[AA-AM] [AN-AZ] [BA-BM] [BN-BZ] [CA-CM] [CN-CZ] [DA-DM] [DN-DZ] [EA-EM] [EN-EZ] [FA-FM] [FN-FZ] [GA-GM] [GN-GZ] [HA-HM] [HN-HZ] [IA-IM] [IN-IZ] [JA-JM] [JN-JZ] [KA-KM] [KN-KZ] [LA-LM] [LN-LZ] [MA-MM] [MN-MZ] [NA-NM] [NN-NZ] [OA-OM] [ON-OZ] [PA-PM] [PN-PZ] [Q] [RA-RM] [RN-RZ] [SA-SZ] [SN-SZ] [TA-TM] [TN-TZ] [UA-UM] [UN-UZ] [VA-VM] [VN-VZ] [WA-WM] [WN-WZ] [X] [YA-YM] [YN-YZ] [Z]
(PG; 111 min.) A strangely fascinating movie following a beguiling story line that somehow manages to reinvent every cliché known to cinema. Based on a hugely popular young adult novel, the story follows Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf), a young man born of an eccentric family where all the men share the same palindromic name, as he's wrongly arrested and sentenced to dig holes in the middle of the desert at Camp Green Lake. The holes, Stanley's camp mate and the warden all share a bond that involves race, class, destiny and historyfactors that play into a mysterious family curse. Really, it's about the standard kid-movie themes: maturing through challenges, building character and learning how to value family. But it hangs together because the writing is so strong and because of deft performances from veterans like Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight and newcomers like LaBeoufand cameos by the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler, Lakers star Rick Fox and Eartha Kitt. (MG)
(1938) In Holiday, Cary Grant plays as a freethinker about to marry the stuffy daughter (Doris Nolan) of a millionaire, although her nonconformist sister (Katharine Hepburn) begins to appeal to him more. It's based on Philip (The Philadelphia Story) Barry's hit play; Hepburn had understudied her role for more than 200 performances but never had a chance to perform it onstage. Lew Ayres co-stars as the hard-drinking but gentle brother; Edward Everett Horton plays Grant's chum with more than the customary pleasing effeteness. (RvB)
(1938/1937) George Cukor directs Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Holiday, a comedy about an heiress and a radical lawyer; Philip Barry (The Philadelphia Story) wrote the source play. BILLED WITH Topper. Meek little banker Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) is haunted by the spirits of his dead playboy friends, the Kirbys (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett). "That the living dead are always facetious may be shocking to sensibilities," Variety warned at the time, but to no avail; the film was a hit, spawning two sequels and a pretty good TV show. (RvB)
(PG) Maybe studio execs, seeking to justify their livelihood, want us to pity them for their enormous salariesand in the case of Holy Man, sympathize with their high-stress jobs, too. Why else would Hollywood continue to crank out these unwatchable comedies that preach till our ears bleed that money can't buy happiness? Granted, it's hard to say what money did buy Eddie Murphy for appearing in this one-chuckle formulaic vehicle, but buy him it did. And probably the "happiness" of a studio hack or two is banking on Murphystarring as a religious pilgrim whose simple, feel-good philosophy saves the plummeting sales of a home-shopping networkto carry Holy Man. But even Murphy's talent can't make up for the fact that there's nothing here for him to work with, and as Good Buy Shopping Network executive Ricky Hayman (Jeff Goldblum) clenches his fists over the flagging sales figures that might cost him his job, it's not hard to imagine similar reactions from the folks who green-lighted this stinker in the first place. (HZ)
(PG; 104 min.) Bribe the babysitter handsomely to take the kids to this oneno one over eight will be able to stand Home Alone 3 without cash incentives. The third, and hopefully last, installment in producer/writer John Hughes' Home Alone franchise, the movie is a lot like the first, recycling the sight gags but minus the charm. In the place of a now adolescent Macaulay Culkin is Alex (Alex D. Linz), another undeniably cute imp whose appeal, like that of his predecessor, is squandered by constant mugging for the camera. While home sick with the chicken pox, Alex must defend himself from four bungling international thieves who are, unbelievably for a kids' movie, willing to kill him to get at an important microchip concealed in his toy car. The thieves' bloodlust for the clever tot is particularly unfortunateit will probably scare the only audience members young enough to enjoy the movie. (HZ)
