ARLINGTON ROAD - WILD, WILD WEST
SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT
BIG DADDY - AN IDEAL HUSBAND - THE RED VIOLIN
BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB


ARLINGTON ROAD

As Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) nears his home, he comes upon a dazed, horribly injured child in the middle of the road. After frantically rushing the boy to the emergency room, Farraday finds out that Brady is his neighbors' child. Faraday, still recovering from the death of his FBI agent wife Leah, and his girlfriend Brooke (Hope Davis, "Next Stop Wonderland"), become friendly with Oliver and Sheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack), particularly when Faraday's son Graham finds a fast friend in Brady.

But Faraday, a history professor specializing in terrorism, begins to become suspicious of his new neighbor when he spies blueprints in his home and keeps receiving mail for Lang forwarded from places that don't add up with the background he's been told.

Laura's review of 'Arlington Road':
Following the more conventional paranoia films, "Enemy of the State" and "The Net," "Arlington Road" is a refreshingly original conspiracy thriller that refuses to take a conventional route. This is a noteworthy directorial debut by Mark Bellington. If he continues along this vein, he may become one of our most interesting helmsmen.

The opening sequence, where a disoriented Brady's POV is established by out of focus shots of an average neighborhood street taken from disturbingly angles, before we begin to see blood splat on his sneakers, then gush down his pantlegs, is a tour de force. It may be reminiscent of "Seven," but it makes its inspiration its own and puts the audience on edge right out of the gate.

The award-winning script by Ehren Kruger casts doubt on Faraday's suspicions in the form of Brooke, who protests his invasion of privacy on the Langs and wisely conjectures that he's reacting to his wife's death during a botched FBI raid. Everything can play two ways and a sense of dread is very effectively established - are things what they seem? That the Langs have the uncanny ability to appear when they're least wanted to is almost, but only almost, funny - the writing has wit as well. When the truth is horrifically realized, Faraday goes to confront the Langs and save his child and enters their home where a party's taking place. The film goes back into the surreal mode of its opening credits - the party seems no less than the gathering of a witches coven.

While Jeff Bridges has the unenviable task of playing the tormented everyman who no one will believe, Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack excel in their roles, gradually stripping away normalcy (Stepford perkiness in Cusack's case) to reveal true evil. Robbins can make your skin crawl by instructing Graham how to swing a bat while ignoring his own sulking child who cannot join in due to his injury (and was that injury really sustained by setting off firecrackers?) Even young Brady (Mason Gamble, "Rushmore") begins to give one the creeps, as do his equally weird little sisters (Mary Ashleigh Green and Jennie Tooley).

The film's editting by Conrad Buff contributes greatly to the total effect, particularly by the masterful use of cutaways during scene transitions, which encase still lifes which harken back to previous scenes while foretelling what's about to happen. The score by Angelo Badalamenti (of "Twin Peaks" fame), also adds to the unnerving nightmare. A tip of the hat is given to "Sid and Nancy" when K. C. and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" is used in a most inappropriate place.

"Arlington Road's" final cat and mouse game almost seems conventional, even going so far as to make one question seeming plot holes, or at least, stupid character actions. But wait, Bellington has another trick up his sleeve and you're delighted at having been fooled when it all dreadfully ties together.

B+

Robin's review of 'Arlington Road':
"Arlington Road," by director Mark Pellington from the original screenplay by Ehren Kruger, stars Jeff Bridges as Mike Faraday, a teacher of American History at a local college. Mike lost his wife, an FBI agent killed in action a few years before, and hasn't gotten over the loss, even with live-in girlfriend, Brook (Hope Davis), around to ease the pain. His troubled life takes an unexpected turn when new neighbors move in. Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack) are an average, friendly couple who befriend Mike and his son, Grant (Spencer Treat Clark). All is well, until Mike accidentally receives a suspicious piece of Oliver's mail, plummeting the professor into a downward spiral of paranoia and horror.

Mike's inquisitive nature causes him to notice that what he knows about his new neighbors doesn't jive with the little bits of evidence that come his way. The letter, identifying Lang as someone else, sets the teacher on a quest to find the true identity of his neighbor. To his horror, Mike uncovers what appears to be a conspiracy to blow up a government building (shades of Oklahoma City!). Since he's the only one to see the deadly plot, is he just paranoid, or is he right?

