By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
GO CLERKS II See film feature.
THE CELESTINE PROPHECY MOVIE Opening with sweeping vistas of the Peruvian wild, accompanied by a soundtrack that vaguely recalls Enigma, The Celestine Prophecy Movie never transcends either the look or the feel of a cult recruitment film crossed with a Christian-network infomercial. Based on the hugely successful novel by James Redfield (who co-wrote the screenplay with Barnet Bain) and directed by Armand Mastroianni, the film taps the same spiritual thirst and anxiety that has made cultural phenomena of The Da Vinci Code and the Left Behind series. And it’s just as cheesy. When John (Matthew Settle) loses his teaching job at a progressive American junior high school, a series of divine coincidences leads him to a sprawling ranch in Peru. There, researchers and native folk alike are excited by the discovery of an ancient Christian scroll that prophesies modern-day strife but also the ways in which that violence will spark a shift in human consciousness that will in turn change the world. Flashbacks, dream sequences, low-grade CGI and New Age–inflected dialogue follow, as do the corrupt priests and shady Latin American military and political figures who all have their own devious reasons for wanting to suppress the prophecy. There are neither cinematic nor spiritual/theological insights offered here, though you may leave the theater bummed at the fact that this is what Annabeth Gish’s career has come to. (Regent Showcase; One Colorado; Town Center 5) (Ernest Hardy)
THE GREAT NEW WONDERFUL The month is September, we’re told — via white letters against black — the place, New York City. Uh-oh! But the year, we are quickly assured, is 2002. This may seem cause for relief, but for five sets of New Yorkers struggling through life as the film unfolds, that grace of an extra year beyond 9/11 is the cause of fraught exchanges. For two youthful parents (Tom McCarthy and Judy Greer), days twist in knots around their hyperactive, possibly psychotic preadolescent son. For Sandie (Jim Gaffigan), a mild-mannered but tightly wound survivor of an unnamed calamity the year before (9/11 goes unmentioned for most of the film), things would be fine except for the goading of a dotty therapist (Tony Shalhoub) his employers have forced him to consult. (These scenes, with their madly inverted humor, are some of the weirdest and best comedy you’ll find in any film out right now.) Finally, Emme (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a brilliant, ambitious cake designer, floats through life. The events of 9/11 have not directly touched her, though they eat at the soul of her bitterest rival (Edie Falco). Writer Sam Catlin and director Danny Leiner have fashioned an alert, shrewdly observed portrait of a moment in time. Harlan Bosmajian’s fine cinematography and Robert Frazen’s impeccable editing are especially crucial. In character study after character study, which successfully interweave and revolve with carousel force, formulaic story tensions do not and need not apply. Will such intensities make as much sense later, say, when this film is viewed in 2026? Would this film make anywhere near as much sense now if there had been no 9/11? No one can say. Grief — and that sense of living with consequences of events we did not invite — applies not just to the characters here, but to the rest of us. (Music Hall) (F.X. Feeney)
HEADING SOUTH It’s no stretch to see what drew director Laurent Cantet to Dany Laferrière’s short stories about sexual tourism in the writer’s native Haiti. Though less compelling than his masterful social dramas Time Out and Human Resources, Heading South is an absorbing extension of Cantet’s abiding obsession with the seeding of political inequality in intimate relations. Set in steamy Port-au-Prince in the 1970s, the movie turns on emotional and sexual encounters between two very different species of deluded lost souls who believe they coexist in an idyllic bubble that shelters them from the miseries of their outside lives: affluent, middle-aged Western women and the smooth-bodied young Haitian gigolos with whom they soothe their libidinous discontents. Charlotte Rampling is terrific as Ellen, a Wellesley professor whose knowing sneer conceals a deep hunger for the teenage Legba (played by gorgeous nonprofessional Ménothy Cesar), for whose favors she competes with a childlike American neurotic (Karen Young). Commendably anxious to avoid condescending to either party, Cantet nonetheless seems ill at ease with his material, and the movie feels uncharacteristically stilted and overexposed, with the women awkwardly telling their stories to the camera, presumably to generate sympathy for their ennui even as they exploit the young men they claim to love. The gambit works well enough for Heading South to have become something of a hit with older New York women starved for a cinema of mature female sexuality, but it leaves room for a jarring misappropriation of a film clearly meant to be a full-court tragedy. (Playhouse 7; Royal; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)
THE LADY IN THE WATER See film feature.
