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Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Movie listings

February 15, 2001

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Cast Away
Not many actors could pull off a virtual one-man show, spending most of a movie stranded on an island with no human companions. Tom Hanks isn't just any actor, though, and he proves again why he's amassing an Oscar collection. If only the rest of this tedious, poorly structured film lived up to its star's talents. "Cast Away" is riddled with plot holes and drags on and on (and on), until finally lurching to a deeply unsatisfying conclusion. Poor Robert Zemeckis (who also directed Hanks in "Forrest Gump") wants to be profound and inspiring, but he just doesn't have it in him. (PG-13) -- LL
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.






Ratings:* = Awful** = Worth a look*** = Good**** = ExcellentReviewers: Loey Lockerby, Dan Lybarger and Jon Niccum

Chocolat
The latest flick from director Lasse Hallstrom is as light and charming as his "The Cider House Rules" was somber. A stiff, fussy French community is turned upside down when a single mother (Juliette Binoche, "The English Patient") opens up a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent. Her treats have an oddly medicinal quality that makes some locals addicts and the mayor (Alfred Molina) an enemy. While the supporting cast is splendid, Binoche's delightfully low-key performance anchors the flick. The endearing characters and the director's storybook tone make for some tasty (if fattening) cinema. (PG-13) -- DL
*** Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In the hands of director Ang Lee ("Ride with the Devil"), the fight between two warriors (Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh) and two bandits (Chen Pei-Pei and Zhang Ziyi) for ownership of a 400-year-old sword becomes as urgent as a Biblical prophecy come true. While Lee is known for more introspective fare such as "The Ice Storm" and "Sense and Sensibility," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is loaded with eye-popping hand-to-hand battle scenes. It also contains many of the low-key dramatic touches that marked Lee's earlier films. For example, the actors make statements that are at odds with what their faces are telling the camera. Because of the care and detail devoted to each frame, "Crouching Tiger" is one of those rare films where the spectacle never comes at the expense of the story. As with the fabled sword itself, the elements combine into a lethally potent alloy. (PG-13) -- LL
**** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Finding Forrester
"Finding Forrester" incorporates large portions of "Scent of a Woman and "Good Will Hunting." Fortunately, director Gus Van Sant, who helmed the latter imbues the new film with just enough stylish touches to keep it from feeling stale or rote. Rob Brown, in a solid debut, plays a bright teenager from the Bronx who gets lessons on writing and living from a J.D. Salinger-like novelist (Sean Connery). The two leads play off each other beautifully, and Van Sant's low-key approach keeps the familiar story from feeling mundane. (PG-13) -- DL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Hannibal
Hannibal the Cannibal is back in business, this time with Ridley Scott taking over directing duties from "The Silence of the Lambs" helmer Jonathan Demme, and Julianne Moore replacing Jodie Foster as FBI Agent Clarice Starling. In fact, the only person returning from the original is Anthony Hopkins, who inhabits Dr. Lecter with the same sophisticated cruelty as before. "Hannibal" never really feels like a continuation of its predecessor -- Scott's style is completely different, and the 10-year gap between stories leaves too many holes in the characters' motivations. On its own terms, however, this is a dark, often gruesomely funny film with its own distinct sensibilities. (R) -- LL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Head Over Heels
Insecure single girl Monica Potter moves in with a bunch of supermodels, falls in love with Freddie Prinze Jr., then discovers that he may lead a dangerous double life. Of course, none of this is as important as the flashy clothes and nice sets, which are far more credible than anything else in this film. Prinze is as likable as always, but Potter is too bland to carry a movie that coasts entirely on its stars' charm. A few laughs come from the misadventures of Potter's shallow roommates, but there aren't enough of them to sustain a TV commercial, let alone a whole film. (PG-13) -- LL
* 1/2 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The eccentric Coen brothers combine Greek mythology and the legends of the American South in this somewhat disappointing comedy featuring George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as a trio of escaped convicts who inadvertently gain fame as a singing group. If the movie's narrative (taken from Homer's "The Odyssey") loses steam at points, the Coen's give Clooney his juiciest role to date (as a hair-obsessed con man). Thanks to some gorgeous imagery, courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins and digital tweaking, and a great folk music soundtrack, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a decent question to ask even if the answer disappoints. (PG-13) -- DL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Quills
The Marquis de Sade is the kind of elusive, controversial figure that seems to fascinate artists, and he clearly has a hold on director Philip Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright. Their adaptation of Wright's play, which fictionalizes the last few years of Sade's life, is an often witty, sometimes horrifying look at a man who was either completely insane or a misunderstood genius -- or both. Geoffrey Rush plays Sade with fearless abandon, and his interaction with co-stars Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix is fascinating. "Quills" ends in an abrupt, heavy-handed fashion which is at odds with the rest of the film's more thoughtful approach. Luckily, that isn't enough to ruin it. (R) -- LL
*** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Save the Last Dance
Mix "Flashdance" with "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and throw in a hip-hop soundtrack, and you've got the formula for this sporadically interesting MTV Films production. Julia Stiles is the white suburban ballet dancer who ends up in inner-city Chicago after her mother's death; Sean Patrick Thomas is the black honor student who teaches her some new moves, and falls in love with her in the process. It's got the requisite earnest melodrama and overlong musical interludes. It also has appealing stars, a passable script and a refreshingly matter-of-fact attitude toward interracial romance. Not bad for the company that gave the world "Dead Man On Campus." (PG-13) -- LL
** Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Saving Silverman
Director Dennis Dugan ("Big Daddy") pushes the limits of his PG-13 rating, but "Saving Silverman" offers only intermittent pleasures to accompany the continuous guilt. When an amiable fellow (Jason Biggs from "American Pie") becomes engaged to a mean-spirited control freak (Amanda Peet), his childhood, Neil Diamond-obsessed buddies (Steve Zahn and Jack Black) attempt to prevent the match by kidnapping her and hooking him up with his high school crush (Amanda Detmer). The only problem is she's about to become a nun. The gags are consistently crude (R. Lee Ermey from "Full Metal Jacket" finds a unique use for junk mail), but there's a redundancy that mutes the fun. Fortunately, Zahn and Black are a riot together. And even though Diamond's acting hasn't improved since "The Jazz Singer," he's at least in on the joke. (PG-13) -- DL
** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Shadow of the Vampire
In the 1922 horror classic "Nosferatu," Max Schreck gave one of the most frightening portrayals of a vampire ever committed to film. According to "Shadow of the Vampire," that's because he was, in fact, a creature of the night. Willem Dafoe plays the hideous, slavering Schreck, who proceeds to eat the film's crew, much to the consternation of director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich). E. Elias Merhige's film is a gleefully sick parody of bloodsucking artists, both real and metaphorical, and his two stars are alternately scary and campy. There's a partly-serious message about the dangers of obsessive genius, but it (thankfully) takes a back seat to the ever-present dark humor. (R) -- LL
*** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Snatch
Just like his new bride Madonna, filmmaker Guy Ritchie is a master of style over substance. With "Snatch," Ritchie continues his tour of London's East End underworld with even more technical panache than in his breakthrough debut, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." Sure, there are few deep, meaningful themes in these movies, but Ritchie's command of the medium is so skillful, his criminals so memorable and his writing so sharp that it makes up for the difference. With a plot too complicated to encapsulate, "Snatch" features dozens of colorful characters, including Brad Pitt as a bare-knuckle boxing gypsy, Benicio Del Toro as a gambling jewel thief and Vinnie Jones as a verbose gun-for-hire. Though extremely reminiscent of "Lock, Stock," and completely devoid of female personas (thankfully, Madonna is among them), "Snatch" is so visually inventive and relentlessly entertaining that any criticism rings as hollow as the spent bullet shell casings that litter Ritchie's violent landscape. (R) -- JN
*** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Thirteen Days
The Cold War threatened to go supernova during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the taut docudrama "Thirteen Days" examines this event from an insider's view. Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) serves as a presidential assistant in the Kennedy White House. While his character is important because it lets the audience in on the maneuverings behind the scenes, Costner's Mahs-ah-chu-zetts accent is hilariously distracting, sounding more like Mayor Quimby from "The Simpsons." Luckily, Bruce Greenwood ("Double Jeopardy") radiates a stunning confidence as JFK. The filmmakers handle this 40-year-old situation through a seamless method of restaging real events and manufacturing assumed clashes, which slickly disguise the fact that the movie is just a succession of conversations between middle-aged white men. But when every conversation holds the fate of the world in the balance, it's hard not to pay attention. (PG-13) -- JN
*** Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Traffic
This seems to be the year of great movies about drugs. On the heels of the harrowing "Requiem for a Dream" comes this very different -- but equally compelling -- look at the issues surrounding the drug war. Director/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh ("Erin Brockovich") takes a clear-eyed approach to the subject, weaving together four complicated stories while giving each a distinctive look and feel. The cast, which includes Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro and Catherine Zeta-Jones, is typically eclectic and served well by Soderbergh's confident direction and Stephen Gaghan's heavily-researched script. This is that rare film that will inspire deep conversations on the way home from the theater. (R) -- LL
*** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Valentine
Nearly every scene in this movie will remind people of "Scream," but not in a good way. In fact, "Valentine" is exactly the kind of dumb, cliche-ridden nonsense filmmaker Wes Craven was making fun of in the first place. The story, about a group of friends being stalked by someone they picked on as kids, never makes a single moment of sense, and the actors (including Marley Shelton, Denise Richards and TV star David "Angel" Boreanaz) actually look uncomfortable. Director Jamie Blanks ("Urban Legend") knows how to copy the styles of guys like Craven and John Carpenter, and even manages a few suspenseful scenes on his own, especially a segment at a performance art show where the characters are stalked in a funhouse maze of video screens. But he's just going through the slasher-movie motions. (R) -- LL
* 1/2 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

