ARCHIVED REVIEWS (Aa-Am)
Abandon
About a Boy
About Adam
About Schmidt
Accidental Spy, the
Adaptation
Adventures of Pluto Nash
Adventures of Rocky and...
Affair of the Necklace, the
Agent Cody Banks
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Ali
All About My Mother
All the Pretty Horses
Almost Famous
Along Came a Spider
Amelie
American Beauty
American Movie
American Outlaws
American Pie
American Pie 2
American Psycho
America's Sweethearts
Amores Perros

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Archived Video Reviews (Aa - Am)
 

ABANDON - C+
Starring:
Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel, Gabrielle Union, Gabriel Mann, Melanie Lynskey, Fred Ward
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan
Suspense, 98 min (PG) (Paramount, 2002)


She may have graduated from TV's Dawson's Creek, but Abandon - like Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) before it - proves that Katie Holmes needs to be as selective in her lead roles as she has been thus far in supporting turns in films like Go, The Gift and Wonder Boys. Here Holmes squanders her natural talents as Katie, a promising undergrad with the ability to unknowingly make men fall in love with her whose list of admirers has just been expanded to include Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt), a former alcoholic detective assigned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Katie's boyfriend (Undeclared's Charlie Hunnam) two years before. Abandon marks the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (2000's Traffic), but once Hunnan's face keeps popping up all over campus, it is obvious that this is pure cut-and-paste thriller territory, with all the obligatory red herrings, mysterious visions and late-in-the-game revelations. Bratt mostly coasts on his Law & Order past, but Holmes does her best to shade in the dimensions of her character and there are some nicely comical supporting turns from Zooey Deschanel (The Good Girl) and Melanie Lynskey (Sweet Home Alabama) as Holmes' classmates. (top) (back)

ABOUT A BOY - B+
Starring:
Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Nicholas Hoult, Rachel Weisz, Isabel Brook, Victoria Smirfit
Directed by: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Comedy, 101 min (PG) (Universal, 2002)


After stuttering and stammering his way to success in films like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999), Hugh Grant added a streak of selfishness to the mannerisms with the satisfying Bridget Jones's Diary. Now, with About a Boy, Grant shapes and tones his persona from Diary, moderating everything we've come to expect of the actor, and the result is his best and most mature performance to date. Based on a novel by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity), About a Boy tells the story of Will Freeman, a perpetual bachelor who shuns responsibility like a disease and lives off the royalties of a novelty Christmas tune his father wrote. Will is forced to grow up, however, when he draws the attention of Marcus (natural and endearing newcomer Nicholas Hoult), a sensitive 12-year-old outcast with a suicidal mother (the heartbreaking Toni Collette). Before nightmares of Big Daddy (1999) start rushing your senses based on this storyline, however, it must be pointed out that directors Chris and Paul Weitz (American Pie) draw sharply from Hornby's novel and Grant's deeply felt performance to actually earn Will's slow transition to grown-up, along with moments of real poignancy and plenty of big laughs. (top) (back)

ABOUT ADAM - C
Starring:
Stuart Townsend, Kate Hudson, Frances O'Connor, Charlotte Bradley, Tommy Tiernan, Donal Beecher, Rosaleen Linehan
Directed by: Gerard Stembridge
Comedy, 97 min (14A) (Miramax, 2001)


Before sparkling in Almost Famous, Kate Hudson adopted an Irish lilt for this irrelevant comedy, a tale of lies and deception that annoyingly excuses such behaviour with a giggle and a twinkle of the eyes. Stuart Townsend plays the Adam of the title, a man with a gift for pleasing women by modifying his attitude, tone and personal history to best appeal to their desires. His latest women of interest are Dublin waitress Lucy (Hudson), her studious bookworm sister (Mansfield Park's Frances O'Connor), her other, married sister (Charlotte Bradley) and even their brother and his girlfriend. Watching everybody lie and sneak about to get a little action in the sheets is supposed to be charming, but the hanky panky shenanigans - with their underlying suggestion that all women need to be set free is a good shag - seems almost insulting to about 80% of the primary characters. To be fair, both Hudson and O'Connor are quite likeable and Rosaleen Linehan is a delight as the girls' mother, but Townsend comes up short for someone who is supposed to be nothing less than irresistible to everyone on screen. He never really brings a fire or spark to Adam, thus stripping the character (and, for that matter, the entire film) of a plausible justification for his actions. (top) (back)

