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Catch Me If You Can (2002)
" the most enjoyable and fun film this holiday season."
Spielberg has done it again. Somehow he's managed to bring us his second hit this year just in time for Christmas and what a cinematic present this is! Inspired by a true story, it's almost hard to believe that the events in the movie actually happened. With the combination of a truly amazing tale and Spielberg and Co.'s magic Hollywood touch, this semi-nostalgic piece reminds us just how different things have become since the 60s. It's definitely his most lighthearted film to date, and for sure the most enjoyable and fun film this holiday season.
Leonardo DiCaprio recovers within a week of his dreadful miscast performance in Gangs of New York with an inspired and seemingly youthful turn as the boy genius Frank Abagnale, Jr. His boyish charm and onscreen radiance are remarkable and really night-and-day compared to the aforementioned disaster. He brings back the elements of performance that made him so likeable and seem so promising in the first place. He's not alone, though. Tom Hanks gives a similar charming, if not deadpan performance as the uptight FBI agent after Abagnale. His New England accent is right on the nose and his now-plump figure give way to a new era for a more mature Hanks. This is a great turn after his well done but prickly character he played earlier this year in Road to Perdition. Also notable is the great Christopher Walken, who gives one of his best performances in years as Abagnale, Sr. All in all, Spielberg, DiCaprio, Hanks, and Walken really remind us in this film why we like them so much in the first place.
Despite it's 2 hour and 20 minute running time, it breezes by as you find yourself lost in the colorful cinematography, the fantastic sets, impeccable costumes, and lovable characters. Even with all of the character flaws that each seems to display, though, each of them seem to have a warmth and vulnerability that's easy to identify with. The playful cat-and-mouse game that Hanks and DiCaprio are caught up in is obviously one that could not happen these days and really seems impossible in the first place, but that's part of the appeal. It's cinematic escapism, folks, and it couldn't have come at a better time. This is definitely one to catch in the theaters.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone who doesn't consider themselves a "Trekkie".
After a four-year break between films, the mega-successful Star Trek franchise took a breather, but apparently not a long enough one. After ousting cast member/director Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: Insurrection and First Contact) from the director's chair, Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshals) takes over and tries to trim the fat with the help of Gladiator writer John Logan, but this one still feels a little bloated.
Admittedly, as one who does not watch the Star Trek TV shows (no offense to the series, I just don't really watch any TV shows), there has always been a fine line the films have had in creating something that the general public can enjoy and understand without dumbing it down for the hardcore Trekkies. That being said, character development has become less and less of a concern recently, leaving the group less interesting to those who don't follow the shows' developments. This one seemed really geared more towards to Trekkies with plenty of inside jokes that only that group in the theater seemed to get. Familiarity is about the only thing that the film consistently had going for it. Even with brief cameos from past cast members, it still seemed like everyone didn't mold together like they have in the previous films. Maybe it's because they're not given a whole lot to work with here.
With more than a few similarities to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (arguably the best in the series), there just was not enough original material to keep this one interesting throughout. In fact, a lot of it seemed recycled and old. While most of the ST films have had interesting storylines this one can be summed up in one sentence: Picard (Patrick Stewart) gets captured by his Khan-like (yet less charismatic) clone Shinzon (Tom Hardy) on the way to the planet Romulus for a diplomatic mission. Really exciting and original, right? Well, from an action film standpoint, it does have more fight sequences than previous films, but that doesn't mean that's a good thing. It just means that it's trying to keep up with the fast-paced box office competitors Lord of the Rings, James Bond, and Harry Potter, which isn't going to happen this time around.
While the tagline for the 10th installment of this feature is "a generation's final journey", it's hinted that if this one does as poorly as the last few, this really could be the end of the film franchise. From what I could gather, this isn't going to be the "saving grace" the series needed. Although this crew does not look as tired as the Kirk and Spock crew did in their final moments, it's clear that every good idea has been exhausted and the series has officially run out of steam. I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone who doesn't consider themselves a "Trekkie".
Gangs of New York (2002)
It's a shame, really. I was looking forward to this one.
For being one of the most anticipated films of the year, this sure is a let down! When a movie is rumored to have all kinds of trouble on the set it usually means it's not that good after all and this further proves that theory. It's obvious that the troubled film has more than a few screws loose, and sadly enough, the great Martin Scorsese is to blame. Apparently a vanity project that has been in the director's heart for over 30 years, it looks as though this big, bloated disaster will become a great disappointment in the end. At a very slow (almost) 3 hours, the movie just keeps going and going with bothersome inconsistencies popping up all over the place, among many other problems.
Based very loosely on the draft riots of 1863, the characters that did actually exist apparently did not in this particular time frame. It also seems that their costumes did not, either. They appear to be a hybrid of different time periods, although the attention to detail is great, even if misguided. The accents are also distracting, as many of the main characters (save the great Daniel Day-Lewis) slip in and out of them at their leisure, especially the now-beefy Leonardo DiCaprio and miscast Cameron Diaz. The sets look like Old West sets in outer space or something. While mostly filmed on a soundstage in Rome, it doesn't even look close to what New York during that time did. There was supposedly a lot of advisors on the set for authenticity reasons and it paid off to an extent, but a good looking movie is just plain hollow without the right substance. Also, it should be noted that the odd sampled drumbeat and guitar during the opening fight sequence and closing theme song by U2 seem really misplaced. So with all of these distracting elements to take you out of the story, you're left with a generally uninteresting and untrue story about characters you could care less about. There are some characters that even come and go with no explanation as to who they are and why they were ever there.
This is a film that is just too big for its own good. There's so much going on that in the end it just seems like there's still a lot left out or unexplained even at its great length. Not to say that it couldn't have been done in the time frame, it was just too unfocused. There are plenty of times where you might find yourself checking your watch or wishing there was a remote with a fast-forward button laying around the theater. Audible groans were heard throughout the press screening I attended. Like I said before, the characters aren't likeable or interesting enough to want to sit through the ho-hum dialogue and the action scenes are just bloody and seem pointless, or at least they're not explained enough to make it engaging. It's not that it's a complete disaster, it's just too dense and overproduced for its own good.
