Film Openings

Week of October 19, 2005

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Doom. When Marines go through their training, do they learn to return order to Martian research facilities gone awry? Good Lord, let's hope not, or this will be a short movie indeed. Andrzej Bartkowiak directs. (not reviewed) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. (PG) Soñador ("Dreamer" in Spanish), nicknamed "Sonya," is but one of many horses in the stable of rich, racist Mr. Palmer (David Morse), who insists on running her even when trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) knows for sure that Sonya doesn't want to race. Sonya proceeds to break a leg, but Ben refuses to kill her, as Palmer demands. Instead, he quits his job and takes the horse as his own, much to the delight of daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) and the disgust of Ben's crusty old Pop (Kris Kristofferson). A bunch of stuff happens that's too annoying and too obvious to bother mentioning . . . the short version is that eventually Cale ends up being Sonya's owner, and Sonya gets to race again. If you're a little girl in the Lisa Simpson mold, for whom the greatest wish-fulfillment in the world would be to have your own pony, then Dreamer just might be for you. Otherwise, no. (Luke Y. Thompson) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH

Good Night, and Good Luck. (PG) Reviewed in this issue. (Jean Oppenheimer) TV

HellBent. (Not Rated) It seems that just about any movie with a gay character scares the bejeezus out of the religiously righteous, so why not embrace that and make an all-out (pun intended) gay-themed film that's deliberately scary? First-time writer-director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts has tried to do just that with HellBent, a slasher flick set during the annual West Hollywood Halloween Parade, an event that allows the Los Angeles gay community to get as flamboyantly theatrical as possible. A madman is on the loose, cutting off homosexual heads with a sickle, and he just so happens to be dressed as a sexy Satan. That's the entirety of the plot. Etheredge-Ouzts spends a lot of time setting up the characters, then has most of them get offed rather quickly, in unimaginative ways. And we never learn anything about the muscular maniac in the devil mask; surely some fun could have been had here. Make him a retarded preacher's son, or a closeted Republican candidate for mayor -- something. (Thompson) TV

Kids in America. (PG-13) The best thing about this high school dramedy, which otherwise suffers from otiose self-importance and derivative writing, is its closing credits, which feature interviews with three real high school students who were expelled for expressing controversial beliefs. Why couldn't the film have been a documentary about them? Instead, we have a scripted narrative about a group of students who, prompted by their film teacher, decide to "Change Da World." Another student has been suspended for promoting safe sex, and they launch a campaign to bring attention to this incursion on their right to free speech. Things get out of hand, and everybody learns his or her lesson, including Principal Weller, a careerist whose repressive regime is, essentially, inexplicable. Kids in America has its heart in the right place, but its head seems to be lost in a swirling maelstrom of teen movies that have come before -- Say Anything . . . , Sixteen Candles, Fast Times at Ridgemont High -- none of which it manages to emulate. (Melissa Levine) RON, STCH

North Country. (R) Like Norma Rae and Silkwood, this is the uplifting tale of a woman standing alone against Power, presented with a minimum of Hollywood gloss. The working-class heroine, Josey Aimes, portrayed by a deglamorized Charlize Theron, is an abused single mother who takes a job in a Minnesota iron mine to support her two kids. But the merciless hazing and harassment Josey and her female co-workers must endure from the male miners stir her to action. She's a fictionalized version of Lois Jenson, the original plaintiff in a landmark class-action suit that changed sexual harassment law in 1984. Although occasionally heavy-handed, director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) has created an eloquent anthem to womanhood and an ode to social justice, and Theron's performance is exemplary. With Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. (Bill Gallo) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, PF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Reel Paradise. (R) This documentary by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) chronicles the adventures of independent American cinema maven John Pierson and his family as they run the last movie house on a remote Fiji island for a year. For reasons never given in this movie, Pierson wanted to get away from it all, but the erstwhile discoverer of Spike Lee, Michael Moore and (this film's executive producer) Kevin Smith packed an abrasive personality with him and thus finds no peace in this earthly paradise. It's more reality program than film-appreciation class, as the lanky, quarrelsome Pierson feuds with his landlord, wife, son, daughter, the island's Catholic establishment and the Fiji islanders themselves. The latter seem to be endlessly patient and tolerant as this grating impresario chivvies them into his theater, where they're rewarded with Hollywood films on the level of Jackass. Evidently meant as a witty travelogue, Reel Paradise instead is a ruthless exposé of Ugly Americanism. Bereft of cultural sensitivity or tact, Pierson's lone redeeming feature is his love for the movies. (Gregg Rickman) TV

Separate Lies. (R) Lies beget lies and a seemingly perfect life unravels in the blink of an eye when a hit-and-run accident disrupts the lives of a wealthy British couple. James and Anne Manning (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) -- he a respected solicitor, she a devoted housewife -- learn that their housekeeper's husband was run over while riding his bicycle. James suspects the next-door neighbor, an arrogant cad who believes that his privileged social position protects him from prosecution; after all, the dead man was working class. James is stunned to find that Anne agrees, and finds his whole life turned upside down as he must reexamine his priorities, his moral precepts, and his marriage. The directorial debut of screenwriter Julian Fellowes, Separate Lies may work better in England, because the film's underlying theme of class distinction is so ingrained in British society. Otherwise, some of the plot developments and character reactions border on ludicrous. Watson and Wilkinson, however, are always a pleasure to watch. (Oppenheimer) PF

Stay. "Between the worlds of the living and the dead," goes Stay's tagline, "there is a place you're not supposed to stay." Well, yeah. But try telling that to psychiatrist Dr. Leon Patterson (Bob Hoskins), whose new patient threatens suicide, forcing Leon to straddle that very line. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts star. (not reviewed) ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, J14, MR, OF, SP, STCH

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