THE PATRIOT - THE PERFECT STORM
CHICKEN RUN - ME, MYSELF & IRENE - SHAFT
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST - BUTTERFLY - BEAU TRAVAIL
GONE IN 60 SECONDS - CHUTNEY POPCORN - KIKUJIRO


THE PATRIOT

South Carolina. 1776. Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a farmer and furniture maker, is a pacifist. A hero in the French and Indian War, the recently widowed planter has seven children to raise and the rebellion is not for him or his family. Even when his eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), goes off to join the rebel militia, ashamed of his father, Ben steadfastly maintains his isolationism. But, fate takes a hand and, after a violent battle between British regulars and the rag-tage rebels at Martin's front door, a cruel, sadistic British officer, Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), brutally guns down one of the farmer's sons, sparking revenge and revolution in "The Patriot."

Robin's review of 'The Patriot':
Director/co-executive producer Roland Emmerich has been the master of the cliche since his American debut with the Jean-Claude Van Damme-er "Universal Soldier." He continued his record with "StarGate," "Independence Day" and "Godzilla." While the latter film was not all that successful, it and the others gave Emmerich the clout to helm a big budget, Revolutionary War actioner starring Mel Gibson and a cast of thousands. Despite the budget and star, the director has, once again, made another formulaic, cliche-ridden flick.

The American rebellion against King George is an admirable backdrop for the routine story by Robert Rodat ("Saving Private Ryan," another routine tale), that could have been called "Braveheart 2." The peaceful Benjamin is driven to the brink and beyond by a sadist who does something really cruel (and stupid) to incense the hero to action. Lots of fighting takes place and just deserts are delivered in the end and all the rebels live happily ever after. From the beginning to the end, you know the story before it happens. There were moments where the tale could have taken an interesting twist, but never does. Originally, "The Patriot" was supposed to be based on the exploits of Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox, but political correctness, due to some nefarious deeds by Marion, made the makers switch to a fiction with only a real life backdrop of the Revolutionary War.

There are three things, though, that put "The Patriot" a notch above the rest of Emmerich's oeuvres - the aforementioned bucks, the star power and draw of Mel Gibson, and one of the best production teams I have seen behind the camera. The technical staff involved helps to overshadow the oft-used tale and, through the magic of movement on screen, succeed in recreating the look and feel of the period and of war.

Emmerich has assembled an often-awarded team of film crafters and their collective experience is obvious in the finished product. Foremost is the dazzling photography by the brilliant Caleb Deschanel ("The Natural," "Fly Away Home"). The lenser has always been a favorite of mine and has given the movies he shoots the most beautiful and striking images one will ever see on the screen. His fine eye for composition makes "The Patriot" one of the best looking films of the year. The huge, panoramic battle scenes are crystal clear and visually stunning. His close-up photography of the fighting is fast, furious and frightening in its intensity. Even routine scenes have an artistry in how they are photographed.

Lending, strongly, to the look and period feel are the production design by Kirk M. Petrucelli ("Mystery Men") and costuming by Deborah L. Scott (Oscar-winner for "Titanic"). The scope of "The Patriot" production is awesome and these folks and their creative teams provide Class A work. Attention to details - and the use of "recreators" as extras, fans of the Revolutionary War who spend their free time recreating battles for the sheer fun of it - is a major plus and propels the film beyond mediocrity.

The principle cast is OK, not great. Mel gives a cookie cutter perf, but is still damn good looking and carries the physical demands of the role with his usual ability. Heath Ledger made a nice little splash in his American debut flick, "10 Things I Hate About You," and has an amiable likableness but lacks the intensity needed for his character Gabriel. Jason Isaacs is wickedly wicked as the evil bad guy, Col. Tavington - I realize that atrocities happen in war, but this guy is a mix of all the bad traits of Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler, Vlad the Impaler and Lizzy Borden rolled into one. No wonder the English press is up in arms over the way the Brits are depicted here.

Supporting cast is peppered with solid actors who help, thankfully, to flesh out the background characters. Chris Cooper ("October Sky") gives credence as the embattled rebel commander, Col. Harry Burwell, who is struggling to defeat the enemy against enormous odds. Tcheky Karyo is amusing as the lead element of French assistance to the American Cause. He's no one-man army, but provides the needed wit against the French jokes delivered periodically through the film. Tom Wilkinson gives his General Cornwallis a pompous arrogance of empire that rings true. Minor characters, like volunteer John Billings (Leon Rippy), add dimension to the background cast. One false note is Joely Richardson in her vacuous perf as Ben's sister-in-law (and love interest), Charlotte Selton.

"The Patriot" is a mixed bag of a film. The tale is unoriginal and unimaginative, but the depiction of the mundane story is handled in an outstanding manner. The sheer force of the technical, artistic side of the movie overshadows its trite tale of revenge. Even at 160 minutes long, I was visually entertained, at least, and I give it a B.

Laura's review of 'The Partiot':
Producer (Mark Gordon) and screenwriter (Robert Rodat) of "Saving Private Ryan" team up with the director (Roland Emmerich) of "Independence Day" on a tale based on French and Indian War hero Benjamin Martin's (Mel Gibson) stand to keep himself and his family peaceful and safe during the American Revolution. 'Why should I trade a tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrants a mile away?' he asks when declaration of war is being debated. A recent widower with seven children ranging from pre-toddler to eighteen, Martin is also haunted by the brutality both endured and inflicted during his legendary heroics at Fort Wilderness, reminding less experienced men that 'this war will be fought amongst us...your children will learn of it with their own eyes.'

His words turn out to be very prophetic, as the war can soon be viewed from his South Carolina home's wraparound porch. His eldest, Gabriel (Heath Ledger, "10 Things I Hate About You"), who enlisted against his father's wishes, crawls back into his home wounded. The Martins and their free black workers tend the fallen from both sides of the battle, when Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs, "The End of the Affair") arrives and instructs his men to gather up the sticken British and massacre the enemy wounded. Gabriel's taken prisoner and his fifteen year old brother Thomas attempts to save him. Tavington shoots the boy in front of his father's eyes. Benjamin Martin now has red-hot revenge burning in his brain.

First, Martin spirits a new legend, that of The Ghost, by slaying twenty departing British officers (with the assistance of young sons Matthew and Samuel, the latter of which is traumatized by the event) in order to free Gabriel. Then he forms a militia with the aid of his old friend Colonel Henry Burwell (Chris Cooper, "October Sky") and Frenchman Major Jean Villeneuve (Tcheky Karyo, "Addicted to Love"), claiming his son Gabriel in the bargain. Martin's men are so successful, they capture the attention of General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson, "The Full Monty") himself, whom Martin outwits in a clever prisoner exchange gambit. Cornwallis' pride is so damaged, he orders the uncivilized and ungentlemanly Tavington to use any means necessary to take Martin down.

Technically, "The Patriot" is first rate, featuring gorgeous cinematography by Caleb Deschanel ("The Natural") realistic period design by Kirk M. Petruccelli ("Blade") and costume by Deborah L. Scott ("Wild Wild West"), although John Williams' score is forgettable. Special effects include a cannonball hurtling directly at the audience, brutal battle scenes and their aftermath, and seamless matte shots - beautiful work.

Acting is a mixed bag. While Gibson is good in the role it seems like a second rate William Wallace for him. I for one am tired of seeing Gibson's tortured face as once again his character is called upon to endure unspeakable horrors, yet the man does convincingly play a heroic leader. Heath Ledger acquits himself nicely as the son learning the complexities of his father and of life, although frankly, I found him more interesting in his teenage romantic comedy debut. Tcheky Karyo is always a pleasurable addition and his reactions to Gibson's French baiting lend a believable amount of levity. Wilkinson is a fine Cornwallis. Leon Rippy ("Stargate") is another good sidekick for Mel as farmer recruit John Billings and Adam Baldwin has an interesting 'almost cameo' as Captain Wilkins, an American loyal to the Brits. The women don't fare as well, with Gibson's love interest, Joely Richardson (as his sister-in-law Charlotte Selton) delivering her lines as if she had marbles in her mouth and newcomer Lisa Brenner (as Gabriel's fiance Anne Howard) being far too modern for the period.

