Equilibrium - "Wow, I thought this was going to suck". I find myself saying that a lot lately. And usually, I'm proven right. Instead, I had to go out and buy the DVD of this one the day after I watched it. It's that good. Ok, it's good GOOD good, like the first matrix movie or the original Star Wars. But it has a fun plot with an original look and feel. The story is familiar... "in a world were even emotion is outlawed, love can still bloom". I know "Fahrenheit 451" is coming out in 2005 and might be better, this movie takes the same Orwellian plot a step further. I wish they would have had a modern politically-relevant angle, but you can draw the Office of Homeland Security connections yourself if you want to. ****½ (out of 5)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - I wonder if Ang Lee's "The Hulk" would have been better is it hadn't been so overly-hyped. Then again, probably not. That movie really stunk. But then again, I didn't know anything about this movie, so everything was a pleasant surprise. Sure, it's an outlandish plot with hokey characters. I got tired of the endless "surprises"... ("oh, it's supposed to be Tom Sawyer!") that weren't a valid replacement for humor or adequate characterization. But Captain Nemo's ship was gorgeous, Sean Connery is always fun to watch in those kind of roles, and a lot of things blow up. I'm not sure I want to see the "League" resurrected for a sequel, but it's nice to see comic book writer Alan Moore's vision finally on the screen besides "From Hell". ****½ (out of 5)

Rounders - Something inside of me really wants to hate Matt Damon. Maybe it's just that I hated "Good Will Hunting" so much. However, I can't do it. He makes good movies, and his acting is impeccable... the right mix of charm and subtlety (and Ed Norton is great here, too). This movie didn't really have a climax, and it seems like it wants to be Mamet's "House of Games", in which case it fails horribly. But as a cute little movie, it's part caper flick, part buddy movie, part love story, and part action film. In which case, Matt Damon may be too smart for his own good, but he's still a better moviemaker than most of the rest of what's out there. ****½ (out of 5)

Living Out Loud - Holly Hunter is amazing in this movie. Unfortunately, she has to play off of Danny DeVito as the other romantic lead. Hollywood doesn't seem to have enough movies written with a strong female character, and this one didn't get any publicity. Holly deserved better. This movie also had the best dance sequence set in a lesbian bar that I've ever seen. ****½ (out of 5)

Babe: Pig In the City - As many have said, this movie is dark. However, I don't have kids, so I didn't worry need to about whether it was "appropriate" or not. Instead, I enjoyed it as an adult film buff. The movie is visually beautiful, filled with wonderful camera tricks. And, of course, lots and lots and lots of talking animals (kudos to Stephen Wright as a bitter chimpanzee). The atmosphere is disturbing, but there are great quirky characters and a fast-moving plot. As a sequel, the movie fails, but on its own it is a great children's movie for adults. Plus, don't kids like scary fairy tales more than sappy ones? ****½ (out of 5)

More Tales of the City - My boyfriend and I tried to watch this entire miniseries in one night. We didn't mean to. I stuck in the first tape (of three) at 9:00. I thought it would kill the time until the news was on. Well, four hours later, the news had ended, Leno and Conan were over, and we were still engrossed in the story. It's a little corny, and the actors weren't as good as the first, but this is a true gem, a movie that I will be thinking about (and quoting from) for years to come. Thanks to Showtime for having the guts to produce what couldn't be shown on network tv... real gay people leading funny, ordinary, and touching lives. ****½ (out of 5)

The Blair Witch Project - This movie is a complete cardiovascular workout. Of course, it has faults... not much really happens, there's little real dialogue, and the movie devolves into a lot of screaming in the dark. However, that's one reason I like it so much: it's entirely unlike any other movie currently being made. It's scary and emotional at the same time. I hope the major movie studios get the lesson from this movie that creativity and an interesting premise beats mere special effects any time. However, they'll probably just release a bunch of low-fi direct-to-video slasher films instead. ****½ (out of 5)

American History X - Ed Norton should've gotten an Oscar for his sympathetic performance as skinhead. Ok, maybe "sympathetic" isn't the correct word, but this movie brings up some issues about race that I've never seen before. I expected a one-note "Blood In the Face" docudrama, but instead I saw an interesting character portrait with a plot that set me on edge. I wanted things to turn out in the end, but I knew that racism never really has a satisfactory solution. ****½ (out of 5)

eXistenZ - David Cronenberg has a thing for orifices. Unfortunately, in my opinion, his fetish gets in the way of telling a story. Right when I like the story and "buy in" to what is going on, he pulls me out with another bizarre gelatinous prop. But I'll have to say one thing: this movie sure is *different*. It uses the same mythic themes of spies and counterspies, but everything moves so fast, I get a feeling that Cronenberg doesn't care if we can follow the plot or not. Still, it beats a weepy melodrama. ****½ (out of 5)

God Said Ha - Performance art died in the eighties, but here is Julia Sweeney with a funny, touching one-woman show about her family and cancer. She is better here than she was on Saturday Night Live, and I laughed more at this movie than any other in recent memory. And real laughs, too, not those little "Jim Carrey shure iz funny" chuckles. The only flaw is the odd wandering camera and the fact the show was filmed in an empty theater. I would have preferred more static shots as long as a real audience was there, laughing like I was. Quentin Tarantino should know better. But then, again, maybe he's a poseur that doesn't really know how to make a movie. ****½ (out of 5)

Sleepy Hollow - This is a beautiful movie. Traditional "gothic" horror stories usually aren't very deep (Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll/ Hyde), and this movie has the same problem. It tries to replace the lack of characterization by drenching everything in a gloomy atmosphere. But what atmosphere! Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci look great, and I didn't seem to mind that the plot didn't make a lot of sense (something about a will and a lot of witches). It's gory, and a little boy in front of me said, "Mommy, I don't like this movie... I want to go home". Well, it *is* an R-rated movie. Good thing he didn't have to suffer the fate of the other little boys in the movie. "Heads will roll" indeed... ****½ (out of 5)

The Hunley - It's a good thing Ted Turner is a freak about the civil war. His TNT networks produces "historical dramas" on a regular basis, and some of them are quite good (for example, I met Ted when he was filming "Gettysburg" in 1992). At first, it seems alike a lose/lose situation... historians might claim the script doesn't stick to the facts, while moviegoers might dislike the slow pace and quest for historical accuracy. However, this movie succeeds on all counts. It's like a civil war version of "Das Boot". The acting is good (for once), and there are only a few "clunkers" of dialogue. A recommended sleeper. ****½ (out of 5)

Russian Ark - An incredible film, and one that is unlikely to ever happen again. A one-take shot walking through the Hermitage museum in St. Petersberg drifts through history, following several strange characters and unexplained scenes. While I'm dazzled by the setting and impressed by the technical virtuosity, I wonder why the director didn't cut some corners. Even Hitchcock knew enough to create seamless edits with a single camera. However, it's nice to know that even though CGI could have made the job easier, little is more exciting than a live shot of elaborately costumed extras. ****½ (out of 5)

An Ideal Husband - I'm a sucker for Oscar Wilde... probably because he was a gay guy that had more wisecracks than wisdom. And I probably liked this movie due solely because of Oscar's dialogue. After all, Julianne Moore is no Miranda Richardson, and she isn't quite evil enough (plus, she leaves the movie long before the climax... what's up with that?) As much as I want to like Rupert Everett, he has the least personality of any gay man I've ever met. So all we're left with is the contrived plot and false pretensions of the play.... which is pretty damn enough. ****½ (out of 5)

