2003 Reviews

THE LORD OF THE RINGS
The Return of the King
(PG-13) - December 19

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: The fate of Middle Earth is decided in the final installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

REVIEW: Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise (Sean Astin) get ever closer to Mount Doom and their ultimate goal... the destruction of the ring of power. Gandolf (Ian McKellen) rallies the armies of men to aid the beseiged capitol city of Gondor, Minas Tirith. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) must follow his destiny and become the man he needs to be to give Frodo the chance to save Middle Earth. As the hobbits near Mount Doom, the ring exerts more control over Froda and Samwise is called upon to carry an even greater burden.

Peter Jackson does the impossible and continues to up the ante on each film in the trilogy. All of the effects are amazing, but the technology behind the Gollum character is almost seamless as his onscreen prescence reaches new levels of realism. The actors deliver performances that make you almost believe in a place called Middle Earth. This should be the year that a hobbit from New Zealand takes home the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director.

BOTTOMLINE: Never before has a film series been as critically and commercially praised.


THE LAST SAMURAI
(R) - December 12

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A troubled Civil War veteran discovers redemption in Japan during the 1870's.

REVIEW: Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) was considered a hero of the Civil War and the Indian uprisings. He, however, was deeply troubled by what he had done during those dark times and drank to forget. The Japanese offered the captain a great deal of money to help train their soldiers in the ways of western warfare. A samurai by the name of Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) would not abandon the old ways and stood in the way of supposed progress. Omura (Masato Harada), an aid to Emperor Meiji (Shichinosuke Nakamura), was interested in increasing his personal wealth by establishing ties with Europe and the United States... Katsumoto had to be silenced for this to happen. Eventually, Captain Algren is captured in battle by Katsumoto and an unlikely respect and friendship develops. Unfortunately, progress will not be stopped and further conflict is inevitable.

Director Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall) and writer John Logan (Gladiator), have created an epic tale of a man that couldn't bear the weight of his own sins, but eventually finds salvation in a foreign land. The cinematography is quite spectacular with incredible vistas and chaotic battle scenes. Tom Cruise does not carry this movie by himself, without the talented Ken Watanabe playing opposite Tom's character, this film would not have been nearly as good.

BOTTOMLINE: A moving story that should at least receive a few Oscar nominations.


THE HAUNTED MANSION
(PG) - December 5

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Another Disney ride comes to the big screen... with less than spectacular results.

REVIEW: Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) are Real Estate agents, but Jim tends to put work before his wife and kids. While on a weekend getaway, the Evers become trapped in the Gracey mansion, because Jim couldn't resist the opportunity to represent the property. It seems that Jim's wife resembles Master Gracey's one true love and his interest in her is more than just professional. It's not long before spooky things start to happen.

Although the mansion itself and the special effects are very well done, the lack of a real story is a bit of a problem. At times, this movie is a bit too scary/graphic for younger kids and a little too stupid for the older crowd. Pirates of the Caribbean is still the best Disney theme-ride inspired movie.

BOTTOMLINE: Eddie Murphy's family-friendly movies are starting to wear a little thin.


TIMELINE
(PG-13) - November 28

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Archaeology students travel back to the middle ages.

REVIEW: While studying a french castle, archaeology students discover a chamber which had remained hidden for almost 600 years. Inside the chamber they find modern eyeglasses and a message written by their professor... who left only days earlier to visit a hi-tech research facility in the U.S. By means of a device that was originally designed to teleport objects, Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly) was transported to 14th century France and is now trapped in the past. To rescue their professor, the students travel back in time... unfortunately they arrive just in time for a battle between the French and English.

This is the typical time travel movie, somebody goes back and screws something up and someone else must go back to fix it. Director Richard Donnner (Lethal Weapon) dumbs down Michael Crichton's novel to make a popcorn movie that won't require you to think too much. Now, this isn't a bad movie, the final battle scene was well done, but it's unlikely you'll remember the movie once you leave the theater's parking lot.

BOTTOMLINE: Another time travel movie that once again proves we probably shouldn't tamper with the timeline.


MATRIX REVOLUTIONS
(R) - November 5

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Neo is the only thing standing between the last human city of Zion and the machines.

REVIEW: Revolutions begins shortly after the conclusion of the previous film, Reloaded. Neo (Keanu Reeves) remains in a coma after somehow stopping a group of sentinels in the real world. He's now trapped between worlds in a mysterious place known as the train station. The machines continue to drill ever closer to Zion, as Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) and Morpheous (Laurence Fishbourne) enter the Matrix to gain Neo's release. Meanwhile, agent Smith's power continues to grow... even beyond the control of the Architect. Mankinds survival will be ultimately decided when Neo and agent Smith meet for one last battle.

This movie started strong and kept its momentum going until the climax, which was a little disappointing. The battle scenes in Zion were simply incredible as thousands of sentinels swarm upon the humans in cool battle armor. The final battle between Neo and Smith is a fanboy's dream that looks like it came straight out of a comic book. Now, if you loved the first Matrix movie you should enjoy Revolutions... even if the ending may leave you a little underwhelmed.

BOTTOMLINE: Not a perfect conclusion to the series, but the good outweighs the bad.