Maybe there was something that I missed in the 25 minutes that were cut from the theatrical release, but this one just didn't seem to connect with me. I was hoping it would engage, excite, or entice me, but it really just made me wish I could get that three hours of my life back. Not to say that it was a complete waste of time, I just know it could've been a lot better and it saddens me. It's a shame, really. I was looking forward to this one.
I couldn't recommend this film more.
Every once in a while a documentary comes along and blows you away by your lack of knowledge of its subject and this is one of those films. As a music fan and someone pretty knowledgeable about many obscure musicians, I was personally amazed to have finally learned about a group of mostly unknown guys who have played on more Number One hits than Elvis, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones combined! How could something like that slip through the cracks of music history books? Why is it that even hardcore music enthusiasts aren't aware of the band that played on every hit by The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and every other beloved Motown gem? That's exactly what this thoroughly enjoyable documentary investigates and attempts to answer.
Instead of a woe-is-me kind of look in to the lives of forgotten musicians, this is a celebratory film that gives credit where credit was long overdue. Without these guys there would be no "Motown sound". Sure, these worked with talented singers, but you'll realize what an impact on popular music that these guys have almost immediately. Director Paul Justman avoids a lot of documentary cliches and keeps the film rolling along mixing stirring concert footage, fascinating stories, insightful narrative, and even a few reenactments in a way that those unaccustomed to documentary filmmaking can enjoy.
Staged in Detroit in the winter of 2000, the surviving "Funk Brothers" run through renditions of some of their biggest hits with the help of guest singers including Joan Osbourne, Gerald Levert, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, and Chaka Kahn. Justman again avoids a potential downfall by working with singers who can no doubt hold their own, but aren't big enough celebrities in their own right to distract from the focal point of the movie. The same goes for other people interviewed for the film: the true stars are The Funk Brothers. Their stories are funny, sad, and disturbing, but overall just really moving. It's almost impossible not to like these guys. Now in their late 60s and early 70s, those that have survived to tell their story have more that justified their place in music history not only for themselves, but for their fellow bandmates who never lived to see this film made.
I couldn't recommend this film more. It's a real joy not only for music fans but also for its subjects. It's important that these guys are remembered and their story is told. The only way to do that is to see this film, so go ahead and catch it on the big screen, the way something larger than life was meant to be seen.
Interview with the Assassin (2002)
...an impressive and challenging piece of work.
Although it seems strange that the film (apparently coincidentally) opens on the day of the 39th anniversary of JFK's assassination, it thankfully stands on its own as an intriguing look at the possibility of the "grassy knoll gunman" theory. While it is by no means a conspiracy or propaganda film, it is, in fact, a "fake documentary" a la Blair Witch, that seems often very real thanks to Raymond J. Barry's amazing performance as a nut (or is he?) who claims to be the second shooter in the President Kennedy's assassination. His commanding presence adds a sense of danger and seriousness that makes the film such an impressive and challenging piece of work.
First time writer/director Neil Burger brings you in to the story and keeps you wrapped up in it in a way that most great feature films do, while still having that gritty documentary feel. Dylan Haggerty plays the cameraman who is "lucky" enough to become involved in such a dangerous story that he cannot decide if his subject is for real or not until he goes over the edge.
It's a fascinating concept, really. Imagine someone with information of that magnitude coming forth with his story only because he has a few months left to live. Would anyone really let that happen? As closely guarded as the true evidence is, you can bet that it wouldn't, which is also examined here in a fantastically twisted web of paranoia, obsession, and fantasy.
For anyone that's ever had a fascination or interest in the JFK assassination, this is a must see. Art house folks will probably eat this one up as well, as it is challenging and thoughtful, and completely free of any Hollywood gloss - what a combination! This one is definitely worth catching in the theater.
The Emperor's Club (2002)
This is yet another example of how an otherwise predictable and formulaic film can be saved by great performances.
This is yet another example of how an otherwise predictable and formulaic film can be saved by great performances. Kevin Kline is excellent as usual in a role that restrains him, but is somehow enhanced by his subtlety. It's the kind of role that begs for Oscar attention, but probably won't get it, giving him an additional likeable "underdog" edge.
The Mr. Holland's Opus-meets-Dead Poet's Society script borrows from both films as much as it does from other "inspiring teacher" films, but promises at the beginning, "This is a story with no surprises". It starts out in 1976 with all the nostalgic and sentimental warmth that these kind of movies have and introduces us to an inspired and loveable teacher who touches all (you guessed it!) but one student (the dastardly but likeable Leonardo-esque Emile Hirsch). He disrupts the other students and makes things difficult (a la Dead Poets) but in the end is affected by the teacher's molding and realizes his potential. Or does he? Kline realizes he has failed to have a lasting effect on the kid and ends up risking everything to try to help him. Sound familiar?
The additional disappointment of his failure to become headmaster causes Kline to retire and is living out his not-as-happy existence until the kids come back into his like 25 years later. He realizes that the once-problematic student is now a slimy politician (the impressively slick Joel Gretsch) like his father who (of course) cuts any ethical corner possible. His goals of molding his students into leaders are flashed out in front of him but he still cannot help but think what might have been different if he hadn't helped "that one" out. His regrets are human and easily identifiable, another reason why the character works so well with Kline in the lead.
Director Michael Hoffman (Soapdish) gives us a perfect, easy-on-the-eyes New England setting, complete with the soaring James Newton Howard score and hazy, wistful cinematography. He manages to stretch out Ethan Canin's short story into a respectable feature length without dwelling on the romantic subplot or other possible distractions. The problem, though, it that it is lacking its own flavor, or really any flavor at all.
