Directed by Paul and Chris Weitz (of American Pie infamy), this tale of male mid-life angst centers around Hugh Grant's Will, an idler of hilarious proportions whose life is measured out in increments of time spent performing important tasks such as shopping for high-end electronic gadgets and gourmet snacks, and going to the hair salon. Living off a fortune earned and perpetuated by his one-hit-wonder musician father, Will has no idea his life is meaningless until he meets a 12-year-old boy whose depressed mother (Toni Collette) forces Will to provide guidance, except that the kid is far more mature than his begrudging father figure. Will can't conceive that his life is unfulfilled, and whenever anyone tries to inform him of what's missing, he digs in his heels and fights to stay a bastard, making his inevitable transformation all the more authentic. (Kathleen Wilson )
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.
A Beautiful Mind
In the case of John Nash (Russell Crowe), the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia, it is ironic 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 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)
Blade II: Bloodhunt
Unfortunately, Blade II sucks so much ass, even Wesley's hottie six-pack won't distract you. Picking up where Blade left off, Blade the Daywalker must save his old sidekick, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), from the big pod of blood in which the vampires have kept him captive for years. He does that in the first ten minutes of the movie so, the real plot is that there is a maniacal, vampire-eating monster on the loose, whose mandible comes apart to expose a tongue that resembles a large piece of fried calamari. The tongue carries a virus that turns vampires into vampire eating monsters, which look like a cross between Nosferatu and Batboy from the Weekly World News. (Julianne Shepherd)
* Business of Fancy Dancing
I once saw Sherman Alexie speak, and he was awesome. He was speaking at the extremely well-endowed, smarty-pants college that I went to, and he caused havoc by basically giving a stand-up comedy show rather than a big, academic talk like we expected. He also illuminated a subject which I, even having grown up in the Northwest very close to a lot of Indian reservations, didn't know a lot about. He made fun of people, he was defensive, and he made us laugh. This movie, written and directed by Sherman Alexie, evoked a similar reaction to seeing him. It's funny, provocative, and educational. It's the story of Seymour Polaktin, an Indian who's left the res., who's written a lot of poetry about life on the res. He has to return home in order to attend the funeral of a good friend, and, in doing so, face the people who he's exploited. He's also gay. It touches on a lot of issues that deal with contemporary Native Americans, but isn't lost in preserving and reliving something that's really old. (Katia Dunn)
Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck are involved in a fender-bender rendering Jackson immobile. Affleck speeds off, unknowingly leaving behind an extremely important document; a bitter Jackson misses an important custody hearing, and a grand old feud is born. So Affleck, from atop New York's twin-towers-less skyline, attacks Jackson's financial credibility, while down on the streets below Jackson prepares an old-fashioned smackdown. Who wins? You won't care. It has to be noted that there's a declining marginal utility to disaster in the movies; way too many things just happen to go wrong in this film, and it wears upon its feasibility. (Kudzai Mudede)
* Count of Monte Cristo
Kevin Reynolds' rendition of The Count of Monte Cristo is a zippy little piece of entertainment masquerading as a mini-epic. Of course, Alexandre Dumas' timeless potboiler does most of the work here; the story of a virtuous man betrayed by his best friend, consigned to an island prison, delivered by fate, and resolved to revenge remains one of the great pulp yarns of all time. What Reynolds (The Beast, Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves... yeesh!) brings to the table is a knack for big action, and more importantly, a facility with the shorthand of male intimacy.
Death in Venice
Based on the Thomas Mann novel about a writer who goes to the Venetian seaside for rest, but instead falls for a young boy who represents his idea of perfection. A plague eventually threatens both of their lives and represents the corruption of ideals.
* Dogtown and Z Boys
A documentary on surfers turned skateboarders who started the boarding craze and meanwhile got famous. A tad self-referential, but still worth seeing for the life threatening guerilla surfing and skating and the boys divergent reactions to fame. (Katie Shimer)
E.T. (20th Anniversary)
Check out Drew Barrymore at the height of her drug use and alcoholism. She can hardly remember her lines. See review this issue.
