Theres a funny moment in De-Lovely when, after a screening of the Cole Porter biopic Night and Day (starring Cary Grant), Cole (Kevin Kline) turns to his wife Linda (Ashley Judd) and cracks, If I can survive this movie, I can survive anything. Cole Porter will not only survive De-Lovely but may well find his already lofty reputation enhanced by it at least to a younger generation. As a musical, its a dandy, using an innovative framing device and sharp cameos by todays music stars (Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole and more) to capture the passion that Cole poured into his tunes. Coles homosexuality isnt MIA as it understandably was in the Grant version from 1946, and Winkler and scripter Jay Cocks paint a rich picture of a life marked by both success and excess. Kline was the perfect choice to play Cole Porter, and Judds sympathetic portrayal of Linda reminds us how fine an actress she can be when she tears herself away from inane thrillers. As for the music well, the genius who created such enduring classics as Anything Goes and Lets Misbehave certainly needs no boost from me.
I, ROBOT PPP
Every summer needs one massive mega-bomb to balance the scales, a Battlefield Earth or Gigli to serve as an easy target for smart-aleck critics, derisive audiences and bloodthirsty rival studios. Among this years candidates was I, Robot, which finds Will Smith shoehorned into a high-tech yarn inspired by Isaac Asimovs collection of loosely related stories. There was just something about this particular project that carried the stench of a maggot-infested animal carcass or, at the very least, Shaquille ONeals socks after a grueling playoff game. Wrong call on this one. Faithfulness to the source material isnt a strong point and that makes it different from other Hollywood adaptations exactly how? The important thing is that on its own terms, this delivers the goods as a zippy piece of sci-fi pulp. Will Smith stars as Del Spooner, a detective in 2035 Chicago whos convinced that a scientist has been murdered by one of his own robot creations. Only thing is, robots are programmed not to harm humans ever and Spooners suspicions are dismissed as prejudice and paranoia. But he and the audience knows better. I, Robot recalls a couple dozen futuristic flicks from our collective past (Blade Runner, Minority Report, you name it), but director Alex Proyas (The Crow) still manages to give the film a distinctive look.
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY P1/2
How much Will Ferrell is too much Will Ferrell? The Saturday Night Live vet, who had a banner 03 with Elf and Old School, now seems headed down the path that Adam Sandler often travels, making movies that solely target his fan base while excluding everyone else. As a chauvinistic news anchor in 1970s San Diego, Ferrell gets to wear ugly clothes, make silly faces, and lust after the ladies, but unless you hold the opinion that the actor is a comic genius worthy of Chaplin or Keaton comparisons, then this sort of obnoxious oafishness gets stale quickly.
BEFORE SUNSET PPP1/2
Richard Linklaters 1995 indie fave Before Sunrise was a pleasant enough yarn about two college-age kids one American (Ethan Hawke), the other French (Julie Delpy) who meet in Vienna, spend the night talking (and loving), and agree to meet again in six months. Before Sunset continues their story: Unfolding in real minutes (about 80 of them), this follow-up finds Jesse, now a published author, and Celine, an environmental activist, again crossing paths, this time in Paris. This lovely film does an exemplary job of conveying the manner in which the freedom and naivety of youth inevitably fall by the wayside, leaving only cherished memories, present regrets, and the rigor mortis of a future that can only be avoided by those willing to take risks.
THE CLEARING PP
No superheroes, no car crashes, no sword-swinging knights, no animated critters for older viewers not interested in the glamour and glitz of the summer season, The Clearing would appear to be the winning ticket. Unfortunately, theres also no urgency in the execution and no point to the resolution all in all, a major disappointment for those seeking cinematic salvation.
KING ARTHUR PP1/2
While many scholars now believe theres a historical basis for the age-old legend, I doubt many of its components worked their way into this piece of Hollywood hokum. Yet as fictional filmmaking goes, King Arthur offers top-flight entertainment for about half its length before slipping into pure formula. As Arthur, Clive Owen (Croupier) continues to radiate genuine star power, but Pirates of the Caribbeans Keira Knightley gets shortchanged by her limited screen time as a warrior Guinevere.
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE PP1/2
A sucker who never gets an even break, Napoleon (Jon Heder) is a case study in high school geekiness. Luckily, he has two friends to call his own: Pedro (Efren Ramirez), a soft-spoken, slow-witted Mexican immigrant who decides to run for Student Body President against a popular blonde cheerleader (Haylie Duff, Hilarys older sister), and the sweet, shy Deb (Tina Majorino). Napoleon Dynamite is an odd little movie that often seems as unsure of itself as its protagonist.
SPIDERMAN 2 PPP
Set two years after the first film, we rejoin Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in a particularly difficult time of his life. Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the woman he loves, has gone on to become a model of national renown and an actress of, uh, no renown. Peters growing desire to give up the whole web-swinging shtick arrives at an inopportune moment. Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist with a genuine wish to serve mankind, has just made a breakthrough in the area of fusion, yet after his experiment goes awry (as it inevitably must), he transforms into Doctor Octopus, a madman whos controlled by the four imposing metallic arms that are now permanently grafted onto his body. All too often, Maguire seems to be playing Superman rather than Spider-Man, and the exaggerated nature of both his swinging abilities (a couple more feet and he could probably touch an orbiting satellite) and his strength (his attempts to stop a runaway train are simply absurd) all too often takes us out of the story and reminds us that, yes, were merely watching a movie. But somehow, the human element always pulls us back in.
FAHRENHEIT 9/11 PPP1/2
As agitprop, this film has few equals, and as a humanist drama, it conveys the convictions of its creator, a man who clearly loves his country and hates to see it so thoroughly destroyed from within. Starting with the 2000 presidential election, Fahrenheit 9/11 then proceeds to document the dismantling of a government. As is often the case with Moore, the movie works best when he removes himself from the equation and lets his subjects hang themselves through existing news footage.
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK PP
The marble-mouthed anti-hero (Vin Diesel) finds himself waging a personal war against a race of conquerors known as Necromongers. Deadly dull at the outset, the picture improves as it progresses, though not enough to warrant two hours of invested time.
THE STEPFORD WIVES P1/2
The second screen version of Ira Levins popular novel stars Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick as big-city dwellers who move to a quiet Connecticut suburb where everyone appears to lead happy, stress-free lives. But while he immediately takes to their new surroundings, she and two other newcomers, a blowsy author (Bette Midler) and a gay pal (Roger Bart), immediately become suspicious of the fact that the town is almost exclusively composed of nerds married to beautiful women who will do anything they request. Director Frank Oz and writer Paul Rudnick are satisfied to turn this chilling cautionary tale into a swishy camp outing.
THE TERMINAL PP1/2
Hard to believe, but its possible to have too much plot. Tom Hanks plays the accidental tourist Viktor Navorski, and as we watch him settle into his new home by establishing daily routines around JFK, were delighted by the rich vein of humor and moved by Hanks compassionate performance. But sensing (wrongly, Im sure) that audiences might get bored with this lack of dramatic conflict, Spielberg and his three writers shamelessly gum up the works by adding extraneous characters and schmaltzy situations.