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Film Clips: 'From Justin to Kelly', 'Spanish Apartment', 'Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky and Our Times'

A roundup of new releases

Friday, June 20, 2003

'From Justin to Kelly'

RATING: PG for brief language, sensuality.

STARRING: Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini.

DIRECTOR: Robert Iscove.

Annette and Frankie they aren't. And that's a good thing.

"From Justin to Kelly," the post-"American Idol" concoction starring Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, is 40 years removed from the similarly contrived "Beach Party" films with former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon.

It's also about 40 times better, which isn't a glowing recommendation. Re-watching "Beach Party" turns out to be worse than a third-degree sunburn, particularly when Annette sings "Treat Him Nicely" while gazing at her mirror image.

"From Justin to Kelly" -- boys meet girls on spring break in Miami -- works 12 listenable tunes into its connect-the-dots plot. Adults aren't a factor, leaving ample time for Clarkson and Guarini to earn a few credits toward their junior thespian degrees under the capable direction of Robert Iscove ("She's All That" and ABC's Emmy-nominated remake of "Cinderella").

Clarkson, pride of Burleson, Texas, is first seen singing in a dive Texas bar. Her level-headed character, Kelly Taylor, quickly joins best pals Alexa (Katherine Bailess) and Kaya (Anika Noni Rose) on a fun 'n' sun trip to the beach. Meanwhile, Justin Bell (Guarini) also is good to go with a "Pennsylvania Posse" that includes con artist Brandon (Greg Siff) and nerdy Eddie (Brian Dietzen).

It's only a matter of time -- perhaps 10 minutes -- before Kelly and Justin lock eyes on the beach. But sexy Alexa's Alexis-style foul play keeps their lips at bay until the film's homestretch. "Anytime you need love, baby, I'm on your side," Justin finally sings to Texas' No. 1 Kelly girl. Backatcha, Curly.

Rated PG and actually tamer than that, the film's frequent musical breaks might leave lots of teenage boys wondering how their girlfriends got them into this instead of "The Hulk." "From Justin to Kelly" is hardly "West Side Story," but it could be considered a cousin twice removed. Gotta sing, gotta dance -- most winningly in an energetic opening production number called "The Bounce."

It's all smoothly packaged and presented by 19 Entertainment, the UK-based company that brought "American Idol" to these shores and remains firmly in charge of the Kelly/Justin starships. Their first movie together is a better-than-expected diversion that likely won't leave anyone feeling cheap or cheated. No harm, no foul -- and a true cinematic giant compared to "Beach Party."

-- Ed Bark, The Dallas Morning News

'Spanish Apartment'

RATING: R for language and sexual content.

STARRING: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Judith Godreche.

DIRECTOR: Cedric Klapisch.

Diversity is not just a politically correct American obsession, not when the countries of Europe have adopted a common currency and formed a union that can bridge -- or possibly threaten -- cultural differences.

In "L'Auberge Espagnole" ("Spanish Apartment"), French director Cedric Klapisch creates a microcosm of the New Europe among a group of college exchange students sharing an apartment in Barcelona. Each hails from a different country -- France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, England, Denmark.

At the outset, each has his or her own shelf in the refrigerator. A note by the telephone instructs whoever answers on what to say in what language when the call is for someone else. The walls dissolve or collapse as their year together continues. The diversity isn't just geographic, either. One student is gay but open enough to give heterosexual seduction tips to a character of the opposite gender.

We see it all through the eyes of the Frenchman, Xavier (Romain Duris), who goes to Spain after a businessman tells him it's a good career move. He starts missing his girlfriend (Audrey Tautou) almost as soon as he's on the plane. At the airport, he meets a French doctor (Xavier De Guillebon) and his new wife (Judith Godreche). She's shy and often left alone by her husband, who asks Xavier to show her around the town. You can guess where that goes.

There's no real plot, just the romantic adventures of the students and the ways in which they represent the blurring of national lines in the New Europe. But while the characters are generally likable, it's not enough to sustain the movie, which drags at times and hammers at its theme like seven national anthems playing at once. A polyglot indeed!

-- Ron Weiskind

'Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky and Our Times'

RATING: Not rated; only the ideas will be found objectionable by some.

DIRECTOR: John Junkerman.

We'll get to Chomsky, the liberal social critic, in a moment. First, let's deal with this documentary, which barely qualifies as cinema. It consists entirely of excerpts from his speeches and from a long interview conducted in his office, punctuated with admiring comments from members of the choir to whom he preaches. That would include director John Junkerman, judging from the movie's reverent tone.

Chomsky himself remains maddening as ever, an inveterately soft-spoken man with incendiary opinions about American foreign policy that are almost invariably critical. Much of what he says sounds reasonable but leads to conclusions many will find unreasonable. He puts two and two together but insists it adds up to something other than four.

He says there can be no war on terror that is led by the world's foremost terrorist state (that would be us, in his view). He says the only thing different about 9/11 is the nationality of the victims. He admits other countries do horrible things but says only self-recrimination has any value. He calls for the people to rise up against those in power, without explaining how he would fill the vacuum.

All but the most worshipful can find a more full-bodied and cinematically valid portrait of Chomsky in the 1993 documentary "Manufacturing Consent." The only thing "Power and Terror" manufactures is talking heads.

-- Ron Weiskind

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