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Waco: The Rules of Engagement
(Unrated; 165 min.) William Gazecki's blistering documentary about the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, excoriates the FBI for its murderous ineptitude.

Wag the Dog
Full text review.

The Wages of Fear
(1952) Four men stuck in a South American backwater sign on to transport a load of nitro. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Plus Episode 6 of the silent serial Les Vampires.

(R; 93 min.) Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris star in a comedy about twentysomethings laboring at a T.G.I. Friday's-style "flair" restaraunt called Shenanigan's. (RvB)

Waiting for Guffman
Full text review.

Waiting to Exhale
Full text review.
(R; 120 min.) Fans of Terry McMillan's novel can breathe a sigh of relief; although the plot of Waiting to Exhale has undergone considerable trimming, it hasn't been at the expense of the main characters. As Bernadine Harris, an African American woman whose husband of 11 years suddenly leaves her for a white woman, Angela Bassett gives a powerful performance that often dominates the film yet complements strong portrayals of Bernadine's friends: Robin (Lela Rochon), Gloria (Loretta Devine) and Savannah (Whitney Houston). Although the companions often commiserate over the lack of decent men in their lives, Waiting to Exhale does not define its characters merely by their relationships to men but rather through their friendships with each other and their individual strengths. (HZ)

Waking Life
Full text review.
(R; 99 min.) If you're lucky enough to have lucid dreams, you probably have cool ones about finding pirate treasure and flying around Cloud City in twin-pod ships with Lando Calrissian. I have stupid ones about playing basketball with 80 people on the court and helping zombies understand California labor law. Richard Linklater obviously has them about his own movies. Or rather, judging from Waking Life, his dreams heavily inform what he puts in his movies. This film, which is at its most basic level a lucid dream more or less about dreaming, is much the same as his debut film Slacker—it has a similar loosey-goosey structure, lots of quirky talk, a few reminiscent scenes and some of the same locations and actors. But it's an entirely different experience because it was shot on video and then drawn over before being transferred to film. You might remember this method of "rotoscoping" from the god-awful animated version of Lord of the Rings that came out years ago. Forget that crap, this is truly revolutionary stuff. (SP)

Waking Ned Devine
Full text review.

Waking the Dead
Full text review.

Waking Up in Reno
(R) Charlize Theron, Billy Bob Thornton, Natasha Richardson and Patrick Swayze make a trip to a monster-truck rally in Reno.

(1971; 95 min.) After getting lost in the Australian wilderness, two children (Jenny Agutter of Logan's Run infamy, and Luc Roeg) must rely on a young aborigine (David Gulpilil) for survival. Nicolas Roeg directed this sometimes disturbing, always astonishing journey of discovery with natural details so vivid they're practically surrealistic. (MSG)

A Walk in the Clouds
A lot can be said for the spectacular cinematography in this film, and for some very impressive supporting characters. Too bad Keanu Reeves can't act. Scenes of our hero embracing his sweetheart in slow motion are just too silly to be taken seriously, and it's almost embarrassingly painful to hear him swoon through such unconvincing lines as "She's like the air to me!" The real dilemma is this: Can a horribly done lead role spoil an otherwise provocative story? A Walk in the Clouds approaches the traditional boy-meets-girl-and-then-her-family scenario in an unusual way. Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) is already pregnant, and Paul (Keanu Reeves) only pretends to be her husband, mostly because her father would otherwise kill her for dishonoring the family. Director Alfonso Arau of Like Water for Chocolate paints some truly captivating images of the family's Napa vineyard, the battle against frost and the fun of squashing grapes, but despite all the visual beauty in this film, it's hard not to expect Keanu to end each line with the word "dude," a la Bill & Ted. Fortunately, that little drawback is not quite enough to spoil the performances of everyone else, especially Giancarlo Giannini, who plays Victoria's eternally pissed-off father. (BB)

A Walk on the Moon
Full text review.

Walk on Water
(Unrated, 104 min.) Israeli director Eytan Fox's exciting 2003 feature Yossi & Jagger told a lean, punchy story with an economy of images, taking clever, effective shortcuts to define complex relationships. Now with a bigger budget and a much longer running time, Fox has opted instead to use long stretches of talk to do the job for him. A handsome hit man, Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi, from the excellent Late Marriage) is assigned to rout out an aged Nazi by befriending the old fiend's grandchildren, Pia (Carolina Peters) and Axel (Knut Berger). Posing as a travel guide, he takes Axel, who is gay, all around Israel, and the two men talk: Eyal coming to terms with his homophobia and Axel his general cluelessness about his family. The characters change in dissatisfying ways, through verbal exchanges rather than through any organic character growth. In the end, the film desperately tries to establish a visual through line with one of those dreadful montages comprised of scenes from the film you just saw. However, Fox does handle the climactic confrontation with some flourish, and he may yet be a talent to watch. (JMA)

Walk the Line
Full text review.
(PG-13; 136 min.) It takes the millionth walk on a familiar line—the crisis in a performer's life, resolved by marriage to a good woman. In the lead role, Joaquin Phoenix shows Johnny Cash as a singer who nearly killed himself mixing Falstaff and Benzedrine. As Cash, Phoenix is subtler and softer than you'd expect, but director James Mangold (Identity) stints the performers' scariness. The black clothes weren't just his way of mourning for his own life; they meant to advertise that he was the villain of the piece. Someone who titles an album Mean As Hell isn't trying to be a victim of circumstances. Phoenix's sensitivity seems a drawback when, early on, he moans "Folsom Prison Blues" instead of preaching it. Now and then, the actor adds torchiness to vocals that should be plain as pine boards. But it's a compelling, funny performance, and if you're fond of Cash it's hard not to succumb to this picture of him as a bedeviled romantic. Together, Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (as June Carter Cash) are heaven—it's easy to relax, to go with the illusion that you're watching the Southern lovebirds dueting on their hit "Jackson"; their own voices sound enough like the real thing to make it all work. T. Bone Burnett's soundtrack may do for rockabilly what his soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? did for old-timey music. This soundtrack, like Mangold's movie, is not the work of dilettante fans. The Lincoln of country music may have been a man of sorrows, but Walk the Line is exhilarating, a burst of triumphant Americana. (RvB)

A Walk to Remember
Full text review.

Walking and Talking
Full text review.
(Unrated; 90 min.) Amelia (Catherine Keener) goes crazy when her best friend gets married. She picks up an supposed nerd (Kevin Corrigan) who turns out to be more than he seems on the outside. Sounds like Cathy: The Movie, but this effervescent, charming film is more open-minded than the dreaded "chick movie" has ever been. Director Nicole Holofcener has created a story that's sweet, bright and perhaps fairer to the male sex than we deserve. Keener, the nervous lead actress from the film within the film of Living in Oblivion, recalls Diane Keaton at her best. (RvB)

Walking Tall
(PG-13; 85 min.) Of all the movies ever made that you, Captain Hot Shit Studio Executive, might think you need to remake, what the hell would make you pick the 1973 Joe Don Baker movie Walking Tall? This new version of the story of supposedly kick-ass Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser stars the Rock as Bu-Bu. Ironically, it was a big scandal when many of the "true story" aspects of Pusser's exploits were discredited back in 1973, and Pusser lost his re-election bid after the original film came out because locals were pissed that the movie was shot down the road in a neighboring county. (Capsule preview by SP)

Wallace & Gromit: The Best of Aardman Animation
Full text review.
(Unrated; 75 min.) This portfolio of the best of the clay-animation geniuses at Aardman Animations contains phenomenal work. An audience not familiar with the amazing A Close Shave (1995) is in for a real treat. Director Nick Park takes a stop-motion animation tale of a shy bachelor inventor (Wallace) and his mute but eloquent dog, Gromit, and turns it into a wild James Bondian tale of sheepnapping led by a robot dog mastermind. It's not enough that Park filled this short full of ingenious action that shames a skull-crusher like Space Jam and that he is an adroit storyteller (as when Park shows the trial and imprisonment of the innocent Gromit in a few quick images); he also displays as poignant a vision of English desperation as anything Harold Pinter ever devised. Of the other dozen or so cartoons here, many have also been shown in recent animation festivals, most notably "Wat's Pig," a fine turn on the theme of twins separated at birth. A scant few (such as the "Rex the Runt" series and a Beckettian piece called "Dent") look like the work of a talented art student, but "My Baby Just Cares for Me" deserves special mention. The storytelling is derivative of Tex Avery, but the cartoon cat who sings the ballad is as grave and beautiful as the singer herself, Nina Simone. (RvB)

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Full text review.
(G; 85 min.) Vegetarian propaganda of the most shocking sort, enough to bring sweat to the well-greased palms of conservative bigfoots everywhere. In this preposterously charming opus, the claymation duo—meek inventor W.; mute but eloquent dog, G.—are humane pest control operators, using various gadgets used to capture bunnies, devouring up local gardens. The rabbits are a source of anxiety, since the Giant Vegetable Competition is coming up, sponsored by Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter). Then comes the Were-Rabbit, 25 feet of fuzz-covered appetite. Is the beast a result of Wallace's mind-altering gadgetry used to purge the anti-social habit of carrot-thievery from his captive rabbits? Gromit thinks not—the dog, always the brains of these Aardman cartoons, is the first to solve the riddle. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has a warm affection for an England that's on the way out: the string-vest wearing, Brown Betty tea-pot wielding, cheeseboard-offering England, with semidetached villas, gloomy wallpaper and the sacred garden. It notes lives of quiet desperation and exasperation—the latter, visible in the worried, furrowed brow of Gromit, England's answer to Snoopy. The film took five years to make, and looks it. In these violent times, it radiates the tenderheartedness that can't bear to harm a hair on a hare's head. (RvB)

Walter Reed Tribute
Full text review.

Warner Bros. Series
A run of classic Warner Bros. films continues with screenings this week of William Friedkin's The Exorcist (Sat-Sun), Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas (Mon-Tue) and Sam Peckinpah's seminal Western, The Wild Bunch (Wed-Thu). Any chance to see The Wild Bunch on a big screen is not to be missed. The film's horizontal compositions just don't work on video versions, even when letterboxed.

