Recently Released Videos
Compiled by Shesha Pancholi
Tuesday, October 26, 1999
The following movies have been released on video during the past year:
A signifies the movie was recommended.
"Arlington Road" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this so-so thriller, Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a rumpled professor at George Washington University who teaches a course on global terrorism and thinks his new neighbors Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack) might just be up to a little paramilitary mischief. Although screenwriter Ehren Kruger and
director Mark Pellington make a perfunctory case for the Langs' innocence, there really isn't much doubt about the accuracy of Michael's suspicions. Although the film starts out with well-mounted menace, "Arlington Road" becomes increasingly overwrought and predictable. The middle and final sections of the movie have been written with less precision, perhaps because the filmmakers assumed the audience would be speeding along too quickly to require credibility.
"Hideous Kinky" (R): Review from Weekend. Seeking spiritual respite from an unsatisfying life in England, hippie and single-mother Julia (Kate Winslet) takes two young daughters to Marrakech in the early 1970s. Julia plunges headlong into the culture, starting a relationship with local street tumbler Bilal (Said Taghmaoui). But while daughter Lucy (Carrie Mullan) is happy to follow Mom to the ends of the earth, Bea (Bella Riza) demands to return to England and normalcy. Gillies MacKinnon's adaptation of the novel by Esther Freud has a great premise; and the locales are wonderful. But the spiritual story Julia's innermost yearnings is hard to fathom between all the elliptical episodes.
"Never Been Kissed" (PG-13): Reviews Style and Weekend. The slight but sweet and funny romance is powered by the enormous charisma of its star and executive producer, Drew Barrymore, who plays Josie Geller, a 25-year-old lovelorn copy editor who relives her senior year in high school while on an undercover reporting assignment. If the story sounds like "Cinderella," it should: Standing in for Prince Charming here is Josie's hunky English teacher (Michael Vartan), in agony because he thinks that his prize pupil and dream date is jail bait;and, as the fairy godmother, Josie's slacker brother Rob (David Arquette) transforms his big sister from a nerd into prom queen with a wave of his magic wand. You know how the fairy tale ends, but it's still amusingly told.
"Muppets From Space" (G): Review from Weekend. In this passable, not particularly inspired Muppet movie, Gonzo becomes convinced his roots belong in outer space. And a series of signs convinces him it's time to phone home, or at least wait for his people to pick him up. With the usual suspects aboard including Kermit, Miss Piggy and Rizzo the Rat the story may be enough for the very young. But it whizzes by without much comic incident, not helped in the least by lackluster cameos from F. Murray Abraham, Andie McDowell, Rob Schneider and others. There's only one amusing character: a muppet called Pepe le Prawn who puts an "okay?" on the end of every sentence.
"Twice Upon a Yesterday" (R): A Scottish unemployed artist gets a time-traveling chance to redeem himself when he squanders a great romantic relationship.
"The Blair Witch Project" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. There is credible creepiness to this faux documentary about three friends and their ill-fated trip to find the Blair witch in the wooded boonies of Maryland. We're told that the friends played by Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams as themselves have never been found. All that remains is this movie, a video record of their journey, which shows three people getting more and more freaked as they realize how lost they are, and how close that witch just might be. As a sort of MTV-generation campfire story, "Blair Witch" is quite engrossing, right until the last moment, although it drags in the pre-final stretch.
"eXistenZ" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Canadian director David Cronenberg creates another creepy mini-masterpiece: a futuristic cyberworld where people "plug in" to amazingly sophisticated virtual games via a hole in their spinal columns. In these high-stakes pursuits, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the inventor of a cutting edge game called eXistenZ, has attracted equal numbers of devotees and enemies. Ducking her foes, she is obliged to test her damaged game system by plugging in with newfound companion Ted Pikul (Jude Law), where they encounter a realm of scary, weird and icky things. "eXistenZ," inspired loosely by the plight of author Salman Rushdie, traces a delicate, humorous line between light satire and heavy forebodings. In this game-within-a-game conundrum of a story, you're in strange territory without a map, but at least you have a really good script.
"Life" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Falsely imprisoned for murder in a Mississippi jail in the 1930s, inmates Eddie Murphy (a petty hustler called Ray Gibson) and Martin Lawrence (as aspiring bank teller Claude Banks) get life with little hope of parole. But in director Ted Demme's surprisingly delicate and delightful comedy, they turn those life sentences into great entertainment. "Life," written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, is a well-textured, if sentimental narrative that starts in Harlem in the 1930s, runs through the war years and civil rights, then continues all the way to Afros and bell-bottoms. And throughout these eras, our central inmates get better with age, eventually insulting each other about senility and bladder control.
"Lovers of the Arctic Circle" (NR): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this Spanish language film, Otto (Fele Martinez) and Ana (Najwa Nimri) become friends and lovers when Otto's father (Nancho Novo) falls in love with Ana's mother (Maru Valdivielso). Julio Medem, the Spanish filmmaker who made "Cows" and "The Red Squirrel," as always, creates exquisite visual compositions. But the cinematic richness only goes so far. The story about coincidence, destiny and synchronicity, which culminates in a series of revelations above the Arctic Circle, gets so convoluted, only the staunchest art-film aficionados are likely to stay with it.
"Metroland" (NR): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Christian Bale and Emily Watson are excellent actors in their portrayal of Chris and Marion, a middle-class British couple whose safe marriage and quiet existence in a suburban London bedroom community (derogatively referred to as "Metroland") is threatened by the reappearance of Chris's wild childhood chum Toni (Lee Ross). Toni's sudden surfacing after years of gallivanting abroad makes Chris reconsider the choices he has made in life. Should he keep his office job, stick with Marion and try to rejuvenate their predictable love life or chuck it all to run off with his roguish pal for a wild course of casual sex with a different woman in every port (yes, it is set in 1977).
"A Walk on the Moon" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. This independent, small movie marks the directorial debut of actor Tony Goldwyn and a pleasant reemergence for Diane Lane. She plays Pearl Kantrowitz, a sexual late bloomer, whose life changes giddily during a summer trip to the Catskills in 1969. When she responds to Walker Jerome (Viggo Mortensen), a traveling salesman and free spirit, she must withstand the fury of her husband Marty (Liev Schreiber), the sanctimoniousness of her mother-in-law (Tovah Feldshuh) and the complete shock of her daughter Alison (Anna Paquin), who has just evolved into womanhood and romance herself. Unfortunately, the movie's attempt to crosscut Pearl's sexual liberation with such Great Moments in the 1960s as Woodstock renders everything somewhat ridiculous.
"Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl" (NR): Review from Weekend. During China's Cultural Youth Revolution, young Xiu Xiu (Lu Lu) enlists for horse training on the plains of Tibet, so she can be chosen as a member of the Girls Iron Cavalry. Lao Jin (Lopsang), her teacher, is a taciturn soul who develops an unspoken devotion to this chaste young girl. Director Joan Chen, best known for her performances in "The Last Emperor" and "Twin Peaks," produces strong performances from leads Lu Lu and Lopsang. But the story, in which a succession of men takes physical advantage of Xiu Xiu, isn't exactly what you'd call pick-me-up material. Cinematographer Lu Yue (who has filmed many Zhang Yimou pictures, including "Shanghai Triad") creates some striking images. Xiu Xiu's misery at least gets a pristine, starry backdrop.
"Election" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In Alexander Payne's hilarious, razor-sharp satire, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), an overexuberant student, is running for Student Council president at Carver High School with satanic single-mindedness. Knowing she's too evil to be allowed such success, her teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) recruits injured, popular quarterback Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) as a rival candidate. But as the psychological battle becomes more intense, Tracy gets tougher, and Jim's life follows a dark descent. Payne, whose feature debut was "Citizen Ruth," finds a perfect fulcrum between humor and tragedy, between black comedy and poignancy. Witherspoon plays Tracy so convincingly, I'm not sure I can look at her without a shudder again. Broderick evokes such magnificently emasculated frailty as his archenemy perseveres, you practically avert your eyes.
"Goodbye, Lover" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Roland Joffe's wry-noir theydunit, in which just about everyone's on some kind of scheme, eventually sinks in its own nihilistic pit. Screenwriters Ron Peer, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow infuse the story with edgy comedy that feels like the equivalent of silicone implants. But it has its moments, thanks to cute 'n' dark performances from
lover-schemers Patricia Arquette, Don Johnson, Dermot Mulroney and Mary-Louise Parker, and from Ellen DeGeneres as the amusingly jaded detective in charge of figuring out all the murders and backstabbing.
"The Rage: Carrie 2" (R): Review from Weekend. When the central character burns in Hell at the end of Brian DePalma's "Carrie" movie more than 20 years ago, you'd think that would be pretty sequel-proof. Think again. Or don't think again, as we go through the whole Carrie Thing again, with Emily Bergl playing a Different Kind of Girl with the ability to send coffee cups flying. When Rachel's best friend Lisa (Mena Suvari) suffers a lover's suicide, this sets the telekinetic one on a destructive course, messing up a budding affair with a school stud (Jason London) and leading to the same old bloodbath. Only reason to watch: the grisly reward performer Amy Irving gets for returning to a "Carrie" movie.
"SLC Punk" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. There is deliciously subversive potential in James Merendino's movie: life during the Reagan 1980s, as seen through the eyes of a punk-student narrator Stevo (Matthew Lillard) living in Salt Lake City. Lillard is engaging, and the story introduces us to a colorful network of out-there weirdos, including a paranoid Eurotrasher (Til Schweiger) and Heroin Bob (Michael Goorjian), so-named because of his aversion to needles. But "SLC Punk!" doesn't have enough dimension to maintain dramatic interest. Its cop-out/sellout dilemma in which Stevo weighs falling in love with a sweethearted girl (Summer Phoenix) and going to Harvard Law School, instead of living the punk life is a rather cynical, and hardly earth-shattering quandary.
"10 Things I Hate About You" (R): Review from Style. In this blandly updated, teen version of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," popular student Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) has to get a date for her older, sourpuss sister Kat (Julia Stiles), before Dad (Larry Miller) will let her go out with boys. When one of Bianca's suitors persuades sexy loner Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to woo the older sib, the plot thickens. Or thins. It's great that Shakespeare has become one cool Dead White Guy to sample, but it would be greater yet if he were not reduced to moronic high school pap.
"Lost and Found" (PG-13): Review from Weekend. If the standards for feature films starring former "Saturday Night Live" cast members weren't already so low, you could be forgiven for thinking "Lost & Found" was dragging them down. In this witlessly tasteless film, "SNL" alum David Spade plays Dylan, a hapless restaurateur who's smitten with his lovely French neighbor, Lila (Sophie Marceau). In a craven bid for attention, Dylan kidnaps Lila's terrier so he can "find" the dog for her later. But, as anyone who's watched the NBC sitcom "Just Shoot Me" knows, Spade is no actor. He's a quipper. So uncompromising is Spade's standup delivery that he seems to be wandering through the narrative under the mistaken impression that he's onstage at the Improv. But his xenophobic jibes and poop jokes probably wouldn't fare any better there than they do on the big screen. And acerbic asides are no substitute for, say, charisma.
