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(R; 98 min.) What hath Grindhouse wrought? This vehicle begins as a midsize thriller bolted onto a disturbing psychological chassis: on Christmas Eve, a young professional woman (Rachel Nichols) is trapped alone in a parking garage with a suspiciously helpful lot attendant (Wes Bentley, American Beauty). After Bentley slips her a roofie, she regains consciousness clad only in a cream-colored slip and chained to the table as Bentley serves Christmas dinner. Then the body fluids spurt and flow like burst radiator hoses and leaking transmissions, followed by a constricted car chase in the garage. P2 is serviceable but for the casting. Bentley shouts when he should whisper. Nichols' décolletage is more dramatic than her acting. The film promises muscle-car chills but delivers a subcompact's tedious lack of horsepower, along with the usual misogyny. (DH)
(1999) Fabian Hofman's political parody about a singer (Jorge Zarate) who is the favored candidate for the presidency of an imaginary Latin-American countrybut then assassins step in. (RvB)
Full text review.
Five films will be highlighted at a film festival organized by the National University's Center for Cultural and Ethnic Studies and the Associated Students of San Jose State University. The features include: A Hot Roof (1995), a Korean film about a group of women who band together to protect a battered woman; Dark Night of the Soul (1996), a Sri Lankan adaptation of a Tolstoy's story about a Tamil woman tried for murder; Sunset at Chaopraya (1995), an epic story of Thailand in WWII; Mahjong (1996), a Taiwanese drama about Chinese gangster; and Tokyo Skin (1996), a Japanese film about various immigrants attempting to find a niche in Japanese society.
(PG; 91 min.) Vin Diesel can't seem to find a franchise that works for him. Fair enough, but wouldn't the sequel to XXX have been preferable to this Disney comedy about a disgraced Navy S.E.A.L. who's assigned to protect a bunch of brats? C'mon, Vin, Tommy Lee Jones needs work! You can't be stealing his shtick like this! (Capsule preview by SP)
(R) Wood Harris hustles his way through '80s Harlem.
(1948/1952) Jane Russell plays Calamity Jane, and she looks as insolent as Elvis, and just as impatient with the camera as Elvis was in his movies. Secretly busted out of jail, the outlaw is recruited to find out who's selling rifles to the Indians. Needing a husband for cover, she picks a banana-spined traveling dentist, Peter "Painless" Potter (Bob Hope), to pretend to be her husband. The tooth puller believes it's because the lady can't resist him; and soon he's similarly convinced he's a gunslinger: "I'll give you 'til sundown to leave town. That's the usual time, ain't it?" While remembered as a classic, particularly for the anti-frontier, pro-lingerie number "Buttons and Bows," the film is hampered by Norman Z. McLeod's pokey direction, and the gags start petering out before the dated finale. The scenes of Hope and Russell being held captive by Indians sure wouldn't make that other Russell, Russell Means, very happy. Nitrate print from the UCLA Film Archives. BILLED WITH Son of Paleface. A huge improvement. Frank Tashlin directed, so a few quick words about Tashlin, a contemporary of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones at Leon Schlesinger's studio, later bought up by Warner Bros. Tashlinwho used the cartooning name "Tish-Tash" in honor of the Strauss polkawas the one of the Termite Terrace gang who managed to make the transition to live action films. While it's always held against the French that they're Jerry Lewis fans, it's actually Tashlin who comes in for big praise in French film appreciation magazines such as Postif. Tashlin was Lewis' director for eight films, but those with an understandable allergy to Lewis should see Tashlin's unique cartoony talent in the exhilarating The Girl Can't Help It (1956) and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), recently name-checked in Down With Love with Ewan MacGregor's character "Catcher Block" (Rock Hunter spelled backwards, kind of). Tashlin was a writer on The Paleface and told Peter Bogdanovich, "After seeing the preview, I could have shot Norman McLeod ... it was completely botched." In the superior sequel, Tashlin went to town as director and writer. Potter's silly college-boy son (Hope) has just inherited his dad's "fortune," namely, an empty chest and a bunch of debts. Meanwhile, a very macha outlaw called "The Torch" (Jane Russell, who'd loosened up over the years) is ravishing the countryside. It's a job for Roy Rogers and Trigger ("The Smartest Horse in the Movies"), and everything kind of unfolds from there. Roy sings "Four-Legged Friend" to Trigger, who dances a rumba. Not in so many words, but Hope later implies Rogers has an unnatural thing for the horse. An uproarious chase sequence finishes it off, befitting the director's love of slapstick: Tashlin claimed he wanted to start a movie with a scene of him kneeling in front of a candle-lit bust of Mack Sennett. (RvB)
(PG-13; 101 min.) Tom Thompson (David Schwimmer), just out of college, is spending a few awful months at home. When the mother of a friend who has just committed suicide asks him to be a pallbearer, he can't refusedespite the fact that he has no recollection of the deceased. Thompson winds up in uncomfortably close quarters consoling the mother (a cool, poisonously tough performance by Barbara Hershey) even as he sets his sights on a nervous girl named Julie (Gwyneth Paltrow). Schwimmer is reasonably likable, but he has only one note; he's a worm who will never turn very much. And the movie shares his lackadaisical mood. (RvB)
(1942/1932). Preston Sturges' masterpiece about an impoverished inventor (Joel McCrea), his straying wife (Claudette Colbert) and the millionaire "Texas Wienie King" (Robert Dudley) who puts them both on the run. Here are passages that top anything humorous in the American cinema, but mostly there are flabbergasting character turns. Rudy Vallee is the perfect patsy as the sweet-natured millionaire John D. Hackensacker III; his sister (Mary Astor), a specimen of the genus promiscuoso millionaress; and William Demerest as the master of the revels of the Ale and Quail Club (RIP, Hunter S. Thompson, who would have fit right in with these armed and alcoholic sportsmen). Here are high and low comedy, crazed romance and wanton slapstick, blended as only Sturges could blend them. BILLED WITH Horse Feathers. Professor Quincy Wagstaff is appointed head of Huxley College; Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) may not be much of an academic, but then, Huxley isn't that much of a school. The corrupt old sinner's one-point plan for success is to turn the ailing school into a football powerhouse. His weapons of choice include a dubious Italian fixer (Chico) and his mute but devious sidekick, a freelance dogcatcher (Harpo). At this point in history, some of the jokes are becoming arcane. The truth is that the arcanest of them are probably the work of credited screenwriter S.J. Perelman, that lover of odd, old locutions; no one says "waxing wroth" anymore. However, Groucho's refusal to be intimidated by any locutions whatsoever"I thought my razor was dull until I heard that speech"is what keeps this movie evergreen. (RvB)
(R; 112 min.) This could be dismissed as too two-dimensional. Palmetto is not slick and speedy enough, and a movie in which no one's any damn good requires more velocity. The subject is a bug's descent down the drain. Woody Harrelson plays an ex-con sucked into an unlikely fake kidnapping plot. Elisabeth Shue, grinning like Chief Wahoo at her own evil, is the bait that lures Barber away from his loyal girlfriend, Gina Gershon. Seeing Shue play bad and Gershon play good is a novelty, but the problem is you're not just a step but a mile ahead of the plot. There is some good-looking scenery, including Shue in a dress they must have spray-painted on her. The source book, James Hadley Chase's Just Another Sucker, is part of the movie's problem. Chase (No Orchids for Miss Blandish), who delighted in subjects as lurid as a bruise, wasn't a master of tight plots; he rooted through human garbage cans exclaiming at the stench. Director Volker Schlondorff, searching for mitigating circumstances, just slows the descent of a square-headed, all-day sucker so backward that he does a spit-take when he hears the figure $50,000. (RvB)
(R; 92 min.) The Palookaville of the title is a small New Jersey town afflicted by three little criminals (Vincent Gallo, Adam Trese and William Forsythe) who are consistently sidetracked in their search for a big score. Writer David Epstein and director Alan Taylor used as their source material a few early short stories about WWII by Italian fabulist Italo Calvino. The tale "Theft in a Pastry Shop" comes through with the least distortion during the picture's rich opening, and sets the confectionery mood to come. Taylor gives the movie a surface that could be any time between the 1940s and the late 1970s; oddly, the movie feels more timeless than anachronistic, and it is too sweetly melancholy to be seen as just a pastiche of Capra-corn. (RvB)
(1929) G.W. Pabst's tale of a girl's downward spiral into decadence is not a complete success, save for the performance of the Kansas girl Louise Brooks as Lulu, a hustler who goes from society courtesan to denizen of a Whitechapel garret. Brooks' distinctive coiffure ("the shingle-bob haircut" of which Mississippi John Hurt sang?) was still the emblem of the bad girl as recently as Melanie Griffith in Something Wild and Rose McGowan in The Doom Generation. (RvB)
(Not rated; 125 min.) Historical romance by leading Polish director Andrez Wadja, just honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement award. Fantastic cinematography tells the story (based on an epic poem of Adam Mickiewicz) of a group of Polish nobility as they face the looming spectre of Napoleon's armies.
