Raise Your Voice
Opens Fri Oct 8
Not many movies can boast both a plot similar to Fame and a scene in which pop star HILARY DUFF KILLS HER BROTHER--therefore, we're blessed Raise Your Voice came along during our lifetimes. Hilary plays the adorable Terri, who sings like a goddamn songbird--yet her jerk father refuses to let her attend a posh L.A. performing arts high school. And while Terri's brother believes deeply in her talent, he never sees her get accepted to the school because he's too busy being KILLED BY A DRUNK DRIVER--which never would've happened if Terri hadn't bought him tickets to a cool rock concert. Ergo: IT'S ALL HILARY'S (sorry) TERRI'S FAULT.
So how does Terri pay her penance? By sneaking off to the school anyway (escaping the wrath of a grieving father by pretending she's staying with her crazy aunt). But OH! Performing arts school is an absolute dream... filled with colorful ethnic characters, a boyfriend that's a Limey version of Slater from Saved by the Bell, and a mean bitch that thinks she's better than Terri, but she's so NOT. And the whole experience would be just like Fame... if the songs were better, the characters weren't one-dimensional, and she didn't keep flashing back to KILLING HER BROTHER. See Hilary, that's why you'll never be as successful as Lindsay Lohan. She would never murder a sibling. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Saints and Sinners
Opens Fri Oct 8
Eddie and Vinnie want to get married. There are only two problems: a) they want to get married to each other, and b) they want to get married Catholic-style.
While it's certainly relevant, it's hard to recommend Saints and Sinners. True, the documentary is involving--it's hard not to feel for the likeable Eddie and Vinnie--but the problem is that their obstacles aren't nearly as exciting as the film thinks they are. Eddie and Vinnie can't get a current Catholic priest to perform the ceremony. They can't get married in a Catholic church. They have to jump through hoops with The New York Times to print their announcement. Some of their family members get all grumpy and disapproving. And so on.
In terms of what Eddie and Vinnie's battle represents--a basic conflict between love and ignorance--Saints and Sinners is important. But in terms of actually watching their problems--which basically amount to bigger, gayer variations on the normal challenges of having a wedding--the film's never quite interesting.
But maybe Saints and Sinners has a deeper message--after all, what better way to show the pedestrian harmlessness of gay marriage than showing that compared to hetero unions, their weddings aren't that exciting either? (Not to say that makes the film any more interesting, but hey, point taken.) ERIK HENRIKSEN
Friday Night Lights
Opens Fri Oct 8
H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights--about high school football in a suckass Texas town--is one of my favorite books. Ostensibly, the narrative is about the 1988 Permian Panthers, a football team so desperate for a state championship you'd think their lives depend on it (and, in a psychological sort of way, they do).
Of course, ultimately it isn't the touchdowns or first downs that matter, but the personal triumphs and tragedies. Clearly, such a set-up is primed for weepy locker room speeches and hokey underdog triumphs, but the book put forward the true stories of the students, the desperate townspeople, and a fledgling coach--complete with all of their flaws and failures.
With a good deal of trepidation, I went to Friday Night Lights expecting a cleaned-up, Disneyfied version. But as directed by Peter Berg (Bissinger's cousin, interestingly enough), the film is just as compelling as the book. Billy Bob Thornton plays Coach Gary Gaines with an understated sadness, and Derek Luke puts in a heart-wrenching performance as Boobie Miles, the star running back with scholarship dreams who blows out his knee during the first game. Instead of what could have been a dorky, feel-good film, Friday Night Lights instead revels in its rough 'n' tumble narrative--and now it's one of my favorite sports films. PHIL BUSSE