War of the Underworld/Dragon Fight
(1996/1988) The offending of the son of a triad leader begats a Hong Kong battle royal in War of the Underworld. Wong Jing (God of Gamblers) produces. BILLED WITH Dragon Fight. Jet Li is part of a team of martial artists mixed up with San Francisco drug-runners. Stephen Chow and Dick Wei co-star under the direction of Billy Tang. (RvB)

The Warriors
(1979) "Warriors, come out and plaaaaay!" Terrific psychedelic/apocalyptic gang movie based on the Greek historian Xenophon (as in "xenophobia," the fear of foreigners). After a peace conference between New York's street gangs goes badly wrong, a gang called the Warriors fights its way back from the Bronx to its home base in Coney Island, between midnight and dawn as (in a device lifted from the action film Vanishing Point) a radio DJ sends coded tips to the gangs hunting the Warriors at every subway stop. It's Walter Hill's best movie; he slid afterward, after making a more MGM-style musical gangster film called Streets of Fire, lacking the urgency and grittiness of this berserk adventure. That's Mercedes Ruehl in her debut, as a female cop. (RvB)

Warriors of Heaven and Earth
(R; 114 min.) A Chinese action epic.

Warriors of Virtue
(PG; 103 min.) Fantasy runs amok in this adventure film about a parallel universe where kangaroos trained in Kung Fu must defend a pacifist kingdom from a lamé-jumpsuited marauder. Ryan (Mario Yedidia), a disgruntled youth from our world, turns up in the land of Tao after falling down a sewer. He unwittingly brings with him a book of powerful knowledge, which makes him easy pickings for Komodo (Angus Mcfadyen, Braveheart), the flashy warlord who is tormenting the people of Tao and their 'roo protectors, the Warriors of Virtue. The powers at work in this land are strange indeed: Tao could almost be the Ewoks' forest (only awash in sudden giant gusts of dead leaves) and Mcfadyen, in his Vegas wardrobe, plays Komodo with a kookiness that's somehow reminiscent of Meatloaf in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Although the movie valiantly tries to advocate aspects of Taoist philosophy, unfortunately, it's difficult to appreciate the wisdom when it's voiced by latex marsupials. (HZ)

War of the Worlds (2005)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 116 min.) Steven Spielberg's darkest movie. Divorced Jersey dad (Tom Cruise) bonds the hard way with his estranged children after encountering alien tripods with death rays. The shock and awe of this alien invasion is akin to the technology we unleashed on Baghdad; the movie has more of an aura of guilt and pain than the usual Bruckheimer-tested vindictiveness. Showstoppers abound. Early on, Spielberg undoes the finale in George Pal's 1953 War of the Worlds—instead of a church being the last place of refuge, the aliens casually rip one in half. Clothes flop through the air after the humans have been dusted by death rays—this is probably not how the faithful envisioned the Rapture. The movie isn't always fun in the ordinary sense, but it's always powerful. It has the simple, basic qualities of the worst nightmares. (RvB)

The War Within
(Unrated; 100 min.) A drama about a Pakistani man who joins up with a terrorist group after he is discriminated against in New York.

The War Zone
Full text review.

Full text review.

The Wash
(R) Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg star as roommates trying to make ends meet by working at a laundromat.

Washington Square
Full text review
(PG; 101 min.) Agnieszka Holland's Washington Square fails to improve upon Henry James' classic novella. It is the story of a shy heiress who falls in love with a handsome but impecunious young man of whom her stern father disapproves. Albert Finney is sufficiently convincing as the caustic father, and Ben Chaplin is appealingly desperate as the charming fortune hunter, but Jennifer Jason Leigh's Catherine is a clumsy oaf, a caricature of the docile, inarticulate young woman in James' narrative. Holland proves a competent storyteller, but her interpretation of the material is ploddingly literal, lacking the wit and irony that made the novel so delightful. (TM)

Wassup Rockers
(R; 98 min.) To escape 'hood reality, seven Latino skaters board two buses to get to the legendary Nine Steps skate spot at Beverly Hills High School, where they meet up with a pair of virginal heinas, their besotted boyfriends, a cop, a Hollywood party and a Clint Eastwood-looking director guarding his turf. Chaos ensues and they have to grind their way Warriors-style back to South-Central. Wassup Rockers documents this crazy day in the life of outcasts within their community and outside it. Clark uses nonactors, focusing on natural chemistry as they tell stories about their motivations. As with all Clark movies, there's something dirty about his lingering camera lens focused on teenage skin and bone structure or two kids sharing a Blow-Pop, but that's how Clark's movies roll—from Kids to Bully to Ken Park. Wassup Rockers plays in that voyeuristic vein, but he is granted an all-access ghetto pass, shedding light on an oft-shadowed Latino subculture. (TI)

The Watcher
(R; 96 min.) What begins as terror ends in titters. And so the serial-killer genre descends to the purely risible in The Watcher. Keanu Reeves, curiously phlegmatic and thick-necked, plays David Griffin, one of those multidimensional (he picks locks, develops his own photographs, wires bombs, charms street waifs) serial killers, the last of the true Renaissance men. Griffin saves his real lust not for his young, female victims but for a burnt-out FBI agent, Joel Campbell (James Spader), whom he taunts with hints of murders to come. Lines like "There's nothing like a good serial killing to start off the holiday season" and "She loves me, she's decomposing, she loves me, she's decomposing" are guffaw-inducing given the film's body count. For sheer hilarity, however, nothing beats the moment when Griffin, knowing that Campbell suffers from severe headaches, subjects him to torture by light bulb: "I hear that migraines and flashing lights don't go together!" Given cinematographer Michael Chapman's straight-out-of-Seven overuse of high-grain film stock and strobe effects, I could say the same for the movie as a whole. (MSG)

The Waterboy
(PG-13; 86 min.) After becoming the object of a cultlike affection for his characters in Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, Adam Sandler is cashing in on his ability to play feeble-minded half-wits to outlandish perfection. Sandler stars as Bobby Boucher, a kind-hearted but socially incompetent 31-year-old whose love for water is rivaled only by his love for his overprotective "Mama" (Kathy Bates). After being fired from a successful football team led by a ruthless coach (Jerry Reed), Boucher offers his services to the mentally unsteady coach of one of the worst teams in history (Henry Winkler). It turns out, Boucher makes one heck of a tackler and becomes the team's ace in the hole. Set in the Louisiana swamplands, the movie takes nasty (albeit funny) cracks at Cajuns and trashy Southerners and is full of obnoxious sight gags and junior-high humor. It's best when it's not trying to be inspiring, and although The Waterboy is entertaining, Sandler's done better. (SQ)

Water Drops on Burning Rock
Full text review.

Waterloo Bridge/An Affair to Remember
(1940/1957) The tragic wartime romance between a ballerina (Vivien Leigh) and a soldier (Robert Taylor) features a terrific twist of fate's knife at the end. BILLED WITH An Affair to Remember. The film's powers as a weeper are joked about in the dumb Sleepless in Seattle, which sourced this and sourced it hard. Sleepless in Seattle is to An Affair to Remember what Tom Hanks is to Cary Grant. Director/writer Nora Ephron may propose that films are either guy flicks or chick flicks. However, note that the manly Delmer Daves, who composed many a bullet-filled Western, co-wrote the film. The emotional wallop is not in the sex of the viewer but in the presence, poise and splendid underplaying of Grant. He's a career bachelor—"a big-dame hunter"—tamed by a shy woman (Deborah Kerr) with whom he connects during a sea voyage. The implication is that what draws them together is an unspoken but tenderly hinted at religious faith. And then the two are separated by the most manipulative writing Hollywood could wreak. The titanism and loneliness of New York are tangible in the photography here, and director Leo McCarey's exquisite use of CinemaScope, color and composition create a mood that's hard to shake off. Note the arresting innovation of having the first kiss partially offscreen, as something too beautiful for the audience to be allowed to witness. (RvB)

Waterloo Bridge/One Way Passage
(1931/1932) The James Whale version of the weeper about the upper-class soldier on leave (Kent Douglass) who falls in love with a streetwalker, little understanding her line of work. Fortunately, fate prevents this threat to the British class system, in an ending that may be a little more drastic than the Vivien Leigh version. BILLED WITH One Way Passage. Terminally ill Kay Francis meets a man for one last love affair aboard an ocean liner. The man she loves (William Powell) is wanted for murder. (RvB)

Waterloo Bridge/The Sky's the Limit
(1940/1942) The tragic wartime romance between a ballerina (Vivien Leigh) and a soldier (Robert Taylor) features a terrific twist of fate's knife at the end. BILLED WITH The Sky's the Limit, a little-known Fred Astaire/Joan Leslie musical with songs by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. It's actually the Gay Divorcee plot revamped for the Duration: Astaire plays a combat pilot who travels incognito to avoid the fuss, and while on leave in Manhattan he falls for a patriotic girl who has no use for noncombatants. Songs include "One for My Baby and One for the Road" and "My Shining Hour." Co-stars Robert Benchley, Eric Blore, Robert Ryan, Peter Lawford and the auteur of the Cow-Cow Boogie, Ella Mae Morse, backed by the Freddie Slack orchestra. (RvB)

Watermelon Woman
Full text review.

It's like being marooned in an open boat. This time the apocalypse has come through water. The Mariner (Kevin Costner) drifts into a scrubby port with soil to trade and is almost executed as a mutant. He is rescued by Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Enola (Tina Majorino), a chatty little girl, and the trio is pursued by villains, led by Dennis Hopper. Unfortunately, Hopper, one-eyed, bald-headed and with a Texas accent, is robbed of the villain's privilege of having the best lines in a white-elephant fantasy like this. The ponderous, half-joking mess tries to laugh its way over the preposterous spots, but all it takes seriously is hero worship. (RvB)

Way Down East
(1920) D.W. Griffith's old-fashioned melodrama features Lillian Gish, and though people might snicker at the melodrama, they never snicker at Gish. Here, she's a woman impregnated and betrayed by a scoundrel. Humorist S.J. Perelman, who had been reduced to tears by this in his youth, later wrote a scathing essay about it—even he had to admit that "the sweet resignation by which Lillian Gish underwent every vicissitude of fortune from bastardy to frostbite, and the laquered, mandarin composure of Richard Barthlemess in the face of ostracism and blizzard, has rarely been surpassed on celluloid." Naturally, Perelman sided with the villain, Lowell Sherman: "exquisitely groomed, a trifle flaccid, the epitome of the jaded roué ... they had to spray him between takes to keep the mushrooms from forming on him." (RvB)

The Way Home
Full text review.