Oliver is a successful structural engineer, a good husband and father whose philosophy, to Mike, is, "We all need friends. Life is not the same without 'em." He is such a nice guy, you believe, at first, that Mike really does suffer from paranoia as he digs into the couple's past. But, the mis-delivered mail, suspicious blueprints and clues provided by his wife's old contacts in the FBI, all bring Mike to the conclusion that Oliver is a terrorist bomber.

The cat-and-mouse game that is played through the film keeps the viewer guessing about Mike and the veracity of his findings as he digs into Oliver's past. The build-up is handled well, but there is the underlying certainty that Faraday's suspicions are true and the ending is a foregone conclusion. This takes the film down a notch as the thrill is taken out of the thriller. The surprise ending gives the film a slight boost, but the lengthy setup to this point takes out the punch of the film, replacing it only with final, sudden shock.

Supporting performances overshadow that of the lead. Jeff Bridges never gets his arms around his character, which he did so well in Peter Weir's under-rated "Fearless." Hope Davis ("Last Stop Wonderland") is only adequate in the thankless, two-dimensional, loyal girlfriend role. Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack are exemplary as the seemingly squeaky-clean couple, with Robbins' Oliver Lang building up a sinister menace while looking the innocent.

"Arlington Road" is ultimately a dead end. I give it a C+.


WILD, WILD WEST

Special Agent Jim West has charm, wit and a lightning fast draw. Special Agent Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) is a master of disguise and a brilliant inventor of all kinds of gadgets. Separately, the two have been pursuing the Butcher of New Liberty, Confederate General "Bloodbath" McGrath (Ted Levine), for the slaughter of everyone in the border town during the Civil War. But, the real villain is the evil Dr. Arliss Loveless, the mad genius really responsible for the massacre, who is plotting to overthrow the President of the United States with his giant spider-like war machine. Jim and Artie have their job cut out for them as they do battle with Loveless in director Barry Sonnenfeld's "Wild Wild West."

Robin's review of 'Wild, Wild West':
"Wild Wild West" is fast, frantic, fun and frenzied and, unlike other films-from-TV-shows out there now (the horrid "South Park" movie), a solid retelling of the 60's series. When the TV show first began, it had a more serious and somber tone as Jim and Artie battled bad guys who threaten the president and the country. As the series progressed and the simpler story-lines were done, the show began to take on a more fantastical, science-fiction tone as villains the like of dwarf Dr. Nicolito Loveless (Michael Dunn) and his mad inventions took center stage. The new "WWW" is more like the later shows and this makes it fun.

Will Smith, ready to garner credit for a third 4th of July blockbuster ("Independence Day" and "Men In Black"), is slick and stylish, but with an attitude, as Jim West. The original Jim West, Robert Conrad, did many of his own stunts in the show, so Smith has the tough job of giving the physicality to the role that it deserves. He does it, too, with hip humor and quick moves. Smith is cool enough, he might get a franchise out of this.

Kevin Kline does a fine job of reprising the role so ably performed by the originator of Artemus Gordon, Ross Martin. Kline's Artie is second banana to the charismatic Jim West, but he gets his share of laughs along the way. Kenneth Branagh, as the vengeful Dr. Loveless, plays up the camp factor of the mad half-doctor driven to destroy President Ulysses S. Grant and divide up the United States as his spoils. Salma Hayek plays up the traditional heroine figure of Rita Escobar and gets the best hokey lines as she remarks, of Jim, "He's so impetuous"courageous"graceful!" Loveless is also surrounded by a bevy of bad gal beauties with names like Amazonia, Munitia and Miss Lippenreider (guess her particular talent).

Director Sonnenfeld ("Men In Black"), with a platoon of credited screenwriters, has succeeded in capturing the sheer fun of the old TV show. The outrageous inventions, especially Loveless' battle spider, are a treat for the eye of F/X fans and are done with both imagination and energy. The film is lean, but not mean, and entertains, mostly, from beginning to end.

I give "Wild Wild West" a B-.

