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In this column we will feature thumbnail reviews by Wayne Case, a veteran of Hollywood's Big Machine who currently works for an independent film company in Los Angeles. Wayne ranks the films on a scale of 1 (bad) to 10 (good). The following are Wayne’s rankings of films for 2001.


A.I. Rated: 9
More comments soon, but I found it fascinating, stimulating and frustrating in equal measure, but I wouldn’t have missed it for a large chunk of money! This is NOT your typical Spielberg film and it’s probably too intense and disturbing for children under 10 or so. It’s easy to see the Stanley Kubrick input/influence. Since this film is quite intelligent and thoughtful, it requires concentration on the part of the viewer, so many aren’t going to be happy with it. Exit scores were very mixed, but opening week grosses are likely to hit $50 million. The acting by the wonderful Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law is outstanding.

A KNIGHT’S TALE Rated: 8
While it won’t thrill everyone, I found this one delightful. Perhaps my rating is overly generous, but, at worst, I consider A Knight’s Tale a major guilty pleasure. While reviews have been decidedly mixed, both trade papers, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, had mostly positive response, and both Roger Ebert & Richard Roeper gave it “thumbs up.” Exit audience polls were positive and May 11, 2001 opening weekend business was good at about $18 million for the first three days in domestic release. Word-of-mouth is generally positive and total domestic gross should easily reach $50 million.

Writer /director Brian Helgeland (Oscar winning co-writer of the script of L.A. Confidential) deserves praise for being bold enough to add a musical score comprised of rock anthems including “The Boys Are Back In Town,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We Are the Champions” to scenes of knights jousting. While it took me awhile to get into the spirit of the film, I came away wanting to see it again, and did so the next day. My favorite scene takes place at a celebration after one of the competitions and includes a dance sequence choreographed to David Bowie’s “Golden Years.”

The well-chosen and appealing cast is uniformly effective, appropriate and attractive. Designed as a star-making vehicle for Australian Heath Ledger (The Patriot), he is up to the task, but also works well with the other actors including Paul Bettany (upcoming A Beautiful Mind), Alan Tudyk (Wonder Boys), James Purefoy (Mansfield Park), Laura Fraser (Cousin Bette), and newcomer Shannyn Sossamon.

AMELIE Rated: 7
A huge hit in its native France, Amelie is entertaining but slight. If Ally McBeal had been created in a French movie instead of on an American television show, this is how she would have looked. Lead actress Aurdey Tautou has appeared in several French films, both before and since she appeared in this one, but this is the first time that I, like most of the rest of the world, became aware of her. She is rather unique and charming, but she shows very little range here. Talk of her receiving an Oscar nomination for this performance is absurd, but then then Roberto Benigni won as best actor for Life Is Beautiful (1997) proving that anything is possible.

If you seek light, romantic entertainment and don’t object to sub-titles, you’ll enjoy Amelie.

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS 7
Certainly NOT a great film, but if expectations aren’t too high, you’re likely to be mildly amused and entertained. Several steps behind Notting Hill and My Best Friend’s Wedding on star Julia Roberts’ “hit parade,” but about the equal of Runaway Bride. I did expect a lot more, but feel that many of the more critical reviews are too harsh. Exit polls are good, but not exceptional. Opening weekend (7/20/2001) business looks to be about $35 million or so, and a total in the area of $100 million is likely. That too is good, but not exceptional these days.

AMERICAN OUTLAWS Rated: 6
The J. Crew catalog meets the western film!!! I actually looked for a credit for the contemporary clothing company in the film’s closing credits and even though none is there, I still suspect that director Les Mayfield may have gotten his inspiration from some of J. Crew’s catalog photo shoots! Not only do the costumes bring that sort of thing to mind, the actors in the film look a lot like those models…not that that’s a bad thing! Since director Les Mayfield (Encino Man—1992, Flubber—1997, Blue Streak—1999) is a product ot the University of Southern California School of Cinema, I won’t be too hard on him. However, his previous credits leave a lot to be desired and nobody is going to confuse this one a classic of the cinema. It’s time for him to shift gears but I seriously doubt that his next, Blue Streak 2, will enhance his artistic reputation!

As already noted, the cast looks great. Colin Farrell (Tigerland—2000)plays Jesse James as well as the script allows and has major screen presence. He has already shot three more major films including Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002). Scott Caan (Varsity Blues -1999) is the son of actor James Caan, and is attractive and interesting as a rather petulant Cole Younger. Ali Later, a former model and veteran of television’s Dawson’s Creek, portrays Jesse’s love interest, Zee Mimms, and looks great. However, she looks/acts far too contemporary for period pieces. Timothy Dalton (James Bond in the eighties) chews the scenery as Allan Pinkerton, but is fun to watch. Gabriel Macht registers in a smallish part as Frank James, and Oscar winner Kathy Bates is good in her limited footage as Ma James.

Technical credits are competent, and I enjoyed the music by South African born composer Trevor Rabin. Australian born cinematographer, Russell Boyd, sure knows how to photograph young actors to best advantage.

While the film doesn’t even pretend to follow the actual facts concerning history and the lives of the real people portrayed, it is entertaining as a guilty pleasure.

Oh…did I mention that the cast looks good?!

AMERICAN PIE 2 Rated: 7
This tasty second helping sequel is quite similar to, and only slightly less satisfying than part one, American Pie (1999). I’d return for a third piece, but do hope for a more focused script and sharper direction next time. Number 2 is a little too choppy and cluttered. The scene featuring Jim’s inept musical performance on stage at the music camp is poorly set up. On the other hand, the entire sequence where Stifler gets the mistaken notion that a couple of their beach house neighbors are lesbians is clever, focused and very funny. It alone is worth the price of admission. I’d have been happier with a few less characters, and as much as I like Chris Klein, he really doesn’t contribute much here. On the other hand, I’d forgotten just how likeable Jason Biggs can be since I found him annoying in both Loser (2000) and Boys And Girls (2000). As Stifler, Seann William Scott continues to hit just the right tone in a part that could easily go horribly wrong. (Both Biggs & Scott do need to broaden their ranges since there is real danger of type casting.)

Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad is excellent, again, and an unbilled cameo return by Jennifer Coolidge in full “Mrs. Robinson” mode as Stifler’s mom is terrific. Ms. Coolidge can also be seen currently in Legally Blond (2001) and has a bright future.

As sweet as it is raunchy, American Pie 2 is sure to please fans of the original. It’s the sweetness of both Pie films that separate them from other R rated films about college aged characters. Opening weekend business (August 10, 2001) was excellent at about $45 million. This is especially impressive when you consider that most theatres are making serious efforts to enforce its R rating. An R restricts audiences to patrons aged 17 and older unless they are accompanied by an adult.

AMORES PERROS Rated: 7 1/2
From Mexico and my choice for the best foreign language film Oscar of 2000. More comments here later.

ANGEL EYES Rated: 8
Jennifer Lopez (not one of my personal favorites) and Jim Caviezel [one of my favorites from Frequency (2000) and The Thin Red Line (1998)] shine in the measured and thoughtful love story. Not a cop drama and without any science fiction riffs, this multi-layered story was quite satisfying. Direction here by Mexican born Luis Mandorki is good enough to make me forgive him for his previous efforts with the wretched Message In A Bottle (1999). Also, based on the music in the film, this is a soundtrack I plan to add to my collection.

THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY Rated: 8
Basically a “home movie” starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, these gifted actors also co-direct and co-write here proving that their talent is not limited to work in front of the camera. Leigh & Cumming play a troubled Hollywood married couple and the action takes place during one long evening at a party they host in their Hollywood Hills home. The luminous supporting cast includes terrific work from Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Parker Posey, while Jane Adams will likely get my vote for a supporting actress nomination. The entire casts plays variations on themselves, of at least the people we think they are, and seem to be having a wonderful time doing so.

ATLANTIS, THE LOST EMPIRE Rated: 5
Family friendly, but mediocre Disney. Likely to be a success, but the lack of music and only small amounts of humor will limit appeal. Shrek is much better, but I do recommend this for families.

