GUIDE TO THE GALAXY XXX: STATE OF THE UNION
DUST TO GLORY
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The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is basically What
the #$*! Do We Know on a spaceship. Its a lot of theorizing
and high-minded humor without much of a story.
This film adaptation of Douglas Adams books follows the adventures
of two buddies, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and Ford (Mos Def). After
aliens destroy earth, the two friends hitchhike through space.
The Hitchhikers Guide spends more time on character quirks,
odd situations and comic setups than on the stories. The ubiquitous voiceover
gives us more ideas than a juicy travelers log.
The movie also appears to be a means of poking fun at some of our societys
most visible targets: elected officials, bureaucrats and preachers. The
film introduces us to the Vogons, an alien race more concerned with bureaucracy
than with family and logic. We also meet a sinister evangelist who keeps
his followers hyped about the supposed return of the divine hanky. And
we meet a two-headed galactic president whose thoughts are fueled by lemon
These characters have the potential to be interesting, but without a
story its easy to lose interest in them. They bum around the galaxy
in search of the ultimate question while the voiceover talks about them,
adding frequent touches of dry humor.
Unfortunately, the characters are simply animate jokes from Arthur
(who seems destined to spend eternity in his bathrobe and slippers) to
the galaxy president who sacrifices one of his heads to find the ultimate
question to Marvin, a robot doomed to depression by design.
Interesting props include shovels that pop up in the desert to slap anyone
with an idea and a point-of-view gun that conveys the shooters viewpoint
to those being shot.
The most important element of a movie is its story, but the story that should have been here must have been abducted. The beginning of The Hitchhikers Guide entices with visions of dolphins and a cute song that gives voice to their thoughts. The opening prepares viewers for the warmth of a tall and imaginative tale. Unfortunately, the film delivers only character sketches and props that turn out to be too high-minded to be of much earthly good. (PG) Rating: 1.5 (posted 4/29/05)
Screenwriter Simon Kinberg has worked as a script doctor
to improve the scripts of movies such as Charlies Angel: Full
Throttle. However, after listening to the sparse and shallow dialogue
and observing the wandering storyline in XXX: State of the Union,
my first thought is: Physician heal thine own patient.
State of the Union is Number Two in the XXX action/thriller
franchise. The letters XXX refer to a secret agent with special skills.
In this case the agent happens to be Darius Stone (Ice Cube). Those acquainted
with Ice Cubes screen presence will be prepared for lots of mean
mugging. Those familiar with this genre will know that the hero not only
saves the day but does so with flair. Unfortunately, Stone is tough without
the suave exterior.
Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) busts Stone out of prison
to be the next XXX, and the moment Stones feet near the perimeter
of the prison the over-the-top stunts begin. Gibbons arrives in a helicopter,
but hes a little later than planned. So Stone has to leap from the
building and glide through the air to catch his ride.
From that point forward Stones movements are marked by a trail
of explosions exploding boats, cars, even a train. His best defense
seems to be blowing things up, after which he usually gives a flat delivery
of some kind of homeboy punch line.
Its clear that Stone is supposed to be cool. Hes so cool
that he can be backed into a corner and still escape without a trace.
So cool that a knife in the hand wont stop him from fighting. So
cool that he can drive his dream car to destruction just to save the president
of the United States.
The problem is that its not clear what Stone and his buddies are
fighting for until the end of the movie. Another problem is that the charm
of characters like Stone is usually that they can simultaneously be super
fighters and the ultimate gentlemen.
Ice Cube, although endowed with plenty of innate charm, is playing the
one note that hes usually given to play. He looks mean. He keeps
his lips locked in a grimace throughout most of the movie, although his
eyes take on a boyish sparkle when hes delivering those cocky punch
In the end, this film looks like a costly excuse to blow things up. Its a fantasy of masculinity that falls too short of exciting and way too short of clever. (PG-13) Rating 2.5(posted 4/29/05)
One of the great things about the cinema is that it allows us to vicariously
experience some arduous adventures from the comfort of our theatre seats.
Dana Browns documentary Dust to Glory is a perfect example.
A behind the scenes look at the grueling Baja 1000 off road motor race,
Dust to Glory makes you want to wipe off the grit and pick the
bugs out of your teeth.
The annual cross-country race takes place partly on paved road, but mostly
crosses desert sands, rocks, hills and pits of dusty muck. Its a
challenge for the vehicle to survive, let alone the occupants. As the
movie points out, there are plenty of dangers along the way.
Each year, the Baja 1000 attracts professionals (like NASCAR driver Robby
Gordon), celebrities (Steve McQueen and James Garner are seen in stock
footage), and plenty of amateurs. There are million dollar buggies, junky
Volkswagen Beetles, motorcycles and trucks all competing for championships
in different categories.
Brown, (who has had success with surf movies Endless Summer 2
and Step Into Liquid) takes on another extreme sport by employing
a large crew of camera operators who man dozens of positions along the
race route. He also had many cameras mounted in the race vehicles themselves
and supports that footage with shots taken from hovering helicopters.
But Brown had more on his mind than just capturing the race itself. Hes
interested in exploring the obsession that drives these competitors to
put themselves through this arduous challenge.
He interviews many of the participants before, during (while making pit
stops) and after the race in an attempt to get into their heads. Were
given a bit of background into some of their lives and hear their motivations
from the horses mouths.
Some of the racers give fairly eloquent explanations about their reasons
for coming back year after year, while other seem to need serious counseling.
But for those of us who are new to the sport, the whole thing may still
prove to be an enigma.
But what Brown effectively accomplishes is to put us there. Thanks to
his intimate camera work, we get a better look at the race than anyone,
including the drivers (who often see little more than a cloud of dust)
and the thousands of spectators who line the race route. There are a number
of near misses captured as careless fans cheat death by standing
way too close to the courses twists and turns.
Thanks to Dust to Glory, we can be there and NOT be there. (PG) Rating: 3(posted 4/29/05)
Actor David Duchovny (The X-Files) is a talented fellow. Not
only did he star in the popular series, he wrote and directed a number
of the episodes.
His first effort as writer/director/star of a feature film is a sweet-natured
coming-of-age movie with its heart squarely in the right place. Unfortunately,
its also saccharine and emotionally manipulative.
Duchovny plays Tom Warshaw, an American-born artist living in France.
Having arrived late for an appointment to spend time with his son, Tom
has to explain to his estranged wife just whats going on with him.
As Tom justifies himself, we see flashbacks to his adolescence in 1970s
New York City. We learn about the unresolved issues in this life that
led him to flee to Paris thirty years ago.
