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Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2001

The Mag: Movie Spread

October 11, 2001

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HHH Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

The Deep End

Like "Blood Simple" before it, "The Deep End" generates a good deal of suspense as its characters wander into danger because they don't know information that has been made plain to the audience early on. Scottish star Tilda Swinton ("The Beach") stars as a woman who suspects that her teen-age son (Jonathan Tucker) has murdered an older man he's had an affair with. When she discovers the body, she tries to hide it but winds up at the mercy of a blackmailer (Goran Visnjic, "ER"). Writer-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel walk precariously close to implausibility, but have created such intriguing characters that a viewer gives little pause when a somewhat forced conclusion rolls around. The visuals in the film are arresting, if overbearing. Sundance Cinematography award winner Giles Nuttgens gets the most out of the Lake Tahoe locations, but his efforts would be for naught if the people occupying the landscape weren't so compelling. (R) -- DL

HHH1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Don't Say a Word

"Don't Say a Word" pleads on bended knee for its audience to abandon common sense in the name of lukewarm thrills. Michael Douglas ("Traffic") stars as an upscale shrink who has been forced to "cure" a young mental patient so that she will reveal a mysterious code. If he doesn't deliver, an English thug (Sean Bean from "Goldeneye") will kill his young daughter. Director Gary Fleder ("Kiss the Girls") has some visual flair (the hospital looks like something out of Poe), but the material consistently falls on the side of the familiar and the outlandish. For example, as Douglas' wife (Famke Janssen) manages to subdue one of the perps despite the fact that she has an enormous cast on one leg. As a rule of thumb, be wary of movies where Douglas plays opposite a leading lady more than half his age. The kind of effort it takes to create convincing female characters past the age of 40 is absent from this script. (R) -- DL

HH Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Ghost World

In his brief 80-page comic series "Ghost World," cartoonist Daniel Clowes manages to make the ennui of two sarcastic teenage girls scathingly funny and often oddly moving. Director Terry Zwigoff ("Crumb") reaches the same emotions and adds some new characters and situations that are entertaining in their own right. Thora Birch ("American Beauty") and Scarlett Johannson ("The Horse Whisperer") play Enid and Rebecca, two recent graduates of high school (or in Enid's case, a near graduate) who find their new environment phony and rather disturbing. Rebecca adapts, but Enid always seems out of place. Zigoff and Clowes teamed up on the script and, like Enid, view the world with a unique blend of sarcasm and compassion. It's also refreshing to see eternal oddball Steve Buscemi playing something other than a criminal. By exaggerating the foibles of modern life only slightly, Zwigoff and Clowes have made a satire that has more than ridicule on its mind. In some ways it seems fitting that a comic book adaptation offers a more realistic and entertaining film than most reworkings of novels. (R) -- DL

HHH1/2 Liberty Hall Cinemas, 644 Mass.

Hardball

While Hollywood was expected to sanitize the material in Daniel Coyle's novel "Hardball: A Season in the Projects" -- which could have ended up "Mighty Ducks in the Hood" -- the resulting "Hardball" is a deceptively edgy adaptation. Keanu Reeves stars as Conor, a career gambler who's grown increasingly in debt to bookies. Strapped for cash, he turns to a successful friend who provides an unusual solution: If Conor will coach a corporate-sponsored youth baseball team from Chicago's housing projects, he'll earn enough to pay off the thugs. A premise such as the one offered in director Brian Robbins' "story of triumph over adversity" is a magnet for cliches. But the material remains fresh, thanks to the distinct, convincing personalities of the little leaguers and because of Reeves' troubled protagonist. Although it's somewhat backhanded praise, Reeves gives his best performance yet -- one of the few times he's actually played a character instead of just relying on his glazed movie star persona. It also helps the film's credibility that Robbins chooses to keep the street language of the kids intact. By its third act, however, "Hardball" pushes things too far, as the grim realities of residing in gang territory result in a plot twist that is simply too violent for a movie ostensibly aimed at children. Moreover, the team's quest for post-season play seems petty and insignificant when following this horrific mood swing. (PG-13) -- JN

HH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Hearts in Atlantis

Anthony Hopkins is the kind of actor who can make almost any film interesting simply by being on screen, and "Hearts in Atlantis" is no exception. As Ted Brautigan, a mysterious psychic who moves into the home of a single mother (Hope Davis) and her young son (Anton Yelchin), Hopkins brings his trademark melancholy thoughtfulness to the role, and he provides an anchor for this otherwise scattershot film. Director Scott Hicks ("Shine") and screenwriter William Goldman have adapted two of the five connected stories from Stephen King's 1999 book, and the narrative gaps between them make the movie nearly incoherent. Most of the relationships, including that between Yelchin and Hopkins, are not drawn clearly enough to be affecting, and a subplot about a group of shadowy men harassing Hopkins just seems silly. With the exception of Davis, who has little to work with, the actors fare reasonably well, especially Yelchin, who holds his own with his formidable co-star. For the most part, however, this is just a conventional coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist, and one that never quite holds together, despite the best efforts of its cast. (PG-13) -- LL

