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'Sabrina'
'Saving Private Ryan'
'The Scarlet Letter'
'Scream 2'
'Secrets & Lies'
'The Siege'
'Sense and Sensibility'
'Seven'
'Shakespeare in Love'
'Shall We Dance?'
'She's All That'
'Shine'
'Show Me Love'
'A Simple Plan'
'The 6th Day'
'The Sixth Sense'
'SLC Punk!'
'Sleepers'
'Sleepy Hollow'
'Slums of Beverly Hills'
'Small Soldiers'
'Smiling Fish & Goat on Fire'
'Snake Eyes'
'Snow Falling on Cedars'
'Something to Talk About'
'South Park'
'Space Cowboys'
'Sparkler'
'Spawn'
'The Specials'
'Sphere'
'Star Maps'
Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace
'Starship Troopers'
'Stealing Beauty'
'Stigmata'
'Stir of Echoes'
'The Story of Us'
'Strange Days'
'Striptease'
'subUrbia'
'Sugar Town'
'Sweet and Lowdown'
'The Sweet Hereafter'
'Summer of Sam'
'Supernova'
'Suzhou River'
'Swingers'

'Sabrina' (12/18/95)
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Starring Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond

If you've been pining away after faithful remakes, you're going to love Sydney Pollack's Sabrina: it's every bit as dull as the original. Billy Wilder's 1954 movie concerned a chauffeur's daughter, Sabrina, who longed for the playboy David Larrabee, but David was engaged to an heiress and his family was cooking up a business merger with hers. David's joyless, workaholic brother, Linus, decided to dispose of Sabrina. Then he fell in love and turned human. Linus (Harrison Ford) and Sabrina (Julia Ormond) have zero chemistry and the message is pat. Make love, not paperwork. (on video)
JEFF GILES
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'Saving Private Ryan' (7/27/98)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore

"Saving Private Ryan" raises Hollywood's depiction of war to a new level. The opening 25-minute sequence depicting the landing of American forces on Omaha Beach in 1944 newsreel-like in its verisimilitude, hallucinatory in its impact leaves you convinced that Spielberg has taken you closer to the chaotic, terrifying sights and sounds of combat than any filmmaker before him. When the narrative proper begins, there's an initial feeling of diminishment: it's just a movie, after all, with the usual banal music cues and actors going through their paces. Fortunately, the feeling passes. Our heroes are a squad of eight soldiers lucky enough to have survived Omaha Beach. Now they are sent, under the command of the decent, reticent Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), to find and safely return from combat a Private Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have already died in action. Why should they risk their lives to save one man? The question haunts them, and the movie.
DAVID ANSEN
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'The Scarlet Letter' (10/16/95)
Directed by Roland Joffe
Starring Demi Moore, Gary Oldman

Just how little you remember of that American classic they forced you to read in high school. How could you have forgotten that spicy scene when Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) first glimpses the minister Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman) skinny-dipping in a Massachusetts pond, revealing a flash of his Pilgrim manhood? Not to mention the surprising moment when nasty Chillingworth (Robert Duvall), Hester's vengeful husband, goes native and scalps the wrong man. While none of this is found in Nathaniel Hawthorne, it's all up there on screen in Roland Joffe's stupefyingly wrong-headed movie. Be warned: you'll giggle only if you can stay awake. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Scream 2' (12/29/97)
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox

Round two of the "Scream" movies ventures beyond the masterful original, wickedly poking fun at the idea of sequels and the mass thirst for more wanton violence. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson have interwoven a tale of horror past and present in which a film-within-a-film sparks off another real life web of murder and deception. Copycat murders abound and soon catch up with Sidney (Neve Campbell) and her acquaintances. For all its parodic elements, this clever 'whodunit' leaves us squirming and wincing at each slash of the killer. Prepare for a surprise and beware the person enjoying the film right next to you. (on video)
SARAH WADE HUTMAN
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'Secrets & Lies' (9/30/96)
Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Brenda Blethyn

Mike Leigh does not make bad movies. His work, illuminating the lives of middle- and working-class characters with an intimacy that can be both embarrassing and deeply moving, is always unformulaic, alive. In "Secrets & Lies"likely to be the British director's breakthrough film in the United Statespainful comedy gives way to a flood of tears. It tells the story of a young black optometrist, Hortense Cumberpatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who seeks out her birthmother after the death of her adoptive parents, only to discover that she is white. The mother (Brenda Blethyn) is a needy, mewling wreck living in a leaky London flat, and as the tale fans out to include an angry daughter, a prosperous brother and a Laura Ashleyized sister-in-law, Hortense finds herself triggering personal transformations in a family that was already wildly dysfunctional. The results are wondrous, wrenching and crazily funny to behold. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'The Siege' (11/9/98)
Directed by Edward Zwick
Starring Denzel Washington, Annette Bening

"The Siege," in which Islamic terrorists threaten to blow up New York, is being protested by Arab groups, which resent Arabs' being portrayed as bad guys. But one of the film's heroes is in fact a Muslim (Tony Shalhoub), a Lebanese-American FBI agent working with terrorist expert Denzel Washington. Meanwhile, CIA operative Annette Bening has her own devious agenda, and Army general Bruce Willis imposes martial law on the city, interning its Arab citizens. This echo of the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans is the only new gimmick in Edward Zwick's entry in the cliche- terrorist genre. What's interesting is that Zwick doesn't provide a fictional U.S. president. In fact, we see Bill Clinton making anti-terrorist statements. This means that Clinton is (fictionally) responsible for this violation of civil rights. Willis's wacko general can't intern Americans without executive authority. So how come the White House hasn't objected, as it did when "The Contact" used innocuous footage of the president? Oh, well, why make a federal case out of just another bomb bomb?
JACK KROLL
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'Sense and Sensibility' (12/18/95)
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet

The genteelly impoverished Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne (Kate Winslet), are opposites. Elinor is rational "sense;" Marianne is romantic "sensibility." Thompson adapted Jane Austen's book that dramatizes Marianne's infatuation with Willoughby and Elinor's involvement with Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant). As writer and actress, Thompson has all the right Austen rhythms and filmmaker Ang Lee ("Eat Drink Man Woman") orchestrates with sensitivity and style. The screen teems with brilliant costumes and crackles with dialogue that turns English into verbal Mozart. (on video)
JACK KROLL
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'Seven' (10/2/95)
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman

On the trail of a nut-case serial killer who's bumping off people who indulge in the seven deadly sins, cops Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt get more use out of their flashlights than any sleuths since the Hardy Boys. Entering the dank rooms where the latest victims have been hideously tortured the obese Gluttony victim, for example, has been force-fed until he bursts it never occurs to these homicide pros to flick on the lights. To do so would interfere with director David Fincher's painterly notions of proper noir style a style so chic, studied and murky it resembles a cross between a Nike commercial and a bad Polish art film. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Shakespeare in Love' (12/14/98)
Directed by John Madden
Starring Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow

It's a playwright's nightmare. You're trying to write a crowd-pleasing comedy, but the words won't fall trippingly from your pen. The moneymen are at your throat, you're not speaking to your estranged wife back in Stratford and your new girlfriend is sleeping around. What's a Bard to do? If you're William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes), a struggling young scribe in 1593, you need to find yourself a muse. In "Shakespeare in Love," she arrives in the comely form of Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), a rich, romantic young woman. She is also, unfortunately, betrothed to Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), an avaricious aristocrat. His heart aflame for a woman he can never marry, Shakespeare is inspired to pour out verse more fitting for a tragic love story than a low farce. The beauty of this extremely clever movie, directed with fleet, robust theatricality by John Madden, is how deftly it manages to work on multiple levels. As a satire of show business, it is as much about the movie business in the 1990s as it is about Elizabethan mores. It works equally well as an impassioned love story. For all its wit and complexity, its hall-of-mirrors interplay between life and art, "Shakespeare in Love" is as light and nimble as a breeze.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Shall We Dance?' (7/7/97)
Directed by Masayuki Suo
Starring Koji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari

The Japanese film "Shall We Dance?" Miramax's latest import is a story with TV-movie depth and a documentary-style approach to ballroom dancing that gets tired about halfway through the steps. Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) is a middle-aged family man with a wife (Hideko Hara) and daughter he's alienated and a job as an accountant that he despises. As he's riding the subway home one day, he spots a nubile young waif, Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari), staring glassily out the window of a dance studio. He signs up for dance lessons as a ruse to get to know the icy Mai and keeps it a secret from his family. Even as Mai thwarts his half-baked advances, Sugiyama learns to love ballroom dancing. The film suffers dearly because of the two underwritten, emotionally unavailable characters at the film's center and when all is revealed at an amateur dance contest, the music and the modicum of tension the movie has created dies. (on video)
B.J. SIGESMUND
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'She's All That' (2/2/99)
Directed by Robert Iscove
Starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Jodi Lyn O'Keefe

And a bag of chips! Despite its undeniable place in a long string of "My Fair Lady" formula films, "She's All That" has an original charm one that sets it apart from recent teen schlock like "Varsity Blues" without quite catapulting it into the same league as the exquisite "Clueless." Freddie Prinz, Jr. plays Zack, senior class president, soccer star, future prom king a true BMOC. When his chesty, irritating future prom queen girlfriend, Taylor (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), dumps Zack for Brock Hudson of MTV's "Real World" ("Scream"'s Matthew Lillard) during Spring Break, it appears that the social hierarchy of L.A.'s Harrison High School is about to crumble. But Zack insists that anyone can be made prom queen and bets his best friend Dean (Paul Walker) that he can turn artsy, secretly beautiful outsider Laney Boggs (the adorable Rachel Leigh Cook) into the most popular girl in school. You can guess the rest. The casting makes the film. Prinz oozes charisma and confidence, even if his acting skills aren't quite up to par during a scene when Zack asks, "What are we going to do?" a kid in the audience yelled out, "Get you acting lessons!" Cook looks a bit like a baby Winona Ryder, but with more subtlety. As the class freak, she even gets the walk right, the slouch that is both angry and fearful. The supporting actors are roundly good, especially Laney's spacey father (Kevin Pollak) and her hearing-impaired brother (Kieran Culkin). But while director Robert Iscove makes some witty, theatrical choices, such as placing dream sequences on MTV and choreographing the prom, he doesn't go far enough and as the movie winds down, the formula starts to peer through. Iscove's attempts to push "She's All That" to the next level ultimately fail, but at least they fail honorably.
TED GIDEONSE
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'Shine' (11/25/96)
Directed by Scott Hicks
Starring Geoffrey Rush, Justin Braine

When we meet the hero of the rousing and stylish Australian movie "Shine," we don't quite know what to make of this tic-ridden misfit who stumbles into a wine bar from a pouring rain. Is this chain-smoking middle-aged man one of the homeless? A madman? Is his strangely jaunty energy benign or malignant? His name, it turns out, is David Helfgott, he's famous in Australia as a concert pianist, and the film (based on true events) tells his remarkable story. We follow Helfgott from childhood on, as a prodigy unhinged by the suffocating love of a domineering father (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Institutionalized for years, he didn't touch a piano; his doctors feared it would over-excite him. Finally, though, Helfgott (played as an adult by Geoffrey Rush) works his way back to the concert stage with the help of an astrologer (Lynn Redgrave) who befriends and then marries him. Director Scott Hicks's movie has a lot of hype to live up to, but thanks to fine acting and its vividly unconventional protagonist, it pumps fresh blood into a conventional formula. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Show Me Love' (10/13/99)
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Starring Alexandra Dahlstr�m, Rebecca Liljeberg

The roller-coaster emotionalism that is teenage life is captured so naturally in the Swedish movie "Show Me Love" that you might mistake it for a documentary. This small but rousing movie struck such a deep chord in its native country that it gave "Titanic" a run for its money. Unlike most Hollywood teen movies, which are designed to flatter their audience, "Show Me Love" acknowledges how mean and nasty teenage girls can be � especially in a small town like �m�l, where there is little to do except get falling-down drunk or spit at cars. Writer-director Lukas Moodysson focuses on two girls at the opposite end of the high-school social spectrum. Blond, bored Elin (Alexandra Dahlstr�m) is the beauty every boy wants to date. Brunette, bookish Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) is the school untouchable, rumored to be a lesbian. She sits in class stealing glances at Elin, confessing her love for her on her home computer. On a dare from her friends, Elin kisses Agnes at a party for money. With honesty, charm and an uncanny sympathy for all its characters, the film takes us deep inside the awkward and exhilarating experience of first love. It's no mystery why the Swedes took this movie to their hearts.
DAVID ANSEN
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'A Simple Plan' (12/14/98)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda

Billy Bob Thornton gives a fascinating performance in this morality tale/thriller. Thornton plays Jacob, a dim, unemployed Midwesterner with greasy hair and bad teeth. One afternoon Jacob, his married middle-class brother, Hank (Bill Paxton), and his good ole boy pal Lou (Brent Briscoe) are out hunting in a silent snowy field when they stumble upon a private plane crashed in the woods. Inside, they discover a dead pilot and $4.4 million in cash. After some agonizing, the men decide to keep the money a "simple plan" that, of course, will go fatally awry when the accomplices must resort to even greater crimes to keep their plot a secret. Soon these three men, joined by Hank's wife, Sarah (Bridget Fonda), are caught in a rat's nest of greed, paranoia, betrayal and murder. As well crafted as "A Simple Plan" is, as effective as many of its individual scenes are, I never quite believed that these particular people would descend so avidly into vicious amorality. There's something decidedly mechanical about this intermittently gripping movie's bleak view of human nature.
DAVID ANSEN
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'The 6th Day' (8/6/99)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Duvall

In the near future, where genetic tinkering with everything except human beings is the norm, charter pilot and �Rainforest War� veteran Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger) finds himself in double trouble. He has been inadvertently cloned by a megacorporation that has broken the �6th Day Laws� (brush up on your Book of Genesis) forbidding such experimentation and is being pursued by its assassins, who cheat death by duplicating themselves again and again. With problems compounding at every turn (including an exact replica who is spending quality time with his unsuspecting wife and daughter), Gibson sleuths his way up the corporate ladder, searching for those to blame for his predicament. At fault: the altruistic scientist (Duvall) who can turn out perfect clones in two hours, and the swinish tycoon (Tony Goldwyn) determined to mass-market the procedure

For some moviegoers, the only thing worse than one Arnold is two. Fans of the affable action star, however, will find him in better spirits than in last year�s hellish �End of Days.� Efficiently directed by Roger Spottiswoode (merging the heroics of his Bond entry, �Tomorrow Never Dies,� with a fillip of the social concern displayed in his issue-oriented films, like �Under Fire�), �The 6th Day� is filled with clever touches in its first hour. The cloned pets, �nacho-flavored bananas,� and humanoid dolls that are all the rage with kids are creepily funny, given that the technology to make such products is beginning to fall into place

But the screenplay, by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, eventually runs low on inspiration and starts recycling ideas from �Total Recall� and �Jurassic Park.� In the end, it sputters to a blandly spectacular shoot-em-up climax cloned from numerous other flicks. The studios should enact their own �6th Day Law� prohibiting the carbon-copy duplication of elements from scenario to scenario. Until then, Schwarzenegger�s public will be pleased to see that a reasonable facsimile of his old self is back on the big screen
ROBERT CASHILL
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'The Sixth Sense' (8/6/99)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment

Another offering in a summer rife with the supernatural, "The Sixth Sense" is a psychological thriller that will leave you looking over your shoulder. Forget about multi-million dollar movies that are more icing than cake ("The Haunting") or the austere realism of a witch hunt ("The Blair Witch Project"). Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan instead substitutes an excellent script, a cast of superb actors and a chilling game of peek-a-boo for the fripperies that adorn too many Hollywood productions these days.

Child psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is torn between two lives: his career helping emotionally troubled children and his homelife, which amounts to a rapidly deteriorating marriage. After a former patient attacks him in his home, the divide between him and his wife further widens, and it is only with great reluctance that he agrees to treat a new patient. Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is an eight-year-old with issues, as he finally confesses in a creepy whisper: "I see dead people." Confused and terrified by his highly unusual abilities, Cole realizes that only Dr. Crowe can help him. Haley Joel Osment is that Hollywood rarity, a child actor who can act without slapping on the sentiment. His Cole is a trembling, shaking mess, who at the same time has more guts and daring than most adults. Although the film occasionally descends into mawkishness, Shyamalan is skilled at bringing the tension to excruciating heights. And stick around for that great twist of an ending.
WALAIKA HASKINS
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'SLC Punk!' (4/16/99)
Directed by James Merendino
Starring Matthew Lillard, Michael Goorjian

The fact that Salt Lake City ever had a punk scene may be the most interesting lesson of this energetic film, which unfortunately devolves into after-school-special mode. Matthew Lillard (graduate of the "Scream" movies) plays blue-haired Stevo, a rebellious young man in Reagan-era Utah who is determined to break free from his privileged background. He and his hardy companions, including fellow punkster Heroin Bob (Michael Goorjian), graduate from college hell-bent on anarchy and destruction only to discoverurprise, surprisethat there is more to life than absolute chaos. Despite an adolescent indulgence in camera tricks, director James Meredino succeeds in conveying the frenetic pull of the punk scene. He has a formidable ally in Lillard, whose slightly off-balance intelligence makes it totally convincing that he would give a hilarious deconstruction of the absurdity of violenceand then beat up a band of rednecks anyway. Such quirky moments make the earnest, preachy aspect of "SLC Punk!" all the more lamentable. When Stevo must slowly and painfully make up his mind whether returning to normality is selling out or buying in, the film loses all its momentum. We don't really need some young punk to tell us that anarchy is an untenable idea, but watching him live it is an invigorating experience.
ANDRA C. BASORA
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'Sleepers' (10/28/96)
Directed by Barry Levinson
Starring Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro

It's a sensationalistic plot: four adolescent boys in New York's Hell's Kitchen play a prank that nearly kills a man, and are sentenced to a year in reformatory, where they are tortured and sexually abused by sadistic guards. Years later, two of the boys now streetwise killers encounter one of the guards (Kevin Bacon) in a bar and blow him away. A third boy (Brad Pitt) is now a prosecutor, and requests this case in order to lose it. With the help of the fourth boy (Jason Patric), a sympathetic priest (Robert De Niro) and a broken-down defense lawyer (Dustin Hoffman), the D.A. masterminds a byzantine plot to extract revenge on the other guards. What's amazing about director Barry Levinson's star-studded adaptation of the controversial novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra is that nothing rings true.
(on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Sleepy Hollow' (11/16/99)
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci

Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" has got to be the most gorgeous, sumptuous, painterly movie ever made about multiple decapitations. Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is no longer a geeky schoolteacher, as in Washington Irving's famous story, but a geeky detective. Early in the movie, Crane annoys his superiors in New York City so thoroughly that they dispatch him to the countryside, where three noggins were recently lopped off "clean as dandelion heads." Once in Sleepy Hollow, Crane first hears the legend of the Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken), which is re-enacted in a ravishing, wintry flashback. Crane champions reason and science above all else, and dismisses the Horseman legend as superstition. Then he sees the demon in action.