(PG-13; 104 min.) A good example of a stealth movie is Home for the Holidays. What's sold as a John Hughes family comedy is a quirky, bright and sweet piece about the annual Thanksgiving ritual. It features a typically intelligent script by W.D. Richter (Slither, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai). Few screenwriters are so adroit at balancing comedy and sentiment. Photographed in melancholy fall light and yet handy with the coarser humor, the movie delivers a fart joke with the same low-key bemusement as a maiden aunt's admission of a life-long crush. Newly fired and suffering from a cold, Claudia (Holly Hunter) heads home to dine with her family: lovable dad (Charles Durning), aggravating mother (Anne Bancroft) and gay, prankster brother (Robert Downey Jr.). The various tensions in the household give way into flashes of poignancy: Downey murmuring, "How's my real family?" when calling some friends back home; Claudia having a very nasty and irreconcilable fight with her sister. Hunter, as good a straight man as Jeremy Irons, shows her skills reacting to the ridiculously woeful tale of a sheepish electrician"the saddest sack in the universe." Bancroft twinkles far less than is usually the case for this kind of role. Twinkle she does, of course, which is where the stealth comes inthe edges of the material are rounded off now and again. I wish that Richter and not Jodie Foster had been directing. Still, get past the more mainstream jokes, and there's a solid undertone of holiday blues. (RvB)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Not a light romantic comedy by any stretch of the imagination, director Dean Parisot's Home Fries is a wicked movie. The story of a warped mother (Catherine O'Hara) and two eager-to-please sons (Jake Busey and Luke Wilson) who plot to eliminate cheating husband and stepfather Henry Leaver (Chris Ellis), Home Fries has a sinister sense of humor. Drew Barrymore stars as the unfortunate former lover of the condemned Leaver who got a bun in the oven before realizing her suitor was married. Slaving away at the drive-in of the local Burger-Matic, her character, Sally, is part of a series of potential loose ends. To find out if she knows anything, Dorian (Wilson) gets a job there and inevitably develops a weak spot for her sweet smile and bouncy red curls. Set in the South, Home Fries draws life from its portrayal of off-center characters who are so unbelievable that they become completely real. (SQ)
(PG; 76 min.) This 2-D movie about animals who go a-capturin' outlaws to save their farm is the final traditionally animated feature film from Walt Disney, if you can believe it. Co-director/writer Will Finn worked on all of Disney's best animated movies in the '90s, so hopefully he can send the hand-drawn tradition that began 44 films ago with 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs out on a high note. (Capsule preview by SP)
(G; 100 min.) This sequel to Disney's 1993 live-action film has canine pals Chance (voiced by Michael J. Fox) and Shadow (Ralph Waite) and their wise-cracking feline sidekick Sassy (Sally Field) hopelessly separated again from their beloved human family and, this time, wandering around San Francisco. Well, most of the time, it's San Francisco; a few scenes in budget-conscious Vancouver are inexplicably mixed in, as if no one will notice. Other sleights of editing that more easily fool the eyes are a few stunts pulled off by the four-legged performers that look certain to cause injury or discomfort. In particular, a couple of vicious canine wrestling matches are unpleasant to watch and useless to the narrative, except to inject more "adventure" into a lagging plot. Watching these scenes, it's a comfort to remember that the law protects animal actors. Among its redeeming qualities, Homeward Bound II, with the now almost requisite anti-animal-testing message, is bolder than most animal films, but it still would've been better to let this sleeping sequel lie. For good. (HZ)
(PG-13; 94 min.) Jessica (Dark Angel) Alba stars as a young dancer trying to make it big. Co-stars Lil' Romeo and Mekhi Phifer.
