Archive of Roy's 2000 Movie Reviews and other movie matters

New York Film Critics Awards for 1999

Best Picture: Topsy-Turvy (Other nominees: American Beauty, Being John Malkovich, and The Straight Story)

Best Actor: Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story) (Other nominees: Russell Crowe-The Insider, Jim Broadbent-Topsy-Turvy, Kevin Spacey-American Beauty)

Best Actress: Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) (Other nominees: Julianne Moore-The End of the Affair, Janet McTeer-Tumbleweeds, Kate Winslet-Holy Smoke)

Best Supporting Actor: John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich) (Other nominees: Christopher Plummer-The Insider, Jude Law-The Talented Mr. Ripley, Timothy Spall-Topsy-Turvy)

Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) (Other nominees: Chloe Sevigny-Boys Don't Cry, Julianne Moore-Magnolia)

Best Director: Mike Leigh (Topsy-Turvy) (Other nominees: David Lynch-The Straight Story, Sam Mendes-American Beauty, Paul Thomas Anderson-Magnolia)

Janet Maslin's 1999 10 Best

The New York Times' movie critic, Janet Maslin, has listed her 10 best films for 1999 as follows:

(1) Topsy-Turvy, (2) Boys Don't Cry, (3) All About My Mother, (4) The Straight Story, (5) The Talented Mr. Ripley, (6) Being John Malkovich, (7) The Insider, (8) American Movie, (9) Eyes Wide Shut, and (10) The Dreamlife of Angels.


Roger Ebert's 1999 Best Films

Roger Ebert's list of best films is quite different, with only a few films that overlap:

(1) Being John Malkovich, (2) Magnolia, (3) Three Kings, (4) Boys Don't Cry, (5) Bringing Out The Dead, (6) Princess Mononoke, (7) The War Zone, (8) American Beauty, (9) Topsy-Turvy, (10) The Insider.

Ebert also lists his runners-up: Autumn Tale, Cookie's Fortune, The Hurricane, Mansfield Park, and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Reviews of Movies Seen in 2000

My 1998 and 1999 reviews are on separate "archives" pages. If you would like to see my comments on films I viewed during 1998 and 1999 go to the Archive page of your choice by clicking on the appropriate year.

The following was my list of Top 10 films that I saw in 1999 (some were released in 1998): "Topsy-Turvy," "Shakespeare in Love," "The Thin Red Line," "Saving Private Ryan," "Little Voice," "Run Lola Run," "Eyes Wide Shut," "The Celebration," "Central Station," and "The Dreamlife of Angels."


Index of Films Reviewed in 2000

Here are my reactions to and comments about films seen during 2000, either on video (primarily DVD) or at theaters.


All About My Mother

American Beauty

American Psycho

Angela's Ashes

An Ideal Husband

Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Any Given Sunday

Anywhere But Here

Beautiful People

Being John Malkovich

Boiler Room

The Bone Collector

Boys Don't Cry

Brokedown Palace

Buena Vista Social Club

The Chambermaid On The Titanic

Chicken Run

Chuck & Buck

The Cider House Rules

Cradle Will Rock


Double Jeopardy

East Is East


The Emperor and The Assassin

The End of the Affair

Erin Brockovich

Felicia's Journey

Fight Club

For Love Of The Game


Galaxy Quest

Girl Interrupted


The Green Mile

High Fidelity

Holy Smoke!

I Dreamed of Africa


The Insider

Keeping The Faith


Lethal Weapon 4

Liberty Heights


The Limey


Man On The Moon

Mansfield Park

Miss Julie

Mission Impossible II

Mission To Mars

Music of the Heart

My Dog Skip

Mystery, Alaska

The Patriot

Random Hearts

Reindeer Games

The Replacements

Ride With The Devil

Rules of Engagement

Scary Movie

Shanghai Noon


The Sixth Sense

Sleepy Hollow

Small Time Crooks

Snow Falling On Cedars

Star Wars-Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

The Straight Story

Sweet and Lowdown

The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Thomas Crown Affair

Three Kings




Twin Falls Idaho


The Virgin Suicides

Where The Money Is

The Winslow Boy

Winter Sleepers

The World Is Not Enough

My rating system:

*A loser, a bomb. Miss it at all costs.

**An acceptable film, but not much more.

***A decent film with some virtues.

****An excellent film. Recommended highly.

*****A one of a kind. A great film.

"The Virgin Suicides"-Directed by Sophia Coppola and based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, this film tells the 25-year-old tale of the five beautiful Lisbon sisters, all teen-agers, who committed suicide in their suburban Michigan home to the astonishment and wonder of boys in the neighborhood who loved them. Starring Kirsten Dunst as Lux, the most attractive and adventurous of the sisters, and Kathleen Turner (looking very matronly), and James Woods as the girls' parents, the film seems to be trying to make a point about teenage suicide, but frankly I thought it failed. In fact, the middle of the film seemed to be about reasonably normal teenagers whose mother is very religious and extremely uptight, and whose father, a math teacher, is a little wacky. The male narrator, one of the neighborhood boys now grown up, describes how he and the other boys still talk about the Lisbon sisters 25 years later and are unable to figure out why they killed themselves. With the characters admittedly not understanding the reasons for the tragedy of the Lisbon sisters, the film provides little or no additional insight. DVD **1/2 (12/27/00)

"Chuck & Buck"-This is a little indie film, but it packs a wallop. Written by and starring Mike White as Buck, a young man in his late-20's who is mentally stuck at age 11, this unusual and painful film tells of Buck's obsession, both sexual and otherwise, with a childhood friend, Charlie, aka Chuck (Chris Weitz), following the death of Buck's mother. Charlie is a music agent, has matured normally and is engaged to a lovely young woman, Carlyn (Beth Colt). But Buck remembers details of his young life with Chuck and cannot forget. And he's bent on getting back into Chuck's life. How he goes about it is sometimes embarrassing (the frequent phone calls and attempts to meet Chuck spontaneously) and sometimes fascinating as Buck proceeds to write and produce a play that he wants Chuck to see. Lupe Ontiveros is absolutely wonderful as Beverly, the manager of a small theater company who helps Buck put on the play starring Sam (Paul Weitz), an inept actor, as the Chuck character. Mike White is brilliant as the childlike Buck. One reviewer reported that this movie was filmed entirely on digital video. That shows, but the film is original, creative, and ultimately very entertaining because it is such a different experience. Video **** (12/24/00)

"Where The Money Is"-As I recall, this film never played in the theaters but went straight to video. That's probably the fate most American films deserve, but this one has its charms. Paul Newman is Henry Manning, an experienced bank robber who has gotten himself out of prison and into a nursing home by faking a stroke (not likely), only to find himself nursed by the delectable and slightly wild Carol (Linda Fiorentino). Linda, married to her high school sweetheart Wayne (Dermot Mulroney), and somewhat bored with her life, suspects the truth about Henry and sets out to prove it. This film has many of the classic cliches of the genre, but Paul Newman, despite advancing age, is still wonderful to watch. Linda Fiorentino as Carol is delightfully sexy and adventurous, and Dermot Mulroney does a serviceable job as the frustrated husband who ultimately winds up in the middle of a "daring" armored car robbery (in an extremely unlikely scene, the robbery is taking place in a small town in Oregon, when suddenly the armored car pulls into a major league sports stadium-- clearly Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles--to make a pickup). Don't expect a lot, but I found "Where The Money Is" to be a reasonably enjoyable flick because of the talented actors. DVD *** (12/23/00)

"Small Time Crooks"-Based on a theme of "don't wish for something, you might just get it," Director and star Woody Allen tells the tale of Ray Winkler, a small-time crook who mistakenly thinks that his former fellow prison inmates were complimenting him when they called him "The Brain." But Ray, with the help of his bumbling gang, an unethical cop, and the cookie baking talents of his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman), hits the jackpot. The rest of the tale covers their fall from grace. The film has a good cast, including the wonderful Elaine May as May, Frenchy's relative who unwittingly gives away a robbery attempt only to make the Winklers and herself rich; Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow, and Jon Lovitz as Ray's gang; Hugh Grant in a perfect role for him as a snobby but conniving art expert who has the job of teaching Frenchy culture and maybe gaining a fortune out of it; and Elaine Stritch as Chi Chi Potter, a wealthy dame from whom Ray plans to heist a valuable necklace. Ullman is, as usual, wonderful as the low-class Frenchy who by dint of extreme wealth has become a society woman dreaming of being a cognoscente. However, the movie is one of Woody Allen's failures. For one thing, despite the success of his last film "Sweet and Lowdown," here Allen seems to have lost his wonderful comic timing. Many of the jokes fall flat, although there are the usual great scenes of New York and the occasional hysterical takeoff on high culture. When it has to be noted that the sets and the photography are among the best things in the film, you know this Woody Allen film has taken a wrong turn. DVD *** (12/22/00)

"Anywhere But Here"-Based on the Mona Simpson novel and directed by Wayne Wang, this is yet another tale of a wacky mother who has difficulty relating to others and who drags her seemingly more mature teenage daughter from a small town in the midwest to California to serve her own dreams. Leaving family and husband (her daughter's stepfather) behind in Bay City, WI, Adele August (Susan Sarandon) drags her reluctant 14 year old daughter, Ann (Natalie Portman), to Beverly Hills, where they wind up, as in other such films, living in the poor end of town and then struggling to keep the lights on. Adele is smart but clearly wacky and extremely annoying and has baseless dreams of turning her daughter into an actress, and yet at the same time she seems to be raising a daughter who is smart and pretty self-confident. What makes this film any success at all, considering that the story is almost a cliche (see my review of "Tumbleweeds," for example), are the outstanding performances of Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, both extremely convincing. Other notables are Shawn Hatosy as Benny, Ann's ill-fated cousin, and Corbin Allred as Peter, the California boy with a crush on Ann. DVD *** (12/17/00).

"Scary Movie"-This is an example of the state of the American film and American culture and it is truly frightening. No, not because of the attempted takeoff of the American horror film, but rather because of the incredibly inept and vulgar nature of this film. If you want to see virtually every "joke" about bodily functions and body parts that were not normally in the past discussed or shown on the movie screen, this is the film for you. Keenen Ivory Wayans, who directed this film, and which stars two of his brothers, thinks this is a funny movie. It's not. And it's not that horror movies can't be made fun of, but this film simply takes the basic outlines of one scare flick,"I Know What You Did Last Summer," and adds in absolutely awful sight gags and incredibly excessive bathroom and sexual humor. This movie defines the term "tasteless." DVD * (12/15/00)

"The Replacements"-This sounds like the name of a good Irish film about a wacky band, doesn't it? But no, let's get right to the point. This is an incredibly mediocre film about a group of replacement football players for a professional team in Washington, DC. Even the actors are cliches. Jack Warden is the owner who thinks he can win even with a ragtag bunch of also-rans. Gene Hackman is the new coach (not his first coaching assignment--didn't he coach basketball once?) who is tough but warm-hearted. The unbelievably stiff Keanu Reeves is the replacement quarterback brought back from an ignominious college career. There is, of course, also the beautiful head cheerleader who has the look of love for Reeves in almost every scene. There are the classic stereotypical oafs who make up the new team and who go almost immediately from a bumbling bunch of fools to a winning team. And finally, there is the embarrassing bunch of former strippers, now cheerleaders, who seem to show up in every other scene showing off their assets. Need I say more? DVD ** (12/8/00)

"Winter Sleepers"-Made the year before "Run Lola Run" by the director Tom Tykwer, and not quite as successful as that film, "Winter Sleepers" brings to mind a slew of descriptive terms, including mysterious, cold, haunting, and painful. It's the story of a group of young people in the Bavarian Alps and a nearby farmer whose lives are intermingled in multiple romantic and tragic ways. While the opening credits and music remind one immediately of "Lola," this film is actually quite different. It is rather slow and deliberate, beautifully filmed in the snowy landscapes of this mountainous terrain. Marco (Heino Ferch) is an aimless ski instructor having an affair with the lovely Rebecca (Floriane Daniel) who is living with a nurse, Laura (Marie-Lou Sellem). Laura meets and is attracted to René (Ulrich Matthes), the local movie projectionist who mysteriously photographs much of the things and events he encounters in life. Even before meeting Laura, René has already inadvertently crossed the others' paths and been the cause of a tragic motor vehicle accident involving a local farmer, Theo (Josef Bierbichler) who was hauling his horse to a vet but did not know that his young daughter was in the trailer. Theo seeks the identity of the driver of the other car and desires revenge. A study of, among other things, aimlessness and desire, "Winter Sleepers" also delves into the emotions of a man whose life has been shattered by a single moment and who cannot rest until his pain is somehow satiated. DVD ***1/2 (12/2/00)

