Hidden Malevolence
A ghostly world.
By Lois Wadsworth

THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (Spain): Directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro. Written by Antonio Trashorras, David Muñoz. Executive producers, Agustin Almodóvar, Berta Navarro. Production director, Esther Garcia. Music, Javier Navarrete. Cinematography, Guillermo Navarro. Art director, Cesar Macarron. Costumes, Jose Vico. Starring Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Iñigo Garcés, Fernando Tielve, Irene Visedo, Victor Barroso, Javier Gonzalez, Daniel Esparza, Adrián Lamana and Berta Ojea. Sony Pictures Classics, 2001. R. 106 minutes.

A united front: Luis (Victor Barroso), Owl (Javier Gonzalez), Marcos (Daniel Esparza), Jaime (Inigo Garces), Carlos (Fernando Tielve) and Galvez (Adrian Lamana).
Director, writer, producer Guillermo del Toro's bloody-minded ghost story set in a remote orphanage for boys during the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone, is an international hit. Born in Mexico and strongly identified as an influential contemporary Mexican filmmaker, del Toro (Cronos, Mimic) now lives and works in Hollywood, where he just finished post-production on Blade 2, a mass market movie due out later this month.

But del Toro's favorite genre, like that of Chilean born Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Almenábar (The Others, Abre Los Ojos), is clearly horror movies. And in Devil's Backbone, he exercises (not exorcises) many of the genre's spooky conventions: furtive shadowy figures darting across doorways; wispy half-human figures peering out windows; sigh-like sounds and whispers echoing in empty rooms; objects that move or break as if by an angry but invisible hand; horrifying underwater sequences. Beyond spookiness, the atmosphere he creates plays directly into the mindset of the pre-adolescent boys who scare themselves nightly with stories of the ghost of a missing boy, Santi (Junio Valverde).

A little history is useful here. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was between ultra-conservative fascists supported by Hitler and Mussolini and left-wing republican forces supported by the Soviet Union. International supporters like American writer Ernest Hemingway drove ambulances or fought for the Reds and denounced the right, led by Gen. Francisco Franco, who was Spain's dictator until just before his death in 1975.

In the film, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) hasn't been told that his father died fighting the fascists, but he is homesick when abandoned at a school run by republican sympathizers. Right away, a bigger, older boy, Jaime (Iñigo Garcés) challenges the newcomer to a middle-of-the-night foray into a locked building they're forbidden to enter. Carlos gets trapped inside when Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), a sadistic former student who now works at the school, comes in, moves aside a false cabinet front and tries a key to open a safe he thinks holds gold ingots. But Carlos sees Jacinto and is visited by the mysterious ghost of Santi.

Other significant characters include Carmen (Marisa Paredes of Pedro Almo-dóvar's films), a wooden-legged widow who runs the school; Dr. Cásares (Federico Luppi), who cares for the boys as best he can; and Conchita (Irene Visedo), who loves Jacinto.

All the adults have secrets, so it's no surprise the boys spend most of their time and energy trying to unravel mysteries and reveal the truth. By the end, a gruesome battle has taken place between the boys' protectors and Jacinto's destructive intentions. The boys find the courage to fight for themselves, which has led reviewers to note the film's similarity to The Lord of the Flies (1963), in which English school boys deserted on an island revert to savagery as an adaptation to their changed lives. Del Toro's ending is marginally more comforting.

Opens at the Bijou Friday, March 15. Effective, clever, chilling.

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Films open the Friday following date of EW publication unless otherwise noted.

Devil's Backbone: Guillermo del Toro directs and co-authors this gothic ghost story. Graphic violence set in 1930s Spain at a remote orphanage. Effective, clever and chilling. R. Bijou. See review.

Eight Men Out: Reenactment of a tragic baseball scandal. David Strathairn, D.B. Sweeney and John Cusack give excellent performances. Written and directed by John Sayles. PG. 6:30 pm, on 3/16 at Lorane Grange Hall, Lorane.

Harrison's Flowers: Andie MacDowell is the wife of a missing, presumed dead, photographer. She sets off to find him and bring him home. Also David Strathairn, Elias Koteas. Directed and produced by Elie Chouraqui. R. Cinemark.

Hart's War: Drama set in WWII Nazi concentration camp involves war hero Bruce Willis who commands his fellow inmates. A murder in camp leads to a daring scheme. Film rides today's patriotism wave. R. Movies 12.

Ice Age: Chris Wedge directs the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, and Goran Vizjnic in this digitally animated story of prehistoric creatures trying to save a human child. G. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Journey of Hope (Turkey, 1990): Academy Award winner of Best Foreign Film, this tale of a Kurdish family relocating to Switzerland, on foot across the Alps, never played Eugene theaters. PG. At 7 pm on 3/14 in 180 PLC. Free.

