Hart's War - Why is this movie so limp? It's got action, it's got drama. However, it's also got a whole lot of badness. A whole lot of great movies have been made about POW camps. "The Great Escape" is classic, and I think "Victory" is underrated. Hell, even "Hogan's Heroes" is better than this. I think one problem is that it's another case of trying to make a minority movie by centering on white characters, like "Amistad". There's a scene where one black aviator talks about how hard his training was, and I found myself wishing I was watching "The Tuskeegee Airmen" instead of this dull white-lawyer fluff. ** (out of 5)

Lost In Translation - I had free tickets, and I still had to apologize to my boyfriend for dragging him to that movie. I'm generous to Sophia Coppola (I like "The Virgin Suicides", though in retrospect I never want to see it again), and I'm a Japanophile. But her moody director shtick seems more like a calculate pomo stance than an attempt at artistry. This movie had one of two laughs, and a lot of hammy acting by both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johnasson. We Gen-Xers love our stories ambiguous, our humor understated, and our plots aimless. Sophia hits all the points here. I've never seen such a pointless lifeless movie, but that the stance that seems to work for her. ** (out of 5)

The Haunting - Like "Stir of Echoes", I wary of movies that are based on fifty-year-old short stories. I'm not convinced that remakes of Edgar Allen Poe or Henry James have the pacing or plot necessary to sustain suspense and fear in modern audiences. Or if it is, we haven't seen good adaptation lately. Lili Taylor is lost in this role. I think we're supposed to get worried by her fear of becoming pregnant or losing her mind. However, except for a few scenes, Lili seems perfectly happy. The suggested rape (by a *bed* of all things) is disturbing, but not because it shows too much... I think the filmmaker is completely unaware of the implications. A single entendre, if you will. I wasn't scared in the least... CGI animations are never scary, in my opinion. However, the house look wonderful. Go see it with an architect you love. ** (out of 5)

Message In a Bottle - This was somewhere between a Hallmark Movie of the Week and a real film. But it's also a love story, and I've got to give judge it by the genre. It was a tad too serious, and I still think Kevin Costner acts like a cow. It's funny that Robin Wright Penn was shot more carefully than Kevin was... I guess female moviegoers need a beautiful female protagonist. If I can spoil everything, Kevin dies in the end, which gives the movie a tragic ending without adding any meaning or feeling. Unremorseful schmaltz, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. ** (out of 5)

Blast From the Past - Mike and I have a "thing" for Brendan Fraser. However, he's ill used here. One second he was stiff, and the next he was acting goofy. The script isn't that strong and the jokes are the average "time-travel-fish- out-of-water" variety. Christopher Walken tries to act like John Lithgow does on "Third Rock From the Sun", while Sissy Spacek just seems cranky. However, the movie had Brendan, so I had to rent it. ** (out of 5)

Outside Providence - Who could have thought the Farrely brothers could create such a sweet coming-of-age story? After "There's Something About Mary", I would have expected something like Trey Parker and Matt Stone turn out. Instead, this movie is routine teen dramedy that sounds a little too close to somebody's dull childhood. I rented "Mary" the same week, and there's more comedy, better dialogue, heck... simply more *life* per minute of that film than in this entire screed. ** (out of 5)

Election - This movie reminded me a lot of "To Die For", the cynical Gus Van Sant profile of a very, very ambitious woman. Like that movie, everyone in "Election" is both dislikable and sympathetic at the same time. However, they are not very interesting. Lately, I can't find the humor in mean-spirited comedies of errors, and this movie isn't slapstick or original enough to be humorous for me. Other people have likes it, and I sure like Matthew Broderick, but the total really failed to live up to what I was expecting. ** (out of 5)

The Thirteenth Floor - I have to admit that the quality of "made-for-tv" movies has improved in the last decade, and some are even better than their real counterparts. However, if I say that this movie looked like a television sci-fi movie, it's still kind of a slam. The acting is weak, but the plot is even more one-dimensional than the characters. I could have figured out what is going on just by looking at the videotape box, much less the trailers. Still, I like cheesy sci-fi and I love to watch TNT "up all night" wonders. And I can still be surprised and pleased by a movie that has no right to be in my VCR. ** (out of 5)

Arlington Road - Oddly enough, movies with a lot of surprising twists and turns often follow a predictable pattern: the first few scenes need to grab the viewer's while reassuring them that everything (so far) in the movie is ordinary. It's a neat trick to dish out just enough odd little clues to keep the audience interested, without giving everything away (Rosemary's Baby or The Sixth Sense rely entirely on this skill, and nothing else... like strong characters or dialogue). Instead, Arlington Road falls flat, because even though there is a nice surprise at the end of the movie, nothing up until that point is very interesting. Instead of sustaining a mood, I really didn't care what happened to Jeff Bridges or his son. Plus, the use of semi-real events like Ruby Ridge and the Oklahoma City bombing *and just changing the names and details* was a cowardly and annoying ploy. ** (out of 5)

Never Been Kissed - Drew Barrymore has an ability to make bad movies seem better than they really are (like "Ever After" or "The Wedding Singer") However, this doesn't mean she's a good actress, even after so many movies. This movie requires a lot of range, from a geeky nerd, to a popular snob; she needs to be clueless and wise at the same time. The premise is cute, and for a while the movie works. However, the big realization that she is actually a reporter and not a high school student comes waaay too early in the film, before any connections or love interest can be plausibly built up. Then, the last half hour of the movie trickles to a finish. Not what they had intended, I 'm guessing. ** (out of 5)

American Pie - When this movie was in development, it was called "A Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under 8 Million Dollars". Well, you get what you pay for. That's all this movie is... a semi-humorous teenage sex comedy, filled with the same sex-crazed, slack-jawed idiots that I didn't like in high school. Well, they're all over this movie, are we're supposed to care about their odd intrigues and status wars. Example, one guy has diarrhea in the *girl's* bathroom, and suddenly he's a pariah. Oh, it's a laff riot. Other scenes almost work, and one or two are actually funny (like the pie scene). However, it doesn't make up for the interminable exposition and heart-to-heart talks that the cool kids have. And all the talks are about sex, naturally, gack. ** (out of 5)

Stir of Echoes - How good can a cheap horror book from 1958 be, if turned into a movie? Not very good, it turns out. V.C. Andrews, Goosebumps, and an after school special would be a lot more frightening than this movie. It tries to cash in on the "I see dead people" hype of Sixth Sense, but they only have one ghost, and she's a mopey teenager who isn't very interesting. There's several odd "it was all a dream" sequences, but they don't have anything to do with the plot and are really cheezy. However, I like Kevin Bacon more than he deserves (go see "The Big Picture" from 1989), and there was one good scene where Kevin was being hypnotized and the therapist says, "close your eyes and imagine you are a theater", that must have been really cool if you were one of the twelve people who saw this flick before it hit video. ** (out of 5)

The Story of Us - God, this movie made me glad that I'm gay. If this straight, constantly bickering, bitter couple represents "marriage", I'd prefer to be left out. Normally, I love Rob Reiner movies (When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride), but this movie ranks as a big "low". I once attended a wedding where the priest ranted about how "Marriage is a struggle... it's about suffering and arguments and pain and death." Well, I'm been living with Michael Kessler now for six years, and things are still really, really good. I love him a lot, and we never argue. At least not at all like this couple. Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer really hate each other in this movie. Sure, there are a lots of funny segments in this movie, in a Nora Ephrom way, Good score by Eric Clapton, and a mature "adult" storyline. However on the whole, it was really disappointing. ** (out of 5)