"Pushing Tin" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Mike Newell's movie about air traffic controllers turns New York's Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) center into a frat house full of wacked out geeks and cowboys who keep jumbo jets from crashing by day, then cheat on their wives or contemplate suicide by night. There's a crazy, entertaining middle section in which morally vulnerable controller Nick (likable John Cusack) faces off with Russell (Billy Bob Thornton), a new, half-Native American controller who likes to take things to the edge. Nick's wife (an assured Cate Blanchett), and Russell's (Angelina Jolie) also get caught up in the alpha male contest. But the film fairly explodes with character over-development, heavy-handed symmetry, absurd coincidences and a compulsive need to make sure even a low-IQ amoeba will get the point of every scene.
"The Thirteenth Floor" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this fascinating, ultimately flawed science fiction drama, computer researcher Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) finds himself accused of murdering his boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a visionary who has created a virtual reality replica of Los Angeles in 1937. Douglas has to enter that virtual world to get to the bottom of the mystery. He must also figure out the agenda of Jane Fuller (Gretchen Mol), a beautiful woman who claims to be the late boss's daughter and heir. "The Thirteenth Floor," based on Daniel F. Galouye's "Simulacron 3," is full of provocative ideas and atmosphere. But the story's dramatic effectiveness starts to seriously malfunction. Eventually, the movie gets so caught up in its tortured stratagem, you'll feel as if you're stuck in some futuristic elevator between floors.
"This Is My Father" (R): Review from Weekend. After straying dangerously close to the cloying mannerisms of countless films set on the Emerald Isle, this tale of an Irish American schoolteacher (James Caan) and his trek to Ireland to find out who his father was quickly rights itself. After a short, modern-day prologue, the story jumps to 1939, where it becomes a moving story of doomed love between a 17-year-old colleen (Moya Farrelly) and a man old enough to be her father (Aidan Quinn). The real villain in the film written and directed by Quinn brother Paul and photographed by brother Declan is a morally rigid caricature of Irish Catholicism, but its grander message is not one of religious bashing but of the importance of our ancestors' legacies in our contemporary lives.
"The Mummy" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. When rival groups of bounty hunters and ancient historians uncover the tomb of cursed, undead high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) in Egypt, all hell breaks loose. The special effects in Stephen Sommers's movie
may be exciting and the denizens of the dead pretty scary. But this overblown parody of desert epics and mummy horror films, starring Brendan Fraser, stumbles and screeches on for an interminable two hours. Worst of all is the pathetic romance between Fraser (a legionnaire manque who is seeking Imhotep's tomb) and Rachel Weisz as a meek, yet determined scholar called Evelyn. The story also introduces us to the most innocuous, stereotypical collection of conniving locals, eccentric oddballs and greedy bounty hunters ever assembled.
"My Favorite Martian" (PG): Review from Weekend. The Walt Disney picture, in which earthling Jeff Daniels plays host to visiting Martian Christopher Lloyd and his talkative, gyrating bodysuit, completely destroys the traditional spirit of the original 1960s TV series as well as old-time Disney fare with tacky, anything-goes broadness. Ray Walston, the original star of the TV show,
gets a minor role, but there's nothing of the show's quaint appeal. Instead, we are assaulted with a bevy of computer graphic imaging, animatronics and puppetry, together with out-of-left-field sexually suggestive jokes (presumably intended for the bored baby boomer chaperones in the dark) and bathroom humor.
"Three Seasons" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this masterful, lyrical drama, director Tony Bui uses the new Vietnam as atmospheric setting for four superbly interwoven stories. The film deals with the American experience through James Hager (Harvey Keitel), a Marine who returns to Saigon to trace the daughter he fathered. But most of the characters are Vietnamese, including Hai (Don Duong), a cyclo driver whose devotion (and free rides) to a working girl called Lan (Zoe Bui) is almost
religious. We also meet the young Kien An (Nguyen Ngoc Hiep), a sweet-souled woman who joins a group of lotus sellers and whose song charms the heart of Dao (Tran Manh Cuong), the hermetic, leprous poet and teacher who is her boss. It's a privilege to be witness to such quietly fascinating and delicate chronicles and people.
"Foolish" (R): Foolish Waise (Eddie Griffin), a stand-up comic, and his brother, Fifty Dollah (Master P), a low-level gangster, decide to set up a comedy show.
"The Matrix" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Surprisingly compelling fare for a cyber-age martial arts flick, this tale of individuality vs. computerized slavery throws in elements from old Westerns, the Bible, Greek mythology, "Alien," "Alice in Wonderland," "Men in Black," "Blade Runner," TV's old "Kung Fu" series, James Bond, "The Terminator," "Star Wars" and "Sleeping Beauty." The writing-directing team of brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski cannibalize all this wonderful film fodder shamelessly but they manage to excrete it in a totally new form: a philosophical fairy tale with comic-book action, state-of-the-art special effects and irresistible story-telling momentum. As a heroic trio of well-armed, 21st-century Zen rebels, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss rock.
"Ravenous" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. It actually looked good on paper, this comedy about cannibalism set in a U.S. Army fort in the Sierra Nevadas in 1847. It's got talent out the wazoo: Guy Pearce of "L.A Confidential" as the hero, Robert Carlyle of "The Full Monty" as the flesh-eating villain, and a supporting cast of appetizers played by David Arquette ("The Alarmist"), Jeremy Davies ("Saving Private Ryan") and Jeffrey Jones ("Ed Wood"). Unfortunately, the scary parts are funny and the funny parts are nonexistent and the point of the whole exercise (if there is one) seems to be some metaphorical nonsense about insatiable American jingoism that is brought up and then dropped like a hot potato. This one needs to go back in the oven.
"Cookie's Fortune" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In Robert Altman's southern gothic-flavored movie, the death of an old dowager (Patricia Neal) leads to a comedy of blunders, including the wrongful arrest of her employee Willis (Charles S. Dutton) for murder. Only the old lady's conniving niece Camille (Glenn Close), aided by her dumbly obedient sister Cora (Julianne Moore), can assert Willis's innocence. This may not go down as Robert Altman's most memorable movie. But it's a pleasant affair, whose greatest assets are its unhurried, benevolent atmosphere and the quiet, gem-like moments that occur among its characters. In the style that has served him for decades, Altman introduces the actors to this indolent world, then lets them sort things out in time for the ending. It's a simple formula but it works fine, even in the sleepiest of situations.
"The Corruptor" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. It's rewarding to watch Asian action star Chow Yun-Fat finally make headway here. His English is still wooden, but the charisma needs no translation. He's an undercover detective in New York City's Asian Gang Unit, who's surprised to be partnered with Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg), a rookie who seems too green and white to be infiltrating Chinatown. The story gets bogged down in predictable sentimentality, but the teamwork between the stars is there; and director James Foley creates some jarringly entertaining set pieces.
"Doug's 1st Movie" (G): Review from Weekend. This goofy, good-natured animated feature based on the popular Saturday-morning cartoon concerns the adventures of a 12 1/2-year-old boy named Doug Funnie (the voice of Thomas McHugh) who befriends a swamp creature named Herman Melville, saves his home town of Bluffington from unscrupulous polluters and wins the affection of the epicene Patti Mayonnaise (helium-voiced Constance Shulman). Our hero, a kid who does the dishes without nagging and wears his bike helmet even when he's not on his bike, somehow manages to be wholesome without being boring. "Doug's 1st Movie" is the triumph of the closet nerd within us all.
"Forces of Nature" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Transportation snafus force Ben Affleck to find alternative ways to make his Georgia wedding on time. When he teams with newfound travel partner, Sandra Bullock, he finds his nuptial intentions in danger of derailment too. The movie, directed by Bronwen Hughes from Marc Lawrence's screenplay, has flickerings of originality, but not enough to raise this romantic caper to memorable heights. Both performers are personable and occasionally amusing, but not particularly explosive. Ultimately, "Forces of Nature" is more of a cute lull than a passionate storm.
"The Last Days" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. This documentary about five Hungarian survivors and their grim stories of the Holocaust is emotionally affecting for its content, but not its method. Produced by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, it has a flat, perfunctory air about it. And many things are left unexplained. But the suffering screams at you, thanks to the deeply engaging stories from the Hungarians (including Rep. Tom Lantos of California) and sickeningly familiar wartime footage of Jews and other ethnic prisoners caught in the Nazi's well-greased killing campaign of World War II.
"Prince of Egypt" (PG): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The idea of a children's cartoon based on the Old Testament book of Exodus is definitely a bit strange, but the execution and animation is actually quite striking. Some artistic license has been taken with the story of Moses (the voice of Val Kilmer) and the emancipation of the Hebrews from enslavement in Egypt, but by and large the drama of the ancient biblical saga is retained. Such fidelity to the original story the basis of faith for millions of people is commendable, but the graphic depiction of slavery, death and the plagues wrought by a wrathful God can make for intense viewing for very young audiences.
"The Other Sister" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this heavy-handed paean to "special people," Juliette Lewis plays Carla, a mentally retarded adolescent, whose dream of living independently with mentally challenged boyfriend Danny (Giovanni Ribisi) is squashed by a controlling mother (Diane Keaton). Keaton's performance is almost embarrassing; she seems to be playing Annie Hall playing Phyllis Schlafly. Lewis and Ribisi have their moments, but director Garry Marshall, the pied piper of kitsch, beats us over the head with this take-home message: "Mentally challenged people in love say the darndest things!"
"Twin Dragons" (PG-13): Jackie Chan plays identical twins who are separated at birth, only to encounter each other as very different adults.
"The Out-of-Towners" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The only similarity between this vaguely smutty retread and the 1970 Neil Simon-scripted original (besides the title) is the basic premise: a naive Ohio couple encounters rudeness, mugging and lost luggage in big, bad Manhattan. As midwestern heroes the Clarks, Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn are no Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. For one thing, the perpetually well-coiffed movie stars already seem too sophisticated to play the bumbling rubes they're passed off as. For another thing, they're just not very funny, thanks to stale slapstick (Hey, that's not aspirin, that's LSD!) perpetrated by writer Marc Lawrence and director Sam Weisman.
"Idle Hands" (R): Review from Weekend. The murderous hand in this inept horror-comedy reaches pathetically for the "Scream" audience and misses. The organ in question belongs to Anton (Devon Sawa), a 17-year-old suburban goof-off who smokes too much dope, watches too much TV and cringes in horror as his right hand becomes possessed and starts slaughtering victims left, right and center. His terrified, similarly wasted friends, Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson), get caught up in the murder spree, first as victims, then as undead buddies. Throw into this wearisome mix a romance between Anton and Molly (Jessica Alba), a beautiful girl next door who writes bad rock poetry, and you have yourself a heavy-handed disappointment saturated in tired movie blood.
"The Celebration" (R): Review from Weekend. Shot with a hand-held video camera in available light and then transfered to film, the intimate and exhilarating Danish import does not even bear the name of its director, in accordance with the puritanical and possibly tongue-in-cheek precepts of "Dogma 95," a credo developed a few years ago by director Lars Von Trier and "Celebration" filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg. Set at the 60th birthday party of a wealthy patriarch (Henning Moritzen), the story charts the decay of the family reunion as son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) drops a verbal bombshell from which the amazingly dysfunctional but fascinating family never recovers. The acting has an immediacy enhanced by the fact that several cast members were unaware of the pungent story line in advance and the staggering camerawork makes the audience feel like a guest at a celebration gone horrible wrong from which there is no escape.
