8 Crazy Nights
Adam Sandler plays a 20-something loser with a bad temper who causes trouble, makes cracks about bodily functions, and finds redemption. Sound familiar? But wait! This time his performance will have no choice but to be animated! "Look, I'm Crazy Cartoonhead!"
While this plot easily falls into the "underdog comes from behind" genre, it's raised up a notch or two by the gritty, naturalistic direction of Curtis Hanson (L.A.Confidential). However, as an actor, Eminem is just not present. Even when he's in his element at the MC battles, his eyes barely flicker. And this is where the real problem with 8 Mile lies. Eminem is an amazing rapper, and we don't really get to see him strut his stuff until the climax of the film. By then, we're so uninterested in whether the character succeeds or not, we're robbed of the emotional high that comes with the ending of, say, The Karate Kid. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
All or Nothing
Normal people, of which there are many in this world, have Mike Leigh to thank for paying them such loving homage. His movies almost invariably center on blue-collar British folk trying desperately to find happiness in their otherwise normal lives. Nothing is about Penny and Phil Bassett (Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall), a couple living in concrete apartments in some generic part of London. Penny is a supermarket cashier; Phil is a taxi driver. They make little money and have two almost-grown kids who still live with them. There is little joy in their lives. The love has gone out of their relationship. Their obese son is a constant prick. Their situation hits with as much force as any tragedy because they are such a normal family who under even the slightest of different circumstances could have found real happiness. It takes a near tragedy for them to begin clawing their way out of their rut, and Leigh conveys their transition from misery to cautious optimism with exquisite compassion and grace. (Justin Sanders)
Listen closely to the sound of my voice: 10 seconds after this film is over, it will disappear completely from your memory. Even though it was much funnier than you hoped it would be, you'll only remember how hard you laughed when Billy Crystal drooled sushi all over the table. Actually, you'll forget it even without hypnosis, because Analyze That, the second film about the shenanigans of an anxious mobster (Robert De Niro) and his shrink (Billy Crystal), is inherently disposable, but nonetheless a good time. (Matt Fontaine)
Black Picket Fences
A well-made, well-intended, but ultimately unsatisfying documentary on a struggling unknown hip-hop artist named "Tiz," a former petty criminal/occasional drug dealer from Brooklyn. Shooting on video, director Goes apparently followed Tiz's life for two years, a fact that makes the film's vacancies all the more glaring. (Bradley Steinbacher)
Bowling for Columbine
A film about a huge subject, desperately grasping for a thesis. For a while, Moore seems on to something--a culture of fear endemic to our country--but in the end, he shortchanges the psychological complexity in favor of cheap shots. (Sean Nelson)
A down-in-the-dumps armored car guard (Burt Lancaster) mopes around, brooding over his ex-wife, the hot-cha-cha Yvonne De Carlo, until he bumps into her in a bar and feels the spark rekindled. In an effort to win her hand (and other parts) back, Lancaster ropes her mobster fiancé into a daring robbery. A great movie that would have been even greater had Lancaster worn his wool suit backwards. (Phil Busse)
Dark Days was the triple-threat audience favorite at Sundance. Singer's five years of shooting the denizens of the tunnels beneath New York train stations, living with them, and enlisting them as his crew, shows in the familiarity we feel for his resilient urban refugees. (Ray Pride)
Die Another Day
After about two hours of workmanlike action/suspense, and a battery of sexual innuendo about as subtle and charming as a herpes sore, the 20th James Bond film finally surrenders to its own muddled identity. What comprises this surrender? A shot straight out of the Batman TV series--after being chased by a giant laser across a vast ice tundra to a sheer cliff, James Bond parachutes down onto the ocean surface, where he then para-surfs his way to safety. The bluescreen effect (or whatever it is) is so all-fired phony and dumb that it makes the whole film, indeed the whole series of films, ring retroactively camp. (Sean Nelson)
Bring it On but with a marching band. See review this issue.
El Crimen del Padre Amaro
Stylish photography with just enough overexposure to suggest blinding sun; excellent character acting from half the beautiful people in Mexico; a fun soundtrack. But the script? The script is taken from a melodramatic Portuguese novel written in 1875. It had little to do with the actual Church of 1875, let alone today; it's a soap opera. Are you trying to tell me the Catholic Church has no sense of humor?
Though the first third of The Emperor's Club plays like Dead Poets Society redux--genius teacher inspires emotionally undernourished trustafarians unto excellence--the picture's trajectory is far subtler and more troubling. Kevin Kline plays Mr. Hundert, an erudite historian teaching Western Civ to an elite, all-male New England boarding school. The kids in his class are bright, docile, and devoted to their rigorous studies, and show no signs of rebellion. But rebellion comes, with the arrival of a Senator's son whose unlikely but telling name is Sedgewick Bell.(Sean Nelson)
A long-winded suspense film setup gets neatly tied up in 20 minutes of a "we waited so long for this?" ending. What the preview promised: tough Latino drug dealer from the South Bronx, Victor Rosa (John Leguizamo), gets fucked over by white Wall Street boy named Jack (Peter Sarsgaard) when Vic tries to go legit. What the movie delivers: trite drug-dealer shootouts and karaoke-video-quality shots of romance and heartache.
