[AA-AM] [AN-AZ] [BA-BM] [BN-BZ] [CA-CM] [CN-CZ] [DA-DM] [DN-DZ] [EA-EM] [EN-EZ] [FA-FM] [FN-FZ] [GA-GM] [GN-GZ] [HA-HM] [HN-HZ] [IA-IM] [IN-IZ] [JA-JM] [JN-JZ] [KA-KM] [KN-KZ] [LA-LM] [LN-LZ] [MA-MM] [MN-MZ] [NA-NM] [NN-NZ] [OA-OM] [ON-OZ] [PA-PM] [PN-PZ] [Q] [RA-RM] [RN-RZ] [SA-SZ] [SN-SZ] [TA-TM] [TN-TZ] [UA-UM] [UN-UZ] [VA-VM] [VN-VZ] [WA-WM] [WN-WZ] [X] [YA-YM] [YN-YZ] [Z]
(1954) Audrey Hepburn plays the daughter of a chauffeur on a Long Island estate who for years has nursed a crush on the family's younger playboy son (William Holden), but the responsible elder brother (Humphrey Bogart) eventually turns her head. (RvB)
(PG; 124 min.) Once upon a time, Sabrina (Julia Ormond), the chauffeur's beautiful daughter, pined for David (Greg Kinnear), the handsome but worthless playboy, only to be distracted by David's older brother, Linus (Harrison Ford), rich in money but poor in spirit. The remaking of Sabrina 41 years after the original presents a number of difficulties, of which trying to outdo the indelible Audrey Hepburn is but one. The new version changes Sabrina, a mere natural aristocrat in the original, into an apprentice fashion photographer with more than a little money of her own. Ormond's Sabrina is more stunned rabbit than stunning nymph, and she leads an indifferent cast, of which Ford is the best. (RvB)
(1923) The Boy (Harold Lloyd) leaves Great Bend and heads to the city. He sends back letters boasting of his accomplishments at a department store, but actually, he's a yardage clerk, and his efforts to hide this humble position get him into trouble. Having built this tower of lies, he ends up obliged to climb it. Hal Roach co-wrote Safety Last, and it has its crude sidemore than a couple of black and Jew jokes intrude. But the gags about the maddeningly formal life in the early department stores are well observedone wealthy dame is said to be shocked by the sight of Lloyd's shirt sleeves. And the finale is perhaps Lloyd's best-known scenehe's enlisted as a human fly and ends up dangling from a clock. Lloyd did the scene without effects and with only one and a half hands, since he had been maimed in a prop explosion years before. Silent, with organ accompaniment. (RvB)
(Both 1923) The Boy (Harold Lloyd) leaves Great Bend and heads to the city. He sends back letters boasting of his accomplishments at a department store. Actually, he's a yardage clerk, and his efforts to hide this humble position get him into trouble. Having built this tower of lies, he ends up obliged to climb it. Hal Roach co-wrote Safety Last, and it has its crude sidemore than a couple of black and Jew jokes intrude. But the gags about the maddeningly formal life in department stores are well observed: one wealthy dame is said to be shocked by the sight of Lloyd's shirt sleeves. And the finale is Lloyd's best-known scene. He's enlisted as a human fly and ends up dangling from a clock. The clock has two hands, but Lloyd only had 1 1/2, since he had been maimed in a prop explosion years before. BILLED WITH Why Worry. Lloyd goes to South America for his health and winds up recruited by 1923's answer to the Shining Path. Silent, with organ accompaniment by Dennis James at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) Four suburban families emerge from "the safety of objects" to make human connections. Joshua Jackson plays a coma-bound patient cared for by his mother (Glenn Close). Dermot Mulroney is a workaholic lawyer who neglects his wife (Moira Kelly). Patricia Clarkson is a divorced woman with two kids. Directed by Rose Troche.
(PG-13; 127 min.) Whatever the characters go through in this action-comedy run through Indiana Jones territory, it'll be nothing like what it took to actually get this movie made. It was originally supposed to begin shooting in 2001 with Hugh Jackman as the star. Then 9/11 postponed it, Jackman's X2 postponed it, Jackman dropped it, Tom Cruise was said to be starring instead and then didn't, then ditto George Clooney, and they ended up with Matthew McConaughey. (Ooh, that hurts!) Then in 2003, novelist Clive Cussler sued over this film, saying the filmmakers damaged his reputation by making a piece of junk out of his book. He tried to stop the movie's release, but apparently failed. Can you imagine if he'd won? Hollywood would have been bankrupt in about five minutes from all the lit lawsuits. By the way, Cussler's action-hero Dirk Pitt has appeared in a previous film, 1980's Raise the Titanic. (Capsule preview by SP)
Sloppily directed by newcomer Breck Eisner, who employs the shaking-camera and fast-cutting method of action filmmaking, this mind-numbing, incoherent adventure film explains why they don't make more movies from Clive Cussler novels. Relying on lazy coincidences rather than skill or logic, fortune hunters Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn scour the African deserts for a lost Civil War-era battleship loaded with treasure. Penelope Cruz plays a World Health Organization doctor whose quest to stamp out a plague takes her on the same path, providing an obligatory and chemistry-free love interest for McConaughey. Even the cosmically gifted William H. Macy, slumming in a supporting role, can't keep from looking bored. The brain-dead National Treasure tried harder than this. (JMA)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 117 min.) Simon Templar (Val Kilmer), a.k.a. the Saint, is James Bond with better manners. A Russian billionaire named Ivan Tretiak (Rade Serbedzija) hires the freelancing Saint to steal a valuable formula from an American scientist, Dr. Emma Russell (Elisabeth Shue). Naturally, Templar falls in love instead. Shue's Dr. Russell is more of a genuine ditz than an absent-minded scientist. She may possess the secret to an energy source that will save the world, but does she have to keep the formula stashed in her bra? This movie badly needed a rewrite, yet Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) directs The Saint with obvious love and a sense of interest. The opening is remarkable: a 20-minute sequence that links the style of the boy's-school entertainments that foaled Leslie Charteris' hero in 1928 with the more millennial tales of the superspies of the '60s. The Saint may not have a prayer at the box office, but it's worth acknowledging the charm of a movie, that, like its hero, is more interested in beguiling than killing. (RvB)
(PG-13; 98 min.) Many people wonder if this feel-good story of faith, courage, and more to the point, a 14-year-old attempting to win the Boston marathon in the 1950s, is a true story. Some have claimed there's no way it could be, as they can't imagine some Catholic school boy in Canada seriously training for the Boston marathon (the hook is that Ralph is told "only a miracle" can save his mother's life, and that his winning the race would be a miracle, and he puts the two together in a way that perhaps only kids can). Well, though the period feel is convincing, it's not actually based on a true storyit all came from the mind of writer/director Michael McGowan. But the twist is that in fact 14-year-olds have since finished the Boston Marathon with much better times than the adult winner of the 1954 race. There are a lot of reasons for that, sure, but next time someone tells you it's not possible for a kid that age to even compete, hit 'em with that little factoid. (SP)
(PG-13) Barbershop with a sex change, and yet it's not to be confused—and how can it not be?—with Beauty Shop, the legitimately franchised girl version of Barbershop. Director Mark Brown, who wrote Barbershop, adapted this from Shelley Garrett's play Beauty Shop. It follows a day in the life of a Baltimore hairdo parlor where various customers toddle in and hang out. Proprietor Jenny (Vivica A. Fox) has already gotten her check from the utility company to compensate her for the bulldozing of the shop's building. She hasn't given up fighting city hall for her business and the jobs of her eight employees. These include the usual the sassy fat gal (Kym Whitley) and the token homosexual (De'Angelo Wilson), who even squeals and prances when he's being queer-bashed. Whitley and Wilson have some style that makes the dialogue stick, even if you've heard every joke and complaint before. Wilson even has to deliver the one about "I am more man than you'll ever be, and more woman than you'll ever have" for instance, Nevertheless, they can dozen, but the rest of the cast only make it up to three or so. Thanks awfully for the Asian stereotyping: "Mei Kim Amelican now!" Garrett Morris, of sacred memory, appears for about 30 minutes and makes every nothing little line resonate. By contrast, Terrence Howard has less than five minutes as a surly boyfriend. The Salon has dwelt in the vaults two years, as is demonstrated by up-to-date dialogue about the Bennifer affair and Halle winning the Oscar for Monster's Ball. "That's Hollywood," they sigh. Yes, and so's this thing. (RvB)
(1925) D.W. Griffith directs W.C. Fields in the original version of the tale later remade as Poppy. "His lip adorned by his traditional and most unappealing clip-on mustache" (as film historian William Everson put it), Fields plays a carny named McGargle who adopts a judge's estranged granddaughter (Carol Dempster). The cast includes Glenn Anders (the sinister Grisby in Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai) and the noted stage actor Alfred Lunt. Silent, with organ accompaniment. (RvB)
April 25: Burning Dreams (2003; 75 min.; shows at 2pm), a profile of the Shanghai Dreams 52 Dance School, where 70-year-old Liang Yi instructs a new generation in the old dance steps. 4pm: El Alamein: The Line of Fire (2002; 117 min.; shows at 4pm). Director Enzo Monteleone's version of the North African tank battle, from the point of view of the Italian troops used as cannon fodder by the Nazis. After You (2003; 110 min.; shows at 6:30pm). Daniel Auteuil stars as a perhaps too-attentive waiter who saves the life of a suicidal stranger (Jose Garcia); the unfortunate doesn't know if he can live in a world without his girlfriend (Sandrine Kiberlain). Chouchou (2003, 104 min.; shows at 9pm). An African transvestite has madcap adventures in Paris. April 26: Manhole (2002; 108 min.; shows at 6:45pm). Out of jail after seven years, a convict looks for his high school sweetheart, but both she and the China he knew have changed drastically. Director Chen Daming makes his debut. Raghu Romeo (2003; shows at 9pm). Rajat Kapur's uneven but thoroughly watchable slapstick comedy/musical/thriller. A goodhearted Bombay boob with a bowl haircut (Vijay Raaz) works as the doorman at a shady gangster's nightclub. Sweety (Sadiya Siddiqui), one of the dancers there, loves Raghu wholeheartedly, but the backward doorman is fixated on a soap opera, and the star of the show, Neetaji, a long-suffering, tearful housewife. Hired as a driver by a butterball thug called Mario, Raghu unwittingly helps to carry out the hit on Reshma (Maria Goretti), the actress who plays Neetaji. Thwarting Mario, Raghu goes to the rescue, but the actress is no tender innocent and gives her would-be savior a lot of bruises for his troubles. Musical numbers range from Hindu hip-hop to the more trad Indian musical numbers. Actor Kapur (Monsoon Wedding) raised the money for this film outside the Bollywood studio system. Despite the plot, the film is much less confectionary than is typical for the Bombay movie. Direct social commentary seeps in between the two poles of the film: sympathy to those addicted to romance, a warning to those who take those romantic tales too seriously. In Hindi and English, with French and English subtitles. April 27: The Handcuff King (2002; 90 min.; shows at 6:45pm). Finland, 1976: a boy floats through his painful life with fantasies of Harry Houdini. Then and Now (2003; 130 min.; shows at 8:45pm). A sequel to Marilou Diaz-Abaya's 1982 Moral, following the same four friends dealing with changes in the Philippines. April 28: 7pm (2003; 90 min.; shows at 7pm). Chile's Gonzalo Justiniano directed this tale of 14-year-old Kathy (Manuela Marteli), an unhappy teenager with unfortunate role models: a sexually harassed mother and a convict father. Love Me If You Dare (2003; 94 min.; shows at 9pm). First-timer Yann Samuell's magical-realist story of a boy and a girl whose game of dares gets more extreme as they grow older. (RvB)
A selection of film from the famed festival screening in Palo Alto. Apr 27: At 1pm, Hard Goodbyes: My Father (2002). Penny Panayotopoulou's story of a boy losing his father. At 3:45pm, Our Times, female director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's documentary about the Iranian elections in 2002 and the women who made them happen (despite pressure from the men in charge). At 6:15pm, Happiness for Free (2002). Mimmo Calopresti's story of an Italian architect hit with a midlife crisis who ditches his family and friends in a vain search for freedom. At 9pm, So Close (2002). The Computer Angel is loose! She attacks an evil plutocrat named Mr. Chowno relation to the restaurateurwith her cyanide-squirting sunglasses and auto-drill stiletto heels. The seemingly impossible assassination is all in a day's vengeance for the Angel, who is called Lynn, and her wacky lesbian little sister, Su, who chafes at being second-in-command in this two-woman organization. Enter a female cop (Karen Mok). Su and the copper cruise each other half to death, while director Cory Yuen (Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk) foretells tragedy by the mood-music playing of the Carpenters' egregious hit "Close to You." Many, many rounds of ammo are fired before the balance of good and evil is righted. This film, which does everything John Woo did, only backward and in high heels, recalls the golden age of Hong Kong mayhem. Makes Charlie's Angels and Bird[brain]s of Prey look like twin piles of dog meat. Shu Qi and Zhao Wei co-star. Apr 28: At 6:45pm, Dark Side of the Heart 2 (2001). Eliseo Subiela's follow-up to his Argentinian romance about a man who seeks a woman who can fly. At 9:45pm, Chaos and Desire (2002). Alice, a seismologist (Pascale Bussieres, who has the look and mannerisms of a female Robert Redford), is ordered by her bosses to return to her birthplace, Baie Comeau, Quebec, to investigate an unnatural case of low tide. In this apparently matriarchal village, the solitary Alice finds love and a meaning for her life. Playing an all-night waitress, Genevieve Bujold brings a layer of seriousness this film wouldn't have gained otherwise (what would the Canadian film industry be without Bujold and Christopher Plummer?). This would-be Twin Peaks story is certainly esoteric, but the wholesome explanation for the phenomena is disappointing. Slow, or in Quebecois, sleaux. April 29: At 7pm, The Sea Watches (2002) Akira Kurosawa's last screenplay is the source for this period-piece romance between a geisha and a young traveler. At 9:30pm: Piedras (2002) Ramon Salazar's Altmanesque investigation of a cluster of low-budget lives in Madrid. Apr 30: At 7pm, Girlie, A 17-year-old suburban girl (Dorota Nvotova) of Czechoslovakia looks for love in all the wrong places, in this debut by Benjamin Tucek. At 9:30pm, Jet Lag (2002). Daniele Thompson's follow-up to the popular comedy La Buche is a romance about a man (Jean Reno) and a woman (Juliette Binoche) trapped in the strike-immobilized Roissy Airport. (RvB)
The festival includes a number of screenings at the Aquarius in Palo Alto. May 1: At noon: My Mother, the Mermaid (2004). Park Heung-Sik's variation on themes used by Delmore Schwartz in his short story "In Dreams Being Responsibilities" and (as critic Roger Garcia has noted) Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married. During a crisis in her parents' marriage, a Korean lady is allowed to witness the courtship of her parents as they were when they were young villagers. At 2pm: Hawaii, Oslo (2004). More unaccountable than hell freezing over: Norway's capital is hit with a heat wave, and an assorted group faces matters of life, love and death. At 5:30pm: King's Game (2004). A young and naive Danish newspaper reporter gets caught in a game of political intrigue. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel. At 8pm: Chokher Bali: A Passion Play (2003). Global love goddess Aishwarya Rai stars in this expensive Indian epic. The title means "Sand in the Eye," and it's based on a novel by Satyajit Ray's favorite author, Rabindranath Tagore. In 1902, as Bengal is about to be partitioned, old customs fall by the waysideincluding the taboos about who is allowed to love whom. May 2: At 6:30pm: Of Love and Eggs (2004). In Indonesia, the Lebaran holiday is the most important feast of the year for Muslims; three different friends cope with unfinished business. Directed by Garin Nugroho. At 9pm: Champions (2004). In a particularly hopeless corner of the Czech Republicthe Sudetenland, site of Hitler's first land grablocal hockey-loving barflies discover a gift for prophecy in the most serious of the town drunks. May 3: At 7pm: In the Battlefields (2004). Danielle Arbid of Lebanon directs this fictional memoir of a Catholic family in Beirut in 1983more specifically, the story of Lina (Marianne Feghali), who is journeying from childhood to adolescence. At 9:30pm The Riverside (2004) A party of Kurdish refugees run for the Iranian border; on the way a young bride is trapped, standing on the fuse of a landmine. The passersby try to keep her calm while help is summoned. May 4: At 7pm: Shepherds' Journey Into the Third Millennium (2002). In Switzerland, several part-time shepherds carry out the ancient job, which turns out not to be as sweet as the poets have made it out to be. Erich Langjahr directs. At 9:30pm: Days and Hours (2004). Bosnia and Herzegovina's official entry in the Academy Awards; a story of a family gradually getting back to normal after the recent wars in the Balkans. (Plays May 1-4 in Palo Alto at the Aquarius Theater; see www.sffiff.org for details.) May 4: At 7pm: Shepherds' Journey Into the Third Millennium (2002). In Switzerland, several part-time shepherds carry out the ancient job, which turns out not to be as sweet as the poets have made it out to be. Erich Langjahr directs. At 9:30pm: Days and Hours (2004). Bosnia and Herzegovina's official entry in the Academy Awards; a story of a family gradually getting back to normal after the recent wars in the Balkans. (RvB)
A number of films from the festival will be screened in Palo Alto. Masters of Machinima. Texas-based video artists Rooster's Teeth demonstrate the art of cracking video games into personal statements (May 3, 6:45pm), Northeast. Great film festival catalog leads we have known and loved department, this year from SFIFF's Miguel Pendas: "Opening with a shot of a cow being slaughtered, Northeast demonstrates from the beginning it will be about life-and-death matters." Argentina's Juan Solanas directs Carol Bouquet in this drama about the poorest region of the Pampas (RvB)
See story. Also playing: Mukshin (May 6, 1:15pm), Yasmin Ahmad's story of a 12-year-old Malaysian finding a new family. Vanaja (May 6, 3:30pm). Shot in Andhra Pradesh, it follows a fisherman's daughter who tries to become a great dancer. Directed by first-timer Rajneesh Domalpalli. Fabricating Tom Ze (May 9, 6:30pm). Pioneering mash-up artist and contemporary of Os Mutantes and Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian musician is profiled in a documentary by Decio Matos Jr. The 12 Labors (May 7, 9:10pm) isn't the first art work to use the Greek legend of the hero to explicate life in the slums—the Neville Brothers did it right in their tune "Hercules." Here, the Heracles is a motorbike messenger for Olimpo Express, and the route he runs through the incomparable sprawl of São Paulo is more like The Wages of Fear than a Pepsi commercial. Too bad the lead actor (Sidney Santiago) is so mannered—why does every actor have to do the "Are you talkin' to me?" bit whenever there's a mirror nearby? Too bad also about the point-and-shoot cityscapes. Amour-Legende (May 9, 9pm). Wu Mi-sen's fantasy/romance about a pair of lovers who end up in a strange South American kingdom. (Plays May 6-9 in Palo Alto at the Aquarius Theater; www.sffs.org.) (RvB)
Highlights: July 30: The Golem (1920), the Jewish Frankenstein story. Directors Paul Wegener and Carl Boese and photographer Karl Freund created this pioneering horror film about Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinrueck) who created a lumbering servant from clay. The creature protects the oppressed Jews of medieval Prague, until a villainous servant uses it to his own ends. Also on July 30: Live music by Daniel Hoffman and his ensemble DAVKA. July 31: Madame Jacques sur la Croisette(1995)/One Day Crossing (2000)/The Return of Tuvia (2000), a program of shorts, beginning with Emmanuel Finkiel's study of a group of aged French Jews taking in the beach at Cannes; billed with One Day Crossing, a story of the Holocaust in Budapest, 1944, and The Return of Tuvia, the story of an odd relic of the past that refreshes 50-year-old memories in a survivor of the concentration camps. Aug 1: The Mystery of Paul (1999), Abraham Segal's investigative documentary about Saul of Tarsus, who, as St. Paul, helped put the fire and brimstone into Christianity. On a separate program: Genesis (1998), an allegorical version of the story of Jacob and Esau, filmed in Mali, and King of the Jews (2000), Jay Rosenblatt's remarkable collage film about growing up Jewish in America, lately seen at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Aug 2: Kurt Gerron's Karrusel (1999). The actor who originated the role of Mack the Knife in Threepenny Opera, Kurt Gerron, made more than 70 films. However, when the Nazis came in, Gerron catered to them by directing the propaganda film The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a City (seen in execrable excerpt on the same bill). On a separate program: September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill (1995), A concert film of modern-day performers (PJ Harvey, Lou Reed and Elvis Costello) performing the music of Weill. Aug 3: Vulcan Junction (1999), Israel, 1973: a group of rock musicians who hang out at the Vulcan Junction bar in Tel Aviv get a wakeup call with the Yom Kippur war. Directed by Eran Riklis; soundtrack by Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Jethro Tull. (For tickets call 925-866-9559, or check www.sfjff.org.) (RvB)
The 22nd-annual festival unreels at several theaters in the Bay Area. The screenings at the Park in Menlo Park include: In Search of Peace (Part One: 1948-1967), Foreign Sister, Qui Vive, God Is Great and I'm Not (Aug 4); Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, Anna's Summer (Aug 5); Weintraub's Syncopators, L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin, Unfair Competition (Aug 6); Esther Kahn, Yellow Asphalt-A Trilogy of Desert Stories (Aug 7); Blue Vinyl, Desperado Square (Aug 8).
