Archive for Thursday, May 17, 2001

Movie listings

May 17, 2001

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Along Came a Spider
"Kiss the Girls" was probably off the radar in most people's minds as a picture that warranted a sequel. But "Along Came a Spider" weaves enough slick action sequences and screwy plot twists to give an audience its money's worth. And it manages to stay clear of its predecessor's over-worn contrivance of "the serial killer," instead focusing on an espionage-heavy tale. Morgan Freeman reprises his role as Det. Alex Cross, and he brings the requisite gravity to a thriller about a terrorist (Michael Wincott) who has kidnapped the young daughter of a U.S. senator from an elite private school. Despite Wincott's effectively restrained portrayal as the "bad guy," the rest of the cast flounders, especially bland blonde Monica Potter, who plays the secret service agent partner of Cross. Director Lee Tamahori ("The Edge") keeps the pacing lively enough that he doesn't allow the audience time to linger on the many plot implausibilities that pile up at an alarming rate. (R) -- JN
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Before Night Falls
Thanks to an engrossing performance by Javier Bardem and imaginative direction by painter Julian Schnabel (who also helmed "Basquiat"), "Before Night Falls" is a biopic that feels worthy of its hero, the late Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. The author, whose memoir is the basis for the film, was persecuted in his native land because of his questioning attitude and homosexuality. While Arenas' life was full of misfortunes (he was born an illegitimate child and contracted AIDS while in exile), Schnabel's gorgeous images and consistent incorporation of the author's text give the film a sense of wonder and the viewer a sincere appreciation of Arenas' talent. Despite some slack pacing toward the end, "Before Night Falls" forcefully argues that the world is a lesser place because Arenas is no longer in it. (R) -- DL
*** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Blow
Johnny Depp plays real-life cocaine smuggler George Jung, who helped popularize the drug in 1970s America. Depp doesn't quite make Jung likable, but he does make him human, despite the fact that our "hero" isn't terribly bright (he never figures out that actually leaving the business might make his life a little easier). Director Ted Demme tries to energize the script, but it's simply too repetitive and lacking in real tension. Ultimately, the strongest impression made by "Blow" comes from a last-frame picture of the real George Jung, looking like hell as he serves out his latest prison sentence. It's a gut-level reminder of how far someone can sink in pursuit of the twisted American Dream. (R) -- LL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Bridget Jones's Diary
British author Helen Fielding's novel "Bridget Jones's Diary" has become such a part of popular culture that even those who have not read the book are likely to be familiar with the central character and her futile but amusingly optimistic quest for self-improvement. For the most part, novice feature director Sharon Maguire, working from a script by Fielding, Andrew Davies (the television adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice") and Richard Curtis ("Notting Hill"), manages to recapture the outrageous situations and the attitudes in the book. Texan Renee Zellweger's agreeable performance of the world's most famous English singleton helps keep the film afloat despite a limp romantic rivalry between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. It's hard not to like a movie that features a funny cameo by persecuted "Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie. Bridget Jones's musings may have been funnier in print, but they don't lose their impact on screen. (R) -- DL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

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.

Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles
Paul Hogan should stick with doing commercials. His laconic charm may make driving a Subaru station wagon seem adventurous, but it doesn't excuse this second lame reworking of his 1986 hit. Hogan and his co-screenwriters Matthew Berry and Eric Abrams recycle several of the memorable gags from the first movie (like his struggles with modern bathroom appliances, his bushman's ability to thwart muggers and the corny jokes about gays) to diminishing returns. The resulting film has an anemic storyline that makes it seem about as appetizing as 30-day-old leftovers from the Outback Steakhouse. Those who need their fix of Australian accents and "no worries" attitude are better off watching the far superior "The Dish." (PG) -- 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) -- DL
**** Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Driven
Sylvester Stallone's career suffers another fiery crash in this insipid action movie, whose only redeeming feature is about 45 minutes of fantastic racing scenes. Sly plays a washed-up driver who mentors a young hotshot (Kip Pardue from "Remember the Titans"), while all sorts of personal melodramas play out off the track. Stallone, who also wrote the script, can't even say his own dialogue with any conviction, and director Renny Harlin ("Deep Blue Sea") shoots the entire film in the same hyper, rapid-fire style he uses for the racing footage, as if this would somehow make the story more interesting. It doesn't. (PG) -- LL
** 1/2 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Enemy at the Gates
Inspired by one of the Soviet national heroes of World War II, "Enemy at the Gates" is an engrossing tale of two opposing snipers amid the backdrop of the Battle of Stalingrad. Jude Law plays Vassili Zaitsev, a humble Russian marksman groomed by an idealistic Communist officer (Joseph Fiennes) who believes the sharpshooter can be a weapon of propaganda for an army that is losing hope. When the sniper's exploits reach Berlin, a deadly Nazi major (Ed Harris) is dispatched to kill him, and the two begin a game of cat and mouse through the crumbling remnants of the city. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud mounts an ambitious war story with some harrowing, frenetic battle scenes, which he often films through holes in rubble and cracks in architecture like a sniper adjusting his scope. If the movie has a vulnerable spot, it's that the viewer never reaches much of an emotional connection with the characters -- Fiennes' role is a particular dud. But the quality of the action and intriguing setting compensate for this central flaw. (R) -- JN
*** Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Joe Dirt
Comedian David Spade always has been obsessed with white trash culture. His standup routines have gotten a lot of mileage from Camaro and Def Leppard references, and nowhere does he more fully explore this than in "Joe Dirt." The film is told mainly in flashback, as Dirt (Spade) recounts his sad tale ("It's like a 'Behind the Music' without the music") to a smug radio host (Dennis Miller). It all revolves around Dirt's search for his parents who abandoned him, and his unwitting love for a Daisy Duke-type gal (Brittany Daniel). Miller gets to have amazing verbal bouts at the expense of Dirt's mullet hairstyle ("It looks like Jane Fonda in 'Klute'"), while the movie revels in more crude humor, some of which works (an inspired dog-licking gag) and some that doesn't (a go-nowhere encounter at an alligator farm). Spade carries the role comfortably, mainly because he is willing to look terrible and be humiliated at every turn. The film turns schmaltzy in its final moments and doesn't deliver on the come-uppance required for Dirt's rotten rival, played by someone the audience desperately wishes to see pounded, "rapper" Kid Rock. (PG-13) -- JN
** Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

