Previous to the War of the Worlds broadcast, the Mercury Theater (including player Orson Welles), broadcast their rendition of Dracula. Heard again tonight.
On the surface, jealousy is the combative common ground this film's eight women share in the home of a murdered man who is a husband, a father, a brother, a son-in-law, and a philanderer in relation to the various characters. The women candidly sing and dance to their inner feelings, while hiding away their jealousies or hurling bold suspicions at one another. Costume adjustments--buttons coming undone as emotions burst forth, layers stripping to reveal softer underpinnings--speak as loudly as the women do, becoming a narrator for the film and demonstrating once more the silent language that bonds the eight very different personalities as they rage and roil, desperate to prove their innocence. (Kathleen Wilson)
Katie Holmes stretches her enormous talent once again by playing a young, nubile college student who has to deal with the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend. Benjamin Bratt plays a detective.
With an amazing turn away from the cynicism of Delicatessen, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes no bones about being sweet and charming. A quick-moving narrative about a shy, sexy, and dreamy Parisian who helps friends and strangers fulfill their fantasies while shying away from her own. Cute as a button. Really, you'll love it.
This film deals with the relationship between Afghanistan and Iran. Lateef, a 17-year-old, works with illegal Afghans at a construction site. Director Majidi examines friendship among Iranians and Afghans despite their country's disputes.
Director David Twohy actually made a good movie with Charlie Sheen in the little-seen The Arrival. His second film, Pitch Black, proved Vin Diesel could be an action star long before The Fast and the Furious (they will reteam for a trilogy of Pitch Black prequels called The Chronicles of Riddick). Now, with the haunted submarine thriller Below, Twohy proves there are few directors better than him working today. You believe his submarine crew knows exactly how to dive and evade Nazi ships, for example, because you watch them do it with precision. It's only after they pick up some British survivors of a sunken ship that the ghosts emerge, secrets start to unravel, and things fall apart. Solid direction and excellent performances (Bruce Greenwood in particular) cover over a couple of slow patches, making for one unsinkable piece of entertainment.
Bowling for Columbine
Documentarian Michael Moore on gun violence in America. See review this issue.
The tagline goes, "Brown Sugar is a love story about hiphop." But before you run away screaming with thoughts of its stars, Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan (and Queen Latifah and Mos Def), getting buttery and busy to some cracky Ludacris joint, don't worry: Brown Sugar is REALLY about hiphop--real hiphop, and real love, and clarifying the two when there are so many fakers out there posing as both. Sanaa Lathan plays Sidney, an editor at XXL magazine who's been in love with hiphop ever since she saw Dana Dane and Doug E. Fresh battling on a street corner when she was a kid. Magically, that very same day, she met her best friend, Dre (Taye Diggs). (Julianne Shepherd)
Documentary about the wars that wage between parents who openly oppose homosexuality, and the gay kids of those parents. Director Arthur Dong takes a digital camera and probes the private lives of three conservative Christian families who have shunned their kids for being homosexual. There's a Pentecostal family who shunned their lesbian daughter; there's a U.S. congressman who shunned his adopted son after finding out about his alternative lifestyle; and there's a (surprise!) Mormon family who gave their gay son the boot.
The final film by the great Soviet director, Alexander Dovzhenko is based on the book, The Truth About American Diplomats, by Annabelle Bucard, an American journalist who moved to Russia to protest the intensifying postwar communist witch hunt that was occurring in the states.
Flicker Super-8 & 16mm Film Festival
Calling all film geeks! In its third year, the Flicker Film Club is a chance for teens to meet-and-greet filmmakers, and chat all geek-like about films.
In his fourth unconscionably shitty film released in the last year (and yes, that includes that Yoda bullshit), Samuel L. Jackson stars as Elmo McElroy, a kilt-wearing chemist (!?) who stumbles upon the recipe for a new and exciting illegal substance--the titular formula. Traveling to Liverpool in hopes to hawk his creation in the heart of the city's rave scene, McElroy's "one last score" goes (surprise!) horribly awray. Featuring token Brits Robert Carlyle and Rhys Ifans.
The Four Feathers
After turning tail at the brink of war, a branded Brit coward goes deep undercover in the Sudan hoping to save his friends and regain his honor. Premises don't come much more crackerjack, but this initially ambitious version of an oft-told tale unfortunately seems to have undergone severe trimming late in the game, scattering both character motivation and important plot points to the desert winds. (As it stands, the only clear marker of time's passage lies in star Heath Ledger's amazing Chia hair.) An intermittently engaging study in derring-do, and nudged along by director Shekhar (Elizabeth) Kapur's sense of grandiose scale and some indecently lovely camera work, this may have not been a great movie at epic length, but it would surely have resonated better than the plucked, wandering concoction it has ended up being. Kate Hudson glows, as always. (Andrew Wright)
Another cryptically titled movie about ghosts who inhabit a ship. See review this issue.
