By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
The Battle of Algiers With its 40th anniversary approaching in 2005, this astonishingly gritty film maintains its strong niche between Roberto Rossellini's Open City and Paul Greengrass' Bloody Sunday as a pinnacle of war-torn neo-realist drama. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (who co-wrote with Franco Solinas), this Italian-Algerian co-production digs into the French-Algerian conflict between 1954 and 1960, as terrorists/freedom fighters from the Algerian National Liberation Front stage covert attacks upon the French colonialists, who are freshly rancorous following their failure in Indo-China. It drags in bits but recovers with great intensity. And technically, it's stunning: Brilliantly staged conflicts segue via Ennio Morricone's haunting score, and the performances (particularly from Brahim Haggiag as a resistance fighter and Jean Martin as his determined opponent) are top-notch. So realistic is the footage--the bombings, the tortures, the harrowing riot at the end--that the filmmakers wisely offer a disclaimer that there's no documentary or newsreel footage involved. More important, though, is that the project's applicability to world events remains untarnished by time. --Gregory Weinkauf
Robot Stories To label Dallas-born writer/director Greg Pak's first feature "science fiction" is to create an incomplete impression of both its intentions and strengths. While each of the film's four vignettes contains futuristic elements, Pak's real subject is the nature of humanity, in which the need for love is paramount. Although most of the actors are Asian or Asian-American (as is Pak, who appears in the third segment), there is nothing specifically ethnic about any of the stories. The characters, their emotions, their conflicts and the situations they find themselves in are universal. The strongest episode stars Wai Ching Ho as a critical, chronically disappointed mother whose estranged adult son lies in a coma. She becomes obsessed with repairing his toy robot collection, as if that somehow will bring them together. Tamlyn Tomita also shines as a career woman, conflicted about motherhood, who must prove she can care for a robot baby before adopting a human child. Pak's writing has a simplicity that belies the film's emotional impact. --Jean Oppenheimer
Games People Play Imagine an episode of Fear Factor, on a budget of what appears to be about five bucks, with all the stunts and bug-eating replaced by naked seduction role-playing and painful soul-baring confessionals extracted by two cold-hearted judges who are sorta like American Idol's Simon Cowell, only not British or entertaining. Ostensibly, this is supposed to be a reality game show, with mostly unclothed guests degrading themselves (collecting urine samples from strangers is the first task) for $10,000 and the amusement of the film's prissy, mean-spirited director James Ronald Whitney. Yes, you see plenty of beautiful people naked, but you also have to hear Whitney's songs on the soundtrack, which sound like show tunes written by Barney the Dinosaur's perverted uncle. There's an interesting turn of events near film's end, but it ultimately clarifies the contempt Whitney has for both his cast and the audience. Rent a porno instead; it'll be less exploitative. God help us, two more of these things are planned. --L.Y.T.
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