BC-CAPSULE:PH – entertainment (3610 words)

Capsule reviews of feature films

By Steven Rea and Carrie Rickey

Knight Ridder Newspapers


ALFIE 2 stars. Jude Law stars in this misguided remake of the Michael Caine “60s classic, about a cad and a charmer who thinks himself a swinging Lothario but who is, really, kind of pathetic. Marisa Tomei, Susan Sarandon, Sienna Miller and Nia Long are a few of the “birds” in the bloke’s life. R (language, sex, nudity, adult themes) – Steven Rea.

ALEXANDER 1 star. Oliver Stone’s overheated stew of paganism and Freudianism stars Colin Farrell, in blond mullet and toga miniskirt, as the conqueror dude known as Alexander the Great. Angelina Jolie, with a Transylvanian accent, pet pythons and Medusa hair, plays his mother, Olympias, and Val Kilmer, resembling a debauched Cyclops, is his father, Philip. 2 hrs. 53 R (violent battle scenes, nudity, sex) – Carrie Rickey.

omedy about a young gangster who is ordered to kill his mentor combines the quirky grotesquerie of a David Lynch film with the viscous bio-horror that is a David Cronenberg signature. No MPAA rating (nudity, sex, violence, gore) – Carrie Rickey.

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS 1 1/2 stars. Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz and Stuart Townsend star in a decades-spanning romantic melodrama, full of war and wardrobe changes. The “30s/’40s period piece strives for the Euro-eroticism of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” but it’s phony and prettied-up, and not a soul is convincing. R (nudity, sex, profanity, violence, adult themes) – Steven Rea.

HEAD-ON 3 stars. Two Turks living in Hamburg meet in a mental ward and marry for convenience in Fatih Akin’s stormy, multicultural melodrama – a melodrama grounded in the real world, thanks to the performances of its charismatic stars, Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli. No MPAA rating (nudity, sex, violence, drugs, profanity) – Steven Rea.

THE HEART OF ME 3 stars. Effective melodrama about a “30s London solicitor (Paul Bettany) torn between his decorous wife (Olivia Williams) and her passionate bohemian sister (Helena Bonham Carter), a love triangle that takes a decade and death for the survivors to resolve. R (nudity, sex) – Carrie Rickey.

HIDE AND SEEK 2 stars. Robert De Niro and kid actor Dakota Fanning star as a father and daughter recovering from the loss of their wife/mom in this grim, voyeuristic study of child abuse disguised as a creepy-crawly horror tale. R (violence, scares, language) – Steven Rea.

HOTEL RWANDA 3 1/2 stars. Don Cheadle is superb as the real-life hotelier who saved more than 1,200 countrymen during the massacre of nearly a million Rwandans in 1994. PG-13 (violence, disturbing images, profanity) – Carrie Rickey.

HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS 4 stars. Zhang Yimou’s epic 9th century saga is to martial arts movies what “The Third Man” was to thrillers, or “Red River” to Westerns. It’s beautiful, and brilliant. Zhang Ziyi stars as the dashing, blind heroine who may or may not be the ringleader of a pesky band of freedom fighters. PG-13 (violence, sexuality) – Steven Rea.

THE INCREDIBLES 4 stars. A movie with the sweet soul of “Toy Story” and the boisterous spirit of “Spy Kids,” Brad Bird’s eye-popping cartoon boasts a pro-family, pro-tort-reform agenda and a witty, atomic-modern style. It resembles the way the future looked circa 1963, if pop artist Roy Lichtenstein had designed rocketships for NASA and ranchers for suburban developers. PG (animated violence, suspense, suitable for children 4 and older) – Carrie Rickey.

IN GOOD COMPANY 3 stars. That rare intergenerational scenario in which a company man (Dennis Quaid) has more to teach than to learn from a corporate shark (Topher Grace) who is half his age, half the man he is and hired to be his boss. With Scarlett Johansson. PG-13 (sexual innuendo, profanity) – Carrie Rickey.