The Wedding Planner
Jennifer Lopez stars as Mary, a career-minded wedding planner who is thrown into the arms of a charismatic pediatrician (Matthew McConaughey) after a traffic mishap -- until she discovers he is the groom-to-be of a client whose upcoming wedding is her most profitable account. Video choreographer Adam Shankman makes his directing debut with "The Wedding Planner" and shows a real eye for staging, especially during an opening scene orchestrated in one elaborate, unbroken shot. The director is also skilled at handling his leads, allowing McConaughey's Texas charm to flow comfortably and Lopez to slip into the central role with the same ease that a pre-"Brockovich" Julia Roberts might have. Unfortunately, the film's peripheral characters are less interesting, and in the case of a surprise Italian suitor (Justin Chambers), downright incomprehensible. But for the most part this frivolous comedy succeeds because of a tone as light as wedding cake frosting and lead performances as poised as the bride and groom at the top of the cake. (PG-13) -- JN
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

What Women Want
What would happen if a man could suddenly hear what women were thinking? If he's a sexist jerk like Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson), he'd use it to get them into the sack and steal their jobs -- until he actually starts caring about what they're "saying" to him. Gibson is hilarious as the player who gets turned into a sensitive guy against his will, and the movie has some sharp dialogue and nice character interaction. Unfortunately, director Nancy Meyer starts out making fun of gender stereotypes and ends up reinforcing them instead. As a result, "What Women Want" goes from amusing to almost-offensive in record time. (PG-13) -- LL
** 1/2 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

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