Reviewed by Uri Lessing
If you are looking for a crowd-pleasing football film that proudly parades
its players like gladiators, Friday Night Lights is not for you.
If you are looking for a movie that follows a ragtag group of players
who learn the meaning of teamwork, skip this film. If you are looking
for a comedy that revels in the high jinx, playfulness and energy of its
team, rent a copy of The Program.
Friday Night Lights is not your typical football film.
Based on the best-selling novel by Buzz Bessinger, the film follows a
high school football team in Odessa, Texas, a town that worships football.
The stadium radiates in the center of the bleak town like a Greek temple,
businesses close for football games, and banners and signs cheer on the
Permian High School Black Panthers.
While football thrives, everything else in Odessa is in a state of collapse.
The most successful business appears to be Wal-Mart. There are hints that
the schools are under funded and educational standards are low. Poverty
is everywhere, and every player we meet belongs to an incomplete and dysfunctional
family. All Odessa has is football, and all the adults in the town have
is the desire to live vicariously through the players on the field.
We find ourselves desperately routing for the players, not necessarily
for victory on the field, but for some sort of reprieve from the endless
and debilitating pressures Odessa inflicts. At the beginning of the film,
unsmiling quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is asked by a recruiter
if he finds football fun. His answer is yes, but his face betrays him.
The athletes in Friday Night Lights who should be motivated by
glory and fun, are instead driven by dread and fear of failure. Their
only reprieve comes from the wisdom of their coach Gary Gaines (Billy
Bob Thorton), a sympathetic character that finds himself year after year
under the same pressure as his team.
The films atmosphere is captivating. Director Peter Berg gives Odessa
a washed out feel, and doesnt let the film explode into vibrant
colors until the last match of the film. He also manages to capture the
tragedy of a town whose men achieve the apex of their lives at 17. The
football players of Permian High School attain their greatest life moments
in high school. The rest of their life is that of a spectator: a bleak
Make no mistake about it, Friday Night Lights is a film about football,
but it shares more in common with films from the horror genre than with
its predecessors. (PG-13) Rating: 4 ; Posted 10/8/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Some movies are critic proof. After all, if the target audience doesnt
care what any adult has to say about culture, theyre not going to
read a movie review.
Raise Your Voice is a shamelessly manipulative and terribly clichéd
film thats aimed squarely at pre-teen girls. Any criticism that
they hear about this mess will be dismissed as the ranting of an old fogy
since they have seen few of the other films that this one liberally borrows
Raise Your Voice doesnt feature the Olsen Twins (although
it could have). Hilary Duff, from the Disney Channels popular show
Lizzie McGuire, stars as Terri Fletcher, a 16-year-old who lives
in a small Arizona town. Right after graduation, her brother Paul (Jason
Ritter) is killed in a car accident.
Unbeknownst to Terri, Paul had submitted a video audition of her to a
renowned summer music academy in Los Angeles. Her father (David Keith)
has forbidden her to attend even though her mother (Rita Wilson) thinks
its a grand idea. Terri and her mom conspire to allow Terri to go,
under the guise of a visit to her eccentric Aunt Nina (Rebecca De Mornay).
Once at the academy, Terri finds that the going is tough. She contends
with competitive colleagues, homesickness and petty jealousies...all while
mourning her brother. She also has a summer romance with a guitar-playing
British songwriter named Jay (Oliver James from What A Girl Wants.)
Will Terri persevere, overcome her depression and self-doubts and win
the big scholarship prize while keeping dear old dad in the dark?
The music academy faintly resembles the one from Fame, but that show was
never as artificial as this one. The performers there had at least a modicum
of talent that made them believable as wannabe artists.
One of the biggest problems is with Duff herself. Although she is a likable
actress, her vocal skills are modest at best. She never would have been
accepted to a prestigious music camp based upon the ability she shows
here. (A lot of studio tinkering and overdubbing is evident in her all
of her solos.)
The only saving grace is the adult cast, who do their best with the stilted
dialogue theyve been given. John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
has a couple of nice scenes as Terris vocal teacher.