Detroit Rock City - I'm not a Kiss fan, so I probably shouldn't review this movie. I hated the first thirty minutes... the endless setup. Sure, the Christian mother burns the concert tickets (the only parent in the film, though others are mentioned, strange) and then they don't have tickets. Then they *win* tickets, but have to drive a long way in a car one kid borrows from his parents. Oh, did I mention the friend that they have to bust out of boarding school? All this stuff is standard teen comedy fare, but for some reason, none of it works here (the pizza with hallucinogenic mushrooms that makes the guard fall asleep, the disco fans wearing stupid clothes making fun of our heroes, etc.). I was about to give up on the movie, until the part where the foursome themselves give up, after finding out, they *didn't* win concert tickets after all. They split up, and each has a very interesting adventure alone... kind of like how I spend my Senior Prom (don't ask). The last thirty minutes are actually quite novel, but they don't make up for the premise, or the stupid concert footage at the end of the hairy old has-been-but-never-really-was semi-rock band at the end. You know what I'm talking about. ** (out of 5)

How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days - I like to think I'm a connoisseur of romantic movies. I like them when the work, and I'm befuddled when they don't. Sometimes I chalk it up to the differences between the sexes. Do women really like movies where the female character lies a lot, or is lied to? Do they like endless bickering where the leads fight constantly? Do women actually believe you can hate someone one day, and fall madly in love the next? If so, what does that mean about the future of their relationship? Do those couples stick together after the movie is over? I actually care about these things, and it's sad. This movie didn't add anything to my life except the realization that Kate Hudson looks really cute, and with her Goldie Hawn style, she'll have long career. Conversely, Matthew McConaughey is looking really old and bald, and I think his days are sadly up. I had a lot of time to sit and think about those things, because the movie didn't really make me laugh or move me in any way. But then again, maybe women like mildly warm romantic dribble? Hmmmm. ** (out of 5)

House on Haunted Hill - I never liked Vincent Price. And I don't think the memory of William Castle has anything to be proud of either. However, this remake had a genuine scary feel that "The Haunting" lacked. I didn't recognize *any* of the actresses in the film. I guess Geoffrey Rush's salary ate up the budget for talent. Things get off to a good start. I liked the plot setup where Rush is the designer of theme park thrill rides. It makes for a good idea... and the audience should guess whether the house is really haunted or if it's one of Rush's tricks. But the idea goes nowhere. You don't really care about the plot, or whether Rush's will kill his wife before she kills him. The gore is just that - gory. There's a few good visual scenes, but the ending (with a floating black ghost/apparition thing) looks cheap. I've never really been scared of CGIs, as I often state. And who was that who saves the happy couple at the end? The ghost of Rick Moranis? A bloody muddle. ** (out of 5)

The Dinner Game - Oh those silly French people. This is a comedy of manners, but it's another country's manners, so American audiences might not get it. It's strange enough to invite strangers to your hour for dinner, but this movie has a contest where they try to invite the largest idiot to the party... sort of like 1991's "Dogfight" with River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. To make things a little stranger, Thierry Lhermitte doesn't even *know* the guy he's inviting to dinner (his friend meets the guy first). Maybe America is too homophobic, but if a guy invited me to go to dinner with his *friend*, I'd think something was up. Not in France. Sure, Jacques Villeret make a great idiot (though he looks like Don Stark). The director, Francis Veber, also helped write "La Cage Aux Folles" as well as the terrible "The Birdcage" remake. He wrote the original "The Man With One Red Shoe" before also working on the remake with Tom Hanks. So the guy is funny in French, but maybe not in English. However, I'm a sucker for French farce, and this movie has a lot of slamming doors and people running in and out (the two requirements for farce). The problem with this movie is the lead characters never actually make it to the dinner party. So, the movie plays like a long one act play where they're stuck in the same apartment for two hours, trying to leave. The viewer may feel the same way. ** (out of 5)

Boys Don't Cry - Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her perfomance as a small-town transsexual in this movie. However, the movie itself didn't even get nominated for best screenplay or best movie. That should tell you something. Sure, Swank is fantastic... giving a realistic performance that never veers into "Crying Game" territory. However, as a real-life story. the plot goes nowehere, as Brandon Teena screws around, screws up, and gets screwed. It's a real tragedy, but this movie shows the warts of the character. No "Philadelphia" whitewashing. Hopefully, movies like this won't get made in the future, because gay people won't be tortured and killed out of homophobia. But until then, this a story that needed to be told, though it's a tough movie to watch, for more than one reason. ** (out of 5)

The Prince of Egypt - Good animation, stupid story. I liked the water effects when Moses parted the Red Sea, or when the spirit of god swirls through the city killing children. However, I can't believe anyone could take this story seriously. Supposedly, Katzenberg and Spielberg (the "K" and "S" or Dreamworks SKG) sucked up to Focus on the Family for permission to make this movie. Odd that they would go to American fundamentalist leaders for direction on how to tell such a Jewish story (On another note, I assume ultra-gay David Geffen wasn't invited to the meetings). It's interesting how they had to tart up certain disturbing details, such as the baby Moses who falls asleep right before a terrifying rapids ride, or the way children dying and plagues were sung to a jaunty tune. I personally would rather have Val Kilmer melodramatically shout "Let My People Go", than to sit through another sub-Disney-par song. I'll never watch this movie again, but I imagine that hordes of home-schooled brats will stick this in the VCR again and again, if only to get respite between episodes of claymation Jesuses and "Veggie Tales". ** (out of 5)

Man on the Moon - I'm not an Andy Kaufman fan. His "brand" of humor seemed to be analogous to the Marcel Duchamp urinal. Once it's been done, there's no need to do it again. Media pranks are often funny, and have been done well by Negativland or rtMark, but Andy just wasn't funny. Or interesting. Jim Carrey does a good job here, but Andy's life wasn't very interesting either. And merely reproducing a few of Andy's best comic bits aren't enough to carry this movie. I also disliked Dustin Hoffman's "Lenny" (about Lenny Bruce) for exactly the same reasons. Until they make a bio-pic of Bill Hicks, I'll pass. ** (out of 5)

The Faculty - Pretty much just a remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", and not a very good one at that (for a better movie, see Abel Ferrara's surprisingly good 1993 version). Robert Rodriguez made this? There's no touch of visual style, or pacing, or chills. I hope this isn't a future direction for this once-promising director. It was nice to see Elijah Wood again... I hope he really turns out to be a strong actor when he's an adult. But I would have thought Rodriguez knew how to make a scary movie (though "From Dusk To Dawn" wasn't scary either, it was at least *fun*). I guess I was wrong. ** (out of 5)

The Next Best Thing - If I wanted to be cruel, I could say that I think Madonna wants to be surrounded by good-looking, intelligent gay men who flatter her, and since it couldn't happen in real life, she had to produce this movie. In her dream world, she gets to be a beautiful yoga instructor. I wavered between hating this movie, kind of liking it, and then going away disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the initial coupling of Madonna and Rupert Everett does up extremely little time, and then all of a sudden, they have a six year old son. At least we were spared some agonizing "cute baby" scenes. But the last half of the movie is like "Kramer vs. Kramer", with various parents yelling at each other and long extended courtroom scenes. Good acting by Rupert, but Madonna seems to think that merely furrowing her brow gives her acting credibility. Maybe next time she'll produce a movie where she isn't so much of a bitch... but that might be stretching the audience's credulity. ** (out of 5)

