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Recent Reviews

Recent Reviews

Bon Voyage, The Day After Tomorrow, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Raising Helen, Shrek 2, Super Size Me, Troy, Young Adam, and all the rest…

Bon Voyage
Dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau; writ. Gilles Marchand, from a novel by Patrick Modiano; feat. Isabelle Adjani, Gerard`acute accent over e` Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal, Gregori`acute accent over first e`Derangere,`grave accent over next-to-last e` Peter Coyote (PG-13)
In 1940, following the "phony war" in which the French military stood serenely behind what it assumed was the unbreachable Maginot Line, German forces routed all resistance en route to taking Paris. More than 60 years later, memories of capitulation and collaboration still trouble the French collective conscience. Causing more tumult in Bon Voyage than even the German invaders is Viviane Denvers (Adjani), a self-absorbed, amoral movie star who is probably meant as a metaphor for Vichy France itself. She is an alluring femme fatale, and the first of many men we meet who have succumbed to her charms is soon stuffed, lifeless, into the trunk of a car. Unlike Two Men Went to War, the current British feature that veers between mockery and mush in its account of an unauthorized sortie into Normandy during the German occupation, Bon Voyage manages to be both serious and ludicrous simultaneously. SGK

The Day After Tomorrow
Dir. Roland Emmerich; writ. Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; feat. Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Sela Ward, Kenneth Welsh (PG-13)
Certain people out there are going to feel very silly about trying to make a political event out of The Day After Tomorrow - a film which is not only not educational, but could be taught a thing or three (about physics, motivation, and cell-phone reliability) by reasonably smart folks in the audience. As a piece of entertainment, though, the film has an old-fashioned sensibility that (compared to director Roland Emmerich's bloated Independence Day, say) could almost be called modest. Tomorrow has the quasi-scientific moorings of classic '50s sci-fi. Paleoclimatologist Dennis Quaid announces that the end is nigh because, speaking of the salt/freshwater mix that produces oceanic current, "We've hit a critical de-salination point." Long story short, the northern hemisphere is about to be flash-frozen, and Quaid's kid (Gyllenhaal) is on a field trip to NYC. Tomorrow ends not with a plucky action hero, but with Mother Nature deciding she's done enough. Survivors emerge, and Gyllenhaal earns his lady's love. And from its new home south of the border, the White House admits that it was wrong all along about its environmental policy, and that it will do better henceforth. Now that, my friends, is a science-fiction movie. JD

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Dir. Alfonso Cuaron; writ. Steve Kloves , based on the novel by J.K. Rowling; feat. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Richard Griffiths, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters (PG)
Advance rumors that the latest installment in the life of the tremendously popular English boy wizard is terrible are, frankly, unfounded. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban indicates that the films, like the books by J.K. Rowling on which they are based, intend to grow with the character and the audience. Potter is in his third year of wizard school now, and yes, I think that might be peach fuzz on his chin. While the script, which involves a dangerous escaped wizard who is alleged to have helped the evil Voldemort kill Harry's parents, feels a little truncated, the books' popularity rest on their deft advice and emotional support for adolescence, with magic and Muggles - the boorish, ordinary humans who refuse to see the wonderful possibility in life - as the allegorical tools. Here Prisoner of Azkaban succeeds tremendously with affecting performances by the three leads, on whom the story focuses. There is plenty of levity, too. Emma Thompson, in particular, who plays the divination teacher, seems to have missed the memo that instructs the august actors who comprise Hogwart's faculty to take the role as seriously as Shakespeare. But then, those of us who live with young teens learn that a little humor is sometimes all that keeps the peace, and the sanity. EW

Raising Helen
Dir. Garry Marshall; writ. Jack Amiel, Michael Begler; feat. Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin, Abigail Breslin, Helen Mirren, Sakina Jaffrey, Kevin Kilner, Felicity Huffman (PG-13)
Raising Helen will surely be a crowd pleaser if the crowd is full of parents burned out on animation and looking for a cute, innocent time. For the rest of us, don't bother. The premise is terribly similar to the classic Baby Boom starring Diane Keaton, only the adorable Miss Hudson is a young, chic administrative assistant with connections. Her life is suddenly turned upside down by the death of her sister and brother-in-law. She becomes the unlikely guardian to her nieces and nephew, much to the chagrin of her Super Mom sister played by the once-amazing Joan Cusack. The superficial mentality of Helen (Hudson) is gradually reformed by exposure to responsibility and a (lackluster) romance with Pastor Dan, played by ultra nice-guy John Corbett. Helen faces a layoff from the kid-hating fashion industry, a battle with Audrey (Panatierre) over teen sex and dating, and two kids who haven't dealt with the deaths of their parents. Raising Helen is chock full of physical gags, Paris Hilton cameos, and urban/suburban juxtaposition, but nothing from the glitzy lifestyle to the romance with Pastor Dan seem real or even enviable. This film may seem fun and harmless but as Kate Hudson's exposure grows, the total effect on the American psyche could be irreparable. LG

