Capsule Reviews
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Denzel Washington's directorial debut continues the successful tradition of actors becoming directors. His "Antwone Fisher" is able to draw a brilliant debut performacne from Derek Luke, and the script has all the emotional stability and authenticity of the great films of our time. Unfortunately, Washington isn't able to master a rhythm in his direction, and sometimes he ends up stretching patches of the material too thin to be appreciated.

After the painfully unfunny "The Spy Who Shagged Me," the third "Austin Powers" flick represents an entertaining--if somewhat unoriginal--return to comedy. Michael Caine, who plays Austin's father, carries his role perhaps better than most of the film's other characters, such as Foxy Cleopatra, whose charm and vivacity is sometimes too vapid in some scenes. Watch out for the movie's brilliant opening sequence, which shows off big Hollywood names as they undertake the task of playing the familiar spy caper roles in a movie that Spielberg is directing about Austin himself.

Goldie Hawn plays an aging groupie who is fired from her work, left stranded with no money, and unattatched to anything of her past lifestyle. Nonetheless, she seeks to revive it all by going in search of her former "Banger Sister" Vinnie (played by Susan Sarandon), who is now the wife of an aspiring senator and has two snotty teenage girls living under her roof. Hawn and Sarandon have a certain skill when it comes to interaction, and a few of the jokes are cute, but like the era they were popular in, this movie is better left forgotten.

The long-awaited sequel to the immensely successful comic book adaptation sees the conflicted hero do battle with a species far more superior and dangerous than ordinary vampires, who prey on anyone that happens to be in the way. Very exciting and engrossing, although it isn't nearly as good as the first movie. Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson reprise their roles.

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore challenges his audience with what is his most brutally honest and coherent product to date, a daring and sometimes startling attack on the atmosphere of violence in America and the often deadly consequences it has on our children. Moore's interviews are conducted with a strong sense of perspective, and a few of the sequences, such as the last featuring Charleton Heston in the hot seat, are among the most courageous seen in this medium.

The French-made costume saga, which utilizes elements of drama, thriller, ghost story, kung fu movie and even period epic all in just over two hours, comes off as one of the most profoundly entertaining and brilliant pictures ever to come from an overseas market. The movie begins well and just bets better and better as it exposes all its dirty secrets and conspiracies to us. Almost like watching "Sleepy Hollow" on acid.

This ghastly period drama which offers an interpretation of the fateful events aboard William Randolph Herst's cruise ship in the late 20s is as big a snoozer as the mystery itself. Characters glide through scenes, party, dance, expose secrets and create mysteries in their head like they've been extradited from a meth lab. Though their costumes are neat and their dialogue occasionally engaging, these are people who would bore you to death before anyone would have a chance to shoot you anyway.

After the tragedies that played out on Sept. 11, the makers of the terrorist thriller "Collateral Damage" made a wise decision by pushing back the October release date of their film. Their bigger mistake: releasing it period. Not only does the latest Schwarzenegger flick lack flair and a common line of reasoning, it knows nothing about the intricate webs that serve as the backbone for terrorist organizations.

Steve Irwin's antics as a crazy but fearless watcher of dangerous Australian animals sees himself thrown into a movie where the fact that there is a plot is more insulting than anything else. Irwin's antics offer the only light in this often dim nature caper, but even then there is still something missing.

Never trust Disney when they opt to adapt a theme park ride for their latest live action vehicle. "The Country Bears" is based on the famous Country Bear Jamboree from the Dinsey theme parks, but that becomes a minute problem when the audience is allowed to witness the creepy spectacle in front of them. Ferocious grizzly bears walk and talk like normal human beings and live cohesive lives in society... and yet no one ever says a word? Gimme a break!

Jeremy Renner's convincing portrayal of the sadistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer nearly gets lost behind a script filled with manipulations and unconvincing depictions, but that's not all he's up against in this thing. The movie isn't just an oddly constructed character study; it is an uneven, slow and sometimes implausible endeavor as well. Without Renner's presence, this could have easily been one of the worst films of the year.

