Film Shorts 

8 Crazy Nights
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!"

8 Mile
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)

8 Women
On the surface, jealousy is the combative common ground this film's eight women share in the home of a murdered man who is a husband, a father, a brother, a son-in-law, and a philanderer in relation to the various characters. The women candidly sing and dance to their inner feelings, while hiding away their jealousies or hurling bold suspicions. Costume adjustments--buttons coming undone as emotions burst forth, layers stripping to reveal softer underpinnings--speak as loudly as the women do, becoming a narrator for the film and demonstrating once more the silent language that bonds the eight very different personalities as they rage and roil, desperate to prove their innocence. (Kathleen Wilson)

Ace in the Hole
Although not his best known role, Kirk Douglas masterfully plays a washed-up and unscrupulous reporter, Chuck Tatum, who has been banished to Albuquerque. There, he stumbles into a story that could resurrect his career: A man trapped by a rock slide. Manipulating a sheriff who wants to be reelected, Tatum helps create a national maelstrom around the "human-interest" event. Probably not a movie for anyone who un-cynically reads Parade Magazine.

Analyze That
Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro are at it again in... whatever. Somebody gets whacked. You get the joke. I'd now like to take this opportunity to make use of my limited position of power with a simple salute to the word "whack." Whack! Whack!

The Asphalt Jungle
Here is a glamorous three-piece suit caper just waiting to be turned into a George Clooney re-make. Problem is, it probably could not be made any better. Minting the image of the GQ urbane burglar, John Huston's 1950 classic follows a group of smooth-as-silk would-be million-dollar jewel thieves. Told with documentary-like precision, the story explores the city, from the glum slums to the swank penthouses, as well as splunking the minds of these criminals.

Bowling for Columbine
A film about a huge subject, desperately grasping for a thesis. For a while, Moore seems on to something-a culture of fear endemic to our country--but in the end, he shortchanges the psychological complexity in favor of cheap shots. It's too bad, because the movie and the director have so much momentum; Moore, for all his pomposity, is the only man alive who could get a film like this made and seen. He clearly cares, and considering his influence with lockstep liberals, he had the opportunity to say something great here. He almost does, but ultimately doesn't. Can't, maybe. Because he isn't really a social critic, he's a demagogue. His art is being a self-righteous smartass, which makes it all the more frustrating when you agree with him. (Sean Nelson)

Casablanca
Humphrey Bogart stars in this hilarious and heartwarming classic about a former hockey star who is forced by a judge to coach a losing hockey team filled with misfit and mischievous youths. Oh... waitasecond. That's Mighty Ducks. Nevermind.

Desperate Living
Indubitably John Waters' finest work, Desperate Living (1977) stars Mink Stole as newly released mental patient Peggy Gravel and Jean Hill as her lethal fatbottomed maid, Grizelda. Following the accidental murder of Mr. Gravel--Grizelda sits on his face--the odd couple must escape to Mortville, a mythical shanty-town ruled by the vicious Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey). Waters never again equaled the sublime humor of this grotesque fairy tale. From nude-pogo-stick-jumping to the spectacle of Backwards Day, Desperate Living is, and I am not being ironic, a masterpiece. (Jamie Hook)

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. The bluescreen effect (or whatever it is) is so all-fired phony and dumb that it makes the whole film, indeed the whole series of films, ring retroactively camp. (Sean Nelson)

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?

Emperor's Club
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. The kids in his class are bright, docile, and devoted to their rigorous studies (can you name all the Roman emperors who succeeded Caesar?), and show no signs of rebellion. But rebellion comes, with the arrival of a Senator's son whose unlikely but telling name is 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. A subject that normally becomes laughable in the hands of Hollywood receives a rich and mournful autopsy. (Sean Nelson)

empire
See review this issue.

Extreme Ops
A feature-length Mountain Dew commercial, but without all that regard for captivating plot.

Far From Heaven
From the lavish font of the main titles and the sweet sweeping strains of Elmer Bernstein, we are clued in that this is a major transport piece--one that will remind us of movies no longer produced. 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. Far From Heaven is breathtaking from start to finish, each frame imbued with the artist's own genuine love for cinema and story. (Brian Brait)

Frida
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. (I have a subscription.) For the Kahlo purist, the lack of lip hair is one of the slight ways Frida Hollywood-izes Frida. Another is that her husband Diego's abuse is only portrayed through his obsessive womanizing. Frida's painful, painkiller-addicted death (a possible suicide) is merely alluded to; rather, she delicately croaks, saint-like, in Diego's arms, freed from her long life of physical suffering. 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)

