A military junta rules an unnamed country in Latin America and a communist guru who calls himself Ezequiel (Abel Folk) leads an ever escalating anti-government terrorist movement whose early acts of political revolution are characterized by prominently displayed dead dogs. Enter idealistic yet complexly jaded former lawyer Agustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) who's become a detective in hopes of finding a more legitimate way of practicing the law and is assigned to investigate the case. As he seeks the truth about Ezequiel however he grows ever more disillusioned with his adamantly bourgeois wife (Alexandra Lencastre) and falls ever more deeply into a complex relationship with his daughter's secretive ballet teacher Yolanda (Laura Morante). Through his search for Ezequiel Rejas struggles to come to terms with his activist-villager roots while working in the service of a fascist regime and the audience gets a firsthand look at the ongoing battle in the third world between military fascism and communist revolution. Both the lead character and the audience discover that no position--political or personal--is ever as clear-cut as either side's propaganda makes it seem.
An intelligent international cast led by the Spaniard Bardem and the Italian Morante treads lightly on the sharp political bed of nails that is the script of The Dancer Upstairs. One misstep they seem to understand could disrupt the delicate balance Malkovich works so hard to maintain throughout the film. It's a tribute both to the depth of Bardem's talent and the vision of his director that he delivers such a careful considered and clearly motivated exploration of his character showing us with a glance a gesture or a phrase that while Rejas strives to live as an independent self-respecting individual he is never free of the political upheaval that surrounds him.
A timely look at the conflict between military and revolutionary movements The Dancer Upstairs is based on screenwriter Nicholas Shakespeare's 1997 novel of the same name which took its inspiration from actual events in Peru between 1980 and 1992 when Abimael Guzman (aka Chairman Gonzolo) led the Communist Party of Peru (often referred to as "Shining Path" in the media at the time) in an armed revolution against the Peruvian state led by the U.S.-backed President Alberto Fujimori who was dismissed by the Peruvian Congress in 2000 on the grounds of "moral incapacity." The filmmakers capture both the gritty realism of the country's poverty as well as the great wealth of its leaders during a particularly unstable period in this economically and politically divided nation but neither Malkovich nor Shakespeare offers easy answers to the problems of living in a political world driven by power and corruption on the one hand and terror on the other. They suggest--more intelligently--that we must open our eyes and understand the extremes on both sides if we are to make ethical choices as individuals.
FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) is cold on the trail of Texas' notorious "God's Hand" serial killer until he's paid a mysterious call by solemn Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey). It seems Meiks could bust the case wide open--he declares that "God's Hand"'s handiwork is that of his brother Adam and he's got a long and complicated tale to tell that'll explain it. Doyle's ears perk up and he and Meiks embark on a trip to the rose garden where Meiks claims Adam buried his victims and then killed himself. On the way Meiks reveals his gory story. It involves the boys' kindly father (Bill Paxton) who was a sensitive caring man--until he went insane one day claiming God had chosen him and his family to kill all the "demons" that inhabit Earth disguised as real people like their neighbors. Dad regularly makes a list and checks it twice for all the demon folk he needs to exterminate on any given Sunday but he's not on this holy mission alone--his sons are "God's hands" as well and together they must hunt down the demons and destroy them. In a weird variation on Cain and Abel 12-year-old Fenton rebels against Dad (killing others isn't exactly his idea of a fun after-school activity) while little brother Adam is happy to join in.
Because the movie is told mostly in flashback McConaughey is relegated mostly to voiceover and a few present-day scenes in which he acts frighteningly morose and gives the sense that there's more to his story than first meets the eye. Because most of the story takes place in 1979 the boys are the ones who really make this film work. Fenton the younger (Matthew O'Leary) is a real find--he clearly struggles with his love for his father whom he knows has gone over the edge and his repulsion for the deeds Dad is determined to have the family carry out. Wrestling with his own demons he finally is able to settle on a solution for how to stop the horror. Little Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) is quite good as the innocent youngster who adores his dad and hangs on his every word seeking only his approval and refusing to believe he has lost his mind. Paxton effectively bridges the transitions between gentle loving father and insane murderer insisting the boys finish all their veggies and revealing his next victim in one breath. He's like those killers on the news about whom people say "But…he was such a nice quiet guy." The performance almost verges on funny if it weren't so horrific.
