OnVideo MARCH Video Reviews
A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
This either-you-love-it-or-hate-it-there's-no-middle-ground Steven Spielberg outing, a sort-of collaboration between the director and the ghost of Stanley Kubrick (who had been working on the Brian Aldiss sci-fi story for years) is indeed a kind of merging of "E.T." and "2001: A Space Odyssey." As with Tim Burton's recent "Planet of the Apes," Spielberg's opus on childhood loss and redemption (and the meaning of existence?) can't be taken out of the context of previous, similar sci-fi opuses. When compared to, say, a "Blade Runner," "A.I." certainly comes up short in the action and mystery department. When compared to "2001," "A.I." certainly can't compete with the levels of intellectual discourse that Kubrick heaped on audiences. But, taken by itself, the film shines in its dissertation on human emotions -- in particular love -- and how the basic underpinnings of humanness remains the same, regardless of the future or the possessor of those feelings (human or humanoid). The robotic knee-jerk negative reactions to this film has us baffled -- this is one of the few films in recent years that has a brain ... and a heart.
Director: Steven Spielberg. Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 145 min.), Science Fiction, 2001, Box office gross: $78.000 million, (Warner), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/5, DVD: Day & Date.
A very, very dark psychological black comedy about Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a slightly askew middle-class high school student in 1988 suburbia whose sleepless nights and nocturnal wanderings around the neighborhood -- brought on by his medication or the nightly visits by Frank, a six-foot-tall, sharp-toothed rabbit -- saves his life when a jet engine falls from the sky into his empty bedroom. Though Donnie is now a celebrity -- and gets close to the cute new girl in school -- nothing changes for the better: his visits with his shrink, his fascination with time travel, his horrible visions when he looks in his bathroom mirror, and the visits by Frank -- the bunny warns him that the world will end in 28 days -- leads to more and more bizarre behavior. All takes place against a sexually and politically repressed suburban high school background (the best teachers are fired while the worst ply the students with videos of a self-help guru -- a smarmy Patrick Swayze -- who's mantra is "love and fear") and Donnie's dysfunctional family. Originally creating a buzz of anticipation at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, "Darko" left fest audiences -- who possibly were expecting a less-complex horror film -- cold, and presented Fox with a difficult, hard-to-market film. Fox billed it as a teen thriller, which it's not, and it tanked at the boxoffice. It certainly deserves a wider audience in video incarnation.
Director: Richard Kelly. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhal, Katharine Ross. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 113 min.), Black comedy, 2001, Box office gross: $0.416 million, (Fox), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/19, DVD: Day & Date.
Heist thriller revolves around a master thief (Gene Hackman) forced into one last job before he retires. After his most recent heist was botched, Hackman's Joe Moore decides to pack it in and retire to a remote island with his much-younger wife. But those plans are thwarted when the frontman for the botched job -- Danny DeVito -- forces Moore into one more job: the interception of millions of dollars in gold bars arriving on a Swiss cargo plane. Now comes the usual double-crossing and plot twists. As with most David Mamet films (he directed and wrote the screenplay) talk and language come to the fore, almost upstaging the action. But the cast is a pleasure to watch -- and, at times, hear.
Director: David Mamet. Stars: Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, Patti LuPone, Jim Frangione. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 109 min.), Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $23.287 million, (Warner), $19.96 VHS SRP, Available: 3/12, DVD: Day & Date.
Straight-ahead thrills and chills make this teen suspenser a real joy ride of an outing. Paul Walker stars as college student Lewis who sets out on a trip home, along the way picking up his errant brother Fuller, whom he bails out of jail. The boys have fun with their CB radio, playing a prank on a trucker by creating a fictitious female named Candy Cane and setting up a meeting in a motel room. When the meeting turns to murder and the police can't find the trucker, the boys resume their trip, stopping to pick up Paul's unrequited love, Venna (Leelee Sobieski in skimpy, revealing T-shirts). But the trio is being pursued by the never-seen trucker (you only hear his voice on the CB), setting up all sorts of nasty encounters, including a wild chase scene in a cornfield, some kidnappings, and a thrilling denouement in a motel room. The scary action -- all you ever see is the gigantic truck bearing down on the threesome in their car -- will leave you on the proverbial edge of your seat.