The film gets close to a predictable conclusion, but serves up something that makes sense and is satisfying to the viewer, although not terribly original. Again, remember this is a "story without surprises". It's an interesting, although not unusual, look into morality and destiny, which always has a welcome place in the multiplexes next to the mindless action flicks and other cinematic schlock.
Just in time for Oscar season, director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman bring to the multiplexes one of the most inventive and mind-bending films since, well, their last collaboration, Being John Malkovich. Truly a cinematic gem, the duo has delivered a treat for real movie buffs, particularly those with a penchant for intelligent filmmaking. It seems as though Jonze just has a way with actors that really bring out the best in them. He somehow manages to save Nicolas Cage's career from a dreadful downturn with an amazingly complicated and comical double role as both Kaufman and his (fictitious in real life) twin brother, Donald. "What?", you ask, "So Cage is playing the part of the actual screenwriter and his brother, only Donald is really a fictitious character
even though he's given a writing credit?" You got it. I know we don't usually rehash the story lines in the reviews here, but I think it's a little necessary to illustrate what a brilliant, yet complicated piece of work this is.
The cast is fantastic. Cage (along with the miracle of modern technology) plays the identical twins often at the same time. The fact that they have such distinctly different personalities that work off of each other (and often no one else) by the same actor says a lot about Cage's ability as an actor. This is definitely the best performance (or performances) of his career. But he's not alone here. Meryl Streep shines with a surprise comedic role that has to be one of the best parts she has played in a quite some time as well. The real surprise here is character actor Chris Cooper (American Beauty), who finally landed the role that should forever put him in a different class of actor. Hopefully he'll be able to shed the "character" part from his job description and be seen for what a fine performer he really is. Additionally, Tilda Swinton (The Deep End) and the great Brian Cox (L.I.E.) round out the already-stellar cast.
The film is truly a fascinating character study, as well as an insight to a rarely seen focus on doubt in the creative process. It's incredibly self-indulgent, but that's part of the point. You see, the story revolves around Charlie's frustration with not being able to adapt New Yorker writer Susan Orlean's nonfiction best-seller The Orchid Thief into a film, which is, in fact, what the real life Kaufman and Jonze were trying to do in the first place. It's a little confusing to try to explain because of the many twists, turns, flashbacks, etc., but somehow it all manages to make sense if you follow it carefully. It's quite ambitious, really, and one has to wonder how much is real and how much is actually fiction. The line here is quite blurred. It leaves many points open to discussion and really makes you think, which is sadly more and more uncommon these days. It might go way over a lot of peoples' heads, but those who "get it", will really enjoy it.
I'd recommend it highly to those who enjoyed Being John Malkovich or those who enjoy "smart" films. It's a lot to take in, but it sure is a fun ride. I predict this film will top many critics' lists as one of the best films of the year and scoop up a few Academy Award nominations along the way. Go check it out on the big screen and pay attention!
Die Another Day (2002)
This one will please the most loyal (forgiving) Bond fans...
`While one never expects more than "the usual" (girls, guns, and gadgets) from a Bond film, there are several ways the formulaic mainstay has gone wrong in its impressive 40 year run. The main problem this time is that Bond has been updated and dumbed down in a very "Vin Diesel" kind of way. Not to say it's not entertaining, it's just not as sophisticated and classy as it used to be.
The opening action sequence is typical action-packed Bond fare complete with explosions, chases, etc. until 007 gets captured and it starts to go downhill from there. The much anticipated credit sequence features an awful new TRL-ready club song by Madonna (weren't the theme songs supposed to be sexy?) that really takes you out of the film right away. Its stop-and-go beat is interlaced with images of Bond being tortured and an occasional hint of the usual sensual images of the female form with so much disturbing CG over the bodies that there's nothing steamy about it.
The next third of the movie has the Cast Away-looking Bond trying to get revenge and earn back his 00 status, since he has been betrayed and kicked out of the Secret Service since his capture. It's really kind of a weird vibe for a Bond film, but somewhat interesting nonetheless. It finally swings back into full 007 mode when he cleans up and meets Jinx (Halle Berry), throwing himself back into his loveable martini-swilling, gun-toting, womanizing, bad-dialogue-spewing self. He then fights off the villains, uses the best cars and gadgets, and gets the girl. So what did you expect? There has always been a sense of self-parody in these films, but now it seems a little sillier, possibly because it's hard to resist memories of Bond parody in the Austin Powers flicks, but possibly because it seems like the filmmakers are just running though the motions. It should be noted, though, that director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) does a fine job with several nods to the Bond films of old sprinkled throughout the movie.
While Jinx is given a lot more screen time and power than any other female in a Bond film, it's still a wonder why they'd want to have a spin-off of her character. She's good, but she's not that good. Pierce Brosnan proves once again made for the James Bond role, and the most successful 007 at that. His charisma (at least after the first 1/3) is undeniable and it's a wonder who will follow in his footsteps after the next one (Brosnan's last).
This one will please the most loyal (forgiving) Bond fans and the TRL generation of action film fans (see XXX), but will definitely test the loyalty of 007 purists, who don't want to hear house music in their theme and see Bond have an equal in a Bond girl. It's pretty good overall, but definitely not one of the best. If you're going to see it, though, catching it on the big screen is definitely the way to go.
Treasure Planet (2002)
Treasure Planet is a great family film, but compared to the classics, it's just "pretty good".
With recent screenings of classic Disney films like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast on IMAX, an old saying seemed to come to mind, "They just don't make them like they used to". That being said, Treasure Planet is a great family film, but compared to the classics, it's just "pretty good". Supposedly aiming for a Treasure Island-meets-Star Wars vibe, it's not as great as either one (of course), but it's a pretty fun ride nonetheless.
Now it seems Ol' Mickey's movies have come down to marketing and demographics. You can almost picture the meetings: frantic middle-age execs trying to figure out what kids these days want, how to keep up with DreamWorks, what fast food chain will get the promotional tie-in, etc., etc. Apparently in trying to keep up to date, they've also done away with the "musical" aspect and instead get modern singers to do theme songs that usually end up being pretty lame (case in point: this one has the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik with the absolute most boring, nondescript Disney songs you've ever heard).
