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Full text review.
(R; 140 min.) The hit by Kang Je-gyu commemorates the dead of the Korean War, and you'll think you saw every one of them fall by the end of the movie. Two brothers are sucked into the Korean War: the frail, bookish younger brother Jin-seok Lee (Won Bin) and his older sibling, Jin-tae (Jang Dong-gun), a shoemaker who works hard so that Jin-seok can go to school. Both are drafted into the South Korean side. The elder brother makes himself a good soldier in hopes of getting the younger kid out. But the plan backfires: the elder becomes a tiger, a medal winner and, eventually, a war lover on the edge of a breakdown. While the horrors of war are acknowledged, Je-gyu revels in the carnagethe bombs exploding, the limbs flying, a whole munitions plant's worth of ammo going off every minute. We get clearly defined good guys and bad guys, and a camera style that could give Ridley Scott lessons. An overlay of history slightly justifies the bloodiness. Does the history matter much to the pent-up menparticularly pent-up young menwho love these violently graphic war movies? Will they care about how poorly staged and written the peacetime scenes are? (RvB)
(1993/1981) Two by Yuen Wo-Ping (Drunken Master, Fist of Legend). Jet Li plays an expelled Shaolin monk who is stricken with amnesia before he can help defeat an evil, powerful eunuch. Michelle Yeoh (a.k.a. Michelle Khan, of Tomorrow Never Dies) co-stars as a sword-wielding woman warrior. BILLED WITH Dreadnaught, which is not about battleships but instead about the White Tiger, a masked bandit who hides out among a troupe of actors (including perennial comic reliefs Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao). (RvB)
(R; 109 min.) Pierce Brosnan deserves applause for one of the most thorough subversions an actor ever wreaked out of a character that made him famous. Brosnan's Andy Osnard is like Bond's disreputable brother. After gambling debts, messy affairs and other hinted-at misdeeds, he's sent to Panama, as remote an outpost as MI-6 can come up with. There, the scoundrel finds a new potential source of income. In a variation of the plot of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, Osnard concocts stories of a phantom rebel army ready to seize the canal itself. Osnard's local liaison: Panama's most British tailor, Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush)a thorough fraud like Osnard . . .but unlike Osnard, reluctant to be divested of one last particle of the English myth: namely, that most cherished bit of snobbery, the idea that a fine bespoke suit will transform the man who wears it. John Boorman directs from John Le Carré's novelLe Carré executive producedand on the whole, The Tailor of Panama is a confident and entertaining film that treats its viewers like people of intelligence. Again and again, the lines have the tang of classic-era movie scriptwriting: Rush, surveying a fancy room full of the scummy princes of Panamanian society, says, "When the Americans took out Noriega, I said to myself, Harry, I said, they took out Ali Baba and missed the 40 thieves." Unfortunately, the ending, a bad hodgepodge, suggests nothing as much as a person trying hastily to pack 10 pounds of something into a five-pound bag. Still, it's a smart entertainment that refreshes the public's lapsed memory about the elder Bush's misdeeds in Panama. Brosnan conveys the sense of having a great time, even more than in the 007 pictures. Jamie Lee Curtis's middle-aged voluptuousness makes up for an underwritten role as Harry's wife; and Rush is as always a pleasure (he develops a Fagin-like wheedle when he's confiding in his spy master, Brosnan). As for Brendan Gleeson, as the living victim of Andy and Harry's lies: George Bernard Shaw once commented that sometimes the worst stage Irishmen actually are Irishmen, and the worst stage Panamanian I've seen is an Irishman, too. (RvB)
(R; 100 min.) So much like Se7en, they should call it Ei8ht. The new one by D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea) sags on the twin pillars of the hackneyed serial-killer thriller: pure evil and the pop-up scene. When it can't chill you with the idea of an omnipotent chameleon killer wholike all the breedcan walk through walls and vanish, it tries to shock you with some jack-in-the-box action. FBI Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) comes to Quebec City to assist the resentful local police, who aren't impressed with her fancy criminologyand how exactly do they find killers up there: divine for them with willow branches? "Psychopaths actually have a different brain pattern," Scott informs the police, before figuring that what they have is a "hermit crab"-type serial killer who is picking up and discarding identities. Artist Ethan Hawke actually saw the murderer once and is pegged as the killer's next victim. On the bright side, this role is completely within Jolie's limits. The perfect Jolie part would be the daughter of Dracula, since that over-achieving lower lip is a proper cushion for a pair of fangs. Deeply troubled FBI homicide investigator is a nice second. In the last quarter of the film, there are scenesunique in Jolie's career to datein which she actually seems able to act. Gena Rowlands lends some humor and ham as the killer's intimidating mom. One sees a million films made in Canada, but few that really take you around Old Town Quebec City like this. (RvB)
(1935/1933) Ronald Colman stars as Sydney Carton, the dissolute lawyer's assistant redeemed by love. David O. Selznick's version of the French Car Cultureolution classic co-stars Edna May Oliver and Basil Rathbone; the second-unit work (the scenes of the Parisian mob on the warpath) was directed by Val Lewton, and looks it. BILLED WITH Little Women, with Katharine Hepburn playing the striving Jo; the rest of the cast includes Frances Dee as Meg, Joan Bennett as Amy and Edna May Oliver as Aunt March. (RvB)
Unpreviewed horror film from Korea. (Plays Nov 19 at 7pm in Cupertino at De Anza College, Advance Technology Center, Room ATC120; free.) (RvB)
(1942) George Stevens' comedy/drama about justice stars Cary Grant as a union organizer wanted for arson, lodging with a law professor (Ronald Colman) under the care of landlady Jean Arthur. This unusual plot, like that of The Philadelphia Story, shows some hints of social struggle breaking into the typical screwball comedy scenario. (RvB)
(R; 118 min.) Kasi Lemmons directs this drama about the real-life Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), a beloved radio DJ and community activist in Washington, D.C. And though the movie takes place over the course of two decades, Lemmons somehow manages to avoid hitting the usual biopic highlights, focusing instead on individual, lingering moments. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Dewey Hughes, Petey's friend, producer and manager, and it is their antagonistic friendship—and the two superb performances—that gives the movie its specific, harmonious rhythms. Petey's reaction to the 1968 death of Martin Luther King Jr. is a haunting highlight, and the sequence's dreamlike flow is equal to anything in Lemmons' great 1997 debut Eve's Bayou. Co-star Taraji P. Henson is also a standout as Petey's devoted girlfriend. (JMA)
(PG-13; 105 min.) Will Ferrell once again channels his inner child playing the thick, cowboylike title character in this sharp-witted racing comedy. Ferrell and the writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman) have crafted their screenplay like a collection of one-liners from outer space; bizarre asides, comments and insults get us to laugh with their suddenness as well as their uniqueness. Playing Ricky's French, gay rival, Sacha Baron Cohen perfectly matches—and clashes—with Ferrell's intensity. Even the racing scenes play efficiently and with a minimum of bombast. Three Oscar nominees (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan and Amy Adams) give the production a heft, and only a few fringe actors (Molly Shannon, Jack McBrayer) aim too broadly. Among many product placements and star cameos, Pat Hingle briefly appears. (JMA)
(1986) Juzo Itami's comedy about the endless human desire for food is full of delightful interludes, including a small child's first introduction to the delights of an ice cream cone after a strict health-food upbring. (MSG)
(PG-13; 105 min.) As is usual for dance films by Spain's Carlos Saura, the frame is deliberately broken. Saura's best film about dance, El Amor Brujo (1986), begins with a view of the backstage, the architecture a tangle of pipes and bricks; the camera coasts from backstage into the mess of ruined cars and scrap that is the stage setting of a Gypsy encampment. In Tango, the frame of the dance performances is the story of Mario (Miguel Angel Sola), a film director. Mario is wrestling with the creative problems surrounding an expensive tango film being shot in Argentina. He is recovering from a broken leg and has just been abandoned by his lover (Cecilia Narova). The producer Angelo (Juan Luis Galiardo) looks with disfavor at the avant-garde touches Mario wants to add as references to the violent social background of tango. (Mario wants to bring war into the story because of his own background; he was an exile from Argentina, because of the Dirty War, and his return to the new "ugly, gray and distrustful" Buenos Aires has stirred memories of political repression.) Atop these problems, Mario becomes entranced with a leading dancer, Angelo's protégé and live-in mistress, Elena (Mia Maestro). The framing story makes Tango a more compelling, if similarly staged, film than Saura's 1995 Flamenco. The superb score is by Lalo Schifrin; the rich photography is by Vittorio Storaro. (One wonders if the most titillating scene here, a lesbian tango, is an homage to Dominique Sanda's famous dance scene in the Storaro-photographed The Conformist.) In the end, what is said about most of Saura's dance films can be said here: Tango is strictly for devoted fans of tango. After the 10th or 12th number, you may make the unhappy discovery that you're not as big a fan as you thought you were. (RvB)
(2001) Étienne Chatiliez's comedy about a 28-year-old layabout who shows no signs of leaving his parents' house. (Plays Jun 15 at 7pm in Palo Alto at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd; www.frenchineclub.com.) (RvB)
(1931/1933/1932) From the ads: "Married to a man she doesn't love! Loving a man she can't have! What does life hold for this pampered beauty of the drawing rooms?" Tarnished Lady stars Tallulah Bankhead, the hard-living Southern-born stage actress: "The toast of London, slightly burned around the edges," as John Douglas Eames described her. In her heyday, this hard-drinking thespian was a prime symbol of the wickedness to be found in the theater. It was gossiped that, when drunk at certain parties, Bankhead would take off all of her clothes and start reading aloud from the Bible. Here Bankhead plays a Park Avenue woman who marries for money and repents at leisure. Clive Brook and Osgood Perkins (Anthony's dad) co-star. Shown in a nitrate print from the UCLA archive. BILLED WITH Our Betters. Constance Bennett plays a hardware-store heiress who marries a titled Englishman (Alan Mowbray). Unfortunately, milord refuses to gives up his mistress. It's based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham. George Cukor directs. BILLED WITH Rockabye, a little-seen domestic drama starring Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea. (RvB)
