Adam Sandler isn't as funny as he used to be, but 50 First Dates still has a few good jokes. Drew Barrymore is pretty terrible, but wears totally cool outfits and bitchin' turquoise eyeliner. All in all, it's worth $3 at the second run. (Katie Shimer)
Against the Ropes
Based on a true story, Meg Ryan plays Jackie Kallen; the first successful woman boxing promoter. But just because a story is true doesn't necessarily make it worth telling. As Jackie and her diamond-in-the-rough boxer (Omar Epps) struggle up the ladder of success, they succumb to the very evils (greed and fame) they once disavowed. What you have here is a classic Lifetime-style movie riddled with endless clichés, which only comes to life when the brilliant Tony Shalhoub (as Jackie's shady competition) walks into the scene. Even worse? It ends with a "crescendo clap"--you know...when the hero makes a big speech at the end and everyone slowly starts clapping, building to a thunderous crescendo? Yeah, that kind of shit. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
* 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 fail-safe world 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)
* 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)
Kurt Russell's wife is abducted while he's trying to fix a car malfunction. Action, adventure, and lots of sweating ensue. Blind Onion
* The Brother From Another Planet
Joe Morton is an alien and a slave on another planet, and he escapes and lands on Harlem. The locals think he's just another "brother,"--get it? He's literally a brother from another planet. One of John Sayle's earliest works.
The Butterfly Effect
Dude, where's my chaos theory? The latest feature-length advertisement for Ashton Kutcher's bone structure, this film is so stultifyingly poor on every level that unless you're (a) 12 years old, (b) a sadly desperate gay man/straight woman with a thing for hunky morons, or (c) 13 years old, you really have no business watching. (Sean Nelson)
* 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 )
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)
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
NYC girl moves to the Jersey suburbs; popularity wars ensue. Starlet Lindsay Lohan apparently has no problem with being typecast: her next two movies are called Mean Girls and Dramarama.
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)
* Dirty Old Town
The famed Ted Leo documentary. See My What a Busy Week pg 15
* The Dreamers See review this issue.
Escape from New York Sing-a-Long!
How is the famed story of Snake Plissken performed as a sing-a-long? Well, there's lots of beer involved. Part of the Mercury/Clinton Street Prozac Film Fest. See Destination Fun pg 13 Clinton Street Theater
Teens, don't get the wrong idea, but intercontinental online dating can be loads of fun--and German girls are hot!
* The Fog of War
From World War II through the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara was everywhere and wrapped up in some of the most destructive aggressions by the U.S. military. It was his brainstorm to firebomb cities in Japan, so that bombs would not just destroy what they impacted but would set fire to entire towns. Under his guidance, U.S. forces in Vietnam relentlessly dropped napalm. (Oddly, also, in a foray into the private sector, under his direction, the Ford Corp. insisted on seat belts and other safety measures that have saved countless lives!) Interspliced with historical footage, the interviews are simple and sober. They bring to the surface an old man who is less remorseful than trying to reason his way out of guilt. The parallels to current political leaders are never touched on, but are nonetheless poignantly present. Directed by Errol Morris. (Phil Busse)
* Funny Girl
Babs Streisand belts it out as turn-o'-the-century comedian Fanny Brice, whose rise to stardom is screwed up by that huggable louse of a man she loves, Omar Sharif.
Girl with the Pearl Earring
Girl with a Pearl Earring is stuffy to a fault, no matter how many shots of Scarlett Johansson's pout director Peter Webber can fit in, and the final tally falls somewhere between the best of Merchant Ivory and the worst of Merchant Ivory. Which is to say this: It is a well-made but nonetheless empty and, quite often, outright dull affair. (Bradley Steinbacher)
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)
* Imperfect Journey
Director Haile Gerima shows a changed Ethiopia after the 1991 Soviet-military junta.
