David Ansen

Stories by David Ansen

  • And Just In Time For Christmas

    As usual, Hollywood has saved its must-see movies for the holiday season, when credit cards are maxing and discretionary income is minning. David Ansen reviews five of the inescapables:LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERSOpens Dec. 18Gird your loins, buckle your armor, take a deep breath and plunge yourself into the dark, fierce epic that is part two of "The Lord of the Rings." That Peter Jackson and his remarkable team have done it again is no surprise. Most of it was shot at the same time as the first, so it wasn't apt to fall apart. Still, what's remarkable is how immediately, after a full year, "The Two Towers" seizes your attention, and how urgently it holds you through three seamless, action-packed hours.The Fellowship had split apart when last we saw them, and the new film follows three separate trails. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), heading for Mordor to destroy the Ring, are joined in their quest by an emaciated, suspiciously servile creature named Gollum, who...
  • Review: And One For The Road

    Jack Nicholson takes to the road again in Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt," but we are a long way away from "Easy Rider." Now he's driving a Winnebago, he's alone and nothing comes easy. Paunchy, with varicose veins in his ankles and a bad comb-over, Warren Schmidt is a just-retired, just-widowed Omaha insurance actuary facing mortality in an empty home. "About Schmidt," I should add, is a comedy. But its laughs--and there are many--arise from loss and pain, and you may leave in tears.In need of a mission, Schmidt sets off to Denver hoping to persuade his only daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), to back out of her imminent wedding to water-bed salesman Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney), an affable lunkhead with a mullet and an entirely unwarranted optimism about his prospects. With no one to talk to, Schmidt takes to writing letters to his pen pal, Ndugu, a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy whom he sponsors for $22 a month. These voice-over letters, often at odds with reality, are a brilliant...
  • Meta-Movie Madness

    Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), the balding, self-loathing, blocked screenwriter at the center of "Adaptation," has been hired to write a movie based on Susan Orlean's nonfiction book "The Orchid Thief." He rails about the kind of hackneyed movie he doesn't want to write--the kind where characters learn tidy life-altering lessons. So, instead of "The Orchid Thief," he writes "Adaptation" (the movie we are watching) about a blocked screenwriter trying to write a movie based on Orlean's book, in which Orlean herself (Meryl Streep) becomes a character, along with the orchid-obsessed hero of her book, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), Kaufman and his screenwriting twin brother, Donald (Cage again), a happy hack with none of Charlie's self-doubt.Does this sound insufferably self-indulgent? Not at all. This latest collaboration between the real Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, the creators of "Being John Malkovich," is an inspired flight of fancy, an oddly poignant examination of the...
  • Behind The Scenes: Mrs. Dalloway's Close-Up

    Many people, including Michael Cunningham, who wrote the "The Hours," didn't think the novel could be turned into a movie. It's the hardest kind of tale to transcribe to the screen--internal, literary, more reliant on sensibility than plot. Fortunately, this view wasn't shared by Scott Rudin, who optioned the book, or by screenwriter David Hare. "I never thought it was difficult to adapt," Hare says. For him, the biggest challenge was to convey what the three heroines were thinking without resorting to voice-over. "That would have made it feel 'literary'." Cunningham was only afraid the filmmakers would be "too reverential" to his Pulitzer Prize winner. "Michael was incredible," Hare says. "He told me, 'I inherited it from Virginia Woolf, and now you must go off and alter it as freely as I adapted "Mrs. Dalloway" '." Though Hare's screenplay went through myriad drafts--changing further when director Stephen Daldry, fresh off "Billy Elliot," came aboard--in the end "the structure is...
  • Movies: Of Love And Loneliness

    "Talk to Her," Pedro Almodovar's first movie since his Academy Award-winning "All About My Mother," has just been nominated for best picture (and actor, director, screenplay and cinematography) for the European Film Awards, compounding the surprise in the film world that it was not chosen as Spain's entry for the foreign-film Oscar. Whatever the politics behind this curious decision, it's hard to imagine there's a more worthy entry. This haunting, generous meditation on loneliness, love and madly displaced desire is like nothing he's ever done before, and yet no one but Almodovar could possibly have dreamed it up.It's the story of two women--a ballet dancer and a bullfighter, both of whom happen to be in comas--and the men who love them. The intense, unlikely friendship that develops between Benigno (Javier Camara), an ardently devoted nurse, and Marco (Dario Grandinetti), an Argentine writer, is at the core of this wholly original tale, but no plot synopsis can begin to convey the...
  • Noyce: Double Integrity

