Directed by Richard Linklater
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Opens Fri., July 2
When we last saw Jesse and Celine, it was nine years ago and they were kissing on a train platform in Vienna, promising to meet one another again in the exact same place in six short months. Thus ended Richard Linklater's awkwardly optimistic Before Sunrise.
His Before Sunset picks up almost a decade later, and these two alarmingly articulate romantics at last reunite--but only after 10 years of serious psychological damage.
Before Sunrise always seemed a bit too much the college-boy fantasy. But truth be told, it plays a lot better than it reads: There's something troubling about Ethan Hawke starring as a suave amateur philosopher who picks up a hot French girl (the amazing Julie Delpy) while babbling his way around a rapidly expiring Eurorail pass and wearing a black turtleneck to boot.
Though it wasn't a big success until home video, a lot of gals still swoon over Before Sunrise. (Chicks go ballistic for this flick. It's become the new Dirty Dancing.)
Before Sunset will probably set them straight, or at the very least just piss them off royally. This semi-sequel finds our characters stuck in a rut one decade later and a heck of a lot worse for wear.
What makes Before Sunset interesting is precisely what made Before Sunrise kind of annoying. That fake collegiate dream that turned the previous film into a doofy wish-fulfillment fantasy has since ruined these characters' lives.
Delpy is a fantastic gal, yet she can't help comparing every guy she meets to that one perfect night with Hawke so many years ago. He's since given up, having glimpsed perfection for a fleeting moment, and now sticks with a wife he doesn't love and a kid he adores, feeling like he's "running a daycare center with a girl [he] used to date."
So basically, everything we thought was sweet in the first movie has actually crippled them both for a decade. Before Sunset catches these two older, sadder and romanticizing their pasts. It's almost pathetic.
There's a flight Jesse needs to catch before dark--and yet as time wears on this weird reunion starts digging into dark emotional undercurrents. Both Jesse and Celine are forced to face their younger selves, confronting the question that taunts all of us at this age: "Man, I used to be cool. When did I become so tired and boring?"
It's a horribly sad, almost hysterically depressing movie--yet there is a joy here. [SPOILER ALERT] It comes through in a deliciously unresolved sequence highlighting Delpy's tour-de-force Nina Simone imitation--a freaky-deaky musical number that begs the question: Whoa, shit--Linklater can't really get away with ending the movie right now, can he?
He does. And it's totally awesome.
Directed by Irwin Winkler
Reviewed by J. Cooper Robb
Opens Fri., July 2
"Let the poets pipe of love in their childish way; I know every type of love better far than they." This line from Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" speaks volumes about the man who kept America singing and dancing for nearly four decades. Now his fascinating life is examined in all its dark glory in director Irwin Winkler's revealing and imaginative film De-Lovely.
A gay man who remained married to the wealthy and beautiful Linda Lee Thomas (Ashley Judd in a surprisingly canny portrayal), Porter (Kevin Kline) lived two lives, one for the day and another at night. "I wanted every kind of love that was available," says Kline as Porter, and for a time his moonlight dalliances with young men were understood and tolerated by Thomas.
One of the strengths of
Winkler's rapturous film is that it deftly communicates the duality of Porter's life. Moving among Paris, Venice, New York and Hollywood before eventually settling down in Westfield, Conn., Porter's life is seen initially as a fantasy world of champagne soirees, fireworks bursting over the Eiffel Tower, beautiful women and even prettier men. Porter's music is at first for his friends alone (both Porter and Thomas came from wealth, so money was never a concern) before the couple ventures to New York.
In New York Porter composes a number of hit Broadway shows but eventually moves to Hollywood, where Louis B. Mayer wants him to dumb down his wit. Porter obliges by supplying the movie mogul with a string of uninspired but popular songs.
Kline is consistently astounding, his sly and detailed performance conveying a man whose life is revealed in the innuendo-laced lyrics of his songs.
Yet while Porter and Thomas clearly feel deeply for each other, Porter still suffers from a profound sense of emptiness. Porter's a romantic in search of the perfect love. He finds elements of that love in both Thomas and the young men with whom he has increasingly less discreet affairs. Still, the all-encompassing love he seeks is discovered only in his music.
The events of Porter's life are revealed as though they're in one of his spectacular stage shows. Related in a nonlinear and decidedly theatrical fashion (an effect enhanced by the fact that Kline sings most of the songs live on the set), the structure allows the story to flow as much from Porter's songs as Jay Cocks' impressive screenplay.
