The Movie Report
Volume 99

#330 - 333
July 12, 2002 - August 2, 2002

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#333 August 2, 2002 by Michael Dequina


Full Frontal one-sheet Full Frontal (R) **
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Full Frontal finds Steven Soderbergh retreating from the more mainstream-friendly gloss of his popular recent efforts and back in a more experimental mode. If for nothing else, the Oscar-winning director deserves credit for not resting on his laurels and taking on a risky lark of a project. Too bad the most positive word I can come up with to describe the end product is that all-purpose term of faint praise: interesting.

I suppose the difficulty of Full Frontal is directly tied to its unusual production. The film was shot mostly on (really grainy) digital video using only practical locations in Los Angeles over a span of 18 days, during which its actors were asked to follow an amusing set of rules (which can be read at the film's official website). The final rule was "You will have fun whether you will want to or not," and one does get the sense that the loose, tightrope production was probably an enjoyable and challenging change of pace for the cast. Unfortunately, that rule probably won't apply to most of the viewing audience, who will find most of the film to be a fascinating chore.

Screenwriter Coleman Hough has admitted that the script was built from a number of unrelated scenes, and the slapdash non-structure of the film reflects this. Full Frontal covers a 24-hour-period of a loosely connected group of Angelenos, all of whom are somewhat tied to movie producer Gus (a barely seen David Duchovny). There are two sisters, an unlucky-in-love masseuse (Mary McCormack) and a brittle career woman (Catherine Keener), the latter of whom is married to a magazine writer (David Hyde Pierce), whose screenplay collaboration with a playwright friend (Enrico Colantoni) plays out as a film-within-a film starring superstars Calvin (Blair Underwood) and Francesca (Julia Roberts). Altman-style, these characters collide and intersect in sometimes-surprising ways, and nearly all of them converge for Gus' birthday party that night.

The film is at its most effective when showing how one's life informs one's creative endeavors, whether within the conceit of the film (as in the parallels between the Hyde Pierce character and those in his film) or in the context of the actual world (Underwood's movie star character in the film-within-a-film laments the race-imposed limits on his career--which tellingly reflects how Underwood's leading man looks, charisma, and talent have been similarly squandered for years in real-life Tinseltown). Most of the film, however, is cluttered with the aimless, non-sequitur tangents of scenes that one would commonly associate with such loosely structured, heavily improvised dramatic projects. There's no denying that there is a laugh or two to be had here and that there is some good performances--Nicky Katt, in particular, enlivens the proceedings with his portrayal of an egocentric stage actor playing Hitler--but such pleasures exist in a larger vacuum, not to mention they are too small and fleeting to ultimately add up to much.

Soderbergh deserves major props for doing a complete 180 after the blockbuster exercise in Hollywood hipster cool that was Ocean's Eleven, but it's disappointing that he couldn't make something more cohesive out of his admirable experiment.

Signs one-sheet Signs (PG-13) ** 1/2
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Much like how his The Sixth Sense was a rather unconventional ghost story and Unbreakable turned out to be a surprising superhero yarn, Signs is writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's characteristically idiosyncratic take on two other genres, the alien invasion/monster movie. As in those two films, Shyamalan not only finds unusual ways to deliver the genre requirements, he also tries to use the genre to achieve something a bit beyond--and it is with that reach that Signs falls short.

Signs leaves no doubt as to Shyamalan's genius as a visual stylist. The film is fairly light on dialogue, but much is eloquently spoken through what is shown--all the more impressive a feat when Shyamalan's camera almost obsessively avoids shooting what the audience wants and downright craves to see. In his usual expectation-subverting fashion, such a global event is shown exclusively from the perspective of one household; and more notably, there are hardly ever more than fleeting glimpses of only parts of the deadly extraterrestrial invaders. In fact, one key confrontation takes place entirely with the camera trained on a flashlight that had been dropped on the floor right before the fracas. The effect is tense and chilling.

But to what end? As Signs progresses, it becomes all the more apparent that these suspenseful set pieces are basically all for naught, and all for overwrought--melodrama, that is. The "signs" of the impending global crisis--circular formations in crops--initially appear in corn fields of Graham (a low-key Mel Gibson), who lives in a sleepy Pennsylvania farmhouse with his two young children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) and his younger brother (an amusing Joaquin Phoenix). Graham, a former minister abandoned his post and his faith some months prior, following the death of his wife. All of the scares and suspense are secondary to this issue of Graham's faithlessness, and the obvious, ham-fisted manner in which Shyamalan handles his arc is almost as startling as the film's best suspense sequences.

