Film Openings

Week of May 1, 2002

May 1, 2002 at 4:00 am
Adventures in Wild California. Greg MacGillivray. Vertigo is the name of the game here: Californian madmen go way up high to perform various feats of daredeviltry, and the Imax camera provides a generous taste of vicarious acrophobia. The hodgepodge includes "sky surfing," in which a skydiver on a surfboard of sorts cuts through the atmosphere. Scientists ascend 3,000-year-old, 300-foot sequoias in Yosemite National Park, then go from treetop to treetop with ropes and pulleys -- it's scary to watch. Maintenance workers walk down the mammoth suspension cables of the Golden Gate Bridge as if it's just another day at the office. The flick also features men surfing giant waves at a beach south of San Francisco; narrator Jimmy Smits informs us that surfers have drowned here, and you can hear the audience gulp. In fact, the movie is basically a roller-coaster collection of gulps, scary and satisfying. Opens May 3 at the Omnimax. (BK)

Deuces Wild. Scott Kalvert. In the late '50s, the head of a Brooklyn street gang (Stephen Dorff) must fight off attacks from a neighboring gang run by a junkie (Balthazar Getty), who is fronting for a drug dealer (Norman Reedus) fresh out of prison. At the same time, our hero's brother (Brad Renfro) is falling in love with the junkie's sister (Fairuza Balk), in classic West Side Story fashion. There's always something new to say in a venerable genre such as the teen gang film, but Deuces Wild director Kalvert and producer/screenwriters Paul Kimatian and Christopher Gambale haven't found it. Most of the film simply rehashes bits from classics such as On the Waterfront and Goodfellas. The actors labor long and hard to bring some semblance of reality to the proceedings, but the whole affair has a distinctly faux-'50s feel to it. Kalvert gooses things up with some visual tricks -- slow-motion and lots of weird dissolves -- but there's not much he can do to camouflage the threadbare script. Opens May 3 at multiple locations. (AK)

A Galaxy Far Far Away. Tariq Jalil. Of all the various low-budget documentaries chronicling the Star Wars phenomenon, Jalil's is certainly the most recent. There's not a whole lot else to say about it, other than that the sound mix is really murky, the production often sloppy (names of celebrities and Star Wars characters are misspelled, and Jalil fails to turn the mic on for interviews with Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson and Samuel L. Jackson), but the director occasionally scores a good point, as in footage comparing food riots in Kosovo to the midnight madness at Toys "R" Us when the Episode I figures debuted. We're "entertained" along the way by some truly tone-deaf song parodies, and the film's ultimate attempt to make us feel for the weirdos it has thus far mocked isn't particularly successful. Plays at 8 p.m. May 4-5 at Webster University. (LYT)

Hollywood Ending. Woody Allen. A once-mighty director (Allen, who also wrote and directed), fallen on hard times, gets one last chance to salvage his career, thanks to the intervention of his ex-wife. Unfortunately, right before the shoot starts, the director, a notoriously unreliable hypochondriac, is stricken with psychosomatic blindness, forcing him, with the help of his agent (Mark Rydell), to maintain a ridiculous charade that he still has his sight. This may or may not be Allen's worst film, but it is certainly his most dispiriting. Whereas his other misfires suggested a great artist having a bad day, Hollywood Ending is the first to suggest a great artist losing it altogether. Also, the age disparity between Allen and his leading ladies gets more distracting with every film; he gets older and they don't. This time around, Téa Leoni, 31 years his junior, is the oldest of the women he's seen with. Opens May 3 at multiple locations. (AK)

Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy. Scott J. Gill. Director Gill presents a portrait of the unlikely, rotund porn star that depicts him as a man who, although aware of how lucky he is to have his job, is fundamentally unhappy (though not as disturbed as previous documentary subjects Annabel Chong or Stacy Valentine) and longs to be taken seriously by a mainstream world that won't acknowledge him as a potentially serious actor. Jeremy figures that his appeal is that of the everyman, noting that the average porn viewer feels empowered when he sees an unattractive guy getting laid by the best bods money can buy. But he's even more of an everyman than perhaps he realizes, dogged in his pursuit of the dream of becoming a "real" movie star. All this is in spite of the fact that he's one of the best at what he does now, being one of the industry's 15 or so reliable "woodsmen" and someone able to count down accurately to his own climax without the aid of Viagra. That's gotta be worth something, and you come away with the impression that it actually does make his father proud. Opens May 3 at the Tivoli. (LYT)

The Son's Room. Nanni Moretti. Moretti's meditation on a family's trauma in the wake of a teenage boy's death in a scuba-diving accident is both spare and unsentimental, and that may surprise those benighted Americans who think all Italians are one part tantrum and one part tomato sauce. Best known here for the 1994 delight Caro Diario, Moretti now explores the natural intimacy of comedy and tragedy as the stricken family -- a formerly tranquil psychiatrist (played by Moretti himself), his distraught wife (beautiful Laura Morante) and their energetic daughter (Jasmine Trinca) -- struggle to come to terms with what Victor Hugo called the "divine and terrible radiance" of grief. Wise and surprisingly witty, the film is a minor masterpiece and could serve as a fitting companion piece to America's In the Bedroom, another superb film about the torments of bereavement. Opens May 3 at the Plaza Frontenac. (BG)

Spider-Man. Sam Raimi. Opens May 3 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.