The villain of the piece, Jason Isaac's Tavington, is a fatal flaw of multiple dimensions. Tavington is an unrelenting sadist whose only motivation appears to be greed. The actor was more than likely instructed to play the part broadly, so fault lies more properly with the filmmakers who chose to use every cliche in the book in making this film. In a war fought by thousands, it's a foregone conclusion that Tavington and Martin will come head to head at every crucial moment until a climatic last stand. Tavington even gets a "Halloween" moment, 'rising from the dead' as soon as his opponent drops his weaon (always the telltale sign). It's sad to admit, but I was hoping our hero was decapitated against the backdrop of an American flag just to break the tedium of 'been there, done that.'

"The Patriot" certainly isn't a bad film, just one that shows its commercial molding all too blatantly. Audiences who haven't been exposed to a lot of movies will more than likely enjoy it tremendously. It has craftmanship of the highest order in its look and sound and many scenes, particularly the ones that take advantage of Gibson's comedic talents, play very well.

B-


THE PERFECT STORM

In 1991, the swordfish boat Andrea Gail left Gloucester, Massachusetts in October, late in the season, because its captain, Billy Tyne (George Clooney) wanted to prove he could still find the fish. He pushed his boat farther into the Atlantic than most boats normally ventured mid-season.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Grace, which had been dying off the coast of Bermuda, met up with an old frontal system from New England and a new one coming out of the Great Lakes, rejuvenating itself into one perfect storm right in the Andrea Gail's pathway home.

Laura's review of 'The Perfect Storm':
Wolfgang Petersen, director of the below-water submarine classic "Das Boot," creates the surface maelstrom of Sebastian Junger's bestseller from a screenplay adaptation by William D. Wittliff.

The film begins on location in Gloucester, where the Andrea Gail's disappointed crew receive less than their expected wages, even as they're thrilled to be reunited with friends and family at The Crow's Nest, the local watering hole presided over by Ethel Shatford (Janet Wright, TV's "More Tales of the City," "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains" (with Diane Lane)). Her son, rookie fisherman Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg, "Three Kings") only wants to stay in the game to make the quick cash needed to regain custody of his girlfriend Christina's (Diane Lane, "My Dog Skip") children, even though she begs him to take a safer, albeit less lucrative job. When Tyne decides to head out one more time, Shatford signs up as does old salt Murph (John C. Reilly, "Magnolia"), who's paying child support to a wife he still loves but lost over his seafaring absences. Bugsy (John Hawkes (I), "Blue Streak) is attempting to begin a new relationship with Irene (Rusty Schwimmer, "Amistad") the night before they sail, while Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne, "A Price Above Rubies") kisses goodbye the blonde he just kissed hello. Tyne also recruits new crew member Sully (William Fichtner, "Go") which doesn't go down well with Murph because the man once had an affair with his ex-wife.

The trip seems jinxed from the outset as the swordfish supply dries up and Bobby has a run-in with a shark that's hauled aboard. Murphy gets hauled overboard and under when he's hooked by a line (ironically it's Sully who dives in first to save him) and a rogue wave challenges the whole crew. Then Tyne announces he's heading for the Finnish Cap, a distant point that causes grumbling among the men until they begin to haul in swordfish like there's no tomorrow. Meanwhile, the audience is clued in to the birth of the devasting storm by witnessing the plight of three people (Bob Gunton, Karen Allen and Cherry Jones) forced to issue Mayday from a yacht and the weather reports being watched in fear back on the barstools of Gloucester.

"The Perfect Storm" bears some resemblance to another seafaring flick, Stephen Spielberg's "Amistad," a film of quality that demanded admiration without quite achieving a strong emotional response in the viewer. Petersen and his special effects/technical crew deliver an astoundingly realistic storm and put the viewer into the thick of it, whether on the Gail or inside a Coast Guard rescue copter. The screenplay establishes character background, yet once on the boat, the Andrea Gail's crew isn't all that distinguishable in the face of the elements, unlike, say the three disparate shark hunters of "Jaws." They become symbols of 'man against nature,' while the women at home too fleetingly (yet ably) provide the emotional impact.

Better is the irony that those who suffered - both the luxury yacht vacationers and the blue collar fisherman, wouldn't have been in their ultimate predicaments if it weren't for the almighty dollar (the yacht's owner foolishing refuses to abandon his boat and the Gloucestermen decide to head back through the storm instead of losing their 60,000 lbs. of swordfish), although this doesn't extend to the heroic rescuers, one of whom was lost.

"The Perfect Storm" boasts a fine cast, yet the standout performances are to be found in minor supporting players. Janet Wright embodies the tough and gruffly tender North Shore bartender Ethel, whom the fishermen's women lean on. Two beautifully real, funny and honest moments are created between Hodge's hopeful Bugsy and Rusty Schwimmer's initially distrustful Irene. The bigger stars are solid, although a concensus of emphasis on the Boston area accent would have been nice, with native son Wahlberg underplaying his, Diane Lane pushing hers north to Maine and the rest waffling to varying degrees in the middle.

Technically the film is top notch with the aforementioned effects, cinematography by John Seale ("The Talented Mr. Ripley"), editting by Richard Francis-Bruce and sound by Keith A. Wester and Eric Gotthelf - these are the credits that are most likely to be rewarded with Oscar nominations. James Horner's ("Titanic") score, however, is rather pedestrian.

B

Robin's review of 'The Perfect Storm':
The swordfish boat Andrea Gail, also called a long-liner for the miles of fishing gear they play out for a night's fishing, has not had a good season. Her captain, Billy Tyne (George Clooney), has always prided himself on "getting the fish," so he decides to take the risk of a late season run, unknowingly setting a course that will bring him and his crew in harm's way of director Wolfgang Petersen's "The Perfect Storm."

The lucrative North Atlantic fishing grounds is a hard place to make a living in the best of weather. In 1991, late season hurricane Grace took an uncharacteristic turn away from the East Coast of the United States and barreled out into the Atlantic. Simultaneously, two other storms formed nearby with alarming intensity. These three massive weather systems collided directly in the path of the Andrea Gail and these events are brought to life on the big screen from Sebastian Junger's book, the true-life adventure, "The Perfect Storm." The book covers far more than the fate of the missing Gloucester boat and deals with the destiny of other unfortunates who experience the real power of Mother Nature. As expected, the film has a very different focus than the Junger nonfiction novel.

The movie, directed by the talented Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot") and adapted for the screen by William D. Wittliff and Bo Goldman, takes the essence of the very technical details of Junger's book and gives it a human face. As you'd expect in a major F/X event film such as "The Perfect Storm," the emphasis is on the raw power of the gigantic storm. The characters are introduced quickly, personalities and conflicts are established immediately, then the filmmakers get down to the business of making an epic scale disaster flick. The actors aren't just along for the ride, but they do take a back seat to the stupendous storm of the title.

As such, "The Perfect Storm" does exactly what it sets out to do. Petersen and his team pour their film crafting talents into the project and come out with a first rate adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat once the action begins. The seamless nature of the awesome storm effects defies the viewer to see the F/X sleight of hand that takes place on the screen. The immensity of the perfect storm is depicted with an incredible realism that makes you almost feel the rain, wind and waves. And there are some big mutha waves!

The screenplay centers on the last trip of the doomed Andrea Gail, one of the Gloucester fishing fleet that survives on its annual haul of swordfish. It's a fickle business, though, and the key is not to catch the most fish, but to get it back to port first, when the prices are best. Captain Tyne gambles that being the only sworder out in the stormy Atlantic in November is worth the risk to get a successful haul. The captain and his crew, going much farther out than normal this trip, make a killing and fill the holds with swordfish. The giant storm is not a problem - until the ship's ice making machine irreparably breaks down, forcing the Andrea Gail to save the catch by taking the direct path home - into the heart of the storm of the century.

The production is first class on many levels. The working class, blue color costuming, with loads of flannel, by Erica Phillips ("The General's Daughter) practically reeks of fish. Set design by William Sandell ("Deep Blue Sea"), especially the confines of the Andrea Gail, are convincing. John Seale's great lensing captures the feel of Gloucester and provides fast and furious filming during the action sequences. Kudos to the F/X team, with the help of Industrial Light & Magic, that creates 100-foot waves, spectacular air-sea rescue action and gut wrenching sequences that squelched any desire I had to become a swordfisherman.

Although the cast of "The Perfect Storm" plays second fiddle to the special F/X, they are, to a man and woman, professional and give as much depth to their characters as allowed. Clooney plays Captain Tyne as a cool professional sailor, but one whose facade is showing cracks in his self-confidence. Mark Wahlberg dusts off his Boston accent for the role of Bobby Shatford, the rookie crewman on the Andrea Gail who Tyne calls a natural seaman. John C. Reilly and William Fichtner play adversaries, Murph and Sully, who drop their animosity when danger arises. Those left back on land make the most out of their small roles, especially Janet Wright who plays Bobby's mother and friend to his girlfriend, Christina Cotter (Diane Lane).