Francisco Leon, a documentary maker originally from the Santa Clara Valley, returns for the premiere of his new film, Honor Thy Children, a feature film all about how a family overcame the trauma of losing three children-one murdered, two who fell to AIDS. The screening is a benefit for Honor Thy Children Inc, a non-profit aiming to educate the public on the way discrimination worsens the agony caused by the AIDS pandemic. (RvB)
(R; 130 min.) Based loosely on Harlem's underground gambling racket of the 1930s, Hoodlum looks at the hate and bloodshed caused by racism and greed. For nearly 10 years, Madame Stephanie St. Clair (Cicely Tyson) ran Harlem's numbers peacefully, but when Bronx bootlegger Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) decides to operate his own game in Harlem, good-guy gangster Elsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) steps in to protect the all-black establishment from white invasion. Unfortunately, greed and power consume Bumpy, who only learns through the death of his cousin that integrity, life and love are more important than material gain. As is the case with most shoot-'em-ups, the action scenes surpass the dramatic ones in believability and impact. (BY)
(PG; 80 min.) Great for punishing unruly kids. The brothers Cory and Todd Edwards had a fine high conceptRashomon, done Grimm Brothers style. A dapper frog detective called Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers) tries to solve the seemingly open-and-shut case of the Wolf's assault on Little Red Riding Hood. Unfortunately, this computer-animated film fails in almost all categories; questions of whether the music is worse than the art are temporarily resolved during the song "Red Is Blue." It's as novice as the animation flaunted in ads for the Academy of Art. Voices include Glenn Close as Granny, James Belushi as the Woodsman, anda redeeming factorPatrick Warburton as the Wolf. (RvB)
(1991) A grown-up Peter Pan (Robin Williams mugging painfully) returns to his childhood haunts to rescue his own children from Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman, who ought to know better). It is Steven Spielberg at his loudest and shrillest and least satisfying. (AR)
(PG; 90 min.) Carl Hiaasen's pro civil disobedience children's book is co-adapted by Hiaasen and TV vet director Wil Shriner. It's like Edward Abbey for a family audience. Roy (Logan Lerman), a new kid in a Florida town, meets a blonde (Brie Larsen) given to fisticuffs and a feral kid nicknamed "Mullet Fingers" (Cody Linley) because of his ability to hand-catch fish. The three join together to protect a colony of burrowing owls. The delicate birds are straight in the path of the bulldozers, as a local pancake restaurant has plans to build on the vacant lot where the owls are nesting. (It's all part of what local Mayor Robert Wagner terms his "Six-point economic development plan to bring 12 jobs.") Neither an amiable but useless cop (Luke Wilson) nor the building site's security guard (Tim Blake Nelson) can stop the kids. Not nearly brisk enough, though cinematographer Michael Chapman's Florida scenery is luscious. Co-producer Jimmy Buffet provided the in-one-ear-and-out-the-other original songs. It's actually the sound of silence that's more special during the film's climax: the moment is a clever reversal of the ruckus the kids are supposed to make to revive the dying Tinkerbelle in Peter Pan. (RvB)
(PG-13; 110 min.) A former prom queen (Sandra Bullock) goes back to her little hometown in Texas after her husband and her best friend humiliate her on national television. She has problems with her mother and daughter and is wooed by a hunky ne'er-do-well (Harry Connick Jr.) who's been carrying a torch for her since high school. Bullock has learned to act at last, and director Forest Whitaker (Waiting to Exhale) makes good use of her in this flyweight weepie. Connick, who's a better singer than he is an actor, and he's not much of a singer, luckily doesn't have to do much except make moony eyes at Bullock. (BC)
(R; 118 min.) Angelo (Olivier Martinez) is caught behind the lines of a quarantine in the cholera epidemic of 1832 in France. While in hiding, he encounters the beautiful woman (Juliette Binoche) who becomes his traveling companion. It is a visually diverting but superficial adventure, based on a superior novel by Jean Giono. Martinez is a virginal simp, but Binoche's ironic smile is the best thing in the movie; this thoroughly modern actress, subsumed into a post-Enlightenment aristocrat, certainly gives you an idea of what it was like back in great-great-grandfather's day to be seduced by a glance. (RvB)
(PG-13; 164 min.) Based on the bestselling novel by Nicholas Evans, Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer is an exquisitely filmed epic. Glorifying the earthy life of a rancher, the cinematography takes the simplest things, like a dying ember or raindrops on a window, and makes them beautiful. The casting of Redford as Tom Booker and Kristin Scott Thomas as Annie MacLean is impeccable, and the vast Montana landscape matches the book's setting perfectly. While mostly faithful to Evans' novel, the movie really only dramatizes key elements, as if assuming that the audience has read the novel and can fill in the gaps. Still, at almost three hours, it's a shame more of Evans' tale wasn't included. Instead, Redford opts for a slow-paced, almost plodding simplicity. With more music than dialogue and more image than character development, the intensity of the novel's love story is severely diminished on the screen. While the ending is not the terribly bleak one found in the book, it is a fitting one, making it hard to fault Redford for softening the book's painful blow. The Horse Whisperer is a touching film, but the book is so much better, it's impossible to walk away satisfied. (SQ)
(R; 102 min.) Bruce Willis must save somebody else's family without losing his own family in an action thriller.
