OnVideo APRIL Video Reviews
Impressionistic look at the life and times of "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali (Will Smith), filled with recreations of seminal fights, Ali's conversion to Islam, his refusal to be inducted into the Army, the stripping of his title and boxing license, and his eventual return to fame.
Director: Michael Mann. Stars: Will Smith, Jamie Fox, Jon Voight, Mario Van Pebbles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Nona Gaye. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 154 min.), Biodrama, 2001, Box office gross: $58.183 million, (Columbia TriStar), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/30, DVD: Day & Date.
Caper-comedy-thriller about a misfit gang of bankrobbers who end up beguiling the public and the media with their robberies. Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thornton) break out of an Oregon jail and embark on a series of bank robberies, getting dubbed the Sleepover Bandits for their modus operandi: they kidnap a bank manager at home, hold him and his family hostage overnight (including dinner), and then force him to open the vault in the morning when the bank opens -- and no one gets hurt. All goes well with the robbers until, by accident, they meet up with Kate (Cate Blanchett), who joins the gang by sleeping, first with Joe, then Terry. The film is told in flashbacks -- it opens with a reality show host at a police siege surrounding the bandits' last robbery, recounting the "gang's" crime spree, ala "America's Most Wanted," including footage of the suspects when they invaded the host's home and demanded to be interviewed. It's a wacky crime romance that continues Levinson's ouvre of examining the way people live in -- and how they react to -- the world around them.
Director: Barry Levinson. Stars: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Troy Garity, Bobby Slayton, Brian F. O'Bryne, Stacey Travis. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 122 min.), Comedy Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $41.523 million, (MGM), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/2, DVD: Day & Date.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Straight-ahead action thriller about a U.S. jet shot down behind enemy lines during the NATO peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. Owen Wilson plays a jet navigator who photographs the graves of genocide victims on a recon mission over Bosnia on Christmas day. When the jet is shot down by Serbians (who are covering up the massacres), Wilson and his pilot parachute to safety but the pilot is immediately executed by the nasty Serb troops. Wilson goes on the run behind enemy lines while his commanding officer, Gene Hackman as Navy Adm. Reigert, paces the decks of his aircraft carrier, waiting for the OK from NATO to rescue his "boy." But due to politics, the rescue is aborted, and Wilson must stay one step ahead of the Serbs tracking him down, out for his photographs and his life. The action and violence is non-stop, with the characterizations delightfully painted in card-boardish black and white: the Serbs are evil and nasty cold-blooded killers, the Navy crew good and All-American, the NATO advisors weasely. It's an old-fashioned root-for-the-good guys adventure that keeps you on the edge of your sofa.
Director: John Moore. Stars: Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Charles Malik Whitfield, Joaquim de Almeida, David Keith, Gabriel Macht, Olek Krupa, Vladimir Mashkov. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 105 min.), Action thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $58.553 million, (Fox), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/23, DVD: Day & Date.
Sloppy and banal comedy is an urban riff on "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." A wildly-preening Martin Lawrence stars as a worker at a failing South Central L.A. Medieval World amusement park who falls into the moat and is transported to 14th century England. Making his way to a nearby castle, he's mistaken for a messenger from the court of a lord from Normandy (he tells the king he's from the corner of Florence and Nomandie) and he finds himself embroiled in a revolution to put the rightful ruler back on the throne. The comedy consists of Lawrence mugging the camera and baffling the 14th century denizens with his attitude and language (but no one, it seems, is taken aback by his outlandish 21st century clothes). One highlight: Lawrence teaching the court how to dance to a medieval version of Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music." Marsha Thomason plays a sexy lady-in-waiting and Lawrence's ultimate love interest. For Lawrence fans only, since he pretty much hogs the screen, at the detriment of story line, logic and characterization.
Director: Gil Junger. Stars: Martin Lawrence, Marsha Thomason, Tom Wilkinson, Vincent Regan, Daryl Mitchell, Michael Burgess, Isabell Monk. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 96 min.), Comedy, 2001, Box office gross: $33.268 million, (Fox), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/16, DVD: Day & Date.
DEEP END, The
Moody, visually delightful mystery starts out promising but loopholes prevent it from becoming a believable thriller. Tilda Swinton stars as Margaret Hill, a lonely Lake Tahoe housewife whose husband is always away at sea. She's an ideal mom to her two kids, Beau and Paige, and they lead an outwardly cushy life at the lake. But below the surface there's trouble: Beau is gay and hangs out in Tahoe's fast lane, preyed upon by unsavory types, including a nasty club owner. In one of many unbelievable occurrences, mom goes to the club owner and threatens him. But he comes to their house and leaves with the teenager. The next morning, mom finds the body of the club owner washed up on the shore. Not sure of her son's involvement, what's the good suburban mom to do but dump the body in the lake. But mom messes up and dumps the body in shallow water. Now the film spirals downward as blackmailing Tahoe thugs show up with a revealing video of her son in action. The further the film unspools, with a final twist, the less believable it becomes. But what visuals.
