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)
A timely documentary about the transformation of the Nation of Islam in Africa into the Black Muslim movement in America. Photos, newsreels and personal accounts map the route that religion has taken from a set of beliefs into a political movement.
City of God
City of God chronicles gang warfare in one of the most impoverished and depraved slums in Rio de Janeiro. It revolves around a young man named Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) as he struggles to get high, get laid, and finally get a real job in photography so he can get out of the slums. He narrates the film in a dazed, almost aloof tone as waves of drugs, guns, and murder swirl around him. Lush mounds of twisting story lines and visual treats pile up, your eyes greedily devouring them like candy, but never seeming to quite get full. (Justin Sanders)
Cradle 2 the Grave
See review this issue.
Due to a bunch of boring backstory, the first quarter of Daredevil is crap, but once the melodrama leaves, the script relaxes and lets some of the fine supporting actors take over. Even the normally oily Ben Affleck keeps the believability of his character in check, while Colin Farrell chews the scenery in hilarious abandon. Even Jennifer Garner makes you momentarily forget her booty-gazing turn as Sydney Bristow in Alias. But be warned! As in Spider-Man, some of the special effects are laughable. Nevertheless, the dark tone of Daredevil sets it apart from its web-spinning competition, making it an acceptable diversion that's not bad.
In the hours before the riot-inspiring Rodney King verdict, a grizzled L.A. cop and his idealistic young partner negotiate a day of increasingly dark and twisted crime-fighting, digging up dirty LAPD secrets (extortion, murder, racism) while confronting their own demons, until... in this case, until the Los Angeles jury acquits the officers responsible for beating Rodney King, and ka-BOOM. Sadly, director Ron Shelton (White Men Can't Jump) stumbles repeatedly en route to his explosive conclusion. He goes for the mainstream jugular with a jarring mix of gritty crime and hyperactive action, laced with perfunctory nods to deeper issues; the few times the car chases stop to make way for character development, the resulting revelations are so baldly soliloquized, the attending characters should be given magazines. (David Schmader)
Gods and Generals
The story of civil war hero Stonewall Jackson. The prequel to the 1993 "hit" Gettysburg. And it's three and a half hours long.
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. Ultimately, though, 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)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
The unrealistic circumstances in this film involve Kate Hudson as a woman's magazine columnist whose assignment is to fetch a man, then employ every cliched "dating don't" to drive him away in ten days. Matthew McConaughey is in advertising, competing with his lady co-workers for a huge diamond account. It's convoluted, but he makes a deal with his boss to win the account if he can make a woman fall in love with him within ten days, and bring her as proof to the big diamond gala. The film's attempts throughout to be simultaneously over-the-top and real cancel each other out, leaving it neither funny nor touching. (Marjorie Skinner)
Hush! is a film about a Japanese spinster who wants to get it on with a closeted gay Japanese engineer, for the purpose of having his baby. The engineer, however, has recently started hooking up with a more extroverted guy, and the three of them must decide if they can make this unconventional would-be family work.
The Life of David Gale
The Life of David Gale is like watching an episode of Scooby Doo unfold--heavy-handed non-villains, meddling kids and all. It's a shame, as the premise--a look at capital punishment and redemption--could have allowed for something of an interesting exercise. With lead-balloon pacing and embarrassingly slack-jawed cinematography, however--not to mention another impossibly smug Kevin Spacey performance--David Gale has all the subtle artistry of a Twinkie. Without all the suspense. (Zac Pennington)
Mama Africa: Growing Up Urban
The split between urban and rural life in African nations is fundamental. It also symbolizes the vast differences between traditional low-fi living and modern morals. These three short films (introduced by Queen Latifah) offer insights into the changes women go through when moving into a modern world in Nigeria, Namibia, and South Africa.
The premise of Old School is funny enough: Luke Wilson splits with his girl, moves to a house right near his old college campus, and starts up a riff raff frat house. Wilson's two best buddies, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, are hilarious characters, too, but still--the movie kind of sucks. One problem is that Luke Wilson is about as hysterical as a piece of cardboard, and though the film would have been much better off starring someone funnier--like Luke's brother Owen--it wouldn't have helped the second major problem--the script. The whole thing seems like it got slopped together in a week, with actors memorizing their lines three minutes before the scenes. Old School is all over the place; there's heartbreak, divorce, statutory rape, frat parties, deceit, bribery, ribbon dancing, academic competition, debate, clowns, tranquilizer darts, etc. All this adds up to making a film that's 20 percent funny, and 80 percent pathetic. (Katie Shimer)
Phantom of Paradise
Brain De Palma's rock 'n' roll interpretation of Phantom of the Opera.
