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2003: The Year in Movies - A Mega-Recap

Irreversible, starring Monica Bellucci
by Scott Weinberg

I saw more than 240 of the movies released theatrically in 2003. Here's what I thought of 'em. Yes, all of 'em. Get comfortable.

I like to see just about everything. And by 'everything' I mean ALL wide releases (yes, even the Rugratses and the Lizzie McGuireses), as many 'arthouse/indie' flicks as humanly possible, anything headed for a direct-to-video release that may be worth a look (there are more of these movies than you think), and anything in between: made-for-HBO fare, foreign movies available only through alternative DVD Regions, festival films that may never see a release of any kind, etc.

I'm like an eternal toddler who needs a constant supply of bedtime stories. I suppose it's kind of a sickness.

So try not to be too stunned when I mention that, as of this very minute, I have seen 243 "2003 Theatrical Releases". (Cable, festival and direct-to-video releases are not included here.) That's a lot, but I know people who've seen even more. Which gives me a little hope for my own sanity. (You might wanna go pee first if you think there’s any chance you’ll make it all the way through this massive litany of blather.) Anyway, here's what I saw:

(The number after the movie titles is my star rating, on a 1 - 5 scale.)

January

Just Married (1.5) Dir: Shawn Levy / Release Date: Jan. 10th / 20th Century Fox – There’s no rule that says comedy must be “smart” to be funny. But c’mon; surely it takes more than “young couple gets married” to green-light a script these days. Kutcher and Murphy have about NO chemistry together, the comedy bits they’re forced to endure range from painless to atrocious, and the whole thing is directed with the energy of a salt-covered slug. Skip it.

Russian Ark (3.5) Dir: Aleksandr Sokurov / Release Date: Jan. 10th / Wellspring – OK, the gimmick is freakin’ brilliant, both in concept an in execution: the whole movie was done in ONE TAKE!! 96 minutes! Wandering through the amazing Hermitage Museum! In ONE TAKE! I suppose it must be nearly impossible to offer a cohesive narrative with such a difficult technical task ahead of you, so the movie’s sort of a theatrical take on Russian history, with orchestra playing, extras wandering on and off the screen, and audience members boggling at the sheer impressiveness of it all being ONE TAKE! Does it make me an ignorant lummox if the gimmick wore kinda thin by the end? Sorry.

City of God (5) Dir: Fernando Meirelles / Release Date: Jan. 17th / Miramax - Well over two hours of truly addicting drama. Sort of a Brazil-based version of Scorsese's finest crime dramas, this is one absolutely deserving of all the praise it's received...and more. Should easily win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Either way, see it.

A Guy Thing (1.5) Dir: Chris Koch / Release Date: Jan. 17th / MGM - Looking at Jason Lee's recent filmography is like reading a cookbook entitled "How to Turn Steak into Feces". In other words, this truly witty and likeable young actor is ruining his career with shitheap after shitheap. Someone give this guy something substantial to do; lord knows we have enough Rob Schneiders out there.

Kangaroo Jack (1.5) Dir: David McNally / Release Date: Jan. 17th / 20th Century Fox – So apparently we’ve reach a point in the world of movies where only the WORST films are reserved for our children. “What? It’s a piece of unmitigated garbage? Well, the KIDS will like it!” This logic makes no freakin’ sense to me whatsoever. Parents who refuse to let their tots eat a Big Mac won’t think twice about renting Kangaroo Jack as a Friday night babysitter. How does THAT make any sense? The flick? Laughless, loud and stupid. Supremely stupid.

National Security (0.5) Dir: Dennis Dugan / Release Date: Jan. 17th / Columbia – I loathe racism in any form. See also: Bringing Down the House. Actually, don’t.

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (4} Dir: Andre Heller & Othmar Schmiderer / Release Date: Jan. 24th / Sony Pictures Classics - Technically it's a documentary, but really it's just 80-some minutes of Hitler's old office secretary talking about her experiences during the war. Get past the non-stop-talking-head delivery and you'll be privy to some truly riveting insights.

Darkness Falls (1.5) Dir: Jonathan Liebesman / Release Date: Jan 24th / Columbia - If there's anything worse than a low-budget indie horror knock-off, it's a medium-budget studio-backed horror knock-off...quite simply because the indie one will usually offer some of the goods, while the studio flick is nothing more than a PG-13 tease. Such is the case in this tale of soon-to-be-dead teenagers and the mysterious "Tooth Fairy". Yawn. Flick looks like it was filmed in a closet anyway.

Super Sucker (2.5) Dir: Jeff Daniels / Release Date: Jan. 24th / Purple Rose – Unless you lived near 125 movie theaters in the Midwest, this one skipped right on by you and is now nestling comfortably in some bargain bin rental stack. It’s a broad and silly (and periodically quite amusing) farce about two teams of competing vacuum cleaner salesmen. When one canny salesman gets the idea to sell a new attachment as a tool for, well, masturbating…the sales take off. You can kinda fill in the blanks from there. Jeff Daniels directs, writes and stars, if that means anything to you.

Chaos (4.5) Dir: Coline Serreau / Release Date: Jan. 29th / New Yorker - An excellent French drama about the way the smallest choices we make can often have the most resounding consequences. It's a female-empowerment flick with a stern agenda and a vicious funny bone, and a movie that gets more involving with every passing scene. Absolutely worth seeking out.

Biker Boyz (1) Dir: Reggie Rock Bythewood / Release Date: Jan. 31st / Dreamworks - This is not the sort of fare that SKG promised when Dreamworks was born. Essentially an urban retread of The Fast and the Furious, only they use motorcycles instead of cars. That way the audience thinks someone wrote a screenplay. Not even the great Larry Fishburne can save this one.

Final Destination 2 (3.5) Dir: David R. Ellis / Release Date: Jan. 31st / New Line - Any studio-backed horror flick that simply delivers the goods gets a passing grade in my book. Nothing in this entire movie is unique aside from the creative kill scenes...but they're reallllly cool!

