CHARLOTTE FILM SOCIETY Movies begin this Friday at the Manor and continue the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale. Call 414-2355 for details.
IF... Winner of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, Lindsay Anderson's 1968 classic is that rare motion picture whose themes have made it both timely (it probably couldn't have been made during any other period) and timeless (with issues that remain prevalent to this day). Malcolm McDowell, highly charismatic in one of his first major roles, plays the most radical student at a British boarding school where the young charges have to cope with a hierarchal system that pummels the weak, punishes the free thinkers, and insures that everyone marches to the same constricting beat. Full of quirky 60s touches, this is capped by a startling climax that still remains a center of debate among cineastes. 1/2
OSCAR SHORTS It's rare that anyone outside New York and Los Angeles ever gets to see the works nominated for the Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film Academy Awards, so this compilation of last year's nominated entries is a treat on that level alone. The screener I saw didn't include the animated winner, but practically everyone's already caught that particular piece anyway (For the Birds, the cartoon that preceded Monsters, Inc. during its theatrical run). As for the nine entries that are definitely being presented, the four other animated candidates are all delightful, though the live-action movies prove to be a mixed bag. Best of this bunch is The Accountant, which deservedly ended up taking the Live-Action statue.
Also: PAULINE AND PAULETTE, from Belgium, details the struggles of two women as they try to take care of their simple-minded, 66-year-old sister; Argentina's SON OF THE BRIDE, one of this year's Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, centers on a restaurant owner suffering a midlife crisis. (Unscreened)
MEN IN BLACK II It's almost a given that most sequels aren't going to retain the freshness of their predecessors, but this follow-up to the 1997 smash disappoints deeper than most simply because of the high quality of the original picture. Most of its spark comes courtesy of Will Smith, who's all easygoing swagger in his reprisal of his role as Agent J, forced to bring his mentor and former partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), back into the fold to help defeat an evil alien who's disguised as a lingerie model (dull Lara Flynn Boyle) and her moronic sidekick (tiresome Johnny Knoxville). What made the first picture so special was the interplay between Smith and Jones, but the latter is largely neutralized here, not turning up until well into the film and then forced to tread water as his brainwashed character must wait to regain his dominating demeanor. Makeup artist Rick Baker's various alien creations are for the most part merely brought out for display rather than integrated into the story, and the presence of Linda Fiorentino (excellent as the kinky morgue attendant in the '97 original) is sorely missed (Rosario Dawson as Smith's love interest is a poor substitute). There are a few laughs and clever sight gags scattered about, but not enough to make this anything more than another big-budget bust.
MR. DEEDS The latest Adam Sandler vehicle is a remake of 1936's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but watching it, I was less reminded of that Frank Capra heartwarmer than I was of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." After all, here's a studio quickie so threadbare in every department, one can only assume the entire budget went toward its star's exorbitant salary. And here's a comedy so low-brow, it removes much of the wit and pointed social commentary of the original and replaces it with gags involving wayward tennis balls and pizzas made out of Oreo cookies. And yet, while Mr. Deeds rates merely as a mediocrity, that's certainly a step up from Sandler's past two pictures, the I-wouldn't-wish-them-upon-my-worst-enemy pair of Big Daddy and Little Nicky. Sandler's in easy-going Wedding Singer mode here, playing a scruffy doofus who inherits $40 billion yet retains his small-town appeal as he goes up against unfeeling New York sharks. Winona Ryder is far too talented to be slumming in the slender role of the hard-hearted journalist who falls for Deeds (given her current off-screen travails and her recent choice of parts, can this career be saved?), and the movie features a plethora of pointless cameos by the likes of John McEnroe and Al Sharpton. Yet if this disposable tissue has one wild card, it's John Turturro, who's simply fab as a Spanish butler with a foot fetish; you may find yourself wishing for a sequel if only to watch him reprise his role.