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Horse of a different color: Julie Taymor's Across the Universe gives a new take on Beatles tunes.

New Releases

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With
Directed by Jeff Garlin
B+
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Opens Fri., Sept. 28

If you know Jeff Garlin only from his role as Larry David's henpecked, compulsively masturbating manager on Curb Your Enthusiasm, chances are you'll be taken aback by the sweetness of his delightful, if unfortunately titled, feature writing and directing debut. Reveling in the odd minutiae of day-to-day life, prone to matter-of-fact comic digressions, yet boasting an uncommon empathy for its sad-sack characters, I Want Someone to East Cheese With occasionally plays like an episode of Curb without the bile--but its best parts feel like vintage Woody Allen.

Garlin stars as James, the resident "fat guy" in Chicago's Second City comedy troupe. Pushing 40, he still lives with his mother and has the worrisome habit of confessing to far too many people that he hasn't had sex in five years. In a slightly episodic collection of scenes that might sound familiar to anybody who's seen Garlin's standup act, most of the movie is spent watching James get dumped--by girlfriends, managers, agents, casting directors and pretty much every possible employer in Illinois.

Yeah, this sounds like a drag, but somehow Garlin maintains a buoyant, humanistic tone throughout the parade of humiliations. There's not a bitter moment in the film, and his attitude seems to be one of affability in the face of adversity. Longing for the role of a lifetime, James struggles to land an audition for a new Hollywood remake of Paddy Chayefsky's Marty (and don't let anybody give away the gag of whom he's up against).

The film's most poignant moments find our hero retreating to eat junk food by himself, sitting on the hood of his car next to Wrigley Field. Of course James lives clear on the other side of town, but any urban automobile owner will tell you that when you find a great parking space, you're not about to give it up easily.

Garlin's stacked the cast with his pals from the improv-comedy scene, offering some killer bits to Bonnie Hunt, Dan Castellaneta and Wallace Langham--and he's even penned the first movie role Sarah Silverman can actually play. It's an endearing little movie with a great big heart.




The Kingdom
Directed by Peter Berg
B
Reviewed by Doug Wallen
Opens Fri., Sept. 28

The Kingdom is the one of the biggest, fastest and most brutal stabs at combining blockbuster thrills with conscience to come out of Hollywood--all white-knuckle thrills and gut-punching grit.

The film, named for and set largely in Saudi Arabia, begins with a zippy history of the country's oil-laden relationship with the U.S. After that comes the first of many shocks: American civilians are machine-gunned down at a housing compound in Riyadh. The attack erupts during a sunny day's softball game, of all things, and gives the first act a wrenching kick.

Foxx fire: Jamie hunts down terrorists as an FBI special agent in The Kingdom.

Enter special agent Ron Fluery (Jaime Foxx) of the FBI's Rapid Deployment Unit, who muscles his way through red tape for a chance to personally hunt down the terrorists responsible. The team he takes to Riyadh is appropriately diverse: Jennifer Garner's vengeful forensics specialist, Chris Cooper's deadpan demolitions expert and a never-funnier Jason Bateman, whose character's only apparent specialty is cracking jokes.

The Kingdom's first and third acts are seared with violence--bombings, a torture scene, a kidnapping and much worse--and the second is a whodunit in the mold of a TV procedural. The team bumps up against both countries' customs and bureaucracy, and even their "babysitter," Saudi Col. Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), isn't sure he should be helping them.

The hardass, fast-quipping characters don't have much depth, but sure are entertaining. As is a dexterous screenplay by overnight sensation Matthew Michael Carnahan, brother of Narc director Joe Carnahan.

Whiplash-inducing camera work and rapid-fire editing, not to mention mammoth action sequences, mostly overshadow any moments of quiet reflection in between. Director Peter Berg wants to have it both ways--an empathetic look at the Middle East that's still got menacing shots of big guns and darting eyes--and he can't resist slapping on a moralizing, eye-for-an-eye chiding at the end.

In offering no easy solutions The Kingdom may take the easiest route itself. Either way, it's amazing the film ever got made. Despite its flaws, it's more powerful and rabble-rousing than most of what Hollywood churns out each year.




King of California
Directed by Mike Cahill
B-
Reviewed by Matt Prigge
Opens Fri., Sept. 28

In King of California Michael Douglas plays a hairy, recently released mental patient who successfully enlists teen daughter Evan Rachel Wood in his search for Spanish gold under the floor of a CostCo. Douglas, we're told, is a serial fibber, and Wood, both in character and performance, is thoroughly grounded and self-sufficient. (She's been fending for herself since she was 15, having dropped out of school for a career at McDonald's.)

Why does she succumb to his transparently foolhardy quest? For one, he's her dad and--as she explains in voiceover--kids tend to give their parents more trust than they perhaps deserve. For another, he's played by Michael Douglas.

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