A viewing of the top entries from film students in nine different states, in a variety of formats. And it's free!
All the Real Girls
All the Real Girls, directed by David Gordon Green, nearly reverses all the nonsense Hollywood has ever told us about love. Zooey Deschanel, as Noel, and Paul Schneider as Paul, seem less like actors and more like kids who are too old to still live at home, but young enough to fall in love for the first time. An excellent supporting cast (including the new indie queen Patricia Clarkson) creates the town they inhabit. Green's direction is carefully understated. Melancholy shots of the land turn scenes into little vignettes of small town life. The film is reminiscent of 2000's You Can Count On Me, quiet and thoughtful, like in real life, where the deepest emotions tend to get left unsaid. Strangely, the big dramatic scene is actually the least effective, but otherwise the film is a quaint reminder of what romance felt like when all the world was young. (Steven Lankenau)
Thank God for Jack Nicholson, who has more fascinating layers of repressed angst in one pinky than Adam Sandler has in his whole squat little body. Nicholson has explosive tendencies, but they're of the cunning variety. You can predict when Sandler is going to blow a gasket, and what he's going to do when he does: he's going to pick up a golf club and smash something. When Nicholson gets mad, you have no idea what he's going to do, and so you're gripped. Not to say the movie is gripping, because the script overwhelmingly falls flat, but at least Nicholson is there to pick it up and move it around like a puppet. (Justin Sanders)
Assassination Tango is a piss-poor film, specifically because all the choices made by Robert Duvall in creating his last film (The Apostle) seem to have been reversed. The story rambles in one direction then veers into a blind alley; the performances wind on and on like improv class in the seventh circle of Cassavetes hell; and the characters are wafer-thin excuses for the worst kind of cinematic vanity. (Sean Nelson)
John Travolta is a DEA agent in Panama called in to investigate a murder at a local army training station. (Six army ranger commandos were sent on a jungle training mission; two return to report that the much-maligned drill sergeant is dead, as well as four other rangers.) Travolta's character, Tom Hardy, is enchanting because he mirrors an internal conflict for so many Americans: We want to believe that patriotism is a virtue, but also understand that it can poison the mind. Then again, this tension is a mere subtext to the film, and who really cares? After all, Basic is less a war movie than a fast-paced whodunit. It's an engrossing murder mystery that just happens to have a gleefully mean-spirited drill sergeant as the victim (Samuel L. Jackson) and a squad of disgruntled army rangers as the suspects. The story may not be wholly original--and in the end may not entirely add up--but nonetheless, Basic is well-produced and fun to watch. (Phil Busse)
Bend it Like Beckham
Not exactly a masterpiece, this film is a lighthearted, cute escape best suited for parents and teens. An adolescent, soccer-playing daughter struggles against her Hindu parents, who would rather gear her interests towards cooking and otherwise preparing herself to be a proper Indian bride. (Marjorie Skinner)
Better Luck Tomorrow
Evidently, this first-time film from Justin Lin caused quite a stir at Sundance, though after watching it I find whatever controversy it created a little perplexing. The story of a pack of overachieving Asian high school students turning to crime for kicks in suburbia, the film is little more than Goodfellas and Boyz 'N' the Hood spackled together with an Asian cast, directed with overly hyper flare by Lin, and purchased by MTV films for release to teens and tweens nationwide. Does swapping out Italians for Asians make enough originality to create a buzz? I guess so, though it doesn't really make for a memorable picture. (Bradley Steinbacher)
Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary
A PBS-style documentary about Traudl Junge, a woman of 81 at the time of the filming, who was recruited at age 22 to work as Hitler's personal secretary, a position she held from 1942 until the Fuhrer's suicide in 1945. (Beforehand, he even dictated his last will and testament to Junge.) Throughout the course of the film, she reveals details from the National Socialist leaders' day-to-day existence--from his love for his dog to taking meals with her and the other office girls--which culminates in a vivid and teary recount of the war's waning days inside the secret bunker. (Jonathan Mahalek)
How do so many flies get inside the plastic weatherproofing on my windows? How can so many people reconcile not only purchasing a Ford Excursion, but paying for all that damn gas? How does Chow Yun-Fat go from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Bulletproof Monk? The world is full of mystery.
