2003 Connecticut Releases briefly reviewed by Kevin:

About Schmidt (2002)
Jack Nicholson amiably mugs his way through this character piece, a sort-of “coming of old age” dramedy about a 66 year old man who in rapid succession must face retirement from his insurance job, becoming a widower and becoming a reluctant father-in-law. Kathy Bates and Dermot Mulroney add good support to this latest from Election director Alexander Payne. But is it screaming Oscar? Ehhh…

Adaptation. (2002)
Nicholas Cage portrays the screen version of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin and collaborator, Donald. Charlie has been tapped to create a screenplay based on a fact based book, “The Orchid Thief” by writer Susan Orlean (writer of the article that was the basis for the summer girl surfer sleeper “Blue Crush”) (in Adaptation, she is played by Meryl Streep). One problem: the “story” of the real life “orchid thief,” John LaRoche (Chris Cooper) seemingly cannot be hammered into a filmable movie, especially since Charlie is adamant that the film not fall back on Hollywood cliches: no guns, car chases, love affairs, drugs, etc. A brilliant script by (the) Kaufman(“s”), brilliant performances by Cage, Cooper and Streep, and brave, brilliant direction by Spike Jonze, who yet again makes films out of the seemingly unfilmable.

American Splendor (2003)
Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comic book tales of his everyday life are brought to life in this feature film, with Paul Giamatti playing Pekar, and Hope Davis as his wife and eventual collaborator, Joyce Brabner. The film employs the visual language of the comic book (panels framing some sequences, word and thought balloons and captions). The film blurs reality lines with glee, however, as we get to meet the “real” people (like Harvey’s “nerd” co-worker, Toby). Pekar fans should enjoy the film thoroughly, but I do wonder how it will play with those less familiar with Harvey’s episodic stories about different flavored jellybeans, his breakdown on Letterman, or his battles with cancer.

Anger Management (2003)
Adam Sandler (appealingly restrained, and even measured, in his slow build to a crescendo of frustration) and Jack Nicholson (enjoying and engineering every second of it) team for this comedy about… well, it’s really all about fat cats in goofy sweaters and John C. Reilly in a thong…

Antwone Fisher (2002)
A brave first directorial effort for Denzel Washington, who plays a Navy psychologist who must help the young, titular Mr. Fisher (Derek Luke, in his film debut) as he deals with anger issues and a childhood of abuse and abandonment. Script based on the autobiography, “Finding Fish,” (Fisher also wrote the screenplay). A powerful standout that fails to sound a single wrong note.

Bad Boys II (2003)
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return as buddy cops in a very by-the-numbers adventure which finds them invading Cuba by the end of the movie to save Lawrence’s sister. Things explode. Surprised?

Basic (2003)
John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson star in yet another variation on the old Rashomon theme, though this one comes off much more interestingly than Travolta’s Swordfish.

Bend It Like Beckham (England, 2002)
A girl (Parminder Nagra) from a strict, though very modern, Sikh family in London idolizes soccer star David Beckham, and can even sling a mean ball herself. Trouble is, her parents will not let her follow her passion to become a great female football star. Add into this a “big, fat Sikh wedding” (to quote John Boonstra) and you’ve got the much fun.

Bhoot (India, 2003)
Bollywood takes a stab at Western film-style horror with this groundbreaking effort, surprisingly with no musical numbers! It’s a pastiche of/ salute to Western horror like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, among others, with its’ own unique style choices in this tale of a pair of young marrieds moving into what could be a haunted apartment in an Indian city. Incidentally, it will probably be made much better when we get a subtitled print to watch. And good luck hunting one up on DVD…

Biker Boyz (2003)
Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke star in this amiable enough generational motorcycle gang battle. It’s I-‘ight, but not great.

Bonhoeffer (2003)
Great documentary about the German cleric who stood up to the Nazis’ religious oppression (of both Jews culturally and Christianity philosophically). A riveting story, with interviews with many of his surviving contemporaries.

Bread, My Sweet, The (2003)
If Scott Baio tried for a Travolta-like indy comeback movie, does it still count if it wasn’t that good? A soap opera that never quite gets off the ground, features Baio as a baker who sidelines during the day as a corporate merger expert who fires folks from small companies, who we’re told has a passion for both his jobs (Hey! I love him already!). But the adoptive mother (Rosemary Prinz, as an angelic old Italian version of Ali McGraw’s dying angel from Love Story) of him and his two cast-off brothers (Billy Mott, the actor brother and Shuler Hensley, the retarded older brother, which, if played wrong, could have been so Gigli), who also work at the bakery, contracts terminal cancer, prompting him to seek out her long lost daughter (Kristin Minter), to bring her home and marry her. If all this sounds like too much specious reasoning to take in, don’t worry, there are some heartwarming character bits, and views of small neighborhood life in Philadelphia. You can’t say that about Zapped…

Bringing Down the House (2003)
Queen Latifah and Steve Martin co-star in this surprisingly appealing bit of comic fluff about a lawyer and single father of two, whose life is invaded by a convict looking to clear her name. And about that Eugene Levy performance… well, let’s just say, the cool points are out the window…

Brother Bear (2003)
Disney exploits Inuit legend this time, but Atanarjuat this ain't. Joaquin Phoenix voices an impulsive young Inuit named Kenai, who, after unjustly killing a bear in an act of vengeance, is forced to live as a bear. Lilo and Stitch this also ain't, but look for funny turns from Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as brother mooses who sound remarkably like Bob and Doug MacKenzie. Good day, eh? Our topic today is easy slam dunk casting… hosehead, towel on….

Bruce Almighty (2003)
Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston star in this Tom Shadyac comedy about a complaining shlub handed the power of God for a time. And Shadyac is probably the problem here, in a movie whose biggest laughs come from the lead performances. Likewise, that’s the sole source of any character coherence herein.

Bulletproof Monk (2003)
Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott co-star as a Tibetan Buddhist monk chosen to guard a scroll of great magical power, and his possible chosen successor. Really fun action, and, hey! They fight nazis! Coooool…

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki had some added cinematographers to credit when he put together this documentary portrait of a family falling apart following pedophilic scandal: THE FAMILY THEMSELVES! Amazingly, these folks continued to film and videotape themselves as the father and youngest son go to court, trying to defend themselves against the charges. Along with an intimate view of the family’s disintegration, we get a no-punches-pulled view of the blinding neo-McCarthy-ite zeal with which a community rushes to prosecute, despite the absence of corroborating evidence and even reasonable objectivity. A sticky and absolutely fascinating mess of a story, told by a remarkable movie.

Cet Amour-La (France, 2001)
Skip this French snoozer with Jeanne Moreau as the very September, 40-years senior/ famous writer half of a fact based May-September relationship. Please. Go rent Harold and Maude. You (and I, and Bud Cort) will be glad you did.