The Guru (2.5) Dir: Daisy von Scherler Mayer / Release Date: Jan. 31st / Universal - Earns some points just for being something a little weird and different, but then loses several for ending up silly and trite and formulaic. Perhaps a worthwhile curiosity piece for fans of the brilliant Heather Graham; others need not apply.

Lost in La Mancha (4) Dir: Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe / Release Date: Jan. 31st / IFC – Here’s a piece of Weinberg trivia that nobody really cares about: Terry Gilliam is my most favoritest director. Like, of anyone. And that includes Spielberg and Dante and Fincher and Crowe and Hitchcock and Ritchie. Nobody’s given me the movie experiences that Terry G. has, and this documentary about his ill-fated attempts to helm a Don Quixote movie is almost addictively entertaining. Every movie director should be forced to answer to a crew of documentary filmmakers as they produce a film. Imagine how many more great documentaries we’d have!

The Recruit (2.5) Dir: Roger Donaldson / Release Date: Jan. 31st / Touchstone – Despite the movie-star luggage, this one feels a whole lot like the 2-hour pilot episode for something called, well, The Recruit. Or maybe The Recruiterer. Anyway, here we got a few compelling plot twists, one or two mildly effective thrill-bits, and a whole lot of Farrell and his eyebrows trying to stay out of Pacino’s way, as Al’s in full-bore scenery-chomping mode here. Should work for fans of this sort of thriller, though it’s unlikely to win over any new ones.

February

Deliver Us from Eva (2.5) Dir: Gary Hardwick / Release Date: Feb. 7th / Focus - I do appreciate the fact that other races and cultures want to have their 'own' romantic comedies to enjoy. I myself enjoy a good Jewish flick from time to time. (The Frisco Kid or Fiddler on the Roof perhaps?) But why are the filmmakers content to copy the "white people" rom-coms so closely that they also replicate the crappy stuff too? Case in point here, "Eva" is in no way any worse than anything starring Kate Hudson or Meg Ryan...but it could have been a lot better than that too.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (1.5) Dir: Donald Petrie / Release Date: Feb. 7th / Paramount – Mean-spirited and stunningly obvious rom-com about a woman who plans NOT to fall in love. But guess what happens. Yep. Love. Wake me when it’s over.

Shanghai Knights (2) Dir: David Dobkin / Release Date: Feb. 7th / Touchstone – Again we less-fun-than-it-should-be sequel to a more-entertaining-than-it-deserved-to-be original. In an effort to ape or reference stuff from the first movie, the sequel feels more like an inevitability and less like a fun-time little adventure flick.

All the Real Girls (4.5) Dir: David Gordon Green / Release Date: Feb. 14th / Sony Pictures Classics - Pleasantly rambling and engaging tale of love and love lost a la The Last Picture Show. Zooey Deschanel proves a damn fine actress after a collection of standout supporting turns while writer/director David Green seems content to deliver compelling bouts of dialogue like Michael Bay delivers spent bullet casings. Fans of "people stories" need to search this one out.

Daredevil (2.5) Dir: Mark Steven Johnson / Release Date: Feb 14th / 20th Century Fox - It would take a whole lot for a movie to convince me I was seeing something more than "Ben Affleck in red spandex" but director Mark Johnson didn't even come close. Colin Farrell's hilarious villain and Jenny Garner's shapely co-heroine save the day in many spots, but some serious miscasting and a notable reliance on other Superhero conventions are evident throughout. Not terrible; a flick for pre-teen boys who are just getting into the whole superhero thing.

Gerry (2.5) Dir: Gus Van Sant / Release Date: Feb. 14th / ThinkFilm - Imagine if someone showed you a photo album full of truly beautiful desert vistas and landscapes. Then imagine he slams the photo album shut and asks you "What did you think of the story?" Not a terrible film, but perhaps best suited to aspiring cinematographers or insomniacs.

He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not (4) Dir: Laetitia Colombani / Release Date: Feb. 14th / IDP – It starts out feeling like a frothy French rom-com and slowly turns into a realistic sort of Fatal Attraction type thing. The fragmented narrative helps keep things compelling, and damn if that Amelie chick isn’t a cutie-fazooty.

The Jungle Book 2 (1.5) Dir: Steve Trenbirth / Release Date: Feb. 14th / Disney – Ugh. What an affront these Disney sequels are. The greedy asses will sequelize every single one of their well-admired classics, all in the name of the God of Name Recognition. This one feels like a flimsily constructed collection of outtakes and excerpts, while that formerly adorable “Bare Necessities” tune is trotted out at least six times in 70-some minutes. Think about that.

Lockdown (2.5) Dir: John Luessenhop / Release Date: Feb. 14th / Palm – Periodically engaging despite the oh-so-familiar material, this one tells the tale of three buddies “from the hood” who end up incarcerated for their crimes. That one of the trio is a straight-laced family man tells you much of what you need to know about the flick, though at least the old prison-flick clichés are presented with some style and sincerity.

Dark Blue (4) Dir: Ron Shelton / Release Date: Feb. 21st / MGM - A tight and rather intense cop procedural that sees Kurt Russell dealing with internal corruption and streets full of hate, set against the backdrop of the Rodney King verdict. Good stuff, and a movie I expect will find a lot of fans on home video.

Gods and Generals (2.5) Dir: Ronald Maxwell / Release Date: Feb. 21st / Warner - Ah yes; the old "if it's based on history and it's VERY long, that automatically makes it a good movie" routine. Sorry folks, not this time. Painfully boring and astoundingly self-important. Stick with Gettysburg, and someone tell Ted Turner to stick with what he knows.

The Life of David Gale (2) Dir: Alan Parker / Release Date: Feb. 21st / Paramount – Politically-minded low-rent dreck of the highest order. A bunch of filmmakers trudge forth trying their hardest to forward their own socio-political agendas about capital punishment, though there’s nothing here of any substance or depth. Just push-button reactionary chest-thumping, plus it’s irretrievably BORING too.