"Go" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. This exhilarating "Rashomon" for the rave set looks at the events of a single drug- and danger-fueled night from three perspectives. Part One ("Ronna") follows an L.A. grocery store clerk (cucumber-cool Sarah Polley) as she tries to stave off eviction by making a quick profit from the sale of pharmaceutical-grade Ecstasy to a couple of self-absorbed party boys (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf). Part Two ("Simon") jumps to Las Vegas where her British co-worker (manic Desmond Askew) gets into trouble of his own over an encounter with two strippers, a loaded firearm and an angry bouncer. The final chapter, wrapping the whole mess up in a demented and satisfying crescendo, is told from the point of view of the aforementioned party boys. Director Doug Liman choreographs the adrenalized tale with verve, smarts and an unforced hipness.
"Analyze This" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Robert De Niro is a blast as a mafia don who has lost his nerve and needs counseling. And Billy Crystal more than supports him, as the shrink who agrees under duress to listen to his lamentations. Crystal's about opening up, letting it all hang out. But De Niro's about keeping your trap shut 'coz what you don't know won't kill you. It's a wonderful comic situation and both performers milk it all the way to the end. Forget about the lame storyline, full of gang turf battles and Crystal's constantly postponed plans to marry fiancee Lisa Kudrow. The matching of De Niro and Crystal is the main attraction, and it's funny stuff.
"Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane" (R): First-time director/star Joe Carnahan, who made this indie for $7,300, pays low-budget tribute to Quentin Tarantino and used-car salesmen.
"EDtv" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Good-hearted, thirtyish video store clerk Ed (Matthew McConaughey) agrees to be filmed 24 hours a day for a live-coverage TV show, before realizing the spotlight will also fall on his family, including his jerky, manipulative brother, Ray (an unamusing Woody Harrelson). When Ed confesses his love for Ray's estranged girlfriend (Jenna Elfman), ratings go through the roof. Director Ron Howard and comic collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel can make funny in the telegenic sense. But when they try to make light of the "Real World," media-obsessed culture, there's not enough separation between church and state. "EDtv" is too darned easy to "get," too obviously ironic, too morally readable, too strategically "wacky," as if everything was pretested with focus groups and sneak preview audiences before making it to the word processor.
"Office Space" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. After a visit to an "occupational hypno-therapist," Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston)'s anti-work malaise reaches a subversive, almost Zen level. He decides to stop coming to work and make a play for that cute waitress (Jennifer Aniston) while he's at it. Mike Judge, who created "Beavis and Butt-head" and "King of the Hill," makes a hilarious foray into live action even though it's a little thin. Honorable mentions to Peter's smarmy boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), whose unctuous patter always begins with a "yeeeeeaaaaah"; and to "Chotchkie's," a loathsomely cheerful theme restaurant where job performance is measured in terms of how chirrupy the waiters can be and how many cute message buttons (called "flairs") they can stick to their suspenders
"Playing by Heart" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Willard Carroll's multi-character drama, set in Los Angeles, interweaves six storylines that deal in some way with love. But these chronicles, featuring Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Dennis Quaid, Angelina Jolie, Gillian Anderson and others, hover between modestly engaging and downright innocuous. Carroll never licks the central problem faced in movies like this: how to build meaningful relationships and create memorable characters in a big cast, given the slim time share everyone gets on-screen.
"Simply Irresistible" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Another day, another bad love story with two television stars playing kissy face. Sarah Michelle Gellar (of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is Amanda, a sweet-natured cook who discovers she has a magical ability to induce emotions in the people who eat her food. Sean Patrick Flanery (of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles") is Tom, a self-impressed jerk charged with designing a swanky watering hole. Cupid in this case is a crab that stays in Amanda's kitchen and orchestrates the magical developments. Unfortunately, enchantment is signified by levitating people a la "Mary Poppins," playing
wind-chimes on the soundtrack, flooding scenes with dry ice and filling every available story transition with rock-lite songs.
"200 Cigarettes" (R): Review from Weekend. This downcast, twentysomething comedy about the trysts, dalliances and catfights among 16 uninteresting, young New Yorkers set during New Year's Eve of 1981 is one brain-dead experience. As performers Courtney Love, Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofalo, Jay Mohr, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci, and Ben Affleck, and others act out their tiresome little episodes, the night lengthens into tedium. Like Martha Plimpton, host of a New Year's Eve bash to which no one is coming, you too will find yourself slumped forward in your chair, praying for the dawning of the new year with desperate fervor.
"Celebrity" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Kenneth Branagh does an extraordinary Woody Allen impersonation as neurotic New York writer Lee Simon, in Allen's funny and incisive black-and-white meditation on fame and romantic failure. The romantic failure part will be familiar from nearly every other one of Allen's film comedies, but the topic of our national obsession with celebrity is new and timely. With Donald Trump playing himself, and Leo DiCaprio acting like a Leo DiCaprio-esque movie star, the bizarre casting of someone other than himself in the central "Woody" role seems less accidental than an inspired joke by the canny and deliberate director.
"The Deep End of the Ocean" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Producer/star Michelle Pfeiffer plays a Milwaukee mother whose grief over a missing child keeps her out of touch with her husband (Treat Williams) and remaining children. There are passingly good moments but, for the most part, the movie (based on Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel) never engages us as it should. Director Ulu Grosbard and scriptwriter Stephen Schiff plot a strange, ellipsis-dotted voyage that avoids emotional high points instead of dealing with them. But there are commendable performances from Jonathan Jackson and Ryan Merriman, as two children who become very significant in Pfeiffer's life.
"Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Spring-loaded with cockney esprit, this "Eastenders" approach to "Reservoir Dogs" peppers its audience with aggressive, sarcastic grapeshot. The story in this street-tough British comedy concerns a Londoner foursome (Nick Moran, Jason Flemyng, Jason Statham and Dexter Fletcher), who use guile, gall and two antique shotguns to save one of their own from a heavy gambling debt to Harry the Hatchet (P.H. Moriarty), a nasty geezer who takes nonpayment very seriously. There's a great cameo from English soccer player Vinnie Jones as a tough debt collector. But as these characters insult or beat on one another, the humor takes it on the chin. You don't know whether to laugh or duck.
"The Mod Squad" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Aaron Spelling's attempt to update his own TV show (1968-1973) that starred Peggy Lipton, Michael Cole and Clarence Williams III is a disaster. It's flat. It has a meandering, obvious scenario about dirty cops. And there's zero chemistry among Claire Danes, Omar Epps and Giovanni Ribisi, the supposedly hip new trio. Enlisted by Capt. Adam Greer (Dennis Farina) to infiltrate the seedy club-scape of Los Angeles, they seem to have been drugged for the part. "The Mod Squad" doesn't have the hippie-countercultural spirit of the TV show, nor does it have the cast or conviction to play off it. Neither audience -- the generation raised on the show and those who have never seen it but know the present cast -- will enjoy the movie's moribund metabolism or its "Nod Squad" propensity to induce slumber.
"Shakespeare in Love" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Shakespeare's not just for English majors, as proved by this intoxicating period farce that speculates about the circumstances surrounding the writing of "Romeo and Juliet." It's 1593 and Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is in London working on "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter," but he suffers from writer's block and romantic dysfunction. The stage-struck aristocrat Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) changes all that when she enters the bard's life. He not only falls in love with her but ends up casting her as Romeo (!) in this whirling romantic stew that mixes elements of Shakespeare's "R&J" with "Twelfth Night" in a witty script by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard. Don't ask how it works. Just go and see it and leave the books at home.
"True Crime" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Craggy Clint Eastwood, who has finally turned into a candidate for Mount Rushmore, remains an incredibly watchable actor; and if there was ever a movie to test the resilience of his appeal, it's this one. In "True Crime," which he stars in, and produced and directed, Eastwood's a chain-smoking, alcoholic, womanizing reporter, whose last chance for redemption is saving the life of an almost saintly African American (Isaiah Washington) condemned to die for a brutal murder. The movie's heavy on emotional button pressing, hollow depictions of character degradation and a deus-ex-mush-ina ending so laughable, it destroys any slim trust you may have built up in the movie. But Clint watchers will not be disappointed.
"Cruel Intentions" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Roger Kumble's witty, juniorized version of 18th century writer Choderlos de Laclos's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" proves that a well-written piece of business oozing with sex, wit and nasty intrigue works for any generation. Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who play thecentral, scheming duo, prove every bit the sexually manipulative equals of their literary predecessors. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it turns out, has fangs of her own. And
Phillippe's petulant sexiness makes him a wonderfully mordant partner. There are rewarding performances, too, from Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair as the two virginal pawns on their Machiavellian chessboard.
"Message in a Bottle" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn star in this zestless, "Sleepless in North Carolina" romance, in which both maneuver closer and closer to harmonic convergence while apparently the audience waits with delicious, tearful expectations in the dark. Costner plays an archetypal version of himself, as Garret Blake, a lonely, bereaved soul who builds sailboats and writes mournful letters to departed Catherine. Penn, whose deft performance is more than the movie deserves, is Theresa Osborne, a single mother and researcher, who picks up one of his Catherine letters in a bottle, then tries to find the mystery author. Paul Newman has his moments as Costner's wisecracking father. But screenwriter Gerald DiPego's long-winded adaptation doesn't evoke the book so much as prolong the agony.
"Tango" (PG-13): Review from Style. Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura's sensual appreciation for dance fails him in this conceptually wishy-washy fable about a middle-aged film director (Miguel Angel Sola) who comes to Argentina to make the ultimate tango movie. He doesn't. Instead, we're subjected to his dirty old man's attraction (in the name of art and beauty, of course) to Elena (Mia Maestro), a young dancer he hires for his production. The best "dancer" is cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who gives us a beautiful symphony of set designs and compositions, sweeping camera movement and a dynamic color scheme.
"Baby Geniuses" (PG): Review from Weekend. Here's the big idea: talking babies are funny. That being said, "Baby Geniuses" is less suggestive of "Look Who's Talking" than "Look Who Won't Shut Up About Diaper Gravy." Other than that charming new catch-phrase, there is little that is original and less to laugh about in this comedy about genius twins separated at birth. As a sinister child-rearing researcher, Kathleen Turner does her best Cruella De Vil impression while poor Christopher Lloyd as her henchman looks trapped inside heavy make-up.
"Blast From the Past" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Believing the communists have dropped the big one in the 1960s, paranoid scientist Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) locks himself and his wife (Sissy Spacek) for 30 years inside the family bomb shelter. While "Blast" stays underground, it's an enjoyable satire about preserving the white picket fence soul of America. Walken is the usual bizarre goof, as he teaches their newborn son, Adam, about topside America. But when the grown-up Adam (Brendan Fraser) infiltrates Los Angeles of the 1990s to meet Eve (Alicia Silverstone), an eligible "non-mutant" from Pasadena, we're shoved abruptly into a mediocre comic romance.
"October Sky" (PG): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Rejecting a future of coal mining in the early 1960s, West Virginia boy, Homer H. Hickam Jr. began designing his own rockets at age 14. There's something down-home and appealing about this misty-eyed adaptation of Hickam's autobiography. But you can see most of the story's trajectory arcing before you, and there's some corniness, too, particularly from Laura Dern as Hickam's supportive teacher. But as Homer, Jake Gyllenhaal brings a sweet-natured, all-American exuberance to the movie. And Chris Cooper puts extra flesh on Homer's father, a heroic, union-despising coal mine supervisor with a
hacking cough who expects Homer Jr. to follow him underground.
