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(PG; 89 min.) A phenomenon residents of Northern California may not fully understand is the coveted snow day, when roads and schools close due to excessive snowfall. But those who spent their childhoods with snowy winters know first-hand the decadent joy and the delicious sense of freedom a snow day brings. This family comedy explores the ins and outs of a snow day, a day that kids pray for and parents generally dread. Snow Day's most poignant theme is that of young love, with a young man (Mark Webber) determined to get the girl of his dreams (Emmanuelle Chriqui) to notice himfailing to recognize that his best friend (played by Schuyler Fisk, Sissy Spacek's daughter) has feelings for him. The movie also explores family bonding with Jean Smart playing a driven career mom who learns the joy of spending time with her 4-year-old son (Connor Matheus). Mostly, though, Snow Day is a kids-versus-adults movie where kids triumph. With characters at preschool-, elementary school- and high school-ages, and with parents and other adults in the movie, Snow Day serves its purpose as a silly family comedy with a wide range of humor that works on many levels. (SQ)
(PG; 99 min.) Cuba Gooding Jr. inherits a dog team and goes mushing with the help of M. Emmet Walsh and James Coburn.
Warren Miller's 47th feature-length ski adventure film captures some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, along with the world's best mogul skiers, heli skiers, snowboarders and more.
(90 min.) Warren Miller's latest offering scales more snowy peaks with renowned skiers and snowboarders from around the world. (Plays Nov 14 at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, 6:30 and 9:30pm; Nov 15 Flint Center, 8pm. Call BASS for ticket information.)
(Not rated; 98 min.) A Spanish drama about a mother and daughter, each struggling with unhappy lives, who reconnect when the mother moves in with her daughter to be near the hospital where her alcoholic husband is recovering.
(R; 95 min.) With sparse dialog punctuated by bloody Ultimate Fight-style punch-outs and outer-space explosions, Soldier is very much a video game with humanoid interest backstory. Kurt Russell is the title character, bred from birth to fight for next century's U.S. Army. However, his advanced years40make him obsolete, and he is literally tossed away like so much trash onto a garbage-dump moon, his platoon replaced by a troop of younger, colder, faster genetically designed soldiers. Too old, indeed. Kurt shows them that the young soldier may run fast, but the old soldier knows how to run. This male menopause space opera is neither too loud nor too long for an action film; but the usually engaging Russell is too cold and distant. (DH)
Judy Holliday plays a minor stockholder who plots a takeover of a mismanaged company with the help of the company's pushed-aside founder (Paul Douglas). BILLED WITH Phffft!, in which lawyer Jack Lemmon and soap-opera writer Holliday get divorced when their marriage fizzles (or goes "phffft!" to use an expression popularized by newspaper columnist Walter Winchell). Now single, Lemmon goes after Kim Novak while Holliday pursues Jack Carson, although the two still have a backhanded interest in getting together. (RvB)(1956/1954) Comic star
(PG-13; 93 min.) Military bad buys commission a no-hearted android killer named Solo (Mario Van Peebles), but there's just one hitch: Solo's loathe to go ballistic on just anyone; he's been programmed to make his own decisions. Fresh off the Panthers project, a gorgeously sculpted Van Peebles is quite a specimen. Who better to fulfill the military's missionsomething to do with taking a bite out of crime in some verdant but corrupt South American (natch!) garden of Eden? Clichés, Solo's got a million of them. In fact, the scenes with ruddy-cheeked but invariably passive peasants might remind you of any number of films in which the American hero swoops in, takes over and attains god-like stature. Only this time, the good guy "wears" black. Now, checking a superpowered man of color "run" the jungle like Johnny Weismuller may excite some viewers, but not me. There are gazillions of non-Europeans strutting their stuff in films these days, acting like they're Supermen. Right? Give this one two shrugs and a bag of popcorn. (NB)
(1959) Two half-frozen and broke Chicago musicians of the Jazz Age (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) accidentally witness a gangster massacre. Disguised as women in an all-girl orchestra, they hit the road for Florida. Their new pal in the orchestra is the tightly clad Sugar Cane (Marilyn Monroe, never better), a ukelele player with a weakness for saxophonists. Lemmon and comedian Joe E. Brown (one of your standard comedic Palm Beach millionaires) wrap up the film with a famous last line. This capping bit of dialogue seems to be a message to the future about how the years to come would thaw out the frozen differences between the genders. The women's disguises change the attitudes of the men, giving them a new perspective and secret knowlege. ("Now you're gonna see how the other half lives!" Curtis threatens.) The last great screwball comedy and probably the late Billy Wilder's best picture. (RvB)
(1959/1960) Two half-frozen and broke Chicago musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) of the Jazz Age accidentally witness a gangster massacre. Disguised as women in an all-girl orchestra, they hit the road for Florida. Their new pal in the orchestra is the tightly clad Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe, never better), a ukulele player with a weakness for saxophonists. Lemmon and comedian Joe E. Brown (your standard comedic Palm Beach millionaire) wrap up the film with a famous last line. This capping bit of dialogue seems to predict that, in the years to come, the then-frozen differences between the genders would thaw. The women's disguises change the attitudes of the men, giving them a new perspective and secret knowledge. ("Now you're gonna see how the other half lives!" Curtis threatens.) The last great screwball comedy and probably the late Billy Wilder's best picture. BILLED WITH The Apartment, in which a minor functionary (Jack Lemmon) receives temporary status through pandering to a lecherous crew of his superiors, especially Fred MacMurray; Shirley MacLaine is the tough-mouthed but tenderhearted elevator girl who snaps him out of it. Terrific locations help the mood of Manhattan isolation, and MacLaine is adorablebut the film has a serious moralizing streak voiced by the recently demised Jack Kruschen, as the doctor upstairs. (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) The film of Laura Zigman's hair-dryer novel Animal Husbandry is, to use the novel's main metaphor, the same old bull. Jane (Ashley Judd) is a booker for a TV talk show who is dropped ruthlessly by her new boyfriend, whom she stole fair and square from a mysterious other woman. The ditched girl builds up her self-esteem by writing a popular theory on male behavior based on the notion that a bull will never return to a cow he's previously fertilized. Hugh Jackman and Marisa Tomei liven up this bovine mess a little, but Juddflat of voice, flat of expression, hell, flat even of much-flaunted bodyis a chore to watch. (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) Yet another music video director making her feature debut, Sanaa Hamri mechanically directs Something New right out of the romantic comedy rule book. Uptight, African American career girl Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) meets earthy, sensitive white landscaper Brian (Simon Baker). This interracial coupling upsets Kenya's friends and family, but Brian doesn't seem to have any friends or family, so it is his job to be supportive. It is also his job to teach Kenya how to "get back to nature," a potentially odd role reversal the film isn't willing to explore. Instead, all prejudice simply vanishes when Kenya learns to loosen up. Talented supporting players like Taraji P. Henson and Alfre Woodard are reduced to sidebar characters who constantly bug Kenya about her social life. Kriss Turner wrote the screenplay. (JMA)
This is one of those "my-life" movies that rates somewhere between mediocre and meaningful. The plot is not too overdone, the characters are not too predictable, and the ending is not too Hollywood. Anyone who has suffered through a nasty relationship might actually find something to relate to in the particularly ugly story of Grace (Julia Roberts) and Eddie (Dennis Quaid), a married couple whose hectic lives get even messier when infidelity becomes a variable. Something To Talk About is probably not a good choice for that first date, but it makes for a decent couple of hours. (BB)
(1986) Fondly remembered Eastern seaboard road movie about a married Manhattan businessman (Jeff Daniels) spirited away from his life by a teasing and impulsive punkette who calls herself "Lulu" (Melanie Griffith, never better). Abruptly, danger enters the picture as Lulu's spurned, jealous and violent boyfriend (Ray Liotta) discovers the pair. Jonathan Demme directs. Keep an eye out for John Waters as a used-car salesman. (RvB)
(1974/1924) Satyajit Ray's answer to Sherlock Holmes: Feluda (Soumitra Chatterjee), befriended by a detective-novel writer, investigates the case of a reincarnated boy. Filmed in Rajasthan and at the palace at Jaisalmer. BILLED WITH Sherlock Jr. 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.) Silent, with organ accompaniment by Jerry Nagano. (RvB)
The gargantuan egos of a band named U2. A scad of very expensive copyright lawyers. A quartet of pranksters from Contra Costa County calling themselves Negativland. Casey Kasem. And Snuggles, a little dead dog from Ohio. Such are the components of Craig Baldwin's documentary Sonic Outlaws, about the fair use of copyrighted images for the purposes of satire, and how new Supreme Court lawthanks, 2 Live Crew!has made it easier for you to use parody to let the air out of advertisers and popular artists. Baldwin's documentary is impressionistic and sometimes scatter-shot, but he has an interesting subject: how hip, erstwhile rebels turn conservative when confronted by satire, as Negativland found out when it did a brilliant parody of U2's monster hit "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," spliced in with the syrupy-voiced Kasem's toweringif all too understandablestar fit about having to dedicate a record to "a goddamn dead dog."
(PG; 98 min.) The power of the Mask devolves to the son of a cartoonist (Jamie Kennedy) in a sequel to the Jim Carrey hit.
(Unrated; 117 min.) Far and away the best of the five 2005 Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Language film, Sophie Scholl hinges on a superb centerpiece performance by Julia Jentsch. She plays the title character, a coed arrested (along with her brother and a friend) in 1943 for distributing anti-Nazi fliers. Like a 20th-century Joan of Arc in a red sweater and humble hair clips, she faces her accusers with a fearless slate of cold logic. Director Marc Rothemund stages two "hearings," a private one with investigator Robert Mohr (Alexander Held) and a public one with the more demonic Roland Freisler (Andre Hennicke). Sophie matches the former with her decisive will, but the second, engulfed by Nazi ardor, sees her only as a monster. In German with English subtitles. (JMA)
(R; 114 min.) Young Ahmad (Brandon Hammond) searches for a way to hold his extended African American family together when the clan matriarch (Irma P. Hall) succumbs to illness. The tone ranges from mawkish to melodramatic and back again as writer/director George Tillman Jr. throws problems at his characters and then saves them the trouble of solving them. You could put on five pounds just looking at the lovely food of the title, but it falls short in the metaphor department; it's supposed to be what connects the family during its ups and downs, but Tillman substitutes a different kind of dough at the last minute. Still, the movie is a pleasant plea in favor of love and understanding, filled with likeable, all-American characters, and really doesn't deserve its R rating. (BC)
(R; 90 min.) Starring Kevin Hart, Method Man and Snoop Dogg. If there's a better tagline around right now than the one for this politically incorrect comedy about an African American-owned airline"What goes up must get down"I haven't seen it. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 96 min.) A thriller about a co-ed(Melissa Sagemiller) who is haunted by a sinister spirit after surviving a car wreck. Casey Affleck, Luke Wilson and Eliza Dushku also star.
(1965) The 400-passenger-capacity zeppelin of the American musical. It stars that precious Julie Andrews, who ditches her career as a nun and nannies a family of singing Teutonic children over the Alps. This much-honored Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was proclaimed as the movie the 1960s would be remembered by. It is rememberedas an object lesson in how popular doesn't equal great. Songs include "You Are Sixteen Going on Seventeen" and "The Lonely Goatherd," the latter a song title from a more innocent time. (RvB)
(PG-13; 103 min.) This story about a hunter who travels back through time and screws up the futureyes, basically that one Simpsons episode without an all-powerful Ned Flandersearned itself more cred than, say, The Butterfly Effect, by virtue of being based on Ray Bradbury's short story. I mean, if you're going to do one of the oldest sci-fi ideas in the book, at least take it from the guy who wrote the book. (Capsule preview by SP)
The festival concludes with a A Tickle in the Heart, the story of the Epstein Brothers, once known as the kings of klezmer. This feature is billed with the short film "When Shirley Met Florence."
The series concludes Nov 12 (7:30pm) and Nov 15 (1:30pm) with The Assistant, a 1997 Canadian adaptation of Bernard Malamud's novel. Joan Plowright and Armin Mueller-Stahl star. (RvB)
(1958) Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor star in the famous film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical based on the novel by James Michener. Songs include "Some Enchanted Evening" and "There Is Nothing Like a Dame."
