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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 deserves Oscar nominations for best actor, best supporting actress, best film, best direction, best adapted script. I highly recommend it!

ABANDON Rated: 6 1/2
For the first 75 minutes of Abandon’s 100 minutes, I had a great time. I was delighted to be seeing a film that presented college students accurately. This is especially true since I’m still reeling from the wretched excess depicted in The Rules Of Attraction (2002), which I saw just a week ago (October 11, 2002). Unfortunately, Abandon takes a peculiar turn at its three-quarter point and never recovers. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan, who won the Oscar for writing Traffic (2000), makes his directorial debut here and displays considerable skill as a director. Disappointingly, it’s his script that lets him down this time. I’m always annoyed when a film character does a sudden 180 degree turn and there are very few or no hints along the way that indicate that such a change is reasonable. (Think Monica Potter in Along Came A Spider—2001.) Reasonable hints MUST be dropped for such behavior to be credible.

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
Confession: I don’t like Hugh Grant, or, at least his screen persona at full bore as it is here. True, he does win me over, occasionally, in films such as the wonderful Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and the charming Notting Hill (1999). On the other hand, I found him intolerable in Nine Months (1995) and Mickey Blue Eyes (1999). I mention this because I’m convinced that your enjoyment of this film will be dependent on your appreciation of the “cutesy” Hugh in full flower. If you love Hugh, and if you saw and liked the trailer or television spots for About a Boy, you’ll enjoy this film.

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.

This is the fifth film to be directed by popular actor, Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan—1998) and it is just as personal as the earlier films. Unfortunately, it’s considerably darker and less satisfying than his first, The Brothers McMullen—1995. As far as I can discover, Mr. Burns did no publicity for this film even though he stars, directed, wrote, and produced. The distributor dumped it into a few theatres on October 11, 2002 with minimal advertising and a ad/poster look that is inadequate and ugly. Nobody can be surprised that business is almost non-existent. Unless you are a big fan of Mr. Burns and/or his earlier films, I suggest you consider catching it on video or passing entirely. Since he is one of my favorites, I was not bored, but the musical score by David Shire almost drove me from the theatre. Although Mr. Shire won an Oscar for writing the music for a good song introduced in Norma Rae (1979), his contribution here was intrusive, repetitive, and annoying.

For those of you who loved the first 2 in this super popular series (Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery—1997 and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me—1999), you’ll be equally thrilled with this similar edition. I was amused by parts of all three, but I’m just not a fan of humor related to bodily functions.

AUTO-FOCUS Rated: 4 1/2
I think director Paul Schrader was attempting to make this film look like television series made during the time-period when this story takes place, that being the late 60s & early 70s. For whatever reason, it looks just awful. Worse yet, this needlessly downbeat and sleazy take on the story unfolds at a painfully slow pace and for anyone familiar with the real life story of the main character, actor Bob Crane, the ending is anything but a surprise. As presented, there is no tension, emotion or edge. The story of Bob Crane, who starred in the successful television series, Hogan’s Heroes, and his fate is rich source material. I expected to be fascinated by the film; Well, I wasn’t, and lay the blame at the feet of director Schrader. His finest film accomplishment probably is his script of Taxi Driver (1976), which, luckily, was directed by someone else, namely Martin Scorsese. To be fair, Schrader has written several good scripts and I’m a big fan of three other films he wrote/directed years ago: Hardcore (1979), American Gigolo (1980) and Cat People (1982). While his Affliction (1997) got favorable response from many critics, I hated it. Next up, he assumed the reins on Exorcist 4: The Beginning (2003) at John Frankenheimer’s sad/untimely passing in mid 2002. My high expectations for Exorcist 4 have vanished… 1997 Supporting Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets) is a good casting choice to play Bob Crane and does as well as his director and this script allow. Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man—2002) already has two supporting actor Oscar nominations. Not this time, Willem.

