Spring finally arrives, the single remaining movie season not yet converted into a massive marketing skullfuck. Rather, the February-April spread is still a catch-as-catch-can olio of leftovers, orphans, low-intensity sellouts, modest genre exercises, award-immune imports, and publicity-confounding freak-outs. It’s difficult to get hyperactive about the spring in film, generally speaking, but it’s a relief to see movies shed their padded-pectoral identities as self-shilling juggernaut events and simply become movies again. Beautiful surprises are not uncommon—as with the B-movies of the studio years, art can happen when the accountants aren’t paying too much attention.
Not to mention, this relatively lax climate can allow the culture to vent on its own, less subject to thought control because there’s less cash on the table. The slate parsed out below, while paradigmatic of the post-awards, pre-summer limbo, scans like a semiconscious expression of the emerging internationalism, from Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, Club Dread, and Eurotrip to Hidalgo‘s Arabian steeplechase, A Foreign Affair‘s goofball Russian tour, I Am David‘s Communist-era Euro-voyage, The Prince & Me‘s Danish daydream, Divan‘s Brooklyn-to-Hungary Hasidic quest, Intermission‘s Dublin pub crawl, Ned Kelly‘s Aussie-western trek, Troy‘s Greek war-waging, and so on.
While Shaolin Soccer takes genre advantage of the world’s unifying sport, both Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World regard the globe as a gimcrack toy box of burnished clichés. Man on Fire and The Alamo both take the blade to Mexico, again, and von Trier’s Dogville invents, from a literal and ideological distance, a canned America. (In its own way, Neil Young’s Greendale is just as alien-minded about heartland U.S.) The Thai epic Bang Rajan, The Clay Bird‘s Bangladeshi exposé, and the searing S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine all threaten to get trampled in the fun-loving stampede over Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Jonathan Demme’s The Agronomist, a portrait of Haitian activism, couldn’t be more timely.
Call it exploitation, exoticism, or, maybe, a half-assed effort to fathom a shrinking global culture. We saw such casual, workaday pop-cult movie-use of the first and third worlds during WW II, where conflict touched every continent and affected every society, and the Cold War, when travel meant glamour and/or espionage, and imported films opened new windows on virtually every exhibit in the human zoo. But today’s cinematic snapshot has a more yearning quality. September 11 and the traumatized immediacy with which it initiated our new and unavoidable intercourse with the rest of mankind won’t be explicitly referenced, of course. But I can’t help but sense a desperate, almost plaintive, and mostly clueless attempt to empathize with cultures we long sought to erase from public consideration, whether manifested in globe-trotting domestic product or in the middle-class box-office successes of films like Bend It Like Beckham, Monsoon Wedding, Atanarjuat, Amores Perros, City of God, Kandahar, The Quiet American, Open Hearts, War Photographer, Whale Rider, Bus 174, Osama, and The Fog of War. And what were the “it’s a small world” odysseys of Winged Migration, Finding Nemo, and The Wild Thornberrys Movie if not multiculti anthropomorphism in action?
Or perhaps the movies haven’t changed at all, haven’t increased or decreased a whit in their co-optation of other hemispheres and peoples, but the way we read them has. To an unprecedented degree, we are uniformly alert to the world’s needs, desires, and rages, and so narrative images of distant poverty, commerce, tradition, quotidian, and drama can shock our eyes open. We know in an incontrovertible way that Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mexico, Iran, North Korea, Indonesia, Sudan, et al. will not evaporate into the mist of forgotten news as they once seemed to. Frankie Muniz may go only as far as Piccadilly Circus and Brad Pitt may not live to see Troy fall, but the rest of the world is here to stay.
A selective preview, compiled and written by Ben Kenigsberg and Joshua Land
One of several films this season featuring fatherless children, this effort from Israeli writer-director Nir Bergman examines the lives of a mother and four children following the abrupt death of the family’s husband and father.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film is a patient study of two cousins’ mutual alienation—a Turkish Odd Couple that builds to small but powerful epiphanies.
A deranged stranger (John Turturro) accuses author Johnny Depp of plagiarism. From a storyby Stephen King, natch. David Koepp directs.
David Mamet’s latest stars Val Kilmer as a government agent who stumbles into a web of conspiracies, secrets, and lies, while trying to rescue the president’s kidnapped daughter.
WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF
Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) concocts another ungainly blend of Scandinavian miserablism and Nancy Meyers triflery. Shirley Henderson is in love with two brothers who own a bookshop.
In this essayistic documentary, local filmmaker Pearl Gluck travels to Hungary to search for her great grandfather’s couch, which has an unusual history.