A bunch of British math geniuses whose sole purpose was to crack German code spent the war sitting in a London mansion (Bletchley Park) and deciphering Shark, the most sophisticated type of cipher, sent from U boats. Rife with intrigue, Bletchley Park is the natural setting for the film Enigma. Dougray Scott plays Tom Jericho, the man who cracked Shark and subsequently had a nervous breakdown. Of course, his nervous breakdown isn't due to the pressure of having to save thousands of lives just by stringing numbers together--no, Jericho has a nervous breakdown because he got dumped by the woman he loved. (Julianne Shepherd)
J.LO is a waitress; poor, beautiful, but still tough. She doesn't take any crap from any customers. That is, not until she meets the rich and charming Mitch (Bill Campbell), who whisks her off her feet, buys her an enormous house, and immediately impregnates her. Shortly after, he begins sleeping with other women. Then he starts beating J.LO up. But will J.LO stand for this? Of course not. After flying to Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco, moving her daughter around to different schools, and dodging Mitch and his powerful friends, J.LO decides that she's had enough (get it?). She begins training in martial arts, and learns how to beat Mitch up herself. Because this movie is made strictly for the J.LO lover, the writer and director scrap any notion of building suspense or a surprise ending, and simply give us shot after blissful shot of J.LO. The sequence of scenes in which she is training are beautiful (plenty of spandexed booty), and the ending fight scene is awesome. In short, for the J.LO lover, this movie is better than her last few. For the non-J.LO lover, don't bother. You'll hate it.
See review this issue.
Japanese anime about a suicidal young girl who is haunted by visions she had as a young child of a man in a medieval suit of armor. One day she is transported to another land where she discovers she is the Wing Goddess, and only person capable of constructing a magical and sought after suit of armor-and therefore, is also responsible for saving the world.
Set in 1932, Gosford Park is an exhausted murder mystery. It takes a toxic narrative, the sort that was exploited to death by Agatha Christie, and emphasizes things Christie wouldn't emphasize (like class antagonisms, power structures within sexual relationships), and de-emphasizes things she would emphasize (like the murder, the mystery, and its solution). In a word, Gosford Park is a meta-mystery, meaning the setting, figures, and tropes of a murder mystery form the frame for the real concerns: class and gender rivalries; the rise of mass entertainment; and the dark history of the industrial revolution and British imperialism. In Gosford Park, all of these meta-elements seem to be rushing toward the point of revelation, but they never arrive at the terminal point of truth. (Charles Mudede)
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone
The film covers Harry's first year at Hogwarts, and though it would be impossible for any film version to replicate the density of the book, it seems as if director Chris Columbus has focused on setting up a franchise, rather than an entertaining movie for kids and adults. When Harry Potter finds himself in serious danger, it almost appears secondary to introducing characters and exposition. The result is a fairly tedious Cliff Notes version of Harry Potter, in which we lose a lot of the fun, the darkness, and forward momentum found in the book. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Val Waxman (Woody Allen), a film director, has fallen out of favor since his heyday in the '70s and '80s and has been reduced to directing TV commercials. Finally, however, he gets an offer to direct a big budget film, but goes blind from the stress. He and his counterparts disguise his disability and attempt to direct the film anyway.
Ice Age takes over where films like Shrek and Monsters Inc. left off last year. Pleasant and funny, it is littered with enough sophisticated jokes to entertain the adults, but is really nothing more than a fast-paced, shimmering toy for kids. Which is just the way it should be. (Bradley Steinbacher)
* 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 having a fling with a townie single mother (Marisa Tomei), the boy's parents (Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson), and the mistress' ex-husband form the locus of Todd Field's insidiously gripping adaptation of Andre Dubus' deeply moral short story. (Sean Nelson)
In the Name of Christ/Smoke in the Eyes
In the Name of Christ explores the people's commitment to religion, despite the fast-paced modernizing of Africa, through an ironic fable about a false prophet who can create miracles. Smoke in the Eyes shows a woman coming from politically upheaved Zaire to visit a man in Brussels, and her ensuing indecision in her interactions with him.
Despite Robin Williams, Insomnia is a high-suspense, well-acted drama from the director of Memento. See review this issue.