Chaos (France, 2001)
Colline Serrau (French filmmaker whose previous claim to fame, was the creation of the original version of Three Men and a Baby) crafts a slick fable about a prostitute (Rachida Brakni, in an excellent performance) who is beaten into a coma while a bourgeois couple (Vincent Linden and Catherine Frot, the latter particularly good) look on. Ah, but what could have been a simply entertaining caper film develops into a broad statement about family, friendship, humanity, sexism, brutality and social justice.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
I think the theme song to this sequel should have been Julianna Hatfield’s “Dumb Fun,” because it so well embodied both those terms. Enter your theaters with brain in pause for a couple of hours or so, and just go with it. Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman reprise their roles as… no, wait, that’s not right…

Chicago (2002)
Is the musical making a comeback? With “Dancer in the Dark” plumbing the grittier end of movie musicals a couple of years ago, with its’ deliberately primitive look, and “Moulin Rouge” co-opting MTV-glam and pop culture history into the shiniest of movie musical gems lately, and even the French “8 Women”’s cross between Agatha Christie and “The Umbrellas of Chambourg,” the musical’s comeback could truly be nigh. “Chicago” is a more “traditional” musical, though still charming and surprising in the singing and dancing performances of Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly.

Cold Creek Manor (2003)
Dennis Quaid frowns and mugs, Sharon Stone screams at everything, and… could the twisted redneck (Stephen Dorff) have a deep dark violent secret? Of course he doesn’t. You couldn’t possibly call it a secret after the first thirty minutes of this movie. Kirsten Stewart and Juliette Lewis give able support in wearily familiar territory.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (USA/ Canada/ Germany, 2002)
Another Charlie Kaufman penned, mind boggling winner! George Clooney makes his feature directorial debut with this tale based on the “unauthorized autobiography” of TV producer and songwriter Chuck Barris, who alleges that, between gigs creating and /or hosting shows like “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show,” he had a part-time job as a CIA contracted hit-man. Sam Rockwell is brilliant as the conflicted, and/or insane, Barris.

Confidence (2003)
Ed Burns and Dustin Hoffman lead a great cast that also features Paul Giamatti, Rachel Weisz and Andy Garcia, in a crime caper about a group of grifters seeking revenge for a brutal murder of one of their own.

Cremaster 3 (2002)
Curiosity seekers… seek no more. Pretentious and “arty” could describe it… but some very good work went into the production design and music. Less into the story, at least, not “good” work. It’s the top of the Matthew Barney pyramid of art films, culminating in a three hour orgy of celtic mythology, masonic legend, truly retch inducing reverse dental surgery, hardcore punk bands, beautiful models with masonic symbol pasties, double amputee model Aimee Mullins as a catwoman and with clear acrylic prosthetic legs, artist Richard Serra tossing molten vaseline against the walls of the Guggenheim, a sojourn up the elevator shafts of the Chrysler Building, a demolition derby in same’s lobby… shall I go on? All the above said, the movie is still truly what it advertised itself to be. The same couldn’t be said of, for instance, Gods and Generals or Gigli, which were posing as supposed entertainment, with edifying moments of history of character development. With C3, you get a chariot race with zombie horses, covered in blankets with the “Cremaster 3” crest emblazoned on them. And don’t forget to stop in the Met’s gift shop as you leave the theater. Thank you.

Dancer Upstairs, The (Spain/ U.S., 2002)
Director John Malkovich, on his first feature, apes Costa Gavras (even openly referencing his 1973 drama, État de siège) in this drama about political and personal intrigue starring Javier Bardem as a cop up to his neck in a terrorism case, involving a mysterious leader named Ezequiel, and the fascist government of the movie’s unnamed Latin American country. Bardem is excellent, as is most of the cast, but the direction and script could use a spark or two more energy.

Daredevil (2003)
Ben Affleck stars in this lesser light among the Marvel Movies of late. Well, at least it looks better than the Hulk TV movie Daredevil. Doesn’t it?

Dark Blue (2002)
Kurt Russell returns to the screen as crooked L.A. cop, Eldon, bringing to bear on the character all his charm, which given the character’s proclivities as written, it will definitely need. Ving Rhames is underwritten and underused, but further muscular support arrives in Brendan Gleeson as Eldon’s crooked boss, and even Lolita Davidovich as his suffering wife (in a role that falls apart late in the proceedings). Sure, it’s a fictionalized story set during the last round of L.A. Riots in 1991, but this, keep in mind, is from James Ellroy, who has already fictionalized L.A. police history, likewise only slightly. A pretty good taut thriller.

Darkness Falls (2003)
The Tooth Fairy terrorizes some schmuck from Las Vegas when he visits his boyhood home in Maine. WILL STEPHEN KING OR ANYBODY PLEASE SUE ALREADY???

Dirty Pretty Things (England, 2002)
Stephen Frears begins with what seems to be a mystery set in a dark world of illegal immigrant workers in West London, but soon shifts gears to become a character study, and a peace of liberal social criticism, with a touching relationship between British born actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a Nigerian doctor forced to make a living as a cab driver and hotel concierge, and always good French actress Audrey Tatou as an Islamic Turkish refugee, illegally working as a maid.

Down with Love (2003)
An intelligent confection, anyone? As Far from Heaven celebrated the Douglas Sirk melodrama, updating it for the twenty-first century, so Down with Love celebrates the breezy, heavily stylized and likewise gay subtexted Doris Day/ Rock Hudson romances. Look for Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger to share a musical number before these bubbly proceedings finish, and look for crisp, funny support from Sarah Paulsen (TV’s American Gothic) and Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce (every bit the stand–in for a young Tony Randall, the older version of which even pops up).

Dreamcatcher (2003)
Lawrence Kasdan tries to swallow a sprawl of a Stephen King story (yet another!), which involves a secret of childhood friends, an alien invasion and a strangely scenery chewing Morgan Freeman as a military man gone mad. What could have been gory fun flies off the rails, but bad.

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003)
The two leads channel their respective pre Carrey-Daniels roles in this Dumb and Dumber prequel, but the film falls flat for the most part otherwise, but for a sparkling very few Eugene Levy moments.

Duplex (2003)
A return to comedic form for director Danny DeVito (Death to Smoochy) with this dark comedy about a couple (Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore) who buy a Brooklyn duplex to find they’ve inherited a “nice old lady” (Eileen Essel) who is really the tenant from hell. Call this one “Throw Momma from the Second Floor,” and get ready to bust a gut and find the ending a tad pat… still, DAMN HILARIOUS!!!

Eye, The (England / Hong Kong / Thailand / Singapore, 2002)
Lee Sin-Je stars in this supernatural thriller from twin brothers Oxide and Danny Pang. She plays a blind classical violinist, who becomes the recipient of a gift of sight from a cornea transplant. Unfortunately, that gift might include the unwelcome ability to see ghosts and receive premonitions. The soundtrack is great, and the Brothers Pang , with cinematographer Decha Srimantra, have created a beautiful and sometimes disturbing film, which, while not as frighteneing entirely as Ringu and Audition (its’ supposed Japanese cousins), tells its’ story thoughtfully and effectively.

