Two film series this month are giving audiences a chance to see contemporary and classic foreign films that provide rich insight into the human condition.
|Cinema ClipsMeet the Parents ***
It feels like a funny sitcom pilot stretched to feature length, but director Jay Roach’s newest comedy get its laughs in nonetheless, largely thanks to an empathetic script that feels for Greg (Ben Stiller), but still puts him through hell. Greg is a male nurse who journeys to upstate New York to meet the parents of his live-in girlfriend (Teri Polo), who he’s asked to marry him. Unfortunately, it turns out her father is Robert DeNiro. Both Stiller and DeNiro are in top form, with DeNiro actually mining a little comic zing out of that well-weathered persona. The supporting cast is strong as well, particularly Owen Wilson as the perfect ex-fiancée who makes Greg look even worse. It’s all farce, but it’s very funny, and Roach knows how to keep things moving. Go meet them. (PG-13) —GB
Get Carter **1/2
Shouldn’t we be happier to see Sly? In his first real film since 1997’s Copland, Sylvester Stallone is the title character in a remake of the sharp 1971 thriller starring Michael Caine, who’s also in this version. In a script with more than a little Rocky flavor, Stallone is a Vegas hit man who returns home to Seattle to find out who capped his brother. An incoherent, murky script requires Stallone to get beat up a whole lot for no good reason, and the various tough guys who eventually bow to his wrath aren’t terribly interesting. There’s not much here—a couple of good lines from Rachael Leigh Cook as his niece, and a good fight or two. Still, it’s good to see Sly beating people up again. I was worried about the big guy. (R) —GB
The Exorcist ***1/2
It’s still scary as hell, this William Friedkin groundbreaker that was revolutionary when it first came on the scene. It’s being re-released with missing footage and a few other goodies, but what was left out the first time isn’t nearly as interesting as what Friedkin managed to leave in. Watching it with the perspective of time necessarily dulls its shock value (it really shouldn’t be funny to watch a 12-year-old girl masturbate with a crucifix, but God help us, it is), but it’s still obvious why this film has compelled and drawn audiences for 30 years with the relentlessness of a bug zapper. (R) —GB
The Tao of Steve ***
It’s not hard to see why Jenniphr Goodman’s fresh, feel-good love story was an audience favorite at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s one of those amusingly benign comedies about the finer points of the mating ritual. The film’s hero (Donal Logue) is an overweight, philosophy-spouting kindergarten teacher looking for love in Santa Fe. He’s the kind of guy who grows on you, working his charm in ways so subtle you hardly notice he’s made you take notice of him. He’s not the kind of romantic hero we usually see on-screen, which is a large part of his charm. The film’s insights may not be earth-shattering, but this smart romantic comedy is filled with refreshingly real people. (R) —MD
Remember the Titans **
Prepackaged for easy digestion, here’s the story of a suddenly integrated Virginia high school football team that struggles at first but eventually comes together across racial divides to win the big game or something. You’ve seen this movie before, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t even try to fake it. We get blindingly obvious demarcations of good and evil, an aggressive soundtrack designed to cue emotions hard-wired into our collective subconscious by other movie soundtracks, a sheeny brand of cinematography and a script fanatically dedicated to avoiding surprises. Denzel Washington preens and poses as the head coach, and a few more characters get in a lick or two, but the emotion generated by the film is only slightly more fresh than watching a tape of a long-forgotten Super Bowl—unless that’s your thing, of course. (PG) —GB
Blood Simple ***
The Tower Theater is showing a newly restored, digitally enhanced and re-edited director’s cut of Joel and Ethan Coen’s first feature film, originally released in 1984. The dark crime thriller takes its title from a Dashell Hammet term for the state of confusion that follows a murder. M. Emmet Walsh plays a cheap divorce detective hired to kill a Texas saloon owner’s young wife (Frances McDormand) and her bartender lover. I wasn’t a huge fan of the film (the body-disposal scene still gets to me), and most audiences won’t notice the tweaking. But the rerelease dose give another generation of filmgoers a chance to see the Coens’ film debut on the big screen. (R) —MD
Woman on Top **1/2
A summer beach novel of a movie from Venezuelan director Fina Torres. It exists mostly to showcase the unbearable lightness of being Penelope Cruz, who’s beautiful beyond the scope of conventional measuring devices and possesses gallons of that ineffable thing that usually bespeaks stardom. She plays a motion-sick cook who flees her Brazilian home and husband for a new life and a cooking show in San Francisco. Cruz is stuck in a patchy story that tries to capture the magic-food-and-sex vibe of Like Water for Chocolate and the playful sophistication of Almodovar, but can’t manage the passionate earnestness of the former or the intelligence of the latter. On the other hand, Cruz is still really hot—and the Brazilian rhythms permeating the film will keep your toe tapping while your hand stifles a yawn. —GB
