Movie Picks 

click to enlarge "Sleepy Hollow"
  • "Sleepy Hollow"

*American Beauty (R)

American Beauty proves, once again, that you don't have to have a new plot to make a fresh story. Instead, a strong visual style, fabulous acting, and quirky writing can all conspire to create an erotic, humorous, captivating film. Kevin Spacey is given a funny, dry script by screenwriter Alan Ball and uses it confidently, moving between bumbling idiot, threatening asshole, and tender father with ease; Annette Benning perfectly captures the manic acquisitiveness and just-below-the-surface despair of professional-class America with a physical, comedic presence that most actresses would never dare attempt; Wes Bentley portrays the disturbed boy next door with a quiet gravity that intensifies every scene he graces. First-time film director Sam Mendes has done a remarkable job of learning the vocabulary of filmmaking and using it to create a multilayered visual and psychological delight. -- AL

Tiffany Square

*Anywhere But Here (PG-13)

This mother-daughter buddy film, based on the Mona Simpson novel, feels like a series of withdrawn comments. Because of that, and in spite of two terrific performances by the leads, Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, Anywhere But Here ultimately feels slightly dishonest. Portman is sublime -- complex and multidimensional. Her performance is grave, weighted and flawless. Sarandon gives it the old college try, pulling off some touching scenes, but in general, her character is less satisfying than Portman's. As written by Alvin Sargent (Julia, The Sterile Cuckoo), Adele fluctuates between wackiness and lovability, mania and depression, but her character never gels as the complex, deeply troubled woman we suspect she is.

Many shiny, sun-bleached California scenes, accented by a trippy Danny Elfman score, move the film and the characters along in a kind of PMS fog, and several are endearing. See it for Portman's performance. -- KCE

Tinseltown; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10

The Bachelor (PG-13)

Pleasant enough and originally conceived in the beginning, The Bachelor sacrifices itself to the groaning weight of a grandiose Hollywood production scene in the end. Chris O'Donnell is fresh and attractive as Jimmy Shannon, a declared bachelor who must give up his freedom to meet the requirements of his grandfather's will, and Renee Zellweger is the love of his life, Ann. The Bachelor aspires to be a fresh take on romantic comedy -- as seen from the guy's point of view -- and almost succeeds. But the director just couldn't resist the appeal of a massive chase scene down the streets of San Francisco, involving, gulp, 1,000 screaming women in bride's dresses. It's hard not to be off-put by this excess, when the film could have been a tight, fresh take on the romantic conundrum. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown

*The Basket (G)

Award-winning film The Basket features Peter Coyote and Karen Allen and tells the tale of a small Northwestern town trying to make sense of World War I. An unconventional schoolteacher (Coyote) comes to town, teaching a strange new game called basketball. Some of the film's intriguing aspects are a rare, on-screen look at the early, awkward days of basketball; and the operatic soundtrack, providing a dramatic backdrop and featuring more than 70 minutes of stirring music recorded by composer and musician Don Caron with the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. While the independent film will ultimately make its way to video, director Rich Cowan says the glowing landscapes of The Basket are made for the theater. "[Cinematographer] Danny [Heigh] shot a movie too big for the small screen. On the big screen, it's just looks and feels right." -- David Kilmer

Tiffany Square

*Being John Malkovich (R)

Spike Jonze's bizarre adult comedy, Being John Malkovich, is a wonderfully acted, witty take on the lengths we will go for our 15 minutes of fame. John Cusack is marvelous as Craig Schwartz, a brilliant loser puppeteer who takes a filing job in a bizarre office building where he discovers a secret door. When he crawls through it, he is inexplicably drawn into the body and mind of actor John Malkovich where he remains for 15 minutes, then is spit out into a ditch off the New Jersey Turnpike. If this sounds terribly mundane, be assured it is not. Jonze's direction, the brilliant script by first-timer Charlie Kaufman, razor sharp cinematography by Lance Acord (Buffalo '66) and the outstanding ensemble cast combine to make this one whirlwind of a moviegoing experience. Unexpected turns keep the audience alert and interested, and the payoff is the film's ability to sustain the central conceit. Ingenious casting helps too. Orson Bean as Dr. Lester and Mary Kay Place as his receptionist Floris provide some of the film's silliest and funniest moments. And don't worry, you'll still like John Malkovich when it's all over -- the guy has one helluva sense of humor. -- KCE


Bowfinger (PG-13)

