Recent Reviews

Alien vs. Predator
Dir. & writ. Paul W.S. Anderson; feat. Sanna Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen (PG-13)
Alien vs. Predator is not so much a movie as a cool concept run into the ground, the sort of sci-fi fans' dream date that, in the hands of hack director/writer Paul W. S. Anderson, should have remained in the conceptual stages rather than tarnishing what was left of both of those '80s action icons. A group of well-financed adventurers go exploring an ancient ruin - part of the tired "chariots of the gods" premise which takes up the film's first act - buried thousands of feet under Antarctica's ice cap. While there, they inadvertently set loose what should be the biggest match-up since Ali vs. Fraizer between the two intergalactic species. Unlike that famed title bout, however, the surprisingly chaste, PG-13 rated AvP delivers nothing worthwhile beyond the hype. Whoever wins ... you lose. AP

The Best Two Years
Dir. & writ. Scott S. Anderson; feat. KC Clyde, Kirby Heyborne, David Nibley, Cameron Hopkin, Scott Christopher, Michael Flynn (PG)
The Best Two Years, the new feature-length film about Mormon missionaries at work in Holland, is as relaxing as Valium, and Valium for the soul is what the young Elders who star in this movie are offering the Dutch-landers they seek to convert. The film is overtly modeled on the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, from the four quirky-yet-square protagonists to the long, stop-motion musical montages that move the plot along at key intervals. With personalities as carefully assembled as the Monkees, it is an effective retort to the recent book Under the Banner of Heaven. Endearing though the four Elders are, this conversion film gets boring not long after the second epiphany if you're not becoming a believer, too. That may not be a sin in Salt Lake City, but in Tinseltown they'll crucify you for it. EW

Dir. Michael Mann; writ. Stuart Beattie; feat. Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Irma P. Hall, Javier Bardem (R)
Hollywood isn't shy about testosterone, of course, but Mann romanticizes manliness in a particularly potent and distinctive way, especially the manliness of those old movie mainstays, cops and robbers. Collateral revolves around two men: a paid killer (Vincent, played by Cruise) and a cabbie (Foxx as Max) who, like most inhabitants of Mannsville, do their jobs exceedingly well. The plot is satisfyingly tense, but it becomes a stumbling point in the story's climax, which involves a coincidence as big as the Hollywood sign. By that point, audiences are either with or against the film and, as usual with a Mann film, style and technique go a long way, even when the movie itself isn't quite working. JD

The Door in the Floor
Writ. & dir. Tod Williams, based on a John Irving novel; feat. Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster (R)
When Eddie O'Hare, a junior at Exeter, obtains a summer job as assistant to Ted Cole, his father advises: "Do whatever it is he wants you to do." Eddie resembles Ted's 17-year-old son, also a student at Exeter who, along with his younger brother, died in an auto wreck five years before. Car crashes and fictional novelists are trademarks of John Irving, and The Door in the Floor is Tod Williams' adaptation of the first section of Irving's 1998 novel A Widow for One Year. The film's title comes from one of Ted's books, as well as the sense of subterranean secrets that lurk beneath any household. Veering between angst and farce, The Door in the Floor opens up on domestic dysfunction but earns a few knocks. SGK

Garden State
Writ.-dir. Zach Braff; feat. Zach Braff, Nathalie Portman, Ian Holm, Peter Sarsgaard (R)
A remake of The Graduate for the age of lithium, Garden State is the comic tale of a wasted young man who finds himself by finding the right woman. Braff plays Andrew Largeman, another alienated 20-something slacker whose existence is accompanied by mellow acoustic music. Thirty-seven years after Benjamin Braddock tried to redeem his vapid life through love, Braff's Andrew Langeman attempts the same with a quirky epileptic. The clever shticks that Braff sticks in almost every frame until the facile ending announce an irreverent spirit that flouts the pieties of his chosen genre. SGK

