A.I. = Imitation of Life, by Ken Rosenberg

It is an admittedly intriguing question whether, in the future, man will be able to instill human emotions in robots. A.I. is premised on just such a phenomenon; the soulful-eyed boy “”mecha”” (pronounced “”Mecca””) David (Haley Joel Osment) is created by Professor Hobby (John Hurt), and conveyed to a bereaved couple (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards), whose only child (Jake Thomas) lies comatose. In the opening scenes, as the magisterial prof explains the breakthrough, one of his students throws out an ethical question that stumps him: what responsibility will humans have toward these creatures?

The rest of the movie–clocking in at a hefty 2 hours 25 minutes, and feeling every minute of it–is concerned, in one way or another, with answering that question. But while Steven Spielberg tries to recapture the otherworldly, humanist magic of

The Mummy Returns, He Should Have Stayed Dead

Watching Universal’s “”The Mummy Returns,”” the much-hyped sequel to the studio’s blockbuster hit, you will believe that a long-dead mummy actually could be resurrected from the dead. Unfortunately, that’s primarily because after having to swallow a number of illogical plot devices from jet-powered hot air balloons to pygmy mummy skeletons that prowl a lost oasis, the resurrection of the long-dead Imhotep becomes the most plausible event you’ll find in this ludicrous bomb.

Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and the majority of the original cast return for yet another adventure set ten years after the first film, though very little has changed in their lives. Rick (Fraser) and Evie (Weisz), now married, are the proud parents of young Alex O’Connell (Freddie Boath), a headstrong, inquisitive boy who inherited his sense of adventure from nowhere strange. On a family dig, the O’Connells discover a bracelet that’s rumored to contain the spirit of a legendary warrior, The Scorpion King (Dwayne “”The Rock”” Johnson), who sold his soul in exchange for a crucial victory. They bring the bracelet back with them to their mansion in London, and it’s here that the couple is reunited with Evie’s bumbling brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and the ominous Ardeth Bay (Oded Behr), the desert warrior sworn to protect the world from the resurrected Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). Apparently the bracelet is the just beginning of the O’Connells’ trouble. Another group, led by the incarnated soul of Imhotep’s lover Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velazquez), plan to once again resurrect the all-powerful mummy. They hope Imhotep can defeat The Scorpion King, thereby controlling the army of Anubis, lethal dog-like soldiers that the King controlled in his prime. However, before the goons can get to the bracelet, young Alex tries it on and it locks to his wrist. A harrowing chase through the streets of London on a double-decker bus results in the forces of evil kidnapping the boy and his valuable accessory. Rick, Evie, Jonathan and Ardeth pursue, unsure whether they can defeat both Imhotep and a rejuvenated Scorpion King.While adequate at best, the original “”Mummy”” stands head and shoulders above this loose, unfocused mess that borrows liberally from various predecessors like “”The Lost World”” and even “”Titanic,”” but fails to tie them together in a cohesive manner. Decent action sequences like the aforementioned bus chase, while choppy and loud, still can’t distract from the nonsensical plot, which begs the audience to take some unexplained phenomenon for granted in order to shuffle the story along. In any other summer film, certain plot holes could be accepted, almost expected. We don’t attend the summer blockbusters for their depth or insight, but for their power and might. For the most part, the acting throughout “”Mummy Returns”” is fine. However, like the first “”Mummy,”” the sequel’s digital effects look rough, unfinished and fake. The incomplete Imhotep appears polished and ready for battle, but the Scorpion King, the film’s ace-in-the-hole villain, is hilariously horrific. Playstation games boast better graphics then the ones used to manifest this monster. Universal plans to release a Scorpion king movie next summer. One can only hope they learn how to create the character clearly before they build a feature around him.””Mummy Returns”” feels bloated and silly, and Stephen Sommers deserves most of the blame. A second-rate director, he buries his halfway decent material with an overabundance of shots that actually disrupt his timing. The best example happens in what could have been the film’s sharpest joke, seen properly in an early trailer. Evie, fleeing from mummy soldiers, drags a bench in front of a door. Rick reminds her that these guys don’t use doors, and on cue, the creatures bust through the wall. However, in the finished product, Sommers disrupts the timing on the joke, inserting shots of a stammering Jonathan and Alex between Rick’s line and subsequent shot of the mummies destroying the wall. The sequence, like the movie itself, needs a good edit to salvage the finer points from the clutter.