More interesting and believable than "Mission: Impossible 2," but not nearly the fun of "Shaft," "The Perfect Storm" is the perfect picture for the looming hot summer nights. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone planning a cruise anytime soon. I give it a B+.


CHICKEN RUN

"No chicken escapes from Tweedy's farm!" is the challenge taken on by one plucky chicken named Ginger (Julia Sawalha). Ginger wants a better world for herself and her friends, the other inmates at the Tweedy's Egg Farm, so she attempts one breakout after another, only to end up in solitary every time. But, the clock is running out for Ginger and her fowl friends as the evil Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) finds a new way to feather her nest - instead of gathering their eggs, she plans to turn her chickens into pies! With the help of a new arrival, Rocky Rhodes (Mel Gibson), the self-acclaimed Lone Free Ranger, Ginger hatches a spectacular and daring escape plan, a plan that will free them all in "Chicken Run."

Robin's review of 'Chicken Run':
The makers of "Chicken Run," co-directors and co-producers Nick Park and Peter Lord, have elevated the art of claymation to a pinnacle with such works as the Oscar nominated animated short, "Wat's Pig" and Oscar winners, "Creature Comforts," "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave." The latter two established the characters, Wallace and Gromit, as figures of international popularity. So, the anticipation among the fans of Aardman Entertainment for their first feature has been long and expectant. And the word?

No worries, mate!

"Chicken Run" is a parody of and homage to all the great POW and prison break movies we have seen over the decades. Most prominent is the best of them all, the 1963 John Sturges classic "The Great Escape," which the Park/Lord film so lovingly recreates. At the very opening, Ginger is in the midst of breaking out of her prison, only to be thwarted by the "goons," Mr. Tweedy and his vicious guard dogs. The following montage shows the indefatigable Ginger trying again and again, only to fail and end up in the hole. Her spirit never flags, though, so, when Rocky, quite literally, flies into her life, hope for escape to the fabled Paradise Farm is rejuvenated.

I don't want to get into the meat of the story of "Chicken Run." That is best left for the filmmakers to do when you see it yourself, which I hope everyone does. Suffice it to say that this is the most fun I have had at the movies since "Toy Story 2." Park/Lord have made an indelible mark in the annals of feature animation that rivals The Giant - Disney. The painstaking nature of the claymation technique requires years to produce a full-length film and the folks at Aardman took the time to learn their lessons. Their entry into the big time is nothing less than spectacular.

Don't get me wrong. "Chicken Run" is not a perfect film. At about the 25-minute mark, the story started to wind down and I thought I would see a good, not great, animation. Things quickly take a turn for the better as the tale of escape cranks up, Ginger makes her plans and Rocky provides the beefcake for the ladies at Tweedy's farm. The story, basically, follows the same plot as "The Great Escape," but with the chickens facing a more onerous fate than just being prisoners. The imperative of escape reaches serious proportions as their true fate - to become the primary ingredient of Mrs. Tweedy's Homemade Chicken Pies - is realized. High drama, comedy and action prevail 'til the end.

Besides "The Great Escape" (the direct references to which had me in stitches) there are allusions to such other terrific POW films as "Stalag 17." The amazing thing about "Chicken Run" is that it takes such subjects as genocide (or, is that chicken-ocide?) and imprisonment and puts a humorous spin on it without being silly. Don't get me wrong, there is enough silliness and dumb, funny humor to appeal to the kids (and "Hogan's Heroes" fans) in the audience. There is also a plethora of intelligence and wit, coupled with some very dark humor, to keep the adult population attentive and entertained.

The vocal characterizations, with their onscreen images, are first rate. While Mel Gibson is the name name, the rest of the cast, led by Sawalha (daughter Sapphire of "Absolutely Fabulous) as Ginger, are equal to their characters. Except for Miranda Richardson as the voice of Mrs. Tweedy, you won't recognize many of the British cast members. Jane Horrocks ("Little Voice," and Bubble in "Ab Fab") gives voice to the simple, but lovable, Babs, who is forever knitting. Stage actress Lynn Ferguson provides an enjoyable Scottish burr to Mac, a super-intelligent hen who is the engineering brains of the escape team. Benjamin Whitrow as the aging rooster Fowler, Tony Haygarth as the dumb but observant Mr. Tweedy, Timothy Spall and Phil Daniels as the rat procurers Nick and Fetcher all contribute to the depth of character this 86-minute marvel of a movie deserves.

The production, especially to those who are familiar with the painstaking nature of claymation, is a wonder to behold. Within minutes of the start of the film, the viewer is completely taken over by the world created by the Aardman folks. The attention to details, such as every chicken being a unique character with her own look and personality, is astounding. The current hype, today, for computer generated imagery (CGI) is put to shame by the shear craftsmanship of this stellar example of such a traditional technique. Stop motion animation has been around since the early days of movies and "Chicken Run" is at the pinnacle of its art.

"Chicken Run" should be seen by the whole family. Actually, it should be seen by everyone. It has intelligence, humor, drama and tragedy, dance numbers, amour and more, any of which will have appeal to someone out there. The sinister aspects of the story may be a bit too dark for younger, sensitive kids, but the overall lightness of "Chicken Run's" being should help get them by.

I don't say this often enough: I give "Chicken Run" an unbridled A.

Laura's review of 'Chicken Run':
Fans of triple-Oscar winner Nick Parks' delightful "Wallace and Grommit" shorts are rewarded with his (and co-director/producer Peter Lord) long-awaited claymation feature film debut "Chicken Run."

Ginger (Julia Sawalha, "Absolutely Fabulous") is a resourceful hen among the downtrodden denizens of Tweedy's Chicken Farm, where Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth, "London Kills Me") suspiciously patrols the barbed wire perimeters of his chicken huts with two vicious guard dogs. Ginger dreams of a life of freedom, beyond the grassy hills she can she from the roof of her hut, but although she's capable of escaping herself, her vision includes all her friends at the farm, who she refuses to abandon.

When one hen fails to produce eggs, she's removed to the chopping block (reminiscent of Babe's almost-fate) by the unrelentingly mean Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson, "Sleepy Hollow"). To make matters worse, a chicken products van arrives delivering a mysterious contraption that's hidden in the barn. Only Mr. Tweedy's problems getting it to work are buying Ginger time to plot their escape.

A savior arrives in the form of an arrogant Yank rooster, Rocky (Mel Gibson), who arrives catapulted over the fence yelling 'Freedom!' at the top of his lungs (the film's punched up with many movie in-jokes referencing the likes of "Braveheart," "Stalag 17" and, most notably, "The Great Escape"). Ginger enlists his help to teach her girls how to fly.

The screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick ("James and the Giant Peach") tells a traditionally simple tale. The pleasures of "Chicken Run" are to be found in its marvelous details (a V of geese pass overhead as Ginger watches the sun set from behind a fence, two huckster rats pass off a tub stopper on a chain as a necklace for sale), terrific characterizations and vocal performances, a darkness reflected in the look of the film and the painstaking process of the claymation itself.

Hundreds of distinctly different chickens were created for this film, several of whom lend terrific support to Ginger and Rocky. Janes Horrocks ("Little Voice" and another "Absolutely Fabulous" vet) is Babs, a sweetly dim bird with a serious knitting habit. Lynn Ferguson (a Scottish stage actress and standup comedienne) is Mac, the bespeckled engineering genius who provides a marvelous foil for Rocky's "Braveheart" moments. Benjamin Whitrow ("A Man for All Seasons") is Fowler, the elderly RAF vet and house rooster who resents Rocky's arrival and vents the British spleen at the Americans late arrival into WWII.

Outside of the chickens, there are only two humans - the Tweedys. Mrs. Tweedy is a dried up crone who resents her husband's inability to provide something better than their bleak farm. Mr. Tweedy is henpencked indeed and accused of losing his mind when he suggests their chickens are plotting. Two rats, Nick (Timothy Spall, "Love's Labour's Lost") and Fetcher (Phil Daniels, "Bad Behavior") provide comic relief and suggest the "King Rat" aspect of the farm with their black market trading.

