Cinema Paradiso: The New Version. Giuseppe Tornatore. Naked emotion is a tricky thing to sell, especially in semiautobiographical films about confused mama's boys gradually learning that life exists beyond the control of their lens. The latter two of this cut's three hours richly expand upon the romantic longing (for Agnese Nano young, Brigitte Fossey older) and deliver the closing of a full narrative circle, with delirious Sicilian cinephile Toto (played variously by Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi and Jacques Perrin) reckoning beyond sugary childhood memories toward an emotionally integrated future. Even if the romance doesn't work for you, the movie soars as a celebration of cinema and twentieth-century culture. Knowingly, director Tornatore has booked his Paradiso less with the work of the Italian greats and more with the escapism of Hollywood, and in so doing he's built a bridge of familiarity for casual moviegoers who may not know Antonioni from Andy Dick. Additionally, this film has existed long enough now to provoke nostalgia in and of itself, thereby enhancing its thesis about the glory of the art form. Opens July 19 at the Tivoli. (GW)
Eight Legged Freaks. Ellory Elkayem. On the first day (of opening weekend), the Lord said, "Let there be, like, this year's Evolution or sumpin', only with more hope for significant box-office returns," and there is, and it is called Eight Legged Freaks, and it is good. David Arquette plays a reluctant, desert-dwelling hero whose recently inherited, methane-laden mine shafts make ideal nests for monsters that threaten the likes of local sheriff Kari Wuhrer and her kids, Scarlett Johansson and Scott Terra. Swiftly and harrowingly, the various jumping, spitting, surprise-attacking beasts grow to the size (and nearly the obnoxiousness) of SUVs, and the townfolk must band together to deliver amusing, quirky dialogue en route to saving themselves from what could have been a mess of old-school Spielbergian redundancy but ends up a fine successor to Them! and Tremors. It's a perfect movie for people who like to shout at the screen, so have at it. Now playing at multiple locations. (GW)
The Fast Runner. Zacharias Kunuk. Opens July 19 at the Hi-Pointe. Reviewed this issue.
The Fluffer. Richard Glatzer and Wash West. "Unrequited love's a bore," wrote Lorenz Hart, but there's nothing dull about this peek inside the world of gay-porn, knowingly -- and sensitively -- directed by Richard Glatzer and writer Wash West. Michael Cunio stars as an aspiring filmmaker in thrall to a gay-porn god (Scott Gurney) for whom he comes to provide performance support during porn shoots. With Roxanne Day as the gay-for-pay star's neglected girlfriend; Robert Walden, Taylor Negron and Richard Riehle as porn purveyors; Deborah Harry as a sympathetic strip-club owner; and cameos by such gay pornerati as Karen Dior, Chris Green and the ineffable Chi-Chi LaRue. Opens July 19 at the Chase Park Plaza. (DE)
K-19: The Widowmaker. Kathryn Bigelow. Of all the A-list men playing authority figures, Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson remain among the most pleasing, which is why director Bigelow's boat glides along engagingly. In many ways it's just another dank submarine movie, but watching captains Vostrikov (Ford) and Polenin (Neeson) issue orders in Boris-and-Natasha accents, one can't help but appreciate the beauty of cinema and all the dramatically rendered falsehoods highlighting its search for truth. It's a true story set during the Cold War; the mission of K-19's crew is, ostensibly, to emerge through the ice of the Bering Sea, fire a test missile and sneak past NATO bases to a patrol station 400 kilometers off the U.S. coast, roughly between New York City and Washington, D.C. The boyish crew's unspoken destiny, however, is to become pawns in a prideful, self-destructive game Vostrikov is playing with himself. Watching these determined men in their Spam tin wrestling with killer nukes makes one fervid for a future in which untimely death is no longer our stock in trade. Opens July 19 at multiple locations. (GW)
Lovely and Amazing. Nicole Holofcener. Fans of writer/director Holofcener's debut feature, Walking and Talking, will want to check out her second effort, a character study of the four members of the Marks family -- all female, all somewhat sad-sack and all struggling with self-esteem. Oldest sister Michelle (Catherine Keener) is the misanthrope; aspiring actress Elizabeth (a wonderful Emily Mortimer) collects stray dogs and tends her own lost soul; adopted sister Annie (newcomer Raven Goodwin), an eight-year-old African-American child, grapples with issues of racial identity and Michelle's sibling rivalry; and mama Jane (Blenda Blethyn) undergoes liposuction in the hopes of improving her own self-image. The guys don't get off scot-free, as romantic interests Dermot Mulroney and Jake Gyllenhaal face their own inadequacies. Less glossy than the mainstream chick flick Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, this is a modest, uneventful film, buoyed by fine, albeit low-key, performances and the ring of truth. Opens July 19 at the Tivoli and the Plaza Frontenac. (JO)
Pumpkin. Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams. Opens July 19 at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.
Stuart Little 2. Rob Minkoff. This imaginative and engaging follow-up to the original Stuart Little offers a fresh storyline that presents its stars with new challenges, obstacles and emotional opportunities. Two years after the first film wrapped, Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox) is comfortably ensconced in the Little household but lonely for a friend his own size. Enter Margalo (voiced by Melanie Griffith), a free-spirited bird who teaches Stuart that life is an adventure. But when Margalo, who also has some secrets, disappears one day, Stuart and Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane) set out across the city to find her. The film does a masterful job of marrying computer-animated artistry (courtesy of Sony Pictures Imageworks) with spot-on voice performances -- and, in the case of Snowbell (played by a real cat), seamless animatronic work -- to create totally believable animal characters. The pic offers enough adult-friendly ideas and humorous lines that even grownups will be charmed. Opens July 19 at multiple locations. (JO)
Sunshine State. John Sayles. Against the backdrop of a beachfront town in Florida besieged by developers, two women (Angela Bassett and Edie Falco) each come to terms with their own pasts and the expectations their parents placed upon them. Meanwhile, a half-dozen-or-so other stories are going on around them in Altmanesque fashion. The past -- the nation's, the town's, the individual characters' -- is part of the film's larger theme. One older black man is partially nostalgic for segregation. Local chamber-of-commerce booster Francine (Mary Steenburgen) is busy trying to create a tradition from the state's immigrant history, but is stymied by the unfortunate truths of historical genocide and slavery. Youngster Terrell (Alexander Lewis), adopted by his dead father's aunt, is a good kid with a dangerously delinquent side -- can he go right, or is he similarly doomed? And then of course there's the whole past-versus-future dynamic of "redevelopment." There's plenty of dry humor to leaven the proceedings, and Falco gives an Oscar-worthy performance. Opens July 19 at the Plaza Frontenac. (LYT)