Illuminata - John Turturro really loves the theater. However, in this movie, he's almost a poster child for the idea that actors shouldn't be directors. I've always loved plays about the theater: "Noises Off" is one of my favorites. This movie tries to captures some of that chaotic wackiness, but gets bogged down in pretentious speeches and too many cameos. Christopher Walken is completely over-the-top as a gay theater critic who has a crush on Bill Irwin. I have a love and hate relationship with Irwin's overacting... I admire his clowning skills, but I feel he would be as annoying in person as he is in this movie. Though it's nice to see Susan Sarandon, Beverly D'Angelo, and Rufus Sewell with juicy parts here, there's just too many people and things going on. There's just too much sound and fury, signifying nothing, and I had a hard time following the plot. However, parts of this are spectacular and original. ****½ (out of 5)

Besieged - I didn't expect much out of this movie, and I was really, really wrong. Sure, the pace is as slow as most foreign films, but it's also shot by the master Bernardo Bertolucci. He uses quick edits (while the camera doesn't move), sped-up film, drifting, lazy panning shots, and great use of sound and music. The score of modern piano music and African melodies is exceptional. And the acting is great, too, by David Thewlis, and Thandie Newton. I hated Newton in "Beloved", but she works well here. And the plot incorporates African politics without seeming heavy-handed. In fact, the love story never seems multi-racial as much as contemporary and riveting. There's a gay character, segments with subtitles, and humor, but it's all woven together so well, you never notice the movie is going nowhere unpredictable. This is one of the best of the year. ****½ (out of 5)

Mighty Aphrodite - Deep down, I really hate Woody Allen. I hate his personal life, I hate his intellectual fondness for early jazz (which I also dislike in Robert Crumb), and I hate his smarmy, neurotic New York pseudo-jewishness. But at the same time, I can't look away. The movie has everything, a great plot that moves along, good acting by everyone involved, and a lot of funny moments. There's a greek chorus that has most of the best lines. But in general, Allen's modern reworking of greek myth is revolutionary. Isn't probably the most intelligent thing I've seen at the movies in four years. I hope Woody continues to make movies, though I really really really really really don't want to hear more about his "relationships", (if you know what I mean). ****½ (out of 5)

Last Night - I think this movie would have resonated with me a lot more if I had seen it last year when it came out. 1999 will be remembered by me for the "Pre-Millenium Tension" that was going around. Sure, the economy was strong, and there were no serious wars in the news, but everybody seemed to be on edge. Or maybe it was just me. Now, it 2000, we are used to 10% dips in the Dow. With an upcoming election, I think we're regaining our sense of humor. This movie is a strange conceit... it never explains why the world will end at midnight, nor does it explain much of anything. It just starts up the plot engine, and lets the characters interact. And what great interaction. Sure, everything looks cheesy and low-budget (What is with the sets and costumes? Was this filmed in 1982?) But I wish there were more independent films with this creativity that aren't just Tarentino shoot-em-up clones. I think gay cinema ruled the nineties, just because it was more concerned about character development than explosions. And I think that's what great (as opposed to merely good) film is about. ****½ (out of 5)

The Insider - I wanted to hate this movie, since it was directed by Michael Mann (he of "Miami Vice" infamy). I once sat through his first "feature" called "Band of the Hand", and it was the most revolting piece of dreck I've ever seen on film. He hasn't really advanced since his 80's glory days... this movie is filled with annoying camera angles, the washed-out trendy colorized film stock that everybody's using now, and weird backdrops. I think the pinnacle is when Al Pacino is talking to Russell Crowe. Al is standing on a very, very blue stormy beach in the pacific, and Russell is on a cell phone in a hotel room that happens to have a bizarre mural painted on the wall. Later, the mural morphs into visions of his daughter. Give me a break. By I was won over by the topicality of this movie. It's an important movie, as dramatic about journalism as "All the King's Men" or "Broadcast News". Pacino is great. I was thinking that I'd love to memorize the long speech he does in the middle of the film. It's just fantastic. It's the best movie based on a current event that I've seen in a long time. Never venturing into movie-of-the-week territory, and with enough pacing that it didn't seem like somebody's dull memoirs. ****½ (out of 5)

Velvet Goldmine - I'm not too sure about Todd Haynes, and I think he's not too sure about me. Like "Poison", this film has some stunningly beautiful moments, like when a small boy gets punched in the mouth and then uses the blood to paint his lips red. Best of all, you never see the original fight or know the background... everything is hinted and sublime. I wish more of this movie was like that. It has some great quips and lines, and I love the conceit of writing a movie about David Bowie and Iggy Pop without it being *really* about them. It's more of a fantasia about 70's glam rock, and I fear this movie will be only tribute that period will ever get. As such, it's a great movie, unrepentantly gay and very sensual. I just wish it meant more. ****½ (out of 5)

Mumford - Oh my god, they made a movie of Northern Exposure. Except by "they", I mean Lawrence Kasdan, who has made quite a number of great mature films (The Big Chill and Silverado to name two of my favorites), and a few mediocre ones (Wyatt Earp and The Bodyguard fit the bill there). And instead of a neurotic Jewish doctor like that TV show, this movie has a psychologist who moves into a small town filled with rather odd characters. And as he listens, they tell their stories. I love this conceit, and the movie plays well even though it is utterly predictable. I think I liked it so much because I knew nothing about the plot before I rented it, and because I have a crush on Jason Lee (especially after "Chasing Amy") who is great in this movie as a geeky skateboarding computer nerd. ****½ (out of 5)

Thesis - I hope that I like "art house" films, not because it's hip or trendy, but because foreign movies give a different perspective. For example, Hollywood thought about the urban legend of snuff films and came up with the execrable "9mm". This Spanish import used the same idea to create a tense, gripping thriller. Since the plot didn't follow the overused Hollywood clichés, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to like "Bosco", the odd horror-movie-fan-love-interest, or whether to be wary of him. This movie kept me guessing until the end... though in retrospect the finale was pretty tame and predictable. I guess like the first "Scream" movie or "The Blair Witch Project" (two other horror films that aren't as good on a second viewing), I was entertained by the fact that I was watching something different. ****½ (out of 5)

The Big Kahuna - I love movies based on plays: "Deathtrap" or " Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" for example. I guess I don't mind the static sets and lack of scenery. Because I guess when the action takes place in one room, with only a handful of characters, you've *got* to have a good plot and solid acting. Something has to roll the movie along. I like it a lot better than flashy movies that fill the void with endless car chases and fight scenes. So I treasured this movie for the chance is gave Kevin Spacey to go nuts. He might be the best actor working today. And Danny DeVito, who I hated in a terrible comic role in "Taxi", has proven once again that if he wasn't short, he'd be a better-known actor than Brando or DeNiro. Peter Facinelli is great as a cross between Tom Cruise and Ethan Hawke. It's a rare movie that can talk about religion without sounding stupid (the "Omega Code" anyone?) This movie had everything, and did just enough. ****½ (out of 5)

