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(1950) In Indonesia, it's a Year of Living Dangerously for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Interrupted during their tour of Australia, where they're performing their typical cornball vaudeville routine, they're forced to run for their lives. In the outback, traveling with a herd of poor little lambs who have lost their way, the pair harmonizes with the woolies on the Yale anthem "The Whiffenpoof Song." Later, at a landlocked sheep station, they both get jobs as deep-sea divers. Cut to an island in the Sunda Seaall plaster-lagoon Mai Tai cocktail splendor. There Princess Lala (Dorothy Lamour) sings a prime exotica number titled "Moonflower" and does the multiarmed Hindu goddess dance. Lala, aptly described as "a Balinese pound cake," brings the newly arrived Hope and Crosby bad news: they've been set up. The treasure chest they've been sent to dive for, containing a king's ransom in costume jewelry, is guarded by Bokutan the Giant Squid. The devil-fish is only one of the hazards facing these men of adventure to whom "death is bread and danger is butter" (a joke later filched by Woody Allen for What's Up Tiger Lily?). Among the perils: headhunters, reefs and Nature Channel-style mortal combat between a tiger and a gorilla (Guy Inagorillasuit)thrilling violence made finally poignant by the lamentations of the ape's wife after her hairy warrior is carried off by the angels to go join Dian Fossey. Lastly, there's a volcano that, like many of our politicians, is driven to bubbling wrath by the sacrilege of men marrying men. Road to Bali does caricature the Pacific Islanders a bit, what with the Balinese masks apparently designed by the late Ed "Big Daddy" Roth; otherwise it's ripe with vintage charm and as funny as the day it was made. (RvB)
(PG; 83 min.) Locking into crypto-Mesoamerican style was a good move for the DreamWorks animators; the tropical colors in The Road to El Dorado give some energy to a tired buddy-movie plot, weighted down with mayonnaise music by Elton John and Tim Rice. In the 1600s, a pair of confidence men (supposedly on the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby wavelength, played by Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline) stumble onto the fabled Mexican city of gold; unfortunately, it's ruled by a cruel priest (voiced by Armand Assante). The shaky computer animation in the finale looks rushed compared to one interesting yet mishandled attack by a colossal stone jaguar, a scary scene that never has time to build. However, Chel (voice by Rosie Perez), the Dorothy Lamour girl, has a lush mouth and child-bearing hips, as some kind of nod to ethnicity. Even without the usual casaba-melon-sized headlights weighing down the sexy girl in an animated picture, Chel is one painfully seductive 'toon. (RvB)
(1942) Shipwreck victims Bing Crosby and Bob Hope end up in a vaguely Arab landscape and are threatened like the infidel dogs they are; flying carpets, talking camels, Anthony Quinn making with the poetic Arabesque insults, Dorothy Lamour in a harem outfit. Irresistible stuff. The film was named as one of the 50 best comedies by the American Film Institute. (RvB)
(1942/1940) Perhaps a little comedy relief from the Iraq crisisand has the American understanding of the Middle East changed much since this 60-year-old picture debuted? In Road to Morocco, Hope and his reliable foil Bing Crosby are shipwrecked in a vaguely Arab landscape and threatened like the infidel dogs they are. Flying carpets, talking camels, Anthony Quinn making with the poetic Arabesque insults and swishing around a scimitar, while Dorothy Lamourthe Heather Graham of her dayswans about in a harem outfit. The film was named as one of the 50 best comedies by the American Film Institute and deserves the honor. It's an excellent film for children, as well. BILLED WITH The Ghost Breakers. Before there were the GhostbustersHope and Paulette Goddard on their way to a haunted Cuban mansion, full of characters (Paul Lukas; the eye-rolling African American comedian Willie "Sleep 'n' Eat" Best). The film repeats the formula of Hope's 1939 hit The Cat and the Canary, which, like The Ghost Breakers, was based on an antique haunted mansion play. (RvB)
(1967) Diabolically funny, elegant and genuinely nasty American Gothic horror film by Roman Polanski. A chic Manhattanite (Mia Farrow) living at the haunted Dakota building is unnerved by the very baby growing in her belly. John Cassavetes plays her husband, an intense actor climbing from one success to another; Ruth Gordon and the arch-ham Maurice Evans are the downstairs neighbors, full of concern and unorthodox herbal remedies. It was produced by the irresistible mountebank William Castle, whose deranged 1960 film 13 Ghosts has just been remade (and promoted with a very distressing poster worthy of Castle). According to Castle's autobiography, Step Right Up! I'm Going to Scare the Pants Off America (required reading for the film scholar), Polanski confronted his producer, tearfully suspicious that the killing of Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, had been Castle's most audacious and horrible publicity stunt yet. The story is too good to be true, probablyand yet too much in bad taste to be false. (RvB)
