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Home / Articles / · Archive / Film & TV /  Coach Carter, Elektra, Racing Stripes ...
Film & TV

Coach Carter, Elektra, Racing Stripes ...

By Scott Renshaw, Greg Beacham & Mary Ann Johanson
Posted // June 11,2007 -

NEW THIS WEEK


Information is correct at press time. Film release schedules are subject to change.


Coach Carter **


Yes, it’s uplifting to hear about a man who tried to impart the lesson that academics are more important than sports. But how hard is it to take a movie about that man seriously when it seems to suggest exactly the opposite? This fact-based story casts Samuel L. Jackson as Ken Carter, who took over as boys’ basketball coach for academically-challenged Richmond (Calif.) High School in 1999, turned the losing program around—then benched his undefeated team for failing to meet his strict standards for classroom performance. Director Thomas Carter (no relation) knows his way around a hoops court—he played Hayward on The White Shadow—and the film addresses the community’s rough edges with refreshing honesty. But Coach Carter doesn’t trust its own “books before ball” message, falling back on standard sports-movie structural dynamics. That’s particularly inexcusable when the last half-hour focuses on a Big Game that takes place after the team members have already learned their most important lesson. By dragging the narrative out past its true, off-the-court climax, Coach Carter sends pandering mixed signals. Opens Jan. 14 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—Scott Renshaw


Elektra


[not yet reviewed]


Jennifer Garner reprises her Daredevil role as a ninja-trained hottie. And is there truly any more geekalicious description of a woman? Opens Jan. 14 at theaters valeywide. (PG-13)


House of Flying Daggers ***.5


See review p. 46. Opens Jan. 14 at Broadway Centre Cinemas and theaters valleywide. (R)


In Good Company ***


See review p. 45. Opens Jan. 14 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)


Racing Stripes **


At last, a movie for everyone who thought that all Babe was missing was a few more fart and poop jokes. In this sad reminder of what passes for “family entertainment” nowadays, a widowed ex-racehorse trainer (Bruce Greenwood) rescues a baby zebra left behind by a circus, bringing Stripes home to be raised by his teen daughter (Hayden Panettiere). But—get this!—the animals talk to each other when people aren’t around, allowing Stripes (Frankie Muniz) to voice his dream of racing against thoroughbreds. Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Moore, Joe Pantoliano, David Spade and Whoopi Goldberg are among those who supply other critter chatter, mostly consisting of bad puns and nudging pop culture references amidst the perfectly acceptable lessons in following your dream and not being species-ist. It all might have been harmlessly enjoyable, if not for all the obligatory scatology. Memo to all the parents who fume over Nicolette Sheridan’s bare back yet drag their 4-year-olds to see bad taste passed off as kid-friendly humor: You’re part of the problem, too. Opens Jan. 14 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—SR


Undertow **.5


After bringing a tone-poem lyricism to his first two films set in the rural American South (George Washington and All the Real Girls), David Gordon Green alerts you early on that he’s adding a touch more Gothic to his Southern this time around. That would be when teenager Chris (Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell) jumps from a roof onto a nail stuck to a board, hammers down the sharp end and proceeds to run screaming with the board attached to his foot. It’s just one of the many unpleasant visions in this thriller about how Chris and his younger brother Tim (Devon Alan) get caught up in the painful history between their reclusive widower father (Dermot Mulroney) and long-absent Uncle Deel (Josh Lucas). Working again with remarkable cinematographer Tim Orr, Green creates a gritty tale of strained family bonds with some effective performance moments, but the stylized 1970s vibe—everything from copious freeze-frames to a title card complete with Roman numeral copyright date—and graphic violence feel like affectations. For some filmmakers, trying to do genre pieces looks as uncomfortable as a poke in the foot with a sharp nail. Opens Jan. 14 at Tower Theatre. (R)—SR


SPECIAL SCREENINGS


The American Astronaut


At Tower Theatre Midnight Movies, Jan. 14-15. (R)


Timecode: Selections from the Utah Independent Film Archive


At Marriott Library Gould Auditorium, Jan. 18 @ 12 p.m. and Jan. 19 @ 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. (NR)


