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(PG; 90 min.) I wish I'd been there for this pitch meeting. The drugs must have been fantastic. "OK, so our idea is that there's this zebra who thinks he's a race horse, and the movie is this family comedy about how he overcomes hardships to become the best racehorse ever." "Amazing! What hardships?" "Well, again, he's a zebra. He's got stripes and stuff." "Stripes! Brilliant! You've already sold me 90 percent on this idea, I need something to push me over the edge." "Get this: the voice of the zebra is ... Frankie Muniz!" "Sold! Here's millions of dollars!" (Capsule preview by SP)
Left behind in the rain, the infant zebra Stripes is found by two people in need of redemption: a Kentucky horse farmer (Bruce Greenwood) still grieving since his wife was killed in a riding accident, and his daughter, Channing (the dismayingly perky Hayden Panettiere). Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz) desires to be a racehorse in order to impress the filly Sandy from across the paddock (voiced by Mandy Moore). Since zebras are neither designed nor inclined to carry loads, the footage of a girl on the back of one is novel. Too bad Racing Stripes wheezes almost as badly as the zebra itself does. Moreover, it's loaded with a cereal-commercial maker's idea of attitude. It's not enough that the racehorses mock poor Stripes, they have to gang up on him and kidnap Sandy. In comes a stork that talks like Joe Pantoliano to recite a selection of vintage Mafia tag lines. Basically, it's a creep's version of Babe. (RvB)
(1951; 88 min.) Robert Mitchum plays a cop going up against a smooth crook (Robert Ryan) in a film noir by John Cromwell. Also stars the unforgettable whiskey-voiced blonde Lizabeth Scott, with excellent support from character actors Ray Collins, William Talman and William Conrad.
(PG; 106 min.) Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a mentally challenged man, in a role no doubt awarded on the basis of his performances in Snow Dogs and Boat Trip. In this one, he's mentored by high school football coach Ed Harris in this true story of James Robert "Radio" Kennedy, who became a bit of a celebrity in 1996 when Sports Illustrated wrote about his almost 40-year-long career with a high school football team. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1981) Harrison Ford made an indelible mark as Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg's much-loved action classic. The stunts and the sense of self-deprecating wit match up perfectly, in a way the sequels couldn't equal. (AR)
(PG; 103 min.) Somewhere deep beneath the surface of the Earth, a fully mechanized factory is pumping out Hilary Duff movies that the Robot Overloads use to numb our brains while they prepare for their global takeover. Their cold, metallic efficiency has allowed them to increase production to two "Duff Bombs" (as they call them) per year. When will a hero arrive from the future to save us? Sadly, not before this new one featuring Duff as a small-town girl who goes to a big-city performing arts school hits theaters. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1987) The Coen brothers' early screwball classic, a tribute to the desert colors and wide-open spaces of the Chuck Jones Road Runner cartoonsand yet it ends on a note worthy of Raymond Carver. Hi (Nicolas Cage, rarely better) is a multitime loser who marries a cop (Holly Hunter). Alas, the woman's womb "is a stony soil upon which my seed could find no purchase." The baby-mad woman forces her husband to kidnap one of the quintuplets of unpainted furniture king Nathan Arizona, nee Huffhines (a little tribute to film critic Kathy Huffhines), and matters more berserk, with contenders for the baby including "the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse" (burly Randall "Tex" Cobb) and John Goodman and William Forsythe as a pair of escaped jailbirds. "We released ourselves on our own recognizance." "Yeah, we felt the institution no longer had anything to offer us." The yodeling hillbilly soundtrack instrumentals are based on the William Boyd tune "Alone Out There." (RvB)
(PG-13; 119 min.) Chick flicks are supposedly so feel-goody. And I guess they are, but that doesn't change the fact that director Garry Marshall's latest is based on the premise that Kate Hudson has to raise three children because her sister and brother-in-law are killed in a horrible car crash. See, now that's considered sweet. But if that car crash is caused by a killer robot from the future with spinning blades for arms, suddenly it's violent exploitation. I won't even go into the dodgy feel-goodism of Marshall's Pretty Woman. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1985) Sylvester Stallone goes looking for American MIAs in Cambodia in this cartoonishly gory actioner.
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(R; 131 min.) Mel Gibson plays Tom Mullen, whose only son is snatched right from his mother's side. Ransom is a remake of 1956 MGM film noir of the same title, which Leslie Halliwell, in his Film Guide, calls "virtually a vehicle for a star at his twitchiest and most dogged." The more things change, the more they stay the same: Halliwell was talking about Glenn Ford, but aren't "twitchy" and "dogged" exactly the words for Gibson under full steam? Ford's and Gibson's features blur in the memory when recalling Gibson's two modes here: roaring at the kidnappers and collapsing in fatherly anguish. Director Ron Howard leads the film dispassionately and unimaginatively, with too much faith in the merits of the talky script. (RvB)
(R) Who knows what this bizarre cultic documentary from some outfit called Silver Sword International is supposed to be aboutsomething to do with embedded images in classical religious art (kinda like subliminal advertising). For a trip to the far side of weird, look at the website: www.rapeofthesoul.com.
(1951) Several witnesses retell from conflicting perspectives the tale of a rape and murder in Akira Kurosawa's magnificent meditation on the mutability of truth. Stars Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo. The film is exquisitely photographed in black and white and easily lives up to its reputation as one of the treasures of world cinema. (RvB)
(G; 111 min.) Brad Bird's new computer-animated feature runs as long as his 2004 hit The Incredibles but is not nearly as focused; it has too many ingredients sprinkled scattershot throughout. Cutting through several subplots, the main story has rat Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) getting a chance to live out his dream as a chef in a top Paris restaurant by acting through an untalented garbage boy (voiced by Lou Romano). It is questionable whether young children will be able to sit still for it, and foodies will be disappointed over the lack of actual sustenance in the film. But the gorgeous, highly detailed presentation and Peter O'Toole's tasty turn as a vicious food critic bring the overall production to a pleasant finish. (JMA)
(PG-13; 112 min.) An eccentric casino owner (John Cleese) picks a group of strangers to race across the desert for a $2 million reward. Contestants include a grousing female buppie and her mom (Whoopi Goldberg) and a referee in disgrace (Cuba Gooding Jr. demonstrating no real flair for comedy). But all's not lost, thanks to a sleazy Gen X Laurel and Hardy team played by Seth Green and Vince Vieluf. Vieluf, in an inexplicably durable running gag, mumbles incomprehensibly throughout because his self-inflicted tongue piercing got infected. Dead spots abound, but there are some rich tidbits, especially Wayne Knight as an organ-transplant deliveryman. (RvB)
(1948) Anthony Mann directs a film noir about Dennis O'Keefe on the lam from prison and seeking revenge against the man (Raymond Burr) who put him there. Shows with Episode 3 of the silent series Les Vampires.