(PG-13; 136 min.) In case you didn't get the memo, or at least see the preview for this film from Mel Gibson's production company about an action-movie star who hunts down paparazzi who have ruined his life: What's really going on here is that celebrities have put together a celebrity fantasy about celebrities getting revenge on celebrity-chasers, and we noncelebrities are now supposed to pay our noncelebrity money to go see it. (Capsule preview by SP)
(G; 87 min.) Joe Fab and Elliot Berlin's documentary about a human-interest story that turned world attention to the small town of Whirwell, Tenn. Seeking a way to teach the enormity of the Holocaust to students who had most likely never met anyone who wasn't Baptist, principal Linda Hooper, assistant principal David Smith and teacher Sandra Roberts hatched a scheme to show children what a large number 6 million was by having the students collect that number in paper clips. (Apparently, the wearing of paper clips was a way of silently showing a protest against the Nazis in Occupied Norway.) (RvB)
(R; 144 min.) A triumph-of-the-human-spirit film with torture sequences. Glenn Close's masklike, hammy face glows with Julie Andrews' own glory as she conducts a "vocal orchestra" of inmates at a Japanese concentration camp in Sumatra during the Big One. Internees include Johanna Ter Steege as a nun and Pauline Collins as a kindly old lady who can't bear to hate her captors despite the plentiful beatings the prisoners endure (the impact of bamboo on flesh is amplified to a sound like F-16s landing). Paradise Road is made bearable by a Japanese secret policeman played by Stan Egi, who is everything you'd hope for from a fascist villain; he has elocution to make George Takei himself weep (you'll never see a Nazi who stutters). I was desperately grateful for Frances McDormand as an ironic doctor named Verstak, who has Dietrich's own accent and world-weariness, and a lethal way with asides (she ignores the ensemble's singing as "not for one [herself, that is] who has heard the orchestra at Leipzig"). Bruce Beresford's direction alternates golden piety with fat-lady jokes; Paradise Road is a painful, nearly unwatchable movie, based on a true story by Menlo Park resident Helen Colijin, with a great deal more power and a lot less glamour. (RvB)
(1930) A variety-style movie with performances and comedy skits by Nancy Carroll, Maurice Chevalier, Kay Francis, Jack Oakie and many more. (AR)
(1958/1947) Parash Pather (The Philosopher's Stone) is a comedy about greed. Tulsi Chakravarti plays an insignificant shrimp of a clerk who finds the magic stone that turns all metal into gold. BILLED WITH The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Danny Kaye stars as James Thurber's daydreaming hero in pursuit of villain Boris Karloff and leading lady Virginia Mayo. Photography by Lee Garmes. (RvB)
(PG; 124 min.) What is the Hollywood fascination with remaking movies that were darn fine the first time around? This time it's the classic 1961 film about twins separated at birth who accidentally meet, then spend the rest of the movie scheming and plotting to reunite their divorced parents. As twins Hallie Parker and Annie James, Lindsay Lohan has mighty shoes to fill. Hayley Mills practically rose to cult status with little girls of the '60s (who've since grown up to be big girls with discerning tastes in the '90s) thanks to this role, but Lohan does give the twins warmth, spunk and charm. As the glowing parents, Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson flirt and pine, making you wonder why exactly they got divorced in the first place. Yes, this remade Parent Trap is a fine film, nicely combining juvenile humor with a heartwarming maturity, but the question remains: Was it really necessary? (KR)
(1958; unrated; 99 min.) Nicholas Ray directs an unusual CinemaScope film noir about a chorus girl (Cyd Charisse) and her efforts to escape the Chicago underworld. Also stars Robert Taylor.
Full text review.
Daisy von Scherler Mayer's Party Girl tells the frothy story of Mary (Parker Posey), a Manhattan disco girl who finds herself when she takes a job at a library. The other main character is Mary's roommate, Leo (Guillermo Diaz), who tries to get a job as a nightclub DJ. And that's all there is to the movie. With its playfulness and its sassy heroine, Party Girl can trace its lineage to Rock 'n' Roll High School, Gidget and all of the other goofy movies that can tickle both younger and older adults during a long, hot summer. (RvB)
(Not rated; 122 min.) All the glory and not so much of the gore in a cut-down version of Mel's epic.
