Brother Bear. Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker. The setting is prehistoric Alaska, where woolly mammoths still walk the earth but every other creature is contemporary. The Inuit people are around, and they all speak like contemporary Caucasians, possibly because, voice-cast-wise, they are. Hunter Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) is about to become a man and receive the totem that will guide him through life. Hoping for something manly, Kenai is horrified to be given the Bear of Love, which makes him feel emasculated and not a little pissed off at bears in general, so he goes to hunt one. Things go awry, and eventually he wakes up to find that the movie is now in Cinemascope, and he has become a big-eyed bear, courtesy of those pesky, generic "Great Spirits." To turn back, he will indeed have to learn about bears and love. Fortunately the film's humor kicks in at this point, with McKenzie Brothers Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas stealing the show as a dopey pair of moose. Could've done without Phil Collins's generic, annoying tunes. Opens Friday, October 31, at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Girls Will Be Girls. Richard Day. Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp), Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson, here playing a character called Marla) and Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick) are the "girls" in question in this Hollywood satire that doesn't cross any new cross-dressing boundaries but manages to be fitfully entertaining -- especially in light of its minuscule budget. Evie is a faded alcohol-and-controlled-substance-abusive former game-show star rather halfheartedly plotting a comeback. Her live-in companion, Coco -- who's nursing personal heartbreaks of her own -- performs household duties in lieu of the rent. Consequently, a boarder (Roberson) has been taken in to make ends meet. Writer-director Richard Day shows considerable talent, particularly in a climactic drug hallucination pool-party scene. Still, one can't help but wish that these "girls" had something more to do than strike up Valley of the Dolls-type attitudes without any juicy Valley of the Dolls-type scenes to back them up. Opens Friday, October 31, at the Tivoli. (David Ehrenstein)
The Human Stain. Robert Benton. Opens Friday, October 31, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
In the Cut. Jane Campion. Opens Friday, October 31, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
Pieces of April. Peter Hedges. Playwright-turned-novelist-turned-screenwriter-turned-director Peter Hedges' movie, shot on digital video, could be confused for a compendium reel of someone's home movies. It just begins and then barely ends, and what's in between is less a story than a collection of dropped clues about who these people are, what they want and where they're heading, aside from the obvious destination of a Thanksgiving dinner no one really wants to attend. We're never quite told why April (Katie Holmes) and her mother, the ironically named Joy (Patricia Clarkson, beneath a drab wig), do not speak; we see no evidence of any mean-spiritedness in April, who can't cook at all but tries nonetheless to give her mother a proper last supper. She craves closure of some kind but will settle for a civilized meal. Pieces of April works when it shouldn't, because Hedges wrings big laughs and small sobs out of the trivial and familiar tension of family gatherings and the pointless grudges family members hold against each other long after they should have disappeared. Opens Friday, October 31, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Robert Wilonsky)
The Station Agent. Tom McCarthy. This modest but incredibly rich film concerns three people who have absolutely nothing in common except for the solitary life each leads. Fin (Peter Dinklage) is a dwarf, ostracized and ridiculed by an insensitive world, who maintains his dignity by avoiding people. Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) is an artist who has shut out the world after a personal tragedy. She meets Fin when she twice nearly runs over him. Joe (Bobby Cannavale) is a lonely and garrulous coffee vendor whose truck stand is a stone's throw from Fin's house. Beautifully structured and paced, this film from first-time writer-director Tom McCarthy charts the unlikely friendship that develops among the three. The story melds humor and pain seamlessly, and the cast, including Michelle Williams, is terrific. The film premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, where it won three awards. Opens Friday, October 31, at the Tivoli. (Jean Oppenheimer)