Old School (1.5) Dir: Todd Phillips / Release Date: Feb. 21st / Dreamworks – It’s not often that I dislike a movie and then actively pursue a second visit to make sure I’m not an idiot. And after repeat viewings, there’s simply not a whole lot that I like about Old School…which is really weird considering that I think Ferrell and Vaughn are two criminally funny fellows. Each time I sat through Old School, I laughed at several of Ferrell’s moments. Everything else? Dead blank static. Ah well, this one certainly has its fans, which is great. I’m just not one of ‘em.

Till Human Voices Wake Us (4) Dir: Michael Petroni / Release Date: Feb. 21st / Paramount – Here’s an ‘artsy’ on that I seem to be in the minority for. Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter co-star in this deliberately-paced yet fairly fascinating romantic drama. It’s a dual tale about love early in life and what can happen when he awaken those old feelings. I can certainly understand how many of my colleagues could dismiss this one as ‘languid’ or ‘snooze-worthy’ but, hey, it held my interest quite easily. Perhaps it’s that crush I have on Helena…

Cradle 2 the Grave (2.5) Dir: Andrzej Bartkowiak / Release Date: Feb. 28th / Warner - When a movie bores you to tears save for the action scenes, that's a problem. But if the action scenes are actually THAT impressive, you may have a hard time knocking the movie as a whole. This is one such example; much of the physical stuff is quite slick and smooth and enjoyable. Everything else is warmed-up junk.

Poolhall Junkies (2.5) Dir: Gregory 'Mars' Martin / Release Date: Feb. 28th / Samuel Goldwyn – And then there are the movies that you kinda like despite feeling that you probably shouldn’t, because there’s not one new idea or attitude to be found anywhere in the movie at hand. Such is the case here, as the flick is your proto-typical loser-makes-good-via-seedy-competition material, only enlivened by the presence of folks like Rod Steiger and Christopher Walken. As a Tarantino/Hustler wannabe, it’s not all that bad.

Spider (4.5) Dir: David Cronenberg / Release Date: Feb. 28th / Sony Pictures Classics – Moody, melancholy and as addicting as a jigsaw puzzle, Cronenberg’s character study/psychological mystery is an altogether great movie. Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson are startlingly good here.

March

Bringing Down the House (1) Dir: Adam Shankman / Release Date: March 7th / Touchstone - A keening parade of incessantly ugly race gags surrounded by a collection of performances so broad and misplaced and poorly-timed that they could only come courtesy of hack extraordinaire Adam Shankman. If you love Steve Martin's work as much as I do, do yourself a favor and never bother with this humiliating atrocity. I mean, c'mon. This guy's written award-winning literature! Why's he talking in black slang with his pants falling off?

Irreversible (4.5) Dir: Gaspar Noe / Release Date: March 7th / Lion's Gate – The most overwhelmingly powerful and impressive movie…that you’ll NEVER want to see again. Dismissed by some as low-minded sensationalism and other by other as brave and unflinching, but those with strong constitutions simple need to see it and decide for themselves. This is a stark and heart-wrenching experience, and I suspect that’s precisely what Mr. Noe had in mind when he was making it.

Laurel Canyon (3) Dir: Lisa Cholodenko / Release Date: March 7th / Sony Pictures Classics – What starts out as a canny culture-clash slowly devolves into self-important navel-gazing. Frances McDormand (not at all surprisingly) delivers a stellar performance as the pot-smoking, free-wheeling Mama of an uptight grad student, and Kate Beckinsale is very impressive as the fiancée who slowly sheds her inhibitions, but the flick feels like not much more than an art-house soap-opera.

Nowhere in Africa (4) Dir: Caroline Link / Release Date: March 7th / Columbia – A rock-solid (and rather lengthy) tale of two German immigrants who, thanks to the fact that they house Jewish blood, are forced to relocate to Africa in an effort to avoid Nazi unpleasantness. The couple scrimp and struggle and slowly build a family, but what happens when the war ends? HaHA! Go give it a rent for yourself; you may dig it.

The Safety of Objects (3) Dir: Rose Troche / Release Date: March 7th / IFC – Nothing says angst like indie. Here we have a whole truckload of suffering, suburbia-style, as four different families deal with all sorts of strife. Divorce, depression, doom and dalliances; it’s all here folks, all very well-acted and very, well, depressing.

Tears of the Sun (2) Dir: Antoine Fuqua / Release Date: March 7th / Columbia – Not awful but way too ‘safe’, this Bruce Willis war/rescue adventure seems to have a little more on its mind that just flying bullets and sweaty Marines. I say “seems” because the end result is an assembly-line action flick that never really pulls the trigger on anything unique or challenging despite being rather grimy and quite well-directed. Willis fans will enjoy it just for his glowering presence.

Bend It Like Beckham (3) Dir: Gurinder Chadha / Release Date: March 12th / Fox Searchlight - Here's another one I saw before everyone fell in love with it. I saw a perfectly serviceable (albeit entirely familiar) sports movie combined with a healthy dose of standard-issue chick-flick empowerment-ism. No wonder it was a arthouse fave. Certainly enjoyable enough to spend 90 minutes with, but nothing you haven't seen before elsewhere.

Agent Cody Banks (2) Dir: Harald Zwart / Release Date: March 14th / MGM - Meh. Tepid Spy Kids rehash made only marginally appealing if you dig the Malcolm. Me, I'm fine with young Mr. Muniz, so the flick was too insufferable. A rainy matinee rental for bored 12-year-olds, but only if they rent something good alongside it.

The Hunted (2.5) Dir: William Friedkin / Release Date: March 14th / Paramount – Paint-by-numbers chase thriller with Benicio Del Toro as the hunted and (guess who) Tommy Lee Jones as the hunter. A few grittily kinetic sequences and a rock-solid finale buoy a generally turgid affair.

Spun (0.5) Dir: Jonas Akerlund / Release Date: March 14th / Newmarket – The cinematic equivalent of licking a junkie’s toilet bowl. I couldn’t detest a film more strongly, news that would most likely tickle the director quite a bit.

