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Film Shorts

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13 Ghosts
Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver produced this remake of the William Castle screamer. It stars the great Tony Shalhoub, the pretty great F. Murray Abraham, and a bunch of lessers, as a family that inherits a scary old digital mansion powered entirely by the energy produced by digital ghosts.

* Amélie
Oh, shit, does this mean that the holiday--with their feel-good, ain't -it-good-to-be-alive movies--are right around the corner? With an amazing turn away from the cynicism of Delicatessen, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes no bones about being sweet and charming. A quick-moving narrative about a shy, sexy, and dreamy Parisian who helps friends and strangers fulfill their fantasies while shying away from her own. Cute as a button. Really, you'll love it.

* Bandits
Barry Levinson does what he does best: Grown-up themes of love and life-dreams acted out by characters with the sense of five-year-old boys. Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis, both with extremely bad haircuts, play two escaped inmates (from the Oregon State Penitiery, nonetheless). On the run, the two invent a playful game of kidnapping bank managers and pleasantly robbing vaults. As a hypochondric and self-declared genius, Thornton adds a verve of wry humor to the film.

Beyond a Resonable Doubt
A writer takes a murder rap in order to prove the flaws with circumstantial evidence. His buddy has the proof that will absolve him but, oh shit, his friend gets killed in a car accident. What now?

The Big Heat
Dir. Fritz Lang. Violence erupts in this 1930s noir film about a throng of men seeking revenge for the murder of an innocent woman.

* British Advertising Awards
British commercials have it all over the Americans! Come see how the Limeys do it in this evening of ads that cross far beyond the usual boundaries.

Domestic Disturbance
John Travolta is the dad, and Vince Vaughn is the stepdad. One of them is a nasty murderer and one of them is an underdog hero. It's up to the kid to decide. How droll is this movie? Even the orthodonic nightmare Steve Buscemi can't make it creepy!

Donnie Darko
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? Can Donnie's English teacher (Drew Barrymore) help? 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 from the Mountain
Footage of the two-day music fest that created the soundtrack to the Coen Brother's O Brother Where Art Thou. And I thought that movie was boring.

The Films of Maya Deren
Six films by the avant-garde filmmaker/activist Maya Deren. Films include Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land, and Ritual In Transfigured Time.

Focus
Non-Jew wears Jew glasses. Weird shit happens. Considering the present state of race relations, this film's release is well timed. But considering the absurdity of the plot--a man puts on a pair of eyeglasses that make him look Jewish and his neighbors turn Anti-Semitic--this film is stupid.

From Hell
You're a naughty one, saucy Jack. A Jack the Ripper tale from the brothers responsible for such crap as Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, Allen and Albert Hughes. Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star.

Fury
A small town man is accused of kidnapping, and the quick-to-judge townspeople, therefore, try to burn him to death while he's in jail. The resentful guy then spends the rest of his days seeking revenge. Directed by Fritz Lang.

* Ghost World
Fans of Daniel Clowes' epochal comic novel about the listless inner teen life have been awaiting this adaptation by Crumb director Terry Zwigoff for years now, and the film delivers, though not in the direct way you might have anticipated. Clowes' super-detached geek queens Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have graduated from high school, and, bored, they answer a personals ad placed by über-dork vinyl junkie Seymour (an R. Crumb surrogate played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi) responds. As an experiment, Enid decides to educate Seymour in the ways of love, and her world begins to crumble. (Sean Nelson)

Grateful Dawg
Oh gawd. Now all those sniveling whiners that cried and cried when Jerry kicked the bucket have another excuse to get all emotional. A documentary of Jerry's life, his friendship with mandolin player David Grisman, studio sessions, and interviews with friends and family.

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone
Rumor has it that the kid that plays Harry went through puberty in the middle of filming and they had to dub over some other kid's voice. Entertain yourself by listening for the diff.

* Heist
Much like in The Spanish Prisoner, playwright and filmmaker David Mamet explores "the long con," in which Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo, and Danny Devito entangle themselves in a plan to hijack a shipment of gold. With thinly veiled nods to The Maltese Falcon, the script is loaded with clever, repeatable lines, and a twisty-turny plot in which no one can be trusted. While it's never easy to identify with any of the characters, the story clips along at a nice speed, and is involving for at least three-quarters of the picture. Alas, as is often the case, Mamet spins such a tangled web that by the end he loses grasp of the plot, and the denoument is somewhat less than satisfying. Regardless, Heist is still lots of fun for the thinking person who hates having to think too much. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)

History Lessons
See review this issue.

Hybrid
See review this issue.

