THE IRON GIANT - THE SIXTH SENSE
DICK - TRICK - MYSTERY MEN
THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR


THE IRON GIANT

It's 1957 in a seaside town in Maine. Sputnik circles Earth, representing both the Red Menace and the wonders of technology. A fisherman's boat is destroyed when a 50 foot tall iron man rises from the ocean, but his tale is met with derision by the townspeople. Young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) sneaks out one night and is caught in a thunderstorm at the local power plant just as that same robotic giant becomes entangled in power lines. Hogarth powers down the plant to save the terrifying apparition and a unique friendship is born in "The Iron Giant."

Laura's review of 'The Iron Giant':
Disney Studios has finally been seriously challenged on the American animation front by Warner Brothers charming, beautifully realized "The Iron Giant." Retro in both is story and look, "The Iron Giant" resembles 1950s SciFi movies crossed with "ET." Its messages about antiviolence and acceptance of differences are embedded in a quirky story that will delight children and adults.

Adapted by Tim McCanlies from the book by Ted Hughes and directed by Brad Bird with a lot of heart, this boy and his dog story with a twist takes no time establishing its uniqueness. Hogarth is being brought up by his widowed mom Annie (Jennifer Aniston) who works long hours waitressing at the town diner. There Hogarth meets Dean (Harry Connick Jr.), a beatnik whose confident sense of himself allows him to disregard his outsider status. Dean runs the town scrapyard where he works creating modernistic metal sculptures that are a bit ahead of their time.

Hogarth's friendship with Dean comes in mighty handy when the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) needs to be fed (he eats metal) and hidden from the local populace. News of the giant has brought Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), an ambitious Government agent looking for a means to distinguish himself, snooping around. Hogarth teaches the giant to talk and that 'all good things have a soul which never dies.' He prods him to aspire to be like Superman and takes him to the local swimming hole. The giant is apparently from outer space, and a hint to his purpose is discovered when he attacks on the defensive, almost harming Hogarth. With Kent Mansley hot on Hogarth's tail, soon the army swarms into town to destroy the thing they don't understand and the Iron Giant's defensive systems kick into high gear.

"The Iron Giant" has a wonderful look, from the amazing title creature himself to its multi dimensional landscapes, recalling the style of Disney's "101 Dalmatians." Marvelous details are scattered throughout the film, such as a "Red Menace" comic book lying in Hogarth's room or the black and white brain monster movie he watches on TV. The snow which begins to swirl as the Iron Giant's fate becomes inevitable evokes both wonder at its beauty and regretful melancholy. The film's score by Michael Kamen strongly places the story in its era, particularly when Dean is projected with funky jazz.

"The Iron Giant" is an instant classic which leaves its audience with a sense of wonder and hope.

A

Robin's review of 'The Iron Giant':
"The Iron Giant" is the first animated feature from Warner Brothers Family Entertainment that can go toe-to-toe with Disney and be a winner! It is a true for-kids-of-all-ages movie and I hope that it gets the box-office attention it so richly deserves. Everyone who sees this flick is going to want an Iron Giant of his/her very own and, likely, fall in love with the movie.

"The Iron Giant" is the second Cold War kids' movie out this year. (I highly recommend the outstanding family-oriented "October Sky" for the live action side of kids living under the threat of the Red Menace.) The nice thing about both films is the innocent way the kids respond to their parents' paranoia over the Communist threat. Like true kids, they are intrigued by any kind of "threat," making a game of it all. And, they naturally see the good in the things around them. In "October Sky," the technology of rocketry and space travel are more interesting to the kids than is nuclear annihilation. In "The Iron Giant," young Hogarth is more interested in teaching and feeding his huge, alien, metal, android friend, than in thinking if the giant is part of the Communist conspiracy. This innocence is quite refreshing, in an old-fashioned way, when compared with the usual cynical and jaded attitude films have today.

The return to innocence is not the only retro feeling item in "The Iron Giant." The animation effort, led by director Brad Bird (creator of TV's "The Family Dog"), is akin to the quality cartoons produced by Fritz Freleng and Chuck Jones for Warner's in the 50's. There are also similarities in quality and imagination to the Disney classic, "101 Dalmations." Great attention is paid to characters and background details. In what can only be an homage to "101," there are several sequences where the characters are watching TV. The animation within the animation is so seamless and well done, it evinces a giggle of pleasure.

