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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 2003.


2 FAST 2 FURIOUS Rated: 4 1/2
Unless you’re a twenty-something male dude with a automobile fixation, I suggest you avoid this absurd action fantasy. As far as I’m concerned, call it “2 TRITE 2 LOUD.”

No acting is allowed/required from the ethnically diverse cast.

Basically, they just pose, and with one exception, do that well enough. The exception is whitebread hunk, Paul Walker (Varsity Blues—1999 & The Skulls—2000) who seems to be trying to channel a black Keanu Reeves. Allegedly, he just turned down the role of Superman in the upcoming version of that comic book classic. That’s probably a mistake since I think he’d be excellent, and it would have made him rich!

21 GRAMS Rated: 8
Excellent, raw film making from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu that includes outstanding acting by Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro.

ADAPTATION Rated: 7 1/2
If you’re looking for a conventional film, look elsewhere. Adaptation is original and clever. It is also self-indulgent and pretentious. Finally, in the end, it is incomplete, unresolved and unsatisfying. Keep in mind, however, that some considered it a great film.

What it’s about: Adaptation’s real life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage), is in demand after writing a hit film, Being John Malkovich (1999); he is hired to adapt for the screen a non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief, written by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). The material from that book, totally non-cinematic, deals with the real life story of John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a plant dealer who steals, clones, then sells rare orchids. We in the audience see Laroche’s life unfold as we also watch the scriptwriter struggle to get a decent treatment/adaptation for a screenplay based on that book. Cage, Streep and Cooper are excellent. Since I like films that deal with how Hollywood works, I never lost interest and loved some of the inside references. On the other hand, I felt cheated when the film ended. In my opinion, the adapter failed in his mission. Clearly, writer Kaufman and director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich -1999) are talented filmmakers. Next time, I’d like to see them use that talent on less convoluted material.

Near the middle of the film, when Charlie is having a conversation with his twin brother and/or alter ego, Donald, the subject of a famous image is discussed. That image is the one that depicts a snake eating its own tale. What a fitting motif for this film!

ALEX & EMMA Rated: 6
Consider this a minority report.

I’m not a huge fan of this rather mild romantic comedy, but after seeing it, I’m shocked it just how negative & nasty most of the reviews have been. Further, it has done surprisingly weak business in its first few days of wide release since opening on 6/20/2003.As for me, I was diverted and entertained, mainly because of its two stars. I always like Luke Wilson (Home Fries—1998, Legally Blond—2001), and for a change, I actually enjoyed co-star Kate Hudson (How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days—2003). Usually, she is just too “cute” for my taste and seems but a pale imitation of her mother, Goldie Hawn. (Even here, her cameos as maids from several different countries are grating.) Director Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally—1989, A Few Good Men—1992) has done better work than this in the past, but Alex & Emma is a step in the right direction after his most recent, the unwatchable The Story Of Us in 1999.

Maybe I’m just out of touch since I found this much more satisfying than the recent smash comedies: Bringing Down The House, How To Lose A Guy, Anger Management, all of which I found disorganized, disjointed, poorly written, redundant, and unnecessarily vulgar.

I did especially like the last scene of the film, but felt the idea was a bit better than its execution. Through clever editing, both the past and the present as presented in the film were brought together is a very fitting manner. I also enjoyed the Nora Jones song featured on the soundtrack.

A MIGHTY WIND Rated: 8 1/2
This is the latest from the gifted writer/director Christopher Guest and a worthy follow up to his recent hit Best In Show (2000). Personally, I thought this one was a bit better than his previous films. Best described as a mockumentary, it tells of the reunion of three extremely popular 1960s folk groups as they prepare for and perform a show to memorialize their recently deceased concert promoter/mentor. The groups could well be based on The Kingston Trio; The New Christy Minstrels; and Peter, Paul & Mary and/or Simon & Garfunkel. The entire ensemble cast is wonderful and works together seamlessly. My personal favorites are Catherine O’Hara (Mickey) and Eugene Levy (Mitch), while I’d have enjoyed seeing more of the underused Parker Posey. I’d be surprised if everyone didn’t do their own excellent singing, and think the title song deserves an Oscar nomination if it’s an original for the film and qualifies. Grosses are excellent in the opening few days starting April 16, 2003, where it is playing limited key city runs across North America. The large majority of early reviews have been favorable to enthusiastic. If the concept interests you, you’re likely to enjoy this one. Look for it.

ANGER MANAGEMENT Rated: 5 1/2
For all those millions who love What Women Want (2000), How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (2003) & Bringing Down The House (2003), you’re probably gonna love this one also. I didn’t, although I’ve seen worse, much worse, starting with other Adam Sandler stinkers such as Big Daddy (1999) & Mr. Deeds (2002). A terrific concept is mostly wasted here. Mild mannered & even tempered Dave (Sandler) has a misunderstanding with a flight attendant. A judge sentences him to extensive therapy to correct his alleged anger problem. The therapist, Dr. Buddy Rydell, is played by a way-over-the-top Jack Nicholson. The casting is inspired, but other than a couple of clever scenes, most already familiar to anyone who saw the trailer or television spots, it just isn’t consistently funny. To give you any idea of the type humor, the script includes a string of jokes dealing with the penis size of one of the supporting actors. And, yes, the MPAA rating is PG-13. The direction by Peter Segal (Tommy Boy—1995 and My Fellow Americans -1996) is competent but not distinguished. Since he is a graduate of USC, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt! Seriously, I do suspect he could do a good job if he had a decent script to work from. Writing here is credited to David Dorfman for this, his first script to be filmed. Based on what we see, there’s plenty of room for improvement for his next. Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is sweet, but mostly wasted as Sandler’s girlfriend. Heather Graham (Boogie Nights—1997) is attractive and effective in her unbilled cameo; Woody Harrelson (White Men Can’t Jump- 1992) is neither in his unbilled cameo as a transvestite. In a supporting part, the late actress Lynne Thigpen is enjoyable as a judge. She will be missed. According to Cinemascore’s opening day exit polls, as is the case with all of Mr. Sandler’s more popular films, the audience that it really pleases is under 21 and male. Others are far less satisfied. Opening weekend North American business, April 11, 2003, is outstanding as several records were broken with over $42 million taken in.

ANTWONE FISHER Rated: 8
Oscar winning actor Denzel Washington makes an auspicious debut as a theatrical feature film director here. He also co-stars.

Inspired by a true story, we learn about a young Black man named Antwone Fisher. Because of several violent outbursts, the Navy forces Antwone (Derek Luke) into therapy with a Naval psychologist (Washington). Reluctantly, Antwone tells of his abused/lonely/sad childhood & eventually, he locates/confronts and starts to conquer his demons. Derek Luke makes an extremely impressive debut as Antwone and shows signs that he could follow in the career path blazed by both Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier (In The Heat Of The Night—1967).

The entire cast is excellent, but earning special mention are Salli Richardson as Berta and Joy Bryant as Cheryl. Further, in her one scene as Eva, Viola Davis is memorable.

While the majority of the cast is black, it’d be a real shame if this one doesn’t cross-over to other audiences. This is excellent entertainment for all.

BAD SANTA Rated: 8 1/2
Twisted and hilarious. Billy Bob Thornton is terrific as a drunken department store Santa/burglar.Be warned: It is absolutely NOT for children.