Anton Yelchin (TVs Huff) plays the young Tom. He lives with
his pill-popping mom (played by Duchovnys real-life wife, Téa
Leoni), a nurse who is mourning the death of her husband.
Toms best friend is Pappas (Robin Williams), a middle-aged, mentally
challenged custodian at the Catholic school Tom attends. The duo shares
a part-time delivery job for a neighborhood French deli.
The two are almost uncomfortably close. When Tom finds himself attracted
to a young girl from another nearby school (played by Williams daughter,
Zelda), Pappas reacts in anger. His jealousy leads to an impetuous act
that changes both of their lives forever.
Tom gets some guidance from an unusual source. Near his apartment is
the titular Womens House of Detention. He strikes up a friendship
with an inmate whom he cannot see but can communicate with from her elevated
This woman whom he calls Lady (singer Erykah Badu) starts
their conversation by asking him to score her some drugs. Although he
doesnt comply, the two engage in a lengthy friendship. Lady dispenses
advice to Tom regarding life and love, and he provides her with a connection
to the outside world.
Most of the cast members handle their roles with skill, but Williams
performance is problematic. He brings a lot of baggage as the comic we
all know and love, and isnt able to let us forget his underlying
wit. Even though hes playing a retarded man, he still
provides ad libs that seem jarring coming from his character.
But the real problem is that Duchovny doesnt know when to stop.
He lays on the sentiment thickly, working hard to wring a few extra tears
from the audience.
As a result, the well-intentioned House of D becomes what Im sure he never intended. Its cloying. (PG-13) Rating: 2(posted 4/22/05)
There are plenty of horror films emerging from Hollywood these days,
but if you really want to see something scary, here is a blood-chilling
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room accomplishes something that
might, at first blush, seem nearly impossible. It takes the story surrounding
the Enron collapse and makes it easy to understand, slyly entertaining
and appropriately frightening.
A brilliant new documentary by Alex Gibney (The Sexual Century),
the film is based upon the exhaustive research done by Fortune magazine
reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. Their book, The Smartest
Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron showed
how greed, manipulation, negligence and unbridled arrogance brought about
the collapse of one of Americas largest companies.
Under Gibneys cautious direction, the movie eschews the showboating
and muckraking of Michael Moores work in favor of a meticulous outlay
of the facts. He uses talking heads, news reports, stock footage, video
from congressional hearings and clandestinely obtained audiotapes to carefully
and establish clearly just what went down.
He also employs judicious editing to ensure that the film keeps moving
and engaging our interest. The sly narration by Peter Coyote and clever
use of music (by Matt Hauser) help greatly, too.
Rather than engaging in a conspiracy theory scenario, Gibney
allows us to connect the dots ourselves. He lets us draw our own conclusions,
but carefully lays out the breadcrumbs so that we can navigate our way
through the woods.
What emerges is eye opening. We see how Enron boss Kenneth Lay (a close
friend of the Bush family) got the Bushes to support Lays cause,
the deregulation the power industry. That deregulation allowed Enron brokers
(caught red-handed in audio recordings) to ask California power plants
to shut down, thus causing the infamous rolling blackouts.
As the result of those blackouts, California Gov. Gray Davis was ousted
in favor of Bush ally, Arnold Schwartzenneger. In a telling moment, when
Gibney asks Davis if there is a connection, he gives a one-word response:
But scariest of all is Jeffrey Skilling. He was the creator of Enrons
creative accounting practice that allowed it to claim future potential
profits as current cash value. That ruse led to an increase in Enrons
stock value that allowed him to continue to inflate the companys
worth. He and some of the other Enron execs walked away with over a billion
dollars while stockholders and pensioners went bust.
If its true that evil means a total lack of empathy, then Skilling embodies it. The film implies the same of much of the corporate world. That, my friends, is scary. (No MPAA rating) Rating: 5 (posted 4/29/05)
If it wasnt so utterly ridiculous, Kings Ransom would
be downright offensive. The movies predominately African-American
cast of characters is an incarnation of stereotypes.
First theres Malcolm King (played by Anthony Anderson), owner of
King Enterprises. Hes a wealthy businessman whos so intelligent
and focused (as if!) that he promotes a curvaceous idiot named Peaches
(Regina Hall) to head his companys marketing department. Peaches
spends most of her work time oiling Malcolms feet (when shes
not grooming herself or bending over and inadvertently entertaining the
men in the office).
Then theres Malcolms wife, who just happens to be a scheming
gold-digger extraordinaire. She belittles Malcolm at every opportunity
but cant wait to get her hands on his money once their divorce is
One of Malcolms top marketing execs (Nicole Ari Parker as Angela)
compulsively inflates the details of her lackluster college education.
Andre (Donald Faison), parking valet, is obsessed with the idea of having
sex with Peaches. And Miss Gladys, Malcolms personal assistant,
insists upon treating Malcolm like her baby boy, although the plot never
explains her behavior.
The screenwriter seems to have added a white character named Corey (Jay
Mohr) to the mix purely to balance this comedy of black stereotypes
with a white underachiever. Cory still lives at home with his grandmother
and cant even keep a lowly job at Happy Shack (a burger joint).
Anyway, several of these misfits (Malcolm included) decide that they
can profit by kidnapped Malcolm (or having him kidnapped). What follows
is mostly goofy, contrived and for the most part, not at all funny.
One of the few funny moments in Kings Ransom is when mild-mannered
Corey runs amok because he can bear all the abuse he thinks hes
suffered. He drives like a bat out of Hades to the Happy Shack, from which
he was fired. When he arrives theres a man in a hamburger suit pacing
in front of the hamburger place. Corey tackles the human hamburger and
starts pounding the daylights out of him. Its just funny to watch.
Like the movies protagonist, the other scenes in this movie should have been kidnapped, though I doubt they would garner much of a ransom. (PG-13) Rating: 1 (posted 4/29/05)
Imagine having only two hours to develop a relationship with someone,
two hours to get them to understand the range of pain and possibilities
that lie beneath your public façade. The biggest challenge would
be to reveal yourself quickly without seeming shallow and overwhelming
with your flaws and foibles.
The makers of The Interpreter have managed to pull off such a
feat. They have managed to reveal a hero who is more than just a fighting
machine, more than a tough guy with a few good lines. They have also revealed
us a heroine who transcends that old pretty damsel-in-distress shtick.
The Interpreter tells the story of a Secret Service agent (Sean
Penn as Tobin Keller) who tries to protect a U.N. interpreter (Nicole
Kidman as Silvia Bloome). Silvia has overheard a plot to assassinate the
president of Matobo, a fictional African county. Eventually Silvia tells
her boss what shes heard. Then two things happen: The bad guys go
after her and the Secret Service starts investigating her.