(PG-13; 152 min.) Ray is 75 percent the great movie you hoped for, 25 percent the cheesy formula film you were afraid of. The best stuff comes first; it's as much road movie as biopic as it throws us headfirst into the fast-talking, slightly slippery and totally fearless world of Ray Charles, where we find him willing himself into one of the greatest music careers of all time. The movie gets bonus points for shunning hero worship in scenes that get beyond the "genius" shorthand to explain how a reasonably talented but embarrassingly imitative piano player went on to make some of the most daring albums of the late '50s and early '60s. Nor does it shy away from Charles' reputation as a ... er, difficult man. Jamie Foxx givesno jokethe performance of a lifetime. Many actors who play blind characters overemote because they're lost without the expressiveness of their eyes, but not Foxx. He subtly gets across Charles' most private emotions, and sometimes even when there are other characters in the room, you feel like only you and Ray Charles understand what's really going on. It don't get any better than that. Unfortunately, by the third act, things go all Behind the Music. I understand drugs and infidelity are a part of many great musicians' lives, but as belabored, melodramatic plotlines, they're about as predictable and boring as it gets. Director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Proof of Life) has never been much of a visionary behind the camera, but his previous work on the 1987 Chuck Berry documentary and producing La Bamba obviously taught him some lessons about how to convincingly re-create musical moments on screenFoxx is actually playing in all of the piano scenes, and his lip-synching is far more convincing than Ashlee Simpson's. Hackford has been trying to get this film made for 15 years, but despite borrowing from the playbooks of Oliver Stone, Spike Lee and the Coen brothers, the style here never rises above solidly craftsmanlike. This is an actors' movie; luckily, the actors hit it out of the park. (SP)
(PG-13; 100 min.) If the whole movie packed the wallop of the over-the-top wrestling action found in the last 20 minutes, it would have been a decent comic parody of the multibillion-dollar empire. As it is, director Brian Robbins' finished product falls flat on its face. David Arquette and Scott Caan star as Gordie and Sean, two well-meaning losers who idolize professional wrestling star Jimmy King (Oliver Platt) to the point that they wear homemade leather WWKD ("What Would King Do") wristbands. When King's throne is brutally usurped by Diamond Dallas Page in a scripted career-ending battle, Gordie and Sean set out to redeem their hero. Although Platt turns in a fair performance as a tubby, alcoholic former champion, Arquette simply brings his obnoxious AT&T TV commercial persona to the big screen. A bulked-up Caan, who had some winning moments of comedy in Varsity Blues (another film directed by Robbins), does little with his mediocre role, and despite her overrated reputation as an independent film vixen, Rose McGowan's bit as a backstabbing Nitro Girl just comes across bitchy and ordinary. Though filled with cameos by real-life wrestling pros (Bill Goldberg, Sting, Bam Bam Bigelow, Saturn, Sid Vicious and Disco Inferno), it's doubtful even the most avid wrestling fan would walk away satisfied. Real-life matches are better scripted and more exciting. (SQ)
(R; 90 min.) Poverty-scale wages, rampant corporate corruption, pollution of a pristine jungle ecosystemwhoops! not that Cancun. Instead, a steamier version of the spring break specials that litter MTV this time of year.
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(Unrated; 83 min.) Taggart Siegel profiles his longtime friend, John Peterson, an Illinois farmer. In the 1960s, Peterson's spread became a backdrop for some of the farmer's talented experimental filmmaking. It is a pleasure to see Peterson as he is today: tasting the dirt; begowned, wrapped in a feather boa and glittering on his muddy tractor; making folk-music videos. (RvB)
(R; 85 min.) A.k.a. My Big Fat Chicana Daughter. The film features a would-be college student from east L.A. named Ana (America Ferrera), who has a weight problem and an overbearing mom (Lupe Ontiveros). She spends her summer in her aunt's sweatshop and conducts a secret romance with an Anglo boy. It's sweet and televisionisticand a bit dim. The triumphant scene of Ana leading the sweatshop girls in a fat is beautiful session instantly solves all their problems as exploited workers. (RvB)
(1985) Invigorating and evergreen horror-comedy, based on a book of stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Houdinibased, that is, in the same way that Chicken McNuggets is based on a chicken. At the infamous Miskatonic University (Go 'Pods!) the odd Dr. Herbert West (the delightful Jeffrey Combs) has developed a glowing green automatic transmission-fluid-like substance that revives the dead. Like all sound sleepers, they are in a very cranky mood when they're awakened. The violence quotient is about as high as you could ask for, particularly when David Gale turns up as an arrogant, thwarted professor. Gale, who looks more like John Kerry than John Kerry does, has a particularly splendid head-giving scene. Wouldn't you like to have been in a theater watching this, sitting next to Bernard Herrmann when he heard the Psycho sound-alike soundtrack? (RvB)
(1954/1934) Photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is laid up in a wheelchair in his studio apartment, recovering from a broken leg. Jefferies spies on his Manhattan neighbors across a courtyard. One day, he sees evidence in a neighboring apartment that a husband has murdered his wife. The movie's boundlessly clever techniques mirror the same mystery that a good film provides, and it comes to a terrifically simple point: In an instant, Jefferies is transformed from a watcher to a watched, the focus of all eyes in his courtyard. All a trifleor it would be in the hands of any director less troubling than Alfred Hitchcock. This gorgeous thriller boasts a strong subplot about a man who has had one leg in a trap for weeks and is anxious not to get the other one caught. He's under pressure to marry his affluent girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly). ("Everything [Jefferies] sees across the way has a bearing on love and marriage," Hitchcock explained to his interviewer François Truffaut.) John Michael Hayes' screenplay (from a story by pulp genius Cornell Woolrich) never gets the praise it deserves. ("I thought the rain would cool things downall it did was make the heat wet.") Raymond Burr was never better than he was as hulking Lars Thorwaldno diabolical killer but a shabby, depressed man with gold-rimmed spectacles. And the older you get, the better Hitchcock's films look. What dignity Hitchcock gives middle-aged angsthere, and in Vertigo, which begins where Rear Window ends, with Stewart dangling over the abyss. BILLED WITH The Thin Man. Which, by contrast, shows us the kind of marriage that dreams of marriage are made ofthe liaison of Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell, Myrna Loy). Drinkers by vocation, detectives by hobby, the two investigate the disappearance of a skinny inventor. (RvB)
(1940) Joan Fontaine plays the new wife of British nobleman Max de Winter (Laurence Olivier) in Rebecca. She finds a chilly welcome at de Winter's English manor, Manderley. Her husband seems distracted, bitter; her housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is in open revolt against her. Gradually, she begins to fear that the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, was such a paragon that she will never be able to match her. Alfred Hitchcock was lured to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick to make a film about the Titanic and ended up working on this instead. "It's not a Hitchcock picture [but] it has stood up quite well to the yearsI don't know why," the director told Francois Truffaut. It was the only Hitchcock movie to win a Best Picture Oscar. It must have been the women's vote; I suspect that Rebecca means more to women than any of Hitchcock's films, especially in the way it plays upon senses of inferiority and the worst fears about the silences of men. (RvB)
(PG; 87 min.) A college basketball coach (Martin Lawrence) must take on a lousy junior high school squad in a sports comedy.
(G; 83 min.) A feature film based on Disney's Saturday morning cartoon series. Over summer vacation, T.J. Detweiler and his friends uncover a plot to change the weather to perpetual winter so that school would always be in session. With the voices of Andy Lawrence, Dabney Coleman, Robert Goulet and James Woods.