DAWN OF THE DEAD
Another year, another seemingly pointless remake of a classic ’70s horror film. On the heels of last fall’s poorly received Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we have this new version of George Romero’s 1978 story about the survivors of a global zombie plague taking up residence in an abandoned shopping mall. Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames could keep it interesting.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
So who’s the true genius, Charlie Kaufman or Spike Jonze? We may have the answer after Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine, directed not by Jonze but by Michel Gondry, who did Kaufman’s not so wonderful Human Nature. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are a couple who break up and attempt to have their memories of the relationship erased.
Neil Young’s oddball movie, shot entirely on Super 8, deals with the travails of an extended family in the fictional American town of Greendale. There’s a vague plot involving the shooting of a policeman, but the film is best approached as a feature-length music video, with Young (who directed under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey) employing music and montage as his weapons of choice in this activist cry against Patriot Act-era repression.
This Icelandic festival favorite is a deadpan dramedy, about 10 degrees cooler than Kaurismaki. The title character is an albino genius, but the film is confident enough not to make a show of either peculiarity.
Grégori Derangère, Isabelle Adjani, and Gerard Depardieu make up a love triangle set against the backdrop of the German invasion of France. Jean-Paul Rappeneau directs.
Lars von Trier’s Brechtian masterwork stars Nicole Kidman as a mysterious stranger who wanders into the fictional Colorado town of Dogville during the Great Depression. Eschewing sets and locations, von Trier sets the entire film on a single stage with chalk outlines marking streets and buildings. Sure to be one of the year’s best films.
Allegedly pushed back because of the Gigli fallout, Kevin Smith’s latest isn’t even a wholehearted Bennifer picture, given that (spoiler warning!) J.Lo’s character croaks in the first reel. Liv Tyler plays Affleck’s new love interest. Prescience?
The Coen brothers relocate Alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing classic to the Deep South, sprinkling it with gospel music and—judging from the trailer—outrageously tasteless waffle jokes. Tom Hanks substitutes camped-up gentility for Alec Guinness’s Igor shtick.
MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP
This documentary from George Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse) tells the story of music publicist/DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, credited with helping bands from the Ramones to Coldplay break through to the American mainstream. This one’s full of reminiscences from, among many others, Brian Wilson and David Bowie.
Heath Ledger plays the eponymous 19th-century Australian outlaw. Some have criticized the film’s supposedly romantic portrayal of the legendary folk hero, but we’re always pleased to see Naomi Watts, even in a supporting role.
NEVER DIE ALONE
A journalist (David Arquette) investigates the career of a deceased gang leader (DMX). Directed by erstwhile Spike Lee cinematographer Ernest Dickerson.
Ben Stiller and Jack Black, in the same movie! When Black suddenly gets rich by inventing a spray that makes dog shit evaporate, best friend Stiller becomes consumed by the titular green monster. Barry Levinson directs; Christopher Walken co-stars.
Guillermo del Toro directs this adaptation of Mike Mignola’s cult comic books. Ron Perlman, co-star of the Mexican-born director’s previous Blade II, will “give evil hell” as the title character, a Nazi-created demon who, his name notwith-standing, now fights for the forces of good.
An NYC-set fable from Iranian-born director Amir Naderi (who scored a triumph with The Runner in 1985), Marathon tells the story of a woman who sets out to complete 77 crossword puzzles in 24 hours while traveling around the city.
Patrice Chéreau follows up Intimacy with this story of the gradual reconciliation between two brothers who find themselves together again when the elder one becomes seriously ill.
SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER . . . AND SPRING
Buddhist parable about growth, humility, and the cyclical nature of life from The Isle director Kim Ki-duk. Absolutely no fishhooks are involved.
Blending documentary and fiction, Albertina Carri’s film takes her parents’ murder by the Argentine junta as a starting point for questions about the nature of family and memory.
Bumped from December and thus denied Oscar glory, John Lee Hancock’s remake has one bit of inspired casting—Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett—but it looks like a dreary bore.
Having divided festival audiences worldwide, the latest provocation from Humanité director Bruno Dumont stars Katia Golubeva and David Wissak as a pair of lovers who travel through the SoCal desert having frequent fights and frequent sex.
Jonathan Demme-directed documentary about Haitian activist and radio journalist Jean Dominique, who was assassinated in 2000.
CONNIE AND CARLA
Some Like It . . . Not: Two lounge singers witness a Mafia bloodbath and flee to L.A., where they get a cabaret job by impersonating drag queens. Starring and written by My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘s Nia Vardalos, with no apparent apologies to Billy Wilder or I.A.L. Diamond.
KILL BILL, VOL. 2
Remind us again why they split this in two?
Another comic book character gets his close-up: Marvel’s Charles Bronson (Thomas Jane) takes justice into his own hands after the murder of his family. John Travolta plays the bad guy; Mulholland Drive‘s Laura Harring (!) plays Travolta’s wife.