BANDITS Rated: 8
This one really surprised me. Based on the trailer, I was sure that I wasn’t going to like it. Go Figure… As it turns out, Bandits is a rather sly comedy with some pleasant romance and a little action mixed in.

Convicts Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton escape from prison and immediately start robbing banks. They run into unhappily married housewife, Cate Blanchett who soon becomes involved with both men romantically and in their bank heists. Would-be stuntman, Tony Garity, as Harvey, joins in as their getaway driver. The group gains national recognition when a television show dubs them “the sleep-over bandits,” because their m.o. is to invade the home of the targeted bank’s manager the night before their robberies so he can facilitate easy entry into the bank the next morning.

That the four principal actors are so natural & winning here must be credited, at least in part, to veteran Oscar winning director, Barry Levinson. I hadn’t really thought of Mr. Levinson as one of my favorite directors, but I’m a big fan of his following accomplishments: Diner (1982), The Natural (1984), Rain Man (1988), Avalon (1990), Wag The Dog (1997), and Liberty Heights (1999). I have mixed feelings about both Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton generally, but found them both quite likeable this time. The Australian born & Oscar nominated Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth—1998, The Talented Mr. Ripley—1999, The Gift—2000) is a revelation, and she still has three more films scheduled for release before the end of 2001. This is the first time that I’ve been aware of Tony Garity, the son of Jane Fonda and grandson of Henry Fonda. I suspect star potential equal to or exceeding that of his first cousin, Bridget Fonda.

While I don’t consider Bandits a great film, it held my attention throughout it’s rather lengthy running time and I found myself smiling and/or laughing a lot. Both opening week business (October 12, 2001) and exit polls were good.

BIG EDEN Rated: 8 1/2
A big winner at Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals everywhere, this is an excellent little film that has considerable crossover appeal. Shot on location in New York City and small-town Montana, the fact that it was made on a limited budget doesn’t show or hurt the overall effect at all. First time director/writer, Thomas Bezucha is a major talent. Someone should sign him up at once! The cast is flawless. Included and outstanding are: Arye Gross (A Midnight Clear), Eric Schweig (apparently a Canadian/Native American!?), Tim DeKay (He has had many television supporting parts and is currently visible in a small part in Swordfish), Oscar winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), Nan Martin (IMDB lists over 80 feature/television performances for her.) and Venne Cox (She has had only small parts, so far, including one in Erin Brockovich). Now playing at the Sunset Theatre, West Hollywood, CA, it won’t find its way into theatres beyond major metropolitan centers. It is worth seeking out when it appears on video. Only the most homophonic are likely to be offended.

BLOW Rated: 4
Blow sucks…
To damn with faint praise, technically, it is well made. Also, I must admit that the recreation of time and place is accurate and interesting.

However, I consider it a valentine to pot and the drug culture, not that it even bothers to establish a point of view, mind you. While I favor the legalization of marijuana, I haven’t the slightest interest in using it myself. Further, unless it’s used for medical reasons, I suspect avoiding it makes a lot of sense. However, in my opinion, the use of pot, not unlike the use of alcohol, is a decision best made by individual, informed adults rather than government.

Under current law, if you use and/or sell pot and/or cocaine, you risk going to jail. That’s hardly a secret, but real person, George Jung (Johnny Depp), chose to blatantly ignore these laws and became a major dealer of both pot and cocaine. He made huge amounts of money, but eventually, the authorities caught up with him and sent him to prison where he remains to this day. The film seems to find this unjust and asks that we pity him. I don’t, not a bit. He made his choices, and he must now suffer the consequences.

Nowhere in its 124 long minutes is any hint given that drug use can and sometimes does totally ruin lives. Certainly, George, as presented here, never gave that a thought. He is totally self centered and cared only about his creature comforts and his daughter. As “they” say: he did the crime, now he must do the time.

The film seems to think it news that drug dealers are a deceitful bunch and that crime doesn’t pay. Time after time, George gets betrayed and returns for more. How smart can he and that be?

I didn’t like Johnny Depp’s performance. I’m sure he was happy on the set, however, since he got to smoke in nearly every scene. I once read an interview where he stated that he wished he could grow another mouth so he could put tobacco in both of them at the same time! Penelope Cruz looked good, and is competent. Rachel Griffiths was shrill, but interesting, and Ray Liotta was his usual talented self. Further, I did like Paul Reubens’ work as one of George’s drug dealing partners. Although his part as a gay hair salon owner is a cliché, he didn’t take it too far over the top and I’m grateful for that.

Director Ted Demme is the nephew of Oscar winning director Jonathan Demme [(Something Wild (1986); The Silence Of The Lambs (1991); Philadelphia (1993)]. Based on what’s presented here and looking at his resume, Ted inherited little of Jonathan’s talent, although I did enjoy the 1999 television series called Action and his is credited with directing several of those thirteen episodes.

Some writers have favorably compared Blow to Traffic. I consider that absurd. Think of BLOW as a file clerk at a company and Traffic as the owner/CEO.

BLOW DRY Rated: 4-1/2
See comments here.

BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY Rated: 9
Full review here. Not to be missed! A delight!

BULLY Rated: 4 1/2
Please see my full review here.

CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN Rated: 4 1/2
Seriously out of tune, this misfire lacks a consistent rhythm. Additionally, it is hard on the ears, with everyone conversing on screen in English, somehow, with varying accents to represent Greek, German and Italian. (Nobody challenged the skill of accent expert, Meryl Streep in these endeavors, I must note.) Perhaps I shouldn’t complain about that though, since I found another recent International production, Enemy At The Gates (2001), even more annoying when all sorts of European characters communicated with each other using unaccented American English, if there is such a thing. I don’t have an answer to the accent/language question, but I do consider this a problem when it effects my ability to become engaged/involved. I suspect that the trouble starts with casting and here American Nicolas Cage portrays an Italian, Wales born Christian Bale is cast as a Greek; Spaniard Penelope Cruz limns another Greek; British John Hurt plays her Greek father; Brit David Morrissey becomes an effective German officer. Surprisingly then, Greek born Irene Papas is cast as Christian Bale’s Greek mother. Actually, much of this might have worked without the badly miscast Nicolas Cage. Although he is an Oscar winner (Leaving Las Vegas—1995), and I wouldn’t argue with that performance/award, a Golden Raspberry is more likely this time.

I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out the film’s point of view. The story depicts events on a small Greek Island during World War II with sporadic narration by John Hurt’s character. Having this particular character doing the narration is strange since many events covered are not really his story and much of the action doesn’t include him. Maybe this is a carry over from the book upon which the film is based. I haven’t read it and won’t be doing so.

Director John Madden was Oscar nominated for his best film so far, Shakespeare In Love (1999). He also delivered with Mrs. Brown (1997), but I missed his two other theatrical films, Ethan Frome (1993) and Golden Gate (1994). (Legend has it that Golden Gate contributed heavily to the demise of then theatrical film distribution company, Samuel Goldwyn.) To be fair, I believe that I read that Mr. Madden was a last minute replacement for the original director, perhaps Mike Newell, so maybe he escapes some of the blame on that basis.

Director Madden is not among my favorite 250 directors. Similarly, Nicolas Cage is not one of my favorite 250 actors, even though I did enjoy him in Birdy (1984), Wild At Heart (1990), and Honeymoon In Vegas (1992). I hated him in the otherwise excellent Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), the lurid 8mm (1999) and the embalmed Bringing Out The Dead (1999). Penelope Cruz has had back luck in her choice of English films so far. I liked her in The Hi-Lo Country (1998) and All The Pretty Horses (2000), but felt she was bad in the despicable Blow (2000). So far, her English language output has yielded neither boxoffice nor critical success with her best work contained in her native language films from Spain. The real test will come late this year with the release of Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky (2001) in which she co-stars with real life alleged squeeze, Tom Cruise. (Query: If Penelope Cruz marries Tom Cruise will she change her billing to read Penelope Cruz Cruise?!) Two time acting Oscar nominee John Hurt gives a believable performance. Irene Papas (Zorba The Greek—1964) is her usual effective self. Although I was not familiar with his previous work, David Morrissey gives the best performance in the film. My favorite cast member, however is Christian Bale who made his English language debut at age 13 in Steven Spielberg’s wonderful Empire Of The Sun (1987). He has continued to impress ever since & I especially liked him in Little Women (1994) and Shaft (2000). I even enjoyed both Newsies (1992) and Swing Kids (1993), probably because he was in them. I may be the only person that will admit to liking both those maligned failures! He couldn’t rescue American Psycho (2000) for me, however. Blame Canada’s director Mary Harron for that mess and take note that she hasn’t worked since.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin looks good, but should have looked better, considering that it’s reported cost is close to $60 million. Don’t expect a profit based on early grosses, reviews and exit polls. They didn’t even manage to get it particularly well scored, somehow. Although the good music is by Oscar winner, Stephen (Shakespeare In Love) Warbeck, a substitute score by Oscar deprived Ennio Morricone, and an attractive young European actor (think Alain Delon in his prime) replacing Mr. Cage would have been two steps in the right direction.

