Continuing Films

CAPSULE REVIEWS AND SUMMARIES By TT CLINKSCALES, RODGER PILLE AND STEVE RAMOS ABOUT A BOY -- (Grade: A) In Will, a smarmy British bachelor who joins a single-parents' club as a way to meet women,


ABOUT A BOY — (Grade: A) In Will, a smarmy British bachelor who joins a single-parents' club as a way to meet women, actor Hugh Grant finds a screen character perfectly matched to his own unique blend of cultured arrogance and foppish personality traits. Grant's natural performance enhances the film's frequent, comic moments. He also gives its melodrama a sheen of credibility. Directors Paul and Chris Weitz (Amercan Pie) made the "perfect" choice in casting Grant as the lead in their adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel. Still, nobody would have guessed that Grant would end up making About A Boy the standout performance of his career. The film's core joke is that 38-year-old Will is incapable of committing to a relationship with anyone. He's an "island" by choice. But that doesn't stop a single-parent's club member's 12-year-old son, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), from choosing Will as his surrogate father. The comic catch: Can Marcus turn Will into a grown-up? The dramatic payoff is funny, heartfelt and engaging — SR (Rated PG-13.)

A BEAUTIFUL MIND — (Grade: A) Russell Crowe's characters have heretofore been manly men. He's played tough men of loyalty who'd rather fight than have their honor questioned. In A Beautiful Mind, Crowe plays troubled John Forbes Nash Jr., a man who wants to be a strong intellect. A Beautiful Mind is a loose biopic that follows Nash's journey from his break-though mathematical discovery and acceptance into top-secret government work to his eventual breakdown. Jennifer Connelly continues her comeback with a fine performance as Nash's unfailing wife. In this Oscar hopeful season, A Beautiful Mind is one film that completely deserves its accolades. — RP (Rated PG-13.)

CLOCKSTOPPERS — (Grade:D) Like a proverbial team of monkeys, screenwriters Rob Hedden, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss concoct a half-baked story that doesn't even qualify as a good outtake reel. Clockstoppers is one part teen romancer and two parts growing pains drama, spliced with sci-fi adventure. A blandly cool teen named Zak (Jesse Bradford) accidentally discovers a watch which seemingly allows its wearer to stop time. The clockstopping tricks prove fun initially as he uses them to woo the new girl on campus (Paula Garces). That is, until a covert government group seeks the watch for its own evil plans.The story is tired, familiar and saddled with a simplistic message. It seems teens in today's movies are either sex-crazed or faceless cardboard cut-outs. Where the hell is John Hughes? Watching Clockstoppers makes me miss Duckie from Pretty in Pink. — ttc (Rated PG.)

THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD — Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd split the screen in writer/director Callie Khouri's likable adaptation of Rebecca Wells' work. Bullock portrays playwright Sidda Lee Walker who faces the wrath of her flamboyant mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn). Coming to the rescue are the Ya-Yas, (Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight and Maggie Smith), who take it upon themselves to aid Sidda by revealing the details of her mother's painful past. Khouri wisely keeps the soap opera hysterics in check, emphasizing the story's comedy, Southern charm and sassy dialogue. Bullock's easygoing performance overcomes Burstyn's heavy-handed antics. But the film's biggest laughs belong to the real stars, the Ya-Yas. — SR (Rated PG-13.)

ENIGMA — (Grade: A) The egghead cometh! Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible 2) plays Tom Jericho, a code-breaker for England during WWII, whose fling with a mysterious compatriot indicts him in a sticky web of treason and murder. Jericho must crack the German code to win the war and solve his lover's disappearance to save himself. Kate Winslet is along for the ride as the homely Hester Wallace, Jericho's only friend. Enigma is a whip-smart mystery and perfect counter-programming to the whiz-bang summer blockbuster. It's a film built on a snappy script by the brilliant Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) and able direction from Michael Apted (Enough). Watching the war plotline escalate just as Jericho's personal mystery becomes unraveled is one of the more engaging moments in film this year. — RP (Rated R.)

