Recent reviews

Bad Education
Dir. and writ. Pedro Almodóvar; feat. Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Luís Homar, Javier Cumara, Petra Martínez, Nacho Pérez, Raul García Forneiro (NC-17)
Pedro Almodóvar's spellbinding Bad Education has already been celebrated for so long - from its opening-night slot at last Spring's Cannes festival through its appearance on dozens of year-end Top Ten lists - that its arrival here almost seems an afterthought. The main story revolves around two young men who haven't seen each other since a brief but intimate childhood friendship. One is now a successful filmmaker, whose career hints at Almodóvar's own; the other is an aspiring actor who has written a screenplay inspired by their childhood. The screenplay is a mysterious look at the aftermath of child molestation, in which Bernal's character - once the focus of a priest's ardent love - grows up to become a drag queen living just above the poverty line. The movie works as a thriller without leaving the arena of Almodóvar's career, a world in which bizarre or comic scenarios are populated by characters much richer than those of your typical genre film. JD

Be Cool
Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Peter Steinfeld; feat. John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Harvey Keitel, The Rock (PG-13)
In this sequel to 1995's Get Shorty, music is at the forefront as Chili Palmer (Travolta) decides that the film industry has become too congested. He enters the music industry with a bang, when music executive Tommy Athens (James Woods) is gunned down by a member of the Russian mafia. Chili's new career begins falling into place when he discovers Linda Moon (Milian), a singing starlet who has the voice to make it to the top. Saving her from a doomed five-year contract with culturally confused manager Raji (Vaughn) and egomaniac Nick Carr (Keitel), Chili takes Linda under his wing, delivering her to Athen's widow Edie (Thurman) who is now the head honcho at her record label. Business is booming but Chili has other problems: Raji and his gang have hired bad boy Joe Loop (the late Robert Pastorelli) to take him out for stealing Linda. With Be Cool, director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) creates a sloppy cinematic jambalaya of mixed elements that just don't work together. KM

Bride and Prejudice
Dir. Gurinder Chadha; writ. Chadha, Paul Mayeda Burges, based on a novel by Jane Austen; feat. Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Daniel Gillies, Naveen Andrews, Ntin Chandra Ganatra (PG-13)
Bride and Prejudice, a merry adaptation of Jane Austen's novel to contemporary global multiculturalism, turns India (as well as London and California) into a theme park. The theme is marriage. "It is a truth universally acknowledged," proclaims the famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice, "that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Austen, who never married, acknowledges no such truth, but Gurinder Chadha's film ignores the English novelist's exquisite ambiguity, purging all irony from one character's insipid claim that: "All mothers think that every guy with big bucks must be shopping for a wife." This is an ebullient musical with gorgeous sets and costumes and zestful dance sequences whose muse seems Seven Brides for Seven Brothers more than Jane Austen. SGK

The Chorus (Les Choristes)
Dir. Christophe Barratier; writ. Barratier, Philippe Lopes-Curval; feat. Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Marie Bunel (PG-13)
When Clément Mathieu (Jugnot) arrives to take up his new teaching job near Lyons, he encounters an orphan standing by the gate of the boarding school, one of many little boys lost within Fond de l'Etang, a hellish enclave that passes for a pedagogical institution. Mathieu's new place of employment is the bottom of the educational barrel, a school for difficult children run by an embittered martinet named Rachin (Berléand) who administers swift and brutal punishment for any infraction of his rules. Though initially wary of antagonizing Rachin, balding, sweet-faced Mathieu slowly gains the trust of the students, who, demoralized by the penal conditions, have become unruly and dangerous. Using the power of music, he tames the skittish savages, except for one incorrigible sociopath. Aside from its enchanting music, the film offers the simple fantasy of redemption through instruction. SGK

Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Dir. Darren Grant; writ. Tyler Perry, based on his stage play; feat. Kimberly Elise, Steve Harris, Tyler Perry, Sheman Moore, Lisa Marcos, Cicely Tyson (PG-13)
On the eve of his 18th wedding anniversary Charles McCarter shows his faithful wife Helen the door, immediately after showing her Brenda, the gold-digging hussy he has chosen as her replacement. Because of a carefully worded prenuptial agreement, Helen is shut out of her husband's opulent mansion. Without legal claim to any of its pricey contents, Helen turns to her grandma, a pistol-packing brawler named Madea. She is also aided by Orlando, a handsome factory worker who helps her forget about Charles. The buffoonery of black actors in blackface and the maudlin romance of Helen and Orlando are in obvious service to a Christian message of faith and forgiveness that is to subtexts what battleships are to submarines. Lurking, though, beneath the surface of Diary of a Mad Black Woman is a critique of the self-indulgent black bourgeoisie. SGK

Hotel Rwanda
Dir. Terry George; writ. George & Keir Pearson; feat. Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Desmond Dube, David O'Hara, Fana Mokoena (PG-13)
Hotel Rwanda recounts the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where an artificial ethnic distinction between the Hutus and Tutsis, made by occupying Belgians in the early 20th century, led to a slaughter of 800,000 people in the space of three months. The dramatic heart of this film is Don Cheadle who is captivating as Paul Rusesabagina. Rusesabagina begins the film as a luxury hotel manager comfortable in the world of bribery and back-scratching, but as violence begins Paul is forced to act. In a gradual but engrossing transformation, Rusesabagina's knack for graft turns him into a natural hero, and by the film's end he is housing more than 1,000 refugees. Hotel Rwanda is not a great film, but it is a deeply affecting one, with the power to shock viewers into outrage, not only at the atrocities onscreen but at the idea that our leaders ignored the problem for so long. JD