(PG-13; 120 min.) As an actor, Clint Eastwood hasn't changed in 40 years. When he's a drag today, it's the same reason he was a drag in the old days: because he overworks that glare and scowl that's been his bread and butter. Because he's directing, he's more alert than the 58-year-old Harrison Ford has been in his last few movies. Still, it'd be wrong to expect Space Cowboys to be a revelation of Eastwood as an actor or a director. As always, he's only as good as the script, and this one by Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner is never more than serviceable. In a prelude set in the late 1950s, taken pretty heavily from Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff, we see two pilots testing an X-15 plane, wrecking it and surviving. Forty years later, a Russian satellite called "Ikon" is reentering Earth's atmosphere and must be fixed before it crashes into the earth. There's some malarkey about why this can't be done the easy way, how the satellite is an enduring symbol of Russian technology, and the decommissioning of it could cause civil war in the former USSR After a little reluctance and hemming and hawing by the same supercilious desk-pilot (James Cromwell) who used to ride the test pilots' tails in the 1950s, we get around to the reactivating of Team Daedalus, the only ones old enough to remember the Ikon's technology: James Garner (72) as Tank Sullivan, Donald Sutherland (64) as Jerry O'Neil, Eastwood (69) as Frank Corvin and Tommy Lee Jones (the baby of the bunch at 54) as "Hawk" Hawkins. Of the four, Sutherland is the most fun as the gamey old lech, toying with his dentures and wearing a snow-white toupee that looks like it might be the same wig the actor wore for Fellini's Casanova in 1976. The special effects are immaculate; the slow transforming of the malign satellite with sound effects (which would be inaudible in space, of course) is big on the big screen. Technology and uninspired news coverage took the drama out of the shuttle flights, and the re-entry scenes here make it look exciting, with the craft glowing like a briquette and popping heat tiles. Too bad the action outside the cabin isn't matched by drama within it. At heart, Space Cowboys is a too-familiar movie. Except for a few scenes of Jones courting the always sturdy Marcia Gay Harden, the film has zero gravity. It's yet another funny-codger movie, about old age without the dignity, complete with a nude scene and fistfight. When one of the quartet is diagnosed with a terminal illness, your own knowledge of old movies tells you how this will come out. This kind of retreading can really make you feel old. (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG; 90 min.) One of the inside jokes in the 1945 Road to Utopia has Bob Hope sighting the Paramount mountain and claiming that there's gold in them thar hills. The shot in Space Jam of Daffy DuckTM kissing his own ass, which is stamped with a Warner Bros.TM logo, isn't quite the same kind of in-joke; it's a way of warning us that these characters are all copyrighted from here to eternity. Space Jam's story features aliens who want to kidnap the Warner Bros. characters and enslave them as attractions at an interplanetary theme park. Under the direction of Bugs BunnyTM, the denizens of the land of the Looney TunesTM challenge the invaders to a basketball game, and Bugs goes to our dimension to enlist the aid of Michael JordanTM. The movie teams Bill Murray and Daffy Duck and doesn't give them a joke to work with. That's unforgivable enough, but you get even angrier watching the film's celebration of how playthings of deathless comedic minds like Chuck Jones and Tex Avery have become emblems of a communications company. How can you care if aliens are going to enslave them, when they're enslaved already? (RvB)
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(PG-13; 131 min.) As suffused with authentic Latin tanginess as a Taco Bell, the dramedy Spanglish marks a rare failure for director James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets). Spanglish isessentiallya romance between an illegal-alien maid and her American master. The latter is John (Adam Sandler), a successful restaurateur. His new maid is Flor (Paz Vega, who looks like Penelope Cruz's little sister)good-hearted, hard-working, so forth. The story is narrated in the form of an admissions essay to Princeton written by Flor's daughter, Christina (Shelbie Bruce). John is a hard-working dad without the malicious crudeness that is usual to Sandler's comedy. Hold back Sandler's rage, and his style is flabby and dull. The dissatisfied mom, Deborah (Téa Leoni), goes from impulsive to infantile; it's a lethal role. Spanglish is not a complete misfire. Brooks' time-tested sense of shtick is intacteveryone's got a routine here, even the dog. The scene of Christina simultaneously translating for Paz is as expertly timed as a vaudeville act. But John Seale's stuffy cinematography makes Los Angeles look about as subtropical as Duluth. Brooks' vision is patronizing, in the true sense of that overused wordhe's blithely vague about what the underclass goes through. (RvB)
(R; 106 min.) Espionage films don't have to be logical, but they do have to be fast-moving enough so that the troubling questions don't get a word in edgewise. For the first hour, Spartan moves along with all due speed; David Mamet's Hemingway-like inflection, understatement and repetition is at its best, and the metallic dialogue chimes instead of rattles. The solitary, demanding covert-operations soldier Scott (Val Kilmer) is called into a code-red situationthe president's daughter (Kristen Bell) has disappeared, seemingly under the most sordid of circumstances. It turns out that she's been mistakenly swept up by Arabian white slavers. (Prostituted to the Arab oil sheiks! Now she'll know how her dad, the president, feels.) Scott is the point man on a rescue operation, but at the last minute the girl is found drowned, an obvious ruse. The movie's high point is the arrival of a swarm of dead-faced Midwestern presidential henchmen, including William H. Macy and a very tense Ed O'Neill, sharp, dour and looking as constipated as H.R. Haldeman. Stressing the morose, clipped soldier talk, Mamet, as usual, wanders into late-show plotting and lapses of logic. And the essential story is like a man committing murder to cover up a case of shoplifting. Still, Mamet's attention to the visuals is a breakthrough. The atmosphere of ruthless competition between men is reflected in the comfortless, even science fiction-like cityscapes of airports and bunkers, such as the motto in big letters on the wall of an Army training center: "A Goddess Lives Here. Her Name is Victory." Kilmer may not be one of the best actors around, but he has that quality the best ones have, which is that he's getting more interesting as he decays with the years. He plays a man on guard for so long, he's forgotten what he's guarding. The classical illusion to the frightening Spartans doesn't seem overreached here, and it's clear (unlike so many directors that try to enshrine the military virtues) that Mamet's more on the side of the Athenians. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Todd McFarlane's boring comic book is transferred into a suitably boring movie. A killer from the CIA is killed; he is given a chance to come back from the grave to see his wife again if he becomes a warrior for Satan. In his new "Hellspawn" form, Spawn goes after the people who set him up, especially Martin Sheen, who is carrying out a world-domination scheme, laughing a hearty villains' cackle at the thought of the apocalypse. Spawn's premise is a Batman knockoff: What if Batman could kill people with big chains that sprouted out of his body? What if the Joker was a demon who was fat and said obscene things and, instead of being the hero's enemy, was sort of his sidekick? But there's no way to write about Spawn without making it sound like more fun than it is; some interesting computer effects punctuate a shamefacedly derivative movie shaped out of other movie's taglines, attempted comic relief by John Leguizamo's repulsive Clown. Comic-book fans won't think it's violent enough, and everyone else will be grossed out. The moral of the story is a weird match of Christianity and Zen ethics: Violence is terrible, literally damnableunless you control your emotions when you use it. (RvB)
(Unrated; 73 min.) Documentary on the life of top violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The showings coincide with her featured concert with the Cabrillo Music Festival orchestra.
Alien DNA has been sent to us via radio signals, so government scientists have decided to splice some human genes with itjust to see what pops up. The result is "Sil," a topless killer who prowls L.A., morphing, mating and killing. Until the halfway point, Species is enjoyably bad, sporting as it does an outstandingly terrible script by Dennis Feldman. The team of experts tracking Sil, as overqualified a group of actors as ever stared down a bug-eyed monster, wallows in wretched dialogue fit for Whit Bissell, John Agar and Lyle Talbot. Wallowees include Forest Whitaker, Albert Molina, Michael Madsen and Ben Kingsley. A routine bug hunt at the end fails to raise the pulse. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) It's unfortunate that despite the success of the Alien series, the sophisticated sci-fi thriller Species was greeted with such little enthusiasm, though noted design wiz H.R. Giger was the visionary behind the creatures in both series. If it was the aggressive sexual nature of Sil (Natasha Henstridge) that turned people off, maybe the male predator in Species II will be less jarring. Astronaut Patrick Ross (the stone-faced Justin Lazard) becomes infected with alien DNA during a mission to Mars and, upon his return, begins a violent one-man breeding marathon to populate the planet with his offspring. Original cast members Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger reunite to stop this global disaster and enlist the help of Eve (Henstridge), Sil's more subdued genetic duplicate. This surprisingly good sequel pushes boundaries with the graphic sexual nature of the aliens and the uncomfortably realistic gore. Like Species, the biggest flaw in Species II is the lame open-ended climax. (SQ)
(PG-13; 133 min.) A crashing bore. While vacationing in the Caribbean, Sandra Bullock and her new cop-boyfriend, Jason Patric, foil a scheme by cyber-wizard/explosives expert/vengeful madman Willem Dafoe to steal a bunch of diamonds and wreck their cruise ship. Director Jan De Bont (Speed, Twister) has a problem with premature climaxhe blows his wad on the shipwreck, making for a limp finaleand even greater problems with plausibility, which he tries to hide with an overabundance of explosions and electronic gizmos. One thing he can't hide: Speed 2 is dead in the water. (BC)
(1963/1967) The three godfathers of anime, together again. Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy (nee Tetsuwan Atom: "Mighty Atom") wasn't the first Japanese animated show, but the dubbed version brought to the states by producer Fred Ladd captivated Yankee kids years before Pokémon. It's Pinocchio, basically, featuring a flying humanoid robot instead of a puppet. According to Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy's Anime Encyclopedia, Stanley Kubrick was so taken by the show that he offered Tezuka a job as production designer on 2001. Nothing came of it, except, perhaps, A.I., decades later. Gigantor (doing business in Japan as Tetsujin 28-go, or Ironman #28) is an early animated treatment of the eternal giant-robot story. Interestingly, Tetsujin/Gigantor was originally supposed to be a vintage Imperial Army war surplus robot who never got a shot at the United States. Quite rehabilitated from the war, this "bigger-than-big, stronger-than-strong" robot took care of Japan's underworld, under the guidance of young Jimmy Sparks, an animated character aptly considered the luckiest little boy in the world by most 6-year-olds in 1963. Speed Racer (a.k.a. Mach 5, Go Go Go!), from 1967, needs no introduction. Monkey-navigated race cars, once considered a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, are now a part of the amazing future in which we live. (Plays Aug 27 at sunset in San Jose, in the Circle of Palms adjacent to the San Jose Museum of Art; free; please, no outside food or drink.) (RvB)
(1928/1924) An enchanting Harold Lloyd comedy about "Speedy" Swift, a lad too befuddled by baseball to hold down an honest job. His girlfriend's grandpa is the owner/operator of the last horse-drawn trolley in New York City. The traction monopoly has hired leg-breakers to put the old man out of business. Lloyd outfoxes the thugs as he tours New York in extensive footage that's so detailed that it's like a time machine voyagethe film includes a captivating extended sequence at the long-gone amusement park Luna Park. Babe Ruth turns up in a small part, to be greeted enthusiastically by Lloyd's Speedy: "Gee, Babe, you've done more for baseball than cheese did for Switzerland!" BILLED WITH Hot Water. Another ripping one by Lloyd, this time about the dangers of marriage. He's a newlywed husband carrying home too many groceriesand a live and angry turkey henon a crowded street car. Before the evening is through, our hero has wrecked his new car, gotten drunk and murdered his somnambulist mother-in-law with chloroformor so he thinks. Lloyd's pretty co-star from The Kid Brother, Jobyna Ralston, returns as his wife. As the "corpse" (a temperance lecturer, so she got exactly what was coming to her), Josephine Crowell executes a double take that belongs in the Double Take Hall of Fame. Dennis James at the Wurlitzer. (RvB)
(PG-13; 132 min.) You'd think that everyone would know by now that whenever the U.S. government calls you in to examine alien spacecraft, the end result is usually gruesome death or psychological torture. Still, Dustin Hoffman (who teams with director Barry Levinson for their second film in a few months), Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson journey 20,000 leagues under the sea to poke around a crashed 300-year-old spaceship and the mysterious golden sphere it houses. But Sphere (based on a Michael Crichton book) is not purely about gratuitous gore, and it emerges as an engagingly tense psychological sci-fi thriller. Hoffman and Stone turn in good performances, but it's Jackson's creepy act that's more chilling than most creatures Hollywood special effects could create. (KR)
(PG; 93 min.) The Fab Five (Scary, Ginger, Baby, Posh and Sporty) are planning a big tour but are being hounded by a ruthless tabloid photographer, their type-A manager and a daffy documentary crew. Of course, the lasses have little time for such matters. They are more concerned with the condition of Nicola (a pre-fame Spice) who couldn't be down because she got pregnant. Well, she's about to have a baby, and the girls must decide what is more important: keeping engagements or girl power. Preteens probably won't get the British humor and won't be able to keep up with the flashbacks and the flash-forwards, but so what? Spice World moves along at a brisk pace, and the Spice Girls provide plenty of candy for the eyes and ears. (TSI)
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(PG-13; 125 min.) A stunner, with a rich mixture of acrobatics, action, character development and the kind of operatic superhero grandeur that made so many people addicts in their youths. Tobey Maguire returns as both the selfless but never humorless heroa direct descendant of Harold Lloyd's scurrying go-getters from the silent era. In Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon, the psycho Dolarhyde is described as "not a monster but a man with a monster on his back," and that's what's after Spider-Man in this sequel: the maddened scientist Dr. Otto Octavius, "Dr. Octopus" (Alfred Molina), a bigger, badder spider who can follow our hero wherever he hides. Kirsten Dunst is excellent as the love of Parker's life, who is slipping out of his orbit. The human drama of Parker's poverty-plagued life contrasts with his adventures in the skies. Director Sam Raimi handles the sometimes frightful battle scenes as well as he handles the inspired comedy. There have been few movies that delivered the flamboyant promise of superhero film as well as this. Yet one loves Spider-Man 2 the most for not forgetting how hard it is to live on the ground. (RvB)
The annual gross-out animation fest returns with 20 brand-new films including, Steve Margolis' "Animalistic Times," Liam Hogan and Trevor Watson's "Below the Belt" andgo figureScott Roberts' "Monica Banana." The festival also features in uncensored form "Frosty" and of course "The Spirit of Christmas" by the new gurus of cartoon crudeness, Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
(Unrated) Twenty-three films, with only two reruns this time. One of the reruns is Breehn Burn's very funny if overlong Here Comes Dr. Tran, about a mild little boy being scandalized by a macho narrator, and one of Craig McCracken's one-joke No Neck Joe shorts. There are three nominally new Happy Tree Friends pieces by Mondo Media, with the usual animal cruelty, and three new pieces by Bill Plympton. Unseen by our reviewers. (Plays at Camera 12 in San Jose.) (RvB)
A daylong fest of films related to the Sikh experience, including documentaries, made-for-on-line shorts and feature films. Highlights: Priceless Being a Sikh, New Mexico's Sat Bir Singh's parody of the Mastercard commercials. Kavi Raz directs and stars in The Gold Bracelet (2006), which played at last year's Cinequest. It's the story of Arjun Singh and his family, and their life in California, where they face everything from assimilation to discrimination. The film is inspired by the real-life tragedy of a Sikh who was shot by a hate-addled American who thought he was avenging the World Trade Center. (Raz and writer Tami Yaegar will be attending.) Saka Sirhind demonstrates the historical irony behind the killing of Sikhs by our deluded would-be patriots who got blood in their eye when they saw a turban. This is an animated version of the martyrdom of the two children of Guru Gobind Singh, who refused to convert to Islam. Professor Narindra Singh directed this as well as the equally instructive short Sikhs Protect America, about an FBI agent of that faith. Dominic Ozanne's Who Do You Think You Are, Gurinder Chadha, is a profile of the director of Bend it Like Bendham and the locally shot The Mistress of Spices. In Amu, the American-raised Kazu (Konkona Sensharma) arrives in Dehli, feeling caught between two worlds. In the flashback sequences, writer-director Shonali Bose recalls the anti-Sikh violence following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, violence the director saw firsthand working at the relief camps. On hand is the film's co-producer Dr. Bedabrata Pain. (Plays Feb 3 in Palo Alto at Stanford's Cubberly Auditorium; www.bayareawheel.com.) (RvB)
(G; 82 min.) Animated horses cavort in the Old West. Matt Damon voices the title equine.
