Oh, shit, does this mean that the holiday--with their feel-good, ain't it good to be alive movies--are right around the corner? 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.
Barry Levinson does what he does best: Grown-up themes of love and life-dreams acted out by characters with the sense of five-year-old boys. Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis, both with extremely bad haircuts, play two escaped inmates (from the Oregon State Penitiery, nonetheless). On the run, the two invent a playful game of kidnapping bank managers and pleasantly robbing vaults. As a hypochondric and self-declared genius, Thornton adds a verve of wry humor to the film. (Phil Busse)
Behind Enemy Lines
If CNN and Time magazine aren't giving you enough daily dosage of rah rah patriotism, Gene Hackman saddles up the Marines to rescue a downed Navy pilot (Owen Wilson) in Serbia--all at the risk of fracturing world peace. If you can't cheer on Hackman and the dopey-but-dreamy Wilson as he outsmarts an evil Serbian sniper, then perhaps it is time to move to Canada.
In an exercise of isolating exactly just what the world wasn't waiting for, Black Knight picks us up just where other "fish out of water" classics such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Turtles in Time left us: tunneling out of the theatre with a spoon. (Kudzai Mudede)
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.
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 the rather odd advice: 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 lawsuit. How well you like The Closet will depend on just how high Three's Company ranked on your laugh-o-meter. (Bradley Steinbacher)
It's October 1988, and the era-defining campaign between George Bush I and Michael Dukakis is entering the stretch run. Meanwhile, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is quite possibly going insane. The teenaged son of a functional-but-unpleasant upper-middle-class family, Donnie starts having visions of a six-foot-tall demonic-looking bunny named Frank, who warns him of an impending apocalypse. At times funny, eerie, and intense, Donnie Darko could be the cinematic square peg you've been looking for. (Marc Mohan)
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. (Sean Nelson)
* Ghost World
Clowes' super-detached geek queens Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have graduated from high school, and, bored, they answer a personals ad placed by über-dork vinyl junkie Seymour (an R. Crumb surrogate played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi) responds. As an experiment, Enid decides to educate Seymour in the ways of love, and her world begins to crumble. (Sean Nelson)
Hangmen Also Die
An ideological noir thriller about the assasination of Nazi executioner Reinhard Heydrich. Directed by Fritz Lang.
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)
Much like in The Spanish Prisoner, playwright and filmmaker David Mamet explores "the long con," in which Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo, and Danny Devito entangle themselves in a plan to hijack a shipment of gold. With thinly veiled nods to The Maltese Falcon, the script is loaded with clever, repeatable lines, and a twisty-turny plot in which no one can be trusted. Alas, as is often the case, Mamet spins such a tangled web that by the end he loses grasp of the plot, and the denoument is somewhat less than satisfying. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
* Iron Monkey
The recently re-released Iron Monkey features almost a two-to-one ratio of awesome fight scenes vs. people standing around blabbing. This includes tons of director Ping's famous "wire fu" antics, where heroes and villains alike fly over rooftops and smash through walls. And while the comedy is broad--to say the least!--the mechanics of the martial arts scenes are thrillingly precise, and often gasp-inducing. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
* It's A Wonderful Life
Good friends, clumsy angels, and the suicidal banker who learns that the world does revolve around him. Ooh! Ooh! And Zuzu petals! Don't forget Zuzu petals! Karolyn "Zuzu" Grimes in attendance.
Cliche plot about a (crazy) person (or is he an alien?) who has a wonderful effect on the patients around him. See also, Powder or Patch Adams.
Kate and Leopold
Starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, a romantic comedy with the tagline, "If they lived in the same century, they'd be perfect for each other."
Life as a House
Kevin Kline has cancer, but he hasn't told his ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), who's too busy letting herself be an emotional doormat, or his son (Hayden Christensen), who's too busy huffing Scotchguard, wearing makeup, and masturbating with a rope around his neck. Rather than come clean, he decides to fix everything by making his dysfunctional son help him build his dream house. In the process--surprise of surprises!--he does fix everything: The son wipes away the mascara and stops giving head to rich men for cash (hooking up with a nubile hottie in the process), the wife realizes she's still in love with her ex, and Kline gets to die the heroic death of a saintly drop-out. Histrionic folderol aside, this film is a guilty kind of good. (Sean Nelson)
Lisa Picard is Famous
A mockumentary about an ad actresses quest for her fifteen minutes of fame.
Lord of the Rings
Based on the epic book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though enhanced by computer animation, this first installment promises to launch Lord of the Rings into the Star Wars strata.
The Man Who Wasn't There
The Coen Brothers have their heads stuck firmly inside their own asses--but at least they do a nice job of it. Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a bored barber who finds an opportunity to invest in a dry cleaning partnership, but he must come up with $10,000 he doesn't have. So, he concocts a plot to blackmail the wealthy lover of his wife (Frances McDormand). Naturally, a litany of Coen brothers-style complications ensue, including death, thinly veiled pedophilia, and a trip to the electric chair. Unlike most classic film noir, which clips along at a breakneck, suspenseful pace, The Man Who Wasn't There stumbles along like a lame horse. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Manhunt (Double Feature)
A game hunter accidentally stumbles upon Adolf Hitler in his rifle sight, while hunting. Even though he doesn't kill the Aryan leader, he is detained and harrassed by the Nazis and takes a slow dive into isolation.
The Ministry of Fear (Double Feature)
A man released from a mental institution wanders a surreal, slow-motion landscape where he encounters Nazi activity.
No Man's Land
Set in Bosnia, 1993, two soldiers accidentally wander into 'No Man's Land" and almost get the shit blasted out of them.