The Jacket
Dir. John Maybury; writ. Tom Bleecker, Mark Rocco, Massy Tadjedin; feat. Adrien Brody, Keira Knightly, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh (R)
Starring Adrien Brody as a severely injured Gulf War vet, the film follows the last four days before his mysterious death. The mystery starts when a well-intentioned yet seemingly unscrupulous doctor, played by Kris Kristofferson uses Brody as a test subject, hurtling him (literally) into the near future. This time-travel story is not unlike that of last year's lame The Butterfly Effect. But where Ashton Kutcher's character made plainly stupid decisions, The Jacket's characters too easily buy Brody's time-travel story, making the already weak science in the science fiction even weaker by adding unrealistic human reactions. It was difficult not to think of the seamless attention that was given to time-travel logic in movies such as Back to the Future and even Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures. Paradoxes lurked around every corner and they were never examined or explained. JMO

The Merchant of Venice
Dir. & writ. Michael Radford, based on the play by William Shakespeare; feat. Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson (R)
The terms on which Michael Radford adapts this 16th-century text give no countenance to bigotry, though the film is still disturbing. It continues to tell the story of how Antonio, anxious to provide his beloved Bassanio the cash he needs to woo beautiful Portia, secures a loan from Shylock. Forgoing interest, he gives Antonio 3,000 ducats on condition that failure to repay within three months requires forfeiture of a pound of flesh. Antonio defaults, but, through a cunningly literal reading of the contract, Portia outwits Shylock who is poised to carve a chunk from Antonio's breast. As Shylock, Pacino commands the camera, turning even Irons and Fiennes into foils. When he delivers his famous plea for equity he does so assertively, not as sniveling victim. The film's concluding image, fishermen ensuring a catch by shooting arrows, closes the curtain on a world in which the quality of mercy is not sustained and strong prey on weak. SGK

Million Dollar Baby
Dir. Clint Eastwood; writ. Paul Haggis, F.X. Toole; feat. Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Margo Martindale, Bruce MacVittie (PG-13)
Million Dollar Baby is a stunner that easily ranks among Eastwood's very best. Baby is set in a failing gym in a faded neighborhood. In the movie's shadows live two men, Eastwood and a half-blind Freeman, a manager and one-time pugilist. The drawling, fresh-from-the-trailer-park Swank shakes things up when she comes looking for a trainer. The movie distills the thrill of punishment, offering both the exciting arrogance of invincibility and the horrific shock felt on the other end of the punch. There's something here beyond the "endearing kid wins over gruff oldster" routine. Baby has a big heart, big enough that some moviegoers will feel manipulated, but the sentiments reverbrate as purely as the ringside bell. JD

Reel Paradise
Dir. Steve James. (NR)
While working on Split Screen, a TV series he produced for the Independent Film Channel, John Pierson discovered the 180 Meridian Cinema, a shack-like movie palace located on an island in Fiji. When the owners of the 180 decided to close up shop, Pierson knew he had to rescue the cinema. He uprooted his family - wife Janet, school-age kids Georgia and Wyatt - and moved to Fiji for a year, where he declared that the movies would be free. Reel Paradise's appeal isn't limited to viewers who share Pierson's extreme cinephilia; in fact, movies play a minor role. It's engrossing on a number of levels to watch this American family, familiar with middle-class creature comforts, interact with a community in which extreme poverty is widespread and missionary-style morality is taken quite seriously. JD

You I Love
Dir. Olga Stolpovskaya, Dmitry Troitsky; writ. Stolpovskaya; feat. Damir Badmaev, Lubov Tolkalina, Evgeny Koryakovsky, Irina Grineva, Emanuel Michael Vaganda, Yury Sherstnev, Victor Shevidov, Valentina Mankhadykova, Anatoly Mankhadykov, Nina Agapova (R)
This fetching and provocative comedy about a love triangle between Vera, a female newscaster, her ad-director boyfriend Tomafei, and Uloomji, a Kalmyk would-be circus performer could be a tardy valentine from contemporary Russians to the West, lobbed high over news reports of mafia hits and state property grabs. But its progression is so erratic, and the conclusion so enigmatic, that in the end our subjects remain fascinating strangers. The film's tone ricochets from light melodrama to the dark madcap comedy of the 1999 film The Girl on the Bridge (La Fille sur le pont). Like that Australian production, You I Love is more French than the French: Love is a matter of fate, and grace - if not American-variety happiness - comes to those who accept their fate. EW

Films reviewed by:
AB: Aaron Block
JD: John DeFore
GG: Gilbert Garcia
TJ: Thomas Jenkins
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
JMO: J. Michael Owen
SDP: Susan Pagani
AP: Alejandro Pérez
LS: Lisa Sorg
EW: Elaine Wolff