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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 2002.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND Rated: 9
ABANDON Rated: 6 1/2
Abandon is unusually well cast and the actors are all first rate. Katie Holmes (television’s Dawson’s Creek and Wonder Boys—2000) is one of my favorite young actresses. She is as talented as she is attractive and still looks younger than 21 or 22, which she was when Abandon was shot. To be seriously considered for leading lady parts, however, in my opinion, she will need to mature a bit and gain some weight! Benjamin Bratt, best known as Julia Roberts’ former companion and from television’s Law and Order, is both likeable and attractive here as a detective. Being in this film is a good career move for him even though boxoffice is disappointing. Just as she did earlier this year in The Good Girl (2002), Zooey Deschanel steals every scene she is in. This time she plays Ms. Holmes’ classmate and friend. Clearly, she’s ready for more and bigger parts. As a suitor of Ms. Holmes, Gabriel Mann (High Art—1998 and Summer Catch—2001) continues to impress and could have his break through in the currently filming untitled prequel to The Exorcist (2003). Third billed Charlie Hunnam (British television’s version of Queer As Folk) as Ms. Holmes’ mysterious and missing lover is a slight disappointment, at least to me. Since he has already completed both the title role in Nicholas Nickleby (2002) and a supporting part in the big budgeted/highly anticipated Cold Mountain (2003), we’ll soon be able to see and evaluate him further. As always, I enjoyed seeing Tony Goldwyn (Ghost—1990) in his two scenes as a therapist. I’d have preferred the shooting title, Abandoned, which is much more to the point.
ABOUT A BOY Rated: 6 1/2
Otherwise, I advise caution.
Speaking of the trailer, this is a prime example of one spoiling all the good setups/situations/dialogue in a whole film. For the first hour here, I kept getting the feeling that I’d already see it since I knew exactly what was going to occur right before it did.
About a Boy is actually about two boys. One, Hugh, as Will Freeman, is a self-centered, thirty-something bachelor who never grew up. The other, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) is a lonely/sensitive/fatherless twelve year old misfit. To no viewer’s possible surprise, the good traits/advantages/knowledge of each rubs-off on the other and everyone lives happily ever after. Since Hugh/Will is shown thoroughly enjoying several cigarettes while sitting next to Nicholas/Marcus on a couch, I couldn’t help pondering whether the the “joy” of tobacco use was on the transference list as well.
Brothers Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz co-wrote and co-directed. As with their funny American Pie (1999), their talent is apparent. I fully expect them to deliver exceptional films in the not-too-distant future. (Note: Their mother, Susan Kohner, a retired actress, was a big favorite of mine back when she received an acting Oscar nomination for Imitation of Life in 1959.)
Finally, as much as I like Australian-born actress, Toni Collette, I’m past ready to see her take a part where she is well groomed and not depressed. You may remember her from The Sixth Sense (1999) in which she played the mother of a young boy as she does here, but I urge you to get a video tape of one her early films, Muriel’s Wedding (1994). It’s one of my all-time favorites.
ASH WEDNESDAY Rated: 6
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER Rated: 5
AUTO-FOCUS Rated: 4 1/2
THE BANGER SISTERS Rated: 6
The plot, briefly: Lavinia (Sarandon) and Suzette (Hawn), former rock groupies and best friends, reconnect after 20 years. Suzette is still as wild/ditsy as ever, while the Lavania has become an uptight, conservative wife & mother who wants to keep her past a secret. Big surprise not, by the time the films ends, each woman has become a better/happier person by becoming more like the other. Simply put, first time director Bob Dolman, who also wrote the script, only does adequate work here.
BELOW Rated: 4
Co-writer/Director David N. Twohy did a decent job with those same two functions for Pitch Black (2000). He was a lot less successful in both areas with The Arrival (1996) which was on a par with Below. Limiting himself to writing only doesn’t seem to uncover latent gifts since he includes the following among his credits as writer only: Waterworld (1995), G.I. Jane (1997), Terminal Velocity (1994). While I didn’t hate either Waterworld or G.I. Jane, many did. Further, to be fair, he does share official credit with two other writers for an exceptional hit, The Fugitive (1993). Below is a “B” movie and is below average even in that category.
Everything I know about submarines, I learned watching submarine movies such as: Crash Dive (1943), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964), Gray Lady Down (1978), Das Boot (1981), The Abyss (1989), Crimson Tide (1995) & U-571 (2000). Do your self a favor and get the video or DVD of a few of these if the subject interests you. Below doesn’t even bother to explain anything about how these vessels work.