(G; 90 min.) The parts of the newest Disney opus that actually are a Tarzan movie are immaculate. No racism embarrassesprobably because here Africa has been completely depopulated of human life except for Tarzan and a handful of explorers. The Ape Man, gliding down the trunks of trees or hurtling through space, has the traditional charge of the old adventure. The panting, chemise-clad Jane (voiced by Minnie Driver) is Something for Dad, in the style of the equally provocative Tinkerbell in Peter Pan. The "deep canvas" animation that Disney's been trumpeting has taken the tackiness out of the backgrounds. But can't something be done about those stiff, unnatural show tunes? Tarzan seems especially laden with pails of sonic curds churned out by Phil Collins. (RvB)
(PG-13; 83 min.) Shot in South Africa and set in the early 1900s, the movie has the familiarity of warm bath water. Tarzan (the reedy-voiced, blandly handsome Casper Van Dien) tries to fight off unprincipled explorers who want to capture Tarzan's animal friends and desecrate the lost city of Opar (designed by the distinguished story-board artist Syd Cain). A neat episode involves Tarzan's pal, an African shaman who can change himself into a swarm of wasps. The slight actress Jane March, whose prominent overbite somehow doesn't draw the attention of the ivory hunters, plays Jane Porter, Tarzan's mate. Jane's been satisfyingly brought up to present prejudices by being a good shot with the revolver. Amusingly cheesy computer animation and a few cameos by the noted character actor Guy Inagorillasuit insure that you chuckle at this film and not with it. It's an adequate kid's movie, without cursing or sadism. In fact, the kids may be disappointed on that count. (RvB)
(1997/1994) A shy cop (Leo Koo) joins forces with a call girl (Charlie Leung) to take on Hong Kong criminals in Task Force. BILLED WITH New Legend of Shaolin. In medieval times, Jet Li's family is wiped out by a warlord's soldiers, but he and his shao-lin cult take revenge. Chingmy Yau co-stars.(RvB)
(2000) Agnes Jaoui directed, wrote and stars in this Friends-like comedy about a group of six working-class chums in Rouen.
(Unrated; 110 min.) Even people with blood pressure problems and recent heart surgery need thrillers to watch, and this German import by writer/director Robert Schwentke is made for them: no moments of heart-pounding excitement, just safe and sane levels of easily forseen plot twists and red herrings, and the most skin-deep exploration of evil. You'll sleep like a baby afterward. Two Bavarian police are on the prowl out for a tattoo collector named "Irezumi" (which means "tattooing" in Japanese); this serial killer skins trophies off his victims. The old cop, Minks (Christian Redl), is bald and brooding, a widower who has no family life. His cocky young partner, Schrader (August Diehl), may not have what it takes to face down the mysterious perpetrator. They use a beautiful tattooed blonde (Nadeshda Brennicke) as bait. Redl's Bruno Ganz-style moroseness promises a snarling payoff, but there isn't one. The old cop gets more depressed, and his certainty that "someone always pays" turns into the cheapest fatalism, derived from David Fincher's movies, like Se7en (Schwentke isn't just a slave to fashion, he's a slave to Fincher). The bizarre rumors of tattoo collectors that the police here can't seem to confirm are, incidentally, true; one Dr. Katsunari Fukushi operates a tattoo museum in Japan; details are in the Re/Search book Pranks! (RvB)
(PG-13; 97 min.) Queen Latifah takes Jimmy Fallon for a ride. Martin Scorsese it's not.
(1976; R; 112 min.) Sleepless in New York, the half-crazed cabbie TravisBickle (Robert De Niro) longs to be the "rain that will wash the scum off thestreets" in this must-see reissue of Martin Scorsese's masterpiece. It's aconvincing view of madness, directed with such passion and precision that youdon't really see Bickle's world as much as you inhabit it. Outstandingperformances include Harvey Keitel as the pimp "Sport" and Jodie Foster as apractically prepubescent whore. Bickle's world hasn't changed as much asexpanded. His view dominates most people's opinions of cities at present, andhis final rampage has over the years mutated into the feel-good experience ofthe mainstream vigilante movie. Thus, it's a movie that not only exists as anindelible experience but also a film that changed the course of cinemaitselfall while still being fresher by far than most everything in thetheaters today. (RvB)
(1931/1933) James Cagney plays Matt Nolan, an independent cabbie up against a corrupt union. In the dance contest scene with Loretta Young, Cagney dances for the first time onscreen. BILLED WITH Employer's Entrance. Warren Williams as a ruthless, philandering department store manager who finally oversteps his bounds. Young co-stars. (RvB)
(1983) A French thriller by Claude Berri; stars Coluche, Agnes Soral and Richard Anconina. (RvB)
(PG; 68 min.) This would be such a great name for one of those trashy erotic thrillers that everyone pretends not to go see. I can't believe it's really an animated Disney film about a talking dog. (Capsule preview by SP)
(PG-13; 96 min.) A nasty English teacher once told Kevin Williamson he couldn't write. He went on to write Scream, create Dawson's Creek, and now write and direct Teaching Mrs. Tingle. So who's sorry now? The audience. Tingle was Williamson's first script, and its awkwardness shows. This small-minded story of revenge by a poor-but-honest senior (Dawson Creek's Katie Holmes) upon her cruel history teacher (Helen Mirren, slumming) teaches us that fear of a failing grade is milder than fear of a knife-wielding maniac. We also learn that the studio's removal of the Grand Guignol gore, following the Columbine High massacre, leaves a potentially tough and ruthless film rough and toothless. Only newcomer Marisa Coughlan as a high school actress enjoys herself here. Her imitations of Marilyn Monroe (explaining the vital role of presidential mistresses in American history) and Linda Blair in The Exorcist (complete with convulsions) are worth the price of popcorn, if not admission. (DH)
Full text review.
(R) Sean Penn can quibble with the South Park boys over their comments about voting; the rest of us just want to see them kick the Bush apologists' asses in their latest satirein which, incidentally, they've moved up the stop-motion evolutionary ladder to marionettes. Can Dynamation be far behind? (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 121 min.) A battle-weary Navy SEAL lieutenant (Bruce Willis; and shouldn't he have a higher rank at his age?) leads his loyal band of brothers into the Nigerian jungle to rescue a beautiful American doctor (Monica Bellucci) and her "people" (as she calls the Africans at the local mission) from a marauding troop of rebel soldiers. Willis, of course, defies orders and logic to do the right thing against all odds until the air cavalry arrives to save the day. The high-tech grunts (instead of putting their ears to the ground to hear the enemy advancing, they have a GPS computer) exist mostly to look hard-bitten and say things like "Let's get the mission done, L.T." Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) mixes bombs with bombast about the internecine suffering of Africans (dwelling a bit too long on the atrocity footage), all leading to a conclusion that is stunning in its cascade of war-movie clichés. As a blooded but triumphant Willis, backlit by the sun, limps away to a waiting helicopter, a freedom chant rises on the soundtrack and an Ibo woman bursts out, "We will never forget you! God will never forget you!" If only I could forget this movie. (MSG)
(PG; 118 min.) Based on the autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli, who also directed the film, this drama tells the story of a young Italian boy, Luca, who is raised by a group of eccentric English and American women living in Florence, Italy, on the brink of World War II. The title, Tea With Mussolini, which refers to how Il Duce himself once humored a British ambassador's widow (Maggie Smith) as a PR stunt, illustrates how the film is as much a coming-of-age tale about members of the naive British/American expatriate community as it is about Luca. A formidable castperhaps too formidablewas assembled to play Luca's surrogate family: along with Smith, at her most disapproving as a stodgy matron, is Judi Dench as a flighty art lover, Joan Plowright as Luca's motherly tutor, Lily Tomlin as a vaguely lesbian archaeologist and Cher as a flamboyant art collector. It's no surprise that the acting is generally superb, but with so many grande dames crammed into one movie, the focus on Luca and how these unusual women affected his life all but disintegrates as the film alternately switches between a personal memoir and a more general history of World War II in Italy. However, Tea With Mussolini does have some touching momentsand best portrays both the horrors of war and the triumph of surviving it when Zeffirelli's lens settles on the personal. (HZ)
Fifteen skyscraper-sized family-style documentaries will be shownin three days. Only a neurosurgeon could guess at the cumulativeeffect of several bouts with the eight-story screen in one day,with patrons swooped into canyons and hurled directly into thewhiskers of very large animals. Everest is the one tosee if you're just seeing one, but the schedule also includesWolves, Space Station, Jane Goodall's Chimpanzees (chimpsblown up to a size as to make Kong a shrimp), India: Kingdomof the Tiger, Mexico, Blue Planet, Shackleton'sAntarctic Adventure, The Living Sea, Grand Canyon,Lewis & Clark, The Human Body and Amazing Caves. Atnight, the rock concert film All Access: Front Row, Backstage,Live!, with Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock and many others. PS: "Thesecret spot, the best seats ... are top center, directly aboveor below the projector housing. If you sit anywhere else in theauditorium, the picture is tremendously skewed, almost bizarre,and you've spent eight bucks to look at a wolf whose kisser appearsto be projected on the side of a hot-air balloon."KevinMurphy in A Year at the Movies. (Plays Oct 4-6 in SanJose at the Tech Museum) (RvB)
(1917) This two-reel slapstick comedy, produced by Mack Sennett Studios, stars Gloria Swanson with her first husband, Wallace Beery. Showing with It (1927), the comedy in which the first "It Girl," Clara Bow, got her nickname. The provocative Bow stars as an attractive salesgirl with designs on the boss's son. Part of the American Silent Film Comedies series curated by UCSC lecturer Bruce Thompson.
