AGENT CODY BANKS 2: DESTINATION LONDON (PG) Frankie Muniz (Fox TV's Malcolm in the Middle) reprises his role as the plucky young spy saving the world from whatever. This time the action takes place in London, where Muniz's character is chasing down a rogue agent in possession of a stolen mind-control device. Also stars Hannah Spearritt and Anthony Anderson. (Not Reviewed)
THE ALAMO (PG-13) The new version of Alamo doesn't seem overly interested in glorifying American legends or in debunking them. Instead, it merely plods along from scene to scene, ambivalent toward its characters, and barely glued together in a way that indicates nothing so much as being the product of too many cooks. There are too many characters vying for our attention, and most of them come off so badly or blandly that's it hard to much care about any of them. At first glance, the film even seems a little reactionary, as if the main reason it exists is to chip away at everything about the original movie it's supposedly remaking. Ultimately The Alamo just doesn't seem to have a handle on what sort of movie it wants to be, wavering between traditional period adventure, cynical, revisionist history and meandering, multi-character mini-series. The action scenes aren't very good either. Stars Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patrick, Dennis Quaid, Emilio Echevarria and Patrick Wilson.
ALONG CAME POLLY (PG-13) As its title more than suggests, what we have here is a romantic comedy that feels like a series of slapped-together outtakes from There's Something About Mary. The relationship at the center of the movie is a by-the-numbers case of opposites attracting (Ben Stiller's uptight insurance analyst falls for Jennifer Aniston's free-spirited eccentric), with semi-funny physical humor and Farrelly Brothers-ish toilet jokes abounding. On the plus side, Aniston makes her underwritten character feel surprisingly real, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Alec Baldwin deliver a few solid chuckles on the sidelines. Also stars Debra Messing and Hank Azaria.
THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (R) Madstone's excellent new series Premiere Pics — an ongoing series of film festival favorites never seen before in the Bay area — continues with this delightfully bizarre sci-fi/western/musical/metaphysical murder mystery. The obvious reference point here is David Lynch, but The American Astronaut spins a crazy orbit in other directions as well. The nearly indescribable narrative takes us from a seedy bar on some godforsaken asteroid to an all-male industrial planet, where a 16-year-old boy is taken as a gift to the dainty Southern belles inhabiting the planet Venus. The movie evokes other worlds and the future as simply and effectively as Godard did in Alphaville, and the nut-job surrealism mixes nicely with magnificently proportioned set pieces that resemble mutated versions of rallies from Leni Riefenstahl productions. The movie is built around a series of songs composed and performed by the Billy Nayer Show (whose frontman Cory McAbee directed and stars in American Astronaut), and the band will perform locally this week in conjunction with the film's screening (see Music Menu). Also stars Rocco Sisto and Gregory Russell Cook. Opens April 16 at Madstone Theaters. 1/2
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (NR) As if further proof of the continuing importance of Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 masterpiece were required, it's worth noting that this is the film screened for bigwigs at the Pentagon in the aftermath of the last Gulf War. Employing a documentary-like approach that was nothing less than revolutionary at the time and still looks fresh and convincing, The Battle of Algiers depicts Algerian "freedom fighters" (Terrorists? Militants?) struggling to liberate their Muslim nation from the occupying Western (French) forces. Anyone who misses the parallels to the present situation in Iraq would have to be blind, and the film's ability to draw attention to a multitude of political and moral ambiguities is simply remarkable. In addition to everything else, Pontecorvo's film succeeds beautifully as both full-fleshed drama and thriller. A must-see. Stars Yacef Saadi, Jean Martin and Brahiim Haqqiaq. Opens April 16 at Madstone Theaters. 1/2
CONNIE AND CARLA (PG-13) Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) channels Some Like It Hot and comes up with the story of a pair of dinner theater performers (Vardalos and Toni Collette) on the lam from the mob and forced to disguise their true genders. The, uh, "twist" here is that the performers are women masquerading as men masquerading as women — which is to say, drag queens. Also stars David Duchovny. Opens April 16 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)
CRIMSON GOLD (NR) Uncompromising, emotionally and artistically electrifying, this latest film from Jafar Panahi eschews the children's world of the Iranian director's previous White Balloon for the heartbreakingly adult tragedy of an ordinary man. The film takes a universal tale — that of a lower-class man with no power and no prospects, caught in a relentless downward spiral — and infuses it with a distinctly Iranian perspective. The result is a richly textured, artifice-free slice of life from a world most of us have never seen. If you missed the Tampa International Film Festival's recent screening of this exotic yet minimalist take on lives of quiet desperation, this is your chance. Grab it. Stars Hussein Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheissi and Azita Rayeji.