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Fall 2004 Arts Guide:
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Tongue Dynasty: Johnny Knoxville stars in two new films this fall—deal with it.

Letter Rip

The fall releases from A to Z

By Richard von Busack

AFTER LABOR DAY, gross summer fare yields to the somewhat higher-brow fall season. In the distance, one sights the approaching herd of white elephants, the prestige films of the Oscar movie season. In the meantime, in alphabetical order, sort of:

A is for Alexander. Speaking of elephants, here's Oliver Stone's elephant-laden extravaganza: the story of the Macedonian emperor who conquered the world. So much for the libel that gay men don't have any iron in their bones. Colin Farrell plays the 32-year-old emperor who gave the centuries an enduring lesson on the futility of ambition. Angelina Jolie is his barbarian queen, preferably clad in some clinging chain mail. (Nov. 5)

B is for bafflement, the stock in trade of the grifters. John C. Reilly plays a nerve-wracked con man in Criminal, an L.A.-based remake of the excellent Argentinian film Nine Queens. (Sept. 10)

C is for Che. The Sundance sensation this last winter was The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles' epic film version of the diaries of Che Guevara. It concerns Che's 1952 road trip with his friend Alberto Granado. The two made an 8,000-mile voyage in search of the (South) American dream. What Che saw on the way turned him from an asthmatic medical student into a fighter for the poor. As every Quixote needs a Sancho Panza, the movie includes an earthy, consistently funny performance by Rodrigo de la Serna as Alberto, a man more beguiled by wine and women than by his mission to save the world. A tribute to Che, whose last resting place is in the hearts of his people and on the T-shirts of students. (Oct. 1, San Francisco)

D is for dirt. When artists with impeccable underground credentials enjoy a big mainstream success, it's only human nature to wish them back in the mud where they came from. John Waters, who had a Broadway musical made from his film Hairspray, gets grubby again with A Dirty Shame. In his newest, the Vizier of Vomit tells a melodrama of a woman (Tracey Ullman) struck perverted by a head trauma. Co-starring Johnny Knoxville and a cast of other unfortunates. (Sept. 24)

E is for the eternally fascinating Charles Manson, yet another '60s celeb getting an encore. Jim Van Bebber directs The Manson Family ("Based on a true story"), a docudrama about Charlie and his angels. (Halloween, San Francisco)

F is for fish. Right after the 500th time your kid has made you watch Finding Nemo comes DreamWorks' Shark Tale, a slightly more adult version of the funny-computer animated-fish movie. Voices include Will Smith as a fish in trouble with the shark mafia; Jack Black as a shark enforcer who's a vegetarian at heart; Angelina Jolie as a fish-fatale and Martin Scorsese as a fast-talking blowfish. (Oct. 1)

G is for Gail Garcia Bernal, who plays a studly Che in The Motorcycle Diaries and who also stars in a new Pedro Almodóvar film Bad Education. Reportedly, Almodóvar is in top form directing this mysterious story of priestly molestation. (Dec. 10)

H is for Huckabees. David O. Russell's I ♥ Huckabees is a nigh-indescribable cultural-war allegory by the director of Spanking the Monkey and Three Kings, centering on legal conflict between an open-spaces activist (Jason Schwartzman) and an exec at a chain of familiar-looking superstores (Jude Law). Pawns in the game include Isabelle Huppert, Naomi Watts and Mark Wahlberg. (Oct. 15)

I is for The Incredibles by Pixar, helmed by Brad Bird (The Simpsons, The Iron Giant). An incognito superhero family is forced out of retirement, much to the secret joy of the bored dad Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson). After the toddler-friendly Finding Nemo, older Pixar fans could use some leotards, force fields and explosions. (Nov. 5)

J is for Johnny Knoxville of Jackass, who turns up in two fall films: The Ringer (Nov. 12), a Farrelly brothers-produced comedy in which he plays an underachiever who decides to pose as handicapped to enter the Special Olympics; Knoxville also takes a leading role in A Dirty Shame (see D).

K is for Kinsey. Liam Neeson stars as the pioneering sexologist and Hoosier, whose 1948 study, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, fired the opening shot in the sexual revolution. Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) directs. (Nov. 12)

L is for Laura Linney, who co-stars as Mrs. Kinsey, who got the bad news about men before anyone else.

M is for marriage, much mocked in the movies. This always-changing institution is considered endangered by citizens who have far better things to worry about (like what their water sources are going to be in 2020). The documentary Tying the Knot by Jim de Seve shows exemplary gay couples, kept from their human rights by prejudice and opportunistic politicians. (Oct. 1, San Francisco)

N is for Nemo. I wanna watch Nemo, daddy! Nemo, Nemo. Nemoooooo.