Final Destination - I'm a sucker for teen thrillers, mainly because they have such a good setup. Their premises can always be summed up in a sentence, "Death literally stalks high school French student after he avoids an airplane crash disaster". Like an urban legend, it makes you want to watch and see how it plays out (not the like movie "Urban Legend" though, which made me want to sleep). There's only four or so deaths, not counting the planeful of people, but the deaths are grisly and almost of out place. Devon Sawa is cute as the hero-du-jour, but all the love scene and dialogue seems really... wrong. In fact the whole movie seems wrong - the ending is tacked on (and the alternate ending is worse, believe it or not), the police act completely idiotic here, and there's never a sense of internal logic. Who's going to die next? Well, with any luck, it will happen soon, so I can go back to watching TV. ** (out of 5)

28 Days - Here's a subgenre of movies: recovery flicks. And here's an even smaller class: female recovery flicks starring a beautiful actress. Following the rule above, even though *you* went through a 12 step program, it doesn't mean anybody else wants to hear about it. Still, I liked "When A Man Loves a Woman" with Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan. But that movie was really about Andy more than Meg, and the love story buoyed the rest of the film. "28 Days" doesn't have that luxury, so there's nobody for Sandra Bullock to play off of. Alan Tudyk is here, with his cute little "Rent" eyeglasses and a flimsy off-again-on-again accent as a strange gay part. At one point, his character is wearing a sign saying "No male contact". Why? The movie is filled with little details, as if the filmmaker (Betty Thomas, proving herself to be more than a Hill Street cop) was trying to create a real world. There's almost an hour of "footage" on the DVD of a fake soap opera called "Santa Cruz". And that's on top of the ten minutes actually shown in the movie. Again, why? Did they have extra money to spend, or a lot of free time? Or, as I think, it must be so easy to film a soap opera they decided to go all out and call this DVD a "28 Days Special Edition". Maybe I'll hold out for the expanded BASEketball footage instead. ** (out of 5)

Road Trip - I hate to sound like an old guy, but our teenage sex comedies are better than yours. Road Trip can't compare to one of my favorite eighties movies, "The Sure Thing". The trip to the all-black fraternity in this movie can't hold a candle to "Animal House" ("Do ya mind if we dance wif yo dates?"). The sex? Well, we had "Risky Business". Geeks? "Revenge of the Nerds". In fact, every detail of this movie seems like a pale imitation of better movies. Even John Hughes films had more warmth and plot than this film. Sure, Tom Green is kind of funny, but then again, we so many more better comedians than him. Trumped, trumped, trumped, and trumped. ** (out of 5)

Chuck & Buck - Miguel Artega, the director of this movie, complained that not enough people went out and saw this movie, proving that theatergoers won't support art films. Well, here's some news for him... this movie sucks. It's extremely painful to watch, probably because I'm also a gay guy that hasn't grown up yet. But does Artega really thinking that he's giving gay people what they want to watch? The two lead characters have an unlikely sex scene near the end of this movie, but the whole thing seems really contrived and uncomfortable. Buck continues to work with children at the end of the movie and refuses to realize he's gay and... and what? I don't know, the ending of this movie seems very unresolved. Man, I wouldn't watch this one again any more than I'd sit through "Dancer In the Dark", but at least that film had some great dance sequences. Fear for the future of gay cinema, if you haven't been afraid enough already. ** (out of 5)

What Lies Beneath - I wanted a hokey ghost story, and I got a hokey ghost story, so why am I strangely unfulfilled? I can't say that Bob Zemeckis isn't a good director, because he is. He saved "The Frighteners" and "Contact" from having rather dull plodding scripts. So, maybe he just gave into the dark side for this movie. He lets the pace drag... minutes go by when nothing happens. And this movie has the longest, slowest attempted murder scene ever put on video. Which makes it kind of fun. Bob pulls out all the neat CG tricks that he pointlessly discovered in "Contact" when he morphed Jodie Foster multiple times in twenty seconds to no discernable effect. Here, he has stupid movies like a camera that goes through a wooden floor (just to see Harrison Ford raise Michelle Pfeiffer's head a little), or a punch that spins Ford around, but also spins the camera through the back of a pickup truck and down a trailered boat. Pointless, pointless, pointless. I was slightly excited by Zemeckis' use of CG that is barely there... just blurry ebough so the audience doesn't really know what they saw. That's a real improvement over the blatantly fake effects of "The Perfect Storm" or "Deep Impact". I also liked the way that this is Pfeiffer's movie. Ford plays the "quiet husband" role the way most actresses have to play "Tom Cruise's wife that doesn't really have any scenes by herself". And while this movie is not a strong step forward for women's liberation, it's kind of nice. ** (out of 5)

The 6th Day - It's not just that Ahnuld Svatznegga can't act, although it's true. When he tries to look like a good father, he just looks creepy. This movie has some of the slowest, most boring and pointless "action" since his other movie "Eraser". That movie had guns that shoot through walls, too. This movie is like a combination of that movie, where they all ran around aimless from bad guys, and the futuristic plot of his superior "Total Recall" movie. This movie is the worst of both worlds. The futurism is fun at first (like "Robocop") when the film gives us a glimpse of consumer culture thirty years from now. But the movie just kept getting worse and worse as it went on. Of *course* the real Ahnuld is the clone, and of *course* the bad guy is actually cloned, too. I was shocked that they never thought of the plot device of putting somebody else's thoughts in Ahnuld's body, of the idea of clones "going bad" after a while. "Gattaca" was a much smarter look at how genetic testing could alter the future. Hell, even "The Naked Bomb" was a lot more fun with this topic that this stinker. ** (out of 5)

What Women Want - As a movie producer would say, "I love the premise of this movie, baby!" It's a reverse-gender kind of thing, a fish-out-of-water sex comedy, without the problem of having Mel Gibson actually have to become a woman. Box office boffo! What could go wrong? Well, actually, I didn't realize how tricky the subject was. They needed to make Gibson a cad at the beginning, without making him too distasteful. The big change had to occur, and then be reversed, in a cute manner. Then there's all the discovery that he can hear women's thoughts, and the denouement, not to mention a love interest, jokes, and character development. That's a lot for a romantic comedy. The movie gets some of the aforementioned correct, but it's amazing how much they get wrong. Sometimes the thoughts are voiceovers, but sometimes Gibson cocks his head like a dog as if he's receiving something. The first half takes forever, and there's a lot here that's not interesting *or* funny. Throw in an embarrassing Gibson-acting-gay act in the middle (ala the homophobic and embarrassing "Bird on a Wire"), and it's painful to sit through (like "You've Got Mail" IMHO). Gibson should go blow up building or something, and Helen Hunt should have known better than to be in this movie. ** (out of 5)

Pearl Harbor - Ah, the first summer blockbuster! It's gonna make a hell of a lot of money, which is good because it cost $200 million to make. Wow... maybe they're counting on overseas Japanese crowds flocking to the re-edited version. I'm a little tired of Ben Affleck (too many moles on his face?) and I thought his acting here felt like "Armageddon" (also by the same director). That is, there's an unbelievable love triangle tacked on to a lot of explosions. And believe me, the smooching goes on and on and one until some admittedly good explosion happen in the middle and end of the movie. Three hours is too long for this drivel, and I should have left after the eponymic scene. Co-star Josh Harnett feels like the closest thing to Matt Damon that the director could find. But what's up with Cuba Gooding Jr? He's incredibly wasted here... he's only in four scenes that are unrelated to the main plot. It's nice to show the effect of the bombing from someone in a ship, but it seems like a cynical attempt to add a real historical figure to a fantasy storyline. And I don't count Jon Voight's fake chin as an accurate representation of President Roosevelt. The action sequences are in the modern style: it looks as if it's filmed by a jiggling camcorder (don't get me started on the super-8 footage shot by the minor character who gets shot... it's one of several  characters like "Red-the-stutterer's dead cute girlfriend" that the movie should have done without). This movie will be like the second "Jurassic Park" movie, or like the aforementioned "Armageddon"... it's a summer blockbuster that nobody will remember after July, much less want to see again, and maybe that's was summer escapism is for. ** (out of 5)