The Way of the Gun
(R; 119 min.) From the dramatic opening setup in which main characters Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) clock a combative female, it's clear this isn't your standard outlaw flick. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects) The Way of the Gun is a violent film in the tradition of brutal filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Lowlifes Parker and Longbaugh kidnap a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis), who's carrying the baby for a wealthy, corrupt Southwest couple, without doing their homework. As it turns out, Daddy is a money-laundering bagman with connections. The scruffy villains' ransom scheme plummets into a downward spiral that culminates with an extended shootout in a small Mexican border motel. McQuarrie gave the film antiqued sepia tones to give it the feel of a dusty old Western, and the stark color enhances the characters' callous natures. There isn't one hero to be found in this twisted modern noir picture. Still, McQuarrie's unusual plot development and the cool onscreen charisma of actors Del Toro, Lewis and henchman James Caan gives the film distinction in the rough desert thriller genre. (SQ)

We Are Marshall
(PG) What is the difference between a disaster and a catastrophe? In this case, the disaster was the air-crash of a DC-9 on Nov. 14, 1970, in Huntington, W.V., killing 75. The catastrophe is McG's outrageously phony movie about the tragedy and its aftermath. Matthew McConaughey goes Mack Davis this time. He plays novice coach Jack Lengyel, who takes over after all but three members of the Marshall College football team perish in the crash. Performers as solid as David Strathairn and Ian McShane try hopelessly to animate this most synthetic of all inspirational football movies. It seems to take place in a parallel universe where Vince Lombardi is God. And Anthony Mackie's scene of calling for a football cheer from a balcony is staged exactly as a Mussolini appearance. Repeatedly, McG—a TV-commercial type by inclination—reaches for the audience's heartstrings without preparation. There's nothing worse than an earnest slicker. At least the essential simple-mindedness of such a huckster-director always shows—as in the solemn moment where the firemen present the charred playbook, saved from the wreckage. If you go, you'll need an anecdote: try the finale of Beetlejuice, where a team of ghostly plane-crashed football players join in a chorus of "Shake, Shake Senora." (Are they Marshall?) (RvB)

The Weather Man
Full text review.
(R; 102 min.) The appeal of this movie is not difficult to figure. People throw things at Nic Cage. I think we'd all like to do that. Whether he's a weatherman or not doesn't have a whole lot to do with it—except in this film, in which Cage takes the hits (even on the poster) for incorrect predictions that ruin people's day. Gore Verbinski took time out from directing the next 27 Pirates of the Caribbean movies (but how ever will they find a better subtitle than "Curse of the Black Pearl"?) to direct this dramedy about mid-life crisis. (Capsule preview by SP)

It is rare enough to see a Hollywood movie about grown-ups, but it is even rarer to see one from Gore Verbinski, the director behind such disparate popcorn-munchers as The Mexican, The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Verbinski has pulled off a neat trick by balancing The Weather Man on one side with intelligent, nuanced performances and on the other with recognizable and easily digested Hollywood ingredients. Nicolas Cage stars as David Spritz, a TV weather forecaster in Chicago. Whenever his predictions go wrong, spirited Chicagoans pelt him with ice cream, a latte or whatever's handy. These peltings complement David's inner crisis; he longs to be a success like his father, Robert (Michael Caine), an award-winning novelist. His ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), is seeing another man, and David's tentative relationship with his teenage kids is slowly slipping away. Collected in an original screenplay by Steven Conrad, all of these problems are patently external and cinematically obvious, yet Cage applies his lifetime reservoir of droll anxiety and twitchy pain, deepening the role far beyond the written page. Verbinski's balancing act falls apart at the movie's end, in which—like a post-storm rainbow—all of David's complex problems are happily resolved, or at least suspended. (JMA)

The Weather Underground
Full text review.

Wedding Crashers
(R; 119 min.) The smoothly anarchic first 10 minutes of Wedding Crashers sets the tone for a cheerfully sleazy tale of two friends (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) committed to attending weddings and taking advantage of emotionally vulnerable bridesmaids. Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls) plays the cute, unattainable love interest, even if she's not much different from the boys' other quickie conquests. As directed by David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights), the thin material constantly threatens to collapse into romantic comedy third-act ennui, but Vaughn and Wilson keep kicking and dragging more life out of it. Every time a scene begins to feel ordinary, one of them does something surprisingly hilarious. No one today can earnestly con a person's pants off quite like Wilson, with his cowboy charm and rattlesnake smile. (JMA)

The Wedding Date
(PG-13; 85 min.) Debra Messing makes the jump to the big screen in a comedy about a woman who talks her pal (Dermot Mulroney) into posing as her boyfriend so she has a companion for a family wedding. Hilarity ensues.

The Wedding Planner
(PG-13) Here is sold the fantasy of marrying Jennifer Lopez. In The Wedding Planner, she's in a Florentine mode—J.Lo is supposed to be Italian, and she's called Mary Fiori. The setting is San Francisco as a fantasyland of peace and affluence. The City's top wedding planner (Lopez) is attracted to the groom in her latest assignment, and the feeling is mutual. He's a sexless pediatrician, played by the vinyl-skinned Matthew McConaughey. Director Adam Shankman, a longtime choreographer, makes his directing debut. So the best sequences are the dances: both an argument-tango and a waltz in Golden Gate Park at an al-fresco cinema (Two Tickets to Broadway, 1951, Tony Martin, Janet Leigh.) Shankman's trying to remember the way the old romantic movies worked, but he's forgotten so much—the old ones were brief, they had rhythm, they had reliable clowns. For half of the movie, one does root for Mary to land McConaughey, not because he's desirable, but because a woman as ravishing as Lopez ought to have her way. Much delays before a ramshackle ending with the chases and arguments. This film, though occasionally lovely, is choked because all the characters have been built up as so good and caring and sensible. Graceful as Lopez is, her new film moves as slow as San Francisco traffic. (RvB)

Wedding Present
(1936) A rematch of Cary Grant with Joan Bennett (of Big Brown Eyes), with elements borrowed from the plot of The Front Page. After he (Grant) is promoted to editor, she decides to marry a quieter type. Grant then disrupts the wedding for all he's worth. William Demarest and Gene Lockhart co-star. It was the last picture of Grant's Paramount contract, where he had been worked like a Clydesdale for five years; from this point until he retired, Grant worked as an independent. (RvB)

The Wedding Singer
(PG-13; 96 min.) Director Frank Coraci's The Wedding Singer captures the '80s in a glorious John Hughes-like tribute. It's a delightful romp through 1985 complete with the garish colors, wannabe celebrities, embarrassing fashion trends and revered music. Adam Sandler abandons his over-the-top comedy to embrace the title character, the kind-hearted Robbie Hart, who falls for Julia (Drew Barrymore). Never the greatest actress, Barrymore has enough lovable charm to get by. It's what we know now that we didn't know then (acid-washed jeans are hideous, Loni and Burt break up) that makes this movie hilarious, and it's the love story that makes it endearing. (SQ)

We Don't Live Here Anymore
(R; 103 min.) As soulful for married 40-year-olds as Garden State is for single 20-year-olds, We Don't Live Here Anymore is essentially a horror movie for couples fearing no more than the tiny monsters of bitter truth and "salaried, tenured adultery." The acting is sublime. As the reluctantly dallying Jack, Mark Ruffalo credibly apes the weak Brando in the same way that, in critic Tom Carson's terms, Sean Penn rages like Brando and Johnny Depp playacts a childish Brando. Laura Dern is at her best as Jack's agonized wife. Naomi Watts is again a force of nature as Jack's lover. The characters, taken from two 1970s Andre Dubus (In the Bedroom) stories, inhabit the same quietly desperate marriages found in a Raymond Carver story, with Dubus' added layers of French-Catholic laissez faire and New England sin. (DH)

The Weekend
Full text review.

Weekend in Havana
(1941) One of the silver-lining effects of World War II was Hollywood's brief flirtation with its previously forgotten customers in Latin America. Hence this very gaudy and pleasing Technicolor musical. New Yorker Alice Faye spirits off on vacation for Havana. She's courted by the dashing lounge lizard Cesar Romero, who mistakes the shop clerk for a rich yanqui. Unfortunately, Romero's gold digging is interrupted by his girlfriend. This would be the sensual, malapropistic and vaguely scary Carmen Miranda. Miranda's short Hollywood career has often seemed a typical example of how the movies gave Latin Americans the shaft by portraying them as kitschy peasants (as seen in the impassioned but inept crypto-documentary Bananas Are My Business). Consider the bigger picture: there were other equally strong-flavored comediennes who went in and out of style, as Miranda did. At any rate, the vision of Miranda as a towering fertility goddess of tropical fruit in the later musical The Gang's All Here is an unforgettable icon of the movies at their most lovably, psychedelically inane. (RvB)

The Weight of Water
Full text review.

Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald
(Not rated; 103 min.) Sweet but broad Japanese comedy in the Juzo Itami manner, all about an inept cast trying to perform a live radio drama. A simple tale of a fisherman's wife who meets a man in a pachinko parlor becomes, in on-the-air rewrites, an insane yarn of a female Chicago trial lawyer saved from a Lake Michigan dam—burst by a rocket-jockey named Donald McDonald (the name swiped from the outside of a sack of hamburgers). All of the rewriting is due to the whims of the lady star (Keiko Toda) while the meek writer (Kyoka Suzuki), whose autobiographical experiences make up the original play, watches in horror. Director Koki Mitani keeps cutting back to a truck driver bewildered by the radio drama's leap in logic; Ken Watanabe plays the cowboy-hatted trucker, who is perhaps a reference to the sterling cowboy-trucker Tsutomu Yamazaki portrayed in Itami's Tampopo. No doubt there's a subtext: Titanic was as big a noise in Japan as it was here. But the suggestion that pinheaded blockbusters have muscled out more intimate natural tales is blunted by the requisite happy ending. Still—it's a pleasant, modest comedy with some rich bits of acting. Of note: Masahiko Nishimura as the apoplectic producer, Jun Inoue as the macho-man lead, with a studiously gravelly voice, which wobbles a bit in times of stress; and Keiko Toda, witty and intimidating as an iron-butterfly actress. She changes the names of characters if they remind her of unhappy affairs, of which she's had her share. (RvB)

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
(PG-13; 114 min.) Martin Lawrence stars as the successful host of a sleazy talk show, engaged to a Survivor winner (Joy Bryant). They visit his Southern family, the source for a lot of unsolved childhood anguish. Funny people abound, such as Cedric the Entertainer, Mo'Nique, Mike Epps, etc., but their antics can't save this lazy, bloated, stupid affair. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee sets up all the typical jokes with no skill or timing, and his attempts at heartfelt drama flop; in fact, his camera seems to have trouble even following any kind of physical movement. A child or any half-intelligent cartoon character could navigate this mess better than the buffoons Lee has cooked up; it is the type of thing his cousin Spike has railed against for years. (JMA)

Welcome to Mooseport
Full text review.