While "Chicken Run" is a delightful achievement, it doesn't quite attain the constant brilliance of the "Wallace and Grommit" shorts. Ironically, there's no "Feathers McGraw" moment - the startling hilarity of a penguin passing himself off as a chicken with a rubber glove on his head in "The Wrong Trousers." Still, kudos to the huge group of filmmakers whose patience with the stop-motion technique has brought this charmer for young and old alike to the screen.

B+


ME, MYSELF & IRENE

Jim Carrey is Charlie, a Rhode Island state trooper whose bottled up rage escapes in the form of Hank, his alter ego, in the Farrelly Brothers' latest, "Me, Myself & Irene."

Laura's review of 'Me, Myself & Irene':
The Farrelly Brothers try to push the outer edge of outrageousness they established with "There's Something About Mary" in their newest flick "Me, Myself & Irene." While it has its moments, they should be thankful they had the wisdom to reteam with their "Dumb and Dumber" star, Jim Carrey, because without his talent, this could have been a dismal effort.

Carrey is Charlie, a nice, fastidious Rhode Island state trooper who we're introduced to in a flashback chronicling his sticky sweet romance and subsequent wedding. While his wife (Traylor Howard, TV's "Two Guys and a Girl") professes to be his soul mate, she falls for their Black midget limo driver on her wedding day when they both discover they're Mensa chapter heads after he tries to pin Charlie with a nonexistent racial slur. Charlie never seems to notice when his three sons are all born Black and loves them unreservedly. Charlie also gets no respect from the townsfolk he serves or his newspaper-stealing neighbor. When Charlie's wife finally decides to run away with her long-time lover (the kids are entering college by this time), Charlie snaps and Hank emerges to deal with Charlies long supressed rage.

No sooner is Charlie put on medication to control Hank's manic outbursts (like reciprocating his neighbor's dog's 'lawn presents' personally on his neighbor's lawn), then he's tasked with returning Irene (Rene Zellwegger, "Jerry Maguire"), who's being framed by her ex-boyfriend, to upstate New York to face trumped up charges. Of course, the medication is left behind, Charlie and Hank are both attracted to Irene, and everyone in their path seems to want to kill them.

This last aspect is perhaps, one of the biggest problems with the screenplay of "Me, Myself & Irene" (the Farrellys and Mike Cerone), as Irene's problems with her ex are never clarified, nor is it made clear why so many corrupt cops and mob guys seem to be involved or why Irene's knowledge deserves her death warrant. This run, stop for comedic Charlie/Hank/Irene interlude, run, stop, run plot mechanic creaks along flatly. The only saving grace is that Charlie's three large, extremely smart sons (they argue over physics homework) figure out he's in trouble and begin a rescue mission which is returned to occasionally.

Carrey gives a great, manic yet controlled physical performance. He's ramrod earnestness as Charlie and leering maniac as Hank. His transformation from one to the other, especially initially, is a marvel to behold (and seemed to foreshadow his transformation into the Grinch, coming later this year). He gets all the good lines, romancing Irene with 'your eyes are all squinty and your mouth's puckered up like you've been sucking on a lemon, but it works.' If that doesn't describe Zellwegger - perfect! However, he's also given some pretty unsavory stuff to work with (particularly with regards to an oversized sex toy) that verges on just plain distasteful, rather than distastefully funny (i.e., Mary's hair gel).

Other than Carrey, only the three young actors who play his sons really get a chance to shine, as they get dad to switch the TV from Gomer Pyle to Richard Pryor and continue to grow up in a healthily profane manner. Zellwegger is mostly stuck in reactive mode. Chris Cooper ("American Beauty") is utterly wasted as a corrupt cop and plays the role humorously. Faring slightly better is Robert Forster ("Jackie Brown"), who at least emotes with an air of cluelessness suitable to the material.

"Me, Myself & Irene" is a disappointment from the Farrelly perspective, but Carrey fans at least should appreciate his take on the split personality - the performance is a lot more alive than the Andy Kaufman impersonation he gave in his previous film.

C+

Robin's review of 'Me, Myself & Irene':
Peter and Bobby Farrelly have made their own imprint on mainstream comedy these past few years with their debut hit, "Dumb and Dumber," the underrated "Kingpin," and the overrated "There's Something About Mary." Now, six years after "D&D," the pair reunites with Jim Carrey in a story about a nice guy cop, Charlie, who loves his job, but keeps his frustrations inside. He develops an alter ego, the sexually compulsive Hank, and the two vie for the affection of a pretty fugitive in "Me, Myself & Irene."

Charlie is a member of the "best law enforcement organization in the country," the Rhode Island State Police, but he has a problem. He's just too easy going. So much so, in fact, that everyone takes advantage of his amiable nature. His wife left him for a black-midget-genius-limo-driver. Charlie is left to raise their three boys - triplets who are definitely not the fruit of Charlie's loins - and has never gotten over the desertion. He's also such a nice-guy sucker that people treat him without respect to his authority. Scofflaws act as if he's their personal valet. Even kids treat him like dirt - "My daddy says I don't have to listen to you!" one petulant little girl tells him

The hapless cop snaps one day and out pops Hank. Charlie's alter ego exacts the retributions the nice-guy cop can't, but Hank's violent actions earn Charlie a stay under psychiatric care. He is eventually allowed back on duty, but he has to take his medication every six hours.

Enter Irene (Renee Zellweger), a pretty young woman passing through town who gets arrested for an out-of-state warrant and Charlie is selected to drive her back to upstate New York. The warrant is a fake, though, as Irene is really being sought by her former boss, Dickey, who thinks she has the dirt on his shady dealings. He brings in a corrupt cop (Chris Cooper) and EPA investigator (Richard Jenkins) to go after Irene with deadly intent and it's up to Charlie/Hank to save her.

The only real attraction to "Me, Myself & Irene" is the sometimes-brilliant physical comedy of Jim Carrey. There is little in the way of a story, but lots in the way of the visual comedy that centers on Carrey. The comic actor made his mark with the goofy hi-jinx of "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," and has shown himself to have an amazing physical versatility. His Charlie/Hank has the flexibility of Inspector Gadget. In one scene, Hank picks up the unconscious Charlie and throws him in the back seat of a car. It is a terrific moment of visual, physical comedy and rivals Steve Martin's great performance in "All of Me."

The rest of the cast is left out in the cold. About the best that can be said for the roles beyond Charlie/Hank is that none of the actors damaged their careers, at least. Renee Zellweger acts well with Carrey, but is always the second banana to the comedian. Robert Forster fades into the background as Charlie's commanding officer. Chris Cooper looks like he's in pain as the corrupt, bad guy cop. This, in particular, is a waste of a terrific character actor. The only saving graces in the supporting roles are the three guys who play Charlie's "sons." The genius trio combines discussion of metaphysics with earthy jive talk that gives a funky edge to Charlie's family life and the only other laughs in the flick.

The story, by the Farrelly brothers and Mark Cerrone, is, in a word, lame. Actually, there are two stories - one, about Charlie/Hank and Irene; the other, about Irene's plight. The latter story has no sense as Irene is ported back to New York into the jaws of imminent death, but we never get a sense of why. Nothing is done to explain why the bad guys - these are the blandest bad guys I've seen in a long time - want to kill Irene. I realize that the film is a vehicle for Carrey, but a sensible story is a necessity of film, too. The Charlie/Hank yarn works about the way you'd expect with all the pratfalls and slapstick you'd want.

"Me, Myself & Irene" is what I expected out of the Farrelly brothers, and less. Their use of the comic talent of Jim Carrey assures them a solid stay at the box office - especially since it is a performance that is worth the price of admission. The rest of the film falls flat and lays, lifeless, as the antics of Carrey prevail. The laughs are there and they all belong to Jim Carrey (and his sons). I give it a C+.


SHAFT

Shaft. Can you dig it?

In 1971, Richard Roundtree starred as "the cat who won't cut out, when there's danger all about" in Gordon Parks's seminal blaxploitation film, "Shaft." That film spawned two sequels and a TV series. Now, nearly 30 years later, Samuel L. Jackson reprises the role of the title character, this time as the NYPD cop and nephew of the legendary black private dick. John Singleton ("Boyz 'N the Hood") directs the new "Shaft" and puts an updated and contemporary spin on the original concept.

Robin's review of 'Shaft':
John Shaft is a well-respected New York City detective assigned to a case involving the brutal beating of a young black man in a racially motivated incident. The prime suspect is Walter Wade Jr. (Christian Bale), the scion of a powerful, billionaire real estate tycoon with huge clout in the city. When Shaft arrests the arrogant young man, he learns that there may have been an eyewitness to the assault. The victim dies and Shaft becomes the champion of the murdered boy's mother and vows to take Wayne Jr. down.