BASIC Rated: 3
Simply put, Basic is bad convoluted crap. Alert the Raspberry Academy! John Travolta (Pulp Fiction—1994) is ridiculous; Connie Nielsen (Gladiator—2000) is adequate/attractive in an unplayable/silly part, while her attempt at a Southern accent is inconsistent and awful; Samuel L. Jackson (A Time To Kill—1996) is wasted in a smallish part; Timothy Daly (TV’s Wings) hasn’t lost his looks and his career will survive this. Blame director John McTiernan. That shouldn’t be a surprise since he also inflicted the following duds previously: Rollerball (2002), The 13th Warrior (1999), The Last Action Hero (1993), Medicine Man (1992). He did direct two of the three Die Hard films, 1988 and 1995 editions and got it right both times with those. Call them flukes. The writing here is blamed on one person, James Vanderbilt, but I suspect that whatever he put on the page bares little resemblance to what appears on the screen. Amazingly, the credits list fourteen (Yes, 14!) producers!

The setting is present day Panama and the plot concerns a Drug Enforcement Agency’s representative (Travolta), who investigates the disappearance of a legendary Army ranger drill sergeant (Jackson). Several of the sergeant’s cadets behave badly during a training exercise gone severely awry…or do they?! We are shown one particular incident in the jungle many times from many different points of view. By the time the film ends, I had no idea who really did what to whom and couldn’t have cared less, anyway.

Observation: John Travolta continues to display his love of tobacco here. Not only does he smoke cigarettes throughout the film, he adds crewing to his repertoire this time. Not that he’s much of a role model anymore, I really do wonder if he gets paid for being photographed using tobacco so often on screen.

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM Rated: 8 1/2
Bend It Like Beckham is easily the most entertaining new film released during the first three months of 2003. While not quite as sharp as one on my all-time favorites, Billy Elliot (2000), it does remind me of that one. It’s also similar to My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2001) but is a much better film than that huge hit. My guess is that you’ll like this one if you liked either or both of those. The setting is present day London, England, and tells the story of a very talented 18 year old woman who loves playing soccer and her attempt to become a professional in that popular sport despite the fact that her conservative Indian family strongly objects. Parminder Nagra is delightful as the rebellious Jess, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers revives his career as her coach and romantic interest. (I thought that Mr. Rhys-Meyers had committed career suicide with Velvet Goldmine in 1998!) Keira Knightley, as Jules, also registers strongly as Jess’ teammate/friend/sometimes rival.Director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha (What’s Cooking?—2000) continues to impress/improve and is a worthy addition to the limited ranks of successful female directors that can/should get work these days. The title refers to the ability of British superstar soccer David’s Beckhams’ unique ability to kick curve balls. Knowledge of and/or affection for soccer (or any sport) is not necessary for enjoying this film. Bend It Like Beckham is a big hit in England and other parts of the world. It deserves to be a success in the United States also and is being given a platform release that will give it a chance to find it’s deserved audience. Look for it.

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE Rated: 3
Up until now, I’d never really thought much about the phrase: “His (or her) jaw dropped.” Literally, at one point in this embarrassment, that’s exactly what happened to me. I was stunned and couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Of course, I hasten to point out, everyone else in the almost full Century City, California theatre on the opening March 2003 Sunday afternoon was having a wonderful time. Maybe it’s just me.

I like all the cast. The two stars, Steve Martin (Bowfinger—1999) and Queen Latifah (Chicago—2003) actually do manage to overcome much of the material, had good chemistry and deliver some real laughs. However, I could hardily stand to watch Joan Plowright (Enchanted April—1992) and hope she doesn’t really need money badly enough to have to do this sort of crap. This woman is one of England’s most esteemed actresses and the widow of Sir Laurence Olivier. Her part here calls for her to end up in a seedy hip-hop club standing on top of a bar smoking pot. Eugene Levy (American Pie—1999), who is usually funny even with questionable material, faulters here. Betty White (from television’s golden comedy series, The Golden Girls) embarrasses herself and should have known better than to speak some of the dialogue given her. She needs to have her mouth washed out with soap. Jean Smart (from the excellent television series Designing Women) isn’t supposed to be funny here, and isn’t, but she is badly photographed and looks tired. Missi Pyle, as Ms. Smart’s sister, gives the worst supporting performance I’ve seen in a long time. Canadian hunk Victor Webster could have a future screen career; he seems to have presence but his character simply disappears. Actually, many plot points are introduced, far too many, and several just evaporate.

Blame director Adam Shankman and writer Jason Filardi. This is Mr. Shankman’s third released film. Bringing Down The House makes his earlier effort, The Wedding Planner (2001) look like an Oscar winner. This is Mr. Filardi’s first script to be filmed. Maybe anyone really can get their script filmed.

Exit scores were all good to excellent. Opening weekend North American business, March 7, 2003, was great at over $30 million. I still think it’s awful!

BRUCE ALMIGHTY Rated: 6
If you think you’d like this one, you probably will. As for me, I was disappointed. This is, however, a good career choice for Jim Carrey and his fans will be delighted. Director Tom Shadyac does a competent job here bettering his similar, but vastly inferior Liar Liar (1997), and almost erases memories of the infantile and insipid Ace Ventura (1994). Although many would disagree, I’m still a big fan of his Robin Williams star vehicle and big hit Patch Adams (1998).

As almost always, Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy -1989) is excellent, this time as God! Jennifer Aniston (television’s Friends) gets all there is to get out of the girlfriend role and it’s nice to see her in a hit film.

CAMP Rated: 8
While far from perfect, this is a sweet little film about gifted young musicians and their experiences at Camp Ovation, a summer camp in New York State. Appreciation for Broadway style music is probably a prerequisite for liking it. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN Rated: 8 1/2
This is terrific light/fun entertainment. While not likely to be on many top ten lists, it’s still most pleasurable and I found myself smiling all the way through it. As other have pointed out, it seems like a “working vacation” for everyone before & behind the camera. Clearly, they were all enjoying themselves. The large majority of audiences will do the same.

Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr. as told in his book, the plot tells us the incredible story of a teenager who successfully impersonates a school teacher, an airline pilot, a medical doctor, and an attorney. Along the way, he forges/cashes checks totaling several million dollars.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic—1997 & Gangs of New York—2002) does a great job as Frank, and this is the first time I’ve really liked him. Double Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia—1993 & Forrest Gump—1994) is flawless in a low-keyed supporting performance as the FBI agent who has the extremely difficult of attempting to track down this fugitive. Oscar winner Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter—1978 & Pennies From Heaven—1981), Amy Adams as fiancé Brenda, and Jennifer Gardner (from 2001/2 television hit Alias) shine in support. Multiple Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters—1972, ET—1982, The Color Purple—1985 & many more) provides just the light touch called for. Script, score, cinematography, and all other technical elements are just right.

This Christmas Day 2002 release got excellent exit scores and business is strong. I highly recommend this one.

The animated title sequence is a delight and reminded me of the great work from the late master of that art, Maurice Binder (Two For The Road—1967 and many of the James Bond series).

CHARLIE’S ANGEL’S: FULL THROTTLE Rated: 5
If you’ve seen the television spots or the theatrical trailer for this sequel to Charlie’s Angels—2000), you’ll know just exactly what to expect from this one.If the materials appeal to you, you’ll probably enjoy it. As for me, I found it LOUD, repetitious and disappointing. The cast is attractive, and for many that may be enough.