    In 1978 Phillip Noyce made a wonderful movie called "Newsfront," about a 1950s Australian newsreel cameraman. Like the other talented Australian directors of the '70s--Gillian Armstrong, Fred Schepisi, Bruce Beresford--Noyce got scooped up by Hollywood, where he turned out action thrillers: "Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger," "The Bone Collector." He was good--when the scripts allowed him to be. But now, in a striking career turnaround, he's returned to his roots in two new pictures. Both the strong, outraged "Rabbit-Proof Fence" and the richly atmospheric "The Quiet American" show a filmmaker reclaiming his soul."Rabbit-Proof Fence" confronts an infamous piece of Australian history: the government-sanctioned abduction of half and quarter-caste Aborigine children from their mothers by order of A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), chief protector of Aborigines. Neville believed he was doing the children and their culture a favor; in fact, it was genocide by assimilation. (The...
  • The Real Motown Sound

    You didn't know that you wanted to see a movie about the Funk Brothers, but, believe me, you do. You've probably never heard of the Funk Brothers, and neither had I. But anybody who loves Motown (and who in his right mind doesn't?) has heard their music over and over. Anybody who lived through the '60s danced to the Funk Brothers' beat. These unsung heroes were the sound of Motown; it was their grooves behind Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder. Though they rarely received any mention, the Funk Brothers played on more No. 1 records than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley combined. It's their story that's celebrated in "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," director Paul Justman's glorious, bittersweet musical tribute to the soul of Detroit R&B.Seven of the Funk Brothers have survived to tell the tale--and they are wonderful storytellers, particularly...
  • Mild About 'Harry'

    Chris Columbus's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" may have made many hundreds of millions of dollars, but only kids seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about it. (A lot of kids, to be sure.) Grown-ups, who were equally bewitched by J. K. Rowling's book, felt let down by the movie: it followed the letter of the tale but missed the spirit, mistaking special effects for magic. Would the filmmakers learn from their mistakes in the second installment? Wanting to give the movie the benefit of the doubt, I avoided reading "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" before I saw Columbus's follow-up. This time the twists and turns of Harry's adventures at Hogwarts--where he encounters even greater perils--could take me by surprise.The real surprise, alas, is that "Chamber of Secrets" has been turned into a kiddie monster movie. It is aimed at an older audience this time--tween and teenage boys. Now the walls of Hogwarts are defaced with dire warnings written in blood. Harry and Ron are...
  • The Eminem Story

    Fans of Eminem can be forgiven if they think they are watching his own story unfold in "8 Mile." Like Eminem, Jimmy Smith Jr., a.k.a. Rabbit, is a young, angry white rapper trying to make a name for himself in a black world. A dirt-poor Detroit factory worker living with his trailer-trash mom (Kim Basinger), his little sister (Chloe Greenfield) and his mom's slacker boy-friend (Michael Shannon), Rabbit takes the stage on Friday nights in brutal one-on-one rap battles, where the competitors shred each other with impromptu insults and the victor goes on to the next round. Rap is his only hope of escape from his ravaged neighborhood, and his pals root him on, hoping they can piggyback out of the ghetto on his coattails.But Eminem, if you know his ferocious, fluent, combative and slippery songs, is a master of personas. Eminem/Slim Shady/Marshall Mathers: he's got many names and speaks in many voices. Rabbit softens the roughest edges of the Eminem legend--the misogyny is gone, and he's...
  • Heavens!

    Todd Haynes's candy-colored "Far From Heaven" is a high-style high-wire act, a meticulous re-creation of the melodramatic "women's pictures" of the 1950s. Haynes's movie, set in 1957 Hartford, Conn., is a homage to such Douglas Sirk movies as "All That Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life." But here the sexual and racial subtexts of those films are placed right on the lacquered surface. The affluent, picture-perfect middle-class marriage of Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid) unravels when she discovers her husband's secret homosexuality, and spins further out of orbit when Cathy finds herself romantically drawn to her "Negro" gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert).Initially, with its lush, romantic score, its dated '50s expressions ("Criminy! Jeez!"), its housewives in mink stoles, "Far From Heaven" might seem on the edge of parody. But Haynes ("Safe") refuses the safety net of condescension or camp. He plays it straight, soliciting tears, not snickers,...
  • Paris Lite