The Gift, Sean O’Connell

Two groups in particular will be very happy to know that “”The Gift”” is an outstanding film.The first group, consisting of film fans deflated by the director’s last Costner-laden effort, “”For Love of the Game,”” will be delighted to hear that their favorite director is back in top form. His direction is sharp, the chills are genuine, and his ensemble cast dances deftly through the complicated plot, all under Raimi’s watchful eye.

The second group, consisting of rabid comic fans who eagerly await Raimi’s next project – “”Spider-Man”” – will be delighted to hear that their much-anticipated project is indeed in the hands of a talented director, one who is capable of blending multiple genres while spinning an interesting tale (something that’s vital if you want a comic book movie to fly).””The Gift”” stars Cate Blanchett as Annie Wilson, the widowed mother of three who earns extra cash by reading people’s fortunes. Annie possesses clairvoyant powers that allow her to see visions, which make her a bit of an outcast – and the target of abuse – in her skeptical Georgian town.””The Gift”” boasts an all-star cast, and Raimi wastes no time introducing his parade of stars. Oscar winner Hillary Swank plays Valerie, a regular at Blanchett’s table, who needs advice because her husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves), beats her. Greg Kinnear pops up as Wayne Collins, the local school principal with a caring heart and a cheating fiancee named Jessica King, played by “”Dawson’s Creek”” star Katie Holmes.Problems arise when Jessica disappears after a night on the town. Wayne is terrified, and the police have exhausted all avenues. Against their better judgement, the authorities turn to Annie and ask her if she’s “”seen”” anything. Her gift leads the police to Donnie’s property, where they find Jessica buried in the swamp. But Donnie might not be responsible, and Annie starts to believe she fingered the wrong guy.Despite it’s supernatural undercurrent, Raimi’s “”Gift”” is really just a well-told murder mystery, much like the way his “”A Simple Plan”” was, at heart, a well-told caper. The film’s multiple twists and turns are anchored by Blanchett, who is wonderful as the gentle and hesitant Annie. Even Reeves stands out, and his burden is not light. His character is the villain we must cower from if the film is going to work, and Reeves makes us shudder.With precious few special effects, Raimi still conveys fear, and the mere suggestion of the presence of evil (mostly embodied by Reeves as the abusive Donnie) is enough to send shivers down your spine.Final Grade A-

An Interview with David Koepp By Courtney Kenny

David who? Many people may not recognize the name David Koepp, but they certainly know his work. He’s the man behind such blockbusters as “”Mission Impossible,”” “”Jurassic Park,”” “”Carlito’s Way””, and more. Note – This is an old interview that we conducted with David, but now that Spiderman mania – which David also wrote, has taken hold of us, we felt that it’d be neat to take a trip down memory lane and re-run this.

David Koepp, 36, was born and raised in the small town of Pewaukee, Wisconsin. He moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at UCLA and lived there for several years. Koepp first tasted success when he co-wrote and produced, “”Apartment Zero,”” directed by Martin Donovan. He later went on to write some of the top box-office hits of all-time, including Steven Spielberg’s “”Jurassic Park”” in 1993, Brian de Palma’s “”Mission Impossible”” in 1996 and Spielberg’s “”The Lost World: Jurassic Park”” in 1997.He made his feature directorial debut in 1996 with “”The Trigger Effect”” after previously directing the short film, “”Suspicious,”” in 1995.In his latest film “”Stir of Echoes””, Koepp took on the difficult task of writing and directing a film based on the renowned book by Richard Matheson. “”Stir of Echoes””is the story of a husband/father whose life changes after he’s hypnotized at a party. The man, Tom Witzky (played by Kevin Bacon), crosses over into a world where he can see everything that is going on around him, including the otherworld He’s become a receiver. And, he’s not alone.The dead surround him, sending him messages that he can’t understand. Tom must find a way to cross back over. But, not before he finds out what he’s received. David Koepp joined us to talk about making “”Stir of Echoes””, working with Kevin Bacon, and

