David Cronenberg's A History of Violence was one of my top films of 2005. Now he's back with Eastern Promises, again starring Viggo Mortensen, who is here teamed with the excellent Naomi Watts. Crime and violence are now centered in London, as we follow the stories of crime family member Nikolai (Mortensen) and midwife Anna (Watts), who accidentally becomes involved with him. A Charlie pick of the week, if not the year. Rated R for strong brutal and bloody violence, some graphic sexuality, language and nudity. 110 m. At the Broadway.
Jessica Alba in her underwear has no such pull for me, though. In the comedy Good Luck Chuck, Charlie (Dane Cook, Employee of the Month) is cursed to have all the women he sleeps with marry someone else -- get a clue, Charlie! -- so what can he do with Cam (Alba) so he doesn't lose her? Seems the very definition of brain-dead. Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content including crude dialog, nudity, language and some drug use. 106 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
Then there's the third in the tired series Resident Evil: Extinction, which finds Alice (Milla Jovovich) saving the world from becoming undead. The singer Ashanti puts in an appearance as well. Rated R for strong horror violence throughout and some nudity. 104 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
It gets better. Sydney White uses the story of Snow White as the basis for this comedy about sorority life during the first year of college. Starring Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) as Sydney, who discovers her mom's sorority ain't what it used to be. What is? Rated PG-13 for some language, sexual humor and partying. 100 m. At the Broadway.
The documentary Manufactured Landscapes follows Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky as he travels to China taking pictures of grotesque industrial sites, making art out of environmental disasters. Shot in 16mm, the film is directed by Jennifer Baichwal. In English and Mandarin with English subtitles. Not rated. 100 m. At the Minor.
THE BRAVE ONE: It's virtually impossible for me not to enjoy watching a performance by Jodie Foster, and in the case of The Brave One Terrence Howard is equally effective. But this film is far from Foster's best film. Or perhaps I'm already tired of the recent spate of vigilante flics.
Foster and Howard give their best, but can't really lift it much above the typical vigilante narrative arc. Worse, as seems to be typical of the genre, the film raises serious ethical and moral questions without making any honest attempt to grapple with the issues. Instead, director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game; Breakfast on Pluto) and the father/son writing team Roderick and Bruce A. Taylor, along with Cynthia Mort, opt for entertainment unleavened by ideas.
Typically for the genre, the film begins with a confident, happy protagonist going about her life. Erica Bain (Foster) is the host of a popular talk show, "Street Walk," and is engaged to be married. We see her walking the streets with her microphone collecting sounds and waxing sentimental about the old New York of Andy Warhol and others.
After she and her fiancé are viciously attacked in Central Park, though, the film becomes the usual story of an "average" person driven to revenge. To be fair, Foster is riveting to watch even if she's reprising her roles as slight, vulnerable women who are steel underneath. Her relationship with Detective Mercer (Howard), who gradually realizes what Erica is up to, is the best aspect of the film. Jordan also comes up with some nice visual material, as when he contrasts Erica's walk through the city after the attack with her initial one in the film.
But, unfortunately for The Brave One, I was reminded of a much better film about New York, also featuring Foster -- Taxi Driver, a film that doesn't let the viewer off the hook, unlike in the sell-out conclusion of the present one. Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. 129 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
NO END IN SIGHT: There may be places around the country that show documentaries that make people who listen to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, or smash Dixie Chicks CDs, feel good. Happily, I live in an area that shows documentaries that make those of us who feel really angry and depressed about the course of events in Iraq feel even angrier.
The most recent of these, No End in Sight, invokes the usual litany of indictments. The Iraq invasion was justified by outright lies. Bush was mostly a missing-in-action President when policy decisions were made; he apparently didn't bother reading short summaries of position papers prepared for him. The administration was arrogant and casual about the whole affair ("Bring it on" and "Mission accomplished" from Bush; "I don't do quagmires" from Rumsfeld). Policy decisions were made by Bush loyalists who had never set foot in Iraq, didn't speak the language, knew nothing about the culture and had no experience in rebuilding war-torn countries. There was no plan for a course of action following the invasion itself. The recommendations of those military and political officials who were actually on-site were ignored. ("I don't remember being told that," is the standard response by administration policy makers.) And, perhaps the most serious mistake of all, the disbanding of Iraq's standing army by L. Paul Bremer, who seems never to have left the Green Zone, thereby creating a large contingent of disaffected, well-trained and well-armed men.
What sets Charles Ferguson's documentary apart from previous ones is that much of the indictment of the Bush administration (Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Bremer take the biggest hits) comes from a group of people who had tried to make the administration's policies work (diplomats, generals and other officers in the field). Ferguson, a former Brookings Institute scholar and political scientist, offers viewers an exacting look at the quagmire in Iraq, and the likely reasons it happened. Given Bush's recent address to the nation, no end in sight is depressingly appropriate. Not rated. 112 m. At the Minor. ENDS THURSDAY, SEPT. 20.