    A knowledge of the '60s French New Wave isn't a requirement for viewing Jonathan Demme's "The Truth About Charlie," but it will definitely enhance the experience. Demme's breezy homage has a stylish, off-the-cuff spontaneity that owes much more to "Breathless" and "Shoot the Piano Player" than it does to the romantic thriller it's actually based on--Stanley Donen's beloved 1963 "Charade" starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.Thandie Newton, radiating charm, takes the Hepburn role as a young woman who returns to Paris to find her husband murdered, her apartment looted and her life endangered. The late Charlie, she finds, was not who he appeared to be--and neither is anyone else, including white knight Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg), who rescues her from peril with suspicious frequency.Demme obviously wanted to get as far away from Grant as possible when he cast Wahlberg, but the role still calls for a debonair smoothie. The actor "stays within himself," as the sports guys say, but he...
  • Sketch Of An Artist

    It's not hard to see why so many actresses were dying to play Frida Kahlo. The great Mexican artist and bohemian poster girl led a life filled with passion, pain, political fireworks and steely determination. The great love of her life, whom she married twice, was fellow artist and notorious womanizer Diego Riviera. She had an affair with Leon Trotsky and numerous lovers of both genders. Horribly injured in a bus accident in 1925, she lived until 1954 in constant battle with physical pain, all of which she used to fuel her haunting autobiographical paintings. And, if director Julie Taymor's "Frida" has it right, she had the most colorful wardrobe in the Western Hemisphere. Whether hiking atop Mayan ruins or putting the make on Josephine Baker in Paris, this revolutionary was always dressed to kill.Producer-star Salma Hayek won the race to bring Frida to the screen, and she brought aboard theatrical dynamo Taymor ("The Lion King") to direct. Four writers are credited with the script....
  • The Troubles, Again

    Watching director Paul Greengrass's explosive "Bloody Sunday," you have to remind yourself at moments that you're not looking at a documentary. The movie recreates the violent confrontation between civil-rights marchers and British soldiers in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1972, in which 27 unarmed people were shot and 13 killed. Filmed in 16mm, with a hand-held camera that seems to be breathlessly attempting to keep up with the chaotic events, the movie has a stunning immediacy. It doesn't feel as if Greengrass has staged the events, but that his camera (in the expert hands of cinematographer Ivan Strasburg) happened to be there when the tragedy occurred, a witness to the British officers' planning, to the marchers' anger and panic, to the soldiers' gung-ho macho and to the cover-up that followed.The leader of the march is Protestant M.P. Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), who is committed to nonviolent protest. The movie never stops to give the usual character-building exposition,...
  • Son Of A Gun

    Whatever you think of Michael Moore, that pudgy, popular agent provocateur, the guy knows how to get an audience going.I saw his latest political bombshell, "Bowling for Columbine," in a large, packed theater at the Toronto Film Festival, and the impact was electric. People laughed, cheered, jeered at the "villains" and burst into prolonged applause when it ended. Anyone clinging to the old canard that documentaries are dry, dusty affairs obviously hasn't seen one of Moore's. Like the movie that put him on the map, "Roger & Me" (one of the most successful documentaries ever released), his latest screed is an impure and highly entertaining gumbo of comedy, confrontation, righteous anger, crusading zeal, dubious populism and moral showboating.It's impossible not to have strong reactions to "Columbine." People tend to reject it outright or defend it wholesale, and both positions seem equally wrong. It's both powerful and infuriating, brilliant and facile, hilarious and horrific,...
  • Mood 'Ring'

    "The Ring" starts like a "Scream" knockoff, with two teenage girls creeping each other out with the tall tale of a lethal videotape: once you watch it, your phone rings and a voice tells you you have seven days to live. We soon find out it's no legend, and Gore Verbinski's horror movie--a Hollywood remake of the immensely popular 1998 Japanese movie "Ringus," which spawned two Japanese sequels--shifts into solemn gear and starts to raise some serious goose bumps. You know the movie is going to be stylish from the videotape itself, which you watch through the eyes of reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), the aunt of one of four teenagers who died a week after watching the tape. A disturbing black-and-white surrealist nightmare--filled with blood, severed fingers, centipedes and a woman hurling herself off the edge of a cliff--the video's images will supply the clues Rachel must follow as she rushes against time to save herself, her ex (Martin Henderson) and her strange, sixth...
  • From Hero To Zero

