A.I. - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE /
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
ALONG CAME A SPIDER /
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.
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 /
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
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 /
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
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS /
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 /
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 /
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 /
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
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 /
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
BUBBLE BOY /
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 /
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
THE ENDURANCE /
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 /
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 /
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 /
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 /
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 /
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 /
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.
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.
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
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 /
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 /
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
A KNIGHT'S TALE /
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
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOSHIP OF THE RING /
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
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE /
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.
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
MONSTER'S BALL /
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
MONSTERS, INC. /
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 /
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 /
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 /
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
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM / (Not
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
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 /
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 /
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.
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 /
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
WHAT WOMEN WANT /
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.
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