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Movie Reviews

by Jerry Salisbury

Don't Say A Word
Rock Star
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
American Outlaws
American Pie 2
Others, The
Planet of The Apes
America's Sweethearts
Jurassic Park III
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Score, The
Sexy Beast
Cats and Dogs
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Moulin Rouge
One Night at McCool's

Don't Say A Word ($)

Directed by: Gary Fleder. Starring: Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy, Famke Janssen, Sean Bean, Jennifer Esposito, Oliver Platt.

Don't worry Mr. Fleder, I won't say a word. I'll say about 700, and most of them won't be very pleasing to your ears. Your latest effort, the pseudo psychological thriller Don't Say A Word suffers from the classic problem of having an interesting premise and a promising beginning, but beyond that collapses and crashes into a disastrously predictable middle, and a prolonged and painful, in several ways, conclusion. You have somehow managed to waste the talents of Michael Douglas, a gifted and talented actor who would have fit this role to a T, since he plays manic and intense like very few, but instead you give his character little depth and turn him, and up and coming star Murphy, into pawns in a game where you seemingly don't understand the rules. Keep it simple, yet diverse. Don't introduce more stories than you can handle, and for the love of all things good in cinema, figure out a stopping point, one that makes sense and doesn't insult our intelligence, and stick with it. You should be ashamed of yourself sir. This could have been something very good, with so much potential and so many directions to go, but unfortunately, you took the path of least resistance and intelligence, and the result is something that will indeed silence its audience, in bewilderment, not amazement.

The premise, as shown in the previous, is unveiled and generates great interest. There is a jewel heist, resulting in the theft of a very valuable jewel. But of course, there is a twist, and not all goes as planned. Flash forward 10 years to Douglas who is a renowned psychologist, known for his work with teens and his ability to connect with youths. He is brought in by a friend (Oliver Platt) to help with a case involving a girl who is the epitome of a troubled child with issues. His patient (Murphy) has displayed a convoluted series of symptoms, during her life, most of which has been spent institutionalized. Of course, she is linked to the previous event, because the thieves kidnap Douglas's daughter, and blackmail him to obtain a number locked in the young girls head. Concurrently, we are shown a police detective (a misused Esposito) researching two mysterious murders. What point this story serves is never explained. What is meant to add another level to the story, only serves to convolute it even more. Once this story starts, the slide begins, and no one is safe. The movie's final two thirds fall painfully into a chase movie, which require incredible psychological and detective skills, which would make Columbo and Freud concurrently very proud. The big mystery then becomes: what is the number, what does it mean, will he get it, and will he get his daughter back. Now, a good film maker would have a suspenseful path to follow to get to this route, most likely taking us an intense ride through the battle of the minds between Murphy and Douglas, with Murphy having the upper hand, and Douglas being frantic in his wont for his daughters life. Needless to say, this is not what we get. The resulting final hour is a torturous slide into predictable, unbelievable, yet formulaic drivel that has become commonplace. At some point, I remember saying "I don't care what the number stands for, just make it stop, please."

Even the performers are a reflection of the waste that permeates this film, as each has proven themselves in the past, yet when given this painfully written script and the wild leaps of faith and reality that the story cannot even save it, or themselves from being thoroughly embarrassed. Worst off is Douglas, who should have been tailor made for this role, but instead sleepwalks his away through the concerned/intellectual/vengeful role. He has done this quiet, smoldering intensity before, in Falling Down, War of The Roses and even Wall Street. But here, he reflects more of his blander side, similar to A Perfect Murder; where his mere presence, and remembrance of previous performances is supposed to suggest to us that we know how he can be, so just use our imagination, while the direct doesn't use his. Also Murphy, for whom this should have been a breakout role, does little more than recreate her Girl, Interrupted neurotic with a few more edges. Murphy is an actress who has missed more than she has hit, but her talent shines through, regardless of the material. She deserved a better fate from this, and is betrayed after a teasingly promising introduction. This character could have been interesting, but like Douglas, she and her character get lost, once the movie loses its way, and unfortunately, its sensibility and audience.

Ultimately, Don't Say A Word is a laborious exercise in futility that had the makings of something wonderful. The film wanders off and gets lost, and can never find its way back, on its way to trying to please its audience and introduce red herrings, all in one fell swoop. Felder and his writers just aren't that good. I don't believe that it's a coincidence that one of the main characters was involved in a downhill skiing accident, because that parallels this movies fate. It starts off fast, with hope and promise, but begins careening out of control when obstacles, such as twists or developments in plot come up, and then crashes hard, not knowing when to stop, instead sliding further and further into painful absurdity. Don't worry Mr. Felder, as your tagline says, I'll never tell (anyone to see this film).

Rock Star ($$$)

Directed by: Stephen Herek. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Dominic West, Timothy Spall, Timothy Olyphant.

Rock Star attempts to play upon a fantasy that exists in most of us lay people, who go about our everyday lives. At some point, even for a brief moment, we dream of what it would be like to be famous; to get the chance to be in the spotlight, have more money than we'd know what to do with and be the center of attention and the life of the party. For most, this dream lays in the back of our minds, manifesting itself occasionally during the high moments of the public spectacles of stardom.

There are many differing aspects to the American dream, and Rock Star explores the one most prevalent in the 80's, mostly in males, aged 15-25. The prevailing attitude of that decade was one of capitalism, greed and excess, how much can I have, how fast can I get it, and how high can I fly. Nothing typified this Icarus style dream more than that of the decadent image of rock and roll and its messengers, the bands and members who populated this fantasy. They became the idols of a generation, with their big hair, tight clothes, groupies, big house and carefree lifestyles. Who wouldn't want this life? Wahlberg's Chris certainly does. He fronts a "tribute" (re:cover) band for his favorite band, Steel Dragon, which he worships and knows way too much about for his own good. One day he receives the call of his life, to audition as lead singer for the band who has seen a tape of his band and wants him to replace their burned out lead singer. What follows is a fairly predictable meteoric style ride through the world of fame, fortune and the visualization of the term sex drugs and rock and roll, through the eyes of an innocent who wanted to see the other side. He brings his girlfriend along for the ride, to further contrast their previous and current lifestyles, and explores fairly successfully the aspect of if power, money and popularity can corrupt and change a person. The script is frosted with some powerful, realistic, yet playfully honest dialogue befitting the era and mood which its portraying. I lived through that era, even having those dreams, and Herek and company have surprisingly captured it fairly well. Even when the film ventures and follows some expected and typical story paths, the dialogue, and of course the music, make it an enjoyable ride, with a nice soundtrack to life's events and explorations.

The film is also strengthened by some strong performances, from some unexpected sources. Wahlberg is Wahlberg, as he usually is, he slips right into his every man roles, with a comfortable ease. Whether it's a conflicted porn star, or sailor, soldier or fanatically post teen music fan, he plays each role quite well, without actually seemingly like he's acting. He doesn't do it with quite the blending into the background way that Edward Norton does, but he's still quite good, and getting better. The best supporting roles come from Timothy Spall, as the road manager with a heart (and a sex drive) and Jason Flemyng, in a brief role, as Dragon's lead singer with issues. Both performances are subdued, yet honest, powerful, fitting and never over done. Perfect representations of the era, the dream and the lifestyle, which aid in conveying the films message, without clouding or bogging it down completely in predictability. Only Aniston, seeming like Rachel in "The One where she's a groupie" is out of place as his girlfriend. Her scenes, while a necessary aspect of the story, seem to drag things down a bit, because her pouty look does not fit the morphing contrast that the lifestyle can initiate. Without this cast though, the film would have been little more than a Behind the Music episode with a hair band soundtrack. And what a soundtrack this movie has. Granted, I am a sucker for all things 80s, especially music, but this one truly captures the spirit and attitude of the decade, and not just from a hair band aspect. From typical genre denizens like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Motley Crue to the interesting, but fitting additions of INXS and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the sound of Rock Star is truly the icing, on a deliciously guilty pleasure of a film.

Ultimately, Rock Star is the representation of a decade, and the dreamers who inhabited it. While it can't help but fall into some typical plot manipulations and devices, such as the love story, and the expected success, fall and revelation, the sharp script and relevant storylines carry the film above the otherwise maudlin and intellectually lacking summer faire. At least the film is honest about its roots, and represents its genre, by embodying everything that this music and mood was about. Its simple, its loud, its full of energy, not a lot of thought, but full of attitude. It also poses and answers the question of is it better to fail as yourself, or succeed as someone else. In trying to find ones identity through embracing someone else's, we sometimes find what we are truly made of, and what we truly want out of life. By losing ourselves in our dream of perfection, we can find our own. See this one for all the dreamers, successes and failures, because while Rock Star's melody may not be one for everyone, but those who hear its message, will relate, understand and enjoy.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ($$$)

Directed by: Kevin Smith. Starring: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Shannon Elizabeth, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jason Lee.

Dependant upon perspective and social sensitivity, Kevin Smith is either one of the smartest presences in Hollywood, or one of the most pretentious and obnoxious. His films usually represent a delicate, biting, sometimes hard to swallow, but difficult to ignore combination of these traits. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the conclusion of his View Askew stories. Smith, Hollywood's resident socially observant smarty pants and voice of Generation X will retire the group of characters, familiar to die-hard fans, with this film. It's a good thing, because this film proves that their humor and appeal may be wearing thin, and while the sharp insight is there, this time into Hollywood's inner workings, and the machinations of the publicity machine, the sharpness is dulling, the humor is slightly tiring, and the cross references are forced. The end result is a film that is funny, and relevant, but tries too hard at times to wedge in all of Smith's trademarks. At least he's quitting while he's ahead, but time has taken its toll on Smith's path with these characters, as this film sadly shows in spots.