UTAH ARTS ALLIANCE SHORT FILM FEStival


At Brewvies, Jan. 13-14 (NR)


Works from Along the Wasatch Front


At Utah Film & Video Center, Jan. 14, 8 p.m. (NR)


CURRENT RELEASES


The Aviator ***


On a fundamental level, Martin Scorsese’s version of the life of Howard Hughes is nothing more than a series of snapshots of the oft-mythologized millionaire (Leonardo DiCaprio). But snapshots are never as kinetic or riveting as The Aviator manages to be at its best, even if the stretches between the best are bumpy. Covering the two decades of Hughes’ greatest influence, Scorsese creates several brilliant set pieces to accompany Cate Blanchett’s astonishing performance as Katharine Hepburn. He also can’t resist more distracting cameos—Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner—or avoid the problem of DiCaprio in a mustache still looking like a high school student play-acting at being a grown-up. Get past the filler and the stunt casting, and you’ve got vintage Scorsese visual riffs that get more out of a genius-turned-to-madness tragedy than standard biopic rhythms. (PG-13)—SR


Blade: Trinity *.5


Wesley Snipes’s vampire hunter returns in a tedious third installment of his nocturnal adventures in supernatural slaughter, the inevitable watering-down of once intriguing characters and situations compensated for by cranking up the fetishized violence and cinematic lovemaking to guns, blades and bullets. The one really original concept here is that, hey, the longbow can be a way-cool bringer of mayhem, too. This time out, Blade battles the “patriarch” of all vampires (Dominic Purcell), who was “born perfect” and has all sorts of intriguing demonic powers like shape-shifting, yet is still no match for a mere pseudo-vampiric dude with a mean Eddie Munster widow’s peak. Unfortunate additions to the crew include the uncannily bland Ryan Reynolds and the remarkably generic Jessica Biel as “hip” Van Helsings. He cracks wise and she grooves to her iPod while on their bloodsucker-killing sprees—it’s vigilantism played as inconsequentially as an intense workout. (R)—MAJ


Beyond the Sea **


So Kevin Spacey apparently really dug Bobby Darin and wanted to write, direct, sing, act and dance the entertainer’s life story—bully for him. But we’re the ones who are going to have to suffer for his hubris. He seems to think he can get away with it by making a freewheeling sort of meta-biography, with Spacey-as-Darin making the film of his own life, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is essentially an exercise in vanity. Spacey briefly gets at something interesting in attributing Darin’s intense ambition as a product of his physical frailty and desire for immortality, except it’s practically an afterthought. Mostly it’s a greatest hits package of Darin’s career, his romance with Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) and his family tensions. All the cool, hummable music is no more than the soundtrack CD would get you. As a film, this “dream project” is anything but dreamy. (PG-13)—SR


Closer **


You’d expect a movie with this much sex talk in it to be ... well ... sexier. That’s ostensibly the point: Look how cold and passionless contemporary relationships are! Certainly Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman are lovely to look at, sliding through their sleek London lives, cheating and lying and hurting those they purport to love. But even this impressive cast and director Mike Nichols can’t keep sitting through the film from feeling like a chore. One imagines that Patrick Marber, adapting his own stage play, sees this as a modern drawing-room comedy, full of sharp, witty observations on how cruel people are to one another. But this isn’t a mature exploration of why adult relationships can sometimes be so childish. It’s just faux-sophisticated adults who think they’re smart doing all they can to avoid real intimacy, and learning nothing at all from their romantic misadventures. (R)—MaryAnn Johanson


Fat Albert *.5


In the early 1970s, Bill Cosby created an animated series based on his childhood pals in North Philly, a gentle vessel for life lessons that diversified Saturday morning TV’s lily-white landscape—and he sullied that legacy by signing off on this pointless live-action version. Kenan Thompson plays the rotund cartoon, who dives into the real world with the gang when he senses that high schooler Doris (Kyla Pratt) needs help. But she couldn’t possibly need more help than this script by Cosby and Charles Kipps, a tired conglomeration of fish-out-of-water moments and sincere speeches that mostly ignores the Roger Rabbit-esque possibilities of cartoon characters existing in reality. And don’t count on My Big Fat Greek Wedding director Joel Zwick to add flavor to the proceedings. Sure, it’s inoffensive—unless you consider it offensive that so much money is shoveled into dead-on-arrival nostalgia acts like this. Hey hey hey, stay away. (PG)—SR


