Crafting a follow-up to Being John Malkovich, 1999's head-tripping deconstruction of identity, desire, and fame, would be difficult job for anyone. For Charlie Kaufman--writer of Malkovich, co-writer and lead character of Adaptation--it's a virtual impossibility. Thankfully, Kaufman and Spike Jonze have created a rich entertainment out of this impossibility, stuffing it with enough meta-plot twists to fuel half a dozen lesser movies, and bringing it to the screen with brilliant performances by Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep. Still, not even Kaufman and Jonze can overcome the unfortunate fact that listening to a writer whine about how hard it is to write is always annoying. (David Schmader)
Agent Cody Banks
"When it comes to girls, I suck." That's the central conflict in Agent Cody Banks, a dumb movie about a smart teenager who leads a double life: he's both a regular kid and a top-secret CIA agent. (Christopher Frizzelle)
Ali: Fear Eats The Soul
If director Fassbinder hadn't made this film 30 years ago, you might have suspected that he was ripping off Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven. But then again, Haynes was reworking a film made decades earlier. Hmm? With the same gently probing eye, Fassbinder unrolls a tender tale about an elderly German cleaning lady who falls hard for a Moroccan immigrant worker young enough to be her grandchild. Winner of international Critics' Award in 1973, Cannes, blah blah blah.
Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets
A trio of glue-sniffing urchins scramble through urban rubble, wheeling, dealing, and stealing in order to give their fallen comrade the burial of a prince. This film is at turns grim, sentimental, and funny, much like the little boys themselves, whose harsh and horrifying existence has failed to extinguish their stubborn spirits. The director's unflinching gaze, and the astoundingly nuanced performances by these child actors lift this tale into the realm of poetry. (Tamara Paris)
American Idol Viewing Party
Cool Nutz, Jus Family Records, AT&T Wireless, and American Idol invite you to eat free food and yell "Go Ruben, spank those silly crackers!" while enjoying the hit show en masse. You must be 21 or older. Admission is free.
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. 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 a bit.
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)
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant
Although much of the film's shock value is toned down 30 years later, the story is still enchanting, funny and a wee bit outrageous. Another in the Film Center's homage to director Fassbinder, this is the story about three lesbians. Need we say more? Of course, there's a love triangle! Of course there's more bickering and back-stabbing than a sorority house in heat. Of course it is titillating. A good film made better with a soundtrack from Verdi to the Platters.
Bringing Down the House
Plot: Steve Martin is a hard-up workaholic lawyer. He gets in an internet chat room with a bunch of other lawyers. Queen Latifah is in the chat room looking for a sucker. Steve is the sucker. Queen pretends to be a horny blonde and comes over to his house for drinks. When she shows up, she's not blonde, and she's just escaped from prison. Queen needs Steve's lawyer help to clear her name, and she's not leaving until she gets it. Moral of the story: black people are equal... sometimes. Even though black people speak slang, they are not necessarily stupid. White people can learn things from black people, just like Steve learned to enjoy life more from Queen. Conclusion: This film is not worth wasting the gas it will take to drive to the theater. (Katie Shimer)
Basically, the last hour of Chicago is a mess. In addition to not trusting his material, Marshal doesn't appear to trust either of the two movie-musical solutions he picks. Nevertheless, I recommend Chicago. If you didn't get to see the Broadway revival, you should catch it. You'll have to endure Richard Gere as Billy Flynn, of course, but it's a small price to pay to watch the Fosse-inspired choreography and Catherine Zeta-Jones' star-turn as Velma Kelly. (Dan Savage)
I shame the growing throng of Ed Burns worshippers for being tricked by his burning baby blues. I have to admit, though, his utter lack of onscreen presence fits in nicely with Confidence, a twisty, generic "big score" movie with Burns as an unflappable (read: expressionless) hustler who (surprise!) gets in over his head. Dustin Hoffman turns in a nauseating performance as an ambiguously sexual crime lord, and Rachel Weisz smokes as usual--now there's a hottie with some talent. Estimated time it will take you to forget you ever saw this film: three days.
Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Based on a popular Cartoon Network series of the same name, Cowboy Bebop is a beautifully drawn, brightly colored, candy-coated piece of shit. It's an R-rated action-adventure cartoon that somehow manages to be appallingly weak on action (it drags on with boring, pensive scenes in which the literally two-dimensional cartoon characters say boring, pensive things like, "Of the days I've lived, only the ones spent with you seem real") and completely absent of unquestionably the best thing about every R-rated movie ever made: sex. (Christopher Frizzelle)
Daddy Day Care
Is Eddie Murphy just too busy counting his money to read scripts? Or perhaps they're all just printed on hundred-dollar bills. The once-great man hits us with yet another piece of middling excrement in the form of a Mr. Mom knock-off.
Decomposer Film Series
See My What a Busy Week
It's October 1988, and the era-defining campaign between George Bush I and Michael Dukakis is entering the stretch run. Meanwhile, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is quite possibly going insane. The teenaged son of a functional-but-unpleasant upper-middle-class family, Donnie starts having visions of a six-foot-tall demonic-looking bunny named Frank, who warns him of an impending apocalypse. Is Donnie's medication simply not working, or is there something else going on? First-time director Richard Kelly has a sure visual sense and concocts an ending that, remarkably, doesn't cop out. At times funny, eerie, and intense, Donnie Darko could be the cinematic square peg you've been looking for. (Marc Mohan)
Down With Love
See review this issue.
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)
Louis Sachar adapted his own book for the film version of Holes, and it shows. With the help of Fugitive director, Andrew Davis, the film is a shimmering web of story threads, perfectly woven together. The film shows us Stanley Yelnats, who is sent to Camp Green Lake, a hellhole in the middle of the desert, for stealing a pair of shoes he didn't steal. There, he is forced by the camp's psychotic director (Sigourney Weaver) to dig large holes in the sand, under the burning sun, as correctional therapy. (Justin Sanders)
House of Fools
Every night the mental patients gather to watch the Bryan Adams train pass by. Yep, you read that right. A train strung with lights which carries the Canadian rocker. If only the movie could have maintained that level of surrealism. Instead it's a predictable story which compares the insanity of war with every insane asylum stereotype you can think of. But still though, you can't help but be entertained by a movie about Bryan Adams worshipping mental patients.
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. One could start with the bloated stars of the film whose koo-koo characters are a cross between Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Both express their advanced craziness in the most obvious ways: twitchy hands and the speaking patterns of a stroke victim (however, these affectations may have been necessary to make up for the lack of any real characterization in the thread-bare script). (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
If you're versed in the art of cheesy horror flicks, you'll recognize every cinematic element of Identity, the new film from director James Mangold. There's the dramatically presented psychological profile of the cold-blooded murderer, complete with files and audio-taped statement. There are the stereotypical characters (John Cusack plays a cop on leave), there's the rainy night, the motel conveniently located on an Indian burial ground, and the lack of phones and electricity. All of the elements are familliar. Thankfully, however, Mangold is a feisty bastard with a slightly twisted sense of humor and does all he can to make Identity a dark film within the mainstream cinema idiom. (Julianne Shepherd)
A spellbinding film about the failed uprising by the common Parisians in 1871 against Napoleon III. For a brief and euphoric moment (read: about a month) the Paris Commune held the reins of power in France before being chased into exile. Peter Watkins film sanguinely captures the sheer will to overthrow the monarch as well as the immediate lament for ultimately losing the battle.
An outwardly airtight, upwardly propelled couple (Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale) reluctantly relocate to the crumbling, groupie-haunted manse of his rock producing, partying mother (Francis McDormand). Romantic entanglements, Oedipal spit-takes, identity crises, and Kip Wingeresque excess swiftly follow. (Andrew Wright)
While watching this film, I said to myself, "This was undoubtedly shown at the Portland International Film Festival." You know what I'm talking about. It's a film about sadness, the difficulty of life, and the complexity of emotion. There are no explosions. A young gay man dies suddenly and his family, friends, and live-in lover react with confusion and immaturity. There is some Memento-style rewinding, and the story is compelling; the dead guy's sister and the dead guy's lover are great friends driven apart and then back together by the death. (Katie Shimer)
This small, quiet film (starring Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst, and Morgan Freeman), with beautifully frigid cinematography by Roger Deakins, may not be remarkable, but it can affect you nonetheless. None of the characters in Levity achieves complete closure, and probably none of them will ever find true happiness. In the end, however, all they can hope is for the burden of their violent pasts to be lifted from their shoulders. (Bradley Steinbacher)
Yet another epic and emotional film that could have been made much, much better with more nudity and lesbain love scenes. As the revolution breaks out in Barcelona, a young nun escapes her convent and finds sanctuary in a brothel. (An opportunity for hot, steamy shower scenes that the directors blow!) Here, instead of pillow fights with her new friends in her underwear, the nun begins to question her former assumptions about the world and falls in love/lust with a priest (now we're getting somewhere!).