In this alternate, yet always intertwining world, we are shown the genesis of Jay and Silent Bob through a humorous opening sequence. This melds into present day where they are at their usual post outside a convenience store. Once they are banished from the location, they find out, through circumstance, that the comic book (from Chasing Amy) based on them is going to made into a movie and that they would be due some financial gain from it. They also discover the alternate world of the Internet, and take offense to some criticisms posted on a movie rumor message board (, Harry Knowles, you have now been spoofed). They set out on a journey to Hollywood to claim their monies, silence their critics, and stop production of the movie so that, in their twisted sense of reality, they can stifle the voices of the e-masses. Smith combines road movie elements, into his satirical situation, by having Jay and Silent Bob encounter past characters and actors along the way. There is a slightly unnecessary side plot involving jewel thieves which does little more than give more material to spoof, and finally give Jay a romantic interest (if that word can be used with him). Individual scenes are funny; the story itself plays out too long. The shining moments occur during some of the dialogue, which is far from intellectual, but simplistically insightful at points. Jabs at Miramax, the films of Damon and Affleck, and a hilarious sequence involving Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek, show the underlying spirit that should have permeated the whole movie, but unfortunately did not. For every 4 or 5 of these jabs there are crude sexual references (done tongue in cheek, but still over the top, even for highly hormonal youth with a penchant for profanity) and wedged in references (with Affleck, Lee and Adams's reappearances) which only slow things down and space out the laughs and insight. Tone these down, or cut them out, and this would have been something sharp and memorable, instead of just funny. The performances are scattered out a bit, with no one really shining or standing out. Some characters have dual roles, with Affleck, Lee and Damon playing themselves or incarnations of themselves, along with other characters. This is forgivable since Smith has already established his own universe of reality. Elizabeth is surprisingly sweet in her romantic, yet bad girl role, and some great Star Wars related cameos (from Hamill and Fisher) keep the movies spirit alive, but never really kicking.

Ultimately, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is an often funny, sometimes crude, but fitting final chapter to this group of characters and stories. By incorporating the styles and mannerisms, along with the personas, of the previous efforts, he can now close the book. And not a moment too soon, as the movie also shows that in his desperation to appease his fans and reference previous films, he has drawn the biting wit of Dogma and Clerks, but also the humor level of Mallrats, his sole failure amongst the bunch. Smith is the unofficial voice of a generation and the antitheses of Hollywood may have started believing his own hype. While the film does have a sharp touch of social observation and criticism, it also shows, glaringly, that Smith is a tad too in love with his characters quirks and crude nature, which steals or at least dilutes some of the films intentions. The inside winking references from his previous films as well as others (Star Wars, Planet of The Apes, X-Files, Mission Impossible) are occasionally hilarious (a great Scooby Doo sequence and Good Will Hunting 2) but often seem thrown in, as if Smith lost his cool, calm demeanor and was so excited when he got an idea, that he just haphazardly tossed it on screen so he wouldn't forget it. I wouldn't be so critical of this aspect, had his previous films not shown that he has the ability to balance these inclusions with a story and a message. Smith's films have never taken themselves seriously and have still managed to maintain a fun, but insightful spirit. This one does the same, but still tries to be a bit too witty and tongue in cheek for its own good. Yes, the film is a blast, which will keep the specific audience of his films content since Smith's films are not a universal, but rather an acquired taste. It almost hurts me physically, not to have enjoyed this film more than I did, because I really wanted to. Smith is one of the powerful, inspirational young voices in filmmaking, and is definitely someone who will have a long, successful say into where filmmaking goes in the 21st century. But I also cannot avoid the fact that this film is not the powerhouse it should have been. It has more of the good things (above referenced spoofs and social commentary on Hollywood, the Internet and celebrity attitudes) but too many of the bad (the over the top humor and forced tongue in cheek references) to be a raving success. Instead, it's an enjoyable, sometimes funny finale to what has indeed been an enjoyable ride through his View Askew universe.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin ($$)

Directed by: John Madden. Starring: Nicholas Cage, Penèlope Cruz, John Hurt, Christian Bale, David Morrissey, Irene Papas.

Don't let the sweet, melodic sound of the title, and the soft, clichéd visuals of the trailer fool you, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is not just a sappy, lyrical love story with the war as a backdrop. Director John Madden's follow-up to his Oscar winning Shakespeare in Love deftly balances the tale of forbidden love, with the realistic depiction of the horrors and effects of war on the innocents (the antithesis of Pearl Harbor). Similar to Enemy at The Gates, Mandolin gives a even vision and insight into it's story, but fails slightly, because its leads generate little heat, and the storytelling is lethargic, bordering on boring, to the point of making it seem like it lasts a lot longer than it does. In the end, this pacing dilutes any power or emotion that the story could have had, and leaves a mildly sleeping, yet beautiful vision on our brains.

There are two concurrent storylines at work here. The setting is a small Greek island village, inhabited by, amongst others, Cruz and her physician father. It is World War II, and the Greeks are under pressure from Italy, their close neighbors, who are members of the Axis powers with Hitler. In a show of force, Italian forces, demanding surrender, overrun the island. The mayor and townsfolk are resistant. Already angered by the invasion of their self-sufficient world by outsiders, they resist external influences with great vigor and spunk. In contrast, yet along side this is the love story. Pelagia (Cruz) is in love with a patriotic fisherman and soldier named Mandras (Bale) who ends up going off to fight for his country. During his absence, an Italian battalion who do more singing, dancing and cavorting, then actual fighting overrun the island. Cage is the leader of this group, and as expected, falls for Cruz. The dually running conflicts of emotions and politics must have worked better in the book, but the translation here isn't as bad as it could have been. As Cruz struggles with her growing attraction to Cage, she, along with the citizens of her town, struggle with insurmountable forces and odds against them as the battles of the outside world spill into theirs. I enjoyed the way the two tales are given fairly equal screen time and importance, however the delivery of the story lags a bit, stealing some of the movies thunder. Unlike Pearl Harbor though, Madden figured out to weave a historical and romantic tragedy together, giving each their due. Unfortunately, the long languishing scenes and dialogue drag the movie along at a pace, which would make a snail, feel fleet footed. While the movie has a running time of around 140 minutes, average these days, it seems a lot longer because of the scenes, mostly beautiful, but sometimes languish on to long. Also, the love story between Cruz and Cage lacks any heat, except for yet another example of two beautiful people looking at each other, while we wait for the inevitable. Bale's character is banished for a third of the movie, but is always compelling when onscreen because of his undying passion for his country, and ultimately Cruz's happiness.

The problem lies in the fact that neither Cage nor Cruz carry the combination of dramatic presence and romantic heat that their roles required. Fiennes and Paltrow showed a playful, touching spirit in Shakespeare, but this time around Madden cannot elicit the same type of thespian fire from these two stars. Another slight problem lies in the fact that, while I surprisingly had little problem with Cage playing an Italian, Cruz is Spanish, through and through, and has no business playing a Greek. Her accent is discernible in every sequence, and I almost waited for the scene where her father (an intense John Hurt) tells her that he'd had an affair of some kind and that she wasn't pure Greek. Outlandish, yes, but a very distracting bit of dramatic license that I couldn't forgive.

Ultimately, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a stunning, but taxing look at the effects of conflict on several aspects of the human spirit and emotions. Our hearts and souls are constantly under the influence of external forces, and who we are is a formation of the result of these forces. We gain knowledge amidst heartache, and strength amidst the strife. I have a feeling that this was the intention of the novel, and Madden's intentions as well. Visually, he has captured something stunning indeed, but the dialogue seems like he tried to cram too much into some scenes, and then linger on others for dramatic effect. His result is something admirable, for its balancing realism, but tiring in its delivery.

American Outlaws ($$$$)

Directed by: Les Mayfield. Starring: Colin Farrell, Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Timothy Dalton, Gabriel Macht, Will McCormack, Harris Yulin.

The spirit of the Old West, and the New Hollywood are dually revived in American Outlaws, a film that every filmmaker should pay attention to if they ever intend to make a summer movie or for that matter, a good movie. The film not only revives the memory of the nearly dormant western genre, when men were men and movies were good, but also captures the pure spirit of what energetic and fun filmmaking is. It does it in a manner that shows that you don't have to gross out or kowtow to the simple desires of the masses. It is sharp, simple and smart, three easy concepts that somehow get lost in the big budget brainless faire that litter the summer landscape. Director Les Mayfield has not only recalled the spirit of the old West, but has also resuscitated a summer season that was on its last legs.

Outlaws takes a slice of history, possibly embellishing a little for creative license and story purposes, telling one of what I'm sure is a million different stories of America's most infamous cowboy outlaw; Jesse James. Along with his educated, wise, Shakespeare quoting older brother Frank and his cousins, the powder keg Cole Younger, and two other Younger brothers, James returns to his home of Liberty Missouri (in my neighborhood here) after the Civil War has ended. Western progression has precluded the government to continue the building of a coast-to-coast railroad. This railroad needs to go through Missouri, and more notably Liberty, so the officials, teamed with the famous Allan Pinkerton (of detective agency fame) go from town to town to extricate the citizens from their farms by any means necessary. The movie tells of James-Younger gang (as opposed to the Younger-James gang, one example of the movies great one-liners and intelligent dialogue) as they rebel against the big money hooligans. The setup shows that James, who is one of history's most infamous criminals, was not an evil or bad man, but just a very daring, confidant man who defended his home, his family and his love, from the outside world. Outlaws never bogs itself down with too many stories or too many characters, but rather balances a simple story of love, vengeance and family, with some quick witted, but intelligent dialogue and action sequences and wraps it all into a compact, entertaining and even educational package. This package is wrapped in some solid performances as well which makes the ride just that much more enjoyable.

The key is not only the individual performances, but also their chemistry together. Farrell, in his second film since the wonderful, but little seen Tigerland, again shines with his cocky bravado and rugged good looks embodying what most of us imagine James was like. While I expected him to be good (granted, its his second film, but see his first, and you'll understand) the one who caught me by surprise was Macht as Frank. Whether it was shooting six guns at bad guys, or one liners at Jesse, Macht turns in a captivating performance, making me curious to learn more about Frank, about Jesse and about their experiences together. But these two shining stars would not have worked nearly as well without the gang around them, on both sides of the debate. Scott Caan (James's son who will soon lose that moniker if he keeps this kind of work up) as the short-tempered, second billed Cole Younger, Will McCormack as the overlooked Bob Younger (who gets some of the best lines and scenes, delivering each time) and Gregory Smith as the youngest Younger (insert your own quip here) support the gang side, while Dalton, at his British sneering best, Yulin and O'Quinn make up the frustrated pursuers of James, Younger and company. Even Larter, as the obligatory love interest, shines and shows more versatility than her first roles (quiet and mousy in Final Destination, and covered in whipped cream in Varsity Blues); together these actors may have made the film which makes them household names, or at least gets them noticed.