ABOUT SCHMIDT - A-
Starring:
Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates, Dermot Mulroney, Howard Hesseman, June Squibb, Connie Ray, Len Cariou
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Comedy, 125 min (14A) (New Line, 2002)


Even in his most celebrated performances of the last fifteen years - Batman (1989), A Few Good Men (1992), As Good As It Gets (1997) - Jack Nicholson has basically played Jack Nicholson. The giddy thrill of the actor's performance in the exemplary About Schmidt comes from the realization that, after years of eyebrow-arching and devious grinning, he can still drop the tics and be a first-rate character actor, confident and capable enough to play a complex and winning character like recent retiree Warren Schmidt. Directed and co-written by Alexander Payne, who also excelled with 1999's Election, About Schmidt is a road movie that follows Warren as he hits the road in a Winnebago shortly following the death of his wife, aiming to put an end to the pending marriage between his only daughter (Hope Davis) and a waterbed salesman with a mullet (Dermot Mulroney). Along the way, Warren is forced to face age, loss, disappointment, the hazards of a waterbed, betrayal, and a naked Kathy Bates in a hot tub and Nicholson's Oscar-nominated and Oscar-worthy performance is flawless. Even with its serious undertones, though, Schmidt is a comedy and Payne strikes a fine balance between pathos and inspired, humanity-based laughs. (top) (back)

THE ACCIDENTAL SPY - C
Starring:
Jackie Chan, Kim Min, Eric Tsang, Vivian Hsu, Wu Hsing Hsing-Kuo, Kim Ming Jeong
Directed by: Teddy Chan
Action, 87 min (PG) (Dimension, 2001)


At this point in his long career, audiences have come to expect exactly two things from Jackie Chan: outrageous stunts and goofy humour. The Accidental Spy, a Hong Kong effort (dubbed in English) that Chan filmed between Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour 2, steps up to the challenge on the first count - despite the actor's increasing age, he still finds the time to save some people trapped in a runaway burning truck, shock some aggressors with a defibrillator, beat up a dozen baddies while half nude in a Turkish bathhouse and run naked, covering himself with all sorts of objects, through a street bazaar. It's in the humour department that The Accidental Spy misses its mark, with any feeble attempts at laughs overshadowed the insufferably convoluted plot - something about a mild-mannered exercise equipment salesman (Chan) learning that he is the son of a Korean spy and becoming embroiled in an espionage adventure involving a game cooked up by Chan's father, mysterious women, countless double agents, torture at a drug lord's hideaway, dubious international relations, a deadly narcotic, secret identities and a head villain so inconsequential his demise almost seems like an afterthought. (top) (back)

ADAPTATION - B+
Starring:
Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brian Cox, Ron Livingston, Judy Greer
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Comedy, 114 min (14A) (Columbia, 2002)


You can accuse director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman of being many things - eccentric, ambitious, challenging - but conventional is definitely not one of them. If you though the duo's last collaboration, the hilarious Being John Malkovich (1999), was off the beaten path, try to wrap your head around Adaptation: Kaufman was assigned to adapt journalist Susan Orlean's non-narrative, non-fictional book The Orchid Thief (based on the story of toothless gardner John Laroche) into a movie. Rather than follow the usual trajectory, however, Kaufman wrote a screenplay about the process of adapting the novel into a movie and Jonze turned this into Adaptation, a wild comedy starring Nicolas Cage as both Kaufman and his fictional hack of a brother, Streep as Orlean and Chris Cooper as Laroche. Cage and Streep both give splendid comic performances, but the standout performance here is undoubtedly the Oscar-winning Cooper, whose Laroche is a delightfully offbeat and enigmatic creation. More than anything, however, Adaptation is a dazzling exercise in screenwriting, only collapsing in on itself in the final act. By then, though, one is too caught up in the film's bizarre wavelength and entertaining audacity to really care. (top) (back)

THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH - D
Starring:
Eddie Murphy, Randy Quaid, Rosario Dawson, Pam Grier, Joe Pantoliano, James Rebhorn, Jay Mohr, Luis Guzman, John Cleese
Directed by: Ron Underwood
Comedy, 95 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2002)


With its alleged budget of US$100 million and 95 minute-running time, it can be concluded that every minute of The Adventures of Pluto Nash cost over one million dollars to produce. Since the entire picture practically looks like it was made with a smaller budget than The Blair Witch Project, however, one can't help but think that the filmmakers were just shooting money out into space. That is actually what they should have done with all copies of Pluto Nash, a laughless and leaden "comedy" set in the year 2087 that was plagued by delays, budget overruns and, apparently, a screenplay as hilarious as the recycled Styrofoam they used to build the sets. Eddie Murphy, who also played a nightclub owner in 1989's Harlem Nights, gives a hollow performance here as Pluto Nash, the proprietor of a popular party spot on the moon who, with the aid of a wannabe singer (Men in Black II's Rosario Dawson) and a low-grade robot bodyguard (Randy Quaid), goes after the mobster that blew up his club. Along the way, there are close encounters with significantly dated gags (Hilary Clinton on a $10,000 bill!), wasted comedic cameos (John Cleese as a talking car!) and zero gravity effects so unbelievable you'd think the picture is spoofing itself (it isn't). (top) (back)

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE - C+
Starring:
Rene Russo, Jason Alexander, Robert De Niro, Piper Perabo, Jonathan Winters, Randy Quaid, Janeane Garofalo, James Rebhorn
Directed by:
Des McAnuff
Family, 92 min (G)
(Universal, 2000)


More of a moose-take than a moose-terpiece, Rocky and Bullwinkle is a lot like fellow Jay Ward cartoons-turned-live action movies George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right. In other words, it's strained, poorly paced and yet another reminder that what works in small doses does not necessarily translate into a 90-minute movie. That's not to say, however, that this film is a complete waste (though that could be said for Dudley Do-Right). Telling the story of once popular TV cartoon characters Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose who have to enter the real world when their arch nemeses Boris Badenov (Jason Alexander), Natasha (Rene Russo) and Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro) become flesh-and-blood villains bent on taking over America, the film has all the winking self-references, puns, bad puns and really bad puns as the original series. Problem is, Bullwinkle and Rocky are forced to share the screen with a bland FBI agent (Coyote Ugly's Piper Perabo) and director Des McAnuff (Cousin Bette) doesn't appreciate throwaway gags, often letting dumb jokes sit on the screen to go stale. Stick to TV reruns. (top) (back)

THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE - C-
Starring:
Hilary Swank, Adrien Brody, Christopher Walken, Brian Cox, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Baker, Joely Richardson, Paul Brooke
Directed by:
Charles Shyer
Drama, 117 min (PG)
(Warner Bros., 2001)


