'Alfie, Polar Express, Tripa Love,' and the Arit in Berlin film festival
Dir. Charles Shyer; writ. Shyer, Elaine Pope; feat. Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Susan Sarandon, Omar Epps (R)
So, Alfie, what is it all about?
Given the number of times that Burt Bacharach-penned question has been repeated since 1966 (as the title song to the original Alfie), you might think filmmakers Charles Shyer and Elaine Pope would feel obliged to answer it in this remake.
They don't. But the more disappointing news is that they don't make the question itself interesting. That is to say, who really cares about the day-late, dollar-short soul searching of a cad whose life revolves around Gucci suits and casual sex?
Alfie Elkins, as played by Jude Law, is a suave Brit who moved to Manhattan for the girls. He spends much time wooing the ladies, but more trying to seduce you: He talks to the camera incessantly, justifying his soulless lifestyle. Narration is great for a character with a surplus of wit, but Alfie says little to make us laugh - which pegs him early on as inferior to the more engaging heroes of recent shallow-guy-grows-up cinema, the child-men of About a Boy and High Fidelity.
In addition to wit and charm, those films also had a better knack for structure, making us care about their characters before bombarding us with pathos. Alfie, on the other hand, quickly concocts a long string of crises that carry little weight; why should they move us more than they seem to move Alfie? He's a narrative diagram in the form of a GQ model, not a human being.
In keeping with its swell-looking star, the movie is photographed beautifully. It's also chock full of cool vintage tunes, although the filmmakers give too much time to some new songs by Mick Jagger. Sadly, the film shares another characteristic with its protagonist: Though it looks great and sounds smooth, it is mostly soulless. — John DeFore
Dir. & writ. Robert Zemeckis, based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg; feat. Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, Peter Scolari, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen, Charles Fleischer (PG)
Sweet as a candy cane and as soft as Christmas taffy, Polar Express is a non-denominational invitation to "believe." The CGI graphics are stunning, creating characters that are short of human but filled with soul, but the story doesn't pack the punch of Peter Pan, Willie Wonka, or Wizard of Oz, three of its cinematic and spiritual forebears. The young protagonist (Hanks) and his friends (a winning black girl and a heart-rending boy from the wrong side of the tracks) don't really have names. They serve as placeholders for the child in everyone, and still manage to come alive as individual children. Hanks (again) is right on the money as the train conductor/guide who walks the line between intimidation and comfort.
When Santa (also voiced by Hanks but looking every inch his Scandinavian heritage) does make his appearance it's beautiful, but a little anticlimactic. North Pole, as envisioned by the animators, looks like turn-of-the-century Denver (the 19th-century palette is rich with nostalgia), and the main gathering area, filled with elves in miniature Santa suits, gives a whole new meaning to "Red Square," yet as the virtual fulfillment of a childhood fantasy, the film never achieves holiday apotheosis. It's not likely to stay with you the way Gene Wilder or the Cowardly Lion did, but Polar Express is an enchanting, dreamy invitation to Christmas 2004. — Elaine Wolff
Art in Berlin Film Festival
Art in Berlin: 15 Years After the Fall of the Wall is a three-week cultural extravaganza celebrating the creative developments in united Berlin. Sponsored by the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, Art in Berlin brings German contemporary visual art, performance, music, and exciting avant-garde film to a variety of local venues. Below is a listing of the film screenings; for additional events check the full listing at www.sacurrent.com. Events are free except where noted. For more information on any of the activities, contact Angelika Jansen-Brown at 385-9726.
Frozen Margaritas, a film by Barbara Metselar-Berthold about the psychological and spiritual odyssey of a German woman, will screen at 6pm Saturday, November 13 at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, 116 Blue Star. Metselar-Berthold will introduce the film. Screening at 8pm will be two short films, Dead at the Moment, an award-winning short film about choices in old age, and Life Goes On, about an unexpected solution to keeping a farmstead in East German hands. Admission is $6 and includes a complimentary popcorn and non-alcoholic beverage.
The Burning Wall, a documentary by Hava Kohav Beller about the struggle between dissidents and the East German government will screen at 4pm Sunday, November 14 at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, 116 Blue Star. Admission is $6 and includes a complimentary popcorn and non-alcoholic beverage.
Gergor Schnitzler's comedy What to Do in Case of Fire will screen at 6pm Wednesday, November 17 at Bijou Theatre at Crossroads. The farce is a humorous take on middle-age burglars trying to recap their revolutionary past. Admission is $6. German cakes and wines will be available for purchase at the counter.
Spectres of the Spectrum
ArtPace will screen the 1999 film "Spectres of the Spectrum" as part of its series Just Add Pictures: Collage Essay Films and Videos, curated by San Antonio- and Los Angeles-based filmmaker Jim Mendiola. Culling from old TV shows, 1950s movies, and military training films, Craig Baldwin creates, "a relentless narrative of conspiracy theories, political harangues, and the outright bizarre,"
Spectres of the Spectrum will screen at 6:30pm Thursday, November 18 at ArtPace, 445 North Main. Admission is free. For more information, call 212-4900.
One community's response to the government's attempt to ban its beloved soul food, Tripa Love is a mockumentary by San Antonian Ian Tyler Ibarra, featuring well-known local artists and activists Manny Castillo of San Anto Cultural Arts and new ArtPace resident Cruz Ortiz. Produced by the new independent local production company Extra Crispy, Tripa Love follows a desperate man on a search for his beloved tripas during Fiesta.
The world premiere of Tripa Love will take place at 9pm Saturday, November 13, at the American Legion Woodrow Wilson Post #399, 2628 West Southcross. Doors open at 7pm. Music by DJ Plata and DJ Dirty Styles. Admission is free. For more info, call 927-7558.