O is for the October opening date of Cinemayaat, the annual Arab Film Festival, coming to the Camera 12 Cinemas, Oct. 5-8. This year's fest includes a reprise of the controversial anthology film 11/09/01, featuring short films by Sean Penn, Mira Nair and others on the subject of the Sept. 11 attacks.

P is for Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), the Lois Lane character in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Dr. Totenkopf ("That means Killerhead!" gasps a German dictionary) is scheming to destroy the world with flying robots and futuristic planes, and only the daredevil pilot Sky Captain (Jude Law) can bring him to justice. It's the first all-blue-screen movie, with computer graphics in every sequence; the good-looking pastiche mines the Fleischer brothers' Superman cartoons as well as the 1942 Republic serial Spy Smasher. Watch the skies! (Sept. 17)

Q is for the Q&A sessions at the junkets for all the films listed above and below. Only Evelyn Waugh could accurately describe the levels of contempt between ham and hack, between hack and hack, and between flack and hack. Only Gertrude Stein could quantify the repletion of the multirepeated questions between querier and queried. Quit them all.

R is for redundant remakes: Flight of the Phoenix (Nov. 24) and Taxi (Oct. 8), the former a Dennis Quaid version of the Jimmy Stewart thriller, the latter a Queen Latifah vehicle derived from a popular Gallic atrocity by Luc Besson.

S is for September Tapes. It's the true-life documentary about American photojournalists on a dangerous mission, dropping into Kabul shortly before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. (Sept. 24)

T is for time travelers. One misplaced comma, could have horrifying consequences for the future, maybe even by the end of this paragraph! All it takes is something innocent like a simple failure of proofreading to make posterity disregard first the rules of grammar, then all rules and, ultimately, the sanctity of life itself. That is, I assume, the message of A Sound of Thunder, based on Ray Bradbury's famous short tale about the clumsiness of safariing dinosaur-hunters and the repercussions of one false step a few eons down the line. Edward Burns steps up as the guide to the Jurassic; Catherine McCormack plays the inventor of the time machine. (Oct. 8)

On the other hand, Shane Carruth's Texas-made Primer is an indie movie that refuses to meet its audience halfway. Often baffling, but always smart, Primer allegorizes time travel as just one more way for exhausted high-tech engineers to squeeze 36 hours worth of work into a 24-hour-day. In other news: the Senite has jest appruved Adolf Hitler IV as Diktator of Ammurickah. (Fall)

U is for Undertow by David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls), a director whose visions of rural America are completely unique. His newest, starring Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas and Dermot Mulroney, is a tough-minded thriller about the violent rivalry within an extended family. (November)

V is for victory over those who hate the USA, whether they dwell in Hell, Mars or Paris! Team America: World Police is the latest outrage by the South Park cabal. Having previously wrought history's most lifelike animation, Parker and Stone and company pay homage to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's "Super Marionation" (the jaw-droppingly futuristic technique that was deleted, for some inexcusable reason, in this summer's bummer remake of the Andersons' Thunderbirds). Team America is a quintet of plucky puppets who defend the Only Nation That Matters against Kim Il Sung, Michael Moore, Sean Penn and other freedom-hating eagle pluckers. (October)

W is for wine tasting. Sideways celebrates the wine-dark trip of two depressed bachelors, Miles (Paul Giamatti of American Splendor) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who are swerving down the road to midlife crisis. It's based on Rex Pickett's novel; the director is About Schmidt's Alexander Payne. (Oct. 20)

X is for the poster of the band X glimpsed on a wall in the phenomenal experimental film Tarnation. It's also for the X factor of the unknown. Former Texan Jonathan Caouette examines the shards of his life, using ancient videotapes, super-8 films and interviews with his relations, particularly his mother, who fought madness all her life. A shocking film, yet strangely inspirational; the art of David Bowie, David Lynch, John Waters—and a few reruns of The Bionic Woman, too—saved Caouette from certain destruction. (Fall)

Y is for Yes Men. Chris Smith, Dan Ollman and Sarah Price's documentary involves a pair of cyber-squatting pranksters who bedevil the World Trade Organization, seeing how much sadism the bankers will agree to before they find out they're being duped by a pair of performance artists. (Oct. 1)

Z is for zombie. Shaun of the Dead isn't just the funniest British film of the year, it's also one of the best English films of the year, period. An exhausted McJob sufferer (Simon Pegg) binges with his couch-camping, nay, couch-homesteading mate; he wakes up under siege by both a hangover and an army of ravenous zombies. Gut-munching, but rib-tickling. (Sept. 24)

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From the September 8-14, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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