Bedazzled - Here I go again: "I like Brendan Fraser". It's surprising that he can carry a movie... he seems like such lightweight eye candy. However, there's a hint that he can act; he's so patently annoying at the beginning that it's too bad that we never saw him change or could understand why his love for "Alison" dies. A love story needs a story male *and* female lead. Unfortunately, he doesn't get a lot of help here from Elizabeth Hurley. I thought it was cute that the devil would have jobs of a meter maid and lawyer (I can believe both of those), but also a nurse and sexy schoolteacher? It's like the scriptwriters didn't know what to do with Hurley (I know I wouldn't). However, the problem is that this movie is a comedy that isn't very funny. I would have thought that Harold Ramis would know how to add interesting details ala "Stripes" or "Groundhog Day". Maybe writer Peter Cook is to blame... maybe he was burnt out after his 1967 version and didn't try very hard on the remake. I didn't like any of the alternate realities where Brendan gets to live out his wishes. And if those aren't fun, what's the point? Even "The Devil and Daniel Webster" has that going for it. Though it was more interesting than expected to see the negotiations of the devil's contract, the aftermath was tedious. Hmmm, I'm not sure why. Fraser's surprise at being able to speak Spanish was the only cute joke, but that was repeated in all of the trailers. I already knew that joke. I despised his mildly offensive "sensitive" stage and his albino basketball player (which turns out to be a one-note joke, too. I'm glad they cut the long and messy rock star phase, but I was surprised at the brilliant and rich homosexual. Brendan, why oh why couldn't you have chosen that one? It was a keeper! ** (out of 5)

Thirteen Days - It embarrassing to admit, but I didn't make it all the way through this movie. It's the only movie I've reviewed here that I haven't watched all the way through. Some movies I've ignored, but at least I played the whole thing. This movie feels like the kind of "good for you" filmstrip that lazy history teachers would let their class watch instead of teaching for an hour. I think I would rather have watched a good PBS documentary... I just kept thinking about how silly and forced Kevin Costner's accent was. Like "Hoffa", "JFK", and "Nixon", making a captivating movie from real events is more miss than hit. Why use fake actors and made-up dialogue when the actual events are far more interesting? Besides, you know how it all turns out: we don't all get blown up in the end. ** (out of 5)

Legally Blonde - Where to file this movie? IT fill a hot summer afternoon when I was too tired to do anything else. The theater was air conditioned and I had an ice cold blue slurpee. What could be better? This movie reminded me of "My Cousin Vinny" in that it was a legal comedy filled with stereotypes. Both movies were also funnier than they had any right to be (unlike the unfunny "Trial and Error"). I'm a little tired of Reese Witherspoon: she ruined the otherwise likeable "Election" with the same perky character she abuses here. Alicia Silverstone did the same idea so much better in "Clueless". I don't think the East-coast vs. West-coast idea is enough to drive any sort of plot (unless it's a story about rap music, which this isn't). so I really didn't like any of the characters or care if Reese wins the big case. But then again, I chucked a few times, and when the temperature's this hot, that can be a very welcome thing indeed. ** (out of 5)

Saving Silverman - I'm never going to listen to the girl at the local Blockbuster again. When I rented "Requiem for a Dream", the girl behind the counter told me, "oh boy you're going to hate this movie". So, I watched it with some trepidation, and it turned out to be one of the best-acted most visually stunning films I've seen all year. Well, today the same girl said "this is a really funny movie" as she handed me "Saving Silverman". I guess she and I have different ideas of what is funny, because I thought this movie was pretty boring. There's a scatological neo-dadist school of comedy these days, and this movie is full of hooker nuns, circus freaks, and gratuitous nude scenes without any real sex, but all of it is pointless and tangential to the plot. I blame "Something About Mary", but I think the idea goes further: today's scriptwriters are influenced by Monty Python, but lack any of the requisite wit or intelligence. On the other hand, this movie gave me a fix of the wonderful Jack Black, and I'm holding my breath until the Tenacious D movie comes out later this year.  ** (out of 5)

The Family Man - Maybe sweet romantic comedies are actually the hardest films to make, after all. They need to hit a certain note, and when they fail (like in the awful "Addicted To Love") it's very painful to watch. I guess I was the only person in America who thought "Sleepless In Seattle" and "Pretty Woman" were creepy horror flicks, but at least those movies had a coherently honest feel. This movie tries to make a point, but it just feels like it's limping along. The poignant parts are funny, and the funny parts... well, they don't exist. Maybe Nicolas Cage is cast incorrectly here, since I don't feel like his "Face Off" personality change is believable. On the other hand, his wife is played by Téa Leoni. it's a minor supporting role, but she really does some amazing work here. I think my big problem is that the plot hinges on Nicolas Cage trying to go along with the switch, but I kept wanting him to give up and tell the truth right away. So, I thought that the initial romance with Leoni never felt right, and the second romance was even more stilted. Oh well, I think that Cage will go back to action films, and it's what he seems to do best. ** (out of 5)

Josie and the Pussycats - I hate it when culture tries to be counter-culture. Or worse, when thing with a lack of culture try to be counter-culture. For example, MTV being dangerous, or Walmart being hip. It's just not gonna happen. So, it's pretty pathetic that this comic book tie-in is trying to teach kiddies to think for themselves. Ok, the subliminal storyline is kind of cute, and it's neat to see Carson Daly as a serial killer, but there's no reason to see this once, much less twice. The comic was forgettable. Do we really need an "Archie" movie adaptation? I hope not. Just because you grew up with something in the 70's doesn't mean it is good, or interesting, or noteworthy. All of the actresses in this are forgettable: Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson will all fade away soon enough. I'd rather see Justine Bateman in the forgotten eighties rock band movie "Satisfaction". ** (out of 5)

Blow - One more time with feeling, "Just because something happened to you doesn't make it interesting." So who thought that the real-life story of a drug dealer would be fun to watch. Sure, the guys was the biggest coke dealer in the eighties (who *wasn't*?) and he's in jail now, but that doesn't make him interesting. At least this movie avoids a preachy anti-drug message. The guy's in jail for the rest of his life, but the drugs don't look glamorous or cool. It just looks like a pain in the ass to make money that way. The first few scenes as the dealer moves up the dealing ladder are kind of fun, but the entire second act is long and dull. Surely there were more interesting anecdotes to show than the fact that the dealer got his start but coving a botched drug handoff while his partner was in a Mexican jail. I mean, stuff like that always happens to me. Johnny Depp is wasted here; it's just a pretty-boy role (though he *does* look like pretty in his blond Californian wig!). Paul Reubens is a lot like Crispin Glover. Even when they don't try, they both monopolize the screen. I kept waiting for him to explode, but after the short intro in his hair salon where he camps it up, he shuts right down again. The on-and-off flaming is kind of funny, though what I really want to see is Reubens with a full length starring role in a movie. That would be sure to be a lot more fun than this movie. ** (out of 5)