CAST AWAY 8 1/2

COME TOGETHER 8
Comments still to come.

crazy/beautiful Rated: 4
As far as I’m concerned, this should be called “silly/unbelievable.” To be effective, a mismatched romance must involve a couple that the viewer feels “belongs” together. Not this time, folks. She (Kristen Dunst) is white and wealthy. She is also, defiant, angry, a druggie and a drinker. He (Jay Hernandez) is Hispanic and working class. He is also a practically perfect person. Though the both attend the same fictional Southern California high school, they don’t know each other until the start of our story where they “meet cute.” A more unlikely couple would be hard to find and I never even felt that they were particularly attracted to each other. In my opinion, a head wound would have been a more positive development in his life, but the ending is supposed to be a happy one. Both of the young stars are extremely attractive and talented. Their careers will survive.

THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION 5 1/2
Comments still to come.

THE DEEP END Rated: 8 1/2
This is a terrific small budgeted new film noir. I’m tempted to give it an even higher rating, but the pace is a bit slow for my taste and I’d have preferred a little more clarity and/or explanation at the end. Things are resolved, but I wanted more information. Few films leave me wanting more, so perhaps this is a good thing!

Tilda Swenton, as the mother, Margaret Hall, gives a great performance and deserves a best actress Oscar nomination. Up until now, the London born and stage trained Ms. Swenton has only done relatively obscure and decidedly off-beat films. That is about to change. Both her talent and her appearance remind me of Maggie Smith and Sissy Spacek. Other cast members deserving special praise are Goran Visnjic (from television’s er) as Alek; Jonathan Tucker as Margaret’s seventeen year old son, Beau; and Josh Lucas as the brazen, sleazy, and electric Darby.

The time and place is the present at, on, in and near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The plot is set in motion when mother Margaret finds the body of Darby, an inappropriate sex partner of her teenage son Beau and assumes that Beau has caused his demise. She disposes of the body without discussing her actions with her son hoping to protect him and his reputation. Shortly afterwards, Alek shows up with an explicit sex tape showing Darby and Beau together and demanding $50 thousand immediately in exchange for said tape and his silence. That’s all you’ll get from me and I urge you to go see for yourself.

David Siegel and Scott McGehee co-wrote and co-directed in expert style. This is only the second film for both with the first having been Suture (1993) upon which they performed the same chores. I had not heard of it until now, but I plan to seek it out at my local video store. It’d be a real shame if they don’t get another project off the ground soon, and I have to wonder what they did for these last seven or more years between projects!

All technical credits are exceptional, especially considering that the reported budget is only $3 million. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens deserves Oscar consideration, particularly when you consider that his last credit (discredit?) was for the worst film of the last several years, Battlefield Earth (2000)!

Currently in release in only larger cities, business has been good and a reasonable profit seems assured. I don’t want to be too critical here, since I recognize that it couldn’t have been an easy assignment, but I do not like the marketing. The trailer did not excite or motivate me, and the one sheet doesn’t even include any recognizable photographs of the extremely attractive cast.

The Deep End deserves your attention.

DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE Rated: 4
This is a dumb would-be thriller that has no surprises, no tension and no believability. Clearly, it was Paramount’s intention to add this to their list of successful genre films such as: Kiss The Girls (1997), Double Jeopardy (1999), The General’s Daughter (1999), and Along Came A Spider (2001). It doesn’t measure up to any of those and boxoffice results are reflecting its deficiencies. A departing theatre customer was heard saying to a friend after seeing it that “it is the kind of film they make when they think everybody is going out on strike.” Clearly, the problem is the writing since I have no complaint about the general plot, the direction or the cast/acting. As usual these days, the trailer told me far too much, but it did make me think I wanted to see the film. Wrong. John Travolta is competent in a part that is nothing special. He does seem to be back in decent, though far from Perfect (1985), shape, which isn’t a lot to ask when you consider what gets paid. I’ve seen worse films, but the truth is that Domestic Disturbance isn’t worth your time, or any more of mine.

DON’T SAY A WORD Rated: 7
While certainly not in the class with his earlier significant hits, Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992), this Michael Douglas thriller is far superior to the similar and current John Travolta effort, Domestic Disturbance (2001). Mr. Douglas’ character here is not much of a stretch for him, but nobody does this particular type part quite as well as he does. Rising star, Brittany Murphy (Riding In Cars With Boys—2001), is excellent in a supporting part that isn’t very well written or explained. She delivers the line in the film that was so effectively used the advertising materials : “I’ll never tell.” When I left the theatre, I confess to still having a few unanswered questions, but it held my attention throughout and I came away feeling entertained.

DRACULA 2000 2
A true waste of film that is unlikely to be enjoyed by even the least discriminating. Not since the days of the late American International Pictures (AIP) has anyone tried to get away with anything so prefabricated. While Gerard Butler, the male-model-type actor cast as “Dracula,” is attractive in the soap-opera-star style, no acting talent is apparent as he pouts and poses. The actresses aren’t even particularly attractive and I seriously doubt that anyone is going to include this one on their future resume, even though it is likely to show a profit. I find that far more frightening than anything in the film. Save your time and money.

DRIVEN Rated: 6
[More comments soon]
Mediocre, but not unwatchable. I suspect that significant interest in car racing would add to viewer enjoyment, but as a non-fan of those events, I found the many sequences shot on actual tracks around the world well done but less than riveting. My compliments, however, to casting directors, Robin D. Cook, Heidi Levitt, and Monika Mikkelsen, or whoever did select the cast, since each of the actors is either attractive or effective or both. On the other hand, I haven’t seen this much collagen since Goldie Hawn’s fat-lipped deliberately comedic turn in The First Wives Club (1995). I like both Kip Pardue [Remember The Titans (2000)] and beautiful former model Estella Warren, but a scene showing them in profile trying to kiss reminded me of those “kissing fish” that were (or still are) popular in aquariums everywhere.

EVOLUTION Rated: 5
I’m probably the last one who should be advising about this Ghostbusters/Men In Black derivative, since I’m not a fan of either of those. I suppose that fans of those two would be moderately amused by this. As for me, I found it mildly diverting, for the most part. Since I do like cast members Seann William Scott (American Pie) and Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), I found it watchable. Although he has had considerable boxoffice success, I am not a fan of Czech-Canadian director, Ivan Reitman and found his work on 1994’s Junior painful and offensive. Speaking of offensive, I found the sequence in Evolution where Orlando Jones enters the anal canal of one of the monsters to be nauseating. Top billed David (tv’s The X-Files) Duchovny doesn’t bump into any of the furniture.

15 MINUTES Rated: 5
Uber-Violent. Familiar. Sadistic. Hyper. Awkward. Protracted.
On the other hand, I did like its energy and craft, plus I always enjoy seeing Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen 1995 and Saving Private Ryan 1998). At its heart, yet another mismatched-cop-buddy movie, it tries to pass its self off as “issue” piece. Can it be news to anyone that tabloid television is unsavory and that some people will do almost anything to gain fame for their Andy Warhol promised fifteen minutes? Further, the warped, egocentric television personality has become a cliché.