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)
Here's some questions for all you non-believers: Does the fancy pantsy Mel Gibson put actual Christian artifacts in his newest bastardization of Christ's life? NO HE DOES NOT. Does The Passion of the Christ stick strictly to biblical scripture? NO IT DOES NOT. Has Mel Gibson's blasphemous treatise saved 175 million errant souls? NO IT HAS NOT! But the 1979 biblical classic Jesus has done all these things and more! (Plus Brian Deacon is a much sexier Christ than James Caviezel.) Clinton Street Theater
* Little Senegal
Rachid Bouchareb achieves a remarkable thing in Little Senegal: he has made an utterly undidactic, extraordinarily powerful film about slavery. The film opens in a slave museum in Senegal, where Alloune (Sotigui Kouyate) has worked for years, and where he sees black American tourists come to find their shattered roots. Upon retirement, Alloune decides to pursue his own lost family in America, and he becomes our guide on a truly Dante-esque journey through the global impact of slavery, spread across American cities and the world. (Traci Vogel)
* Love Actually
Yes, it's frequently saccharine, and it's a Christmas movie, but it has an incredible cast. Any movie with Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, and Laura Linney is going to have to work its ass off to suck. Love Actually doesn't even work its ass off. Several of its many love-themed story threads are genuinely moving, and several of its scenes are surprisingly hilarious. It may be writer/director Richard Curtis' (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary) cheesiest film yet, but it's also his funniest. The Mercury also heartily endorses any film--regardless of subject, content, or quality--that features Billy Bob Thornton has President of the USA. And this one does. (Justin Sanders)
The U.S. hockey team upsetting the seemingly indestructible Soviets at the 1980 Olympics was truly one of the great moments in sports, when politics, teamwork and pride all meet in one supernova nexus. A chimpanzee with a camcorder and 20 guys on skates could make an exciting film based on the true story. But Disney nearly blows it. They would have been better off simply showing footage from the 4-3 upset over the Soviets. That game had more tension in a single power play than the movie Miracle has in its whole two-hour-plus hour run. Long drawn-out moments where players wrap their sticks or stare blankly at the ice rinks hardly substitute for the raw emotions that the players (and fans) had. Moreover, Disney's nod to the historical context is so dismissive it is insulting to a third-grader. Please! Showing one headline about the Soviet's invasion into Afghanistan hardly imports the fear and hatred of the Cold War. Go back to the Mighty Ducks, Disney!(Phil Busse)
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)
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)
* Ndeysaan/The Prince of Forgiveness
A friendship falls apart when one Senegalese boy has all the luck.
Nicki Rose Video Night
The famed "rock star" sings, plays guitar, and uses bad graphics. Plus, footage of Nicki's fans.
Set during the height of slavery, this film depicts a man called Nightjohn who teaches the children to read.
The Perfect Score
Just like the anxiety-ridden teenages who are forced to take the SATs every year, The Perfect Score could have done anything with its courteously short life. I mean it's about teenagers staging a heist to get the answers to a hated and controversial standardized test! They should have been all up in there, picking locks with the shoelaces of their Chuck Taylors and spinning safe dials with their tongues in each other's throats. But no, instead we are presented with the most uncreative and least suspenseful heist in the history of cinema. (Marjorie Skinner)
* 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)
* The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner's greatest contribution to modern and ancient societies: A sharply written fairytale that bounces from one cliché to the next satirical take on revenge, true love, and dark forests inhabited by evil. Even if you have already heard the movie quoted an inconceivable number of times, it remains jammed pack with witty exchanges, fast-footed sword-fighting, and downright enjoyable stupidity. (Phil Busse)
* The Revolution Will Not be Televised
Even if you're well versed in the events that occurred in Venezuela on April 12-13, 2002--the two-day failed coup d'etat against democratically elected President Hugo Chavez Frias--nothing will prepare you for the footage in The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The Irish filmmakers, Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain, were allowed intimate access to the presidential palace before, during, and after the coup, yielding chilling footage, and a possibly unprecedented cinematic look into the political machinations of overthrow. (Julianne Shepherd)
The story of three kids living on the streets of Bombay. They occasionally find work, but most often beg for money and run from the police.
Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation
The impressarios of independent animation return. As always, if you're really, really high, it will undoubtedly be the funniest shit you've seen all night. Cinema 21
* 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. First comes Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a recent transplant taking care of his ailing father and running a Cuban food truck parked just outside Fin's station. Next is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a painter living in semi-seclusion after the death of her young son, who meets Fin after nearly running him over with her SUV. All three are damaged goods. Through conversation, beer, and lots of walking the rails, this unlikely triangle forms a fucked-up family of sorts. Dinklage stands out as a great performer and brings depth to a role that could have been treated as novelty. Cannavale and Clarkson add weight and texture to their character's lives. The film has a lazy swagger, like a train swaying down the rails. (Brian Brait)
* Touching the Void
Have you heard the one about the two English men who tried to climb an icy mountain in Peru? One slipped, fell, and broke his leg. The other left him for dead. Now they've made a movie that would make make Ansel Adams blush!
* 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)
* Waiting for Happiness
A 17-year-old boy goes to a small Mauritanian villiage 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.
Welcome to Mooseport See review this issue.
* Winged Migration
Following geese, cranes, swans, puffins, penguins, pelicans, and gulls, the makers of the insect documentary Microcosmos spent four years capturing impossible images of birds, via a bevy of methods and a gaggle of cinematographers, for Winged Migration, a documentary that is as much about the wonders of flight as the migration of birds.
You Got Served
You Got Served wouldn't be a boring movie if it weren't for the hour and 20 minutes of crappy dialogue and unnecessary drama that existed between scenes of some very badass breakdancing. (Megan Selling)
SEE FILM TIMES P.41 FOR TIMES & THEATERS
An aging couple struggles to get their five sons to care for them in their old age. A fairly light comedic drama with a knockout performance by the sensational Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (China)
Set in the early '70s during China's cultural revolution, Balzac tells the tale of two young men sent to a rural mining village to be purged of their Western-themed education. Life sucks until the boys steal a supply of forbidden Western literature (including Balzac) and use it to woo chicks.
Bon Voyage (France)
All is fair in love and war. But what happens when a war (Nazis invading France) interrupts an intricate soap opera of Paris lovers and couples. Which rules dominate? As the lovers scramble away from the Nazi forces, they are forced to reassess their affairs, lusts, and relations.
Three losers hang out in a ramshackle apartment and videotape each other being losers. When some of the tapes are miraculously discovered by an influential television producer, the three losers find their loser lives broadcast on national Norwegian TV.
A transgenerational Thema and Louise, a middle-aged housewife ditches her drunk wife and takes to the road with a 20-year old B-list movie actress. Is it better because it is foreign and more subtle than its inspiration? The Montreal Film Festival certainly thought so, giving it the Best Latin American Film Prize.
The Control Room (US)
A documentary about the Iraq War, from the perspective of Al Jazeera, the Arab world's most popular news outlet. It probably goes without saying that these guys had a slightly different take on things than the Bush administration.
* Deep Breath (Iran) See review this issue.
Distant Lights (Germany)
Desperately searching for their own version of "freedom," five personal stories are woven together to paint a picture of life on the border of Germany and Poland.
Just like A Separate Peace or for that matter Dead Poet's Society, Skulls, et. al., underneath the panache of model students is a raging battle between good and evil. Students haze and torture each other in order to express their homo-erotic impulses. Now that same story is set in Sweden. Uff-da!
Ford Transit (Palestine)
Rajai transports all brand of people through Isralei checkpoints with his Ford Transit, a former police vehicle. Inside the car Rajai and his passengers muse on everything from suicide bombings to George Bush's (lack of) intelligence.
The Forest (Central Africa Republic/Cameroon)
Gonaba, a young man recently back from studying in France, enters the forest in hopes of helping liberate the Pygmies. Much to his surprise however, the Pygmies tell him to buzz off.
Free Radicals (Austria)
Here's an original concept: A butterfly flaps in wings in Europe, causing a tornado in the Gulf of Mexico, which, in turn, creates a tornado that crashes a plane. But here's the twist: Manu survives the crash! Then, six years later, settled with a family, he is asked to repay his good luck and karma. Austria submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film.
