As I watched Lars von Trier's latest lightning bolt of controversy, the three-hour drama Dogville, I was reminded of an exchange from Men In Black, the sort of big-budget, FX-laden extravaganza that would undoubtedly force von Trier to bolt screaming from the room.
"People are smart; they can handle it," states Agent J (Will Smith) in defense of the human race's ability to confront the unknown. "A person is smart," responds Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). "People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals." Dogville expands these parameters. Almost every individual citizen in the titular town, a Rocky Mountain community existing day-by-day during the Great Depression, can between them cover the gamut of the Boy Scout decree: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, and so on and so forth. But when they come together as a mob ; when their actions are ruled by community conformity rather than individual thought ; they reveal themselves as petty, contemptuous creatures, perhaps even lower than dangerous animals. Into this village marches Grace (Nicole Kidman, in a strong performance that goes with the flow), a mysterious woman on the run from998230; something. Viewing this stranger as an opportunity to put his theories about morality into action, the town's philosopher, a struggling writer named Tom Edison Jr. (Paul Bettany, Master and Commander's ship doctor), talks his neighbors into allowing Grace to remain in Dogville. Dogville is irrevocably a movie of our times, a period during which substantial groups gather to burn Dixie Chicks CDs, overwhelming numbers make political decisions based on soundbites of misinformation, and suspicions of "outsiders" have rendered many Americans as fearful as a 5-year-old terrified of the Boogeyman under his bed.
LAWS OF ATTRACTION**
The 1950 comedy Adam's Rib cast Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as husband-and-wife lawyers who end up on opposite sides of a major case; Laws of Attraction clearly hopes to be its modern-day equivalent, but it's so inconsequential that it wouldn't even cut it as Adam's Hangnail. That's a shame, because the star pairing of Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore promises much more than this movie actually delivers. Moore stars as a hotshot New York divorce lawyer who meets her match in a fellow attorney (Brosnan) who has recently relocated from the West Coast. Antagonistic whenever they square off professionally, they soon discover the mutual attraction that blossoms away from the courthouse.
MAN ON FIRE*1/2
A remake of a forgotten 1987 flick starring Scott Glenn; that version barely ran 90 minutes, and it's a sign of director Tony Scott's overwhelming arrogance that this interminable revamping clocks in at 140 minutes. The movie starts off OK, with Denzel Washington effectively cast as a former government assassin whose constant boozing is interrupted once he agrees to serve as the bodyguard for an American girl (Dakota Fanning) living with her parents in Mexico City. Scott's meaningless stylistics immediately grate on the nerves, but the strong work by Washington and Fanning cuts through all the hipster b.s. and draws us into the picture.
Thomas Jane (Dreamcatcher) stars as Frank Castle, an FBI agent finally able to spend some quality time with his wife (Samantha Mathis) and son. But his happiness is short-lived, as high-class criminal Howard Saint (John Travolta), who holds Castle responsible for his own son's death, orders the execution of Castle and his brood. And wouldn't you know it, the assassins turn up during the middle of a family reunion, meaning that over 30 people get gunned down instead of just three. Miraculously, Castle survives the slaughter, and after setting up headquarters in a grungy apartment building populated by a lonely waitress (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) and two annoying comic-relief characters (an overweight geek and a computer geek), he focuses on bringing down Saint and his empire. This is tolerable junk if viewed in the right frame of mind, if one is willing to overlook the poor dialogue, Travolta's colorless villain, and the ludicrously overplayed death scenes.
13 GOING ON 30***
This buoyant comedy just might prove to be the launching pad for Jennifer Garner's higher ambitions, as she attempts to join the ranks of Clint Eastwood, Sally Field, Bruce Willis and others who have managed to turn successful careers in television into even more successful careers in cinema. Starting off in 1987, the high-concept premise centers around 13-year-old Jenna Rink, an awkward girl whose only desire is to be "thirty, flirty and thriving." She magically gets her wish granted, waking up in 2004 at the age of 30 and not remembering anything that has transpired over the course of the last 17 years. For emotional support, she tracks down her best friend from childhood, now a freelance photographer (Mark Ruffalo), but as she begins to piece together her teenage and adult years, she realizes she doesn't like the person she's become.