Just when you thought it was safe to trust Adam Sandler again, he goes and allows himself to participate in this awful, laughless, tone-deaf and insipid animated comedy, no doubt the worst major feature cartoon since "Cool World." In it, Sandler voices a character who looks a lot like himself, a low-life detestable who vandalizes property, exudes rude behavior, breaks out in obscenity and even breaks the law whenever possible. In other words, "Happy Gilmore Part 6."

The true story of a father's pursuit to overturn Irish law that forbids him for being a parent to his abandoned kids is sweet and wise, and also benefits from a performance by a young little actress who captures our hearts almost as easily as Drew Barrymore did in "E.T." years ago.

Todd Haynes' much-hyped commentary on 1950s suburbia is a technical achievement beyond words, but perhaps less than satisfying as a narrative. Emploring the dysfunctional family cliches already mastered by "The Ice Storm" and "American Beauty," "Far From Heaven" tells the story of a married man who has a wandering eye for other men, and his wife who finds herself attracted to the black gardner in town. The result is startling and brave, but hardly electric.

FORMULA 51 / (R)
Samuel L. Jackson plays a chemist who tricks a drug cartel, goes overseas, and plans to sell the formula for his latest drug invention to the highest bidder. Things, needless to say, go wrong (and not just in terms of the storytelling). New words should be invented to describe just how bad this movie is.

The directorial debut of actor Bill Paxton takes the audience into an atmosphere steeped in horrifying psychological complexities, and results in what is one of the best films made in recent memory. As we are faced with the plot's merciless tendencies to subject innocent kids to the ramblings of a caring (but seemingly psychotic) serial killer father, we almost feel like there's nothing to redeem it... until the climax pounds down our defense walls and leaves us perplexed beyond fascination.

The Dark Castle group undertakes the task of remaking yet another silly old-school horror movie, but unlike their previous efforts with "House on Haunted Hill" and "13 Ghosts," they have failed to even sculpt decent visuals for the end result. The story, furthemore, tries to be taken seriously when it should simply have fun with itself, a decision that results in two of the most dreary, tiresome and bland hours of moviewatching all year.

The true account of an uprising in Polish concentration camps during Nazi Germany's powerful rule in World War II is almost more unrelenting and harsh than any holocaust movie that has come before it, with no light at the end of the tunnel even when the movie deceives us into believing there actually is. Solid performances anchor the film more than the moody narrative, although the movie should be seen regardless of its scripting fumbles.

The second in the inevitable long line of "Harry Potter" films is by far a more engaging and well-made effort than its predecessor, but director Chris Columbus has yet to find a satisfying payoff in these adventurous kid tales. The movie's first half is so promising and exciting that it's a shame we have to be subject to the last hour, which sees characters and visuals detaching from each other and operating on conflicting planes of existence.

20th Century Fox's first major animated venture since the financial failure of "Titan A.E.", this offbeat CGI comedy sees Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary as a Mammoth, a Sloth and a Sabretooth Tiger who struggle their way across a frigid landscape in hopes of returning a lost infant girl to its rightful owners. Their adventures along the way aren't exactly the most exciting or involved--some even feel like they've been thinly lifted from a couple of PIXAR endeavors--but the dialogue exchanges are some of the most witty and humorous the genre has ever seen, and the walk-on/comedy relief character named Scrat is probably the most ingenious and hilarious cartoon creation since Donald Duck. Short but sweet.

In this dark coming-of-age comedy, Kieran Culkin stars as an emotionally-numb slacker named Igby who challenges his authority simply for the sake of keeping his own identity, although it isn't always clear to himself exactly what that is. Also stars Ryan Phillipe and Susan Sarandon. A fine piece of filmmaking with enough humor and drama to work above the typical level.

Keeping with tradition of early year releases, "Imposter" plays like an alternate version to "Virus" and "Supernova," in which characters are trapped in a dark, moody, and unattractive sci-fi setting where even the most likable actors are turned into transparent personas hell-bent on proving something to the idiots around them. Boring and uninspired.

The inevitable tenth entry into the never-ending "Friday the 13th" series sees Jason Vorhees upgraded in the year 2455, a time when Earth is in shambles, space is home for most, and humans are just as horny, naive and stupid as they were at Camp Crystal Lake all those years ago.