Signs has all the individual ingredients to make efficient scare machine. The performances (with the exception of Shyamalan's own indulgent and wooden appearance in a small but pivotal role) are strong, the technique behind the set pieces is assured, and there is a rather clever convergence of story details à la Unbreakable. It's all the more shocking and disappointing, then, when these pieces don't particularly add up and reveal themselves to be overly convoluted support for a preachy "faith tested by a doomsday scenario" yarn only a few steps away from the fundamentalist schlock of The Omega Code.

In Brief

Runteldat one-sheet Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (R) ***
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If you can't stand Martin Lawrence, you really have no business watching this one-man stand-up showcase. The advertising and pre-release press paints the film, taken from a January performance in Washington D.C., as strictly focusing on Lawrence's various troubles in recent years (the infamous incident where he stood in the middle of traffic and yelled at oncoming cars, his jogging-in-wool-in-the-middle-of-summer-induced coma) but those issues, addressed with frankness and good humor, only take center stage in the show's final third. The rest of the program is a typically profane and crass Lawrence rant on sex, marriage, parenthood, and life in general--and a showcase of his manic energy and timing. Your mileage may vary, of course, according to how you take Lawrence's gleefully profane, indiscreetly offensive comic stylings. If, like me, you dug his early career stint hosting Def Comedy Jam, then you should find yourself laughing as loud and as often as I found myself during Runteldat.

#332 July 26, 2002 by Michael Dequina


Never Say Member Again one-sheet Austin Powers in Goldmember (PG-13) **
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Austin Powers in Goldmember begins with a fairly cheap, attention-grabbing gimmick, but as far as those go, it's a pretty clever and hilarious one. At the media screening, New Line passed out fliers urging attendees to "Zip it!" about the surprise, but by now it surely has already been ruined--and, consequently, one of the few glimmers of inspiration in this largely tired third screen adventure of the shagadelic British superspy.

With Goldmember, it is clear that star/co-writer Mike Myers and director Jay Roach are scraping for fresh material, for the movie is less a sequel than a haphazardly assembled collection of greatest hits rehashes. Enjoyed Dr. Evil (Myers) and diminutive clone Mini-Me's (Verne Troyer) "Just the Two of Us" number? See the pair get down with their version of "Hard Knock Life." Thought the sleazy, slobby Scotsman Fat Bastard (Myers, again) and his scatological brand of humor was funny? Here he is again, to beat the dead horse of gross-out gags.

The presence of Fat Bastard is basically just for the sake of reappearing, for he has hardly anything to do with the story. Austin (Myers, yet again) is placed back in action after his estranged former spy father Nigel (Michael Caine) is kidnapped and brought back to the year 1975, where Austin hooks up with his female partner du jour, the Pam Grier/Tamara Dobson-esque Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé Knowles, making a confident, if thoroughly unchallenging, acting debut). After staying in the year just long enough for a gratuitous roller boogie number--not to mention obligatory workout for Knowles' singing pipes--Austin and Foxxy follow Nigel and his kidnapper, nightclub owner Goldmember (still more Myers) back to the present day, where the dastardly Dutch discothèquer joins forces with Dr. Evil.

All the turns of the afterthought of a plot take a back seat to Dr. Evil, who once again is responsible for most of the film's laughs. The one fresh angle Myers and Roach bring to Goldmember is the ongoing evolution of Dr. Evil's relations with bickering pseudo-siblings, son Scott (Seth Green) and clone Mini-Me. It's a shame that such a ceaselessly amusing character is stuck in a far less interesting one's franchise, not to mention a series whose new cast additions just add needless, unfunny clutter. The fact of Caine's mere casting as Austin's father is more interesting than the execution; Nigel's only apparent purpose is to dispense a pivotal bit of exposition in the final reel. The role of Foxxy gives Knowles the opportunity to do no more than coast by on her charisma and general foxiness (which, needless to say, she does well, considering). But there's no bigger dud than the character who lends the film its title. He's Dutch; he has the title body part; he likes eating his own dried skin. What comic (bad pun alert) gold.

