"Pity, fear, and cognitive reverie"
Dir. Ron Howard; writ. Akiva Goldsman, based on biography by Sylvia Nasar; feat. Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Vivien Cardone, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Plummer (PG-13)
Black Hawk Down
"Crash landing in confused territory"
Dir. Ridley Scott; writ. Mark Bowden, Ken Nolan; feat. Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard, Eric Bana, Jeremy Piven, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs (R)
Brotherhood of the Wolf
(Le Pacte des loups)
Dir. Christophe Gans; writ. Simon Donald, Stéphane Cabel, Christophe Gans; feat. Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos, Jean-François Stévenin (R)
"Ah-nold, stop the cah-nage"
Dir. Andrew Davis; writ. David Griffiths & Peter Griffiths; feat. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas, Francesca Neri, Cliff Curtis, John Leguizamo, and John Turturro. (R)
"A damn good commercial"
Dir. Tamra Davis; writ. Shoneda Rhimes; feat. Britney Spears, Anson Mount, Zoë Saldena, Taryn Manning, Kim Cattrall, Dan Aykroyd. (PG-13)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
"Entertaining and not even a bit daemonic"
Dir. Chris Columbus; writ. Steven Kloves; feat. Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman (PG)
I Am Sam
"Well-meaning but unconvincing"
Dir. Jessie Nelson; writ. Nelson and Kristine Johnson; feat. Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest (PG-13)
In the Bedroom
"Domestic thriller, thrilling in its subtlety"
Dir. Todd Field; writ. Robert Festinger, Todd Field, based on a story by Andre Dubus; feat. Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother (R)
"Tense drama about medical insurance"
Dir. Nick Cassavetes; writ. James Kearns; feat. Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Eddie Griffin, Kimberly Elise, Shawn Hatosy, Ray Liotta, Daniel E. Smith (PG-13)
"Wrenching Afghan hell"
Writ. & dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf; feat. Nelofer Pazira, Hassan Tantaï, Sadou Teymouri (no MPAA rating).
Though it takes the shape of an allegorical quest, with crucial encounters along the way, Kandahar is firmly rooted in the cruel realities of the Taliban regime. Shooting along the Iran-Afghanistan border, Makhmalbaf cast non-professionals in every part, including that of Nafas, who is played by Nelofer Pazira, an émigré whose actual quest to reach her cousin was his primary inspiration. The tyranny of a crowded Taliban madrasa, where the mullah interrupts Koran-chanting to catechize schoolboys on the features of sabers and Kalashnikovs, seems all too authentic. So, too, does a Red Cross camp where men assemble to beg for artificial appendages as replacements for the limbs lost to the land mines that will continue to claim casualties long after combat is concluded or the cause has changed. In the film's most haunting sequence, a flock of men on crutches scurries across the landscape to retrieve prosthetics dropped by parachute.
After robbers attack them, the family that Nafas crosses the border with abandons her. "There is nothing but misery, suffering, and massacre there," says the father about his native Afghanistan. Later, she hires Khak (Teymouri), a boy who lost his father to an exploding mine and his innocence to the demands of hunger, to guide her through the dunes to Kandahar. She befriends Tabib Sahid (Tantaï), a village doctor whose beard turns out to be as bogus as his title. He is an African American who came to Afghanistan "in search of God" and thought he would find divinity fighting alongside the mujahideen. Disillusioned by the actual experience of combat, he stayed behind to provide rudimentary assistance to people too wretched to quibble over whether he has a medical degree. Viewing Kandahar now, post-9-11, it is difficult not to think of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban facing trial for conspiracy, and not think about roads ignored. SK
"Overlapping stories in understated gem"
Dir. Ray Lawrence; writ. Andrew Bovell; feat. Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Vince Colosimo, Daniella Farinacci, Peter Phelps (R)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Dir. Peter Jackson; writ. J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Walsh; feat. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies (PG-13)
Dir. Marc Foster; writ. Milo Addica, Will Rokos; feat. Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Dante Beze, Coronji Calhoun (R)
"Witty, wild, furry fun"
Dir. Peter Docter; writ. Jill Culton, Peter Docter, Ralph Eggleston; feat. John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi (R)
The Mothman Prophecies
Dir. Mark Pellington; writ. John A. Keel (novel), Richard Hatem (screenplay); feat. Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing, Shane Callahan (PG-13)
"Too many seeds"
Dir. Jake Kasdan; writ. Mike White; feat. Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara, Schuyler Fisk, and John Lithgow. (PG-13)
Queen of the Damned
"Should I say it? Sucks"
Dir. Michael Rymer; writ. Anne Rice (novels), Scott Abbott; feat. Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Aaliyah, Vincent Perez, Paul McGann, Lena Olin (R)
Though the marketing machine makes it look as though this film is all about the recently-departed pop star Aaliyah, the singer's character doesn't appear until quite late in the film. When she does, she's more movie monster than person — she writhes like the snakes atop Medusa's head and speaks with a multi-tracked "big scary person" voice. Her (very cool) costumes show a lot of skin, and she's a pretty fierce sexual presence, but that's about it. If I were her family, I'd flinch at the "Dedicated to Aaliyah" that appears as the credits start to roll. JD
The Royal Tenenbaums
Dir. Wes Anderson; writ. Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson; feat. Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray.
"Pulls no punches"
Dir. and writ. Todd Solondz; feat. Selma Blair, Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Wisdom, John Goodman, Julie Hagerty, Paul Giamatti, Mark Webber (R)
In this film, Solondz combines his previous tactics with a thoughtful, unmerciful examination of his own profession, the creation of narrative. Two separate stories, called "Fiction" and "Nonfiction," tackle the supposedly black-and-white distinction between the kinds of tales we tell, and find that their names should often be reversed:
1) A class of aspiring collegiate authors — mostly white girls — struggles to create art out of their bland suburban lives. Their seminar is led by an imposing black man who responds to their prurient curiosity by exploiting them before they can do the same to him. When one student turns a deeply unpleasant encounter with him into a story, her classmates treat it as contrived fiction, refusing to come to the obvious conclusion that every word is true.
2) A pathetic would-be documentarian sets out to capture high school pathos on film. He finds a truly vapid subject, and proceeds to make the least objective, most exploitative film possible. Though he shoots from life, his document fails to capture much even-handed truth.
In both of these stories, the authors are attacked with the very criticisms that have hounded Solondz: misanthropy, exploitation, bitterness, meanness. In both cases, the accusations are shown to have at least some merit. But the director is shedding light on the incredibly complicated ethical dilemmas involved in telling tales, and any viewer who agrees completely with one of the film's onscreen critics is missing the point. Putting another life — even a "fictional" one — into words or images is one of the most important things humans do, and Solondz proves he's looking at his own behavior with the same scrutiny he directs toward his creations. JD
"Anarchy on the highway"
Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar; writ. Chandrasekhar, et al; feat. Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Brian Cox, Daniel von Bargen, Marisa Coughlan (R)
Films reviewed by:
JB: John Brewer
JD: John DeFore
SK: Steven G. Kellman