IMDB categorizes Below as follows: Genre: Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi. I suppose it would have to be considered “drama”; there is some shock so it qualifies as “horror”, but if there’s any “science fiction”, I missed it. Further, I still have no idea who or what had the very troubling habit of turning on the record player when total quiet was mandatory for survival. Even if I did stretch and come up with the who, an even bigger question is why. No fools they, Miramax dropped this into only a few theatres on October 11, 2002 and spent very little on advertising. Even that money is down the drain. Don’t expect it a theatre near you soon.
BIRTHDAY GIRL Rated: 7 1/2
THE BOURNE IDENTITY Rated: 9
THE CAT’S MEOW Rated 6 1/2
CHANGING LANES Rated 8
Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill—1999) keeps things moving along at the appropriate pace, but I wish he and/or cinematographer, Salvatore Totino, had moved the camera back a bit from the principals’ faces at several points. The writing by Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin is original & clever; it actually has something interesting to say about the way many people live their lives these days. I especially appreciate the fact that this film is distinctive.
Occasional supporting actor, and Academy Award winning director, Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were—1973, Tootsie—1982) contributes another of his amazingly swarthy/corrupt characterizations, this time as an attorney. Australian Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding—1994) is effective in support as Affleck’s assistant/lover, but her hairdresser should seek an immediate career change. Additionally, Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards—2000) makes her moments as Affleck’s wife/Pollack’s daughter really count. This is the second performance I’ve seen from Ms. Peet in the past 3 days (High Crimes—2002) and she is fast becoming one of my personal favorites.
Opening weekend grosses (4/12/2002) look good at $18 million or so, and exit scores averaged out in the good “B” range. The film does require that viewers pay attention and give some thought to what they are seeing and hearing. I consider my time seeing it to have been time well spent.
CITY BY THE SEA Rated: 8
Director Michael Caton-Jones (This Boy’s Life—1993) does a solid, seamless job. I am less enthusiastic about the script, which I felt was a bit too wordy. Given the complexity of the situations presented and based on actual events, however, this may have been unavoidable. I found the story very interesting and recommend City By The Sea for serious adult film audiences.
COLLATERAL DAMAGE Rated: 4
This is director Andrew Davis’ eleventh feature film. Only one of those, The Fugitive (1993), was outstanding and must have been just a fluke. Personally, although it was not well received, I enjoyed his A Perfect Murder (1998), but think the Keanu Reeves vehicle Chain Reaction (1996) was awful. Collateral Damage is not anywhere near as bad as Chain Reaction, and, to be fair, the direction is not the problem in Collateral Damage. Blame the writers, namely, British born brothers Peter and David Griffiths, for most of the damage here. This is their first screenwriting but their follow-up project, The Hunted, directed by William Friedkin, could be released later in 2002.
Although opening week business (February 8, 2002) was good, total North American gross is unlikely to reach $50 million, and the budget is quoted at a large $85 million. I see red ink. Exit poll results were a bit above average, but you can be sure that almost everyone that attended on opening day was predisposed to like the film. Simply put, if you are an Arnold fan, you will be mildly entertained. His next, Terminator 3, is due in 2003. Even I am looking forward to it, and the additional good news is that it should keep him out of politics for a few more years.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO Rated: 8
The male leads are two of my current favorite young leading men. Jim Caviezel (Frequency, 2000) and Guy Pearce (Memento, 2001) both have lots to do here and they shine. I suspect that they would have been just as effective if they had switched parts, also. In a supporting role, Richard Harris (Gladiator, 2000) is blessedly understated, for a change, and quite entertaining. Polish born female lead Dagmara Dominczyk is both beautiful and lively in a part that could have been just a throwaway. I also enjoyed new actor Henry Cavill as son, Albert.
For a good old fashioned “popcorn” movie, I highly recommend this one. Exit scores were all A’s, and opening weekend business (1/25/2002) was good at over $11 million.
CRUSH Rated: 7
DIE ANOTHER DAY Rated: 7
First, it’s just plain too long and loose. Tightening up the script and/or deleting repetitious scenes would be a good place to start. Where is it written that the running time has to be more than 2 hours? Since there is no pretense that these films are art or that they have any deep meaning or message, why not just go with a simple, straight-forward story line?
Further, there is a redundant second surfing scene in this one that uses some of the worst special effects that I’ve seen in many years.