Unlike the previous Porter biopic Night and Day, in which the composer's life was falsified almost beyond recognition, De-Lovely celebrates Porter's multifaceted personality. Ravishing to look at, Winkler's deliciously entertaining film finally gives us the real story behind America's greatest pop composer.
Directed by Pieter Jan Brugge
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Opens Fri., July 2
Overheard after a screening of The Clearing: "Man, aren't WASPs boring?"
In this case: oh God, yes. A dramatic thriller without much drama or any thrills, The Clearing tries to be a genre picture for people who hate genre pictures--one nearly as rigid and uptight as its characters.
Robert Redford stars as a pokey white-collar big-money executive kidnapped by down-on-his-luck unemployed Willem Dafoe. There's supposed to be some sort of class-struggle power game going on between our lethargic Redford and the oddly fascinating, characteristically twitchy Dafoe. (Though at this point Dafoe might be constitutionally incapable of giving an uninteresting performance, his awful fake mustache still feels like an act of bad faith.) The two walk up a mountain, toward a (ahem) clearing, and meanwhile we're supposed to reach some sort of moody catharsis.
Back at the ranch, Redford's wife (a poorly used Helen Mirren--one of modern movies' most understated, weirdly hot treasures, stuck here grieving in the most boring manner imaginable) is charged with delivering the pricey ransom. She and her kids (including the dashing young actor Alessandro Nivola) pout quite a bit, and then later mope around with the FBI in the room.
Working from a script by Justin Haythe, first-time director Pieter Jan Brugge clearly wants to elevate this simple kidnap movie into some sort of psychologically dense uber-refined character piece. His problem is that the movie's simply not deep enough to be an art film, and nowhere near entertaining enough to pass itself off as a satisfying thriller.
Worse than that, The Clearing plods along as if it's above dumb genre tropes--you know, like audience satisfaction--deliberately undercutting several semi-climaxes for the sake of more brooding in front of picturesque landscapes.
It's a pulpy kidnapping melodrama carried out with such annoyingly static Architectural Digest tastefulness, you'll spend the entire movie wishing someone would just open up a frickin' window already and let some of the air out.
Redford's always an enjoyable presence on-screen, though he's also often lazy. Quite unlike his recent glorious, bizarrely unheralded role as the morally problematic badass of Tony Scott's Spy Game, Redford's Clearing character is a titanically boring plaster saint. Playing the unheralded average martyr feeds into the mogul's basest messianic instincts. Meanwhile poor Dafoe tries to amp up the drama-queen shenanigans, and The Clearing goes from classy to laughable.
Lesson learned: Sometimes good actors show up in really, really cruddy movies.
America's Heart & Soul
Directed by Louis Schwartzberg
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Opens Fri., July 2
The timing seems a bit dodgy, but director Louis Schwartzberg did indeed spend the past several years combing the highways and byways of this hard land, trying to create a kaleidoscopic, multicultural mosaic of what he personally thinks is so great about our country.
It ain't exactly trendy, but much of the time America's Heart & Soul is a nifty little indie. Don't get me wrong, though: It's not really a good movie, and the poor flick is probably going to bear the brunt of some ridiculous Dubya stuff while all this crazy Fahrenheit 9/11 business plays itself out in the press.
That said, this film is mostly Schwartzberg bouncing without an agenda from sea to shining sea, catching hardworking Americans busy at their jobs. He's a bit of a sucker for slow-mo and flag shots (but then again, who isn't?), and he has a slight problem with embarrassing quotes.
Then again, I admire how enraptured this man is by the idea of people waking up and going to work in the morning. It's almost insane by Hollywood standards for somebody to be this interested in people who happen to get up early and work for a living.
But here's the thing about America's Heart & Soul: Every little segment is less than five minutes long, buttressed by some slick helicopter cinematography and a not-half-bad John Mellencamp song.
For every terrific moment spent with someone like Michael Bennett, an Olympic boxer who returned to the mean streets of his youth to dedicate his life to opening a gym and keeping kids out of trouble, there's also a bit of crap with that dopey Ben clown from Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Yeah, it's mostly a lot of silly, thrown-together stuff. But try keeping a dry eye in the final reel, when Schwartzberg hangs with Rick and Dick Hoyt, the father/son team that became something of an institution at the Boston Marathon. Rick's a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, and his damn-near-elderly father Dick still pushes his son's wheelchair the entire length of the race, year after year after year.
Sure, you can get all Moore-onish and laugh yourself silly about the evils of Disney, the corny Mellencamp song and how doofy this square movie might seem most of the time.