Director: Scott McGehee, David Siegel. Stars: Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat, Josh Lucas, Raymond J. Barry, Tamara Hope, Jordan Dorrance. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 101 min.), Mystery Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $8.821 million, (Fox), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/16, DVD: Day & Date.
Typical paterfamilias thriller has John Travolta as a loving dad pitched against a nasty would-be stepfather in a setup that hardly pushes the boundaries of the genre, but is still an audience pleaser. Travolta plays hardworking, divorced father and everyman Frank with a rebellious teenage son Danny (Matt O'Leary). When Frank's ex-wife (Teri Polo) is about to get married to smarmy town rich man Rick (Vince Vaughn), Danny begins to butt heads with him and starts to act out in typical teen fashion. But when he sees his new step dad murder a man (Steve Buscemi) and goes to the cops, no one believes him and he gets written off as just another troubled kid. But Rick, now knowing that Danny knows about his evil deed, threatens the kid with bodily harm -- not to him, but good old dad Frank. And so we're set up for a final battle between good dad and bad dad. Freud would have loved it.
Director: Harold Becker. Stars: John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matt O'Leary, Susan Floyd, Steve Buscemi. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 88 min.), Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $45.207 million, (Paramount), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/16, DVD: Day & Date.
MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, THE
The Coen brothers (director Joel, producer Ethan, both screenwriters) have done it again with this film noir set in a 1940 small town in California. Done what? Created an encapsulated world on the screen that draws the viewer in and totally transfixes one for almost two hours of pure cinematic joy. As in their past outings -- most recently "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "The Big Lebowski" -- the story line may founder a bit but it's the overall cinematic impulse that creates a burst of color on the screen. "Man" is no exception -- and even more so since it's shot in glorious black and white by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. Billy Bob Thornton plays a Santa Rosa barber who's life is in such a rut he can't even begin to figure a way out. Ahh, then the muse of the Coen serendipity enters. A new customer shows up, hawking the wonders of the future -- dry cleaning -- and tries to persuade the barber to invest in his suspicious plan. When the barber discovers that his wife (Frances McDormand) is messing around with the local department store scion, Big Dave (James Gandolfini), the future offers change -- blackmail as a way to bankroll the dry cleaning scheme. But as in all the Coen films, things go awry, and blackmail turns to murder. It's trademarked Coen "normal life on the edge," challenging and threatening the viewer. What a pleasure.
Director: Joel Coen. Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Adam Alexi-Malle, Michael Badalucco, Katherine Borowitz, Richard Jenkins, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Politio, Tony Shalhoub. CC, (MPAA rating: 116, R min.), Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $8.000 million, (USA), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/16, DVD: Day & Date.
Labyrinthine mystery from the master of the unexpected and bizarre. Director David Lynch brings willing viewers into a suspense-filled Los Angeles netherworld where nothing is as it seems. The film has at its heart two mysterious women who accidentally encounter each other and change their worlds. A beautiful young woman (Laura Elena Harring) is riding in a limo on Mulholland Drive when a another car crashes into her. Dazed, she stumbles down a hill and enters an apartment as the tenant is leaving for a long trip. The next morning another young woman (Naomi Watts) arrives at the apartment, which is owned by her aunt, where she discovers the first woman, now suffering from amnesia. From there on out the story gets more complex as the women start to have feelings for each other and a host of oddball characters enter the scene, including a film director whose latest project is pulled from him, a prying landlady, and an assassin whose hit goes awry. There's strange rooms and boxes and dread in every corner of the film. A complex film for serious moviegoers.
Director: David Lynch. Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 146 min.), Mystery, 2001, Box office gross: $6.866 million, (Universal), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/9, DVD: Day & Date.
MY FIRST MISTER
Auspicious first feature-length directorial outing for actress Christine Lahti (she previously won a short film Oscar for her "Lieberman in Love"). Leelee Sobieski stars as a 17-year-old with a Goth attitude and the dark clothes and piercings to go with her gloomy outlook on life. When she wanders into a conservative men's clothing store operated by paunchy 49-year-old Albert Brooks, something clicks in the minds (and hearts?) of this disparate pair. He's as lonely as she is -- his wife left him 19 years earlier -- and he hires her to work in the store's stockroom. From there a relationship between the two blossoms -- and might move on to emotional bindings if the film didn't veer off at the end to avoid a real confrontation: is their pairing one of surrogate father and daughter or of a deeper romantic nature? Uniformly good acting throughout, with Michael McKean and Carol Kane as Leelee's stepfather and mother, and John Goodman as her aging hippie father. Deserves a wider audience than it got theatrically.