Ultimately, American Outlaws recaptures two lost trends and puts them together into a pure, unadulterated fun summer movie ride. It has all the elements of the classic Western. It has a large ensemble cast, a simple story based in historical accuracy, realistic dialogue that is both emotional humorous and real, and of course, guns, action, drinking, and women. There is never an excess of any, but a perfect balance of all, and that is what makes this film work as good as it does. The Western used to be the kind of movie that men could enjoy, it was full of lots of guys on horses, firing guns, getting the girls, but always having a purpose. There was always a deeper story and motivation behind their actions, and Outlaws is the first film since Tombstone to recapture that. I have stayed away from comparisons to Young Guns, because that film was more about aesthetic appearances than this one is. These are not pretty or attractive people at first glance, but their strength and ruggedness comes from the inside. Guns was a good movie, Outlaws is a great one. In a movie that blurs the lines between good and bad, Outlaws uses its brains, its spark, its cast, its humor and its remembrance of all that was and is can be good in movies to make an experience that should not be missed and will not be regretted. Is it historically accurate? Probably not, but who really goes to the movies for exact reality, most of us go there to escape that, without being insulted. What Outlaws does best is make you feel good. It will make you smile, make you laugh, and when you leave the theater, it will make you feel that you haven't wasted your time.

American Pie 2 ($$$$)

Directed by: James B. Rogers. Starring: Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Eugene Levy, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott.

We've all been there, whether we admit it or not. Growing up, wondering, hurting and both curious and fearful of where our futures will take us. At the same time, trying to hang onto the innocence of our youth and decipher these new feelings and emotions. Our teen years were indeed a whirlwind of confusion and pleasurable madness. Few filmmakers have been able to capture all of these emotions into one effort, John Hughes did it a decade and a half ago, but since then, no one has really gotten the full picture. Adam Herz, J B Rogers, David Steinberg and The Weitz brothers definitely do get it, and movie audiences around the world are much better because of it. The creators of the now franchise of American Pie films have become the John Hughes of Generation Y-Not. With just two films, they have captured the essence of teen angst, dreams, desires, fears and concerns, all in one very neat, sometimes crude, but always brutally honest, package. Needless to say, those who were turned off by the first film should stay away from this one. However those who looked past the gross-out scenes and crude humor and saw the true nature and heart of the matter will revel in the second slice just as much as the first. The makers have garnered the perfect balance by utilizing the characters and setup from the first film, but not carbon copying in a cheap and empty attempt to make more money, as most sequels do. Instead, they explore other aspects, some are a stretch to include everyone, but the overall effect is the same. There are the scenes where you will bust a gut laughing and may miss jokes, there are the scenes where some will cringe in pain or disgust, and there are scenes that hit very close to home emotionally. In the end, the lasting effect of the film is true, real, unadulterated fun with a purpose, a spirit and a message about friendship, family and love. All wrapped up into one neat little pie.

It's now one year later, and the gang is one year older, but not necessarily one year smarter. They've supposedly matured past their high school years, but a return home brings back all the old memories again. Feeling the need to break out of their monotony, they end up at Kevin's brothers beach house on the lake, figuring that the girls will migrate to them. Each still have their own stories going as well. Finch is still obsessed with Stiffler's mother, Kevin has not gotten over Vicky (who has moved on), Oz and Heather are separated by an ocean as she travels to France (probably because of Suvari's suddenly busy movie slate) and Jim is preparing for a visit from Nadia who is returning to the US to see him. He enlists the help of Michelle, his "first" to prepare. What follows are a series of actions, interactions, reactions and natural emotions primarily focused on the male aspect of things this time around. The writers understood that they can't carbon copy the first film, but instead they should relate the first film, maturing the situations slightly, but not necessarily the characters. The simple, similar, yet slightly different approach is the key to why the movie works, along with, of course the chemistry of the actors.

If Jason Biggs could do only these roles, then his standing in Hollywood would be much stronger. As it is, these are the only shining in a short career that has some of the worst movies (Saving Silverman, Loser) in the years since the original. He is Jim, just as Scott will always be Stiffler, supplanting them as this generation's Alan Ruck (Cameron,Ferris Bueller's Day Off) in that whatever they do, these will always be the roles they are known for. Part of why this film works lies in the fact that they didn't tamper with the chemistry of the first film, writers, directors and entire cast have returned, and that definitely helps matters along. Elizabeth gets a larger role and more dialogue, while Klein and Suvari end up on the back burner. Levy shines, once again, as Jim's father, balancing the nerdy father, with the loving one. I admire Rogers and company for introducing this long overlooked comic talent to a new generation. (see also Best in Show) In the end, it all works because Weitz (exec producer this time), Rogers (asst director last time, director this time) and Herz (writer both times) destroy the stereotypes of the teen film genre by instilling brains, heart, spirit and crude realism.. It may be hard to watch, hard to sit through and difficult to deal with, but remember back, so were those years of our lives (for those of us who are through them) Anyone who finds themselves dismissing the film as crude and childish should take a moment to remember back, before casting another stone in this film's direction.

It would be very easy to sit here and pick apart the faults of the film, such as an unnecessary story line, some unneeded scenes and characters and a scene that goes on a bit longer than it should. But to do that, would be looking too closely at a truly fun, magical, emotional experience. This film is a perfect example of how chemistry and the prevailing attitude and feeling can overshadow minor faults. The components that don't work combine with the major aspects of the film that do, to create the final product which drives the point home that teens are overly hormonal but emotionally vulnerable. In the end, they, like all people seek acceptance, love and the most out of life. American Pie 2 captures all of this into a smartly written and executed package. Previous teen efforts chose to focus on the material aspects of things and dialogue that makes anyone with an IQ of 50 cringe. Creator Herz and writer Steinberg have continued the trend into the second film, by maintaining the same spirit and nature and infusing new doses and touches. The final product is a delicious slice of real Americana that shows that just because the cast members aren't old enough to drink doesn't mean they aren't old enough to feel and think.

Others, The ($$)

Directed by: Alejandro Amenàbar. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Alakina Mann, James Bentley.

Two years ago, The Sixth Sense turned the movie world on its ear in more ways then anyone could have ever imagined. What was at first a sleeper success story with a zinger ending, has turned into a measuring stick for movies trying to shock us as we leave the theater, and a bookmark for supernatural suspense stories. With the recent lack of great suspense movies, The Others was definitely a welcome addition to the calendar, but unfortunately, director Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes) taps too much into the few successes that there have been, adding a few touches, but in the ending falling prey to lethargic to pacing and borrowed ideas which come off as copied rather than influenced. By coming in on the heels and ideals of other successes Amenabar invokes the spirits of some modern horror and suspense classics as inspiration in this tale. It has the style and mood of 1980's Ghost Story, some attitudes and plot ideas from Poltergeist, but the majority of the tale obviously comes from Sense. It is the attempt to live up to that final inspiration that ultimately dooms The Others, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in order to succeed and be set apart, there must be some original touches. After a laborious set up, the film stumbles in the last third, leaving a bored, empty feeling as the final emotion, where fear, suspense and wonderment should have been.

Kidman is a war widow living with her two children in the isolated island of Jersey in the English Channel. She is poster child of paranoid and overprotective, sheltering her children from light, due to their allergy to it, and sheltering them from society and modern conveniences for similar fears and reasons. She hires on three servants who appear mysteriously, to help her maintain the large estate that her husband has left her. So far, so good, but of course there is more going on here. You see, they aren't alone in the house; the oldest daughter is the only one who sees the visitors, subsequently scaring her younger brother with the tales and earning a punishment from her mother for having such a wild imagination. I leave the unveiling of the remainder of this tale for the film to do, suffice it to say that the film proceeds at a pace which robs it of any pent-up suspense. The use of the children as the vehicles of that which some cannot see is a very good premise that Sense mastered, and this one piggybacks on. The mind of a child is innocent and uncorrupted, but always open and imaginative. It is these conflicting styles, which make the young, perfect vehicles for tales of the unexpected or unbelievable. Here, the kids are the perfect foils, one who displays the fear, the other displaying the steadfast belief that children so openly have. This works in the film's favor for most of the time, but also is let down as the film drags on. The scenes meant to shock or scare, actually just snap the audience out of the hypnotic catharsis that they have been lulled into. There is such a thing as methodical building of suspense that Shyamalan mastered in Sense, but Amenabar's sophomore effort has missed it slightly here. Had he compacted things together a bit, and sharpened the edges, the ending could have been forgivable, since its very hard these days to shock or scare audiences. I do admire the attempts though, but the bar is very high.

I was very leery of Kidman doing this role, since she has yet to prove to me that she can handle a film where she is the main focus or has most of the screen time (To Die For for instance). After Moulin Rouge, which was a combination of Luhrmann's vision and Kidman's playful beauty, she shows the other emotion, which she does well, paranoid fear (Dead Calm, for example). She is manic, frustrated, very typically parental, and takes us with her on the downward spiral, as things start falling apart and coming together at the same time. It's amazing to see someone so composed, yet confused, and Kidman helps keep the doldrums tolerable, but not quite watchable, as the film languishes towards the end. The remainder of the cast is composed of her children who hold their own very well and the servants, an old woman who does the majority of the speaking, an old man along for the ride, and a mute young girl who obviously just reacts. They are there, like the visitors, to progress the story, but Kidman is the true shining star amidst everything else.

Ultimately, The Others is a movie that has all the right ideas and inspirations, but fails in execution and conclusion. The vision is stylish and haunting, the acting, from Kidman, the children and the housekeepers, is intense and mysterious, but the pace of the film dilutes the fear factor, and the conclusion, while a tad unexpected, cannot live up to its own chilling precursory intentions. Amenabar shows potential in his visual ideas and interpretations and with some honing and editing could be a definite voice in the future. For now, his effort is a lot of style and some borrowed substance which is delivered to the audience in an eyedropper Chinese water torture style which kills what could have been a film that others drew ideas from, rather than one that mirrors them.

Planet of The Apes ($$$)

Directed by: Tim Burton. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, Michael Clarke Duncan, Estella Warren, Kris Kristofferson.

There is a saying that if you put a thousand monkeys in front of a thousand typewriters, one of them would type out a masterpiece (paraphrased of course, since I'm not sure of the actual quote), but it appears that Tim Burton has tried this experiment, and the result is the majority of the screenplay for his poorly written, but occasionally stunning remake of the 70s cult classic Planet of The Apes. The script is mostly forgettable, although it does improve as the movie goes along; the stumbles are so bad that no amount of wise social commentary humor could ever overcome them. However, the little touches that do work make this one a slightly guilty pleasure nonetheless. Although, someone really does need to pull Tim Burton aside and show him how to make an effective action sequence. Burton falls prey to the same combination of fast camera movement combined with sounds, which made a few scenes in Ridley Scott's otherwise wonderful Gladiator nearly unwatchable and dizzying. Burton needs to watch the battle sequences of Saving Private Ryan to see how to do a fast cut, powerful and effective action sequence which combines physical and mental aspects to drive the mass confusion and intensity of a sequence. The overall combination of these sequences, offset with dialogue that is mostly bad and mixed in with a scene-stealing performance from Giamatti, makes Planet just a shade above mediocre, and either far above, or far below, where it should be, based on expectation and love of the first film.

