We spend the first half of 25th Hour trying to figure out who turned in heroin dealer Ed Norton. Is it his girlfriend? One of his two best friends? Could it be his father? Then all of a sudden we're not in that movie at all. The mystery is solved summarily, and we're left with nearly another hour to go and not a single three-dimensional character to fill it with. All in all, 25th Hour is no train wreck; it's more like the collapse of a rickety little scooter. (Barley Blair)
A Guy Thing
See review this issue.
About Schmidt stars an exhausted Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt, an Omaha actuary facing the nothingness of retirement. At the end of his last day at the insurance agency, all of Schmidt's lifework is packed into blank boxes, the office is empty, and he has nowhere to go. When he awakes the following morning next to his wife, who bores him immensely, he finds himself at the top of the slope of slow time that leads down to an ordinary death. Overall, an entertaining film, whose comedy alone sustains the entire picture. (Charles Mudede)
Crafting a follow-up to Being John Malkovich, 1999's head-tripping deconstruction of identity, desire, and fame, would be difficult job for anyone. For Charlie Kaufman--writer of Malkovich, co-writer and lead character of Adaptation--it's a virtual impossibility. Thankfully, Kaufman and Spike Jonze have created a rich entertainment out of this impossibility, stuffing it with enough meta-plot twists to fuel half a dozen lesser movies, and bringing it to the screen with brilliant performances by Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep. Still, not even Kaufman and Jonze can overcome the unfortunate fact that listening to a writer whine about how hard it is to write is always annoying. (David Schmader)
Antwone Fisher was a security guard at Sony Pictures when a big-shot producer, impressed with Fisher's life story, decided to have him write a screenplay about it. Although not a great movie, it is actually refreshingly restrained. (Matt Fontaine)
This movie is what's known in cinephile circles as a "tone poem." All that means is there's no plot, no characters, and no literal meanings. All you get instead are some of the most beautiful images ever rendered for the screen--a sort of sensual omnibus that strives successfully to give an overwhelming inkling of the vast panoply of human and natural interaction that is life in this modern world. Directed by the guy who shot the immortal Koyaanisqatsi. You have got to see this on a big screen, because a TV can't contain it. (Sean Nelson)
A cheesy, Hollywood ripoff of the far superior Wild Style, depicting the baby stages of hiphop in the early '80s Bronx.
Catch Me if You Can
In terms of changing your life, it ain't no Schindler's List, and in terms of innovative storytelling, it sure ain't no Minority Report. But still, Catch Me if You Can is a pretty good movie. So what if "pretty good" is all it is? Catch Me is a simple story about a simple kid (Leonardo DiCaprio) who finds that it is really simple to forge checks for a fuck of a lot of money. (Justin Sanders)
Basically, the last hour of Chicago is a mess. In addition to not trusting his material, Marshal doesn't appear to trust either of the two movie-musical solutions he picks. Nevertheless, I recommend Chicago. If you didn't get to see the Broadway revival, you should catch it. You'll have to endure Richard Gere as Billy Flynn, of course, but it's a small price to pay to watch the Fosse-inspired choreography and Catherine Zeta-Jones' star-turn as Velma Kelly. (Dan Savage)
Like Forrest Gump, who passed blissfully through the high (and low) lights of popular American culture, Chico Hamilton's face appears ubiquitously in the history of jazz, from playing with Charles Mingus, through the orchestras of both Count Basie and Duke Ellington and into his influences on the Rolling Stones. Interviews conducted by Roman Polanski.
The Jewish version of Cinema Paradiso. In a small, quiet village outside Tel Aviv, a son decides to reopen the family's long extinct movie house.