Reflections on Bond, James Bond, by Paul Sparrow-Clarke

Oh, to have a time machine, and travel back to 1962 to see the premiere of the first Bond film, Dr. No, starring a relatively unknown Scottish ex-truck driver, Sean Connery. I’ve seen Dr. No on the big screen, about 10 years ago at a repertory theatre, but I doubt that it captured the magic. But there again, with my jaded 90s filmgoer eyes, it would be impossible to know the excitement of audiences as they realized they were seeing a new type of hero in a new type of screen adventure.

Bond has now been on the screen for 37 years, the character has become a cultural icon, and the films have long become formula.But what a glorious formula it is, and what incarnations the character has gone through (and survived) a rogue, clown, killer, superman (not to mention Scottish, Australian, English, Welsh, and Irish).I’m a Bond fan. I’ve seen every movie at least 3 times, and read all the books. My first movie theatre experience with a Bond film was unfortunate, 1979’s Roger Moore opus Moonraker, surely the worst of the series. But I survived that, and went on to look forward to the release of each new Bond picture. With the release of The World is Not Enough, which looks to be the best Bond film in a long time, I want to share my reflections, thoughts, and opinions on the Bond film series.Fleming: Father of BondBefore I begin writing about the movies, I want to pay my respects to Ian Fleming, the English writer who created agent 007, and wrote 14 books based on the character, starting in 1953. The first Bond novel was Casino Royale, which Fleming wrote on the eve of his marriage at age 42. The Bond novels are characterized by Fleming’s attention to detail and ingenuity with plot and character. Bond himself, while not exactly a great literary character, is nevertheless fleshed-out, human, and a far cry from most of the later film portrayals. The Bond novels remain great reads to this day. The best of the Bond films are those that closely follow at least the spirit of the books.Fleming always thought that his Bond novels would make good films, and this was proved when producers Harry Salzman and Albert “”Cubby”” Broccoli teamed up to film the first Bond big screen adventure, Dr. No. The casting of Bond was a difficult one. At one time or another, Carey Grant and James Mason were considered for the part. Fleming himself thought David Niven would be right for Bond. (I’m glad Fleming wasn’t the casting director.) Instead, they chose a little-known actor, Sean Connery, who ended up delivering the definitive screen 007.Connery’s the ManNo doubt about it. No matter how good they are, any subsequent Bond actor falls in the shadow of Sean Connery. He defined the screen character, and played him perfectly. He had the looks, the style, the moves, and the voice. And though not letter-perfect to the character from the novels, Ian Fleming liked him in the part. So much in fact, that Fleming even gave the literary Bond a Scottish background. The best Bond films are the first three – Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. All of these films feature a greater emphasis on plot and character, too often lost in later movies. My favourite moment from these three is the fight scene in From Russia With Love. If you’re familiar with this film, you know the scene I’m talking about.The setting is the Orient Express. The villain, Red Grant (superbly played with convincing menace by Robert Shaw) has got the drop on Bond. 007 is on his knees in front of Grant, who is holding a gun on him. Through ingenious means that I won’t reveal here for those who haven’t seen the picture, Bond gets the upper hand, and a fight ensues. Though the fight takes place in a small compartment, with very little room to maneuver, the choreography is so well done that the scene is riveting. It still remains one of the best fight scenes ever filmed. In a much later Bond film, Goldeneye, director Martin Campbell intentionally pays homage to this scene with a close-quarters fight between Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Alec Trevalyan (Sean Bean). But the original is best. The scene encapsulates everything that made the first Bond films work so well. Memorably-played characters, plot ingenuity, well-filmed and exciting violence, convincing danger, and a glib remark to provide some release from the suspense. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum and directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton deserve much of the credit for the early Bond style. (Though Hamilton deserves a raspberry for his later Bond films, some of the weakest ever.)By the third film, Goldfinger, the Bond Formula became well-established. It includes the following: pre-credits scene that is a mini-movie in itself, visit to M that sets up the mission, visit to Q branch where Bond receives his latest equipment, beautiful woman that has to be wooed, big villain surrounded by “”little villains”” or henchmen, Bond ally who is murdered by a henchman (or woman), Big Villainous Plot that Bond uncovers, and climactic battle where the villain is defeated (after the body count racks up significantly). Other elements include the one-liners that Bond delivers (usually after or during action scenes), and of course the gadgets themselves that Q (Desmond Llewellyn) provides.When the fourth Bond film, Thunderball, was released, Bond mania was at its height. With that film, the series began to rely on its sets and gadgets more than its characters and plot. You Only Live Twice was even more gadget-laden, and completely ditched the Fleming novel for the first (but sadly not the last) time. Connery quit the part after this film, and the producers desperately hunted for someone to assume the Bond mantle and continue on with the series. They chose an Australian