Film Openings

Week of January 19, 2006

Ballets Russes

Ballets Russes. (Not Rated) You don't have to be a connoisseur of dance to be swept off your feet by this rapturous, vibrant documentary, which presents the history of the famed dance troupe the Ballets Russes through the eyes of its former, now octogenarian members. The Paris-based company, heir to the great Diaghilev tradition, was founded by Russian émigrés who fled their homeland during the Russian Revolution (they never performed in Russia). The occasion for the documentary was the first official reunion of Ballets Russes members, in June 2000. Some 100 former dancers, many of whom had not seen each other since the dissolution of the company 40 years before, flew in from all corners of the globe. They are incredible raconteurs, and their stories are accompanied by remarkable archival footage from their heyday in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. If a film can be said to burst with life, this is it. (Jean Oppenheimer) TV

End of the Spear. (PG-13) In the 1950s, a group of missionaries ventured into the rain forests of Ecuador to make contact with the Waodani tribe, an infamously violent group who were on the verge of extinction due to their endless cycles of blood-feuds. The missionaries refused to fight back when cornered, and were killed; but later, their families followed in their footsteps to forgive the killers and live together in peace. Writer-director Jim Hanon has made this movie before, as the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor. It was a better film, as the excerpts from it at the end of this one show. There's some nice photography, and Louie Leonardo makes a strong impression as Chief Mincayani, but the wall-to-wall "inspirational" soundtrack is unnecessary, as is the constant voice-over narration. Nonstop talk works for nonfiction, but for drama, Hanon doesn't seem to know that less can be more. The true story is a powerful testimony to the wonders of faith and forgiveness; it doesn't need special-effects visions of angels or giant snakes to "enhance" it. (Luke Y. Thompson) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, WO

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. (PG-13) In his first movie in six years, Albert Brooks desperately wants to remind us of the hungry young comic-turned-filmmaker who risked humiliation in the name of humor. He's out of work and desperately in need of money, if only to finance his wife's obsession with buying antique crap on eBay, which is why he takes the U.S. government's assignment to travel to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh. The premise has promise: What does a former genius do when he's running out of options (and, perhaps, talent)? But Brooks squanders it, as he has everything he's done in recent years, and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World finds not a single laugh over there or, alas, over here. He spends the entire movie interviewing people on the street and prepping for a stand-up concert that is so unfunny that a Brooks first-timer will be tempted to wonder if he's not in fact a dull and humorless man who's never told a joke in his life. (Robert Wilonsky) TV

The Matador. (R) Faced with a midlife career change, suave Pierce Brosnan seems to have chosen wry self-mockery, reinventing himself as a scruffy, fallen James Bond surrogate with humorous potential. If he began his period of adjustment with The Thomas Crown Affair and After the Sunset, he presses on in Richard Shepard's black comedy. Here, Brosnan plays a drunken, unhappy hit man, inappropriately named Julian Noble, who, on the job in Mexico City, picks a square Denver businessman (Greg Kinnear) to help him serve his purposes. Their interplay is the movie's saving grace, although it loses momentum by act three. Forget the phony international intrigue: The best moment here is a vision of Brosnan, cocktail in hand, lurching across a hotel lobby wearing nothing more than a black Speedo and boots. (Bill Gallo) RON, WO

Match Point. (R) Reviewed in this issue. (Wilonsky) CPP, PF, RON, WO

The New World. (PG-13) You probably already know the basics, as told by Disney: Young Native American princess Pocahontas (outstanding newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher) falls for handsome English explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell), becomes "civilized," and visits the royal court in London. But facts and plot points are somewhat irrelevant to writer-director Terrence Malick, who makes tone poems rather than narrative films. Long takes that drift through streams and forests, voice-over inner monologues from multiple characters, and people who show up without explanation or backstory are the director's stock-in-trade, but unlike his nigh-incoherent Thin Red Line, this movie isn't choppy or scattershot in its focus. All this may sound daunting, and it is, but at the heart of it all is an entrancing lead performance by the teenage Kilcher, who embodies both free spirit and repressed soul, as the story commands. America "loses its innocence" at least once a generation, and Malick shows that this is a longer-standing tradition than we may have thought. (Thompson) CGX, DP, HP, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, WO

Transamerica. (R) First-time director Duncan Tucker's fetching variation on the road movie puts into a battered, puke-green station wagon an uncertain Angelino on the verge of "sexual reassignment surgery" (splendid Felicity Huffman, of Desperate Housewives) and the brooding 17-year-old gay prostitute (versatile Kevin Zegers) who is her long-lost son. Fueled by the most unlikely traveling companions since Charlie Babbitt and Rain Man made their way from New York to Phoenix, the movie becomes a frequently ungainly collision of true feeling and farce. But in the end, only an ogre could resist its two imperfect strivers — the former "dad" in midlife transition and the boy just now finding himself. With her angular horse face, androgynous contralto, and high-toned schoolmarm manners, Huffman wins the day. (Gallo) MOO

Underworld: Evolution. Sometimes people or entities hate each other for centuries and no one's entirely sure why: Israel and Palestine; North and South Dakota; you and your dry cleaner. Underworld: Evolution traces the lineage of the centuries-old feud between vampires and werewolves. We can only hope that they figure it out and become drinking buddies. Now about those Dakotas... (not reviewed) ARN, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, EG, EQ, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, WO

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