Far From Heaven
From the lavish font of the main titles and the sweet sweeping strains of Elmer Bernstein, we are clued in that this is a major transport piece--one that will remind us of movies no longer produced. Homeboy Todd Haynes has reinvented the melodrama, yet infused it with a new life that is subtle, touching, and entertaining. Returning to the home-as-prison theme he mastered in Safe, our femme du jour, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), smiles her way through domestic disturbance, racial tension and personal crisis. (Brian Brait)
Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme
See review this issue.
The Freshest Kids
Bboy footage over the last 25 years. Tons of breaking and interviews with the Rock Steady Crew and many more.
For the Kahlo purist, Selma Hayek's lack of lip hair is one of the slight ways Frida Hollywood-izes Frida. Another is that her husband Diego's abuse is only portrayed through his obsessive womanizing. Frida's painful, painkiller-addicted death (a possible suicide) is merely alluded to; rather, she delicately croaks, saint-like, in Diego's arms, freed from her long life of physical suffering. But this is Julie Taymor's film, all the way, and the images she paints across the screen are an enthusiastic, vivid homage to Frida's art and spirit. (Julianne Shepherd)
Friday After Next
"Xmas in the 'hood,'" the third installment of Ice Cube's ghetto-comic empire, is a sort of Home Alone-flavored seasoning of the original Friday formula, complete with a sea of belly laughs by way of domestic violence, homophobia, racial intolerance, rape, and of course the requisite hilarity of drug abuse ("Santa's a crackheaded thief--now that shit is funny."). It's impossible for me to ask this without sounding entirely prudish, but, for god's sake, is nothing sacred? (Zac Pennington)
Harry Potter 2
Thankfully, this second milking of J.K. Rowling's cash cow is significantly more relaxed and less helplessly reverent this time around, although the 160-plus minute running time really pushes the outer limits of magical enchantment. The returning cast is in tip-top form, but newcomer Kenneth Branagh commits effortless theft as a hilariously poncy warlock. Still no substitute for the imagination of the deservedly beloved book, but leagues better than the standard demo-pandering blockbuster. (Andrew Wright)
The Hot Chick
It's like that movie with Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore where, no, wait..., it's kinda like that movie Switch with Ellen Barkin. Man, that sure was a piece of shit, wasn't it? Yeah, but this one's got Rob "Sensitive Naked Man" Schneider, so I bet it won't be that bad, right? Right?!?!?
Igby Goes Down
A melancholic comedy that captures the privileged heartbreak of Salinger far better than The Royal Tenenbaums ever could. Igby, a preppie with a punk streak, gets kicked out of his last boarding school and takes to Manhattan, where he squats purposelessly, has sex with junkies and JAPs, and basically seethes until life more or less insists that he make a move. (Sean Nelson)
In A Lonely Place
The eggheaded Humphrey Bogart plays a mean-spirited, hard-drinking Hollywood writer who is ostracized for his bad habits. When accused of murder, his fair neighbor, the adorable Gloria Grahame, provides an alibi. The film breaks from the typical romances of the time and, instead of songbirds and buttercups, love festers in a stark and lonely place. (Phil Busse)
Jackass: The Movie
Your girlfriend secretly wants to see this movie. Sure, she's comfortable with your six-figures and 401k, your Volvo, that IKEA couch--but don't delude yourself, pal. She may never admit it to your face, but she'd give it all up in a second for the slightest chance at a single night with one of these MTV knuckle-draggers. And no, I am not projecting. (Zac Pennington)
Janice Beard, 45WPM
The splendor of the British dental system is on full display in this simple but sweet screwball comedy from first time director Kilner. Janice is a goofy half-orphan--her father died during childbirth--looking for a man to love, a job to do well, anything to give her life the spice it will take to persuade her to stop pathologically lying about her past. Of course she saves the day, and of course she gets her man, all of which make her grin from ear to ear. Ah, those teeth. (Jamie Hook)
This costume drama, which is set in 16th Century, is about a mad woman who claims to have been the queen of Spain. Before watching this film, please read Gogol's Diary of a Madman, which is about a madman who claims to be the king of Spain.
