Tears of the Sun - Now here's a war movie that pulls no punches. It doesn't pull much of anything else. It doesn't pull it's own weight, much less the creaky weight of the linear plot. But it does have a wonderfully gritty sad feel. Like "Saving Private Ryan", it relaly knows that war is hell, and spend it's two hours filled with blood and self-doubt. I can't say that it's an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, but is seems authentic to the idea of war. Bruce Willis gets really filthy and bloody here, and only the ending hints that this movie is a little less than plausible. I wish somebody could do the same gritty portrayal for Jessica Lynch, and then we might have some authenticity to our idea of war, as the American movie-going public. *** (out of 5)

The Guys - It's a play about 9/11, and it was one of the first tentative steps that were acceptable entertainment in New York City after the terrorist attack. So, it's full of the typical New York attitude and self-doubt, coupled with heroism, courage, and a lot of patriotism. Everyone's a good guys here, and there are no mistakes or accidents. I'm hoping once we get through the politically correct atmosphere of the Second Gulf War, artists can try to create more complex theater. Moving a limp eulogy from the stage to screen doesn't really reveal anything more interesting than "a lot of nice people died that day, and the survivors feel really bad". *** (out of 5)

Life As A House - Better than it should have been. When I heard that this was a weepy Oscar vehicle about a man dying of cancer, I thought back to the horrible film "My Life", which was a Sony-funded Michael Keaton commercial, or maybe "Stepmom" with feuding Roberts and Sarandon. Instead, this film avoids all the usual "close to death" clichés, and hammers home a delinquent teen. They don't get the tone quite right - no self respecting teens is into Marilyn Manson nowadays - and it's bizarre to see how they turn homosexual hustling into a cute little plot point with a nosey neighbor. You see Mr. Kline? Your son is into autoerotic asphyxiation, but he's just sooo darned cute! It's nice to live in a world where a beach house and a summer girlfriend overcome a debilitating disease. I'd hate this movie more, but it's amazing how they gloss over the main death theme of the film in order to cover a whole lot of things that aren't important at all. And that's refreshing, if a extremely puzzling. ***

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace - Disappointing, but it's still a Star Wars movie, and I would happy of one of those came out every few years. The movie succeeds when it stick close to existing legends: the "pod race" is just like the pink slip race in Grease (!) and the martial arts of the Jedi Knights is just like a Hong Kong action film. However, the annoying Jar Jar Binks, who looks like a Jamaican kangaroo, and the omnipresent computer effects drag the film down. Parts were good, but somehow I wish it was still 1977. *** (out of 5)

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me - Yeah, I laughed... but I felt kinda bad about it afterward. The movie is full of juvenile potty humor, but then again, a laugh's a laugh. Mike Myers is really talented - he made a couple of scenes work using a perfectly-timed look or smirk. This movie's mostly about his "Dr. Evil" character, and all others get little time on screen. However, a lot of jokes don't work, and the whole movie seems improvised. *** (out of 5)

Hilary and Jackie - Based on a true story, this movie wasn't as maudlin as I had feared. However, since it was written from actual experiences, the plot didn't have as many interesting parts as I had hoped. Real life rarely has a coherent linear story. As a plus, I love Emily Watson ever since Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves", since she looks and acts like an edgy Bjork. Speaking of music, this movie had a great soundtrack. I just wish I could have been spared the over-dramatic "Shine" nervous breakdowns on stage. Sweet and interesting character study that could have done without so many flashbacks. *** (out of 5)

Notting Hill - I don't want to see Hugh Grant as a spy, an action hero, or a soldier. Instead, this movie lets Hugh be a charming, bumbling English bloke with great hair. This movie has an interesting premise, "What if an ordinary guy fell in love with a famous actress?" I was surprised by Julia Robert's unlikable, stiff performance... there's no reason Hugh would fall in love with her. And the inevitable reunion at the end takes an excruciatingly long time to arrive, leaving Hugh (and the audience) feeling quite uncomfortable. *** (out of 5)

Snow Falling on Cedars - This movie reminded me of "October Sky" in that I loved the setting and the theme, but didn't really like the plot or the pace. Like that movie, I should have liked this one more than I did. It tackles the issue of Japanese internment camps during WWII, and does a remarkable job of weaving a period fell, a love story, and political background into a coherent story that jumps backwards and forwards in time without getting confusing. However, it's just one long (incredibly long) court drama, and the ending couldn't take longer Plus, Ethan Hawke is a leaden weight and not a very good or memorable lead actor. He'll be the first of the "new brat pack" to fade into non-existence, right before Jennifer Love Hewitt. *** (out of 5)

Bowfinger - I really wanted to like this movie, especially since it was directed by Frank Oz, and had Steve Martin, who was so good in the similar "L.A. Story". That movie was a funny and sweet look at Hollywood. This one just seems snide and bitter. Sure, Steve Martin's director character is clueless, but it's just not funny. Compliments go to Eddie Murphy, who proves that he is a fantastic actor (better than Jim Carrey, better than any other Saturday Night Live alumnus) playing both a self-centered actor and an uglier, Stepin Fetchit brother. Even though Terrence Stamp is terrible in this movie (and every other one I've seen with him in it), the Scientology-like "MindHead" corporation is the highlight of the movie, and almost worth the price of admission. Not quite, but almost. *** (out of 5)

