Where The Heart Is

A movie about what’s generally known as white trash—and not to be confused with John Boorman’s quirky 1990 comedy about yuppies, which bears the same title. Dumped by her musician boyfriend (Dylan Bruno) at an Oklahoma Wal-Mart, Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman), who’s 17 and pregnant, camps out and makes new friends, some of them played by Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, and James Frain. Moving in fits and starts, mawkish in its sincerity, and at times disjointed in its lumpy structure, this drama about the plight of unmarried mothers, adapted by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from a novel by Billie Letts, probably would have fared much better as a Warners second feature of the 30s, about half as long and twice as gritty. This has agreeable sentiments but lousy reflexes, such as its way of signaling tragic events well in advance through the hokey score. TV producer Matt Williams directed. 120 min. (JR)

Published on 31 Mar 2003 in Featured Texts, by admin

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The Same River Twice

In 1978, Robb Moss filmed a river trip he took with his hippie friends in the Grand Canyon; 20 years later he visited five of them to see how they’ve changed and to reflect on the old footage. It’s a natural subject for a documentary, but this is far more than an evocative chronicle of a generation. Moss has an acute feeling for structure and juxtaposition and for the quality and sensibility of his friends, each of whom seems to have preserved his or her love of nature in a different way. 78 min. (JR)

Published on 28 Mar 2003 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Laurel Canyon

In her first feature, High Art (1998), writer-director Lisa Cholodenko created a convincing milieu of media professionals who were both sexy and unpredictable. This sophomore effort is even better, confronting two uptight lovers (Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale) with the rock music scene when they graduate from Harvard Medical School and head west to complete their studies. Bale’s mother (Frances McDormand), a famous record producer, is sleeping with the lead singer (Alessandro Nivola) of the British band she’s recording at her Laurel Canyon home, and after she invites her son and his fiancee to move in, all sorts of unexpected things happen. McDormand has never been better, but all the performances are interestingly nuanced, including Natascha McElhone’s as one of Bale’s fellow psychiatric interns. I was put off by the inconclusive ending, but the rest of this movie more than makes up for it. 103 min. (JR)

Published on 28 Mar 2003 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Basic

This effective, well-paced antimilitary thriller has more conflicting flashbacks than you can shake a stick at. On New Year’s Eve 1999 a sadistic drill sergeant (Samuel L. Jackson) at a U.S. army base near the Panama Canal leads a squad of trainees on jungle maneuvers during a hurricane, and only two men survive (Giovanni Ribisi and Brian Van Holt). The irritated captain (Connie Nielsen) calls in a cantankerous ex-army ranger (John Travolta, terrific) to help question the survivors about what happened. Director John McTiernan does a swell job with James Vanderbilt’s sneaky script in keeping us guessing. 98 min. (JR)

Published on 28 Mar 2003 in Featured Texts, by admin

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