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Some films seemed designed to showcase actors in such a way as to position
them for an Oscar nomination.
Such is the case with Being Julia, a soapy but effective backstage comic
drama starring Annette Bening.
A British answer to All About Eve, Being Julia gives Bening (American
Beauty) the role of her career as an aging 1930s London stage star who
is rejuvenated personally and professionally by an affair with a younger
The film features a first-rate cast of American, British and Canadian
actors who support Bening in style. In fact, Being Julia may well be the
strongest ensemble piece of the year.
Based upon the novel Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham, the film tells
the story of Julia Lambert (Bening), a talented diva laboring in a second-rate
play and feeling the need for an extended break.
Her producer husband, played by Jeremy Irons (The French Lieutenants
Woman), fears the financial fallout from a dark theatre but finally acquiesces.
Circumstances change Julias mind, however. A rabid American fan named
Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans of The Boys From County Clare) comes into her
life. Although he is penniless and half her age, Tom woos Julia and the
two begin a torrid affair.
Energized by this new love, Julia sports new spring in her step and a noticeable glow. She decides to keep performing and her work is better than ever. Tom, however, has ulterior motives. He is simply using Julia to get his real lover a part in the next production.
Once Julia realizes his ruse, the heartbroken star rises to the occasion
in spectacularly theatrical fashion. Hungarian director István Szabó (Mephisto)
seems to be having an awfully good time with the story of these morally
liberal theatrical folks.
Not only does he mine a sensational performance from Bening, but also
from the terrific cast that includes veterans Juliet Stevenson, Mariam
Margolyes, Bruce Greenwood, Rosemary Harris, Rita Tushingham, Maury Chakin
and impressive newcomer Lucy Punch.
Most fun of all is Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of
Azkaban) as Julia¹s long-dead director/mentor/acting coach Jimmy Langton.
In occasional bursts of magic realism, he appears to give Julia advice
on her onstage and offstage performances.
Unlike Shakespeare, however, with Being Julia the play is NOT the thing.
Here, the players are of greater interest. Bening sinks her teeth into
the role and fully embodies it.
Her efforts should nail an Oscar nodif Oscar pays attention to this quiet art house effort. (R) Rating: 3.5
Feel like spending three hours on a misguided sword and sandal flick
laden with bad casting, bad hair and bad accents?
Alexander suffers from an ill-conceived approach and a fractured storyline that saps it of any emotional resonance. Irish bad boy Colin Farrell (A Home at the End of the World) takes the lead role as Alexander the Great, the infamous Macedonian conqueror who dominated most of the known world over three hundred years before Christ.
As played by Farrell, hes a petulant mamas boy who simply cant understand
any way of life other than war. Angelina Jolie (Sky Captain and the World
of Tomorrow) plays his ambitious mother.
Oddest of all is Rosario Dawson who plays a barbarian that Alexander
takes for a bride. Her character sounds vaguely Hispanic. And speaking
of Dawson, she and Farrell engage in a nude sex scene where they play
out some incongruous S&M game. This unintentionally funny moment may come
back to haunt them both.
But the biggest problem with Alexander is the fractured storytelling structure utilized by Stone. The movie plays like a rough cut, with sequences so disjointed that it sometimes seems as though the projectionist has mixed up the reels. We are left with no sense of the man or understanding of his motives. In the hands of Stone, Alexander the Great becomes Alexander the Mediocre. (R) Rating: 2
In Alexander Paynes new neurotic comedy, Sideways, two old college friends come together for a weeklong trip through the central coastal vineyards of California. For Miles (Paul Giamatti), a recently divorced struggling writer, its a chance to celebrate his best friends impending wedding while indulging his fanaticism for fine wine. For Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a shallow has-been actor, this trip is a chance to sow his oats one last time before tying the knot. Neither man gets what he expects.
Jack falls head over heels in lust with a local wine pourer, Sandra
Oh, and Miles finds himself drinking too much wine, struggling with his
own self-hatred, and facing his feelings of sadness and regret over his
divorce. The only brightness in his life is Maya (Virginia Madsen), a
waitress studying to be a winemaker.
Giamatti delivers an unflinching portrayal. His characterization of
Miles is superior to Woody Allens character studies in neurosis, because
his performance brings out Miles appeal without relying on pity to earn
the audiences affection. Giamatti and Church play off each other splendidly.
With a title like Enduring Love, one might expect a romantic comedy
or a four-hankie weeper.
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Its strange that the most successful childrens shows are also the most bizarre. Among the characters our children have been captivated by are kung-fu turtles named after famous painters, cars and trucks that turn into giant robots, kids who roam the earth collecting monsters in red and white balls.
Lately, a nerdish sea sponge and his undersea friends have captivated our youth. Now with billions in retail sales and fans all over the globe under his belt, SpongeBob SquarePants is coming to the big screen.