Steve Martin plays the ever hopeful but perennially unsuccessful director Bobby Bowfinger, looking for his big break. His only hope for success is to draw a big-name star to his film that otherwise features a handful of eccentric wannabes. Eddie Murphy is terrific as a neurotic, grandiose superstar, and in a double-turn as his own geeky brother, Jiff. But Heather Graham, as an ambitious starlet, comes across as a stale stereotype. Crowded with too many Hollywood clichs, Bowfinger is simultaneously good-natured and cynical -- a fun romp but not fully successful as a spoof. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

Deep Blue Sea (R)

Deep Blue Sea is a curious hybrid of the mad scientist flicks of the '50s and '60s and the high-tech horrors that started back in the '70s with Jaws. Updated for savvy '90s audiences, the mad scientist is now a woman, the devoted assistant is a hunky guy, and the script keeps us guessing who will be devoured next by the 45-foot long, brain-enhanced shark created in an undersea lab. Despite its overwhelming incredibility, Deep Blue Sea does what it sets out to do: bolts the audience out of their seats with high-pitched action and sends them home to shark nightmares. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*Dogma (R)

Dogma is utterly silly and pleasantly tinged with a mischievousness that's irresistible. Director Kevin Smith's script is typically verbose and vulgar, and the casting works wonderfully throughout, with stellar moments from Alan Rickman as the angel Metatron, nice low-key consistency from the disillusioned Linda Fiorentino, and a wonderful turn by Jason Lee as a demon up from Hell to assist fallen angels Loki and Bartleby (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) in their scheme to get back to heaven. A bit too long, Smith should have foregone the special effects-driven scene that unleashes the demon Golgothan (an excrement slinging monster) and stuck with the delightful cast of characters, but overall Dogma is funny, even affirming in its exploration of the foibles of faith. -- KCE

Kimball's Twin Peak; Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

End of Days (R)

See full review, page 47

Tiffany Square; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6

*The Insider (R)

Russell Crowe turns in the best performance of his career as Jeffrey Wigand -- the corporate whistleblower who brought big tobacco to its knees -- lending his character the heavy, tangible weight of conscience and family responsibility. And as CBS producer Lowell Bergman, Al Pacino gives a fine, modulated performance. Given the opportunity to be holier-than-thou, Pacino frequently stoops to breast-beating, but here he tones down his righteousness. Christopher Plummer is perfectly cast as anchorman Mike Wallace, and Mann's depiction of the journalist paints a picture of a dignified, aging celebrity caught in one of the most difficult moments of his career -- one where he makes the wrong choice, but we are led to understand his flawed reasoning. Director Michael Mann's style with the camera works well with this material -- in most of the movie's scenes, we are made aware that more is happening than just what we see in the foreground. Shots are framed off-center, creating a tension between what we can and cannot see, between what we know and don't know. -- KCE

Tiffany Square; Academy Station 6

The Messenger: The Story of Joan Of Arc (R)

What a disappointment. The Messenger is a badly paced, gratuitously violent film that manages to turn one of the most exciting tales of Western civilization into a study of bad special effects and worse psychobabble. How many wonderful stories reside in this tale? Stories of class, gender, faith, politics, physical struggle -- all of these have participated in her legend and made 500-year old history worthy of telling today. Instead of any of these, however, director Luc Besson (The Professional) opts for a medieval retooling of Rambo 5. Unintentionally, The Messenger treads perilously, close to Monty Python and the Holy Grail sans good spirit and humor. Besson paces this movie so poorly (its two-and-a-half hours feels closer to three), and Jovovich delivers virtually all her lines with... the... same... inflection...and...speed.... that the power of moments which should be profound are lost. None of this gives us insight into the remarkable story of the peasant girl visited by god and led by faith to extraordinary feats, and, unfortunately, makes for sorry filmmaking as well. -- AL


The Omega Code (PG-13)

With Springs actor, Ziggy Wagrowski.