The story, based on a novel by Pierre Bouille, mirrors the original, but throws in enough unique (albeit convenient and questionable) touches to give it an in an individual identity. Wahlberg is an Air Force captain on a space station where the government is breeding and training genetically enhanced monkeys, apes, whatever you'd like to call them. The station approaches a storm, which may be something more than it first appears, so they decide to send in one of the monkeys to explore further, since this is what they are being trained to do. When something goes wrong, of course, Wahlberg defies orders (in a sequence containing two perfect examples of the movie's cringingly bad dialogue) and heads out to retrieve his monkey. In the process, he goes through turbulence (including the clock sequence from the first film) and crash lands on a planet where things have definitely changed and been turned upside down. On the planet, the humans are the prey, the slaves, and the pets, while the apes are the civilized ones, and in control. The message that both movies, the original and this one, attempt to convey deals with the what if aspect of science fiction showing that we shouldn't mess with Mother Nature, and what can happen in worst case scenarios. I'm not sure what the basis of Bouille's book is, but from both adaptations of the story, I can only imagine that its more politically and scientifically based, and that the writers have lost a bit of those touches in place of satirical human nature commentary. The ape's society mirrors ours, while their treatment of humans mirrors some people's attitudes towards the more intelligent members of our animal kingdom. The message is meant to show us what it looks like from the other side of the table. Burton's tale gets a little lost amidst the overly aggressive nature of some, and the overly sympathetic nature of others. The original took itself as seriously as it had to in its social commentary, but still had some fun. This time, there are some nods to both, but when the dialogue takes itself seriously, is when things slide down. But thankfully, Burton never completely lets his dark side take over and thus; the story isn't diluted amidst his vision. It is given a fair enough treatment I believe.

There are characters, both good and bad, whose sympathies and angers are never explained or justified. Granted, it isn't necessary to go into a long detailed account of why Thade is so angry towards the humans or why Ari is so sympathetic to them. But amidst the suspension of disbelief that this, along with any sci-fi movie regarding an alternate reality, it would be nice if there was even an attempt to justify characters reactions and emotions. As the movie progresses, listing back and forth between being guiltily enjoyable, and absurdly constructed, the movie teeters on blockbuster status, until the apes go to war, or the humans open their mouths. Hence, like O Brother Where Art Thou, it all comes down to the finale, for a determination of whether or not the movie scores. The explanation is plausible, if you're able to suspend reality, and the conclusion is a rather unexpected one, though not breathtaking, it is does catch the audience a tad off guard. While we expect there to be something, in tribute to the first one, what does happen may seem a bit silly, but I ask those who see it to try and figure out another way it could have been done, before criticizing.

Underneath all of the makeup and the hauntingly realistic simian reactions and movements, the true scene stealing comes from an actor who once played a character named Pig Vomit. Paul Giamatti (son of late baseball commissioner A Bartlett Giamatti) truly injects life, humor, sarcasm and fun into his portrayal of a manipulative slave trader. He steals every scene he's in, whether being serious or humorously acerbic. His makeup, along with most of The Others, is also to be applauded. This film may not even earn a whisper come Oscar time, but it would be a crime not to even consider the effects and makeup artists for their work which renders all of the actors (even the surprise cameo in the middle) nearly unrecognizable from appearance (but not from voice, as Duncan is obvious from his first word, while it is nearly impossible to know that it's Roth underneath Thade's angry scowl).

Ultimately, Planet of The Apes is an admirable, but flawed entry into the big budget summer sweepstakes. In yet another dose of cinematic irony, it is the little things that make the difference in this grand scale remake attempt. Burton is earning a reputation for more money now, and we can only hope that he doesn't lose his edge and touch that brought so many wonderfully frightening faire. He may want to choose some better screenwriters and consult Spielberg or John Frankenheimer in regards to his action direction, but his vision is still in tact, just the words and method of delivery which fail slightly. If you can suspend disbelief, believing in talking apes, and can overlook some questions in regards to plot and character development, then you might be able to at least survive the journey.

America's Sweethearts ($$$$)

Directed by: Joe Roth. Starring: Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Seth Green.

I have to admit that I have a weakness for any film in which Hollywood mocks, pokes fun at, or spoofs itself, its principles or its ideals. In America's Sweethearts, yet another typical love story, director Joe Roth throws in the edgy touch of also making light of those three things which make the town go around; image, perception and publicity. In doing so, the love story, which follows some predictable patterns and paths, becomes the framework for a humorous satirical look at how its not always how good something is, but how it appears to be.

What is the anatomy of a rumor or scandal, which we as the voyeuristic public seem so fascinated with? America's Sweethearts explores and delves deeper and shows you the real story behind it. Gwen (Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (Cusack) were America's super couple (think Tom and Nicole as a frighteningly fitting example) who have just broken up, and needless to say, this doesn't sit well with anyone. Especially not with Eddie's publicist (Crystal) who we see rescuing Cusack from a new-age retreat (led by a hilarious long-haired Arkin who spews mantras dripping in obvious obscurity). Meanwhile Gwen, the egotistical actress with little talent and concern for others (another example of the perfect casting) has taken up with a Latin stud (Azaria) while her publicist and sister (Roberts) copes with being the one in the shadows while still keeping both of their lives on track. The culmination of things is the premiere of Gwen and Eddie's final movie together directed by an obscure, aloof, yet respected director (Walken, conjuring up not so subtle hints of Kubrick) who does his editing from Kazscinski's shack. Most of the film takes place at the press junket for the film, where the focus becomes the art of deception, publicity, trouble shooting and manipulation of public comprehension of actions. These are handled effectively for the most part, with few stumbles (while the Backstreet Boy line was good, the following and subsequent canine references are a bit too lowbrow for this films attitude). The love story develops from a past encounter and a curiously introduced storyline involving Julia and her weight. While the chemistry between the two parties involved works, this aspect mildly bogs things down. However, since it is done with a light hearted and realistic touch, it's forgivable in the grand scheme. Another helpful aspect is the insight and wit of the writers, throwing in some memorable dialogue (I'm schizophrenic, so I'm my own entourage) that is both insightful and funny. This delicate balance is what pushes the film over the edge from the average run of the mill romantic comedy, which this film could have drifted into easily. Instead, Roth and the writers show control and restraint at times, and excess, sappiness and sharp social satire in others.

In a world of make believe, where the main premise is usually to be someone else, each of the actors in the film is playing someone either close to their own personality, or similar to the characters that they've played and had success with before. These are not new and unique characters, since the masses do better with characters and reactions that can be easily related to. Julia is Julia, sweet, charming and the girl we always root for. Cusack is back at home playing the everyman romantic lead (which he strayed from in efforts like Con-Air and Pushing Tin) Jones is tolerable, because she's playing a character who is not unlike her self; overrated, stuck on her own image and someone who's bought into her own hype. Crystal is wisecracking, Azaria is over the top (with an accent straight from the Desi Arnaz school of pronunciation) even Walken, an actor usually hard to stereotype, plays creepy, yet intellectual like nobody's business. Together, they have a chemistry that mirrors the films own general aura; one of sharp realism that contains just enough doses of humor and sarcasm to keep things original and real.

Ultimately, America's Sweethearts is a light, but effective and intelligent look at the true mindset of stardom and the sides and aspects of Hollywood that are not immediately prevalent and visible. The creation an image serves a dual purpose, to draw attention, of course, but also to distract from other occurrences that may detract from the desired message. In Hollywood, it's not always about the quality of something, as much as how it looks, and what it will do for those involved. The film effectively shows all sides of this, from the celebrities, to the directors, the publicists, the lovers and the family members. Every side is approached, and dealt with in a manner that is never over the top, but is satirical and humorous without being sugar coated or overdone. The love story does tend to get in the way, but never enough to steal any of the story's charm or sharp wit. The romance aspect remains playful, if not painfully, but acceptably obvious. Yet another case of success that comes from not being afraid to laugh and mock the hands and wallets that feed you, while still maintaining a humorous and intelligent edge. The movie is pretty fearless, which fails it sometimes in the execution of some of the jokes, but for the most part, it's a chance for the participants to bite back at the hand that feeds them, without repercussion. We get to look behind the scenes at how some of the ludicrous, and not so ludicrous, rumors and situations actually occur, and realize that what we're watching, may not actually be the whole story, but this movie definitely is.

Jurassic Park III ($)

Directed by: Joe Johnston. Starring: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tèa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Tevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, Bruce Young, Laura Dern.

"Sometimes the worst things in the world come from the best intentions" - Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill)

Sometimes indeed, this phrase, and one other line involving playing God are the only remnants of the premise that the original Jurassic Park introduced. What started as an insightful exploration into creationism and scientific advancement has devolved actually, into this 92-minute chase across an island, with some bad acting and tired dialogue. There are a few cool new dinosaur effects, but time has not aged this tale well, and in a movie involving evolution, this one has not learned and grown, but rather shown what can happen when greed takes over a great idea.

After an opening straight out of Jaws, involving a hanggliding man and child parasailing near the island, the story picks up with the good doctor trying to raise funds for his research studies on the dinosaurs. He and one of his students believe they have discovered something new about the nasty velociraptors (the running ones); that they may have been smarter than the average prehistoric beast. They are approached by a philanthropist/businessman/adventurer and his wife about traveling back to the island for the ultimate thrill. Neill is hesitant, but, as in the making of this movie, everybody has their price, so back to the island we go (cue ominous horror movie impending doom music) From here, it is not hard to imagine where the movie goes, they land, they encounter, they run, they say "What was that" more than knowing people should, and the ending is inevitable and cannot come soon enough. The only refreshing mix is a child whose interaction gives the film its only signs of life, not even a new breed of dinosaur can save this film from its ultimate demise. Although kudos must also be given for keeping the torture short and compact, so that my time wasted wasn't quite as long as it could have been.