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(PG-13; 96 min.) Jacobean Christmas farce starring Mia Farrow, extremely droll as a bedeviled housewife. She goes through more reversals of fortune than Candide. Often nearly murdered and frequently adopted, she pines for Alaska, where Santa Claus lives and it's Christmas all the time. Not very energetically adapted from Craig Lucas' play, Reckless is a cult film in training. The movie has little thrust but a good cast, including pert Mary-Louise Parker as a deaf-mute manqué, Scott Glenn as a hearty therapist with an ugly past and Eileen Brennan as a Miracle Worker type. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) An allegory about the craft of acting, taught by Al Pacino, and cloaked as a second-rate spy movie. Pacino plays Walter Burke, an instructor at the CIA academy in Langley. He headhunts a brilliant but brooding MIT grad, James Clayton (Colin Farrell), who has (oh, dreaded plot point) a missing-father issue. Acting as both mentor and tempter, Walter teaches his pupil how to deceive. Meanwhile, Burke convinces Clayton that the girl he loves, a fellow agent named Layla (the uninspiring Bridget Moynahan, an Ashley Judd stand-in), is stealing a computer virus that the terrorists would love to have. The film goes one way, and Pacino goes another-and you long to follow him. The undistinguished script by Roger Towne and Kurt Wimmer is the usual: fevered tapping at a computer keyboard, a foot chase through Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, a car pursuit, plenty of winterscapes to match the blood-freezing cold-marble atmosphere of deception. (Does the sun ever shine in Washington, D.C.? You'd think our capital was Nome.) Farrell's a looker, though positioning him as a stud is too calculatedlots of scenes of him in a muscle shirt walloping a punching bag. But whenever the slightly frowsy, almost always comic, Lucifer-bearded Pacino comes on, the show stops. He lectures on the importance of deception, on the boredom of the straight life; he grandstands; he plays to the audience; he engineers a huge death scene. All you can do is watch him amazed. (RvB)
Polish director Krystof Kieslowski takes up the theme of brotherhood in what he says will be his final film. Red concerns the friendship between two people of Geneva. A sort of judge-penitent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who lives in seclusion crosses paths with a model (Irene Jacob) who has accidentally struck his dog with her car. Trintignant has Laurence Olivier's spark in him, particularly in his bottled-up bile when Valentine asks him if he had been a lawyer: "It was worse. I was a judge." That lovely, dire Eastern European wit illuminates the film throughout. (RvB)
(Not rated; 120 min.) This moving and disturbing Chinese film effectively personalizes the horrors of war in recounting the true story of two Chinese teenagers. At the brink of WWII, Chu Chu (Guo Ke-Yu) and Lu Xiaoman (Xu Xiaoli) are rescued from the revolution in China and brought to a school for the children of Communist leaders in Moscow. The German invasion destroys the peaceful life that the two had begun to forge in their adopted country, and when their class is segregated by gender during evacuations, they are separated. As a male, Lu Xiaoman is forced to stay behind in Moscow and joins a gang of street urchins, eventually taking a young Russian orphan into his care. Chu Chu ends up at a remote monastery commandeered by a Nazi general with a perverse "artistic" visioncruelly tattooing the young women under his control. Chu Chu becomes his masterpiece when he creates upon her back an indelible monument to the Third Reich. The acting throughout is superb; both the fear and the determination of the young people is palpable and sometimes heartbreaking. Red Cherry is one of those rare films that is almost too painful to watch but impossible not to. Although it doesn't shrink from showing the graphic details of murder and abuse, its portrayal of the courage of these young survivors is truly inspiring. (HZ)
(R; 119 min.) Those nauseated by Richard Gere can see him prodded, beaten, shocked and sent naked to solitary. Yessss. Gere plays entertainment attorney Jack Moore. After closing a lucrative deal on Chinese soil, he fools around with a model who dies in mysterious circumstances. Gere is presumed guilty, but of course, he isn't. Red Corner is OK in the suspense department but fails when convenient plot devices pop up. A handcuffed Moore escapes police on foot and outraces a motorcycle on a bike. A friend happens upon crucial evidence. How convenient. Shen Yuelin (Bai Lin) plays Gere's persistent court-appointed attorney who battles the system. I had my Asian-bashing radar on, and Red Corner passes with only strikes for fey Orientalism. The Chinese government comes across as full of tyrannical pricks, but that's probably trueask human-rights advocate Harry Wu. (TSI)
(Both 1932) Red Dust is a slice of imitation W. Somerset Maugham exotica set in the jungles of "Cochin China" (Vietnam) on a rubber plantation two days by boat away from a city everyone here pronounces "Saygon." Just arrived from Saigon is fresh-as-paint peroxide blonde trollop Jean Harlow, who (like the parrot that is her familiar) is chatty, fine-feathered and rude. She curls up around the boss of the plantation (Clark Gable, whose own familiar is a rampaging tiger; this movie indulges in symbolism, of a sort). Everything's jake for a while until a decent young stick named Garry Willis (Gene Raymond) and his satiny bride (Mary Astor) turn up right before the monsoon season and complicate the previously simple sexual politics. Not just worthwhile as an exhibit of Hollywood's vision of Asia, this heated pre-Code film has an unusually adult vibe going between Harlow and Gable. Since Gable was so earthyand he's terrifically earthy here, when he was younghe was usually paired against great ladies. It's a treat to see him matched with someone as salty as Harlow, who isn't fooled by his growling. The endingimpossible in Hollywood after the Code got nailed downis still a surprise some 70 years later. BILLED WITH Red-Headed Woman. Harlow (a redhead in this one) marries into a rich snooty family and deflects snobbery with her usual insouciance. The script is by Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), the subject matter so smoldering that it got in trouble with the Hays office, and the film wasn't released in the U.K. until as late as 1979. (RvB)
Horror director Wes Craven's new film begins as a tense psychological thriller pitting two smart people against one another in a confined space. Rachel McAdams stars as Lisa, who meets cute on a plane with Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy). Jackson suddenly reveals that he's actually a kind of ambiguous evil spy/killer-for-hire/blackmailer and/or kidnapper. Craven handles this transition so beautifully that it happens in an instant, but the shock is so great that it seems to take several minutes. When the film revs up into its shock-laden final third, Red Eye misses a beat. The first hour treats us to such pure, sophisticated suspense that it feels like a bit of a cheat to dissolve into such primitive horror. (JMA)
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(R; 106 min.) Cedric Kahn's major screw-tightener is based on a 1953 Georges Simenon novel. The bald, short insurance man Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his precise and rather colorless wife, Helene (Carole Bouquet), head off to join the annual August mobilization of French vacationers. As they drive, you can see injured Latin pride flaring up in Antoine: he takes it as a slight against his manhood that his wife won't let him drink his fill. Finally, when Antoine is having yet another cocktail at yet another roadside bar, she decides to leave to go catch a train. Somehow, during the miles of squabbling, both haven't paid attention to a news bulletin on the radio: a dangerous criminal has just escaped from a nearby prison. The remorseful husband tries to find his wife at the train station, but she's vanished without a trace. Authentic film noir; spare, frightening, critical of the concrete ugliness of roadside France, and in a zombieburg small town where the yokels like to stare at stranger. Deroussin's boozy machismo is played for some laughs, but not completely. What would have been a minor thriller gains some depth when it demonstrates the tightrope act men have to perform, between being obedient puppies and vicious attack dogs. (RvB)
(PG-13; 116 min.) 2050! The planet's had it, so Earth sends a party of its most ornery Terrans to see what's up on Mars. The mission is under the command of Carrie-Anne Moss, of whom we are reminded that she's a shapely woman in, like, every other scene. With the crew comes a robot named AMEE (pronounced "Amy") which growls, is shaped like a tiger and attacks when teased. This metal menace is the perfect traveling companion for a shipload of grousing, seething astronauts played by such irked thespians as Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer. (Kilmer's got a right to crankinessno one ever remembers his good performances, as in Top Secret, Tombstone and The Saint, and no one ever forgets his bad ones, such as Top Gun and Batman Forever.) Stuck in the red desert of Marscold, windy and lonely, inhabited only by exploding cockroachesthe party dwindles, picked off by robot attack, razor sharp rocks and ennui. Terence Stamp is stamped out early by a ruptured spleen, or so he claims. I know death by ennui when I see it, because it nearly claimed me at the Century 16. Stamp is claimed to be "the soul of the group"meaning that he's given to that Deepak Chopra jazz. ("Science couldn't answer the really important questions, so I turned to philosophy.") There are those who argue for the virtues of Mission to Mars, this year's earlier Martian excursion; I'm not one, but Red Planet makes the de Palma film look like Solaris. It's a movie that seems perfect for Bender on Futuramayou're rooting for the killer robot pretty much from the get-go. (RvB)
(Unrated; 113 min.) English director Andrea Arnold won a 2004 Oscar for her live-action short Wasp and now joins the Advanced Party Concept, a collective similar to Dogme 95 with its own rules (two other films are forthcoming). Given a set of pre-existing characters, Arnold crafts her story around the morosely sexy CCTV operator Jackie (Kate Dickie), watching over a bank of security monitors. One day, she spots a familiar face that causes her great concern. The film doesn't explain who this man is or his relationship with Jackie. Rather than playing into a gimmick, Arnold unfolds her story, gradually, patiently, from Jackie's point of view. Arnold also considers the grungy Glasgow locations, cast in natural, overcast light. Dickie's mesmerizing performance uses similar patterns: moody and cloud-covered. (JMA)
(Unrated; 67 min.) A now-hilarious 1936 cautionary tale about the evils of marijuana. Stars Louis Gasnier, Dave O'Brien and Dorothy Short as teenagers headed toward destruction and insanity after one joint.
