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NEW RELEASES

THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR Based on a sizable chunk of John Irving's A Widow for One Year, this outwardly melancholy but inwardly hopeful movie reunites Nadine stars Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger as Ted and Marion Cole, silently suffering parents who, years later, are still unable to cope with the deaths of their two teenage sons. Ted, the author of popular but eerie children's books, suggests a trial separation that involves both parents shuffling back and forth between two properties to each spend time with their young daughter (Elle Fanning); this decision coincides with the arrival of Eddie (Jon Foster), a young man who's been hired for the summer to apprentice under Ted but who ends up spending more time in the sack with Marion. The Door In the Floor is one of those movies that screws up the small details while tapping into the larger issues -- we may carp over the plot-friendly fact that nobody in this household apparently understands the concept of locks (which leads to the interruption of two masturbatory exercises and one doggy-style coupling between woman and boy), yet we're affected by the varying measures of cruelty and compassion that Ted and Marion fling at each other in their futile efforts to make their own pain go down a little easier. The "coming of age" angle involving Eddie is the weakest part of the story; far more potent are the sequences in which Bridges (terrific), Basinger (touching) and/or young Fanning illustrate the difficulties in holding together a family when obligations are in arrears.

HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE Harold and Maude Go to White Castle might have been a better bet, but this is nevertheless a gross-out comedy with a difference -- it tosses some sharp social satire into the usual mix of horny guys, amiable dopeheads, repulsive rednecks and homosexual bit players. And instead of making its lead characters typical morons like Bill and Ted or the Dude, Where's My Car? pair, this one gives us two smart kids in Korean-American Harold (John Cho), a mild-mannered employee at an investment firm, and Indian-American Kumar (Kal Penn), a more rebellious type who isn't quite ready to become a medical grad student like his dad desires. The plot is lifted from the Cheech and Chong playbook, as Harold and Kumar spend a Friday night getting high and then deciding that their munchies can only be satisfied by the burgers and fries at White Castle. So they're off on an all-night road trip, one which finds them coming into contact with a Bible-thumping hillbilly named Freakshow, a pair of college girls prone to engaging in a bathroom variation on Battleship (the film's nastiest gag), and Doogie Howser star Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself as a drug-addled party animal on the hunt for hookers. The crass humor alternates between funny-stupid and stupid-stupid, but the movie's knowing digs at the casual racism witnessed by the pair provide it with a whiff of added subtext. 1/2

CURRENT RELEASES

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY Aimed squarely at the open-mouth-breathers who turned Dumb and Dumber and Big Daddy into hits, Anchorman is the movie as litmus test -- specifically, how much Will Ferrell is too much Will Ferrell? As a chauvinistic news anchor in 1970s San Diego, Ferrell gets to wear ugly clothes, make silly faces, and lust after the ladies, but unless you hold the opinion that the actor is a comic genius worthy of Chaplin or Tati comparisons, then this sort of obnoxious oafishness gets stale quickly. There are a handful of inspired moments, but these clever bits seem almost accidental in the midst of so much kitsch. 1/2

BAADASSSSS! With Mario Van Peebles playing his own father, this tells the fascinating back story of how, back in 1971, Melvin Van Peebles turned down an offer to be the major studios' token black filmmaker in order to realize his goal of producing a raw, edgy work that spoke directly to Afro-American audiences. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song turned out to be a monster moneymaker, the first of the "blaxploitation" flicks, and an important stepping stone in the development of independent cinema, and this picture chronicles how the process of bringing it to the screen took a major toll on Melvin's health, family and finances. The movie is ultimately a son's affectionate tribute to his dad, an often difficult man who may have floundered as a regular father but established himself as a "founding father" of a different sort.

BEFORE SUNSET Richard Linklater's 1995 Before Sunrise was about two college-age kids who meet in Vienna, spend the night talking (and loving), and then go their separate ways. Before Sunset continues their story: Unfolding in real minutes (about 80 of them), this finds American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), now an author, and French Celine (Julie Delpy), an environmental activist, crossing paths in Paris nine years later. Superior to its predecessor in every way, this lovely film does an exemplary job of conveying the manner in which the freedom and naivety of youth inevitably fall by the wayside, leaving only cherished memories, present regrets, and the rigor mortis of a future that can only be avoided by those willing to take risks. Hawke and Delpy have never been better, and the ending is letter-perfect. 1/2

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