CHICAGO Rated: 10
When I first saw Chicago in mid-December 2002, right before it opened in theatres, it became my personal choice as the best film of 2002. I’m happy that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences agrees with me and awarded it the Oscar for best picture of that year.

COLD CREEK MANOR Rated: 5 1/2
When I first read about this one, I was hoping for another What Lies Beneath (2000) or better. No such luck. I like both of its stars, Dennis Quaid (The Big Easy—1987, The Rookie—2002) & Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct, Casino—1995),and they helped it hold my attention. Therefore, I’m not sorry I saw it. However, a couple of gaps in continuity and/or logic, plus the fact that much is far too predictable and familiar render it inferior to memorable films of this “troubled house” thriller genre. Quaid & Stone do make an interesting couple but neither is able to make much out of parts that just aren’t very well written or conceived. While both are in their forties, I hope these still attractive/appealing stars continue to get good parts & I’d like to see them work together with better material. In support, Stephen Dorff (Backbeat—1994, Blade—1998) is impossible to ignore as he seems to be auditioning for the part of a villain in a potential remake of Deliverance (1972). I doubt that this part could be overacted, but Dorff sure seems to be trying, not that that’s a bad thing, since he is fun to watch. Juliette Lewis, Oscar nominated for her acting in Cape Fear (1991) is ok, but should probably avoid these trailer trash roles for awhile. Director Mike Figgis (Internal Affairs -1990, Leaving Las Vegas—1995) does a decent, if uninspired job, especially considering the material.

COLD MOUNTAIN Rated: 8 1/2
One of the ten best of 2003, but just slightly chilly for my taste. Renée Zellweger is likely to win a deserved Oscar as best supporting actress while both Jude Law and Nicole Kidman deserve lead actor nomination consideration.

CONFIDENCE Rated: 5
CONfidence is CONvoluted, CONtrived, and CONfusing.

Director James Foley (After Dark, My Sweet—1990) is one of my least favorite directors. This did nothing to change my opinion, but his work here is adequate. I always like Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen—1995, Saving Private Ryan—1998) and thought he was as good as the material allowed here, and he looks great with a shorter haircut. Rachael Weisz (The Mummy—1999) is attractive enough but continues to underwhelm me. She must have a following, however, since she continues to get good parts. Two-time best actor Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman (Midnight Cowboy—1969, Rain Man—1988) can sleep late on next year’s nomination morning, but he is amusing in a scuzzy supporting character part. Brian Van Holt (Black Hawk Down—2001, Basic—2003) continues to register strongly in another supporting part and could well compete for roles that fit Vin Diesel (XXX—2002). I didn’t even recognize Andy Garcia (Oceans Eleven—2001). This is writer Doug Jung’s first script, and he’s obviously a fan of The Sting (1973), The Grifters (1993) & Pulp Fiction (1994). Nobody will confuse this with those.

DOWN WITH LOVE Rated: 5
This is a major disappointment for me. I was expecting to love it. Patterned after the wonderful Doris Day-Rock Hudson (or Cary Grant) comedies of the late fifties & early sixties, Down With Love just doesn’t work. It falls flat & most of its attempts to be “naughty” come across as crass or vulgar. If you can locate them at your local video store, I recommend that you rent Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961) or That Touch Of Mink (1962) instead. They’ll let you know what the goal was here. Most of the cast is not the problem. Both Renee Zellweger, in the Doris Day role, and David Hyde Pierce in the Tony Randall/best buddy part, really get it right. However, while I generally like Ewan McGregor, his take on a Rock Hudson type here reminded me more of Austin Powers than of Rock Hudson, and that’s not a good thing. Clearly, director Peyton Reed (Bring It On—2000) has talent & deserves another chance. The look of the film is just right, but it seems much longer than its 100 minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this one.

THE EMPEROR’S CLUB Rated: 8 1/2
In the tradition of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939 & 1969); To Sir, With Love (1965); Dead Poet’s Society (1989) and Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), this is a worthy addition to the group of excellent films dealing with teachers and their students.

Oscar winner Kevin Kline gives another performance that deserves award consideration.

THE EVENT Rated: 7 1/2

FAR FROM HEAVEN Rated: 9
Expect year-end award recognition starting with a probable best actress Oscar nomination for Julianne Moore and likely consideration for Todd Haynes as best director. Further, there is no justice if its cinematography, musical scoring, art and set decoration, and costumes aren’t recognized. A tribute to director Douglas Sirk, Far From Heaven is told in the style of his romantic melodramas of the fifties. Sirk’s resume includes: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written On The Wind (1956) and Imitation Of Life (1959). These are all personal favorites of mine. Far From Heaven fits right in with those.

The story tells us of the painful break-up of what looks like the perfect marriage of beautiful Connecticut couple, Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid). Emerging overt homosexuality and interracial attraction soon raise their heads, however…

Set in the 1950s, Far From Heaven, is created to look as if it were actually filmed in that time period. This is done with real affection and great care. For example, scenes that take place as the characters drive cars were shot in the style of the day using rear-screen projection.

While young viewers may not be impressed, older viewers are in for a real treat.

FINAL DESTINATION 2 Rated: 7
While clearly a “formula” film, I’m pleased to report that the formula works this time. The premise deals with the assumption that you can’t cheat death. That is, if your number comes up & you are spared because of unforeseen circumstances, death will then seek you out, chase you down and “get” you sooner rather than later. The cast here is young, able and attractive. I especially liked Ali Larter from American Outlaws (2001) and Michael Landes, who has considerable television experience. While this is only his second film as director, David R. Ellis has a long resume that includes lots of behind-the-camera stunt work, many assignments on big films as assistant and second unit director, plus some acting work. He proves here that he’s quite ready for more and bigger films as the director. Business on opening weekend, January 31, 2003, was a strong $18 million or so, and the good exit scores ranged from A- to B. If the subject matter and advertising materials appeal to you, I suspect you’ll like this one.

FINDING NEMO Rated: 8
Ok, from the top, I’ll admit it. I am not a big fan of animation. Regardless, this one is well worth seeing, even by those that share my usual limited interest in the medium. Look for it to win the 2003 Oscar for best animated film, and there’s a chance it could be nominated as best film, also. (I wouldn’t go that far.) I highly recommend it for everyone, however. Pixar Animation Studios (Toy Story—1995) has come up with a film that deserves the huge business that it is attracting.

FRIDA Rated: 7
This was a disappointment for me, but producer/star Salma Hayek deserves the praise she is receiving both for her performance and her perseverance in getting this, her dream project, made. Although many people whose opinions I respect liked this film a lot more than I did, I just never got involved to the extent I feel I should have. If the advertising materials and subject matter dealing with Mexican painter/artist’s life interests you, give it a try.

GIGLI Rated: 5 1/2
I am NOT recommending this one, but as for me, personally, I found parts of it entertaining/diverting/amusing/touching. On the other hand, I did find other parts dull, slow, talky, awkward and disgustingly violent. Regardless, and to its credit, it was about adults and it did attempt to do something other than explode everything in sight.

As a group, I’ve rarely seen worse reviews, and, frankly I don’t understand it. In my opinion, Gigli never approaches the low level of dreck such as Madonna’s Swept Away (2002) or Travolta’s Battlefield Earth (2000). Both Roger Ebert and Daily Variety had about the same reaction to Gigli that I did but everything else I read was nasty/mean/vicious.

