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
Paul Morse (Lee) is a nerdy yet charming, quirky guy who is resigned to marrying Karen (Selma Blair), a joyless woman who buys him ugly button-downs and scoffs at his idea to get a band for their wedding instead of a string quartet. He overlooks these things... but then he accidentally ends up in bed with Becky, a sassy, sarcastic chick who operates more at Paul's speed... and also happens to be Karen's cousin. Factor in Becky's psychotic ex-boyfriend, a slew of borderline-funny testicle jokes and "hijinx," and you've got the makings of real comedy. There are some pretty funny parts, and every one of them involves Jason Lee. Also, I was afraid this would be another film affirming Hollywood's "chicks are stupid, men are cool, let's get laid" idiom, but in actuality it's about a dude breaking out of that mold and rising up to the challenge of a really cool, independent lady. (Julianne Shepherd)
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)
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)
Care Bears II
See Check it Out Biznatch
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? I'm tired of people dissing on Speilberg because he doesn't make Schindler's List 2 with every movie. The man is a great storyteller, and some stories just aren't as epic as others. 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)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
See review this issue.
See review this issue.
Devil Got My Woman
An odd time capsule: At the 1966 Newport Film Festival, director and notorious radio personality Alan Lomax set up a juke joint. Here many of the blues great of that year gather, jam and goof. He caught it all on film.
Rarely do freshmen make the drumline, but thanks to his phat chops, my man Devon makes the cut. Of course we all know that you can take the boy out of the 'hood, but you can't take the 'hood out of the boy. What this film presupposes is, maybe you can? Does this ruff 'n' tumble protagonist have heart enough to overcome the obstacles? Will he and the band take top honors at the BET Big Southern Classic, or will he let his dreams and the girl slide through his fingers? I probably needn't tell you that Drumline is so predictable that it's over before you even walk into the theater, but if for some reason you make it that far, I won't say that it's unwatchable. (Johnathan Mahalak)
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--one that will remind us of movies no longer produced. 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. The home she inhabits becomes etched into our brains; as the film takes hold we feel that we inhabit the space, know the floor plan, and can anticipate her movements. Each weighty subject--her husband's latent homosexuality, her taboo love for the gardener--is handled with care and finesse. Far From Heaven is breathtaking from start to finish, each frame imbued with the artist's own genuine love for cinema and story. (Brian Brait )
An encyclopedia about songs and singers from Soweto to Ireland who express their political wants through song. Weighing in for the US: Woody Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Ani DiFranco.
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. The awkward placement of needless flashbacks and voiceover narration suggests that this discord may be due more to studio-mandated jitters than anything else. (Apparently, a longer, more sure-footed cut exists.) The final result is a bet-hedging misstep of the sort that only a master filmmaker can make. (Andrew Wright)
God Is Great, I'm Not
Oh, isn't she adorable... again! The pixie star of Amelie, Audrey Tautou, plays a woman who confesses her love by converting from Buddhism to Judaism. Problem is, she becomes more enthusiastic about Jewish practices than her boyfriend. An ironic and charming story about the difference between the belief and practice of being religious.
Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies
A documentary on performance artist/musician GG Allin, who liked to smear shit on himself and urinate onstage, eventually went to jail, and afterwards died of a drug overdose.
Local video makers show, you guessed it, videos, while you guzzle beer. Go to hello-video.com to find out how to submit your own video.
The Hours is a nice package of arts and literature: a film based on a book that's based on a book. Michael Cunningham wrote The Hours, offering various reinterpretations of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, one of which features Woolf as she's writing the book and approaching suicide. Director Stephen Daldry does a remarkable job of translating the Woolfian tone into cinema. In both mediums, elaborate symbolic value is found in the minute, meaningless details of ordinary life. To some, this is enrapturing, although some people find it tedious. The film occupies itself with splicing together the activities of depressed sorta-lesbians played by Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore, all of whom are preparing some type of get-together. Kidman pensively awaits the visit of her sister, bored and under-stimulated by her life in the country. Streep is a modern go-getter, dashing around planning a party for her dying friend, and Moore is hypnotic as a listless housewife trying to make her husband a birthday cake. The Hours is an expertly made film, linking one day in the lives of three women in three separate points of history, managing to be horribly depressing and exquisitely comforting. (Marjorie Skinner)
The characters in Intacto--an exhilarating, engrossing feature debut from Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo--have escaped near-death experiences such as plane crashes, earthquakes, and car accidents, and now they're willing to bet on how lucky they are. The film revolves around an underground gambling ring run by the Luckiest Man Alive, simply known as The Jew (played by the chilling yet empathetic Max von Sydow) who escaped the Holocaust as a boy in a miraculous turn of events. Possessing the unique ability to steal other peoples luck, he sets up a sort of racketeering circuit in which people put everything on the line--their homes, their riches and, ultimately, their lives--to see how lucky they truly are. (Julianne Shepherd)
The Jew and His Music
Presented by the encyclopedic film historian Murray Glass, this two hour show is a collection of clips from Jewish musicians/performers, ranging from jazz to classical to comedy.