THE ALAMO *1/2
Forget The Alamo998230; again. John Wayne's 1960 take on the historic battle of 1836, the one detailing the valiant if futile efforts of 200 Texans to defend their fort against thousands of Mexican soldiers, was fairly useless as history and barely involving as entertainment, but it at least had the benefit of a sterling cast (Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey) and a marvelous Dimitri Tiomkin score. This new version can't even match those modest achievements. Even with his charisma largely kept in check by director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), Billy Bob Thornton still fares best as Davy Crockett, the frontiersman-cum-politician trying to maintain the proper balance between Crockett the man and Crockett the legend.
CONNIE AND CARLA **1/2
Although it cribs shamelessly from both Victor/Victoria and Some Like It Hot, this new comedy at least finds Nia Vardalos breaking away from her established bread-and-butter 998212; on the heels of Wedding and the short-lived TV series My Big Fat Greek Life, I was dreading My Big Fat Greek Divorce, My Big Fat Greek Funeral, etc. Instead, this new piece finds Vardalos working opposite Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), with the pair cast as struggling airport lounge singers who take it on the lam after they witness a murder. Hoofing it to LA, they hide out by pretending to be drag performers at a local bar 998212; in short, they're girls pretending to be guys pretending to be girls. As writer, Vardalos couldn't be less interested in the movie's plot 998212; the crime escapades wouldn't even have been approved for an episode of Hawaii Five-O 998212; but she has great affection for all her characters, and the on-stage routines of Connie and Carla are fun to watch.
The opening scene of this scrappy Irish import finds Colin Farrell's small-time crook going from sweet to shocking in an eye blink 998212; and the film that follows closely mirrors this unpredictable action. Conceived by two figures from Irish theater 998212; director John Crowley and playwright Mark O'Rowe 998212; Intermission is an example of the slice-of-life film, the type of sprawling, multi-vignette movie whose success is almost always defined by how interesting we find its characters. Here, there isn't a single person who wears out his or her welcome, and it's a sign of a well-written movie when all of the individual episodes carry equal weight.
THE WHOLE TEN YARDS *
A sequel to a so-so film that barely anyone remembers (The Whole Nine Yards), this again finds gruff hit man Bruce Willis and nerdy dentist Matthew Perry mixing it up with gangsters. A sampling of its inanities: Willis wearing an apron and a pair of bunny slippers 998212; not funny. Perry taking a pratfall or running into a door 250 times 998212; not funny. Kevin Pollak as a foreign mobster who mangles the English language, calling a piece of pie a "piece of pee" 998212; not funny. An elderly woman whose only purpose is to break wind whenever she enters a room 998212; definitely not funny. Willis and Perry waking up naked in bed after a night of drinking, and Perry muttering, "Why does my ass hurt?" 998212; oy.
I had high hopes for this adaptation of the popular Dark Horse Comics series. This movie isn't original enough, exciting enough, or humorous enough to sustain interest, let alone spawn the expected sequel or two. Ron Perlman is aptly cast as Hellboy, but his awful wisecracks become harder to endure as the picture progresses.
ELLA ENCHANTED **1/2
Freely adapted from the book by Gail Carson Levine but completely owing its body and soul to Shrek, this is yet another fractured fairy tale designed for kids living in a postmodern age. Anne Hathaway, the wide-eyed star of The Princess Diaries, plays Ella, a young woman who, thanks to a spell placed on her by an inept fairy godmother (Vivica A. Fox), is forced to obey every command directly aimed at her. Tired of being a human puppet, she sets out to locate the fairy to reverse the spell; the resultant journey lands her a handsome young prince (Hugh Dancy) as a suitor, but it also places her in the middle of a murderous scheme hatched by the prince's deceitful uncle (Cary Elwes). Plot points are brought up and abandoned, and characters appear for no reason other than the story requires their presence at that moment 998212; but the movie's still entertaining, thanks to its able cast as well as its own infectious commitment to Happily Ever After principles. w