(PG-13; 105 min) Passion of Mind is this week's version of the story of the person who dreams of a different life (all are variations on H.G. Wells' story "The Door in the Wall"). In this round, Demi Moore is a bifurcated woman: half is named Marie, a widowed New York Times book critic living in a millionaire's estate in the south of France; the other half is named Marty, who lives similarly high on the hog in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as a sculptor with a fantastic loft. Which life is the dream? Part of the poor woman/women's problem is bad psychiatry, and even though the movies are especially poor at presenting the craft of the therapist, this is a new low. In New York, Peter Riegert tries to persuade Marty that she must never speak of her dream life lest she be declared "mad as a hatter." Meanwhile, Marie gets similarly sound advice from a Viennese quack played by Joss Ackland, who deems his patient's fantasy as "very ingenious, but not without its dangers. You're riding two horses, and the mind is not built to do that without breaking apart." This lesson in why women ought to limit their dreams, readers, this is what passes as a woman's picture today! The problem here is twofold, befitting Passion of Mind's story: the first is a script of ghastly clichés and low wit. The other problem isno surprise hereDemi Moore. Looking for something intimate after the debacle of that stink bomb, GI Jane, Moore overpowers the other characters with a stubbornness that seems more appropriate to playing prison matrons than an artist or a writer. All in all, here in Demi Moore is the true undiluted denseness of unchallenged power. Cowed, director Alain Berliner (Ma Vie en Rose) sits back and lets her take over. If you're lucky, you'll doze off and dream that you're in a different movie . . . but the mind is not built to do that without breaking apart. (RvB)
(1952) Hepburn plays a runner and Spencer Tracy plays a coach with more than, uh, coachly designs on her. (RvB)
(PG-13; 114 min.) Robin Williams can be such a joy to watch that it's particularly depressing when he goes in for stock sad clown roles, and does he ever abuse that old smiling-through-the-tears routine in Patch Adams, a maudlin critique of the medical profession. Based on the true story of Hunter Adams, a medical student who tries to humanize the dispassionate world of medicine by using compassion and humor with his patients, the film becomes so consumed with carefully devised tear-jerking that it fails to give a meaningful voice to the worthwhile ideas it tries to explore. Adams' story may be extraordinaryjust like Williams' comic talentbut you'd never know it with the dull studio-regulation treatment that it's all been crammed into. (HZ)
(R; 100 min.) Like Beastmaster or Conan but without the wit or inspiration, Pathfinder is a clumsy, gory tale of a peaceful 10th-century tribe that adopts an orphan. They raise him to manhood, and he becomes their white savior (Karl Urban). We also get an evil Viking tribe, a prophecy and a girl (Moon Bloodgood). Director Marcus Nispel films everything through an ugly gray fog, with jerky, muddled action, stilted storytelling and stupid jump-scares (borrowed from his feature debut, the equally awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake). His camera wrenches from one angle to the next without any sense of where it's supposed to be. Most Viking films at least manage some campy laughs, but not a frame of this clueless conservative fantasy is worth salvaging. (JMA)
A film by German critic, theorist and experimental director Alexander Kluge, an influential novelist who turned to cinema. (RvB)
(1928/1925) Marion Davies plays a long-suffering girl who redoes herself as a vamp (while imitating Pola Negri and Lillian Gish). BILLED WITH Her Sister From Paris, a similar trifle: Constance Talmadge plays a wife whose husband gets bored; she decides to masquerade as her own imaginary sister from sinful Paris. Dennis James at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (RvB)
(PG; 92 min.) One might not expect much from a movie about a talking parrot, but Paulie is a nice surprise that adults may enjoy as much, or more, than children. Paulie (voiced by Jay Mohr) is a sweet-natured parrot with a lot of attitude who talks up a storm. Separated at a young age from his owner and best friend Marie (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), Paulie is determined to find his way back to her. His search takes him through a series of adventures with a variety of interesting characters played by Buddy Hackett, Gena Rowlands, Cheech Marin and Jay Mohr. What could have been a gimmick, is an intelligently scripted, warm, funny film with a somewhat serious message. The viewer first meets the colorful bird caged in the dark basement of an animal research lab, where he is discovered by the newly hired janitor Misha (Tony Shalhoub). Misha takes an interest in Paulie, and the story unfolds as Paulie relates his situation to the sympathetic Misha. Paulie's character comes to life and builds a strong argument toward animal rights. Viewers may find themselves running home to give their own pets a little extra attention and respect. (SQ)
The current strike by GM workers proves that labor is not completely comatose in America. The particulars change, but the basicsthe desires for decent wages and working conditionsremain the same. They can be seen in Proud Valley, a 1940 British drama about the struggles of Welsh coal miners. The little-seen film stars the great African American athlete, activist and actor Paul Robeson. After a distinguished career as a football player at Rutgers, Robeson earned accolades for his performances on Broadway in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones and All God's Chillun Got Wings and in a seminal production of Othello. His most famous film role came in the 1936 version of Show Boat. As his activism and outspoken support for left-wing cause became more vocal, Robeson ran afoul of the government and, in particular, the House Un-American Activities Committee. This screening, sponsored by the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, is dedicated to Robeson on the occasion of the centennial of his birth. The evening will include a discussion of Robeson's life and work. (MSG)
(R; 104 min.) Porter (Mel Gibson) is a mystery to the crooks at The Outfit, a powerful and fabulously rich crime syndicate. But it's simple, really. All he wants is his measly 70 grand back, and he'll do anything to get it, from framing crooked cops to kidnapping the big bad boss's kid. Payback is a bloody-fisted brawler of a film noir, neatly plotted and sardonic in the Chester Himes/Jim Thompson style (based on the same novelThe Hunter, written by Donald E. Westlake under the name of Richard Starkthat was used in 1967 for Point Blank). The top-notch cast is given extra oomph by a few heavyweights in tasty cameos, and especially by director Brian Helgeland, who shows the same cool touch he used in L.A. Confidential. (BC)
(PG-13; 110 min.) Just as Timeline was a Middle Ages movie with time travel flavoring, Paycheck is equally standard: one of those mysteries about an envelope full of clues tantalizing an amnesiac, only dressed up as science fiction. In the near future, a computer engineer (Ben Affleck) agrees to take a three-year-long job. In exchange for a multimillion-dollar salary, he signs a "nondisclosure agreement" that will mean his memory is wiped clean of the years he was working. When he comes back, his money has been replaced by some baffling clues, and his former employers are gunning for him. Paycheck features colorful work by Paul Giamatti (as a mascotlike scientist) and Uma Thurman (still in Kill Bill mode and way too intense for the part), but nothing can seem to animate Affleck in the inert main role; why does he bother to wear sunglasses when he's so bereft of expression anyway? Paycheck is a kind of place holder for the James Bond movie that usually comes out this time of year. It's standard John Woofireballs, motorcycles, guns and the stupidest escape scene since the invention of the man-sized heating duct. It's a pity that Philip K. Dick's berserk evil-corporation MacGuffin of a short story wasn't kept for a better movie. (Incidentally, why would a company with the kind of power this one's got bother to sell stocks or tell anybody about the privileged information it had?) (RvB)
(R; 122 min.) The theft of 10 Russian nuclear warheads leads American Army Ranger George Clooney and NSC data analyst Nicole Kidman on an international chase. Director Mimi Leder follows the Howard Hawks scheme of a smart independent woman and a too-proud man mellowing each other. Although the basic idea is still worth using, it doesn't work in this particular attempt to make the old Thunderball plot sensitive. Part of Hawks' success was attributable to chemistry between the leads, but Clooney's smirking blockiness, perfect for TV, doesn't strike sparks against Kidman's inward-looking sphynx-without-a-riddle persona. (Kidman's best performance, in To Die For, had her playing a self-obsessed womanthis is significant.) While The Peacemaker does try to show brains instead of violence saving the day, the film could be summed up by one line from a politician character: "God, how I miss the Cold War." This film is more apologetic than apocalyptic. Rooney shows us the necessity of breaking people's noses; later, he demonstrates that he isn't too cold to cry about it. The Bond films might have been shallow, but at least they moved along in sprightly fashion. Despite the fine locations, The Pacemakerexcuse me, The Peacemakeris so familiar that it barely seems worth the effort. Dreamworks SKG's debut film hardly looks like a bold challenge to the Hollywood system; in fact, the mawkish logo (a little boy nestled in the crescent moon, fishing in the air) should be replaced with a cash register. (RvB)
(1944) Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) vs. "The Creeper," a hideously disfigured jewel thief, in a story based on "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons." Co-star Rondo Hatton, who played the Creeper, was one for the books. A Florida football all-star voted the most handsome man in his class, he developed acromegalya now-curable pituitary disorder that caused gigantism in the face and hands. Hatton's monstrous appearance landed him a career in the movies; and he's been remembered in look-alike villains seen everywhere from The Rocketeer to the animated Batman Adventures. (RvB)
(1985) Tim Burton's minor classic of Expressionist cartooning is a retake on The Bicycle Thief, with a Los Angeles child-in-a-man's-body named Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) on the trail of a beloved bike stolen and spirited awayapparently to the basement of the Alamo. The score by Danny Elfmanhis firstbrings out the well-developed sinister side of this comedy; almost single-handedly, Burton went on to invigorate bland '80s moviemaking with the long shadows and theatrical menace of the old Universal horror movies. (RvB)
(1941) Cary Grant in an uncharacteristic role, which he carries off with aplomb: as a grieving parent (married to his customary partner in comedy, Irene Dunne) in Penny Serenade. (RvB)
(1942) In this Mexican variation on Romeo and Juliet, Maria Felix and Jorge Negrete star as lovers from rival families. It was Felix's first movie, inaugurating one of the most distinguished careers in Mexican cinema. She played fierce, powerful and sometimes self-destructive women for decades, so much so that she was nicknamed "La Doña" (the Lady). (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) A high-minded drama (with a script by noted playwright Jon Robin Baitz) about a New York PR agent (Al Pacino) reduced to handling second-tier clients and facing a crisis of conscience. Also stars Téa Leoni, Ryan O'Neal and Kim Basinger.
