JANE GOODALL'S WILD CHIMPANZEES Over the years, Discovery Place has shown numerous IMAX titles in its OMNIMAX Theatre, but Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees has personal ties with the museum: Not only is the venue cited as one of the production companies behind this endeavor, but former DP head Freda Nicholson served as an executive producer. Still, these local tie-ins presumably won't be needed to draw Charlotteans to what proves to be a worthy tribute to a great humanitarian and her vibrant "co-stars." Shot primarily in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, the film opens with 40-year-old footage of the young Jane Goodall and her first revolutionary experiences with chimpanzees. From there, it brings us to the present, with the still-active, still-beautiful Goodall (now 68) introducing us to her swinging friends, all of whom have names because Goodall initially didn't realize that the scientific community preferred to number its study subjects. We learn that humans and chimps share about 98 percent of the same DNA; we watch as the kinder chimps snuggle with Goodall while the more rambunctious ones throw rocks at her; and we nod approvingly at this remarkable woman's complete adoration of her animal pals, displayed not only through her up-close-and-personal interactions but also through her extensive touring around the world, speaking passionately about the need for wildlife preservation.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE After the grandiosity of both Boogie Nights and Magnolia, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson works on a decidedly smaller scale with Punch-Drunk Love. Yet while his canvas (and running time) may be significantly lessened, his imagination runs unfettered (indeed, he earned the Best Director prize at Cannes this year), resulting in a romantic comedy that operates by the rules of its own self-contained universe. Adam Sandler, stretching about as far here as Jim Carrey did in The Truman Show (in other words, both comedians didn't reinvent their screen personas as much as they simply toned down the expected schtick), delivers an interestingly off-center performance as Barry Egan, a toilet-plunger business owner whose lifelong mental abuse at the hands of his six sisters would seem to go a long way toward explaining his delicate emotional state and his social ineptitude. Driven by his loneliness, Barry finally elects to call a phone sex service, a decision he regrets once he starts getting harassed by members of this shady outfit. And things potentially get even more complicated once he finds himself attracted to one of his sisters' co-workers (Emily Watson), though the love of this good woman might be just what he needs to pull him out of his disturbed state. Anderson, who packed the Boogie Nights soundtrack with 70s hits and the Magnolia one with haunting Aimee Mann tunes, uses Shelley Duvall's rendition of Harry Nilsson's "He Needs Me" (from the Popeye score) as the centerpiece song here, just one tip-off to this film's radical, off-the-wall approach. Sandler's character, an insecure introvert prone to destructive outbursts, isn't exactly cut from the Cary Grant mold, and if the film fails to use its exemplary supporting players (Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman) to their fullest potential, it still scores points for displaying how the redemptive power of love could transform even a seeming lost cause like Barry Egan.
CURRENT RELEASESBALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER Here's a question to ponder: Why did Warner Bros. elect to hide The Adventures of Pluto Nash from critics yet willfully preview Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever in advance? Yet another motion picture that owes its allegiance to the video game market, the stridently simplistic Ballistic is an absolute failure on even its most basic level as an action movie. Ineptly directed by a Thai filmmaker who bills himself as Kaos (short for Wych Kaosayananda), this 90-minute equivalent of having one's head trapped between two clanging cymbals Chuck Jones-style might contain more explosions, gun battles and car chases per square foot of film footage than any other movie around, yet every boring moment of it is highly derivative, clumsily executed and stridently illogical (one of the heroes keeps setting off explosions away from the villains rather than next to them; what's the point of that?). When a filmmaker goes on record citing director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) as a major influence without even tossing an honorable mention to the likes of John Ford or Howard Hawks (who knew a thing or two about action), it's enough to send a cold chill through the entire industry. As a villainous lackey, Ray Park reveals himself to be an incredibly dull actor when he's not buried under makeup as The Phantom Menace's Darth Maul or X-Men's Toad. And as Ecks and Sever, two former government agents who square off against each other until they learn they have a common foe, Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu mumble their lines to the point of unintelligibility (not that the dialogue is even needed to follow this dum-dum plot). Both stars have made crisp action heroes in the past -- he in Desperado, she in Charlie's Angels -- but here they wearily trudge through a bog of ennui, dragging the rest of us right behind them.