Anatomy 2 - The first movie "Anatomy", was one of my sleeper favorites, and this movie has similar charm. Mostly because they are so *different* from American horror or even the creative new wave of Japanese horror. Ok, they aren't really SCARY (though the first flick had a nice "dissected-while-alive sequence). This one plays more like a Goosebumps novel. Which isn't really an intended slam - it merely tells a fun story in a very (very) linear way. I wonder if medical students enjoy these films, much in the same way that "Flatliners" or Lars Von Trier's "The Kingdom" showed the behind the scenes life at a hospital. It's rowdy fun, much like the TV show ER used to be. **** (out of 5)

X2: X-Men United - We I heard about the title of this movie, I couldn't help thinking of the old sixties chant, "The X-men... united... shall never be defeated!" Maybe that's just me. Anyway, as I've said before, I'm not really a superhero fan, so this movie wasn't made for the likes of me. But still, it's a very good movie - much better than the first one which seemed to take hours of time to set up the plot and reason for all the mutants existing in the first place. This sequel just starts from "square two" and proceeds to spin an interesting tale of politics and prejudice. It's a shame that the mutant powers are so silly, or that the relationships aren't explored very deeply, since this movie had the promise of some Very Interesting Things. Instead, it's the usual muscle men running around in tights, and I am embarassed to say that even after the Hulk debacle, I'm looking forward to a third movie. **** (out of 5)

Shanghai Knights - This one was better than I thought. Better than the original, and that's always a pleasant surprise in a sequel. Better yet, the movie didn't assume that the viewer had seen (or cared about) the first one. And even more surprising was the fact that the odd English setting actually works. A good movie, though there really doesn't need to be a third one, guv'nor. **** (out of 5)

The Impostors - The don't make movies like this anymore. There's probably a good reason, though I think slapstick and farce never go out of fashion. Yeah, the Marx Brothers did the luxury- liner- stowaway premise a lot better, but I laughed out loud in a couple of places. I didn't like Stanley Tucci in "Big Night", although Oliver Platt's "Funny Bones" with is one of my all time favorite movies. Here, they're paired like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy... who didn't have much plot in their movies either. **** (out of 5)

Waking Ned Devine - Charming... now there's an underused adjective for a movie. Of course, the movie had to come out of another country. Hollywood just can't make a funny/ cute/ believable movie without making it dark or morbid. Another day, I might not be in the mood for such a light romantic script. However, I was charmed (there it is again) by the quirky characters, the surprising plot turns, and the easy dialogue. Ahhhh. **** (out of 5)

The 13th Warrior - This movie has something for everyone to hate. Action fans will be disappointed in the directionless plot, while history majors will laugh and the costumes and sets. However, for those of us who love swords-and-sorcery flicks, this movie is adequate. Which is a shame, since I really liked the Michael Crichton book "Eaters of the Dead" that this movie is (loosely) based on. Crichton tried to suggest that the Beowulf myth was caused by anachronistic cro-magnon Grendels. However, none of that subtext reached the movie, which is too bad. **** (out of 5)

Twilight of the Golds - Brendan Fraser is a god, and a pretty good actor, too. This movie highlights everything that is good about modern theater. As a play, it is topical, short, and filled with lots of good emotional reactions between characters. The dialogue is ok but not memorable, but it is the ideas expressed by the play that make this great. "Would you get an abortion if you knew your baby would be gay?" I will think about that question and its implication for a long time. However, as a movie, the setting seemed stale, and the story a little forced. Faye Dunaway and the other actors (Garry Marshall! Rosie O'Donnell! A really bad Jennifer Beals!) seemed a but melodramatic and unreal. But I will always see anything Brendan stars in... does that make me gay? Probably. Is that a bad thing? No. **** (out of 5)

The Sixth Sense - This turned into the hottest movie of the summer, and I'm not really certain why. It's clunky and slow... definitely not the average Bruce Willis action movie, although Bruce acts like it is. He has that same half-assed smirk that he always wears. The premise of the movie, ghosts are dead people that don't know they are dead, is very promising, and much better movies have used the idea (Jacob's Ladder, Carnival of Souls). However, this movie doesn't do much with the concept, and the surprise ending still doesn't redeem two hours of not much at all. On the other hand, I've been thinking a lot about why his movie is unsatisfying and how it could be better. Which means that even if I didn't care about the characters, I care about the plot, which is something. **** (out of 5)

Ravenous - What a fun premise: a pre-civil war vampire movie. Drawing from the Alferd Packard story, this movie combines vampires with cannibals to create a truly new wild west movie. I love historical fiction, and this one gave a good sense of what a lonely, dirty life it must have been to live in a fort on the lone prairie (or in this case, the High Sierras). The last thirty minutes peter out, which is strange because it should have been an exciting climax. Instead, everyone gets wordy in a "Batman" sort of way. But in the end, I wish there were more adventurous takes on the west like this, instead of the average gunslinger shoot 'em up. **** (out of 5)

Being John Malkovich - This movie seemed like the one I want to write. To me, working in an office building is like being in a dream. During my daily 8-to-6 boredom, I daydreamed about business floating over cubicles like angel zeppelins or exploding in bathrooms due to "businessman's bowel syndrome". Anyway. This movie wasn't as good as I though it would be because it took everything so seriously. You can't really take the idea of a portal into John Malkovich's head seriously (hell, I still can't really take John Malkovich seriously). Johns Cusack and Malkovich do a great, though sober job, and there are some inspired scenes ("Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich"...) but everything gets washed out by the dingy lighting, the grainy photography, and a plot that doesn't know it's supposed to be funny and light. Points for originality, and first time director Spike Jonez, but that's about it. **** (out of 5)

Life Is Beautiful - I haven't seen such a backlash against a movie in a long time. When this movie came out, critics that had never seen Roberto Benigni before were impressed by his physical comedy and charmed by the plot. I guess only European countries can make a warm, caring movie about WWII (compared to "Jakob the Liar" or "Saving Private Ryan"). When people found out how obnoxious Benigni really is (for example, at the Oscars), they regretted giving this move an Oscar. Maybe this film didn't deserve the Oscar for Best Film in 1998, but is done have a lot of funny vignettes in it. I'm not sure this movie will be a a lasting classic, but it was nice to see Italy's answer to Jerry Lewis do some serious work. I had forgotten that it's possible to make an original movie without using time travel or space aliens. **** (out of 5)

The Iron Giant - I always feel bad for non-Disney animators. They know that their movie won't sell half as any tickets as the next Disney flick. And often, their movies are a lot better. This movie has wonderful animation, and a better storyline than any Disney movie. There are no musical numbers, no singing squirrels, and there is no manic Ritalin pace. I think they let the characters speak for themselves, which is nice for a change. However, this is also the most violent non-violent movie I've ever seen, and I'm not sure what the final moral of the story is. The ending is extremely good, and it's worth sitting through the slower middle part. I'm just not sure what it all means. **** (out of 5)

The Talented Mr. Ripley - Some people disliked the movie, and I think I can see why. I've heard it's based on a very difficult book, and the screenplay leaves out a lot of details. There's a lot of subtle psychological dialogue here, both by Matt Damon and also by Gweneth Paltrow and Jude Law... so much so that at times it's hard to figure out what the characters are really like. It's a very "linear" plot, though there were enough issues that it kept me interested. Matt Damon did a great acting job, and as long as he picks solid roles like this, he'll be one of the great new actors, along with Johnny Deep and Leonardo DiCaprio. Then again, those two need to pick their roles carefully, too, or Damon will be the only good actor GenX has left. **** (out of 5)