Depp's performance here is highly mannered and takes getting used to, but ultimately he makes Crane funny and human. How many movie heroes respond to danger by shoving the nearest woman or child in front of them? What slows "Sleepy Hollow" down is the dull, byzantine search for the mortal who is somehow controlling the Horseman. It's not until the end that "Sleepy Hollow" really begins to hurtle along, that it's as much a visceral experience as an esthetic one. Ultimately, it may not be as quirky and unforgettable as some of Burton's earlier movies�it lacks the sort of magical dust that settled over "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands." Still, at its best it's a marvel: bold, exciting and full of visions.
JEFF GILES
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'Slums if Beverly Hills' (8/17/98)
Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Starring Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin

Natasha Lyonne leads a marvelous cast in a funny, poignant movie about the way families dole out tenderness and humiliation. It's the summer of 1976. A divorced car salesman named Murray Abramowitz (Alan Arkin) drags his daughter, Vivian (Lyonne), and her brothers from one dumpy apartment building to the next, often sneaking out in the middle of the night to avoid paying rent. (One landlady chases them as they flee the "Beverly Capri," forcing Vivian to abandon a red bean-bag chair in the parking lot). Vivian survives her adolescence by bonding with an addled cousin (Marisa Tomei) and an earnest pot dealer (Kevin Corrigan)and by avoiding her weird brother Ben (David Krumholz), who's given to belting out "Luck Be a Lady" in his Jockeys. Tamara Jenkins, a first-time writer-director, films the proceedings with such a quirky eye the movie looks like a retro postcard. But what one takes away from the movie is Vivian's bedrock love for her dad, even if he does bark, "Put on your brassiere!" "Slums" marks the coming of age of a girland a filmmaker.
JEFF GILES
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'Small Soldiers' (7/20/98)
Directed by Joe Dante
(Animated)

"Small Soldiers" begins with a premise small kids always find hard to resist: what if your toys came to life? Then it takes it further. What if these war toys the Commando Elite soldiers led by supermacho Chip Hazard (voice of Tommy Lee Jones) were somehow implanted with Pentagon microchips? And what if these chips enabled them to wage real war against their enemies the Gorgonites, a gaggle of friendly monsters? Caught in the increasingly dangerous cross-fire are our 15-year-old heroes Alan (Gregory Smith) and Christy (Kirsten Dunst). Some seven writers (four credited) labored over this high-concept tale, not to mention teams of state-of-the-art special-effects craftsmen, but they can't make it fresh. Two ghosts hang over its head"Toy Story" and "Gremlins" and "Small Soldiers" doesn't have the wit, bounce or weirdness of either. It, alas, remains a merchandising tie-in in search of a movie. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Smiling Fish & Goat on Fire' (9/07/00)
Directed by Kevin Jordan
Starring Derick Martini, Steven Martini

The title of Kevin Jordan's debut feature film is unfortunately the most interesting thing about it. "Smiling Fish & Goat on Fire" are the nicknames bestowed on brothers Chris and Tony (played by real life brothers Derick and Steven Martini, who cowrote the movie with director Kevin Jordan) by their half-Native-American grandmother. The film concerns itself with the love exploits of the two emotionally underdeveloped brothers. Chris is your standard first child, a type-A achiever whose psychotic, manipulative girlfriend (Amy Hathaway) weeps while they're in bed. Tony is a dim, slouchy womanizer and aspiring actor, who falls for Cathy (Christa Miller), his mail carrier.

It's actually the supporting characters who give the better performances. Chris's office mate, Clive (jazz great Bill Henderson), as a cussing, sassy old-timer, is delightful. The scenes where he recounts his memories of a past love feel like an entirely separate movie. And as a male carrier/single mom (with an irritatingly precocious kid daughter), Miller also lights up the screen. But despite a few moments of gold, it's a meandering film about mediocre men.
HEATHER WON TESORIERO
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'Snake Eyes' (8/17/98)
Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring Nicholas Cage, Gary Sinise

Nicholas Cage has never met a top he couldn't go over. In the opening moments of Brian De Palma's new thriller, the actor is a sunburst of manic energy, playing Rick Santoro, a corrupt Atlantic City, N.J., detective with a Hawaiian shirt and a gold cell phone. ("It's my sewer, and I love it... I am the king!") Santoro comes to an arena to watch a prizefight with an old friend, Navy Cmdr. Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise). The fight ends suspiciously fastjust as an assassin takes out the secretary of defense. Geez, can't a cop get a day off? Santoro and Dunne seal off the arena before 14,000 witnesses can flee, and then the pair unravel some big military conspiracy. "Snake Eyes" has its slow moments, and De Palma could have used 15 more minutes to flesh out the conclusion. But there's plenty of bravura camera work and two terrific supporting turns from Carla Gugino, as a terrified key witness, and Stan Shaw, as the soul-searching heavyweight champ. De Palma didn't hit the jackpot here, but he certainly didn't roll snake eyes. JEFF GILES
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'Snow Falling on Cedars' (12/16/99)
Directed by Scott Hicks
Starring Rick Yune, Ethan Hawke, Youki Kudoh

Somewhere inside this misty, moody movie, buried under snowbanks of gratuitous style, there's a potboiler screaming to get out. David Guterson's best-selling novel has a strong melodramatic story that shouldn't be hard to tell. There's a murder trial in the Pacific Northwest: a Japanese fisherman (Rick Yune) is accused of killing his white friend. There's a forbidden interracial love story (Ethan Hawke and Youki Kudoh) made even more dangerous when war erupts. There's the searing injustice of Japanese-American internment camps. But the way director Scott ("Shine") Hicks and co-writer Ron Bass tell it, none of it gets the heart racing.