I thought both Jennifer Lopez (The Wedding Planner—2001) and her real life mate, Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting—1997) were effective, attractive, and believable in their parts. I’m not sure when it became a crime for actors to take parts that spotlight them and show them to good advantage.

Debuting actor Justin Bartha was excellent as a mentally handicapped hostage and is likely to get future work in totally different roles.

August 1, 2003 opening weekend business was poor.

THE HARD WORD Rated: 7
This is a rough Australian crime thriller that is unusual, clever, and very satisfying. For the first half, it was hard to follow or to know just where it was going, but, ultimately, it’s well worth sticking with since things are all ultimately explained. Be warned, however that the accents are heavy and there is considerable violence.Both leads are well known in the United States but received their first successes in Australia. Guy Pearce, born in England, moved to Australia when he was three, and Rachel Griffiths is a native of Melbourne. Pearce (Adventures Of Priscilla—1994, LA Confidential—1997, Memento—2000) is one of my top favorites and he does his usual excellent work here. (I don’t think having his hair look dirty was necessary, however!) Griffiths (Muriel’s Wedding—1994, Hilary & Jackie—1998, HBO Television’s Six Feet Under) is terrific in a part that Barbara Stanwyck would have been perfect for in the forties. I’d love to see Pearce & Griffiths co-star again.First time director and writer, Scott Roberts has a bright future, and it’s a pleasure to see producer Al Clark (Adventures Of Priscilla—1994) working with Guy Pearce again.Truthfully, this one is really only for film buffs and people who enjoy international and/or independent films, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

HOLES Rated: 8 1/2
Holes is wholly satisfying and one of those rare films that seems to get better & better the more I think about it. The film is based on a critically acclaimed/popular book by Louis Sachar, who adapted his book for this exceptional screenplay.

Don’t be mislead, or put-off, by the fact that it’s rated PG and is being released by Disney. HOLES is anything but typical Disney “family” fodder. (Could this possibly be a trend?! I also thoroughly enjoyed The Rookie, which they released in 2002.) My darker suspicion is that both The Rookie and Holes are happy accidents and didn’t turn out as expected, thank goodness. This time director Andrew Davis got it right. His previous credits are a mixed bag. They range from the very poor, Keanu’s Chain Reaction (1996); to the bad, Arnuld’s Collateral Damage (2002); to the good/under-rated, A Perfect Murder (1998): to the terrific, The Fugitive (1993). Clearly, he’s fearless since he also directed two of Steven Seagal’s efforts. The plot: As part of a continuing family curse, teenaged Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) is unjustly sent to ‘Camp Green Lake’, which is neither, for a minor crime that he didn’t commit. The camp is located in the middle of a desert where Stanley and other youthful offenders are required to dig 5 foot holes in the sand daily as their punishment. Actually, the warden, Sigourney Weaver (Alien—1979), and her assistants, are supervising/carefully monitoring the digging with the hope of finding mysterious/hidden treasure which the boys don’t even know exists. When Stanley and his friend Zero (Khleo Thomas) can’t take the harsh treatment any longer, they escape which leads to just deserts for all involved. Skillfully mixed in with the main story are flashbacks related to this family curse as it was visited upon the three previous generations of Stanleys. The entire cast is well chosen and does a good job. Oscar winning best actor Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy—1969) continues to build his second career as a supporting/character actor extraordinaire. Both he and Ms. Weaver are a delight to watch as villains. I have never been a fan of Patricia Arquette (Lost Highway—1998) and can’t understand why she continues to get cast, especially without some dental attention.

I wholeheartedly recommended this one! I find it’s sly humor irresistible.

HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES Rated: 1/2 (out of a possible 10)
This is the WORST movie I’ve ever seen.

Written(?) & directed(?) by rock person Rob Zombie, scheduled United States opening is April 11, 2003 in a few unfortunate theatres. Made at and for Universal on a $7 million budget, Universal decided against releasing it after taking a look at what was delivered to them. Smart. Mr. Zombie bought it back and announcements went out that M-G-M would be the distributor. Soon after, good judgment prevailed and they declined also. Smart. Lion’s Gate is actually allowing it to escape.

It is dumb, gory, disgusting, disjointed, incompetent & repugnant.

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG Rated: 9
Outstanding. Hypnotic. Unforgettable. Amazing.
This contemporary tragedy is film making at it’s best. Highest praise for all the actors, especially: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Frances Fisher, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Jonathan Ahdout. First time writer/director Vadim Perelman is award worthy.

HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE Rated: 7
There is nothing new here, but I was entertained. Given the cast and the director, I expected more, but if you don’t go in with high expectations, I think you’ll be satisfied. Don’t expect it to land anywhere near the top of Harrison Ford’s best or biggest list, but he is loose and likeable, plus he is acting his real age. While Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor—2001) looks good and is well cast as Ford’s young partner, he well may have seen one too many Keanu Reeves films while preparing for this part.

Co-writer & director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham—1988, White Men Can’t Jump—1992) does competent, but uninspired, work this time. For my taste, it’s just a little too laid back where I’d have preferred more edge.

HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS Rated: 2 1/2
I hated this one. In fact, I cringed so often, I got a sore neck. Don’t blame the cast. At one point, female lead Kate Hudson (Almost Famous—2002) is a dinner guest of male lead Matthew McConaughey (A Time To Kill—1996). It is very early in their courtship, & he has personally prepared a gourmet meal, including lamb chops, for her. Given the silly nature of this film, that she claims to be a vegetarian is anything but a surprise. However, one of the many writers of the piece provides her with a line of dialogue that gave me my one laugh. When he presents her entree, she says: “Please take it away before I gag!” That’s exactly the way I felt about the film. To be fair, the rest of the audience that I saw the film with at a February 7, 2003, matinee in a Beverly Hills, CA theatre, loved every minute of it. The fact that they were, to a person, young & female, helps explains that. Exit polls are favorable, but most reviews range from mild to hostile. Opening weekend business, February 7, 2003, was very strong at about $25 million. Paramount’s advertising department did a great job. The filmmakers, including director Donald Petrie, didn’t.

Exit scores were all good (B- to A) but every review that I read was negative. On the other hand, grosses for the first six days, starting 1/10/2003, were excellent at over $20 million. This is especially significant since the films budget was quoted at only $17 million.

IN AMERICA Rated: 8 1/2
A touching story based on the real life experiences of filmmaker Jim Sheridan when he immigrated from Ireland to the United States with his family.

IN THE CUT Rated: 8
Meg Ryan (Sleepless In Seattle—1993) deserves Oscar consideration for her work in this rough, tough erotic thriller from co-writer/director Jane Campion (The Piano—1993). Several other cast members are almost as impressive, including: Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count On Me—2000), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Short Cuts— 1993), unbilled Kevin Bacon (Footloose—1984, The River Wild—1994), and previously unknown, at least to me, Nick Damici as Ruffalo’s detective partner.

Cinematographer Dion Beebe received an Oscar nomination for 2002’s Chicago. This could well place him in that category for a second straight year. All other technical credits are excellent.

Be warned that nudity, sex and violence are prominent. Early critical and personal reactions are as strong as they are varied.

