Recent Reviews

Battle of Algiers
Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo; writ. Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas, based on a book by Yacef Saadi; feat. Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi, Samia Kerbash, Mohamed Ben Kassen (NR)
Watching Gillo Pontecorvo's classic film, The Battle of Algiers nearly 40 years after its initial release is both exhilarating and educational. There is not one false moment in the film. The use of stark black-and-white cinema verité techniques heightens our experience of Algeria in the 1950s when it was struggling to wrest itself free from its French colonizers. Pontecorvo doesn't portray the Algerians as saints nor the French as evil villains. Both resort to terrorist tactics including torture, bombings, and random killings of innocents. In war, every side is forced to compromise its moral stance. When this film was first released, it was a pointed lesson for another war: the one in Vietnam that the French and Americans lost. Is it any wonder that the French now oppose the Battle of Iraq? While this election year almost demands a mandatory viewing of this film, it also merits discussion and study just as Bush's Pentagon staff did last summer. GB

Bon Voyage
Dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau; writ. Gilles Marchand, from a novel by Patrick Modiano; feat. Isabelle Adjani, Gerard`acute accent over e` Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal, Gregori`acute accent over first e`Derangere,`grave accent over next-to-last e` Peter Coyote (PG-13)
In 1940, following the "phony war" in which the French military stood serenely behind what it assumed was the unbreachable Maginot Line, German forces routed all resistance en route to taking Paris. More than 60 years later, memories of capitulation and collaboration still trouble the French collective conscience. Causing more tumult in Bon Voyage than even the German invaders is Viviane Denvers (Adjani), a self-absorbed, amoral movie star who is probably meant as a metaphor for Vichy France itself. She is an alluring femme fatale, and the first of many men we meet who have succumbed to her charms is soon stuffed, lifeless, into the trunk of a car. Unlike Two Men Went to War, the current British feature that veers between mockery and mush in its account of an unauthorized sortie into Normandy during the German occupation, Bon Voyage manages to be both serious and ludicrous simultaneously. SGK

Good Bye, Lenin!
Dir. & writ. Wolfgang Becker; feat. Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas (R)
A German Rip Van Winkle, Christiane Kerner (Sass) collapses into a coma on October 7, 1989. She awakens, eight months later, to a world utterly transformed. The Berlin Wall has fallen, and Christiane, a patriotic citizen of East Germany, is now living in eastern Germany, part of a newly unified nation whose guiding principle is consumerism, not Communism. However, Christiane's doctor advises her son, Alex (Bruhl), that the patient's health remains extremely fragile; any shock will kill her. Alex sets about trying to shelter his Marxist mother from any intimation that the German Democratic Republic no longer exists, devising increasingly elaborate strategies to keep his mother convinced that nothing at all has happened, that the chill is still on the Cold War. Wolfgang Becker's Good Bye, Lenin! is thus built upon a play within a film, a spectacle staged by Alex to insulate his mother from real-life historical drama. Becker uses his ingenious premise to create hilarious satire. SGK

Dir. Guillermo del Toro; writ. del Toro, Mike Mignola (orig. comic); feat. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, David Hyde Pierce (voice) (PG-13)
Mexican native Guillermo del Toro has devoted his career to the many facets of horror. The director approached this material as a true fan, and it shows. He respects his characters, from the big red fella (played by Ron Perlman, one of the few real-life men who could match the comic creature's physical presence) to fish-man Abe Sapien, pyrotechnically challenged Liz Sherman, and the human doctor who has cared for Hellboy through an adolescence that is only now in its final phases. Fans of the comic will be surprised at the changes del Toro has made. But the changes (all endorsed by comic creator Mike Mignola) are all in the service of bringing out human truths latent in the source material. Yet around all this mushy stuff is an honest-to-goodness comic book romp, full of action and monsters and Nazi soldiers made of sawdust and clockwork. It's silly and fun, and provides Hellboy opportunities to smash things with that Buick-sized red right hand. The characters are brought to life as vividly as can be imagined. JD