(1961/1958) Teen Kanya contains two parts of Satyajit Ray's trilogy of short films based on stories by R. Tagore; the third segment, "Monihara," was clipped before it arrived in the U.S. The first episode, "The Postmaster," is a story of ingratitude making an indelible scar on a little girl. A babu (clerk) played by Anil Chatterjee arrives at a hard-won postmaster's job deep in the hinterlands; an orphaned girl (beautifully assayed by Chandana Bannerjee) helps him adjust to the remoteness and strangeness, nursing him when he's stricken by malaria. The mood is as full of the unsaid as a mystery, but the ending is as eloquent as anything in cinema history. Next to this perfection, the second episode, "Sampati," is an anticlimax. Another citified clerk (Soumitra Chatterjee), proud of his English shoes, ostentatiously reading British authors; another country girlbut this is the story of an arranged marriage clipping the wings of a happy tomgirl. (I wonder if the minx is supposed to be a tribute to Deanna Durbin, a favorite movie star of Ray's when he was a boy.) Some of the situations recall Buster Keatonas when Chatterjee, dressed up like the dog's dinner, tries to fight a muddy road to go courting. And Aparna Das Gupta is a real beauty as the wild, reluctant bridebut seeing her defer to her husband, as we know she must at the end of such tales, is depressing. In Jalsaghar, an aristocrat recalls the decline of his life; challenged by an upstart, he makes one last gesture to recall his former glory. (RvB)
(1961/1980) Satyajit Ray's trilogy of short films based on stories by R. Tagore. The first episode, The Postmaster, is a heartbreaking story of ingratitude making an indelible scar on a little girl. A babu (clerk) played by Anil Chatterjee arrives at a hard-won postmaster's job deep in the hinterlands; an orphaned girl (beautifully assayed by Chandana Bannerjee) helps him adjust to the remoteness and strangeness, nursing him when he's stricken by malaria. The mood is full of the unsaid, but the ending is as eloquent as anything in cinema history. Next to this perfection, the second episode, Sampati, is an anticlimax. Another citified clerk (Soumitra Chatterjee), proud of his English shoes, ostentatiously reading British authors; another country girlbut this is the story of an arranged marriage clipping the wings of a happy tomboy. (I wonder if the minx is supposed to be a tribute to Deanna Durbin, a favorite movie star of Ray's when he was a boy.) Some of the situations recall Buster Keatonas when Chatterjee, dressed up like the dog's dinner, tries to fight a muddy road to go courting. And Aparna Das Gupta is a real beauty as the wild, reluctant bride, but seeing her defer to her husband, as we know she must at the end of such tales, is depressing. Finally, Monihara is a ghost story about greed; the still-chilling mood makes up for the (literally) bare-bones special effects. BILLED WITH Pikoo. A child (Arjun Guha Thakurta) is forced to look for diversion when his mother is seeing her lover. Ray describes this short made for French TV as "a poetic statement which cannot be reduced to concrete terms." (RvB)
(R; 88 min.) The "vagina dentata," or the toothed vagina that castrates men during sex, has been used symbolically for many horror films, but Mitchell Lichtenstein's Teeth is the first to use it literally. Teenage Dawn (Jess Weixler) preaches abstinence to her schoolmates, but when she falls in love for the first time, she discovers teeth where there shouldn't be any. The film's production values are nonexistent, but the brave cast rises to the occasion. Interestingly, the film makes Dawn the protagonist rather than a monster. Writer/director Lichtenstein's low-budget effort concentrates on black comedy (Dawn's house lies in the shadow of a nuclear power plant) with the gore effects timed perfectly; there's an extra beat before the camera lowers to show the carnage. (JMA)
(1923) Cecil B. DeMille takes on the legend of history's most eminent killjoy (as played by Theodore Roberts). The first part follows Moses' infancy, his escape from Egypt and his disruption of a Golden Calf-worshipping party that looks (in stills anyway) more energetic than the Zion orgy in The Matrix Reloaded. ("It's scarcely a strawberry festival. However, the producer has already pointed out how revolting it all is, so why carp."Deems Taylor, A Pictorial History of the Movies.) Intolerance-style, DeMille cuts to the 1920s for a tale of a good brother (Richard Dix) and his sibling who swindles a church and gets hooked up with a diseased floozy (Nita Naldi). Clark Wilson at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (RvB)
(PG-13; 90 min.) Modernizing Shakespeare for the teen set, 10 Things I Hate About You puts a hip spin on the Bard's Taming of the Shrew. Set in a Seattle high school, the flick follows Katarina and Bianca Stratford, two sisters living under the oppressive (but wealthy enough to keep them in Prada backpacks) hand of their overly protective obstetrician dad who's petrified that one of them will get pregnant. So as his form of didactic birth control, the elder Stratford rules that the perpetually perky Bianca cannot date until her caustic older sibling, Kat, gets a boyfriend. And who but a hired suitor (played with an off-kilter charm by Heath Ledger, despite his Michael Bolton-esque hair) would be up to such a challenge? A basic rendition, yes, and though at times 10 Things is annoyingly derivative, it has its endearing qualities. As the Sylvia Plath-reading, feminist diatribe-spouting Kat, Julia Stiles delivers an offbeat performance, and the film offers some clever depictions of high school cliques. Ultimately, 10 Things I Hate About You is standard teen fare, but it still manages to evoke many feelings reminiscent of adolescencegood and bad. (KR)
(PG-13; 121 min.) Taken all in all, and carefully considering the faults and virtues, Steven Spielberg's new movie should be understood as what it is: a flop. Tom Hanks stars as a visitor from "Krakozhia" who arrives in a New York airport to discover himself stateless: a coup in his home country makes all passports void, and the United States refuses to recognize the new government. Hanks' Navorski is stranded at the airport for months, under the watchful eye of the assistant head of security (Stanley Tucci). In the best imitation-Capra style, Navorski makes bosom friends out of the immigrants who service the airport. In the meantime, he falls in with a klutzy stewardess (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who can't find a man to commit to her. While the film is a warmhearted attempted salute to the ingenuity of immigrants, and while there are some intended jabs at America's newfound passion for tight borders, this film never develops a tone. It shifts from incident to incident until the clock runs out. The product placement for Burger King, Starbucks and a host of other goods surely must have paid for the film; at least the point is made that America is about brand names. This would be a happier world if Zeta-Jones were as sexy as she thinks she is, but playing a yearnerthe model for her role is Shirley MacLaine in The Apartmentshe doesn't seem right either. Zeta-Jones has a shell on her like a Brazil nut, and the vulnerability she shows here never seems like more than an act. Hanks is on his own wavelength with the Eastern European accentinstead of acting with a soccer ball as he did in Cast Away, he has a mysterious can of peanuts that never leaves his sight; in his solitude, he is more interesting than he is when trying to relate to the fellow actors. But then, Spielberg's strong suit has never been romance. Shot indoors during winter, The Terminal is claustrophobia-enducing to the extreme; it's almost worth going to see just to discover how great the out-of-doors is. (RvB)
(1946) That fabulous diamond the "Star of Rhodesia" has been stolen, and its unlucky owner has been found murdered. Sherlock Holmes, a passenger on the London-to-Edinburgh express, finds out who did it. Stars Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and, in a small role, Billy Bevan, the British music-hall comedian who originated the "fresh oyster stew" gag popularized by Curly Stooge. (RvB)
(PG-13; 93 min.) An average Western, more morally simplistic and tampered-with than usual; the film spent two years in the can. It's based on the memoirs of George Durham, a ranger of the 1870s. Dylan McDermott is occasionally convincing as the tubercular leader Leander McNelly, who leads unfledged recruits (including James "Dawson" Van Der Beek) into the borderlands. As the grand rustler "King" Fisher, Alfred Molina is an old-school horse-opera polecat. Still, Fisher was a far more colorful character than we see here, a gunman who sported Bengal tiger-skin chaps (this explains an otherwise inexplicable incident with a tiger early on in the film). And unlike his exit here, plagiarized from The Wild Bunch, Fisher not only survived but later became a sheriff of Uvalde County. Texas justice is sometimes difficult for the outsider to grasp. (RvB)
