Brief Reviews of Films, N-Z

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Brief Reviews of Films, N-Z

Alphabetically listed by film title

by Ari Armstrong

Rating system:
An asterisk (*) before a title indicates a film I consider excellent.
A plus sign (+) denotes a very good film.
An equal sign (=) signifies mediocre to good.
A negative sign (-) means avoid at all costs.

* The Name of the Rose Sean Connery portrays a forward-thinking monk steeped in the ways of Aristotle and Aquinas who battles wits with those still trapped in the dread and anti-rationalism of the Dark Ages and the Inquisition. Connery's monk plays Sherlock Holmes at a monastery where transcribers have been mysteriously dropping dead. His young pupil (Christian Slater) assists him while finding fascination with a poor local peasant girl. But what does Aristotle's lost Second Book of Poetics have to do with the mystery? My suggestion: A first-rate film; intriguing, intelligent, and well-executed.

Buy The Name of the Rose at Amazon.Com! VHS $12.99 | DVD $20.96

+ The Negotiator Samuel L. Jackson plays a hostage negotiator in the Chicago P.D. who finds his partner shot after hearing him talk of corruption in the department. Jackson is blamed for the murder, and when he takes hostages of his own he requests the services of - a new negotiator (played by Kevin Spacey). My suggestion: See it. It is acted magnificently by Jackson and Spacey, two of my favorites. The story is compelling in both its action and emotion.

Buy The Negotiator at Amazon.Com! DVD $14.74

- The Net A woman who lives a secluded life debugging computer programs and socializing on the internet stumbles upon a restricted web page. An underground mafia organization is compromised by the leak, so it alters the woman's digital history, destroying her life, and tries to kill her. My suggestion: The story could have been an intriguing action/mystery with poignant social critiques. Instead, it was a B-grade chase-the-girl pointless action bore. It should have been a bad TV movie. Oh, and the acting sucked. Skip it.

+ Never Been Kissed Drew Barrymore relates perfectly a sense of purity and integrity in her production. A young newspaper copy editor enrolls in high school again to write a story on youth. The woman had been a complete loser (nerd, geek) in high school before and seems destined to repeat that course. This time through school, the lessons are self-confidence, decency, and romance. But will she get the story and keep her newspaper job? My suggestion: The messages of the movie relate more to a high school audience, but they carry a universal interest. The film contrasts the goal of becoming a good person with that of gaining superiority over others. It's joyful.

* The Nightmare Before Christmas Tim Burton at his animated best creates a great musical with the talents of composer/ singer/ ex-rocker Danny Elfman. Jack, the Pumpkin King of Halloween, grows weary of the same old thing and decides to host Christmas for once. Will he resolve his mid-life crisis and settle into love? My suggestion: I love this movie. Great fun.

Buy The Nightmare Before Christmas at Amazon.Com! VHS $10.49 | DVD $20.99

Buy The Nightmare Before Christmas album by Danny Elfman at Amazon.Com! One of my favorites... CD $12.99

+ October Sky True story -- a kid in a coal mining town decides he doesn't want to follow his father's footsteps into the mine, and instead enters a science fair with a rocket. If he wins at the fair, he gets a full-ride scholarship and a ticket to a better life. My suggestion: The lead decides on a goal and gives everything to achieve it. The film is well-played and inspirational. See it.

= Office Space A software programmer hates his job and finally decides not to go any more. Ironically, his liberated sense of expression earns him the favor of the "consultants" responsible for laying people off. But when his two friends are fired, he decides to get even by stealing a few hundred grand from the company. My suggestion: There are some really funny moments in this film. I loved the Michael Bolton jokes in particular. And there's actually a theme to this commedy! Find work that you love, and do it honestly.

= The Opposite of Sex I hated the first three-quarters of this movie, because all of the characters do ridiculously stupid things. A gay man lives with a younger man for all the wrong reasons. This older guy has a younger sister who comes to stay, who talks the younger man into sleeping with her so that she can convince him that he's the father of her child. The older gay man's deceased boyfriend's sister obsesses with the older gay man and avoids romances of her own. Finally, the younger gay man's other boyfriend is a jerk who accuses the older gay man of molestation. Whew. But the story comes across a lot better than it may sound by the description. The writing is clever. And by the end, I was appreciating the themes of love coursing through the story. I still hated all the characters, but at least I liked some of their actions and understood some of their motives.

- Oscar and Lucinda I can't remember a more excruciatingly boring film than this. I wasn't sufficiently masochistic to watch to the end. A complete waste of the talents of a good cast.

- The Other Sister A mentally challenged young woman tries to build a life of her own and find love despite her over-protective mother. My suggestion: None of the performances were convincing. There's an underlying strain of awkwardness throughout the film. And the story doesn't say anything interesting. The best scenes are (self-consciously) stolen from The Graduate.

- Out of Sight An escaped bank robber, smelling of sewer, kidnaps a beautiful federal marshall and keeps her pinned in a trunk. So she falls in love with him. In other words, the two leads are totally pathetic. My suggestion: Out of sight? Keep it that way.

- The Out-Of-Towners Bland. The comedy is barely funny, and the drama is barely touching. Look for another movie with Steve Martin.

- Passion in the Desert A man falls in love with a leopard. Yes, it's as dumb as it sounds.

= The Parent Trap As a kid I was in love with Halley Mills, the star of the original Parent Trap. So I'm biased. The 1998 re-make, though, is better in every way save the performance of the lead; the romance of the parents is sparkling. Oh, the plot: a divorced couple splits up their newborn twin daughters, who never meet until by chance they attend the same summer camp. The girls are enemies until they learn they're sisters, at which point they decide to get their parents back together. But Dad is already involved with another, superficial woman... My suggestion: The movies were made for kids. I had fun watching the re-make as an adult, though.

Buy The Parent Trap at Amazon.Com! VHS $16.09 | DVD $20.99

Buy The ORIGINAL Parent Trap at Amazon.Com! VHS $16.99

= The Passion of Ayn Rand Showtime adapts Barbara Branden's biography in a fair (but not great) film. The movie focuses on the romantic interests between the Brandens, Rand, and Frank O'Conner. My suggestion: The acting is generally fairly good. Unfortunately, Rand's philosophy is not explored in any depth. Rather, mostly her rationalistic tendencies come through, even though Rand's more fundamental ideas provide a corrective for those errors. I encourage those who view the film without any prior knowledge of Ayn Rand to explore some of the Objectivist literature before reaching any firm conclusions about her ideas. (I recommend Chris Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical as a good place to start.)