Since his career has been populated by light comedies like Baby Boom (1987), Father of the Bride (1991) and I Love Trouble (1994), there is nothing on director Charles Shyer's resume to suggest that he is equipped to handle a French Revolution period piece like The Affair of the Necklace. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn't provide the impression that he is capable of such a picture either. Based on a real-life 18th-century scandal that played a major role in the downfall of Queen Marie Antoinette and the royal family, Affair stars the miscast Hilary Swank as Comtesse Jeanne de la Motte-Valois, a disinherited aristocrat who wants nothing more than to regain the estate and title that was taken from her family when she was a child. With the assistance of a court gigolo (Simon Baker), her oily husband (Adrien Brody) and a mystic con artist (Christopher Walken), Jeanne embarks on a scheme involving a 2,800-carat diamond necklace, Antoinette (Joely Richardson) and a powerful cardinal (Jonathan Pryce). Shyer, however, fails to establish any of the Dangerous Liasons-style passions that this story requires, opting instead for deadly dull pacing, and the varying acting styles of the large cast smash up against each other like cars in deep fog. (top) (back)

AGENT CODY BANKS - B-
Starring:
Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Andrew Francis, Darrell Hammond, Martin Donovan, Cynthia Stevenson, Keith David
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Comedy, 102 min (PG) (MGM, 2003)


The film world needs another secret agent franchise about as much as James Bond likes his martinis stirred, not shaken, but don't hold that against Agent Cody Banks. Sure, this is about as grade school as spy adventures can get, but here it is intentional: the 007 out to save the day is Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz), a high school student secretly hired by the CIA as a junior operative. His latest mission: to successfully woo a dreamy classmate (Lizzie McGuire's Hilary Duff) in order to gain access to her scientist father who is unknowingly working for a madman bent on destroying the United States. Cody's problem: he still hasn't figured out how to speak to girls. It's all a little far-fetched, with too much emphasis on silly gadgets (then again, what spy adventure isn't?), but Harald Zwart (2001's One Night at McCool's) wisely doesn't take anything too seriously, keeping the story appropriately light and moderately engaging. Though his butt-kicking abilities seem unlikely, Malcolm in the Middle's Muniz fares better here than he has in other big screen vehicles (Big Fat Liar, My Dog Skip) and he gets able support from a dry Angie Harmon as Cody's foxy partner. Too bad Duff - all lip gloss and perfect hair - is a little on the dull side. (top) (back)

A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - B+
Starring:
Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson, voice of Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Drama, 145 min (14A) (Dreamworks, 2001)


All throughout A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, it is clear there are two different filmmakers with two different cinematic sensibilities at work. On the one side is the late Stanley Kubrick, who conceived the story and made a career out of challenging his audiences with thoughtful nightmares. Coming in from the other angle is Steven Spielberg, who wrote and directed the film based on Kubrick's notes and has spent much of the last few decades pleasing audiences with entertaining daydreams. What makes A.I. so utterly fascinating is the pure thrill in watching these two minds jam up against each other, fight for control and, ultimately, connect. Set in the distant future and sharing a variety of parallels with E.T., A Clockwork Orange and Pinocchio, A.I. casts Haley Joel Osment as David, a cyborg who has been designed to behave as a real boy - complete with the instinct to love - for young couples who are unable, or not sanctioned, to have children. But when David has an accident that almost kills a human child, his mother deserts him, he meets up with an on-the-lam gigolo robot (the astonishing Jude Law) and he goes on a variety of surreal adventures trying to make it home. At times forced, spellbinding, unwieldy and powerful, A.I. is not to be missed. (top) (back)

ALI - B-
Starring:
Will Smith, Mario Van Peebles, Jeffrey Wright, Jamie Foxx, Ron Silver, Jon Voight, Mykelti Williamson, Jada Pinkett-Smith
Directed by:
Michael Mann
Drama, 158 min (14A) (Columbia, 2001)