It seems that this is Disney's "one for the boys", in answer to Lilo and Stitch, which targeted a young female audience. This one, though, has elements the whole family can enjoy. While other cartoons in space have been just dreadful (Titan A.E.) and some by sea have been even worse (Disney's own Atlantis), they've managed to make a winner here with the strange combination, but no doubt the credit is due to the great source material. Based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel (had to say it because it's doubtful kids read it anymore), this one has a few liberal updates, but no more than any other Disney adaptation.
In fact, another old saying comes to mind when reviewing this one, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, Disney took the safe road by getting the successful team behind The Little Mermaid and Aladdin to help stay on the upswing. Another staple in recent Disney cartoons is the B-list celebrity voices, this time including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the angsty young Jim Hawkins, David Hyde Pierce, the great Emma Thompson, and the hot/cold Martin Short providing the most entertainment with his C-3PO-ish spastic robot voice. All adding a bit of familiarity to the umpteenth version of this classic, this may be something completely new for the kids, but retread for the parents. There's not a lot of new angles here. Either way, it's "safe" entertainment, which is what the big D is hoping parents are still looking to give their kids.
Overall, it's worth checking out in the theater if you're going to see it at all. In fact, for the first time ever, this one is being released in regular theaters as well as IMAX simultaneously. It's a visually impressive piece of work, so it may be worth it to shell out the extra few bucks for the kiddos to see it the best way possible. Either way, you'll distract them for seeing this week's other animated film, the Adam Sandler stinker Eight Crazy Nights.
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
...the most stunning film of the year.
By far one of the most thought provoking movies since, well, Michael Moore's last film The Big One, this powerful documentary is the most stunning film of the year. Moore returns in his imperfect and fiery guerilla form to tackle what exactly is wrong with this country when it comes to the American people and guns. While these questions have been raised before, no one does it with as much cojones as Moore does. While not all of the answers are given, that's part of the point. This is the type of film that could go on for hours, but leaves enough discussion points to let the viewers answer the questions. It's the asking that is Moore's specialty. Some of the answers do come courtesy of celebrity interviewees Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, and Matt Stone (South Park), but the most revealing come from the camera-shy corporate execs and fumbling PR reps that are often the director's favorite targets. His view may be one-sided at times, but he presents it in such a humorous and loveable way that it's hard not to side with him. And why wouldn't you? He's successfully made his targets look like complete idiots. Movies, music, racism, news media, parents, isolation, culture, and poverty are all probed but in the end there seems to not be one single guilty party. Over 11,000 people are killed in this country by guns per year and the only 165 in England. Canada has 10 million people and 7 million guns. So why do they have less violent deaths than we do? The fact that you may even be thinking about it while reading this makes the film successful. One of the funniest moments of the film comes in the form of an animated South Park-like condensed version of American history to date. While far from politically correct, its biting, yet fair criticism of our forefathers before us show us that it is indeed our violent history and legacy of fear that makes our problems unsurprising to our neighboring countries.
Most of the film handles the tough subject with a humorous tone, but the most effective moments come courtesy of the interviews with previously unknown, everyday people. This includes former Columbine students that had been shot in the tragic school massacre, the father of one of the Columbine victims, a teenage boy attempting to create napalm, and a teacher who watched one of her grade-school students shoot another one with a handgun. All give this film the extra depth that is sure to detract any cries that it is all propaganda or faceless finger pointing. While funny, sad, scary, intriguing, and poignant all at the same time, Michael Moore proves while he's not the best "director" in the world, he's definitely the best documentary filmmaker out there. This is the first documentary accepted into Cannes Film Festival in 46 years and it's easy to see why this piece of work could not be denied its well-deserved accolades. This is an important film that needs to be seen. Given Moore's previous success, one can only help that between his good name and word of mouth something this powerful makes its way into the conscience of the American public and beyond.
The Ring (2002)
Officially 2002's creepiest movie
Officially 2002's creepiest movie, the remake of the Japanese cult classic Ringu brings an exciting new twist to the tired horror genre just in time for Halloween. Although it starts out like something out of Urban Legend, the film quickly develops into a twisted and frightening tale almost devoid of schlocky scare-fest violence.
Definitely saved from mediocrity by director Gore Verbinski (The Mexican), the less-is-more approach definitely works for this one in the same way it did for The Others and The Sixth Sense (this one also has the spooky kid who "sees dead people"). There are plenty of weird, freaky images that don't seem to mean much, but they sure stick in your head. Like most classic horror films, this is the kind that, when mentioned, will conjure up creepy images. It's far from forgettable and definitely intriguing.
The striking and charismatic Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) manages to pull off her first major studio starring role without the help of a well known supporting cast, which is maybe why this works so well. Martin Henderson (Windtalkers), the young David Dorfman (Bounce), and Brian Cox (L.I.E.) round out the lesser-known cast, but keep the film from being less scary by having a high Hollywood recognition factor.
The "watch the tape and you die" idea was mercilessly ripped off by the recent Fear Dot Com, but thankfully no one seemed to venture to the theater for that one, leaving this one in the clear without comparison. I'll say no more about it to not rob you of the essential elements of surprise. If you're a fan of horror movies, this one is definitely one for you. It's worth going to check out in the theater 'tis the season after all!
Far from Heaven (2002)
It's one of the best films of the year
In definitely one of the better films of the year, director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) scratches beneath the surface of the 1950s family to bring us a fantastically melodramatic film unlike any seen in recent years. With such an array of emotions blanketed in absolutely dazzling cinematography, the film is a sensory stimulating experience that engages the viewer in a way that a true moviegoing experience is supposed to. It transports the viewer into a separatist time that may actually hit home with a portion of its audience. Almost an homage to 50s "girlie" films by Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows), the nostalgic gloss of the Eisenhower era is rubbed away as the film goes on revealing the darker side of a commonly remembered "golden age".
