In Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams, tragedy is finally given the respect it deserves. The story is told in a series of fragments. Flashing forward and back, the audience is given glimpses of its three main characters; Paul (Sean Penn) is on the cusp of death, waiting for his heart condition to finally claim him. Cristina (Naomi Watts) is a suburban wife with two children and a doting husband--who is soon to be scarred by an accident of epic proportions. Jack (Benicio del Toro) is an ex-jailbird turned fundamentalist Christian who can't escape the tragedies of his past which, like the repeated scenes of this film, keep returning as his future. The previously mentioned accident binds these three into an unwanted triad, sending each on a skidding path with their pasts, and sealing what seems to be a predestined fate. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Fox Tower 10
* Along Came Polly
Reuben (Ben Stiller) is an insurance risk assessor so caught up in his knowledge about the dangers that lurk in the world, he can't appreciate the thrills of life. Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), a flaky bohemian, challenges his failsafe life by taking him out for spicy food, salsa dancing, and other acts of spontaneity. All told, the story is about as intellectually challenging as an episode of Friends, but Along Came Polly is nothing more than it pretends to be: a simple, charming, and silly love story complete with Charlie Chaplin slapstick and laughable one-liners. (Phil Busse) Regal Cinemas, etc.
* Babette's Feast
A mysterious woman shows up at the home of two religious sisters in Denmark. She pledges to work as their maid, and when they decide to plan a celebration of their dead father, convinces them to let her plan the feast. During the meal, secrets are revealed. Pix Patisserie
* Big Fish
While director Tim Burton may have been pooh-poohed in the past for placing cinematic glitz over story-telling ability, with Big Fish he finally brings them together in glorious harmony. Switching back and forth between reality and tall tales, Burton weaves a truly poignant story about the complicated ties between fathers and sons, and how severing those ties can eventually strengthen them. The cast is uniformly terrific, with an absolutely amazing performance by Albert Finney. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Bubba Ho-Tep has an ingenious premise: Elvis (Bruce Campbell)--who didn't die, but instead swapped places with an Elvis impersonator--is stuck in a dilapidated rest home, spending his days desperately trying to convince nurses and visitors that he's The King. Unfortunately, the only person who'll believe Elvis' claims is another rest home resident: JFK (Ossie Davis), who insists that he survived his assassination, was dyed black, then stuck in the retirement home thanks to a Lyndon Johnson-led conspiracy. Elvis and JFK soon notice their geriatric compatriots are dying off even more often than usual. After some investigation, they discover that the culprit is an evil, soul-sucking mummy, Bubba Ho-Tep. So, as only two American mega-icons can, the two combine forces to kick some undead Egyptian ass. (Erik Henriksen) Laurelhurst
* Buena Vista Social Club & The Up in Smoke Tour
Buena Vista Social Club chronicles the recording of a CD with a slew of Cuban musicians, some as old as 90. Up in Smoke chronicles Dre, Eminem, Cube, and Snizzle Dizzle on tour. XV
The Burial Society
The list of Jewish noir thrillers is about as long as the list of great Jewish athletes. But the lack of volume doesn't mean the lack of quality. A morally tense story about a swindling loan officer who flees to a smalltown and into the unwitting protection of a society of elderly Jewish men. Whitsell Auditorium
The Butterfly Effect See review this issue. Regal Cinemas, etc.
This film tells the true story of a rogue faction of a women's group in North Yorkshire, England. Ahem. These goosey rebels make a nude calendar of themselves in order to raise money for medical research after one of the women's husband dies. It's entertaining in that fond, hangin' with your spunky grandma way, when things are cute/funny just because the person saying them is "mature," but would in fact not be funny in the least if anyone else said them. It's a bit of a one-trick pony, and the whole stuffy, naked, British matron schtick only carries so far. (Marjorie Skinner) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Chasing Liberty depends on the appeal of Mandy Moore as the daughter of the President. It assumes we'll buy that her charm and goodwill make international relations fall into place like so many Scrabble tiles, except that she is not in the least appealing. (Emily Hall) Regal Cinemas, etc.
* Cheaper by the Dozen
A remake of the 1950 film, this time starring Steve Martin as a dad with 12 kids who is offered a job as the football coach at Northwestern. Also stars the real sexiest man alive, Ashton Kutcher. Regal Cinemas, etc.
