" 12:45. Restate my assumptions. 1. Mathematics is the language of nature. 2. Therefore there are patterns everywhere in nature. 3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. "
Pi

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Pic of the Week

Each week we pick a recommended "Pic" from our archives. Below are our most recent picks.

Jaffa

***1/2

Jaffa views the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through the lens of young love.

Jaffa is an effective drama that views the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through the lens of young love.

Operation Condor

***1990, Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan meets Indiana Jones

If Jackie Chan had written, directed and starred in Raiders of the Lost Ark, this would be the result.

Chan plays a secret agent named Jackie, also called Condor. His mission is to retrieve gold stolen by the Nazis during World War II and hidden in North Africa.

After this mercifully brief plot setup, Chan heads to the Sahara with two female sidekicks. Along the way they bicker, get themselves into several comic situations and encounter various bad guys for Jackie to fight off. The action sequences are fast and furious and always entertaining, including the finale in a wind tunnel.

The broad, slapstick humor is awfully silly at times but it’s part of the fun spirit of the movie. The female characters fill the usual role of women in action movies (give Jackie someone to rescue) but they do add to the many comic moments. The stereotypes of Arabs are not much better than those seen in American action movies, but the two who show up throughout the movie as comic relief at least have some humanity.

Like all of Chan’s movies I have seen, the appeal is Chan himself. There is a lightheartedness to his movies and the action is delivered with a wink to the audience. The anticipation of wondering what he’s going to try next overcomes any reservations about the formulaic plots and stilted dialogue. Chan’s screen persona coupled with his physical prowess and stunts never fail to thrill.

Prometheus

***1/22012

Ridley Scott retells an old story

Prometheus has the mix of science fiction and horror that young men of college age crave. It has the colorful cast of characters you’d expect to see in a war film. It has enough subtlety of plot to withstand multiple viewings (unless that “subtlety” is actually plot holes — I am not sure after only one viewing). And it has the weight and grand scope of a mythic journey. Even if it’s practically the same movie as Alien, what’s not to like?

London

***1994, Patrick Keiller

Requires patience from viewers, but thoughtful and interesting for those who care to listen

Like getting back into Shakespeare after a long separation, it takes some adjustment to get used to London’s unique pacing and style, but the effort is worthwhile.

Tomb Raider 2

***2003, Jan De Bont

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper

In The Cradle of Life, Lara Croft returns to the big screen in a highly ambitious globetrotting romp. But, even with new writers and a new director, this cinematic escapade of one of pop culture’s leading ladies doesn’t always live up to its potential.

A Mighty Heart

***1/22007, Michael Winterbottom

In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn’t a fluke

In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn’t a fluke. This is her best performance and it’s now on DVD. Oscar voters, keep this one at the top of your stack.

Just Like Heaven

***2005

Reese Witherspoon’s latest movie is sappy, clumsy, and overflowing with estrogen. But it works.

Just Like Heaven is sappy, clumsy, and overflowing with estrogen. But it works.

Full Frontal

***2002, Steven Soderbergh

The best thing is that it’s hard to evaluate and easy to discuss

People assume that, because I like movies, I must like The Player, a well-crafted, funny movie about making movies. In fact, I hated The Player viscerally. I was in L.A. at the time, starving and trying to break in to the biz. So although I laughed at all the jokes and admired the references to Touch of Evil and Goodfellas, The last thing I wanted to see was a picture about the exclusivity and corruption of above-the-law Hollywood elites.

Ever since then, I’ve had a phobia about Hollywood insider movies, so when I went to Full Frontal, knowing that it was shot on digital video by Steven Soderbergh with stars like Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, and that it was about making movies, I was very afraid. I wasn’t sure I could stand to see “We’re Hollywood bigshots; our every little quirk is fascinating to the rest of you; we can even shoot on video and you’ll still fawn over us.”

Obviously my fears were misplaced. Steven Soderbergh is not that cynical, and to be honest, I think he loves movies as much as I do. He’s also very smart and talented, and with Full Frontal he’s put together more than just an experiment with the medium, he’s actually made a good movie.

Wreck-It Ralph

***1/2

Wreck-It Ralph earns a high score for giving video games the Roger Rabbit treatment.

Wreck-It Ralph earns a high score for giving video games the Roger Rabbit treatment.

Nude Area

***

Wordless, sensual film overcomes a few awkward pauses

Nude Area is a wordless film about a flirtation between two women that nearly becomes a romance.

The Dark Knight

****2008, Christopher Nolan

The Dark Knight returns and turns the genre on its head

Is Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker really worthy of an Oscar? Yes.

But The Dark Knight’s success doesn’t begin and end with the Joker. In Batman Begins, Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan mined reality in order to create a solid base for their take on Gotham’s most famous son. In The Dark Knight, they dig deeper and the result is one rock-solid, intense action-drama that batapults onto this year’s short list of the very best.

The Battle of Algiers

***1/21965, Gillo Pontecorvo

The Battle of Algiers is one of those movies that turns up on “essential cinema” lists, and rightly so, although it is not without its faults. Its treatment of its subject matter is so definitive that it would be hard for any future remake to top it.

The Big Animal

***2000, Jerzy Stuhr

The crux of the problem is that Zygmunt is now camel-guy and everyone else isn’t

I suppose we’ve all wondered at one time or another what would happen if one morning a camel suddenly appeared in our front yard... well OK, maybe not. But after seeing Jerzy Stuhr’s delightful The Big Animal, I have now given the matter some thought and have concluded that I’d fare no better (and probably worse) than the Polish couple depicted in this film. They gamely adopt the camel and then try to get on with their lives. It’s their neighbors who’ve got a problem with the big animal, and everyone’s life becomes way too complicated... except perhaps for the camel’s.