A bug’s life

While watching “A Bug’s Life,” I kept marveling at how far computer animation has come since “Toy Story.” I remember being impressed by the 64-bit graphics on my computer games, wondering how they could ever improve on the technology. Now computers are capable of creating believable dinosaurs, awesome acts of nature, not to mention whole movies like “Toy Story” and “Antz.” What really struck me about “A Bug’s Life” was the film’s ability to draw me into it’s microscopic world without one iota of hesitation.

A bug's life
From it’s intricately designed depictions of nature to it’s funny and adorable characters, “A Bug’s Life” is easy on the eyes and easy to get lost in. The polar opposite of the more dark and adult “Antz,” “A Bug’s Life” is a cheerful (although at times menacing) concoction that should have no problem connecting with both children and adults. “Toy Story” director John Lasseter returns at the helm of “A Bug’s Life,” and even though this film is not on the same level as “Toy Story,” it more than holds its own. While Woody Allen’s hero ant in “Antz” had to fight an enemy within, “A Bug’s Life” hero Flick (voice of Dave Foley) has to summon his courage to fight an enemy from outside the colony. As “A Bug’s Life” begins, the colony is hard at work harvesting food for the impending visit of the dreaded grasshoppers, led by the cruel and literally inhuman Hopper (voice of Kevin Spacey). As Hopper explains it, there is a hierarchy at work. The ants harvest the food, the grasshoppers eat the food. It’s that whole circle of life thing. (Walt Disney)


APT PUPILBryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) directed this big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novella (written for the screen by Brandon Boyce), and the results are chilling. Brad Renfro plays a high school student fascinated with Nazi history. When he learns that one of his neighbors is actually a Nazi war criminal, he blackmails him into telling him everything about his experiences during the war. Ian McKellen is outstanding as the kindly neighbor who hides a dark past. When he finally engages Renfro, it becomes a duel of wits, and both players come prepared. The supporting cast is excellent, including Elias Koteas as a homeless man who makes the mistake of accepting McKellen’s hospitality, and David Schwimmer as a teacher with an insatiable curiosity. (Columbia-TriStar)


BELLYWord up! This has never happened before, but I found a film that not only couldn’t I sit through, but actually refuse to review. It is an urban crime drama called “Belly,” and it is one of the most offensive films I have had the unpleasant experience to try and sit through. As a 41-year-old white middle class male, I probably have no right to make the following statements, but as a professional film reviewer, I believe it is my right to speak out against this demeaning and meaningless film. Unleashed by music video director Hype Williams, “Belly” is a violent, nasty and ultimately undesirable mess. Unlike such great black films as “Boyz in the Hood,” “Belly” doesn’t respect its intended audience. It aims for the lowest common denominator, which is sad due to the fact that this is a black film made by a black filmmaker aimed at black audiences. The screenplay by Williams is filled with so many profanities and uses of the “N” word that there’s little room left for real dialogue. Williams infuses “Belly” with lots of style, but it is an obvious attempt to cover up the fact that he has no talent for writing intelligent or at least engaging dialogue and characters. No wonder Magic Johnson refused to allow “Belly” to be shown in his theaters. When I first heard the news about Johnson’s decision, I thought he was a hypocrite. Now after trying to sit through “Belly,” I thoroughly agree with his decision. “Belly” is not entertainment. It appears that it was made to incite people and make them angry. At least “Boyz in the Hood” had something important to say and did so in an intelligent manner. “Belly” has nothing to say, yet it can’t keep its big mouth shut. (Artisan)


CORPORATE LADDERKathleen Kinmont plays the familiar over achiever who is willing to do anything, including murder, to rise to the top of the “Corporate Ladder.” First she pushes her boss through a high rise plate glass window (talk about glass ceilings), and then sets her sights on poor Matt Taylor (Anthony Denison), an ad executive working against a tight deadline. Not only does she steal Matt’s heart, she steals the account and saves the day, paving the road for her short trip to the top. Typical situations and not very much steam fuel this pedestrian effort. (Orion)


KISSEDFalling in love with the ghost of your dead boyfriend (“Ghost”) is one thing. Just falling line love with someone dead is wrong. Still, young Sandra (Molly Parker) gets in the spirit of things when she turns her fascination with dead people into a profession when she takes a part-time job at a funeral parlor. Even though she has a living and breathing boyfriend (Jay Brazeau), Sandra believes that you just can’t keep a good man down. Sandra’s desires begin to get the best of her, forcing her boyfriend to do what ever it takes to lure her back from the dead. This dark, extremely touchy drama features believable performances and tactful direction from Lynne Stopkewich, who understands just how far to push her tricky subject matter. Once rated NC-17, the film has been trimmed (by a scant 5 seconds) in order to get an “R” rating. What’s left is a film that deals with a haunting subject but isn’t a horror film. (Orion)


MONUMENT AVEDirector Ted Demme (“Beautiful Girls”) walks on Martin Scorsese’s mean streets with this tougher than nails tale of a Boston hood who seeks revenge against the local godfather for having his cousin killed. Dennis Leary is on fire as Bobby O’Grady, a car thief whose ties to local crime boss Jackie O (Colm Meaney, living up to his last name) are tenuous. When Jackie O has his cousin (Billy Crudup) killed for talking to the police, Bobby has to choose between honoring his family or the mobsters. Honest in its brutality and character development, “Monument Ave.” shows us the other side of the tracks that we became familiar with in “Good Will Hunting.” (Miramax)