www.GalleryAD.com; free.) (RvB)The program is titled "Music, Madness and Matisse: a Journey." Featured is Glenn Gould's Toronto (1979, 30 min.), directed by John McGreevy. The brilliant and idiosyncratic classical pianist does the flaneur thing in his tidy hometown. Rendezvous (1977, 10 min.), directed by Claude Lelouch. With a camera strapped to the brisket of his Ferrari, Lelouch races through Paris, ending up atop Montmarte at that architectural affront Sacre Coeur. Matisse: A Sort of Paradise (1969, 30 min.), directed by Lawrence Gowing and John Jones, with music by Eric Satie. Kienholz on Exhibit (1969, 21 min.), directed by June Steel. Calling all tosspots! If you like Bukowski, you'll love Kienholz! This controversial artist (who ended up with the reactionary LAPD Chief Tom Reddin as his father-in-law) immortalizes the backside of my home town like no one else except good ol' hard-drinking, two-fisted Buk. Starring: ichor-colored transient hotels, preserved in a puddinglike layer of Varithane; half-wrecked cars with couples getting it on in them; and mummified souls doing a shot and a beer at Barney's Beanery ("No fagots![sic]"). Calder's Circus (1963, 17 min.), directed by Carlos Vilardebo. The chief exponent of the mobile demonstrates a toy circus made from wire, cloth and cork. (Plays Feb 26 at 7:30pm at Anno Domini, 150 South Montgomery St, Unit B, San Jose;
www.afana.org) (RvB)The Jan 29 program is titled "Shorts of All Sorts." Pas de Deux (1967, 14 min.) and Synchromy (1971, 8 min), directed by the renowned abstract animator Norman McLaren. Operation Cue (1964, 15 min.), unknown director. A nuclear bomb blast can be tough medicine, but with some encouraging words from your government, you'll be able to take it. Duck and cover! The Street (1976, 11 min.), directed by Caroline Leaf. Pretty much the best narrative cartoon produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Leaf adapts Mordecai Richler's unsentimental story of Montreal's Jewish district, and of a little boy who can't wait for his dying grandmother to finish it so that he can have a room of his own. Leaf, one of the world's most underrated animators, creates the story by swirling oil paint on a pane of glass. Housefly (1982, 16 min.), directed by Georg Schimanski. The housefly is the king of pests, "the sacred bird," Mark Twain called it, who was spared from the Flood to spread important diseases. Here it's observed up close and personal at work grooming himself, buzzing, enjoying life, as well it might. As a companion piece, Silicon Valley News Notes (1980, 3 min.), directed by Ferenz Rofusz. A technical pinnacle of animation of its time; an animated fly searches a room for food, avoids an ever-approaching flyswatter. (Plays Jan 29 at 7:30pm in San Jose at the Anno Domini Gallery, 150 South Montgomery St, Unit B;
(Unrated; 95 min.) Regeneration is set during the last years of WWI, a war so terrible that it's slipped clean out of public memory. In a triumph of euphemism, they call WWII the Good Warmight World War I be called the Bad War? Novelist Pat Barker describes the hideous waste and stalemate of WWI in her novels Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road. To re-create the war (the beginning of our era of secret police, form letters and mass destruction), Barker chose to describe the beginnings of the protest against it in England. Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), already a noted poet, makes a formal statement against the prolonging of the war. As punishment, he is sent to a military hospital for the shell-shocked in Scotland. There Sassoon meets the younger poet Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce) and Billy Prior (Jonny Lee Miller), an angry working-class officer sent up for amnesia and mutism. Some will complain that this film version of Barker's novels is too stiff upper-lipped. On the contrary, the film isn't nearly stiff upper-lipped enough. From the beginning, Jonathan Prycesorely miscast as the psychiatrist William Riverstelegraphs his humanity like a British Robin Williams. Rivers is a man in a double bind. If he cures the menand he's trying hard to do sothey'll just be sent back to the meat grinder in Flanders. In the books, Rivers was a more mysterious figure; here, he's bleeding all over the place for his men. Wilby's weak performance as Sassoon is another of the film's failings. Director Gillies MacKinnon had the taste to use some of the most notable poetry of the war, including Owens' "Dulce et Decorum Est" and Sassoon's "Base Details," but he can't find a visual equivalent for their power, and he drowns them out with sound effects of bombardment. Regeneration is another failed, bowdlerized attempt to film a Barker novel, to be shelved next to the 1990 Stanley and Iris, based on Barker's Union Street. (RvB)
Steven Okazaki's documentary for HBO takes a straightforward, nonjudgmental look at five young adults at the Camp Recovery treatment center in Santa Cruz. The three women and two men profiled are serious heroin, coke and meth abusers. The film begins with some touristy shots of the beach and Boardwalk, quietly making a point that living in paradise doesn't eliminate the need to self-medicate. With a surprising level of access, Okazaki sits in on group sessions, one-on-one counseling and traumatic reunions with parents. Four of the kids have troubled backgrounds with distant, overbearing or alcholic parents, although one girl confesses that she had a wonderful upbringing and still found heroin irrestistible when she was 16reinforcing the message one doctor gives that addiction isn't a moral issue, it's a medical problem. Rehab is hardly a feel-good report on the efficacy of treatment. The subjects aren't exactly warm and fuzzy (one boy has knocked up his 16-year-old girlfriend but treats the rehab camp as a dating opportunity). Depressingly, in a follow-up sequence after two years, only one (after relapses and an OD) has apparently gone straight; another has switched her addiction to alcohol; the remaining three are lost to the criminal justice system. (See www.hbo.com for exact times and other broadcasts.) (MSG)
(PG-13) Plucky humans (Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale in the forefront) fight to survive against a plague of smart, ferocious dragons in London.