Tarzan - Disney does it again, with a jungle adventure featuring dead parents, talking animals, and women with bodies of illogical proportion. I think Disney it getting a little bit touchy, because they steal a lot from Japanime on this one (everyone has really big eyes), and there's several fast scenes when Tarzan flies through the trees, and you would *swear* he's rollerblading like an oversized-pants skateboarder. Rosie O'Donnell is more annoying as an ape than she is in the real life (if such a thing is possible), and the songs are lame. Phil Collins wrote them like a musical, so he goes over the entire plot by the time the song is done. This is one of the forgettable Disney films (along with Hercules and Mulan). It has none of the fun of jokes of The Lion King, but millions of yuppies with kids will still buy it so their kids can have the complete set. *** (out of 5)

Primal Fear - Richard Gere really has talent. I didn't think he would be interesting enough as a leading man, but he did a very good job here. Of course, the movie belongs to Ed Norton, who has proved he is one of the best young actors of the nineties (next to Johnny Depp, Tim Roth or maybe Christina Ricci). Norton rants and rave in a multiple-personality love fest. It's a matter of time before he gets an Oscar in something. Well, then it's a pity that the plot is like a low-rent version of L.A. Law (special crimes unit). There's a murder and a long trial and a cocky defense attorney without a conscience... it's nothing we haven't seen before. However, the acting sells this one. *** (out of 5)

Random Hearts - This movie has a great soundtrack, soft jazz and moody piano. From the first credits, it sets a fantastic somber mood to the whole movie. Unfortunately, it kind of works against the movie. Maybe it's because of the soundtrack, or (more likely), the editing, but this movie has a plodding pace that never seems to climb out of a hole. It feels like somebody died. Well, of course Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott's spouses die, but in most movies, they just shrug it off and let the two main characters fall in love. Or like Disney, the dead person helps free the other actors to do something great, and you wonder why they didn't bump them off a long time ago. Anyway, Sydney Pollock is a good director, but this movie feels too much like "Sabrina", where Harrison Ford moped around for two hours. Maybe Ford isn't a good actor, I don't know, but Thomas suffers here, too. The saving grace is the plot that chases after the affair of the two dead people. We never really know what happened, and there are a lot of loose ends, but it's nice that way. I'd have rather cut half of this movie out and added a faster, peppier soundtrack. The whole subplot of Ford chasing a murder suspect is silly, and many things happen that are completely forgotten. Maybe this plot had a future as a light comedy, but as a drama, it fails. *** (out of 5)

Happy, Texas - At least William H. Macy does a great job in this movie as the hapless, just-out-of-closet sheriff. He gets to fall in love with Ron Perlman. The rest of us get left out in the cold. Yeah, it's nothing you haven't seen before... two convicts pretend they are gay in order to escape the law. And the typical hilarities ensue: they fall in love with women who think they are gay, and gay people hit on them. I guess I just liked the honest look at beauty pageants, and the fact that the movie is a little more hip about gay people than "Three to Tango" or "Flawless", which seem to be written on some odd planet where they have just *heard* about homosexuals but haven't met one yet. (also see Brooke Shields in "Suddenly Susan"... the sitcom about designers in San Francisco that doesn't have a single gay character or reference). I liked the gay couple bickering in the convenience store who had their camper stolen. It seemed real. Still cheap and easy, but real. *** (out of 5)

I Married a Strange Person - I first saw Bill Plympton's work at an animation festival in the eighties. He absolutely killed 'em, and all people would talk about were his "Plymptoons"... little surreal cartoon vignettes with a lot of violence and fantasy. However, since then, he's been somewhat of a disappointment (kind of like Aeon Flux's Peter Chang). His cartoons don't translate well into a full-length movie. The plot seems hurried, as if there was no editor. For example, the male "lead" is walking down the sidewalk when a blade of grass starts talking to him and then tries to kill his lawn-mowing neighbor. The scene takes ten minutes and it took me five of those to figure what was going on. And I don't think I'm slow (at least I hope not). Little things like surfing on a split-open corpse should be a lot funnier than they are. Erm. Well, maybe you just gotta see it for yourself. *** (out of 5)

The End of the Affair - I think Neil Jordan is a good director, but sometimes I'm not sure. Of course, his "Crying Game" catapulted him and Stephen Rea (and Jaye Davidson, naturally) to instant stardom. He uses Stephen Rea again here, but this movie is so slow, it deserves another transsexual. Anything to liven it up. Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes are great, but then again, they always shine in period dramas. I think the problem is the plot, which really goes nowhere, despite the tantalizing prospect of private investigators, adultery, and a war. None of these ideas are used... instead there's just a lot of sex and protests of love. Jordan really shows some nice work, including showing a pivotal explosion climax two times (and hints of a third and fourth), but I think he served up a dud this time (like "Michael Collins" and "The Butcher Boy"). Maybe he just doesn't want to make exciting movies. What happened to the guy that made "The Company of Wolves"? *** (out of 5)