The festival movies to Palo Alto for a screening of Asesino. Nurit Kadar's documentary about the dirty war in Argentina unravels evidence that Israel delivered weapons to the junta that killed 30,000 of its own citizens2,000 of whom were Jews in that distinctly anti-Semitic South American nation. It is screening with Thunder in Guyana, U.S. director Suzanne Wasserman's account of a Chicago Jewish womanJanet Rosenberg Jaganwho was elected president of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. (RvB)
read about Rosenblatt's brilliant collage, a necessary anecdote for Mel Gibson's bloody passion play). 6:30pm: The Fight. The Max Schmeling/Joe Louis fight and what it meant to America's Jews. 8:30pm: The Boat Is Full. Drama about the plight of refugee Jews at the border of Switzerland during World War II. Aug 5: 1:30pm: Mazel Tov: Lesbian and Gay Weddings, plus two shorts. 3:30pm: Behind Enemy Lines. Dov Gil-Har's documentary about the meeting of an Israeli police captain and a Palestinian journalist. 6pm: Tomorrow We Move. Chantal Akerman's newest is the story of an erotic novelist (Sylvie Testud) and her mother, a concert pianist. 8pm: Wonderous Oblivion. New one by Paul Morrison (Solomon and Gaenor); a coming-of-age comedy/drama in London, 1960. See www.sfjff.org for complete schedule and details. (RvB)Some selections from the festival continues. Aug 4, 2:30pm: Resist. The Living Theater's Julian Beck is profiled through the memories of his widow. 4:30pm: Sorry, Judas. Judas Iscariot's side of the story, billed with Jay Rosenblatt's short King of the Jews (
The annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival includes the usual vintage rediscovery: Edgar G. Ulmer's 1943 My Son, the Hero (Jul 30, 2pm), starring Jewish boxer turned comic "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom, nightclub owner and light heavyweight champ. The fest also boasts the usual slate of documentaries: Hot House (Jul 28, 4:30pm) concerns the state of Israeli prisons; The Longing (Jul 30, 4:30pm) is about Jews of South America just as Ladino: 500 Years Young (Aug 1, 2:30pm) describes the survival of Spanish Jews after centuries of persecution. And in Praying With Lior (Jul 31, 4:15pm), a child with Down's Syndrome celebrates his bar mitzvah. Dani Levi's follow-up to Go for Zucker is My Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler (Jul 28, 9:15pm), in which the world's most egotistical man comes down with an identity crisis. The Egyptian/Israeli Three Mothers (Jul 30, 6:30pm), which played at a series of local festivals, is back for those who want another look. Wanting something funnier, audiences could head for Making Trouble (Aug 2, 8:30pm), a study of female Jewish comics ranging from Molly Picon to Gilda Radner; truly, it's always something with these film festivals. (Plays Jul 28- Aug 2 in Palo Alto at Aquarius Theater; www.sfjff.org.) (RvB)
The annual festival comes to the Castro Theater July 12-13. This year's schedule includes a brand-new print of Buster Keaton and his leading lady Brown Eyes the Cow in Go West (1925) and Lon Chaney Sr. in the berserk thriller/horror movie The Penalty (1920). Oh, whatever happened to villains who worked for a living? Playing a legless maniac named Blizzard, Chaney is simultaneously (1) planning grisly revenge on the surgeon who wrongly amputated his legs, (2) seducing the surgeon's artsy-fartsy daughter, (3) organizing an anarchist army against San Francisco and (4) modeling for a life-size statue of Satan. Today, Kiefer Sutherland or Kevin Spacey kill a few measly victims and think of themselves as real multitaskers! Also on the program are Carmen (1915), directed by Cecil B. DeMille; Tepeyac (1917), a Mexican silent about the Virgin of Guadalupe; and King Vidor's The Crowd (1928). (RvB)
(1999) In Germany in 1935, a rural Jewish cattle salesman, assimilated and settled, becomes aware of the coming political persecution of the Third Reich. Based on Thomas Strittmatter's play. (RvB)
The festival concludes Nov 10 (at 4pm) with Florentene (1997). A popular Israeli TV series set in 1995 in Tel Aviv. It tells the story of some young people during a time of failing peace. Six 30-minute episodes from the first season will be shown. (RvB)
Full text review.
Shalom Ireland (2003). Some 5,000 Jews lived in Ireland during the last century. Only about 1,500 remain. The diaspora from the island that has everything but money has included many Jews as well. Valerie Lapin Ganley's documentary includes Joe Morrison, host at the Jewish museum in Dublin; a man gifted with wit and two bushy eyebrows worthy of the Old Testament patriarchs. Ganley also records family history from retired dentist Joe Briscoe, son and brother to two separate lord mayors of Dublin. BILLED WITH Moving Heaven and Earth. Profile of the Abayudaya, a tribe living in Uganda, who happen to be Conservative Jews. (Plays Nov 17, 7:30pm.) Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust (2003). The Orthodox son of a Holocaust survivor reconnects with the Polish gentiles who saved his parents. (Plays Nov 21, 3pm.) Lost Embrace (2003). Escaping the financial shambles of his native Argentina, a Jew heads back to retrace the story of his relatives, lost in the Second World War. (Plays Nov 21, 5:30pm.) (All screenings play in San Jose at Camera 12; www.sjjff.org.) (RvB)
This week's screenings include: The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob (1973) Vey iz mir! A Jew-hating criminal (Louis de Funès) is forced to impersonate a popular rabbi in this time-honored family movie. (Oct 30 at 1pm). The Ritchie Boys (2004) Christian Bauer's documentary about the birth of psychological war and the German Jewish refugees who helped pioneer it. Grouped at Camp Ritchie in Maryland, the soldiers prepared for the invasion of Germany; after the war, their own German accents made them sometimes unwelcome at veterans' groups, and few of them told their stories until recently. Guy Stern, one of the "Ritchie Boys," will speak after the screening. (Oct 30 at 5:30pm.) The Syrian Bride (2004) Eran Riklis' film is set in the summer of the year 2000. It concerns an arranged marriage in Majdal Shams, a particularly pro-Syrian Druze village in the Golan Heights. Majdal Shams' population is particularly restless since old President Assad has just died. The demonstrations over his death are complicating the wedding of Mona (Clara Khoury) and a fatuous TV star from Damascus. The problem is the border guards: the nemesis nations of Syria and Israel each claim the Heights, with the U.N. trying to keep the peace. Once Mona makes it into Syria she won't be allowed back to see her family. Mona's father is under pressure by both his Israeli watchdogs and the traditional elders of his town, who are angry at the way his grown-up children conduct themselves. Meanwhile, Mona's elder sister, Amal (the movie-stealing Hiam Abbass), is planning a small rebellion of her own. Despite the specific set of circumstances, it's a romance addressed to that something inside everyone, that doesn't love a wall. (Plays Oct 30 at 3pm and Nov 2 at 7:30pm.) (The festival screenings take place at Camera 12 in San Jose; see www.sjjff.org for details.)
The screenings continue. Ushpizin (Nov 9 at 7:30 pm) This sweet fable from Israel concerns a pair of Breslau Hassidic Jews of today's Jerusalem: Moshe (writer Shuli Rand) and his zaftig wife, Mali (Michal Bat Sheva Rand). As the holy week of Sukkot begins, the two receive a pair of strangers as guests for the festival. Unfortunately, the two are Moshe's nephew and his cell mate from prison. The results are as often distressing as comic. Salaam, Shalom (1999; Nov 13, 1pm) Director Vanessa C. Laufer visits the Jewish faithful of the Baghdadi, Beneh Israel and Cochini communities. A discussion follows the screening. Facing Windows (2004; Nov 13, 3pm, and Nov 16 at 7:30pm) Crossing over the Tiber, a couple stumbles across a well-dressed old man who has lost his memory. He calls himself Simone (Massimo Girotti), although he is later identified as Davide. The arrival of Simone changes the balance of life in Filippo and Giovanna's tiny, crowded apartment. Director Ferzan Ozpetek combines the working-class tragedies of a neorealist movie with the plushness of modern romance, and the machinations of soap opera. Forgotten Refugees (2004; Nov 13, 5:30pm) At the end of World War II, some 1 million Jews lived in North Africa and in the Near East outside Palestine. This is the story of how they left their ancient homes, often reluctantly. A panel discussion follows the screening. Until Tomorrow Comes/Chronicles of a Jerusalem Courtyard (2004/2003; Nov 13, 7:30pm) A beauty salon ownerJewish, of Moroccan decentfaces life. Mother and daughter actresses Remond Abeksiss and Yael Abeksiss co-star. Shows with Chronicle of a Jerusalem Courtyard. In Jerusalem's Nachlaot neighborhood, a courtyard is shared by Muslims, Jews and Christians alike, but the specter of redevelopment threatens this oasis of peace. (The festival runs through Nov 20 at Camera 12 in San Jose; see www.sjjff.org for details.) (RvB)
Screenings include: Facing Windows (2004; Nov 16 at 7:30pm). A couple stumbles across a well-dressed old man who has lost his memory. His arrival changes the balance in the couple's crowded apartment. Director Ferzan Ozpetek combines the working-class tragedies of a neorealist movie with the machinations of soap opera. Mixed Blessings: The Challenges of Raising Children in a Jewish-Christian Family (2004; Nov 20 at 1pm). Jennifer Kaplan profiles four mixed marriages in which the parents learn that the question of what religion to give the kids is more dismaying than they thought. BILLED WITH My Brother's Wedding, Dan Akiba's documentary about his brother's conversion to ultraconservative Judaism. Jewish life is full of a great number of wordless utterances, but an anonymous Jerusalem cab driver here makes the most eloquent groan in the entire film festival: "Your brother [the convert], did he take drugs?" Yes, answers Dan. "Groannnn." Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust (2004; Nov 20 at 3pm). Daniel Anker's documentary is an account of both courage and gutlessness. Gene Hackman narrates the history of how the American film industry handled the rise of Nazism, and how in each succeeding decade it felt steadier about telling its evil history. But the question is, can any way be found to keep from trivializing the Holocaust, from turning it into Hollywood spectacle, orperverselyfrom using it as a validation of the audience's goodness of heart? The study ends, naturally, with Schindler's List, and includes interviews with Steven Spielberg, but Imaginary Witness proves a few things. First, that the independent filmmaker had a better shot at conveying the horrors of the Holocaust. Clips from Andre de Toth's 1944 drama None Shall Escape are still powerful; so are moments from one of the most daring American films of the 1960s, The Pawnbroker. Ultimately, it's individual actors that make Hitler's unimaginable crimes real: Charlie Chaplin's hideo-comic waltz with an inflatable globe, Peter Lorre squealing as he's hauled to his death in Casablanca; Rod Steiger's silent scream. Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (2003; Nov 20 at 3pm, a teen-screen event). In Israel, a 16-year-old finds himself the peacekeeper in his constantly feuding family. A Journey of Spirit (2005; Nov 20 at 5:30pm). A profile of Debbie Friedman, the singer/guitarist who has been trying to combine traditional liturgy with contemporary music. (Plays Nov 16 and 20 in San Jose at Camera 12; see www.sjjff.org for details.) (RvB)
Go for Zucker (2004). Witty new German-Jewish comedy—quite marveled over in its native country, since being Jewish in Germany today is still not considered grounds for mirth. Jakob "Jaeckie" Zucker (Harry Hübchen) lost his cushy job in East Germany when the Berlin Wall came down; having previously slipped God's leash, he finds himself forced to mend fences with his pious, haughty brother, a rabbi. The film has a broad Billy Wilder streak in it—like Sunset Boulevard, the film is apparently narrated by a cadaver. (Oct 25 at 7:30pm and Oct 29 at 3pm.) Plus Land of the Settlers (2005). Documentary director Chaim Yavin analyzes the Occupied Territories, to discuss hatreds on both sides of the line. Discussion follows screening. (Nov 1 at 7:30 and Nov 5 at 3pm.) Plus Melting Siberia (2004). Documentary director Ido Haar tracks down her father, a retired officer of the Red Army, who walked out on his daughter and child. Billed with A Green Chariot. A Soviet immigrant to Israel discovers he may not be genetically Jewish. (Oct 29 at 1pm.) (The San Jose Jewish Film Festival takes place at Camera 12 in San Jose; see www.sjff.org for details.) (RvB)
The First Time I Turned 20. Lorraine Levy's story of a 16-year-old Jewish girl who decides to join her school's jazz band. Lorraine Levy directs. (Nov 8 at 7:30pm and Nov 12 at 3pm). Sister Rose's Passion. On the church doctrine "Nostra Aetate" freeing Jews from the libel that they killed Christ. It was the result of a study done by a nun named Sister Rose Thiering. At the time of Oren Jacoby's documentary, Sister Rose was on an oxygen tank, but she was still doing her part to fight intolerance. Jacoby links Thiering's life with the ambient Jew-hatred of her roots. Billed with Holocaust Tourist. Jes Benstock's irritating short film profiles the tourist industry around Krakow and Auschwitz. Benstock has a point about the inappropriate behavior around the death camp—the authorities had to put up a pictograph reading "No Cones" to keep fools from lapping at ice cream while they tour the death chambers. But ultimately, the relentless commercial-style cutting treats people with remarkable inhumanity, just as the snazzy graphics turn Auschwitz itself into a computer game. (Nov 12 at 5:30pm). The King's Daughter. Inside the Mea Shearim, the more-kosher-than-kosher section of Jerusalem, an Israeli Broadcasting Authority team records the antique-loaded splendor of the wedding of a rabbi's granddaughter. Billed with Like a Fish Out of Water. A short rom-com concerning an Argentine immigrant to Israel involved with a religious girl; the misunderstanding parents believe him to be a fancy scientist when, instead, he works at a gas station. (Nov 12 at 7pm). The Journey of Vaan Nguyen. Vietnamese-born immigrants to Israel face the possibility of returning to their native land, 30 years after they arrived. Discussion to follow. (Nov 14 at 7pm). The Children's House. Director Tamar Feingold investigates the lives of former kibbutz children. Billed with The Kibbutz. The rise and fall of the familiar Israeli institution, which has gone the way of so many American communes. (Nov 15 at 7:30pm). (The films show in San Jose at Camera 12; see www.sjjff.org for details.) (RvB)
The Children's House. A documentary record of the "Togetherness" show at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Curator Tali Tamir organized a show of artists reminiscing about the "Children's House" at many Israeli kibbutzes, in which children were taken from their parents and raised collectively, as if they were factory farms animal—or, that's the way it's looked at by the artists who obsessively re-create a children's house in the museum space. The narrative smugness of the propaganda films made to advertise these kibbutzes certainly support the sad reminiscences of these artists. This short film has the familiar limitations of the subjective documentary, and then some. We feel their pain, yesbut did this institution create nothing but pain? BILLED WITH The Kibbutz. The rise and fall of the world-famous communes. (Nov 15 at 7:30pm). Out of Sight (2005). Trying to discover the reason for her cousin's suicide, the blind Ya'ara takes a journey into the past. The documentary won Daniel Syrkin the best director in the Israeli Academy Awards, 2005. (Nov 19 at 3pm.) Isn't This a Time (2004). Impresario Harold Leventhal has a joke about the annual folk music concerts he presents at Carnegie Hall on Thanksgiving Day. Slated to perform, Pete Seeger (age 84) complained he wasn't in as good voice as he once was, and Leventhal answered, "That's OK, the audience can't hear as well as they used to, either." Highlights: Arlo Guthrie delivering "City of New Orleans;" Ronnie Gilbert and the reconstituted Weavers, dedicating "Sinner Man" to "the president who brought the Bible to the White House"; Peter, Paul and Mary asking the musical question "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?" The never-to-be-forgot Seeger himself has a brief senior moment as he temporarily forgets the English verse for "Guantanamera." Jim Brown's documentary is sedate, and so very much like A Mighty Wind, but it proves that the champions of the Great Folk Scare are still at it, and as scary as ever. Never underestimate the healing power of taking umbrage. (Nov 19 at 5:30pm.) (The films show in San Jose at Camera 12; see www.sjjff.org for details.) (RvB)
See review. (Plays Oct 14 at 3 and Oct 17 at 7:30pm.) Three Mothers (2006) Gila Almogar, nee starlet Gila Golan, stars in a florid drama about Jewish triplets from Alexandria who were blessed in their cradles by King Farouk himself. Very much the chick-flick, highlighted by a soundtrack of 60s Israeli pop. (Plays Oct 14 at 7:30pm) Nov 7, 7:30pm: Someone to Run With is a story of the lower depths in Jerusalem. Nov 11, 1pm: Sentenced to Marriage. Since 1953, Israel has used rabbinicial courts instead of civil courts to grant divorces. The mill of law grinds slow, and it grinds even slower when God's weight is on the millstones. Husbands can sadistically or pettishly prolong a divorce as long as they want; two of the women here wait five years for theirs. Hidden cameras show stacked-up files on desks; transcripts tell of a husband-raped woman being told by a rabbi, "He just wanted to have his way with you" (italics mine). Obviously, Israel needs the services of Judge Judy, pronto. Scholar Nitzhia Shaked leads a discussion afterward. At 3pm: Just an Ordinary Jew. Oliver (Downfall) Hirschbiegel's monologue film about what it means to be Jewish in modern-day Germany. At 5pm: Modigliani. Andy Garcia encounters the full gamut of 1920s artists from Rivera to Picasso. At 5:30pm: Steel Toes. A Jewish-Canadian lawyer (David Strathairn) has a tough case: he has to defend a neo-Nazi Paki-basher. At 7:30pm: Sweet Mud, a coming-of-age story. Nov 14, 7:30pm: Black Book. Paul Verhoeven's drama of wartime intrigue with plentiful toplessness. Rich, beautiful and talented Rachel (Carice van Houten) has a little problem. It's 1945 in Occupied Holland, and she's Jewish. Left in the cold, she possesses only a packet of diamonds and a wad of $100 bills. Later, during an assignment for the Resistance, Rachel is picked up on by a sensitive SS officer, Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). She must make a decision: Will she prostitute herself for the Resistance? Maybe the universal appeal of the sex is supposed to leaven the references to today's occupations, as in this utterly subtle line when a Nazi officer congratulates the Dutch Gestapo: "You fight against the terrorists for our fatherland." As that line suggests, this Verhoeven movie is not anything to take seriously. It's simplistic, madly nostalgic and larded with romantic visions of the end of the war. (Through Nov 14 in San Jose at Camera 12; www.sjjf.org) (RvB)Opening night: Brother's Shadow (2006) with live appearance by Judd Hirsch and director Todd Yellin.
Shai Avivi, Rami Heuberger, Keren Mor, Dov Navon and Manashe Noy are known as the Chamber Quintet: Israel's answer to the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, seen in their popular mid-'90s TV show. Rarely hilarious, more often cerebral, these comedians have some inspired sketches: a pair of absent-minded cineastés who can't remember Hitchcock's name or work; a fan buttonholing God at a cafe and getting the cold shoulder; and, in perhaps their most daring sketch, a rich parody of the documentary Shoah. However, these kinds of shows really make their most impact when they create returning characters. Due to the insufficient credits on the preview tape, I can't properly thank whichever member it was who plays "Fledermaus"a whip-guilt Israeli politician of the older generation, always ready to sputter such dire rebukes as "Any minute now, the Arabs can throw us into the sea!" whenever thwarted. BILLED WITH Bat-Yam New York, a dramatic TV show in the form of video diaries. (RvB)
(2000) In a bucolic corner of Israel, where nobody works very hard at anything, it's decided (after a prophetic dream) to reopen the long-closed movie theater. Director Benny Toraty's breezy but melancholy picture includes some elements that must elude the American viewer (why are the locals burning Charles DeGaulle in effigy?). But it's held together by the performance by the tragic faced Yona Elian, as Seniora, a woman who, once upon a time, was the cause of the rift that led to the closing of the cinema. Includes excerpts from the theater's reopener, the vintage Indian epic film Sangam, whose plot mirrors the story (and also seems to herald the new change of programming at the Towne Theater.) (RvB)
(2001) Really beyond the pale. An epic based on the novel by Harry Mulisch (who wrote the source book for the Dutch film The Assault). It concerns the friendship between an astronomer (Greg Wise) and a dithering aesthete (Stephen Fry, doing Oscar Wilde again), both representing "Science" and "Art" as clearly as if they had signs around their necks. In 1960s Amsterdam, the twoborn on the same day in different locationsbecome fast friends and fall in love with the same girl, Ada (Flora Montgomery). When a child is born of this three-way union, he grows up to be a prodigyand possibly a messiah. All thisalong with the World War I and World War II and the Holocaustturns out to be the work of scheming, manipulative angels who have been ordered by God to retrieve the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Director Jeroen Krabbe plays the most well-fed of the angels. The Discovery of Heaven certainly has expensive locations, for what that's worth, from the canals in Amsterdam to the Pantheon in Rome to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. And it has plot by the pound: characters are always getting into car accidents and going into comas, getting their throats cut by street ruffians or being hit by flaming asteroids or shouting each other's names to the skies or going into self-imposed exile and turning up years later with rheumy eyes, beards and limps. (RvB)
Dan Wolman's drama about the friendship between an Israeli professional woman and her servant. BILLED WITH Why Is This day Different?, a short about trying to celebrate Passover in New Zealand. (RvB)
(1999) In Budapest, before World War II, a love triangle unfolds: a Jewish restaurant owner, his girlfriend, and the pianist who plays there. The Nazi invasion brings matters to a climax. Rolf Schubel directs. (RvB)
Adam Goldberg is Mordecai Jefferson Carver, "the circumcised dick," the Jewish Shaft: as his theme song goes, "the type who won't cop out / when there's gentiles all about." He's a man of action, but he who knows how to handle his women ("You want I should talk dirty to you?"). Yet he's also good to his nagging Yiddish mama, played by that handsome Nora Dunn. (Handsome and principled, tooremember she walked off Saturday Night Live for good because of the presence of the since-forgotten Andrew Dice Clay?) Writer/director Jonathan Kesselman tells a story of the new Santa Claus (Andy Dick), determined to muscle out Kwanzaa and Chanukah alike. His weapons includes cheap bootleg VHS copies of It's a Wonderful Life. The once-mighty Jewish/black alliance is rebuilt as Carver joins forces with the Kwanzaa Liberation Front's chief, Mohammed (Mario Van Peebles), to save the Festival of Lights from Christmas hegemony. Since he's clearly a writer first and a director second, Kesselman softens the impact of some of the cleverest jokes, such as a kind of carnival ride dedicated to the history of Jewish suffering. The Hebrew Hammer is stuffed with jokes Mel Brooks wouldn't touch with a 10-foot challah. The effect of watching this film can only be likened to noshing on too much chopped liver while listening to a stack of Mickey Katz albums. (RvB)
In Today You Are a Fountain Pen (2000), a boy's Bar Mitzvah looks like a frost when he doesn't get the bicycle he was hoping for, but then his grandfather, a concentration camp survivor, gives him a little perspective. Playing the grandfather is Seinfeld regular Len Lesser (a.k.a. Uncle Leo), who will appear in person at the screening. Directed by Dan Katzir. BILLED WITH The Secret (2001), Ronit Krown Kerstner and Neomi Schory's documentary about Jewish children brought up as Catholics during World War II, in order to hide them from the Germans. Interviewees include a Catholic priest who learned in middle age that his parents were Jewish. (RvB)
This week's screenings continue Oct. 29 (7:30pm) and Nov. 2 (3pm) with A Trumpet in the Wadi (2001) Directors Lina and Slava Chaplin put an interesting twist on Romeo and Juliet. The action is set in the Arab ghetto of Haifa, where it's always said that relations are the best between Jews and Palestinians in all of Israel. A well-blended mix of romance and political commentary, this shot-on-video drama is the story of a pair of sisters. The plain but sweet Huda (Khawlah Hag-Debsy, quite good) has just turned 30, with no prospect of marriage. Her smoldering little sister Mary (Raida Adon) is already sleeping with men. The two get a new upstairs neighbor: Alex (played by Alexander Senderovich), who, like Robin Williams, is short, hairy, friendly and often amusing. A half-pint who plays the trumpet, this Jewish arrival from Russia has no ideology and less Hebrew. The relationship turns out to be less of a big deal for Huda's family than it is for the world outside their apartment. Based on Sami Michael's novel, Trumpet in the Wadi is more indication that a vibrant new cinema is emerging in Israel from the midst of strife. BILLED WITH Haymishe-Viking, Lesley Sharon Rosenthal's short about chef Henrik Iverson, a mad Dane on a mission to update trad Jewish cooking into nouvelle (or, if you will, Jouvelle) cuisine; the chef, currently working at the Hyatt Grand Melbourne, Down Under, demonstrates his high-class variations on beloved old dishes. Iverson also reminisces about the challenges of working at the Hyatt Regency in Jerusalem, with an all Palestinian crew: "Motivating them to cook kosher food was a tremendous challenge." (RvB)
If you intend to have 17 children, best to have them in Australia, where there's so much room for them to run around. The Waks family, a group of ultratraditional Lubavitch Jews, are profiled here. The children range in age from 4 months to 21 years: they are the brood of a former Melbourne surfer who converted to this demanding strain of worship (it's American, revived by a charismatic rabbi from Crown Heights). While some may ponder the Waks' life and wonder if a life without movies is worth living, others may focus on Chaya, the eerily calm mom. A Lubavitch from Yemen, she not only raises the dozen-plus kids but brings in extra cash as a wig maker. BILLED WITH Longing, a 1998 Israeli film about a secular woman of Tel Aviv who begins to remember details of her orthodox upbringing. Directed by Amalia Margolin. (RvB)
(G; 98 min.) Tim Allen returns as the fat man of rampant capitalism.