Laura's review of 'Wild, Wild West':
Will Will Smith be indubitably crowned the 'King of July 4th weekend box office' with "The Wild Wild West?" It would appear so, although while this effort doesn't stand up to "Men in Black," it could be thought of as 'Men in Black Hats.'

Director Barry Sonnenfeld has already proven his ability to turn old television series into good movies with "The Addams Family." He's a little less successful here, but not for lack of great casting and a fairly witty screenplay.

The film's first half is its most enjoyable as Will Smith is introduced as Army Captain James West having a tryst with a saloon girl in a water tower while keeping an eye on the proceedings below in the dusty Western streets. He's on the lookout for General McGrath (Ted Levine, "The Silence of the Lambs") a disfigured, former Confederate soldier at odds with the Government of President Ulysses S. Grant. McGrath is after a saloon girl of his own and when West barrels into the picture he discovers he's at cross purposes with Federal Marshall Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), artlessly disguised as said object of McGrath's affection.

After the two, previously unknown to each other, unwittingly botch the job, they're called to the White House where a dry Grant describes their character differences, while lauding their skills. West likes to shoot first and ask questions later, while Gordon relies on scientific and psychological means, abhoring weaponry. The film derives most of its humor from this dichotmy.

McGrath, played by Levine as a man who's lost an ear in battle that's been replaced by a mini-gramaphone horn, turns out to be only a front for an even more nefarious villain, Dr. Arliss Loveless, (Kenneth Branaugh) another Confederate who lost 'two legs, a bladder, a spleen, 35 feet of his smaller intenstines and the ability to reproduce' to the Civil War. The effects to present Branaugh as a man from the waist up who mobilizes himself in a steam engine propelled wheelchair are marvelous - akin to Captain Dan in "Forrest Gump." Loveless surrounds himself with four beauties, including Bai Ling ("The Crow," "Red Corner") as Miss East and Sofia Eng as the amusingly named Miss Lippenreider, whose speciality is reading enemy lips from great distances. The perversity of this situation is highlighted when Loveless captures Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek), a woman previously travelling with West and Gordon, for his own physical pleasures. Branaugh is deliciously over the top in the role.

The movie plays up the sci-fi crossed with Western aspects of the TV series, throwing lots of mechanical special effects at the audience. Unfortunately, for such a big budget film, several of the blue screen shots are glaringly obvious with the actors inefficiently incorporated into the background action. The film also overuses in-joke cultural references from "E.T." and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," when it should have quit while it was ahead with a great 'His Master's Voice' visual pun. Elmer Berstein's score sounds like the TV show's theme with every other note missing.

Kevin Kline's always fun to watch and his comic timing and character's various disguises are a delight here as well. Smith's casting against type mostly works with the script attempting to address the incongruity of a black lawman's presence in the 1860's, but he doesn't hold the film on his own. "Wild Wild West" is mostly formulaic eye candy that eventually buckles under its own weight. The ending assures us that, in the unlikely even that this flick bombs, the next years' July 4th weekends will alternately be populated with "Men in Black" and "Wild Wild West" sequels.

B-


SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT

Highly anticipated by its rabid, if dwindling, fan base, the Comedy Central series "South Park" comes to the big screen as a musical featuring almost every character that's appeared in the TV show. When Kyle's mother starts a movement against the poor taste in Terrance and Philip's feature film debut, and I paraphrase here, 'Butts of Fire,' the U.S. ends up in a war with Canada while Stan initiates a resistance movement to win back the hand of Wendy in "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut."

Laura's review of 'South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut':
A determinedly R-rated version of the hit Comedy Central animation featuring four foul-mouthed 2nd graders amidst the strange denizens of a Colorado mountain town, "South Park - Bigger, Longer and Uncut" will only appeal to the most die-hard fans of the series desperate for even the most meager output of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. As a long time fan of the show, I've been hoping that the flagging quality of the show was due to the effort going into the feature film. I was wrong - this is way too little, too late.