(R; 105 min.) About Xmas time, John Frankenheimers' new film Reindeer Games would have been a hard-boiled diversion from the holidays. In February, it looks like something you'd want to exchange. Ehren Kruger's script is a Yuletide crime melodrama of the school of Jim Thompson, complete with a suckered ex-con (Ben Affleck) a dubious sex pot (Charlize Theron), and the heist (of an Indian casino in the middle of nowhere.). Frankenheimer's use of Upper Peninsula Michigan settings is sharp, as are early prison scenes, but then the film gets unlikely (especially in a scene of Affleck being kept captive in a motel.) Theron is improving visibly from film to film, and Gary Sinise, as a villain named Monster, has one memorable threat "You're gonna spend Christmas with the birthday boy himself." Still, Frankenheimer's attempts to punch up the brutality, Tarantino-style, just shows how little is going on in this caper, especially at the ending. A little better than average, but average all the same. (RvB)
(R; 110 min.) Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the museum ... blood on the walls, mutating DNA, rampaging South American lizard-beasteverything the Treasures of King Tut exhibit wasn't. In director Peter Hyams' condensed version of the pulpy bestseller, the Museum of Natural History in Chicago is more impressive than the human characters. This massive neo-classical edifice, full of hidden passageways and undercut by swampy tunnels, becomes a death trap when a wayward entity from a field exhibition starts ripping open skulls in its hunt for glandular sustenance among the institution's staff and patrons. Can hard-bitten yet suspicious ("Don't step over that corpse; it's bad luck") cop stereotype Tom Sizemore save the day with the help of absurdly over-her-head-as-a-research-scientist Penelope Ann Miller and hammy-as-I-wannbe James Whitmore? Actually, it doesn't matter who the performers are because Hyams, who doubled as cinematographer, has made a dark thriller, with the emphasis on "dark." Some of the scenes are underlighted to the point of pure inkiness. Still, the magnificently claustrophobic setting drives the action relentlessly, the monster looks great in a flame suit, and the scares come at just the right intervals. (MSG)
(1958) Vincente Minnelli's comedy about an American step-daughter getting the works in London society. Stars Rex Harrison and his wife, the ill-fated comedienne Kay Kendall, and Sandra Dee in the title role. (RvB)
(Unrated; 125 min.) A family drama set in Italy and starring Monica Bellucci, Laura Morante and Fabrizio Bentivoglio. Directed by Gabriele Muccino.
(PG; 113 min.) Based on the real-life experiences of an Alexandria, Virginia, high school football team that overcame racial tensions to win championships in the '70s, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Remember the Titans is full of more corn than a Mazola factory. Yet it's a far more satisfying underdog football movie than the sloppily directed Replacements, because of Denzel Washington's lively yet nuanced performance as an antiheroic coach, as well as the fact that Boaz Yakin (Fresh) is an actor's director, unlike such previous Bruckheimer directors as Attention Deficit Disorder poster boy Michael Bay. Washington has one of his best turns here, as the well-meaning but pushy Herman Boone, who comes from the winning-is-everything school of coaching and brings his taskmaster approach to the newly integrated T.C. Williams Titans in Alexandria in 1971. Coach Boone's hard-nosed style initially doesn't please anybody, especially the much less brusque assistant coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton, also very good), but it ultimately yields results: the black and white players stop bickering over their racial and cultural differences and learn to concentrate on the game. The understated performances by Washington and Patton stand out in a film that's loaded with predictable, bombastic gridiron-flick touches, from R&B-oldie sing-alongs to an 11th-hour tragedy involving one of the main characters. Washington's most intriguing moments as an actor are often quiet and enigmatic ones, like the cemetery scene in He Got Game. Add to that list a terrific little moment in which Boone watches a rival team's racist coach refer to the Titans' black members as "monkeys" on TV, and instead of glowering, Boone unexpectedly flashes a great "I'm ready for his ass" smile. So few movie stars can act out what their characters are thinking as skillfully as Washington does. (JA)
(Unrated; 100 min.) Often coy, sometimes fresh, always low-key, this nonequilateral trilogy of hapless romances in Paris seems more like a study for a movie than a movie itself. In the first installment, "The Seven O'Clock Rendezvous," a girl (Clara Bellar) learns that her boyfriend has been cheating on her through happenstance and a rival's gossip. In "The Benches of Paris," a lover (Serge Renko) pursues an intractable married woman through a series of lesser-known Parisian parks. In "Mother and Child," a long-suffering artist (Michael Kraft) tries a similar tactic on a woman he sights in a museum. Between the acts, a pair of accordionists sing of the "glories and tragedies" of romance. There are no glories herejust a resolute tease. The formlessness is almost justified by the approach; director/writer Eric Rohmer, who has been making films for 45 years, faces the eternal problem of financing with his most seat-of-the-pants film in years. The hand-held camera, the use of natural locations and the not very rehearsed actors make the good-natured quibbling between men and women as easy to take as it is to forget. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 128 min.) Caution: The following is written by someone who never saw it onstage, and who has no idea how divine such an experience might have been. Rent is inarguably past its expiration date, and yet pleasurable when contrasted with invasive procedures such as the recently filmed Andrew Lloyd Webber juggernauts Phantom and Evita. Its aims seem light and modest, and only the choral opening number, "Seasons of Love," is forcibly screwed into your brain through repetitions. This knockoff of La Bohème is set in a year in the East Village, from Christmas Eve 1989 to 1990. Eviction notices plaster the wretched Avenue A loft of Roger (Pascal), former local rock star and Person With AIDS, and his housemate, Scarsdale expat Mark (Anthony Rapp), a striving filmmaker. Both are urged to move by their former pal, the building's current leaseholder Benny (Taye Diggs). Benny's upwardly mobile treachery is part of a subplot involving Roger's former girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel, Elphaba in Wicked, an actress turned up way, way too high in close-up), a performance artist and activist. Maureen's flirtatiousness troubles her new lover, a straight-laced female lawyer, Joanne (Tracie Thoms). And the helpful Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and his new boyfriend Tom (Jesse L. Martin) round up the group. Harrier and funkier than any film in Chris Columbus's résumé, it's shot in an expert mesh of CGI-made New York and San Francisco's "Wine Country" at Sixth and Mission. This artificial Alphabet City, with its scrap heaps of bicycles, shopping carts and graffiti tags, is more densely pleasing to the eye than even Kubrick's sham Manhattan in Eyes Wide Shut. Most of the cast lacks force as cinema actors, but there's no denying the bright-toothed, long-legged appeal of Rosario Dawson, the show's junk-addicted Mimi. Her version of "Out Tonight" is Rent's finest five minutes. (RvB)
(PG-13; 118 min.) Inspired by the 1987 NFL strike, which resulted in the league replacing its striking players with semi-pro or amateur substitutes, the football farce The Replacements doesn't quite split the uprights. This cliched sports underdog flick follows the fictional Washington Sentinels and their washed-up but optimistic coach (Gene Hackman), who hastily pulls together a replacement team of misfits when the pros go on strike shortly before playoff time. Hackman's sad-sack scabs include a stoic, once-promising college quarterback reduced to doing menial labor (Keanu Reeves, who looks like he wandered in from a more serious movie); a psychotic L.A. SWAT cop/linebacker (Jon Favreau); a sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine); a speedy wide receiver with the legs of Barry Sanders and the fingers of Jerry Lewis (Orlando Jones of Mad TV and 7UP ad fame); and an out-of-shape, chain-smoking Welsh kicker (Notting Hill's Rhys Ifans). Screenwriter Vince McKewin's portrayal of football union strikes is one-dimensional and cursory and bears little resemblance to the moral dilemmas and complications of past real-life strikes; the striking players are implausibly depicted as arrogant, greedy divas. Equally baffling and klutzy is Howard Deutch's direction: for instance, he uses the Police's "Every Breath You Take" during a tender moment between Reeves and cheerleader love interest Brooke Langtondoesn't Deutch know the song's a stalker anthem? However, Deutch elicits hilarious performances from the comics who play the scabs, especially Jones and the impish, crusty Ifans. The movie springs to life during their scenes, which almost make you forget its shoddy take on union issues or that Reeves once again does his best impression of a block of wood. (JA)
(1984) Emilio Estevez gets caught up in the auto repossession business in this cult classic with an equally classic soundtrack. Producer Jonathan Wacks will be present at this screening.
