Films review February

ASUNDER (R)

Black take on “Fatal Attraction” stars Blair Underwood as a grieving widower who seeks compassion and eventually passion in the arms of his best friend’s wife, only to turn on both of them when the wife ends up pregnant and chooses her husband over her lover.


The cast is okay, especially Michael Beach and Debbie Morgan as the married couple who learn that sometimes a best friend can become your worst enemy. Underwood delivers a creepy performance, but the film never rises above the weak material, which is derivative at best. (Dimension)

8 WOMEN (R)

Young French filmmaker Francois Ozon pays tribute to the cinematic style of George Cukor and Douglas Sirk, by way of Agatha Christie, with this well-acted but extremely pretentious mystery-drama-musical about eight women who become both suspects and accusers when the dead body of a man is discovered in an isolated country mansion. Ozon has assembled some of France’s best actresses to tell this tale, and even though they rise above the material, they still find themselves trapped by the film and scripts obvious mechanics. Catherine Deneuve stands out as the dead man’s wife, who shares the mansion with her sister (Isabelle Huppert), alcoholic mother (Danielle Darrieux), two daughters, and the help. While Ozon captures the period (the late 1950s) with exceptional detail, the film is never as sharp or decisive. (Universal)

BROWN SUGAR (PG-13)

Genuinely charming romantic comedy stars Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan as lifelong best friends whose passion for hip hop music keeps their internal fire burning. Diggs plays record label executive Dre, who is engaged to be married, but can’t get magazine editor Sidney (Lathan) out of his mind. Watching Diggs (currently on display in “Chicago”) and Lathan (“The Wood”) dance around their romantic feelings makes this little gem of a movie sparkle, while Queen Latifah and Mos Def shine in their supporting roles. (20th Century Fox)

DIAMOND MEN (R)

Writer-director Daniel M. Cohen’s odd couple take stars Robert Forster as an aging traveling diamond salesman who suffers a heart attack and is forced by management to train his replacement. Forster is exceptional as a man at the end of his line, who has spent his entire life building a client base that trusts his judgment and values his friendship. Donnie Wahlberg puts forth just the right amount of cocky bravado as Bobby, his young protégée who is a diamond in the rough. In true odd couple fashion, the veteran salesman and the newcomer start off at opposite ends of the spectrum, and eventually come together under an umbrella of mutual respect. Cohen and his two leading men make the journey worth the trip. (Lion’s Gate)

THE FAST RUNNER (R)

Beautiful to look at, this long-in-the-tooth tale of love and redemption takes forever to make its point. It’s impossible not to admire the physical beauty and demanding storyline, about a small nomadic village suffering under the curse of a shaman. While the village suffers as a whole, Atanarjuat, suffers alone, desperately in love with Atuat, who has been promised to the son of the clan’s leader. Ignoring tradition, Atanarjuat fights for her hand, but his victory is short lived when the clan leader orders an attack on Atanarjuat and his brother. Atanarjuat manages to escape the attack, and while on his sojourn, summons up the courage to return to the village, claim the hand of the woman he loves, and remove the curse. Almost every frame of this authentic Inuit adventure is picture-postcard perfect, but at 172 minutes, the scenery gets old. In Inuktitut language with English subtitles. (Columbia-TriStar)

FULL FRONTAL (R)

After scoring big with three commercial hits in a row (Erik Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven), writer-director Steven Soderbergh returns to his independent film roots with this low-budget, shot on digital video comedy-drama about a 24-hour period in the lives and loves of seven Los Angeles denizens. Due to his reputation, Soderbergh was able to recruit some heavyweight talent (Julia Roberts, Catherine Keener, David Duchovny) for this lightweight effort that eventually becomes much ado about nothing. While it’s easy to appreciate the director’s audacity, his belief that audiences will sit through anything he creates is misguided and disastrous. It’s virtually impossible to get drawn into the character’s lives when you feel like you’re watching an expensive home movie. (Miramax)

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (PG)