(G; 98 min.) As overstuffed as a Christmas goose, the sequel trims the meat of the divorced dad/estranged son plot from the first two films and instead crams the screen with gratuitous subplots that distract blue-collar Santa Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) from his seasonal work: visits from his in-laws (Alan Arkin and, for grandpas in the audience, Ann-Margret) and plans by the nefarious Jack Frost (Martin Short) to freeze Scott out of the holiday. Short's musical number, "North Pole, North Pole" to the tune of "New York, New York," is a jaw-dropper worthy of his SCTV days. (DH)
May 8 (at the Santa Cruz Vets Hall): Above and Beyond the Call of Duty (noon) and Locals Only (2:30pm). May 8 (at the Del Mar) From the East (3pm), Personal Docs (5:05pm), Stalemate (7:30pm) and Blue Vinyl (9:55pm). May 9 (at the Del Mar): Sports Flicks (3pm), What Are you Laughing At? (5:30pm), BombaDancing the Drum (7:15pm), Bee Movie Boogaloo (9:15pm). May 10 (at the Del Mar): Shorts (3pm), Aural Artists (5:05pm), Hip, Edgy, Sexy, Cool (7:30pm), Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (9:50pm). May 11 (at the Del Mar): Locals Only 2 (3pm), Strangers in Stranger Lands (5pm), The Business of Fancydancing (7:10pm), Home Room (9:30pm).
(R) This 1997 comedy from Mexico tells the story of a woman who, after seeing the image of a saint in her oven, goes on a search for her daughter, who died under mysterious circumstances.
Full text review.
(R; 120 min.) After all the many reunions of estranged fathers and yearning sons the movies have been selling us, the honest mutual contempt between generations in Ingmar Bergman's Saraband is like air conditioning on a sticky day. Erland Josephson plays Johan, a psychologist retired to his country home. The view from the old man's window takes in the summer cottage where his son, Henrik, lives. Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt) has the face and mannerisms of a weakling. A semiemployed music professor, he lives in troubled solitude with his daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius). This standoff between father, son and daughter/granddaughter is ended by an unexpected visit from Henrik's former spouse, Marianne (Liv Ullmann). A coda to Bergman's 1974 TV series Scenes From a Marriage, the film shows the two with almost nothing left but each other. Freed from his sex drive, Johan desiccates himself in his music and his Kierkegaard; Marianne's patient female strength makes his pathetic viciousness all the more contemptible. Unlike Johan, Bergman has made progress. Saraband isn't a sad throwback to past greatness. Instead it's a serene, fresh work, assured and open-minded. (RvB)
Full text review.
(Unrated; 72 min.) She's such a Disney chipmunk. Silverman does a brilliant imitation of a person eager not to offend, as she wrings her shoulders and casts her eyes down. The Silverman character doesn't understand how a person can really be guilty of saying ridiculously offensive things, so long as they're well bred about it. As in the case of an ethnic who took offense at her: "He has to learn to love himself, before I can learn to stop hating his people." This live comedy show at North Hollywood's El Portal theater isn't a triumph of translation between the stage and the screen. A couple of musical sequences by Silverman and her band the Silver Men weren't quite there, though she looked very fetching dressed as Marlo Thomas. What's marvelous about Jesus Is Magic (besides the title) is Silverman's aptitude for the sugar-coated slur and the pornographic horror story, and for summing up the haziest ideas of history and life outside the United States. While never doing strictly political humor, she's expert at the self-righteous neoconservative corrective. ("Martin Luther King was a litterbug.") Before she performs "Amazing Grace" in three part harmonythe most rousing version of that song all yearshe tells a particularly wicked joke with the punch line, "You can't smell yourself." Silverman's comedy is about a woman who can't smell herself. I can't blame walkouts, but I think it's clear that the barb of her humor is aimed inward, not outward. (RvB)
(1999) Schoolyard love, involving a lot of mortification including Nixon's old kid-days game of pretending to be a despised puppy. (RvB)
(Unrated; 91 min.) A single mom (Hiam Abbass) becomes involved with the dancers at a belly-dancing nightclub. Intrigued by the exotic entertainment and entertainers, she takes up dancing herself, changing both her clothes and her personality in the process. Raja Amari directs this Tunisian feature.
(1979) The disco working-class romance par excellence. Stars John Travolta as a Brooklyn hardware store clerk who falls for a climbing neighborhood girl (Karen Lynn Gorney), as the Bee Gees tear out their tonsils on the soundtrack. The 8 Mile of its day and a hit, though scorned by punk rockers who referred to the film's star as John Revolta. (RvB)
(PG-13; 96 min.) At times, Brian Dannelly's satire bids fair to be the funniest comedy about unplanned pregnancy since The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. The promise fades into a comfortable teen-movie rut in the latter half, and that's too bad. But there's choice material here, even when it ebbs. In a backward suburb where Jesus reigns supreme, the born-again Virgin Mary (the geek's pinup girl Jena Malone) gets bonked on the head and thinks she hears Christ tell her to use her body to straighten out her gay boyfriend. It doesn't work. His parents send him for a year's straightening at Mercy House, and she ends up 17 and pregnant. This unplanned pregnancy lowers her standing with the "Christian Jewels," the princessiest clique at American Eagle Christian High School. Fortunately, Mary has friends who stand beside her: Cassandra, a riotously bad bad girl (played by the delicious Eva Amurri) and the suave, wheelchair-bound Macaulay Culkin, who seems to be getting a George Sanders vibe as he grows older. You have to figure that a child actor who was that apallingly famous, with all the too-much-too-soonness and so on, has seen a lot of the wickedness of the world. Mary Louise Parker and Martin Donovan add a little adult appeal to the story as lovers thwarted by religion. Donovan's Pastor Skip is a stitch, with his whassup-laden Christian hip-hop talk for kids. ("Good Christians don't get 'jiggy wit it' until they get married.") Saved! is more directly about America's personal relationship with Jesus then the entirety of Life of Brian. And damned if it doesn't end honestly Christian, promoting reconciliation, fellowship and agape all around. The most startling performance is by Mandy Moore as the cross-wielding queen bee of the Christian Jewels. Some critics said that Moore was the real thing after seeing the saccharine A Walk to Remember, and I thought they were loons. But Moore has a musical number here that both celebrates and mocks Christian pop, and it almost stops the show. She completely sells the song and sends it up at the same time; the young Streisand could do that, and who since? What's more admirablethat Moore chose this sacrilegious villainess part and made it the center of the film or that she carried it off so well? I'll happily see Saved! again; I'd have paid $100 to see it in a theater somewhere deep in the Bible Belt. (RvB)
(PG-13; 113 min.) Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas hip-thrust life into MTV Films' tale of coming-of-age woes. Stiles, in her best performance since playing the teen shrew in 10 Things I Hate About You, stars as Sara, a once-aspiring ballerina who hangs up her toe shoes following the death of her mother. That is, until she moves to Chicago's inner city and finds new inspiration through her relationship with handsome hip-hop hipster Derek (Thomas, formerly of Cruel Intentions fame). Eye-rolling cynics have pigeon-holed the film as only suited for 12-year-old girls, but those willing to look past a thin plot and stereotypical characters will find a sweet story carried by an undeniable chemistry between the two stars, both on and off the dance floor. (MS)
Full text review.
(R; 96 min.) Michelle Krusiec plays Wil, a lesbian second-generation Chinese immigrant who works as a resident at a New York hospital. Wil falls for a dancer (Lynn Chen). Then Wil's mother (Joan Chen) turns up pregnant, kicked out of her home, with no man in her life. Ma and Wil are forced to share close quarters. An assured and good-looking feature film by San Jose's own Alice Wu, this charming romantic comedy breaks the rigid mold of ethnicity-of-the-week love stories. Though it is understated, there is far more ardor here than there is in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding genre. And though Wu shot on a very low budget, she still has a keenly developed since of color and surface. This home-grown talent is a director to watch. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 170 min.) Steven Spielberg's latest is the most uncompromisingly ghastly WWII film ever made; his staging of the invasion of Europe in 1944 by the Allied Forces is dumbfoundinga literal blood bath. Here is Spielberg at his technical best, recreating D-day on Omaha Beach with no cinematic euphemisms whatsoever. The first 30 minutes are pure and horrible, from the vomiting privates in the landing craft to the final clearing out of a pillbox. What can follow this sort of beginning? Unfortunately, Spielberg goes with his worst tendencies: appalling sentimentality and manipulativeness. Tom Hanks plays Capt. Miller, who, having barely survived the storming of Normandy, is set on a new mission: to find one Pvt. Ryan (sensitive lummox Matt Damon). Miller, a soft-spoken civilian soldier, presides over a collection of Sundance wunderkinds, including Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg and Jeremy Davies. Barry Pepper, a junior version of Christopher Walken, steals the show as an ace sharpshooter with a biblical bent. The mission to rescue Ryan is the heart in all of this killing; to make sure we get the point, Miller delivers a speech saying that finding Ryan is the one good thing they may be able to pull out of the war. Saving Private Ryan works as a historical recreation, but its moral simplicity shames its brilliant technology. The Germans are all lean, battle-hardened, slimy killers. Gen. George Marshall drops everything to get a boy out of combat; the boy refuses to leave, seeing a higher duty to his comrades. This essentially confused film leaves an audience not just crushed but bewildered, perplexed by images that say, we must never let it happen again, and a plot that says, but it was all worth it. (RVB)
(R; 91 min.) Often amusing slobbo comedy in the Farrelly Brothers realm, livened up by Jack Black (the cranky record connoisseur in High Fidelity) and the always reliable Steve Zahn. The two play Seattle boobs who lose their best pal (Jason Biggs) to a conniving psychiatristplayed by Amanda Peet, who, unlike a lot of good-lookers, really seems eager to act. A kidnapping plot followsas in Ransom of Red Chief, you fear for the kidnappers, not the kidnapped. Biggs, nice enough, is like Zeppo Marx in the company of Zahn and Black. It's well known that Zahn's an ace portrayer of mealy-mouthed stoners, but Black makes seen to have undiluted Belushiness in a way not seen since the real John Belushi checked out. Black has the beetling aggro eyebrows, the frightening daintiness of Belushi at his best. In Black, as in Belushi, you can see the ballet dancer underneath that lard. Also starring R. Lee Ermey, the fierce drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, who has a final scene that must have taken more bravery than even the USMC requires. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 100 min.) At the beginning of Saw, the killer has immured a pair of men in an abandoned industrial washroom, last visited by one and perhaps several people with diarrhea. As if in some little-theater drama of existentialism, the two are chained up and uncertain of how they got there. One of them, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) gradually realizes that this ordeal is some kind of punishment for his own infidelity. Presently, they find a cassette tape left by the maniac, who tells the doctor that he's made hostages of Dr. Gordon's wife and child, and will kill both at 6 o'clock. The hostagesMom is played by a skidding Monica Potterblubber for their lives in a way destined to make the sensitive viewer think, "Aw, I can't bear it, put 'em out of their misery right now." The killer's thing is that people don't appreciate the preciousness of life until they're almost murdered. While director James Wan might have been laughing at the American movie business's yearning for the positive spin, he seems serious: Is "Jigsaw" really Deepak Chopra? There is a walking-wounded spirit lurking underneath the blood and the crap. And, worse, there is a Puritanical moralism: why, these men who cheat on their wives deserve to be tortured in a windowless basement! This undertone is more dismaying than any of Saw's deadly gadgets. (RvB)
(R; 91 min.) The first Saw had online geeks buzzing about supposedly deeper meanings in all the viscera. The Jigsaw Killer never actually kills anyone! Torturing people helps them appreciate life! As if reading that crap wasn't excruciating enough, here comes the revolting twist: the filmmakers actually started to believe it. So they replaced the ambiguity of the first film with a second story that completely buys in to the mindset of the sick-fuck serial killer they originally created as an excuse to come up with ever-more gruesome mutilation set pieces. The result is the most fascist sequel since Death Wish II. Seriously, only Charles Manson or George W. Bush could truly appreciate the underlying message here that flawed people need to have their eyes gouged out and hands sliced off to return them to a state of worthiness. If it doesn't work, of course, kill 'em. To underscore the point, Jigsaw is portrayed as a soft-eyed cancer patient who just wants to promote father-son bonding. As with any sequel, everything's bigger: the execution is even more relentlessly artless, the acting is worse and the cops areagainst all oddseven stupider than in the first film. A sawed-off barrage of twists at the end guarantees that if you guess two or three of them (which you will), you won't guess at least one. It's cold comfort for a movie that, while it might not be the worst horror film of the year (hello, Hide and Seek!), is certainly the most cynical and depressing. (SP)
(R; 95 min.) Remember how they used to say only the even-numbered Star Trek films are good? Well, I see a Saw urban legend developing in reverse: the odd-numbered films appear to be the keepers. Saw IV is the worst yet, a severe letdown after Saw III was the first of the films in the series to actually live up to some of the deeper meanings fans have read into them. Granted, Saw II was a cheesy and pointless gorefest, but at least it made sense. Saw IV is a headache, requiring a college-level course in the minutia of the franchise to make sense of scenes that appear to have been edited with a lawn mower. Worse, the series is just recycling twists at this point; without giving anything away, let's just say fans have been here, done that. However, it's half as expensive to get in to see the autopsy scene at the beginning as it is to get into the Bodyworlds 2 exhibit at the Tech Museum, and it's just as graphic, so hey, that's something. (SP)
(PG-13; 100 min.) Cameron Crowe directed this charming film starring John Cusack as lovable underachiever Lloyd Dobler and Ione Skye as the brainy beauty who falls for him against her better judgment. Lili Taylor plays Lloyd's dark, funny, terminally depressed pal.
