RECENT REVIEWS 

Buffalo Soldiers
Dir. Gregor Jordan; writ. Eric Weiss, et al.; feat. Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael Peña (R)
A portrait of the peacetime Army as a den of thieves, Buffalo Soldiers is not so much political as opportunistic, like the scoundrel characters of its 317th Supply Battalion stationed outside Stuttgart in 1989, during the days before the Berlin Wall comes down. The men are swindlers, bigots, psychotics, and ignoramuses. Like a black market peddler, the film tries to profit off whatever comes to hand - odd-lot pieces of farce, satire, psychological drama, and thirller. Let the buyer beware of knockoffs, incompatible parts, and defective merchandise. SGK

Camp
Dir. & writ. Todd Graff; feat. Daniel Letterle, Joanna Chilcoat, Robin De Jesus, Tiffany Taylor, Sasha Allen (PG-13)
Camp is an upbeat, sentimental story about the triumph of heart and talent over parental indifference, sexual confusion, artistic rivalry, and self-loathing. Everything comes together in a rousing performance before an adoring audience. The production numbers are rousing showstoppers, but Graff, grafting on lame plot lines, is not content to stop with them. SGK

Dirty Pretty Things
Dir. Stephen Frears; writ. Steve Knight; feat. Audrey Tatou, Sergi Lopez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong, Zlatko Buric (R)
Within the Chichester Suite of a London hotel, particularly dirty things go on: the manager extracts kidneys from desperate foreigners in exchange for forged passports. With taut plotting and arresting performances, Dirty Pretty Things is a horror fable about dislocation and dispossession is which virtuous newcomers slay the visa monster. SGK

Finding Nemo
Dir. Andrew Stanton; writ. Andrew Stanton; feat. Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould (G)
Finding Nemo is a proud continuation of the Pixar tradition, coming alive with the perfect ratio of drama to hyperkinetic irreverence that made its predecessors such lucrative, critically lauded efforts. For every pratfall the kids will find hilarious, the script provides a dash of higher-brow humor parents can appreciate, all set against an unprecedented backdrop of color and motion that's impossible to ignore. If distributor Disney wants to recapture the lost magic of their past, they needn't look far to see how. JW

Ghosts of the Abyss
Dir. and writ. James Cameron; feat. Cameron, Bill Paxton (G)
The rotting husk of the world's most famous ship comes alive here, with one of Hollywood's most gifted spectacle-makers using 3-D cameras to document the wreckage of the Titanic. James Cameron uses generous doses of computer imagery and re-created sets to show how great masses were once elegant decks and sepulchral chambers were once luxurious staterooms -- combining science, history, and gee-whiz effects in a very satisfying way. JD

Le Divorce
Dir. James Ivory; writ. Diane Johnson, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; feat. Naomi Watts, Kate Hudson, Leslie Caron, Romain Duris, Stephen Fry, Samuel Labarthe, Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Thierry Lhermitte (PG-13)
While Roxy is clearly the wronged party in her divorce, her estranged husband and the French legal code agree that he is entitled to half of her property, including a painting that may or may not be a valuable lost canvas by Georges de La Tour. At its most entertaining, the film presents some intriguing clashes of family values on two continents. JD

Masked and Anonymous
Dir. Larry Charles; writ. "Rene Fontaine & Sergei Petrov"; feat. Bob Dylan, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Penélope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Mickey Rourke (PG-13)
This rambly, shambley mess is an unqualified failure as entertainment, and any hope is has for cult status rests entirely in the hands of hardcore Dylanologists, who will undoubtedly scour its 107 minutes for in-jokes, references to the songwriter's back catalog, and bits of arcana that might - when viewed in terms of insights patched together from the lyrics to an underappreciated '70s album, a rare interview given to a German newspaper, and the hidden themes of his quasi-novel Tarantula - be thought to shed new light on this over-analyzed, under-enjoyed genius' soul. JD

The Matrix Reloaded
Dir. and writ. Andy & Larry Wachowski; feat. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau Jr. (R)
In this hyper-anticipated sequel, the Wachowski brothers appear to have taken the hype to heart, insisting on making everything bigger and bolder. The action is appropriately hyperbolic, then, but so is the endless philosophical pontificating - which misses the point of the original film, in which the heavy themes were demonstrated by the plot as much as they were explicated by dialogue. JD

Open Range
Dir. Kevin Costner; writ. Craig Storper; feat. Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, Diego Luna, James Russo, Abraham Benrubi (R)
A few free-grazing cattlemen led by Boss Spearman and Charley Waite find themselves in the backyard of town that has already moved on to notions of private property; the town's resident plutocrat, an Irishman named Baxter, aims to teach them a violent lesson in capitalism rather than let them move on peaceably. Open Range builds to a conventional but bracing standoff that neither milks our sympathies nor begs for tension it hasn't earned. In the end, it won't be remembered as one of the great Western revivals, but it shouldn't leave audiences sneering, either. JD