I didn’t see “Wedding” when it first came out, and once it became the romantic comedy that wouldn’t die, I avoided it like the plague. A couple of weeks ago I was sent a screener of the film. I was hesitant to watch it. After all, how could a film live up to 36 weeks of hype and more than $200 million in box office? My expectations were so high the film didn’t stand a chance. Then I watched it. Then I wanted to watch it again. Wow, what a delightful film. “Wedding” is the only film to gross over $200 million without once securing the number spot at the box office. It made all of that money through word of mouth, and the word is that “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is more than a movie, it’s a celebration of life and love, told in such a way that it manages to connect with all who see it. (HBO Home Video)

POSSESSION (PG-13)

“Possession” isn’t the latest Calvin Klein perfume, but director Neil LaButes’ film of the same name still has the scent of an intelligent, romantic drama. I never had the courage to read A.S. Byatt’s mammoth tome “Possession,” but admire LaButes’ courage to bring the tale of star-crossed lovers to the screen. Some of Hollywood’s brightest filmmakers have tried and failed. The stumbling block has always been the novel’s size. To his credit, LaBute, working from previous adaptation by playwright David Henry Hwang and Laura Jones (director Gillian Armstrong’s wordsmith), has created a satisfying blend of modern day romance and Victorian mystery to please anyone looking for a film that features engaging performances, pin-sharp dialogue and consummate direction. There’s much to enjoy here, including a terrific set of performances from Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as the modern day literary sleuths, and Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle as the Victorian-age poets whose secret romance sets the plot into motion. LaBute uses narration to speed matters along, a verbal shorthand to help incorporate as much of the novel as possible into 102 minutes. Please click on title for complete review. (Universal)

SPY KIDS II (PG)

It’s impossible not to like this winning sequel of the exciting and adventurous “Spy Kids.” Writer-director Robert Rodriguez once again strikes gold with this frequently dazzling, always engaging continuation that finds Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) full-fledged Spy Kids, sent on assignment to a mysterious island (with many nods to the great Ray Harryhausen) to stop the evil Dr. Romero (Steve Buscemi) from employing the dastardly Transmooker device. With their weapons and gadgets disabled by the island’s mysterious power, Carmen and Juni must save the day and the free world using only their wits and nimble physical prowess. Not only do they have to stop Romero, they have to contend with their disgruntled counterparts, who arrive on the island to teach them a lesson. Antonio Banderas and Carla Guigno return as the spy parents, joined this outing by grandparents Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor. There’s enough action, comedy, adventure and family values in this sequel for two films. Available at sell-through. (Dimension)

SWEPT AWAY (R)

Madonna continues her quest to be taken seriously as an actress, but it’s impossible to take anything in this case of nepotism run amuck seriously. In this remake of the sort-of-classic 1970s film by Lina Wertmuller, Madonna plays the rich-bitch socialite who becomes stranded on a deserted island with a swarthy Italian fisherman. A battle of the sexes and classes ignites between the two until they reach common ground: sex. Madonna’s current husband Guy Ritchie directs the dramatic comedy like all of his films, with a hard edge and no sense of who the characters really are. Pretty much a waste of time. (Columbia-TriStar)

WASABI (R)

Jean Reno stars as a French police detective with a hard edge, forced to take a long overdue vacation when he roughs up his captain’s son. While trying to figure out what to do with his time off, Hubert Fiorentini (Reno) learns that a woman he loved many years ago has died. Hubert heads off to Japan to settle her estate and learns that their liaison produced a daughter, now sixteen. As Hubert casually investigates the death of his former lover, he is also forced to protect the daughter he never knew from Japanese gangsters. Part action film, part comedy, “Wasabi” never gels into a satisfactory whole. The ingredients are there, but the script doesn’t give the actors enough to do. If you must see the film, please rent the DVD, which hasn’t been dubbed into English. (Columbia-TriStar)

WOMEN VS. MEN (R)

This battle of the sexes comedy-drama from director Chazz Palminteri dies a slow, horrible death in the trenches. A good cast is wasted in this talk-fest that has nothing important to say. When two married men are caught by one of their wives in a strip club, the battle lines are drawn between husbands and wives. While the women (Christine Lahti, Glenn Headley, Jennifer Coolidge) set up camp at home, the men (Paul Reiser, Joe Mantegna) retreat to the bachelor pad of a newly separated friend (Robert Pastorelli) Instead of a witty, satiric look at what makes the characters tick, the film becomes as annoying as a leaky faucet in the middle of a quiet night. (MGM)



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