Gary Ross, the scenarist for Dave and writer-director of Pleasantville, tries to fashion another inspirational patriotic myth out of Laura Hillenbrand’s best seller about a famous racehorse of the mid-1930s and three broken men who find salvation through their association with the quirky equine. Maybe the magic will work for those who loved the book, but I found this film stultifyingly self-important and, despite the regularity with which it cuts to the chase, weirdly static. Jeff Bridges (a former auto tycoon), Chris Cooper (an ex-cowboy), and Tobey Maguire (a driven, lonely jockey) know how to hold the right poses, and I enjoyed William H. Macy as a hokey radio announcer who accompanies his spiels with sound effects. But Randy Newman’s lugubrious score proves that he’s become as much a movie hack as Philip Glass, and the narrowness of narrative focus thwarts the sprawl and scale required for a proper period epic. With Elizabeth Banks and Gary Stevens. PG-13, 140 min. (JR)
Though the ads for this British secret service farce primed me for an Austin Powers knockoff, the real model for Rowan Atkinson’s stumblebum title hero is Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther comedies. Director Peter Howitt is no Blake Edwards, and some of the slapstick is infantile and, especially toward the end, scatological, but the sheer lunacy of the plotFrench tycoon Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich with a Clouseau accent) steals the crown jewels and then contrives to get himself crowned king of Englandcarries things along, and on its own modest terms, this romp delivers. Backing up agent English are Natalie Imbruglia (whose character is split rather confusingly between scorn for and infatuation with the hero) and comedian Ben Miller; the amiable script is by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and William Davies. 88 min. (JR)
An Israeli rabbi advises his horny yeshiva student (Oren Rehany) to visit a prostitute so he won’t be further distracted, but the youth winds up falling for a 19-year-old Russian hooker (Tchelet Semel) and working at a multicultural bar in Jerusalem that’s run by one of her clients (Saul Stein). For his first feature writer-director Eitan Golan has adapted his semiautobiographical novella “Mike’s Place, a Jerusalem Diary,” and though I anticipated a cutesy comedy, this is something more interesting: a fresh look at contemporary Israeli life, with good performances by all three leads and touching psychological nuances. The story’s resolution isn’t very satisfying, but I considered most of this movie time well spent. The dialogue is mostly in English; the rest is subtitled Arabic, Hebrew, and Russian. 96 min. Landmark’s Century Centre.
This fascinating documentary by Sam Green and Bill Siegel (2002) looks at the Weathermen, whose radical antiwar activism during the late 60s and early 70s culminated in acts of domestic terrorism. By far the most provocative commentary comes from former Weathermen Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Brian Flanagan, David Gilbert, and Mark Rudd; some of them, like Dohrn, remain proud of what they did, while others, notably Rudd, are now somewhat ashamed. Unfortunately, the closer the filmmakers get to the present, the less politically adventurous they are. They’re graphic and powerful on this country’s slaughter of innocent Vietnamese (which, rightly or wrongly, motivated the Weathermen’s terrorism) but are completely silent about the recent and ongoing slaughter of innocents in the Middle East and Afghanistan, so that Rudd’s pivotal comparison of Weathermen terrorism with 9/11 is denied any wider context. 92 min. (JR)