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)

Songs From the Second Floor. Roy Andersson. Swedish director Andersson compiles beguiling scene fragments with odd, occasionally disturbing vignettes but abandons linear storytelling to create a jagged vision. Although we haven't seen the film, one review described Second Floor as "unlike anything previously captured on film, and with this kind of experimental genius/madness at work. In one scene, a drunk woman repeatedly tries to climb back on her barstool, only to fail with machine-like regularity; next to her, a man in a tuxedo continually vomits." Elsewhere, a magician makes a tragic error, and a camera gazes for minutes on end at a busy intersection. Plays at 8 p.m. October 11-13 at Webster University. NR

Spirited Away. Hayao Mayazaki. Opens October 11 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

The Transporter. Cory Yuen. Jason Statham plays a preposterously gifted getaway driver, based in France, who gets big bucks as an upscale cabbie for crooks. When his latest delivery turns out to be a sack full of Chinese sexpot (Shu Qi), he has a brief sentimental moment that lands him at war with his clients. This is the one of two films to open in the last month produced and co-written (but not directed) by French wünderkind Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), the other being the superior Wasabi. It was directed by venerable Hong Kong director/action choreographer Yuen, whose talents are only partially exploited. That is, there are a few really terrific hand-to-hand fights, but most of the action consists of big car chases and explosions, not Yuen's strong suit. Nor does the lame script make use of Yuen's wonderful comic talents. In the mindless-action sweepstakes, however, there's enough here to place The Transporter above big-bang gibberish such as xXx. Opens October 11 at multiple locations. (AK)

Tuck Everlasting. Jay Russell. The title has nothing to do with permanent abdominal cosmetic surgery but, rather, references immortality and its consequences. Like a swell two-parter from the old Wonderful World of Disney, this elegant yarn (based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt) takes us back to those dubious good old days when America was white and whimsical. A spunky rich girl (Alexis Bledel, impressive) falls for an eternal pretty boy (Jonathan Jackson, playing the nice person's Eric Draven of The Crow) while her rigid folks (Amy Irving and Victor Garber, starched) and his indestructible family (William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Scott Bairstow, all superb) struggle to avoid tragedy at the hands of the greedy Man in the Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley, who seems to have drunk deeply from the Fountain of Rogaine). The movie's as dated and shallow as a Norman Rockwell painting, but director Russell (My Dog Skip) adds some fine shades of sylvan beauty and young-adult heartache to the ol' Disney palette. Opens October 11 at multiple locations. (GW)

White Oleander. Peter Kosminsky. Based on a best-selling novel (an Oprah Book Club selection), this latest Hollywood "chick flick" finds fifteen-year old shy-but-sensitive Astrid (Alison Lohman) being shuttled from foster home to foster home after her strong-willed but impulsive mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) murders the lover who done Ingrid wrong. Domineering, unpredictable and seductive, but also loving, Ingrid casts a long shadow over her daughter, who tries to fit into each new foster home but is undone both by her mother's powerful -- and often corrosive -- influence and by destructive conditions at each foster home. Robin Wright Penn stars as foster mom number one, a spandex-clad former stripper turned born-again Christian, and Renée Zellweger is foster mama number two, a sweet-but-fragile woman with a crumbling marriage. Despite restrained direction by Brit Peter Kosminsky and relatively unsentimental performances (Pfeiffer is excellent, as is Cole Hauser as the man in Wright Penn's life), the film can't escape its high gloss, semitrashy, oh-so-life-affirming storyline. Opens October 11 at multiple locations. (JO)

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