X-Men - I'm not a superhero fan. In fact Fear of Spandex kept me away from reading comic books for years. Which is a shame, because I almost never discovered "The Watchmen" or any of the other wonderful books I've read over the years. However, X-Men is not one of them. So, I wasn't too excited about a movie version, and I'm hated other adaptions (like Judge Dredd, The Punisher, Batman, or the Superman movies). This movie proved me wrong, but only barely. They had a lot of action, and they wisely removed a lot of the hackneyed superhero battle scenes. A few scenes were good, but overall, I don't think it adds up to a class movie. The plot is pretty thin, there really are too many main characters, and even though Patrick Stewart does a great job, there really isn't any acting to mention (ooh, Wolverine! Look out for that boulder! Oof!). After the wordy Gladiator, this was almost a fun movie, but not really a fun movie. *** (out of 5)

The Beach - Much was made in press about Leonardo DiCaprio trying to be unlikable in this movie. However, I didn't him as an antihero as much as an unfocused character. I've never read the Alex Garland book, so I don't know if the confusion results due to an extrmely post-modern novel, or if the director (Danny Boyle, who I otherwise liked directing "Trainspotting") just didn't do a good job. I was not really paying attention to the movie, but I liked the scenery and the fun cinematic touches (like the "video game" sequence, or the camera work. Leonardo couldn't go anywhere in popularity but down after "Titanic", so maybe this film was destined to be panned, but it really could have been a lot better movie, given the setting, the writer, the idea, and the director. I hope DiCaprio continues to stretch his acting range, because "Gilbert Grape" proved that given the right role, he can be amazing . *** (out of 5)

The Whole Nine Yards - I'm too charitable to this movie. It wasn't really funny, and the weak lynchpin in this film in Matthew Perry. While I like him in "Friends", I'm not really sure why, since he's not really good at physical comedy, and his clueless one-note shtick grows cold quite quickly. Maybe it's Bruce Willis, who is great here. He's not quite as smirking and smug as in other films, and the tough guy roles appeal to him. Director Jonathan Lynn did "My Cousin Vinny", which was great, but he also did "Sgt. Bilko", "Nuns On the Run", and "Trial and Error", so maybe he's just a flak. The female leads are pretty, but also pretty useless here... where are the truly funny female leads? Oh well, this isn't a good movie, but it might be an ok rental on a slow evening. *** (out of 5)

Soft Fruit - A movie that I didn't give enough of a chance. I didn't like "Muriel's Wedding" because I was used to frothy Australian comedies like "Strictly Ballroom" or "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". Instead, "Muriel" was a depressing view of how hard it is to go from the small-town out-back to someplace (or something like that). This movie was dreary, too, but maybe I have to shed my provincial opinion of Aussies. There's a lot going on in this movie: great relationships, funny scenes, and some good portrayals. I guess I wasn't in the mood for an ensemble piece, and the plot doesn't motivate the action enough (won't the mother die already? See "The English Patient"). It's enough that there are good movie coming from a foreign country where I already speak their language... or I almost do. *** (out of 5)

Ride With The Devil - ...And I'm a sucker for civil war movies. I was in a civil war movie... Ted Turner's "Gettysburg". I was a background artist, which is another word for an extra. I got to dress up like a confederate soldier, get blown up on-screen, and I met Martin Sheen. Ah, those were the days. But it was a good thing I wasn't an extra in this movie, because I would have been bored to death. This movie is so long, I think they're still filming it somewhere. I like Ang Lee, who directed the slow but cynical "The Ice Storm", but maybe his introspective style is more suited to drama (like his "Sense and Sensibility"). Sure, Tobey Maguire is young and naive, and Skeet Ulrich is okay, but the plot meanders as if it's based on a true story. Jewel is beautiful here, and if she can be low-key again, I wouldn't mind seeing her in another movie. I liked the fact that they focused on "Bleeding Kansas"; a part of the civil war not often studied. However, there's better books on the subject, and maybe they'll make a gripping, interesting movie out of the subject. *** (out of 5)

Mission To Mars - I'm not a good critic, because when I'm in a bad mood, I tend to be overcritical, and when I'm happy, I enjoy bad movie. And I liked this film. It was a good day when I saw it (... and for *free*. That makes a big difference!) This movie did everything Supernova and Pitch Black didn't. It gave a fun plotline that was understandable. There were little vignettes, stolen from 2001: A Space Odyssey and other B-list sci-fi like The Black Hole, Contact, and and Apollo 13. Plus, I like Tim Robbins who is good for half the movie. The only bad notes were the acting of Don Cheadle, who reminded me too much of Tim Meadows, and Jerry O'Connell, who filled the "Wesley Crusher" role. Also, the music was horrible, playing schmaltzy pseudo-John Williams string throughout, and at one dramatic point, playing organ (!) fugues. So, this movie is not a blockbuster by any means, true, but it fills the old-fashioned role of an enjoyable "space opera", and who cares if it's been done before? Not me, when I'm feeling fine... *** (out of 5)

