New-release round-up: Things are not what they seem


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Stanley was a man who suffered from gender dysphoria, meaning he believed he was a woman trapped in a man's body. After years of therapy, hormones and surgeries, Stanley was living his life as Bree. With one week left until the Big Surgery, to turn Stanley into Bree once and for all, an alarming phone call comes.
Stanley's lone sexual encounter, 18 years ago, resulted in a son. Said son is in jail across the country. Hesitant and scared, Bree goes to him, bails him out and offers to drive him back to California with her. The boy, Toby, is very troubled and does not know Bree is not a real woman, nor that she is his father.
The movie is "Transamerica," and although it may sound like one of those weepy, life-is-so-unfair type of melodramas, it is in fact sharp and funny. The melodrama is kept to a minimum, allowing the bizarre road picture and buddy movie to take shape as the father and son bond.
Felicity Huffman, who looks so glamorous every week on the network television, underwent a stunning metamorphosis to play Bree. Her looks, her voice, her mannerisms, are all impeccable - so good you will forget Huffman is a beautiful woman and accept her entirely as a man on the verge of becoming a woman.
What makes her performance so complete is the way she carries herself, the way she turns away from anyone who looks at her directly. The way she fidgets with her hands when she gets nervous. The way she is always nervous. Bree is every inch a person who isn't comfortable in her own skin.
For this reason, "Transamerica" works as more than just a movie about a transgendered person. I think her performance is good and true, and it taps into something universal everyone can relate to on some level or another. It is a brilliant piece of acting.
Also new to DVD, "The Ringer" has Johnny Knoxville playing a loser who pretends to be mentally retarded so he can compete in the Special Olympics. As he is not physically or mentally challenged (in the textbook definition of the phrase), he can breeze through the track and field events so his uncle can make a lot of money at the betting parlor.
Yes, as it turns out, loan sharks do bet on the Special Olympics. Knoxville runs into a couple of complications. First, his act does not fool his fellow Special Olympians, and, second, he isn't fast enough to beat Jimmy, the reigning champion.
"The Ringer" sounds like it should be the most offensive, off-color movie of the year. The subject matter is risky at best; after all, who wants to watch 90 minutes of jokes at the expense of the mentally challenged? It sounds mean, cruel, and unnecessary.
Shockingly, "The Ringer" is soft and gentle.
It treats the Special Olympians with respect and love, and uses them in the jokes, instead making them the butt of jokes. They're challenged, but not stupid, as they prove time and again by not only teaching Knoxville's character how to get the girl (who thinks he is retarded) but coaching him to beat Jimmy.
The fact that such a sweet movie comes from the Farrelly Brothers (of "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" fame) is somewhat surprising. But their last few movies have gotten less funny and more schmaltzy, and "The Ringer" is the aw-shucks nicest movies they've made yet. At this rate, their next movie will be about teddy bears and puppy dogs.
This brings us to "Hoodwinked," which - in a way - is about teddy bears and puppy dogs. It is one of the new breed of post-"Shrek" animated movies that have an in-your-face attitude. I suppose this is something we will all have to live with, but at first glance, "Hoodwinked" comes across like a made-for-TV "Shrek" spin-off.
You've got you're classic children's story characters who speak like it's modern-day America. You've got the high-tech computer animation. And you've got the "Matrix"-influenced kung fu fight scene (which seems to be required in everything short of a Merchant Ivory movie these days).
There are also a slew of famous and semi-famous celebrities who bring the characters to life. Glenn Close voices Granny, Anne Hathaway is Red and Patrick Warburton (one of the funniest voice actors since Phil Hartman) is outstanding as the Wolf. Filling out the ranks are the very funny Chazz Palminteri, David Ogden Stiers and Andy Dick.
The story is familiar. Little Red Riding Hood comes to visit her grandmother, only to be attacked by the Big Bad Wolf. At the last second, a maniacal woodsman with an ax crashes the party. Before any felonies happen, the police arrive and arrest everyone. Each character tells his or her side of the story, and the conflicting, overlapping stories all tie in together to create a "Pulp Fiction" pastiche of a movie.
"Hoodwinked" has boundless energy, and a good sense of fun, even if it is all a little too Shrekish.
n n n On a completely unrelated note, I'd like to ask for the input of you, the reader.
I am putting together a piece on Gainesville in the movies. Films that have been shot in or around Gainesville, and movies in which Gainesville plays a role. Keanu Reeves hailed from Gainesville in "The Devil's Advocate," as did all those chopped-up teenagers in "House of Wax." Paul Giamatti stars as a Gainesvillian in "The Hawk is Dying," and Sean Connery is a UF law professor in "Just Cause."
What films am I forgetting? Send your favorites - or least favorites - to the e-mail below. Better yet, call Scene Editor Dave Schlenker (374-5045) personally and tell him all about it.
Send smart remarks to Rewindcolumn@hotmail.com.
Transamerica EEE1/2 (three and one half Es)
The Ringer EE (two Es) Hoodwinked EEE (three Es)

NATE'S KEY:

4 "E"s: Tremendous (best of the bunch); 3 "E"s: Superior; 2 "E's: Fair (it's been done better); 1"E": Avoid (save your money)

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