SPACE STATION The latest OMNIMAX attraction was originally filmed with 3-D cameras and played at other IMAX houses around the country under the title Space Station 3D (patrons were handed the standard red-and-blue-tinted goggles), but the version being shown in Charlotte is not being presented in this format. I don't mean this as a knock -- on the contrary, given the shaky visual quality of two recent 3-D ventures that played in regular movie houses (Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and Ghosts of the Abyss), watching a larger-than-life 3-D film that's out of focus sounds like the quickest path to a larger-than-life migraine. At any rate, the spectacular sights showcased in the OMNIMAX Theatre version look fine just as they are -- when the majesty of space looks this good on its own, who needs artificial enhancements? With Tom Cruise providing the narration, this 48-minute feature looks at the construction of the International Space Station that's taking place approximately 220 miles above our heads. As we watch astronauts from various nations working side by side, it's nice to know there's actually somewhere on this earth -- OK, above this earth -- where America is cooperating with other countries rather than pissing them off. Combine this fuzzy feeling of solidarity with to-die-for shots of the space station framed against an infinite backdrop, and the result is another winner over at Discovery Place.
WONDERLAND "John Holmes" and "Rashomon" aren't two cinematic staples that would normally turn up in the same sentence, yet Akira Kurosawa's m.o. of using varying viewpoints to relate the same sequence of events is employed in this muddy dramatization of the infamous Wonderland killings that took place in the hedonistic Los Angeles of 1981. Four druggies were brutally murdered in what appeared to be retaliation for the robbery of sleazy entrepreneur Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), and the extent of the involvement of porn star John Holmes (Val Kilmer), at that point a has-been with a severe coke habit, has always been the question at the center of this sordid affair. Director-cowriter James Cox offers his own spin to the saga, yet what emerges is a shallow recreation of an era, of a lifestyle, and of a counterculture -- in short, a pale facsimile of Paul Thomas Anderson's superb Boogie Nights. The involvement of a porn superstar is doubtless what inspired Cox to tackle this material in the first place -- material that otherwise would most likely have been completely forgotten by time -- yet Holmes is such a featureless character that he comes across no more defined than any generic Tom, Big Dick or Harry. A few actors make momentary impressions -- Lisa Kudrow as Holmes' estranged wife, Blue Crush's Kate Bosworth as his teenage girlfriend -- yet most (Janeane Garofalo, Christina Applegate) are kept in the shadows, as hard to make out as this movie's ultimate intentions.
CASA DE LOS BABYS For his latest stab at a subject most other filmmakers wouldn't even consider, writer-director John Sayles looks at the practice of Americans adopting infants from foreign countries. Here, the setting is an unspecified South American city, as six women -- naive Maggie Gyllenhaal, spiritual Daryl Hannah, bitchy Marcia Gay Harden, struggling Susan Lynch, optimistic Mary Steenburgen and forthright Lili Taylor -- hang out together as they wait for government clearance to cart kids back to the US. The abrupt ending is probably intentional -- it's Sayles way of saying that life goes on and nothing will really change -- but with a running time of only 95 minutes, it also cheats us of spending more time with these interesting characters.
COLD CREEK MANOR This weak thriller is like a dead-end street in a swanky neighborhood, offering some interesting glimpses along the way but ultimately leading nowhere. Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone play an NYC couple who, tired of the big-city bustle, purchase a mansion out in the sticks. Once the previous owner (Stephen Dorff), a rube just released from prison, shows up, bad things start happening, and the family soon suspects that their new home may have once been host to tragic events. What Richard Jefferies' script lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in gaping plotholes -- hardly a fair trade-off. Director Mike Figgis also composed the score, which during the tense scenes sounds like a two-year-old incessantly banging on random piano keys.
DUPLEX In this often uproarious comedy, Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore play a couple who believe they've found their dream house when they purchase a duplex in Brooklyn. They figure they can deal with the fact that they'll be sharing their abode with a longtime rent-controlled tenant, a 90something-year-old Irish woman (Eileen Essel), but once this seemingly harmless lady turns their lives into a living hell, they decide that murdering her is the only viable option left. Director Danny DeVito and writers Larry Doyle (The Simpsons) and John Hamburg (Meet the Parents) ably milk this premise for all it's worth -- there are no dry spells in this comedy that's in the style of such Ealing Studios classics as The Ladykillers.