Nicolas Cage, who throughout the past decade has been more grating than ingratiating, here delivers one of his better performances in a movie that mines much of the same emotional terrain as About Schmidt. A serio-comic piece written by Steven Conrad, this finds Cage cast as David Spritz, a Chicago TV weatherman whose lack of legitimate credentials hasnt slowed down his career ascension. One of the final candidates for the weatherman position on the nationally televised morning show Hello, America, David realizes that if he lands the gig, he would have to relocate to New York City, a move that he hopes would bring his family back together. Gore Verbinski may have directed the smashes Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring, but hes clearly not planning on coasting the rest of his career: The man who previously gave us the only decent Home Alone rip-off (Mouse Hunt) as well as a loopy star vehicle that pissed off the masses (the Pitt-Roberts yarn The Mexican) has now tackled an affecting tale about a man who has trouble seeing the big picture because all of lifes little asides keep obstructing his view. The films sensibilities are just off-center enough to make it interesting, yet theres always a tug of universal recognition in Davids travails.
THE LEGEND OF ZORRO PPP
Its been seven years since the delightful swashbuckling adventure The Mask of Zorro hit theaters, and the lengthy interim suggests that this follow-up was largely an afterthought on the part of Columbia Pictures. Maybe so, but at least nobody can accuse this of being hastily put together to cash in on the success of the first film. Set approximately nine years after the conclusion of Mask, this finds Don Alejandro de la Vega (returning star Antonio Banderas) having trouble shedding his day job as Zorro in order to spend more time with his lovely wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and rambunctious young son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). But once Alejandro learns of a criminal plan that threatens not only California but the rest of the nation as well, he steps back into his role as the other Man In Black, receiving some unexpected help along the way from his own kid. The presence of Anthony Hopkins (who played the original, aging Zorro in the first film) is sorely missed, but Banderas and Zeta-Jones remain a sexy and spirited screen couple.
A pretty ironic title for a film that will be hard-pressed to keep audience members in their seats for even 15 of its pretentious minutes. This movie mind-bender stars Ewan McGregor as Sam Foster, a psychiatrist with a formerly suicidal patient as his girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and an intriguing new case study under his care. That would be Henry Lethem (The Notebooks Ryan Gosling), a disturbed artist who plans to commit suicide on his 21st birthday.
Anyone heading into Capote expecting an exhaustive expose on the literary lion and social raconteur might be disappointed to learn that this film focuses exclusively on the period when Truman Capote researched and wrote his nonfiction masterpiece In Cold Blood. Almost everything you need to know about this incident -- and, therefore, Capote's viewpoint -- can be found in Richard Brooks' superb 1967 screen version of In Cold Blood. But the selling point in Capote is the excellent lead performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that character actor extraordinaire who has contributed finely etched portrayals to such films as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia. Constantly punctuating the air with his whispery wit and entertaining other people as if to the diva manner born, Hoffman's Capote is an odd figure against the barren backdrop of the Kansas flatlands, where he has come to learn about the brutal murders of a respected family of four.
Stating that Doom is probably the best of the numerous flicks based on a video game ranks as the feeblest praise imaginable, akin to noting that benign genital herpes is the best sexually transmitted disease to acquire, or that strawberry is the best tasting Schnapps flavor. Doom rips off Aliens at every turn (at least its makers steal from the best), as a group of military grunts find themselves combating vicious creatures at a manned outpost in outer space. Led by the gruff Sarge (The Rock), the outfit consists of the usual stock characters: reluctant hero, nervous novice, perpetual whiner, wisecracking black guy, monolithic black guy, and so on. And, of course, theres a pretty lady scientist (Rosamund Pike) to mollify red-meat moviegoers by functioning as eye candy to go along with the expected quota of guns n gore.