"Payback" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. By closing credits, much of this film's set and cast will have been riddled with bullet holes, but the ultraviolence is tempered by smart neo-noir dialogue, a charismatic star performance by Mel Gibson and a clever plot about a holdup man obsessed with getting back his share of a payroll robbery after his partner (Gregg Henry) rips him off and leaves him for dead. The amount in question is a relatively paltry $70,000, so it's refreshing that the hackneyed motivation of greed is here replaced by the notion of honor even if it's only the perverse principle of justice that passes for honor among thieves.
"Down in the Delta" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Maya Angelou's gloomy and schoolmarmish feature-directorial debut about the spiritual rejuvenation of a drug-addicted single mom (Alfre Woodard) suffers from too much awareness of its own goodness. The acting is fine, the photography is adequate, but the smarmy story about how life in the Mississippi Delta is better than inner-city Chicago has a scolding, goody-two-shoes tone. That's not helped by the fact that the film's cynical manipulation of the audience is hidden behind the characters of an autistic child (Kulani Hassen) and a woman with Alzheimer's (the late Esther Rolle).
"8MM" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Director Joel Schumacher's thriller about snuff pornography tries to have its cheesecake and eat it too: It expresses vigilante outrage at the potbellied pigs who create and support violent pornography, but has no problem giving us peekaboo shots of its female victims. As a surveillance expert sent to find a female snuff performer feared dead, Nicolas Cage gives a credible performance. But apart from an odd-buddy interlude with Joaquin Phoenix, playing a rock star aspirant who earns money clerking in a porno store, the movie is somewhere between twisted and pseudo thoughtful a sort of Adrian Lyne affair. The movie's true female victim is actress Catherine Keener who, as Cage's wife, spends the movie waiting for her husband to call home.
"The General" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. This outstanding, black-and-white movie, for which John Boorman took the Best Director Prize at last year's Cannes festival, is a dreamy tribute to Martin Cahill, a gangster in Dublin during the 1980s who is said to have stolen more than $60 million over a 20-year career. An electrifying performance from Brendan Gleeson, propelled by Boorman's visionary direction, brings Cahill to almost surrealistic life; he's a blithe Peter Pan, whose in-your-face heists exasperate everyone from the Irish Republican Army to the local cops, led by Inspector Ned Kenny (Jon Voight). Cahill's coterie including rock-solid Noel Curley (Adrian Dunbar); devoted, but nervous Gary (Sean McGinley); his wife Frances (Maria Doyle Kennedy); and his mistress Tina (Angeline Ball) are a collective charm too. Catch this if you can.
"Shattered Image" (R): Review from Weekend. In this moronically conceived, totally bizarre thriller from apparently acclaimed director Raul Ruiz, William Baldwin seems about as bewildered as we are, as he tries to understand Anne Parillaud (the star of "La Femme Nikita") who is leading two separate lives. Is she a professional killer as we see her in the opening scene or is she the sheltered heiress that we see subsequently waking up with a scream on an airliner? How about this: She's a French actress caught in a movie that she doesn't understand is really, really bad. This movie, full of nightmare fantasies, including a murder arillaud thinks she has committed, is stunning for its pretentiousness and breathtaking for its wooden acting. Why did no one lean forward to Ruiz during the daily rushes and said, "Raul, I know you're sensitive and profound, but please go back out and shoot a real movie." Contains nudity, violence and bad acting.
"The 24-Hour Woman" (R): Rosie Perez plays a television producer who has to cope with the new child in her life.
"Virus" (R): Review from Style. One of the worst sci-fi monster movies of the 1990s, first-time director John Bruno's unscary ordeal pits a team of second-tier acting talent (Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland) against a second-tier special effects alien. (It's hard to be scared of a whirring, clicking, robotic, deep-voiced alien that looks like something you might buy for your kid at Christmas.) Curtis and company are the crew of a sinking tugboat who take refuge on a deserted Soviet
research vessel, only to discover aforementioned alien, who believes mankind is a bad virus. The alien's got it all wrong. This movie's the real scourge, and the only cure is to steer clear of it.
"Central Station" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In Brazilian director Walter Salles's quiet tale of longing and belonging, cynical Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), who makes her living writing letters for the illiterate, becomes emotionally involved with a street gamin (Vinicius de Oliveira) when his mother is killed. After an abortive attempt to sell him to an adoption agency, the jaded crone takes the distrustful punk on the highway in search of daddy. Salles's film is a touching and unusual buddy/road movie.
Montenegro and de Oliveira bowl over with honesty instead of hammy emoting. Theirs is not the Rio of the samba, the bossa nova or the thong bathing suit, but a gritty city whose sadness and potential for redemption is universal.
"A Civil Action" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The only "action" you will encounter in "A Civil Action" is in the title. Based on the 1982 lawsuit accusing corporate giants W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods of contaminating the waters of Woburn, Mass., filmmaker Steve Zaillian remains faithful to the historical facts of the case. His cynicism about truth, justice and the American way is richly deserved by a legal system that habitually translates right and wrong into dollars and cents. But such a jaundiced view of litigation, however authentic, is not necessarily the stuff of great drama. Based on Jonathan Harr's painstakingly researched book about the Woburn case, the movie introduces us to Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) as a slick Boston attorney whose lawyerly maneuvering for a cash settlement ultimately becomes a quixotic quest for the more elusive goal of moral accountability. It helps that he has Robert Duvall to play off of as Beatrice corporate counsel Jerome Facher. The film's sardonic tone and its lack of a manufactured ending are refreshingly un-Hollywood, but unfortunately it is ultimately unsatisfying.
"She's All That" (PG-13): Review from Weekend. Honor student Zack (Freddie Prinze Jr.), his social-climbing girlfriend Taylor (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) and an arty ingenue called Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) are the three points of this predictable high school triangle. But this romantic comedy is more fun than you could reasonably expect. Cook, a bespectacled, socially aware painter who worries about Bosnia and dabbles in dark, angry paintings, makes a funny, charming ugly duckling; and Matthew Lillard has some goofy moments as a self-impressed moron called Brock (Matthew Lillard) who's a star on the TV show "The Real World."
"Affliction" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Nick Nolte delivers a breathtaking, almost feral performance as a small-town policeman caught up in a bitter custody battle, who has a growing suspicion that a recent hunting fatality may have been murder. As Wade's bilious father, James Coburn casts a big, morose shadow over the mystery. The inevitable battle between father and son is the stuff writer/director Paul Schrader lives for. The movie, remarkably close to the spirit of Russell Banks's foreboding novel, makes you feel the battle of Wade's soul, as he careens between his finer and baser impulses. You don't know if you're riding the back of a beast going to hell or on the shoulders of a redemptive man headed for moral glory.
"Hilary and Jackie" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Like Scott Hicks's 1996 "Shine," Anand Tucker's fact-based drama tells the equally stirring story of another brilliant but emotionally unstable classical musician in this case the late English cellist Jackie du Pre (Emily Watson). Just as the earlier film plumbed the cistern of family dysfunction in its exploration of the relationship between pianist David Helfgott and his demanding father, "Hilary and Jackie" explores the paradoxical bond that holds sisters together while keeping them apart. Watson turns in a stunning performance as an eccentric, selfish and affected musical genius, but Rachel Griffiths more than holds her own as her long-suffering sibling and flute-playing competitor, Hilary.
"The King and I" (G): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The story of a romance between a 19th-century English schoolteacher and the polygamous King of Siam. Out the window go all but one barely noticeable reference to multiple wives, not to mention all sexual tension between the widow Anna Leonowens and His Very Married Highness.
"Wing Commander" (PG-13): Review from Weekend. Full disclosure: I've never played the video game on which "Wing Commander" is based, but I can't imagine it's as unexciting, as derivative or as confusing as this cinematic sleeping pill about a battle to save earth from a race of aliens that look like plastic action figures. Furthermore, for a sci-fi adventure set in the 26th century, the spaceships and weaponry bear a disconcerting resemblance to World War II surplus, as does the hackneyed dialogue. Stock characters such as the brash fighter jock (Matthew Lillard), the half-alien, half-human mystery man (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and the tough
but sexy superior officer (Saffron Burrows) are lifted straight out of "Top Gun," "Star Trek," "Alien," and a host of better films.
"Hi-Lo Country" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. A buffed up, unapologetic paean to the rough-riding days in old cowboy country. Hi-Lo, N.M., just before and after World War II, to be precise. Out in this prairie town, the era of the cowboy is almost gone, but the cattle boys still want to have fun. And when Big Boy Matson (Woody Harrelson) agrees to pay $75 to Pete Calder (Billy Crudup) for his horse without petty bartering, the cowpokes become soul mates for life. Like the steel-jawed men around them, they herd cattle, ride rodeo, drink heartily and appreciate women. Only problem is, Pete and Big Boy find themselves appreciating the same woman.
"The Mighty" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Nine- to 14-year-old fans of Rodman Philbrick's popular young adult novel "Freak the Mighty" about the friendship between an ungainly 13-year-old and his growth-stunted classmate might take some comfort in this film's lessons about acceptance and fitting in, but I suspect that most are already too sophisticated for its preachiness and reductive characters. Elden Henson is good as Max, a sweet, withdrawn and husky child who learns to stand up to bullies through the guidance of handicapped buddy Kevin (Kieran Culkin).
"Rushmore" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. "Rushmore" is an almost indefinable genre of its own. A comedy with a menacing edge? An ironic romance? Hard to call. But wonderful to watch. At his beloved Rushmore Academy, high school student Max (Jason Schwartzman) is rah-rah spirit gone kablooey. He's active in every conceivable school club and dreams of writing great plays but, for all his ambition, cannot push his grades higher than a C. His rise, fall and rise includes falling obsessively in love with an older teacher, and making friends with Blume (Bill Murray), a hilariously jaded school benefactor who's something of a kindred spirit.
"Still Crazy" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Twenty years after lightning ended their music careers, a '70s British rock band (including comedian Billy Connelly, a beautifully hangdog Stephen Rea, Timothy Spall and band assistant Juliet Aubrey) attempts a '90s comeback. Writers Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement (who wrote "The Commitments") and director Brian Gibson ("What's Love Got to Do With It") deftly blend rock-insider jokes (swirling art-rock videos, shouted out chord progressions on stage) with the theme of coming to grips with age. And there is fine original music by Chris Difford, Jeff Lynne, Mick Jones and others. But the filmmakers succumb to a crowd-pleasing ending.
"The Thin Red Line" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The thinking person's "Saving Private Ryan," the new WWII film from Terrence Malick is bloody as well as literate, with lots of on-screen musing about immortality and natural philosophy seasoning the combat scenes set during the battle of Guadalcanal. As AWOL recidivist Private Witt, the soulful Jim Caviezel heads a huge ensemble cast including Nick Nolte as his apoplectic commanding officer and Sean Penn as his no-nonsense sergeant. The
action may concern the military struggle to reclaim a piece of island real estate from the Japanese, but Malick's real subject matter, inspired by the novel of the same name by James Jones, is something both higher and deeper than man and his petty squabbles.
"Varsity Blues" (R): Review from Weekend. James Van Der Beek of "Dawson's Creek" fame plays Jonathan "Mox" Moxon, a backup quarterback who finally gets to shine when the star QB ends up in the hospital. There are more moral lessons strewn along here than in an afterschool special, but a few variations in the football movie template keep things interesting. "Varsity Blues" is ultimately about the same things that football movies are always about: loyalty, friendship, how hard it is to understand chicks sometimes and how fun it is to get the requisite fat guy drunk. The football miracle at the end is pure fantasy, but then so is a football team that consists entirely of such lovable guys.
