At the center of this smoothly-produced crime thriller is a world-weary safecracker and jewel thief (Robert DeNiro), who’s on the verge of marrying his tough-but-sweet ladyfriend (Angela Bassett) and retiring to a peaceful life running his Montreal jazz club, where the likes of Cassandra Wilson and Mose Allison hold forth. But he’s enticed by professional pride and the prospect of a multi-million-dollar haul into participating in one final mega-caper.
If that premise sounds like a new variation on an old theme, it should; and what ensues, relying heavily on the mechanics of sophisticated, high-tech thievery, doesn’t do much to freshen the formula. Marlon Brando plays DeNiro’s fence and longtime partner, a mountainous, half-soused mastermind who desperately needs the big score to clear up festering debts, and Edward Norton is the young Turk, a nervy, razor’s-edge, quick-thinking con artist who poses as slightly retarded to snag a job as a janitor in the Montreal Customs House, deep within the bowels of which is secreted the object of the conspirators’ desire, a priceless, jewel-encrusted 17th-century French MacGuffin–uh, royal scepter.
M. Night Shyamalan’s spooky “”The Sixth Sense”” may have ruined the modern ghost story as we know it. Because of the atmospheric fright fest, it’s nearly impossible to sit through another dimly lit shadow dance with the supernatural without expecting (or at least hopingfor) a mind-blowing twist. But, as proven in “”The Others,”” a methodical but ultimately disappointing chiller written and directed by Chilean-born filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, we realize that the existence of said surprise doesn’t guarantee success.
On the English island of Jersey, shortly after the culmination of World War II, Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), keep the lamp of hope burning for their father, who left to fight and never returned. From out of the fog that perpetually surrounds the family’s mansion come three servants looking for work. We learn that they’ve worked at the house before and were hoping Grace would need help with the grounds and the children.But caring for these kids isn’t a picnic, as Anne and Nicholas both suffer extreme allergic reactions to sunlight, a condition that forces Grace to monitor their every move with militant precision. No door can be opened in a room until all other doors are closed. Curtains cover every window in the rooms occupied by the children. The servants are ordered to maintain these boundaries, and the game devised by “”The Others”” is underfoot. After the setup, “”Others”” unfurls the elements of its inherent ghost story as things begin to bump in the night. Footsteps pound across the attic floor, though no one appears to be up there. Grace hears whispers, laughter and crying, but can’t pinpoint where it’s coming from. And Anne swears she sees a family of “”intruders,”” even going so far as to converse with a little boy named Victor. Mann and Bentley hit the right notes as Anne and Nicholas, children being children who generate innocent chills just by being open receptacles for the paranormal. But it’s Kidman’s Grace who must anchor the insanity for this ghost story to work. It’s a wonderful role for the detached actress, whose naturally icy disposition permits her to portray Grace as a quiet control freak whose sanity unravels when challenged by the supernatural goings-on in her house. The image of her storming down the hall with shotgun in hand is memorably delicious and forbidding, a la Nicholson wielding an axe in “”The Shining.”” But all the suspicious mist and ominous shadows that lurk in almost every scene of “”The Others”” – expertly captured on film by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe – can hardly hide the questions raised by Amenabar’s surprising conclusions. Rarely has one absorbing premise unraveled so quickly under the weight of the ludicrous twist proposed in “”The Others.”” Meant to shock and amuse, the twist really only manages to deconstruct important truths we were asked to accept for the first 90 minutes. Crucial character traits are forgotten and new ones are introduced haphazardly, with no explanation found in the preceding scenes. If you’ve accepted anything that has happened in the first two acts, and it’s easy to do, Amenabar’s resolution is impossible to accept, and it quickly deflates the mood the director took so long to establish. Amenabar’s following is building. Cameron Crowe’s next project, the Tom Cruise/Penelope Cruz drama “”Vanilla Sky,”” is a remake of Amenabar’s 1997 drama “”Open Your Eyes.”” After a brief run, the director’s subtle “”Butterfly”” recently hit video shelves. And “”The Others”” displays more than enough proof that Amenabar can excel as a writer, director or composer – a true triple-threat. Once he can make all three of his talents work in harmony, the vision he touches on here should finally be achieved. FINAL GRADE: C-
Penny Marshall and Drew Barrymore tackle a trailer park
Moulin Rouge – Dance Hall DaysSet in bohemian 1900 Paris, the Moulin Rouge is a decadent, garish nightclub-cum-dancehall-cum-bordello, a fin-de-siecle Studio 54 where can-can dancers shake a ruffled tail feather and sultry, breathy chanteuse Satine (Nicole Kidman) descends from the rafters on a swing. Director Baz Luhrmann (William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet) uses wild camera angles, frenetic pacing, and restless, jumpy editing to create a whirling, kaleidoscopic visual spectacle, but the preoccupation with eye candy supersedes character development and quashes empathy.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin: Instrument of
A mysterious stranger (Kevin Spacey)
The less you know about Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist John Forbes Nash Jr., the more you will enjoy
“”Swordfish,”” the next summer slammer to attempt to weave gunfights, car chases and gratuitous nudity together in a coherent matter, starts off with the biggest bang of the season that literally has to be seen to be believed. It wouldn’t give too much away to say that the scene involves plenty of C4, hostages, John Travolta, a slew of ball bearings, and the same stop-motion camera work made popular by “”The Matrix.”” But this works. And more miraculously, “”Swordfish”” holds its own for 90 minutes after said opening sequence, a trick that’s mightier than you’d think.