John Cale: Beautiful Mistake
John Cale's influence--more like the impact of an asteroid--on the American music scene is well known. Co-founder of the Velvet Underground, producer of Patti Smith and The Stooges. This film, though, follows the aging musician/producer as he returns to his childhood home in Wales to work with emerging artists.
A romantic comedy about a blue-collar "late night traffic reporter" who marries a girl from an insanely wealthy family that disapproves of the match. But really, who cares what Just Married is about? Ashton Kutcher is so fucking sexy. (Dan Savage )
If there's one thing that's better than a talking kangaroo in sunglasses, it's Christopher Walken.
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, leaving you longing for more! (Julianne Shepherd)
Man in the Glass Booth
For decades, many in Jewish communities around the world chose to deal with the horror of the Holocaust by not dealing with it; sort of like a repressed memory. But in this 1975 courtroom drama, director Arthur Hiller tells the unnerving story of a wealthy New York businessman accused of being a Nazi war criminal. As the facts and evidence are laid out, pain and guilt long buried emerge like angry monsters. A captivating drama.
See review this issue.
Merci Pour Le Chocolat
One of the great pleasures of watching Claude Chabrol's recent films has been watching Isabelle Huppert. Set in civilized Switzerland, Chocolat involves two well-to-do families who live in comfortable homes, drive futuristic automobiles, and dress handsomely. This is why the serial-killer mom (played by Isabelle Huppert) is so eerie. All around her are people experiencing the good life--drinking coffee by Lake Geneva, watching American movies, having secret sex, and playing the piano. But this black widow, this femme fatale, has to spoil everything by poisoning family members with her rich and dark chocolates. (Charles Mudede)
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, as usual, 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.
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.
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)
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)
When anyone mentions Ravi Shankar the 500-year-old sitar player, inevitably they mention George Harrison and his influence on the Beatles. Hello? That was 30 years ago. How about updating the references: Shankar is dad to hottie hot R&B diva, Nora Jones. With sperm like that, he must be good! A subtle documentary about the influential musician.
'80s Cult Classic Tales from the Gimli Hospital
While their mom is dying in a hospital, two children are told a horror tale about three friends in a Gimli of olden times.
Talk to her
Spain's camp bad boy Pedro Almodovar's latest film, contains no drugs or sex, and I didn't even notice until it was over. That's because Almodovar has always trafficked in extreme emotions and the actions that spring from them. Actions and craziness often overshadow feelings in his earlier films, but with Talk to Her, Almodovar gives us the most mature and deeply felt of his movies. It's the story of two comatose women (one a female bullfighter and the other a ballerina), the two men who care for them (Benigno, a male nurse, and Marco, a writer), and the friendships that grow between them. The two men deal differently with their sleeping beauties: Marco retreats into silence and Benigno, who cared for his mother before becoming a nurse, talks and carries on as if Alicia were awake and responsive. The movie unfolds with grace and still manages to shock while being funny, strange, morally complex, and moving. (Nate Lippens)
'80s Cult Classic The Toxic Avenger
A guy about as muscley as a tire iron falls into a vat of toxic chemicals and comes out looking like the Incredible Hulk, but made out of sludge. With his new huge muscles and new huge cock, there is not much for him to do now but hunt down bad guys and hump blind chicks.
Perhaps the lesson from these three short, interconnected films is: What we all share, regardless of race, class or gender is vice and slippery morals. One story is about a Bedouin (that's an ethnic group from the Judean desert) maid who falls in love with her Israeli husband. In another, a Bedouin boy is run over by two Israelis in a jeep. The film takes a sidelong look at the factions and fissures of Middle East conflicts. Terrific!