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(Unrated; 120 min.) Vietnamese-American filmmaker Victor Vu demonstrates just how shuddery a ghost story can be. In a series of three interlocking stories, we learn of the fate of a young writer named Loc (Tuan Cuong). In the first episode, "The Visitor," Loc comes to reside in a remote bungalow on the edge of a cane field. As in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, the fault is not in the people who lived there but in the house itself. At first, Loc is tended by a mysterious, otherworldly woman named Hoa (Kathy Nguyen). In the following episodes"Only Child" and "The Diviner"Vu follows up Loc's storytelling us how he wrote a well-known novel about the ghost he met and how he tried to commit suicide to be with her. After he's well again, the house has its vengeance on Loc's new wife, Linh (Kathleen Luong). "The Diviner" is where the ghosts take final possession of Loc and the house. Sadness and pity run through Spirits, sharpening its horror. Vu uses a minimum of gore, special effects and makeup; the good-looking film's three-part structure has shape and balance as well as uncanniness. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 115 min.) Percy (Allison Elliott), after a stretch in the Maine State Prison, is given a job in a small Maine town at the Spitfire Grill. Crusty owner Hannah (Ellen Burstyn) isn't getting around as well as she ought to be, and so the young girl keeps the Spitfire going. Two men complicate the blissful picture: Nahum (Will Patton), the mean husband of the grill's other employee, the slow-witted Shelby (Marcia Gay Harden); and Eli (John M. Jackson), a sort of wild man of the forest. The Spitfire Grill is a Shirley Temple movie for the New Age in which the girl of bad background meets and overcomes prejudice with her selflessness and charm. First-time director/writer Lee David Zlotoff is the man who invented MacGyver, and the movie plays like prestige televisionsoftly, tastefully. It's asking a lot from a young actress like Elliott to make this relentlessly slick tale breathe and to keep up her end of scenes with an actress as good as Harden. What really makes The Spitfire Grill frustrating is its message-bearing. Zlotoff is trying to tell us something about how it takes a village etc. The film is not meant to be watched so much as cuddled, but as shabbily written as it is, it represents the people-oriented alternative to the bullying actioner. (RvB)
(PG; 90 min.) In his first big-screen adventure, the titular sea creature and his best friend Patrick journey on an epic quest to retrieve King Neptune's lost crown and save the town of Bikini Bottom from the evil Plankton. Of course, many important life lessons about being yourself and the power of children can be found in the film, but as with the popular Nickelodeon show, the emphasis here is on the weird humor. We're talking David Hasslehoff-turning-into-a-human-power-boat-with-pectoral-launching-capabilities-weird. It's this and countless other insanely random touches that make The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie an inevitable hit with its other targeted demographic: stoned teenagers. (JL)
(Unrated; 90 min.) Anime icon Katsuhiro Otomo served as "General Supervisor" for this Indiana Jones-inspired popcorn anime that's highlighted by stunningly animated action sequences but feels slight in comparison to Otomo's landmark Akira. Spriggan centers on a plot to unearth Noah's Ark, which gives whoever possesses it the power to control the weather and wipe out mankind. To keep the ark from falling into the wrong hands, American scientists turn to the hotheaded, lethal Yu, a 16-year-old Japanese member of the Spriggan supersoldier squad. (The name "Spriggan" doesn't exactly paralyze the viewer with fear like it does the movie's characters. "Spriggan" sounds more like a certain notorious daytime talk-show host with a penchant for staging fistfights.) The film's main villain is an amusing choice: a spoiled American supergenius kid with psionic powers. The genetically engineered little snot gives a speech about how the free world's new post-Cold War enemy is the polluted environment, which comes off dated after recent events. (JA)
(R; 103 min.) Buddhism: so beautiful, so simple, so drastic. Buddhists would likely respond that suffering on Earth is so terrible that it requires a drastic remedy. Behind a gateless gate, five episodes take place in a serenely beautiful place of worship, a tiny floating temple in a mountain lake in South Korea. Near this small temple, an apprentice monk's first childish act of cruelty leads to exile from the world of worship in favor of the world of flesh. Finally, after much off-screen torment, he returns to repentance and the simple life. It's easy to see why this superb import has picked up a word-of-mouth audience in Northern California. Its stealthy observations of the seasons and the natural world recall Rivers and Tides, the Andy Goldsworthy documentary. Director Kim Ki-Duk (The Lake) brings a hardheaded approach to Buddhist purity. As in Zen, the struggle to master the senses and the desires is a species of war, not for the weak. It should be warned that the early sequence of the boy's wanton mistreatment of a small fish and reptiles is a little hard for the sensitive, as is the borderline mishandling of a cat, whose tail is used as a sumi brush to ink the Pranja Paramita Sutra on the deck of the temple. (The cat forgives and forgets, though; it's just all part of the road to transition to a higher form of life.) (RvB)
(R; 105 min.)The premise of this stereotype-ridden comedy directed by and starring Rusty Cundieff (Fear of a Black Hat) is, as one of the female stars declares, "All [black] men are dogs." Cundieff plays Montel, a sweet-tempered type, whose buddy Clyde (Joe Torry) is sex-obsessed. Their female counterparts are Brandy (Tisha Campbell) and Adina (Paula Jai Parker). When fate brings Brandy and Montel together, their conniving "friends" put aside their differences to keep them separated. In the end, of course, their perfidy backfires. Unhappily, what could have been a cute comedy about black men and women hitting it off, as opposed to hitting out at one another, is subverted by clownish stereotyping. (NB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) It isn't easy to parody spy moviesthey're already parodies. Even Roger Moore admitted that James Bond was patently silly as he wheezed into his 50s, still wenching around like a Stanford fratboy high on cavier and vodka martinis. Spy Hard looks like it was written by a couple of former college roommatesJason Friedberg (whose father, Rick Friedberg, directed) and Aaron Seltzerbut it's at least as funny as any of Leslie Nielsen's Naked Gun series. Nielsen is glamorous superspy Dick Steele, chasing down long-legged brunettes and the self-styled "General" Rancor (Andy Griffith), who plans to ... to ... well, whatever it is, it's really bad. The jokes are really bad too, which is good. They range from references to at least a dozen moviesTrue Lies, Rambo, Potemkinto "Weird Al" Yankovic's John Barry-esque theme song. The extremely silly title sequence, which Yankovic directed, should be enough to get at least a grin from Maurice Binder fans everywhere. (BC)
(PG; 88 min.) There's more style and personality than is usually found in kid's movies here, because of Tarantino collaborator Robert Rodriguez (director of El Mariachi, From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado). Rodriguez was the total-filmmaker here (editing, writing, directing, and co-producing with his wife, Elizabeth Avellan). Spy Kids has a Latino flavor, too. It's set matter-of-factly in a fantasy version of Mexico, the way American movies are set matter-of-factly in a fantasy version of the United States. Antonio Banderas plays "Gregorio Cortez," (a reference to a pioneering Chicano film) a great secret agent who retired to become a consultant; his wife Ingrid (Carla Gugino, bland as a Taco Bell enchirito) is also an ex-agent. The kidnapping of active agents brings them back on duty. The Blofeld here is the host of a gloppy kid's TV show played by Alan Cumming (as "Fegan Floop," coasting a little too close to Willy Wonka in his purple Edwardian velveteen wardrobe), who is building child-bots to conquer the world. When Floop's forces track down the two agents, only Cortez's childrenbossy elder Carmen (Alexa Vega) and the younger clumsy son Juni (Daryl Sabara)can foil the plot. Rodriguez is a fine kid-wrangler, as seen from his episode in Four Rooms and the movie has throughout the refreshing sense that here's an adult director not talking down to the children. Still, Spy Kids is uneven at best, veering in mood from Roald Dahl to Sid and Marty Kroft; some heavy sentiment made me think the actual director had been "Señor Spielbergo, the Spielberg of Mexico" as seen on The Simpsons. (RvB)
(PG) A film made to be played over and over in a DVD by kids loses a certain something on the big screen. It seems overburdened, busy and brash; the actors always seem inundated by the flood of effects. Of course that could be said about 50 percent of all movies today, and unlike many kids' movies, Spy Kids 2 seems handmade by someone who has a child's sweet tooth and love for carnival colors. In this opus, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) head for a Mysterious Island off the coast of Madagascar in search of a stolen "transmooker," which short-circuits electrical devices. The tropical island is inhabited by a weird professor (Steve Buscemi) and dozens of gene-spliced animals of various size as well as "skeletons! Dead ones!" Meanwhile, the kids' parents (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino) ride to the rescue. The opening sequence at a hilariously dangerous amusement park is the highlight, but again the casual Latinness of the movie is also worth celebratingthe film takes place as much in Aztlan as in Disneyland. (RvB)
(PG) Juni (Daryl Sabara) comes out of retirement to rescue his ungrateful big sister, Carmen (Alexa Vega); her brain has been trapped in a computer game by the sinister Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Cameos include appearances by George Clooney, Salma Hayek, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub and Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas, the latter two who only turn up at the end. Significantly, auteur Robert Rodriguez refers to this film as "a digital file." Watching it is like participating in a video game in which the contests (races and fights) are all physical; Juni doesn't really get much of a chance to match his wits against anything. In 3-D, this newest Spy Kids is impressive both as a technical feat and an eye ache. A treat for kids who have never seen a 3-D film, it's perhaps the least appealing of the series to adults; moreover, Sabara has to carry the picture, and it's a task he's not up to either in human form or cyber form. (RvB)
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(R; 80 min.) This funny and scarifying divorce movie set in mid-1980s Brooklyn is the dream project of Noah Baumbach (co-scripter of The Life Aquatic; director of 1995's Kicking and Screaming, New Yorker occasional-piece writer and heir presumptive to Woody Allen). The tormented Berkman family members enjoy the magic unique to joint custody. Boys Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) go wild as their newly divorced parents carry out a clash of egos. The father, Bernard (Jeff Daniels), is appalling: Daniels is a marvel playing as fatuous and snobbish a minor novelist as ever wore badger beard or corduroy coat. Though Daniels' awfulness is dazzling, don't miss the passive manipulations of the mother, Joan (Laura Linney), who uses her children as a sounding board for her sexual adventures. The film is more than just white whine, thanks to Baumbach's urgency and shrewdness. (RvB)
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(R; 105 min.) Director Richard Eyre's cross between Shakespeare in Love and All About Eve also includes nuggetsand why?of Peter Greenaway's The Draughstman's Contract. Based on Jeffrey Hatcher's didactic play, Stage Beauty concerns the legalization of women on the English stage in the 1660s. The popular transvestite actor Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is a public favorite; after-hours, Ned is also the secret "mistress" of the Duke of Buckingham (Ben Chapin), prime minister and best chum of the king. The would-be actress Maria (Claire Danes) loves Ned hopelessly. When the ban is lifted against actresses, Ned becomes obsolete. Ironically, Maria may be a woman, but she's an untried actress. The two must coach each other. She teaches him how to be a man onstageand to be a man in the bedroom. There's something about this plot to disquiet gay and straight audiences alike. It's well art-directed, anyway, with the mucky crowd scenes, shadowy palaces and rickety, septic theaters. Crudup is one of the best-looking men in the movies, but he's crucially miscast here. Despite how hard he has worked, and despite the risk he takes, it's hard to believe him as the androgynous toast of London. They needed David Bowie and they got James Taylor. (RvB)
(1939/1952) During an Apache uprising, a stagecoach full of mixed souls makes a perilous trip to Lordsburg, N.M. This film's high reputation comes from its complex plot, inspired by Maupassant's short story "Boule de Suif," only with an improbably happy ending. John Ford's direction drew in a crowd that customarily avoided horse operas as kid stuff. Stagecoach is a story of the closing of the West, with the gunslingers, the whores and the gamblers on their way out of town. These colorful characters are about to be replaced by the "blessings of civilization," as a well-known line of dialogue has it. Blessings, that is, like the skinny peddler Mr. Peacock (Donald Meek) and the fat, embezzling banker Gatewood (Berton Churchill). Their fellow passenger, the drunk Irish doctor Josiah Boone (Thomas Mitchell), gets plenty of screen time and many of the best scenes, including this corny favorite: rallying for a medical emergency, the drunken sawbones calls thickly for "Coffee. Lots of it. Black." Mitchell, who played Scarlett's father in Gone With the Wind, is plainly the actor Ford found the most interesting here. Doc Boone is a comic Irish role, but often you wince with Mitchell instead of just at him. Boone drools a little when he's deeply drunk, and Bert Glennon's photography gives this sponging character dark shadows. (Boone was supposed to be an army surgeon during the Civil War; maybe what he saw there turned him to the booze.) While Claire Trevor's shamed but gold-hearted prostitute Dallas has her own realistically tough moments, Stagecoach made a major star out of the tall, courtly B-picture actor who played an outlaw named the Ringo Kid. And millions since have found a kind of music in the phrasings of John Wayne's confident voice. The remarkable finale is still rousing: three dozen horsemen in pursuit of the stagecoach across a dry lake bed. Enos "Yakima" Canutt's stunt and second-unit work here is still astonishing, if maybe compromised by timethe modern viewer might be too aware of all of that horseflesh murdered by trip wires. (Old-time cowboy star William S. Hart doubted Stagecoach's big chase scene anyway, commenting that the Apaches were usually smart enough to pick off a stagecoach's ponies first.) BILLED WITH The Quiet Man, Ford's Irish adventure, with Wayne as a transplanted American boxer and Victor McLaglen as the stubborn brawler he takes on in one of the screen's most famous fistfights. (RvB)
(1937) George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's comedy/drama about aspiring actresses sharing a boarding house; the film co-stars Katharine Hepburn, Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers, Ann Miller and a brilliant cat named Whitey (who earned $25 a day for his part). (RvB)
(1950/1941) Marlene Dietrich is at the door. She's wearing a pleated dress covered with dried blood. "Johnny, you love me?" she asks the startled man letting her into his apartment. "Please tell me you love me." Nothing can follow an opener like that, especially not the rest of this moderately entertaining British mystery. Stage Fright is set around the environs of the postwar Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Johnny, we learn, was the love slave of Dietrich's Charlotte Inwood, a noted actress. He was so in love, in fact, that upon Charlotte's request Johnny stupidly stole into her apartment to fetch a clean dress for her. Naturally, he was caught in the act by the maid, even as he was stepping over the corpse of Dietrich's late husband, who had recently been corrected with a fireplace poker. Anyway, what's really interesting to director Alfred Hitchcock here is the device of Eve (Jane Wyman), a novice actress posing as a maid to get the goods on Dietrich, and the theater world setting. A highlight: Dietrich sighing out the Cole Porter number "I'm the Laziest Girl in Town," later parodied by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles. The film also stars Alistair Sim, the comic relief as Eve's roguish dad, a down-at-the-heels pleasure-boater who calls himself "Commodore"; Miles Malleson, who played the versifying hangman from Kind Hearts and Coronets; and Patricia Hitchcock, the director's daughter, playing a girl nicknamed "Chubby." BILLED WITH Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a film featuring the arthritic old comic plot of two people who aren't sure that their marriage is really legal. Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery, in midquarrel, learn that a shifting state line has nulled-out their marriage. The most Hitchcockian part of this near-uncanonical comedy is a scene of the couple's first meeting at an awful Italian restaurant, which I guess you could link to similar ghastly dining experiences in both Rich and Strange and Frenzy. Auteurism only goes so far, however, and the Norman Krasna script epitomizes the gimmicky, forced comedy of the Studio Age. During the filming of this movie, Hitchcock made an indelicate remark about how actors ought to be treated like cattle. To get revenge, Lombard had three live cows brought to the set. It was her last film before the masterpiece To Be or Not to Be and her subsequent untimely death in a plane crash; of all the cool blondes Hitchcock worshipped, she was the wittiest. (RvB)
(1986) River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland look impossibly young (and they were) in this nostalgic movie about boyhood friendships based on Stephen King's short story The Body.
