Capsule Reviews
site posting date:
2001
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A.I. - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE / (PG-13)
Picking up where the late Stanley Kubrick presumably left off, director Steven Spielberg undertakes his most challenging and ambitious work yet, a complex story about a family who adopts a boy machine who can presumably feel emotions. Manipulative but very compelling, with an ending so mysterious that viewers carry it out of the theater with them.

ALONG CAME A SPIDER / (R)
Morgan Freeman renews his popular Alex Cross character in this prequel to the 1997 thriller "Kiss The Girls." The plot, alas, is far more bewildering and incoherent than we hope for, and though the film draws strong performances, it neither pursues nor delivers the payoff we hope for.

APPLESEED / (Not Rated)
A release from the Japanese anime circuit under Manga Video, "Appleseed" is an early entry into the increasingly-popular genre (the IMDB reports an original release of 1988), and it shows; characters are often too blocky, imagery is seldom penetrating, and the action feels like it is being held back by a cameraman with his finger on the slow motion button. Nonetheless, the movie works in ways, if only for those who are seeking a decent entry point into exploring the genre.

ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE / (PG)
Disney animation continues its detour from formula with "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," the first PG-rated animated film from the mouse house in nearly 15 years. Although the film is neither epic nor classic in scope, it does manage to come across as a solid crowd pleaser, with visual creations that seem to draw parallels to Japanese anime, and characters that, like in most science fiction-driven stories, are simply there to provide a distraction for the unlikely hero.

BANDITS / (PG-13)
A hilarious and delightful comedy from Barry Levinson, about two escape convicts played by Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton who concoct the "perfect" scheme for robbing banks. Along the way, they both fall in love with the same woman (played by Cate Blanchett). The eventual thrust of the movie is to see whether the crooks will escape inevitable punishment for their crimes, and watching it all unfold is one of the most amusing experiences of 2001.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND / (PG-13)
Ron Howard strikes back with his finest directorial achievement, a biography about a famed mathemitician who struggled with (and eventually overcame) an intense case of schitzophrenia. Very vivid and marvelously acted (with Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in the starring roles). The only letdown is that the movie chooses to follow a schmaltzy formula after all the early events have played themselves out.

BEFORE NIGHT FALLS / (R)
A beautifully rendered biography about famed Cuban writer Renaldo Arenas is carried by a marvelous performance by Javier Bardem. But the movie as a whole, alas, suffers great narrative flaws and never quite enthralls us as much as we feel it needs to.

BLACK JACK / (Not Rated)
A recent anime film that is gifted with one of the most compelling stories ever told in animation, "Black Jack" embodies all of the qualities that attract us to the genre in the first place: probing direction, intriguing plot twists, unorthodox storytelling and firm character arcs. Now available on DVD through Manga Video.

BILLY ELLIOT / (R)
Director Stephen Daldry fashions a heartwarming tale about a boy who wants to become a ballet dancer that, unfortunately, is muddled by a script that slogs its way through the first half hour in a disconnected manner.

BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE / (Not Rated)
An army base set up on Japanese soil during World War II serves as a cover for a secret government operation involving the capturing (and execution) of potentially dangerous vampire-like creatures. The conflict: the government has to use one of the vampires themselves to stop the others. A Japanese anime flick that is a real popcorn feature, the biggest drawback being that the movie isn't even an hour long.

BLOW / (R)
Johnny Depp stars in this semi-biographical retelling of one of the biggest drug dealers of the post-Vietnam era, a man named George Jung who initially stumbled his way into his profession, and is now serving a long prison sentence for his sorted history with smuggling narcotics between borders. An interesting character piece that doesn't try to manipulate us into caring for the lead character; Depp's performance hits all the right notes, and Penelope Cruz (for once) comes off as something respectable on screen.

BRIDGET JONES' DIARY / (R)
Bridget Jones can get dates, but when she resolves to change her life around and meet Mr. Right, she is soon boggled down by the abrupt rise of not one, but two, potential significant others. Funny, witty, and delightful in nearly every regard; Renee Zellweger is once again in top form after her marvelous stint in the underrated "Nurse Betty."

BUBBLE BOY / (PG-13)
Without a doubt the single worst major movie of 2001, an insult to the eyes and the intelligence, about a man (or a "boy," as the title wants us to belive) who falls in love, loses the girl, and decides to go on a nationwide hunt to win her back. The catch? He suffers from immune deficiency and is confined to living in a plastic bubble (which is fine and dandy for his overprotective mother). Forget the fact that the mother of a real-life immune deficiency casualty protested the movie because of its supposed insult to her son's memory; this thing sets humanity back almost a whole decade in terms of laughless comedy.

CAST AWAY / (PG-13)
A Federal Express executive is shipwrecked on a deserted island when his plane crashes into the ocean and kills everyone on board. Being a Tom Hanks movie, of course, this only means that the audience will be supplied with the inevitable touchy-feely moments of triumph as his character eventually works his way back to land. Alas, the movie isn't even willing to give us the ending we expect, and instead ends on a note that sours all of the respectable material before it.