ENOUGH — (Grade: C) I'm still waiting for a director to tap into Jennifer Lopez's big star magnitude as well as Steven Soderbergh did in Out of Sight. The sad truth is that director Michael Apted wasn't able to in Enough. JLo sure tries hard to be a good actress in this somewhat clumsy spousal-abuse thriller, but as my third grade teacher told me, there is a difference between trying and accomplishing. She displays a pretty wide range of actor-y emotions, but never makes an affecting connection with the audience. Granted, most everyone in the audience just wants to see Lopez kick some bad boy ass. Giving Lopez the chance to kick butt is the one thing Enough does do well, but it comes far too late to be powerful. So what you're left with is a really long set-up to a short fight scene that's only pretty good. — RP (Rated PG-13.)

ESPN'S ULTIMATE X — (Grade: B) With the help of skateboader Tony Hawk and Moto X rider Carey Hart, writer/director Bruce Hendricks creates that rare Large Format film that breaks out of the hum-drum, educational film genre. Stuffed with dazzling photography of the 2001 Summer X Games in Philadelphia, a fast-paced showcase of skateboarding, BMX biking, Moto X and street luge competitions, and a thumping soundtrack that mixes Rock classics from Black Sabbath with songs from Alternative bands like Sum 41 and Foo Fighters, ESPN's Ultimate X is a fast and fun chronicle of the world's top actions sports athletes. — SR (Rated PG.)

HIGH CRIMES — (Grade: D) High Crimes marks the emergence of a new Hollywood power couple. Actors Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd team up for a follow-up to their 1997 suspense film Kiss the Girls. Their collaboration is a major disappointment. Adapted from Joseph Finder's novel, High Crimes tells the story of high-powered lawyer Claire Kubik (Judd), who discovers that her husband Tom (Jim Caviezel) was a covert military operative in El Salvador back in 1988. Claire seeks the assistance of wild card military lawyer Charles Grimes (Freeman) to clear Tom's name. Freeman and Judd's lead performances are little more than exercises on the rules of attraction. One more project together and they'll be ready to be spoofed by National Lampoon or the Wayans Brothers. — ttc (Rated PG-13.)

ICE AGE — (Grade: A) Of all the contemporary movie types, the animated feature is the one that's enjoying the biggest heyday. Director Chris Wedge continues the trend with the laugh-out-loud funny Ice Age, a tale of a woolly mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), an annoying sloth (voice of John Leguizamo) and a saber-toothed tiger (voice of Denis Leary) who team up to return a human baby to its tribe. Ice Age is that rare movie which captures the physical language of silent comedy. What's even more impressive is how it captures the clownish slapstick of silent comedy's bygone era. — SR (Rated PG.)

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST — (Grade: B) Bubbly Rupert Everett helps take the staginess out of director Oliver Parker's likable adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1895 stage comedy. As Algernon, one of Wilde's love-struck leads, as well as a key source of the play's mistaken-identity gags, Everett oozes screwball charm. His sarcastic tongue is tailor-made for The Importance of Being Earnest, which claims some of the most quoted lines in English theater. Wilde's class comedy reaches its peak when Algernon and his friend Jack (Colin Firth) trip over their makeshift identities during a weekend at Jack's country estate. Uncovering the identity of an infant who was left in a handbag at Victoria Station also makes a dramatic impact. Everett's comic performance benefits from an impressive ensemble of supporting players. Colin Firth flashes clumsy charm as the straight-laced Jack. Frances O'Connor is appropriately flirty as Gwendolyn, the object of Jack's affection. American actress Reese Witherspoon flashes a credible Brit accent as Cecily, Jack's pretty ward who catches Algernon's eye. Judi Dench enjoys the film's best jokes as the one person who keeps all their entanglements in order, the Lady Bracknell. In fact, Dench possesses more comic gusto than Everett. As the film's co-writer, Parker makes a few tweaks with Wilde's play. He breaks Wilde's story out of the box by setting the film in posh restaurants and lush country manors. There has been a 1952 film version of The Importance of Being Earnest and countless stage adaptations. Parker's film is the best looking of all of them. Still, it's Dench and Everett's comic sass that makes it a worthy addition to the Wilde canon. — SR (Rated PG.)