If ever there was an example of a director's getting in the way of a story, this is it. Hicks splinters his story into little shards as he jumps artily backward and forward in time. The movie is beautiful: the darkly poetic images are suitable for framing. But the actors, posed like models, rarely get to interact. Only Max von Sydow cracks the surface with a rousing courtroom speech. The movie is all shots and no scenes, which is nice for a picture book but deadly for drama.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Something to Talk About' (8/7/95)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrm
Starring Julia Roberts, Dennis Quaid

Written by Callie Khouri, it probably won't ignite the op-ed passions that "Thelma and Louise" did, but you can't miss the Khouri touch her sharp Southern tongue and her determination to tell tales from a fresh, female point of view. The women in this smart, highly entertaining comedy don't pack guns, but relations between the sexes are such that a well-placed knee in the groin can come in handy. The knee belongs to Emma Rae King (Kyra Sedgwick), the groin is her brother-in-law Eddie's (Dennis Quaid) and the kick is an expression of solidarity with her sister Grace King Bichon (Julia Roberts), who's just discovered her husband Eddie's infidelity. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'South Park' (6/29/99)
Directed by Trey Parker
(Animated)

To find out how obscenities save the world from Satan and Saddam Hussein; to understand why the United States has declared war on Canada; to hear the best (and only) song written in praise of Brian Boitano, and to witness the violent demise of Bill Gates, there is only one place to turn: "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." Every bit as tasteless, irreverent, silly and smart as the Comedy Central cartoon that catapulted creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone into the Hollywood catbird seat, "South Park" has a gag-to-laugh ratio even higher than the new "Austin Powers." And it's filled with roof-raising musical numbers. Flatulence is central to "South Park's" adolescent appeal, but also to the movie's plot�and its sly politics. The trouble begins when the kids sneak into an obscenity-filled Canadian movie, "Asses of Fire," starring the infamous Terrence and Phil. Soon they are mimicking the stars' every dirty word, and just as soon Kyle's outraged mom is leading a campaign to protect the children of the nation. ("Blame Canada" is one of Parker and Marc Shaiman's rousing musical anthems.) A kind of crackpot Madeleine Albright, she soon has Clinton's ear. When the Canadians, protesting the arrest and imminent execution of Terrence and Phil, bomb the entire Baldwin family to oblivion, the hellhounds of war are unleashed. Better dead bodies than dirty words, the voices of morality decree, as Parker and Stone gleefully hurl satirical poop at the MPAA and all who have tried to muzzle "South Park's" wicked tongue.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Space Cowboys' (08/11/00)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones

Clint Eastwood�s �Space Cowboys� is at least three different movies�high-tech thriller, low-key comedy, rumination on aging�jammed together into an implausible but very likable entertainment.

The idea of Eastwood, James Garner, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones (the first two in their 70s, one in his mid-60s and 53-year-old Jones) donning their astronaut helmets after three decades of inactivity to go on a high-risk NASA expedition into space may be farfetched, but with actors as sly and seasoned as these, who�ll complain?

Clint reassembles the members of Team Daedalus�whose dreams of making it to space were dashed back in the late �50s�for a mission to repair an obsolete Russian communications satellite. The old satellite has the same guidance system as one Eastwood designed: no one else, it seems, is capable of fixing it.

Eastwood�s movie, written by Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner, throws in an old bureaucratic nemesis (James Cromwell) to oversee our heroes; cranks up the pathos by giving Jones both a love interest (Marcia Gay Harden) and inoperable cancer, and waits until our boys are in deep space to spring some dubious last-minute surprises. These strained plot contortions aren�t really necessary: the funny, amiable heart of the movie is in the scenes of these tough old duffers scamming their way through the training program. The movie itself, like these guys, is defiantly old school�confident, relaxed, professional. These four stars, with more than 260 years of experience among them, know how to get the job done.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Sparkler,' (3/23/99)
Directed by Darren Stein
Starring Park Overall, Don Harvey

In "Sparkler" just about every possibility of Las Vegas is realized: sex, violence, gambling, and clich�s. Melba May (Park Overall) lives in Victorville, Calif., just off I-15 between Vegas and LA. When she catches her evil trucker-hubby Flint (Don Harvey) bonking her friend in their trailer, she leaves him. On her first night on the town which involves showing up at a local bar in a prom dress she meets three young men stuck in Victorville due to a tire blowout. The guys dub Melba May "The Sparkler" because of the sequins on her frock, and they poke fun at her redneck ways. But Trent (Jamie Kennedy) likes Melba May and, while the two are dancing, he tells her that he and his roommates, Brad (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and Joel (Steven Petrarca), are going to Vegas to try to win enough money to pay their rent. Melba May eventually ends up joining the three boys in Vegas, where she also meets up with her old friend Dottie (Veronica Cartwright), now bisexual, a stripper, and Flint's mistress-of-sorts. Meanwhile, Flint finds out Melba May has won a $1 million sweepstakes and he goes in search of his wife, beating people up on the way. Through the whole adventure, Melba May finds herself and teaches the boys a few things about life. If the plot and its point sound a bit convoluted and trite, they are. Writer-director Darren Stein is trying to do too much in his first film. ("Jawbreaker," his second, was put in wide release first, but Sparkler was made beforehand). The story is a mess of sexual revelations, white-trash jokes, and obvious epiphanies. Though Cartwright gives a rich, hilarious performance, and the ramshackle crew of the tacky, the scrappy and gay is perfectly cast, the film comes across as the work of a director with little experience and less money. Which it is.
TED GIDEONSE
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'Spawn' (8/4/97)
Directed by Mark A.Z. Dipp�
Starring Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo

The "Spawn" phenomenon goes mainstream, with Michael Jai White in the title role and John Leguizamo as Clown. The story of Spawn reflects the ageless battle of good vs. evil, but told in a darker, more violent way than most comics. Think Batman on crystal meth. Spawn has good reason to be pissed off: he once was Al Simmons, a covert assassin murdered by his own government who comes back to life to fight for justice and a little vengeance, too. The hitch: he's had to make a deal with the Devil. The cool part: he gets incredible powers, lots of chains and spikes that zip out from his body and a billowing cape that puts to shame all superhero vestments before him. The movie is plenty extreme and has more fart jokes than a Steven Bochco storyboard. While those not already familiar with the comic may have trouble following the plot, "Spawn" is the summer's most spectacular concoction of visual effects and color. (on video)
DAVID KAPLAN (with Adam Rogers in New York and Tara Weingarten in San Diego)
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'The Specials' (9/27/00)
Directed by Craig Mazin
Starring Rob Lowe, Jamie Kennedy, and Thomas Haden Church

Like last year's "Mystery Men," The Specials are "not as good as regular superheroes, but slightly better than you." But while the Mystery Men's closest cinematic relatives were Joel Shumacher's "Batman and Robin," "The Specials" seems inspired by Christopher Guest's "Waiting for Guffman."A documentary about the country's seventh most famous supergroup, "The Specials" hones in on the members' personal lives and their various struggles. As in "Guffman," each character is hilariously pathetic. There's the giddy and gay Power Chick (Kelly Coffield); the "touched" Alien Orphan (Sean Gunn); the reformed Amok (Kennedy); the incredibly dumb U.S. Bill (Mike Schwartz); the amazingly intelligent Mr. Smart (Jim Zulevic); the bitchy goth Deadly Girl (Judy Greer), and the sensitive Minute Man (James Gunn).