(R; 125 min.) In the beginning, Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt is a bubbly, coarse comedy about a hillbilly who makes a mint with a hard-core magazine on slick paper instead of cheap newsprint. Woody Harrelson's broad, well-timed clowning is ticklish; he loves playing a tasteless millionaire of the early 1970s, who lives for the pleasures of the flesh (including wife and favorite model, Althea, played by Courtney Love) and infuriating the burghers. And then it's time to pay the price for the fun. Flynt is shot, and small-minded moral crusaders close in for the kill. The belated preachiness makes The People vs. Larry Flynt feel like two different stories jammed together. The film hustles you by manipulating your feelings about romantic love and the First Amendment. I'm used to manipulations about the former, and I didn't mind the latter. But Ambrose Bierce was rightpatriotism isn't the last refuge of the scoundrel, it's the first. (RvB)
(1951/1952) As Pauline Kael pegged it, People Will Talk is a film that thinks it's George Bernard Shaw. It's the story of a doctor (Cary Grant) who personally takes over the case of an unwed mom. God knows it's well intentioned, anyway, but the patronizing air is very clear to the modern viewer. Joseph Mankiewicz directed and wrote. Jeanne Crain and Hume Cronyn co-star. BILLED WITH Room for One More. Early version of The Brady Bunch. A married couple (Grant and his real-life wife, Betsy Drake) add two adopted children to their brood of three. Co-stars George "Foghorn" Winslow. (RvB)
(1978) Eric Rohmer's very strange adaptation of an old French verse tale of a knight and the Grail Quest. This is the last film in the Summer of Love Crimes series.
[email protected] Row; part of the International Latino Film Festival.) (RvB)(2004) A Madrid department store's ace salesman, Rafael (Guillermo Toledo), accidentally kills a rival. To cover up the killing, he draws in a misfit girl (Monica Cervera); she's had a longtime crush on Rafael and has been waiting to take the opportunity to pounce. Actress Cervera will be in attendance. (Plays Aug 21 at 5pm in San Jose at the Ciné
(PG; 96 min.) Terrence Howard as you've never seen him before: foreshortened like Jose Ferrer playing Toulouse-Lautrec, dressed in a cowboy suit and playing a stinky little kid whining to be taken to the bathroom: "I gotta dookie!" Am I suggesting a strain of weirdness here? Oh, there's more, even in the animated titles (by John Kricfalusi of Ren and Stimpy) in which Howard and Queen Latifah's Mrs. Christmas are sabotaging each other. A long trad of Xmas deviltry exists (krampus.com). Howard's Bah Humbug just carries on the tradition. Certainly, this isn't a film to go to if you're a Howard or Latifah fan. Ignore the short framing device, and what you've got is a normal, predictable Hallmark holiday special with melanin. Mom of three Gabrielle Union has a still-lurking-about ex-husband. He's the vain rapper J-Jizzy (Charlie Murphy, very good). Her daughter asks a department-store Santa for a new boyfriend for her mother. Unsuccessful songwriter Morris Chestnut plays the Santa who gets promoted to boyfriend. He thinks he has the big score when he sells a Christmas ballad to J-Jizzy, whose previous idea of a seasonal hit is "I Saw Mommy Cappin' Santa Claus." Lance Rivera (The Cookout) includes a lot of dead air and product placement. The movie cinches up at the end, though, with Faizon Love and Katt Williams providing reliable comic relief. (RvB)
(PG; 96 min.) Heather Locklear is looking for the perfect man, and her daughter Hilary Duff wants to help her find him. Who do they seek out? Me. Wait, that was a dream I had. Yes, a very good dream indeed. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 107 min.) Not every work by a master is a masterpiece, and a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's second-tier Dial M for Murder isn't necessarily blasphemy. ("There isn't very much we can say about that one, is there? I just did my job," Hitchcock once told Truffaut.) Slimy, debt-burdened businessman Michael Douglas finds that he is losing "the crown jewel of a man's soul." By this zircon, he means his wealthy wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is cheating on him with a mumbling artist (Viggo Mortensen). Douglas hatches a complex and far from idiot-proof scheme to make Paltrow look like the victim of a botched robbery. Some fancy footwork was needed to overcome the pieces of an already dubious plot for a world that includes prenuptial agreements, no-fault divorce and answering machines. The footwork here is unfancy. The dialogue clunks"I feel like I'm knee-deep in some Bohemian cachet," says Douglas upon entering Mortensen's studio. Yet A Perfect Murder isn't a bad time, thanks to director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive). The upper-caste Manhattan surroundings are gorgeous, and the supporting cast is provocative: Sarita Choudhury, looking about as Spanish as the Taj Mahal, has a too-small part as Paltrow's "Castillian" chum; David Suchet, the tragic homeless hero of Sunday, is satisfying as an Arab-American police inspector. (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) Supposedly, the people who put out the ACT test are upset that the kids in this movie who want to cheat their way into college try to steal the answers to the SAT rather than their test. Hey, geniuses, maybe it's because if you're going to risk your damn life stealing the answers to a test that'll get you into college, you probably want it to be one that will actually get you into college. Scarlett Johansson and Erika Christensen star. (Capsule preview by SP)
(2000) Cinema Contrabandista opens its fourth year of screenings with Mexico's official selection for the Oscars. Maryse Sistach (Los Pasos de Ana, El Cometa) directs a tragic tale of a schoolgirl named Yessica (Ximena Ayala) under siege by her rapist stepbrother. In Spanish with English subtitles.