Bamboozled - The was *almost* the first Spike Lee movie I could really appreciate. I love the topic and the idea: at what point does self-parody stop being a parody? I'm a folk music geek enough that I can honestly appreciate the "art" of blackface - the music and dancing here are amazing. And the cast is amazing, with great acting by Savion Glover, and great supporting performances. But Spike pulls his punches with the jokes. Why would this modern blackface revival ever become popular? It would have been more dangerous and interesting if he made the show actually enjoyable (the way "Bob Roberts" actually had good music, for example). I loved the audition scene showcasing everything bad about modern black culture. It was really brave. But then Spike undercuts the momentum of the movie but having tedious love interests and subplots. Are we supposed to believe Damon Wayan's character when he goes crazy? It's fun to cast Wayans as a Dr. Frankenstein whose intended parody becomes unironic, but it just doesn't play well. And what's up with Wayans accent? It's funny, because even Wayan's dad mentions it, but it feels put-on and annoying. Or there's the terrible use of the great Stevie Wonder soundtrack underneath an otherwise funny scene between Wayans and Michael Rappaport. It's like Spike Lee doesn't understand how to make a movie at all: things like pacing, editing, sound, and cinematography seem alien to him. I'd like to think that this is a movie that I jsut couldn't "get" since I'm white. Unfortunately, I think it's a typical Spike Lee Joint"... a muddle mess with a lot of good ideas that look nice on paper that could have resulted in a great film if only it was directed by somebody with talent. ** (out of 5)

Dude, Where's My Car? - I had expected to hate this movie. I had heard things like "Worst movie of 2001"! Now *there's* a byline for the movie poster. Ok, this wasn't Tarantino, but it was kind of a bad cross between "Repo Man" and "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (and if you remember, neither of those "classic" movie was very coherent either). I love the premise... two stoners wake up the morning after a party and can't find their car. This forces the movie to work backward, like a screwball version of "Memento". The problem is that the things the pot-heads find out about the night aren't really funny, interesting, or memorable. Ostriches? Yeah, that's a laugh riot right there. This movie had Aston Kutcher as a slightly smarter version of his "That 70's Show" one-note character, but the boy shore is purty. I hope I never see grinning idiot Seann William Scott ("I have *two* Ns in my name") ever again, but since I plan on renting "Evolution" someday, I guess I will. ** (out of 5)

The Adventures of Sebastian Cole - I wanted to see this movie for the strong transsexual character, player by Clark Gregg. He does an amazing job, and it's a role I probably won't see again in any other film. However, I had to wade through two hours of a "performance" by Adrian Grenier, who probably got his role because of his watery doe-like eyes, and his willingness to sleep with the director. Told from an ignorant teenager's "point of view", I felt like nothing that happened in the movie was important at all. Sebastian strikes out at the dance? Oh no! Maybe there's a teenage girl who likes Grenier, and maybe she was exposed to an alternative lifestyle by watching this movie. Maybe this movie has done some good, somewhere. But I just can't help thinking that if the movie was told by the baseball-playing cross-dressing former Marine, it would have been a more interesting story. ** (out of 5)

Mickey Blue Eyes - I guess it takes more than a Hugh Grant's oversized bobbing head to make a romantic comedy. For example, a decent female counterpart would have been nice. Jeanne Tripplehorn is so wooden here, the only thing memorable about her is her great haircut in the wedding scene. Since James Caan has more scenes with Grant (and touches him a lot more than Tripplehorn) maybe this is an unintentional gay masterpiece. But there's no jokes here, and the scenes where Grant tries to put on a gangster's accent are... um... laughable isn't the right word. Maybe "unlaughable", noun, the property of not being able to laugh at something. Oh, after "Analyze This", I want all of the "funny mobster" movies to go far, far away. ** (out of 5)

Loser - The director of this movie had a difficult choice: he had to make the lead character a "loser" but still likable. That means he had to be good looking, or the callous teenage audience will never believe/want the lead characters to fall in love. Well, the lead guy is a little *too* good looking... it's like trying to believe the wonderfully backlit Barbra Streisand is a hag in awful "The Mirror Has Two Faces". Plus, I couldn't believe that the lead character could be so gullible without being a mental idiot. I mean, his roommates kick his out, and he lets them have a party in the animal hospital where he lives. I've never heard of a college running out of dorm rooms and housing a student in an animal shelter, but I'm sure the location made the teenage audience like the lead character more. When his "friends" trash the place, I can't believe he wouldn't get kicked out. In any case, love interest Mena Suvari looks like a copy of Christina Ricci, and we can't have too many of those. The story was slightly funny any slightly "slight" but it was slightly better than other recent teenage love stories like "10 Things I Hate About You". At least this one had a good story, even if it was the predictable fish-out-of-water in the big bad New York City plotline. You know, number #24 in the list. ** (out of 5)

Bounce - <sarcasm> Oh, now *here's* a great idea for a romantic comedy - airplane disasters! That really brings a heterosexual couple together </sarcasm>. I can see it now... "When Harry Met Sally.... IN A PLANE CRASH" or "Sleepless in Seattle... BECAUSE OF A PLANE CRASH". I bet they don't show this film on cross-country flights. And that's probably a blessing for those passengers, because the movie sucked pretty hard. It reminded me of "Random Hearts" because the atmosphere is such a downer. There's only one trick to this pony - the audience waits until Ben Affleck tells Gwyneth Paltrow that he is the reason her husband died in the fiery wreckage by giving his plane ticket to the poor guy. But it's not even a really good trick for the pony, since we all can rationalize that Ben didn't know that the plane would crash, and was really trying to be a nice guy. What I find so puzzling is the fact that Ben is such a dick throughout the movie, especially in the beginning. I really wanted *him* to die instead of the dead husband. And I knew Ben and Gwyneth would get together, and I knew they both always play the same type of character, so it's not like Gwyneth is going to be a bitch. She's always so milquetoast. So, I was left with wondering how much of the Alcoholics Anonymous stuff was autobiographical for Ben. and how the director was eventually going to have him tell her the BIG SECRET (everybody now, "ooooooh"). Spoiler? Hell, he never does. The pony gets let out of the bag OFF SCREEN, fer chrissakes... not that we'd expect any really drama of histrionics from a wimpy pair of artistes like Ben and Gwyn. ** (out of 5)

Dr. Dolittle 2 - Talking animals! It supported the plot of the first movie, so I guess Eddie Murphy decided to add more more MORE! This movie has a bizillion talking animals, but no real plot. For example, the first movie had the idea of Murphy realizing his talent of talking to animals to "hilarious consequences" (note: I gave the first one ***½ stars, so I guess I kinda liked it). This sequel has the linear plot of "let's save the forest". Luckily, it has Steve Zahn as a bear. A talking bear! Get it? It's FUNNY! I didn't like the talking chameleon or drunk monkey as much (though it *is* fun to type "drunk monkey"... I think I'll do it again. "drunk monkey"). I hope there's not another one of these movies. Let's leave Disney to do the talking animal shtick. And, yes, it really *is* a shtick. ** (out of 5)

Osmosis Jones - Man, I'm glad I'm not a parent today. If I was, I'd have to decide if I'd let my child watch movies by the Farelly brothers. This movie has jokes about every orifice and bodily fluid every discovered. On the other hand, it's quite funny, and at its heart, it has a nice story about a widowed father and his daughter. Still, it's disturbing to see Bill Murray drip, cough, and sneeze his way through this movie. There's a really disgusting scene with a zit that's "saved" from being unwatchable due to sloppy editing. And what's with the cuts in this movie? It feels like it was edited for television, with fadeouts occurring while characters are still talking. The animation is kind of dull and crude, too, and since it takes up over half the movie, I wish they would have hired some real designer talent. The CGI effect are even worse, looking sub-Amiga (and that's bad). The sum effect is to give the movie a one-off, thrown-together feel, which is a shame, because the storyline is clever and original. I expected a rehash of "Fantastic Journey", and got a little more *and* less than that. ** (out of 5)