U-571 - I'm way, way too kind to this movie, but I liked it. I really shouldn't, since it was filled with ham-fisted directorial touches like having the Germans kill a boatload of castaways just to prove they're bad guys, or when Matthew McConaughey tearfully sends a soldier to do a simple job, which means that the poor sucker is going to die. However, I can't help but like a war movie with soldiers in wet leather pants. For the younger people out there: a film history lesson. "Das Boot" was an incredible movie, and it was really revolutionary for the time. However, that doesn't mean that every submarine movie since (unlike the excellent historical flick "The Hunley") has to have submariners looking anxiously upwards while depth charges drop on their heads. It has the obligatory "quiet, their sonar can hear you" sequence, and the "oh no, we're going too low and the submarine will implode" thing. I think they could have done more with the fact that they are in disguise and "radio silent" so even the Allied forces would theoretically blown them up, too. Maybe they were trying to be historically accurate, but the titles at the end give and overblown significance to finding *one* Enigma machine. In reality, it was the work of (my hero) Alan Turing and the rest of the staff at Bletchley Park that turned the tide of the war, not a damp and pouting McConaughey. But he looked good doing it. *** (out of 5)

Remember the Titans - I don't need Disney to teach me about race relations in the 1960's. It's a good thing, too, because the glossed-over version in this movie makes a mockery of the issues and politics of the black equality movement. After the release of this movie, critics have complained that things weren't as rosy as Disney makes out. I think Disney should just give up on trying to make things based on real subjects, like their terribly misguided CivilWarLand themepark. Sure, it doesn't need to hold up to Roger-and-Me documentary realism, but it would be nice if this movie had more of a plot that a feel-good football movie. Do they win in the end? Well, in a more sophisticated film, the ending would be in doubt. Since it's based on a true event, perhaps they would stick with a more truthful ending. Nope. The good guys win with a hail mary pass with eighteen seconds to go in the game. Whew! At least our race problems have been solved in this country. I was worried for a moment there. *** (out of 5)

Charlie's Angels - Let me say this first... the director's name is "McG". Ok, his *real* name is Joeseph Nichol, but he wants everybody to call him McCheese or whatever. Promo photos for this film were unintentionally funny, with three hot babes circled around a funny-looking slacker dude. This guy would get his *ass* kicked by a real director like Scorsese or even Woody Allen. Previously known only for directing a Korn video, how did he land this gig? Truth be told, he does a pretty good job, although it doesn't mean I ever want to see him alive again. It's hard to screw up an old television show, but the unwashed twentysomething treads a nice job between camp and action. Sure the "Matrix" effects are getting old, but they're used extremely well here. And it's nice to see Crispin Glover working again. He looks really buff and dangerous here. I'm sure those karate moves weren't really his. Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu look great, but what's up with Drew Barrymore? She can look hot when she wants to, but shacking up with Tom Green means that the unfunny Canadian has a long, pointless cameo here. Then again, after years of watching over-the-hill directors try to be hip and direct action films that are brainless and geared towards a younger audience, it's nice to see an idiotic teenager get to direct a film, too. Maybe he'll get to to the "T.J. Hooker: The Movie" film that's hinted at in the opening shot. That Heather Locklear... now *there's* a babe that's worthy of a comeback, not these three girls. *** (out of 5)

Red Planet - I liked this movie more than "Mission To Mars" and "Pitch Black"... but probably only because I have a "thing" for Val Kilmer. Plus, I hate Vin Diesel, so "Pitch Black" was lost on me, with it's inconsistent science and on-again-off-again monster. This movie had it all: action, science, and good characters, but it might have been *too* routine. You know the spaceship is going to crash into Mars, and you know the team on the ground will run out of air, water, and radios (the old "on the other side of the planet communication blackout". Don't you think by 2025 they would have fixed that problem?) The plot goes a little too fast, with a lot unexplored that was promising. I saw the team surrounded by bugs, or at least a fight scene with the killer robot that lasted longer than a minute. The robot's name is "AMEE", which made me keep thinking of the recent lesbian lick "Aimée & Jaguar". There weren't a lot of lesbians in this movie, though with the woman from "Matrix" putting in a fine performance, there was some promise of sex with Val Kilmer. Unfortunately, that was yet another promised plot point that the movie left unexplored. Where's Captain Kirk when you need him? *** (out of 5)

Bridget Jones's Diary - A lot of people thought Renée Zellweger was too American to play this part. Or that she was to pretty or too skinny. Instead, I think she's a little too Ally McBeal. She won me over during the opening credits, where she turns around a scene while singing "All By Myself" while drinking heavily and sitting on her couch. What could have been a maudlin depressing scene was made really really funny by her overwrought histrionics... but in a slightly sad way. I wish I wouldn't have read the book first. I knew that she wouldn't end up with Hugh Grant, and I picked out all the interesting details before they happened in the movie. Some things worked better in the book (Bridget's manic cooking spell), while others were fun to finally see (the blue soup). All in all, it was a romantic comedy, nothing more and nothing less, but this one actually worked/ was romantic/ didn't make me want to leave the theater. Watching it with my partner-of-seven-years for our anniversary would make anything sugary sweet though. Thank you Michael, if you're reading this... I love you, and I'll buy the popcorn next time. *** (out of 5)