Gwyneth Paltrow is directed by her father Bruce is a ridiculously dated and cliched story of six lost souls converging in Omaha at a karaoke championship. The film purports to take us through the culture of karaoke, but it’s really an excuse for Gwyneth to revive her dad’s dead directing career. Of the actors, only Paul Giamatti passes for interesting, and the final act embraces several hideously pat Hollywood endings. One surprise, however: Gwynnie can sing, romping through “Bette Davis Eyes” with a class and poise the rest of this film sorely lacks. (R) —GB
Nurse Betty ***1/2
Neil LaBute’s latest film is a clever commentary on the abandonment of reality, the lure of fantasy, and the power of television. Betty (Reneé Zellweger) is a coffee shop waitress with a dead-end life, a philandering husband, and an addiction to soap operas. When she witnesses her husband brutally murdered by two hit men (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock), she snaps. In the perfect blurring of TV fantasy and reality, she is convinced she’s Nurse Betty, a character from her favorite soap opera, and she sets out to find her true love, the soap opera’s handsome heart surgeon. With shades of The Truman Show and Don Quixote, this parable offers an interesting take on “people with no lives watching people with fake lives.” (R) —MD
The Way of the Gun ***1/2
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) creates a delicious array of smart, resourceful characters in this uptempo modern Western. Parker (Ryan Philippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) concoct a plan to kidnap the surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) for the child of an organized-crime bagman and ransom her for $15 million. The plot thickens as the antiheroes try to stay away from old-time thug Sarno (James Caan) and two bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt). The script plows through a few momentary slows, while Philippe and Caan stand out in a picture filled with magnetic performances. There’s a little French New Wave, a little Tarantino, and a lot of McQuarrie in an exciting feature debut. —GB
Jamie Foxx and director Antoine Fuqua deliver a by-the-numbers action-comedy that aims low and hits its target. He plays an ex-con who learns a secret about some missing gold shortly before he’s released. He unwittingly has a microchip implanted in his jaw, enabling a Treasury Dept. agent (David Morse) to follow him while waiting for a crazy criminal guy to try to get the gold. Foxx, who showed his dramatic chops in Any Given Sunday, handles both the comedic and dramatic sides of a schizophrenic script with skill, and Doug Hutchison is unconventionally creepy as the villain. It won’t make you think and it won’t make you applaud, but you’ll get the easy laughs and the big explosions you paid for. —GB
Almost Famous ***
Salt Laker Patrick Fugit makes an impressive film debut as a teenager accompanying a rock band on a cross-country tour for an article in Rolling Stone. The premise of Cameron Crowe’s film may sound far-fetched, but the film succeeds thanks to a good script and solid performances from a cast that includes Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Billy Crudup. An interesting look at life in a mid-level rock band, the film is really about artistic integrity and the importance of family in whatever form it takes. (R) —MD
The Watcher *1/2
Against all logic and human decency, Keanu Reeves stars as the most unconvincing serial killer since Andrew Cunanan. Reeves’ off-the-charts bad performance kills any hope for this ultrageneric thriller featuring James Spader as the requisite burnt-out lawman chasing redemption in the form of Keanu, who strangles his pretty female victims and talks like the skater version of Cary Grant. From the illogical sight of Marisa Tomei as a psychologist to the bizarrely ineffective booby traps and puzzle-clues set by Keanu, this picture begs to be sent quickly to video and expunged from moviegoers’ long-suffering minds. (R) —GB
Highlander: Endgame *1/2One more attempt to wring another few million dollars out of the most unlikely of science fiction franchises. Christopher Lambert is joined by Adrian Paul, the star of the syndicated TV series, and they basically run around learning about other immortals, with no clear objective or object to be saved. The requisite action and confusing camera work are here, but there’s little humor and even less self-awareness. Lambert and Paul take their silly roles incredibly seriously, which makes the film even less fun than living forever. (R) —GB
The Tower Theater’s International Cinema Series, Oct. 15-17, is presenting three films that delve into the human psyche. The best among them is the riveting thriller from Australia, The Interview. Directed by Craig Monahan, this Kafkaesque exploration of criminality took the Australian Film Institute’s Award for Best Film of 1998, as well as a Best Actor Award for its star, Hugo Weaving. In a film marked by sterling performances, Weaving is absolutely brilliant as Eddie Fleming.