I realize that I’m in the minority on this, but I just don’t like Pierce Brosnan although I found him less objectionable this time. Casting Oscar winner Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball—2001) as Jinx was a good idea, but she is not used to full potential. Toby Stephens (son of Oscared actress Maggie Smith) is effective and attractive as the villain. In fact, he deserves consideration as the next James Bond when Brosnan is replaced.
Within the strict formula guidelines that the producers surely dictated, director Lee Tamahori does as well as anyone could be expected to do. Oscar winner Judi Dench, John Cleese, Rosamund Pike, and Rick Yune provide colorful support.
I seriously question the decision to have James Bond shown smoking cigars in this film and consider it irresponsible on the part of the producers. My guess is that money changing hands influenced this call.
DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD Rated: 5
DRAGONFLY Rated: 4-1/2
8 MILE Rated: 5
Since the director is the gifted Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential—1997, and Wonder Boys—2000), it’s no surprise that the film is extremely well made. I just wish Hanson had used his talent/energy on material that I’d find much more interesting.
From what little I’ve read about him, Eminem is someone of questionable personal character. Other than slight curiosity, I have in no interest in him and find his alleged art/music monotonous, uninteresting and unpleasant. As for as acting ability, he does appear comfortable here as he plays a sanitized version of himself.
ENOUGH Rated: 4
FEMME FATALE Rated: 8
40 DAYS & 40 NIGHTS Rated: 4 1/2
The premise has promise. A virile, likeable and handsome young man (Josh Hartnett as Matt) finds that promiscuous sex without love no longer works for him. He decides to give up all sexual activity for the 40 days of lent in the hope that this will bring back the thrill. As soon as he makes the vow, of course, he meets the love of his life, Erica (Shannyn Sossamon), and the humor is supposed to come from watching him attempt to avoid all sex play. Actually, I found myself squirming & cringing as all his friends and co-workers conspire to get him to break his vow of celibacy. This new object of his affection doesn’t even support his efforts and since he was supposed to be the love of her life also, I found myself wondering just what kind of person she must be if she couldn’t even back off for a couple of weeks to help someone she supposedly cares about achieve a reasonable goal.
This is the first film in which I’ve seen a male fake an orgasm. It is not well staged or performed. Also, I don’t remember any other film where, for several awkward minutes, the male lead sports an obvious erection. (It’s hidden under his clothing, of course.) Further, I hated a scene where Matt and his brother, a Roman Catholic priest, sit at their parents’ kitchen table and hear their fiftyish parents discuss what sexual positions they can still perform and enjoy.
If I didn’t like Josh Hartnett, I’d never have made it through all its 92 long minutes. Hartnett effectively carries this film on his young shoulders and shows that he could easily develop into a major light comedy star given good material and direction. His resume proves that he has considerable talent & range; it includes Pearl Harbor (2001), Black Hawk Down (2001), The Virgin Suicides (1999) and The Facility (1998), each role distinctive and nicely portrayed. I am a lot less enthusiastic about co-star, Shannyn Sossamon, but she has a couple of high profile films already completed so the jury is still out on her.
Director Michael Lehmann’s resume is highly suspect. Although he is accused of directing that giant turkey, Hudson Hawk (1991), it probably wasn’t really all his fault. However, neither Airheads (1994) nor My Giant (1998) are good films. On the other hand, his debut, Heathers (1989) is a classic.
Opening weekend gross on March 3, 2002, was solid at about $12 million. Based on an appropriately restrained budget quoted at $17 million, a profit is likely. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much since this is an improvement from dreck like Tomcats and Slackers.
FRAILTY Rated: 5 1/2
When the film starts, Fenton Meeks (Matthew McConaughey), comes forth to tell the FBI that his brother Adam is the serial killer, referred to as “God’s Hands”, that is intently sought by the Bureau. Flashbacks then show us Meeks’ boyhood with a father (Bill Paxton) and brother who believed they were on a mission from God to destroy demons that inhabit human bodies.
Older brother Fenton saw his dad as evil, while slightly younger brother Adam saw him as a hero. There are some nice surprises near the end, but for the plot to make sense, the viewer would have to accept certain things as fact that I consider highly unlikely.
The entire cast is excellent, including Paxton, McConaughey, Powers Booth, Matthew O’Leary, Jeremy Sumpter and Levi Kreis. Unless you are a big fan of any of them, I suggest you look to rent The Night Of The Hunter (1955) on video instead. Directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, it covers some similar material spectacularly and memorably.