Intimate Strangers / Confidences trop intimes
Dir. Patrice Leconte; writ. Jérôme Tonnerre; feat. Sandrine Bonnaire, Fabrice Luchini, Michel Duchaussoy, Anne Brochet (R)
Intimate Strangers examines the attractions of voyeurism, exposing the peculiar pleasure that therapists and movie audiences enjoy when granted access to others' secrets. By the time the opening credits conclude, an attractive pair of legs have taken a woman to an office she has never visited before. Distraught and desperate, Anna Delambre (Bonnaire) found the address in the telephone directory, under "psychotherapist." She immediately begins unburdening herself of the details of her troubled marriage. When she eventually terminates the session, William Faber (Luchini) is too overwhelmed by the revelations he has heard to offer one of his own - Anna has wandered into the wrong office; William is not a therapist but a tax attorney. The characters in Intimate Strangers live all they can within the conventions of a Hitchcock thriller devoid of violence except the psychological sort. It is all enough to make a rational viewer wriggle in his privileged seat. SGK

The Manchurian Candidate
Dir. Jonathan Demme; writ. Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris, Richard Condon (novel); feat. Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight (R)
While the director's last Hollywood outing, a remake of Charade, suffered from comparisons to its more debonair predecessor, Demme has learned his lessons here: He takes the story's solid bones - brainwashed war hero, presidential politics, and one of cinema's great Lady Macbeth roles - and changes enough of the details to keep it suspenseful even for viewers who have recently revisited the original. Directorial flourishes, political commentary, and film history aside, The Manchurian Candidate is still a gripping thriller with a top-flight cast. Audiences needn't know John Frankenheimer to enjoy its thrills, and they needn't share Demme's politics to feel its chill. It's a great night at the movies, whether you think it strikes close to home or not. JD

Maria Full of Grace (Maria, llena eres de gracia)
Writ. & dir. Joshua Marston; feat. Catalina Sandino Moreno, Guilied Lopez, Patricia Rae (R)
Like El Norte, Maria Full of Grace offers an acrid take on immigration of the innocents. Lovely Maria Alvarez (Moreno) might seem full of grace, but during a gut-wrenching flight from Bogota to Newark her stomach is full of heroin - 62 packets that she swallows to smuggle past customs. When customs officials discover she is pregnant, regulations constrain them from using X-rays to test their hunch that drugs lie hidden beneath her smooth skin. But novice writer-director Joshua Marston, a native of California and graduate of New York University who insisted on making his film in the language his characters would speak, uses a camera in place of MRI, to bare the soul of a brave and brazen traveler. SGK

Seducing Dr. Lewis (La Grande Séduction, 2003) Dir. Jean-François Pouiot; writ. Ken Scott; feat. Raymond Bouchard, Dominic Michon-Dagenais, Guy-Daniel Tremblay, Nadia Drouin, Rita LaFontaine, Roc LaFortune (NR)
Urbane doctor in a tiny village filled with quirky locals is a scenario we know, and this film may be a bit heavy-handed with its messages of small town goodness and corporate vileness. Yet, with it's slow pace and sweet wisdom, it is still refreshing. A serendipitous run-in with a traffic cop lands the coke-snorting, cricket-obsessed Dr. Christopher Lewis on the island for a month. The tricky part is keeping him. As the song goes, many fish bites if you got good bait. Hilarity ensues as the villagers devise ways to not just catch the big fish - a full-time doctor for the isolated village - but convince him that he wants to get in the boat himself. SDP

Dir. Takeshi Kitano; writ. Kitano, based on the novels by Kan Shimozawa; feat. Kitano, Michiyo Ookusu, Gadarukanaru Taka, Daigoro Tachibana, Yuuku Daike, Tadanobu Asano, Yui Natsukawa, Ittoku Kishibe (R)
Takeshi Kitano is known Stateside as the writer and director of unusually artful gangster movies. In his latest film, the first to be set in the era of samurai and feudal lords, Kitano takes on a personality as well-known as his own: Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, star of two dozen films and related media dating back to the early '60s. In this adventure, Zatoichi steps into a long-marinating revenge plot, but it doesn't quite hang together. The plot and pacing aren't compelling enough to withstand the many distractions. It certainly looks like Beat Takeshi had a good time crafting this encounter with a legend, but Zatoichi's sandals don't fit him as well as his own. JD

Films reviewed by:

EB: Eric Bradshaw
JD: John DeFore
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
SDP: Susan Pagani
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
LS: Lisa Sorg
JW: Joe Weiss
EW: Elaine Wolff


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