Ocean's Eleven: Steven Soderbergh's remake stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Andy Garcia. This gang plans to hit several Las Vegas casinos on the same night. Soderbergh never disappoints. PG-13. Movies 12.

Resident Evil: Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez play commando leaders trying to save the world in this action thriller based on the video game. R. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Rollerball: John McTiernan directs this action thriller starring Chris Klein, LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as players that Rollerball creator (Jean Reno) puts in danger on the court. PG-13. Movies 12.

Rookie, The: Dennis Quaid stars as baseball coach who makes a deal with his team and ends up trying out for a minor league contract. Also with Rachel Griffiths. G. Sneak at 7:30 pm 3/16. Cinemark.

Showtime: Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro spoof TV cop shows. Also starring Rene Russo and William Shatner. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Ali: Will Smith plays Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann's film. Also stars Jon Voight, Giancarlo Esposito, Mario Van Peebles. Academy noms for Smith, Voight. Brilliant film, true to Ali's spirit; biting in its exploration of racism, 1964-1974. Very highest recommendations. R. Movies 12. See review.

All About the Benjamins: Miami bounty hunter Ice Cube and bail jumper Mike Epps team up to take advantage of some hot diamonds in Kevin Bray's comic action drama. R. Cinemark.

Amelie: Jean Pierre Jeunet's popular hit film about loneliness in the city stars Audrey Tautou as a shy French pixie who meddles in the lives of her Paris co-workers, family and neighbors. Worth seeing twice. Academy noms for foreign language film, art direction, sound, cinematography, original screenplay. R. Bijou. See review.

Beautiful Mind, A: Inspired by the true story of a mathematical genius whose great discovery came early in his career, Ron Howard's film stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly. Stunning work by Crowe and Connelly, both nominated for Academy Awards, along with the film, Howard, writer Akiva Goldsman. Highly recommended. PG-13. Cinemark. See review.

Behind Enemy Lines: John Moore directs this military drama, which has Gene Hackman as a naval officer and Owen Wilson as the hot dog pilot who sees where the bodies are buried in a war-ravaged country. PG-13. Movies 12.

Big Fat Liar: Frankie Muniz ("Malcolm in the Middle") tries to prove sleazy Hollywood producer (Paul Giamatti) turned his class paper into a hit movie. Directed by Shawn Levy. PG. Cinemark.

Birthday Girl: Jez Butterworth's dark comedy stars Nicole Kidman as a Russian mail-order bride for a hapless small-town bank clerk, Ben Chaplain. Her "cousin" and his pal visit on her birthday. Kidman is always worth watching. R. Movies 12. See review.

Black Hawk Down: Ridley Scott directs this true story based on the mission-gone-wrong of American special forces in Somalia, 1993. Stars Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Ron Eldard and Sam Shepard. AFI award for best picture; academy nods for Scott, cinematography, sound, editing. Highest recommendations. R. Cinemark. See review.

Count of Monte Cristo, The: Alexandre Duma's classic tale of wrongful imprisonment and revenge stars Jim Caviezel, Dagmara Dominczyk, Guy Pearce and Richard Harris. Scenes in prison are the film's best; much else is overblown. PG-13. Cinemark. See review.

Dragonfly: Widower Kevin Costner seeks help from Sister Madeline (Linda Hunt) as he grieves for his wife. Also stars Kathy Bates, Joe Morton. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Forty Days and 40 Nights: Josh Hartnett plays a high school heartthrob who gives up all sex for 40 days and nights. Then the girl of his dreams, played by Shannyn Sossaman, walks into his life. R. Cinemark. Cinema World

Gosford Park: Robert Altman's comedy of manners, upstairs and downstairs, in a 1932 English country house. Fine performances and a splendid look at class warfare, with a nasty, satiric edge. Academy Award noms to picture, Altman, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren and screenwriter Julian Fellowes. Highest recommendations. R. Bijou. See review.

John Q: Denzel Washington, father of a boy who needs an organ transplant, does desperate things. With Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Kimberly Elise, Ray Liotta. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Kate and Leopold: Sappy looking time travel romance stars Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, who has been accidentally fast forwarded to today's New York from the 19th century. James Mangold directs. PG-13. Movies 12.

Kung Pow: Steve Oedekerk acquired a 1976 Hong Kong Karate film, placed himself digitally into it, redubbed the other characters and shot new scenes. Here it is. PG-13. Movies 12.

Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring: The first book in J. R. R. Tolkien's literary trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson and shot entirely in New Zealand stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee. Academy Award noms: picture, director, McKellen, screenplay, original score, song, art direction, cinematography, costumes, sound, visual effects, editing. Highest recommendations. PG-13. Cinemark. See review.