(R; 95 min.) Wes Craven once told me in an interview that the best horror films are the ones in which the director is able to convince the audience that they cannot be trusted to create a movie that is safe or sane. That's the simplest way to explain to the haters why director Eli Roth lets things get so transgressively nasty in this crafty story of some backpacking lads who make accommodation choices definitely not sanctioned by Let's Go Europe. It's also telling that J-horror fave Takashi Miike makes a funny cameo; this movie owes everything to his Audition in terms of structure and cosmic irony. Like that film, Hostel is basically a gory fairy tale. The theme is candy everybody wants. But you should know better than to take it from strangers, and you should always give it to little kids when they ask for it. Other lessons imparted here include "Learn a foreign language," and "Stop being such an Ugly American, for fuck's sake." It's hard to argue with such pertinent moral lessons when the means of persuasion include chain saws and blow torches. (SP)
(PG-13; 101 min.) Rachel McAdams plays cheerleading captain Jessica Spencer, who's dating the school quarterback. Rob Schneider plays a sloppy petty thief. What happens when the two switch bodies due to some crazy voodoo spell? The Hot Chick spends way too long trying to find out. As a confirmed Schneider fanwhat? Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and The Animal were freaking great!I have to admit that The Hot Chick gives up the least laughs. There is no comic foil for Schneider; the potty humor is replaced by slapstick. At times, the theater was absolutely still during the forced funny parts, which left a vapor trail of shaking heads in their wake. Without the special effects of The Animal or the comic absurdity of Deuce Bigalow, this Schneider vehicle succumbs to an "everyone is pretty on the inside" vibe that will turn your stomach. Bring on Deuce Bigalow II. (TI)
(1932) Cary Grant plays a notorious wastrel millionaire in the small, gossip-ridden town of Marysville. When word gets out that a local girl (Nancy Carroll) attended a wild party at his estate, she ends up with cooked goose and reputation shot. The young Grant's mannerisms here are like Tony Curtis' imitation of him in Some Like It Hot; he's a bit predatory, which isn't like the star he became in later years. (RvB)
(R; 96 min.) This Australian romantic comedy tries to have its wedding cake and eat it, too, but surprisingly, sprinkled among a plot that has about as much substance as butter-cream frosting, are some entertaining scenes. Hotel de Love preaches two disparate messages, with the first half of the film warning against mistaking idealistic notions of love for "the real thing," while the second half declares that fantasy and reality in romance can be one and the same. The variousand variously believableplights of the Hotel de Love guests stem from a long-time rivalry between two brothers Rick (Aden Young) and Steven (Simon Bossell) over an old high-school love (Saffron Burrows). Bossell is especially good as Steven, the "sensitive" brother, whose twitchy neuroticism makes you cringe with sympathy for his shyness. The sets depicting the Hotel de Love, a gloriously tacky honeymoon spot, are good for some laughs, particularly as they portray a gentle cynicism faintly reminiscent of Muriel's Wedding toward all the frilly trappingsand idealsthat often accompany the marriage ceremony. (HZ)
(PG; 108 min.) When two kids discover that their parents are going to get a divorce, they hatch an inane and insane plan to get them back together. Sound familiar? That's because House Arrest, with all its Home Alone antics, is just a poor reincarnation of Parent Trap with a '90s "Question Authority" spin. Grover Biendorf (Kyle Howard), the 14-year-old hero with bad '80s hair, takes his parents hostage in their Defiance, Ohio (subtlety is not the film's strength), basement so they can work out their differences. The plot thickens to clam chowder consistency when the school bully, the class beauty queen and Grover's best friend decide that the same needs to be done with their parents. Thus, seven adults are crammed into the Biendorf basement while their children wreak havoc, attempt to counsel their parents and outwit the nosy, ex-police chief neighbor (Ray Walston). Though the children's plan is successful, they never really learn the difference between empowerment and domination. But the role reversal is hilarious and telling: The children understand the art of communication while the adults argue. And it's really quite amusing to watch Ned (Kevin Pollak) and Janet (Jamie Lee Curtis) Biendorf rekindle their relationship on the front lawn while their kids are being read their rights for kidnapping. (BY)
(1945) Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) solves the mysterious murders of the members of the Good Comrades club. Based on the title of The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips (in this land of navel oranges, the idea of an orange with seeds ["pips"] is mysterious enough.) (RvB)
Full text review.