"Gladiator"-If nothing else, the motion picture form has provided millions of viewers the opportunity to see things and places that they could only imagine. And in this sense, movies are genuine magic. Even without a great script, an old-fashioned epic about the ancient world is usually worth the price for this reason alone. "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott ("Thelma and Louise," "Blade Runner," and "Alien") doesn't fail in this regard. Beginning with one of the bloodiest and most spectacular battles ever filmed (the Romans conquering Germania in the second century), "Gladiator" tells a tale of the Rome of the Antonines, but one that is only very loosely related to actual history. Russell Crowe is dynamic and overpowering as Maximus, a Roman general who is favored by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, but who is soon the victim of a murder plot following the emperor's death and his succession by his evil son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Maximus survives, ultimately winding up as a slave and gladiator, and dreams of revenge against Commodus for the horrible deaths of his wife and young son. Loaded with the inherent violence natural to a plot of this sort, which in most cases is done with as little gore as necessary (there are significant exceptions, including several beheadings), "Gladiator" takes us into such magical places as the Colisseum of Rome, miraculously recreated on film. The battle scenes on the floor of the Colisseum rival the chariot race of "Ben Hur" in their epic nature.The cast is good, including such fine actors as Derek Jacobi as Gracchus, a Roman Senator who sides with Maximus and Commodus' sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius, and Djimon Hounsou ("Amistad") as Juba, a charming gladiator sidekick for Maximus. One of the best performances is that by the British actor Oliver Reed as Proximo, the slave owner and cynic who ultimately gives his life for the cause. Reed, who was 61, died shortly after the end of filming and the movie is dedicated to him. The DVD version has a complete second DVD loaded with features, including details about the making of the film. For sheer spectacular entertainment, "Gladiator" is recommended. DVD **** (11/22/00)

"East Is East"-Billed as a "comedy," but more of a tragicomedy, "East Is East" describes a world of cultural divide. Om Puri is George Khan, a Pakistani who came to England in 1937, married an Englishwoman (Linda Bassett), had seven children, and suddenly in 1971 decides to force his family into living as if they had been born and raised in Pakistan. His hip, modern English kids who wear up-to-date clothes, eat food not approved by their father's religion, and just generally do things of which George would not approve, obviously are not going to stand for it, especially in the form of arranged marriages, and this creates the tension that is omnipresent in this film. Not always easy to understand, with both thick Pakistani and British accents, nevertheless the theme is extremely clear. The father attempts to overwhelm his family, seemingly never realizing that this may cost him his entire family. I enjoyed this film, but regretted a little too much in the way of offensive language and bathroom realism. Otherwise, in execution and theme superior to most American films. DVD ***1/2 (11/21/00)

"Chicken Run"-With images reminding one of "The Great Escape," this delightful claymation comedy directed by Nick Park and other creators of the Wallace and Gromit series tells the tale of Ginger, a hen who dreams of freeing herself and her fellow chickens from the land of Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy, the evil pair who runs the chicken farm like it was "Stalag 17." Despite repeated attempts to escape, only to be thrown into solitary confinement, Ginger ultimately meets up with Rocky, a "flying" American rooster who promises to teach the British hens how to fly away to freedom. But it's not that simple. The claymation animation is astonishing. The voices are delightful, led by Mel Gibson as Rocky and Julie Sawalha as Ginger. Notable others are Timothy Spall as a conniving rat, Jane Horrocks ("Little Voice") as a simple-minded hen, and Miranda Richardson as the ominous Mrs. Tweedy. The DVD contains a wonderful short about the making of the film (highly recommended). The plot has its cliches but in this format it is truly memorable. DVD **** (11/20/00)

"Annie Get Your Gun (1950)"-I had been searching for this classic MGM musical since the advent of video, but it was not to be found. I discovered that Irving Berlin, who wrote the delightful music and songs, didn't care for the film and had prevented its release. But now, at long last, the 1950 version has been released on video for the first time ever (both VHS and DVD). Judy Garland was originally to play Annie Oakley and Frank Morgan (The Wizard of "Oz") was to play Col. Buffalo Bill, but Morgan died early in the filming and Garland was having severe health problems and was dropped from the film. Louis Calhern was brought in to be Buffalo Bill and Betty Hutton was the superb choice to replace Garland as Annie Oakley, with Howard Keel as Frank Butler, the man of Annie's dreams. The film is ripe for criticism. It's ultra-corny and amazingly politically incorrect. The portrayal of American Indians is insulting and embarrassing, even including a scene of Sitting Bull (J.Carrol Naish) greeting someone with the amazingly silly term "Ugh!" And it wouldn't be a film made at mid-century if it didn't have a theme of the woman (Annie) being subservient to the man (Frank). But the music and the performers' enthusiasm provides this film with a great deal of redeeming value, including an incredibly joyous performance by Betty Hutton and the absolutely luscious songs of Irving Berlin. Watch this film and you'll get to see and hear "Doing What Comes Natur'lly," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun," and "I Got The Sun in the Morning." Alternating between love and "hate," Hutton and Keel wind up with one of those delightful show stoppers when they tell each other "I Can Do Anything Better Than You." The DVD just released includes two outtakes of Judy Garland playing the role before she was dropped. She looked listless and uninterested and its obvious why Arthur Freed brought in Betty Hutton to take over. Another performer to watch is Keenan Wynn who gets the film off to a rousing start with the extremely catchy march "Colonel Buffalo Bill" complete with marching band, pretty girls, and horseback riders. Despite its significant flaws, "Annie Get Your Gun" is a classic of the old 1950's MGM musicals and I highly recommend it for those who have any interest in the genre. DVD **** (11/17/00)

"U-571"-Loaded with special effects and realistic sets, but having virtually no substance, this World War II flick tells the tale of a group of American submariners sent to capture an "enigma" coding machine from an injured German U-boat, only to find themselves in the midst of a dramatic battle with a German destroyer. Matthew McConaughey stars as Lieutenant Tyler who winds up as the sub captain in dire straits. Others of note are Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel (looking out of place in an unkinky film), David Keith, and Jon Bon Jovi. I was so underwhelmed by this film that I almost had no desire to write about it. If you're young and haven't seen loads of WWII naval flicks, you might enjoy this. But otherwise, it's cliched and, frankly, dull. DVD ** (11/11/00)

"Mission Impossible II"-Upon seeing the excitement of the first few scenes I actually thought this James Bond-like film could be halfway decent. But no, it ultimately degenerates into every rock-'em, sock-'em, blow 'em up, car chase movie you've ever seen. Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, the latest superman who can climb rocks with barely any handholds being available, make love to beautiful women, crash and fight to the death with virtually no sign of injury or even loss of breath other than a couple of scratches on his face, and save the heroine in the final moments. Thandie Newton is Nyah Nordoff-Hall, Hunt's love interest and a jewel thief, brought in by the MI team to learn the whereabouts of a stolen serum/cure for an artificial but extremely deadly virus manufactured by a greedy businessman (Brendan Gleeson). Dougray Scott is Sean Ambrose, the evil serum thief who has no compunctions about killing thousands of people to gain wealth. The movie is loaded with unintended laughs. Especially silly are the scenes in which characters turn out to be individuals other than themselves and simply tear off their faces in order to reveal their true selves beneath. This trick is fine the first time, but it's done over and over and becomes completely predictable. The car chases and man-to-man fights are utterly overdone and ultimately a big bore. DVD ** (11/10/00)

"The Emperor and The Assassin"-Directed by Chen Kaige ("Farewell My Concubine") and starring Gong Li, China's leading actress, this spectacular film tells the Shakespearean-style epic of two men of contrasting desires and sensibilities, one a leader who wants to unite and pacify but who ultimately becomes a vicious killer, and the other a man who is already a killer, but struggles to change his ways after a particularly gruesome and disturbing assignment as an assassin. King Ying Zheng of Qin who desires to unite the seven kingdoms of China in 221 B.C, is the first. Jing Ke, the assassin (Zhang Fengyi), is the second. Zhang Fengyi not only is an actor with charisma, but he portrays the character of a man who ranges from cold-hearted destruction for hire to a deep feeling of remorse and self-hatred for what he has done, especially in causing the death of a young girl. Loaded with royal intrigues among the King, his mother (the Queen Mother) and her lover the Marquis, the Prince of Yan, the Kings of Zhao and Han, Ying Zheng's lover, Lady Zhao (Gong Li), and ultimately Jing Ke, this gorgeously photographed film also contains some of the most exciting battle sequences I have ever seen on film. Li XueJian is brilliant as the King, a part that requires a multitude of moods and expressions. Gong Li is worth the price of the film. She is radiant and once again demonstrates her already-proven acting ability and charm which literally makes the screen glow. Very highly recommended. DVD ****1/2 (11/5/00)

"Frequency"-The screenwriter, Toby Emmerich, has created a tale of what he calls "science fantasy."  Dennis Quaid stars as Frank Sullivan, a New York City firefighter in October 1969 who has a lovely wife (Elizabeth Mitchell) and a young son, and who sits down one night at his ham radio during the Aurora Borealis and finds himself talking to his son 30 years in the future. The son, John Sullivan (James Caviezel), is a cop who remembers that his father died in a warehouse fire. After convincing him of his identity, the son sets in motion a series of events in the past that will bring profound changes in the present. Of course, the story requires that the son remember the before and after, for otherwise there would be no story. Centered around the Amazing New York Mets World Series championship of that October, "Frequency," has some glaring weaknesses, including the fairly slow and choppy pacing, silly NY accents, and sometimes moribund acting. While it cleverly turns into a cop/serial-killer thriller, it's all too easy to look at the silly aspects of the plot and laugh. It had its moments and was a good try. (The DVD has some interesting material on scientific aspects of the film, including the Aurora Borealis and time travel). DVD *** (11/4/00)

"The Patriot"- This Mel Gibson film is as corny as Kansas in August, but I still enjoyed it by total suspension of any seriousness. In fact, it's simply "Braveheart" (with a little "Titus" thrown in) set in the Revolutionary South Carolina of 1776, with a monstrously evil British officer for the viewer to hate, and Superman Mel (Lethal Weapon again?) for one to admire. And it's even got the usual cliche that one finds in cop flicks as the bad guy goes after the hero's family. Gibson plays Col. Benjamin "The Ghost" Martin, a widower with a bunch of chidren and a sense of family responsibility who is dragged into the Revolution by Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), one of the most revolting villains to come along in a long time and who causes mortal harm to members of Martin's family. The film is loaded with violence, but then again it is about war. Although lush and beautifully filmed, some of the scenery, especially the background paintings, are obviously fake; the film is loaded with button-pushing; and the black residents of South Carolina appear a little too upbeat considering the circumstances of slavery at that particular time in history. But those things aside, the film has enjoyable performances by Tom Wilkinson as the ultra-egotistical, ultra-confident General Cornwallis; Joely Richardson as the sister of Col. Martin's late wife who obviously pines for him and cares for his children while he's fighting (and who sounds just like her mother, Vanessa Redgrave); Heath Ledger, a young attractive Australian newcomer, as Martin's oldest son Gabriel; and Chris Cooper as Col. Burwell of the Revolutionary forces. DVD ***1/2 (10/28/00)

"Keeping The Faith"-Two boys and a girl who are friends in New York City at age 12 grow up to be, respectively, a rabbi (Ben Stiller), a priest (Edward Norton), and a hot-shot businesswoman from California (Jenna Elfman). The rabbi and priest remain friends despite differences in religious affiliation, and ultimately are reunited with the young lady. Not surprisingly, since this is a movie, this leads to an unusual romantic triangle. Despite the unlikely nature of the theme, I enjoyed this film probably because of the humor which is congenial, the pleasant performances, and the nice photography of New York. Norton and Stiller do a nice job as the priest and rabbi. Elfman is simply irresistible as the young lady in the middle. And the film is full of good performances by such old-timers as Eli Wallach as a rabbi, Anne Bancroft as the mother of the young rabbi, and Milos Forman as a priest. Although the film gets a little draggy in the middle and involves religious characters, I'd sum it up by saying it's fairly secular and a good time was had by all. DVD *** (10/20/00)