Silvia and Tobin take verbal jabs at each other during early scenes.
Shes quick and sarcastic, and she thinks he should be protecting
her. He thinks shes lying about what she heard. Hes a trained
skeptic whos determined to get the goods on her. Shes somewhat
idealistic; she says she works for the U.N. because believes in communication
as a way to settle differences.
Gradually both characters reveal that there is much more to them that
whats on the surface. He shows his soft underbelly. She reveals
The Interpreter touches on big political ideas like tyranny and
diplomacy, but its main focus is the story of these two characters.
One of the best scenes in the film involves a phone conversation between
the two. Hes staked out in an apartment across the street from hers,
and hes watching her through the window. She calls him. They stare
at each other through their respective windows, each unable to sleep.
She finally lies down, and she asks him if hell permit her to fall
asleep while hes still on the phone.
At other times the movie gets a little too Hollywoodish for its own good.
A bus explodes and one of those bright movie fires erupts. An intruder
lurks outside Silvias apartment, and creepy music swells as the
camera focuses on her frightened face. The character spout lines that
you just know were designed to impress, such as Vengeance is a lazy
form of grief or Desire diminishes (with time).
But overall, The Interpreter entertains. It presents characters that are interesting and mysterious enough to keep viewers watching. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5(R) (posted 4/22/05)
What would you get if you combined a Hong Kong martial arts flick with
a social satire and a Road Runner cartoon? Heaven knows, but it would
probably look a lot like Kung Fu Hustle.
A manic, over-the-top and self-spoofing send-up of many film genres,
Kung Fu Hustle is a breathlessly entertaining (and ultimately very
silly) exercise in movie mayhem.
Writer/director/star Stephen Chows last effort, Shaolin Soccer,
became one of Hong Kongs all-time biggest box office hits. Kung
Fu Hustle has already surpassed it at home and promises to do the
same around the world.
This time, the setting is 1940s China. Chow plays Sing, a small-time
hustler who wants nothing more than to be a notorious and feared mobster,
a member of the ominous Axe Gang who have run roughshod over
Sing and his rotund pal Sidekick (Lam Tze Chung) decide to take advantage
of the pitiable denizens of Pig Sty Alley, a neighborhood so poor that
theyve been ignored by the Axe Gang. The duo claim to be gangsters
and try to put the squeeze on some of the wily folks there.
Pig Sty Alley turns out to be the secret home of several martial arts
masters who are living incognito as simple shopkeepers. Sing and Sidekick
provoke a fight and are soundly trounced by these fighters, as well as
the landlord (Wah Yuen) and landlady (Qui Yuen.)
It turns out that the landlord and landlady are more than just masters.
Their prowess is so great that its supernatural, and the landlady
has a set of lungs that rival the power of a twister.
This activity arouses the notice of the real Axe Gang, and all hell breaks
loose. When the gangsters realize what their up against, they send for
the aid of some gifted assassins. Finally, the gangsters recruit The
Beast (Leung Siu Lung), an imprisoned killer who lives only for
the challenge of a death match.
Chow eagerly and wantonly defies all logic as his story twists and turns
and becomes a CGI-aided, human inhabited cartoon. One can easily see the
influence of the great Warner Brothers cartoon masters who used
aggressive violence to generate laughs.
Many will throw up their hands at this exercise in utter silliness, dismissing
it as too absurd to be entertaining. Theyre probably in the minority,
and theyre definitely outside of this films target demographic.
If we are willing to throw logic out the window, then Chow is the man to throw a few well-placed karate chops at our funny bones. (R) Rating: 3(posted 4/22/05)
In proper Hollywood chick flick fashion, the main characters in the
new romantic comedy A Lot Like Love meet cute.
Just prior to boarding a flight from LA to New York, Oliver (Ashton Kutcher)
notices a lovely girl named Emily (Amanda Peete) breaking up with her
boyfriend. Once on the plane, the two make eye contact. Although Oliver
is reluctant to make the first move, the heartsick Emily has no such hesitance.
Emily corners Oliver in the lavatory and the duo wordlessly become members
of the mile-high club. When Oliver later attempts to strike up a conversation,
Emily says, Dont spoil it.
In Emilys mind, Oliver has one strike against him by not making
the first move. Although he follows her and awkwardly attempts to start
a relationship, his efforts only work against him. Ultimately,
Oliver gives Emily his number and asks her to give him a call in seven
years. Thats how long he figures it will take him to become a successful
Fate has other plans, however. The couple reunites from time to time
over the next few years to enjoy a shag or two and then go
their separate ways. From all the evidence, these two simply were not
meant for each other.
But thats not how things work in romantic comedies. When youve
got two leads this attractive, theyve just got to be a couple.
Director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls) and first-time screenwriter
Colin Patrick Lynch (an actor who has appeared in such films as Phone
Booth and Terminator 2: Judgment Day) manage to find a few
moments of truth amidst the genre clichés, and the likable stars
aid their efforts.
Kutcher (Butterfly Effect) has shown a limited range in his previous
work, but he is very appealing as the awkward but affable Oliver. Peete
(The Whole Nine Yards) is terrific, handling both the pathos and
humor of her role with equal aplomb.
But there is an awful lot of moping that goes on in A Lot Like Love.
Cole makes the mistake of having our stars put on glum faces and the camera
lingers on them far too long. The movies biggest mistake comes from
these prolonged shots. (Okay, we get it already! Theyre sad.)
This error in judgment adds to the films length (its at least
20 minutes too long) and breaks its otherwise peppy momentum.
Still, A Lot Like Love has its modest pleasures, and that is just what it was aiming for. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (posted 4/22/05)
Robert Altman may have his faults, but as a filmmaker, he is the master
of cohesion. He knows how to take several divergent storylines and weave
them into a satisfying and thematically sound tapestry.
Czech director Jan Hrebejk tries the same thing with Up and Down,
a social commentary about racial and societal tensions in the post-Communist
Czech Republic. Although his observations are realistic and intelligent,
he cant quite manage to bring his numerous plot threads together.
The film begins as a couple of lowlife smugglers barely manage to get
past the border guards and bring a truckload of Indian refugees into the
Czech Republic. After dumping their load of human baggage, they speed
away only to discover that a tiny baby was left behind in their truck.
They take their unwanted passenger to some gangsters who put it up for
sale. That brings us to our second storyline about a security guard named
Franta (Jiri Machacek) and his unbalanced wife, Mila (Natasa Burger.)