The Red Violin - This movie has a wonderful conceit: the movie traces over several generations as it follows the ownership of an Italian violin. And everything culminates in a modern-day auction, where the ancestors of the various owners try to outbid each other. The music is wonderful, as it covers classical music, gypsy folk tunes, and early jazz. And the dialogue is in Italian, French, German, Chinese, and English, so there is kind of a symmetry. However, like a group of short stories, we don't get to know the lead characters long enough to really care about them, and all the stories are tragic, as if the violin was a curse. Some parts were slow, and the ending isn't really dramatic enough. But it's a beautiful movie, and I liked it. **** (out of 5)

Mystery, Alaska - I'm not usually a sucker for sports movies, but I kind of liked this one. Some reviews touted it as rather contradictory, with a surprise ending. Well, it's not really a surprise. Will the town sheriff get to play in the Big Game? Will he get back together with his wife? These aren't mindbending questions, but with a touch of humor and a lot of good acting, it can become a little more than a sports movie, but less than a classic. **** (out of 5)

Three Kings - David O. Russell directed this one. I loved his earlier "Spanking the Monkey" and "Flirting With Disaster". He suffers a little from the trendy 20-something-hot-producer syndrome, where he throws in unneeded scenes just because he can. For example, the bullet that pierces Marky Mark's side and explodes his bile duct is great technically, but added nothing to the plot. It was like a weird CGI that some graphics person had left tacked onto a demo reel. However, Russell shines later during a big shootout scene, where the bullets move slow and fast at the same time. You've gotta see it to know what I'm talking about. The sub-"Dirty Dozen" plot did nothing for me, but this was the first kinda-serious movie about the Gulf War, and it showed an extremely realistic of the frustrated Army jocks making fun of (and killing) the "towelheads". Clooney is great in anything he does (like "Out of Sight"), but why do people keep hiring Marky Marky Mark? I'd like to see what Russell does next. This movie didn't have enough driving plot for me, but I'll keep watching. **** (out of 5)

Stuart Little - I hate it when studios get kids' movies wrong. Sometimes they try to be too saccharin, too wacky, or too stupid. Sometimes they try too had, and sometimes they don't try at all. Oh, I've seen so many bad movies for kids... many of them by Disney. This movie gets everything right. The parents are likable and funny. The kids are believable but fallible, and the plot moves along nicely. If anything, this movie kind of fails because it delivers a good movie, and then stops. It's not quite as good as "Babe: Pig in the City", because that movie went out on a limb: visually and literally. Babe: PITC had Steven Wright as a chimpanzee. This movie does the minimum required number of jokes. It's missing the "Animaniacs factor", which is the wonderful ability of some children's cartoon to waaaaaay overestimate the intelligence of audience. They're not afraid to throw in a reference to Sigmund Freud, and I think the kids appreciate it. I learned a lot from watching cartoons that weren't dumbed down. So, Stuart little is great, the CGI animation is great, but it's not a great movie. **** (out of 5)


American Movie - This movie is very similar to the excellent documentary "Crumb". Both movies feature real people that are absolutely bizarre. At times, Mike Borchardt seems normal, maybe a little too overzealous as a filmmaker, but at least he's creating something. Then, as he continues to rant (or sulk in a deep depression), you can tell why a lot of people. could give up on him. A misunderstood genius, or another Ed Wood? I'm not sure, but I know two things, the movie seems incredibly real, and I'll never sit through his movie "Coven" (doesn't rhyme with "oven"). **** (out of 5)

Gladiator - "Jimmy, do you like gladiator movies?" I sure do. I love the costumes, action, the men, and the plot. This movie is both better and worse than it could have been. It's missing the out-of-period armor and terrible saturated Kodachrome feel of the 1960's biblical epics. Plus, I loved the fact that they didn't have a he-must-fight-his-best-friend-in-the-arena finish. In fact, there are only three arena fighting scenes. The rest of the movie is full of long, drawn-out talking and politics. Do we really care about these Roman senators with hard to pronounce names? I say "nay"! Give us more blood and gore! Lions and Christians! Bread and circuses! I don't know why this movie is doing so well. Ridley Scott has made a talky mess with a gray dull look. Maybe the next summer blockbuster will have people actually dying. **** (out of 5)

Magnolia - Another "vignette" film, and you know how much I love these. Unfortunately, this one is a little too much like Robert Altman's "Short Cuts", a film I didn't like but Michael loves. To me, the stories didn't interact enough, and while I was waiting for the Fortean touches, the ending didn't have enough surprises for me. Yes, Tom Cruise does an amazing acting job, but so do Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, and my favorite guy, Ricky Jay. Until the day they let Mr. Jay go crazy with a million dollar budget and a videocamera, this movie will have to do. But at over three hours, I don't think I'll watch it ever again. **** (out of 5)

Sweet and Lowdown - Not one of Woody Allen's best, but how many times lately have I said that? Mighty Aphrodite? Hannah and Her Sisters? Even when he's not dead-on, Woody is still quite good. And you can see the love he has for this topic. I really hate Sean Penn (and Chris for that matter... though musician Michael has some pretty good songs), and his acting here is abrasive. The plot is meandering and stupid. It almost feels like an authentic biography of a forgotten jazz guitarist. However, the terrible acting by the fake "music historians" gives the game away. What was Woody thinking? The "Blair Witch Project" was a better fake documentary and a hundredth of the budget. But I'll definitely rent whatever Woody puts out next. **** (out of 5)

Erin Brockovich - I love Stephen Soderberg, even since "Sex, Lies, and Videotape". This guy is all about good filmmaking... a solid plot, good cinematography, and brilliant acting. Who could ask for more? While the press was fixated on Julia Robert's incredible breasts in this movie, it was overlooked that the plot is nothing new. It's simply a lawyer movie, and it doesn't even have any climactic courtroom scene. Even though it's completely devoid of drama, I liked it. It was funny, and you gotta root for the underdog. Or underwire bra, as the case may be. **** (out of 5)

The Patriot - I think I liked this movie more than other self-styled critics. How can a movie be a "summer blockbuster" and yet people don't really care about it when it's released to video? Answer: it must not have been very good in the first place. And this movie is ok... maybe only because I love war films and period dramas. Mel Gibson turns it needlessly into a bloodfest ("Did you see that cannonball take that guy's head off? Cool dude!", "Wait, later a guy gets his *leg* shot off... I can't wait!") Sure war is hell, but in that scene Mel was *watching* the battle through a two-story window in a building miles away. Without subtlety, there can be no art. This film needs a touch of class, as all good war movies do. The challenge is not seeing the horror of war. That's easy. Instead, I missed and sense of humanity other than revenge. **** (out of 5)

Frequency - I'm a techno geek, so I always love movies with scientific themes. Well, that's stretching it for this movie, but it's the closest thing to EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) that I've seen lately. And what's better is that it's not just about that topic. So, a son can talk over a ham radio to his dad who died thirty years previously. Ordinarily, that would be enough plot, but we get a serial killer movie, too! There might be a little *too* much going on, since after watching the DVD twice, I'm still not sure if the guy was the murderer or if his mother was. Or, did he kill his mother? Whatever, it's integral to the plot, but at the same time, it doesn't matter. We get a few great "Backdraft" type firefighter shots, a "MacGuyver" move, a few chase scene, and a fist/gun fight backwards and forward in time. A real solid "ok" rating. Two thumbs completely sideways. **** (out of 5)

