Bad News Bears. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue.
The Beat That My Heart Skipped. (Not Rated) A rare Gallic remake of an American film, director Jacques Audiard's reworking of James Toback's 1978 movie Fingers concerns an intense young man who is torn between a life of crime and a career as a concert pianist -- hardly your usual dilemma. A character study, the film succeeds in large measure due to the kinetically charged performance of Romain Duris (L'Auberge Espagnol) as the conflicted musician Thomas, whose day job -- collecting delinquent rents and evicting tenants for his unscrupulous real-estate partners -- is leaving an increasingly bad taste in his mouth. Abandoning the wheeling and dealing also means turning his back on his father, an aging slumlord who increasingly relies on his son to do his dirty work. The aggressive but intimate camera work -- hand-held, lots of close-ups, usually from Thomas' point of view -- and fast editing style perfectly reflect the emotional agitation of the tightly wound protagonist. In French, with English subtitles. (Jean Oppenheimer)
The Devil's Rejects. (R) It begins with a good old-fashioned gunfight, as the police come a-callin' to the homestead of the homicidal Firefly clan, with destructive results. Before long, Mama (Leslie Easterbrook) is captured, and Otis and Baby (Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie, respectively) are on the run, seeking help from Baby's dad, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). While hiding out, Otis and Baby amuse themselves by torturing, raping, and killing. Meanwhile, the lawman on their trail, Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), becomes steadily more and more obsessive, seeing himself as a vigilante ordained by God. If you're the sort who likes having at least one well-intentioned character to root for, go watch a John Cusack movie. Here you'll see bad people fight even worse people. The cast is full of cool cult actors past and present, and the movie is great at what it does. It's also brutal as hell, and not everyone will have the stomach for it. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Heights. (R) First-time director Chris Terrio and playwright Amy Fox attack the big questions of life -- art, love, the pursuit of happiness -- like a couple of nervy kids diving off the high board into the pool. The result is a kind of quirky, high-toned soap opera in which five striving New Yorkers of the "creative class" have to make hard decisions about their futures in a period of 24 hours. Elizabeth Banks is the photographer with cold feet about her upcoming wedding, Glenn Close the Broadway diva whose husband has gone astray, Jesse Bradford the idealistic young actor with issues, John Light the magazine writer struggling with his new assignment -- a notoriously difficult British photographer who's invaded all the other characters' lives, more or less. Despite some post-adolescent melancholy, this is a promising debut; sad to say, it is also the last film produced by Ismail Merchant, overseer of the universally respected Merchant Ivory Productions. (Bill Gallo)
Hustle & Flow. (R) Reviewed in this issue.
The Island. (PG-13) The new Michael Bay extravaganza is a bit of reheated science fiction -- a mad scientist, a brave new world, and a pair of rebels on the run -- shoehorned into the usual summer-movie orgy of bang, flash, and crash. The hero and heroine (Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson) are programmed clones who've been cooked up in a lab, and when they learn the truth -- they exist only as organ donors for their purchasers -- they escape imprisonment, bolt for Los Angeles, and manage to survive dozens of skyscraper detonations, vehicle smash-ups, and other assorted mayhem. As usual, Hollywood hitmeister Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) is more interested in blowing stuff up than in addressing deep questions like the morality of science and the false myths of civilization, and these explosions go on for over two hours. With Sean Bean as the current Dr. Frankenstein and Djimon Hounsou as a ruthless security cop who's converted to the runaways' cause. (Gallo)
Me and You and Everyone We Know. (R) A winner at both Sundance and Cannes, this romantic comedy/drama follows an ensemble cast of characters, each of whom is trying to connect with another. Critics and audiences alike have been swooning over the picture's writer/director, multimedia performance artist Miranda July, who also stars. Why everyone is so gaga is a mystery. As an actress, she is annoying as hell, with a quirkiness so labored, she seems to be begging for our affection. As a director she is much better, and much of the film's success rests with three of the younger stars, as well as with John Hawkes, who plays the adult male lead. They project a spontaneity that's absent from July, whose every gesture, facial expression, and utterance feels calculated. She seems desperate for the audience to find her adorable. Judging from the praise being heaped upon the film elsewhere, many people do. (Oppenheimer)
The Year of the Yao. (PG) In this delightful, warmhearted documentary about Chinese basketball sensation Yao Ming, directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo follow their subject through his 2002-'03 season with the Houston Rockets, his first in America. The film begins as Yao prepares to leave China and ends as he returns to the mainland for the off-season. In between, we watch as he is thrust into a maelstrom of culture shock, media attention, and intense professional pressure. In fact, Year of the Yao is really the story of two rookies, both Yao and his translator, Colin Pine, a charmingly green twentysomething equally stunned by the blinding headlights of obsessive media attention. Committed to easing his client's transition, Pine introduces Yao to the fundamentals of American culture (video games, road rage, and shopping); he also supports Yao emotionally, offering encouragement during his initial struggle. Thanks to Pine's presence, the film deepens considerably, portraying a real friendship, a relationship forged quietly amid a deafening storm of distraction. The mutual respect and gratitude are clear. (Melissa Levine)