A Beautiful Mind (PG-13) A Russell Crowe performance that has Oscar written all over it is the main reason to see this atypically twisty Ron Howard production about an emotionally fragile genius whose life spins out of control in all sorts of unexpected ways. The movie's later sections feel a little too close for comfort to a disease-of-the-week movie, and the whole thing could be shortened by at least 20 minutes, but A Beautiful Mind is still rarely less than engaging
Beauty and the Beast (G) The modern Disney classic is alive with great scenes, songs and characters, and features a script by turns clever and emotionally resonant, and stripped down the essence of its timeless tale. Playing at IMAX Dome Theater and at Channelside Cinemas IMAX. Call theaters to confirm.
Big Trouble (PG-13) Barry Sonnenfeld's latest throws together a bullying, neo-conservative foot fetishist, his extremely dissatisfied wife, a recently divorced dad, a pair of squabbling cops, two bumbling scumbags who wind up accidentally stealing a nuclear bomb (thereby kicking into high gear whatever passes for plot here), a large toad who causes more than one of the movie's characters to experience psychedelic visions involving Martha Stewart, and a couple of teens whose speech and general demeanor are so deadpan they make the kids from Ghost World seem like Robin Williams on crystal meth. Oh, and did we mention the hit men? As with so many professional killers in movies like Big Trouble, these guys possess an absurdly elevated knowledge of trivia, and say and do the last things we would expect them to. Sonnenfeld's zany, dark-ish ensemble comedy is very much in the tradition of the director's Get Shorty, and most of the writing is generally very funny, in a relentlessly quirky sort of way (just as you'd expect from a project closely based on a Dave Barry book). All of the sundry characters bounce around merrily during the movie's blessedly brief 80-some minute running time, with their life paths occasionally intersecting and eventually colliding en masse at the film's point of no return. Stars Tim Allen, Dennis Farina, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Lee, Rene Russo, Tom Sizemore, Stanley Tucci and Patrick Warburton.(
Blade II (R) Wesley Snipes returns as Marvel Comics' hybrid human-vampire super-hero in a sequel that's decidedly scarier — and gorier — than the original. The movie's vampiric villains are an arresting mix of classic Eastern European bloodsuckers and neo-Cronenberg-ian walking biological horrors, the Prague locations drip atmosphere, and the story, while not exactly elaborate, boasts an interesting enough premise: Blade enters into an uneasy alliance with his arch foes in order to eliminate a deadly new mutant strain of uber-vampires. (
Changing Lanes (R) The almost-always interesting Michael Tolkin (The Rapture, The New Age) is one of the screenwriters behind this project, which makes it all the more frustrating that the studio didn't screen it in time for Weekly Planet deadlines. Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson star as two very different types of men who wind up literally crashing into each other in a fender bender that escalates into a cat and mouse game where each seeks nothing less than the other's destruction. Opens April 12 at local theaters.
Clockstoppers (PG) Take the girls and boys after an afternoon at Limited II and the arcade to see this youthful entertainment; however, we're not saying for sure if you, the parents/babysitter/sucker, will enjoy it. The Nickelodeon film centers on teenager Zak (Jesse Bradford) who inadvertently freezes time. Also stars Paula Garces, Jonathan Frakes, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Julia Sweeney.
Death to Smoochy (R) Danny DeVito's noisy and very dark comedy stars Edward Norton as a new age-y rube with a fetish for ethics, who dons a fuschia rhino suit and becomes a popular kiddie TV show host so sweetly innocuous he makes Barney look dangerous. Norton finds himself swimming upstream in a sea of corruption and nastiness, from the deranged former kiddie show host who's stalking him (Robin Williams) to his double-dealing agent (DeVito) and bitchy producer (Catherine Keener), to a charitable foundation for kids that recalls al-Qaida on a bad day. The film is cleverly cast (Norton is spot-on and Williams' overacting actually makes sense in this context) and there are quite a few genuinely funny moments, but the story feels like an early draft that could have used some more work tying all the elements together. (
The Devil's Backbone (R) A densely textured, elaborately imagined ghost story in which the most resonant horrors turn out to be not just of supernatural (although they're in there as well), but also psychological and social: greed, murder, betrayal and a whole gamut of human ills associated with the plague of war. The Devil's Backbone takes place during the final days of the Spanish Civil War, in an isolated orphanage populated by the children of dead rebels, and haunted by a restless spirit as poignant as it is creepy. The writer and director of The Devil's Backbone is the talented Mexican-born filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, and this is his most personal and best film since Cronos. (
Dragonfly (PG-13) Kevin Costner stars in what must be his shortest movie in a decade as Dr. Joe Donner, whose wooden mask of a face is well suited for a man grieving the death of his wife and soulmate. Early on, Dragonfly feels like a simplistic but truly felt story about grieving and moving on ... until it turns into a combination of The Sixth Sense (children are seeing Joe's dead wife) and What Dreams Will Come.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (PG) The quintessential Steven Spielberg project — although far from his best movie — returns to theaters on the occasion of its 20th Anniversary, complete with a smattering of unseen footage, new computer-generated enhancements and a digitally remixed soundtrack. The extra bells and whistles aren't exactly essential, but they do put a distinctly modern shine on what was already an overly glossy opus. (
Frailty (R) Bill Paxton directs and stars in this atmospheric thriller about a family of serial killers who believe they're getting their orders from God himself. Due to scheduling complications, we were only able to preview the film's first half (hence no rating for this not-quite review), but just on the basis of that initial hour, Frailty promises to be a creepy and engrossing experience. Also stars Matthew McConaughy. Opens April 12 at local theaters.