Sex-soaked but uninvolving Scottish noir based on a novel by Alexander Trocchi, with Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, and, in the lead, Ewan McGregor (and, MPAA willing, his penis).
THIS SO-CALLED DISASTER
Michael Almereyda’s backstage documentary follows a production of Sam Shepard’s The Late Henry Moss from rehearsals to opening night. Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, and Shephard are among the interviewed.
Rumor has it that Mandy Moore shows off her previously untapped “subversive” side in this dark comedy about a girl (Jena Malone) at a Baptist high school whose former friends, led by Moore, turn on her when she becomes pregnant.
Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos star as parents whose recently deceased son is cloned by stem-cell researcher Robert De Niro with creepy results. Hmm . . . The Sixth Sense meets The 6th Day?
LAWS OF ATTRACTION
Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan star as New York City divorce lawyers who fall in love. Moore may be the most interesting actress in Hollywood, but she’ll be hard-pressed to salvage this hackneyed rom-com setup. Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) directs.
THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD
Guy Maddin’s deliriously retro visuals drive this witty satire of American hubris, set in 1933 Winnipeg. In what may be her best role since Blue Velvet, Isabella Rossellini plays a wealthy beer baroness who stages a global competition to determine which nation’s music truly deserves to be called the most melancholy.
SUPERSTAR IN A HOUSEDRESS
Craig Highberger’s doc turns the spotlight on the late Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis, poet, playwright, and transvestite co-star of Paul Morrissey’s 1971 Women in Revolt. Featuring interviews with various luminaries, including the Voice‘s own Michael Musto. Lily Tomlin narrates.
NEW YORK MINUTE
Those Olsen twins will have more than a minute during their stint at NYU, but they only have a day in this formula comedy, where they play Long Island teens—a nerd (Ashley) and a rebel (Mary-Kate)—working out their differences on a day off from school.
Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman)—not a geezer intellectual this time around—bumps heads with Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Wolf Man. He’d probably take on the Mummy, too, if Stephen Sommers hadn’t already directed two Mummy movies.
COFFEE AND CIGARETTES
Jim Jarmusch’s new film consists of a series of vignettes loosely organized around . . . coffee and cigarettes. A number of former Jarmusch collaborators make appearances, including Roberto Benigni, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, and Ghost Dog soundtrack producer RZA.
Das Boot helmer Wolfgang Petersen sets off to sea again, this time for an ambitious adaptation of The Iliad. The script, promisingly, is by 25th Hour‘s David Benioff, and the trailer’s shot of the thousand ships gave us chills. But Brad Pitt as Achilles? Ye gods!
S21: THE KHMER ROUGE KILLING MACHINE
This documentary from Cambodian-born filmmaker Rithy Panh revisits the atrocities perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, a period that saw the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians. The film brings one of the genocide’s survivors face-to-face with some of his former guards.
Business exec Robert Redford is kidnapped by an employee (Willem Dafoe), and Helen Mirren struggles to get him released. In the process, husband and wife re-evaluate their marriage.
END OF THE CENTURY
This doc tells the Ramones story from Queens origins through CBGB heyday up to the recent passings of Joey and Dee Dee. Co-directors Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia mingle live footage with interviews featuring all the original Ramones, along with other musicians, including Deborah Harry, and the late, great Joe Strummer.
If his recent role choices are any indication, this character isn’t much of a stretch for Eddie Murphy.
THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS
Lars von Trier issues a challenge to his mentor Jorgen Leth: Leth will remake his 1967 short, The Perfect Human, five times, each time abiding by a different set of Lars-imposed restrictions. Will Leth pass the test? More importantly, will the films be good?
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
After possibly bringing Western civilization to a new cultural low with the ludicrous Mel Gibson Revolutionary War drama The Patriot, director Roland Emmerich turns to a considerably more probable scenario in this near-future-set disaster movie with Dennis Quaid as a climatologist trying to save the earth from global warming.
HOW TO GET THE MAN’S FOOTOUTTA YOUR ASS
Mario Van Peebles directs and stars as his father Melvin in this docudrama about the making of the elder Van Peebles’s 1971 Molotov cocktail Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
After winning a large settlement in a lawsuit, a man uses the money to start the first all-black airline, NWA. Would you get on a plane with Snoop Dogg as the pilot? Would you get on a plane with Tom Arnold as a passenger?
THE TIME OF THE WOLF
Not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, Michael Haneke’s newest film reunites him with Piano Teacher star Isabelle Huppert. Set in the aftermath of some unexplained disaster, the film chronicles Huppert’s efforts to keep herself and her two children alive in the French countryside.