There are so many at fault for this film, that it is hard to narrow them down, but at the heart of the matter are screenwriters, and Tea Leoni, whose acting ability had been suspect at best before this. The writers fill the movie with dialogue that would embarrass a 12 year old in its uncomfortable simplicity. You would think with Spielbergs touches, that something better could have been concocted, although with this story outline, its hard to imagine. Secondly, Ms Leoni gives a run to Maria Pitilo (Godzilla) as the worst actress ever to appear in a film. Her sole purpose is to run around, scream at the cued moments and be the female representative amidst the supposed machismo presence. Neill and Macy, both accomplished and proven actors, drown amidst the absurdity of their actions and words. In the grand effect of it all, their talents just add to the waste that this film becomes.

Ultimately, Jurassic Park 3 is a cinematic disaster that creates more questions than it answers. The main question that exists before, during and even after this film is why? Why would they choose to continue a franchise that was already slipping after their last effort? (actually, that ones kind of easy to answer, since it's all about the money) Why would I go to see this one, after only slightly enjoying the first one and disliking the second one (actually, seeing this one made me appreciate the first much more, since number 3 makes the first two look better) and why would these characters who are supposed to be wise scientists, venture back into the mouth of madness (that one is very weakly answered in the film). I have no answers, only more questions and disappointment even after viewing the film. The purpose of most sequels, beyond the financial aspects of course, is to answer questions left unanswered, or to show another aspect of the story that hasn't been told yet. JP3 fails to do either of these, since everything was pretty clearly resolved last time, and the new aspects introduced are forced and inconsistent with the rest of the films in the series. The end result is rushed and poorly written, but still attempts to distract the audience with its visuals, hoping that the rest of the mess will not be as obvious amidst the flashy effects. Shame on anyone who admits to having anything to do with this film. Best intentions or not, this one should have never been created.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ($$$)

Directed by: Hironobu Sakaguchi. Starring (voices of): Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Ving Rhames, Matt McKenzie, Donald Sutherland, James Woods.

With the advances that have been made in computers and animation, it was inevitable that a film would be made which all but erases the lines between reality and cartoon. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a computer-generated tale based upon a very popular video game. To it's credit, it does not suffer the fate of other translations, because it does indeed have a plot going for it, and is never insulting to the intelligence of the viewers. However, while the visuals are quite breathtaking and groundbreaking the writers overcompensated slightly by creating a tale that is difficult to follow and understand at times, and whose conclusion is slightly confusing at best. Despite this, the film still works based upon the fact that too much plot is never a bad thing, but tightening things up a bit might have helped the sheer visual feast.

Near as I could tell, the plot deals with a society that has been ravaged by phantoms who came from an asteroid. The planet has become a barren wasteland. The government has created task forces to search for ways to take back the planet and is in constant battle with the phantoms. Two scientists, Aki and Dr Sid believe that the Earth is alive and that any forceful means will damage the spirit (or Gaia) of the planet. While the government believes that force is the only way, the scientist believe that by harnessing aspects of the spirit of the planet, they can somehow overcome the beasts. This is a very complex ideal and plot for an animated movie. Even though it never pretends to be aimed at children, those younger aged folks who grew up with game are going to be drawn in, and this plot may convolute and confuse even the most ardent and attentive movie viewer. The pacing moves along consistently, but sometimes its not quite clear what is going on. There are well-defined good guys and bad guys, but the resolution is a bit unclear and the plot is crowded which may lose those who are not expecting to put much thought into the film. However, the visuals and realistic look of the film compensate any flaws, faults or confusion that the plot may generate. They are the reason to see the movie. While the synchronicity of the mouths to voices was shaky at best, the rest of the film is truly something to marvel at from the standpoint of animation, movement and scenery. The previews show only a glimpse of the movies visual mastery. This may be the landmark for the future of computer-generated animation. Examples of this are the first look at Aki, the realistic movement and reaction of her hair, Dr Sid's whole characterization and various other aspects of the crew and fight sequences. In the future, I just hope that they can find a balance between translating and stretching a short-term story into movie. Past failures in the video game genre have discovered that there is very little material to sustain a long-term project. With Final Fantasy, the exact opposite has happened. There is a plot, which is smart and obviously well thought out, but someone failed to streamline the ideas. The point comes across, but the resolution is not completely clear, so the message is slightly diluted, but the experience is still a magical one. The voices are recognizable, but blend away, save Sutherland's distinctly paternal tones, and they almost become performers in and amongst themselves, especially Na (as Aki) and Buscemi. Their spirits lend to the success yet slight confusion as well, as the words do not completely clarify the vision and detailed storyline.

Ultimately, Final Fantasy is a groundbreaking visionary experience that must be seen to be appreciated; however the confusion of the story slightly dilutes the enjoyment. While the effort is definitely appreciated, the writers could have organized things a bit more to give the visions the support that they deserved. The parallels with Star Wars and Titan A.E. (which it far surpasses) are quite obvious, but the film slides in somewhere in the middle of those two as far as quality goes. The film tries too hard to deal with spiritual issues and cultural ones (peaceful resolution vs. militant) and that may have been more than was necessary. The overall experience is amazing, and a definite optical fantasy fulfilled, it just hurts the brain trying to figure it all out.

Score, The ($)

Directed by: Frank Oz. Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando, Angela Bassett.

It's official now; Edward Norton has made a bad movie. The Score is a wannabe crime thriller/character study that never develops into anything more than a simple heist movie populated by characters that we are never given a chance to know or care about. The plot is simplistic and never daring, only DeNiro's character is delved into, and never consistently, and the pacing is lethargic when it wants to be methodical. What a shame it had to waste a cast that has more talent than 4 Michael Bay films, with a plot that seems like one Bay would do, were he given a heist idea. Overall, a great disappointment amidst even greater potential.

This is now the third "last job" movie released in the past month, following Swordfish and Sexy Beast, and like those two; this one doesn't really work either. DeNiro is a career criminal, introduced in an intriguing opening sequence where we get to see how a lock really works (for all of us layman wannabe safe crackers). He wants to retire and marry his long time girlfriend, flight attendant Diane (Bassett) but is drawn back in by his fence and partner Max (Brando). Max has a job in DeNiro's backyard of Montreal, which would help him to retire and never work again (as last jobs in these movies usually do). Norton plays the inside connection to the job, bouncing between a slow janitor and conniving criminal with his usual comfortable ease. From this point, the direction and finale of the story are expected and followed, but in between, Oz attempts to create compassion and emotion for DeNiro's character and a bond between Brando and DeNiro. Throw in another side plot involving the disbursement of the goods, and it still goes on much longer than it should have. In stretching, Oz creates lethargy rather than methodology in a failed attempt to add depth and character. However this delay only prolongs the inevitable, which Oz attempts to deflect with a conclusion that is robbed by the pacing and development of the supporting story. It wants to be suspenseful, shocking and give the movie a jolt. However after The Usual Suspects, Memento and Norton's own Primal Fear, it comes nowhere near achieving any of those things. It lacks the story to generate interest, the action to maintain attention or the pacing to alleviate the lack of either.

Between them, they have 4 Oscars, 17 nominations and many memorable roles (from Jake LaMotta to Tina Turner to Torquemada, to a militant racist). They represent the past, the present, and the future of method and character acting. They would have made any director fall all over himself to be in the same locale with this much talent. So how could they have failed? Quite easily, when you consider the material that they were given to work with. Brando plays comic relief in his brief scenes, but still emits his usual cool power and emotion, stealing a scene without ever really trying. DeNiro, who gets the majority of the character development, does his usual good job, but its nothing to rave about, since he stays calm, cool and content the entire film. He usually does better when he's forced to show emotional excess, be it comedic, insane, angry, or just powerful. Here, he is consistent, which is good, but never really interesting. We never really care about this being his last job, or him ending up with his long-suffering girlfriend (Bassett, in a throwaway role). In a movie where the characters, not the story, are the main focus, there must be a sympathy generated for the people involved. Oz and company fail to do that here, but it's not the actor's fault. Even Norton, whom I stated before has yet to make a bad film, is quite good yet again, showing new facets of his already loaded repertoire, but in the midst of all this mediocrity, even these great thespians cannot pull this one off.

Ultimately, The Score is an exercise in lethargically predictable futility. The conventional last job, heist caper has been done before, and done much better. Director Oz, previously sticking to comic faire (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob, In & Out) has stepped way out of his league in his attempt to make a character driven noir-style crime thriller. He lacks the touch, the style and the attitude to generate suspense or compassion while maintaining an interest in the characters and story (as Michael Mann did in DeNiro's Heat) The preconceived expectations that come from this dream cast are all the movie has going for it, unfortunately. Oz has given new definition, vision and personification to the term wasted potential leaving the audience with an overblown robbery movie that is really a whole lot of nothing.

Sexy Beast ($$)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer. Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian Mc Shane, Amanda Redman, Calvan Kendall.

First of all, to dispel any misconceptions that the film's title may give, Sexy Beast has about as much to do with sensuality, as an Adam Sandler film has to do with existentialism. Instead, it is a brutally violent, British gangster movie in the spirit of Guy Ritchie fare of late (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). It is filled with some visceral, surreal imagery and is very well put together and cast with actors who make these one dimensional characters very menacing, chilling yet intriguing to watch. Unfortunately, they are cast in a wannabe dark comedy that really isn't about very much more than a simple heist job, a retired criminal and a very persistent accomplice. Video and commercial director Jonathan Glazer relates a nice atmosphere through his imagery and cinematography, but unfortunately, his vision is forsaken amidst a plot that in retrospect, really never amounts to much at all.

Dove is a retired criminal, living a very comfortable in life in Spain with his also retired porn star wife (the only kind of sexual inference in the film). He is approached by the wife of his friend Aitch to come out of retirement to do one last job for a menacing presence from his past, Don Logan (Kingsley). Logan comes to Dove (or Gal, as he's referred to) to convince him to come out of his self-imposed exile one last time. The job is a simplistically silly one involving a high tech bank vault next to a steam bath that a famed thug discovered during a playful night of experimentation. So far, nothing that hasn't been seen and done (with not very good results) before. Then again, there has never really been a cinematically persistent presence like Hogan before. He gives new meaning and definition to the phrase "not taking no for an answer". He spits, screams, curses, insults and is bound and determined to not let Dove say no to his offer. His continued presence creates a tension and conflict amidst the characters, which results in some unexpected resolutions. The story meanders towards its conclusion in a lethargic manner, peppering in some flashy sequences and visuals, but never distracting away from the fact that it's just not going anywhere. It becomes a presumptuous exercise that becomes so self-absorbed in its multi-dimensional conflicted characters, that it forgoes common sense and story. Normally, I don't mind a movie that's more about its denizens than its plot, but there has to be something tangible and intelligent for these characters to populate, otherwise, the result is a lot of really cool people wandering around saying intense things, but getting lost on the way to sensibility. Sexy Beast could have been a continuing tale in the growing genre of British crime films, which is being led by Ritchie. Unfortunately, Glazer is more in love with his story and actors to worry about a plot that has any kind of rhyme or reason above the simple description above. Just for flavor, or in an attempt to be hip, Glazer throws in a crashing boulder, a Spanish pool boy, and Dove's dreams of a hairy beast, maybe representing his temptations to return to his formerly evil life. None of these are ever really clarified, unless there is a deeper meaning that gets lost in the mediocrity. It's a shame too, because it wastes some really powerful acting turns.

