All the performances in A.I. are up to snuff (especially Jude Law as a cybernetic gigolo who serves as David's spirit guide of sorts), but Spielberg outdoes himself by taking us on an exhausting journey of a world that teeters on the brink of logic, sci-fi, and fairy tale. It's as if some futuristic scientist took Spielberg and Kubrick's brains out of their formaldehyde-drenched jars and shmooshed them together to create a film that strives to be nihilistic as well as kinda cute. While long enough to become boring, A.I. can still be chalked up as a success for Spielberg, who has managed to put aside the cotton candy for a moment. WSH
In a world of destruction, a young boy is captured and subjected to military experiments. He gains psychic powers that he uses against the oppressive forces, but shit, he's out of control. Who can save, or rather destroy, Tokyo? You guessed it, Akira.
I just have some questions: Isn't Billy Crystal famous for having a razor-sharp wit? Why then, does his script for this latest Hollywood schlock-fest resort to the lowest levels of comedy, including a man getting hit in the head with a golf ball, and another man getting his balls licked by a doberman? And why is uber-celebrity, Julia Roberts, cast in the role of the Ugly Duckling? Why has Catherine Zeta-Jones played a despicable bitch in every movie she's been in? Type-cast, perhaps...? Why are bad movies that make fun of movies still getting made when the genre is as stale as old bread? And why, for God's sake, is John Cusak in this bad, bad movie? Why are tender doves aflight invariably brought back to Earth, burned down by the fires of capitalist whorishness? Why, why, why? (Justin Sanders)
American Pie 2
The original American Pie was a surprise not because it was good, exactly, but because it wasn't as screamingly awful as you assumed it had to be. The story--knowingly based on the Porky's school of blatant vulgarity blended with dewy comings of age (recall the climactic moment, in which the greaser bully tells his abusive dad, "If being a man means being what you are I'd rather be queer!" Nice...)--of a bunch of modern teens trying to pop their cherries before graduating high school, managed to sneak a few poignant observations about friendship in among the poo jokes, and offered a number of actually funny lines. This sequel seems destined to try and have it both ways again, milking the gratuitous nudity for adolescent boners and repeating variations on the famous jokes of part one, while waxing nostalgic about growing up and so forth.
This ninth film by Takeshi Kitano--his fourth in the gangster genre--is an awkward tale of brotherhood, real and/or symbolic. Beat Takeshi must flee Tokyo when his ruthlessness and impassivity begin to creep out his yakuza clan. He joins his half-brother in LA and quickly turns little sib's small-time drug operation into a pan-gang turf war, forcing the naîfs to bond in the face of all the trouble that soon rains down on them. Sluggish pacing and an oppressive piano soundtrack tip the scales toward a rating of dull. (Sarah Sternau)
An accountant at a condom factory realizes he's about to be fired. Divorced, alienated from his 17-year-old son, he contemplates suicide, but is instead given some rather odd advice from his neighbor, a retired psychiatrist: Announce that you are gay at work, and the powers that be will be too frightened to fire you, lest they get slapped with a nasty lawsuit. The accountant takes his neighbor's advice, and, well, hilarity ensues. Or, if not hilarity, at least a few laughs here and there. Actually, how well you like The Closet may in fact depend on just how high Three's Company ranked on your laugh-o-meter. If the answer is 10, then by all means, rush out and see it. If, on the other hand, the number is five (or four, or three), you might want to stay home. (Bradley Steinbacher)
Divided We Fall
A Czech couple harbor a concentration camp escapee from the Nazis.
Dr. Doolittle 2
The doctor who talks to animals is back, and this time he is attempting to save a forest from loggers by teaching a bear how to get laid. This film is just as bad as you would expect the sequel to a bad movie to be. Although the idea of seeing animals talk may be hard to resist, you are better off tuning in to Discovery to watch them do what they do best: Eat each other. Now THAT'S funny. (Russell Cowan)
Basically, you should go into Final Fantasy with the notion that you're about to be slapped on the forehead with a big slice of cheese. If you're already prepared for bad jokes, convoluted plot, yet very cool special effects, and a fairly standard anime storyline (peaceful Eastern philosophy vs. destructive Western decadence), Final Fantasy is going to be a decent way to spend two hours. But if you never actually enjoyed an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, it's time to dust off that Godard collection and forget you ever read any of this. (Julianne Shepherd)
The debut film from French director Sande Zeig concerns a woman (called "The Artist," played by Agathe de la Boulaye) who becomes obsessed with a sultry chanteuse ("The Girl," Claire Heim). It starts out promisingly; the plot is slow and subtle, and the shots are as languid as the love scenes between the protagonists. Unfortunately, the mystery at the heart of the film is not intriguing enough to make it the sophisticated noir it so desperately tries to be. The film becomes so self-involved by the middle that the characters lose their potency. If still you care about them by the end of The Girl, you've got more patience than I.