FULL FRONTAL Rated: 4
THE GOOD GIRL Rated: 7 1/2
HARRY POTTER & THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS Rated: 8
I found Chamber too long at 160 minutes, but, given the amount of material in the book, that’s probably unavoidable. As a friend of my once said about complaints of the Oscar telecast’s length: “That’s just how long it takes to tell the story.” Worldwide business is huge, and deserved.
HEAVEN Rated: 7 1/2
The plot: A woman named Philippa (Cate Blanchett) takes the law into her own hands after police ignore her pleas to arrest the man responsible for her husband’s death. Tragically/accidentally she kills innocent bystanders instead and is arrested for murder. At her interrogation, a police officer, Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), who serves as translator, quickly empathized with her, then falls in love. He helps her escape and the balance of the film details their life on-the- run across the Italian countryside.
Of current working actresses that haven’t won an Oscar yet, the one that I consider the most likely future winner is Australian Cate Blanchett. (Julianne Moore is the second most likely, but that’s another story.) Ms. Blanchett’s work in Heaven is magical; my other favorites from her current resume are: The Talented Mr. Ripley—1999, The Gift—2000, and Bandits—2001. I’m told that her next, Veronica Guerin—2003, is her best yet. Co-Star Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan—1998, Gone In 60 Seconds—2002) is a gifted young actor who is surprisingly effective in this part which is a decided change-of-pace for him.
German born director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run—1999) does an excellent job of interpreting the unusual script co-written by the late/famous Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Look for Heaven in your local video store soon.
HIGH CRIMES 8
HIS SECRET LIFE Rated: 7 1/2
Even though Antonia (Margherita Buy) is shocked and grieving, she decides that she must know more about her husband’s other life and the man he shared it with. Therefore, she seeks out Michele and visits him in the large suburban apartment that he shares with a colorful group of gay and trans-gendered friends, including a Turkish immigrant, an AIDS patient and a prostitute. Quite unexpectedly, Antonia finds that she likes Michele and enjoys the warmth and support extended to her by this group, who become her new friends.
Co-writer and director Ferzan Ozpetek was born in Turkey, but now lives and works in Italy. This is his third film as writer/director and it equals the quality of his excellent first work, Hamam (1997), which was released in the United States with a misleading campaign & title, Steam: The Turkish Bath. As far as I know, his second film, Harem Suaré (1999) has not been released in North America. His Secret Life brings to mind some of the films of Spain’s Pedro Almodovar, but it is slightly less harsh and/or exaggerated. Mr. Ozpetek’s films also remind me of the work of French director François Ozon, whose 1999 release, Les Criminels Amants (Criminal Lovers) earned him special mention on my 2000 Film Recap List. Until I saw His Secret Life, I was not familiar with any of this cast, but the entire group is excellent and vivid. Especially so are leading actors Ms. Buy, who has appeared in over 20 previous European films, and Stefano Accorsi, who has more than ten film credits, including The Son’s Room (2001).
HOLLYWOOD ENDING Rated: 4 1/2
THE HOT CHICK Rated: 5
I AM SAM Rated: 5
Jessie Nelson is an actress, a writer, a producer, and a director. She wrote, produced, and directed I Am Sam. Previously, In 1999, she co-produced, co-wrote and performed a small part in The Story of Us; it co-starred Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis under Rob Reiner’s direction. I found it painful to watch. She co-wrote Stepmom (1998) for director Chris Columbus and it is a good film. Perhaps her best work to date is the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle, Corrina, Corrina (1994), a film Ms. Norman produced, wrote and directed. While watchable, it is far from memorable. At least so far, I’m not a fan.
I Am Sam doesn’t have a single surprise in it. Further, I’ve never seen a film that makes such blatant and obvious attempts to manipulate emotions of the viewer. It is shameless in that regard.
I think we are supposed to be pulling for Sean Penn to get full custody of his 7 or 8 year old daughter whose current mental capacity becomes greater than his during the course of the film. His attaining that type custody didn’t seem like a good idea to me, so it’s easy to see why I have big problems with the film. Also, you’d think that 132 long minutes would be quite enough to clearly resolve the key question concerning the child’s custody. Instead, the film ends rather abruptly at a neighborhood soccer match where the principals are all seen having a wonderful time.
To be fair, many people that I know and respect are big fans of the film, so I don’t want to discourage you if this your type movie. Just don’t ask me to go back with you. Once was more than enough!