Sons of mob bosses botch a crucial delivery and find themselves spiraling out of control when their superiors threaten with force if the package isn't returned safely. The specifics aren't really important, however, because "Knockaround Guys" is a walking corpse of a production, without shape, reasoning, or even essential energy. The movie isn't even interesting enough to make us despise it.

An alien experiment lands on Earth where he makes a home with an orphaned Hawaiian girl, who treats him as a family equal even though his eccentric appearance and behavior often create trouble for others around them. The creature Stitch, however, isn't yet aware that his creator is looking for him, either. Though the movie has a few bright spots and is bold with back history, the protagonist/anti-hero is too annoying to sit well with this viewer.

Peter Jackson's second venture into the famous Middle-Earth saga is the most visionary and extravagent fantasy-based war movie ever made, with convincing imagery, plausible new characters, faithful (and sometimes appropriately modified) storytelling, and independent spirit. Not quite as enthusiastic or memorable as "The Fellowship of the Ring," the first movie in the series, but only by a mere hair. The highlight: a digital creature named Gollum whose presence is one of the most heartbreaking and realistic computer-manipulated creations we have ever seen.

MAX / (R)
Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer in Germany following World War I, takes a German soldier under his wing to teach him about the essential tools of art and how to have your work embraced--or even acknowledged--by some kind of audience. The catch: the soldier is actually Adolf Hitler, who has not yet been totally consumed by his anti-Semitism or his naive "race purity" ideology to make him the dangerous threat we think of him as. Noah Taylor's performance as Hitler is startling and brave, and the movie he's surrounded in is magnified by its own brilliant sense of chaos, as it dares to argue that the German dictator was once just a human being who simply fell into the trap of his country's political climate. Extraordinarily watchable.

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the well-known short story by Philip K. Dick refuses to trap itself in cliche or visual cheese, and finds balance with exciting images and a compelling sense of plot direction from the very start. Tom Cruise and Colin Farrel are amazing as men at war with each other and their own sense of ideals, and Samantha Morton is beyond incredible as the ill-fated pre-cog whose every waking moment is spent predicting a frightening future homicide. The film's only weakness is the ending, which insists that audience's are too naive and stupid to realize what's going on even with a good chunk of innuendos.

Director Brad Silberling's semi-autobiographical story of a man whose fiancee is killed and whose family wants him to stick around is surprisingly callice and despondant with its source material. Jake Gyllenhaal steps into the widowed boyfriend role, and Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman have respectable roles as his would-be in-laws. But there's too much of nothing going on in this endless excercise; characters almost sleepwalk through daily life, discuss the insincerity of others, briefly mourn, and then go silent before they repeat the process again. Next time Silberling wants to get a personal message across, he should tell us rather than force us to endure something like this.

The dark, complex kaliedoscope of ideas in David Lynch's latest film leads us into a reality so splintered and disurbing that it comes off as one of the most fascinating films of 2001. Naomi Watts and her costars are piercingly convincing in multiple roles, subject to a plot that hooks us on for a ride through many dimensions that, needless to say, wouldn't make sense even if you tried to explain them

The funniest and most innocent comedy of the year, a Cinderella story for Nia Vardalos in which she plays a woman whose evolving committment to a man outside of the Greek heritage is at first reviled by her large and somewhat eccentric family. Charming and silly from one scene to the next, this is one of those rare treats that has you grinning from ear to ear until the final credits role. Deserves every amount of success it has received over the last few months.

Robin Williams gives one of his finest performances in this quiet and shy masterpiece of a movie, as a photo mat clerk whose brewing obsession with a family of customers is about ready to snap what is left of his sanity. Not a thriller like the ads would suggest, but a sad and compelling character study that simply presents its material as is without glossing on all sorts of meaningless extras. The movie's bleached and eerily-tattered look is classic of director Mark Romanek, who makes his feature film debut here after filming some of the most beautiful music videos ever made.

The most laughably bad comedy of the year comes at a time when star Jack Black seemed to be at the top of his game. Supporting performances come from the kids of Tom Hanks and Sissy Spacek, but be advised: they aren't anywhere near winning awards for their screen talents.