HH Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Joy Ride

In this cautionary tale about the dangers of playing a practical joke on a stranger, Paul Walker and Steve Zahn star as brothers making a cross-country drive home. To stave off boredom, the boys begin fiddling with the "prehistoric Internet" that the car is equipped with -- a CB radio -- targeting a lonely trucker who goes by the handle of Rusty Nail. When a harmless prank on the man turns grisly, the unseen enemy begins a torturous game of pursuit with the travelers. Director John Dahl ("Rounders") cobbles together effective bits from the paranoid highway classic "Duel" and the roadside kidnap flick "Breakdown" to craft a gripping but fairly routine nail-biter. Dahl resists the urge to overdo the violence -- which is all the more effective because the audience is never certain how hostile the villain is willing to get. Walker, who may be the closest thing there is to a generic leading man, is content to let his co-star have all the "good scenes." The reliable Zahn is certainly up to the task, providing an off-center magnetism that animates the proceedings. From its "Seven"-style title sequence through its "Body Heat" corpse-switching ending, "Joy Ride" exploits its source material unabashedly. And like those other films, the popcorn thriller manages to keep the viewer's disbelief at bay, while offering a deceptively smooth ride through some frequently bumpy territory. (R) -- JN

HHH Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Max Keeble's Big Move

Every child dreams of getting back at the sadistic bullies and dictatorial faculty that are part of the standard junior high school package. Max Keeble (Alex D. Linz) is about to live out that fantasy, thanks to his parents' decision to move the family out of town. Knowing he won't be there to reap the consequences, Max turns the tables on the class thugs (Noel Fisher and Orlando Brown) and exposes the shady dealings of the school's vindictive principal (Larry Miller). Then he finds out his family isn't moving after all. Max is sort of a pint-sized Ferris Bueller, enlisting his friends (Zena Grey and Josh Peck) in elaborate schemes to undermine the petty jerks of the world, and there's a certain rebellious kick to watching them stand up for themselves. Director Tim Hill and his pack of screenwriters must have hired their children to do most of the work, though -- the humor in "Max Keeble's Big Move" is the kind that seems clever and original when you're 11, but becomes dull and stupid by the time you're, say, 12. This means that most adults will be bored out of their minds, but millions of sixth-graders just found a new hero. (PG) -- LL

HH Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

The Others

The old dark house movie makes a comeback with this creepy ghost story, thanks to writer-director Alejandro Amenabar's gift for creating subtle chills and loads of atmosphere. Set on a remote, fog-enshrouded English estate during World War II, "The Others" gives its star, Nicole Kidman, a virtual one-woman show, as a mother trying to protect her children (Alakina Mann and James Bentley) from all manner of threats, both natural and supernatural. The audience is treated to an unusually intelligent ghost story, where discussions of religion, loneliness and familial devotion are comfortably intertwined with the things that go bump in the night. Kidman's performance is as layered and unnerving as the rest of the film, which moves slowly, but delivers its jolts by making viewers use their imaginations. In this era of shallow, noisy spectacles passing themselves off as horror films, that's a rare gift indeed. (PG-13) -- LL

HHH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Serendipity

"Serendipity" is a romantic comedy with meager thematic ambition and no trace of originality. Fortunately, director Peter Chelsom ("Town and Country") and writer Marc Klein come up with enough engaging characters and situations to more than compensate for a routine story. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale star as a young couple who meet while shopping for a pair of gloves and then decide to test destiny to see if they were really intended to be an item. The story is thin, and the conclusion is foregone. Nonetheless, Cusack and Beckinsale both manage to shine. They also have to take some serious effort to keep from being upstaged by Molly Shannon as a New Age shopkeeper who doubts the value of her own wares and regular Cusack foil Jeremy Piven as an obit writer whose job has left him a tad too sardonic. Eugene Levy from "American Pie" dominates the film in a brief role as an anal-retentive store clerk. "Serendipity" may be faulted for its small goals, but fate looks kindly on a film that consistently meets them. (PG-13) -- DL

HHH Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Training Day

The moral dilemmas faced by inner-city cops are great fodder for serious drama, if the people creating the drama don't go for the easy way out. Writer David Ayer and director Antoine Fuqua make a valiant effort with "Training Day," but they're not quite up to the task. Denzel Washington plays a supremely corrupt L.A. narcotics officer who takes an idealistic rookie (Ethan Hawke) under his wing for one day, offering him the chance to join an elite unit if he can prove himself. As Hawke's character gets pulled deeper into his new boss' shadowy world, he faces the choice of sticking to his principles or joining the above-the-law team. Washington is as charismatic as always, but he's playing such a psycho, it's hard to believe this guy was ever anything but a menace to society. Hawke actually gets to show more subtlety, but his final confrontation with Washington turns into an action-movie cliche. That lack of depth undermines the story's potential for greatness, and viewers are left simply wondering how much better this movie could have been. (R) -- LL

HH1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

Zoolander

If it's funny in a 5-minute sketch, chances are it won't be funny for an hour and a half. That's a rule countless "Saturday Night Live" alums have had to learn the hard way, but Ben Stiller and writing partner Drake Sather apparently thought they were immune. They weren't. "Zoolander," based on a character the duo created for a skit at the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards, is a perfect example of a joke that goes on 85 minutes too long. Stiller takes the lead as the sweet but idiotic Derek Zoolander, whose main worry in life is competing with rival Hansel (Owen Wilson) for the coveted Male Model of the Year statuette. There are bigger things going on, however, as he learns when pretty magazine reporter Matilda (Stiller's wife, Christine Taylor) discovers a plot to brainwash Derek and train him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Stiller and Wilson head up a great comedic cast, which includes Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller (nearly stealing his son's movie) and a self-parodying David Duchovny, and there are some gags that are enjoyable (the "walk-off" rumble has to be seen to be believed). There simply isn't enough material here to last an entire movie, though. Watching Stiller suck in his cheeks and pose is only amusing the first 20 times. Then, like the rest of the movie, it just becomes annoying. (PG-13) -- LL

H1/2 Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa.

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