Mila yearns for a baby, but Franta is a soccer hooligan with a criminal
record and the infertile couple is not permitted to adopt. When Mila learns
about the Indian baby, she empties their bank account and buys the child.
When Franta discovers the dark skin of this baby, he immediately realizes
that no one will believe its his. Its bad enough that his
racist friends think that immigrants are overrunning their country.
Yet another story intrudes, that of a professor named Otto (Jan Triska)
who is stricken with cancer. He longs to see his estranged son Martin
(Petr Foreman) whom he hasnt seen in 20 years. Martin travels from
his home in Australia for an awkward reunion with his father and mother
Vera (Emilia Vasaryova.) Otto, you see, left Vera years ago and took up
with Martins ex-girlfriend, Hana (Ingrid Timkova.) He now wants
a divorce from Vera and for Martin to give his blessing. (Are you getting
all of this?)
This sets up the dinner from hell, as the alcoholic Vera spews racist
bile and bitterly refuses the dying mans request. Caught in the
middle, Martin tries vainly to rise above it all.
Hrebejk and co-writer Petr Jarchovsky use these stories to make some
pointed commentary about the changes their country is going through and
the toll it is taking on race relations. Their outlook is unrelentingly
pessimistic, but they inject some humor into their movie to prevent it
from becoming a complete exercise in gloom.
The main problem with Up and Down is that it is so disjointed.
You cant tell the players without a program and there are certainly
cultural aspects that simply dont translate well.
Although it is certainly well intentioned, Up and Down is ultimately a bagful of interesting but unconnected ideas. (R) Rating: 2.5 (posted 4/22/05)
The empty nest syndrome is one that is rarely explored by
Hollywood. After all, the angst of middle-aged people doesnt usually
provide much entertainment value for Tinseltowns target demographic.
Thats what makes Winter Solstice a bit of a surprise. Its
the kind of subject matter that is usually relegated to the Lifetime Channel.
This earnest little drama from first-time writer/director Josh Sternfeld
is well acted and realistic. Its also very quiet, slow moving and
Anthony LaPaglia (TVs Without a Trace) stars as Jim Winters,
a widowed landscaper who is raising two teenage boys in a small town.
(If the location seems familiar, thats because it was filmed in
Glen Ridge, NJ, the same site as the current and very similar
film, Imaginary Heroes.)
Although his wife has been gone for a few years, the pain is still evident.
Jim is having a tough time relating to his sons who are dealing with their
loss in very different ways.
While Jim buries himself in his work, his eldest son Gabe (Tadpoles
Aaron Stanford) dreams of escape. Just to change his glum surroundings,
Gabe is planning to give up his relationship with his longtime girlfriend,
leave his job and education opportunities and run off to Florida with
Jims other son, Pete (Mark Webber from Hollywood Ending)
has become bitterly aloof, a slacker, and is falling behind in school
in spite of the fact that he is exceedingly bright.
These fellows love one another, but without the emotional buffering that
their mother provided, they have no skills to show it. In fact, they rarely
communicate at all except for a few offhand words and the occasional shouting
Things begin to open up for Jim when a woman named Molly (Allison Janney
from TVs The West Wing) moves into the neighborhood to house
sit for a friend. Alone and never married, Molly provides Jim with an
opportunity to share some feelings hes kept bottled up since his
The cast is exceptionally good, even though it is sometimes hard to believe
that the Winters boys are actually Jims sons. (There is so
little resemblance that one is left wondering what Jims wife was
The movie is also sorely lacking humor. This is the kind of movie that
begs for the occasional laugh just to temper the angst.
Still, Winter Solstice is a respectable family drama. Perhaps it will find an audience someday on Lifetime. (R) Rating: 3 (posted 4/15/05)
In April of 2004, two Americans accomplished a feat that no other adventures
had ever successfully completed. They rafted the entire length of the
On the surface, that may not seem like such a remarkable achievement
consider the challenges; the Nile, at 3,250 miles in length, it is the
worlds longest. It is populated with man-eating crocodiles and aggressive
hippos, is buffeted by sandstorms; it has miles of razor-sharp, rock laden
rapids; it is patrolled by gangs of merciless bandits and cuts through
several countries, each with its own arcane rules. Plus malaria is as
common as a cold.
Dozens of people have died trying to navigate the Nile, and many have
simply disappeared. You can call it the ultimate adventure or an exercise
in insanity, but in any case, its one wild ride.
The new film Mystery of the Nile chronicles the journey of these
adventurers, documenting their historic four-month journey on the giant
The leader of the expedition was a geophysicist Pasquale Scaturro, celebrated
for his successful 2001 ascension of Mount Everest, accompanied by blind
climber Erik Weihenmayer.
Along with Scaturro on the Nile was Gordon Brown, a kayaking expert.
The duo began their adventure on Christmas Day, 2003. Amazingly, they
were accompanied on their treacherous trek by massive IMAX cameras.
The movie details the many twists and turns, both literal and figurative,
that these explorers encountered. Pasquale and Gordon provide narration,
as do a handful of other scientists and historians who accompanied them
on certain legs of the journey.
Most of this narration is uninspired, consisting of a lot of, Wow,
we made it observations. But The Mystery of the Nile isnt
about hearing, its about seeing, and the visuals are appropriately
stunning. Were treated to breathtaking vistas of African landscapes
that are jaw dropping, to say the least.
Were even treated to a few side trips to explore some ancient ruins
that demonstrate how remarkably advanced some of these civilizations were
how completely they depended upon the Nile for their survival.
But the real mystery in Mystery of the Nile is how director Jordi
Llompart was able to hide the titanic IMAX cameras that were along for
the bumpy ride. Granted, much of the cinematography was shot from the
air, but telltale shadows usually intrude. They are completely missing
Mystery of the Nile allows moviegoers to share in the epic journey of these adventurers. We, of course, can do it vicariously in the comfort the theatre. (No MPAA rating) Rating: 3 (posted 4/22/05)
The scariest scary movies are those that arouse our worst fears, fears
with roots in reality. The recent remake of the 1979 The Amityville
Horror (based on Jay Ansons book of the same name) does this,
at least in part.
In an early scene Ronald DeFeo walks into his little sisters room
carrying a rifle. He aims the rifle at her, and for a moment his eyes
soften. I love you, he says.
Then the camera shows us the outside of the house. We hear a gunshot
and see a flash of light in an upstairs window. We dont see the
horrible act. But we instinctively know the girl is dead.