THE SCHOOL OF ROCK
(PG-13) - October 24

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A wannabe rocker impersonates a substitute teacher to pay the rent.

REVIEW: Dewey Finn (Jack Black) loves and lives rock-n-roll music, at the cost of everything else in his life. Dewey's onstage enthusiasm causes his bandmates to vote him out of the group... so they can focus on the upcoming Battle of the Bands contest. Needing rent money to keep his roommate's girlfriend of his back, Dewey impersonates a substitue teacher at Horace Green, an exclusive prep school. Once Dewey learns that many of the students are talented musicians, he decides to introduce them to the world of rock music. An idea enters Dewey's head... why not mould this group of raw talent into a kickass rock band with himself as the front man and enter the Battle of the bands? It could happen...

Jack Black is perfectly cast as the slacker rocker who simply wants to rock. Writer Mike White, Dewey Finn's timid roommate Ned Schneebly, hits the mark with this rock fable for the entire family. The kids in School of Rock are either talented musicians and singers or they can fake it very well. Joan Cusack is also amusing as the uptight school principal that is wound just a little too tight.

BOTTOMLINE: Even if you're not a classic rock fan - this is still a feel-good, family comedy.


KILL BILL Vol. 1
(R) - October 10

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: An assassin seeks revenge on those who betrayed her.

REVIEW: The Bride (Uma Thurman) is introduced at the beginning of Kill Bill in an unsettling closeup of her bloody and beaten face.... she's then shot in the head. We soon learn that she somehow survived, but had remained in a coma for several years. When she eventually awoke all she could think of was revenge. Once a part of an elite group of assassins, she was betrayed by her teammates and the mysterios Bill (David Carradine) on her wedding day. The rest of the film is filled with violent over the top fight scenes, which are bloody, graphic and unlike typical American action films. In addition to Uma Thurman and the unseen David Carradine, the cast consists of Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen and Japanese action star of old, Sonny Chiba.

Writer/Director Quentin Tarrentino makes his return to the big screen with an homage to Japanese B-movie, action epics of old. Unlike his previous films, this movie is not heavy on razor sharp dialogue, but relies more on pure visuals. Miramax studios was not comfortable releasing the original cut of this film due to it's over three and a half over run time... Quentin, unwilling to cut the film, decided to release it in two parts. I'm anxious to see how Quentin tops the climactic final battle in Volume 1... at least I only have to wait until February 2004 to find out.

BOTTOMLINE: A violent and bloody good time... but definitely not for everyone.


THE RUNDOWN
(PG-13) - September 26

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A bounty hunter journeys to the Amazon for one last job.

REVIEW: Beck (The Rock), a highly skilled bounty hunter, wants to erase a debt with his employer, so he agrees to one last rundown. The target is Travis (Seann William Scott), a college dropout that pissed off the wrong people and is now hiding in the Amazon jungle searching for a priceless artifact. Standing in Beck's way is a small rebel army and Hatcher, an evil gold mine foreman who has practically enslaved most of the local population. Oh, let's not forget a dozen or so amourous monkeys... Beck certainly has a hard job ahead of him.

Actor turned director, Peter Berg, has made an extremely funny and action-packed film with the Rock's second headlining performance. Seann William Scott and the Rock could be the next action/comedy team and their scenes together are surprisingly hilarious... especially the monkeys... ohmygod! Chistopher Walken does his typical controlled crazy persona like no one else and Rosaria Dawson does a good job as Mariana, but I think she is still looking for that breakout role. Martial artist Ernie Reyes Jr. plays Manito, a rebel that speaks in occasional broken English phrases and has mastered the fine art of "spinning tarzan jiu jitsu." This movie had a couple of different titles before they settled on "The Rundown," first there was "Helldorado," and second "Welcome to the Jungle," I think they made a good choice. Also, early on in the film you will want to keep your eyes open for a very brief cameo by the next possible governor of California.

BOTTOMLINE: Pardon the pun... but this movie ROCKS!


ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO
(R) - September 12

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: El Mariachi is lured out of hiding by a CIA agent's manipulative schemes.

REVIEW: Psycho CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) learns that drug cartel leader Barillo (William Dafoe) has enlisted General Marquez, a corrupt military leader, to eliminate the Mexican President. Sands tracks down El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and employs him to take out Marquez... after Marquez completes his assignment and kills the president. Mariachi has a grudge against the general and agrees to this plan, but things don't always go as planned.

Director Robert Rodriguez completes the Mariachi trilogy with a truly ensemble piece. Desperado focused primarily on El Mariachi, while this time the Mariachi has to share the spotlight. Johnny Depp, fresh off Pirates of the Caribbean, brings a quirky charisma to his character. Other notable actors are Ruben Blades, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendez, Salma Hayek and Cheech Marin. Unfortunately, this film feels a little rushed and disjointed, but it has buckets of style.

BOTTOMLINE: Heavy on cool... a little light on substance.


FREDDY VS. JASON
(R) - September 1

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: There's a new nightmare at Camp Crystal Lake.