Ray Winstone, last seen as the downright creepy father in The War Zone, is a lovable, but conflicted bad guy whom you can't help but become endeared to. He sticks to his guns, but still becomes conflicted when circumstances dictate, and he does a wonderful turn in doing so. However the true presence, and almost a sole reason to recommend the film, is Kingsley's turn as Logan. The fact that he's good is not necessarily a revelation, since an Oscar winner has already been recognized as a talent, but this facet of his of repertoire has heretofore never revealed. He is dark, wicked and obviously at odds with and stuck on, himself as a bad person. Visions of Gandhi are definitely buried amidst the slew of profanities and persistently violent tendencies. Maybe there's another award nod in his future for this one, and it almost makes the movie worth recommending. Almost, but not quite unfortunately.

Ultimately, Sexy Beast is a beautiful, intense exercise in frustrating commonality. So often, movies try to be about a message or emotion more than a story (most recently You Can Count on Me worked, while George Washington didn't) but to get the message across, there has to be an attention grabbing, yet intelligent thread to hold these sequences together and drive the message home. Sexy Beast just misses, by putting very complex and conflicted characters into a very plain and sometimes pointless story. While good characters and writing versus a poor story will always win out in my eyes, I'd prefer if a touch of creativity from the development would spill over into the story. With just a little bit more edge and twist to the story, Sexy Beast could have been a dark comedic character study. As it is, it serves to revive Kingsley's career and show that with a better script and source material, Glazer could be a visionary, but for now, has missed the mark only slightly.

Cats and Dogs

Directed by: Lawrence Guterman. Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, Alexander Pollock. Voices of: Alec Baldwin, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sean Hayes, Jon Lovitz, Tobey Maguire, Joe Pantoliano, Susan Sarandon.

Cats and Dogs is well intended, yet disastrously executed attempt to entertain young minds while feeding the curiosity of adult ones. That which we do not know about or understand has always fascinated the masses. From the grand scheme of things like the meaning of life, or the existence of a higher being, all the way down to the communication between, and explanation of, the actions of pets. This attempt fails miserably, showing that talking animal movies work best, oddly enough, when we cannot see the mouths moving, but can only hear their thoughts and see their natural, not forced, fake and ludicrous actions. The humor works to cause only relating smirks, gentle guffaws and nudges, but never belly laughs. The pets, intended to be cute, are, like Cindy Crawford and Fabio, nice to look at, until they open their mouth. The overall combination of these failed effects, a forced and boring script, some misguided movie references, an embarrassing performance from Goldblum and a lack of anything visually stimulating, leaves very left when the fur finishes flying.

The story has it roots in the ongoing battle between dog owners and cat owners as to superiority of their pets. Dog owners consider their pets more loyal, while cat owners usually consider theirs smarter and more durable. The film tries to tackle the premise of the existence of a secret world below that of the one we know. In this world, cats are conniving, sneaky and domination minded, while dogs are the loyal defenders of home and freedom. Goldblum's family adopts a cute little puppy after there loyal pet mysteriously disappears. The puppy, Lou is befriended by Butch who is a grizzled veteran and Ivy, a mysterious, yet intelligent (if that word can be used in this film) and sultry female presence who help him in adapting to his new family while showing him the secret world that never knew existed. Both are secret members of the canine spy patrol. Their mission, whether the audience chooses to accept or believe it, is to stop a feline dictator known as Tinkles from taking over the world. The remainder of the film becomes the battles, some sacrilegious movie references and some horrible effects laden sequences meant to duplicate reality and explain some the pet's mysterious actions. I'm sure there was some idea meeting where someone, hopefully unemployed now, pitched the idea of having pets communicate with other and live a secret world that we humans don't notice. The problem lay in the fact that it's cute and funny the first time, but after repetition, becomes tedious. Quite simply, it is insulting to the adults who can tortuously see everything coming, and boring to children, who may fidget or even yawn at the absurdity of some of the "real" scenes involving the pets. Films like Stuart Little and Homeward Bound showed that the interaction of humans and pets can be dually cute, intelligent, entertaining and sharply, but realistically created. This film barely deserves mention above those, and almost makes Look Who's Talking Now appear nearly brilliant in its execution. These vocal and visual effects are cheap and amateur in their delivery. The continuously flat humor doesn't help either, as Goldblum's actions get dumber and dumber as they progress, and the dialogue becomes more and more painful as the story lumbers towards a conclusion that cannot come soon enough.

In films where voiceovers are used, there is usually a modicum of curiosity to determine who is behind them. Here however, the only wonderment comes from the question of who did Baldwin, Sarandon, Duncan, Hayes, Lovitz and Maguire lose bets to, in order to be involved in this project. None of them ever have a dose of energy or character in their voices, seemingly trying to get this mess over with, and progressively dragging themselves down amidst the butt-sniffing, toilet-drinking, cross-dressing and plain old unfunny clichés.

Ultimately, Cats and Dogs is a step backwards in Hollywood's attempt to balance the curious nature of humanity with the universal cute appeal of cuddly animals. The story may have been more interesting had some bit of intelligence been infused in between a simple, not insulting, one note plot that falls apart quicker than an ex-Seinfeld cast member's sitcom career. Shrek and Atlantis have proven that there is indeed new ground to be discovered in the area of animation and children's movies that have a broader appeal. Cats and Dogs serves as the antithesis of how to capitalize on the growing crossover family film genre and how not to explore an unknown aspect of nature that exists in most people's minds. Gutterman barks up all the wrong trees, and in the end, should have left this idea on the paper.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence ($$$)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Haley Joel Osmont, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, William Hurt.

*Warning: Potential spoilers contained, proceed at your own risk*

Prior to my viewing, there was a curiosity that abounded in my mind. What would happen when two of the greatest, yet most diverse, visionaries in directing had their ideas melded together into a futuristic and surreal fairy tale? Well, the result is that Kubrick's touches are barely visible while Spielberg's universal family appeal touches come out in what becomes little more than a modern fairy tale with a heart.

This trilogy of tales begins with a vivid description of the world in the possibly very near future. The Swinton's have just lost a child, sort of, and adopt Osment from the factory where the father works. Part one is their bonding, which is powerful and magical showcasing Osment at his innocent best. Parts two and three are a journey, the details of which I shall leave for digestion and revelation, to be fair to the vision of masters Spielberg and Kubrick. As can be expected with any Spielberg film, it is going to involve a character discovering something about themselves, whether by choice or not. Whether it was Dreyfuss's obsession with UFO's, Christian Bale's discovery of his true inner strength in Empire of The Sun, or even the revelations of the platoon in Saving Private Ryan, his movies show that we as humans are always seeking to find out more about ourselves and the curiosity is as natural a human emotion as love.

The film works in parts, but the overall effect is slightly draining, While easy on the eyes, it never really comes to any great conclusions or messages. The title suggests that it's a movie about artificial intelligence, but that part of the subject matter is barely touched upon and in the end, forsaken for a story about artificial emotions trying to manifest into reality. The films touches on trying to fit the wants of others and attempting to find what matters most in life. The comparisons to Wizard of Oz are not so subtle, with a trek that includes meeting some unique characters, including Law in a movie stealing performance as a cyber hustler, and a realistic teddy bear that becomes David's conscience. Throughout the trip though, the emotions and message become diluted and result in a confusing conclusion that mixes touches of Close Encounters and The Abyss in an attempt to touch the heart and soul. In pieces, these may have been three entertaining short films, linked by a common character. Together, they are a choppy, stylistic retelling of a young boy's search for love and acceptance.

This is Osment's first truly starring role, as he appears in nearly every frame of the film, and if he didn't do an acceptable job, the film would truly fall apart. While he doesn't show near the power of his Sixth Sense role, he does show again that he has the emotional range to carry a film and keep the audience watching, interested, and believing. The true shining star here though here is Law, once again in a scene stealing performance as the cyber lover and companion, Gigolo Joe. Law has a cocky, confidant swagger, along with a really neat head flinch trick, that fits this role to a tee. This part was obviously Kubrick's contribution, and Stanley is at least applauding this aspect of the movie, as Law nails it, and maybe if everyone remembers, another nomination.

Ultimately, A.I. is flashy, yet mildly empty conglomeration of the search for love and acceptance amidst societal hurdles. It is delicious confusion, yet poignant social commentary all wrapped in a flashy surreal futuristic package. The movie is definitely more Spielberg than Kubrick, with Stanley's touches very prevalent in an odd middle sequence akin to the WWF or even Road Warrior. It's dark, intriguing, odd and a little uncomfortable, but at least we relate with the characters emotions and reaction, as we do in nearly most of the first two sequences. The third seems too forced and contrived, taking an already acceptable conclusion and trying to make us think, delve and dwell a little more, usually not a bad thing, but here, it is a tad too much. Spielberg creates a glossy vision, and then tries at the end to delve into Kubrick's realm of the deep exploration and meaning of feelings. Unfortunately, his touch is too soft and the conclusion drags down what was an already confusing, but beautiful endeavor. There is no denying the power of A.I., but it comes out in flashes and bits, rather than carrying through the entire film. Kubrick's darker touches are obvious, such as Law's character and residence in the town of Rouge, and one scene in a laboratory involving Osment and William Hurt. Save that though, Stanley may not be too proud of what Mr. Spielberg has done with one of his pet projects. Kubrick was the ultimate perfectionist, having his hands in every piece of a film, and I have to believe that he would see this version as too soft, too confusing and trying too hard. Nice try Stephen, but David's search for love results in a lush visceral movie experience that slightly lacks the guts to try something different. After all, it is Haley, it is Jude, it's a little bit Kubrick, and a lot of Spielberg, and thus it should be seen but taken with my grains of salt before digestion. ($$$$)

Directed by: Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim.

