Happening

50 FIRST DATES

Adam Sandler plays Henry Roth, a veterinarian in Hawaii who is well-known for loving then leaving tourists, fearing any long-term commitment that could put a damper on his individuality.  One day, however, he sees comely Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) in a waffle house and is mesmerized by something about her, presumably her resemblance to that girl from E.T. After Roth flirts with her, they agree to meet for breakfast the next day. When he arrives however, she doesn’t remember him; soon, he discovers that she has complete short-term memory loss: therefore, obviously, he must woo her anew every day, often with the help of his animal coterie or his wacky friends like gay Polynesian Ula (Rob Schneider) and Lucy’s oddly lisping muscleman brother Doug (Sean Astin).  The film comes equipped with the usual Sandlerian dynamics, but a special surprise ending partially redeems the general boorishness. (SAW)

CITY OF GOD

Brazilian Fernando Meirelles’ high-energy depiction of gang warfare in the titular Rio de Janeiro slum has been met with critical raves, four Oscar nominations, and comparisons to the mob pictures of Martin Scorsese. The protagonist, a young photographer named Rocket, succeeds in evading the gang lifestyle; his childhood friend fails to follow suit, instead succumbing to the temptations of crime and power. Dynamic, darkly funny and spitting electricity, City of God presents a strife-ridden world lurching towards destruction. (BJS)

THE COOLER 

The conceit underlying The Cooler is that casinos employ certain individuals who are so hangdog depressed that they cause any winning gamblers around them to begin losing. Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is particularly good at the job, so good in fact, that he need only brush up against someone to cut short a winning streak. But as luck would have it, days before he is about to retire, he meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a waitress drawn in by his pitiable existence. The encounter quickly progresses and soon Natalie is firmly clutching a nude Bernie’s genitalia in one of the year’s more unsettling images. The ensuing relationship transforms the gloomiest cooler in town into an exuberant lucky charm. Imbuing the endearingly wretched Macy with supernatural powers is a welcome violation of character expectations, but falls apart in the context of a film that doubles down on every available Vegas movie cliche, from the brutal, solitary casino owner and his cadre of double-chinned thugs to the gilded-heart hooker. After an innocuous first act, the plot quickly careens into a darker realm that can’t sustain the levity of the two main characters. There is some fine acting in this film, particularly from Paul Sorvino as the outdated singer in the casino lounge, but perhaps The Cooler would have been better served had the bright lights of the Strip not been dimmed so bleakly. (BBC)

THE DREAMERS

An NC-17 movie focusing on sexy teenagers in 1968 Paris who are obsessed with movies, sex and politics, in that order, from the director of Last Tango In Paris. The plot begins with Matthew (Leonardo DiCaprio look-alike Michael Pitt) encountering Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel) at the protest of the closing of the French cinematheque, the classic movie theater where these three cinephiles have spent many an afternoon. Soon, Matthew is invited to stay at Isabelle and Theo’s house while their parents are away. Movie-inspired sexual games ensue. One of the more interesting devices Bertolucci uses is intercutting scenes of the three main characters with the movies that inspired the scene, references obviously geared to movie dorks. But what about the more obvious pleasure of copious nudity? Bertolucci sadly pares it down to its base elements, with the net effect of turning off the audience. Theo and Isabelle, who are revealed to be twins, bathe and sleep naked together. Although they seem to never explicitly engage in intercourse, their relationship seems quasi, if not fully, incestuous. Also unclear is the significance of the student riots taken from real historical events. Bertolucci seems to mock Isabelle and Theo for joining in, which is problematic because that would mean he disliked the characters he worked so hard to give us without any real explanation. Although The Dreamers is adventurous in a way that few modern films are allowed to be, its content doesn’t measure up to its ambition and leaves us with disappointing thoughts of what the movie could have been. (SAW)

THE FOG OF WAR

Robert S. McNamara is widely regarded as one of the most reviled figures in the last century of American politics. His tenure as Secretary of Defense led him to make some of the crucial decisions in the major crises of the twentieth century. This documentary shows the making of war through his eyes, from the Cuban Missile Crisis through the Vietnam War. The documentary, directed by genre master Errol Morris (Fast, Cheap and Out of Control) utilizes frank White House tapes, startling surreal images, and an extraordinary Philip Glass score to engross an audience that may otherwise have little interest in the subject matter. Morris never compromises his vision of McNamara as a man whose regret has opened floodgates of wisdom (upon hearing one of the admonitions apparently directed at the current administration, an audience member actually began clapping), but who remains unable to justify a war that he prolonged. (JSG)