Set in 1957 Connecticut, the ideal American family is faced with tough issues of the era including racism, homophobia, and domestic troubles. In themes that almost seem preposterous to those who hadn't lived in those times, it's easy to empathize with the characters and truly makes the viewer think about what really went on in behind closed doors in a not-so-distant past. We watch as the glorious New England fall surroundings become darker and emptier than initially presented and nothing is as it seems.
The cast in this one is absolutely perfect. Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights) is terrific as the ideal "homemaker" that always manages to smile despite her world crumbling around her and Dennis Quaid (The Rookie) ditches his usual charm for a darker and more challenging role than he's taken in quite some time. Dennis Haysbert (24) and Patricia Clarkson give fine supporting performances worthy of mention.
This sincere Rockwell-esque Technicolor dream has a quality that most noir films don't: that mysterious feel and mood of classic films of the era. You'll know it when you experience it. Somehow Haynes pulls it off without being campy or ironic, which would've tarnished its eerily perfect feel. Laced with the legendary Elmer Bernstein's pristine score, this film accomplished everything it set out for and more.
This one is definitely one to catch in theatres. It's one of the best films of the year without a doubt. The acting, direction, cinematography, and score are all immaculate. This is the kind of film that sticks in your mind long after you've seen it and leaves and impression on you like only the best cinema does.
The Tuxedo (2002)
Chan's movies have a reputation for being quick, funny, and full of great action sequences and this one continues that tradition.
Jackie Chan is an entertainer, and "entertaining" an audience is what he does best. He's not going for an Oscar and neither is this film, nor would he ever claim to. That being said, you can now go enjoy the movie. It might not be the smartest and most original film this year, but it's definitely fun. What it lacks in the script is made up for in its comic delivery.
Chan plays it a little different this time. His character is one that is not versed in martial arts, but gains his fighting power through a high-tech tuxedo with Inspector Gadget-like features. This flick mostly has him doing the Crouching Tiger-style high-flying stunts that even he couldn't pull off without wires. OK, so it's a little cheesy, but aren't all his movies? If you've seen any of his other work you know the formula: the always-charming Chan in "Buster Keaton mode" fends off bad guys while getting pretty beat up himself and ultimately saves the day. Then in the end you're treated to the best painful-looking stunt mishaps in the closing credits. That's pretty much what you get here. Nothing more, nothing less.
Jennifer Love Hewitt proves that her comic timing is right on as well. Although her character is a little unbelievable, her charm and chemistry with Chan make up for it. In fact, she works much better with him than Owen Wilson did in Shanghai Noon (and she's much more to look at as well. Sorry, Owen!).
There is once scene, however, that makes it worth going to see. Chan takes the place of James Brown (who he accidentally knocked out in the dressing room) at a concert and does a hilarious and quite impressive version of Brown's hit "Sex Machine". Some of the dance moves and facial expressions show some of his best comedic work to date.
First time director Kevin Donovan does a fine job keeping things rolling along even with the iffy script. Although most of the best stuff was in the CGI and stunt work, the weaknesses are mostly due to the plot and writing, not his (thankfully) fast-paced style. He was, after all, a director of TV commercials before this.
For Jackie Chan fans this one is worth going to see. Critics and cynics will probably beat up on it, but if you go there to be entertained that's what you'll get. Chan's movies have a reputation for being quick, funny, and full of great action sequences and this one continues that tradition.
Ghost Ship (2002)
Ghost Ship is just another cliché-ridden stinker that continues to gives the (horror) genre a bad name.
OK, I'll admit it: I like horror movies. Especially during this time of year I look forward to something a little spooky to get in the Halloween spirit. Every year, though, it seems I am disappointed by the new crop of so-called "scary movies" and this is no exception. While The Ring proved to be a well crafted horror film, Ghost Ship is just another cliché-ridden stinker that continues to gives the genre a bad name.
Even with Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects) and Julianna Margulies (ER) at the helm, this one still sinks (sorry about the puns). With baffling stereotypes related to each of the crew members' downfalls, the usual slasher pick-'em-off-one-by-one routine even shamelessly includes the deaths of the two minority characters first. There's nothing even really scary or surprising about this one. However, there is one mass death scene in the beginning that, while foreshadowed and predictable, is just plain gross! It's gory even by horror movie standards and had a few people ready to walk out. That would've been the wise move considering that was the lone intentionally gruesome moment in the movie.
Director Steve Beck (13 Ghosts) tries to marry the classic William Castle (for whom the Dark Castle Productions is named in tribute) spookiness with the modern day "MTV music video" look complete with the journeyman nu-metal soundtrack. Something about the two just doesn't mix and something tells me that Castle is spinning in his grave right now. It is possible, in different hands, that this one could have been visually exciting and not quite as cheesy. While the sets and setting are cool, the writing and acting are the only horrific elements of the movie.
This one is definitely one to skip, even for horror movie fanatics. If the awful tag line of "Sea Evil" with the picture of a giant skull doesn't serve as a warning label for this cinematic poison, you'll wish you had thought twice about indulging in this disastrous concoction.
Femme Fatale (2002)
Definitely one of the worst films of the year.
Definitely one of the worst films of the year, this one comes as a surprise as a contender for such a competitive title. Masterful director Brian DePalma (Scarface, Carrie) completely loses focus here and delivers us one of the most incoherent and boring excuses for a "thriller" in recent years. Given his recent downturn with Snake Eyes and Mission To Mars, it looks like he's sadly lost his magic touch.
With the exception of a few nude scenes and an extended lesbian sequence (with model Rie Rasmussen) for the guys, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is in total mannequin mode is not worth watching for a good 90% of the time. Her wooden performance is laughable (literally, just listen for it!) The same goes for a sleepy Antonio Banderas, who fails to show any sort of chemistry with the ultra-hot Stamos.