Coupled with the classical-style animation of "The Iron Giant" is the first-rate tale. Based on the 1968 short story by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, called "The Iron Man," the director adapted the short with Tim McCanlies and transferred the action to the fictitious hamlet of Rockwell, Maine. The story takes place just after the 4 October 1957 launch of Sputnik. The adults of Rockwell are in a frenzy over the Red Scare, fearing that Russian missiles will rain down upon them at any minute. This fear is compounded when a UFO lands in the sea off of the town's coast and proves to be a giant, 50-foot-tall metal robot from another world!

The yarn concerns the title character and Hogarth Hughes (voice by Eli Marienthal), a headstrong and imaginative 9-year-old, who saves the robot when the behemoth tries to eat a power station (metal is Giant's favorite food) and gets tangled in the power lines. The bond that develops between the unlikely pair is challenged by the paranoia created by the Cold War and the fear of annihilation by nuclear bombs by the town-folk. Things are handled in a straightforward manner, as the safety of Giant becomes the cause celebre of Hogarth and the new friend he enlists. Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr.) is the beatnik owner of the local junkyard that becomes Giant's own, personal fast food place. He is also instrumental in helping Hogarth save Giant from the evil intentions of nosy government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald).

This simple tale has a tremendous amount of heart and sentimentality contained within its framework. The main themes, couched in the Cold War "drama," are of loyalty, friendship and understanding things that are different from us. The anti-gun message is also extreme - in one sequence, hunters kill "Bambi" - and probably won't win much praise from the NRA. The messages, though, are positive and life affirming, so what's wrong with that.

The vocal talents brought forward here are not the typical collection of movie or TV stars/personalities who usually pepper modern animation features. 11-year-old Marienthal is a new, fresh voice to animation and he gives Hogarth the character to act and react like a real kid. The wonder and love Hogarth feels for Giant is heart warming and amusing, both. The Giant, voiced by Vin Diesel, is better than ET. He's a lost puppy, a powerful weapon, an inquisitive kid and a loyal friend all rolled into one. Harry Connick Jr. lends just the right note to his vocalization of beatnik artist Dean. Connick's drawl and cool-cat demeanor lend just the right note to his helpful, trusting adult character.

Jennifer Aniston voices Hogarth's mom, Annie Hughes. Annie is a single mother who is more likely a war widow than divorced and comes across strong and protective of her son. Other vocal talents are provided by veteran actors Cloris Leachman, M.Emmet Walsh and John Mahoney (TV's "Frasier") as the gruff General Rogard, the leader of the army brought in by Mansley to destroy the giant..

"The Iron Giant" is the cream of this summer's family entertainment and is truly for kids of all ages. I give it an A-.


THE SIXTH SENSE

Eight year old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment, "Forrest Gump") has a terrible secret that he can't share with anyone, not even his adoring, recently divorced mom (Toni Collette, "Muriel's Wedding"). This secret causes Cole no end of trouble with his peers, who regard him as a freak, and his schoolteachers. Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is an award winning child psychologist, trying to heal himself of the guilt over his one failure with a patient, now an adult who recently shot him and then committed suicide. Dr. Crowe sees his former patient in Cole and gains Cole's trust until the young boy can reveal his terrifying secret - that he sees dead people - all the time - in "The Sixth Sense."

Laura's review of 'The Sixth Sense':
Written and directed by 28 year old M. Night Shyamalan ("Wide Awake"), "The Sixth Sense" turns out to be one of the biggest surprises of the summer - an intelligent, well acted thriller with genuinely creepy moments and a knock-your-socks-off surprise twist of an ending. This is a thought-provoking film with fully realized characters that's grippingly played out.

Eleven year old Haley Joel Osment has the look of a precocious poppet, yet this young boy turns in an assured, mature and complex performance that's worthy of Oscar consideration. The kid bears the weight of the world on his shoulders, yet has the strength to shield his beloved mom from his problem even as his constant terror (and physical abuse) escapes in behavior that can only be viewed as troubling. Bruce Willis plays Dr. Crowe with a melancholy restraint, allowing his young costar to take center stage. This is the best material Willis has been associated with since "Nobody's Fool." Willis' character is also troubled, as he struggles with the breakdown of a previously ecstatically happy marriage which was hugely impacted by the film's opening shooting incident and Crowe's subsequent descent into guilt and professional torpor.

Support is also top notch. Olivia Williams ("Rushmore") plays Crowe's wife Anna initially as a woman giddily in love. When we next see her, she's fallen into a deep depression, barely communicating with her husband - they cohabitate like two ghosts. Toni Collette is also strong as Lynn Sear, a newly single mom trying to cope with her unusual son while juggling two jobs to make ends meet. Collette maintains a line between presenting an upbeat, loving attitude and allowing her frustration and shrinking ability to cope to simmer to the surface.

