Crafting a follow-up to Being John Malkovich, 1999's head-tripping deconstruction of identity, desire, and fame, would be a 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)
Agent Cody Banks
Do we need to say anything more than, it stars the towheaded kid from Malcolm in the Middle. Oh yeah, it is a spy movie... starring that kid.
The documentary, whose title means "power," is constructed conventionally, with newsreel footage and talking-head interviews with South African musicians and activists (many of whom suffered exile, arrest, and torture for their efforts against institutionalized oppression). The experience of viewing Amandla! consists of a complicated series of jolts to the consciousness. It's astonishing to see so much history encapsulated so effectively, to hear so many eloquent accounts of such inhuman misery, to be exposed to so much stirring music. But the biggest jolt is generated by a simple fact: For nearly half of the 20th century, the governing principle of a predominantly black nation was that black people were not entitled to the same social, legal, and human rights as a tiny minority of white people. (Sean Nelson)
Cuba Gooding Jr. and one of those fat guys from Saturday Night Live embrace (and embrace) the joys of man-love in the middle of the ocean.
Bringing Down the House
Plot: Steve Martin is a hard-up workaholic lawyer. He gets in an internet chat room with a bunch of other lawyers. Queen Latifah is in the chat room looking for a sucker. Steve is the sucker. Queen pretends to be a horny blonde and comes over to his house for drinks. When she shows up, she's not blonde, and she's just escaped from prison. Queen needs Steve's lawyer skills to clear her name, and she's not leaving until she gets it. Moral of the story: black people are equal... sometimes. Even though black people speak slang, they are not necessarily stupid. White people can learn things from black people, just like Steve learned to enjoy life more from Queen. Conclusion: This film is not worth wasting the gas it will take to drive to the theater. (Katie Shimer)
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. (Justin Sanders)
Cradle 2 the Grave
Here's what you can expect from the first five minutes of Cradle 2 the Grave: a dope Eminem track, a diamond heist involving missiles, various close calls with an underground train, tits, Jet Li scaling a building, and DMX looking hella hot. Really, what more can you ask for from an action flick? (Katie Shimer)
The first quarter of Daredevil is crap, but once the initial melodrama trails off, the script relaxes and lets some of the fine supporting actors take over, including Jon Favreau as Ben-Affleck-Damon-Lopez's partner, and Joe Pantoliano as a snoopy reporter. Even the normally oily Affleck keeps the believability of his character in check, while Colin Farrell chews the scenery in hilarious abandon. As in Spider-Man, some of the special effects are laughably bad. Nevertheless, the dark tone of Daredevil sets it apart from its web-spinning competition. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Dead or Alive: Final
See Review this Issue.
One day while combing the Norwegian countryside with his metal detector, Daniel discovers a bracelet with the name "Janne." He, of course, sets out to find her and she, of course, is beautiful and mysterious. Winner of Best First Film at the Norwegian International Film Festival.
Down and Out with the Dolls
See Review this Issue.
America has had something of an uncomfortable break from both Stephen King horror adaptations and body-snatching alien movies--thank god for Dreamcatcher, then, as my world has somehow found light again.
See Review this Issue.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
How hysterical that as conservatives in this country denounce the French over Iraq (Freedom Fries anyone?), the French cinema machine releases a film starring Amelie's Audrey Tautou--probably the most beloved French export to come along since the first Gulf War--in a fairly nasty role as a rather cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs young Parisian woman in love with a doctor (Samuel Le Bihan). Politics (and possible bad timing) aside, however, is He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not any good? Oui, though it's not quite as entertaining (nor as nefarious) as the continual rantings of insipid war hawks. (Bradley Steinbacher)
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, and bets his boss a big account he can make a woman fall in love with him within ten days. Sure enough, he's the one Hudson randomly selects to abuse with her cruel prank. (Marjorie Skinner)
Trained to be the ultimate special ops murder machine, Benicio del Toro sees a bit too much bloodshed while on a mission in Kosovo. Upon his return, he's awarded for his bravery, but is driven crackers by the endless screams of the dead. When Benny goes AWOL, he becomes a marked man and it's Tommy Lee Jones' job to capture him. It's almost impossible to describe how jaw-droppingly ridiculous this movie is--but therein lies the fun. One could start with the bloated stars of the film whose koo-koo characters are a cross between Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Both express their advanced craziness in the most obvious ways: twitchy hands and the speaking patterns of a stroke victim (however, these affectations may have been necessary to make up for the lack of any real characterization in the thread-bare script). (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
The Icelandic Dream
Poor Toti. All he wants is for his soccer team to win and for one of his hair-brained get-rich schemes to work. An Icelandic mockumentary about an endearing, gangly Walter Mitty character whose life continues to stumble each time it looks like it will move forward. It can be so much fun to watch other people (especially foreigners) fail!
it (independent thursdays)
The very cool Nocturnal continues to bat a thousand with this monthly event at which budding filmmakers can show off their wares. This month's theme is Slasher/Horror. All are welcome to show films; just call 239-5900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kites Over Helsinki
Proving that America doesn't have the corner on the market for messed-up families, Finnish director Peter Lindholm gives this moving and disturbing story about the Bexar family. After the oldest brother, a wannabe rock star, kills himself, the younger brother's life implodes. Ditching out on his wife and kids, the younger brother is guided on a weird journey by the ghost of his dead brother. Take your Prozac before watching the film!