Gosford Park (PG-13) Just a few years shy of his eighth decade of life, Robert Altman has ventured into virgin territory once more in Gosford Park, although the results lack the fire and sheer imagination of Altman's best works. Gosford Park is Altman's spin on one of those English dramas where a bunch of well-heeled types congregate at someone's swanky country estate for the weekend and, eventually, someone gets murdered. Stars Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Jeremy Northam and Alan Bates.(
High Crimes (PG-13) Everything's coming up roses for successful, attractive, happily married yuppie lawyer Claire (Ashley Judd) — that is, until she discovers that her sweet, reliable hubby (Jim Caviezel) has been leading a double life and now finds himself on trial for participating in a military massacre in El Salvador many years ago. Claire comes to hubby's rescue and signs on as his attorney, and clues pointing to a massive military conspiracy and cover-up quickly follow. There are way too many implausible plot points and predictable turns in this atypically ham-fisted effort from director Carl Franklin (One False Move), but the film's really no worse than your standard made-for-cable thriller. (
Human Nature (R) See Film.(
Ice Age (PG) Not many surprises await but there are pleasures enough in this good-looking, pleasantly slapstick-y 20th Century Fox animation about a band of mismatched animals on a trek to return an abandoned human infant to its rightful guardians. Features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.(
Iris (R) A flawed but beautifully acted memory piece about, among other things, how memory betrayed a brilliant woman. Based on a true story, Iris is the tale of the 40-year relationship between eccentric English intellectuals John Bayley and Iris Murdoch, a writer whose exceptional mind eventually surrendered to the ravages of Alzheimer's. (John Q (PG-13) This shrill, preachy two-hour commercial for National Health Care is a major disappointment from everyone involved. Denzel Washington stars as the title character, a decent but down-on-his-luck dad who takes an emergency room hostage when he finds his insurance won't cover an expensive heart transplant operation for his adorable little son. The movie's righteously indignant heart is certainly in the right place, but John Q unintentionally verges on caricature. (
Kissing Jessica Stein (R) This highly touted but extremely airy date movie begins by detailing the efforts of nice Jewish girl Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) in finding the right guy. When, after repeated attempt, poor Jessica can't seem to locate Mr. Right, she simply does a slight adjustment to the parameters of her search and leaps, lips first, into a quest for Ms. Right. The search begins and ends with downtown girl/lipstick lesbian Helen (Heather Juergensen, who also wrote the screenplay, along with Westfeldt), and the film is at its best sketching the early, tentative moments of their relationship/ The film is relentlessly and often overbearingly cute, though, and Westfeldt's aren't-I-adorable, ditzy shtick gets old fast (she's basically Lisa Kudrow doing a fluttery Annie Hall-era Diane Keaton).(
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PG-13) The first of Peter Jackson's long-awaited adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy succeeds on just about every level it's supposed to. For virtually its entire three-hour running time, Jackson's epic fantasy keeps us happily immersed in the stuff of legends, sort of like a Harry Potter for grown-ups. Stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee.(
Monsoon Wedding (NR) See Film.(
Monster's Ball (R) The film is essentially about two very different people whose lives happen to intersect at a given moment when both are very much in need of something that the other is able to give. That one of the characters is black and the other white (and a bigot to boot), just makes the film all the more interesting, although by the end Monster's Ball winds up coming a little too close to simply being a morality play about the redemption of a racist. (
Ocean Men (PG) As beautiful and bombastic as a Wagner opera, this latest IMAX documentary tells the story of the friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly) competition between two world-class athletes, each striving to dive to unimaginable depths without the aid of any sort of breathing apparatus. The film is filled with cosmic soul-searching and gorgeous, amazingly dramatic vistas of training grounds like the rocky beaches of Sardinia — but the real story here is what amounts to the extended pissing contest between these two extremely eccentric and self-possessed underwater warriors. At IMAX Channelside.(
The Other Side of Heaven (PG) Beautifully photographed but curiously uninvolving account of the trials and tribulations of an Iowa farm boy adjusting to life as a missionary in the Tongan Islands. Based on the memoirs of Elder John Groberg, The Other Side of Heaven features lots of pretty beaches to look at, but much of the movie has a flat, almost perfunctory feel; it unfolds in an episodic and largely scattershot manner, as a series of obstacles and mini-crises that simply emerge out of nowhere and are then quickly overcome and apparently forgotten. We never really get much of a sense of who Groberg or any of the other characters are, and huge stretches of dialogue and several of the performances are transparent to the point of being amateurish. Stars Christopher Gorham, Joe Folau and Anne Hathaway. Opens April 12 at local theaters.(
Panic Room (R) The latest from David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) is a modern riff on such classic home-invasion exploitation films as Wait Until Dark and Lady in a Cage. Fincher tones down the sadism a touch (at least until the last act), introduces some high-tech elements and gives the whole thing an unmistakable sheen of artsy class, but the basic narrative is both familiar and lurid, and appeals to our worst fears: Almost immediately upon moving into their new home, a newly divorced mother (Jodie Foster) and her young daughter (Kristen Stewart) awaken to discover armed intruders lurking just outside their bedroom doors. The besieged duo retreat to their panic room — a supposedly impenetrable chamber hidden away in the house — and a series of nasty cat-and-mouse games begins between the hunters and the hunted. Foster turns in another finely nuanced performance as the imperiled heroine, as does Forest Whitaker as the intruder with a conscience. The movie's real surprise, though, is Dwight Yoakam, who accomplishes the considerable feat of exuding all sorts of serious menace while spending the lion's share of the movie with his face almost completely concealed by a ski mask. After the ambitions of Fight Club, Panic Room may just represent David Fincher's gift to his audience and to himself: a taut little thriller that doesn't demand we think too damn much about it. Also stars Jared Leto.(
Resident Evil (R) Another based-on-a-videogame project, this one starring Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez as a pair of butt-kickin' bad girls with only hours to stop a deadly virus from turning the entire world into a bunch of drooling, undead zombies.