"Rules of Engagement"-Starring two old pros, Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, and directed by another, William Friedkin ("The Exorcist"), this military film has a somewhat cliched plot about Marine Colonel Terry Childers (Jackson) accused of killing a large crowd of demonstrators who are storming the American embassy in Yemen, while he is in the process of trying to rescue the ambassador (Ben Kingsley) and his wife (Anne Archer). Childers turns to his old friend Colonel Hayes Hodges (Jones), a somewhat unsuccessful military lawyer whose life had been saved by Childers in Vietnam. The action scenes in Yemen are realistic and exciting. No question. But when the film turns to the court martial, there are just too many cliches, such as the evil National Security Advisor (Bruce Greenwood) who isn't interested in justice; the tough prosecutor (Guy Pearce--hardly recognizable from the role he played in "L.A. Confidential") who has some level of integrity; the witnesses who find it all too easy to fudge the truth; and the stirring closing address to the jury by Hodges, the defense lawyer who overcomes his initial doubts about his ability to handle the case. The situation raises classic issues about the difference between killing in war and murder. But this film doesn't answer any of those questions. "Rules of Engagement" is certainly viewable, but that's about all one can say. *** (10/14/00)

"Shanghai Noon"-Having read some favorable comments about this kung fu film starring Jackie Chan, I decided to give it a try, and was pleasantly surprised up to a point. From an extremely lowbrow point of view, "Shanghai Noon" has some humorous features, including a fairly amusing script and two quite funny performances by Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Chan is Chon Wang (get it?), an Imperial guard sent to the Old West to bring back Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) who has been lured there by an evil former Imperial guard. He meets up with a gang of bumbling outlaws led by the least likely one of all, Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) and they join together to rescue the princess. Chan and Wilson are a comedy team obviously trying to rank up there with the best. On the DVD, Chan actually is compared to Buster Keaton. Well, I don't think so. But at least he's trying and not taking himself too seriously. The martial arts scenes are somewhat repetitive and ultimately boring, but the production values of this film are good, including especially the photography. I wasn't expecting much and so I enjoyed it. But if you're looking for substance, this is NOT for you. DVD *** (10/13/00)

"East/West"-This harrowing and powerful film (in French and Russian with subtitles) begins in 1946 with a group of Russian exiles returning to their homeland at the invitation of the Stalinist government. It doesn't take them long to realize that they have made a tragic mistake. Oleg Menchikov stars as Alexei, a physician who has convinced his French wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) to come to Russia with their young son. Virtually immediately realizing what they have lost, they are nevertheless in the midst of one of the most oppressive police states on earth and must watch every word and movement. If one could ever appreciate freedom from a movie, this one will do it. It is as if this family has voluntarily walked into its own prison and the pain is palpable. Not only must these people deal with the mistake they have made in returning to this horribly oppressive society, but they must also deal with the stresses on their marriage. Ultimately, Marie meets a French actress (Catherine Deneuve) touring in Russia who will play a role in her ultimate effort to return to freedom, but the trip is very long and painful. The acting is universally outstanding. The film is beautifully paced and photographed. Most impressive is a handsome young Russian actor, Sergei Bodrov, Jr., who plays Sasha, a young freedom-loving swimmer Marie befriends after his grandmother is killed by the authorities. This one is highly recommended. DVD **** (10/9/00)

"High Fidelity"-This is John Cusack's film. He not only stars, but co-wrote the screenplay (based upon the British novel by Nick Hornby) and co-produced. And it's got his usual wacky charming touch. Cusack is Rob, a slightly messed-up young Chicago guy who owns a record store named Championship Vinyl in a somewhat rundown neighborhood, but who seems to let the store be run mostly by his two employees, the amusingly nerdy Dick (Todd Louiso) and the hyper and hysterically funny Barry (Jack Black), both obsessed by the pop music of the last few years. The fact that Rob's store is not terribly successful isn't his main concern. No, it's his social life and it appears to Rob that he hasn't been doing very well at it. His current live-in girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) is moving out and Rob, talking directly to the audience, tells of his past succeeding top five unsuccessful loves. It's one of many top five lists that we hear about, but this is the important one at the moment. In the process Rob learns quite a bit about himself. The cast is loaded with appealing co-stars, including Tim Robbins, Lisa Bonet, Joan Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, Natasha Gregson Wagner, and Sara Gilbert as people crossing the paths of either Rob, Laura, or Dick and Barry. Iben Hjejle, a beautiful blonde Danish actress, appears in her first American film and I suspect not her last. She's very appealing as the current source of Rob's pain and desire, and is so "American" one would never guess she was foreign-born. "High Fidelity" is directed by British director Stephen Frears, who also directed Cusack in "The Grifters." Overall I found this to be a very amusing film about the different attitudes of young men and women in social relationships and the pain often felt upon breakups and searches for new loves. DVD ***1/2 (10/6/00)

"Mission To Mars"-There must be a point in the career of an actor with talent when he or she stops appearing only in first-rate films and starts to accept junky roles. This film, directed by Brian De Palma, is a good example. Starring Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, and Don Cheadle, all excellent with good material, this mission to Mars is a bomb. Every cliche in the science fiction book has been thrown into this film which comes across, at first, as a very junior league "2001" and then turns into an extremely minor league "Close Encounters." What it is primarily missing is a decent script with some original ideas, although a few bucks for better sets might have helped. Armin Mueller-Stahl appears as a NASA commander with a very thick accent. Mueller-Stahl probably realized how bad this material was and is not credited. This is one movie to miss. DVD *1/2 (9/24/00)

"I Dreamed of Africa"-This could have been a better film. Unfortunately, other than having beautiful scenery of Africa (filmed mostly in South Africa), it is shockingly mediocre with a very weak script, stilted acting, and an incredibly bad job of editing, especially through the first half of the film. This is the true story of Kuki Gallman, an Italian woman who emigrated with her second husband, Paolo, and her son, Emanuele (from her first marriage), to Kenya in 1973, to live on a cattle ranch. The film begins with Kuki and Paolo being involved in a terrible car accident and surviving, getting to know each other as a result. Never does the film make clear that another woman in the car was Paolo's first wife who was killed in the accident. The early scenes in Kenya jump around with little or no continuity. Never are we told when this is taking place (I learned more about Kuki Gallman from an Internet interview than I did from the film) or are we given any idea of the time passing other than the fact that Kuki's son Emanuele gets older. Although Ms. Gallman was born and raised in Italy and has a genuine Italian accent, she is played by Kim Basinger with a perfect American accent and her mother is portrayed by Eva Marie Saint. One could easily have thought from this film that Ms. Gallman and her mother were Americans living in Italy. Vincent Perez plays Paolo, the ill-fated husband, who is obsessed with danger. But Perez, although handsome, provides little excitement. The best performance in the film comes from Liam Aiken, who plays the young Emanuele, a boy with a passion for snakes. One example of weakness in the script comes when Paolo shows Kuki a ball hanging from a string above their bed and tells her that there is an important message inside. She will know when to break the ball (or "egg" as he calls it) and see the message. While the ball hangs above the bed throughout the movie, Kuki never opens it and we are left wondering why they bothered to make such a fuss about it. DVD **1/2 (9/8/00)

"American Psycho"-Based on the excoriated Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, and directed by Mary Harron ("I Shot Andy Warhol"), this portrait of a serial killer turns out to be a somewhat biting social commentary on the 1980's yuppie period. British actor Christian Bale is surprisingly memorable as Patrick Bateman, one of a group of Wall Street types with little on their minds except the empty banality of their lives: looks, clothing, dinner reservations, business cards, apartments, women as objects, etc. Although the film could hardly avoid violence, it isn't overwhelmed by it until some excess at the end. Meanwhile, Bale gives a fairly comic performance as a man who admits to being totally surface with nothing inside. Reese Witherspoon, as Bateman's fiance Evelyn, seems to have picked up where her performance in "Election" left off. Chloe Sevigny is perfectly charming as Bateman's naive secretary Jean. DVD *** (9/5/00)

"Simpatico"-Based on a play by Sam Shepard, "Simpatico" tells the story of three people whose lives were forever intertwined by youthful greed while in the horse business in California. Carter (Jeff Bridges), married to Rosie (Sharon Stone), is a wealthy horse owner in Kentucky. He is summoned to California by Vinnie (Nick Nolte), an obviously down-on-his-luck character. Carter leaves Kentucky in a rush in the middle of a sale of his triple-crown winning horse, Simpatico. What unwinds is a revelation of guilt that ultimately concludes in bringing some level of justice to all three. Bridges and Nolte work well together. Sharon Stone is sufficiently unglamorous as the woman in the middle of the greedy plans and Albert Finney is excellent as Simms, the horse commissioner whose life was almost destroyed by the three. Others of note are Catherine Keener as Cecilia, Vinnie's friend in California who ultimately makes it, as dreamed, to the Kentucky Derby; and Kimberly Williams as the young Rosie. Although the scenery and photography is natural, the script and performances sound a little too much like the Shepard play upon which the film is based. DVD *** (9/3/00)

"Any Given Sunday"-Director Oliver Stone knows how to make a film with all of the visual elements necessary for excitement: vibrant color and photography, spectacular action, sharp scene shifts, and spicy scenes and script. This film is loaded with all of these elements, starting out with one of the most exciting and painful pro football games ever photographed. The biggest criticism is that he overdoes it, to the point that it starts to become tiresome towards the end of the film. But meanwhile, we see the story of Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino), the aging tough football coach of the Miami Sharks who is being hounded by the young beautiful owner/general manager Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) to produce a winner. After the also-aging star quarterback, "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid), goes down with a disk injury, in comes the young, insufferably arrogant but talented Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) to get the Sharks moving towards the playoffs. This film does not fall within the genre of Oliver Stone political films, but it is certainly intended to be a commentary on our culture and society which overvalues sports heroes, obsesses over winning and violence, and is losing whatever real culture it may have. One small, but telling scene shows Coach D'Amato talking to the young Quarterback Beamen on an airplane. Beamen is listening to rap and the coach tries to encourage him to listen to jazz. Beamen looks at him like he's an alien. This is another perfect role for Pacino who gets to strut and talk loudly in his classic raspy voice, but fortunately he doesn't overdo it. Jamie Foxx is first-rate as the young QB who gains some level of humility towards the end. Other notable performances are those of LLCoolJ as one of the players, James Woods as an unethical team doctor, Matthew Modine as the other team doctor who is ethical, Jim Brown as one of the coaches, Lawrence Taylor as "Shark" Lavay, Lela Rochon as the woman Beamen rejects after he gains stardom, Lauren Holly as an extremely pushy football wife, and, yes, Oliver Stone as one of the TV announcers. DVD ***1/2 (9/2/00)

"Reindeer Games"-Ben Affleck is Rudy, a car thief who has just been released from prison and finds Ashley (Charlize Theron) waiting outside for his just-murdered cellmate, Nick (James Frain). It doesn't take long for Rudy to tell the gorgeous Ashley that he is Nick, and, as a result, soon finds himself in the middle of one of the silliest, most muddled caper films ever made. Gary Sinise is the apparent leader of a group of truckdriver thugs who want Rudy, thinking he's Nick, to show them how to pull a heist at a snowy Michigan casino. You can only imagine the mess that ensues from this gang that couldn't shoot straight. Not only do they make a mess, but the film, with ridiculous and illogical twists and turns, is a mess. One of the gang members is Isaac Hayes. Not recommended. DVD *1/2 (8/25/00)

