As a boy, film critic Peter Rainer vividly recalls watching Cary Grant, dapper as ever in a crisp suit and tie, running from a dive-bombing crop duster in "North by Northwest." "It was the movie equivalent of a page-turner," says Peter, who succeeds David Sterritt as The Monitor's movie reviewer. Later, as a high-school student, Peter was so taken with a collection of movie reviews by James Agee that he wanted to be a critic. "Reading his reviews made me feel that this was a job where you could be a real writer," Peter says. And how. His talents as a wordsmith earned him a place as a Pulitzer prize finalist in 1998. In a career that has included 15 years as Chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, Peter has served as critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Los Angeles Times, and New York magazine. His passion for film is undiminished. "It's a tremendous forum to write about everything that movies encompass, which is everything," he says. "Movies affect people on a very deep level, so the dialogue between critic and reader can be exhilarating." The Monitor is thrilled to be home to Peter's cinematic insight.
Director: Rodrigo García. With Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning, Holly Hunter. (115 min.)
"Nine Lives," written and directed by Rodrigo García, is something of a stunt: Nine stories about nine women filmed in nine separate unbroken takes. Garcia has gone in for this sort of thing before - his last film, "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her," told five stories. The advantage of this format is that, if an episode isn't working, you can always wait it out until the next one comes along. The uneven "Nine Lives" has an impressive cast, but the best section features the great Mexican actress Elpidio Carrillo as a prison inmate kept from her child. Grade: B-
- Peter Rainer
Director: Luis Mandoki. With Carlos Padilla, Leonor Varella, Xuna Primus. (120 min.)
Chava (Padilla) is an 11-year-old boy caught up in the civil war in 1980s El Salvador in "Innocent Voices," which is partly based on the childhood of its screenwriter, Oscar Torres. As an almost daily ritual, Chava and his fatherless family dodge bullets in their cardboard shack as they attempt to maintain a semblance of sanity in a village turned battlefield. The subject matter is harrowing, but the treatment is slick. The actors, all of whom seem too posed and pretty, are not particularly accomplished, and director Luis Mandoki lacks the visual imagination to bring the story to a boil. Grade: B
Director: Jane Anderson. With: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson. (99 min.)
Evelyn Ryan rewrote the definition of resilience in the '50s and '60s, supporting 10 children and an alcoholic husband by composing jingles and 25-word essays to win hundreds of contests. Moore makes a perfect Evelyn, always upbeat, and Harrelson as her ineffectual husband is borderline tragic. The film veers from tongue-in-cheek documentary to gritty drama to sitcom, but it's true to the spirit of daughter Terry's book and of Evelyn's life - lumpy but filled with the expectancy of good, and utterly charming. Grade: B
Sex/Nudity: none. Violence: 4 instances, mostly mild. Language: 2 harsh profanities, 46 mild or theological expressions. Drinking: 8 instances. Smoking: None.