As part of the ongoing Stanford Jazz Festival, there will be a program titled "Hot Giner and Dynamite!" featuring film footage of jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker and Louis Armstrong. The evening is hosted by jazz collector Mark Cantor.
(1954) The classic version of the story of the rising star versus the falling star, with Judy Garland as the singer who is brought to fame by her husband, the hard-drinking actor Norman Maine (James Mason). It's Garland's most interestingly high-strung roleshe sings the tense, pain-drenched saloon song "The Man Who Got Away." The performances certainly aren't on the nose; Garland looks nearer to ruin than her co-star; she's as brittle as glass. Mason, on the other hand, looks as if he has years of coasting left in him. As indeed he did. (RvB)
(PG; 101 min.) This is one of those rare cases where the previews actually make the movie look worse than it is. Granted, Star Kid is hardly a standout, but minus a few stereotypes, it could pass as decently entertaining fare for older kids, thanks to its young star, Joseph Mazzello (Jurassic Park), who turns in a winning performance. Mazzello plays Spencer, an unhappy boy who stumbles across a prototype of alien technology accidentally sent to Earth, a "cybersuit," kind of an intelligent suit of armor with super powers and a negligible personality. Kids will probably enjoy some of the stunts Spencer pulls off when he dons the high-tech suit, especially his means of getting even with the neighborhood bully. Unfortunately, the novelty of the alien suit soon wears thin, and in the last half of the movie, the filmmakers seem to have been thinking a bit like Spencer when he first puts on the cybersuitthey're so caught up in how cool it is, they're not really sure what to do next. (HZ)
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(R; 105 min.) Dr. Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto) travels the back roads of post-WWII Sicily with a sound truck and a scam. He claims to be a talent scout for the Italian movies, filming screen tests for those who can afford it. His tests open up the souls of the villagers, who rewrite their audition lines from Gone With the Wind according to their own humors: "Give it to me, Scarlett," demands a mafioso. It's a delightful picaresque that turns dour when director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) points both barrels of a Marxist/Catholic conscience on the hustler by adding a good-hearted village girl to put him in the right frame of mind for punishment. (RvB)
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(R; 95 min.) A young man strives to be a movie star in an independent feature written and directed by Miguel Arteta. Stars Douglas Span.
(R; 126 min.) The first utopian fascist movie since the end of the Third Reich. By rooting for the computer-generated insectsarachnids from the planet Klendathuyou can have an OK time. The gory combat between perfect people and perfect bugs lacks the humanity of, say, 2,000 Maniacs. Robert Heinlein apparently considered himself the last of the centurions when he wrote the source novel. Life in the hills near Santa Cruz later mellowed Heinlein into a militant libertarian, but director Paul Verhoeven includes the writer's earlier ultramontaine politics here uncritically: the failure of democracy is taught in school, only ex-soldiers can vote, floggings are therapeutic. Verhoeven stages the future as Beverly Hills 2100; the perky unknowns resemble action figures and dolls. As a sop to the liberals, the future is sex-equal. Someone in production design had a little in-joke by placing the official-looking initials "FTA" all over the Starship Troopers' boot camp; every ex-soldier knows what "FTA" stands for. As a quick antidote, read Harry Harrison's Heinlein parody, Bill, the Galactic Hero. (The first reader to call my voice-mail with the name of the character in Harrison's novel stolen for the movie Men in Black wins a prize.) (RvB)
(PG-13; 97 min.) Director Todd Phillips is hard to figure out. He started his career 10 years ago with a fantastic documentary of murder-rock psycho G.G. Allin called Hated; since then he's done frat movies like Old School and the much better Road Trip. Now he seems to be onto remakes of '70s TV shows, with Starsky & Hutch this year and The Six Million Dollar Man next year. I hated the idea for this movie, but I have to admit the casting of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as S&H is brilliant. And Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear? I smell Oscar! (Capsule preview by SP)
(1943) Eddie Bracken plays a sailor on leave from the war; he comes to visit his father (Victor Moore), who is employed as a security guard at Paramount Studio. The old man decidesunder the influence of switchboard girl Betty Huttonto pretend to be the head of the studio. From that misunderstanding grows a revue that rallies pretty much all the actors on the Paramount lot. Stars: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, Ray Milland, Dick Powell, Alan Ladd, "Rochester" Anderson, Preston Sturges (making a rare before-the-camera appearance) and many more. The film made a hit out of the Johnny Mercer number "Black Magic." (RvB)
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(PG-13; 105 min.) The aliens running loose in the eighth Star Trek film are the Borg: half-machine hive-society creatures. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) flies to 2063 to head off the Borg at the past, setting off a messy tri-form story. Firstly, Picard fights off an infestation of Borg on the Enterprise; secondly, the subsidiary members of the crew try to help out Zefram Cochrane, the hungover inventor of Warp Drive. Thirdly, Data is alternatively seduced and tortured by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige). Somewhere in this story of conflict between the Borg and humans is a study of conflict between inhuman perfection and the fallibility but warmth of flesh. Picard's dilemma at being both an icy commander and a brittle human being reflects the issue, so do Data's ambitions to be a humanas poignantly staged as the dilemma of a colonized man trying to imitate the manners of the colonials. (RvB)
(PG; 103 min.) Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) leads a guerrilla action to prevent the genocide of a band of peaceful Luddites, while Lt. Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also directed) takes the Enterprise into battle against a horde of (literally) corrupt space aliens. The second Next Generation ensemble piece is an entertaining mix of action, jokes and romance, free of unpleasant surprisesgood triumphs over evil, love conquers all, Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) has trouble with the warp core, etc.which is exactly what it should be.(BC)
(1982) Star Trek always played with nautical imagery. But here, though, is the only installment in the franchise that really seems like a high-seas adventure. Kirk matches up against a Melville-quoting space pirate (gorgeously played by Ricardo Montalban). The directing (by Nicholas Meyer) and acting is of a uniformly high leveleven Shatner, monarch of hams, is moved to a truly moving performance. Reliably humdrum television hacks Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig and Kirstie Alley (as a perky Vulcanette) similarly reach into themselves to find fuel for something epic. (RvB)
(PG; 125 min.) The Star Wars trilogynow being rereleased in cleaned-up printsis a roller-coaster ride so technically precise that it convinced a lot of politicians and defense contractors it could be built in real life. The general passion for the Star Wars movies is probably due to the fact that it was the first real movie a lot of grownup children saw. The new prints feature some revamped explosions and sound effects, and some new scenes of Jabba the Hut, with a stuck-pig expression on his face just like the one Casper the Friendly Ghost used to get when he used to discover someone teasing a bunny. (RvB)
(PG; 142 min.) The highlight is a scene on a colossal assembly line, derived from the great Bob Clampett/Daffy Duck cartoon Baby Bottleneck: Jumbo stamping machines try to make robots out of the characters. Maybe the assembly line should have won. Then again, perhaps the film will look a whole better remastered for the giant IMAX screen. Either the special effects will be overwhelming, or you'll really be able to pick them apart.
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(PG-13; 140 min.) The long-hoped-for summer-box-office savior is no masterpiece, but unlike the last two episodes, Sith happens. Though tempted to the Dark Side by his enormous fortune, George Lucas decided to add some actual political commentary to Episode IIIRevenge of the Sith (Anakin: "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy!" Obi-Wan: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes!"), which shows that there are some things even escapism can't escape. Lucas' epic films inflamed some all-too-easily inflamed imaginations. They spawned Star Wars weaponry, Ronald Reagan's deep thoughts about the Evil Empire and the names of Enron's imaginary subsidiary companies. So this last-minute identification of Bush's conquistador policies with the Dark Force is something of a real shock. Revenge of the Sith is as episodic as its predecessors. The interplanetary scenes are once again pasted together with bizarrely shaped computerized wipes. Still, this keystone in the Star Wars series proceeds, in its own square-wheeled way, to an operatic point: the Chancellor becoming the Emperor, and the Jedi scattered from their temple. If technology is what this way-too-sexless sextet is about, the tech side has improved dramatically since the last one. Episode III looks light-years better than its two predecessors. The computerized color palette has grown more sophisticated, yet more natural. Pity there was no technology advanced enough to repair Hayden Christensen's essential lack of mojo (apparently only evil can give you mojo, since Vader has plenty of it). The Emperor is probably right. Resistance is futile. The Star Wars saga is made up of basically terrible movies, but it has achieved stature just by being around so long. The old movie Force is with these films; they are suffused with the personalities of everything that went before themall those Errol Flynn and Flash Gordon matinees. Even if you know better, you can't resist reverberating inside while watching the Emperor knight his new apprentice: "From this day forward, you shall be known as Darth Vader!" The clunkiness just adds to the charm. (RvB)
(1945) Rodgers and Hammerstein's bucolic musical remake of a 1933 Will Rogers picture, featuring the adventures of a farm family and their prize hog, Blue Boy. The film is best remembered for its catchy theme song and the ballad "It Might As Well Be Spring." (RvB)
(R; 98 min.) Marc Forster is either the world's most underrated or overrated director, depending on who you're screaming about it with. Personally, I think his Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland are the kind of movies that seem notable while you're watching them but, as Ricky Roma says of great meals in Glengarry Glen Ross, fade with time. However, you can't say he doesn't have range; this latest film is a Twilight Zone-type thriller about Ewan McGregor being haunted by visions of the dead. (Capsule preview by SP)
When hoity-toity psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) inherits troubled young patient Henry (Ryan Gosling), who is insistent on committing suicide on his upcoming 21st birthday, Sam tries everything he can to change young Henry's mind. But drawing himself into Henry's troubles proves to be a poor decision. The worse decision? Going to see Stay. The storyline exists to serve a plethora of cinematic tricks that overload the film so badly that a junior-college film student wouldn't want to take credit for it, and the whole thing serves up a twist ending so simplistic and insulting that it belongs in the trash bin of a Twilight Zone writer's office. (JL)
(PG-13; 134 min.) You'll wonder if this is a film about a family land war or the Second Coming, so pure and good is the hero of Steal Big, Steal Little. Big-hearted Ruben Martinez (Andy Garcia) finds himself in a legal brouhaha with his amoral twin brother, Robby Martin (also played by Garcia), when their wealthy adoptive mother bequeaths her enormous Santa Barbara estate to the trustworthy but easily duped Ruben. For those of us unfamiliar with the inner workings of property law, the legal battle that ensues becomes one more obstacle in an already confusing story that's crammed with numerous interesting ideas and yet too many uninteresting characters. Robby and his land-developer cohorts are ridiculously evil, and Ruben, although likable, is niceness to the point of nausea. The film does celebrate a bit of California's Mexican heritage and makes a few timely jabs at immigration laws even in its heavy-handed proclamations that land "ownership" often means nothing more than a piece of paper. (HZ)
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(R; 119 min.) The snoozy new Bernardo Bertolucci film represents Bertolucci's return to moviemaking in Italy after an international career with such films as The Last Emperor and Little Buddha. Hence, it is a working vacationa few snoozy summer days of lolling in the Tuscan hills with friends, gossiping, drinking wine and trooping down to the nearest town for some pizza. This group of vacationers is finally stirred by the arrival of Lucy Harmon (Liv Tyler), a gorgeous young American virgin seemingly doubly impenetrable, by fiat of nationality as well as maidenhead. It is her beauty that our director proposes to steal, and he does so, coasting his camera on her face as she tries to enjoy herself while being perturbed by men, among them Jeremy Irons as a dying house guest intent on one last conquest. I suppose in Bertolucci's view you're either for or against sex, as if it were a ballot initiativehow did the director of Last Tango in Paris ever become so fuzzy-minded? Stealing Beauty is too wispy to be anything but erotica, but it is erotica that stints portions. Sex-positivity, like beauty, isn't enough to sustain a film. (RvB)
(PG-13; 83 min.) Jason Lee and Tom Green will do anything to get a young woman into the nation's educational playpen for the elite.
(PG-13) Has there ever been a good movie about a supervehicle? Firefox? Blue Thunder? Killdozer? The Car? Nope, they all sucked. Well, I kind of liked The Car, actually, but sadly there's no cover of demonic possession here to spice things up. Instead, Jamie Foxxthey must have signed him up pre-Oscar, huh?and Jessica Biel star in a movie about a superplane with an "artificial intelligence program" (the premise-teat from which all frustrated sci-fi screenwriters suck) that goes whackety-whack. They're determined to destroy it, but personally I think they're being hasty. There are plenty of uses for an intelligent bomb-delivery system, like putting Herbie out of his misery once and for all. (Capsule preview by SP)
(Unrated; 96 min.) Orientalism deluxe. Francesco (Alessandro Gassman) plays an unhappily married Milanese businessman who inherits a Turkish bathhouse in Istanbul from his aunt, the black sheep in his family. The bathhouse, once a gay men's club, is the last little piece standing in the way of the bulldozing of its neighborhood by developers. As Francesco gets to know the family who ran the hamam (bathhouse), he becomes convinced that he might be able to fix the place up and run it as in the old days. The spirit of the steambath seems to have taken him over, since he also develops a romantic interest in Mehmet (Mehmet Gunsur), the son of the Turkish family who are his hosts and guides. Despite how director Ferzan Ozpetek describes this as a love story, the culture is more intriguing than the individuals. It's as if the Turks depicted had only two sides, compliant and violent. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 126 min.) In the world of animation, a new film by Katsuhiro Otomo generates the same expectations as George Lucas returning to Star Wars. Arguably the most revolutionary Japanese animated film ever made, Otomo's Akira (1988) helped introduce Americans to this unique genre and increased its popularly a hundredfold. Meanwhile, Otomo kept a low profile, waiting until the mid-'90s to begin Steamboy, a new film that would grow to be perhaps the most expensive and most eagerly anticipated anime of all time. Despite the monumental nature of this event, however, American distributor Sony Pictures has decided to release the film in its full-length, Japanese-subtitled, 120-minute version only in San Francisco and other select cities. Other markets (including San Jose) will instead get an English-dubbed, 106-minute version. I can't comment on the long version, but I suspect that the cutting has the same effect as Miramax's recent butchering of Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer. The basic plot is still there, but the rhythm and, more importantly, the breathing room are gone. The short version careens across the screen with a noisy, unpleasant clatter, the plot points hitting like so many clanging nails. Only a trip to the big city or a look at the future DVD will show if the real Steamboy has any potential. (JMA)
(PG-13; 105 min.) The Hollywood minds must have been hard at work creating this celluloid flophey, why don't we get Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) to star as DC Comics' street-crime-fighting man of steel, fill him up with urban catch phrases and jokes about missed free throws, then pit the chromed superhero against nebulous gunrunner, former Brat Packer and all-around bad actor Judd Nelson. Feeling more like an A-Team episode than a feature film, Steel isn't interesting enough to be taken seriously and isn't smart enough to be funny. Shaq is sincere, trying his dog-gone best to be an actor, and a supporting role by Shaft star Richard Roundtree adds some credibility, but it's not enough to save this battle of slow wits from its childish self. (KR)
(1918) Mary Pickford was nicknamed "America's Sweetheart" because of her immense popularity with moviegoers during the teens and 1920s. Later, her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks Sr. made the two of them the most famous couple in Hollywood. Though Pickford was best known as a spunky, virginal sprite of indeterminate age, she was also a keen businesswoman: "It took longer to make one of Mary's contracts than it took to make one of Mary's pictures," the producer Samuel Goldwyn once said. Here, Pickford plays a dual role, as a rich lady and her servant, a crippled girl. Silent.