While plot twists have always been his specialty, he's outdone himself again and made something that is not only hard to follow but hard to watch. Maybe it's hard to follow because it's too easy to be distracted by pretty much anything including watch checks, watching neighboring viewers' facial expressions, and counting walkouts (almost 20 on my side of the theater). DePalma expects you to not only believe that pure coincidence drives the plot's twists, but he asks the viewer to suspend disbelief completely. Stylistically he's great but style without substance doesn't make for a good two hours of entertainment.
This is definitely one to skip. Even for red-blooded male fans of Stamos, the payoff is almost not worth it. Just wait for the DVD if you're that much of a perv. Everyone else can consider this a public service announcement of how to save two hours of your life. Consider yourself warned!
The Grey Zone (2001)
It may have worked better as an off-Broadway play, but this celebrity-ridden downer is a moral grey zone that's better read about in history books.
Like every other Holocaust movie before it, this one is obviously a downer. This one, though, has no survivors, no hope, and no likeable characters. Even the protagonists, the Sonderkommandos (prisoners who live longer by disposing of their own peoples' bodies) are a bunch of gruff and unpleasant folks.
The Hollywood cast that includes Mira Sorvino, Natasha Lyonne, David Arquette, and Steve Buscemi really take away from the potential of the film by not fully getting in character. Their unavoidably obvious American accents are more of a distraction than their celebrity presence. While none of them are bad visually, it's disheartening to hear familiar voices on those particular characters. Arquette, it should be noted, has finally put in his first non-aggravating performance, although he still seemed out of place. Thankfully the lesser known Allan Corduner and Daniel Benzali have bulkier roles than their famous co-stars and save this from being an indie who's who.
The only well known actor that truly deserves credit for fully attempting to portray a character is Harvey Keitel. His role as the stern German officer is the only standout performance. There is one scene in particular, though, where Keitel's character is speaking in English to a prisoner and someone else responds "They don't understand German". I suppose we were supposed to use our imagination that they are all speaking in different languages? Maybe subtitles were too much trouble? Who knows? Either way, it really takes you out of the story altogether.
Tim Blake Nelson (O) wrote and directed this stagy Auschwitz story based on true events that tells the story of an uprising by prisoners at the infamous concentration camp. Nelson does a good job of not making any of the people heroic, focusing on the fact that the rebellion was poorly staged and wildly disorganized. It's an important story to tell, although the known facts about the incident differ a little bit with what has historically been written about. His intentions are good, but the end result does no justice to the story itself.
The images you'll leave with are horrific. Unlike Speilberg's Schindler's List, no graphic detail was spared in the showers or in the disposing of the bodies. The unsettling feeling is part of the point, but it's also a little too much. There's the piles of bones, the scalps, corpses, gold teeth, ash, and other grim reminders of how awful the events were but does it all need to be recreated again?
I can't say I would recommend this movie to anyone. It's horribly depressing and not very well done. It may have worked better as an off-Broadway play, but this celebrity-ridden downer is a moral grey zone that's better read about in history books.
Tykwer brings to life the late Kieslowski's final script in this intense and romantic gem of a film.
Director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) brings to life the late Krzysztof Kieslowski's (The Decalogue Series) final script in this intense and romantic gem of a film. The inspired and perfect cinematic marriage has the Kieslowski poetic arthouse factor and the energy and feel of Tykwer's other work (The Princess and the Warrior). Their parallel right vs. wrong drive for morality and passion for intelligent filmmaking make this less of a strange collaboration than the Spielberg/Kubrick trainwreck A.I. that it is being compared to.
Cate Blanchett and Giovani Ribisi give powerful performances as doomed lovers on the lam after a chance meeting and subsequent sudden journey together. Blanchett's physical appearance change in the movie is the most striking, as she truly seems to do whatever the role requires of her (this time shaving her head) without thought to her personal image. The couple's androgynist look is more symbolic than anything. It is, in fact, their best performances to date. Ribisi is especially impressive in handling his mostly-Italian dialogue. The two interact with each other on a much deeper lever than a traditional movie would require. They go through the movie without any big, cheesy love scenes, but one beautiful symbolic moment towards the end of the film. It might be hard to buy into for some, but for those that believe that love can come between two people in very different and sudden ways, than it actually is quite romantic after all.
This movie will bother most traditional audiences. There's probably not enough movement for action fans, not enough Hollywood romance for the saps, and too much symbolism for the, well, not so bright. The ending will disturb most of the general public as well, as it does not have the traditional spell-it-out conclusion that people have come to expect. It could be said that imagination is to be used on the conclusion, but there were supposed to be two sequels to fill out the story, Hell and Purgatory, which may or may not see the light of day due to Kieslowski's sudden passing before their completion. Either way, it stands on its own as a powerful piece of work. It's a complicated, yet simple film all at the same time. The themes are universal, but their execution is divine.
Knockaround Guys (2001)
This one is not nearly as dreadful as expected. In fact, it's quite fun in places.
Most of the time when a movie is delayed for almost two years it just means that the studio has no confidence in their project and for good reason. Somewhere it lies on a dusty shelf waiting to quietly be released to recover even just a little of the money lost from from someone's faulty greenlight. The screenings rarely happen and, if they do, are usually filled with smirking critics ready to take note of any fault for later ridicule. Knockaround Guys, though, seemed to surprise everyone a little. This one is not nearly as dreadful as expected. In fact, it's quite fun in places. While some may write it off as a Sopranos knock-off, it's got a flair all of its own. The sad part is that The Sopranos has been in a few more loveable seasons since this went on the shelf, surely fostering more animosity with the now-hardcore fans of the show.
Writer and director Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders) do a good job of keeping the action packed pace and add a little humor to offset the violence. The Mafia "rite of passage" and fish-out-of-water angles have been done quite a few times, but luckily the characters are interesting enough to justify rooting for them. The cast, in fact, is pretty strong.