= Patch Adams A true story -- a contemporary doctor bucks the medical mold of personal sterility and aloofness, and nearly gets kicked out of medical school because of it. He uses humor to connect with patients. He'll either wash out or revolutionize medicine. My suggestion: The film is well-done. I appreciate what "Patch" is trying to do in the medical field, making it more personable and less rigid. However, the film totally botches its evaluation of the current problems with medical costs, which arise predominantly from Federal regulations. Further, the film is disturbing because of Patch's psychological pathology. It's great to want to excel at what you do and to want to help people, but Patch, at least in the movie, is motivated primarily by a desire to mask his own problems. "When I help others, I forget about my own problems." This is anything but healthy.

= The Patriot I wanted to love The Patriot, but I just didn't. I'm glad it's a moderate box-office success, and I hope it spurs education into the era. But as a film it just isn't that compelling. The film makes revenge the point of motivation. Well, that fails to capture the spirit of the day. While watching the film, I never wanted the Americans to win so much as I wanted the British to lose. That's a little artificial. In addition, the romantic sub-plots didn't mesh well with the main story. It's as if the film takes a break once in a while to escape to love scenes. I have a feeling that most people who express admiration for the film are largely substituting their respect for the revolutionaries as a proxy for their judgment of the film. Part of the problem is that my expectations were so high. There's a lot to like about the film, and I enjoyed many of the scenes. But it never accomplished what I hoped it would.

= Payback What happened to Mel? Give this man a decent script! In his latest, Gibson plays a thief who tries to get back the money from a heist taken by another thief. There's nothing redeeming about the lead character, and nothing redeeming about the film.

- The Peacemaker When a Russian military general steals nuclear warheads and detonates one to cover his crime, an American team must figure out what's going on and how to stop it. My suggestion: The movie has no focus. There are just too many random strands. A murder in Yugoslavia, a helicopter chase in Russia, a terrorist in New York, an inexplicable match of a beautiful female scientist with a studly army guy, an aesthetics lesson in music -- the movie is about everything and nothing. The theme is equally blurred. It's the "blender" approach, I guess.

* Phenomenon A simple but honest man (John Travolta) in a rural community undergoes a mysterious transformation by which he gains extraordinary mental powers and strange physical abilities. (He can twirl small objects without touching them, shatter glass with a glance, that sort of thing.) Some in the community find the new powers intriguing and invigorating, while others become frightened and hostile. The main task of the new genius is to win the heart of a good-hearted but skittish woman whose husband left her and her kids. Secondarily, he must avoid the government spooks who want to learn his secret. All this, as he endlessly finds new ways to apply his intellect. My suggestion: Phenomenon is a rare gem that tries to develop deep spiritual meaning, and actually succeeds. One doesn't have to buy into the strange paranormality to appreciate the struggles and triumphs of Travolta's character. The love story is beautiful, really. Particularly nice is the way the film weaves together Travolta's intellectual and emotional growth; it presents ultimately a complete and compelling and thoroughly wholesome individual. I am left by the film with a profound hope for the realization of human potential.

Buy Phenomenon at Amazon.Com! VHS $12.99 | DVD $20.99

= Pi Trippy. Pi is a quirky, disturbing black-and-white film about a math genius who seeks to discover the secret of the stock market. The movie is primarily a religious journey: the secret of the market is related to the eternal sequence of pi and to the unspeakable name of God. Powerful forces would kill for the secret. Beware the mortal who seeks the eternal. My suggestion: Pi is skillfully written and directed. It also strains credulity. The a-religious will have trouble accepting the central tenets of the film. I don't at all like the suggestion that some knowledge is out of bounds for humans, but I suppose it does leave open the door for the "pure" to proceed. The film is relentless anxiety. Also, to students of Austrian economics, the suggestion that the stock market might have some implicit pattern is off-base. See the film for its artful mastery, but only when you're ready for a heady, tense experience.

+ Pleasantville A high-school geek and his "cool," promiscuous sister break the TV remote while fighting over stations. He wants to watch the Pleasantville marathon, 24 hours of the black-and-white 50's show of perfect families, while she wants to watch MTV with a hot guy from school. A mysterious repairman shows up to replace the remote, and the new gadget transports the siblings into the town of Pleasantville. "I'm pasty," laments the now black-and-white sister. If the siblings aren't careful, they could turn the ultra-conservative, always-predictable town upside down, and remake themselves in the process. My suggestion: Pleasantville is an easy-going, wondrous movie even as it is a poignant social critique. It will wash into your heart. Fundamentally, the film is a critique of the cultural emptiness of the modern age. The siblings react to the culture in different ways: the brother looks to a simpler, blander era, while the sister embraces a nihilistic lifestyle. Both siblings are similar, however, in that they don't know how to live genuinely. The film points to a "transcendence" of today's traditionalist/nihilist duality, to love, passion, art, adventure, reflection.

= The Postman (from Kevin Costner) While no great film, Costner's Postman did not deserve quite the bad rap it got in the press upon release. Postman is the story of a war-torn America divided into primitive, isolated communities that live in fear of military terror, and of a Postman (Costner) who brings hope. The film fails to instill much patriotic feeling in the United States (as it attempts to do), but it does illustrate that a passionate and freedom-loving people can conquer tyranny and prosper. My suggestion: Costner's Postman is worth viewing, barely. Just be prepared for some wildly implausible turns of story.

- The Postman (Il Postino) Boring, boring, boring. The Postman lives on an Italian island, on which he meets an exiled Cuban Communist poet, who helps him woo the island beauty. Most of the film has the characters just sitting or walking along contemplating who-cares-what. I don't know what the critics see in this Oscar contender. My suggestion: See this film only if your single other option is ramming white-hot needles under your fingernails.

- Powder A child grows up with extraordinary mental and physical abilities after his mom is struck dead by lightning with him still in the womb. The boy is called "powder" because of his albino skin. He lives a sheltered life with his grandparents until they die, when he is taken into the broader community where he must learn to deal with distrust, hostility, and a small group of understanding friends. My suggestion: The movie fails to create the highly sympathetic character it was going for. Sure, Powder is a nice enough kid, though a bit weird, but he doesn't come across as being particularly talented, other than he can read minds by touch, something that's cool but not altogether worthy of a deep respect. He does get hit by lightning now and then. He remains emotionally under-developed , which is disturbing. The New Agey "metaphysical" stuff is silly, and the ending is lame. Watch "Phenomenon" instead.

- Practical Magic The women in a family of witches are cursed to lose the men they love. Two of the witch sisters (Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock) must learn how to bring love into their lives and maintain their friendship, all without going to jail. My suggestion: The cast is really good, but the central story, about a pesky and murderous ex-living-boyfriend, is a snore. The love story of the Bullock sister is nice but barely developed. Oh, and there's this annoyingly corn-ball "girl power" scene when a bunch of women get together to kick some demonic butt. Occasionally, the film shows glimmers of the wonderful story it might have been.

