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Wednesday, October 18

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Airbags

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
The benefit of reviewing a film a week after its release date is that I don't have to convince you quite as hard to go or not go. By now I'm sure you've either seen or are planning to see the latest and last film in the Star Wars saga. If this assumption doesn't hold for you, then you probably have no intention of ever seeing it. There's absolutely no need for me to detail any of the plot points in this film. If you care, you probably know most of them already. But I will say that of the three recent entries that George Lucas has given us in his tale of the rise, fall, and rebirth of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vadar, Revenge of the Sith is the only that holds a candle to the original trilogy.

I may sound like a broken record, but the problems with The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were never the effects or the action sequences. It was getting us emotionally invested in its characters despite the lack of any compelling dialogue. Lucas, I think, believes that hiring higher-profile, better-caliber actors would hide the fact that his story was thin and his words were often laughable, especially during the more romantic goings on. He was wrong. Lucas love-speak is a joke, and there are a couple of painful scenes in Sith featuring this type of dialogue that you dread ever seeing again. But the rest of the film is so strong, it's much easier than with prior entries to overlook these problems.

Something about the linking of this chapter with the original Star Wars: Episode IV makes it seem more relevant. Obviously I like seeing how Anakin was tempted and ultimately seduced by the Dark Side, how his body was so hopelessly destroyed that the suit of black armor was necessary to keep him alive. When you hear that first deep intake of mechanical breath and see the armored Vadar attempt his first steps like Frankenstein's monster, I guarantee chills. But I also took comfort in the scenes that were less significant to the bigger picture. I felt great affection for the sequences that reveal that at one point in galactic history Yoda and Chewbacca were great friends. I also got a kick at seeing a young Grand Moff Tarkin (played by the late Peter Cushing in Episode IV) standing along side the Emperor and Vadar on the bridge of the imperial command ship overlooking a Death Star under construction. And, of course, seeing Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) walking the same stark white hallways that are later invaded by Imperial forces in Episode IV made me flashback to my childhood.

I'm still baffled why Luke's aunt and uncle kept the name Skywalker if they were trying so hard to hide the lad from the forces of evil. By the end of Sith, there are still a handful of annoying questions like that, but Lucas has covered his cinematic ass fairly well. I've always said over the years that if I can live long enough to see all the Star Wars films, I'll die a happy man. Sweet Death, I'm ready for ya! But wait, now I'm hearing all this talk of both animated and live-action television shows that will continue the Star Wars story. Back off Death, I'm not ready just yet. I'm particularly curious how the original trilogy makes me feel with the new perspective the new trilogy offers. Will I now realize long-hidden thoughts in Vadar's head when he first comes face to face with Luke and Leia? Will I at long last admit the fact that the greatest hero of all six films is R2-D2? A marathon viewing seems almost necessary, but should I include the "Star Wars Holiday Special"? Another one of life's unanswerable mysteries.

Kontroll
The 2004 Chicago International Film Festival's top prize went to Hungary's Kontroll, an absolutely mind-blowing experience from director Nimrod Antal. A group of men who inspect tickets on the underground trains (to make sure passengers aren't sneaking on the trains) are put to the test when a mysterious serial killer starts pushing people in front of trains. Some of the inspectors wear Nazi-esque uniforms and run roughshod over the metro passengers, while others (our heroes, for instance) take a more humane approach to their civil service jobs. The troubled lead character, Bulcsu, is at times a suspect in the crimes, but he's also a romantic lead, opposite a beautiful woman in a teddy bear costume who keeps running into him on the trains.

Spending all his time underground, away from the sun, takes its toll on Bulcsu as his nightmarish journey through the darkened tunnels under Budapest makes him doubt his own sanity. Eerie, throbbing music punctuates every moment in this phenomenal movie, which is weird without being confusing, eccentric without getting on your nerves, and stylized without overshadowing its truly unique story. The best part of Kontroll is that I could never predict what crazed path it would take me down. I was genuinely nervous wondering what would happen next. Kontroll is a one-of-a-kind experience. It opens today at the Landmark Century Center Theatre.

