Film Openings

Week of March 23, 2006

After Innocence. (Not Rated) As scientific advances have made forensic DNA matching a reality, a new field has emerged in criminal justice: exoneration. In cases where relevant biological evidence has been preserved, innocent inmates who've been serving time for decades may eventually walk free. And then what? That's the question posed by this piercing and intelligent documentary by director Jessica Sanders. Unlike criminals who are released on parole, exonerees receive no assistance from the system that wrongfully imprisoned them. Not surprisingly, they struggle. One gets the sense that the seven men profiled here are faring better than their cohort, and yet they're still plagued with difficulties: finding work, being accepted by their communities, establishing intimate relationships with other people, re-forming identities as free people, and simply re-entering a world that once left them behind. Their stories are harrowing and infuriating, and Sanders does a fine job of bringing us into their experience. There's cause for hope too. (Melissa Levine) TV

Ask the Dust. (R) Screenwriter Robert Towne has spent decades trying to adapt for the big screen John Fante's 1939 novel, about a struggling writer named Arturo Bandini, and Towne's affection for the material and its maker is plainly evident here. He is faithful to the novel to a point, but also more forgiving toward Arturo (Colin Farrell) than even Fante was. Hence, he is no longer a lumbering virgin or a petulant ruffian prone to throwing tantrums, but a movie-star-handsome, desperately sensitive artist trapped in a dusty place populated by mongrels who do not appreciate his estimable talents. Towne has imprinted himself upon the material to such an extent that Fante almost exists in the margins. That's clear especially in his treatment of the relationship between Arturo and a waitress named Camilla Lopez (Salma Hayek), who treats the writer with contempt. Farrell's performance possesses a touch too many mannerisms on loan from Tyrone Power and Clark Gable. Ask the Dust, sadly, is the work of a man making less out of more. (Robert Wilonsky) TV

Inside Man. (R) Reviewed in this issue. (Michael Atkinson) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Perhaps as a result of digital-cable-versus-satellite wars, Larry the Cable Guy has made the logical move to health inspector. Naturally, he gets reassigned from old cozy diners to extravagant restaurants and paired up with a stickler for the rules. After a rash of food poisonings, will they be able to find the source of the outbreaks...and love? (not reviewed) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Stay Alive. When someone blocks your view by walking in front of Frogger, generally the worst that can happen is that your guy gets hit by a milk truck. Only in Stay Alive, Frogger is actually a centuries-old game, you are the guy and the milk truck is the Blood Countess. Oh, and you and your friends start dying every time you lose a game. Sounds like fun! (not reviewed) ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Tsotsi. (Not Rated) Winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, this gritty portrait of South African ghetto life packs an unexpected emotional wallop. The title is street slang for "thug" or "gangster," and it's also the name the violent lead character goes by. The 19-year-old (newcomer Presley Chweneyagae) refuses to discuss his past and exhibits no compassion toward his victims. One night he carjacks a woman, not realizing that there is a baby in the back seat. Drawn to the child but ill-equipped to care for it, Tsotsi spots a young mother and barges into her home, demanding that she breastfeed the baby. His exposure to the kind, maternal Miriam (Terry Pheto) triggers long-forgotten memories of his own brutal childhood, and he begins to question his violent nature. Written and directed by Gavin Hood (adapted from an Athol Fugard novel), Tsotsi looks at a marginalized segment of society, but it's also a classic tale of redemption. The two leads are superb, and the film packs overwhelming cathartic power. (Jean Oppenheimer) TV