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Noble Savages

There's one outstanding film amongst this week's craptaculous offerings

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The Savages
  • The Savages

Previews

We are not yet graced locally with The Other Boleyn Girl, so what we get instead on Friday, March 7, is 10,000 B.C. This may make some hearts go pitter-pat, but mine must be too worn out. The plot, involving a mammoth hunter (relatively unknown Steven Straight) who has to go on a quest to unknown lands to save his tribe and, coincidentally meet a hot B.C. babe (Camilla Belle, who stupidly answered the phone while babysitting in a remote, large, spooky house in When a Stranger Calls), could actually be set in any era. But then, Straight couldn't do battle with prehistoric CGI. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence. 119 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Inspired by an actual break-in of a Lloyd's bank in London in 1971, The Bank Job tells the story of car dealer Terry (Jason Statham) who is inveigled into a can't-miss bank robbery by the beautiful Martine (Saffron Burrows). But the expected treasure turns out to be connected to dirty secrets involving royalty. It doesn't pay to trust beautiful women. I don't know if the film is any good, but Burrows is always a delight. R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language. 121 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

The fairy tale Penelope features Christini Ricci in the title role as a wealthy girl born with a pig's snout as a result of a curse. Let me guess, the curse can only be broken when she finds true love. Where else but in a fairy tale can you actually know when love is true? The film also features Reese Witherspoon and James McAvoy. Rated PG for thematic elements, some innuendo and language. 100 m. At the Broadway.

Still not thrilled? Then, check out Disney's College Road Trip starring Martin Lawrence as a cop and overly protective father who accompanies his daughter (Raven-Symoné) on a road trip to check out colleges. His unwelcome presence presumably leads to a lot of comic bits. Rated G. 93 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

By now, your cup probably runneth over but wait, there's more. Strange Wilderness is a stoner comedy starring Steve Zahn as the pot-smoking nature show host Peter who, when his show starts to tank, packs up his RV and heads to Costa Rica in search of Bigfoot. I guess Zahn figures people will come see him in anything, and he's probably right. Rated R for non-stop language, drug use, crude and sexual humor. 97 m. At The Movies and the Minor.

Also this week, the Minor Theater hosts College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State's 10th Annual International Latino Film Festival. La Lengua de las Mariposas (Butterfly's Tongue)opens the festival on Mar. 11, El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) plays Mar. 12 and Machucaplays Mar. 13. Screenings begin at 6 p.m. nightly.

Reviews

SEMI-PRO: I'm just not a Will Ferrell fan. I believe the reason is fairly straightforward: He makes comedies that I don't find the slightest bit funny, even though many other viewers do. So my seeing a Ferrell comedy is sort of like people who don't like violence going to see one of the Saw films.

However, there being only two new films opening last weekend locally, I dutifully trudged off to see Ferrell's latest vehicle, the sports comedy Semi-Pro. I have actually enjoyed Ferrell in his off-beat films, such as Stranger Than Fiction and his nice turn as the Woody Allen persona in Melinda and Melinda, but box office returns from those films were anemic compared to his more typical stuff.

Semi-Pro clearly falls into the latter category, and it was even more frustrating than usual for me because I could see where some of the bits could have been funny. Unfortunately, due to poor timing on the part of some of the actors, including Ferrell, and some very flat performances that were probably meant to be deadpan, I could at best manage a few chuckles, more in sympathy with the intent than the actuality.

The plot that enables the would-be comic bits is set in the '70s, when the American Basketball Association was attempting to compete with the NBA. Ferrell is the owner/promoter/coach/player for the ironically named, floundering Flint, Mich., Tropics. The only hope for the mired-in-last-place team is a merger with the NBA, but the deal that's worked out is that only the top four teams in the league will get to merge, with the rest dissolved.

The outcome, of course, is less important than the Ferrell riffs that the plot allows, including a series of zany pre-game antics, one involving Ferrell wrestling with a bear, intended to put paying customers in the seats.

There is a subplot involving former NBA player Monix (Woody Harrelson), who spends the film trying to win back his former girlfriend Lynn (ER's Maura Tierney) while taking over coaching duties for the Tropics. Harrelson and Tierney must have had a "no stupid humor" clause in their contracts, as they more-or-less escape with their dignity intact. Actually, the most amusing scenes in the film belonged to Will Arnett, (Blades of Glory) as an alcoholic, nicotine-addicted sportscaster, and Andrew Daly as his straight man partner.

The reader is welcome to consign this review to the mutterings of a humorless geezer. As it turns out, though, the theatre wasn't open yet when I arrived for the screening so I chatted with a couple of young guys who were there for the film as well. One promised to give me his opinion at the end. On the way out of the theatre he uttered his verdict: "ridiculous." It wasn't a positive ridiculous. Rated R for language and some sexual content. 100 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE SAVAGES: I laughed more during the first five minutes of The Savages than I have for all of the Will Ferrell vehicles I've seen. Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins (The Slums of Beverly Hills), the film deals with how sons and daughters have to deal with taking care of a parent who is losing it. In this version, the situation is further complicated by the fact that the son and daughter in question didn't think their dad raised them very well, and they both have their individual problems.

