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ISSUE
  Thursday
171
  April 8
2004
c o n t e n t s
 
 

Reviving Royal Sin: Strong Performances Bring 'The Duchess of Malfi' to Life

Utah Ballet Focuses on What's Best
Parker Played it Rite
 

Remember Thornton, Forget 'The Alamo
'

Take a Peep at 'The Girl Next Door'
 
 
 

 theReel
 
Opening This Weekend
 
by Jeremy Mathews

“The Alamo”
2.5 reels (out of four)
See review


“Ella Enchanted”
Miramax Films
Rated PG
(out of four)

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was trapped in a mildly clever medieval fairy tale that kids might like, but was so slow-moving and clunky that even the best child psychologist couldn’t watch it with them.

In “Ella Enchanted,” Anne Hathaway plays Ella, who is cursed with a gift of obedience when her fairy godmother visits her as a baby. If someone says “bite me,” she does it; if someone tells her to hand over her beloved necklace, she does it. After her mom dies, her father makes like Cinderella’s and Ella’s nasty stepsisters soon realize her weakness. Ella has no choice but to go on a quest to get her fairy godmother to take back the gift. The quest will also lead her to the arms of a hunky prince (Hugh Dancy), who falls for Ella because her political conscience stops her from swooning over him like all the other girls. You see, the current king, the prince’s uncle (Cary Elwes), has segregated the kingdom and abused the elves, giants and ogres since the king’s death.

Hathaway’s spunky, politically active character is fun, but poor pacing and direction and half-baked production design prevent an enchanting film from emerging.


“The Girl Next Door”
3 reels (out of four)
See review


“Intermission”
3 reels (out of four)
See review


“Johnson Family Vacation”
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rated PG-13
(Not reviewed)

Remember all your family road trips and those National Lampoon movies that tried to make a farce out of them? “Johnson Family Vacation” attempts to pump some more life into the genre with a cast including Cedric the Entertainer, Bow Wow (formerly Lil’ Bow Wow, who brought a lively energy to “Like Mike”), Shannon Elizabeth and Steve Harvey as the unlucky family.


“Monsieur Ibrahim”
Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R
(out of four)

“I just know what’s in my Quran…when you’re ready to learn, you don’t go to a book.” So the title character repeatedly says in “Monsieur Ibrahim.” Despite all the lessons the film throws out, the most valuable one is that a great actor like Omar Sharif can almost make a string of thoughts seemingly stolen off of Hallmark cards worth watching.

Sharif plays a Turkish shop owner in a Jewish neighborhood in Paris who befriends a motherless teenager with a depressed father. The boy, Momo (Pierre Boulanger), spends his time saving up for prostitutes after paying $30 from his piggy bank to pay for his first sexual experience in the opening scene. He steals from the shop and tries to cheat his depressed father. Ibrahim encourages the theft and takes the boy under his wing.

A little twist at the end reveals that Ibrahim had apparently planned to wait until he died to teach the kid his real lesson, but that doesn’t make up for us or the kid having to listen to his beautifully acted nonsense for 90 minutes.

Director François Dupeyron really wants his film to be touching and it almost is thanks to Sharif, but it gets to the point where you’d rather the characters be silent than recite the same old crap for the 18th time.


“The Same River Twice”
Next Life Films
Not rated

(out of four)

As a documentary, “The Same River Twice” alternatively uses its intriguing concept for self-important but shallow character studies and quietly touching observations. The latter qualities sometimes seem unintentional, but make the film successful for those looking for an exploration of aging.

Director Robb Moss combines footage of his 1978 film “Riverdogs,” which followed a series of naked hippie types on a month-long trip of rafting and hiking through Colorado, with footage of the people 20 years later, now middle-aged and in different states of life.

Jim, the leader of the expedition, still acts as a river guide, and is very slowly building a small house in the woods. (The film’s best gag is a “One Year Later” cut to his building progression.) All but one of the other four characters became involved in politics, but have also found meaning in family life, either by obtaining it or after losing it.

Even after much of the film had made me skeptical with shallow meandering, the ending made up for it with a combination of interesting shots and poignant interviews. The basic truth is that most of the people have grown up, or in Jim’s case, proved that he truly found himself on that river. But even if that hippie life was a silly waste of time, what a delightful month it was.


“The Whole Ten Yards”
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13
(out of four)

(See “hackneyed sequel” for more information.)

If you thought the killer-gone-domestic story pretty much exhausted its possibilities in “The Whole Nine Yards,” “The Whole Ten Yards” proves you right. The sequel combines overacting and awkwardly forced comedy to avoid any distraction from how stupid the entire story is.

Matthew Perry plays Oz, a dentist who has been completely paranoid about the Hungarian Mafia killing him since the death of their boss at the end of the first film. He plays the aggravated, nervous shtick nonstop to the point that he never needs to act slightly perturbed in front of the camera again. The Mafia kidnaps Oz’s wife (Natasha Henstridge), who happens to be Jimmy’s ex-wife.

He hasn’t seen the former hit man, Jimmy, played by Bruce Willis for a long time, but he goes to him for help once the Mafia patriarch gets out of jail to speak with an allegedly humorous Hungarian accent and broadly hit his idiot son over and over and over and over again.

Willis and Amanda Peet as his wife, Oz’s former dental assistant who is turned on by murder, almost come out unscathed with their performances, but the script is so formulaic (to the point of repeating the same formula for every scene) that nothing can save them. “The Whole Ten Yards” is proof that subtlety is usually better than repeatedly hitting someone in the face really hard.
jeremy@red-mag.com

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