Recent reviews

Bright Young Things
Dir. Stephen Fry; writ. Fry, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh; feat. Emily Mortimer, Stephen Campbell Moore, James McAvoy, David Tennant, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Broadbent, Simon Callow (R)

Evelyn Waugh's novel Vile Bodies, on which Stephen Fry, in his directorial debut, based Bright Young Things, is the kind of foreign import that mental hygienists in this country might wish to embargo. Like some noxious microbe, Waugh's bilious account of avarice, intemperance, and insouciance among the high and mighty might, if left to spread, induce an epidemic of cynicism. The dim young things who populate the movie spend their lives flitting from one outrageous party to another. At one of many extravagant parties thrown throughout Bright Young Things, an American evangelist named Mrs. Melrose Ape hectors the merrymakers. "The lives you lead aren't real lives," she announces. Yet, as portrayed by Stockard Channing, Mrs. Ape is a sanctimonious prig and no more real than anyone else in the movie. "Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality," wrote T. S. Eliot. That is why we have Britney Spears, Donald Trump, and Jimmy Swaggert, and why Stephen Fry sweetens Evelyn Waugh's wormwood. SGK

Brown Bunny
Dir. & writ. Vincent Gallo; feat. Vincent Gallo, Chloë Sevigny, Cheryl Tiegs, Elizabeth Blake, Anna Vareschi (NR)
Brown Bunny begins almost off-handedly at a motorcycle racetrack, where Bud Clay's anti-climactic laps herald his character's long dark nights in the grip of anger and denial. As he travels west for another race in southern California, we spend a week in and near Bud's van, experiencing the sensations of a long road trip: ennui, irritation, frustration. The story unfolds haltingly, and we intuit as much as hear that Bud is mourning the loss of his relationship with Daisy. A truncated visit with Daisy's Alzheimer-addled parents leaves us with a handful of clues: a lost pregnancy, an abandoned pet rabbit, a daughter who doesn't call. In the end Gallo delivers a multi-layered film that mourns human weakness in its many forms, from addiction to self-loathing. EW

The Corporation
Dir. Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar; writ. Joel Bakan, Harold Crooks; feat. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Milton Freidman, Michael Moore, Ray Anderson, et cetera (NR)

The Corporation should be required viewing for tie-dyed protester and pin-striped broker alike: Armed with a wealth of historical knowledge and a long roster of thoughtful interviewees, the film gives voice to citizens of the world with legitimate, well thought-through complaints against capitalism as we know it. Progress-ing from history to dissection, from a cornucopia of speakers to more focused, single-topic sections, it is compelling throughout. Using the diagnostic tools of psychology, the corporation - which has no concern for others' welfare, lies as a matter of course, and strives to take no responsibility for its actions - is a psychopath. Greed is its sole reason for living, and even the guy in the pin-stripe suit (like some of the executives interviewed here) would have to admit that, sophisticated rationalizations aside, that's the truth. JD

The Forgotten
Dir. Joseph Ruben; writ. Gerald Di Pego; feat. Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodard, Anthony Edwards (PG-13)

Aside from a characteristically superb performance by Julianne Moore, as Telly Paretta, The Forgotten is a routine psychological thriller whose routine is complicated by the existence of aliens who abduct humans in order to conduct experiments. At the outset of the film, Telly Paretta (Moore) cannot expunge from her mind images of her beloved 9-year-old son, Sam, who died in a plane crash 14 months before. But the misfortune, insist her husband, Jim (Edwards), and her analyst, Dr. Munce (Sinise), is only in her mind. However, the supernatural force that really sets this film apart is the ghost of 9-11 haunting every frame; this is clearly a story about the aftermath of loss and how powerful figures establish control by manipulating remembrance. Long after The Forgotten might otherwise be forgotten, it will survive to remind viewers of the current reign of terror, in which history is rewritten to justify snooping and actions by the federal government serve to strengthen hostile hands. SGK

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

Going Upriver: the Long War of John Kerry
Dir. George Butler; based on the book by Douglas Brinkley (NR)

