Adam Sandler plays a 20-something loser with a bad temper who causes trouble, makes cracks about bodily functions, and finds redemption. Sound familiar? But wait! This time his performance will have no choice but to be animated! "Look, I'm Crazy Cartoonhead!"
While this plot easily falls into the "underdog comes from behind" genre, it's raised up a notch or two by the gritty, naturalistic direction of Curtis Hanson (L.A.Confidential) However, as an actor, Eminem is just not present. Even when he's in his element at the MC battles, his eyes barely flicker. And this is where the real problem with 8 Mile lies. Eminem is an amazing rapper, and we don't really get to see him strut his stuff until the climax of the film. By then, we're so uninterested in whether the character succeeds or not, we're robbed of the emotional high that comes with the ending of, say, The Karate Kid. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
All or Nothing
Normal people, of which there are many in this world, have Mike Leigh to thank for paying them such loving homage. His movies almost invariably center on blue-collar British folk trying desperately to find happiness in their otherwise normal lives. Nothing is about Penny and Phil Bassett (Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall), a couple living in some generic part of London. Penny is a supermarket cashier; Phil is a taxi driver. They make little money and have two almost-grown kids who still live with them. There is little joy in their lives. Their obese son is a constant prick. Their situation hits with as much force as any tragedy because they are such a normal family, who under even the slightest of different circumstances could have found real happiness. Instead, their daily existence is an utter slog. Leigh conveys their transition from misery to cautious optimism with exquisite compassion and grace. (Justin Sanders)
Listen closely to the sound of my voice: 10 seconds after this film is over, it will disappear completely from your memory. Even though it was much funnier than you hoped it would be, you'll only remember how hard you laughed when Billy Crystal drooled sushi all over the table. Actually, you'll forget it even without hypnosis, because Analyze That, the second film about the shenanigans of an anxious mobster (Robert De Niro) and his shrink (Billy Crystal), is inherently disposable. Weighty subjects (grief, redemption) occasionally distract from humor mainstays (kicks in the balls, sushi), but at least the writers didn't stick a love interest in the way of the gags. Lower your expectations with a couple of beers and you've got an enjoyable evening of middlebrow fun. (Matt Fontaine)
Born To Kill
Do you think that Jimmy Stewart is a pussy? Here is the morose yin to It's A Wonderful Life's yang. Lawrence Tierney plays a character from a James Gunn novel who proves that yes, indeed, men--their ambitions and lust--can turn life into a mangled car wreck. Tierney marries a rich woman for (what else) her money, but can't keep his hands off her sister's Christmas rump. Murder, perturbed sexuality, and absolutely baneful comments on humanity ensue. Anyone suffering from holiday depression should steer clear.
Nothing makes testosterone percolate through the male soul like a prison escape movie. Lorded over by (what else) a cruel and sadistic warden, this 1947 film once again reminds us that authority is bunk and that only the true individual and the real man breaks free. Burt Lancaster is like Texas chili for the soul.
Clinton Street Christmas Show
A smattering of old timey Christmas film clips, commercaials, etc.
The reason this documentary will stand as a work of greatness for decades to come is simple: it absolutely nails the psychology of the stand-up comic, the most narcissistic, petty, self-obsessed, hateful, and bitter breed of entertainer known to mankind.
Die Another Day
After about two hours of workmanlike action/suspense, and a battery of sexual innuendo about as subtle and charming as a herpes sore, the 20th James Bond film finally surrenders to its own muddled identity. What comprises this surrender? A shot straight out of the Batman TV series--after being chased by a giant laser across a vast ice tundra to a sheer cliff, James Bond parachutes down onto the ocean surface, where he then para-surfs his way to safety. So phony and dumb that it makes the whole series of films ring retroactively camp. (Sean Nelson)
Rarely do freshmen make the drumline, but thanks to his phat chops, my man Devon makes the cut. Of course we all know that you can take the boy out of the 'hood, but you can't take the 'hood out of the boy. What this film presupposes is, maybe you can? Does this ruff 'n' tumble protagonist have heart enough to overcome the obstacles? Will he and the band take top honors at the BET Big Southern Classic, or will he let his dreams and the girl slide through his fingers? I probably needn't tell you that Drumline is so predictable that it's over before you even walk into the theater, but if for some reason you make it that far, I won't say that it's unwatchable. (Johnathan Mahalak)
El Crimen del Padre Amaro
Stylish photography with just enough overexposure to suggest blinding sun; excellent character acting from half the beautiful people in Mexico; a fun soundtrack. But the script? The script is taken from a melodramatic Portuguese novel written in 1875. It had little to do with the actual Church of 1875, let alone today; it's a soap opera. Are you trying to tell me the Catholic Church has no sense of humor?