Shyamalan's script foreshadows all the events that will take place, yet the storyline continues to surprise. Cole keeps sanctuary in both his Philadelphia neighborhood church as well as a tent he's created in his bedroom, well stocked with religious statuary. He'll have soul searching encounters with Dr. Crowe in the one, and eventually confront his fears in the other. Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg), Crowe's earlier patient not only had a case history similar to Cole's, but will provide Crowe with a stunning realization about his new case. The final revelation is a bombshell, yet you immediately realize that Shyamalan's told you all along what you failed to see.

The film was shot by Tak Fujimoto ("The Silence of the Lambs") who uses camera angles to unsettling effect. The film frequently recalls Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," another story about a young boy with a sixth sense who could see the dead. Fujimoto also captures a real sense of place with the Philadelphia locations.

Shyamalan only makes two wrong moves with this film. In one scene, Lynn leaves the kitchen momentarily and returns to find Cole sitting while every cupboard and drawer is now opened. A jolting moment, but one that doesn't jibe with the actual ghost sightings later in the film. In another, Cole reacts to a teacher's skepticism by revealing the teacher's childhood taunt - "Stuttering Stanley! Stuttering Stanley!" until the now stuttering teacher explodes and calls him a freak. The teacher's actions don't ring true. But Shymalan can be forgiven for all the terrific scenes he does have - Lynn stopping her housekeeping and suddenly noticing that in every picture of Cole hanging in the hallway, light has refracted over his right shoulder; Crowe shattering the front door of his wife's antique shop just as she's about to kiss another man.

Shyamalan is a film talent to watch and his "The Sixth Sense" is an unexpected treat.

B+

Robin's review of 'The Sixth Sense':
In a film like "The Sixth Sense," casting is of much more importance than it would be, say, in a big-budget, special F/X extravaganza where acting takes a back seat to the visuals. "Jurassic Park," for example, could have been made with any number of actors in the respective roles and the film would have been pretty much the same. For a highly charged, yet subtly delivered, psychological horror drama, the cast can make or break a film. In "The Sixth Sense," casting (by Avy Kaufman, "The Ice Storm") proves to be the key to success. The four main players forming the heart of the film, combined with an awesome screenplay, prove to be a formula for a supernatural drama that is intelligent and surprising.

Superstar Bruce Willis, though at home in the realm of the action hero films, has been know to prove he can, in fact, act ("Nobody's Fool" and "Pulp Fiction," for example). Here, as child psychiatrist Dr. Malcolm Crowe, Willis lends both his star power and acting chops to the film, giving "The Sixth Sense" a good shot at a decent box office draw. Willis's performance is on the subdued side, befitting the demeanor of his character. This is, I think, intentional, as the veteran paves the way for the real star of "The Sixth Sense" - 11-year old Haley Joel Osment as the troubled Cole Sear.

Osment, whom I first noticed in the amusing, little, 1996 kids' film, "Bogus," is, in a word, incredible. This veteran child actor (he's been doing this since age 5) gives a powerful performance as a little boy who has the gift/curse to see the ghosts of the restless dead walking among the living. The filmmakers do not over-use Cole's point-of-view and only show a few instances of the visual horror that the little boy lives with every day. As such, it falls upon Osment's shoulders to convey his secret without an excess of visuals. The kid does real good and actually generates a chill as he makes you feel, just a little bit, the isolation and terror of his life. Osmet gives an award-worthy performance.

Also impressive is Australian Toni Colette ("Muriel's Wedding") as Cole's single mother, Lynn. She knows her boy is special and tormented, but he never tells her his horrible secret. Lynn is emotionally torn apart by her son's plight and doesn't know what to do. It's a fine performance as Colette fleshes out the role into a true three-dimensional character. Olivia Williams ("The Postman") is heartfelt and tragic as Dr. Malcolm's wife, who seems estranged and lost from her husband following the terrible shooting at the film's start. Anna is a strongly symbolic figure and Williams gives her the poise and grace to flesh out the symbolism of the character into a real person.

Of course, casting alone does not a film make. "The Sixth Sense" also happens to have an original script by its helmer, M. Night Shyamalan, that is intelligent, intricate, spooky and well told. The ghost story has elements that are reminiscent of Kubrick's "The Shining" in Cole's visions of the dead and the horror of being alone. The story also tells of the relationship that develops between the doctor and his young patient as each is helped by the other to their mutual salvation. I won't go into the story more than this. The surprise ending is deftly handled and the writing that gets you there has the attention to detail to make sense all the way through.

