The Norwegian director Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories) has made a beautiful film from Charles Bukowski's second novel—the one in which Bukowski surrogate Henry Chinanski (Matt Dillon) watches life pass by through the bottom of an empty bottle while partaking of a series of odd jobs, odder misadventures and a desperate relationship with a rudderless fellow traveler (Lili Taylor). Adapted by Hamer and producer Jim Stark and shot in Minnesota in bleak industrial hues, it's the closest any film has come, outside of the Bukowski-scripted Barfly, to distilling the author's world of lonely barrooms at noon, $500 cars, and desperate men and women who cling to each other less out of love than out of terror of loneliness. But this is also an acidly funny work, even if the humor is that of a man who drinks to stave off the pain and madness of sobriety. In his finest performance since Drugstore Cowboy, Dillon plays Chinanski with funereal grandiosity, breathing in every particle of his self-destructiveness like a long, slow drag from a cigarette, moving across the screen like a dinosaur trapped in tar. If it is true, as Bukowski reasoned, that "what matters most is how well you walk through the fire," Dillon does so with the supreme confidence of the incombustible. (Scott Foundas) (Edwards University, Irvine)
KABHI ALVIDA NAA KEHNA (NEVER SAY GOODBYE)
Karan Johar's Bollywood melodrama contains set pieces so spine-chillingly effective that people may still be talking about them 20 years from now: the most astonishing of these is a lavish up-tempo musical number in which veteran leading man Amitabh Bachchan and his dashing son Abhishek, clad in matching outfits of black and white and saturated red and clearly enjoying each other's company, strut their stuff amid spangled chorus girls. The sequence is executed with blissful smoothness, as are many others, although this surprisingly dark drama about the collapse of two marriages isn't as exhilarating overall as Johar's last major production, Nikhil Advani's Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003). The normally winning and ebullient Shah Rukh Khan bravely turns his superstar energy inward as an embittered, injured former soccer star who finds a soul mate of sorts in the sullen Maya (Rani Mukherjee), who never allows her doting husband (Abhishek Bachchan) to forget that marrying him was "the biggest compromise of her life." These soreheads seem so grimly determined to chip away at their well-meaning mates that we never develop a rooting interest in their relationship. That leaves the movie to be dominated pretty effortlessly by the Bachchans, with Abhishek turning in a powerfully anguished performance and Amitabh kicking up his heels as an aging playboy who relishes his own naughtiness. And as a director of melodramatic peak moments, Karan Johar has no peer: He stages a chance encounter on a New York street between an adulterous husband and the two women in his life with the slow-motion virtuosity of a soap-opera De Palma. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)
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Or, Ferris Bueller gets his B.A. In this amiable but undernourished campus comedy—the directorial debut of screenwriter Steve Pink (High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank)—industrious high-school underachiever Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) finds himself rejected from every college under the sun. So he starts his own, the South Harmon Institute of Technology, complete with facilities (an abandoned mental hospital), faculty (a belligerent former shoe salesman) and a fully functional website where admission is, quite literally, a click away. Soon, S.H.I.T. becomes a mecca for all the huddled masses turned away by the legitimate university system, with Bartleby presiding over a curriculum that includes classes on skateboarding and "walking around doing nothing." The joke, of course, is that the "fake" college is no worse—and in some ways better—than the high-ticket institute of higher learning down the road with its stuck-up faculty, inflexible course requirements and humiliating frat-hazing rituals. But like the brunt of current Hollywood comedies (with the notable exception of Talladega Nights), Accepted is an inspired premise in search of a movie: what starts out as a scabrous takedown of academic bureaucracy ends up yet another modestly rousing underdog story about the little slacker that could, his suitably beautiful object of desire (Blake Lively), her preening jock boyfriend and, yes, even a grandstanding courtroom finale. The cheat sheet in Pink's loose-leaf binder is Long, who's great fun to watch as he moves through the film with the shit-eating confidence of the kid voted most likely to succeed ... at grand larceny. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)
The immensely false assumption at the heart of this slapdash Hilary and Haylie Duff vehicle is that anyone would care if a couple of vapid, spoiled teen models suddenly lost their family fortune. You may find yourself longing for the intricate plotting and ensemble acting skills of the Olsen twins movies. The Duffs don't even fully commit to their characters here—they're seemingly undecided about whether they can get away with being shallow and bratty without ruining their family-friendly images. Haylie's slightly better at being bitchy, while Hilary would have us believe she's a whiz at chemistry. Director Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl) can do precious little with these two—every now and then the movie appears to be heading into slightly dangerous territory (a scary redneck throws a cat; Hilary has a gay-panic moment in jail), but almost immediately pulls back. Most embarrassing is a scene where Hilary tries to be seductive, Erin Brockovich–style—you'd think someone whose whole career is based upon her looks could successfully pretend to flirt. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)
SNAKES ON A PLANE
Only one question will need to be answered: Does the movie deliver what it promises? The answer, in this case, is yes, holy Jesus, yes: there are snakes up in that motherfuckin' plane, yo—fat snakes, skinny snakes, snakes with Groucho eyebrows and sporty little curled fangs. And with a passenger list of succulent nobodies serving as in-flight snacks, David R. Ellis' skybound shocker goes about its give-the-people-what-they-want mission with a crassness so single-minded it's positively gleeful. From a dozen straight-to-video thrillers, it swipes the old set-up with the dogged FBI agent (Samuel L. Jackson, by this point practically a high concept in himself) transporting a witness in protective custody. When the silly CG snakes finally show up—part of a showboating Asian American gangster's uniquely far-fetched assassination plot—they all but wink at the camera as they gouge eyes, barge in on the Mile High Club and give zipper-clenching new meaning to the term "trouser snake." There's something almost refreshingly venal about a movie with no purpose other than to meet intentions this cheesy. But a viewer can feel he's gotten exactly what he paid to see from this dream in-flight movie and still leave wondering, "Is that all I wanted?" (Jim Ridley) (Countywide)
TRUST THE MAN
See Film feature. (Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana)