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Monks, musicians and druggies

New Reviews
by: 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment, "A Scanner Darkly"

'The Flowers of St. Francis' (NR)

Roberto Rossellini's neorealist 1950 film is an anecdotal account of the life of St. Francis, taken from medieval texts and acted by Franciscan monks, whom Rossellini had met several years earlier while making another film.

It's an odd movie, occasionally tedious, but still a compelling look at a trio of fascinating characters - Francis (Brother Nazario Gerardi) and two of his followers, Ginepro (Brother Severino Pisacane) and Giovanni (Esposito Bonaventura).

Rossellini's flat, passionless direction creates a documentary feel as the brothers seek to reject worldly desires while embracing a love for all creatures, despite their own human failings.

It's an almost suffocatingly reverent film, lightened only by the monks' occasional childlike joy in simple pleasures - yet it's also a powerful examination of the nature of faith and of the hardships that accompany the lives of the devout. It plays with the short film 'My Dad Is 100 Years Old,' daughter Isabella Rossellini's reflections on her famous father.

- Dawn Taylor

7 p.m. FRIDAY and SATURDAY, July 14-15, Whitsell Auditorium

'Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man' (PG-13)

This mixed-blessing tribute to the great Canadian songwriter-poet fares best when he is on screen. Elegant, artful, self-effacing and witty, Cohen proves to be charming company during interview segments. But, sadly, there aren't enough of these, since much of the film is devoted to testimonials from fans like U2's Bono and performances from a 2005 tribute concert.

Cohen performs only once, at the film's end, backed by U2, and it's a highlight.

The tribute concert lineup leans toward neo-hipster types who tend to value their own style over Cohen's voice (Rufus Wainwright provides both good and bad examples of this). That the beauty of the songs still emerges is a tribute of sorts, but this attempt to show Cohen's transgenerational appeal proves double-edged.

For Cohen fans it's a must, but for the uninitiated it's at best a maybe - as in maybe the DVD extras will provide more of our man.

- Pat Holmes

Cinema 21

'A Scanner Darkly' (R)

Richard Linklater returns to the rotoscoped style of his 'Waking Life' for this intriguing but never quite gripping adaptation of the 1977 novel by Philip K. Dick. Using animation digitally 'painted' over live action, and set 'seven years from now' in Anaheim, Calif., the story occupies the intersection of drug culture and government surveillance culture, where paranoia becomes reality.

Keanu Reeves is an undercover narc whose job has made him an addict, and whose addiction has so fractured his consciousness that he's only semi-aware that he's spying on himself.

With twitchy support from Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane and especially Robert Downey Jr., Linklater has the drug-addled slacker stuff down.

But, considering that the surveillance issue is one of the hottest buttons around nowadays, there's little sense of drama or urgency here. Aside from a haunting wisp of poignancy in conclusion, the film's only staying power may lie in its too obviously sought cult status.

- PH

Fox Tower

'Wassup Rockers' (R)

High school is a confusing time, full of fear, optimism, affection, anger and, of course, hot and cold running hormones. The newest film by writer-director Larry Clark, who is most famous for his controversial 1995 debut, 'Kids,' is confusing, too.

'Wassup Rockers' is partly a pseudo-documentary about Hispanic skate punks in a tough L.A. neighborhood, partly a coming-of-age odyssey, and partly a satirical stab at the upper-crust Beverly Hills social scene, toward which Clark displays a violent bitterness.

If you can get past the creepy way Clark's camera caresses the bodies of his underage subjects (and that's a big if) there are some beautiful moments of realism. These are shunted aside, though, by a story that comes out of nowhere and becomes increasingly ludicrous as the movie continues.

With sex on the brain, the film veers wildly from one mood to another, and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

In other words, a movie about troubled teens is one thing, but a movie made by a troubled teen trapped in the body of a 63-year-old filmmaker is quite another.

- Anne Marie DiStefano

Fox Tower

Also new this week: What would you do if you had your very own movie theater and could show whatever you wanted? Clinton Street Theater owner Seth Sonstein celebrates his birthday with his two favorite movies, 'Repo Man' and 'Scarface.' There's also a birthday party going on at the Hollywood Theatre, which turns 80 this year. Festivities include Saturday night's official relighting of the neon Hollywood sign and screening of Buster Keaton's 'The General,' which was being filmed in Cottage Grove right around the time the Hollywood first opened it doors (2 p.m. Sunday, July 16, Hollywood Theatre, $10).