Theres hardly a believable minute in Raise Your Voice under
the ham-fisted direction of Sean McNamara (TVs Raven). But
dont tell the kiddies. They may never know the difference. (PG)
Rating: 1.5; Posted 10/8/04
Reviewed by Deborah Young
On the surface, The Motorcycle Diaries is a road-trip film about
a medical student who later becomes a revolutionary. But beneath the surface,
the movie takes on the subject of the passage of time. It captures the
truth that time often sneaks up on people, changing them in much the same
way that running water transforms stones, wearing them down to a previously
The movie gets its material from books written by Ernesto Che
Guevara and Alberto Granado about a trip they made across South America
in 1952 and how it shaped their worldviews. Che later became a Cuban revolutionary,
a member of Fidel Castros administration, and then a martyr for
The movie focuses on the vulnerabilities of 23-year-old Che (played by
Gael Garcia Bernal of Y tu Mama Tambien) and the antics of his
sidekick Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna). The filmmakers hammer home the
concept of Ches physical vulnerabilities and his developing sensitivity
to the plight of South Americas poor people. Several times during
the film, we see him having asthmatic attacks during which he gasps and
sweats and appears near death. Other scenes show him sitting alone and
voiceovers reveal the subjects of his contemplation.
In one contemplative scene, Che is in Peru (near the ruins of Machu Picchu)
sitting atop a pyramid-shaped hill. A voiceover expresses his thoughts:
conquerors destroyed this to build this (the camera cuts to a bland tract).
Scenes such as these send a subtle political message about the goodness
of Che Guevara and his ideals. The message ignores the complexities of
the revolutionary and the violence that accompanied the revolution.
The film shows us a saintly Guevara who empathizes with lepers and mine
workers. This Guevara refuses to lie about a manuscript written by a kindly
doctor (it was bad) and refuses to withhold the truth from a man who has
what appears to be a tumor. We see no signs here of a Guevara capable
of orchestrating killings.
But to be fair, that side of the revolutionary is not what this movie
is about. This movie is about the beauty of nature as seen in the mountains
and rivers of South America and captured majestically by cinematographer
Eric Gautier. Its also about two young men growing up while bumming
around South America.
The film does move slowly just as time sometimes does, and nothing of
substance seems to be happening. The filmmakers reveal the natures of
characters slowly and deliberately, through the most minor incidents,
such as repeated breakdowns of the old motorbike on which the men travel
throughout much of the movie.
Viewers who have the patience to get to know these characters will probably
like them and the film, which mirrors the passage of time. The progression
can be maddeningly boring but, after its run its course, it reveals
the beauty buried in what at first appears to be a whole lot of nothing.
By the way, The Motorcycle Diaries opened in the KC area on Oct.
8, which is one day before the 37th anniversary of Ches death. (R)
Rating: 4; Posted 10/8/04
Sleep When I'm Dead
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Usually, storytellers like to give us some background information on
their characters so that we can understand their motives and actions.
Occasionally, however, filmmakers try to turn this technique on its ear,
forcing us to try to figure things out for ourselves.
This is the approach taken in Ill Sleep When Im Dead,
Mike Hodges British gangster flick that is essentially a remake
of his 1971 hit, Get Carter. That film starred Michael Caine as
London wiseguy who goes to Newcastle to investigate the death of his brother.
Ill Sleep When Im Dead reunites Hodges with his Croupier
star, Clive Owen (King Arthur). Owen plays Will Graham, a mysterious
figure that lives like a hermit and does manual labor in a rural English
Meanwhile, were introduced to a charmingly oily drug dealer named
Danny (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who is the victim of a seemingly random attack.
When Dannys buddy Mikser (Jamie Foreman) discovers him dead in his
bathtub, it sets into motion a series of events that lead Will back from
his self-imposed exile.
Along the way, we meet other characters that are connected to Will in
one way or another. They include Helen (Charlotte Rampling), perhaps a
former lover, Frank Turner (Ken Stott), a local gangster, and Boad (Malcolm
McDowell) a seemingly upright auto dealer.
But it isnt just Will who is mysterious. Because of Hodges
approach all of these characters are enigmatic. Were given no back-story,
no ideas as to who any of these people are or what they might be doing.
Were expected to simply ride along with the story and hold our understanding
until the end.
This is all fine, of course, if youre not expected to care about
or relate to any of the people in the film. That is the ultimate price
a filmmaker pays for keeping audiences in the dark.
Hodges hopes we eventually find these characters compelling even if we
dont care about them. His gamble doesnt really pay off, however.
As the film draws to its inevitable conclusion, the only thing we want
is a nap.