A. I. Artificial Intelligence - Well, I can't fault this movie for not having enough ideas. It's like Kubrick's "Full Metial Jacket" where is it is divided into several distinct parts. And like that movie, the first part is slow but good, while the second part is fuill of meaningless action. So, I don't know which part I liked best. The first part, the adoption of "David", was full of a lot of poignant emotions, though it didn't work fully. The second part, with washed-up industrial rockers Ministry at a "Flesh Fair", robots scavenging for parts, and a wonderful CGI city full of sex androids, was a lot of fun, though really led nowhere. (The third part is too silly to mention... except that I just mentioned it here. Oops!) It's a big miss for Spielberg, who has struck out a lot lately (like "Amistad" or the empty but flashy "Jurassic Park"), but I think he can blame Kubrick's uneven script. We have an anti-fable, a blue fairy tale where none of the characters are truly likable and all the endings seems false. In a way, this movie might be a turning point for Spielberg, who usually makes certain we know which horse to bid on. I wonder what this movie would have been like if Kubrick had made his own film: probably as slow as "Eyes Wide Shut" and as wacked-out as "2001"; it would have been a definite failure, to be sure (as this movie is a dismal crowd-displeaser), but it would have been fun to see that movie instead of Speilberg's lackluster tribute to a mad genius. *** (out of 5)

American Psycho - A widely read and widely reviled book in the eighties, this Bret Easton Ellis novel also makes a better movie than a book. I think it's because the expensive furniture, clothing, and apartments look stunning on the big screen. Sure, this story doesn't know whether to be funny or tragic, and in the end is neither, but there are so few suitable commentaries on the advent of the yuppie lifestyle. Casting the protagonist as a soulless "mergers and acquisitions" banker who is a serial killer is a great touch, even if the idea gets too heavy handed by the end (a sappy monologue wraps up the movie as "even my confession means nothing"... ok dude, cheer up). The movie is actually less violent than the book, which had descriptions of a hooker's severed head turning around and around on a record player. Maybe some things are best left to the imagination (or better yet, left out), and there's enough suspense and irony to make this film work. I loved Patrick Bateman's explanation of the genius of Huey Newton and the News, while killing his coworker with an axe. After all, the eighties were to Huey as the nineties were to Hootie and the "zeros" to Dave Matthews. The beat of the "dot com" goes on. *** (out of 5)

Hannibal - This is an awful movie. I think I say that a lot, but it's really appropriate here... there's brains, bowels, and lots of blood. Let's go ahead and say it: America is fascinated with cannibalism. Jay Leno got about a month of jokes out of this movie. I wasn't excited about this movie, since I heard the book was bad, and I wasn't excited about the direction the trilogy of movies was taking. What saves this movie is that it *tries* to be awful. It takes a lot of glee in being dreadful, thanks to Ridley Scott's excellent direction. I remember he saved "G.I. Jane" and made the excellent "Bladerunner" and my embarrassed favorite "Legend". His art direction is beautiful, and he keeps the movie rolling along, even though there's only three or four good scenes, and a completely boring and pointless interlude featuring an Italian cop that comes out of nowhere, and stays there. On the other hand, Anthony Hopkins is great as if he's having a lot of fun making a lot of money, and Julianne Moore is more than acceptable as Jodie Foster's replacement. After watching this movie, I ate some ravioli with red sauce, and later cooked up a raw, dead chicken. I couldn't help but think about this movie and smile in spite of myself. *** (out of 5)

Enemy at the Gates - A strong start to this movie, but then it devolves into a silly story about two snipers trying to kill each other. Why is it hard to make a coherent war movie? I mean, even though the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan" was lauded by critics, it didn't have a lot to do with the action that followed. Other recent war movies like "Platoon" or "Full Metal Jacket" also threw in gratuitous violence so we would admit War is Bad. Maybe "Apocalypse Now" is the only one that tells a full story. In any case, once the cat-an-mouse game gets going, it's kind of fun. And therein lies the problem: I don't think War is Fun was the angle they were going for here. They'd like us to believe it's a true story, but I have a hard time swallowing it. None of the actors here are noteworthy, even though they are all competent: Bob Hoskins, Joseph Fiennes, Jude Law, Ron Perlman, and Ed Harris to name a few. This minor-star-studded movie was released to underwhelming fanfare, and it's easy to see why. It really has no more importance than a Super Mario Brothers movie. And while that's a put-down, you have to admit that cartoon violence can be fun. It's a shame that the heroics get in the way of telling us something we didn't already know about Russia vs. the Germans in World War II. *** (out of 5)

Not Another Teen Movie - Ooh, spoofs are just too *easy*. This one seems made up of several five-minute Mad TV skits. That's not a bad criticism... that show can be really funny at times. In fact, I think this movie bogs down at the end when it tries to take its own plot seriously. It's amazing that they don't fall for easy jokes, unlike Scary Movies 1 and 2. For example, a scene where the rejected lover throws pebbles on a beach is trite and has been done before. But where the Wayans would have the hero hit a seagull with a rock (and the dead bird fall into some blonde's cleavage... see how easy it is to write this stuff?) this movie starts an extremely passable musical number ala "Grease". It's directed well, and the deleted scenes on the DVD are edited correctly... they really should have stayed deleted (again, unlike Scary Movies une and deux). It's too bad that the movies they parody are in themselves pretty weak. Do you think anybody will remember "10 Things I Hate About You". Or *any* Freddy Prinze Jr. movie? Those references really date the comedy. So, unlike the 80's John Hughes "classics" that this movie references, nobody will be watching this film in twenty years, even on the USA network. *** (out of 5)