Kissing a Fool - David Schwimmer is cast against type here. What, interesting, funny, and talented? No, in this movie he is boorish and womanizing. Do you believe it? Me neither. I was going to watch every single "Friends" spin-off movie, including "Ed". However, after this "love story", I don't think the idea is funny anymore. This movie is actually a whole lot better than "The Pallbearer", but that's not saying much. Actually, Jason Lee makes this comedy work, which is surprising, 'cause he's really just a skate rat at heart. However, it's that heart that comes across in this movie, while Schwimmer just looks fake and unpleasant. **** (out of 5)

The Hurricane - Let's say that CNN reports tomorrow that a woman single-handedly hiked over the Alps in order to save the life of her child. Interesting? Yes. Inspiring? Certainly. Does it deserve a movie mode out of it? Probably not, since the story is so bizarre. Who could relate? Sure, it happened, but truth is not only stranger than fiction, but it often doesn't make any sense at all. This movie is good... I can't knock it is a piece of fine acting by Denzel Washington. He didn't win for "Malcolm X", but he should have won an Oscar here. He's really good. I hope he hasn't priced himself out of future movies. After all, Wesley Snipes is doing all the action movies, so what good roles are left for Denzel? I hope to see more of him in the future. He's amazing. However, this movie is a mixture of a family drama, a court case, and a thriller. None of them get enough screen time to fully develop, even though the film drags over two hours long. It's like three good movies, but after watching it, it's just too much. **** (out of 5)

Leon: The Professional - Ah, Luc Besson. Maybe I'm a Francophile, but I like this guy. I loved the look and style of "Subway", "La Femme Nikita", "The Fifth Element", and his Joan of Arc movie. True, those are really just normal Hollywood action films with lots of flash and lots of substance, but I think it's fun that his background gives him a slightly skewed perspective which makes his films a little odd. For example, in this movie there's never a huge confrontation between Gary Oldman and Jean Reno. In a "normal" American movie, there would have been one-liners and an interminable fight scene. Instead, we never even really see the event. However, I love movies where small details (like "the ring trick" here) are brought back later in the movie. To me, that's nice screenwriting. The only thing wrong is that creepy sexual relationship between Reno and the underage Pre-Star Wars Natalie Portman. What's with the French and child abuse? Is it *really* sexy to them to see a pre-teen in a tight dress? At least Humbert Humbert in "Lolita" knew that what he was doing was wrong, and his struggle to rationalize it made that book a classic. In this movie, Reno never realizes how sad and twisted his character is. Likewise, Besson, as the director, proves that he is stuck in an unrealistic world with fantasies of sex with minor girls. See? Exactly like everybody else in Hollywood! **** (out of 5)

Space Cowboys - I don't know why advertisers chase after the 16-25 youth market. Why are those kids so special? Sure, they spend a lot of money on crap, but it's the senior citizens that have all the cash. I had a great aunt in her sixties that watched more movies than I do. I think it's just because she gets sucked into watching bad movies on HBO, but she sees everything. She often surprises me by saying things like, "I didn't like Pulp Fiction." So, why don't they make more movies for the older crowd? "Grumpy Old Men" was an unexpected success, and "Murder She Wrote" and "The Golden Girls" were on air a lot longer than they needed to be. So, this movie trots out a lot of good actors: Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, and James Garner. Even veteran actor James Cromwell is great here, and he didn't even get on the promotional posters and ads. They're all great here, they look great and they can still act. They movie shouldn't be good... it's a lot like "Armageddon" in a way... but something clicks. The jokes and wisecracks are as real as if you were in the room with them all. This is one film I can recommend to anybody. Heck, even my great aunt would have liked it. **** (out of 5)

Hamlet (2000) - I don't usually like modern retelling of Shakespeare, but this movie works in a lot of ways that the more "pure" Mel Gibson's or Kenneth Branaugh's remakes didn't. I loved Ethan Hawke wandering an oddly empty Blockbuster video for his "To Be Or Not To Be" speech, while signs all around him advertise "action". The Denmark Corporation works fine, too, as well as Hawke performing a lot of soliloquies (and "The Mousetrap" film-within-a-film) as an amateur director. Those filmmakers have such big egos anyway.... it's perfect for the moody Dane. The biggest surprise is Bill Murray, who steals the first half of the movie. Who knew that Polonius was such a big part? Ok, ok, the world didn't need another version of this classic, and I hope nobody decides to update the racist "Merchant of Venice", but this one was sun. Shakespeare lovers will get to note the many liberties taken with the text ("More things under heaven and earth that are dreamt of in our philosophy", in stead of *your* philosophy or the big gun battle at the end), and I bet thousands of theater majors get a final paper or two out of this movie. **** (out of 5)

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Moulin Rouge - Here's a musical without a single song. No, I don't mean a "good song", there's plenty of forgettable Disney movies (Hercules, The Prince of Egypt), but here's a movie that doesn't complete a single *verse*, let alone a whole song, without mixing it with three other songs, or cutting away to an irrelevant scene. It looks like the movie was edited by a kitchen blender. Actually, I think the problem is that it was edited on a computer, which might have looked stunning on a 21 inch monitor while freeze-frame Photoshopping, but is too hectic and frazzled on the big screen. However, Nicole Kidman looks great, and this movie looks like a kiss off to Tom Cruise in a way. A lot was made of the fact they used new music for an old story. Hell, I'm happy there were any discernable songs at all. The Police's "Roxanne" is the only song that really works well, even if it is not sung well. It sounds like Sony licensed their music back catalog to Baz Luhrmann, and he was determined to include every oldie to sweat to. After Pearl Harbor, I hope this isn't a trend for manic blurry CGI movies. Not only did this movie put a nail in the coffin of musical movies, but I think it killed off the idea of a coherent narrative, too. (Later note) On second thought, hom many out-of-control musicals have we seen this year? Or any year? I found myself struggling to follow the plot, but come on! It's the standard boy-meets-former-wife-of-Tom-Cruise plot, and it doesn't take a lot of concentration to figure out what's going on. So, if Baz Luhrrrrrman wanted to fill the screen with a lot of flashy shiny object, more power to him. **** up from three (out of 5)

The Mexican - Oh damn it. Now I have a crush on James Gandolfini. He's in this movie as a gay hitman, and I love his goatee. Well, it gave me something else to look at, since Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts seem like bit players in their own movie. They're not on the screen together for very long, and when they are, it's to bicker and bitch in an unconvincing manner. Even since "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" (which I hated), I haven't had much patience for the kind of road trip film where the angry loving couple tries to get back home. The plot rolls over everyone involved, which is a shame because there's the seeds of a good caper flick here. But instead of caring about finding the expensive Mexican handcrafted gun (i.e. the title of the movie) I was waiting for another shot of James. Now I'm gonna have to start watching "The Sopranos". too. I have a thing for bearded bad guys. **** (out of 5)