While being critical of the violence depicted, it still shows plenty of that very violence, of course, and that’s what will draw most of its audience. Writer/Director John Herzfeld’s resume includes 2 Days In The Valley (1996) plus two good 1989 television movies, The Preppie Murder and The Ryan White Story. Based on what I’ve seen of his work, I won’t be surprised if he makes an excellent film in the future.

This is not a major milestone in two-time acting Oscar winner Robert De Niro’s career, but I was relieved that I didn’t have to watch him mug like he has in his recent alleged comedy hits, Analyze This (1999) and Meet The Parents (2000). At over two long hours, the MPAA rating of R is well deserved for “strong violence, language and some sexuality.” Opening weekend business (3/9/2001) was a middling $10 million and exit poles were marginal.

THE FORSAKEN Rated: 7-1/2
A real guilty pleasure! Comments to follow shortly.

FREDDY GOT FINGERED Rated: 1/2
This is sure to be the worst film of the year, and, perhaps, the worst film in the history of the cinema. Star/director/co-writer, Tom Green, should be ashamed of himself as should the production company, Regency, and the distributor, 20th Century Fox. Not only is the film incoherent, inept, repetitive, and laborious, it is vulgar, repulsive, and thoroughly reprehensible. Attempts at humor include the hero masturbating a male elephant, ripping a baby from its mother’s womb, and caning a paralyzed woman’s legs while she squeals in delight. Additional alleged humor is mined from situations involving father/son incest and child abuse. You’ve been warned. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

GET OVER IT Rated: 7 1/2
See comments here.

THE GLASS HOUSE Rated: 4 1/2
Comments still to come.

GLITTER Rated: 4 1/2
Comments still to come.

HANNIBAL Rated: 8…or should that be “ate”?
Ok, let’s get the inevitable comparisons out of the way: Hannibal is not as good as The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), but few sequels equal the original, and I didn’t really expect an exception here. Further, this is a different type film. While Silence Of The Lambs was filled with suspense and quite scary, this is more straightforward, but much creepier! Production values are top of the line, and everything looks and sounds great. About the cast: Anthony Hopkins as everyone’s favorite cannibal, Doctor Lector, is perfect; Julianne Moore, as Clarice Starling, makes sure that Jodie Foster isn’t missed; an unbilled and unrecognizable Gary Oldman as Dr. Lecter’s only surviving victim, Mason Verger is most entertaining; and Ray Liotta as Paul, Clarice’s FBI boss, plays an obnoxious prick who gets his just deserts in a scene that won’t soon be forgotten!

Director Ridley Scott, hot off his previous project, Gladiator (2000), keeps things moving along at just the right pace and tone for the appropriate running time of 130 minutes. Having not read the best selling book by Thomas Harris, I can’t compare the film to the novel, but I do know that the changes to the ending by scripters David Mamet and Steven Zaillian are far more to my liking and understanding of the characters. The “R’ rating is appropriate. In short, I found Hannibal to be a tasty treat and I plan to return to my local theatre for a second helping soon! Exit polls were not great, but opening weekend business (2/9/2001) was spectacular at about $60 million in the first three days.

HAPPY ACCIDENTS Rated: 6 1/2
Comments still to come.

HARDBALL Rated: 5 1/2
Comments still to come.

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE Rated: 7
I have not read the hugely popular books, and frankly, I am disappointed in the film. Maybe I just expected too much; I do wish it well, but just didn’t feel the magic that I hoped for and fully expected. The main problem is that the film never builds momentum or reaches a dramatic climax. It has several exciting sections, but the order in which they occur seems random. I gather that the film is faithful to the book, perhaps to the point of diminishing returns. Regarding the cast, there is not a single American in front of the camera. The older (supporting) British cast does here what the older British actors do better than anyone else in the world does. The three principal child actors, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) seem to fit their parts perfectly and have bright futures. American director, Chris Columbus (Home Alone—1990 and Mrs. Doubtfire—1993) and American writer/adaptor, Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys—2000) do exactly as they were told by British author, J.K. Rowling. To the best of their abilities, they put exactly what she wrote right up there on the screen. I liked the John Williams musical score, and all technical components are state-of-the art-terrific.

Opening weekend North American gross (November 16, 2001) is huge at over $90 million for it’s first 3 days, a new record; exit scores are outstandingly positive.

I’m glad I saw it, but don’t consider it a new classic.

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS Rated: 8
Comments still to come.

HEAD OVER HEELS 4
See Wayne’s full review here.

HIT AND RUNWAY Rated: 8 1/2
This little gem opened in a few LA area theatres on 3/2/2001 and expands to New York on 3/9/2001. Other major markets are scheduled for early April. Watch for it. Rated ‘R’ with a running time of 101 minutes.

What a nice surprise! This is a film that Woody Allen would make if he had preferred men instead of young women! I can’t think of a thing that I didn’t like about it. Lots of smiles and some big laughs are mixed in with some genuine and sweet emotion. It also addresses issues concerning friendship and artistic integrity. This is the first theatrical credit for producer/co-writer/co-editor/director Christopher Livingston, who is the son of actress/Oscar nominee, Nancy Olson, and Capitol Records topper, Alan W. Livingston. Heading the excellent cast are Michael Parducci (Alex) and Peter Jacobson (Elliot). A must see for anyone that has written/is writing/or plans to write a script. This is exactly what wretched messes like Partners (1982) tried to do and totally missed. While gay audiences are most likely to be responsive, many straight audiences are also sure to be entertained. I hope the creative people behind Will And Grace will gain some insight by checking this one out. I plan to return soon!

JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK Rated: 2
Vile. Pretentious. Lame.
I realize that there is an audience that will appreciate this type film. Not me. I didn’t like the Cheech & Chong “high comedies” in the late seventies/early eighties either and this reminded me of those. Exit polls were decent for the under 35 year olds questioned opening night, August 24, 2001. Opening weekend gross was estimated at about $11 million.

JOY RIDE Rated: 7
Thrilling, scary, and sly, but a bit disappointing when compared to director John Dahl’s earlier and excellent KILL ME AGAIN (1989) & THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994) both of which are among my personal favorites, JOY RIDE is entertaining but not outstanding. Brothers Steven Zahn and Paul Walker play a joke on a truck driver by deceiving him into thinking he will be getting lucky with “Candy Cane” as impersonated by Walker in a series of CB radio messages. Things really get out of control after the brothers are joined by Leelee Sobieski on their road trip and the truck driver turns psychotic. All three of these young and attractive actors get to show that they deserve future stardom & I really look forward to the future films from the talented Mr. Dahl. With the right material, he could move to the top of his profession. Exit scores were above average, but opening weekend business, October 5, 2001, was disappointing at less than $8 million.

JURASSIC PARK III Rated: 7
The most expensive ($90 million) “B” movie ever made, it worked for me. The script is very simple and basic and the special effects are state-of-the art. Speaking of art, this ain’t that, but it held my attention and gave me a couple of jolts along with several intentional laughs. Opening week gross (7/18/2001) could reach a phenomenal $100 million, but don’t expect lengthy engagements.

LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER Rated: 4 1/2
Perhaps I’m being generous with my rating, since I was basically bored, but as a total non-fan of video games and all the films based on same so far, I was relieved that I didn’t find this particularly painful. I enjoyed Angelina Jolie, thought she was well cast, and feel that she added a dimension that wasn’t present in the writing. Her costumes were something else, however. When the action took us to Iceland, everyone else was dressed for winter while she was attired in a pastel t-shirt! Further, although the camera seemed to be focused on her tits throughout, it looked to me like she had on an undergarment that was a cross between a football player’s flack jacket and a Mia Hamm sports-bra.

As shot, the supporting cast hardly has a chance to register, but I suspect we’ll hear more from Daniel Craig, who plays Alex, another “tomb raider.” Ms Jolie’s scenes with real-life father Jon Voight, playing her father here, are very strange. I found myself wondering how much time they actually spent on the set together. I hope they do work together in a good future film, however.

Although I thought director Simon West’s The General’s Daughter was entertaining in a sleazy sort of way, I found his earlier effort, Con-Air, to be a headache disguised as a film. His work here is only serviceable.

