A Beautiful Mind
"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)
"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, 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)
"Flower power and the Balkan wars"
Dir. Elie Chouraqui; writ. Chouraqui, Didier le Pecheur, & Isabel Ellsen; feat. Andie MacDowell, David Strathairn, Elias Koteas, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson, Alun Armstrong (R)
Harrison's Flowers begins amid suburban serenity; a loving husband and wife and two adorable children occupy a house that might deserve a spread in House & Garden. In a garden is the greenhouse that is the husband's special joy and the immediate reference for the movie's title.
Writer-director Elie Chouraqui plants the arcadian opening of Harrison's Flowers to set us up for shocks to come. Sarah Lloyd is an editor at Newsweek, and her husband, Harrison (Strathairn), is its ace photographer, the dapper winner of a Pulitzer and the envy of grubby, unsung picture-shooters. When Harrison is ordered overseas, he accepts the assignment reluctantly, insisting that this will be his final foreign posting. Think of all those movies in which hell breaks loose during a retiring cop's last day on the job. Think of Daniel Pearl.
After Harrison arrives in Bosnia, he is trapped in the escalating ethnic violence. Word of his death reaches Newsweek headquarters in New York, yet fury more than grief takes hold of Sarah. "But no one is dead!" she shouts, dispersing the mourners gathered for a Kaddish service organized without a corpse. Convinced that Harrison is still alive, Sarah flies off alone to retrieve him. Within hours of her arrival, her Croatian escort is summarily shot and she is beaten and nearly raped. Yet, despite landmines, snipers, roadblocks, and hunger, Sarah soldiers on, determined to reach Vukovar, where her husband, she believes, is held. Her Newsweek boss believes: "She's off her rocker," and a viewer might agree.
In the immediacy of the abominations, the film is a European version of The Killing Fields. But in one woman's obdurate insistence on retrieving her beloved from perdition (a reversal of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth), Harrison's Flowers echoes Not Without My Daughter, in which Sally Field manages to extricate her child from the Koranic dungeon that Iran had become. This is not just a love story cynically soldered on to a spectacle of soldiers run amuck, but rather an account of elemental conflict between Venus and Mars, love and war. Can Harrison's flowers outpower Milosevic's tanks? SK
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)
"Warms the heart"
Dir. Carlos Saldanha, Chris Wedge; writ. Michael J. Wilson (story), Michael Berg (screenplay); feat. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Visnjic, Jack Black (PG)
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)
"Watching a noble mind o'erthrown"
Dir. Richard Eyre; writ. Richard Eyre and Charles Wood, from memoirs by John Bayley; feat. Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton, Samuel West, Timothy West (R)
The BBC-TV evening newscast on February 8, 1999 announced the death of Iris Murdoch, at 79, before it announced the death of Jordan's King Hussein. Murdoch lost fewer wars and wrote more novels (26), and besides she was British. Reputations are fluid, but Murdoch remains for the moment Albion's most prominent woman intellectual since the drowning of Virginia Woolf.
Water is the first and final image in Iris, a film based on two volumes of memoirs - Elegy for Iris and Iris and Her Friends - by John Bayley, the professor and literary critic who was married to Murdoch for 43 years. Young and old, she was fond of swimming, often nude, in England's nippy, mucky rivers. We float back and forth between aquatic images of Murdoch young and buoyant and the older Murdoch drifting toward oblivion. "I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness," she says toward the end, during a rare moment of lucidity before the implacable erosion of her extraordinary mental powers. We watch one of the best minds of England's post-war generation succumb to Alzheimer's disease. A playful philosopher and a pensive novelist, she was preoccupied with the theme of freedom. Iris traces the defeat of a free spirit in the unmooring of her uncommon mind. SK
"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)
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)
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
"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)
The Time Machine
"H.G. Well's classic gets dumbed down"
Dir. Gore Verbinski, Simon Wells; writ. H.G. Wells (novel), David Duncan (earlier screenplay); feat. Yancey Arias, Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons, Philip Bosco, Phyllida Law (PG-13)
Couched as an homage to director George Pal's 1960 movie and treatment of Wells' classic novel, this rendition compresses the story into a comic book journey complete with Enya-inspired new age music to accompany the hero's farthest leap into the future. CS
We Were Soldiers
"A good war movie for people who want to see a good war movie."
Dir./writ. Randall Wallace, from the book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway; feat. Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, Keri Russell, and Barry Pepper. (R)
The first time I heard about We Were Soldiers was from my father, a Vietnam vet and recent inductee into the Tucson seniors tennis scene. He didn't tell me how real the film was supposed to be - something he mentioned after screenings of Platoon and Hamburger Hill - or that the story's focus on individual soldiers moved him, but that his doubles partner Ed Kinnear was upset at how small his son's part in the film ended up being. (Greg Kinnear plays a wily helicopter pilot named Snake Shit, 'cause he flies lower than it.) Nonetheless, this is a war movie about losing a conflict that, some two or three generations out, still lingers for anyone involved.
What Director Randall Wallace (writer of Pearl Harbor and Braveheart) does in this film, based on a true story, is focus not on what motivates the soldiers to go to Vietnam (and we never have to deal with that detail), but what makes them want to come back home. Duty comes before family in We Were Soldiers, and their sad job is one that, in the end, cleaves many men from their brood by bullet, bomb, and bayonet.
Today it's nice that Capt. Dennis Brewer can relax and play some tennis after surviving a war that many would rather not see put to celluloid again. This movie is not going to be for everybody: Another gory "war is hell" film may seem as needed right now as a second installment of Fox's "When Buildings Fall Down." JB Films reviewed by:
JB: John Brewer, firstname.lastname@example.org
JD: John DeFore, email@example.com
SK: Steven G. Kellman, firstname.lastname@example.org
CS: Cole Smithey, email@example.com
RW: Richard C. Walls