CHARLOTTE FILM SOCIETY SECOND WEEK SERIES This month's offerings begin this Friday at the Manor and continue the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale. Call 414-2355 for more info.
* ABERDEEN A successful businesswoman (Lena Headey), upon learning that her mother (Charlotte Rampling) is ill, agrees to go fetch her father (Stellan Skarsgard), a down-and-out drunk, and transport him from Norway to Aberdeen (Scotland, not South Dakota). This intermittently interesting "road movie" gets most of its gas from Skarsgard, who provides us with one of the most believable (read: hopeless and disgusting) portrayals of a career alcoholic ever put on screen. 1/2
* LEFT LUGGAGE A sincere look at religious mores competes with hoary melodramatic devices in this passable drama about a nonreligious Jewish college student (Laura Fraser) who accepts a job as nanny for a Hasidic family whose members include an overbearing father (Jeroen Krabbe, also making his directorial debut), a sympathetic mother (Isabella Rossellini), and a mute 4-year-old boy (Adam Monty). 1/2
* THE KING IS ALIVE After finding themselves stranded in an African desert, a group of tourists (including ones played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Davison) perform King Lear in a futile effort to pass the time. (Unscreened)
* THE WIDE BLUE ROAD (LA GRANDE STRADA AZZURRA) This 1957 import, a late entry in the Italian neo-realist movement, casts Yves Montand as a wily fisherman whose capitalist ventures set him apart from the rest of his village's population. (Unscreened)
DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE Outside of family films, the general rule regarding a movie that runs less than 90 minutes is that the studio initially deemed it such a lost cause, they butchered it in the editing room in order to make some sense out of it, and dumped it into the marketplace to fend for itself. Given that this one clocks in at 88 minutes and arrives missing at least one scene featured in the trailer, it's safe to say this John Travolta vehicle (filmed in Wilmington) fell into that camp, although I imagine director Harold Becker would insist he was just trying to make a trim and efficient thriller. Certainly, there's no excess fat on this puppy, but there's also nothing we haven't seen before, from the ordinary joe who must stand alone to the villainous outsider threatening to rip a family apart to the ineffectual cops who show up only after all the heavy stuff has gone down. In fact, this is schematically so similar to movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Unlawful Entry and The River Wild that the only thing missing is the moment when the family's golden retriever attacks the bad guy just as he's getting ready to shoot the hero. Travolta is appealing as the divorced dad who believes his son (Matt O'Leary) when the latter tells him he witnessed his new stepdad (Vince Vaughn) murder another man, and Steve Buscemi steals the film in his brief scenes as the victim. But Vaughn's character is clearly up to no good, Teri Polo's mom is too slow on the uptake to earn much sympathy, and the climax is simply ludicrous. 1/2
BANDITS Director Barry Levinson's latest film tries hard to be a quirky comedy (God, does it try), but the funniest moment in this criminally overlong picture turns out to be a purely unintentional one. Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett), a bored housewife who has hooked up with a pair of bank robbers known as "The Sleepover Bandits," is stunned when she hears one of the crooks (Bruce Willis) mouth the words of the chorus from Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart." "You know that song!" she bleats, as if that omnipresent smash single were some obscure Gregorian chant and they were the only two people in the world familiar with it. Grab your chuckles where you can, because Bandits is such a complete mess, even the prospect of seeing Willis and Billy Bob Thornton mix it up fails to stir anything in the audience besides contempt. Like a squeaky axle that won't quiet down over the course of a 500-mile road trip, this grates on the nerves almost from the start, when we realize that Thornton's hypochondriac character is going to spend the entire 125-minute running time whining about his various ailments. Blanchett fares no better as the bargain basement screwball heroine in love with both men, and, for that matter, neither does Jane Fonda's son Troy Garity as the gang's thick-witted driver. Amazingly, even though he's cast opposite Thornton, Blanchett and a Fonda heir, it's Willis who comes out on top: Playing it closer to the vest, he at least provides a respite from all the mannered acting smothering the rest of the picture. 1/2