Out of work, recently abandoned by his wife and family, Eddie is sleeping in a chair when police burst into his apartment at 5 a.m., humiliate and assault him before dragging him off in handcuffs to police headquarters. Terrified and confused, he has no idea why he is sitting in a dark room being interrogated by Detective John Steele. The initial charge is car theft, but it turns out the detective is being pressured to find a serial killer. Neither of the two men know that there are other forces at work here. At the same time Steele is trying to get Eddie, other players are working to get Steele off the force.
French director Bruno Dumont’s Humanité is a more esoteric and less accessible exploration of the nature of criminality. Dumont is a former professor of philosophy who has a tendency to linger over details. Though it won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 1999, at two-and-a-half hours in length Dumont’s slow-paced film won’t appeal to as many average moviegoers. The film, which stars Philippe Tullier, Séverine Caneele and Emmanuel Schotté, is essentially a psychological portrayal of a police detective who investigates the brutal rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in a working-class town in France.
The re-release of the German film, Young Freud, directed by Axel Corti, provides a fascinating fictitious account of Freud as a young man, looking at the forces that shaped him and his theories of the unconscious, repression and sexuality. Karlheinz Hackl stars as Dr. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. An off-camera interviewer questions Freud at various stages of his young life, which touches on both his Jewish background and his homosexual encounters.
“Film is such a perfect vehicle for discussing cultural ideas,” says Brook Harper, manager of the Tower Theater. “It’s important for us to view cinema from all over the world so that we can come to as good an understanding as possible of the interesting and unique ideas of the human psyche. The more we’re exposed to international film, the more we’re exposed to that panoply of ideas.”
The University of Utah Film Front shares Harper’s sentiments. The student organization is committed to bringing international cinema to campus, and offers a series of free films open to the public. Hosted by distinguished professors, all films are on Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. in the Orson Spencer Hall Auditorium.
Oct. 15 brings La Strategia del Ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem), Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 story of a young man living in his father’s shadow who returns home to solve the mystery of his father’s assassination.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 Le Samourai is a stylistic masterpiece about an elusive hit man who falls in love with a witness. Robert Bresson’s 1959 Pickpocket is about a compulsive petty thief who keeps getting caught, but, like the hero of Samourai, may change his ways for love.
Nov. 5 features Céline et Julie Vont en Bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating), Jacques Rivette’s 1979 film chronicling a series of adventures that evolve into a haunted-house mystery.
Prénom Carmen (First Name: Carmen) is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1983 film about a girl who dreams of making a film and finances it by robbing a bank. She falls in the love with the guard.
The series ends Nov. 19 with Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1995 classic, The City of Lost Children, a fairytale about an evil man who is deprived of the ability to dream, so he steals the dreams of children.
For more information about the Film Front, call Nick Scown at 463-9574 or Evan Brown at 502-5455. For showtimes of the Tower’s International Cinema Series, call 321-0310.