(R; 85 min.) Ben Stiller gives a believable performance as TV writer Jerry Stahl whose true-life tale of heroin addiction was immortalized first in an autobiography titled Permanent Midnight, and then in this moderately engrossing drama based on the book. With competent actingElizabeth Hurley is adequately long-suffering as Stahl's wifeand passable directing by David Veloz, there's nothing really wrong with the film, but there's nothing about Permanent Midnight that makes this latest cautionary tale about drug-use a stand-out; Stiller may make Stahl somewhat sympathetic, but even the appeal that he brings to his character can't compensate for the film's lingering quality of self-righteousness reminiscent of a "Just Say No" after-school special. (HZ)
A perfect movie based on a lesser Jane Austen novel. In 1813 England, Anne (Amanda Root), the sister-pecked daughter of a debt-ridden baronet, finds herself once again encountering the only man she can love: Captain Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds), whom she had once hoped to marry, but he was driven away from her"persuaded" was the wordby the snobbery and greed of her family. Director Roger Michell conducts us through Georgian society with surprising fluidity; lots of hand-held camera work makes the past look lived-in and immediate, and Root, in one of the year's best performances, conveys the inner life of Anne and her subtle reactions to the comedy of the buffoons around her. (RvB)
(Unrated; 90 min.) Two hundred years after the publication of her last novel, Persuasion, 2008 looks like a banner bicentennial of sorts for Jane Austen. Starting Sunday (Jan. 13), PBS Masterpiece Theatre starts a run of British TV-movie adaptations of all six of Austen's novels. First out of the manor gate is a new production of Persuasion. Sally Hawkins (who will pop up in Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream this month), sporting Minnie Driver spit curls, plays Anne Elliot, presumptive spinster daughter (at age 27, your prospects were dim if you were an unmarried woman in Georgian England) of a widowed baronet (a nicely imperious performance by Anthony Head, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's watcher) whose finances have gone south. Eight years before, Anne had been persuaded to break off a relationship with a penniless naval officer; her regrets at this decision resurface when the officer, Capt. Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones of MI-5), returns from the Napoleonic wars with a secure fortune. Anne suffers silently while Wentworth dallies her ditzy sisters-in-law, and the audience keeps screaming, "Oh, just tell him that you still love him, ninny." The best scenes are the wary conversations between Annie and her relation William Elliot (Tobias Menzies), a proper, well-spoken conniver. Amanda Hale gives a quirk-filled, twitchy and distracting performance as Anne's sister Mary. The locations take advantage of England's architectural heritage, shooting at the resort town of Bath and at several grand manors in Wiltshire. The series continues on Jan. 20 with Northhanger Abbey. (Shows Jan. 13 at 9pm on most PBS affiliates.) (MSG)
(1957/1958) A superficially peaceful small Maine town turns out to be a nest of sinners. Illegitimate children and stepdaughter rape are among the town's secrets. Grace Metalious' novel has just been reissued by the University of Maine Press; an unpredictable turn of events for a book considered adults-only smut in its day. The film version is a prestige melodrama, produced in CinemaScope by Jerry Wald with Franz Waxman's violins on the soundtrack; Lana Turner and the always-underrated Hope Lange co-star, with Russ Tamblyn and Arthur Kennedy as just a few of the weakling men. BILLED WITH The Long, Hot Summer. Based on some snippets of Faulkner"The Spotted Horses," "Barn Burning" and part of his novel The Hamletthis Martin Ritt picture is considered one of the few Faulkner adaptations that really works onscreen. Paul Newman as a seemingly coarse but goodhearted drifter who gets hooked up with a small-town schoolmarm (Joanne Woodward). A fine supporting cast includes Orson Welles (in good form, considering how distracted he was by the post-production on Touch of Evil), Angela Lansbury as his mistress and the fine actress Lee Remick as the old man's daughter-in-law. Filmed in CinemaScope on location in Louisiana. (Plays Sep 2-3 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 88 min.) A German sportsman (Jeffery Jones) hunts ethnic stereotypes on his private island. He needs a Hispanic (John Leguizamo) to round out his collection. David Bar Katz, the writer who squeezed out this rotten pickle, ignores a potentially funny question: What is a Latino? a Cuban? a Puerto Rican? a Guatemalan? Instead, Leguizamo lampoons Japanese salarymen, Scots, African Americans, Jews, frat boys and gays so viciously and stupidly that even Jerry Lewis might hang his head in shame. There's very little original material here, but at least the movie isn't nearly as long as it seems. The intent here apparently is to turn Leguizamo into the new Jim Carrey. If he keeps it up, he won't even be the new Joe Besser. (BC)
(PG; 100 min.) "Skulls? Forces of darkness? This isn't right!" says a reluctant villain. Twenty generations of cowled, masked crime fighters have inhabited the Skull Cave, giving birth to the legend of the Ghost That Walks; and if the Phantom were to give interviews, he'd probably explain that he was in the vigilante business a few years before Batman or Superman. Those 20 generations can give the viewer the feeling that he's seen this movie before. Billy Zane, as commendably dead serious about this business as Adam West ever was, stars as the purple-suited avenger in a film that relentlessly follows the flatness of the serials, only without their conviction. The terror of looking ridiculous is so apparent that it infects the movie with drabness even amidst the quest for the Skulls of Togando, Treat Williams' occasionally amusing hamming as the supervillain Xander Drax and an aviatrix villainess (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who vamps the heroine like the threatening androgynous aeronaut in The Last Emperor. Aviatrix included, it's still strictly for the kids. Second best line, from heroine Diana Palmer to Jones: "What's wrong with you? Why are you so mean?" (RvB)
(1925) Lon Chaney in the first and best-remembered version of Gaston Leroux's novel. A lavish production that included a studio-built replica of the Paris Opera House . . . but all that's really remembered is the punch line, a scene at the keyboards that no one's forgotten. As befits a silent film about opera, the original Phantom of the Opera does have its poky side. Still, it's past time for a thorough revival of Chaney. Kevin Brownlow's recent documentary on the "man of a thousand faces"is only the starting point. A recent Pacific Film Archives revival of the early Chaney film The Penalty showed how much is in the vaults. In The Penalty, a crippled Chaney planned to take over San Francisco with an army of foreign socialists, and also sought to kidnap and mutilate a surgeon who had long ago cut off his legs. In the meantime, he posed for a life-sized statue of Satan. Top that, Gary Oldman! (RvB)
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(PG-13; 134 min.) A witty line in Jersey Girl describes Cats as "the second worst thing ever to happen to New York." Using that logic, where would The Phantom of the Opera land? Between the Stock Market crash and Boss Tweed? The film version certainly celebrates the musical catastrophe in all of its yawn-inducing length, scope and vibrato. Director Joel Schumacherwho made the equally gauche Batman and Robinspares neither the sugar nor the lard in this 21-ton Twinkie. The 1870s are presented as a riot of clashing color, overloaded with elephantine gilded bric-a-brac, with tortured titanic sculptures holding up everything but the ashtrays. (At last you'll know what a Goodwill store would look like if it were designed by Donald Trump.) The music? Gilbert and Sullivan, meet Emerson, Lake and Palmer. As Christineone of the most credulous leads in the history of the musical theaterEmmy Rossum always stays on the right side of the line between "sweet" and "insipid." The other corners of the triangle don't acquit themselves as well: that means Gerard Butler as the phantom, in his dopey but copyrightable half-mask, and Patrick Wilson as the under-mojo'd good guy. Minnie Driver is suitably larger than life as the simpering evil diva Carlotta, and she represents a dose of Tylenol against one cinematic headache. (RvB)
(1932/1933) George M. Cohan's big movie appearance came in The Phantom President, which gets filed under "novelties." The irascible Cohan hated Hollywood and the make-up and tinsel and couldn't wait to get back to the right side of the Hudson. He stars here in a Prisoner of Zenda plot: he's a singing snake-oil pitchman who is the exact double of the president of the U.S. His vice prez is Jimmy Durante (the real star of the show); also stars Claudette Colbert. Songs by Rodgers and Hart. BILLED WITH Going Hollywood. Bing Crosby sings while visiting schoolteacher Marion Davies adores him; Raoul Walsh directed. Now it can be seen with one's own eyes whether Davies was actually a good light comedienne or merely extremely well connected. (RvB)