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
Disney's impeccable live-action legacy continues with a big-screen version of the impossibly saccharine children's television series. It's sort of like watching television--but you know, real big. AND you get to pay for it!
A story about America's growing pains: The hauntingly (true) story about the 1920s in Matewan, West Virginia, where some union-busters had a shoot-out with some coal miners who were trying to unionize. John Sayles recreates the story that served as the spark for riots and fights throughout the sooty coal mining towns of the South.
See review this issue.
A Mighty Wind
Actors are no good at playing real people. When they're pretending to really talk on the phone to someone, they pause too much, they look too intense, their movements are contrived, and they're always working up to the punch line. It's a weird thing that actors can't pretend to be real people, but they can't--which is only the first reason that A Mighty Wind flops. The second reason is folk music. Christopher Guest's latest mockumentary about a reunion of 1960s folk heroes initially seemed boring to me, but I figured Guest would find some clever way to spin it. But no. No angle, no interesting characters, no intrigue--just folk music, and lots of it. The third, but not final, reason A Mighty Wind sucks is the interviews--you know, those clever improvy mock interviews. Well, there are one million little interviews and not one of them is poignant or funny or real. Most of Wind's characters are painful and mind numbing to watch, and Eugene Levy is atrocious as an ex-folkie with a completely unexplained mental disorder and no definable personality. Catherine O'Hara is good, but she seems like she's acting. Parker Posey is great, but she's only in the film for five minutes. The final, least offensive, but still annoying quality of A Mighty Wind is Guest's pathetic attempt at sex humor. In one scene, people screw loudly, banging their bed against the wall while Eugene Levy practices guitar in his hotel room. One dude says a candle looks like a penis. There are about a half-dozen other jokes, but I can't recollect them, and they wouldn't be funny if I could. In short, Guest's comedy is completely unfunny, which makes it a little pointless, don't you think? (Katie Shimer)
Mississippi Outdoor Film Festival
A dozen odd, short films by a dozen odd and not necessarily short local film producers, including: My Bike and Bloody Bike Bath III, which both won awards at last year's Orlo video slam. Blender, produced by Rob Tyler, follows the suspenseful life of frozen peas and strawberries as they journey into the world of the blender! And Hunter Dawson; a pathetic mockumentry about Hunter, who wants so badly to be on a reality TV show that he hired a production company to make a blockbuster video about him. Truly sad, but funny, in an oh-you're-such-a-dork way. (The "festival" is moved indoors if it rains, to 833 N. Shaver)
A mingling of the content of William S. Burroughs' novel and biographical information about his life. The bizarre plot involves Bill Lee, who enters an alternate reality after killing his wife and writes reports on his delusional mission.
Nowhere in Africa
Nowhere in Africa follows a rich Jewish family that leaves Germany in 1938 and moves to Africa. There they can avoid the Nazis, but have to deal with some other issues like, oh, the lack of water. Naturally, the characters all experience guilt (you just can't have a Holocaust movie without guilt), but there are also things here you never see in any movie, such as the scene in which a swarm of locusts plunder a field of maize. The hazards of humanity and the hazards of nature are not dissimilar, this movie argues, though (at two and a half hours long) not very succinctly. Thankfully, the actor Merab Ninidze, who's very sexy, is in almost every scene. (Christopher Frizzelle)
The premise of Old School is funny enough: Luke Wilson splits with his girl, moves to a house right near his old college campus, and starts up a riff-raff frat house. Wilson's two best buddies, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, are hilarious characters, too, but still--the movie kind of sucks. One problem is that Luke Wilson is about as hysterical as a piece of cardboard, and though the film would have been much better off starring someone funnier--like Luke's brother Owen--it wouldn't have helped the second major problem, the script. The whole thing seems like it got slopped together in a week, with actors memorizing their lines three minutes before the scenes. Old School is all over the place; there's heartbreak, divorce, statutory rape, frat parties, deceit, bribery, ribbon dancing, academic competition, debate, clowns, tranquilizer darts, etc. All this adds up to making a film that's 20 percent funny, and 80 percent pathetic. (Katie Shimer)
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, the 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)
God, two Pokes this year already.