(1934/1936) Frank Capra's early silent for Columbia pictureshis first step, which improved both his fortunes and the fortunes of this Poverty Row studio. A millionaire's son (Ralph Graves) marries a poor but honest Irish girl (Viola Dana) and gets cut out of the will; but when he demonstrates his own skills as an entrepreneur, he's welcomed back into the family. As Capra's biographer Joseph McBride notes, the theme of a cocky independent vs. entrenched capital (each falling, panting, into the other's arms in the last reel) was a regular box-office success for Capra. Perhaps best summed up in one word by its star Dana in one word, "cute," but note the camera work by Joe Walker, inventor of the zoom lens. BILLED WITH It Happened One Night. An heiress (Claudette Colbert) jumps off of her family's yacht; a working-class reporter (Clark Gable) tracks her down to find out why. This favorite romantic comedy is invigorated by the class differences between the roughhousing Gable and the pampered Colbertnot to mention the gritty locations of bus stations and motels, unseen in the context of a comedic love story before. (This real-life background for the fairy-tale romance is no doubt a large part of what '30s audiences adored.) But I'm not a fan of this classic; Gable's contempt for the heiress seems to be turned up too many notches. The way he cuts her down to size has a cruel streak, which is obviously endorsed by the director, Frank Capra. (RvB)(BC)
(PG; 89 min.) A small-town teenager (Christina Ricci), while dying slowly of boredom (which the audience does right along with her), has trouble convincing the authorities that her cat has discovered the hideout of a gang of kidnapers. This Disney remake (of the studio's own property from 1965) is about as paralytically inept a comedy as you could imagine. All concerned should be ashamed of themselves, especially director Bob Spiers; you'd never guess that his résumé includes episodes of two of Britain's best-loved television comedies: Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous. (BC)
(1977) A memorable cautionary tale to all old goats who chase young women. Luis Buñuel tells the tale in flashback during a long ride on the Seville-to-Paris train. Matthieu (Fernando Rey) is an aged gentleman enamored of a chimerical woman who pops up in various guises and two different skins: she's played by both the sly, aristocratically handsome Carole Bouquet and the shorter, fleshier, more common (and in my opinion more erotic) Angela Molina. The wealthy gent's efforts at seduction are thwarted by the woman/women's elusiveness, though she teases him within an inch of his life with every conceivable provocation. The two-girl motif isn't easy to explainthey're not exactly a sacred/profane pair of twinsand yet the gamble works. It's based on a Pierre Lloys novel titled The Woman and the Puppet and was filmed as The Devil Is a Woman with Marlene Dietrich (there was a silent version, too, starring an actress rejoicing in the name Conchita Montenegro). That Obscure Object of Desire's attitude toward aging is graceful, strangely enough. Rey's tranquillity toward the terrorist uprisings occurring on all sides of him are a model of how to face the uncertainties of age. (Learning of another massacre by the Car Cultureolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Mattheiu observes calmly that in his day the anarchists didn't seem to take everything so personally.) Here, Buñuel is in such an expansive mood that he even admires the Cathedral at Seville: the splendid house of his ancient enemy. Still, the film isn't quite so good as the director's thematically similar comedy of tantalization, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. And unlike so much of Buñuel's feminist work, this is funnier to men than women. I'm sure I don't know why. (RvB)
(PG-13; 105 min.) "You'd scare a piranha," Bette Midler's ex-husband (Dennis Farina) tells her during this mediocre star vehicle. The perceptive line is meant as a joke, but it sums up Midler's personalityshe's getting pretty horrible now. Yes, she can be funny, but she attacks every role like Jake LaMotta. Midler plays Lily, a brash movie star attending her daughter's wedding, who runs into her ex-husband. In the process of scratching each other's eyes out, they recognize that old spark and become lovers again. Every joke is about how badly people have been keeping themselves or how much cosmetic surgery they've gone through. The plot is as familiar as Midler's approachshe caws out the third-rate gags and shows off a lot of what she obviously thinks is a body made for sin. That Old Feeling is directed, on the cheap, by Carl Reiner, who let Midler do as she pleased and didn't try to turn her volume down. (RvB)
(PG; 107 min.) The (one-hit) Wonders pop quartet rockets fromsmall-town obscurity to the Hollywood big-time in 1964. Tom Hanks, who wroteand directed, has created a charming and nearly flawless visit to an idyllicpast, buoyed by terrific art direction and some lovely songs, most notablythe relentlessly catchy title track (by Adam Schlesinger) and a hilariousMitch Miller sendup (by Hanks). Onscreen, Hanks confines himself to asupporting role as the boys' artist and repertory man. There are flawsthedenouement is clunky, even mawkish, and when it comes to the grinnin' an'shufflin' negro servants, Hanks doesn't capture a time past so much asresurrects a shameful conceit. That said, the four Wonders (Tom EverettScott, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn and Ethan Embry) at times are asappealing as "those other mop-tops" were at their height. Sowhen is theMonkees movie coming out?
(1962/1966) Doris Day's quaint honor has not yet turned to dust, nor have worms tried her long-preserved virginityto paraphrase poet Andrew Marvell's anticipation of Day in the film version of "To His Coy Mistress." However, there is an impasto of Eastmancolored dustiness to That Touch of Mink, a story of a secretary (Day) fleeing an executive (Cary Grant) in those days when sexual harassment was a joke. The cast is a Nick at Night watcher's dream: Audrey "Alice Kramden" Meadows, John "Gomez Addams" Astin and Dick "Bewitched" Sargent. BILLED WITH Walk, Don't Run. "Run, don't walk, to see Walk, Don't Run!"the ad campaign. Grant's last film, a remake of 1943's The More the Merrier, with the housing crisis at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as the background. Jim Hutton plays a member of the U.S. Olympic team, and richly syllabled Samantha Eggar has the Jean Arthur role. Grant takes the Charles Coburn part as a businessman who helps matchmake the couple. (Speaking of rich syllables: George Takei has a small part here, one of his last postings on Earth before a long stint on the Enterprise.) In the '50s, Grant had experimented with LSD, finding it much to his liking. He didn't come back to play a crusty granddad who bonds with his estranged children. Nor did he take up stunt-casting as a homeless schizophrenic who sleeps on the sidewalk. He escaped the wave of nude scenes that struck older actors, trying to be good sportsJack Lemmon in Avanti!, Kirk Douglas in Saturn 3, Deborah Kerr in The Gypsy Moths, Burgess Meredith in Such Good Friendspart of this actor's supernatural canniness was knowing when to get out of a business at the right timeand his timing is part of the reason Grant's elegance is still so happily remembered. (RvB)
(PG-13; 92 min.) A '70s retro comedy about Hock (Adrian Pang), a bored twentysomething whose life is changed when he enters a disco competition.
The grandfather of all electronic and amplified musical instruments revealsits story in this priceless documentary by Steven M. Martin. The sinisterwowing, humming and fluttering of the Theremin is positively normal comparedto the true story of its inventor, Professor Leon Theremin, playboy, maestroand KGB scientist. Martin interviews the incredible Professor Theremin, inhis 90s when Martin found him. Other sources include the world's greatestThereminist, Clara Rockmore, and the spooky Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys,whose famed E/E/D/C#/D Theremin riff showed the range of the instrument.(RvB)
(R) The Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin) have a knack for the outrageous, and their best work so far, There's Something About Mary, is a shocking romantic comedy full of outlandish sight gags that takes everything to extremes. Cameron Diaz is Mary Jenson, the object of everyone's desire. When likable loser Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) stands up for her mentally disabled brother, Mary asks him to the prom. But clumsy Ted blows his chance and spends the next decade pining for what might have been. Fed up, Ted's friend Dom (Chris Elliott) convinces him to hire smarmy private dick Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) to spy on Mary. What follows is an uproarious, though cringe-inducing, comedy. Diaz proves she can successfully carry a comedy and Dillon takes new direction as a sleazebag rather than a stud; but it's Stiller's pathetically sympathetic Ted that gives the movie its necessary heart. Well-known actors pepper the cast in smaller roles, including Farrelly favorites Harland Williams (Half Baked) as a scary hitchhiker and Lin Shaye (Kingpin) as an overtanned agoraphobic widow. (SQ)
(PG-13; 89 min.) Robert Harmon directs a Wes Craven tale of childhoodterror.