Steve Martin stars as a dentist who becomes embroiled in a murder fiasco straight out of pulp fiction in this charming, if self-satisfied noir update. Martin and his girlfriend (the hyperbolically fastidious Laura Dern) live a sanitary existence, until saucy little junkie Helena Bonham Carter and her incestuous brother (Scott Caan) enter their lives by force, demanding such things as medical cocaine and sex in the dentist chair. Soon, someone is dead, and someone is blamed, and someone has to fight to clear his name. This would be a fully smug and frustrating exercise in genre resuscitation if it weren't peopled by a game cast of excellent actors. (Sean Nelson)
Hollywood may finally be redeemed! The savior? Director Steven Soderbergh. After last year's two fisted grip on America's consciousness ( Traffic and Erin Brockovich), the calm and confident hand of Soderbergh delivers a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift (George Clooney and Brad Pitt on the screen together; I could almost faint). 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 eleven well-trained pickpockets, explosive experts and circus acrobats, the robbery races along with the intricacy and spellbinding accuracy of a Swiss watch. (Phil Busse)
Needless to say, this "Terminator Lite" packs every minute with terrific special effects, groan-inducing shots of people getting smashed by thrown motorcycles, and fights, fights, FIGHTS. However, that's not to say The One is simple splash 'n' dash comic book fun. It's also clever, and manages to always keep the audience one step behind the plot. Ah, Jet Li. I wish there were 100 more just like him--and happily, in this movie, there are.
Stoner/snowboarding movie about bad guy Lee Majors trying to buy the snowboarding frat boys favorite mountain and oh no, put a Starbucks on it. The assheads think about saving their fav. resort from corporate domination, but forget everytime a pair of tits walk by.
Rat Race should not be considered an actual chase comedy, but a clone of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Cannonball Run I and II, and Million Dollar Mystery, brought to you by a movie industry so short on ideas it's now peddling third-generation photocopies of itself to an audience raised on replicas (apologies to D.C. Berman). (Jason Pagano)
Riding in Cars with Boys
A film for 40-year-olds of all ages. Drew Barrymore plays a Connecticut-townie bad girl, who gets knocked up at age 15, then spends the rest of her lapsed Catholic life negotiating the disappointments and joys of a life lived in service to an accidental baby. Because the film is directed by Penny Marshall, it is very very bad, indeed painfully so. It does have one saving grace, however: The great Steve Zahn, proving once again that he is to contemporary film what Robert Downey Jr. was to '80s film--the very best and often only good thing in a series of truly awful movies. (Sean Nelson)
* Sexy Beast
Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is a retired gangster, living high on a hill in the Costa del Sol, enjoying a lethargic existence. 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. (Sean Nelson)
The new film by the Farrelly Brothers looks like it might be even crappier than their other films, which seems like it should be impossible, as anyone who sat through Me, Myself, and Irene can aver. The presence of the great Jack Black--playing a superficial man who becomes cursed (or is it blessed?) with the ability to see only inner beauty--oughtn't fool you. The Farrellys have been squandering brilliant comic performers for years. Yes, they made Kingpin. Yes they made Dumb and Dumber. But those are the only reasons they haven't been brought up on charges.
Sidewalks of New York
A great movie for the relationship-obsessed. Stanley Tucci is a big horny ho that sleeps with any chick who'll let him, despite the fact that he's married to hotty-licious Heather Graham. Edward Burns (so cute) is unlucky in love, but searching for a woman to settle down with. Young people break up and fall in love again--even though they never thought it was possible. A lot of relationship stereotypes play out stereotypically: For those of you who need to be reassured, alas, there is hope of finding "the one." (Katie Shimer)
Robert Redford is hard up for cash--obviously, since he's in every movie opening this season. Redford must save Brad Pitt, who is being held for espionage in China. On his journey, the last before his retirement, he reflects back on his training of a younger, more studly Pitt who at that time had rounder and softer ass cheeks.
Stag Party Special
Vintage porn and stag films from the teens to '40s with a nsughty soundtrack, too.
Richard Linklater bats two for two with this nervy character study that indicts all three of its subjects (played by Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, and Uma Thurman) by way of exploring questions of memory, friendship, and truth. Highly recommended.
Based upon the true story of the forming of the Texas Rangers. James Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek) and Usher (You got it, you got it bad, when you're on the phone, hang up, and you call right back) dress up in cowboy clothes, throw dirt on their faces, and act like tough guys.
Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz star in Cameron Crowe's remake of Alejandro Amenàbar's Abre los Ojos. Rumor has it that the marketing team for the film tried to convince the director to change his name to Cameron Crews, so that the film might get a bit more press, but Cameron just didn't bite.
* Vertical Ray of the Sun
Tran Anh Hung shows a serene dream-life for three sisters painted against an undiscussed real life of infidelity and in one sister's case, a near incestuous relationship with her brother. A visual stimulant with a pretty good story.
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)
Just as the laughs from Next Friday had begun to subside from the collective belly ("Damn, I can't believe such a big poo came out of such a little dog!"), now comes the new comedy from writer DJ Pooh. Pooh makes his directorial debut with this vehicle for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, who play a couple of hoodied miscreants who get a job at a car wash (hmm... ) to pay the rent.
While the City Sleeps
A chronicle of life inside a big city newsroom. A reporter is willing to risk the life of his fiancee in order to scoop the other papers on the identity of the "lipstick killer" who is ravaging the New York City woman.
A Year in the Streets: WTO to the Bush Inauguration
A catalogue of the movement towards a police state after the WTO riots. Footage of demonstrations against capitalism and globalization and public opinions on the threats to civil liberties
If this film starred anyone other than Stiller (and his brilliant co-star, Owen Wilson), this would be very bad news. But the two are so adorable (they really look like supermodels) and the script so ridiculous, that it works perfectly as an afternoon stoner flick. (Katie Shimer)