(PG-13; 119 min.) In the Tang Dynasty, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a secret policeman working for the emperor. He receives a tip that at the fancy local brothel there is a dancing girl connected to a mysterious revolutionary organization called the House of Flying Daggers. At the brothel, Jin seeks out his suspect: a dancing girl named Mei (Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), who happens to be blind. Pretending to be a drunken playboy, Jin assaults Mei. The plan is to cause a big enough hubbub that the policemeaning Jin's partner, Leo (Andy Lau)will haul Mei in for questioning, without tipping off her confederates. Mei turns out to be a lethal swordswomanand almost nothing we've heard previously turns out to be true. The film has a genuinely astonishing color scheme. Even if the setting is the middle of the year 800, the trio of lovelorn warriors is dressed in 1890s colors. Their brocaded silks, swirling as these warriors swoop through the air, seem to have come from the era right after the invention of aniline dyes: their robes are of iridescent royal blue, mauve and bottle green. The Peony Palace is essentially an enormous cloisonné box, with enameled walls as gleaming and richly hued as Tiffany glass. In this luscious setting, Mei uses the long prehensile sleeves of her silk robes to snatch a sword out of the hands of an attacker. All too frequently, cut-rate computer graphics bleed the color out of our movies, leaving us with nothing but a visual murk that ranges from gray-blue to gray-white. This movie is a demonstration of how relatively little we Americans get in the way of color, despite the notorious cost of our cinema. But like all demonstrations, House of Flying Daggers grows a little wearisome. Zhang Yimou's follow-up to Hero misses the forcefulness of that epic and its fierce central idea: how the hero braved an army to hang a sword of Damocles over the emperor. (RvB)
(1934/1933) George Arliss, a stage actor who played many prominent figures in history during the early '30sVoltaire, Disraeli, Alexander Hamiltonhere plays two members of the Jewish banking house that established its foothold during the Napoleonic wars. Also stars Loretta Young, Boris Karloff and C. Aubrey Smith. BILLED WITH Employees' Entrance, a very good comedy about a lecherous department store owner (Warren Williams) thwarted by a married woman he's out to sexually harass. It is a prime example of the maturity of pre-Code cinema. (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) Some zombie-flick fans feel like cinema is in the midst of a gut-munching renaissance, but I think all we really got from Resident Evil is the unfortunate notion that video games about zombies are a legitimate and promising excuse for a movie about zombies. (It might have been different if George Romero had been allowed to direct Resident Evil, as originally planned, but I won't go into that here. So here's another pretender along the same lines, but with even less of a plot than REkids get stuck on Zombie Island or something. Um, didn't they steal that from Scooby-Doo? (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 105 min.) Last year I revisited the 1953 House of Wax, and damn, it was way better than I remembered. Which gives this new version a lot more to live up to then other recent remakes of post-World War II B-horror like 13 Ghosts and House on Haunted Hill. Dark Castle Entertainment, a company that was pretty much started specifically to remake old horror films, did pretty well on those twotheir films imagine a 21st-century equivalent to the classic idea of the horror "B," with competent filmcraft, some spooky atmosphere and a lot of gore (and are certainly better than Michael Bay's recent horror remakes). Still, I'd rather watch Vincent Price than Paris Hilton any day. (Capsule preview by SP)
(R; 115 min.) Despite intriguing special effects and a gruesome and violent gore factor, director William Malone's flashy remake of House on Haunted Hill has its problems. Geoffrey Rush stars as maniacal billionaire theme-park mogul Stephen Price, who arranges a party in an old insane asylum with a terrible past to satisfy his mean-spirited, gold-digging wife Evelyn's (Famke Janssen) strange birthday wish. Because the house is reputed to be haunted, as a gimmick, Price perversely offers 1 million dollars to each person still alive when morning comes. His money-hungry guests (played by Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson and Peter Gallagher) can't wait to survive the night and collect their fortune. Only the wonderfully pessimistic Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), a descendant of the building's original owner, despairs when he's trapped inside with the rest of the pitiful lot. What the movie lacks in substance, it makes up for in twisted, but often compelling, visuals. Its main flaw is that it relies on the classic schlocky horror-movie blunders for suspense and shock. You want to kick the characters who don't follow the rules (i.e. Don't get drunk if a monster is after you; don't go in the basement if the monster is waiting for you; don't open the door if you think the monster is behind it; and most importantly, never, ever split up. The filmmakers might as well have had some big-busted blonde in a transparent nightie tripping her way through a dark forest while some homicidal maniac chases her down.) Anything the movie couldn't explain or make sense of was conveniently attributed to the all-powerful life force of the building and the too-open ending was hasty, unsatisfying and sloppily done. (SQ)
(1940) Cary Grant in buckskins and knee breeches; it's said to be one of those films that proves that costumes alone keep any Car Cultureolutionary War movie from being a hit (until the exception that proved the rule, The Patriot). It co-stars Martha Scott and Richard Carlson as Thomas Jefferson. Trivia note: those scintillating comedians Moe, Shemp and Curly Howardbetter known as The Three Stoogesused to do a routine where they billed themselves as "The Howards of Old Virginia." (RvB)
(R; 96 min.) Redman and Method Man take a toke and go to college.