Money talks, however, and Wayne is released on a pittance of bail, only to flee the country to escape prosecution. The witness, Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette), has also gone to ground, so Shaft's vendetta against Wayne comes to an abrupt halt with no culprit and no witness. Flash forward two years. Shaft gets a tip that the younger Wade is sneaking back into the country and catches the killer cold. But, once again, political influence and money are more powerful than justice is and Wayne is released on bail. Shaft, disgusted with the corrupt proceedings, hurls his badge at the judge and vows to quit the force and resolve the gross miscarriage of justice himself.

Shaft realizes that the only way he is going to take Wayne Jr. down is to find Diane. Wayne knows this, too, and hires a small time drug dealer, Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), to ferret out the only person who can put Wayne behind bars. Peoples contracts a pair of corrupt detectives to help out in the search by tailing Shaft and reporting his moves. It becomes a race against the clock as the disgruntled detective lays his life on the line to protect Diane.

John Singleton co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Price and Shane Salerno and they come up with a hip, fast-moving action adventure that pays homage to the original and the best of the blaxploitation genre. From the opening credits, with the familiar sound of Isaac Hayes singing the original title song, to the cheesy wipes between scenes and the sometimes equally cheesy score, we are seeing a film that dedicates itself to the genre. But, the new "Shaft" still maintains its modern, edgy nature that has evolved in film since the 70's. "Shaft" is a heartfelt homage to the genre.

Samuel L. Jackson is John Shaft personified. The actor has always been a favorite of my mine and I had high expectations for him as the new age Shaft. He does not disappoint. The actor captures the sassy, irreverent nature of Roundtree's original while giving the role his own imprint. Jackson has the ability to switch from amiable to brutal in the wink of an eye, which suits the character perfectly. If there isn't a sequel or two coming out of this, I'll be hornswaggled.

Supporting cast is first rate with Jeffrey Wright making the biggest splash as the flamboyant Hispanic drug dealer, Peoples. Wright is an extraordinary character actor and almost leaps off the screen as the small statured, but volatile and violent, drug lord. The actor is a true chameleon in his acting and gives an attention grabbing perf. When a shootout ends in a tragic loss for the Peoples, the agony and vengeance he feels is palpable. The actor maintains his edge from beginning to end.

And the rest of the cast isn't shabby, either. Vanessa L. Williams goes completely out of her usual glamour roles and plays a tough, capable cop, and Shaft's friend and partner, Carmen Vasquez. It's hard to hide the actress's beautiful looks, but her costuming as a no nonsense police officer does a good job of hiding her inherent sexiness and allows Carmen's persona to come to the surface. Christian Bale does a mini version of his recent, outrageous Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho," but with a cocky toughness, not lunacy. He's overshadowed by Wright's brilliant performance, though, and becomes more an object than a character by the end of the film. Toni Collete, who can be terrific, is merely OK as the fugitive witness, Diane. It's not her fault, though, as there is little for her to do except be the target of everyone's search. Richard Roundtree gets to play up the gracefully aging private eye and ladies' man as John's Uncle John.

Tech credits are tops with cinematographer Donald Thorin capturing the feel of the original but with an up to date image that is slick and new Millennium. The frequent night shots are crisp and the action scenes and shootouts are tight. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter gets high marks with her design of Shaft's mostly black wardrobe, making him look like an avenging wraith when in action. Editing is brisk and suits the fast pace that Singleton maintains in the just over 90 minute flick. Brevity has its charms.

The only problems with the all-new "Shaft" are some enormous plot holes and a trite, almost perfunctory ending that doesn't quite satisfy, detracting from the rest of the film. I had me some good fun, still, and give it a B.

Laura's review of 'Shaft':
Director John Singleton ("Boyz in the Hood") breaks out of a slump with a suprisingly adept, worthwhile remake in his modernized "Shaft." Samuel L. Jackson is John Shaft, newphew of the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, who appears in this film as well) from the 1971 film which epitomized the Blaxploitation film.

This new Shaft begins as a member of the NYPD (Uncle John was and still is a P.I.) whose vigilante urges cause a despicable hate crime murderer (Christian Bale as rich kid William Wade) to make bail and leave the country. Shaft hurls his badge at the judge and becomes a true vigilante (when he's not bedding the numerous women lining up for the privilege) until we see the 'Two Years Later' subtitle which precedes Wade's return to the U.S. (In a major plot hole, which is either a result of editting for run time or a huge problem with Shane Salerno's ("Armageddon") screenplay) the audience is never given a single reason why Wade would return to face murder charges, except for the arrogance of wealth.)

Wade encounters another Shaft adversary, drug lord Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright, "Basquiat"), once Shaft's ensured Wade's weekend in the clink, and Peoples is drawn to Wade's lifestyle (Peoples covets class). Wade, knowing that Shaft has an ace-in-the-hole witness (Toni Collette, "The Sixth Sense," as Diane Palmieri), approaches Peoples to take her out, once he's infuriatingly out on bail for a second time (the judge's concession to not being totally bought this time around is to demand empoundment of Wade's passport). Peoples asks for admittance to Wade's world, which Wade dismisses out of hand, but Peoples gets his revenge for when Wade gets mugged of the hit payment (oh yeah, there are two corrupt cops playing everyone against the other, too, although Shaft is clever enough to pull off the mugging and lay it at their doorstep as a betrayal of Peoples) and is forced to deal drugs for him.

There are some big plots holes, mostly concerning Wade's storyline, but Singleton keeps the story moving along so energetically and stages the action so kineticly (kudos to cinematographer Donald E. Thorin, "Thief," as well) that the film's coolness and entertainment value outweigh it's problems. Heck - this is far better than the original.

Samuel L. Jackson oozes cool as John 'It's my duty to please that booty' Shaft. He blows the Grade-B Richard Roundtree off the screen with his formidable acting chops and screen charisma. Yet even Jackson takes a second seat to Jeffrey Wright, who gives a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination-worthy performance as Peoples (as in "I takes care of my peoples"), the class-craving, carved facial hair, icepick poking drug lord who's entertaining to be around until Shaft shoots his brother during a standoff - then he gets real ugly (not to mention psychotic).

Bale does a twist on his "American Psycho" persona as Wade, throwing a bit of New York Irish into the mix - he's good, but suffers from the way his storyline is handled. Vanessa Williams is surprisingly effective as an NYPD officer who stays loyal to Shaft - her looks don't get in the way of her believability in the role. Toni Collette is mostly wasted as the witness to Wade's crime whom everyone's after. Rapper Busta Rhymes is fun as Rassan, a guy who's called to pay back favors by Shaft.

The distinctive "Shaft" theme is updated and effectively used to cue Jackson's every move by Isaac Hayes.

This is the first surprise treat of the summer multiplex season. Who's the man - Shaft!

B


LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST

Kenneth Branagh brings his fourth Shakespearean adaptation to the screen with a twist - the frothy play, "Love's Labour's Lost" is set just as World War II is dawning and set to the music of the Gershwin brothers and Irving Berling, as much an homage to old movies as to Shakespeare.

Laura's review of 'Love's Labour's Lost':
The King (Alessandro Nivola, "Face/Off") decides to devote himself to years of study, banning wine, women and song from his palace grounds. His three best friends, Berowne (Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lillard, "Scream") and Dumaine (Adrian Lester, "Primary Colors") aren't thrilled, but respect their king in a pact that will soon be broken when the French princess (Alicia Silverstone, "Clueless") and her ladies Rosaline (Natascha McElhone, "Ronin"), Maria (Carmen Ejogo, "The Avengers") and Katherine (Emily Mortimer, "Scream 3") pays a political visit for her father.

Branagh's proven very adept at translating the bard to the screen as period pieces, so it's invigorating to see him try something different and unequivocally nail it.

His screenplay adaptation deftly jumps the action of Shakespeare's light tale forward with song and dance numbers set to standards such as "I Get No Kick from Champagne," "The Way You Look Tonight," "I'm in Heaven," and "You Can't Take That Away From Me" The story is simple: when the ladies appear, the King allows them to set up camp outside the palace gates where one by one they pair off with the kings' men until the King himself succombs to the princess. The men try to keep their affairs secret from one another (Branagh stages a truly brilliant scene in the King's library for them all to discover each others' dishonesty) while letters get into the wrong hands and the ladies switch identities to give the men their comeuppance. Word is sent that the King of France has died and the princess is distraught, declares the love matches mere flirtations and announces she and her ladies will depart. The king proposes a one year enforced separation to test their loves after which they all live happily ever after.