* Iron Monkey
The recently re-released Iron Monkey features almost a two-to-one ratio of awesome fight scenes vs. people standing around blabbing. This includes tons of director Ping's famous "wire fu" antics, where heroes and villains alike fly over rooftops and smash through walls. And while the comedy is broad--to say the least!--the mechanics of the martial arts scenes are thrillingly precise, and often gasp-inducing. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)

* The Journey
Nineteen chapters on the effects of war, focusing on the arms race and how it affects hunger, gender inequities, and the media throughout the world. Personal antecdotes from Hiroshima and Hamburg surviors from WWII as well. Monday will be episodes five and six, Tuesday will be episodes seven and eight.

Joy Ride
Steve Zahn (yay) and Paul Walker (zzz) star as two brothers on a road trip who mess around with a CB radio and unintentionally arouse the murderous ire of a psycho truck driver. By the time they pick up Leelee Sobieski (rrr), there's a cross-country chase afoot.

K-Pax
Cliche plot about a (crazy) person (or is he an alien?) who has a wonderful effect on the patients around him. See also, Powder or Patch Adams.

Life as a House
Kevin Kline has cancer, but he hasn't told his ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), who's too busy letting herself be an emotional doormat, or his son (Hayden Christensen), who's too busy huffing Scotchguard, wearing makeup, and masturbating with a rope around his neck. Rather than come clean, he decides to fix everything by making his dysfunctional son help him build his dream house. In the process--surprise of surprises!--he does fix everything: the son wipes away the mascara and stops giving head to rich men for cash (hooking up with a nubile hottie in the process), the wife realizes she's still in love with her ex, and Kline gets to die the heroic death of a saintly drop-out. Histrionic folderol aside, this film is a guilty kind of good. (Sean Nelson)

A Love Divided
Sometimes--and I'm sure I'll have my license revoked for saying this--predictable works. When we meet Sean and Sheila in 1950s Ireland, they've just married three times: once in a registrar's office, once privately in a Protestant church, and once before God and the whole town of Fethard-on-Sea. The first half-hour of the film (a solemn us-against-the-world vow, hard work on the farm, two gorgeous little girls) is so idyllic that you just know that tragedy looms, and soon it crashes in. When Sheila (the heartbreakingly beautiful, in a very Vivian Leigh kind of way, Orla Brady) kidnaps her children rather than subject them to recalcitrant Catholicism, the town rancorously divides along religious lines. Can love survive? Can Ireland? I knew exactly what was going to happen a few steps before it did, but Goddamn if my heart wasn't warmed. (Emily Hall )

The Man Who Wasn't There
The Coen Brothers have their heads stuck firmly inside their own asses--but at least they do a nice job of it. Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a bored barber who finds an opportunity to invest in a dry cleaning partnership, but he must come up with $10,000 he doesn't have. So, he concocts a plot to blackmail the wealthy lover of his wife (Frances McDormand). Naturally, a litany of Coen brothers-style complications ensue, including death, thinly veiled pedophilia, and a trip to the electric chair. Unlike most classic film noir, which clips along at a breakneck, suspenseful pace, The Man Who Wasn't There stumbles along like a lame horse. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)

Monsters, Inc.
Sully (John Goodman) is one of Monsters, Inc.'s top Scarers, meaning that he excels at getting kids to scream in fright--and bottled screams are the fuel upon which Monstropolis, his hometown, depends. Kids, however, are supposed to be highly contagious, so when Sully accidentally brings a little girl back to Monstropolis, he's got a lot of nervous running and hiding to do. The first two-thirds of this film are pleasant to watch, though the narcotizing currents of confused cultural allegory that run through modern Disney films course just as strongly through this one. In Monsters, Inc. this includes a truly uncomfortable fetishizing of the sleeping American child, and the assumption of a world benevolently owned and operated by a private corporation. But the final third of the movie is excellent and beautiful, arriving suddenly at one of those gorgeous imaginary landscapes that legitimately become a part of a child's dream fabric. (Evan Sult )

Mulholland Drive
David Lynch doing his usual contorted mystery.

New Rulers of the World
A documentary detailing the results of globalization in Indonesia. Directed by John Pilger and followed by anti-globalization movement speakers.