(R; 80 min.) Celebrity impersonation has rightly been considered a rung below plate spinning in the world of entertainment, and unfortunately, the British import Stella Street doesn't do much to advance the art. This certainly isn't SCTV. Based on a long-running BBC-2 series, its premise is that a quiet southwest London suburban circle has suddenly become the pied-a-terre of A-list Hollywood stars. Drawn by the luminaries, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards buy the corner shopwith less than hilarious consequences. The cast membersPhil Cornwell, John Sessions and Ronni Aconaplay the stars and their entourage. They also play a pair of locals who watch the invasion, first with bemusement, then with anger. Mrs. Huggett is a charwoman who gets hired to clean the celebrity pads; Len McMonotony is a string-vest-wearing weirdo of the school of Rowan Atkinson, a North English gardener with a taste for arson. Cornwell seems the best at the game, doing a first-rate Michael Caine and David Bowie. Acona's version of Madonna is good and loathsome, if second-rate compared to Julie Brown's attack in the HBO special Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful. The joke about art thieves trying to steal one of Damien Hirst's grisly (but apparently blue-chip) taxidermed calves is a highlight. But the Yank accents and idioms are very spotty. And the Nicholson, Pacino and Rolling Stones imitations are kind of what you'd dread seeing performed against a brick wall at Laffy McChuckles in Wichita. (RvB)
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(PG-13; 93 min.) I can tell you're annoyed at me for being excited to see how director Frank Oz turned the earnest '70s feminist fable (one of my cult favorites of the era) into a dark comedy. Just when I was going to give you coffee! I thought we were friends! Friends ... friends ... (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 92 min.) A refreshingly straight-faced adaptation turning on what one character calls "a Gypsy curse straight out of Shock Theater." An obese lawyer, Billy Halleck (Robin John Burke), pays a severe price for overconsumption, racism and reckless driving when he knocks over an old Gypsy woman; cursed, he finds himself wasting away to a skeleton. King is one of the last people in movies to be allowed to suggest that even a handsome-looking small town can harbor corruption; his stories always work best when he's drawing horror out of real-life situations. The plot is essentially a realistically dark disease-of-the-week tale, with Halleck's physical change accompanied by maniaBilly suspects that his wife (Lucinda Jenney) is having an affair with his doctor (Sam Freed). Director Tom Holland, not given to winking at the audience, handles matters seriously, though the movie never transcends Romany stereotyping, and is hampered by discursive sequences of a car crash and a gun fight that nearly ruin the mood. (RvB)
(Unrated; 95 min.) Usually I'd recommend you avoid doing so. Luckily, this isn't a film about creepy moist spots on the carpet but rather a documentary about surfing. The genius ad line promises: "No special effects. No stuntmen. No stereotypes."
(PG-13; 127 min.) Despite an impressive cast that turns in solid performances, Chris Columbus' Stepmom never achieves greatness. In this bittersweet story of a broken family in turmoil, Susan Sarandon stars as Jackie, the perfect mom, who is worshipped by her two children (Jena Malone and the adorable Liam Aiken). When her husband (Ed Harris) becomes serious about Isabel (Julia Roberts), a hip young fashion photographer, the family dynamic shifts as the children reluctantly spend their time between the two homes and, more importantly, between the two women. Inexperienced Isabel struggles with becoming a responsible parent-figure and winning the children's respect. When the family learns that Jackie is dying, both women must come to terms with Isabel's new role as the children's stepmother, and in a slow process, Jackie grooms Isabel for motherhood. While this picture successfully captures the ugliness, jealousy and general sadness that this painful situation creates, the almost-plodding script feels forced, as if it's been tinkered with a few too many times. While the characters are sympathetic on an individual level, together they never quite gel. The predictable ending may leave a person sobbing, but it's a cheap cry that leaves one resenting Columbus' relentless emotional manipulation. (SQ)
(R; 112 min.) (R; 112 min.) At a beer-soaked party in Chicago, a telephone lineman (Kevin Bacon) allows himself to be hypnotized as a joke; afterward, he discovers that he has gained the power to see a ghost of a young girl that is haunting his house. Stir of Echoes is the directoral debut of David Koepp, screenwriter for both Jurassic Park films, and it's a credible attempt at scaled-down horror, based (loosely) on the typically sturdy plotting of Richard Matheson's 1958 novel. Bacon seems to have found that getting a character together was easier that figuring out what to do with the character once he was created. Bacon's Mike is apparently an old punk-rock musician who has settled down uneasily to family life; his wife (Kathryn Erbe) has just unpleasantly surprised him with a new pregnancy. You'll wait in vain for the gaff that worked so well in The Shiningthat the supernatural threat will be a manifestation of Mike's resentment toward his wife and his job. Koepp puts up all this background just to leave it there, and Bacon's acting seems like a stunt, instead of a character that builds. However, there's a certain creepiness to the old neighborhood, with its drooping trees and gray skies. As every critic in the U.S. has pointed out by now, it's unfortunate that Stir of Echoes has been released into the slipstream caused by the very similarand very goodsurprise hit The Sixth Sense. But Stir of Echoes doesn't need a point of comparison to look inferior; Koepp doesn't direct this simple story with the pointedness and economy it needs, and the stretched-out tale is padded to two hours. (RvB)
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(Unrated; 98 min.) A fictionalized account of the 1969 riot outside Manhattan's Stonewall Inn that was the shot heard 'round the world for gay people. The event is seen through the eyes of two characters: the earnest hotspur Matty (Frederick Weller) and his lover, the frivolous drag queen LaMiranda (Guillermo Diaz). The late Nigel Finch's film is at its best when depicting sequences of the early days of the gay liberation movement; we get a good sense of how underground it all was, in scenes of rented basements and dress codes for picketing. (RvB)
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(1984) Jonathan Demme's narrativeless account of a Talking Heads show can make you feel like you're seeing a rock concert for the first time. It embodies a perfect show; multiple points of view, no harassment by drunks, no gouging by concessionaires, no intimidation by security guards. The drama builds from a solo performanceodd-duck vocalist David Byrne's nigh-novelty hit "Psycho Killer"to a full chorale behind "What a Day That Was." This ever-beguiling film explains without words how a stripped down avant-garde quartet became a grand show band. (RvB)
(1975) Isabelle Adjani, not yet 20, stars in a classic about the art of stalking. It's Francis Truffaut's true life story of Adele, the passion-maddened daughter of Victor Hugo. Bruce Robinsonyes, that Bruce Robinson, scriptwriter of Withnail and I, and still an actor todayplays the dandyish English officer for whose sake Adele crosses an ocean and destroys herself. (RvB)
(1943/1941) Glenn Miller flies to Idaho and gets wrapped up with some minor musical-comedy complications involving a Norwegian war refugee (ice-skating champ Sonja Henie). Well-appointed stuff that skates along, with the aid of Astaire-Rogers choreographer Hermes Pan, songs by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" as performed by Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers. BILLED WITH Stormy Weather. "Celebrating the Magnificent Contribution of the Colored Race to the Entertainment of the World During the Past 25 Years." After receiving a magazine with this lofty sentiment on the cover, retired hoofer Bill "Bojangles" Robinsoncalled "Bill Williamson"takes a trip down memory lane. There were musical numbers, yes, but there was also tragedy, due to his strangely abstract love affair with singer Selina Rogers (Lena Horne). She wanted the stage; he wanted the home in the country. Still, there is hope for a happy ending. If she is rigid in the acting scenes, the beautiful Horne is superb in her performance of the wartime title number (is that a real tear in her eye?), complete with a ballet in the tempestuous clouds performed by Katherine Dunham and her dancers. Shallower natures will prefer the berserk exuberance of Cab Calloway performing "Geechy Joe" in a voluptuous zoot suit, as well as Fats Waller flirting his way through "Ain't Misbehaving," shortly before his death at age 39. The Nicholas Brothers' athletic dance routine is a jaw-dropper, even for those who have seen it all. And the house band includes Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Illinois Jacquet. There are racist moments, naturally, like the gollywog bonnets during the cake-walk routine, but these incidents don't detract much from one of the finest musicals of the 1940s. The studios should have made a hundred movies with these talents. Thanks to racism, they didn't. Our loss. (RvB)
A screening of A Story of Healing, a documentary about medical volunteers who provide reconstructive surgeries to disfigured and disabled children in Vietnam. The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject this year. (Screens June 29, 8pm, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St, Mountain View; $25; 650/903-6000.)
(1933/1932) William Faulkner's sordid but frequently incisive 1931 novel Sanctuary was the source. Temple Drake, a man-teasing college girl"too young to realize that people don't just break the law for a holiday"is abandoned by her drunken cake-eater boyfriend in a bootlegger's lair. She's raped and falls into sexual slavery, but goes along with it, maybe liking it, maybe notand thereby hang a thousand English-lit theses. Miriam Hopkins stars as the Southern belle gone wrong; Jack La Rue is the "Popeye" character, renamed "Trigger." BILLED WITH Three on a Match. Three girls who were fellow students at P.S. 62 go their separate ways: Mary (Joan Blondell) ends up in reform school; Bette Davis becomes a secretary; and Vivian (Ann Dvorak), the ritziest of the three, marries well but sickens of the rich life. She ditches her silk-hatted husband (an uncustomarily boring Warren William) in favor of strong drink and weak men. It's Dvorak's picture. Her awkward but forceful acting has something juicy that smoother actors lack. Humphrey Bogart has a small part as the kind of stolid, staring gunman type he'd later be mocking, right before punching them out. Did Bogart learn the toast "Here's looking at you" from this movie. (RvB)
(R) Bland and lifeless, Rob Reiner's watered-down, wannabe weeper never gets off the ground. Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis star as an unhappily married couple who keep a stiff upper lip for the sake of their two kids while they try to figure out if they're still an "us." The problem with The Story of Us is that it's not a romantic comedy or a romantic drama. It's not romantic at all; it's just sort of awful. The script's poorly written, the dialogue's trite and there's no chemistry between any two characters. While always lovely, Pfeiffer just looks strained and Willis gracelessly smirks his way through the film. There's no heart and no soul in this disjointed disaster. Reiner never explains why the marriage is failing (Is it really because Willis' character forgets to put wiper fluid in the car?). Bubble-gummy high school romance flicks have more depth. Ultimately, The Story of Us leaves the viewer walking out with a sense of indifference and wasted time. (SQ)
(R; 84 min.) The bilious Todd Solondz's newest, after the deceptively titled Happiness, contrasts the dithering of privileged Americans with the fury of various underdogs. In the first section, Vi (Selma Blair), a timid young student in a brutal creative-writing class, abnegates herself in front of a cold, imposing university professor (Robert Wisdom) who once won the Pulitzer Prize for his writing. In the second, longer section, a dim, foolish screw-up who calls himself Scooby (Mark Webber) is sought out as the perfect subject for a semi-ironic documentary, much to the confusion of Scooby's angry parents (Julie Hagerty and John Goodman) and their maid, who suffered through her own youth in El Salvador. (RvB)
(1983) Good day, eh? Staple characters of the SCTV sketch comedy show, Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis), guzzle beer and get in more trouble than a hoser has a right to.