Young hottie geology professor Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) is yanked out of class one day by Federal agents to explain a score of unusual occurrences: People with pacemakers dropping dead, flocks of birds going wacko, and the space shuttle accidentally being forced to land in downtown Los Angeles. With the help of a Frenchie pal (Tchèky Karyo) and a Carl Sagan look-alike (Stanley Tucci), Josh figures out that the core of the earth has mysteriously stopped spinning. Who gives a crap, right? Well, you would, when the electromagnetic field started breaking down and your skin burst into flames. The solution is simple enough: Hop into an earth-burrowing machine, dive to the center of the Earth, and blow up a few nukes to get the core restarted. Yeeee-HAW! (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Get Carter (1971)
Michael Caine as Jack Carter travels home for his brother's funeral, but soon realizes the death may not have been an accident and sets out to uncover the crime.
Ghosts of the Abyss
A 3-D documentary on the Titanic. Sorry, Kate Winslet's boobs will not be featured in 3-D.
An epic starring James Dean, Liz Taylor, and Rock Hudson about a cattle rancher's rivalry with an oil tycoon, which unfolds over two generations.
The Good Thief
Looking like Ichabod Crane, Nick Nolte shuffles onto the screen as a down-on-his-luck American ex-pat in Southern France. For Nolte, it's a role sent from Method Actors' heaven. He mutters and weaves between hard-luck reality and fantastical good fortune, juggling ethics, honor, and debauchery like a strung-out Cat in the Hat. Perhaps because of Nolte's recent rocky past, he fills out the troubled central character of The Good Thief to a tee: a heroin addict and sleight-of-hand thief. (Phil Busse)
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)
Part of the Margaret Mead Film Fest, Breaking Bows and Arrows explores the traditional ceremonies that brought together both the perpetrators and victims of New Guinea's bloody 1980 civil war. Wa 'N Wina shows a filmmaker revisiting his South African community to discuss AIDS, sex, and teen pregnancy.
See review this issue.
House of 1000 Corpses
Written and directed by Rob Zombie, this is the story of a group of kids whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. They take refuge in an old house with a psychotic family neck deep in Satanism, cannibalism, witchcraft, and dreadlocks.
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, yet ironically, 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. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Yet another uplifting film about a 12-year-old soldier wasting his childhood behind enemy lines as a spy. Yes, another in the Film Center's tip of the vodka bottle series to Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky.
Luis Bunuel's attack on the bourgeoisie shows a couple's desperate attempts to consummate their relationship.
Malibu's Most Wanted
The wigga son of a wealthy politician is introduced to C.O.M.P.T.O.N. by Juilliard-trained street thugs. Sensitive treatment of complicated racial stereotypes follows.
A Man Apart
A Man Apart, which stars beefy Vin Diesel as a streetwise DEA agent who rolls with real niggaz, is to Traffic what crack is to cocaine. Instead of matching or going beyond Traffic, it soon dispenses with its noble concept, kicks into reverse, and returns to the old opera of cowboy vs. the others. America, the consumer, is ultimately Good; Mexico, the producer, is ultimately Bad. And to prevent the total corruption of what is at heart Good, the Good must relentlessly pursue and gun down the Bad. The Bad in this film is even called El Diablo. I rest my case. (Charles Mudede)
It is rarely the large, cataclysmic events that lend life its real meaning, but rather the small, seemingly unconnected events, at least that's what Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky seems to think. Or, maybe he never really had a theme at all, but just spliced together images, memories, and cinematic reflections into a montage about a dying man's life. Like most things Russian, best after a half-bottle of vodka.