The film's first fifteen minutes or so are mildly amusing. Parker and Stone use the feature film debut of Terrance and Philip, the flatulent Canadian duo who are South Park's cartoon within a cartoon (much like 'The Simpons' Itchy and Scratchy Show) to parody the hoopla surrounding their own show - it shouldn't be seen by children, Tee shirts are banned in school, etc. Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny sneak into their idols' flick and begin to use the most foul language, unbleeped, including the dreaded 'F word.' Kyle's mom Sheila Broflovski, she of the infamous *itch song, begins yet another meaningless crusade resulting in an execution order against Terrance and Philip which escalates into a war with Canada. Subplots include Stan's attempts to woo back Wendy by starting a resistance movement and Kyle's ghost warning the foursome that if the execution is carried out, Satan and his lover Sadam Hussein will take over the world.

The problem is very little of this is funny. The film is done as a musical with perhaps the funniest song being "What would Brian Boitano Do?" Even here, the filmmakers fail to make hay by restaging a 'Battle of the Brians' (Brian Orser is a Canadian - who was asleep at the switch on this one?). While all the usual characters return, most are given short shrift, especially Chef who doesn't even get his own song, although his hastily given advice to Stan about a certain piece of the female anatomy plays out to an amusing conclusion (with a tip of the hat to both Woody Allen's "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex" and "The Wizard of Oz"). Most poorly treated is Big Gay Al, perhaps South Park's most tolerant character, who's portrayed here as boorish and selfish.

The animation has been punched up, with brighter colors and special effects sequences when Kenny goes to Hell. Then again, I find the use of shadows in South Park unnecessary and out of place. An Ike sequence at the end of the credits is not worth staying for. The die hards may be thrilled at the sight of Kenny unhooded and the sound of him unmuffled, but it offers nothing to the proceedings.

The film lives up to it's pun-heavy, suggestive title - it is bigger, longer (way too long at about 80 min.) and uncut. Too bad the last word wasn't 'Funnier.'

D+

Robin's review of 'South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut':
"South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is all of what its title says - and less. The foul-mouthed little cretins, who many of us have come to love watching the series, are back and badder than ever. The premise of the film is that the boys sneak into the R-rated movie of their beloved Terrence and Philip and are influenced to such a degree that their normal bad-mouthing takes a quantum leap on the obscenity scale. The third-graders of South Park begin sounding like a bunch of drunken marines on shore leave. The fault, so the parents say, is with T&P and the rest of their Canadian cohorts. Talk of war fills the air as the US mobilizes to wipe out the bad influence on their children. There's a lot of other stuff going on, with none of it particularly amusing.

There is a love triangle involving Stan and Wendy and a new kid in town. Kenny gets killed yet again (though there is a twist), this time heading straight to Hell for a confrontation with Satan and Saddam Hussein. Satan is Saddam's reluctant sex boy toy. There 8 or 10 songs (some familiar, like "Kyle's Mom Is A Bitch," but mostly forgettable). The members of the South Park community all make their entry into features - except for Mr. Hanky. And, did I mention a bunch of foul-mouthed little kids?

One would expect the best of the show be reprised on the screen. It isn't. You get lots of swearing, lewd sexual humor, inane songs and, after the first 20 minutes, little to laugh at. The film should do well abroad, where the series is starting its run, but, for us in the US, it fails miserably.

"South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is yet another case where there should be a law against making a bad movie out of a TV show. Maybe "Wild, Wild West" will be one of the exceptions. This turkey ain't. I give it a D+.


BIG DADDY

32-year-old Sonny Koufax (Adam Sandler) has spent his adult life avoiding responsibility. For the last two years, he has been living off an accident settlement and works just one day a week as a toll collector. His live-in girlfriend Vanessa (Kristy Swanson) is tired of Sonny's slacker attitude and propensity for take-out food. Just when she's about to leave, providence drops opportunity on his lap in the guise of Julian, the hitherto unknown five-year-old son of Sonny's roommate, Kevin (Jon Stewart). Sonny has a brain-storm and decides to "adopt" the boy in a misguided attempt to get Vanessa back in "Big Daddy."

Robin's review of 'Big Daddy':
Adam Sandler had limited success with his earlier starring turns, "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore." He hit pay dirt, popularity-wise, with "The Wedding Singer" and solidified his star status with the enormously successful "The Water Boy." With "Big Daddy," Sandler takes a step backward by going the formula route with a story of a big kid taking care of a little kid. We've been there before and this story has nothing new.