Gunn also wrote the script, which is so uniformly smart and painfully funny that no one actor is able to steal the film, despite Gunn's own warped facial expressions and Kennedy's explosive one-liners. (Gunn's website, www.thespecials-movie.com, is just as gut-busting.) While "Mystery Men" cost $70 million and was about as entertaining as counting that high, "The Specials" gets more from much, much less. With about three less-than-special effects and a production design that seems to have been executed with stolen K-Mart merchandise, Gunn and director Craig Mazin count on the characters and dialogue to make things work. The result is a movie with sparks most big budget comedies couldn't hope to set off, even with four thousand matches and a crew of pyrotechnicians.
TED GIDEONSE
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'Sphere' (2/23/98)
Directed by Barry Levinson
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson

With the talent involved in "Sphere" director Barry Levinson, novelist Michael Crichton and actors Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stonehow could it fail? Somehow, it does. The premise is a formula used in countless "Star Trek" episodes. A diverse group of scientists heads a thousand feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, where the military has discovered a mysterious vessel. Their task is to investigate what may be an alien spaceship containing the eponymous sphere. Once they come into contact with this alien entity, strange things start to happen. Is the sphere brainwashing the crew? Are they all going insane? These questions will receive a disappointingly predictable answer by the end of the film. (on video)
ANDRA C. BASORA
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'Star Maps' (7/28/97)
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Starring Douglas Spain, Efrain Figueroa

It's the oldest story in the books the innocent kid who hits Hollywood with dreams of stardom in his eyes and discovers the tarnish beneath the tinsel. But it doesn't feel old the way first-time writer-director Miguel Arteta tells it here, with healthy swabs of melodrama, frank sexuality, a sprinkle of magic realism, a dark sense of humor and a rock en espanol beat. Carlos (Douglas Spain), a second-generation immigrant, returns from Mexico to his massively dysfunctional family in L.A. with fantasies of becoming the next Antonio Banderas. His father, Pepe (Efrain Figueroa), puts him on the street selling maps to stars' homes Dad's clever cover for his prostitution ring. It may sound sordid, but Arteta manages to bounce from brutality to comedy with only a few missteps. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Starship Troopers'(11/10/97)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer

Let your son go see "Starship Troopers" if you must, but don't go with him. Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi epic is an empty videogame of a movie about interplanetary pest control. The plot? Alien insects from Klendathu decimate Buenos Aires, and Earth retaliates by sending an army of Aaron Spelling actors into space. The battles and the bugs, to be fair, are magnificent. Special-effects designer Phil Tippett has the time of his life here: his sprawling army of giant spiders, beetles and wasps outdoes even his famed Velociraptors from "Jurassic Park." Ultimately, though, it's depressing to see a director as good as Verhoeven give audiences nothing but special effects and gore. (on video)
JEFF GILES
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'Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace' (5/11/99)
Directed by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor

It's not hype to say that "Phantom Menace" is the most eagerly awaited movie ever made. (Pilgrims started camping out in front of theaters a month before its May 19 opening.) You'll be hard pressed to find anyone who doubts for a moment that it will recoup its $115 million budget. But the movie is a disappointment. A big one. The oddest thing about "Episode I" which takes us back to the childhood of Anakin Skywalker, who as we know will later become Darth Vader, father of Luke Skywalker is that it's a tale that didn't need to be told. Or that should have been told in 20 minutes, so that we could get on to the good stuff. What we want to know is how Anakin Skywalker, Jedi knight, turned to the Dark Side. You won't find that out in "The Phantom Menace."

There's no shortage of action in "Phantom Menace" lightsaber fights, attacking armies, exploding spacecraft but there's a curious lack of urgency. Our emotions are rarely engaged. It's been 22 years since Lucas directed a movie, and he's gotten rusty. The genuine magic in "Episode I" is all in its design. Conceptual artist Doug Chiang and production designer Gavin Bocquet give us breathtaking vistas and fabulous imaginary cities. Indeed, there's often so much to take in you wish Lucas would hold his shots longer, and let us feast on the details.

Lucas blurs the line between live action and animation, even using digital techniques to tinker with the performances. This may be the first step toward a cinematic future in which virtual actors replace flesh-and-blood ones and unfortunately it sometimes seems as if he's drained the flesh and blood from his own cast. All the state-of-the-art technology in the world is no help to an actor saddled with Lucas's tinny dialogue. The original had its share of cheesy, B-movie performances: it was part of its retro "Buck Rogers" charm. But in these more extravagant settings, the lapses seem puzzling. Lucas's sensibility, which was never particularly sophisticated to begin with, hasn't evolved in two decades. "The Phantom Menace" is more of the same, without the innocence and without the juice. And in the year of "The Matrix," which offers a new style of special effects and a dystopian fantasy that hits closer to home, Lucas's childlike vision is beginning to look merely childish.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Stealing Beauty' (6/24/96)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring Liv Tyler, Sin�ad Cusack

Henry James would have recognized the setup of Bernardo Bertolucci's ("The Last Emperor") new film: an American innocent, the 19-year-old virgin Lucy Harmon (Liv Tyler), undergoes her rite of passage at the Tuscany home of her dead mother's friends. They're a bored, bohemian lot: a dying English playwright (Jeremy Irons), an Irish sculptor (Donal McCann) and his wife (Sinead Cusack), a callow American lawyer (D. W. Moffat) who bickers with his mistress (Miranda Fox) and lusts after Lucy. An untarnished specimen of a more puritanical generation, Lucy tantalizes and inspires these ragged survivors of the '60s. But this fragile, precious chamber piece rarely seems worthy of the high style lavished upon it. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Stigmata' (9/14/99)
Directed by Rupert Wainwright
Starring Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne

There are some days I just wish "The Exorcist" had never been made. "Stigmata" is a second-rate take on the theme of demonic possession, starring Patricia Arquette as the afflicted woman, and Gabriel Byrne as the conflicted priest (let's just say he has major faith issues). The MTV-ized film, written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage and directed by Rupert Wainwright, substitutes a driving soundtrack and stylized camera work for good dialogue and a plausible story.