This is decent entertainment, but I was annoyed my the fact that it should have been so much better, given the premise & the cast. As happy as I am to see Oscar winners Goldie Hawn (Butterflies Are Free—1972, Shampoo—1975, and Death Becomes Her—1992) & Susan Sarandon (Rocky Horror Picture Show—1975), Bull Durham—1988, and Dead Man Walking—1995) on the screen in almost anything, the direction and writing do not allow them to shine as brightly as they can.

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
Matthew Davis: This young Utah born actor’s name would be the answer to a potential Jeopardy question asking why I wasted my time on this murky muddle from Miramax. Matt, as he is sometimes billed, was most impressive in Tigerland and very likeable/appealing in both Legally Blond (2001) and Blue Crush (2002). If he’s fortunate enough to get some good parts, his future will be bright. Unfortunately, Below, will be no help, but, on the other hand, it won’t sink him either.

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
Nicole Kidman’s latest release, which co-stars talented young British actor, Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line, 1998) is a pleasant surprise.

This is an excellent spy-out-in-the-cold thriller staring a never-better Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting—1997). Director Doug Liman (Swingers—1996, Go—1999) proves here that he is as versatile as he is talented. It looks great, it sounds great, SEE IT!

THE CAT’S MEOW Rated 6 1/2
Good subject matter (Hollywood in the twenties) makes for an interesting film, but it lacks edge and energy, somehow. It’s good to have director Peter Bogdanovich back, but this is not up to the level of his bests (The Last Picture Show—1971, What’s Up, Doc?—1972, Paper Moon—1973, Mask—1985) although it’s much better than his worsts, such as At Long Last Love—1975. Cast standout is former Oscar supporting actress nominee, Jennifer Tilly as gossip maven, Louella Parsons. Personally, although I’m generally a fan of hers, I didn’t think Kirsten Dunst made an effective Marion Davies, although many others disagree. Cary Elwes as film pioneer producer, Thomas Ince, deserves praise.

This drama that starts when strangers Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting—1999), as a young attorney, and Samuel L. Jackson (A Time To Kill—1996), as a businessman, meet by car accident on a Manhattan expressway. Things get really ugly as they do increasingly damaging things to each other for revenge. Both of these actors are in top form, and his role demonstrates that Affleck is maturing in a very satisfying manner.

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.

This successful and intriguing crime drama is based on a true story and concerns itself with father-son relationships through several generations of the LaMarca family in/around Long Island, NY. The majority of the performances have quiet strength and total believability, while, quite appropriately considering his material, James Franco (The James Dean Story—TV 2001) is wired and electric as a junky in big trouble. Oscar winners Robert DeNiro (The Godfather, Part II—1976, Raging Bull—1980) and Frances McDormand (Fargo—1996) excel. I enjoyed seeing these two fine actors playing nice, likeable, relatively conventional characters for a change. Also deserving praise for their contributions in smaller parts are: Patti LuPone (Evita on stage), Eliza Dushlu, and Anson Mount.

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.

Routine. Retro. Ridiculous. This is not a good film, but I urge you to support it. I figure that if aging action star Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to make films that do some business, he will stay out of politics. I’m not sure that California could survive if he got elected governor and he has threatened to run. His performance in this film is exactly what you’d expect if you are familiar with his other films.

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.

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest film version of the Alexandre Dumas classic novel. It is filled with action, romance, and revenge. While I haven’t been much of a fan of director Kevin Reynolds’ earlier films including ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991), his instincts are right on this time. Not working with his sometimes friend and co-producer sure does agree with him.

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
This contemporary British romantic drama includes many very funny moments also. Not as accomplished as Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), it does bring that big success to mind, especially since Andie MacDowell stars in both. Her twenty-something co-star here, Kenny Doughty, makes a strong impression as her younger lover. I was also impressed with debuting writer/director, John McKay and look forward to the future work of these two talented gentlemen. My major objection is the dark turn the film takes at about the three quarter mark. Further, I strongly object to the fact the the four principals are shown smoking far too often.

This 20th (or so) chapter in the James Bond 007 series is much better than the last several, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

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.

Read my full review here…

DRAGONFLY Rated: 4-1/2

8 MILE Rated: 5
As far as I’m concerned, call it 5 MILE, and that takes into consideration that I’m not even close to being in the intended demographic. As a white male who is “over 50,” I didn’t expect to like it…and I didn’t. I’m completely disinterested in the music and debuting lead actor/rapper Eminem.