    The interesting thing about Bob Crane, the blandly affable star of the '60s prisoner-of-war- camp sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" and the subject of Paul Schrader's smart, haunting "Auto Focus," is how uninteresting he is. The movie is a comedic tragedy about a man who was too clueless, too unself-aware, to be a truly tragic figure. A sex addict who compulsively photographed and videotaped his own sexual exploits with women all over the country--and seemed to derive as much sexual excitement from watching the replays as doing the deed itself--Crane thought of himself as a guy just out looking for fun. In his own mind, he was Mr. Normal right up to his violent end, when he was found murdered in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hotel room in 1978.The movie's themes are aptly captured in the double entendre of the title, suggesting both Crane's narcissism and the video technology that abets it. Greg Kinnear, all easy charm and mock innocence, does an amazing job showing us a guy caught in a celebrity hall...
  • Call Him Unhappy Gilmore

    Think of "Punch-Drunk Love" as a palate cleanser in Paul Thomas Anderson's extraordinary career. After his two long, high-calorie epics of the San Fernando Valley--"Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia"--this is sorbet. Who would have guessed that he'd follow those anguished meditations with a 90-minute Adam Sandler romantic comedy? But before you get too comfortable with that notion, let it be said that Anderson, one of the most exciting American filmmakers of his generation, is incapable of making a romantic comedy that resembles any other. "Punch-Drunk Love" is one dark, strange-tasting sorbet, its sweetness shot through with startling, unexpected flavors. It's a romantic comedy on the verge of a nervous breakdown.Indeed, for the first mysterious, unsettling and absolutely mesmerizing 30 minutes, there's no way of predicting where this tale may be heading, or what genre it belongs to. Sandler, dressed in a bright blue jacket and tie, plays Barry Egan, a fearful, volatile, socially...
  • Hostile Work Environment

    A feel-good movie about sadomasochism, the seriocomic "Secretary" manages to be simultaneously subversive and sweet. This is no mean feat. Using a Mary Gaitskill story as a jumping-off point, director Steven Shainberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson tell the story of a damaged girl, Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who deals with her inner pain by cutting herself. Released from an institution, she falls back into her old habits living with her dysfunctional family. Then she gets a job as the secretary of lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a furiously pent-up sadist who proves to be her unlikely White Knight. After verbally abusing her for her faulty typing, he invites her to bend over his desk and slowly, methodically proceeds to whack her fanny as she reads his business letter aloud. What we see develop on Gyllenhaal's eloquent face as she submits to this humiliation is an exhilarating release and a shock of recognition. She has found what she never knew she needed, and in...
  • Our Man In Toronto

    The Toronto Film Festival has gained a reputation as not only one of the largest and most important in the world, but as one of the most friendly, hassle-free and egalitarian. Still, the waters got briefly choppy last week at the press screening of Todd Haynes's moving neo-'50s melodrama "Far from Heaven," which filled up so fast that such critical heavyweights as Roger Ebert, Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times and the Variety reviewer were barred at the door. Ebert, it's said, threw a "hissy fit"--he denies it--prompting a Montreal journalist to shout, "Go back to America!"This minor fracas hardly qualifies as an international incident, but anyone reading the Toronto papers, which reflected Canada's increasing dismay with the war drums beating in Bush's America, could be forgiven if he read a bit of geopolitical significance into this tempest in a teapot.On the one hand, Toronto is a festival in thrall to Hollywood glitz. The studios, promoting their fall movies, produced plenty...
  • The Talk Of Toronto

    This year's Toronto Film Festival can't help but be haunted by last year's, when everything came to a shocking halt on 9-11, and moviegoers and moviemakers alike all huddled around televisions, glued to the horrific images coming out of New York and Washington. The festival shut down for a day and a half, but when the screenings resumed, it was hard for anyone to give full attention to the art of cinema.A year later, the festival--which has become North America's pre-eminent showcase for world cinema, featuring close to 350 selections--is back in celebratory mode, with visiting Hollywood celebrities in town to promote their fall movies, the usual round of parties and dinners, and Toronto's legendary film-friendly audiences packing almost every public screening, whether the fare is an obscure Indian art film, a studio release like "White Oleander" with Michelle Pfeiffer or Eminem's acting debut in "8 Mile," shown here as a "work in progress." On the anniversary itself, the usual...
  • Second Thoughts