Arquette plays Frankie Paige, a twenty-something hairdresser and atheist who is suddenly exhibiting stigmata (in repetitive, graphically shot scenes); bloody marks on the body in the five places that Christ received wounds while being crucified. Byrne is Andrew Kiernan, a scientist/priest who is sent to Pittsburgh to investigate the strange phenomena. If this were an X-file, Kiernan would be Scully and Mulder all rolled into one: both skeptic and believer. And to top it all off, there's a rather ridiculous conspiracy involving the Catholic Church and its attempt to conceal a long, lost gospel, possibly written by Christ Himself. But much of the film is turned over to a series of wearying, and at times laughable, scenes between Arquette and Byrne. Save yourself from this mess.
JANE HOGAN
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Related Article:
'Stigmata' Soundtrack: Music Review

'Stir of Echoes' (9/9/99)
Directed by David Koepp
Starring Kevin Bacon, Zachary David Cope

The timing of "Stir of Echoes" is either very good or very bad, depending on how many ghosts the public cares to cozy up to this summer. Fresh on the heels of the quietly creepy "The Sixth Sense," we have another movie in which a little boy�5-year-old Jake Witzky (Zachary David Cope)�is on speaking terms with the dead. Actually, Jake is a red herring in David Koepp's horror movie. This is the story of his dad, Tom (Kevin Bacon). A blue-collar Chicago guy, Tom starts seeing disturbing visions after he's been hypnotized at a party. Is he going mad, or is there really a ghoulishly pale girl sitting in his living room?

"The Sixth Sense" combined two genres not ordinarily linked�the ghost story and the tear-jerker. "Stir of Echoes," based on a 1958 Richard Matheson novel, takes a more predictable turn. It merges the horror genre with the whodunit. "Echoes" is at its best in its mysterious, genuinely chilling first half. But as the plot kicks in, the hysteria mounts and the explanations start coming, the tension starts to dissipate. Like Bacon's strenuous attempt to sound working class, the movie tries too hard. Too bad. This coulda been a contender.
DAVID ANSEN
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'The Story of Us' (10/19/99)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer

Perhaps the most depressing thing about "The Story of Us," Rob Reiner's seriocomic look at a 15-year marriage gone sour, is that Reiner and writers Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson seem to think they're doing something bold and honest. They've all been living in Hollywood too long. Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis play the couple under scrutiny, Katie and Ben Jordan. A comfortable L.A. couple with two kids, a nice home and a handful of the usual comic-sidekick best friends, this once-happy couple does nothing but bicker bicker bicker. She complains that she's the "designated driver" of the relationship. He wonders where the wacky girl he fell in love with has gone. Both actors are capable of giving us complex, flesh-and-blood characters, but you won't find them here. What we see are two movie stars playing a generic couple in a movie so bland and un-lived in you want to pour Tabasco all over the screen. Will they get back together? One guess. Do we care? Not a bit. Nothing is at stake here except Reiner's rapidly dwindling reputation as an observer of (so-called) life.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Strange Days' (10/16/95)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Lewis

It doesn't just sit there on the screen and invite you to watch. It instantly yanks you into a dazzling opening sequence. Director Kathryn Bigelow ("Blue Steel") comes closer than any other filmmaker to turning movies into a virtual reality trip. Here virtual reality has become a digital drug, mainlined straight to your brain. "Feel it, see it. This is a piece of someone's life," pitches pusher Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes). For about an hour the writing, acting and direction coalesce in a prismatic, hyperkinetic ode to end-of-century doom. And then the two-hours-plus film subsides into genre convention. Also starring Juliette Lewis and Angela Bassett. (on video)
JACK KROLL
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'Striptease' (7/8/96)
Directed by Andrew Bergman
Starring Demi Moore, Burt Reynolds

Most people will want to check this out to see Demi Moore take off her clothes. Some people will go because it's a comedy by Andrew Bergman ("The Freshman"). Fans of Carl Hiaasen, the satirical mystery novelist, will be curious to see if Hollywood managed to capture his vision of sleazebucket Florida scoundrels. Whether any of these parties will emerge satisfied is another question. Fleshwise, Demi delivers. Never known for her light touch, she nevertheless appears to be acting in some other movie. Lines that should be tossed like confetti drop like heavy anchors. Well, nobody's perfect. When you've got power thighs and killer abs, who needs Carole Lombard? Also starring Burt Reynolds. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'subUrbia' (2/17/97)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Jayce Bartok, Amie Carey

Seven paid-up members of generation X hang out in the parking lot of a convenience store, grimly determined to do nothing. Except talk. And swill beer. Well, one of them Rollerblades. Their talk is the lingua franca of the grunge mind as it oozes into the millennium. America, says one, is a "caldron of spiritual oatmeal." But wait, this is Eric Bogosian's "subUrbia," which was so effective as a play. Why has it thinned out as a movie? Richard Linklater, whose "Slacker" gave a shrewd charm to the chaotic ramblings of Gen-Xers in Austin, Texas, has filmed "subUrbia," but he hasn't movie-ed it. Onstage, trapped in the mini-wasteland of the parking lot, the creeped-out kids crackled like lightning in a bottle. Linklater's meager attempts to open up the movie drain its energy: it's as if Bosch threw in a few homey vignettes to mitigate the horrors of his pictures of hell. In the end, all you think is, "Oh, shut up, I've got my own problems." (on video)
JACK KROLL
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'Sugar Town' (9/21/99)
Directed by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss
Starring Jade Gordon, Ally Sheedy

It isn't easy growing old in the land of youth and beauty. It's even harder if you're a rock-and-roller who hasn't had a hit in decades, or a sexy leading lady now being offered parts as Christina Ricci's mother. "Sugar Town," an agreeably scruffy L.A. satire co-written and directed by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss, is filled with sharp, funny snapshots of the hustlers, has-beens, recovering junkies and Topanga Canyon earth mothers on the fringes of the Hollywood music biz.

The movie may lack visual dazzle it was shot fast and cheap but it knows its way around town. There's the 50-something Billy Idol type (Michael Des Barres) who has a phobia about sleeping with women his own age, and Beverly D'Angelo as the foul-mouthed heiress he needs to satisfy to secure backing for his new record. There's the neurotic New Agey production designer (Ally Sheedy) whose dating life is a disaster, and the ruthless wannabe rock star (Jade Gordon) who'll rip off anyone to get ahead. There's the fading rocker (John Taylor, of Duran Duran fame) facing a paternity suit, the wild child named Nirvana who may be his son, the sober guitarist (John Doe) trying to remain faithful to his wife on the road and a half dozen other deftly sketched show-biz desperadoes who make this slight but tangy sleeper such an unpretentious delight.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Summer of Sam' (7/6/99)
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody

In Spike Lee's garish, explosive mural of the New York summer of 1977, David Berkowitz, the infamous Son of Sam, is merely the catalyst who sets off a heat wave of fear and paranoia. Lee aims to give us a kaleidoscopic picture of a summer of riots, blackouts and disco fever, a time of Plato's Retreat orgies, Studio 54 drug excess and the emergence of punk. A thick stew of sex, violence and suspicion, Lee's movie spiked up with a virtually nonstop soundtrack definitely has the power to jangle your nerves.