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
Read my full review here…

This is the latest from one of my favorite directors, Brian De Palma, and puts him back in the winner’s column where he belongs. A steamy thriller set in France, it’s not quite up to the level of some of the director’s earlier successes, but it comes close. The first part of the film is confusing, but unlike David Lynch’s over-rated Mulholland Drive (2001), by the end of the film you’ll know everything you want/need to know. For the record, to November 2002, my favorite De Palma films are: Carrie (1976), Dressed To Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), and The Untouchables (1987).

40 DAYS & 40 NIGHTS Rated: 4 1/2
This is a smutty little sex comedy that I found a waste of time & marginally offensive. Exit scores on opening night (March 1, 2002) were excellent for the under 21 group, good for the twenty & thirtysomethings, but bad for those of us over 35. Be guided accordingly. If you’re young enough, you might like it.

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
I have to wonder why talented actor Bill Paxton (Twister—1998) picked such an unsavory/violent subject for his directorial debut. Granted, he does prove he is worthy of future directorial assignments, since this is quite well directed. Nevertheless, I seriously doubt that many are going to want to see it and strongly suspect far fewer of those are going to be glad that they did.

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 is a full frontal failure and a full frontal flop in every way. Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh has earned the right to make whatever film he wants to at this point, the mystery is why he would have chosen this piffle. Scaling back after several large budgeted studio films hits in a row is understandable, but what he delivers here looks and feels like a bad first effort from a film school student with only marginal ability. The stellar cast, including Julia Roberts, is wasted. Business has been poor. Before seeing Full Frontal, I hated the campaign. The trailer was just voice-overs on a black screen; the one sheet cut the well-known cast off at the chin making them unrecognizable. After seeing the film, I understand the problem since there was so little to work with. At least the advertising saved lots of people from buying tickets and getting disappointed.

THE GOOD GIRL Rated: 7 1/2
Since I am such a big fan of Chuck & Buck, I was a little disappointed by this one. Both these small, independent, off-center films were written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta and I give the edge to Chuck & Buck (2002). Although I was definitely entertained, I felt the deliberately quirky nature of all the characters here was just a bit forced, and I’d have been happier with an ending that wasn’t so dark. The well chosen cast in uniformly excellent, however, and award consideration is possible. Especially impressive in Jennifer Aniston who has shed all her Rachael persona, which is so effective on the television series smash, Friends. Clearly, she has what it takes for both the small and the large screen. Jake Gyllenhaal (October Sky—1999, Lovely & Amazing—2002) continues to impress and I’m very anxious to see him co-starring with Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Holly Hunter in Moonlight Mile (2002) due soon. Also noteworthy are John C. Reilly, Zooey Deschanel, and Tim Blake Nelson. The Good Girl is a good film and worth seeking out.

A surprisingly entertaining second chapter in the Harry Potter film series, this is a big improvement over the first, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). I have not read the wildly popular books by J.K. Rowling, but I understand that both Chamber and Sorcerer follow their source books quite closely. This time, that doesn’t make for an awkward translation. Both films were adapted by Steven Kloves and directed by Chris Columbus. Clearly, both are more relaxed/comfortable this time. The same is true of the three young lead actors, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. As expected, the older British super actors continue to provide wonderful support. Replacing the late Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore for the next edition is a daunting task.

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
This is a very special little movie that the US distributor, Miramax, didn’t support in the manner it would have taken to push to prominence in today’s marketplace. Unfortunately, their decision was probably a wise financial move, since most of today’s audience prefers junk.

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.

Excellent, even though rather generic, Ashley Judd/Morgan Freeman/Jim Caviezel military courtroom/woman-in-peril/action-thriller.

HIS SECRET LIFE Rated: 7 1/2
(In Italian with English Subtitles)
At the start of the film, AIDS doctor Antonia’s husband, Massimo (Andrea Renzi), is killed by a car as he attempts to cross a street on foot in Rome. To her total surprise, she soon learns that he has been having a lengthy affair…with a man, namely Michele (Stefano Accorsi).