model, and thankfully went back to Ian Fleming for inspiration.Lazenby: Honestly, Mr. BondPity George Lazenby: chosen to follow the most-loved actor of his time in the most successful film series ever. And he had no acting experience, beyond television commercials. Though relatively unsuccessful at the time, Lazenby’s only appearance as 007, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is now considered by many Bond fans to be one of the best in the series. And it’s a terrific film, with a convincing and involving plot, refreshing lack of gadgets, and spectacular action. It’s ski chase sequence is still one of the best ever filmed. The big twist in the plot is, of course, that Bond falls in love and gets married. Diana Rigg plays his bride, Tracy. She is excellent in the role, playing a Bond woman who is tough and independent.Lazenby is quite good as Bond, though his inexperience shows. He lacks the self-assured presence of Connery. In a way, though, this fits the film perfectly, and allows a more honest, human Bond that jives better with the story. Though initially derided by critics, Lazenby’s only Bond film stands as one of the most memorable and powerful of the whole series.OHMSS did not, however, fare as well at the box-office. So the producers lured Connery back for one more turn as 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. This film, while entertaining and well-acted by Connery, marks the beginning of a sad emphasis on comedy and outlandish plots. It also began a downward slide in quality, that continued in earnest with the casting of Roger Moore as Bond.Moore: The Comedy YearsEven in Moore’s first Bond film, Live and Let Die, the problems are obvious. The filmmakers continue the lighthearted comedic style they began in Diamonds Are Forever, and this time they have an actor more than willing to take that style and run with it. The result is what is widely known amongst Bond fans as the James Bond Comedies. They are characterized by outlandish plots, silly villains, cardboard characters, ridiculous slapstick humour, unbelievable gadgets that 007 relies upon to get out of sticky situations, and a Bond that is more concerned with spouting bad puns and not wrinkling his suit than dispatching villains.The ultimate bad Bond movie is Moonraker. To sum up how bad this film is, one need go no further than considering the chase scene in Venice. Bond is in a gondola, pursued by evil villains, and calmly opens a panel to reveal electronic controls that turn the gondola first into a speedboat, and then into a hovercraft. We are then “”treated”” to a scene where Bond drives the gondola/hovercraft through a crowded square, and shots of pigeons doing double-takes and drunks staring at their liquor bottles and throwing them away. Funny, I was 13 when I saw Moonraker, and couldn’t believe how juvenile the film was. Gone is the interesting Bond character created by Ian Fleming. Instead we have a cardboard superman, invulnerable in any situation, tossing off bad jokes and raising his eyebrows. Sigh. But perhaps I’m a bit too hard on the Roger Moore era. Sure, it produced the worst films of the series, but Moore did have some effective moments. The Spy Who Loved Me was very good, with effective set pieces, a memorable villain (“”Jaws,”” the steel-toothed giant), and some sporadic good acting from Moore. For Your Eyes Only was a return to the Fleming style, and features Moore’s most effective performance as Bond. When he coolly dispatches a villain by kicking his car, precariously perched on the edge of a cliff, onto jagged rocks below, you actually sense his anger and desire for revenge. Great stuff, and true to the Fleming character.The last two films of the Moore era, Octopussy and A View to a Kill, were passable. There were scattered good moments vying for attention with scenes like Bond swinging on vines through a jungle, a Tarzan yell on the soundtrack. All in all, though, I was glad to see the end of the comedy years. And for a fan of the books, longing for a return to the true spirit of 007, the next Bond incarnation was a dream come true.Dalton: Back to BasicsInitially, Pierce Brosnan was the actor chosen to next portray James Bond. At the last minute, however, his contract to the tv series Remington Steele prevented him from playing 007. So the producers of the Bond films decided to go with Welsh actor Timothy Dalton, who was one of the actors originally considered when Connery first left the role. Dalton made a great 007. He brought the character back to earth, paved the way for the incredibly successful Brosnan films, and made an acting contribution to the Bond films surpassed only by Sean Connery. It’s odd that most people don’t seem to like him as Bond. I think that you have to have read the Fleming books to really appreciate Dalton’s performance. Back in 1987, with the release of the first Dalton Bond The Living Daylights, I breathed a sigh of relief that the years of the James Bond Comedies were over. Here was an all-too-human James Bond, who was also a ruthless killer when required. Bond was back with a vengeance.There’s one scene in The Living Daylights that comes close to summing up all of Dalton’s strengths as Bond. It’s set in a fairground in Vienna. Bond has met one of his allies, Saunders, in a café that features an electronic sliding door at the entrance. Saunders gives Bond some valuable information, and Bond thanks him, clearly showing his respect. As Saunders walks out of the café, one of the villains activates an electronic device that slams the sliding door into Saunders, killing him. Bond runs over, kneels in front of Saunders’ body, and spots a balloon with the words “”Smiert Spionon”” (“”death to spies””) written on it, indicating that the death was not an accident. The look on Dalton’s face as he realizes this is pricelessâ€