Audition - I've wanted to see this movie for a long time, since it heralds a new breed of Japanese cinema that I think I'll really enjoy. At once intellectual and scary, there's a lot of possibility for beautifully crafted horror that engages the audience. It's filmed in a slow lyrical style, but that shouldn't put off anybody who's ever seen a foreign film. Instead, some of the scenes are priceless: when the canvas mail bag sitting on the floor *moves*, I really jumped. Ok, there's possibly too many "is it real of is it fantasy?" scenes, and there could be a lot of judicious editing - or perhaps more subplots. However, the final ten minutes is worth the price of admission. Where movies like "Fatal Attraction" can milk two hours out of a jilted romance, it's nice to see that Japanese directors like Takashi Miike can rivet the audience to the screen with a single scene. I know I'll be trying to track down his earlier film "Dead or Alive". *** (out of 5)

Kate & Leopold - I hate the aphorism that "comedy is hard". Comedy is really easy. Really fantastic, lasting comedy is hard, but it's easy to get people to laugh. Any idiot can do it with a day-old Leno joke. However, I think romantic comedies are hard. They need three things: humor, plot, and romance. It's rare for a movie to nail all three. They usually forget the humor part, or the leads have no romantic spark or chemistry. This movie misses the plot, which is a rarity. You know how a time-travel movie goes: the guy goes forward in time. He's *amazed* at things like telephones and answering machines. Then, he falls in love, has to go back, and there's a resolution. Not d=so hard? No so fast. There's a real bitter antagonism between Kate and Leopold that's not really justified or explained. Meg Ryan comes off as a whiny annoying New Yorker, while I didn't care what happened to the guy (Hugh Jackman i.e. Huge Assman, looking better here than as Wolverine in "X-Men"). There's odd plot lapses, like when Ryan's ex lands in the hospital. Ryan visits him immediately (spilling coffee on herself in a bad scriptwriting moment), and then forgets about the guy for the rest of the movie. I think even the director was tired of the back-to-the-future plotline, so everyone decided that details like continuity were best forgotten. *** (out of 5)

High Crimes - I saw this on an airline flight. I knew United was in trouble financially, but I was shocked that they couldn't find a better movie for the entire month of July. It was worse coming back... they showed "Big Fat Liar" on the way back, and even without headphones I could tell the movie was really bad. I think they're trying to find movies that none of the customers would have seen, and I can see why - this movie is utterly forgettable. It's a dull "thriller" in the Lifetime Network mode of "woman in trouble". You see, she marries a nice guy and he turns out to be a killer. Sound familiar? Would it be even more familiar if I told you that they want you to think that he's a nice guy, and then try to surprise you with a trick ending? Except they telegraph the change way too early? Yeah, it's what you would expect from Ashley Judd, whose career seems doomed for straight-to-TV dramedies faster than you can say "Meredith Baxter-Birney". Morgan Freeman's in this too, though you'd never remember or care. When the movie seemed like it was ending, but Judd went back to her locked house on a dark stormy night, I knew what was coming - a soft-porn ending where the disgruntled husband comes back for revenge. Yawn. *** (out of 5)

The Adventures of Pluto Nash - This was supposedly the worst movie of 2002. Really? "Glitter" was so much worse. The critics have a point - this movie bobs and weaves as if the director had never seen a feature film before. It's the kind of action movie that a space alien would make. The entire premise of the film falls flat (a discothèque on the moon?), as do all the actors (somebody please kill Jay Mohr). But overall I enjoyed it. It was a fascinating look at how a movie can go wrong. Not too painful, and interesting as a scientific study for future generations. *** (out of 5)

Serendipity- It's a romantic comedy, and it's John Cusack. Can't miss, right? Well, there's something a little *off* about this movie. For example, in one of the scenes cut from the film, Eugene Levy says, "what if it's a godless universe ruled by chaos"? Whoa, here's one Nora-Ephromless vehicle that's taking itself a little too seriously. We don't really care about luck and misfortune. We aren't surprised that the two lovers get together in the end. All I can see is that the charismatic-free leading actress Kate Beckinsale is acting completely loony. Both she and Cusack pine for a long-lost love that didn't seem interesting in the first place, to the extent that they both seem insane. Then there's the problem that two engagements have to be broken up for our protagonists to be happy. Sure, John Corbett is an annoying new-age guy that deserves to be dumped (though Beckinsale seemed seemed happy enough with him at first), but Cusack is a little mean to ditch his fiancée at the altar. I picture the happy couple divorcing after two years, lead astray by affairs that happened "by chance". *** (out of 5)