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK PPP1/2
George Clooneys important new film thats as much about 2005 as 1954 features a veritable Whos Who on both sides of the cast list. Theres David Strathairn as legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow, Clooney himself as producer Fred Friendly, Frank Langella as CBS head William Paley and Senator Joseph McCarthy as George W. Bush? Karl Rove? Bill OReilly? One things for sure: Clooney makes it abundantly clear that McCarthy is not simply playing McCarthy. Good Night, And Good Luck, which marks Clooneys second stint as director, looks at an inspiring moment in U.S. history, when Murrow, more or less backed by an uneasy CBS, did the unthinkable by standing up to Joe McCarthy, the junior Senator from Wisconsin who destroyed lives by denouncing everyone who didnt subscribe to his petty politics (liberals, the ACLU, Hollywood) as card-carrying Commie Pinkos. Filmed in crisp black and white, rarely does the movie stray from the confines of the CBS studios. The movies stroke of genius, however, is in its masterful integration of actual newsreel footage into the fictionalized framework. No actor was hired to play Joe McCarthy because none was needed: The Senator is entirely represented through archival footage seen on TV screens. Apparently, Clooney felt that no performer could have captured this odious individual, and he may have been right: Watching this oily politician rant and rave from the blocky dimensions of a TV monitor is in itself enough to strike fear into the hearts of upstanding American viewers.
NORTH COUNTRY PP1/2
North Country is loosely based on a true story, and itd be interesting if transcripts from the actual trials surrounding this tale were made available at the films screenings. That way, we could see for ourselves if the courtroom shenanigans were really as difficult to swallow as the ones that conclude this film. Inspired by this nations first successful sexual harassment lawsuit, the movie stars Charlize Theron as a single mom who returns to her Minnesota hometown and lands a job in the local mines. One of only a handful of women who work there, she has to contend with the incessant torment perpetrated by the yahoos who work alongside her, good ol boys who dont believe that girls have any business laboring in the mines. Tired of their lewd taunts and cruel pranks, she decides to take the company to court, a decision that alienates her from practically everyone, including the women who abhor their own treatment but refuse to cause waves. North Country is directed by New Zealands Niki Caro, and her primary asset is Charlize Theron, who again demonstrates (as if there was any doubt after Monster) that shes a master thespian residing within a models body.
Armed with the cinematic excesses that made his last picture, Man On Fire, near-unwatchable, director Tony Scott this time tackles the based-on-fact saga of Domino Harvey. By all appearances, Domino led a fascinating life: The daughter of English actor Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate), this tomboy quickly gave up the lifestyle of the rich and famous to forge her own path as a bounty hunter. Armed with a script inexplicably penned by Richard Kelly (the writer-director of the excellent cult flick Donnie Darko), Scott chooses to ignore many of the smaller details of Dominos hard-scrabble existence to fashion an oft-times impenetrable action flick about a trio of bounty hunters involved in a scam. As the title character, Keira Knightley is required only to snarl on cue, while Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez are equally lifeless as her fellow bounty hunters.
Taking a well-worn formula and adding some flavor through the rich characterizations of its leading players, Dreamer centers on the circumstances that transpire when horse trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) and his young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) elect to nurse an injured race horse named Sonador (Spanish for Dreamer) back to health. Planning to use the mare for breeding purposes until learning shes infertile, the financially strapped Ben, with constant prodding by his daughter as well as his own crusty dad (Kris Kristofferson), decides to take a chance on prepping her for competition contention. Many child stars are either sloppily sentimental or coldly calculating, and while Fanning has occasionally veered toward the latter, she delivers her warmest performance in this picture.
With Elizabethtown, director Cameron Crowe seeks to honor the memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in 1989. Its a noble endeavor but a disappointing movie, as engaging individual scenes fail to disguise either the slackness or superficiality of the piece. Orlando Bloom, nothing special but getting the job done, stars as Drew Baylor, a failed shoe designer who temporarily shelves his own demons in order to attend the funeral of his dad back in the title Kentucky town. Along the way, he meets a chatty flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who stirs him out of his stupor.
TWO FOR THE MONEY P1/2
Ever since winning that Oscar for Scent of a Woman (still the worst con job ever to snag a Best Actor statue), Al Pacino has elected to Hoo-ah! his way through almost every subsequent role. Pacinos back in full manic mode in Two for the Money, a malnourished morality tale not dissimilar in structure to the other Pacino vehicles in which he serves as a shady mentor to a hot young actor. Here, he plays Walter Abrams, the head of a sports consulting firm who finds his protege in Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey), a former college football star permanently sidelined by a leg injury.