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(Not rated; 100 min.) Everyone should go see Requiem for a Dream, if only to experience how good it feels when you get out of the theater. Director Darren Aronofsky has a gift for shock and not much more than that. He's taken novelist Hubert Selby Jr's dire pulp and squeezed it hard. Aronofsky's film parallels the diet-pill and television addiction of Brighton Beach widow Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) with the heroin trouble of her son, Harry (Jared Leto). Heroin also claims Harry's friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, pretty good considering how little he has to work with), as well as Harry's girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly). Can you call a movie that begins with a son thieving his mom's TV, scenes of decline of a dream? At least, I mean, a dream you could sing a requiem for? Aronofsky's technical flash, the long Scorsese-seizures he's woven into a movie, gives Requiem for a Dream punch. Yet as a director, he's disgustingly obvious. He presumes we won't know that a junkie is in trouble until we see that his arm's gone necrotic, that we won't know that a girl's in for it until we hear the heheheheh snickering of the pimp. Watching Requiem for a Dream feels like a kick in the stomach. But sometimes a kick in the stomach is only a kick in the stomach. (RvB)
(1992) After a bungled robbery, a group of thieves regroup to figure out who squealed to the police. The suspects include Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, the nightmarish Lawrence Tierney and the hooligan of the group, Michael Madsen (when is he going to play Mike Hammer?). Actor/director Quentin Tarantino's debut film features a stew of influences, from vintage film noir to Sonny Chiba to Richard Pryor monologues to Jean-Paul Melville (the cast is clad in the black suits and ties that turn up in most of the Frenchman's policiers). Even as Tarantino imitated, so was he imitated in turn. This brilliantly cast, craftily written shocker became one of the most influential films of the 1990s. No film festival was complete without seven different alligator-mouthed, hummingbird-assed fake Tarantino movies. With success came a price; "QT" got kicked upstairs out of the trash-film realm he loved and into a layer of respectability and scrutiny he probably could have done without. Kill Bill continues the story of this champion craphound. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) Yet another film which banks on the zombie-film revolution begun by 28 Days Later, in which the formerly shuffling and dawdling undead now act like PCP freaks, screaming, running really fast and overpowering their victims with muscle rather than the sheer inevitability of massive numbers. Isn't it kind of amazing no one thought of this before two years ago? I mean, it is a really good idea, despite the fact that it totally destroys the political and cultural subtext of having walking undead in the first place. Then again, if you were looking to this sequel to the absolutely horrible film based on the Resident Evil video game for political and cultural subtext, you have serious problems. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 95 min.) Alice, the cloned Mad Maxine (Milla Jovovich), only dimly aware of her psychic powers, escapes Detroit to the Great Basin, where she fights rapacious hillbillies and zombie pit bulls. Meanwhile, a caravan of white-toothed supermodels and aspiring actors are encircled by flesh-eating cadavers and demon crows with crazy bloodshot eyes. The cast members pool their resources and head for Alaska. Thriftily, director Paul W.S. Anderson uses a 3-D digital blueprint to represent the evil Umbrella Corporation's underground headquarters. There, a team of business-suit clad villains re-enact the plot of George Romero's Day of the Dead. Despite rip-offs too numerous to cite, there are a few moments of innovation. The attack of zombie dogs is a more effective use of animated carcasses than in Matthew Barney's work, just as the image of a litter of dead Jovovichs (prototypes who didn't make it) is more striking than 9/10ths of the digital animation in Across the Universe. (RvB)
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(R; 118 min.) In Rose Tremain's novel, the hapless hero, Robert Merivel, a decadent Everyman in 17th-century England, finds his ends shaped by the whims of King Charles II (Sam Neill), both gaining and losing favor due to circumstances beyond his control. In the movie version, Merivel (Robert Downey Jr.) has a definite vocation for healing that he's deliberately turned his back on. Director Michael Hoffman (Soapdish) gives the stumbling Merivel a sense of duty, instead of having him haplessly falling into a realm where one does what one can, because one can do nothing else. Restoration is an uncentered movie that simplifies Tremain's subtleties into Dr. Kildare: 1666. Still, in lushness and eventfulness, it's a diverting show. (RvB)
(PG-13; 113 min.) As the Champ, a former boxer now homeless on the streets of Denver, Samuel L. Jackson gives an intriguing performance that is part genius and part con, moving with a weary fighter's footwork and speaking in a squeaky rasp. Josh Hartnett plays a reporter who hopes to move past his low-level sports beat, and so turns the Champ's story into a magazine article. But all is not as it seems. Rod Lurie (The Contender) directs, from a true story, and he gets many honest, affecting moments from the relationship. But as the film descends into its big life-changing final scenes and unresolved family issues, things turn soggy; it's a movie with a glass jaw. Teri Hatcher and Alan Alda provide some small, rich moments. (JMA)
(R; 18 min.) Miri (Ann Suzuki) travels back in time in an effor to save Japan from war. She ends up in the middle of a personal grudge match between two present-day baddies. Lots of special effects borrowed from a variety of big-budget sci-fi thrillers. (Capsule preview by MSG)
(PG; 133 min.) Return of the Jedi hinges on the resolution of the cliffhanger set up in The Empire Strikes Back, but once our heroes are freed from a variety of monsters, the rest of the picture peters out. Restoration work has cleaned up the special effects and the sound, and computer animation has supposedly added extra moments, but the running time hasn't changed. The most impressive character is a two-ton banana slug named Jabba the Hut. One has seen slugs of nearly his size in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but alas, not of his style, nor with his slurping, booming chortle or his beautiful golden eyes like a toad's. Post-Jabba, Return of the Jedi calms down on Endor into a long teddy bear's picnic full of the costumed extras called Ewoks. The last two-thirds consists mostly of animated stuffed animals, including one especially tiresome puppet. It's Yoda again, as prolix as Lionel Barrymore in a death scene; he actually says, "Twilight is upon me, and night must fall." Since Jedi don't really die, what's the point? (RvB)
(PG; 113 min.) A romance between a widower and the woman who was the recipient of his dead wife's heart seems, at best, doomed for years of extensive therapy. But in the movies, such a heavyand conveniently blamelessburden for these lovers offers a built-in excuse for much weepy conflict and even more tearful reunions. Though it has major flaws, surprisingly, Return to Me is better than its maudlin (and slightly creepy) title suggests. As architect Bob Rueland, the widower in question, David Duchovny broods attractively and effectively (and probably with much relief) as a character that's not Fox Mulder, struggling to cope after his wife's death in a car accident. Duchovny is well-matched with Minnie Driver, who is winning as Grace Briggs, a woman who has just begun to fully enjoy her life after a heart transplant (the donor for which, of course, unbeknownst to Grace or Bob, was Bob's beloved wife). There's much insinuation that their meeting amounts to no less than Fate's Grand Design, but whatever the ponderous cosmic implications of their relationship, Duchovny and Driver have a simple, light-hearted chemistry. Most of the comedy comes courtesy of James Belushi and Bonnie Hunt, as bickering marrieds and friends of Grace. Hunt also directed this comedy and co-wrote it. Hunt's work as a director is just fine, but it's not surprising that two people share screenwriting credit; the script is frustratingly contradictory, undermining genuinely sweet or funny moments with calculated pathos, seemingly almost as frightened to get emotionally involved as Bob and Grace are, though obvious potential is there. (HZ)