INSOMNIA Rated: 9
JOHN Q Rated: 2
I consider John Q to be the first hostage-situation-comedy, and for the first twenty or so minutes actually thought that director Nick Cassavetes might be trying for parody. According to IMDB, sometimes actor Cassavetes has now directed four films. I’m not familiar with two of them, but hated his 1997 effort, She’s So Lovely, which starred Mr. and Mrs. Sean Penn along with John Travolta. Mrs. Penn, aka Robin Wright Penn, is one of my two least favorite currently active actresses and totally charisma-free. Nick Cassavetes is the son of deceased, well-known 60s and 70s director/actor John Cassavetes, and renowned actress Gena Rowlands. I respect her work and talent, but Nick reminds me much more of his father, whose films were responsible for some of the longest, most tortured hours that I’ve ever spent in a movie theatre. John Q’s first-time screenwriter is James Kearns. Based on evidence here, I hope he never writes for any screen again. Since John Q is going to show a big profit, look for him and Nick Cassavetes to be in demand, however.
Speaking of being in demand, star Denzel Washington continues to prove that he is one of the few stars whose presence in almost any vehicle guarantees a big opening. His performance here is good, despite the material, but don’t look for any awards this time. Given that they were directed to do everything but flap their arms or twirl their mustaches, the balance of the strong cast was acceptable.
The plot has working class John Q. (Washington) and his wife going through a troubled financial/employment period. His hours/earnings have been reduced, and although he doesn’t know it yet, his family’s health coverage has been seriously limited. As the fates would have it, this is the exact moment in time when his apparently healthy ten year old son collapses while playing in a ball game. The son is rushed to the hospital where it is discovered that he will die if he doesn’t get a heart transplant. Since John’s newly-limited health care insurance policy won’t cover a procedure of that magnitude, and since they don’t qualify for any other adequate assistance, he takes over the hospital’s emergency room and holds everyone there hostage. His demand is that his child gets the necessary surgery. The way this film handles the situation is without logic or tension. This same situation is quite similar to that in Sidney Lumet’s far superior Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Rent that film to see it done right.
I think it is outrageous that the United States does not have adequate, affordable, universal health care, but that’s not even a possibility under the current administration. I do welcome any film that addresses that situation, even a bad one like this. I applaud the intentions of John Q, but think the execution is woefully lacking.
KATE & LEOPOLD Rated: 8 1/2
Meg Ryan is in “cutesy” mode again this time and I love her like this. She actually falls/stumbles 3 times in this one & I enjoyed it every time. I do wish she’d get a new hairdresser, however. Australian hunk, Hugh Jackman (X-Men—2000) is totally charming and a major reason that the film works. Also featured to advantage are Liev Schreiver (A Walk On The Moon—1999) & Breckin Meyer (Road Trip—2000).
KISSING JESSICA STEIN Rated: 8
Title character, Jessica Stein (actress Jessica Westfeldt) is a single, straight, successful, thirty-something businesswoman who is part of a close-knit Jewish family living in New York City. She finds herself not as straight as she thought when she meets and begins an intense friendship with another thirty-something career woman, Helen Cooper (Heather Juergensen). Romance blooms and the film deals with this relationship and how it affects them, plus their friends, families & co-workers.
In addition to co-starring, both Ms. Westfeldt and Ms. Juergensen co-produced and co-wrote the film. Direction by Charles Herman-Wurnfeld is just right. Tovah Feldshuh shines in support as Jessica’s mother and Scott Cohen (recently featured in several good television series’ guest spots, including The Practice) earns praise here.
Rated R for “sexual content and language”, few in the intended adult audience are likely to be offended.
LANTANA Rated: 9
In its country of origin, Australia, it was nominated as the best of virtually everything that the Australian Film Institute recognizes, and it won seven of their 2001 awards, including best film, director, script, and all four actor awards. They are deserved. Hopefully, Oscar is paying attention.
It does what I think Mulholland Drive tried to do. Set in contemporary Sydney, it tells the stories of four couples whose lives connect in surprising ways.
I highly recommended it.
LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT Rated: 6 1/2
LOVELY AND AMAZING Rated: 8 1/2
Only in limited New York City and Los Angeles release as of 6/28/2002, this platform release pattern, hopefully, will give it a chance to be discovered and to catch on. I’ve seen no television spots. The newspaper ads are puny and the poster is only adequate. It needs all the help it can get, or it will disappear quickly. Nevertheless, it is a film that’s worth looking for and/or waiting for. The cast is perfect, and Emily Mortimer deserves strong consideration for an Oscar acting nomination. (A real distribution company would do the things that help make that happen, so she can probably plan to sleep late on Oscar nomination morning next February.) Her two co-stars are double Oscar acting nominee, Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies—1996) and the single Oscar acting nominee, Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich—1999). While these three ladies are equally wonderful here, Ms. Mortimer gets the edge because she has the standout part. Her part as daughter Elizabeth reminded me of Julianne Moore’s work in Short Cuts (1993) and Melora Walters in Magnolia (1999).