Sandler does do a fine job in playing the irresponsible loafer and delivers his caustic one-liners in a manner one expects from the comedian. Beneath the mantle of Sandler's funny delivery, there is little going on and the talented supporting cast is given little to do. Identical twins Cole and Dylan Spouse, as Julian, are bland to the point of being annoying. The wonderful Joey Lauren Adams ("Chasing Amy") is wasted as the real love in Sonny's life. Jon Stewart is given virtually nothing to do as the roommate/real father. Only Rob Schneider, as the like-one-of-the-family Delivery Guy, and Leslie Mann ("George of the Jungle"), as Stewart's buxom fiancee who worked her way through medical school as a waitress at Hooters, are able to make anything of substance out of their amusing characters.

The humor is aimed at the baser funny bones in the body with vomiting, urinating, rudeness, guy gags and, sometimes, cruelty (tripping skaters in Central Park for fun) as the spark for most of the jokes. The requisite sentimentality is sprinkled throughout the mix, but the overall message, until the obvious syrupy resolution near the end, is not for responsible parenting. The philosophy of "give the kid options, not orders" prevails, giving an overall negative feeling to the film. "Big Daddy" lacks the warm, goofy humor of "The Water Boy" and the charismatic charm of "The Wedding Singer." I'm disappointed with Sandler, director Dennis Dugan ("Beverly Hills Ninja") and the screenwriters, newcomer Steve Franks and Tim Herlihy ("The Wedding Singer") for giving us an essentially mean-spirited comedy. I give it a C.

Laura's review of 'Big Daddy':
In an attempt to broaden his audience, Adam Sandler's latest, "Big Daddy," is a hit and miss affair. The screenplay, by Steve Franks and Tim Herlihy & Adam Sandler, is choppy and formulaic. Where it will go is a known quantity from the moment Sandler finds himself with a 5 year old boy on his hands.

Sandler is Sonny Koufax, a 32 year old law school graduate doing nothing with his life since he's been able to support himself with a $200,000 taxi cab accident settlement. His girlfriend Vanessa (Kristy Swanson, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is getting tired of his lack of ambition and responsibility. When Sonny's roommate Kevin (Jon Stewart) leaves for an extended business trip to China, 5 year old Julian (played by twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) is depositted on their doorstep, the result of a one night stand Kevin had in Toronto. Sonny tells Social Services that he's Kevin, agreeing to keep the child until an adoptive family can be found. Sonny's plan is to impress Vanessa with his new found responsibility, but that immediately backfires and Sonny's dumped. Of course, he falls in love with the kid, finds a new girlfriend Layla (Joey Lauren Adams, "Chasing Amy") and learns to become a man.

The flick is intermittently funny because of Sandler's child rearing philosophy - 'Do what you wanna do and I'll show you some cool sh*t along the way. That's what it's all about.' Julian asks to be named Frankenstein, wears outrageous getups, learns to pee against walls and drop lungees to the ground before vacuuming them back into his mouth. Sonny uses newspapers to solve problems like spilt milk, bed wetting and junk food overindulgence vomitting. His most clever handling of a childish situation comes when Julian displays that annoying childish habit of repeating everything one says. "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood," Sonny retorts, shutting the kid right up. Takes one to know one.

Sonny is horrified when a teacher tells him that his child has problems, including hygenic ones - "I've got the smelly kid in school!" This wakes Sonny up to amend his loose parenting ways and inject some discipline. Some of the film's most endearing moments occur in this segment. Sonny dresses up like Julian's action figure Scuba Steve and announces he's Scuba Sam, Steve's father, and that Steve is afraid to bathe alone - clever.

Sandler is a likeable guy and Joey Lauren Adams lights up the screen whenever she appears. Rob Schneider is less obnoxious than usual as an illegal immigrant fast food deliverer who hangs with Sonny. Leslie Mann ("George of the Jungle") shows considerable spunk as Corrinne, Layla's older sister and Kevin's fiance, a doctor who's tormented by Sonny constantly because of a long ago job at Hooters. Corrine can't abide Sonny and is horrified when her sister begins to fall for him. Other support is wasted, from Jon Stewarts abrupt departure and equally abrupt reintroduction to Steve Buscemi as a homeless man. An attempt to showcase the kindler, gentler Sandler by having two of his best friends be a gay couple is too obvious and mishandled.

