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Film Clips: Lost in La Mancha, more

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NEW RELEASES
WHERE'S SANCHO PANZA WHEN YOU NEED HIM? Jean Rochefort and Terry Gilliam, both Lost In La Mancha - IFC FILMS
  • IFC Films
  • WHERE'S SANCHO PANZA WHEN YOU NEED HIM? Jean Rochefort and Terry Gilliam, both Lost In La Mancha

CHARLOTTE FILM SOCIETY Movies begin this Friday at the Manor and continue the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale. Call 704-414-2355 for details.

* LOST IN LA MANCHA We've seen several documentaries about the making of a particular movie, but along with It's All True (about an abandoned Orson Welles project), this is one of the few that examines the "unmaking" of a movie. Directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe were allowed to film the behind-the-scenes happenings regarding Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an ambitious screen epic about a modern-day man (Johnny Depp) who meets the windmill-fighting eccentric (Jean Rochefort). Instead, Fulton and Pepe ended up with reams of footage depicting an unbelievable string of calamitous events that ended up destroying the project after only a few days of shooting. Whether it was the weather (a storm of Biblical proportions that annihilated the set) or Rochefort's poor health (which delayed filming), Gilliam couldn't catch a break, and this movie, like a sadistic voyeur, peeps around every corner to view how Gilliam's dream project never stood a chance. ***

* ALSO: BLUE CAR (**1/2) finds relative newcomer Agnes Bruckner delivering a fine performance as a high school student whose miserable lot in life draws her closer to her sympathetic English teacher (David Strathairn), leading to a potentially sticky situation for both of them; Respiro (unscreened) stars Rain Man's Valeria Golina as a sexy free spirit whose behavior upsets her neighbors on a small Italian island; Marooned In Iraq (unscreened) concerns itself with an Iranian family that, on the heels of the Gulf War, attempts to enter Iraq to rescue a loved one.


CURRENT RELEASES

FREAKY FRIDAY A pleasant out-of-left-field surprise, this remake of Disney's 1977 hit (with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster) is a treat for both kids and adults, updating the basic premise (first seen in Mary Rodgers' book of the same name) while avoiding the common pitfall of tailoring the material to only appeal to the youngest (or, in the case of the grownups, dimmest) members of the audience. Here's a family film with genuine emotional pull, as workaholic psychiatrist Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her alienated 15-year-old daughter Anna (The Parent Trap's Lindsay Lohan) are constantly at odds, bickering incessantly and repeatedly failing to see the other's point of view. But a pinch of Asian mysticism places them in each other's body, thereby forcing Anna to contend with her mom's impending wedding and a TV appearance to plug her new book and Tess to cope with her daughter's burgeoning relationship with a cute schoolmate (Chad Michael Murray) and an important audition for her garage band. Curtis is in top form here, yet she's matched all the way by Lohan -- their scenes together are especially potent, full of sharp comic give-and-take and capped by the sparkling dialogue by scripters Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon ("I'm old!" wails Anna in her mom's body. "I look like the Crypt Keeper!"). A buoyant soundtrack only adds to the enjoyment. ***

FREDDY VS. JASON Employing a slide rule, an abacus, a roll of ticker tape, and a copy of Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide, I've ascertained that I've sat through all seven Nightmare on Elm Street films but only the first six of the 10 Friday the 13th entries -- which means I may not be the most qualified person to offer an opinion on Freddy vs. Jason, which manages to combine the two franchises in a manner that's sure to make mutual devotees of the Police Academy and Rambo series green with envy. After all, who knows what important plot points, what subtle snatches of symbolism, what resonant themes sailed over my head in this latest flick, simply because I wasn't schooled in Parts 7-10 of the Jason Voorhees saga? OK, I'm kidding, but it probably goes without saying that the film will best be appreciated by gore hounds who've enjoyed all 17 of the previous pictures from the two series -- or at least are familiar enough to debate the relative merits that make, say, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan a better bet than A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. By virtue of its plot, which brings Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and Jason (Ken Kirzinger) together, this is automatically a cut above most of the previous sequels, though there's still plenty of time for routine kid-gutting before the climactic showdown. This final battle will probably satisfy fans of the franchises, though anybody who thinks the outcome will rule out any possibilities of yet another sequel has probably been living in their mom's basement for too long. *1/2

LE DIVORCE The Howards End/The Remains of the Day team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and scripter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala attempts to recapture their former glory with this adaptation of Diane Johnson's 1997 bestseller, yet what they whip up isn't a spry look at the clashing of two cultures as much as a clumsy series of missteps -- a movie that never finds the right tone to punch across what could have been a perceptive and poignant tale. Kate Hudson stars as Isabel Walker, an American lass who ventures to Paris to stay with her pregnant sister Roxy (Naomi Watts). But upon her arrival, she learns that Roxy has been deserted by her French husband (Melvil Poupaud), a cad who has taken up with an apparently deranged Russian woman who seems to be constantly channeling one or more of the Marx Brothers. Rather than support her sister, Isabel spends most of her time boffing one of her in-laws, a rabid right-winger (Thierry Lhermitte) so intent on dating younger women that you half-expect him to belt out "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." Other characters and subplots wander in, but very little resonates. Watts works hard to create a character from among the wafts of vague characterizations that flood the film, while Stephen Fry has a couple of nicely droll moments as a Christie's art expert. But for the most part, the high-caliber cast (which also includes Glenn Close and Leslie Caron) finds itself adrift in a weightless confection that won't exactly add further strain to Yankee-Franco tensions but won't help build a bridge of understanding, either. *1/2