The story centers on Mother Jane (Blethyn) and her three daughters: the twentysomething Elizabeth (Mortimer), the thirtysomething Michelle(Keener) and the black, adopted, seven year old, Annie (Raven Goodwin).To be brief, all have problems with relationships.
Other cast members are vivid and deserve high praise: Dermot Mulroney, cleaned up and looking every bit the movie star stud he portrays; Jake Gyllenhaal, as Michelle’s 17 year old lover/boss (!); Clark Gregg as Michelle’s distracted husband, Bill; James LeGros as Elizabeth’s emotionally incompatible lover; and Michael Nouri, from 1983’s Flashdance, as the misguided object of Jane’s fantasies and her liposuction surgeon.
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener (same credits for Walking and Talking—1996) is an amazing talent. I am very anxious to see her future projects, and I hope there are many.
THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS Rated: 8 1/2
It tells the story of a struggling novelist’s inability to support his wife and child. In desperation, he reluctantly accepts work at an escort service. Through that job, he becomes involved with a wealthy woman and her husband, a successful writer who is in failing health. The letter-perfect cast includes Andy Garcia, Mick Jagger, Olivia Williams, Julianna Margulies, Anjelica Huston, and the late James Coburn. In my opinion, Mr. Coburn’s performance here is far superior to the one that earned him his supporting actor Oscar, namely, Affliction (1997).
Nothing in director George Hickenlooper previous credits is familiar to me. Based on his work here, and considering that he is not yet forty, future opportunities should quickly materialize. This unique script is the first theatrical feature credit for writer Phillip Jayson Lasker. He previously wrote for major television hits Barney Miller and The Golden Girls.
MONSTER’S BALL Rated: 8 1/2
MOONLIGHT MILE Rated: 8
THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES Rated: 4
MR. DEEDS Rated: 3
MURDER BY NUMBERS Rated: 8 1/2
Sandra Bullock is one of my personal favorites and I’m delighted to see her in another excellent film after several that I found disappointing. This one is good enough to erase the memory of that 2000 atrocity called Gun Shy, one to avoid. While Miss Congeniality (2000) was a big hit, I found it silly, shallow, trite and generally unworthy of her time and effort. I think this is her best film since 1994’s Speed. Next up is Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) which has great pre-release buzz. She’s definitely on an upswing.British Ben Chaplin is effective and likeable as her American detective partner. The two young actors that portray the killers are exceptional. By name, Ryan Gosling (The Believer—2001) is Richard and Michael Pitt (Hedwig And The Angry Inch—2001) is Justin. Their characters are suggested by Leopold & Loeb, the young men who became infamous during their “thrill killing” trial in 1924 Chicago. Also effective are Agnes Bruckner as Lisa, the boy’s attractive classmate, and Tom Verica (from mid-90 television series Central Park West) as detective Swanson.
Credit director, Barbet Schroeder (Single White Female—1992) with setting the proper tone and pace. Credit writer, Tony Gayton (The Salton Sea—2002) with coming up with a story that intrigued & entertained me thoroughly.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING Rated: 5 1/2
ONE HOUR PHOTO Rated: 8
ORANGE COUNTY Rated: 6
Unfortunately, Jack Black (Shallow Hal, 2001) gives the same performance here that he has in all his other films and is probably already beyond direction. While I realize that he has his fans, I find him almost as obnoxious as I found Bill Murray in 1991’s What About Bob?
PANIC ROOM 7
PIPE DREAM Rated: 7 1/2
PUMPKIN Rated: 2
If The Addams Family (1991) were to be considered a “Wednesday” in Ms. Ricci’s career, think of this as a Saturday. I am a fan of hers, generally, and hope this is just a small lapse in judgment. Further, I urge the University of Southern California, where parts of Pumpkin were shot, to be more selective when granting campus filming rights.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE Rated: 4
Before this one, I had seen 5 of star Adam Sandler’s films. I liked 3: Bulletproof (1996), The Wedding Singer (1998), and The Waterboy (1998). On the other hand, I hated: Big Daddy (1999) and Little Nicky (2000).