= Primary Colors A young political consultant must decide whether to continue supporting a Presidential candidate (a thinly veiled Bill Clinton) who lives a disastrously immoral personal life and yet seems sincere in his policy goals. The film explores this and other moral dilemmas of today's political landscape. My suggestion: An interesting piece about power and the powerful. A good film for the politically interested.

Buy Primary Colors at Amazon.Com! VHS $12.99 | DVD $12.49

= The Prince of Egypt Moses returns to the screen in a visually stunning animated film. The disquieting events of the Biblical Exodus saga don't seem to fit well in a cartoon, though. While the movie doesn't directly show Pharoe's armies killing Hebrew children, the imagery makes clear what's going on. And the beatings of Hebrew slaves are rather gruesome. I imagine younger audiences are frightened and bewildered by much of the film. For me, the film is valuable because of its portrayal of a story central to one of the world's major religious traditions. I suspect the story strikes most moderns as bizarre and irrelevant, though. Most who today call themselves Christian aren't all that comfortable with a god who murders Egyptian children in retaliation for Pharoe's sins. Many in the Jewish community probably also feel a little ambivalent about parts of the story, even though it is even more central to the religion. The guilt-by-blood of ancient law is foreign to modern conceptions of justice. What I most dislike about the Moses story is the reliance on the supernatural for salvation. In real life, god doesn't send down plagues to save us from tyrants; we have to save ourselves. Modern Israel exists because of the power of men, not because of the power of god. See the movie, though -- it is an excellent history piece.

* Pulp Fiction Most people seem to either love or hate Pulp Fiction for entirely superficial reasons: its "gratuitous" violence and clever, profane dialogue. I love the film for different reasons. Pulp Fiction is the ingenious inter-weaving of three distinct though related plot-lines, each of which deals with the theme of "grace" and the subtle changes of balances of power among people. My suggestion: One of the greatest films of all time; don't miss it. (Prudes may be offended, however.)

Buy Pulp Fiction at Amazon.Com! VHS $12.99 | DVD $20.99

= Pump Up the Volume A friendless nerd takes on an alter-ego as pirate radio DJ. Ultimately he takes on the principal of his high school and gets the FCC after him. My suggestion: The plot isn't that great. The ideas are more interesting. I particularly like the anti-FCC sentiment. However, the main social goal of the DJ is to stop the school principal from kicking out students in order to raise the school's SAT average, because education is an alleged right. PLEASE! As a cry for individual expression, the movie succeeds; as a mouth-piece for egalitarianism, the movie is lame.

= Pushing Tin An air traffic controller becomes obsessed with competing against the new guy in the tower. His obsession may cost him his marriage, his career, and his sanity. My suggestion: Good performances from Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack. However, I don't find the theme of obsession adequate to carry a movie. Also, the answer to resolving obsession is weak, along the lines of "just let go." I love the writing so far as the scenes go, but not the story line.

- Random Hearts The horror. I wish to god I hadn't watched through to the end. I kept thinking the film would reach some kind of interesting point; it never did. What a pathetic waste of good talent. The plot was alternately silly and ridiculous; the characters were annoying, stupid, and self-destructive. Anyway, the movie is about two lovers who die in a plane crash, which leaves the spouses of the two lovers to find out about the affair and come to terms with it. I guess I was hoping that there was some kind of interesting secret behind the affair, some surprising plot twist, some mystery. But no. The film is completely and irredeemably -- banal.

= Red Violin An Italian craftsman creates his masterpiece instrument which he hopes his son will come to cherish. But fate has other plans and his wife and child die during labor. Thus the violin with the curious red varnish begins its melancholy journey, touching the lives of generations up to modern times. My suggestion: The film is a succession of stories which involve the violin. The film is beautifully crafted in its own right, with strong performances and rich settings. Unfortunately, because it lacks a strong central plot, the film plays less like a symphony than a dissociated collection of random composers. That said, it has its emotional impacts.

= Return to Me The plot is somewhat less than believable. The wife of a construction worker dies in an accident, and her heart is transplanted into another woman who -- guess what -- later finds romantic interest with the man. Hokey? You bet. Still, the actors pull it off as well as can be expected. I absolutely adore Minnie Driver, who saves the film. The X-Files' David Duchovny gives a performance that's stilted at times but adequate. The background characters generally seem out of place. Not much of the humor is actually very funny. Fortunately, the central romance works fairly well. The real story is the loss of love and how that impacts new love. That story had real potential but suffered too many distractions to fully bloom.

+ Return to Paradise A surprise gem. Three buddies party it up in Malaysia. Two of them leave early for New York, and two years later they learn the third was arrested for drugs. Because one man was charged with enough drugs for three, he was sentenced to death. Now, if the other two friends don't return to face prison, the third will hang in a matter of days. My suggestion: This might have been a really easy story to screw up, but the writers did a great job. The central plot device is a bit of a stretch. Beyond that, however, the story unfolds with passion and high drama. The theme of the movie focuses on the integrity of the two men who have it in their hands to spare the life of another. Sub-themes of romance, journalistic integrity, and criminal justice make for a rich and compelling story. Vince Vaughn gives an outstanding performance.

= Romeo Must Die Bitchin. Jet Li is one cool Kung Fu master. The story is an adequate backdrop for the action. Two families, one Chinese, one black, battle for property and position. Jet Li fights his way out of prison to avenge his brother's death. But there's more to the rash of murders than is apparent. And when he befriends the daughter of the opposite family, only one thing is clear: Romeo must die. My suggestion: See it. Ok, it's not Shakespeare, but the real Romeo never kicked ass like Jet Li. And he didn't have as cool of sunglasses.

+ Ronin Robert DeNiro leads the cast of one of the better spy movies to come out in a long, long time. DeNiro in Paris joins a small team of mercenaries hired by an Irish group to steal a briefcase. Of course, the case is heavily guarded and handcuffed to an official-looking gunman's wrist. The project quickly breaks down into violence and double-cross, leaving the briefcase up for grabs. My suggestion: It's refreshing to see a spy movie with a realistic scenario, rather than a Bond-type "madman tries to take over the world" story. More important, Ronin is layered with rich characters and international culture. There is a subtlety to this movie that leaves the viewer engaged and aware of the sub-text. The partnership and friendship between the characters of DeNiro and Jean Reno develop nicely, and then there's DeNiro's stunning Irish boss... Surprisingly, I found even the car chases gripping. See it.

Buy Ronin at Amazon.Com! DVD $17.49

=Rules of Engagement A marine orders his troops to open fire on a civilian crowd while evacuating a foreign embassy. The military charges him with murder. My suggestion: The film is unsettling on a number of levels. The editing is choppy. The performances are adequate at best. And the story just doesn't cohere. Neither the marine nor the military get away without suspicion. An obvious lesson the film might have gone for but didn't is that interventionist foreign policy is inherently messy and dangerous.

