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ABOUT SCHMIDT: Directed by Alexander Payne. Written by Payne and Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Louis Begley. Produced by Harry Gittes and Michael Besman. Executive producer, Bill Badalato. Cinematography, James Glennon. Editor, Kevin Tent. Music, Rolfe Kent. Production design, Jane Ann Stewart. Costumes, Wendy Chuck. Starring Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis and Dermot Mulroney. With Howard Hesseman, Helen Schmidt and Len Cariou. New Line Cinema, 2002. R. 124 minutes.
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) sits in an austere office with white, labeled boxes lining the walls, watching the clock on his final working day. Warren lives in Omaha, Neb., and like the city's crumbling core, he is in slow decline, a gradual petrifaction of attitudes, grievances and ambition. At the end of the day, Warren goes home to his wife, Helen (June Squibb). That evening they attend Warren's retirement party, a sad affair where other members of the Woodmen of the World Insurance Company toast him with half-hearted platitudes. At 66, Warren feels discarded, used up, and when his wife dies suddenly a few days later, he thinks his life is over.
It's enigmatic that what revives Warren's interest in life is his desire to stop his only child, Jeannie (Hope Davis), from marrying an underachieving waterbed salesman, Randall (Dermot Mulroney). Somehow, that old macho urge inspires Warren to shake off his depression and get on the road for Denver. He stops along the way at the house where he was born, his college fraternity and various Winnebago watering holes. Warren's encounters are mostly funny in a dark sense, but a few real gaffes are nearly unbearable. He inhabits the flat landscape, the false heartiness and superficial connections that Middle America's strangers share, until one night when he sleeps on top of the Winnebago, under the stars, and clumsily reaches for salvation.
While Warren stays at the cluttered Denver home of Randall's doting mother, Roberta Hertzel (Kathy Bates), he's seriously not up for the honest but crude emotional interchanges between Roberta and her ex-husband, Larry (Howard Hesseman). That's to say nothing of how unprepared he is to accept Jeannie as an adult. His one comfort comes from the letters he writes to an African boy he has "adopted" for $22 a month, Ndugu. Warren spills his guts, giving voice to all the pent-up feelings that he shares with no one else in his life.
The audience I saw the film with laughed from the first sight of Nicholson to the last, which puzzled me as it did theater director and performer Sparky Roberts, who was also there. Was it nervous laughter? Or was it anticipatory? Did people expect Nicholson to raise his eyebrows, wink or perform act his wiseass Jaaaack's here shtick? (Nicholson doesn't do any of his tricks or show off. He plays it straight.) I think people saw themselves reflected in the film, and the experience made them uncomfortable. To members of a large, notorious generation obsessed with youth culture, growing old and being alone are terrors uneasily explored.
Alexander Payne's (Citizen Ruth, Election) close observations are uncanny because they don't rely on an ironic sense of superiority. Neither sentimental nor cruel, Payne looks right at Warren and shows the spiritual, psychological emptiness of his life as well as his tentative steps toward asking the right questions. Nicholson's performance of this impatient, taciturn actuary may be the best of his late career, even better than witty, acerbic romance novelist Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets (1997), a performance that earned his third Academy Award.
Now playing at Cinemark, About Schmidt is highly recommended.
EROTIC TALES: Produced by Regina Ziegler and WDR, a German television network. Twenty-four short films from new and veteran international filmmakers, including Hal Hartley (USA), Melvin Van Peebles (USA), Bob Rafelson (USA), Susan Seidelman (USA), Susan Streitfeld (USA), Nicolas Roeg (UK), Ken Russell (UK), Eoin Moore (Germany), Mani Kaul (India), Mika Kaurismäki (Finland), Fridik Thór Fridiksson (Iceland), Amos Kollek (Israel), Paul Cox (Australia) and Antonis Kikkinos (Greece). All prints are 35 mm. Foreign language films have English subtitles.
Tired of rehashes of movies you've seen before? Fed up with formula movies and special effects vehicles? Here's your chance to see really interesting short films by creative and inventive international filmmakers. Sponsored by the EMU Cultural Forum, the first batch of films kicks off on Friday and Saturday nights, Jan. 10 and Jan. 11, at the Bijou Arts Cinema, at approximately 11 pm.
Amos Kollek's short film, Angela, reminds me of the films of Krystof Kieslowski, particularly his Decalogue. The subject here is a man just reaching his 70th birthday, who lives alone and fears that his last chance for love has passed him by. But when he receives an erotic telephone call from a woman, he rebuffs her. His analyst encourages him to fill up his life, exercise, get out more. He spies on a woman from his apartment who wields a whip and humiliates a man. His curiosity is piqued.
Jos Stelling's film, The Gas Station, is hilarious. Traffic jam. Nothing's going on. Boring. Nearly out of his mind with the tedium of waiting on the expressway during rush hour, a man flirts with a good looking young woman in the car behind him. She blows him off. But he persists. And persists. Finally, she gets interested. And so it goes. This film does not suffer from a lack of dialogue.
Hal Hartley's Kimono is very different in style from any of his work that I've seen before, and it is achingly beautiful. A Japanese bride in a Western style wedding dress is shut out of a car, which drives off, leaving her standing at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. Her white dress and veil billow around her as she walks into a meadow, then into the woods, crawling on her hands and knees through a thicket. Observed by elegant wood spirits that she senses, she makes her way to an abandoned house, where she falls into sleep. When she awakens, a beautiful, traditional silk kimono awaits her. Like a poem or a piece of music, this exquisite piece of cinema speaks to the soul.
If these three films fairly reflect the quality, beauty and ingenuity of the other 21 in the series, and in good faith I believe that they do, try to see as many of them as you can. They are truly wondrous and bracingly original. Very highest recommendations.
Erotic Tales Film Schedule
The 24 short erotic films in this project will be shown between Friday Jan. 10 and Thursday Jan. 30, LateNite (11 pm or so) at the Bijou Arts Cinema. The films are divided into eight groups. One group of three films will be shown once nightly for two or three consecutive nights.
« Jan 10-11
ANGELA (US, 2000), written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Amos Kollek. Set in Manhattan, it's about a man whose 70th birthday leads him to wonder if he will have one more affair. 28 minutes.
THE GAS STATION (The Netherlands, 1999), written and directed by Jos Stelling. What could possibly happen on the expressway during rush hour? Stelling's answer is charming, funny and explicit. No dialogue. 28 minutes.
KIMONO (US, 2000) Written, directed and music by Hal Hartley. A woman in a wedding dress is evicted from a car. No dialogue. 26 minutes.
« Jan 12-13, and Tues. Jan 14
THE DUTCH MASTER (US, 1994), directed by New York filmmaker Susan Seidelman. A young woman is seduced by a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 26 minutes.
THE CLOUD DOOR (India, 1994), written, directed and edited by Mani Kaul. In ancient Rjasthan, a talking parrot leads a young man to the bedchamber of his beloved, a princess. 28 minutes.
THE INSATIABLE MRS. KIRSCH (UK, 1994), directed by Ken Russell. The misadventures of a man who is fascinated by a beautiful, intriguing woman. 25 minutes.
SAMBóLICO (Brazil, Finland, 1996), written, directed and edited by Mika Kaurismäki. A Finnish orchestra conductor and a young woman, who is fleeing, meet briefly in Rio de Janeiro during samba season. 30 minutes.
THE ELEPHANT NEVER FORGETS (Germany, 1996), directed by Ketlev Buck, a Berlin Film Academy graduate and former farmer. Wry, comedic tale involves a traveling circus, a countess rescued from a traffic accident and an elephant trainer. 29 minutes.
THE WAITING ROOM (The Netherlands, 1996), written and directed by Jos Stelling. What could possibly happen in the crowded waiting area of a municipal train station? No dialogue. 25 minutes.
« Jan 18-19
DREAM A LITTLE DREAM (Greece, 1999), directed by Antonis Kokkinos. An architect, days before his wedding, has a recurring, somewhat disturbing dream. 27 minutes.
ON TOP DOWN UNDER (Iceland, Australia, 2000), written and directed by Fridik Thór Fridiksson. On the same day, a young woman in a lighthouse on a cold winter evening and a young man in the blazing Australian outback remember a passionate afternoon. No dialogue. 27 minutes.
THE NIGHT NURSE (Germany, 2000), written and directed by Bernd Heiber, film school graduate. A policeman on the border between Germany and Poland guards a gangster, who is incarcerated in a sweltering emergency ward. A night nurse appears. 28 minutes.
