFox News viewers, for example, are over four times more likely to believe in a proven link between Iraq and al Qaida than consumers of more balanced mediathis could have dire consequences on the upcoming election. Outfoxed is the intervention that America needs. The hard part now will be convincing those who need to see it most. Hopefully, in the post-Fahrenheit 9/11 climate, more fence-sitters will see this documentary. But I'm not sure I can recommend showing this movie to your ultraconservative relatives; chances are, they'll just wind up swearing so loudly, they'll drown it out. (MH)
(R; 120 min.) This outstanding Elmore Leonard-derived caper film features the romance, the deftness and the lightness of a classic Hollywood movie. In George Clooney's performance as Jack Foley, a gentleman bank robber, you see glimpses of that ineffable something Cary Grant possessed. Jennifer Lopez plays macha but sweet Karen Sisco, a federal marshal who falls for Foley after a delightful meet-cute in the trunk of a car. Later, Foley, having escaped from jail, leaves scarlet-tinted Miami for an endgame in Detroit, frozen to a blue-gray pallor under a fresh snowfall. Sisco follows, ostensibly to interfere with a burglary he has planned. Steven Soderbergh, directing Scott Frank's script, makes Out of Sight a leisurely pleasure, but the film doesn't lack spine or pace. And what a cast: Catherine Keener as an unemployed magician's assistant, explaining a magic trick to a handcuffed Luis Guzmán; the remarkable Don Cheadle as a psycho called Snoopy; Albert Brooks as a bald-headed white-collar criminal; and Ving Rhames as Foley's partner, used here not for his bulk but for his gentleness and his million-dollar smile. Out of Sight is a completely satisfying yet seemingly effortless example of the kind of filmmaking generally thought to be extinct. (RvB)
(1995/1987) Two unpreviewed films from Hong Kong. Out of the Dark, written and directed by Jeff Lau, stars Stephen Chow fighting some ghosts in an apartment building. BILLED WITH Rich and Famous, also starring Chow. (RvB)
(PG-13; 91 min.) In this profoundly depressing "comedy," a pair of middle-aged Ohioans (Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin) are stranded overnight in New York City without money. It's based on a 1970 film starring Sandy Dennis and Jack Lemmon, written by Neil Simon and filmed by Arthur Hiller back when Manhattan was tougher, filthier and more interesting. (The original wasn't by any means a good movie, but it had a point about New York's unviability; the point is lost in Mayor Rudy Giuliani's bland, edgeless Manhattan of 1999.) Still, there's one key ingredient from the original intact: Simon's contempt for the rubes who dare to infiltrate New York. Screenwriter Marc Lawrence (of Forces of Nature) has made Hawn's Nancy more tough-minded than Dennis', but the rest of the tale is grim and blocky as Stalinist architecture. Some of the worst slapstick in memory is acted out here. Martin plays his part as if anxiety were inherently hilarious, and it's a thoroughly dead, clock-punching performance. John Cleese plays a snide hotel manager named Mersault (could the name be a joke on Albert Camus' novel The Stranger, perhaps a coded signal of the estranging quality of working in this movie?). Someand I wasn't one of themhave found Cleese's transvestite scene funny; this titan, this master comedian is made to kick around in old-timey drag like the Mad Carlotta, with raccoon coat and peñita. Later, Cleese's Mersault is blackmailed for the peccadillo and threatened with jail. Jail for transvestitism? Just how restrictive has Giuliani's regime become? (The mayor himself has a big hammy cameo.) (RvB)
(R; 102 min.) A high-school guy's life in the Northeast corridor 1970s was much like Outside Providence: But Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, which fit the scene like a worn denim jacket, and rich girls mixing with lower-middle-class guys (and smoking more pot than Bob Marley) didn't improve a tedious and unamusing time. The film starts promisingly as a rendition of Dazed and Confused set in the Rhode Island suburbs. Director Michael Corrente (American Buffalo and the underrated Federal Hill) knows and loves this working-class state surrounded by wealthier, snootier neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, this is the semi-autobiographical story of Peter (There's Something About Mary) Farrelly leaving Rhode Island for a posh prep school. The Farrelly brothers' real-life dad was an M.D., not a blue-collar auto mechanic (sort of a car doctor) played by the coarsely magnificent Alec Baldwin, sending his son Tim (Sean Hatosy) to private school rather than juvenile hall. The gray, grim scenes outside Providence appeal to rust-belt sentimentalists. However, the film is as unnatural and uncomfortable as a polyester shirt once Tim leaves Rhode Island for Cornwall Academy. (DH)
(PG-13; 116 min.) The characters' names are different and the locale has changed, but Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau pretty much reprise their roles as Grumpy Old Men. (In fact, have they really ever stopped playing The Odd Couple?) But their tried-and-true pairing still works, this time in an innocuous comedy that finds Lemmon and Matthau posing as dance hosts aboard a cruise ship in the hopes of snaring a couple of wealthy women. There's some gentle jokes about cruise ship "culture," mostly in the form of intentionally awful cover songs belted out by the control-freak cruise director (Brent Spiner, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation), but the number of lovely, scenic shots of the liner Westerdam makes much of the film look like a commercial for Holland America Line. Of course, if that's the case, at least Out to Sea beats the hell out of Kathie Lee's sugary TV spots for Holland America's parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines. (HZ)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Eva Longoria Parker is the gimmick, rather than the draw, of this romcom, written and directed by TV veteran Jeff Lowell. On her wedding day, Kate (Parker), lacquered and orange with makeup, suntan and hairspray, dies accidentally. A year later, her ex-fiance (Paul Rudd) reluctantly visits a redheaded psychic (Lake Bell, from the truncated TV sci-fi series Surface) and becomes attracted to her. But Kate, unaware of her proper afterlife duties, attempts to drive the new couple apart. The movie's visuals and ghost jokes are a waste of time, but the delightfully kooky Bell and the wry Rudd occasionally strike spontaneous sparks. Like 27 Dresses, however, the formula eventually bludgeons the life out of the film. Jason Biggs is a mistake as Ashley's best friend, but Stephen Root, as another angel, is often amusing. (JMA)
(1992) The Algerian war is the setting for a drama about three sisters in French director Brigitte Rouan's drama. (AR)