"Titus"-Julie Taymor, the director, known particularly for directing "The Lion King" on Broadway, is the real star of this rather astonishing and disturbing film. Done in a very stylistic manner, not surprising for Taymor, which involves using objects of different time periods (e.g., chariots ride alongside motor vehicles in this story of ancient Rome), this is a 2 1/2 hour version of Shakespeare's much longer "Titus Andronicus" with many amazing visuals. But mostly, this is the ultimate commentary on violence, whether it be the violence of war, religious ritual, domesticity, and ultimately vengeance. I saw this in the DVD version which includes an entire DVD devoted to the making of the film. In it, Taymor says that if the film's violence dominates, then she has failed. I'm not certain she succeeded as it very hard to ignore the sometimes horrifying images of violence. The cast is excellent. Anthony Hopkins is Titus who returns from war with the Goths bringing along many of his dead sons. Ritually and brutally killing one of the sons of the captured Goth Queen Tamora (Jessica Lange), despite her pleas, Titus sets in motion events that will almost destroy his own family. Tamora soon becomes the Empress of Rome, marrying Emperor Saturninus (played delightfully and wickedly by the wonderful Alan Cumming), bringing along her two useless sons Chiron and Demetrius as well as the evil Moor Aaron (an outstanding performance by Harry Lennix). Tamora plots to destroy Titus and his family, and an unbelievably cruel act of mutilation against Titus' daughter Lavinia (Laura Fraser) ultimately leads Titus and his remaining family members to plot their own "delicious" revenge against Tamora. Taymor deserves an award just for the incredible amount of work that went into this film, much of which is described in the accompanying DVD. Most of the film was made on location in Rome, including at the old Cinecitta studios of Federico Fellini. Recommended as an experience that's not likely to be repeated anytime soon. DVD **** (8/19/00)

"Erin Brockovich"-A young divorced and sexy mother of three who is desperate for a job; poisoned water in Hinkley, CA, placed there by a major utility company; an aging and seemingly dull-witted lawyer; and a surprisingly gentle Harley-Davidson fan, provide the basic elements for this film starring Julia Roberts as the real-life Erin Brockovich (who appears in the film as a waitress in an early scene). Roberts gets to wear lots of mini-skirts and otherwise tight, revealing outfits and occasionally use raw language. Her Erin Brockovich is like Julia sexily magnified. Despite the apparently intriguing elements, this film is surprisingly slow and not terribly dramatic. If you like looking at Julia Roberts, it's not a bad deal. Aaron Eckhart ("In The Company of Women") is the babysitting biker. Albert Finney makes Ed Masry, Brockovich's boss, seem like a lawyer with little likelihood of success. I thought the best performance was that of Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen, a woman whose life is almost completely ruined by the poison seeping into her family's water. There is one particularly delicious scene in which the lawyers representing PG &E, are sitting in Ed Masry's office and are given drinking water. Just as the woman attorney is about to drink the water, Roberts as Brockovich tells her that the water was specially brought in just for them, implying that it comes directly from Hinkley. Not surprisingly, the woman puts the glass down. DVD *** (8/18/00)

"Holy Smoke!"-Kate Winslet stars as Ruth, a young Australian woman who, while visiting India, becomes a follower of a guru, only to be enticed back to Sydney by a fib her mother tells her about her father's health. Back in Australia, Ruth discovers that her family has hired an American cult deprogrammer named PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel). PJ manages to get Ruth to agree to spend three days alone with him and off they go into the Australian desert, but things don't turn out quite the way PJ imagined. Surrounded by and interacting with a rather ditzy family group, Ruth and PJ find themselves in a psychological battle that raises questions about just who is doing the deprogramming. Directed by Jane Campion ("The Piano"), this rather funny film deals with issues of the nature of beliefs, love, and responsibility, albeit rather lightly. Rather raunchy in parts (aren't all Harvey Keitel movies somewhat raunchy?), the film contains an excellent performance by Kate Winslet and a bizarre character study by Keitel. I was enchanted with the hysterical performances of the supporting Australian cast. Not a great film, but certainly worth a look. DVD ***1/2 (8/12/00)

"Ride With The Devil"-There's no devil in this film other than the hatred between northerners and southerners in Missouri during the Civil War. Ang Lee, a native of Taiwan, directed this film about the cruelty of neighbors towards each other during the war. Tobey Maguire stars as Jake Roedel, a young man of German descent but as southern as they come who joins forces with other loyalists of the Confederate cause to avenge the murder and mayhem of the Jayhawkers and Federalist troops. He winds up with a group consisting primarily of Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), his childhood friend, George Clyde (Simon Baker), a former slaveholder, and Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), one of Clyde's former slaves who is so loyal to Clyde that he continues to fight for the southern cause until Clyde is dead. Seeking shelter in the winter, they meet a young widow named Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel Kilcher) who initially is attracted to Jack Bull but who ultimately finds herself with one of the others. Some of the acting in this film is amateurish, and several parts move rather slowly, but it is still an entertaining western-style film with at least a minimal point to make. Tobey Maguire once again shows a limited range in his acting, although he is certainly pleasant to watch. On the other hand, Jeffrey Wright, who has appeared on Broadway, is excellent as "Holt" and Jewel is quite good in the role of the attractive young widow. It's not clear what Ang Lee is up to, having now directed three films in a row which have absolutely nothing to do with his native Chinese culture ("Sense and Sensibility" and "The Ice Storm" being the other two). DVD *** (8/6/00)

"Beautiful People"-From the opening scene in which two former Bosnian neighbors meet on a London bus and immediately begin to pummel each other, this absolutely delightful and funny film tells the story of a diverse group of seemingly miserable people who represent all that there is about the human condition. Griffin Midge (Danny Nussbaum) is a young aimless Londoner on the edge of the drug culture who finds himself accidentally parachuted over Bosnia only to discover his true purpose. Pero (Edin Dzandzanovic) is a former Yugoslavian who is trying to understand life in England as well as English and, despite almost being killed in a street accident, winds up meeting Portia Thornton (Charlotte Coleman), a young upper class Britisher who is somewhat contemptuous of her parents (Charles Kay and Rosalind Ayres) and their lives. Dr. Mouldy (Nicholas Farrell) is in a battle with his wife over his twin sons, but meets a young Bosnian couple who are about to have a child who is the creation of a war rape, and provides them with some reasons for happiness. Jerry Higgins (Gilbert Martin) is a Scottish BBC reporter who is injured in Bosnia, only to return with the maddening "Bosnian Syndrome." And the two Bosnian neighbor/enemies from the bus wind up in the same hospital room with a Welsh firebomber, and you willl have to imagine what goes on between the three of them and their cheerful nurse (Linda Bassett). Directed by Jasmin Dizdar, a Bosnian, this is one of the best, funniest, and most intelligent films in years. A treasure not to be missed. DVD **** (8/5/00)

"Boiler Room"-This film is about people I loathe. Money-grubbing jerks without an iota of feeling or concern for other human beings. It's a film about the ultimate small-time carnivores of the world of finance. Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as Seth, a "nice" Jewish boy from Queens whose father, with whom he has had a rough relationship, just happens to be a federal judge. Seth is the kind of nice kid who just happens to run a gambling casino in his apartment. But after his father expresses outrage at his chosen "occupation," he is tempted by the slick Greg (Nicky Katt), a casino customer, into becoming a trainee "broker" in a sleazy firm that preys on the innocents who cannot resist the sweet-talking of bullshit artists on the telephone. There is a minor and incomplete sideplot about Seth's relationship with the beautiful Abby (Nia Long), the company receptionist who makes $80,000 a year and who happens to be the ex-girlfriend of Seth's rival, Greg. Seth realizes fairly quickly what is really going on behind the scenes of this "chop shop" operation, but it is certainly a commentary on his character that he shows little desire to do what's right until his hand is forced. Others of note in the cast are Vin Diesel as one of the other "brokers," Ben Affleck as the lead trainer of the firm, Ron Rifkin as Seth's father, and Taylor Nichols as Harry, one of the poor suckers who allows Seth to almost destroy his life. DVD *** (7/29/00)

"Angela's Ashes"-I had heard that this film was unremittingly depressing, and depressing it certainly is. The McCourt family, living in utter poverty in Brooklyn loses its only daughter, a baby, to illness and returns to Limerick, Ireland, only to lose two more children to filth and poverty. Alan Parker ("Evita" and "Mississippi Burning"), the director, has provided us with a view of Limerick that borders on a vision of hell. It is dirty, dreary, depressed, and soaked with constant rains. But in this miserable world, young Frank McCourt has the brains and pluck to succeed and with a little luck, he will along with his younger brother Malachy. Emily Watson ("Breaking The Waves") is utterly natural by underplaying the misery of McCourt's mother, Angela. Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty"), overcoming his incredibly thick natural Scottish accent, is outstanding as the Northern Irish alcoholic but loving father who ultimately fails the family totally. And there are magnificent and utterly natural performances from three young actors as Frank: Joe Breen as the young Francis, Ciaran Owens as the middle Frank, and Michael Legge as the 16 year-old Frank who ultimately returns to New York. Loaded with wonderful characters and performances, this film version of Frank McCourt's book, does a fine job of demonstrating what he had to overcome to reach his current renown. DVD **** (7/28/00)

"All About My Mother"-Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, has created this wonderful homage to women, actresses, men who play women, the classic "All About Eve," and so on, and it is memorable. Cecilia Roth, a beautiful Argentine actress, plays Manuela, a woman who ran into the wrong "man" in the past but who came out of the relationship with a son she adores but tragically loses as the film begins. This sets her on a trip from Madrid to Barcelona to seek out the father of her son. Manuela becomes enmeshed in the lives of old and new friends, including Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a partial transexual female whore; Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz), a pregnant and dying nun; Huma and Nina (Marisa Paredes and Candela Peña), two lesbian actresses; and Lola (Toni Cantó), the somewhat female "father" of the offspring of the film. Certainly a bizarre bunch, but nevertheless marvelously and delightfully human. This beautiful film is highly recommended. DVD **** (7/27/00)

"Mansfield Park"-What a delightful surprise. This is without a doubt the best Jane Austen film I have seen. Directed by Patricia Rozema, this witty film is the story of Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor), a poor niece of Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park who is sent to live with her aunt's family as a young girl and develops into a lovely and intelligent, but extremely independent young woman. Developing an early attachment to her cousin Edmund (Jonny Lee Miller), Fanny is nevertheless sought after by the young rake Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola) who arrives with his beautiful sister Mary Crawford (Embeth Davidtz), a pair undoubtedly aiming at conquest among the Bertrams. The ins and outs of love and intrigue are delightfully portrayed by a charming and bright cast of young actors, inspired undoubtedly by two of their elders. Harold Pinter (yes, him) is wonderful as Sir Thomas Bertram who, as a slave owner in Antigua, may or may not have some evil secrets. Lindsay Duncan is magnificent playing two roles, first as the sleepily dull Lady Bertram and second as her poverty stricken sister, Mrs. Price. Of the younger actors, Frances O'Connor is outstanding as Fanny Price, a true find for quality films and someone I certainly hope we see again. Although containing many of the typical Jane Austen themes as in "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility," and "Emma," this story seemed to stand out as being just a little above the crowd. The photography is gorgeous. This is a first-rate production and is highly recommended. DVD **** (7/14/00)

"My Dog Skip"-Willie Morris, who died in 1999, was a significant American writer from Yazoo City, Mississippi, and an editor at Harper's Magazine. This film is based on the memoir about his childhood with his pet dog, a terrier named Skip. From the opening sappy music (the typical maudlin music symbolizing childhood innocence) to the constant threats of neighborhood bullies and evil moonshiners, this approximately 90 minute film is not easy to watch, especially if one is an animal lover. And yet it does have its charm, as it gradually reveals Morris' tale of how his dog taught him to grow up. Frankie Muniz is good as the young Willie, whose love for his dog is absolute except for one regrettable moment. Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane are Willie's parents but have little to do. Moose, who is better known as "Eddie" on the TV show "Frazier," is wonderful and steals the film. DVD *** (7/13/00)

"Miss Julie"-Based on the work of August Strindberg, this play in movie form takes place on a 19th-Century Swedish estate. The footman, Jean (Peter Mullan), is engaged to one of the servants, Christine (Maria Doyle Kennedy), but the Countess' confused daughter Julie (Saffron Burrows) has different ideas as she attempts to seduce Jean. This is what can only be called a psychological drama about class and gender. The film contains some good acting, but had the look and feel of a television special. Directed by Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas"). DVD *** (7/4/00)