The Good Girl
Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) works at the Retail Rodeo. She has worked there for many many years. Her husband and his buddy paint houses for a living and smoke a lot of pot. Justine is sad, bored, and unhappy, until... a weird young guy calling himself Holden (Jake Gyllenhall) befriends her. From there, it's all down hill. I had heard tons of hype about this film before screening it: "Jennifer Aniston plays against type... " and all that. Well, Jennifer does play against type, but isn't that what acting is all about? Given the directing and writing credits of director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White who brought us the deliciously uncomfortable Chuck and Buck, I guess I expected a more ominous and darker tone, but The Good Girl seems more screwball than drama. This works on some levels, but overall it just feels melodramatic. (Brian Brait)
The Grey Zone
A Holocaust tale about Jews forced to work in the crematorium, burning their friends.
What's scarier than a Christian fundamentalist haunted house? I don't know; maybe the Ebola virus. See review this issue.
Igby Goes Down
A melancholic comedy that captures the privileged heartbreak of Salinger far better than The Royal Tenenbaums ever could. Igby, a preppie with a punk streak, gets kicked out of his last boarding school and takes to Manhattan, where he squats purposelessly, has sex with junkies and JAPs, and basically seethes until life more or less insists that he make a move. A sharply-observed film down to the upturned collars and half-Windsor knots, Igby gets to the heart of its characters without either indicting or apologizing for its cultural framework. (Sean Nelson)
Independent Video Screening
Ray Daniels, Mike Paulus, Chris Larson, and the Brothers Goombah show their films while you guzzle beer.
Jackass: The Movie
Your girlfriend secretly wants to see this movie. Sure, she's comfortable with your six-figures and 401k, your Volvo, that IKEA couch--but don't delude yourself, pal. She may never admit it to your face, but she'd give it all up in a second for the slightest chance at a single night with one of these MTV knuckle-draggers. And no, I am not projecting. (Zac Pennington)
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie
The computer-animated version of the pamphlets you find at bus stops. Those backwards-assed Christian fundamentalists are spreading their demon-seed again, this time using produce as their minions. Oh, those devotion-drunk fools--don't they know that any reasonable child is never, ever, going to listen a vegetable? Never trust a five-year-old who heeds the teachings of a cucumber.
Matty (Barry Pepper) is the son of high-ranking mob boss Dennis Hopper, and is having trouble convincing the old man he's ready to step up and take a larger role in the organization. After a great deal of whining, Matty convinces Benny's second-in-command (John Malkovich) to give him a chance by making a cross-country money pickup. Matty hires cokehead Seth Green to fly out and retrieve the half-mill, but trouble ensues when Green lands to get gas in a podunk Montana town, and the money is stolen. While this flick sure as shit ain't no Sopranos, it's nonetheless engaging in a trifling way. As Matty, Pepper has the dead-eye charm of a young Chris Walken, and Vin Diesel is convincing as the thuggish pal. However, believing Malkovich and Hopper as mob bosses? Give me a fuggin' break. "Sweatsuits and gold wrist bracelets do not a goombah make." The other problem is a lack of character development. While it's really fun to watch a bunch of New York wiseguys go nose to nose with tobacco-chewing hicks, this is a story about Matty's supposed growth from puss to Mafioso. Matty stays pretty much the same throughout, and therefore, the ending is a letdown. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
The Man from Elysian Fields
Much like Hickenlooper's previous films, The Low Life and The Big Brass Ring, Elysian Fields takes an intriguing premise and mangles it beyond recognition. Andy Garcia plays a novelist with a well-reviewed debut book currently gathering dust in the remainder bin. Because he is eager to keep his pregnant wife (Julianna Margulies, ugh) happy and homebound, he becomes desperate for extra money, but is too vain to get a job. Enter Mephistopheles, in the crenelated form of Mick Jagger (looking every inch the menopausal woman), playing Luther Fox, proprietor of a tony escort service for lonely rich women. So our hero becomes a gigolo; lucky for him, his first client just happens to be a super-hottie (Olivia Williams), who just happens to be married to an aging, impotent literary giant (James Coburn), who just happens to be stuck on his farewell novel. Unfortunately, the Faust trope runs out of gas, because everyone starts playing this ludicrous scenario so completely straight that all you can see are the wires. (Sean Nelson)