I was reminded of two of my past favorites: Alan Pakula/Jane Fonda’s Klute (1971) & Richard Brooks/Diane Keaton/Tuesday Weld’s Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977). Also, though absolutely NOT one of my favorites, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), came to mind since it covered similar material in a far less effective manner.

INTOLERABLE CRUELTY Rated: 8
Sophisticated, sour, and delicious.

THE ITALIAN JOB Rated: 8 1/2
Highly recommended.

JUST MARRIED Rated: 6 1/2
Call it a guilty pleasure if you like, but Just Married caused me to laugh out loud several times. Anyone that tries to take this little fantasy seriously, is just being naive. The leads, real & reel life couple Ashton Kutcher (Dude, Where’s My Car—2000) & Brittany Murphy (8 Mile—2002), are extremely attractive and completely likeable here. Look for future big things from both. Christian Kane (The Broken Hearts Club—2000) is good in support, and Veronica Cartwright (The Witches Of Eastwick—1987) as Mount’s mother-in-law who insists on being address by her first name, which happens to be “Pussy,” is terrific.

Exit scores were all good (B- to A) but every review that I read was negative. On the other hand, grosses for the first six days, starting 1/10/2003, were excellent at over $20 million. This is especially significant since the films budget was quoted at only $17 million.

KILL BILL (Vol. 1) Rated: 7 1/2
Fascinating, but too much overkill for me, especially in the sequence where the wonderful Uma Thurman battles/bloodies about 100 others by herself.

THE LAST SAMURAI Rated: 5
Ok, right off, I admit that I think Edward Zwick is a terrible director. I haven’t liked anything he’s done in the past, including Glory (1989) and this is no exception. It is competent, but I was totally bored and squirmed for the entire two and a half hours. Also, the violence is abundant and far too graphic. Tom Cruise works hard, but is miscast. Many like this one, but I had to struggle to stay until the very predictable ending.

LAUREL CANYON Rated: 8
Call it a personal “guilty pleasure” if you like, but this one sure did entertain me. As a Los Angeles resident, perhaps films set here are more likely to resonate with me. While this one doesn’t challenge my top 5 films in/about Los Angeles, it’s a worthy runner-up. [My top five “Los Angeles” films: L.A. Confidential (1997), Chinatown (1974), Shortcuts (1993), Boogie Nights (1997), The Long Goodbye (1973)] The Laurel County section of Los Angeles county is located in the Hollywood Hills between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. It attracts some of our more colorful citizens and is and/or has been especially popular with hippies, film folk and musicians. Basic plot here deals with what happens when rock record producer Jane’s (Frances McDormand) uptight psysician son (Christian Bale) and his fiancé (Kate Beckinsale) move in with Jane and her younger rock star lover (Alessandro Nivola). Never one of my personal favorites, Oscar winner McDormand (FARGO—1996), has never looked better and I really liked her here. She’ll get some deserved award attention at the end of the year, I suspect. I continue to be a fan of both Bale (American Psycho—2000) and Beckinsale (Serendipity—2001) and found both very appealing here. Nivola (Mansfield Park—1999) is excellent as Ian and seems to be doing his own strong singing on a good song, “Shade & Honey.”

Natascha McElhone (Solaris—2002) also impresses as another doctor at the hospital where Bale works. Of these five actors, the only one speaking with their real life accent is McDormand! Bale, born in Wales, plays an American; Beckinsale, born in London, plays an American; McElhone, also born in London is Israeli here; Nivola, born in Boston, plays British (or Australian?) here.

This is the second film for writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art—1998). Based on this, I look forward to her next.

March 7, 2003 opening weekend business was promising. In only eight theatres, four in the New York area & four in the Los Angeles area, estimates indicate a three day average gross of $20,000 per theatre. This is good for a specialized film of this sort. I’d like to see it catch on. Early reviews are mixed but more are favorable than not.

LEGALLY BLONDE 2: RED, WHITE & BLONDE Rated: 5
Silly, just silly.

I’m a big fan of Legally Blonde (2001), and found this sequel hard to take. As usual, returning star Reese Witherspoon (Election—1999) is delightful and is the only possible reason I can think of for seeing this one. The well chosen supporting cast is completely wasted.

THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE Rated: 7 1/2
While many reviews of this one were negative, put me in the positive column. (By the way, opening night exit polls were excellent and ranged from B+ to A+.) The plot concerns characters opposed to capital punishment, especially as applied currently in Texas, and considering my position on that subject, my appreciation of this film can’t be much of a surprise. That aside, I think it’s a good film that tells an interesting story is a satisfying manner. Although I don’t always like the films director Alan Parker makes, I am a big fan of: Midnight Express (1978), Fame (1980), Birdy (1984) and Angel Heart (1987). I’d need to see Mississippi Burning (1988) again before expressing an opinion about it, and have some rather mild reservations about Evita (1996), which I consider good, but not outstanding. Kevin Spacey is a Texas college professor who opposes the death penalty. When the film starts, we find him in prison with only a few days left before his own execution is scheduled. As viewers, we listen in as he tells reporter, Kate Winslet, how he got into that situation. I think the cast did a good job and continue to become more impressed with Laura Linney (You Can Count On Me—2000), Gabriel Mann (Abandon—2002), and Matt Craven (Dragonfly—2002) each time I see them.

Opening weekend business, February 21, 2003, was fair, but, considering the good exit scores and the film’s rather modest budget, it still could show the profit that I think it deserves.

LOST IN TRANSLATION Rated: 5 1/2
While most reviews of this September 2003 limited release have been positive, even enthusiastic, I must disagree. I found it to be a boring film about bored people. The slight story tells of two Americans who meet while visiting Tokyo. To be fair, audiences seem to be evenly divided in their response with about half finding it wonderful and the other half being as bored as I was.

This is Sophia Coppola’s second film as a writer/director and I wanted to like it. I’m one of the few that thought she did decent work as an actress in her father’s 1990 release, The Godfather: Part III and suspect that I’ll appreciate future films from her. Not this time.
I enjoy Bill Murray (Ghost Busters—1984, The Royal Tenenbaums—2001) in small doses, but for me, a little of him goes a long way & I still cringe whenever I think of him in the unbearable What About Bob? (1991). Some predict that he’ll get Oscar consideration for this film. I hope not.

Co-star Scarlett Johansson (Ghost World—2000) continues to get good reviews, but hasn’t impressed me, at least so far.

LOVE ACTUALLY Rated: 9
I’m a big fan of the work of Brit Richard Curtis who wrote the original scripts for Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), and now, Love Actually (2003). All three of these contemporary British romantic comedy/dramas are delightful, witty, warm and wonderful. Nobody writes this sort of film better than Mr.Curtis, and here, for the first time, he directs. That he does so with equal expertise comes as no surprise to me.

Hugh Grant stars in all three of the above-mentioned films, plus he co-stars in both Bridget Jones films. Although I find Grant annoying upon occasion, I always like him when he works with Curtis. This is no exception and I’ve never found him more likable and exhibiting fewer annoying mannerisms. (Curtis shares writing credit also on Bridget Jones’s Diary—2001, and wrote the script for the sequel now in production and called Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason—2004.)