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 Fran├žois 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).

This is for hardcore Woody Allen fans only. While mildly amusing, it’s extremely low on energy and far too long at about 2 hours. As usual in Woody Allen films, the cast is fine. This time Tea Leoni, Treat Williams, George Hamilton, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, & Debra Messing (“Grace” from television’s Will and Grace) are effective and attractive but have very little to do. As Roger Ebert pointed out this week (May 5, 2002), Woody himself is the same age as Judi Dench but continues to cast himself as the romantic lead opposite attractive actresses half his age. Enough! Further, my suggestion is that Mr. Allen hire an appropriate co-writer for future projects.

I cringed just as often as I smiled, but The Hot Chick does contain some rather sweet and fairly funny stuff. It is a vehicle for Rob Schneider (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo -1999) in the same way Jerry Lewis & Elvis Presley films served them a few years back. I certainly don’t recommend this one for most people, but if you like Schneider, you’d get your money’s worth. Fellow Saturday Night Live alumni, Adam Sandler (Big Daddy—1999) appears in a cameo and is one of its producers. That’s no surprise since, in many ways, Chick resembles several of Sandler’s efforts. While anything but original, the premise of two very different people getting trapped in the other’s body is a good one. First time theatrical director, Tom Brady, lets things get far too sloppy. I’ve seen worse, much worse, but feel that considerable potential was squandered this time.

I AM SAM Rated: 5
All the acting is good and I really enjoyed Michelle Pfeiffer, Diane Wiest, Laura Dern, and (uncredited) Mary Steenburgen. However, I found Sean Penn’s good performance to be very familiar and unnecessary since Dustin Hoffman did similar, but better work in the far superior Rainman (1988).

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!

An exceptional crime thriller from Memento director, Christopher Nolan. Set in Alaska (filmed in Beautiful British Columbia, Canada), three Oscar winners, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank star and shine brightly.
Highly recommended for adults. (More later.)

JOHN Q Rated: 2
Exit scores were all As; opening four day weekend business (2/15/2002) was an excellent twenty-three and a half million, so don’t let me deny you any possible pleasure from seeing this film. Many/most people just loved it. My personal opinion, however, is that it is a moronic, contrived, manipulative mess, even though it deals with a subject close to my heart: health care insurance horror stories. At one point, actor James Woods as Doctor Turner exclaims: “This is bad!” Indeed…

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
Maybe I should call it a “guilty pleasure”, but I was charmed, moved, and actually laughed out loud several times. Although I never really understand them, I seem to fall for romantic time-travel films every time! Three that come quickly to mind are Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Time After Time (1979), and Somewhere In Time (1980). I rank Kate & Leopold just a bit behind Peggy Sue and Time After Time, but ahead of Somewhere In Time.

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).

This film hits just the right tone to make it likeable and entertaining; that can’t have been easy. I consider the filmmakers and distributors adventurous for even attempting a good-natured comedy with this subject and found myself surprised that they pulled it off so nicely. That subject matter being “lipstick lesbians”, a phrase I take to mean feminine appearing lesbians, though I’m not even sure that phrase is acceptable to some more radical groups. (No offense meant here!) At any rate, the two leading women in this film are feminine and attractive, in my opinion, and to some degree or other they find another woman sexually appealing, at least at this point in their lives.

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
Lantana failed to make my best films of 2001 list for only one reason: I didn’t see it until after I had completed my list. Based on the campaign by Lions Gate, I had decided to pass on it. Fortunately, a friend insisted that I see it. I’m sure glad that I did, and suggest you do the same.

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.


The title doesn’t lie. This one really is both lovely and amazing. It’s also sly, smart, and unique. Also, it is for adults.

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.

This is an excellent specialized film that is worth seeking out in its limited engagements or on video later.