Friday After Next
"Xmas in the 'hood," the third installment of Ice Cube's ghetto-comic empire, is a sort of Home Alone-flavored seasoning of the original Friday formula, complete with a sea of belly laughs by way of domestic violence, homophobia, racial intolerance, rape, and of course the requisite hilarity of drug abuse ("Santa's a crackheaded thief--now that shit is funny."). It's impossible for me to ask this without sounding entirely prudish, but, for god's sake, is nothing sacred? (Zac Pennington )

Frontier of Dreams and Fears
Currently more than 40 million people are refugees, fleeing war. What happens when someone loses their home, family, the center of their world? Frontier is perhaps one of the most insightful films about refugees. Following two girls as they flee civil war in Lebanon, the story watches as their world crumbles and then, remarkably, as they try to rebuild it through email.

Half Past Dead
At the bloated age of 51, tired Zen action hero Steven Seagal (a.k.a. "Last Ponytail Standing") plays an FBI agent on the hunt for a high-tech criminal genius (Morris Chestnut)-planning to break into a maximum security prison and rough up Ja Rule.

Harry Potter 2
The delightful saga of a boy and his wand continues. Attendance is mandatory. 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. (Fight the fatigue and stay seated through the endless credits for a nifty little coda.) The returning cast (including a lovely curtain call by Richard Harris) 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)

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)

In The Shadows of the City
French director Jean Khalil Chamoun visits the 15 years of civil war that visited Lebanon. By following one family, as their young boy grows into a man, the film documents not just the immediate impacts of war, but how such large-scale events can shape one person's outlook on the world.

Jackass: The Movie
Your girlfriend secretly wants to see this movie. Sure, she's comfortable with your six-figures and 401k, your Volvo, that IKEA couch--but don't delude yourself, pal. She may never admit it to your face, but she'd give it all up in a second for the slightest chance at a single night with one of these MTV knuckle-draggers. And no, I am not projecting. (Zac Pennington)

Mental Hygiene Class
A collection of films from an era when being a teenager was surmountable to being an alien and/or terrorist. Friday's shows focus on "sad girls, shy guys, and bad hair," educational film intended to help the teen through the difficult and embarrassing years. Saturday includes the drum-beating "What It Means To Be An American" and "What Makes Sammy Speed." Sunday are dating self-help instructional guides.

Punch-Drunk Love
Custom built for Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love is an odd and enchanting film, which 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. (Phil Busse)

Revolution OS
See review this issue.

The Ring

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
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)

Secretary
Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has just been released from a mental institution; she's a cutter, slicing up her skin and neatly placing Band-Aids over the wounds. To integrate herself back into society (and to escape from her flawed home life), she decides to look for a job. Luckily, anal-retentive lawyer E. Edward Gray (James Spader) is hiring. He needs a secretary; judging from the permanent help wanted sign outside his office, he has pretty tough time keeping them around. Lee can type and is not pregnant or trying to get pregnant (three of Gray's requirements for employment), so she gets the job. Everything goes along beautifully--until she makes a typo and, as punishment, Gray bends her over his desk and spanks her silly. (Julianne Shepherd)

Solaris
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)

Standing in the Shadows of Motown
Standing In The Shadows of Motown tells the story about the Funk Brothers, the unheralded but extremely talented studio musicians for Motown. Actually, the film makes the argument that these unknown musicians were the imperative reason for Motown's chart busting, color-line smashing success. But the filmmakers never go beyond that discovery; they marvel at the musicians with their mouths agape like they have found some rare, lost gem. But never with any examination for flaws. (Phil Busse)

They
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. It's difficult to identify with any of them, especially the cute but frighteningly skinny lead girl, which makes it hard to care if any of them live. This, of course, drains the film of any suspense. Unfortunately, the force of evil is even less developed than the main characters, which leaves you absolutely no one to root for. All you can do is chart the plot holes as they pass by. (Andy Spletzer)

Treasure Planet
That tired old Robert Louis Stevenson "classic" Treasure Island gets a much-needed facelift in Disney's most recent stroke of genius. Now with more lasers!

Tuck Everlasting
Fuck Everlasting is more like it! Disney has gotten its hands on the award-winning young person's book by Natalie Babbitt with gorgeous but creepy results. Set in 1915, the story concerns Winnie, a tightly corseted girl quivering on the cusp of maturity (played by luscious crumpet Alexis Bledel). When her parents threaten to send her to a "School for Young Ladies," she tears off into the forest and right into the arms of Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson), a strapping young lad slurping straight from the Fountain of Youth.

weight of water
See review this issue.

welcome to colinwood
Five morons attempt the perfect heist. Starring William H. Macy.

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