Willard (3) Dir: Glen Morgan / Release Date: March 14th / New Line – Another one I expected to champion…until I saw it and was relatively unenthused. This is by no means a bad movie, but once you get past the effectively gothic tone and the delicious dangerous performance by Crispin Glover…all we got are scenes of CGI rats all over the place. A dark sense of humor and a few bizarre performances (gotta love that Ermey fella) help move things along too. Come to think of it, this is one I need to see again soon. I think I could like it more a second time around.

Boat Trip (0.5) Dir: Mort Nathan / Release Date: March 21st / Artisan - There's the bottom of the barrel. And then there's what's underneath the bottom. You ever see the ground underneath a wet barrel? It's full of worms and slugs and those weird bugs that ball up when you touch 'em. That's right where this abysmal abortion belongs. So bald-faced bad and astonishingly unfunny that it simply defies definition.

Down and Out with the Dolls (3) Dir: Kurt Voss / Release Date: March 21st / Indican - A no-name, no-budget rocker drama about the trials and tribulations of an all-girl band. Sure there are lotsa clichés and stereotypes strewn throughout, but darn if the movie doesn't manage to pull you in just a bit before it's all over. The music ain't half bad either. See also: Prey for Rock & Roll.

Dreamcatcher (2) Dir: Lawrence Kasdan / Release Date: March 21st / Warner - Take a surefire triumvirate of artists like Lawrence Kasdan, Stephen King and William Goldman and you're all but guaranteed a somewhat good time, right? Wrong-o! What a bizarre and misshapen misfire THIS one turned out to be. The flick shifts its genre gears with alarming intensity, the acting performances range from serviceable to atrocious, and as the end credits roll you may still not know what the plot was.

Fulltime Killer (4) Dir: Johnny To & Ka-Fai Wai / Release Date: March 21st / Palm - A crazy nuts wild insane Asian action flick about elite hit men and they people they kill. Laden with amazing action bits and a whole lot of movie-fan-type humor, this one's definitely worth a rental.

Piglet's Big Movie (2.5) Dir: Francis Glebas / Release Date: March 21st / Disney – OK, this one’s not as blatantly detestable as The Jungle Book 2 or any of those countless direct-to-video sequels like The Lion King meets Benji or some such nonsense. Perhaps it’s that the A.A. Milne characters are still treated with some care and affection, while Disney’s trademark critters are trotted out every two years like so much cattle. I mean, c’mon…Cinderella 2?!? Hang your heads.

View from the Top (2) Dir: Bruno Barreto / Release Date: March 21st / Miramax – Aims for Screwball and Madcap, but settles down around Silly and Moronic. Wants to be a “You’re Gonna Make it After Alllllll” kind of chick-flick and a Police Academy-style yuk-fest at the same time, and fails pretty miserably at both. A handful of laughs and a few bizarre cameos can’t save it.

Assassination Tango (4) Dir: Robert Duvall / Release Date: March 28th / MGM - Character Actor Universal Truth #542: Robert Duvall is a King among men. Perhaps a bit languid and deliberate for some, but Duvall's the focal point of every scene, so when the hit-man tale seems a bit arid or confusing you can just focus on the leading man and find something to enjoy.

Basic (2) Dir: John McTiernan / Release Date: March 28th / Columbia - Um...When'd I see this? March? Humph. It's the military thriller one when Travolta bares his teeth a lot. Yeah. Didn't really like it much. I do remember thinking that the normally impressive Connie Nielsen gave a performance worthy of rabid wolf howls.

The Core (2.5) Dir: Jon Amiel / Release Date: March 28th / Paramount - Sure it's possible to like a BAD movie enough to mildly recommend it. What's this one got to offer? Hilary Swank delivering one of the worst acting jobs this side of Robin Tunney, that crazy French character actor gets crushed in a scene that looks like a Dr. Who outtake, special effects that make Fantastic Voyage look like Return of the King and enough "howlers" to keep fans of bad screenwriting in stitches for weeks. I think it's quite an entertaining movie, even if it wasn't on purpose.

Head of State (1.5) Dir: Chris Rock / Release Date: March 28th / Dreamworks – Give him a stand-up stage or a talk-show medium, and Chris Rock is one truly entertaining man. Give him a screenplay (or even worse: let him write one) and watch the atrocity. Forget that Rock couldn’t act warm if you set his head on fire; this is a knee-jerk, slapdash and amazingly simplistic race-empowerment comedy that offers precisely zero laughs.

Raising Victor Vargas (4.5) Dir: Peter Sollett / Release Date: March 28th / Fireworks – Wow what a great little find this one was. Well, not a find really. Other people had praised it big-time before I’d ever seen it, but that doesn’t mean anything. Everyone loved The English Patient, after all. Anyway, here we have a fantastic little ‘people story’ about inner-city kids that doesn’t involve Uzis and playgrounds full of syringes. If I said it was ‘a touching coming-of-age story about a young Latino boy’, you’d probably yawn. So instead I’ll just say ‘rent this one when you can’ and make it real simple.

April

The Good Thief (4) Dir: Neil Jordan / Release Date: April 2nd / Fox Searchlight - Darkly intriguing and criminally underrated, this Nick Nolte heist flick/crime drama should find an appreciative audience via home video. Cuz nobody went to see it in the movies!

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (4.5) Dir: Shinichirô Watanabe / Release Date: April 4th / Destination - My first introduction to the 'Cowboy Bebop' series. It's all about interstellar bounty hunters and evil corporations and lotsa wide-minded Anime stuff like that, but it's also a simply cool outer space adventure as well. Sorta like Blade Runner meets Spirited Away...though not really.

DysFunktional Family (3) Dir: George Gallo / Release Date: April 4th / Miramax - Like any concert film, your enjoyment relies upon how many of the gags hit you firmly on the funny bone. Eddie Griffin's a funny guy indeed, although only about half of his material truly flies. Fans of the comedian should have a good time, though this flick might not win him many new ones.

The Guys (3.5) Dir: Jim Simpson / Release Date: April 4th / Focus - If you think a drama centered around the 9/11 tragedy must necessarily be maudlin or tacky, give this one a spin. Anthony LaPaglia (as a ranking fire captain mourning the loss of his men) and Sigourney Weaver (as an author enlisted to help write several eulogies) are just fantastic, and the movie is effectively touching without resorting to the easy tear-jerk.