Most notable is star Barry Pepper, quite an underrated actor that seems to have unfortunate role selections that never seem to boost his star profile. In fact, the studio probably couldn't push a movie with just Pepper as the star, so since supporting actor Vin Diesel has become a huge star since the filming of this one the marketing machine has decided it was about time to see if the Guys are worth anything after all. Tom Noonan, Andrew Davoli, and (surprisingly) Seth Green provide good support, but the always-solid Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich round out the impressive cast and give the movie its true thespian cred. While neither of them is at their slimy best, they still definitely boost the film's appeal.
This is a fun, explosive action flick that is more enjoyable than many other silly blow-'em-up big budget duds floating around this year, including Vin Diesel's own star vehicle XXX. It's not going to impress most critics, but it'll be a lot of fun for fans of the genre and any of the eclectic cast.
It's supposed to be a thriller, but it's a little light on the thrills.
With all of the comparisons to Fatal Attraction that it has received, let's try to look at this one as its own entity for a moment. While it's easy to write this off as a teenybopper knockoff of the memorable 80s thriller (it pretty much is, though), you've got to remember that Attraction came out 15 years ago. This means that the target audience for Swimfan was probably in diapers at the time of its predecessor's release. So does that justify its release? That's up to the kids who go to see it.
Something to remember is that this is a movie about teens for teens. Chances are that kids will love this and critics will trash it. There's been movies about teen obsession made before but not this brutal. Erica Christensen's (Traffic) character is quite the psycho. There are no boiling rabbits here, but definitely some carnage on her behalf. It's a little more violent than you might think; yet not very menacing.
Director John Polson's choppy direction gives it an MTV-acceptable feel but also a depth to the madness that Christensen doesn't always display behind those pretty blue eyes. He wasn't given much to work with in the writing department, though. There are no real surprises and every bad turn is hinted at long before it ever happens. She turns the loveable but stupid jock's (Jesse Bradford of Bring it On) happy little existence upside down only to well, you can guess what happens. It's supposed to be a thriller, but it's a little light on the thrills.
This is one to check out if you fit the targeted high school demographic or if you've never seen Fatal Attraction, otherwise it's better as a rental if it still sounds interesting. It's not a complete stinker; it's just not very distinguishable. One of these days Hollywood will come up with an original idea for a teen movie, but until then there's always these rehashes to feed to the younger generations. If nothing else, maybe this will make kids look back to the originals for some better viewing.
Igby Goes Down (2002)
Both Steers and Culkin will surely be remembered for what is sure to be called a "breakthrough" film for each of them.
First time director Burr Steers delivers quite an impressive debut film that's similar to Catcher in the Rye in story and close to Wes Anderson in feel. With a solid cast led by the fantastic Kieran Culkin (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) as the perpetually delinquent Igby, this film is filled with characters that are hard to identify with and even harder to like, but in a rare twist are interesting to watch. As Igby so eloquently puts it, "I'm drowning in a**holes". Yes, but they sure are fascinating.
Susan Sarandon, Ryan Phillippe (in a role similar to the one he played in Cruel Intentions), Claire Daines, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, and Amanda Peet all deserve credit for making this the great dysfunctional ensemble that it is. Although a pretty dark comedy, there's definitely enough sharp one-liners and witty social commentary for the film not to come off as a complete downer. Igby somehow manages not to "go down" as the rest of the family has even though on the surface he appears to be the troubled one. Constantly slapped around (literally) by his family, so-called friends, and even his shrink, he tries to make sense of being a privileged, yet extremely unhappy rebellious teen.
This one is definitely worth checking out. Both Steers and Culkin will surely be remembered for what is sure to be called a "breakthrough" film for each of them. Don't let this one pass you by, as it is doubtful that with its lack of explosions it will be much competition against the action juggernauts this summer.
Stealing Harvard (2002)
In what promises to be a top contender for worst movie of the year, Stealing Harvard proves that Tom Green should just stay out of the film business.
In what promises to be a top contender for worst movie of the year, Stealing Harvard proves that Tom Green should just stay out of the film business. Apparently not punished for stealing life from everyone who sat through the unbearable Freddie Got Fingered, he's at it again with similar disastrous results. I don't think I laughed once during this stinker and believe me; I wanted to.
For all of Jason Lee's charm, it seems that most of his appeal must come from having Kevin Smith's sharp and witty dialogue to work with. He just couldn't carry this one by himself. I say "by himself" because having Green to work off of must be like having a blue screen reserved for Jar Jar Binks next to you. He actually has been funny, but that was years ago and on Canadian TV. A script as bad as this one would make it almost impossible to turn into something worth wasting an hour and a half of your life for. There are no inspired comic moments and nothing even remotely original to report. In fact, there are several parallels to another one of the worst movies of the year, Orange County.
Director Bruce McCulloch (former Kids in the Hall cast member) couldn't seem to get it together on this one. The structure is completely out of sequence and some of the scenes seem like they came from a completely different movie. Even his cameo in the movie proved to be awful.
This one is definitely worth skipping. It's not even worth a rental. If nothing else, consider this a public service trying to save you some more well spent time on this Earth. I'm sure word of mouth will crush this one quickly enough, but do yourself and go see something else anything else.
Gangster No. 1 (2000)
If you can stomach the rough content, it's worth checking out for the performances alone.
The unnamed title character in this ultra-violent British Tarantino/Ritchie-esque flick is played brilliantly by Paul Bettany (A Knight's Tale) in flashbacks and by Malcolm McDowell in present day. They portray a venomous, unlikable thug in truly chilling performances that deserves to be seen by the not-so-faint-of-heart.
Stylistically masterful, director Paul McGuigan handles this bloody tale by telling the story of the Gangster by using a mostly-wordless Bettany with creepy voiceovers by McDowell. David Thewlis and Saffron Burrows also give solid performances with Thewlis as the man Bettany wants to be and Burrows as the woman that comes between them. Both of them aren't easy to like, but come out like saints compared to the nameless one. The "swinging London gangsters" may not come off as interesting as Tarantino's seemingly loveable thugs, but that's part of the point. They're not as charming or witty, but that's what makes them scarily realistic.