"Hurlyburly" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. David Rabe nicely adapts his 1984 stage play about the human detritus of Tinseltown for director Anthony Drazan's exhilarating screen version starring Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey. The toxic dialogue about ex-wives, the film biz, sex, karma, girlfriends, destiny and damaged virility is still a bit stagey, but the acting by the uniformly excellent ensemble (including Garry Shandling and Chazz Palminteri) is worth the price of admission. Meg Ryan, Anna Paquin and Robin Penn Wright have the thankless but essential task of playing the emotionally and physically abused women in the lives of these Hollywood hangers-on.
"Jawbreaker" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In paying tribute to such comedy/horror flicks as "Carrie," "Heathers" and "Wild Things," writer/director Darren Stein brings nothing new to the table except four (or five) fearsome princesses (Rose McGowan, Julie Benz, Rebecca Gayheart and Charlotte Roldan), who terrorize their fellow students. When one of the girls dies by misadventure, leader McGowan gets busy creating a coverup story, and bringing a social dud called Fern (Judy Evans Greer) into the group so she won't blab.
"Patch Adams" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. If laughter is the best medicine, "Patch Adams" is but a sugary, fitfully amusing placebo. Loosely based on the life of Arlington's own Hunter "Patch" Adams, M.D., the feel-good-or-else movie stars Robin Williams as a zany physician who believes in the curative powers of comedy. Williams brings his customary mania to the character, but Tom Shadyac's directing and Steve Oedekerk's screenplay is overly reverent and timid.
"A Simple Plan" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Billy Bob Thornton steals the show as the slow-witted member of a trio of Midwestern schlemiels (rounded out by Bill Paxton and Brent Briscoe) who stumble on a fortune in cash in a gym bag in director Sam Raimi's darkly intelligent and morally complex thriller. Greed and betrayal begin to eat away at the plan to keep the money almost from the moment of its conception, but "A Simple Plan's" most satisfying pleasure is watching the uneasy love that binds brothers Paxton and Thornton self-destruct.
"Dancing at Lughnasa" (PG): Review from Weekend. Ah, those inscrutable Irish! They've given us those dead-from-the-waist-up Riverdancers and the limitless wonders of the humble potato. Now, we have "Dancing at Lughnasa," based on Brian Friel's subtle-to-the-point-of-somnolent 1990 play about five Mundy sisters sitting Donegal in the '30s talking about cigarettes and the weather. Okay, Meryl Streep is great as the eldest sibling, and director Pat O'Connor has captured a lovely shot of red flowers illuminated by moonlight, but the introspective and stage-bound "Lughnasa" could do with a little less repressed blather about nothing and a little more fancy footwork.
"Enemy of the State" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. As a man hunted by the government for a videotape he doesn't even know he has, Will Smith is cool, funny and sexy, and so is Gene Hackman as a former National Security Agency operative who might be his only hope. It's the super-secret spy agency itself that wants the tape, and renegade executive Reynolds (spooky Jon Voight) will stop at nothing to get it. "Enemy" is pulse-pounding escapist fare for the extremely paranoid, but it pushes the limits of plausibility and audience patience well beyond the limits of the logical mind.
"The Faculty" (R): Robert Rodriquez directs this thriller about alien high school teachers.
"Little Voice" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. This film will linger in your head long after you leave the theater not because of its slight story of a painfully shy young woman with an uncanny gift for the vocal impersonation of famous singers but because of the Olympian acting of its three leads. As the emotionally-crippled songbird of the title (so-named because of her all-but-inaudible speaking voice), Jane Horrocks is astonishingly poignant as she re-creates the stage role originally
written for her by Jim Cartwright. Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn dazzles as Little Voice's foul-mouthed and lovelorn mum Mari and Michael Caine takes his role of sleazy talent agent Ray Say well beyond comedy to pathos of a tragic level.
"Gods and Monsters" (NR): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Based on Christopher Bram's speculative novel about the mysterious 1957 death of James Whale, Bill Condon's sensitive film concerns the homosexual filmmaker's friendship with a handsome young gardener in his employ. The slight story is hardly a whodunit, but "Gods" is watchable thanks to the three lead performances Ian McKellen as the frail and sexually frustrated Whale, Lynn Redgrave as his bullying but protective housekeeper, and Brendan Fraser as straight and slightly dim blue-collar boy-toy Clayton Boone. Of note are the flashback sequences re-creating the filming of Whale's two Frankenstein movies and Condon's meticulous capturing of the catty glamour of Old Hollywood.
"Psycho" (R): Review from Weekend. "Psycho" re-creates most of the gimmicky shocks of Alfred Hitchock's great 1960 original, but how could it not? It's shot (by director Gus Van Sant) from the same script using the same camera angles, and it's all set to the same music. Structurally, at least, it still works, and at the right moments we palpitate and cogitate. However, the greatness of "Psycho" lay in the subtext, not the text, and all the cool, unsettling darkness and weirdness that Hitchcock layered in is gone, so while the film frightens, it doesn't linger. The Norman Bates who'll haunt your dreams will remain Tony Perkins, not beefy Vince Vaughn. Others in the cast are Anne Heche and Viggo Mortensen.
"Waking Ned Devine" (PG): Reviews from Style and Weekend. A Hibernian charmer about a little Irish village whose residents band together to convince the representative of the national lottery that the late Ned Devine (winner of the 7 million-pound prize) is alive and ready to collect his winnings. Delightful codger O'Sullivan is the doddering deceiverelected to impersonate Devine in writer-director Kirk Jones's "Local Hero"-like comedy, which gets more of its mileage from the personal magnetism of its cast than
from any heavy message it pretends to have.
"Gloria" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this klutzy remake of a John Cassavetes film, and the "Ishtar" of her acting career, Sharon Stone plays the jaded, but deep-down-lovable moll opposite child actor Jean-Luke Figueroa. As performances go, the kid wins and he's no precocious wonderboy himself. She's Gloria, who tries to stop her ex-boyfriend (Jeremy Northam) and his henchmen from deep-sixing 6-year-old Nicky (Figueroa), an incriminating witness who's holding an equally incriminating computer disk. Stone's acting is so sinfully awful, it's almost worth watching.
"Saving Private Ryan" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The scorching intensity of the first half-hour of "Saving Private Ryan" wherein Steven Spielberg re-creates the violent D-Day landing of American troops on a Normandy Beach makes the rest of this nearly three-hour film pale in comparison. It's still a powerful, affecting movie, but its failings are exaggerated by the flawlessness of the opening scene. Tom Hanks seems a lightweight choice to portray Captain John Miller, the tortured, enigmatic leader of a platoon sent behind enemy lines to rescue the last surviving member of four enlisted brothers. Although the rest of the mostly unknown supporting cast is impeccable, Matt Damon as Ryan seems too clean and pretty-boy handsome to be the film's Everyman. Spielberg goes a long way toward overcoming his tendencies toward the schmaltzy and shallow, but the visceral punch of his almost-masterful film is softened by an obsessive tidiness that gets in the way of the messy issues it raises about the worth of human life.
"The Theory of Flight" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this earnest but lightweight, special-disease movie, plane inventor Richard (Kenneth Branagh) honors 120 hours of community service by taking care of Jane (Helena Bonham Carter), a wheelchair-bound woman with motor neuron disease, a k a Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS. Jane, who was 18 when she developed ALS, wants to lose her virginity before she dies. Richard, who is already working on his next flying project, wants to soar in his own way.
"The Cruise" (NR): Review from Weekend. Bennett Miller's oddly compelling documentary offers a tour of New York given by 28-year-old guide extraordinaire Timothy "Speed" Levitch. The sad, wise and funny Levitch makes the film worth the ride.
"Holy Man" (PG): Reviews from Style and Weekend. In this flat, enervated satire of consumerism as religion, Eddie Murphy plays "G," a bald-headed, cryptically-named, white-robed spiritual seeker who wanders into the lives and television studio of two infomercial producers, Ricky and Kate (Jeff Goldblum and Kelly Preston). Spouting shallow aphorisms, G soon becomes the hit of the home-shopping world, but his Hallmark-card holiness is just not very funny. Although he performs a couple of magic tricks at a cocktail party, G's only true miracle is the matchmaking performed upon Ricky and Kate, a miscast couple whose romantic chemistry barely registers.
"In Dreams" (R): Review from Weekend. Neil Jordan's surrealistic thriller, which stars Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. in breakout performances, is silly on its formulaic surface: A child lost, a mother (Bening) whose psychic abilities are used to track the killer, the grungy detective, the friendly psychiatrist, blah, blah, blah. But stylistically, it's an emotionally harrowing wonder, thanks primarily to Bening, and director of photography Darius Khondji, who evokes her off-kilter experiences in a
discordant, brilliant symphony of reds. Jordan creates an extraordinary living nightmare, including the watery ghos town of Northfield, which was submerged to create a reservoir in the 1960s, but which still percolates with tortured memories.
"The Impostors" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. A gloriously silly valentine to the screwball comedies of yore, Stanley Tucci's sophomore directorial effort pairs Tucci with Oliver Platt as a pair of unemployed actors on the lam from an irate British thespian (Alfred Molina) whose ego they have bruised. Hiding from their pursuer in a pierside crate, they end up as stowaways on a cruise ship full of hysterical loonies: Campbell Scott as Nazi-like head steward Meistrich, Steve Buscemi as suicidal
singer Happy Franks, Tony Shalhoub as a mad Eastern European bomber, Hope Davis as a morose heiress, and Allison Janney as a murderous gold digger with a fake French accent. It's a ship of fools that has lost its mooring, but the cargo of giddy laughs keep the insane vessel afloat.
"Very Bad Things" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. When it is good, the film by "Chicago Hope" actor Peter Berg is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid. "Very Bad Things" jumps from low comedy to graphic horror so fast you're likely to get whiplash from this tale of a bachelor party gone awry. Cameron Diaz is the obsessive-compulsive bride-to-be who will stop at nothing to ensure a perfect wedding to Kyle (Jon Favreau). Christian Slater is Kyle's sociopathic pal Boyd, who thinks nothing of cutting up a dead hooker with a jig saw and burying her in the Nevada desert. After a while, you'll either be laughing at everything like a lunatic or cowering in your seat, afraid to even look at the screen.
"Another Day in Paradise" (R): Based on the Eddie Little crime novel, the film follows a quartet of outlaws and junkies.
"Orgazmo" (NC-17): Review from Weekend. Written, directed by and starring "South Park" co-creator Trey Parker, the comedy about a Mormon working in the Hollywood porn industry has the polished look of a bad home movie, the sophisticated dialogue of a couple of cretinous drunks in a bar and virtually no laughs.
"Star Trek: Insurrection" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Playing on the time-tested (if by now a bit shopworn) formula that has proved so successful since Gene Roddenberry first created the TV series, "Star Trek: Insurrection" follows the crew of the Starship Enterprise to a remote planet inhabited by a race of well-groomed humanoids living in a climate not unlike Northern California. There, Captain Kirk I mean Picard (Patrick Stewart) gets to cuddle with a leggy alien in pink lip gloss while wrestling with his conscience and the eternal question of whether to violate the "prime directive" of non-interference. It's a safe but satisfying sci-fi security blanket that die-hard trekkies will undoubtedly love.
