+The General's Daughter[D+]
Travolta and Stowe's bickering banter is rather entertaining, actually; too bad it's mired in a moronically shot film (why are Army field exercises lit up like a store full of Christmas decorations?) with a whodunit plot whose resolution has all the arbitrariness of a Clue board game. Even the Carter Burwell score seems kind of lame...


+The Haunting [C-]
Bless Lili Taylor's heart: she doesn't seem to be aware she's in a terrible summer CGI-a-thon. Liam Neeson, on the other hand, is perfecting the look of dyspepsia he used so well in Gun Shy.


Small Time Crooks [C]
It's not quite as awful as Celebrity, but Allen doesn't even seem to be trying; Crooks is little more than obvious nouveaux-rich routines and one-liners. Some fine acting (Elaine May, as Ullman's dim cousin, steals the movie) and lensing makes this marginally better than the overrated 50s sitcoms its modelling.


Dream of Light [B]
A man tries to paint a quince tree in his courtyard. Admittedly, not the stuff of cinematic excitement (and Hoberman et al are nuts if they think this is the best film of the Nineties) and at times it does indeed have the strange soothing calm of Bob Ross (the "happy little trees" guy on PBS), but its examination of an artist's life is intermittently fascinating. Strives too hard for "meaning" during the film's last half hour.


Hamlet [A]
Even with only a so-so performance from Hawke as the titular prince of Denmark, this is terrific, a visually and aurally (score by the great Carter Burwell) ravishing reinvention of Hamlet as a movie, and not a filmed play. With some adroit excisions and a canny use of Manhattan locations (of course Ophelia should have her mad scene at the Guggenheim) and modern technology, the postmodern conceit of Denmark as a media conglomerate fits Shakespeare's iambic pentameter like a glove. Kickass acting (save the title role) all the way round, with especially great turns from Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, and Kyle MacLachlan.


Adrenaline Drive [B]
Rather weightless, but makes for a goofily sweet caper comedy.


+Three to Tango [C-]
Remember that episode of Friends where Chandler discovered everyone tended to assume he was gay at first sight? That was kinda funny. (With all apologies to Skander Halim.)


Gladiator [B+]
A bit of a plodder until it hits its wonderful third act and focuses on the headbutt contest writ large between Crowe's honorable hero and Phoenix's despicable villain. Sure, it's ludicrously simple, but iconic melodrama done this well is always satisfying. Not a big fan of its action sequences, though, which I found overly hectic.


Virtual Sexuality [C]
Teen gender-bender comedy import from Britain that has a sprightly energy, a refreshingly brazen attitude towards sex and nudity than you won't see in She's All That and a neat halfway twist that I won't spoil. (I certainly didn't see it coming.) And then manages to blow it all with a limp 70s Disney comedy third act that ignores everything interesting about the setup.


+Mystery, Alaska [B-]
+For Love of the Game [B-]

One-half limp soap opera; one-half enjoyable Total Guy Fantasy.


New Waterford Girl [B]
Coming-of-age tales will always work when they're done with as much keen eye to detail (here, the milleu is the Catholic mining communities of Cape Breton Island in the 70s) and attention to craft as this. Quite funny, too; there's a bit in here that's my favorite comic moment of the year so far.


Top of the Food Chain [B+]
Parodies of Fifties science fiction films are a dime a dozen; said parodies that are actually funny are much, much rarer, and Food Chain is one of them. Utterly cracked sense of humor that gets a lot of juice from insane levels of verbal redudancy and a brilliant deadpan performance from Campbell Scott as an atomic scientist from the Atomic Institute.


Mission to Mars [C+]
Sentences I never thought I'd write #45:
The script is awful with a dopey New Age conclusion, but DePalma's love of gadgetry and gee-whiz camerawork, usually grating, kept my interest and resulted in some lovely spaceflight scenes in the quite good midsection. I can't believe I'm actually praising DePalma -- next thing you know, I won't think Raising Cain is one of the worst films of the decade...


Beau Travail [B]
Like Three Kings, it's well aware that the combination of a bright blue sky and a bone-dry wasteland is one of the most visually hypnotic images available. But instead of Kings' sardonic agitprop, Denis creates a strange and elliptical tone poem centered by Denis Lavant's magnetic performance as a Foreign Legion sergeant. I'm not entirely sure what the heck it's about, but it's darn compelling.


American Psycho [B-]
If this had been made 12 years ago, it might have looked like a masterpiece, but in 2000, its hermetic and sardonically exaggerated take on 80s yuppiedom flattens the "money is the root of all evil" message to "Phil Collins is the root of all evil". (Not that the last one is entirely wrong...) Still, great creepy/funny performance from Christian Bale.