Opening day gross (Friday, June 15, 2001) was a strong $18 million, but exit scores were mild. Don’t expect this one to be in the top ten hits of Summer 2001, since word-of-mouth is likely to be negative.

THE LAST CASTLE Rated: 6
See my full review here.

LEGALLY BLOND Rated: 8
Probably a guilty pleasure, and my rating is a bit on the generous side…but I thoroughly enjoyed this piece of fluff. Reese Witherspoon (Election-1999, Cruel Intentions-1999) continues to impress and an Oscar nomination for this outing isn’t out of the question. Luke Wilson (Home Fries-1998), Matthew Davis (Tigerland-2000), Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions-1999) are three of my new favorites and they all all effective and attractive here. In fact, since the entire cast shines and the film has just the right tone throughout, credit young Australian, debuting director Robert Luketic with a job well done and a bright future. I could have done without the sexual harassment bit, but a small plot point depends on it, so maybe it was necessary. Somewhat similar to Clueless (1995), and a half step behind that one in overall success, this is cute and sweet enough for me to take a second look. Compliments to the M-G-M marketing department, also. The film has found and audience and is the hit it deserves to be.

L.I.E. (LONG ISLAND EXPRESSWAY) Rated: 8
I can’t think of a subject that I’d be less interested in seeing a film about than pedophilia.

Based on the rather salacious trailer for L.I.E., I had decided to pass even though it had gotten good film festival reviews. Thanks to the urging of a friend who had seen it, I changed my mind and went; I’m glad I did. Let’s just say that the distributor responsible for the trailer was trying to make a buck, and I can understand that, up to a point. The trailer is misleading. While there is definitely an element of pedophilia present, that is not what the film is about. Rather, it tells the story of a 15-year-old Long Island boy, Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), whose mother dies in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway shortly before we meet him, and whose father, Marty (Bruce Altman), gets sent to prison shortly after that tragic accident. Howie then becoming involved in a relationship with a much older man, Big John Harrigan (Brian Cox), who is a pedophile, but not much of a predator. I liked the way first-time director, Michael Cuesta, handled the sexual situations and was relieved at the level-headed way Howie turned down Big John’s rather mild advances. As it turned out, Big John was able to be a big help to Howie at a time when Howie really needed the help of an adult/parental figure.

My only real objection to the film is the melodramatic ending where I was reminded of the days when the old Motion Picture Production Code dictated a film’s moral content.

You won’t see better acting that Brian Cox and Paul Franklin Dano deliver here. Scottish born character actor Brian Cox is a 2001 Emmy winner for Nuremburg (2000) as well as having played Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, from Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name. He deserves consideration for a best supporting Oscar nomination for this performance. He has 3 more films completed for release in 2001 and an additional 3 for 2002. Paul Franklin Dano is 16 years old now. Based on the evidence here, he is as talented as the young Brad Renfro or Haley Joel Osment, and has completed work on The Palace Thief (2002). Other cast members, Bruce Altman as Marty and Billy Kay as Gary are vivid.

I look forward to future projects from the talented director, co-writer, and co-producer, Michael Cuesta.

LIFE AS A HOUSE Rated: 9
Comments still to come.

THE LOW DOWN Rated: 6
Comments here soon.

MADE Rated: 4
Another “home movie” styled film that reminds me of the very worst of John Cassavetes from the 1970s. I am a fan of star/director/writer Jon Favreau and thought his Swingers (1996) was outstanding. Everything that went right with Swingers goes wrong with Made, including the co-star in both, Vince Vaughn. Mr. Vaughn’s performance here lands on my annoyance scale right up there with Bill Murray’s in What About Bob? (1991). I can’t understand why this film was made. It has no point and really isn’t entertaining or illuminating. Perhaps Mr. Favreau just wanted to exercise his obvious talent, and I can’t argue with that. I just wish he had come up with a more interesting subject that this.

THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE Rated: 5
Keep in mind that I am not a fan of the work from the Coen Brothers, and that includes Fargo (1996) and this one. I think they were attempting ironic comedy; I didn’t laugh. Shot in black and white, it does look good. If star Billy Bob Thornton ever develops lung cancer, his incessant smoking here will have contributed in a big way. Alternate title: THE MOVIE THAT WASN’T THERE.

MEMENTO Rated: 9
See my full review here.

MOULIN ROUGE Rated: 5
While I am not a fan of this latest project from Australian Baz Luhrman [Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Romeo + Juliet (1996)], many people whose opinions I respect have found it very much to their liking. I found it restless, artificial, and frenetic. Think Gilbert & Sullivan meet MTV. With the right director, Nicole Kidman could be a real movie star, but here she is just petulant. I did think Ewan McGregor was effective and likeable. Both Kidman and McGregor did their own singing and were surprisingly good at it. If you’ve seen the trailer and it appeals to you, chances are you’ll like the film. Both the trailer and the film are edited in that choppy style that I hated in the wretched Armageddon (1998). As for me, it’s back to the video store to rent Mr. Luhrman’s first film, Strictly Ballroom, which happens to be one of my favorites. I had really high expectations for Moulin Rouge, but now must still look forward to someone making a really good new musical.

O (Othello) 4
Comments still to come.

OCEAN’S 11 Rated: 8
This 2001 remake of the 1960 “Rat Pack” Las Vegas caper movie is a very entertaining trifle. Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic—2000) keeps things moving along at the right pace but there is very little suspense or tension. All members of the delightful super star cast are absolutely charming. I really enjoyed seeing George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts wearing great clothing and looking like the movie stars that they are. Among others, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould & Carl Reiner register strongly. In smaller parts, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck, stand out as goofy brothers. Someone should come up with another small project to feature their further adventures. Opening weekend (12/7/2001) grosses were big at over $38 million and exit scores were very favorable.

ORIGINAL SIN Rated: 3
The real sin is that this monstrosity got made, and I seriously doubt that many will find it “original”. Casting him made sense going in, but Antonio Bandaras is my odds on favorite as the actor giving the worst performance in any film released in 2001. It’s difficult to believe that an actor showing such outstanding skill in early Almodovar films has come to this! Oscar winner, Angelina Jolie fares somewhat better, but as the VARIETY review says, she is “pouting and vamping” whenever she isn’t “vamping and pouting”! Supporting actor, Thomas Jane is peculiar in a part that is peculiar and poorly defined. I don’t normally comment on editing since I’m really not qualified. However, I’ll make an exception here and state that I hated some of the tricky and distracting stunts used here. For no apparent reason, all sorts of jump-cutting and layering was injected into the middle of several scenes. Actually, now that I think of it, the reason was probably just a vain attempt to relieve boredom and clear static. It didn’t work. There is considerable nudity (a breast here, a butt there) from both Bandaras and Jolie, but both have shown more and better in other projects. Erotic, it isn’t. I favor giving writer/director Michael Cristofer one more chance, but after Body Shots (1999) and this one, money for future projects well may be hard to raise. Original Sin’s opening weekend (8/3/2001) exit scores were below average, and so was business at about $6.5 for the first three days.

THE OTHERS Rated: 6 1/2
I was disappointed in this unusual ghost story, probably because of over hyped expectations. I don’t want to give too much away, so, about the plot, I’ll just say that, generally, I don’t like for films to deceive me with The Sixth Sense (1999) being a major exception; this certainly isn’t in that rare class. I’m a big fan of Nicole Kidman and fully expect her to get an Oscar nomination although NOT for this or for Moulin Rouge (2001)! The supporting cast is effective.

This is a small, well crafted film and I admire the work of young Chilean born/Spanish based director/writer/composer, Alejandro Amenabar. I look forward to his future work with enthusiasm. My problem here was that I never got involved enough to sufficiently suspend disbelief. I am happy to note, however, that the film does not have or need any special effects trickery.

Opening day exit polls for all the various age categories of both males and females were in the B range when viewers are asked to grade the film between an A and an F. In the first four days of its US release (August 10—13, 2001), the gross was about $16 million. Since the estimated budget was a modest $17 million, a nice profit can be expected!

