March 9-15, 2006
movie shortsContinuing Movie Shorts
So this is what happens when the Little Mermaid hits puberty. Splash for the Lizzie McGuire crowd, Aquamarine is set in that preteen girl world where everyone over 30 hell, over 20 is either a loving but clueless parent or the creepy caretaker. Sara Paxton is the titular runaway mermaid, who has traded in her tail for a pair of legs in search of love with a landlubber. Or what passes for love at this stage: a crush on a cute, dull-witted lifeguard and a couple of BFFs to spend summer vacation with. Elizabeth Allen's direction is not without its charms, but the steady succession of boy-watching, giggling and shopping will be impenetrable to anyone for whom age has already come. Paxton's first act on dry ground is to throw on a T-shirt and jump on a bed, more appropriate to The Man Show than the Disney Channel; maybe the creepy caretakers will discover it on DVD.
Shaun Brady (UA Riverview)
Watching a bunch of octogenarians go on about the glory days of ballet may not sound like most people's idea of a good time, but even non-balletomanes will get sucked in by the story of the Ballets Russes. Note the plural, the result of a mid-1930s split between the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and its chief choreographer, George Balanchine. Leonide Massine (known to cinephiles from his leading roles in The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman) took over the original company, and the booted Balanchine formed his own Ballet Russe. Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller's documentary is rich in archival footage and interviews with the surviving dancers a surprisingly robust group, at least until you see the still-foxy George Zoritch going through his daily workout. Temporarily reunited by the exigencies of World War II, both Ballets Russes fell prey to declining interest and changing tastes in the 1950s. The brilliant Broadway choreographer Agnes de Mille took over one company, conceiving democratic dances that, Zoritch sneers, could've been performed by "anyone not in a wheelchair." But now that both kinds of dance have slipped out of the mainstream, it's possible to see more continuity than discord between the styles, and the vivid testimonies by the dancers who saw, and often joined, the Ballets Russes on their travels attest to the companies' lasting influence.
(Ritz at the Bourse)
Ang Lee's burnished, melancholy adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's laconic tale of weather-worn sheep-tenders in the Wyoming countryside is more of a post-Western than a genuine oater, an elegy for cowboys who've run out of trail. It's John Wayne at the end of Stagecoach with no sunset to ride off into, no way to free himself from "the blessings of civilization." It's hardly the first movie to hint at what trail hands get up to on those long, cold nights, but it's the first time we've seen one cowboy flip the other over and spit into his palm. Unspoken heartbreak is Lee's stock in trade, and Brokeback milks the sentiment for all it's worth, although its placid pacing more often takes you to the verge of tears than past it. S.A.
(Ritz 5; Ritz 16)
At first, it's not clear what you're looking at: A camera holds steady on a quiet Parisian street. But when the video fast-forwards, you realize you're looking at a TV screen, watching along with Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche). The tape shows their home, shot from across the street, surveillance-style. It has arrived at their doorstep without explanation, an indication that they're being watched. By whom, they don't know. Figuring out the answer to this question becomes Georges' focus throughout Caché, Michael Haneke's latest unsettling look at the shaky foundations of bourgeois security. You're left to do your own reading. C.F. (Bala; Roxy)
It's a role so juicy any actor could drown in it: Truman Capote, the defiantly swishy, endlessly quotable author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, who in his day was the most famous writer in America. But Capote comes not to praise its subject, nor to bury him rather, to dig him up just long enough to drag his name through the mud. Sketched in Stygian hues without wit or insight, it's a portrait of a man so hollow you can barely stand to look at him. As played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote is a smug, tone-deaf exploiter who sees the horrific murder of a Kansas family at the heart of In Cold Blood as the ideal opportunity for career advancement. S.A. (Bala; Ritz at the Bourse)
"See what that woman just did?" Anthony (Ludacris) asks his companion Peter (Larenz Tate). Spotting them from just down the street, "that woman" has clutched her handbag closer and huddled into her husband's side as they head to their shiny black Escalade. The guys are anticipating more of the profiling that they endure every day. Paul Haggis' Crash both repeats and flips the scripts you know too well. Everyone is scared, everyone expects to be scared and everyone accepts this as the way we live now. Sprawling and ambitious, episodic and contrived, Crash laces together a series of stories concerning fears and responses. C.F. (Ritz at the Bourse; Ritz 16; Roxy)
Matthew O'Callaghan's adaptation of H.A. Rey's kiddie books sticks to the basics: Well-meaning monkey causes trouble, Man in the Yellow Hat cleans up mess, repeat. The impulse to update George is thankfully avoided. The vibrant colors and brisk pace at least won't annoy the chaperones. S.B.