MR. WOODCOCK: Comedy has many sources and one of those, utilized in theatre from its inception, is to create characters that are less self-aware than the audience so that the viewers' laughter is an assertion of their own superiority. Mr. Woodcock uses that sense of superiority as its primary source of humor.
As superior as the next person, I found myself laughing quite a bit during the first part of the film, although, as often happens in comedy, the humor has trouble sustaining itself. Nonetheless, thanks to some good performances, Mr. Woodcock is an enjoyable if very ephemeral experience.
Mr. Woodcock (the ever-dependable Billy Bob Thornton, who breezes through this role) is a high school gym teacher from hell. John Farley (Seann William Scott, The Dukes of Hazard; both Ice Age films), a former pupil he tortured in the class, has gone on to become the best-selling self-help author of Letting Go: How to Get Past Your Own Past, a title directly inspired by his experiences with Mr. Woodcock. When John returns to his small Nebraska hometown, nicely evoked and gently satirized in the film, to receive the corncob key to the city, he is horrified to discover that his widowed mother (a good Susan Sarandon) is about to marry Mr. Woodcock.
The rest of the film follows his misbegotten attempts to breakup the relationship while getting a life of his own. While both Thornton and Sarandon are fun, the surprise for me was the nicely bitch performance by Amy Poehler (from Saturday Night Live, of course) as John's take-no-prisoners book agent. I'll give Mr. Woodcock a two-chuckle (out of four) rating. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, thematic material, language and a mild drug reference. 97 m. At the Broadway.
INTERVIEW: Steve Buscemi's film reminded me of one of those 1960s off-Broadway plays in a tiny cramped theatre in the Village, where the actors were given a scenario and asked to flesh out the dialog and no matter if it changes from night to night. Or, equally apt, the film is like an acting exercise drawn out to a full-length piece, an image that actually serves as the primary metaphor for Interview. This is me being positive, I hasten to add, although the film would probably make a better theatre piece
Interview is basically a two-hander that takes place almost entirely in a very large loft. Disaffected would-be political reporter Pierre Peders (Buscemi) has been assigned to interview popular B-film actress Katya (Sienna Miller) as punishment for making up many of his sources. He's scornful of her; she feels similar about his total lack of preparation for the interview. The narrative would end shortly into their first meeting, save for a fortuitous accident that causes Katya to bring Pierre back to her loft. Here they spar, alternating insults with confession and a strange father/daughter sort of sexual tension.
As it transpires, the actress is more than a match for the reporter. The trouble is, Pierre can't seem to distinguish between fiction and reality; for Katya, it's her stock in trade. You'd think someone who covers politics would know the difference. This is an actor's film, and I thoroughly enjoyed the performances. The script is based on a film by murdered Dutch director Theo van Gogh. Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use. 94 m. At the Minor. ENDS THURSDAY, SEPT. 20.
3:10 TO YUMA:Remake of the 1957 Western that made "yuma" universal Cuban slang for "America." Stars R. Crowe, C. Bale. Rated R. 117 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
BALLS OF FURY. Decrepit ping-pong champ recruited by FBI. Rated PG-13. 90 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Jason Bourne (M. Damon) returns to America to seek out the baddies who scrambled his brain. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
DEATH AT A FUNERAL:British comedy of errors. "Uproarious!" "Irreverent!" "Riotous!" "Ebullient!" Rated R. 91 m. At the Minor.
DRAGON WARS: Korean kaiju set in L.A., with a touch of Highlanderto complement the marauding monsters. Rated PG-13. 89 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
HAIRSPRAY. J. Travolta, Q. Latifah, C. Walken reinterpret the John Waters classic, adding singing and dancing and such. Rated PG. 123 m. At The Movies.
HALLOWEEN. R. Zombie remake of seminal spook-slash flick. Rated R. 114 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: In round five of the series, Harry and the gang buck government orders and found their own secret society. Rated PG-13. 148 m. At The Movies.
MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY. Freakish Briton goes to Cannes, where hilarious mix-ups ensue. Rated G. 87 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.
NANNY DIARIES.Jersey girl (S. Johansson) experiences Upper East Side nastiness when hired as domestic assistant. Rated PG-13. 105 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.
RATATOUILLE:Pixar alert! A nanimated Parisian rat with a preternatural talent in the kitchen dreams of earning his Michelin star. Rated G. 120 m. At The Movies.
SHOOT 'EM UP: Remarkably, they managed to make a bad movie starring both C. Owen and P. Giamatti. This one's in the bullets and hit-men genre. Rated R. 86 m. At the Broadway.
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. Gentle-hearted buffoon accidentally imperils the world. Rated PG-13. 87 m. At The Movies.
STARDUST: Young man travels to a magical word, seeking a fallen star that will capture the heart of his true love. With C. Danes, M. Pfeiffer, R. De Niro. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway.
SUPERBAD. Two awkward teen boys -- one crude, one shy -- set out to excise their boyhood in one night of partying. Rated R. 113 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
TRANSFORMERS: A poignant ode to '80s-era Saturday morning cartoons. Also, a bunch of shapeshifting robots blow each other up. Rated PG-13. 154 m. At The Movies.