In this biopic of the life of Muhammed Ali, Will Smith plays the quick-witted boxer and activist as if he's always had Parkinson's. While Jon Voight is a dream as Howard Cosell, and Jamie Foxx shines as Ali's cornerman, Drew "Bundini" Brown, Smith lumbers through the film with a dead-eyed glaze, unable to capture the spark needed to portray "the Greatest." Oh, and the fight scenes suck. For a truly eye-opening look at Muhammed Ali, rent When We Were Kings, still the best film on the subject. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
With an amazing turn away from the cynicism of Delicatessen, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes no bones about being sweet and charming. A quick-moving narrative about a shy, sexy, and dreamy Parisian who helps friends and strangers fulfill their fantasies while shying away from her own. Cute as a button. Really, you'll love it.
* The American Astronaut
A space trader roams through the universe, unaware that an old enemy is trying to kill him, in this sci-fi musical. See review this issue.
A Beautiful Mind
Stories about the insane are an inherent paradox. Because for a story to be compelling, it has to have rules, and an inner logic, whereas mental illness doesn't have rules, and treats logic as just another way of seeing. In the case of John Nash (Russell Crowe), the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia, there is the added irony that a man of quantitative genius could lose all control of quantitative reality. With a deft directorial touch, the paradox of Nash's world could really come to life. But that would take more of a talent than Ron Howard, whose interest is to make an uplifting Christmas movie, and to provide an easily digestible tale of overcoming adversity--as if insanity was something you just get through, like a bad hair day. (Michael Shilling)
Better Than Sex
Not to set the bar too high, but this Australian film is a whole lot better than Friends. About a one-night stand complicated by some pesky emotions, this film plays like a clunky episode of NBC's long-running sitcom. So why is it better? It's the sex, stupid. He goes down on her, she goes down on him, he fucks her doggy style, she rides him like a pony. If the script were half as convincing as the sex, well, this would be a pretty damn good movie. It's not, though, not by a longshot. But, hey, nice tits. (Dan Savage )
This controversial war film is the new effort from Ridley Scott, an artist who has made a career out of not saying a damn thing, ever, except, "Look how pretty this shiny sidewalk is." The movie tells the story of the ill-fated 1993 American military intervention in Mogadishu, Somalia, and apparently, makes a point of offering no context, political or social, for the conflict. Hell, network news coverage could've done that! (Sean Nelson)
Brotherhood of the Wolf
It's not just that the plot (about a superwolf laying waste to the French countryside in the 1700s and a scientist with amazing fighting prowess sent to track it down) grows less and less sensible; not just that the lead actor is a second-rate Christopher Lambert; not just that the sex scenes are lurid and yet untitillating; not just that everyone (including a transplanted Iroquois and scuzzy French mercenaries) knows kung fu--Brotherhood of the Wolf is all of this and more, a special French fusion of the pretentious and the inane. Were it not so long, this would be camp fun. But it is long. So very long. So very, very, very long. (Bret Fetzer)
Business of Strangers
Stockard "Stockyard" Channing and Julia Stiles star in this reverse gender, corporate revenge drama, cut from the same cloth as In the Company of Men. Though Channing's performance is excellent, the filmmaker's desire to lay bare a female variant on the archetypal male fantasy seems to expose something intrinsically male, nonetheless. (Sean Nelson)
Cool and Crazy
Sounds exciting right? The opening credits present the title in hot pink '80s writing, a blatant example of cinematic misrepresentation. What follows is a numbingly paced documentary on a men's choral group, in a small, economically challenged fishing village, in the sticks of Norway. Potentially, this could have been a good idea. But, no. The political themes were treated listlessly and the songs were mostly sterile patriotic standards. There were a few flashes of wit, but not enough. Highpoints included watching old men dance in bright windbreakers and a great close up of a snot icicle. (Marjorie Skinner)
* The devil's backbone
It is the end of the Spanish Civil War and Carlos, the son of a once-prominent politician, is abandoned along with a group of malnourished boys, to be placed in the care of an orphanage. Almost at once, Carlos is subjected to a series of strange occurrences that only the innocent can accept: an unexploded bomb sits ominously in the middle of the school's courtyard; the groundskeeper is known only as "the one who sighs," wanders the residence, virtually ignored by all who live there. While the film is a gothic horror, the intent is not to make you jump out of your seat; it is a beautifully crafted, gripping wartime tale of a community coming together to battle a common evil--and exhibit the true nature of heroism.
A documentary of our new favorite tragic failure of a sea voyage, Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 quest for Antarctica, which wound up, as we all know, with an icebound vessel full of starving crewmen reduced to smoking penguin feathers. Lucky for this documentary, they had a camera crew with 'em....
