2003 Movies

by Tim Van Schmidt

Casa de los Babys ***

A situational drama set in an exotic locale. Written and directed by John Sayles, this movie compares and contrasts everyday life in a Latin American town with the dreams and desires of six Anglo women attempting to adopt babies. The women, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Susan Lynch, Mary Steenburgen and Lili Taylor, are displaced and vulnerable and each deal with the long term delay in completing their adoptions in their own way- by exercising, gossiping, exchanging life views or complaining. Around them are maids, street kids, small time hustlers, lawyers and hotel owners who serve their needs and at times despise them. The filming is rich in imagery, but no real story or conclusion arises, other than the reasons why the women couldn’t have children. Like the women, this movie leaves the viewer in limbo.

Freaky Friday ***

A message-oriented school-age comedy. This version, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, is a remake of the 1976 production. It’s a parable-type story set in contemporary American suburbia where a magical fortune cookie switches the places of an overachieving mother and her spunky teenage daughter. Curtis is Tess Coleman, the busy, exacting mother and Lohan is Anna, the teen with an attitude. Through various comic situations, the pair learn what life is like for each other. Lohan makes this movie spin with her version of her mother in her body- smart, quick-thinking but frantic. Curtis has the easier time being a confused teenager. Mark Harmon plays Tess’ fiancé. (DVD, 1 hr. 38 min., 2003.)

Stander ****

An action drama set in an exotic locale. Based on a true story, this movie follows the progress of South African policeman Andre Stander from standing on the front lines during race riots to robbing banks and thumbing his nose at his former associates. In begins in disillusionment when Stander ends up shooting a rioter and regrets the action. He takes himself off active riot duty and to his disgust he discovers that his police department is so busy reacting to the “black problem” that it leaves wide security breeches elsewhere. He takes advantage of it by robbing a bank, then ironically returns to the scene of the crime as an investigator.

The pickings seem easy for Stander until he is apprehended and sent to prison. There he hooks up with two other cons who operate on the same wavelength. Stander busts his way out of prison, the cons reunite and they form a bank robbery gang that becomes very successful, achieving a kind of cult hero status among the people- even the bank presidents brag about being robbed by Stander. The more they steal, the more Stander’s former associates want to get him. The South African locale and the mix of cultures inherent in the story keep this movie interesting even though it becomes just a standard action flick at times. The riot at the beginning is riveting as is the scene where Stander presents himself to the father of the man he killed. Above and beyond the action, the movie also includes touches of emotion. The relationship between the robbers is rough but rings true, as does Stander’s conflict with rebelling against the system while leaving behind his attractive wife and stoic father. Starring Thomas Jane, Ashley Taylor, David O’Hara, Dexter Fletcher. (DVD, 1 hr. 56 min., Columbia Tristar 2003.)

The Mother ****

An eye-opening drama filled with the angst of confusion and the power of sex. Anne Reid plays May, a woman whose longtime husband dies while on a trip to London to visit their son and daughter. May’s relationship with her children is strained but they have little choice but to pull together to take care of the situation. But then May is not psychologically ready to return home, so she moves back to London to hang in limbo, shuttling back and forth between her kids’ households. In her son’s house, she meets a handyman named Darren, a married man who is coincidentally carrying on an affair with May’s daughter. May and Darren are drawn together by circumstance and it becomes intimate, Darren servicing May with apparent gusto. This however brings to a head the difficulty May’s children have in dealing with the present and reconciling the past. It also propels May into dealing with her own life. (DVD, 1 hr. 52 min., Columbia Tristar 2003)

Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines ***

There is a significant problem with “Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines” and that is its reliance on humor in between the action sequences. “Terminator 3” often comes off like a parody of the previous movies, making jokes out of standard elements to the Terminator story.

That includes making Schwarzenegger’s Terminator- who must travel through time nude- look for his clothes in a bar celebrating “ladies night.” Not only that but he dons a pair of glitzy sunglasses while the song “Macho Man” plays in the background. This stuff had already been parodied in the second movie- Schwarzenegger gets his duds in a biker bar, he dons tough biker shades and the music is George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” In “3” it’s not just an amusing aside, it’s a big laugh. And, really, laughing just does not help to make the dire circumstances of the plot seem real.