Travolta, reeling after last year’s “”Battlefield Earth”” and “”Lucky Numbers,”” plays Gabriel Shear, a rogue spy who operates his computer piracy at arm’s length of the law. For his next project, which involves him stealing $9 billion in unused government funds, Shear needs the help of famed computer hacker Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), a Leavenworth inmate on parole who only wants enough money to get his daughter back from his drug-addicted ex-wife. Halle Berry co-stars as the women in Shear’s life who may not be as loyal as she seems, and Don Cheadle plays the FBI honcho assigned to bring Shears down.As is required of most blockbusters in the post “”Sixth Sense”” age, “”Swordfish”” boasts more twists that a third-graders French braid, and most of them make sense, which is a pleasant surprise. Director Dominic Sena (“”Gone in 60 Seconds””) stages fantastic action sequences and lingers his camera on them long enough for us to appreciate them, a novel concept that has eluded the choppy directors behind “”Bait,”” “”Double Take”” and countless Jean Claude Van Damme films. Plot holes big enough to fly a bus through do appear, more to force the film’s surprise twist than anything. Sena avoids them, for the most part, by keeping the film in fifth gear, burying logical questions under layers of shiny car chases and glistening guns. “”Swordfish”” will not boost Travolta out of the acting cellar he climbed into with “”Battlefield Earth”” and “”Lucky Numbers,”” but it does further the argument that Hugh Jackman is a bona fide star waiting for the right role. Admittedly it’s not the freshest catch, but as a summer break, it’s certainly one fish you shouldn’t throw back.
“”Legally Blonde”” Pretty in PinkGrade: B1999’s underrated Election was memorable mostly for the sparkling, magnetic performance of Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a high school overachiever who pursued her goals with a manic, good-natured singlemindedness and a delicious comic edge. Now Tracy Flick comes of age–and how–in this facile, perky comedy of redemption, as Witherspoon plays sorority Pollyanna and fashion doyenne Elle Woods.
Dressed to thrill in an audacious, pastel explosion of pinks and turquoises, Elle enrolls in Harvard Law School in a bid to reclaim her social-climbing boyfriend (Luke Wilson). Instead of fulfilling the expectations of her egghead classmates by falling on her face, Elle sets the place on its ear, smashing the dumb blonde stereotype by embracing it with smarts, style and class. Much of the repartee is featherweight, especially the sorority scenes that dominate the first half-hour; “”Legally Blonde”” isn’t above cheap, sitcom-y laughs, a la “”Bridget Jones’s Diary”” or “”The Wedding Planner.”” But depth matriculates with devilishly clever handling of difficult situations, such as Elle’s novel responses to Socratic grilling by law school profs and her handling of a murder case as she defends a sorority sister, played with desperate abandon by Ali Larter of “”Final Destination.”” This should be a breakout role for La Reese; though she doesn’t trade in overt, blunt sexuality like, say, Denise Richards or Nicole Kidman-she’s a bit too generic looking and fleshy-she plays the camera like a Stradivarius, with glamor and emotion to burn. The only young actresses who could give her a run for her money are Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles. Also noteworthy here are Selma Blair (“”Cruel Intentions””) as a starchy brunette classmate, and Raquel Welch as a wealthy matron. Directed by Robert Luketic. Written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith. Running time 1:40. Rated PG-13. For Movie Reviews and Commentary, go to www.kenrosenberg.com