The opening scenes dramatize a real incident that occurred in 1974, when
Ronald DeFeo shot and killed his father, Ronald Sr., his mother Louise
and his four siblings. The rest of the film is devoted to the much-questioned
story of George and Kathy Lutz and their three children, who moved into
the former DeFeo house about a year after the murders.
The movie moves from surreal to normal as it introduces the Lutz family.
Hes a contractor. Shes the mother of two boys and a girl by
a previous relationship, and her oldest son, Billy, is having trouble
accepting George as a father figure. Other than Billys minor mutinies,
the family appears healthy and happy.
Their move to the haunted house is documented with montages of their
carefree interactions as they move their belongings from one abode to
another. Then the action lurches from normal to supernatural with a mixture
of humor and startling moments.
On the Lutz familys first night in the house, little Michael hears
noises coming through a vent. Hes scared but needs to go to the
bathroom. Hes funny to watch as he scampers down the hall and then
stands in front of the toilet looking around cautiously.
After that, more frightening supernatural occurrences disrupt the family
harmony. The babysitter, Lisa, has a run-in with one of the ghosts. Georges
disposition changes from warm to odd and chilly. The Lutzs daughter
Chelsea starts telling unsettling tales about her interactions with an
The films score is mostly scratchy and spare, perfect for keeping the nerves on edge. And there are a couple startling moments that will elicit small shocks of fright. However, if youre a die-hard horror fan whos looking for the scariest kind of scary movie to keep you awake at night, this is not the film. The Amityville Horror is, however, probably the best horror film released so far this year. (R) Rating: 3 (posted 4/15/05)
Eleven years ago, Danny Boyle directed a dark comedy called Shallow
Grave. That film dramatizes a struggle that ensues between flat-mates
when they discover that their new flat-mate has died and left a pile of
money behind. Their struggle over the money reveals the darkness that
can lurk within the human soul.
Millions has a similar theme, but its lead characters are children
and the story is more concerned with light than darkness. One day Damien
(10-year-old Alexander Nathan Etel) is sitting in his cardboard house
in the middle of a green field when a black Nike bag falls on the house.
The bag is full of money (almost 250 British Pounds).
Damien thinks God has given him the money to do good deeds with (give
to the poor, etc.), which seems to be a natural conclusion for a boy obsessed
with saints. He likes to spout his knowledge of saints birth and
death dates. He also talks to them to get their advice and to find out
if any of them has seen his deceased mother.
When Damien shows the money to his older brother, Anthony (Lewis Owen
McGibbon), the older boys mental wheels start turning. Unlike Damien,
Anthonys looking out for Number One, calculating all the gadgets
he can buy with that money.
Besides the minor problems created by the difference in their values,
the boys have a short period of time to either spend or convert the money
before the British monetary system converts to the Euro. Further complicating
matters, a crook is looking for the money.
Millions is a quiet, slow-paced film about the greedy and charitable
sides of human nature, and about the ways in which people handle grief.
Frank Cottrell Boyces script captures the soul of the lonely Damien,
who desperately misses his mother and is clutching religion and goodness
for dear life. Damiens discussions with various saints (who are
figments of his imagination) are the best parts of the film.
Young Etel easily steals the show as a boy who is both innocent and wise. And some of the situations the boys find themselves in are quite amusing although not hilarious. In this season of horror films that are less than horrifying and romantic comedies that are less than funny, this film emerges as a definite charmer. But watching it requires patience and the willingness to look below the films still surface to its odd but optimistic heart. (PG) Rating: 3.5 (posted 4/15/05)
In 1972, a hairdresser named Gerard Damiano made a porno movie for roughly
$25,000. (As he would later admit, it was an excuse to get laid.)
Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who made a splash with the
documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye and the dramatic film (based
upon one of their earlier documentaries) Party Monster, take a
long hard look (no pun intended) at how a porn film impacted contemporary
Narrator Dennis Hopper guides us through a cornucopia of film clips (the
porn footage is limited but very hardcore) that help to set the mood for
this comprehensive (to a fault) look at the era.
The talking heads are numerous and interesting, too. Along with celebrities
like Mailer, we get some noteworthy observations from Carl Bernstein,
Helen Gurley Brown, Dick Cavett, Wes Craven, Alan Dershowitz, Larry Flint,
Al Goldstein, Hugh Hefner, Erica Jong, Bill Maher, Camille Paglia, Gore
Vidal, John Waters and Dr. Ruth Westheimer
just to name a few.
Damiano, who now lives a quiet life with his children, recounts how the
film came to be, and how he never made any money on it. (His partners,
well-known mobsters, gave him an offer he couldnt refuse. He gave
up his interest in the flick to them.)
The film also follows the ups and downs in the life of actor Harry Reems,
who became the only member of the filmmaking crew to be tried and convicted
of obscenity charges. (His conviction was later overturned.) Unable to
find acting work outside of porn, he descended into a life of booze and
drugs that took decades to emerge from. (Hes now a conservative
The sad life of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace is also spotlighted.
Unable to shake her porn image, she was fired from every job she ever
held. She died penniless in a car accident in 2002.
In the age of the Internet, the trench coat porn audiences of the 1970s may seem almost quaint. As Inside Deep Throat shows, that era is, thankfully, long gone. (No pun intended.) (NC-17) Rating: 3 (posted 4/15/05)
One thing is for certain, Travellers and Magicians (their spelling)
is the best film ever made in Bhutan by a Buddhist lama. Its also
the finest cinematic achievement in the Dzongka language.
The fact that it is the only film ever made in that language and in that
Himalayan kingdom doesnt diminish the accomplishment in the least.
Filmmaker Khyentse Norbu previously made the quaint soccer film The
Cup, a small but surprising hit about the efforts of some monks to
obtain a TV in order to watch a soccer championship. With Travellers
and Magicians, he has turned Chaucers Canterbury Tales
into a road movie that takes place on the opposite side of the world.
It tells the story of a government employee named Dondup (Tshewang Dendup),
a lover of Western culture who has been living in a remote outpost in
Bhutan. He wants nothing more than to leave his backward country and head
off to America, the land of wine, women and song.
After missing a bus, he begins walking until he comes upon a group of
folks who are on a religious pilgrimage. These fellow travelers include
a monk (Sonam Kinga) who constantly needles Dondup about his materialism.
Dondup, you see, likes Western T-shirts, listens to rock n roll,
and has a dismissive view of the Bhutan lifestyle. He considers his traveling
companions to be backwater hicks while they see him as a shallow city
There are other plot elements in Travellers and Magicians that
include a fable told by the monk about an apprentice magician named Tashi
(Lhakpa Dorji). His donkey is transformed into a horse that runs off and
takes him to an isolated shack. In this cinematic side trip, the movie
takes a dark turn and its tone abruptly changes.