A Knight's Tale
This weird blend of jousting matches, classic rock and 21st century attitude is entertaining almost in spite of itself. Depending on a viewer's mood, the story, about a young squire (Heath Ledger, "The Patriot") who tries to pass as a noble and becomes a jousting champion, can induce agreeable chuckles or groans of disgust. Fortunately, writer-director Brian Helgeland ("Payback") does come up with a couple of truly fun characters. Ledger's heartthrob looks may be used to sell the flick, but his willingness to make an utter goofball out of himself causes the movie to be watchable. "A Knight's Tale" does, however, belong to Paul Bettany, who is a hysterically funny as "The Canterbury Tales" author Geoffrey Chaucer. The film's Chaucer is an outrageous lad whose silver tongue turns out to be a bit of a liability ("I give the truth scope," he boasts). While the film could have used a few more characters like him, the Chaucer scenes at least remind a viewer of the lively spirit behind all those antiquated words in the textbooks. (PG-13) -- DL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Memento
"John G raped and murdered my wife." Normally, it's not a piece of information one would need to tattoo on his chest to remember -- unless, of course, if during the murder/robbery attempt he was injured and lost all short-term memory. Such is the fate of Leonard Shelby (Australian actor Guy Pearce), a former insurance claims investigator now "living only for revenge." Already the hero of writer-director Christopher Nolan's haunting "Memento" is operating under a set of rules unique to detective cinema. Yet Nolan also throws an additional twist to the proceedings: He films the movie in reverse chronological order. This tactic suits the material because it puts the audience in the same predicament as the hero, in that past information is a total mystery. While this also means the movie has the potential to be anti-climactic (it starts with a murder and spells out to the audience who committed it and why), the story is relentlessly compelling thanks to Nolan's tricky script. Despite a downbeat ending that also makes one question what has previously transpired, "Memento" definitely earns the distinction of being termed unforgettable. (R) -- JN
*** 1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

The Mummy Returns
Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz return in this sequel to the 1999 hit, proving Hollywood's contention once again that script and characters are irrelevant when you've got really cool special effects. This time, the desecration of an ancient tomb not only brings back the first film's mummy (Arnold Vosloo), but also sets in motion the raising of a fearsome general (wrestler The Rock) and his supernatural army. Writer-director Stephen Sommers keeps the action going non-stop, and outdoes himself at every turn. Sure, the dialogue is lame and the characters are all stereotypes, but who cares? It's got thousands of computer-generated anthropomorphic jackals rampaging across the Egyptian desert, and that's all anyone should really need. (PG-13) -- LL
** 1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 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 Plaza Six, 2339 Iowa.

Spy Kids
Normally known for churning out gory movies like "Desperado" and "From Dusk Till Dawn," writer-director Robert Rodriguez fashions an energetic kid's movie that features more creativity and excitement than the last few James Bond movies combined. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara play a couple of youngsters who have to rescue their secret agent parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) from a villainous kiddy-show host (Alan Cumming). Rodriguez loads his film with nifty gadgets, like explosive bubble gum, and imaginative creatures (some of whom are literally all-thumbs). With a recent crop of indifferent flicks for children like "Recess: School's Out" and "See Spot Run," it's a pleasure to know that someone who makes these films still takes kids and the parents who have to accompany them seriously. (PG) -- DL
*** Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

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