New Line is fooling no one with the trailers' declaration that Goldmember is Austin's final screen adventure, for this installment is guaranteed a blockbuster box office take. But aside from the odd inspired bit (including good Godzilla gag; some fun with hard-to-read subtitles and British slang), Myers and Roach are running dangerously close to empty as far as new--and genuinely funny--ideas, and they would be best off quitting before they fall any farther behind.

In Brief

The Country Bears one-sheet The Country Bears (G) **
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A movie based on the beloved Walt Disney World animatronic concert Country Bear Jamboree? It's even weirder than it sounds. In fact, The Country Bears could very well be the most head-scratching cinematic creation to see release this summer---and that's about the only reason why the grown-up audience will stay awake during this family film.

The movie takes place in a strange parallel universe where the presence of anthropomorphic bears is a fact of everyday life, yet for some reason the human adoptive brother of young Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) is the only one in the world aware that Beary is... a bear. Feeling out of place, Beary leaves the adoptive family to get in touch with his bear heritage, namely his favorite band, the long-disbanded Country Bears. To save Country Bear Hall, the band's once-regular performing venue, from demolition by an evil banker (Christopher Walken, who has perhaps reached the zenith of his weirdness with this one), Beary hits the road to round up the Bears for a reunion concert.

While featuring a number of performance scenes, The Country Bears is not a traditional musical, but given that the tunes are what made the Bears such a popular theme park attraction, it probably would have been better off as one--not to mention that the two most interesting scenes are a couple of out-of-nowhere, break-into-song moments. But in keeping with the general oddness of the film, these two elaborate production numbers--one a quasi-music video; the other a full-blown, '40s-musical-style song-and-dance--(1) have virtually nothing to do with the story, (2) are as far removed from the movie's dominating country/bluegrass sound as can be, and (3) don't focus on the Bears, instead pimping unknown teeny-popper Krystal and late-'90s one hit wonder Jennifer "Crush" Paige. More known music figures (Elton John, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, among others) also turn up in wink-wink, nudge-nudge cameos, leaving one to wonder if this film is supposed to be for the sub-age-7 audience that would eat this film up or their sure-to-be-flummoxed parents. It makes no sense, but then again neither does much of anything in The Country Bears.

The Kid Stays in the Picture one-sheet The Kid Stays in the Picture (R) *** 1/2
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Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein's film is not so much a documentary than an abridged, visually-enhanced, book-on-tape version of legendary movie mogul Robert Evans' infamous memoir of the same name. But that description, while accurate, does a disservice to a truly fascinating film work. Making imaginative and ingenious use of archival footage, vintage photographs (some animated through digital techniques) and the unmistakable voice--both of speech and prose--of Evans, directors Morgen and Burstein trace in unusually intimate detail Evans' strange but true path from actor to head of Paramount to hotshot film producer to Tinseltown pariah. The film tells a compelling rise-and-fall-and-rise-again story, and there is no shortage of juicy insider anecdotes dished along the way, but for all the history covered, this picture is indeed all about the "kid." Love him or loathe him, one cannot come away from the film without a viewpoint on the indiscreetly outspoken and shamelessly confident Evans, for one gets such a clear sense of a larger-than-life character that Hollywood could only dream of creating.

Who Is Cletis Tout? one-sheet Who Is Cletis Tout? (R) **
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Does anyone care? Will anyone care? Likely not, for writer-director Chris Ver Wiel's self-consciously quirky crime comedy is on the level of the dime-a-dozen Tarantino wannabes that clutter the bottom shelves at the video store. As hitman/old movie afficionado Tim Allen holds him hostage, escaped con Christian Slater tells his tangled tale of a prison break, mistaken identities, a flamboyantly flirtatious gender-bender (RuPaul, in a useless role), homing pigeons, and stolen diamonds. With most of its gags dying on the vine--the opening joke about Deliverance is painfully indicative of the groaners to follow--and the intended romantic sparks between Slater and female lead Portia de Rossi never materializing, one is simply left to ponder how the talented, deserve-better likes of Slater, Allen, and Richard Dreyfuss (as de Rossi's magician father) got involved in this mess.

#331 July 19, 2002 by Michael Dequina


K-19 one-sheet K-19 the Widowmaker (PG-13) ** 1/2
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K-19 the Widowmaker may have a nuclear submarine at its center, action icon Harrison Ford above the title, and slam-bang action director Kathryn Bigelow behind the camera, but one name in the credits counteracts any explosive expectations one may have: National Geographic. K-19, while watchable, skews more toward the drier expectations fostered by that publication's name then the more exciting, explosive ones associated with the genre.