(1975) This early David Cronenberg horror film is also known as Shivers and The Parasite Murders. As in many Cronenberg stories, the human body is beset by disease and disintegrationthis time in the form of insidious parasites that run rampant in an apartment building. Not for the squeamish. Look for horror-film icon Barbara Steele. (AR)
(1949; unrated; 98 min.) Director Nicholas Ray made an indelible debut with this romantic film noir starring Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell as troubled Depression-era teens fleeing the law. The power of Granger and O'Donnell's doomed affair is still startling 50 years later. Also stars Howard da Silva and Jay C. Flippen.
(R; 90 min.) In the U.S.S.R. of the early 1950s, a fatherless boy and his mother are adopted by Tolyan, a dashing bastard of a thief (Vladimir Mashkov). Both mother, Katya (Ekaterina Rednikova), and son, Sanya (a remarkable child actor named Misha Philipchuk), are so desperately in need of love that they put up with Tolyan's violent side. This story, with its film noir plotting and pastel, nostalgic colors, is an allegory at times: Tolyan, who has a tattoo of Stalin over his heart, is like the dictator, betraying, stealing and hurting the people he professes to love. But the allegorical aspects bring the movie into bathos, piling on tragedies that lead to an improbable ending. Director Pavel Chukhrai keeps the pace fast and varies the scenery. There are even a few scenes at the beach; you never expect to see palm trees in a Russian movie. The Thief is a heart-wrenching filmsimple, cruel, taut and tough as nails. It deals with a primal matter: the mixture of love and rage we feel for our parents. Although you ache for the child who doesn't want to leave his mother's side, you also feel for the lovers who are trying to have a few moments of peace away from the pestering kid. (RvB)
(1924) Douglas Fairbanks Jr. plays the intrepid Arabian Nights hero under Raoul Walsh's direction. The film is slow and sometimes syrupy, and since Fairbanks was playing an Arab, he apparently thought that he ought to gesticulate more. Still, The Thief of Bagdad showcases the great star, "a bird in flight," as Allan Dwan, one of Fairbanks' directors, described the man. Trivia gleaned from Who the Devil Made It (Peter Bogdanovich's book of interviews with filmmakers): The prop wizards at Keystone Studios built the flying carpet, and Mitchell Leisen, later a noteworthy director, designed the costumes. Silent. (RvB)
(R; 117 min.) André Téchiné (Wild Reeds) has made themost interesting and metaphysically complex movie about cops and robbers sinceThe Usual Suspects. Thieves is set in Lyon, the Chicago of France. Antihero Alex (Daniel Auteuil), a policedetective, is secretly sleeping with the boyish Juliette (Laurence Côte), apetty criminal who is also carrying on an affair with Marie (Deneuve), aphilosophy professor. What I'm describing sounds didactic, a cut-and-driedconflict between different ways of shaping the worldof law vs. philosophy. ButTéchiné makes the theme of duality organic, putting it in thebackground instead of the foreground, and using it to discuss his usualfascination with conflicted family life. (RvB)
(1934) Nick and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy and William Powell)drinkers by vocation, detectives by hobbysolve the disappearance of a scientist. (RvB)
(1934/1939) William Powell and Myrna Loy were born to play the elegant cocktail-downing detective couple Nick and Nora Charles in the screen adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel. The first installment in the long-running series is the best. BILLED WITH Bachelor Mother. Ginger Rogers and David Niven star in a romantic comedy directed by Garson Kanin. (AR)
(1934/1935) William Powell and Myrna Loy star as the cool husband-and-wife team Nick and Nora Charles. Between rounds of martinis, the two solve a mystery about the disappearance of a cranky scientist with a very dysfunctional family. The film offers a delightful vision of married life as constant playtime that never ends. BILLED WITH Top Hat. Ginger Rogers mistakes Fred Astaire for a cheating husband, instead of a yearning bachelor. The budding love affair is complicated by the usual gang: arch-Brit Eric Blore, immortal stage foreigner Erik Rhodes, fey New Englander Edward Everett Horton and the sizable Helen Broderick. Numbers include "Isn't This a Lovely Day," "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails." (RvB)
(1949) Joseph Cotten plays Holly Martins, once again as hapless as a rabbit in a magician's handsnamely, Orson Welles as Harry Lime, the mysteriously disappeared "third man." The replaying of the broken friendship from Citizen Kane is just one of the pleasures of Carol Reed's The Third Man, newly rereleased in a version that restores the director's original narration and some extra footage. Here's the blueprint for a standard film noir: corrupt town (Vienna in the wake of World War II), sinister police and tough hero. But the blueprint is discarded: our hero is clumsy, bad with his fists. When Martins hooks up with Lime's mourning girlfriend, Anna (Alida Valli), he doesn't bring the girl help, just more trouble. It's Welles who gives the movie its great pleasures and its elegant morality. His Lime, that great embodiment of fascinating fascism, provides the thrill of at last seeing the enemy in your periscope. The Third Man, like Citizen Kane, is a story of an American who only wants love on his own terms: "The only terms anyone understands," said Charles Foster Kane, which is just what Harry Lime would say. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) A man moves into a house inhabited by 13 ghosts and a buried treasure.
(PG-13) I wish this were a car-chase movie featuring the kind of senior citizens who find 30 mph a death-defying speed. The theme song could be "I Can't Drive 55," only the twist would be that they can't get up to 55. But anyway, it's not. Instead, Jennifer Garner plays a 13-year-old girl who wakes up 30 years old one day. Hilarity ensues. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 114 min.) The best line in this unmitigated turkey is a response to a wolfhound whining at a scent. "The dog doesn't approve," says his Viking master. Maybe the dog got a whiff of the script. Antonio Banderas, dressed up as the Sheik of Araby, is an emissary to the Norsemen about a thousand years ago. He's a poet from Baghdad; this man of peace is drafted to rescue a Viking lord's people from injuns. They're actually cave-dwelling cannibal Cro-Magnons who worship a fat-breasted fertility goddess ... but they ride horses like injuns, wear bearskins like injuns and grunt just like every terrible western movie injun that ever gesticulated at an insomniac from a TV screen. Plus, any Viking can take 10 of them out with one stroke of his sword, and there's always plenty more riding in to take their place at the slaughter. John McTiernan's mossy direction matches the muddy photography. This wreck is adapted from Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Deadat last, a second half for a double bill with Congo, so Crichtonologists can compare the placement of towers of skulls and reuse of Edgar Rice Burroughs' cast-off tropes. The 13th Warrior doesn't function as pulp, thanks to its breaking the old rule of never using a passive hero; Banderas' Arab stays rather prissy almost all the way to the finale, a Seven Samurai ripoff rain-battle. Diane Venora is squandered, again, and couldn't there have been a Brunhilda or two to fight off these painted savages attacking the Viking ranch? (RvB)
(1934) Preston Sturges co-wrote the screenplay for Thirty Day Princess, an amusing twist on the theme of the Prisoner of Zenda. It's an opus about a shop girl who poses as a princess looking for financial aid for her nation; part of her mission involves charming a newspaper publisher (Cary Grant) who opposes such bailouts. Blustering Edward Arnold co-stars. (RvB)
(R; 113 min.) This high-concept vampire film suffers from a disappointingly low-concept approach. Based on a comic book by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, it takes place during the Alaskan winter, when the sun doesn't rise for 30 days, and hence vampires don't need to sleep. The small-town sheriff (Josh Hartnett) helps the citizens avoid being bitten, but the film doesn't fully explore the idea of this extended time period. (The humans hide in an attic for days, but the vampires can't find them?) The characters, too, are barely more than sketches, though Danny Huston adds some verve to his perplexed, amused lead vampire. With Melissa George, Ben Foster, and Mark Boone Junior. David Slade (Hard Candy) directs, and botches the action and suspense with terrible, erratic camerawork. (JMA)