Welcome to Sarajevo
Full text review.

Welcome to the Dollhouse
Full text review.
(R; 87 min.) It would be nice to think there was a point to hazing in junior high school, to all of that adolescent suffering—that by culling the rejects, it improves the breed or something. Director Todd Solondz knows that, unfortunately, the weak will always be prey for the strong. He proves the point brilliantly in his anxious new comedy Welcome to the Dollhouse, which details the baroque, sometimes almost-Sadean torment of a hapless, mousy 11-year-old named Dawn "The Wiener Dog" Wiener (Heather Matarazzo). Dawn's sorrows may make the angels weep, but for those of us on earth, Welcome to the Dollhouse is as barbed with humor as it is with poignancy. (RvB)

We Own the Night
(R; 117 min.) Writer/director James Gray (The Yards) continues to pay tribute to the American movie renaissance of the 1970s by attempting gritty, character-driven crime stories. His new film feels once removed, like a copy, but it still contains enough rich, layered material to make it worthwhile. Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix (both returning from The Yards) play brothers, the former a straight-and-narrow Brooklyn cop, the son of the proud precinct chief (Robert Duvall), and the latter living the high life running a successful nightclub. When Russian gangsters swoop in, the brother gone astray must decide whether or not to return to his family. Gray highlights the film with three outstanding action/chase sequences scored with hauntingly minimalist "music," i.e., the sound of windshield wipers. With Eva Mendes. (JMA)

We're Not Dressing/Roman Scandals
(1934/1933) Attention Gilligan's Island fans! Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Carol Lombard and Burns and Allen star in We're Not Dressing, a desert-island comedy musical, in which Crosby plays a butler who ends up saving the skins of the inept yachtsmen he was formerly serving. BILLED WITH Roman Scandals. Eddie Cantor's penchant for blackface has hurt what ought to be a better reputation; this, his best film, is an elaborate parody of Cecil B. DeMille's Sign of the Cross. An Oklahoma delivery boy named Eddie (Eddie Cantor) is angry about the civic corruption in his home town, which, as a classics fan, he can only liken to the evil of ancient Rome. Through reveries, he ends up in Imperial Rome as food taster to the emperor (Edward Arnold) while being pursued by the emperor's lecherous wife. The chorus-girl scenes organized by Busby Berkeley include a segregated seraglio—black harem girls on one side, white ones on the other; these numbers are the most R-ratable in all of the pre-Code musicals. Stars Gloria Stuart (Titanic) as Princess Sylvia; the tragic jazz singer Ruth Etting sings "No More Love." (RvB)

Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000
Full text review.

We Were Soldiers
(R; 138 min.) An effective male weeper of a Nam film, We Were Soldiers clambers over a clumsily earnest script and trite characters to show the sorrow of losing brothers in combat. It's a bloody battle fought by anatomically correct G.I. Joe dolls. Mel Gibson is solid Air Cavalry Colonel Hal Moore (whose memoirs of 1965 provide the film's plot) leading his helicopter battalion into Viet Nam's Ia Drang valley. Only Sam Elliott's crusty master sergeant seems more than two-dimensional. The film spills plenty of guts and evinces little glory in war, yet respects both the U.S. and Viet Cong troops. We Were Soldiers fails at art but succeeds as tribute. (DH)

Whale Rider
Full text review.

What About Bob?
(1991) Bill Murray stars as a fixated neurotic who stalks his psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfuss) all the way to the doctor's vacation home. It's not much, but Murray is as dry and droll as ever. His presence in Coffee and Cigarettes and this summer's revival films all seems part of a much-needed reappraisal of this devastating comic actor. (RvB)

What a Girl Wants
(PG; 100 min.) Amanda Bynes searches for her father (Colin Firth) in England. A remake of Vincente Minnelli's 1958 The Reluctant Debutante.

What Dreams May Come
Full text review.

Full text review.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
(1962) Cripple-kicking proto-John Waters farrago with Bette Davis as a cracked retired kid vaudevillian, known for her hit "I'm Writing a Letter to Daddy." She uses her sunset years to torment her invalid sister, Joan Crawford, trapped in a wheelchair and bereft of the temporary brains necessary to think of shouting out the window for rescue. Robert Aldrich, still one of cinema's most bilious directors, gives an excellent example of how a director can cheapen material. The level of distaste here is so thick that it's hard to respond without gagging or laughing in the film's face. (It has its funny side; Davis' "dinner is served" scene is pretty special.) Excerpts from leads' films—Crawford's Flaming Youth and one of Davis' pre-Code pictures, Ex-Lady, I think—show the leads as they were when they were young. It says a lot about their eagerness to perform that they'd turn up as horror clowns. Victor Buono debuts as an obese unctuous loafer with a fake English accent. A lucky choice of locations, though—the faux-Tudor part of south Hollywood near Rossmore Boulevard—the area that got such a rise out of L.A.-haters like Evelyn Waugh and Aldous Huxley, and which can still raise the hackles today. Frank Devol goes nutzoid on the soundtrack, which is only a little more restrained than the music for Young Frankenstein. (RvB)

Whatever! It's a Wonderful Sorority Life
As part of the PBS video i series, local affiliate KTEH (CH. 54) will screen John Chua's ultra-low-budget satirical documentary about the life in a typical sorority. (Screens Jan 12 at 1pm on KTEH.)

Whatever It Takes
(PG-13; 92 min.) Two high school guys scheme together to win the affections of the respective girls of their dreams. Marla Sokoloff, Shane West, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe and James Franco star.

What Lies Beneath
Full text review.

What Planet Are You From?
(R; 100 min.) Question: Whose disappointment is the worst? A: He who goes to a movie expecting nothing and finding nothing, or B: He who goes to a movie, expecting a comedy, and who ends up exposed to reject jokes from a bundle of 3rd Rock From the Sun episodes posing as a comedy? The answer is B, so let's not have any more talk about how jaded critics are. Garry Shandling, the homeliest lead actor since Francis the Talking Mule, stars as an alien with a vibrating schwanz. Ordered by his overlord (Ben Kingsley) to impregnate an earthling, Shandling—disguised as "Harold Anderson"—walks around baldly propositioning women, trying to find one that will bear his space-child. Eventually, he ties up with Susan (Annette Bening) at an AA meeting, finding her fractured vulnerability just right for his pick-up lines. Meanwhile John Goodman, playing a government agent, trails the spaceman. The movie may be about how "aliens need freedom, too" but the neo-conservative edges of this erstwhile romantic comedy is apparent in the hidden moral of the story, which is: what women really need is to settle down and foal a child to calm their nerves. Bening is not much better than she was in American Beauty, and she reprises her Oscar-nominated convulsive weeping scene from that film indecently soon. Mike Nichols' point'n'shoot direction doesn't coax any wit out of Shandling's lines, and the creeping nice-guyism Shandling injected into this film is unwanted from an actor best known for being a petty version of Albert Brooks. The movie may be about the joys of pregnancy, but it's barren itself. (RvB)

What Price Hollywood?/Dinner at Eight
(1932/1933) A waitress from the Brown Derby restaurant (Constance Bennett) becomes a movie star, but her mentor, a hard-drinking director (Lowell Sherman), is lost in the shuffle. Neil Hamilton, later Commissioner Gordon on the Batman TV show, plays a polo player who distracts Bennett from the man who really loves her. Remade twice, both times as A Star Is Born. BILLED WITH Dinner at Eight, a star-studded (Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery) society comedy based on the play by Edna Ferber and George Kaufman. It's a bit stagy but full of one-liners and witty zingers. Harlow is particularly effective throwing a tantrum in her boudoir. (RvB)

What's Cooking?
Full text review.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?
(PG-13; 95 min.) Martin Lawrence is a high-class thief. Danny De Vito is a heartless billionaire. Put them together and what do you get? Predictable pratfalls and bland putdowns wrapped in a comedy crime-caper that gasps for life. Based on a Donald E. Westlake novel, the film's flimsy plot is designed to provide maximum mugging opportunities for Lawrence, De Vito, and an endless crew of one-dimensional supporting characters. Here's how it goes: Lawrence robs De Vito's house. De Vito catches Lawrence in the act and decides to turns the tables by stealing Lawrence's lucky ring. Lawrence gets mad. From here a series of sluggish cat-and-mouse encounters meander across the screen as the film's thumping soundtrack futilely attempts to pump up the energy level. Occasional flashes of comedy and a healthy dose of Lawrence's signature funny faces and spastic body moves can't save this flick from a depressing lack of inspiration. (BP)

What the #$*! Do We Know!?
Full text review.
(Unrated; 111 min.) Deep thoughts about the new physics. Wrapped in a thick layer of the fuzziest of New Age rhetoric, the docudrama includes some of the silliest dumbing down of science since Frank Capra's 1950s shorts for the Bell Telephone Hour (Our Mr. Sun, Hemo the Magnificent). It's held together by the adventures of Amanda (aging Child of a Lesser God Marlee Matlin), a grieving photographer in Portland. She's introduced to the subject of quantum physics in vignettes: a basketball player demonstrates that time's arrow might go backward as well as forward, and that the seemingly solid ball is an illusion. These examples of new physics suggest a way for imagining God as a being that's everywhere and nowhere, both a swaddling baby and an old man with a beard. Interviews with two dozen scientists encourage the viewer to see the physical world in new perspectives. But when directors William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vincente represent neurotransmitters as animated dancing jellolike critters who resemble Ronald McDonald's co-star, the Evil Grimace, one really starts to feel talked down to. The final sequence where Amanda throws away her meds, since she's now able to reprogram her own brain, is a rare example of truly irresponsible cinema. Anyone who's had relatives whom one dreaded would go off their medication will see what I mean. (RvB)

What Time Is It There?
Full text review.

What Women Want
Full text review.