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(R; 139 min.) Some 70 years ago, white terrorists burned down the all-black town of Rosewood, Fla. Thanks to director John Singleton, Rosewood gives us a glimpse of history that many would just as soon wish away. A married white woman is savagely beaten by her lover, also white. Fearful of her husband's reaction, she blames a "big and black" man, and a gang of whites decide to mete out some justice KKK-style. Rosewood boasts two black men who, although respectful almost to a fault, are no Stepin Fetchits either. Sylvester Carrier (Don Cheadle) carries himself with solemn dignity. Rosewood's black knight is the film's one thoroughly fictionalized character. As Mann, a mysterious stranger, Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction) might be considered a bulkier version of Clint Eastwood's high plains drifter. Jon Voight's role is more complex; the only white store owner in Rosewood, he is caught between the good ol' boys bloodlust, his greed and his conscience. (NB)
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(PG-13; 104 min.) A magician's assistant (Bridget Fonda) running away from a loveless marriage and a young reporter (Russell Crowe) find themselves on a spiritual journey through Mexico.
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The full-length Japanese cartoon Roujin Z has the humanity missing from most of high-tech anime. The film focuses primarily on the human beings that operate killer robots, rather than on the killer robots themselves. "Project Z" is a plan to face the problem of "a nation of wrinklies" (as a mean government official calls it): senior citizens who are demanding too much time and treasure in their upkeep. As a result, the government has developed what might be described as an atomic-powered geezer-tendera computerized bed that ministers to their every physical need. The guinea pig for the first such machine is Takajawa, a near-comatose gapper. His intrepid young nurse Haruko, rightly suspecting trouble, tracks her former patient down, with the help of the other old boys in the nursing home. It turns out the Pentagon is using Project Z as a proto-cybernetics program, and that the innocent-looking computer bed is actually a transformer robot. Elderly dick-wielding guys are a blind spot in my sense of humor, particularly when they're used to reinforce the message of filial piety; the cartoon combines coarseness with sentimentality. Still, Roujin Z has a story to tell, and some attempted emotional weight to it. The coarseness and the all-too-familiar fight scenes are forgivable for the way director Katsuhiro Otomo has come up with even the very basic characterization shown here. (RvB)
(1930) George Kaufman and Edna Ferber's parody of the Barrymore family, with Fredric March recreating his stage role (and landing a Paramount contract). Ina Claire co-stars. (RvB)
(R; 108 min.) Wes Anderson's new film is frequently hilarious and occasionally touching. It is also a real disappointment, coming as it does from the writing-directing team that made the wonderful Rushmore. The movie spends most of its running time introducing us to its bizarre cast of characters, the extended Tenenbaum family (including Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow). The story is so discursive (and so frequently interrupted by narration, intertitles and cute framing devices) that the drama rarely has a chance to develop. As the family patriarch, Gene Hackman manages to rise above the mulish wackiness of the filmmakers. He provides the movie with an emotional core as well as most of its best laughs. (CB)
(1950/1945) Fred Astaire in London to attend the nuptials of Princess Elizabeth. In the most memorable sequence, Fred takes a little twirl on the ceiling (a revolving set built in a drum is how it was done). Sarah ChurchillWinstons daughterco-stars, romancing Peter Lawford to tickle the juveniles of the day. Later, Fred asks Jane Powell the musical question "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know Ive Been a Liar All My Life?" BILLED WITH Yolanda and the Thief. A bizarre one, even by the generous standards of the Hollywood musical; the outline sounds as if it anticipated Joel Schumacher's The Phantom of the Opera. (He had the gall to steal from Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête, why not Yolanda and the Thief?) A crooked gambler (Astaire) in a studio-built version of South America, hooks up with an innocent convent girl (Lucille Bremer) who believes the conniving Fred is her guardian angel. Based on a story by the noted raconteur and children's-book author Ludwig Bemelmans (Madeleine). It's a cult item; director Vincente Minnelli claimed it contained "the first surrealist ballet used in pictures." Well, except for The Andalusian Dog. Still, the crazed use of golden Brazilian exotica has kept this a one of a kind item. In the end there are so few films that can be called one of a kind. (Plays in Palo Alto Jan 28-30 at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) An American adventurer (Bill Campbell) searches India for a wild boy (Jamie Williams) to put him in the circus. The boy's rich uncle plots to deny him his inheritance, and a pair of "monkeys" (chimpanzees, actually, who must have swung over from central Africa) want to make him king of the monkeys. Or something like that; the plots are stitched together from a pair of Rudyard Kipling stories, with a rancid glop of racial "humor" oozing out from the seams. The animals are appealing, especially the black panther; the actors are not so appealing, especially Roddy McDowell in a minor part. This is a tedious tale that even very small children will dislike. As one junior critic put it near the end of a recent screening, "Mommy, let's go home!" (BC)