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
I rate this one a strong 8. I have some personal reservations about the subject matter, but found it brave and riveting. Both Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry give outstanding performances and deserve all the award attention that they have already received and will continue to receive. Relatively inexperienced thirty-something, Swiss-born director, Marc Foster, does super work here and can be expected to deliver wonderful future projects. My only question regards just how this project ended up on the release schedule of Lion’s Gate. It deserves better!

Comments soon…

While this is a competently made film, I cannot think of one single reason to see it. It is not exciting, it is not frightening, it doesn’t answer or even address most of the issues it raises. It’s just there. Said to be based on real life events in West Virginia, I understand that it can’t answer questions for which no answers exist, but given that fact, only a truly remarkable script could have resulted in a successful film. No such script exists here. Direction by Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, 1999) is adequate, but far from riveting. Stars Richard Gere (Primal Fear, 1996) and Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me, 2000) are watchable, but both have been much better in past films and can be expected to shine much more brightly in future projects. Debra Messing, from television’s Will & Grace, is wasted in a very small part as Gere’s wife, and is allowed to show none of the spark that is so apparent in her weekly hit television program.

MR. DEEDS Rated: 3
Adam Sandler’s latest hit is incompetent, sadistic, perverse, and fragmented. It reminded me a bad home movie. While not as low as Little Nicky (2000) and Big Daddy (2000), I found myself closing my eyes and hoping it would just go away. Maybe you have to be a fan of Mr. Sandler to enjoy it and I don’t qualify, even though I did enjoy Bulletproof (1996), The Wedding Singer (1998), and The Waterboy (1998). I look forward to a couple of his completed and upcoming films, Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and Anger Management (2003), and won’t be surprised if he actually can act. For me, this one was an unusually painful experience.

Murder By Numbers is a taut psychological suspense-thriller that tells the story of a tenacious and troubled homicide detective, Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) and her new partner Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin) who become pitted against two malevolently brilliant California high school seniors (Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt) in an ingenious battle of wits as they try to solve a murder case.

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.


This very successful and compact dramatic thriller is a welcome relief from all the summer noise that abounds. Robin Williams excels as a lonely/creepy photo lab technician who becomes far too involved in the personal lives of a family whose photos he has been processing for years. Thankfully, the producers allowed writer/director Mark Romanek to make a film with adult themes for an audience of adults and there was no pussy-footing around to get a PG-13 MPAA rating. Oscar winner Robin Williams has a good chance for year-end award recognition and the rest of the cast is fine. Said cast includes Connie Nielsen (Gladiator—2000) as the wife/mother, Michael Vartan (Never Been Kissed—1999) as the husband/father, and Dylan Smith as their young son, Jake. Since I disliked Ms Nielsen a lot in Gladiator, I was surprised at how much I liked her here in a part that reminded me of Parker Posey’s best in several other independent films. Michael Vartan is one of my favorite young actors and I expect him to become a big success. This one is well worth your time.

This teen type comedy is better than a lot of those it resembles, probably because it was written by the talented Mike White (Chuck & Buck, 2000). It is also of interest because it includes a new generation of filmmakers. Stars Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks) and Schulyer Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) are competently directed by Jake Kasden (son of Lawrence Kasden).

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?

A good Jodie Foster thriller.

PIPE DREAM Rated: 7 1/2
Comments soon…

PUMPKIN Rated: 2
Produced by and starring Christina Ricci, this is offensive, incompetent, innocuous and endless at 116 long minutes. It constantly changes tone and never settles on whether it wants to be a parody or a romantic fable, not that the writers/directors exhibit a hint of the talent/ability necessary to deliver either. Although it must be offensive to the Special Olympics and all handicapped people, wisely, they have ignored it along with most filmgoers.

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 is pretentious, peculiar, spacey, slight and annoying. It is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s third significant film, and his least successful/satisfying, at least for me. About the first two: I thought Boogie Nights (1997) was great. I found Magnolia (1999) riveting until the bottom fell out at its two-thirds mark, and, to its credit, it includes a mesmerizing supporting performance from Tom Cruise.

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.

This really isn’t a very good adaptation of Anne Rice’s Vampire books, but it did hold my attention. These days, in early 2002, I’m grateful for even small diversions.

