Daily Archives: December 17, 2004

Bad Education

If you’re a fan of professional bad boy and Spanish gender bender Pedro Almodovar, far be it from me to dissuade you from enjoying this elaborate Chinese-box narrative, which boasts an especially resourceful performance by Gael Garcia Bernal in a triple role and a script full of twists designed to accommodate all three parts. It’s about a young filmmaker (Fele Martinez), his former boarding-school squeeze (Bernal), a headmaster-priest who expelled the former in order to abuse the latter, the blackmail and a film-within-the-film that ultimately grew out of these events, and much more. But all the fancy complications, including noir trimmings and notations on the Franco period, left me unengaged. In Spanish with subtitles. NC-17, 109 min. (JR) Read more

The Phantom Of The Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of the Gaston Leroux novel and movie standby has grossed more than $3 billion worldwide since it opened in London in 1986, but I doubt that I’ve missed much. Teen romance and operetta-style singing replace the horror elements familiar to moviegoers, and director Joel Schumacher obscures any remnants of classy stage spectacle with the same disco overkill he brought to Batman Forever. Arty trappings like black-and-white framing segments and floating candelabras (like the ones in Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) don’t help, though the spirited playersGerard Butler, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Simon Callow, Ciaran Hinds, and Emmy Rossum (Sean Penn’s daughter in Mystic River)do what they can. PG-13, 143 min. (JR) Read more

Flight Of The Phoenix

A plane carrying 14 people from Mongolia to China gets caught in a sandstorm and crash-lands in the Gobi Desert, where the chances of rescue or survival are slim. When Robert Aldrich made the 1965 original, it was set in the Sahara, ran 147 minutes, and had a star-studded cast including James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, and Richard Attenborough. This absorbing remake by John Moore, scripted by Scott Frank and Edward Burns, is shorter and more modestly cast (Dennis Quaid, Miranda Otto, Giovanni Ribisi), but in contrast to Steven Soderbergh’s recent recyclings, it proves that you can revisit a good movie without cynicism or disrespect. I could have done without the superfluous Mongolian heavies, and the cliff-hanging climax may be a mite overdone, but the old-fashioned theme of disaster as an existential test of character still works. With Tyrese Gibson and Jacob Vargas. PG-13, 93 min. (JR) Read more

The Aviator

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the obsessive billionaire, aviator, and filmmaker Howard Hughes in this enjoyably opulent biopic by Martin Scorsesea grand entertainment that may provoke curiosity about Hughes but doesn’t supply much original thought. With its stylish direction and John Logan’s clever but shallow script, the film totes up a good many Citizen Kane references to little effect. Yet Cate Blanchett delivers a witty and nuanced impersonation of Katharine Hepburn (one of Hughes’s many paramours), and there are colorful and glittering re-creations of the Cocoanut Grove and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Best of all is a heart-stopping sequence in which Hughes crashes his XF-11 plane in Beverly Hills, though characteristically the movie doesn’t note whether anyone else was hurt. With Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Ian Holm, Alan Alda, Danny Huston, and John C. Reilly. PG-13, 169 min. (JR) Read more

Guerrilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst

This watchable and provocative documentary by Robert Stone (Radio Bikini) was originally titled Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army, which gives some idea of Stone’s approach to the west-coast radicals who kidnapped newspaper heiress and Berkeley undergrad Patricia Hearst in 1974. He’s especially interested in how effectively the SLA manipulated the media with its rhetoric when its political strategies, articulated by two former members in recent interviews, were both muddled and makeshift. (Hearst, who shocked America by declaring herself a member of the SLA and participating in one of its bank holdups, is rather scornfully viewed as going with the flow.) There are some instructive lessons here, but ironically few of them are political. 90 min. (JR) Read more

The Sea Inside

This thoughtful, sometimes beautiful feature by Alejandro Amenabar (Thesis, Open Your Eyes, The Others) is loosely based on the true story of Spanish poet Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic who fought a 30-year legal battle for his right to die. Amenabar addresses the theme of euthanasia by providing a sharp, almost novelistic sense of what the hero (Javier Bardem) means to his family and his friends (Lola Duenas is a standout as one of them). The treatment of the sea, where Sampedro was crippled in a diving accident but to which he still feels a connection, is particularly lyrical. A film about freedom as well as death, this won’t suit every taste, but it rewards close attention and has moments of saving humor. In Spanish with subtitles. PG-13, 125 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley. Read more

Million Dollar Baby

For all his grace and precision as a director, Clint Eastwood (like Martin Scorsese) operates at the mercy of his scripts. But this time he’s got a terrific one, an unorthodox love story and religious parable adapted by Paul Haggis from stories in F.X. Toole’s Rope Burns. Eastwood plays a gym owner who reluctantly agrees to train and manage a 31-year-old hillbilly woman (Hilary Swank) who wants to box, while Morgan Freeman, as an ex-fighter who helps him out, supplies the voice-over narration. Eventually this leads to a few awkward point-of-view issues, but the past-tense narration enhances the sense of fatality. Haggis’s dialogue is worthy of Hemingway, and the three leads border on perfection. As grim as The Set-Up (1948) and Fat City (1972), as dark and moody as The Hustler and Bird, this may break your heart. PG-13, 132 min. River East 21. Read more