All right, what am I going to say about this movie? Sappy, kinda pointless, stars one of those Rene Zell-whatever look-alike chicks that does zany things like kiss old men on the cheek. Jake Gyllenhaal (aka Donnie Darko) is in it and does a pretty good job, despite the molasses script. He's pretty cute, too, especially when his eyes are welling up with tears. Jake is living with his fiancée Diana's parents, played by Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman. He gets along with them well; trouble is, his fiancée is dead. Uh oh, though. Five minutes after Diana's corpse cools off, Jake runs into Bertie McCuterson at the post office while trying to reclaim his now-expired wedding invitations. He shouldn't really be dating so soon, but he's lonely, she's cute, and the cosmic force of destiny is at work. (Katie Shimer )
When her sister dies, workaholic chef Martha must step out of the kitchen and into the real world to care for her surviving niece. She's a fish out of water with real family, but feels like she's swimming with sharks at the restaurant, where the chef that's been hired to help during this rough period has charmed her entire staff. Beautiful food shots, clever montages, and the sparks that fly between chefs counterbalance a hurried conclusion. (Sarah Sternau )
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
A frumpy diamond in the rough (Nia Vardalos) goes against the wishes of her lovingly oppressive family and falls for a hunky WASP (John Corbett, coasting on his Sex & The City vibe) in this intermittently amusing Grecian yarn. The refreshingly unconventional Vardalos adapted the script from her one-woman play, and the best material springs from her sporadic narration, goofing gently on such eccentricities as her dad's Windex fetish and the many permutations of cousins named Nick. Unfortunately, her presence and a sharp supporting cast (including the ever-prickly Andrea Martin) can't wholly mitigate the myriad of memorexed gags, well-trod life lessons, and director Joel Zwick's flat, sitcomish presentation. There's precious little here that hasn't been seen a gazillion times before, but Vardalos' earthy charisma and a few stray bits of off-kilter wit make for an amiable saunter into the matrimonial breech. N'Sync-er Joey Fatone cameos as a bearded guy. (Andrew Wright)
Experimental films like this are like dreaming set to an operatic soundtrack. Director Godfrey Reggio, composer Philip Glass and producer Steven Soderbergh have created a stimulating combination of sound and images with enough contrast to carry its 1.5-hour running time. Footage of soldiers singing, atom bombs, and frenzied stockbrokers are spliced with images of natural phenomena and streams of numerical data running against a black screen. The music is carried along well with the film, giving it a more graceful pace than might otherwise be affected by the more frantic sequences. This is not the film to see if you're antsy or stressed, as the lack of narrative leaves the door open for your mind to wander. But if you're able to relax and let it happen to you, it is beautiful. (Marjorie Skinner)
One Hour Photo
One Hour Photo is an armchair psychologist's wet dream. And, like most pop psych and self-help programs, it's sorta cliché, sorta predictable, and not exactly snooze-inducing--but not riveting or illuminating either. The premise: Robin Williams plays Sy the Photo Guy, a balding control freak who manages a one-hour photo shop. Sy's longtime customers, The Yorkins--Will, Nina, and little Jake--are this picture-perfect, hottie yuppie family. He is utterly obsessed with the Yorkins; Nina and Jake in particular. Through processing their photos, he's followed their seemingly happy lives; and, because he's so lonely, he also pasted copies of nine years worth of their photos to his wall in unabashed stalker fashion. Creepy. Like any stalker story, the film's fate lies in the hands of the director, and Mark Romanek does a good job setting up and unfolding the story. Unfortunately, as Romanek is also the scriptwriter, he only has himself to blame for the slow pace of the dialogue. (Julianne Shepherd)
Described as an "anti-epic" (which really doesn't make much sense when you think about it, but Hell, it sounds pretty smart), this Russian film is about farmers who go on a vengeful oddysey to find and kill the authorities who sold their land to oil companies. Moments of serene calm, nonchalant brutality, and deadpan comedy ensue.
Paid In Full
Had this film been released 20 years ago, when it is supposedly set, it would have been groundbreaking moral warning about the trappings of the gangsta mentality. But we already know that! We knew that by the time that Miami Vice left the airwaves. We knew that when Notorious BIG and Tupac were shot. Paid In Full follows the ascent of AZ, a lowly dry-cleaner errand boy (Cam'ron, rapper and not coincidentally a friend of Notorious BIG), into the CEO position of the Harlem coke trade. Like FDR's chicken in every pot promise, AZ hopes to use drug dealing to put money and food into every Harlem family's hand. The film badly wants to be a thinking man's Scarface, but in avoiding flashing around money, guns and hos and without any real emotional attachment, the film never really lights a fire under its own ass. (Phil Busse)
The final poke.