Many consider Muhammad Ali to be the greatest athlete of all time, but watching director Michael Mann's biopic leaves you with the same feeling as Richard Attenborough's Chaplin (1992), which is to say that despite a likely career-topping lead performance (Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin, Will Smith here) and some dazzling set pieces, the screenplay never gets past the story to reveal the man. Smith, displaying striking dramatic chops that haven't been seen since his screen debut in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), deserved his Oscar nomination for his Champ-worthy work here that captures the man's bravado, swagger and butterfly-to-bee use of words. Particularly effective are the bang-up fight scenes, which Mann (The Insider) stages with an often-brutal intensity and passion. Outside of the ring, however, the film hits low because it seems like the director and screenwriters are too caught up in idealizing the symbol of Ali to find - or, heaven forbid, criticize - the man inside the gloves. The film only halfheartedly touches on Ali's temper and womanizing and never really illustrates why the Nation of Islam played such a large role in his life. In the end, Ali raises far more questions about Muhammad Ali than it answers. (top) (back)

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER - A-
Starring:
Celia Roth, Penelope Cruz, Marisa Parades, Candela Pena, Eloy Azorin, Antonia San Juan
Directed by:
Pedro Almodovar
Drama, 102 min (14A) (Sony Pictures Classics, 1999)


Without dropping any of his usual trademarks (garish colours, campy visuals, drag queens, frazzled women), Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar discovers a newfound sense of maturity with All About My Mother. Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film and Cannes-winner for Best Director, the film follows several proud but confused women living in Barcelona. There's a grieving mother (Cecilia Roth) in search of her son's transvestite father; a transsexual prostitute trying to get off the streets; an aging stage actress (Marisa Paredes) frustrated by her lesbian lover's mood swings; and, to round out the bunch, a pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz) who also happens to be HIV-positive. It's a group of women ripe for melodrama, but Almodovar's style and obvious love for his characters ensures that even the story's tragic layers have a warm glow. Furthermore, Almodovar is blessed with a first-rate cast, all of whom give full-bodied performances that eloquently express what it means to be a mother.
(top) (back)


ALL THE PRETTY HORSES - C+
Starring:
Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Penelope Cruz, Lucas Black, Robert Patrick, Bruce Dern, Ruben Blades, Sam Shepard 
Directed by:
Billy Bob Thornton
Drama, 112 min
(PG) (Miramax, 2000)


It's unknown if director Billy Bob Thornton's original four-hour cut of All the Pretty Horses was any better than the 112-minute version that actually got released, but chances are it didn't seem nearly as detached or truncated as this picture. As it is now, this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's best-selling novel feels rushed and slow-moving at the same time, with far too much effort spent admiring pretty landscapes as opposed to establishing scenes, emotions, or characters. Matt Damon plays the lead, a cowboy who saddles up with his best friend (Henry Thomas) in 1949 West Texas and makes a trip to Mexico where he hooks up with a mysterious teenager (Sling Blade's Lucas Black) and a wealthy landowner's forbidden daughter (Penelope Cruz). All throughout the film, flashes of McCarthy's acclaimed novel see the light of day and, as a result, the film is far from a complete disaster. Unfortunately, for every aspect of the film that works (the visuals, the lively Black), there's one that doesn't (the jail scenes, the flat Cruz).
(top) (back)

ALMOST FAMOUS - A-
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by:
Cameron Crowe
Comedy, 123 min
(14A) (Dreamworks, 2000)

Like a classic pop-rock song, Almost Famous is a beautiful, eminently entertaining piece of work. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) from his own experiences as a teenage rock reporter, the film hits all the right notes, resulting in an absolutely fabulous look at love, belonging, growing up and rock n' roll at a crossroads. Crowe's stand-in is William (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old hired by Rolling Stone magazine to go on tour with a second-tier '70s rock band (led by Billy Crudup) and their groupies (led by Kate Hudson), and Crowe does a captivating job of catching a time and place in music history. Much of this is due to Crowe's brilliant screenplay, a warm-hearted tribute to the players in his past that undoubtedly springs from his own love for music. In turn, the cast responds magically, with the standouts including the natural Fugit, a sparkling Hudson, the irresistible Crudup, Frances McDormand as William's bewildered mother and Philip Seymour Hoffman as rock critic Lester Bangs. (top) (back)