Princess Mononoke - This one has talking animals, but it ain't Disney. Instead of stupid songs, commercial toy tie-ins, and in idiotic plot, this animated film treats children as thinking beings. The storyline *does* take some thought, and even after a second viewing, I'm still kind of confused on the whole "spirit of the forest" thing. But it's good to stretch a little. The art is first-class... the backgrounds alone make Disney flicks look like mere scribbles. Maybe something gets lost in the translation, but I would be proud if America could come up with something half this good. ****½ (out of 5)

The Broken Hearts Club - One of the best of the year? Maybe, maybe not (remember that stinker of a gay-targeted movie?) Well, it's an important movie to me, just because it's the next step in the evolution of gay movies. We've had step one: gay criminals, thrillers, and tragedies. Then, the weepy melodrama where the main character dies of AIDS. Then, a confusing stage where homosexuals were either PC, or ignored ("... he just *happens* to be gay"). Well, this is a gay movie, no doubt about it, but I like to think that it has the strong plot and characters of some of my favorite African-American dramas like "Love Jones" or "Soul Food". Those movies don't forget their actors are black, and yet the movies aren't entirely about it either. This movie had some great lines and laughs in it. Even if if occasionally gets bogged down in "Boys in the Band" histrionics, I really wanted to see what happened "five months later". Ok, so it's a sheltered gay community (West Hollywood... you can't get more gay than that), and none of the actors is particularly likeable. However, if this is the first step on the way to good American gay movies, I'm all for it. ****½ (out of 5)

Dancer In The Dark - Lars von Trier makes beautiful, important, lyrical movies that I never want to see again. Like "Breaking the Waves", which I also liked/hated, this movie has tragedy, industrial accidents, and fuzzy cinematography. Now that he's used Emily Watson and Bjork and a whole army of pseudo-retarded actors (for last summer's "The Idiots"), I think he should get actual mentally handicapped people for his next movie, like David Lynch did. I'm not a fan of the Dogma 95 manifesto... and evidently neither is von Trier. Judging from the excellent "The Kingdom", he really wants to direct an episode of "ER". And from this movie, he'd rather be making shiny insipid Hollywood musicals. But wonderful songs this movie has. Bjork churns out another CD of amazing, shocking musical numbers that make me think that it's the first interesting music of the millennium. ****½ (out of 5)

Best In Show - Christopher Guest walks a thin line. This movie could have been really dark and cynical. I liked this one better than "Waiting For Guffman", but not nearly as much as the amazing "This Is Spinal Tap". It could be construed that he makes fun of dog owners, small-town acting troupes, and English rock bands, but somehow it works. I can't believe that all this stuff is improvised without a script, but I guess if you have great comedians, you get great results. Personally, I get tired of Fred Willard easily, and I never liked Eugene Levy. The sight gags with teeth (Levy's and the yuppie couple, half of which is played by the underrated Parker Posey) are really distracting, and the jokes in the middle third get a little slow. However, for the first twenty minutes, I laughed a lot, and I cared about who won at the end. After the movie was over, my sides ached from laughing so much (even if a lot of the laugher was "oh my god"...) and that's the highest praise I can give for a comedy film. ****½ (out of 5)

Quills - I had given up on Geoffrey Rush. After his good-to-middling job in "Shine", there was "Les Miserables", "House on Haunted Hill", and "Mystery Men". However, he was *made* to play the role of the Marquis de Sade. Ok, I still don't think he's Oscar-worthy (check out the odd crying scene after he finds out his lover is a virgin), but next to Jeremy Irons or John Malkovich, I don't know anyone who "prowls" the screen as well. As for the movie, I've always liked stage adaptations, though this film seems a little static. All the scenes take place in the insane asylum or a rich estate, but the contrast in the two sets isn't enough. Joaquim Phoenix is is usual harelip self, but Kate Winslet is really good here, baring her breasts in an homage to "Titanic". The is another movie about erotic subjects that is not in the least bit erotic itself, but Rush has some good one liners, and the plot has some great scenes and parallels. It's one film I can talk about and think about long after I've seen it, and that quality has been really really rare this year. ****½ (out of 5)

Saving Grace - I accidentally saw the movie preview for this one, so I knew that it was about an upper-class British divorcee who turns to growing marijuana to pay off her husband's bills. However, I was more influenced by my friends who said that this was the most hilarious movie they had seen in a lot time. Well, I found it funny, but not *that* funny. Note that this isn't really a criticism. I have a soft spot in my heart for sweet British comedies like "Butterflies" and "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" on tv, and "Educating Rita" and the excellent movie "Personal Services". So, instead of a laugh-a-minute Farelly brothers schlock-fest, I watched a wonderful bittersweet comedy, filled with solid pacing, interesting characters, and a gentle plot. And in today's world, that makes this a very good movie. ****½ (out of 5)

The Contender - I was really pleasantly surprised by this movie. So what if it's a liberal fantasy? In the movie, Joan Allen admits to being pro-choice, against the death penalty, and an atheist, but she still runs for vice-president. I could believe all the other stuff, but an atheist? A female vie president, sure, but the day we have an atheist in the white house is the day we have a separation of church and state... oops. Anyway, Allen is great here. I'm not sure she should have gotten an Oscar for her performance, but it was nice she was nominated. However, Gary Oldman is great here, and should be considered a national treasure, of whatever country he is from. And what other roles for women are there in Hollywood? Allen could have played Tom Cruise's wife? Maybe the day a we have gender equality in government is the day we'll have it in the movie theater. ****½ (out of 5)

Almost Famous - So, Cameron Crowe wrote and directed "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", "Jerry Maguire", and "Say Anything". Does that mean he deserves to have his life story on the big screen? In this case, yes. Though the facts are fudged a little bit the guy knew Lester Bangs personally, and interviewed tons of bands for Rolling Stone. This qualifies him as a 70's expert. And after such miserable set pieces as "54", that decade needs *something* to make it memorable. I guess rock n' roll (with the abbreviated "n") is the only good thing to come out of the 1970s. Though I have a soft spot in my heart (and my head) for disco, it doesn't make for a good movie, and I'm talking about "Saturday Night Fever" here. Instead, Crowe takes us on a real-life fantasy, kind of like an toned-down version of "Velvet Goldmine". I usually don't like films "based on a true incident", because the plot usually drags. Life's like that. This movie is no exception, since there are odd coincidences and slow stretches that wouldn't happen in real life. Ok, maybe they did, but it still gives Crowe no excuse to show all the dull details of his life on the road with a pseudonymous rock band that only *looks* like the Allman Brothers. Except that it's interesting... ok, I'll grant him that. ****½ (out of 5)

The Eyes of Tammy Faye - Now *this* is how you do a hagiography. Unlike the Michael Jordan movie, this film dishes all the dirt... AND it has a sense of visual flair. I don't know whether they're trying to be serious or not, given the sepia-toned melodramic scenes (complete with overmiced sound effects and slow-motion video), or the Greek chorus of hand puppets. Actually, I think the latter is a send up of "Babe", and I wonder if Tammy Faye knows she's being compared to a pig. Then again, she would never figure it out, and that's the great part: she is a narcissistic clueless bitch. I think I am supposed to like Tammy Faye because "gays like her" for some reason, and I liked this film a lot. However, I still hate the clown-faced hag, with her fake eyelashes, fake singing voice, and a fake soul. I'm glad that all that tragedy befell her poisonous religious pyramid scheme that stole money from the poor and elderly. Still, it's a lot of fun watching her go down during the messy scandal, as well as viewing the SchadenEnemia of her insane behavior today. Bravo! More! More! ****½ (out of 5)