Finding Neverland ****


Oh, this is a magical film, one that transports us not only to another, more delightful, place and time—a slightly idealized Edwardian England—but to within the vivid flights of fancy of a writer whose fantastical inventions of Neverland, Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell continue to mesmerize us a century after their debut. This isn’t the precisely true story of how J.M. Barrie was moved to write the play, but it does take its inspiration from reality. A perfectly cast Johnny Depp, as the writer and a man immersed in his own imagination, combines the exhilaration of a child at play with an adult melancholy that comes from being profoundly aware of the fleetingness of moments of unbound joy. And director Marc Forster, with a light, playful touch, gives us seamless transitions from reality to fantasy, seeing the world simultaneously through the eyes of both child and adult. (PG-13)—MAJ


Flight of the Phoenix ***


There’s an element of the preposterous in this remake of the 1965 film of the same name—but who cares? It’s a rip-roarer of a flick, bristling with adventure and suspense, pulled off by a director (John Moore, Behind Enemy Lines) who knows what makes a movie too popcorny good to be dismissed. Dennis Quaid deploys his usual charm as the hotshot pilot who crashes his C-119 plane into the ass end of the Gobi desert. He’s carrying a load of oil-rig-worker passengers and their oh-so convenient cargo of welding equipment, gas generators and Craftsman tools—just what’s needed to, say, build a new plane from the wreckage and fly the hell out of there. It’s nowhere near so easy to do, of course, not when fun-scary Giovanni Ribisi’s apparently joonbug-loony airplane designer is the one who suggests such a wacky plan. Absurd it may be, but it’s still wonderfully gripping. (PG-13)—MAJ


The Incredibles ***


All right, Pixar, this is what you get for setting the standard for contemporary movie magic: You make something that’s only really good, and it feels like a disappointment. Writer/director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) spins the tale of a middle-aged ex-superhero (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) who emerges from forced retirement and suburban hell to face an old nemesis, bringing his super-powered family along for the ride. Beginning with an homage to Connery-era Bond—a late-1960s setting, brassy music, underground lairs—Bird crafts something that’s clever and satisfying. When all is said and done, though, The Incredibles is essentially another superhero action-adventure movie, one that covers thematic ground already hashed out more effectively in Spider-Man and X-Men movies. It’s a fast, fun ride in a world where making a fast, fun ride is too often the goal. We’ll have to settle for mere quality rather than genius. (PG)—SR


Kinsey **


There’s only a little bit of nookie in this profile of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and it’s a clinical, cringing sort of action. Liam Neeson gives a sharp-eyed portrayal of the film’s humorless, indefatigable subject, the Indiana University human behaviorist who dragged sexual education into the 20th century. But writer-director Bill Condon’s film moves to a standard biopic metronome, with conflicts and dalliances and resolutions proceeding with tidy tedium. Condon then stretches awkwardly to find movie-worthy drama in the third act, detailing Kinsey’s boring battles to find funding, or the petty squabbles among his lieutenants. Sure, you’ll see frontal nudity from Peter Sarsgaard and a killer scene from Bill Sadler as a voracious bisexual pedophile, but it doesn’t shed much light on the research’s impact on the world. Kinsey was many things—but he’s not all that cinematic. (R)—Greg Beacham


Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events **


Using the language of narrator Lemony Snicket, how do we define the appropriate expression for what Jim Carrey does to this adaptation of material from Daniel Handler’s first two Snicket books? Carrey plays Count Olaf, the dastardly actor who becomes caretaker to the orphaned Baudelaire children—14-year-old Violet, 12-year-old Klaus and bite-happy infant Sunny—so that he can acquire the fortune to which they are heirs. This is the stuff of classic kid-lit—orphaned protagonists, dark themes—and when the young stars are the focus, director Brad Silberling’s version occasionally lives up to the source material, despite groan-inducing and sometimes inappropriate captions for Sunny’s babbling. Then Carrey, whose riff-heavy Grinch already spoiled one beloved children’s tale, will intrude with a funny voice or a silly disguise—and no, it’s no excuse that the character is a show-off actor. The appropriate expression is “ham”—a word which here means, “not kosher.” (PG)—SR


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou ***.5


It’s not actually Wes Anderson’s smartly poignant film that’s stuck in the ’70s, though it might seem so at first glance. It’s Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) himself, a once-celebrated maker of nature documentaries now trying to salvage his legacy. Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach weave the disconnect between Zissou’s reality and the reality he’s trying to show to the outside world into nearly every scene, creating a funny, sad portrait of coming to terms with who you really are. Throw in weird stop-motion creatures by Henry Selick and great supporting work by Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum, and you’ve got an effort that should even confound those who’ve griped at the ironic distance in Anderson’s Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. This one is all about manipulation of perception to achieve an effect. The Life Aquatic shows that the bravest act is showing the side of yourself that’s not a fictional character. (R)—SR


Meet the Fockers **.5


One takes pleasures where one finds them, and one could do a lot worse than finding pleasure in Dustin Hoffman’s performance in this otherwise tepid sequel to Meet the Parents. Two years later, it’s time for Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) to introduce his future in-laws to his own parents—Barbra Streisand as sex therapist mother Focker, and Hoffman as dad. Much forced clashing between the hippie-fuzzy Fockers and suspicious, tight-sphinctered ex-CIA man Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro) ensues, all directed by Jay Roach with an elbow to the ribs. It’s all part of the Theater of Humiliation brand of comedy, but Hoffman’s role as the emotionally open Bernie Focker is a keeper—this clunky contraption feels lighter on its toes thanks to his crinkled smiles. And yeah, La Barbra has fun, too, making it a lot more entertaining meeting the Fockers than meeting anyone we already knew from the original film. (PG-13)—SR


National Treasure **.5


Or, The Da Vinci Clone. Stealing the thunder—and the basic premise—of a planned adaptation of Dan Brown’s megabestseller, this Jerry Bruckheimer production casts his favorite Everyhero Nicolas Cage as heir to a family obsession with a mythical hidden treasure. Knights Templar, Freemasons and a series of clues unlocking a history-changing mystery are involved as Cage chases down clues (including one supposedly hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence), so you can see where the comparison to Brown might be the teensiest bit apropos. And you can also see why the concept is so popular, as director Jon Turtletaub crafts a fast—if incredibly dumb—treasure hunt, one that throws historical detail into the mix so chewing on brain candy actually feels like mental exercise. If you don’t think about it too hard, it’s the kind of kernel that ultimately makes for a fluffy piece of popcorn cinema. (PG-13)—SR


Ocean’s Twelve **.5


For one 15-minute stretch—a brilliant sequence showcasing Julia Roberts as Tess Ocean, now the twelfth member of husband Danny’s (George Clooney) crew—Ocean’s Twelve snaps with the kind of energy and pop smarts that made Ocean’s Eleven such an irresistible treat. But for too much of this sequel—which finds the group reunited when Eleven’s victimized hotelier Andy Garcia tracks them down and demands payback—it feels like the cast is simply riffing and enjoying a European vacation on the studio’s dime. While there are fun bits of business strewn throughout, director Steven Soderbergh and company never find a focus. With every winking cameo appearance, the film appears less concerned with telling a story than with bathing in its own Hollywood cool. Eleven actually felt like a movie with characters; Twelve, amusing though it may be at times, is a feature-length Friars’ Club roast. (PG-13)—SR