« Jan. 20-22
THE SUMMER OF MY DEFLOWERING (US, 2000), written and directed by Susan Streitfeld. A video artist who decides to lose her virginity chooses a divinity student with whom to do it in a Los Angeles motel called The Garden of Eden. 29 minutes.
POWERS (Czech Republic, 2000), written and directed by Petr Zelenka. A magician possesses supernatural powers. 28 minutes.
WHY DON'T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD? (Germany, 2000), written and directed by Eoin Moore. A postmodern artist proposes a tryst in the middle of Potsdamer Platz, Berlin's busiest intersection. 28 minutes.
« Jan. 23-24
CAN I BE YOUR BRATWURST, PLEASE? (US, 1999), directed by Rosa von Praunheim. A young man from the Midwest hopes to make it big in Hollywood. He's invited to Christmas dinner by all the guests at his motel. 29 minutes.
GEORGIAN GRAPES (Georgia, 1999), directed by Georgi Sheneglaya. A young woman who works in the vineyards is ignored by her husband until ... 29 minutes.
THE RED GARTER (Switzerland, 1999), written, directed and music by Markus Fischer, based on a short story by Juan Marsé. A young woman has an unpleasant encounter with a young man in her apartment building. 29 minutes.
« Jan. 25-27
WET (US, 1984) Written and directed by Bob Rafelson. An attractive woman arrives shortly before closing time at a luxury bathroom showroom to buy a tub for two. 25 minutes.
VROOM, VROOOM, VROOOOM (US, 1994), written, directed, edited and music by Melvin Peebles. A timeless tale of a pimply young man who only wants two things in life. 27 minutes.
TOUCH ME (Australia, 1994), directed and edited by Paul Cox. Friendship between two women — an artist and her model. 26 minutes.
« Jan. 28-30
SWEETIES (Italy, 1995), written and directed by Cinzia Th. Torrini. A woman of a certain age misses the amorous attention of her now disinterested husband. She finds some magical sweets, but they come with a price. 29 minutes.
HOTEL PARADISE (UK, 1995), directed by Nicolas Roeg. A bride-to-be on the morning of her wedding day, wakes up in a strange hotel room handcuffed to a naked man she does not know. 29 minutes.
DEVILISH EDUCATION (Poland, 1995), written and directed by Janusz Majewski, one of Poland's distinguished filmmakers. A naughty tale set at the turn of the century. One afternoon, a milkmaid bathes in a river. Before introducing himself, a stranger in black paints her picture. 28 minutes.
Adaptation: Director Spike Jonze again teams with writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) for a film that blurs the boundaries between reality and fictional representations of it, such as movies. Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman trying to hold back the terrors of writer's block while writing a screenplay of Susan Orlean's book, The Orchid Thief. Meryl Streep plays Orleans, and Chris Cooper's an avid orchid collector. R. Cinemark.
Antwone Fisher: Denzel Washington directs and stars in the true story of an alienated African American sailor (Derek Luke) and the Navy psychiatrist who helps him find himself. Critics say Washington and Luke overcome sentimentality to create an enduring work. PG-13. Cinemark.
Biggy and Tupac: Nick Broomfield's controversial film tries to uncover a link between the shooting deaths of rapper Tupac Shakur (Las Vegas, 9/13/96) and that of Biggie Smalls (LA, 3/9/97). R. LateNite Bijou.
Carnosaur: Roger Corman's 1993 gratuitous gore "with some sweet shots at genetic engineering, poultry farming and Earth Firsters." R. 7:30 pm on 1/15 in 100 Willamette. Free.
Erotic Tales: Twenty-four short films by international filmmakers offers unique opportunity to see really creative and compelling cinema. First three films are Angela (US, 2000), written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Amos Kollek, The Gas Station (The Netherlands, 1999), written and directed by Jos Stelling, and Kimono (US, 2000), written, directed and music by Hal Hartley. Highly recommended. NR. LateNite Bijou. See review this issue.
Extreme Ops: Extreme sports athletes accidentally photograph a war criminal hiding out in the Austrian Alps and must out- ski and snowboard his avengers. Stars Devon Sawa, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Rupert Graves and Rufus Sewell. Directed by Christian Duguay. PG-13. Movies 12.
Field, The (UK, 1990): Richard Harris was an Oscar nominee for his role in Jim Sheridan's (My Left Foot) grim tale about working the family land in Ireland after an American buyer (Tom Berenger) shows up. Co-stars Brenda Frickert. PG-13. At 7 pm on 01/09 in 180 PLC. Free.