One problematic element in the movie involves Dondups relationship
with a young girl he encounters named Sonam (Sonam Lhamo). The actress
is much too young for the role, making the romantic-leaning relationship
a bit creepy. (See Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba in Sin City.)
Where Norbu succeeds is in his visuals. He deftly depicts the stunning
beauty of Bhutan and juxtaposes that with Dondups brash disregard
for it. We see all too well what the fellow would be giving up to pursue
his American dream.
If this film catches on, dont be surprised to see American travel agents booking tourists for excursions to this isolated country. That would be the ultimate irony. (No MPAA rating) Rating: 3.5 (posted 4/15/05)
If you start having a bit of déjà vu while watching the
new Sigourney Weaver vehicle, Imaginary Heroes, you wont
be alone. Anyone who has seen Robert Redfords Oscar-winning drama
Ordinary People will probably have the same reaction.
At the beginning of Fever Pitch, the voice of Al (Jack Kehler)
explains how Bens Uncle Jack took Ben (Jason Spevak as the seven-year-old
Ben) to his first Boston Red Sox game. That day, Al reminisces, Ben became
one of the worlds most pitiful creatures: a Red Sox fan.
Pitiful indeed. Twenty-three years later the small apartment Ben (Jimmie
Fallon) occupies is full of Red Sox memorabilia, newspaper clippings and
photos of players, Red Sox towels in the bathroom and even Yankee toilet
paper. Its like you live in a gift shop, Lindsey Meeks
(Drew Barrymore) observes at one point.
The screenwriters reveal little about Ben, just that hes a 30-year-old
schoolteacher and that he loves the Red Sox. Ben meets Lindsey when he
takes his students on a field trip to the office where she works. Shes
a successful executive, although its not clear what her job is.
Ben is attracted to Lindsey. But, as his students point out, shes
way out of his league. Why would she want to date a lowly schoolteacher?
Lindsey puzzles over the same question, first asking herself why she
should date Ben, then later thinking why not. He wins her over on the
first date (which turns out to be no date at all). Then, the camera clips
through their courtship with brief looks at some of their happy moment.
Then the camera comes to rest on Ben and captures his time spent with
his true passion: baseball. The cameras eye lingers on the front
of the stadium and in the stands during games. It catches Ben planning
the season who hell take to which game.
Fever Pitch is about two love affairs: the one between Ben and
Lindsey, and the obsessive mental connection Ben has to the Sox. However,
the movie is much more focused on the latter. Not much time is spent on
the development of Lindseys character. She is just the shell of
a woman, a caricature of an attractive, career-oriented woman whos
been lulled into submitting to the allure of a romantic fantasy by the
ticking of her biological clock.
There are lots of physical gags and wholly unrealistic tomfoolery to cover the lack of chemistry between the films two stars. But the gags and tomfoolery arent wide enough to cover the lagging moments and plot omissions. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (posted 4/11/05)
The foggy first scene of Sahara shows the battleship USS Iron
Clad Texas under fire during the Civil War. Outside of the ship, bursts
of light cut through the fog; inside, theres pandemonium as the
ships crew reacts to the attack. The scene is gray, ominous and
full of dark romance.
Cut to the next scene. The camera scans the office of Dirk Pitt (Matthew
McConaughey), a naval historian who (judging from the newspaper clippings
on his walls, the maps and model of the Iron Clad) is apparently obsessed
with finding the wreckage of the sunken ship.
When we next see Dirk hes in Lagos saving a beautiful World Health
Organization doctor (Penelope Cruz as Eva Rojas) from a mysterious attacker.
Rojas has stumbled upon a mysterious disease thats killing a lot
of people in Lagos and in Mali, but her bosses at the W.H.O. dont
want her to go to Mali.
She goes anyway, of course. If she didnt thered be no point
in continuing the movie, no point in Dirk and his sidekick Al (Steve Zahn)
performing dangerous stunts in a boat, blowing up things, fighting and
trekking across the desert.
The plot grows more grand and ridiculous as they continue their journey.
At one point, one of the characters suggests that theres a real
danger of the mysterious disease making its way across the water
to the United States.
But this film is best watched with the logic button of your brain switched
to off. McConaughey and Zahn have great chemistry as adventurous (and
wacky) buddies who dont shy away from danger. The two men have a
way of looking at each other like theyre reading each others
minds before pulling off one of their life-risking stunts.
Penelope Cruzs character, Eva, does what women usually do in these
kinds of films. She gives the heroes chances to save her, and occasionally
she strikes a blow of her own to help out.
Ultimately, Sahara is about the guys and the ambiance created
by nature and exotic multicultural characters. Whether the scene occurs
on a bustling city street, on the river or on desert sand, cinematographer
Seamus McGarvey captures it in away that seems to bring all the senses
to the eyes.
Although a bit silly at times and as light as meringue, Sahara will probably prove entertaining for those who dont over think it. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (posted 4/11/05)
Early on in the making of this unique documentary, narrator and filmmaker
Andrew Gurland makes a confession. He has paid his subject in order to
be allowed to film his story. That is just the first in a series of ethical
lapses Gurland makes.
The film involves a burly and slovenly doorman from Queens named Andrew
Martinez who orders an Asian wife from a matchmaking service. Gurland
and co-director Huck Botko follow him as he makes his initial order, to
the arrival of his bride (a Burmese girl name Lichi)
and then into
utterly unexpected territory.
It turns out, you see, that what Adrian really wanted was a maid and
a sex slave. When Andrew realizes what has happened, he becomes personally
involved in Lichis life.
SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this review contains information that may
lessen ones appreciation for certain aspects of the film. Read on
at your own risk.
Mail Order Wife is a put on. In the tradition of Spinal Tap
and Waiting for Guffman, it is a mockumentary that
uses the format to veil what is really a fully scripted comedy.
Unlike others of its ilk, Mail Order Wife looks so convincing
in its cinema verité style that even savvy moviegoers may be fooled
for awhile. The truly gullible may never realize that theyve been
The filmmakers show tremendous ingenuity here. They demonstrate a unique
way to film a dramatic movie on the cheap and, thanks to a clever script,
make it as entertaining as most big-budget efforts.
All of the principals play a variation on themselves, with the exception
of Eugenia Yuan (the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha) who gives a
terrific performance as the put upon Lichi. Martinez is equally good as
the brutish doorman.