Monsoon Wife's most compelling aspect is its documentary peek into Cambodia. The plot concerns itself with the sex trade and the unsavory brand of tourism and exploitation that is attracted to it, but frequently gets away from itself. Disjointed subplots appear to exist in order to both create a fuller picture of this depravation and to present positive, unrelated aspects of the country. (An absurdly immature, rich, horny tourist exists entirely as a tool for the film's expository motives.) Visually, the film is beautifully shot, and seems to have made good use of its relatively low budget. It is a compelling subject, and the film is remarkable as the first American film to be shot entirely in Cambodia--a rarity that alone makes the film worthwhile. Still, it would have benefited from a tighter narrative focus. (Marjorie Skinner)
The image of a man surrounded by cops in a lone phone booth in the middle of downtown New York City is striking initially, but grows mundane after an hour or so. Once the visual titillation wears off, it becomes painfully clear that Phone Booth is really nothing more than two guys talking on the phone. The sustenance of such a premise for a feature-length film demands a quality of screenwriting that even the best filmmakers would have trouble maintaining, let alone Can't-Pick-a-Script-to-Save-His-Life Schumacher. The director employs his usual swooping, gritty camera tricks to an almost nauseating degree, but can't come close to saving Phone Booth from tedious dialogue and mediocre characterization. (Justin Sanders)
Despite appearances to the contrary, this 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)
Shortcuts Through Portland
Local shorts that are much better than you'd expect... and quite funny.
Simon of the Desert/Land Without Bread
Two of Luis Bunuel's films. Simon shows St. Simeon perched atop a pillar for 25 years and the devil's humorous attempts to lure him down with human pleasures. Bread is a psuedo-documentary about an inbred poor person. Ouch.
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)
Spider (the nickname of the main character) begins with Ralph Fiennes, who says less than ten intelligible words in the entire film, entering a sort of halfway house for people released from the asylum. Even though the head of the house, Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), tries to assimilate our dear mumbling Ralphie, he slowly starts living in his past, re-imagining the events that led him to the asylum. Spider's past plays out like a perverse rewriting of Angela's Ashes. A drunken Irish father (Gabriel Byrne) argues with the stoic martyred mother (Miranda Richardson), and then runs down to the pub while the wee little lad watches vacantly from the stairwell. Only we have to remember that a lunatic is telling the story, and Miranda Richardson's mother slowly insinuates herself into Spider's world, becoming other women in Spider's life and leaving any sense of reality to be questioned. (Steven Lankenau)
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.
See review this issue.
See review this issue.
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)
Basically a mystery, Tully is a fairly successful picture, able to pinch your emotions without leaving a bruise. Beautifully shot, with stellar performances (especially by Bob Burrus as the elder Tully), it's only drawback may be a sometimes near-glacial pace that at times seems to match the dullness of Nebraska farm-life reality. Then again, maybe I'm just an urban elitist. (Bradley Steinbacher)
A View from the Top
Playing out like a saccharine, low-rent version of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, A View From the Top is pure ocular wonderbread--featureless, familiar, and entirely inoffensive. Characters appear and disappear without relevance or explanation, the plot plods along with heartwarming comic relief, and the whole slapdash mess ends almost painlessly. Almost.
Luis Bunuel's dark film about a novice nun who does her best to be a generous Christian, but is thwarted at every corner.
West Side Story
"Maria, I just met a girl named Maria."
What a Girl Wants
Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, and Kelly Preston star in Girls Gone Wild: London Edition, in a film filed somewhere between "Coming of Age," "Fish Out of Water," and "Product Placement Opportunity."
What Farocki Taught: Films by Jill Godmilow & Harun Farocki
Harun Farocki made a film about the production and dangers of Napalm B at the time of the Vietnam War. Although it was crudely made, it was highly poignant. Jill Godmilow has remade the film in color/English and it will be shown along with Farocki's classic.
When Worlds Collide (1951)
When a scientist discovers that another planet is headed straight towards Earth, he and a few others build a rocket to try and escape.