Kill Bill, Vol. 2
Dir. & writ. Quentin Tarantino; feat. Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks (R)
Joyless dialogue is one reason Vol. 2 feels fairly anticlimactic after the first half's thrill ride. Another reason is that there simply was nothing the filmmaker could do to top the violent spectacle of the first film's "House of Blue Leaves" sequence. Instead, there's almost no fight at all once the Bride (Thurman) meets Bill (Carradine); the conflict is more emotional than violent. Still, there's a lot to like about the film, including a showcase fight scene that takes place not in a cavernous Japanese restaurant but in a cramped trailer home whose dimensions make swordfighting a challenging proposition. Vol. 2 ends with an overextended credits sequence in which many actors (from both chapters) get their names in lights twice, and even the gaffer gets a full-screen acknowledgment. Maybe this installment's long goodbye will make more sense as part of some future Director's Cut, in which the Bride meets all her enemies in one four-hour stretch - but here it's just one more small, questionable decision keeping Vol. 2 from its better half's greatness. JD

The Ladykillers
Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen; writ. Coens, William Rose (orig. screenplay); feat. Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons (R)
Tom Hanks is a ridiculously eccentric Southern gentleman who takes up residence in the home of an elderly black lady, where he hopes to use the root cellar to rehearse with his chamber-music ensemble. The musicians are actually thieves, though, who intend to tunnel from the cellar to a nearby casino vault; they keep the landlady distracted by playing classical recordings while taking pick and shovel to the loamy walls of the rehearsal room. This is the first Coen Brothers film to have so many black actors in its cast, and some viewers may walk out of the theater feeling a little itchy about the movie's racial attitudes. That's nothing new: The filmmakers routinely let stereotypes do some of their characterization for them. But that's equally true for Jews, Minnesotans, trailer-park white folk, and Texas billionaires, who are almost invariably cartoonish exaggerations - Miller's Crossing aside, there simply aren't a lot of believable human beings in the Coen Universe. That hasn't seemed to bother audiences up until now, and there's no reason it should here. JD

The Passion of the Christ
Dir. Mel Gibson; writ. Benedict Fitzgerald, Gibson; feat. James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Hristo Jivkov, Hristo Shopov, Rosalinda Celentano (R)
By restricting itself to the final 12 hours of Jesus' life, The Passion of the Christ revels in distress devoid of context. Watching Jim Caviezel methodically transform into a barely ambulant corpse oozing blood from every pore, one might reasonably ask: What is the point? Christian theology responds: the ministry and the resurrection. But Mel Gibson's movie offers neither. A few fleeting flashbacks to the Sermon on the Mount are insufficient to establish faith, hope, and charity as counterweights to the ferocious malice on display for all but a couple of minutes. The film provides no basis for understanding the fury that drives the Temple priests and the crowds in the streets to demand the death of a supremely loving man. It is pain without purpose, the spectacle of savage violence ravaging the Prince of Peace. At the end, a momentary image of Jesus on his feet and washed of his wounds points to the resurrection, but it hardly redeems this bloody film. SGK

Two Men Went to War
Dir. John Henderson; writ. Richard Everett, Christopher Villiers, based on a book by Raymond Foxall; feat. Kenneth Cranham, Leo Bill, Rosanna Lavelle, Derek Jacobi, Phyllida Law (no MPAA rating)
A viewer of Two Men Went to War, which begins by proclaiming that "Most of what follows is true," is less likely to be appalled than amazed. The year is 1942, and Private Cuthbertson is a raw recruit to the British Army Dental Corps. Sergeant King, a crusty World War I veteran, frets that age disqualifies him from current combat. Like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, King and Cuthbertson set off on a crazy quest to crush the enemy on their own, armed with pistols, grenades, and courageous derangement. Henderson, who made his mark directing the satirical British TV series Spitting Image, finds wry English humor in the naïvete and ineptitude of an odd couple of eager warriors. About halfway through the proceedings, the dry wit turns wet, and Two Men Went to War morphs from Catch-22 into Sergeant York. Amid the resounding crescendo of Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations, King and Cuthbertson, bruised but not beaten, accomplish their mission. War becomes a glorious adventure, a matchless opportunity for callow young men to cut their teeth. SGK

Films reviewed by:
GB: Gregg Barrios
JD: John DeFore
LMF: Laura Fries
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
AL: Albert Lopez
JM: Jonathan Marcus
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
JW: Joe Weiss
EW: Elaine Wolff

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