(R; 91 min.) Director Joe Chappelle's Phantoms is a grisly tale about an underground terror that mysteriously exterminates the population of a small town. Dean Koontz, author of the book by the same name, wrote the screenplay, so it's no surprise that the adaptation is faithfulin fact, this is probably the best movie made to date based on a Koontz novel. However, because Koontz pared down so much detail for the screenplay, the characterization and plot development seem somewhat incomplete. It's unfortunate that the Hollywood hot-list stars, including Ben Affleck, Rose McGowan and Liev Schreiber, weren't given more to work with. McGowan's talent is wasted as Lisa Pailey, and only Schreiber really runs with his role as the unsound deputy Wargle. Though slow-paced, the tense, suspenseful storyline and eerie special effects do what they're meant to dothey scare you. And Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" may never sound the same. (SQ)
(PG; 127 min.) This feel-good vehicle for John Travolta stars the recently rediscovered, pudgy-chinned leading-man as George Malley, a well-loved local who shocks the denizens of a rural Northern California town when he mysteriously develops supernatural intelligence. The story quickly gets preachy, with lessons in everything from trust to accepting others' differences to the Main Pointsomething about the indomitable human spirit and its limitless possibilities. These ideals may be admirable, but in Phenomenon, they converge into a heavy-handed theme about personal potential that aspires to be a tract by Ralph Waldo Emerson but turns out more like the Army's simplistic urging to "Be all you can be." Travoltawhose performance is likable enough, if heavy on the folksinessis aided in his quest for insight by his soft-spoken, sensible best friend, Nate (Forest Whitaker), his fatherly doctor, simply called "Doc" (Robert Duvall), and Lace (Kyra Sedgwick), a pouty artist wounded by a previous love (as if her silly name wasn't burden enough.) (HZ)
(1940) The Henry Luce-like publisher of Spy magazine (meant to be Life magazine) forces an idealistic novelist-turned-reporter (Jimmy Stewart) to cover a high society Philadelphia wedding. His entry to the wedding is vouchsafed by another Spy employeethe bride's self-amused, dissolute ex-husband (Cary Grant). All this would seem like hard cheese for the bride, except that she's riding for a fallthe frigidness and brittleness of heiress Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is all too well known by the male members of her family. In critiquing her image as an slender art deco vial of box office poison, Hepburn saved her movie career. Here she shows her erotic side, in a shadowy two-shot of herself, tousled and tipsy, hiding in a carriage with Grant. The film is based on Philip Barry's popular but aged play, an attempt to overlay the theater of Shaw and Ibsen on a "Tennis. anyone?" kind of story. Today, no one gets away with the then-radical notion of blaming their drinking problem on their wife's coldness. While essentially a slice of cake, it is the essential film about Hollywood's conflicting attitudes toward the class structure in America. It represents the coda of an era in movies when playboys and women in sequined gowns sauntered through the movies with cocktail glasses in hand. Here, these figures of leisure confront the discontent of people who had to fight their way up from the bottom. Director George Cukor's film is a peak of cinematic elegance during the Hollywood studio movie age. Rarely did Grant get to rebound off a male star that was in his league, as he does here with Stewart. (RvB)
(1940/1938) George Cukor directs a dream castCary Grant, James Stewart and Katharine Hepburnin a romantic comedy about a rich girl torn between her ex-husband (Grant) and a reporter (Stewart). Also stars Roland Young and Ruth Hussey. BILLED WITH Holiday, in which Hepburn and Grant strike a blow for nonconformity in the confines of a stuck-up family. (RvB)
(1940/1944) The Henry Luce-like publisher of Spy magazine (meant to be Life magazine) forces an idealistic novelist-turned-reporter (Jimmy Stewart) to cover a high-society wedding. His entry is vouchsafed by another Spy employeethe bride's self-amused, dissolute ex-husband (Cary Grant). All this would seem like hard cheese for the bride, except that she's riding for a fallthe frigidness and brittleness of heiress Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is all too well known by the male members of her family. In critiquing her image as an slender art deco vial of box-office poison, Hepburn saved her movie career. Here she shows her erotic side, in a shadowy two-shot of herself, tousled and tipsy, hiding in a carriage with Grant. The film is based on Philip Barry's popular but aged play, an attempt to overlay the theater of Shaw and Ibsen on a "Tennis. anyone?" kind of story. Today, no one gets away with the then-radical notion of blaming their drinking problem on their wife's coldness. While essentially a slice of cake, it is the essential film about Hollywood's conflicting attitudes toward the class structure in America. It represents the coda of an era in movies when playboys and women in sequined gowns sauntered through the movies with cocktail glasses in hand. Here, these figures of leisure confront the discontent of people who had to fight their way up from the bottom. Director George Cukor's film is a peak of cinematic elegance during the Hollywood studio age. Rarely did Grant get to rebound off a male star who was in his league, as he does here with Stewart. BILLED WITH Laura, a high-toned mystery that exerts a mesmerizing effect on many people, even though it seems to hang on one good gimmick and one memorable theme song. Clifton Webb has some fine moments, though, as Waldo Lydecker, a wizened-up version of Walter Winchell, and Judith Anderson and Vincent Price also make amusing suspects. Gene Tierney stars as Laura. (RvB)
(Both 1940) Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the acme of sophisticated comedy. BILLED WITH The Shop Around the Corner, Ernst Lubitsch's ravishing comedy about the goings on in a Budapest store, where a correctand a little arrogantshop clerk (Stewart) carries on an unwitting epistolary love affair with his least-favorite co-worker (Margaret Sullavan). It is the source of the vastly inferior You've Got Mail, which lacks everything this masterpiece has: the warmth, the wit and a sense of the hardships of the working week, of the fragility of a marriage, of the dashed hopes which can be redeemed sometimes through romance. A real marvel; don't miss it. (RvB)
(Both 1955) For Labor Day weekend: William Holden as a studly drifter who crashes a small town's Labor Day picnic, and steals away with the most beautiful girl in town (Kim Novak). The handsomely dissolute Holden also ignites the dormant hearts of Rosalind Russell and the late Susan Strasberg. BILLED WITH Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. Interracial love, of a sort, in Hong Kong, where a newspaper correspondent (William Holden) falls for a half-Chinese doctor (Jennifer Jones) as her relatives fret over the impropriety and the hit theme song plays. Also stars Torin Thatcher (the villain from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad). (Plays Sep 4-7 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1955/1945) During a sultry Labor Day weekend in a Kansas town, a traveler (William Holden) awakens the local women. Kim Novak, Susan Strasberg and Rosalind Russell co-star; Picnic will be shown in a dye-transfer Technicolor print. BILLED WITH The Southerner, Jean Renoir's story of a Southern family's decline on a Texas farm. William Faulkner was one of the writers; the film, considered Renoir's best American work, is being shown in a new print made from the original negative. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Jennifer Aniston plays Kate, the spoiled princess in a modern-day fairy tale complete with cornball ending. As a young, talented advertising exec, Kate is crushed when she learns that her boss refuses to give her a promotion simply because she's single and "unstable." So her best friend (a happily married woman) tells their boss that Kate is engagedalbeit to a man that Kate met only briefly at a wedding. After a far-fetched twist, Kate's betrothed, Nick (Jay Mohr), becomes a national hero, and the boss wants to meet him. But nothing fazes the headstrong Kate, who offers Nick $1,000 to go to dinner with her and feign coupledom. Scene by scene, Kate becomes more and more self-centered and domineeringshe even ditches Nick to sleep with sexy bad-boy Sam (Kevin Bacon). There's no surprise about who gets the girl in the end, though it is amusing to see how the picture-perfect ending is concocted. (BY)
(2001) Vanessa Bauche plays a mixed-raced woman in modern Mexico whose first 18 years are a study in tragedy. Osvaldo Benavides, Juan Claudio Retes and Oscar Chavez co-star. (RvB)
(1965) Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina (at her most dazzling) take off for a doomed road trip through the French countryside in one of Jean-Luc Godard's most visually and aurally complex films.