Though the first third of The Emperor's Club plays like Dead Poets Society redux--genius teacher inspires emotionally undernourished trustafarians unto excellence--the picture's trajectory is far subtler and more troubling. Kevin Kline plays Mr. Hundert, an erudite historian teaching Western Civ to an elite, all-male New England boarding school. The time is the mid-'70s, when signs of obsolescence had begun to crack the façade of the prep world. But rebellion eventually comes, with the arrival of Sedgewick Bell. We've seen the conflict between upright teacher and wayward pupil before, but in The Emperor's Club, it becomes an elemental metaphor for the passing of the old way. (Sean Nelson)
A long-winded suspense-film setup gets neatly tied up in 20 minutes of a "we waited so long for this?" ending. What the preview promised: tough Latino drug dealer from the South Bronx, Victor Rosa (John Leguizamo), gets fucked over by white Wall Street boy named Jack (Peter Sarsgaard) when Vic tries to go legit. What the movie delivers: trite drug-dealer shootouts and karaoke-video-quality shots of romance and heartache.
Far From Heaven
Todd Haynes has reinvented the melodrama, yet infused it with a new life that is subtle, touching, and entertaining. Returning to the home-as-prison theme he mastered in Safe, our femme du jour, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), smiles her way through domestic disturbance, racial tension, and personal crisis. The home she inhabits becomes etched into our brains; as the film takes hold we feel that we inhabit the space, know the floor plan, and can anticipate her movements. Each weighty subject--her husband's latent homosexuality, her taboo love for the gardener--is handled with care and finesse. Breathtaking from start to finish. (Brian Brait)
Selma Hayek is traditionally gorg, and while her portrayal of Frida is bursting at the seams with joie-de-fricking-vivre, the film version shows her as relatively moustache-less, as you probably already know from Feminist Film Geek Monthly. But this is Julie Taymor's film, all the way, and the images she paints across the screen are an enthusiastic, vivid homage to Frida's art and spirit. (Julianne Shepherd)
Gangs of New York
See review this issue.
Girls Can't Swim
Do the French really come-of-age more poetically than us garish Americans? Director Anne-Sophie Birot tells the story about two teenage girls spending their summer vacation together on the coast of Brittany. As both struggle from their cocoons, each must figure out how to deal with family, boys, and their new boobs. It doesn't have the gimmicks and laughs of American Pie, but even if it errs on the side of subtlety, Girls Can't Swim is charming and captivating and incredibly intimate.
Harry Potter 2
The delightful saga of a boy and his wand continues. Thankfully, this second milking of J.K. Rowling's cash cow is significantly more relaxed and less helplessly reverent this time around, although the 160-plus minute running time really pushes the outer limits of magical enchantment. The returning cast is in tip-top form, but newcomer Kenneth Branagh commits effortless theft as a hilariously poncy warlock. Still no substitute for the imagination of the deservedly beloved book, but leagues better than the standard demo-pandering blockbuster. The climactic high-decibel CGI onslaught may be a bit too intense for the younger tykes, though. Sit on the aisle, arachnophobes. (Andrew Wright)
The Hot Chick
Tamara: While the audience around me rollicked with uncontrolled mirth at the racist, sexist, homophobic, and deeply stupid non-jokes, I literally began to weep with despair. Maybe I'll get a nice burqua and raise goats on the side of a rocky mountain. Matt: You're just offended because the fat girl was grotesquely devouring foodstuffs in every scene. American moviegoers have spoken, and they say: gay people make us want to puke, Rob Schneider! So show us a scene where one character's implied homosexuality makes another character literally vomit with disgust! (Tamara Paris & Matt Fontaine)
Igby Goes Down
A melancholic comedy that captures the privileged heartbreak of Salinger far better than The Royal Tenenbaums ever could. Igby, a preppie with a punk streak, gets kicked out of his last boarding school and takes to Manhattan, where he squats purposelessly, has sex with junkies and JAPs, and basically seethes until life more or less insists that he make a move. A sharply-observed film down to the upturned collars and half-Windsor knots, Igby gets to the heart of its characters without either indicting or apologizing for its cultural framework. (Sean Nelson)
Kiss of Death
A terrific film noir in which Victor Mature refuses to snitch out the evil Richard Widmark, until he finds out the crook had an affair with his wife! Now, all bets are off, and Widmark is ready to settle the score...
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
See review this issue.
Maid In Manhattan
Cinderella, of course, was a gentleman's daughter forced to act as a scullery maid, whose essential nobility was outed by her fairy godmother; J.Lo's Marisa, who is actually a maid, is similarly smart and (ethically) noble, which is why Ralph Fiennes' conservative-but-big-hearted politician falls ass over teakettle for her when he sees her in borrowed finery. But Maid, while pretending to tell the truth about class distinctions, depends too hard on the pretty American fiction that such distinctions are only a matter of money--which of course we have to believe, otherwise we'd be, uh, British. Lopez and Fiennes have almost no chemistry at all, but they're pretty graceful about it.