"Velvet Goldmine" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Gifted and ambitious filmmaker Todd Haynes might have succeeded if he had tried to do one movie instead of four. Attempting to make a love story, a thriller, a musical and a cultural document of an era in one, Haynes has created a lavishly visual and aurally satisfying but ultimately ludicrous valentine to the glam rock era of the early 1970s. As rocker Brian Slade (an amalgam of David Bowie and others), Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is fine at evoking the character's narcissism, and Ewan McGregor is dynamic as the Iggy Pop-like Curt Wild, but Rhys-Meyers's uncanny physical resemblance to the young Michael Stipe (one of the film's executive producers) and McGregor's similarity to the late Kurt Cobain add a confusing level of interpretation that only undermines the already diffuse focus of the sublime and ridiculous "Goldmine."
"Babe: Pig in the City" (G): Reviews from Style and Weekend. This sequel to the charming fable of a sheep-herding pig doesn't just redo the 1995 film but reinvents it with a new, urbane cast of talking animals, including a capuchin monkey, hep-cat chimps and an orangutan named Thelonius (voiced by James Cosmo). Celebrity pig Babe (E.G. Daily) is stranded in Metropolis with owner Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) when they miss a connecting flight to an international herding competition. It's in that delightfully kaleidoscopic city that the porker encounters primate hipsters Zootie (Glenne Headly) and Bob (Steven Wright), while befriending a vicious pit bull and saving animalkind from mean neighbors, dog catchers and hungry chefs.
"Dirty Work" (PG-13): In this abysmal story of two losers (Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange) who start a revenge-for-hire business, there are four basic jokes that are wrung incessantly until they are drained of what little humor they ever possessed: 1) smirking anti-gay cracks; 2) smirking cracks about prostitutes; 3) the sight of Macdonald's limp body being thrown into dumpsters and onto the ground; and 4) the recurrent shtick of Macdonald making stupid, vulgar "notes to self" on a pocket tape recorder. Despite appearances by Chevy Chase, Gary Coleman, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Don Rickles and John Goodman, this film is an embarrassment to all concerned, save Chase, who at this point is apparently incapable of shame.
"You've Got Mail" (PG): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Ostensibly an electronic-age update on the 1940 Jimmy Stewart film "The Shop Around the Corner" in which pen pals fall in love, "You've Got Mail" actually bears as much similarity to the more recent "Sleepless in Seattle." This tale of e-mail correspondents who fall in love via modem without knowing they are business rivals has the same cast (Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks), the same director (Nora Ephron) and the same romantic formula as the 1993 love story about a woman who falls in love with a man she hears on a radio call-in show. There are sweet pleasures in the supporting cast of Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey and Steve Zahn, but the entire exercise is at heart a rote postponement of the inevitable romantic union of circumstantially separated soulmates.
"At First Sight" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Based on a true story documented by physician and "Awakenings" author Oliver Sacks, "At First Sight" is a thoughtful, but creakily familiar love story between tense New York architect Amy (Mira Sorvino) and mellow upstate masseur Virgil (Val Kilmer) who, since the onslaught of cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 3, has been blind. After a brief flirtation with the idea of seeing again (Amy is a compulsive savior), both learn that the more important organ in vision is not the eyeball but the mind. Neither as bad as it looks nor as good as it should be, the movie alternates between stinko and fabulous.
"Elizabeth" (R): Reviews from Style Weekend.The plush and bloody 16th-century thriller concerns not the reign of England's Virgin Queen (Cate Blanchett), but her rise from dewy-eyed girl to stone-faced icon amid assassination attempts and shadowy court intrigue. Indian director Shekhar Kapur brings an irreverent but cogent point of view to his telling of the complicated tale, which reads as pulse-quickening mystery more than dusty history. The unconventionally pretty Blanchett powerfully conveys both youthful indecision and mature resolve as Kapur's fluid but increasingly stately camerawork underscores the character's evolution.
"Happiness" (NR): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Call the name "Happiness" false advertising, but who would go to see a movie called "Rancor, Denial, Spite and Self-Loathing"? Believe it or not, the brilliant and disturbingly jaundiced sophomore offering from "Welcome to the Dollhouse" writer-director Todd Solondz involving suicide, pedophilia, masturbation, dismemberment and generalized malaise is quite funny and surprisingly uplifting. The deadpan satire comes across thanks to a pitch-perfect cast of actors, not movie stars, including Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle and Cynthia Stevenson as the Jordan sisters, each of whom is blessed with her own delicious dysfunction. Dylan Baker, as a creepy but sympathetic child molester, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a lonely, onanistic stalker, will make your flesh crawl even as they twist your funny bone.
"Stepmom" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. If fawning movies about the problems of the extremely prosperous set your teeth on edge, it's probably best to avoid "Stepmom." For a long time the movie feels like a tour of two of Martha Stewart's swank abodes, each one representing the two women in the life of lawyer and divorced dad Luke Harrison: his brittle and neurotic ex-wife (Susan Sarandon) and his fashion-photographer girlfriend (Julia Roberts). The film turns serious when Luke decides to marry his new love and the former missus develops lymphatic cancer, spurring her to oversee the orderly transfer of the parental reins. Not without moments of wit and powerful emotion, "Stepmom" never feels real enough to move us deeply or bubbly enough to make us forget our woes.
"The Thief" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The 1997 Academy Award-nominated Russian film works well on two levels as the story of an itinerant WWII war widow, her 6-year-old son and the petty thief they accept as husband and father, and as a metaphor for Stalinist Russia. Pretty Katya (Ekaterina Rednikova) and little Sanya (the adorable Misha Philipchuk) at first think Tolyan (Vladimir Mashkov) dressed as a soldier and seeming to have a steady paycheck is the answer to their
prayers. But he soon reveals himself to be an abusive spouse and stern father. Still, he is not without tender feelings for his makeshift family and they also love him hopelessly, even as they fear him much as Mother Russia did the fallen tyrant who ultimately betrayed his people.
"Belly" (R): Review from Style. Writer-director Hype Williams moves from music videos to feature films with this craven, unintelligible and appallingly hypocritical gangsta thriller. After 90 minutes of cojones-rattling, whore-mongering, drug-peddling and blood-spilling, Williams leaves his audience with a message. Though earnestly delivered by the Rev. Saviour (Benjamin
Chavis), this five-minute sermon against violence and debauchery hardly makes up for the glamorization of all that came before. Aimed at young urban viewers, the movie features rappers DMX and Nas as boyhood friends whose criminal activities made them rich as teenagers. Now, as young adults, they must rethink their futures. Capable performances are sabotaged by flashy cinematography and melodramatic story line.
"A Bug's Life" (G): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Fine fare for kiddies, but parents might prefer the somewhat more sophisticated humor of "Antz," the earlier and more grown-up of the two computer-animated insect movies. That one had Woody Allen playing the neurotic, six-legged lead. "A Bug's Life" stars the likable but bland Dave Foley as Flik, the independent-spirited hero who saves his colony from a band of extortionist grasshoppers. With their lavender-hued skin, chubby cheeks and four (as opposed to six) legs, the huggable protagonists of "A Bug's Life" are like teeny teddy bears with antennae.
"Monument Avenue" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The O'Gradys and O'Haras and other murderous Irish-American losers of Ted Demme's bleak, Boston-based crime drama are enough to make an O'Sullivan want to change his name to Corleone. Still, "Monument Avenue" is not without its gloomy pleasures, assuming you are not in the market for happiness or hope. Denis Leary is
surprising strong as Bobby O'Grady, a morally-conflicted petty thief trapped in the employ of mob boss Jackie O'Hara (Colm Meaney). There may be no light at the end of the tunnel for Bobby, but this scary drive down a darkened "Monument Avenue" is as intelligent as it is visceral.
"A Night at the Roxbury" (PG-13): Review from Weekend. You already either love 'em or you hate 'em: those two guys from the "Saturday Night Live" skit wearing shiny suits and gold chains who shake their heads from side to side in time to that annoying disco song. Personally, I love 'em. I can't look at Chris Kattan's rubbery little half-simian, half-human body or Will Ferrell's mug of dim incomprehension without laughing. At 83 minutes, the one-joke bit stretched out to feature length is idiotic, but I mean that in a good way. The story about brothers Doug and Steve Butabi (Kattan and Ferrell) trying to get into the Roxbury nightclub is sustained fairly well by director John Fortenberry, and the jokes are inoffensive if you can stomach the sight of Kattan and Ferrell in thong bathing suits.
"The Siege" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The conventional cops-and-robbers formula is played out in director, producer and co-writer Ed Zwick's thriller as a showdown between bad guys and good guys: Islamic terrorists in Brooklyn on the one hand and the combined but not necessarily cohesive forces of the FBI, CIA and U.S. Army on the other represented respectively
by agent Denzel Washington, covert operative Annette Bening and general Bruce Willis. The tiresome dynamic of dark-skinned and foreign-accented bombers is made fresh by the fact that one of our heroes is Lebanese American G-man Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub). But such political correctness is undermined by making the sex life of Bening's character such a central focus of the sniggeringly macho moral tale, which can't resist punishing women who act like men.
"Simon Birch" (PG): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Stripped of its profundity along with its original title, John Irving's novelistic rumination on faith, "A Prayer for Owen Meany," becomes a Disneyfied tale of the friendship between two pre-adolescent misfits under the dumbing-down treatment of writer-director Mark Steven Johnson. Joe (Joseph Mazzello) is the bastard son of the town saint (a warm and radiant Ashley Judd) and his best friend is a gnome-like savant named Simon (Ian Michael Smith) who declares himself to be "an instrument of God." If only the filmmaker had trusted his powerful source material more and cut back on the mawkish and intrusive music, the copious tears that this little weeper is able to generate would be well-deserved.
"Apt Pupil" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The premise of this psychological thriller a high-school boy (Brad Renfro) discovers a Nazi war criminal hiding in his home town and then proceeds to dress him up in an S.S. uniform like a pet monkey is no more far-fetched, I suppose, than any other wild plot device dreamed up by writer Stephen King, on whose novella the story is based. If you swallow that tall tale, though, the rest of the fairly engaging film is made palatable by a riveting performance by Sir Ian McKellen as Kurt Dussander, the alcoholic German immigrant who seems frail and harmless until he tries to shove the neighborhood cat into the oven.
"One Tough Cop" (R): Review from Weekend. Instead of Alec Baldwin as conflicted New York policeman Bo Dietl, the filmmakers are stuck with mutt-faced Baldwin brother Stephen. As Dietl's alcoholic partner, the loose-cannon Duke, Sean Penn's pudgy brother Chris must suffice. Gina Gershon, plays the hero's love interest Joey, who has just broken up with Dietl's best friend, the criminal Richie LaCasa. Dietl, the kind of cop who gets the job done, believes it's okay to break a few rules to do it. A pair of feds who know of his friendship with LaCasa are trying to blackmail him into planting a wire on his cronies, but Dietl's idiosyncratic ethics prevent him from complying. Meanwhile, he feels obligated to keep the hot-tempered Duke, in gambling debt up to his double-chin, out of trouble because the big lug once took a bullet for him.