REVIEW: Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) wants to make a comeback, but since no one remembers him he has no powers. The ingenious Freddy decides to enter the dreams of the hockey-mask-wearing Jason Voorhees and have him rekindle the nightmare that started on Elm street. One problem, Jason keeps on killing and Freddy starts to get jealous. Of course this results in a showdown between the titans of terror... let's get ready to rumble!

Director Ronnie Yu brings a couple of aging monsters to the big screen for a bad guy battle royal. Most of the other characters in this film are merely fodder, but they die really well. If you don't like horror/slasher films this won't change your mind. If, however, this is your thing you will have already seen this by now since this film has been in the works for a decade.

BOTTOMLINE: A must-see for fans of Freddy and Jason.


THE MEDALLION
(PG-13) - August 24

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A Hong Kong detective becomes an immortal warrior with super powers.

REVIEW: Hong Kong detective Eddie Yang (Jackie Chan) has been trying to apprehend the criminal known as Snakehead (Julian Sands) with the help of INTERPOL. Meanwhile, Snakehead has been trying to locate a mysterious medallion that allows a holy child to embue a person with mystical powers. While pursuing Snakehead and trying to protect the holy child, Eddie Yang is killed. Eddie's lifeless body is transformed into an immortal warrior when the holy child uses the medallion on him. Unfortunately, Snakehead is able to capture the child and become an immortal warrior as well. There will be a showdown between the two... I wonder who will win.

At nearly 50, it appears that Jackie may finally be showing his age. The use of wire work is very prevalent in this film and there seems to be a little less bounce in Jackie's performance. This movie attempts to be funny, but can only muster a few chuckles when Jackie Chan and Lee Evans (INTERPOL officer Arthur Watson) explore Eddie Yang's mysterious ressurection. Actresss Claire Forlani does a decent Job as Jackie's love interest and fellow officer. So, if you've seen every Jackie Chan movie ever made you will undoubtedly see this one... despite what I think.

BOTTOMLINE: If you're a diehard Jackie Chan fan see this film, otherwise, wait for it to come on cable.


S.W.A.T.
(PG-13) - August 8

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: An imprisoned drug lord offers $100 million to anyone that can get him out of police custody.

REVIEW: Officers Street (Colin Farrell) and Gamble (Jeremy Renner) have a habit of disobeying orders. During a bank robbery Gamble inadvertently shoots a hostage and both officers face suspension and demotion. Street decides to stay on the force but Gamble storms out of police headquarters. Meanwhile, Sgt. Hondo (Samuel L. Jackson) is given the assignment of assembling a new S.W.A.T. team of young superstar officers. Against his superiors wishes, Hondo offers Street a position on his team. Shortly after the team is formed a wanted drug kingpin is picked up for a routine traffic violation and offers $100 million to anyone that can break him out of police custody. Is this rookie team ready to take on all the lowlifes that want a piece of the $100 million?

I don't really remember much about the S.W.A.T. TV show that this film is based on, but it probably wasn't as loud as this latest incarnation. The action scenes weren't completely beyond belief and the supporting cast, which includes Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J, delivered respectable performances. I wouldn't expect a S.W.A.T. II and III, but this film is an entertaining diversion for action aficionados.

BOTTOMLINE: A decent action thriller that is really, really loud. Did I mention it was loud?


SPY KIDS 3-D GAME OVER
(PG) - August 3

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Juni must save his sister and the youth of the world from a virtual reality video game.

REVIEW: After a fallout with the OSS, Juni (Daryl Sabara) Seabiscuit (2003) retires from the agency and starts working solo as a private detective. Juni is lured back to the agency when he learns his sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) is trapped in a virtual reality video game. With the help of some familiar faces and some not so familiar faces, Juni will have to confront the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone), the mastermind behind the mind control video game.

Robert Rodriguez has hopefully made his last Spy Kids movie. The first Spy Kids was charming, the second was OK and the third seems rushed and devoid of the magic the first one had. The most obvious problem is that almost all of the main characters from the previous films are reduced to brief cameos which are tacked on here and there. Another problem is that the 3-D effect isn't what it should be. One bright spot was that Ricardo Montalban had a larger role in this film. Unless your a die hard Spy Kids fan you might want to wait for video on this one.

BOTTOMLINE: Definitely a kids movie and you'd think that 3-D technology would have improved by now.


SEABISCUIT
(PG-13) - August 1

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: An underdog racehorse captures the imagination of depression-era America.

REVIEW: Successful car dealer, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), suffers the loss of his only son and eventually his wife when she leaves him after the tragedy. Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) is an old cowboy that feels left in the past as automobiles begin to replace the horse & buggy era. After the Stock Market crash of 1929, Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) was left at a horse track by his destitute family. Eventually, Charles Howard begins to rebuild his life with a new wife and his friends talk him into buying a race horse. First he would need a trainer, that's when he met the reclusive Tom Smith who spotted Seabiscuit, a tiny horse with a big attitude. Tom found the perfect compliment to Seabiscuit in the form of jockey Red Pollard. Three different men, who suffered losses in their lives, come together and are made whole by a little horse named Seabiscuit.