Custom built for Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love is an odd and enchanting film that only works because Sandler has been adorable in past roles. In this role, as the lonely owner of a customized toilet plunger company, Sandler is short on slapstick and long of subtlety. He has anger management problems, which make him, as a character, about as easy to handle as nitro glycerin. But, because it is the familiar heart-of-gold Sandler, you give this guy the time of day. And it is worth it! A postmodern romp through an unconventional love story.
Rabbit Proof Fence
See review this issue.
Raw Deal (with Detour)
Double dipping into heartbreak, the Guild presents two postwar (World War II, that is) film noir treats. The 1948 Raw Deal is Out of Sight without J.Lo and Clooney, but with just as much chemisty and million-dollar ass (adjusted for inflation). After debonair gangster Joe Sullivan breaks out of jail, he takes as a hostage his prison social worker (the yummy Marsha Hunt). She can't help but fall for him and his dangerous ways, but fate (and the past that is nipping at Joe's heels) soon trip them up. The second film, Detour, is a film noir version of John Cusack's road trip classic, Sure Thing, but with more noir and femme fatale, and a whole lot less humor.
Real Women Have Curves
A film addressing the gap between the traditional role of Mexican women and modern society. Wonderful acting, but occasionally lean too closely towards the afterschool special.
The plot of The Ring has the dreamily simplistic hook of the best campfire stories or fever dreams: A Seattle-based single mother/reporter (Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts), begins investigating a quick-sprouting urban legend about a mysterious videotape reputed to kill its foolhardy watcher exactly seven days after viewing. Suffice it to say that the "Play" button soon gets a workout, with mountingly surreal, increasingly seat-moistening results. (Andrew Wright)
Roger Dodger is a catalog of the change that takes place in fast talking, womanizing ad exec Roger, when his sixteen year old nephew comes to town. While reluctant at first, Roger takes on the job of teaching his nephew Nick about the ladies, dragging him from bar to bar and bombarding him with advice. At one point late in the evening, the two reach a catharsis together, which eventually causes them to become friends. (Katie Shimer)
As an adaptation of a novel that depicts an internal transformation (and is therefore effectively unfilmable), this 1972 rendition of the Hesse novel is a thrilling failure. Failure because the story is anti-drama, anti-cinema. Thrilling because of Sven Nykvist's unspeakably gorgeous cinematography of India, which shimmers, glows, and burns like gold. This is a very '70s kind of movie, a relic of an era when the audience could be counted on to be stoned, and to sit through a ponderous reading of a ponderous novel, and to be contented. I don't mean to suggest the film isn't amazing, it's just better if you're a 50-year-old hippie. (Sean Nelson)
Things that can be praised without reservation about Solaris include the dazzling production design, Cliff Martinez's percussion-rich score, and the luminous Natascha McElhone as Clooney's semi-estranged wife. Less tangible, but equally undeniable is the director's skill at illuminating the many ways regret stains memory (similar to what he accomplished with The Limey, but far less reliant here on showy Mixmaster editing). Any other enjoyment or significance may depend upon your personal feelings about love and loss, and how well they synch up with the filmmaker's. (Andrew Wright)
Sure, the script is cheesy as hell, the sets are laughable, the acting can be painful (especially from Jean Simmons), and the musical score is nearly unbearable, but this 1960 homoerotic epic provides over three hours of Hollywood tough guys at their skimpily clad best. Many of the historical details are fudged, but the story of a Roman slave's tragic attempt to attain freedom still resonates. (Melody Moss)
Star Trek: Nemesis
Shinzon, a slave from Romulus's hellish mining colony, Remus, ascends to power via a violent coup. Captain Piccard and the starship Enterprise are brought in to forge an alliance with the new leader. There are, however, two sticking points: (1) Shinzon has a chip on his shoulder the size of O.J. Simpson's best fitting glove, and (2) Shinzon, inexplicably, is Piccard, only 30 odd years younger. All the characters, save for Piccard and Shinzon, by this point are virtually relegated to window dressing status. As a result, this action-heavy sequel's narrative is cleaner and more efficient than most of its predecessors. In place of character exploration are the universally appealing themes of Shinzon's Dickensian rise from poverty to über-fuhrerdom, his Freudian lust to destroy his father, and Picard's tender remorse for his wayward son/self. While this all bodes well for the movie--its rather good--it doesn't, necessarily, for the future of the series. This is rumored to be the last cinematic voyage not only of this crew, but the entire Star Trek franchise. (Kudzai Mudede)
When a horror film goes wrong, the result can be deadly (from an audience's point of view). In this undercooked and dreadfully boring example, some folks who were haunted by "the thing under the bed" when they were kids come to discover that the thing was real, and for some reason it's come back to get them. Why? Probably because they are clichéd characters who were born to die. (Andy Spletzer)
Two Weeks Notice
Sandra Bullock plays a sharp-as-a-tack lawyer and Hugh Grant is her boss. When she calls it quits, he realizes he might just like women with upper lip hair.
The Wild Thornberrys
Nickelodeon's marginally successful animated series The Wild Thornberrys earns itself further franchise with a 78-minute episode on the big screen.