Dir. Richard Linklater; writ. Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan; feat. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy (R)
They can go on meeting this way. Nine years ago, in Before Sunrise, Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), two strangers off a train, spent one romantic evening exploring Vienna and each other. In Before Sunset, the American man and French woman renew their acquaintance, this time in Paris. At this rate, Jesse will be 80 before they tally up a week together.
The pretext for this sequel is that Jesse is an author and that his new novel, based on his one-night stand with Celine in Vienna, is now a best-seller. A book tour that takes him to 10 cities in 12 days includes Paris - though it is unlikely that a publisher would promote an English-language book by flying its monolingual author to France. Celine, an environmental activist, shows up for Jesse's book-signing, and the two try awkwardly to pick up where they left off in 1995. Jesse has to catch a flight back to New York in about two hours, but meanwhile they walk about the streets of Paris and talk.
Jesse's novel is titled This Time, Celine's favorite recording is Nina Simone singing "Just in Time," and time both poisons and enriches this brief encounter between two former lovers each now past 30. As in Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and SubUrbia, Richard Linklater applies Neoclassical discipline - the unity of time, place, and action - to contemporary disarray. Before Sunset accepts the challenge of working within the limits of one late afternoon, making the movie's fictional time almost congruent with the real time of the audience. Linklater also flouts the conventions of movie drama; despite powerful sexual undercurrents, the film is all talk and no action, or rather the action is in the conversation, often insipid but authentic. The camera meanders through the streets of Paris while Jesse and Celine ramble through a range of topics: optimism, guns, desire, memory, marriage, fate, and solitude.
In Vienna, where the American man and the French woman met, English was a convenient, neutral language. But in Paris, speaking exclusively in English seems a curious instance of linguistic imbalance. "I'm relieved to hear you're not one of those 'freedom fries' kind of Americans," Celine tells Jesse. But, though not an anti-French jingoist, Jesse is one of those stubbornly monolingual kinds of Americans. It is not clear why Celine feels drawn to him, once every nine years. — Steven G. Kellman
Dir. Hector Babenco; writ. Babenco, Fernando Bonassi, Dráuzio Varella (book); feat. Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Ivan de Almeida, Ailton Craça, Gero Camilo, Lázaro Ramos, Caio Blat, Wagner Moura (R)
Here, Babenco looks at one of Brazil's most infamous prisons through the eyes of a doctor who worked there just before things really went to hell, then wrote a book about his experiences. Dráuzio Varella, known in the film as "Doctor," frequently visited São Paolo's Carandiru in the '80s, trying to combat diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS; his job was made difficult by the fact that the penitentiary compound was being used to hold thousands more men than it was designed to contain.
During his visits, Varella hears the inmates' stories. The parade of personalities ranges from the very tough to the fragile but proud, from the arrogant to the meek. Few of the many narratives unfolding here have much to do with each other - they're a patchwork quilt instead of a tapestry - but they paint a picture of a wildly diverse city of criminals.
In some of the most appalling scenes of police brutality ever put on film, we see the real-life massacre that took the lives of 111 inmates while no policemen were killed. In a voiceover, the doctor admits that there are contradictory accounts of what happened that day, that he only knows what he learned from survivors in the weeks after the event took place. But given the undisputed statistics, the prisoners' account looks pretty credible - and in a flash of blood and smoke, Carandiru turns from a curiosity to a dignified statement of outrage. — John DeFore
Dir. Pitof; writ. Bob Kane and Theresa Rebeck; feat. Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy, Alex Borstein, Michael Massee (R)
Halle Berry plays Patience Phillips, a sensitive, insecure artist schlepping away in the advertising department of a cosmetics giant. Too meek to speak up to her boss (played by Lambert Wilson, best known for his over-the-top French villain in the Matrix sequels), too timid to get her noisy neighbors to quiet down, through a series of events Phillips gains inner strength along with the powers of a cat: agility, dexterity, sensitive hearing, night vision, and a fondness for catnip. Soon she's prancing up walls, dunking basketballs, sleeping atop furniture and, dressed in a tight leather outfit which some may find enticing (I didn't), fighting the baddies who put her through the wash. (Presumably she didn't inherit less savory cat powers like stinky tuna breath and incessant shedding.)
Catwoman is the latest in the recent string of comic book-inspired characters to hit the big screen; unfortunately, like the bulk of the current slate (especially those based on second-tier characters like the Punisher and Daredevil) this one's better off in its original incantation. Fanboys and girls should know better - this cinematic Catwoman shares little with her four-color counterpart other than her name. Everyone else - consider yourself warned.
Part of the problem comes from the nature of the beast. "Origin" episodes, as a rule, tend to get bogged down in backstory and explanation: Superman lands on earth, Spiderman gets bit by a radioactive spider, and so on. In a major deviation from the standard backstory of the comic character, we learn this Catwoman is but one of many throughout history who have been chosen as bearers of meow-power. "Cat-women are not constrained by the rules of society," Phillips learns from her mentor. "By accepting who you are, all of who you are, you can be free - and freedom is power."
Yet, what appears on the surface to be a proto-feminist message - along with the not-so-subtle critique of the cosmetics industry - falls apart within the larger structure of the movie (should anyone care to notice). That said, Catwoman has a certain populist appeal which could play well to moviegoers willing to forgive its lack of polish, clunky direction, and shoddy CGI work. (Lower your expectations for the action sequences as well, which suffer under the editor's quick cuts.) At least the diverse cast of Catwoman looks and feels - mostly - more like real life, despite some cheap shots to the contrary (Patience's gay coworker, a completely unnecessary buffoon of a character, is played for laughs in his thankfully brief scenes). Super-hero or not, purr-chance we'll see more films that look like the real world, even if the stories they tell are far from it. — Alejandro Pérez