No director in the universe (with the possible exception of John Waters) could save a bad novel like Possession, which was authored by A. S. Byatt. It's the one novel Hollywood should have left in its original condition: a bad book. Now it has a second life as a bad movie. (Charles Mudede)
Adam Sandler gets all sincere. See review this issue.
Is Red Dragon any good? The answer is kinda, and no. Kinda, thanks to Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson, and Ralph Fiennes; no, thanks to Sir Anthony himself, who seems so utterly bored with the role that you can almost hear him snoozing with his eyes open. Not that director Brett Ratner, best known for Rush Hour and its sequel, would know what to do with the flick even if Sir Anthony had shown up awake and ready. The prequel to Silence of the Lambs (when Hopkins was still creepy), Red Dragon so wants to be its Oscar-winning predecessor that entire sections seem to be snipped straight from Jonathan Demme's opus. Clunky and breathtakingly unoriginal, Ratner's film is a paint-by-numbers affair. (Bradley Steinbacher)
The plot of The Ring has the dreamily simplistic hook of the best campfire stories or fever dreams: A Seattle-based single mother/reporter (Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts), begins investigating a quick-sprouting urban legend about a mysterious videotape reputed to kill its foolhardy watcher exactly seven days after viewing. Suffice it to say that the "Play" button soon gets a workout, with mountingly surreal, increasingly seat-moistening results. (Andrew Wright)
Rules of Attraction
Rules of Attraction centers around a fucked-up love triangle between devil-in-the-flesh Sean Bateman (the Beek), the bewitching Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), and svelte pretty-boy Paul (Ian Somerhalder), who are all students at upper-crust Camden College, somewhere in New England. Love triangles are tricky things anyway, but throw in the influences of director Roger Avery (writer of Pulp Fiction) and novelist Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero, American Psycho), upon whose 1987 novel the film is based, and the triangle gets very messy indeed. We watch the characters fuck, drink, lust, puke, bleed, and do drugs. Which sounds like fun, right? And it might have been, but the satire gets lost in the glam. I was left either wanting a full-on fuck party or a requiem for college angst, but what you get is an uneven movie with good performances, a tacked-on '80s soundtrack, and a lot of blood and vomit. (Brian Brait )
Yet another film biography of the uber-inflammatory Marquis de Sade. This one's directed by the great Benoit Jacquot and stars the great French actor, Daniel Auteuil, who infuses Sade's sly arrogance with an undercurrent of calculated, scary rage.
Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has just been released from a mental institution; she's a cutter, slicing up her skin and neatly placing Band-Aids over the wounds. To integrate herself back into society (and to escape from her flawed home life), she decides to look for a job. Luckily, anal-retentive lawyer E. Edward Gray (James Spader) is hiring. He needs a secretary; judging from the permanent help wanted sign outside his office, he has pretty tough time keeping them around. Lee can type and is not pregnant or trying to get pregnant (three of Gray's requirements for employment), so she gets the job. Everything goes along beautifully--until she makes a typo and, as punishment, Gray bends her over his desk and spanks her silly. (Julianne Shepherd)
In M. Night Shyamalan's most recent masterpiece, his obsessions with Philadelphia and the presence of God shine through, making the movie not only a thriller about crop circles and aliens, but also an interesting meditation on some deep stuff.
Chris Eyre's second feature film, Skins, is not as well made or acted as his first feature film, Smoke Signals, and yet manages to be more fascinating. Skins is set on the most impoverished reservation in America: Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. It describes the day-to-day world of a reservation cop (Eric Schweig) who has an eccentric understanding of the law and how it should be administered. He is not a "bad lieutenant," but his sense of right and wrong is complicated by the maze and layers of misery that he encounters while on and off duty. At the end of Skins, we don't so much have a story or a clear idea of the cop than an impression of the deep sorrow that suffocates him and his fallen community. (Charles Mudede)
One of the last remaining directors of animation to truly capture the strange, subtly contented spirit of childhood (and, for that matter, one of the only directors of animation with any sense of singular recognition), Princess Mononoke director Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service) follows his 1997 masterpiece with his latest--an Alice in Wonderland-inspired fable about a little girl whose parents are transformed into pigs.
