NEW THIS WEEK:
THE EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (R) The early years of the demon-battlin' man of the cloth played by Max Von Sydow in the original Exorcist. Action director Renny Harlin was called in to reshoot this entire film when original director Paul Schrader's ideas reportedly proved a little too, uh, ambitious. Stars Stellan Skarsgard and James D'Arcy. Opens Aug. 20 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)
GARDEN STATE (R) A flawed but extremely promising debut from writer-director-star Zach Braff that blends darkly surreal comedy with some genuinely and oddly touching moments. Aspiring L.A. actor Andrew Largeman (Braff) — whose primary claim to fame is playing a retarded quarterback in a TV movie — returns to his New Jersey hometown for the funeral of his mother, only to find that life in the hinterlands is crazier than ever. Largeman spars with his strangely distant father, deals with his own confused emotions, reacquaints himself with his old, wildly eccentric friends, and falls in something resembling love with a beautiful local (Natalie Portman), most of which is handled in a manner as bizarre as it is funny. The dialogue is clever — sometimes a little too clever, perhaps, in a showy, self-satisfied way — but the film tempers its precociousness with a successful blend of the appealingly sweet and the just plain weird. The emotional core of Garden State remains intact throughout, even as the movie's narrative gleefully defies expectations by zipping all over the map. The perfectly chosen soundtrack of Nick Drake and others is another big plus. Also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm and Ron Liebman. Opens Aug. 20 at Sunrise Cinemas at Old Hyde Park. Call theater to confirm. 1/2
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (R) Don't expect it to end with a kiss. The director is Paul W.S. Anderson, specialist in video game flicks like Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, which is probably more than you need to know. (Not Reviewed)
ANCHORMAN (PG-13) While it's not as smoothly, consistently entertaining as Elf, Will Ferrell's breakout movie, Anchorman specializes in an aggressively odd brand of humor that showcases the edgier side of Ferrell's comedic talents and takes more risks. The results are mixed: there's a noticeable amount of dead air and jokes that go nowhere, for sure — but the highs, when they come, are substantially higher, too. The movie is set in a San Diego TV newsroom in the 1970s, where popular but clueless anchor Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) becomes drawn into the war of the sexes when pretty but uncommonly capable Christina Applegate enters the picture. There's a solid running commentary bubbling under the surface about what happened when feminism first began creeping into the American workplace, but the movie is really anything but serious. Most of Anchorman plays out like a series of Ferrell's stranger skits from his Saturday Night Live years, with the scattershot non sequiturs eventually giving way to a crescendo of fabulously over-the-top (and gratuitous) parodies of fight scenes. Lots of amusing cameos here too, including Vince Vaughan and Tim Robbins, as well as Jack Black, who is given the honor of lethally punting a pooch. Also stars Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Fred Willard. 1/2
BEFORE SUNSET (NR) Richard Linklater's wonderful sequel to his 1995 Before Sunrise is basically just two people talking to each other, presented in something very close to real-time. But what's said and what happens in the course of that 80-minute conversation should be of interest to almost anyone who is remotely curious about human beings and how they relate to each other, especially in matters of the heart. Before Sunrise was a film about a boy and a girl meeting and making a connection one night in a beautiful, faraway city. Celene (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) were strangers on a train who came together for a one-night stand of conversation, confessions and romance, then parted ways with a vow to meet again six months hence. Before Sunset catches up with those same two people nine years later as they meet, more or less by chance, in a bookstore in Paris. What ensues is a veritable talkfest between two hyper-articulate individuals who have a lot to say to one another, as well as a walking tour of Paris in the fall (and it doesn't get much better than that). The verbal dance between the characters is beautifully played by Hawke and Delpy (who helped write their own dialogue), and the movie manages to thrill us by throwing into our faces most of our expectations about what we think a film should be. At Burns Court Cinema. At Burns Court Cinema. Call theater to confirm.