Director: John Dahl. Stars: Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Paul Walker. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 96 min.), Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $21.954 million, (Fox), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/12, DVD: Day & Date.
A stranger who calls himself Prot (Kevin Spacey) seemingly appears out of nowhere following a disturbance at New York's Grand Central Station. Claiming to come from the distant planet of K-PAX, Prot is whisked off to a Manhattan psychiatric hospital where he is attended by overworked Dr. Powell (Jeff Bridges). Prot amazes everyone with his knowledge of outer space, his seeming ability to talk to dogs and cure other patients. But under hypnosis, Prot regresses to an all-too human past. Or does he? Is he really from another world, or is he a schizophrenic who's put up shields to protect himself from his traumatic past? Are Prot and Powell the flip sides of the same coin, each moving through life with their own teflon coating? It's an interesting film that contrasts conceits of madness and sanity ... with the added benefits of wonderful performances by Spacey and Bridges.
Director: Iain Softley. Stars: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Mary McCormack, Alfre Woodard, Ajay Naidu, Conchata Ferrell. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 121 min.), Dramatic Comedy, 2001, Box office gross: $50.000 million, (Universal), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/26, DVD: Day & Date.
LAST CASTLE, THE
Robert Redford and James Gandolfini star in this old-fashioned military movie that takes place in a U.S. military prison with a prisoner revolt as its centerpiece. Redford plays a three-star general stripped of his rank and imprisoned for disobeying an order; Gandolfini plays the slightly cracked warden who rules with a nasty, iron hand. Its obvious from the outset when he's brought to the prison that Redford and Gandolfini will be at odds throughout the film; Redford just wants to serve his sentence and go home but Gandolfini is too much of a sadist, and he decides that he wants to break Redford. Wrong. Redford takes a leadership role in the prison, and soon organizes the men, culminating in the aforementioned revolt. It's pat and predictable but straight-ahead fun. For men only.
Director: Rod Lurie. Stars: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo, Paul Calderon, Samuel Ball, Brian Goodman. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 131 min.), Action, 2001, Box office gross: $18.000 million, (DreamWorks), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/5, DVD: Day & Date.
LIFE AS A HOUSE
Tearjerker about a California architect (Kevin Kline) who loses his job and discovers that he has terminal cancer in one short flick of the screenplay. Determined to go out with a bang of sorts, he decides to tear down his ramshackle seaside home and build his long-postponed dream house. He enlists the aid of his troubled, pierced teenage son and soon his tenacity ensnares the help of his ex-wife (Kristen Scott Thomas), his next-door neighbor (Mary Steenburgen) and her footloose daughter (Jena Malone). Naturally his efforts bring everyone together in unexpected -- and at times hankywetting -- ways.
Director: Irwin Winkler. Stars: Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen, Mary Steenburgen, Jena Malone, Jamey Sheridan, Sam Robards, Scott Bakula. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 124 min.), Drama, 2001, Box office gross: $15.412 million, (New Line), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/26, DVD: Day & Date.
Jet Li does multiple duty in this science fiction thriller about a future world in which multiple universes are the norm and a Multiverse Bureau of Investigation maintains control of the alternate realities. Into this mix comes renegade MBI agent Gabriel Yulaw (Li) who discovers that if he destroys his alternate life forces in the other universes, he will assume God-like powers. And he does just that. The last one left is Los Angeles Sheriff Gabriel Yulaw (Li), setting up a final battle between good and evil. Chasing the bad guy through quantum tunnels is Yulaw's old partner (Delroy Lindo). Yulaw's wife in each universe is played by Carla Gugino.