Shyamalan's direction is as even as his writing, from start to finish. The first half of the film, as the story unfolds, is very quiet, with Cole speaking in whispers as you learn of his gift/curse. Don't let this languid telling fool you, though. There is power and detail that nicely build up the tensions of the story, giving the revelations of the climax a firm footing in believability. "The Sixth Sense" is a true horror film that delivers a creepiness akin to the under-rated 1990 film, "Jacob's Ladder."

Intelligence and substance in a summer horror flick? Who'd of thought it. I give "The Sixth Sense" a B+.


DICK

Nixon, Haldeman, Dean, Liddy, Hunt, Erlichmann, Woodward, Bernstein are all names that relate to one of the greatest crises ever faced by the American presidency - Watergate. Now, we can add Betsy Jobs and Arlene Lorenzo to that lexicon in director Andrew Fleming's view of what really may have happened in the White House in 1973. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams star as a ditzy pair of teens who bring President Richard M. Nixon to his political knees in "Dick."

Robin's review of 'Dick':
Helmer Fleming ("The Craft") co-wrote the original screenplay with newcomer Sheryl Longin and have put a fresh face on the old being-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-right-time theme. The writers have selected one of America's worst political moments as the subject - the break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters by the White House Plumbers and its subsequent cover-up at the highest levels of power. This dramatic, tense period doesn't seem like food for comedy, but the filmmakers pull off a funny, if uneven, satire on the subject.

"Dick" is a film in two parts. One part is the pandemonium of the break-in and subsequent cover-up by Nixon and his henchmen. Part two brings in Betsy and Arlene, a pair of kooky teenage girls who, when we first meet them, are hurriedly putting together a contest entry form for "A Date With Bobby Sherman." Arlene lives in the Watergate Apartments with her man-hungry mother (Teri Garr) and, on this particular night - the night the Plumbers invade the Democratic headquarters - the two teens sneak out, taping the door to the underground garage open, to mail their entry before midnight. Two things happen during their nocturnal sojourn - they meet G. Gordon Liddy skulking around the stairway of the Watergate and security guards discover the tape, triggering the alarm of the break-in.

The joining of the two pieces then dovetails as the Betsy and Arlene visit the White House on a school outing and, through a comedy of circumstance, end up being hired as the official White House dogwalkers for the president's pooch (which he mistakenly calls Checkers - get it?) The new job brings the girls into the political stratosphere of the presidency and they become privy to all that is going on with the Watergate cover-up. They are incensed by the events and, after they find out that Nixon is really a "potty-mouth" who kicks his dog, decide to go to the Washington Post with their story.

"Dick" is, partly, an insightful satire that is a comedic rendition of "All the President's Men," with the two kooky girls leading the destruction of the president. The humorous view into the Watergate scandal walks a fine line as Hedaya's Nixon steadily declines, striking out at those around him as he dives deeper into his paranoid delusions. The political side of the film is a dark comedy with a hard edge.

The story of Betsy and Arlene, on the other hand, is uneven. Kirsten Dunst ("Drop Dead Gorgeous") once again shows her acting ability and gives a wonderful performance as the effervescent Betsy. She's the total teenage girl of the 70's and throws herself into her role, giving the character a ditzy, post-hippie outlook and energy that make Betsy a person. Michelle Williams ("Dawson's Creek"), plays the introverted, but passionate Arlene - a role that could have been done well in other hands. Williams is bland and does not give Arlene any real life in her performance.

The strength of "Dick" lies in the supporting actors who make up the cast of characters in the Watergate scandal. Most notable is Dan Hedaya as Richard Nixon. The actor bears a strong resemblance to the late chief of state, but his performance is much more. The actor actually delves into the twisted psyche of the most powerful man in the world as he loses control. Hedaya's is a complex and more than just a comedic performance.

Complementing Hedaya is a collection of humorists who turn the Watergate players into an amusing ensemble of characters. The best, after Hedaya, are Saul Rubinek in a hilarious characterization of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, and a creepy/funny perf by Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy. Unfortunately, neither is in the film much, so the pleasure they give is brief. Will Ferrell ("Saturday Night Live") and Bruce McCulloch ("Kids in the Hall") are a riot as the Laurel-and-Hardy team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They are like a pair of bickering, little kids, throughout the film, whose meteoric rise to fame has nothing to do with good reporting, just luck. Dave Foley ("Talk Radio") is OK as H.R.Haldeman, capturing the mannerisms but not much else.

