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Film Clips 

Capsule reviews of recently released movies

New Releases

THE WICKER MAN The 1973 cult offering The Wicker Man is one of those compelling "mood pieces" that could only have emerged from the early 70s. Like other fine works of its period (including two by Nicolas Roeg, Don't Look Now and Walkabout), it employs allegory and atmosphere to amplify its thin veneer of the supernatural -- it registers as a fantasy flick in our minds more than it does on the screen. The Wicker Man, about a repressed detective (Edward Woodward) who visits a remote island off the coast of Scotland in search of a missing girl and in the process unearths a decadent and primitive society, was ultimately an examination of competing religions -- Christianity vs. paganism -- and as such had a field day offering up a slew of ambiguous interpretations that (depending on the viewer) either spoke out against rigid Christian doctrine, against reckless hedonism, or against any form of organized worship. Writer-director Neil LaBute's remake is a disastrous miscalculation, shucking religion completely and instead fashioning the tale as a battle between upstanding male dominance and wicked feminist doctrine. LaBute has repeatedly faced charges of misogyny (see In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things and Your Friends & Neighbors) but never before has he appeared quite this terrified of emasculation -- it's as if John Bobbitt had gotten hold of a movie camera and made a film in which all the female characters were based on his interpretation of Lorena Bobbitt. Nicolas Cage plays the befuddled protagonist here, no longer a God-(and sex-)fearing cop but rather a generic Hollywoodized detective (no spiritual side, haunted by a past tragedy, forever popping pills, etc.). Hampered by its fondness for annoying dream sequences, the film mopes along drearily, the only jolts coming when we witness an unexpected rage in Cage as he punches and kicks several women (including teenage girls); then again, these scenes are perfectly in line with LaBute's apparent worldview. On its own terms, this Wicker Man earns a weak two stars for a few effectively staged sequences and OK performances; compared to its predecessor, it's a one-star blasphemy. So that averages out to ... *1/2

Current Releases

BROKEN BRIDGES The first motion picture produced by Country Music Television, Broken Bridges has no business playing in multiplexes, given that it basically warbles "made-for-TV" throughout its entire running time. In his feature film debut, country music star Toby Keith plays Bo Price, a -- you guessed it -- country music star who's fallen on hard times thanks to booze and bad memories. He returns to his tiny hometown at the same time as Angela Delton (Kelly Preston), the woman he impregnated and abandoned 16 years earlier. Hoping to start anew, Bo does his best to not only break down Angela's defenses but also those of Dixie (Lindsey Haun), the daughter he's meeting for the first time. Keith, who never changes expressions over the course of this generic film (he remains as immobile as a bookcase), may receive top billing, but he's trumped at every turn in his own star vehicle, as Haun easily bests him in both the acting and singing departments. Perhaps not since George Strait shut eyelids nationwide with 1992's Pure Country has C&W had it so bad on screen. *1/2

THE DESCENT With rare exception, Hollywood has lost its ability to create memorable or meaningful horror flicks, which makes this British import all the more welcome. One of the finest terror tales in many a full moon, writer-director Neil Marshall's gory gem follows six outdoor enthusiasts -- all female -- as they embark on a spelunking expedition deep in the Appalachian mountains. The competitive Juno (Natalie Mendoza) leads the outfit while Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) tries to overcome a recent tragedy in her life; along with the others, they descend deep into a cavern that's frightening even before its cannibalistic occupants (who all look like Gollum's cousins) show up and start tearing into human flesh. The Descent is so expertly made that it more than holds its own as a full-throttle horror flick, yet it's Marshall's decision to provide it with a psychological bent that puts it firmly over the top. The film addresses guilt -- specifically, survivor's guilt -- in a welcome manner and imbues its protagonists with messy moral dilemmas that allow them to alternate between heroine and villain, survivor and victim, wallflower and warrior. It's just a shame they didn't keep the original British ending. ***1/2

HOLLYWOODLAND Before Christopher Reeve, it was George Reeves who was most identified with the role of Superman, thanks to the hit TV series that ran throughout much of the 1950s. But in 1959, Reeves apparently committed suicide, though speculation has always run rampant that the hulking actor was actually the victim of foul play. Hollywoodland is a fictionalized take on this theory, centering on a smalltime detective (Adrien Brody) as he sets off to uncover the truth. Was Reeves (Ben Affleck) murdered by his opportunistic girlfriend (Robin Tunney)? By his older lover (Diane Lane)? By the older woman's husband (Bob Hoskins)? Or, in the final analysis, did Reeves really pull the trigger himself? Hell if anyone knows for sure, and that includes the makers of this film, who trot out every conceivable scenario without ever committing to one. Still, that's hardly a flaw, as the open-endedness allows this handsome picture to tantalizingly jump back and forth between its colorful characters. The performances are uniformly fine, and the movie basks in its nostalgia-twinged visions of vintage LA. ***

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