Novocaine
Steve Martin stars as a dentist who becomes embroiled in a murder fiasco straight out of pulp fiction in this charming, if self-satisfied noir update. Martin and his girlfriend (the hyperbolically fastidious Laura Dern) live a sanitary existence until saucy little junkie Helena Bonham Carter and her incestuous brother (Scott Caan) enter their lives by force, demanding such things as medical cocaine and sex in the dentist chair. Soon, someone is dead, and someone is blamed, and someone has to fight to clear his name. This would be a fully smug and frustrating exercise in genre resuscitation if it weren't peopled by a game cast of excellent actors. The presence of pros like Martin and Carter (and Elias Koteas in a glorified cameo) elevates matters considerably. (Sean Nelson)

* The One
Needless to say, this "Terminator Lite" packs every minute with terrific special effects, groan-inducing shots of people getting smashed by thrown motorcycles, and fights, fights, FIGHTS. However, that's not to say The One is simple splash 'n' dash comic book fun. It's also clever, and manages to always keep the audience one step behind the plot. Oh, Jet Li. I wish there were 100 more just like him--and happily, in this movie, there are.

Out Cold
Stoner/snowboarding movie about bad guy Lee Majors trying to buy the snowboarding frat boys' favorite mountain and oh no, put a Starbucks on it. The assheads think about saving their fave resort from corporate domination, but forget everytime a pair of tits walk by.

* The Producers
In an attempt to make a money-losing musical, failed producers Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel come up with a sure-fire Broadway flop: Springtime for Hitler. A hilarious parody of Broadway, commerce, and of course, those dirty stinking rat Nazis.

Riding in Cars with Boys
A film for 40-year-olds of all ages. Drew Barrymore plays a Connecticut-townie bad girl, who gets knocked up at age 15, then spends the rest of her lapsed Catholic life negotiating the disappointments and joys of a life lived in service to an accidental baby. Because the film is directed by Penny Marshall, it is very very bad, indeed painfully so. It does have one saving grace, however: The great Steve Zahn, proving once again that he is to contemporary film what Robert Downey Jr. was to '80s film--the very best and often only good thing in a series of truly awful movies. (Sean Nelson)

The River
This movie is about a guy named Xiao-kang, who lives with his parents in Taipei. He gets a giant neck problem due to some poor decisions made on his part, and the movie is about his parents' attempt to remedy the neck issues. The wound becomes something of a metaphor for all the problems between he and his parents. This movie is incredibly slow, and sitting through two full hours will feel like a week. Especially tedious are the scenes which feature Xiao-king writhing in horrible neck pain--I swear that's half the movie right there. But if you've got the patience, the characters come across with real emotion, and there's some intriguing incest.... and stuff. Unfortunatley, I didn't have it, and had to pull my face out of a pool of slobber by the end. At least the Clinton has comfortable seats. (Katia Dunn)

Serendipity
This film is hokey, as expected, relying on over-dramatized coincidences. You know: John Cusack comes out of an elevator just as the doors are closing behind Kate Beckinsale in another one, she loses her jacket and he just happens to find it, etc. Oh, isn't love magical! How serendipitous! And so on. I sometimes embarrass myself by getting teary-eyed over this type of crap, but not once did I so much as bite my lip or chew my nails during this film. (Marjorie Skinner)

Shallow Hal
A warning for dense women out there who believe a skunk can change his stripe: It's not going to happen. The Farrelly Brothers have handed out a new load of horseshit in the form of Hal (Jack Black), a chubby jackass who dates only physically flawless women. After a chance encounter with a motivational guru, Hal begins seeing inner beauty as outer beauty, and falls in love with a 300-pound Peace Corps volunteer he thinks looks like Gwyneth Paltrow with falsies. Hal soon loses his new goggles, but does he go back to the way he was? Of course not, so all the heartbreaking fat gags and shameless burn victim makeup is acceptable, right? Because we all got enlightened? Horseshit.

Spy Games
See review this issue.

* To Be or Not to Be
Set in Poland during WWII, Jack Benny and Carole Lombard play two thespians who use their talents to stick it to the nazis in this hilarious Ernst Lubitsch dark comedy from 1942.

Va Savoir
Director Jaques Rivette examines love and the theater as couples with all sorts of issues switch partners, drudge up old problems, and create new ones. Oh, and they do some acting.

Waking Life
Richard Linklater's monologue-heavy, beautifully animated opus about the quest for lucid dreaming and active living is one of the coolest, most interesting movies you'll ever see. Or you might hate it and think it's talky and pretentious. If you liked Slacker, however--wait, not if you liked it... if you GOT Slacker--and have been waiting for Linklater to return to philosophical quandary mode, don't wait another second. Go see Waking Life. (Sean Nelson)

You Only Live Once
A professional criminial, Eddie, tries to go straight after his influential girlfriend gets him out of jail. No dice though, and they both go on the run. Directed by Fritz Lang.

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