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THE ILLUSIONIST 1/2

Set in Austria, The Illusionist stars Edward Norton as Eisenheim, an enigmatic stage magician so skilled at his profession that the locals suspect he might actually possess otherworldly powers. One of the few skeptics is Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a cruel ruler who sets out to prove that Eisenheim is a fake. He enlists the aid of the corrupt Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), yet matters become more tangled when it’s revealed that Leopold’s fiancee (Jessica Biel) was once Eisenheim’s childhood sweetheart. For a good while, The Illusionist is topflight entertainment, with its lush period setting, its assemblage of captivating magic tricks, and a delightful relationship between Eisenheim and Uhl, two men sharing a wary respect for each other (both Norton and Giamatti are excellent). But then the film makes the fatal mistake of morphing into a mystery, the type that’s agonizingly easy to figure out even before its gears can really be placed in motion. Viewers who can’t figure out the big twist should dig out those old Encyclopedia Brown paperbacks and begin rebuilding their sleuthing skills from there.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE 1/2

In the rocker “We’re a Happy Family,” The Ramones present a dysfunctional family in which “Daddy’s telling lies, Baby’s eating flies, Mommy’s on pills, Baby’s got the chills.” The clan at the center of the Sundance hit Little Miss Sunshine isn’t much better off. Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) has developed a motivational program (“Refuse To Lose”) featuring the nine steps to success; unfortunately, no one is motivated to invest in it. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) has supported his endeavors but is running out of strength and patience when it comes to keeping everyone in line. Her gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) has just attempted suicide after being jilted by his lover, fired from his teaching post and losing a genius grant. Richard’s sex-fiend father (Alan Arkin) has just been kicked out of a posh nursing home for snorting coke and, presumably, getting too randy with the female senior citizens. And Richard and Sheryl’s teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano), a Nietzsche fanatic, hates his family and hasn’t spoken a word in six months. And then there’s little Olive (Abigail Breslin), a perpetually gushing fountain of optimism who seems oblivious to the misery of those around her. When circumstances lead to her being selected to compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” contest in California, the family members, not wanting to let her down, all pile into their rusty yellow van and head West. In other words, Little Miss Sunshine is yet another road picture about bickering family members, and if that sounds a bit too prefab (or at least a bit too RV), screenwriter Michael Arndt, his dialogue backed by an excellent ensemble cast, manages to adroitly mix up the expected comic schtick with mo-

ments of great clarity and insight.

startling thing about World Trade Center is that it’s by far the least controversial movie Oliver Stone has ever made. It’s hard to find any trace of potentially incendiary material. Conversely, it’s also hard to get terribly