THE ENDURANCE / (Not Rated)
The documentary about a failed antarctic expedition during the last "golden age of discovery" is as compelling as it is thorough, with genuine passion for details as well as compelling accounts of personal struggle via relatives of those involved.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS / (PG-13)
Smooth-talking dudes with fast cars in an intricate underground network of illegal auto racing are investigated by an undercover cop played by Paul Walker, a man who wants to get to the bottom of this dangerous hobby, but isn't sure if the people he's invetigating are actually the bad ones. Vin Diesel, the newest (and most promising) action star, is solid here, but once you've seen one car race down a deserted speedway, you've seen them all.

FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN / (PG-13)
At last, a video game adaptation that works on the big screen! Ming Na Wen and Alec Baldwin lend their voice talents to this all-digital rendition of an apocalytic sci-fi epic, in which sparse establishments of humanity have their planet overrun by phantom-like spirits who can kill victims with a single touch. A scientist searches aimlessly in the dark corners of Earth (which include broken metropolis' like New York) for Earth spirits, which, when composed, will create a remedy to their large problem. A groundbreaking and visionary film does nothing to prove that digital affects will eventually replace real life actors, but makes a marvelous and compelling case for a new era of feature animation.

FREDDY GOT FINGERED / (R)
Just when you think you've seen the grossest movies ever made, Tom Green steps behind the camera and gives us a film that, sadly, may shape the perception of bad taste in cinema for a long while. It's a repugnant, nasty, lewd and tasteless film; but I find myself giving it a whole star regardless, if only for the fact that Green's motivation for the film was to get these kinds of negative reactions to begin with.

FROM HELL / (R)
Based on the compelling graphic novel of the same name, the Hughes Brothers' adaptation of an infamous spin on the events surrounding Jack the Ripper is a taut and visionary work in which actors like Johnny Depp and Heather Graham are given their chances to shine in ways they never have before. One of 2001's best.

GHOST WORLD / (R)
Thora Birch plays a nihilistic, pissed off high school graduate who befriends an anti-social record collector (Steve Buscemi) in this quirky, unorthodox coming-of-age tale set in a place that seems to circle in different eras and cultures. The performances are solid and the wit of the script is penetrating, but the movie misses a few marks in terms of plot structure.

GOSFORD PARK / (R)
After taking a creative dive with "The Gingerbread Man" and "Cookie's Fortune," director Robert Altman returns to the top of his form with this incessantly immersing ensemble murder mystery set in the kind of secluded British mansion of those old Agatha Christie stories. The script is the year's undisputed best, juggling over 30 major speaking parts in an amitious, detaled manner without ever forgetting who is crucial in the unfolding events. Slight jabs at 1930s pop culture are also utilized here, with the inclusion of the famed director of those Charlie Chan detective films, who one night explains the plot of his new movie in a way that foreshadows the parallells that will play out in this one. Marvelous.

GLITTER / (PG-13)
After singlehandedly driving her overrated singing career into the ground, Mariah Carey tries her hand at acting in her feature debut "Glitter," semi-autobiographical story about a singing sensation's rise to fame, and the turmoil that accompanies it. So bad it doesn't even warrant camp value; the plot is spotty, the characters are transparent, the music is uninspired dreck, and the performances (notably Carey's) come off as leftover clips from some kind of "Funniest Videos" show.

HANNIBAL / (R)
The long-awaited follow-up to Jonathan Demme's Oscar-winning thriller "The Silence of the Lambs" reconnects us with the notorious Hannibal Lecter, an escaped cannibal who preys (apparently) only on those who deserve punishment for their crimes to humanity. Anthony Hopkins reprises the memorable role, while Julianne Moore fills the shoes of an absent Jodie Foster in the role of Clarice Starling. A bloody, merciless movie that, needless to say, is highly watchable and engrossing, but nowhere near the classic status of its predecessor.

HARDBALL / (PG-13)
Yet another one of these coming-of-age sports movies in which a jerk of a man is reformed by the relationships he develops with his young cast members. Tired and pathetic, with a performance by Keannu Reeves that can be filed under the actor's large file of "pointless excursions" into laughable cinema lore.

THE HOMEBOY / (Not Rated)
When a rapper dubbed MC2 sees his career going down the tube, he enlists the help of one of his long-time idols to regain his status at the top. The plan itself, of course, is easier said than done, and the movie supplies us with some amusing sight gags to prove such a point. Hardly a groundbreaking film, but definitely better than one might initially expect.

JURASSIC PARK III / (PG-13)
The third installment into Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking franchise about genetically engineered dinosaurs is a solid B-movie at heart, tongue-in-cheek at moments and so narratively overblown that we're entertained no matter what happens. Some incredible special effects.

A KNIGHT'S TALE / (PG-13)
Tales of our might swashbucklers are twisted beyond hope in "A Knight's Tale," a film set in ancient times that features crowds chanting to Queen's "We Will Rock You," and a court dance to David Bowie's "Golden Years." We're always intrigued by what the movie has to pull on us, but it never leads to any worthy payoff.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOSHIP OF THE RING / (PG-13)
The first installment of Peter Jackson's much-hyped adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's immortal "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is a movie that carries us into an unforgettable journey and never ceases to amaze us. It may very well be one of the greatest movies ever made. Jackson's penetrating focus is accented by a compelling retelling of the original story, great casting and solid performances, wonderful pacing, and visuals that carve out a new niche in our ambitious imaginations.

THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE / (R)
The brothers Coen's latest directorial effort represents a great fall from the magificence of "Fargo" and a step behind "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" Set in classy and nostalgic film noir, Billy Bob Thornton stars in a crime drama as a barber who kills his wife's lover and then fails to admit to his crimes when she is arrested for them. Society may be the source of the movie's title, but the movie is so narratively bankrupt that I wouldn't swear to anything, other than that the movie is an inevitable trainwreck.

MEMENTO / (R)
2001 could not have possibly been the year it was without "Memento" on theater screens, the one film during the year that no one could avoid. Christopher Nolan's mysterious thriller is told completely backwards, disorienting much of our perceptions and twisting the outcome into something we don't ever quite expect. Remarkable and fascinating.

MONSTER'S BALL / (R)
Halle Berry's heartbreaking, Oscar-worthy performance in this southern-set story of redemption is only one of many glowing qualities of this effective Lions Gate release, one of those movies that satisfies you even though there isn't anything completely new or innovative about it.

MONSTERS, INC. / (G)
PIXAR, credited for rejuvinating an entire genre with its "Toy Story" and "A Bug's Life" features, ventures into new (but nostalgic) territory with "Monsters, Inc.", a film set in the world of monsters whose jobs require them to jump out of kids' closets and scare them. What we didn't know, until now, is that children scare monsters even more than they do them. Memorable and charming, and though it doesn't quite reach the grandeur of the last PIXAR films, it's the most amtitious and visual of them.

THE MUMMY RETURNS / (PG-13)
The ultimate guilty pleasure of 1999 is followed up by an even sillier (and likewise more exciting) sequel starring the same cast of the original. Fun from the first frame until the last.

PEARL HARBOR / (PG-13)
History deserves much better treatment than a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced testosterone feast that wears the mask of nobility so manipulatively that it makes even general melodramas appear authentic. Respectable special effects are destroyed by crappy editing and mind-numbing sound effects, and the ensemble cast is juggled liked a bunch of worn tin cans nearly ready for the dumpster. And just when you though director Michael Bay wasn't capable of much more stupidity, too...

PLANET OF THE APES / (PG-13)
Tim Burton may be one of the most gifted directors of our time, but even that quality can't save him from a total crash-and-burn with his rendition of the famous "Planet of the Apes" story. The movie is aloof and doesn't achieve anything more than the original picture did, and the ending is so implausibly bad that we hope someone will eventually shout out, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera!"

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM / (Not Rated)
The bitter tale of four drug addicts, who slowly but surely crumble under the weight of their own problems. The imagery is vivid, and the cast has great success in playing the hopeless characters. Ellen Burstyn gives us a performance that may be the finest of this millenium so far.

SHREK / (PG)
A delightful computer-animated satire on old fairy tales features the voices of Eddie Murphy and Mike Meyers (among others) and takes us to places we wish we could visit more often. Nothing is sacred in the witty, endlessly entertaining script; slight jabs are even taken at Disney, producer Jeffrey Katzenberg's former stomping grounds.

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS / (PG-13)
Disney's very first animated feature has finally arrived in a special DVD edition, revolutionizing the presentation of video purchases in the same way the movie itself kick-started a whole genre. But don't confuse solid presentaton with a wonderful movie, because although it has been called the finest animated film ever made, it's hardly in the league of "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," or even the later Disney classics.

STATE AND MAIN / (R)
The David Mamet script about the complex and nearly ill-fated production of a major motion picture in a small town is almost too good for words, written with the kind of wit and characteristic approach that we wouldn't expect of anyone else. Mamet's thumprint is anchored by solid directon, acting that shines, and a pace that keeps us involved like members of the movie's crew. Fantastic.

TRAFFIC / (R)
Of the two major Soderbergh films of 2000, "Traffic" is by far the most daring and effective, a solid introspective into the treacherous world of national drug trafficking, and the government's pointless attempts to keep it under control. One of the most socially conscious films to come out of Hollywood in the recent past.

WAKING LIFE / (R)
Richard Linklater has been cited as a genius for making a technical breakthrough with "Waking Life," a film that was filmed on a digital camera and later animated over, but the praise should stop there. Though the movie is vivid and sometimes more alive than most live action films, there isn't much of a plot, other than characters walking past each other and exchanging their philosophies about life. Yawn-worthy.

WHAT WOMEN WANT / (PG-13)
If what women want is a character like the one Mel Gibson plays in this unconvincing romantic comedy, than I'm through trying to assume what members of the opposite sex are after in life.

ZOOLANDER / (PG-13)
A dimwitted character that Ben Stiller created on a VH1 awards show is now the star of his own movie, which, incidentally, feels like the work of a group of brain-dead filmmakers as well. Insulting, checkered, unfunny, and just plain dumb.

2001, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.

 
 
           
     
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