The Rookie (G) The local hook in the based-on-a-true-tale of The Rookie is that the film's hero, Jimmy Morris (played by that master of good ol' boy, aw-shucks heroism, Dennis Quaid), makes good on his childhood dream and, at the relatively advanced age of thirtysomething, finds himself playing major league baseball for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. There are at least two stories, maybe two and a half, going on in The Rookie and the film doesn't devote quite enough time to any of them. Nor does it segue with particular grace from one story to the next. The Rookie is filled with handsome production values and serviceable performances (although Quaid's Texas accent comes and goes), but the movie just doesn't seem to trust its own basic elements. The film force-feeds our emotions with slabs of dripping string music, exaggerated moments of wide-eyed, Spielbergian wonder and the sun-dappled instant nostalgia of clean, uncluttered Main Streets and charming toothless locals. It's all quite sincere and uplifting but not terribly interesting. Also stars Brian Cox and Beth Grant.(
Showtime (PG-13) Exactly what you might have imagined from the trailers, only with even less pizzazz. This lazily scripted, cookie cutter project teams Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro as a pair of squabbling, mismatched cops who become the stars of a new reality TV show. Showtime throws in a sprinkling of lame jokes, a big car chase or two, and a routine subplot having something to do with a Eastern European baddie with a new armor-piercing gun, but the movie basically just seems to be treading water for its entire running time. (
Snow Dogs (PG) Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a Miami dentist who inherits a team of sled dogs, and must learn to race them or lose the pack to a grizzled old mountain man.
Sorority Boys (R) Bosom Buddies/Some Like it Hot for the American Pie generation: Three guys get kicked out of their dorm and dress up in drag so they can live in a female sorority house. Stars Barry Watson, Harland Williams and Michael Rosenbaum.
The Sweetest Thing (R) Even Cameron Diaz's considerable charm can't save this disjointed and extremely unappealing effort about a commitment-phobic party girl who meets Mr. Right. The Sweetest Thing awkwardly straddles the line between standard romantic comedy fluff and quasi-edgy American Pie-styled gross-out humor, and isn't particularly convincing as either. On one side we get remarkably unfunny jokes about maggots, fellatio-gone-wrong and a little old man who swears up a storm while wearing a T-shirt that says, Who Farted? On the other side, we get a steady infusion of sentimental cliches and routine female bonding, including Diaz and gal pal Christina Applegate dancing in their underwear to The Pina Colada Song. It's a mess. Also stars Selma Blair. Opens April 12 at local theaters
The Time Machine (PG-13) An utterly lackluster remake of George Pal's classic sci-fi movie (itself an adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel) , beefed up by some expensive digital effects, but lacking even the rudimentary charm and wit of the original film. Guy Pearce stars as a 19th century inventor who finds a way to transport himself to a future society where humanity has evolved (or degenerated) into two distinct and mutually antagonistic species. (
We Were Soldiers (R) Braveheart goes to 'Nam. Reuniting with Braveheart writer Randall Wallace, Mel Gibson stars as another heroic leader of men — Lt. Col. Hal Moore, a tough but fair career soldier who leads his troops into the first real battle of the Vietnam war. The movie is a little like a poor man's Black Hawk Down, with an unremarkable opening half-hour of human drama (in which we learn that Mel's character has a lively brood of five and a fashion-model-gorgeous wife), followed by one long, nonstop battle. We Were Soldiers alternates the carnage with periodic Big Speeches set to swelling, elegiac music (think Platoon) but the movie's pacing feels clumsy and the final effect is of a film that's not all that sure of itself. Also stars Chris Klein, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliott and Madeline Stowe.(
Y Tu Mama Tambien (R) See Film.(
—Reviewed entries by Lance Goldenberg unless otherwise noted
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