    Do movie critics ever have second thoughts about what they've written? Ever change their minds about movies? If they (alright, let's make that we) do, you're not likely to see it in print.The late Pauline Kael was famous for never changing her brilliantly obstinate mind. As if to ensure that she wouldn't, she almost never saw a movie more than once. Indeed, critical changes of heart are such a rare event that when they do occur it makes news: the most famous mea culpa being Joe Morgenstern's reappraisal (right here in the pages of NEWSWEEK) about "Bonnie and Clyde," a movie he had initially panned, only to come back and proclaim it (wisely) a great movie. But that was 35 years ago. Evidently movie reviewing, like love, means never having to say you're sorry.I bring this up because the review I wrote of Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" has been nagging at me. A qualified rave, it was written the day after I saw the movie, when my system was still humming from the visceral...
  • Sex, Lies And Soderbergh

    You can never second-guess Steven Soderbergh. Having reinvented himself as Hollywood's hottest director with "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic" and "Ocean's Eleven," he wanted to get back to his "sex, lies, and videotape" indie roots. "Full Frontal" may star Julia Roberts, David Hyde Pierce and David Duchovny (with a cameo from Brad Pitt), but it's as far from studio filmmaking as you can get. It was shot in 18 days, mostly on video and in long uninterrupted takes. The actors had to provide their own costumes and makeup, and improvisation was de rigueur. No artificial lighting was allowed except in the scenes of a movie within the movie.So don't expect "Pretty Woman." Transpiring in one smoggy day, "Full Frontal" (written by Coleman Hough) peeks over the shoulders of a gaggle of neurotic, creative L.A. types as they search for love, connections, success or (it sometimes seems) their lines. Catherine Keener is a bitchy corporate exec married to Hyde Pierce's magazine writer while having an...
  • Families, Fear And Faith

    Director M. Night Shyamalan is a very young man who understands a very old lesson (one most of his peers have forgotten): it's what you don't see that makes a scary movie scary. But then one of the things that makes "Signs" such a refreshing summer movie is that it goes against almost all the grains of contemporary Hollywood razzle-dazzle filmmaking--as did "The Sixth Sense." Shyamalan starts with characters, and builds from the ground up. He isn't afraid of long scenes with lots of talk and little cutting. Special effects? Sparse, at best. Hipster irony? Banned. Most pop filmmaking today resembles fireworks displays: bright, random blasts of color, which fade from the memory as soon as you've said "wow." "Signs," like "The Sixth Sense" and even the misconceived but artfully directed "Unbreakable," forces you to lean forward, in anticipation and dread, and absorb. And like all things you stare at intently, his unsettling movies hang around in your head long after they're over.The...
  • Ansen Rates Marilyn's Movies

    The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (1950): Her roles in these two famous movies were small, but her impact was enormous. As a rich gangster's moll in John Huston's heist movie and as George Sander's trophy date in the Bette Davis classic, the Marilyn persona-the dumb, dazzling blonde coveted by older men-was nailed into place. She would never totally shake it. ...
  • Film: From China, With Love

    China has only recently gotten around to acknowledging that homosexuality exists, so naturally it has banned the best film made in China about the subject, the gay love story "Lan Yu" (which opens in the United States July 26). Still, the movie is circulating through an "underground" of private screenings throughout China, just as the 1996 novel it is based on, "Beijing Story," had to be published on the Internet with the pen name Beijing Comrade. Even the filming was done surreptitiously: Stanley Kwan, the acclaimed Hong Kong director ("Rouge," "Actress"), shot the movie on the mainland, guerrilla style, keeping one step ahead of the authorities. The frank homoeroticism isn't the only reason the authorities don't like this movie: from its references to the Tiananmen Square massacre to its depiction of corruption among the new Beijing entrepreneurs, "Lan Yu" has a political subtext too close for comfort.Lan Yu is the name of a young architecture student (Liu Ye) who, in need of...
  • Transition