Technically the film is a solid production. Overall "Big Daddy" has a muted tone that may bore fans of "The Waterboy" while it's not up to par with Sandler's earlier female friendly "The Wedding Singer" either.

B-


AN IDEAL HUSBAND

Directed by Oliver Parker, "An Ideal Husband" is adapted for the screen by Parker from one of Oscar Wilde's lesser known plays. Jeremy Northram ("The Net") is Sir Robert Chiltern, a popular British pol loved by his constituents and adored by his wife, Lady Gertrude (Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth"). Chiltern's sister, Miss Mabel (Minnie Driver, "Good Will Hunting") is being pursued for her hand by Tommy Trafford (Ben Pullen), but has her cap set for Lord Goring (Rupert Everett, "My Best Friend's Wedding"), Chiltern's best friend who's a self proclaimed eternal bachelor and unambitious gentleman. Then Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore, "Boogie Nights") arrives in London from Vienna with evidence of the one skeleton in Chiltern's closet to blackmail him into backing a politically immoral plan for an Argentinian canal which will throw all their lives into uncharted territory.

Laura's review of 'An Ideal Husband':
Although it has the drawing room-bound feel of a stage play, "An Ideal Husband" is a delightfully witty and timely adaptation of a Wilde work which works as surprisingly well at the onset of the millenium as it must have at the turn of the 20th century.

Parker has assembled a marvelous cast here. Northam has never shown the shadings of character he does here as the conflicted Chiltern, a man who's forgotten that one false move has brought him untold happiness and respect. Northam creates a truly decent man, humble and a perfect civil servant. That he adores his wife is unquestioned when seeing Northam interact with Blanchett's Gertrude. The amazing Blanchett has a more subdued role here than her flashy Elizabeth, but she's affecting too. Blanchett's Lady Gertrude is serenely confident until the appearance of Mrs. Cheveley, and Mrs. Cheveley's interest in her husband, immediately brings her guard up. Blanchett finds just the right note of humor to bring to her character's conundrum of having to compromise herself to make things right after learning of her 'ideal husband's' feet of clay.

The most enjoyable performance to watch is that of Everett's Lord Goring. He's the epitome of the idle rich, desiring nothing more of life than to indulge himself while avoiding marriage, much to his father, Lord Caversham's (John Wood) consternation. He's more than a blueblood, though, as he proves by being a true friend to the Chilterns even when circumstances cause Robert to disown him. Everett was born for Wilde lines like 'I love talking about nothing. It's the only thing I know something about.'. Minnie Driver's the quintessential modern 1895 woman, constantly challenging Goring's stated beliefs while shaking him to his foundation, in her attempt to land her man.

This is a film lush with dialogue. When Mrs. Cheveley implores Goring to call her Laura, he replies 'I don't like that name.' 'You used to adore it,' she replies. 'That's why,' he shoots back. In an early scene, the plot is carried forward by deepening its principle characters while they watch a presentation of "The Importance of Being Ernest," perhaps Wilde's best known work.

"An Ideal Husband" is a delightful tale of the human condition's foibles being thrust into political and societal arenas where everything works out as its characters deserve. It's as sharp, funny and profound and makes one wish Oscar Wilde were alive to make his observations on the state of the world today.

B+

Robin's review of 'An Ideal Husband':
The wit of the last turn-of-the-century, Oscar Wilde, collides with the hip cynicism of the new turn-of-the-century with the film adaptation of the author's play, "An Ideal Husband," by helmer/writer Oliver Parker ("Othello").

Notable, among a notable cast, is Rupert Everett as the personification of Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Goring. Everett expertly conveys the dry wit, bored sophistication and wonderful words of the author and playwright. An extremely wealthy man, Arthur can afford to seem bored with his surroundings, but actually revels in the popularity his bachelorhood has on London's society. My only complaint about Everett's performance is that the man does not have enough screen time, he is so entertaining to watch and to listen. He proved his comic ability in "My Best Friend's Wedding" and, in "An Ideal Husband," he also proves his ability to handle a film lead with aplomb.