When a Stranger Calls (2006)
(PG-13; 83 min.) The original 1979 version of this scared the hell out of me in my formative years, even though it's hard to remember why. After all, the creepiest part was given away in the preview when it turns out the killer is calling ... from inside the house! In the intervening years, I've witnessed so many gruesome murders during films, videos, TV news and my own occasional killing sprees (just kidding about that last part, honest), that I don't see how this relatively tame story could be successfully resuscitated by anyone, let alone the director of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. At least the TV movie sequel was clever enough to call itself When a Stranger Calls Back. (Capsule preview by BF)

When Night Is Falling
Full text review.
(Unrated; 94 min.) Camille (Pascale Bussiéres) is a theologian at a Calvinist college, on the fast track to a dual chancellorship with her intended husband, Martin (Henry Czerny). Her plans are interrupted by meeting Petra (Rachael Crawford). It's easier to forgive a story line that exists mostly to promote sexual tension than it is to forgive the neglect of the third side of the triangle (namely, the no-threat Czerny). At worst, When Night Is Falling is twittery erotica; at its best, it's compelling romanticism. At any rate, I've never seen a movie about a woman falling in love with a woman that looked so lush and rich. (RvB)

When the Cat's Away
Full text review.

When We Were Kings
Full text review
(PG; 90 min.) The most spectacular sporting event of all time took place in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974, when Muhammad Ali KO'd George Foreman. The Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, directed by Leon Gast from his original fight footage and featuring commentators Norman Mailer, George Plimpton and Spike Lee, is the story of how the famous fight was put together, how it nearly fell apart and, finally, how Ali pulled off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Much of the footage, particularly shots of Ali ingratiating himself with the natives and Foreman stepping off a plane accompanied by German shepherds, helps fill in the historical background of the fight. The Mailer and Plimpton segments in particular give When We Were Kings a special resonance, since they were probably the two most prominent journalists to cover the fight. (AB)

When You're in Love
(1937) Frank Capra's frequent collaborator Robert Riskin wrote and directed When You're in Love, a romance starring Cary Grant and opera diva Grace Moore. She's an Austrian in need of a visa; he's an artist who sportingly decides to marry her to give her citizenship. Moore sings a Jerome Kern tune, "One Love," and (it's rather hard to imagine Grace Moore doing this) "Minnie the Moocher." (RvB)

Where the Heart Is
(PG-13; 120 min.) Based on the best-selling novel by Billie Letts—which became a main selection of Oprah's Book Club—this down-home dramatic comedy focuses on some dysfunctional characters who find family together. The story is built around young Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman). At 17, she's uneducated, knocked-up, dirt-poor and en route to California with her deadbeat boyfriend, Willy Jack (Dylan Bruno), who promptly ditches her—literally barefoot and pregnant—in the parking lot of an Oklahoma Wal-Mart. With no family or friends to turn to, she resourcefully figures out how to spend her nights inside the department store, and when she goes into labor, she's seemingly magically rescued by the oddball town librarian Forney (James Frain). It's a strange premise, but this engaging story is full of eccentric and interesting characters brought to life by Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack, Sally Field and Keith David. The film covers a five-year span, and Portman presents herself with both the vulnerability and the poise necessary for the transition. The Wal-Mart setting couldn't be more appropriate, as anyone who's spent any time in the Bible Belt knows how Southerners value their Wal-Mart—it's right up there with football and sweet tea. (SQ)

Where the Money Is
(PG-13; 88 min.) After being forcibly retired by the Oregon state penal system, bank-robber Henry Manning (Paul Newman) fakes a stroke and is farmed out to a nursing home. Naughty nurse Carol (Linda Fiorentino) gets wise and talks him and her husband (Dermot Mulroney) into pulling an armored-car heist. Newman proves that he can sit for 30 minutes in a wheelchair with his eyes shut and still be entertaining, but dull pacing and a stupid story make this crime caper as dreary as the back streets of Montreal, where it was shot. (BC)

Where There's Life/College Swing
(1947/1938) In Where There's Life, there's Hope, playing a radio personality who turns out to be the only heir to the crown of Barovia. It's a Prisoner of Zenda-type story, co-starring the obscure Swedish leading lady Signe Hasso and the usual foreigners (the George Coulouris, George Zucco and Joseph Vitale). BILLED WITH College Swing. A follow-up to Hope's breakthrough, Big Broadcast of 1938, in one of those radio-derived vaudevillian review movies. Preston Sturges was an unidentified co-writer; this would be one of the films he characterized as "Ants in Your Pants of 1938" in Sullivan's Travels. If a half-bright student at Alden College graduates, she'll get the money her ancestors laid aside in trust for her, which the college has been acting as custodian for over the centuries. Gracie Alden, played by Gracie Allen, gets tutoring from Hope, graduates and takes over the joint, appointing Martha Raye professor of applied romance. George Burns, Betty Grable, big-band leader Skinnay Ennis and the St. Brendan's Choiristers co-star. (RvB)

Where the Truth Lies
Full text review.
(Unrated; 108 min.) Pretentious softcore by Atom Egoyan. In 1970, reporter Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman of Matchstick Men, too credulous, too young, too much). She's interviewing lounge-star Vince Collins (Colin Firth) for a memoir book. In his more famous days, Collins was the Martin part of a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis-style act. His estranged partner was Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon). The two did telethons and played mafia nightclubs until their inexplicable separation. The Vaselined gleam on the past is a credit to Egoyan. The male gaze is catered to, if skimpily: a few lingerie shots and Firth puffs on a reefer as a couple of drugged girls go to town on each other for his pervy delectation. This may be the first Alice in Wonderland-themed drug scene in 35 years (complete with "White Rabbit" on the soundtrack!). Alice in Wonderland ends with "It was all a dream." Where the Truth Lies has the second-most stupid ending after "It was all a dream"—an ending so vastly clichéd that it's been a punch line for decades. See this movie, and the joke's on you. (RvB)

While the City Sleeps
(1956; unrated; 100 min.) Fritz Lang directs a masterful crime-beat noir about reporters and cops tracking down a serial killer. Dana Andrews and Ida Lupino star.

While You Were Sleeping
Definitely not a total yawn, there's more to this film than its stale love-triangle formula. Lonely Lucy (Sandra Bullock) saves the life of her much-admired-from-afar prince charming, Peter (Peter Gallagher), after he falls onto some subway tracks. When Peter remains in a coma, his family mistakes Lucy for his fiancée and immediately smothers her with affection. Much to her chagrin, Lucy discovers that her true prince charming just might be Peter's brother, Jack (Bill Pullman). If you think it sounds a bit too wacky to be believed, you're probably right, but the film manages to squeeze quite a few genuinely funny moments out of a marginally credible plot. (HZ)

(R; 85 min.) In an old Garry Shandling joke, Garry asks his new bedmate "Was it good for you?" "That wasn't good for anybody," she replies. Whippedisn't good for anybody. Writer/director Peter M. Cohen doesn't understand women—not like stand-up comics or Northeast corridor males don't understand women, but like the Serbs don't understand Croatians. His trio of sex-crazed Manhattan "scammers" (including a cafe Casanova played by the migraine-inducing Zorie Barber) falls for the same dream girl (Amanda Peet). Neither joy nor laughter ensue. This utterly repellent sex comedy makes American Pie look like Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. (DH)

A bracingly cold comedy by Krzysztof Kieslowski. His last film, Blue, explored the quality of mercy; this one analyzes the sweetness of revenge. Dropped hard (smashed, really) by his wife (Julie Delpy), a Polish expatriate in Paris (Zbigniew Zamachowski) returns to his homeland and becomes a small-time criminal in the hopes of winning her back. Dour screwball plotting, crafty writing, and Zamachowski's highly laughable presence as a turning worm makes White one of the evil comic highlights of the year. (RvB)

The White Balloon
Full text review.
(Unrated; 85 min.) A small but beautiful Iranian tale about Razieh (Aïda Mohammadkhani), who is determined to get her hands on a goldfish for a New Year's celebration. As played, or perhaps embodied, by Mohammadkhani, the 7-year-old Razieh is an intrepid little girl who is still trusting and slow enough to be cheated out of her money, still babyish enough to turn on the tears if she thinks it will work. The film is slow in spots, but The White Balloon conveys that timeless childhood feeling of how wanting something like a bowl of goldfish can be a life-or-death matter. (RvB)

White Chicks
(PG-13; 105 min.) If nothing else, White Chicks has given white people the chance to go on message boards all over the web and complain about how this slapstick comedy featuring the Wayans brothers as FBI agents who go undercover as white girls is somehow racist. God, I hate white people. Does that make me racist? Note to self: go see this twice just to spite them. (Capsule preview by SP)

The White Countess
(PG-13; 135 min.) The final curtain on the age of Merchant-Ivory productions. In this stagy Shanghai drama, a creaky late-show plot is yoked to only the most anhedonic style of modern acting. As a blinded diplomat turned dipsomaniac, Ralph Fiennes is a hole in the screen. Playing a White Russian countess turned taxi dancer, Natasha Richardson is pretty to the point of simpering, tending her unwieldy Russian accent as she works as a bar girl to support her large and contemptuous family. (Her mom, Vanessa Redgrave, is among the scandalized royals.) The rotted structure of interwar China is commented upon at length but never seriously illustrated with much more than a newspaper headline (the fleeting image of the two girls dancing together at a nightclub is supposed to be Weimaresque). Fiennes sets his chin, a wistful smile plays on Richardson's face; the two actors repeat their gestures until the Imperial Japanese Army arrives to put the kibosh on things. The script—a poor one—is by Kazuo Ishiguro; it's among the most antiseptic movies about decadence ever wrought. (RvB)

White Man's Burden
(R; 90 min.) John Travolta plays a working man unjustly fired by his boss (Harry Belafonte). After losing his home and family, he's driven to desperation and kidnaps the wealthy man to show him how the other half lives. This seems like a cut-and-dried story of class conflict, probably because it is. The story is complicated, however, as the superbly inane phrase has it, by "the race card." In this interesting piece of speculative fiction, white people are the underclass, and the boss in question is black, as are the other snobs and racists in the film. If the acting isn't always effective—Belafonte is particularly stiff in the first few reels—director Desmond Nakano conveys something of what it must be like to feel colonized by everything from children's toys to advertising art. And yet he doesn't make this a one-note story of victimization. Travolta's hero has the true gift of making matters worse for himself. In both justifying and critiquing white—I mean, black—rage, Nakano has made an unusually loose and yet heartfelt film on a dangerous topic. (RvB)

White Noise
(PG-13; 101 min.) The dead speak to the living (and yet, no winning lottery numbers) in a supernatural thriller with Michael Keaton.