Levity (3) Dir: Ed Solomon / Release Date: April 4th / Columbia – Bizarre ensemble indie that features both good and bad in equal doses. The flick wanders around its themes and characters without ever really pinning anything down with any resolve, and ultimately we’re left watching a bunch of respectable actors bouncing off of one another.

A Man Apart (2.5) Dir: F. Gary Gray / Release Date: April 4th / New Line – Another one I expected to be “atrocious” that surprised me by being only “bad”. But what’s up with our Vin-man? I recall very distinctly talking with people about how that “bald guy in Boiler Room really has something magnetic”; nowadays, the Vin-man is a poor sport, a money-grubber, and a non-stop sequel monkey. Careful Vin; you could easily become the next Casper Van Dien, you know.

The Man Without a Past (3.5) Dir: Aki Kaurismäki / Release Date: April 4th / Columbia – Some poor Finnish guy gets clobbered on the head by some street punks, wakes up with amnesia, and slowly wheedles his way into the life of a group of semi-friendly fringe-dwellers. Good-natured and engaging, but not too much meat on these bones.

Phone Booth (4) Dir: Joel Schumacher / Release Date: April 4th / 20th Century Fox – High-concept can-be-described-in-one-handy-sentence thrillers like this can often be all concept and no cash-in, but Schumacher (with a lot of help from leading man Colin Farrell) somehow manages to craft a tight & twisted little thriller.

Anger Management (1) Dir: Peter Segal / Release Date: April 11th / Columbia - I hate, loathe, despise and detest Adam Sandler's movies. Except for a few of the early ones, which I really like a lot. But it's amazing how many times this schlub (who I still TRY to like despite his unending cinematic shit parade) can cut a huge profit on the same...exact...schpiel. Lovable dolt adopts baby. Affable moron goes back to elementary school. Likeable idiot sings at weddings. Silly retard plays football. Wacky jerk plays golf. The gags are the same, the bit players are all the same, the blueprint is locked, and the die is cast. Including a horrifically overacting Jack Nicholson was a sure hit at the box-office, but the whole flimsy flick just left me depressed. Two or three honest laughs would have gone a long way; all I saw was pre-fab filmmaking and laziness.

Better Luck Tomorrow (3) Dir: Justin Lin / Release Date: April 11th / Paramount Classics - Another solid-yet-firmly-overrated 'cultural' movie, in that it has Asians in the stock-character roles instead of white or black people. I think this is a great thing; diversity is a great thing. Sincerely. But I'm not about to adore a movie JUST for having Asian kids go through the same old "good kids turned bad" schpiel that we've seen a dozen times before. This one is by no means a bad movie, but it's a relatively familiar meal in a new restaurant.

House of 1,000 Corpses (1.5) Dir: Rob Zombie / Release Date: April 11th / Lion's Gate – I respect and appreciate that Rob Zombie loves his old horror movies. I love ‘em too. But it takes a whole lot more than ‘affection for the genre’ to make a quality horror flick. This one feels like 80 minutes of outtakes from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels.

Stevie (4) Dir: Steve James / Release Date: April 11th / Lion's Gate – The director of Hoop Dreams turns his attention to an old friend he used to act as a “Big Brother” for. That Stevie has become a degenerate criminal does not deter James from portraying his subject matter in the most even-keeled and matter-of-fact fashion imaginable. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is fascinating.

XX/XY (3.5) Dir: Austin Chick / Release Date: April 11th / IFC – If anyone out there still remembers the underrated Andrew Fleming flick Threesome, you could consider this flick a half-remake/half-sequel…with more depth. Three former lovers (yes, I said three) are reunited eight years after their pretty wild college days, and must now contend with those prickly old feelings as they intrude upon “grown-up” life. Pretty solid People Flick.

Bulletproof Monk (2) Dir: Paul Hunter / Release Date: April 16th / MGM - Call it a limp Americanization of a beloved Asian action star; call it a tepid and flimsy movie version of an underground comic book which will irk the faithful and bore the uninitiated. Whatever you call it, don't call me when you're about to spin the DVD.

Chasing Papi (2.5) Dir: Linda Mendoza / Release Date: April 16th / 20th Century Fox - Sunny and high-energy sitcom stuff, enlivened periodically by a few strong performances. For the most part it's just another polished-up Romantic Farce told for a modern Latino audience. Not really BAD, but fairly unmemorable.

A Mighty Wind (4.5) Dir: Christopher Guest / Release Date: April 16th / Warner – Christopher Guest and his merry band of improvisers have struck gold again, this time with their sights set firmly on the silliness of folk music. If the satire is a bit less acidic this time out, it’s that more affectionate edge that separates this one from Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman. Perhaps Guest and Company have a little warmth for the old folk rockers, although that doesn’t stop them from poking some fun at the scene. If this one’s a bit more good-natured than Guest’s previous efforts, it doesn’t do anything to diminish the giggles.

Holes (4) Dir: Andrew Davis / Release Date: April 18th / Disney – Courtesy of Disney, Andrew Davis and a resoundingly popular novel comes one of the coolest and quirkiest family flicks in years. I expected to be bored (at best) and irritated (at worst) but hey, it’s a good time!

Lilja 4-ever (4.5) Dir: Lukas Moodysson / Release Date: April 18th / Newmarket – Such a stark and unflinching look at one young girl’s life in the now-crumbled Soviet Union that I’m half-expecting Disney to remake it with Mandy Moore and Shia LeBouf. Not exactly a “fun” flick, but one that will suck you in by the 15-minute mark and command your complete attention for the 90.

Malibu's Most Wanted (3.5) Dir: Adam Whitesell / Release Date: April 18th / Warner – OK, I guess this one has to hold the trophy for my #1 Guilty Pleasure of the year. Maybe I was just in a really good mood that night (not likely), but I do recall laughing quite consistently as Jamie Kennedy, although Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson easily steal the show. I also remember thinking that the moronic “car-crash finale” was entirely awful, but that the movie delivered enough goofy giggles along the way to earn some good will.