Director Gary Ross tells the inspirational story of Seabiscuit, which is based on Laura Hillenbrand's book. The horse racing scenes are the most dramatic I can remember. Character actor William H. Macy steals the show as an over-the-top radio announcer that captures the era perfectly. Sometimes verging on the overly sentimental, this is a quality film that should stand the test of time.

BOTTOMLINE: An uplifting, feel good film that could be an Oscar contender.


LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: The Cradle of Life
(PG-13) - July 28

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Lara Croft must keep Pandora's box from being opened.

REVIEW: A Nobel prize winning and quite sadistic chemist (Ciarán Hinds) is seeking to find Pandora's box and sell it's destructive capabilities to the highest bidder. Standing in his way is Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) and Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), a former associate of Lara's that she had released from prison. The quest for Pandora's box leads Lara around the world and eventually to the cradle of life, but can she trust her one time partner...

Jan De Bont, best known for directing Speed, tries his hand at the Lara Croft franchise. While this film is more coherent than the last and there are a few inspired moments it still doesn't reach its potential. Angelina Jolie is quite convincing as the video game heroine, but the story fails to exceed any expectations.

BOTTOMLINE: Moderately better than the first Lara Croft movie, but still somewhat lacking.


BAD BOYS II
(R) - July 18

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: The bad boys are back to stop a drug lord.

REVIEW: A Cuban drug czar is moving large amounts of ecstasy through Miami and Detectives Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Lowrey (Will Smith) are trying to bring him down. Along the way they learn that Burnett's sister Sydney (Gabrielle Union) is working with the DEA on the same case.

Director Michael Bay reunites with Smith and Lawrence for a sequel that surpasses the original. This movie is louder, more action-packed and brasher than the original, plus the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence is better than ever. The moment between the two in the electronics store is hilarious. If you go into this film expecting a realistic portrayal of crime on the street... fugeddaboutit! If you like action/buddy flicks this film will probably not disappoint.

BOTTOMLINE: Action, explosions and laughs... what more do you need?



PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: The Curse of the Black Pearl
(PG-13) - July 12

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Cursed pirates attempt to break the spell that they are under.

REVIEW: Famed pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is awaiting his execution while his former shipmates loot the city and capture the governor's daughter, Elisabeth Swann (Keira Knightly). Ms. Swann is taken because she has a single piece of Aztec gold that the pirates want desperately. A curse was placed on the gold and until all of the pieces are returned those that stole it will remain forever the living dead. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a young blacksmith that is in love with Ms. Swann, strikes a deal with Jack Sparrow to rescue her from the pirates. Not only do Jack Sparrow and Will Turner have to deal with pirates, they also have to contend with the Royal Navy that is in hot pursuit.

Great characters, wonderful sets, a fun story and incredible special effects make this the quintessential pirate movie. The thought of turning an amusement park attraction into a major motion picture doesn't sound like the best of ideas, but this film works on many levels. All the actors turn in wonderful performances, but Johnny Depp steals the show as the swaggering, slightly confused Captain Jack Sparrow. Director Gore Verbinski has done a wide range of films such as "The Ring", "The Mexican" and "Mouse Hunt"... but this movie is in a class all its own.

BOTTOMLINE: A fun-filled, action-packed pirate adventure that may be a little intense for younger viewers.


THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
(PG-13) - July 11

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Fictional characters from popular literature join forces to save the planet.

REVIEW: In 1899, a mysterious figure known as the Phantom threatens to cause a world war. A league of extraordinary gentlemen is formed to battle this new threat, beginning with the legendary Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery). Quatermain is drawn out of retirement to lead the likes of Captain Nemo, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and Mina Harker. The team must learn to work together before it's too late.

This film is based on the comic book of the same name by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. While the special effects and performances were above average, the sheer number of performers didn't allow for much character development or interaction. Also, the film seems a little disjointed in certain scenes... it appears that story telling was sacrificed to keep the film under 2 hours. The Jekyll/Hyde transformation and character design were extremely well done, if only the rest of the film was as fully realized.

BOTTOMLINE: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is entertaining, but nothing out of the ordinary.



TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES
(R) - July 4

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Mankind's survival depends upon an obsolete terminator from the future.

REVIEW: A young John Conner (Nick Stahl) has been living a nomadic life since his first experience with a mechanical terminator 10 years earlier... when he learned he would one day lead a human revolt against the machines. Even though judgement day was averted, he always felt that he couldn't escape his destiny... he was right. A female terminator (Kristanna Loken) from the future was sent back through time to eliminate John Conner and all of his future associates. The rebels send a reprogrammed terminator back to protect John Conner... if it fails, humans will become extinct.

James Cameron didn't return for the third installment of the Terminator series but Arnold Schwarzenegger is back and still looking good at 56. Jonathon Mostow tries his hand at directing and turns in a respectable job. This film follows the same pattern as the previous two... only with bigger explosions and more special effects. Newcomer Nick Stahl turns in a good performance as a man trying to escape his future and Claire Danes doesn't have much too do but scream. If you liked the other Terminator films, you won't be disappointed.

BOTTOMLINE: More of the same... but that ain't always a bad thing.


28 DAYS LATER
(R) - June 29

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A virus nearly brings about the end of human civilization... in more ways than one.