Far From Heaven
From the lavish font of the main titles and the sweet sweeping strains of Elmer Bernstein, we are clued in that this is a major transport piece--a cinematic homage to Douglas Sirk. Todd Haynes has reinvented the melodrama, yet infused it with a new life that is subtle, touching and entertaining. Returning to the home-as-prison theme he mastered in Safe, our femme du jour, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), smiles her way through domestic disturbance, racial tension, and personal crisis. (Brian Brait)
Gangs of New York
As an orphaned Irishman driven for vengeance, Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a Method acted, closed-off performance (there's also the nagging fact that he looks downright beefy for playing a street urchin raised on gruel). Daniel Day-Lewis, on the other hand, owns every frame he's featured in as the gleefully sadistic leader of the reining anti-immigrant gang. It's a showy, hambone part, replete with stovepipe hat and a Snidely Whiplash 'stache, and Day-Lewis makes the most of it. Unfortunately, as in his earlier The Age Of Innocence, Scorsese gets so obsessed with the (admittedly fascinating) minutia of the period, that he neglects to follow through on character development and narrative. The backdrop soars, at the expense of the foreground. (Andrew Wright)
Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns
A history of late-'80s "alterna-rock" stalwarts They Might Be Giants, Gigantic meanders like their music, but is nonetheless entertaining. The Johns are charming, as are fans/interviewees Sarah Vowell, Conan O'Brien, even Frank Black. People you'll want to punch in the face: Mark Hoppus, Syd Straw, their totally annoying and pretentious maje-labe A&R ho who pretty much takes credit for their success, the mainstreaming of alternative music, and the creation of the world, all in one nasally, bitchy, snobby voice. Fuck her. This is a pretty good documentary. (Julianne Shepherd)
Harry Potter 2
The delightful saga of a boy and his wand continues. Attendance is mandatory. Thankfully, this second milking of J.K. Rowling's cash cow is significantly more relaxed and less helplessly reverent this time around, although the 160-plus minute running time really pushes the outer limits of magical enchantment. The returning cast is in tip-top form, but newcomer Kenneth Branagh commits effortless theft as a hilariously poncy warlock. Still no substitute for the imagination of the deservedly beloved book, but leagues better than the standard demo-pandering blockbuster. The climactic high-decibel CGI onslaught may be a bit too intense for the younger tykes, though. Sit on the aisle, arachnophobes. (Andrew Wright)
It has always been a little hard to take blues giants seriously like B.B. King who have reaped in fame and fortune. How sad can you be with all that money? But fame/fortune eluded Delta bluesman David Edwards, and he had to live the hard life. A documentary about Edwards, a man who has plenty of reasons to sing the blues. (Phil Busse)
See review this issue.
Rumored to be a romantic comedy about a blue-collar "late night traffic reporter," whatever the hell that is, who marries a girl from an insanely wealthy family that disapproves of the match, one viewing of the trailer for Just Married renders this film utterly critic-proof. How so? Well, early in the beginning of the trailer, Ashton Kutcher is shirtless! (His arm is draped around a woman but, hey, no film is perfect.) More importantly, toward the end of the trailer, the 6' 3," shaggy-haired MAN OF MY FUCKING WET DREAMS runs around a hotel room brandishing a fireplace poker and wearing nothing but his underpants. (Dan Savage)
If there's one thing I love more than talking animals in sunglasses, it'd have to be Christopher Walken.
Key From Spain
A documentary ten years in the making on acclaimed Sephardi singer Flory Jagoda.
L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin!
Sure he had his faults, but even so, Stalin was like a lively petri dish, constantly growing new social experiments and cultures. Starting in 1928, he guided the establishment of the Jewish Autonomous Region in Siberia, which survives to this day as a Eastern bloc version of Israel. An intriguing glimpse into the surviving remnants of this Soviet-era project. (Phil Busse)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Two Towers starts where Fellowship left off, of course: Sam (Sean Astin) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) make off towards Mordor with the ultimate task of throwing the One Ring into its fires (the only way to prevent the total destruction of Middle-Earth). The rest of the Fellowship--Aragorn, Gimli the dwarf, that dude who looks like Mark-Paul Gosselaar--have left so as not to be seduced by the ring's awesome power, and begin battling the utter shitload of Uruk-hai that Saruman has sent to obliterate all that is living. There are battle scenes galore, and the three hours go by super quick. (Julianne Shepherd)
Narc starts out in a hypercolor explosion of needles, shooting, chasing, screaming, and men and women down. It's a thrilling begining that gets less exciting with the introduction of babies and family life. There are some good plot twists, however, and Jason Patric is great as a drug cop. Ray Liotta is equally believable as the cop whose made his job his life, and who doesn't like the rookie (Patric) stepping on his toes. The end feels contrived as far as police dramas go, but I'm not so sure there are any new ways to end a police drama anymore. Regardless, Narc is a ride. (Katie Shimer)
I can't be sure if the promotions department at Columbia Pictures has a really good sense of humor, but the sea of advertising for National Security (their recent film starring Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn) features rather prominently the image of a crazed Martin Lawrence stalking the streets of California wielding a handgun. ?!?! How quickly we forget, how quickly we forget.
The New Gulliver
They reached outer space before us, and they kicked Disney's red, white & blue ass long before Mickey Mouse became an international icon. Fantastical director Alexander Ptushko created one of the first full-length animated film anywhere. A surreal version of Gulliver's travels.