Finding Nemo (2003)
Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres head up another talented cast of voices for another typically wonderful Pixar outing. Brooks voices a father clownfish on the hunt for his kidnapped and tank-bound only son, Nemo. Also excellent voice support here from Allison Janney, Brad Garrett and Willem Dafoe, and, per usual, John Ratzenberger. Pixar makes good storytelling look so EASY! What isn’t beautiful is funny, or is beautiful AND funny, AND with a strength of characterization that should be shared by so many live action flicks, like, say, The In-Laws…?

Freaky Friday (2003)
OH… MY… GHOD… O.K., you guys, like Lindsay Lohan is a cute little misfit teen, and, like, Jaime Lee Curtis is her mom in this second remake of the Jodie Foster/ Barbara Harris original. And, like, Curtis shines, you know, as, like, her own daughter, but, like in her mom’s body. Oh! No! You guys! Get out! It also references the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Hives, the White Stripes and the Breeders in this, like, rock and roll update that rocks! It’s like, no, get out, I’m SEEER-ious! No way!

Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)
The Nightmare on Elm Street series meets the Friday the 13th series, in what basically amounts to a post-slasher film craze monster team-up, just for the fans, like they used to do with House of Frankenstein and such, in the days before the post-Texas Chainsaw Massacre grand guignol. Lots o’ blood and hyper-cartooned violent mayhem abound as the irate hockey goalie squares off with the vicious ex-school janitor. Yeah, that’s right Freddy. A JANITOR. Not some “sanitation engineer”! JANITOR! Take THAT! PUNK! What are ya gonna do about it, huh…?

Ghosts of the Abyss (2003)
James Cameron revisits the wreck of the Titanic, this time seeking though the inside of the ship with high tech camera gear, to take us further into the wreck visually than we ever have been before. The 3D would probably work best on an IMAX or large format screen.

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (2002)
The musical legacy of John Flansburgh and John Linnell of They Might Be Giants is celebrated in this part salute/ part history, shot in 2001, while the band recorded and released “Mink Car.” Appealing rock and roll fun!

Gigli (2003)
Ben Affleck is the mob thug who never kills or hurts but perhaps one person. That person is the stereotypically Rain Man-esque “sweetly retarded man” played almost well enough by Justin Bartha. Bravo. To add to the stupidity, J-Lo is the “lesbian assassin” who likewise never hurts or kills anyone, or kisses or makes love to a woman. A film as dumb as any bag of hammers, or Ben Affleck when he’s not writing or (most of the time) acting with Matt Damon.

Girl from Paris, The (France, 2002)
A charming, though often predictable, comedy/drama from France about a young computer worker (Mathilde Seigner) who quits her job to buy a farm in the Rhone-Alps, whose owner (Michel Serrault, in a very watchable performance) will not vacate the premises for another eighteen months. Like I said, charming, but do be careful with your kids and/or PETA friends, as this film is not at all shy in its’ graphic displays of animal slaughter (all in farming context, of course).

Gods and Generals (2003)
Godawfully long, ponderous, bloated and pompous attempt at a Civil War historical epic, but featuring several segments of some historical interest for all that. Still… DAMNED awful.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (France, 2002)
Audrey Tatou plays off her Amelie sweetness, to disarming effect in this psychological thriller, with a unique, if not completely unpredictable twist. Tatou plays a young woman who appears to be having an affair with a married doctor.

Head of State (2003)
Chris Rock delivered a light but appealing, and occassionally witty comic farce, about a low-level urban politico tapped to become the first major party’s Presidential nominee. Surprisingly, though not unappealingly, unpolitical for all that.

Holes (2003)
Shia LeBeouf, Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight star in this Dickensesque tale about boys at a Texas juvenile labor camp looking for buried loot. Tries to bite off much more than it can conceptually chew, when the backstory of the treasure hastily involves a nineteenth century interracial romance, the lynching that follows, and a robbery and murder spree! Yeah! Bring the kids!

Hollywood Homicide (2003)
ULTRA-cliched script, with watchable scraps of performances, mostly from Harrison Ford, but some from Josh Hartnett as buddy-cops in tinseltown. Wackiness… or something… tries to ensue…

Hours, The (2002)
A great drama, but a HEAAVVVY movie! Nicole Kidman (as Virginia Woolf) is great, as are Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep and Ed Harris as the future generations affected by her book, “Mrs. Dalloway.” A somber meditation on the fragility of human dignity in the face of societal oppression and terminal illness.

House of Fools (Russia/ France, 2002)
Yuliya Vysotskaya shines as a charming young mental patient in this tale from director Andrei Konchalovsky, based on a true story about an asylum taken over by soldiers during the Russian-Chechen war. Probably the best film you’ll ever see with Bryan Adams.

Hulk, The (2003)
Major style points to Ang Lee for a different vision of the Marvel monster hero, along with points for having the CGI Hulk throw tanks around and ride on a rocket, etc. Low, low points, however for James Schamus and company’s confusing and silly script, with so many wonderful ideas that just don’t gel, and leave us with a Marvel comics product that made Daredevil look more fatithful to its’ source material.

Human Body, The (2003)
Follow a small London based family group through a busy day in their bodies in this large screen format documentary that gets up close with hair, sweat and zits. And yes, even those parts were better than Gods and Generals.

Hunted, The (2003)
William Friedkin directed this brutal and razor sharp cat-and-mouse story, with Tommy Lee Jones as an FBI deep woods tracker who also has trained CIA killer Benicio Del Toro, and who now must run him down when he goes on a seemingly uncontrollable killing spree.

I Am Taraneh (Iran, 2002)
Touching story of a fifteen year old Iranian girl (Taraneh Alidoosti in a great performance) who must deal with a father who is in prison, the death of a loved one, a marriage proposal and an unexpected pregnancy. It is one of those films that becomes a fascinating window into daily life in a foreign land, in this case, the trials of a young woman in modern Iran (veils must be worn, you must get home by curfew or risk getting arrested, etc.), told in a non judgemental, honest way.

Identity (2003)
John Cusack and Ray Liotta star in an inventive, psychological updating of the old Agatha Christie plot, “Ten Little Indians.” Ten people, most with no readily apparent connections to each other, find themselves stranded at a desert motel on a stormy night, and people begin to die one by one.

In-Laws, The (2003)
The movie that completely fails to answer: why remake the classic original In-Laws? Albert Brooks is the beleagured foot doctor and Michael Douglas is the international man of mystery and his daughter’s father-in-law to be. Succeeds in merely being CRASHINGLY BORRRINNG!

