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Will Ferrell lovingly spoofs the 1970s and the ABA in Semi-Pro
By Bill DeLapp
One of Will Ferrell’s rare box-office stumbles, thanks largely to a deserved R rating that kept out his younger fan base, the raunchy basketball satire Semi-Pro (New Line; 91 minutes; R; widescreen; 2008) has made a fast break from its Feb. 29 bijou opening to its DVD debut this week, just in time for the NBA finals. Ironically, Semi-Pro pays amusing homage to the American Basketball Association, the short-lived league with its own unique style, such as the creations of slam dunks, alley-oops and 3-point shots, all of those feats accomplished with a slightly smaller basketball decorated in red, white and blue.
Buster Keaton’s 1924 silent comedy will be screened in a 35mm print on Saturday, June 7, 7 p.m., at Rome’s Capitol Theatre, 220 W. Dominick St. Also on the bill are two comedy shorts: Charlie Chaplin in the 1918 World War I farce Shoulder Arms and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Mabel Normand in 1916’s Fatty and Mabel Adrift. Bernie Anderson will provide musical accompaniment on the Capitol’s theater organ. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for students and seniors and $1.50 for children 12 and under. For information, call 337-6277.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets. (Disney; 125 minutes; PG; widescreen; 2007). For this second cinematic helping from uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer featuring treasure-seeking historian Ben Gates (played by Nicolas Cage), the globetrotting adventures are personal. Black-market antiquities dealer and part-time mercenary Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) has documentation linking Gates’ great-great-granddaddy with a Civil War-era Southern extremist group and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, and it’s up to Gates to prove his ancestor’s innocence.
Young @ Heart. (Fox Searchlight; 107 minutes; PG; 2008). This critic-proof crowd-pleaser concerns a chorus of 80-somethings in Northampton, Mass., who have made a reputation with their unique repertoire of offbeat rock and punk musical selections. In 2006 British documentarian Stephen Walker (who also serves as narrator) intended to chronicle seven weeks of rehearsals as the Young @ Heart troupe prepared for a concert under the longtime guidance of choral director Bob Cilman, who for reasons that aren’t ever made crystal-clear, prefers to work over the senior songbirds with material more associated with David Byrne and Sting. And the opening reel, with nonagenarian member Eileen Hall belting out the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” initially indicates we’re in “uh-oh” territory, as if Walker, who seems to be going for too-easy laughs at the expense of geezers, will turn out to be another facile and smirky Morgan Spurlock clone we don’t really need.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (Miramax/Disney; 112 minutes; PG-13; 2007). The real-life story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of France’s Elle fashion magazine, and his profound life changes brought about by a 1996 paralyzing stroke at age 42 form this inspiring, avant-garde biopic from painter-turned-movie director Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, Before Night Falls). But don’t expect another Whose Life Is It, Anyway?, which also concerned a paralyzed patient who nevertheless eloquently defended his right to his own euthanasia. No speeches here: Bauby suffered from a “locked-in syndrome” that rendered his entire body immovable from head to toe, save for his left eye as his only method of communication. With the help of a speech therapist who constantly read him the letters of the alphabet, he blinked whenever she arrived at each precise letter required to form the words of his message. And you think you’ve got problems?
Speed Racer. (Warner Bros.; 133 minutes; PG; widescreen; 2008). The movie summer’s first box-office turkey is this harmless, hyperactive family flick from the Wachowski brothers (Bound, The Matrix), which earned scorn from the mainstream critics (damn near every one of ’em had to insert the word Ritalin into their curdled copy), followed by pundits who employed the phrase “crash and burn” after the movie’s mild opening weekend. Yet it’s hard to fathom that more could have been expected from Andy and Larry Wachowskis’ amped-up replication of a 1960s-vintage limited-animation TV series from Japan, especially since the brothers have clearly nailed the still-campy aspects of the cartoon, from the overripe villains to the Skittles-colored backdrops.
An American Crime. (First Look; 98 minutes; R; widescreen; 2007). For those who can’t recall the perverse events that led to the 1966 trial Baniszewski vs. the State of Indiana, this impressive indie flick provides a jaw-dropping refresher course. In the summer of 1965, traveling carnival workers Lester and Betty Likens (Nick Searcy and Romy Rosemont, respectively) get the hare-brained notion to deposit their daughters, 16-year-old Sylvia (Ellen Page, pre-Juno) and her younger sis Jennie (Hayley McFarland), in the temporary care of a woman they barely know: Indianapolis resident Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Keener), an asthmatic laundress/divorcee with six kids of her own, plus some mental issues that keep her somewhat unhinged.
Botched. (Warner Bros.; 95 minutes; unrated; 2007). Twisted titters enliven this bloodthirsty black comedy about a heist that goes bonkers—which, of course, is the beginning of some spectacularly gruesome ends for some oddball characters in this body counter. Stephen Dorff plays sad-sack thief Richie, who is forced by vicious kingpin Groznyi (Sean Pertwee) to invade a Moscow skyscraper’s penthouse and steal a gem-encrusted cross dating back to Russia’s first czar. It doesn’t help that Richie must work with hired fraternal partners-in-crime Peter (Jamie Portman), a profane trigger-happy jerk, and wimpy Yuri (Russell Smith), who brings a sandwich to the robbery.
The Counterfeiters. (Sony Classics; 99 minutes; R; 2007). Director Stefan Ruzowitzky’s World War II drama recounts an outrageous yet true gambit concocted by the Nazis. A select group of concentration camp prisoners, including forgers, printers, collotype experts and bank officials, were forced to create counterfeit currency from other countries—first England’s pound, then the U.S. dollar—in the dual hopes of financing the Third Reich’s war effort as well as flooding the market with the duped loot to decimate the world economy.