Film Openings

Week of March 30, 2005

Mar 30, 2005 at 4:00 am
Beauty Shop. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CGX, CC12, DP, EG, EQ, GL, J14, KEN, MR, NW, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, WO

In My Country. (R) It's 1996, and Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche) is an Afrikaner journalist covering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa -- the black African government's groundbreaking, compassionate attempt to heal without using war crimes tribunals or, in fact, retribution of any kind. Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson), a journalist covering the hearings for The Washington Post, takes a dim view. To him, granting amnesty to white perpetrators who tell the truth (and prove that they were following orders) is tantamount to letting them get away with murder, which white people have been doing for centuries. The two meet, argue, and, in a distasteful turn of events, fall in love. It's always hard to pan a movie that features good actors, important issues, and noble intentions, but In My Country leaves little choice. A clunky, obvious film, it makes the mistake of asking drama to do what documentary should. It also introduces a romance into an excruciating historical event, where the extant conflict could have easily done its own work. (Melissa Levine) TV

Millions. (PG) Damian Cunningham (newcomer Alex Etel) has the face of an angel, which is appropriate for a seven-year-old who speaks with saints. Damian sees dead people, all right, but they come not to taunt or haunt the lad, but to advise him what to do with the money he's just fallen into. Either he can squander it, as his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) would prefer, or donate it to the penniless. For Damian there is no choice at all: The loot, which crashed to earth from the sky above, or from a train speeding by on nearby tracks, should be passed out to those in need -- pennies from heaven. Directed by Danny Boyle, this is pure Disney, down to the dead mommy who abandons her children to a loving, well-meaning, and occasionally inattentive father. It's also a charming and profound film about faith that doesn't proselytize or condescend or judge. It inspires us with a gentle tone; it moves us with a casual push. (Wilonsky) PF

Off the Map. (PG-13) The Groden family (Sam Elliott, Joan Allen, and Valentina de Angelis) lives out in the middle of the New Mexico desert, far from main roads. They grow, harvest, and/or kill all their own food, own their own home, and make what little money they need from crafts. They've got no phone or indoor plumbing, and they haven't paid taxes in several years. Since no one else is around, they can even walk around naked with impunity. Elliott's character is depressed, Allen's is a hippie Hopi, and de Angelis' is an insufferably precocious child. Not much actually happens, though the arrival of a naive taxman (Jim True-Frost) shakes things up a bit. The film's only other major character is George, a laconic redneck played by J.K. Simmons. A far cry from his hyperactive shtick as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies, Simmons plays it understated, conveying a sad-sack quality that's more relatable than Charley's irrational catatonia. The movie should have been about him instead. (Luke Y. Thompson) CPP

Sin City. (R) If nothing else, Robert Rodriguez's Sin City (co-directed with Frank Miller and, briefly, Quentin Tarantino) will be remembered as the most faithful comic-book adaptation ever put on film. Rodriguez has digitally rebuilt Miller's gloomy creation, a dark city populated by corrupt cops, vigilante prostitutes, angelic strippers, moral murderers, and other shadowy figures. He had only to trim the fat off the raw meat and throw it on the grill, where an all-star cast (Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, and on and on) could gnaw on the bones. Clearly, Rodriguez assumes Sin City to be his Pulp Fiction, but he's burdened with three novellas whose themes each go something like this: A flawed man with a horrible past puts himself through hell in order to rescue and/or avenge a saintly and/or sinful woman threatened by the well-connected underworld that runs Sin City. Then repeat. And repeat again. The story with Bruce Willis as the good cop with a bad ticker is the most resonant; the one with Mickey Rourke as the psycho killer out to avenge the death of a hooker, the most evocative. (Wilonsky) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, MR, MOO, NW, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Steamboy. (PG-13) Sci-fi readers call this type of thing "steampunk," a genre characterized by advanced technology powered by old-fashioned methods -- usually steam engines -- in the style of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. Writer-director Katsuhiro Otomo is clearly into the technology, but seems to have forgotten that what made his 1988 film Akira work were the characters (Kaneda and his bike are still iconic images all these years later). Here, a rather dull family of inventors in Victorian England get sucked into a large battle between the British government and a nasty corporation. Much of Steamboy is actually reminiscent of Wild Wild West, with a giant moving tower substituting for the giant spider, and the personalities of Will Smith and Kevin Kline being replaced by . . . no personality at all, really. This review refers to the subtitled director's cut, however; there's also a 20-minute-shorter dubbed version with the voices of Patrick Stewart and Anna Paquin. That might be a tad less dull. (Thompson) TV

The Upside of Anger. (R) Reviewed in this issue. CPP, CGX, DP, OF, PF, RON, SP, STCH