In the Cut (2003)
Ah, Jane Campion… you can always rely on her to do two things. One is to provide a female lead character (surprisingly well essayed by Meg Ryan) of great strength and fascinating fragility. The other is to divide the audience, as this particular Meg Ryan character is a very lonely, very horny English teacher, who becomes entangled in an affair with a cop (Mark Ruffalo, endlessly fighting cypher-dom), who is investigating the murder of a woman that Ryan's character eventually realizes she has seen before, in a more voyeuristic setting. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this would be the makings of an average thriller. But Campion doesn't let these characters off the psychological hook so easily. The ending is more than a bit perfunctory, thudding to a close, but see it for the very hot scenes with Ryan and Ruffalo, the touches of poetry (visual and verbal), and for the underused Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the unexpected Kevin Bacon as Meg's ex-boyfriend.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
It’s the Coens in broad comedy mode (think Raising Arizona or The Hudsucker Proxy), though reigned in just enough not to get too silly. What will happen when ambitious divorce lawyer Miles (George Clooney) and professional divorcee Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones) meet is somewhat predictable. Clooney and Jones, however, shower this movie with sparks that light up the proceedings, and they’re given great support from Edward Herriman, Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Bob Thornton, Geoffrey Rush and Paul Adelstein. And while it doesn’t aspire to the deep, dark Coen dimensions of O Brother, Where Art Thou or Man Who Wasn’t There, neither does it get lost in such things. It’s bubbly, it entertains, and it’s nice to know the Coens can still knock one of those out of the park.

Italian Job, The (2003)
Mark Wahlberg and Ed Norton head up this remake of the ’69 British original, moving most of the action from the original’s Turin, to Venice, and, ultimately, L.A.. It’s a fun, funny and thrilling ensemble heist flick from dirctor F. Gary Gray, with supporting cast Charlize Theron (always beautiful), Jason Statham (seemingly unable to avoid roles now that require the use of really cool cars), Mos Def (turning in some of the best support I’ve ever seen him do) and “Scott Evil” himself, Seth Green (acting at a much better level than he, regrettably, sometimes gets stuck with). Fun, fun, fun, and all the mini-coopers you can eat.

Just Married (2003)
Brittany Murphy and Ashton Kutcher hit each other in the head for 90 minutes. Now, doesn’t that sound like fun? You’d think so…

Kill Bill Volume I (2003)
Quentin comes back with a bloody dazzler, a fresh mythology of operatic depth and acrobatic skill aplenty. Uma Thurman is BLEEEP a.k.a. Black Mamba a.k.a. “The Bride”, the former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination squad, led by “Bill” (David Carradine). On her wedding day, she and her intended are brutally beaten, shot and left for dead, for reasons yet to be explained (see Volume 2 next year). This “Volume” (the first half of the story, originally intended as a three hour epic) concentrates on the surviving Bride’s revenge. Vivica A. Fox plays a former colleague, now a married suburban mom. Lucy Liu, in her juiciest role all year, is given the most back story in this film, as a revenge and ambition driven murderess who now runs the underworld of Tokyo’s vice rackets. Look for Jun Kunimura (Audition) as a disgruntled Tokyo crime boss, Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale) as schoolgirl assassin Go Go Yubari, Daryl Hannah as a twisted “nurse,” and one of the most mind-blowingly bloody and fantastic sword battles ever put to film. Make no mistake. This is not Jackie Brown or Pulp Fiction. Here’s to doing what you want! Hail Quentin!

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Angelina Jolie could undoubtedly kick Drew, Lucy and Cameron’s collective butts. She may deserve an upgrade of a Tomb Raider film at some point, however. Ciaran (pronounced, apparently, like Kieran) Hinds (Road to Perdition, The Sum of All Fears) is the baddie, an international bioweapons salesman racing against Croft to find the legendary “Pandora’s Box” (the titular “Cradle”) and an ancient and deadly plague germ that resides within. Jolie, along the way, battles Simon Yam (Bullet in the Head) and teams up with Gerard Butler (Reign of Fire), and brings back colleagues played by Noah Taylor (last known as a certain young mister Hilter in Max) and Chris Barrie (known to BBC Sci-Fi fans from Red Dwarf, for which he will be in a feature version). And, duh, Angeliner is hot, duh….

Last Letter, The (La Dernière lettre) (France/ U.S., 2002)/ Saanjh (As Night Falls) (India/ U.S., 2000)
Two intense short films that played on one bill: The first, directed by Frederick Wiseman, features actress Catherine Samie’s emotional one woman performance, accompanied by her numerous shadows (in black and white), of a letter written by a mother to her son, as the Nazis take over her small Ukranian village. The other, a short film written and directed by Sabrina Dhawan (writer of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding), is about a low caste mother on a night train in India forced to give birth to twins, and her fellow passengers’ inevitable intrusion into a very private tragedy. After these intense films, I wanted some light, breezy enteratainment… like, say, The Hours

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The (2003)
Sean Connery (as Allan Quartermain) leads a Victorian-era super-team (including a Hindu Captain Nemo, an invisible man (not “the”), Mina Harker (TV’s La Femme Nikita, Peta Wilson), Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll/ Mister Hyde) in this adaptation of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s graphic series. Great production design, CGI (particularly on the team’s “Hulk,” Mister Hyde) and performances (particularly from Connery and Wilson, and Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge)) save the day!

Life of David Gale, The (2003)
If you thought Hollywood was getting preachy enough about the death penalty with Dead Man Walking, think again. Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet star in this thriller, with Spacey as the titular David Gale, an anti-death penalty activist, who has perhaps been wrongly accused of murder. Personally, I had the big “twist ending” of this one figured out halfway through, complete with who did exactly what to who. Then again, being a professional criminologist, this is all old hat to me, so maybe it will take you common folk longer. Snoogins. Anyway, despite some logic flaws, this proved entertaining enough.

Lilya-4 Ever (Denmark/ Sweden, 2002)
Yes, I have been emotionally mugged by a Swede. Lukas Moodysson’s brutal look at a young Estonian girl’s life full of hardship and betrayals, ultimately being sold into white slavery, is unflinchingly honest enough to make one squirm. With great performances by leads Oksana Akinshina and Artyom Bogucharsky, it is beautifully shot by Ulf Brantås, and directed by Moodysson (Together).

Lost in La Mancha (USA/ England, 2002)
The somewhat painfully intimate documentary of Terry Gilliam’s failed attempt to film his The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film plagued by contract disputes, language barriers, budget constraints, horrible weather,and, ultimately, major illness striking one of its’ would-be stars.