* Good bye, Lenin (Germany)
A German comedy about a woman in Eastern Germany who falls into a coma right before the Berlin Wall comes down. When she awakes, the doctor orders no excitement, so her son must pretend that the East is still communist.
Good Morning, Night (Italy)
What the American presidency really lacks is the true street fighting politics of Europe and Central America. In 1978, Italy's president was kidnapped by the Red Brigade terrorist group. This is the account of that stunning story, complete with a moral tug-of-war between humanitarian impulses and self-righteous ideology.
* I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (Britain)
A character-driven thriller, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead follows a retired gangster who gets back in the game in order to unravel the circumstances behind his younger brother's brutal murder.
* I'm Not Scared (Italy) See review this issue.
Kitchen Stories (Norway)
A spoof on how science can make for more efficient living, the fictional Swedish Home Research Institute sends observers to examine kitchen habits in 1950s Norway. The subtext of this gentle comedy is a homosexual love story. The "text" is much less interesting. Beware: your grandparents will love it. (Andy Spletzer)
Life is so peaceful in a small town, the police station is about to go out of business, which means there's only one thing left to do: the cops start committing their own crimes!
Last Life in the Universe (Thailand) See review this issue.
Letters in the Wind (Italy)
Yes, we won the Cold War. But what devastation has that defeat left behind in post-communist countries like Albania. Letters in the Wind does a remarkable job of detailing one life's plummet from a professor in the state-sponsored education system to an unemployed street vendor.
* Los Angeles Plays Itself (US) See review this issue.
Margarette's Feast (Brazil)
Factory worker Pedro loses his job, but instead of succumbing to his pennilessness, he starts whooping it up like a millionaire, which is great fun--until it comes time to pay the bills. A black and white comedy.
Mayor of the Sunset Strip (US)
Rodney Bingenheimer is the "mayor" in question, and earned the title from hobnobbing with all the right celebs during the heady days of Hollywood in the '60s and '70s. Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, Cher, and others remember the DJ/glitter rock impresario.
* Noi Albino (Iceland) See review this issue.
The Professional (Serbia)
Teja, a professor, writer, and now manager of a large publishing house is a vocal opponent of the Milosevic regime. Luka, a former security official, has spent the last 10 years documenting Teja's every move. The Professional skips back and forth in time, showing the two men encounter each other and documenting the evolution of Serbia.
Two couples, one trapped in the Communist system, the other reveling in it, act out their divergent viewpoints through a whole lot of yelling.
Set in a noir-like Copenhagen, four people's paths criss-cross, reality becomes blurred, and the four fall in and out of love.
Sexual Dependency (Bolivia)
The young Bolivian director Rodrigo Bellott teamed up with an African American screenwriter, Lenelle N. Moise, to make this film about five characters dealing with different issues of sex. He uses a movie-length split screen gimmick to depict the interconnected stories.
* Shorts III
The Cinema Project's contribution to PIFF is, not surprisingly, an evening of experimental short films. The works all contain lovely visuals, ranging from Rebecca Meyers' simple, elegant shots of the world at night in Glow in the Dark, to Kathryn Ramey's rambling, confusing, yet still somehow compelling autobiographical piece, Endless Present: Biography of an Unknown Filmmaker by Cornelius Thistle. Yeesh, even the title of that one is totally confusing. Bring your thinking caps tonight.
Since Otar Left (France) See review this issue.
* The Story of the Weeping Camel (Mongolia)
A fascinating look at modern life in the Mongolian desert, framed by the slightest of stories about camel relationships. Some of the staged animal interactions can get a little Disneyfied--you can almost hear Phil Collins wailing on the soundtrack--but this combination of narrative and documentary is otherwise irresistible. (Andrew Wright)
* Wilbur (Wants to Kill Himself)
Habour and Wilbur are brothers, and complete opposites. Harbour is a cheerfull bookstore owner and Wilbur is a depressed suicidal. After Wilbur tries to kill himself, Harbour moves him into his flat and finds him a woman to fall for. Unfortunately for Wilbur, however, Harbour falls for her himself and complications can't help but ensue.