But more, “Terminator 3” also makes something dumb out of Schwarzenegger’s famous “I’ll be back” line. He says it about the evil Terminator trying to once again assassinate character John Connor- “she’ll be back”- and about himself when he appears to save the day- “I’m back.” A parody of the scene where Schwartzenegger cuts open his skin to do some repairs is done matter-of-factly as he talks with Connor- only this time he cuts open his entire chest. The familiar elements to the Terminator movies are so familiar that they have become jokes in “3.”

Apparently to balance the humor out, “Terminator 3” is also jammed full of crashing, bashing action sequences. There are a couple of vehicle chase scenes and, I have to admit, the one that features a huge truck and crane trying to run down the little vehicle the protagonists are trying to escape in is awesome in its own way- just way too long. Add more screeching tires, a lot of machine gun blasting and plenty of boxing between the two Terminators and you’ve just described a large chunk of the movie.

Personally, I like the twist that the bad Terminator in “3” is an exotically attractive female, especially one who can match Schwarzenegger blow for blow. There is the addition of a new character, played by Claire Danes, who will become Connor’s wife in the future. But the rest of it is old hat- teeth-clenching references to the takeover by the machines are more like constantly repeated tag lines and an obligatory reference to Sarah Connor attempts to sweep up a loose end quickly, showing how little of the original story remains intact.

That Connor and his future wife end up in a bomb shelter, talking to survivors of the initial machine attack via radio, is a compelling finish. But too much has gone wrong with “3” to save it from being an inferior, and even disrespectful, addition to the series.

Directed by Jonathan Mostow…2003…109 min…featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken (as T-X,) David Andrews.

Zelary ****

A World War II romance set in the mountains of Czechoslovakia. The story begins when a young woman flees the city as the Gestapo closes in on the resistance organization she is working with. She has just given blood to an injured mill worker from the mountains, who takes her home with him and becomes her protector. He also becomes her husband in a marriage of convenience that is designed to quell the suspicions of the conservative mountain folk living in their village.

The movie then follows the young woman’s integration into the local community, which isn’t particularly smooth. She has a hard time adjusting to the more primitive way of life as well as getting over her distrust of her protector. Added to this is the day-to-day brutality of the mountain life, which includes beaten wives and children and rampant alcoholism. The woman is nearly raped twice, yet she finds the strength to not only carry on but also fall in love with her husband. As you might expect, the war finally comes to the village and while the Germans have lost, the danger does not particularly diminish.

While the romance itself is touching, what seems like a stronger theme is how the mountain villagers come together to help each other survive despite their personal problems and this affects the young woman. In one scene, the young city refugee helps dress the wounds of the man who tries to rape her.

The movie is filmed with lots of gorgeous scenery- so much so, it is hard at times to remember that this is occurring in a tumultuous and deadly time in history. Despite a ponderous length, it’s an effective epic romance.

Directed by Ondrej Trojan…2003…150 min…featuring Anna Geislerova (as Eliska/Hana,) Gyorgy Cserhalmi (as Joza,) Jaroslava Adamova (as Lucka,) Miroslav Donutil, Jaroslav Dusek, Ivan Trojan, Tomas Zatecka.

Hulk ****

Great split-screen action. Nick Nolte does an excellent turn as Bruce Banner’s crazed father- intense performance!

Directed by Ang Lee…2003…138 min…Eric Bana (as Bruce Banner,) Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Lou Ferrigno, Stan Lee.


More about Wolverine is revealed as the humans move in on the mutants.

Directed by Bryan Singer…2003…133 min…featuring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Brian Cox.

Dream Warrior **

Directed by Zachary Weintraub…2003…95 min…featuring Daniel Goddard, Lance Henriksen, Sherilyn Fenn, Richard Norton, Isaac Hayes.