(R; 93 min.) Who knew the Farrelly brothers had such finesse? The sick-humor gurus only have producing credits on Say It Isn't So, and their comparatively subtle touch is sorely missed in this low-brow comedy about a head-over-heels young couple, Jo and Gilly (Heather Graham and Chris Klein), who have to cancel their wedding plans when they are told they are long-lost siblings. Writers Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow don't lack for creativity in gross-outs or insultsan accidental cow-fisting incident out-sickens even semen hair gel, and a more expansive list of epithets for, um, "sister molester" couldn't possibly exist. But director J.B. Rogers doesn't find the humor so much as he plays up the plain cruelty of every joke; lingering in each little meanness slows the film to an aimless crawl between shocks, although the strong cast does eke out a few solid laughs. Graham is as winning a wide-eyed heroine as Cameron Diaz's Mary and Klein complements her well as the wounded, slightly dopey hero. Sally Field chews the scenery with obvious relish as Jo's trashy, controlling mama and comedian Orlando Jones brings appeal to an otherwise awful one-joke character. (HZ)
(1957/1958) In Japan, a Texas Air Force major (Marlon Brando) recuperating from battle shock falls in love with a Japanese dancer (Miyoshi Umeki) but discovers that his racist officers don't approve of the marriage to come. Consider the movie as a social phenomenapart of the normalization of relations with Japan after the warand you'll understand why Umeki and Red Buttons (playing a more ill-fated lover) won Best Supporting Oscars. The always-underrated Ricardo Montalban, playing a Japanese Kabuki actor, may be a little harder to explain to audiences of 2004. At least it's not The Last Samurai. Josh Logan directs; the Kyoto cityscapes are by cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks. BILLED WITH Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Elizabeth Taylor stars as the Southern cat in heat Maggie, whose whiskey-soaked husband Brick (Paul Newman) can't respond to her embraces. Censorship made it hard to understand exactly what was eating Brick. But the heavy symbolism (impotence represented as a broken leg) pays off, and it's a dirty pleasure watching Taylor's Maggie sink her claws into her richly deserving no-neck relatives. Burl Ives plays the patriarch, a bit of vaudeville Faulkner. (RvB)
Paul Muni stars plays the quintessential gangster in Howard Hawks surprisingly fierce crime drama. Also stars Ann Dvorak as Muni's sister, for whom the mobster holds an unhealthy obsession. Also features George Raft and Boris Karloff. (AR)
Cynical, ridiculously self-justifying remake of the far more inventive and too-little seen Howard Hawks classic from 1932. Al Pacino plays Tony Montana, the lizard-eyed Marielista coke baron who takes over the Florida racket; Michelle Pfieffer is his blonde floozy, who gets scruples too late. It's basically a silly movie, although it looks great dubbed on Telemundo. (RvB)
(1944) Holmes, Holmes on the range: in Quebec, actually. He (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson investigate the town of "La Morte Rouge," where the violence isn't confined to the hockey rink. When the case is closed, as it must be, Sherlock Holmes praises the Canadian virtues in a prose poem that's like an answer in advance to that Gordon "Scotchy" Sinclair essay about the goodness of us Americans (a piece recently given a second life on the Internet.) (RvB)
(1934) Josef von Sternberg's delirious retelling of the life of Catherine the Great is a triumph of cinematography and set design. About the acting, however, audiences will differ. Marlene Dietrich mixes girlish breathlessness with a surprising dose of sexuality. John Lodge, as a Russian count, gives woodenness a bad name. Sam Jaffe goes completely nuts as Grand Duke Peter. If you believe that von Sternberg carefully orchestrated his ensemble for comic effect, you'll discern knowing satire; otherwise, the acting is merely cause for hooting. There is, however, no denying the extraordinary cinematography by Bert Glennonthe film is absolutely ravishing to look at. In one especially breathtaking scene, the soon-to-be-married Catherine is surrounded by layers of gauzy veils as her handmaids prepare her wedding gown. (MSG)
(R; 109 min.) Although this (the sixth) movie version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel offers a refreshingly firm endorsement of paganism (we're meant to root for the Native Americans lopping the cross off the colony's main gate, and I know I did), it has lost much dramatic impact in favor of pulp romanticism, and a preposterous happy ending. Director Roland Joffe has added some postcard nature photography and Indians to the story of Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) and her forbidden love for Car Culture. Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman). These natives lay hold of Hester's husband, who becomes a movie version of a Vietnam vet. As Mr. Prynne, Robert Duvall has the Old Testament spirit in him, and he's the most authentic thing in the movie. Joan Plowright plays a beaded, befeathered healing woman who, alone of her kind, doesn't know about the useful properties of the Black Cohash root, which could have helped Hester out of her jam. What can you say about Moore? "Spunky" isn't the word; it's like calling a Sherman tank spunky. Maybe only late Elizabeth Taylor has combined such voluptuousness with such almost shocking stridency. It's a bad old-fashioned movie tarted up with some New Age touches. (RvB)
(1934/1936) In 1792, the French, overly excitable because of a diet deficient in beef and beer, stage a revolution. Across the channel, the Prince of Wales (Nigel Bruce) worries but can do nothing. However, one of the twittering fritillaries in the prince's circlea mincing puppy called Sir Percival Blakeney, Bart. (Leslie Howard)is in actuality that master of disguises, that lifeline to the noble émigrés, the Scarlet Pimpernel. (He takes his code name from "a humble wayside flower"a pest in California gardens; we dirt scratchers can testify to the real pimpernel's guile and unkillability.) Meanwhile, the French ambassador, Chauvelin (Raymond Massey, the Canadian Karloff), tries to capture this mysterious counterrevolutionary. Howard, a slender matinee idol, appealed to between-the-wars audiences by appearing to be a man who had lost his happiness in the trenches. He had been invalided out of World War I as a shell-shock case and looked quite ghostly onscreen. The part of the witty cavalier is both grave and light enough for his talents; he's seriously regretful in the busted marriage scenes with his lady wife, Marguerite (Merle Oberon, beautiful and board-stiff), and he's a stitch posing as a fop, a Eustace Tilleylook-alike teasing the gouty old ruins in his club by reciting his doggerel: "They seek him here, they seek him there/ Those Frenchies seek him everywhere/ Is he in heaven or is he in hell?/ That demned elusive Pimpernel." BILLED WITH The Man Who Could Work Miracles. The Powers That Be, represented by a colossal hand with pointing finger, sportively decide to give the gift of omnipotence: their benefactor is a mild salesclerk named George Fotheringay (Roland Young). George becomes a Tudor-themed world dictator (I'd surmise the Renaissance Faire get-up was a way to recycle producer Alexander Korda's costumes from his Private Life of Henry VIII). But while he gets to boss around plutocrats and politicians (including a harrumphing colonel played by Ralph Richardson), the experiment doesn't go as planned. It's a laboratory of quaintly charming special effectsan orgy of them, "like orgies of another kind, grimly repetitive," thought Graham Greene. Still, we're all accomplished orgy-goers thanks to Lucas and his ilk, so this H. G. Wellsderived fable may beguile, in spite of its moral that the Powers That Be know best. (RvB)
(1944/1949) The hot-house title was inspired by Carmine Street in Greenwich Village. It's a remake of a Jean Renoir film titled La Chiennethe bitch in question is played by Joan Bennett, a ripe but dirty trull who picks up a grade-A, all-day sucker: a miserably married Sunday painter (Edward G. Robinson). She feeds off his talent and sucks him dry. Dan Duryea, a really nasty piece of work, plays her pimp. The film combines the forceful storytelling and mood of the German Expressionist silent pictures mixed with intimate, troubling details and a boldly tragic ending. It convinces you that if Fritz Lang had been a less irascible man, more willing to disguise his malice, his reputation would be as great as Alfred Hitchcock's. One of the black jewels of film noir, it's also Robinson's best film; the lore of the downtrodden artist must have stimulated him, since Robinson had an excellent eye for paintings himself (note how he's mentioned in Frida). BILLED WITH Gun Crazy The British actress Peggy Cummins stars as a cool psycho with a fascination for firearms who encounters a kind but troubled country boy (John Dallthe Ben Affleck of his day). The result is murder. This economical yet indelible crime drama ought to be double billed with Bowling for Columbine. Definitely worth a look on the big screen in a good print; the cinematography shows off the black-and-white aesthetic of late-'40s Hollywood to superb advantage. (RvB)
(1944/1945) Two classics by Fritz Lang. Scarlet Street is a remake of a Jean Renoir film titled La Chiennethe bitch in question is played by Joan Bennett, a ripe but dirty trull who picks up a miserably married Sunday painter (Edward G. Robinson), feeds off his talent and sucks him dry. Dan Duryea, a really nasty piece of work, plays her boyfriend. The film combines the forceful storytelling and mood of the German Expressionist silent pictures with intimate, troubling details and a boldly tragic ending, convincing you that if Lang had been a less irascible man, more willing to disguise his malice socially, his reputation would be as great as Alfred Hitchcock's. BILLED WITH The Woman in the Window, a reunion of the powerful combo of Bennett, Lang, Duryea and Robinson. The last plays a gentle psychology professor who has some intellectual curiosity about what drives men to murder. In a frightening turn of events, he gets to learn about murder up close. Raymond Massey, that art-deco gargoyle, co-stars. Really, if you get a chance, check out some of Lang's other American movies: the primo 1944 spy thriller The Ministry of Fear (a better Graham Greene adaptation than the upcoming The End of the Affair); Clash by Night (1952), the best movie ever made in Monterey; Cloak and Dagger (1946), a proto-007 thriller (critics always referred to the Bonds as "cloak-and-dagger movies" when they first were released in the '60s). (RvB)
(R; 95 min.) With fewer penis jokes but plenty of potty humor, this sequel is up to (or would that be that down to?) the level of the original Scary Movie. The Wayans brothers' second spoof of the teen horror genreand of roughly a dozen other assorted filmsdelivers big laughs that are strictly in the worst taste. For one thing, the film is awash in bodily fluids which go way beyond The Exorcist's mere dabbling in pea soup (although there's a tidal wave of that here too). And though it plays on a few familiar ideas taken from a handful of horror films, most notably The Haunting, don't even try to sort out the plotits shameless disjointedness is part of the fun. Anna Faris winningly reprises her role as wide-eyed heroine Cindy Campbell, whose good-natured credulity makes her perfect ghoul-bait. Unfortunately, Shawn and Marlon Wayans must have been too busy penning all the film's poo-poo jokes because they don't give themselves, or perfectly cast perma-villain Tim Curry, enough to do. In any case, the film's highlight just might be the opening scenes, with James Woods and Andy Richter in cameo roles as priests getting into more than they bargained for in a parody of The Exorcist. (HZ)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Pamela Anderson's genuinely scary breasts are the pretitle lead-in to this scatter-shot satire. Afterward, this David (Airplane!) Zucker film zeroes in on a pair of even larger, plumper pair of sitting ducks: the films Signs and The Ring, both whose (actually admirable) seriousness leave them wide open. (Parodying Scream, which was a satire already, never seemed like much of an accomplishment in the first place.) Scary Movie 3 is not what it could be. 8 Mile got it better and harder from Malibu's Most Wanted; The Matrix, which ought to have been nailed, only gets tickled. Still, Charlie Sheen does the choked-up loss of faith bit Mel Gibson was emoting in Signs, with Denise Richards in the flashback as the bisected wife, pinned to a tree by a car and spitting up a spark plug. Queen Latifah is "the Oracle" from The Matrix as a Miss Know-It-All who gets into a fracas with the three-dimensional "well-girl" from The Ring. The ghost in question is later gentled with the words "You were just a little girl once. You're still that same little girl, only more corpsy." George Carlin is "The Architect" from Matrix Reloaded, a voyeuristic letch. As the president, Leslie Nielsen steals a Simpsons joke (from the "Indian Casino" episode). But Anna Faris, already on the way up from her impersonation of a moron movie star in Lost in Translation (C-n D-z?), gets another career boost from this movie; her wide-eyed enthusiasm for the gags, good and bad alike, make her seem like a lovable hybrid of Goldie Hawn and Gracie Allen. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) Like the Holy Roman Empire, kind of, in that it's neither scary, nor a movie, nor is it only the fourth time some of these jokes have been used. Once again, the scheme works thanks to Anna Faris, a blonde clown of distinction. So far she has played Drew Barrymore and Neve Campbell; here, she gets Sarah Michelle Gellar, Toni Collette and, I guess, Naomi Watts. It's no coincidence that the movie gets better with every appearance of Faris' pop-eyed and agog heroine, whose tiny head is in danger of being swallowed by the neck of her oversized turtleneck sweater. Here, her Cindy is menaced by alien "tri-iPods" and the caterwauling little ghost brat from The Grudge. Both films are mashed into Saw and The Village, with some other scraps chucked into the headcheese, such as the time Tom Cruise failed to curb his enthusiasm on Oprah. Like Cruise's fit, some of these targets are sitting ducks (such as the duck Leslie Nielsen seems to have slept with); others just demonstrate what director David Zucker has called "the flywheel effect": an audience laughing can be made to keep laughing by forward motion. Let's hear it for Craig Bierko's parody of the tedious family bonding scenes in War of the Worlds; a baboon driving a forklift; a bottle of Oblomov-brand vodka; the Elizabethan locutions in M. Night Shyamalan's village ("Jeremiah, ought not your tongue be held?") and a parody of Million Dollar Baby that would have been lethal if they'd just got the lighting right. (RvB)
(Unrated; 86 min.) A Russian film set in Kazakstan. A teenager named Schizo gets involved in a brutal scheme to pay kids to allow themselves to be beaten.
(PG-13; 110 min.) To pay off his mounting debt, frustrated rocker Dewey Finn (Jack Black) intercepts a phone call and assumes the identity of his substitute-teacher roommate. He lands in a upper-crust private school, where he schemes a way to win a local Battle of the Bands contest by converting his roomful of 10-year-old drips into rock stars. When he molds the kids to fit the proper (read: his) definition of rocking, it's pretty damn hysterical. Black takes the sweet elements he showed in Shallow Hal and mashes them together with the over-the-top histrionics of Tenacious D. School of Rock is Black's "Freebird" epiphanyall wild hair and awkward movements, spouting rock gibberish that somehow makes perfect sense. Two fists up and pumping. (TI)
Full text review.
(PG; 114 min.) Though it has a gentle underside to its saline humor, Schultze Gets the Blues is a comedy as bleak and dry as they come. Shooting with long lenses and long pauses, director Michael Schorr keeps even the happiest moments icy. I far prefer this to Napoleon Dynamite's own slothy comedy of depression, probably because the payoff is less winner-take-all. Schorr builds his situations, rather than just fading them into blackouts. Without coddling an audience, this movie makes its own warmth. (RvB)
(PG; 87 min.) After a falling-out, the crew of Mystery Inc. reunites to examine strange goings-on at Spooky Island, an amusement park. Though the proverbial "meddling kids" expect to uncover yet another disgruntled employee under a sheet, the monsters turn out to be real and Lovecraftian for a change. The film may have been patently not worth making, but the result is not insufferable. Based on exhausted dreck to begin with, it had no place to go but up. The pace is quick enough, and Matthew Lillard's Shaggy is appealingly low-key. Freddie Prinze Jr. satirizes his own wooden acting as Fred. Sarah Michelle Gellar (as Daphne) is more cheerful than she's been on the last somber season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Linda Cardellini of the late-lamented TV show Freaks and Geeks plays the brainy one, Velma. Also appealing is Bill Boes' Pee-wee's Playhouse-style production design of Spooky Island (Boes also designed the novel sets for Monkeybone). Scooby-Doo is so unambitious it's hardly worth denouncing it as a waste of money. However, even the kids in the audience are starting to lose their fascination with farting and belching contests. (RvB)
(PG; 85 min.) I have only one thing to say about this movie: We all know that the switch from fake monsters (the pull-off-the-mask-and-it- was-Old-Man-Jackass-all-along kind) to real monsters is what ruined Scooby Doo in the first place. What was cool about the original show (which, in case you never noticed when you were 7, was mostly just the same footage of the kids walking back and forth across the screen) was that it taught kids who were just learning that the world can be a scary place to be less afraid and more skeptical. It was also a great breeding ground for conspiracy theorists, and it was the only cartoon to address the importance of zoning and other land-use issues. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, these new Scooby movies suck. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Can you smell the Rock's career heating up? The wrestling star reinvents the Conan sword-and-pectoral fantasy for a new century. Also stars Kelly Hu and Michael Clarke Duncan.
(R; 104 min.) Scream is a metaphor film, a movie about movies, and it's as enjoyable as a story about a masked killer of teenagers can be. The mayhem begins after Casey (Drew Barrymore in a cameo) is selected for a game of slasher-movie Trivial Pursuit. The attentions of the masked killer then turn to real heroine, Sydney (Neve Campbell). Scream intends to celebrate the genre and, at the same time, to avoid its pitfalls. Horror fans are mocked gently; Craven envisions the gore-hound audience, optimistically, as a high-spirited crowd of friends with popcorn and beer. Best of all is the staging of one attack, a palimpsest of the viewer and the viewedwe're watching characters watching characters watching characters. It's one thing to break the frame, but it's another thing to be able to repair it afterward. The film sums up director Wes Craven's career: too fine for his genre but not fine enough to leave it. Or maybe he doesn't want tomaybe he's decided, like Lucifer, better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven. (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, the success of the Scream saga stems from its ability to gently mock the clichés of the slasher-movie genre as well as its fans. True to form, Scream 2 follows the strict rules of the slasher sequel by adding a higher body count and gorier death scenes. The smart storyline reunites the Scream survivors at a small Midwestern university two years after the Woodsboro incident. Tabloid journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) has written a book which has been made into a movie appropriately called Stab. Three murders after the film's release, they realize it's happening again. With many cast members borrowed from prime time television, the characters immediately feel familiar; but audience favorite David Arquette steals the show as the boyish former-deputy Dewey Riley. This is an intelligent movie full of surprises, star cameos and wicked plot turns. Scream 2 is a fun, scary flick best viewed with a sense of humor and a friend. (SQ)
(R; 116 min.) Marketed as the concluding chapter in the Scream saga, director Wes Craven's Scream 3 plays its part well, but neither part two nor part three tops the original. The series revived the modern horror genre by putting its own clever spin on the tired, predictable clichés of its predecessors. Supposedly the last of the trilogy, Scream 3 follows the "rules" of a trilogy, citing Star Wars and The Godfather as examples. Set in the luxurious mansions and elaborate soundstages of Hollywood, Scream 3 presents a movie within a movie, telling the story of the filming of Stab 3, the third film in the fictitious Stab series, which is based on the Woodsboro murders. For every survivor of the Woodsboro murders is an actor playing that character in Stab 3. And killings start happening on the Woodsboro movie set. Scream 3 is dark and shadowy with blind camera angles that lend a tense feeling of suspense to the film. Its chilling, ghostly sequences are more dramatic and haunting than those in previous episodes. The new plot twists are intriguing enough, but there are lapses in the plot's consistency. Where Scream 3 languishes most is in its character development. The characters are almost incidental and are killed right and left with no motivation. The biggest crime is that Scream 3 has no Thelma and Louise-styled ending, and literally leaves the door for a sequel wide open in the final scene. (SQ)
(R; 107 min.) A screamer is a small killing machine, or animal, or part animal-machineI never got this part straightthat burrows beneath its victims and then bursts out of the ground, buzz-saw blades whirring. Screamers is a full cut above most entries in the technology-gone-bad genre. It's long on suspense and relatively short on mayhem. Director Christian Duguay has a spectacular visual sense, and weary hero Peter Weller is much more convincing in this kind of nonsense than Stallone or Arnold. The plot has bigger holes than the ones the Screamers suck their victims down into, but if you're going to complain about something like that then you're better off avoiding movies like this in the first place. (AB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Shock comic Norm Macdonald is a funny presence on late-night talk shows with his off-the-cuff and frequently bleeped-out remarks, a welcome break from the plastic movie plugging and trite McAnecdotes of most talk-show celebrity guests these days. But Macdonald can't carry a film and is a bore as the lead in the unfunny, dreadful Screwed, the directorial debut of the screenwriting duo of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, Man on the Moon). Sick of being pushed around by his unsympathetic baked-goods-magnate boss (overqualified stage actress Elaine Stritch), an underpaid chauffeur (Macdonald) plots to get even by kidnapping the boss' cherished dog for ransom, with the help of his clumsy best friend (Dave Chappelle). But the scheme backfires, and the not-too-bright amateur extortionists' attempt to cover their tracks only makes things worse, leading to a series of convoluted plot developments that will confuse even the parents who have to take their 11-year-olds to this repugnant retread of gross-out gags from There's Something About Mary. The Farrelly brothers should sue. (JA)
(1988) A holiday classic of sorts. Bill Murray leads an eccentric cast that includes Carol Kane, Karen Allen, Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Garr and Robert Mitchum) in a variant telling of the Dickens tale. (MSG)
The 1924 Sea Hawk is the silent version of Sabatini's novel about a nobleman turned pirate. Dennis James plays the Stanford's Wurlitzer. BILLED WITH the better-known remake, featuring Errol Flynn. The film is a thinly veiled piece of propaganda aimed at overcoming America's isolationism, urging the nation to support the arming of England against the Nazis, disguised as the Spanish Empire here. (Speeches by Flora Robson's Queen Elizabeth, saying that England will fight "to the last ship and the last man," helped make this a favorite movie of Winston Churchill's.) As a result of this epic's sense of purpose, it's a slower, waxier film than Flynn's earlier Captain Blood. Flynn is alert here; he wasn't a bad actor, just careless sometimes. The terrific second hour includes a brass-tinted sequence of a jungle ordeal in Panama and a mutiny on a galley ship. The finale is a lethal sword fight between Flynn and Henry Daniell, with the blades whistling and the furniture smashing; it's less a ballet than a dead-earnest brawland it's a high point of cinematic fencing. The cast includes Brenda Marshall, later William Holden's wife. She's a ravishing nonactress who, one guesses, must have been stunning in the still photographs. Robson, re-creating her role as Elizabeth from Fire Over England, looks nicely like Carol Burnett and seems to be very sweet on Flynn's Captain Thorpe. As the evil Spanish ambassador, Claude Rains is costumed in the widow's peak, pointed beard, black velvet doublet and honeycombed ruff of Lucifer in a French art-nouveau posterpresumably he was talked out of wearing goat legs for the role. (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 125 min.) Javier Bardem gives a warm and humane portrayal of a quadriplegic searching for a dignified death. Director Alejandro Amenábar (The Others) directed this true-life story of Ramón Sampedro, a ship's mechanic paralyzed after a dive in the ocean. For almost 30 years, Ramónliving in an upstairs room on his family's small farmfought his relatives and the government of Spain for the right to end his life. His lawyer in the case, Julia (Belen Ruleda), takes a particular interest, as she too sufferers from a potentially fatal malady. The two are drawn to each other with a connection that goes beyond the upcoming day of court. The film is calculating in its effects, romanticizing its true-life roots, using opera music, particularly "Nessun Dorma" from Turnadot, to work the emotions. And if you're already in favor of assisted suicide, the time this film spends convincing you of the case's merits is time you could spend elsewhere. The situation is believable because of Bardem's charisma. And if the movie is old-fashioned, Bardem sells it. The actor is clearly the most important star to come out of Spain since Antonio Banderas, and like Banderas, he cuts through Spanish machismo with sensitivity and an always-present sense of humor. (RvB)
(PG; 101 min.) Haley Joel Osment singlehandedly brings down the distinguished careers of Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. (Capsule preview by MSG)
(Both 1936) John Gielgud stars in Secret Agent as the reluctant gentleman spy "Ashenden," in an adventure taken from two of Somerset Maugham's perhaps autobiographical accounts of espionage in Switzerland, 1916. As in the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the stuffy British heroes are overshadowed by Peter Lorre, who plays a Mexican professional assassin. "Childlike, beautiful and unfathomably wicked," the critic Otis Ferguson called Lorre in this forerunner of the adventures of James Bond. BILLED WITH Sabotage, based on Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent (and just to mix up matters further, Hitchcock did a film later titled Saboteur). Oscar Homolka plays Verloc, a cinema theater manager who is actually an enemy agent living in London. Sylvia Sydney (the suicided civil servant in Beetlejuice) co-stars as Homolka's wife. This neglected film includes a brilliantly composed murder sequence that shows how developed Hitchcock's style was, even early on. (RvB)
(1993) Agnieszka Holland's solid yet sensitive adaptation of the children's book, starring Maggie Smith and Kate Maberly as the orphan sent to live with her dour uncle. (RvB)
(1982) A full-length cartoon based on a book about a poor farmer helped out by a cabal of genius lab rats. It is essentially a serious version of Pinky and the Brain. Voices by Dom DeLuise, Derek Jacobi, John Carradine, Shannen Doherty. (RvB)
Newly orphaned Fiona (Jeni Courtney) comes to stay at her grandparent's house, and it is up to her to heal an ancient injury and return her grandparents to the magical island of Roan Inish. The best part of this new film by John Sayles is a story within a story with Susan Lynch as a Silkie, a were-seal common to Celtic lore. It is a first-rate children's movie that recalls in moments everything from The Black Stallion to Maurice Sendak, although the dialogue was best left unspoken. (RvB)
Mike Leigh's new film is a long, rich look at the world of a family crippled by the unsaid. Prosperous Londoners Maurice (Timothy Spall) and his wife, Monica (Phyllis Logan), are at odds with Maurice's sister, Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), a hard-drinking factory woman. The opening scenes also show us a different tale about a sweet-tempered (and black) optometrist named Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). A family secret, Hortense is the natural daughter of Cynthia given up for adoption. Hortense's yearnings to see her birth mother bring to a head the tensions in the family. In his biggest film yet, Leigh creates a wide range of high comedy and tragedy, the transitions happening so deftly that you respond to them even before you register a mood change. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Based on a Stephen King novella; from the evidence of what's here, King should have used his Richard Bachman pseudonym. This is thin, recycled stuff, from the scenes of a writer, solitary, stewing in his own juices (The Shining) to the close shot of sinister cornstalks (Children of the Corn). Not having much material here, director/writer David Koepp sensibly depends on his actors to make something out of it. Johnny Depp plays Mort, an author in the midst of divorce from his unfaithful wife. Blocked, angry and sleepless, he lounges through the day in his wife's old bathrobe, trapped in their summer house in the northeastern woods. One day, Mort is visited by a menacing Southerner named Shooter (John Turturro) who claims that Mort plagiarized a story from him. This becomes one of those movies that seems to have no good way of resolving itselfboth the illogical and logical solutions are a disappointment, and the tone seems to veer between black comedy and attempts at a thriller. Turturro, who's rarely been worseand that's saying a lothas an accent that's as silly as the Billy Jack sombrero he wears. Still, Depp, who can be simultaneously weird and subtle, is having a field day; once you've been a pirate, you never go back to boring acting. As his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Maria Bello is excellent as always, and there's a very serious moment where the two are facing down insurance adjusters, in a keenly observed moment of the real, mean, wretchedness of divorce. (RvB)
Full text review.
(Unrated; 95 min.) Through a thick layer of nostalgia, old Germain (Raymond Bouchard) recalls the happier days when his insignificant fishing village on the island of St. Marie-La-Mauderne, Quebec, had some life to it. Today, trawlers and overfishing have taken their toll, and the town is Layabout City. As de facto mayor, Germain decides to look into a scheme to lure a factory to St. Marie. The company is only interested in relocating if there's a doctor in the village, and so Germain and his buddies get together to petition for a doctor to come to the town. They reel in Dr. Christopher Lewis (David Boutin). Trying to keep him in town they use subterfuge, which threatens to turn the homely, honest villagers into poseurs. Jean-François Pouliot's comedy was a local hit in Quebec. On the whole, however, the film is labored and fearfully cute. (RvB)
As part of its big show of surf-inspired art, the San Jose Museum of Art presents a screening of The Seedling, a documentary about the '60s surf scene in Southern California. Part of POPULUS Presents' Gypsy Cinema.
Full text review.
