SIFF Picks and Pans


(New Line Cinema)   THE NOTEBOOK Save your 50 bucks. This adaptation of the 1996 Nicolas Sparks best seller is, if possible, even more schmaltzy and insufferable than the book. It looks like a Hallmark card and seems destined—very soon after its June 25 opening in theaters—for a Hallmark Hall of Fame special TV presentation, although that would be an insult to a reputable greeting-card company. Forget the MPAA rating, this film should be quarantined by the CDC. The sunsets turn so golden they're toxic. The lachrymose soundtrack can kill. Young love and sage wisdom combine via flashback into a Southern swamp so poisonously sentimental, it will contaminate all who set foot in it. Rachel McAdams (The Hot Chick) and Ryan Gosling (The Believer) play teenage sweethearts during the summer of 1940 who are separated by cruel fate, then World War II, until she's engaged to another. Which man will she choose? Could there be a connection between these events, seen in extended flashbacks, and the handwritten love story James Garner is patiently reading to Alzheimer's-afflicted Gena Rowlands from that little notebook? Briefly lucid, she murmurs, "How fast the time goes." Not fast enough, Gena, not fast enough. (PG-13) Fifth Avenue Theatre. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., May 20. BRIAN MILLER  

(Sony Pictures Classic)   FACING WINDOW SIFF has named Italian writer/director Ferzan Ozpetek one of its "Emerging Masters" this year, and his latest is fine evidence that they're onto something. Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, pictured right) has two charming kids, a loving husband with limited ambitions, and the embattled look of someone for whom just getting through the day is officially a chore. Her furtive obsession with Lorenzo (Raoul Bova, left), the gorgeous guy she's been watching in the opposite apartment, rekindles her spirit when the two meet while aiding Simone (Massimo Girotti), a lost old man not quite sure who he is but haunted by a memory that has defined him since World War II. Like the director's hearty, bittersweet Steam: The Turkish Bath (SIFF '99) and His Secret Life (titled Ignorant Fairies at SIFF '01), Window stirringly considers the pursuit of happiness as an act of necessary bravery. Giovanna's awakening isn't an easy "movie" emancipation—we're not asked to simply root for an affair with Lorenzo, and an affair with Lorenzo would solve nothing—but a reflection of the need to construct our lives based on what's most true within us. Simone, and Ozpetek, insists that we "must demand to live in a better world, not just dream about it." (NR) Pacific Place. 7:15 p.m. Fri., June 4, and 4:15 p.m. Sat., June 5. STEVE WIECKING  

(Paul Angeli)   MAN ON THE TRAIN Blowing into town like a Sergio Leone cowboy, bank robber Milan (Johnny Hallyday) meets retired teacher Manesquier (Jean Rochefort, pictured), and an unlikely friendship develops between these two polar opposites. Don't let "opposites" put you off: This 2003 effort by Patrice Leconte, who's being honored at SIFF this year, isn't one of those dreadful mismatched Gallic buddy films by Francis Veber (The Closet). Though the setup sounds suitably unpromising, no one in the movie is corseted or closeted. But it is French in the way that friendship, and talk, can be an art—if practiced with wit and a light hand. Over the next three days, each man becomes intrigued by the other's life. However, if you think you can predict the outcome in any way, you underestimate director Leconte's rigor. This Train doesn't stop where expected. (NR) Harvard Exit. 2 p.m. Sat., May 22. SHEILA BENSON  

(Miramax Films)   THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI In some ways, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano (pictured) makes Quentin Tarantino look self-effacing. Tarantino is a writer/director/actor, too, but at least he confines himself to bit parts in his movies. Kitano seizes the title role in this swashbuckler about a blind sword-fighting master who wanders the Earth, committing random acts of senseless violence and signing his gory work with a Zorro-esque flourish. Unfortunately, I only got to see part of the film at Sundance, but SW's Sheila Benson says the rest of it is terrific (it opens June 11). I'm still furious, because everybody says the most eye-popping part is the dancing-peasants extravaganza at the end, which many compared to Stomp. But I can reassure you that it starts out great, in a Kill Bill way, mixing melodrama with comedy, long meditative passages with action, oceans of blood with acres of talk. The cheesy CG—grafted crudely onto the fight scenes—is delightfully campy. I'm not quite clear on the plot, which involves a gangster's bodyguard and a couple of bloodthirsty geishas with a Crying Game secret, but perhaps that was in the altitude-sickness fever dream I had in Utah's alpine air. I liked half of Zatoichi better than the first half of Kill Bill—but maybe that's just because it was, for me at least, shorter. (R) Cinerama, 6:45 p.m. Fri., June 4, and 9 p.m. Sun., June 6. TIM APPELO  