INSOMNIA — (Grade: A) A riveting break from teen-friendly blockbusters arrive courtesy of director Christopher Nolan's remake of the 1998 Norwegian thriller Insomnia, a riveting suspense movie that's as tense as they come. Al Pacino is LAPD detective Will Dormer, who's on the hunt for a killer in a remote Alaskan town. Robin Williams plays Dormer's prime suspect. Pacino and Williams shine in the film's large, action sequences. Still, the film thrives on Nolan's storytelling skills. After only three features, I already consider him one of the significant filmmakers working today. — SR (Rated R.)

JASON X — (Grade: D) If you've seen the ads for this ill-conceived installment in the Friday the 13th franchise, you might know the film better as "Jason in Space!" Sad but true, the hockey-masked killer from the '80s finds himself cryogenically frozen and then thawed out in the 25th century. So what does he do? Wield his primitive machete on the crew of his space transport. (Think of the kick-butt crew from Aliens mixed with a whole host of horny interns.) Jason X is bad for all the reasons you expect, but — toward the end — its campiness and over-the-top bravado are too overwhelming to ignore. It becomes laughably bad, a small step up from just plain sucky. Take the scene when Jason is stuck in a hologram and he encounters loose 1980s co-eds. Sure he's going to kill them — but it's the way he does it that almost redeems the movie. Almost. But we're still talking about a crummy B-movie with poor direction and some of the worst throw-away lines in horror film history. But when the filmmakers acknowledge their own absurdity, I tend to have an easier time laughing at them. — RP (Rated R.)

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING — (Grade: A) Director Peter Jackson tackles J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy books set in Middle-earth with a creative force. The results are extraordinary. The film tells the story of hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and the powerful Ruling Ring he inherits from his Uncle Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). There is plenty of showmanship in Fellowship, but there is also substantive storytelling. Fellowship of the Ring is so good that I imagine high-brow audiences who normally avoid these types of films will find themselves having a great time if they give the film a chance. — SR (Rated PG-13.)

MONSOON WEDDING — (Grade: A) The chaotic planning of a Punjabi wedding is the colorful backdrop for director Mira Nair's (Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala) joyful drama. Aditi (pop singer Vasundhara Das) is the daughter of Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), who hastily agrees to marry Hemant (Parvin Dabas), an engineer from Houston. Despite the culture clashes between Aditi's New Delhi family and her Americanized groom, Pimmi manages to keep his mind focused on the extravagant reception. A soundtrack of traditional music and contemporary Pop songs helps Nair portray Aditi's struggle to embrace her Punjabi past as well look towards her future. Comparisons to Robert Altman's The Wedding are unfair. Monsoon Wedding is too joyful to be considered an Altman-inspired film. In Nair's heartfelt tale, the monsoon rains may threaten, but love conquers just the same. — SR (Rated R.)

MURDER BY NUMBERS — (Grade: D) Sandra Bullock is dreadfully miscast as a forensics detective on the trail of two teen-age murderers (Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt) in director Barbet Schroeder's lumbering mystery. Exchanging her playful personality for something decidedly dark and somber, Bullock is never believable or engaging as the film's troubled lead. Gosling is the only thing worth recommending in the film. His performance, playing a smart-ass teen with bedroom eyes, is a worthy companion to his lead role in the under-seen drama, The Believer. As a follow up to Schroeder's brilliant Columbian drama, Our Lady of the Assassins, Murder By Numbers is a huge disappointment. — SR (Rated R.)

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING — (Grade: A) Forget the standard boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back premise. How about girl meets boy, they fall in love, and boy meets girl's family. That director Joe Zwick ends My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a wedding is no surprise. The surprise will come if Hollywood can avoid prostituting this well-made, boisterous indie film about the marriage of two cultures. When unassuming Greek girl Toula (Nia Vardalos) meets the very non-Greek Ian (John Corbett), you know it's love. The laughs ensue as he will do whatever it takes to make not just Toula, but her large, boisterous family, happy — TTC (Rated PG.)