(R; 87 min.) Quick, name this actress: A dark-haired sexpot with a wild streak, she made her name with a couple of roles in critically acclaimed films, one of which earned her an Oscar nomination. But within a couple of years she was camping it up in a movie about a killer doll, and suddenly she was more cult figure than actress, trapped in an uncomfortable place between horror icon and cartoon. The actress: Karen Black. In other words, it's kind of creepy that Jennifer Tilly is starring in another film in which she tries to steal someone's life, 'cause with Seed of Chucky she completes her transformation into Karen Black II. She ought to be careful: former acclaimed Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces star Black couldn't get within 1,000 feet of a good role after she starred in 1975's Trilogy of Terror (which, by the way, had more evil-doll scares in its final third than there have been in five entire Chucky films); she finally cemented her legacy as loony horror vamp in Rob Zombie's House of a 1,000 Corpses. Tilly almost got an Oscar for Bullets Over Broadway, and everybody loved her in Bound, but this is her second Chucky movie, and she's already sunk into relentless and only-sorta-funny self-parody. Her postmodern turn playing herself here is at least something to watch, as is John Waters in a small role. There's also a great running Ed Wood joke. Other than that, this movie is a complete mess, neither remotely scary nor all that clever. It's just bizarre enough that five years from now it might be a contender for the next edition of the Psychotronic Video Guide, but that's little consolation for sitting through an hour and a half of dumb puppet-sex gags. (SP)
(PG; 94 min.) Ian McShane and Frances Conroy enliven a discount Harry Potter knock-off that starts off interesting and then hits a Grand Canyonsize rut. Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is an American boy living in an English college town with a large family. The way the kids are wrangled by director David L. Cunningham, of the dubious The Path to 9/11, it seems like there are a dozen brothers instead of five. One day, Will receives an invitation from Merriman Lyon (McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Conroy)—"old ones," they are, warriors in a never-ending battle against darkness. Darkness, in the form of a masked black rider (Christopher Eccleston), promptly makes a handsome counteroffer with benefits and room for promotion. Since Walden Media is involved, there's plenty of appeal to the young Christian soldier. A cruciform blast of light dispels the gathering dark; a stone church is the bunker. Amelia Warner of Quills, way too pretty for this picture, plays a witch trying to seduce Will. The pastor always warned us about bad women who would try to get us to take our belts off so they could steal our power. (RvB)
(PG; 94 min.) A comedy about a mailman (David Arquette) who takes in a stray dog that's actually a former FBI drug-sniffing dog and is being sought by both the mob and his FBI owner.
Full text review.
(PG; 131 min.) Director Gregory Nava (El Norte) gives the story of singing star Selena's short life some conflict and shape. He lights a candle to the saint while concentrating on a far more interesting character: Selena's father, Abraham (Edward James Olmos). Abraham is a driven show-biz father who also has some of the fumbling helplessness of Homer Simpson. He organizes a family band, training Selena (Jennifer Lopez) from youth to be a singer. This is a story of music being watered down for mass consumption; Selena's career is capped by her bland ballad "I Could Fall in Love With You." Again and again, the movie refers to her dream: becoming a new Paula Abdul or a new Janet Jackson. Selena actually suggests that her music wasn't a triumph of dreams but of unstoppable marketing. Surely the real Selena was more interested in music than in pure celebrity? (RvB)
(PG; 135 min.) The moral of the story is "least said, soonest mended"; Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) falls in love fast and regrets it later, whereas her more sensible and cautious sister, Elinor (Emma Thompson), is pestered with gossip and almost ends up an impoverished spinster. The war of romance and property dominates this adaptation (by Thompson) of Jane Austen's novel. It is directed by Ang Lee, who comes from a Taiwanese society of class barriers and arranged marriages not too radically unlike Austen's. It's an engrossing tale, but it's long, and unwarranted comparisons to the recent film of Persuasion pique the mind. Sense and Sensibility is lush, labyrinthine and picturesque, where Persuasion was sharp, forceful and modern. Thompson is one of the most consistently subtle and appealing actresses alive; her playing of a final scene brings the film to a fine, highly emotional payoff; but as a screenwriter, her reverence to the text dulls the immediacy. (RvB)
(R; 88 min.) Rank with bathroom humor, Penelope Spheeris' Senseless is as funny as it is tasteless. Marlon Wayans plays Darryl Witherspoon, a struggling college student competing for a position with a high-profile economics firm. His situation looks bleak until he becomes a human guinea pig for an experimental drug designed to magnify the five senses. After one shot of the green liquid, he becomes a superman, but things go awry when he doubles his intake. Wayans' brand of physical comedy lends itself well to this farce. The underrated Matthew Lillard (Scream) is a notable addition to the cast as Darryl's concerned Canadian roomie, who's convinced his friend is a junkie. (Maybe he'll get a leading role now, eh?) David Spade plays the character he does bestthe snooty, tie-clad rich boy. (SQ)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Based on a novel by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich (To Live and Die in L.A.) In the world's most dangerous extramarital affair, career Secret Service agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas), who once took a bullet to save Reagan's life, is sleeping with the First Lady (Kim Basinger). Unfortunately, there's a mole in the organization, and his secret makes him the prime suspect in a plot to assassinate the president. Director Clark Johnson (S.W.A.T.) turns in a serviceable, workaday thriller, but fails to build a proper mystery. Likewise, Johnson totally avoids politics, with his average, inert U.S. president (David Rasche). Also stars Kiefer Sutherland as an agent trained by Garrison, and Eva Longoria as a rookie agent with nothing to do. (JMA)
(R; 87 min.) Making his directing debut, Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) attempts a kind of P.G. Wodehouse humorous snobbery with this moral roundelay. But the thin screenplay, sketchy characters and self-serious air quickly sabotage his efforts. A servant's husband is killed while riding his bicycle, and the subsequent investigation centers on three weekending Londoners: James Manning (Tom Wilkinson), his absent-minded, but alluring wife, Anne (Emily Watson), and her lover, Bill (Rupert Everett). Fellowes has an appreciation for the relaxing air of the English countryside—if only these characters weren't blocking the view. The superb Wilkinson and Watson try their best to keep things light and moving along, but the usually snide, charming Everett appears to be embalmed. (JMA)
(R; 112 min.) If the Western genre is struggling, it is because of terrible movies like this one, simultaneously pretentious, awkward and mawkish. In 1857 Utah, a group of evil Mormons coerce a group of Paiute Indians into helping massacre a wagon train full of Christians bound for California. Director Christopher Cain (Young Guns) presents this volatile material as a doomed, Titanic-like star-crossed romance, as the Mormon pretty boy (Trent Ford) sees the error of his people's ways and falls for the willowy Emily (Tamara Hope); there's even a pop ballad for the closing credits! Jon Voight wildly overplays his role as the Mormon Bishop, and Lolita Davidovich, Terence Stamp (as Brigham Young) and Jon Gries are likewise stuck with this on their résumés. (JMA)
(PG-13; 85 min.) A one-night stand 10 years ago resurfaces in a couple's (John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale) memory as they are about to marry other people.
Full text review.
(PG-13; 119 min.) A high-spirited and often funny space Western by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), based on his television show Firefly but much superior to it, with insouciant dialogue and cost-effective surroundings. Welcome the outlaw Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the true successor to Capt. Kirk. His 26th-century space ship Serenityheld together with Bondo and bailing wireincludes six specialists of various degrees of gung-ho, including Jayne (Adam Baldwin), more powerful and more intelligent than a box of rocks; Gina Torres, a leather-clad super Lt. Uhura; and River (Summer Glau), a waifish, half-sane stowaway mind-reader. Hunting Mal is a government samurai (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Serenity is visually noisy, with the jitteriness that's the quick way of telling a TV show from a film at one glance. Still, among economical backgrounds, Whedon stages a yarn about space Apaches, blazing carbines and a captain who doesn't stick his neck out for anybody. (RvB)
Serenity was clearly bound for cult moviedom from day one, being based on a cult TV show, Firefly, from a '90s cult icon, Joss Whedon. It's a movie that definitely has a polarizing effect. I personally consider it the second coming of Star Wars (unlike The Phantom Menace, which was the fake second coming of Star Wars). It has the sharpest, most entertaining writing I've ever seen in a science-fiction film. The plot is solid B-movie stuff about the Little Spaceship That Could, but the political and philosophical underpinnings are, for my money, the most interesting in a sci-fi film since Blade Runner. (SP)
(R; 121 min.) Strong performances all around pack an impressive punch in this urban drama about four women driven by dire circumstances to bank robberies as a final attempt to attain secure futures. Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise star as life-long friends who support each other in their struggle to escape the L.A. projects. The film takes a rare look through women's eyes at inner-city life and offers both a painful chronicle of race relations and poverty, as well as a complex tale of female friendship and survival. The powerful chemistry between Pinkett, Latifah, Fox and Elise transforms even the requisite car chases into emotionally gripping scenes, and except for an implausible moment or two in the ending, the intensity never ebbs. (HZ)
(R; 120 min.) A somber thriller with a high-concept plot: a string of distressingly grisly murders themed after the Seven Deadly Sins. The film has metaphysical conceits. Morgan Freeman's morose police detective is professionally sorrowful, conveying the sense that this world is not his home. As his Watson, this formidable detective must endure a young pup sniffing after his first case (Brad Pitt). In between the killings, the two detectives have some muted bantering, but Freeman, reaching down into the sorrows of his character, remains remote. Pitt is stranded on screen and knows it but doesn't have the grace to work with it. Luckily, an actor worthy of Freeman's steel finally arrives. Kevin Spacey's soft-spoken "John Doe," architect of the theme murders, brings the movie to a memorable close underneath a grid of power-lines in the desert. (RvB)
(1925) They've used this plot again and again, but here's the first, best version: Buster Keaton plays a diffident bachelor who inherits a great deal of money, with the codicil that he must be immediately married to inherit it. The film's many memorable scenes include sequences in which Buster is mobbed by brides and almost stoned to death with house-sized boulders. Silent. (RvB)
(1954) The late Akira Kurosawa was the undersized youngest son of a PE instructor at a military school. He grew up to be a diffident art student, studying on his own and living in a colorful part of Tokyo. In his mid-20s, he won an assistant's position through an essay contest at Japan's PCL film studios and rose through the ranks to become a director. At the time of his death, Kurosawa was an elder statesman in world cinema. He came from a noble family (and wasn't ashamed to admit it), but this knowledge battled with a sharp sense of unworthiness. Ultimately, the tensions of his life are on the screen: a fascination with action, horses and swordplay, as seen throughout the epic Seven Samurai, and a disdain for the apishness of violence, as seen in the duel of the cowards in Rashomon. Seven Samurai is the story of a septet of broke, half-starved swordsmen who reluctantly hire on as mercenaries to protect a small town of farmers. Most memorable of the warriors is Toshiro Mifune, the whiskery, clowning, impossibly virile actor whose fortunes were linked with Kurosawa; after their split in the mid-'60s, neither made films quite as compelling and vivid. Mifune is one of the principal reasons Kurosawa made his name in the West; it's often noted that Kurosawa wasn't nearly as well loved by moviegoers in Japan. Viewers in the U.S., still inflamed from WWII, could see a nobility and humanity in Mifune that didn't jibe with the prejudicial view of the Japanese as murderous robots. If your idea of an epic is Gladiator, you owe it to yourself to see grand filmmaking at its classic best in Seven Samurai. The film has been restored to its full glory (and length203 minutes long). The compositions, the cinematography, the choreographed clashes, the intimate momentsthey all add up to a one-of-a-kind experience. (RvB)
(1958) Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews) quests for a piece of the eggshell of a roc to cure his betrothed of a curse. Sukorah (wonderful bald villain Torin Thatcher) trails the mariner, bedeviling him with spells, while Sinbad fights off a cannibal Cyclops and a dragon. Ray Harryhausen's slaved-over stop-motion animation has the kind of color and depth that today's computer animators can only approach. Sinbad's duel with a living skeleton here is still one of the grandest moments of animation. (RvB)
(1955) Billy Wilder's romantic comedy set in a heat-wave-struck New York City. While his cat's away on vacation in the country, married mouse Tom Ewell gets wind of his new neighbor: Marilyn Monroe, so overheated that she keeps her underwear in the refrigerator. It's labored, and the production code chilled some of this red meat and potatoes farce. Still it has Monroe in her most famous posethe one that may have given birth to the expression "Whatever blows your skirt up." (RvB)
(PG-13; 131 min.) Even though Brad Pitt's German accent here is not much more credible than his wiltinguh, liltingIrish brogue in The Devil's Own, this stirring drama about the plight of Tibet under communist Chinese rule makes some reparations for such cinematic disappointments as Little Buddha. Seven Years in Tibet is an engaging and visually remarkable film based on the true story of Heinrich Harrer (Pitt), an arrogant Austrian mountain climber (and Nazi propaganda poster boy of sorts) who, at the onset of WWII, finds himself, along with a reluctant companion (David Thewlis), stranded in the Himalayas after escaping from a British prison camp in India. When the two finally take refuge in Tibet's holy city of Lhasa, a friendship with the young Dalai Lama himself is the catalyst for Harrer to overcome his übermensch complex at last. Pitt's faltering dialect is handily overshadowed by an overall exceptional performance; his Harrer grows convincingly from hateful to appealing, a transition helped along by the seemingly inherent youthful wisdom of Jamyang Wangchuk as the Dalai Lama. (HZ)
(R; 90 min.) British director Christopher Smith brings his mixed cast to Hungary (as well as the Isle of Man) and runs them through a combination comedy and chiller. The results are, not surprisingly, mixed. Eight co-workers assemble for a weekend team-building excursion in the woods, only to accidentally collide with something angry, and deadly. Smith miscalculates the balance, however, and turns up the gore and torture way too high. Moreover, characters revealing their true natures in an emergency don't divulge anything that's not already obvious beforehand. But the strong cast of somewhat familiar faces (Danny Dyer, Claudie Blakley, Toby Stephens, etc.) meshes well, and the first half contains some wonderful byplay. And there is a surprising, hilarious plot device involving a pair of Hungarian call girls. (JMA)
(1989) Remember when we all thought Andie MacDowell could act? Steven Soderbergh made a very big noise with this intimate, talky film about a man (James Spader) who pushes everybody's sexual buttons in a repressed town. Also stars Laura San Giacomo, who really could act and put the "sex" in the titleand whose ultimate reward was a degrading part in TV's Just Shoot Me. (AR)
(1999) (Sex, Modesty and Tears) A pair of affluent Mexican couples split up, with the men and women separating into two different apartments while the husbands and wives work their differences out. This racy comedy was the biggest domestically made hit in the history of Mexican cinema. (In Spanish) (RvB)
(PG; 92 min.) In the part that Phil Silvers played in The Phil Silvers Show from 1955 to 1959, Steve Martin strides through Sgt. Bilko like a distracted host, floating above it all. Silvers and Martin have a certain amount in commonBilko being a well-spoken, hyperbolic weaseland Sgt. Bilko would serve as a good vehicle for Martin if there'd been anything funny for him to say or do, or some genuinely comic characters to rub up against. What distinguishes Sgt. Bilko from the other high-concept movie cannibalizations of beloved old TV shows is the sense that nobody really wanted to make it besides producer Brian Grazer and the studio. (RvB)
(R; 103 min.) Presidential advisor Bobby Bishop (Charlie Sheen) must solve a vast plot to undermine the free world with the help of a reporter (Linda Hamilton) and his supposedly trustworthy mentor (Donald Sutherland). Remembering Bret Harte's epitaph "Here lies a fool who tried to hustle the East" is the best way to compare this George Cosmatos stinker with the Hong Kong thrillers it's modeled on. If I were director Cosmatos, I'd start claiming that The Shadow Conspiracy was a spoof. (RvB)
(1943) In two of his best essays on the subject of betrayal, director Alfred Hitchcock uses sympathetic, kindly actors to make the stories all the more devastating. In Shadow of a Doubt, filmed in Santa Rosa, a bright, trusting niece (Teresa Wright) with a bit of a crush on her uncle (Joseph Cotton) begins to suspect the man of being a serial killer. Hume Cronyn is memorable as one of those placid small-town folks with a taste for gore literatureor worse. (RvB)
Full text review.
(Unrated; 91 min.) The most bullshit part of Hotel Rwanda is the performance of Nick Nolte as a character based on Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general in charge of the U.N. mission to Rwanda in 1994. Evincing white guilt for the world's inaction, Nolte went in for ultramelodrama. In director Peter Raymont's Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire, the real-life Dallaire explains his own culpability. The documentary surpasses the better-known Oscar-nominated film as an account of the ethnic cleansing and its lingering effects on Dallaire. After his season in Africa, Dallaire went through 10 years of post-traumatic agony, including a public-drunkenness arrest and two suicide attempts. The general remains a controversial figure, blamed by some of the widows of some 10 Belgian soldiers for not rescuing their mob-killed husbands. Some of Dallaire's partisans defend the general, whose commitment to Rwanda continues. (RvB)
(1990/1941) Four sons of a tycoon are reunited at the man's bed after he suffers a heart attack. Directed by Satyajit Ray. BILLED WITH The Little Foxes. "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom" (Song of Solomon, 2:15). Regina Giddens: "a rapacious bitch, cruel and callous, a frightened opportunist who stopped at nothing to further her prestige and fortune." That's Tallulah Bankhead describing a part she originated on Broadway. Bette Davis takes a less florid and more icy approach to the lead role of the icy Giddens, in William Wyler's version of Lillian Hellman's hit play. Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright and Dan Duryea (debuting) co-star; photographed by Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane). (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG; 117 min.) This gentle, wistful Japanese comedy ought to delight audiences alienated by violence and noise. Middle-aged Tokyo salaryman Shohei (Koji Yakusho) takes up the ballroom dancing in pursuit of the beautiful teacher Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari). Meanwhile, Shohei's neglected wife hires a pair of detectives who lead her into the midst of Shohei's secret life. This Japanese success catches the grace of the old RKO musicals, but it also doesn't spare the gusty humor that made those old films appeal to the flesh as well as the spirit. Shall We Dance? has a slow first half hour as Shohei's backbone slowly thaws, but once it gets rolling, the film is fine old-fashioned entertainment. (RvB)
(PG-13; 106 min.) Richard Gere plays an accountant who meets a dance instructor (Jennifer Lopez). Romance blooms as they play footsie on the dance floor. Susan Sarandon co-stars.
(Both 1937) Rogers and Astaire dance to "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "They All Laughed" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" in the peerless Shall We Dance. BILLED WITH The Awful Truth. Irene Dunne and Cary Grant head to divorce court, but custody troubles over their dog (played by the famous terrier Asta) keep them seeing each other when they so desperately want to be married to their new loves. Grant is affianced to the very proper Molly Lamont; Dunne, understandably enough, wants to run away with Ralph Bellamy. And who wouldn't? Bellamy's gentlemanly demeanor, his shy expression of dawning romantic love, his emoting of probity, thrift and cleanliness (above all, cleanliness), all seem meant to set a maiden's heart aflutter. Here I am, Bellamy says, a man who will make every weekend of our lives together seem as long as a year in Winnipeg. Tragically, foolish women in screwball comedies were always dumping this rock of a man at the altar in favor of that irresponsible gadabout Cary Grant-sad proof that the race is not always to the dull. (RvB)
(1932) Marlene Dietrich stars as "Shanghai Lily," the Orient's most notorious concubine fleeing the war-lord-ridden China of the early 1930s. Aboard a train with a fellow lady of the night (Anna May Wong), Dietrich encounters Mongol bandit Warner Oland (the Norwegian actor who played Charlie Chan). Seeing her, Oland utters the line summing up screen Asians in the classic period of Hollywood: "The white woman stays with me!" (Still, better a marauder than a houseboy.) Berserk in its conception yet florid and beautiful in its carrying-outcinematographer Lee Garmes is at his best here. Shanghai Express is one of the innumerable movie pastiches of de Maupassant's "Boule de Suif," about the bravery of a despised prostitute; director Josef von Sternberg, patently in love with his star, gazes on her fondly. Some share the fondness; others just come along for the sometimes preposterous movieness of it all. (RvB)
(Unrated; 95 min.) A documentary focusing on the colony of German and Austrian Jews in Shanghai who tried to hide from the Nazis in the late 1930s in Shanghai. The Japanese, although allied with the Germans, allowed the immigrants to survive through the warfearful and cut off from news of the fate of their relatives and fellow Jews in Europe. Directed by Amir Mann and Dana Janklowicz-Mann, with narration by Martin Landau.