(R; 109 min.) Director Joseph Ruben's Return to Paradise is an important film with a thick core of political and social commentary wrapped into a powerful story of fear, courage, hope, love and sacrifice. It's the story of three American travelers touring Asia who meet by chance and become unlikely friends. Reckless Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), gentle Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) and quietly ambitious Tony (David Conrad) wrap up their travels with a month-long party of rum, girls and hash in Malaysia. While Sheriff and Tony return to the States, Lewis stays behind to help rescue endangered orangutans but is arrested for possessing a brick of hash. After serving two years in prison, he's sentenced to hang. In a desperate plea for his life, Lewis' attorney, Beth Eastern (Anne Heche), tracks down Sheriff and Tony to convince them to return to Malaysia to accept their share of the responsibility. What follows is an intelligently composed story complete with smart dialogue, real characters, a grim storyline and ceaseless intensity. The electricity between Vaughn and Heche leaps off the screen, and Phoenix's performance is heartbreaking. (SQ)
Frieda Lee Mock and Terry Saunders' documentary, presented by Tom Hanks, profiles 25 America pilots who were shot down and captured in Vietnam during the war. Interviewees include James Stockdalebest remembered as Ross Perot's VP candidateRobbie Risney and Jerry Denton. Archival footage from Vietnam's Ministry of Culture and Information includes footage of Hoa Lo prison, better known as the Hanoi Hilton.
(2002) Roman Polanski is one of two feuding noblemen of the 1700s who divide up a castle between themselves-despite the wishes of their lovelorn children. Local debut of the new film by Poland's master director Andrzej Wajda, based on a satirical verse play by Aleksandro Fredero. (RvB)
(1994) A French action epic starring Sophie Marceau and Philippe Noiret. Directed by Bertrand Tavernier.
(Unrated; 74 min.) Gil Scott-Heron's famous phrase is the title for this short, busy, haphazard documentary about the Venezuelan coup in 2002. Directors Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain were in Caracas at the right time to see leftist President Hugo Chavez be forced out of office by the army. They were also on hand to witness his nonviolent return to the presidential palace. Chavez made enemies by trying to distribute the profits of Venezuela's oil industry (described varyingly here as either the third- and fourth-largest oil supply in the world). Chavez is a performer, a flamboyant character who does call-in TV shows and gives his followers the abrazo. Bartley and O'Briain make a good case that Venezuela's oligarchy hated Chavez and used five private television networks to hammer him, employing methods that were crude and malicious even by the standards of our Fox News. One commentator claims Chavez is sexually attracted to Fidel Castro. The case that the CIA was involved in the coup is less than circumstantial, as there are only rumors of an American-registered plane on the island where Chavez was kept during the coup. (The fact that the CIA could have done it, and probably would have liked to do it, isn't really the same thing as evidence it did do it.) Since South America's present is probably North America's future, The Car Cultureolution Will Not Be Televised is a vision of how the media could flex its power in the future. Ultimately, one learns only a few things about Chavez's regime and Venezuelan politics. What's really here is a reminder of the immense power of television to shape popular opinionfor Chavez's sake, one hopes he's learned to hire the television experts away from his opposition. (RvB)
(1945) As a plot, it's plenty o' nuttin. Rhapsody in Blue purports to tell the George Gershwin storycontents may have settled during shipping, batteries not included, prizes may vary, not actual size, all musical selections performed by the Hilltoppers. As preparation to her engagement as the fictional love interest in the Cole Porter story Night and Day, the intimidating Alexis Smith plays the fictional society woman who romances Gershwin (Robert Alda). Though the story is artificial, the songs are all grade-A Gershwin tunes, performed by a cast that includes the Paul Whiteman Orchestra (which was the first to publicly play "Rhapsody in Blue"). (RvB)
(R; 91 min.) This inside look at rap music and hip-hop culture is light on the rhyme, heavy on the reason. Rhyme and Reason rolls with a diversified list of past and present favorites. Nas sits in a Queensbridge Projects stairwell talking about his mother. MC Eiht defends his decision to move from Compton to comfy Riverside. Treach delivers a moving eulogy to his friend Tupac Shakur. Method Man, Redman, Grandmaster Caz, Biz Markie, Spice 1, E-40, Ice T and Chuck D. all weigh in on an industry that made cloning fashionable and profitable way before the Scots. The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous with the recent death of Notorious B.I.G. The calming, peaceful message of Rhyme and Reason will lower the heat on the current media frenzy. Hurry and see this movie; like every rap film released in the past two decades, Rhyme and Reason will play a week before it gets pulled by the Man. (TSI)
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Sir Ian McKellen, the Shakespearean who brought his conception of Richard III to San Francisco three years ago, stars in a new and almost criminally audacious film version. This restaging, directed by Richard Loncraine, is set in 1930s England in a parallel universe, a country which has succumbed to internal fascists. Watching McKellen is like having Vincent Price back, only Price reborn as a much finer actor. McKellen and Loncraine have made a film that will sit peacefully on the shelf next to the 1954 Richard III, in many ways the best of Olivier's filmed Shakespeares. But the new Richard is much more pure cinema. Director Loncraine merrily thieves the bombastic titles from Die Hard and makes the finale a salute to the James Cagney film White Heat, with Richard on his way to a hotter climate than this world offers accompanied by Al Jolson's raucous "Sittin' on Top of the World." (RvB)
(R; 96 min.) Straight from the mold of numerous other "psycho-men-and-the-women-who-deserve-them" movies, The Rich Man's Wife is pure soap opera to the end, except that you never really get to enjoy a moment of good "cliff-hanging" suspense. Halle Berry plays the young wife of a wealthy businessman, who, while coping with the breakdown of her marriage, makes a passing comment that she later regrets, wishing her husband dead in front of a lustful and greedy stranger (Peter Greene) who is willing to grant her wish. The melodramatics of that whole affair undermine the suspense of the rest of the movie, especially with Greene's almost overly vicious bad guywho even sports the requisite black-ringed eyes to emphasize his villainy. At least Berry's character is refreshinga heroine who has some definite flaws and can more than adequately defend herself. But The Rich Man's Wife goes for the cheap, easy-startle tactics that thrillers of a better caliber avoid, or at the very least, set up in a less obvious way. And although its sneaky ending is reminiscent of The Usual Suspects, seemingly tagged on at the last minute, it reinforces the feeling that this film is merely the usual. (HZ)
(R; 82 min.) Comedian Richard Pryor riffs on everything from Africa to sex in this concert film made in 1982.
