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Film Openings

Week of August 13, 2003

Camp. Todd Graff. Camp Ovation is a summertime haven for the kid who doesn't fit in the outside world: Michael (Robin de Jesus), who shows up at his prom in high-heel drag and is turned away; Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), the plain girl with the extraordinary singing voice, who had to pay her brother to take her to the prom; Vlad (Daniel Letterle), the straight kid who might have been a jock, had he not discovered his love for musical theater. Todd Graff's autobiography about kids who summer by singing Sondheim plays like the old Fame TV series: Everything ends on a high note. Camp would be perfect without its scenes of plot and exposition, which feel like filler between the killer musical numbers that make even special guest Stephen Sondheim smile on his way out the door. Opens Friday, August 15, at the Hi-Pointe and Plaza Frontenac. (Robert Wilonsky)

The Cuckoo. Alexander Rogozhkin. This idiosyncratic anti-war fable from maverick Russian director Alexander Rogozhkin takes place in 1944, just days before Finland, an ally of Nazi Germany, surrenders to the Allies. Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), a Laplander peasant woman who lives alone on a remote farm, rescues injured Russian officer Ivan (Viktor Bychkov) who is about to be executed by his own comrades for alleged anti-Soviet sentiments. Also seeking refuge on the farm is Veiko (Ville Haapasalo), a Finnish soldier who was condemned to death by his own men for his pacifist views. None of the three characters speaks or understands the other's language; Ivan knows only Russian, Veiko knows only Finnish, and Anni knows only Lapp. The language barrier has both comic and tragic ramifications -- just as miscommunication between nations can lead to hostilities and bloodshed. The metaphors abound in this film, which proves far more accessible and enjoyable than House of Fools, another Russian anti-war film released earlier this year. Opens Friday, August 15, at the Tivoli. (Jean Oppenheimer)

Dirty Pretty Things. Stephen Frears. Opens Friday, August 15, at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.

Le Divorce. James Ivory. Opens Friday, August 15, at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.

Freddy Vs. Jason. Ronny Yu. Anyone not already a fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street dream-stalker Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) or Friday the 13th's zombiefied redneck Jason Voorhees (various actors throughout the series, but currently portrayed by Ken Kirzinger) will probably find little to enjoy here -- and much to despise. The acting's wooden, the profanity gratuitous, the fake breasts in-your-face, the gore excessive and the plot frequently moronic. Once upon a time, these would have been debits. But to the fan of '80s slashers, this return to glorious excess is a beautiful thing. Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) once again knowingly plays on the gleeful absurdity of this stuff. Basically, Freddy needs to be feared again in order to bust loose from hell, and to achieve his goal, he somehow resurrects Jason. People get confused, think it's Freddy who's at large, and empower the crispy critter once more. But then Jason keeps on killing, hurting Freddy's ego and forcing a badass showdown. Shame Kane Hodder wasn't asked to be Jason again, though. Opens Friday, August 15, at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)

Grind. Casey La Scala. Neither young dawgs nor old poops will be surprised that this movie is about friendship, competition, product-placement and, like, chasing one's, like, dreams. Young Mark Hamill look-alike Mike Vogel seeks to escape Boringville, U.S.A., and patriarchal assholery by chasing pro skateboarding tours and showing off his moves, enlisting an anal-retentive nebbish (Adam Brody), an anally obsessed freak show (Vince Vieluf), and a babe magnet (Joey Kern) to join him on his cross-country quest toward a big SoCal finale. En route, they encounter mediocre cameos from Tom Green and some folks from Jackass, plus retarded "wiggers" and dumb-fuck rave kids, all to loads of thrash-rock and '80s classics. The movie's general characters and conflicts could be dropped functionally into almost any setting, but Grind does evince a true love for skating, and both the street action and the actual competitions are brilliantly performed and slickly lensed. That it's also funny and excels beyond Youth Culture 101 is a nice bonus. Opens Friday, August 15, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)

The Housekeeper. Claude Berri. Although perhaps best known for Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, French writer/director Claude Berri has made several comedies about the folly of the male species; specifically, his often bumbling attempts at alleviating loneliness and finding sexual intimacy -- or at least a sexual partner. Berri's latest film eschews comedy in favor of a somewhat wistful tale of a completely inappropriate May-December romance between seemingly mature, erudite recording-studio sound engineer Jacques (the wonderful Jean-Pierre Bacri), and the man's twenty-year-old housekeeper, Laura (a disappointing Emilie Dequenne). An uninteresting, thoughtless young woman who likes mindless TV shows and loud pop music, she is hired after Jacques's wife walks out on him. In no time, she has insinuated herself into both his apartment and his bed. The two have nothing in common, which is, of course, the point. But both Laura and the situation are so irritating -- she and Jacques don't have one substantive conversation -- that the viewer is left gnashing his teeth. Opens Friday, August 15, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Jean Oppenheimer)

Open Range. Kevin Costner. Costner's Charley Waite and Robert Duvall's Boss Spearman pull into a town and find themselves in a showdown with the cattle baron, Baxter (Michael Gambon), who wants them off his land, and the sheriff who's on his payroll. Charley and Boss are "free-grazers," cattlemen who still think a land without fences is a land without rules; they'll sleep where they want, feed where they want, live where they want. We already know everything about Charley and Boss and the two young men who ride with them, Mose (E.R.'s Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Y Tu Mamá También's Diego Luna). Their backstory lives in every western ever made and in every audience member who's seen one. The film is beautiful to look at, well-acted and well-executed (this is no abominable Postman). But it takes forever to get to where we've been before -- way out west, where the sun set on the western a long, long time ago. Opens Friday, August 15, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)

Uptown Girls. Boaz Yakin. With its ominously square title suggesting a feature-length Billy Joel video, Boaz Yakin's latest sellout movie arrives in theaters smelling a bit spoiled, and not only because annoyingly precocious Dakota Fanning plays a pampered eight-year-old going on 58. Everything about it, from after-school-special premise (Fanning teaches Brittany Murphy how to act like an adult, Murphy teaches Fanning how to live like a child) to plot point (Murphy lives off her father's pop-song royalties) to overwrought finale (musical production number on school auditorium stage), seems far too familiar for comfort. About a Boy, anyone? Yakin, who once appeared as street as concrete, has abandoned filmmaking for fantasy-making, and a promising young director further loses his identity; Uptown Girls could have been made by anyone. Opens Friday, August 15, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)

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