Paxton makes an auspicious directing debut with this tight little movie keeping the action going and the plot flowing and letting you completely get to know the characters as they exist in their own eras. He deftly avoids choppy flashbacks and the potentially confusing story is perfectly clear yet no less gripping. The killing scenes are absolutely squirm-in-your-seat nightmarish but thankfully we don't see all the grisly details as with so many slasher flicks. Instead we're shown everything right up to the point of death and we're spared the splattering blood and guts. It's just enough to make you cringe and cover your eyes and ultimately far worse to imagine the outcome than to see it all in special effects and makeup. Frailty is also scarier than the typical slasher flick bloodfest--it's way more frightening to imagine the nice guy next door committing such crimes than a made-up character wearing a hockey mask or razors on his gloves. The movie also comes up with a startling twist that you don't see coming right away. But--without revealing too much--the movie falls apart at the end with some enormous problems. Sometimes directors try to explain too much; we won't so we'll just leave it at that.
Mimi Farina, a singer and social activist, died of cancer Wednesday at her home in Marin County, Calif., at the age of 56. Like sister and fellow singer Joan Baez, Farina was a member of "folk royalty" in the 1960s, but she left her music career to devote herself to charitable work.
Actress Katharine Hepburn was admitted to a hospital in Hartford, Conn., on Thursday, Reuters reports. James Battaglio, a hospital spokesman, said Hepburn is in stable condition and seems quite comfortable, but did not say what the actress was being treated for. The 94-year-old actress has won four Academy Awards in a career that has spanned five decades.
Singer Janet Jackson has postponed yet another date in her problem-plagued tour. Just hours before showtime in Milwaukee, concert promoters told disappointed fans at the downtown Bradley Center that Jackson was postponing the concert because she had suffered an injury that required emergency dental surgery, The Associated Press reported. The accident occurred sometime Wednesday afternoon. Promoters told concertgoers to keep their tickets in the hopes that the concert could be rescheduled.
The Deftones have canceled Friday's performance at the San Diego Sports arena because lead singer Chino Moreno is suffering lingering effects of a vocal chord injury, Launch.com reports. The group also canceled Wednesday's show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, Calif. This will be the fourth cancellation due to Moreno's injury. The doctor treating Moreno said the singer was under "strict vocal arrest".
British politician and novelist Jeffrey Archer was jailed for four years Thursday after he was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice over a 1987 libel case that centered around allegations he had sex with a prostitute, Reuters reports. He was acquitted of one of the perjury charges. The prosecution said Archer faked two diaries that he presented during the trial to back up some false alibis. Archer, whose best selling novels include Kane and Abel and Honor Among Thieves, was forced to withdraw from the 1999 London mayoral race and was suspended from the Conservative Party for five years, putting a dent in his political career.
Escaped convict Kevin Jerome Pullum spent his first weekend of freedom with his girlfriend in downtown Los Angeles, just blocks from the county jail that he had fled. As sheriff's deputies were conducting seven wristband counts and six jailhouse searches before finally announcing on July 9 that he had escaped, Pullum was enjoying a romantic stay with his girlfriend, Carmen Ford, who said she was unaware he was on the lam, the Los Angeles Times reported. Pullum, a so-called third-strike convict, faces up to life in prison. He reportedly escaped by making a fake identification card using a picture of Eddie Murphy from Dr. Dolittle 2. Pullum continues to elude authorities, despite a large-scale manhunt.
Two officers from the Australian police have flown to Los Angeles, California to interview management and members of Limp Bizkit about the death of a 15-year-old, who was crushed at their concert in Sydney, Reuters reports. The interviews were part of a coroner's investigation into the death of Jessica Michalik, who is believed to have suffered a heart attack after getting caught in a concert crowd surge. Several other fans were injured at the concert and organizers accused the band of having a cavalier attitude toward fan safety.
Robin Williams is praising U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong for winning the 10th stage of the Tour de France, Reuters reports. Armstrong hinted that after his victory that he had bluffed his opponents into thinking he was hurt. Williams, who is a fan and a friend of Armstrong, suggested the cyclist should receive an Oscar for his performance. The actor also said he has no doubts that Armstrong will rack up his third consecutive Tour victory this year.
Revolution Studios have made a deal that will pair Jet Li and Jackie Chan in a film together for the first time. A script is now being written by Robert Mark Kamen, Luc Besson and Li, who will also co-executive produce the project with Chan.
Actor Richard Dreyfuss is declaring neutrality in the upcoming Screen Actors Guild elections, Variety reports. The retiring president William Daniels said last week that Dreyfuss endorsed Valerie Harper. Apparently there was a misunderstanding. Dreyfuss said he does not endorse any candidate, but does support common sense, civility and the membership of the guild. Harper and Melissa Gilbert announced their candidacy last week, as well as Eugene Boggs.