Shrek 2
Dir. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon; writ. Andrew Adamson and Joe Stillman based on the book by William Steig; with Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders (PG-13)
With Shrek 2, the creative team that concocted the perfect antidote to all that saccharine fairytale princess crap Disney hawked to a generation of impressionable little girls has left the youth audience entirely behind. This sequel to the 2001 hit continues to satirize "happily ever after" by following the newlywed ogres home to meet Fiona's parents - who are under the impression that the spell has been broken by the Prince Charming of lore in favor of her human incarnation. To support what might otherwise be a tired storyline, Shrek 2 digs deeper into Mother Goose and the Bros. Grimms' pockets and comes up with the Gingerbread Man, the Muffin Man, and, most deliciously of all, Puss in Boots, played by Banderas as a fabulous Zorro parody. The second round of obvious jabs at Beauty and the Beast are a little strained, but the kingdom of Far Far Away is a funny, if somewhat gentle, spoof of Hollywood. A cross-dressing barmaid known as the Ugly Stepsister, who predictably eyes the lip-gloss-wearing Prince at the end further hammers home the message that this is a love story for alternative families of all stripes. EMW

Super Size Me
Dir. Morgan Spurlock (NR)
In Super Size Me, his first feature film, Director Morgan Spurlock serves as his own guinea pig to test the hypothesis that a steady diet of fast food is hazardous to a consumer's health. By the final frames, a vigorous man in his thirties has become a depressed, exhausted maw, a swollen bundle of human tissue diagnosed as gravely ill. Spurlock resolves that for an entire month he will eat three meals a day at McDonald's. He will order everything on its menu at least once and will opt for the largest portions whenever prompted by an employee. From beginning to end of his dreadful ordeal, Spurlock is monitored by three increasingly appalled physicians and pitied by his vegan girlfriend. Super Size Me is a 96-minute anti-commercial, designed to demonstrate that Big Mac means big trouble. The film also includes conversations with John Banzhaf, the law professor who took on the tobacco industry and now challenges fast-food merchants; David Satcher, former surgeon general of the United States; and Marion Nestlé, a prominent critic of the food industry. The success of fast-food chains is symptomatic of a culture of narcissism, in which nothing is more compelling than individual comfort. After Super Size Me, no one can consider cheeseburgers a comfort food. SGK

Troy
Dir. Wolfgang Petersen; writ. David Benioff; feat. Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Peter O'Toole
Don't go to Troy expecting Homer's Iliad. The battlefields of the 10-year Trojan War at times evoke the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan; at other times the kitschy, recent WWF match-up "Live From Baghdad," where real wrestlers entertained the battle-weary troops in Iraq. While Homer focused on Achilles' rage, the filmmakers prefer the Trojan prince Paris' abduction of Helen, wife of the Spartan Menaleus. The poetic dialogue is reduced to soap operatics. Orlando Bloom as Paris is superb window-dressing as is Diane Kruger's Helen but neither is any more convincing than a mannequin. Pitt's physique is so buff that his armor looks lame in comparison. He has also been strapped with Nike promotional one-liners for dialogue. "Immortality is yours, take it." Lost in this mêlée are fine, even Oscar-worthy, performances by Peter O'Toole and Eric Bama. The forsaken, prophetic Cassandra warned Priam to beware the Greek bearing gifts. Well, she has been left on the cutting room floor. Maybe she told the gods to beware Hollywood geeks bearing booty. GB

Young Adam
Dir. and writ. David Mckenzie, based on the novel by Alexander Trocchi; feat. Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Therese Bradley, Ewan Stewart, Stuart McQuarrie
When we first lay eyes on the charismatic young Joe Taylor (McGregor), working in close quarters on a coal barge with a dour family of three, it's already apparent that he and the skipper's wife, Ella (Swinton), will soon be swabbing belowdecks together. Joe is an unstable element, causing damage and disruption wherever he goes. The story unfolds like an origami crane under hazy skies, along the canals that run between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland. Alexander Trocchi's novel, on which the film is based, was a critique of the hypocritical mores of 1950s-era Scotland. Director, David McKenzie argues that Joe is not guilty. He is, rather, a moral casualty of a repressed, and economically oppressive, society, an emotional orphan who might have penned Leonard Cohen's "Like a Bird on a Wire." The movie is just that graphic and emotionally wrenching, too. Among the sexually explicit scenes is one which is shocking not so much for the custard and paddle, but for the emotional weight this vacant man can throw around in a woman's life. Among the many pleasures of this dark film is David Byrne's apt soundtrack, which creates a modern dirge for this play on the death of moral certitude. EW


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


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