RECOMMENDED RELEASES
Bowling for Columbine
Chicago
Gangs of New York
Good Thief, the
Kid Stays in the Picture
Lord of the Rings: Two...
Nicholas Nickleby
Punch-Drunk Love
Quiet American, the
Shanghai Knights

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Recommended Video Releases
 

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE - B+
Featuring:
Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Matt Stone, Dick Clark, George W. Bush
Directed by: Michael Moore
Documentary, 119 min (14A) (MGM, 2002)


Michael Moore gets more press than the bulk of documentary filmmakers not because his ideas are passionate (though they are) or because he isn't above a little self-promotion (he certainly isn't). If anything, it is because he knows how to tell a story, take a stand and make a point while entertaining at the same time. Moore's Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine takes a deep look at the American gun culture, skillfully juxtaposing moments of horror (security-camera footage from the Littleton, Colorado, high school massacre) with satire (a South Park-style review of the country's violent past), and the result is a sobering, insightful and controversial work. Moore occasionally leans too far into blunt manipulation (at one point placing the photo of a murdered young girl on the driveway of NRA president Charlton Heston), but you have to admire his dogged journalistic ambition. Among the nuggets here: an interview with the creepy brother of an Oklahoma City bombing convict, a man who was saddened when he only ranked second on a list of bomb suspects, a Chris Rock stand-up routine and interviews with a thoughtful Marilyn Manson and seemingly racist Heston. Inflammatory, powerful and provocative indeed. (top) (back)

CHICAGO - A
Starring:
Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Taye Diggs, Christine Baranski, Colm Feore
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Musical, 113 min (14A) (Miramax, 2002)


If Moulin Rouge re-imagined the movie musical genre for the MTV generation, Chicago kicks it into the new millennium thanks to irresistible performances, musical numbers that beg for repeat play and an invigorating combination of cynicism and va-va-voom. Adapted from Bob Fosse's 1975 stage satire, this deserved winner of the Best Picture Oscar is a stunning achievement for first-time film director Rob Marshall and a reminder of just how smooth and stunning a filmed musical can be. Set in the 1920s but all too relevant in our times of tabloid celebrities, Chicago tells the story of a fame-starved cutie (Renee Zellweger) who finds celebrated notoriety upon murdering her lover and hiring a show-boating lawyer (Richard Gere). In an inspired move, the stirring musical pieces here have all been visualized as springing directly from Roxie's mind. Zellweger doesn't have a strong singing voice, but she has the right not-so-innocent tone and there are dazzling turns by supporting players Gere, John C. Reilly (touching as Roxie's forgotten husband), Queen Latifah (delicious as a prison matron) and, especially, the Oscar-winning Catherine Zeta-Jones - all slink, sexuality and conviction - as the prison diva. (top) (back)

GANGS OF NEW YORK - B
Starring:
Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Drama, 165 min (18A) (Miramax, 2002)


In 1977, Martin Scorsese took out a two-page ad in Variety announcing his next film would be Gangs of New York. Twenty-five years later, Gangs has finally been released, but it really hasn't been worth the wait. Sure, the cinematography cackles, Daniel Day-Lewis pops off the screen and there are scenes here that rank right up there with Scorsese's finest - particularly the opening battle of carnage and snow - but the film shows the strain of trying too hard to fit too much history and too many ideas into the sprawling narrative and excessive running time (165 minutes), sacrificing some of its characters along the way. Set during the 1840s birth of New York City, Gangs of New York casts Leonardo DiCaprio as a young man bent on seeking revenge for the murder of his father (Liam Neeson) at the hands of William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting (Day-Lewis), leader of an anti-immigration, anti-Catholic gang. DiCaprio is adequate, hampered by a needless romance with a pickpocket (Cameron Diaz), but Oscar-nominee Day-Lewis is mesmerizing in his willingness to bring everything to levels of comic brutality. Scorsese, meanwhile, builds off his Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976) history to delivery a messy, violent and striking epic. (top) (back)

THE GOOD THIEF - B
Starring:
Nick Nolte, Tcheky Karyo, Ralph Fiennes, Nutsa Kukhianidze, Mark Polish, Michael Polish, Emir Kusturica, Said Taghmaoui
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Suspense, 109 min (14A) (Fox, 2003)