REVIEW: A group of animal activists infiltrate a research facility in Cambridge and unwittingly release a virus called Rage in their attempt to rescue chimpanzees. 28 days later a man named Jim awakens in a hospital bed and soon discovers that the entire city of London is deserted... or so it seems. Crazed and infected humans begin chasing Jim through the streets until he is rescued by other surviors. Eventually they are joined by a father and daughter that know of a military contingent located near Manchester that offers sanctuary and a cure for the Rage. It sounds almost too good to be true... and it probably is.

Director Danny Boyle has crafted an interesting film... but not the edge of your seat horror fest I was expecting. This film is more an examination of how precarious our society is rather than a brain-eating zombie flick. There are a couple of moments that may make you jump, but on the whole it's not spine-tingling.

BOTTOMLINE: Not really a bad film, but the advertising campaign is a little misleading.


CHARLIE'S ANGELS : FULL THROTTLE
(PG-13) - June 27

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: The angels return to face their greatest challenge... a fallen angel.

REVIEW: The Angels (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Lui) and the new Bosley (Bernie Mac) investigate a series of murders and the disappearance of a witness protection file database. Fallen angel, Madison Lee (Demi Moore) plans on selling this database to the highest bidder... unless our sexy trio can save the day.

Director McG makes no pretenses with this film, unlike his name. It's not thought-provoking, it probably won't win any awards... but this film will certainly entertain. The quirky humor, the beyond belief action sequences and the inspired musical selections all combine to create a fun ride that doesn't disappoint. There really isn't much of a plot, nor is one really needed for this exercise in excess. Keep a sharp eye out for a couple of quick cameos.

BOTTOMLINE: Over the top is not an adequate description of this film... but it will have to do.


HULK
(PG-13) - June 20

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: An experiment gone wrong turns a scientist into a rampaging green monster.

REVIEW: Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) and Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) are genetic research scientists developing nanomed technology... which, despite their wishes, has the military interested. An accident in the lab exposes Bruce to the nanomeds and a lethal dose of gamma radiation. Miraculously, Bruce survives and is soon visited by a man claiming to be his father. Repressed memories begin to trigger a transformation in Bruce from emotionally repressed scientist to an incredible hulk. It isn't long before Betty's father, General Ross is relentlessly hunting the green goliath.

Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) brings Marvel Comic's Hulk to the big screen, with the help of ILM (Industrial Light & Magic). The first half of the film is a little tedious as we are introduced to characters, relationships, back story, blah, blah, blah...WHERE'S THE BIG GREEN GUY?! When the Hulk finally appears, the film shifts gears and you can't take your eyes off the screen. This may not be the best comic book movie I've ever seen... but it's the best looking transfer of a comic character to the big screen.

BOTTOMLINE: An ambitious film from Ang Lee that tries to go beyond its comic book origins.


FINDING NEMO
(G) - May 30

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A young fish is taken... and his father must rescue him from a dentist's aquarium.

REVIEW: The story starts with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Corral moving into their new home in preparation for their growing family. Unfortunately, a predator fish attacks and Corral and all of the unhatched eggs are gone. A single egg remains and Marlin raises the young Nemo alone. To say that Marlin was an overprotective father would be an understatement. On the first day of school, young Nemo ventures too far from the group and is taken by a diver and ends up in a dentists aquarium in Australia. The frantic Marlin soon undertakes the seemingly impossible task of resuing his son. Along the way he is helped by Dory (Ellen Degeneres) an absent-minded blue fish as well as a variety of other animated animals.

Pixar Studios continue their winning streak with this heart-warming tale of a father and son finding each other... in more ways than one. Not only did Andrew Stanton write and direct this aquatic adventure, he also provided the voice of Crush, a sea turtle with a surfer dude mentality. You don't need to be a kid to enjoy this beautifully animated film.

BOTTOMLINE: Another winner from the Pixar animation team.


THE MATRIX RELOADED
(R) - May 15

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Neo must save the last human city from the machines that created the matrix.

REVIEW: While aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, Neo (Keanu Reeves) has nightmares about Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) meeting with a horrible fate. Buried deep beneath the earth's surface is the last city of Zion, mankind's only refuge from the machines that are boring through the planet. The council estimates that they have 72 hours before the sentinels reach the city. Meanwhile, the virtual world of the Matrix is beset by rouge programs with agendas of their own and a certain relentless agent that has developed a way to copy himself. Neo must find the "source" to somehow end the war before it starts and save Zion.

The Wachowski brothers are attempting the impossible... create a sequel to one of the coolest movies of the 90's! They succeed, to a limited degree. The special effects and action sequences are great, if not for the slight cartoony feel of some of the cgi characters. The story, while advancing the plot, seems merely like the buildup for a hopefully very satisfying conclusion. Certain reviewers feel that this film is a letdown... it may be for those people that worship the first Matrix. For the majority of us that just want to be entertained... this film delivers the goods!

BOTTOMLINE: Not quite as awe-inspiring as the first, but still a fun ride.


X2 (X-MEN UNITED)
(PG-13) - May 2

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Mutants are once again under attack by evil forces.