(G; 75 min.) The perfect antitode to Irreversible. The littlest member of the Pooh gang gets his own animated feature. The songs include "If I Wasn't So Small," "Mother's Intuition" and "Sing Ho for the Life of a Bear" (which sounds like it belongs on the new Ludacris album). Based on the A.A. Milne chapters "In Which Kanga and Baby Roo Come to the Forest, and Piglet Has a Bath," "In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole" and "In Which a House Is Built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore," the mere recitation of which makes us teary-eyed for our lost youth reading the Pooh books over and over again.
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(Unrated; 126 min.) In Sei Shonagon, 11th-century Japanese courtier and author of the classic The Pillow Book, director Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover) has found a kindred spirit. Both are concerned with the enumeration of things; both are transported by art and the inanimate object; both display a dismaying, even infuriating, contempt for human beings except as the vessels and bearers of power and art. Greenaway uses the same techniques here that he used in Prospero's Books: overlapping text on image, adding insets and overlays and subtitles. The result is a sort of visual hypertexta full-motion CD-ROM. The plot concerns the modern-day dilettante writer Nagiko (Vivian Wu) and her search for the ideal lover, who must also be a great calligrapher. She settles on a man who is a poor writer but a good calligrapher (Ewan McGregor); through him, Nagiko takes revenge on the wealthy publisher who humiliated her father. Sex and calligraphy thus merge in a way that they haven't since Goldie Hawn, her body painted with words, danced on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. (Somehow, I take Hawn more seriously as both an icon and an erotic image.) Greenaway's newest film is as gorgeous and empty as any of his creations; at least it is far less revolting this time (Greenaway contents himself with only skinning a corpse and filming a dumpster full of rotted meatmaidenly restraint on his part, really). But The Pillow Book is just as stiff, tedious and anaesthetizing as his other filmsand who but an audience starved for nudity could call his work sensual? (RvB)
(1959) The youth of today may wonder why Doris Day was once cast in a sex comedy. This tale of a man and woman on a party line will probably not answer their questions. Also stars Rock Hudson, Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter. (AR)
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(NC-17; 92 min.) "I like to think I make American comedies," director John Waters once wrote. His monstrous comedy Pink Flamingos, newly rereleased, still reigns as the most offensive movie ever made. It is one long worst-case scenario. From bad hair styling to shit eating, Waters leaves no taboo unbroached in this story of a trailer full of society's happy outcasts; and Pink Flamingo's star, Divine, still holds her title as "the filthiest person in the world." Although the movies in general have started to gain on Waters, Pink Flamingos is so far beyond the pale that Hollywood may never catch up. (RvB)
(1982) A rock album come to life on the big screen. Stars Christine Hargreaves and Bob Hoskins. (AR)
(PG; 110 min.) As far as appeal to children, taking a kid to this movie would be as if you presented a child with a CD of concertina music. It would be the rare child who could look beyond the uncoolness and lack of peer recognition to appreciate the uniqueness of a folk virtuoso playing jigs and reels and hornpipes on a strange little musical instrument. And it'll probably be a rarer child that could appreciate the rococo prettiness of this version of Colodi's folk tale. Moreover, this version has been vandalized by slipshod dubbing; Benigni's given a cracking frantic voice that's all wrong for a verbal comedian. Where was Don "Guido Sarducci" Novello? (Though Nicoletta Braschi's lovely Blue Fairy is served well by Glenn Close's voice, and the Cricket is well spoken for by John Cleese.) It's fashionable to hate director/star Benigni for having made a maudlin success about the Holocaust, and then for acting exuberant on a solemn, self-important occasion like the Oscars. Does anyone remember how uproarious he was in Il Mostro or Night on Earth or Johnny Stecchino? He's certainly funny here. His youthful spirit makes up for the five o'clock shadow; he's a deft commedia dell'arte naughty puppet. Braschi is lovely and remote as the Blue Fairy, and set pieces like the whale and Donkey Island ("Fun Foreverland") have the charm of folk art and Henri Rousseau paintings. The flavorful peasant heartiness of this is a standout amidst safe, sane and boring children's movies. (RvB)
(1948) A Caribbean-themed Cole Porter musical with Judy Garland as Manuela, a girl of Martinique who encounters Gene Kelly (sporting a Douglas Fairbanks Sr. mustache). Kelly plays an acrobat named Serafin, mistaken for the notorious pirate Macoco. For director Vincente Minnelli, this film was clearly a favorite, "a mixture of baroque elements, colorful costumes, and my own brand of craziness at the time." (RvB)
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(PG-13; 143 min.) Pirates of the Caribbean is a lot of things, but above all, it's 143 minutes long. This is at least 43 minutes longer than any movie involving theme-park-cross-promotion, Johnny Depp in mascara or anyone saying "Shiver me timbers!" ever needs to be. In other words, this is a movie that could have been clipped by a third and been so much better for it. Insteadin the case of Pirates, at leasta surprisingly fun action blockbuster is slowly transformed into an absolutely excruciating experience. The beginning is downright jolly, humming right along through a cheesy story that would be insulting if it wasn't so entertaining to see how far Disney can stretch the plotline to get in nearly all the scenes from the Disneyland ride. These familiar tableaux work hard for their chuckles; in a re-creation of the scene where the jailed pirates try to entice a dog into giving them the keys, Depp off-handedly informs them that they might as well give up since "that dog is never going to move." Get it? Oh, c'mon, that's pretty damn clever for a theme-park-metareference. But then, suddenly, there's a whole lot of nothing, and by the time director Gore Verbinski gets to the cool skeleton pirates walking along the ocean floor and tricky reverse-cursing at the end, you're so bored it's nearly impossible to care. Johnny Depp is sometimes almost /i> enough to get you therehe's especially fascinating here because, for some reason known only to Johnny Depp, he plays Capt. Jack Sparrow more like a campy queen (supposedly inspired by Keith Richards) than the crazy drunk everyone says he is. But even his first-mate-of-comedy performance can't hide the fact that Verbinski should have delivered the shufflin' undeadand the end of the filmlong, long before. (SP)
(R; 107 min.) (R; 97 min.) One way or another, horror movies are all about being afraid of the dark, so Pitch Black's deadly simple premisewhen an eclipse plunges a barren planet into permanent night, space travelers must survive an attack of giant batlike aliensis practically foolproof. As the inevitable approaches, we lean forward and try to guess who's going to be the first hapless piece of monster meat when the light runs out: the effete English trader (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), the devout Muslim patriarch (Keith David), the chiseled-chin geologist (Claudia Black from Farscape, whose striking features cry out for a chance to play Lady Macbeth), the beautiful blond space jockey (Radha Mitchell) or the curiously mean-tempered interplanetary cop (Cole Hauser, this year's young Paul Newman look-alike). The joker in this "platoon behind enemy lines" setup is Riddick (Vin Diesel), a masssively buffed escapee from a dungeon planet with a shaved head, rubber diver's goggles and enough attitude to stare down one of the scimitar-headed flying beasties. The special-effects creatures, although derivative, provide the requisite plasma spillage. These mindless monsters don't just chew up the scenerythey chew up the actors too. (MSG)
(Unrated; 89 min.) Nettie Wild's documentary about the Zapatista insurgence in Mexico explores the people and politics of the region.
