LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT It's tough to completely dislike any movie that paints the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" as one of the great social equalizers of our time, and although this schizophrenic romantic comedy seemingly goes out its way on occasion to test viewer tolerance, it features enough piquant elements to remain a half-length ahead of most of its competition. The film's success begins and ends with Angelina Jolie, cast as an ambitious TV reporter who comes to reassess her values after a street prophet (Tony Shalhoub) informs her that she has less than a week to live. Wearing a cake-frosting-colored hairdo that works surprisingly well against her dark-toned looks and displaying a genuine aptitude for lightweight comic banter, Jolie is off-center enough to make an impression -- whether she has any real range in this field remains to be seen, but for now, she's a welcome presence. So, too, is Edward Burns, displaying his usual hangdog charm as the cameraman who loosens her up. Director Stephen Herek (the live-action 101 Dalmatians) and writers John Scott Shepherd (Joe Somebody) and Dana Stevens (City of Angels) are all too much the consummate hacks to provide the more serious sections with the import they require, but as long as the picture is siphoning its strength from the natural appeal of its protagonists, it represents a serviceable feature -- or something like it. 1/2
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN To tag this Mexican import from director Alfonso Cuaron (A Little Princess) and screenwriter Carlos Cuaron the art-house equivalent of a teen sex comedy would not only be irresponsible but also entirely misleading, since it quickly becomes obvious that Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too) has more on its mind than simply the male orgasm. Ultimately, it begs comparison with something like Thelma & Louise more than American Pie, exploring not only the liberation (sexual and otherwise) of its leading characters but also the mythos and pathos of the landscape across which they make their life-altering journey. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna portray two of the most realistic teenagers recently seen on screen, raging bulls of hormonal overdrive whose actions always remain within the context of utter believability (in short, nobody humps a pastry in this movie). During one fateful summer, they decide to embark on a road trip to the beach with an "older" (read: late-20s) woman (Maribel Verdu) at their side, a dental assistant from Spain who's trying to come to terms with both the failure of her marriage and the dark secret that seemingly inspires her increasingly bold actions. Sexually explicit in a manner rarely seen in American titles (MPAA goon Jack Valenti would have a heart attack if he tried to sit through this, so its studio chose to release it unrated) yet also mindful of its country's sociopolitical breakdown, this is a mature drama that snares the viewer with seductive ease. 1/2
THE CAT'S MEOW A fictional spin on a factual event, this adaptation of Steven Peros' stage play focuses on an event that took place in 1924, when mogul William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) invited a group of colorful celebrities aboard his yacht for a pleasure-filled cruise. Among the guests were Hearst's mistress, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst); film legend Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard); movie pioneer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes); gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly); and novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley). But what started out as fun and games eventually turned serious, with one of the party guests turning up dead and Hearst using his influence to cover up the details of the demise. To this day, no one knows the real story, but Peros' script forwards the oft-discussed theory that the death was an accident, a "wrong place at the wrong time" scenario that came about because of Hearst's jealous rage when he found out that Chaplin, a notorious womanizer, was putting the moves on his beloved Marion. As the basis for a motion picture, it's a heckuva zinger, providing plenty of fodder for oversized characterizations, inventive bits of trivia, and an opportunity for director Peter Bogdanovich to helm his first noteworthy film in ages. Looking like a great unmade bed, Herrmann handles the story's trickiest role with all the complexity it requires, while Dunst offers a touching portrayal as Hearst's pragmatic lover.
CHANGING LANES As first, it looks like it'll take a few minutes to figure out who's the good guy and who's the bad guy: After all, both protagonists -- a rising lawyer portrayed by Ben Affleck and an insurance salesman played by Samuel L. Jackson -- are initially revealed to be sensitive, caring men. But wait a second: If we're to believe the chaotic trailer and the grim poster, we're not settling in to watch a "buddy" flick; these men are primed to be enemies, meaning that, by Hollywood standards, one of them has to earn the brunt of our contempt. Instead, this turns out to be that rare bird: a studio product that largely steers clear of black and white by adorning itself in an appealing shade of gray. A traffic accident involving both men is what sets off a chain of events that finds them constantly trying to one-up each other in a dangerous game rife with long-reaching implications. Yet as the movie progresses, there's genuine push-pull tension not only between these two characters but also between our own constantly shifting allegiances, and the picture doesn't squander its chance to make a point about the need for people to take responsibility for their own actions in this modern world that's more about passing the buck of blame to the next fellow. Admittedly, the film requires a couple of leaps of logic, but for the most part, it refuses to pull its punches, and in this day and age, that qualifies as taking the road less travelled.