Recent reviews


Friday Night Lights
Dir. Peter Berg; writ. Berg, David Aaron Cohen, based on a book by Buzz Bissinger; feat. Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Tim McGraw (PG-13)
H. G. Bissinger's 1990 book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, portrayed Odessa, Texas as the capital of gladiatorial culture, in which nothing, not even education, is allowed to get in the way of gaining a state football championship. A critical and commercial success, Friday Night Lights hit home, which is why death threats kept its author from returning to Odessa. To the young men of Odessa, football is their exit strategy; an athletic scholarship will enable them to leave their dead-end town forever. However, most get stuck there precisely because they invest all their energies in football and when it fails they lack any other resource. SGK

Grand Champion Dir. and writ. by Barry Tubb; prod. Forrest Murray; feat. Tubb, Jacob Fisher, Emma Roberts, Joey Lauren Adams, Cache Williams; cameos Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, George Strait, Jo Carol Pierce, Joe Ely, Charlie Robison (G) Finally, a kids' flick with subliminal themes of drugs, theft, and castration. Just kidding. It's appropriate that the prize-winning steer in Grand Champion is named Hokey, because this film is hokier than hokey. At 93 minutes, it's pokey. It's hokey-pokey. The story puts its right foot in the West Texas plains, where Hattie, a young widow (Adams) and her two children, Buddy (Fisher) and Sister (Emma Roberts), scratch out a living on their fledgling farm. The new vet in town, Dr. Alfred (Tubb), aids the birth of a calf who Buddy predicts, is "going to be a champ." The movie puts its left foot in when the evil cattle rancher and Freddie Mercury doppelgänger enters the picture. In the end, Dr. Alfred gets the girl. Buddy gets to keep his steer. The movie can't get any hokier. That's what it's all about. LS

Head in the Clouds
Dir. & writ. John Duigan; feat. Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend Penelope Cruz, Thomas Kretschmann, Steven Berkhoff (R)
According to Rick Blaine's frijoles theory of human insignificance, "The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." The warmed-over beans that writer-director John Duigan serves up as Head in the Clouds constitute another variation on the Casablanca recipe: The winds of war sweep three ardent lovers far apart. "We'll always have Paris," Rick assured Ilsa. Gilda (Theron), Guy (Townsend), and Mia (Cruz) might always have Paris, but after Guy and Mia leave their idyllic nest in Montmartre to oppose the fascists in Spain, Paris will not always have them. "There will always be wars," complains Gilda, who cannot understand why the two loves of her life feel compelled to get involved in global combat. Ironic twists in the plot keep the film from being entirely schematic: the screwball romance of a working-class activist and a blue-blooded libertine. But Duigan must have begun his screenplay with the concept of Holly Golightly does Dr. Zhivago. SGK

I Heart Huckabees
Dir. David O. Russell; writ. Russell & Jeff Baena; feat. Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Naomi Watts (R)
After I Heart Huckabees, one wonders why philosophy isn't a more common subject for comedy. There are few people more vulnerable to satiric attack than human beings trying to make sense of the universe; there's something endearingly noble about trying to see the big picture, but every attempt is destined for failure. Huckabees is full of competing worldviews, some more coherent than others but all comically flawed. Wandering among them is Albert Markovski, a tree-hugging crusader who writes poetry and organizes anti-sprawl civil disobedience. Intrigued by a series of coincidental meetings with an African immigrant, Albert hires a husband-wife team of "existential detectives" played by Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman. If it flows imperfectly, the movie compensates with brilliant dialogue and a surfeit of on-target ideas. It doesn't take a Ph. D. to find humor in the mysteries of existence, after all. If you can find the right guide, reality is a riot. JD

The Motorcycle Diaries
Dir. Walter Salles; writ. José Rivera, based on the books by Ché Guevara and Alberto Granado; feat. Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mía Maestro, Mercedes Morán, Jean Pierre Noher, Lucas Oro, Marina Glezer, Sofia Bertoletto, Ricardo Díaz Mourelle, Diego Giorzi (R)
In the 35 years since Ernesto Guevara de la Serna's death, his legend continues to grow, fueled by his historical deeds and a romanticism attached to it from afar. Yet, in remembering the Revolutionary Ché, the new man born out of the socialist struggle, we tend to overlook who he was prior to his ride alongside Fidel: a child of the Argentinean elite from upper-middle class origins, the life he most likely would have lived had he not accompanied Alberto Granado, his friend and fellow medical student, on a motorcycle road trip across South America. In the course of their eight-month, 7,200-mile trip Ché awakened to the poverty and inequality endemic to the continent's sister countries, as well as the peoples' strength and determination to survive. The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles (Central Station), takes us to that point in young Guevara's life, committing to film screenwriter José Rivera's interpretation of Guevara's Notas de Viaje and Granado's Con el Ché por Latinoamerica. AP

Dir. & writ. Shane Carruth; feat. Carruth, David Sullivan, Carrie Crawford, Ashok Upadhyaya, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhayaya, Brandon Blagg (R)
Carruth has created a low-budget DIY movie about two 30-something engineers who build a low-budget DIY time travel machine that ultimately resides in a rental storage unit. Abe (ably played by Carruth) and Aaron (Sullivan) don't know what to do with their new toy - besides make oodles of money in the stock market, of course - in part because even they can't keep track of the endlessly permutating problems and implications. It's a very dark comedy of the law of unintended consequences, a mesmerizing fusion of Twilight Zone and Kurt Vonnegut. As is often the case with technological advances, the inventor who figures out the science discovers he is a step behind the one who understands how it can be exploited. EW

When Will I Be Loved?
Dir. & writ. James Toback; feat. Neve Campbell, Dominic Chianese, Frederick Weller (R)
To echo Two Girls and a Guy, his 1997 study of sexual rivalry as a three-way chess game in which uncourtly queens can outlive kings, James Toback might have called his latest film Two Guys and a Girl. The girl in When Will I Be Loved? is Vera Barrie (Campbell), a pampered predator whose doting father gives her a choice Manhattan apartment. Her guy is Ford Welles (Weller), a scuzzy, restless hustler who eyes a chance to score with Count Tommaso (Chianese), a 69-year-old Italian mogul so smitten by Vera he would part with a fortune to satisfy his passion. In Toback's jagged improvisation on Indecent Proposal, accent on indecent, a guileful girl is marginally more sadistic and narcissistic than everyone else. SGK

The Yes Men
Dir. Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, Chris Smith; feat. Michael Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum (R)
The Yes Men documents the international exploits of two political pranksters who pose as corporate executives and officials of the World Trade Organization in order to expose global roguery. We follow Michael Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum as they pull off several stunts, but the most dramatic moment in the film comes when Bonanno, posing as a McDonald's executive, and Bichlbaum, pretending to represent the WTO, lecture at a college in upstate New York about a plan to feed the hungry by recycling human waste into hamburgers. Their audience is irate, but the audience for The Yes Men is likely to think twice about the responsibilities of corporation, but also about the ethics of identity theft, whether just for a laugh or for a just world. SGK

Films reviewed by:
JD: John DeFore
GG: Gilbert Garcia
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
SDP: Susan Pagani
AP: Alejandro Pérez
LS: Lisa Sorg
EW: Elaine Wolff

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