(R; 145 min.) In L.A. at the end of this millennium, the drug of choice is "playback"other people's memories pumped directly into the cerebral cortext. An ex-cop turned pusher (Ralph Fiennes) moons after his ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), now a rising rock star, while he and his beautiful-black-female-security-expert buddy (Angela Bassett) dodge a pair of rogue cops trying to cover up a murder. It's an extremely violent, bitter movie, but for the most part exciting, and surprisingly political for a thriller. Be warned that it contains a horrifying rape-murder. The ending is patently ridiculous, the first-person point of view gets pretty gimmicky after a while, and Lewis can't act worth beans. On the other hand, she's very adept at walking around in the buff, and she does that a lot here. (BC)
(R) Imagine the horrifying feeling of cold steel needles sinking into your fleshwait, you say you got a nose ring last weekend, and it cost you $60? Now you see the natural unscariness of StrangeLand. Madman Carlton Hendrix (Dee Snider) takes the nom de torture Captain Howdy and kidnaps Colorado Springs teens, whom he forcibly pierces in his torture dungeon. According to the talkative maniac, it's all part of the important primitive rituals that have marked rites of passage since the dawn of time ("The term 'sadist' is so maligned"). Supremely incompetent police detective Mike (Kevin Gage) is the father of one of the missing girls. In the fullness of timetime which an aging Snider obviously doesn't have much left ofthe detective tracks down the maniac. After a stint in a mental hospital, Carlton is as good as new: demure, spectacled, looking much like Snider does when it comes time to meet with his stockbrokers. He's renounced his old ways. But then vengeful townspeople (led by Robert Englund) kidnap him, incompletely lynch him and set him off on a new reign of discomfort-infliction. The tackle-box-faced Snider, late of the band Twisted Sister, scripted the film, whence all of his yakking about the importance of primitive rituals and who are we to judge if a man puts turkey skewers through his buttcheeks in an attempt to seek god, etc.all arguments I'd be more willing to accept if Snider hadn't put them in the mouth of a madman. At his age, Snider would be better off arguing that a total hip replacement counts as body manipulation. (RvB)
(1946/1951) Barbara Stanwyck stars as a woman with a secret, which is uncovered by the reappearance of her first love. This early noir also stars Lizabeth Scott, Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas in his first film appearance. BILLED WITH On Dangerous Ground. "No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity / but I am a man and have none."Richard III. Nicholas Ray directs Robert Ryan in this outstanding noir. It's about plainclothes detective Jim Wilson, whose boiling rage is bringing him to self-destruction. One night, Wilson goes too far, kicking in a suspect's bladder (Richard Irving plays the taunting masochist who provokes him). His superiors send Wilson out to snow country on a rehabilitation assignment to investigate a murder. Therein a plot switch that seems like Andre Gide's Pastoral SymphonyWilson learns to feel again through his attraction to a blind woman (delicately played by Ida Lupino); she says she likes him because there isn't any pity in his voice. Ray and his screenwriter (Fresno's A. I. Bezzerides) make the atmosphere of a cop's misery as vivid as the reasons he can't succumb to hatred. Unlike the commonplace evil-cop movie, On Dangerous Ground doesn't try to justify Wilson's brutality by showing us a city out of control, and his methods aren't even cutting it as law enforcement. While the criminals are tangibly scummy, they're also pathetic. Ryan's frightening yet soulful acting makes you fear for this cop, not just dread him. Superb and ahead-of-its-time photography by George Diskant; Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack (with an antique instrument called a viola d'amour playing the love theme) is a landmark. "Distributed and received with indifference, [On Dangerous Ground] chalked up a loss of $425,000."Nicholas Ray, quoted in An American Journey by Bernard Eisenschitz. (RvB)
(1946/1942) Orson Welles plays a sinister prep-school teacher with a past; Loretta Young stars as his newlywed bride; and Edward G. Robinson shows up as the U.S. government Nazi hunter trying to track Welles down. Very good on the late-show level, with a much-imitated finale atop a clock tower. Though it was the only Welles film to ever show a profit, he considered it his worst picture. BILLED WITH Journey Into Fear. There's an auteur behind Journey Into Fear, but it's not director Norman Foster, who merely took over for Welles. Although it's lesser Welles, the film still bears the unmistakable marks of the great director. Based on an espionage novel by Eric Ambler, it tells the convoluted story of a boat full of suspicious characters, am arms-smuggling scheme and a killer with the world's thickest eyeglass lenses. The shipboard scenes, full of sinuous tracking shots through crowded bulkheads, are particularly memorable, as is a nightclub act featuring Dolores Del Rio that displays Welles' love for magic and sleight of hand. Joseph Cotton plays the kind of decent but hopeless out-of-it American he was to hone to perfection in The Third Man. Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane (Bernstein from Citizen Kane) also star. Wellesimperfectly disguised in a fake nose and fur hatturns up as the manipulative Colonel Haki. (RvB/MSG)
Eleven thesis films from Stanford's celebrated documentary film and video department, led by Jan Krawitz (director of the documentary Drive-in Blues). Today: Sonata for the Left Hand, Sarah Harbin's documentary about volunteer piano tuners who defy the blockade to tune the pianos of Havana. (I wonder if it's still true that piano tuners have higher insurance rates than airline pilots.) Shifting Traditions by Brett Schwartz examines intermarriage between Jews and gentiles. A Different Drummer is Ed Engels' essay on some local eccentrics, in the vein of Errol Morris' Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. In Excluded From Grace, Teresa Dunlap interviews three people who are both gay and Christian. Donna Carter's A Cloak of Protection for the Earth is a profile of Berkeley artist Louise Rodd Cope, who has been soliciting prayer shawls from around the world. We Are the Bears by Laura Norton follows the lives of cheerleaders at Menlo-Atherton High School. Inbal Diskin's Caves of the Mind examines manic-depressive illness. Constructing Experience: The Many Lives of Treasure Island is Vanessa Warheit's history of the manmade island in San Francisco Bay. Ego Trip is the first-person account of Christopher Jenkins, named one of Cosmopolitan's "50 Most Wanted Men in the U.S." Slender Existence chronicles director Laura Murray's bout with anorexia nervosa. And Urga Song by Jessica Woodworth tours urban Mongolia. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) Charming and funny Jim Jarmusch film about a teen, his best friend and a young girl cousin who comes to America from Hungary.
(1951/1948) A blissful collaboration between Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler, and even if none of the three was completely happy with the results, the audience certainly will be. The gimmick is a luscious one: Two strangers have drinks together on the New York–to-D.C. train. One, Guy (San Jose's own Farley Granger), is a celebrated tennis player who has climbed out of the ghetto. The other is a senator's son, Bruno (Robert Walker). When Bruno suggests the idea of killing a troublesome woman in Guy's life, the tennis player thinks it's a joke. But Bruno is all too serious, and after performing the hit in question, he wants Guy to reciprocate. The film is genuinely macabre, with a manic climax on a carousel, but what repays the rewatching is Walker's Bruno, one of cinema's most memorable villains—the aesthetic kind, a combo of one of Bill Murray's silky scroungers and Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. Keep an eye open for a really delicious joke about abstract art. BILLED WITH a more sedate study of mania, Rope. The action all takes place in one apartment, with a hypnotic, upstaging diorama of the New York cityscape outside. The diorama, which was built three sizes larger than the set, was equipped with spun-glass clouds hanging on invisible wires; Hitchcock shifted them around in the "sky" when the camera wasn't looking. Rope is remembered as a trick film of Hitchcock's, filmed in a series of continuous, "real-time" long takes in an apartment in which a Leopold and Loebish pair (John Dahl and San Jose's own Farley Granger) entertain their professor (Stewart, miscast), whose Nietzschean ideas have supposedly stimulated them to murder. The moral of the story is that foreign theories kill. Thus, style aside, Rope epitomizes its time: the McCarthy era. "A stunt, that's the only way I can describe it," admitted Hitchcock to François Truffaut. (Plays Feb 22-24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)
(1951/1936) A blissful collaboration between Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler, and even if none of the three was completely happy with the results, the audience certainly is. The gimmick is a luscious one: Two strangers have drinks together on the New York-to-D.C. train. One, Guy (San Jose's own Farley Granger), is a celebrated tennis player who has climbed out of the ghetto. The other is the well-to-do senator's son, Bruno (Robert Walker). When Bruno suggests the idea of killing a troublesome woman in Guy's life, the tennis player thinks it's a joke. But Bruno is all too serious, and after performing the hit in question, he wants Guy to reciprocate. The film is genuinely macabre, with a manic climax on a carousel, but what repays the rewatching is Walker's Bruno, one of cinema's most memorable villainsthe aesthetic kind, a combo of one of Bill Murray's silky scroungers and Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. BILLED WITH Sabotage. Derived by Hitchcock from Conrad's The Secret Agent, Sabotage is a 77-minute thriller about a London movie-theater owner who is scheming to blow up the Piccadilly Tube Station. In the lead, the excellent Viennese character actor Oscar Homolka achieves almost Peter Lorre-levels of malice, strangeness and weakness. His eventually vengeful spouse is played by the grievously underrated actress Sylvia Sidney, whose career stretched from this British film to the out-of-it granny in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! (RvB)
David (Vladimir Cruz) is approached by an older man, Diego (Jorge Perugorria), who fancies him. David knows nothing of the noble old history of homosexuality, except for what he's learned from his Young Pioneers class; it's 1979, and in Castro's Cuba, such things are against the law, a bourgeois aberration. Strawberry and Chocolate, the new film by Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, is a particularly merry example of the plea-for-understanding movie. Although the story's ending is a sop to an audience that wouldn't be cozy seeing the relationship of Diego and David consummated, the film is still an ingratiating entertainment. (RvB)
(1951/1954) There is post-Elvis music; there is post-Picasso art. There is no such thing as post-Brando acting. Think of the best, or purportedly bestSean Penn's Oscar-seeking anguish in Mystic River; the death's-head smile on James Gandolfini as a crooked thought bubbles up out of the sated brain of Tony Soprano; even Al Pacino's croaking Shylock in the upcoming film of The Merchant of Veniceall of them continue in the shadow of Brando. Over the next few weeks, the Stanford Theater revives the earlier films by Brando before his contempt for the profession, or his contempt for himself, caused him to go into erratic semiretirement. Except for Col. Kurtz, Don Corleone and Paul, the tortured protagonist of Last Tango in Paris, Brando's most important work was done before he was age 30. A Streetcar Named Desire is the movie that revolutionized American acting, with Brando as a brute who outwits a poor cracked butterfly (Vivien Leigh). Tennessee Williams' view of this drama was that it concerned "the ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate..."; Stanley Kowalski's gusto for life turns this into a drama in which we sympathize with the cruel, the callous and the strong. In On the Waterfront, Brando plays Terry Malloy, an informer pushed by the death of his brother; actors have been notching their eyebrows in tribute to this role ever since. (RvB)
(1940) A high school band polishes up its act to compete in a national contest, to be judged by famed band leader Paul Whiteman. Mickey Rooney is torn, as custom has it, between a rich girl (June Preisser) and Judy Garland. The film includes the Gershwin title song, a typically outré Busby Berkeley interlude of stop-motion animated fruit performing as a miniature orchestra, and a parody of Victorian melodrama with Garland and Rooney performing such traditionals as "Heaven Help the Working Girl" and "I Ain't Got Nobody." (RvB)
(R; 115 min.) Fired from the FBI's secretarial pool, a single-mom (Demi Moore) does the tittie-bar tango because it pays so darn well. But oh, the shame of it! Not the shame of dancing in the buff, but the shame of being caught watching this movie. This is a physically painful movie, and I don't mean from one's pants growing suddenly too tight. Moore looks like a wide receiver in drag, and has all the sensual grace of a chipmunk in the last stages of rabies. Someone has made the dreadful mistake of confusing ineptitude with comedy, and someone must pay. There's no reason for that someone to be you. (BC)
(PG; 92 min.) Through adept use of advanced digital technology, director Rob Minkoff's screen adaptation of E.B. White's Stuart Little brings to life the charming mouse with such skill the audience never questions his authenticity. Starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki as the Little family, and Michael J. Fox as the voice of Stuart. Stuart Little tells the tale of an orphaned mouse adopted by a human family. Stuart faces numerous obstacles inherent to his species. His new brother (Lipnicki) won't accept him; the family cat, Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane), hates him; and his three-inch stature gets him in some dangerous predicaments. Despite his overwhelming odds and almost getting "scratched" by some tough-talking neighborhood alley cats (voiced by Chazz Palminteri, Steve Zahn and David Alan Grier), Stuart prevails and becomes a true Little. The movie easily balances the fantasy that appeals to children with a smartness that appeals to adults. Though Stuart is the star of the show (the cats get in some great lines, too) and the human characters never quite get the chance to shine, this movie is a well-made fairytale full of humor and heart. (SQ)
(PG; 78 min.) The further adventures of the cute mouse adopted by a human family. With Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and the voice of Michael J. Fox.
(PG-13; 120 min.) The Farrelly brothers make campy comedies about extreme misfits, and this one starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins falls squarely into their expertise. However, fewer and fewer people seem to care, which has far less to do with audiences being offended by their supposedly edgy comedy than with the fact that they seem to have less and less of a real comic edge with every film. But if they can turn it around with Damon and Kinnear in this one, perhaps they can be forgiven for wasting Jack Black so completely in Shallow Hal. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1927) A prince (Roman Navarro) finds college life to his liking when he spies a comely commoner (Norma Shearer). This silent-film version of Sigmund Romberg's operetta is directed with a light and playful hand by Ernst Lubitsch. (AR)
(PG; 94 min.) After about five minutes of this pathetic comedy, you may feel that its title is as much a joke on the poor souls who paid the price of admission as it is a reference to the ridiculously obtuse characters. Tom Arnold stars as Stanley Stupid, the father of a dull-witted family, who, in misinterpreting everything that happens around them as attacks on their blissful family unit, are essentially the world's slowest conspiracy theorists. But Stanley uncovers a real conspiracy when, while trailing the garbage men whom he believes have stolen his trash, he blunders upon a clandestine weapons deal. Entrenched in the misguided notion that family films must cater to the level of the youngest possible audience member, The Stupids offers few laughs because even most children aren't so easily tickled as to enjoy the stock sight gags that the clearly self-satisfied Arnold condescends to cough up. As for director John Landis, The Stupids might also describe his state of mind when he agreed to participate in this disasterit makes Animal House look like a Cannes contender. (HZ)
(R; 101 min.) A strained drama about a New York family that tries to wrest control of a failing publishing firm from its patriarch, Isaac (Ron Rifkin), a Holocaust survivor who insists on printing expensive volumes documenting the German atrocities during WWII. The children are a mixed lot of whiners who wish that dad would publish a trendy, profitable novel now and then. Isaac wrestles mightily with his painful memories of the war, refusing to confront the present until he has conquered the demons of the past, but the offspring (including Sarah Jessica Parker in a thankless part as a children's-TV host with a bad marriage and Timothy Hutton as a neurotic basket case) are just about unbearable in their inability to get along with their father and each other. Director Daniel Sullivan's adaptation of Jon Rabin Baitz's play starts out well but quickly degenerates into a string of highly manipulative emotional epiphanies leading to a painfully forced ending. (MSG)
