*Aguirre the Wrath of God
(Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) Werner Herzog’s 1972 masterpiece, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” released in a beautifully restored 35mm print, opens wreathed in high-elevation mist, a helmet-shaped mountain emerging, paths spiraling along its side dotted with ant-sized figures—Spanish explorers, Indian slaves—who, after a few moments, having crossed a rope bridge, approach the camera and take on human scale. Scored in spare fashion by Popul Vuh, it’s the first of a wealth of indelible images that speak to the otherworldly quality of exploration and the historical sense of entitlement of explorers, as well as to Herzog’s singular way of seeing the world. It’s concrete spectacle that resists metaphorical diminishment. The “Pierrot le fou”-red blood is bold against jungle backdrops, but boldest of all is Klaus Kinski’s embodiment of the mad survivor; the simian roll of his shoulders matches the staring blue of his large, mad eyes. I will not tell you how the movie ends but once you have seen it you will want to tell everyone: this is perfection. The subtitles vary at times from what’s being said in German; although “Shit on Pizarro!” and “The arrow is not real” are close, “Long arrows seem to be in fashion” is a nice Herzog rewrite for English readers.
100m. (Ray Pride)
Directed by Mel Gibson. See Film feature. 136m. Genesis HD to 35mm.
“Treasure of Sierra Leone”? “Blood Diamond” tries to be far too many things, succeeding at a handful and failing at most. A story set in Africa in the 1990s, when “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds,” gems of improper provenance which financed armed conflicts, and even genocide, were commonly mixed into the stones that the tightly controlled diamond market sent into the world, Ed Zwick’s (“Glory,” “The Last Samurai,” “thirtysomething”) eighth feature is many things but not a satisfying whole. Leonard Di Caprio plays a Zimbabwean-born smuggler whose path crosses that of an enslaved field miner (Djimon Hounsou) who’s discovered and buried an immense pink diamond and an ambitious journalist (Jennifer Connelly). Every manner of depredation of the West upon Africa and Africa upon itself gets tangled up in their quest for riches and escape. Zwick’s social conscience (the script is by Charles Leavitt; “K-Pax,” “The Sunchaser”) at times suggests he’s a twenty-first century Stanley Kramer with smartly flirtatious banter. Connelly glows with the words she’s given to say; Di Caprio is learning a smolder to supplant his youthful smugness. Di Caprio even finds the notes within a heavy accent to sell “Well, off the record, I like to get kissed before I get fucked, eh.” At other times, didactic illustrative dialogue suggests Andrew Niccol’s “Lord of War,” made with different skills. The panorama of slaughter and violence, which is not limited to limb-hacking, defenestrations, dragged bodies, million-strong refugee camps and small boys wielding machine guns, comes fast and furious, and atrocity fatigue sets in before an hour has passed. Hounsou (“Gladiator,” “The Island,” “In America”) is a marvelous presence and his acting gets better and better: sadly, his final scene is one about the African finding his voice, which is accompanied by white men’s applause, and not language. But I love it when Connelly says, “Three out of five ex-boyfriends recently polled say I live in a state of constant crisis or maybe I just give a shit.” 143m. (Ray Pride)
Cave of the Yellow Dog
(Die Höhle des gelben Hundes) Directed by Byambasuren Davaa. From the makers of “Story of the Weeping Camel,” the story of a Mongolian girl and the dog only she loves. 93m. NR
*The History Boys
Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Adaptation, with original stage cast, of Alan Bennett’s hit play. With Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Stephen Campbell Moore, Samuel Barnett, Dominic Cooper, James Corden, Jamie Parker, Russell Tovey, Samuel Anderson and Clive Merrison. 104m. NR.