Nicole Kidman and Jude Law are both freakishly beautiful people, with chilling blue eyes that slice through the tragedies surrounding them. Despite gritty, tough performances from both in this civil war epic about a soldier trying to get home to his lover, they are ultimately miscast, as their beauty objectifies them, and as a result, distances them. (Justin Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Neve Campbell and the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago star in this dance-centric film about a young woman (Campbell) who is conflicted about becoming a principal dancer in her company. Fox Tower 10
The Cooler is a small, unremarkable film that's watchable due to one thing: sex. Specifically, a sex scene between William H. Macy and Maria Bello. Director Wayne Kramer has managed to give audiences something all too rare in films these days--a sexy scene that not only causes the audience to flush, but makes sense as well. The coitus in The Cooler is refreshing, fun, and the tangling of bodies helps elevate the entire endeavor above its somewhat middling quality. (Bradley Steinbacher) Century Eastport 16, City Center 12, Fox Tower 10
DeComposer See review this issue. Guild Theater
In search of an ancestral sofa, the narrator takes off from her Hasidic community. Along the way she discovers not only the wide world but bits and pieces about her own heritage. Whitsell Auditorium
Elephant shows us a couple days in the life of two grumpy teens who go all Vice City on their Portland high school. Both the boys are cardboard characters who shop for guns on the internet, play violent video games, and have a brief homosexual affair. Neither is likeable, neither evokes sympathy. Their fellow high school students, however, are worse. (Katie Shimer) Cinemagic
Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs--The Iraqi Connection
Playing against the stereotypes of "Jews" and "Arabs," this film profiles four men. Along with thousands of others, these men fled Iraq during the '50s to resettle in Israel. Guild Theater
* The Handmaid's Tale
The film version of Margaret Atwood's sci-fi classic, where fertile women become baby machines, their husbands are killed, and their children are sequestered in the name of the Moral Majority. PSU Smith Memorial Union Rm 225
* The Hebrew Hammer
Mordechai Jefferson Carver is a badass Semitic Superfly in this "Jewsploitation" spoof. Hired by the Jewish Justice League, the "Hammer" (Adam Goldberg) must put a stop to the fiendish son of Santa (Andy Dick), who plans to destroy Hanukkah. Clinton Street Theater, Whitsell Auditorium
The House of Sand and Fog
When a recovering addict/slacker (Jennifer Connolly) temporarily loses her family's house on a technicality, a disgraced Iranian officer (Ben Kingsley) dives through the loophole and refuses to budge, resulting in mounting levels of righteous obsession for all concerned. (Andrew Wright) Hollywood Theatre
Claimed to be his most personal film yet, In America is based roughly on the time director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) spent in New York City in the early '80s. For the sake of authenticity, it was co-written by his daughter, who was a girl during this time. The movie begins with a tense moment: A young Irish family in a beat-up car is attempting to enter the land of milk and honey from Canada. The immigration officer sternly looks at the girls, the husband and wife, and then breaks into a smile: "Welcome to the United States of America." (Charles Mudede) City Center 12, Fox Tower 10
In an amazing feat, Charlize Theron not only manages to look like complete crap, she does a spectacular job of playing notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Mimicking her telltale mannerisms perfectly, Theron plays the part with total believability. Her performance--and the smart direction of the film--evoke sympathy, anger, disgust, and an overwhelming emptiness. Granted, seeing a movie about a woman whose life went from child abuse to prostitution to rape to murder to betrayal by her lover to execution isn't a fun time; but it effectively makes you ponder the immense good and evil in humanity, and quite possibly, it will make you cry. (Katie Shimer) Fox Tower 10
For all the "inexorability" and "meditation" of its violence, Mystic River feels desperately contrived. Whether director Clint Eastwood has some deep understanding of the nature of violence remains unclear. What is certain is that he knows how to make a movie, even a dumb one, well worth watching. I only wish someone would send him some better books. (Sean Nelson) Regal Cinemas, etc.
Nazi Officer's Wife
Edith Hahn Beer is an outspoken Jew who hides her identity and escapes to Munich, where a Nazi officer falls in love with her. Guild Theater
* Nina Simone: Love Sorceress
An unfiltered and fawning look at concert footage from political soul singer, Nina Simone. Guild Theater
Off The Charts: The Song Poem Story
Ever see those ads on the back of tabloids asking you to send a story or poem and they will turn it into a song? Ever wonder what sort of musicians would devote a career to quirky, obscure, and sometimes brilliant songs based on random mail correspondences? Wonder no more! Off The Charts shines some light on an otherwise unknown corner of the music industry. Followed by Playing For Change, a documentary about principled street musicians, who play for the love of music and avoid fame. Guild Theater
Piaf: Her Stories... Her Songs
Femme French crooner Edith Piaf had enough talent to support at least two careers. That is, Raquel Bitton has picked up where Piaf left off. Singing Piaf's woeful songs and telling Piaf's life story, Bitton has made her own full-time stage career. This film fuses the two performers together, showing Bitton in action and intertwining vintage footage of Piaf. Guild Theater
* Pieces of April