Scientific power is like inherited wealth; attained without discipline. You read about what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast.- - Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park)

There isn't a more relevant movie out right now than This documentary, initially made to be a celebration of the conquering the new frontier of the Internet, actually becomes an ominous premonition of the dangers of entering unknown waters where the sharks circle everyday. Today's unstable job market has made a lot of people nervous and skittish every time they go to work. Most concerned of all are those overly excited entrepreneurs who initially jumped at the chance to capitalize on the next big thing. Now, their dreams and dots litter the cyber landscape, and the vultures are yet done circling. The film's contrasting moods of exuberance and instability reflect both aspects of this world. What may be a gold mine one moment is an empty office building the next. This is definitely a movie that anyone with a dream, online or not, should see. It's emotions go deeper than just the job, reflecting the prioritization of work versus friendship and love, the passion that can blind us to reality, and the ultimate, painful realization that all that glitters was not gold.

The surrounding events were a compound of foresight and foolishness, innocence and ignorance. Nearly everyone involved had moments of great brilliance, and moments of unaccountable stupidity.-- Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain)

You may, or may not, know who Kaleil Isaza Tuzman is, but the odds are, after this film, you are going to like him less than you do now. He, along with childhood friend Tom Herman and other friends and relatives, decided to create a website to eliminate the red tape from government. It was called,, and in principle, it was indeed a great idea. The site would have centralized all governmental operations, such applying for licenses, paying parking tickets, property taxes, etc. The problem is that neither Kaleil, an investment broker from Goldman Sachs, or Tom, a technology expert, really knew what they were getting into. All they knew was that they had a dream, and a little money, and it was these that drove them onward. The desire to get what we want can unfortunately blind us from reality, and both Tom and Kaleil realized that starting a business was something difficult, but they really had no idea to what depths they really didn't have a clue what they were doing. This is reflected in two scenes in the movie, one where they make a presentation to a large Silicon Valley investment company (VC's or venture capitalists, as the movie calls them) and the company tells them that they are 2-3 years behind the curve in their presentation and production. Undaunted, they press on, and secure capital, but not after another embarrassing sequence where their legal counsel is not present during the reviewing and signing of the contracts. The tension, frustration and ignorance are visible to everyone, except Kaleil and Tom. We are taken along through their rise, the money, the publicity, the launch, seeing the victories, but also experiences foretelling events of impending doom. For those who don't know, the film's presentation does not foretell the conclusion, but rather is toned to show the contrasting moods of those who undertake such ventures. As things go on, their employee numbers are shown to reflect the meteoric growth into a land that they were not prepared to visit. Their fall becomes just quick, and even more painful because we are given such an up-close, personal behind the scenes look at the participants. Documentaries are the truest form of film making because movies are little more than reflections of society as seen through the filmmaker's eyes. The touches of embellishment and creativity that litter the cinematic landscape are only successful when they enhance the telling of the tale. When they are excessive or unnecessary, they distract and dilute the film's message. There is no dilution, or subtlety here, just reality, and its painful truths and realities, all at the click of a mouse and the whir of a projector.

In the information society, nobody thinks. We expect to banish paper, but we actually banish thought. - Michael Crichton (Airframe)

Ultimately, effective portrays the correspondent fragility between personal relationships and the world of online commerce. It's protagonists, like many in this new capitalistic journey down the information superhighway, are simply men in search of the American dream, with little regard or knowledge of the pitfalls and landmines that line their path. Kaleil and Tom are opportunists without a clue, but they still play big boys, in a world where they are dwarfed and ultimately swallowed up by the monster of reality. The films unsteady nature and progression, whether intentional or not, mirrors the shaky, unstable nature of not just the world, but also those failed seekers of their dreams. What began as a project of Islam's school friend has turned into a powerful commentary on the state of the quest to have it all with as little effort as possible. In the end, we feel their pain, and the filmmaker's passion all wrapped into a shamelessly powerful package. Look for this one again, next spring, as a strong contender in the Best Documenatary category (if the academy knows what's good for them).

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($)

Directed by: Simon West. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Leslie Phillips, Chris Barrie, Iain Glen, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Noah Taylor, Jon Voight.

Being a child of the 80s, I grew up on the outer cusp of the current video game craze. During my formative years, the popular games were Pac Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids etc, and I did catch the early Nintendo/Super Nintendo fever becoming addicted to Tetris. But at that point, maturation set in, and I've missed out (or maybe not) on the current popularity of Playstation, Dreamcast and such that present games so life like and realistic, that it's almost like controlling real life figures and characters. (similar to what movie directors do, more on that in a bit) One of the favorite games amongst this group is Tomb Raider, featuring cyber hottie Lara Croft, who I guess, raids tombs, steals artifacts and avoids bad guys and monsters. Croft has been the fantasy girl of many a young boy and cyber geek since her inception, so it was inevitable that Hollywood would capitalize on that fact and bring her to the big screen. It is unfortunate however that this movie had to be the vehicle of choice with which to do it. While Angelina Jolie's casting probably satiated those who'd been dreaming of her real life incarnation, the movie itself is nothing more than a glorified video game, lacking any intelligence or depth of script or character development. The game itself makes more sense than the plot of this movie does, and the action sequences, while having the feel of a game complete with wild effects and background music, do not translate well, and do little to clarify an already muddled cinematic mess.

Croft's background story is never completely explained, I guess because director Simon West is counting on his fans being fans of the game and already knowing the facts, and being too lazy to explain things to rest of so that we may even become remotely interested. She apparently is of great wealth, and is the daughter of a famous explorer, archaeologist or adventurist who died mysteriously. Since his death, she has secretly sought to find out the answers to his death while tempting it herself, becoming a daring retriever of ancient artifacts. Through one of the many unexplained circumstances in the film, Croft stumbles across a hidden room which contains mysterious clock which has began to tick backwards as she finds it, which is also, coincidentally enough, during a rare occasion when the planets are about to come into alignment. This is a very important artifact, one which is treasured by members of a group called Illuminati, whose purpose is yet another of the movies unexplained details. The possessor of this clock will be able to find two pieces of a triangle which when assembled, allow time to be controlled. One of the group's members becomes Croft's main nemesis/pursuer/partner in the quest. The remainder of the movie plays out like sequences of a game, with action sequences, framed by transitional phases and even trying to introduce bits and pieces of the characters pasts. Croft's relationship with another raider, the mystery of her father's death, and supporting stories with a butler and a computer whiz, are amongst the many underdeveloped plot lines in this mess of a screenplay. Granted, this is an action movie, so the plot becomes secondary. West's previous effort, Con-Air, followed a similar ideal of sacrificing explosions and gunfire for sensibility. I understand that it's a summer movie, and supposed to be fun and not require any thought, but even the good films of this genre, notably Raiders of The Lost Ark which this movie bears more than a passing sacrilegious homage to, managed to mix a decent story line and some clever dialogue in amidst the chases and gunplay.

Of course the main draw of the film is Jolie, and on a side note, her first onscreen appearance with father Jon Voight. Her sensuality and beauty are not lost upon the audience, as West emphasizes it by not only showing her in nothing, or next to nothing, but also showcasing her athleticism, since she trained in martial arts and aerobics classes to prepare for the film. She fits the role, and does the best, but there's only so much you can do with something that lacks any cohesiveness or spirit. Personally, I would rather watch someone play Tomb Raider then have to watch this film again.

Ultimately, Tomb Raider falls into the long line of failed translations from video game to silver screen. Films like Street Fighter, Super Mario Brothers, etc. have not crossed over well, when stretched into full-length features. As I stated before, the realism of today's games mimics the control of real life. The irony is not lost on the fact that a movie about manipulating lives and stories fails to do either very effectively. West isn't very good at playing movie director, so maybe he should stick to his Sony Playstation instead of subjecting us to something like this again.

Swordfish ($)

Directed by: Dominic Sena. Starring: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halie Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Camryn Grimes.

There is a fine line between excess, and shameless excess. In Moulin Rouge, more was indeed more, and there was never enough more because it was balanced, flashy and well presented, but in Swordfish, director Domenic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds) does not have Baz Luhrmann's touch of packaging and presentation. Instead, he uses lots of explosions, several concurrent, confusing plot ideas and the sexploitation of Halle Barry (as he did with Angelina Jolie) to create a mess out of what could have possibly been an interesting little cyber thriller.

Sena throws about every kind of traumatic action movie plot idea at the audience and to try and see what sticks and works, unfortunately, his hesitancy and ultimate failure to commit to something creates a confusing barrage of inane dialogue, badly acted and portrayed caricatures and when all else fails, a car chase or explosion to keep our attention, or maybe even wake us up. The movie begins with an intelligent diatribe from Travolta regarding movies, reality, film and excess, using a sacrilegious comparison to the 1971 Al Pacino classic Dog Day Afternoon. From here, apparently, the writers, of story and dialogue, were kidnapped and never to be seen again, because the remainder of the film is filled with lines and ideas that almost generate laughter, and would get a failing grade from any high school drama teacher. Near the end, Travolta utters the words "I want a plane, on the runway in 25 minutes", I had bite my tongue not to snicker at it, gee, there's something I've never heard or could have imagined before. Apparently the cinematographers stayed around a bit longer because following Travolta's speech is a breathtaking sequence involving the only other good thing about the film, Travolta's method of securing his hostages. The shot is a combination of 360-degree panoramic shot, and the Matrix-style stop action sequence, progressing with each turn of the camera. Unfortunately, this potential goes out the window as well, as the scene ends, and the plot disaster of the film begins. Try and stay with me on this one. Jackman is an ex-con computer hacker involved in a nasty custody battle to win his daughter back from his ex-wife and her porn king husband. Enter Barry, who sets her acting career back 20 years by existing for the sole purpose of having a seductive female presence, to lure Jackman back in with the promise of money to do "one more job". Barry with Travolta whose identity is never really clear, but is apparently very wealthy, very angry, and definitely in need of a shave and a better drama coach. He wants to skim money from a group of dummy corporations that is just sitting there ripe for the picking. In the midst of all this, are over anxious, but clueless cops, ruthless thugs, corrupt criminals and did I mention that the child's mother stars in the porn films? There are enough plot ideas and twists for three films and when the dust settles, this is just a glamorized USA Network cyber soap opera.