Winged Migration (4.5) Dir: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud & Michel Debats / Release Date: April 18th / Sony Pictures Classics – Generally, I’m sort of a cynical bastard. But I think I muttered “Wow” or “Whoa” or something else equally clever as I watched this amazingly vibrant nature documentary fly across the screen. Oh, did I lose you? Yeah, it’s a documentary about birds…and how they…fly. OK, fine. Don’t go see this one. You’ll be missing something pretty damn cool. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Blue Car (3.5) Dir: Karen Moncrieff / Release Date: April 25th / Miramax - Another earnest one-step-up from -After-School-Special teen angst self-seriousness. Two parts honest emotion and excellent performances, one part tedium because, frankly, we've been down this road before. See also the even less impressive Thirteen.

City of Ghosts (2) Dir: Matt Dillon / Release Date: April 25th / MGM - Underrated actor Matt Dillon makes his directorial debut with this well-intentioned but criminally boring movie about con-men, insurance fraud and Cambodia. Starts out strong, slows to a crawl, and shrivels up before your very eyes.

Confidence (3.5) Dir: James Foley / Release Date: April 25th / Lion's Gate - Here's one in which the familiarity of the whole thing doesn't really detract from the experience. Ed Burns is lost amidst an eclectic supporting cast, the screenplay has more twists and turns than a San Fran highway, and a few of the more arcane turns threaten to sink the flick. But still a pretty good time, and certainly worthy of being called a Worthwhile Cable Flick.

Cremaster 3 (1.5) Dir: Matthew Barney / Release Date: April 25th / Glacier Field - Forgive me for being an uncultured swine. I just don't get this stuff, and having it run for over 2 hours certainly doesn't make me any happier. Imagine a Nine Inch Nails video with no music (but a lot more mud) mixed with a 90-minute commercial for Chevy Pickup Trucks. I may not know art, but I know what I don't like.

A Decade Under the Influence (3.5) Dir: Ted Demme & Richard LaGravenese / Release Date: April 25th / IFC - I still sorta prefer Easy Riders, Raging Bulls over this one, but hey; how often do we get two excellent documentaries about Hollywood filmmaking in the 70s? This monumental time in moviedom is documented quite extensively via both films, and both deserve to be devoured by movie freaks old enough to remember 1979. Like me.

Identity (4.5) Dir: James Mangold / Release Date: April 25th / Columbia – How much you dig this one depends entirely on how easily you can swallow one HELL of a wack-o plot twist. Personally I dug the twist, plus the ensemble cast is rock-solid (Liotta AND Cusack!) and it’s nice to see a ‘mystery/thriller’ that embraces its horror-movie roots so joyously.

It Runs in the Family (1.5) Dir: Fred Schepisi / Release Date: April 25th / MGM & Disney – How about “Nepotism: The Movie”? Release it with that title and at least audiences make take the thing as a farce. As it stands, this is a wandering, toothless and ultimately exasperating conflagration of Douglases and the people they love. It’s like watching home movies, only you’re paying for the experience.

The Real Cancun (0.5) Dir: Rick de Oliveira / Release Date: April 25th / New Line – What math major couldn’t figure this one out? Deliver a movie full of reality-show garbage that people wouldn’t watch on TV for FREE and hope for a big payday. Damn am I thrilled that this movie bombed so resoundingly. Quick tip, fellas: people watch this junk because it doesn’t COST anything. Try charging 3 bucks an episode for Joe Millionaire and watch what happens.

Spellbound (5) Dir: Stephen Blitz / Release Date: April 30th / ThinkFilm – It’s nice to remember that not all Great Documentaries are about child abuse or the Holocaust or evil corporations. Perhaps it’s damning the film with feint praise by calling Spellbound a ‘perfectly nice’ movie, but it IS an effortlessly charming and sunny little movie. If the idea of watching a bunch of kids advance through the National Spelling Bee sounds pretty dull, then obviously you haven’t seen this one yet.

May

Charlotte Sometimes (3.5) Dir: Eric Byler / Release Date: May 2nd / Sundance - A romantic drama involving young Asian-Americans that starts out quite dry and gradually becomes a lot more compelling as the characters gain some gravity. Earns points simply for trying to deliver characters that talk like real people. We get enough glib 'movie talk' in the Kate Hudson rom-coms, so some low-key sincerity is quite welcome when one can find it.

The Dancer Upstairs (3.5) Dir: John Malkovich / Release Date: May 2nd / Fox Searchlight - Dry yet still quite involving drama about a South American detective who spends years on the trail of a guerilla leader and well-entrenched revolutionary. Hardly the flashiest of films, but a compelling piece of storytelling, handsomely conceived.

The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2) Dir: Jim Fall / Release Date: May 2nd / Disney – Though not as mindlessly atrocious as it clearly could have been, I just hate seeing children lined up for movies that are not much more than assembly-line product. Then again, I do remember seeing The Cat from Outer Space when I was a kid, so maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety.

Owning Mahowney (3) Dir: Richard Kwietniowski / Release Date: May 2nd / Sony Pictures Classics – Any movie that gives Philip Seymour Hoffman the starring role is already starting out on the right foot. But there’s simply not a whole lotta hook behind this story of a respected bank manager who embezzles millions of bucks to supporting his gambling addiction. You know where the flick’s headed; it gets there safely and without any sudden stops. The only thing worth remembering a week later is Hoffman’s presence.

X2: X-Men United (4.5) Dir: Bryan Singer / Release Date: May 2nd / 20th Century Fox – Nice to see that the Superhero Genre can put forth movies that are both rousingly cool and also quietly clever. There’s subtext galore in X2, but there’s even MORE explosions mega-brawls and freaky mutants and… So it’s candy for the eyes as well as the brain. Enjoy.

Daddy Day Care (1.5) Dir: Steve Carr / Release Date: May 9th / Columbia - I can't imagine there being a more clearer definition of "sell-out" than the comparison between the Eddie Murphy - Raw Eddie Murphy and the Daddy Day Care Eddie Murphy. Switching gears from raunchy comedy to family fare is certainly no crime; but switching from witty and well-staged raunchy comedy (Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America) to brainless and banal family fare (The Haunted Mansion and this simplistic suckhole) should be.