"Girl, Interrupted"-Films about mental institutions usually bring to mind "Snake Pit," the classic about the horrors of such places. But this is no "Snake Pit." In fact, it's downright user-friendly. Winona Ryder plays Susanna Kaysen, a 22 year old in 1968 who is having some problems, has attempted suicide, and has been placed in "Claymoore" a Boston-area institution which gives its patients amazing latitudes. Kaysen finds herself amidst a group of fairly disturbed young women, certainly more in need of institutionalization than she does who have surprising freedom to move about and interact. And among these women she meets Lisa (Angelina Jolie), an extraordinarily disturbed and yet perceptive inmate who has a profound effect on her and the other patients. Director James Mangold has done an excellent job of telling a difficult tale with little pain to the viewer. What is potentially a very depressing tale is, while certainly disturbing, in the end somewhat uplifting. Angelina Jolie is incredibly forceful and dynamic as Lisa. A role to remember. Ryder does a fine job as a somewhat disturbed, but mostly confused young woman maturing in an age of drugs and sexual freedom. Whoopi Goldberg does her usual fine job as Valerie, the head nurse. Vanessa Redgrave and Jeffrey Tambor are the institution's psychiatrists. The film contains one historical error. It shows the draft lottery existing in 1968. That didn't begin until at last the early 1970's. DVD **** (7/1/00)

"Liberty Heights"-This is Director Barry Levinson's fourth film in his Baltimore series which included "Diner," "Tin Men," and finally "Avalon." This one, which is disappointing, tells the rather unlikely story of a 1954 Baltimore Jewish family in which the father (Joe Mantegna) is in the numbers racket and runs a strip joint, one son (Ben Foster) is in high school and attracted to a young black classmate, and the other (Adrien Brody) has met the golden blonde shiksa of his dreams. Levinson obviously wanted to tell a story about anti-semitism and racism and the emerging growth of understanding in the 1950's, but he's put just a little too much to believe into one tale. The characters are a little too calm in nerve-wracking situations and a little too courageous in their efforts to defeat bias and prejudice. Ben Foster does a fine job as the younger son, and Adrien Brody is charming as the older son. Bebe Neuwirth plays their mother. DVD *** (6/25/00)

"Sweet and Lowdown"-Woody Allen had been in somewhat of a slump recently, but with this delightful film he's hit a homerun. Sean Penn magnificently transforms himself into Emmet Ray, one of the two best guitarists in the world who is obsessed by the other, Django Reinhardt. Told in semi-documentary style via modern interviews (including Woody Allen and Nat Hentoff) which set the stage, this is the story of a musical genius who is definitely an odd duck. Ray likes women but his idea of a good time is shooting rats and watching trains go by. Ultimately, he meets Hattie (Samantha Morton) who is unable to talk but offers him a love and companionship that Ray simply does not appreciate. Later he mysteriously marries Blanche (Uma Thurman), a far more sophisticated woman with whom Ray has little in common. Samantha Morton and Uma Thurman are both outstanding in these interesting roles. Exquisitely photographed with marvelously detailed period sets (1930's/1940's) and delightful music, "Sweet and Lowdown" is a story of a a talented quirky man who simply does not appreciate the value of love. DVD **** (6/24/00)

"The Green Mile"-Amazingly nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture (the movie industry should be ashamed of nominating this and "The Sixth Sense,") this long, drawn-out, bloated and self-indulgent hokey film is about a 1930's prison guard (Tom Hanks) who discovers that a very large man on death-row, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), is gifted with supernatural powers to rid people of illness and bring back the almost dead. Hanks and his fellow death-row prison guards, with one exception, are amazingly nice and decent for a 1930's Louisiana prison and even look down upon the one guard who is vicious to the prisoners. Yes, we all know that this is a fantasy by Stephen King, but this is carrying it just a little too far. The film devotes an extraordinary amount of time to a talented mouse and appears to draw out every scene to its agonizing maximum. We were looking at the clock at the end of the first hour, wondering what could possibly take up two additional hours. The film has one redeeming social value and that is its horrifying portrayal of prison executions, but beware that one execution scene is very difficult to take. Overall, however, this film is a bust. DVD *1/2 (6/19/00)

"Man On The Moon"-Directed by Milos Forman, this is the strange tale of Andy Kaufman of Great Neck, NY, who grew up to be what can only be described as a "performance artist," a term that probably had not yet been invented at that time. Kaufman, as portrayed by Jim Carrey, was one unusual performer, who wanted to entertain but insisted that the audience enjoy his bizarre sense of humor and that of his ultimate partner, Bob Zmuda (Paul Giamatti). He insulted and embarrassed his audience and at times bored them to death, and occasionally even entertained. Carrey's portrayal appears authentic, but the film makes it difficult to discern whether Kaufman was a genius, a savant, or just a lucky but not terribly talented individual. Excellent performances are provided by Giamatti, Courtney Love as Kaufman's girlfriend Lynne Margulies, and especially by Danny DeVito as George Shapiro, Kaufman's agent. DVD ***1/2 (6/18/00)

"Snow Falling On Cedars"-Based on the novel by David Guterson, this film directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine") is the story of a romance between a young white boy named Ishmael and Japanese girl named Hatsue on a Washington island in Puget Sound before, during, and after World War II. And it is also the story of a murder trial around 1950, in which Hatsue's husband Kazuo, an American WW II veteran, is accused of the murder of a young German-American fisherman. The theme of justice and prejudice exude from this rather intense film which stars Ethan Hawke as the boy Ishmael grown, Youki Koudoh as Hatsue, Rick Yune as Kazuo, Max Von Sydow as Kazuo's defense attorney, James Rebhorn as the prejudiced and prejudicial prosecutor, and James Cromwell as the honorable judge. Sam Shepard is notable as Arthur Chambers, Ishmael's father and the island's newspaper publisher. While I can't deny that this film is guaranteed to keep your attention, it deserves some serious criticism for what I can only call over-the-top atmospherics. Flashbacks, returns, glimpses of scenes, lush scenery, lush music, lush photography, and repeated echoes of expressed thoughts seem to dominate rather than the script. At times the actors seem to be sleepwalking, especially Hawke who is almost expressionless. DVD *** (6/3/00)

"Felicia's Journey"-Often, I find, the most interesting and intelligent films are barely known by the public. This is one of them. Directed by Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter"), and based on the novel by Irish writer William Trevor, this is the story of a young pregnant Irish woman named Felicia whose boyfriend leaves for England leaving her only minimal and misleading information about his whereabouts. She travels alone to Birmingham, England to search, but only discovers Mr. Hilditch (Bob Hoskins), a seemingly pleasant, softspoken and helpful caterer who begins to take an unusual interest in Felicia. This movie is beautifully filmed with wonderful sets and scenery in both Ireland and England. It is a methodical and yet fascinating view of a disturbed man told through flashbacks to his childhood with his TV chef of a mother, Gala (Arsinee Khanjian). The acting is superb. Bob Hoskins magnificently portrays Hilditch, and young Elaine Cassidy is a delightful find as Felicia. If you want to see what filmmaking ought to be all about, I highly recommend this film. DVD **** (5/27/00)

"Sleepy Hollow"-Gruesome, horrifying, macabre, bewitching, and humorous (or at least attempts at humor) are some of the terms that have to be applied to this Tim Burton (and only Tim Burton) film based very loosely on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving. On the DVD, the menu warns "Heads Will Roll," and so they do. Johnny Depp plays Constable Ichabod Crane of the New York City police who is sent to little Sleepy Hollow north of the city to investigate the beheadings of some important citizens and finds himself in the middle of a good old-fashioned ghostly murder mystery. The special effects are, well, special. The horseman is indeed headless. And for a film of this kind, the cast is quite good. Depp is a perfect Burton hero, who gets to cringe, look horrified, and play some tongue-in-cheek scenes (unfortunately, most involving spraying blood). Christina Ricci, demonstrating growing versatility, plays the charming Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of the town's wealthiest man, Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon). Others of note are Miranda Richardson as the second Mrs. Van Tassel, and an outstanding British supporting cast including Michael Gough, Jeffrey Jones, Ian McDiarmid, and Richard Griffiths. Christopher Walken does his best as the fang-toothed Hessian horseman who becomes the killer of the tale. For a horror adventure tale, this one is right up there. DVD ***1/2 (5/26/00)

"The World Is Not Enough"-There's no point to summarizing the plot of another James Bond film (a series that began 38 years ago). Suffice it to say that it's about revenge, nuclear weapons, double-crosses, pretty women, helicopters, submarines and so on. And for a James Bond flick, it's not bad. There are the usual exciting situations, although the motor-boat and ski chases are becoming somewhat of a cliche. The scenery is nice. The gimmicks in the last film of Q (the late Desmond Llewelyn) are clever, including a torpedo-laden BMW and a ski jacket that turns into a a protective ball for an avalanche. Pierce Brosnan is not a bad James Bond, although the magic just isn't there when he says "Bond, James Bond" in response to a question as to his name. Sophie Marceau is sufficiently beautiful as Elektra King, the daughter of a rich tycoon killed in an explosion at the HQ of MI6. Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") is quite good as the evil Renard. Denise Richards' acting is somewhat stiff as Dr. Christmas Jones, a gorgeous nuclear bomb expert. Others of note in the film are Robbie Coltrane as Zukovsky, Maria Grazia Cucinotta as the assassin who decorates the exciting opening sequence, and John Cleese as Q's ultimate replacement, R (who sounded as if he came directly from a Monty Python routine). Finally, Judi Dench as "M" looks fine back at headquarters in London, but completely out of place in the field. DVD *** (5/25/00)

"The End of the Affair"-London in the rain, illicit romance, and religious mysticism are the primary elements in this relatively short (100 minutes) film set during and just after World War II. Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) has fallen for Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore), the wife of a friend, Henry Miles (Stephen Rea). The movie describes the love between Maurice and Sarah and the sudden "end" of the affair following the bombing of the house in which they are making love during a German raid. Bendrix, a writer, hires a private investigator and ultimately learns just what caused Sarah to leave him. Based on the novel by Graham Greene, the film deals interestingly with religious faith and prayer as well as cynicism. Despite this, the film still feels somewhat flimsy, although nicely photographed. DVD *** (5/20/00)

"Cradle Will Rock"-With an all-star cast (Vanessa Redgrave, Hank Azaria, Emily Watson, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, John Turturro, Susan Sarandon, Ruben Blades, Cary Elwes, Philip Baker Hall, Bill Murray and the fabulous Cherry Jones), Tim Robbins has created this marvelous portrayal of the stresses of the 1930's between the left and the right, and between the Federal Theater Project and the Dies Committee (the predecessor of the House Un-American Activities Committee). Undoubtedly inspired by the recent right-wing attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts, Robbins tells the story of Mark Blitzstein's production for the Federal Theater Project of "Cradle Will Rock" a depression-era pro-union musical produced by John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and directed by Orson Welles (somewhat overplayed by Angus McFadyen). One of the most telling vignettes concerns the creation by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera of a mural in Rockefeller Center. When the mural, not surprisingly, turns into a portrait of the common man being downtrodden by the capitalist world, with images including that of Lenin, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) takes appropriate action to make sure no one will ever see Rivera's work. The scene showing the destroyed mural is sufficient political commentary alone to carry this movie. "Cradle Will Rock" also includes a wonderful spontaneous presentation of the Blitzstein show after the federal government has locked the Federal Theater Project out of its production. Among the film's outstanding performances, Bill Murray is wonderful as Tommy Crickshaw, a confused ventriloquist; Cherry Jones, who more often appears live on Broadway, is radiant as Hallie Flanagan, head of the Federal Theater Project; Vanessa Redgrave is delightful as Countess LaGrange, a wealthy woman whose sympathies lie with the common man; and Emily Watson is perfect as a homeless woman who ultimately gets her chance to act and sing. This is an inspiring and wonderful movie. Highly recommended. DVD **** (5/19/00)

"Fight Club"-What begins as an apparent commentary on modern materialistic society, quickly and typically turns into a disaster of gratuitous violence and a mess of a plot. Edward Norton stars as the Narrator, a man with insomnia, a boring job, and a beautiful IKEA-furnished apartment, who then becomes addicted to support groups in order to gain peace-of-mind, only to find himself living in a run-down building with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a raucous and revolting character whose idea of fun is a good vicious fight. Helena Bonham Carter also stars as Marla Singer, the woman in both the Narrator's and Durden's life. Meatloaf appears as the humorous Robert Paulsen, initially a partner of Norton's in a testicular cancer support group, and later a follower of Durden's in the "fight club." Somewhere in here was an attempt at social thought, but the plot is so confused and overwrought with violence (the scenes of urban destruction at the end seem mild after the vicious beatings taken by some of the characters) that any such attempt was soon wasted. This film is typical of many seen recently which have promising starts only to deteriorate from an apparent inability of the film's creators to carry out a coherent theme and plot. Video ** (5/18/00)