(R; 109 min.) Zhang Yimou's new film is a tale of gangster life in which the violence is mostly emotional. Gong Li is exceptionally good as Bijou, a trashy moll in 1930s China whose redemption precedes her destruction. Her teasingly blasé heroine is a classic movie part reinterpreted. It's not a breakthrough conception of womanhood, but who in modern American movies could play this part so purely and forcefully? By rediscovering the symbols, dire fates and big emotions of the silent movies and their tragic heroines, Yimou's style can be described as so old it's brand-new. (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG; 91 min.) Roundly awful cyberanimated stereotypefest with celebrity voices; good for punishing the whole family, though the adult humor may be a little rough on the "urchins" (get it?). More urban than Finding Nemo, which means the colors are grittier. Shark Tale courts the elder kids with a strategy of rigorously outdated ghetto fabulousness, using the sure-fire street cred of voice actor Katie Couric as fish newscaster "Kathy Current." On the happy side, Shark Tale is perhaps one more nail in the coffin of corporate faux-urban style. Will Smith has the lead as Oscar the poor fish who befriends a wimp shark (voiced by Jack Black). Even animated, Smith's narcissism is as immense as ever. Put fins and a tail on him, and Smith's what he always is, a cold fish. (RvB)
(1977/1981) Shatranj Ke Kiladi (The Chess Players) is Satyajit Ray's most expensive film. It's set in the city of Lucknow, once famed for its richness and decadence. The British, on the eve of the Sepoy Mutiny, absorb power away from an aesthete king; Richard Attenborough plays the local general in charge of the operation. Against this background, a pair of declining aristocrats focus their attention on the game of chess. BILLED WITH Sadgati (Deliverance). "A deeply angry film"Ray, to Andrew Robinson. A chamar (the great Om Puri)an untouchable who works with cow hidestoils overtime to hire a Brahmin priest to bless his daughter's wedding, with fatal results. Ray's short (52 minutes) film shot in Hindi for the Indian government television system is his one great assault on the caste system. The film makes its point with such lack of melodrama that one Indian television critic was left to sputter, "Delicate nuances don't work." (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 99 min.) In Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's inspired zombie attack comedy, Shaun (Pegg) is a timid manager at an appliance store, whose lack of ambition drives his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), nuts. Particularly in Liz's face is Shaun's best chum, Ed (Nick Frost), who's been couch-camping, nay, couch-homesteading in Shaun's flat. One awful Sunday morning, the undead attack, and Shaun rallies his friends at a fortresslike pub. More than a gutmuncher, it's arguably the best British film of the year. The film is flavored with the hung-over and despondent side of life, a taste too often missing from American movies. (RvB)
(1933) "This 1933 'Don't Care' gal has personality-swinging hips, bedroom eyes and the throaty growl of an amorous catshe just doesn't give a damn!"West, as summed up in an advertisement. This is her first important role. She plays a saloon owner with a thing for the Salvation Army minister next door (Grant) while avoiding a mysterious police detective known only as "The Hawk." (RvB)
(1944) Gale Sondergaard was an irreplaceable character actress, tall, stately and perversely erotic; a woman who ought to be seen and studied by anyone planning to open a dungeon. (As mean as Sondergaard looked, it was she who was the victimeventually-the anti-Communist blacklist ruined her career.) Sondergaard played the Eurasian woman who blackmails Bette Davis in The Letter; and the governor's cruel wife in the Tyrone Power version of Zorro. Here she's the ringleader of a murder-for-money racket, penetrated by Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone). Holmes is the draw, but Sondergaard's really the star. She turned up in a sort-of sequel, The Spider Woman Strikes Back, with the acromegaly ridden Rondo "The Brute Man" Hatton as a servant. (RvB)
(1943) When the clock strikes 13, yet another elderly British officer living at Musgrave House turns up deada job for Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and the Afghan war vet Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce). Based (freely) on Conan-Doyle's The Sign of the Four. (RvB)
(1924) A daydreaming movie projectionist imagines himself to be a great detective on the case of a missing watch. Sherlock, Jr. is not just a deathless comedy, it's also Buster Keaton's meditation on the way movies tend to infect the subconscious of those who watch them. (The ending shot is a masterpiece: Keaton the detective looks past the viewers' heads into the big mystery of love and sex itself.) Keaton, interviewed by Christopher Bishop in 1958, explained how he did this dream sequence: "We built what looked like a motion picture screen and actually built a stage into that frame but lit it in such a way as that it actually looked like a motion picture being projected on a screen. But it was real actors, and the lighting effect gave us the illusion, so I could go out of semi-darkness into that well-lit screen right from the front row of the theater right into the picture. Then when it came to the scene changing on me when I got there, that was a case of timing. ... We would measure the distance to the fraction of an inch from the camera to where I was standing, also with a surveying outfit to get the exact height and angle so that there wouldn't be a fraction of an inch missing on me, and then we changed the setting to what we wanted it to be, and I got back into that same spot, and it overlapped the action to get the effect of a scene changing." Silent, with organ accompaniment by Chris Riggs. (RvB)
She's the Man
(PG-13; 105 min.) The Amanda Bynesified version of Twelfth Night. Bynes plays Viola, a champ soccer player whose team gets cut by her school. In revenge, Viola dons sideburns and a Steve Martin accent and impersonates her brother, Sebastian (James Kirk), who attends rival Ilyria Prep. Since the school is coed, the new "boy" catches the attention of the best-looking babe in school, Olivia (Laura Ramsey), as well as the studly "Duke Orsini" (Channing Tatum, good at playing a kind musclehead). Figuring that the comic relief is in the foreground, director Andy Fickman condenses the play's clowns (there's a pet tarantula named Malvolio, for what that's worth). In the second half, the four-century-old comic machinery kicks in, carrying the movie along. The round-faced Bynes is a scruffier, lower comedienne that her rivals Mandy and Lindsay, neither of whom would put a Tampax up their nose or adjust their boobs on screen. Flickman doesn't help his star much, anymore than he does the supporting cast (Julie Hagerty and David Cross are wasted). Flickman would seem to be a montage fan, restless with ordinary scenes that carry the plot, and he's got to be deaf to scripts—an actual quote: "If you're going to reach your dreams, sometimes you've got to break the rules." (RvB)
(R; 97 min.) Edward Burns' follow-up to The Brothers McMullen sits you down and gives you a good talking to about how boys ought to treat girls better. The drama is a story of simple contrasts: the head-in-the-clouds taxi driver, Mickey (Burns), and his hard-charging Wall Street brother, Francis (Mike McGlone). When Mickey has a "meet-cute" with Hope (Maxine Bahns), Francis projects his own marital failings onto Mickey's irresponsibility. He's not sleeping with his wife, Rene (Jennifer Aniston), because he is carrying on a secret affair with the woman who previously broke Mickey's heart. The tangle certainly makes for a more interesting situation than The Brothers McMullen, but Burns limits it by leaving the women characters as incomplete sketches. (RvB)
Gloria Swanson stars in a silent drama about a woman trying to support herself as an artist in New York. After much travail, she ends up married to a man who turns out to be a U.S. spy during World War I. Bob Vaughn plays the Mighty Wurlitzer organ. (AR)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 105 min.) For sheer technique, Shine will be so highly praised that people will be blinded to its occasional slickness. Director Scott Hicks certainly has a calculating streak, and he subscribes to that movie rule that intellectual pursuits ought to be filmed like Flashdance. The story is supposedly true. David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush), a promising Australian pianist, went cackling mad after a bout with Rachmaninoff's fiendishly difficult Third Symphony. While I understand Hicks' impulse to bring out the physicality of piano playing, the quieter moments work better than the noisy, sweaty corners of the film. Hicks knows how to make a melodramatic story smooth, ironic and indirect, which is a real gift. (RvB)
(1980) King fans are right; the book is better. A simple haunted house tale is here given a gargantuan widescreen treatment by the ambitious Stanley Kubrick and subverted by a larger than life star performance by Jack Nicholson (Nicholson, halfway nuts to begin with, surprises nobody when he completes the journey.) And if you pick this one apart, you'll realize that what it claims is that giving someone a blowjob while wearing a dog mask is a deed of such terrible decadence, that years later it will have enough psychic resonance to turn a 400 room hotel into the antichamber of hell. You just watch your step this Halloween. What one remembers, despite the ridiculously expensive special effects and the at-the-time tony use of the steadicam, is Shelly Duvallprobably the most elegant scream-queen in twenty yearsand Danny Lloyd running for their lives from Daddy. It's weird how infrequently the everyday horror of domestic violence isn't used to propel more monster movies. As overpaid as King is, he did once upon a time have the very good idea of making the supernatural grow out of the kind of evil he knew about: children running out and getting killed by cars in Pet Semetary; men getting drunk and beating their kids in The Shining. (RvB)
(1963; 101 min.) Berserk Sam Fuller melodrama about a reporter (Peter Breck) who goes undercover into a state-run mental hospital to discover the identity of a killer. Soon, contact with the other inmatesespecially a sorely abused black man who thinks he's a KKK Grand Dragonloosens Breck's grip on sanity. Florid, bizarre, loud, sometimes a little embarrassing, but genuinely angry and always insanely compelling. The color dream sequence included in some prints is part of Tigrero, Fuller's uncompleted South American adventure picture. Photographed by Stanley Cortez (Magnificent Ambersons, Night of the Hunter).
(PG; 109 min.) To a soundtrack of neo-'60s pop, two zany guys, American slicker Dylan (the sub-Dennis Leary comic Dan Futterman) and nerdy genius Jez (Stuart Townsend ), work a number of shucks on staid Londoners and are in low-key rivalry for Georgie (as in Georgy Girl), played by the gamine-coiffed, toothy Kate Beckinsale. There is no real rebellion in Shooting Fish, just twinkly, light ironic scam artistry. The '60s spirit is blown by that uniquely '80s ending: the "Winner Take Everything in the Whole Wide World" finale. (RvB)
The Shop Around the Corner is a comedy without Budapest location photography, yet Ernst Lubitsch's direction makes Magyars out of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. Stewart plays Alfred Kralik, the best salesclerk at Matuschek and Company, a small notions store. A woman he thought was a customer, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), turns out to be just another job seeker in a city full of them. The rivalry between the two clerks is the backbone of the story, yet The Shop Around the Corner is actually a heavenly romance. Both Klara and Alfred are conducting romances through letters with strangers; each never realizes that their soulmate is actually the colleague they've been spatting with all the livelong day. There aren't many movies that work when they try to show how antagonism is overcome with gathering love, but this is one of them. Lubitsch was bold to make a Christmas movie about retail worka reminder of how love and generosity must fight for a place amid pestering customers, sagging sales and mandatory overtime. BILLED WITH Miracle on 34th Street. Edmund Gwenn plays an old department-store Santa who is convinced that he's the real Santa Claus; Natalie Wood co-stars as a little girl who believes his tale. (RvB)(1940/1947) The romantic classic The Shop Around the Corner is the source for You've Got Mail. Why does this false version of Eastern Europe, assembled at the MGM studio in Culver City, seem so easy to believe?
Full text review.
(R; 104 min.) Mirabelle (Claire Danes) works at the glove counter at Saks in Beverly Hills. There's natural composure in the way she stands, but there is also warmth in her, thanks to Dane's wide Slavic mouth and rugged old-country nose. She has two lovers. Jason Schwartzman plays Jeremy, a shaggy young loser; Steve Martin plays Ray Porter, white-haired millionaire more than twice her age. It is based on Martin's novella, and unfortunately, there is no such thing as a moviella. What kept me fascinated was the aura of guilt in it; one can't get over the notion that this is a true story Martin is acting out, penance for some real-life remoteness. Yet those who got angry that there was no explanation for the disconnection of Bill Murray's character in Broken Flowers will have yet more grounds for irritation. Martin is a creature of infinite solitude. Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky glides around this opaque riddle of a man; Martin's face only gains definition at the end, when filmed against greenish shadows the color of an unripe peach. The movie ends with a touch of unbelievable sweetness, to counteract the all too believable bitterness. (RvB)
San Jose Movie House presents home movies by local peace activist Donna Wallach, who selected excerpts from some seven hours of footage taken at Ramallah. In additiion, there will be a selection of some of Wallach's earlier films. (RvB)
Full text review.
Rap films generally suck, but hip-hop fans' patience has finally been rewarded with The Show, a concert film that winningly discounts rappers who push the gangsta/thug image beyond the record, underlining a strong, anti-gun stance. The documentary features hitmakers the Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound and Warren G.and Run-D.M.C. is given proper respect with thoughtful interviews and some of the film's best performances. The coverage is OK, but too much film stock is spent on Compton gangsta funk rapper Warren G. It makes the omission of Public Enemy, KRS-One, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest especially glaring. (TSI)
(1936/1943) James Whale's version of the favorite about music and miscegenation in the Old South stars Irene Dunne and Allen Jones. Most people, however, remember just Paul Robeson singing "Old Man River." BILLED WITH Cabin in the Sky. This all-African American musical is as close as MGM got to soul. It's a morality play in which the spirit of Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) is contended for by a forthright angel (Kenneth Spencer) in a shako with feathers and a far, far more ingratiating Lucifer Jr., played by Rex Ingram ("Joe, the asbestos chariot is waitin' "). Anderson, usually Jack Benny's sideman, is an outstanding old-time vaudeville comedian, and his co-star Ethel Waters shakes an impressive leg even at her age (47). The film's exaggerated reputation for racism eclipses the wonder of seeing so much talent in one place. Louis Armstrong plays Satan's "Idea Man," who comes up with a plan to make Joe wealthy and soulless. Best of all is John W. Sublett as the dangerous gambler Domino. Never heard of him? Neither had I, but "Bubbles," as Sublett was billed, was a man who could outdance Fred Astaire. He sings and dances a classic version of Ellington's tune "Shine." Some racist slang has happily gone extinct, and the slur "shine" (for shoeshine boy) is one of them. In Ellington's song, the singer turns the insult around. If they call me "shine," he sings, it's because of my gleaming personality. As Bubbles renders the song, the edge of the hurt is visible through the affected self-satisfaction of this magnificent performer. The movie studios should have made a hundred movies with these talents; to their eternal shame , they didn't. Our loss. (RvB)
(1936/1932) "Once upon a time, there was a princess and a Prince Charming, who was not a prince, but who was charming." A 1920s Paris tailor named Maurice (Maurice Chevalier) duns a debt-ridden Vicomte (later Jay Ward star Charles Ruggles). Upon arrival at the nobleman's chateau, he's fobbed off as a baron, in order to bamboozle the Duke of the manor (C. Aubrey Smith), who takes a dim view of his nephew's money troubles. While there, Maurice falls for the castle's princess, an imaginary invalid (Jeanette Macdonald) in dire need of a man. Rouben Mamoulian's musical, in golden hindsight, can be described as a postmodern classic: "an ineffable mixture of absurdity and enchantment," as Mamoulian scholar Tom Milne writes. Love Me Tonight updates and satirizes old fairy tales with technological trickery. Mamoulian's real accomplishment was liberating the musical from stageboundness, from movie cameras that were, in the early sound era, nailed down in front of the proscenium arch. The director uses the Rodgers/Hart song "Isn't It Romantic?" passed from person to person, to leap between Paris (an enchanting set) and the drowsy chateau. Later, through the montage, the news travels throughout the manor that "the son of a gun is nothing but a tailor." "I'd rather drop a bomb on her / than have her wed a commoner!" snorts Smith's Duke. MacDonald and Chevalier share some deathless songs like "Lover" and "Mimi." Both also turn out for such berserk moments as a slapstick hunt (with a stag that seems bred by Chuck Jones) and a action-movie finale where MacDonald orders a train to stop in its tracks. The film isn't just the gateway for the modern musical; it's also the warm-up act for the Marx Brothers. BILLED WITH Show Boat. Naturally Paul Robeson steals the picture with his "Old Man River," a serious protest song that director James Whale illustrates with vignettes of sufferingscenes that are the most like Whale's best-known picture, Frankenstein. Whale's camera circles around from behind Robeson to catch him, as if he's unaware of listeners; it's a soaring yet intimate moment. Robeson and Hattie McDaniel also duet on the talking blues "Ah Still Suits Me"; let's avoid the word "stereotype" and call McDaniel an energetic performer in an extinct style. However, there's as little of Robeson and McDaniel as there is of your textbook tragic-mulatto character Miss Julie, played by the ill-fated singer Helen Morgan, dead of booze by age 41; Morgan, with brimming eyes, sings "He's My Bill" and gives out a fresh, plaintive "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine." Most of Show Boat is about the young lovers, unfortunately, with Irene Dunne's Magnolia suffering through marriage to a fancy, no-account gambler (Allan Jones). Still, there is the comic relief by Charles Winninger, who originated the role of Cap'n Andy on Broadway, and who can still do some remarkable tumbling for an old gent. (RvB)
(PG-13; 92 min.) The story of a deteriorating but beloved Beijing bathhouse about to be demolished for a shopping mall, Shower opens on a clever note with a man using a futuristic, coin-operated shower machine that's like a cross between a carwash and the grueling human decontamination chambers in The Andromeda Strain. It's unfortunate that Shower doesn't sustain this satirical tone after this sharp opening, a biting comment on what will replace the vanishing bathhouses in northern China, but music-video director Zhang Yang's second feature is engaging nonetheless. Shower centers on Da Ming (Pu Cun Xin), an icy yuppie who mistakenly believes his estranged elderly father Liu (Zhu Xu) is dying and returns to his old neighborhood to make amends. He also reconnects with his retarded younger brother Er Ming (Jiang Wu), who helps Liu run the neighborhood bathhouse, a popular hangout for the town's older male citizens that's set for the wrecking ball. Shower benefits from Yang's whimsical, subdued direction, but after Rain Man, Dominick & Eugene, the Of Mice and Men remake, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Mifune and now this film, the man-and-his-retarded-brother premise has become as decrepit as Shower's bathhouse. (JA)
Step aside, Orson Welles. Bend over, D.W. Griffith. Showgirls is the defining cinematic experience of our generation. Only Joe Eszterhas could have written it. Only Paul Verhoeven could have directed it. A deep, unflinching look into the abyss between the silicone-enhanced breasts of the American soul. Centuries from now, we puny mortals who walked the earth will be known only because we lived at the same time Showgirls was making its indelible mark upon the human consciousness. See this at least 10 times, or I'll never speak to you again. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) I guess everyone will be saying, "Wait till it's on Showtime to see it." Here's a very promising screwball plot, but no one could figure out where to take it. Robert De Niro plays a Los Angeles police detective provoked into shooting a TV newsman's camera. In lieu of lawsuit, the network forces him to allow cameras in his police car as part of a real-life cop show. The TV executives decide he needs an "urban" partner to bounce off of, and wheedle him into accepting Eddie Murphy's Trey "Ice Trey" Sellars, a bumbling rookie who longs to be an actor. It's a case of an attempted genre-bender that got bent itself; the standard junkburger police movie plot satirized here (with the help of the amusing William Shatner, playing himself, and giving T.J. Hooker lessons) takes over and runs the movie. This often funny film collapses into a swamp of car crashes, computer-animated cliff hanging and half-remembered material from 48 Hrs. The film's fatal problem is that De Niro doesn't respond to Murphy, and it shows. The scene in which De Niro looks into the camera and says, "I'm too old for this shit," is telling. The lovely Rene Russo is never around long enough to be called the love interest; I would have traded the big-bullet gun fights for some actual spark between her and the grumpy older cop. (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG; 85 min.) A peaceable ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) finds himself thrown into a quest he never asked for, with the help of a talkative donkey (Eddie Murphy). Splendid from several different angles, this boasts a consistently funny script; a fairy land visually derived from that fairest of all lands, Northern California; and ample villaining by John Lithgow. (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG; 105 min.) More than anything else, Shrek 2 offers wild animation, heavy on the slapstick, the sarcasm and the inside jokes. It works beautifully. However, the sequel has that peculiar neurotic energy of all sequels. Anxiety lurks under the energy, as if the filmmakers are asking whether the audience will buy the same story again, told with new angles and jokes. In a big castle are Shrek's (Mike Myers) in-laws: a peaceable queen (Julie Andrews) and king (John Cleese), a "real drama king" who never wanted a monster son-in-law, far less a monster with an undisciplined donkey (Eddie Murphy) for a pet. The real power behind the throne is a wealthy fairy godmother (Jennifer Sanders), who has a frightening dedication to the art of the makeover. She promises to help Fiona's story end as she believes it ought: that fey Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) should kiss the king's daughter and turn her from a sweet-faced chartreuse ogress into just another bland princess. To carry out this plan, the king hires a hit kittythe blade for hire Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas). The soundtrack presents a bushel bucket of mixed emotions; what a delight to hear "Ever Fallen in Love?" by the Buzzcocks; what a drag to hear such a dull cover version. Still, there are a million jokes in this, and most of them hit home. (RvB)
(1972) Love those '70s Herman Hesse flicks! While nowhere near as balls-out bizarre as 1974's Steppenwolf, this one from 1972 has all the mystical trappings of that decade's quest-for-enlightment genre (read "drug movies"). If you like this one, seek out director Conrad Rooks' trip-movie from '66, Chappaqua, which featured beat artists like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Weirdly, Siddhartha had also been adapted a year before this film as Zachariah, a messed-up western starring Don Johnson and Country Joe (as in "and the Fish"). (SP)
Full text review.
(Unrated; 78 min.) Jeffrey Jacobs' loose, brief and captivating documentary profiles the 89-year-old amateur astronomer John Dobson. Best known as the inventor of the Dobsonian mount for telescopes, Dobson spends some of his time hanging out at street corners, giving strangers a free look at the moon. We see his recreations (a lariat trick and a little harmonium playing) and hear his aphorisms ("If God made this world for our use, the fish would be boneless"). An ex-Vedanta monk, Dobson was also "a belligerent atheist" whose years of disbelief were broken with the help of Santa Cruz's late musical genius Lou Harrison. Like all holy men, sages, teachers and jokesters, Dobson has moments of despair, when faced with the task of wising up the human race. He recalls meeting one optimist who got angry when Dobson tried to show her sunspots: "The sun doesn't have spots! Don't be so negative!" Dobson's enthusiasm and wild personal story are a joy to watch. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 124 min.) Alexander Payne's marvelous and sophisticated road picture about two middle-aged men going for a last bachelor trip. The travelers are Paul Giamatti's slouchy, touchy Miles and his college buddy Jack (the craggy Thomas Haden Church), a leathery semiactor akin in looks, fame and talent to The Simpsons' Troy McClure. Jack seriously, desperately wants to get laid before settling into that long good night of marriage. And he wants Miles to get some, too. This seems unlikely, since it is only a scant two years after Miles endured a divorce so bitter that he still winces every time he looks at a woman. The women they meet are both superb: Sandra Oh (Double Happiness) as a salty single mom; Virginia Madsen as a slightly older woman who's on Miles' special wavelength. Photographer Phedon Papamichael hits those beloved effects of 1970s cinema: the lens flare to indicate the sun-drenched day, the wine glittering in the glass, the dusty oaks in their dry meadows under the coastal hills. Payne's focus here is the road, not the destination. The film's satire of the rites of oenophila is a rich inside joke for frequent travelers on the road to Napa and Sonoma. And Miles' rebellion in favor of the rare, unpopular and pessimistic is something to cheer for, especially in times like these. (RvB)
(R) A disappointment. Rogue electronic broadcasts turn the denizens of Atlanta (called "Terminus City") into slavering homicidal zombies; three directors (David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry) take turns on the beginning, middle and end of the tale. Without the humor of They Live, the atmosphere of Night of the Living Dead or the dedicated terror of The Crazies, it's mostly one long, badly staged small-camera assault. The film follows an imago called Mya (Anessa Ramsey plays her: "Maya," veil of illusion, I get it) as she flees toward her lover and away from her murderously jealous husband. The middle sequence—with some of the characters stalled at a birthday party that turns into a blood bath—has perhaps the most personality. On the whole, The Signal is strictly for those who'll watch anything with zombies (or ragies) running around in it. The would-be critique of mass-media poisoning is hardly subversive, since this particular poison affects sufferers in a variety of different ways, not just the same way every time. Ultimately, The Signal is what it is, despite what it thinks it is. (RvB)
(R) Newly assigned FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is on the trail of a serial killer. To aid her quest, she enlists the devil, or at least his surrogate, the engaging Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Lecter is both psychopath and psychiatrist, clever enough to be published in medical journals but kept in maximum security prison for his crimes. His veiled clues help the young agent even as he feeds off of her personal sorrow in a grotesque parody of therapy, sessions he demands in exchange for his help. The Silence of the Lambs is a swift, intelligent thriller; typically, director Jonathan Demme takes in elements of contemporary America and comments on sexual politics while playing through the rhythms of the genre.