Rush Hour 2 - To tell the truth, I don't remember much about the first "Rush Hour" movie. I think Chris Rock said some funny stuff, and Jet Li beat up some people. Um... I *think* there was a funny joke about "don't touch a black man's radio" and a climax hanging over the lobby of some hotel. That's about it. There are so many many "funny action movies" that I've missed lately. Entire slews of dreck by Orlando Jones, Martin Lawrence, or Eddie Griffin. It's kind of like all those "urban-oriented" (i.e. black) comedies on the WB2 network that I've never seen. Somehow, I don't think I'm missing anything. The DVD is full of "extras", if you can call it that. There are not one, but *two* five minute edits of outtakes, gaffs, and somewhat self-conscious goofing off. If anything, those two selection were better than the entire movie, and show just how hard the two leads worked to make the movie happen. Plus, there's a fun fight scene in a massage parlor, if you like seeing guys jump around and hit each other. ** (out of 5)

Keeping the Faith - Oops, this on has Ed Norton, too, but that doesn't help things. Maybe it's Ben Stiller, who in my opinion sucks the life out of any film he's in (like a David Spade or Rob Schneider). However, I think the bigger problem is that it's impossible to make fun of religion nowadays. And taking religion seriously just isn't funny. The rabbi has a hard time getting a date! Old jewish women keep setting him up with big haired New York jewesses! Hilarious... not. There's about ten minutes here where the director (Ed Norton again) talks seriously about religion in the modern age, and how to keep people into church in a media-fueled world (evidently it involved stand up comedy instead of preaching). There's a badly-written framing device where Norton tells his trouble to an Indian barkeep, while the barkeep tells Norton his life story: he inherited the bar from his English grandmother. Somehow, the barkeep's story seemed infinitely more interesting. But what's up with Jenna Elfman here? I've never liked her in "Dharma & Greg" because I find her faux-waifish sixties thing badly acted and annoying. This movie takes her shrill unlikable character up an "bang!" Emeril notch. As a loud cell-phone harpy, it's unbelievable that anybody would fall in love with her, much less Stiller and Norton. As a bad set-up to a joke, a rabbi and priest in love sounds funny on paper, but it really falls flat. Unless they were in love with each other... that I would believe (Norton is a *priest* here after all). ** (out of 5)

Jurassic Park III - There was a third Jurassic Park movie? No way! When did that come out? I must have totally missed it. Um, I guess this series of retreads is become obsolete quicker than the set of "Aliens" movies. That's ok with me... I never thought of it as a "franchise" anyway. This movie ups the stupidity, since Sam Neill and Laura Dern are the only returning actors. By now, I've completely forgotten what their connection is (see the "American Pie 2" review below), and this movie doesn't make it easy for me to care. You see, Dern is taken, and Neill swears he will never set foot on the dinosaur island ever again. The movie takes an unending hour to implausibly place Neill back in danger, and the reason is even sillier on film than it is here in print: he's tricked to rescue a fake millionaire's son trapped in the deadly jungle due to a freak parasailing accident. Um, yeah. Right. Could happen to anyone. I don't mean just the parasailing, but the entire convoluted scheme to get a half-hearted "expert" on a flyover rescue mission. Whew. They had to burn a lot of coal to get to the main action sequences. Luckily that's filled in by some cute maneuvering with Neill's cell phone. It's almost out of batteries, then it goes overboard, then eaten by a dinosaur fish, then a bigger dinosaur (whose stomach rings and beeps as the big scary dinosaur chases Neill and friends around) and finally a gross-out "dinosaur poo" scene. Wow, millions in CGI effect to get a shot of actors digging around in immense piles of crap. (Snide note: if the audience can wade through it... the movie can, too). But this movie feels like the adventures of a cell phone than about any of the human actors, since once Neill calls Dern, she send the cavalry, and the movie is pretty much over. There's no climax, which I'm pretty sure means that there will be a fourth version of this creaky "thriller" series. ** (out of 5)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Wow, Disney really stunk it up on this one. I've hated some of the cloying Disney pretentiousness ("Disneytentiousness?") that made "Hercules" and "The Emperor's New Groove" so mediocre and long to sit through. But this has to be the worst animated flick ever by the sagging studio (and I own stock in them, so I can say that). The submarines and monsters are a lot more interesting than the animated characters, even with the voiceovers of James Garner and Michael J. Fox (now that he has Alzheimer's, is he going to do voiceovers for *every* new cartoon that comes out?). This would have made a better live-action movie, since there's no talking animals here. It's a dull adventuring story where they 1) look for Atlantis 2) find Atlantis and 3) save Atlantis. What I found disturbing is that there's waaaay too many auxiliary characters, and the audience is supposed to love them all, then hate them all, and then forgive them all. With ten or so minor players, that's a lot of forgiveness. Another big problem is the way Disney's been ripping of Japanese anime as inspiration, the way "Lion King" was a rehash of "Kimba the White Lion". This one's a bad copy of "Nadia and Secret of Blue Water". At it's best, Japanese anime has a grandeur and glory that Disney can't match. They try to create some epic art here, with giant red explosions and torrential blue tidal waves, but without a heart, it only proves that the studio is on the wrong wrong track. ** (out of 5)

Wet Hot American Summer - Wasn't there already a movie like this? And wasn't it a lot funnier than this? I think it was called "Meatballs" or "Camp Nowhere" or even the second more-dislikeable "Addams Family" movie. However, those films were (at times) charming or human. This film has a bizarre tone: it tries to be hip or post-modern, but then only attempts that feel for 1/4 of the scenes. So, you have stock sappy summer camp scenes next to a "beating a dead horse" montage about scoring drugs. This is Jeanine Garafolo at her worst (does she have a "best"?)... smug and unfunny. I heard she recently stopped drinking, but did she have to stop attempting to make us laugh, too? ** (out of 5)

Joy Ride - I guess the newest generations of teenager haven't seen "The Hitcher". I have a theory that they're put off by the 80's hair and makeup of the previous series of teen films, so producers are able to just recycle the old stories every twenty years or so. We've seen "remakes" or Porky's (American Pie or Road Trip) and there's the ever-popular sports movies. So, this horror film uses another old chestnut: the random encounter on the road which leads to the psycho truck driver trying to kill our hero. Steve Zahn is way too good for this movie. It's his great acting that saves this from devolving into "Jeepers Creepers". All the other actors here are completely forgettable, as are the details of the plot. If you find yourself wondering how the bad guy keeps tracking the teenagers down, or how he seems to have super-human powers of strength, you're missing the point. This is a movie that will disappear completely, and then get recycled in 2020 with the latest haircuts and clothes. I can't wait for the newest version of "Animal House" to come out in theaters soon. ** (out of 5)

Cure - The second part of my recent film festival of modern Japanese horror films. What does that say about my psyche recently? I don't know. This movie was even slower than "Audition", but it was kind of fun since was such a slow, studied artistic style. Another reviewer brought up the parallel to Todd Haynes' movie "Safe", and it's a good comparison. Both movies had that slow pace, but more importantly, the both turned a small, coherent story into a huge thought provoking film. The end of "Cure" really made me wonder what (if anything) the movie was all about. Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to renown director Akira Kurosawa), this movie feels like the recent "slow horror" films in America like "The Sixth Sense" or "The Others". Maybe this will start a trend. If it can wean Americans away from pointless gore-and-t-and-a fests like most teen splatter flicks, I'm all for it. ** (out of 5)