REVIEW: After a mysterios mutant known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attempts to assinate the president, General Stryker (Brian Cox) is given authority to launch a military assault on Xavier's School for Gifted Students. Wolverine, after returning from a search for clues to his past, is left in charge of the school as Storm and Jean Grey search for Nightcrawler and Professor X and Cyclops go to question the imprisoned Magneto. Eventually, everyone ends up at a secret military base in Canada where General Stryker's plan is discovered. For the mutants to prevail, Magneto and the X-Men must join forces... if possible.

Bryan Singer directs this action-packed sequel with the entire cast returning plus a few new faces - most notable are Alan Cumming, Kelly Hu (Lady Deathstrike) and Brian Cox. This film seems more surefooted than the 2000 original... both the director and actors seem more confident in their roles and the story is much more focused. The best parts of the film are those things only fanboys, like myself, will pick up on. The meaning behind Jean Grey's glowing eyes, cameos by future X-Men and the final shot of the movie... oh, yeah! It won't matter if you don't recognize all these extras, but it makes a great movie... X-ceptional!

BOTTOMLINE: The X-Men are back... bigger and better than before!


BULLETPROOF MONK
(PG-13) - April 18

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A Tibetan monk must protect a mystical scroll from falling into the wrong hands.

REVIEW: Every 60 years, a monk (Chow Yun-Fat) is entrusted with the responsibility of protecting an all-powerful scroll from those that would use it for evil. In 1943, Nazis viciously attack the monastery and the monk, with no name, is barely able to escape with the scroll and his life. Fast forward 60 years to modern day America when a young streetwise pickpocket named Kar (Seann William Scott) encounters the very same monk... who looks as if he hasn't aged a day. The monk believes that Kar may be the one that will take over his sacred duty and protect the scroll for the next 60 years. Meanwhile, Strucker (Karl Roden), the Nazi who sought the scroll 60 years before, has continued to hound the monk and is closer than ever to reaching his goal. Unless the prophecies are true, and a new protector can be found, the world is doomed... of course it is.

Based on a very underground comic, Bulletproof Monk is one of those guilty pleasures that I can't resist. Not everyone can appreciate the simplistic comic book plot and over-the-top action scenes but Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott are fun to watch. In a supporting role is Mako, one of the most prolific Asian actors working today. This movie isn't for everyone, but I definitely enjoyed it... despite a lot of lack lustre reviews to the contrary.

BOTTOMLINE: A cornball, comic book, martial arts film that is highly entertaining.


ANGER MANAGEMENT
(PG-13) - April 11

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A meek businessman somehow ends up in anger management.

REVIEW: Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) has difficulty standing up for himself and during a flight is wrongfully subdued by airline security. During the court hearing, Buznik is sentenced to anger management classes. Enter Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson) a well-renowned, yet slightly unorthodox anger management instructor. Somehow, Dr. Rydell feels that Mr. Buznik needs intensive anger management and, with the courts approval, moves in to Dave's apartment. Dave's girlfriend, Linda (Marisa Tomei) seemingly falls for the good doctor. Will Dave find his backbone or will he continue to be put upon by practically everyone?

Adam Sandler seems to be taking his comedy in a more mature direction... with mixed results in my opinion. If the box office is any indication, a lot of people liked this film. I, however, thought this movie was quite irritating with fleeting moments of humor, most of which appear in the previews. I also found myself wanting to hurt Jack Nicholson's character, a lot. If you go to the theater expecting to see the likeable yet off-the-wall comedian Adam Sandler... you might be disappointed.

BOTTOMLINE: A comedy that is far more irritating than it is funny... wait for the video... maybe.


A MAN APART
(R) - April 4

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: One man wages war against a drug cartel that mudered his wife.

REVIEW: Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) and Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) are officers involved in stopping the flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States. Sean almost single-handedly captures the leader of a huge drug cartel during a combined raid with Mexican police. Shortly after the drug czar is imprisoned, an attempt is made on Sean's life and his wife is murdered. A mysterios figure known as Diablo attempts to take over the vacated cartel leadership position, but he's probably underestimated what a single man can do.

Vin Diesel's onscreen presence is the only thing that elevates this movie above the standard revenge/action movie. At times, the pace of the film drags and the conclusion is somewhat of a letdown but it's worth a trip to the theater if you're a Vin Diesel fan.

BOTTOMLINE: It's been done before, but if you need a Vin Diesel fix before XXX2 comes out head over to your local cineplex.


THE CORE
(PG-13) - March 28

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: The earth is doomed unless the planet's core can be jumpstarted.

REVIEW: Strange phenomenom is occuring all over the planet, electromagnetic pulses, unusual atmospheric conditions, bizarre animal behavior, etc. Professor Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) theorizes that the planet's core has stopped spinning which protects us from cosmic radiation and solor winds. A team of brilliant scientists fastrack a project called "Virgil," a deep earth drilling vehicle. They plan on going to the center of the planet and detonating several nuclear bombs to restart the earth's core spinning... yeah, right.

The Core boasts Academy Award winning actress, Hilary Swank, who plays Maj. Rebecca Childs. This movie was delayed for several months while special effects were finalized and enhanced. According to some, the science used in this film is based loosely on fact but, who cares if it is or isn't? This is an against-all-odds thrill ride that is a guilty pleasure for most... myself included. Not quite on the same level as Independence Day or Armageddon, but still a decent save the planet or die trying movie.