But Gurland has the most self-deprecating role. He shows this version
of himself to be a self-centered, egotistical schmuck who cant see
the parallels between his own abhorrent behavior and that of Adrian. Indeed,
he considers himself to be superior to Adrian in every way in spite of
his numerous lapses in judgment.
As the film unfolds, the plot gets more and more absurd, and the humor
broadens. Lichi ultimately turns the tables on both Andrew and Adrian,
giving each of them a dose of justice they richly deserve.
In a priceless moment late in the film, steroid superstar Jose Canseco turns up as himself. Adrian fawns over him calling him the greatest baseball player ever. Like I said, Mail Order Wife is a put on. (R) Rating: 3 (posted 4/08/05)
When novice filmmaker Michael Schorr explained the concept of his debut
movie to potential financiers, his account must have been met with incredulity.
Could it actually have commercial possibilities?
Schorrs film, Schultze Gets the Blues, features a single
German mine worker who tries to figure out how to fill his days after
being forced into early retirement. The notion is not exactly a barnburner.
Still, Schorrs little movie exhibits a droll sense of humor and
an unexpectedly sweet demeanor. As a result, this modest little effort
has won a slew of awards at various film festivals and has developed a
The film opens at a salt mine where Schultze (Horst Krause) is working
his last day on the job. After years of toil, he is given a gift (an electric
salt crystal lamp) and shown the door. Single, childless and living alone,
he is utterly adrift.
Trying to figure out what to do with his time, he noodles around in his
garden, plays chess and has an occasional beer with pals. Luckily, he
has his accordion to keep him company.
Because hes pretty adept on the instrument, hes often called
upon to play the traditional polkas at village events. Usually eager to
comply, something happens that changes his life forever.
Schultze becomes so enamored with the music, that he even starts cooking
jambalaya in big pots on his stove. His orderly life is altered when he
tries out a zydeco tune at a local community center concert. His efforts
are met with utter disdain.
To tell more might be to give too much away. This leisurely-paced film
unfolds in odd ways, sending our hero on a series of unexpected, easy-going
The gentle humor in Schultze Gets the Blues is so subtle that
some viewers will miss the joke altogether and be utterly bored. Schorr
employs a mostly static camera and takes his sweet time in establishing
the mood of each scene. This is the utter antithesis of a typical Hollywood
But there is a sly intelligence at play here. Schorr has something important to say regarding how one uses ones time. The real question is: Do we have the patience to hear it? (PG) Rating: 3 (posted 4/08/05)
Older moviegoers occasionally complain that theatres no longer show
cartoon shorts along with features. (The Pixar films are notable exceptions.)
Thats why Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head, King of the
Hill) and veteran animator Don Hertzfeldt founded The Animation Show,
an eclectic compilation of films from around the world.
These twelve shorts represent considerable diversity in content and execution,
demonstrating that the creators of animated shorts persevere in spite
of the lack of venues to showcase their work.
The films represented in this assemblage utilize computer-generated imagery,
stop-motion animation, a combination of live action and drawings as well
as traditional hand-drawn cartoons.
As in all such anthologies, there are a couple of duds among the gems,
but the overall quality represented is generally impressive.
Veteran animator Bill Plympton gets things off to an amusing, if somewhat
harsh hand-drawn start with Guard Dog, an Oscar-nominated cartoon
about an overly protective pooch who sees threats to his master around
Plymptons imaginative short is followed by the pointless F.E.D.S.,
a roto-scoped film about grocery store workers who offer small taste samples
to shoppers. Luckily, F.E.D.S. is a minor misstep.
Among the impressive selections is the Australian entry, Ward 13,
a nightmarish stop-motion piece about a victim of a car accident who awakens
in the hospital from hell. In an attempt to escape, our hero gets involved
in a chase sequence that is as exciting as any youll see in the
best action flick.
Ever wonder what happened after the chicken crossed the road? When
the Day Breaks has one possible answer in a series of fanciful interconnected
stories involving human-like barnyard animals. What begins as a light,
upbeat tale evolves into an unsettling and melancholy one.
A visually arresting computer-generated science fiction short called
Rock Fish features a space traveling fisherman and his dog
who hook a creature that turns out to be more trouble than its worth.
The eye-popping effects more than make up for the somewhat unimaginative
One might debate the meaning of The Man With No Shadow, but this
strange, dreamlike film made up of a single, long pan shot looks like
an impressionistic painting come to life.
Hertzfeldt closes out the proceedings with his work, the lengthy and
ambitious The Meaning of Life a bit of ambiguous philosophizing
is as visually interesting as it is enigmatic.
Thanks to The Animation Show 2005, a cinematic void has been effectively filled. (No MPAA rating) Rating: 3 (posted 4/08/05)
The opening scene of Sin City would make a good perfume commercial.
It features a well-dressed man and woman on a balcony at night. A cityscape
gleams in the background, and the man explains by way of voiceover his
observations about the woman and his modus operandi of seduction. Of course,
the commercial would have to end before the point at which we discover
that hes a killer and shes his victim.
The scene is elegant enough to sell a high-priced perfume but ends in
a cold act of violence, which is typical of what you can expect from this
film. Its highly stylized, beautiful sometimes and at other times
gory and brutal. Shot mostly in black and white with a few splashes of
color here and there, Sin City is the motion picture version of
Frank Millers graphic novels, which depict the dark human dramas
of the fictitious Basin City.
Sin City consists of three stories in which time seems fluid.
In one story, Bruce Willis plays Hartigan, a police officer that tries
to save a girl from a rapist. In another, a big brute named Marv (Mickey
Rourke) pursues the murderer of a hooker who befriended him. The third
story focuses on Dwight, who unwittingly sets events in motion that might
bring an end to a truce between the police and the prostitutes of Old
Town (which include Rosario Dawson as Gail, Jessica Alba as Nancy Callahan,
and Devon Aoki as the fierce fighting girl Miho).
Each scene is punctuated by violence, although the violence is not realistic.
Blood spurts white most of the time (or yellow in the case of the character
called Yellow Bastard). And characters survive physical traumas that in
real life would kill them.
The edge is shaved further from the violence that occurs in Basin City
by the frequent voiceover narrations. The narrator speaks in that matter-of-fact,
overly descriptive style used in detective stories decades ago. The narrators
witty (or at times inane) monologue is usually funny when compared to
(or contrasted with) whats really happening in the scene.