Tech credits are adequate, but there is nothing exceptional in either production design (Barbara Dunphy, "The Man Without A Face") or costume (Deborah Everton, "Star Trek: First Contact"). (Another 70's period film, "Detroit Rock City," does a far better job with capturing the feel of the time.)

"Dick" doesn't maintain the edge that is needed to make this a top-rate satire. It tries to be both satire and goofy fun. Focus is on the fun, not the wit, but I'm rooting for Hedaya to get Best Supporting actor notice - he's that good. I give it a B.

Laura's review of 'Dick':
The concept of "Dick" is a clever one. Throw two clueless teenage girls into the midst of Nixon's White House at the beginning of the Watergate scandal. It's unfortunate for writer/director Andrew Fleming ("The Craft") and writer Sheryl Longin's clever, if uneven, effort that this film will undoubtedly have a hard time finding its demographic. Anyone old enough to remember the Watergate days will surely have many laughs with "Dick."

Kirsten Dunst ("Wag the Dog") and Michelle Williams (TV's "Dawson's Creek") are spot on the as girls-who-just-wanna-have-fun (and win a date with Bobby Sherman) and stumble upon G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer, "This is Spinal Tap") during the breakin, and then again at the White House during a class trip. Liddy blows the whistle on them and Bob Haldeman (Dave Foley, TV's "Newsradio") tries to spin damage control. Enter Nixon (Dan Hedaya, "Clueless"), who draws the girls in closer as 'official White House dog walkers' and 'secret youth advisors.'

Initially Betsy and Arlene are thrilled with their responsibilities and Nixon himself. Arlene (Williams) even dismantles her Bobby Sherman shrine to replace it with her president, before falling asleep to a romantic fantasy of Nixon riding along a beach on a white horse (one of the most hilarious images in a movie this year). They even bake Nixon cookies (unbeknownst to them, Betsy's drafted brother hides his pot stash amongst the walnuts), which become very popular with the White House staff and even result Leonid Brezhnev breaking into show tunes.

When they find a tape recorder in Rosemary Wood's desk drawer, Arlene takes the opportunity to record an 18 1/2 minute crush note to Dick that ends with her rendition of Olivia Newton John's 'I Honestly Love You.' Then they're horrified to find their hero saying some nasty things - things that cause Betsy to tell him 'You kicked Checkers, you're prejudiced and you have a potty mouth.' The now vengeful duo call the Washington Post and pose as 'Deep Throat.'

This is the point at which the very clever script begins to lose steam. The final third of the film begins to meander, although the new focus on Woodward (Will Ferrell of SNL) and Bernstein (Kids in the Hall alumnus Bruce McCulloch) hilariously deflates their personas as presented in "All the President's Men." The actors who portray Nixon's White House give the film its funniest moments, and they subside into the background.

Most noteworthy is Dan Hedaya as Nixon in one of the best, and surely most comical, supporting actor roles. Hedaya nails Nixon with a subtlty the man himself never had. Saul Rubineck had me screaming with laughter as Kissinger, but is, unfortunately, underutilized.

"Dick" establishes its era through costume, early 70's commercials ('Please don't squeeze the Charmin') and songs ('You're So Vain' plays as a disillusioned Arlene takes down her Dick pix).

I even had to laugh at noting that, at least in the Boston area, "Trick" opened on the same day as "Dick." Who planned THAT?

B-


TRICK

Gabriel (Christian Campbell) has a problem. He's been picked up by a hot young go go boy on the subway but they can't find a place to be alone. Over the course of one long night in New York City, the two will come across feuding couples, a nasty drag queen and Gabriel's self-involved best friend Katherine (Tori Spelling). Something amazing will happen, though - a one night stand will turn into romance.

Laura's review of 'Trick':
"Trick" is a surprisingly sweet and hilarious independent film with interesting character arcs. Gabriel is an aspiring writer of musicals, which keeps his bonds with Katherine, a singing actress who he used to date before he realized he was gay, strong. Katherine clearly still years for Gabriel romantically. Mark (John Paul Pitoc), the young stud Gabriel's too shy to approach on his own, is quietly aggressive, and initially, even a little threatening. He seems almost a bit rough trade, not a good match for nice guy Gabriel.

Their odyssey begins when they retire to Gabriel's apartment only to discover Katherine in the process of printing 150 resumes. She then insists on performing a number, ostensibly to show off Gabriel's songwriting abilities to Mark. Gabriel finally gets rid of her and nervously allows Mark bring a fantasy to realization - he's always wanted to be made love to while playing the piano ('In my fantasy, I take requests.'). But they're interrupted by Gabriel's roommate, who wants to use the apartment to have sex with a girlfriend who's just returned from months in Paris. Gabriel thinks of his buddy Perry (Steve Hayes), who's performing at a local club. Perry agrees to let Gabriel have his assignation at his place, but they run into Perry's ex-lover on the way and the two fall into a tender reunion, helped along by Mark. This is our first indication that there may be more to Mark than we've initially thought.

