by Tim Van Schmidt
My Sister’s Keeper ***
Mental illness issues are reflected in this story about two sisters, deeply connected but living radically different lives. One is in and out of the hospital, needy and seriously unpredictable while the other struggles to maintain an independent life which includes a career and a relationship.
Directed by Ron Lagomarsino…2002…90 min…featuring Kathy Bates, Elizabeth Perkins, Lynn Redgrave, Kimberly J. Brown, Hallee Hirsh, Ann Cusak, Clark Gregg.
The Twilight Samurai ****
An elegiac recollection of a daughter about her father in a tumultuous time in Japanese history. Directed by Yoji Yamada this gritty story follows the fortunes of Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada,) a low level samurai in a warrior clan. Seibei’s wife dies of consumption and he discovers that despite his hardships, he is not unhappy taking care of his two daughters and senile mother. His devotion to his family, however, draws the ire of his co-workers, who give him a nickname- “Twilight”- for his seemingly dour mood. However, Seibei retains some sword skills that give him a reputation that lands him an assignment he cannot refuse. His gentle care for his family and his strong feelings for his childhood girlfriend are tested by a return to fighting an adversary who also questions the sanity of the warlord culture. The imbalances in Seibei’s life mirror the imbalances in Japanese life as the changing military and political scene interrupts the lives of simple citizens attempting to live quietly and love deeply. (2 hr. 9 min. Empire Pictures 2002.)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding ***
This movie is pure fluff, but amusing fluff. A frumpy hostess at an American-Greek family restaurant blossoms as a woman first because of pursuing further education, then through a romance. The trouble, though, is that the boyfriend is non-Greek and this stirs the family up. Though peopled by basic stereotypes, the movie uses a light hand to create a warm, friendly comedy. Nia Vardalos, also a screenwriter, is featured as Toula Portokalos, the ugly duckling who turns into a swan. John Corbett appears as her romantic interest, Michael Constantine is the traditional father and Andrea Martin is a pushy aunt. 2002.
Millennium Actress ****
The set-up for “Millennium Actress” is that a longtime Japanese movie studio is being torn down and a documentary filmmaker interviews one of its biggest stars in a tribute effort. But that is just the start of this animated adventure of the heart.
It turns out the filmmaker is really an enamored fan of the actress and their conversations become passionate excursions into the past. While the actress relates her story of undying love for a mysterious man she meets only a few times in her lifetime, the interviewer and cameraman find themselves taken into the scenes of her movies. The interviewer even becomes her protector as her search for the man who gives her a key as a keepsake takes them through history and various battles.
This bending of time turns “Millennium Actress” into stimulating viewing. This is not a linear story, but it burns with unsatisfied love in its soul throughout. It’s a clever and passionate production.
Directed by Satoshi Kon…2002…1 hr. 27 min.
Season 1, Episodes: “The German Woman,” “The White Feather,” “A Lesson in Murder.”
Rich details of the World War II effort in England in 1940 create a tension-filled background for these wry detective stories.
Created by Anthony Horowitz…2002…featuring Michael Kitchen (as Christopher Foyle), Honeysuckle Weeks (as Samantha Stewart), Anthony Howell (as Sgt. Paul Milner).
Red Dragon ***
“Red Dragon” is the prequel to complete the trilogy of movies featuring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, the extremely smart and extremely insane doctor known for killing with wicked precision then eating his victims with relish. Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter was creepy and sensational in 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs,” enough to inspire a sequel, “Hannibal” in 2001 and finally “Red Dragon” in 2002. “Red Dragon” is based on 1986 thriller “Manhunter,” which featured the first appearance of the Hannibal Lecter character, but portrayed by Brian Cox.
“Red Dragon” is all about the horrible twistedness human beings are capable of- and Hannibal Lecter is not alone in his sickness. Here, there is a “pilgrim” who believes he is becoming a supernatural being inspired by a William Blake painting- and he feels part of his transformation requires that he help others “transform” too, in sick, violent ways. On his trail is a reluctant FBI investigator who uses his sensitivity to the criminal mind to track down murderers just like Lecter and the Red Dragon- and he and his family suffer for it. A mildly intense psychological thriller, heavy on the talking in between action scenes.
Directed by Brett Ratner…2002…124 min…featuring Anthony Hopkins (as Hannibal Lecter), Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary -Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Reign of Fire ****
Action and grimy adventure. An alternate world- where dragons have scorched the earth- is believably created. The scenes of the skydivers are among some of the best in science fiction video. Christian Bale plays nervously valiant Quinn, an unforgettable character. Matthew McConaughey is a crazed, wild dragon killer, truly an edgy performance. Gerard Butler. 2002.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind ***
Annoying. Faux noir. Purportedly about TV producer Chuck Barris’ secret life as a CIA assassin. Hit the gong, please!! Sam Rockwell. Drew Barrymore. George Clooney. Julia Roberts. 2002.
There’s science fiction at the heart of the Spider-Man story. A teenager is bitten by a genetically modified spider that transfers some of its DNA into the youngster, who becomes super-strong along with other abilities as a result. However, the science fiction in “Spider-Man,” the movie, is more or less just an excuse for smashing, flying fists. That’s what the movie descends to after the initial set-up has been established.
In the first part of “Spider-Man,” science plays a big role in the action and the dialogue. First of all, there’s teenager Peter Parker’s run-in with the “super spider.” This occurs in a science lab where spiders are being researched heavily. Just before going into the lab, however, Parker has a conversation with his pal Harry’s father about being interested in science.
Norman Osborn is himself a scientist, using his skills to work on flight platforms and performance enhancers for the military. This leads to his own transformation into a genetically altered human, super strong, but crazed. That’s about as far as science goes in “Spider-Man.” Sure, there are plenty of scenes of flying devices and unnatural physical feats, but it is all in the name of action.
Fortunately, there is a strong emotional element to “Spider-Man” that keeps it human. There is a conscious attempt to add a moral to the story- and it’s a good one. The angst Parker demonstrates over his Uncle’s murder is dramatically effective and helps make the moral a very real lesson. The romantic triangle between Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn also adds extra emotional juice.
But these are just thin strands in the “Spider-Man” movie. It exists more for the loud fight scenes between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, smashing and crashing themselves across the screen. I’ll admit, the most thrilling scenes in the movie are the swinging scenes, where Spider-Man is propelling himself down the urban canyons, from building to building, with apparent physical freedom. But again, that’s about action.
Directed by Sam Raimi…2002…121 minutes…featuring Tobey Maguire (as Peter/Spider-Man)…Willem Dafoe (as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin)…Kirsten Dunst (as mary Jane Watson)…James Franco (as Harry Osborn)…Cliff Robertson (as Uncle Ben)…Rosemary Harris (as Aunt May)…JK Simmons (as Jonah Jameson)
Minority Report ****
A high-tech future challenges personal and professional ethics. It all revolves around an agency called “Pre-Crime,” a method for predicting murders before they happen. Cool flashes of future technology- like 3-D touch screen desktops, talking advertisements and magnetic cars- fill the landscape of the movie. But it all boils down to a murder mystery and corporate skullduggery.
Directed by Steven Spielberg…2002…145 min…featuring Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Jessica Capshaw, Eugene Osment, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton.
Directed by Kurt Wimmer…2002…107 min…featuring Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Emily Watson, Dominic Purcell.