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November 2004

Hits and Misses

What's hot and what's not in the film world this month

The Manchurian Candidate****
Based on the best-selling novel by Richard Condon and the 1962 film of the same name, the latest take on The Manchurian Candidate is nothing less than thrilling and timely. Directed by Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) and starring two-time Oscar winners Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Meryl Streep (Adaptation), the film not only has great talent behind it, but delivers every ounce of that talent onto the screen. Washington plays US Army Major Bennett Marco, who is haunted by dreams about an ambush of his platoon that took place in Kuwait during the Gulf War. He becomes dismayed to discover that an ex-member of his platoon is experiencing the same terrifying dreams, and investigates the coincidence by contacting another ex-soldier. This is Sergeant Raymond Shaw, who won the Medal of Honor for saving Marco’s crew that fateful night, and who now also seems a sure-fire candidate for Vice President of the United States. Played by Liev Schreiber (Sum of All Fears), Shaw is slightly intrigued by but ultimately skeptical about his buddies’ sleepless nights, while his over-controlling mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw (Streep), does everything in her power to keep him focused on getting into the White House. Undeterred, Marco digs deeper, and races to discover the unthinkable truth before it’s too late. The film does seem to have an incredibly slow start, with the first five minutes focused on a group of soldiers playing cards in a combat vehicle. But after those five minutes are up, the movie grabs you and races on, never letting go for a minute. The acting is superb, the direction rock solid and the timing of the film couldn’t be better, with the influence of big money on politics more topical today than ever before.
German Release Date (subject to change)
November 11
US rated R for violence and language

Bad Santa*
Bad Santa is not just a bad Christmas movie; it’s a bad movie in general. Sure there are some funny moments in the film, and the premise is humorous enough, but there has got to be more to moviemaking than this. Bad Santa actually screened here at the 2004 Filmfest München in July, and one can certainly see why the movie had to go the film-festival route to get a distributor. Now I’m not a man who gets too offended by a few swear words. Heck, I’ve even been known to come out with a few myself under extreme stress. But this here Christmas film starts out with a Santa that should have been kept in prison solely on account of his foul mouth. Call me old-fashioned, but there is just something about Father Christmas swearing, smoking, drinking and doing it in the car with a woman who has a Santa fetish that is just a bit too much. Wonderful character actor Billy Bob Thorton (Monster’s Ball) stars as the safe-cracking Kris Kringle, who, with his African-American, vertically challenged sidekick, Tony Cox (Willow), robs the safes of the malls where they work each Christmas. There is supposed to be a redemptive quality to the film through the subplot of Bad Santa learning to love and give unselfishly to a young, fat and cute-as-a-button, curly-haired blonde boy named Thurman Merman, but even Billy Bob can’t break this fallen, jolly character out of the first dimension. The only genuinely touching aspect of the film is the first closing credit, which dedicates the film in loving memory to John Ritter, who played the general manager of the mall. So unless you’re spending Christmas alone this year, and feel some bitterness about it, you may want to check the video store for more worthy holiday fare.
German Release Date (subject to change)
November 18
US rated R for language, strong sexual content and violence

New release on DVD
The Ladykillers***
With 11 films in 20 years, the Cohen brothers have had their share of both hits (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) and misses (The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty). And, though there are definitely more hits than misses in Joel and Ethan Cohen’s eleventh film, The Ladykillers, it does fail to deliver a complete knock out. As with much of their previous work, the movie is overflowing with eccentric characters and a botched crime, with the ringleader of this particular heist being the charming Professor G. H. Dorr, compellingly played by Tom Hanks (The Terminal). After Professor Dorr rents a room from a sweet old woman in a small, sleepy Southern town, he proceeds to acquire a team of “professionals” to dig a tunnel from her basement to the vault of a casino and relieve it of its weighty greenbacks. Needless to say things don’t go exactly as planned, and the comedy progresses from burglary to murder. Though there are some very funny moments in the film, like when Marlon Wayans gets slapped back and forth for his “hippity-hop language” by the old Christian woman of the house, the through-line of the film seems to be wavering a bit.
German Release Date (subject to change)
November 11
US rated R for language

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