Traffic - It has destroyed thousands of lives across our country. No, not the drugs themselves... the "War On Drugs". It takes the superior acting of Michael Douglas to hammer the point home, "The enemy is sometimes in our own family. I don't know how you can fight a war against your own family". Minorities, on the other hand, are fun to fight war against. That's why I really appreciated the multiple layers of perspective in this movie, although having the USA's top drug czar cruising the streets to give us a front-line perspective was a little silly. It takes the wonderful directing by Stephen Soderberg to handle a topic this big, and a cast this large and talented. Catherine Zeta-Jones is the only false not here... she has a huge part but an uneven accent, cow-like acting style, and unbelievable character development. I never understood why people were talking about Benicio Del Toro until this movie. He's a one man Serpico, and deserves to have a feature film someday soon (the way Antonio Banderas *didn't* deserve "Desperado"). I have a few minor problems with some of the lot points: yeah, somebody takes drugs and almost dies, but at least we don't have to see the teenage "mule" or the bad cop on drugs scenes. Those can wait for other movies to come. This topic definitely has a lot more scripts to be made out of it. ****½ (out of 5)

Songcatcher - I've always wanted to write "niche" videogames. I mean, there must be a way to write a game that would be target at people who knit, for example. Or people who breed bulldogs. There are niche movies for sewers ("An American Quilt"), chefs ("Chocolat" or "Babbette's Feast" or "Big Night" to name a few) or even skydiving bank robbers, if that's your thing. So, I'm happy to announce a movie for folk movie geeks, and I am one. I don't think this is a true story by any means, but Celtinerds can identify with the Alan Lomax feel of the protagonist. Sure, it has flaws: Janet McTeer does an annoying thing by opening her eyes too wide, as if she's playing to a large theater. However, Aiden Quinn with a beard really turns me on as part of the bear-loving-movie-critic-clique, and that's a real special subgenre interest group right there (how does he keep that beard so trim in the mountains? And does it really matter?) ****½ (out of 5)

You Can Count On Me - Here's an odd idea for a movie: it's all about family and responsibility. There's been movies about drifters or alcoholics, but this movie is an almost "Rashomon"-like view of an untraditional family. The real find here is Rory Culkin, who seems like more than a child actor somehow. Laura Linney looks a lot like Helen Hunt (and that's a good thing) and Matthew Broderick has a fun "Election" type role. You know you're in the hands of a good director when scenes that don't need to be long aren't. There's an opening scene where a policeman appears at Linney's door to give some bad news - the camera picks up on him stammerring for a second, and then *cuts away*. We don't need to see the rest of the speech because we saw the car crash before the opening credits. Masterful. It's a little too wordy, and not much happens and everything's predictable, but the film is so open and truthful that I don't mind some good character exploration. I wish more people would have explored this film. ****½ (out of 5)

Requiem For A Dream - This movie came out near the same time "Traffic" did, and I have to declare this film the winner by a small margin. "Traffic" actually had more to say about the Drug War, but this movie is a piece of art. I loved Darren Aronofsky's "Pi", but in retrospect that movie had a great subject that I liked (how many movies are about *math*) and lot of style (in black-and-white fer chrissakes). However "Pi" didn't have much of a plot, or at least it was a dreamy slow one. "Requiem" has the exact same flaws: the look and feel is great, but the movie is just another junkie flick about the slow deterioration of lives due to drugs. Hell, even Sandra Bullock can pull that off. Instead, Ellen Burstyn is absolutely incredible as a mother hooked on diet pills... not only should she have gotten an Oscar, she should have been canonized. She gives seven or eight distinct performances here, sometimes all within a single scene. Absolutely marvelous. Plus, I loved the score by Clint Mansell and sound and film direction. Some scenes of this movie should be framed and hung on a museum wall if they just we're so hard to watch. ****½ (out of 5)

Anatomy - German horror movie, anyone? No, not German Expressionism or any other tedious foreign film. This is a rock-and-roll horror movie, straight out of the recent teen thriller genre. However, it kicks ass over the "Scream" films. The closest thing I can think it's like is the recent Mexican thriller "Thesis". Both of those films had an intellectual slant and lots of dead co-eds. However, this movie gets a big thumbs-up from the setting and those gorgeous metal autopsy rooms. It's almost enough to make someone turn into a necrophile... I wouldn't mind a bedroom with that great blue lighting and shiny surfaces. Or maybe a kitchen (the guitarist Dave Navarro has one like that). In retrospect, there's nothing truly scary in any part of the movie. It's just a pretty roller coaster ride. I you liked "Flatliners", you might try this one. ****½ (out of 5)

Snatch - I liked this movie - not as much as Guy Ritchie's previous "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" (note that this one gets a half-star less) but I still enjoyed it. So take it with a grain of salt if I say I'm worried about the director's future. Tarantino was also a promising director, but with this second attempt, both he and Ritchie hint that they can only direct hip action movies. And what kind of a straightjacket is that? Tarantino failed with "Destiny Turns on the Radio" as an attempt to be a little sweet. Things also don't bode well for Ritchie ever turning out a meaningful, Oscar-worthy love story, or a movie with any kind of historical scale. But if you want to watch things get blown up, people get shot, and Brad Pitt with a fun accent, this movie might make a good rental. But I'm warning you... next time things will be exactly the same. ****½ (out of 5)

Spy Kids - Oh, Robert Rodriguez is slumming here. It's quite a distance from his previous bloody thrillers to a kid's movie. By he wrote and directed it, so you can see a lot of love here. Also, since this movie wasn't constructed by a Disney Committee, there's some really odd fun touches: lines of improbable dialogue and really odd characters. The plot is more confused (and linear at the same time... go figure) than Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but you can't help but love it. All the actors here are just along for the ride, although I loved newcomer Daryl Sabara, with his strange misshapen head. Alan Cumming is oddly restrained... I would have like to see Paul Reubens in his role instead. But I laughed out loud a few times, and that's a few time more that any recent "adult" comedy I've seen lately. It's strange that this movie seems more intelligent that anything by the Farrelly brothers. ****½ (out of 5)

Monsters, Inc. - Ah.... Sulley and Mike! You really get to love these guys. More than any of the generic Disney characters like "Beauty" or "Pocahontas". And while Disney keeps raiding other cultures for stewed-over remakes of their beloved children's tales and legends, Pixar is busy crafting new stories of their own. And this plot is perfect: is has funny furry talking creatures, kids, and a "classics" storyline. However, it's a little dark - one girl in front of kept crying at the scary monsters, the sad breakup between Sully and Mike, or Sully and Boo, heavily emotional scenes that go on and on and then all of a sudden are resolved or forgotten, or maybe she was crying about the scenes of torture and screaming. Ok, you get the point. It's dark, and it's strange because it didn't really need to be. I have no idea how it ended up so *creepy*, but as an adult, I liked the tone. None of the voice talent (Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Jennifer Tilly, James Coburn, or Steve Buscemi to name a few) is very good here, and the jokes all fall flat. But since it's such an original story, but still feels like it is hundreds or years old. ****½ (out of 5)

