Films Review September


What begins as a light comedy spirals into a dark drama, and writer-director Arliss Howard (who also stars) has difficulty reconciling the two. Each has its own merits, especially the opening half which finds Arliss playing Leon Barlow, a sad sack writer who spends most of his time daydreaming. Walter Mitty would be proud, but being a failed writer is just the tip of Leon’s iceberg of problems. There’s his ex-wife (Debra Winger, Howard’s wife, making a welcome return to films), a firestorm of a woman who is also the object of his fantasies. Just when Leon is ready to slip into his fantasy world for good, a family tragedy forces him to face reality. That’s when “Big Bad Love” takes a detour and becomes another film. Based on the short stories of Larry Brown, the script is actually quite engaging, but becomes heavy handed towards the end. Arliss and Winger create sparks on the screen, creating memorable characters that are for the most part a pleasure to spend time with. (MGM)


One of those films you avoid like the plague unless you have children under 12, and when the film is over, you’re glad you made the trip. “Big Fat Liar” won’t fulfill your daily allotment of brain food, but it does a great job of taking simple and effective material and make it entertaining. It helps that the film stars a very likeable Frankie Muniz from “Malcolm in the Middle” as Jason Shepherd, a perpetual liar on the verge of flunking out of English. Given one last chance, Jason has until the end of the school day to turn in a term paper or face the drudgery of summer school. Drawing on his own experiences, Jason scribbles out a story called “Big Fat Liar.” En route to deliver the paper, Jason literally runs into hot shot Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), accidentally leaving his term paper behind. Imagine Jason’s reaction when he sees a coming attraction trailer for a new film that resembles the paper he wrote (and lost), costing him a summer of school. With his parents away, Jason recruits best friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) to accompany him to Hollywood and make Wolf confess. That’s the plan, but it’s going to take some quick thinking to pull it off. Pretty simple stuff, but the leads are so delightful, and Giamatti makes a great cartoon villain. It’s impossible to take any of this seriously, but it’s also pretty hard to deny its charms. (Universal)


Michael Apted directed this enigmatic spy mystery starring Dougray Scott as Tom Jericho, a code expert who is brought out of mothballs to help the British decode recent secret German communications. Scott is impressive as Jericho, who bravely forges ahead while worrying about the disappearance of his girlfriend (Saffron Burrows, illuminating). Jericho recruits his girlfriend’s roommate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet) to help him unravel the code and the mysterious disappearance. Jeremy Northam complicates matters, playing a British secret agent with his eye on Jericho. Apted, working from a complex, layered screenplay, carefully draws us into the mystery, keeping us off balance, all the time creating thoughtful, intelligent characters who instantly grab us with their personal intrigue. Set in 1943, Apted recreates the period in loving detail. The authenticity allows the characters to move about in a world that becomes real to us, which in turn makes it easy for us to become part of the story. (Columbia-TriStar)


“Fangs” a lot! Vicious mutated bats make life a living hell for the citizens of Scottsville, so it’s up to the local law and veterinarian to save the day. Bite me. I mean, bite them! The kind of movie where you wish the bats would win just to end the madness. Where’s Susan Powter when you need her? Bald chicks! You can’t live with them, and you can’t see your reflection on a hot day without them! (Lion’s Gate)


In Massillon, Ohio, they don’t just live and breathe football. If they’re lucky, they also die football. That’s why the local funeral home has a special “Massillon Tigers” casket on display. No true Tiger would be caught dead without one. Honestly! “Go Tigers!” has to be seen to be believed, a fascinating, hilarious and at times frightening documentary about how an Ohio town has turned football into a life and death proposition. Honestly! The documentary by Massillon native Ken Carlson follows the high school football team through their 1999 season, an important turning point for the team, school and town. The district desperately needs funds, and a tax levy is the only solution. If the team and the town are to survive, the team has to win. Who wants to invest in losers? Carlson is given full access to his subjects, and what he captures on film would be laugh out loud funny if it weren’t so disturbing. This is cinema verite at its best, a no-holds look at how a community finds itself divided. Carlson makes it clear there are two kinds of people in Massillon: Those who love football, and those who don’t. God forbid should you fall into the later category. Those people are scorned and ridiculed. The rest are football equivalents of Stepford Wives, who see football as a means to all ends. Carlson knows irony when he sees it. Even though the tax levy is supposed to support all programs and classes, all anyone connected with the Tigers care about is the team. We look on in disbelief as hallways literally crumble away, while the football team has a new stadium, state of the art lights and bleachers, and locker rooms that put most classrooms to shame. Talk about tipping the scales. What’s even scarier is that none of the participants see how hypocritical their actions are. One of the coaches is worried about losing his job, but could care less about the other, more important teachers losing their position. The documentary follows three co-captains through the season, and each and every one seems to have taken one hit too many. I was insulted watching the team share a moment of prayer with a minister, immediately followed by an expletive-laden pep talk by one of the co-captains. Praying to God one moment, then constantly using his name in vain. What are they teaching these kids? You’d be surprised. I feel sorry for anyone who is forced to grow up in this town who thinks pigskins should remain on pigs. This is one documentary that not only deserves to be seen, but must be seen. Scary stuff. (Docurama)