(AMC Orleans; Bridge; UA Riverview; UA 69th St.)
A haiku: Film spoofs romance flicks.
Starring that chick from Buffy.
At least a cat poops. (Not reviewed.) (AMC Orleans; UA Riverview)
dave chappelle's block party
In the fall of 2004, Chappelle was approaching a crisis much like that precipitated by Richard Pryor's famous trip to Africa. Where Pryor came back from the motherland determined to expunge racial epithets from his act, Chappelle was worrying that his highly successful TV show was "socially irresponsible." Maybe this impromptu gathering, staged on a Brooklyn street corner, was Chappelle's way of giving back, or just surrounding himself with friendly faces regardless, it's a vivid snapshot of intelligent, East Coast hip-hop and its power to instill a profound sense of community. Michel Gondry cuts between the performances all of which verge on greatness, and some of which, like Dead Prez's "Turn Off the Radio," are truly mind-scorching and Chappelle's preparations, including a trip to his adopted hometown of Dayton, where he distributes "golden tickets" to lucky passers-by, and also drafts an entire marching band to play at the festivities. With a bill composed mainly of Chappelle's Show allies like the Roots, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, as well as ringer Kanye West and an impromptu Fugees reunion, the laid-back hangout vibe is engaging and infectious. Modestly ambitious in scope, BlockParty is a cumulative delight that builds to something close to ecstasy. Though not a tour de force like Heart of Gold, it's alive in all the right ways, and might be the first great movie of the new year.
S.A. (AMC Orleans; Bridge; UA Grant; UA Main St.; UA Riverview; UA 69th St.)
Some things just always work, and man-vs.-nature battles in picturesque settings replete with wildlife are at the top of that list. Disney knows how to do that better than anyone, and at the outset of Eight Below, all the elements seem to be neatly in place: Risk-taking guide and dedicated scientist take dog sled far out onto thin Antarctic ice while storm approaches. But before half an hour is up, the perils have been overcome and the party is back at base camp. The remainder of the film is split between two parallel stories Walker's attempts to get back to his dogs, left behind in the haste to evacuate before the storm hit, and the dogs' own struggle for survival, left behind for six months to fend for themselves.
S.B. (Ritz 16; UA Grant; UA Riverview)
Final Destination 3
Death is getting sloppy in his old age. Used to be it would take long, existential discussions over a game of chess to cheat the reaper out of his intended quarry. Now a third batch of TV- pretty teens have managed to outsmart him. This is franchise moviemaking at its most explicit, chugging along at the methodical pace of an assembly line. The dialogue is treated as superfluous, intended merely to give breathing room between one gory set piece and the next. There are plenty of jolts, but no surprises. When you order a Big Mac, you get a Big Mac. S.B. (AMC Orleans; Bridge; UA Riverview; UA 69th St.)
Modern technology is killing the heist film. No one has figured out how to make compelling cinema out of watching someone surf the Internet; director Richard Loncraine's approach long, slow and somber will leave audiences praying for porn pop-ups. Paul Bettany, playing one of those impeccably polite sociopaths who hires a mix of moronic thugs and guilt-ridden intellectuals as henchmen, kidnaps security specialist Harrison Ford's family to compel him to skim millions from his bank's wealthiest customers. The usual Harrison Ford story arc applies, waiting for the inevitable moment when Ford switches from mumbling to growling, but the endless techspeak feels like spending an eternity with your office IT guy. Too bad this film couldn't have been outsourced to Bollywood. S.B.
(AMC Orleans; Ritz 16)
Good night, and good luck.
As played by David Strathairn in Good Night, And Good Luck. , Edward R. Murrow isn't so much galvanizing as iron-clad. Most of Good Night focuses on Murrow's 1954 dogfight with red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the responsibility of journalism or, more pointedly, journalists to make their voices heard in a climate of fear. Murrow's See It Now turned the tables on McCarthy by presenting the senator "in his own words," a strategy Good Night echoes. S.A. (Ritz at the Bourse; Ritz 16)
heart of gold
madea's family reunion
A haiku: Who's the best fat chick
Madea or Big Momma?