The brilliant British writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench, Kate Winslet), a woman who lives most decidedly in the world of ideas, succumbs to the dementia of Alzheimer's, "sailing into darkness" as she so rightly puts it. The story, as constructed by director Richard Eyre, flips back and forth between past and present, evidently mimicking the erratic thread that memory becomes in the hands of the disease. This film turns into something more suited to the small screen, however, because of the relentless sentimentalization and lack of ambition, in a story about an ambitious woman without a sentimental bone in her body. (Emily Hall)
* Italian for Beginners
The characters of Italian for Beginners begin in a state of despair. This being a romantic comedy, their lives begin to intersect through a series of coincidences-coincidences that could feel contrived, but due to the rough integrity of the script, performances, and direction (shaped in part by the monastic rigors of the Dogme 95 ethic), they feel like the organic waywardness of life. (Bret Fetzer)
John Q is a problem film. Not in the race conflict sense, but in the class warfare sense. The movie represents Hollywood's first attempt to address the failure of the healthcare system. Denzel Washington plays the American worker, and Anne Heche plays Enron. Enron in this instance takes the form of a healthcare corporation, with its expensive drugs and operations, and its affluent doctors and administrators. The film, of course, is timely. The layoffs and deepening recession in the real world are expressed by the part-time factory worker's frustration with the system. Though I agree with John Q's politics, it's dull and tendentious. (Charles Mudede)
* Kissing Jessica Stein
With the dumb title and no name actors, you wouldn't think this would be a good film, but it is. Sex-fiend Helen places ad in the paper because she wants to try getting her lesbian freak on, and uptight girl Jessica is so taken by the ad that she decides to give it a chance. The gals end up trying it out together for a while, and Jessica overcomes a lot of issues, including, whether she's gay or not. The peripheral characters are hysterical, and the relationship between Jessica and Helen makes you question how easy it would be to go gay or to be gay without realizing it or to be unhappy without seeing the solution. (Katie Shimer)
The talents of six of the finest British actors alive (Tom Courtenay, Bob Hoskins, David Hemmings, Michael Caine, Helen Mirren, and Ray Winstone) are squandered by this moist little movie about a journey to deliver a dead man's ashes to the seaside. (Sean Nelson)
* Little Otik
A Czech fairy tale about a couple that treats a stump of wood as if it were a precious little baby. If you need to be reminded why not to have kids... See review this issue.
* 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)
* Monsoon Wedding
At first, it seems like Mira Nair is just doing family drama. The film is stylish, brisk, witty, and beautifully filmed (marigolds are so vibrant they would leave bright orange dust on your fingers if you touched them). But within the patchwork of marriage melodrama, Monsoon Wedding presents a subversive argument about the insidiousness of progress and its fluid relationship with tradition. Of course, it all comes out right in the end, but in getting to its satisfying resolution, it passes through so many uncomfortable revelations and unthinkable confrontations that it almost feels like watching history unfold. (Sean Nelson)
Murder By Numbers
Sandra Bullock plays her usual cheesecake self. She becomes a cop after being a victim of domestic violence. Luckily, Michael Pitt saves this bad acting fest by playing a pretty convincing teenage killer.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
A frumpy diamond in the rough (Nia Vardalos) goes against the wishes of her lovingly oppressive family and falls for a hunky WASP (John Corbett, coasting on his Sex & The City vibe) in this intermittently amusing Grecian yarn. The refreshingly unconventional Vardalos adapted from her one-woman play, and the best material springs from her sporadic narration, goofing gently on such eccentricities as her dad's Windex fetish and the many permutations of cousins named Nick. Unfortunately, her presence and a sharp supporting cast (including the ever-prickly Andrea Martin) can't wholly mitigate the myriad of memorexed gags, well-trod life lessons, and director Joel Zwick's flat, sitcomish presentation. There's precious little here that hasn't been seen a gazillion times before, but Vardalos' earthy charisma and a few stray bits of off-kilter wit make for an amiable saunter into the matrimonial breech. N'Syncher Joey Fatone cameos as a bearded guy.