KINSEY 3 stars. Liam Neeson stars as the celebrated (and condemned) sex researcher in this entertaining and enlightening biopic. Laura Linney is the grad-student-turned-spouse who was Kinsey’s intellectual and emotional anchor – and his partner, up to a point, in sexual discovery. Flawed but satisfying, and smartly put together by filmmaker Bill Condon. 1 hr. 58 R (language, nudity, sex, adult themes) – Steven Rea.

LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS 3 stars. If you are interested in happy endings, you would be better off buying a ticket to some other film than “Lemony Snicket’s.” The flaw of Brad Silberling’s agreeably disagreeable film is Jim Carrey, who is too much of a bad thing as Uncle Olaf. PG (scary situations, not suitable for children under 6) – Carrie Rickey.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU 3 1/2 stars. A fanciful sea-faring yarn about a famous oceanographer (Bill Murray) and his hapless crew, searching for a killer shark. Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston and Willem Dafoe are a few of the actors playing oddballs in this elaborate, eccentric pic from the director of “Rushmore” and “Royal Tenenbaums.” 1 hr. 58 R (nudity, profanity, violence, adult themes) – Steven Rea.

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE 3 stars. Blues luminaries, young and old, are captured at an all-star tribute in this slick and smartly packaged concert film. Performers include B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, James “Blood” Ulmer, Hubert Sumlin, John Hammond, Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty, Chuck D., David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Ruth Brown and Odetta. PG-13 (profanity, archival images) – Steven Rea.

A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG 2 1/2 stars. Stunning cinematography, a jambalaya storyline and another heart-stopping performance by Scarlett Johansson distinguish Shainee Gabel”s coming-of-age feature set on the sagging end of New Orleans. R (profanity and sexual references) – Carrie Rickey.

THE MACHINIST 3 stars. Director Brad Anderson”s elegant and shatteringly creepy portrait of an insomniac stars a skeletal Christian Bale, haunted and haunting. R (violence, profanity, horror imagery, nudity, sexual candor) – Carrie Rickey.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 3 1/2 stars. Michael Radford”s condensed version of Shakespeare”s most morally challenging play is crisp and lucid. It boasts remarkable performances by Al Pacino as the ferocious Shylock who has been so grievously wronged that his revenge must be right, and Lynn Collins as a formidable Portia who hypocritically entreats Shylock to show mercy even though she shows him none. R (nudity) – Carrie Rickey.

MILLION DOLLAR BABY 4 stars. Clint Eastwood directs, and stars with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, in this heartbreakingly great movie about a diner waitress determined to be a prizefighter. The time-honored conventions of the boxing movie are served up with absolute finesse, but then the pic goes deep and dark into themes that strike at the core of human experience. PG-13 (violence, language, adult themes) – Steven Rea.

MOOLAADE 3 1/2 stars. In Ousmane Sembene”s triumphant film about tribal women in Burkina Faso who resist genital circumcision for their daughters, it takes a village to raise a consciousness. No MPAA rating (discreet sex, surgical euphemism, violence) – Carrie Rickey.

PAPER CLIPS 2 1/2 stars. A touching an inspiring chronicle of a middle school assignment in rural Tennessee that grew into a uniquely interactive Holocaust memorial. G (suitable for those older than 7) – Carrie Rickey.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 1 1/2 stars. This white elephant of movie that lumbers from dripping catacomb to dropping chandelier was adapted by Joel Schumacher from Andrew Lloyd Webber”s Broadway blockbuster. The dewdrop in this moldering enterprise is Emmy Rossum as Christine, Beauty to the Phantom’s Beast. PG-13 (violence, threat of sexual violence) – Carrie Rickey.

THE SEA INSIDE 3 stars. Javier Bardem gives a brilliant performance as a quadrapalegic fighting for the right to end his life, in this sweet, sad, sometimes deftly comic Spanish film. Based on the true story of Ramon Sampedro. PG-13 (language, adult themes) – Steven Rea.

SIDEWAYS 4 stars. Alexander Payne”s exhilarating, edgy and wryly comic buddy film about fortyish guys, a depressed intellectual and an affable lightweight, who embark on a bachelor debauch to the California wine country before the latter”s marriage. With Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. R (sexual candor, profanity, brief drugs) – Carrie Rickey.