Regrettable Incident, Please!
Strange and vicious war cartoons starring Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and some written by Dr. Seuss that show the darker aspects of war through cartoons. The enemy is reduced to an evil caricature (aka the bad guy) while the USA is lauded as the good guy. Kind of like now.
Rock 'n' Roll High school
The students tell their music-hating principal where to stick it when they bring the Ramones into the schoolhouse for a high-decibal assembly.
Ending off the African Film Festival, beautiful Lilia tries to learn the lesson that eluded Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gina Gershon: beware the dark allure of the modern cabaret. Even TV moms know if you're going to confront the man romancing your daughter, it's probably better if he doesn't represent a world of possibility that speaks directly to a lifetime of suppressed desires and regrets. In Arabic with English subtitles.
Here's a stupid idea: Take Owen Wilson, one of the funniest people on the planet, and completely dehumorize him. This seems to be the prevailing thought running through the minds of Shanghai Knights' filmmakers during production. A sequel to the fairly entertaining Shanghai Noon, the 2.0 version re-teams Wilson and Jackie Chan (who is still brilliant, if a lot slower than he used to be) and, through some plot device involving a sacred seal (or something), sends them to London. Hilarity does not ensue, but a couple of cool fights do. That's about it. (Unrelated sidenote: "dehumorize" may not actually be a word.) (Bradley Steinbacher)
All the Real Girls (USA)
See review this issue.
Chemist Kurn Gerstein discovers that the Zyklon B pellets he developed to disinfect soldier's barracks are instead being used to gas Jewish prisoners. After he is recruited to help streamline the death camps, he secretly goes to the Swedish Consulate, German Protestant community, and the Vatican to report the despicable goings on. The only person who wants to listen is a young Jesuit priest who promises to go to the Pope with the news.
Atletico San Pancho (Mexico)
The small Mexican town of San Francisco del Monte was at one time teeming with soccer players. Now, due to a ban on soccer balls in school and no proper playing field, soccer is all but dead... Until two of the town's boys assemble a rag-tag team of ball kickers with an old custodian for a coach. Do they make it to the championships? Does an anouncer yell "GOAAAAL" every damn time they score? Well, I don't want to ruin anything.
Bedtime Fairy Tales for Crocodiles (Mexico)
A movie to make you feel better about your siblings who just don't understand you. A chain-smoking, grumpy man is shaken from his sleepwalking life when he receives a phone call from his long lost brother. He is told that his father is dying. On the journey to his childhood home, the man begins to remember his past with the same tear-soaked sentimentality that one would have peeling back the layers of an onion.
Bolivar, I am (Colombia)
When Santiago Miranda, the star of a popular television series about a Colombian national hero, is told that his character will be shot, he goes bonkers. Acting like the character he plays, Miranda kidnaps the country's president and goes about reuniting Colombia with the other nations of Latin America.
Carol's Journey (Spain)
A 12-year-old girl, Carol, accompanies her mother to Spain to stay in the village where her mother grew up. The country, however, is ravaged by Civil War, which eventually invades the village and awakens Carol to the evil world of adults.
I'm the Father (Germany)
Marco is a successful architect. Benny is his adorable young son. Melanie is Marco's wife, who pretty much out of nowhere divorces Marco and disappears with Benny. Without sounding too melodramatic or simplistic, Väter limns Marco's resulting struggle to glue together his cracked sanity, and begin his rocky journey to re-establish a paternal relationship with his son. Väter feels creepily real, due to both its flawless performances and the naturalistic, informal camera. If it weren't for the inherent tenderness of the characters-save Melanie, whose motivations are never made quite clear-the film's heavier-than-lead subject matter would be fairly suicide inducing. Somehow, though, the film ends up being brilliantly moving and uplifting; it's simultaneously a gut-wrenching drama and an insightful meditation on the things that build us up and tear us down: family and emotion, obsession and devotion. (Erik Henriksen)
Invisible Children (Colombia)
See review this issue.
