dir. Bruce Beresford
Opens Fri Dec 20.If your social circle spends Christmas at the movies and includes at least one treacle-huffing old simpleton who insists on seeing something that can be described as "entertainment for the whole family," you may find yourself forced to sit through this story about an Irish father (Pierce Brosnan) who in 1954 got his children back from church custody through a little lawyering and a whole lot of angel rays. Alan Bates does an Irish turn. Obligatory nuns, obligatory singing in pubs, obligatory bookie with a heart of gold. Evelyn, the daughter, whose freckled cheek you will long to slap, testifies in court. Eventually it ends.
How will you survive? As you sit suffering, compile a list of anachronisms, dialect faults, and other impossibilities in the film; it will be a long list. To the person who submits the longest list--which I myself will verify at enormous psychological cost by sitting through the whole movie once again when it comes out on video--I promise a genuine Irish banger (sausage). The lucky winner may choose between the two varieties. One tastes like cardboard-flavored grease; the other tastes like grease-flavored cardboard. Either will bring back memories of this movie. BARLEY BLAIR
dir. Denzel Washington
Opens Wed Dec 25 at various theaters.My treacleometer went on high alert when I heard the story behind this one. Antwone Fisher was a security guard at Sony Pictures when a big-shot producer, impressed with Fisher's life story, decided to have him write a screenplay about it. I clenched my press kit, thinking of synonyms for "maudlin."
Although not a great movie, it is actually refreshingly restrained. Denzel Washington directs with the same dignity and craft that he brings to his work as an actor. The performances are realistic but not self-consciously so, the filmmakers avoid drowning the film in syrupy music, and the production design gives us deep, dramatic settings without stealing focus. These are all small miracles, considering the genre.
Even more surprising, the story is told without much narrative embellishment. It's not buffed to death. Abused and abandoned as a child, Antwone makes peace with his past, but as in life there are questions left unanswered, relationships that can't be fixed, experiences best forgotten. In the end, he's not a hero, just a guy who decided not to be a victim of his past. In a pop culture bloated with vulgar sentimentality, Fisher's ordinary story stands out as one worth telling. MATT FONTAINE
The Hot Chick
dir. Tom Brady
Opens Fri Dec 20 at various theaters.Tamara: Now I understand why other cultures want to bomb us.
Matt: What do you mean? This movie was great! An ancient curse from the dark continent of Africa (spooky!) causes two disgusting people to switch bodies, allowing them to be even more boorish, vile, and unfunny than they were before!
Tamara: While the audience around me rollicked with uncontrolled mirth at the racist, sexist, homophobic, and deeply stupid non-jokes, I literally began to weep with despair. Maybe I'll get a nice burqa and raise goats on the side of a rocky mountain.
Matt: You're just offended because the fat girl was grotesquely devouring foodstuffs in every scene. American moviegoers have spoken, and they say: "Gay people make us want to puke, Rob Schneider! So show us a scene where one character's implied homosexuality makes another character literally vomit with disgust!"
Tamara: Are you calling me fat?
Matt: I really just want everyone to go see this movie because it will hasten the crumbling of the American empire.
Tamara: Maybe I could get a slenderizing burqa on eBay!
TAMARA PARIS and MATT FONTAINE
Star Trek: Nemesis
dir. Stuart Baird
Now playing at various theaters.Shinzon, a slave from Romulus' hellish mining colony, Remus, ascends to power via a violent coup. Captain Picard and the starship Enterprise are brought in to forge an alliance with the new leader. There are, however, two sticking points: (1) Shinzon has a chip on his shoulder the size of O. J. Simpson's best-fitting glove, and (2) Shinzon, inexplicably, is Picard, only 30-odd years younger.
All the characters, save for Picard and Shinzon, are by this point virtually relegated to window-dressing status. As a result, this action-heavy sequel's narrative is cleaner and more efficient than most of its predecessors'. In place of character exploration are the universally appealing themes of Shinzon's Dickensian rise from poverty to über-führerdom, his Freudian lust to destroy his father, and Picard's tender remorse for his wayward son/self. While this all bodes well for the movie--it's rather good--it doesn't, necessarily, for the future of the series. This is rumored to be the last cinematic voyage not only of this crew, but the entire Star Trek franchise. To be honest, Picard's crew appears to have exhausted its usefulness. Only the box office will show Paramount Pictures whether the franchise has done the same. KUDZAI MUDEDE
dir. Majid Majidi
Fri-Thurs Dec 20-26 at the Varsity.Majid Majidi's Baran is set on a construction site near what appears to be the very edge of Tehran. It's hard to tell what exactly is taking place on the construction site: Is the six-story or so building going up or down, is it new or being renovated? This seems of little importance to the director, whose roving camera does not so much explain the labor than capture its poetry: the part-organized, part-chaotic movement of workers walking up and down the incomplete steps, with heavy cement bags on their backs or big tools in their worn hands; the energy expended on knocking down this wall on the third floor, or erecting that one on the fourth. In this respect, Baran has much in common with Claire Denis' Beau Travail (1999), where the purpose of the military exercises (marching across the desert, doing strange jumping jacks and pushups, and so on) appears to be less useful than beautiful. Baran is also a love story that's set against the shimmering city, the politics and economics of that city, and, more specifically, the plight of Afghanistan refugees--who in this movie work illegally on the construction site--in this developing, Second World metropolis. Baran is a marvelous work of 21st-century cinema. CHARLES MUDEDE