Festival Express Bob Smeaton. (R) Opens Friday, August 27, at the Tivoli. Reviewed in this issue.
Hero Zhang Yimou. (PG-13) A mixture of history and folktale, Zhang Yimou's gorgeous epic unfurls about two millennia ago, as a messiah of sorts has emerged in the form of Nameless (Jet Li), whose awesome strength and ultimate humility transform his land and all its people. The power-mad King of Qin (Chen Daoming) plans to overtake all seven kingdoms of what will become China, but three assassins (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, and Donnie Yen) must first be stopped. Via flashbacks, Nameless recounts how he dispatched the killers -- plus he has his own agenda. More archetypal and less intimate than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero sometimes drags with the weight of its glorious setpieces, but the duels are sheer visual poetry, and the designs are breathtaking. Just when the pageantry is peaking, when one more clever slash would be one too many, the film crescendos with moving, almost shocking closure for our principal players, particularly Nameless, who intones, "The quarrel between our kingdoms is as nothing, when compared to peace for all." Gotta like that. Opens Friday, August 27, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)
Intimate Strangers Patrice Leconte. (R) A depressed woman, Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire), goes to see a psychiatrist but, unbeknownst to her, walks in the wrong door and ends up confiding her problems to tax lawyer William (Fabrice Luchini) instead. At no point during their initial "appointment" does she realize she isn't talking to an analyst, and he sees nothing abnormal either at first. "My tax clients often unload their love lives," he says. Once he realizes Anna's mistake, he's still too wishy-washy to come clean, worried that he'll hurt her feelings. The mechanics of this premise are a bit much to swallow at first, but director Patrice Leconte keeps the evolving dynamic between Anna and William grounded and very natural. Naturally, he starts to fall for her, but she may or may not be looking for love -- key details slowly emerge that make us question her initial story of a tragically wounded husband who neglects her. Props to translator Nigel Palmer for keeping the subtitles witty instead of blindly literal. Opens Friday, August 27, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism Robert Greenwald. (unrated) Directed by Robert Greenwald, who made Xanadu before turning to docudrama and agit-prop docs, this is porn for liberals; buy the DVD for $10, fast-forward through the talking-head stuff, and get right to that nutty Bill O'Reilly smacking down the son of a man killed in the World Trade Center, which is a money shot worth the price of admission. This doc tells you nothing you don't already know from watching 42 seconds of Murdoch's network, which is as "fair and balanced" as Britney Spears is "smart and interesting." But it does assemble several niftily infuriating montages that underscore the venom and venality with which FOX folks "report" the "news," by which I mean repeat Bush-administration press releases like good little kinder. It's not as good as Danny Schechter's WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception and not as angry as The Daily Show has grown of late, but Outfoxed still manages to infuriate and amuse; just check out the clips of FOXies calling John Kerry...French? You can't make up crazy shit like this. Opens Friday, August 27, at the Tivoli. (Robert Wilonsky)
Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 Bob Clark. (PG) The first Baby Geniuses, released in 1999, was one of the most inane, humorless, ill-conceived, poorly acted comedies of the year. As difficult as it is to imagine, the sequel is even worse, earning an F to the original's D minus. The first picture involved the efforts of two "evildoers" to crack the code of "baby talk," which they believed held the key to the secrets of the universe. The second film introduces a new set of toddlers and a new group of villains, led by media mogul Bill Biscane (Jon Voight, with an offensive Nazi-like demeanor and accent that accomplishes the almost impossible task of making Germany look maligned), who plans to use his children's television network to control the minds of, first, babies and, eventually, the world. Can super-baby hero Kahuna stop him?! It would be one thing if this film was simply misguided, but it is so sloppily put together that it seems as though the filmmakers just didn't give a damn. Opens Friday, August 27, at multiple locations. (Jean Oppenheimer)
Suspect Zero E. Elias Merhige. (R) Opens Friday, August 27, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.