OUT COLD Rated: 2
FAIR WARNING:
This one is truly, truly terrible. First time directing brothers, Brendan Malloy and Emmett Malloy are referred to in the on-screen credits and the ads as “The Malloys”. Perhaps they didn’t want people to know their first names and I can understand that. Based on ability exhibited here, I’d be shocked if they get future directing assignments, but them Peter Hyams continues to get work proving that anything’s possible. Clearly, these brothers have seen the collected works of the Farrelly Brothers several times too often. Someone called Jon Zack is accused of doing the writing. Checking the internet, I can’t find one other bit of information about anyone with that name who is connected with the entertainment industry.

Jason London is the male lead here and he is the reason I went to see the film, in spite of my better judgment. I like both of the London (identical) twins, Jason & Jeremy. So far, Jason’s best film moments have been in The Man In The Moon (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993). Jeremy’s best work so far has probably been on television in the Party of Five (1995—2000) series and in the I’ll Fly Away (1991—1993) series. In the reunion film based on the original series of I’ll Fly Away, Jason played the same character, Nathaniel Bedford, created by his brother during the series’ earlier segments. That reunion television film is called I’ll Fly Away: Then and Now (1993). I’ve never heard of an identical twin being cast in this manner before. Jeremy was unavailable so Jason got the part. (I suspect that Jeremy is too smart to replace Jason if there’s an Out Cold 2!) I wish some talented director would develop a script to co-star these two attractive & talented 29 year olds who have not yet appeared together. One intriguing possibility would be for writer/director Martin Donovan (Apartment Zero—1988) to come up with some sort of twisted piece involving switched identities and kinky sex, but I also think they could shine in a sophisticated romantic comedy where circumstances would result in them both getting involved with someone like Gwyneth Paltrow. My director of choice for a project like this is writer/director Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex—1998).

While not as horrible as Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered (2001), Out Cold is almost as repugnant. It features fart jokes, snot jokes, turd jokes, plus jokes about male genitals getting caught in hot tub jets. It’s attitude about sex, both straight & gay, is juvenile and offensive. It glorifies over-indulgence of alcohol; one character thinks it appropriate to punch the legs of another character who is paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheel chair. Another sequence involves a sexual encounter between a man and a polar bear. In a crowd scene, a kid throws a glass bottle and hits a man on the top of his head. (Teach the children.) Get the picture?

Near the end of the film, our heroes decide to emulate the behavior of the man that founded the recreation area high in the mountains where the film is set. It seems that the founder liked to “moon” onlookers while skiing down the local mountain. In order to outrage the new owner & investors, it is decided that they will do some “mooning” of their own. While the script tells us that the “mooning” is occurring, we see that the lads never drop their drawers. I’ve never seen a film where the dialogue is telling the audience that something is being done while the audience can see that it just simply isn’t happening. I guess the producers decided that everyone still in theatres would be too numb by then to notice.

I consider it outrageous that this film was given a rating of PG-13 by the MPAA. It makes me wonder just what it would take to get an R. Of course, by way of explanation, the distributor is Disney, and the appropriate R rating would have kept the target audience from buying tickets. Few people attended anyway, and the 5-day Thanksgiving weekend brought in a poor $6.5 million or less. For those misguided souls over 21 that attended on opening night, November 21,2001, exit scores were bad.

PEARL HARBOR Rate it: 9 1/2 out of a possible 10.
Totally entertaining, absolutely beautiful to look at, perfect sound, and it has spectacular special effects. Many “serious” critics hate it, probably because it is sentimental, patriotic, and easy to follow! I just bought the CD, and plan to see the film again tomorrow! I predict a domestic gross of over $300 million. There was a mob scene at the El Captain Theatre in Hollywood this afternoon that included protesters, photographers, and ticket buyers stretching around the block.

PLANET OF THE APES (Number 6!) Rated: 5
Frankly, I was just plain bored. It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself regularly checking my watch while attending a first run blockbuster on it’s opening day, but that’s exactly what happened I did Friday, July 25, 2001. The North American first week gross was a sensational $96 million, exit scores were mixed and critical reaction was quite varied. At least two of my colleagues at Film Monthly were favorably impressed, so maybe it’s just me!

While director Tim Burton likes to refer to this, his version as an “re-imagining”, I remember the original, which was released back in 1968 with the exact same title, as being quite similar. One main difference is the leading man. I remember Charlton Heston in the part and Mark Wahlberg is no Charlton Heston! Then again, I don’t really blame Mr. Wahlberg since he gives, essentially, the same dull & bland performance that Johnny Depp gave in Mr. Burton’s earlier film, Sleepy Hollow (1999). I kept waiting for some of Burton’s magic, so abundant is his Beetlejuice (1988) and Edward Scissorhands (1990), to surface but I saw none of it here.

The makeup is excellent, but I am NOT in favor of giving Rick Baker a seventh Oscar. (Six is enough, at least for now!)

I enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as a “human rights activist”. On the other hand, I found the “surprise” ending simply annoying even though I was greatful when it finally arrived.

THE PRINCESS DIARIES 7 1/2
Comments still to come.

RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS Rated 9
Yes, it’s a “chick flick”, a phrase that I’ve learned to hate, but it’s also an edgy and exceptional dramatic comedy that is actually about something other than car crashes and explosions. It’s unusual, but it did bring to mind Terms Of Endearment (1983). Director Penny Marshall [Big (1988) and A League Of Their Own (1992)] is back on track this time. Drew Barrymore deserves a best actress Oscar nomination and Steve Zahn is a definite contender for best supporting actor recognition. While admittedly not to everyone’s taste, it sure worked for me.

ROCK STAR Rated: 8
Comments still to come.

SAVE THE LAST DANCE 4 1/2
Clearly, this was not meant for me. Although a big hit and a huge moneymaker, it really isn’t very good, even on its on terms. The group that is buying it is mostly young, black & female. I am none of the above, yet I did thoroughly enjoy the somewhat similar Flashdance (1983) and Fame (1980). Also, I loved the more recent Center Stage, Coyote Ugly, Billy Elliot, and Sugar & Spice, all of which have similarities. After introducing the inter-racial romance, that still controversial element is mostly ignored. White girl and ballet enthusiast, Julia Stiles, loses her up scale mother in a traffic accident and has no choice but to move into a black area to live with her father. There she meets black Sean Patrick Thomas, one of her new classmates and a romance soon develops. He helps her learn new “moves” and encourages her to renew her pursuit of a scholarship to Julliard. Unfortunately, Fame this ain’t…and few will find the outcome surprising. One big problem for me is the casting of Ms. Stiles. She reminds me of a low rent version of Leelee Sobieski, and it’s very clear that Ms. Stiles really isn’t much of a dancer. With all the talented dancer/actresses out there, it’s a shame they chose an individual that requires the use of a dance double.

This really isn’t a terrible film, but unless you do happen to be young and/or black and/or female, I don’t think you’ll have a very good time at this one.

SCARY MOVIE 2 Rated: 3
I thoroughly enjoyed the first Scary Movie and looked forward to this one. What a disappointment! Ever larger quantities of bodily fluids showing up in the wrong places just isn’t funny and neither is all the obvious desperation on display here.

THE SCORE Rated: 5
This one is not a winner on my scoreboard. While it isn’t a bad film, I just couldn’t get involved and was bored. I need to care about the people in the story and/or to care about what it is they are attempting. Frankly, I didn’t care if this group was successful in their robbery attempt or if they got caught. The stellar cast that includes Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Angela Bassett does well enough, but there’s just got to be better material out there for such a talented group. Director Frank Oz, who also delivered the atrocious 1991 disaster, What About Bob?, handles this material in a competent manner, but he wouldn’t make my list of the top 500 directors that I’d most want to see direct another movie.

Further, be warned that the trailer contains a major spoiler. If you decide that you do want to see this film, avoid the trailer!

Lastly, while I am always glad to see Marlon Brando make a film, this particular part could have been played just as effectively by any number of other good actors. His size is a major distraction and I don’t see how he could possibly be in decent health at his current weight.