Lost in Translation (2003)
Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen (Ghost World) are, respectively, a married once popular actor and a young photographer’s wife, lost in the bustle and alien (to western eyes and ears) culture of Tokyo. Murray’s actor must make appearances and go on photo shoots endorsing a Japanese whiskey; Johanssen is the young wife, recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy, and largely trapped in her hotel room, stranded by her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi, barely used) in a city where she doesn’t speak the language. You might expect what follows to be filled with cultural clashes, a feeling of disconnected ennui, and eventual sexual tension, and you’d be entirely correct. That said, Murray and Johannsen are outstanding, playing well the chemistry of two travellers divorced from their normal contexts, and thrown together awkwardly. Ah, but while there is an affair involved, don’t try to second guess this movie, or underestimate its’ heart. This is as subtle as Bill Murray ever dares get (Rushmore sank him underwater…), but he makes it work, and he has more than able help in Johannsen, who does that whole cool (strawberry) blonde thing she is known for, but with more depth and emotion here than she is usually allowed. All that, and, well, we’ll always have Tokyo…

Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, Guy (Canada, 2001), playing with The Heart of the World (Canada, 2000)
Guy Maddin creates a black and white (and sometimes color) film version of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire tale, and he laces it with cleverly updated silent film tropes, and breaks the fourth wall of the theater stage to give the camera equal movement to its’ subjects. If you are a Dracula, dance or Mahler fan, you should check out this stylish film. Also played with his earlier “silent” film experiment, the more purely expressionist, “The Heart of the World”

Man without a Past, The (Finland, 2002)
Aki Kourismaki well deserved his Oscar nom for Best Foreign this year, for this quirky story about an amnesiac trying to rebuild his life after a mugging. It’s like a Finnish Coen brothers film… a good Coen brothers film.

Matchstick Men (2003)
Nicholas Cage turns in a good performance, and Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman give able support, but one wishes this comedy-drama about a phobic con-artist confronted with a long-lost daughter were less predictable and manipulative. Ah, well…

Matrix Reloaded, The (2003)
Keanu and company come back for a virtual round 2. The movie could use more of a focus on character, and a story of its’ own, but for all that it’s still a visual hoot and a half to watch. A let down? I don’t think so. I had fun.

Medallion, The (2003)
Jackie Chan does wire work, but it don’t mattuh, cause it’s JACKIE CHAN!!! WHOO-HOO!!! He’s yet another Hong Kong cop, this time facing off with Irish baddie Julian “Jeremy Irons couldn’t make it” Sands to save a “chosen” kid with a special power having to do with an ancient medallion. Claire Forlani has better kicks here than Love-Hewitt in Tuxedo, but less chemistry, and Lee Evans gets to play a lower grade Johnny English agent, but the Jackie fun will out. It’s an unstoppable force of good will that will save even movies this silly.

Mighty Wind, A (2003)
Christopher Guest and his expert comic collaborators (including the fantastic Eugene Levy, and Spinal Tap co-horts Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) forge another great “mockumentary,” this time taking aim at the world of “classic pop-folk” (i.e., the Weavers, Ian and Sylvia, Peter Paul and Mary, Up with People, etc.), in this tale of a reunion concert that finds its’ surprising heart in the story of Eugene Levy’s mentally bruised and battered folk veteran Mitch. Oh, yeah, and did I mention I was frequently doubled over and in tears laughing?

Morvern Callar (England, 2002)
A nearly pure cinematic exploration of a character who we find laying next to a dead loved one as the film begins. This film gets by largely on the measured emotional performance of Samantha Morton.

Mystic River (2003)
An impressively dramatic tragedy, in the most classic sense of the world. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon play childhood buddies estranged by an incident of kidnapping and pedophilia, that left the adult Robbins character, years later, a mentally addled mess. When Penn’s daughter’s body is found, brutally and senselessly beaten, his thirst for vengeance leads irrevocably to greater tragedy, as Bacon’s cop strives to uncover the truth of her mysterious death with his partner (Laurence Fishburne). Ultimately the vortex of pain and senseless violence may also claim the souls of Penn and Robbins’s wives (Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden). Make no mistake, it’s dark stuff, but the performances are absolutely riveting (particularly Robbins, Penn and Hardin). This may be the best Eastwood film ever, Unforgiven being the only competition.

Narc (2002)
A surprisingly pudgy Ray Liotta (pulling a “Cop Land”-era Stallone-like transformation) and Jason Patric star in this tight little crime drama, about a narcotics officer and his partner’s death from possibly very foul play.
Northfork (2003)

A film from the Polish Brothers that I fully expected to be another example of Oscar begging from an otherwise relatively unpretentious summer movie season. Nope! This is one of those little films on a mission to restore the good name of “quirky.” It ends up being a wonderfully weird fantasy about angels in a small Montana town destined to be flooded away by the building of a new dam. Or is it the fevered fantasy of a young dying boy? If you’ve no flavor for the strangenesses of Twin Peaks or Northern Exposure, or are left cold by controlled experiments in the filmic uses of color, then stay away. Otherwise, enjoy the performances of James Woods as one of a pack of mysterious government men, Nick Nolte as the local reverend, and Daryl Hannah and Anthony Edwards as two of a group of very strange angels.

Nowhere in Africa (Germany, 2002)
Director Caroline Link brings this story to the screen, the story of a family of Jewish emigres turned migrant farmers in British occupied Kenya during the second World War. Fascinating story, powerfully told and beautifully photographed on location in Kenya. Juliane Köhler shines particularly as Jettel, the young wife and mother who gradually comes to thrive in her family’s new life. Sidede Onyulo is also great as their native cook, Owuor, as are Lea Kurka and (later) Karoline Eckertz as the daughter Regina.

Old School (2003)
Wlll Ferrell, Vince Vaughan and Luke Wilson are wasted on a movie that could have been so much more fun for being so stupid. Alas, it is largely awash in the waters of unfunnyness.

On Guard! (France, 1997)
Daniel Auteuil (The Closet, Sade, Manon of the Spring) and Vincent Perez (Queen of the Damned, The Crow: City of Angels) lead a French cast in what is at least the fifth cinematic telling of the story of the Swashbuckling tale, Le Bossu, in which the bastard daughter of an eighteenth century noble is orphaned, and raised by the noble’s loyal bodyguard, until the day she may make her claim upon the family’s fortunes.

On_Line (2002)
The movie that dares to answer the question: does a script and performances on the level of “MTV’s Undressed” qualify Jed Weintrob as “independent”? Maybe. It also qualifies this snoozer as pretty mediocre. Oh, well. At least Harold Perrineau got that extra screen time this summer between Matrix sequels.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Mexico/ USA, 2003)
Wild, kinetic and vibrant… this movie kicks ass!!! Robert Rodriguez wrote, directed, “shot,chopped and scored” this piece which ups the action ante, while effectively being an homage to the broad operatic action of Sergio Leone (as opposed to the previous Desperado’s tribute to John Woo). It’s spare as a character piece, at least in terms of dialogue, but there may be no better example of simple but powerful visual storytelling in such a vivid action piece this year. Antonio Banderas, Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek and Cheech Marin return, though not all necessarily reprising their roles. Look also for strong suppport from Ruben Blades, Enrique Iglesias and Eva Mendes. Instead of continuing along a linear path from Desperado, Rodriguez instead builds off the mystique of his El Mariachi legend, with Johnny Depp along as a C.I.A. manipulator, who may discover that fate has more in store for him than he had planned for. Don’t miss this, action fans!!!