As Nick Nolte has aged from People's Sexiest Man Alive to rumpled movie veteran, the creases in his face have only deepened and, it's nice to report, so have his performances. No longer basing his career on botched Hollywood bonanzas like 1994's I Love Trouble, Nolte is spending more of his time on worthy arthouse characters like the wounded sheriff in Affliction (1997) and the title role in The Good Thief, a man with as many demons and additions (gambling, drinking, drugs) as skills plotting elaborate heists. A remake of 1955's Bob le Flambeur, The Good Thief casts Nolte as Bob, a career criminal down on his luck who essentially adopts a 17-year-old runaway (Nutsa Kukhianidze) around the same time that an opportunity for a grand scheme involving the safes at Monte Carlo falls into his lap. The Good Thief isn't worth watching for its plot machinations - in terms of excitement and elaborate plots, this is no Ocean's Eleven (2001) or The Score (2001) and questions about the plot are substantial. But director Neil Jordan (1999's The End of the Affair) isn't so concerned about building tension as he is about a study of Nolte's worn-out character and, in this regard, The Good Thief turns out to be a thrilling success. (top) (back)


THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE - B
Starring:
Robert Evans, Ali MacGraw, Dustin Hoffman, Phyllis George, Paul Newman
Directed by: Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgan
Documentary, 93 min (14A) (Warner, 2002)


Robert Evans has led quite the life: discovered by Norma Shearer while sunbathing at a hotel swimming pool, he went on to become a small-time actor, the head of the ailing Paramount Pictures, the husband and then ex-husband of Ali MacGraw (she left him for Steve McQueen), a scandal-afflicted washout and then, finally, a Hollywood icon. The Kid Stays in the Picture, a lively documentary based on Evan's 1994 autobiography, tries to cram all of Evans' successes and failures into a 90-minute exploration and directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan have done a sensational job of bringing old photographs to life through unique animation and effects, all of it interpreted by Hollywood-spun narrative courtesy of Evans himself. Because of its roots and biased narration, Picture is undoubtedly one-sided (MacGraw no doubt has a few things to say about how she comes across here and Francis Ford Coppola has denied that it was Evans who pushed him to make The Godfather longer), but this is still a juicy little documentary full of Hollywood gossip and background of such classics as Love Story, Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, all of it outlined by Evans at his most salacious and romanticized. (top) (back)


THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS - A-
Starring:
Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Drama, 179 min (14A) (New Line, 2002)


The bad news is that The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the third entry in Peter Jackson's trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings novels, suffers from a case of middle child syndrome. With no real beginning and no real end, it requires both The Fellowship of the Ring (part 1) and The Return of the King (part 3) to feel complete. That said, The Empire Strikes Back had the same problem, so it isn't as though this shortcoming is detrimental to the film's success on its own levels. Bigger, darker and better than Fellowship in adventure and scope, Towers finds a split fellowship, with hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) making their way to destroy the all-power ring of the title and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) fighting off the hordes of monsters unleashed by evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee). As before, Jackson fully immerses his audience into a new world thanks to stirring performances and visual artistry, but here there are two elements worth singling out: the epic depth of the incomparable battle at Helm's Deep and the conflicted and marvelous creature that is Gollum, a former owner of the ring and the single best CGI character to date. (top) (back)

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY - B+
Starring:
Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Anne Hathaway, Timothy Spall, Nathan Lane
Directed by: Douglas McGrath
Drama, 132 min (PG) (MGM, 2002)


There's so much going on in Charles Dickens' 800-page novel Nicholas Nickleby that it once resulted in an eight-hour stage production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Douglas McGrath's 132-minute film adaptation of the 1838 work is a comparatively sparse affair, but that isn't too say that it feels overly rushed, minimal or lacking. A lively and likeable treatment, Nicholas Nickleby's largest flaw isn't a lack of story or character, but rather its choice for a lead actor - Abandon's Charlie Hunnam - not nearly as charismatic as the splendid supporting cast. Hunnam plays the title character, an educated 19-year-old who, after the death of his father, travels to London with his family to seek help from his cruel and selfish uncle (Christopher Pummer). Nicholas then encounters a wide variety of comical, evil and sympathetic characters, all of which make vivid impressions thanks to an exciting cast. Among the highlights are a manipulative Plummer, Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell as a crippled boarder, Jim Broadbent as a sadistic school headmaster and Nathan Lane and Barry Humphries (in drag) as an opportunistic theatre couple. All in all, it's high fun, with McGrath (1996's Emma) retaining the heart of the story and making appropriate narrative reductions. (top) (back)


PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE - B+
Starring:
Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Luiz Guzman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Comedy, 95 min (14A) (Columbia, 2002)


Throughout his career, Adam Sandler has pretty much stuck with playing infantile nitwits with tendencies for explosive violence (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy…) or whiny simpering (The Waterboy, Billy Madison…). Punch-Drunk Love offers Sandler the opportunity to combine these traits once more, but it is safe to say that you have never seen the comedian quite like this. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (1997's Boogie Nights), Punch-Drunk Love not only stands as a jubilant and offbeat romantic comedy in its own right, but it also offers a peek behind the image deep into the Sandler persona, providing the actor with the first fully rounded character of his career. Sandler responds beautifully, offering a nuanced and hilarious performance as novelty bathroom plunger salesman fraught with insecurity and loneliness who finds a possible soul mate in Emily Watson. Anderson, roundly criticized for the bombast and self-indulgence of the 188-minute Magnolia (1999), keeps everything to a spare minimum here and his light narrative - combining phone sex, a harpsichord and an airline plot involving piles of pudding - is a loopy pleasure, all of it captured with a warm visual glow and delightfully bizarre sensibility. (top) (back)

THE QUIET AMERICAN - B+
Starring:
Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Rade Serbedziga, Do Thi Hai Yen, Quang Hai, Ferdinand Hoang, Tzi Ma, Mathias Mlekuz
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Drama, 101 min (14A) (Miramax, 2002)


All too often, Brendan Fraser gets an unfair bad rap. True, he is linked with more than his share of cinematic stinkers (Dudley Do-Right, Monkeybone…) but when given the right material, he is able to rise to the challenge of a superior story and costars. Fraser held his own opposite Ian McKellan in 1998's Gods and Monsters and he does the same with Michael Caine in The Quiet American, a complex and intelligent political drama. Set in 1952 Vietnam, The Quiet American is a skilled interpretation of Graham Greene's novel about the love triangle between a British journalist (Caine), his Vietnamese girlfriend (Do Thi Hai Yen) and an American doctor (Fraser), all of it surrounded by the conflict between the communists and French colonists just as the United States has begun to stick their noses into the political jungle. Directed by Phillip Noyce, who also recently overlooked the compelling Rabbit-Proof Fence after years of tired action films (The Bone Collector, The Saint…), the film offers a fascinating look into politics and character. As a man seduced by this particular place at this particular time, Caine deserved every bit of his Oscar nomination for his weary, sad, enraged and enveloping performance, one of the best of his long career. (top) (back)

SHANGHAI KNIGHTS - B
Starring: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Donnie Yen, Fann Wong, Aiden Gillen, Fan Man-Fong, Tom Fisher, Aaron Johnson, Gemma Jones
Directed by: David Dobkin
Comedy, 114 min (PG) (Touchstone, 2003)


Jackie Chan has essentially staked his American career on buddy action-comedies but though his Rush Hour pictures with Chris Tucker generate more press and box office bounty, Shanghai Knights proves once again that Chan's perfect comic foil is the quizzical Owen Wilson. A sequel to 2000's Shanghai Noon that improves upon the original with sharper gags and deft action, Knights sees Chan's Chinese Imperial Guard-turned-Western lawman play skillfully off Wilson's second-rate outlaw as the duo travel to Victorian England to avenge the murder of Chan's father by a power-hungry madman bent of offing almost everyone in the Royal Family. Some of Shanghai Knights' comic touches feel strained - few more so than the unneeded Charlie Chaplin allusion - but high-spirited moments like Chan's Singing in the Rain-inspired battle sequence act as rousing compensation. Director David Dobkin (1998's Clay Pigeons) has an even lighter touch than the original's Tom Dey, fitting for a story that crams in everything from high-kicking romance to Jack the Ripper to a climatic Big Ben battle to Iron Monkey's Donnie Yen. Holding it all together are Chan and Wilson, clearly enjoying each other and inviting us along for the ride. (top) (back)
Looking for more? Visit Recent Video Releases or Archived Video: Aa-Am, An-Az, Ba-Be, Bf-Bn, Bo-Bz, Ca-Ch, Ci-Cz, Da-Dn, Do-Dz, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, Ma-Mn, Mo-Mz, N, O, P-Q, Ra-Rh, Ri-Rz, Sa-Sg, Sh-Sl, Sm-Ss, St-Sz, Ta-Ti, Tj-Tz, U-V, W, X-Z

All reviews by Mike Boon.