MIRACLE

Walt Disney Pictures has apparently created an entire department solely devoted to the production of assembly-line stories wherein sports serve as analogies for actual conflicts that demand clean resolution. Having tackled football and baseball with a fair degree of success in Remembering the Titans and The Rookie, Disney moves down its list to hockey, in particular the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s triumphant victory over the world champion Soviet team in the 1980 Games. But Miracle makes a valiant attempt to transcend the trappings of its saccharine genre, and largely succeeds with the prescient casting of Kurt Russell as team coach Herb Brooks. Russell, whose dusty film resume has been given a sudden shock, walks, talks and grunts the part of the bull-headed Brooks with confidence; if the film had been released two months earlier, he could very well be garnering award attention. The film’s only crutch is its presentation of the hockey games, splattered onto the screen with so many close-ups and jump cuts as to make the games unintelligible. (BBC)

MONSTER

Director Patty Jenkins’s debut feature Monster, chronicles the sanguinous final chapter of infamous serial killer Aileen Wuornos and the personal trials that may have led to her murder of seven men. The film has garnered as much attention for star Charlize Theron’s monstrous makeover into the less-than-comely prostitute murderess as it did for the actual performance. Nevertheless, the Academy will likely see beyond the cosmetic alterations to reward Theron’s breakthrough work, which painstakingly recreates the intense discomfort of a woman desperate to find a reason not to shoot herself at any given moment. At the film’s core is Wuornos’ tumultuous relationship with flippant lover Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Though Jenkins fails to offer a believable relationship between these two individuals and Ricci sits through an unnaturally amateurish performance, Monster is ultimately redeemed by Theron’s resonant performance. (MC)

MY ARCHITECT

If we viewed architects as celebrities, Louis I. Kahn’s life would have been made into an “E! True Hollywood Story” a long time ago. Kahn battled early obstacles–a fire that permanently disfigured his face, his family’s immigration from Estonia to America—to become a celebrated designer of famous buildings all over the world. Then he lost it all, falling deep into debt and finally dying of a heart attack in a train station restroom. Thirty years after his death, Kahn’s son has created a tribute to him on film, glorying in his architectural triumphs, but supplementing the laurels with an honest assessment of his personal failings. Farrah Fawcett wasn’t one-tenth as interesting as this guy. (BJS)

MYSTIC RIVER

If Clint Eastwood proved anything in Unforgiven, it was that actors don’t have to be showy to be effective. Too bad that nobody told Sean Penn, who brings his full actor-y powers to bear in Mystic River, Eastwood’s latest effort. Too often, the film feels less like the well-crafted whodunit at its center and more like an freshman acting class: Penn thrashes and grimaces, Tim Robbins acts numb, and Marcia Gay Harden wobbles her voice so much that you wonder if she’s standing on the San Andreas Fault. On the other hand, Kevin Bacon does some of the best work of his career as a reasonable cop beset by marriage problems. He strikes a note of casual verisimilitude and, in an Eastwood film, that’s about the only note that’ll work. (BJS)

TOUCHING THE VOID

This story of a 1985 Andes mountain-climbing disaster comes courtesy of director Kevin MacDonald, whose film One Day in September won the Oscar for Best Documentary a few years ago. But in the vein of his last work, Touching the Void is not a clear-cut documentary; the events it examines are real, but MacDonald uses re-enactments of the story’s events to supplement a narrated account from the disaster’s survivors. The nut of their crisis: halfway through a climb, one of the two team members falls and breaks several leg bones. The other climber decides to lower his injured partner to safety, 300 feet of rope at a time, until he accidentally lowers him over a precipice. Knowing that soon both of them would tumble to their deaths, he makes a critical decision and cuts the cord. (BJS)

THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE

This film bears absolutely no resemblance to Japanime or any Disney movie, and is undoubtedly the best animated feature released in 2003. Sylvain Chomet’s film aims for a multinational texture and is largely devoid of dialogue, but nevertheless retains a distinctly French sensibility with a penchant for shrewd cultural allusions. A clubfooted widow, Madame Souza, trains her chubby grandson Champion to become a stick-thin cyclist with the help of bulky canine Bruno and her restless whistle. One day, Champion is mysteriously kidnapped, along with two of his fellow Tour de France riders, by amusingly ominous members of the French mafia. In hot pursuit, Madame Souza travels to the Dionysian metropolis Belleville, where she enlists the help of the eponymous triplets—former scat singers turned household-item instrumentalists—in liberating Champion from the clutches of a diminutive wine magnate. A marvelous fusion of color, music, and caricature, each splendid offbeat frame restores faith in traditional hand-drawn animation, and we have Chomet’s superbly macabre imagination to thank. (TIH)

—Happening was compiled by Michelle Chun, Ben B. Chung, Akash Goel, Julie S. Greenberg, Elsa B. O’Riain, Regina C. Schwartz, Sarah L. Solorzano, Benjamin J. Soskin and Tiffany I. Hsieh, Scoop A. Wasserstein.