Majestic, The: Jim Carrey, blacklisted H'wood writer loses his memory but finds a new life in a 1950s small town. Directed by Frank Darabont (The Green Mile). With Bob Balaban, Martin Landau and Laurie Holden. PG. Movies 12.

Not Another Teen Movie: Directed by MTV producer Joel Gallen, high school comedy involves a bet a jock (Chris Evans) takes to turn a nerdy girl (Chyler Leigh) into a prom queen. Duh! R. Movies 12.

Orange Country: Colin Hanks and Jack Black star in Jake Kasdan's teen comedy about a transcript mix-up. PG-13. Movies 12.

Return to Neverland: Disney animated tale of the rebellious 12-year old daughter of grown up Wendy (from Peter Pan). Pete's still around, and he tries to help her. G. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Royal Tenenbaums, The: Wes Anderson directs this critically acclaimed film that looks at a family of geniuses who turn out to be simply neurotic. Stars Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover and Bill Murray. AFI Award: Hackman. Academy noms to Anderson and Wilson's screenplay. Much sweeter on second seeing. Highest recommendations. R. Movies 12. Online archives.

Shallow Hal: Jack Black plays a neurotic womanizer who gets hypnotized into seeing right through Gwyneth Paltrow's fat suit. Word is the Farrellys are uncharacteristically good humored. Hmmm. PG-13. Movies 12.

Slackers: Teen comedy stars Devon Sawa, Jason Seagal and Jason Schwartzman and is directed by Dewey Nicks. R. Movies 12.

Snow Dogs: Brian Levant directs Cuba Gooding Jr. in this Disney tale of a man who goes to Alaska to claim his inheritance a team of sled dogs with their own minds. With James Coburn, M. Emmet Walsh and Graham Greene. PG. Cinemark.

Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted 2002 Festival of Animation: More of what you've come to expect from Spike and Mike. 18 and older only. Bijou.

Super Troopers: Five Vermont State Troopers with not enough to do create havoc on the highway. Written by and starring a five-man comedy troupe, Broken Lizard. R. Cinemark.

Time Machine: Guy Pearce (Memento) stars in this remake of H.G. Welles sci-fi novel, directed by Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt). Creator of time machine is hurled 800,000 years into the future, where he finds there are only hunters and the hunted. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Waking Life: Richard Linklater explores dreams vs reality in 30 episodes. Film itself is a dream, the result of a live action film digitally painted. Stars Wiley Wiggins and a cast of 60. Highly recommended. R. Bijou. See review.

We Were Soldiers: Mel Gibson stars as Lt. Col Hal Moore who led his men in the brutal battle for La Drang Valley in the Viet Nam war. Based on Moore's memoir. Directed by Randall Wallace, also stars Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliot, Chris Klein, Keri Russell and Barry Pepper. R. Cinemark. Cinema World. See review.

Use the links provided below for specific show times.

Bijou Art Cinemas
Bijou Theater 686-2458 | 492 E. 13th

Regal Cinemas
Cinema World 342-6536 | Valley River Center
Springfield Quad 726-9073 |

Cinemark Theaters
Movies 12 741-1231 | Gateway Mall
Movies before 12:30 are Sat. Sun. only. $1.50 all shows all days.
Cinemark 17 741-1231 | Gateway Mall

Releases subject to change. Available the Tuesday following date of EW publication, sometimes sooner:

Because Why: Arto Paragamian directs this independent film starring Michael Riley as a young man trying to find a place for himself. NR.

Charcoal People, The: A film documenting the struggle of migrant workers in Brazil who are exploited as the rain forest around them is destroyed. In Portuguese with English subtitles. NR.

Donnie Darko: A complex and pessimistic story about a teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his mental illness, with a giant rabbit and a little time travel thrown in. R.

Focus: Based on an Arthur Miller drama about working-class anti-Semitism, starring William H. Macy, Laura Dern, David Payner, and Meat Loaf PG-13.

Lemonade Joe: A 1964 Czech-made musical spoof on cowboy movies. An absolute original. NR. Facets Video release.

Riding in Cars with Boys: Drew Barrymore stars in Penny Marshall's film about a woman who wants to be a writer but ends up with a baby at 15 and a junkie husband. Based on a true story. PG-13.

Risk: Alan White directs Bryan Brown, Tom Long and Claudia Karavan in this film about insurance scams and fraud. R.

Training Day: Directed by Antoine Fuqua, this cop show features a rookie nark (Ethan Hawke) who spends his first day with a rogue senior officer (Denzel Washington). With Scott Glenn, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre. R.

Next week: Life as a House, K-PAX, Original Sin, Our Lady of the Assassins, Iron Monkey, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, and Bread and Tulips.

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