(Magnolia Pictures)   CONTROL ROOM The Iraq war is about images as much as bombs, and Control Room takes us back behind enemy lines on the eve of invasion. Shot over almost five weeks at Al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar, this much-needed doc follows a group of journalists from the moment of Bush's announcement to the missile strike on the network's Baghdad offices. Director Jehane Noujaim, barred from the newsroom, hangs with chain-smoking, coffee-swilling Al-Jazeera staffers in the cafeteria and sits in on tête-à-têtes between U.S. press officer John Rushing and the international press. Combining the office material with Al-Jazeera's rattling war footage, the film bears the mark of Noujaim's previous vérité excursion from SIFF '01, It's also a sympathetic portrait of characters confronting unpredictable and often tragic events. Noujaim's subjects are neither the brazen propagandists Rumsfeld wants us to believe they are, nor distanced observers. And that includes Rushing, who goes from being a perfect PR droid to the startling admission when he realizes footage of dead American soldiers upsets him more than that of Iraqi civilians. Then there's Al-Jazeera producer Samir Khader, who points at images of a bloodied Iraqi child and declares, "They call this propaganda. I call it true journalism." Then later he confides, "Between us, if I'm offered a job at Fox, I'll take it." (NR) Egyptian. 7 p.m. Wed., June 9, and 4:45 p.m. Thurs., June 10. PABLO MORALES  

(Zeitgeist Films)   THE CORPORATION Every once in a while, someone writes a book that could actually change the world. Whether people pay attention is another thing. Machiavelli's The Prince did. So did Das Kapital. John Maynard Keynes' The Economic Consequences of the Peace was ignored, and the world had to go through Hitler and the Great Depression in consequence. I wonder what will come of The Corporation? The Corporation is both a book (Free Press, $25) and a documentary film (opening after SIFF June 18 at the Egyptian). The central argument of both is simple: In law, corporations are treated as synthetic persons. If such persons were human, Vancouver, B.C., lawyer and author Joel Bakan asks himself, what kind of people would they be? Psychotic people, he answers; and in two hours and 25 minutes of screen time, he and his collaborators convince you that he's absolutely right. (The 166 pages of the book are even more convincing.) The film is cool and measured in tone, more Noam Chomsky than Michael Moore. It achieves its devastating force also by letting corporate insiders talk—and thereby expose the lunacy of their system in their own words. (NR) Harvard Exit, 4:15 p.m. Thurs., May 27; and Egyptian, 6 p.m. Sat., May 29. ROGER DOWNEY  

(Courtesy of SIFF)   9 SOULS An aerial photograph of contemporary Tokyo morphs from buildings into a green countryside to begin 9 Souls. That same mesmerizing process of evolution continues throughout the film. Nine prisoners escape from jail, each one a criminal, yet each a human being clinging to old memories and the hope of a new life. Toshiaki Toyoda's beautifully crafted tale simply follows the transformation of these "beasts" into somehow lovable people. While disguising themselves (really poorly) in drag, running from the law, and sexually assaulting sheep, the nine disparate types gradually bond, yet each must follow his own separate path to redemption and/or destruction. Among them, Mame Yamada keeps things light as the comedic doctor, Shiratori, while Ryuhei Matsuda is heartbreaking as Kaneko, isolated and inaccessible after having murdered his father. Be warned that after the escapees' frolicking, 9 Souls does take a turn for the brutal and bloody; parts can be hard to look at directly, like the sun that damages your eyes with its intensity. (NR) Pacific Place. 4:45 p.m. Sun., May 30, and 9 p.m. Mon., May 31. HEATHER LOGUE  

(Emilie de la Hosseraye)   BEFORE SUNSET From Slacker to Tape, Richard Linklater has always worked well with compact durations, and in this ultra-brief re-encounter (a mere 80 minutes), the director and his actors (all three share writing credit) thrillingly orchestrate an entire movie's worth of real-time momentum. The basic tonal difference between original and sequel is what gives Sunset its enormous poignancy—the twentysomething Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) viewed their chance meeting as ripe with endless possibility; their wiser, sadder, older selves understand that the unexpected reunion leaves them with finite options, none of them easy. Nine years after Before Sunrise, the two meet at a Paris reading from his novel inspired by their tryst. In the remaining hour or so before his New York–bound flight, the two stroll down Left Bank streets and along the Seine, riffing up a storm—a digressive, lifelike torrent of nervous niceties, banal chat, cagey evasions, earnest philosophizing, and strategic confessions—all the while trying to keep regret at bay. Hawke's Jesse has lost some of his narcissistic pretensions (and the actor gamely leaves his novelist alter ego open to mockery), but as in the first film, Delpy's the heartbreaker. Her grown-up Céline—at turns spontaneous and self-conscious, given to righteous tirades and goofy balladeering—is a heroine Jacques Rivette would adore. (R) Cinerama. 7 p.m. Sat., June 5. DENNIS LIM

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