Films Review September

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (R)

When he’s not busy trying to impress us with his camerawork or confuse us with his conspiracy paranoia, director Oliver Stone remains a potent visionary. Stone perfectly captures the hope and desperation of major league football with this winning drama about players both on and off the field.


Told with a minimum of visual flash and enough high wire dramatics for two films, Stone’s film is an unflinching Valentine to a brutal sport. Even though there are some laughs, “Any Given Sunday” takes its subject matter seriously. And yes, there are some conspiracies floating about in the script, mostly backroom politics involving the trade of players and even the team, but Stone never feels compelled to make this the crux of the film. Instead, he focuses on the heart of the team, including the veteran coach played by Al Pacino who doesn’t like the way the new owner (Cameron Diaz, playing the daughter of the man who hired him) or the way she disrespects her father’s wishes. On the field, the heart of the team is represented by the senior quarterback (Dennis Quaid), who knows that his knees are only good for one more game, and the young buck Quarterback (Jamie Foxx) eager to take his place and show him up. The supporting cast couldn’t be better, especially Delroy Lindo as a coach who really knows the score, Ann-Margret as Diaz’s perpetually drunk mother and co-owner of the team, and Matthew Modine as an assistant team doctor who doesn’t let pride get in the way of a win. There are moments where Stone can’t help himself, including a rather gruesome scene where a player loses and eye. Yet there are other moments so honest you can’t help but appreciate them. Stones uses camera trickery to show us how time literally stands still on the sidelines when something goes wrong on the field. “Any Given Sunday” is the type of movie that demands a second look because there’s so much to absorb. Luckily, there’s no penalty for double viewing. (Warner)

BOOK OF STARS, THE (NR)

Some movies arrive with fireworks and cymbals. Others sneak in under the radar. “The Book of Stars” is a film that snuck in under the radar yet deserves the fireworks and cymbals. It’s a small, independent film about two sisters who do what they have to do in order to survive. It features Mary Stuart Masterson and Jena Malone in standout performances, delivering the sort of emotional depth and reason rare in films today. Masterson plays Peggy, the late-twenties sister of Mary, who is sixteen and stricken with Cystic Fibrosis. Orphaned, the sisters rely on each other to make it through the day. To make ends, Peggy works the streets as a prostitute. Peggy also understands that Mary’s disease is winning. Director Michael Miner approaches these realizations with honesty. He never opts for traditional Hollywood values, and allows the characters to be as real as they can be. Miner avoids the obvious “tearjerker” trappings and never manipulates the situations and characters for effect. Instead, he allows the characters to become part of our lives, thus making their dilemmas and resolutions so difficult to deal with. The cast couldn’t better, with Masterson and Malone shining throughout. Delroy Lindo, D.B. Sweeney and Karl Geary also lend dignity and depth to the story. (Winstar)

COLOR OF PARADISE, THE (R)

Another heartfelt tribute to the spirit of determination from the director of “Children of Heaven.” There is so much hope and determination in Director Majid Majidi’s winning drama that you can’t help but be swept up in it. The Iranian writer-director has created a film is simple beauty, held together by complex characters and motivations. The union creates a film of unique beauty and compassion, one that families who enjoy foreign films will cherish for years to come. Mohsen Ramezani is absolutely precious as Mohammad, a blind boy staying at a special school for the summer. When the summer ends, Mohammad’s father pleads with the officials for his son to remain at the school, but they refuse. We soon learn his father’s motives. A widower, his father sees Mohammad as a liability in securing a good wife. There’s little love lost between the two, and Mohammad knows it. Instead, he finds love and understanding in the arms of his grandmother and two sisters. When Mohammad begs to go to the local school (he has the books in Braille), his father refuses, afraid to be embarrassed by a blind son. How the distance between father and son is gapped makes for more than engaging viewing. There are a lot of life and moral lessons at work here, all perfectly delivered without benefit of a soapbox by the director. The film is Rated PG, making it suitable for all ages. In Farsi with English subtitles. (Columbia-TriStar)

EAST IS EAST (R)

Frequently hilarious, off-kilter comedy stars Om Puri as a Pakistani father trying to keep his multiracial family together in 1971 Manchester, England. It’s a daunting task for George Khan (Puri), who left his first wife back in Pakistan to marry a British wife (Linda Bassett), and run a fish shop. It’s a bold move for someone who desires to hold on to tradition. As the film opens, Khan is enjoying the arranged marriage of his oldest son. When the son gets cold feet and bolts from the church, Khan struggles to understand. It’s not that he has plenty of time on his hands. He’s busy at work arranging marriages for his next two oldest sons, and taking care of a little oversight involving his son Sajid. It seems they forgot to have him circumcised, and now that he’s old enough to know what it is, he really doesn’t want to go through with it. The film by director Damien O’Donnell (with a sharp, witty screenplay by Ayub Khan-Din) is full of cultural observations than can only come from living life. Even though the film attempts to be a goofy cultural comedy, Khan’s behavior is at times questionable. These flashes of reality are somewhat disconcerting when you realize how light and breezy the rest of the film is. Puri is good, but sometimes feels like he’s in a different movie. Bassett is delightful as the British wife who isn’t afraid to put her foot down, while the rest of the cast are perfectly in tune with the material. Recommended, but with some reservations. (Miramax)