RED DRAGON Rated: 8 1/2
When I go to see a big budgeted Hollywood thriller, this is a perfect example of exactly what I hope to see. My only mild reservations about Red Dragon are that it is a bit familiar since both this 2002 film and Michael Mann’s excellent Manhunter (1986) are adaptations of the same Thomas Harris novel named Red Dragon. Further, we’ve seen everyone’s favorite cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lector, as portrayed by sensational actor Anthony Hopkins, in both The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Hannibal (2001). As with both Lambs and Hannibal, writer Ted Tally provides another terrific script this time out.

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
I was very disappointed in this would be thriller, but to be fair, a lot of people seem to find it satisfying. I’d expected/hoped for something comparable to The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and/or The Sixth Sense (1999). No such luck…not even close. I suppose your enjoyment here depends on whether or not you can believe the premise that simply watching a video can doom you to death on the seventh day after you watch it. This film didn’t get me to buy into that and the feeble explanation at the conclusion is full or holes and totally unsatisfying. The film is suspenseful, due to good direction by Gore Verbinski (The Mexican—2001, and Mouse Hunt—1997), and has several cheap thrills along the way, but they have little to do with the plot. The cast is fine, especially Australian-raised Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive—2001) who continues her upward spiral to major stardom and well may compete with her friend, Nicole Kidman for parts soon. New Zealand born Martin Henderson, new to me, is attractive, believable and effective as her flaky sometimes lover. The Ring is a remake of a 1998 Japanese film called Ringu. My guess is that something got lost in translation.

This is one of the best films of 2002 and is sure to be remembered during the award season. A must-see for mature filmgoers, it is thoughtful, graceful, beautiful, measured, and a welcome relief from the frenzy of so many current films. (More to come.)

ROLLERBALL Rated: 1 1/2
See my full review here.

Highly recommended for ALL audiences! A second chance baseball drama starring Dennis Quaid in an award worthy performance. The excellent supporting cast includes Rachel Griffiths, Brian Cox, Beth Grant, Jay Hernandez, Angus T. Jones and Chad Linberg. The original musical score is terrific and the use of previously recorded material is exceptional.This one joins my other sports related favorites, Hoosiers (1986) and Field of Dreams (1989).

Based on Brett Easton Ellis’s novel, this piece of crap deals with a drug dealer (James Van Der Beek) at a Vermont school, who becomes entangled with a girl named Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) that he wants, but for obscure reasons, he sleeps with her roommate (Jessica Biel), and a guy called Paul (Ian Somerhalder) who has a crush on him. Along with other murky tangents, Lauren thinks she loves another student, Victor (Kip Pardue) but he doesn’t even recognize her when he returns from a trip to Europe. Additional muck is ladled on in a parental visit/hotel room/restaurant interlude where Paul and Richard (or “Dick” as he loudly/luridly insists is his name) may or may not outrage their stoned mothers as played by Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz. Actually, this section does include the one sequence I actually found entertaining. Richard, well played by Russell Sams, and Paul have a gay ole time dancing/jumping up and down on their hotel bed and it’s cut to George Michael’s recording of Faith. The music helped a lot.

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
While I was never bored, I don’t think I quite “got” this one. Maybe you have to be “into” S&M or, at least, understand it a lot better than I do. Conventional it isn’t. Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Jake Gyllenhaal and a sure star-to-be) is outstanding and James Spader (Sex, Lies And Videotape—1989 plus many others) is excellent. She plays the title role and he plays her boss.

I actually liked it more than I expected to based on so many negative (or unenthusiastic) reviews. I could pick it apart, but for whatever reason I found it interesting throughout, though not riveting. I loved the way it looked and enjoyed the music. I wouldn’t nominate it for acting or for any of the major categories, but I came away satisfied while realizing most viewers won’t!

