We spend the first half of 25th Hour trying to figure out who turned in heroin dealer Ed Norton. Is it his girlfriend? One of his two best friends? Could it be his father? Then all of a sudden we're not in that movie at all. The mystery is solved summarily, and we're left with nearly another hour to go and not a single three-dimensional character to fill it with. All in all, 25th Hour is no train wreck; it's more like the collapse of a rickety little scooter. (Barley Blair)
A Still Life of Postcards: Warren Sonbert
The Four Wall Cinema Collective presents a collection of short films directed by Warren Sonbert. The collection includes 1966's Amphetamine, made when Sonbert was only 19. A claustrophobic, black and white time capsule set to a looped Supremes song, it is a worrisome examination of intravenous drug use--totally inappropriate viewing for the needle-phobic--and a bold presentation of male/male romance, starring Warhol Factory regulars Gerard Malanga and Rene Ricard. It also includes later films in which a montage of images shot around the globe are stylishly clipped and set to R&B and rock songs. Friendly Witness seems universally affectionate, while the posthumously completed Whiplash reflects more pain, as Sonbert wobbled towards a premature death from AIDS. At once intricately constructed and convivial, the films are intimate and absorbing. (Marjorie Skinner)
About Schmidt stars an exhausted Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt, an Omaha actuary facing the nothingness of retirement. At the end of his last day at the insurance agency, all of Schmidt's lifework is packed into blank boxes, the office is empty, and he has nowhere to go. When he awakes the following morning next to his wife, who bores him immensely, he finds himself at the top of the slope of slow time that leads down to an ordinary death. Overall, an entertaining film, whose comedy alone sustains the entire picture. (Charles Mudede)
Crafting a follow-up to Being John Malkovich, 1999's head-tripping deconstruction of identity, desire, and fame, would be a 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)
Antwone Fisher was a security guard at Sony Pictures when a big-shot producer, impressed with Fisher's life story, decided to have him write a screenplay about it. Although not a great movie, it is actually refreshingly restrained. Denzel Washington directs with the same dignity and craft that he brings to his work as an actor. The performances are realistic but not self-consciously so, the filmmakers avoid drowning the film in syrupy music, and the production design gives us deep, dramatic settings without stealing focus. These are all small miracles, considering the genre. Even more surprising, the story is told without much narrative embellishment. Abused and abandoned as a child, Antwone makes peace with his past, but as in life there are questions left unanswered, relationships that can't be fixed, experiences best forgotten. In the end, he's not a hero, just a guy who decided not to be a victim of his past. In a pop culture bloated with vulgar sentimentality, Fisher's ordinary story stands out as one worth telling. (Matt Fontaine)
Novelistic in scope and effortless in its ability to balance many plot intricacies, Ararat is Egoyan's most ambitious, provocative film to date. At the center is Raffi (David Alpay), a young Armenian man conflicted by a knotty familial dynamic: his mother Ani (Arsinee Khanjian), a leading scholar of the real Armenian painter Arshile Gorky; his father, who was killed attempting an assassination of a Turkish official; and his stepsister, who blames Ani for her own father's death. If that's not enough, Raffi and his stepsister sometimes fuck and get high--and that's just the half of it. (Jonathan Mahalak)
Best In Show
Christopher Guest's film with Eugene Levy follows several dog owners on their quest for the blue ribbon at the 2000 Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. A well-executed, ridiculous little film lovingly mining ridiculous little people's ridiculous little lives.