Frailty - What a bizarre movie. It starts out like a "true story" film: a family man decides that god tells him to kill people. Now, I think there's an interesting plot to be found here. The "Freethought Today" magazine I get every month has hundreds of stories about parent who kill their children out of allegiance to god. Hell, there's the story of Abraham as an example. Once people follow the "Alice in Wonderland" logic of the Wholly Bibble, all bets are off. I remember one time buying a car where the dealer asked for another thousand to the price. I told him (I don't know why) "I was looking for a sign from god not to buy this car..." The guy freaked out and gave me another thousand *off*! Why? He realizes that when dealing with a Xtian hearing things from an Imaginary Man in the Sky, rationality doesn't apply. And internal movie logic doesn't apply here either. Even since M. Night made O Henry popular again, everyone wants to have a twist to their story. It doesn't work here.... SPOILER: it turns out that Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey really *are* dealing out divine retribution with an axe and a lead pipe. But the movie backs away, making god erase surveillance videotapes, kill innocent people, and turn McConaughey the creepiest killing vigilante southern sheriff since Buford Pusser. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. *** (out of 5)

The Last Castle - I love Tony Soprano. So does my boyfriend. James Gandolfini. In a military uniform. Yum. However, this movie falls apart (IMHO) by casting him as the antagonist, and sandpaper-faced hole-of-excitement Robert Redford as the protagonist. Sure, Mr. Soprano kills people, so you could never say he's a *good* guy. Still, as an antihero, he can't be beat. Gandolfini tries to act a lot here, trying to be pathetic and angry at the same time, but devoid of any power or strength, he just looks like Phil Silvers. Redford doesn't help matters by appearing too smug and self-assured to give any kind of tension to the plot. Redford wins, Tony loses, but watching the warden's downfall isn't very interesting because I never believed in him in the first place. Even Shakespeare knew that you've got to set up a great king in order for him to fall. This movie just plays a meaningless game of cat-and-mouse. Now *that's* tragedy. *** (out of 5)

The Bourne Identity - Save me from tedious action movies. "Mission Impossible" (1 *and* 2), "The Saint", almost every Schwartznegger, Bruce Willis, and Stallone movie in the last ten years. How can blowing up things be so dull? I love amnesia movies. I love the fact that the audience has to figure out things as the main character discovers them. I think it lends itself to a fast-paced plot and an exciting climax. However, there needs to be a twist or two, because it's all been shown before. I know this movie is a remake (of a 1988 movie and two seventies-era Robert Ludlum books, which I have never read), but it has such a paint-by-numbers plot. Everything is as you expect it to be, and there's not much there. Franka Potente is still incredibly cool, though. Why isn't she in the new Matrix movie? *** (out of 5)

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron - The animals in this movie don't talk. Instead, they grunt, grimace, and act like constipated mimes. There's also an annoying voiceover, and some really mediocre songs by Bryan Adams. This movie was supposed to revitalize hand-drawn animation, but instead I think it's the death of Disney cartoons as we know them ("and we hardly knew ye"). The only spectacular parts of this movie are the CGI sequences (good fire effects, a runaway locomotive, scenery tracking shots), to the point that I wish the whole movie was either done in CGI or live-action. The hand-drawn art really contributes nothin' but a whole mess of purty pitchers or horses. And any teenage girl can do as well. Still, if you can ignore the silly PC anti-army storyline, this cartoon can be awfully purty. *** (out of 5)

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys - I think it's interesting when I'm right about popular culture. For example, I knew that paintball, Fatboy Slim, and Magic: The Gathering would be hugely popular long before anyone else did. And then there's the long list of things I thought would succeed and didn't: The musical "Chess", The Housemartins, and the TV shows "Probe" and "Dweebs", to name a few. And then there's this movie. I told all my friends about it. Animation by Todd McFarlane! A great plot based on a graphic novel! Jodie Foster as a sadistic nun! However, everything plays a bit too mellow - like the director thought "Stand By Me" moved too fast. Coming of age tales are fun, but not when they take this long to come of age. Oh well, there's always the next Matrix movie... I just *know* that's going to be a huge success. *** (out of 5)

About Schmidt - A lot has been said about what happens to older actresses. They lose their leading roles, and are doomed to play spinsters and "ugly" women. However, it's also interesting to see what happens to men. Some get cast against younger and younger girls (Sean Connery) until they start to look ridiculous, or they milk their acting in "difficult" roles. Jack Nicholson follows the second path. The moviemakers here gleefully love to show Jack all haggard and worn, with deep wrinkles, and messed-up hair. Plus, there's always a few scenes where Jack can go off the deep end and emote, emote, emote. However, this movie is a little mean-spirited to the Midwest. Evidently, Omaha is a living hell... a crass fashion-free place full of RVs and fat people. The movie doesn't move off to anything worth watching. Jack is sad, audience. Sad sad sad. Lonely desperate life and all that. Jack was better in "Teh Crossing Guard" which I saw him in recently. At least then he had a *real* woman, Anjelica Huston, to play off of. Here, he only has the grey Nebraska horizon to emote against, and only bland scenery to chew. *** (out of 5)

Phone Booth - It's like a play. No, I take that back. It's like a cheap premise. A guy answers a phone call from a pay pone booth. A sniper will kill him if he leaves the phone booth. What could be a taut psychodrama ends up being a rather dry sub-Twilight-Zone plot. And it *felt* like a TV show plot, since the thing was only seventy minutes long. Seventy minutes! I've seem infomercials longer than that! I'm sure glad I didn't pay $8 in a movie theater for what is essentially a long drawn-out set piece. For example, I would have been more interested if the sniper was connected to Colin Farrel in any way, Any way whatsoever. Hell, I would even have loved a techno-cyber twist or *any* plot twist whatsoever. And don't tell me you were surprised at the ending. I could see that coming from a city block away, even without a sniper rifle. *** (out of 5)