National Lampoon's Van Wilder
And so once again National Lampoon's attempt to reclaim those cinematic "glory days" falls miserably flat. As a comedy, National Lampoon's Van Wilder offers maybe one or two laughs--not the hearty, spazzy laughs, mind you, but slight chuckles, possibly minor snorts. A zany college romp that tries to be Animal House for a new generation, this film lacks both the zaniness and the wit that made the Delta Brothers' movie so entertaining. Stay away. (Bradley Steinbacher)
The New Guy
Why is the obnoxious-dweeb-turned-obnoxious-chick-magnet plot still selling? Why, in this advanced age, are people still laughing at fat jokes and transvestites and dwarves getting beaten up? Why did the guy in the front row howl like he was giving birth for the entire duration of this movie? Also, why would a beautiful 21-year-old actress with a decent résumé willfully dress up like some big-booty ho outta Lynnwood and perform a raunchy striptease on camera? Without a shred of irony? Why is this POS all-but-guaranteed to make millions at the box office, despite the fact that its only asset is the scene where a teenage nymphet addresses Vanilla Ice as "Pukeface?" Why do people pay money for this shit? Why? Why? No. Tell me. Why? (Meg Van Huygen)
Here are some of the wimpiest con men you'll ever see. Their cons include finagling more change than they had coming at coffee shops and tricking old ladies into helping them out when their imaginary car breaks down. The "Big Score"--a mandatory part of any con game film--involves selling some rare stamps. Surprisingly, this material is interesting for a while--it's softness is oddly original, and even kind of sweet, but it also results in a severe lack of suspense in the film that becomes more and more apparent as the characters become less and less interesting. (Justin Sanders ))
Jodie Foster's husband is a rich, cheating prick, so she buys a giant Manhattan brownstone in order to get revenge. The house was previously owned by a dead, paranoid millionaire, and comes complete with a "Panic Room" with video camera monitors, a phone, a motion sensor door, and food. The son of the millionaire, unscary Jared Leto, knows there's money in a safe inside the Panic Room and gets crazy Raoul, and a security expert (docile and friendly Forrest Whitaker) to help him get rich quick. But herein lies the problem: For some reason, dumbass Leto allows the house to sit empty for two weeks before performing the heist, and before he knows it, Jodie and daughter are all moved in. Instead of waiting until they're not home, Leto and pals debate for an hour about whether to try for the money anyway, and a bunch of implausible events ensue. (Katie Shimer)
Rocky Horror Picture Show
Jesus Christ, can you just shut up? I'm trying to watch a fucking movie here! This is not the Life of Brian, people.
Dennis Quaid's hopes of being a major league baseball player were dashed by shoulder injuries and now, he's a high school baseball coach. After the heal up of his final shoulder surgery, however, he realizes he can pitch better than ever before. He makes a bargain with his team that if they'll try and win the next two games, he'll try out for the majors again. Yipee!
* Royal Tenenbaums
This movie is great, go see it. A family of geniuses reunite from their separate, 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)
The Scorpion King
Who cares if this movie is any good, you get to stare at the most intelligent, gorgeous beefcake in Hollywood--The Rock.
Can't afford the million dollar price tag to ride the Russian's MIR Space Station? Finally, IMAX used for worthwhile purposes: Feel like you're floating in outer space! An IMAX documentary about the in-orbit assembly of the International Space Station. See rocket launches, pans of the universe, and zero-gravity astronaut shower scenes in 3-D (nothing sags in zero-gravity!). Narrated by (not gay) Tom Cruise. Replete with retro-pop soundtrack and goofy astronaut jokes. (Anna Simon)
Though Spider-Man boasts tons of computer-generated action, in actuality, this is a teen romance about dealing with adult feelings and responsibilities. And while I generally despise Kirsten Dunst, the sparks literally fly off the screen whenever she and Tobey are together. Sure, this flick has all the trappings of a kid's comic: sappy dialogue, over-the-top action, and a scenery chewing performance by Dafoe--but it's fun, it's innocent, and it works. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
This is a cartoon about horses, which means that, like many animated features, there seems to be a perverted undercurrent just below the surface. This one's is manifested in the scary horsey-speak neighing sounds the protagonists make when speaking to each other. The first scene, in which the title stallion is born, is particularly rife with scary, provocative horsey noises. It goes on like this, following a traditional mythological cycle of events, but there is one special added dose of amusement: The soundtrack is all Bryan Adams all the time, who makes no attempt to conform to the historical setting of the film--the Wild West--and proceeds with his usual soft-rocking dramatics. You don't need to see this if you don't have kids. (Marjorie Skinner)
Star Wars: Episode II
Anakin Skywalker (Future Darth Vader and present Jedi-in-training) and teacher Obi-Wan are embroiled in a Blade Runner-style mystery to find out who's trying to snuff the Nabooian princess, Padmè Amidala. When Obi-Wan flies off to investigate, Anakin starts showing off his boner to Padmè in an effort to kindle the romance hinted at in Episode I. While the hot and horny teens are mooning over each other, Obi-Wan discovers a political conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the Republic--that's where the army of clones comes in. And while there are the occasional fun moments in this film, the problem comes down to a lack of interesting characters (i.e. Luke, Hans, Chewbacca). But as it stands now, Lucas' script has all the emotional underpinning of a Dick & Jane primer, and doesn't have a prayer of being rescued by Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, and especially that wholly untalented hunk-of-beef Hayden Christensen (Anakin). As usual, Lucas has built a glorious façade of a mansion--but there's no way I'd wanna live in it. See review this issue. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
The Sum of all Fears
Despite all appearances, there are two good things about the new Tom Clancy movie with Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan. One is a bold plot twist that comes so suddenly that it reconfigures the whole experience in an instant, and almost tricks you into thinking the film is better than it is. The other good thing, almost a great thing, is the casting of Liev Scrheiber in the role of John Clark, CIA spook, and all-around spy genius. Clark is the grease in the gears, the genius-hero who speaks a dozen languages and can garrote a guard while hacking into a mainframe without ever being seen or heard. Schreiber came to Seattle to discuss his role, saying that his research revealed that most CIA guys are language students who get rooked into service, but whose real ambitions lie behind desks. Asked how he felt about representing this big Hollywood action picture to the press, Schreiber said, "Well, I like it. I think they did a good job. But I have to confess that the real reason has more to do with my belief that the real story lies with Clark. I think there's a lot more to that character that could-and might-be explored in a sequel. So, yes... I may have ulterior motives."