Maid In Manhattan
Maid, while pretending to tell the truth about class distinctions, depends too hard on the pretty American fiction that such distinctions are only a matter of money--which of course we have to believe, otherwise we'd be, uh, British. But what the hell is it about class in America that we don't want to say? Why do we talk around it with movies like this? That said, it's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be; Lopez and Fiennes have almost no chemistry at all, but they're pretty graceful about it, and the presence of Bob Hoskins, Chris Eigeman, Amy Sedaris, and Stanley Tucci has got to count for something. Doesn't it? (Emily Hall)
Nobody Knows My Name
See review this issue.
PDX Documentary and Experimental Film Fest
See review this issue.
See review this issue.
Custom built for Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love is an odd and enchanting film, which only works because Sandler has been adorable in past roles. In this role, as the lonely owner of a customized toilet plunger company, Sandler is short on slapstick and long on subtlety. (Phil Busse)
A couple characters from The Sopranos are a drug dealing couple in New York. This is some sort of a true story, but is so completely incomprehensible, that we're not sure what the story is. They seem to be worried about their kid finding out about their lifestyle, but they don't seem to want to change it. Ice T is on screen for a while doing some overacting and trying to teach the dealers a lesson, but his motivation is also unclear. Trying to figure out what the hell is going on was kind of fun, but ultimately, annoying. (Katie Shimer)
The plot of The Ring has the dreamily simplistic hook of the best campfire stories or fever dreams: A Seattle-based single mother/ reporter (Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts), begins investigating a quick-sprouting urban legend about a mysterious videotape reputed to kill its foolhardy watcher exactly seven days after viewing. Suffice it to say that the "Play" button soon gets a workout, with mountingly surreal, increasingly seat-moistening results. (Andrew Wright)
Roger Dodger is a catalog of the change that takes place in fast talking, womanizing ad exec Roger, when his 16-year-old nephew comes to town. While reluctant at first, Roger takes on the job of teaching his nephew Nick about the ladies, dragging him from bar to bar and bombarding him with advice. At one point late in the evening, the two reach a catharsis together, which eventually causes them to become friends. (Katie Shimer)
Filmmaker Doug Pray is just not that good, he gives too much of an overview and never gets into any of the DJs personal stories, nor does he catalog any bumpin' parties, or encounters with hot chicks. It's just a male-centric depiction of DJs scratching and talking about scratching and scratching in groups and at contests. He focuses on the DJs' hands a lot which is totally cheesy and made me want to barf. (Katie Shimer)
Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has just been released from a mental institution; she's a cutter, slicing up her skin and neatly placing Band-Aids over the wounds. To integrate herself back into society (and to escape from her flawed home life), she decides to look for a job. Luckily, anal-retentive lawyer E. Edward Gray (James Spader) is hiring. (Julianne Shepherd)
As an adaptation of a novel that depicts an internal transformation (and is therefore effectively unfilmable), this 1972 rendition of the Hesse novel is a thrilling failure. Failure because the story is anti-drama, anti-cinema. Thrilling because of Sven Nykvist's unspeakably gorgeous cinematography of India, which shimmers, glows, and burns like gold. (Sean Nelson)
Rekindling the highly unsuccessful Hollywood gimmick, David Yonge shows clips of films such as Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz, and pumps smells into the theater that correspond with the scenes. Weird. Precceded by a short documentary about masked wrestlers who beat up appliances.
Things that can be praised without reservation about Solaris include the dazzling production design, Cliff Martinez's percussion-rich score, and the luminous Natascha McElhone as Clooney's semi-estranged wife. Less tangible, but equally undeniable is the director's skill at illuminating the many ways regret stains memory (similar to what he accomplished with The Limey, but far less reliant here on showy Mixmaster editing). Any other enjoyment or significance may depend upon your personal feelings about love and loss, and how well they synch up with the filmmaker's. (Andrew Wright)
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
Standing In The Shadows of Motown tells the story about the Funk Brothers, the unheralded but extremely talented studio musicians for Motown. Actually, the film makes the argument that these unknown musicians were the imperative reason for Motown's chart busting, color-line smashing success. But the filmmakers never go beyond that discovery; they marvel at the musicians with their mouths agape like they have found some rare, lost gem. But never with any examination for flaws. (Phil Busse)
Star Trek: Nemesis
Here's the first line from the film's production notes, perhaps one of the worst sentences ever written: "After years of traveling the universe preserving tranquility and promoting goodwill toward humans and aliens alike, the intrepid Starship crew that Captain Jean-Luc Picard has long thought of as his family is breaking up."
Straight Outta Hunters Point
See review this issue.
A documentary on the Living Legends which takes them from the U.S. to Iceland, from getting busted with weed at the border, to drunken brawling, to playing packed shows.
When a horror film goes wrong, the result can be deadly (from an audience's point of view). In this undercooked and dreadfully boring example, some folks who were haunted by "the thing under the bed" when they were kids come to discover that the thing was real, and for some reason it's come back to get them. Why? Probably because they are clichéd characters who were born to die.