SO CLOSE 3 stars. Fun Hong Kong action melodrama about sister assassins and the female cop tracking them down. If stiletto-heeled heroines outfoxing dunderheaded males are what you’re looking for, seek no more. No MPAA rating (violence, adult themes, profanity) – Steven Rea.

SPANGLISH 3 1/2 stars. James Brooks” exceptional feature starring Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler as an affluent Bel-Air couple who hire as a nanny an illegal alien, Paz Vega. With Cloris Leachman, Shelbie Bruce and Sarah Steele. PG-13 (sex, mild profanity) – Carrie Rickey.

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE 3 stars. For adults not yet initiated into the cult of SpongeBob, prepare to be swabbed by the porous yellow innocent with googly eyes, bucktooth grin, and cardboard-box shorts. “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” gets a charge from the way its hero matter-of-factly breaches the membrane between second and third dimensions. PG (sponge and starfish nudity) – Carrie Rickey.

TARNATION 3 stars. An autobiographical document captured on film and video, this Sundance hit was godfathered, in its final stages, by Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell. It’s the story of filmmaker Jonathan Caouette’s life, riddled with trauma, tragedy. Not always easy to watch, this fractured personal history is imbued with heart-crushing sincerity. No MPAA rating (language, adult themes) – Steven Rea.

TO BE AND TO HAVE 3 1/2 stars. An unfancy, fascinating documentary that takes the viewer inside a single classroom schoolhouse in rural France, where a dedicated teacher works with a dozen kids, ages 3-11, imparting lessons in penmanship and poetry, grammar and games. It’s a movie every teacher should see, and every parent, too. No MPAA rating – Steven Rea.

UNCLE NINO 2 stars. A loveable old coot from the Old Country arrives in the States for the first time and teaches his uptight, multi-tasking relatives how to stop and smell the roses – and plant a vegetable garden while they’re at it. 1 hr. 44 PG (mild profanity) – Steven Rea.

VERA DRAKE 3 1/2 stars. Heartbreaking drama set in 1950 London that stars Imelda Staunton as the title character, a bottomless kettle of benevolence. What Vera calls “helping women out,” the authorities call abortion. Directed by Mike Leigh. R (sexual candor and abortion candor) – Carrie Rickey.

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT 3 stars. Audrey Tautou is reunited with her “Amelie” director in this big, beautiful love story, a World War I saga about a woman’s search for her missing, believed-dead fiance. It’s kind of like “Cold Mountain” with French people, and without Jude Law. R (violence, sexuality) – Steven Rea.

THE WEDDING DATE 2 stars. In director Clare Kilner’s icky inversion of “Pretty Woman,” Debra Messing hires gigolo Dermot Mulroney to squire her to her sister’s nuptials. PG-13 (sexual candor, posterior nudity, profanity) – Carrie Rickey.

WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW? 3 stars. A filmic handbook on heightened consciousness and, in the words of one of its talking heads, “the weird, wacky world of quantum possibility,” this mix of documentary and fiction explores the realms where science and spiritualism meet. No MPAA rating (adult themes, cosmic stuff) – Steven Rea.

WHITE NOISE 2 stars. Michael Keaton stars as a architect who starts hearing voices, and seeing pictures, on his audio and video equipment. He thinks it’s his dead wife trying to send him warnings. He could be right. A cable-ready thriller with elements of “The Sixth Sense” and “The Ring,” but with neither the style nor the smarts. PG-13 (violence, profanity, creepy stuff) – Steven Rea.

THE WOODSMAN 3 stars. Kevin Bacon gives a tough, taut performance as a convicted sex offender out on parole, trying to steer clear of his personal demons, in this quietly observed drama. With Eve, Mos Def, Kyra Sedgwick and Benjamin Bratt. R (adult themes, profanity, sexual situations) -Steven Rea.


4 stars: Excellent; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Fair; 1 star: Poor

(c) 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at http://www.philly.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-02-17-05 0854EST

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