You don’t need to be a fan of writer-director David Mamet to appreciate this little slice of life drama based on his first play. Actor Joe Mantegna directs Mamet’s screenplay, creating a winning collection of interesting characters and equally interesting dialogue. Since most of the film takes place on board the Great Lakes freighter the Seaway Queen, Mantegna is able to use the limitations of the play to his advantage. Mamet’s younger brother Tony plays the film’s protagonist, a second-year college student named Dale, who takes a job as a cook after the night cook (Andy Garcia) fails to show up. As the summer wears on, Dale’s interaction with the various men on the freighter provide him with a real education on life. The cast couldn’t be better, including Robert Forster, Peter Falk, Denis Leary, George Wendt, Charles Durning and JJ Johnston. Each one perfectly inhabits Mamet’s world, creating rich, textured characters that say and do things that matter. “Lakeboat” didn’t get a wide release, so here’s your chance to see a great film. (MTI)


Smartly acted but occasionally derivative detective story starring Sandra Bullock as homicide investigator Cassie Mayweather, whose dark past is making her current case more personal than her superiors can tolerate. Cassie is so scarred by her past it makes having a lasting relationship an impossibility. Cassie is so emotionally detached she has no problem bedding her new partner (Ben Chaplin), immediately creating a wall between the two. Too bad, because Cassie is going to need all the help she can get solving a crime that is all too familiar. Loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case, “Murder by Numbers” works best when Cassie plays cat and mouse games with two sinister high school seniors. The painful past thing gets old real fast, a cliche that even a talented director like Barbet Schroeder (Single White Female) can’t salvage. The rest of the film crackles with sharp performances, dialogue and a constant sense of dread. Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt are truly frightening as the chief suspects. (Warner)


Jeepers creepers, spiders are everywhere. “Spider-Man.” “Eight Legged Freaks.” Now comes “Spiders II.” I know. You’re saying to yourself, “it’s about time!” I mean, how long are we expected to wait for a sequel to a direct-to-video turkey? Larger than life performances combat larger than life spiders, and neither are believable. Most of the action takes place on a floating laboratory, where mad scientist Richard Moll (not just chewing the scenery but spitting it back up and chewing it again), is implanting spider eggs in unwilling humans. Of course he has to be stopped, so it’s up to the survivors of the first film to stomp out the evil doctor and his new breed of monster spiders. Raid anyone? (Lion’s Gate)


Long-on-the-shelf comedy of errors stars “Kids in the Hall” cast member Dave Foley (News Radio) as Nelson Hibbert, a corporate executive punching bag who accidentally stumbles across the murdered body of his deceitful boss. Believing the police will suspect him, Hibbert goes on the lam. Foley is pretty funny as the clueless fugitive, totally unaware that the police don’t even suspect him (the murderer was caught on videotape), or that the real killer is hot on his trail. Part “Hitchcock” spoof, part road comedy, “The Wrong Guy” has been gathering dust since 1997. It deserves better than that. Here’s your chance to catch up with “The Wrong Guy.” (Hollywood Pictures)


THE DOE BOY (NR/Wellspring)

GIRLS CAN’T SWIM (NR/Wellspring)

JOYRIDE (R/Artisan)

ON THE EDGE (R/Paramount)


RAW HEAT (PG-13/Artisan)




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