The cast surrounding Everett are top-notch. Jeremy Northam ("The Net") has the more stalwart and reserved character of the two male leads, but lends a convincing air to his Sir Robert Chiltern. Sir Robert is an honest man with a great deal of integrity, but with a past he'd rather forget. Julianne Moore, as the venomous Mrs. Cheveley, the woman who can destroy Sir Robert's marriage and career, is a first-class villain. Her unusual attractiveness, outwardly sweet demeanor and black heart make her one of the best bad guys in recent years.

Cate Blanchett, who has yet to hit a false note with her acting - just check her out in "Elizabeth," and, for contrast, "Pushing Tin" - has the understated role of Sir Robert's loving and loyal wife. This could have been just a two-dimensional supporting perf, but, in Blanchett's talented hands, Gertrude is a real person with a sense of humor and genuine presence. Minnie Driver ("Tarzan") play's Mabel, Sir Robert's sister and ward, and reps the modern woman of the times. The rest of the supporting characters are richly cast, too.

The production values are exemplary with the set design, by Michael Howells ("Ever After: A Cinderella Story"), beautifully capturing the opulence of turn-of-the-century London society. Costuming by Caroline Harris ("The Governess"), especially for the women, is stunning. Each femme character is dressed in a manner befitting their position, temperament and, for Mrs. Cheveley, audacity. Lensing, by David Johnson ("Othello"), suitably captures the grandness of the time.

The keen wit and wry humor of Oscar Wilde is neatly transferred from the stage to the big screen, making "An Ideal Husband" an ideal alternative to the onslaught of Hollywood summer films. It's also an intelligent date flick to boot. I give it a B+.


THE RED VIOLIN

Director Francois Girard, who made a critical splash with his sophomore effort, "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," in 1993, delivers his third work to the art-film circuit with "The Red Violin." Girard and co-scripter Don McKellar create an original story centered on the creation and life of the title character, a one-of-a-kind musical instrument created by the master craftsman, Nicolo Bussotti, following the death, during childbirth, of his beloved wife. The raw, despondent emotion of the artisan results in an instrument that truly takes on a life of its own.

Robin's review of 'The Red Violin':
Spanning over 300 years, the story follows the instrument as it passes from owner to owner, up until the intriguing, modern day auction that places the mystical violin as the showcase item. Following its creation, the violin spends generations in the hands of young musicians at a remote Austrian monastery, including a young savant who dies, suddenly, at his debut performance for the court of the emperor. For many decades it passes through the hands of numerous gypsy musicians and travels the world until it ends up with the passionate, turn-of-the-century violinist, Frederick Pope. A volatile romantic tryst by Pope forces the fiddle to be spirited by his manservant to China, surfacing again during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960's. Finally, it arrives in the present day and is about to be auctioned in Montreal after being authenticated by musical anthropologist Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson).

The telling of this epic tale is handled with deft confidence by Girard as it jumps back and forth in time. Early on, the pregnant wife of the creator of the unique violin seeks out a fortune-teller to predict her and her baby's future. The Tarot cards selected are shown to the viewer, one by one, over the course of the film like a series of chapters to the story. Each chapter brings us to a new time in the life of the instrument until, finally, we arrive at the modern day events and the subtle intrigue surrounding the violin and Morritz.

"The Red Violin," over two hours long in run-time, is evenly paced and nicely combines the story with the music from the mystical fiddle. There is also the element of a mystery as we try to figure out what intrigue Charles Morritz is up to. The music, by soloist Joshua Bell, lends to the richness of the story and contributes strongly to the pace of the film. I give "The Red Violin" a B.

Laura's review of 'The Red Violin':
"The Red Violin" is an omnibus film which traces the fate of a legendary musical instrument from its birth in 17th century Italy to a Montreal auction house in the present day. It tells four tales with varying degress of success, connected by a Tarot reading recounted in the first and the present day action, where expert Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson) traces the violin's origin and struggles with a moral dilemma as people connected to the tales of the past gather to bid on the covetted violin.