Disney’s Nymphets, By Courtney Kenny

Is it just me, or is the competition getting a lot younger? Every time I turn around, there’s some teenage girl on television bearing her flat mid-riff and her perfect Barbie doll figure. They’re young. They’re tan. They have that twinkle in their eye. And, you just know that they can eat all the pizza and candy they want without gaining an ounce. I hate ’em.

It used to be that supermodels were everywhere, and that was okay. With supermodels, it was obvious that they had just lucked out on the genetic lottery. It was also obvious that these women never ate. They just smoked their way through life. I accepted the fact that I never would (nor would I want to) be a supermodel. Then the “”Bubble-Gum Cutie”” came along. Now every time I turn on the television I’m subjected to some Disney reject like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, or some “”Dawson’s Creek”” babe. They’re cute. They’re sweet. They’re perfect. They’re everywhere. And, they make me want to lose my lunch.If I sound like a woman scorned, it’s because I am scorned. I’m sick of all the standards that women have to put up with. At least with supermodels the normal woman never stood a chance in the first place. And, the normal guy didn’t expect her to. But with these teen-queens, there’s a constant reminder that I used to be just like them. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted. I had that perfect figure once. And try as I might, I’ll never have it again. Why? Because these girls are still growing, and I’m grown. I have hips. They don’t. They’re in that stage of growth where their boobs have developed before anything else. It’s that perfect figure we all remember having once upon a time. Now, it’s a fashion statement. It doesn’t matter that my religion is the workout; my temple is the gym, and my prayers take place everyday on the stair-master, or in the swimming pool, as I pray that I work off that annoying flab on my outer thighs. There will still be that constant reminder of what I once was. That outrageous standard that’s constantly thrown in my face every time I try on trendy clothing.Still, my only consolation is that someday these girls will grow up and their metabolism will take a nosedive. They’ll eat the same food the same way, and suddenly, it will make a difference. The rest of their bodies will catch up with them. Their perfectly flat stomachs will develop that small pooch. And, their sense of self-esteem will be shot. Then they’ll realize what every other woman goes through. Then they’ll have to watch and envy the next set of teen-agers with the perfect body. But, maybe by then they’ll be lucky. Maybe then the standards will have changed. I hope so.