(1935/1937) Charles Laughton plays an English butler lost in a frontier poker game; he brings a little civilization to his new employer, a rancher (Charles Ruggles), while he also learns a little about the American tradition (as expounded in the Gettysburg Address, read to the teeth by Laughton). BILLED WITH True Confessions. Carole Lombard stars as a pathological liar married to an all-too-honest lawyer (Fred MacMurray); when she confesses to a murder, the trouble begins. John Barrymore co-stars as a cracked criminologist. (RvB)
(PG; 81 min.) The third adventure of the cartoon troublemakers.
(G; 85 min.) In their second animated feature, the characters from Nickelodeon's show Rugrats head off to Paris when Stu Pickles must go to the City of Lights to work on a new amusement park. While touring the city, the children learn lessons about friendship and courage.
(G; 87 min.) The big-screen version of Nickelodeon's popular animated show is capably scripted to appeal to an audience ranging from very young children to adults. There's a new addition to the Pickles family that has the toddlers (Tommy Pickles and his mischievous friends Chuckie Finster and Phil and Lil DeVille) in turmoil. Frustrated with Tommy's baby brother Dil, who cries and screams all the time, Tommy's friends decide to take him back to the "hopsickle." Setting out in the Reptar Wagon (one of Tommy's dad's crazy inventions), the Rugrats end up on a wild ride that gets them lost in a remote wilderness full of danger and surprises. There are some truly touching moments as Tommy realizes how much he loves his new little brother and the tykes explore the bonds of friendship. The distinctive Rugrats animation is enhanced for the film with digitized backgrounds and multiplaned camera effects, and the soundtrack features No Doubt, Beck, Lisa Loeb, Iggy Pop and a Rugrats version of Blondie's "One Way or Another," making it even more appealing to adults. (SQ)
(R; 127 min.) William Friedkin's comeback film is a well-cast, well-intentioned, but excruciatingly slow courtroom drama. Two old soldiering buddles from the Vietnam War (Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson) are reunited when Jackson goes in front of a military court for murder. Jackson's offense: firing into a crowd in Yemen, while trying to rescue the U.S. ambassador from a violent demonstration. At first, Rules of Engagement looks as if it's going to delve into fresh material about the difficult role of the U.S. military at the turn of the new century. All too soon, Friedkin turns the drama into a good-versus-evil tale about the smirkingly evil government men trying to frame Jackson. These blackguards include the weak-kneed ambassador (Ben Kingsley) Jackson and his troops saved from a furious mob, and the army's prosecutor (Guy Pearce, of L.A. Confidential, who has a scar on his face so that we can see how evil he is). The teaming of Jones and Jackson isn't enough to energize this torpid film, which slides into numbness after the massacre scenes up front. (RvB)
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(R; 95 min.) Minor Jackie Chan is still Jackie Chan. In this badly dubbed but sensational actioner, Chan gets tangled up in the diamond-stealing activities of a pair of Bronx gangs (played, in a move that's so off mark it's ingratiating, by some mixed-race Canadians). Vancouver subs for the Bronx, but Chan is the real star: playing chicken on a busy street with a rogue hover craft, being taken for a Nantucket sleigh ride through the harbor, leaping across buildings and running up the sides of walls. (RvB)
(PG-13; 96 min.) Rumor has it that despite everything Rob Reiner has said, he's still considering running for governor. I have to admit I don't want to see that happen. Now, I haven't seen this newest film of his featuring Jennifer Aniston as a woman who learns her family may have been the inspiration for The Graduate (in other words, this is a sort-of attempt at the Graduate sequel whose very existence was considered so absurd it was famously excoriated in The Player). But I loved enough of Reiner's early work to know his talent has been wasted for the last 15 years. Wouldn't that be just like the Democrats to go and find the only person whose Hollywood decline was more horrific than Arnie's? (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13) The Rock and Seann William Scott male-bond in an action comedy, but really, the only reason to go is Christopher Walken in another Oscar-worthy cameo turn. (Capsule preview by MSG)
(G; 82 min.) The adventure of a wild horse in Africa growing into a magnificent stallion. Narrated by Lukas Haas. (Movie is also known by the title Hoofbeats.)