One-hundred (100) Stories (2002) (with 3 shorts in loops: Fences, Panorama and Tunnel (all 2002))
Where’d this come from??? Real Art Ways premiered this movie in a gallery show, so indie that Imdb has not one thing listed on this 90 minute feature length museum piece by video artist Pierre St-Jacques. The feature follows three characters: a young urban professional woman working as an administrative assistant; an avaricious and arrogant male executive, the woman’s boss at a suspicious bio-tech firm; and a male bike messenger dedicated to revolutionary ideals, and possibly violence to bring them about. Plays/ played in the room being developed as their microcinema, with three shorts playing in loops in the main gallery, exploring different styles of moving images, moving through tunnels, around city street corners and over fenced-in landscapes.

Only The Strong Survive (2003)
Husband and wife documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus turn their cameras toward Memphis to document the rise of the soul scene from that city, with wonderful performance footage from the now-late Rufufs Thomas and his daughter Carla, Mary Wilson and a shockingly spry and astounding Wilson Pickett. All this, and it doesn’t seem to fear laying the blame for corporate greed where it belongs.

Open Range (2003)
One of this years’ true shockers! A really decent Kevin Costner film, and a memorable western at that! Costner ably fills the boots of the former gunfighter turned wandering rancher, who is called back into action (shades of many a Clint vehicle, whose Unforgiven bares comparison here) when he and his fellow free rangers are threatened by a greedy, jealous and murderous land owner (Michael Gambon, in an anti-Costner villainous turn almost as fun as that of Alan Rickman’s Sheriff in Prince of Thieves). Robert DuVall lands a movie at least minimally worthy of his talents (after this year’s horrible Gods and Generals), and brings some feeling and sincerity to his Boss Spearman, so much more than a “sidekick” to Costner. The late Michael Jeter even gets to flesh out his character which so easily could have been a simple minded Gabby Hayes take. Annette Bening is a tough and pretty marm for Costner to fall for, and Diego Luna and Abe Benrubi give very able support as the junior free-rangers. What a nice surprise!

Out of Time (2003)
Denzel Washington plays the patsy in this effective Florida Noir from director Carl Franklin (One False Move), which has him as the Sherriff of a small town in the Florida Keys, tied up in an infidelity (with the married Sanaa Lathan, behind the back of goateed Dean Cain), which eventually leads to him as the main suspect in an arson, a double homicide, insurance fraud and misappropriation of evidence. As usual, Denzel plays this all tensely and smartly, with able support from soon-to-be ex-wife Eva Mendes (Once Upon a Time in Mexico) and his buddy from the medical examiner’s office, John Billingsley (TV’s Enterprise). Good stuff.

Outskirts (Russia, 2003)
A dark deadpan comedy about a group of Russian farmers fighting to stop corporate encroachment on their village in the Steppes from first time director Pyotr Lutsik. Plays much like Jim Jarmusch, or Barton Fink/ Miller’s Crossing Coen brothers, but in lush black and white, with a deliberate style, that seems to back up assumptions that this was intended as a parody of sorts of Soviet era propaganda films… as crossed with Straw Dogs…

Pianist, The (England/ France/ Germany/ Netherlands/ Poland, 2002)
Roman Polanski’s retelling of the survivor memoirs of Wladislaw Szpilman is relentless in its’ attention to every detail, the ugly, the less ugly and the downright horrifying. Szpilman (Adrian Brody (Saving Private Ryan)) almost randomly spared the horrors of the Nazi death camps, instead wandered through the horrors of occupied (or ruined) Warsaw. Brody gives a powerful performance in what you should expect was a harrowing tale, and Polanski’s own youthful experience escaping from Poland (at roughly the same time) no doubt was brought to bear in this film as well.

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Johnny Depp has a blast playing pirate, and brings us along for the ride, in this CGI-filled ghost pirate epic, with great action of exploding and sword fighting varieties, and crisp support from Leira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham), Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Geoffrey Rush (in his most fun villainous turn since Mystery Men).

Princess Blade, The (Japan, 2001)
Once again, Kazuo Koike gets a good film made from his manga ideas (and, yes, Road to Perdition counts as one of them), in this action packed little apocalyptic future/ sword and wire work drama. Yuki (played by then 23 year old Japanese pop star Yumiko Shaku) is part of a clan of rogue assassins, the Takemikazuchi, who used to work for the government, but are now mercenaries. When Yuki is told that she is, in fact, a Princess of the clan, and that her mother’s death was in fact caused by an ambitious and ruthless fellow assassin (Hideaki Ito), her life changes, she is hunted and, brother THE SWORDS START FLYING! Action choreographer Donnie Yen (last seen on these shores as JACKIE CHAAAN’s nemesis in Shanghai Knights) turns in a small kinetic masterpiece, and Yumiko Shaku, Yoichi Numata (her mother’s former retainer, who is as handy with an umbrella as he is with a katana) and Hideaki Ito all turn in fine performances, though the movie could have used some more time to resolve certain things, and musical touches get away from them every once in a while. Still, ripping good stuff…

Recruit, The (2003)
Al Pacino chews at tiny pieces of the scenery, as is his want, but it’s all about Colin Farrell, the Psychedelic One’s pick for the next James Bond. He gets ample practice here, playing the CIA trainee recruited for a mole hunt by Pacino. Bridget Moynahan may be that mole. Decent, slightly above average action.

Rivers And Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time (Germany, 2001)
A surprisingly appealing documentary about Goldsworthy, an artist/sculptor, who often sets up “installations” (e.g., egg-shaped sculptures) constructed from found materials (at the beach, he constructs the egg in the tide, from found shards of stone; an ice egg, meanwhile, stands curiously on an ice flow). The art and its’ process are equally interesting, as is the artist.

Runaway Jury (2003)
Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to “JohnGrishamLand,” the world where gun companies brought to court on civil wrongful death suits lose because the jury “votes their hearts.” If you’ve seen “A Time to Kill,” or vrtually any other Grisham adaptation, you’ll know this is the dumbed down par-for-the-course version of law, the one where the law gets circumvented, not by the evil baddies who do so for their own ends, but by the good guys, so that makes it all right, doesn’t it? A great cast turns in very watchable work, despite it all. John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Jeremy Piven make it bearable, if not feasible. Hey! John! It’s all right to have a downer ending! Really! Now would you drop that stupid “Oliver Stone” lawsuit, too…?

Russian Ark (Russia/ Germany, 2002)
This film follows two wandering figures (ghosts?) as they move through history and the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, once the winter palace of the Russian Czars. Most amazing, of course, is that it was all shot in one continuous take. Least amazing is that its’ otherwise largely devoid of an involving story. “Stunt” cinema has seen better.

S.W.A.T. (2003)
Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez head up the list of new recruits for this updating of the 70’s series. And in that vein, it’s fairly straight ahead, no nonsense action all the time. Also pretty darn predictable.

Scary Movie 3 (2003)
Following in the fine tradition of the first two horror parodies, only now it’s mediocre laughs with less gross out humor. Zuckers and Kevin Smith should have known better.