Casting is brilliantly insane (two veterans from the "Scream" franchise?!). Branagh and McElhone are actually the preeminent couple and he allows her to shine as perhaps the most mature and womanly of the four ladies. Silverstone is engagingly kewpie-dollish, delivering her lines with a petulant, baby doll pout, but becoming serious when circumstance demands. Her man, Nivola, is handsome and dashing and funny, acting as if he'd stepped right out of a 30's screwball comedy. Lester is fantastic with the dance moves, suggesting no less than Donald O'Connor's work in "Singin' in the Rain. Lillard is surprisingly agile, putting a touch of slapstick in his long limbs even as he retains control of his moves. Their loves, Mortimer and Ejogo respectively, keep pace, but don't get as much opportunity to develop their characters (it's also neat that Branagh chose to racially crisscross these two couples).

Other lovers are afoot as well, from the hilariously over the top Timothy Spall (Leighs' recent films) as Don Armado who pines for the country wench Jaquenetta (Stefania Rocca, "The Talented Mr. Ripley"). He trips about on tiny feet before launching into one of the most fantastical set pieces where he even gets to perform aerial stunts in a biplane! The king's professors, Holofernia (Geraldine McEwan, "The Love Letter") and Nathaniel (Richard Briers, Branagh's "Hamlet") represent the senior set, albeit capped and gowned ones. Nathan Lane is The Great Costard, a vaudevilian who is the agent of crossed wires, while Richard Clifford (Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing") is Boyet, the ladies' 'old lovemonger.'

Branagh's love of old films is shown in dance numbers which mimic Astaire and Rogers, Esther Williams, the June Taylor dancers and even Bob Fosse, while non-dancing scenes recall the likes of "Casblanca" and the Marx Brothers. Production design (Tim Harvey) and art direction (Mark Raggett) are superb, using muted colors and obvious set bound fakery to both mimic old films and throw the players into the spotlight. Costumes (Anna Buruma) are gorgeous, particularly the four ladies' color themed ensembles in red (Silverstone), blue (McElhone), orange (Ejogo) and green (Mortimer).

This thoroughly delightful entertainment is presented by Stanley Donen and Martin Scorsese - high praise indeed. This is one to remember for this year's award nominations, and should bring a smile to any film lover's face.

A

Robin's review of 'Love's Labour's Lost':
It's the Bard meets Busby Berkeley as director Kenneth Branagh adapts Shakespeare, this time with "Love's Labour's Lost," for the big screen, but with an unconventional twist. Branagh stages his version of the play as a lush, lively musical that pays as much homage to the classic musical extravaganzas of 1930's as it does to Will S.

It's 1939 and the King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) swears an oath with his three best friends to forsake the company of woman for three years so the quartet may devote themselves to the lofty study of philosophy. This plan is thrown into complete disarray with the arrival of the Princess of France (Alicia Silverstone) and her three beautiful attendants. The men are smitten by the beauty and charm of the women and each, secretly, seeks to seduce his beloved. Eventually, all four men realize that each has betrayed their sacred oath, but recover from the disappointment as they fall for the magic of love.

Branagh takes one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays and puts his own imaginative spin on the subject. Besides setting the play in a fictional European kingdom at the brink of World War II, he introduces the music of the era as a key element of the story. Salted throughout the film's runtime are all manner of dance numbers that honor the stylish choreography of Busby Berkeley's colorful musicals (the original "42nd Street," "The Gold Diggers of 1933"). The classic overhead shots of pretty, geometrically placed young women are reprised in the new film, even including a nod to the Ester Williams waterlogged musicals that carried Berkeley's signature style into the 40's.

Accompanying the flashy dance numbers that Branagh and choreographer Stuart Hopps so lovingly create is a litany of songs that capture the spirit put forth by the film's creators. Such musical maestros as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern were selected to supply the wonderful tunes used for the numerous, flashy dance numbers. Branagh's choice of such seminal song and dance numbers as "I Get A Kick Out of You," "Cheek to Cheek," "Let's Face the Music & Dance," and other great songs had me whistling for days after seeing "Love's Labour's Lost." The songs are the best part of the film.

Where "Love's Labour's Lost" is problematic is in Branagh's attempt to mix genres. The music is great. The dance numbers, utilizing actors rather than singers/dancers, are done with great enthusiasm by the players, but with uneven results. Everyone works very hard, but only a couple of the principles look the look of hoofers. Adrian Lester (playing the King's friend Dumaine) has a background that includes a variety of stage and screen musicals and it shows in his graceful execution of his dance numbers. Nathan Lane ("The Birdcage") shows his Broadway chops in his performance as Costard the Clown, recreating the moves of a true vaudevillian. Of the rest of the amateur dancers, Branagh shows the most grace as the King's trusted friend, Berowne, working harder than anyone does in his effort at being Fred Astaire. The rest of the cast give their all, but come across as enthusiastic and plucky non-professionals.

The crossover between the musical interludes and the straight Shakespearean dialogue doesn't flow well. The almost abrupt way the dance numbers, with their 30's lyrics, ends and the "But, hark" of Shakespeare's lingo kicks in is distracting. Branagh has a firm enough grasp of the Bard's work that his delivery is fine. The rest, though, fare lass well. Alicia Silverstone, in her big speech near the end, is wooden and unconvincing. She delivers her lines like she's reciting them, without passion. Natascha McElhone is pretty and charming as Berowne's love interest, Rosaline. Of the rest of the ensemble cast, only Timothy Spall ("Topsy-Turvy") fares well as the outrageously accented Spaniard who considers himself a loyal friend to the king. Costume design, by Anna Buruma (who, coincidentally, once worked at the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's) has a sweet continuity as each of les dames has her own color scheme with red, blue, green and peach as the primary color for their costumes. The scheme is carried through not only with the many different outfits of each, but with accessories, too, including the boutonni hres of the suitor and even the ladies' cocktails. It helps you keep track of who loves whom, too. Production design, by Tim Harvey, a long time collaborator with Branagh, provides suitable period feel.

In the end, "Love's Labour's Lost" feels derivative of Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You," but with the Bard's work as the subject matter. Branagh's oeuvre has more to it when it comes to song and dance and less in the overall execution. The musical numbers, alone, are worth the price of admission and I give it a B.


BUTTERFLY

1936 Spain is on the brink of a civil war that will pit fascists against communists and Loyalists against Republicans. Little Moncho (Manuel Lozano) is just coming of age at this critical juncture in his country's history when he enters school for the first time. Frightened by the stories told to him by his older brother, Andre, of the mean old teacher, Don Gregorio (Fernando Fernan Gomez), poor little Moncho wets himself at his first confrontation with the man and runs away from school. But, Don Gregorio's patience, kindness and understanding take hold as he opens up the wonderful world of nature to the boy in "Butterfly."

Robin's review of 'Butterfly':
Director Jose Luis Cuerda takes on a big effort as he tries to mix a sensitive tale of a little boy and a kindly old man with one of political intrigue in pre-Franco Spain. At first, Moncho's story takes the lead as he and Don Gregorio form a relationship, with the old professor teaching the boy the wonders of nature and life. His teachings are exemplified with the don's description and eventual close-up look at a butterfly's tongue - the probiscus the delicate creature uses to collect the nectar of life.

Where the latter is a sometimes melancholy, often thoughtful, look at the cross-generational relationship, the politics depicted take on a harsher, more sinister tone. Right from the start of the film there is an undercurrent of the conflict between those who seek the freedom of a Spanish republic and those who want to retain the safe haven of the monarchy. The conflict builds steadily through the film to its final culmination - civil war. In the end, Don Gregorio and other liberal thinkers are rejected and the power of fascism takes hold of the country. The innocent betrayal by Moncho of the old man is both sad and abruptly handled, wrapping the story up in an unsatisfying manner.

Director Cuerda is virtually unknown in the US and "Butterfly" doesn't have the appeal or coherence to change this status. The bond between Moncho and Don Gregorio is sweet and holds an attraction for the viewer, but the politics of the film are too simply drawn with its "liberal is good, conservative is bad" message.

If you have a desire to see a foreign language film, I recommend, instead, the wonderful Iranian film, "The Color of Paradise." I give "Butterfly" a C.