Director Carlos Reygadas has said of this, his first film, "I would like to try and make the most beautiful film ever." A basically impossible goal, but if the guy's serious then his film is probably at least kind of pretty. It is a story about a suicidal man who tries to keep an old lady from getting cheated out of her home.
A 10-year-old narrates this tale about the flight of his family in 1976 to escape the crummy military coup that was ransacking Argentina. Along the way, Harry's family picks up a young man named Lucas, who brings joy to their otherwise dismal existence.
The Last Train (Uruguay)
Without being too haughty about its globalization message, this film tweaks America and the LA movie industry squarely on the nose. When a Hollywood studio tries to buy a vintage steam locomotive from Uruguay, a trio of aged historians commandeer the train.
Loco Fever (Chile)
Two swindlers come to the tiny town of Puerto Loco wanting to buy the entire catch of their legendary shellfish (loco) because of its aphrodisiac qualities. The fish, however, is endangered, and the townspeople are only allowed to fish for it a few days a year. But the lure of money blinds them; soon prostitutes and priests alike are playing into the hands of the con artists.
Love and Fright: Borges (Argentina)
This bio-pic about writer Jorge Luis Borges, picks up the story of the imaginative, stubborn and rebellious writer at a critical junction in his life: 1946. Just after the end of World War II, Argentina took an odd U-turn: It meant to go democratic and somehow ended up fascist! A friend of the leading governmental officials, Borges was in the throes of the upheaval. Paranoid and uncertain, Borges trudges through his writing, his romance and his convictions.
Two brothers try to escape their family's cycle of violence and drug use in New York City's Washington Heights. One brother has been to jail and is attempting to get his life on track, while the other just might be throwing his life down the toilet.
Monday Morning (France)
A ponderously paced film about a Frenchman, Vincent, who wanders from the impersonal routines of his family and factory work to Venice, where he runs with several flamboyant characters. Despite his outright abandonment, Vincent is a charming protagonist and it's difficult not to relate to his aimless search. The film is slow and long, but enjoyably languorous, never tedious. Its examination of the every man and the dynamics between family members generations, and even smoking laws is effortlessly clever and affectionate. (Marjorie Skinner )
Mondays in the Sun (Spain)
Portlanders will probably dig this one; it's about shipyard workers trying to deal with the hardships of being unemployed. Plus, there's a character named Santa, an indignant yet kindhearted man who rages against the broken promises of modern capitalist society.
Nine Good Teeth (USA)
A grandson interviews his 102-year-old grandmother and she reveals secrets of family mob ties, affairs, and even murder.
Lucia inherets her estranged father's agricultural land only to find that farming the land is possible only by exploiting African laborers. Lucia in the midst of a threatening uprising by the newly organized workers which forces Lucia to side with either the land owners or workers. Poniente is followed by the short film Never is Sunday about a mother who is inspired to change her life after her daughter marries.
Raising Victor Vargas (United States)
It's a typical hot, muggy summer in New York's Lower East side, and love is in the air. At the local public pool, 16-year-old Victor macks on the girl of his dreams, only to find what he has to offer isn't what she really needs. Is the beautiful young lady a carpet muncher? Only one way to find out...
From the land of Bjork, this charming film is about a 10-year-old girl discovers that she can hypnotize people with her singing. (Wait, sort of like Bjork!) Together with her sidekick, who can effortless find words that rhyme, these peas-in-a-pod cute-as-button kids turn the world into their love slaves. Well, okay, not love. But they do make people do what they want. And no, it is not perverted like that; I'm sorry that I mentioned it. It is quite sweet and charming. Sort of like Bjork.
Sweet Sixteen (Great Britain)
See review this issue.
The Dancer Upstairs (United States)
John Malkovich makes his directorial debut with this drama about an unspecified Latin American nation on the verge of collapse under the rise of a terrorist movement. To cope with the crisis, an idealistic young policeman hooks it up with his daughter's hot ballet teacher.
Waiting for Happiness (Mauritania)
A 17-year-old boy goes to a small Mauritanian village to say goodbye to his mother before departing for Europe. Even though he does not speak the native language, the simple goings on of the town intrigue him, and he is sucked into the villagers' stories.