SHALLOW HAL Rated: 5
The Farrelly Brothers have made 2 really funny movies, so far. Shallow Hal is not one of them…although I do rank it ahead of their strident Me, Myself & Irene (2000) and the stupid Dumb and Dumber (1994). I consider There’s Something About Mary (1998) one of the all-time best comedies, and King Pin (1996) is only a little less successful. Both made me laugh out loud repeatedly.

As written here, Jack Black as Hal, changes from insensitive jerk into a thoughtful, nice guy. I didn’t believe that for a second. The degree to which you are likely to enjoy Shallow Hal will be determined by your tolerance for jokes about fat people and your reaction to actor Jack Black. I’m not a fan of either. On the other hand, Gwyneth Paltrow is marvelous, and I’ve never liked her as much as I do in this part.

Opening night exit scores (11/9/2001) were below average, but opening weekend business was excellent at about $23 million.

SHREK Rated: 7
Highly recommended for families and for children. I did love the slaps at things Disney, but, personally, I just don’t respond well to animation.

SOMEONE LIKE YOU Rated: 8
A real “guilty pleasure!”

SOUL SURVIVORS Rated: 2 1/2
Simply put, feature films don’t get more incompetent and less significant than this stepchild. Based on the ad campaign, it seems to be a half-hearted attempt to emulate I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), but is watered down for a PG-13 MPAA rating. For example, there is a shower scene with two of the girls that is as strange as anything I’ve ever seen. After getting splashed with wet paint, for no apparent reason, they decide to shower together. Well & good, except they keep all their clothing on. Go figure. Erotic it isn’t.

Much of the blessedly brief running time consists of a series of unrelated scenes where the heroine runs up and down dark hallways screaming. I’m still not sure just why since it’s never clear if anyone or anything is actually chasing her.

The first few minutes that setup the situation isn’t bad. Two couples are going somewhere to do something and they have a horrible wreck. I think the question to the audience is: who lived & who died. Although I stayed until the bitter end, I didn’t get the answer to that question. The real question is: who cares? Based on boxoffice results, very few. It took real guts to ask audiences to pay to see this one. Fortunately, it is unlikely to get a wide release.

As to why I went to see it, Luke Wilson has a bit as a priest. Don’t look for this one to show up on his future resumes.

SPY GAME Rated: 7 1/2
It’s not often enough that top male stars work together, particularly when there is a 30-year difference in their ages. It’s probably unprecedented that one looks like a younger version of the other. Many pointed out just such an occurrence when Robert Redford cast and directed the Brad Pitt in his award winning A River Runs Through It (1992). Now, thankfully, these two are co-starring in Spy Game. Unfortunately, the film chooses to ignore their strikingly similar appearance.

Further, the film is only good, rather than special. While the material is familiar, I got the feeling that the producers were straining to hide the fact that it is basically just the story of a mentor rescuing his protégé when the protégé is in peril. By far, the best parts of the film are the flashback sections in which Redford & Pitt are on screen together. I’d have preferred more of that and less of the rather confusing framing.

Few actors have been as popular as Robert Redford was at the peak of his career in the seventies. As of the end of 2001, he has three personal Oscar nominations, including the one that yielded his Oscar win for best director his first time behind the camera on Ordinary People (1980). His one acting nomination is for one of his biggest hits, The Sting (1973). Don’t be surprised to see future awards come his way. Of his nearly 50 films, my personal favorite is The Way We Were (1973), followed by Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), then All The President’s Men (1976). His resume includes far too many other favorites to list here, but at the other end of the scale, I strongly suggest avoiding both Legal Eagles (1986) and Havana (1990). Spy Game is his second major 2001 film release and was actually shot before The Last Castle (2001). It’s wonderful to see an actor in his mid-sixties remain is such good physical shape.

Brad Pitt was an instant sensation with his small part in Thelma & Louise (1991) and is one of the most popular and most sought after younger actors today, even though he is inclined to make some rather strange career choices. Further, he has a tendency to want to look unattractive on and off camera in spite of being blessed with “movie star” attractiveness. My favorites from his resume include: Interview With The Vampire (1994), Se7en (1995), and The Mexican (2001). Although I found a lot of fault with the film, Legends Of The Fall (1994), it does include some of his flashiest and most popular work. I felt like Seven Years In Tibet (1997) was 7 boring hours long, and consider The Devil’s Own (1997), in which he co-starred with Harrison Ford, to be a major disappointment.

British born director Tony Scott was an excellent choice for this material. Along with a large portion of the movie-going public, I’m a big fan of his Top Gun (1986). Personally, I enjoyed the much-maligned Days Of Thunder (1990), but thought The Fan (with Robert De Niro) was just plain bad. I blame the failure of Revenge (1990) on its star, Kevin Costner, and suggest that you pass it by. I expect many more good films from this Mr. Scott and consider him almost as gifted as his Oscar winning brother, Ridley Scott (Alien—1979 and Gladiator—2000). [Editor’s note: And let’s not forget Blade Runner—1982.]

While I admit to slight disappointment, Spy Game is well worth seeing. Opening night exit scores (Wednesday, November 21, 2001) were good at an average of B+ and my guess is that the first 5 day total gross over the long Thanksgiving weekend will be excellent at as much as $30 million.

SPY KIDS Rated: 6
Good for kids, but nothing special for adults. More comments here soon.

SUGAR & SPICE 8 1/2
A real guilty pleasure! This comes close to being the “cheerleader” movie that I’ve been hoping for. It is a sharp satire and is quite smart. While not up to the standard set by Election, it is far better than the recent Bring It On and But I’m A Cheerleader. Set in the present at a high school, the head cheerleader, Diane (Marley Shelton) and football hero, Jack (James Marsden) meet cute by bumping into each other, literally. Immediately, they fall in love, have sex and soon find that Diane is pregnant. Their parents throw them out, so Diane and her cheerleader squad decide to rob a bank to get money to support the happy couple! Being pregnant does not interfere with Diane’s cheerleading and one of my favorite scenes is a shot of the cheerleaders walking away from the camera that indicates Diane’s weight gain by showing that her skirt is slightly unzipped in the back to accommodate her expanding figure. Like this shot, much in the film is quite subtle and will be missed by many viewers. The young cast is excellent. I especially liked Ms. Shelton as Diane, Mena Suvari (American Beauty) and Marla Sokoloff (television’s The Practice). James Marsden as Jack continues to improve/impress and the fact that he looks like Tom Cruise did back in Risky Business is sure to insure his continued casting. Also, I loved Sean Young (No Way Out) in a comeback cameo as a prison inmate that gives her daughter pointers on how to rob the bank. None of the cast gives the slightest indication that they know their character’s behavior is unusual and that it a large component of what makes it funny! Based on the marketing, I don’t think New Line had a clue as to what they have here. The poster didn’t get me interested in the film, few advance screenings were scheduled, and the trailer didn’t run at any film I saw before the movie opened. I was surprised to find that the film has a “PG-13” MPAA rating rather than an “R”. Opening weekend business has been decent at $6 million, but exit scores are not good. Nevertheless, Roger Ebert and the LA Times’ Kevin Thomas, and Variety were all enthusiastic, and I totally agree with them.

SUMMER CATCH Rated: 6
Comments still to come.

SWORDFISH 7 1/2
A movie for the randy teen aged boy in everyone. I thought that I’d had quite enough of this type stuff, but this one held my attention throughout, even though I couldn’t quite follow the plot or the politics! This represents a step in the right direction for John Travolta, a good platform for emerging star, Hugh Jackman, and a likeable turn for Halle Berry who really didn’t need to show us her tits here, not that there’s anything wrong with that or them!

I’m grateful that the producers did decide to go for and earn a MPAA “R” rating. Although I understand the economics of seeking and securing a “PG-13”, occasionally, I like it when they pour on the violence, the language and the sex. Not EVERYTHING has to be for families, does it?!

