From worst to best...


Mildly amusing mockumentary that presupposes an alternate American history where the South won the civil war. Much of the film is a remarkable, painstaking facsimile of the Ken Burns school of television documentaries; unfortunately, the intervening faux commercials for satirical targets such as SSN (the Slave Shopping Network) and products like Darky Toothpaste often fall flat, their obviousness surfacing with a resounding thud. Still, the “real” history coda about such products is enlightening, and the whole thing is at least watchable, and a little more coherent than producer Spike Lee’s similarly themed (and maddeningly inconsistent) feature BAMBOOZLED. 2.5/5


You're darn tootin' I'm suing every last one of your behinds!

Niki Caro’s much-hyped follow-up to WHALE RIDER crashed and burned at the box office last fall, possibly because it was released too wide too fast, and probably because no one really wanted to see another NORMA RAE. In dramatizing the first successful class action sexual harassment case (brought on by women working at a remote mining facility), Caro and writer Michael Seitzman drain out every possible gray area to a manipulative degree and only leave us with black/bad (the leering, abusive male employees) and white/good (their victimized female counterparts) ones. Ah, but that’s what you usually get in a Hollywood film (so maybe this wasn’t released too wide too fast). Still, unlike CRASH, I found much to enjoy here: the grandiose overhead shots of Northern Minnesota, a soundtrack steeped heavily in regional son Bob Dylan, the mere presence of Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins, and of course, Frances McDormand in her gutsiest role since FARGO (not to mention her most FARGO-like character since Marge Gunderson). As the lead, Charlize Theron proves MONSTER was no fluke, even though she’s just not as revelatory this time out (will she ever be again?). Perhaps this will find a larger audience on DVD: it’s not a bad way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon, despite the many hokey empowerment speeches Theron has to recite. 3/5


After years of semi-obscurity, Michael Keaton attempts a Jeff Daniels-like comeback in this scrappy, low-budget indie; coincidentally, like THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, the setting is also 1986 New York. On the night of the fated Game 6 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Mets, Nicky Rogan (Keaton), a ex-cabbie turned successful playright (and a lifelong Sox fan) is dreading the reception his latest Broadway opus will receive from feared enigmatic phantom critic Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr. at his quirkiest). Along with fine support from Griffin Dunne (as a sardonic fellow playwright whose career was derailed by Schwimmer’s scathing reviews) and a brief, fabulous cameo from Catherine O’Hara as Nicky’s wife, an alternately wiry and world-weary Keaton makes us remember why he was worth paying attention to for the first time in ages. Although Michael Hoffman’s film occasionally drags and periodically feels like a made-for-cable movie, it benefits from an affable, efficient first screenplay from novelist Don DeLillo, savoring the perils of fandom and consequence with grace. 3.5/5


Hmm... I wonder if Rosario Flores is anywhere on these walls?

This delightful, hilarious film unites two Spanish actors best known on these shores for roles in Almodovar pictures: Javier Camara (the nurse in TALK TO HER) and Candela Pena (Nina in ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER). Together they are a loving couple stuck in dead end jobs as, respectively, a door-to-door salesman and a beautician’s assistant. Then, Camara is given the opportunity to either make erotic films with his wife that will sold in the Scandinavian countries (under the cover of being facetious “audio-visual encyclopedias about reproduction”) or lose his job. After a rough start, Pena becomes an international sex symbol and Camara evolves into an unlikely auteur, penning an Ingmar Bergman homage that gives this film its title. Director Pablo Berger revels in plenty of Almodovarian absurd, deadpan humor, not to mention a bountiful display of dreadful early ‘70s color schemes and Spanish pop songs, but he does so with a lithe touch (especially in Pena’s desire to have a child) that makes for a winning combination. 4/5


We’ve seen scores of films about war, but very few that explore reconciliation. Provocative and exhilarating, this one is situated in a fictional West African country following a decade long single war between two tribes: the wealthy government, and the rebel peasants. The two tribes’ respective male leaders, Le President and Colonel Theo bring their peoples together for a night-long celebration of peace. However, lingering tensions between the two cultures are blatantly apparent from the very first scene where we see Edna, Le President’s wife, mourning the brutal death of her young son by the rebel army. As the Night of Truth reaches its wee hours, the film’s title gains resonance and power as we discern differences in taste, hear of damning accusations from both sides, and see shocking revelations surface. The four leads are all excellent (though I could’ve done without the cartoonish crazy elder peasant man who gives the film its only false note). Structured like a Shakespearian tragedy with an astonishing O. Henry twist of an ending, NIGHT OF TRUTH is being distributed in the U.S. as part of the Global Lens 2006 series; with any luck, it (and not Oscar winner TSOTSI) will become the next African film (after 2004’s MOOLAADE) to find a welcome reception here. 4.5/5