Ang Lee's gay frontier weepie is reviewed in our Holiday Film Guide (Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana)
CAPE OF GOOD HOPE
Despite occasionally matching an abandoned dog to a new owner, the workers at Cape Town, South Africa's animal-rescue center know better than tfo trust in the goodness of the world. Especially doubtful is mission founder Kate (Debbie Brown), who's involved with a married man, and so screwed up that she doesn't see the romantic overtures of a kind widowed veterinarian (Morne Visser) as a healthy development. Meanwhile, Kate's Muslim receptionist, Sharifa (Juanita Adams), has yet to tell her sweet blowhard of a husband that she's been going to a fertility clinic, while Jean-Claude (Lumumba star Eriq Ebouaney), a Congolese astronomer working as the center's handyman, falls for a single mother named Lindiwe (Nthati Moshesh). Writer-director Mark Bamford and co-writer Suzanne Kay work hard to finagle happy endings for all these very nice people, but what makes their contortions bearable is the sense that neither the filmmakers nor their characters are naive boobs. Grounded in the easy rhythms of daily life, this charming little film shows unexpected grit in sequences set in the white household where Lindiwe works, a place so oppressive that it suddenly seems way past time for South African movie characters—and their home audience—to experience a dose or two of Hollywood-style wish fulfillment. (Chuck Wilson) (Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana)
THE FAMILY STONE
A potentially interesting tale flailing haplessly in the quicksand of holiday-movie formula, this domestic dramedy from writer-director Thomas Bezucha is most potently read in reverse of its intentions. In other words, it's about what sorry assholes a bunch of smug, self-appointed bohemians can make of themselves when confronted with a stranger who doesn't fit their strenuously oddball bill. The outsider in question is Meredith, an anal-retentive, compulsively throat-clearing Manhattanite in a power suit, nicely played by Sarah Jessica Parker. One feels for the poor control freak, arriving with her long-suffering boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) for holiday cheer with a WASP-y New England clan poised to savage her for the sin of not being creative types like themselves. Waiting rather obviously in the wings are the usual holiday-movie ingredients: breakups and makeups, romantic re-shuffles, epiphanies, death and birth, and saintly minorities—a gay, deaf son (which may be gilding the lily a touch) and his African-American boyfriend—to soften the sting of the family matriarch. This will take some doing, for though Diane Keaton is very good in the role, Sybil Stone is such an acidic, passive-aggressive Yankee bitch, it's all but impossible to get onboard for her, despite copious silent reaction shots implying that she harbors an unhappy secret worthy of our sympathy. Bezucha has wisely instructed his actors not to overdo things la Home for the Holidays, and The Family Stone has a capable cast that includes Claire Danes as Meredith's warmer sister, Rachel McAdams as an excessively candid Stone-let, and Craig T. Nelson as the mild-mannered dad. But it's telling that the most appealing family member is Ben (a very good Luke Wilson), a laid-back film editor who breezes in from Berkeley to soften all blows. (Ella Taylor) (Countywide)
Amanda (Lisa Brenner), a Manhattan ad exec, is haunted by shadowy memories of an emotionally intense and possibly violent event that occurred when she was 12 years old and summering at the bed-and-breakfast her grandmother (Louise Fletcher) owned on a remote island off the coast of Maine. Now, Grandma has died, and Amanda is back on the island for the first time in years, to settle the estate and unravel family mysteries. Writer-director Lawrence David Foldes, who's been working the direct-to-video beat since producing 1979's Malibu High, has made a film that has a lot going for it—gorgeous location scenery, a series of gracefully integrated flashbacks and a cast of seasoned pros, including the ever-beautiful Genevive Bujold and the late playwright-actor Jason Miller in his final performance. But what the director doesn't have at his disposal is a sensible script. Overly reliant on portentous voice-overs from Amanda, and weighed down by silly subplots involving her lovelorn friends and lecherous boss, Finding Home (which was co-written by Foldes and Grafton S. Harper) moves slowly and deflates completely when the over-hyped family secret turns out to be a dramatic dud. Still, it's an awfully pretty movie. Let's all summer in Maine. (Chuck Wilson) (AMC at the Block, Orange; Edwards University, Irvine; UA Marketplace, Long Beach)
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See Film feature. (Countywide)
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA
Rob Marshall's spectacular but slight take on Arthur Golden's bestseller was reviewed in our Holiday Film Guide. (Edwards Big Newport, Newport Beach)
NEIL N' NIKKI
The normally sharp instincts of Yash Chopra, the executive producer and distributor of this strident sex comedy, seem to have deserted him this time, perhaps because he was distracted by his quixotic determination to launch his youngest son, Uday, as a romantic leading man. Effective in the past in comic "best friend" supporting roles, Uday Chopra is a somewhat alarming mixture of the nerdy and the muscle-bound, without quite settling comfortably into either persona. In Neil N' Nikki he plays an NRI horse-farming heir in majestic British Columbia who plans a wild outing to the fleshpots of Vancouver to "get some action" on the eve of his arranged marriage. The movie is really a double launch, with the other title role played by rubber-faced elf Tanisha Mukherjee, who has her sister Kajol's killer eyebrows but not her pinpoint comic timing. But nepotism can't account for the movie's stylistic horrors. Writer-director Arjun Sablok, a TV-veteran with visual A.D.D., has pitched the candy-colored cuteness at frenzy that verges on hysteria. There is some fascination in the early Vancouver sequences, in which horny Neil keeps bumping into the initially unappealing Nikki, an obstreperous blackout drunk. This meet-nauseous premise strongly recalls the mega-hit Korean romantic black comedy My Sassy Girl (2001), which could signal an emerging trend: The show I attended included a trailer for the movie I wish I had been watching—Zinda (Alive), a re-make by gonzo Bolly-noir stylist Sanjay Gupta (Musafir) of Park Chan-wook's hipster-approved shocker Oldboy (2003), only with songs and Sanjay Dutt. I'm so there. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)