Leading lady, Emily Watson has earned two Best Actress Oscar Nominations, so far. Her nominations are for outstanding work in Breaking The Waves (1996) and Hilary And Jackie (1998). Although she is as good as the material allows here, if she’s nominated for her 2002 work, it’ll be for her luminous supporting portrayal in Red Dragon and not this.
Based on buzz coming out of film festivals, I was really looking forward to Punch-Drunk Love. When it was over, I felt like I’d been sucker punched. It is blessedly brief at 90 minutes although it seemed much longer to me. It has one beautifully filmed scene that takes place in an arch of a Hawaiian hotel. Wisely, that scene is used for the film’s one sheet image. Also, I did find the interplay between Sandler as Barry and his seven sisters diverting/amusing.
Critics have found much to admire, but exit polls from early engagements have been terrible. Clearly, P.T. Anderson and Adam Sandler were working hard to be different. Punch-Drunk Love is certainly that. Different alone is not enough.
QUEEN OF THE DAMNED Rated: 6
RED DRAGON Rated: 8 1/2
Before the fact, I had major reservations about what thirtysomething director Brett Ratner would do to this material since I found his earlier hits, Rush Hour (1998), Rush Hour 2 (2001), and The Family Man (2000) awkward and/or awful. I was wrong; I doubt that anyone would have done a better job than he does here. (Nevertheless, I’ll pass on his Rush Hour 3, not yet made, but a 2004 release is threatened.)
Red Dragon deserves strong consideration for a SAG cast acting award nomination since everyone is dazzling, including Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Heald, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, & Emily Watson. Both Mr. Hoffman & Ms. Watson are likely to make my best supporting acting Oscar nomination lists. Cinematography by Dante Spinotti, musical score by Danny Elfman, and all other technical components are state-of-the art. I hope writers Tally and Harris can come up with more ideas for yet another sequel. I’m ready for another serving.
THE RING Rated: 5
ROAD TO PERDITION Rated: 9
ROLLERBALL Rated: 1 1/2
THE ROOKIE 8 1/2
THE RULES OF ATTRACTION Rated: 2
Writer/director/co-producer is Canadian Roger Avary. This is his second attempt as director of a theatrical film. Now, I have no interest is seeing his first, Killing Zoe (1994) and, based on the evidence at hand, plan to avoid his next should such occur. The story is told here in a convoluted manner for no apparent reason, and while it was easy enough to follow, that technique added nothing, so I consider it just a stunt. Speaking of stunts, several sequences are shown (and heard) backwards, then repeated in reverse/normal fashion, as if once wasn’t enough. This means that the viewer sees projectile vomiting during intercourse both leaving a mouth and then returning to that mouth. Also, we get to see two of the male actors picking their noses, plus James Van Der Beek (television’s Dawson’s Creek) is depicted having a rather lengthy bowel movement.
I won’t even try to evaluate the performances but feel/hope that no careers are permanently damaged. Nobody had a chance here, but in other parts, I’ve liked these cast members: James Van Der Beek (Varsity Blues—1999); Ian Somerhalder (Life As A House—2002); Jessica Biel (Summer Catch—2001); Kip Pardue (Remember The Titans—2000); Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush—2002). Although I didn’t especially like her then, Shannyn Sossamon was far more impressive in A Knight’s Tale (2001) and she looked far better in that. In this, she looks and acts like she was auditioning for the part of a zombie.
On the other hand, Eric Stoltz (Mask—1985) looks to be in good shape for his one sleazy scene, and deserves much better.
The Rules Of Attraction is putrid, pretentious prattle. Alert the Razzy people.
SECRETARY Rated: 6 1/2
THE SHIPPING NEWS Rated: 8
SIGNS Rated: 7
This is the third major film from M. Night Shyamalan. I love The Sixth Sense (1999), hate Unbreakable (2002) and like this one. As a director, Mr. Shyamalan is a master when it comes to creating suspense and tension. I look forward to his future work. Star Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon I, II, III, IV) is effective and reminds that he really can act. Thank goodness the cockyness and cuteness are gone this time. Twelve year old Rory Culkin (You Can Count On Me—2000) as Gibson’s son is a standout is a solid cast
SLACKERS Rated: 2
I’d support legislation to prevent the director, the writer, and the original music composer from future filmmaking. Naming the guilty: The director, Dewey Nicks, makes his debut here after working as a fashion photographer; the script is credited to David H. Steinberg, whose only previous credit was as co-writer of the story upon which the script for American Pie was based; original music is blamed on Joey Altruda, and it is truly awful.