White Oleander
Full text review.

The White Parade/They Call It Sin
(1934/1932) Loretta Young stars as a nurse trainee at a hospital in the Midwest. The White Parade was nominated for a best picture Oscar in 1934. BILLED WITH They Call It Sin. The pre-Hayes Code adventures of Young, a musician from Kansas who is courted both by a suave playboy (David Manners) and a been-around-the-block Broadway type (Louis Calhern). (RvB)

White Rainbow
(Unrated; 94 min.) "Based on true events," yet so flagrantly melodramatic that even the well-documented conditions this film exposes seem hard to believe. Priya (Sonali Kulkarni), the well-born daughter of an Indian cabinet minister, has an abrupt change in status after she receives "The Phone Call That Every Wife Dreads"—news that she receives with a torrent of glass shattering, whiskey drinking and pill popping. Since widows are considered bad luck, Priya's in-laws pressure her to depart for the traditional refuge ashrams. There, Priya discovers institutionalized abuse, neglect and exploitation. With the help of an adoring old woman (Amardeep Jha), Priya sets up a school and a clinic for indigent widows, but this leads to pressure and violence from local goons, to add to the already heated subject material of rape, immolation and "fetus killing." Dharan Mandrayar's already minor movie is all the more diminished in comparison with the upcoming Water, which tells a similar story. The antique storytelling and the little-theater dramatics are just about redeemed by the good this film is trying to do. (RvB)

White Squall
(PG-13; 128 min.) Director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) casts a relatively small sea disaster into bigger-than-big metaphysical terms about "courage" and "manhood" (the word "yacht" is avoided gracefully, lest the tragedy of drowned yachtsmen fails to wring the hearts of a plebeian audience). In 1961, a group of young men embark on a journey aboard the Albatross, a floating finishing school helmed by the Spencer Tracyish Captain Sheldon (Jeff Bridges). The "ocean-going academy"—a yacht with tutors, in other words—includes Sheldon's wife (Caroline Goodall) and a whiskery English professor (John Savage) given to declaiming selections from 101 Best Loved Poems. The crew consists of about a dozen male adolescents: the bookish one, the troubled one, the rich one who hates his dad and so forth—sketched out with each description's delicacy and shading by screenwriter Todd Robinson. On the wide screen, White Squall's vistas, seascape, Caribbean harbors and, especially, an awe-inspiring storm, the "white squall" of the title, have all the drama the rest of the film fails to stir up. The cruise before and after the storm is somewhat harder to endure, with seasickness-inducing swells of emotion—"I think I'm going to choke on feel-good" blusters one character (you and me both, pal)—and a finale that ensures that this occasionally stunning voyage will peter out in the noble tradition of films that end with a group hug. (RvB)

Who Is Cletis Trout?
(R; 95 min.) Christian Slater and Richard Dreyfuss stumble through a comedy crime adventure about jewel thieves.

The Whole Nine Yards
(R; 99 min.) In accordance with Thumper's Law, let's mention Stephanie Biddle, a Canadian jazz singer who does a sweet version of "They All Laughed" over the end of the credits of The Whole Nine Yards. Those end titles looked great as it was—freedom at last!—but the song seemed to be functioning as symbolic magic, implying that the audience had all laughed. Not a chance. Bruce Willis is Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, a gangster hit-man who has retired to the Montreal suburbs. He's instantly recognized by his oppressed neighbor Oz Oseransky (Matthew Perry), a dentist whose wife is making him miserable. Sophie (Rosanna Arquette) the wife in question, leans on her husband to finger Tudeski to the Hungarian gang he betrayed back in Chicago, to get a reward. But would-be riotous complication ensues when Tudeski's estranged wife (Natasha Henstridge), Oz's dental hygenist (Amanda Peet) and an enforcer for the Hungarians (Michael Clarke Duncan of The Green Mile) all turn up. Duncan, the most charismatic member of the cast—imagine what a lox The Green Mile would have been without him—this monumental actor is dropped viciously and without regret by director Jonathan Lynn and novice but already hacked-out screenwriter Mitchell Kapner. Willis' Tudeski is obviously a killer of many parts; a man with a self-loving smirk irresistible to women and men, a murderer who believes in traditional marriages, a guy who can insult a waitress and make the audience love it. Perry shows off his pout, like a Gerber baby with gas; Arquette is roundly humiliated—she's getting old anyway, you can hear Lynn thinking, why not roll her in the dirt? And local-boy Kevin Pollak has never been worse—not even in Willow—as the head of the Hungarian mafia. (Why Hungarian? Is it because they've done this shabby funny-hit-man plot with the Sicilians one too many times? Why Montreal? Obviously to save a buck. Why this movie, though?) (RvB)

The Whole Ten Yards
(PG-13; 99 min.) How could I have not known they were making a sequel to the Matthew Perry/Bruce Willis mob comedy The Whole Nine Yards? Oh, right, I have a life. (Capsule preview by SP)

The Whole Wide World
Full text review.

Why Did I Get Married?
(PG-13; 113 min.) Tyler Perry's movies overly embrace James Brown's dictum "Say It Loud!" and owe more to Oprah than Ozu, but his latest still evokes some gut laughs and heart yanks. Four affluent African American married couples (how rare is that onscreen?) vacation annually (here in Colorado beautifully portrayed by British Columbia) to loudly discuss the title question. Tipsy Angela (Tasha Smith, essentially playing Perry's Madea character) dispenses bitter truths for acerbic laughs. Before her love-and-faith-based transformation in the last act, self-defeating BBW Sheila (singer Jill Scott) submits to the insults of her callous husband. He forces her to drive to the Colorado retreat alone, through the snow, like a latter-day Eliza from Uncle Tom's Cabin. (DH)

Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
(R; 116 min.) This dramatization of the battle between doo-wop star Frankie Lymon's three wives over his estate strikes just the right tones of screwball comedy, period detail and pathos. Lymon had one huge hit with his group, The Teenagers, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love." After going solo, he was destroyed both by heroin and by his increasing irrelevance as teenybopper pop gave way to Motown and psychedelic rock. Why Do Fools Fall In Love starts after Lymon's death, when Elizabeth Waters (Vivica A. Fox) hears Diana Ross' version of the song on the radio in prison, where she's serving time for theft. Realizing that there are royalties to be claimed, she calls a lawyer, saying she's Lymon's widow. Unfortunately for her, two other women—Platters singer Zola Taylor (Halle Berry) and Southern schoolmarm Emira Eagle (Lela Rochon)—make the same claim. During the ensuing court case, Lymon's rise and fall are shown in flashback. As Frankie, the diminutive Larenz Tate is all ingratiating charm and boyish cockiness. Little Richard has a cameo as himself in a very funny courtroom scene. But Fox steals the film, showing considerable courage in allowing herself to look old and dumpy in Waters' later years as a sassy kleptomaniac with an affinity for gold lamé. (MG)

Wicker Park
(PG-13; 115 min.) This Josh Hartnett vehicle is being marketed for some reason as another Fatal Attraction clone, but really it's an American version of Gilles Mimouni's 1996 film, L'Appartement, which is much more a mystery along the lines of Vertigo. Isn't that better than a Fatal Attraction clone? Marketing people, apparently, don't think so. (Capsule preview by SP)

Wide Awake
(PG; 88 min.) A young boy questions his religion after the death of his grandfather. Rosie O'Donnell, Denis Leary and Dana Delany star.

The Widow of Saint-Pierre
Full text review.

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself
Full text review.

Wild America
(PG; 107 min.) The tall but true tale of brothers Marty (Scott Bairstow), Mark (Devon Sawa) and Marshall (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) Stouffer, all three now of PBS wildlife documentary fame. The film is presented from the view of the youngest but most mature brother, Marshall. We pity the 12-year-old as he is forced into the stuntman role for Marty and Mark's amateur daredevil films. The adventure begins when Marty decides to abandon his father's carburetor business to shoot animals from behind a camera instead of with a gun. In their quest to film wildlife, especially a rumored cave of hibernating bears, the brothers battle through various mishaps, all of which involve wild animals, close calls and near-death. The film the Stouffer boys end up creating is a short, pithy thing, but in the literally unbelievable process of filming it, the Stouffers' minds are exposed to the world outside their Arkansas farm, and they learn to pursue their dreams—a worthy lesson for any movie. (BY)

Wild Bill
Full text review.
(R; 98 min.) Walter Hill's new movie features Jeff Bridges as pistoleer Wild Bill Hickok. For the last five years of his life, Hickok seemed more and more like a caricature of his own legend, and he even tried touring in a Wild West show run by his friend "Buffalo Bill" Cody. The movie re-creates one of the period theater scenes with a sharp cameo from Keith Carradine as Cody and also gives us a fine Calamity Jane in Ellen Barkin. Hill's screenplay is the most comprehensive treatment given to Hickok's career to date. All the famous gunfights and confrontations are reproduced with surprising attention to historical accuracy. (AB)

Full text review.

Wild Man Blues
Full text review.