The film is based on a long-buried incident in Soviet military history, which definitely accounts for the lack of traditional thrills. After all, the year is 1961, and the only war brewing is the Cold War, so the expected action-oriented payoffs--such as, say, crew members being tossed by the impact of exploding depth charges--obviously aren't in the offing. Under the command of the stern Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Ford, whose Russian accent isn't that distracting in context) and Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson, looking far more comfortable than Ford), the nuclear sub K-19's mission is apparently to undergo a series of readiness tests, culminating in a test missile launch. How tense and suspenseful can this be, right?

However slow-going and tedious the seemingly endless battery of tests may feel as one watches them, Bigelow's carefully paced opening passages do provide necessary groundwork for when the film takes off--and, indeed, the pieces start coming together and the dramatic momentum palpably starts to build about halfway through. Vostrikov's arrogant ambition unwittingly sends the sub on a crash course with global catastrophe, and the escalation of events is tense, as is the friction between Vostrikov and Polenin. But since this is a history-based film, and one co-produced by National Geographic at that, all the build-up doesn't exactly lead to a satisfying release. There doesn't necessarily need to be mindless spectacle in the climax, and Bigelow earns points for not shoehorning in a big blow-up for the sake of having one. That said, there had to have been a more effective, not to mention more appropriately subtle, substitute than the forced sentimentality Bigelow and screenwriter Christopher Kyle shove down the audience's throat at the film's climax.

K-19's case of saccharine poisoning gets worse after that, and while the sap-soaking doesn't occur until the latter stages of the home stretch, it's no less irksome. The courage and bravery of the K-19 crew shines through clearly--and then some--as the film progresses without all the heavy-handed, tidy "this is what we learned" speechifying in the coda. Even without pointless pyrotechnics, the initially promising, sporadically gripping K-19 still manages to find another way to become a big-budget Hollywood summer production that shamelessly panders to the lowest common denominator.

In Brief

Eight Legged Freaks one-sheet Eight Legged Freaks (PG-13) ***
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There's no use in going into more detail about various plot specifics--urban development, a mining engineer's (David Arquette) torch for the foxy single mom town sheriff (Kari Wuhrer)--for they don't matter; after all, the movie is about a small town being overrun by giant, bloodthirsty spiders. All that matters is whether or not director/co-writer Ellory Elkayem delivers the creepy-crawly goods, and in this throwback to monster movies of old he strikes the right balance between earnestness and self-aware camp. The sight of the imperfectly-CG'ed big bugs--and their goopy "blood"--is always good for a laugh, but Elkayem employs them in some genuinely exciting and suspenseful sequences. The balance also comes through in the casting. One doesn't exactly hire Arquette to play a straight-arrow, but he nicely modulates his natural hamminess here, camping it up only during the most appropriate moments for maximum absurdist punch. On the flip side, Wuhrer and Scarlett Johansson (as the sheriff's teenage daughter) lend the film its token cheesecake and a certain sense of levity. The movie is very much the brain-dead entertainment its title suggests, and in this case that's a wonderful thing.

Read My Lips one-sheet Read My Lips (Sur Mes Lèvres) ***
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Hearing-impaired Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) is a bored, overworked, underappreciated secretary. When she puts a call out for an assistant, she is sent paroled thief Paul (Vincent Cassel), who gives her more than help on the job--she gets a crash course in criminal ways. Technically Sur Mes Lèvres is a thriller, but suspenseful scenes (and there are a few) take a back seat to the fascinating relationship between Carla and Paul, which develops in a manner that continually subverts audience expectations; usually the answer to the "will they or won't they?" is inevitable, but director Jacques Audiard keeps the audience guessing about the direction of the plot and their characters, as do Devos and Cassel.

Stuart Little 2 one-sheet Stuart Little 2 (PG) **
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For those that fall under its sub-age-7 target audience, Stuart Little 2 is a five-star film. This sequel to the 1999 adaptation of E.B. White's novel about a mouse adopted by a human family is basically more of the same, and depending on who you are, that's either an encouraging statement or a warning. For me, it's more of the latter.

In the time that has passed since the original, Stuart (again voiced by Michael J. Fox) has settled in nicely with his family: mother (Geena Davis, looking lobotomized), father (Hugh Laurie), older brother George (Jonathan Lipnicki), and infant sister. But perhaps things have settled too much, for as the case with any family that grows older, the Littles are slowly growing apart, with Mom doting on the baby, Dad busy with work, and George preferring the company of his other friends. Stuart finds the friend he longs for literally falling from the sky in the form of Margalo (voiced by Melanie Griffith, her natural chirpiness fitting a role for once), a free-spirited canary fleeing from a nasty falcon (voiced by James Woods).