In the wake of Dogma comes a triple bill of films by director Kevin Smith. Clerks (1994) is Smith's indie breakthrough. This black-and-white comedy follows a pair of New Jerseyites through a banal (and often obscene) day of misadventures at a convenience story. Mallrats (1995) spends some time at the mall with Shannen Doherty, Jason Lee, Claire Forlani and Ben Affleck. Hollywood threw some money at Smith after the success of Clerks, and this is what he did with it. Chasing Amy (1997) is the last installment in Smith's New Jersey trilogy, and it's his most serious-minded work to date. Smith is desperate to confront his audience's homophobia. Holden (Affleck) and Banky (Lee), comic-book artists, lead placid lives until they encounter fellow cartoonist Alyssa Jones (Joey Laurel Adams). Banky's native prejudice against dykes surfaces when Holden declares his love to Alyssa. Surpriseshe yields, deciding that what had once been her lesbian identity was really just a label. Alyssa isn't a real person; she's an affectionate challenger of the boy's grossest stereotypes, a sort of St. Lesbian. (RvB)
(R; 116 min.) Michael Pitt is badly miscast and quite awful in the role of 19th-century silk trader Herve Joncour; he doesn't even sound credible pronouncing his character's name. Keira Knightley plays his wife, who waits while he takes three increasingly dangerous trips to Japan for silkworm eggs. Herve is drawn to a beautiful girl there, but nothing happens. A pair of letters written in Japanese is supposed to ignite the climax, but the otherwise talented French-Canadian director Francois Girard (The Red Violin) dampens it, choosing instead to frame pretty pictures and frost them with a constant, twittering score. Skilled actors Alfred Molina and Koji Yakusho are trapped in the boredom. Girard and Michael Golding adapted Alessandro Baricco's 1996 novel. (JMA)
(1957/1955) Fred Astaire's last film for MGM until that hobgoblin of KQED, That's Entertainment. It's a musical remake of Ninotchka featuring Cyd Charisse as the commissar on a business trip who gets seduced by capitalism in the form of a Hollywood movie director (Astaire). The songswith the exception of "All of You"aren't top drawer Cole Porter, but Peter Lorre sings! (a song called "Siberia"). BILLED WITH Daddy Long Legs. Astaire as the benefactor of an orphan, who grows up to be Leslie Caron. There's an unignorable gap in age of about 30 years between the leads, but the film includes a few sharp wisecracks by the team of Henry and Phoebe Ephron, Thelma Ritter as Astaire's secretary and the debut of "Something's Gotta Give." (Plays Jan 21-23 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(1957/1950) The musical remake of Ninotchka featuring Cyd Charisse as the commissar on a business trip who gets seduced by capitalism in the form of a Hollywood movie director (Fred Astaire). The songswith the exception of "All of You"aren't Cole Porter's top-drawer material. Peter Lorre sings ("Siberia")! BILLED WITH Three Little Words. It's the kind of bad-time musical in which Fred Astaire is laid up through a third of the picture with a bum leg. It purports to be the story of Harry Ruby (Red Skelton) and Bert Kalmar (Astaire),Tin Pan Alley songwriters. While Ruby was a legendary wit, Skelton plays him as a clumsy oaf obsessed with the Washington Senators, which gives us an excuse to see Skelton's slapstick-baseball routine. Astaire dances with Vera-Ellen, an athletic though bland partner, in a gaudy Hermes Pan&SHY;choreographed jitterbug number about the home life of two dancers. Still the closest this movie comes to the customary Astaire magic is a too-short scene where he practices a few moves by himself. While Carter de Haven's version of "Who's Sorry Now?" is a stunner, the tunes can't save this. A Japanese-dialect number may be the low point, through the Frenchy routine rivals it. Other songs include "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" (where was Groucho?) and Debbie Reynold's miming to Helen Kane's vocals in the baby-talk novelty hit "I Wanna Be Loved By You." See Reynolds, hear Kane, recall that Kane lost a $250,000 suit against Paramount for plagiarizing her character in Betty Boop, and note once again that the law is an ass. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 129 min.) Despite its serious intentions, John Sayles' latest film is superficial and, ultimately, trivial. He has mixed too much of a little this and that. Running for governor of Colorado, Dickie Pilger (Chris Cooper) snags a dead body on his fishing line during a photo op. His campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) hires Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), a reporter turned private detective, to intimidate several people Dreyfuss thinks may have planted the corpse to embarrass his candidate. The film follows O'Brien as his investigation unexpectedly uncovers the economic corruption and political shenanigans under Colorado's bucolic exterior. Sounds like a straightforward thriller with political overtones, but it isn't. The unfolding plot is continually interrupted by short scenes of over-the-top satirical thrusts at big-business tycoons, corrupt lobbyists, crooked real estate developers and, especially, Cooper's comic portrayal of an inept, dim-witted politician, whose resemblance to George W. Bush borders on flat-out imitation and in the end has to be called what it is: a cheap shot. Die-hard liberals, of which I am one, may be happy to see these all-too-frequent moments, but people out to enjoy a good film will quickly realize that these instances mar Silver City's pacing and confuse audience reaction: Are we supposed to laugh or sit breathless with suspense? (MM)
Some 25 short films culled from submissions from Palo Alto, Gunn and Menlo-Atherton High Schools, although this budding fest isn't affiliated with any high school. Live music by the Whisky Hills Blues bands and other acts TBA.
(PG; 133 min.) In a postcardesque New England village, a man remembers his youth in the 1960s with his best friend, the undersized, irascible but holy Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith). As a boy, Joe (Joe Mazzello), the narrator and main character, doesn't know the identity of his father, but through Birch's efforts he learns the truth. Mark Steven Johnson, who scripted the Grumpy Old Men duology, makes his directorial debut here, revising John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany into a dirty-mouthed children's movie. Johnson even renamed the main character, changing him from the working-class Irish "Meany" to "Birch," after the English tree usually associated with a schoolmaster's floggings. But carving up the original novel wasn't a bad idea; throwing it away entirely would have been even better. For all of the novel's renown, it's a Bush-era curioadmitting Vietnam was wrong but castigating the protesters against it for filth and weirdness. The central character, Meany, SPEAKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS like a blowhard in an AOL chat room, and he's always right and never wrong. Simon Birch is cheaper than the original novel and also weaker; Johnson adds a puke scene and doesn't grasp that nettle, Vietnam. In the lead, the diminutive Smith is ingratiating for 20 minutes and grating for the other 95. The reason why they call them "Lifetime" channel movies is that they seem to last a lifetime. (RvB)
(PG; 87 min.) When little Anabel (Mara Wilson, of Matilda) asks her fairy godmother, Murray (Martin Short), to grant her wish, he blows it big time, it being his first solo stint as a wand waver. Meanwhile, an ex-fairy godmother who has turned into a witch (Kathleen Turner) crashes the local fairy godmother convention and steals all their magic wands, leaving it up to Murray and Anabel to save the world (or at least New York City) from the forces of darkness. Turner is terrific. Wilson is better than competent, though she's a bit bossy. The foundations for boffo comedy are all therean ongoing satire of Les Misérables is particularly rich, with veteran director Michael Ritchie supplying the lyricsbut too much sweat (and special-effects money) is wasted on the little jokes and not enough oomph is given to the big stuff. It falls flat. And that often is Short's faulthe tries so hard to be endearing that he really deserves a swift kick in the trailer. (BC)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Modern Hollywood isn't known for its originality, so it's no surprise that the new film Simply Irresistible borrows from the plot of 1992's Like Water for Chocolate. This is not a bad thing, but it is a disappointing rendition. Whereas Like Water for Chocolate was fueled by magical and bittersweet longing, Simply Irresistible suffers from a meager case of hokey-pocus. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a once-lousy chef who, with the help of a mystical crab, begins to infuse her dishes with her emotions and becomes one of the best chefs in all of New York City. Diners become lusty when eating her eclairs, maudlin when munching her appetizers. No love story would be complete without a lover, so Gellar also attracts the attention of a commitment-phobic department store executive (Sean Patrick Flannery), who just happens to be opening a multimillion-dollar restaurant. What follows is fair textbook movie-making complete with sappy love songs, tender moments and lovers' spats. One of the best parts of Simply Irresistible is Patricia Clarkson, who was so captivating as Ally Sheedy's German junkie lover in High Art. Here she is underused but still lovely. Most disappointing, unfortunately, is Gellar, who every week marries wit, sass and sauce so well in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But here she falls flat and feels forced, fluctuating between self-conscious naiveté and uncomfortable sexiness. And a chef who cooks for hours in strappy sandals and Todd Oldham? Puh-leeze. Sadly, this time, Simply Irresistible she's not. (KR)
(1944) Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotten and Shirley Temple star in a tale of the home front during World War II shot in "Hollywood's pearliest mezzotones" (James Agee). (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 126 min.) A minus-500 on the Eric Rohmer scale, co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and cartoonist Frank Miller, with assistance from perennial bad influence Quentin Tarantino. It's set in Basin City, a rain-soaked urban maze. The most breathless sequence features Mickey Rourke as "Marv," an ex-con on a hooligan's holiday. But the film peaks early and starts retracing itself in sequences with Clive Owen and Bruce Willis. Still, it is liberally ornamented with starlets (the curvaceous Rosario Dawson and Carla Gugino handily trumping top-billed Jessica Alba). Surely, this is the biggest farrago since the maligned From Dusk Till Dawn. Like the previous Tarantino/Rodriguez trash-compactor, it takes a moonshiner's turn from noir to horror to humor. The wet-asphalt blacks and streetlight whites are ornamented with spots of color; a ripe lipsticked mouth, a red cocktail dressall very pretty for a movie that goes for the gonads like an infuriated chimp. (RvB)
Two days of films from the Philippines, including the following local premieres: Santa Santita (a.k.a. Magdalene: The Unholy Saint) (2004) The unbelieving daughter of a prayer woman takes over her mother's calling, but then finds out she has the power also; stars Angelica Panganiban and Jericho Rosales. (Plays Aug 8 at 6:30pm and Aug 10 at 2:30 10:30pm). Milan (2004) Lino seeks his missing wife, who became a migrant worker in Italy; while there he strikes up a friendship with a female labor organizer. (Plays Aug 8 at 2:30pm and Aug 10 at 6:30pm) Naglalayag (a.k.a. Silent Passage) (2004) A romance, one stormy night, between a taxi driver and a widowed older woman who happens to be a judge. (Plays Aug 8 at 12:30pm and Aug 10 at 4:30pm). Panagahoy Sa Sura (a.k.a. Call of the River) (2005) Love during wartime. A river boatman loves a girl, promised to be the wife of a Yank businessman; but World War II changes everything. (Plays Aug 8 at 4:30pm and Aug 10 at 8:30pm.) The festival includes documentaries, shorts and an opening night party at Patio Filipino in San Bruno. (See www.pistahan.net/sine for details.) (RvB)
(1952) This beloved musical based on the difficulties of the transition from silent to sound films is everything a musical should be, really: one great rapturous number based on what was then an old tune, with Gene Kelly's remarkable water dance, a city wiseacre's point of view and some fascinating young women: Cyd Charisse and Debbie Reynolds, still wet behind the ears (and not because of the artificial rainstorm, either).(RvB)
It's a long way to the Balboa Theater in San Francisco, located on a bluff near the Pacific at Balboa and 37th, but it'll be worth the trek. The rep theater is hosting in excess of 40 films, all made before the clampdown of the Hollywood Production Code. The lineup proves that Paramount was the raciest studio in Hollywood. Old-film fans will recognize a lot of the titlesfive with Marlene Dietrich, a few efforts by W.C. Fields, Ernst Lubitsch and the Marx Brothers, all of which have all played locally at the Stanford Theater. Yet there are also rarely revived tidbits demonstrating a short-lived maturity that broke taboos of sex, class and even race (as in Nov 10's This Day and Age). Some of the movies: Bolero (Nov 3), featuring Sally Rand's infamous fan dance; King of the Jungle (Nov 17), with Buster Crabbe in a suggestive Tarzan ripoff; that notorious adaptation of Faulkner's Sanctuary, The Story of Temple Drake (late shows Nov 4-5); and the restored version of Frank Borzage's 1932 A Farewell to Arms (Nov 23). As an alternative to dreary HBO reruns of Rome: Claudette Colbert's Cleopatra bathing in milk and flaunting a quite kissable asp in a double-bill with DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (Nov 19). This version is intact with its scene of a naked babe being martyred by Guy Inagorillasuit: an instant of scrupulous historical accuracy guaranteed to instruct and uplift the Christian audience. Plenty of shorts, in fact acres of satin lingerie, cartoons starring the untamable Betty Boop and a live performance by nouveau burlesque troop the Lollies, Kitten on the Keys and the Scenic Sisters on Nov 9. (Plays Nov 3-24 in San Francisco at Balboa Theater, 3630 Balboa; www.BalboaMovies.com) (RvB)
(1932) Chester "Boston Blackie" Morris and Carole Lombard play a poor couple sucked into high society. They discover that being poor and honest is better than being rich and decadent. At least we get to see some rich, decadent life before they make this decision. Grant is one of the wealthy rotters. (RvB)
(1947/1932) It begins where Harold Lloyd's The Freshman ends. The enthusiastic football star becoming a disillusioned middle-aged man, his pep running out after years of dull work. After summary firing by his boss Mr. Waggleberry (Raymond Walburn), Harold goes out and gets drunk, blacks out, loses a whole day and comes to owning a third-rate circusevents that lead to Lloyd being trapped on a windowsill by a large and angry lion. Strictly for Lloyd's most ardent fans. BILLED WITH Horse Feathers. Foes of tenured radicals in our universities need look no further for a bad example than the career of Professor Quincy Wagstaff, president of Huxley College. This reprobate (Groucho Marx) cares only for the fripperies of university life. (RvB)
(1933) An unusually interesting tale of virtue torn down, starring Zita Johann and directed by Phil Goldstone. The film includes lots of drug-induced flashbacks. Part of the Summer of Love Crimes series.
(1933/1932) A matched set of electric-chair movies. In the very obscure The Sin of Nora Moran, a soon-to-be-executed woman (Cora Sue Collins) waits for a reprieve from the governor, with whom she once had an affair. In Two Seconds, Edward G. Robinson remembers his life in flashback from the unhappy perch of "the hot squat." (RvB)
an interview with Zeiger. (Plays Sep 8 in San Jose at MACLA Arts Center, 510 S. First Street. $5-15 donation, no one turned away for lack of funds.) (RvB)(2006) Highly recommended. David Zeiger's intelligent and well-researched look at the resistance to the Vietnam war within the Armed Forces shows how an important part of history has been wiped clean from the public memory. In the authorized version, spineless politicians and a lily-livered public failed our soldiers, spitting on them when they returned. In Zeiger's documentary, it was the soldiers themselves who first realized that Vietnam was a quagmire, voting with their feet by going AWOL and organizing protests within and outside of the military. Zeiger's film contains images you won't see anywhere else: U.S. Army troops cheering the supposedly loathed "Hanoi Jane" Fonda, resistance coffeehouses operating in garrison towns in America and pages of the underground newspapers soldiers put out at peril of the stockade. Even if you feel like you know everything there is to know about the conflict, this is imperative viewing. Read
Full text review.
(Unrated; 102 min.) An adaptation of Jean Genet's The Maids, the story of two serving girls who turn on their mistress. The film preserves Genet's indictment of repression and bourgeois hypocrisy, but slips a girdle of causality onto the brutal events. The older sister, Christine (Joely Richardson), cared for her younger sibling, Lea (Jodhi May), when they lived much like animals, before being reunited as maids in the household of the domineering Madame Danzard (Julie Walters). The film's handsome cast and atmosphere try to dress up some fuzzy-headed message about the fragility of family bonds and how poverty and neglect can exacerbate improper love and madness. For all its fine performances and stifled mood, Sister, My Sister fails to explain the inexplicable. (DH)
Full text review.
(PG; 120 min) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants can be audaciously corny, but the hook of the tale is sturdy and has been working since Gogol's The Overcoat. The narrative is about a pair of jeans found in a boutique that fits four girls perfectly. The four, split up by travel plans, spend their 16th summer FedExing the pants among themselves. Happily, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants isn't about the unimpeachable rightness of teenagers. America Ferrera's Carmenfurious at her parents' divorce and stuck with her dad's new family all summeris angrier than she ought to be. Ferrera, no great shakes in Real Women Have Curves, makes an impression here; if you're not cute in the conventional way, you have to try harder as an actress. The thoughtless athletic exuberance of the blonde, long-legged soccer champ Bridget (Blake Lively) keeps her from being dislikable. The artsy girl, Lena (Alexis Bledel), spends the summer in Greece with her villager grandparents. Her work shows promise, but she's not the next Michelangelo, which is usually how a teen artist is presented in a film for girls. Particularly promising but underdone are the scenes in a Bethesda "Wallman's" superstore, where Tibby (Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia) wears a nylon vest all summer to help pay for her documentary. A waitress, hearing that Tibby is working on a documentary, gets the idea: "Like a movie, only boring." Tibby's documentary never receives the personal touch until she meets a new friend, an abrasive younger neighbor named Bailey (Jenna Boyd, good under the 7th Heavenish circumstances). Director Ken Kwapis has worked on the shrewder sitcoms, such as Malcolm in the Middle and Grounded for Life. The rhythms of the dialogue are quick, if never greatly comic. And even if the four actresses don't really all fit together, Kwapis cuts between the stories with relative ease. The seascapes are old-Hollywood gorgeous, especially the azure coastline and whitewashed fishing villages in Greece. The film almost all works, but the last half-hour of reconciliation and apology is a neat-freak's dream. It's like a movie, only boring. (RvB)
(Unrated; 104 min.) Very tough, no-comment documentary by Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto about the family court in Africa's Cameroon, where state prosecutor Vera Ngassa and court president Beatrice Ntuba examine domestic violence, rape and child neglect cases. The team works through some typical cases: the rape of an 9-year-old child, a husband who reaches for tradition when explaining why he batters his wife, and a child found wandering, covered with wounds. The dead-calm way the abused women face the judge and recite what happened to them ought to be a lesson to actors, who always take the opportunity to portray sufferers as a bursting bundle of nerves. The methods of the court are sometimes novel—an accused man is threatened with a thrashing if he doesn't stop making faces while his accuser is testifying—but the legal proceedings are evidence that the rule of law still exists in a continent so plagued with misrule. The film's biggest drawback is that it is not a TV series; you would like to see how these stories play out and to see what cases these heroic women are trying next. (RvB)
(1948) Clifton Webb, best remembered as journalist Waldo Lydecker in Laura, plays the waspish intellectual Mr. Belvedere, who condescends to take a job baby-sitting while writing a Menckenesque exposé of suburban folly. His hapless employers are Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara. (RvB)
(PG-13, 101 min.) When a soon-to-be-married New York magazine exec (Anne Heche) and a rough-hewn island-hopping pilot (Harrison Ford) crash-land in the South Pacific, the inevitable happens: love, laughs and a pirate ship on the horizon. Ford's comic timing is as deft as it was in the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies, and David Schwimmer (Ross on TV's Friends) is great fun as Heche's womanizing fiancé. As Ford's love interest, however, Heche is unconvincingnot because she's a lesbian but because of her uncanny resemblance to Florence Henderson. (BC)
(PG-13; 105 min.) In a young man's game, 76-year-old Richard Donner directs with as little style as the youngest and slickest of them. The midnight popularity of Donner's Goonies is a form of street cred. And this summer's remake of The Omen and the new Superman movie prove that Donner is more influential than many more famous names. Nevertheless, this particular policier is a major sedative. Bruce Willis plays a corroded drunk of an NYPD detective. Assigned to haul a witness 16 blocks to the courthouse, he finds himself at war with almost the entire police department. Whatever else this movie neglects (a female lead, for instance), it does have a villain, a slimmed-down David Morse, wearing a nasty attempted chin beard. As the criminal Eddie Bunker, Mos Def is one of the most unusual motor-mouthed urban sidekicks—a slightly soft-headed, childish man who wants to be a baker. (RvB)
(1984) John Hughes, an ex-satirist for the National Lampoon, makes his debut as director, pioneering the wave of teen comedies the Reagan age is remembered for. In them, characters could flirt with escaping their castes, but by the end, they learned to conform (as in the infamous hair ribbon scene in The Breakfast Club). Here Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) has the worst day of her life when her family forgets her 16th birthday. Anthony Michael Hall co-stars as "Geek," the geeky boy with braces who becomes her chum. No Asian American over 30 has forgotten Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong. (RvB)
The local Christian evangelical group Victory Outreach produced this fictional story of gangstas Frankie and Lori leaving their posse to join G.A.N.G. (God's Anointed Now Generation). Photographed by John Buckley, gaffer on Titanic. Pastor Ed Morales directed.
This festival celebrates the diversity of the Jewish culture through short and feature films and discussions with the directors. Films featured are: The Giraffe (1998, Germany); Kadosh (1999. Israel); Adio (1998, USA); Swastika to Jim Crow (1999, USA); Emma Goldman: The Anarchist Guest (2000, Canada); Women of the Wall (1999, USA); Peace of Mind (1999, USA).
