Film Openings

Week of May 11, 2005

Kicking & Screaming. (PG) Reviewed in this issue. (Luke Y. Thompson) ARN, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, EQ, GL, J14, MR, NW, RON, STCH, WO

Ladies in Lavender. (PG-13) Despite the powdery condescension of its title, this film is largely a delight, with astonishing performances by English grandes dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It's 1936, and the women play elderly sisters Ursula and Janet, who live together in their childhood home on the seaside cliffs of southwest England. After a violent storm, a young castaway washes ashore, barely alive. The sisters take him in and nurse him back to health. The young man, named Andrea and played by Daniel Bruhl (of Goodbye Lenin!), is Polish, so language is an issue, but the threesome use gestures, and Ursula begins to administer English lessons. As Andrea heals, he ventures into the town; once somebody loans him a fiddle, he's off and running, as he's a talented violinist. Trouble arises when a visiting artist (Natascha McElhone) takes an interest in Andrea. The direction occasionally slips into the sentimental -- no need for the slo-mo, for instance -- but the film is rich with real feeling. And Dench's performance is a heartbreaker. (Melissa Levine) PF

Mindhunters. (R) In this virtual remake of Deep Blue Sea (sans sharks) by the same director, it's not about the characters, or the dramatic tension, or any kind of believability. It's about how cool the death scenes are, and on that score, Renny Harlin is a champ. There's a computer-generated, isolated-island lab; a demographically mixed group of victims (among them Kathryn Morris, Jonny Lee Miller and Clifton Collins Jr.) who will be picked off one by one; the sense that all these deaths are the result of government irresponsibility; and even a sudden, shocking celebrity death scene. All that, and LL Cool J too. The victims in question are FBI trainees in the art of profiling, but someone is killing them off with preposterous, easily avoidable Rube Goldberg-esque death traps, and it's most likely one of them. The score sucks and the acting is weak, but there are times when certain moviegoers just feel the need to stare far-fetched, blood-drenched death in the eye and laugh. It's here, so have at it. (Thompson) CGX, CC12, DP, RON, STCH, WO

Monster-in-Law. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue. (Bill Gallo) ARN, CGX, CC12, DP, GL, J14, KEN, MR, NW, RON, STCH, WO

Palindromes. (Not Rated) Advance word had Palindromes as Todd Solondz's most shocking film, with its matter-of-fact depictions of a teenage girl getting pregnant, having a botched abortion, being anally raped, falling in with do-gooder Christians who've hired a hit man to off an abortionist and other assorted perversions. The diehards who actually see the film -- and one gets the sense that Solondz's is a cult of dwindling proportions -- will argue amongst themselves whether the filmmaker is for or against abortion, or even the right to choose. So horrific are his depictions of both sides of the argument that either side could make a good case. The heroes are villains, the villains are heroes, and in between are the innocents who become casualties in their wars waged in the names of morality and righteousness. Whatever. The point, says the film, is that we never change, no matter what we look like; we do not evolve; we do not grow or learn; we give nothing and take nothing. Solondz may buy it, may not -- who cares? (Robert Wilonsky) TV

Unleashed. (R) Jet Li portrays Danny, a man who has been raised as a slave and treated like a dog (to the point where his wicked "owner," Bart, makes him wear a collar). Danny's been taught no skills, save fighting -- but when Bart is in an accident and goes into a coma, Danny escapes and befriends a kindly man (Morgan Freeman) who uses music to teach him about the world. (Not Reviewed) ARN, CC12, DP, KEN, MR, NW, RON, STCH, WO

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. (G) This warm, intelligent documentary is deceptively modest. It purports to tell the simple tale of an off-the-grid eccentric (San Franciscan Mark Bittner) and his relationship with a flock of wild, non-native parrots, mostly cherry-headed conures that he feeds and studies. Instead, with no fuss at all, Wild Parrots delves into deep and meaningful territory, including questions of life choices, interspecies communication and Buddhist views of existence and spiritual connection. Bittner is a charming man, with a soft heart and a gentle touch, and director Judy Irving captures him with a calm and patient lens. The parrots are gorgeous, endlessly amusing with their sharp and quirky personalities; Bittner sees them more as monkeys than birds. And their stories -- of life and death in the wild -- are surprisingly affecting. At times, the soundtrack dips into sentimentality, and the slo-mo lays the emotion on a bit too thickly, as when a fledgling first takes flight. But those faults are rare. Mostly, Wild Parrots is a great, important and unforgettable movie. (Levine) TV

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