City of Ghosts
Here's another stranger-in-a-strange-land yarn, but Matt Dillon in his feature directorial debut delivers loads of atmosphere to tart up the threadbare paradigm. Playing a slick nobody insurance broker on the lam from the FBI, Dillon journeys from Big Apple ennui to Cambodian exotica in search of his mentor, the typically grunty James Caan. En route, he deals with ex-pat sleaze (Stellan Skarsgard), quests after the high-maintenance moll (Natascha McElhone) and befriends a capricious yet world-weary cyclo driver (Sereyvuth Kem, the film's big discovery). West meets East, fun meets danger and the movie completely eclipses dippy recent fare like The Beach, landing much closer to Phillip Noyce's The Quiet American in terms of quality and overall style. Highlights include Gerard Depardieu's immensely bombastic Phnom Penh barkeep and the movie's sensational soundtrack. Overall, Dillon has scored at the helm. Wholly engrossing his film is not, but a valiant first feature it is. --Gregory Weinkauf
Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd In this peculiar prequel, are Derek Richardson (young Harry) and Eric Christian Olsen (young Lloyd) as amusing as Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey in the Farrelly brothers' 1994 hit Dumb and Dumber? The answer is no. They are not. But it doesn't mean they don't try. The story concerns sweetly silly Harry and nastier Lloyd being inducted into a bogus "special" high school class by their wily principal (Eugene Levy, overdue for a vacation) and lascivious lunchlady (Cheri Oteri), who're both scamming for grants. Despite Lloyd's unusual philosophies ("Girls are for fags"), both meet and fall for a pretty wannabe journo (Rachel Nichols) and proceed to bust the fornicating faculty. Exactly as you may expect, this thing is good for a few cheap little laughs and no more. As one punk student in the film proudly proclaims, "There is nothing more American than not doing anything and getting away with it." --G.W.
Le Cercle Rouge Corey (Alain Delon), fresh out of the slammer, teams up with fugitive Vogel (Gian-Maria Volonte) and alcoholic sharpshooter Jansen (Yves Montand) to pull off a jewelry heist. This 1970 thriller from Jean-Pierre Melville is firmly in the tradition of Rififi and his own Bob le Flambeur (recently remade as The Good Thief). It was Melville's second-to-last feature, and it shows him in top form, with a more generous dose of humor than usual; Corey and Vogel's "meet cute" is particularly droll, as are the machinations of the police inspector (Bourvil) hunting them. Despite that, this is still Melville, so fate has it in for them. Montand's Lost Weekend-like initial scene is unforgettable. --Andy Klein
Together The emotional power of music is only one of the themes that interests acclaimed Chinese director Chen Kaige in his beautiful new film. Other, equally important concerns include father-son relationships and the way China, in its headlong pursuit of modernization, is abandoning some of its richest cultural and historical traditions. Chen wraps all of these into the story of Xiaochun (Tang Yun), a 13-year-old violinist who moves, with his father, from a small provincial village to Beijing in order to find a suitable teacher for his talents. Xiaochun studies with two very different teachers in Beijing--Professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), a rumpled curmudgeon; and Professor Yu (Chen himself), for whom music has become a stepping stone to great acclaim and wealth. Also caught between these two value systems, albeit not as obviously, is Lili (Chen Hong), a vivacious gold digger who befriends Xiaochun. Viewers with a low tolerance for sentiment may balk, but the emotions are so true and the characters so appealing that the film should completely win you over. --Jean Oppenheimer
Rugrats Go Wild To all those people who've missed Bruce Willis' singing career: Prepare to have your heart leap for joy. Not only does the returning Bruno cover Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" on this film's soundtrack, but as the voice of dog Spike, he even gets to duet with Chrissie Hynde, voicing a snow leopard. Willis also gets to deliver possibly the most unpleasant line of dialogue heard in a movie all year: "I ate one of Chuckie's diapers once, and lemme tellya, that is spicy." The movie's plot involves the Rugrats getting shipwrecked and encountering the far more interesting Wild Thornberries (patriarch voiced by Tim Curry), but the real selling point here is the return of Odorama, the interactive scratch-and-sniff process pioneered by John Waters. "Diaper," thankfully, is not one of the odors. The animation looks good, especially when CG-enhanced, but the Rugrats babies' constant snot jokes, bug-eating and "cute" mispronunciations grate after a while. If only Klasky-Csupo would resurrect their best and most adult show, Duckman, for the big screen.
--Luke Y. Thompson
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