Film Openings

Week of August 24, 2005

The Beautiful Country. (R) Generous in spirit and fearlessly observant, this tale of an outcast Vietnamese man's journey to freedom deserves a place of honor among the great films portraying emigrant tenacity -- everything from The New Land to the Godfather movies. Directed by young Norwegian Hans Petter Moland and starring a Vietnamese newcomer educated in California (Damien Nguyen), the odyssey takes us from the streets of Saigon to a filthy Malaysian refugee camp, a gruesome ocean voyage aboard a tramp steamer, and a period of enslavement in New York's Chinatown. The "beautiful country" of the title is less a place than the deathless dream of contentment that motivates its beleaguered, mixed-blood hero. Co-starring a Chinese beauty named Bai Ling and, once the story delivers us to rural Texas, a gritty, weary Nick Nolte. A completely authentic film. (Bill Gallo) PF

The Best of Youth (Part 1). (R) A coming-of-age story of an entire generation, Marco Tullio Giordana's two-part, six-hour opus was commissioned by Italian television but opened successfully in theaters instead. The saga follows two brothers from late adolescence in the '60s through the present, filtering their respective journeys of fulfilled and corrupted idealism through such key events in recent Italian history as the flood of Florence and the wave of domestic terrorism. Character development is consistently emphasized over political points, as Nicola becomes a crusading psychiatrist at a state mental hospital and the emotionally repressed Matteo tries to make a go of his police career. Giordana eschews the histrionics and bombast of American miniseries for a patient, nuanced approach that favors delicate insights over dramatic impact and demonstrates an extraordinary respect for both his characters and audience. Eminently watchable, The Best of Youth nonetheless lacks the devastating emotional gut punch of its obvious inspiration, Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers. (Michael Fox) TV

The Brothers Grimm. (PG-13) Cynical Will (Matt Damon) and true-believing brother Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) travel the cloudy countryside in search of villages in need of exorcising. They pose as demon-busters and stage a capture with a ghostly prop. One day, French governor Delatombe (Brazil's Jonathan Pryce) snatches the lads and forces them to do their hoodoo in a village where kiddies are being taken -- as it turns out, by an ancient evil, imprisoned queen (Monica Bellucci) who needs the souls of the young in order to regain her youth and beauty, though apparently not her acting ability. Director Terry Gilliam has always been easy to admire, but his movies have grown harder to adore: They're too manic, too desperate, more out-of-control than inventively wild. This one, especially, feels like an amateur's parody of Gilliam himself; even its Fractured Fairy Tale setup is old news by now, having been better covered in the likes of Shrek and its superior sequel. This is grim stuff, indeed; oh brother, is it. (Robert Wilonsky) ARN, CGX, CC12, DP, J14, NW, OF, RON, STCH, WO

The Cave. (PG-13) Worthwhile simply because it gives us the opportunity to use the word "spelunk" in print, The Cave centers on a rescue team sent to save lost spelunkers (hee!) from a vast cave system. But when the team ventures into the subterranean depths, they find murderous creatures. Can the rescuers and the rescued get out in time? Who knows? Who cares? Speee-luuunk! (Not Reviewed) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, STCH

Kings and Queen (Rois et reine). (Not Rated) Interrelated stories bob and weave through the overlapping, chronologically convoluted narrative of 35-year-old single mother Nora and her "kings," -- one of whom is dead, the other three who are in various dysfunctional states. The least successful is Ismael, a violist who's been committed to an asylum where he matches wits with the clever administrator (Catherine Deneuve). After doctors diagnose her father with terminal stomach cancer, Nora searches for Ismael, hoping he'll adopt her eleven-year-old-son Elias. Dividing this complicated film into three parts plus an epilogue, co-writer/director Arnaud Desplechin uses an intentionally melodramatic, theatrical style to build to poignant revelations late in the film that force reevaluation of every delicious detail. Superb music, art direction, editing and performances earned Kings and Queennumerous awards. In French with English subtitles. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, August 26, through Sunday, August 28. (Diane Carson) WFS

Last Days. (R) Reviewed in this issue. TV

Twist of Faith. (Not Rated) This heartbreaking, deeply insightful documentary begins with a recorded deposition of ex-priest Dennis Gray, who refuses to answer questions about his repeated sexual abuse of Tony Comes, then in his early teens. Now 34 and a Toledo firefighter, Comes honestly and courageously confronts the feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment that allow predators like Gray to prevail. Director Kirby Dick, using Tony's case as the chronological through-line, provides details in text rather than relying on a voiceover narrator. This keeps the focus on the devastating effects that keep nightmares alive and relationships difficult for all involved, including Tony's wife, his mother and other sexually abused men. For several scenes the subjects themselves captured footage, and the candid, intensely touching reflections speak volumes. Presented by Voice of Faithful St. Louis, with a discussion following. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 31. (Carson) WFS

 
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