||House of Sand and Fog
||Jennifer Connelly loses her house in a tax auction to an Iranian family headed by Ben Kingsley. It turns out her loss was a bureaucratic mistake but Kingsley won’t sell the house back to the county for less than its true market value. Have you paid your real estate tax yet? Anyway, a lot of bad things happen between these two foes and it ends up being a very depressing story.
||Passion of the Christ, The
||A very impressive recreation of one of the most famous stories from the Bible. It spans the day that Jesus was arrested and crucified with occasional flashbacks to earlier events in his life. In an unusual turn for an American film, all the dialog is in Aramaic and Latin, with English subtitles. The scenes in which Jesus is brutally beaten by Roman soldiers are very graphic and very protracted, though the camera is not fixed on Jesus the entire time. And the crucifixion is also quite graphic. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen so much movie violence over the years, but I have to say that critics who are claiming this is the most violent movie they’ve seen are overreacting. Certainly I’ve never seen anyone beaten so extensively, and I won’t belittle how disturbing that is, but I have personally been more shocked by other instances of film violence.
||“Respiro” is Italian for “breath.” This is a very good “slice of life” movie shot entirely on the island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea. It is actually closer to Africa than to Italy. And life there is closer to 1952 than 2002. In “Respiro” we see the people of this small fishing village and focus on one family in particular. The mother (the beautiful Valeria Golino) is considered too free-spirited by the other villagers and they plot to send her to a sanitarium in Milan. Meanwhile the oldest son is very protective of his mother and does everything in is power to prevent this. Within the PG-13 rating the film contains some nudity not in a sexual context. You may be surprised to learn that you’ve probably seen Valeria Golino before in such films as “Frida,” “Leaving Las Vegas” or “Rain Man” (though not in leading roles).
||Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
||A very unusual romantic comedy starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. This is a very toned-down Jim Carrey, not the buffoonish clown that normally comes to mind. The premise that you have to accept to go along with this story is that a medical procedure is available which can completely erase your memory of somebody you would like to forget. In this case, Jim is dating Kate but she employs a doctor to erase him from her memory rather than simply breaking up with him. When he finds out, he hires the same doctor to erase her. The core of the movie is the series of dreams & nightmares he has while, one by one, the memories of her are erased. If I say any more I will reveal too much. I liked this very original story, though they might have done well to shorten the extended sequence of dreams. It is worth mentioning that this was written by the same man who wrote “Being John Malkovich.,” and though it is not quite as weird as that movie, it is just as original.
||School of Rock, The
||There is a lot of fun in this movie but the real stars are the child actors. Jack Black, who is obnoxious as usual, plays a washed-up guitar player who has high hopes of forming a band that will win a statewide contest. When his own band fires him, he obtains a teaching position, under false pretenses, at a private school where he is assigned a fifth-grade class. He proceeds to teach the kids how to play rock-n-roll and, unbeknownst to the principal, plans to enter them in the contest. While this is no “Mr. Holland's Opus,” Black does succeed in forming a band with these talented 10-year olds. Joan Cusack is very funny as the uptight principal. The one thing Black has going for him is that his love of rock-n-roll is very sincere, as he is a guitar player and wrote some of the original music for this film. Trivia: the screenwriter, Mike White, appears in the film as Jack’s nerdy roommate.
||Davaa, Byambasuren & Luigi Falorni
||Story of the Weeping Camel, The
||German production (”Die Geschichte vom weinenden Kamel”) but the dialog is in Mongolian with English subtitles. An interesting glimpse of a nomadic family in Mongolia. One of their camels gives birth to an albino camel but the mother rejects it. So a large portion of the story consists of the family’s efforts to get mother and baby together for the baby’s survival. Not sure how much of this was real and how much was prescripted. How did they know the baby would be albino?
||Chinese (Mandarin): “Yao a yao yao dao waipo qiao.” A week in the goings-on of a large Mafia family in Shanghai is seen through the eyes of a naive teenage boy who is brought into the “family business” as a servant to the boss’s mistress (Gong Li). Very intriguing story beautifully photographed. Proceeds at a fairly easy-going pace, so don’t expect an action picture. Although R-rated, most of the violence is off-screen; but you are shown the bloody aftermath. The only time I felt they crossed the line on anything was an episode where the boy was suffering from the runs and they made his plight a bit too real.