Save Us From Sequels, By Douglas A. Gordon

I’ve been depressed. I used to watch my Star Wars trilogy collection at least once a month. Now I can’t even bring myself to look at my old action figures. Come to think of it, it’s the same with my Austin Powers video. After my last viewing – my twentieth? twenty first? I’ve lost count – I didn’t even have the energy to rewind the tape. What is it that has rendered my usual and most reliable sources of joy and mirth completely ineffectual? Sequels.

Yes, sequels. The summer of 1999 was supposed to be a high point in a lifelong hobby of movie going. I can think of no summer where I looked forward to the studio release slate with such fervid anticipation. Not only would I see the first new Star Wars movie in over 15 years, I’d also get a second helping of the hairy, dentally-challenged swinging super spy, whose sleeper debut was arguably one of the funniest comedies in years.But it is not joy I feel, only pain. I feel betrayed by both George Lucas and Mike Myers. Why? The new stuff just isn’t up to snuff. Of course, we expect sequels to be similar to the chapters before them. Some continuity of character, theme and tone are necessary, otherwise audiences would be left scratching their heads. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third Indiana Jones movie, provided this continuity in its memorable prologue. Look! There’s the young Indiana Jones falling in a pit of snakes. So that’s how he got his intense phobia! Wow! Young Indy is taming a lion with a whip! Not only was it a good way to show how he learned to use his signature weapon, it was also a clever way to explain Harrison Ford’s real life scar on his chin. As the young Indy is crowned with his trademark fedora, the prologue concludes one of the biggest shared “”in jokes”” between a movie and its audience. Spielberg gives the audience what it expects quickly, and then is free to tell the story he wants using a familiar character. The audience is refreshed, as if it’s been reintroduced to an old friend it’s not seen in quite some time. Lucas and Myers got too bogged down in giving the audience what it expects. So much so that it affected the quality of their respective stories. After all, why worry about the audience getting tired when it’s been told time and time again You Are Going To Like This Movie! With the ubiquitous marketing and sheer frenzy prior to the opening of “”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”” and “”Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”” was there ever any question about whether or not people would go see these movies? When marketing and history have pre-sold your movie, why concern yourself over silly little details such as the story?I can almost picture George Lucas sitting down to write “”The Phantom Menace.”” He has a yellow legal pad out on his desk and he’s jotting down thoughts as they come into his head. What lines do I have to put in, he thinks. “”I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”” Of course, that has to be in there. He continues thinking, last time out I had goofy furry alien creatures fight nameless, armored soldiers in an effort to blow up a shield generator. While they’re doing that, there should be an air battle, the goal of which should be to blow up a giant space station that is the key to the enemy’s power. What should I do this time, he asks himself. After a moment of reflection, eureka! He has found it! I know, he proudly thinks, this time I’ll have an air battle, the goal of which should be to blow up a giant control ship that is the key to the enemy’s power. While that’s going on, goofy scaly alien creatures will fight nameless, robotic soldiers. Perfect!While the above writing process was unfolding, Mike Myers sat at his computer, hypnotized by the blinking cursor and – surprise – was hardly able to come up with original ideas for Austin’s second romp. In the first Austin Powers movie, we do not see Dr. Evil’s face until after he has sent the Fez-topped Mustafa and several others to a fiery death. Suddenly we see Dr. Evil and he wants to get on with the announcement of his diabolical plan. But wait! What’s that noise? It’s Mustafa, calling down from below that he’s been “”badly burned”” and is in need of help. It’s a great skewering of the typical action movie convention of violence without consequence, where people are killed without any regard to pain, suffering or remorse. Myers has fun with this, and the result is hilarious.So, Mike Myers decides it worked so well in the first movie, why not try it again? In The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mustafa is thrown off a cliff and a similar line of “”badly injured”” dialogue ensues. This time around, however, it’s not as funny and feels tired and used. With so many spy and action movies in the canon of American and British cinema, it’s a shame Myers couldn’t mine more clich

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