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(Unrated; 90 min.) A beguiling slice-of-life story by Arik Kaplun, set in Tel Aviv during the Gulf War. A dilapidated apartment building houses a group of various fresh émigrés from Russia. The newest is Yana (the sweet-faced Evelyn Kaplun) whose ne'er-do-well husband leaves her, alone and pregnant, to deal with the baby as best she will. Her flatmate, a diffident young filmmaker, aims to get out of Israel as soon as he can to go to New York. New York is also the aim of their neighbors, an unemployed Russian couple with a comatose old granddad, a wheelchair-bound, medal-bedecked Army vet of the Great Patriotic War. While these characters are caught in limbo, Saddam Hussein begins hurling missiles at Israel, and the situation becomes slightly more earnestbut not as earnest as you'd think. It's a comedy that gets sweeter and simpler as it goes on. The plot includes a bracing joke about a musician mistaken for a child molestera wittier, smuttier gag than anything in the new Austin Powers movie. There's a scene-stealing dachshund, a couple who somehow become fetishists of the gas masks issued by the government and an elderly accordionist who finds his once lucrative trade as a street musician made kaput thanks to new immigrants. Technology saves the maestro after he sees an old tape of the thereminist Clara Rockwell on TV. In Kaplan's wry view, Israel is almost a way station between Russia and Somewhere Else. If the film satirizes the Promised Land as a land of broken promise, the director loves his characters and the semibrilliant schemes they devise to survive. (RvB)
(1942) Yankee Doodle Dandy is an irresistible and surprisingly uncorny biography of song-and-dance man George M. Cohan (James Cagney). The Irish vaudeville artist wrote 40 plays and composed many songs that haven't been forgotten yet, including "Over There," "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "You're a Grand Old Flag." The exuberance of the music is reflected in Cagney's dancing and acting. Cagney is aware of what a shrewd performer Cohan had to behow he was born with an eye for the effect patriotic music has on a crowd. At times, Cagney's singingespecially in the showstopper, "Harrigan"is a demonstration of the old methods of selling a song, of confiding in the audience from the stage. It still works; real quality never goes out of style. The film opened on Broadway with a wartime benefit premiere that netted $5 million for war bonds. (RvB)
(R; 115 min.) Would-be drama about Leo, a paroled ex-con (Mark Wahlberg) who gets involved with a crooked electrical contractor on the New York subway system. As the contractor, Leo's Uncle Frank (James Caan) maintains plausible deniability. Frank passes on the duties of greasing politicians' palms and vandalizing his rivals' train cars to his future son-in-law (Joaquin Phoenix, who impulsively takes Leo on as a partner). When things go bad, Leo takes the fall. Since Leo seems to have some sort of irresolute crush on his cousin, Frank's daughter (Charlize Theron), what transpires isn't just familial betrayal but a love triangle. Director James Gray (Little Odessa) lays out this yarn like a radio play; everything we see is explained aloud. The Yards is uneconomically written and directed, and the laws of coincidence are strained like mad. The acting isn't special either; Faye Dunaway (as Theron's mom) has never been worse, not even in Supergirl. Theron goes for a boroughs makeover with a vengeanceshe's got a frumpy Sally Field cut and thick black eyeshadow that makes her eyes look like twin eightballs. The shock of Theron's beautyno makeup can ruin itwears off fast, and then you're left with her minimal skills as an actress. Oddly, Ellen Burstyn (as Leo's poor invalid mom) looks prettier at 50 than Theron looks at 25. As for Wahlberghis inert performance here is more proof that he's only as good as his director. And his director here gives him the line, "I'm a product of my street environment." This film's been described as depressing but it isn'tisn't competent enough to be depressing, that is. (RvB)
(1968) An animated feature representing the happy part of the Beatles' LSD trip, before the inevitable crash (for the other side of the picture, see that canvas of paranoia and loathing known as The White Album). Four carefree musicians from a coal-colored Gothic-revival port town rescue the magic kingdom of Pepperland, which has been invaded by a menagerie of blue-tinged, yellow-toothed and vaguely Disneyish fascists. Notes of Edward Lear mix strangely with the conventions of the animated movie. A better mix is the soundtrack, with incidental music by fifth Beatle George Martin, and about 12 songs by the lads. Erich "Love Story" Segal was one of the co-writers. (Plays Aug 5 at sundown in downtown Campbell; free; see www.casadelaculturamexica.org for details.) (RvB)
(R; 83 min.) A documentary by Chris Smith and Sarah Price and Dan Ollman about some pranksters who go around imitating members of the WTO, casting aspersions on globalization along the way.