TAPE Rated: 7
Often, I can predict just how I’m likely to respond to a film based on what I know about it in advance. Generally, I don’t like films that have “too much” dialogue, dislike “filmed plays”, and don’t care for things that are, or seem to be, improvised, rather than scripted. The warning signs for Tape were apparent, but I got fooled. I actually like it even better than my rating of 7 might indicate. Basically, it remains just a filmed one act play, but it’s a good one. Set in a seedy Michigan motel room and told in real time, it covers about 90 minutes in the lives of the 3 thirty-something members of the cast as they discuss painful memories of their high school senior year. It was shot on video tape and transferred to 35 mm film for theatrical release. That considered, it looks pretty good and the look is appropriate for the material. The main reason that I decided to see it is the cast. I’ve liked Ethan Hawke since his debut in Explorers (1985). I first became aware of Robert Sean Leonard when he co-starred with Mr. Hawke in the marvelous Dead Poet’s Society (1989).

Uma Thurman (Mrs. Ethan Hawke in real life) is best known for her Oscar nominated acting in Pulp Fiction (1994). Each of the three is exceptional here. This is Mr. Hawke’s second strong performance in the past couple of months and is quite different from his good work in Training Day (2001). This is the most down-to-earth (accessible) that I’ve ever seen Ms. Thurman, and I found myself actually liking her for the first time. Robert Sean Leonard continues to impress and grow.

Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused—1993, Slacker—1991) does excellent work here and is probably ready for a bigger budget, main-stream film now. Personally, I thought the hand-help camera work, by Maryse Alberti, became too much of a distraction as she panned back and forth between the principals, but that type camera work does have its supporters.

Tape will not get wide distribution, and that’s probably appropriate. I suggest that you seek it out on video and suspect that it’ll find its way to video stores quite soon.

TEXAS RANGERS Rated: 7
This may be the only favorable review that this Miramax/Dimension Films’ stepchild gets. Consider it one of my guilty pleasures, since I do know that there’s a lot wrong with it. Nevertheless, I was entertained. Unless you like the cast, appreciate outstanding cinematography, and/or are particularly fond of westerns, you should probably stay away. Clearly, postproduction was brutal, and wholesale editing is apparent. I’m not sure it would have really worked if it had been allowed to live up to its obvious initial vision, but to do what they did to it made sure that it would fail. Opening weekend grosses (November 30, 2001) were poor.

Although the two male leads are very popular on television currently, their combined boxoffice allure is far from strong enough to overcome this films’ weakness, so very short stays at local theatres is a given. Having very small newspaper ads & buying no television spots, didn’t/won’t help, but is understandable since my guess is that research screenings were unsuccessful. I read that the budget was almost $40 million and it’s easy to see where the money went, since the film does look expensive & well produced. Heavy losses are guaranteed.

Don’t blame the cast. Dylan McDermott stars in the current network television hit, The Practice. He has had some success with small parts in good films like In The Line Of Fire—1993, but he was weak as one of the leads in the rancid Three To Tango (1999). James Van Der Beek is successful in the popular, current network television series, Dawson’s Creek and he starred in the 1999 hit film, Varsity Blues. He is now filming The Rules Of Attraction (2002) and I’m expecting good things from him and it. Third most prominent member of the cast is the likeable mid-twenties actor, Ashton Kutcher. Although he has done some television, he is probably best know for his work in the successful teen/pot comedy called Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000). Knowing my limits, I passed on that one. Based on his work here, my guess is that he will have a successful career; I look forward to his next, The Guest (2002), now being directed by David Zucker of Airplane! (1980) and Naked Gun (1988) fame. Also notable in a well-chosen and consistently solid cast is one of my personal favorites, Matt Keeslar. So far, his best work was probably in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days Of Disco (1998), while most of his work has been in small & very independent films or for television. I still think he has mainstream breakout potential.

Based on the cut of the film that is in release, it is impossible to evaluate to work of credited director, Steve Miner. I do know that he did good work in the past on several television series including Chicago Hope, The Practice, Dawson’s Creek, and Wasteland. I think/hope that his career survives this, and would love to hear his private thoughts about his experiences with Texas Rangers!

The cinematography by Daryn Okada is as good as it gets. As much as I’d like to see him get award consideration, he has about as good a chance as I have for my vacation videos. Music, production design, and sets are all excellent.

There’s something about films featuring men on horseback shown against beautiful sunsets that gets me every time. Texas Rangers is no exception. I just wish it could have been fully realized.

3000 MILES TO GRACELAND Rated: 2
DisGRACEful!
Blood-soaked. Sledgehammer-loud. Repugnant. Recycled. Contrived. Convoluted. Pointless. Worthless. Endless. While there may be worse films released in 2001, I seriously doubt that I’ll see one that I’ll hate as much as I hate this!

This is film number two for co-writer and director Demian Lichtenstein, who comes from the world of music videos. I’d never heard of his first, Lowball (1997), but Variety’s Todd McCarthy calls it an “overwhelmingly unseen indie feature.” Financing for a third film may be hard to come by. I can’t think of a single thing to praise here. Kirk Russell isn’t awful; Courtney Cox is marginally adequate, but little of the charm readily apparent on television’s Friends seeps into her performance here. I won’t complain much about Kevin Costner, since this part, as a truly twisted individual, is a welcome change of pace for him. Unfortunately, he really doesn’t go quite far enough, however. The balance of the cast has been better elsewhere.

Rated “R” and running 130 long minutes, opening weekend exit scores are well below average. February 23, 2001 opening weekend business is estimated at a weak $7 million. Don’t look for it to build on word-of-mouth. Consider yourselves warned!

TOMCATS Rated: 1-1/2
Actually, my rating is probably too generous, for this is truly terrible. It is the first film from former Disney head, Joe Roth’s new enterprise, Revolution Pictures, and it is revolting. It is also vulgar, juvenile, desperate and disgusting. I didn’t laugh even once. Exit polls were well below average and, by the time you read this, it will probably have departed theatres. Avoid the video.

Although inexpensively produced, it will likely to lose money. Writer/director Gregory Poirier wrote the wretched Gossip (2000) last year and is also to blame for the script of See Spot Run (2001). I used to like Jerry O’Connell [Stand By Me (1986), Body Shots (1999)]. Now I’m not so sure; his career will soon be over if he continues to appear in this type crap. Shannon Elizabeth [(American Pie (1999), Scary Movie (2000)] is lovely and may even be able to act. She really needs a good part in a decent movie, however. So does Jake Busey [Starship Troopers (1997), Home Fries (1998)] who is a lot like his talented and sometimes troubled dad, Gary Busey. In the right parts, I think Jake would be quite effective; this is anything but a right part.

To give you some feel for the type “humor” on display here, a long & extraneous sequence involves what happens to the cancerous, removed testicle of Kyle (Jake Busey). Said ball gets batted and bounced all over a hospital before getting eaten by an unsuspecting individual who mistakes it for pastry. Another choice bit shows a guy squeezing milk from the breast of a lactating recent mother. My advice is to PASS.

TOWN AND COUNTRY Rated: 4
[Full review here soon]
Laughs delivered per budget dollar spent has to be the lowest ratio in show business history. This ranks right down there with Warren Beatty’s other multi-million dollar comedy busts, The Fortune (1975) and Ishtar (1987). On the other hand, comedies don’t ever get much better than Shampoo (1975) and Heaven Can Wait (1978).

TRAFFIC 8 1/2

TRAINING DAY Rated: 6 1/2
Well done, but a little too grim/gritty/depressing for my taste at least during these troubled times. Denzel Washington is likely to receive a deserved best actor Oscar nomination for his “take no prisoners” performance here as a Los Angeles rogue cop. The film covers the first 24 hours of a rookie cop, Ethan Hawke, being taught his new job by the experienced and corrupt Washington. Hawke is quite effective in what is probably his best and most demanding part so far. Opening weekend, October 5. 2001, grosses are strong at about $24 million and exit polls give it an above average grade.

VALENTINE 3
See Wayne’s full review here.

VANILLA SKY Rated: 6.5

WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY Rated: 8
From France, in French with English sub-titles, this is a thriller in the Hitchcock tradition. I hope some talented American writer/director decides to remake it. It reminded me of Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train (1951) and of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). I’m sorry that Miramax didn’t use the title “Harry Is Here To Help” since that is a little more appropriate to the story and a more literal translation of the title in French.

…more to come.

...more to come!



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