In it’s fast paced 2 1/4 hour running time, this romantic ensemble comedy/drama tells close to a dozen separate, but intertwining, stories of love in present day London (with a brief side trip to France). The story opens a few weeks before Christmas and reaches its climax on Christmas Eve when the characters converge. The credits for Love Actually identify Mary Selway & Fiona Weir as responsible for casting. I have no way of knowing how much input they had, but the individuals that assembled this group of actors deserves an Oscar for their efforts. Just listing those here I especially liked is a daunting task, but everyone on the following list is wonderful and deserves special praise.

In no particular order, here goes:

(1) Bill Nighy (I Capture The Castle—2003) deserves a supporting actor Oscar nomination for this wonderful performance as aging rocker Billy Mack.

(2) Making a welcome return after taking a break, Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson (Primary Colors—1998) deserves a supporting actress nomination this time out. She takes full advantage of a great opportunity to show her amazing range as sister to Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister & wife to Alan Rickman’s straying husband.

(3) Colin Firth (Another Country—1984, Apartment Zero—1988, and Bridget Jones’s Diary—2001) continues to charm as he finds a new love, Aurelia (Portuguese actress Lucia Moniz) at just the right, unexpected moment.

(4) Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List—1993) convinces as a recent widow and stepfather to ten year old Sam.

(5) Thomas Sangster amazes as Sam. He is a cousin of Hugh Grant and deserves to find himself cast as a relative of Hugh and many others in future films.

(6) Oscar nominee Laura Linney (You Can Count On Me—2000 & television mini series Tales Of The City—1993, 1998, 2001) is the only American cast in a major role among the mostly British cast. She’s up to the task and has one of the best moments in the film when she expresses her unbridled joy.

(7) The reason for Ms. Linney’s understandable enthusiasm is Rodrigo Santoro as Carl, one of her co-workers. I first noticed Santoro in Behind The Sun (2001), an excellent film from his native Brazil directed by Walter Salles. Expect him in future English language films since he’s already had a small part in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle—2003 & the 2003 television feature adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone.

(8) Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things—2003) is effective as bridegroom Peter.

(9) Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham—2003, Pirates Of The Caribbean—2003) is his new bride, Juliet and…

(10) Andrew Lincoln is Mark, best man at their wedding. In this plot thread, Mark is secretly in love with Juliet. Only eighteen years old now, Knightley has had quite a year and is absolutely lovely here. After seeing her three 2003 films, it’s no surprise to me that she currently has four major new films in pre-production! I especially liked Andrew Lincoln, who reminds me of American actor, Mark Feuerstein, probably best known for his nice work in American television series Ally Mcbeal, Caroline In The City & Good Morning Miami.

(11) Martine McCutcheon is Natalie, Prime Minister Hugh Grant’s assistant and love interest. Although new to me, she is well know in England, primarily as a television soap star and, more recently, as a best selling singer. She is a pretty young woman who reminded me a bit of Monica Lewinsky, perhaps because of a plot point dealing with an American President. This American President is vividly rendered by…

(12) Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade—1996).

(13) Kris Marshall, new to me, decides that a trip to Milwaukee is just what he needs to improve his sex life. He’s right about that and his journey leads to amusing cameo encounters with several hot, new young American beauties including Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie—1999 & 2001) & Elisha Cuthbert, best known as “Kim” in the terrific television series named 24. This plot thread also leads to a bit by one of my picks for future success, Denise Richards (Wild Things—1998).

(14) German born and new to me, Heike Makatsch makes a strong impression as Mia, Alan Rickman’s secretary. Her experience in several European films is apparent and she should attract the attention of American casting directors with her distinctive striking appearance and performance here.

(15) Rowan Atkinson, best known as the character he created and used in several films and on television called Bean or Mr. Bean, is very funny in his cameo as a fussy jewelery salesperson. Actually, I liked everyone else in the cast also!

Technical components are all of the same high quality as the writing, directing, casting & acting. The use of music, much of it previously recorded and popular, is exceptional. The song, “Love is All Around”, is a particular favorite of mine. It is sung by Bill Nighy near the start of the film and got me in the proper mood right away.

Love Actually is the kind of film that makes me glad I’m obsessed with movies!

MAID IN MANHATTAN Rated: 6
A reasonably entertaining romantic comedy, Maid In Manhattan is mild and predictable all the same. Patterned after Pretty Woman (1990), which I love, there’s very little of that magic here. Jennifer Lopez (Selena—1997) is not one of my personal favorites but she usually wins me over in her films. Even though she is beautiful and talented, this time I was far too aware of the careful calculation behind her every move. Co-star Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List—1993 and Red Dragon—2002) is only adequate although he looks good as a US Senatorial candidate. Co-star Natasha Richardson is awful in a silly part. Director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club—1993) is a curious and unfortunate choice for this type film. Opening weekend business (12/13/2002) and exit scores are both good. I was disappointed.

MATCHSTICK MEN Rated: 7 1/2

MONSTER Rated: 8

While outstanding film making, I still found this one very hard to watch because of subject matter/content. Writer/director Patty Jenkins makes an amazing debut and is sure to be in demand once this one gets seen.
It’s a biopic based on the life of Aileen Carol Wuornos, a highway prostitute who was eventually executed for killing seven men in Florida during the eighties. Her romantic relationship with Christina Ricci as Selby Wall is explored in detail. Ms. Ricci is excellent.

Charleze Theron (The Cider House Rules—1999) gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. She has a strong chance of winning the Oscar as best actress of 2003 and Ill be shocked if she isn’t nominated, at very least. At the prerelease Hollywood screening where I saw the film, Ms. Theron did a Q&A right afterwards and I had difficulty believing that the beautiful young woman on the stage could possibly be the same person I’d just seen in the film. Amazing!

MY BOSS’S DAUGHTER Rated: 3
Unless you are determined to see every film that Ashton Kutcher (Dude, Where’s My Car?—2000, Just Married—2003) ever makes, I suggest you pass on this lame & limp would-be comedy. Mr. Kutcher’s career will definitely survive this misstep, which was filmed many months before its August 2003 release, but it will be very difficult for him to select a future vehicle quite as lacking as this. I especially disliked one tasteless scene that features actor Michael Madsen endlessly emptying his blader on everyone & everything in range. PASS.

MY LIFE WITHOUT ME Rated: 6 1/2

MYSTIC RIVER Rated: 8 1/2
Clint Eastwood directs a strong cast in this excellent contemporary Boston set crime drama.

Eastwood also provides the exceptional musical score.

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY Rated: 8 1/2
Generally, period British films are not particular favorites of mine.

This is an exception. I have not read the book by Charles Dickens nor had I seen any other adaptations of it on the stage, screen or television. I can’t imagine that any of those were any better. Give most of the credit to screen writer/director Douglas McGrath (Emma—1996). Everyone in the large cast shines brightly. To name just a few, Charlie Hunnam (British television’s Queer As Folk) as Nicholas Nickleby, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot—2000) as Smike, Tom Courtenay (The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner—1962) as Newman Noggs, Christopher Plummer (The Insider—1999) as Ralph Nickleby, Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries—2001) as Madeline Bray, and Scottish born Kevin McKidd as John Browdie are particularly memorable.

The film is wonderful to look at and the score by Rachel Portman (The Cider House Rules—1999) deserves award consideration. I highly recommend Nicholas Nickleby.

OLD SCHOOL Rated: 8
Co-writer/director Todd Phillips has delivered another comedy that made me laugh out loud several times and smile consistently. His previous film, Road Trip (2000), affected me the same way and I suspect that, if you liked that one, you’re sure to like this one as well or better. Both films get it just right for me and have the type humor that I liked so much in There’s Something About Mary (1998). Generally, I’m not a big fan of this genre, but I love these three films.