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)
Lost in La Mancha
Terry Gilliam, director of the critically acclaimed films Brazil, and 12 Monkeys, and the financial and commercial flop, The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen, is a perfectionist when it comes to filmmaking. Because creating his unique vision comes before all else, he is referred to by his peers as "Captain Chaos," and in the film industry, has been branded as hard to work with and unable to stick to a budget. Because of this reputation, Gilliam has a hard time finding funding for his projects. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was no exception. Gilliam had been mulling over the screenplay and direction of the film for ten years, and Lost in La Mancha documents his long-awaited attempt to bring it to life. As you might expect, during shooting, many disasters occur, which makes for an entertaining, if not totally engrossing film. (Katie Shimer)
Night of the Hunter
Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish in the creepy tale of a deranged preacher who latches onto a lonely widow and her two children in order to discover the whereabouts of her late husband's ill-gotten fortune.
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 the movie still sucks. (Katie Shimer)
A handsome young couple get engaged. The next day the boy is hit by a car and paralyzed, and the girl ends up having an affair with one of his doctors--a doctor whose wife happened to be driving the car that hit the boy. It sounds like a trite, melodramatic story, but filmmaker Susanne Bier uses Dogme 95 to her advantage by making every last character pitiful and charming at the same time--like real folks who've gotten caught up in bizarre circumstances. (Amy Jennings )
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)
Piglet's Big Move
From the fever dreams of Christopher Robin comes another exploration of the Jungian neuroses of Hundred Acre Wood's most unbearably anxious citizens.
The Quiet American
Michael Caine deserves all the praise he's received for his role as Fowler, while Brendan Fraser slightly overplays the wide-eyed idealism that inspired America's misguided involvement in Vietnam. The metaphor of the love triangle doesn't work here nearly as well as the more overt politics, but the movie is worth seeing if only because it shows how America can do the wrong thing with the best of intentions. (Andy Spletzer)
Rabbit-Proof Fence 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)
Rivers and Tides
Rivers and Tides chronicles the life and work of Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish sculptor who makes temporary contraptions out of leaves, wood, mud, and whatever grub the earth gives him. The lives of his pieces are shorter than a snow drift in the desert, as the wind blows them away or they melt. That's the beauty of this film: It captures these ethereal pieces--and the process to make them--before they return to the earth. A look at permanence and impermanence, and nature's inherent metamorphosis. (Phil Busse)
Safety of Objects
The distraught lives of weird suburban parents and the parents' weirder kids are intertwined through divorce, backseat teenage sex, yoga, and most importantly, a tragic auto accident that leaves a young man in a coma in this deeply unsatisfying drama. The fractured lives, furtive affairs, creepy kids, and stunted sexuality of the suburban set is not new terrain, and this flick gives the genre a bad reading. A spiraling lawyer finds redemption as a 24-hour personal trainer for a woman in a "hands on a hardbody" SUV contest at the local mall. A pre-pubescent boy is literally having an affair with his sister's Barbie doll. The whole movie is stuff like that. However, one subplot--a darkly realistic child abduction involving the neighborhood handyman and the neighborhood tomboy--is well scripted and acted, giving an otherwise soupy movie some stock. Just not nearly enough to warrant a recommendation. (Josh Feit)
Chris Marker was a leader of the Left Bank Group of Filmmakers in the '50s and '60s, and creates what have been called "cine-poems." Exploring the "extreme poles of existence," Marker's Sans Soleil takes you on soothing, time-defying adventures through Japan, Africa, and Hitchcock's San Francisco, with synthesizer accompaniment.
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)
Talk to Her
Actions and craziness often overshadow feelings in Almodovar's earlier films, but with Talk to Her, he 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 )
Tears of the Sun
The plot of Tears, which combines The Magnificent Seven with any number of Chuck Norris military films, should be a gimme: Rough and tumble officer (Bruce Willis) saves sexy white lady and her native pals from evil rebels with good ol' fashioned military know-how. The problem lies in the inclusion of "ethnic cleansing"--which is a wrong move for a cheesy flick like this. Putting piles of burning bodies and rape scenes on top of such a hackneyed plot is manipulative, and cheapens the plight of war-torn African nations. And while there are suspenseful moments and some nice cinematography, by the end my eyes were rolling so much I wanted a real band of rebel guerrillas to storm the theater and put me out of my misery. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
To Be and To Have
A documentary about a school in Auvergne, France, where, helped by the extreme patience of the teacher Georges Lopez, children of all ages learn together and become something of a family. Winner of Best Documentary at the European Film Awards.
To Die For
Gus Van Sant directs Nicolle Kidman as a sex crazed weather girl who manipulates Joaquin Phoenix into killing her husband. Based on a true story.
A View from the Top
Gwyneth Paltrow neglects to read another script before signing on the dotted line, and ends up in a movie as a small-town-girl-makes-good flight attendant. [Insert airplane disaster/career trajectory joke here.]
Willard's life stinks. He lives in an old, dusty house with his decrepit mother, who's a little more than a hideous flap of skin. Obsessed with the relics left by his father, Willard shuffles to work every day in pappy's old clothes, pushing pencils at the company started by daddy-o. The office is obligatorily staffed with rapidly aging employees, just as his boss is obligatorily callous and abusive. The formulaic premise of Willard is so obvious that it's funny, which sets the tone for the rest of the story. Whatever marbles Willard has at the beginning of the film are long gone when he decides that a white rat rescued from his vermin-infested basement is "the best friend he ever had." Absurdly, Willard begins training all of the rats in his basement to be a sort of army. Does this sound stupid? It is. But it's also cute, funny, and sad. (Marjorie Skinner)