Monkeybone - This is part of my ongoing Sissyphian chore of watching every movie Brendan Fraser is in. However, judging from this flick, the job is getting harder and harder. This is like a germ of a movie (i.e. it's only the start of an idea and it will make you sick to your stomache). The character of Monkeybone isn't really fleshed out, just a little slice of "annoying" like Pauly Shore or Jim Varney. There was about ten minutes where this film really had a unique visual style - courtesy of some amazing Mark Ryden inspired artwork. It's a shame, because I think there a possibility of doing a really amazing movie with good artists and CGI. Instead, this is a low-rent Beetlejuice, particularly when Chris Kattan shows up. Maybe I'll try to find the original comic book by Kaja Blackley... I bet that it didn't substitute gross-out comedy for a visual flair, but I could be wrong. But they got Fraser's costume perfect as a slacker cartoonist, so somebody with this movie knew their indie comic lore. ** (out of 5)

The Ladies Man - I know I'm quibbling, but shouldn't it be "The Ladies' Man?". I think it would fun to try to figure out what the worst Saturday Night Live skit-turned-movie is. "Superstar"? "Coneheads"? The list goes on and on, and they are *all* really bad. This is a Tim Meadows vehicle, and the only one that he will *ever* drive, mark my words. There's some interesting parts here, a disgusting bar game, Will Ferrell as an amateur wrestler, but it's all very painful. Trying to soften Meadow's character by giving him a love interest was a bad idea. They should have given him a plot instead. And next time (because, oh god, you *know* there will be a next time with other SNL movies), try to create a plot that can hold an audience's interest for more than ten minutes. "Undercover Brother" is a better version of this movie, as is almost any 70's blaxxploitation flick. Hell, Saturday Night Live was better back then, too.. ** (out of 5)

Signs - My favorite IMDB comment, "my favorite sign in this movie was the exit sign." Wish I would have typed that. Oh wait, I just did. I'm a fan of minimalism, and I really liked "The Sixth Sense" but after "Unbreakable" and this movie, I've really had it. Go see the original "Insomnia" instead, or heck, *any* Swedish film particularly if it's in black and white. I love soft quiet films that have a sense of poignancy or wistfulness. Instead, this movie just drags on and on while the audience waits for something to happen. Here's a spoiler: nothing ever does. I think M. Night Shyamalan likes science fiction a little *too* much, and like Kevin Smith, it's tearing down any talent either of them have as as a director. I love aliens, and don't really care for superheroes, but you can't expect to have anybody take those genres seriously. Look at "A.I." for another example of a bad plot killing strong style. The final alien scene is silly (another spoiler.. water kills them instantly... go figure) and the entire subplot of Mel Gibson losing his faith is dull. I've read some Xtians upset that Shyamalan is ridiculing faith as the simple act of putting together some idiotic plot points to extrapolate a deity. I'm not sure about that, but it fits into the pattern that Hollywood can't make a religious movie without it seeming really stupid (Left Behind, Battlefield Earth) or insulting self-styled interpreters of the bible (the otherwise-great Last Temptation of Christ). Give up, and please stop M. Night as you go out the door. ** (out of 5)

Swimfan - "Fatal Attaction Junior! You know... for kids!" Now there's a good slogan. Why did I rent this movie? It must have been a mistake. Or maybe it was a cheap ply to see cute guys wearing speedos. Maybe that should be the driving idea behind a sequel: "Speedos: The Movie". A bunch of hot guys (and maybe girls... I'm all for an equal opportunities for lechers of all stripes), running around with very little clothes on. Skip the plot - there's not enough of it to go around. Maybe this movie will create a demand for teenie-flick adaptations of other movies with adult themes. We've already had "Cruel Intentions" parts one *and* two, as a high school flick that was better played by *adults* in *adult* relationships as "Dangerous Liaisons". So, maybe we can expect "Kramer Vs. Kramer: The Preeteen Edition" or "The Big Chill At Puberty". Nothing like spreading a little thirtysomething angst for the teenybopper set. ** (out of 5)

Unfaithful - Trust me... I don't want to ruin the complete lack of a surprise ending. Due to the complete boredom of this movie, nobody will be allowed in the theater to see the last half of the film. This movie plays out completely as you'd expect: Richard Gere's wife cheats on him and there's a lot of crying. I wanted to admire it as a sort of anti-hero movie, the way the director purposely tried to not try so hard. If I wanted to be charitable (and believe it when I say this movie really needs charity) I could say that it's a character study with a slow deliberate pace. But a more realistic blurb would be, "This is a a really dull, slow film that does little to try and win over an audience." ** (out of 5)

Spirited Away - I was looking forward to this, the same way I was told to go see "Princess Mononoke". Well, if this is the pinnacle of high art in the realm of Japanese Abomination, I'll go back to Disney. Maybe something got lost in the translation - like the entire plot. Ocha-roll (later called Sen for no apparent reason) becomes lost in the land of the spirits. She is forced to haul coal against any rational child labor laws, is insulted for smelling bad like a foreigner, and finally finds work in food service and cleaning. So, it's apparently the story of immigration in Japan. Only the Japanese could use multiculturalism as an excuse to make fun of as many races as possible. There's fat Polynesian women, French frogs, and more eastern European stereotypes than you can shake a Punch-and-Judy stick at. There's an imported Russian old-woman-crone figure (voiced by the amazing Elaine Stritch) named Abba, who is the "witch who rules the bathhouse". Yeah, I have some gay friends like that, too. True, the Japanese are masters of "kowaii kawaii" cuteness, and there's a great flying gerbil and split-second monster cameos. However, Americans won't understand the daikon creature mistranslated as a "turnip spirit", the whole setting of the bathhouse, or the way the idea of spirits, little "spirit houses" and guardian statues fit into this movie. Personally, I don't understand why everyone told me to go see it... I'd rather have watched "My Neighbor Totoro" or "Kiki's Delivery Service" instead. ** (out of 5)

Men In Black II - My friend Mark once commented that I expect too much from movies. I go into the theater expected to see a good movie and I'm usually disappointed, while he (the eternal cynic) expects very little so he is overjoyed at a few chuckles or a single good scene. It might explain why I see many more movies than he does: maybe I'm continually searching for a glimmer of hope, like a moviegoing Wandering Jew. In any case, I was burned by this movie, whereas I think Mark would have loved it. It recycled the good jokes from the first movie (Tommy Lee Jones acting cranky, check. Will Smith in full "funny black man" mode, check. Talking dog, check) without adding anything new. There's some possibilities that a new idea might appear (I don't think the obvious dog-eats-the-really-small-aliens-who-misjudged-human-dimensions, or the idea of an entire civilization fitting inside an airport locker). But overall, we get Tony Shalhoub and Rip Torn doing the *exact* same gags they did last time. I guess it would be good for fans of the first movie who want to get off on a sequel without the pain of seeing a new movie (Austin Powers take note). But I was expecting something different, something new and funny. Mark, you were right. ** (out of 5)