Ghost World - This one got great reviews. And even though I love hip independent film, I can't see the attraction. Do I only read stuff from hip pretentious critics? Am I a hip pretentious critic myself? (that one may be closer than I want to admit). The move is based off the Dan Clowes comic, and I'm showing my un-hipness to admit that I haven't read it. I've read Clowes other stuff, and it's great. But it's like reading a book and thinking "Boy, this would make a great film", and the the movie comes out, and you realize, "No, I guess it *wouldn't* make a great film". Comics feel like movies already, or at least like elaborate storyboards, but it's a mistake to film them that way (are you reading this, Tim Burton?). This movie had terrible pacing, and a pointless and annoying plot. On paper, I bet the elaborate detail, the art-school subplot, and the amusing characters probably looked great. As a movie, I was waiting for the end. And it's an slightly unsatisfying end, since I don't know what to make of Thora Birch's departure in the final shot. Birch is yet another dead ringer for Christina Ricci.... she should be getting a royalty for inventing the "weird little girl" stereotype. I had fun watching a movie that talked about old jazz records and the fanboys that obsessively trade them, and I thought hard about the "hipper than thou" ironic subculture that would make fun of the freaks we all meet on a daily basis, and the McDonald's culture that America has become. But overall, these were fun things to think about, but they didn't add up to a very good movie. **** (out of 5)

Men of Honor - I have to say I didn't finish this movie. Or that is, I watched the section I wanted to. The first act is the training of Cube Gooding Jr., and it's really interesting, although it's pretty much the exact same role that he played in "Pearl Harbor" (cook-turns-hero, et. al.). There's a lot of unpleasant racism here, led by Robert DeNiro, and it's a little uncomfortable since it's *not* uncomfortable.... knowhatImean? All of these recent war movies have a little dig at the fact that blacks served in WWII but didn't really get equal rights until years later (if then). However, it all seems rote and contrived here... will Cuba pass the test? Will he become a sailor? The fact that DeNiro makes nice at the end of the film doesn't really redeem the slimy nature of this feel-mildly-good movie. So, I watched until Cuba passed his test and became a diver and got married. The rest of it: him losing a leg, getting a divorce, etc., etc., well... that will have to wait until I buy the DVD and I'm in the mood to feel bittersweet. **** (out of 5)

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - My favorite part of this movie is at the very beginning, when Lara is swinging through a tomb to collection the icon (or statue or whatever), and out pops a robot. A *robot*. It looks like Indiana Jones at first, but I was pleased to find out that it's not. Not that there's a lot going on besides "find the treasure to save the world" but I'm glad some thought went into the plot. Angelina Jolie is hot, and more than adequate for a role that was cast by body type rather than acting ability. She seems to think, though, that an English accent is best achieved by mumbling. There's a computer geek character that doesn't do much but stand in for the teenage HaXoRs out there who think, "Hey, *I* could be that guy!" There's a fun set piece where they get the "first shard" in the middle of the movie, and a better conclusion at the end when they get the "second shard". All in all, there's not much here, but the music is good, and it's kind of fun. It's better than playing that dull level-pulling game, and that makes it different than all the other videogame adaptations. **** (out of 5)

The Golden Bowl - Do you think the days of Merchant and Ivory are over? I mean, they always do crusty English period pieces, but their movies remind me of the late eighties and early nineties when all good yuppies were trying to get culture in bite-sized metroplex nibbles. Sure, the cinematography is still stunning, even when most of the action takes place indoors. And sure, the plot by Henry James is a classic. But still, everything feels *dated*. Maybe we've scraped the bottom of the barrel, or maybe Demi Moore's "Scarlet Letter" killed the idea of mass-produced high literature forever. I just know that this movie felt like it never needed to be made. Part of the problem is the endlessly sinking storyline, as a marriage falls apart and nobody is happy in the end. There's a lot of eye candy, particularly is you like watching Uma Thurman (somebody give the woman an Oscar, please), and there's great jobs by Nick Nolte and Kate Beckinsale (though I thought Anjelica Huston was a little stale here). Hmmm, I guess I'm lucky that the duo keep churning out art-house flicks like this, and I'll keep going to them, but I hope somebody can come along and rejuvenate the idea of movies that are good for you. How about an electric "Beowulf" or a four-hour "Tale of Genji"? I know intellectual movies are hard to get funded, but let's make the most of any opportunity. What's Sally potter up to these days? **** (out of 5)

All Over the Guy - So I'm a sucker for any movie with gay content in it. That's a given. But I'm a little embarrassed to realize that I'd hate this movie if it was a straight heterosexual romance. There's really nothing to it. I've seen half-hour sitcoms with more content than this flick. Worse, there's really no sexual payoff or erotic content. If it's a gay movie, I want to see some naked male buns, at least. I guess it's a sweet romantic comedy, and it's nice that the gay community can have ineffectual dull movies, too, but it's the kind of equality that I wish we didn't have. **** (out of 5)

Croupier - A caper movie without the caper? You might ask what the point would be, but this movie is outstanding just because of the things it's *missing*. Particularly in this post-Tarantino age, it's amazing that a movie would be more interested in character and setting than bloody gunfights and action. There's a web page I'm struggling to find (without any luck) where the director Mike Hodges clears up what is exactly going on in the movie. Did the protagonist foil the robbery? How did his dad set up the whole thing... and how did he end up in the catbird seat? I guess all of this is academic, because it's more interesting to watch the development of Clive Owen's protagonist. There's lots of symbolism and interesting ideas, here, too. Along with the slower pace and the out-of-time sets, this movie feels like it should have been made in the sixties, or in the seventies before the new wave of "hot young film directors". I guess that might explain why this movie was ill-received at the box office. I guess it just wasn't made for these times. **** (out of 5)

Finding Forrester - Some critics have suggested that Gus Van Sant is slumming here, and they have a point. This has to be the dullest idea for a plot he's ever come up with. I mean, against the narcoleptic street hustlers in his Falstaffian "My Own Private Idaho", this one looks like pabulum for the masses. However, I don't this it's a "Good Will Hunting" derivative. The plot is too slow, for starters, and the whole "prodigy" angle is overplayed by reviewers. Instead, I'd say that this is an incredible and incredibly odd homosexual opus. Sant is gay, sure, but it's a strange kind of homosexuality - the opposite of John Waters. I think Sant realizes that an older male teacher and a promising young student make for uncomfortable and dynamic dialogue. This is not about sex. It's about teaching and ideas, and seeing youth blossom. It really goes beyond gayness to a bizarre psychological level where an old gay director starts out a movie with a freestyle rap (has this ever been done? Even in John Singleton movie?) and almost completely ignores race as a plot point. Strange. Of course, I'm analyzing the artist here, something the movie itself rails against, and there's plenty to quibble with: the whole corny win-the-game-or-get-suspended-for-plagiarism theme, or the reclusive J. D. Salinger character of Sean Connery's. Rob Brown seems like a promising actor, but Sant has dumbed him down to a background role, so it's hard to believe the kid has the charisma to write, much less to direct the action. Or the way Sant doesn't seem to understand writing the way he didn't understand Matt Damon's mathematical genius in Good Will Hunting (evidently to be an English "genius" all you need to do is recognize obvious quotes from Mark Twain and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and "pound those keys!" on the typewriter as you write. Sheesh). But then a great line will come around ("that's not a soup question") or Connery will do some great acting, or I would be amazed at the way the movie danced around today's issues of inner-city economics and interracial romance as if they didn't exist, andall would be forgiven. This is a good movie by a director that veers between improvisation and paint-by-numbers, and I really don't mind either direction when Sant does it. **** (out of 5)