GO PICK MONSTER HOUSE The best of the summer’s animated offerings is also, and perhaps not coincidentally, the only one in which most of the major characters are not critters but actual human beings. What an idea! Set on Halloween in a picture-perfect suburban enclave, it’s about a trio of pubescent tykes — best buddies DJ and Chowder, plus the prim-and-proper Jenny — who run afoul of the grumpy old man (voiced by Steve Buscemi) who lives down the lane in his old, dark house, which just happens to be possessed by someone or something. Venture too close and a runner carpet turns into a great, writhing tongue, a door into a mouth, and windows into fiery, angry eyes. Of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if our plucky heroes didn’t end up inside, and when they do, Monster House becomes one of those wonderfully weird adventure stories beloved of children who don’t mind getting a good old-fashioned case of the heebie-jeebies. It’s kind of a blast for adults too. The movie was directed by 2002 UCLA film-school graduate Gil Kenan, who was hand-picked for the assignment by executive producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, and at its best, it has the jubilant, one-thing-after-another inventiveness of the movies Spielberg, Zemeckis, and associates like Joe Dante and Chris Columbus specialized in throughout the 1980s. I was but a kid back then myself, and watching Monster House, I felt like one all over again. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)
GO PICK MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a mighty locomotive. Able to emblazon the word “Dick” across your forehead using her laser-beam vision? Beware: Hell hath no fury like a woman superhero scorned. In this loopy cross-pollination of comic-book mythos and crazed-ex-lover melodrama, Luke Wilson stars as an on-the-rebound architect who starts dating mild-mannered gallery curator Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), only to discover that, beneath her bookish exterior, she’s really the indestructible (and very hot) G-Girl, protecting the citizens of New York from myriad catastrophes with the aid of her meteorite-derived superpowers. She’s something of a whiz-bang in the bedroom too; when she and Wilson make love — a hilarious scene — the earth literally moves under their feet. But romantic bliss is short-lived for these two lonelyhearts, and when Wilson tries to break things off, Jenny/G-Girl goes nutzoid. Written by first-time screenwriter Don Payne, My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a one-joke movie if ever there was, but the joke happens to be a good one — a Tracy-and-Hepburn-style battle of the sexes in which Kate can fly and blast through walls — and director Ivan Reitman (who made Ghostbusters) feels at home with the mix of screwball and supernatural. A few big gags (including one involving a giant CGI shark) don’t quite come off, and nobody seems to have figured out what to do with the talented supporting players (Anna Faris, Wanda Sykes and Eddie Izzard among them) who flounder in underwritten roles. The movie is consistently funny, though, and Thurman has her best comic opportunities since The Truth About Cats & Dogs, a decade ago: She again proves herself an inspired goofball, switching personalities and wardrobes with the quick-change precision of Christopher Reeve in his prime. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)
GO SHADOWBOXER This is a sick flick. Sick, but satisfying. A cartoonish parable in the mode of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, Shadowboxer hits harder because its impossible plot, character polarities and absurdist sexual/physical slam-downs stick closer to a single tone. First-time director Lee Daniels, producer of the more simply exploitative Monster’s Ball, has come to understand how to make a metaphor, and that involves a total divorce from reality. After repeated shocks to credibility and moral sensibilities, the viewer slowly realizes that the film’s reformed contract killers (Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr.) and its carnival of other psychos represent more than just creepy entertainment, because they certainly don’t represent any humans you’ve met. Through ingenious casting (Macy Gray stands out in comic relief, Vanessa Ferlito for sheer beauty), resonant accordion music and gorgeously decaying Philadelphia locations, Daniels makes a complex statement on a very simple theme. What theme? You figure it out; it ain’t hard. (Culver Plaza; Magic Johnson Theaters; Playhouse 7; Sunset 5) (Greg Burk)
THREE DAYS OF RAIN First-time director Michael Meredith attempts some Altmanian multitasking in transposing six stories by Anton Chekhov onto the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, during a long thunderstorm. The result is both a hypnotic mood piece — where characters’ blank existential stares are framed through rain-beaded car windows — and a murky riff on urban Midwestern ennui (by way of the Russian steppes). Despite showy scenes with Blythe Danner and Peter Falk (who seems to be channeling Jack Lemmon), the film’s real star is the weather, an environmental cloak that affects the main characters, who smoke cigarettes, do drugs, curse in empty lofts, play dominoes, drink in womblike bars, run red lights and initiate conversations by saying “What?” The inspired choice of Lyle Lovett as a jazz DJ provides the glue that links various microdramas: A lonely cabby (football star Don Meredith, the director’s father) mourning the death of his son. A heroin addict (Merle Kennedy) caught under the thumb of a corrupt judge. A yuppie husband (Erick Avarai) confronting his wife’s brittle callousness. This intersecting weave exhibits the boon and bane of such films. None of the stories contains much depth or development, just small ironies and twists that for some may contain multitudes of meaning. Others are left only with Bob Belden’s melancholy jazz score and the endless patter of droplets. (Fairfax) (Matthew Duersten)
GO TIME TO LEAVE The second (after the very good Under the Sand) in a projected trilogy by François Ozon examining death from different angles, Time to Leave blows a fresh, skeptical wind through fairly corny melodramatic territory while keeping faith with the operatic emotions of the genre. Told that he has only a short while to live, Romain (played by the sensuously androgynous Melvil Poupaud), a successful gay fashion photographer and coke-snorting narcissist with a cruel streak, struggles for a way to prepare himself for the end. No consumptive hero, Romain stumbles into coping strategies — an acceleration of his customary risky behavior and ambivalent mind games with his family and his boyfriend — that signal both an extension of his selfish life and significant departures that hint at self-transformation. As always with Ozon — and perhaps with melodrama in general — there’s something both undercooked and overblown about the emotional life of this movie, and as Romain’s boho grandmother, Jeanne Moreau seems shoehorned in for a diva cameo. Yet the same quiet ecstasy that made the final moments of Under the Sand so moving works on the viewer here too, inspiring joy and naked grief in equal measure. (Playhouse 7; Sunset 5) (Ella Taylor)
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