* Time and Tide
So you won't know what the hell's going on in two-thirds of the film and the dialogue switches from Chinese to Spanish to English faster than the frenzied subtitles can flash by. Who cares? A bodyguard unwittingly teams up with a mercenary, a pregnant heiress squeezes off shots as her baby's head crowns, and blood and bullets spray in all directions as action filmmaker Tsui Hark's Time and Tide provides a thrilling ride through Hong Kong's underworld. If you figure out who the Cockroach was and what the fuck champagne has to do with anything, feel free to let me in on it. (Kathleen Wilson)
* Time Out
Apparently, even the French have mind-bendingly boring suburban lives. Vincent is a hapless but likeable consultant who can't quite get in the rat race grove. After being canned at his job, he fails to tell his family, filling his days instead with driving aimlessly. Aurelien Recoing, who plays Vincent, has the same soft everyman features of Kevin Spacey. But this film puts American Beauty to shame; not relying on the crutch of sexual urges, instead Vincent struggles with a much more profound and elusive quality: self-worth. As Vincent tries to uphold his illusions, the film is surprisingly tense, remotely funny, and deeply stirring. (Phil Busse)
The subtle comic stylings of Scary Movie and Not Another Teen Movie are brought to bear on a genre that's already a self-parody: that of the blaxploitation spy film. Denise Richards is fucking repugnant.
A spry suburban housewife falls for the erotic charge of a sexy young Frenchman, neglecting her responsibilities as a wife and mother. Richard Gere plays the annoyingly fawning husband, who immediately notices the change in his wife and hires a private investigator. His discoveries result in tragedy... which also results in a previously fun and sexy film taking a tragic Hollywood nosedive. Why so much morality I ask, why not more hot screwing? (Katie Shimer)
Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror
A "fever dream" of naughty hijinks adapted from Junji Ito's comic book about a superficially normal small town in the throes of an obsession with... uh, spirals? Of course, spirals! Pretty soon folks are transmogrifying into slow-moving, slime-covered snail people. Sure to include plenty of sex, paranoia and even the apocalypse!
* The Way We Laughed
The title of this Italian film refers to the way two parasitic brothers laugh-only when really messed up stuff happens. Filmed in the dark style of the Godfather, the psychoses of the main characters develop slowly and steadily, but not obviously, and are only wholly reveal only at crucial moments. A slowly building thriller for the kind of people who like Albert Camus novels or those mystery video games that take a month to solve. (Katie Shimer)
We Were Soldiers
Scrawny little bastard Mel Gibson stars in this jingoistic turd of a Vietnam War film about 400 American soldiers in an elite combat division who get blasted to bits by the Viet Cong. They try and save themselves and each other, their heroism is unparalleled, blah blah blah.
Individualism vs. community progress in this film set in the Tennessee Valley during the Depression. A seemingly unfeeling government man must displace a strong-willed lady who is in the path of the impending reservoir.
* Y Tu Mamá También
As two Mexican teenagers frantically fuck, the boy, Tenoch (Diego Luna), pleads/demands that the girl not screw any Italians on her impending European trip with her best friend. Meanwhile, that best friend is having rushed pre-departure sex with her boyfriend, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who is also Tenoch's best friend. When the girls have left, we settle down to watch these two boys spend an aimless summer. Everything gets thrown sideways when they meet a sexy older woman (that is to say, in her 20s) named Luisa. Y Tu Mamà También is a brilliant, incisive core sampling of life in Mexico. It's both slender and profound; the movie's greatest pleasures are often its smallest ones--even the title comes from a tossed--off bit of banter. Any individual moment could be trivial, silly, pointless, even embarrassing--but the accumulation of moments has a devastating scope. (Bret Fetzer)