Laura's review of 'Butterfly':
In the five years between the fall of the Spanish monarchy and the Spanish Civil War, a small, shy boy, Moncho (Manuel Lozano) makes a rocky transition to the local school which is eased when his elderly teacher Don Gregorio (Fernando Fernan Gomez, "The Grandfather") comes to his home to 'apologize.' Moncho becomes fast friends with the nature loving teacher as well as other children at school who expose him to the adult world of love. Unfortunately, Moncho will be more than exposed to the adult world of politics, which divides even his Republican father and devoutly religious mother in "Butterfly."

"Butterfly" is perhaps most successful in capturing the feel of life in a rural Spanish town in the 1930's, where merchants are visitted not only for their wares, but for advice (a young farmer purchases a bottle for the mother of country girl Carmina while complaining about her ever present mutt Tarzan) gossip (a group of schoolchildren listen to his tale) and more (Carmina visits Moncho's father for funeral expenses when her mother dies). The town's band, which practices in an old chocolate factory, recruits Moncho's older brother Andres (Alexis de los Santos) but unbeknownst to him, he's wanted as bait for the young ladies rather than his musical ability. The town's wealthiest man has two fresh capons delivered to Don Gregorio during class so that Don Gregorio will work his son harder in math (the capons are returned). Don Gregorio leads his class outdoors to inspire them with thoughts of the marvel of a butterfly's tongue (Butterfly's Tongue was the film's original, and better, title) and is found by Moncho picking apples from a neighbor's tree.

"Butterfly" is also a coming of age story, in which Moncho gets his first kiss (after some guidance from Don Gregorio) and Andres finds his heart broken after a band visit to another village. Innocence is damaged when Carmina's drunken lover takes harsh measures against Tarzan (foreshadowing another act of human cruelty) while the children watch hidden in bushes.

Spanish acting institution Fernando Fernan Gomez is the teacher everyone wishes they'd had as Don Gregorio. He's a complex man - older, yet promoting liberal politics. His unorthodox methods for keeping control of his class are a study in human psychology. Manual Lozano is well utilizied as Moncho, with his face reflecting the perplexing world around him (some of his nonactorly facial expressions are a hoot!). Alexis de los Santos lends an air of naive romance to older brother Andres. Uxio Blanco is the strong mother Rosa, whose protective maternal influence is stronger than her husband Ramon's (Gonzalo Uriarte) idealism.

The film is shot lovingly, nostalgically all aglow, yet editted oddly, with scenes feeling cut off, too abruptly ended. The film's climatic ending, where politics harshly divide the Galician town's inhabitants is also jarring, which would be fine if the filmmakers had laid the groundwork for accepting Moncho's final action - they don't and the effect is alienating.

"Butterfly" has been praised for its resistance to sentimentality, yet even given its downer of an ending, this played like a favorite of older Foreign Language Film Academy voters , a group criticized for their sentimentality, to me.

B-


BEAU TRAVAIL

In current day Marseilles, Galoup (Denis Lavant, "Lovers on the Bridge") goes through the regimen of daily life while contemplating his recent past as a Chief Master Sargeant of the French Foreign Legion ('From a certain point of view, I screwed up, and points of view are important.')

Cowritten (with Jean-Paul Fargeau) and directed by Claire Denis ("Chocolat"), "Beau Travail" is based on Melville's "Billy Budd," but shifts the focus from the innocent victim to his tormentor.

Laura's review of 'Beau Travail':
"Beau Travail" is a mood piece with limitted dialogue and a relatively langorous pace. However, if you can accept the irrational hatred of Galoup for one of his soldiers, Sentain (Grigoire Colin, "The Dreamlife of Angels"), and give yourself over to this film, you may find yourself experiencing cinematic splendor.

Galoup clearly loves his Legionnaire life, as well as the attention of his superior, Commander Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor). The Commander is content to use the Djibouti equivalent of marijuana even as he still keeps his experienced gaze upon Galoup and his praiseworthy group of displaced young men. He's also wise enough to warn Galoup about his overreactions to Sentain, a young man liked by all. All is well as Galoup guides his men through their daily training, followed by the inevitable laundry and outdoor ironing, rewarded by weekends spent at a disco, where the men dance around their undulating local girlfriends.

Then a helicopter crashes into the sea during a training exercise and Sentain emerges a hero, decorated by their Commander. Galoup's jealousy continues to build and he brings his men to camp in a desolate area, ostensibly to perform road repairs. Instead Galoup engineers his group's dynamics until he has a valid complaint against Sentain. Galoup chooses to punish Sentain (who ironically was standing up for another soldier Galoup was punishing too severely and inhumanely) by abandoning him in the desert with a compass he knows to be faulty - a death sentence in this harsh environment. Forestier is forced to court martial Galoup and we're brought full circle to where the tale began.

Denis' film features striking imagery (cinematography by Agnes Godard, film editing by Nelly Quettier), juxtaposing waves in sand and in sea, salt encrusted on land (and a found compass). She glorifies the male body like a color film version of Leni Reifenstahl's "Olympiad" with bare-chested men crab-crawlinging under obstacles, wire-walking, thrusting and parrying. Her images have a gorgeous, crystal clarity which are superbly set to the music of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd opera and original music by Charles Henri de Pierrefeu.

Of her cast, only three men really matter. Colin is mostly an object of desire, either stoicly performing his duties or letting a open smile overtake his features when relaxing with his peers. Although Lavant narrates the story, Subor almost acts as the audience's point of view, even when he's not present. Bleery from local drugs yet cognizant of everything, he remains distanced from the action. In Lavant, Denis has found the lifeforce of her film. This actor demands your attention with his pockmarked face and urgent body language. Lavant gives a compelling performance, evoking audience sympathy even as he acts badly. When the film ends, we believe we're about to witness Galoup's suicide, then Denis cuts to him alone in the disco, where the tightly wound coil of his body literally explodes in dance as the lyrics "This is the rhythm of the night, this is the rhythm of my life" pound out over the dance floor, a powerful release from all that's been witnessed.

A


GONE IN 60 SECONDS

Randall "Memphis" Raines is a car thief of legendary proportion. No lock or alarm could stop him as he boosted every make and model imaginable. When Memphis picked out your car to steal, odds are it would be gone in 60 seconds. The heat got too close, though, forcing the thief to give up his life of crime or go to jail. But, when his kid brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi), tries to follow in his larcenous footstep, problems ensue and Randall is dragged back to his old ways and has to steal 50 classic cars in 24 hours or forfeit Kip's life in "Gone in 60 Seconds."

Robin's review of 'Gone In 60 Seconds':
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the driving (no pun intended) force behind "Gone in 60 Seconds," is one of the most prolific and successful film producers of all time. Alone, or with the late Don Simpson, Bruckheimer has produced some of the industry's highest grossing and star making vehicles to date. From 1983's sleeper hit, "Flash Dance" to "Top Gun," "Armageddon" and a slew of films in between, the producer has dominated the box office and given the action junkies what they crave - thrills and spills.

"Gone in 60 Seconds" continues Bruckheimer's streak of slick, glitzy actioners, this time remaking the 1974 flick of the same name, directed by and starring H.B. Halicki. The older film barely made a blip on the movie-going radar screen, but, the newest version, directed by Dominic Sena ("Kalifornia") and written by Scott Rosenberg ("Con Air") is going to be big, big, big box office despite its numerous shortcomings.

The formulaic story follows routine territory. Kip (Ribisi), with his crew, is a professional car thief in the employ of a ruthless "businessman," Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston, "Elizabeth"), who deals in expensive, stolen cars on an international scale. Kip rips off a high priced Porsche, but can't resist having some fun with the stolen vehicle - fun that will draw the police into the picture and shut down the large-scale car theft ring. Calitri orders Kip's death, but the gangster's right hand man, Atley Jackson (Will Patton), intervenes and seeks out Memphis to try to save Kip.

Even though the elder Raines brother has been clean for more than six years, he agrees to deal with Calitri and save his sibling, but only after getting the OK from their mother to go back to his old ways. Randall is given four days to steal 50 of the most expensive and rare cars in Los Angeles and starts to put together a new crew, starting with old-timer Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall). Together, they pull together a team, including the vivacious Sara "Sway" Wayland (Angelina Jolie), and begin the task of tracking down their targets. With only 24 hours to go, Memphis puts the wheels in motion (again, no pun) and the crew spreads out through the city to find and steal their marks.

