Club Rules

The same plague affects Kline, who seems far less comfortable in the sidekick role here than he was in, say, A Fish Called Wanda and its sequel. He, too, is asked to make hilarious that which is wholly and completely unfunny. After Hayek's arrival, he compliments her by saying that she is "a breath of fresh ass." No, he says, when West points out his mistake, what he meant to say was that she is "a breast of fresh air." You see the level.

Branagh, too, has to deliver his share of achingly bad jokes and off-color puns but has the added impediment of having to shout them out in the most egregiously contrived Southern accent while sporting what must be one of the worst (not to mention baroque) beards in movie history.

Given all the attendant hype and gossip about its cost, whether or not the movie will find an audience is anybody's guess. But of those who do find their way to the film, only those who come expecting a grand display of special effects -- all created to conform to the larger-than-life scale one expects to see in this particular species of summer blockbuster -- will walk away satisfied. Those expecting the quick wit and inventiveness of the television series will certainly be disappointed, as will those who expect the hip suavity that one usually gets from any continued on next pagecontinued from previous pageperformance by Smith. It's not wild, wild; it's mild, mild.

Opens June 30.
-- Hal Hinson

LEILA
Co-written and directed by Dariush Mehrjui
The characters in Leila take for granted the contradictions of a society in which characters use cell phones, grumble about traffic jams and watch Hollywood movies on TV while still living under the ancient restrictions and customs of Islam. Though they lack the power -- and, perhaps, even the desire -- to break with tradition, they are at least aware of the tension. Like Eric Rohmer, writer/director Dariush Mehrjui shows how timeless moral issues reverberate in the modern world, influencing even those who think they have left the ideas of the past behind.

The heroine of Leila (played with stunning aplomb by Leila Hatami) is a newly married young woman whose seemingly idyllic life gradually withers away when she learns that she can't have children. Fertility becomes an obsession, and when months of medical testing provide no relief, the insecure Leila is incapable of warding off the schemes of her mother-in-law, who convinces her that the lack of an heir is making her husband miserable.

Though the weak but well-meaning Reza (Ali Mosaffa) insists that he is perfectly happy without children, he too falls prey to the demands of family and tradition, and the pair find themselves -- not entirely with reluctance -- looking into an Islamic custom that allows the husband of a barren woman to take a second wife. Tradition and desire clash to produce tragedy, despite each party's insistence on their good intentions.

Mehrjui is a leading figure of the Iranian new wave, often linked with Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose films have just begun to be noticed in the U.S. With more than three decades of experience, he has outlasted both the shah and Khomeini (whose admiration for Mehrjui's 1970 film The Cow helped earn support for the film industry in the 1980s), faced government censorship of nearly all of his features and taken inspiration from such unlikely non-Iranian sources as A Doll's House, Franny and Zooey and Viridiana. Educated at UCLA and influenced by Western writers and filmmakers, he can see an Islamic world whose changing face remains unacknowledged by the official culture but slips out nonetheless. Leila escapes from the narrow image presented to the West during the shouting matches of theReagan-Khomeini years -- and occasionally reinforced by its films -- to show a world that hesitantly navigates a path between the old world and the new, between modernity and orthodoxy. In Leila's dilemma and her gradual submersion into despair, it also reveals the heavy price paid for that uneasy alliance.

Plays at 8 p.m. July 2-3 at Webster University.
-- Robert Hunt

SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT
Co-written and directed by Trey Parker
The animated TV show South Park was the big sensation of the 1997-98 season -- or at least as big a hit as a cable channel like Comedy Central can manage. It was almost inevitable that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone would take their batch of foul-mouthed 8-year-olds to the big screen. (If such things were completely inevitable, we would have seen a Simpsons feature by now.)

The pair's earlier feature collaborations -- Cannibal! The Musical and Orgazmo -- were spotty but often hilarious. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is also spotty, but it has a higher hit-to-miss ratio. It is almost exactly what the film version of a TV show is supposed to be: true to the original but somehow bigger and more spectacular.

It may sound absurd to use the word "spectacular" in relation to South Park, which has always flaunted the childish crudeness of its animation. But spectacle is precisely what Parker and Stone have added here: more songs, real special effects and, of course, great dollops of the language that gets bleeped on TV. (Presumably, almost all the TV bleeps are the work of the creators, not of the network; Parker and Stone have gotten terrific mileage out of the bleep itself as a source of humor.)

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