Still Playing

Black Hawk Down
"Crash landing in confused territory"
Dir. Ridley Scott; writ. Mark Bowden, Ken Nolan; feat. Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard, Eric Bana, Jeremy Piven, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs (R)

Brotherhood of the Wolf
(Le Pacte des loups)

"Lupine loopiness"
Dir. Christophe Gans; writ. Simon Donald, Stéphane Cabel, Christophe Gans; feat. Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos, Jean-François Stévenin (R)

Collateral Damage
"Ah-nold, stop the cah-nage"
Dir. Andrew Davis; writ. David Griffiths & Peter Griffiths; feat. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas, Francesca Neri, Cliff Curtis, John Leguizamo, and John Turturro. (R)

"A damn good commercial"
Dir. Tamra Davis; writ. Shoneda Rhimes; feat. Britney Spears, Anson Mount, Zoë Saldena, Taryn Manning, Kim Cattrall, Dan Aykroyd. (PG-13)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
"Entertaining and not even a bit daemonic"
Dir. Chris Columbus; writ. Steven Kloves; feat. Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman (PG)

I Am Sam
"Well-meaning but unconvincing"
Dir. Jessie Nelson; writ. Nelson and Kristine Johnson; feat. Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest (PG-13)

In the Bedroom
"Domestic thriller, thrilling in its subtlety"
Dir. Todd Field; writ. Robert Festinger, Todd Field, based on a story by Andre Dubus; feat. Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother (R)

"Watching a noble mind o'erthrown"
Dir. Richard Eyre; writ. Richard Eyre and Charles Wood, from memoirs by John Bayley; feat. Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton, Samuel West, Timothy West (R)

The BBC-TV evening newscast on February 8, 1999 announced the death of Iris Murdoch, at 79, before it announced the death of Jordan's King Hussein. Murdoch lost fewer wars and wrote more novels (26), and besides she was British. Reputations are fluid, but Murdoch remains for the moment Albion's most prominent woman intellectual since the drowning of Virginia Woolf. Water is the first and final image in Iris, a film based on two volumes of memoirs — Elegy for Iris and Iris and Her Friends — by John Bayley, the professor and literary critic who was married to Murdoch for 43 years. Young and old, she was fond of swimming, often nude, in England's nippy, mucky rivers. We float back and forth between aquatic images of Murdoch young and buoyant and the older Murdoch drifting toward oblivion. "I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness," she says toward the end, during a rare moment of lucidity before the implacable erosion of her extraordinary mental powers. We watch one of the best minds of England's post-war generation succumb to Alzheimer's disease. A playful philosopher and a pensive novelist, she was preoccupied with the theme of freedom. Iris traces the defeat of a free spirit in the unmooring of her uncommon mind. SK

John Q.
"Tense drama about medical insurance"
Dir. Nick Cassavetes; writ. James Kearns; feat. Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Eddie Griffin, Kimberly Elise, Shawn Hatosy, Ray Liotta, Daniel E. Smith (PG-13)

"Wrenching Afghan hell"
Writ. & dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf; feat. Nelofer Pazira, Hassan Tantaï, Sadou Teymouri (no MPAA rating).

Though it takes the shape of an allegorical quest, with crucial encounters along the way, Kandahar is firmly rooted in the cruel realities of the Taliban regime. Shooting along the Iran-Afghanistan border, Makhmalbaf cast non-professionals in every part, including that of Nafas, who is played by Nelofer Pazira, an émigré whose actual quest to reach her cousin was his primary inspiration. The tyranny of a crowded Taliban madrasa, where the mullah interrupts Koran-chanting to catechize schoolboys on the features of sabers and Kalashnikovs, seems all too authentic. So, too, does a Red Cross camp where men assemble to beg for artificial appendages as replacements for the limbs lost to the land mines that will continue to claim casualties long after combat is concluded or the cause has changed. In the film's most haunting sequence, a flock of men on crutches scurries across the landscape to retrieve prosthetics dropped by parachute. After robbers attack them, the family that Nafas crosses the border with abandons her. "There is nothing but misery, suffering, and massacre there," says the father about his native Afghanistan. Later, she hires Khak (Teymouri), a boy who lost his father to an exploding mine and his innocence to the demands of hunger, to guide her through the dunes to Kandahar. She befriends Tabib Sahid (Tantaï), a village doctor whose beard turns out to be as bogus as his title. He is an African American who came to Afghanistan "in search of God" and thought he would find divinity fighting alongside the mujahideen. Disillusioned by the actual experience of combat, he stayed behind to provide rudimentary assistance to people too wretched to quibble over whether he has a medical degree. Viewing Kandahar now, post-9-11, it is difficult not to think of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban facing trial for conspiracy, and not think about roads ignored. SK