The Man on the Train (4) Dir: Patrice Leconte / Release Date: May 9th / Paramount Classics – Forcing myself to watch, like, everything sometimes leads to great rewards. Here’s one that totally took me by surprise. It’s about a veteran criminal who holes up with a chatty old fella while waiting for the right moment to pull a bank heist. A bit slow and chat-laden, but not so’s you’d nod off or anything.

Only the Strong Survive (3) Dir: Chris Hegedus / Release Date: May 9th / Miramax – Music-heavy documentary about a few of the most admired musicians from the old Motown Stax label. Check it out if you’d like to see some current-day performances from the likes of Wilson Pickett, Mary Wilson, Isaac Hayes and Sam Moore. Personally, I could have done with a little more archival material and interview segments. But that’s just me.

The Shape of Things (4) Dir: Neil LaBute / Release Date: May 9th / Focus – Maybe you need a certain sick sense of humor or off-kilter temperament to truly enjoy the works of Neil LaBute, so I guess you can count me in. Basically we have a tale about how love (and sex) from a beautiful woman can turn a backwards schlub into a confident man. But just when you think you know it all...

Washington Heights (3.5) Dir: Alfredo De Villa / Release Date: May 9th / MAC – A workmanlike and perfectly entertaining (if a bit ‘been there, done that’) indie about one New York ‘bodega’ and the varied cast of characters who populate it. Carlos wants to be a cartoonist, his buddies may be bad influences, his Papa gets shot one night, the local gangster has money missing, etc. That sort of thing, but better than it sounds.

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (3.5) Dir: Guy Maddin / Release Date: May 14th / Zeitgeist - Stoker's tale as interpreted through dance. Artsy and a bit tough to love, but hey, culture's like that sometimes. Give it a shot and expand your horizons!

The Matrix Reloaded (5) Dir: Andy & Larry Wachowksi / Release Date: May 15th / Warner – The sequel that took us in many directions…directions in which people apparently didn’t really want to go. Me, I found it a brazen breath of fresh air to see a sequel that wasn’t beholden to the “Rinse, Lather, Repeat” school of Part 2 filmmaking. This is a smart and fluid mindtrip full of awesome action and stellar set-pieces. History will tell the true tale of the Matrix sequels, and I for one believe that they’ll be remembered quite fondly indeed.

Cinemania (2) Dir: Angela Christlieb / Release Date: May 16th / Wellspring - Glib and occasionally irritating documentary about 5 of New York City's most rabid movie maniacs. The doco seems content to merely point at its subjects and laugh instead of offering any real answers as to WHY these folks love their movies so much. We could be watching people obsessed with subway schedules for all the movie talk we get here.

Down with Love (4) Dir: Peyton Reed / Release Date: May 16th / 20th Century Fox - The flick's just basically one big in-joke, but apparently not all that many people were interested in the punch line. Me, I dug it a lot. And I know very little about the Rock Hudson/Doris Day confections that the DwL is lampooning. I guess I just like Ewan and Renee, the movie made me laugh quite consistently, the production design is hilarious in and of itself, and the supporting cast is solid gold. So I forgive you all for not going to see it. Now go rent the DVD.

Bruce Almighty (2) Dir: Tom Shadyac / Release Date: May 23rd / Universal - The flick had just enough solid gags to fill a trailer with, and that trailer worked wonders. Sad to see that a movie that offers precisely one worthwhile laugh every thirty minutes can now be considered a Comedy Classic, but I guess other folks just laugh more easily than I do. Carrey's clearly a comedy guru who can make with the belly laughs, but this one's just got no damn meat on its bones.

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (4) Dir: A.J. Schnack / Release Date: May 23rd / Cowboy - Some music documentaries are made to appeal to a wide audience. This one's content to appeal just to fans of the brilliant They Might Be Giants. Were I NOT a fan of the band, I doubt this flick would tickle me all that much; but since I've dug the Giants since I was about 17, I had a ball with this one. Plus the DVD has like six of the great old videos!

The In-Laws (1.5) Dir: Andrew Fleming / Release Date: May 23rd / Warner – Forget the fact that it’s moronic to try and remake the classic Arkin/Falk comedy and focus on the fact that there’s not ONE single laugh to be found in this entirely disposable farce. I don’t know what’s more depressing: that chubby Albert Brooks is forced to bare his chunkified keester for a cheap larf, or that generally reliable director Andrew Fleming has sunk to sit-com material of this paltry caliber.

Finding Nemo (4.5) Dir: Andrew Stanton / Release Date: May 30th / Disney - Pixar's "least impressive" entry (by my reckoning anyway) is still about 40 times better than any other animated features you're likely to come across. Sweet, funny and overwhelmed with a stunning visual style...it fits in quite comfortably next to my Toy Story and Monsters Inc. DVDs.

The Italian Job (4) Dir: F. Gary Gray / Release Date: May 30th / Paramount – It sure feels nice when a remake ends up as an entertaining movie in its own right. No, this one doesn’t come close to the classic Michael Caine vehicle, but it does feature a colorful ensemble, a tight and witty script, and a few action sequences that should keep your toes tapping. A perfect weekend rental movie.

Wrong Turn (2.5) Dir: Rob Schmidt / Release Date: May 30th / 20th Century Fox – I respect and appreciate that several ‘new’ horror directors are harkening back to the days of the 70s; of the days when cannibal clans would kidnap a baby or when idiot teenagers were hung up on hooks for being too nosy. But you can’t have it both ways. This one wants to be old-school indie-scary and big-budget soft-R at the same time. One great sequence (amidst the treetops) stands out in an otherwise forgettable horror flick.

June

Controlled Chaos (3.5) Dir: Azita Zendel / Release Date: June 4th / Lovestreaks - Director Azita Zendel worked for Oliver Stone for several years, so when you see her film (in which an egomaniacal movie producer uses, abuses and dismisses everyone he touches) you'll know there's a few sparks of truth in there. Funny and fairly brave, this is a flick you may come across on the Sundance Channel one night, and you should let your TiVo snag it for you.