Although not the most original of stories, it is the performances that make the film stand out from the already-flooded British gangster genre. The stylized screen violence has become more art than shock value and as we further desensitize ourselves to images like this, the less effective these films become. Some may actually only see this as a raunchy, violent, misogynist crime flick and, in a sense, they are right. Deeper than that, though, is a character study in greed and obsession with nods to Shakespeare, Freud, and the great Greek Tragedies. Those expecting a Hollywood-style gangster flick will be taken aback to say the least.
While it has been out for 2 years in the UK and over a year in Canada, it has finally made it to US shores. Most genre enthusiasts already own it on DVD, but it's worth a look on the big screen. If you can stomach the rough content, it's worth checking out for the performances alone.
One Hour Photo (2002)
Robin Williams gives a great performance in a rare subtle role for him.
Robin Williams delivers his third creepy role this year (see also "Death To Smoochy" and "Insomnia") to prove that, yes, he can be more than just the funnyman he is known for. Unlike the other two roles, though, there are more identifiable human elements to this character. Those misled by the trailer expecting to see Williams in a slasher flick will have to keep waiting. In this he is more of a sad and lonely type than the aggressive stalker that the previews make him out to be. This goes into the mind of someone that is definitely "stalking", but doesn't see it that way. He's scariest because he's one of those people you see, but don't take notice of. You don't know a thing about him but he seems to know a lot about you. Who would've thought that one of the most frightening characters on film this summer would not be Jason or Michael Myers, but Sy the Photo Guy? Frighteningly realistic is always scarier than any run-of-the-mill gory horror film.
Video director Mark Romanek (Madonna, Nine Inch Nails) does a great job of adding a style that is MTV-acceptable, but not completely distracting. The simple set designs and harsh fluorescent lighting seem all too familiar, as the Sav-Mart can be associated with just about any discount store you can think of. Like the studio's other recent "weirdos in retail" film, "The Good Girl", this focuses on what's behind the eyes of those seemingly normal folks in their sterile work environment.
This one is definitely worth checking out. Robin Williams gives a great performance in a rare subtle role for him. Unlike his other two dramatic roles this summer, he seems to become the character rather than just playing one. This is the kind of role that actors dream of. This was a chance to change the public's perception about his role selection and he took it. The results are splendid and Williams seems to have exposed a side of him left undeveloped before.
Unlike most `Hollywood on Hollywood' movies, this one is actually a winner.
After the dreadful `Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within', studios got the message: audiences don't want digital actors. Who wants to see a perfect, yet still very strange looking creature take the place of their favorite actor in a film? How could people relate to a cartoon-ish substitute for the stars they know and love? After all, there's no way to justify them in our celebrity-obsessed culture. There is no tabloid-worthy fare: breakups, shakeups, and lack of makeup are all irrelevant when it comes to a face you'll only see when it's ready to be seen on the big screen or national TV. `Simone' explores the possibility of what would happen if it did work and it doesn't look so bad after all.
Unlike most `Hollywood on Hollywood' movies, this one is actually a winner. Al Pacino proves once again that he has a gift for comedy, and gets a chance to do it without being so, well, animated. With a terrific supporting cast of Catherine Keener, Evan Rachel Wood, Elias Koteas, Winona Ryder, and Simone (OK, so it's a real uncredited actress named Rachel Roberts), this movie comes off as one of the more enjoyable comedies of the summer, even though it is kind of a one-trick pony.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol sticks with the `What is real?' theme that he explored with `Gattaca' and `The Truman Show' and still manages to keep it interesting. While some of the things that Simone manages to pull off are unlikely, so is she. The interest that people have for her in the film is a little over the top and silly, but that's kind of the point. Niccol manages to entertain while jabbing the audience with his nod to their predictable liking of Simone (short for Simulation One). Could it be that he actually has the audience caring for someone they might actually believe to be real? Sure, it seemed to work in the screening I attended. People get involved with characters that don't really exist every day anyway, so why not? It doesn't stop there, though. He also sets his sights on the delusional filmmakers, power hungry studio execs, tabloid `journalists', and even seems to poke at Britney Spears, too (people don't seem to mind that she's not 100% `real' either).
This is one that is sure to delight audiences and divide critics. If you're a fan of Al Pacino or just want to see a fun movie that has a sense of humor about itself, go check it out. If you're not willing to get the joke with them, take your cynical self to the local art house and check out something a little more `real'.
It's pure fantasy for kids of all ages, plain and simple.
In one of the better sequels of the summer, writer/director Robert Rodriguez (`From Dusk Till Dawn') shows that not all films that have a number after them have to be dull shells of the originals. Talking all of the elements that made the first one so entertaining and `super sizing' them seemed to be the idea here and it worked out well.
While the parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) take a backseat in this one, the kids Carmen and Juni (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) carry the movie that this time takes them to a land that will be a whole new world to younger audience members and seem a little familiar to the older ones. The whole island comes off as a tribute or at least modern day version of an old fantasy flick. There are skeleton warriors (a la the `Sinbad' films), a mad doctor (the always-great Steve Buscemi) with mix-and-match creatures (`The Island of Dr. Moreau'), gadgets even `Inspector Gadget' would be proud of, and vehicles that would make James Bond envious. With the mix of that and bit roles for some of yesteryear's heroes including the returning Cheech Marin (`Cheech and Chong'), Ricardo Montalban (Khan from `Star Trek II'), Bill Paxton (Chet from `Weird Science'), Mike Judge (`Beavis and Butthead'), etc., there's more than a wink and a nod for those taking their children to see the movie.
This is quite an impressive feat for Rodriguez, who somehow managed to pull this one off a little more than a year after the original was released and not have it seem too rushed. While some parts do seem a little over the top and silly, that's also the fun of it. It may be franchise-ready, but there's nothing here that looks like an ad for some toy coming out. It's pure fantasy for kids of all ages, plain and simple. This one is worth checking out on the big screen, especially considering the alternatives so far this summer.