(R; 122 min.) I know you're thinking, "Finally! A rerelease of the 1986 Billy Crystal-Gregory Hines buddy cop movie! Maybe a director's cut, even!" Keep dreaming, you insane freak. This is Paul Walker in a mob movie by Wayne Kramer, the man who brought you The Cooler. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 110 min.) Screenwriter Shane Connaughton (My Left Foot, The Playboys) has taken an old themea boy's coming-of-ageand deftly captured the emotional turbulence and harsh realities that often signify the end of innocence and the entrance into adulthood. Set in Ireland's County Cavan, in a village just south of the Northern Irish border, 18-year-old Danny (Matt Keeslar) must contend with the death of his mother, a stern and overbearing father (Albert Finney), a tragic friendship and a painful first love. With a backdrop of verdant hills and rambling pastures, Danny's plight is made all the more complicated as his life is inextricably bound with and devastatingly affected by the political turmoil/violence and strict Catholic beliefs that rule Ireland. The Run of the Country is a compelling, sensitive film that although dealing with heady subject matter doesn't dip into pathos. (MD)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Vengeful gangsters kidnap the daughter of the Chinese consul to L.A. The consul begs for help from his old friend, the Hong Kong police officer Lee (Jackie Chan); to keep Lee out of their hair, the FBI hires a least-loved LAPD plainclothes detective, James Carter (Chris Tucker), to baby-sit the Hong Kong cop. Chan is almost a guest star in this better-than-average buddy movie, firmly in the Lethal Weapon patternand like the Lethal Weapons, it's simultaneously racist and a plea for brotherhood. Chan is royalty, a kind of Ariel, as Kenneth Clark said of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. By contrast, Tucker is just Eddie Murphy on helium. Though to be fair, Tucker has less of the self-love of Murphy and more willingness than Murphy had to be the butt of humor instead of the inflictor of it. There is a memorable fight scene in which Chan tries to ward off two assailants while preserving a teetering antique vase. (RvB)
(PG-13; 98 min.) A globetrotting sequel that bounces cop buddies Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker back and forth between Hong Kong, L.A. and Vegas to track a Triad lady bomber (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Zhang Ziyi), Rush Hour 2 is a slight improvement over the original. But then again, anything looks like Shakespeare compared to the first Rush Hour, one of Hollywood's many botched attempts at a stateside Chan vehicle. Not even a graceful stunt or two by Chan could salvage the first film, bogged down by indifferently directed, choppy action sequences, a creaky mismatched cops-vs.-Eurotrash villain premise, zero chemistry between Chan and Tucker, and worst of all, the unpleasantness of Tucker's unfunny Asian-bashing shtick. And yet, American moviegoers ate Rush Hour up. In the sequel, director Brett Ratner hasn't really learned anything from working on set pieces with an action legend like Chan. He still shoots action sequences with the same indifference; they're never as clearly shot or as rousing as the fights in Chan's Hong Kong movies. Perhaps sensing that Chan is showing signs of age in his stunt work, Ratner plays up the comedy, which is funnier in this installment, partly because of amusing unbilled cameos by Don Cheadle (as Tucker's L.A. informant) and an ad-libbing Jeremy Piven (as a gay Versace salesman). Another reason for the sequel's superiority is that Chan, miscast as the dour straight man to Tucker and his ten-car-alarms-going-off-at-once voice, is given more to do comedy-wise, and his previously nonexistent chemistry with Tucker (they reportedly didn't get along during filming, and the stiffness of the pairing showed) has grown since the first film. Still, the Rush Hour movies are far from the prime of Chan's Police Story and Armour of God days. They may cost twice as much to make as any one of those Hong Kong actioners, but they're made with half the directorial skill. (JA)
