Film Openings

Week of October 26, 2005

Capote. (R) Reviewed in this issue. (Robert Wilonsky) DP, PF, WO

G. (R) Single-letter abbreviations are popular among the hip-hop kids these days. And so, much as O was a contemporary cinematic update of Othello, G updates The Great Gatsby to the nouveau riche hip-hop set in the Hamptons, albeit with a few more liberties to Fitzgerald than most would dare take with Shakespeare. Richard T. Jones is Summer G, the fabulously well-off but lonely music mogul who briefly rekindles a spark with the love of his life, Sky (Chenoa Maxwell), the one who got away and is now married to an abusive, philandering ass (Blair Underwood). Caught in between is Sky's cousin Tracy (Andre Royo), who works for her hubbie's father but would prefer that she ends up with the gentler G. Director Christopher Scott Cherot (Hav Plenty) has an ambiguous attitude toward hip-hop -- initially he seems to be defying stereotypes; by the end, however, he apparently endorses the notion that rap is for heartless thugs. But props for being more ambitious than the average contemporary black romantic drama. (Luke Y. Thompson) J14, RON, STCL

Green Street Hooligans. (R) About to graduate from Harvard, Matt (Elijah Wood) finds his plans abruptly derailed when drugs are found in his dorm room. They belong to his wealthy roommate, who offers Matt a fat envelope of cash to stay quiet. He takes the bribe and flies to England, where his sister (Claire Forlani) lives with her husband Steve (Marc Warren). In an accident of timing, Matt shows up on the night Steve has planned a romantic date, and so to get him out of the house, he pawns Matt off on his loutish brother Pete (Charlie Hunnam), a football thug who's none to happy about having to babysit a girly Yank. But Matt refuses to go away, so Pete brings him to the local pub, then a football match, and finally, almost inadvertently, a brawl. Wood strains credulity as a tough guy, and his character is basically a jerk who ends up empowering himself while ruining the lives of all his friends. There's a good hooligan movie to be made someday, but this isn't it. (Thompson) RON

The Legend of Zorro. (PG) It's been 85 years since Douglas Fairbanks slashed his way into the top tax bracket, and Hollywood can still find no reason to shut down the Zorro franchise. Seven years after their first outing as Don Alejandro and Elena (The Mask of Zorro), Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones can still buckle the old swash, but this workmanlike adventure yarn, again directed by Martin Campbell, is something less than "legendary." Intermittently reverent to the canon, it's not very inspired, and its low-camp smirkiness sounds embarrassed. Sample Banderas declaration: "No one leaves my tequila worm dangling in the wind." With Rufus Sewell as the French arch-villain and little Adrian Alonso as the dashing couple's son, a showy brat who could use a stiff shot of Ritalin. (Bill Gallo) ARN, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, EG, EQ, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, WO

Prime. (PG-13) With a name like Prime, a movie had better be about something more than an older woman digging on a younger man, much to the disapproval of the younger man's mom. Alas, it's about nothing more than that: A woman named Rafi (Uma Thurman), just divorced from a man apparently her own age and possessing the libido of a corpse, winds up with a much younger man named David (Bryan Greenberg) -- much younger being his early 20s, though Greenberg and mid-30s Thurman look all of nine months apart. But David and Rafi have more than their age difference acting as a barrier between newfound lust and long-lasting love; their religions, too, are working against them. He's Jewish, she's not, which ain't kosher with David's mom, Lisa (Meryl Streep), who's also Rafi's therapist, which makes her not only a lousy, conniving mom, but also perhaps the most unethical therapist in New York City. Writer-director Ben Younger, maker of the overheated Boiler Room some years back, serves up conventional schmaltz on a paper plate. (Wilonsky) ARN, CPP, CGX, CC12, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, WO

Saw II. (R) Despite being churned out only a year after the original, this sequel improves on all of the first film's problem areas while leaving intact the solid concept. Police officers Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Kerry (Dina Meyer) rather quickly manage to capture social-Darwinist sociopath Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) in his lair. Closer to death than before, the killer doesn't even try to run, but as anyone who knows their Se7en or Oldboy might suspect, getting caught is all part of the plan. Meanwhile, eight strangers have been picked by Jigsaw to live in a new house and have their lives changed . . . It's like MTV's The Real World, only way better, because all eight are being slowly poisoned by deadly nerve gas and must find the antidotes hidden all over the house. One of the eight is Mathews' son. New director Darren Lynn Bousman retains the same visual style that James Wan established, and Charlie Clouser once again provides the score. If you love gruesome horror, you will not be disappointed. (Thompson) ARN, CPP, CW10, CC12, DP, EG, EQ, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, WO

Three . . . Extremes. (Not Rated) Devotees of Asian cinema -- especially those with a thirst for blood -- will probably delight in this horror sampler featuring three short films by Hong Kong's Fruit Chan, South Korea's Park Chan-wook, and Japan's Takashi Miike. Fruit's Dumplings (this is the abridged, 35-minute version) is an unsettling variation on the old fountain-of-youth theme, and it wouldn't do to reveal the crucial ingredient in the crunchy pot-stickers consumed here by an aging TV actress (Miriam Yeung) who's made a bad bargain with vanity. In Chan-wook's Cut, a resentful movie extra takes a famous director and his pianist wife hostage, and the bloody Grand Guignol effects are soon set loose. Miike's Box is a surreal visit to the vivid mindscape of a beautiful novelist (Kyoko Hasegawa) who's haunted by the fiery death, in childhood, of her twin sister. Horror connoisseurs are bound to play favorites here, but all three films feature the brilliantly versatile work of cinematographer Christopher Doyle (2046). (Gallo) TV

The Weather Man. (R) Paramount is selling The Weather Man as light, wacky, and uplifting, when in truth it's brooding, dark, and contemplative -- a reluctant comedy about failure and fear, about living up to expectations and letting down loved ones. There is redemption somewhere in here, even the suggestion that success will not completely elude weatherman Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage), but writer Steve Conrad and director Gore Verbinski are less interested in peeks of sunshine than in downpours. Dave's a regret in the lives of those who know and have tried to love him, from his father (Michael Caine), to his wife (Hope Davis), to his son (Nicholas Hoult) and daughter (Gemmenne de la Peña). Cage rolls into the type of role he's played in such films as Leaving Las Vegas, The Family Man, and Adaptation, and finds the perfect balance -- between hope and give-up, between believing it will all work out and knowing it won't, and accepting it nonetheless. Dave is the smallest role Cage has ever played: the below-average man. (Wilonsky) ARN, CPP, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, WO

Where the Truth Lies. (Not Rated) It's 1972, and Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman) is a young journalist hired to write a celebrity profile for a major magazine. The magazine has promised onetime comedy great Vince Collins (Colin Firth) a million dollars for his story, and O'Connor intends to make him work for it. In particular, she wants to uncover the events of one pivotal night 15 years before, when a young woman was found drowned in the bathtub of Collins' hotel room. Collins shared that room with Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon), his comedy partner; the men were preparing for a 39-hour telethon to raise money to fight polio. When watching this highly derivative film noir by the admittedly hit-or-miss director Atom Egoyan, a single question arises again and again: Why? Why have the immense talents of Bacon and Firth, both of whom are excellent in this movie, been squandered on such a lackluster script? Why was Egoyan attracted to such a hackneyed and familiar story? And why did he cast the jejune Lohman as the female lead? (Melissa Levine) TV

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