Heres the drill: Jane Fonda found love with cable news mogul Ted Turner and gave up acting, once again turning her life over to decisions made by a man in her life. Upon reading her new biography, you discover that shes a sponge, soaking up Tom Hayden or Roger Vadims orders, but never really creating her own persona. This, of course, made her a great actress. Well, Fonda and Turner are divorced and after nearly two decades shes back making a movie. Monster-In-Law sets back feminism and female empowerment, well nearly two decades. Fonda plays a drunken superstar television personality who hates the woman who might become her daughter-in-law. She and Jennifer Lopez spend the movie being abusive and conniving to each other and its a sad state of affairs. It degrades women. Coming off better is Michael Vartan as Janes hunky son. Fonda proves she can still act. Lopez proves she still cant act. The director, Robert Luketic, worships Vartans face and body with his camera, the way he worshipped Josh Duhamels face and body in Win A Date With Tad Hamilton. Luketic deserves kudos for recognizing the importance of pecs and abs, but I wish he had spent a little more energy tightening up the occasionally funny goings-on. After a while, the meanness between the ladies becomes tiresome and deadens the movie.
Sharkboy And Lavagirl 3-D is a zany childrens movie about bullies and dreams and its a delight. A pre-teen boy writes his fantasies in a journal and after a snot-nosed classroom punk teases him, the movie sends the good lad into dreamland where he has to rescue people he sees as being in trouble, like his squabbling parents. The movie is mostly in 3-Dimension, but has its 2-D moments as well. On-screen messages tell you when to remove your comfortable 3-D glasses. David Arquette, Kristin Davis, and George Lopez play adults and the film breezes along with jolts and thrills. The kid actors and actresses are terrific. When you go, sit in the center of the theater, somewhere between the fifth and fifteenth row for maximum 3-D fun. I tested various angles and closeness because I saw the feature with only two other critics in a cavernous auditorium.
Also on the childrens beat is Madagascar, a computer-animated adventure about animals from the New York Central Park Zoo - a hippo, a giraffe, a zebra, and a lion. The quartet desert the their comfortable confinement and end up in an alien landscape (at least alien to them). Its called the wild. The movies colorful and relaxing and perfect for little kids.
British actor Daniel Craig looks craggy. Thats good because hes giving British cinema a bit of a jolt. Craig has a physical presence, a Bogart quality that works well in movies about the lifes underbelly. Hes superb in the very entertaining new English gangster film Layer Cake, playing a drug dealer hoping to cash out and retire from the crime scene after pulling one last super-hot job. Just as things seem to be going perfectly, thugs appear with ideas vastly different from Mr. Craigs. The plot careens from point to point and the muck gets deeper and more fascinating. I saw the movie last October in Britain, and it was great fun seeing it with a London audience. This is the first feature directed by Matthew Vaughn, and he does a great job, creating a smart look of contemporary London. The movie has a tight screenplay by J. J. Connolly from his book of the same title. Layer Cake is the very latest in that fine old British gangland school of entertainment, and its terrific.
I dont want to be seen as a city name-dropper, but facts are facts. I saw Eros, the trilogy about desire at last years Toronto International Film Festival and hated it. I went especially because the Italian master himself, Michelangelo Antonioni directed one of the three segments. As I wrote back last autumn, as much as I respect Antonionis genius (Blow Up, Zabriskie Point, Red Desert, La Notte, The Passenger, LAvventura are masterpieces of ideas and/or images), his contribution to the tedious, idea-free Eros looked good but was like watching an empty void. Each of the three short films is about passion, but only Wong Kar-Wais color effort seemed alive. Steven Soderberghs black and white silliness with Alan Arkin and Robert Downey, Jr. about a shrink and his patient, respectively, was pointless.
Hippiedom never dies, it just lives on in different guises. Mark Bittner is a shaggy-haired, 50-something San Francisco resident who feeds a flock of nearly four dozen wild parrots that live near the cottage where he lives rent-free. As he lovingly introduces us to the brightly-plumed and noisy birds, and proudly shows us his photographs and journals, we learn a lot about animals and the symbiosis between us and them. The colorful documentary The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill is a bird lovers paradise. Directed by Judy Irving, its a fascinating, beautifully photographed peek into the problems and complications, adventures and dreams of humans and their relationship with the creatures of the world.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, a documentary nicely narrated by actor Peter Coyote and directed by Alex Gibney, doesnt tell you much more than you already know about the corporate Enron thugs who jacked up electricity prices in California, thus leading to the recall of Governor Gray Davis. Accountants fudged documents and files. Men and women lied, cheated, and stole. The pleasure I guess is seeing the dirty rats get their comeuppance. But the better documentary would have been more about the misery it caused the Californians who suffered and the Texans who worked for Enron and lost their jobs, life savings, their marriages, or committed suicide.
Winter Solstice is a family drama that is character driven. Anthony LaPaglia plays a New Jersey widower with a thriving landscape business and two teenage sons. After the death of their wife and mother, their lives are in a rut until a new neighbor, Allison Janney, shows up to bring a female touch to the goings-on. Will papa be renewed? Will the boys care about something other than shooting baskets in the yard? The acting is solid, especially from Mark Webber as the more rebellious son. Aaron Stanfords boy seems more emotionally troubled by the loss of his mother. Janney works to help the brood stop brooding, and thats all there is. Simplicity shouts. Josh Sternfeld directs this movie about male discontent with assuredness.
Another visitor eager to shake-up the cold American family doldrums is Uncle Nino, who pays a visit to his American relatives and turns their home into a flowerpot of Italian love and warmth. The movie is called Uncle Nino, and it has cult status in Michigan where its been playing at a theater in Grand Rapids for a year. Now released nationally, it cuddles your heart and tickles your soul. This is a sweetly innocent, utterly inoffensive film that reminds you that there are movie characters out there who can make a son feel that he is understood, give a daughter a puppy, help mom feel less neglected, and make dad see that too much work hurts everyone. Cloying? Of course. Sappy? You bet. A bad movie? Not at all. Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
The roll of the cinematic dice gets you charged up for new and recent releases now playing in metropolitan Buffalo. Its a casino of bijou dreams, and the range of genres and styles is truly wonderful.
The titles are: Uncle Nino, Layer Cake, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Eros, Monster-In-Law, Madagascar, Star Wars: Episode III The Revenge Of The Sith, Sharkboy And Lavagirl 3-D, The Parrots Of Telegraph Hill, and Winter Solstice.