Arts + Scene » Screens

Kill Me Now

'Death Sentence' inspires dread of summer crapmongery




Continuing what Hollywood does frequently if not always effectively, the remake of the 1957 film of the same title 3:10 to Yuma opens Friday, Sept. 7. Based on the short story by Elmore Leonard, now well known for his tongue-in-cheek thrillers, the film tells the story of rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale replacing Van Heflin) who agrees to transport notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe replacing Glenn Ford) to a town where he can be put on the train to Yuma, with a tense psychological battle ensuing. The original was very good; maybe this will measure up. Peter Fonda and Gretchen Mol co-star. Rated R for violence and some language. 127 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

If this sounds too serious, then try the comic thriller Shoot 'Em Up, starring Clive Owen as Mr. Smith, who tries to protect a mother and baby from a group of hit men led by Paul Giamatti. The trailer promises that the film will deliver on its title. Among the many shootouts, one takes place during sex, another during skydiving. And, there's also a lactating prostitute (Italian actress Monica Bellucci) thrown into the mix. Who can resist this? Rated R for violence, language and some sexual content. 97 m. At the Broadway.

The British farce Death at a Funeral, directed by Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), concerns the goings-on during the burial of a family patriarch. Can the old British stiff upper lip be maintained in the face of a mourner on psychedelics and another who is holding a blackmailer hostage close to where the body is being displayed? Rated R for language and drug content. 100 m. At the Broadway.

The 2006 Oscar entry from Switzerland, Vitus, is about a gifted boy pianist whose parents are pushing him into a concert career even though he would rather be doing "normal" boy things. The story is unoriginal, but the film relies on the performances of Fabrizio Borsani as the 6-year-old Vitus and Teo Gheorghiu as Vitus at 12. In Swiss German and English. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and language. 133 m. At the Minor.

The documentary Gypsy Caravan follows Gypsy bands from Romania, Spain, India and Macedonia during their 2001 tour of North America. Directed, written and produced by Jasmine Dellal, the film, shot with multiple cameras, documents the people and the music, which ranges from ragtime to flamenco. In English and a variety of languages. Not rated. 120 m. At the Minor.

Also beginning Friday is the inaugural Wildrivers 101 Film Festival, which continues through September 21. See the Calendar and and separate article for details, or visit their website at, or call 223-8462.


DEATH SENTENCE: I'm not one to be anxious, normally, particularly about rushing the passage of time. But as the summer film season has progressed, I have become inordinately passionate about the arrival of autumn and with it, one hopes, a better selection of films than has recently come my way.

There have been a few notable exceptions: The Bourne Ultimatum was thoroughly entertaining and a satisfying possible ending to the spy thriller trilogy. The film had no pretensions to be anything other than a superior example of its genre. But sitting through a seemingly unending series of brain-dead guy films is wearing on my psyche, and I look back fondly on those summer films where I was one of the few men in the audience. Clearly, films aimed at a female audience have greater variety, better acting and more interesting stories than most action films.

This possibly too long preamble is meant to lead up to the latest ridiculous, and pretentious, guns and blood film, Death Sentence. Not that any more should be expected of James Wan, who helmed the first Saw film, although that film was at least interesting exploitation. I went to this vigilante revenge film primarily because it starred Kevin Bacon. That was a flat-out mistake. Bacon is awful and so is the film.

At first, though, it seemed that Wan might be trying something a little different for the genre. There is a slow lead-in to the incident that sets off the main plot, as we see Nick Hume (Bacon) and his all-American well-to-do family, which includes his wife Helen (Kelly Preston), older son (and high school ice hockey star) Brendan (Stuart Lafferty) and his younger brother Lucas (Jordan Garrett) engage in all-American family stuff. Even after Brendan is killed in an apparent gang initiation while his father watches helplessly, Nick's initial attempts at exacting revenge are completely and refreshingly amateurish. He tracks down the young gang member who killed his son but is only able to kill him accidentally, an action that leads to one of the film's few exciting sequences: a long chase ending in a garage structure where the gang that killed Brendan attempts to kill Nick.

But when further mayhem involving Nick's remaining family ensues, he goes the typical revenge film apeshit route. Bacon's transition from corporate family man to killer is unconvincing, and a soundtrack that features portentous songs that are supposed to match Nick's angst does not help his character portrayal. I'm not sure what John Goodman was doing in this film, except collecting a paycheck for playing a totally uninteresting, sleazy gun dealer and father of the main gang guy.

The film is based on the book by Edgar-winning author Brian Garfield, which was a sequel to Death Wish, also made into a film in 1974 — a somewhat better film than the present one. Rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and pervasive language. 129 m. At the Broadway.

PAPRIKA: I'm not completely sure I know what to make of the beautifully animated Japanese film Paprika, from director Satoshi Kon. Although the general plot was clear enough, I kept feeling that something was being lost in translation in regard to the details.