(R; 114 min.) Tom Berenger plays a decommissioned mercenary named Shale who lolls around at his girlfriend's place until she gets her leg broken under orders of the gang that rules the high school where she teaches. Shale disguises himself as a substitute teacher to pacify the schooleventually destroying it in order to save it. The only difference between The Substitute and the multitude of other Blackboard Jungle knockoffs is that The Substitute is the first to argue that what the wisecracking, underprivileged students need is the right kind of violence in their lives to open up to the learning experience. (RvB)
Second installment in local filmmaker SomeGuY's monthly film salon. Tonight: Terminator 3. In a postapocalyptic future, a terminator robot, disguised as a harmless old vagabond, does the Charleston and searches for the 17th grandson of Abraham Lincoln, who even now prowls San Jose. Kagan Midas debuts his new opus, Symphony of the Fallen, and local filmmaker John Guiterrez has a farewell screening of his work shortly before his departure for NYU film school in August. The band Cadence Theory will play after the films. Start time is 8pm, admission is $3, and the space fills up early. (RvB)
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(R; 118 min.) Richard Linklater's films (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) are like good parties. You go, ponder great music, watch lovable self-aggrandizing fools and eventually leave packed into a car with a gang of friends. subUrbia takes place from about 9pm until dawn in the parking lot of a convenience store. Some young people are drinking, after having been left out of the big concert they couldn't get tickets to. The knot of characters includes Buff (Steve Zahn), a crude, harmless joker; Tim (Nicky Katt), a bitter and perhaps crazy ex-Air Force enlistee; and Sooze (Amie Carey), who want to go to New York to be a performance artist. Presently, a limousine arrives with newly minted rock star Pony (Jayce Bartok), who used to be one of the crowd. Pony, metaphorical horse of a different color that he is, catalyzes all of the frustrations of the group, their dreams of fame and escape. The film is based on a play by Eric Bogosian, the thoroughly overrated New York actor who wrote Talk Radio. As adapted by Linklater, the scenes are extremely funny in small portions, but when a monologist turns playwright, look out. Here, it's as if Bogosian had cloned his one narrative voice into a lot of little Bogosians all talking in tandem. (RvB)
(R; 110 min.) If you like fantastic fight scenes but don't know want a pesky plot line or character development getting in the way, then this is your movie. Jean-Claude Van Damme, the least charismatic of all the action stars, plays an out-of-work firefighter who needs to prove himself to his smarmy children. And because trains, planes, buses and almost every other venue known to man have already been used as the setting for an action adventure, this romp is set at a hockey matchgame seven of the Stanley Cup no less. Powers Booth stars as the evil CIA operative gone wrong who has wired the stadium to go boom and is demanding a lot of money to stop the madness. Now is Van Damme's chance to show his kidsand himselfthat he still has what it takes. Of course, you can see where the movie is going even before you enter the theater, but the fight scenes are so ingenious, especially when Van Damme beats the living hell out of a Pittsburgh Penguin mascot, that you really don't care. (JD)
(1941/1933) Sullivan (Joel McCrea), director of Ants in Your Pants of 1938, longs to make a social statement in film and heads out in a "land yacht" (a trailer) to find out what the average Joe wants to see. Instead he meets an average Jane (Veronica Lake), who tells him, "Nothing drives me out for fresh air faster than a deep-dish movie." This is Preston Sturges' most deep-dish movie, thoughsemiautobiographical, self-reflective, mulling over the importance of humor as a reliever of pain. The sequence of the chain gang watching a Pluto cartoon is one of the great moments in cinema. (This film is the source for the title of O Brother, Where Art Thou?). BILLED WITH Dinner at Eight. The cream of high society sours a bit as it waits to be fed. The guests at the table include John Barrymore as an ironical, alcoholic actor (what a stretch!), his brother, Lionel, Wallace Beery, the Danish actor Jean Hersholt (of the Academy Award fame) and Marie Dressler and Jean Harlow, who exchange the last words. (RvB)
(1941/1938) Preston Sturges, "the Anti-Capra" (Andre Bazin), created this story of the folly of a pampered movie director (the noble, rueful Joel McCrea) who decides to see how the poor live. With this purpose, McCrea's John S. Sullivan is equipped with a land yachta pre-Winnebago. Ditching this tank and heading out on foot, Sullivan meets an actress who's quit Hollywood (Veronica Lake, who was 6-7 months pregnant during the shoot). Trying to mix with the common people, Sullivan ends up ground underfoot along with them. Despite its skewering wit, Sullivan's Travels is proof of the darkest side of Sturges' genius. The same Hollywood system that Sturges defends with such ringing cinematic eloquence provided no context for the film: "One local reviewer wanted to know what the hell the tragic passages were doing in this comedy, and another wanted to know what the hell the comic passages were doing in this drama. They're both right, of course ... and it might be profitable for a young director to look at Sullivan's Travels and avoid making the mistakes I made," Sturges wrote. Oddly, the young directors who watched it the closestJoel and Ethan Coen, directors of the Sullivan's Travels-derived O Brother, Where Art Thou?made pretty much the same mistakes, even if they opened the ears of millions to roots country and bluegrass. Moreover, since it is such a brilliant defense of the escapist film, Sullivan's Travels' point has been used as an excuse for decades by moviemakers to keep the raw, harsh, pessimistic and inconvenient side of life off screen. Lake's line, "nothing sends me out for air faster than a deep-dish movie," is deathless ... but it's not a last word, especially as we've seen movies evolve from shallow-dish to dog-dish. BILLED WITH Room Service. Treed by an irate hotel manager (a booming-voiced Donald MacBride), three exotic showbiz types wait for payday, when their play Hail and Farewell hits the stage in a week. Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx) is the brains of the organization, a man with a hundred scams to keep from paying the tab. His assistant, Binelli (Chico Marx), is an even more dubious character, whose good luck charm is a stuffed moose head ("I shot 'im with my own hands, and ate 'im up to the neck"). Their mute sidekick Faker (Harpo) has a prone yet pivotal part as a corpse in the play. William Seiter's direction is stiff; two first-rate female leads (the young and pretty Ann Miller and Lucille Ball) are scarcely noticed and not given any business. The last third of the show gets some pepper on it, in a mock deathbed scene, with Groucho doing the obsequies. And the sequence we see of Hail and Farewell makes it clear why these two films were yoked together, besides the fact that Sturges once called Room Service "one of the funniest farces ever written": the big finale of the play has a silk-hatted capitalist shaking hands with a grieving miner over the dead body of a workeris this what the ending of John Sullivan's O Brother, Where Art Thou? would look like after the studio reshot it? (RvB)
(PG-13; 100 min.) Booze and broads might interfere with a ballplayer's career; in Summer Catch they confound the plot of a baseball movie already more complicated than a three-team trade. Freddie Prinze Jr. portrays a hot-headed, young pitcher booted from two colleges, who gets one last chance to pitch for his hometown Chatham A's in the Cape Cod summer baseball league, a showcase for college stars. He moons over local rich girl Tenley (Jessica Biel) whose patrician father wants Prinze to mind his station as gardener. The Cape Cod leagues are over 100 years old, as are many of the plot contrivances in Summer Catch. (DH)
(1952) A troupe of actors takes over a farm and the locals suddenly want in on the act. Gene Kelly and Judy Garland are the leads, and there's robust comedic support by Phil Silvers, Hans Conried and Eddie Bracken. It was Garland's last and most troubled MGM production, bedeviled by her mood swings, weight gains and the pills she took to combat both. The film remains indelible for its finale, "Get Happy," where Garland showed off the voice, the legs and the exuberance that gave her a new career on stage. (RvB)
(1927) F.W. Murnau's powerful silent film about a farmer, who, led on by another woman, plots to murder his wife. Janet Gaynor garnered an Oscar for her performance.
(1927/1930) Two by F.W. Murnau, dead at 43 in a car accident: "He might have done more for the American film than Lang or Lubitsch," writes David Thomson of this least stylistically Teutonic of directors; best known for Nosferatu, he could do a majestic Faust as well as these two complex pastorals. Sunrise is "a story of everywhere and nowhere," in which a simple countryman (George O'Brien) strays from his wife (Janet Gaynor) and is drawn into a plan to kill her. It wasn't a success, and Murnau's later American filmssuch as City Girlwere tampered with as a result. In City Girl, an Oregon farmer's son (David Torrence) marries a waitress and brings her home to his disapproving family. The original soundtrack is by Hugo Rosenfield for Sunrise; for City Girl, Tom Hazelton is at the Stanford's Wurlitzer.
(1950/1935) Billy Wilder's flamboyant, cruelly funny and creepy satire of Hollywood oddity, starring Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a discarded piece of old movie bric-a-brac. Seeking one last close-up, Desmond wraps herself around a screenwriter (William Holden) who underestimates the aging star's hunger. Desmond's mansion and swimming pool were also used as locations for Rebel Without a Cause; Norma's movie clips are from Erich von Stroheim's butchered film Queen Kelly. BILLED WITH Bride of Frankenstein. It's a masterpiece of wild and innovative horror, sometimes seriocomic, sometimes gorgeously strange. Our hero, the fugitive monster (the uncanny Boris Karloff), becomes the pawn in a psychological game between the reluctant Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his former mentor (Ernest Thesiger). There's not so much homosexual subtext here as supertext. The flamboyant Thesiger, luring the mad doctor away from his marriage bed back to the subterranean practices he renounced, seems to embody the temptations facing members of the ex-gay movement. Elsa Lanchester plays the bride with the Marge Simpson-high perm. (RvB)
(1950/1944) Billy Wilder's flamboyant, cruelly funny and creepy satire of Hollywood oddity in the form of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a discarded piece of old movie bric-a-brac. Seeking one last close-up, Desmond wraps herself around a screenwriter (William Holden) who underestimates the aging star's hunger. Desmond's mansion and swimming pool were also used as locations for Rebel Without a Cause; Norma's movie clips are from Erich von Stroheim's butchered film Queen Kelly. BILLED WITH Double Indemnity, a superb film noir adapted (by Wilder and Raymond Chandler) from the James M. Cain novel. Fred MacMurray plays a too-smart insurance agent who falls for a married woman (Barbara Stanwyck) with a murderous scheme. Edward G. Robinson plays the dogged insurance investigator who won't sign off on Stanwyck's claim. (RvB)
(R; 99 min.) Seemingly penned straight from the "Believe-in-Yourself-Despite-Insurmountable-Odds" handbook, it's hard to see Sunset Park as much more than Dangerous Minds on a basketball court. Mixing a trite formula with one of Hollywood's latest cause célébresnamely the wretched state of inner-city educationdoes not produce the touching social critique that someone obviously thought it would, and more's the pity, considering the very real subject matter. As a novice coach who inspires an undisciplined high-school basketball team to win, Rhea Perlman does her best with a predictable, platitude-spouting character and offers an overall down-to-earth performance. In fact, Perlman makes a far more likable role model than the wispy, karate-chopping Michelle Pfeiffer did. The young actors who play the motley teammates are even better and often upstage Perlman. (HZ)
(PG; 90 min.) If these babies are so smart, what are they doing in this film? (Capsule preview by SP)
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(R; 85 min.) One of Jackie Chan's last great movies, as a Hong Kong cop teamed up with a police woman from the People's Republic of China (Michelle Yeoh, of the 007 picture Tomorrow Never Dies). The grand finale is a sky-chase among the skyscrapers and minarets of Kuala Lumpur. Negligently dubbed and re-scored by those dedicated friends of Asian cinema at Miramax. (RvB)
(1978) Up, up and away. Stars Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Marlon Brando.
(PG-13; 91 min.) A sci-fi thriller about a medical rescue spaceship crew imperiled when they bring aboard a mysterious man. James Spader, Angela Bassett and Lou Diamond Phillips star.
(PG-13; 82 min.) Her armpit sniffing and life-threatening clumsiness aside, there's a lack of hyperbole at the heart of Mary Katherine Gallagher that, surprisingly, pushes Superstar's appeal beyond just fans of Saturday Night Live, the show where Molly Shannon's bumbling, overzealous Catholic schoolgirl character first got noticed. Unlike a lot of SNL-inspired films stretched out from one-joke skits (It's Pat, anyone?), this one puts the extra screen time to generally good use as Shannon, channeling the most mortifying moments of adolescence into Mary Katherine, expands the character from nerdy oddity to odd but very likable nerdalthough Mary Katherine still pulls off plenty of cringingly funny stunts as she enters a talent contest in her quest to experience a Hollywood-style kiss. Though there's nothing new in the plot, writer Steve Koren has crafted a decently snotty send-up of high school, padded out with plenty of silliness and a couple of "showstopping" dance numbers. And there's a certain bizarre inspiration in the double casting of Will Ferrell as school heartthrob Sky Corrigan and a hippiefied Jesus. (HZ)
(R; 100 min.) Raunchy humor from the Broken Lizard comedy gang.
(Not rated; 68 min.) Filmmakers David L. Brown and Roy Earnest take a look at pioneering surfersnot in a nostalgic look back at the halcyon days of the '60s but with profiles of still-stoked waveriders in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Local showings feature a talk with big-wave hero Fred Van Dyke.
(PG; 85 min.) A teenage surfing penguin, Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), follows his dream from Antarctica to a competition in the tropics. Cody's hero, Big Z (Jeff Bridges), is presumed dead, but turns up a burned-out recluse (he is virtually the same character as Paul Newman's Doc Hudson in Cars). Surf's Up uses a fake documentary format, with hand-held cameras jiggling over the CG landscapes, interviews (similar to Nick Park's groundbreaking Creature Comforts) and riffs on the graphic-heavy flash of ESPN, although the filmmakers are not always consistent with this technique. Homogenized songs and routine jokes don't add much. Kids definitely won't understand everything, and it is all a bit too familiar for adults. Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder and James Woods provide other voices. (JMA)
(Unrated; 87 min.) Kevin B. DiNovis' film about transvestism doesn't focus so much on sexual identity as it does on the power struggle boiling in any relationship. The junkie Lanh (DiNovis) goes to stay with his needle-buddy Trevor (Peter Pryor). Lanh's arrival gives Trevor someone to push around, and he starts dressing Lanh up as a girl and naming him "Dorothy." This drugged spin through Lanh's decline, Trevor's loft and the crummy neighborhood around it has more than enough narrative power to keep one watching up to the hideo-comic end. (RvB)
(PG-13; 92 min.) Ben Affleck pays for some family time at the holidays in a comedy that also stars James Gandolfini and Christina Applegate. Need we note that this seasonal film is being released before Halloween? That ought to be a crime punishable by taking away the executive producer's Hummer keys.
(Unrated; 90 min.) Two Iranian children lost in Los Angeles search for an uncle and try to avoid a hit man who has kidnapped their mother.
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(R; 125 min.) The amusing Merchant-Ivory bio-pic is kept juicy by Anthony Hopkins in a droll, virile embodiment of the great artist and an even greater egoist, blissfully scrubbing away at Guernica while his wife and his girlfriend cat-fight below. Surviving Picasso is reminiscent of the Alexander Korda/Charles Laughton The Private Life of Henry VIII, a light study without much context of Picasso's life away from love affairs. Both are stories about men who would be laughable if it weren't for their habit of tossing women by the wayside. Picasso, at least, doesn't have a chopping block, but his victims lose their heads nonethelesstwo of his discarded lovers go mad.