(1951) Montgomery Clift, fed up with clinging girlfriend Shelley Winters, dumps her in all the wrong ways in order to court Elizabeth at her most luminous. Can you blame him? George Stevens directs the film adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. (AR)
The well-known science fiction allegory about racism, starring Charlton Heston in a ghastly future where apes hunt human beings. It's a tastily pessimistic story even before the complete depredations of the human race are revealed, and it was a launching pad for four increasingly strange and politically-pointed sequels. (Plays Sep 1 at sundown in San Jose at San Pedro Square; free; www.cinequest.org.) (RvB)
Why, since this film has so much of the flavor of old-school Blaxploitation, didn't director Ice Cube go the whole hog and call it Black Showgirls (and just like the original Showgirls, it features a predatory lesbianspeaking of negative stereotypes). Diana Armstrong (LisaRaye) takes the name Diamond to become a stripper at the Player's Club to pay her way through college and support her kid. In loading this cheesy film with sex, violence and slang, what Ice Cube neglected was logic. Diana's dad is too strict to let her go to an all-black college, but he doesn't seem to mind her stripping for a living; then he reverses himself abruptly and pulls a gun on her date. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) Although it is slick and self-conscioussometimes to a faultthis actioner does fulfill its role as a vehicle for David Duchovny. The X-Files star's low-key, intelligent persona makes for an intriguingly different action hero: the brooding Eugene Sands, a doctor-turned-junkie who befriends a ring of gangsters led by an edgy Timothy Hutton (whose slimy seductiveness makes him a good foil for Duchovny). The film is entertaining enough, with a campy '70s feel, a lot of surprisingly comic moments and an almost balletic gunfight, but screenwriter Mark Haskell Smith must have been thinking so hard about character development that he forgot to give his refreshingly smart, interesting characters a whole lot of smart, interesting stuff to do. The film's best moments come when Smith jettisons some of the more reliable and tired conventions of the genre. (HZ)
(R; 98 min.) Based on Marni Freedman's play Two Goldsteins on Acid, and adapted for the screen by Freedman and her current fiancé (and partial inspiration for the story), Carlos de los Rios, Playing Mona Lisa stars Alicia Witt (who won the Best Actress Award at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival for her performance) as Claire Goldstein, a brilliant young pianist whose life starts to unravel after she's dumped by her boyfriend. This convincing coming-of-age comedy (directed by NYU graduate Matthew Huffman) follows Claire through her pained recovery (a downward spiral though junk food binges, family trauma, botched auditions, failed attempts to reinvent herself and other soul-searching bouts of misery) with a humorous lens. In the play, Witt's character never gets out of bed. Although the film holds onto that mindset, the strong supporting cast (which includes Brooke Langton and Johnny Galecki as Claire's two best friends, Elliott Gould and Marlo Thomas as her parents and Harvey Fierstein as her mentor at the San Francisco Academy of Music) lends a much-needed sense of the outside world, and the characters' comical eccentricities help balance Claire's own sad state of confusion. Playing Mona Lisa has the bright spirit of a bold independent film, and the quirky, unusual story seems to have been touched by the deft hand of experience. It's also worth mentioning that Witt did her own piano performances. (SQ)
(R; 124 min.) Two charming middleweight actors (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas) are beaten by the flyweight plot in writer/director Ron (Tin Cup) Shelton's boxing movie. Vince (Harrelson) and Caesar (Banderas) are two aging pugs training in the same downtown L.A. gym. A promoter calls, offering them a fight that night in Vegas. Cesar cadges a ride for the duo from his (and Vince's) ex-girlfriend Grace (Lolita Davidovich), driving her cherry GTO. Screwball comedies run on less, and Davidovich is a macha comedienne, but the banter between the boxers sounds forced. A bloody fight scene sucker-punches the audience and is disconnected from the rest of the film. The film doesn't pummel like the cinematic equivalent of a Tyson punch (vide, Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday), nor does it dance like Holyfield. (DH)
(R; 124 min.) Leaden, bottomlessly pretentious yarn about a retired cop (Jack Nicholson) whose sacred promise to a murdered girl's mother costs him everything. Essentially, the plot hinges on what Springfield Police Chief Clancy Wiggum terms "retirony"that misfortune which befalls a cop within days of retirement. A scant six hours left on the job (a retironical record) and Reno police detective Nicholson investigates the case of a slaughtered little girl. He swears to find the killer, even though the clumsy local cops are satisfied with the capture of a usual suspect (played by ex-Usual Suspect Benicio del Toro with an unfortunate Rowan Atkinson accent). Heading off into the mountains, the detective appears to be in retirement but is actually laying out a trap to catch the killer. Sean Penn's self-conscious direction, which racks this plot like saltwater taffy, wanders to the implausible, would-be existential punch line. Except in the scene where Nicholson makes his unholy vow, his acting is glazed and tired. (RvB)
(R; 101 min.) Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller star as two 18th-century highwaymen who team up to rob British aristocrats. Liv Tyler also stars.
(Unrated; 73 min.) Filmed in Amarillo, Texas, George Whittenburg Ratliff's Plutonium Circus focuses on the Pantex Plant, the Department of Energy's facility for the assembly of nuclear weapons. Now that the show's over, the facility is unscrewing the bombs it once assembled and storing the components away for when we might need them againfor Cold War II or whatever. Ratliff interviews the public-relations officer of Pantex and visits local citizens who wish Pantex would go far, far away. Also performing for Ratliff's camera are noted wealthy eccentrics Stanley Marsh 3 (the Cadillac Ranch art project), and Charles Johnson III, world traveler. The two attest to the documentary's claim that Amarillo has always been a world center for screwballs. (RvB)