SpongeBob has a lot in common with Pee Wee Herman. He wears the clothing of an adult (tie, slacks and white shirt) and displays the enthusiasm of a child. He wears his heart on his sleeve while staying blissfully naïve.
SpongeBobs personality seems derivate of the boys portrayed in1950s hygiene films. If he were a human hed probably find himself perpetually picked on. Yet fate, friends and his own enthusiasm always help SpongeBob remain on top of life.
In The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, our hero must save his friends
by leaving Bikini Bottom on a quest to find King Midass stolen crown.
He journeys with his best friend, a starfish named Patrick, who fills
the role of the typical ³stupid² cartoon character. (Sam Gangee he aint!)
Together, they survive underwater biker bars, mean-spirited sea monsters
and eventually end up on dry land. The most creative moments involve live-action
scenes. One follows a band of pirates as they sail to the latest movie
theater to catch The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. However, the
most bizarre sequence involves a fight scene that takes place on David
Hasselhoffs sea-borne body.
At the beginning of National Treasure young Benjamin
Franklin Gates (Hunter Gomez) is sitting in a room with his grandfather,
who tells him a fanciful story about a treasure hidden by this countrys
founding fathers and protected by the Knights of Templar.
A close-up of Cages face emphasizes those sparkling aqua eyes that on close inspection look like magical gems encasing worlds of scorching heat and blinding light, and that furrowed brow that communicates both confusion and fortitude.
Once Cage enters the picture, the movie morphs into action mode. Ben is on a quest reminiscent of the one dramatized in Dan Browns wildly popular novel The Da Vinci Code. But unlike the books main character, Ben is searching for a national treasure, certainly a less noble quest than searching for the Holy Grail.
The screenwriters try to elevate the search for the fortune by linking it with the ideas of freedom and liberty, but their fictional treasure cant touch the complexity and controversy that surrounds Browns book. National Treasure has snippets of dialogue that seem to reference the current presidential administrations strikes on personal freedoms and hint at a blind side in national security that made an event like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 possible. But these attempts at depth simply make the film seem less significant.
National Treasure is at its best when the characters have clues to decode and logistics problems to solve. To find the treasure, Ben has to decipher a string of clues, including code written on the back of the Declaration of Independence. But heres the hitch: the Declaration is locked in a room in the National Archives thats accessible to a select few and guarded by an intricate alarm system. The enigma: How will Ben get into the room, get the Declaration and escape without getting arrested?
Writers Jim Kouf and Cormac and Maryann Wibberley had the perfect story formula to make this type of movie work. They arranged for Ben, his sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), and lady historian Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) to get into various tight spots, and then they conjured some clever ways for the trio to squeeze out.
The movies characters are likeable enough, but the true star of this film is plot, plot and plot. Despite the letdown of its tightly wrapped happily-ever-after ending, most of National Treasures 100 minutes are engaging. That makes the film a treasure (just maybe not a billion-dollar one). (PG) Rating: 3
As long as you can observe them from the safety of a giant screen theatre, natural disasters can be a lot of fun. The latest offering at Union Stations Extreme Screen is Forces of Nature, a visually stunning documentary from the good folks at National Geographic. Director George Casey (Africa: The Serengeti) ably captures the frightening power of volcanoes, earthquakes and tornadoes in this aptly named flick. Forces of Nature (which is not to be confused with the similarly named romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock) makes good use of some skillfully rendered computer generated imagery as well as awe inspiring footage of Mother Nature at her most furious.
Narrator Kevin Bacon begins the film with an explanation of Earths violent origins, accompanied by animation that uses the giant screen to put things into perspective. The constant activity that takes place under Earths crust is illustrated though computer graphics that seamlessly melds into actual footage of a volcanic eruption. The film then focuses on a major volcanic incident that occurred on the Caribbean island of Montserrat in 1995.
As volcanologist Marie Edmonds explains (accompanied by some amazing aerial shots), the Soufriere Hills volcano exploded in a titanic plume of ash and soot that buried the nearby town of Plymouth. Because of advance warning, no one in the city was killed.
Nineteen residents of the rural areas, those who ignored the advance warnings, were not so fortunate. Shifting to another point on the globe, the film takes a look at an even more damaging natural phenomenon. Scientist Ross Stein, an expert on earthquakes, takes us to Turkey where he and a team of colleagues worked to try to find a pattern in a series of quakes there.
A computer model they developed while studying the North Anatolian Fault helped them to predict the 1999 earthquake that rattled Izmit. Finally, the film centers on the work of Joshua Wurman and a team of storm chasers who attempt to track down a twister in Oklahoma. Driving a duo of Doppler radar trucks, Wurman and crew place themselves in grave danger as they try to precisely position their equipment in order to take readings that may give them clues into how the mysterious storms are formed.
As with most giant screen entries, the visuals are the attraction here. Forces of Nature is a painless science lesson, filling our minds by feasting our eyes. (G) Rating: 3
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