City by the Sea
"The cop who cried"
Dir. Michael Caton-Jones; writ. Ken Hixon, based on an article by Mike McAlary; feat. Robert DeNiro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe, George Dzundza (PG-13)
NYPD Lieutenant Vince LaMarca (De Niro) learns that the prime suspect in one, then two murders in Long Beach is his son. Having estranged himself from son and mother years ago, LaMarca must work through the entirety of his past to satisfy the demands of the present. These include his girlfriend Michelle (McDormand), the surprise grandson who gets dropped in his lap, and his junkie son Joey (Franco).

The circumstances of the story could have seemed contrived even if based on a true story. Simple text and controlled performances power intriguing personae, managing to communicate lifetimes with lines such as: "He made a choice to be there, just like you made a choice to be a goddamn bitch." (Choice and regret obviously figure big here.)

Yet the most compelling choice Caton-Jones makes is playing up his film's location. He repeatedly describes the idyllic family resort Long Beach used to be, and frames the pit it has become today. The contrast weights the film with a persistent loneliness. It is actually a relief to break to the scenes of LaMarca in New York City, while we wait for an uncertain resolution. — Jonathan Marcus

One Hour Photo
"Snapshot of obsession"
Writ. & dir. Mark Romanek; feat. Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle (R)
If a person's life can be distilled to exposures in a photo lab, as One Hour Photo proposes, then we're the washed-out negatives and Sy Parrish (Williams) is our developer.

And you thought he was just a whacko in real life: Robin Williams in a scene from One Hour Photo

Sy's world centers on Sav-Mart, but is actually composed of the snapshots his customers bring to him to process — he especially fixates on the young, beautiful Yorkin family, whose 35mm rolls he has handled the duration of their relationship (an entire wall of his non-descript apartment is covered with their photos).

"When we look through our photo albums, we're seeing a record of only the happy moments in our lives ... No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget," says Sy during his opening soliloquy.

True enough, when the photos are happy, so is Sy. When he develops something sinister — like child porn or cheating husbands — the mild-mannered technician goes a little, how do you say, crazy?

Writer and director Mark Romanek's first feature film, with its controlled settings, sights, and sounds, calls to mind Francis Ford Copolla's The Conversation: Romanek tried as much, updating the "Lonely Man" films he grew up with in the '70s for One Hour Photo. The world Sy inhabits is made up of sharp-edged, humanless interiors (like his apartment), the cold aisles of Sav-Mart, and the tasteful-void of the Yorkin's modern ranch home. It is precisely when these edges blur that the film draws the audience to the edge of their seats, squirming in anticipation of what will develop. — John Brewer

Dir. John Polson; writ. Charles F. Bohl & Phillip Schneider; feat. Erika Christensen, Jesse Bradford, Shiri Appleby (PG-13)
Swimfan, an effort ripe for the 13- to 18-year-old demo, works off the Fatal Attraction model, a 1987 production that caught most of this audience as toddlers. Unfortunately, these are high school students, and no matter what is at risk — a girlfriend, a college scholarship — it's nothing years in counseling or at the local community college can't fix. As such, the story is about as gripping as underwear with shot elastic.

Jesse Bradford and some actress' legs in Swimfan

Phillip Schneider makes his screenwriting debut here; previously his name came under set decorator and property manager in film credits. The movie also marks a writing hat trick for Charles F. Bohl — his first a 1987 story called He's My Girl, his second a TV feature starring Tony Danza.

All right, initially the movie had me: It was titillating, fairly engaging, and at points made me jump — just like Scream but without so many jokes. A third of the way through, Swimfan takes a turn toward the absurd and will leave more people laughing than shrieking.

But really, the only people who will be taken by this film are probably the same ones who will bid on screen-worn props during the movie's online auction. Bidding starts at $30 for Ben's swim goggles, slightly more for one actor's actual hearing aid, and hits a low-point at the high cost of $122.50 for a pair of swimming trunks.

Bid early, bid often. This movie won't be around for long. — John Brewer

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