Full text review.
(PG; 110 min.) In a pastel citya cross between Paris and Vienna on the verge of the Great Wara wizard named Howl tries to avoid the draft, and a bewitched girl named Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer), trapped in the body of an old lady, tries to free herself from her enchantment. The newest from Japan's Hayao Miyazaki is everything you could expect from the creator of Spirited Away. Here are the bejeweled colors and infinite tenderness of a master working in 2-D animation, a form that's presumed by the market to be dead. Yet the delicacy and emotions of the film show up the crassness of celeb-driven computer stuff like Madagascar and Shark Tale. Despite Howl's amazing feats of imagination, elementary plot points seem to evaporate. The wagers of a foolish war are never punished or shamed. It is the work of an aged animator, whose tranquil reveries dilute the force of the tale. (RvB)
(R; 120 min.) Reportedly, Terry McMillan had to significantly alter elements of her novel when she was adapting it to a screenplay because the story was too introspective and wouldn't hold an audience's attention. Unfortunately, the book's contemplative approach to the thoughts and feelings of Stella, a 40-year-old American businesswoman, about her romance with Winston Shakespeare, a 20-year-old Jamaican man she meets while vacationing, was what made the novel such a fun read; without Stella's narration (except for the odd remark), this adaptation lacks the warmth of its literary counterpart. As Stella, however, Angela Bassett keeps the character's depth and strength intact; even if we don't get to literally read Stella's thoughts, they're pretty plain on Bassett's face. The casting is right on the mark, not only aestheticallyin the book, both Stella and her young paramour are gorgeous people, which Bassett and Taye Diggs as Winston most undeniably arebut more importantly, strong performances all around take a formulaic script and make it a watchable drama. (HZ)
(PG) In Dr. Seuss' book How the Grinch Stole Christmas and in the 1966 cartoon based on it, the Grinch didn't understand the true spirit of the holiday season; with this new live-action version, it seems there are a few Grinches at Imagine Entertainmentit takes a heart three sizes too small to convert such a tale into a cash cow. Oh, this new Grinch does plenty to decry the materialism of the holiday seasonloudly and repeatedlybut wide-eyed tots seem as likely to hanker for the myriad tie-in toys and cereals and snack foods as for finding the True Meaning of Christmas so sought after by confused little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen). In this version, It's the Whos down in Whoville, all obsessed with the trimmings, who really don't grasp the special family feeling of the holidays, until Cindy Lou finds redemption for the whole town in her efforts to reform the curmudgeonly Grinch (Jim Carrey), the town outcast. Director Ron Howard has lifted enough from the book and the cartoonmostly in the form of Dr. Seuss' whimsical visions of the mountain village of Whovillethat this new version is not without its charms, and Carrey's standard maniacal antics translate well enough to this big-screen interpretation of the titular green goblin, but it's not a tale that Dr. Seuss ever would have told. This retellingintricately staged sight-gags and allis a grown-up version of a kids' fairy tale, right down to its aura of holiday weariness. (HZ)
(PG-13; 101 min.) Love doesn't come easy for high schooler Mandy Moore. As a matter of fact, she has to wallow in personal tragedy before she can open herself up to a real relationship with Trent Ford. After this and A Walk to Remember, a huge future on the Lifetime channel for Ms. Moore.
(PG-13; 114 min.) Day One: Take him to see this comedy about Kate Hudson trysting with Matthew McConaughey.
(PG-13; 109 min.) In life, this film advises, "You have to go by your instinct. You have to be brave." But there's no danger of such boldness or intuition in the oh-so-traditional storyline of How to Make an American Quilt, a drama about a young graduate student (Winona Ryder) who spends the summer at the home of her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) as she mulls over her boyfriend's marriage proposal, with help from the life stories of the women in her grandmother's quilting bee. All of the quilters' stories are touching but some receive such moralistic portrayals that the identities of the storytellers are lost in curiously damning tales of failed marriages. Fortunately, what the story lacks, American Quilt's talented cast often compensates for, adding rich dimension whenever possible to their characters. Maya Angelou, Jean Simmons, Alfre Woodard and Anne Bancroft redeem a tired moral tale that might otherwise have been cut straight from a pattern. (HZ)
(1965) Movies really had titles in those days. Lemmon stars as a happy bachelor who gets tanked and marries a pushy Italian woman (Virna Lisi). Under her influence, his daily-paper cartoon strip, Brash Brannigan, Secret Agent, is forcibly changed into The Brannigans, a feuding-couple strip on the lines of The Lockhorns. Pushed to the brink of murder, Lemmon, like the conductor Rex Harrison played in Unfaithfully Yours, schemes the perfect crime. Terry-Thomas, as his valet, helps him test it. And then the wife turns up missing. Directed by Richard Quine; screenplay by George Axelrod (The Manchurian Candidate, Lord Love a Duck.) (RvB)
(2000) Laurent Cantet's drama about the Aubry law, the reduction of the French work week to 35 hours, which in this film is used as a smoke-screen to lay off employees. The story is played out in the rivalry between a old factory worker father and his young business-shark of a son. (RvB)
Full text review.