ALONG CAME A SPIDER - C+
Starring:
Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Penelope Ann Miller, Michael Moriarty, Dylan Baker, Mika Boorem
Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Suspense, 103 min (14A) (Paramount, 2001)


Dr. Alex Cross, the hero of James Patterson's top-selling thriller series, first hit the screen in 1997's Kiss the Girls and, played once again by Morgan Freeman in this prequel, Cross continues to come across as an intelligent and contemplative detective. As in Girls, though, Cross gets short-changed here by the film that surrounds him, one that all-too-often throws logic and believability out the window in exchange for slick thrills and twists so jarring you would expect the actors to get whiplash. This time out, Cross is involved in a case surrounding a kidnapped senator's daughter (Mika Boorem) for which he teams up with a Secret Service agent (Monica Potter) to try and track down the man (oily Michael Wincott) who took the time to pose as a teacher at the kid's school for three years simply so he could execute an intricate plan and try to outsmart Cross (I guess he had nothing better to do). Directed by Lee Tamahori, who has yet to fulfill the electrifying promise of his 1994 debut, Once Were Warriors, Along Came a Spider does have an engagingly weblike story but, when a plot ultimately comes down to the hero randomly guessing a computer password (and getting it right the first time), you can't help but feel a little short-changed. (top) (back)

AMELIE - A-
Starring:
Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Claire Maurier, Urbain Cancelier, Isabelle Nanty, Michel Robin
Directed by:
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Comedy, 121 min (14A) (Miramax, 2001)


Don't let the fact that Amelie is in French with subtitles deter you from seeing this enchanting picture, one of the most bright, shiny and effervescent adult-pleasing fairy tales since The Princess Bride (1987). Audrey Tautou, a charming pixie with expressive, Bambi-style doe-eyes, plays the title character, a shy Parisian waitress who, borrowing a page from Jane Austen's Emma, takes it upon herself to meddle in the lives of everyone around her - her father, her neighbours, her co-workers - and hopefully enrich their lives in the process. Matters of her own heart, however, are a little more difficult to control, particularly when it comes to the odd cutie (Mathieu Kassovitz), often seen reaching beneath photo booths, that Amelie only slowly realizes is part of her destiny. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, best known on this side of the Atlantic for Delicatessen (1991) and Alien: Resurrection (1997), Amelie is stuffed with marvelous little touches of cinematic invention - when she cries, Amelie is momentarily turned into a puddle of water - and the colourful visuals, harking back to classic MGM musicals, bring a dreamy and mythical quality to the City of Lights. Nominated for the Best Foreign film Oscar, Amelie is a joyful and fantastic delight. (top) (back)

AMERICAN BEAUTY - A-
Starring:
Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney, Scott Bakula
Directed by:
Sam Mendes
Drama, 122 min
(18A) (Dreamworks, 1999)


Just when you are about to give up on Hollywood, along comes a film like American Beauty to remind you just how mesmerizing and shattering movies can get. The deserving winner of the 2000 Best Picture Oscar, American Beauty strikes an exquisite balance between painful drama and dark comedy in its story about a suburban father (Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey) whose midlife crisis - and infatuation with his daughter's friend (Mena Suvari) - reveals all of the cracks in his family's happy exterior. Theatre director Sam Mendes, in his feature debut, treats the picture as an unnerving cinematic poem, displaying a surprisingly fluid understanding of visual style and capturing all of the nuances and humour of Alan Ball's Oscar-winning screenplay. Spacey gives a magnetic and perfectly cynical performance, leading a cast that also includes first-rate work from Thora Birch (as his disenchanted daughter), Wes Bentley (as Birch's spooky boyfriend) and Annette Bening, who finds humanity as Spacey's caricatured wife.
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AMERICAN MOVIE - B
Starring:
Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank
Directed by:
Chris Smith
Documentary, 104 min
(14A) (Sony Pictures Classics, 1999)


