Film Openings

Week of April 10, 2002

Changing Lanes. Roger Mitchell. Ben Affleck is Gavin Banek, a slick attorney who can't seem to understand why people hate lawyers (and him) so much, even as he's persuading a senile philanthropist to sign over power of attorney to his firm. Samuel L. Jackson is Doyle Gipson, an insurance telemarketer who attends Al-Anon meetings when he's not trying desperately to win back custody of his children, whom he hopes to put up in the run-down Queens residence he's just about to buy. On a day that both need to be in court, Gavin rams Doyle's car off the road while talking on his cell phone. Because insurance is Doyle's field, he tries to do the right thing, whereas Gavin offers to write a blank check. But no, Doyle still wants to take down his insurance information. That he doesn't take the blank check when we know he plans to take out a huge loan for the house is one leap in logic you have to accept for the rest of the film to work. Gavin doesn't accept it, and simply drives away, offering the less-than-hopeful benediction "Better luck next time." Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) isn't after simple revenge fireworks, however; he's looking to make a grand statement about being trapped in a routine and man's disconnect from his fellow man. It doesn't always work, and the ending is too pat, but thumbs up for trying. Opens April 12 at multiple locations. (LYT)

Cool and Crazy. Knut Erik Jensen. Billed as a Norwegian Buena Vista Social Club, this strangely ironic documentary -- a surprise box-office hit in its native Norway -- offers the unlikely charm of a collection of mostly middle-aged men (the oldest member is 96 ) who survive the gloom and depression of their environment by performing as the Berlevag Male Choir. Director Jensen has fun setting the choir against various elements of the frigid landscape (the final sequence shows them performing outdoors as icicles slowly form on noses and eyebrows), but the most memorable moments come from the strange and candid interviews with the singers (one is a recovered drug addict, another a frustrated communist, and several joke half-seriously about their amorous pursuits). The film suggests an emotional turmoil bubbling beneath the surface of these lives but is too good-natured to dig too deeply. It's a charming and genuinely odd portrait of grace under pressure. Plays at 7 p.m. April 12-14 at Webster University. (RH)

Frailty. Bill Paxton. Opens April 12 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

Human Nature. Michel Gondry. It's immediately refreshing to note a movie about furry freaks and saucy geeks whose primary goal is just to, you know, do it. Written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) and directed by feature neophyte Michel Gondry, this screwy comedy posits that the wild thang is key to all things. For a while, it toes a rather sophomoric line between Miss Manners and Robert Bly, but then, to its credit, it leaps around willy-nilly, letting lust run its beastly course. Essentially, as in the more cerebral Malkovich, we're looking at a fervid love square. Patricia Arquette plays a pretty hairy wild woman drawn to Tim Robbins' excessively meticulous behavioral psychologist while a deranged ape man (Rhys Ifans) and a frisky French lab assistant (Miranda Otto) offer temptingly lusty scams. Although there are whiffs of social philosophy throughout it, Human Nature doesn't seem terribly concerned with achieving any grand assessment of civilization versus wildness (it practically writes off the whole issue). Rather, Kaufman and Gondry bait us with constant zaniness, then sneak up on us with romantic melancholy, even crushing pathos. You'll laugh a lot, but not without a sense of animal desperation. Opens April 12 at the Chase Park Plaza. (GW)

Last Orders. Fred Schepisi. Old friends Ray (Bob Hoskins), Vic (Tom Courtenay), Lenny (David Hemmings) and Vince (Ray Winstone) have gathered with the cremated remains of their departed mate Jack (Michael Caine) to set out on a road trip to Margate Pier, where they will dispose of the ashes in the water. Along the way, flashbacks naturally ensue, allowing the actors to don a number of wigs, with varying degrees of success, and even transform into younger actors for the really distant flashbacks. What's most remarkable is that the film doesn't feel like a product of stunt casting, even with Helen Mirren as Jack's widow. The film's biggest strength is the same characteristic that may cause people to underrate it: The group of friends we watch onscreen feel not like England's greatest actors showing off but a group of friends who have indeed known each other for years through life's little triumphs and large tragedies. If no one singles out any of these performances as award-worthy, it's only because we would expect nothing less from this bunch, or maybe that we expect our stars to be conspicuous and glamorous. The movie's more of a wake than a funeral, and though often poignant, it's never maudlin. Opens April 12 at the Plaza Frontenac. (LYT)

New Best Friend. Zoe Clarke-Williams. It's never a good sign when a film's star spends the entirety of the film in a coma. It's a worse sign when you begin to envy her condition. This direct-to-Beta bummer stars Mia Kirshner (Not Another Teen Movie) as Alicia Campbell, a lower-class student at an elite, upper-class North Carolina college that looks less like an institution of higher learning than a set piece for an E! Wild On special. In flashbacks, it's revealed that Alicia has overdosed on pharmacy-quality coke -- who hasn't? -- and the local sheriff (Taye Diggs, in a remarkably wrong-headed bit of casting) is investigating the OD as a possible homicide. Alicia's one of those ugly fucklings adopted by the in-crowd. In this case, the in-crowd is played by Meredith Monroe, who looks like a young Sally Kellerman; Dominque Swain as a lipstick lesbian; and Rachel True, who's truly awful. Director Clarke-Williams is just as confused about her message (booze and drugs are bad -- but fun!) as she is about where to point the camera. The movie looks like a bad acid trip, except when it's supposed to, and then it just looks plain wretched (like a blind man's idea of art). This film seems to exist solely to prove there is something beneath the bottom of the barrel. If it's not the worst film of the millennium, it's only because it's not worth making the case for or against its atrociousness. Opens April 12 at multiple locations. (RW)

The Sweetest Thing. Roger Kumble. Directed by a focus group of 17-year-old boys (and their younger sisters, maybe) who titter at the mention of the word "punany" and guffaw at the sight of Selma Blair caught on a cock ring, this is romantic comedy for audiences who find the films of the Farrellys too stodgy and the movies of the Weitzes too sentimental. It drips with empty-headed cynicism (audiences are fucking stupid, check) and copious jizz jokes; a dry cleaner licks the crusty white stain on Blair's dress in front of a priest and her elementary-school teacher -- what fun! Other highlights include talk of vaginal freshness, anal leakage and the double-barreled sight gag that involves Christina Applegate's taking a leak in a men's-room urinal while Cameron Diaz gets dicked in the eye. (Billy Wilder would be proud.) Neither clever nor subversive, the movie's merely tricked-up and sicked-up to cover what's essentially the oldest story ever told: Diaz, playing Christina Walters, is a Bay Area good-time girl who wants Mr. Right Now and freaks when she meets Mr. Right (61*'s Thomas Jane), who, unbeknownst to her, is on his way to walking down the aisle with Parker Posey (aw, wonder whether it'll last?). The cast's game for anything -- Diaz and Applegate are never more radiant than when discussing the fresh smell of pussy, and Blair will be forever proud of feigning having a cock ring lodged behind her tonsils -- but The Sweetest Thing is also the dumbest thing this side of a lobotomy. Opens April 12 at multiple locations. (RW)

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