Owen is a fine actor and can be a riveting presence, but here he is simply
dull. Since we dont learn anything about him until the end (and
even then we know very little), he is little more than a cardboard character
seemingly devoid of humanity.
The bottom line: Youll sleep when you watch it. (R) Rating: 2.5;
Reviewed by Deborah Young
I expected Taxi to be unbearably silly in an overblown comedians-gone-wild
sort of way. As it turns out, the movie is silly, but its also funny,
and some of its characters are quite endearing.
The movie focuses on two characters: street-smart, speed-obsessed taxi
driver Belle (Queen Latifah) and bungling, driving-impaired cop Washburn
When we first meet Belle, shes a helmeted bike messenger. During
the opening credits, she zooms through New York streets as the soundtrack
bounces on Biances Crazy in Love. Belle lithely weaves
the bike in and out of traffic like a stunt man with a death wish. For
a finale, she jumps from one bridge to another, the bike gliding through
the air. Then shes back at the bike garage saying goodbye to her
buddies, because shes off to realize her dream of being a taxi driver.
We first glimpse Washburn when he dons a fake mustache and goes undercover
as a Cuban mobster. He meets the criminals hes trying to set up
and plays the street-savvy role to a tee, Cuban accent and all.
The crooks seem to trust him until someone asks wheres hes
from in Cuba and he adlibs a ridiculous answer. The scene ends with Washburn
and his partner fleeing and Washburn wrecking a police vehicle (which
we soon learn is the third one hes wrecked). His superior officer
then takes his drivers license and busts him down to beat cop.
The lives of Belle and Washburn collide when Washburn commandeers Belles
cab and orders her to pursue four bank robbers. Happy for an excuse to
speed, Belle complies, and the movies off and running. These two
very different characters eventually team up to catch the bank robbers.
At the same time, these two actors employ their very different comedic
styles to evoke a few good laughs. At times, theyre helped by Ann-Margret,
whos very funny as Washburns mom, a lovable lush.
Taxi was directed by Tim Story, who also directed Barbershop.
Like Barbershop, this movie slows at times under the weight of
an overloaded plot, and there is at least one mildly offensive scene.
But Taxis leads have an odd but effective chemistry with
each other. And there are some great one-liners that both surprise and
amuse. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5; Posted 10/8/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Are there viable parallels between the Holocaust and ones frustrations
with household drudgery? Although filmmaker Ferzan Ozptek (His Secret
Life) may not be attempting to say so, a lot of people will think
Facing Windows, the winner of four Italian Oscars (including Best
Picture, Actor and Actress) is, at its best, an extremely well acted comic
drama. At its worst, it is an exercise in overly sentimental, far-fetched
Giovanna Mezzogiorno (The Last Kiss) plays Giovanna, a hard working,
put upon mother of two living in an apartment in contemporary Rome. Her
kindly but lackadaisical husband Filippo (Filippo Nigro from His Secret
Life) has trouble keeping a job. Although Giovanna once dreamed of
being a pastry chef, shes settled on a dreary job in a chicken factory
and makes confections on the side for extra money.
One day, the softhearted Filippo runs into an elderly gent who apparently
cant remember who he is. In spite of Giovannas reluctance,
Filippo tries to help and takes the senile senior to the police station.
After a prolonged wait, Filippo decides to take him home and try to figure
out who he is.
Prodded by one of the children, the only word that comes out of the old
mans mouth is Simone. Giovannas attempts to discover
Simones identity set into motion a series of events that change
her life forever. The old mans presence triggers an impulse in her
that leads her into a romance with a mysterious neighbor from across the
street (Raoul Bova from Alien Vs. Predator.)
Although this plot sounds convoluted, Ozptek manages to fuse the various
elements into an interesting, if somewhat implausible whole. His use of
magic realism helps to integrate elements of Simones past into the
events of the present.
The real attraction here is the acting. Mezzogiorno is quite compelling
as the conflicted mother who yearns for some spice in her life. She has
a face that is perfectly suited for the cinema.
Veteran Italian star Massimo Girotti (Last Tango in Paris, Ossessione)
plays the part of the mysterious Simone. Although his spoken lines are
few, the lines in his face tell all. His subtle work here is a fitting
finale to his notable career. He passed away shortly after filming was
completed and received his acting honors posthumously.
Although flawed, Facing Windows is a sweet-natured, life-affirming
film that deserves kudos for its actors...and its good intentions, as
misguided as they may be. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 9/24/04