"The Straight Story"-Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, an elderly, arthritic, and stubborn man, living with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who decides to travel from his home in Iowa to his brother's home in Wisconsin by lawnmower after hearing of his brother's stroke. While others propose to drive him or escort him to a bus, Alvin will have none of it and insists on the rather bizarre method of driving a lawnmower about five miles an hour, pulling a small trailer. Along the way, Alvin has adventures, meets people, some curious and some pleasant and helpful, and manages to avoid being blown off the road by trucks or being stopped by a police officer. Farnsworth who is older than Alvin's 73 years, does a fine job of portraying this elderly persistent gentleman. David Lynch, far from his days of directing "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks," has created a European-style movie, slow-moving and verbose, but nevertheless of continuing interest. Video *** (5/14/00)

"Mystery, Alaska"-Hollywood loves to make films about underdogs in sports who rally to win the big one (to the total disbelief of most viewers). Well this film seems to be going down that path, but the ending is a little more reasonable than the usual. Russell Crowe stars as John Biebe, a local sheriff who plays hockey in an Alaskan town that is somewhat obsessed with the sport. The setting is gorgeous and the scenery is lovely (it was filmed in Calgary, Alberta), but it's highly unlikely that there are many Alaskan towns like this one (except in Hollywood's imagination). The town is famous for its Saturday hockey game, and a writer who grew up there and left for the Big Apple (Hank Azaria as Charles Danner) has made them famous in "Sports Illustrated." Now he has arranged for the New York Rangers to come to Mystery to play a game of pond hockey. Sure it's silly, but it's fun and somewhat charming. Crowe as usual provides a real presence in the film. Otherwise, it has some nice turns from Burt Reynolds as the local judge, Lolita Davidovich as the wayward wife of the mayor, Colm Meaney as Mayor Pitcher, and Mary McCormack as Biebe's wife who has to fight off an old attraction to Danner. I was especially taken by the performance of Maury Chaykin as the town lawyer. DVD *** (5/14/00)

"Galaxy Quest"-Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman play the former stars of a science-fiction TV adventure show who have fallen to the depths of parading around in their silly costumes doing supermarket openings and fan shows. A group of real aliens (Thermians), who believe the cast was authentic and the TV show was merely an historical record, invite the actors to help save them in a galactic battle against the evil insect General Sarris. The Thermians have built a spaceship to the exact specifications of the ship described on the "Galaxy Quest" show and they expect the crew to be able to handle it and save the day. What do you think happens? I was a little shocked that actors of the quality of Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman would sink to the depths of playing these pathetic roles, Weaver especially portraying a blonde bimbo. Tim Allen, however, seemed perfect for the Captain Kirk-like role. The film is mindless entertainment and that's about the best thing I can say. DVD *1/2 (5/6/00)

"Dogma"-Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) are two angels who have been banished from Heaven and are "dying" to get back. A Catholic church in New Jersey, under the tutelage of Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) unknowingly offers them a way back, but if they get there they will have defied "God," who is supposed to be omnipotent, and all existence will come to an end. Metatron (Alan Rickman), the voice of "God," comes to Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) in Illinois to inform her that she has been "chosen" to go to New Jersey and stop them. Along the way in this sort-of road-trip of a film, Bethany runs into a few demons, including a highly scatalogical one and three hockey-pucks. She has a host of supporters, including Chris Rock as Rufus, the 13th Apostle, Selma Hayek as a muse, and Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith (the director) as two prophets. This film had a lot of potential for amusement and social or religious commentary, but it really lost it along the way. Despite some pleasant performances, the movie is pretty much a hodge-podge of sophomoric silliness. Linda Fiorentino is attractive as Bethany, Alan Rickman is humorous as Metatron, and Chris Rock is his delightful self as Rufus. Strangely, I liked best the director, Kevin Smith, as Silent Bob, maybe because he has almost no dialogue. DVD **1/2 (5/5/00)

"Being John Malkovich"-Clever? Yes. Original? Indeed. Ultimately satisfying? Well, not completely. John Cusack stars in this acid-trip of a movie about a puppeteer named Craig Schwartz who, unsuccessful at his chosen career, needs to find a job. Without much effort, he finds himself working for the seemingly sex-crazed elderly Dr. Lester (Orson Bean) on a "half" floor in which all the personnel must walk bent over due to the low ceilings. But what Craig ultimately finds is a secret door that leads to a portal into the brain of the actor John Malkovich (who plays himself). This theme fascinates for approximately half the film, but ultimately deteriorates with repetition. An almost disguised Cameron Diaz plays Lotte Schwartz, Craig's animal-loving wife who has a sexual identity crisis after entering Malkovich's brain. Catherine Keener is wonderfully weird and obnoxious as Schwartz's partner in a venture to sell opportunities to people who want to become John Malkovich for 15 minutes (whereupon they are unceremoniously dumped onto the side of the New Jersey Turnpike). Mary Kay Place has a very funny routine as Floris, Dr. Lester's assistant and language expert, with a humorous impediment. Directed by the hopefully up-and-coming Spike Jonze. DVD *** (5/2/00)

"Music of the Heart"-I have long believed that if the American public really cared, it would be possible to have an educational system in which children are not only taught to think but are inspired to be creative. This delightful film tries to prove that this is in fact possible. Meryl Streep undergoes her usual astounding transformation as Roberta Guaspari, a violin teacher from upstate New York who comes to East Harlem, gets a job in a NY public school, and proceeds to establish a program that encourages hundreds of youngsters over the years to learn the violin and learn it well. Streep is well supported by Angela Bassett as the school principal who hires her; Aidan Quinn as Brian Sinclair, the man who first suggests this career; Gloria Estefan as a fellow teacher; Jane Leeves as a photographer whose husband is a member of the Guarnieri String Quartet; and Cloris Leachman as Roberta's mother. Oh, the film has its weaknesses, including pushing a few too many buttons, but in the long run the viewer must leave this film with a feeling of hope. Even in neighborhoods that have reputations for toughness there are children eager to learn and to be inspired. And they were lucky to meet Roberta Guaspari. Streep deserved her Oscar nomination for this film. The film is an incredible departure for its director, Wes Craven, normally known for horror films. DVD **** (4/28/00)

"Boys Don't Cry"-Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her performance as Brandon Teena (Teena Brandon) in this film, and deservedly so. Swank's performance is so effective that she literally becomes this young woman who really wants to be a man and who falls in with a group of confused beer swilling and potentially dangerous people in a small Nebraska town. The group is dominated by two disturbed males, John and Tom (Peter Sarsgaard and Brandan Sexton III) and in the group is Lana Tisdal (Chloë Sevigny) with whom Brandon falls in love. This situation leads ultimately to Brandon's unfortunate fate at the hands of the two raving crazed males. It is rare to see a small independent film about subjects such as these created with such loving care, and the credit goes to Director Kimberly Peirce. Chloë Sevigny is also perfect as Lana, the young woman who is bored to tears with her dull life and annoying companions and who is strangely attracted and loyal to Brandon even after learning the truth of her sexual identity. Highly recommended for those who can take this sort of subject. DVD **** (4/21/00)

"The Insider"-Undoubtedly the best of the films nominated for 1999 Oscars, this is a riveting tale of the efforts of Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), a producer of CBS' "60 Minutes" to encourage a former tobacco industry executive to appear on the show in order to spill the beans on big tobacco. The executive, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, is played beautifully by Russell Crowe as a man torn by the decision he has to make as to whether or not to break a confidentiality agreement. However, it's obvious that deep down he realizes he is fated to reveal what he knows about the nicotine contents of cigarettes and the fact that the leaders of the industry well knew that this was an addictive drug and lied about it to Congress. But the film goes beyond tobacco and also explores the potentially deadening effects of business and corporate interests on the world of journalism. Bergman is forced to fight the corporate interests at CBS to get his show on the air and the movie reveals a great deal of the viciousness that can occur in the American business world. Frankly, I didn't think there was one dull moment in this film which runs about 2 1/2 hours. The photography was outstanding and the directing brilliant. Al Pacino is in his milieu. Here he gets to rant and rave with a purpose and it is extremely effective. Crowe's performance reveals a man who undergoes enormous stress (far beyond the capacity of most people) and yet triumphs in the end. Christopher Plummer is the weakest of the stars, although he does a reasonably good job of portraying Mike Wallace, the veteran and aging "60 Minutes" star who comes across as somewhat pompous and self-protective. This picture definitely gets a thumbs up. Don't miss it. DVD **** (4/15/00)

"Tumbleweeds"-Based on the childhood experiences of screenwriter Angela Shelton, his ex-wife, the director, Gavin O'Connor, has given us one of the better films of the genre of mother and daughter road pictures. The classical British and award-winning actress Janet McTeer is totally and delightfully transformed into Mary Jo Walker, a lusty North Carolinian woman who needs men but just can't stand them for long. As the film opens, she's grabbing her 12-year old daughter Ava (played wonderfully by Kimberly Brown) and running out of the home of her latest abusive man, this time heading west. After an amusing and surprising stop at the home of an ex-boyfriend in Missouri, Ava convinces her mother to head west to San Diego to see the sea. Nothing that happens after they reach San Diego is truly surprising, and some of it is downright irritating (especially the behavior of Jack, played by director O'Connor, the truck driver Mary Jo and Ava meet on the way west when their car breaks down). But the zeal of the characters and the wonderful acting makes this film worth seeing. Michael J. Pollard is humorous as one of Mary Jo's bosses, and Jay O. Sanders is charming as Dan Miller, one of Mary Jo's co-workers. DVD *** (4/14/00)

"Three Kings"-It is immediately after the cease fire in Desert Storm. George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze are four American soldiers who have found a map indicating the location of Kuwaiti gold in an Iraqi bunker and they are going to find the gold come hell or high water. Somehow, they have the bizarre idea that this little expedition will be easy and they'll be able to take the gold home with them. How this is to be accomplished is unexplained and sets these four up as lacking in basic common sense. The fact that they are violating U.S. policy and going AWOL seems to be beside the point. And the further fact that the expedition turns into a total disaster is also apparently beside the point because the director, David Russell, is obviously set on telling a story of four idiots who ultimately, upon being faced with man's inhumanity, lose their greed, turn good, and save a group of Iraqi refugees from the ravages of Saddam Hussein.

In one scene, Wahlberg is shown being held prisoner by Iraqi soldiers and first given electric shock and then forced to drink oil. The next time Wahlberg is seen, he's hardly the worse for wear. Later, he's shot in the chest and saved by a miraculous insertion of an air-release tube. Films such as this require some level of believability. This one doesn't have much. But at least the setting was unusual and the theme ultimately headed in a decent direction. DVD *** (4/11/00)

"For Love Of The Game"-Kevin Costner seems to have found his career as a movie baseball player, having previously starred in "Bull Durham" (1988) and "Field of Dreams" (1989). He was already somewhat over-the-hill as a "ballplayer" when those films were made and he's now in his mid-40's, but he looks good and does a fine job of giving the impression of a veteran Detroit Tigers pitcher named Billy Chapel who is on his last legs. This film has a mediocre script and the acting is nothing special, but if you like baseball and a little romance, it's hard to resist the corny story of a 40 year old pitcher who has been given the option of retiring or being traded and who must pitch the final game of the season at Yankee Stadium versus the contending Yankees. And Billy Chapel also has to deal with pain in his pitching shoulder and pain in his heart. His New York-based girlfriend Jane (Kelly Preston, reminding me somewhat of Meg Ryan) is fed up and moving to London for a new job and, not surprisingly, Chapel pitches the big game while thinking of the events in his relationship with Jane. The baseball scenes are very authentic and the producers had the smarts to bring in the great Vin Scully (as himself) to broadcast the big game. DVD *** (4/9/00)