Director: James Wong. Stars: Jet Li, Delroy Lindo, Jason Statham, Carla Gugino. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 88 min.), Science Fiction, 2001, Box office gross: $43.074 million, (Columbia TriStar), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/5, DVD: 2.
RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS
Delightful comedy drama about a young woman's coming of age in a small town in Connecticut from 1961 to 1986, starring Drew Barrymore in a demanding role as Beverly D'Onofrio (the film is based on D'Onofrio's book) as she grows from a silly 15-year-old to a 36-year-old mother. The film shifts back and forth in time and explores D'Onofrio's life and loves, including an early, disastrous marriage to Ray (Steve Zahn) and her crucial friendship with Fay (Brittany Murphy). A great woman's (and sympathetic man's) film. Powered by a strong soundtrack that defines the sixties, seventies and eighties.
Director: Penny Marshall. Stars: Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, Brittany Murphy, James Woods, Lorraine Bracco, Adam Garcia, Sara Gilbert, Peter Facinelli, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rosie Perez.. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 131 min.), Comedy-Drama, 2001, Box office gross: $30.000 million, (Columbia TriStar), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/19, DVD: Day & Date.
Offbeat gangster thriller with a tour-de-force performance by Ben Kingsley as an angry, psychotic killer who threatens and cajoles an over-the-hill hood to come out of retirement for a high stakes bank vault break-in. Ray Winstone plays Gal, who has become flabby (but happy) sunning himself with his wife and friends at his villa in Spain. One day a boulder comes crashing down the hill into his pool, an ominous omen as, shortly later, Kingsley, as Don Logan, shows up from London as a human boulder, demanding that Gal join in on a bank heist. Gal is comfortable with his new life and demurs; Logan won't take no for an answer. He's a bulldog, nasty and threatening and out of his mind, and he screams and yells and beats Gal down until the latter joins in -- but not before a twist revealed in flashback at the end of the film. In London Gal joins up with his old crew -- and they rob the bank by drilling into it from inside a turkish bath next door, flooding the vault and setting off some humorous but macabre incidents. A meeting with the crew's boss -- almost as mean and nasty as Don Logan -- reveals the film's unsuspected developments. It's a loud and nasty film, hard to follow at times because of accents, but spellbinding.
Director: Jonathan Glazer. Stars: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Amanda Redman, James Fox, Cavan Kendall, Julianne White, Alvaro Monje. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 88 min.), Thriller, 2002, Box office gross: $6.935 million, (Fox), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/12, DVD: Day & Date.
Denzel Washington puts in an exciting change of pace here as the head of an elite narcotics police squad who has blurred the line between cop and criminal. An idealistic, young LAPD cop (Ethan Hawke) is assigned to the squad and, under the tutelage of Washington, has just one day in which to prove his mettle. Unfortunately for him, his mentor takes the role of street cop as being a little to much above the law, and things spiral out of control as the rookie begins to suspect that his training day is really a setup for something more insidious. Fine action directed with a strong hand by actioner-master Antoine Fuqua.
Director: Antoine Fuqua. Stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Harris Yulin, Raymond J. Barry, Cliff Curtis, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 122 min.), Thriller, 2001, Box office gross: $76.074 million, (Warner), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/19, DVD: Day & Date.
Ben Stiller co-produced, co-wrote, directed and stars in this broad spoof of the fashion industry. Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, a vacuous, empty-headed male fashion model at the peak of his runway powers -- until he fails to win the Male Model of the Year Award for the fourth year in a row. Thrown for a loop, he endeavors to "discover" himself, and takes off after his roots, going home to his family who, unfortunately, are ashamed of him and his "sissy" job. Returning to New York, he gets involved in a competition with a model even dumber than him (Owen Wilson) and embroiled in a plot to assassinate an Asian leader who frowns upon child labor in the clothing biz. At best a TV comedy skit gone awry.
Director: Ben Stiller. Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, Jon Voight. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 89 min.), Comedy, 2001, Box office gross: $44.900 million, (Paramount), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 3/12, 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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February 15, 2002