The focus is on a working-class Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. Lee and his co-writers, Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli, are treading on chewed-up cinematic turf: how many more goomba-in-the-nabe movies can we stand? The most prominent characters are a philandering hairdresser, Vinny (John Leguizamo), and his faithful wife, Dionna (Mira Sorvino), but much more intriguing is Adrien Brody's Ritchie, a local kid who returns to the Bronx in full Brit-punk regalia, bad cockney accent and all. When Son of Sam paranoia reaches the breaking point, he's the perfect scapegoat for his macho friends' fear and rage. This city-as-pressure-cooker tale bears obvious similarities to "Do the Right Thing." But the earlier film had an urgency that hurt, that made you examine your own preconceptions. "Summer of Sam," for all its flash and well-crafted fury, is only superficially disturbing.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Supernova' (01/20/2000)
Directed by Thomas Lee
Starring James Spader and Angela Bassett

"Supernova" may once have had spectacular ambitions. That the fictional Thomas Lee is billed as the director (after Walter Hill took his name off the project) and that MGM didn't hold critics' screenings led many to believe it would be super awful. And it comes pretty close. The main problem is that for a film about the hidden corners of the universe, it's neither an all-out effects extravaganza nor a serious sci-fi flick pointing to the dangers lying in wait for space-traveling humans. Set in the 22nd century, the movie begins when the Nightingale emergency rescue vessel answers a distress call and picks up a passenger (Peter Facinelli). The lost-in-space traveler brings aboard an object, possibly an alien artifact that, as we learn, somehow encases a supernova. From here, as the film's tagline reads, "all hell is about to break loose." But if only it were that good. Bright spots include some nicely gruesome effects and strong performances from James Spader, Angela Bassett and Wilson Cruz, as a computer technician who gains the audience's sympathy. But the flick's ultimate flaw? For a movie about space travel, it's an awfully uninspired trek.
JANE HOGAN
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'Suzhou River' (11/9/2000)
Directed by Lou Ye
Starring Zhou Xun, Jia Hongsheng

If you thought present-day Shanghai was the bustling, democratic-leaning center of a new China, think again. In film director Lou Ye�s eyes, the city of 8 million with a wickedly polluted river, the Suzhou, running through it is mostly a seedy shantytown full of disaffected youth and petty criminals.

�Suzhou River� is an energetically photographed mystery in which mistaken identities keep the film�s characters as confused as the audience right up until the end. Mardar (Jia Hongsheng), a motorcycle courier who spends much of his time shuttling goods for drug dealers, gets involved in a kidnapping plot that propels him deep into the underworld. Assigned to look after the beautiful young Moudan (Zhou Xun) while her smuggler father goes on binges with vodka and prostitutes, Mardar gradually falls in love with his charge. Then another of his customers bribes him to kidnap her.

Ye is much more adept with his handheld digital camera (the film was shot on video and transferred to 35mm) than he is with dialogue. He strives for poetry in the film�s steady voiceover, but, at least in translation, he rarely succeeds. Clich�s or long periods of silence dominate the film, even as Ye�s camera races down streets or wiggles through dark alleyways. Without a strong screenplay, Ye�s tale starts to feel like a student film: cleverly shot, but short on content.
MICHAEL RUSH
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'Sweet and Lowdown' (11/30/99)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Sean Penn, Samantha Morton

Sean Penn is a hoot as jazz guitarist Emmett Ray, a mythical musical legend of the '30s. Both genius and louse, Ray is a dangerous combination of insecurity and bantam-cock bravado. "Very good, everybody," he compliments his band after a performance. "Particularly me." Employing faux-documentary "witnesses" such as jazz expert Nat Hentoff, the film recounts the tall tales of Ray's exploits and eccentricitieshis stint as a pimp, his kleptomania, his obsession with shooting rats in city dumps. "I need to be free. I'm an artist": this is our antihero's credo, but of course it's been the cri de coeur of so many Allen protagonists. Is the artist above morality? Allen's been chewing guiltily on this bone for decades. Here he treats his theme mockingly, making sport of this selfish genius. Lovely to look at, the anecdotal "Sweet and Lowdown" doesn't add up to any big deal. But it's a likable, lively little dittyone theme, some clever variationsthat never wears out its welcome.
DAVID ANSEN
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'The Sweet Hereafter' (11/24/97)
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Starring Ian Holm, Maury Chaykin

As in the haunting "Exotica," director Atom Egoyan explores the strange byways of loss and mourning. Based on a novel by Russell Banks, "The Sweet Hereafter" is the story of a small rural community in British Columbia shattered by a school bus accident which kills fourteen children. Ian Holm is magnificent as a smooth-talking but emotionally troubled lawyer intent on bringing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the town. Egoyan shifts in time between two narrativesthat of the town and that of the lawyerin an intricately evocative style, fashioning a timeless fable of grief and redemption. The interweaving of Robert Browning's poem, "The Pied Piper of Hamlin," while a little heavy-handed at times, could not be more appropriate to this moving, complex and dreamlike tale. (on video)
ANDRA C. BASORA
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'Swingers' (5/24/97)
Directed by Doug Liman
Starring Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn

Just when you thought you couldn't possibly take another movie about single guys who talk too much, along comes "Swingers" to re-invent the genre. Mike (Jon Faveau, who also co-produced and wrote the screenplay) is a self-doubting, failing comedian with a broken heart. He spends most of his time whining self-centeredly while his buddies try to cheer him up with not-so-helpful advice about getting "babies:" wait three days before you call, act real cool. You know the drill. Of course, they're all full of hot air, but it's charming air and does no one harm. Vince Vaughn, as Mike's ever-supportive best friend, Trent, is a stand-out. As the "cute" one in the group he exudes a boyish charm as well as the subtle pathos of someone who's so concerned with being "money" (swing-speak for cool) that he hasn't yet noticed it's time to grow up. Director Doug Liman has an impressive eye for detail and an even better ear for dialogue, producing a perceptive and delightfully funny take on the buddy movie. (on video)
ANDRA C. BASORA
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