Joe Gould's Secret [C+]
Superb period atmosphere; enjoyable scenery-chewing from Ian Holm as Gould (though I don't buy the film's assumption of him as some kind of mad genius for a minute). Still, I don't understand what the point is; the film's final revelation that Tucci's New Yorker columnist never wrote another essay after his second piece on Gould in 1962 carries zero emotional weight.


28 Days [C+]
Not a good film; but the idea of a dramedy starring Sandra Bullock as a New York party girl going into a rehab clinic populated by "goofy" addicts sounded so skin-crawling that the fact that it's actually not terrible seems like a minor miracle. Never completely loses its cynicism (an asset, in this case) and Bullock is actually decent, even though I spent every minute of the film thinking how perfect a part for Parker Posey this would have been.


Keeping the Faith [C+]
Coasts by entirely on the charms of Norton, Stiller, and Elfman; anytime it tries to be serious, the essential vapidity of Faith's touchy-feely approach to religion and faith deflates the film like a badly-cooked souffle.


Love and Basketball [B]
Schematic and hampered by dialogue that's never more than functional, but helped greatly by some fine acting, including a breakout performance by Sanaa Lathan.


Timecode [C-]
Let's shoot four simultaneous 93-minutes take with this newfangled video technology, and then put them all on the screen at once. (Cool idea, Mike.) Let's make it improvised around my scenario (Um....) about the crazy goings-on at a Hollywood production company (Uh-oh.) And set it all to one of my free-flowing jazzy, kinda classical scores. (For the love of God, Mike, noooooooooo!)


Stigmata [B-]
What do you know, there is a time when badly overwrought music-video style direction works -- when you've got a silly, trashy screenplay and winking camp is the wrong way to approach it. Gabriel Byrne is an organic-chemist-turned-Jesuit-investigator- of-miracles(!) who stumbles onto a Vatican conspiracy to hide the heretical teachings of a gospel written by JC himself and being transmitted for murky reasons by an atheistic Pittsburgh hairdresser. Thoroughly guilty pleasure for ex-Catholics.


High Fidelity [B]
I hadn't yet read Hornby's novel (it's about girls, BTW) when I saw this, so I wasn't impressed by the script's faithfulness to the novel. And despite the fact that I'm enough of a indie-music geek [1] to clearly be in the film's target audience, I found the film rather arid visually and the device of having Cusack talk to the camera gets old fast. Lots of it is funny, though, and Jack Black is near-perfect as the the kind of annoyingly fascist music snob whose face would be improved by a black eye.


The Virgin Suicides [C+]
I've had Air's score to this for a couple of months now, and both the film and score capture a hazy, sun-kissed yet mordant vibe about the Seventies that's intoxicating. Only problem, mood and atmosphere are about the only thing the film is about, and like its obvious precedent, Picnic at Hanging Rock, I eventually become annoyed by the air of transcendent mystery surrounding its depiction of female sexuality. Still, Sofia's shown more directorial talent in her debut than her dad has since the Reagan administration.


Return to Me [C]
Here, I was hoping that Bonnie Hunt could make a romantic comedy as brittle and funny as she always is in her character roles, and she serves up this bland, toothless tripe.


U-571 [C+]
I'm surprised the poster for this isn't all white, with the title being replaced by "SUBMARINE MOVIE" in a large black sans serif font. Competently directed, and the film's last half wisely keeps the action moving, but is there anything here that doesn't feel like it's been recycled?


Where The Heart Is [D]
Astoundingly awful film about rural Oklahomans[3] that in the guise of "celebrating" the pluckiness of poor white Southerners can't help but stop to condescend its inhabitants (ah, look at them give their kids such funny names) at every fucking single moment. Matters are not helped by a sadistically Nietzschian plot masquerading as moral uplift where ill things like death and child rape happen to our saintly heroine Novalee's (Natalie Portman, barely escaping with her dignity) friends so she can learn her little life lessons. And add Joan Cusack to the list of people who should never ever, for the love of all that is right and proper in the universe, ever attempt to do a Southern accent again. With luck, this will be the worst film I'll see this year.


[1]Top 5 Albums of All Time: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless; R.E.M., Murmur; Stereolab, Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements; Wire, Pink Flag[2]; and Beatles, Beatles.

[2]As those of you who payed attention to my site's subheadings should have figured out by now.

[3]BTW, my paternal grandparents and my uncle's family live on a ranch about 10 miles SE of Ada, OK. Just in case you're wondering why I'm particularly offended by this movie.