Film Openings

Week of September 15, 2004

Bright Young Things Stephen Fry. (R) The inimitable British wit Stephen Fry (Wilde) debuts as feature screenwriter and director, delivering a fairly faithful adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's trenchant novel Vile Bodies. We're launched headlong into England between the wars, among the glammy, restless, 24-hour party people, busily getting bombed before busily getting bombed. Our heroes are struggling writer Adam Fenwick-Symes (gifted stage actor Stephen Campbell Moore) and society bint Nina Blount (seasoned indie-girl Emily Mortimer), whose on-again, off-again romance drives the film. But they too are driven, by their own mad cohorts (Fenella Woolgar, Michael Sheen, David Tennant), a frazzled gossip columnist (James McAvoy), a mad newspaper mogul (Dan Aykroyd) and especially each other. Religious fanatics (Stockard Channing, Richard E. Grant), a crazed potential father-in-law (Peter O'Toole), a matronly hostess (Julia McKenzie) and a slurring drunk "benefactor" (Jim Broadbent) add spoonfuls of sugar to Waugh's and Fry's themes of media manipulation and societal decay. It's the finest Waugh adaptation since The Loved One, and my favorite film of the year thus far. Opens Friday, September 17, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)

Broadway: The Golden Age Rick McKay. (unrated) With a cast that includes Broadway legends Julie Harris, Gwen Verdon and Ethel Waters; old-time song-and-dance men Robert Morse, Robert Goulet and Jerry Orbach (way before Law and Order); composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim; and the incomparable Comden and Green, this valentine to the New York theater is a pure joy to watch -- and an invaluable documentary record of a bygone era. Some of the names won't be familiar to younger viewers -- others will be known only through their subsequent TV and movie work -- but this who's who of the American stage offers a priceless tour of Broadway in its heyday (pretty much pre-1980). The interviews alone are worth the price of admission, but the film also contains terrific archival material of the actors -- both home movies and rare performance footage. The best parts include segments on legendary actresses Laurette Taylor and Kim Stanley -- and anything with Julie Harris, possibly the only living actress who can be mentioned in the same breath. Opens Friday, September 17, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Jean Oppenheimer)

Code 46 Michael Winterbottom. (R) The future is almost here. At least, it is according to screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pandaemonium) and director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People), two cinematic visionaries whose highly plausible vision here sparks tremendous intrigue -- and unrest. Tim Robbins plays William, an insurance investigator from Seattle with mind-reading capabilities (from an "empathy virus"), on assignment to freaky futuristic Shanghai to seek the culprit who's been counterfeiting and circulating fake "papelles," or clearance papers for travel. He swiftly falls for our heroine and narrator, Maria (Samantha Morton), a post-post-modern girl prone to strange dreams. Apart from his adultery, their passion may constitute a violation of Code 46, which bars coupling between people sharing verboten levels of matching DNA. At once a weirdly familiar sci-fi trip, a bleak romance, a treatise on technology run amok and a hot sirocco of mood, this is the successor to Blade Runner (or Orwell, or Huxley) we've long awaited, but it defies simple categorization, proving itself astonishing, haunting and lyrical on its own terms. Opens Friday, September 17, at the Tivoli. (Gregory Weinkauf)

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Mamoru Oshii. (PG-13) Opens Friday, September 17, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.

Mr. 3000 Charles Stone III. (PG-13) This movie has low aspirations, which suits it well. It's about a 47-year-old baseball player (Bernie Mac, as Stan Ross) trying to get three meager hits while his team tries to climb out of last place. But Mr. 3000, directed by Charles Stone III, is less a comedy about achievement than it is a commentary on acclaim -- specifically the modern athlete's obsession with setting records and starring in video games. Stan abandons his team during a playoff run, spits insults into the cameras and treats the love of his life (Angela Bassett, playing an ESPN reporter) like a base to be touched and abandoned, and still he packs the stands with cheering throngs. A man can be unlikable, but place a bat in his hand and instantly he becomes lovable. Stan doesn't evolve; he merely acts one way till the movie needs him to act differently to inch it forward, to a finale you can see coming without a program or a scorecard. It's no Bull Durham, but it's no bullshit either. Just another baseball movie hitting for average -- very average. Opens Friday, September 17, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)

Silver City John Sayles. (R) Opens Friday, September 17, at the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed in this issue.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow Kerry Conran. (PG) Opens Friday, September 17, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente. (unrated) Oregon-based collaborators William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente have made a complex, provocative docudrama that poses the Big Questions of Life. Who are we? Where are we going? What might be available, in the heightened-consciousness department, to help us along? Skeptics may see this as new-age self-absorption, but it's also a serious inquiry, steeped in the riddles of quantum physics, molecular biology and theology, into the eternal mysteries of being. The overburdened target of these weighty ideas is a dour art photographer named Amanda (Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin), who struggles with an unhappy life while a Greek Chorus of PhDs -- physicists, mystics, biochemists -- bombards her (and us) with state-of-the-art science and philosophical discourse that mean to make sense of our lives. The film is amateurish in places, but fascinating: Bring your eager hypothalamus and your tuned-up frontal lobes with you. They'll get a workout. Opens Friday, September 17, at the Tivoli. (Bill Gallo)

Wimbledon Richard Loncraine. (PG-13) A one-time tennis champion (Paul Bettany) loses his drive and falls to No. 157 in the rankings. He gets one last chance to compete at Wimbledon and tries to win the heart of hot-stuff tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst). Will jokes be made about "love"? Are tennis skirts short? Opens Friday, September 17, at multiple locations. NR

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