The generally attractive young cast will survive, but they do need career counseling and/or better advice when selecting scripts. Devon Sawa, Jason Steinberg and actress James King look good while doing a lot of stupid things. Michael C. Maronna, recognizable from his television commercials as Ameritrade’s Stuart, does what is required. Jason Schwartzman is as annoying as any human can be while playing Ethan. For me, pure hell would be a film co-starring him and Jack Black.
Exit scores on opening weekend, February 1, 2002, were bad, except for males and females under twenty-one. That audience is limited, since the film is MPAA rated a totally deserved R for language, drug use and sexual content. First weekend business was bad at less than three million, so perhaps, at last, even the demographic for which it was intended has had enough of this type stuff.
In a bit that can best be described as totally embarrassing, 50s and 60s sex symbol Mamie Van Doren has her seventy-one year-old breasts massaged in close-up for at least one long minute while she lies in a hospital bed. This scene would come near the top of any list I could make up of things I never expected to see at the movies.
SPIDER-MAN Rated: 8
STAR WARS: EPISODE II—ATTACK OF THE CLONES Rated: 8
I’ll be back for Episode III in May of 2005.
STEALING HARVARD Rated: 2
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS Rated: 7
SWEET HOME ALABAMA Rated: 7
THE SWEETEST THING Rated: 2 1/2
It doesn’t contain one frame of originality or one shrewd of creativity. The cast didn’t stand a chance given this material, but Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary -1998) really needs to avoid this kind of crap in the future. Here, she does a bad Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H—1970) impersonation. I really like Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions—1999, Legally Blond—2001) but a few more of these could destroy her promising career. Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea—1999) looks good which is all his role requires. Christina Applegate (from television’s Married With Children) manages to bury her “bimbette” television image and deserves another chance in a decent film. Although signs of post-production tinkering abound, based on what does appear on the screen, the writing by Nancy Pimental is extremely weak. This is the second theatrical directing credit for Roger Kumble. This one is bad enough to make me re-evaluate Cruel Intentions (1999), which I thought showed flashes of style and talent. Not this time. Opening weekend grosses (4/12/2002) were less than $10 million. Considering that the budget was likely over $45 million, profit is very doubtful. Exit polls indicate that only those viewers under 21 are likely to enjoy this one.
SWEPT AWAY Rated: 2
SWIMFAN Rated: 5
TADPOLE Rated: 8
THE TIME MACHINE Rated: 5
TRAPPED Rated: 4 1/2
What a waste.
THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE Rated: 4
TUCK EVERLASTING Rated: 7
TULLY Rated: 9
UNFAITHFUL Rated: 9
A WALK TO REMEMBER Rated: 4 1/2
I did not like the songs here and, since I’m not familiar with Ms. Moore’s recordings, I won’t even try to evaluate her musical ability. I do appreciate the fact that she doesn’t feel compelled to bare an excessive or inappropriate amount of her nubile flesh like some of her contemporaries do at every possible opportunity (Mariah, Brittany, Christina). Good actor Peter Coyote is no good as Mandy’s southern minister father, but then he is badly cast in a poorly written part.
Young female audiences turned out in large numbers on opening weekend (1/25/2002) and exit polls indicate they were pleased. I wasn’t.
WE WERE SOLDIERS Rated: 5
WHITE OLEANDER Rated: 7 1/2
WORLD TRAVELER Rated: 6
XXX (TRIPLE X) Rated : 4 1/2
XXX follows the formula of the James Bond 007 adventures precisely and even includes some echoes of the wonderful John Barry musical scores from that franchise. Substitute a blue collar American low-level criminal for the cultured British spy and you’ve got this “junk Bond.” XXX includes far too many loud action set-pieces that become redundant and each goes on far too long. An avalanche sequence is unintentionally laughable. Also, I never knew that motorcycles could fly.
Further, establishing that the lead character is indestructible at the start of a film and then continuously putting him in peril tends to destroy suspense, at least for me.
Vin Diesel is effective, but much of his character’s footage is done by stunt doubles, and he has been much more interesting in several of his earlier films. Samuel L. Jackson seems to be enjoying his break from more serious parts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I found leading lady, Asia Argento, unbelievable and unattractive.
If you like the television spots and/or the trailer, you well may like XXX.
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (AND YOUR MOTHER TOO) Rated: 9
…more to come.
...more to come!
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