Circuit - What if Pierce Brosnan was gay and did a lot of drugs? Heck, for all I know, Mr. Brosnan *is* gay and does a lot of drugs, and if so, then this is the movie for him. "Barbershop" above was a good movie from the black community. And now from the gay community comes... trash. I can't believe I looked so forward to this film. It's pretty bad, with bad acting, grainy sub-digital film quality, and tons of plot holes leaving my boyfriend and I to fill in unexplained details. The gay community has produced tons of ensemble movies when the principal characters sit around and talk. It's odd that this movie stops being fun so quickly. Even the soundtrack is lame. My favorite part is the trite film-within-a-film, where the drug-taking auteur "comes out" with Circuit Pride by tearfully announcing, "I am... I am a circuit boy!" How nice for him. I give this movie two charity starts because there's some nice butt shots of the faux-Brosnan. ** (out of 5)

xXx - This is an incredibly stupid movie. How stupid? It's a movie where a bald X-Games wanna-be criminal is turned into a spy. It's a movie where the army tests spies by building a fake diner. It's a movie where... ah, I don't have the strength to go on. There's just too many implausible holes to fill. This movie would be a parody if it had a sense of humor. The "creators" of this movie had to realize how "Gymkata" it is to have a skydiving-snowboarding super agent, didn't they? Or were they completely devoid of irony after 9/11? Sure, it has a lot of pretty scene of things blowing up, but the entire last two-thirds bogs down in Russia, with Vinnie Diesel wearing a really gay furry jacket. I mean, I'm gay, but even I wouldn't wear that jacket. When I was in college, I wanted to try to write a screenplay using every action-movie cliché possible: "Rock Stone... retired cop... but they brought him back 'cause he's the best!" "'You can't make me work with an orangutan!' 'Sorry Rock, but that's your new partner... a monkey with an attitude!'" "That plan's so crazy, it might just work!" It was going to be a movie where things blew up every few seconds for no apparent reason. Well, "xXx" is that movie (or is it "XxX"? It looks like a full frame of bowling, now innit?) Or, in another moment of inspiration, I also wanted to film a different movie that would document all the stupid fashions of the nineties (Furry leopard-print cowboy hats! Bad rave music! Really gay furry coats!) Again, this is that movie. It will be a touchstone of Gen-X irony for years to come, just you wait. ** (out of 5)

Jackass: The Movie - It made me kind of sad to realize that there's not much more in this movie than they couldn't show on TV. Where's the "extreme" stunts? The humor? Heck, I've done sicker things than this in my spare time. When "Fear Factor" shows people eating offal on screen, and other "reality" show provide footage of people dying and everything short of an execution, where does that leave Johnny Knoxville? In the "Tom Green" cancelled-show old-news file, I'm afraid. I admit that it's fun to browse the internet for shocking footage, but the thrill passes very very quickly. ** (out of 5)

Road to Perdition - Ooh, Tom Hanks. It wasn't so long ago that you were working with Peter Scolari, and *he* was the funny one. This movie tries to be serious, but at times, it seems like a parody of an Oscar-worthy film. Here's the scene where the Boy comes of Age. Here's the scene where the Thief gives money to the Old Couple. There's some great sets and lighting here, but again they seem kind of funny. Does light *always* filter through rain-streaked windows in your world? There's some good scenes, like the climactic battle that takes place in complete silence. It's like the director was embarrassed to thrown in some fast-moving watchable scenes. A slow pace? Heck it takes the first ten minute to establish that Tom Hanks has a family and that he eats dinner. ** (out of 5)

Matrix Reloaded - This movie is a sequel, so I'll give it two stars. Maybe the next one due out in November will get three. I've always had a strange feeling when someone asks me if I enjoyed a summer blockbuster, and all I can say is, "Eh", with that little side to side twisting hand gesture. The movie wasn't *bad*, but I was expecting so much more. I had a lot more fun thinking about the subtext of the movie than actually watching it. For example, is the Matrix anti-semitic? Realizing that Neo is a Christ figure, and that he will rescue "Zion", the besieged Israel-like state mired in petty politics, mob crowd speeches, and endless analysis of laws. So, by performing miracles like bringing a woman back to life, will the third movie show a "new testament" and prove a touchstone for Christian geeks everywhere? Only the recently-divorced-and-sued Larry Wachowski knows for sure. In any case, I'm sure there will be lots and lots of pointless sermonizing about the issue, much like the recent dull Star Wars movies... or this flick. ** (out of 5)

Talk To Her - Ah, Pedro Almodóvar. I think it's a curse to be a good director. I think that the guy could shit out a storyline based off a one-paragraph entry in the newspaper, and it would be a good movie. The last movie? People who make medical movies. This one? People who care for comatose patients. Maybe Pedro is spending too much time in hospitals lately. Not to say that this isn't a *good* movie. Nor *i* it a good movie. You know that all lead actress wake up from comas. You know that Almodóvar, perhaps out of some internal gay self-loathing, makes a lead gay characters so stereotypical (he loves to do makeup, he was "made" gay by a domineering mother) that you can't help but cheer when the retarded guy goes to jail for having sex with a woman. It's a macho, twisted Spanish world, and Almodóvar was much better when he actually worked on tightly-knit interesting plots instead of minor trash like this. ** (out of 5)

Just Married - Ooh, this fails all the tests for a romantic comedy: there's nothing that says 'love' like Ashton Kutcher kicking Brittany Murphy during the opening credits. The movie gets more unpleasant as it goes on. I couldn't see why the two of them ever fell in love, much less why the honeymoon would drive them over the edge. There's about fifteen minutes left by the time that the flashback catches up to the first nasty scene, but even a fake reconciliation over a gated driveway didn't get me in a gooey mood. And that's what these movies are supposed to do, aren't they? ** (out of 5)

Murder By Numbers - I guess I'm not the kind of person that "CSI: Special Sexual Violent Rape Bureau" is made for. I don't have any special desire to watch autopsies on film. Maybe I ODed too much on Jack Klugman "Quincy" reruns as a kid. In any case, this movie plays out like you think it would. The killers are tipped off in the first frame (as is the ending), and it's just a cat-and-rat game as quirky-but-brilliant Sandra Bullock has to lay her career and love life on the line to convince her boss to keep the investigation open. It's her badge at stake! But she's the best! But she's a live wire, a loose cannon, nothing but trouble and bad news! Heard enough yet to guess the rest? Murder by numbers? Formulaic "paint by numbers" filmmaking is movie like it. ** (out of 5)

Solaris - I want to give this movie a higher rating - really I do. It's by Steven Soderbergh, one of my favorite directors, based off a short story by Stanslaw Lem, one of my favorite authors. It's a remake of an earlier Russian film, so it has the added benefit that *someone* liked it enough the first time to want to do it again. Unfortunately, this remake also keeps the original's slow pace (almost three hours) and unexplained emotional dramatics. I mean, suspense is a good thing if you can show the audience WHY they should care what is going to happen. Some of the scenes had a lot of promise: the sudden journey of George Clooney's psychologist, the conversation through a locked door, the "Sixth Sense" idea that some unknown space phenomenon is causing people to see dead relatives. But after all that slow pacing, nothing really happens, and nothing becomes of the central idea of the movie. I guess it's a beautiful moody study in making a thoughtful space opera, but for most theatergoers like me, it's just too little hash made from too many good possible ingredients. ** (out of 5)

Bringing Down The House - Both Steve Martin and Queen Latifah are wonderful, so this movie gets one star for each of them. Unfortunately, this script lets them both down. I think it sets any kind of race relations back a decade. Eugene Levy is slightly funny, but only as a foil to ensure that Martin and Latifah don't fall in love in the end. I think I would have liked two other actors more, like Martin Short and Wanda Sykes. But I think I'd like a complete rewrite first. Ok, it's no "Malibu's Most Wanted", but it's close. There are interesting, intelligent movies to be made about race division, and it's disappointing that the best we can do is come out with this crap. There are Both black and white people can be embarrassed by this film, so maybe that's a sort of unity right there. ** (out of 5)