Upon his return from Vietnam, where he earned three Purple Hearts, one Bronze and one Silver Star, John Kerry was instrumental in organizing Veterans Against the Vietnam War and the group's capitol-shaking protests of September 1969 that culminated when the vets tossed their medals back to the government. These acts have been the core of the Bush campaign's attempt to characterize Kerry as a flip-flopper and if there is one thing Going Upriver can accomplish it is to articulate Kerry's belief that it is "men of small character" who are afraid to admit their mistakes. If the Vietnam War represents our ongoing inability to reconcile two forms of patriotism - duty and dissent - Bush and Kerry also symbolize our difficulty in reconciling two styles of leadership. In difficult times we seem to be drawn to men who, like John Wayne's characters, shoot first and ask questions later. Maybe this film will convince some viewers that cowboys and generals are not the same thing. EW

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

Raise Your Voice
Dir. Sean McNamara; writ. Mitch Rotter, Sam Schreiber; feat. Hilary Duff, Oliver James, James Avery, John Arbett, Dana Davis, Rebecca DeMornay, Kat Dennys, David Keith (PG)
Raise Your Voice, the latest film vehicle for teen queen Hilary Duff, is set in the present, but don't feel stupid if you mistakenly assume you've stepped back into the Gerald Ford era. An ostensibly talented young singer, Terri gains admittance to the summer program of a prestigious LA music conservatory, but feels overwhelmed by grief over the death of her brother in a car accident. Encouraged by her mother (Rita Wilson) and pseudo-bohemian aunt (Rebecca DeMornay), she attends the school without the consent of her crusty, overprotective father (David Keith). After initially being shunned by her fellow students, she connects with a spiky-haired British kid (Oliver James) who looks remotely punky but writes hideously sappy piano ballads. Finally, she brings down the house at the talent contest with a song dedicated to her brother. Even self-loathing old dad can't hold back the waterworks. The whole thing amounts to Fame-lite with a rousing Purple Rain finish. GG

Shark Tale
Dir. Vicky Jensen, Bibo Bergeron, Rob Letterman; writ. David Soren and others; feat. the voices of Will Smith, Robert de Niro, Renée Zellweger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorcese, Ziggy Marley, Doug E. Doug, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, Peter Falk, Katie Couric (PG-13)
A cautionary Godfather for 21st-century American pop culture, Shark Tale swims into the soul of rap and teaches the good-natured, charming schemer Oscar (Smith) a lesson: Don't sell your soul for the gold. The plot, which involves accidental death, a staged disappearance, a gold-digging femme fatale named Lola (Jolie), and a kidnapped sweetheart, is as fresh as last week's catch, but DreamWorks animation brings the well-known actors to life as ocean denizens EW

Shaun of the Dead
Dir. Edgar Wright; writ. Wright, Simon Pegg; feat. Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy (R)

The first specimen of the ZomRomCom genre, or "Zombie Romantic Comedy," Shaun of the Dead skips along atop those genre-separating fences without losing its footing. It's easily one of the most entertaining things to hit screens in recent years, a movie that shows just how fine a line distinguishes family drama and flesh-eating, or meet-cute romance and post-apocalyptic survivalism. Actor/writer Pegg and writer/director Wright actually make you care for the characters in their goofy story. Major characters die here, and against your better judgment, you may choke up. But you'll laugh your ass off a few seconds later. JD

Uncovered: the War on Iraq
Dir. Robert Greenwald (NR)
Uncovered is a protest film driven by team players, true believers in American democracy and the free market, from Thomas E. White, who President George W. Bush nominated Secretary of the Army, to former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman, to former Chief Weapons Inspector David Kay, to now-familiar faces Richard Clarke and Joseph Wilson. Uncovered lacks the visual panache of Fahrenheit 9/11, and Michael Moore's gleeful anger as he turns the tools of the spin trade against its greatest practitioners. But it also largely avoids the criticism leveled at Moore, that he used editing and innuendo to exaggerate his case against Bush. Instead, Greenwald offers us a somber, almost point-by-point case for impeachment. EW

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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