Harvard Lampoon's Van Wilder - Ignore the three stars; I actually liked this movie. It's just that I didn't like this movie a *lot*. Add the fact that it's a ripoff of a lot of other college movies (including the granddaddy of them all, "Animal House"), and the slow ending. Why do we care if Van gets thrown out of school? The movie takes a maudlin turn at the half-way point, and takes itself waaaaay too seriously. The gags aren't up to the par of "American Pie", as if *that's* not setting the bar really low. I hope there's no sequel, and I can't explain why putting "National Lampoon Presents..." would be an incentive to anybody, except those that remember the one or two good movies (the "Vacation" films, perhaps), and ignores the crappy magazine and the crummy string of semi-comedies since the eighties. I'd reather see a movie that says "Mad Magazine Presents..." but then again, that's just me. *** (out of 5)

The Hours - Sometimes, I like to read Difficult Books. Something in old English, a classic gothic novel, or modern fiction. This movie might not be "good for you", but it does take a bit of patience and concentration. The result is that the payoff isn't really worth it. It might be kind of fun to try to connect the dots of the three star lesbians played by Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Miranda Richardson. Or, you might get to feel smug if you've actually read Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway". However, the endless plots of suicide and gay AIDS patients seem like not much goes on. Which may be the point, but it's an awfully sad one to make. *** (out of 5)

Irreversible - Imagine the Blair Witch Project in a gay bar. No, seriously, that's the idea someone had. This movie is an exercise in style - from the constantly moving camera to the backwards-ordered chronology that worked so much better in "Memento". Because there's no real reason to show this movie backwards. The plot isn't strong enough to support the trick. The very first scene (which is the last chronologically) is a pointless discussion in a hotel room that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. And since in "real time" nothing much happens initially, the entire last half of the movie is a long slow denouement. There are better movies made from these ideas (see Lars Von Trier for camera work, Jane Campion's "Two Friends" for a backwards plot that works), but I have a feeling that the director, Frenchman Gaspar Noé was just trying too hard to be artsy. An artsy Frenchman? C'est ne possible! *** (out of 5)

May - A friend didn't recommend this one to me. Or rather, he said he watched it, thought it was really different, and then said, "You have to make up your own mind." How could I refuse that challenge? I love interesting horror, and I'm dying to see something different on the screen. However, this movie is like something made by a student film director. Here's the entire plot. Ready? A lonely girl kills a few of her "friends" and sews them together. It takes an hour and a half to get there. And for a character study, it's not like we couldn't see it coming a million miles away. The only redeeming value is the fact that it's the first movie made for goths, by goths. Instead of concentrating on the obvious details of goth life (black makeup, morbid music), this is the first movie that unquestioningly presents people that have unorthodox lives. One makes amateur horror films. The other has rather obvious lesbian sex. But those characters aren't presented as freaks. Instead, they seem like really normal people with odd hobbies. Still, that's not enough to sustain such a one-note script idea. *** (out of 5)

The Guru - I want to support all the musicals I can. They're like a dying art - little helpless creatures in a sea of the usual non-musical movies (except for maybe "Chicago", which can stand on its own). Touted as the first Bollywood/ Hollywood crossover, this movie fails on those standards. Bollywood films are these crazy, slapdash affairs where the hero can burst out in song at any moment. Kind of like the failed NBC drama "Cop Rock". This movie has three songs. Three! And two of them are remixes of each other. Where's the love song? Where's the conflict? There are some big stars (Heather Graham and Marisa Tomei, for example) and I think the neophyte director Daisy von Scherler Mayer, has never seen a traditional Indian movie. She's too concerned about giving Tomei enough lines that the whole fun feel of a Bollywood movie is lost. The first ten minutes of "Ghost World" has a better feel. *** (out of 5)

Intacto - I don't watch movie previews. So I don't know how in the world I knew most of the plot to this movie. I'm sure I wouldn't have "accidentally" caught the trailer to a Spanish import thriller, either. Still, I knew the "running blindfolded" scene as well as the general plot of this movie. It's the same as William H. Macy's upcoming "The Cooler", and I hope they have more fun with the idea that this movie did. Not that it's bad, but there are a lot of plot holes and slow scenes for this to be a thriller. I didn't even remember the name of this movie, but rented it based on the cover and an inkling that it was a "puzzle" movie. Unfortunately, I knew the entire plot before-hand, though I don't know how. I'm unlucky, I guess. *** (out of 5)

Hell House - Who are these losers? This documentary never quite opens the door enough to show us. Instead, it plays it incredibly straight, as if it was profiling a "Guffman" theatrical performance rather than a misogynist, homophobic theater of hate. There's no mention of that this whole tired business started with an unpopular church here in Arvada Colorado, and all the controversy is boiled down to a yelling match between an overweight preacher and some goth kids (though it's interesting to note that the kids win the argument). I was hoping for a lot more - maybe a historical perspective, or some soundbites from the other side. I guess it's important that these bozos are frozen in time as a piece of historical data. They'll be gone soon enough, and some day we can look back on this movie as a dark comedy and laugh at them. ***