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Dir. Gore Verbinski; writ. Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio; feat. Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce (PG-13)
Yaaar! Against the odds, Disney's movie inspired by a theme park ride is a real trip, packing more grin-inducing thrills than most roller-coasters. Johnny Depp's kooky pirate captain is the main attraction, but a ship full of cursed skeleton-sailors runs a close second, as does a clever screenplay which manages to pack all the expected swashbuckling elements into a story that actually makes sense. JD

Russian Ark
Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov; writ. Sokurov, et al.; feat. Sergei Dontsov, Mariya Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy, David Giorgobiani, Aleksandr Chaban, Maksim Sergeyev (NR)
Shot in one long, Steadicam take, Russian Ark floats through the halls of St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum (the former Winter Palace), traversing time boundaries as it follows the ghost of a Russophobic French aristocrat. The Palace is an apt metaphor for the country: a core of decadence and deceit swathed in an austere exterior of gray and snow, filled to the brim with the indelible tyranny of the tsars. LMF

Seabiscuit
Writ. & dir. Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand; feat. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy (PG-13)
If only for its spectacular sequences of man-on-horse in motion, Seabiscuit is a splendid addition to the cinema of sports. But with the judicious use of stills and the voiceover of historian David McCullough, it also provides the snapshot of an era, the late 1930s, when Depression America was more than a little banged up, and the little colt that could gave hope to millions who could not. Seabiscuit is a horse's tale about underdogs, and from starting gate to finish line it is a timely and tonic reminder that once upon a time in America, neither wealth nor birth counted as much as spunk. SGK

The Secret Lives of Dentists
Dir. Alan Rudolph; writ. Craig Lucas, based on a novella by Jane Smiley; feat. Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary, Robin Tunney, Peter Samuel (R)
The film is an intricate anatomy of subcutaneous emotions and what passes for happiness in a culture of affluence. It is a delicate exercise in mood and perception, a tone poem that seems inflated into feature length. About an hour into the proceedings, after probing the conjugal cavities of David and Dana Hurst, The Secret Lives of Dentists begins to lose its bite. SGK

Swimming Pool
Dir. François Ozon; writ. Ozon, Emmanuéle Bernheim; feat. Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Marc Fayolle, Jean-Marie Lamour (R)
Ludivine is a babe. The young French actress, lithe and blonde, spends much of the film practically naked. But the film's real subject is the way Sagnier's casual yet supersized sexuality effects Charlotte Rampling's Sarah Morton, a middle-aged and emotonally constricted novelist. Hello Odd Couple. But what begins as a Felix-and-Oscar-style showdown quickly takes on a peculiar flavor - the older woman is fascinated by the girl and vice-versa. Just as the relationship between the two women grows most confusing, the film drops a bomb: A character disappears, and we suspect foul play. The movie begins to resemble one of Morton's whodunits. JD

The Trip
Dir. & writ. Miles Swain; feat. Larry Sullivan, Steve Braun, Sirena Irwin, Alexis Arquette, Ray Baker, Jill St. John (NR)
A three-act comic drama in which boy meets boy, boy loses boy, and boy regains boy just in time, The Trip attempts to use the changing relationship between Alan Oakley and Tommy Ballenger as a barometer of the evolution of gay culture in the U.S. during a crucial 11-year period. A 24-year-old journalist raised to be a repressed Republican by an overbearing military father, Alan undergoes a personal journey toward greater openness and self-awareness, while society at large moves from overt homophobia toward tolerance of alternative sexual identities. SGK

28 Days Later
Dir. Danny Boyle; writ. Alex Garland; feat. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Stuart McQuarrie, Christopher Eccleson (R)
For once, a zombie movie you can sink your teeth into! With plague-devastate London as a backdrop and bleak videotape cinematography to capture it, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle gets off on the right foot. He seals the deal by giving us zombies who come at you like hellfire instead of sleepwalkers, and by working non-undead threats into the scenario. Forgive the occasional horror-film pitfalls, and go get scared. JD

Whale Rider
Dir. & writ. Niki Caro, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera; feat. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis (PG-13)
Filmed in spectacular coastal Whangara, on New Zealand's North Island, Whale Rider is a beguiling exercise in both ethnography and wish fulfillment. It is a South Pacific fish story that assumes respect for history and sympathy for social justice - and provides an inspiring, implausible conclusion that reduced the woman I saw it with to blubbering. SGK

X2: X-Men United
Dir. Bryan Singer; writ. Michael Dougherty, Daniel P. Harris; feat. Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin (PG-13)
Somehow expanding on the original in opposite directions at once, this slam-bang sequel: introduces compelling new characters and enhances minor ones while still letting Ian McKellen shine as Magneto; features more and better action scenes while also enhancing the quieter social messages introduced in the first film; stuffs the frame with insider comic references while making the comic's serpentine plotlines digestible to newcomers. Excelsior! JD

Films reviewed by:
GB: Gregg Barrios
JD: John DeFore
LMF: Laura Fries
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
AL: Albert Lopez
JM: Jonathan Marcus
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
JW: Joe Weiss


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