Like we really care. (Not reviewed.) (AMC Orleans; Bridge; UA Grant; UA Main St.; UA Riverview; UA 69th St.)
"What I am is sexy." When Nola (Scarlett Johansson) makes this observation over drinks with Irish tennis pro Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), he's briefly taken aback. "You are aware of your effect on men," he says, leaning back. She is, of course, because she's a woman in a Woody Allen movie. This one is set in London rather than New York, and its murder plot unfolds more slowly than his comedies, but its thematic focus is unmistakable. Because Chris is the indecisive, unhappy, inarticulate protagonist in a Woody Allen movie, you can pretty much guess what happens next. C.F.
(Ritz East; Ritz 16)
mrs. henderson presents
Doubtless hoping to recapture Oscar gold, Judi Dench reprises her Shakespeare in Love performance as the titular widow, a wealthy ex-colonial who returns to England bereft of ritual propriety. Engaging Bob Hoskins' music-hall impresario to revive a shuttered theater, she finds the between-the-wars crowds difficult to impress, but Mrs. H. knows how to woo the locals: boobies, and lots of them. A little seductive bullying of Christopher Guest's jelly-spined minister, and they've got a license to stage tableaux vivants rife with unclad country girls.
S.A. (Bryn Mawr; Ritz 16)
Spielberg's film tracks (and fictionalizes) the assassinations that follow the 1972 Olympic Games murders, carried out by an Israeli counterterrorist team led by Avner (Eric Bana), a Mossad agent and bodyguard to the Israeli Prime Minister. His primary Israeli contact is Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), who is dedicated to revenge as a declaration of selfhood. Avner comes to question this imperative as his icy resolve gives way to guilt and angst. Home, tribe and family these are the values by which Avner measures his duty and yet, Munich contends, the efforts to define home by endless cycles of aggression can never succeed. C.F. (Ritz 16)
Timur Bekmambetov's 2004 Russian blockbuster kicks off in 1992 as events begin to unfold that, 12 years later, will threaten the tenuously maintained truce between the forces of light and darkness. But hope for a sci-fi translation of the state of the former Union is drowned out by a surfeit of everything-louder-than-everything-else style. This is a decidedly post-Matrix horror film, which sounds fine as long as it means exaggerated action and flashy visuals; but Night Watch is also chock full of messianic prattle and storytelling simultaneously simplistic and incomprehensible, more like The Matrix sequels than the original. For all Night Watch's reliance on wow factor, there really isn't anything here that hasn't been seen before. S.B. (Ritz 5)
The Pink Panther
Much delayed en route to theaters, Steve Martin's Inspector Clouseau seems more derived from Chaplin than Peter Sellers, with his puffy-squinchy face and pencil mustache. Unfortunately Clouseau is stuck inside Martin and Len Blum's uninspired script. The film mostly bumps along, a series of physical comedy bits and clobberings punctuated by Martin's language mangling (Clive Owen shows up as 006, "one short of zee beeg time"). Jean Reno gets the prize for infinite patience, as he sustains a certain serenity amid the frenzy. C.F.
(Narberth; UA Grant; UA Riverview)
Given that 16 Blocks is only Richard Donner's second film as director since the end of the 1990s, he could be forgiven for seeming unaware that the decade has ended. Richard Wenk's script reads like something Donner stuck in a drawer around the time of the last Lethal Weapon and has only now gotten around to dusting off. Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is corralled to usher a crucial witness (Mos Def) to a courthouse 16 blocks from where he's being held. A group of officers bound to be implicated in the trial sets out to prevent the pair from reaching its destination, led, naturally, by Mosley's ex-partner (David Morse). For a plot hinging on its hero's quick wit, there is a dearth of clever twists; the deceptive parallel-editing gag from The Silence of the Lambs is ripped off not once, but twice. Bruce Willis must feel a hint of deja vu whenever he walks onto a police station set looking shabby and drunk, but Richard Donner's recycled ideas recall another '90s film, though not one of his own: Groundhog Day.
(AMC Orleans; Bridge; Ritz 16; UA Grant; UA Main St.; UA Riverview; UA 69th St.)