"Star Wars-Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"-This is one of those movies one can't resist viewing but sadly it was not released on DVD (at least so far). Why sad? Well, because this film is not much more than special effects and cinematography, best seen in the crisp, clear DVD format. There's certainly little or no plot. Oh yes, the Trade Federation is, with the encouragement of a mysterious evil figure (easy to guess who he is) attacking the planet of Naboo ruled by Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). Coming to their rescue are a Jedi knight, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi (you remember him, of course) (Ewan McGregor). Along the way they pick up the humorous Jar-Jar Binks (an alien from Jamaica?) and ultimately the young hero Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who saves the day much the way his future off-spring will do in the "Star Wars" films of yesteryear. In some ways, this film is almost a parody of the earlier films (which are, of course, later in time--George Lucas knows how to do things backwards, apparently) with extremely similar plot-lines, locations, and even the appearance of R2-D2 and C3PO. If you completely and utterly suspend all critical judgment, the film is fun. Otherwise, don't expect too much except glitz. Video *** (4/8/00)

"The Sixth Sense"-Okay, I've now seen this moronic simple-minded film and its not terribly surprising ending. Can I be excused? A child psychologist is shot in the stomach in the opening scene. A few months later he is shown "treating" a young boy with obvious problems who admits that he sees dead people "all the time." Bruce Willis, as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, the psychologist, never interacts with any other character in the entire movie except the boy, Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment. Based on that information can you guess the ending? I did even before I saw the movie when I heard the basic outline of the plot. That the Hollywood film industry thought that this rather dull film (watching Bruce Willis act is almost as painful as waiting in a long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles) is one of the "best films" of the year is a true commentary on the state of intelligence and judgment in that town. Haley Joel Osment is a rather mature young actor, but almost eerily so. It is hard to believe he is the age he's alleged to be. Toni Collette does a good job as Cole's mother. DVD **1/2 (3/31/00)

"Lethal Weapon 4"-I received this as a free DVD and had to watch it. Years ago I would classify movies by categories of good and bad. This film is what I would have called a "good bad" movie. "Bad" in the sense that it has little or no redeeming social value and is chock full of special effects, explosions, fires, car crashes, kung fu, and really painful witticisms between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. However, "good" in the sense that it's simply downright funny and entertaining. No one can take such a tongue-in-cheek film seriously, but it certainly gives the movie industry a chance to show off its amazing special effects techniques (many of which had me saying out loud: "How do they do that?"). Gibson and Glover do their usual turn as the police partners from hell. Joe Pesci is disarmingly charming as their mostly unwanted sidekick. Rene Russo is beautiful and wacky as Gibson's pregnant girlfriend, and Chris Rock is humorous as a young cop who has a secret to hide from Glover. Finally, Jet Li is sufficiently frightening as the Chinese villain who is a kung fu specialist of the highest order. DVD *** (3/25/00)

"The Limey"-Steven Soderbergh, director of "sex, lies and videotape" and "Out of Sight" has created this wonderfully moody film of a British ex-con who arrives in Los Angeles to find out what happened to his daughter. The film follows Terence Stamp as Wilson, the ex-con, as he seeks out Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) the man he believes is responsible for his daughter's death. Using intermingled shots of the past and the future as well as a slow tantalizing style that emphasizes the atmosphere and scenery, Soderbergh leads Wilson through a violent and yet ironic trip of discovery. With scenes from a long ago British film named "Poor Cow" in which the young Stamp played a character named Wilson, "The Limey" contains first-rate performances from Stamp and Fonda as well as Luis Guzman and Lesley Ann Warren as friends of Wilson's late daughter. DVD ***1/2 (3/24/00)

"The Bone Collector"-Somewhat of a modern day high tech "Rear Window," this crime detection thriller stars Denzel Washington as Lincoln Rhyme, a paralyzed forensic expert who, with the aid of super advanced computers and other technology, solves puzzles left behind by a clearly diabolic and deranged killer. Rhyme lives in a gorgeous NY apartment (obviously the result of many successful books he has written about crime) and decides to turn Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), a young cop who comes upon the first body and instinctively does a first-rate investigation, into a forensic crime scene specialist. And he does it all from the hospital bed located in his apartment where he is cared for by a charming nurse (Queen Latifah). The high tech equipment is fun, the photography is well done with spectacular scenes of New York, and the puzzles and locations (mostly abandoned turn-of-the-century New York sites) are quite unusual, but what ultimately brings this film down to par are the usual crime thriller cliches, among them the stupid boss cop who gets in the way, the ultimate attack by the killer on one of the main characters and, without giving anything away, the identity of the killer and the secret behind his actions. If you like this type of film, it's recommended. If not, forget it. DVD *** (3/19/00)

"Limbo"-Director John Sayles never makes purely commercial films and this film belongs right there with his others. It is about people whose lives are in turmoil, who need direction, and who are otherwise in "limbo." Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is Donna DeAngelo, a singer who meets the charming but quiet Joe Gastineau (David Strathairn) in a typical Alaskan town in which the pulp mill has closed and the salmon packing factory is closing. Gastineau is a former fisherman with a terrible incident in his past. And DeAngelo is a relatively unhappy woman who has just run from her latest boyfriend, and who has an unhappy teenage daughter. The daughter, Noelle, has tendencies toward self-mutilation, but otherwise has creative writing talent, and is played extremely well by Vanessa Martinez. Gastineau's wild and reckless half-brother Bobby (Casey Siemaszko) asks Joe to come along on a boat trip in Alaskan waters to meet some "businessmen" Although Gastineau obviously doesn't trust Bobby, he accepts without asking questions and, to make it worse, invites Donna and her daughter to come along. Sailing through the gorgeous Alaskan waterways, it soon becomes painfully obvious that they are headed for danger and a real "limbo." This film is like two separate films, the first is a charming film about the romance between Joe and Donna back in town, and the second an adventure film in the wilderness. As becomes obvious at the end, Director John Sayles has no intention of taking the viewer out of "limbo" either. DVD *** (3/10/00)

"Random Hearts"-Following a plane crash, a Washington, DC, cop (Harrison Ford) and a Republican Congresswoman from New Hampshire (Kristin Scott Thomas), discover that their spouses, who died next to each other in the crash, were having an affair. The cop wants to know the truth and he forces himself into the Congresswoman's life, until an unlikely romance develops. Full of romantic cliches, including fall and Christmas scenes, and accompanying music, the film moves somewhat slowly and yet pleasantly. No great revelations, but if you have a romantic bent, it's not a bad film. DVD **1/2 (3/6/00)

"Double Jeopardy"-Wow, this is a stinker! Just about the only virtue of this film is the photography of some lovely scenery in the state of Washington as well as shots in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Ashley Judd plays a wealthy wife and mother who wakes up one morning on her beautiful sailboat only to find blood everywhere and her husband apparently overboard and dead. She is convicted of his murder, serves 6 years, and is then let out on parole (under the supervision of Tommy Lee Jones, her parole officer). Judd's son, who had been left in the care of a friend (Annabeth Gish), has disappeared along with the friend and Judd is going to find her son. This film is almost completely unbelievable, with a formula script, loaded with cliches. There is little if any suspense and the acting is stiff and pathetic. Tommy Lee Jones seems to have become a caricature of himself. DVD *1/2 (2/23/00)

"Brokedown Palace"-Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale are Alice Marano and Darlene Davis, two young American women who tell their parents that they are going to vacation in Hawaii after graduating from high school, but instead travel to Thailand. There they act like American teenagers immune from local attitudes and customs and thus meet an Australian fellow who talks them into a trip to Hong Kong, only to wind up arrested at the airport and imprisoned by the Thai authorities for drug-smuggling. Both young actresses are excellent in these difficult roles, but Danes is particularly outstanding as the pushy and smart-talking Alice. It's the best performance of her career so far. Bill Pullman is perfect as Hank Green or "Yankee Hank," an American who is a local lawyer in partnership with his Thai wife (Jacqueline Kim), and who ultimately takes their case, for money. Unlike most films of this genre, this film is surprisingly upbeat considering the situation that the two girls have gotten themselves into and the nightmare of the Thai "justice" system. It's beautifully filmed and has a pleasant and appropriate soundtrack. DVD ***1/2 (2/21/00)

"The Cider House Rules"-This is a sweet film, but one that concerns some very serious moral issues. Tobey Maguire is Homer Wells, an orphan who just couldn't get himself adopted out of the Maine orphanage headed in 1943 by Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine, one of my favorite actors). Dr. Larch is an obstetrician and gynecologist addicted to ether who performs illegal abortions as necessary so that women will not be harmed by abortion mills. Dr. Larch has trained Homer to perform these and other medical services, including delivering babies, and wants Homer to stay and succeed him, but Homer has wanderlust and desires to see the world (or at least Maine). Homer winds up at the apple farm of a young military officer (Paul Rudd) and his mother (Kate Nelligan). This also brings Homer into very close contact with Rudd's fiance, Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron). And at the farm, Homer finds himself working with a group of migrant workers headed by Mr. Rose (wonderfully played, as usual, by Delroy Lindo). Among those he meets are Mr. Rose's daughter Rose Rose (Erykah Badu) who later plays a central role in the film. This movie, scripted by John Irving from his novel, deals well and positively with the issue of abortion (in fact, it astounds me that the film hasn't created more controversy), but skates around the secondary issue of the illegal nature of Homer's medical practice. The romantic aspects of the film are secondary and not that greatly developed, although Charlize Theron, one of the most beautiful actresses around, gives a wonderfully mature and intelligent performance. She is definitely someone to watch (and the Internet Movie Database lists her as already cast in 7 films in 2000, including the musical "Chicago"). Tobey Maguire is an attractive young actor, although his deadpan style threatens to limit the range of roles he can play. I found the slow and gentle pace of this film quite pleasant, although the print of the film that I saw looked a little washed out and had some obvious jerky cuts at the end (it was not clear to me whether this was the fault of the original or of the theater). Theater ***1/2 (2/20/00)

"American Beauty"-I had a revelation while watching this rather interesting but over-the-top film. I suddenly realized that there was a whole genre of recent films in which this picture fit perfectly. For want of a better title I'll call it the California Angst school of film-making. Recent members of the genre are "Magnolia," "Falling Down," and "Two Days In the Valley," although I'm sure I could find others produced in recent years. These films tend to be not only about dysfunctional people, but also about dysfunctional neighborhoods and societies, and cover a whole gamut of morose and depressing subjects. I am convinced that they are especially applicable to a California (especially southern California) lifestyle. The rest of us have problems and issues of dysfunctionality, but they appear in completely different ways. This is not to say that these films fail to serve a purpose in commenting on unpleasant aspects of human society, far from it. But there is a similarity about these films that is palpable. "American Beauty" and "Magnolia" in particular share themes that almost make one believe that the writers came from the same neighborhood.

Kevin Spacey is his usual wonderful self as Lester Burnham, a man who is just about at the end of his ropes, both marital and workplace. Annette Bening, on the other hand, as the cold and materialistic Mrs. Burnham, emotes to the utmost and fails to ever become a real character. In fact, she looked exactly like a cartoon character to me, tight and hysterical. The Burnhams' neighborhood is populated by some rather strange people, ranging from a stereotype of a homophobic Marine colonel (well played by Chris Cooper); his son Ricky (Wes Bentley in a memorable performance) who sees life through the viewing screen of a video camera; the colonel's depressed and almost catatonic wife played by Allison Janney; the Burnhams' daughter Jane (Thora Birch) who can't help being screwed up around her dysfunctional parents; and the daughter's best friend, Angela, played well by the up-and-coming Mena Suvari. The script is occasionally embarrassingly obvious. Two especially painfully predictable moments in the script occurred first during a scene in the Burnhams' garage when the colonel, soaked from the rain and having just thrown his son out of his house, comes to visit Lester, and later in a scene when Lester is listening to a confession from his teen love interest (Suvari) about her sex-life.