School of Rock, The (2003)
This project finds Jack Black reteamed with his Orange County scribe, Mike White (The Good Girl) and both teamed with another man of indie stature, Richard Linklater. So what happens? A pretty commercial outing of a comedy about a down and out struggling rock musician (Black) who fakes his way into a substitute teaching gig at a private elementary school, only to find students eager to learn… about ROCK!!! Yeah, the Tenacious one’s edges have been softened a tad, but they’ve turned out a film that’s too cute and irresistible to complain about. The kids (especially Joey Gaydos (lead guitar), Maryam Hassan (Tomika, the shy singer), Kevin Clark (the punked out drummer), and Miranda Cosgrove (the “band manager” whose mother only catches on to the surreptitious band project when her daughter is talking more about David Geffen than, say, Harry Potter) are great, as are Joan Cusack and Mike White (who plays the “real” substitute that Jack impersonates, Ned Schneebly). And it neatly avoids most of the sex and drug references. Dig it! Bring the kids!

Sea Is Watching, The (Japan, 2002)
When it comes to determining a “best of” list of any kind of visual art, sheer beauty goes a long way, and, WOW, does this movie have it in spades. This is only cinematographer Kazuo Okuhara’s second film listed on IMDB (also his second with veteran director Kei Kumai), but he made every frame of this movie gorgeous and watchable, even when it dealt with the uglier side of its’ subject matter, the plight of a group of prostitutes in a village east of Edo in the 19th century (Edo would eventually become Tokyo). This is, of course, directed from a script by the late cinema master Akira Kurosawa, and anyone with even a passing knowledge of his Samurai tales (i.e., Rashomon, The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo) would recognize this as a passionate visual tribute to the old master, who died in 1998. Kumai (whose own work is nowhere near as exposed over on these shores (i.e., Sanakan 8)) was born twenty four years after Kurosawa, and directed his first film in 1964. His absorption of Kurosawa’s visual style here, while perhaps too predictable, is heartfelt and, largely, unavoidable. A strong cast delivers including Misa Shimizu (as the older, perhaps wiser, prostitute, who is the regular client of a boorish yakuza thug), and Nagiko Tono (as O-Shin, the hopeful younger prostitute who falls in love too easily with her clients). Sure, it’s a soap opera, but it’s awash in the beautiful colors and design work of Takeo Kimura and Kazuko Kurosawa (costume designer, and you-know-who’s daughter), beautiful period sets and effects work, and, one feels, a tangent of the moral world Kurosawa’s samurai period heroes often inhabited. Outstanding work.

Seabiscuit (2003)
Aaaarrrrrgh! O.K., I know I’m in the minority here, but this movie was in DEEP danger of sinking itself under its’ own pomposity. Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper and Jeff Bridges all brought their various charms and considerable acting abilities to bear on a script that AVOIDS really dealing with the characters, taking the occasion of this feature film to insert pointless narrations by David McCullough into a film which WAS ALREADY TELLING US THE EXACT SAME THINGS CINEMATICALLY!!! YES, I’M VAGUELY AWARE THAT THE U.S. HAD THIS PHOENOMENON CALLED THE GREAT DEPRESSION!! YES, I SEE THE BREADLINES AND PICTURES OF PEOPLE HUDDLED AROUND RADIOS!!! TELL IT VISUALLY, DAMMIT!!! THIS IS NOT WHAT I GO TO MOVIES FOR!!! THIS IS WHAT I SIT HOME TO WATCH PBS FOR!!! THIS IS DRAMA NOT DOCUMENTARY!!! HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING FROM THE HISTORICALLY SLAVISH/ DRAMATICALLY BEREFT GODS AND GENERALS???? That said (and loudly, thank you very much), the horse racing scenes looked marvellous, and was one of the few areas where the attention paid to details paid off dramatically. Oh, and Elizabeth Banks was a boring clotheshorse, to continue a theme…

Secret Lives of Dentists, The (2002)
Campbell Scott and Hope Davis give excellent performances in an Altman-esque Jane Smiley adaptation. Also great are their three children (Lydia Jordan (Gods and Generals… got my sympathy, kid…), Gianna Beleno and Cassidy Hinkle (The youngest, who, of course, gets the best lines)), Denis Leary (as a patient, and, eventually, Scott’s mental tormentor) and Robin Tunney are all great in this oddly paced dark comedy about infidelity, suspicion and parenthood.

Shanghai Knights (2003)
Owen Wilson and JACKIE CHAAAANNN!!!! Return in this sequel to their Western Martial Arts buddy picture, this time in 1887 England, trying to foil twin coups (of the thrones of China and England, respectively), and to avenge the murder of Chon Wang’s (Jackie’s) father. Owen Wilson oozes abundant buddy-film chemistry, and Jackie Chan flies, flips and kicks his way to another well deserved hit. Add a touch of Brisco County Jr. style anachronism humor, and you’ve got just an irresistible bunch of fun!

Shaolin Soccer (Hong Kong/ U.S.A., 2001) (Not yet released in U.S.!)
Stephen Chow, star, director and co-writer, serves up an irresistible and gut-bustingly hilarious stew of sports and martial arts action, satire and off the wall… action. Did I say action? Did I say gut bustingly funny? Good. Hope Miramax doesn’t butcher it.

Spellbound (2002)
Oscar nominated doc from last year tells the story of eight kids going to the national spelling bee in Washington, and gets up close and personal with them at the moments of truth. Besides the human tales on display here, this film could improve your spelling. And did I mention it’s damn fine entertainment, too?

Spider (France/ Canada/ England, 2002)
Ralph Fiennes delivers a memorable performance in this restrained, low-key Cronenberg about a schizophrenic man trying to piece together the puzzle of his childhood. Miranda Richardson is stunning in a multi-faceted performance, and also in the great cast are Lynn Redgrave, Gabriel Byrne and John Neville.

Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003)
Juni and Carmen return in another Robert Rodriguez attempted kids’ adventure romp, this one a Spy Kids remake of Tron. It has its’ moments, all of them green screened. With all the money this one will make, plus the other two, it’s about damn time Rodriguez spent it on something like, say, a Desperado sequel…? Afterthought: Oh. Did it all in his home you say? (Sigh). Oh well. I’ve seen much worse…

Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002)
Documentary which, while missing the opportunity to truly air the stories of corporate greed that ruined the carreers of many members of the ledgendary “Funk Brothers,” Motown’s principal pack of backing musicians, does offer much concert footage with the reunited surviving “brothers” backing such later luminaries as Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Joan Osbourne (with a great version of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”), Chaka Khan and Ben Harper.

Stone Reader (2002)
Filmmaker Mark Moskowitz personalizes his story of his search for the lost author of a thirty-year old novel, “The Stones of Summer,” the elusive Dow Mossman, drawing us into his obsessive search with a meditative visual style, and his genuine love of the printed word (and, of course, the projected moving image).

Swimming Pool (France/ England, 2003)
This is my second Francois Ozon film, and, I must say… huh? This film finds Charlotte Rampling playing a British mystery writer vacationing in the South of France in her publisher’s little villa. Unexpected is the arrival of his young half-French daughter (Ludivine Sagnier), and her sexually free-wheeling ways, which leads, perhaps to violence and murder. Ozon’s film, and its’ two fantastic leads kept me watching, but… WHAT WAS THAT ENDING???