2 Fast 2 Furious (1) Dir: John Singleton / Release Date: June 6th / Universal - We knew a sequel was inevitable. Fine. We found it laughable when Diesel refused to return and Paul Walker found himself "Leading Man by Default". I honestly don't know what's more laughable: Walker's performance or the fact that these movies make so much money. Guilty Pleasures I can understand, but c'mon people. Where's the pleasure?

The Eye (3.5) Dir: Pang Brothers / Release Date: June 6th / Palm - Quite creepy in some spots, nearly deadly dull in others; overall this one's absolutely worth a look for fans of international horror flicks...but try not to think of The Sixth Sense while you're watching it.

May (5) Dir: Lucky McKee / Release Date: June 6th / Lion's Gate – I’m simply smitten. No lie, I’ve forced this movie onto about twenty different people, and I think the worst response I’ve received was “It was good. But too sad.” In other words, EVERYone I give this movie to likes it. Those are some good odds. It would be easy to label May as “Frankenstein meets Carrie” but then you’d be overlooking the fact that it’s also one of the best horror movies of the past 20 years. Hell, even Ebert gave it a full four stars. Rare is the cult flick that so immediately incites a loud and passionate base of supporters, but that’s what our little May has done. Rent this movie. And then maybe buy a copy.

Whale Rider (4) Dir: Niki Caro / Release Date: June 6th / Newmarket – A widely-admired and perfectly charming import about an 11-year-old New Zealand girl who aims to become the leader of her tribe, ignoring the will of her grandfather and about 1,000 years of tradition in the process. Newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes is absolutely fantastic in the lead, and the movie is full of sincere and rustic touches that only come when a movie is really ‘about’ what it’s about. Does that make any sense at all?

Capturing the Friedmans (4) Dir: Andrew Jarecki / Release Date: June 13th / Magnolia - Sobering, hypnotic and periodically off-putting documentary about a father and son accused of sex crimes on children. What makes this one better than most is that much of the footage is from within the family circle and not from an outside source lookin' for some dirt. My prediction is that it wins the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (1.5) Dir: Troy Miller / Release Date: June 13th / New Line - Here's a surefire recipe for quality filmmaking: deliver an in-name-only sequel bereft of any of the original filmmakers or stars. So basically you're selling the TITLE. Great. All that could be overlooked if there were maybe one worthwhile laugh to be found in the entire 80-some minute affair. Such is not the case, and the result is one of the laziest and most disposable comedies you're ever likely to come across.

The Hard Word (3.5) Dir: Scott Roberts / Release Date: June 13th / Lion's Gate – Slick crime flick from Down Under is more than a little familiar here and there, but overall it’s enjoyably vulgar, refreshingly nasty and full of colorful actors. Certainly worth a rental, or keep an eye on those cable listings.

Hollywood Homicide (1.5) Dir: Ron Shelton / Release Date: June 13th / Columbia – Some of the more open-minded critics I know called this one a “satire so clever that nobody got the joke”. So it’s either a really bad generic buddy-cop flick OR it’s a farce so subtle that the jokes don’t work. Either way, I was forced to watch the stately Harrison Ford putter around on a little girl’s bicycle. Someone owes me an apology for that.

Alex and Emma (1.5) Dir: Rob Reiner / Release Date: June 20th / Warner - Dear Rob Reiner, please don't think me some nasty internet rambler. I have a deep respect and love for MANY of your movies (This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, The Sure Thing and especially The Princess Bride), but I gotta ask you this: Are you even trying anymore? Each director only gets X amount of movies per career, and you're wasting your shots with THIS? This shit is so far beneath you that it's, like, mega-subterranean. Find a script that makes you laugh and make that movie! We'll be here waiting.

From Justin to Kelly (0.5) Dir: Robert Iscove / Release Date: June 20th / 20th Century Fox - Ha. Pfft. Snort. You gotta be kidding me. Heck, even the worst Martin Lawrence or Adam Sandler comedy is an actual MOVIE! This...this is just....ugh. And that it came from Fox, my favorite movie machine by far, is even more depressing. This one would be 'so bad it's good' were it not for the harrowingly awful acting performances and the 'drill a thumbtack into your forehead' musical numbers. God do I hate filmmaking by fad.

Hulk (4) Dir: Ang Lee / Release Date: June 20th / Universal – Moviegoers seemed relatively unimpressed by Ang Lee’s SuperAngst Adventure, but I for one welcomed the change from ‘familiar origin tale’ to semi-Shakespearean tragedy…only Will Shakespeare never bothered to write about grumpy irradiated anti-heroes and giant slobbering mutant doggies. Plus the “slow spots” give us Jenny Connelly to look at…so what’s to complain about?

28 Days Later (5) Dir: Danny Boyle / Release Date: June 27th / Fox Searchlight - Genre-love in a slick package. Danny Boyle borrows from sources galore and still comes up with something fresh and new. Bleak, bloody and harshly atmospheric, and a flick that actually improves with repeat visits. I love this one.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2.5) Dir: McG / Release Date: June 27th / Columbia - Even as someone who loudly and repeatedly professed his admiration for the initial chapter...this sequel stands out as an overbearing, overwrought and way over-the-top exercise in Attention Deficit Disorder filmmaking. I rate it 2.5 because Bernie Mac makes me laugh, there were two action sequences that got my toes tapping, and also because I like pretty women. But if you're looking for something smart and well crafted and, well, something that makes one lick of sense...look elsewhere.

Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films (4) Dir: Bret Wood / Release Date: June 27th / Kino – If, like me, you’re supremely curious about those infamous old “Highway Safety” movies they used to make the teenagers watch, here’s an engrossing little documentary. The feature itself is full of fascinatingly disturbing pop culture history, and the 2-disc DVD version includes several of the old propaganda films in their entirety.

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link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=915
originally posted: 01/12/04 14:11:48
last updated: 01/31/04 13:02:50
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