A young American dancer arrives at a European ballet school only to find another American woman seemingly fleeing for her life. The girl tries to settle in at the school but is troubled by strange noises and bizarre occurrences. She eventually discovers that the evil is within the school, and she isn't safe.
Blah blah Wertmuller remake. Blah blah swarthy Italian guys. Blah blah unintentionally farcical piece of shit. Madonna and her director husband Guy Ritchie are the only two that matter in this mostly hilarious, partially unbearably awful film. Once Madonna blows a hole in the dingy with a flare gun and maroons herself with her lowly servant who soon becomes her master, just walk out of the theater. No one needs to see what comes afterward. Before that, however, is a hilarious 40 minutes or so of Madonna portraying a gloriously spoiled bitch (based on real life one would guess), scowling and snarling as she orders around foreigners while refusing to call them by their actual names ("PeePee, this fish is bad!"), lying topless on a private yacht or hanging out in posh clubs with her girlfriends as they guzzle booze, pop pills, talk shit and stay up late while the men retire to bed. Swept Away also raises the best bad toast I've ever heard-"Champagne for all my friends and pain for all my sham friends!" Oh yeah, Guy Ritchie should be commended for all the cutting he must have done to get the film down to a mere 75 minutes, credits included. What lies on the cutting room floor must really be atrocious. (Kathleen Wilson)
A bible professor from 1890 swoops into the present and shits his pants.
A super-stud driver-for-hire mangles a vast assortment of skeevy Eurotrash in order to protect his incessantly shrieking, Lolita-esque Chinese hostage. Many things explode. Not quite smart enough to qualify as acceptably mindless, this multinational, heavily-accented testosterone Big Gulp baldly aims to combine the worlds of J. Woo and G.Q. with sputtering, cortex-croggling results. Occasionally rousing, with a smattering of ace chop-socky (particularly a delirious mega-fight marinated in Texas Crude), but ultimately torpedoed by writer/producer Luc (The Professional) Besson's patented brand of synth-poppy fromage. Lead Jason Statham is the very definition of Cockney badass, but should refrain from ever wearing a buttoned-to-the-neck baby blue polo shirt again. (Andrew Wright)
The Truth about Charile
Jonathan Demme's remake of the 1963 thriller Charade, starring Marky Mark as Cary Grant, and the stellar Thandie Newton as Audrey Hepburn.
Fuck Everlasting is more like it! Disney has gotten its hands on the award-winning young person's book by Natalie Babbitt with gorgeous but creepy results. Set in 1915, the story concerns Winnie, a tightly corseted girl quivering on the cusp of maturity (played by luscious crumpet Alexis Bledel). When her parents threaten to send her to a "School for Young Ladies," she tears off into the forest and right into the arms of Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson), a strapping young lad slurping straight from the Fountain of Youth. In fact, his whole family done drunk from it, more than 80 years before! The Everly Hillbillies (played by Sissy Spacek and William Hurt) gently kidnap Winnie in order to keep her from spilling their secret and also presumably to give her and Jesse plenty of time to frolic through fields of daisies in slow motion. Meanwhile, an oily fellow dressed in yellow (played by Ben Kingsley--having a ball, as usual) lurks in the forest. A wonderful cast, lovely cinematography, and an almost Zen-like pace cannot overcome the fact that this story is about a 104-year-old guy who's doing it with a teenager! He is approximately six times her age! Yuck! (Tamara Paris)
A circus breaks through the black plague quarantine to take the peoples' minds off all the depressing death... or so they think. But when children turn up missing, the people realize that the circus might just be another source of evil.
Victory on the Right Bank Ukraine
During World War II, the Soviet army drove Germany and its allies out of the Ukraine and began to slowly advance towards western Europe. This film was made in 1944 and covers that triumphant time in Soviet history.
Waking Up in Reno
Billy Bob Thornton stretches himself and plays a hillbilly. See review this issue.
If I were a woman, I would be deeply offended by a movie like White Oleander, which posits that female strength is necessarily tied to violence, control freakery, and frigid sexuality, and furthers the insulting notion that being an artist means being an inscrutable, pretentious hypocrite. Since I am not a woman, however, I will say that Oleander is a waste of talent (Michelle Pfeiffer and Renée Zellweger may not be great actresses, but they're better than this movie lets them be) as well as time. (Sean Nelson)
The Wicker Man
A police sgt. receives an anonymous letter asking him to come to a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. When he arrives he is shocked to find an openly sexual and ritualistic society, and begins to suspect the girl was a victim of human sacrifice. He discovers the real truth, however, when he meets the Wicker man.