The Golden Bowl
The Golden Bowl is, in part, a drama of manners, and Merchant Ivory's production moves neatly upon the joints and hinges of a repressed society. But the filmmakers seem to think that a well-appointed costume drama with the weight of Henry James behind it doesn't need any creative help to succeed, so the neatness is plodding. People enter rooms, whisper to one another, make out passionately behind closed doors while holding lit candles, and glare portentously at photographs--but the movie remains too damp to make a spark.
* Hedwig and the Angry Inch
John Cameron Mitchell wrote, directed, and starred in this Rocky Horror-cum-Velvet Goldmine-esque opus about a big-haired megalomaniac singing his/her way across the US. With 40-plus costume changes and songs that you will be singing for days, this is pure rock-and-roll candy which should be see on a big screen with big audio. (Michael Svoboda)
Jurassic Park 3
Sam Neill returns as Dr. Alan Grant who, along with a hunky assistant, is tricked into returning to dinosaur island to search for the missing son of William H. Macy and Tea Leoni. A few mercenaries (read: lawyer chum) come along for the ride and are quickly bitten and stomped within the first 20 minutes. That means our heroes have 50 minutes left to run around the island, avoid the bite-bite and the stomp-stomp, and somehow keep our interest with a script that's thinner than Charleton Heston's hairpiece. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
* Legally Blonde
In Legally Blonde, Witherspoon plays a Southern California Barbie doll named Elle Woods. When her boyfriend dumps her (she's "not serious enough"), she decides to win him back by attending Harvard Law School, getting in even though her brain operates, with the savantish exception of matters of fashion, at the level of a 10-year-old. Legally Blonde is Witherspoon's show. She's committed and bizarre and fantastic, elevating the film's mediocrity into an enjoyably breezy farce without apparent effort. Her performance is a taunt to her contemporaries. And justifiably: No other actress of her generation could make Elle seem genuine, and none of them could take so much cinematic dross and spin it into silk. The fire of Witherspoon's talents should make them cower in fear.
Lost and Delirious
Features three lovely, lonely, and confused prep-school girls played by actresses who each captivate at moments, with Piper Perabo improving immeasurably on her horrendous Coyote Ugly performance. The characters are kissing, laughing, and smoking rebelliously, and this film is promising in its sympathetic and non-patronizing treatment of same-sex love. Unfortunately, the film's unrelenting attempts at poignancy do their best to reduce a reasonable script and good acting, to melodrama. Multiple themes and motifs are offered, then disappointingly never mentioned again. This film can't decide which character to focus on or which audience to cater to--nude lady love scenes clash with heavy-handed juvenile trauma. This movie is one of the "new generation of teen movies" (i.e. crazy/beautiful) that features less fluff, more intensity, and more sex. However, despite sweet 'n hot moments provided by the two winsome lovers, the high-voltage studio sheen and calculated pulling of heart strings douse any real empathy with the characters. (Tamara Larson)
Walking out of Made, I tried to conjure the perfect phonetic sound to properly describe it. The winner: "nyeh," as in "whatever." Here is a film that exists for no other reason than to revisit the "magic" between Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, and your admiration for Made may depend on just how brilliant you found Swingers, their first project. If you thought it was great, then by all means, go. But, if like me, you found it vastly overrated, only marginally entertaining, and more than occasionally annoying (especially that Vaughn fucker), you'd be better served elsewhere. That said, it's a comedy about the mob, and there are some good moments. (Brad Steinbacher)
Memento has a lot of starch in it; the film sticks with you for days as you rehearse it over and over in your mind. It's also a movie so good, you fear a critical backlash against it. You come out of it feeling almost resentful at how good it is, and given that almost everyone is an aspiring filmmaker these days, this resentment is unvarnished jealousy. But this reviewer is pure of spirit, or at least spite: I may have seen a better film so far this year than Memento, but if I have, I've forgotten it. (D.K. Holm)
* Once Upon a Time in China
Jet Li plays Chinese martial-arts hero Wong Fei-Hung who defends China against invaders. Plenty of ass gets kicked in this newly cut and freshly subtitled version of the film--and master Li still looks hot.
Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie act in this soft porn, I mean... thrilling drama, about what happens when Antonio and Angelina betray their countries by having really graphic sex in front of the camera, I mean... forsaking their countries by having an affair.