* Enlightenment Guaranteed
This super-engaging story of two German brothers waylaid in Tokyo on their way to a Japanese Zen monastery is a study in unclassifiability: elements of farce (their travel fiasco lands them in lederhosen before long) mingle with serious human drama and an abiding desire for spiritual credence, though the hapless brothers are basically foolish, a Teutonic Laurel and Hardy. The video photography gives the film a guileless quality, not unlike a demo recording, that lends immediacy to the proceedings which, in hands less skilled than those of director Doris Dörrie, might have grown tendentious. Hurry to see it. (Sean Nelson)
Robert Altman's latest is an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery set in the posh environs of a late 19th-century English mansion, where the swells and scousers surmount class boundaries to answer the question "Whodunnit?" Recent Altman work (that's Short Cuts onward, inclusive) has declined in sharp, inverse proportion to his ability to attract big-name movie stars--aka the Woody Allen syndrome--but this one is apparently a lot better than the last few howling dogs he has unleashed.
* How High
Both Redman and Method Man are charismatic and irreverent performers with massive vitality, who consistently bring marijuana into the themes and lyrics of their music: it is natural that they'd make a movie together. The film's creative starting point is a completely goofy blend of fantasy and reality, but the stars' tremendous enthusiasm makes nearly every dumb joke funny. (Raphael Ginsburg)
Spence Olham (Gary Sinese) is a scientist developing a secret super-weapon for use against the bastard Centauris. While minding his P's and Q's at the lab one day, he is taken into custody by Major Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio), head meanie of CIA Futuro, who accuses Olham of being an evil Centauri android doppelganger, hell-bent on blowing us all sky-high with the super space bomb (of course) implanted in his chest. While seemingly compelling, the movie ends up as boring chase scene after chase scene, with Olham eluding the Feds via vent after grill after convenient fucking duct, trying to find some way to prove himself human. Sigh. (Jacob McMurray)
* In the Bedroom
This langorous, beautifully acted film about erotic and familial entanglements in a small Maine fishing town one summer, builds up to three moments of utter emotional brutality so severe that the long moments in between them thrum like high tension wires. A college boy (Nick Stahl; never liked him before, but he's great here) having a fling with a townie single mother (Marisa Tomei, back from the dead and in excellent form), the boy's parents (Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, who carry the picture with a realistic melancholy gravitas), and the mistress's ex-husband (William Mapother, who is related to Tom Cruise, but a fine actor nonetheless; he recalls Eric Roberts in Star 80, the creepiest creep in movie history) form the locus of Todd Field's insidiously gripping adaptation of Andre Dubus' deeply moral short story. (Sean Nelson)
Sex is categorically stripped of its erotic value in this cold, harsh film about two Brits (Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance) who meet once a week for wordless, anonymous sex. We learn more about them as the man becomes intrigued enough by his partner (about whom he knows almost nothing) to begin stalking her around London. Writer Hanif Kurieshi bestows the "lovers'" entanglement with an aura of menace and dark revelation, but the film distinguishes itself by the very mundaneness of the characters' respective dilemmas. It's a rich and complex film, but you might want to bring an extra sweater. Brr.... (Sean Nelson)
One woman's harrowing journey through modern-day Afghanistan to try and prevent her sister, maimed by landmines and oppressed beyond consolation, from killing herself. See review this issue.
Kate and Leopold
Meg Ryan plays a "career woman" in New York City. In Hollywood shorthand, that means she's a bitter, frustrated spinster. Luckily, a strapping, sexy nobleman from 1876 falls through a "rip in the time-space continuum" and sweeps her off her sensible shoes. Oh, for fuck's sake, I simply cannot go on. Except maybe to say that America's Sweetheart now resembles America's Plastic Surgery and Anorexia Disaster. The poor thing looks like some mad doctor grafted Melanie Griffith's big, weird squishy mouth onto a piece of fried chicken and left it to dry on a windowsill for about two years. God, I hated this insulting piece of shit. It was like Crocodile Dundee crossed with Sleepless in Seattle, if your mind can wrap itself around that horror. (Tamara Paris)
Langrishe Go Down
Harold Pinter adapts the novel by Aidan Higgins to the screen. Otto Beck (played by Jeremy Irons) falls in doomed love with the youngest of four sisters. Her father has recently died and she clings to a slow, depressing life living in her family's house in the country.
Keanu Reeves is a prince, who's also struggling with some "inner demons" and turns to Buddhism for help. There's a reason you've never heard of this movie.