A Simple Plan - I waited too long to finally see this movie, and that's too bad. It really shows how talented the director Sam Raimi is. And you thought he could only do low-budget horror? There's a lot of things in this movie that feel great: the soundtrack is one of Danny Elfman's best, the plot movies along just as it should, and there's some great acting by Bridget Fonda, Billy Bob Thornton, and Brent Briscoe (though Bill Paxton is annoying as usual). The funny thing is, the storyline doesn't have the "pressure cooker" feel to it, nor the usual bloody finale I was expecting. Everything just kind of drifts along out of control. it's a nice touch, and it shows that there's probably a family dramedy or touching Oscar winner in Raimi somewhere. Then again, this movie sure wasn't as fun or interesting as Army of Darkness or The Evil Dead. Maybe if Raimi wants to become an adult, he should keep it to himself and keep making B-movie schlock with Bruce Campbell. I bet "Ash Williams" could have solved the whole 4.4 million stolen-money-in-a-bag problem that the five main characters can't seem to figure out. **** (out of 5)

Wonder Boys - Huh. Four stars, the same thing I gave "Finding Forrester". This movie has a much more realistic portrayal of writers and what they do. There's also a lot better acting and dialogue here, too. So what's the problem? I hated this movie more and more as it crawled to the end. I was afraid they'd pull the old "lose the only copy of the the manuscript" plot. I guess "real" writers use typewriters without making copies. This movie is in desperate need of an editor. There's some ridiculous scenes here: a tuba-playing transvestite (an interesting character who gets thrown away ten minutes into the film), a gay book editor (Robert Downey Jr. proving once again he's a great actor with no scruples) and a dead dog (not funny, and completely unbelievable that it lays around in a car trunk for half the movie... what about the *smell*? Christ, Tobey Macguire puts it in his BED. Ick. Double ick). Michael Douglas is kind of the weak link here (goodbye!) limping around and drawing way too much attention to himself. Tobey's understated "weird kid" routine goes over a lot better. But, as in the silly plot, the problem is with writers trying to be too clever for their own good. Plus, it's kind of annoying when writers write about writing. Then again, I'm a writer, too, so that makes me a writer writing about writers writing about writing. See how easy it is to be too clever? **** (out of 5)

Shanghai Noon - This isn't a great western. I mean, there are *great* westerns, and this isn't one of them. I've always been partial to "pretty good" westerns, and this movie might fit into that category along with Silverado, Lust in the Dust, or Straight To Hell. It's a cute movie that just happens to have a western setting. If I was cruel, I'd say that Jackie Chan has run out of interesting plots, so now he is recycling Kung Fu movies with tangential plots. For example, I expect him to make a kung-fu-in-outer-space movie soon. Strangely, Chan isn't even the focus of the movie. He's more like a gimmick. Owen Wilson gets most of the lines here - often quoting entire five-minute sets of comedy to nobody in particular. Wilson and Chan don't really connect here (except for one great drinking scene), and it seems to be the opposite of a buddy flick. Every scene just reinforces the fact that these two guys can't act together. I know there's a *great* movie to be made about the Asian experience during the Wild West, but as I said... this isn't a great movie. **** (out of 5)

The Fast and the Furious - I've got to get over my distaste for Vin Diesel. I'd give this movie four-and-a-half stars, except I can't stand his ugly puss. The funny thing is, even though he is the central characters here, the movie isn't about him. Instead, a pretty-boy and pretty-girl get more screen time. But the real pretty thing starring in the movie are the cars. My brother and I coined a term for car movies like this: "tool porn". The camera lovingly hovers over piles of gleaming wrenches, partially disassembled engines, and miles and miles of chrome. Which is good, since the cars can out-act "Vin" "Diesel" any day. I was really impressed with the stunts and actions scenes, though. The CGI is creatively used, almost as if this movie was animation. It was *really* well done, and a good note that instead of getting computers to look real (a la "Spiderman" or "Star Wars"), they are really good at expressing "that which cannot be seen". Oh yeah, they also show stuff blowin' up real purty. **** (out of 5)

Spider-man - This is what a summer movie should be: fast paced, funny, and not taking itself too seriously. For example, one of my favorite parts is when "MJ" tells Peter, "I'm dating your roommate... didn't he tell you"? It's a great piece of writing, since we don't want to see three minutes of "Peter and Harry move in together", nor do we want to see a love scene with MJ and Harry. Instead, the movie rockets into the next scene. Even though Lee and Ditko were both involve, neither of them stuck too closely to the "true origins" of Spider-man, instead adding a carjacking and professional wrestling into the mix. Everything moves quite fast, and my only quibble is that none of the plot is that important. I mean, the people that die are involved in some strange business plot to take over a government contract. It's not like the entire world is at risk (ala "X-Men"). Perhaps the next movie will have more important criminals to fry. Then again, I don't know if I want to see this series deteriorate into a "criminal to the month" format like the Batman series. Instead, it's a cute action romp, though I won't the scanning the CGI on the DVD frame-by-frame looking for *anyhing* of merit. I won't eve watch it at full speed or backwards, either. **** (out of 5)

Minority Report - Ah, I do loves me science fiction. Sci-fi and action goes down easy, because the sci-fi gives me something to care about, while the stuff blowing up wakes me up from any dull space alien plot. True, this movie relies too much on the "man on the run" motif, but it's ok here. The movie is shot in a beautiful dull palette - all grays and blues. Spielberg seems really burned out, after losing the Oscar for serious films, now he's making downer porn like "A.I." like he has been stripped of any respect for the audience. He's not trying to entertain or enlighten... he just connects the dots with a sneer of contempt and disdain. But I mean that in a nice way. At least this isn't the happy Pollyanna Spielberg. I like the cynical dark guy. The only letdown here are the flaws in the plot, and the flaws in Tom Cruise. Goddamn, the man is a cyborg who can't act. Other than that, it's a fun ride, albeit one that I might not want to ride again. **** (out of 5)

A Beautiful Mind - Ok, Ron Howard won an Oscar for this, and critics everywhere were slightly nauseous. It's as if "Patch Adams" won best picture. I was hoping for Christopher Nolan to win for "Memento" myself. It was certainly head and shoulders about this film. "A Beautiful Mind" features two topics I usually love: mathematics and insanity. I don't think even "Donnie Darko" would be more appealing. True, Russell Crowe can act, and there is some fun (though hard to hear) lines and details in the movies. However, this is also a True Story and it has the slow pacing and bad plot that most people's lives have (at least Howard wants us to think it's a true story... he changed several details and excised John Nash's homosexuality). It's nice to see Nash win a Nobel Prize at the end (in a tacky "Mr. Holland's Opus" moment), but I'm not sure it's worth seeing the slow recovery and passing years just to get to that point. Hell, Nash is still alive, so to call his story "over" or "concluded" is a little condescending. I hope nobody ever makes a movie of my life, but if they ever do, I hope they leave in the embarrassing, risqué, and dangerous bits. I'd think my mind was a little less beautiful if they presented it as scrubbed squeaky clean. **** (out of 5)

L.I.E. - Oh, I love it when a director understands that music has changed. We no longer have to put up with sappy John Williams strings or Danny Elfman histrionics. Instead,  new invention called "electronic music" is the way out. This movie feels hip and relevant in a way that "Kids" or "Suburbia" just weren't. It's a little hard to swallow a sympathetic paedophile, and in fact, I still don't understand the point of the character, or indeed of the whole movie. Are we supposed to care if the young lead gets fondled? Are we happy when the creepy older guy gets (spoiler) KILLED (/spoiler)? It feels like a confused teenager walked around, being confused in a confusing world. Strangely enough, that's all it takes to make an interesting littler film (emphasis on little... did the director only shoot on three different sets on a two mile area?) Oh, yeah, it takes more.. a flair for an interesting soundtrack doesn't hurt. **** (out of 5)