Gallipoli (Australia, 1981): Peter Weir's memorable film about a notorious WWI battle between Australia and German-led Turks at Gallipoli. Friendships between soldiers is human theme. Early Mel Gibson film. PG. At 7 pm on 1/16 in 180 PLC. Free.
Guantanamera (Spain, 1995): This comedy is the last collaboration of directors Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tobia. A Cuban singer comes back to Spain after 50 years and dies. Friends, family take her remains back to Havanna. NR. At 7:30 pm on 1/14 in 122 Pacific. Free.
Just Married: This honeymoon from hell is directed by Shawn Levy and stars Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy and Christian Kane. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Kangaroo Jack: Taking mob money to Australia, two New York doofuses loose it to a kangaroo. Stars Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson, Christopher Walken and Dyan Cannon. David McNally directs. PG. Sneak at 7 pm on 1/11, 3 pm on 1/12. Cinemark.
Narc: The New York Times' Elvis Mitchell says writer, director Joe Carnahan's second movie is "a believable, fleshed-out film where men's worst impulses lead to their ruin" and notes that it's about "a guilt-ridden cop who has nowhere to turn." Stars Jason Patric and Ray Liotta. R. Cinemark.
Bowling for Columbine: Michael Moore takes on America's love for guns in his usual abrasive, in yo' face manner. He covers the Columbine High School shootings, and doesn't let national chain gun sellers off lightly. He also goes toe-to-toe with Charlton Heston, in an abrasive and bullying manner. A major hit documentary at Cannes, it's been rightly challenged for its sloppy journalism in this country. R. Bijou. Online archives.
Catch Me If You Can: Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio have fun in this chase movie about Frank Abagnale Jr., an actual con man of the 1960s who passed himself off as a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and a college professor and forged millions in checks while still in his teens. Christopher Walken plays his father, and Tom Hanks plays the F.B.I. agent determined to capture him. Highly recommended. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark. Online archives.
Die Another Day: Pierce Brosnan returns as James Bond for a new mission that takes him to Iceland in this action adventure yarn directed by Lee Tamahori. Costars Halle Berry, John Cleese and Judi Dench, with Rosamund Pike. Evil enemies played by Toby Stephens and Rick Yune. PG-13. Cinemark.
Eight Mile: Set on the gritty streets of Detroit, Curtis Hanson's greatly anticipated film stars Eminem in his first screen role, Kim Basinger as his mom. Also, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer and Taryn Manning. Recommended. R. Movies 12. Online archives.
Empire: John Leguizamo stars in this tale of a drug dealer getting out of the life for a straight job on Wall Street. But of course it's not simple to live down the past. Great supporting cast includes Peter Sarsgaard, Denise Richards, Ruben Blades, Sonia Braga and Isabella Rossellini. Directed by Franc Reyes. R. Movies 12.
Far From Heaven: Director Todd Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman deliver an exceptionally beautiful, emotionally resonant film. Excellent performances by Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert and Patricia Clarkson. One of the very best pictures of the year. Very highest recommendations. PG-13. Bijou. Online archives.
Gangs of New York: Martin Scorsese's epic film about New York gangs in the mid-1800s. Leonard DiCaprio plays an Irish Catholic hoodlum seeking vengeance from his father's killer, played by Daniel Day-Lewis as the leader of the Protestant gangsters. Both are caught up in the notorious Civil War draft riots that rock the city. Also stars Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly and Jim Broadbent. Written by Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan and Jay Cocks, this is one of the year's great films. Very highest recommendations. R. Cinemark. Cinema World. Online archives.
Ghost Ship: Steve Beck's horror film about an ocean liner missing since 1935 that turns up in the Bering Sea. Stars Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard and Isaiah Washington. R. Movies 12.
Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets: Again directed by Chris Columbus, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) try to uncover a dark force terrorizing Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. G. Cinema World. Cinemark. Online archives..
I Spy 2: CIA super agent (Owen Wilson) and undefeated boxer (Eddie Murphy) hate each other at first sight, but they have to track down a missing stealth bomber. PG-13. Movies 12.
Jackass: The Movie: Based on the MTV series, more dangerous and silly stunts. R. Movies 12.