BOTTOMLINE: Turn off your brain and it's a decent end-of-the-world disaster movie.


DREAMCATCHER
(R) - March 21

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Aliens invade earth in a rather unconventional way.
Final Flight of the Osiris
The only reason to see Dreamcatcher... an incredibly animated short that is based in the world of the Matrix. HOT!

REVIEW: Four friends that grew up together share a mysterious and troubled connection with a seemingly retarded boy named Duditts. On an annual trip to a cabin in the woods, bizarre events begin to unfold around the four lifelong friends. A black ops military unit led by Colonel Abraham Kurtz (Morgan Freeman), descends upon the area in search of a downed alien spacecraft. Kurtz has been battling alien incursions for almost twenty years and will stop at nothing to eradicate the alien invaders. Could these four individuals have the means to stop the seemingly unstoppable alien force?

Director Lawrence Kasdan attempts to bring Stephen King's novel to the big screen. As is often the case, the results were less than stellar. Seemingly, its almost impossible to compress the intricate details of a King novel into a 90 minute film. Dreamcatcher seemed somewhat disjointed and lacked any real connection with the characters. Prior to the feature was the animated short "Final Flight of the Osiris", by far the best reason to go to your local cineplex to see Dreamcatcher.

BOTTOMLINE: Should have been a made-for-tv movie... maybe.


THE HUNTED
(R) - March 14

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Assassin is tracked by his teacher.

REVIEW: Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) was part of an American contingency sent to Kosovo to eliminate ruthless miltary leaders. He was never able to get past the things he saw and did during that mission. Eventually, he starts killing for sport... or is he simply defending himself? Enter L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), a deep woods tracker that trained military personnel on how to survive and how to kill. Bonham joins the FBI in the search for Hallam. Soon it is the teacher versus the student... only one will survive.

Although the cast does a decent job, this filmed lacked any real surprises. It did seem odd to me that a man being relentlessly pursued by every government agency had time to set up a series of elaborate traps and fashion a knife like a skilled blacksmith. Oh, well it's just a movie.

BOTTOMLINE: Predictable thriller that should have been better.


THE JUNGLE BOOK 2
(G) - March 8

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Baloo misses Mowgli after the boy returns to the man village.

REVIEW: Mowgli is having some difficulty adjusting to life in the man village. Elsewhere, Baloo is constantly complaining to Bagheera about how he misses his little man cub and that they should be together. After being punished, Mowgli returns to the jungle and is soon reunited with Baloo. Shanti and Ranjan enter the jungle in search of their friend Mowgli. There is another that searches for Mowgli... the tiger, Shere Khan.

Haley Joel Osment (Mowgli), John Goodman (Baloo) and Phil Collins (Lucky the vulture) lend their vocal talents to Jungle Book 2 with varying results. The new musical numbers are not on the same level as the original songs... which is obvious considering how many times they sang "Bare Necessities" in this film. If you've never seen the original Jungle Book you may not be disappointed... if you have, wait for the video.

BOTTOMLINE: Jungle book 2 pales when compared to the original, but is OK otherwise.


TEARS OF THE SUN
(R) - March 7

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Special-Ops force leads refugees through Nigerian jungle.

REVIEW: A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) leads a Special-Ops team into Nigeria to rescue Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci). Unfortunately, the doctor will not leave unless the refugees that she has been caring for are rescued as well. Reluctantly, Waters and his team lead the doctor and the refugees through the jungle while a ruthless warlord with 5,000 troops pursues.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) is able to capture the horror of war without resorting to extreme gross-out special effects. Although, some scenes are still a little difficult to watch. Bruce Willis delivers a fine performance as the conflicted commander that disobeys orders. I will admit that I was hoping for some John McClane/Die Hard style action, which is probably what keeps me from rating this film any higher than a "warm".

BOTTOMLINE: A semi-realistic portrayal of war... which isn't always a good thing.


CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE
(R) - February 28

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Urban thief gets mixed up with international arms deal.

REVIEW: A group of highly skilled thieves, led by Fait (DMX), steal some extremely valuable "black" diamonds. The jewels aren't what they appear and soon several groups are after the artificial gems. A mysterious Taiwanese cop (Jet Li) joins forces with Fait after Fait's daughter is kidnapped by a ruthless killer played by Mark Dacascos.

Director Andrzej Bartkowiak's previous films include "Romeo Must Die" and "Exit Wounds". His movies combine Hong Kong action with urban hip hop music... with varying results. I found myself being aggravated by the constant cutting back and forth between DMX and Jet Li action sequences. I would have preferred to see more of Jet Li and less of DMX. Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson, who were a riot during the credits of "Exit Wounds", do more of the same at the end of this film. In my opinion, Arnold and Anderson could almost carry a movie by themselves.

BOTTOMLINE: An average action flick that should have spent more time with Jet Li and less with DMX.


DAREDEVIL
(PG-13) - February 14

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A blind lawyer seeks justice as a costumed crime fighter.