SIGNS Rated: 7
I don’t want to influence anyone who is interested in this one to stay away, but it just didn’t really work for me. Maybe it’s just me, since most people really like it! What follows here contains some POSSIBLE SPOILERS, so proceed cautiously. From the advertising, I expected a film of much more scope and special effects. Instead, the point of view is that of a family on a Pennsylvania farm and the entire film takes place in or near that farm. I never believed that the whole world was being threatened by an alien invasion, thus my lack of enthusiasm. Further, I doubt that aliens smart enough to make their way to earth couldn’t figure out how to break into a lone farmhouse…

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
that includes Joaquin Phoenis, Cherry Jones and Abigail Breslin.

Rancid. Rank. Repugnant. Raunchy. Wretched. I should have known better, but I did like American Pie (2000), American Pie 2 (2001) and Road Trip (1999), and was hoping for something like those. Instead, I got a first cousin to Tom Cats (2001) and one of the worst films in the history of the cinema, Freddy Got Fingered (2001).

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.

I liked this film much more than I expected to!

While I have big overall problems with this latest installment in George Lucas’ Star Wars phenomenon, it delivers in the areas that are crucial for this particular genre, so I’m making allowances for the deficiencies and do recommend it. About those deficiencies, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not very interested in the background, political situation/information which I find confusing. The material dealing with this stuff is talky and, for me anyway, hard to follow; it seems too prominent in the middle of this episode. My other complaint concerns George Lucas’ lack of success in getting performances that require emotional warmth. Although I really wanted to like the love story component, it didn’t draw me in. I know that Natalie Portman (Where The Heart Is—2000) and Hayden Christensen (Life As A House—2001) can act, but they exhibit zero chemistry/heat here even though they look their parts and are well cast. I suspect that Mr. Lucas is to blame, for whatever reason. On the other hand, the last 40 or so minutes are thrilling/riveting/rewarding and gave me exactly what I came for. In the end, the film really belongs to Yoda. All technical aspects are spectacular. I stood in line for an hour on opening day afternoon, Thursday, May 16, 2002 at historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and standing in line is something I just don’t do. The atmosphere and presentation made it worthwhile. This is the way to see a film.

I’ll be back for Episode III in May of 2005.

Tom Green (Freddy Got Fingered—2001) strikes again, but this exceedingly poor film cannot be totally blamed on him since his only acknowledged “contribution” is his supporting performance.. Director Bruce McCulloch, who inflected the equally horrific Dog Park (1998) should never attempt another feature film although I understand that he does make positive contributions to the Canadian television projects featuring The Kids In The Hall. While not especially vulgar or repugnant, this alleged comedy is simply incompetent. Beyond that, I cannot think of a single favorable thing to say about it.

A good thriller, but nothing really special, at least to me. Based on the popular Tom Clancy novel, Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting—1997) is winning as a younger Jack Ryan. My main objection to this film is that the pivotal event, a nuclear terrorist’s bomb blowing up the Super Bowl game in the Baltimore football stadium, seems to be under emphasized and under played. The balance between the personal stories, the conflict/chess game involving the US President and the Russian Prime Minister, and such a spectacular tragedy is never properly modulated. Director Phil Alden Robinson (the wonderful Field Of Dreams-1989) does a competent, but less-than-compelling job. Other cast members, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Bridget Moynahan, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, & Philip Baker Hall are good, but not outstanding.

Comments soon…

Sour. Silly. Sloppy. Smutty. Slight.

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.

The acting by Madonna is just as bad as the directing by her current husband, Guy Ritchie. The result here is grounds for divorce. Expect Razzy recognition.

SWIMFAN Rated: 5
This is a high school Fatal Attraction and a guilty pleasure of sorts. I really like the idea, but the filmmakers and/or the distributor chickened out and went for a way-too-soft PG-13 MPAA rating. Erika Christensen (Traffic—2000) channels Glenn Close as a high school transfer student who takes one look at swimming star, Jesse Bradford (Bring It On—2000), and decides on the spot that she’s gotta have it! After she has her way with him, in the swimming pool, of course, she won’t leave him alone; this creates big problems for him with his girl friend, his coach, and his mother. Ms. Christensen, as Madison, is responsible for lots of spilled blood, mostly off camera, and the ending will surprise nobody. Along the way, however, I was amused and got a couple of nice chuckles, mainly from some of the dialogue. Considering the script and the editing, the two leads come out unscathed and are, clearly, as talented as they are attractive. Opening weekend business (9/6/2002) was strong at about $12 Million, not bad, especially considering that the budget was quoted at about $10 million. While I can’t recommend it, I’m glad I saw it!