Jonah: A Veggietales Movie: Christian-themed direct-to-video franchise goes big screen in this version of Jonah and the Whale. Biblical figures are played by talking vegetables. Directed by Mike Nawrocki and Phil Vischer. G. Movies 12.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Directed and re-imagined by Peter Jackson, part two of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy follows the ring-bearer Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) deeper into enemy territory, with Gollum (Andy Serkis) as their guide. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John-Rhys Davies) try to rescue Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). New characters, a surprise return and great battles. Director Peter Jackson's second masterpiece. Very highest recommendations. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World. Online archives.
Maid in Manhattan: Ralph Fiennes is a well-off politician staying at a swank New York hotel. Jennifer Lopez is a single-mother maid working there. He sees her dressed in a guest's clothing and falls for her, like Richard Gere fell for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Not too enlightened nor original an idea. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding: It's about the 30-year old, unmarried daughter (Nia Vardalos) in a passionate but demanding Greek NY family, who meets the man she to marry (John Corbett), but he isn't Greek. This sweet romantic comedy entertains. Run-away independent hit of 2002!. Recommended. PG. Cinema World. Movies 12. Online archives.
Ram Dass Fierce Grace: Mickey Lemle's documentary biography of Richard Alpert, aka Ram Dass. His friends and family recollect his life, and he tells great anecdotes. But the heart of the film is Ram Dass's work and his openness to change, infirmity and death. Very highest recommendations. NR. Bijou. Online archives.
Santa Clause 2: Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) begins looking for the perfect Mrs. Claus, because if he doesn't get married by Christmas Even, he'll stop being Santa forever. G. Movies 12.
Signs: Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix in this supernatural thriller about crop circles. Also stars Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.
Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams: Robert Rodriguez says his sequel has lots of action, is fun and nobody dies. Stars Antonio Banderas, Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega. PG. Movies 12.
Star Trek: Nemesis: Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise face an alien race and some personal clones, including Picard's personal nemesis. Stars Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Ron Perlman, Tom Hardy. Dir. by Stuart Baird. PG-13. Cinemark. Online archives.
Stuart Little 2: Stuart goes to school now, and he has big brother George and baby sister Martha to play with. But a mysterious bird named Margalo involves everyone in an adventure. Voices of Michael J. Fox, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, Geena Davis and more. PG. Movies 12.
Sweet Home Alabama: Andy Tennant directs the fabulous Reese Witherspoon in this comedy about a hot fashion designer who returns to the South to get a divorce from scruffy hubby #1 (Josh Lucas) so she can marry rich Patrick Dempsey. PG-13. Movies 12.
Treasure Planet: Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure set on a spaceship that runs into hazards like black holes and supernovas. Animated film directed by Ron Clements and John Musker includes voices of Emma Thompson and Martin Short. PG. Cinemark.
Tuck Everlasting: The story of a teenager (Alexis Bledel) who wants to get away from her mother (Amy Irving). Lost in the woods, she meets a boy named Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson). His family (William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Scott Bairstow) has a secret spring that makes one immortal, and they're trying to keep it safe from Ben Kingsley. PG. Movies 12.
Two Weeks Notice: Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock star as a very, very rich man and his lawyer. When she quits, and he replaces her with Alicia Witt, she reconsiders. Written and directed by Marc Lawrence (The Out-of-Towners). PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.
Wild Thornberrys, The: In this animated film, Eliza Thornberry (Lacey Chabert), a girl who talks to and understands animals, goes to Africa with her parents, nature filmmakers, and her best friend, a chimp. Other voices: Rupert Everett, Marisa Tomei, Tim Curry, Brenda Blethyn, Lynn Redgrave and Obba Babatunde. PG. Cinemark.
XXX: Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson star in this athletic spy thriller directed by Rob Cohen. PG-13. Movies 12.
About a Boy: Nick Hornby's popular British novel about a rich London rake (Hugh Grant) who invents an imaginary son to meet women who are single parents. But instead he finds a troubled boy (Nicholas Hoult), who teaches him to grow up. Directed by Chris and Paul Weltz, it also stars Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz. Highest recommendations. PG-13. Online archives.
Blue Crush: Directed by John Stockwell, this romantic surfer adventure stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight) and Matthew Davis. PG-13.
Undercover Brother: Action comedy directed by Malcolm D. Lee and written by John Ridley stars Eddie Griffin, who adopts the garb of blaxploitation era private detectives to go undercover. PG-13.
Next week: The Bourne Identity, Dinner Rush, 101 Dalmations, Ordinary Decent Criminal and Tadpole.