Mark then brings Gabriel to a gay club where he's obviously very well known. Gabriel's cornered in the men's room by drag performer Miss Coco Peru (the outrageous Clinton Leupp), who tells him a hair raising tale of her encounter with Mark. He then leaves only to find Mark being kissed by another man and leaves, deeply hurt. The two eventually will end up together, but not before another run in with Katherine and her adoring friends and Gabriel's roommate's aspiring sex therapist girlfriend. After their truly unique and horrific evening they finally share a tender kiss and hopeful beginning and Mark confidently strides down the street singing his song, 'Enter You.'

While the script by Jason Schafer calls to mind Martin Scorcese's "After Hours," it's sunny where that film was pitch black. Theater director Jim Fall easily transitions into feature film directing utilizing such New York City locations as Greenwich Village and Chelsea. The cast is uniformly marvelous with J.P. Pitoc making a noteworthy debut as Mark and Spelling turning in a hilarious performance devoid of ego.

"Trick" shouldn't be pigeon-holed as a gay film - any audience would enjoy this delightful and sweet entertainment.

B+


MYSTERY MEN

Every super hero has a super power. The Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria) throws cutlery, especially dinner forks, with deadly accuracy. The Shoveler (William H. Macy) wields a shovel with deft ease. Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) gets, well, really, really angry. But, this trio of super avenger wannabes have some tough competition in Champion City in the guise of Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), a crime fighter who rivals Superman in his zeal to rid the city of criminals. When the Captain, in a blatant self-promotion to keep his job as supreme crime-fighter, gets nefarious criminal mastermind Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) released from the insane asylum, things go drastically wrong. The villainous Casanova kidnaps Captain Amazing and the city is threatened with total destruction. But, our hopeful trio jumps at the chance to fight crime and recruit a few good (super) men and women to help them in "Mystery Men."

Robin's review of 'Mystery Men':
The Mystery Men made their debut in the Dark Horse comic book series, "Flaming Carrot," and went on to have their own adventures and misadventures in that publication. The Men are seven in number and, in addition to the trio of founders, the complement is reinforced in several guises. First, there is The Spleen (played by Paul Reubens), whose gypsy-curse-induced flatulence is both devastating and accurate (he can take out a bar full of people at 30 feet). The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) is unmatched in her skill with her bowling ball (which contains the skull of her ever-present, late father, Carmine the Bowler). Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) has the power to turn invisible - if no one is looking. And, finally, they are joined by The Sphinx (Wes Studi), the mysterious crime-fighter "from down south" who is the group's learned and wise teacher.

This disparate and goofy crew of heroes is matched against Casanova Frankenstein and his minions, with the beautiful Dr. Anabel Leek (Lena Olin) and dastardly Disco Boys (led by Brit comedian Eddie Izzard) leading the assorted gangs of henchmen. The gangs are made up of a bevy of colorful thugs called The Frat Boys, The Suzies (gay, oriental, martial arts masters), and The Suits, who look suspiciously like members of the Mafia.

This combination of a very large, talented cast and a charming idea of a group of misfit dreamers becoming true super heroes is well intentioned, but one whose execution is not entirely successful. With a modest run-time of well under two hours, the makers of "Mystery Men" simply bite off a bit more than they could properly handle. The sheer number of characters - the not-so-magnificent seven, Casanova and his henchman, the romantic interest and the families of the Men - make for a cluttered plot with too many stories going on at the same time.

Although the Mystery Men are firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of comic book super heroes fans, the filmmakers, rightfully, feel the need to explain the roots of all the principles. This requisite development of so many characters is time consuming and intrudes into the action elements of the film. The non-fans of the Men will come out of the theater with a better understanding of the comic heroes, but the time invested does not prove worth the effort given. So much time is spent in getting to know everyone, the jokes are few and far between when they should be fast and furious.

Everyone involved in the production does a first rate job, from the actors to the behind-the-camera crew. Of the talented cast, Greg Kinnear is tops in his all-too-brief performance as the egotistical Captain Amazing. The Men are all solid, if unremarkable, in there respective roles. Geoffrey Rush, one of the most versatile actors in the profession today, is underutilized as the evil Casanova. Direction by newcomer Kinka User is functional. Photography by Stephen H. Burum ("Mission Impossible") helps the film with a crisp look, even in the darker scenes. Neil Cuthbert's screenplay packs an awful lot of information into 100 or so minutes.