The Wild One/A Place in the Sun
(1953/1951) Based on a well-remembered motorcyclist riot in Hollister, the basically slow and compromised Wild One stars Marlon Brando as a postwar rebel who puts a scare into a small town. Short (79 minutes) and not a hit in its time, but Brando became an icon in it; and it's a key film in the career of co-star Lee Marvin. BILLED WITH A Place in the Sun. "I never get into a boat, ever since I read An American Tragedy."—Groucho Marx in Duck Soup. Before there was Scott and Laci Peterson, there was Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy, here richly adapted by George Stevens into a Lake Tahoeset drama of class-climbing and murder. Elizabeth Taylor stars as the luscious cousin desired by striving Montgomery Clift; Shelley Winters is his unfinished business. (RvB)

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Full text review.
(Unrated; 83 min.) The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a kind of nature film. It is also a study of one Mark Bittner holding on to his dream of pure freedom. Bittner was a rent-free caretaker of a shack on Telegraph Hill. Bittner came to San Francisco to become a singer-songwriter. For some 26 years, he bummed around North Beach, but he never found his place. Bittner began a diary of the feral parrots he saw gathering in the trees outside his window. Filmmaker Judy Irving shows us the green conures pairing up on branches like lovebirds. Like many who come to San Francisco, the parrots seem to have been chased away from their original home. Finding the right habitat applies to humans as well as parrots. Irving films a baffled tourist questioning Bittner, trying to figure out what his angle is. A few avian tragedies Irving captures show the reality behind the glowing fantasy of being a free bird in San Francisco. The air is full of hawks, just as the streets are full of redevelopers. (RvB)

Wild Reeds
An unholy tangle of French spring love set against the Algerian crisis of April 1962. François (Gael Morel), who is gay, loses his brother in the war. Erstwhile communist and feminist Maite (Elodie Bouchez) is the daughter of the teacher who refused to help Serges' (Stephane Rideau's) dead brother when he tried to desert the army. Maite has something of a crush on both Serge and François, and the film never has so much integrity as when it refuses to sort the mess out. (RvB)

The Wild One/A Place in the Sun
(1953/1951) Based on a well-remembered motorcyclist riot in Hollister, the basically slow and compromised Wild One stars Marlon Brando as a postwar rebel who puts a scare into a small town. Short (79 minutes) and not a hit in its time, but Brando became an icon in it; and it's a key film in the career of co-star Lee Marvin. BILLED WITH A Place in the Sun. "I never get into a boat, ever since I read An American Tragedy."—Groucho Marx in Duck Soup. Before there was Scott and Laci Peterson, there was Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy, here richly adapted by George Stevens into a Lake Tahoeset drama of class-climbing and murder. Elizabeth Taylor stars as the luscious cousin desired by striving Montgomery Clift; Shelley Winters is his unfinished business. (RvB)

The Wild Rovers
(1971) Blake Edwards directs William Holden, Ryan O'Neal and Karl Malden in a rarely seen Western. This is the restored director's cut in widescreen Panavision.

Wild Things
(R; 108 min.) Director John McNaughton's Wild Things is a dark, racy thriller. Matt Dillon plays a guidance counselor accused of rape by prissy and powerful Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards) and social outcast and bad ass Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell). When the court case turns into a circus, a web of conspiracy, greed and deceit unfolds. Wild Things takes risks with its daring plot and graphic scenes, including a nice cameo by Kevin Bacon's organ. It also has an outrageous sense of humor, much like Heathers. Bill Murray and Theresa Russell up the sleaze level in supporting roles. The most original part of the film is the surprise at the end as the credits roll. (SQ)

Wild Wild West
Full text review.

(PG-13; 95 min.) You know what a rat loves? A rat loves cheese. Which means rodents everywhere will go crazy for this remake of the 1971 horror flick about a mama's boy who uses his weird friendship with the rats in his basement to get revenge against his evil boss. The original was outrageous enough in its premise, although kind of sweetly sincere in its execution. This remake turns the whole thing into high camp. It's not even supposed to be scary, as fall as I can tell—just kind of funny in a fourth-rate David Lynch kind of way, and really, really gross if rats make you even the least bit uneasy (i.e., if you are an actual person). For the most part, though, it's just boring, as main attraction Crispin Glover has only two psychotic-nerd outbursts in the whole movie that can truly be called classic Crispy. Although, to be fair, the one in the funeral parlor is almost worth the price of admission all by its lonesome. (SP)

William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
Full text review.

William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet
Full text review.
(PG-13; 121 min.) The film—which "updates" the famous story to a contemporary setting—is non-elitist enough to satisfy Beavis and Butt-head. Claire Danes, of My So-Called Life, provides a Juliet so young that she looks as if she still has her milk teeth. Leonard DiCaprio as Romeo seems too stricken by despair to put up a fight against his own family, let alone his beloved's relations. William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet is a movie made by people dead to the value of Shakespeare's language yet capable of making an effective young-person's movie in which the moods and look are as appealing as an unusually handsome sequel to The Crow. (RvB)

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
(1971) Gene Wilder stars as the sardonic candyman who feeds the world sweets while teaching it a few savage moral lessons; no doubt his creator, the writer Roald Dahl, saw himself as a sort of Wonka. A disappointment in its time, which is a five-word definition of any cult movie; I remember that the kids who saw it in its opening weeks wished for the dappled softness that was visible in the illustrations and thought that Wonka's peculiar Englishness wasn't there in Wilder. Dahl was particularly good at depicting that British ability to push you away while seeming to draw you close. Still, all agreed the "Oompa-Loompa" theme was memorable. Johnny Depp is reprising the role later this year, for Tim Burton. (RvB)

(PG-13) Paul Bettany plays a tennis pro who has lost his confidence, and Kirsten Dunst is the up-and-comer who helps him to get it back in this romantic comedy. Because we all know that, in Hollywood, if you can't find some way to write in an African-American character who exists solely to help the white guy succeed, a woman will do just as well. (Capsule preview by SP)

Winchester '73/Charlie Chan at Treasure Island
(1950/1939) "Man gets gun, man loses gun, man gets gun"—Clive Hirschhorn. James Stewart wins a state of the art rifle at a shooting contest in Dodge City. But the weapon has a life of its own, ending up in the possession of robbers (Dan Duryea plays one of the gang), Indians and Stewart's own crooked brother (Stephen McNally). Anthony Mann's Western goes for frontier slices of life: Shelley Winters plays a dance-hall girl; political activist Will "Grandpa Walton" Geer is a sheriff, Rock Hudson is an Indian and Tony Curtis is a soldier. BILLED WITH Charlie Chan at Treasure Island. Chan visits the great art deco world's fair at San Francisco 1939, but has to solve the murder of a writer friend first. It was one of three Chan movies that year, and Toler was to play the role of the plump detective 22 times. Also stars the intimidating Cesar Romero. (RvB)

Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!
(PG-13; 96 min.) The director of Legally Blonde returns with a film about two small-town girls who fight over a celebrity who's offering himself up in a contest as a way to boost his career. Ironically, the famous dream-date is played by the almost completely unknown Josh Duhamel. But the weirdest thing is that there's a TV movie called I Want to Marry Ryan Banks that has almost exactly the same plot as this film. At least they got Jason Priestley to be the celeb. (Capsule preview by SP)

The Wind in the Willows
(PG; 80 min.) Following last year's stage version by Shakespeare Santa Cruz comes, in a curious near coincidence, a live-action film version of Wind in the Willows, directed by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. Further anthropomorphizing the already very human characters, Jones has dressed up his cast with just enough animal markers to make them recognizable. Eric Idle's picnic-loving Rat sports a rodential mustache and long furry tail. Steve Coogan's timid Mole wears a miner's lamp strapped to his head and peers myopically through thick lenses. Best of all is Jones himself as the irrepressible, motorcar-lusting Mr. Toad. He's tinged a verdant shade of green and plumped up in oversized pants and jacket. The action hews closely to the book—Toad's profligate ways threaten the rustic simplicity of life along the river, and the weasels are ready to do their worst—until a somewhat clamorous ending that might upset younger children. Older viewers, however, will relish the pleasant memories evoked by this loving rendering of a classic. (MSG)

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Wing Commander
(PG-13; 98 min.) Freddie Prinze Jr. and David Suchet (minus his Hercule Poirot mustache) defend Earth from some very silly looking space aliens. Chris Roberts, the auteur, also designs computer games—the emphasis is on slick special effects, with little attention paid to logic or emotional involvement. If this movie were a space trooper, I'd drag it out behind the latrines and shoot it. (BC)

Winged Migration
Full text review.

Wings in the Dark
(1935) A pilot (Cary Grant) goes blind; his partner, also a pilot (Myrna Loy, borrowed from MGM), looks after him until his invention saves her during the course of a Moscow-to-New York solo flight. (RvB)

Wings of the Dove
Full text review.

Wings/The Saturday Night Kid
(1927/1929) The first winner of the Oscar for best picture, and it had pretty much the same plot as the movie Pearl Harbor, 70 years later. Clara Bow stars as a nurse unable to choose between a pair of devil-dogs of the air (Buddy Rogers, Richard Arlen); the real draw is the aerial work, performed by actual stunt pilots (which is on the whole more than Pearl Harbor could boast). Director William "Wild Bill" Wellman was a decorated pilot in the Great War. BILLED WITH The Saturday Night Kid. Love instead of war in a tale of a pair of showgirl sisters, one fast and loose (Bow), the other faster and looser (Jean Arthur). Bow's well-known nickname "The IT girl" did not refer to her career in high-tech, originated from her appearance in a movie titled It—"It" meaning the je ne sais quoi of the sexually alluring woman. All this throat-clearing explains the otherwise inexplicable caption on the poster for The Saturday Night Kid: "Clara Bow flashing IT as she never flashed IT before!" (RvB)

The Winslow Boy
Full text review.

The Winter Guest
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Winter Passing
(R; 98 min.) In the big-screen debut of writer/director Adam Rapp, a young New York City actress, Reese Holden (Zooey Deschanel), reluctantly returns home to see her reclusive writer father, Don Holden (Ed Harris), and to find a collection of love letters penned by her late mother, also a famous author. Playing Don's peculiar assistant, Will Ferrell instinctively taps into the film's tone and mutates it to his own ends. But the house's fourth inhabitant, Shelley (Amelia Warner), has quite a bit less to do. Winter Passing sometimes captures a lazy, seasonal feel. The brisk air clashes with warm rooms, and this leisurely atmosphere affects the characters. Likewise, Rapp correctly holds back on explanation and exposition, but conversely, the characters seem to have no motivation at all. (JMA)

Winter Sleepers
(Unrated; 122 min.) Shot a year before his international hit Run Lola Run, German director Tom Tykwer's somber melodrama about five lives connected by a tragic auto accident in a Bavarian ski resort town is as fixated on themes of fate and coincidence as its follow-up. Laura (Marie-Lou Sellem) is a twenty- something nurse and aspiring community-theater actress in love with René (Ulrich Mattes), an odd, mild-mannered movie theater projectionist who suffers from short-term memory loss. She is currently treating the young daughter of impoverished local farmer Theo (Josef Bierbichler, fierce and compelling in a too-brief role), the comatose victim of a hit-and-run accident; what Laura doesn't know is that the perpetrator was a drunken René, who has no recollection of the crash. Meanwhile, the film stops dead in its tracks for several repetitive bickering scenes between Laura's blond roommate, Rebecca (Floriane Daniel), a gorgeous but shallow romance-novel translator, and her ski instructor boyfriend, Marco (Heino Ferch), an even more shallow, two-timing couch potato. Though Winter Sleepers makes for an intriguing companion piece to Lola and is imaginatively and sumptuously shot in the Alps by cinematographer Frank Griebe, it's underdeveloped and slack, lacking the tautness and focus of the compact Lola. Theo's anguish over finding the driver who injured his daughter deserves more screen time than the squabbles between Rebecca and Marco, which will put viewers to sleep. (JA)

