(See My, What a Busy Week.)
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)
Listen to this plot line: A hit-man, who has been mute since childhood, meets a pharmacy assistant so poignantly beautiful and decent that he resolves to quit the business, thereby marking himself for death. Is this a brilliant Harrison Ford-esque Hollywood thriller? But no. It is a martial arts extravaganza made in the transcendent confines of Thailand.
A Beautiful Mind
Stories about the insane are an inherent paradox. 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)
Black Hawk Down
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 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
t'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)
* Charlotte Gray
Just when you thought Cate Blanchett couldn't get any sexier, she goes and joins the French Resistance! Blanchett plays Charlotte as a willing naif, whose participation in the war effort arises out of her simple desire to do good, and the less noble desire to be reunited with her soldier lover lost behind enemy lines. Because she speaks fluent French, she's recruited (by some guy she happens to sit next to on a train) into the British SOE spy ring, which takes her from the three-gals-in-a-flat squalor of wartime Scotland, via a brief training course, to the French idyll of Lezignac, all cobblestones, incredible chateaux, and sexy French Resistance soldiers (like Billy Crudup). Of course, Charlotte soon becomes the traditional ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances--and frankly, a bit of a saint--but director Gillian Armstrong (Last Days of Chez Nous) is too much of a sensualist to let the proceedings become conventional. (Sean Nelson)
Singer Miguel del Morales is 76 years old, and this film shows him hitchiking around Cuba with only a guitar.
* 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, 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. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
* Atlas Moth & A Skin to few: the days of nick drake
See My What a Busy Week. Review this issue.
* 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. In hands less skilled than those of director Doris Dörrie, it might have grown tendentious. Hurry to see it. (Sean Nelson)
An elderly Jewish man and woman meet in late life and return to Europe to retrace their escape from the camps during WWII.
Accidentally mistaking Citizen Cum for Citizen Kane at the video store, an aspiring filmmaker named Sean watches the porn flick and falls head over heels with its star, Johnny Rebel. After finagling his way on to the set, he gains employment as The Fluffer, providing moral (as well as oral) encouragement to Johnny in this skewed gay romantic comedy. See review this issue.
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.
Hitmakers: The Teens Who Stole Pop Music w/Words and Music by Leiber & Stoller
Sometime a really, really, really long time ago, like in the '50s and '60s, a bunch of Jewish kids in Brooklyn, like Bobby Darin, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, and Paul Simon, were all teenagers. They started making music, and before they knew it they were all over the pop charts. See their story. Words & Music by Leiber & Stoller, is a companion piece to this film, where Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller follows the songwriters of the same era.
Based on the novel by Phillip K. Dick... It's a hundred-odd years from now, and Earth has been involved in a prolonged war with aliens from Alpha Centauri, who have decimated most of the planet in their attempt to erase the blight that is the human race. Humanity, in response, has developed into an ultra-paranoid military machine. Spence Olham (Gary Sinese) is a scientist developing a secret super-weapon for use against the bastard Centauris. While seemingly compelling, the movie ends up as boring chase scene after chase scene, with Olham eluding the Feds, 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) 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. (Sean Nelson)
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
This digital claymation for the under-10 set concerns a young man who likes to invent things like rocket-powered toothbrushes and what not, but whom everyone thinks is a dork. Until the aliens invade, that is. Then, come the wet-ass hour, he's everybody's fucking daddy. Well fuck you, world! FUCK YOU!
Kandahar tells the story of Nafas, a female Afghan expatriate, now living in Canada and working as a journalist. Her sister is still trapped in the title city, maimed by a land mine and unable to tolerate the subhuman conditions for women, which are enforced under Taliban rule. When the sister writes of her intention to commit suicide, Nafas decides to return to Kandahar and intervene. The beauty of this film is confusing, even sinister, because of the mplicit suffering that it generates, but painfully worth seeing. (Sean Nelson)
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist
A fake real pseudo-kung fu movie with (get this!) fake real pseudo-dubbing. Steve Odekerk, director of Patch Adams, took the 1977 film Savage Killers, chopped it up, threw himself in there, and made it with the jokes, yielding a concept somehwere between What's Up Tiger Lily? and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, but wound up with a film much closer to that one scene in Police Academy 2 where Michael Winslow does that funny bit with the funny talking.
A lantana is a pretty pink flower. Lantana the film is a bud that never blooms. The long, slow film opens with a dead body and ends with a couple dancing, and in between are 120 minutes of middle-aged people living miserably. There is a story, sure--something about infidelity and a possible murder--but the bulk of the film is made up of pure misery, both for the characters and the audience. Then again, Australia is a former penal colony, so perhaps such punishment should be expected. (Bradley Steinbacher)
* 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)
* A Matter of Taste (Une Affaire de Goup)
A movie that deconstructs the psychology of codependency through the realtionship of a man with his employer. See review this issue.
Um, it's pronounced Moth-mun. Richard Gere and Laura Linney star in this psychological thriller about a yuppie who has it all and then, loses it because he fails to apprehend the sinister augurs of the title. See review this issue.
* Oceans 11
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. (Katie Shimer)
An actress who refuses to speak convalesces on a remote island with only a chatty nurse for company. If you've never seen it before, trust me, the plot is the last thing you'll be mulling over when the lights come up. It's important to realize that all of Bergman's "avant garde" touches--the jumble of images that open the film, which return to mark the emotional climax; the refusal to separate dream from reality; the occasionally frenzied editing--were all old hat by 1966: a little from Godard here, a touch of Bunuel there. But even the touches the director admits he didn't understand himself are conceived with a level of confidence and courage that announced Bergman, who before Persona was a talented but diffident filmmaker, had now become a major artist. (Bruce Reid)
* 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)
Shadows of Sundance
"Discovered" filmmakers showcase their hardest work. Short Films.
A Shot in the Dark
The first installment of the hee-larious Pink Pather series.
The Shipping News
This movie takes place in the mediocre land of contemporary American fiction, a land where people have names like Tert and Wavey and Nutbeem and Petal and Skronk, and no one bats an eyelash when they introduce themselves. It's also a land where houses magically contain the dark history of their inhabitants, and where every woman was either raped, beaten, or tricked into incest. Additionally, all the men in this land are either affectless near-retards, or delightfully quirky eccentrics. The film is full of shit on every level--every word it says is a lie. It should be avoided like fruitcake. PS: Whoever it was that told Kevin Spacey to stop playing charismatic bastards and to start playing cosmic naifs should be dipped in tar. (Sean Nelson)
* 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)
Step Across the Border
This is a documentary about Fred Firth, a musician from the late '60s who was a pioneer in "data" blues music.
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. When David is seduced into Julie's car, he realizes he's in the lothario's worst nightmare. After ripping him a new asshole for being such a jerk, Julie promptly drives them both off a bridge. This film has some plot twists--around 500 of them. To be honest, I would have no idea which "mind-bending" secret to give away. However, the one secret I know producers would not like to have revealed, is that this movie is pretty, well acted, and sloooooooooow. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
A Walk to Remember
Would-be teen pop princess/cosmetics-shill Mandy Moore dares to eat a peach in what promises to be a film to be forgotten, instantly.