But if you've got the sand to snicker when the Hoyts are on-screen, I swear I'll find out where you live and kick your ass.
Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans
Reviewed by Dan Buskirk
The Wayans brothers as white chicks is irresistibly perfect high-concept summer filmmaking. The idea of Shawn and Marlon Wayans sassing the Hamptons looking like mutant Hilton sisters sets us up for the possibility of a frank and unpredictable popular comedy about class, gender and race. But while it has its share of lowbrow giggles, White Chicks fails to make the most of its premise because the Wayans don't have the balls to find their inner women.
The Wayans play brothers Kevin and Marcus Copeland, two rule-bending FBI agents with a frustrated chief and a series of botched cases behind them. When the young blond Wilson heiresses are threatened with a kidnapping plot, the Copelands take the initiative and pose as the girls during their Hamptons vacation.
Seeing the Wayans made up like white women seemed almost believable when their images flashed by in the TV commercials, but when you see their heads blown up to full-screen size, you're soon aware that they have more rubber on their faces than Roddy McDowall in the old Planet of the Apes.
Converted to blondness, they launch a few riffs on race, particularly in a funny scene in which the socialite divas and our undercover trannies engage in a quick round of jokes ("Your mother's so old you breast-fed on powdered milk"). Yet the film can't gather the guts to probe any hot-button topics deeply. Instead it degenerates into your basic cross-dressing comedy. And when it comes right down to it, watching straight guys parade around in drag hasn't advanced much since Uncle Miltie's TV show in the 1950s.
White Chicks isn't without its bright spots, though. Actor Terry Crews gives his all as a hoops star lasciviously chasing after Marcus' feminine alter ego. Rather than channeling the manipulative powers of womanhood, Marcus is plunged into homo-panic when he imagines a romantic evening with the buff athlete he labels "Arnold Schwarze-negro."
Older brother Keenen's direction provides momentum despite the lack of real laughs, giving the crime scenes that propel the action the speed and clarity of a good episode of Hack. (That's meant as a compliment. Honest.)
In the best cross-dressing comedies, whether Bosom Buddies or Some Like It Hot, gender change has given male characters insight into the lives of women as well as their behavior as men. The Wayans find no such enlightenment. Instead, White Chicks just rails on about what stupid, shallow nags women are. Since spoiled rich girls make for such easy targets, the Wayans could've afforded a little chivalry.
Around the World in 80 Days Despite the higher-than-average budget for a Jackie Chan film, this one seems as rushed and slipshod as his most forgettable work. Chan may have gotten Around the World to the finish line, but that's different than winning the race. C (D.B.)
Baadasssss! Until now Mario Van Peebles has been a likable second-string talent as an actor. But here's the role Mario has been preparing for his whole life: playing his father, legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles. Based on Melvin Van Peebles' memoir, Baadasssss! tells the improbable tale of how Melvin turned his back on a big-studio three-picture deal in order to make the seminal 1971 blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. B (D.B.)
Bugs! Think reality TV starring a praying mantis and a butterfly, shot on location in Borneo and projected on an IMAX screen. In a sadistic twist, the film's sponsored by Terminix. (Not reviewed.)
The Chronicles of Riddick Riddick is the kind of campy craptacular you can't stay angry at. A glorified B-movie with elephantitis of the mythology glands, it's something of a cautionary tale: This is what happens when genre filmmakers start reading too much Joseph Campbell. C (S.B.)
Coffee and Cigarettes Coffee and Cigarettes is a deceptively haphazard-looking collection of 11 black-and-white short films Jim Jarmusch has been shooting for shits and giggles at varying intervals since 1986, and it finds the filmmaker working the inverse of Ghost Dog's extra-verbal interactions. The spartan setup for all the sketches is that two people (often famous friends of the filmmaker portraying humorously exaggerated versions of their celebrity personae) sit down over a cup of coffee, smoke a couple cigarettes and--with all the tools of the English language at their disposal--still somehow manage to misunderstand each other completely. B+ (S.B.)
Control Room Documentarian Jehane Noujaim (co-director of the Internet frenzy doc Startup.com) sheds some much-needed light on the Arab TV network Al Jazeera with her bare-bones documentary Control Room. If your first impressions of the network were informed by George Bush's description of the network as "Osama bin Laden's mouthpiece," prepare to have your beliefs challenged. B (D.B.)