The modern-day Ed Woods of the world get their own tribute with this humourous documentary about the world of no-budget filmmaking. American Movie follows would-be director Mark Borchardt, a 33-year-old dreamer with Wayne's World hair who aspires to be a famous filmmaker whenever he's not dodging bills, working dead-end jobs, drinking beer or fighting with one family member or the next. American Movie occasionally takes a condescending approach to Borchardt and the people in his life, but Chris Smith's direction is sprightly, capturing all of the logistical nightmares (missing funds, inept actors, uninspired assistants, etc) that go into making a low-budget feature. And while Borchardt's talent is suspicious (in order to make his dream project, he's filming a grade-Z horror film called Coven), there's a grudging admiration that goes with watching a man try to fulfill his dream, especially when you realize his own family doesn't even have faith in him.
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AMERICAN OUTLAWS - D+
Starring:
Colin Ferrell, Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Gabriel Macht, Timothy Dalton, Gregory Smith, Harris Yulin, Kathy Bates, Ronny Cox
Directed by: Les Mayfield
Action, 94 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2001)


It takes quite the movie to make one yearn for the sophistication of 1988's Young Guns, but this dopey hunks-on-horses western is just that movie. Charismatic Colin Ferrell, taking a career misstep after the gritty realism of the Vietnam drama Tigerland, leads the often-shirtless cast as the outlaw Jessie James, here portrayed as an honest hard-worker who only took to robbing banks because the no-good government killed his momma (Kathy Bates). When a movie is so tone-deaf it can't even make Bates look like anything more than an amateur, you know something is wrong, and none of the actors here are the least bit convincing, particularly pointy Ali Larter, severely miscast as Jesse's naïve girl-next-door love interest, and Timothy Dalton, who appears to be unknowingly parodying himself as a ruthless detective. Certainly not helping matters is the dumb screenplay that runs through all of the western clichés without any conviction about how to use them and direction by Les Mayfield (Blue Streak) that places more of an emphasis on male model handsomeness than suspense or credible action. With more holes than a rural street-sign, the thoroughly unbelievable American Outlaws should be locked up for crimes of idiotic punishment. (top) (back)

AMERICAN PIE - B-
Starring:
Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Eugene Levy, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne, Tara Reid
Directed by: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Comedy, 96 min (18A) (Universal, 1999)


The resulting product is a little lumpy, but many of American Pie's ingredients add flavour to its hormone-heavy screenplay, resulting in an appropriate - and often hilarious - new millennium spin on Porky's (1981) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Directed by brothers Chris and Paul Weitz, American Pie doesn't have much in terms of plot - basically, a group of horny teenagers are out to lose their virginity three weeks before prom - but the cast is likeable (particularly the endearing Jason Biggs as a terminally embarrassed high school dork) and, though they aren't given enough screen time, it is nice to see a film in this genre treat women as more than sex objects. Extra points are awarded for casting the wonderfully deadpan Eugene Levy as Biggs' supportive father. (top) (back)

AMERICAN PIE 2 - B-
Starring:
Jason Biggs, Sean William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Eugene Levy, Shannon Elizabeth, Tara Reid
Directed by: J.B. Rogers
Comedy, 104 min (14A) (Universal, 2001)


American Pie 2 is a lot like a second helping of dessert - just as tasty, but not quite as satisfying. Though this sequel to the 1999 teen comedy has more belly laughs than the original American Pie, it also has a lot more wasted space and missed opportunities. Set roughly one year after the first picture, American Pie 2 finds the former high school friends reunited during the summer following freshman year, a time for the gang to rent a summer house, try to score with more girls and, of course, get stuck in sticky situations involving superglue, trumpets, lesbians and disgusting beverages (though, thankfully, not at the same time). Unfortunately, much of the original cast appears to have shown up less for laughs than for nostalgia - actors like Thomas Ian Nicholas and Chris Klein (who worked with director J.B. Rogers on Say It Isn't So) are given nothing to work with and virtually every female cast member (including Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Shannon Elizabeth and Natasha Lyonne) has little more than a cameo. Thankfully, the other actors do their best to pick up the slack. Once more, Jason Biggs is a likeable loser, Seann William Scott is the definition of horndog, Alyson Hannigan is endearing as the band geek and Eugene Levy is invaluable as Biggs' father. (top) (back)