After "Fight Club," David Fincher's talent as a director was called into question by a few of us. Thankfully his new effort, "Panic Room," restores some of our lost faith. The movie stars Jodie Foster as a recent divorceé who moves into a brownstone apartment in upstate New York with her daughter, and is then terrorized by three burglars who have arrived to collect some money hidden within it. The catch: the house contains a "panic room," or a steel enclosure designed to secure household members from outside harm, and the characters unwittingly take shelter in it when it's that exact room that the thieves want in to. Smart, subtle, and framed by some of the most astounding camerawork of the director's career.

Based on the memoirs of a surviving Polish musician during the Nazi invasion in Warsaw, Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" is a new peak in the director's career, a work of genuine depth and sensibility that never loses its focus or compromises its integrity. Adrien Brody, who has come a long way since his work in "Summer of Sam," disappears into the title role here like he is living and breathing the actual material, and Polanski's thoughtful direction, no doubt partially inspired by his own life in a Polish ghetto during World War II, anchors the drama. One of the best films of 2002.

The fourth screen endeavor for director Neil LaBute represents somewhat of a misstep in his near-flawless career, as he tackles theories of Freud in this double romance split between two distinctively opposite time periods. What interferes with relationships? Is love enough? Do the results in one time reflect those in the other? All these questions are at the center of the material, which is interesting and well-written by lacks the shrewd intensity of works like "In the Company of Men" and "Nurse Betty."

Boy is this movie a mess! Christina Ricci stars as a plastic sorority girl at Southern California State University, who along with her fellow pledges decides to assist mentally handicapped people train for the Special Olympics. Needless to say, her world gets turned topsy-turvy by the connection she developes with her own athlete, and thus the movie goes into flamboyant mode by tossing us countless curved balls and manipulative plot twists. The characters are almost as dimwitted as the screenplay's ideas, but at least they have an outlet--at one point, one of the players drives himself off of a cliff to get away from it all. Unfortunately, the movie plays an even bigger prank by forcing him to survive the incident. Oh the humanity!

Paul Thomas Anderson's third venture into the intricate and offbeat lives of Southern California citizens is almost too good for words. Instead of bombarding itself with lots of exploring and exhibition, "Punch Drunk Love" savors the quirks of its story. It stars (believe it or not) Adam Sandler as a lonely and shy man named Barry Eagan, who meets and falls in love with someone who admires his innocent nature instead of being appalled by it like so many others are. More of a character study than anything else, the movie is well acted, nicely filmed and tugs at your emotions more genuinely than most Hollywood romances have for years.

Anthony Hopkins revives his Hannibal Lecter persona for a third time, in Brett Ratner's taut and observant prequel to "The Silence of the Lambs." Here, Lecter is utilized by his FBI captor as a consultant for the ongoing "Tooth Fairy" murders, which are ritualistic in nature but lack the pattern of most serial killers. Meanwhile, the movie explores the antagonist's psyche as well, one that is fragmented by old memories and new loves but is dwindled by the apparent presence of a dark force inside. A solid effort that more than lives up the the name of its successor.

One of the most unique summer blockbuster premises in the recent years is destroyed by a cold and miscalculated exterior. "Reign of Fire" is a movie about dragons and humans in a fight for survival in a "Max Max"-esque apocalyptic future, but it is hardly worthy of that description. Starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey as competing vigilantes in the war against fire-breathers, the movie is ugly, overlong and generally dreary. Some isolated scenes do make an impression, but beyond that? Nada.

The highly successful Catchcom video game gets adapted into an equally-bloody movie with "Resident Evil," a film about an underground research facility dubbed the hive that has been locked down by the main computer system as the result of a destructive disease being set on the loose within the compound. Of course, the people who infiltrate the bunker don't know any of that, and when they reboot the system, they wind up setting free thousands of flesh-eating zombies. The recent Woody Allen movies are more ambitious than this.

THE RING / (PG-13)
Perhaps the most original horror film seen in years, "The Ring" takes a rather hokey premise and turns it into a glossy platform for all sorts of psychological jolts and touches of brilliant tension. Naomi Watts is fabulous as a journalist seeking to uncover the mystery behind a video tape that had something to do with a bunch of teenage deaths, and her investigations uncover a slew of details that are both tragic and disturbing all at the same time. The ending itself is almost worth the admission.