The combatants in Marshall Curry's Oscar-nominated documentary, set during the 2002 Newark mayoral campaign, are four-term incumbent Sharpe James and 32-year-old challenger Cory Booker. Although Booker establishes himself as a classic reform candidate, Curry glosses over both sides' rhetoric, focusing instead on the bare-knuckle tactics James uses to cut his opponent off at the knees. Police try to eject Booker from a public housing project, while his supporters report a campaign of harassment from city officials. Things get spectacularly ugly when James plays the race card no less so because both candidates are black. Though Curry criticizes the media for treating the campaign as a "sport," he gets swept up himself in the down-and-dirty tactics; dislikable as James' actions are, it's not clear if or why Booker would be better for the people of Newark, which undermines the movie's portrait of them as easily manipulated dupes.
When it comes to guns, oil and drugs the means by which money moves in the world you only maintain relationships as long as they're useful. Working through multiple and complex storylines, Syriana argues that such transience is never as manageable as power brokers imagine. Inspired by See No Evil, a 2002 memoir by former CIA operative Robert Baer, Syriana recalls 1970s political thrillers where the good man must beat his evil government employers at their own game, but Bob Barnes' (George Clooney) moral dilemma is not so easily sorted. C.F. (Ritz at the Bourse; Ritz 16)
The Three Burials of melquiades estrada
A Mexican cowboy seeking work in South Texas, Melquiades Estrada, is shot and killed by border patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), who then drags the bloodied corpse to a shallow resting place. Punctuated by repeated and sometimes breathtaking shots of expansive deserts, dying trees and brilliant flowers, as well as the dangers posed by rattlesnakes, rough ground and lost souls, Three Burials rejects national mythologies of fate and daring. Instead, it offers unresolved relationships and petty frustrations, stories of men and women bound together by emptiness and unstated hopes for something else. C.F. (Ritz 5; Ritz 16)
Learning that she has a 17-year-old son named Toby (Kevin Zegers) from her days as Stanley, pre-op transsexual Bree (Felicity Huffman) must come to terms with her past before stepping into her future. This takes the form of a cross-country road trip, during which she pretends to be a Christian missionary and learns of his abusive stepfather, prostitution and tendency to lie and cheat. This means the conflict between parent and child must accommodate or reflect the sorts of anxieties that such viewers recognize and smile at, tiffs that don't quite reach crisis points but instead allow the free-to-be-you-and-me vibe to permeate the film. C.F. (Bala; Ritz at the Bourse; Ritz 16)
Tristram shandy: a cock and bull story
A movie about the making of a movie based on a book about the writing of a book, Tristram Shandy is a fiendishly clever puzzle, twisting itself in knots until the tension is almost too much to bear. There's the frame story, in which Steve Coogan, who plays Tristram as well as his father Walter, and Rob Brydon, cast as Tristram's uncle Toby, play "Steve Coogan" and "Rob Brydon," feuding co-stars whose battles for screen dominance furnish some of the movie's most wickedly funny exchanges. Chances are you're not intended to keep all this straight but Tristram Shandy is only confusing when it means to be, which is to say that, although Coogan quips that the novel "was postmodern before there was any modernism to be post- about," the movie's underlying structure is ultimately traditional, almost classical. It's a searching, poignant story about the way that little things distract us from the things that really matter: love, family, creativity and self-knowledge. It's also very, very funny.
(Bryn Mawr; Ritz 5)
A haiku: I'm sorry, Milla.
But you look fat in that suit.
There's always Atkins. (Not reviewed.) (AMC Orleans; UA Grant; UA Main St.; UA Riverview; UA 69th St.)
WHY WE FIGHT
Even though Why We Fight draws its title from Frank Capra's rousing WWII propaganda series, Eugene Jarecki's new film poses the phrase as a question. Capra's newsreelish films laid out reasons for going to war, based in moralistic oppositions. Jarecki's documentary argues, convincingly, that war is a business. As the film traces the steady slide into militaristic presumption, it does not blame any single administration or party. The film keeps a remarkably sharp focus on both the big picture and the individuals who suffer or sustain it. C.F. (Ritz East; Ritz 16)
The World's Fastest indian
Largely a display case for Anthony Hopkins' grizzled charms, Roger Donaldson's likeable yarn sets Kiwi motorcycle enthusiast Burt Munro (Hopkins) on the road to Bonneville Salt Flats, where he hopes to race an elderly bike he's custom-fitted with homemade pistons and tires pared down with a bread knife. The septuagenarian Donaldson shamelessly panders to older audiences: While skimming the globe, Burt twice gets himself laid, acquires a pert young cheering section and even gets help from a nonthreatening drag queen. But there's a difference between contrived and false, and Donaldson threads the needle every time. You could resist if you tried, but life's too short. S.A.