In this generation that has become wired and dependant upon the Internet, there has been a great void of quality films on the subject. Several films use the Web as a resource, but few have actually tackled it as a viable plot line for a movie. This is most likely due to the fact that the activities of the Internet involve a lot of sitting, non-movement and typing, which despite all of the flash and effects you throw onscreen, is just not that exciting to watch. Just as in Gone in 60 Seconds, when Sena runs out of intelligible ideas, he does one of two things, blow something up, or have Barry take some clothes off. He has replaced his car chases and thieves, with cyber thieves and terrorists; unfortunately, someone stole whatever it was that tied this film together in a sensible manner. In the attempt to wrap it all up, Sena convolutes things even more, putting an international twist, and Houdini comparisons to finally bring this train wreck to conclusion.

Recanting, or should I say berating, the quality, or lack thereof in the performances is actually pretty redundant, since nothing could save this film. But I was willing to give the film a small point for the beginning sequences, until Travolta, who seems to lose what little acting ability he had by adding makeup or facial hair, over acts to near mockery proportions. Cartoonish characters work in films that really don't take themselves or their subject matter to seriously, or admit to what they're doing by existing for the purpose of showcasing excess. Travolta actually believes what he's doing, and probably can't see how silly and offensive his performance really is. Jackman and Cheadle exist throughout the film, at times in near pain for having to recite some of the dialogue or follow the directions, but the real crime here, as mentioned before, is what happens to Barry. Just as Jolie is prostituted in Gone, Barry's mere presence on screen is always sexually related in some aspect, whether it be in her outfits, or lack thereof, or just her actions. She is a much better actress than this, and unlike Gwyneth, did not make a wise cinematic choice in which to bare her breasts. She, along with the cast and crew should be ashamed to be involved or associated with this film. Sena likes to film car crashes, and indulge in the over abundance that exists in society, but there has to be a cohesive bond and flow of these stories from one to the next. Swordfish is a mishmash of several ideas, each of which, combined with the online aspect would have made a potentially entertaining film. But his indecisiveness, and subsequent attempt to make it all come together creates confusion in the execution and in the ultimate conclusion. It is a shame, because the opening sequence, the hostage situation and the panoramic shot are indeed nice to look at, but the rest of the film is not. This exercise in excess fails miserably.

Moulin Rouge ($$$$$)

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, Garry McDonald, Jacek Koman.

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return"

Is it possible to translate an emotion into a visual or a sound? Is it possible to take something felt deep inside the heart and soul, and extricate it so that someone else can understand it by seeing and hearing it? These are questions that visionary filmmakers have been tackling for ages. This is usually the goal that lies at the core of any musical film, or movie that relies more on flash and style than substance. The purpose becomes showing, rather than telling, or even in conjunction with a story being told. The key to doing this is excess. Show a lot, no holds barred, because when we feel something like love or passion, it is rarely bridled or controlled, let alone explainable or justifiable to those who cannot relate.

Moulin Rouge is a story of emotion, a story told in excessive, grandiose visuals, music and costumes, with a story that not only holds the scenes together, but actually supports the message that is trying to be told. Baz Luhrmann is a director who has always had his own style of telling a story. It is a style that will either be understood, absorbed and raved over, or scorned and scoffed at as confusing, convoluted and excessively elaborate but lacking depth. In this film, he succeeds in every aspect of what he tries to do. It is said that less is more, but for Luhrmann, there is no less, and never too much of the more. It is all necessary in the grand scheme, and Luhrmann's grand scheme and vision here is truly a breathtaking one. He utilizes over done caricatures, choreographed dance sequences, curious blending of musical and pop culture and some of the most gorgeous sets and costumes you'll ever see, to create a true modern musical and a movie that will stand for the ages, for those who get it and let it inside them. It is understandable and justifiable that there will be those who do not get this film. The opinion differences will be chasm-like, those who love it will rave, those who don't will rant, but two things will be abundantly consistent. It will never bore, and it will leave people talking, good or bad, long after the curtain closes.

As is typical with Luhrmann's short body of work, the story is kept simple to allow for the style of the film come out, but the simplicity never compromises the power of the tale, or the intellect of the dialogue. McGregor is a struggling author who moves to Paris and through his obscure upstairs neighbor, Toulouse Latrec (Leguizamo) finds his muse, his inspiration and his true love in courtesan Satine (Kidman), She is the star attraction at the Moulin Rouge, a club run by Zidler (Broadbent) but struggling financially. There financial prayers are answered by The Duke, who offers a lot of money, in return for possession of Kidman. The remainder of the story, progresses along with some quick, sharp dialogue and fitting song and dance numbers and becomes the new prototype for the modern musical. It has just the right balance of musical interaction and conversation to make the plot and purpose discernible. Watch for rousing renditions of "Like A Virgin" (not on the soundtrack) and "Roxanne," along with the melding of several modern classics such as Wings' "Silly Love Songs," Bowie's "Heroes," Kiss's "I Was Made For Loving You" and The Police's "Roxanne." All perfectly placed, all masterfully executed and each breathtaking and amazing in their own way. I hope that the Academy members with influence retain their long-term memory when it comes to these songs, along with the sets, the costumes, the cinematography, and even the performances.

In a film this grandiose and in your face, it is ironic that the performance that stands out the most is a supporting one. As the club owner, Broadbent is energetic when he needs to be (as in the opening number, Lady Marmalade, where he can-cans and plays with best of them) and balances that with a strong dramatic performance while struggling with being Satine's father figure and a successful businessman. Amidst all the glamour, there is deep emotional conflict and Broadbent shows it masterfully. Kidman and McGregor have a very natural chemistry together, and the screen literally sparkles when they are on it. She is one that I've never really been blown away by on screen, but I've never denied she is a beautiful woman, Luhrmann captures, along with a rarely seen playful comic side and capped off also by a dramatic flair at times. McGregor shows off the best pipes of all of them (all performers were forced to take lessons to learn to do their own singing and dancing) by belting out a soulful version of Elton John's "Your Song" with enough power to revive the popularity of that beautiful tune. Together, all of the performances portray Luhrmann's spirit and vision and carry along the translation of simple love, desire and passion into a fashionably amazing and breathtaking vision.

Ultimately, Moulin Rouge is a movie that must not only be seen and heard, but also truly felt in the depths of your heart and soul. Luhrmann has always had a way of transcending time and reality but never forsaking believability and emotion while doing so. True emotions have no barriers like the films that represent them best. Stories of love and desire exist in every era and his films have shown a consistency of setting a common story during a specific time, but not letting the constraints, of story or era, lock him in or generate any boundaries. This gives him, and the film, the creative freedom and flexibility for his vision. Moulin Rouge is his greatest vision to date, a culmination of style, substance, sound, love, passion and desire, from the actors, the story, and the director. It is a fairy tale brought to live in the setting of Paris. It is a simple tale of love, given an extravagant background, taken to unbelievable levels, stealing our breath with each vision, tantalizing our ears with each sound and reaching deep inside us to bring all together in a film that will leave anyone who lets it inside them scrambling for a dictionary to look for words to describe it. It will stand up to multiple viewings due to the constant barrage being laid upon us, from the costumes to the pop culture references, to the melding of song lyrics which could make for its own type of game for years to come. I pray that Oscar does not suffer long-term memory loss next February, and remembers this film heaping on it, all the praise it deserves, for Broadbent, for the costumes, for the sounds, and for the lasting impression that Luhrmann leaves on our souls.

One Night at McCool's

Directed by: Harald Zwart. Starring: Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser, John Goodman, Michael Douglas, Reba McEntire.

If Quentin Tarantino or Doug Liman had taken a script of a man going through a mid life crisis and crossed it with There's Something About Mary, the result would have been this disaster known as One Night at McCool's. The film tries to be innovative in its perspective of showing three different aspects of a relationship with one girl, and her power over them, but the difference between Mary and this one, is that the girl realizes this, and plays them against each other, for her own self serving needs and fulfillment.

This aspect steals away any hope of humor, originality or entertainment that the movies dark nature could have had. Only a few of the jokes work, including one at the ending, which seemed to be a culmination scene that someone came up with, then built an entire movie around. The unfunny, and sometimes disturbing sequences do not result in a laughter that we can relate to in a twisted manner, but rather situations that we just shake our head at and wonder how they ever made it past a competent and literate editor.

The story begins in three segments, Matt Dillon finding Michael Douglas in a bingo parlor, Paul Reiser seeking therapy from Reba McEntire, and John Goodman confiding in a reverend, all in regards to their encounters with Jewel (Liv Tyler). Dillon meets her outside the bar where he works, after she is supposedly dumped by her abusive boyfriend, Reiser, Dillon's cousin, is an attorney who sees this altercation, but also a bit more to make him curious, and Goodman is the police officer who heads an investigation after Dillon and Tyler off her abusive boyfriend.

This is all in the first 15 minutes, and it careens into further confusion as Dillon conspires to hire Douglas to kill Jewel, while Reiser and Goodman fall deeper for her, in their own unique, but justified and twisted ways. The story meanders inconsistently between the three supposedly intertwining tales, and as much as I tried to just let my brain go and have fun with it, the lethargic inconsistencies were just too much to deal with, so finally gave up and waited to see how it was all going to conclude, not really caring.

As well as appearing in the film, Douglas also had production duties meaning that he not only approved of the script and story, but also probably had some input into its progression and creation. I am not sure why I, along with other moviegoers should be the unwitting victim to Douglas's self indulgent mid life male fantasies. He drags Reiser, Dillon and Goodman along with him into this abyss of silliness, and it's a shame, because a potential existed to make a more creative sidekick to Mary, but the script lacks the balance and relatable characters, that existed in that movie.

Instead we are given one example of a creative joke, and several unfunny situations which causing cringing and boredom rather than laughter. Tyler's ironic turn as the vamp completes her journey from innocence that began in Empire Records as the virginal fan, through Inventing The Abbots and Heavy, and now to this, and she is exploited just a tad less than Angelina Jolie was in Gone in 60 Seconds.

Ultimately, One Night at McCool's is a flashy but empty attempt to expose and show the darker sides of love, relationships and obsession. These are emotions that take a delicate touch to deal with, but are also ripe for satire and spoof if the cut is deep enough, as Mary was. McCools skims the surface of so much, but never goes any further, and thusly never generates any kind of comic energy save one Village People scene near the end, and this is not enough to support the rest of the film. I enjoy dark comedies, but the light never came on for this one, only a string of bad skits, held together by Liv Tyler, and ultimately doomed by a fear to take that extra step.

{Note: Please visit Jerry's homepage and see the movie world through his eyes}

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