Series 7: The Contenders - What a great idea for a movie. It's a parody of a reality tv show where the contestants have to kill each other to win the game. It's a great excuse to shoot on video. The cut scenes, graphics, and maudlin contestant interviews are all note-perfect copies of the annoying production quality of "Survivor"/"Lost"/"The Mole"/"Big Brother" et. al. I was really excited about this movie, and that's a shame, because my high expectations could only be let down a little. The acting is pretty bad, which can be explained by the low budget and cheap filmmaking. The ending is very poorly done... it sounds like the writer/director fell in love with his own idea, and took it to the illogical extreme. I would have liked a little... less actually. I wanted to figure out how much the winner was going to win, or why the lead character played the game two times already, but was still broke, pregnant, and expecting a baby at any moment, while still trying to kill her fellow "contenders". You, I was just trying to make sense of the overall plot and puyrpose of the movie. Silly me. But all of these points are small quibbles. This is creative, interesting craft going on here, and the rightful heir to the promise of "The Blair Witch Project" that movie of the future can be a lot, lot more than they are now. ****½ (out of 5)

Time Code - I guess it would be pretentious for me to say that this movie revolutionizes filmmaking in the new millennium. After all, this movie technically came out *before* the millennium, and there's a funny speech by one of the actors that makes fun of the whole idea of pretentious film, where an annoying actress pitches a film that sound exactly like "Time Code". It's a film within a film, and it's all been done before - the real-time camerawork, the cinéma verité acting, the split screen effect - there's nothing here that's surprising. It's quite hard to watch, and there were only a few "scenes" that I found enjoyable, but for some strange reason, I'd like to watch the movie again. it was different, and that's saying a lot for a movie lately. I also liked the performance of Jeanne Tripplehorn, who has *hours* of footage with her sitting in a limousine with a digital camera pointing up her nose, but still is able to run a hell of a lot of emotions through her acting repertoire. The DVD has some nice features, including an early run-through of the entire movie, and an interactive mode to let the viewer choose the featured dialogue, instead of waiting and wading through the (bad) jazz soundtrack or the muddled parts where all the four quadrants of the screen talk at the same time. I wish this movie *hadn't* been improvised, and I wish more thought was put into the plot, instead of relying on the trite Star Trek shaking-camera earthquake scenes, or the tired spurned-lover-with-a-gun finale. This movie feels like a technical exercise, and the technique is waiting for a real director with vision and talent to use the ideas into the first truly inspirational film of the next 1,000 years. Somewhere there's a geek in a basement, ready to combine digital film, music, and the internet into something we haven't seen before. I just hope that geek doesn't see this semi-failed experiment first. ****½ (out of 5)

The Princess and the Warrior - For some reason, I thought this was a medieval sword-and-sorcery flick. That serves me right for avoiding movie previews. So, I was looking forward to it, and to get an odd romance set in an insane asylum was a slight disappointment. However, any movie Tom Twyker could have made after his excellent "Run Lola Run" would have been a disappointment, even if just a little bit. Twyker decided to do something a little bit different, and tries really hard to bring some romance into his movies. He's not very good at it... this "action romance" starts with an hour of unbroken, slow romance (except for an excellent chase scene which leads to an accident that's important to the plot). Then, exactly half-way through, a "caper flick" starts, and then it goes back to a slow romance, then a little more action until the end. It's like Twyker can't do both at once. And the slow parts are reaaally slow. There's even a hypnotic piano score during the bank robbery part. But the amazing cinematography makes this movie. The director really knows how to frame a scene, and his technical tricks don't come off as unnecessary (unlike my worries about the next "Matrix" film - flash for flash's sake). I guess it's just a shame Franka Potente is wasted on such a slim plot. I hope Twyker will go back to an overplotted, amazingly dense screenplay like his last effort. But then again, I'll probably be disappointed a little bit no matter what movie comes out. Disappointed and happy and surprised at the same time. Go figure. ****½ (out of 5)

Rat Race - Again, i liked this movie a lot more than I should have. I'm a fan of both John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson, though their latest movies ("Fierce Creatures" and "Mr. Bean", respectively) were both disappointing. I'm not sure why this sill movie works - wasn't there a late seventies version of this film with the same plot? Sure, there was 1963's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", but wasn't there another remake fifteen years later? In any case, I think the movie works, since there are so many characters that if you don't like a certain joke, there will be another coming along second later. Many things don't work: Cube Gooding Jr. and Whoopie Goldberg's entire subplots, for example. However, even Breckin Meyer was funny (which comes as a total surprise after the miserable "Inside Schwartz"), Seth Green wasn't as annoying as he is in other films, Kathies Najimy and Bates prove again that there are the most under-appreciated comediennes in show business today, and as I mentioned, Cleese and Atkinson are absolute treasures. Why make movies with the SNL cast when you can just turn a camera towards these two for an hour and let the tape roll? ****½ (out of 5)

Waking Life - Yeah, the word "revolutionary" is often overused. Especially when we're talking about a *movie*. However, I think that there was a great crime committed when this movie wasn't even NOMINATED for an Oscar, and "Shrek" is consider the epitome of animation. It goes to show that the US is way behind on appreciating artistry like comic books or music videos. As long as we treat them like childish garbage, we get load and loads of Disney. Sure, there's problems with this film; the metaphor of dreaming is not fully fleshed-out, the animation is uneven and not as creative as it could be, there's a lot of pretentious talking by self-important people. However, the marriage of rotoscope to a serious philosophical discussion proves that at least one person (Richard Linklater) is trying to invent a new way of looking at things that has never been attempted before. And I think that deserves an award or something. ****½ (out of 5)

About a Boy - I really liked the Nick Hornby book because I could really relate to the Hugh Grant character. No, not because I'm charming like he is, but because I can understand what it's like to be unemployed for a living. The book is better than the movie, as usual. However, it's nice to see things that the movie can pull off that don't work in print. It's great to see Grant hem and haw in his patented style. However, Grant looks older here, and a little out of his depth. It's strange to admit, but it really works for this character. Grant has tried to make himself viable as an actor by playing cads (Bridget Jones Diary) or a child molester (An Awfully Big Adventure). Instead, he seems to really be able to *act* by pretending to be an older, sadder version of his usual winsome character. Nicholas Hoult is great as "the boy" and Toni Collette is still the best actress to come out of Australia lately. However, it's the original story that shines here... though I don't look forward to a movie adaptation of Hornby's latest book about adultery "How To Be Good". ****½ (out of 5)

From Hell - Shot beautifully. I hope the Hughes Brothers make it back to creating interesting visually exciting films. I love a historical picture, and this one does it extremely well. I could compare the Bros to Tim Burton directing "Sleepy Hollow" or Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula", and that's high praise indeed. All of those movies, and this one too, had wonderful sets and costuming. However, they all have some flaws, like creating a slow dull pace, and creating too many long drawn-out scenes with too much talking. You might not care by the end who-dunnit, but at least there's an interesting historically advanced rationale on who The Ripper was. Johnny Depp is the master, of the blank stare. He can seem riveting when he is merely reading a book (which he seems to do a lot in his movies, but no matter). I liked this movie enough to think about buying it on video, though like "Sleepy Hollow" or "Dracula", or wouldn't watch it much. I would drag it out periodically to admire, like a piece of artwork. And at least that's something. ****½ (out of 5)