The film works best in its first, uninterrupted tale, where orphanned musical prodigy Kaspar Weiss (Christoph Koncz) is discoverred in a remote monastery by Georges Poussin (Jean-Luc Bideau), a man who wishes to win the favor of the Viennese court with his protege. Poussin comes to love the child, which makes Kaspar's fate all the more resonant. The violin is next acquired by grave digging gypsies and is seen passing through the years in montage, as its passed from one gypsy to the next before being spyed by the Pagnini-like maestro Frederick Pope (Jason Flemyng, "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"). He's inspired to compose while literally making love to his tempestuous mistress Victoria (Greta Scacchi), a writer who makes a fateful trip to Russia to do research for her fictional current work before returning to commit musical murder. This episode borders on silliness and seems out of place with the other, tragic tales.

The violin is sold to a Chinese pawnshop where it languishes until the 1930's. It's new owner, Xiang Pei (Sylvia Chang) grows up with the instrument only to be swept up in the cultural revolution which demanded the destruction of such useless western trappings. Her love of the violin and the bravery of a comrade save it for a future Chinese government's profit.

The connective stories are also a hit and miss affair. Fictional violin maker Nicolo Bussotti's creation of his masterpiece as his wife awaits the birth of their first child is a somewhat stilted, heavily symbolic account. At film's end, the uniqueness of the violin's lacquer is explained via flashback just as Morritz receives his conclusive DNA tests on the compound. Better is the auction itself, which is always restarted a few beats before its last appearance started, a nice bit of editting which constantly presents different points of view.

"The Red Violin" was directed and cowritten (with Don McKellar, who also appears in the film) by Canadian Francois Girard ("Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould"). Technically proficient and beautiful to look at, the film is nonetheless not entirely successful due to its uneven stories and mostly unnoteworthy acting, Jackson being the main exception. Music by John Corigliano is fine, but not as outstanding nor as central as a movie about a violin demands. Still, the film's surprise ending which takes places amidst an exciting auction presided over by auctioneer Colm Feore ("City of Angels") leaves us on an upswing after a four hundred year journey and two hour run time that's never boring.

B


BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB

About 40 years ago, the Iron Curtain crashed down around the island of Cuba. Since then, the country and its people have been isolated from much of the influence US, for these decades, upon the world. In Cuba, the newest American cars is vintage 1958 and the music of the Latino nation has flourished in the vacuum created by the US/Soviet hegemony. In 1998, musician/composer Ry Cooder and crew (including German avant-garde film director Wim Wenders) trekked to the isle nation to seek out the musicians who have continued to make Cubano music in "Buena Vista Social Club."

Robin's review of 'An Ideal Husband':
While Wenders ran the behind-the-camera show in filming "BVSC," Ry Cooder is the force behind the project who brings it to its wonderfully melodic conclusion. When his initial plans to gather an international collection of Latino musicians and singers in Havana went awry, Cooder changed direction and sought out local, old timers who once played, during Havana's heyday in the 40's, in the Buena Vista Social Club. Cooder's effort, which culminates in a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall, turns out to be a gem for fan's of Cubano-Latino music.

The collection of Havana legends may not be known, yet, outside of the confines of Cuba, but there will be a following, world wide, for this wonderful group of performers. The elders of the new BVSC, 90-year-old showman Compay Segundo and slightly younger pianist Ruben Gonzalez, lead the talented troupe, whose younger members have 4+ decades of musical experience apiece themselves. Their music carries messages of life, love, passion, politics and, sometimes, mirth, with one song, "Tula's Room" (sorry, I don't know the Spanish name - my translation), being obvious fun for the players as well as the viewers.

The documentary style, by Wenders, is straightforward, inter-cutting between the musical segments and the autobiographies of the musicians, while showing day-to-day life in the Cuban capital. The crisp editing jumps back and forth among its pieces in a seamless manner that is entertaining and informative. For fans of Latino music, like me, "Buena Vista Social Club" is a must see. And, if you like the film, the BVSC will be touring the US in the fall, appearing at Boston's Symphony Hall in October. I give it a B+.


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