ME, MYSELF & I (R)

The lovely Rachel Griffiths plays a woman who wonders what her life would have been like had she married the architect she was in love with over a decade ago. She gets her chance when she has an accident involving her doppelganger, a double who invites her to share her life and get a glimpse of what might have been. Movies involving women wanting another chance at life and then finding themselves living it have been so frequent that they have become their own genre. “Me, Myself & I” benefits tremendously from an insightful performance by Griffiths, who helps us care about this woman. Her Pamela Drury is strong and convincing, and we can understand her longing. When we first meet Pamela, she’s going through a rough time. Surrounded by relatives and friends with families, Pamela wonders what her life would have been like had she married Robert Dickson (David Roberts), the handsome architect she left 12 years earlier. When fate plays its hands, Pamela finds herself living that life. At first she welcomes the experience, but slowly begins to understand the choices she had made with her life. Now all she has to do is get her own life back. Director Pippa Karmel makes all of this whimsical but with an edge. There’s a lot of spunk in this Australian import. (Columbia-TriStar)

MISSION TO MARS (PG-13)

missiontomarsphoto2.JPG (104635 bytes)Because of its proximity to Earth, man has always held a fascination for the planet Mars. Great works of fiction have been written about it. Hollywood has embraced Mars as its own. Astronauts dream one day of walking on its surface. Assuming that NASA is right, man will one day set foot on the angry red planet, ending centuries of speculation and anticipation. Like the time man first landed on the moon, I imagine the world will be glued to their television sets. There will be a universal gasp of expectation and exhilaration as mankind takes their first steps on Mars. Please click title for complete review. (Touchstone)

SLOWBURN (R)

The high-profile cast isn’t enough to save this neo-noir thriller that is mostly sand and attitude. James Spader and Josh Brolin are only moderately engaging as two escaped convicts who steal Minnie Driver’s stash of diamonds and take her hostage. When Trina’s (Driver) car breaks down in the middle of the desert, so does the film. The cast tries desperately to make something out of nothing, but their arguments are thin and they end up doing nothing more than posing. Director Christian Ford is on cruise control, never once thinking that some of the side trips would have been much more interesting than the route he has chosen. “Tate and Cohen” did it much better. (Artisan)

STIFF UPPER LIPS (R)

Merchant Ivory meets “Airplane” in this wonderfully amusing send-up of all of those stuffy period pieces like “Room with a View” and “Passage to India.” Director Gary Sinyor and his extremely game cast do an excellent job of spoofing the genre, making more than fleeting references to the works of D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster and Jane Austen. Even though some of the jokes seem to go on forever, the overall tone is one of joviality. The cast plays it straight, but their tongues are definitely planted in cheek. “Stiff Upper Lips” begins with a good natured rib on “Chariots of Fire,” and wastes no time taking on “Maurice,” “Sense & Sensibility,” and “Emma.” Georgina Cates is simply delicious as Emily, constantly dodging her Aunt Agnes (Prunella Scales) and her attempts to find her a husband. Things become more awkward when brother Edward (Samuel West) arrives home with Cambridge mate Cedric (Robert Portal). Sensing Cedric to be a suitable mate for Emily, Agnes whisks them away on a romantic holiday to Italy. What Agnes doesn’t realize is that Cedric actually has the hots for Edward, while Emily is really in love with the commoner (Sean Pertwee) they brought along as a servant. Even though the film is referential, and it helps to know the source material, the film is such goofy fun that it plays quite well on its own. However, those in the know will totally appreciate the effort, including the family butler who feels so betrayed that he keeps peeing in the soup. How this little indiscretion plays out is quite unexpected. I laughed a lot, and wondered why the film has sat on Miramax’s shelf all this time. Peter Ustinov pops up briefly as an Indian tea plantation owner who turns Agnes on to the Kama Sutra, and helps Cedric and Edward frame the commoner for a crime they committed. (Miramax)

TURBULENCE 2: FEAR OF FLYING (R)

Not nearly as exciting or riveting as the first film, this entry is a sequel in name only. Director David Mackay and writers Rob Kerchner, Brendan Broderick and Kevin Bernhard so little to make this claustrophobic thriller more than it is. Their plot is convenience based, meaning that everything that happens in this film happens as a matter of convenience. Logic is in short supply as a group of patients with a fear of flying phobia board a 747. So it only makes sense that the plane be buffeted by a violent patch of turbulence, putting everyone on the edge. The chaotic state is the perfect setting for a terrorist to take over the plane, sending even more fear and trepidation into the hearts of the passengers. It’s up to one passenger to overcome his fears and save the day. The writers line the plot with traditional roadblocks, like a bomb containing toxic nerve gas, and some surprise alliances. The cast is okay, but they have little to do but look alarmed or menacing. (Trimark)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:ACROSS THE LINE (NR/Avalanche)

BLOODY MURDER (R/Artisan)

JESSE VENTURA STORY, THE (NR/Arrow)

SALLY HEMMINGS (NR/Artisan)

WITHOUT EVIDENCE (NR/Vidnet)



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