- Capote - Truman Capote spent five years researching In Cold Blood - the book that would be his last - and sophomore director Bennett Miller's film is a telling and rather literate fly-on-the-wall dramatization of that time. The biggest appeal is Philip Seymour Hoffman's bravura Oscar-winning performance as the eccentric author, which he takes beyond mere affectation and into full-on obsession as Capote's research into the 1959 murders of a Kansas family consumes him in every way. It is nice to see professional seether Catherine Keener in another nice-gal role, here as Capote friend and soon-to-be To Kill A Mockingbird scribe (Nell) Harper Lee. Miller and writer Dan Futterman (adapting Gerald Clarke's book) do not quite commit to a direction for the story, and humanizing killer Perry Smith (a dependable Clifton Collins Jr.) is time unwisely spent, though Hoffman, who also produced, sees that we remember the film for other reasons.
- Dear Wendy - Thomas Vinterberg, working from a script by Dogme 95 crony/mentor Lars von Trier, ponders America's obsession with guns and violence in this story about a young man (Jamie Bell) in a nameless Midwestern town who starts a gang of fellow gun-lovers. Bell's narration is pervasive and grating, making the didactic duo's Statement seem forced and fake and too much like a lecture (as if Dogme 95 wasn't enough of a soapbox diatribe).
- Debbie Does Dallas: Uncovered - While this British TV documentary may not be as sharp (or factually sound) as Inside Deep Throat, it is effective enough in illuminating the so-called curse of the 1978 porn touchstone and the distinctly non-glamorous lifestyles of the stiff and famous. The film runs only 47 minutes, which is why the companion, warts-and-all Diary Of A Porn Virgin, which shadows three British wannabe adult film stars, is so complimentary.
- Good Night, and Good Luck. - George Clooney's latest shot at directing works brilliantly in the way that it conveys the paranoid timbre of the times a half century ago when junior Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunt destroyed countless lives in the name of preserving American liberties. Shot more like a play than a sweeping docudrama (and in crisp black-and-white), it features a fiercely stoic Oscar-nominated performance by character actor David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow, the trusted CBS newsman who took on the blind-firing Red-baiter at immense personal risk. The parallels to our compromised, post-9/11 world are intended and apparent, not due to any heavy-handedness on Clooney's part, but through a boldness similar to Murrow's in stating that our reticence in the face of oppression marks our complicity in it. HBO's 1986 film Murrow, starring Daniel J. Travanti, is worth the trouble of tracking down through your local public library consortium.
- A History of Violence - It is difficult to hate professional weirdo David Cronenberg's pensive thriller, with its awkward angles, inappropriate close-ups, occasionally wooden dialogue, a score (by Aviator composer Howard Shore) that is sometimes intrusive and a second half that crawls like a brain-damaged turtle on Quaaludes. Viggo Mortensen's Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, Ed Harris's bulldozer baddie and William Hurt's Oscar-nominated turn as a midlevel mobster who can't get no respect are all high points that help negate at least some of the film's handicaps. Cronenberg is not being terribly bold by stating then showing that violence has consequences, but it is an effective enough attempt, nonetheless.
- The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio - It was unfortunate that DreamWorks did not put much marketing support behind this dramatic comedy when it was released in the fall, because it is a sweet little movie. Julianne Moore plays Evelyn Ryan, a suburban mother of 10 who enters jingle and slogan contests to help support her family of baby boomers. Emmy-winning director Jane Anderson adapts the material sensitively and sensibly, with Moore as her beaming anchor and Woody Harrelson in a memorable supporting role as her alcoholic husband. (Cinematical spoke with Anderson about the film in the fall.)
- Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus - Most people who are not
from the South tend to write the region off as being not much deeper than a Dukes Of Hazzard episode or a Lynyrd Skynyrd album, but director/damn yankee Andrew Douglas sees it another way. His collection of lovable oddballs
waxing philosophical - a true-to-life True
Stories - may not drum up any new tourist traffic, but as least his friendly road trip is not the empty
offering that his Amityville
Horror remake was. Featuring a soundtrack by weird guy Jim
- Three Of Hearts: A Postmodern Family - As if the furor over Heather having two mommies isn't enough to confuse kids, now they have to deal with the complicated matrix of a triad - in this case, one mother and two fathers. The interaction of personalities in Susan Kaplan's documentary is interesting enough, even if her subjects are living in a self-designed bizarro world where a ménage such as this isn't better left as a fantasy (or an episode of Big Love).
- Through The Fire - Jonathan Hock, who wrote and cut the large-format favorite Michael Jordan To The Max, trains a keen eye on Coney Island ball court wizard Sebastian Telfair in this ESPN-produced documentary. As engaging as Hoop Dreams (and produced on the same kind of basketball shoestring budget), Hock isn't afraid to take on the moral grey area around the principles of recruiters and corporate hucksters, and gives sports fans a lot of fierce court action to enjoy, too. Also out today is NBA Entertainment's surprisingly thoughtful doc about Chinese behemo-baller Yao Ming, The Year Of The Yao.
- Undertaking Betty - It may be predictable and occasionally fall flat off the gallows, but this dark comedy, about a Welsh woman (Brenda Blethyn) who realizes that her life is not as she had hoped it would be, does have a warm heart. Alfred Molina is a charming goofball as the local mortician who loves her so much that he's willing to help her fake her death to escape a loveless, adulterous husband, with Christopher Walken as his showy competitor (who is almost as way-out weird as he was in Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead). Fans of Brit-coms like Waking Ned Devine and Calendar Girls should enjoy this (as will anyone whose hobby it is to watch Naomi Watts performing farce in her underwear).