It's All Gone Pete Tong
If you had told me the life story portrayed in It's All Gone Pete Tong was 100 percent fiction, I'd believe you. If you'd told me it was almost entirely true, I'd want to believe you. Knowing next-to-nothing about the European club DJ scene in Ibiza, Spain, I'd never heard of legendary DJ Frankie Wilde. This biopic is an energetic telling of the parts of his life that are known and a few that are not.

Frankie, by all accounts, was Europe's most talented and revered DJ, and the film is filled with his powerful, pounding music. Paul Kaye plays Frankie, a hard partier sporting his best Jesus Christ pose behind his turntables, flanked by two beautiful assistants. He married a model (Kate Magowan) from one of his music videos, and the two live in the lap of luxury in Spain with their young son. The film alternates between Frankie's tumultuous, drug- and alcohol-fueled life and interviews with world-famous DJs, including Carl Cox, Lol Hammond, and Paul Van Dyke.

Frankie's life begins to fall apart when he loses most of his hearing after years of being exposed to loud music (a freak studio accident eventually makes him totally deaf). His wife leaves him, and Frankie's life hits rock bottom. Although he's not entirely sure he can, Frankie decides to take a stab at pulling his life together with the help of a lip-reading coach (Beatriz Batarda). As she encourages him to hone his other senses, Frankie discovers he can still feel the beats of his beloved dance rhythms and he invents a way to actually mix music on his turntable and produce some stunning music he'll never be able to hear. As much as you might think this set-up will conclude with a feel-good ending, that's not exactly how thing end up. One of the reasons Frankie Wilde is such a legend is that he disappeared at the height of his comeback.

It's All Gone bucks every opportunity to be a film about a handicapped person who makes good, or a drug addict who gets clean and finds a positive relationship. These things do occur, but Wilde is such a bastard sometimes that you're not always rooting for him. That doesn't make the film any less interesting, though, as the degenerate Wilde literally goes out of his mind before our eyes, and finds the only things that can bring him back to earth: love and music. As directed by Michael Dowse, It's All Gone is an abrasive work that still manages to win you over thanks to a whirlwind performance by Paul Kaye. The film is playing at the Landmark Century Center Theatre.

Torremolinos 73
If Pedro Almodóvar (Bad Education, All About My Mother) were still making wacky sex comedies, I could see him being drawn to a storyline like that of Torremolinos 73, from first-time feature writer-director Pablo Berger. The time and place in early-1970s, ultra-conservative Spain, and Alfredo Lopez (Javier Cámara from Almodóvar's Talk to Her) is an unsuccessful encyclopedia salesman whose job it at risk. Alfredo's boss (Juan Diego) invites him and a few other struggling salesmen from his publishing company and their wives to a retreat where he lays out a new venture: making Super 8 erotic home movies as part of an "educational" series of films on reproduction distributed by Danish researchers only in Scandinavia. Naturally, everybody is shocked by the proposition, but Alfredo and his wallflower wife Carmen (All About My Mother's Candela Peña) are desperately in debt and are eager to have a baby.

The first few attempts are disastrous for the couple (and hilarious for us), but eventually Alfredo becomes quite the expert in filmed sex. To make the shorts more interesting, he and Carmen dress up, role-play, and use experimental lighting and camera angles. Alfredo becomes fascinated with filmmaking and the legendary directors, and a late-night television encounter with Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal inspires Alfredo to try something more artistic and feature length.

It's only when Alfredo seeks funding from his boss (who in turn turns to the Danish group the films go to) that he begins to understand that Carmen (and himself to a lesser degree) has become an adult film legend throughout Scandinavia. A film crew from Denmark arrives to shoot Alfredo's feature, and it's clear that they are in awe of Carmen, the sex goddess. Neither Alfredo nor Carmen are comfortable with the situation, especially when he makes it clear that his epic will not have any sex scenes.

Torremolinos 73 reminds me of those rarely seen British sex comedies from the late '60s-early '70s, but this is much funnier than those are. There are even times when this film is downright poignant and moving. There are no jokes or gags here; there are simply ordinary desperate people put into circumstances that offer them much-needed assistance at the cost of their anonymity and occasionally their dignity. What's not amusing about that? The film has ample laughs, lots of sex, and its heart in the right place. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Theatre.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to .

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