Lilo & Stitch - Mike's sister and niece hated this movie, and they're usually pretty good judges of animation. For example, the both (rightfully) hated Disney's recent "Atlantis". But I think I have to disagree here... this may not be an extremely good movie, but this is as good as it gets lately. I don't think Disney can match the previous classics like "Beauty and the Beast" or "The Little Mermaid". So what we get is a Hawaiian girl and an annoying space alien. I think a big problem is that this movie, like some others, sets up an "annoying character" without explaining why the audience should like or enjoy the guy. Jim Carrey is masterful at appearing gross and disgusting but interesting. I don't think Stitch is given enough time here to prove he's funny. So, it took me half the movie to care about what happens to him. In the end, I love the native island touches, the picture of a dysfunctional family, and the animation. I could have done without Elvis and the whole "space fugitive" storyline, but I guess there had to be a plot somewhere. ****½ (out of 5)

Heist - Ooh, caper film! Caper film! And this one doesn't even bother trying to hide it's true calling. The movie's even called "Heist". And it has some great actors, too: Danny DeVito, Gene Hackman, and Ricky Jay. Damn, I love Ricky Jay! Ok, this is a David Mamet production, so the movie doesn't get to be as loose as, say "The Score" with De Niro and Brando. That movie had a great ending, and some fun twists, but this movie is good for the full length. There's three or four capers in this film, not just the one. And we get to see the planning, the action, the plan falling apart, and the aftermath, and I wasn't bored with it all like "Ocean's Eleven". Life is good. The only thing this movie lacked was more card tricks by Jay. Maybe they'll film his recent Broadway show "On the Stem". I can always hope. ****½ (out of 5)

The Shipping News - This movie got bad reviews, and I don't know why. The plot moved along nicely, and it was filled with nice little details and touches. Ok, ok, there was a little too much "Oprah" drama... every time a character rediscovered their past, it was filled with incest or murder. cheating husbands or missing wives. I would have rather preferred a slower, more down-to-earth portrayal of Newfoundland like "The Sweet Hereafter". But that was a different movie, so it would be fair to compare them. My mom read the book and liked it, contrary to other reviews I had read that said too much was left out of the movie to please those already familiar with the tale. I guess you can't please everyone, and reviewers doubly so. In any case, what we've got here is an interesting story coupled with some great scenery. Nothing spectacular, but better than "Cider House Rules" without all those pesky Oscar nominations.  ****½ (out of 5)

The Royal Tenenbaums - I often open a review by saying "Hey, I liked the guy but..." and it's often a very large, grotesque but. I mean, I like Wes Anderson... his initial effort "Bottle Rocket" really blew me away, but his movies are starting to feel like self-parody. "Rocket" had wacky characters, sure enough, but it also had a plot and a soul. This movie feels like too many already-known famous people playing a game of improv comedy. This wouldn't be out of place as a five-minute skit on "Whose Line is it Anyway?" with Drew Carey. Ok, I'll be the transvestite nun, you be the lesbian bookkeeper, and he'll be the Albanian sheepherder looking for a restaurant. Ok? Go! The wacky characters don't advance the story anywhere, and the detail have to be spelled out by a voiceover done by Alec Baldwin. My least favorite part is when the narrator pops up after ten minutes of silence to underscore (and undercut) a poignant moment where Gene Hackman apologizes and... "after he said that, he meant it". Great - usually *acting* is what gets a character's emotions across, but never mind. On the other hand, there's the wonderful dialogue and odd (be and the same time realistic, go figure) phrases such as "do you want to do any experiments on me?" or "I've been smoking for 22 years - well I think you should quit". Few people can write lines like that, and I hope Wes Anderson stops playing dress-up with his friends long enough to write a movie that deserves to link moments like that together. Anderson still gets four stars for originality, but like the subjects of this movie, he's just wasting any genius he could have had. Damn. ****½ (out of 5)

Amelie - I'm a Frenchophile to some extent (or is it a Franglophile? Franco-American?). I love Paris, and French food, especially the cheese. The art and clothes are ok, too. And I like long pretentious foreign films. For some reason, the French are unable to do comedy, at least not in the gut-splitting way the English can (Monty Python! Red Dwarf! Oh my god, there's so much good stuff...). This movie (and even my favorite "Delicatessen" are a little too aware that they are being cute and clever. The director of both movies, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (with and sometimes without Marc Caro), uses all sorts of cinematic tricks, slow motion, and artsy-fartsy things that detract from the story shile they are fun to look at, like a bad imitation of David Fincher. So, I'm of two minds here (or in French, deux-têtes). I love the visual flair and the hint of whimsy, but I would also like to smack the director in the face. Beret-wearing bastard... there's a whole country that needs one of those bombs that kills the people but spares all the buildings. And the great paintings and restaurants, too. After 9/11, movies like this just seem a little too frivolous. I might have loved this film two years ago, but now I think it need a bit of the old ultra-violence. ****½ (out of 5)

The Time Machine - I guess this is the best possible movie that could be made from this source material. Ok, that's faint praise... it's like saying "The Best Pippi Longstocking Movie EVER!". I guess I'm not a fan of stale sci-fi. I mean the whole thing - a lost love, Moorlock or Sleestacks or what ever they're called - now reeks of all the bad photocopies that came after it. This movie is saved a little bit by the beautiful photography. At times, this film feels like "Koyaanisqatsi", since it has so many wonderful stop-motion nature scenes. The only let-down besides the plot is the lead Guy Pearce, who looks as if he has a fishhook embedded in his face. I would have liked this movie more if they were as creative with the original book as "Scrooged" was with the Dickens tale. C'mon, at least give it a slight politically-correct spin about environmentalism, or go all "po-mo". It don't mean a thang if it ain't got that swang. ****½ (out of 5)

The Quiet American - I love when I discover something new. Recently, I've tasted both "crispy spinach" as well as Red Bull & vodkas. I love them both, probably more for their novelty than for their excellence. Similarly, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this movie takes place in Vietnam *before* the American war there. It doesn't talk much about the French, though. Instead, it's a classic spy novel, with several twists. I've tried to like Graham Greene, in the same way that I feel I should like Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner: big heavyweight writers with strong masculine language. However, I think this movie is the only I've truly enjoyed by Greene, and it might be my third-favorite Michael Caine movie (after Deathtrap and Sleuth). And who would have every thought I would like *three* Michael Caine movies? ****½ (out of 5)

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Dogtown and Z-Boys - Not only the best skateboarding movie, but the best skateboarding movie that could ever be made. It gets it sense of urgency and perspective form the fact that the director, Stacy Peralta, was one of the original Z-Boys. There's a little too much "Behind the Music" quality to the life stories of Jay Adam and Tony Alva (c'mon Stacy, you film Jay in *prison* but don't talk about his arrest! We wanna know details!). However, couple a thorough history with a solid graphic style and some stellar old-school skateboard footage, and you've got one of the best documentary movies ever made about sports. ****½ (out of 5)