(1935/1934) The 39 Steps features the earliest and perhaps the purest version of a recurrent Hitchcock theme: an innocent man pursued across the map by both the police and a shadowy mob of spies. Robert Donat plays a flippant Canadian. Not the sort of person to get tangled up in all of this cloak-and-dagger stuff, Donat ends up in the prime suspect in a murder, committed by The 39 Steps, a group of espionage artists. With Madeleine Carroll as the unwilling girl dragged across Scotland with Donat, Godfrey Tearle as the Professor, the young Peggy Ashcroft in the poignant episode about the farmer's wife and Wylie Watson appropriately unforgettable as the ill-fated but dutiful Mr. Memory. BILLED WITH The Man Who Knew Too Much. At an alpine resort, a secret agent is killed. With his dying words, he directs a stranger named Lawrence (Leslie Banks) to courier a message to the British consulate. In retaliation, enemy agents kidnap Lawrence's daughter, Betty (Nova Pilbeam), promising to kill her to prevent interference. This is the early version of a film Hitchcock later remade. It includes one great performance: the assassin-for-hire Abbott, played by Peter Lorre, in his first English-speaking role. With a big jagged scar on his head and a skunk-stripe of white hair, Lorre's Abbott is the soul of courtesy. Clouting the unruly Lawrence, Abbott composes himself, saying, "Sorry, please forgive me." But Lorre always displayed, as Graham Greene wrote of him, "the goodness, the starved tenderness, of his vice-entangled souls." Compared to this elegant villain, the rest of the cast is mostly a series of stuffed tuxedos. (RvB)
(1935/1936) The fountainhead of the modern spy film, in which cool and murderous elements are balanced; no matter what happens in Quantum of Solace, some of it will have happened in this film first. It's the earliest and perhaps the purest version of a recurrent Hitchcock theme: an innocent man pursued by both the police and a shadowy mob of spies. Robert Donat plays a flippant Canadian. Not the sort of person to get tangled up in all this cloak-and-dagger stuff, Donat ends up the prime suspect in a murder, committed by the 39 Steps, a group of espionage artists. With Madeleine Carroll as the unwilling girl dragged across Scotland with Donat, Godfrey Tearle as the Professor, the young Peggy Ashcroft in the poignant episode about the farmer's wife and Wylie Watson appropriately unforgettable as the ill-fated but dutiful Mr. Memory. Holden Caulfield's favorite film. BILLED WITH The Secret Agent. John Gielgud stars as the reluctant gentleman spy "Ashenden," in an adventure taken from two of Somerset Maugham's perhaps autobiographical accounts of espionage in Switzerland, 1916. As in the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the stuffy British heroes are overshadowed by Peter Lorre, who plays a Mexican professional assassin. "Childlike, beautiful and unfathomably wicked," the critic Otis Ferguson called Lorre in this forerunner of the adventures of James Bond. (Plays Feb 1-4, 2008 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)
(1935/1937) Alfred Hitchcock's breakthrough film, a lighthearted but mordant spy drama. Hannay, a debonair Londoner (Robert Donat), is hunted by both the police and a mysterious group of assassins. He hooks up to an unwilling hostage (the first of Hitchcock's trademark cool blondes, Madeleine Carroll). It's the fountainhead of the modern spy adventure, in which the comic and the murderous are balanced. BILLED WITH Young and Innocent (a.k.a. The Girl Was Young). Spruce little Nova Pilbeam is young, matinee idol Derrick de Marney is innocent in an adaptation of Josephine Tey's A Shilling for Candles. The film is pretty much a reprise of The 39 Steps. De Marney plays the hunted man in the wild countryside, innocent and accused of murder; his chum Erica (Pilbeam) helps him find the real murderer, a man with a twitch in his eye. Memorable for a 145-foot tracking shot at the finale, leading to a close-up on a certain twitchy killer. (RvB)
(2004) Ex-policeman Olivier Marchal directed this policier about the rivalry between two high-ranking detectives (Gérard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil). The title address is Paris' answer to Scotland Yard, as the long-memoried who loved H.G. Clouzot's 1947 Quai des Orfèvres will attest. (Plays Jul 27 at 7:30pm at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd; $5/$7; see www.frenchcineclub.com for details.) (RvB)
(1942/1946) The perfect model for a movie actor is a short person with a big head. Alan Ladd fit these specs as if he were designed by special order. The small but fierce Ladd starts off the Stanford's excellent film noir/pre-Code festival in two films with his equally diminutive lead, Veronica Lake. In This Gun for Hire (somewhat based on a Graham Greene novel), Ladd plays a cat-loving hit man who goes up against Nazi collaborators under the nervous protection of ace villain Laird Cregar. A little amoral blonde singer at Cregar's club (Lake) confuses matters. BILLED WITH The Blue Dahlia, the better picture. It deals with a pair of army buddies who return from World War II to a dismal new life. Ladd's wife (Doris Dowling) is sleeping around, and his child is dead, thanks to her negligence; his buddy Buzz (William Bendix, never better) has a plate in his head that gives him violent headaches and potentially murderous spells whenever the music gets too loud. The script is by Raymond Chandler, but the cop-out ending is strictly from Hollywood. (RvB)
(1944) This Happy Breed is England's answer to Since You Went Away, with a middle-class family (including the roguish Robert Newton) dealing with hard times during World War II. (RvB)
(1932) In This Is the Night, his first movie, Cary Grant plays an Olympic track star who finds out that his wife (the ill-fated sex symbol Thelma Todd) is unfaithful. It's a semimusical of the school of Lubitsch, based on a French farce with Lily Damita in the title role. (RvB)
(1984) A half-bright unkillable rock band implodes during the course of a terminal American rock tour, as chronicled by a worshipful but imbecilic documentary director (Rob Reiner). The group, Spinal Tap, is modeled on Status Quo and a few other rock bands that wouldn't lay down and die; theyoh, what's that horrible phrase?"reinvent themselves" from skiffle to psychedelic and then into the kind of arena-metal that would embarrass the hell out of Satan himself. ("Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell, where the banshees live, and they do live well! Stonehenge! 'Tis a magic place, where the moon doth rise with a dragon's face!") A flop in its day, marketed as a new Airplane!, This Is Spinal Tap now shines as the funniest and most knowing satire of the wretched dumb excesses of rock, with an ensemble cast that rivals the best of Preston Sturges. Featuring the power chords of Harry Shearer (bass player Derek Smalls), Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins) and the slow-on-the-uptake Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest). Also stars Tony Hendra as the ominous manager, Patrick Macnee as the pedophiliac record company owner, Paul Schaffer as the under-assistant promo man ("Do a fella a favor. Kick my ass"), Fran Drescher as an unctuous but vicious exec and Fred Willard as a hearty square. (RvB)
(G; 85 min.) Hero of a children's book series comes to life in an animated and live-action feature starring Peter Fonda (!) and Alec Baldwin (!!).
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(R; 104 min.) Some deletions and miscasting turn Jane Smiley's fine novel A Thousand Acres into a story about the empowerment of vague, idle women. It is a retelling of King Lear, set in Iowa in the 1980s. Lear (Larry, played by Jason Robards) divides his land among his three daughters. Regan the rebel (called Rose and played by an out-of-her-depth Michelle Pfeiffer) leads the obedient Goneril (Ginny, played by Jessica Lange) against her own father. In his loss, Lear is sheltered by loyal Cordelia (Catherine, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). Director Jocelyn Moorhouse is faithful to most of Smiley's incidents, but she does not capture the last thing Ginny tells us: that the obsidian sharpness of her anger has finally lead her to understand even the inhumanity of her father. Instead, we get phony redemption and bonding. (RvB)
(Unrated; 80 min.) An award-winning Mexican feature by Julian Hernandez about a gay teenager in the aftermath of a painful breakup.