(R) From the producers of the classic hip-hop party jam House Party comes this comedy styled in the same potty-humor, urban-slapstick manner. Though the style loses something without actors like the endearing Kid and Play, it still manages to be a semi-entertaining, uh, ride. Ride chronicles the misadventures of a group of would-be rap and hip-hop stars looking to grab their big breaks after a funky bus ride to Miami. Scattered and somewhat unbelievable, Ride is still harmless fun, if you don't mind a good dose of fart jokes. As the crotchety, by-the-book bus drivers, John Witherspoon and Guy Torry add moments of good-natured humor, while 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell, of course, provides the sleaze. (KR)
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Patrice Leconte directs a satire about scheming courtiers in the time of Louis XVI. Stars Fanny Ardant and Charles Berling.
(PG; 107 min.) It begins with the most austere of seascapes—the north Japanese coast, shrouded with snow—and an icy, precise summing-up: "For unexplainable reasons, my son and I have become estranged." Takata (Ken Takakura) lives in exile in the north; his daughter-in-law, Rie (Shinobu Terajima, superb, as if a figure from Ozu had wandered into this Zhang Yimou film), pleads with the old man to finish a film project his hospitalized son was working on: a story of a Chinese opera performer from a remote village in Yunnan. But the musician is in prison for three years, behind not just stone walls but layers of red tape, which Takata tries to cut with the help of a local interpreter (Lin Qiu, quite funny), who has little Japanese, and less common sense. The ultimate futility of the errand is of less importance than the journey itself. Yimou gives us a frightening glimpse into a Chinese prison, where the Maoist ways haven't really died, and takes us to the parts of traditional China that are also on their way out, as represented by the dying traditions of Chinese opera. Strangely moving, particularly when you least expect it. Yimou's facility with different themes—from gusty comedy like Happy Times to the martial arts splendor of Hero—is becoming his most definable trait. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 102 min.) The best movie ever made about surfing, period. There's merit to what interviewee Dr. Mark Renneker says: waves are more inherently interesting than the Grand Canyon, because the Grand Canyon doesn't do anything. Using a variety of flashy yet never exhausting techniques, director Stacy Peralta chronicles the cross-pollination of big-wave riding. It's a continuing process of evolution from Waikiki to Maui to Oahu to the San Mateo coast. There's even a judicious discussion of the leash and its discontents. The monumental juxtaposition of a tiny human figure and a 50-foot wave creates its own drama, but often the laconic surfers have kept the secrets of the surfing life to themselves. What you have here is an entire class of athletes who were at last asked the right questions oncamera. Interviewees include Laird Hamilton, Greg "The Bear" Noll, John Milius and ex-valley resident Dr. Sarah Gerhardt, the first woman to surf Mavericks. (RvB)
(PG-13; 132 min.) Drew Barrymore plays a woman who comes to regret her teenage weakness for boys as she struggles with motherhood and defining her adult identity.
(1955) The title means "trouble" in French slang. The blacklisted American director Jules Dassin made this highly influential crime drama in Paris. A group of no-nonsense jewel thieves aims for the safe in a well-guarded store. As per Reservoir Dogsonly one of the dozens of movies made in homage to thisthe success of their robbery turns out to be the overture for the hazards to come. The theft itself is a masterful 15-minute silent sequenceoccasioned, Dassin later supposed, by his own unfamiliarity with the French language. Since there aren't any stars to speak of in this film, it's been neglected in revival; the original print had some of the worst-placed subtitles I've ever seen, but that's been fixed (and a new translation was commissioned) for this rerelease. (RvB)
The Ring, an unorthodox Alfred Hitchcock picture, is a straightforward boxing story about two prizefighters in love with the same girl. Ian Hunter, the imposing Oberon in the 1935 version of A Midsummer's Night Dream, plays an Australian pug ruined by love. (RvB)
(PG-13; 120 min.) Gore Verbinski's remake of the Japanese cult horror film is long-winded, but it has a savory punch line. The subject is a VHS tape that kills everyone a week after they watch it. A Seattle reporter (Naomi Watts) investigates and finds the tape leads to a deserted thoroughbred horse farm. Unfortunately, Verbinski's got a pendantically logical mind, and he could have shaved a half-hour by leaving out some of the perfectly rational explanations for what goes on. Expanding the tale makes it less plausible, leaving you with a ghost that's not only vengeful but kills off everyone who could help it. One passage here about a horse that gets loose on an auto ferry is like a commercial for some especially robust mutual funds company, but it doesn't increase the suspense. In Watts, the director has a star on the rise; Watts, memorable in Mulholland Drive, displays all the fascinating self-possession of Nicole Kidman but with a lot more nuance. Daveigh Chase, who did vocal work for Spirited Away, is very sinister as a bad little girl; also note Bill Mitchell's time-lapse photography and Hans Zimmer's polished score. (RvB)
(PG-13; 111 min.) I thought the American version of the first film was more amusingly stupid than scaryI'll take the parodies of it in Scary Movie 3 over the real thing any day. (Pamela Anderson: "Have you heard about this video tape?" Friend: "The one where they do it on the boat? And then in the car? And then in the bathtub? And he's like 'Hey baby, I love you' and she's like 'Where are we?' and did you see the size of his ..." Pamela: "No. Not that tape.") The upside is they can't do much to make The Ring 2 more ridiculous than the original, like they usually do with sequels. Also, the American producers have taken a page from the playbook of the Grudge franchise and hired the director of the Japanese films this is based on to do their film, as well. Right on. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 94 min.) Johnny Knoxville stars in the story of a man who pretends to be developmentally disabled so he can win the Special Olympics. You know what's most outrageous about this concept. Compared to the other stuff Knoxville has done, it's really classy! (Capsule preview by SP)
Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) pretends to be mentally disabled so that he can enter the Special Olympics and bet on himself. It's a horrifying and potentially explosive idea, but producers Bobby and Peter Farrelly and director Barry W. Blaustein play it safe, humanizing the real athletes just enough so as not to be offensive, but going just far enough with the offending material as to be entirely unfunny. Even Knoxville, perhaps the screen's most obnoxious actor, goes the earnest route (is he trying for an Oscar?) with his portrayal of athlete Jeffy. Then there are the usual cute girl (Katherine Heigl) and the predictable plot arc. Only Brian Cox plays it unsafeand gets any laughsas Steve's uncle, the author of the ruthless scheme. (JMA)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 84 min.) David LaChapelle's joyous, satisfying account of the newest dance moves from Los Angeles; a smarter and more realistic look at L.A. tensions than the dismayingly overpraised Crash. In the late 1990s, LaChapelle began filming post-hip-hop dancers: highly athletic, frenzied, shaking all over. "Clowning" was derived from the choreography of one Thomas "Tommy the Clown" Johnson, an L.A. birthday clown who started up some 50 clown crews in L.A. Soon there was a drastic spinoff of clowning"krumping." Krumping is more tough and chesty. Dancers come on up and get in each other's faces, as if ready to square off. Good news from South-Central is hard to come by. But LaChapelle is careful to record the backgrounds of dancers like the wiry champion Ms. Prissy, Dragon, Tight Eyez and his protégé Baby Tight Eyez. Rize records the death of Quinesha Dunford, a 15-year-old victim of the endemic drive-by shootings. I can't exaggerate the strength and beauty of these dancers. Even the "big boy" division, morbidly obese Krumpers and clowners, exalt themselves onstage. (RvB)