Bringing Down the House
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Catch Me if You Can
In terms of changing your life, it ain't no Schindler's List, and in terms of innovative storytelling, it sure ain't no Minority Report. But still, Catch Me if You Can is a pretty good movie. So what if "pretty good" is all it is? I'm tired of people dissing on Spielberg because he doesn't make Schindler's List 2 with every movie. The man is a great storyteller, and some stories just aren't as epic as others. Catch Me is a simple story about a simple kid (Leonardo DiCaprio) who finds that it is really simple to forge checks for a fuck of a lot of money. It's neat to see him work the system at every turn, and some scenes are downright great, like the one in which he gets an incredibly hot model to sleep with him, and pay him four hundred dollars for the privilege. The informative subtitles that precede the end credits are also amazingly well timed and satisfying. Will I remember this flick when I'm 70? I doubt it, but I was very entertained at the time I saw it, which is more than I can say for most movies. (Justin Sanders)
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)
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)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Confessions is framed by scenes of aging television producer Chuck Barris standing naked in front of a TV screen, reflecting on his life and how it came to be such a big pile of crap. It tells of his youth; tricking his niece into licking his penis, getting into television because it would get him more pussy, and as an adult, trying to find balance between the crazy world of producing The Gong Show and being a hitman for the CIA. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Cradle 2 the Grave
Here's what you can expect from the first five minutes of Cradle 2 the Grave: a dope Eminem track, a diamond heist involving missiles, various close calls with an underground train, tits, Jet Li scaling a building, and DMX looking hella hot. Really, what more can you ask for from an action flick? (Katie Shimer)
The first quarter of Daredevil is crap, but once the initial melodrama trails off, the script relaxes and lets some of the fine supporting actors take over (including Jon Favreau as Matt's partner, and Joe Pantoliano as a snoopy reporter). The normally oily Ben Affleck keeps the believability of his character in check, while Colin Farrell chews the scenery in hilarious abandon. Even Jennifer Garner makes you momentarily forget her booty-gazing turn as Sydney Bristow in Alias. But be warned! As in Spider-Man, some of the special effects are laughably bad. Nevertheless, the dark tone of Daredevil sets it apart from its web-spinning competition, making it an acceptable diversion that's not as handicapped as it is handi-capable. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
In the hours before the riot-inspiring Rodney King verdict, a grizzled L.A. cop and his idealistic young partner negotiate a day of increasingly dark and twisted crime-fighting, digging up dirty LAPD secrets (extortion, murder, racism) while confronting their own demons, until... in this case, until the Los Angeles jury acquits the officers responsible for beating Rodney King, and ka-BOOM. Sadly, director Ron Shelton (White Men Can't Jump) stumbles repeatedly en route to his explosive conclusion. He goes for the mainstream jugular with a jarring mix of gritty crime and hyperactive action, laced with perfunctory nods to deeper issues; the few times the car chases stop to make way for character development, the resulting revelations are so baldly soliloquized, the attending characters should be given magazines. (David Schmader)
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. 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. The home she inhabits becomes etched into our brains; as the film takes hold we feel that we inhabit the space, know the floor plan, and can anticipate her movements. Each weighty subject--her husband's latent homosexuality, her taboo love for the gardener--is handled with care and finesse. Far From Heaven is breathtaking from start to finish, each frame imbued with the artist's own genuine love for cinema and story. (Brian Brait)
Final Destination 2
No, Final Destination 2 does not have good acting, nor a compelling plot. It does not blur the lines of reality or explore the dark reaches of the director's mind. All it has to offer you is awesome killing. Four cardboard characters are heading for spring break in a brand-new Chevy Tahoe when the brown haired chick sees a vision of a horrendous crash. The girl stops the cars in her vision from entering the freeway, and thus stops the accident. Heroic, yes, but also problematic, for death was expecting those lives, and death always gets what death wants... (Katie Shimer)
Forging a Future
Part of the Margaret Mead film festival, included in this collection is Ning Ying, about thousands of Chinese peasants who cross the country each year in order to earn money picking cotton. Followed by The Good Son, about a Filipino-American man trying to find his identity despite a controlling father.
Gangs of New York
As an orphaned Irishman driven for vengeance, Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a Method acted, closed-off performance (there's also the nagging fact that he looks downright beefy, for playing a street urchin raised on gruel). Daniel Day-Lewis, on the other hand, owns every frame he's featured in as the gleefully sadistic leader of the reining anti-immigrant gang. It's a showy, hambone part, replete with stovepipe hat and a Snidely Whiplash 'stache, and Day-Lewis makes the most of it. Unfortunately, as in his earlier The Age Of Innocence, Scorsese gets so obsessed with the (admittedly fascinating) minutia of the period, that he neglects to follow through on character development and narrative. The backdrop soars, at the expense of the foreground. The awkward placement of needless flashbacks and voiceover narration suggests that this discord may be due more to studio-mandated jitters than anything else. (Apparently, a longer, more sure-footed cut exists.) The final result is a bet-hedging misstep of the sort that only a master filmmaker can make. (Andrew Wright)
Gods and Generals
The story of civil war hero Stonewall Jackson. The prequel to the 1993 "hit" Gettysburg. And it's three-and-a-half hours long.
A dance teacher comes from India to live with his "rich" cousin. When he finds out his cousin isn't rich, he tries to get a job in acting, and while he lands one, he soon finds out it's in a porno film with Heather Graham. Heather eloquently urges him to do the film even though he's wary of on-camera penetration, but he won't. Her words of encouragement, however, come in handy when he recites them to others and pretends to be a sex guru.
