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Film Openings

Week of October 23, 2002

Before They Fall off the Cliff. Art Holliday. Before They Fall Off the Cliff chronicles Matt McBride's horrific murder of his parents around 7:30 a.m. September 19, 1994, the morning after his release from psychiatric-hospital care. But rather than exploit the lurid details, writer/director/producer Holliday offers insight, plumbing the ripple effects on Matt's sister and brother, the diverse mental-health support community and legislation. As a result, this truly heartbreaking story becomes an occasion for education about the stigma of mental illness, its current and past treatment and Missouri's 1996 revisions to involuntary-commitment laws. With exceptional access to Fulton State Hospital, to evaluation sessions, relatives and McBride himself, Before They Fall, despite its lack of technical elegance, makes a profound appeal to our hearts as well as our minds. Screens at Webster University at 7 p.m. October 25-26 and at 4 p.m. October 27. October 26 screening is preceded at 5 p.m. by a panel discussion with mental-health experts. (DC)

Bowling for Columbine. Michael Moore. Opens October 25 at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.

The Cockettes. David Weissman and Bill Weber. The most exhilarating documentary since Paris Is Burning, this loving and painstakingly informative feature takes us back to the late-'60s heyday of the San Francisco-based troupe of gay hippie acid freaks whose makeshift musical revues (with titles such as Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma and Journey to the Center of Uranus) made them such a sensation that they were brought to New York -- where they famously and spectacularly bombed. But that didn't stop the Cockettes; only time, drug overdoses and AIDS did that. Directors Weissman and Weber combine vintage 16mm footage and photos from the past with interviews with surviving Cockettes such as Jilala, Scrumbly, Goldie Glitters, Rumi, Marshall (a straight male Cockette), Sweet Pam, Dusty Dawn and Fayette Hauser (three female Cockettes). They were ahead of their time back in the '60's, and they still are. Not to be missed under any circumstances.Opens October 25 at the Tivoli. (DE)

Ghost Ship. Steve Beck. The scrappy salvage tug Arctic Warrior sets out to plunder the legendarily missing and newly discovered luxury liner Antonia Graza, and all bloody hell breaks loose for Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne, 100 percent sodium chloride), robust team leader Maureen Epps (Julianna Margulies) and their crew, guided by a completely boring conniver (Desmond Harrington) who's called Jack Ferriman (as in, hint-hint, "Don't Pay the ..."). The lovingly detailed setting and eerie atmosphere count for much, but Ghost Ship just isn't likely to shiver your timbers. In the wake of the floundering Thirteen Ghosts, director Beck still hasn't figured out that graphic violence and wanton cruelty do not a scary movie make. The poorly plotted, rehashed screenplay is partly to blame, but Beck is simply no master of suspense. Not scary enough for its own good, his Ghost Ship ends up stuck, enjoyably enough, between the Scylla of schlock and the Charybdis of camp. Opens October 25 at multiple locations. (GW)

Heaven. Tom Tykwer. Like his similarly stylish-but-overlong The Princess and the Warrior, Tykwer's latest film, set in Italy, is a slow-moving look at the bond between an unusually resourceful naïf and a hard-edged sociopath, though for variety's sake the sexes have been switched. In a particularly cutesy move, their names are almost the same: Philippa (Cate Blanchett) is an accused terrorist; Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) is a young recruit in the Italian police force. There's no doubt as to Philippa's guilt -- we see her plant a bomb meant for one person that actually ends up killing four innocent people, including two children. But as she's being interrogated, Filippo, who's the only officer who can speak English, falls instantly in love with the waifish captive and plots to help her escape. Tykwer seems to know he can't top Run Lola Run, so he goes in the opposite direction and hits slo-mo with the last unfilmed screenplay by the late great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. But Tykwer's so into the subtext that he neglects the narrative where Kieslowski would not have. Opens October 25 at the Tivoli. (LYT)

Jackass: The Movie. Jeff Tremaine. Watch grown little boys do nasty nasty things to their bodies, their minds and their souls. Includes footage deemed too "extreme" for the MTV television show of the same name. If you're into gross, this is the movie for you. Opens October 25 at multiple locations.

Paid in Full. Charles Stone III. In the mid-'80s, an initially honest Harlem youth (Wood Harris) slowly becomes a drug kingpin, aided by his best friend (Mekhi Phifer) and a trigger-happy assistant (rapper Cam'ron). Allegedly based on the real-life story of dealer Azie Faison Jr. (a.k.a. A.Z.), this debut feature from director Charles Stone III -- best known for his 1999 short film "True" and the "Whassup?" Budweiser commercials it spawned -- is a rise-and-fall story much like Brian de Palma's 1983 Scarface, of which it makes more than one blatant acknowledgment. There have been a number of similar films, but this is the best in the genre since at least New Jack City. Harris is effective, with an interesting laid-back presence that allows the more dynamic Phifer to dominate their scenes together. Stone uses an interesting flashback structure and imparts a stylish touch to what could have been overly familiar material. For those who may be sensitive to such things, however, the film seems to use the word "nigger" more times than all of Spike Lee's and Richard Pryor's films put together. Opens October 25 at multiple locations. (AK)

Punch-Drunk Love. Paul Thomas Anderson. Opens October 25 at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.

The Truth About Charlie. Jonathan Demme. Once more, it all boils down to the stamps -- which, if you have seen Stanley Donen's Charade, nearly ruins the last ten minutes of Demme's remake. But revelations and rewards aren't Demme's game; he loves the making of movies, not finishing them, which is what makes The Truth About Charlie such a rush: For the first time in a long time, the writer/director is having a blast. So are we when watching this story about a widow (Thandie Newton) who's being pursued by good guys, bad guys and other guys who may be both, among them Mark Wahlberg, Tim Robbins and Christine Boisson. The movie's loaded with appearances by the French New Wave, and their proximity has brushed off on Demme, who zigs and zags and drags his camera through Paris with an abandon he hasn't displayed since his days toiling on the Roger Corman assembly line or shooting Something Wild. But this is as much Newton's picture as it is Demme's; it's little wonder every character falls for her. Opens October 25 at multiple locations. (RW)

Waking Up in Reno. Jordan Brady. Not as bad as its rep -- Miramax has been hiding this sucker on the shelf for danged near two years -- but not good enough to overcome its status as damaged goods, which is almost a shame, because audiences will miss Billy Bob Thornton's best performance, and hairpiece, in years. This is a comedy Dr. Phil could wrap his moustache around in a loving embrace: Two couples (Thornton and Natasha Richardson, barely in love; Patrick Swayze and Charlize Theron, desperately trying to get pregnant) take a road trip from Arkansas to Nevada and leave their white trash scattered all across the Southwest. Once it's revealed to all that Thornton and Theron have had a brief tryst, things fall apart, though, blessedly, not for long; these people deserve each other, and a slightly better movie that doesn't patronize and preach at the same time (Richardson, turns out, is pretty on the inside, too -- whatever). Docked a point for using Penelope Cruz for a split second as a Reno hooker; come to think of it, brief cameos become her. Opens October 25 at the Ronnies 20. (RW)

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