The film dares to poke fun at the aging process and care facilities, but the humor serves to sharpen the film's perceptive, sometimes tragic look at parent/child relationships, the consequences of aging and the effects of waiting too long to communicate your real feelings.

Early in the film, college drama professor Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who lives in Buffalo and specializes in Bertolt Brecht, is awakened by a phone call from his sister Wendy (Laura Linney), an aspiring playwright living in Manhattan, informing him that their father Lenny (Philip Bosco, Hitch; Freedomland) is using his feces for wall painting. Wendy and her brother travel to their father's home in California and subsequently bring Lenny back East to a nursing home in Buffalo, an institution Lenny mistakes for a hotel.

The strain of taking care of a parent in a difficult situation sharpens the unhappiness and failures of the siblings' lives as well. Jon has been seeing a Polish woman who is going back home, and Wendy is having a joyless affair with a married man and futilely applying for playwriting grants.

Taking a cue from Jon's profession, the film makes use of theatre metaphors and references to plays and playwrights. In fact, using theatre terminology, I would call this film a tragicomedy. Indeed, the dominant tone of the film, irony, could well describe the plays of Brecht. But like Brecht's plays, beneath the irony there are moments of utter seriousness and truth.

Having recently lost my father in circumstances uncomfortably similar to those in the film, I found the viewing experience both disturbing and illuminating, perhaps the latter because of the former. I can also attest to how accurately the film deals with dementia and its effects on loved ones. In the best circumstances, though, the death of a parent can bring a clearer focus to those left behind, and bring them closer together as well. So it is in this wonderfully effective film.

The performances by Hoffman and Linney are as good as any you are likely to see in film. Not only do they handle the comic moments as well as the serious ones, they play off each other with utter perfection.

One particularly fine moment is when Jon discovers that his father has taken a serious turn for the worse while lecturing to a class on the differences between dramatic (Aristotelian) and epic (Brechtian) theatre. In the long, silent moment in front of the class following the call, Hoffman's face registers a whole range of emotions. Then, in typical Brechtian fashion, the moment is broken when a student raises her hand to ask what is the difference between plot and narrative. The Savages is close to perfection. Rated R for some sexuality and language. 123 m. At the Minor.

Continuing

27 DRESSES.Jane, an idealistic, romantic and selfless woman, re-examines her life when her little sister usurps her love interest. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At The Movies.

BUCKET LIST.A corporate billionaire and a working class mechanic, who have developed a strong bond while sharing a hospital room, embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At the Broadway.

CHARLIE BARTLETT.Irreverent teen hero has a wry view of the adult world, belief in the power of youth and a scheme to maintain popularity. Rated R. At The Movies.

DEFINITELY, MAYBE.A Manhattan father, in the midst of a divorce, grapples with his 10-year-old daughter's inquisition about his love life before marriage. Rated PG-13. 122 m. At The Movies and Mill Creek.

FOOL'S GOLD.Modern-day treasure hunter alienates his family by pursuing gold lost at sea, but regains allies upon discovery of a vital clue to treasure's locale. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

HANNAH MONTANA AND MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT TOUR.Miley Cyrus, the teen singing sensation, performs as a solo artist and as her TV character, Hannah Montana. Rated G. 100 m. At Fortuna.

JUMPER.A man with the ability to teleport himself anywhere in time finds himself in a war that has been raging for thousands of years. Rated PG-13. 88 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

JUNO.An intelligent teen, Juno, deals with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy by seeking out the perfect set of parents to adopt her unborn child. Rated PG-13. 96 m. At the Broadway and The Minor.

ORPHANAGE.Laura purchases her beloved childhood orphanage only to discover its disturbing mysteries. Rated R. At the Minor.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.Coen Brothers' adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy touches on themes as varied as the Bible and this morning's headlines. Rated R. 123 m. At The Movies.

SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.The Grace family moves into the Spiderwick estate, the home of a dead ancestor, and discovers the evil creatures that already reside there. Rated PG. 96 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

STEP UP TO THE STREETS.Rebellious dancer at elite arts school forms a crew of classmates to compete in Baltimore's underground dance battle, The Streets. Rated PG-13. 98 m. At The Movies.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD.Epic set in Cali's turn of the century oil boom chronicles a down-and-out silver miner's rise into a self-made oil tycoon. Rated R. 158 m. At the Broadway.

U2 3D.Concert film of rock band as they trek through Latin American countries on the "Vertigo" tour. Rated G. 85 m. At Fortuna.

VANTAGE POINT.Chaos ensues when the U.S. president is assassinated in Spain. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

WITLESS PROTECTION.Larry the Cable Guy plays a small town sheriff who grapples with FBI agents, quack doctors and Chicago high society. Rated PG-13. 98 m. At the Broadway.

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