Harry Potter 2
The delightful saga of a boy and his wand continues. Attendance is mandatory. 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-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. The climactic high-decibel CGI onslaught may be a bit too intense for the younger tykes, though. Sit on the aisle, arachnophobes. (Andrew Wright)
Hidden Wars of Desert Storm
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The Hours is a nice package of arts and literature: a film based on a book that's based on a book. Michael Cunningham wrote The Hours, offering various reinterpretations of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, one of which features Woolf as she's writing the book and approaching suicide. Director Stephen Daldry does a remarkable job of translating the Woolfian tone into cinema. In both mediums, elaborate symbolic value is found in the minute, meaningless details of ordinary life. To some, this is enrapturing, although some people find it tedious. The film occupies itself with splicing together the activities of depressed sorta-lesbians played by Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore, all of whom are preparing some type of get-together. Kidman pensively awaits the visit of her sister, bored and under-stimulated by her life in the country. Streep is a modern go-getter, dashing around planning a party for her dying friend, and Moore is hypnotic as a listless housewife trying to make her husband a birthday cake. Ultimately, though, The Hours is an expertly made film, linking one day in the lives of three women in three separate points of history, managing to be horribly depressing and exquisitely comforting. (Marjorie Skinner)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
The unrealistic circumstances in this film involve Kate Hudson as a woman's magazine columnist whose assignment is to fetch a man, then employ every cliched "dating don't" to drive him away in ten days. Matthew McConaughey is in advertising, competing with his lady co-workers for a huge diamond account. It's convoluted, but he makes a deal with his boss to win the account, if he can make a woman fall in love with him within ten days, and bring her as proof to the big diamond gala. The film's attempts throughout to be simultaneously over-the-top and real cancel each other out, leaving it neither funny nor touching. (Marjorie Skinner)
Hush! is a film about a Japanese spinster who wants to get it on with a closeted gay Japanese engineer, for the purpose of having his baby. The engineer, however, has recently started hooking up with a more extroverted guy, and so the three of them must decide if they can make this unconventional would-be family work.
If there's one thing that's better than a talking kangaroo in sunglasses, it's Christopher Walken.
The Life of David Gale
The Life of David Gale is like watching an episode of Scooby Doo unfold--heavy-handed non-villains, meddling kids and all. It's a shame, as the premise--a look at capital punishment and redemption--could have allowed for something of an interesting exercise. With lead balloon pacing and embarrassingly slack-jawed cinematography, however--not to mention another impossibly smug Kevin Spacey performance--David Gale has all the subtle artistry of a Twinkie. Without all the suspense. (Zac Pennington)
The Kid With the Golden Arm
A 1979 Kung-Fu classic pitting many kung fu masters with names like Golden Arm and Iron Robe against each other.
An assassin (and kung-fu master) takes a final job only to be double crossed by his boss. Directed by John Woo.
Narc starts out in a hypercolor explosion of needles, shooting, chasing, screaming, and men and women down. It's a thrilling beginning that gets less exciting with the introduction of babies and family life. There are some good plot twists, however, and Jason Patric, as usual, is great as a drug cop. Ray Liotta is equally believable as the cop whose made his job his life, and who doesn't like the rookie (Patric) stepping on his toes. The end feels contrived as far as police dramas go, but I'm not so sure there are any new ways to end a police drama anymore. Regardless, Narc is a ride. (Katie Shimer)
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 other 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)
P.S. Your Cat is Dead
Ever had a really bad year? When people keep shitting on you until you just freakin' SNAP! Such is life for Jimmy Zoole (Steve Guttenberg); his girlfriend left him, his best friend died, and now his beloved cat is dead. To top it off, on New Year's Eve, a gay punk tries to rob his apartment. This is when Jimmy gets all J.Lo on his ass and makes him pay. (Actually, they become friends and console each other, but that doesn't sound as good). (Brian Brait)
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)
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)
Colin Farrell stars as a tech whiz (James Clayton) who gets picked out of the crowd by CIA recruiter Al Pacino. James has a natural aptitude for the job, and it's only a matter of time before he's given a super-secret special mission loaded with predictable plot twists and hammy acting. (Wm Steven Humphrey)
Rivers and Tides