THE MEDALLION To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, this movie is what the French would probably call "a royale with cheese" -- a would-be summer hit that's so tacky and cheap-looking, it makes one pine for the comparatively polished look of Abbott and Costello Go to Mars. This feels like a remake of last fall's flop The Tuxedo, in which an aging Jackie Chan allowed the special effects and stunt crews to handle most of the action while he struggled through a feeble fantasy plot opposite a bland leading lady. Here, he's matched with Claire Forlani (a mere sliver better than Tuxedo's Jennifer Love Hewitt) as they play cops trying to stop the villain du jour (Julian Sands) from getting his hands on a bauble that offers immortality, superhuman strength and, one hopes, a zero percent interest rate until January 2004. So bad that it's actually painless to watch in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 frame of mind, The Medallion lumbers forward like a blind alcoholic, throwing in buckets of head-scratching non sequiturs and employing special effects so threadbare that it's hard to believe they're appearing in a major studio production in the 21st century. Lee Evans, the wonderful physical comedian from Funny Bones and There's Something About Mary, is more grating than amusing as Chan's bungling partner (blame the script, credited to an astounding five writers!), while Chan, largely stripped of his raison d'etre, executes a few deft moves but otherwise gets swallowed up by the silliness of it all. *1/2

OPEN RANGE Decidedly "old school" in both content and intent, this adaptation of Lauran Paine's The Open Range Men) doesn't expand the parameters of the Western but instead feels like a throwback to the types of genre flicks that populated moviehouses until their fizzle in the late 70s. Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) are "freerangers," cattlemen who allow their herd to roam the land with no thought to manmade claims of property possession -- a point of view not shared by a vicious rancher (Michael Gambon) in a nearby town. Open Range marks Costner's third shot at directing -- following his Oscar-winning work on Dances With Wolves and his effort on the lambasted flop The Postman -- and during a movie season known for rapid jump-cuts and a decided lack of lengthy and meaningful exchanges, his lackadaisical approach will leave filmgoers either feeling appreciative or irked. No scene feels hurried or forced, and even though the dialogue's occasionally a bit clunky, there's a genuine maturity in the tender romance between Charley and a town resident (Annette Bening), and a strong sense of mutual respect in the camaraderie between Charley and Spearman that harkens back to the approach taken in the classic Westerns of the past (I'm thinking primarily of John Wayne's numerous efforts, particularly Rio Bravo). As for the shootouts, they're presented as clumsy and chaotic -- gritty dances of death that aren't commented upon (as in Unforgiven) but that aren't glamorized, either. ***

THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS This adaptation of Jane Smiley's novella The Age of Grief isn't a documentary by any stretch of the imagination, yet try telling that to the married couples who will see this film and feel that they're experiencing cinema verite in its rawest form. Working from Craig Lucas' knowing screenplay, director Alan Rudolph has produced one of the finest works of his alarmingly erratic career, shucking aside the pretense and pomposity of his recent output to offer an honest study of a marriage on the rocks. Campbell Scott and Hope Davis play David and Dana Hurst, partners both in matrimony and at the office where they share a practice as dentists. Catching Dana in another man's embrace, David immediately suspects she's having an affair, refusing to confront her about it but instead allowing fantasy scenarios to run unchecked through his mind. All the while, both adults must also continue to deal with the daily demands of their three young daughters, a situation that becomes especially taxing once everyone in the household starts coming down with the flu. Davis (About Schmidt) projects a palpable sense of conflicted emotion as a woman who feels she needs to step away from her comfortable niche to obtain an accurate sense of herself, yet it's the beautifully nuanced performance by Scott (Roger Dodger), as a husband and father who fully believes in the sanctity of marriage and will do whatever he can to hold onto that ideal, that anchors this touching, trenchant film. ***1/2

S.W.A.T. The latest fix of nostalgia based on a popular TV show from the past, S.W.A.T. is better than most, drawing up vibrant characters and offering some choice action bits before running out of steam during the third act. Samuel L. Jackson is "Hondo" Harrelson, the veteran lawman assigned to put together a crack outfit of S.W.A.T.-sters; Colin Farrell is Jim Street, the brash up-and-comer who, implicated in a messy hostage situation that wasn't his fault, is seeking to redeem himself. He gets his chance when the group is assigned to baby-sit a captured drug lord (Olivier Martinez) who promises to pay $100 million to anyone who breaks him free. This offer seemingly brings out every criminal element in the city of Los Angeles, and for a moment, it looks like the movie will turn into a contempo retread of Walter Hill's exciting cult flick The Warriors, with our small band of heroes battling different pockets of villains around every corner. No such luck. After a promising set-up that takes time to introduce us to all the team players (including ones played by Girlfight's Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J) and the aforementioned promise of some intriguing confrontations, the movie loses its stride. There's a double-cross that I didn't believe for one nanosecond, and the lengthy climax proves to be surprisingly bland -- even with the inclusion of a plane taxiing down LA's 6th Street Bridge. Still, I enjoyed spending time with these characters, and the potential is there for more developed storylines. Maybe the sequel will get it right. **1/2

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