Complicating matters is Detective Roland Castelbeck (Delroy Lindo), who has had a longtime vendetta against Memphis. Castelbeck and his partner, Detective Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant), sense that something big is in the works when they learn of Raines's return to LA. The cops doggedly pursue Memphis and his team of thieves, making the unwilling crook's life even more stressed. Additionally, another theft ring gets wind of Randall's return and they also add to the aggravation, though this bit ends on a humorous note.

Production values, as one would expect from a big-budget Bruckheimer actioner, are exemplary. The snappy production design, by newcomer Jeff Mann, makes great use of the automotive stars. The cars selected for theft range from vintage Aston Martins and Corvettes to Ferraris, Porches and some big-ass Mercedes, with the star being a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500 with the code name Eleanor (all the cars are given women's name). The list of vehicles is so impressive it would make your mouth water. Freshman cinematographer Paul Cameron makes a good intro into features with crisp nighttime lensing and rapid-fire action sequences. Hired gun director Dominic Sena does a yeoman's job in coordinating his large cast of people and cars.

The cast, in fact, is an embarrassment of acting riches with three Oscar winners on board (Cage, Duvall and Jolie) and an ensemble collection of talented young actors. The problem is, there is little for them to do in the film. Virtually all the characters, including the hero Memphis, are drawn in two dimensions and are never given a chance to flesh out their individual roles. It is a handsome cast all around though, with Jolie as the sole female on the crew. The great Robert Duvall is wasted as Otto, but the veteran actor tries.

The screenplay carries virtually no surprises: the hero got out of a dangerous business only to get pulled back in to save his brother/mother/wife/child. He has to battle incredible odds to accomplish his equally impossible task and wins in the end. There is also a love interest to spice things up. This is the generic plot line that drives (OK, that was a pun) "Gone in 60 Seconds." Though the cast is quite likable, the routine story is forgettable.

"Gone in 60 Seconds" is aiming at the summer youth market, particularly the guys, and should hit a bull's-eye. For the more discerning moviegoer, this is pure warm weather fluff. It's fun for a couple of hours and provides the requisite eye candy, but that's about all. I give it a C+.


CHUTNEY POPCORN

Reena (Nisha Ganatra) arrives too late on her motorcycle with her lover Lisa (Jillian Hennessy, "I Shot Andy Warhol") perched behind her for her sister Sarita's (Sakina Jaffrey, "Cotton Mary") wedding reception. Reena's mother (Madhur Jaffrey, "Cotton Mary") is angry, not only at her lateness, but also because she can't accept Lisa as anything other than Reena's roommate. Sarita and her mother think Reena is irresponsible. Then Lisa lets slip that she thinks Reena's a bit selfish.

Troubled, Reena sees an opportunity to redeem herself in everyone's eyes when it becomes apparent that Sarita is unable to sustain a pregnancy and offers herself as a surrogate mother. Lisa's against the idea and Sarita dismisses it until her husband Mitch (Nick Chinlund, "Mr. Magoo") convinces her that it's not such a bad idea. But Reena's attempts to bear her sister's child put a severe strain in all these relationships in star/cowriter/director Nisha Ganatra's "Chutney Popcorn."

Laura's review of 'Chutney Popcorn':
"Chutney Popcorn" is a 'gentle' comedy in that it offers few big laughs (although the turkey baster scene would qualify) yet evokes smiles with its observations of human nature.

Veteran actress Madhur Jaffrey provides most of the comedy, constanty calling upon her younger daughter to program her sprinklers ('Why doesn't she call the perfect one?' mutters Reena) and dissolving into good humored hysterics when Reena suggests that her mother's mother could have been a lesbian. She also performs traditional ceremonies for everything, beginning with fertility. Jillian Hennessy is a fresh-faced, down to earth Lisa, who understandably panics when a pregnancy is thrust into her comfy lifestyle. She reluctantly takes part in the project by wielding the aforementioned turkey baster ('That stuff really smells - I don't know how hets do it.'). Madhur's daughter Sakina is elegant and refined as Sarita, which just that touch of entitlement that would get under Reena's skin. Nick Chinlund's characterization of Mitch is a little odd. At first he seems like a nice, supportive husband, but he begins to get a little creepy when the mother of his child turns from being Sarita to being Reena.

Chubby-cheeked Nisha Ganatra displays a lot of talent juggling three major roles in her film. She's very convincing as the put upon rebel - the 'artistic' one whose lifestyle isn't understood by a demanding mother who obviously adores her older, more traditional daughter. Her screenplay (coauthored with Susan Carnival) displays an ear for natural dialogue in addition to its unique central concept. However, the film as a whole has a few rough spots, with sound that is sometimes muffled, supporting characters that are interchangeable and a couple of clumsily staged shots. The cinematography by Erin King is nicely done, with the colorful accoutrements of Indian culture providing some nice visual flair.

"Chutney Popcorn" is a sweet tale about familial and romantic love that comes together well for a satisfying conclusion.

B-


KIKUJIRO

It's summer time, school is out and nine-year old Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) has no one to play with. As he idles about his home, where he lives with his grandmother, he discovers a photo of his mother, whom he has never met. He also finds her address, but it's far away. A family friend volunteers her husband, Kikujiro (Beat Takeshi), a useless lout, to accompany the boy on his quest. This odd little couple is about to embark on a journey of change in director Takeshi Kitano's "Kikujiro."

Robin's review of 'Kikujiro':
Takeshi Kitano (his on screen moniker is "Beat" Takeshi) is an eclectic force in Japan's entertainment industry. He is currently on eight different TV programs, writes novels and poetry, and is an accomplished cartoonist and painter. His fame in films has been mainly for his gangster theme tales where he plays the strong, silent type, a la Clint Eastwood. Kitano's entry into America's cinema began with his melancholy cop drama, "Hana-bi." This was followed by his earlier Yakuza crime flick, "Sonatine." In these and his other films, Kitano is always the violent yet honorable stoic.

"Kikujiro" represents a radical departure for the artist as he tells a story about a lonely little boy and the not-too-swift man who accompanies him on a journey of discovery. Fans of Kitano's hard-boiled crime dramas will be, at least, surprised at what transpires in this buddy/road flick.

Masao is a lonely little kid left to fend for himself when school vacation begins and all of his friends have moved to the beach for the summer. His grandma (Kazuko Yoshiyuiki) loves the boy very much, but she has to work and Masao must amuse himself. The discovery of photos of his mother and an address where she may be prompts Masao to declare his intention to find her. The ne'er-do-well Kikujiro is forced, by his demanding wife (Kayoko Kishimoto), to accompany the boy and "protect" him on his quest. Instead, they end up at a pro bicycle race where Kikujiro promptly loses all of his and Masao's money. Without a yen between them, the pair a forced to hitch hike to their final destination, meeting all sorts of quirky characters along the way.

This all sounds very cute and it could have been - if the film were cut by 30 minutes. This lightweight little effort should have been a charmer, with Kitano playing out-of-character as the buffoonish Kikujiro. The man thinks he's tough and smart, but is neither. When betting on the races, he lets Masao pick the winners. When the boy proves correct the first time, Kikujiro puts bad money after good and has Masao continue to make the choices - all bad. This, and other scenes like it, could have been entertaining and amusing, but, instead, are stilted and mostly without humor. Part of the problem is the little boy playing Masao - the kid is, basically, boring.

The screenplay, written by the director, makes an effort to capture some quirkiness in this road movie, introducing various, amiable characters like the pretty Juggler Girl (Fumle Hosokawa), who takes the odd couple under her wing, helping them along their journey. A pair of Harley-riding bikers, named by Kikujiro as Fatso (Great Gidayu) and Baldy, provides slapstick comic relief. A sinister - and, inappropriate to the film - character is introduced by the name "The Scary Man," a pedophile who tries to molest little Masao. The scene ends on a sort of positive note with Kikujiro rescuing the boy, but the sequence has a tawdry feel not found elsewhere in the film.

Kitano, who began as part of a comic team on Japanese TV, does lend quite a bit of humor to his tale, but editing (or its lack) is a problem as far too many of the scenes are carried on far too long. The use of static two-shots and lack of action spells death when trying to be funny, especially for American auds, and results in a lackluster effort all around.

I had hopes of seeing a funny, funky little buddy film that would showcase Kitano in something other than his tough guy persona. We get something different, but not what you expect or want. I give "Kikujiro" a disappointed D+.


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