are dead or alive. I don’t think it’s too cynical to suggest that after the commercial and critical drubbing of Alexander, a whipped SNAKES ON A PLANE Stone was only too happy to serve up a For a while, it seemed like the greatest marsentimentalized tale almost certain to gain keting ploy since The Blair Witch Project, wide public approvas well as a revolual. Working from a tionary new way to script by first-timmake and promote er Andrea Berloff, movies. Come up Stone keeps his rabwith a catchy title, ble-rousing methods cast a way-cool acfully in check -- even tor, build the buzz CARMIKE 10 his typically frenetic over the Internet far yard, John Tucker Must Die, The shooting style has 511 Stephenson Ave. • 353-8683 in advance of the Ant Bully, Monster House, You Me been replaced by a Invincible, Beerfest, Snakes on a Plane, opening, let the on& Dupree, Little Miss Sunshine more somber m.o., Material Girls, Zoom, Pulse, World line fanboys think with lengthy camera Trade Center, Descent, Miami Vice, Pithey have a hand in REGAL SAVANNAH 10 holds on saintly faces rates of the Caribbean 2, Little Man actually shaping the 1132 Shawnee St. • 927-7700 and nary a rapid finished product, Beerfest, Idlewild, Invincible, The jump-cut in sight. refuse to hold critREGAL EISENHOWER SQUARE Quiet, Illusionist, Snakes on a Unfortunately, the ics’ screenings not Plane, Pulse, The Descent, World 1100 Eisenhower Dr. • 352-3533 end result is a movie because the prodTrade Center, Pirates of the CaribCrank, Crossover, The Wicker Man, How that feels oddly imuct is unspeakably bean 2 To Eat Fried Worms, Barnyard, Tallapersonal. That’s in awful but because dega Nights striking contrast to it guarantees more SENTIENT BEAN this past spring’s ink in newspapers, 13 E. Park Ave. • 232-4447 United 93, the suWYNNSONG 11 and then settle back Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s perb docudrama that 1150 Shawnee St. • 920-1227 as the record-breakFool, Sept. 6, 8 p.m., $5 provided audiences Crossover, The Wicker Man, How to Eat ing grosses pour in. with a you-are-there Well, it all worked Fried Worms, Accepted, Step Up, The immediacy. Every out except for that Night Listener, Talladega Nights, Barnsecond of United final point. The film’s 93 related in some lackluster box office Info correct as of the Monday prior to our going to press. Call venues for updates. way to the specific take (no disgrace, events of that day. but nothing special) On the other hand, should convince replace the real-life studios that banking characters of John excited over the final product. World Trade on computer-weaned kids to actually leave McLoughlin and Will Jimeno with two ficCenter focuses on the Port Authority Police their keyboards to venture out of the house tional guys trapped in a collapsed building, Department officers who would eventually and pay for a movie was, is and will remain and what you’re left with is a 1970s-style TV be recognized as two of the only 20 people a bad idea. As for the picture itself, it doesn’t movie-of-the-week, the sort that invariably to be rescued from the rubble of the Twin quite deliver on its thrill-a-minute premstarred the likes of Christopher George or Towers. September 11 begins as any other ise -- even star Samuel L. Jackson’s highly Lee Majors. For a more recent precedent, day for John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) publicized quip about the “motherfuckin’ the firefighter flick Ladder 49 largely covand Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), but like snakes” registers as much ado about nothered the same ground (in that snoozer, John everyone else on that fateful morning, they ing. Jackson stars as an FBI agent assigned Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix were the two soon are having to digest incomplete mesto protect an eyewitness (Nathan Phillips) lifesavers likewise chatting it up amid the sages involving an airplane crashing into to a mob slaying; once the villains ascertain bricks and flames). And despite the strong one of the towers. Springing into action, which flight they’ll be taking to make that performances by Bello and Gyllenhaal, important court date, they manage to fill the they’re among the men who enter the buildthe numerous sequences centering on the ing with the intention of aiding any potenaircraft with rattlesnakes, cobras, boa constrong-willed wives are no different than tial survivors, even as they try to decipher strictors. Director David Ellis and his three similar moments from countless WWII draadditional news items suggesting that the scripters have the title terrors chomp down mas, when the women are seen staring wistsecond tower has also been hit by a plane. on lips, eyes, breasts and even a penis, but fully out of windows while their men are off Timing’s not on their side, however, as the given the overall lack of creativity invested trying to make the world a better place. Like towers collapse just as they begin making in this project, it ultimately feels as rote and United 93, World Trade Center also tries to their way up from the ground to the floors joyless as a typical slasher flick. keep politics out of the picture; instead, it above. Their colleagues lose their lives, but focuses on the day as a shining example of John and Will somehow survive, though American solidarity, before the government World Trade Center at a great price. Both men find themselves began reshaping the tragedy for its own expinned -- and in great pain -- by the fallen 1/2 ploitive means. Yet for all of Stone’s timidity, debris, their only glimpse of the outside Oliver Stone is a divider, not a uniter. JFK the material brings out some undeniable world a small shaft of sunlight that penealienated those who couldn’t stomach its trates straight into the heart of the darkness. truths. The movie’s most poignant sequence political speculations; Natural Born Killers comes when Stone chooses to briefly show Realizing that it will take hours -- maybe alienated those who found offense with its the international community learning about even a day or two -- before they’re found gleeful approach to serial killer shenanigans; this monstrous terrorist attack. It’s the moand rescued, John and Will decide that they and Alexander alienated, well, everyone ment when the U.S. had the sympathy and will count on each other’s company to surwith its sheer wretchedness. So the notion of support of practically every country around vive, by talking their way through the pain Oliver Stone tackling a movie about 9/11 aland isolation until someone discovers them. the globe, and as we watch this segment, most registers as a sick joke. “You think my we’re heartbroken upon realizing how the Meanwhile, their wives (Maria Bello and past films were controversial?” one could Maggie Gyllenhaal) wait impatiently at their Bush Administration has spent the last five almost imagine hearing him sneer. “People, years pissing away all that goodwill, in efrespective homes with other family memyou ain’t seen nothing yet!” So the most bers, eager to find out whether their spouses fect turning us into a country that’s now

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W h a t ’s P l a y i n g W h e r e

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