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From Nessie and Piaf to Calcutta (continued)


Inspired by 1960s psychedelic missionaries the Merry Pranksters and their cross-country bus trip as immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Woody Harrelson and some friends took a 1300-mile road trip dubbed the SOL (Simple Organic Living) tour in the summer of 2001. Traveling down the Pacific Coast in a "bio-fueled" bus and a procession of bicycles, the eco-minded group set out to introduce people not to LSD but to some "simple solutions" to many of the world’s environmental quandaries. Ron Mann’s documentary about the trip is an uneven account that briefly addresses the problems caused by profit-driven environmental politics but gets too caught up in the buffoonery of Steve the junk-food addict. Harrelson touches upon some thought-provoking ideas in his speeches at colleges along the way about the benefits of an organic diet, sustainable energy sources, and hemp as a viable and versatile resource. The film, however, fails to go far enough. (100 minutes) Screens tonight at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. at the Boston Common. Woody Harrelson will be present at the 7:15 p.m. show.

— Will Spitz


Take all the stylistic flash and paranoid mumbo-jumbo from Jonathan Demme’s remake of The Manchurian Candidate and what remains might look like John Sayles’s film. Maybe it needs a little more flash and mumbo-jumbo, or at least a stronger leading man. Danny Huston is no Jack Nicholson as the gumshoe hired to look into the circumstances surrounding the dead body that surfaces while Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dickie Pilager (the name is not Sayles’s least subtle touch) is shooting a campaign ad. As in Chinatown, the investigation leads to a lethal conspiracy at the highest levels of power and even involves a Faye Dunaway–esque loose-cannon love interest (Daryl Hannah as Pilager’s black-sheep sister). But this being a John Sayles movie, the ultimate goal is a politically correct checklist of liberal causes. Too bad: Silver City looks as if it might be another Lone Star, one of Sayles’s best movies, and instead turns out more like City of Hope, one of his worst. It’s well worth seeing, however, for Chris Cooper’s brilliant rendering of Pilager as a Rocky Mountain George W. and Richard Dreyfuss’s reptilian turn as his Dick Cheney/Karl Rove–like campaign manager. (129 minutes) Screens tonight at 5 and 7:30 p.m. at the Copley Place.

— Peter Keough



W. Somerset Maugham’s pleasant, unpretentiously minor novel of the 1930s British stage, Theatre, has been transformed into an overwrought, extravagantly produced costume drama, with Annette Bening miscast in the title role. Hungarian filmmaker István Szabó and screenwriter Ronald Harwood can’t decide whether their film is a screwball comedy about the backstabbing vanity of actors (à la the Carole Lombard–starring Twentieth Century and To Be or Not To Be) or a touching, tender melodrama (a Bette Davis vehicle, perhaps) about a splendid actress losing herself as she fades into her 40s. The tone keeps shifting, and Bening can’t keep up, especially where she’s required to be brittle and funny. The story has London leading lady Julia Lambert, who’s been married forever to the handsome but passionless Michael (Jeremy Irons), falling hard, against her better judgment, for a young American who has little interest in serious romance. The distraught Julia plots revenge against this womanizer, and that sets up a hideous last act in which her devious, neurotic one-upmanship is cheered on by the manipulative filmmakers like Republican delegates stomping for George W. (105 minutes) Screens tonight at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 5 p.m. at the Boston Common. Annette Bening and István Szabó will be present at tonight’s show.

— Gerald Peary


The vain task of adapting Evelyn Waugh’s satire Vile Bodies to the screen is here undertaken by the British comedian Stephen Fry, who did not have the courage to use the book’s title. This banalizing cowardice extends into all corners of the film: Fry changes one character’s name from "Lady Metroland" to "Lady Maitland." The "bright young things" were Waugh and his upper-class circle in 1920s London. Waugh’s book was not a nostalgic romp like Fry’s movie but a concise send-up of a dumb, doomed race. The novel is still timely: it charts the slide of a period of wealth and frivolity into one of depression and war. Fry’s movie is a merely a period piece, its characters rendered as screwballs. The young cast members, Mouseketeers doing Oscar Wilde, are unmemorable; the movie’s veterans (Dan Aykroyd, Stockard Channing, Peter O’Toole) are ineffective. The whole troupe seem possessed by the film’s spirit of niceness and prettification, a spirit, needless to say, alien to Waugh, just as Waugh’s chilled, outraged tone is alien to them. (106 minutes) Screens tonight at 5:30 and 7:15 p.m. at the Copley Place.

— A.S. Hamrah

***A Phoenix Pick***


Halfway through this documentary of his rise and fall of enfant terrible filmmaker Troy Duffy, which is directed by his former colleagues Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana, the local native says that Hollywood is like a big playground where the biggest bully gets everything. And who’s the biggest bully? Duffy thought it was him, but as it turned out he was more like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Moral of the story: don’t cross Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein’s Miramax Studio took Duffy, a bartender from an LA watering hole, and his first screenplay, The Boondock Saints, and gave him everything: he could direct the film, cast it, make the soundtrack with his band. Harvey even bought Duffy the bar he worked in. Duffy was a working-class hero, an overnight success, and the biggest, most foul-mouthed head case in Hollywood. In short order, he alienated Harvey, Hollywood, and his band mates. As for most viewers, they’ll be sick of him within the film’s first five minutes. Be that as it may, the long-suffering Smith and Montana have put together an abrasive and illuminating portrait of Hollywood and megalomania, kind of like Hearts of Darkness without the genius, or Some Kind of Monster without the therapy, or Spinal Tap without the laughs. (115 minutes) Screens tonight at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Boston Common. Mark Brian Smith and producer Tony Montana will be present at the 7 p.m. show.

— Peter Keough

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Issue Date: September 10 - 16, 2004
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