REVIEW: Blinded by radioactive chemicals as a child, Matt Murdock's (Ben Affleck) other senses function at superhuman levels. After his father is brutally murdered, Matt studies hard to be a lawyer and trains harder to deliver justice to those who think they are above the law. Matt falls for the mysterios Elektra (Jennifer Garner) whose family has a shady past. Meanwhile, the Kingpin of New York (Michael Clarke Duncan), hires an assasin named Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to clean up a few loose ends.

Ben Affleck does a good job as the "Man without Fear", while Colin Farrell gives a great over-the-top performance as Bullseye. Some fans were upset that the Kingpin, portrayed in the comics as white, was played by Michael Clarke Duncan a black actor. Hopefully, their reservations were put to rest as the imposing figure of Duncan seemed a perfect fit to the Kingpin character. Rounding out the cast were Jennifer Garner, Jon Favreau, David Keith and Joe Pantoliano. The musical score was hit-and-miss at best, but of note to comic fans were the cool comic book references and cameos. Stan Lee (creator of all the major Marvel characters) has a brief cameo and writer/director Kevin Smith (part-time Daredevil contributor and friend to Ben Affleck) has a small bit part. Also, many of the prize fighters and bit part character names are inspired by artists and writers of Daredevil comics. This year promises to be the year of Marvel comics with X-Men 2 and The Hulk waiting in the wings. Daredevil is a great summer flick that just happened to be released in winter.

BOTTOMLINE: Give the Devil his due... Marvel Comics continue to cash in at the box office.


SHANGHAI KNIGHTS
(PG-13) - February 7

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: The old west and the far east journey to merry old England to avenge a murder.

REVIEW: Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) is the sheriff of a small town while Roy O'bannon (Owen Wilson) has made a name for himself, writing stories about their wild west adventures. Chon receives a message from his sister that their father has been killed and she has tracked the murderer to England. Chon and Roy are quickly reunited and make their way to Great Britain. A conspiracy is soon discovered that threatens the royal family. It's up to this odd couple of American and Chinese heroes to save England's first family from one of their own.

Jackie Chan is a fan of the old Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd movies. He obviously pays homage to those classic, silent film styles in this sequel to "Shanghai Noon." Owen is the same relaxed, in-over-his-head, psuedo-intellectual character that he plays to perfection. In this movie you'll find out what became of Jack the Ripper and where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found his inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. You'll also see Jackie Chan do "Singing in the Rain" ...sort of. If you liked the original, you should find plenty to laugh at this time around.

BOTTOMLINE: More of the same, but still funny and entertaining.


THE RECRUIT
(PG-13) - January 31

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A young, athletic computer genius is recruited by the CIA.

REVIEW: James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is a computer genius that seems to lack direction in his life. Enter Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a mysterious government agent that wants to recruit James into the CIA. Once on the "Farm," training commences and the young recruits are taught that "nothing is what it appears to be". Burke wants Clayton to get close to fellow recruit Layla (Bridget Moynahan) because he suspects that she is a spy. The problem is that Clayton may be in love with his target.

This movie starts off well with the interaction between the main characters and the intense training at the Farm. About midway through, the film starts to drag and become predictable. When things shift to the investigation it seems like typical double agent stuff. The Recruit is an average film that will be quickly forgotten.

BOTTOMLINE: A spy thriller that eventually becomes predictable.


A GUY THING
(PG-13) - January 17

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: A guy finally finds the perfect girl... unfortunately it's a week before his wedding.

REVIEW: While at his bachelor party, Paul Morse (Jason Lee) meets Becky (Julia Stiles), a beautiful woman that has obviously not been dancing long. The next morning he wakes up naked beside her, freaks out and starts lying to his fiancee... trying to cover up his supposed mistake. Paul keeps running into Becky and he soon discovers that she is his fiancee's cousin. Paul starts to question if he is making the right decision in marrying Karen (Selma Blair).

Jason Lee, best known for his obnoxious characters in Kevin Smith films, plays an average guy torn between two women. The humor is hit-and-miss but the actors do the best they can with the given material. I did like the way Jason Lee's character would imagine a situation, then we would see what really happened. This movie is worth the price of a matinee or a rental... if you like goofy romantic comedies.

BOTTOMLINE: A romantic comedy that could have used a couple more rewrites.


MAID IN MANHATTAN
(PG-13) - January 3

        

    PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Senate hopeful falls for hotel maid who is mistaken for a socialite.

REVIEW: Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a single parent that works as a maid in an exclusive hotel. While staying at the hotel, senatorial candidate, Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) meets Marisa's son (Tyler Posey) and happens upon Marisa while she is trying on a wealthy woman's dress. He assumes that she is a guest of the hotel and promptly asks the beautiful woman out. Marisa tries to refuse the invitation, but she is attracted to the charming polititian. Will this close encounter end in romance or disaster...?

This movie wants to be Pretty woman, but doesn't quite make it. The story seems to slow down in spots and the chemistry between Ralph Fiennes and Jennifer Lopez is somewhat lacking. But, if you're a sucker for fairy tale romances, you will enjoy this film. If not... look elsewhere for entertainment.

BOTTOMLINE: A run-of-the-mill chick flick that is not without its charm.