NIGHT AT THE ROXBURYThis is the sort of film that makes the decision whether to watch it or give yourself a vasectomy with a rusty fork an easy one. Hand me the fork. Some “Saturday Night Live” sketches like “The Blues Brothers” and “Wayne’s World” scream out for more. This tale of two head-bobbing brothers named Steve (Will Ferrell) and Doug (Chris Kattan) is so annoying and thin that fifteen minutes into it you’ve seen it all. Watch (wince?) as the brothers attempt to get into the #1 club in Los Angeles, The Roxbury, and then summarily get rejected. When actor Richard Grieco rear-ends their van, he agrees to get the brothers into the club, where they hope to make their dreams come true. These guys were funny on “Saturday Night Live” the first time I saw them. Once was enough. This is desperation at its worst. (Paramount)


ONE TOUGH COPHard boiled performances and gritty dialogue distinguish this tough crime thriller. Based on the autobiographical novel by former New York detective Bo Dietl, “One Tough Cop” features familiar themes and characters, but director Bruno Barreto and his cast rise to the occasion to deliver a film as gritty as its subject matter. Stephen Baldwin plays Dietl, who with his partner (Chris Penn), are trying to solve the vicious attack of a nun. Their search takes them to their old neighborhood, where Dietl coerces his childhood friend-turned mobster friend to help him find the culprits. There’s a modicum of suspense, but the real emphasis is on character development. (Columbia-TriStar)


PERSONS UNKNOWNRun of the mill thriller stars Joe Mantegna as an ex-cop who finds his life turned upside down by junkie Kelly Lynch. Director George Hickenlooper manages to get decent performances out of his cast (including Naomi Watts and Jon Favreau) despite weak dialogue and a common theme. (Artisan)


SAVIORDennis Quaid delivers a stunning performance in this powerful, haunting tale of one man’s redemption. Quaid is outstanding as Joshua Rose, a man who tires to escape his tortured past by joining the French Foreign Legion. He eventually finds himself working as a mercenary for the Serbs in Bosnia. His encounter with a young war refugee helps him better understand himself and his current situation. Director Peter Antonijevic does an excellent job of conveying time and place, and makes the characters and situations so desperate you can’t help but be affected. Nastassja Kinski co-stars as Rose’s wife, who is killed with their son in a terrorist attack, providing Rose with more than enough motivation. (Columbia-TriStar)

The Siege (R)

SIEGEWatching the new terrorist thriller “The Siege” is the equivalent of having great sex only to have your mom walk in on you. No matter what you do after that point is a waste of time. That’s the problem I had with “The Siege,” the new thriller from director Edward Zwick. It’s about terrorists who take more than a bite out of the Big Apple. Half way through the film, the terrorists hold a busload of passengers hostage. It’s an intense stand-off that FBI agent Anthony “Hub” Hubbard (Denzel Washington) believes he can diffuse. First he asks that the terrorists release the children on the bus. “What do they have to do with your cause,” Hubbard asks. There is silence. Then the bus door opens and a stream of children pour out to safety. That’s where the film lost me. Oh, I get it. These are politically correct terrorists. Actually, “The Siege” wants to have its cake and eat it too. Writers Lawrence Wright, Menno Meyjes and Zwick do a decent job of getting us to this pivotal moment, and then they drop the ball. Up until then, “The Siege” is actually quite engaging. It’s a strong movie, but it’s not very compelling. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding “The Siege,” mostly from the Arab community complaining that the film once again picks on them by portraying the terrorists as Arab fanatics. Excuse me? The screen writers seem to go out of their way not to offend anyone, and that’s the film’s problem. Despite the tough and gritty exterior, “The Siege” wants to be a nice terrorist film. So what if the terrorists are Arabs. The film doesn’t condemn all Arabs, just the fanatics. In my opinion, they deserve to be condemned. Anyone who engages in terrorism, regardless of their political or religious motivations, should be round up and shot. (Fox)


SIMON BIRCHThere’s so much love and emotion in this wonderful little film you want to embrace it over and over. Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson (He wrote the “Grumpy Old Men” series) does a splendid job of mixing happiness and heartbreak, and delivers a film that is ultimately touching. Loosely based on John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meaney,” “Simon Birch” stars Ian Michael Smith as the title character, a sickly little boy who knows that he’s destined for greatness. His best friend, through thick and thin, is Joe Wentworth (Joseph Mazello), who sees beneath Simon’s frail body to see someone who has a good heart and good intentions. They’re inseparable, and together both Simon and Joe learn about life, love, and unfortunately, death. There isn’t a bad performance in the house, especially Ashley Judd as Joe’s carefree mother, Oliver Platt as a teacher who understands everything, and David Strathairn as the local preacher who holds the key to Joe’s future. Highly recommended. (Touchstone)



DOLL IN THE DARK, A (NR/Tri Vision Entertainment)



WAY WE WERE, THE (PG/Columbia-TriStar)


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