Director: Christine Lahti. Stars: Leelee Sobieski, Albert Brooks, Michael McKean, Carol Kane, John Goodman, Mary Kay Place. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 109 min.), Drama, 2001, Box office gross: $0.616 million, (Paramount), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/23, DVD: Day & Date.
Off-the-wall black comedy about a dentist (Steve Martin) who has it all -- a thriving business, a lovely and loyal dental hygienist/assistant (Laura Dern) who also happens to be his fiancee -- and throws it all away when he gets involved with a seductive patient (Helena Bonham Carter) who gets him implicated in the murder of her no-good brother. First outing from director-screenwriter David Atkins elicits a kind of noirish sensibility from his cast (who all put in outstanding work) and crew.
Director: David Atkins. Stars: Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Scott Caan, Keith David, Lynne Thigpen. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 95 min.), Black Comedy, 2001, Box office gross: $2.025 million, (Artisan), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/23, DVD: Day & Date.
Serendipity is a word defined as "the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident." And serendipity is at the heart of -- or at least occurs in the beginning of -- this light comedy that was a delightful blip on the fall film release schedule. John Cusack stars as Jonathan Trager and Kate Beckinsale stars as Sara Thomas, two Manhattan singles who meet over a glove in Bloomingdales in a pre-Christmas shopping rush. They spend a wonderful day together in N.Y. and there's definitely something electric between them. But Sara is a believer of preordination and instead of giving in to the moment, tells Jonathan that if they're meant to be, they will find each other -- she puts her name in a copy of a book she's going to sell the next day, and if Jonathan finds it, then the pair will reconnect. But they don't. Several years later, Jonathan and Sara are on the verge of getting married -- but not to each other. He's still in N.Y., she's in the West, and as their respective marriage vows near, they can't stop thinking of each other. So both enlist their best friends in a last minute effort to track down their mystery lovers. Which just goes to show that ya gotta work at it to make love flourish.
Director: Peter Chelsom. Stars: John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven, Molly Shannon, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Eugene Levy. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 90 min.), Romantic comedy, 2001, Box office gross: $50.255 million, (Miramax), $29.99 VHS SRP, Available: 4/9, DVD: Day & Date.
Above average spy thriller, set in 1991, about a rogue CIA agent named Bishop (Brad Pitt) who's captured in China and given 24 hours to live when an unauthorized mission to rescue a prisoner goes awry. Back in the States, the CIA summons Bishop's former boss, Muir (Robert Redford), who, coincidentally, is on his last day on the job, to compile reasons why not to save Bishop. Their main worry is that any attempt to rescue Bishop will scuttle Chinese trade talks -- it's more expedient to brand him as a failed agent and let him die. As Muir relates Bishop's history with the CIA -- told in flashbacks -- from Bishop's recruitment during the Vietnam War to Muir's tutoring Bishop to their working together in various covert operations to their eventual falling out -- Muir tries to figure out a way to outsmart his superiors and free Bishop from China -- without leaving CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. There's plenty of edge-of-the-seat thrills, explosive situations and sizzling suspense -- both in the flashbacks and in the "present" -- as Muir outwits his bosses and puts together a rescue mission. Plus there's the added feature of straight-ahead acting by the always reliable (and likeable) Redford.
Director: Tony Scott. Stars: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman, Michael Paul Chan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ken Leung, David Hemmings. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 121 min.), Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $62.326 million, (Universal), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 4/9, DVD: Day & Date.
Loose remake of the campy William Castle 1960 haunted house scarer that milked the film's cheesy thrills with one of Castle's typical marketing gimmicks: the "ghosts" could only be seen with Illusion-O viewers (similar to 3-D glasses). No such luck with this version: it's a run-of-the-mill special effects thriller about a family who mysteriously inherits a house from an eccentric uncle. Naturally the house is haunted and the family -- joined by a psychic and a ghostbuster -- spend most of the film running from the spooks -- or getting killed. From the folks who brought you the remake of Castle's "House on Haunted Hill." Where's the master when we really need him?
Director: Steve Beck. Stars: Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, Alec Roberts, Rah Digga, F. Murray Abraham, JR Bourne. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 91 min.), Horror, 2001, Box office gross: $41.867 million, (Warner), $22.98 VHS SRP, Available: 4/2, DVD: Day & Date.
All DVDs are screened on a reference system consisting of a Rotel RDV-1080 DVD Audio/Video Player, a Rotel RSX-972 Surround Sound Receiver, and Phase Technology 1.1 (front), 33.1 (center), and 50 (rear) speakers and Power 10 subwoofer.
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March 15, 2002