Film Openings

Week of June 25, 2003

 Capturing the Friedmans. Andrew Jarecki. Andrew Jarecki's documentary, about a Great Neck, New York, family torn asunder in the late 1980s by allegations of kiddie-porn possession and the horrific sexual abuse of numerous children, ranks among the most harrowing and heartbreaking films ever made about the destruction of an American family. It's also a mystery: Was 56-year-old Arnold Friedman, known as a kindly schoolteacher, really a monster or merely a man disturbed, and was his youngest Jesse his willing accomplice or just a kid in the wrong house at the wrong time? But the movie is far more than a glossy episode of Dateline; the Friedmans put so much of their lives on film, we're witness literally to the birth and death of a family, till the subtext of this movie, our obsession with documenting the minutiae of our lives in order to make bigger sense of it later, becomes its eventual text. Horrifying, tragic -- and a masterpiece. Opens Friday, June 27, at the Tivoli. (Robert Wilonsky)

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Joseph McGinty Nichol. If you're one who's going to complain about the egregious violation of the laws of physics in the original Charlie's Angels movie, you've no business in the theater to begin with. Ditto anyone who disdains gratuitous and fetishistic costume changes, or unmotivated suggestive poses. The absurdity is the point, but so was the film's spontaneous feel, which is sorely lacking in this retread. Cameron Diaz gets another dance number, which isn't much fun; Lucy Liu gets to use a whip again, which is predictable; Drew Barrymore gets to make out with new bad boy Justin Theroux, which feels like ego gratification. There are still some fun scenes, notably one set at the beach, and a motocross chase which abuses bullet-time like the Wachowski brothers wouldn't believe, but the film's publicity hype has already spoiled its opening action sequence and the "surprise" villain, who isn't formally revealed as such until well over an hour into the flick. Opens Friday, June 27, at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)

The Hard Word. Scott Roberts. Guy Pearce's Dale Twentyman is a nonviolent con always getting conned, not least of all by his peroxided wife, Carol (Rachel Griffiths), and her lover Frank (Robert Taylor), who's also Dale's double-crossing lawyer and the very man who plots the elaborate robberies that land Dale behind bars. Frank provides Dale and his brothers -- meat-headed butcher Mal (Damien Richardson) and temperamental muscleman Shane (Joel Edgerton) -- with plans and props; it's just this one day Frank figures that $20 million is too much to split with the three lads, so Frank hires outside help to off the boys once the race is run and the cash is collected. In the end, some people wind up dead, some live happily ever after, some live just till the next con comes round the corner. The thing about heist films is that they're pretty good at tricking you into liking them; the thrills can dash away the nagging feeling you're being taken yet again. But you are, ultimately. Opens Wednesday, July 2, at the Tivoli. (Robert Wilonsky)

Only the Strong Survive. Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker. Last Fall, Standing in the Shadows of Motown reintroduced the Funk Brothers, the fabulous backup band that played on just about every Motown hit of the 1960s and early '70s. The musicians told wonderful stories about themselves and the not-always-so-great "good old days," but the audience never got to see them playing with the stars they helped make famous: Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin. Instead, contemporary singers offered disappointing renditions of Motown classics. Only the Strong Survive, a new documentary about some of the old singers, has the exact opposite problem. It features the likes of Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, Mary Wilson, and Rufus Thomas giving present-day performances of their signature songs, but it skimps on showing much about their backgrounds. We learn a few things about their lives now, but not their early years: where they grew up, how they got into the business, their struggles against racism. The portrait that normally reliable documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker give us is woefully incomplete. Opens Friday, June 27, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Jean Oppenheimer)

Together. Chen Kaige. Opens Friday, June 27, at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.

Wattstax. Long a victim of legal wrangling and only now seen in the version intended for release 30 years ago, this isn't the world's greatest rockumentary. The performances by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor and other Stax Records vets, while often ferocious and engaging, are not career milestones for anyone involved; and we're taken out of the Los Angeles Coliseum so often -- for barbershop and restaurant interviews with Watts residents about relations between blacks and whites, men and women -- it's possible to forget for long stretches you're even watching a documentary of a single event. It's Richard Pryor who ultimately makes Wattstax invaluable: He's still young, still fleshing out the routines that would make him immortal, still finding a way to melt down unforgiving anger into unflinching comedy. He's the conscience of the film, shouting above the chorus of performers and interview subjects with bits that propel Wattstax with far more force than any musician. Opens Friday, June 27, at the Tivoli. (Robert Wilonsky)

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