"American History X" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Director Tony Kaye has publicly denounced "American History X" as not good enough and unsuccessfully attempted to remove his name from it when New Line Cinema brought in star Edward Norton to recut the film. After the hubbub, it seems that Kaye is a perfectionist and worry-wart and that Norton is a pretty good film editor -- not to mention actor, in his visceral portrayal of former neo-Nazi skinhead Derek Vinyard. Told mostly in flashback after Derek has been released from jail for killing two black car thieves, "American History X" concerns Derek's redemption and attempt to save his little brother Danny (Edward Furlong) from the same self-destructive path that led him to prison. Pungent, graphic and only a teeny bit preachy, Kaye's film proves itself to be only as imperfect as the human race.
"Beloved" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Based on Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery and its aftermath, the Jonathan Demme-directed "Beloved" is a powerful, if overly literal, adaptation of a great ghost story. Oprah Winfrey is strong as Sethe, a former slave living outside Cincinnati with her daughter Denver (Kimberly Elise) and boyfriend Paul D. (Danny Glover). She is haunted literally and figuratively by her harrowing past, not only by the things that were done to her but by her. As the title character, a feral woman-child who turns up one day on Sethe's doorstep, Thandie Newton is astonishing in a role that not only requires her to act like a baby trapped in the body of an adult, but functions as a literary symbol of the evils of slavery as well.
"I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (R): Review from Weekend. What "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" desperately needs is the input of horror-auteur Kevin Williamson, who wrote "I Know What You Did Last Summer" as well as "Scream," which did produce a satisfying sequel. This one, unfortunately, dispenses with the complexity of plot and psychological motivation that made the original intriguing and involving, opting instead for the kind of body count mentality that gave slasher films a bad name in the '80s. A year after several brutal murders, survivor Julie ("Party of Five's" Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her college roommate, Karla ("Moesha" star Brandy), win an all-expenses paid weekend in the Bahamas. Brandy takes along her boyfriend (Mekhi Phifer), as well as
an odd-duck classmate (Matthew Settle). Unfortunately, when they get there, they find themselves the only guests, with a hurricane about to blow in. When the lights go out in the resort, they also do for an increasing number of minor characters. The problem is that the script doesn't allow us to care what happens to anyone during this island getaway.
"Meet Joe Black" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Overlong (but mainly because the leisurely-paced movie can't quite figure out how to end), "Joe Black" is a handsome romance about a dying man (Anthony Hopkins) whose daughter (Claire Forlani) falls in love with Death incarnate, in the person of hunky Joe Black (Brad Pitt), a good-looking corpse that the grim reaper has borrowed for a few days. It seems that Death wants to study the human race for a week before he carries his latest quarry to the Other Side. And study it he does, as Death discovers the joys of sex and peanut butter. Brad Pitt is okay behaving like a literal stiff, but flags a bit when called upon to act. Hopkins is quite good as the protective father and the reluctant but dignified victim, but not good enough to sustain the three-hour story through its unsatisfying conclusion.
"A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The latest collaboration from producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is a quiet but intriguing story of a family, as ordinary and as extraordinary as any other. Based on the autobiographical novel by Kaylie Jones (daughter of the late novelist James Jones), the movie details the mundane events in the life of Channe Willis (Leelee Sobieski), her father Bill (Kris Kristofferson), her mother Marcella (Barbara Hershey) and adopted brother Billy (Jesse Bradford). The adventures -- Channe's first period, her adolescent crushes and loss of
virginity may not be earthshaking, but Sobieski's performance is luminous and pure and the filament-thin plot threads weave together a fabric of surpassing warmth and texture.
"Everest" (NR): See the first large-format images ever brought back from the world's highest peak.
"Home Fries" (PG-13): Review from Weekend. If you've seen the ads and the trailers for "Home Fries," you may be forgiven for thinking it's just a screwball romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore as expectant mom Sally and Luke Wilson as her goofy boyfriend Dorian -- which it is. What the movie's promotional campaign fails to mention is that it also co-stars a very scary Jake Busey as Dorian's psychopathic brother Angus, as bent on killing Sally as Dorian is on marrying her. The film contains many sweetly off-kilter pleasures and performances, but Busey's turn as a creepy murderer leaves an acrid aftertaste in a movie that's masquerading as a light confection. Contains a bit of crude language, murder, attempted murder and mention of private parts in the context of Lamaze class.
"The Rugrats Movie" (G): Review from Weekend. If you like the animated Nickelodeon TV show about the frighteningly real world of diaper-obsessed toddlers, you'll love the subversive feature-length comedy about how Tommy Pickles (the voice of E.G. Daily) learns to cope with his new baby brother (Tara Charandoff) after an attempt to return him to what he calls "the baby store." The fast action is seen mostly from a rugrat's-eye view as Tommy and his friends get lost in the woods and are beset by a wolf and circus monkeys. Fans of all things "poopie" should especially enjoy the June Taylor Dancer-style synchronized wee-weeing in the hospital
"Bride of Chucky" (R): Review from Weekend. Ten years since the original "Child's Play," this fourth installment about a doll inhabited by the spirit of dead murderer Charles "Chucky" Lee Ray is actually rather funny, almost enough
to leaven the prodigious gore. As voiced by Brad Dourif, the irritating Chucky sounds like Gilbert Gottfried and looks like Mason Reese. Jennifer Tilly, once again resembling a drag queen, plays Chucky's human girlfriend Tiffany.
"Mighty Joe Young" (PG): Review from Weekend. Based on the 1949 tale of a kindly, oversized ape in jeopardy, "Joe" is a well-made tear-jerker that is not noticeably damaged by the fact that co-star Charlize Theron often appears to be acting in front of a blank wall (which she sometimes was, due to the special effects technology). There are some scary moments and brief, intense violence that make this a strange choice for the youngest kids, but others will go ape for its primate heroics.
"Pleasantville" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The elaborate conceit of this imaginative and well-made fantasy about two '90s teens (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) who get zapped by a magic remote control into a 1950s sitcom where everything and everyone are black and white is so satisfying that its one plot flaw is all the more frustrating. In the parallel "Father Knows Best"-like universe of Pleasantville, all is monochrome until the interlopers introduce emotions such as
lust, anger and sadness, gradually turning the Pleasantvillagers into color. So it just doesn't make sense when the irate anti-color vigilantes remain black and white. The acting, sly satire and visual execution, however, are all impeccable.
"Ringmaster" (R): Review from Weekend. Skip the god-awful "Ringmaster" and buy the "Too Hot for TV!" videotape of unexpurgated scenes from the Jerry Springer Show if your tastes run to vulgarity, fist fights and nudity. At least on TV Springer uses his real name instead of hiding behind a thinly disguised, self-righteous trash-talk show host named Jerry Farrelly. On TV, Springer's pitiful, exhibitionist guests are supposedly real people, which lends the show the same fascination of series like "Cops" and "Guinness World Records." Filmmaker Neil Abramson's "Ringmaster" is just a pale imitation of so-called reality-TV; it makes the fatal mistake of trying to parody that which is already a travesty.
"Safe Men" (R): Review from Weekend. A delightfully absurd buddy flick about a pair of inept safe-crackers and part-time singers, "Safe Men" has a twisted, character-driven narrative whose chief pleasures are to be found in its heroes' off-the-wall bickering about "Charlie's Angels" and whether raccoons are smarter than pigs. Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn star as the reluctant criminals, recruited by Providence, R.I., mobster Big Fat Bernie Gayle (Michael Lerner) to steal the Stanley
Cup trophy among other things from fencer Good Stuff Leo, a hilariously suburban Harvey Fierstein.
"Strangeland" (R): Review from Weekend. Horror story about a sociopathic torturer (Dee Snider) who trolls for victims on the Internet. Snider may be able to sing, but he certainly can't act or write believable dialogue. "Strangeland" is more boring than scary, mostly because it's so dark you can't even make out the gore.
"Bulworth" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Viewers of every political stripe will all squirm equally at the uncomfortable humor and hard-edge wit of "Bulworth," a splendid and splenetic political satire from director, producer, co-writer and star Warren Beatty. Beatty has delicious fun in the role of a U.S. Senator whose emotional breakdown causes him to speak the truth about elected officials: that expedience outweighs principle. Nevertheless, beneath the film's dark and caustic exterior beats an idealistic heart with a truly subversive message not "Off the pigs!" but the even more frightening "We are each other."
"Living Out Loud" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Acclaimed screenwriter Richard LaGravenese ("A Little Princess," "The Bridges of Madison County," "Beloved")discovers in one fell swoop that a motion picture camera is a much more complicated appliance than a word processor in his dull and confounding directorial debut. The static camera seems frozen in place on the faces of Holly Hunter, playing an unhappy divorcee in an ugly blonde dye-job, and Danny DeVito as the life-affirming elevator operator of her Upper East Side Manhattan high-rise. Unfunny, ungainly and unintelligible, "Living Out Loud" may leave you crying out loud, for all the wrong reasons.
"One True Thing" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The restrained and dignified tear-jerker by Carl Franklin is based on the best-selling book by Anna Quindlen and stars Meryl Streep as Kate Gulden, a wife and mother with cancer. The great Streep could single-handedly carry this film on her back, but she doesn't have to, thanks to her able ensemble: Renee Zellweger as resentful daughter Ellen, who discovers a mother she never knew when she comes home to nurse her; William Hurt as proud and imperfect husband George; and Tom Everett Scott as sweet and self-effacing brother Brian.
"Polish Wedding" (PG-13): Review from Weekend. Slim and sexy at 43, Lena Olin hardly looks like a cleaning woman who has given birth to seven children, and in director Theresa Connelly's ethnic joke of a movie, the actress can barely hide her glamour under the girdle she wraps around her head as a babushka. As Jadzia Pzoniak, the unfaithful Polish matriarch of an extended brood in contemporary Detroit, Olin calls everyone "jeepsies" and says, "Haahve a peekle," as she offers cucumbers from her private pantry. Gabriel Byrne is soulful as her cuckolded husband and Claire Danes is adequate as their randy teenage daughter, but the film
never picks up any dramatic momentum as one pointless vignette after another limps along and then peters out in "Wedding's" lethargic march toward its head-scratching conclusion.
"The Waterboy" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. After "The Wedding Singer" proved he can play "normal" and still make people laugh, Adam Sandler sadly returns to the cretinous, grating loser shtick of "Happy Gilmore," "Billy Madison" and "Saturday Night Live's" Canteen Boy. Here, Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a dim-witted, 31-year-old college football water boy who becomes the team's leading tackler and leads the underdogs to victory. Fans of Sandler's sophomoric, mental-defective humor will eat this stuff up with a spoon (that is, if they know how to use silverware). They may even applaud at the formulaic, come-from-behind gridiron victories
a reaction I can attribute only to Redskins Withdrawal Syndrome.
"Dead Man on Campus" (R): Review from Weekend.Revolves around the efforts of two failing college freshman (Tom Everett Scott and Mark-Paul Gosselaar) to exploit a loophole in their school's charter. If their roommate kills himself, they will be awarded straight A's in order to compensate for their grief. There are some sophomoric laughs here, but their appeal diminishes in direct proportion to the number of years it has been since you were a sexually- frustrated, pimply-faced undergrad.