(1954/1953) Three American secretaries (Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara) make a wish in the Trevi Fountain in Rome: for love, marriage and money. The wishes come true but not exactly as they had in mind. BILLED WITH Genevieve. Civilized comedy about fanciers of old-fashioned automobiles who agree to a road race between London and Brighton, between a 1904 Spiker and a 1904 Darracq (the Darracq is named "Genevieve"). Both of these automobiles look like rolling, puttering teakettles. The race is only the springboard. From Kenneth More's rich embodiment of a grating ad man to Kay Kendall's rich drunk scene to the road itself, everything embodies an unostentatious graciousness that looks all too much like the dead past. (RvB)
(1954/1953) Famous romance of three American secretaries who make a wish at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. In CinemaScope. BILLED WITH Roman Holiday. Audrey Hepburn stars as a Ruritanian princess on the run in Roman Holiday; reporter Gregory Peck is on her trail. This trifle is energized by the location photography of Romea novelty at the time and a feat to pull off during the middle of a heat wave. (RvB)
(1954/1955) Vacationing American women (Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara) wish for love at the Trevi fountain in Rome. Also stars Rossano Brazzi. BILLED WITH Summertime, starring Katharine Hepburn in the Venice movieuntil The Wings of a Dove, anyway. She plays a schoolteacher on holiday courted by an Italian art dealer (Brazzi). (RvB)
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(R; 95 min.) Compose a bluffer's guide to the films of Ki-duk Kim, and you need to guess at meaning in the work of a director who has very few films available in the West. Only three of Kim's dozen films had a multicity release in the USA. Of that three, only one managed to stay around for more than a couple of weeks. All three may not be equally compelling, but all three are brilliant. 3-Iron (Bin-Jip) is perhaps the least mysterious of Kim's films released here, and it's still baffling. There's a young squatter named Tae-Suk (Hee Jae); he rides his motorcycle around the city, picking the locks of vacant apartments and houses. Once inside, he makes himself at home. In one house, he discovers a mute, beaten-up girl named Sun-Hwa (Seung-yeon Lee)the wife of a bigwig who took off on a business trip after he gave her a beating. The two spend the night together, but the brute comes home and discovers them. The two lovers head off on a spree of housebreaking. As if they were film directors, they never steal anything but images: they photograph themselves in the houses as souvenirs. When the cops catch up with them Sun-Hwa refuses to talk. And Tae-Suk, kept in solitary confinement, refines the art of invisibility. Tae-Suk suffers for his compulsion to enter people's houses. The cops and the jailers beat him up, and so do more than one of his victims. Yet without a clear explanation for his compulsion, you have to project what 3-Iron is about. Kim seems a conservative filmmaker at heart. In his lens, the interiors of traditional Korean homes are far more welcoming than the grossly Westernized estate from which Sun-Hwa escapes. In some respects, perhaps Tae-Suk represents the spirit of his nation, recoiling from the gross side of Western life, but not fully at home in its traditional side either. As such, this seems a particularly compelling film for a young man, under the thumb of the rich and the police. I think I would have drunk this movie dry when I was 17. So what can you do, but recommend 3-Iron and hope for some new clues from those who watch. There's an obvious problem when writing about the movies of any impressionistic directorKim, David Lynch, Lucretia Martel or such pioneers of subjective cinema as Jean Vigo or that unsung hero Dmitri (Menilmontant) Kirsanov. What you're seeing is always a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact. The mystery begins outside the film's lines. 3-Iron ends with a slightly lame epitaph: "It's hard to tell if the world we're in is reality or a dream." But the act of watching is serious collaboration with the director's imagination. (RvB)
(1950) Harry Ruby isn't a household name, but he was considered one of the funniest men of his day. The songwriter (played by Red Skelton) is remembered in this bio film with Fred Astaire (playing Bert Kalmar, Ruby's songwriting partner). The picture avoids the conflict-heavy method of rewriting show-biz lives. The 14 songs include one by the young Debbie Reynolds playing Helen Kane (the living model for Betty Boop). (RvB)
(1950) Harry Ruby isn't a household name, but he was considered one of the funniest men of his dayand that was Groucho Marx's opinion. The songwriter (played by Red Skelton) is remembered in this bio film with Fred Astaire (playing Bert Kalmar, Ruby's songwriting partner). Astaire only has one dance number, but the 14 songs include one by the young Debbie Reynolds, playing Helen Kane (the living model for Betty Boop, who dubbed in her hit "I Wanna Be Loved by You." Other songs include "Who's Sorry Now?" and "Hurray For Captain Spaulding"not quite so well done as by Groucho. BILLED WITH The Belle of New York. It's an 1890s musical, with Fred Astaire as a rascal lured by a Salvation Army officer (Vera-Allen). (Plays Jan 14-16 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
Exiled Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz applies liberal doses of surrealisticwhimsy to an episodic reverie about multiple personalities. MarcelloMastroianni plays a series of characters who may all be one and the same.What starts as discrete episodes eventually run together until all theplayers are somehow connected to the single man whose protean imagination hasconjured them up. Ruiz owes a debt to Brunuel, but his brand of surrealismhas no sting. Even in the midst of absurdity rampant, we look for a dreamlogic of sorts, but Three Lives and Only One Death finished as anunsolved puzzle not worth the effort of putting its scattered piecestogether. (MSG)
(PG; 93 min.) Three ninja brothers must come to the rescue when an evil bandit queen and her henchmen take over an amusement park.
The upcoming documentary Reel Paradise showed how Fijians at the 180 Parallel Theater (proposed as the most remote theater in the world) were convulsed by Curly Stooge in the 50-year-old short Some More of Samoa. As long as violence and poverty go hand in hand, there will always be an audience for the epic mayhem of the Three Stooges. Hard-working, class-card-playing comedians, the Stooges exerted an enormous influence on cinema. The two-reelers revived here represent some of their best work: the Oscar-nominated Men in Black (a parody of the Clark Gable hospital drama Men in White); You Nasty Spy, an anti-Hitler film that beat The Great Dictator to theaters, even at a time when Hollywood was under Senate investigation for prematurely anti-fascist films; and other messterpieces. (RvB)
(R; 83 min.) A comedy, written and directed by rap producer and artist DJ Pooh, about a man who tries to clear his name after becoming implicated in a crime that will be his "third strike."
(PG-13; 98 min.) Little more than a big-screen vehicle for TV stars Matthew Perry, Neve Campbell and Dylan McDermott, director Damon Santostefano's Three to Tango is an irrelevant, forgettable movie of questionable taste. Perry stars as Oscar Novak, a young architect whoalong with his business partner (Oliver Platt)is trying to land a multimillion-dollar design project that rests in the hands of neurotic, paranoid, egomaniacal Chicago tycoon Charles Newman (McDermott). When Newman mistakenly assumes that Novak is gay, he pressures him into keeping an eye on his young mistress, the struggling but up-and-coming artist Amy Post (Campbell). Novak agrees, and predictably falls for her, but she thinks he's gay and deems him her newfound best friend. What's a straight guy to do? Though the movie relies on semi-slapstick comedy to get a little more mileage from its fairly thin plot, none of the actors look like they're having a particularly good time. Perry cringes his way through; Campbell blunders along looking alternately wounded and delighted; and McDermott has all the charisma of a thumbtack. (SQ)
(PG; 115 min.) Last Thursday, USA Today ran an ad from the makers ofThree Wishes telling both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole that they wereaccepting their challenge for a kinder, gentler Hollywood. You can judge foryourself whether Three Wishes represents your constituency. Most ofthe action takes place in 1955, but all of the unpleasant things about thattime have been air-brushed out. The setting is the suburbs of a southwesterntown, but there are no Spanish-speaking people around. The plot brings ashaggy, handsome drifter named Jack (Patrick Swayze) into the lives of alovely young mother, Jeanne (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio)whose husband ismissing in Koreaand her two sons. Trying to avoid Jack's dog in the road,Jeanne knocks him down and breaks his leg. She then does what any singleparent with small children in the mid-'50s would have done: she takes astrange man into her home to recuperate. The neighbors tsk-tsk about this,but it doesn't take long for Jack to win everyone over, including the LittleLeague. But Jack's a man of the road, and when that leg is healed, it's timeto take off. Three Wishes seems pieced together from parts of Downand Out in Beverly Hills, Fields of Dreams and Mel Gibson's TheMan With No Face. Director Martha Coolidge fights valiantly to breathelife into material she really doesn't have any affinity for. She has too muchintegrity to go whole-hog into the kind of sentimentality the script wants,but in the end, the script wins. (AB)
(1961) A very messed-up family of four spends way too much time together on an isolated island. This is one of the films that gave Ingmar Bergman his reputation for emotional intensity.
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(R; 96 min.) Skateboarder and graphic artist Mike Mills' pastel sulk-piece is like a male version of The Virgin Suicides, full of the same green remembered hills and inert characters. Lou Pucci plays Justin, a suburban Oregon 17-year-old who still sucks his thumb at night. The events are more like episodes: he's a washout on the debating team (under the coaching of an unusually sly Vince Vaughn), then a user of some Ritalin-style ADD drug and, finally, an amateur smoker of marijuanathe evil weed is as sinister here as it was in 1950s movies. Justin is led on by a mysterious called Rebecca (Kelli Garner). Neither Vincent D'Onofrio nor Tilda Swinton can do much with the roles of misguided parents. It may be a perfect movie for 17-year-olds. It's all about being the age when one must endure clueless adults who keep sticking their clumsy fingers into your many, many wounds. (RvB)
(1953/1937) Jimmy Stewart and Dan Duryea are partners in an oil-rig business headed for the Cajun country; they're opposed by local shrimp fishermen. Anthony Mann directs this widescreen, Technicolor brawler. BILLED WITH Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Hungary's Lazlo Löwenstein plays Japan's Kentaro Moto, amateur detective, expert in jiu-jitsu, and master of disguise. Moto makes his debut in this 66-minute opus about a case of international smuggling, traced from back lots representing San Francisco and Shanghai. The part was a breakthrough for the man better known as Peter Lorre. He had been called "the greatest actor alive" by Charlie Chaplin at the time Lorre was starring in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Lorre had become typecast as a villain when he took the part of this sympathetic, if stereotyped, sleuth. The film spawned seven sequels and a 1962 remake with Henry Silva in the leadprobably since the frightening Silva, the third-most decorated U.S. soldier in World War II, had given Frank Sinatra such a bad time in the karate fight in The Manchurian Candidate. (RvB)
(PG; 94 min.) If what you've heard about a movie that follows a world-saving family and their mechanized emergency response service is totally bewildering to you, find one of the fans of the 1964-66 TV series on which this is based and drop the word Thunderbirds. Four hours later, you'll wish you'll never asked, but you will understand how much people who love the Thunderbirds really love the Thunderbirds. And as far as fanboys are concerned, the fact that this family-friendly big-screen adaptation is being directed by Jonathan Frakes, a.k.a. Star Trek: The Next Generation's Commander Riker, is no doubt icing on the cake. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 91 min.) A gifted 10-year-old jazz pianist with Tourette's Syndrome (Christopher Marquette) teams up with a star saxophone player and fellow Tourette's sufferer (Gregory Hines) who disapproves of the boy's acceptance of his disease. Carol Kane and James McCaffery also star.