Once again, as in "Magnolia," the production values are outstanding. This picture is beautifully filmed and generally well acted. And it certainly is a work of creativity aimed at thought-provoking its audience. But it suffers from what is fast becoming a cliche of films that are attempting to hit us over the head with what is wrong in our lives. My feeling is that greatness in film-making comes from greater subtlety than is present in this film. Theater. ***1/2 (2/19/00)

"Illuminata"-A turn-of-the-century theatrical group is portrayed by a good cast, including director John Turturro, his wife Katherine Borowitz, Susan Sarandon, Rufus Sewell, Christopher Walken, Georgina Cates, Donal McCann, Ben Gazzara, Beverly D'Angelo, Aida Turturro, and Bill Irwin. But this is a muddled film in which far too much is going on in a multitude of directions. Turturro is Tuccio, a playwright, who wants his play "Illuminata" to be produced. The theater owners are resistant, and Tuccio has to convince both them and his lover, Katherine Borowitz, who is the company manager and star. The film is made up of literally dozens of quick vignettes of involvements among the various characters, much of it of a sexual nature, but ultimately very confusing. Christopher Walken hams things up as a homosexual theater critic who is after Bill Irwin's character. If this film was attempting to make a commentary about the contrast between theater and real-life, or some other concept, I was not convinced. Well-filmed and well-acted, it is not however something I would recommend. Video **1/2 (2/12/00)

"Twin Falls Idaho"-This is one interesting and unique film! Written by Michael (who directed) and Mark Polish, who also star as the Siamese twin brothers Francis and Blake Falls, this film defies easy explanation. Suffice it to say that a young prostitute, played wonderfully and enchantingly by model Michele Hicks, comes to their hole of a hotel room in LA and becomes a significant part of their desperate and soon-to-change lives. This is a very soft-spoken film, beautifully photographed and paced. The Polish brothers are rather remarkable as Siamese twins joined almost totally. Other standout appearances include Garrett Morris of "Saturday Night Live" fame as a preacher living down the hall (who has one very humorous scene), Lesley Ann Warren as their profoundly unhappy mother, and Patrick Bauchau as a doctor called in to check on the condition of one of the twins. The DVD contains a very interesting voice-over commentary by the Polish brothers. DVD **** (2/6/00)

"The Winslow Boy"-Based on the Terence Rattigan play of the same name, this film, written and directed by David Mamet, is the story of a family's response to the expulsion of the youngest son from a British admiralty school without a fair hearing. Ronnie Winslow (Guy Edwards) is accused of stealing and cashing a classmate's postal order. His father, Nigel Hawthorne, and his sister, Rebecca Pidgeon, believe he is innocent and do everything in their power to see that justice is done.Hawthorne is magnificent as the sensitive and intelligent father who believes his son despite the horrible charges. Pidgeon is wonderful as the feminist sister whose defense of her brother could have serious personal cost. Jeremy Northam (seen recently in "An Ideal Husband") is absolutely superb as Sir Robert Morton, a seemingly cold barrister and MP, who defends the Winslow Boy with panache and personal sacrifice. That he also is attracted to Ms. Winslow is obvious. This film is intelligent drama which concentrates on the characters and their emotions, rather than the trial which ultimately decides the boy's guilt or innocence. I highly recommend this film. Video ****1/2 (2/5/00)

"The Chambermaid On The Titanic"-A French film which was released around the same time as the more famous "Titanic," this one really has very little to do with the tragic sinking. A young married French foundry worker (Olivier Martinez), wins a race at work and is awarded a trip to Southhampton to see the sailing of the Titanic. When he arrives at his hotel room, he is almost immediately confronted with a beautiful woman (Aitana Sanchez-Guijon) who tells him that she is to be a chambermaid on the Titanic and needs a room. He won't give her his, but he offers to let her stay in his room. From this point on, the film alternates between reality and erotic fantasy. The young man returns to France obviously smitten with the young lady, and proceeds to threaten his marriage by telling lurid tales of love and romance with the chambermaid. Even his wife (Romane Bohringer) becomes involved in the tales which ultimately take a theatrical turn. An unusual and satisfyingly different film. Video ***1/2 (1/29/00)

"An Ideal Husband"-Based on the play by Oscar Wilde, this film about England at the turn-of-the-century centers around the romantic and political machinations of a group of upper class Londoners. Rupert Everett is a single and singularly unserious Lord Goring. Jeremy Northam is Sir Robert Chiltern, a significant government official whose word has great effect on major parliamentary decisions, and Cate Blanchett is his beautiful and utterly honorable wife, Gertrud. Minnie Driver is Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert's sister. When the beautiful Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Julianne Moore) enters the scene, things start to come apart for Sir Robert, and those around him. Wilde's story is about the strict rules of the Victorian upper class culture and the difficulties these people had communicating even with friends and loved ones because of those rules. The actors are delightful, especially Northam, Blanchett, and Moore, the latter being completely natural with a British accent. This film is beautifully paced and photographed. DVD **** (1/22/00)

"The Talented Mr. Ripley"-Matt Damon stars as Tom Ripley, a somewhat aimless piano player and bathroom attendant, who lucks into a trip to Italy to lure Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) home at the behest of Dickie's father. Tom easily falls in with Dickie and his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow). Tom learns to enjoy the easy life which Dickie and Marge easily thrust on him, for no apparent reason, and a life of false identity of both character and sexual nature, mayhem, and murder ensue. My early impression of this film was that it was frantic and hectic, but gradually things fell into place and the plot became clear. While it is a good, first-rate murder mystery (by Patricia Highsmith), the plot also entails numerous situations which defy belief. Too many people know Ripley in his dual identities, and these people seem to be in and out of the scenery regularly. It defies belief to think that Ripley could imagine he could get away with his nefarious activities. Damon is good as Ripley, and Jude Law is fine as Dickie. I felt that Gwyneth Paltrow was eminently forgettable as Marge, but that Cate Blanchett was wonderful and charming in a small role as Meredith Logue, a woman Ripley probably wished he'd never met. Particularly notable in the cast were Jack Davenport as Peter Smith-Kingsley, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (isn't he always?) as Dickie's Princeton buddy, Freddie Miles. Theater *** (1/15/00) On 6/30/00, I watched this film again, this time on DVD, and I was in for a surprise. For whatever reason, very possibly the format, this time I thought the film was excellent and I found myself impressed with Gwyneth Paltrow's performance. "Mr. Ripley" seemed less hectic, well paced, and quite dramatic. The weaknesses of the basic plot seemed less important. I also believe the photography was much more impressive in the DVD version than it appeared in the theater. In fact, the photography, much of it of gorgeous Italian scenes, was exquisite. On second viewing, I will elevate this film to ****.

"Magnolia"-For those who give serious thought to the concept of "millennium," this may be your film. On the other hand, while the production values and acting were outstanding, I found this to be one of the most unremittingly morose and depressing films I have ever seen. Undoubtedly somewhat of a Biblical allegory (I'm not sure how, what, or why), the movie tells the interconnected tales of a group of pitiable characters existing in the San Fernando Valley (one might almost call this film "One Day and Night of Hell in the Valley"). Describing it is almost impossible, but I'll try. Jason Robards is an almost-dead TV producer whose second wife (Julianne Moore) is cracking up while he is being attended to by a nurse, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robards asks to see his son (Tom Cruise), an unrelenting promoter of a program of vicious seduction and power of men over women ("Seduce and Destroy"), and the nurse successfully tracks him down. Robards is the producer of a TV game show which pits children against adults and has been on-the-air for too many years. Philip Baker Hall is the host of the show who has cancer and is losing it while knowing that his time is very limited. The TV show host has skeletons in his closet and visits his drug-addicted daughter (Melora Walters) only to be thrown out in a fit of screaming by the daughter who undoubtedly has visions of the horrors her father has bestowed on her. There are other sad and morose characters, including a lonely cop who is confused about his role as a police officer and can't hold on to his gun, a former child game show whiz (William H. Macy) who is down on his luck, and a current child whiz on the same show who is being pushed by his greedy father and wishes he could go to the bathroom. Watching these stories unfold, with persistent and annoying music in the background, was to me a form of torture (3 hours worth), but I stuck it out. On the other hand, I cannot deny that the acting was splendid. Tom Cruise is particularly memorable in a part clearly a risk for him, but a risk well worth taking.

This film has, without a doubt, one of the strangest scenes in the history of film. It cannot be described without ruining the shock. But if you decide to see it, you'll know what I'm talking about when it starts. Is it Biblical? Someone with greater knowledge of the Bible will have to clue me in. But it's definitely something one has never seen before in a film of this type. I moaned, groaned, and looked at my watch several times while "Magnolia" was on the screen, but I persisted. Should you see it? It's certainly an experience but a tough one. This is a very difficult film to rate (I initially assigned it 2 stars but on second thought feel that it must at least be 3 1/2 because it is thought-provoking and certainly has many virtues, including the wonderful acting.) Theater. ***1/2 (1/9/00)

"The Thomas Crown Affair"-The 1968 version starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway was about a millionaire bank robber. This remake is a very slick production starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, but this time about a millionaire art thief. This is what can only be called an "entertainment" because there is nothing about it to be taken seriously. A theft impossible to have been truly planned gets the film off and running and then gorgeous Rene Russo arrives as the worldly insurance investigator whose job it is to return the painting and "get her man." Denis Leary is cheerfully supportive as a New York detective who isn't quite in Russo's league. Faye Dunaway makes a humorous reappearance as Brosnan's psychiatrist. While fun, I found it somewhat slow moving and a little tedious toward the end (which was predictable). Video *** (1/8/00)

"Buena Vista Social Club"-Ry Cooder went to Cuba and turned up one of the most delightful groups of musicians imaginable. Most elderly (Compay Segundo was approximately 90 when the film was made in 1998), they still could perform with energy and verve. The film shows the performers in their local Havana settings as well in concert in Amsterdam and, ultimately in their final concert glory, playing at Carnegie Hall in New York in July 1998. The scenes in Cuba are shocking for the condition of what was undoubtedly once an absolutely gorgeous city. Rundown buildings, old rail yards, and old but colorful cars provide the somewhat depressed setting for these marvelously talented people. Ibrahim Ferrer sings his heart out and the songs are quite different from those of our culture, with frequent references to flower metaphors. Ultimately, these musicians created a record which went on to win a Grammy award. The film also highlights the talents of the wonderful piano player Rubén Gonzalez who at 80 can still hit those keys. One of the most charming scenes is of the Cuban musicians visiting in New York and thrilling to the sites of the Big Apple. It's painfully apparent that the world has passed them by and they are trying to catch up in the short time they have to visit. Video **** (1/1/00)

"Topsy-Turvy"-As soon as I heard about this film and read the rave review by Janet Maslin in the New York Times, I knew that it was a film I had been waiting for all my life. Not only did it receive raves from many respected critics (including Best Picture of 1999 from the New York Film Critics Circle), but it concerned subjects that are dear to my heart: Gilbert and Sullivan in particular, and theatrical creativity in general. Having now seen the film, I can say without a doubt that this is one of the great films of all-time! It is Mike Leigh's labor of love. And it is splendid! Throughout most of my years of movie-going and viewing I can think of only a few that were literally perfect in every regard. In "Topsy-Turvy" everything is perfect: the theme, the acting, the directing, the Victorian sets, the marvelous Victorian and theatrical costumes, the music, and the incredible performances of the Gilbert and Sullivan numbers from Princess Ida, The Sorcerer, and most deliciously from The Mikado. It is 1884 and Gilbert and Sullivan are at a standstill, having had somewhat of a failure with Princess Ida, after a long run of hits at the Savoy Theater in London. Gilbert has come up with what Sullivan considers another "topsy-turvy" plot about magic potions, and Sullivan is not inspired to write music for it. Sullivan threatens to turn to serious opera, leaving the Savoy productions behind. But then Mrs. Gilbert provides the inspiration for The Mikado by taking her husband to a London exposition of Japanese culture. From this point on the film records the creation of The Mikado in exquisite detail, and it is simply utter joy.

I cannot say enough about the acting and the overall production. I literally felt as if I were there in 1880's London, watching the characters closely in their creativity, joy, and pain. Jim Broadbent is deliciously bitter as William Schwenk Gilbert. Allan Corduner is fabulous as the composer Arthur Sullivan, a man who had visions of creating more serious music, not realizing that his greatest achievement in life would be the very operettas he wrote with Gilbert. Martin Savage is George Grossmith, the original D'Oyly Carte comedian, reborn. Shirley Henderson and Dorothy Atkinson are splendid as two of the lead female performers in the company. Timothy Spall, who has appeared in other Mike Leigh films, including "Secrets and Lies," is wonderful as Richard Temple, the lead baritone who plays the Mikado and almost loses his best number in the show. The wealth of British acting talent is revealed by so many in the cast who are simply breathtaking: Wendy Nottingham (Helen Lenoir, D'Oyly Carte's business associate), Kevin McKidd (Durward Lely, the lead tenor), Lesley Manville (Lucy Gilbert), and Eleanor David (as Mrs. Fanny Ronalds, Sullivan's mistress). They are all especially brilliant. If this film is playing near you, run, don't walk, to see it. Theater. ***** (12/26/99 and 1/16/00)




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