Tiffany Square

Runaway Bride (PG-13)

Garry Marshall's heavily hyped re-joining of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Most of the film is merely a set-up for the eventual coupling of Mr. Drop Dead Gorgeous and Ms. Drop Dead Gorgeous, though a star turn by Joan Cusack as Roberts' best friend makes you wish Ike would sweep her away and dump Julia. -- KCE

Silver Cinemas

*Sixth Sense (PG-13)

Sixth Sense is a fluid, compelling and genuinely scary ghost story starring Bruce Willis as Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist. Willis' character leads a charmed life with his wife (Olivia Williams) and his fulfilling, successful career until the night he gets plugged by a dissatisfied former patient. We next see Crowe, shaken and changed, outside the house of Cole Sear, a little boy with anxious tendencies and, apparently, deep psychological problems. Turns out Cole can see the dead, and those with unfinished business often show up in his bedroom at night. The most startling moments of the film all revolve around the appearance of those ghosts. Haley Joel Osment, the child actor who plays Cole, is tortured, convincing and winning. Willis doesn't make a false move. The film delivers a wonderful punch at the end with an unexpected plot twist. A sure audience pleaser, Sixth Sense is solid, smart, subtle, atmospheric moviemaking. -- KCE

Chapel Hills; Tinseltown; Citadel Terrace

*Sleepy Hollow (R)

In Director Tim Burton's hands, the tiny Hudson river valley town of Sleepy Hollow becomes a mythical place where gnarled trees silhouetted against a foggy background speak volumes. Johnny Depp brings a humorous finickiness to the character of Ichabod Crane. He is prissy, prim and immaculate, and he doesn't take well to the sight of gore. But Crane's transformation to action hero is palatable too. Depp moves from prude to swashbuckler with real movie star grace and charisma, not an easy task. Crane's love interest, Katrina Van Tassel, is played with understated charm by Christina Ricci. Miranda Richardson is wild and wicked as Katrina's sexy stepmother, siren of the horseman. And the horseman himself -- massive and shrouded in black -- proves to be a striking central focus of the film, despite his missing head. Burton revels in special effect, and his wild creation, the tree of the dead, is a memorable cinematic marvel. Burton's Sleepy Hollow will, no doubt, prove to be a Halloween video classic. -- KCE

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Citadel Terrace; Tinseltown; Gold Hill Theaters

Story of Us (R)

Rob Reiner's smug, insipid romantic comedy asks us to endure the incessant bitching of Bruce Willis as bratty husband Ben, and Michelle Pfeiffer as his uptight even-brattier wife Katie. Then we are exptected to accept their superficial making-up scene at the end. Reiner accents it all with borderline offensive scenes featuring Ben and Katie's rich, self-absorbed friends (Reiner, a shrill Rita Wilson, Paul Reiser) who love to co-titillate with tits and ass references. Willis provides a sullen, wooden narrative voiceover and Pfeiffer does some of her best pouting and sniveling since her last tear fest, The Deep End of the Ocean. Reiner shoots for realism and reaches the lowest common denominator -- choosing to emphasize those embarrassing moments anyone who has been married can relate to, but would just as soon forget.

Silver Cinemas

*Toy Story 2 (G)

See full review, page 47

Tinseltown; Gold Hill Theater, Chapel Hills, Citadel Terrace

*The World is Not Enough (R)

Pierce Brosnan can do no wrong. He gleams with all the requisite savoir-faire and charisma that James Bond demands. Brosnan's third installment as Her Majesty's top secret agent 007 lives up to the lofty expectations set down by Sean Connery with an indispensable steely nerve. Judi Dench returns to nourish the series as Bond's strident boss "M," while Desmond Llewelyn returns for the 19th time as Bond's meticulous gadget guru "Q." Robert Carlyle does a brilliant turn as the ruthless terrorist Renard. The film keeps the stakes for the James Bond franchise high by paying closer attention to character development and interaction than recent films in the series. M proves herself to not be a perfect judge of character, and the beautiful Princess Elektra (Sophie Marceau) lends the plot some artful double-crossing. Michael Apted, best known for his fantastic 7 Up documentary film series and Coal Miner's Daughter, more than hits his directorial marks.The World Is Not Enough is, pound for explosion, a great return on your entertainment dollar. -- Cole Smithey

Kimball's Twin Peak; Carmike 10; Chapel Hills; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6


Christmas in Connecticut (not rated)

1945 comedy. A magazine writer must hide the fact that she isn't the Martha Stewart-caliber hostess she purports to be. With Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet

Fine Arts Center Theater, 30 W. Dale St. Tues., Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.

Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigalo (R)

Rob Schnieder plays a professional fish tank cleaner who is mistaken for a world class male escort.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown

The Green Mile

In 1935 on Death Row in a southern prison, Tom Hanks plays a cell block warden who forms a magical relationship with one of his charges.

Chapel Hills; Carmike 10; Tinseltown; Academy Station 6

Anna and the King (PG-13)

Huge non-musical rendering of The King and I starring Jodi Foster and Chow Yun Fat.

Sneak Preview only, Chapel Hills, Saturday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.


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