Taking Sides (England/ France/ Germany/ Austria, 2003)
Harvey Keitel and Stellan Skarsgaard face off, in this historically based debate over the relationships between art and politics. Keitel is the U.S. investigator assigned to interrogate Skarsgaard’s great conductor, formerly of the Berlin Philharmonic. Moritz Bleibtreu is the young officer assigned to report on Keitel’s progress, Birgit Minichmayr is Keitel’s German secretary who develops feelings for Bleibtreu, and shares his pity for the fallen conductor.

Tears of the Sun (2003)
Antoine Fuqua has Bruce Willis doing his darndest John Wayne impersonation, and he still can’t pull off a good movie. Fuqua turns in, instead, a knuckle headed bit of propaganda, designed to excuse an American foreign military adventure (in this case, in a neverwas Nigeria).

Ted Bundy (2002)
Michael Reilly Burke tries to bring something to this portrayal of Bundy and his serial killing exploits, but exploit, as in “exploitation,” is the main word here. Go watch American Psycho for a deeper, and more watchable, look at the same subject.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
AHH-NOLD returns for a somewhat lighter outing as the Terminator, but nonetheless fun, with plenty of explosive action, and a somewhat braver ending than T2, if not better generally than that film.

Thirteen (2003)
Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood do battle as a mother and her thirteen year old daughter, who is just going through a phase. Unfortunately, this phase includes a lot of experimenting with drugs and sex, sending the daughter into a downward spiral of self-destruction. Co-written by Nikki Reed (who plays the daughter’s wild friend, and was thirteen when she first drafted this script) and director Catherine Hardwicke. Holly Hunter is again excellent, with good enough support from Jeremy Sisto, but Wood is the center of this often difficult to watch movie (though Kids was honestly more shocking).

Twenty-eight (28) Days Later (Netherlands/ England/ USA, 2002)
Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting) redoes the zombie genre and while it is not “scary…as…hell,” it is a thoughtful, moody little action character piece, as a London bike messenger wakes up from a coma following an accident, only to find his country ravaged by the virus “Rage,” a contagion that turns its’ victims into mindless, deadly cannibals. And I REALLY like that second ending (see re-release, mid-July)

Twenty-fifth (25th) Hour (2002)
Spike, oh, Spike… ya been bamboozled by your own worst habits. Coulda been great. Squanders the fine talents of this excellent cast (Ed Norton, Rosario Dawson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin) on also ran ideas from Lee’s other films (even his recent production about 9-11) that are bad fits on this story of a “nice guy/ drug dealer” heading to jail. Oh, and Terence Blanchard’s out of control, over the top score was driving me nuts!!!

Tycoon: A New Russian (France/ Germany/ Russia, 2002)
It's a Russian take on the Godfather and Citizen Kane, about the rise to the post communist new Russian oligarchy of a group of friends (featuring lead Vladimir Mashkov as a fictional version of real oligarch Boris Berezovsky). Predictably, it turns into a fable of the spiritual erosion of individuals who seek power and money, no matter the virtue of their intentions. Also predictably, it's a juicy tale of greed, ambition and sex in the "new Russia." Compelling stuff.

Under The Skin Of The City (Iran, 2001)
Another great little Iranian family drama. Who’da thunk it? Tuba is a middle aged mother, still working in a factory, trying to make ends meet, while her oldest son dreams of moving to Paris.

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Can anyone say, “charming”? Sure. I knew you could. Diane Lane is absolutely adorable as a writer fresh off a divorce from her unfaithful husband of many years. Her friends, wanting to push her out of her understandable depression, by sending her alone on a (gay) romantic tour of Tuscany. Of course, she falls in love with the landscape, the people and the architecture, and who wouldn’t? And, of course, like all moderately successful, newly divorced writers, she can just scrape together enough cash to buy a lovely little fixer-upper of a villa, from a lovely old Italian contessa. She also meets a lovely older woman who offers her lessons learned from Fellini, helps her lovely newly dumped lesbian friend give birth, has a lovely affair, and… well, it’s all quite lovely. And adorable. And charming. Did I say charming?

Underworld (2003)
It’s all beastly Lycanthropes and vampires in form fitting leather, spandex and dusters. And guns. Lots of guns. For all that, it’s a lot of gory fun, with Kate Beckinsale poured into her costume as a vamp Juliet of sorts to Scott Speedman’s possibly lycan romeo, in this quick, cheap little actioner about vampires and werewolves in a state of urban warfare.

Veronica Guerin (2003)
Cate Blanchett plays the titular crusading Irish journalist who fought against the barons of the Dublin drug scene in the mid-nineties, but in trying too hard to beatify her quest to bring the brutal thugs to justice, Joel Schumacher and Jerry Bruckheimer fail to make but the most cardboard attempts to make anyone seem terribly human or approachable. Ciaran Hinds tries to lend support, and Colin Farrell appears briefly, but it’s a big budget movie from a script with the dimensions of a Lifetime TV flick. Too bad.

View from the Top (2003)
Light hearted and, ultimately, lightweight Gwyneth Paltrow fair, about a small town girl training to be a glamorous flight attendant. The only real laughs come from Mike Myers as one of her mentors.

Way Home, The (Jibuero) (South Korea, 2002)
Eul-boon Kim and Seung-ho Yu form a generation-gapped “Odd Couple” as, respectively, an ancient mute of a rural grandmother and her spoiled brat of a grandson who is sent to stay in her rural home, and faces a great big culture shock, far from his electronics, video games and fast food (“Kentucky Chick-ennnn!” as he whines). Little kids whining hasn’t been this much fun to watch since A Christmas Story.

Whale Rider (New Zealand / Germany, 2002)
Niki Caro’s wonderful, mystical and moody tale of a little girl’s quest to fulfill her ancestral destiny to become her Maori tribe’s heir to the chiefdom, and her battle of wills with her strictly traditional grandfather. Beautiful.

Willard (2003)
Crispin Glover in the role he was born to play in this Glen Morgan (X-Files, Reign of Fire) helmed remake of the 70’s cult horror classic about a withdrawn young man and his bizarre ability to command an army of rats. R. Lee Ermey and Elena Harring are also quite memorable, with great and witty artistic touches in the design of the film as well.
Winged Migration (France / Italy / Germany / Spain / Switzerland, 2001)
Beautiful documentary with jaw dropping shots of its’ subjects, a variety of flocks of birds, migrating all over the world. Geese, Cranes, Gannets and many other species are filmed up close and personally, in flight and at rest, at almost impossibly close range. Incredible.

X2 (2003)
Ladies and Gentlemen… I am 12 again. Thank you Bryan Singer, for being a director who cares about dem comic books, and thank you Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Alan Cumming, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox for conbtributing to the ripping good time. The Hulk was supposed to top this???