(G; 95 min.) Since history occurs first as tragedy and second as Mel Brooks, Disney's Quasimodo in the new animated feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame looks about as rough as Mr. Magoo. And there is, of course, a happy ending. The French were just about to forgive us for EuroDisney, too, wouldn't you know it? The film follows (until the absurd finish) the essence of Victor Hugo's novel. The hideously (well, in this case, cutely) deformed Quasimodo, employed as the bell ringer in Paris' Notre Dame cathedral, falls in love with the street performer Esmeralda, whose is also contended for by his villainous foster father, Frollo, and the handsome Captain Phoebus. Esmeralda can perform all sorts of intriguing magic tricks, but when you get too close, she looks like Demi Moore, who does the voice. The male lead, Phoebus (voiced by Kevin Kline) has a hands-in-the-pockets coolness that is a pleasing anecdote to overbearing Moore/Esmeralda. The songs are horrendous, and there are about 800 of them, including a weepy hymn (sung in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary) titled "God Help the Outcasts." God help the soundtrack, which seems to be composed exclusively of outcasts. (RvB)
(1997/1993) Hong Kong security guard Yuen Biao, stationed in the Philippines, takes the rap for a murder he didn't commit. Jessica Hester and Zhang Feng-Yi co-star. BILLED WITH The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk. This amiable, fairy tale-like story of a rich bandit offering his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever can outfight his wife (Sibelle Hu) is highly recommended. Fong (Jet Li), a yokel, enters the contest and wins but is treacherously denied the prize. Fong's tough mother (the lovable Josephine Siao) dons drag to fix the matter, but then the bandit's wife falls in love at first sight with this "man" who can fight harder than she can. The film is especially memorable for the fight sequence staged atop the bald heads of a crowd of spectators. (RvB)
Full text review.
(Unrated; 89 min.) Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry's documentary, based on Joe Conason and Gene Lyon's book, is a typically diverting entry in the 2004 docu glut, and actually a kind of unofficial prequel for Fahrenheit 9/11. Essentially, the directors investigate the "vast right-wing conspiracy," in Hillary's immortal phrase, of the various scandals meant to topple Clinton's presidency. What emerges isn't anything quite so organized as a conspiracy. Rather, it's a tag-team feeding frenzy. Miffed Arkiesmany of them members of the same species of disappointed office seeker that killed President Garfieldoffered imaginative tales of Clinton's earlier infidelities to the tabloids. A partisan investigator named Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate an ancient real-estate deal, in which a manic-depressive failed banker and his wife were supposedly given a $300,000 government loan. (RvB)
(1937/1936) Nordhoff and Hall (Mutiny on the Bounty) wrote the source novel about strife in the South Seas; it was a project worked on at various stages by Howard Hawks, Ben Hecht and John Ford, who directed. Here, racism and the perfect storm interfere with the simple Polynesian life of a pair of lovers on the island of Manukura. Terangi (the strapping Jon Hall, discovered at a filling station) stares longingly at sarong-wrapped Marama (Dorothy Lamour of New Orleans), while the storm clouds gather. Loads of top-drawer character actors lurking in the palms: Raymond Massey, Thomas Mitchell (playing a drunken doctor again), Mary Astor, C. Aubrey Smith and John Carradine. The backgrounds were shot in Samoa at Pago Pago for a cost of $100,000 Depression dollars. According to Samuel Goldwyn's biographer A. Scott Berg, the wind machines blew the sand sharply enough for the grains to draw blood. Samoan extras claimed the man-made storm was worse than the killer hurricane they'd lived through in 1915. Berg also suggests that the Alfred Newman theme, "The Moon of Manakura," is one of the primary sources for the exotic instrumental music beloved by tiki fanciers. BILLED WITH The Jungle Princess. The perfect example of what avant-garde filmmaker Jack Smith used to refer to as a "plaster lagoon" picture, with Dorothy Lamour in a star-making performance. She plays an orphaned American girl raised by Lemo the tiger; she fends off villagers who suspect her of sorcery, since she speaks Tiger, and she is the master of baboons. Needless to say, eventually she beguiles that beast known as Man (Ray Milland), who is so much more credulous than the guileless baboon. (RvB)