The Salton Sea - I love Val Kilmer. I thought he was this amazingly attractive boy who came out of nowhere when he was in "Top Secret!". Then there was "Real Genius"... another one of my favorite movies. Like Christian Slater or River Phoenix, I thought that he was going to lead a new breed of young actors in fantastic movies. The problem is that Val is a Method Actor. I hear he's really hard to "work with", code words for being an egotistical asshole. This is a movie... I can't be more specific than that. It's part "caper film", part neo-noir (is that a valid term? maybe it is now). However, there's a thousand plot holes for the stupidest act of revenge I've ever seen on film. Instead, this movie is worthwhile for Val's great acting (and an unrecognizable Vincent D' Onofrio who is southern to the point of parody) and a nice moody feel. I hope Val gets an Oscar someday, but it would probably fuel him to make more grandiose and "meaningful" films. And that would be tragic, coming from the actor who could barely fill the shoes of Batman. I regret I didn't see Val Kilmer in a local theater production of "Hamlet" at the University of Colorado/ Boulder in 1994. I heard from his Ophelia that he was a whiny self-centered jerk who liked mooning the rest of the cast. Figures. ****½ (out of 5)

Y Tu Mamá También - Wow! Thanks to NAFTA, we now get imported teenage sex comedies. And that's a good thing, since our own homegrown teenage sex comedies have been pretty bad lately (hereafter referred to as TSCs). I don't know why American directors think that their TSCs need to be ironic or fully plotted. It's ironic, but the best TSCs can be raunchy and bittersweet at the same time. For example, "Porky's", or one of my favorite movies, "Risky Business". It's a fine line, but a TSC is merely a coming-or-ages story. Plus breasts. Y Mama it a perfect blend of an aimless plot (it's a road movie, but with the usual plot of trying to get laid). I really cared if the two boys ever found what they were looking for on their road trip, and I was kind of touched when they found what they *weren't* looking for. in this case, they found some odd homosexual kissing, which ill be in an American TSC when pigs fly. And that's why this movie kicks ass on the latest US TSC fare. ****½ (out of 5)

Panic Room - I'm a David Fincher fan after "Fight Club", but I have to admit I wasn't a fan of "Se7en" at first. Now, I see how great Fincher is at taking a dull story and adding special effects and mood lighting. Well, he certainly chose a dull plotline here: thieves break into Jodie Foster's apartment, and she and he asthmatic daughter go hide in a closet. Not exactly riveting storytelling, even with technological gadgets, cell phones that don't work indoors with being charged first, or chase scenes in an elevator. The plain truth is that everything takes place indoors. This could be a one-act play, albeit an odd one. Instead, Fincher uses CGI to have the camera travel over and under walls (and in one memorable scene, through an electrical outlet). However, it's so well done that I wasn't distracted thinking "Wow, great polygons!" I didn't like Forest Whitaker's character, nor did I believe that he was a good guy just because he isn't eager to kill anybody. I mean, he sets a tragic finale in motion, so he's really to blame, and I felt ok when he died in the end. Was that a spoiler? It shouldn't be.. the plot writes itself, and I think Fincher is coasting to see how pretty he could make nothing look. ****½ (out of 5)

Undercover Brother - This is a good bad movie. Let me explain, because I enjoy lecturing. There are bad good movies, which are films that should have been grand-slams of excellent action and resources, but somehow fail miserably. Some examples are "Men in Black 2", "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back", or the recent Star Wars movies. Then there are the small movies that delight because by all reason, they're supposed to be bad but they aren't. This movie has nothing going for it. The 70's have been parodied in many bad movies, and race is always a touchy subject to sustain for long. However, this movie scores again and again with a light touch. Imagine the coup of casting Doogie Hawser, M.D. (Neil Patrick Harris) as the ultimate example of whiteness. Or having James Brown act. Or getting Eddie Griffin and Chris Kattan to be funny, when all their other work hints otherwise. I don't know why it works, since a lot of the jokes are hackneyed or stolen. But the overall feel is like a black Austin Powers, and I hope they make more movies like this... however they did it. ****½ (out of 5)

The Importance of Being Earnest - I have proof that Oscar Wilde was a gay man. Ok, ok, it's not shocking news. You see, his intricate wordplay and incredible dialogue rivals Shakespeare, in my opinion. But here's the proof: this play sounds exactly like a roomful of gay men dishing each other (and themselves) at the speed of light. I have a feeling that Oscar's friends berated him later, "I *can't* *believe* you *stole* my best *line*!" It's light stuff, rather frothy and insubstantial, but then again the best desserts often are. Colin Firth and Rupert Everett are fine here, as are Reese Witherspoon and the inestimable Judi Densch. However, the play's the thing, and it's a shame that Oscar didn't write another fifty plays with this effortless wit. ****½ (out of 5)

Chicago - This is a good movie. But movie of the year? We'll see if it gets a load of Oscars (I'm betting it doesn't). I think a people were just relieved to see a musical without rap music in it. Everything feels dated, since the musical is from another era where the songs were good. The stylistic decision to film everything in stark colors floating against a solid black background is very effective, particularly in the dance number in a hall of mirrors. Plus, it really separates the musical sequences as dreams or flashbacks in a more effective way than the original play. All of the amazing Fosse choreography is gone here, but that's a good thing - nobody liked Ann Reinking anyway, And that's the main strength of this movie; the actors. Richard Gere is fun to watch and Catherine Zeta-Jones is ok, but it's Renée Zellweger who is absolutely amazing. I think she's the George W. Bush of Hollywood. People aren't as amazed that the pig can sing well as much as she can sing at all. By smashing diminshed expectations with a sledgehammer, she truly deserves the Oscar that I still think she won't win. If only our current president could raise any kind of low expectations we have for him, too. ****½ (out of 5)

The Wrong Guy - This isn't the "straight man" Dave Foley of the "NewsRadio" sitcom. No, this is the slightly gay Dave Foley from the Kids in the Hall sketch comedy show. I think it can be argued that Dave Foley is improved by good writing, which NewsRadio had in spades. This movie was filmed right before the Kids' "Brain Candy" (but held on the shelf until a straight-to-video release this year), and it has the same problem that it's hard to stretch small sketches into a coherent movie. However, the parts that score really score big. Plus, it was nice to see the Barenaked Ladies guest star as some singing cops. ****½ (out of 5)

Man of the Century - What a great indie surprise. There's a lot to this movie: fun dialogue, fantastic acting, and a premise that's clever but not overworked. There are so many great inside jokes, from the title to the "dream sequences" to the entire plot and feel of the movie. Anthony Rapp is here with some street cred, too. I can't rave enough about this movie... this is what I should have been watching instead of "Men in Black 2" or ninety percent of the other crap that shoots through Hollywood. I will run and go see anything director Adam Abraham comes up with next. That is, if I ever hear from him again. ****½ (out of 5)

24 Hour Party People - I've seen three of four great movies in the last month. They're all good, but I can't quite lift them up to the "five star" rank. However, this is best movie I could imagine being made about the Manchester music scene. It's part documentary, part fantasy, and a lot of fun. It's hard to tell stories about real people without appearing dull. And it's funny that the movie realizes this - sparing us details of Tony Wilson's ex-wife and child. I my opinion, the new wave concerts are the weakest part of the movie. To me, punk always had fantastic live shows that never quite lived on vinyl. New wave was the opposite, crafted exclusively as a recording, and often weak when live. I think Joy Division and the Happy Mondays are two really uninteresting bands (where are the great movies about the Clash? The Rolling Stones? Even this movie could have used more Sex Pistols than those mopey flash-in-the pans like the Mondays. Name *one* of their "hit" songs) However, as a movie about music, this is the film that "Velvet Goldmine" should have been. ****½ (out of 5)