If the creative team, both in front of and behind the camera, can keep together for a sequel, they may be onto a potential franchise. But, that's the future. For the present, I give "Mystery Men" a C+.

Laura's review of 'Mystery Men':
"Mystery Men" boasts a cast composed of a wealth of independent film stalwarts portraying a group of dsyfunctional, self-proclaimed super heroes and a hideous title.

Champion City is almost totally void of villains thanks to the efforts of Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear, "As Good As It Gets"). When Pepsi drops him as a corporate sponsor, his alter-ego Lance (whom nobody recognizes when he dons eyeglasses) arranges for the parole of his most heinous nemesis, Cassanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush, "Shakespeare in Love"). But Frankenstein captures Amazing and its up to a small band of ragtag wannabes to save him and the city.

Ben Stiller is Mr. Furious, the leader of the group which also contains The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria, "Godzilla") and The Shoveler (William H. Macy, "Fargo"). Invisible Boy (who only becomes invisible when no one's watching) and The Spleen (Paul Reubens, "Pee Wee's Big Adventure"), literally cursed with flatulence, also attach themselves to the group. Auditions turn up The Bowler (Janeanne Garofalo), daughter of the legendary Carmine the Bowler. Conflict arises with the arrival of The Sphinx (Wes Studi, "Last of the Mohicans") who steals Mr. Furious' leadership away from him. The film also stars Lena Olin as Cassanova Frankenstein's moll, Eddie Izzard ("Velvet Goldmine") and Pras (The Fugees) as his henchmen, Claire Forlani ("Meet Joe Black") as Stiller's love interest, Jennifer Lewis ("The Preacher's Wife") as The Shoveler's long suffering wife and Tom Waits as a non-lethal weapons manufacturer.

This had the makings of a cult classic, but unfortunately the script isn't outrageous enough, doesn't go far enough. It does have enough offbeat charm to keep it likeable, though. Mr. Furious is constantly attempting to come up with witty lines but keeps spouting malapropisms. The Blue Rajah, whose speciality is throwing forks and spoons (never knives!), is given his grandmother's silverware by his mom (Louise Lasser) with the admonition 'I was saving this for your wedding day but from the looks of it that day's a long way off.' The ever ernest Shoveler announces 'We've got a date with destiny and it looks like she's ordering the lobster,' just as they're about to storm Frankenstein's fortress. The best gag comes from Furious' dissing of The Sphinx' textbook witticisms.

Of the cast, Kinnear surprisingly stands out as the overly assured Captain Amazing. Stiller, Macy and Garofalo are as solid as one would expect, with Macy being downright touching. While it's fun (and encouraging) to see the talented Reubens, it's disheartening to see him relegated to an over-inflated fart joke. The talented Geoffrey Rush is given nowhere enough to do as the flashily titled villain - he comes more alive in Kinnear's description of him than he does in his own performance.

"Mystery Men" is a gentle let down. B-


THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR

Director John McTiernan takes a decided career turn from the adrenaline-pumping actioners such as "Die Hard" and "Predator" and takes a shot at a romantic thriller in his remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen vehicle by the same name - "The Thomas Crown Affair."

Robin's review of 'The Thomas Crown Affair':
Reprising the title role first portrayed by McQueen in the Norman Jewison film (one of the actor's most lifeless performances) Pierce Brosnan plays the fabulously wealthy Thomas Crown, a private art collector whose passion for paintings is an obsession. As the story opens, Thomas sits in a museum gazing at his favorite painting while throngs ogle the $100 million Monet on an adjacent wall. Meanwhile, a high tech robbery is in the works, using the "Trojan horse" trick to get into the bowels of the museum. In a slick sequence, the crime is foiled and the mega-buck painting is neatly absconded with by Crown. Was the billionaire responsible for it all? This sets the tone of Thomas as a man who is much, much more than what he seems.

Enter Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), a "bounty hunter" for hire by high-powered insurance companies trying to save from paying such big buck settlements like the theft of a 100-mil painting. Catherine is beautiful, sexy and ambitious and will stop at nothing to attain her goals - including using her body as part of her arsenal. She is intelligent, savvy and so good at her job, she is no longer challenged by any man. The art theft is the catalyst for her as she, first, suspects Thomas, then sees him as the first worthy adversary of her career. The sexual and professional interplay between the two main characters becomes the center of "The Thomas Crown Affair."