If writer-director Nancy Meyer is really bad at anything, it’s titles. “Something’s Gotta Give” was a terrible moniker for a likeable picture, and what about “The Holiday”? Yikes! More syrup than saccharine, Meyers’ lovingly over-produced, overstuffed “The Holiday” is grandiloquent lifestyle porn, an aggressively eager romantic comedy that puts the haute in haute bourgeois in virtually every scene. London Telegraph society writer Iris (Kate Winslet) remains heartbroken over co-worker and emotional user Jasper (Rufus Sewell); when he announces his engagement to “that girl from circulation” at a Christmas party, she’s ready to swap her cozy cottage for the Los Angeles spread of trailer-cutter Amanda (Cameron Diaz, boasting an alluring array of laugh lines) who’s just been cheated on by Ethan (Ed Burns), a film composer. (Ed Burns! Yoiks!) Once out of water, they’re both fishing for new love in this rat-bastard symphony, and will be happy only once they find a new man; Amanda meets Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law, charming and wan, as usual), and Amanda gets entangled with Miles (Jack Black), a composer buddy of Ethan’s, as well as nonagenarian screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), who delineates the “meet-cute” and shoulders on the mantel of late centenarian movie-and-theater fixer-upper George Abbott. (What is it with these fucking names? Iris-Jasper-Graham-Ethan-Miles-Amanda? Did Meyers go to Bed Bath & Christian Name?) Tenderhearted in a way that could be taken for tender-headed by the unemotional, Meyers’ fourth directorial venture charms despite itself. Problematically, Meyers has a way of gelding the lily: a perfect, perfect L.A. moment in a video store—a movie-star missed connection—also contains Black’s character name-checking composer Hans Zimmer—who scored “The Holiday.” Meyers seems to have a similar, neurotic over-processing as another Columbia Pictures house director, James L. Brooks, but luckily, this ain’t “Spanglish.” Both Winslet and Diaz are given the gift of many close-ups, and Meyers knows when to use Winslet’s tickled laughter. (Turning fifty-seven on Friday’s opening day, Meyer is a grown woman but has attained full girliness.) Diaz is wholly indulged in her gloriously frisky facial calisthenics, and gets one of the year’s best kiss scenes (second only to Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Stranger than Fiction”). Diaz also evokes the only fair comparison between Meyers and Preston Sturges: they share willingness and desire to let an attractive woman like her walk into pillars and posts. Two child actors, Miffy Englefield and Emma Pritchard, are cuter than their names and demolish every scene they’re in just by having their eyes open. I mean this in a good way: “The Holiday” is like a golden retriever puppy that’s so excited it almost, but doesn’t quite, piss the parquet. Key line: “I sew and I have a cow.” Don’t look at furnishings catalogs for a week; take a date; don’t have a cow. 135m. (Ray Pride)
Paul Feig’s ADD-M&M-fueled “Unaccompanied Minors,” the first feature drawn from a “This American Life” sketch, is inferior to his “Freaks & Geeks” and “Arrested Development” output but superior in most every jacked-up way to the average teensploitation kids-run-amok tale. (And while physically active, “Minors” manages to miss out on the cruelest violence of the John Hughes-Chris Columbus “Home Alone” holiday heartwarmers.) “Babysitting,” Susan Burton’s slim story about being stranded at O’Hare as a teen with her little sister over Christmas Eve, opens with the keen line, “It seemed we had never been around so many divorced kids at once.” The divorce stuff is downplayed, and her character becomes a boy. (“Boys don’t go to see movies about girls but girls will go see movies about boys” is executive producer Ira Glass’ summation of Warner Bros.’ reasoning for the change.) The opening credits are as speedy as any memory, whooshing and bustling with energy. The movie is frantic and worrisome, including two downhill action scenes. Gia Mantegna, daughter of Chicago’s own Joe M., who plays the rich girl who’s not really snotty at heart, and was once a “dork,” has one of the sweeter scenes, when she dons cool horn rims and the swan turns teen librarian. An almost-unrecognizable Teri Garr, dressed as Mrs. Fat Bastard, has a handful of cruel drunk scenes. With Lewis Black, Brett Kelly (“Bad Santa”’s Thurman Merman), Wilmer Valderama, Tyler James Williams, Dyllan Christopher, Quinn Shephard, Paget Brewster, Rob Corddry, David Koechner and three Kids in the Hall. The supporting cast at the fictional Hoover International—the kids’ demolition of the setting and flouting of its security preclude it being set in O’Hare or any functioning airport—includes AirTran, Baseball Weekly, Cinnabon, Starbucks, Sanrio, Hello Kitty, Dior, Abercrombie, K-Mart, Windows, Toshiba, Sharper Image, Al Roker, Sharper Image, Gmail, Krispy Kremes, Aquaman, Coke, Lay’s, Slinky, KLM, Hummer, and Strunk & White. 89m. Panavision 2.40 widescreen. (Ray Pride)
(Captive, 2003) Gastón Biraben’s telenovela-esque Argentinean thriller follows a Buenos Aires deb who discovers at the ripe age of 15 that her real parents were “disappeared” activists under the 1970s military dictatorship. Pulled from what she had presumed would always be her life, she tumbles into a detective story about who she really is, and while the complications are extended, there are several terrific, terrifying moments. 113m. (Ray Pride)
Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds
Phillip J. Bartell’s softly soft-porn comedy sequel, “Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds” is much in the vein of the original, an over-the-top series of comic vignettes about sexual confusion and gender dabbling with high points and very low ones. Sexual orientation is extremely fluid in Q. Allan Brocka’s script, bold, crass, dopey and in a class of its own. 85m. (Ray Pride)
The resurgence of European anti-Semitism is the subject of Richard Trank’s (whose “The Long Way Home” won an Oscar) documentary “Ever Again,” (what a chilling bit of wordplay) which was produced and co-written by the Simon Wiesenthal Cetner’s Rabbi Marvin Hier, and narrated by Kevin Costner. Drawing from incidents involving neo-Nazis and followers of Islamic extremists, crossing the continent in France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and the United Kingdom, “Ever Again” is horrifying, and damning, from start to finish. (Ray Pride)
*Linda Linda Linda
One of the more joyous comedies of the year, Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Kaurismaki-esque “Linda Linda Linda,” which takes its title from an infernally catchy Japanese pop song, is a little like “Rock School,” seems influenced by Jim Jarmusch, but filled with the kind of girl-pubescence exuberance that only the Japanese do well and could never be enacted by the successors of Hilary Duff. Like the great “All About Lily Chou Chou,” “Linda Linda Linda” treats music like air or water: strictly necessary. This is irresistible fun. 114m. (Ray Pride)