PANIC ROOM — (Grade: A) Dark shadows and the sound of heavy breathing help Panic Room tell its crime story well. An old Manhattan townhouse provides the perfect setting for director David Fincher's suspense film. A stormy night seals the creepy mood. Jodie Foster is sweaty and determined as Meg Altman, a recently divorced mom intent on protecting herself and her teenage daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), from a trio of criminals (Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam) who've broken into their new house in the dead of night. In interviews, Fincher compares Panic Room with another claustrophobic thriller, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. It's a fair comparison. Panic Room is the type of violent thriller Hitchcock would make if he were alive in these angry, cynical times. More importantly, with the exception of adding drama between Meg and her teen-age daughter, I can't imagine how Hitchcock could have made Panic Room any more enjoyable. — SR (Rated R.)

THE SCORPION KING — (Grade: D) The Scorpion King is ready to take center stage, rewarding wrestling actor The Rock for his popular walk-on role in The Mummy Returns. Too bad there's not enough heat in The Scorpion King to get things cooking. Mathayus (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is the last of a tribe of assassins charged to dispatch the sorceress Cassandra (Kelly Hu), whose advice has allowed the warlord Memnon (Steven Brand) to conquer the scattered tribal nations. Although King is full of anachronistic quips and goofy buddy banter, the movie doesn't feel like a breezy romp because it bears the weight of its big-time, action film expectations. Still, Johnson's on-screen appeal forecasts a real Smackdown somewhere in his film acting future, but that future is not now. — ttc (Rated PG-13)

SPIDER-MAN (Grade: C) As Spider-Man's costumed nemesis, the Green Goblin, Willem Dafoe's creepy grin is more entertaining than all of Spider-Man's explosions and digital effects. Tobey Maguire is given the body-hugging Spider-Man costume, and it looks good on him. As the boy hero of director Sam Raimi's sloppy blockbuster, Maguire is getting all the attention. Still, actioners like Spider-Man are all about its villains, and Dafoe is the best thing in an otherwise disappointing film. Spider-Man's best scene occurs early in the movie, when Parker loses control of his newfound super powers in his high school cafeteria. Later in the film, Spider-Man's origin story breaks down while Raimi crams in as much action as possible. Stylish images turn cluttered. The action becomes chaotic instead of engaging. Making dramatic matters worse, Maguire's emotional depth plummets every time he puts on his Spider-Man mask. — SR (Rated PG-13.)

SPIRIT — (Grade: B) Director Kelly Asbury tells the story of a mustang (voice of Matt Damon) who comes of age in the American West of the late 1800s. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is one of the more gentler of recent animated features, recapping Spirit's life from birth, his relationship with a tribe of Lakota Indians (Daniel Studi is the voice of one of Lakotas), an encounter with the U.S. Cavalry (James Cromwell is the voice of the Calvary leader) and a climactic adventure at the construction site for the Trans-Continental Railroad. I admire Spirit for intentionally walking away from the Disney method, choosing to tell a straightforward story free of comical best friends and musical extravaganzas. As a result, its story remains lifelike and heartwarming. More importantly, the painterly qualities of Spirit's hand-drawn images are beautiful. A high-tech hybrid of traditional hand drawing and computer-generated effects, Spirit dazzles when a bald eagle swoops through canyons. Later in the film, when Spirit outruns an out-of-control locomotive, the images leave you breathless. — SR (Rated G.)

STAR WARS: EPISODE II — ATTACK OF THE CONES — (Grade: B) Attack of the Clones stays close to the pulpy spirit of 1930s space hero serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and is better off for it. Free of the extended setup that bogged down the recent blockbuster Spider-Man, Attack of the Clones dives straight into its boy's life adventure, set 10 years after the most recent Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace. Two stories divide Attack of the Clones equally. One is the growing romance between Jedi-knight-in-training Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Queen-turned-Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman). The other is a more straightforward adventure where Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) discovers a plot by enemy forces to attack the Republic with a clone army. To say anything more would give the impression that Attack of the Clones is more Robert Louis Stevenson adventure than a collection of lavish cliffhangers. Like most Star Wars movies, in-depth storytelling is not Attack of the Clones' greatest asset. — SR (Rated PG-13.)