Margalo and Stuart become fast friends, but there is, of course, more to this little birdie than she lets on. The twists won't come as much of a surprise to any adults, but those in the audience fitting that bill would more than likely be parents who are all too willing to cut any kid-friendly film slack. For more discriminating older viewers, Stuart Little 2 is another of those vanilla, so-called "family films" that really don't offer much of interest to grown-ups. The seamless integration of the CG animal characters with real-life ones and the general storybook look of the film remains impressive, but this being the second go-round it's that less dazzling; ditto for Nathan Lane's amusing wisecracks as the voice of Snowbell the cat. Not that any of this will matter to that target audience, who will surely, sadly make Stuart Little 2 outgross the far more creative, flat-out fun, and truly all-ages appealing The Powerpuff Girls in its first day of business.

Tadpole one-sheet Tadpole (R) ***
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The story of Gary Winick's Sundance sensation is as slight as its 77-minute running time: well-read, pretentious 15-year-old prep schooler Oscar (Aaron Stanford) returns home for Thanksgiving break with the intention of wooing the woman of his dreams--his stepmother (Sigourney Weaver). Winick took home the Best Director prize in Park City, and it's a well-deserved award; the timing of the major comic set pieces is spot-on (particularly in the film's most talked-about scene, an uproariously disastrous dinner), and Oscar's romantic plight plays well for subtle pathos in addition to laughs. Winick's true winning touch, however, comes with his cast--or, perhaps more appropriately, casting, since the fine work on display is surely a credit to his actors' major talent. Weaver shines in a softer than usual role, and John Ritter is also good as Oscar's unsuspecting father. More memorable, though, is the find that is Stanford, who flawlessly pulls off the balance of Oscar's preternatural intelligence and his youthful naivete. Stanford is a name and face to watch, but while watching the film it's easy to be distracted by Bebe Neuwirth, who practically walks away with the film with her salty work as Weaver's sexy best friend.

#330 July 12, 2002 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Never Again one-sheet Never Again (R) no stars
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Never Again is writer-director Eric Schaeffer's attempt at a "mature" love story, but for him that simply means plopping down 50-something characters in situations ripped from a teen sex comedy. When there is steady stream of broad, raunchy, would-be shock gags like Jill Clayburgh sporting a strap-on dildo, any attempt at sincerity is hard to buy, and Schaeffer is obviously striving for something genuinely sweet with this romance between a lonely divorcée (Clayburgh) and a commitment-shy exterminator/jazz musician (Jeffrey Tambor). Both have vowed to "never again" fall in love, but everyone but them is shocked when they do, with each other. Leave it to Schaeffer to sink this simple premise and Clayburgh and Tambor's easy-going chemistry with his atrocious writing. Schaeffer's takes a torturous and time-consuming path to the pair's "meet cute" in, of all places, a gay bar (where Tambor mistakes Clayburgh for--hardy har har--a drag queen); and similarly labored are his rather desperate attempts to rejuvenate the story when it loses considerable steam in the third act--when in doubt, throw in a mucho-manipulative and completely arbitrary tragedy! But there's no greater tragedy than witnessing a pair of talented actors' abilities at the service of a filmmaker and project so clearly undeserving of them.

Reign of Fire one-sheet Reign of Fire (PG-13) **
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With its striking image of helicopters circling a flying dragon as it sets a cityscape ablaze and the accompanying tag line "Fight fire with fire," obviously Touchstone Pictures was hoping to create an "Aliens with dragons" aura with its promotional campaign for Reign of Fire. Rob Bowman wishes his underwhelming yarn were even a hundredth as exciting as that film.

However, there's nothing disappointing about the film's main drawing card--those flying, fire-breathing dragons. The digitally-created beasts are indeed sights to behold; not only are they genuinely frightening, but completely convincing as actual living, breathing creatures. Ironically, however, the dragons are far more believable as living, breathing creatures than cast of paper-thin human characters that populate the post-apocalyptic, dragon-overrun year 2020. Our ostensible hero is the rather dour Quinn (Christian Bale), the leader of a community in what remains of the English countryside; his blank, no-nonsense exterior hides his deep trauma: the memory of his mother's years-ago death-by-dragon. Far more interesting, though perhaps not for the right reasons, is Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), the gung-ho Yank leader of a ragtag group of military types on the dragon hunt. Bald, buffed-up, and tattooed, McConaughey plays Van Zan way over the top, coming off as an amusingly hyper-rednecked parody of the classic All-American Alpha Male Action Hero.