The Phantom of the Opera **


Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher join forces for this adaptation of the überpopular musical about a disfigured specter (Gerard Butler) haunting the Paris opera house—and the romance between Christine (Emmy Rossum) and Raoul (Patrick Wilson)—in 1870. Those who find Lloyd Webber’s work excruciating probably won’t be won over by this version; it’s also the case that his somewhat defensive supporters (*cough*) may be left disappointed. Melodrama like this may only work on the stage, where grand gestures don’t look quite so silly in 12-foot-high close-up. And where Schumacher doesn’t send his camera swooping into the catacombs through cracks between stones. And where the guy playing the Phantom can actually, you know, carry a tune. The production is suitably sumptuous, and Minnie Driver does fine, funny work as the opera’s resident diva. Otherwise, Phantom proves yet again that movies were never meant to be Lloyd Webber’s medium. (PG-13)—SR


The Polar Express *.5


One would like to grit one’s teeth and request, in an insistent parental tone, that director Robert Zemeckis use his inside voice. He’s blown up a quietly magical Christmas Eve train trip to the North Pole into an advertisement for a Runaway Polar Express theme-park attraction surely coming soon to a Six Flags near you. Shall pajama-clad child passengers be put in mortal peril along the way, as the train fishtails across iced-over lakes and zooms down grades so steep that they have no use for the laws of physics? Why not? It’s Christmas, after all! Sadly, Zemekis fails even in his attempt to re-create the delicate luminousness of Chris Van Allsburg’s achingly lovely oil-and colored-pencil illustrations in the picture book upon which the film is based. There’s a fake, plastic sheen to photorealistically animated human faces that even competent voice performances by actors such as Tom Hanks can’t overcome. (G)—MAJ


Ray ***.5


To portray a beloved cultural figure in an Oscar-bound biopic, Jamie Foxx divests himself of a sensitive actor’s most effective tool: his eyes. And he’s astonishing anyway, using his whole body--just as the man he’s playing, Ray Charles, did--and his own background as a classically-trained pianist to express himself eloquently, with nothing overblown or cartoonish in what is more an evocation than an impersonation. There’s no pity--the film makes it clear that Charles would’ve had none of it, anyway--and a surprising toughness here, as the typical rags-to-riches, sex-drugs-and-R& story is imbued with real soul. Drawing greatly on Charles’s roots in poorer-than-poor sharecropping Florida and on a family tragedy he witnessed as a boy, Ray conjures up a compelling depiction of the roots of creativity and the ambitious drive behind success as phenomenal as Ray Charles’s. Oh, and the music is spectacular, too. (PG-13)--MAJ


Sideways ****


Director Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Election) moves to the head of his class of American filmmakers with this exquisitely nuanced tale of nearly-middle-aged male bonding. During a weeklong trip to central California wine country, a frustrated writer named Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his actor friend, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), indulge in booze, women and Xanax—and Payne creates humor and enlightenment out of a rather ordinary road trip setup. With hungry actors reveling in their meaty roles, with a thousand Easter eggs of character development hidden within his frames, Payne makes a film that vibrates with authenticity, warmth and optimism. His four films are a small chorus of our time, with a thousand voices saying beautiful small things in a language we all speak. Oh, and his script is also funny as hell. In a movie about stalled lives, everything is in perfect motion. (R)—GB


Spanglish **.5


James L. Brooks couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate title for his film: It tries hard to say two things at the same time, and ends up saying neither of them particularly well. It’s framed as the story of Flor (Paz Vega), a single mom Mexican immigrant whose desire for a better life for her daughter leads her to Los Angeles, and eventually a housekeeping job with the wealthy Clasky family. They’re played by Adam Sandler (as a sweetly understanding chef) and Téa Leoni (as his super-achiever wife), and Brooks sets us up to think the story of their marital crisis will matter as well. But the Claskys’ tale is never resolved, as though TV veteran Brooks is setting up a next episode that will never come. While Brooks knows how to craft great punch lines, great individual scenes and impressive comic performances, everything in Spanglish is about bits and pieces. (PG-13)—SR