= Rush Hour The daughter of a Chinese official is kidnapped in the United States, so the official brings over a trusted cop from Hong Kong to work on the case. The FBI doesn't want any assistance, so they bring in an officer from the LAPD to baby-sit the foreigner. But of course the two can't resist working on the case. Their cultural differences provide the backdrop for funniness. My suggestion: The plot is predictably sorry. However, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker produce a few laughs together, as well as some cool fight scenes. So far as mindless action-comedies go, this movie fares well enough. If that's enough for you, go for it.

+ Rushmore A kid so geeky he's cool falls for a teacher at his school, Rushmore Academy. He also befriends an alum whose marriage is on the rocks. This builds into a predictable but quirky love triangle. My suggestion: Rushmore is a lovely film. The lead really screws things up, but he also fights to redeem himself. The movie explores love, friendship, and growing pains in a lightly funny, joyful manner. Admirable performances.

* Saving Private Ryan Four Ryan brothers enlist in WWII, and when three of them die the final and youngest brother is called home. However, the last Ryan is lost on the front lines. Tom Hanks plays a captain picked to search for Private Ryan and return him home. My suggestion: This is Part Three of Steven Spielberg's "horrors of modernity" films. First he portrayed the ugliness of the Third Reich in Schindler's List, then he captured the terrifying brutality of the slave trade in Amistad. Now he returns to WWII, this time showing, and forcing the audience to experience, the raw fear of combat. I salute Spielberg for creating his poignant films of emotionally devastating images of humanity's darkest moments, in the hopes that these films will help to prevent future atrocities. Private Ryan is not really about Ryan at all, but rather about Hank's character as he tries to cope with the capriciousness and emotional stress of the war even as he puts forth an heroic effort to win battles and stay alive so he can return to his wife. The realistic combat scenes take precedence over the story, but the story holds up well enough. The film assumes the necessity of the war and then follows the actions of American fighters. It is a must-see, particularly for the younger generations who have never experienced a big war.

* Schindler's List This Spielberg film is a disgustingly realistic take of the Holocaust and the true story of a German who saved the lives of a group of Jews by keeping them working in his factory. My suggestion: Liam Neeson leads a great cast as Schindler. The film is horrible to watch due to its content. It is also brilliantly crafted and something everyone should see, for its compelling story and for its portrayal of one of the dominant horrors of the 20th century.

Buy Schindler's List at Amazon.Com! VHS $14.98

- The Shadow This movie, staring Alec Baldwin, is in every way terrible.

= Shaft Shaft the Younger (Samuel L. Jackson) hunts down the suspect of a racially motivated murder. My suggestion: Jackson is perfect as Shaft. Unfortunately, while this John Singleton film rails against racism and the injustice of the criminal system, it also glorifies police brutality and drug prohibition, two of the darkest stains on American culture. The story takes a turn for the implausible when an Hispanic drug dealer is somehow brought into the mix.

* Shakespeare in Love Delightful. In this fictional history, Will falls for a girl (a moving Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola) - actually a wealthy, beautiful lady promised to another in marriage - who poses as a boy in order to play the part of Romeo in the bard's play. There's so much going on in this film, but it's all wonderfully integrated. The humor is joyous and rich; Geoffrey Rush assumes the part of the sympathetic fool, Will's boss, with marked wit. All the performances are very good, especially Joseph Fiennes's as the poet. Romeo and Juliet evolves from a silly comedy ("Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter") into the most famous play in the English language. That story becomes the play-within-the-movie, to mirror Shakespeare's own devices, serving as the manifestation of Will's new love and as the contrast to it. The writing is deeply structured and beautiful, a fitting tribute. Each of the numerous sub-plots is brought to life and made intriguing. Especially powerful is the sense that we're seeing the very first performance of the classic of classics. Centrally, the movie asks, what is the relationship between love and art? What are the powers that give rise to them, and how might we handle the inevitable clashes? My suggestion: Go see the movie. My vote for best film of the year.

+ Shanghai Noon A Chinese Princess is taken captive in the American West. Jackie Chan is an emperial guard sent to rescue her. Along the way, he meets up with a bandit and a Native American tribe. My suggestion: It plays for cheap laughs and gets them. The fight scenes are classic Chan. Behind the slap-stick lie some interesting themes: Chan's character adopts the independent mindset of the West and the bandit learns he has a heart after all.

= The Siege Iraqi terrorists attack New York, leading to martial law. This basic plot doesn't so much develop as it slowly crushes the viewer. Throughout the film I felt a constant dread, a vague need to be somewhere else. I wish the film had managed to communicate its message with a more heroic, more active story line. The sense of panicked dread came across, but without a balancing sense of victory and hope. That said, the critical message of the film is right-on. The CIA is portrayed as an international policy slut, sleeping with the enemy for short-term convenience. The US government is partially responsible for the rise of terrorism in New York. Further, the counter-measures the government takes against terrorism destroy civil liberties on US soil, thus extending an ultimate victory to the terrorists. *The Siege* is a sobering reminder that, if our country (the US) is worth fighting for at all, it is because of the human rights and dignities upheld here. Unfortunately, this theme is very nearly suffocated by the story.

= Simon Birch A very small and somewhat sickly twelve year old boy maintains a sarcastic, sometimes gross sense of humor and a deep belief that he's intended for something great. My suggestion: The film sports humor, characters with integrity, and heroism. However, it relies too much on religion and blind luck to be fully inspiring. Not required viewing but not bad.

- Simply Irresistible Resist! Resist! This movie simply sucks.

* Sirens The film gets its name from the Greek seductresses of the sea. A man of the Church (Hugh Grant) travels with his wife to the home of a painter in hopes of convincing the artist to remove a "profane" piece ("Crucified Venus") from a showing. The artist and his models prove difficult to sway. My suggestion: A charming film that raises sensuality to the realm of the spiritual. Provocative script, impressive performances.

Buy Sirens at Amazon.Com! VHS $12.99

= Six Days, Seven Nights The title comes from the billing of the vacation that's supposed to be an engagement celebration for the characters of Anne Heche and that "Friends" dork (in case you were wondering). Heche has to fly away from the island paradise in the middle of the vacation for her job, and she and the pilot get caught in a storm and crash land on a deserted island. Harrison Ford as the pilot almost makes the ensuing romance work. The rest is just pointless action and hot-bod shots. My suggestion: A waste of Ford's talents. Not really worth seeing, though not totally devoid of entertainment value.

= Sleepy Hollow I didn't think they could make an interesting movie from such a short, simple story, but Tim Burton and crew managed it well enough. Technically, the filmmaking is great, and Johnny Depp is wonderful. However, I have a problem with the theme of the film. The movie portrays reason and science as escapist pursuits for the naive. Witchcraft and sorcery, on the other hand, are legitimate roads to knowledge and power, for good or for ill. Other aspects of the message are more intriguing, such as the observation that the obvious is not always the true. I relate well to Tim Burton. He is dark in style, but ultimately redeeming and happy.