Sin City has been the subject of much praise for its style and for its achievement in creating a movie that looks amazingly like its graphic novel counterpart. On the other hand, it will surely be an enigma for many viewers. (R) Rating: 2.5 (posted 4/04/05)
Sometimes a movie trailer sells a film with entertaining dialogue, intriguing
images or humor. Then the film disappointments moviegoers who had bite
the lure and seen it. After theyve plunked their money down and
gave up a couple hours, they discover that the movies best material
was crammed into the trailer.
This is not the case with Beauty Shop. Looking at the trailer
might actually give a person the impression that this is one of those
lowbrow comedies with a few funny gags surrounded by lots of stereotypes
and bawdy humor, but little to recommend it.
Beauty Shop is short on plot, but its also long on charm. This
spin-off of the Barber Shop movies features Queen Latifah as Gina,
a cosmetologist and single mother.
Gina breaks out of her job in an upscale salon run by the controlling
and pretentious Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon) to realize her dream of
running her own salon. But she has to downsize her dream of a hip, upscale
salon because she can only get a $30,000 loan for the venture. So she
winds up purchasing a rundown shop in the hood and inheriting the
beauticians who worked with the previous owner.
Her new employees arent thrilled about Ginas choice to bring
in a white stylist (Alicia Silverstone), nor are they pleased with her
mandate that they wear uniforms (gray smocks). Gina gets a few unwanted
surprises as well when she meets two local entrepreneurs who do business
at the shop.
First, theres Willie (Lil JJ), an obnoxious young teen who
visits the shop to sell candy bars. Willie has a mouth on him and regularly
flirts with the stylists and the patrons, making some bold observations
about their bodies. Then, theres the odd lady who hawks homemade
dinners at the shop. Her pitch includes shrill monkey-like screeches.
Like Barber Shop, this film mostly focuses on what happens in
the shop, the interactions between the stylists and the patrons. Its
more about personalities than plot. Beauty Shop is, however, less political
than its predominantly male-populated counterpart.
At its core, Beauty Shop is an urban parable that focuses
on a brief period in the lives of two women: One, Gina, struggles to realize
her dream of running a successful business and to continue to send her
daughter to a good music school. The second, Darnelle (Keisha Knight Pulliam),
is trying to slide by on her looks.
Admittedly, Beauty Shop is about as shallow as a peanut shell, but it has something big: an appealing cast that easily conveys warmth. The movie also offers the positive message of self-love, but the offer is made in the spirit of lightheartedness and fun. (PG) Rating: 3 (posted 4/04/05)
As the old saying goes, when you assume, you make an ass
of u and me. If you needed an example to support that adage, look
no further than The Upside of Anger, a new comic drama from Mike
Binder (Sex Monster.)
Joan Allen gives an Oscar-worthy performance (her second already this
year after Off the Map) as Terry Wolfmeyer, a Michigan housewife
whose husband has run off to Sweden with his secretary. Shes been
abandoned to fend for herself and her four daughters.
She finds a bit of comfort in an affair with her boozy neighbor, a washed-up
former big league ballplayer named Denny Davies (Kevin Costner.) The laconic
Denny ekes out a living by hosting a local sports radio show and by hawking
Although the occasional roll in the hay with Denny helps Terry let off
steam, this is a woman scorned
and desperately bitter.
Embracing depression, cursing and gin, the once mellow Terry has a hard
time relating to her daughters (Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen
and Evan Rachel Wood.) Every word from her mouth sounds indignant, even
if she doesnt mean it that way. One by one, she alienates them with
her caustic manner.
Denny, however, is a bit more resilient. Although he suffers abuse at
Terrys hand, he seems to be able to cope and turn the other cheek
of the time.
If all this sounds like a pity party to you, youre partly right.
The whining does become a bit tiresome and the characters exhibit very
little respectable behavior. But theres also a lot of good humor
that helps to temper the angst.
But the main reason that The Upside of Anger works lies in the
performances. Allen is sensational, delivering an utterly believable characterization.
In spite of her off-putting and often nasty demeanor, you cant help
but empathize with her.
Costner makes the most of the best role that hes had in a decade.
Mellow and somewhat carefree, he yearns for a place to fit in. Acceptance
by Terry and her girls supplies that vital piece that is missing in his
Writer/director Binder also has a nice turn as Dennys obnoxious
radio show producer. When this sleazeball has an affair with one of Terrys
daughters, Terry produces enough bile to burst a spleen.
Besides the din of whining, the film has a few other flaws that prevent
it from taking a place alongside Terms of Endearment as a first-rate
But its got Allen and Costner, and their efforts provide plenty of upside to the movie. (R) Rating: 4 (posted 4/01/05)
To say that Bob Berderlla was an oddball would be the understatement
of the century. The infamous Kansas City serial killer was as twisted
as the name of his Westport area curio shop, Bizarre Bazaar.
Ben Meades documentary about the demented Berdella is, appropriately,
as dark and unhinged as its subject. It tells the story of the shopkeeper
who, in 1988, was arrested for the kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering
(and, perhaps eating) several young men in his Hyde Park home.
James Ellroy Presents Bazaar Bizarre is a hard movie to describe.
Part documentary, part shock video, part musical (!), it succeeds in reflecting
the curious and nebulous nature of a psychotic murderer.
As the title implies, there is running commentary provided by famed crime
novelist, James Ellroy (LA Confidential.) His observations provide
the some of the films best moments. After a talking head makes a
statement or when a factoid is presented for your consideration, Ellroy
is ready with a quip that gets right to the point. The man certainly knows
how to turn a phrase.
Other strengths include talking head interviews with local citizens about
the case. Among them are former county prosecutor Albert Riederer, the
Rev. Roger Coleman, reporter Karen Blakeman and disk jockey Skid Roadie.
But the creepiest interview is with Berdella himself, one that was conducted
shortly before his death while he was serving his prison sentence. Seemingly
unapologetic, he laid the blame for several of the murders on the police
for their failure to catch him. This is the logic of a madman.
Meade makes the curious choice of including a few numbers from his band,
The Demon Dogs, led by Bill Gladden. Although catchy, these tunes do nothing
to illuminate the proceedings and seem to be a self-indulgent distraction.
But the main objection many may have is in the graphic gore Meade depicts
in several reenactments of Berdellas murder and torture
sessions. These blood-soaked segments are appropriately disturbing, setting
the right dark tone, but will definitely strike some viewers as sadistic
But Meade is a talented filmmaker who is willing to take that risk. His
aim was never to make a straight ahead documentary. As the films
Web site states, James Ellroy Presents Bazaar Bizarre aims to be
a campy yet direct presentation guaranteed to make the viewer squirm.
On that count, it is a resounding success.
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Publications, Inc. 104 E. 5th St., Ste. 201, Kansas City, MO 64106
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