IN HER SHOES PPP
Schmaltz-loving women will grab their tissues while Neanderthal males will roll their eyes. But In Her Shoes isnt designed for any of these people; instead, it will attract viewers who have little use for rigid societal labels and who anticipate a well-crafted blend of comedy and pathos. The picture stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette as Maggie and Rose, two sisters who have nothing in common except their shoe size. In this case, the ties that bind have been shredded down to a mere string, one which snaps when Maggie cruelly betrays Rose in an act of astonishing thoughtlessness. Banished by her older sister, Maggie heads to Florida to meet Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine), the grandmother she only recently learned she had.
Writer-director Rob McKittrick obviously views his pet project as the new Clerks, but whereas that Kevin Smith gem featured genuine wit beneath the rampant vulgarity, Waiting is merely puerile, crammed with incessant employment of the F word (fag, that is) and featuring more unkempt pubic hair than any picture this side of a 50s-era stag film. Ryan Reynolds plays the veteran employee at an eatery in the Applebees/Bennigans mold. Hes assigned to show the new kid (John Francis Daley) the ropes, and the story kicks into high gear once he explains to the rookie that every male employee must trick the other guys into looking at his exposed genitalia.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE PPP1/2
In the same manner that David Lynch deconstructed the myth of the squeaky-clean small Southern town in Blue Velvet, so does director David Cronenberg take a hatchet to the façade of bland Midwestern homeliness. The movie establishes the proper tone from the start, as two men check out of their motel in the grisliest way imaginable. From here, we jump to the home of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a hard-working café owner blessed with a devoted wife named Edie (Maria Bello) and two children. Toms peaceful existence disappears the night that a pair of murderous strangers bust into his diner. Tom kills the intruders, which in turn leads to his national status as a hero. This widespread exposure brings more strangers to town -- gruff mobster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his two flunkies. Viggo Mortensen, formerly a wretched actor who has matured in leaps and bounds these last few years, was a wise choice -- its impossible to read anything on his passive face, thus making it hard to gauge whether or not hes telling the truth about his past.
WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT ***1/2
Not only the best animated flick of the year but also one of the most enjoyable outings in any genre. In this yarn, Wallace and his silent sidekick have taken it upon themselves to rid their burgs rabbits by forming a pest control outfit called Anti-Pesto. Using Wallaces latest invention, the Bun-Vac 6000, the team is able to humanely capture all the bunnies that have been helping themselves to the neighbors garden patches.
TIM BURTONS CORPSE BRIDE PPP
Based on a Russian folk tale yet set in Victorian England, Corpse Bride finds Johnny Depp as the voice of Victor Van Dort, a shy lad whos set to marry a shy lass named Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). While practicing his vows he places the ring on a branch, only to watch in horror as the branch reveals itself to be the finger of a corpse that rises from the ground. This is Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), who died on her wedding night and whos been waiting ever since for her true love. Corpse Bride is a marvel of craft and imagination, yet whats most surprising is its ability to make us care about Bonham Carters character.
Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster), a recent widow catching a flight along with her six-year-old daughter, becomes frantic once the girl disappears during the course of the flight. The entire premise rests on the fact that no one else aboard the plane, from the crew to the passengers, ever once caught a glimpse of the moppet, thereby establishing in their minds Kyle as a woman whos delusional and possibly dangerous. Director Robert Schwentke exhibits aptitude in his ability to stage confrontations between Kyle and her doubters, while the recreation of a jumbo airliner provides the film with a setting that feels as expansive and full of mystery as Baskerville Hall.
Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book, Hidden Figures places Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) at the forefront, relating how she was tapped for her skills as a mathematician to help NASA’s Space Task Group (headed by Kevin Costner’s tough but fair director) crunch the numbers needed to successfully send astronaut John Glenn (winningly played by Glen Powell) into space and have him safely return to Earth.