Films Review February

CONTENDER, THE (R)

Fireworks ignite in this delicious political thriller that features top notch performances and tight, taut writing and directing. Joan Allen delivers a fiery performance as Laine Hanson, a Democratic nominee for the Vice President slot. As the first woman picked to hold the coveted job after the sitting Vice President dies, Laine comes to the table with a fierce, independent spirit.


She’ll need it. Sitting on the other side of the table during her confirmation hearing is hard line Republican Shelly Runyun (Gary Oldman), who will do anything to derail her nomination. That includes digging up an old college sex scandal and splashing it all over the media. Dirty politics are just one of the draws of writer-director Rod Lurie’s scintillating drama that features outstanding performances, exciting plot threads and a climax that will leave you glued to your seat. Allen, in her Oscar-nominated performance, delivers a character with depth and humanity. We not only understand her position, we support it. Oldman, hiding behind a wild head of hair and a thick accent, makes a great villain. Runyun isn’t a bad man, just a misguided one, and Oldman helps us understand the difference. Jeff Bridges also shines as the President, who knows Laine is strong enough to survive the debacle. (DreamWorks)

BEDAZZLED (PG-13)

bedazzled photo.JPG (194000 bytes)Lifeless farce stars Brendan Fraser as a geek who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for seven wishes. Of course the Devil, played by Elizabeth Hurley as if she were dressed for a Halloween party, makes Fraser work for his wishes. That means taking everything his says literally. So when he wants to be rich and successful, is it any wonder that she makes him a Colombian drug lord? The joke is kind of funny once, but loses all credibility as director Harold Ramis repeats it over and over again. By the time the film comes to an end, you wonder what all of the fuss was about. The original, starring Dudley Moore, was wry and witty. The jokes here are lame and childish. Fraser looks lost in this mess, while Hurley is the wrong choice to play the Devil. She’s sultry and sexy, but no where near as nasty and evil as she needs to be. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

FANTASTICKS, THE (PG)

Flat reworking of the long-running musical fails to capture the magic of live theater. I’ve never been a big fan of the musical, which seemed light to begin with. Director Michael Ritchie’s attempts to create a surreal landscape make the film look fake, while the actors seem bored. New Kid on the Block Joe McIntyre and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” star Jean Louis Kelly star as two teenage lovers caught in the middle of their father’s long-time feud. What they fail to realize is that the feud is actually an act made up by the two men to get their children together. When a travelling sideshow arrives outside of town, the fathers conspire with the ringmaster to help them with their plan. Ritchie used to be one of my favorite directors, but has obviously lost his touch. Even at an abbreviated 87 minutes, the film seems to go on forever. The songs have been cut or altered, and sometimes the book makes no sense. For hardcore fans of the musical only. (MGM Home Entertainment)

LAST OF THE BLONDE BOMBSHELLS (PG-13)

Thoroughly delightful nostalgic drama about a W.W.II era all girl swing band that reunites half-a-century later. Judi Dench is memorable as Elizabeth, the saxophonist who looks for meaning in her life after her husband dies. She starts reminiscing about the good old days, and before long hits upon the idea of reuniting the band for one last gig. Her search for the former band mates is filled with many heartwarming, funny and occasionally touching encounters. Ian Holm is absolutely smashing as the former drummer in drag who had a thing for Elizabeth then and wants to pick up where they left off. Director Gillies MacKinnon delivers a sharp, witty and engaging comedy-drama that features brassy performances from co-stars Olympia Dukakis, Leslie Caron and Cleo Laine. This HBO original film also features handsome production values that make it easy to slip in and out of the nostalgia angle. (HBO)

LOST SOULS (R)

Believing that every generation deserves their own “Omen” entry, New Line Home Video unleashes this demonic thriller about a young woman who suspects that a horror writer may be the anti-Christ. Winona Ryder plays Maya, a Catholic school teacher who was possessed as a teenager. Now she’s sensitive to such matters, and while breaking a code, suspects that writer Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin) has been chosen to usher in the dark era. Former cinematographer-turned-director Janusz Kaminski knows how to create atmosphere, but the script is flat and obvious and brings nothing new to the genre. John Hurt co-stars as the priest who exorcised Maya, but is too weak to confront the new evil. The special effects are appropriately gruesome, but there’s not much else to recommend this chiller. (New Line)

NURSE BETTY (R)

nursebettyphoto.JPG (238280 bytes)“Nurse Betty” is just the prescription for anyone looking for a genuinely funny off-beat comedy. Filled with delightful, eccentric characters and swift, sharp dialogue, this romantic comedy comes as an unexpected Valentine from director Neil LaBute. LaBute’s first two films, “In The Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors” were poison pen letters to the heart. “Nurse Betty” is light and bubbly, and even when the film does sway into dangerous territory, it never betrays the story. LaBute wisely indulges himself just enough to make a point, but never sacrifices the film’s sensibilities. “Nurse Betty” features an Oscar-worthy performance by Renee Zellweger, perfectly capturing the spirit of a hopeful Kansas wife and waitress. Even when things are at their worst, there’s always a sparkle in her eye. There’s soul in Zellweger’s performance, an honest interpretation of a woman who sees the world sunny side up. Please click title for complete review. (USA)

RIGHT TEMPTATION, THE (R)

Occasionally suspenseful thriller stars Rebecca DeMornay as a private investigator whose latest job is getting the best of her. Hired by a suspicious wife to keep an eye on her husband Michael (Keifer Sutherland), Derian (DeMornay) quickly learns that the husband is actually a nice guy still in love with his wife. All that changes when the wife demands that Derian tempt the husband to test his loyalty. It’s not long before Michael starts to fall for Derian. Is Michael the monster his wife makes him out to be, or is he really just a pawn in a deadly game? The plotting is strong enough to keep you guessing, and features several plot turns that will surprise you. Dana Delany has a lot of fun with the spurned wife, while Sutherland and DeMornay fit well together as two lonely people looking for something more. (Columbia-TriStar)

SHRIEK IF YOU KNOW WHAT I DID LAST FIRST THE 13TH (R)

Like “Scary Movie,” this spoof is another joke-a-minute comedy that is hit and miss. Fortunately, the jokes fly by so fast that there isn’t time to dwell on the clinkers. Harley Cross stars as Dawson, whose group of friends at Bulimia High are being stalked by “The Killer.” As the kids evade the killer, it’s up to a mall cop and a reporter to save the day. Unfortunately, the mall cop is played by Tom Arnold, so don’t put too much faith in his ability to rise to the occasion. Tiffani-Amber Theissen plays the nosey reporter, while rapper Coolio co-stars as the school’s principal. Not nearly as lethal as “Scary Movie,” “Shriek” does have it’s moments. Director John Blanchard knows how to set up the jokes, and the game cast has no problem getting down and dirty. (Trimark)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

BABY (NR/Warner)

BRAINIACS.COM, THE (PG/Monarch)

CHAOS FACTOR (NR/Sunland)

LADY & THE TRAMP 2: SCAMP’S ADVENTURE (G/Walt Disney)

TIC CODE, THE (R/Universal)



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