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS — (Grade: B) Few films are as closely aligned with world affairs as director Phil Alden Robinson's fast-paced adaptation of Tom Clancy's 1991 military suspense novel. Disbelief is no longer a factor for a film about terrorists smuggling a nuclear device into the United States, because anything is possible in today's chaotic world climate. Affleck's engaging performance as CIA hero Jack Ryan turns out to be The Sum of All Fears' best surprise. Morgan Freeman keeps the storytelling intelligent and credible as Ryan's politically connected mentor, Bill Cabot. Still,the film's newfound realism, because of the Sept. 11 attacks, makes Clancy's story even more tense, exciting and suspenseful. — SR (Rated PG-13.)

THE SWEETEST THING — (Grade: D) The idea is fine: Women can do comedy just as well as men. The problem is, they can also do comedy just as poorly as men. So if you don't like it when men hit rock bottom in gross-outs like There's Something About Mary and Whipped, then, you certainly will not like it in a woman's version, The Sweetest Thing. Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate star as a couple of in-control singles who play men like toys, until they meet that special someone. That much is nice to see. But the plot detours into Monica-dress territory and oral sex lockjaw and, well, you get the idea. Thomas Jane (61*) plays that special someone, and he's probably the most likeable performer in the bunch. Applegate is surprisingly good though, confident and obviously at home in the potty-humor after all those years on Married ... With Children. — RP (Rated R.)

TIME OUT — (Grade: A) Director Laurent Cantet's Time Out (L'Emploi du Temps), is an engrossing drama about a man, Vincent (Aurélien Recoing) who deceives his family into believing he has landed a choice job in Switzerland. It appears that Vincent has all the trappings of success. The sober reality is that he is unemployed and unwilling to tell the truth about his recent dismissal to his wife (Karin Viard) and family. Time Out is fresh and smart because of the way it relates to the harsh economic realities of our time. I hope audiences are curious enough to check it out. What they'll discover is a rich human drama that's universal, timeless and unforgettable. — SR (Unrated.)

Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN — (Grade: A) Mexican-born director Alfonso Cuarón makes a heady impact on American cinema with his fast-moving road movie Y Tu Mamá También. Y Tu Mamá También follows the roadside adventures of two teen-age friends, Tenoch (Diago Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch's cousin, Luisa (Maribel Verdu), as they leave Mexico City in search for the perfect beach on the Oaxacan coast. Luna and Bernal are heartfelt as the friends who find themselves starry-eyed over the beautiful Luisa. But it's Verdu's passionate performance that ultimately sends Y Tu Mamá También spinning. As engaging as it is erotic, Y Tu Mamá También became the highest grossing film in Mexican history. One viewing and it's easy to understand why. — SR (Rated R.)

UNDERCOVER BROTHER — (Grade: B) The Blacksploitation resurrection continues in sassy fashion as Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) battles The Man, aka Whitey, and his secretly funky flunky Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan). The Man has brainwashed a famous general, (Billy Dee Williams) planning to take the funk out of funky. What's a brotha to do when he meets the White She-Devil (Denise Richards)? He'll need help from Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle), and even his white intern (Neil Patrick Harris). Director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man) borrows old school attitude, spoofs contemporary action flicks, and makes sure everyone's in on the jokes. — ttc (Rated PG-13.)

UNFAITHFUL — (Grade: C) A changed ending gives Adrian Lyne's new adultery drama a more abiguous ending. Still, Unfaithful, about a wife who goes astray, fails to match the dramatic intensity of Lyne's 1987 film, Fatal Attraction. As an English-language remake to Claude Chabrol's 1968 film La Femme Infidèle, Lyne makes no improvements on Chabrol's orginal movie. Diane Lane plays Connie (Diane Lane), the suburban New York City housewife who stumbles into an affair with a younger man (Olivier Martinez). Lane is believable as the pretty infidel, but it's a role she played better in A Walk on the Moon. Richard Gere, as Edward Sumner, a Manhattan businessman and loving father who discovers his wife's deceit, is saddled with the task of turning the movie from a family drama to a revenge tale. Lyne creates a slick veneer for the movie, but without an engaging story, it's not long before Unfaithful's characters cease to matter. — SR (Rated R.)

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