The Day After Tomorrow The bad news is that billions and billions of people die some of the most horrible deaths imaginable in Roland Emmerich's ardently idiotic global-warming eco-thriller The Day After Tomorrow. The good news is that nobody in the film seems to mind all that much. F (S.B.)
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story A profoundly and proudly asinine riff on the Bad News Bears legion of heartwarming jock pics, Dodgeball begins in two gyms. One, owned by the perpetually unfazed Vince Vaughn, is a ramshackle joint whose close-knit clientele consists of losers, geeks, slobs and klutzes. The other, across the street, is an upscale uber-gym run by feather-haired exercise fascist Ben Stiller. Out of nowhere, Stiller makes it his goal to put Vaughn out of business. Faced with a looming demolition and a $50,000 mortgage bill to pay, Vaughn and company decide to enter into the national dodgeball competition, whose prize is ... well, okay, plot isn't Dodgeball's strong point. C+ (Matt Prigge)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine is the fifth movie filmed from a Charlie Kaufman script, and by far the best. There's something unguarded and poignant about this picture that strikes you in the solar plexus the way his others couldn't have even tried. It's almost as if, having already conquered the human brain, Kaufman's finally reaching out toward the heart. A (S.B.)
Fahrenheit 9/11 After all the controversy and epic standing ovations everywhere from Cannes to Hollywood, I don't think anybody could've predicted that Fahrenheit 9/11 would turn out to be so unbelievably dull. All partisan sniping aside, Fahrenheit 9/11 is just plain boring. You don't need an agenda to see this as bad filmmaking. Rambling, undisciplined and often curiously halfassed, Michael Moore's allegedly muckracking "documentary" runs in circles willy-nilly for almost two full hours, throwing in the occasional cheap shot while breathlessly telling us a whole lot of stuff we already knew. C- (S.B.)
Garfield: The Movie If there were ever a time when America was calling out for a movie version of this lazy comics-page cat, that time is long past. Yet carrying the torch of undigested '80s nostalgia is Jim Davis' Garfield, brought to life with the rubbery-looking magic of computer-generated effects. C- (D.B.)
Gloomy Sunday This film is unashamedly old corn, but its Casablanca-inspired plot has the smarts to steal the old tricks that still work. It's 1930s Hungary and middle-aged restaurateur Laszlo finds himself in a triangle with siren-like beauty Ilona and the restaurant's emotionally tortured piano player Andras. They've made peace with their unusual setup when Hans, a German patron, also falls for the dreamy Ilona. After she spurns his advances, he throws himself in the watery Danube. He's rescued by Laszlo, but Hans isn't the only one looking to dance with death. B (D.B.)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban If you're looking for a film school 101 lesson in what the right director can do for a project, compare Chris Columbus' hackish walk-throughs in the first two Potter movies to the bravura visual layering and formal mastery that director Alfonso Cuarón brings to this third chapter. It takes less than five minutes to realize that Azkaban is going to be something new and exciting--a Harry Potter film made by an artist. B (S.B.)
The Mother The Mother is an often aterrific, fearless piece of work. A few nagging flaws aside, it amounts to a brutalizing, painful experience--yet you can't take your eyes off the screen, no matter how much you wish you could. Sixty-eight-year-old Anne Reid stars as May, a dumpy elderly mother of two monstrously ungrateful thirtysomething children. When Daddy dies suddenly of a heart attack during a family trip to London, Mom winds up tossed between her kids like a hot potato. Everybody loves their mother, but no one seems to want her around for more than a few hours at a time. B+ (S.B.)
Mysteries of Egypt An IMAX film that travels back in time to explore the wonders and, yes, mysteries of ancient Egypt. (Not reviewed.)
Napoleon Dynamite You could probably pull any 20 minutes out of Jared Hess' Napoleon Dynamite and exhibit it on its own as a promising student short. I bet it might even be funny if the dosage were reduced so significantly. This obnoxiously quirky tale of teenage angst in some weird nowhere Idaho suburb reveals a cockeyed visual confidence and a bit of pleasant off-center timing, even while it feels sort of like the cinematic equivalent of a lousy Wes Anderson cover band. C- (S.B.)
The Notebook Based on a Nicholas Sparks bestseller, The Notebook stars James Garner reading the story of two star-crossed lovers who meet in the summer of 1940, a gauzy period rendered about as accurately as everybody's horrendous Southern accents. It's revolting treacle. There's not a scene in The Notebook that's not cliched, and they all take place during lovely sunsets with corny music all but drowning out the dialogue. D+ (S.B.)