* Lord of the Rings
Remarkably true to the epic book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though enhanced by computer animation, and certainly made in the post-Xena/Beastmaster era, this first installment promises to launch Lord of the Rings into the Star Wars strata. In a way, it's like playing the Final Fantasy VII role-playing game, only you probably already know the story and you don't have any controllers. And Sean Astin is in it. Aside from the early-on, too-fast editing that slows down as the movie unfolds, there's only one really cheesy part, graphics-wise. You are now an adventure dork. Make plans to see it twice. (Julianne Shepherd)
It wasn't long ago that Jim Carrey burst onto the screen with the unpredictable and vaguely menacing charisma of a true trickster. But like ultimate antihero Jack Nicholson and the fantastically misguided Kevin Spacey before him, he's turned his back on difficult or even unlikeable characters in favor of a one-way ticket to Sapville. Smear the lens with Vaseline! Hire a fawning, anonymous blond actress! Trot out the weather-beaten character actors! Let the string section swell! Mr. "Where's my fucking Oscar?" Carrey is ready for his close-up! (Tamara Paris)
Music of Terezin w/ Weintraub Synchopators
An account of the town of Terezin, Czechoslovakia--a Jewish ghetto where the WWII captives were allowed to attend theater, cabaret, concerts, and opera. Performances of the composers/Holocaust victims of Terezin and survivor recollections. Weintraubs chronicles the success of the 1920s jazz band, the Weintraub Synchopators, their tour, and the eventual internment of their Jewish members.
* Oceans 11
Hollywood may finally be redeemed! The savior? Director Steven Soderbergh. In a feat more remarkable than the movie's $160 million bank heist, Soderbergh manages to keep the egos of the blockbuster actors under their hats and lets the plot tell its own story. As a velvety tongued bank robber, Clooney quarterbacks a near impossible heist of a Vegas-casino vault. With the help of 11 well-trained pickpockets, explosive experts, and circus acrobats, the robbery races along with the intricacy and spellbinding accuracy of a Swiss watch. (Phil Busse)
If you were thinking Orange County might be funny, you were wrong. Jack Black isn't funny as the drunk, drugged out, dumb-movie stereotype. Colin Hanks, Tom's kid, is a major cheese, and is only kind of funny because he's trying to look all heartfelt in a movie where serious emotion doesn't fit at all. The plot is about some kid who wants to leave Orange County to go to Stanford and become a writer, and he writes this story, and it's called Orange County, and at the end you realize that the story is the movie and you just want to barf. I can't even write anything funny about the movie, it's so not funny. (Katie Shimer)
Pavarotti of the Plains: Don Walser's Story w/ Accordion Dreams
A portrait of country legend, Texas singer Don Walser. Accordion Dreams shows the melding of the European button accordion into German polka music and traditional Mexican songs... this combination created Conjunto music. See its evolution.
* Royal Tennenbaums
This movie is great, go see it. A family of geniuses reunite from their seperate, but equally fucked up lives. Once they get under the same roof, their individual and combined issues resurface--and they do their best to work them out. Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson are amazing, the story is depressing with moments of hilarity, and the pace of the film is similar to Rushmore--slow moving, but worth every minute. (Katie Shimer)
Screaming Jay Hawkins--I Put a Spell on Me
A weaving of new and old footage of the R&B legend ending with Screaming Jay's final two concerts in Athens in 2000. Plenty of interviews with cohorts such as Bo Diddley and Hawkins' bandleader, Rudi Protrudi, and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who featured the legend in the 1984 Stranger Than Paradise.
* Snow Dogs
We are living in an apocalyptic society, and irony is no longer all that funny, because a gross irony already pervades every aspect of our lives. Because our humor is now so complex and sophisticated, we must now turn to the painfully ridiculous to make us laugh--things that are so absurd, so mundane, they are only funny when put in context of the ugliness of American society. (Things like "Bush Faints after Choking on Pretzel." Did you see that headline? It was the funniest fucking thing I've ever read.) Enter Snow Dogs, Disney's totally hilarious movie in which a dentist from Miami (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) inherits a bunch of sled dogs and must compete in the Iditarod. The end of Western Civilization is nigh, my friends, and there is nothing funnier than a gaggle of talking dogs. (Julianne Shepherd)
Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a hotshot 33-year-old who inherited a publishing company from his pop and has the world by the nuts. David skitters through life refusing to accept any real responsibility--especially when it comes to his casual lover, Julie (Cameron Diaz). However, when he meets the cute-as-a-bug Sofia (Penelope Cruz), he gets his first glimpse at the possibility of true love, which drives the jealous Julie bonkers. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
The story of two Spanish families at war, which excellently captures the macho, fiery passion of the culture.
* Waking Life
Richard Linklater's monologue-heavy, beautifully animated opus about the quest for lucid dreaming and active living is one of the coolest, most interesting movies you'll ever see. Or you might hate it and think it's talky and pretentious. If you liked Slacker, however--wait, not if you liked it... if you GOT Slacker--and have been waiting for Linklater to return to philosophical quandary mode, don't wait another second. Go see Waking Life. (Sean Nelson)
Welcome to the Club w/ Hank & Jimmy: A Story of Country
Welcome, documents women rockabillians. Hank and Jimmy is about Hank Snow, the father and country music great and his son, Jimmy, who turned against his father for the ministry and preached against the evils of rock 'n roll.
An American gets a job in post-WWII Germany on the Zentropa railroad line. He wants to remain neutral between the Americans and Germans, but when he falls in love with the daughter of the railroad owners, he realizes he has to take sides. Directed by Lars Von Trier.