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)
The most striking aspect of Rabbit-Proof Fence is its simplicity; its bald setting in Western Australia's bush, its story, and its characters. It relates the true tale of Molly, a 14-year-old Aborigine, her sister, and their cousin. Part of the Stolen Generation, they were forcibly seized and placed in a racial assimilation compound. Their escape and journey back home is heroic, but the impassive representation of it undermines a fulfilling sense of sympathy. (Marjorie Skinner)
Raising Victor Vargas
Victor Vargas is a sexy fucker and he knows it: The opening shot of this movie (in which the lithe, crass, and beguiling 18-year-old begins undressing as he prepares to fuck a fat girl who has promised not to tell anyone) is not unlike those Antonio Sabato Jr. underwear ads from the '90s. Victor lives on the Lower East Side and has no worldly ambitions; all he has to speak of is a crush on Juicy Judy, who wears hoop earrings and too much makeup and thinks all guys are "dogs." Neither one of them has a phone at home, which suggests a rather improbable courtship, though they manage to run into each other enough times on neighborhood rooftops and at public swimming pools, and to the surprise of no one in the audience it all works out--each character (even among the overbearing and richly caricatured families) comes to a sensitive, deeper understanding of one another's longings and insecurities, which is a clean, comforting way to end a movie, but it's never how things turn out in life. (Christopher Frizzelle)
It Runs in the Family
A whole mess of Douglases (Kirk, Michael, Groucho, Harpo, etc.) toss together some vanity project (will not poke fun at stroke victims, will not poke fun at stoke victims) about wacky dysfunction in a prominent New York family.
The Shape of Things
The latest film by Neil LaBute, the laureate of sexual embarrassment, flips the script somewhat by arguing that women are just as capable of being complete pricks as men are. LaBute's climax retroactively changes the entire film, causing the troubling theatrical conceits that have gone before (Adam and Evelyn--get it?) to seem like intentional diversions, and forcing the audience to decide whether or not what it has just seen was a filmed play or some kind of Skinner box. (Sean Nelson)
The Short Films of Jim Blashfield
Best known for his wily music videos for Talking Heads and Michael Jackson, hometown hero Jim Blashfield screens a few of his quirky, charming, and noirish films tonight.
More local films than you can shake a stick at, all in the comfort of your local watering hole, DV8.
Stalag 17 (1953)
American POW's in WWII suspect one of the men in their camp is an informer. When one of their men goes into hiding after causing an explosion, they must find out who the informer is before he rats.
The Stepford Wives
One of the cinematic pilars of feminism. When a new couple moves to town, the peppy wife wonders why the other ladies are so icy and emotionless... hmmmn.
X2: X-Men United
The screenplay, by Michael Dougherty and Daniel Harris, is great; it would have been disastrous for the filmmakers not to rely on it. Forgoing excessive sweaty violence for richly imaginative narrative, X2's world is brought to life even more spectacularly than the first X-Men film, with very human elements of persecution, morality, and acceptance. (Julianne Shepherd)
The Young Unknowns
Spoiled Hollywood kids try and pretend they're hot shit, but five minutes into the film, we realize they're not. Dysfunctional relationships and meth use ensue. The main character, whose father is a famous director, is the most self-absorbed delusional little prick ever, and he can't stop talking about how his Mommy did him wrong by drinking too many cocktails when he was a youth. Difficult to watch because every character is entirely unlikable and uninteresting, but manages not to be downright awful. (Katie Shimer)