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Film Openings

Week of October 9, 2002

Brown Sugar. Rick Famuyiwa. Disappointing, mostly because it squanders premise and promise. Once more, here's a film about two would-be wannabe lovers (Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan, playing childhood friends now all grown-up) in which their respective sidekicks (rappers Mos Def and Queen Latifah) steal the show but don't get to keep it. Diggs plays Dre, a record-label exec selling hip-hop and his soul; Lathan is Sidney, the XXL editor who gives her boy mad love in her back pages, when she's not financing his new label. (The movie, directed by Famuyiwa, should have been titled Conflict of Interest.) The film taunts us with the ancient inevitable: Will Dre and Sid, committed to others, ignore their obvious affections for each other or hook up? Ho-hum. Mos Def, as stoned-to-the-bone rapper Chris, gives Dre much needed cred and charisma, and Latifah plays Sid's cousin, for whom Mos Def's got the hots; she could break him in two, and he'd be too high to notice. Brown Sugar opens with a nice blast from the past -- real rappers, among them ?uestlove and Common, share their earliest hip-hop memories -- but we're dragged through the muck to the finish line we saw at the ticket counter. Opens October 11 at multiple locations. (RW)

8 Women. François Ozon. Opens October 11 at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Sam Jones. Opens October 11 at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.

Just a Kiss. Fisher Stevens. Part watered-down Neil LaBute, part Seinfeld episode (especially the one in which George's fiancée licks the poison glue and dies) and part Waking Life, Just a Kiss follows a group of youngish couples (Ron Eldard, Kyra Sedgwick, Marisa Tomei, Patrick Breen and Taye Diggs, among others) in New York as they cheat on each other with one another -- except some parts may not be real. How do we know? Possibly because of the use of rotoscoped animation, familiar not only from Waking Life but from an A-ha video some years back. Actor Fisher Stevens makes his feature directorial debut here, and although the film's not lacking in ambition, it doesn't really succeed on any level. The actors are leaden, and when more than one character drops dead as the result of some silly narrative punchline, no one's likely to give a damn. So let's recap. Animation: cool-looking but pointless. Cast: better in virtually every other movie on their résumés. There. Now no more attention need be paid. Opens October 11 at the Chase Park Plaza. (LYT)

Knockaround Guys. Brian Koppelman and David Levien. Herein -- thanks in part to Quentin Tarantino's producer, Lawrence Bender -- are contained familiar elements such as the shticky members of the makeshift gang, the caper gone loco, the suits and sunglasses, the posturing, the cocky edits and the requisite dashes of ultraviolence. Yet rather than submitting a carbon copy, writers/producers/directors Koppelman and Levien (screenwriters of Rounders) strive to cut and paste a revised gangster genre blueprint in which Brooklyn's groovy young goons (Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Seth Green, Andrew Davoli) and psychotic goombahs (such as John Malkovich) travel to Montana's redneck realm (featuring Tom Noonan as a wicked sheriff) to retrieve some stolen loot and find out what makes a man a man. If you want to hear kingpin Dennis Hopper reciting poetry such as, "Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining!" this is your movie. Otherwise, it's just a testosterone-and-adrenaline cocktail served in a cheap novelty dribble glass; quaff it fast without thinking, and you'll catch a modest buzz. Opens October 11 at multiple locations. (GW)

The Last Kiss. Gabriele Muccino. Director Muccino (But Forever in My Mind) pays his respects to Fellini (Juliet of the Spirits on television) and Tarantino (a Reservoir Dogs poster), then straddles with aplomb the intergenerational niche he's carved between. It's a mostly engaging approach, as confused Gen-X-er Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) struggles with his feelings for his pregnant -- and very irritable -- girlfriend, Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and the literate hottie teenager Francesca (Martina Stella) who craves his love-thang. Meanwhile, Carlo's friends are plotting their escapes from reality, meaningless flings and one even more irritable wife, and Giulia's supremely irritable mother (fine veteran Stefania Sandrelli), disgusted with her sagging everything and seemingly stymied husband (Luigi Diberti), plots a fling to rekindle her youth. It's the usual struggle of growing up and growing old, but Muccino's twists are plucky and revealing when he's not suffocating us with heavy-handed mortality and pathos. Opens October 11 at the Plaza Frontenac. (GW)

The Rules of Attraction. Roger Avary. Opens October 11 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

Skins. Chris Eyre. Director Eyre, whose engaging 1997 road movie Smoke Signals helped energize a modest new wave of Native American filmmaking, will open even more eyes with this vivid, moving look at two Oglala Sioux brothers (Eric Schweig and Graham Greene) so deeply scarred by the poverty, alcoholism and frustration their family's been immersed in for decades that they've even broken their bond to each other. Filmed on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Nebraska, this beautifully acted paean to brotherhood and redemption combines rage, sorrow and unexpected humor in just the right proportions. Adapted from a fine novel by Adrian C. Louis, a Lovelock Paiute who teaches college English. With Noah Watts. Opens October 11 at the Hi-Pointe. (BG)

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