Rivers and Tides chronicles the life and work of Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish sculptor who makes temporary contraptions out of leaves, wood, mud, or whatever grub the earth gives him. The lives of his pieces are shorter than a snow drift in the desert, as the wind blows them away or they melt. That's the beauty of this film: It captures these ethereal pieces--and the process to make them--before they return to the earth. A look at permanence and impermanence, and nature's inherent metamorphosis. (Phil Busse)
Safety of Objects
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Schmelvis: The Search for the King's Jewish Roots
Schmelvis starts out with an obviously rich, late-20s club type guy making phone calls to his rich friends. He explains how he read an article in The Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago that posited that the King might be a Jew, based on the fact that his great-great-grandmother might have been a Jew. Somehow, the rich, shiny-panted boy rounds up like ten million dollars and six travelling partners (including a Jewish Elvis impersonator, obnoxious rabbi, and some rich buddies credited as Producers) to go down to Memphis in a nice camper in an attempt to prove that Elvis was indeed Jewish. When they arrive in the South, the newly formed Jewish Outsiders do their best to incite anti-Semitism, anger, or at the very least, interest in the possibility of Elvis Presley being a Jew. But it turns out no one really gives a shit. The boys go so far as to say Jewish prayers above Elvis' grave, but no one cares about that either. (Katie Shimer)
Here's a stupid idea: Take Owen Wilson, one of the funniest people on the planet, and completely dehumorize him. This seems to be the prevailing thought running through the minds of Shanghai Knights' filmmakers during production. A sequel to the fairly entertaining Shanghai Noon, the 2.0 version re-teams Wilson and Jackie Chan (who is still brilliant, if a lot slower than he used to be) and, through some plot device involving a sacred seal (or something), sends them to London. Hilarity does not ensue, but a couple of cool fights do. That's about it. (Unrelated sidenote: "dehumorize" may not actually be a word.) (Bradley Steinbacher)
In the 1973 sci-fi classic Soylent Green, New York City is home to more than 40 million people. There is no room, space, peace--just swarms of desperate people. The police department is, of course, corrupt; garbage is out of control; and the gross green stuff everyone eats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is actually... well I can't tell you that. What I can tell you is the movie stars Charles Heston and Edward G. Robinson, who concluded his long and remarkable career with this depressing vision of the future. (Charles Mudede)
One of the last remaining directors of animation to truly capture the strange, subtly contented spirit of childhood (and, for that matter, one of the only directors of animation with any sense of singular recognition), Princess Mononoke director Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service) follows his 1997 masterpiece with his latest--an Alice in Wonderland--inspired fable about a little girl whose parents are transformed into pigs.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
There is nothing wrong with Standing In The Shadows of Motown. It 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)
Talk to Her
Talk to Her, Spain's camp bad boy Pedro Almodovar's latest film, contains no drugs or sex, and I didn't even notice until it was over. That's because Almodovar has always trafficked in extreme emotions and the actions that spring from them. Actions and craziness often overshadow feelings in his earlier films, but with Talk to Her, Almodovar gives us the most mature and deeply felt of his movies. It's the story of two comatose women (one a female bull fighter and the other a ballerina), the two men who care for them (Benigno, a male nurse, and Marco, a writer), and the friendships that grow between them. The two men deal differently with their sleeping beauties: Marco retreats into silence and Benigno, who cared for his mother before becoming a nurse, talks and carries on as if Alicia were awake and responsive. The movie unfolds with grace and still manages to shock while being funny, strange, morally complex, and moving. (Nate Lippens)
Tears of the Sun
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There's Something About Mary
Ben Stiller stars as the archetypal high school dork who grows up to be an archetypal grown-up dork, still pining for his high school sweetheart Mary (Cameron Diaz). Unable to move on with his life, he vows to track her down with the help of shady insurance claims investigator Matt Dillon, who also falls for her omnidirectional charms.
In its efforts to be a comedy and a drama, as well as an action movie, Three Kings actually pulls it off. You laugh while you're in the theater, curse the U.S. as you leave, then relax in your La-Z-Boy once you get home. Starring hot asses George Clooney and Marky Mark with film techniques that rival tripping on acid. (Bradley Steinbacher)
The two-hour pilot starring Dale Cooper and the Log Lady, where we discover that Laura Palmer's been murdered and no one knows who did it.
Wings of Desire
Wim Wenders' masterpiece in which two angels contemplate humanity, and the monotony of their existence. When one falls for a beautiful trapeze artist, he must reconcile his perpetual spirituality with his desire for earthly pleasure. Brilliantly shot and starring Peter Falk as his own quirky self. (Julianne Shepherd)