* Sling Blade Billy Bob Thornton creates a moving picture of a man who, despite his diminished mental capacities and violent criminal history, acts with more decency, sense, and courage than most of his peers. Thornton's character, upon release from a mental institution, befriends a young boy and bonds with the boy's mother and her gay friend. Unfortunately, the mother's boyfriend has a mean streak. Sling Blade explores the tensions between rules and morality. My suggestion: Sling Blade is brilliant. Truly very well written, directed, and acted. Sling Blade should have got the attention that the fluffy, silly Forest Gump got, but it's too "heavy" to make it big in pop culture. Thankfully it was well-received among those to watched it.

Buy Sling Blade at Amazon.Com! VHS $16.99 | DVD $20.99

+ Slums of Beverly Hills A fourteen year old girl must learn how to live with her poor, mooching, father, even as she grows breasts and must also handle boys. Her father's main concern is to keep his children in the school boundaries of Beverly Hills. My suggestion: The more I contemplate this film, the more I like it. It draws the viewer into the family, with all its problems and touches of grace. What I most like about the film is the lead girl's uncorrupted optimism and sense of independence; what I least like is her inexplicable complacency when it comes to her father's financial irresponsibility.

Buy Slums of Beverly Hills at Amazon.Com! DVD $24.49

+ Smoke Signals A young man travels with his life-long friend to come to terms with a father who left him and who has hidden some dark secrets. The story of alienation and forgiveness is universal, but is here set in the context of modern American Indian culture. My suggestion: While the film is frequently more back-drop than story, the setting is rich and the main characters are well-written and well-played. I enjoyed the understated humor as well.

= Snow Falling on Cedars A fisherman is found dead in his net. Is it murder or an accident? It's the WWII era, when many hold Japanese in suspicion and even contempt, and the murder suspect is Japanese. Another twist: the journalist covering the story was spurned years earlier by the current wife of the suspect; will the journalist nevertheless do what he knows is right? My suggestion: The film is worth a look just because it reflects on a horrible injustice inflicted upon Japanese Americans. As a film, it succeeds very well, bringing together the themes of prejudice, unrequited love, and integrity in a compelling court drama.

= Soldier In a future of space travel, the US government selects and conditions from birth an elite corps of soldiers. However, the first model of soldier is made obsolete by the second generation of genetically enhanced soldiers. One of the obsolete soldiers, thought dead, is dumped on a planet used solely for waste disposal. There, he finds a community of people who had crash-landed years earlier. The soldier defends the community against the new soldiers, who had been ordered to destroy the community. (Whew.) My suggestion: The idea of a "trash planet" is dumb. However, beyond that, the movie is ok, though not in any way special. The "fight against oppression" story is nice, if simplistic.

= South Park Yes, the animation is terrible. But this is social critique at its finest. Tendencies of xenophobia and counter-productive activism are taken to task. There's even a positive theme: parents should spend more time with their children rather than chase windmills. Unfortunately, those with the most to learn from the film will never watch it. It's pretty shocking.

= Space Camp This could have been a really good movie. The premise is that a group of kids gets accidentally launched into space. But the film is too cute-sie for its own good. The beginning is boring and silly. And the reason for the accidental launch is totally unbelievable. However, once the crew enters space, things shape up and the film moves along nicely. My suggestion: The many flaws of the film will put off adults. But kids might enjoy it.

+ The Spanish Prisoner The developer of some unspecified production "process" which promises an untold fortune falls into an intricate plot wherein bad people try to steal his secrets. My suggestion: Strong performances. However, the criminals' plan is rather more sophisticated than is believable. Also, I don't like the way the lead plays the pawn through the entire film, a victim of forces outside his control. That said, the film is very suspenseful and it offers a nice contrast between productive work and theft. The characters are beautifully created.

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= Spawn A government assassin goes to hell after being brutally murdered. There he gains powers and returns to earth upon making a promise to the Devil. But Spawn has free-will: will he use his powers for good, or will he lead Satan to the gates of heaven? My suggestion: Spawn has some good special effects, action, and some humor. There's nothing especially compelling about the character or story of Spawn, though, particularly for those who find little interest in Christian mythology. I saw the "Director's Cut;" I understand the other version is watered down.

+ The Spitfire Grill A young woman moves to a small town hoping to "start over" after release from prison. This girl has a spunk and wonder that's contagious among the citizens of the back-country community. She finds a job at the local grill and helps the elderly owner reconnect with her son. Unfortunately, some in the town doubt the girl's morals. My suggestion: Do watch this sparkling film with its warm performances.

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= Star Quest A long-range space crew awakes from hibernation to find that their captain is dead and the whole earth has had trouble. Will they continue their mission to explore a new inhabitable world, or will paranoia and power struggles threaten the entire crew? My suggestion: The film is a critique of mankind's capacity for depravity. It's mildly interesting, though I don't like its pessimism. The story might have found a better home on television's "Outer Limits."

+ Star Trek I personally love Star Trek. It deals thoughtfully with ethics, politics, and human potential in fun, sci-fi adventures. However, I would recommend strongly only a minority of the Trek movies. The first Trek sports a "provocative" concept, but it moves rather slowly. The Search for Spock is heroic, and the Voyage Home is very funny even as it dwells upon ocean-rights issues (it is datedly "save the whales"). The Final Frontier wastes great potential with the crew finding an entity purported to be "God." Generations is pretty dumb, revolving around one of those damned (and not so irregular) "spatial anomalies," but First Contact is a quite clever story merger of the Borg with humanity's first encounter with extraterrestrial life. My suggestion: See all the films if you're a sci-fi fan. If you want a taste of one of science fiction's all-time greatest concepts, watch Voyage Home and First Contact.

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+ Star Trek: Insurrection A people who have discarded technology also live forever because of a type of radiation given off by the rings of their planet. The Federation has formed a dubious alliance with an organization that wants to dislocate the civilization and capture the radiation for its own use. Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise must stop the plot. My suggestion: A fair movie over-all but not as good as First Contact. I hate the part about the civilization spurning technology, because it puts the people at the mercy of their enemies. Without the technology of the Enterprise, the battle would surely be lost. However, the film doesn't really criticize this near-hypocrisy. What I like about the film is its theme of integrity and principled rebelliousness. It's not enough to follow orders; one must do what's right, even if orders must be damned. The story fares well enough, and it works in some intelligent humor.

= Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Two Jedi Knights travel to the planet of Naboo to negotiate with a trade alliance which has blockaded the planet. Unknown to the Jedis, the trade war is a decoy for more sinister political motives which threaten to undermine the Republic. My suggestion: While visually more stunning than the earlier movies, Phantom is less engaging. With too much reliance on the "will of the force" and upon blind luck, the plot falls apart and the characters become uninspiring. The movie's description of the decline of Republic politics is a poignant critique of American politics. While there's much to like about the Phantom installment, the magic lies only in some of the details, not in the over-all story. The film is too obviously prologue for later Episodes, and it steals too much from IV through VI, to be a great film in its own right.

* Star Wars Trilogy Obviously, the classic sci-fi movie about a group of rebels fighting the Empire, a totalitarian inter-planetary government. It presents a spirit of independence and revolution that I admire. My suggestion: Everybody in the damn galaxy has seen it - rent it!

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= Step Mom A man's two children have trouble adapting to him living with a strange woman. The new woman tries to connect with the kids while maintaining her career and overcoming tensions with the ex-wife. My suggestion: The film is unnaturally self-conscious. It tries too hard to be alternately cutesy and tear-jearking. Plus, the plot is contrived: the ex-wife's serious illness drives the events, putting the characters in the back seat. That said, the leads do well (with Ed Harris, Susan Sarandan, and Julia Roberts leading, something's got to go right), and the film is a sometimes-interesting look at the modern phenomenon of broken families.

= The Story of Us A married couple contemplates divorce over a summer while the two kids are away at camp. My suggestion: Well, it stars Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer, so it can't be all bad. But the writing is, at times, horrible. At one point a friend tries to convince Willis' character that an ass is really just a pair of "leg stumps." Blah. And Pfeiffer's friend is even more annoying. Fortunately, some of the scenes between the couple sparkle, enough to make the audience care about the outcome.

+ The Straight Story Mr. Straight is an aging man with health problems who rides his lawnmower across the state to visit his brother, who has suffered a stroke. The brothers hadn't spoken for a decade because of a fight. Along the six week journey, Straight encounters a number of individuals whom he helps or befriends or who help him. This film from David Lynch and Walt Disney Pictures is well-crafted and poignant. My suggestion: Watch it.

+ Swept from the Sea A ship of Russians traveling to the early United States sinks in a storm off England. The sole survivor is shunned by the local community but falls for a local girl, herself an outcast. My suggestion: The story drags a bit and it lacks the grandeur of a great movie, but it explores love, prejudice, and friendship in some interesting ways. The sea gives rise to some nice imagery.

Buy Swept from the Sea at Amazon.Com! DVD $20.99

+ Swing Kids With strong pressures to conform to the Nazi lifestyle in mid-war Germany, a sub-culture of youth finds release, independence, freedom, and internationalism in swing music. My suggestion: A quality film that portrays the spirit of Justice against an oppressive evil.

= Tarzan (Disney) The animation is wonderful. Some of the "X-Game" snow-boarding moves on the trees are a bit much, though. And there's just not a lot to do with the story, which everyone already knows well. My suggestion: Good for kids.

- Tea with Mussolini A group of English old women living in Italy and their eccentric American friend find trouble when the world goes to war. My suggestion: I grant the acting is pretty good. But the characters are stupid beyond hope. The English broads refuse to leave the country when they have the chance and so end up prisoners. The American gets conned by a charming local into giving him all her wealth (for "safekeeping"). Finally, an Italian boy who is raised by the English women as a boy becomes jealous of the (much older) American and fails to prevent her from getting conned. Whatever merits the film might possess, are for me lost with the entirely unsympathetic characters.

- The Theory of Flight A woman with a degenerative muscular disease has trouble connecting with others -- usually because those others treat her in a condescending way. But finally comes along a man who treats her like a real person. The trouble is, the guy's a complete fruit loop. My suggestion: The woman's character is well-played and sympathetic, except that she falls for the nut case. This guy loses his wife, tries to kill himself, attempts to build a airplane out of junk, tries to rob a bank, and basically has no life. I hated that character, which for me ruined the movie.

= There's Something about Mary Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz lead the cast in this dumb though occasionally funny movie about a guy who tracks down his high school sweetheart, thirteen years after botching their prom. My suggestion: If you're looking for cheap laughs, this movie manages a few. If you want a good story, look elsewhere.

- They Might Be Giants A bereaved widower takes to acting like Sherlock Holmes. A psychologist assigned to the case starts to like the company of the eccentric. My suggestion: The characters are initially interesting and the story had potential. But by the end the film disintegrates into chaotic mob scenes and indecipherable behavior. Skip it.

* The Thin Red Line The director (Terrence Malick) took off a couple decades before filming his new war picture, and it feels like it, watching the movie. It has that late '60s, early '70s moral bewilderment feel to it. You know, "God, why I am here, what sort of values are left now that our parents have fucked everything up," etc. Peter Tavers of Rolling Stone, stuck in nostalgia of the Rolling Stones era, loved it. Me, I'm ready to move on already. That said, the movie is brilliantly made. The editing, the visual symbolism, the photography -- all the technical aspects and creative art of the film are rich, perfect. Most movies don't even exist on the planes The Thin Red Line takes us. And the performances are equally superb. Nick Nolte, John Cusack, John Travolta, Woody Harrelson, Sean Penn, and Jim Caviezel (in the lead) are in top form, as are the members of the backing cast. The writing, though it seems more appropriate for the Vietnam era than for either its WWII setting or its modern audience, still is subtle and deeply soulful. It conveys both the senseless chaos of war, and the untouched flame in the heart of the lead.

+ The Thirteenth Floor Can the computer-generated characters of a simulation be alive, with a soul? That's the central question behind this intriguing mystery of murder and science. My suggestion: The film is well done. The characters are developed and ably performed. The outcome is fairly easy to predict, but that doesn't detract from the compelling story.

= The Thomas Crown Affair An eccentric rich guy steals art and tries to win the heart of the woman chasing him down. My suggestion: The lead really isn't a criminal; he just likes to have fun. He's a playboy. The film is exciting and the romance sparkles. But who really cares about a guy so bored with life he has to plan intricate art heists to get his jollies? It's juvenile.

= Three Kings A small band of U.S. army boys takes a (non-requested) leave of absence during the Gulf War to search for Sadam's gold stock. Along the way, they learn the magnitude of the brutality and horror of war, and they search their consciences when an oppressed group of locals asks for their help. My suggestion: I hate the MTV style of filming, but I like the film's willingness to look behind the propaganda and explore critically the meaning and causes of war.

= Titan A.E. An alien race destroys earth and the human race is nearing extinction. But among the space drifters, one young man carries a genetic map to a powerful ship capable of restoring humanity. My suggestion: The animation is impressive. Unfortunately, the film otherwise runs like a big-screen version of Saturday morning. The characters are templates. The story is completely implausible.