Mean Machine - It's a sports movie about soccer, and I don't know anything about soccer. However, it's a prison movie too, and that didn't top me from watching it even though I'm not a felon. It's much better than classics such as "The Longest Yard", "Victory", or "Lock Up". I didn't think Vinnie Jones had much of a future, but now I see that he has the talent Vin Diesel never had. Just when I thought you couldn't make a jail flick again (and maybe in the US, you still can't, without dragging in a lot of irrelevant racial issues... "Oz" notwithstanding), here's a fresh approach. Plus, it has one of my favorite endings for a movie - the climactic battle isn't what the story is about. I'm not a sports movie fan, I'm not a soccer fan, but this is a good movie. ****½ (out of 5)

Roger Dodger - An odd little movie. And we like odd little movies, don't we? I'm hoping there will soon be a genre for mean-spirited little urban dramas like "In the Company of Men". This movie fits the bill: it has an unrelentingly bleak plot (a cad teaches a teenager how to be a womanizer) and an anti-hero so unlikable they made him an advertising executive in New York City. A real jerk - the kind of guy you wish was in the World Trade Center two years ago. Anyway, he doesn't really get any comeuppance, and nobody really does anything noteworthy. It's merely a character study about people without character... and as such it's rather fun. ****½ (out of 5)

The Emperor's New Clothes - I've suffered through some "historical fiction" movies lately. "The Affair of the Necklace" (reviewed above) and the tres horrible "The Lady and the Duke" (a badly-shot French film). This was the best of the three, hands down. It has humor, it has an interesting plot that is authentic without losing its thread. It has Ian Holm! I don't think I'll watch it again any time soon, but it was the most pleasant way of passing a Friday night to watching reruns of Masterpiece Theater. ****½ (out of 5)

Comedian - This is the saddest movie in the world. I think that a grown man acting like a clown is the height of pathos. In any case, it's also quite fascinating. I liked how the movie didn't focus exclusively on the often-annoying Jerry Seinfeld, but included funnier up-and-coming comedians. The only problem is, the film isn't very funny. But cutting down on the routines, all that's left is a sociology study: a sad man walks into a comedy club. ****½ (out of 5)

The Fast Runner - Aha! Better and better! See, if I wish for it, they will come. I wanted to see a movie with an exotic plot, and it doesn't get any more exotic than this. This story about Inuit politics is told entirely through subtitles, and acted by the native Inuit themselves. Oh wow... I had no idea a movie like this could be made in this day and time. It's not that we pity the "eskimos" for living in such a harsh climate, or make fun of them for being "primitive". It's more like watching a science-fiction movie of people trying to live on the moon. Completely unforgettable, and even though it was rough in spots and shot on film, this is one of the best movies I've seen lately. I once spend a half hour in a museum watching a guy build an igloo on videotape. This movie felt like that: riveting but not non-fiction. ****½ (out of 5)

The Rules of Attraction - This is a great movie. An *important* movie. It's too bad it's not very skillfully done. It's wildly inventive, with split screens, backward footage, and a fantastically fast trip through Europe. I like this movie, since it's such a great antidote for all the hip college movies where the co-eds dance around like a Mountain Dew commercial. I like to think that I had a pretty good time in college, but I can see how it can be a scary place full of drugs, date rape, and lots and lots of sex. That's important to show on the big screen. ****½ (out of 5)

The Scorpion King - I didn't give this movie the credit it deserves, and for that I apologize. I didn't have high hopes of watching a professional wrestler. I mean, "They Live" and "Predator" are good movies by ex-wrestlers (Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan, respectively), but have you seen the Hulk's *other* movies? Instead, this movie is a lot of fun... just a pseudo-medieval romp with lots of swordfighting and things blowing up. It's not very deep (like wrestling), and as penance, I think I'll have to buy this one on DVD and watch it ever so often when I'm in a brainless mood. You know, like wrestling. ****½ (out of 5)

The Four Feathers - Those Brits out-do us for class. Their military uniforms were classier, and their odd system of honor and justice are much more refined. Ok, so "refined" means stupid in a lot of cases, like wearing bright red and marching in straight lines during the American Revolution. However, it makes for riveting movie watching. I think this is the best war film I've seen in years - the acting (by a group of unknowns) is excellent, the plot is novel, and the setting is unique. I don't need to see more helicopters, I don't need to see people try to top the "Private Ryan" gore factor. War is hell, but it can also be very interesting. I'd love to see more by "Elizabeth" director Shekhar Kapur. Heck, I'd like to see *anything* that's not the recent Hollywood war sap. ****½ (out of 5)

The Good Thief - Another movie I didn't give full credit to. I'd like to see this one again. Or rather, I'd like to see "Bob Le Flambeur", the French movie this is based on. It's a caper flick, with a really good twist. It's what I wished "Ocean's Eleven" was trying to do. Because Nick Nolte is fantastic here (again, nominate this guy, please), and there are tons of interesting details and characters to fill four or five movies. I wish I would have paid attention a little more... maybe I would have felt a little more drama at the possibility of Nolte getting arresting, or care about the budding romances. As it is, I just wanted to see what happened in the end, and trust me - it's worth the ride. ****½ (out of 5)

Bend It Like Beckham - A great sports movie, and we haven't had one of those in years. True, it's a bit *twee* with the promise at the end of no, not winning "the big game", but for two young women to come to Santa Cruz (?) to play professional soccer. You know, in America. The home of the sport where everyone gathers around to watch what-you-call-football-without-hands. On the other hand, there's a delightful Indian (Asian-Indian) subplot, and a stupid homosexual one. It's a little long, and could use a heck of a lot of editing. But it celebrates women in a way that "Blue Crush" couldn't. Both good movies, naturally, but this one seems like it comes from the soul. ****½ (out of 5)

Seabiscuit - It's an odd choice for a blockbuster. It's a grim story, which glosses over history and a good three hundred pages of the novel. However, it hits the high points, and is shot beautifully. What bothered me is that there's no explanation of what an amazing athlete Seabiscuit was. I read where the horse was one of the most-winningest racers ever. You'd never sense that here; so much is made of the "underdog underhorse" aspect and a losing streak of races that you'd think the horse never did anything useful. Tobey Macguire is great here, as is Chris Cooper. I kind of wish there was more history here (rather than the weird hamfisted voice-overs describing the depression) but then again, that's what supplementary biographies are for. ****½ (out of 5)

The Italian Job - I thought that this movie was a remake of the 1969 classic (which I didn't really like anyway). That earlier Michael Caine romp was a little tedious, spending the entire movie building the team, planning the heist, and then delivering the goods. This movie, I'm surprised to say, is actually better than the first one, mainly because it throws away anything inherited from it's father. The plot twists are fun, the acting is ok, and the characters are well drawn-out and interesting without being cartoonish. All in all, this is better than "Ocean's Eleven", which tried to to the same thing with more money. Maybe it's Ed Norton adding a little magic... it's definitely not the acting "skills to pay the bills" of Marky Mark. ****½ (out of 5)