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius - This is the worst CGI movie put out so far. Now, that's not as bad a criticism as it might seem... the competition is stellar: Shrek, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and even Final Fantasy. Lately, I've been thinking that a bad CGI film is still a lot better than a mediocre live-action movie. My theory is that every step of a CGI film has to be constructed and realized by an artist. There are no mistakes, nor any chances to let the film roll and "see what happens". Any critic of improv comedy can tell you that the results of floundering around trying to be glib are usually crap. Instead, this movie has a plot, funny characters, and at every stage, carefully thought-out scenes. Ok, the main alien plot is tired, and the character of Jimmy is a one-note joke, but this movie was sure better than a lame sci-fi ripoff. I would have liked to have seen this movie as a standard cartoon in the style of "Spongebob Squarepants". The CGI doesn't really enlarge the movie very much, and it really is a trifle. But it *is* a constructed trifle made by thinking human beings, and that sets it off from the usual infinite number of monkeys. **** (out of 5)

The Hot Chick - Finally, a Rob Schneider movie I really liked! I'm not sure why: everyone else panned it and it's pretty much just a bad gay parody. However, Schneider does a great gay character. My favorite line is, "I'd like two banana daiquiris, one mango, a slow gin fizz, and a screaming sex on the beach with extra sugar on the rim, Yum." Worth the price of admission. **** (out of 5)

Barbershop - The insults first: this movie isn't funny. And some of the characterizations are really trite. However, it's still one of the best ensemble films I've seen in a long time. Forget the protests... there's nothing in this movie that's vaguely seditious. On the other hand, there are tons of issues lying under the dialogue that never get explored intelligently in most movies, much less a comedy. They talk about white people who "want to be black", interracial dating, class differences among blacks, age, dating, drugs. There's a lot here, including the comments about Rosa Parks. There's a lot of mugging by Ice Cube and Eve that could be edited out, but it's like a black "Steel Magnolias". Or something. **** (out of 5)

Kissing Jessica Stein - And now... lesbians! Well, one and a half lesbians, because this story features the common tale of woe where a proudly out lesbian falls for a clit-teasing straight woman. I say "common tale" because it's a story heard often in the gay world, but never on Hollywood screens. So, I was eager to see a big-budget take on the liquidity of human sexual preference (see "Y Mama" above). Well, I was a little disappointed, since this movie features one of the most *annoying* women ever on film, gay or straight. I get tired of neurotic New Yorkers, and Jennifer Westfeldt takes the cake. I was hoping for a mercy killing (mercy for me, as the audience) by the second reel. So, I didn't believe the Westfeldt's later emotional maturation. However, I liked the clichéd cinematic device of putting "three months later" on the screen, and then showing the audience when happened while we were not watching. In this case, there was a tricky dissolution of the happy couple, and a thought-provoking ending. A little too late for me, but nice to see. I'd watch lesbians fall in love again.. and really, who wouldn't?. **** (out of 5)

I Think I Do - This movie gets it right. And it's something that is strangely hard to get right - a movie where a group of friends hang out and talk. "The Big Chill" had it. The great dialogue in "Diner", maybe. But usually adults have a bizarre idea of what teenagers are really like, or the screenwriter can't think of the natural-sounding (read "pointless but still funny') jokes that people tell when they are bored. Ok, I could do without the entire gay plot of this movie. For example, why do all gay people think that straight people will eventually turn gay just because someone has a crush on them. Note: I'm gay myself, and I've sure seen from experience that many straight people will do things if given the chance, but this is not a movie about that... it's a gay fairy tale about getting the athlete you never nailed in your teens. Bonus points for the effortless interracial marriage, and the fact that almost every character is fully fleshed-out. And that's rare in any American movie. **** (out of 5)

The Ring - Well, if this movie is to be believed, I will die in a few days. On Wednesday October 30 at 4:40 to be exact. Which will probably wreck havoc at the closing for my new house which is also scheduled for that time. Maybe next time I should plan my death in advance around my busy schedule. Actually, the movie provides a loophole: if you *copy* the film, you're off the hook. So I made sure I dutifully duplicated the two movie files I downloaded of the net...

 Directory of D:\FILES\THE RING
10/19/2002  05:25 PM         4,218,400 ring_rm_h_300.ram
10/19/2002  05:42 PM        17,491,149
10/19/2002  05:25 PM         4,218,400 Copy of ring_rm_h_300.ram
10/19/2002  05:42 PM        17,491,149 Copy of

See? There's proof. It's a really clever idea for a movie, and the horror genre hasn't had a new idea since "Scream" beat a germ of originality into the ground. Actually, I'd love to see the original Japanese movie, because this film seems a little dull. From the washed-out tones everywhere, to the idiotic Videodrome "is it reality or is it Memorex" plot twists, to the fact that the Ring movie isn't very good. However, it's still unlike any other movie, and it's genuinely scary after you think about it for a while. For example, just showing above that I've made a copy of two computer files makes me sleep better at might somehow, and that's strong praise for this movie. It might be the first solid argument against the RIAA to justify making bootleg copies. **** (out of 5)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - I don't like spiders and snakes. And that ain't what it takes to make a good children's movie. This film's got everything: birds pecking the eyeballs out of monsters, filthy bathroom secret entrances, vomit, child abuse, slavery, and lots and lots of bloody messages written on walls. Take the kids! No seriously, take the kids... they're probably begging you to go anyway. Rowling's nasty plot turns were more effective in print where they are mildly shocking and best left to the imagination, but are absolutely disgusting on screen. Your young'uns will love it! Highly recommended. Hopefully, your kids will like this so much that they will soon be clamoring to see "The Last House on the Left", "The Hills Have Eyes", and possibly "Dead Again" or "Re-Animator". And what better way to start them off on the right foot? Even if it's a bloody *severed* foot. **** (out of 5)

Ice Age - I love the funny talking aminals! Show me the funny talking aminals! This movie has a big furry bear... and a little squirrel... and a bunny... and a scary kitty. Ok, ok, I'm not five years old anymore - it's actually a sabre-toothed tiger and a wooly mammoth and a... oh hell, whatever John Leguizamo is trying to be. A retarded dog? Shoot, I need a five years old to help me decipher all the dinosaur names. It's actually a pretty cute movie, like a kiddie variation of the basic road trip flick, with a few Lessons On Life thrown in (and maybe some lessons on evolution - are you listening out there, home-schooled kids?) I'm being flip, but the big ending scene where Dennis Leary's cheetah reconciled with Roy Ramano's elephant brought a tear to my eye. Sure, the leopards in this movie reminded me too much of Lion King hyena copies (they've got the funny one, and the fat one, and Leary as the cigarette-smoking one). But the movie is different form the usual CGI fare, sue to the bleak subject matter (skate or DIE!!!) and the unrelenting grey-and-white tundra landscapes. At times I felt like this wasn't even computer generated (like the excellent CGI short "Bunny" on the DVD extras disk). Maybe in the future, there will be a movie that really stretched the boundaries of CGI... using fuzzy blurry black and white graphics, or a surreal neopsychedelic palette. Until the day a truly adult CGI movie comes out, these are all standard better-than-average kiddie fast food. **** (out of 5)