= Titanic An over-hyped but still quality film about two young lovers who fight to survive the catastrophe. Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an adventurous soul who wins the heart of Rose (Kate Winslet) and gives her the courage to rise against her oppressive (but wealthy) fiance. Decent acting, and excellent direction. My suggestion: Worth viewing, but not as great as it's trumped up to be.

* Toy Story A marvelous Disney (computer) animated film about two toys who must work through identity crises. An old rag cowboy doll is displaced by a new space-action hero, and this new doll must come to terms with the fact that he is but a mass-produced toy, rather than the real space travelor. Both must rise to heroism. My suggestion: Don't miss it; one of Disney's best.

= Toy Story 2 The same great animation, the same great humor as the first film. What's missing is the stellar thematic content of the original. The sequel deals with friendship and loyalty, but there's nothing new or especially fascinating here. And other themes are disturbing. The purpose of a toy's existence, you see, is to make children happy. So, in the movie, toys are rational beings, basically little people, who exist for the sake of others. This makes the Randian hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It's basically a mild form of slavery. For this reason, the first film is far superior to the sequel. The original film dealt with the process of individuation and accepting one's self on one's merits. My suggestion: There's plenty in Toy Story 2 to like, but it doesn't measure up the original.

- Trial and Error A newly partnered lawyer is taken from his prissy fiance to defend a scumbag member of the senior partner's family in the desert. The lawyer's best friend follows him to the desert to throw a bachelor party, getting the guy too drunk to go to court. So the friend, an actor, fills in, while the lawyer gets to know a beautiful, local waitress. My suggestion: This comedy just isn't funny. That leaves only a simplistic, corn-ball story, which falls flat.

* The Truman Show Jim Carrey plays a man who has spent his entire life living in a huge television set, in a 24-hour a day show revolving around his life, without knowing that the whole thing, from the sun and weather to his wife and best friend, is staged. At the age of thirty Truman begins to see that things aren't quite right. Of course, the plot is totally unbelievable; the ACLU and others would never permit such a thing. But, if you can swallow the concept, the film becomes a moving story of a man who struggles to find authenticity and individuality. Truman "loses it" mentally a bit, but he does an admirable job of maintaining his sanity in a situation that would drive most of us mad. He's a hero. And the movie reminds us that our lives, too, can be either superficial, or genuine. My suggestion: The Truman Show is a very nice film, worthy of an Oscar nomination for Carrey.

Buy The Truman Show at Amazon.Com! DVD $20.99

- Two Girls and a Guy Two women happen to meet in front of a building to surprise their boyfriends. The problem: that would be "boyfriend," singular. So when the guy gets home, the two women ruff him up and split, right? Not in this cheese-gagging flick. My suggestion: The movie tries a little too hard to be "modern." The threesome waxes philosophical about Clarence Thomas and other pivotal issues of the 20th century, pausing for the occasional sexual thrill or to drink a shot of tequila. Robert Downy Jr. does a great job of portraying a totally pathetic human being. For a brief while I thought the story might say something interesting about honesty -- wrong again. The performances are well-done, but everything else about this movie makes me taste bile.

= U-571 An American submarine crew during WWII poses as a German unit in order to infiltrate an enemy ship and take decoding equipment. My suggestion: The movie plays like it's a chapter from a book rather than a completed work. A sub-plot concerning the challenges of military leadership doesn't mesh well with the central story and seems like filler. That said, the characterizations are compelling if limited, and the film conveys the tensions of underwater warfare.

= Volcano A volcano erupts in Los Angeles following an earthquake, and the characters of Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche try to save the city from the lava. My suggestion: While this "action" story is predictably light and unimpressive, it manages to celebrate quick thinking and heroic action, which is of some redeeming value.

* Waco: The Rules of Engagement Who drew first blood: the ATF or the Branch Davidians? Did FBI and ATF agents intentionally gas, burn, and shoot the men, women, and children in the Waco compound? Was David Koresh a crazed, raping cult leader, or an eccentric religious man who may or may not have broken any laws? What was the role of Janet Reno in the massacre? These are some of the many questions the Waco documentary raises. And the answers don't look good for the U.S. government. My suggestion: Perhaps the most compelling compilation of proof I've ever seen regarding corruption in Federal agencies. A first-class documentary that won accolades from Siskel and Ebert and an Oscar nomination. See this film. But be prepared for the highly disturbing images -- the documentary is probably not appropriate for young children.

+ Wag the Dog A wonderfully cynical look at American politics, Wag follows a public relations guru (Robert DiNiro) on his quest to save Presidential ass by creating a fake war to divert media attention. Dustin Hoffman is tops as a Hollywood producer who helps pull off the "pageant." My suggestion: Definitely see it, if you have any interest in politics whatsoever.

Buy Wag the Dog at Amazon.Com! VHS $14.98 | DVD $17.49

+ Waking Ned Divine Two old friends know someone in their quaint Irish village has won the lottery. So they try to schmooze their way into favor with the potentials. They finally discover who is the winner, but there's one little problem: the shock of the win has killed him. But they have a plan: convince the town to pretend ol' Ned (the winner) is still alive so they can all split the winnings. If the plan fails, it's off to jail. My suggestion: This is a funny movie and the cast is delightful. The only thing missing is a point: the main story isn't made relevant to the audience, though there are some slender thread of meaning about family and friendship. See the movie, though, for its rich characters and for its fun.

= The Water Boy This Adam Sandler film is a dumb comedy with heart. A college football team's water boy is fired, so he finds a job with another loser team and hits it off with the coach, who tells him to stand up for himself against the athletes who bully him. He does - and discovers that he is quite a tackler. He becomes a star player on the team, and enters college to boot. Water Boy also tries to overcome his mother's possessiveness and rekindle a romance with his childhood sweetheart. It's cool to see The Fonz (Henry Winkler) back as the coach who struggles to win games and overcome his fears of a rival coach who stole his playbook and job. My suggestion: Water Boy has, like, a real plot, which is more than most movies in its genre can say. The story is actually touching; inspiring, even. The characters are well-developed, the acting is generally good - gees, it's a good movie! Who says a movie with dumb jokes has to be stupid?

= Wayne's World Wayne and Garth (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) move from SNL to the big screen in a moderately funny film and a slightly funny sequel. Wayne's World is a public access television show the stars of which concern themselves with Heavy Metal music and babes. My suggestion: Hmm... I'm glad I saw the first one, once, though not exceptionally so, and I could have left the second one altogether.