(R; 86 min.) Mutely trying to "Go West, young man," wound-tight East Village teen Marcus (Brenden Sexten III) wants to flee the hate-ridden city for New Mexico, financed by a promised plane ticket from his uncle and CDs shoplifted from Tower. His homeboys want to commit grander thefts; his new paramour, Melena (Isidra Vega), wants her father to stop beating on her. His mother wants out of Riker's Island. He wants "space." Hurricane Streets is at its best showing the funky beauty Marcus and his fledgeling posse find improvising an urban pastoral: a pup tent on a rooftop tar beach, an underground clubhouse in an abandoned pumphouse beside the East River. However, the adult characters are as flat as the locations are sharp.The result is unaffecting melodrama. Like Marcus, Hurricane Streets is well-meaning but inchoate. (DH)
(PG-13; 95 min.) Having triumphed over a spectacularly embarrassing screen debut (when she had her top ripped off by King Kong in 1976), Jessica Lange emerged as a fierce dark-eyed actress. And then, when she aged, it was payback time. In Hush, swanning around in white satin pajamas and gloating over a toy merry-go-round, a Southern-accented Lange plays Martha, a melodramatic bad woman who owns a heavily mortgaged thoroughbred farm. Nina Foch, as Lange's estranged mother-in-law, sums up the plot matchbook-style: Lange is out to "breed herself a grandson." You'd want to use better stock for that particular genetic experiment than Martha's new daughter-in-law, Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow), who sulks and whines through the picture so irritatingly that your sympathies are totally held by Lange. Unfortunately, goodness triumphs. The script is complete succotash; no one seems to be wise to Martha the psycho, not even the son (pretty boy Johnathon Schaech) who had been stuck with her alone for almost 20 years. Director Johnathan Darby's photographic compositions are what you'd see in a Sears' catalog; and his idea of suspense is pop-ups (as when he bombards Paltrow with dead rats). Hush is a depressingly bland study of a madwoman; instead of shuddering for being in Lange's presence, you just feel sorry for her, sorry for a worthy actress caught in the muck. (RvB)
Full text review.
(R; 116 min.) After buying an old Casio from a street wino, a dissatisfied Memphis pimp named DJay (Terrence Dashon Howard) rekindles his love for music. With the desperation of man with few options, he partners up with Key (Anthony Andrews), who wires up a makeshift recording studio in DJay's house. They struggle to complete a recording of crunk-flavored rap in time from the Fourth of July. On that day, a rap star who went platinum, Skinny Black (Ludacris), will be coming back to Memphis. Long-time white indie filmmaker Craig Brewer shot it on 16 mm; at Sundance, it was wept over by seekers of the authentic urban movie. Brewer is no naive artist; the Tarantino-love is evident in the opening monologue and in the faux-1970s typeface on the titles. Hustle & Flow dismisses Elvis with the flick of a radio dial, and then takes a Country Kitchen Buffet-sized helping of the plot of Jailhouse Rock. The authentic locations and the fine acting by Howard, Elise Neal and the show-stealing Taraji P. Henson keep you watching, but it's an unabashedly sexist film. The white music producer Shelby (DJ Qualls) has an enthusiastic marijuana-fueled speech about how "Back Door Man" and "Back That Ass Up" are one musical continuum. Not quiteone song is about a lover, and the other song is about a master. The "pimps up, whores down" message of Hustle & Flow will be swallowed whole by a crowd that'll never think twice about how Hollywood pimps them good. (RvB)
(Unrated; 83 min.) The new documentary Hype! uncovers the history of the "grunge" music boom that occurred when a few Pacific Northwest bandsSoundgarden, Screaming Trees, Nirvanagarnered underground status. What followed was all too typical, as the media, like a child fiddling with matches, whipped up a fire storm. Hype!'s live footage captures the sweaty intimacy of good bands and good beer. Nirvana fans will rejoice over a shaky 16mm version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." If Hype! can be faulted for something, it is that director Doug Pray is a little too cozy with his subjects. For all the pro-DIY messages, no mention is made of Sub Pop's relationship with Geffen Records, which purchased a good chunk of the seminal Seattle-based label. (TSI)