Donnie Darko - An iconic scary giant bunny. Now that's cool. "Sexy Beast" also had a scary giant bunny, but this one makes sense. In fact, by the end of the movie, all is explained, which is nice. But it's also bad at the same time. Once the surreal atmosphere of the movie is shown to be merely an after-school special, a lot of the movies strength goes away. But the final ten minutes, the film has no balls. Just a scary giant bunny, which is pretty cool in and of itself, but not enough to sustain an entire movie, or even a sequel. Still, gotta love the subject matter, and I hope they keep making movies about teenagers losing their minds. It's a lot better than watching them lose their virginity. **** (out of 5)

Musketeer - Swishy poke! God, I love fencing. It's too bad that I'm a fat white guy with a side profile like a moving van or I think I could have done better on the college fencing team. Much was made of the incredible Hong-Kong-style fighting sequences in this movie. However, I was expected silly wire tricks and "Crouching Tiger" histrionics. Instead, there's only about two or three really good fencing scenes, and they're all dimly lit and not too removed from Error Flynn's world. There's a lot of talking in this movie, and it doesn't veer too deeply from the Duman novel. There are some great actors here, such as Tim Roth and Stephen Rea. Perhaps they blew the budget too early, since the three musketeers themselves are entirely forgettable, and the two leads look like younger clones of Brad Pitt and Christina Ricci. Still, when the steel comes out and the music starts, this is a fun fun action movie. **** (out of 5)


Men With Brooms - The best movie ever made about the sport of curling! Actually, the *only* movie ever made about the sport of curling. And I'm putting "sport" in "quotation marks" here because it's only a sport because men of the North can't do anything (hunting, bowling) without making a competition out of it. In Minnesota, we used it as an excuse for drinking. And I guess that's the only thing wrong with this movie: there's not enough beer. If we're supposed to take the "Golden Broom" seriously, why use ridiculous actors in odd costumes? Why not show some beautiful throws from above? We know that they used bad CGI in the opening beaver sequence. I guess I wanted more of everything: more curling, more Canadians. I hated the romantic subplot about a Canadian astronaut in the "American Space Agency" (?), but I guess the Canucks thought they had to bad a sports movie every bit as bad as what we did to their national sport in Rob Lowe's "Youngblood". **** (out of 5)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding - I'm amazed at the polar opposites this movie created. I have some friends who have seen this film ten times, and bought it the instant it hit DVD. I have others who shrug it off as the cinematic equivalent of "Who Loves Raymond: The Movie". I'm somewhere in-between, and face it, it would be hard not to fall in the middle of that spectrum. It's a cute movie, and there's some good parts that are funny without being cloying. It's great to see Nia Vardalos become an "instant" success, and I loved seeing Lanie Kazan and Andrea Martin work again (though not Joey Fatone... please stop that boy before he kills again). It's a *little* movie, and could use a lot of editing, a better first half, and more drama. For example, John Corbett's character HAS no character. He's merely a substitute for female fantasies. And while that's not a bad thing, I'm glad he avoided the upcoming sitcom version. Great - a movie inspired by the timing and talent of a network sitcom *becoming* a sitcom. Maybe "According to Jim" and "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" should work at developing a screen adaptation. God help us. **** (out of 5)

13 Conversations About One Thing - Ok, I have to answer, what's the one things they're all conversing about? Well, the movie is a little coy about that. It could be life, or love, or possibly nothing at all. But the loose wrapping for these slightly-related storylines is the element of chance. The characters talk (and talk and talk) about random elements in their lives, and how it affected them. Unfortunately, a huge chunk of the movie deals with Alan Arkin, who is not my favorite actor in the first place, in a particularly distasteful role. IN that regard, this movie reminded me of Todd Solondz's "Happiness"... a great movie with great acting but a relentless unhappy plotline. Good movie, but I don't want to see it again. How many times have you heard that? It's almost as if watching movies that are "good for you" is a chore. Work, work, work. **** (out of 5)

Stuart Little 2 - The Royal Ebert criticized this movie (and "The Country Bears") as being unbelievable. He argued that a real human family wouldn't adopt a mouse and treat him like a kid. He's got a point - there's some odd uneven humor about the fact that the cat Snowbell (voiced really well, that is "unannoyingly" for once, by Nathan Lane) is treated like a mere pet. So, I don't have any answers, except that the original E.B. White story was written in a simpler time (the 1970s... my childhood) where plots didn't really have to make sense, and storylines didn't have to involve deep topics like incest or divorce. Poor Jonathan Lipnicki, overshadowed completely by CGI... his sixth movie and already a second banana. I'm hoping for a film version of my favorite story when I was growing up, "A Cricket in Times Square". If they could do half as nice a job as this one, I'd be happy. I'm not really holding my breath for "Stuart Little 3", but it's better than any of those "Beauty and the Beast Part 4 Beastly Again" or "Little Mermaid 6: Back to the Beach" straight-to-video Disney crap-outs. **** (out of 5)

One Hour Photo - I've said it before about other movies: ok, ok, we get the point. Robin William can act. He's proved his point, and he should have been nominated for an Oscar here. But this is not a movie that I really wanted to see. Williams should play to his strength (like Jim Carrey), and make comedies. Or at least a movie with a most interesting plot than this. Like "Falling Down". or maybe "Liberty Heights", this movie is a simple case of an obsessed man going over the edge. The plot doesn't deviate, and the minor surpirse at the end is no surprise. It's a pretty movie, filmed in that same crisp 80's focus that "The Thin Blue Line" had. However, I would have preferred some grit. William's apartment is no clean, and he seems to enjoy his job more than I do, so I couldn't imagine what all his drama was about. **** (out of 5)

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams - Not as good as the first one. I love saying that. You can just take for granted that any sequel won't be as good as the original. There are too many things going against it: as assumed familiarity with the plot of the previous movie, stale characters, financial considerations, all the time having to "go through the motions" as if the audience hadn't seen the shtick before. This movie has the same drawbacks - the kids are grown up but still not interesting, and all the jokes have been done before. But nobody films kiddie flicks with suck glee as Robert Rodriguez. It's like he asked his kids, what would be cool? Flying shoes? Miniature monsters? Your own personal underwater spaceship? Give the kids what they want and let them have a little fun. **** (out of 5)

Comic Book Villains - So much better than the other recent comic-book-themed movie I watched recently "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys". Even better than a Kevin Smith movie. They really got a lot of details dead-on: fanboys, collecting, and even the main characters who kind of "fell out" of comic book collecting. The only drawback was that the end got a little too gory, as if The director wanted to get too serious and go all Tarantino. Or Maybe it was the actors (Donal Logue. Cary Elwes, Michael Rapaport, Natasha Lyonne, DJ Qualls, and Eileen Brennan, excellent all) who wanted to get more intense. In any case, I stopped laughing when the blood started flowing, where that should have *really* been the funny part. Comic book geeks in pain! What is more hilarious? **** (out of 5)

Two Weeks Notice - A very odd movie. Odd because it doesn't follow any of the traditional romantic movie themes. In fact, it doesn't even follow it's own internal logic or premise. If the movie is supposed to be about Sandra Bullock resigning from a job as a lawyer for Hugh Grant. But believe me, the movie has nothing to do with that topic. In fact, it's about nothing, like a wide-screen version of a bad Seinfeld episode. If there was ever a definition of "overwritten", this is it. Odd plot points and mannerisms are thrown in as if twenty slightly-clever Harvard Lampoon graduates all tried to contribute a bit. Personally, I loved "Moonlighting" for the dialogue, and I'd love to see this movie again just for Grant's brilliant asides, but for everyone else attempting to enjoy a "couple's flick", stay far far away. **** (out of 5)