The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring

Dir. Peter Jackson; writ. J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Walsh; feat. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies (PG-13)

Monster's Ball
"Stunning execution"
Dir. Marc Foster; writ. Milo Addica, Will Rokos; feat. Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Dante Beze, Coronji Calhoun (R)

Monsters, Inc.
"Witty, wild, furry fun"
Dir. Peter Docter; writ. Jill Culton, Peter Docter, Ralph Eggleston; feat. John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi (R)

The Mothman Prophecies
"Doesn't fly"
Dir. Mark Pellington; writ. John A. Keel (novel), Richard Hatem (screenplay); feat. Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing, Shane Callahan (PG-13)

Orange County
"Too many seeds"
Dir. Jake Kasdan; writ. Mike White; feat. Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara, Schuyler Fisk, and John Lithgow. (PG-13)

Queen of the Damned
"Should I say it? Sucks"
Dir. Michael Rymer; writ. Anne Rice (novels), Scott Abbott; feat. Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Aaliyah, Vincent Perez, Paul McGann, Lena Olin (R)

Though the marketing machine makes it look as though this film is all about the recently-departed pop star Aaliyah, the singer's character doesn't appear until quite late in the film. When she does, she's more movie monster than person — she writhes like the snakes atop Medusa's head and speaks with a multi-tracked "big scary person" voice. Her (very cool) costumes show a lot of skin, and she's a pretty fierce sexual presence, but that's about it. If I were her family, I'd flinch at the "Dedicated to Aaliyah" that appears as the credits start to roll. JD

The Royal Tenenbaums
Dir. Wes Anderson; writ. Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson; feat. Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray.

Super Troopers
"Anarchy on the highway"
Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar; writ. Chandrasekhar, et al.; feat. Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Brian Cox, Daniel von Bargen, Marisa Coughlan (R)

We Were Soldiers
"A good war movie for people who want to see a good war movie."
Dir./writ. Randall Wallace, from the book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway; feat. Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, Keri Russell, and Barry Pepper. (R)

The first time I heard about We Were Soldiers was from my father, a Vietnam vet and recent inductee into the Tucson seniors tennis scene. He didn't tell me how real the film was supposed to be — something he mentioned after screenings of Platoon and Hamburger Hill — or that the story's focus on individual soldiers moved him, but that his doubles partner Ed Kinnear was upset at how small his son's part in the film ended up being. (Greg Kinnear plays a wily helicopter pilot named Snake Shit, 'cause he flies lower than it.) Nonetheless, this is a war movie about losing a conflict that, some two or three generations out, still lingers for anyone involved. What Director Randall Wallace (writer of Pearl Harbor and Braveheart) does in this film, based on a true story, is focus not on what motivates the soldiers to go to Vietnam (and we never have to deal with that detail), but what makes them want to come back home. Duty comes before family in We Were Soldiers, and their sad job is one that, in the end, cleaves many men from their brood by bullet, bomb, and bayonet. More or less, the film says that the soldiers who participated in the 1965 battle of Ia Drang Valley happened to be military men when a war started — living on base in Georgia and taking wages from Uncle Sam, they had no choice when their numbers were called. Most of the officers, including newlyweds, first-time parents, and heads of their own gaggles, would have rather stayed with their families than go fight a war that wasn't really a war in a country on the other side of the world. Today it's nice that Capt. Dennis Brewer can relax and play some tennis after surviving a war that many would rather not see put to celluloid again. This movie is not going to be for everybody: Another gory "war is hell" film may seem as needed right now as a second installment of Fox's "When Buildings Fall Down." JB

Films reviewed by:
JB: John Brewer,
JD: John DeFore,
SK: Steven G. Kellman,
CS: Cole Smithey


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