The Farrelly Brothers, avatars of le cinema d'ordure, return with this half-animated tale of the biological denizens that dwell inside the comedically abused corpus of one Bill Murray. Chris Rock provides the voice of the cartoon hero, whose job it is to fight disease and, one assumes, navigate the onslaught of fart jokes the script hurls his way. The picture looks to land somewhere between Innerspace and The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
A well-executed gothic horror film in a Jamesian vein, starring Nicole Kidman as a post-war mom on a tiny British isle desperate not to let the new servants (including the great Fionnula Flanagan) expose her "photosensitive" children to daylight. The claustrophobic tension of the incredible house (the film's only set, and its true star) mounts through the eerie film as the truth, like the characters' lives, unfurls methodically in this truly frightening endeavor from Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar. As an added bonus, the always-gripping Christopher Eccleston (Jude, Elizabeth) has a supporting role. (Sean Nelson)
Planet of the Apes
As promised, Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes is upon us and it stinks like feet. If you like spaceships (first 10 minutes) and screeching apes, this film has 'em, but that's about it. Throw in a bland and predictable ending, and you have the most anticipated letdown of the summer. Sounds like a three-pronged blockbuster to me.
* The Princess and the Warrior
The second collaboration between director Tom Twyker and the stunning beautiful German actress Franka Potente. This time around, though, the pair has replaced the frenetic Nintendo plot of Run Lola Run with a carefully paced romance. No, we're not talking about a fawning Julia Roberts running around with her estrogen hanging out, but an eerie and tragic fairytale where castles are replaced by an insane asylum, and Prince Charming by a stoic street punk.
An almost-crazy 16-year-old discovers that she's actually a princess in a small European country. ohmigod?! WHAT SHOULD SHE DO? Stay in San Francisco or move to Europe?!
A Vegas hotshot starts a race for money, so he can make some his damn self.
* The Road Home
Yusheng's mother Di has called him home with an ancient request: He must gather a party of villagers to walk the body of his dead father home. Over the snowy mountains and all the way to their remote village, the bearers must tell the dead Mr. Luo, "This is the road home," so that he will always know. Some love stories could have happened anywhere. Others, like The Road Home, belong to their settings like the view from a particular hillside. The story of Di and Luo is communal territory, like the schoolhouse, and as necessary to the life of the village. Where director Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern was sweeping, The Road Home is tiny--and it's still completely overwhelming, especially when staring into Zhang Ziyi's doe eyes. (Evan Sult)
Rush Hour 2
Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan reteam as a black cop and a Chinese cop, their racially charged antics infuriate multiculturalists on two continents. This sequel to the occasionally funny original (beware: the trailer offers exactly zero laughs) features the very attractive Zhang Ziyi, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
* The Score
This is a fully functional, if-perfunctory heist film that benefits greatly from its attention to the procedure of safecracking and breaking and entering, to say nothing of the utterly relaxed brilliance of its three lead actors, Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, and best of all, Marlon Brando. It feels like these three pros took one look at the script and threw it away, realizing it was derivative trash (DeNiro plays a master thief who agrees to "one last job"--it's kind of like Ronin lite--in cahoots with fence Brando, and young buck Norton), but then realizing they could pull it off with the improvisational ease of a master acting class exercise. Though it's legitimately sad to see Brando (who now makes Sydney Greenstreet look like Kate Moss) as enormous as he is, the comic grace with which he glides through this otherwise inferior work--and again, it's totally watchable and entertaining--makes you remember that he really is the best of all time.
* Sexy Beast
Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is a retired gangster, living high on a hill in the Costa del Sol, enjoying a lethargic existence. But he is as out of place here as the heart-shaped ceramic tiles on the floor of his pool. Bad news arrives in the shape of Don Logan (Ben Kingsley, so great), there to coax Gal back to England for a job. Gal resists, but Don won't take no for an answer, setting in motion a verbal boxing match so artful and intense, it turns the sprawling Spanish vista into a pressure cooker in which Gal is forced to reckon for his ill-had comforts. A voice buried deep within Gal tells him--and us--that this can't last. Don is that voice, given brutal, relentless human form. In the fallout of their confrontation lies one of the finest films in recent memory.
The Short Attention Span + Film and Video Festival
Showcases works in film, video, and animation, each no longer than two minutes.
* Taxi Driver
This is a film everyone should see before they hit puberty. Endlessly helpful in dealing with the trials of life, Robert DeNiro walks the viewer through feelings such as love, anger, patriotism, menstruation, and blowing the fucking head off your enemies. Imperative in understanding the social sciences, it will teach youth about the "street smarts" they need to get through life in this day and age. As a bonus, Jodie Foster presents a special program on grooming and a seminar designed especially for young women entitled, "Sexual Intercourse: How Soon is too Soon?"
* Under the Sand
While on holiday at their summer home in Western France, Jean vanishes during a swim, leaving his wife Marie, played by the indefatigably beautiful Charlotte Rampling, to be ravished by loneliness. Upon her return to Paris she is encouraged to begin dating again, but can't shake the feeling that Jean is still alive, refusing to come to terms with the "closure" her friends demand of her.
Wallace and Gromit: Best of Aardman Animation
Nine he-larious stop-animation shorts including the infamous animated duo Wallace and Gromit.
* X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes
Roger Corman's (1963) excellent sci-fi story about a scientist's discovery of a drug that boosts normal human vision "beyond the borders of reality."