8 Mile - Oh *man* this movie is going to be hilarious in ten years. The same way that the "Jets" and the "Sharks" look like a gay dance troupe or the way that Krush Groove looks like an updated minstrel show. There's a lot of subtext here, and I think thousands of papers could be written about what this movie means for race relations at the new turn of the century. Until then, even though I have to admit that Eminem is a great musician, an adequate actor, and a discerning eye for fictional material that resembles a mythic Detroit background (note, Marshall didn't write any of the script, Scott Silver of "Mod Squad" fame did), and this movie is incredibly cliché and unintentionally funny. Go rabbit! Go rabbit! Go rabbit! **** (out of 5)

Adaptation - I'm a little tired of the idea that Stuart Kaufman is a real screenwriter. It's Spike Jonez, ok? Plus a few of his friends (no, not the Jackass ones... I'm not sure that those guys know how to write). This movie keeping with the Jonezes style, which is wearing a little thin. While it's fun to watch a movie where *anything* can happen (and usually does, so maybe the unexpected is what you eventually expect), it's not really true to itself. For example, while I believes and liked the world of "Holes" above, I don't really want to revisit the world of this movie. It's like a Pynchon novel, a parody of reality, and not something to take seriously. So, if you don't care that this is all fluff, it's a fun movie, radically different, and I can't wait to see the next one. As a movement or something to be copied or admired, it's not really very good. **** (out of 5)

Femme Fatale - Brian De Palma can still make stylish thrillers. That's a good thing, I was afraid he couldn't do it anymore after "Mission to Mars". Heck, after other director's recent attempts (Jade, Body of Evidence, Color of Night) I was afraid that *nobody* could make movies like this anymore. Almost every shot in this film is beautiful. De Palma can make a woman running across the screen in slow motion look gorgeous. Only later do we realize that she was shot from the neck down so we don't recognize her as an actress we saw earlier in the film. The movie is full of fun moments like that, like reading an Agatha Christie murder mystery and trying to guess the ending. However, the twist near the end is incredibly bad, and made me realize that most murder mysteries aren't very deep. It's an exercise in style and some fun with plot, but it's just a cheap intellectual game. Still... fun game. **** (out of 5)

Food of Love - What a surprise, and an absolute sleeper of a movie. Again, if you're not gay, you probably won't care. This one's for homosexuals who like classical music. Much like the TV show "Frazier", I guess. However, if you fit into either of those two categories, you might like this film. I didn't really *laugh* nor was too concerned about the way things would turn out, but it kept my interest and was a sweet way to spend an evening with my boyfriend. You know, that is, until we moved on to *other* sweet things after the DVD was over. **** (out of 5)

Whale Rider - I didn't give this movie the attention it deserves, much like I didn't pay attention to "Bend It Like Beckham". I guess I just haven't been in the mood for uplifting feminist drama lately. Which is a shame, since those are two of the best pre-teen-acceptable movies that have come out lately. Not to mention two of the best movies of the year. I liked the neo-traditional Pacific Islander setting, and I loved the way they integrated mystical themes into the story while staying realistic. More movies like this one, please. **** (out of 5)

The Brotherhood of the Wolf - And incredibly beautiful action movie. Unfortunately, the French forgot that the first word of that description is "action". Does any "hack and slash" movie need to be longer than an hour and a half? Or (heaven forefend) *two* hours? It's not like you get many more swordfighting sequences for your investment of time, either. Instead, there's a long long middle third where people don't really fall in love and the audience never quite understands what in the world is going on. However, the Froggies have to get some credit for a) making a werewolf/Beowulf movie without mentioning werewolves or Beowulf and b) somehow making swordfighting and even stop-motion editing and solarization filters look original and fresh. **** (out of 5)

Freaky Friday (2003) - How rare that a remake is better that the original. I saw the 1976 original (in the theater! at age 7!) and thought that besides Jodie Foster, the whole thing was pretty Disney-dumb. This one features Jamie Lee Curtis, and that woman amazes me every time I see her. There should be more movies with her, and less with Ashton Kutcher. I'd consider going straight for her - at least for one night. She is one hot mama, and a fantastic actress. The way she goes in and out of character here should win her an Oscar. Ok, the plot is pretty dumb, and it takes way too long to set it up, as expected, but it won me over by concentrating on the emotions behind the characters rather than caring about "will the mother and daughter ever switch back"? This is no "All of Me", and for a simple little summer flick, teenagers AND adults could do a heck of a lot worse. Like "Jeepers Creepers 2". **** (out of 5)

Daredevil - I'm not a superhero fan, so maybe it's not fair that I'm criticizing this movie. However, I thought it was better than any of the Batman movies, or Spiderman, or anything else I've ever seen in tights. Until someone films the "Watchmen" novels or Neil Gaiman makes a movie, this is the best there is: great action sequences, and a driving plot. I think the whole premise is stupid - a blind lawyer superhero - but the way things play out is worth watching. And Ben Affleck is a surprisingly interesting (if really wooden) action star. I'm not going to be a fanboy pausing scenes with Jennifer Garner on my DVD, but I would watch this one again at a party. In other words, pretty good. **** (out of 5)

Frida - I like Julie Taymor, but I wish there was more Taymor here. There are some beautiful, lyrical and fanciful parts of this movie that really gave me the sense not only of Frida Kahlo's work, but also of her spirit. And then the movie would plot along with a half hour of tedious bio-mentary sub-cable dialogue. Do we *really* care about how her husband Diego Rivera felt about communism? Do we really need to paint another tragic artist drowning in alcohol and sad romances? Well you get plenty of both here. I would have love the movie to have gone off the deep end and not to stick so close to the life story of a rather dull individual. However, it made me appreciate Kahlo's painting more, which is more than I could say for "Pollock". I'll wait for Taymore's next one, but skip the next Salma Hayek indulgence. **** (out of 5)

Iris - Dame Judy Dench goes insane. Doesn't that have Academy Award written all over it? Well, not that year - Judy got beaten out by Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball". Her co-star Jim Broadbent won, however, and it's easy to see why. This is actor's nirvana, and both actors milk their roles well. Too bad there's not enough plot. For example, Iris is supposedly a famous author. Why then have no reaction from newspapers or TV about her illness? If you're going to make a point that she had an extraordinary intellect before her Alzheimer's, why make the rest of the film a staid medi-drama? Good acting, though. **** (out of 5)

Devil's Playground - I panned "Hell House" above as a non-cynical documentary of a strange religion. But for some reason, it really works here. And I do mean *strange*. Until the expose of LDS Mormon church comes out, the Amish are the trippiest freaks on celluloid. The movie was never condescending - it explained their disdain for modern electronic toys fully (thought maybe not clearly - I still think those guys are whacko). But the most kindness was shown to the subjects: meth dealing, hard-drinking, sex-loving buggy riders. It would be funny if it wasn't so true. So, Amish kids get to run around when they turn 16. That's putting it mildly. I liked the nice drama behind the lead character falling in love, getting a hit put on him for narcing on his fellow meth dealers, and starting life anew in Florida after dropping out of the church. Too bad the movie also follows a dreary girl who has left the church to start junior college, or useless interviews with church leaders. There's a lot more here to explore, but besides this film and the Harrison Ford movie "Witness", Amish life hasn't been explored enough. Too bad they'll never see this one in the movie theater to find out how fucked they look. **** (out of 5)