TADPOLE Rated: 8
This a small, but smart and amusing little film that I really enjoyed. The story involves a 15 year old male student, Oscar (Aaron Stanford) who develops a major crush on his 40 year old step-mother (Sigourney Weaver), who is happily married to his father (John Ritter). Through a series of circumstances, Oscar ends up sleeping with his step-mom’s best friend, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth). The cast is wonderful and can expect well-deserved award consideration, especially for the seriously underrated Ms. Neuwirth. Director Gary Winick is sure to get plenty of additional job opportunities on the basis of this work, even though the film’s extremely limited budget shows. Nevertheless, I was reminded of The Graduate (1967).


TRAPPED Rated: 4 1/2
Based on the New York Times bestseller called 24 HOURS by gifted writer, Greg Iles, this child kidnapping thriller was a major disappointment, at least to me. Instead of being released, it was allowed to escape by Sony on September 20, 2002; the cast was not allowed to do interviews; advertising was limited; business has been extremely poor. Well cast, the first two-thirds is measured and suspenseful while follows the book. Suddenly, the pace changes, leaving out all sorts of crucial detail. This makes the conclusion hard to follow and harder to believe. The last scene, which includes cars, trucks and airplanes, is botched by some of the worse photography, editing & special effects that I can recall. Don’t blame the cast which includes Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Courtney Love and Stuart Townsend.

What a waste.

An unsuccessful Mira Sorvino period comedy effort.

A good family film from Disney, but a slight disappointment considering the outstanding premise. The question tackled is whether a person will choose to live forever or remain a mere mortal.

TULLY Rated: 9
This is a very special film that entered very limited theatrical release in early November 2002. It may or may not show up on the Sundance Cable Channel, also, but is well worth seeking out wherever. It also received excellent reviews from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Ebert & Roeper, Rex Reed, and the Ain’t It Cool website.

Excellent performance by Diane Lane! Read the full review here.

Clearly, I am not the target audience for this one, but even considering that fact, I just don’t think it’s a very good movie. Pop princess Mandy Moore is nice in her theatrical film debut, and could well do some effective future film work, but both she and co-star Shane West (television’s Once and Again) are severely limited by the story/script. Expect lots of tears from audiences that become involved. Not me.

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.

Although I like what this film has to say, I don’t like the way it says it. Similar in storyline, but vastly inferior to Black Hawk Down (2001), I question whether we need yet another war movie featuring such graphic violence. The trend started with Steven Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan (1998), but now I’ve seen enough limbs blown off in bloody close-ups to last me awhile. Although I’m not a big fan of Mel Gibson, I have enjoyed many of his past performances, including all 4 in the Lethal Weapon series (1987, 1989, 1992, 1998) and The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982). This time he’s just not very effective and seems to be trying to channel John Wayne.

Although the film is a slight disappointment, the excellent acting of the cast including Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zellweger, Cole Hauser, Robin Wright Penn, and Patrick Fugit is reason enough to recommend it. Interesting direction by British Peter Kosminsky brings the popular book by Janet Fitch to the screen.

This one is recommended for Billy Crudup fans ONLY.

XXX (TRIPLE X) Rated : 4 1/2
Being over 40, clearly puts me beyond the targeted demographic for this one. Reviews are generally mild to negative although opening weekend (8/9/02) business was excellent at about $45 million. (Distributor Sony probably expected more.) I doubt that word-of-mouth will be positive enough to allow it to challenge the $145 million domestic gross of The Fast and The Furious (2001), the previous hit from director Rob Cohen and star Vin Diesel. Nevertheless, likely worldwide performance probably guarantees that an already announced sequel will become a reality. In my opinion, The Fast and The Furious is a much better film and I found myself wishing I were seeing it again instead of this.

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.

Outstanding! See my full review here.

…more to come.

...more to come!

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