The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie ***.5


With The Incredibles and The Polar Express already in theaters, who’da thunk that this would turn out to be November’s most ridiculously entertaining animated film? The big-screen debut of Stephen Hillenburg’s Nickelodeon undersea characters finds the titular sponge (Tom Kenny) and Patrick the starfish (Bill Fagerbakke) on a quest to recover the crown of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor). Hillenburg and his writing team walk a hilarious tightrope between the sophistication and the sophomoric, filling the screen with visual gags that cross boundaries of age. As for character design, tell me there’s anything in the kajillion-dollar CGI spectacles as brilliant as the look of SpongeBob the morning after an all-night ice cream bender. Throw in a couple of priceless musical numbers, and you’ve got smart silliness on a Rocky-and-Bullwinkle level. Plus, how awesome is a movie where a climactic scene takes place on the hairy thighs of a jet-propelled David Hasselhoff? (PG)—SR


A Very Long Engagement ***.5


This labor of love for Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet combines a particularly Gallic comic sensibility with the nightmare of the Great War trenches. It leaves you not despairing at the cruelty of humankind, but inspired by the hopeless hope that allowed those caught up in it to survive. That wonderful weirdness and ruthless barbarism can coexist here without lessening the appeal of the first or the enormity of the second is a triumph to be savored. You’ll be tempted to ask for a cheat sheet to keep track of the sprawling cast of characters and the enchantingly convoluted, time-jumping plot, but you won’t need it. This small, lovely story against an enormous background is filtered through Audrey Tautou’s quick but dreamy Mathilde, who is searching for her lover who was lost on the battlefield but may not be dead. If you’re along with her for the ride, you’ll be fine. (R)—MAJ


What the Bleep Do We Know? *


It’s an audacious, fresh idea for a movie: Physicists, scientists, professors and at least one chiropractor stands in front of a camera, each expounding theories about nearly everything in the universe from quantum mechanics to the existence of God. In between, Marlee Matlin wanders around Canada running into alternate versions of herself to illustrate several metaphysical principles. Yes, it’s audacious and fresh—and it’s also some of the most execrable, pseudointellectual, morally disingenuous psychobabble-rific hooey ever to reach the big screen. It pretends to illustrate new ways of thinking or looking at life’s big questions when it’s actually begging everybody to look at everything from the same arrogant-grad-student perspective. More than that, it’s horribly boring for the longest stretches, particularly when Matlin’s baffling metaphor thing is going on. It’s simultaneously impenetrable and laughably simplistic, and almost none of it is watchable. I don’t know much, but I know what sucks. (NR)—GB


White Noise *


There may be a horror film to be concocted from the daily harassment we face at the hands of modern communications appliances—cell phones, boom boxes, televisions, and the like—but this is not it. Though, oh, how mightily it tries to make you jump out of your skin with radios that turn themselves on mysteriously and ghostly figures that emerge from TVs to toss apartments like rampaging kindergartners on a sugar high. Mostly, this is 101 minutes of poor Michael Keaton, clearly atoning for some horrible sin, becoming increasingly obsessed with staring at his TV, fiddling with the VCR and enhancing the recorded static on his computer, convinced that his dead wife is trying to communicate with him from beyond the beyond. If you think watching your own videotapes rewind is boring, you can only imagine how much more snooze-inducing it is to watch someone else rewind his. (PG-13)—MAJ


The Work and the Glory **.5


If you’ve been longing for a return to the halcyon days of sweeping historical made-for-TV melodramas like The Bastard and Roots—well, here’s something, anyway. Adapting the first volume of Gerald N. Lund’s bestselling series, writer/director Russ Holt sends us back to 1826 Palmyra, New York, where recently relocated brothers Joshua (Eric Johnson) and Nathan Steed (Alexander Carroll) will be divided by love for the same woman (Tiffany Dupont) and the controversial teachings of one Joseph Smith (Jonathan Scarfe). The much-touted $7.5 million budget does contribute to a great-looking production, and some surprisingly effective supporting performances. Too bad the central relationship involves actors whose prime qualifications appear to be pretty faces. It’s solid enough fare at times, but you’re still dealing with material that screams vintage miniseries. So congratulations, Mormon cinema: You’ve now succeeded at matching Hollywood for technical proficiency and dramatic adequacy. (PG)—SR

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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