Luke Wilson (Legally Blond—2001) as Mitch Martin, Will Ferrell (of television’s Saturday Night Live) as Frank, and Vince Vaughn (Swingers—1996) as Beanie shine as three thirty-something friends that find themselves living is a house located on fraternity row of a college campus that looks, at times, a lot life that of the University of Southern California. Not ready to grow-up and leave their college days/behavior behind, they decide to form a new fraternity for themselves. Although she was never one of my favorites, Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers—1994) is vivid/hilarious in her two scene cameo. Opening weekend business, February 21, 2003, was strong at about $18 million. While clearly nor for all audiences, I plan to see it again soon.

OPEN RANGE Rated: 8 1/2
While not particularly original, this is an engaging/entertaining western that I thoroughly enjoyed & recommend for most serious adult film audiences. Along with other good past westerns, this reminded me of three that were exceptional: High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957). Based on my reaction to the two other films that Kevin Costner is credited with directing, I did not have high expectations. His Oscar winning Dances With Wolves (1990) is terrific, but The Postman (1997) is terrible. (“You are only as good as your last film!”) Yes, Open Range is long at 135 minutes, and, yes, it’s violent. However, the length, the pace & the violence are all appropriate for the story and I wouldn’t change a thing. The cast is unusually well chosen and each is excellent. Oscar winning actor Robert Duvall (The Great Santani—1979, Tender Mercies—1984, The Apostle—1997) is likely to receive deserved year-end award consideration. Two time Oscar acting nominee Annette Benning (The Grifters—1990, American Beauty—1999) gets her part just right. Costner is fine as a former gunslinger & Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien—2001) continues to impress in a role that extends his range. Especially noteworthy are the original music by Michael Kamen & the cinematography by James Muro. I also enjoyed the song sung over the closing credits. It’s name is “Holding All My Love For you.”

THE ORDER Rated: 4
Allowed to escape into general release on 9/5/2003, expect this one to be on video quickly. Actually, there is no good reason to spend you time on it in any medium unless you are a big fan of the attractive and talented stars, Australian Heath Ledger (A Knight’s Tale—2001, Monster’s Ball—2001, 10 Things I Hate About You—1999), successful German actor Benno Fürmann, and/or Shannyn Sossamon, who worked earlier and much more pleasingly with director Helgeland & actor Ledger in their far more entertaining A Knight’s Tale (2001). The Order was written & directed by Brian Helgeland. It won’t be prominently featured on his future resumes, but I fully expect him to have continued success as a writer and won’t be surprised if he does excellent future work as a director also. His past/current/future scripts include strong work on L.A. Confidential (1997) & Mystic River ( 2003). Not that it really matters, but the special effects here are poor and many of the scenes are just too dark to allow the viewer to discover what is happening.

PHONE BOOTH Rated: 6
Although nothing special, this contained little thriller/morality play did hold my attention for it’s blessedly brief running time of 81 minutes. That fact, plus the smart decision to cast Colin (Tigerland—2000 & The Recruit—2003) Farrell in the lead, resulted in my decision to give it a generous 6 on my rating scale. When I think how painful it would have been for me to sit through it if earlier casting choices Jim Carey or Will Smith had actually filmed it, I’m truly grateful. (A really scary thought: Adam Sandler in this part!) The entire film takes place in or very near a New York City/Times Square, pay phone booth. Director Joel Schumacher has a range and resume that few can equal. When he’s good, The Lost Boys (1987), A Time To Kill (1996), Tigerland (2000), he has few peers. Likewise, there are few films ever that I consider worse than 8mm (1999) & I found Flawless (1999) anything but. Further, many people really hate his two forays into the Batman franchise (1995 & 1997). This one lands somewhere between his extremes. Some free advice: If you happen to hear a pay phone ringing, don’t answer it. If you see the film, you’ll know why!

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
Rated: 6 1/2
This is a huge hit and most people really seem to like it. As for me, I suspect there is a nice little pirate movie floating around somewhere within the bloat that I’d enjoy. At 143 long minutes, I thought it would never end.

I did think the cast was excellent, especially Johnny Depp, who gives a performance that has to be seen to be disbelieved. At times he seems to be channeling a drag queen, or Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), but he is sharp, consistent, and never boring. I’m amazed that he was allowed to risk this kind of performance in such an expensive film, but it actually works. The romantic leads, Orlando Bloom (The Lord Of The Rings trilogy) and Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham—2003) are attractive and enliven parts that could have been dull, as written.

RADIO Rated: 7
Moving & nice, though manipulative & disjointed/unfocused at times.

THE REAL CANCUN Rated: 3
According to the advertising: No script. No actors. No rules.
According to me: No point. No sale. No way.

Furthermore, there is little of the nudity promised by the ads, and the “strong sexuality” that the MPAA rating refers to is mild and shown only as grainy video footage with the participants covered by bedding from head to toe.

The cast, mostly college students, is physically attractive but turns out to be a bunch of vapid, vacant, self-indulgent exhibitionists. Probably the most likeable of the bunch is a 19 year old Texas Tech student named Alan.

At the start of their spring break in Cancun, Mexico, he is a non-drinker and a virgin, I presume. Shortly, all that changes, of course, and he then seems to stay drunk until it’s time to go home. Since it must have been made clear to him (and the other cast members) that all activities would be recorded and made public shortly, nobody cares who sees them doing whatever, obviously. (I’m sure parents of the group must be delighted…)

Early audience reaction is weak to bad, opening weekend (April 25, 2003) business was poor, and early reviews are generally negative. If you really want to see it in a theatre, you’d better hurry. Thankfully, it’ll be gone soon.

THE RECRUIT Rated: 7
A good thriller that bogs down a bit in the last third. It’s well worth your time if you like this type film, however. The 3 leads are Al Pacino (The Godfather I, II, & III), Colin Farrell (Tigerland—2000), and Bridget Moynahan (The Sum of All Fears—2002). Each is well cast and strong in good parts. The plot concerns the CIA and has Pacino as a recruiter who signs and trains Farrell and Moynahan. Aussie director Roger Donaldson (1987) gets it right, but tightening the climax would have made this good film better.

Exit scores averages were either B+ or A- and opening week business (January 31, 2003) will top $20 million.

RUNAWAY JURY Rated: 8
Complicated, compelling, satisfying.

THE RUNDOWN Rated: 8 1/2
What a pleasant surprise this one is! Although I knew that both Ebert & Roeper really liked it, I only agree with them about 75% of the time so I was still skeptical. As it turns out, it’s a really good summer fun movie even if it did open on September 26,2003. It’s is in the tradition of the Indiana Jones series, I was also reminded of one of my favorites, Romancing The Stone (1984).

I’ve always liked Peter Berg as an actor (90s television series Chicago Hope, The Last Seduction—1994), but his only other theatrical feature as director was the wretched alleged black comedy Very Bad Things (1998). Expect him to get more well deserved directorial assignments and I look forward to seeing them.