Whether or not that was McConaughey's intention or not, it provides the only dose of actual fun in this surprisingly lifeless monster movie. Much like how Izabella Scorupco is beautiful but not particularly interesting as Van Zan's helicopter pilot/second-in-command, the action sequences in Reign of Fire are just action sequences, functional though hardly exceptional in any particular way aside from the dragon effects. It's more or less all downhill after the chilling prologue that sets up Quinn and the reptile infestation of Earth (which is dismayingly covered in a montage of newspaper and magazine clippings), for there's no sense of escalating danger or tension. People die, but they are less characters than they are glorified extras, and the delicious prospect of a mass confrontation with dragons (suggested by all the advertising, print or otherwise) is scuttled before it can even begin to take place. Perhaps the latter was an intentional cost-cutting decision, but it also robs the audience of what would have been the logical show-stopping payoff. The show indeed stops in Reign of Fire, but in a most literal and unsatisfying sense.

Road to Perdition one-sheet Road to Perdition (R) ***
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Road to Perdition technically falls under the "gangster drama" category, but this adaptation of the Max Allan Collins/Richard Piers Rayner graphic novel doesn't deliver the traditional satisfactions; Mendes' woozy pacing and decidedly understated approach to violence is in direct contrast to its rawer, pulpier genre and source material. Furthermore, Perdition the film is not entirely effective on a story level. The entirety of the plot is summed up simply and quickly--after a personal tragedy, mob hitman (Hanks) in '30s Illinois goes on the run for revenge with his eldest son (Tyler Hoechlin)--not to mention its resolution is easily foreseen and rather anticlimactic.

Yet Perdition is fascinating when taken as a dark, brooding mood piece. What David Self's screenplay lacks Mendes and his cast and crew make up in the high style of their execution. While the larger context may not be entirely compelling, Mendes is able to craft some affecting and visually unforgettable sequences, aided immeasurably by cinematographer Conrad Hall, production designer Dennis Gassner, costume designer Albert Wolsky, and the top-shelf cast. Hanks does a fine job playing against type as a laconic killer, but even better is the ageless Paul Newman as his boss/father figure. The central issue of the father-son dynamic comes through much clearer and more poignantly in their relationship than in that between Hanks and Hoechlin. Hoechlin does a respectable job, but Haley Joel Osment won't be losing any jobs, let alone sleep, over him. To say that he can't quite measure up to Hanks, Newman, Jude Law (as a assassin with a morbid photo fetish), or Stanley Tucci (as Al Capone associate Frank Nitti) is perhaps unfair, but he doesn't quite knock the role out of the park to make enough of a lasting impression.

The same can be applied to an extent to the whole of Road to Perdition. It's an immersive viewing experience, but it never becomes the profound emotional one it so obviously strives to be--as painfully indicated in its horrendously obvious sledgehammer of a final voiceover.

Sex and Lucía one-sheet Sex and Lucía (Lucía y el Sexo) *** 1/2
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Julio Medem's erotic drama indeed a whole lot of sex, a whole lot of Lucía, and even more of them put together. But don't go in expecting Eurotrash art-porn, for the film tells a beautiful and earnestly romantic story. When she receives word that her writer boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa) was in a severe accident, Lucía (Paz Vega) runs away to Lorenzo's favorite island retreat--which, unbeknownst to her and the audience, holds several missing pieces in his and their past. With literal plunge down a hole, writer-director Julio Medem dispenses of linear storytelling and moves, with graceful randomness, between past and present, alternately assembling and scattering the individual story fragments and themes of fate, chance, loss, discovery, birth, death, love, and (of course) sex. The unconventional (and, some would understandably say, pretentious) flow of the film may make for some confusion, but Medem ultimately brings all the elements into a cohesive whole--narratively, thematically, and emotionally. What keeps the film absorbing from moment to moment, however, are the beautiful images and especially the involving performances, particularly that of the stunning and gifted Vega, who earned a Goya (Spanish Oscar equivalent) nomination for her soulful work.


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