Based on a graphic novel in which a son wittnesses his father murdering another and sets a series of violent tragedies and confrontations into motion, "Road to Perdition" is well acted and looks fabulous. And yet the movie isn't nearly as absorbing as it should be, either. Could it be that the movie doesn't really know what it wants to be about? Perhaps. Part mob drama, part father/son story and part inner-character study, the screenplay is very dodgy and seldom gives the audience the chance to savor the ideas that it presents.

Apparently the victim of countless revisions and edits during its time in production, "Rollerball" is the most clumsy and incompetent major movie I have had the displeasure of witnessing in years. The editing is choppy, the violence and sex are toned drastically down to escape an "R" rating, and the script makes just about as much sense as Don King's hair. Avoid like it was a bad case of Ebola.

Easily the most sick and twisted film of the year, but perhaps also one of the most underrated. Roger Avery's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' interesting novel has the essential themes down to a science--no one in the movie thinks beyond themselves, and when they do, they have little or nothing to motivate them anyway. Very sexually-driven and violent (particularly when a background character is elevated to the foreground by her grizzly suicide), but curiously intriguing and observant as well.

Here is the kind of sequel that almost works well enough to make you forget about the travesty before it... almost. Tim Allen reprises his role as the big-bellied Holiday hero, and though the movie tends to ignore important background elements that were established long before, it has an amusing streak of success. The North Pole sequences are colorful and energetic, and Allen genuinely seems suited to the role of St. Nick this time around.

This newest teen gross-out comedy exists simply for the sake of turning stomachs, offering the viewers visuals so appalingly unfunny that theaters should be permitted to hand out barf bags to those with the courage to see it.

A popular Texas-based high school cheerleader opens her home to a French foreign exchange student, only to be one-upped by her seemingly kind guest using every trick and quirk that she taught her. The movie begins on an amusing note, with our protagonist being booked and photographed at a police station after an apparent fight with her rival, but it quickly falls in the mundane category by failing to be very funny or amusing in the process. Very run-of-the-mill work with an occasional bright spot, but nothing more. Note: due to the independent studio's sudden disappearance from radar, this movie remains unreleased.

SIGNS / (PG-13)
The third effort from M. Nigh Shyamalan finally puts to rest his streak of overrated fluff. "Signs" revolves around a family living out in farm land who wake up one morning and find crop circles traced in their fields. Already saddled with personal tragedy, they band together as reports of similar circles come in from across the globe, and when it becomes apparent that they might be bearing witness to a major alien invasion, it tests their fears and faith in perseverance. A genuinely scary film that tests stamina and the psyche in more ways than one.

SIMONE / (PG-13)
This silly but near-brilliant work of satire tells the story of a big Hollywood director whose career is on the downswing until a young and unknown blond actress cast in the lead role of his latest film captures the hearts of millions. The catch? She's a digital illusion, manipulated via microphones and keyboard commands. Very watchable comedy earns points for purposely suspending every morsel of logic and enjoying it; the movie is carefree about everything, which results in an audacious streak of pomposity that is simply too delicious to be described.

The Mouse House just can't take a hint, can they? The live action "Snow Dogs," which was promoted for supposedly containing talking animals a la "Babe," tries to be a valid family film but comes off just as cold and desolate as the Alaskan landscape it takes place in.

Steven Soderbergh descends even further into his pit of shameless self-indulgence with this severely miscalculated space drama, about a planet named Solaris which can take memories of lost loved ones and recreate the people in them. Interesting ideas from beginning to end here, but no knowledge of answers or even thoughtful speculations; the screenplay is dry, muddled, fragmented and painfully pointless in several areas. A man who directs something as good as "Traffic" is capable of accomplishing so much more.

Although in the tradition of the most exhilaration summer blockbusters of our time, "Spider-Man" actually represents a mild downfall in the recent resurgence of comic book-based film adaptations. Not nearly as much story here as its most recent predecessor "X-Men," the film is primarily focused on special effects, which are fun but sometimes obvious and awkward as well. Tobey Maguire does a good job in the role of Peter Parker, but if the movie had cared more about him and less about his gift, it might have been much more than just passable visual entertainment.