Before I saw The Rundown, action actor & former professional wrestler The Rock (aka: Dwayne Johnson) would not have lured me into a theatre for any film with him as star. Here he exudes charisma/presence/charm while delivering a good performance. Even so early in his film career, he’s already a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger ever became and my best guess is that he’ll become as big a star as Ar-nuld was. Second billed Seann William Scott, was already one of my favorites. In this, he continues to expand his range and to impress. Best known as “Stifler” in all three in the American Pie series (1999, 2001, 2003), his future is bright. Rosario Dawson is beautiful and fun. She’s come a long way since her debut in 1995’s KIDS and her next is Oliver Stone’s take on Alexander (2004). Oscar winning supporting actor, Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter—1978 and Pennies From Heaven—1981) is delightful as the villain of the piece. All other credits are top notch, but worthy of special mention are cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler & original music by Harry Gregson-Williams (The Whole Wide World—1996, Veronica Guerin—2003). Opening weekend business was strong at around $19 million and word-of-mouth should be good.

SCARY MOVIE 3 Rated: 3
Juvenile, recycled, claptrap, but wildly popular.

SCHOOL OF ROCK Rated: 6
In my opinion, Jack Black (High Fidelity—2000) is the most annoying actor working in film today. He is in nearly every scene of School Of Rock. With a different lead actor, I’d have probably liked it. If you like (or have no strong aversion to) Jack Black, there’s a good chance you’ll like this one.

SEABISCUIT Rated: 8 1/2
This is the first likely Oscar contender of 2003. I highly recommend it.

SHATTERED GLASS Rated: 8 1/2
This admirable new independent film is based on the true story of the Washington, D.C. journalist named Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), who became a well-known & very popular twenty-something writer at the prestigious national magazine “The New Republic” in the mid-nineties. As it turns out, 27 of his 41 published stories were either partially or completely fabricated/faked. (When his deceit was discovered/exposed, he was “shattered”…thus the clever title.)

First time director, Billy Ray, based his fine script on a story by Buzz Bissinger & impresses as a major new talent; expect future excellence. Speaking of talent, Hayden Christensen is outstanding as Glass & his work here reminded me of his other equally accomplished performance in Life As A Hourse (2001). (Along with many others, I still can’t pinpoint just why Christensen is so ineffective/lame in Star Wars I & II.) In a co-starring part as one of Glass’ editors, Peter Sarsgaard (Boys Don’t Cry—1999) is striking. In support, Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry—1999) is exactly right as a co-worker & it’s a welcome change of pace for her to play a nice/adjusted/attractive young woman. In smaller parts, both Steve Zahn (Joy Ride -2001) & Hank Azaria (The Birdcage—1996) shine in serious roles as both exhibit their considerable range.

Shattered Glass is sure to find it’s way onto my year end favorites lists. Since it is only in limited release (October 2003), it may be hard to find, but is well worth looking for. I recommend it enthusiastically.

SONNY Rated: 3
Nicolas Cage’s directorial debut is a howler. I haven’t had this much unintended fun since Showgirls (1995), and it is a much better film. James Franco (television’s James Dean—2001) as Sonny gives a decent performance, looks great, and will continue his upward ascent toward stardom. Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies—1996) as Sonny’s mother, Jewel, is just awful and does one of the worst accents in screen history. Since there is much other clear evidence that she is an outstanding actress, her career won’t be damaged by this misadventure, but don’t look for her to include this performance on future resumes.

Set in & shot on location in the New Orleans French Quarter, the time, about 1980, and the place are quite well recreated/rendered. However, when the cast isn’t chewing the scenery, they are busy smashing it.

Sonny played a limited/exclusive run around Christmas 2002 in Los Angeles to qualify it for 2002 Oscar consideration. Fat chance…

S.W.A.T. Rated: 7
While the material is familiar and the film makers break no new ground, S.W.A.T. is quite entertaining. It seems to set appropriate limits for itself and operates within those parameters. While I couldn’t call it realistic, it doesn’t seriously strain creditability the way so many of summer 2003’s films have. If you like cop/crime/action/adventure films, I suspect you’ll get your money’s worth here. I did.

The cast is excellent. As always, Samuel L. Jackson (A Time To Kill—1996, Shaft—2000) is a pleasure to watch. Colin Farrell (Tigerland—2000, Daredevil—2003) continues to impress, and is actually clean shaven for a change. Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight—2000) slightly softens here image to good effect here, and Olivier Martinez (Unfaithful -2002) is lively as a super rich French thug.

This is director Clark Johnson’s first theatrical film. He deserves future assignments.

THIRTEEN Rated: 7
Unsavory, but well done.

TWO WEEKS NOTICE Rated: 7 1/2
Though certainly not anything new, this still entertains/charms mainly due to nice turns by its stars. Although I didn’t like the hair/makeup of producer/leading lady Sandra Bullock (Speed—1994 and Murder By Numbers—2002), she continues to be one of the most likeable people in film. It also helps that her leading man, Hugh Grant (4 Weddings And A Funeral—1994 and About A Boy—2002) keeps his mannerisms to a minimum here. Hopefully, their obvious chemistry will find them working together in future projects. First time director Marc Lawrence, who also wrote the script, keeps things moving along appropriately and deserves lots more work. Early reviews and business are good to excellent. If you see only one of the two Christmas 2002 romantic comedy releases, I strongly recommend this instead of J-Lo’s silly effort, Maid In Manhattan.

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN Rated: 9
Diane Lane proves here that she can carry a film and her presence/performance alone makes Under The Tuscan Sun well worth seeing. With this work, Ms. Lane moves to the head of her class along with other exceptional contemporary actresses Cate Blanchette & Julianne Moore.

This marks Ms. Lane’s second consecutive stellar outing. She was nominated for an acting Oscar last year for Unfaithful (2002) and is sure to be in the running again this year.

Shot on location in Italy by Geoffrey Simpson, few films are as beautiful as this one is. Alert my travel agent!

The supporting cast is exceptional. I especially enjoyed Sandra Oh (Canadian born to Korean parents) as Patti, Scottish Lindsay Duncan as Katherine, and Italian Raoul Bova as Marcello.

The film is based on the best selling book of the same name by Frances Mayes. Audrey Wells does a fine job in adapting/shaping the book for the screen and in directing.

Highly recommended.

VERONICA GUERIN Rated: 8 1/2
Oscar worthy Cate Blanchett is magnificent!

WONDERLAND Rated: 2 1/2
I cannot think or a single reason I’d recommend this mess to any person unless I wanted to punish him or her. While the subject matter calls to mind Boogie Nights (1997), Boogie Nights is to Wonderland as chicken salad is to chicken sh*t. The cast is well chosen and will survive. Val Kilmer has been much better: The Doors (1991). He has also been worse: The Saint (1997). Further, his indescribable performance in The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996) is high on my list of guilty pleasures. His performance here is adequate, considering the material, and will soon be forgotten. Lisa Kudrow (television’s Friends) is drab, dreary and dreadful, but don’t blame her. I didn’t even recognize Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush—2002) and, fir her future career, that’s a good thing. Dylan McDermott (television’s The Practice) looks ugly/awful and, is almost unrecognizable behind one of the heaviest beards I’ve ever seen. Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama—2000) is one of my new favorites and has the potential to become a major star. Here , he comes close to rising above the material, but, even if you’re a fan of his, I still recommend passing.

Since no less than thirteen (yes, 13!) individuals claim/accept producer credit, co-writer/director James Cox probably doesn’t deserve total blame for failure here and there’s plenty of that to go around.

…more to come.

...more to come!



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