"Slam" (R): Reviews from Style andWeekend. Set in the mean streets and jails of Dodge City, Washington DC, Marc Levin's "Slam" writes a gritty poem of hope and redemption about the young black males of this city, caught in a cycle of violence and incarceration. Acclaimed performance poet Saul Williams plays Ray Joshua, a dread-locked bard of urban decay who learns to use his tongue as a tool of survival when he is thrown in the slammer for the possession of marijuana and meets pretty writing teacher Lauren Bell (Sonja Sohn). The film's ending has an unresolved feeling, but its rawness is not inappropriate to the film's open- ended message that sometimes obstacles are merely options in disguise.
"What Dreams May Come" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Director Vincent Ward is known for his dark and thoughtful style, which unfortunately gets buried beneath a schmaltzy schmear of garishly colored paradise in this "Ghost"-like tale of a dead doctor (Robin Williams) searching for his wife (Annabella Sciorra) from the other side. The saccharine heaven of "Dreams" may cloy, but when Ward takes his protagonist on a trip to Hell, the filmmaker actually begins to seem at home, with horrors as vividly imagined as the pleasures of Elysium are bland. All in all, Ward's afterlife comes across as a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.
"Ever After" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Sumptuous, satisfying and sweetly subversive, this version of the famous tale has no fairy godmother or magic pumpkin, but it does boast a heroine who quotes freely from Sir Thomas More's "Utopia," can lift the prince straight off the ground and, when it comes to defending herself, has a mean left hook. Drew Barrymore plays the 16th-century sister with a robustness that complements her alabaster beauty; Dougray Scott makes a handsome if disaffected Prince Henry; Anjelica Huston is delicious as Cinderella's sadistic stepmother; and, in the fairy godmother role, Patrick Godfrey is perfect as artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. If the history and fantasy do not always jibe in this fanciful romance, a tiny bit of poetic license is more than allowed.
"Soldier" (R): Review from Weekend.
It has been reported that star Kurt Russell, as a battle-scarred professional warrior defending a band of outcasts from murderous storm troopers on a remote planet, has fewer than 70 words of spoken dialogue. After an hour, I lost count at 24 and half of them were "Sir." "Soldier" is
like any other well-made, if bloody, action flick pitting a solitary underdog against 17 better-armed adversaries (minus such pesky distractions as humor, emotion and language). Like a 99-cent bag of cheese puffs, it's full of tasty but empty calories.
"Pecker" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Taking his nickname from a childhood habit of pecking at his food you expected maybe something else? the title character (Edward Furlong) of John Waters's latest effort is an amateur photographer whose pictures celebrate the life of the average Baltimorean. Similarly, Water's satire of the art world is a delightfully raw hymn of praise to the quirky denizens of his hometown and is surprisingly sweet and unironic, despite a veneer of gross-out humor. Appearances by the always interesting Christina Ricci, Mary Kay Place and Lili Taylor as, respectively, Pecker's girlfriend, mother and art dealer add to the gentle comedy's pungent zing.
"Permanent Midnight" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Based on the memoirs of TV writer and former heroin addict Jerry Stahl, "Midnight" is that most strange and difficult of birds, a serious film that is also very funny. As Stahl, Ben Stiller lurches from buzzing mania to nodding stupor, from glib lies to tongue-tied inarticulateness, all the while dropping sarcastic bons mots while
spinning deeper into a spiral of self-inflicted debasement. Director David Veloz's tone is never preachy, as it acknowledges that drugs possess both scourge and allure. But the real triumph is Stiller who, in a brave, scary and antic tour de force, emerges as an actor to be reckoned with.
"Ronin" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Despite the pervasive flavor of jaded amorality and deliciously ambiguous plot details, John
Frankenheimer's post-Cold war tale of a multinational band of mercenaries in search of a mysterious metal case amounts to little more than a conventional thriller with some good -- if overlong -- car chases. Robert DeNiro heads the able cast as American operative Sam, the natural leader of a team of rootless former intelligence and military men. Pseudo-profound discussions between DeNiro and cohort Jean Reno about "the code of the battlefield" do little to dress up this wannabe-sophisticated cinematic bumpkin.
"Urban Legend" (R): Review from Weekend. Yes, its Teeny Bopper Slasher Schlock, but not the worst TBSS I've ever seen and it actually may make you jump out of your seat a time or two. The scary movie is about a psychopath in a hooded parka who, by reenacting such urban legends as the one about the Guy with an Ax in the Back Seat of the Car, is methodically killing the student body of Pendleton College. The story's unbelievable double-trick ending is no more implausible than any other
cookie-cutter flick geared for the slightly post-pubescent market and it does feature an in-jokey appearance by Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise) as a creepy sociology professor. Alicia Witt is pretty good as the heroine and so is Jared Leto as her love interest. Oh, and one more thing: After the movie, I checked the back seat of my car before I got in.
"Your Friends and Neighbors" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. The ever-provocative director Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men") returns with his sophomore effort, an excoriating autopsy of contemporary romantic mores set among a group of three yuppie women and men in an anonymous American city. Ben Stiller, Jason Patric, Aaron Eckhart, Amy Brenneman, Catherine Keener and Nastassja Kinski merge and separate like micro-organisms in a petri dish under LaBute's clinical examination of
sexual politics. The characters are singularly unpleasant, and the laughter is guilty, but the emotional truth of LaBute's dialogue and the bravery of his talented cast to look into the septic muck of their souls forces us to confront the black corners of our own psyches.
"Beyond Silence" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend.
The Oscar-nominated drama explores the dramatically rich potential inherent
in the story of a musically talented hearing child growing up with two deaf parents. On the literal level, "Beyond Silence" is certainly about the gulf between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf, but it is also concerned with the more universal and more important issue of communication itself and the vigilant effort it requires of everyone, hearing and non-hearing, to maintain it. The film, which never feels like a mere polemic about the mistreatment of the deaf, is a portrait of an unusual family, to be sure, but one that, like any other, must learn its own lessons about estrangement and reconciliation every day.
"The Governess" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. This glandular costume drama about taboo love between a Christian master (Tom Wilkinson) and his family's Jewish governess (Minnie Driver) stimulates the eye (and certain other body parts) but not the mind. Set in England in the 1840s, writer-director Sandra Goldbacher's melodrama follows Sephardic Jew Rosina Da Silva (masquerading as the gentile Mary Blackchurch) as she looks after the wacky brood and the carnal desires of kindly inventor Mr. Cavendish. Lavish and well-acted, but steeped in Harlequin-Romance sentimentality, the film's real failing is that its emotional impact doesn't last beyond the closing credits.
"Practical Magic" (PG-13): Reviews from Style and Weekend. If you like Buffy and Sabrina, you'll love the story of white-witch sisters Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian Owens (Nicole Kidman). The girls are orphaned because the men who fall for Owens women are cursed. It's a little like "Bewitched" but nastier: The witches keep trying to be housewives, and the husbands keep coming up
stiffs. When Gillian finds out her lover is a worm, the Owens curse delivers a nasty kick, and the sisters' magic-making becomes the gift that keeps on giving. Aidan Quinn is saddled with stars in his eyes as well as a tin star over his heart. The meatiest moments belong to Goran Visnjic as Gillian's smoldering lover, whose spirit continues to play bedknobs and broomsticks with the pliant Gillian.
"Snake Eyes" (R): Reviews from Style and Weekend. Cinematically dazzling but flawed in its narrative, Brian De Palma's "Snake Eyes" is am earthworm in serpent's clothing. The director's ostentatious camera fireworks layering swirling 360-degree pans on top of claustrophobic close-ups, towering crane shots and intimate hand-held camera work does little to mask the implausible and slack story about an Atlantic City cop (Nicolas Cage) and his investigation of an assassination in a crowded boxing arena. Cage exhibits his trademark controlled mania as the flawed but heroic Rick Santoro, and Gary Sinise is steely as his hard-to-read military buddy, but De Palma should have paid a little more attention to the plot and a little less to his grandstanding cinematography.
"Antz" (PG): In this computer-animated film, Woody Allen voices the character Z-4195, a nameless drone ant hopelessly in love with Princess Bala. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Clay Pigeons" (R): Joaquin Phoenix and Vince Vaughn star in this darkly comic tale of a Montana murder investigation. Review from Weekend.
"Next Stop, Wonderland" (R): The movie follows a recently dumped woman (Hope Davis) and her search for her true romantic destiny. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Rounders" (R): Matt Damon stars as a law student trying to stay on the straight and narrow and avoid the lure of of old poker-playing buddy Edward Norton. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Vampires" (R): James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee star as mercenary vampire hunters from the Vatican stalking a 600-year-old bloodsucker. John Carpenter directs. Review from Weekend.
"The Alarmist" (R): Tommy Hudler (David Arquette) becomes a security systems salesman, but finds out that there's more to this business and his boss than he had suspected. Review from Weekend.
"Mulan" (G): The animated Disney film about a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man to fight the invading Huns. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"There's Something About Mary" (R): Cameron Diaz drives everybody wild, including her old high school flame (Ben Stiller) and the private detective (Matt Dillon) he hires to track her down. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Kurt and Courtney" (NR): British documentarian Nick Broomfield explores the volatile relationship between the late rocker Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and his wife, Courtney Love. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Rush Hour" (PG-13): A Los Angeles cop (Chris Tucker) teams up with a Hong Kong detective (Jackie Chan) to solve a kidnapping. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Whatever" (R): Washington's own Circle Films present Susan Skoog's laceratingly true portrait of being on the verge of adulthood. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Buffalo 66" (NR): Vincent Gallo wrote, directed and stars in this offbeat love story. Review from Weekend.
"Love and Death on Long Island" (PG-13): A stodgy English writer's life is changed when he meets a teen-idol movie star. Review from Weekend.
"Mafia!" (PG-13): The late Lloyd Bridges plays a klutzy, Sicilian-born don in this parody of "Godfather"-style movies. Review from Weekend.
"Return to Paradise" (R): A tale about two young men who must decide between their own freedom and saving the life of another friend. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Slums of Beverly Hills" (R): Writer-director Tamara Jenkins tells a wry and semi-autobiographical tale of growing up on the outskirts of the 90210 zip code. Review from Weekend.
"Smoke Signals" (PG-13): In this first all-Native American film, two childhood friends travel to Phoenix to pick up the ashes of a dead parent. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Dance With Me" (PG): Vanessa L. Williams stars as an instructor and onetime champion of ballroom dance whose jaded world is rocked by an undisciplined Cuban. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"54" (R): Mike Myers plays real-life club-owner Steve Rubell in a film about the infamous New York discotheque and its trajectory of success and excess. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Henry Fool" (R): A garbage man becomes recognized as the world's greatest poet in this film by Hal Hartley. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Pi" (R): In this edgy black-and-white thriller, an obsessed mathematician attempts to discover a numerical pattern in the vagaries of the stock market. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"The Truman Show" (PG-13): In a change of pace, Jim Carrey plays it relatively straight as Truman Burbank, a man whose entire life is broadcast as a 24-hour TV show. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Wilde" (R): A literate bio-pic about the celebrated and tragic Irish playwright and wit Oscar Wilde. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Disturbing Behavior" (R): In this teen thriller, the new kid in town discovers a sinister plot behind local pep rallies and bake sales. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"How Stella Got Her Groove Back" (R): A 40-year-old woman (Angela Bassett) gets a jump-start when she meets a buff 20-year-old in Jamaica. Also stars Whoopi Goldberg. Reviews from Style and Weekend.
"Out of Sight" (R): George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez star in this thriller based on a book by crime novelist Elmore Leonard. Reviews from Style and Weekend.