New reviews and special screenings

Jim Carrey as the conniving Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

New reviews

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Dir. Brad Silberling; writ. Robert Gordon; feat. Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Bill Connolly, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken (PG)

Based on three children's books, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, by nom de plume Lemony Snicket, Lemony attempts to stockpile sequences of dreary storytelling to tell the dark tale of a trio of unlucky orphans.

When their parents suddenly die in a fire, the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, along with a tidy inheritance, are sent to stay with their closest living relative, Count Olaf (Carrey), in his gothic mansion. Greed soon becomes the focus of the gloominess as Olaf schemes to kill the children and steal their fortune. A man possessed, he even pursues them, disguised as other characters, when the youngsters are sent to stay elsewhere, including the home of snake-loving Uncle Monty (Connolly) and mentally unbalanced Aunt Josephine (Streep).

Though it possesses the narrative elements to be constructed along the lines of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the literature is lost on Lemony as it becomes one unimaginative scene after another despite beautiful cinematography by two-time Academy Award-nominee Emmanuel Lubezki (Sleepy Hollow). The highlight of the film is the articulate narrator, Lemony Snicket (Law), who warns the audience that they will not be watching a cheery film.

As he did in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Carrey is able to protrude his rubbery facial expressions through the prosthetics and make all attention converge on his juvenile silliness. For Lemony, however, this is far from an asset since there are other characters, mainly Violet and Klaus, who are devastated by Carrey's exaggerated fits on screen. How unfortunate. Kiko Martinez

Dir. & writ. James L. Brooks; feat. Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Rae Allen (PG-13)

La nueva pelicula de Adam Sandler ... er ... Adam Sandler's newest semi-dramatic vehicle Spanglish tackles the oft-used Hollywood "fish-out-of-water" cliché with the awe-inspiring majesty of a slowly deflating balloon.

Directed by James L. Brooks, the film's plot numbly plods along, never really driving home any of its ideas. Sandler plays a level-headed father and up-and-coming chef married to the most annoying and needy woman on the face of the planet, played (a little too convincingly) by Leoni (Bad Boys, Deep Impact). Relative newcomer Vega lights up the screen as Flor, their new live-in Mexican maid around whom most (if not all) of the story centers. Things get hairy when Sandler's character and Flor begin to connect with each other on an intimate level that surpasses their language barriers.

It is amazing that Brooks could make such a boring film given the quality of his previous work. His talents as writer, producer, and director have yielded some of the most memorable film and television of the last century: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, The Simpsons, Big, Terms of Endearment, Say Anything, and As Good as it Gets to name a few. Granted we all have our off days, but the mistakes he makes here feel like freshman errors.

Sandler is miscast and proves that he is not up to the task of being a leading man who can convey frustration in a glance or passion in a wink. It was hard not to imagine Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz in the leads here. Actually, it was hard not to imagine a story that was more engaging. The screenplay seems to desperately need what's called in Hollywood a "script doctor."

The film's real treat ends up being Leachman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Young Frankenstein), who plays Sandler's flawed but infinitely wise mother-in-law. She has the best line in the film, telling Leoni's insecure character, "Lately your low self esteem is just good common sense."

As the chef, Sandler's character longs to not receive the dreaded bittersweet four-star rating for his restaurant. If only this film could aspire so high. J. Michael Owen

Special screenings

Cinema Flaternité

One film remains in Finesilver Gallery's free Wednesday series programmed to compliment the current exhibit, Hills Snyder's Flaternité. Viewers are encouraged to bring popcorn or other snacks.

Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon will screen December 22 at 7pm. Admission is free. For more information, contact John Tevis at 354-3333.

It's A Wonderful Life

Dir. Frank Capra; writ. Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Capra; feat. James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers (NR)

Sure, it's inescapable on TV - legend has it that someone dropped the ball on the film's copyright, making it public domain and thus free for any network to show - but there's a big difference between seeing something in fits and starts while channel surfing, and getting bundled up with some friends and going out to see it - start to finish and without commercial interruption - on a big screen. Watching it that way, you might be impressed with this beautifully sweet fable, might be impressed with a simple idea so nicely executed and starring a man like Jimmy Stewart. You might remember why people - you, maybe - loved Frank Capra. John DeFore

It's a Wonderful Life shows at the Bijou Theatre at Crossroads Mall December 15-21. For more information, check local theater listings.

La Dolce Vita

Dir. Federico Fellini; writ. Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli; feat. Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noel, Alain Cuny (Unrated)

Falling smack in between his neorealist period and the expressionistic, circus-like, Felliniesque films he made later, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita manages to please those who see it as the point at which the Italian legend started to find himself and those who feel it's where he started to lose his way. Mastroianni, the director's erstwhile alter ego, plays a gossip columnist who chronicles the ironically labeled "sweet life" of Rome's decadent upper class; we follow him through a handful of blackout nights and rumpled mornings as he gropes to make meaning of it all. Alcoholics, intellectuals, starlets, and rascals stumble through the Via Veneto, populating both a portrait of a city that has vanished and a critique of a lifestyle that will probably last forever, bouncing from Italy to Manhattan to Ibiza, wherever young people have more than they need and don't know what to do with themselves until the money runs out. John DeFore

La Dolce Vita will show at the Bijou Theatre at Crossroads Mall beginning December 10. For more information, check local theater listings.

Social Experiments

If you're already heading up I-35 to catch the Andy Goldsworthy exhibit (see "Artifacts," page 21), you can go this Thursday and bag three birds with one tank of gas: Arthouse presents part two in a three-part series of films on architecture. Titled "Social Experiments," this set includes The Rural Studio Film, documenting Samuel Mockbee's visionary Alabama architecture, and Lucia Small's film about sustainable architecture and urban planning pioneer (and megalomaniacal, self-destructive parent) Glenn Small, My Father: the Genius.

"Social Experiments" will screen at 7pm Thursday, December 16 at arthouse, 700 S. Congress, Austin, 512-453-5312. Admission is free.

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