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(R; 100 min.) If a serial killer kills other serial killers, does that make him bad or good? That's the basic idea behind this thriller from the director of the fantastic Shadow of the Vampire. (Capsule preview by SP)
(1941) Cary Grant in an uncharacteristic role, which he carries off with aplomb: in Hitchcock's Suspicion, as a smooth husband whose politeness to his frail wife (Joan Fontaine) may mask a killer's heart. (RvB)
(1941/1938) A shy, well-off girl (Joan Fontaine) marries a man with a reputation (Cary Grant). Gradually, he begins to believe that he's a murderer. It was emasculated by cold-footed RKO executives, who made the exactly wrong decision about its ending. Yet it's still very suspenseful. Grant's "got milk?" moment on the staircase carries plenty of menace even after all these years. BILLED WITH The Lady Vanishes. On a train heading west from the Balkans, a gentle old lady (Dame May Whitty) turns up missing. As a folk-music student (Michael Redgrave) and a tourist (Margaret Lockwood) search for her, they look down a list of their fellow travelersmaybe, literal Fellow Travelers with an unnamed foreign threat: a too-chipper brain surgeon (Paul Lukas), a heavily accented baroness (Mary Clare). The Hitchcock style is evident early on in the director's career. The balance of humor and thrills is perfect; the comic relief by Naumon Wayne and Basil Radford led to work in plenty more British films, especially Dead of Night. As Orson Welles claimed to have seen this 11 times, The Lady Vanishes had its mark on The Third Man and elsewhere. (RvB)
(1963) Barbet Schroeder and Claudine Soubrier star in the second of French New Wave director Eric Rohmer's "moral tales." (AR)
(1936) Jean Harlow stars as a showgirl who falls in love with an American pilot (Cary Grant) during World War Iand then, her husband, thought dead, turns up. Co-written by Dorothy Parker. (RvB)
(PG-13; 116 min.) Hondo (played by Steve Forrest in the 1975 TV show and assayed this time by Samuel L. Jackson) helps organize a new S.W.A.T team to repair the LAPD's as-always tarnished image. His favorite recruit is Jim Street (Colin Farrell), a cop in the doghouse for refusing to rat out his dirty partner (Jeremy Renner) to the even dirtier "pencil pushin' punks" behind their desks in internal affairs. Meanwhile, foreign villain Olivier Martinezthe French scoundrel from Unfaithfuldoes his best to bring the police together by fomenting crime. Your standard reactionary cop thriller, neither offensive or particularly noteworthy, helmed by ex-actor Clark Johnson. Watching it is like rolling with the punches of a string of TV commercials, about half of which are for Dr. Pepper. Jackson and Michelle Rodriguez, both locked in their typical roles of hard-ass and hard-ass-ess, are perhaps a few degrees warmer than usual. (RvB)
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(R; 95 min.) The story of a genius musician who all but disappears after a few important recordings. Director Woody Allen counterpoints the sweet music of imaginary 1920s guitarist Emmet Ray (Sean Penn) with his lowdown behavior. Penn, with a big cloud of hair, a waxed mustache and a rasping accent, plays Ray as a gifted strummer but a rotten human being. A one-note performance is fatal in an actor playing a musician. (RvB)
(PG-13; 102 min.) I wonder if Alabamans hate having this monotonous no-chorus song hung around their necks as much as I hate "Hotel California." When you're from California, people play "Hotel California" as if they're doing you a favor, like it's the damn state anthem. Anyway, this Reese Witherspoon vehicle is every bit as dull as the song it swiped its title from. Witherspoon's Melanie Carmichael is a princess of New York, a popular dress designer about to marry the mayor's son, played by Patrick Dempsey. At the last minute, she's forced to return to her hometown of Pidgeon Creek, Ala., where her husband (Josh Lucas), from whom she's separated, awaits. New York represents the brain of the nation, and the South represents its heart, and this movie is an insult to bothit's heartless and brainless. Those squandered include Fred Ward and Candice Bergen. (RvB)
(PG-13; 114 min.) The one and only Keanu Reeves plays Nelson, a hyped-up ad executive who loses his job. Fortunately, a perky, childish dog groomer named Sara Deever (Charlize Theron) is there with a free offer, which she presses with repellent insistence. If Nelson turns himself over to her utterly for a makeover, she'll save him from the soulless life he's living. She'll be totally honest and give herself freelyof course, she won't mention that she's suffering from Hollywood Movie Disease, and she'll act as petulant and tantrummy as a 5-year-old if he takes so much as an afternoon away from her. Nelson's supposed to be just one of Sara's one-month specials, whom she refers to as "October" and "September," as if they were Playgirl centerfolds. The film also stars Greg Germann, of TV's Ally McPule, as Reeves' unredeemable ad agency friend, and The Patriot's Jason Isaacs as, get this, a man who dresses in women's clothes! (If you think I was shocked, you should have seen Keanu's flabbergasted face!) Thank God for one scene of Frank Langella introducing a taste of real world ruthlessness and discernment into this nigh-fatal dose of wheelchair kitsch. (RvB)
(R; 93 min.) Under the direction of her husband, Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), Madonna plays Amber, a rich, mean married woman tamed by a servant on her yacht after the two are stranded on a desert island. It's an old story that goes back to James M. Barrie's century-old play The Admirable Crichton. The film, however, is a more direct remake of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 Swept Away (redone as the Goldie Hawn vehicle Overboard). Wertmuller's movie added a more direct, vinegary Marxist tang to the story. Ritchie's version has some of the politics, though watered down. In this round, Amber is a sort of pawn between two men. Despite the inviting-looking Sardinian beaches, this version depends on Madonna's performanceand she's a nonactor with fading looks. Her overexercised arms put in the mind unwanted reminiscences of Cincinnati Reds slugger Ted "Big Klu" Kluszewski; her performance ranges from hateful to simple-minded, as she vogues with speared fish (like a sturgeon, caught for the very first time). The film inspires cognitive dissonance: if sleeping with the proletariat would melt Madonna's cold heartwouldn't it have happened already? The musical numbers (a choppy pantomime to "Come On-A My House") provide no relief. Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo, the star of Wertmuller's film, plays the servant who takes over. His name in the film is Pepe, which Madonna meanly pronounces "Pee-pee." That's the comedy relief, so why aren't you laughing? (RvB)
(PG-13; 114 min.) In a beautifully realized but dreadfully slow tearjerker trivialized from a minor Joseph Conrad tale, a shunned woman (Rachel Weisz) takes up with a Ukranian castaway (Vincent Perez), and a good doctor (Ian McKellan) champions them both. McKellan (Richard III) is excellent when he remembers he's in a movie, not a play. Perez isn't bad once he gets going. Weisz (Stealing Beauty) spends most of the movie looking stupified, which fortunately she seems to be very good at. It's painfully earnest nonsense, not at all what you'd expect from Conradwhich could be good or bad, depending. (BC)
(PG-13; 85 min.) It's like Fatal Attraction with high school swimming! Erica Christensen (Traffic), in the Glenn Close role, bonks, then stalks Jesse (Bring It On) Bradford just before his big swim meet. The stars' curious lack of accents in a film set in New Jersey is the least of the film' implausibilities. Swimfan is unintentionally as funny as Scary Movie. The plot doesn't thicken, it curdles. The New Wave jump-cuts induce seasickness. The dialogue gives cliché a bad name and in no way resembles teenspeak. Only the pool scenes float. They shamelessly pay homage to classic shots from the likes of Showgirls and Night of the Hunter. The rest of SwimFan is all wet. (DH)
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(R; 96 min.) This low-budget comedy follows a close-knit group of twentysomethings looking for love in Hollywood's hippest nightspots, where the '90s retro-swing movement, in all its glamour, rules. Sporting bowling shirts, pompadours and pocket chains, the crew of fivehopeless suburbanites trying their hardest to be coolhits the bars in hopes of getting Mike (Jon Favreau), a struggling actor who's left the love of his life, out of his funk. After six months of Mike's moping, his buddy Trent (Vince Vaughn) drags him on a road trip to Vegas, where their whole big-spender act is lost on a couple of cocktail waitresses and a crowd of blue hairs playing the slots. The simple dialogue effectively captures the phony bravado, banter and self-deprecating humor of a clutch of close friends, but it is the tongue-in-cheek humor that sets Swingers apart. In one scene, paying homage to Scorsese's Copacabana set piece in GoodFellas, Mike and the guys climb the back steps of a hip club and enter through the kitchen. (JB)
(1936/1942) Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were poetry in motion. Unfortunately, the plots of their films were prose. Lucky (Astaire) is a hoofer by trade, but a gambler by vocation. He and his equally penniless partner Pop (Victor Moore) head to New York to raise the dowry for Lucky's fiancee, but the dancer has his heart stolen by Penny (Ginger Rogers), who works at a dance school. From that point on, it's his persistence vs. her reluctance, as they work their way up to penthouse-level nightclubs. Astaire is so graceful that even when he's running for a train, it looks syncopated. Like Rogers, George Stevensthe best director the team hadcuts across the too-sweet qualities: when Lucky serenades Penny with the melting Jerome Kern love song "The Way You Look Tonight," she's got shampoo in her hair and a towel around her neck. While The Gay Divorcee is Astaire and Rogers' best comedy, Swing Time is their most romantic film, mirroring as it does the lives of lovers with the lives of gamblers. It highlights Astaire's essential solitude, seen in the half-bow he makes as his lover leaves and he's left alone onstage at the finale of the "Never Gonna Dance" number. BILLED WITH Song of the Thin Man. The last of the six Nick and Nora Charles films, with Dean Stockwell as Nick Jr. (RvB)
(1936/1942) Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were poetry in motion. Unfortunately, the plots of their films were prose. Lucky (Astaire) is a hoofer by trade, but a gambler by vocation. He and his equally penniless partner Pop (Victor Moore) head to New York to raise the dowry for Lucky's fiancee, but the dancer has his heart stolen by Penny (Ginger Rogers), who works at a dance school. From that point on, it's his persistence vs. her reluctance, as they work their way up to penthouse-level nightclubs. As a partnership, it's perfection: Astaire is so graceful that even when he's running for a train, it looks syncopated. On the other hand, Rogers' street-level sarcasm keeps her partner from looking too ducky in his tuxedos and morning coats. Like Rogers, George Stevensthe best actor's director the team hadcuts across the too-sweet qualities: when Lucky serenades Penny with the melting Jerome Kern love song "The Way You Look Tonight," she's got shampoo in her hair and a towel around her neck. And the first kiss is eclipsed by a door that opens just in time. The dazzle of the "Bojangles of Harlem" numbera tribute to tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinsonis arrested a little by the blackface Astaire wears. Still, it's as about as discreet as blackface gets. While The Gay Divorcee is Astaire and Rogers' best comedy, Swing Time is their most romantic film, mirroring as it does the lives of lovers with the lives of gamblers. It highlights Astaire's essential solitude, seen in the half-bow he makes as his lover leaves, and he's left alone onstage at the finale of the "Never Gonna Dance" number. Also starring Helen Broderick, an unofficial Mom to Victor Moore's Pops; George Mataxa as the pettish bandleader "Ricardo Romano"; and the richly supercilious Eric Blore, who is almost as funny here as he is in the racetrack scene of The Lady Eve. BILLED WITH You Were Never Lovelier. In Argentina, Astaire hooks up with Rita Hayworth as the band (Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra) plays on. (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) Jeb Stuart's Switchback is a mediocre addition to the serial-killer genre. It's the story of a FBI agent (Dennis Quaid) whose son is kidnapped by a murderer playing a lethal game of cat and mouse. The strong cast, which also features Danny Glover and Ted Levine (of Silence of the Lambs fame) does not save Switchback from banality. Quaid plays his role with an uncharacteristic numbness, although Glover's wacky character offers some salvation by instilling the movie with a much-needed sense of humor. After teasing the audience for an hour with a convoluted storyline, the film discloses the killer's identity, leaving nothing in reserve for the disappointing conclusion. This is an action-suspense thriller with too little action and too little suspense. (SQ)
(R; 97 min.) In Swordfish's defining moment, our hero, superhacker-gone-straight Stan (Hugh Jackman) finds himself at a "job interview" getting fellatioed with a gun to his head while he has 60 seconds or less to hack into the Department of Defense's computer; when he succeeds, all "distractions" cease. Likewise, the film titillates plenty, but there's never much follow-through. The potential employer testing Stan's mettle is a powerful underworld figure/madman named Gabriel (John Travolta) who wants to use Stan's skills to pull off a huge online heist, the funds from which will, of course, be used to finance Gabriel's Diabolical Plan. (A personal war on terrorism against Americans that, in the process, involves lots of terrorism against Americanswhatever.) Obviously plot doesn't matter too much here, but despite some well-filmed gunfights, car chases and explosions, a thriller needs some tension and in that, Swordfish is slack, chiefly perhaps, because Travolta just doesn't work as a supervillain. For all the character's calculated violence, there's no real menace about Gabriel. He seems like he's bluffing his intelligence and the same can be said for the film. The opening scene may feature Gabriel making an "ironic" critique of typical Hollywood action films, but Swordfish isn't self-aware so much as it just seems bored to death with its own genre. (HZ)
(1936) This moviewhich contains one of Cary Grant's best roles and one of Katharine Hepburn's very worstis a magic, strange piece of work. The plot involves a father (Edmund Gwenn) and daughter (Hepburn) fleeing the French police for England; she's disguised as a boy to fool the cops. On the boat over, the pair encounters a Cockney grifter, Jimmy "nobody's enemy but me own" Monkley (Grant). The trio hooks up with a brash-voiced lady's maid (Dennie Moore) who they believe can be foisted off as a music-hall singer. All four head to the seaside, where the "boy" Sylvester is courted by both genders. What starts as an almost-musical ends up with bits of Pagliacci and King Lear sticking to it. Brian Aherne, a low-tar version of John Barrymore, stars as the romantic lead: a rich, horribly facetious artist. Hepburn, sometimes trying to be Peter Pan, sometimes a simpering girl, is absolutely embarrassing. Even a performer as able as she is can't keep up with the movie's turbulent changes in tone. And yet again, she's urgently desirable in close-up; you'd think she was Dietrich in a von Sternberg film. In addition to being essential viewing for every gender-studies student on the planet, Sylvia Scarlett's refusal to stick with a plot or a mood seems very avant-garde. Grant is different from what we've ever seen in any of his other movies (besides None but the Lonely Heart); he's lower and sexier here, as louche as Sean Connery. When told off by the (suddenly) high-minded Hepburn, who says, "You have the mind of a pig," he replies unabashedly, "It's a pig's world." (RvB)
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(R; 135 min.) It brought tears to a film nerd's eyes to see the audience go apeshit for Oldboy at the recent Mystery Movie Marathon. Could there be a better time to run the same director's previous film? Chan-wook Park, who wrote and directed both movies, has stirred up a ton of buzz over the Korean film industryafter the success of his Joint Security Area in 2000, he was reportedly given the green light to make any movie he wanted. He made this one, which should tell you something about the guy's state of mind. Perhaps even more violent than the name implies, this is the first in what has been described as a "revenge trilogy" that continues through Oldboy and culminates in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, which is out overseas and should get here in a few months. Another Chan-wook Park Fun Fact: He reportedly turned down a chance to remake The Evil Dead. What, integrity too? Swoon. (Capsule preview by SP)
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(Unrated; 88 min.) Happily, the slick, techno-infused documentary Synthetic Pleasures doesn't merely offer another venture into the uncharted wilds of cyberspace, although that's inevitably where it ends up. On the way to its inescapable virtual destination, however, the film provides a provocative tour of the peculiar culture that has grown up around modern technology. Synthetic Pleasures contends that we're slowly reinventing realityparticularly nature and our environmenta trend especially apparent in the sanitized and convenient versions of nature we're now able to create, such as an indoor, snow-covered "mountain" designed for year-round skiing. The film suggests that such re-creations of nature may soon be as appealing as the real thing, perhaps even more so, not to mention more readily accessible. (HZ)
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(R; 126 min.) Steve Gaghan's State of the Oil thriller gets an E for effort, though a page long communiqué ought to be handed out with every ticket. It concerns skullduggery in the Mideast, where the CIA, a petrochemical giant and various political intriguers conspire to influence the line of succession in an unnamed oil rich emirate. Baffled viewers will watch and hope for familiar faces. Of them, George Clooney is the most compelling as a betrayed lifer of a CIA hit man, beefed and bearded and bearing the poisoned, bearlike gravity of Raymond Burr. (RvB)