(R; 105 min.) Or, the hand that cradles the rock. The sticky Victorian title is but one reminder of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle in this thriller about a pair of deranged plebeians (Keith Carradine and Daryl Hannah) coming to fetch their child, who was given up to adoption. There are a few effectivepatches, mostly due to Carradine, slumming grandly in a B-film as his fatherdid many times before him. Even as one of those omnipotent killers you onlysee in horror movies, Carradine easily outweighs the white-bread contractor (Vincent Spano) and his barren wife (Moira Kelly). In his debut, director Wesley Strick makes some attempts to bring out the fairy-tale qualities in the story of ogres menacing a little girl. This scheme works occasionally, but the conventions of the mainstream thriller overcome him, especially the requirement of having a murder every ten minutes or so to keep the crowd pumped up. Strick's also defeated by the limitations of his cast, especially Hannah, who, with unkempt hair and a dippy gaze, seems to be impersonating Linda McCartney fretting over a meat counter. (RvB)
(G; 76 min.) It's hard to imagine that the whimsical creations of A.A. Milne wouldn't get flattened by a lightning bolt from Pikachu these days, but with its first animated Winnie the Pooh feature in 17 years, Disney is apparently banking on parents' warm fuzzy memories of the characters as much as their appeal to today's generation of tots. (Not that the Mouse is above trying to market to the under-5 set: the cartoon is preceded by a flashy Lou Bega video resplendent with mouse-ears logos everywhereit made some of the youngest audience members wail.) The ever-effervescent Tigger, looking for bouncers of his own ilk, searches for relatives but realizes that all his friends at Pooh Corner are family enough for him. Wisely, Disney hasn't updated the characters, all of whom have just enough of a streak of real-world prickliness to balance their cuteness. The film has plenty of storybook charm with its colorful, sketched backgrounds, and it boasts some passably good musical numbers (a chorus line of sleepy bees is particularly inspired). But the nuances of Tigger's identity crisis seemed to unsettle some kids unused to seeing the cheery tiger cryor perhaps unused to seeing a children's movie that doesn't insult their intelligence; I was pleasantly unsettled by that myself. (HZ)
(PG-13; 114 min.) Sarah Jessica Parker as a bitchy former child-star best sums up this whole mess with one version of her character's irritating mantra: "How highly unenjoyable." This inept romantic comedy is about quitting smoking and familial forgiveness and historical building preservation and... oh yeah, finding the love of your lifeall admirable goals but tacked together piecemeal and adding up to zero. Jeanne Tripplehorn subjects us to two painful hours of feeble physical comedy as a klutzy writer obsessed with "true love." In addition to tripping over everything, she also spends this endless movie narrowly missing chances to encounter her soulmate, emotionally remote architect Dylan McDermott. The tangles of "amazing" coincidences that almost bring the two together aren't worth recounting, and at the moment when the predestined lovers finally do meet up, it turns out that even the film doesn't care about their romanceit preempts their conversation with a folksy love song. (HZ)
(1947) The Jerome Kern story, with the ill-fated actor Robert Walker playing the composer. Kern died before seeing this; perhaps it was a blessing to be spared a Hollywoodized version of the story of his life. However, the film justifies itself with its songs: Judy Garland doing "Look for the Silver Lining," Kathryn Grayson performing "Long Ago and Far Away," Lena Horne on "Why Was I Born?" and Frank Sinatra singing, "Old Man River." (RvB)
(1914/1916) Charlie Chaplin's first feature filmand the first feature-length film comedy ever. It was Mack Sennett's adaptation of a popular play about a country girl fooled by a faux-swanky boulevardier (Chaplin); the real lead is Marie Dressler. Mabel Normand also stars. BILLED WITH Vagabond. Chaplin as a wanderer who rescues a girl from the clutch of evil Gypsies, only to lose her again to love. (RvB)
(2000/2002) A study of "Simchat Hochma," a formerly obscure Jewish rite being revived as a ceremony for women turning 60. BILLED WITH A Home on the Range. Bonnie Burt and Judith Montell's marvelous little documentary about the history of one of our most appealing Northern California towns. Petaluma was once the chicken capital of the Westat one point, 6 million birds roosted there, and its fame was such that Petaluma was the subject of a facetious Steinbeck novel, The Short Reign of Pippin IV. But what's less known is that Petaluma was a magnet for Jewish settlers, who set up small ranches in the area. Mostly secular, often socialist, these farmers created a community that drew such figures as Golda Meir and many well-known Yiddish literary types. The community survived vigilante groups, only to be broken up by the anti-Communist hysteria of the mid-1950s. A Home on the Range doesn't overromanticize those bucolic daystending a large flock is disgusting work, and local woman Miriam Johnson tells a dramatic story of watching the chickens for the first hint of disease. Yet the community's dwindling and final absorption into the Petaluma of today certainly has its poignancy. A real saga, this. (RvB)
(PG-13; 116 min.) Film critic was my fallback career. What I really wanted to be was a chrononaut. Technical revolution be damned, why has no one come up with a functional time machine? And yet the Schwarzenegger election suggests someone went back to the Mesozoic Era and stepped on a butterfly. Disappointed would-be time travelers can't expect much solace from Richard Donner's Timeline, a scattered, undervillained film without much interest in the tasty paradoxes of time tunneling. Billy Connolly plays a professor who heads back via a wormhole to the 1300s, right in the middle of the Hundred Years' War between England and France. Heading back after him is his uninterested-in-history son (hunk du jour Paul Walker) and the archeologist he loves (Frances O'Connor), plus a group of expendable supporting characters. Meanwhile, a sinister corporate criminal (an annoyed David Thewlis) tries to give the movie some extra tension by overlooking his machine's defects. Timeline is a sword-and-castle movie with time-travel frosting. However, one impressive element survives from Michael Crichton's novel: a trebuchet, a monster siege catapult that hurtles fireballs. Truly, this weapon is the velociraptor of catapults, and the flaming night-war scenes suggest medieval paintings of the Castle of Dis, hell's citadel. In the peace scenes, as one character comments, medieval France looks like Oregon (the superb Caleb Deschanel did the photography). And there's one small dose of the thought of the vast gulf between then and now. Archaeologists linger over a crypt on which the stone effigies of a married couple hold hands, a moment possibly taken from the famous Auden poem—one moment of time-travel poignancy ornamenting a distracted action film. (RvB)
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(R; 145 min.) The crowded narrative to the latest screen adaptation of a John Grisham legal thriller includes revenge killings, the lure of adultery and klansman attacks. Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a small-town Mississippi lawyer, takes the case of Carl Lee (Samuel L. Jackson), a father who killed the two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter. Freddie Cobb (Kiefer Sutherland), the brother of one of the dead rapists, stirs up the Klan; well-meaning black folk play the fabled race card; and soon the National Guard has to keep everyone tranquil in time for the courtroom scenes. What makes Brigance sweat worse are the attentions of Ellen Roark (Bullock), a law student who decides to help out the defense free of charge. Tempted by the flesh as well as by self-doubt, Brigance must stumble overpiles of discarded Southern tropes to get to the truth. I'm not certain that better direction could have saved A Time to Kill. In well over two hours, all there is to admire is the work of Jackson's dialogue coach.(RvB)
(R; 130 min.) Ron Shelton's Tin Cup taps into the lazy, redneck-Zenquality of golf. Kevin Costner plays Roy McAvoy, who works at a ramshackleWest Texas golf range catering to the guys who can't quite afford the countryclubs. One day a psychotherapist named Molly Griswold (Rene Russo) ambles infor golf lessons. Unfortunately, Molly's boyfriend turns out to be Roy's oldnemesis, David Simms (a grinning Don Johnson). Costner is very good atcatching the nuances in Shelton's characters. In fact, after seeing him inRobin Hood and Wyatt Earp, I'm convinced that's all he's goodat. Costner understands noble losers, but when he tries to play winners hecomes off as shallow as Don Johnson's David. Shelton has given him a terrificcharacter to play, a spiritual twin to Bull Durham's Crash Davis butwith the talent that Crash didn't have. (AB)
(Both 1940) Alice Faye, Betty Grable and Jack Oakie star in a predictable musical. Highlights include the fabulous tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers and the song "Sheik of Araby." (AR)
(1947) Anthony Mann's film noir relies heavily on documentary techniques in its story of treasury agents ferreting out counterfeiters. Stars Dennis O'Keefe, June Lockhart and the marvelous tough guy Charles McGraw. (MSG)
(1947/1948) Two by Anthony Mann, starring Dennis O'Keefe and photographed by the superb John Alton. In T-Men, O'Keefe plays a treasury agent going after counterfeiters. In Raw Deala story in the tradition of everything from No Orchids for Miss Blandish to Sanctuarya hostage starts to get a romantic Stockholm syndrome for the gangster who kidnaps her. Co-stars Raymond Burr and Claire Trevor. (RvB)