Unlike many of the recent Disney feature cartoons, Dreamworks looks at animals in "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" as just that--plain animals. And as such, they're stubborn, brave, faithful and loving creatures without actually having to excercise the human vocabulary. The approach is a refreshingly pleasant one, and further proof that even the Mouse House can learn a thing or two from its competitors once in awhile.

Easily the most snore-inducing entry into the ongoing "Star Wars" saga. "Attack of the Clones" drolls endlessly on the same ideas, which basically involve Annakin Skywalker, now aged and played by Hayden Christensen, fawning over Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) while his superior, Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor), tries to uncover the mysteries of an impending clone war spearheaded by a former Jedi. Nothing new or very interesting here--the film's sole thrust is to bridge the gap between the last prequel and the one scheduled for release in 2005.

Tom Green plays buddy to a guy who has to (literally) steal enough money to pay for a family member's college education. Need I say more?

In this rather amusing little sequel to the 2000 hit kiddie comedy, Stuart befriends a bird being hunted by a ferocious falcon, and the two embark on adventures together that are not exactly capable of solo living in a world dominated by tall human beings. The movie doesn't demand that you view the original "Stuart Little" outing in order to understand everything going on, and though a few of the past references tend to pass quickly over some heads, it's never too obvious to prevent us from having a decent time.

Reese Witherspoon is such an infectious charmer on screen that she is able to elevate the potentially-lethal material in "Sweet Home Alabama" to something respectable, although just barely. She plays an up-and-coming fashion model whose rich boyfriend has just proposed marriage, but is conflicted when she realizes that she still isn't divorced from her first love. Her trip to the south to get that divorce, needless to say, stirs up a slew of old feelings. The result is always predictable and sometimes a little too silly for its own good, but Witherspoon is likable enough here to excuse some of the plot's lunacy.

One of the best of the recent Disney animated features is a retelling of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story set amidst a backdrop seeped in science fiction fundamentals. This time, our adolescent hero is enlisted in the search for a treasure on a distant planet, and the adventures he has on the way range from the sweet (his relationship with now-half-human John Silver) to the plain bizarre (encounters with aliens whose first language is flatulence). The movie might have been too odd for its own good had it not trapped these traits in breathtaking animation, but the film delivers on that promise--it is lush and freeflowing and one of the most distinctive cartoons of its kind.

Someone with substantial power inside the executive offices at Disney must be suffering from some serious lack of quality control, otherwise live-action films like "Tuck Everlasting" wouldn't be pumped out by the studio on such a frequent basis. This is a halfhearted adaptation of the highly successful book of the same name, about a girl with wandering tendencies who encounters a strange family deep in the woods and learns that they are beneficiaries (or victims) of the very much sought-after fountain of youth.

Adrian Lynne reconnects with the tiresome "Fatal Attraction" cliches that began the sexual drama craze back in the late 1980s, the only difference this time being that (other than gender switching) this movie has very little going on despite the characters moving around like marathon competitors. Diane Layne and Richard Gere are mercilessly squandered by a script built on a shaky foundation, and the movie only teases us with a hint of potential from Olivier Marinez as the man who can come between two married people. Depressing, unrewarding, cold and detached. It feels like having sandpaper rubbed in your face.

As it turns out, one CAN have too much of a good thing. The war movie is stretched, remolded, modified and presented for the zillionth time with this Mel Gibson vehicle, about a troop of soldiers who went into battle vastly underestimating their enemies, but wound up calling the disaster a success because of their "perseverence." Sorry folks, but I think you already told us that with "Saving Private Ryan."

XXX / (PG-13)
Vin Diesel stars as Xander Cage (or "X," as he is known as by his friends), a daredevil of extreme sports who is blackmailed by a high-intelligence government agency to learn the secrets of Anarchy 99, a Czechoslovakian rebellion group with big plans for unleashing a deadly disease on the free world. The story is run-of-the-mill for films of this James Bond flavor, but the film works because its dedicated to its cause rather than trying to utilize stunts and special effects simply for the sake of bombarding the eyes. Could this impending franchise replace 007? Here's hoping.

2002, David Keyes,

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