Raising Helen As pop entertainment, Raising Helen hits all the marks, with its wisecracking squirts, courtship montages and tear-filled finale. While the film's workmanlike competence makes it impossible to come down too hard on it, Helen's minimal ambition falls short of the energy Kate Hudson will need to solidify her standing in Hollywood. C (D.B.)
Saved! Saved! transplants the John Hughes-y teensploitation outcast saga to the fertile satirical grounds of a Southern evangelical Christian high school. The timing couldn't be more right for a hardcore rodgering of the "my God is better than your God" rhetoric that currently threatens to end the world. Unfortunately Saved! ain't quite that movie. But it's still something good--a bit sharper and funnier than it probably needed to be, with a message of openhearted tolerance that's hard to resist. B (S.B.)
Shrek 2 I guess you can do worse, particularly in the often deadly realm of kids' flicks. Still, it's tough to fathom the massive outpouring of both critical and popular goodwill for 2001's slightly limp, not-particularly-well-animated pastiche of famous fairy tales, all tarted up with anachronistic sight gags for the parents and an overabundance of flatulence for the wee ones. Second verse, same as the first: Shrek 2 is practically identical to its predecessor. C+ (S.B.)
Since Otar Left Nonagenarian Eka resides in the dilapidated Georgian city of Tbilisi, sharing a cramped apartment with her daughter Marina and Marina's daughter Ada. Meanwhile, the eponymous Otar--Eka's beloved son--has hightailed it to Paris to work as an illegal construction worker. But then news arrives that Otar is dead. Rather than upset the blissfully dotty Eka, Marina and Ada decide not to tell her about it. Alas, director Julie Bertuccelli hasn't made a comedy, nor did she intend to. At its heart, it's an aimless character study. B- (M.P.)
The Stepford Wives A baffling, incoherent debacle, Frank Oz's atonal "updating" of Ira Levin's Me Decade humdinger about conformity in the suburbs doesn't even pretend to make a goddamn bit of sense. Here at last is a film so brazenly contemptuous of its audience that the central gimmick is both overexplained and openly contradicted. (SPOILER ALERT: Robots or mind control? Make up your fucking mind.) D (S.B.)
The Story of the Weeping Camel Camel is a strange series of hybrids: a documentary whose subjects (both humans and otherwise) are listed as actors, a combination of home movie and ethnocentric footage, and a largely subtext-less portrait of poverty interspersed with what look like clips from classic Disney nature docs. Then again, that description makes Camel sound a lot more busy than it is. C+ (M.P.)
Super Size Me This year's most mystifying movie development is just how many otherwise intelligent people have been falling for this steaming pile of junk science and fake journalism from Michael Moore-wannabe Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock videotaped himself eating three meals a day at McDonald's for a month straight, while several outraged doctors charted the inevitable physical damage caused by such a frankly preposterous diet. "Where does personal responsibility end and corporate responsibility begin?" the director asks at the outset. Not a bad question. Too bad his film has no interest in addressing it. D (S.B.)
The Terminal The Terminal features some of Steven Spielberg's most elaborate set pieces to date, every last one so breezily brought off it's almost easy to miss the care and precision with which his elegant camera glides through scene after scene, gathering and establishing crucial information, always stopping dead center in the sweet spot of an immaculately framed sight gag. It's a movie so visually sophisticated you could probably enjoy it just as much with the sound turned off. A- (S.B.)
Troy Troy is a lavish sword-and-sandal epic so solemn, portentous and impersonal that it calls to mind a quote from the estimable film critic Homer Simpson: "Your movie is more boring than church." The credits claim Troy's "inspired by" The Iliad, but all the storytelling savoir-faire that made Homer's (not Simpson, the other one) epic required reading for multiple millennia is sorely lacking here. C- (S.B.)
Two Brothers The Garfields and the Scooby-Doos of the world have set the bar so low for live-action family fare that a kids' movie can stick out simply by not resorting to jarringly ugly CGI. Such is the case with Two Brothers. Not only are its tiger protagonists real-life, honest-to-goodness tigers, but they endured such a robust training regimen, they've been awarded top billing. Brothers is entirely formulaic--predictable, rote, unambitious. But it's not an insult to the mind, children's or otherwise. C+ (M.P.)
Van Helsing Every few years you'll get a film like Van Helsing. This picture doesn't suck because of budget limitations, studio meddling or any other practical reason one might imagine. Van Helsing sucks not because it "had to" or even because it "can," but because it really, really wants to. F (S.B.)