The film begins, without preamble and before the opening credits, with an intriguing sequence set at a circus, where a member of the audience (a detective, as it transpires) is magically transported inside a cage in the ring, whereupon he is set upon by the audience before sinking down through the floor of the cage into another realm. There, he is rescued by a female Tarzan swinging through the trees. He also reenacts a murder he is investigating, but he is doomed never to see the perpetrator and the floor rolls up when he tries to chase the killer. At least, this is how I saw the sequence.

Before all reality is lost, the viewer discovers that the detective, Toshimi Konakawa, is undergoing therapy with the help of a device called the DC-Mini that allows the therapist to "read" the patient's dreams on a computer monitor. Furthermore, the female figure in the dream is someone called Paprika, who closely resembles the therapist herself — Dr. Atsuko Chiba — except less buttoned-down.

When the device is subsequently stolen, mayhem breaks loose in this already peculiar world and the film's twin themes are developed. The most obvious theme has to do with the dangers of technology, particularly when advances in technology are not matched by an equally subtle and complex sense of ethics. When the DC-Mini becomes a plaything, it ceases to be a useful tool for therapy. Indeed, the DC-Mini was invented by Dr. Chiba's brilliant colleague, Dr. Kosaku Tokita, a grossly overweight genius who thinks and acts like an immature but brainy teen. Boys with their toys indeed.

But the more interesting part of the film concerns the blurred line between dream and reality. While hardly a novel theme, the film deals with it in an interesting fashion; in fact, it is the inability to distinguish between the two that threatens existence. To this end, the imagery in the opening sequence is constantly repeated, but with different narrative outcomes. Is the detective actually the killer? Does he kill himself? And could the head of the institute be the one actually responsible for the theft of the DC-Mini, and to what end? Somehow, in the constantly shifting reality of the film, Paprika, who exists only in dreams, must be the entity that can possibly "save" the world for sanity.

All of this is accomplished with lush anime images that carry the viewer along even when the narrative seems to get a little lost. Or, as the film's tagline suggests, maybe it was just my brain on anime. Paprika is an unusual and fascinating ride. Rated R for violent and sexual images. 100 m. At the Minor (closes Thursday, Sept. 5).


BALLS OF FURY. Yet another wacky sports comedy. Decrepit ping-pong champ recruited by FBI. Rated PG-13. 90 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

BECOMING JANE.Period production speculates: How did Jane Austen get her groove? Rated PG. 113 m. At the Minor.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Jason Bourne (M. Damon) returns to America to seek out the covert ops baddies who scrambled his brain. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HAIRSPRAY. J. Travolta, Q. Latifah, C. Walken reinterpret the John Waters classic, adding singing and dancing and such. Rated PG. 123 m. At The Movies.

HALLOWEEN. R. Zombie remake of seminal spook-slash flick. Rated R. 114 m. At the Broadway, Minor, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. In round five of the series, Harry and the gang buck government orders and found their own secret society, so as to better combat Voldemort.Rated PG-13. 148 m. At The Movies.

MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY. Freakish Briton goes to Cannes, where hilarious mix-ups ensue. Rated G. 87 m. At the Broadway.

NANNY DIARIES.Jersey girl (S. Johansson) experiences Upper East Side nastiness when hired as domestic assistant. Rated PG-13. 105 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

NO RESERVATIONS. Uptight career woman (C. Zeta-Jones), a chef, is alternately frustrated at and aroused by her dude-ish new assistant (A. Eckhart). Rated PG. 104 m. At the Fortuna.

RATATOUILLE.Pixar alert! An animated Parisian rat with a preternatural talent in the kitchen dreams of earning his Michelin star. Rated G. 120 m. At The Movies.

RUSH HOUR 3. Chan. Tucker. Polanski. Wacky crime-fighting duo take the show on the road to Paris. Rated PG-13. 88 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. Gentle-hearted buffoon accidentally imperils the world. Rated PG-13. 87 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.

STARDUST. Winsome fantasy in which a young man travels to a magical word, seeking a fallen star that will capture the heart of his true love. With C. Danes, M. Pfeiffer, R. De Niro. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

SUPERBAD. Two awkward teen boys — one crude, one shy — set out to excise their boyhood in one night of partying. Rated R. 113 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

TRANSFORMERS. A poignant ode to '80s-era Saturday morning cartoons. Also, a bunch of shapeshifting robots blow each other up. Rated PG-13. 154 m. At The Movies.

UNDERDOG.In live-action remake of classic cartoon,superpowered beagle is coming here to save the day. Rated PG. 84 m. At The Movies.

WAR. Chinese mob battles Japanese yakuza; FBI agent throws himself into the mix. Rated R. 99 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Add a comment