Starring Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, and Oliver Platt, Pieces of April has a look and feel that I hesitate to label "documentary-like." Gritty due to its transfer of digital to celluloid and mainly handheld, there is a certain spontaneity in the film, almost an improvised feel, that is enhanced by the sharp cast. Clarkson is particularly good, becoming the heart of the film that the rest of the group rotates around. (Bradley Steinbacher) Laurelhurst
* The Revolution Will Not be Televised See review this issue. Cinema 21
School of Rock
While I am passionate about rocking, The School of Rock, starring Jack Black, employs every cliché imaginable, from Kindergarten Cop to Spinal Tap, while promoting a sickly Gen-X nostalgia and not being funny, to boot. If the film is about the generation gap and the power of rock to span the ages, it's unfortunate that its power stinks like a rotten corpse. (Julianne Shepherd) Avalon, Bagdad Theater, Laurelhurst, St. Johns Pub
* The Shane MacGowan Story--If I Should Fall From Grace
Finally! You can stop holding your breath for VH1 to tell the rest of the story about Shane MacGowan, the Pogues abrupt frontman. Director Sarah Share catches up with the part-poet, part-punk musician. Although the movie is obviously made by a fan, it does not shy away from MacGowan's less-than-honorable traits. Guild Theater
* Sinister Cinema
More local films than you can shake a stick at, all in the comfort of your local watering hole, DV8. DV8
A college graduate in the Philippines goes to a small town to become an elementary teacher. She encounters corruption among her employees, passive aggression from her student's parents, and an ongoing war, but maintains a positive attitude for the sake of her pupils. Fox Tower 10
Something's Gotta Give
Here is a movie so filled with unappealing, uninteresting people, inane, pandering dialogue, and contemptuous pop psychologizing that it is humiliating to watch. I spent most of the film doodling on my notebook, in the dark. Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton spoof their on-screen personas--his cad, her compulsive nervous wreck--so thoroughly that they may very well erase years of good work in the process (and never mind that in this token bone tossed to the elderly among us who are apparently longing for a romantic comedy of their own, the lady is still a good 10 years younger than the gent). And do you really want to see Nicholson's bare ass? (Emily Hall) Regal Cinemas, etc.
* The Station Agent
Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), The Station Agent's protagonist, was born a dwarf, and has built up a stone-faced resistance to the stares and slurs directed at him daily. When he inherits a small abandoned train station in rural New Jersey, he leaves the city and makes the shack his home. Within a day, the locals notice him and are banging on his door. (Brian Brait) Hollywood Theatre
Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion
Narrated by Martin Sheen, and made over a 10-year period, the purpose of Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion is to offer Western eyes clear documentation of the suffering that Tibetans have experienced under Chinese rule. The film is a work of propaganda by sympathetic Westerners who place Tibet completely on the side of the right, and China completely on the side of the wrong. According to their view, Tibetans just want to pray in peace, ring their bells, journey to their sky temples, kneel and mumble to incense, and find within the confines of their physical bodies the path to eternal wisdom. China, on the other hand, wants to enforce its foreign and worldly will on the "altar of the world." (Charles Mudede) Hollywood Theatre
Taken from the Latin word torquere, the word "torque" literally means "to twist." This is highly necessary information, because if you choose to see this new crotch rocket movie starring Ice Cube, not a moment will pass when you won't feel as if someone is twisting your balls off. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.
* The Triplets of Belleville
An animated French film that speaks nary an intelligible word throughout its entire 80-minute running time, Les Triplettes de Belleville's jaw-dropping artwork alone could have kept me riveted for hours. Physically exaggerated characterizations and dark, dank urban landscapes give the film a particularly strong noir sensibility, and in the void of spoken word, layered sound effects add to the feeling of ambience. (Justin Sanders) Fox Tower 10
What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
Johnny Depp stars as Gilbert who has an overweight mama, two squabbling teenage sisters, and the most gorgeous mentally retarded brother EVER (Leonardo DiCaprio). Blind Onion
Win a Date With Tad Hamilton
So who is Tad Hamilton, and why do you want to date him? Well, because he's a totally dreamy Hollywood star! Well, it just so happens that while Tad's a chewy hunk, once you get past the fake tan and highlights, he's not that great. In fact, surprisingly enough, he's a big, shallow asshole, and lately, he's got an image to match. In an attempt to clean up his blemished career, Tad agrees to go on a date with a contest winner from some stereotypical small-town state. This contest winner just so happens to be one of the hottest girls in America, Kate Bosworth, the blond surfer chick from Blue Crush. Anyway, Tad's all, "Wow, you're pretty," and she's all, "You're so great," and they make out a lot. Well, in the middle of everything, Tad actually starts to fall for this beautiful, kind, innocent girl... But back up the truck! I forgot to tell you that Blue Crush's geeky best friend is secretly in love with her. Regal Cinemas, etc.
* Yossi & Jagger
A bittersweet gays in the military romance gets a new twist as the military here is the Israeli army working at an isolated, snowy outpost. Although the same-sex affair is sentimental and sweet--complete with bad Israeli dance music--you don't have to be a born cynic to know how this one ends. (Jennifer Maerz) Cinema 21