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= When Worlds Collide Extra! Runaway Star to Smash Earth! This 1951 science fiction romp naturally is corn-ball, but it appeals to the pioneering spirit. The story revolves around a group that intends to build a space ship to escape Armageddon to a new planet. The sub-plots are petty, and Objectivists will hate the fact that the rich if surly guy who paid for most of the ship gets screwed out of his seat. (Even though, granted, the guy is a jerk.) The special effects, which at the time won an Academy Award, are comical today, especially the closing cartoon backdrop that's supposed to be the new Eden. And I cracked up at the line spoken by the first person to step foot onto the new planet (imagine a John Wayne accent), "Why, this is the best air I ever tasted!" Still, the film can be considered a classic, and it did feed my yearning to see the stars.

+ Where the Heart Is The title means more than it may suggest. A pregnant girl is dumped at Walmart by her boyfriend. She has her baby there -- right in the store -- and slowly becomes a part of the community. My suggestion: I adore Natalie Portman, and she shines in her role as the young mother. The film integrates a number of themes. Careless and mean men are roundly criticized. Portman's character retains her integrity and industriousness to rise from "trailer trash" poverty to the respectable middle class. She has help, of course -- members of her new community extend their support to help her get back on her feet. On a deeper level, the film explores self-respect and honesty and the relationship between those virtues and love. One bothersome point is that a couple characters act in needlessly self-endangering ways. In addition, the central romance between Portman's character and a local college dropout just isn't compelling. Maybe that's because I didn't like the guy's character. But there's plenty to admire in this film.

= White Squall I initially avoided this film because the previews made it seem like an "action" movie involving a sea storm. It is much more than that. A sailor runs a school on his ship with a small group of boys; a cook; an English teacher; and his wife, the doctor and math teacher. The film is about the personal challenges the boys must face while aboard the ship. My suggestion: The film is supposedly drawn from real events. Rich and compelling friendships develop among the boys and the staff. One boy must deal with the death of his brother and his related fear of heights. Another must confront his academic shortcomings and defensive personality. Unfortunately, the "white squall" storm splits the film into two disjointed parts. But enough of the plot and theme are salvaged to bring the film to a close and remind us of the high-glory adventure.

= The Whole Nine Yards Mathew Perry's character just wants to run his dental practice. But his wife hates him and wishes he were dead for insurance purposes, so his life is a bit of a drag. Add to that the hitman who has moved in next door, a quirky dental assistant, and the mysterious beauty whose life is in danger, and things get more than a little complicated. My suggestion: The film works well for a couple reasons. First, the characters are wonderfully played across the board. Second, there's a sincerity to the central romance that's rare. Touching, really. As a third point, the film is really funny, in an off-beat kind of way. My main reservation is with the morals of the film: senseless violence is sometimes denounced but sometimes portrayed as cool.

= Willow A film of magic and adventure in which a short farmer and a loner-warrier fight to save a baby girl of prophesy and destroy the evil witch. My suggestion: Pretty good, if you like this sort of movie.

= Wing Commander Earth is at war with an alien world. A young team of fighter pilots must defend their mother ship from attack and conduct communications runs. My suggestion: A low-tech movie with a decent story. Some of the acting is terrible, some of it is pretty good. There's enough depth to make the movie interesting.

= Wishful Thinking A guy lets jealousy get the best of him, putting his relationship on the rocks. Unfortunately, the guy's good female friend is anxious to foster mistrust between the couple so that she can move in and steal his heart. My suggestion: A pretty good study of jealousy, but not very interesting otherwise.

= The Wizard of Oz "Oz" stands for "ounce," as in, "ounce of gold." Wizard is allegorically a critique of the old infatuation with the gold standard. (You know, "Follow the yellow-brick road!") As a Fed-Reserve-hating libertarian, I dislike The Wizard of Oz on this level. However, Wizard can also be taken simply as a fairy tale, full of witches and magic. On a more mature level it warns us against seeking fulfillment in external causes, and instead counsels us to "look within" to discover our strength and purpose. My suggestion: A classic.

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= Wonder Boys What to do, what to do. A professor's student, a talented aspiring writer, has shot the dog of the dean of the college. The dean is also the husband of the professor's pregnant girlfriend. Meanwhile, the professor's book agent has flown into town to look at the new work, which so far consists of reams of pointless garbage. My suggestion: A psychotic buddy film. The story is ultimately one of redemption: the professor attempts to salvage his love life and find a quality novel within himself. The problem is, the path to restoration is laid accidentally, so the protagonist never elicits deep sympathies and the plot never coheres. Mildly interesting, though.

= The World is Not Enough Bond is back. And he's the same as ever, only more so. The formula is not enough. There is one interesting line, though, when James falls for a girl who turns out to be bad. There's actually some emotional turmoil in that.

= The X-Files: Fight the Future At least I had the satisfaction of actually getting to *know* what's going on in the movie. The eternal mystery of the television series leaves me frustrated and ultimately bored. X-files sets FBI agents Scully and Mulder in an intricate conflict against aliens and the powerful men who work with these extraterrestrials. The very future of the human race is at stake. Of course, the movie doesn't offer much "closure," as it must allow for more TV shows and movies. My suggestion: A mildly interesting sci-fi flick, though by no means a must-see.

* X-Men The perfect superhero movie. Most notable is the superb level of acting. With Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan leading the cast, two of the most notable actors of the day, and with super-star break-out Hugh Jackson as Wolverine, it would be hard to screw this one up even with bad writing. But the writing is superb as well! The characters have depth and sensitivity. The central theme, tolerance and acceptance of those who are different, ties together with the plot line in a compelling way. The politics has real and important parallels with the modern American scene. The film is funny in a rich and understated way, not like the corn-ball humor of the recent Batman outings. Technically, the film is spectacular, with gripping fight scenes and effects. Another accomplishment lies in setting up the sequel without sacrificing the integrity of the lead film -- and I hope to see many sequels of the same caliber. Three cheers for the X-Men!

- You Know My Name A lawman takes his justice into the Prohibitionist '20s. The problem is, he's nearly as tyrannical as the corrupt Federal agents he sought to defeat. At one point, he threatens to string up a man with barbed wire. Nothing like a good old-fashioned lynchin' to turn somebody into a sympathetic hero. Sheesh.

- Your Friends and Neighbors Sick and wrong. The film is a good study of dysfunctional relationships, but not very interesting for any other reason.

= You've Got Mail Two friends in virtual reality become enemies in real life, each without knowing his/her friend/enemy is the same person. The guy with his mega-bookstore threatens to put out of business the small children's book store run by the gal. Romance lies at the intersection of digital and flesh. My suggestion: It's just a bit coincidental that two people become involved with each other separately on the internet and in real life at the same time without knowing it. Another minor detail that bugs me is that the couple's AOL accounts say, "You have mail," not "You've got mail." However, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks shine, as usual. Fortunately, what I thought was going to be an anti-business smear turned into a reserved compliment of entrepreneurial innovation. See it if you're in the mood for a light-hearted, light-headed romantic comedy, but don't worry about it if you miss it.

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