Winter Solstice
Full text review.
(R; 89 min.) In suburban New Jersey, the Winters family is fraying. Jim the father (Anthony LaPaglia, paunchy, jowly, overdue at the barber shop) is a hard-working landscape contractor. His eldest son Gabe (Aaron Stanford) works produce at the local grocery store. The younger brother Pete (Mark Webber) is stuck in summer school, because of his inexplicable refusal to apply himself. Then Molly Ripkin (Allison Janney) moves into the neighborhood to housesit for the summer. This unemployed paralegal cracks the reserve of the Winters family, enabling the father to reach out to his sons, just as they're about to slip out of his life. The positives: director/writer Josh Sternfeld brings a sense of the sullenness of a small town, with summer nights gathering at the Dairy Queen, an inconsequential fistfight outside the convenience store. Janney is soft here, ash-blonde, with internal humidity showing through that awkward face. (She's not conventionally pretty, but neither was Bette Davis.) As Gabe's soon-to-be-ex girlfriend Stacey, Michelle Monaghan is also a burst of energy in this polished but undernourished film. Maybe Monaghan just provides the aesthetic pleasure of seeing a slender girl on a bicycle on a tree-lined street. The plight of a film like Winter Solstice is that it's very well made without being very interesting. It's like that slaved-over short story in the New Yorker that you can't finish before the ennui sets in. (RvB)

(R; 90 min.) In modern-day L.A., an escaped djinn runs amuck, mutilating and killing people foolish enough to ask him for wishes. A djinn is a genie, but this genie is closer to the old Arabian legends than anything on screen since Rex Ingram's formidable example in the 1940 The Thief of Bagdad. Director Robert Kurtzman, an F/X creator turned director, handles the gore effects adequately, but he is better with the prosthetics than he is with the actors. There's a balance that has to be achieved in the horror film. The characters should be just obnoxious enough that you want some harm to come to them but not so obnoxious—as they are here—that you don't care if they escape or not. Also, Kurtzman doesn't realize when he has performers who are above the level of mediocrity staring them in the face. As Wendy Derlith (an homage to the fantasy writer August), an expert on the old gods, Jenny O'Hara has the late Robert Mitchum's own coolness and sense of self-amusement. And as the Djinn, the Nixonian actor Andrew Divoff is far scarier without his silly sub-Babylon 5 makeup than he is with it. (RvB)

The Witch Who Came From the Sea
(1973) Matt Cimber's fairly restrained horror film is still banned in the United Kingdom. The censorship is due to a subdued (under the circumstances) razor-blade castration sequence. "Shit, this is going to take forever," murmurs castratrix Molly (Millie Perkins) as she learns the importance of using the right tool on the right tool. Despite this bloody incident early on, the fun part comes later. Molly tries to decide if her ghastly deed—"the most shocking and brutal crime ever recorded in the world of sports"—was but a figment. Or did she actually tie up, geld and murder a pair of famous football players, one of whom is Sam "The Electric Man" (read "Broadway Joe Namath")? A sexual hysteria case of the old school, Molly haunts vintage Dogtown-era Ocean Park. Speaking of castration, I would have given my left nut to see even more of these coastal seascapes, so exquisitely filmed in Todd-AO by Dean Cundey (Jurassic Park). Is that actually the 17-year-old me, slumped over on a bus bench in the fog, waiting for the 75 Venice bus? Freeze-framing couldn't prove it, but I feel it must be. Anyway, the plot: Molly has a no-strings thing going with Long John, proprietor of the Boat House bar, a Bukowskian dive. (Peggy Feury, as Doria the barmaid beautifully anticipates Faye Dunaway in Barfly.) Like so many of us, what is really cooking for Molly is what happened in the past—an ambiguous relationship with her father, a sailor. Her loathsome sister insists that there are nasty aspects of her father's life that Molly's driven from her mind. Instead of much-needed therapy, Millie gets a mermaid tattooed on her stomach by a weirdo called "Jack Dracula," parties with lecherous Malibu dicknoses and eventually melts down into a puddle of recovered memories. Perkins—the former child actress who starred in George Stevens' Diary of Anne Frank—brings out genuine pathos in Molly's plight. There's more ripe '70s funk in one single frame here than there is in the entire running time of Boogie Nights. Cimber himself—also the director of the notorious Orson Welles/Pia Zadora Butterfly—will be at the screening, hosting this and his 1983 barbarian-girl effort Hundra. It's part of the Fearless Tales Genre Film Festival in San Francisco, a horror-movie event that includes the vintage roughie Candy Snatchers (Mar 31) and Herschell Gordon Lewis' magical-realist gore version of Brigadoon, 1964's Two Thousand Maniacs! (Tim Sullivan, who is directing the remake, will also appear, though I wish they'd leave it alone and remake Brigadoon instead.) Director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) appears at a gala event on Mar 31. (Plays Mar 29 at 9:15pm in San Francisco at the Victoria Theater; for full festival schedule, see (RvB)

With a Friend Like Harry
Full text review.

Without a Paddle
(PG-13; 98 min.) Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard stumble through the backwoods in a comedy directed by Steven Brill.

Without Limits
Full text review.

The Witness
Full text review.

Witness for the Prosecution/Stage Fright
(1957/1950) A sleek Yankee swine in London (Tyrone Power) stands accused of murdering a wealthy old lady. His betrayed wife (Marlene Dietrich) may not be in the mood to provide an alibi. Charles Laughton presides over the court, while co-stars Henry Daniell, John Williams and Una O'Connor (of The Bride of Frankenstein, in her last part) help find justice. Based on an Agatha Christie play and not meant to be taken seriously; Laughton, especially, hams it up as only Laughton could. BILLED WITH Stage Fright. Marlene Dietrich is at the door. She's swearing 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, the maid caught him in the act, 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. 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 the man buying girlie magazines in Peeping Tom); and Patricia Hitchcock, the director's daughter, playing a girl nicknamed "Chubby." (RvB)

Witness for the Prosecution/Stalag 17
(1957/1953) A sleek Yankee swine in London (Tyrone Power) stands accused of murdering a wealthy old lady. His betrayed wife (Marlene Dietrich) may not be in the mood to provide an alibi. Charles Laughton presides over the court, while co-stars Henry Daniell, John Williams and Una O'Connor (of Bride of Frankenstein, in her last part) help find justice. Based on an Agatha Christie play, and not meant to be taken seriously; Laughton, especially, hams it up as only Laughton could. BILLED WITH Stalag 17. "I don't know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures."—the opening line in Stalag 17. The film represented a departure from the heroism of Hollywood war movies, in the way it showed that conditions in a military prison camp were like the conditions in any other prison, with hustling, violence and self-preservation being the order of the day. Christmas 1944: in a POW camp on the Danube, American prisoners are being ratted out by a spy in their midst. The most obvious suspect is Sgt. Sefton (William Holden), a fixer who doesn't work very hard trying to lift the burden of suspicion off himself. Holden, who always played off-the-bias men under Billy Wilder's direction, won the Oscar for the role. But the supporting cast often eclipses him here, particularly Sig Ruman as a jolly Bavarian guard named Schultz. The Hogan's Heroes link is established not just by the name, but by Ruman's amusing bumbler, poorly imitated later by the TV actor John Banner. There are a lot of German actors in the world, but there was never a German dialect comedian like Ruman. Robert Strauss and Harvey "Eric von Zipper" Lembeck, from the play's original cast, are rattier versions of Bill Mauldin's Willie and Joe. Strauss steals the show, though his oversized acting tended to throw films off. Halliwell notes that Strauss had been a salesman; I'll bet he knew how to close a sale despite the steeliest resistance. (RvB)

The Wizard of Oz
(1939; G; 85 min.) This film has become life itself for so many people on the outskirts of life. It's famous for the unquenchable yearning in Judy Garland's voice and the witty Tin Pan Alley songs that never could have been written with such easy panache if the composers had known what The Wizard of Oz was going to mean 50 years later. And the film is salted with horror: the winged monkeys and the disappearance of the Wicked Witch, achieved with a hydraulic elevator and a cloak full of dry-ice smoke. The Wizard of Oz exists beyond the usual standards of criticism, which is why critics tend not to write too much about it. What's on-screen is immaterial to the reactions it rouses in those watching it: the hopes of escape, the misfit's aching memories of persecution and solitude. I still prefer Goldfinger. (RvB)

The Wizard of Oz/Miracle on 34th Street
(1939/1947) Two beloved fantasies: first, the story of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) transported to a mystical land over the rainbow. Plays almost 60 years to the day (Sept. 3, 1939) that it first showed at the Stanford Theater. BILLED WITH Miracle on 34th Street, in which an elderly gentleman begins to style himself as Santa Claus. Stars Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O'Hara and the young Natalie Wood.

The Wizard of Oz/The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
(1939/1953) A movie that's life itself for so many people on the outskirts of life. The Wizard of Oz is famous for the unquenchable yearning in Judy Garland's voice, for the witty Tin Pan Alley songs that never could have been written with such enviously easy panache if the composers had known what the film was going to mean to the world 50 years later. The Wizard of Oz is salted with pure horror: the winged monkeys and the disappearance of the Wicked Witch, achieved with a hydraulic elevator and a cloak full of dry-ice smoke. It exists beyond the usual standards of criticism, which is why critics tend not to write too much about it. (The critics of the day weren't kind, griping, as Otis Ferguson did, about Garland: "Her thumping, overgrown gambols are characteristic of its treatment here: when she is merry the house shakes, and everybody gets wet when she is lorn.") Still, The Wizard of Oz is one of those small categories of films where what's onscreen is immaterial to the reactions it rouses in those watching it: the hopes of escape, the misfit's aching memories of persecution and solitude. Deep down, I still prefer Goldfinger. BILLED WITH The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Ted "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's lyrics fit this unusual children's musical about a debauched piano teacher (the terrific Hans Conreid) keeping his students imprisoned. A big flop in its day, but it looks superior in comparison to, say, the Jim Carrey version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (RvB)

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