"Affair" is a slick, stylish romantic thriller that uses a duality of view to tell its story. In a unique method of adapting the original 60's screenplay by Alan R. Trustman, the filmmakers enlisted a pair of writers who had never worked together to collaborate on the script - Leslie Dixon ("Mrs. Doubtfire") tackles the love story, while Kurt Wimmer ("Sphere") handles the heist scenes and the action. The pair, with Bird, provides a seamless story telling that is efficient in its execution. "Cat-and-mouse-game" applies to both aspects of the story as Thomas and Catherine confront each other professionally while sparking romance at the same time. Catherine, who never felt any conflict with using anything at her means - including her body - to get what she wants, suddenly questions herself, her past and her future. Thomas is also willing to give up everything for Catherine, but the trust is up to her. Silly plot devices, like Catherine figuring out that Thomas is suspect numero uno in about, oh, thirty seconds, can be forgiven.

Brosnan is suitably suave and debonair in the role of Thomas Crown and plays the man as a bon vivant with an ever-present twinkle in his eye. It's not a stretch for the latest James Bond, but Pierce is comfortable in the character. Russo, who just looks smug for the first half of the film, takes off as the femme fatale and really plays up her sexy bod. Kudos to costume designer Kate Harrington for a stunning wardrobe for Russo, especially a see-through dress worn in a party scene.

Supporting cast is led by Denis Leary as Detective Michael McCann, the cop on the case, in a bland role/performance. Veterans Ben Gazzara and Fritz Weaver walk through in small cameo roles. Faye Dunaway makes a campy appearance as Thomas's shrink who helps him with his commitment problems. In an unintentionally funny bit of casting, super-model Esther Canadas plays a sultry art forger whose total range of emotion is to have a really bad scowl.

Tech credits are high-end Hollywood with cinematographer Tom Priestley ("Blue Chips") giving the film the lush Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous look that complements the various, sometimes decadent, sets designed by Bruno Rubeo ("Driving Miss Daisy").

"The Thomas Crown Affair" is a deft effort by McTiernan, combining the parenthetical action sequences around the core love story. It's quick paced, good looking and solidly acted - a good selection for light summer entertainment. I give it a B-.

Laura's review of 'The Thomas Crown Affair':
Action director John McTiernan ("Die Hard") has remade the 1968 film starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in a surprisingly gentler fashion that oftentimes is superior to the original.

Pierce Brosnan (the current James Bond) is Thomas Crown, a self-made millionaire who loves a challenge, but finds them harder and harder to come by. He plays his cards so close to his chest that, now in his forties, he's been unable to deal with the trust so important in forging a fulfilling, romantic relationship - something which his psychiatrist loves to taunt him with (Faye Dunaway, in one of the year's funniest cameos).

When a Monet valued at $100 million is stolen from a New York City art museum, in struts Catherine Banning (Rene Russo, "Tin Cup"), a freelance insurance investigator who loves the chase and her 5% commision. She immediately suspects Crown, much to the disbelief of the detective on the case (Denis Leary, "Monument Ave."). She also wastes no time letting Crown know that he's her man, a prospect which intrigues him mightily.

As in the original film, this is a sexual mating dance between two well-matched individuals who both also have high stakes in defeating the other's agenda. The New York detective character, who in the original also seemingly falls for the determined female investigator while not approving of her methods, here is played as a wry observer of the romantic entanglement she wants to disavow.

Brosnan is a more forgiveable thief (McQueen robbed a bank, in a more thrillingly played opener), yet is as unreadable as McQueen was in one of his second-tier roles. He has the good grace (he produced the film) to let Russo shine, and shine she does. Russo is smart and sexy (she always sports that messed, bedroom look along with her designer wardrobe). They have an impromptu dance at a party she's crashed that's hotter than most sex scenes that have ever been filmed. Denis Leary also creates a character of note and, being a Boston area native, is the film's one concession to the original's Boston locations (well, OK, Faye Dunaway used to live there when she was married to Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band).

The film has the high gloss look of a great production featuring wealthy people as its protagonists. Bill Conti's ("Rocky") score is also a surprising treat, featuring refrains of the original's Oscar winning "Windmills of Your Mind" and modern clapping and tapping rhythms.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" ending is a hit and miss for anyone who's seen the original. While Crown's final gambit is a delight (he again creates confusion in the museum, getting lost by his pursuers among a group of men clad, like him, in Magritte-like bowler hats), the filmmakers opt for a happy ending where the first was ambiguous (and subsquently more satisfying) at best. B


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