    A new kind of acting burst onto the screen in the 1950s--this New York thing called "the Method" --and its electric style was epitomized by Rod Steiger. From the start his name was linked with Marlon Brando's, thanks to the scene they played in the back seat of a car in "On the Waterfront." They were two sides of a new coin--volatile, sensitive, seething with inner demons--but where Brando tended (back then) to be Beauty, Steiger was most memorable as Beast. His turn as a vicious Hollywood producer in "The Big Knife" (1955) was scary in a whole new way.Steiger's career was at its peak in the mid-'60s, when he played a concentration-camp survivor in "The Pawnbroker" and the sheriff in 1967's "In the Heat of the Night," which won him an Oscar. That role gave hints of his comic finesse, amply revealed as the fey Mr. Joyboy in "The Loved One." Even when subdued, Steiger--with his bull's body and tenor whine--projected volcanic reserves of emotion. There was good reason he was cast as...
  • The Kid Is All Right

    "Three years ago I was over and out," declares the producer Robert Evans. "I was a 68-year-old, infamous, over-the-hill Jew trying to get a job. There are miracles in life." Evans, wearing his trademark tinted, oversize glasses, dressed entirely in black, is standing in the screening room of his Woodland Drive estate in Beverly Hills, Calif., holding forth in his raspy, seductive baritone. For the past few weeks he's been screening, to select gatherings of old and new Hollywood royalty, "The Kid Stays in the Picture"--a documentary by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein that charts his improbable, flamboyant rise and fall as the golden boy of '70s Hollywood. "The film is a lot easier to watch than to live," he says.His pals Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty have been there to see it, as well as the younger generation: Matt Dillon and directors Wes Anderson and David O. Russell. Woody Allen, he says, is peeved that Evans hasn't given him a screening yet. "Mark Wahlberg called 20 times...
  • The Road From Oscar

    When you win an Oscar for the first film you make, what do you do for an encore? That's the dilemma facing Sam Mendes, the English stage director whose stylish revival of "Cabaret" is still playing on Broadway and whose "American Beauty" won both best picture and best director two years ago. You can feel that pressure behind every artfully composed image in "Road to Perdition." This somber, rain-drenched gangster movie with Oedipal ambitions is what used to be known as a "prestige picture"--the sort of serious-minded studio film that's designed to win awards, wow critics and prove that Hollywood isn't interested only in kid stuff. With two blue-chip stars, Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, on the masthead, and an A-list production team, this is Hollywood's version of a Private Stock selection. It's also, sad to say, self-conscious to the point of suffocation.Hanks is cast against type as Michael Sullivan, a taciturn, brutally efficient hit man for powerful mobster John Rooney (Newman), who...
  • Slime At Its Prime

    It's taken five years to make the deal to make the movie to follow up on the surprise success of "Men in Black," and the biggest obstacle the "MIB" team faces is that the surprise is gone. You know what you're gonna get in "Men in Black II": Agents Kay and Jay (Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith) reunited; a race-against-the-clock plot that will involve saving the planet from imminent destruction; a gaggle of Hydra-headed, slimeball aliens more rococo than ever.Part 2 gets off on the wrong foot with an unfunny slapstick-horror-action sequence in which Smith rides a giant worm through the New York City subway tunnels. I feared the kind of frenetic FX overkill that wrecked director Barry Sonnenfeld's post-"MIB" fiasco "Wild Wild West." Luckily, as soon as Jones is re-activated (Kay has been working in a post office in Truro, Mass., all memory of his Secret Service past erased), the movie gets its priorities mostly straight. There are just enough fresh, funny gags and witty throwaways to...
  • Murder On The Spielberg Express

    Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" doesn't look or feel like anything he's done before, yet no one but Spielberg could have made it. Ferociously intense, furiously kinetic, it's expressionist film noir science fiction that, like all good sci-fi, peers into the future to shed light on the present. The director couldn't have known, when he and writers Scott Frank and Jon Cohen set about adapting Philip K. Dick's short story, how uncannily their tale of 2054 Washington, D.C., would resonate in the current political climate, where our jails fill up with suspects who've been arrested for crimes they haven't yet committed.The "Pre-Crime" unit in this future D.C. boasts that it has reduced the murder rate to zero. Its system depends on three psychic "Pre-Cogs" who can project images of crimes just before they happen. Chief Tom Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the first to see these images. It's his job to decode the information as quickly as possible, locate the site of the crime and rush with...