(PG-13; 104 min.) This comedy about a losing college basketball team and its ghostly benefactor offers a lesson in Platitudes 101, including an "it's not whether you win or lose ..." pep-talk (which is unlikely to be sincere, considering it's delivered by our perennially defeated team's coach right before they hit the court at the NCAA championship) and a "dead loved ones live on in your heart" sermon. Antoine Tyler (Kadeem Hardison), the star player for the University of Washington, suddenly dies, leaving his talented but underrated teammate and brother, Kenny (Marlon Wayans), to guide the Huskies through the play-offs. When Kenny becomes discouraged, Antoine's ghost appears to pull a few helpful supernatural stunts on the court. Although the film relies on age-old formulas for both pathos and comedymost of the humor springs from the fact that initially only Kenny can see his brother's ghostWayans' talent for physical comedy brings some new laughs to the old invisible person trick. (HZ)
MACLA screens Alex Rivera's documentary that uses a variety of cutting-edge techniques to show the organizing efforts of a community of Mexican immigrants in New York. The film focuses on the work of Grupo Unión, which works to raise funds to rebuild a village in Mexico. (Shows Fri at 7pm at MACLA, 510 S. First St, San Jose; $5/$3; 408.938.3594.)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Set in modern-day Philadelphia, this eerie thriller, starring Bruce Willis as child psychologist Malcolm Crowe and Haley Joel Osment as 8-year-old Cole Sear, progresses fairly quietly at first, but director M. Night Shyamalan sets its chilling tone early. Tapping into the fear of the unknown and the unexplainable, the film focuses on young Cole, who bears the burden of seeing dead people all around him. Desperately trying to hide his secret from the world, Cole (skillfully played by Osment with all the manic tense anxiety of Alan Ruck's Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) slowly warms to Dr. Crowe's sincere concern and begins to trust him. The chemistry between the two actors works very well, and the supporting characters (including Toni Collette as Cole's concerned mother and Olivia Williams as Crowe's wife) lend strength and dignity to the film. Touching and haunting, The Sixth Sense offers a lingering creepiness that sticks with you. Not only that, Shyamalan's clever ending will have many lining up to watch the film a second time. (SQ)
(PG-13; 104 min.) Voodoo? Voodoo? Man, horror movies haven't cared about voodoo since 1987-88, when you couldn't throw a headless chicken without hitting a movie like The Believers, Angel Heart or The Serpent and the Rainbow. But Ehren Kruger, who wrote the American versions of the Ringu movies, has more than likely run out of ways to make little dark-haired monster girls seem scary, so here's his latest about Kate Hudson trapped in New Orleans with a voodoo cult. (Capsule preview by SP)
John Hurt and Mississippi John Hurttogether at last! The former plays a bedridden senior citizen deprived of speech by a curse. The latter turns up on a soundtrack that's full of well-picked roots music, includingsurprise!unironic use of Elvis' music ("If I Can Dream" on the end credits). Scripter Ehren Kruger's yarn concerns voodoo activity in a remote crumbling Louisiana mansion house, where a hospice nurse (Kate Hudson) is tending the old man (the Hurt who is still living). Her suspicions fall upon his too-smooth wife (Gena Rowlands) as well as the ever-duplicitous Peter Sarsgaard as a lawyer. Hudson, a starlet caught in the crisis of aging, doesn't give up much here. By contrast, director Iain Softley (The Wings of the Dove) bounces back nicely from the debacle that was K-PAX. He works like a man full of curiosity and eagerness, ready to push a little to get an interesting camera angle or to deepen the mood. (Maybe his experiences with the previous Henry James may have been the reason why there's suggestions of The Turn of the Screw in this story.) The digital flashbacks and dream sequences are shiver-inducing. It seems that the real ghost haunting this movie is Val Lewton, who figured you could beguile a skeptical audience into giving the supernatural the benefit of the doubt. (RvB)
(PG-13; 83 min.) Affectionate but not at all self-indulgent profile of the famed architect responsible for Disney Hall in L.A. and the Guggenheim in Bilbao (as well as the Santa Monica Mall, for which Gehry apologizes handsomely). Gehry, looking like the Wizard of Oz in the L. Frank Baum book illustrations, takes us on a glancing tour of his old neighborhood as he describes his education, and the path he took through psychoanalysis. Meanwhile, we tour his many buildings, an experience that makes converts out of those of us who thought Gehry's edifices sometimes looked like an explosion in a corrugated iron factory. True, there isn't a serious critique of Gehry's limitations: the closest we get are a few hapless academics stressing that Gehry may be slightly overrated, and that his museums are such spectacles that they diminish the paintings they contain. The interviews with entertainment bigwigs like Mike Ovitz and Barry Diller are a little cap-in-hand. Oddly, artist Julian Schnabel decided to costume himself as "Dude" Lebowski for his interviews. The director is old-time Hollywood hand Sydney Pollack, trying the experiment of a small-camera documentary and succeeding very well. If this portrait by a friend lacks serious penetration, it's like reading a good profile in The New Yorker: the limits of the technique are apologized for in advance, all the bases are covered and the subject is never mistaken for a demigod. (Opens May 26 at the CinéArts Palo Alto and CinéArts Santana Row.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 107 min) Director Rob Cohen had good meat for a thriller here; the film outlines a conspiracy by an Ivy League university's secret society. The official rumor is that The Skulls was modeled on Skull and Bones, the Yale sect whose members include the senior George Bush and The Simpsons villain Montgomery Burns. Some, however, have hinted that The Skulls is based on the Cabal of the Golden Slug, the ultra-classified UC-Santa Cruz organization whose whims dictate the actions of the Trilateral Commission, the Vatican and the NSA . . . but the less said the better. Here, Joshua Jackson plays Lukea poor but honest young man whose prowess with the rowing team gets him tapped for membership in the Skulls. When Luke's roommate, a college journalist, gets iced for prying, Luke has second thoughts about being a member of the Skulls. Unfortunately, the organization hates defectors as much as it hates squealers. Interestingly, the real hero of the film seems to be female lead Chloe (played by Leslie Bibb of TV's Popular) who has a lot more foresight and courage than the prim, mushy Luke. The strength of the heroine and the anti-elitist (if paranoid) message of the film deserves a little credit. But The Skulls is like an episode of the new version of The Outer Limits, predictable and dramatically inert, even if it is a tale of weirdness. Cohen tries hard to whip up a vision of the privileged life on a very low budget, but the cheap mattes and cheaper photography undo him. All told, a mildly entertaining film, without nearly enough ingenuity or humor. (RvB)
(Unrated; 87 min.) This painstakingly precise mixture of 2- and 3-D animation with live action and miniatures tells the story of a dystopian society born out of a world polluted beyond inhabitable means. A splinter group of elite power players construct an organic city called Ecobanforcing those without privilege into the surrounding wasteland. Jaya 19-year-old Ecoban trooperwitnesses corrupt behavior by her leaders. Her old boyfriend Shua is a leader among the wasteland insurgents, looking to overthrow the Ecoban city. Jay must decide whether to toe the company line or follow her heart. Blue Sky is an environmentally friendly anime. The progressive greenery and over-the-top miniature/anime mashup make this Korean effort worth recommending, though the plot holes and irregularities dock points. The civilization of 2140 allows spaceships to fly and people to float in the air, so why are they still shooting guns? (Opens Fri at Camera 12 in San Jose.) (TI)
Full text review.
(PG; 107 min.) As a concept, Kerry Conran's almost-all-computer-graphic-cartoon Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is captivating stuff. This marvelously detailed Art Deco comic-book movie was shot on blue screen with live actors. Gwyneth Paltrow is Polly Perkins, Lois Lane with the serial numbers filed off; Jude Law is a science-fiction pilot named Joe, better known as Sky Captaina variation on the 1942 Republic serial character Spy Smasher. The couplesquabbling loverscross and recross the skies, in search of a mysterious mad doctor called Totenkopf. Their journeys take them from Manhattan to Shangri-La, to the ocean's floor and finally to a replica of Kong Island where Totenkopf's hellish scheme is revealed. For those whose movie experience begins with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Conran's devotion to older movies will seem like a new look. Conran raids The Wizard of Oz, Lost Horizon, Metropolis, King Kong and particularly the lavish Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoons of the 1940s. But even those movie fans who could tag each of Conran's references have to acknowledge this high-tech magpie's good taste. While he rehashes the cornier dialogue of action cinema, Conran also has a deft touch and a sense of humor. (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG; 102 min.) Don't you just want to hate movies like this? Like when Spy Kids came out and everyone loved it, wasn't it hard to admit that this sort of neo-Disney cheese could actually be fun and entertaining? Well, obviously there's no longer any denying that it can, and for this movie Disney actually got the former child star from their first wave of young-adult-a-thons, Kurt Russell (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoesawesome), to play Dad to the new generation. Great idea, and so is the premise (yeah, yeah, even if it was stolen from X-Men) about a high school for the children of superheroes who are just discovering their powers. You can decide whether or not to hold the fact that the director also did Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo against him. (Capsule preview by SP)
Agreeably funny family-movie parody of X-Men (with some Harry Potter thrown in). At the superhero academy Sky High, freshman Will (Michael Angarano) has nothing to show for himself, despite having two world-renowned cape-bearers for parents: the Supermanish Commander (Kurt Russell), and his wife, Jetstream (Kelly Preston). So Will is assigned to training as "Hero Support." In other words, he's a sidekick, destined for a life of being held hostage and handing over weapons. Director Mike Mitchell uses an '80s soundtrack to get this in the well-worn John Hughes groove, about the reject kids banding together; despite the weak casting of Angarano, the jokes are clever (and all the funnier to deep-dyed comic book fans). The supporting acting is reliably funny, with Bruce Campbell as a sneering coach, David Foley as the nerd teacher who can't get over his champion season as the sidekick "American Boy" and Kevin McDonald as Mr. Medulla, a futuristic brain with a watermelon-size cranium. (RvB)
(Both 1932) "Pre-Code: It means more just seeing what your grandmother's underwear looked like!" (TM, all rights reserved). The salty drama Skyscraper Souls is seasoned with Ayn Randian high-rise lust. It tells of David Dwight (Warren William, Wolfus Midatlanticus), the force behind the erection of the 100-story Dwight Building. (We see the tower in a special-effects shot, dwarfing the Empire State Building.) Dwight has a separated wife, and a long-term mistress (the richly syllabled stiffette Veree Teesdale) he's trying to fob off into a house in Scarsdale. In the nonce, the dapper letch is setting his sights on a cute scene-stealing trick, played by the extremely young Maureen O'Sullivan. (She's passed off as "jailbait"the first screen use of this term?and certainly looks it.) In the meantime, other tenants of the buildingincluding Danish mensch and special Oscar namesake Jean Hersholt and floozy Anita Pageare dealing with life, little reckoning that they are but pawns in Dwight's fiscal games. Skyscraper Souls offers a combination of farce and economics lesson; the montage of a tottering stock market will hit awfully close to home for dotcommers, just as William's growling speech about his building will sound like Donald Trump, if Trump had style. This film, produced by Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures, is an early example of the American cinema's hopelessly mixed feelings about power and privilege. BILLED WITH The Mouthpiece. William stars as a smooth lawyer who tries both defense and prosecutionand learns that defending the guilty pays better. Sidney Fox and Guy Kibbee co-star. (RvB)
(1943) This unusual double bill is part of the Stanford Theater's 75th anniversary. Fred Astaire in the typical Fred Astaire role in The Sky's the Limit, modified slightly for wartime. In the past, he's a song-and-dance man mistaken for a gigolo. Here, he's a Flying Tiger pilot who poses as a civilian slacker to avoid all the fuss and adulation. We all have that problem sometimes, don't we? Joan Leslie co-stars; the actress was also in Foreign Correspondent, Sergeant York and (her most memorable role) Yankee Doodle Dandy. She plays a photographer from some Life-like magazine who suddenly finds herself being pestered by Astaire. Robert Ryan, Eric Blore and Peter Lawford co-star. Music includes "My Shining Hour" and the debut of the tune "One for My Baby and One for the Road." Also: an appearance by proto-rocker Ella Mae Morse and Freddy Slack, auteurs of the "Cow-Cow Boogie." Leslie will be on hand to address the fans. BILLED WITH I'll Show You the Town, starring Reginald Denny. This rare silent comedy is being shown in the only known print, which was found at the Cinematheque Royal in Belgum. Dennis James will accompany the film on the organ. (RvB)
(R; 87 min.) For most of the running time of this subTroma Studios comedy, you're trying to get into the spirit of it, but the film's consistent meanness isn't very funny. A trio of lazy, finagling college students find their foolproof graduation plans interrupted by "Cool Ethan," an insistent, diminutive creep played by Jason Schwartzman. Ethan blackmails the boys into setting him up with his dream girl (played by an actress named James King), but then Ethan turns out to be not lovelorn but a mad stalker. Schwartzman's energy helps the film, and the ugliness of the comedy makes an impression, but it's as hit and miss as it is nasty. Cameron Diaz makes a cameo appearance in the homage-to-the-Farrellys scene; Mamie van Doren, sex kitten of the 1950s, stars in the horny-hag joke, going topless and ordering Schwartzman to suck her nipples. We're supposed to be grossed out, but what struck me was that it's unlikely that director Dewey Nicks' career will stand up to the years as well as Van Doren's boobs have. (RvB)
(PG) A children's comedy about five little troublemakers and their efforts to "rescue" a sea lion named Slappy.
(R; 140 min.) In the 1960s, in a bad New York neighborhood, four boys are sentenced to a correctional home, where they're raped by the guards, especially Nokes (Kevin Bacon). After they grow up, two of the boys (Billy Crudup and Ron Eldard) run into Nokes and kill him. The other two friends (Brad Pitt and Jason Patric) then hatch a plot to expose conditions in the school. Ostensibly a true story, this dubious tale slugs along without a single realistic qualm. Nokes is a scoundrel without outraged wife or orphaned children, and when cornered, he conveniently confesses his evil. At more than two hours, a film without any ambiguity to make it interesting is very long indeed. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) Who would have thought Joe Nussbaum, the guy whose George Lucas in Love was the coolest, most-sought-after short film of 1999, would end up directing a movie about junior-high girls? Junior-high girls who still listen to the Spice Girls, I might addso much for realism! (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Sliding Doors is an adorable little British film that uses a metaphysical-lite conceitthat catching a train or missing it could mean the difference between two totally different futuresto spice up an amiable romantic comedy. Gwyneth Paltrow, in her most winning performance since Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight, plays Helen, a London PR exec with a philandering boyfriend. After losing her job, she heads to a metro station to take the tube home, and the film splits in halffirst we see the train doors close in her face, then the scene repeats, only this time Helen manages to pry the doors open. The rest of the film intercuts between her different fates. In one, she catches her boyfriend (John Lynch) in bed with his domineering ex-lover (Jeanne Tripplehorn), leaves him and falls in love with an insouciant Scotsman (John Hannah) she met on a trainand another in which she stays with the louse and takes a dreary waitressing job. Director Peter Howitt never suggests which outcome is the real oneinstead, there are simply two parallel universes. Surprisingly, the plot never gets confusing, largely thanks to the fact that in one life, Helen bleaches her hair. Unfortunately the movie undermines its own premise in the last few minutes, suggesting that destiny, not chance, was at work all along. (MG)
Full text review.
(R; 136 min.) Having made a bad impression on his mother's mind with a machete, 12-year-old Karl (Billy Bob Thornton, who also directed and wrote the screenplay) was sentenced to a psychiatric prison. Sling Blade starts with Karl's release after 25 years. For more than two hours, Thornton doesn't break character. Smiling the famous smile of the baby that has gas, Karl sports a shirt buttoned to the neck and high-waisted pants. Thornton's version of a Southern gothic story is a mission of redemptionKarl's saintly, stolid presence is the only thing that can redeem the troubled family of young Frank (Lucas Black), his mother (Natalie Canerday) and evil stepfather-in-waiting (Dwight Yoakam). I'm unconvinced Sling Blade was made with the best intentions, mostly because of the remote, long shots that encourage gawking. I suspect that the movie was meant as a sort of morally uplifting freak show. The film has pauses for weepingstop and cry here. It's just like those plaques at Disneyland that tell you a good snapshot can be taken on this spot. (RvB)
(R; 108 min.) Director Gillies MacKinnon's Small Faces is an artfully told, very well-acted, but occasionally gloomy tale of three brothers in poverty-stricken Glasgow in 1968. Lex (Iain Robertson), is a young artist overshadowed by his oldest brother, Alan (Joe McFadden), who is on the fast track to art school. His other brother, Bobby (J.S. Duffy), has already been swept into gang fighting. MacKinnon (The Playboys) takes some of the sting out of the story with humor and nostalgia. Robertson makes an appealing lead, a boy distracted by his desire to grow up just like his older brothers, and not sure whether to take the path of the paintbrush or the switchblade. The MacKinnons don't directly blaming the system or the adult world. The mother of the family (Clare Higgins) does her best for her sons, and there is support for the artsoften in odd places. One of the gangsters ("a real-working class Medici," Lex calls him) offers to buy a painting and tells Alan, "Y'been looking at a lot of Egon Schiele's paintings, am I right?" Small Faces veers into high tragedy followed by an irresolute ending. And yet MacKinnon has crafted some marvelous moments, including a wild, frightening chase on stolen bicycles away from a pursuing gang called the Tongs, and a night-time raid on the local art museum. Be aware that the Weegie accent is full flower here; even if you have an ear for it, you're bound to miss at least a few lines of dialogue. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) A ruthless toy company installs surplus military chips in action figures called Commando Elites. These dolls come to life and turn on the human beings who play with them. Frequently amusing, this new film by Joe Dante draws heavily on his earlier Gremlins, as well as Toy Story. At times, the film's satire on the grisly realism of action figures expands to include all kinds of toys used for social conditioningas when a roomful of Barbie-oid fashion dolls are rewired as killers. (The bad Barbies are voiced by Christina Ricci and Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) The main problem with Small Soldiers is that the film is schizoid. It's a satire of militarism that comes out in favor of explosions and fire-fightsthe part of the film most heavily sold, and the part of the film that's the most boring. Still, Dante's nostalgia for peaceful toys and a cinema that wasn't all punch is touching. And the cast is fun; it includes Ann Magnuson as a mom who fights off tiny artillery with a tennis racket; Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph, of the original Little Shop of Horrors; and the late Phil Hartman, using his Lionel Hutz voice as a one-upping neighbor. (RvB)
(PG-13; 107 min.) A drama about a woman who goes to China as part of the Doctor's Gift Program and meets a brave girl with a deformity.
(R; 99 min.) A robust contender for the worst of the year. Jennifer (Lauren Holly) wants a baby with a smile like that of husband Danny (Greg Kinnear), but she can't get pregnant because of her husband's exhausted wigglers. The first half of the movie is a series of depressing fertility-clinic jokes dating back to the Carboniferous Period, followed by some equally dramatically ancient misunderstandings (each spouse thinks the other is sleeping around). Reconciliation is, of course, only the prelude to impregnation. Keith Samples, who co-wrote, directs like a 90-year-old man. Kinnear has all of the romantic magnetism of Al Gore. Holly moves like a half-broken toy robot; she doesn't even look natural when she's pretending to be asleep. If you're bored to distraction by the bland script and leadsand the wasting of Joan Cusack in the horny spinster partyou might study the subtle point of this wretched comedy. Note how the WASP leads are surrounded by gruff, mocking black people and comic but vaguely sinister Asiansall of which might explain the real reason behind those $50,000 fertility-clinic bills well-off people pay to add some more hungry mouths to the five billion on Earth already. A Smile Like Yours could have been titled A Skin Like Yours. But then, race suicide doesn't concern meafter seeing this gobbler, I was all in favor of it. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) Though this title is meant to draw attention, director Kevin Jordan probably should have gone with "Free Beer to All Who Attend this Movie." Awkward title doth foretell awkward film; in this opus a pair of brothers in the San Fernando Valley enjoy an undemanding life and work through love problems. The Smiling Fishhis grandmother's nicknameis Tony (Steven Martini), whose insolence and muscle T-shirt advertise his career as a semi-employed actor; his straightlaced accountant brother Chris (Derick Martini) was called by grandma a "goat on fire" for his misery-goat nature. During Christmas week, the two brothers find and lose lovers: Chris is in a tortured breakup with his old high school sweetheart Alison (Amy Hathaway), but he hooks up with a remarkably well-built Italian girl (Rosemarie Addeo). Meanwhile, Tony meets Kathy (Christa Miller), a single mom. Of these characters, Miller's Kathy is the only one who looks as if there's something more going on with her than just the lines she's speaking. First-time director Kevin Jordan has a newcomer's eye for Los Angeles; the problem is that this salute to growing up shows its true colors by celebrating the slobby, overgrown boyishness of the two brothers much more than the possibility of maturity. Thus I couldn't buy the message that they needed to grow up and settle down. (Why are the rugby playing scenes filmed with more gusto than the love scenes? How can the Great Plains in winter be a viable trade-off for these palm trees and warm backyards?) Still, jazz vocalist and actor Bill Henderson deserves note as an old man at the end of his life, a former actor in all-black movies of the 1940s. But sweet moments can't overcome this eminently minor debutI can't congratulate ineptitude and call it innocence. (RvB)
Director Wayne Wang and screenwriter Paul Auster collaborated on this tale of Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel), a Brooklyn cigar-store owner who brings together some varied characters, including a novelist (William Hurt) who lost his wife, an African-American man (Harold Perrineau) given to telling lies and a one-armed mechanic (Forest Whitaker). The film wishes for connection between black and white people, and fathers and sons: consummations devoutly to be wished but somehow nearly unconveyable on screen without a lot of understatement. In Smoke, Auster's intentions are all too plainly apparent, amplified to a dull roar by the cast. (RvB)
(R; 109 min.) Joe Carnahan (Narc) brings his shaky, kinetic style to this pale, distant cousin of Tarantino's breakthrough works from a decade ago, today so stale and derivative that it more closely resembles knockoff Guy Ritchie (Snatch) than QT himself. A huge collection of colorful hit men, cops and other misfits race one another to get to the Sinatra-like casino performer Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven), locked away in a primo Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Carnahan's poor technique botches the story's timing, leaving various characters stranded and waiting for large chunks of time, but otherwise Smokin' Aces flows directly through the expected, well-worn action/crime movie ruts. The cast includes Ben Affleck, Alicia Keys, Taraji P. Henson, Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta. (JMA)