(PG-13) Pop-Eyed Stereotype and Badly-Aged Yet Somehow Still Noble Movie Star are back in action! In L.A., Stereotype (Chris Tucker) feuds with his chief about having arrested some Iranians. Boss (Philip Baker Hall): "They were scientists at UCLA!" Stereotype: "Just because they're scientists doesn't mean they can't blow things up!" After the Chinese ambassador gets shot, the two cops head to Paris in search of a notorious Triad boss. Once there, Police Chief Roman Polanski gives them a cavity search. Then Stereotype holds a "smelly Frenchman" taxi driver at gunpoint and makes him sing the "Star-Spangled Banner." Then there's a minor fight scene between Aged Yet Noble Etc. (Jackie Chan) and Youki Kudoh (a Japanese, not a Chinese actress, best remembered for her part in Mystery Train and billed on the IMDb for this film as "Dragon Lady"). After that, the two leads end up swimming in the Parisian sewers. Who's smelly now, eh? Eh? Brett Ratner's direction is everything suggested by his reputation as a stupendously rewarded producer of toxic waste. Tucker does the lecherous, pugnacious yet cowardly shuck and jive in a way to make one think time had stood still since 1950. (And somehow Tucker got five more points in the movie deal than Chan did. What a world.) Oh, and Max von Sydow is in it; rumors that Bergman saw this and dropped dead are untrue. (RvB)
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(1998) Wes Anderson's uneven but likable prep-school story, which seems to have hit young people as hard as J.D. Salinger does; they love the wit and overlook the snobbery. Jason Schwartzman is very appealing as the energetic young student addicted to every extracurricular activity there is (particularly the courting of a willowy teacher, played by Olivia Williams). But life only really opens up for him when he attaches himself to a weary millionaireBill Murray, embodying John Cheever's luxury-poisoned protagonists. One moment that's worth the admission price: Murray carrying a cocktail and cig as he watches his lamentable family from the perch of a swimming pool diving board. Love the soundtrackalways a highlight of Anderson's filmsparticularly the pre-Beggar's Banquet Rolling Stones. (RvB)
(PG; 98 min.) It raises the question: "If Arthur Miller had included an exploding toilet scene in Death of a Salesman, how much more popular would the play be?" Comedy audiences today are coalitions, between the kids who demand their sewer humor and the adults who prefer the witty aside. Unlike the Meet the Parents franchise, R.V. is a hit no one has to feel bad about, even as it serves both audiences. Robin Williams is not just silly but savagely pusillanimous as Bob Munro, a tragic salary-man dad heading a family of three people staring at different screens. When his boss forces him to cancel a Hawaiian trip so that he can make a business meeting in Colorado, Bob rents an RV instead so he can work at night while driving during the day. The RV (quickly renamed "The Rollin' Turd" by his family) has regular encounters with a busload of singing Christians (Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth and others) for Flanders/Simpsons style conflict. You get the picture. The Munros ought to bond, but they ought not to become clinging bores: "We're not friendly," urges the Munro family's slow-burning mom, played by the fearsomely jawed Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Also nice and acrid is JoJo Levesque as daughter Cassie Munro, a vicious little 15-year-old with a peekaboo haircut from which one cocked raven-colored eyebrow and one gunslinger's eye is visible. Director Barry Sonnenfeld reminds the audience he was once the cinematographer on Raising Arizona, with well-timed physical comedy and expert comedic use of widescreen in the style of Frank Tashlin. (RvB)