Film Openings

Week of November 17, 2004

Nov 17, 2004 at 4:00 am
Bad Education (unrated) Pedro Almodóvar. A movie within a movie by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, who displays his usual strengths -- zest, humor, visual beauty -- and weaknesses, including the failure to acknowledge the gravity of his subject. A young actor (Gael García Bernal) appears at the home of a childhood friend, now a film director (Fele Martinez), with a manuscript. The director reads the manuscript and discovers that it tells the tale of the two men as boys, at school, where they fell in love. But the actor is not what he seems, and a tale of sexual abuse by a priest morphs into a twisted plot of identity deception and manipulation. Bad Education sees itself as noir, but the material knows better, persisting in emotional depth despite the stylized trappings foisted upon it. The movie begins as a comedy, morphs into drama and only belatedly introduces its noirish subterfuge, cunning and death -- none of which is necessary or welcome. There is a great deal of life in Bad Education, and also promise, but its creepy ending betrays its emotional core. Screens as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 19, at the Tivoli. (Melissa Levine)

Distant (unrated) Nuri Bilge Ceylan. This quietly effective study of isolation and loneliness walked off with the Grand Prize at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival (its two leads shared the top actor prize as well). It concerns Mahmut, a melancholy photographer who is bored with his uninspired commercial assignments and pines for his ex-wife. Lonely and bitter, but seemingly unwilling to change his situation, he finds his solitude invaded by his cousin Yusuf, who has come to Istanbul in the hopes of finding a job. Uncertain how to go about looking for work -- or perhaps too lazy -- Yusuf wanders around aimlessly, his very presence an irritant to Mahmut. Although the two rarely speak, they quickly get on one another's nerves. Told in lengthy, static shots, with little dialogue but much ambient sound, the film beautifully captures the frustration, ennui and despair of two embittered souls who find themselves stuck in life but unable to move forward -- or even to share their sadness with each other. In Turkish with English subtitles. Screens as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, November 17, and at 5 p.m. Friday, November 19, at the Tivoli. (Jean Oppenheimer)

Last Goodbye (unrated) Jacob Gentry. A thoroughly engrossing, nonlinear, darkly comic cliffhanger by Atlanta filmmaker Jacob Gentry that should be required viewing for aspiring local filmmakers. Gentry turns Atlanta into a southeastern version of Tinseltown, complete with a burning romance between a rock star and a TV starlet whose character is loosely (and rather hilariously) based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Turns out theirs is a love quadrangle, with a has-been, alcoholic stage actor and a jailbait-Avril Lavigne type getting emotionally dumped on by the aforementioned duo. Short but sterling appearances by David Carradine and Faye Dunaway lend considerable gravitas to this infectiously peculiar indie genre-buster, which makes cosmopolitan Atlanta look as ice-cool as Gotham City. Had David Lynch directed the overlooked Southern psychedelic gem Big Bad Love, this is about what you'd get, and the gettin' is really, really good. Screens as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival at 9:45 p.m. Friday, November 19, at the Tivoli. (Mike Seely)

National Treasure Jon Turteltaub. (PG) Nic Cage, now wholly bereft of charisma or charm, plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, who comes from a long line of treasure-hunters charged with locating and keeping safe a bounty that dates back to the building of the pyramids, the first Crusades, and the Revolutionary War. It's up to Benjamin to redeem the family name -- by, in this case, stealing the Declaration of Independence, which has on its back an invisible map revealed only when it's doused in lemon juice, warmed with a hair dryer, and viewed through 3D glasses Benjamin Franklin left in a brick in a wall outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Benjamin's nemesis is baddie Ian Howe (Sean Bean), who's always one step ahead of him because, well, "he has unlimited resources and he's smart." It's but one of copious nonsensical explanations used to fill in gaping plot holes in a rare Jerry Bruckheimer movie that's not even dumb enough to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It's just guilty of being too boring to believe. Opens Friday, November 19, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie Sherm Cohen, Stephen Hillenburg and Mark Osborne. (PG) Opens Friday, November 19, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.