Douglas McGrath's adaptation of Charles Dickens' 800-page novel is simply entertaining. This is the substance of the film: It has funny moments, dramatic moments, Victorian costumes, and convincing street scenes of bustling 19th-century London; the English is often proper and lyrical; there are jocular people, loathsome people, and loving people, and their world is filled to the brim with pleasant music. As I've never read the book (and don't intend to), I can't determine what was removed and what was preserved in this adaptation, or know how such changes affected the original content or purpose of the story. Nevertheless, at times the film does feel a bit rushed. (Charles Mudede)
In what was possibly the most brilliant cinematic event of the 1990s, Daisy von Scherler Mayer directs Parker Christian Posey as Mary, fashion-savvy queen of the NYC house music scene. When Mary gets arrested for having a big drug party in her loft, she asks to borrow bail money from her menopausal godmother, who works at the NYC Public Library. Instead, Mary's godmother gets her a job as a library clerk, forcing Mary to prove that yes, she can alphabetize her designer jeans collection, but can she figure out where to shelve Pablo Neruda using the Dewey Decimal System? Not since Sarah Jessica Parker's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun has there been a more enlightening film about one woman's search for her place in the world. And all the outfits are designed by Todd Oldham! (Julianne Shepherd)
Sadly, while this movie stars Parker Posey, it is not about Parker entirely. Personal Velocity is actually split up into three, literary parts, all gleaned from Rebecca Miller's (daughter of Arthur) book, which portrays women reacting within their prescribed social roles. The first is that of the wife: Kyra Sedgwick plays Delia, the tough girl whose loneliness manifested itself in promiscuity in high school, and who must find the strength to leave her abusive husband. The story of Greta (Posey) is the one in which a woman must accept her career as her true love; the third stars Fairuza Balk as, what else, a pregnant goth who must go on a mini-adventure to discover her nurturing side. The movie's only thread is that of three women finding power within themselves, and while that sounds on paper like most women-centric independent films--the grad-school feminist treatise that refreshingly shows women outside their stereotypes, but doesn't necessarily challenge anything--it's a fairly well written sketch of characters experiencing pain, upheaval, and revelation. Also, aside from the digital video handicap, it's not really a narrative piece, so it's amazing that it got any kind of distribution whatsoever. (Julianne Shepherd)
Despite appearances to the contrary, the film is not about the indomitable spirit of a survivor. It's about how low a human being can sink in order to live, and the depths of abasement a race is capable of withstanding in order to avoid extinction. There's no heroism in the picture, and all redemption is tempered by the knowledge of what's coming next. It's here, in the deeply Eastern European black comedy of this knowledge, that the film and its maker mark their territory most boldly. (Reassuring the Poles that "the Russians will be here soon" is a classic Polanski irony.) For all the possible autobiography of the story, The Pianist is most personal when it stares into the abyss of the Holocaust and finds nothing looking back. (Sean Nelson)
Pleasure and Pain
Well, it was inevitable, right? A documentary about rock-reggae-funk fusion champ, Ben Harper.
One of the most acclaimed films to come out of Portland, this daffy, sometimes goofy, but mostly earnest 1978 film tells the story of the Corbett neighborhood. Populated with '60s idealists, a group of neighbors attempt to save their blocks from late-'70s development. Although the mannerisms and starry-eyed ideals may be silly and dated, it is a story that has not lost resonance in Portland.
Rabbit Proof Fence
The most striking aspect of Rabbit-Proof Fence is its simplicity; its bald setting in Western Australia's bush, its story, and its characters. It relates the true tale of Molly, a 14-year-old Aborigine, her sister, and their cousin. Part of the Stolen Generation, they were forcibly seized and placed in a racial assimilation compound. Their escape and journey back home is heroic, but the impassive representation of it undermines a fulfilling sense of sympathy. (Marjorie Skinner)
Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest Sound
Producing more than 70 shows and 900 songs (you've heard of The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, right?), Richard Rodgers (better known as the other half of Oscar Hammerstein), is the most prolific composer of the 20th century. A comprehensive biography of a comprehensive fellow.
See review this issue.
There are plenty of old news reels of Jews fleeing Europe in the 1930s. But where did they all go? That story has not been told as often. Did you know that Shanghai became home to 20,000 Jewish refuges? A fascinating and painful chapter in the survival of Jewish culture.
The Slaughter Rule
A young guy finds happiness while staying with a young woman, and by becoming the quarterback on a six-man team. Great acting.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
There is nothing wrong with Standing In The Shadows of Motown. It tells the story of the Funk Brothers, the unheralded but extremely talented studio musicians for Motown. Actually, the film makes the argument that these unknown musicians were the imperative reason for Motown's chart busting, color-line smashing success. But the filmmakers never go beyond that discovery; they marvel at the musicians with their mouths agape like they have found some rare, lost gem. But never with any examination for flaws. (Phil Busse)
Super 8 Stories
It is almost too dizzying to think about a documentary director whose subject matter is HIMSELF! Emir Kusturica documents his own band, The No Smoking Orchestra, a Slavic blend of techno-gypsy rock, accordions, violins and saxophones.
The Sweetest Sound
Director Alan Berliner documents the process of finding out what his name means.
Like most 15-year-old boys who acquire Sigourney Weaver as their stepmom, Oscar wants to doink her. But for the sake of efficacy and realism, he's willing to consider his stepmom's friend Bebe Neuwirth as a fall-back.
Two Weeks Notice
Sandra Bullock plays a sharp-as-a-tack lawyer and Hugh Grant is her boss. When she calls it quits, he realizes he might just like women with upper lip hair.