AMERICAN PSYCHO - B-
Starring:
Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis, Chloe Sevigny, Joshua Lucas, Matt Ross
Directed by:
Mary Harron
Suspense, 103 min
(18A) (Universal, 2000)


Before it heads off the deep end with an illogical and out-of-control climax, this slasher drama does something Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel of the same name couldn’t: find satire in the story of a soulless 80s yuppie whose only satisfaction comes from killing colleagues, girlfriends and anyone else who happens to be around. Scenes such as the one in which the film’s protagonist, Patrick Bateman, waxes eloquently about such 80s musical "gems" as Huey Lewis’ Hip to Be Square are genially amusing and effectively balance out the gruesome deaths that usually follow. Much of the credit for this must go to Christian Bale, who plays Bateman with just the right degree of venom, selfishness and insecurity. For all of Bale and director Mary Harron’s efforts, however, the film still can’t help falling victim to the flaws of the source material, namely its overly misogynistic themes, a lack of wit and a conclusion more confusing than haunting.
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AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS -
C
Starring: Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Crystal, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Seth Green
Directed by: Joe Roth
Comedy, 103 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2001)


Julia Roberts may be America's sweetheart but, as this romantic comedy goes a long way towards proving, not even her high-watt star voltage can redeem a crude screenplay, off-balance direction and one-note jokes. Directed by former Disney head honcho Joe Roth, America's Sweethearts casts Roberts as Kiki Harrison, the sister and personal assistant to a Hollywood diva (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whose recent divorce from her long-time leading man (John Cusack) is causing all sorts of chaos for the publicist of their latest film (Billy Crystal). To make matters even worse, Kiki has fallen for her sister's ex and the director of the film (Christopher Walken) may not even show up at the junket with the final print of his film. It all sounds charmingly screwball but Roth, working from a crass script by Crystal, never adequately puts the gears into motion and the showbiz satire alternates between soft and cruel mockery (of both the actors and the audience). Of the cast, Zeta-Jones comes across best, nailing the part of an obnoxious celebrity, but a muted Cusack gets overshadowed by his leading ladies and, though as likeable as ever, Roberts mined much of the same territory, with far better results, in Notting Hill and My Best Friend's Wedding. (top) (back)

AMORES PERROS - B+
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarria, Goya Toledo, Alvarao Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche, Jorge Salinas, Marco Perez
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito
Drama, 153 min (18A) (Lions Gate, 2000)


The title of this Tarantino-esque Mexican film, a recent nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (it lost to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), roughly translates into Love is a Bitch and film certainly illustrates this concept, telling three Go-style stories that all involve dogs and a horrible car crash that opens the film. The first tale, the story of a young man (Gael Garcia Bernal) who tries to raise money by dog-fighting in order to run away with his abused sister-in-law (Vanessa Bauche), is the best of the bunch, directed with fluidity and sharpness by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito. Innarito's vision is painful at times, drawing a lot of its power from the corruption and inhumanity that drives Mexico City, but most of the scenes of violence and gritty realism are tempered with a wonderfully subtle sense of sentimentality. The second two stories - one about a supermodel (Goya Toledo) with a powder-puff of a pooch who gets put in a wheelchair, the other about a homeless hitman (Emilio Echevarria) who cares more about his strays than the daughter he abandoned as a child - are less captivating than the first, but no less accomplished in terms of directorial vision or the dog-eats-dog nature that drives the characters. (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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