The business of strangers

Director Patrick Stettner makes a stunning debut with this intense and taut drama about two businesswomen who find themselves caught in a web of suspense. Stockard Channing is powerful as Julie, a middle-aged executive who realizes that she has sacrificed her life for her career. While on a business trip, Julie gets to know her new assistant Paula (Julia Stiles), who has the same career goals. As the two women become friends, their encounter with a corporate shark (Frederick Weller) turns ugly when Paula reveals his past to Julie, who agrees to help Paula get her revenge. What begins as a harmless prank becomes something more sinister, forcing both women to examine just how far they’re willing to go to stay on the corporate ladder. Set in a handful of rooms, “The Business of Strangers” shares the same mechanics of a stage play, yet director Stettner constantly finds ways to keep the drama moving. Channing is excellent, as always, and Stiles sheds her pretty image to play one tough cookie who will bake your buns. (MGM)


Blazing across the screen like the masterstrokes of a true artist, “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” is true epic entertainment in every sense of the word. Director Peter Jackson so perfectly captures the very essence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of books that you are instantly transported into the mythical Middle-Earth inhabited by wise wizards, heroic hobbits and humans, brave elves and dwarves, all consumed in the ultimate battle between good and evil. Like the books, “Fellowship of the Ring” is the first act of a film trilogy. The second installment, “The Two Towers,” arrives Christmas 2002, with the final episode “Return of the King” due Christmas 2003. Jackson shot all three films back to back, spending 16 months in New Zealand bringing Tolkien’s massive work to life. Please click on title for full review. (New Line)


Writer-actor Ethan Hawke adds director to his resume, stepping behind the camera to tell five different stories about the residents of the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York. Hawke has recruited numerous friends and associates to flesh out the roles, yet despite all of the familiar faces, the film can’t escape it’s stage play roots. Like all serials, some of the stories are better than the others, but there’s way too much talk and not enough walk to make this self-serving independent film worth the time. How many whiny and self-absorbed artists and musicians can you tolerate before you want to climb into the film and slap them around. My answer is two. (Lion’s Gate)


“Deuces Wild” is so mind-numbingly bad you wonder if any of it is supposed to be taken seriously. The sophomore effort of director Scott Kalvert, who hasn’t been behind the camera since 1995’s “The Basketball Diaries,” “Deuces Wild” plays like a junior high school drama production of “West Side Story” minus the music, or the talent. More like a direct-to-video release than a major film, “Deuces Wild” has been sitting on the shelf for some time. Maybe United Artist, which released the film, has been trying to find the perfect release window. So why then did they choose to release it the same weekend as “Spider-Man”? Please click on title for full review. (MGM)


Okay, after watching “Dogtown & Z-Boys,” now I know who to blame for all those kids hanging out on their skateboards at the mini mart . Thanks a lot. I’ve always wondered how teenagers can have so much wasted time on their hands when they’re such lousy students (Trust me, a lot of my friends are teachers). Spending hours and hours every day trying to perfect tricks that will one day come in handy when they’re 45 and asking you if you would like fries with that. I’ve never understood the appeal of flipping a skateboard hours on end, and after watching this documentary on the Santa Monica/Venice kids who started it all, I still don’t. It must be the thrill and satisfaction, which this documentary (narrated by Sean Penn) tries to make clear. It’s hard to root for anti-heroes whose reckless and illegal behavior is supposed to be cool. It’s not. Skateboarders will love this film. Me? The only reason I watch “Real T. V.” is to see skateboarders rack their nuts. Hopefully that will stop them from reproducing. (Columbia-TriStar)


Absolutely beautiful and beautifully realized drama from director Giuseppe Tornatore, making his English language debut. “The Legend of 1900” has the same dreamy look as Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” and “Malena,” and even though it received a lackluster release in 1998, emerged in my eyes as one of the best films of the year. Making it’s belated debut on video and DVD, the film stars Tim Roth as 1900, a brilliant piano who was abandoned as a baby on an ocean liner at the turn of the Century (hence the name). A natural talent, 1900 makes a living playing with the ship’s orchestra. The film is told from the perspective of trumpet player Pruitt Taylor Vince, who fondly recalls his friendship with 1900, a man so content with his life that he has never left the ship. Like most of Tornatore’s films, “The Legend of 1900” is told as a fable, but is grounded by excellent performances, a strong sense of time and place, and a great score. A must see. (New Line)


D. J. Qualls is one of those actors who will never play the romantic leading man, but as a geek, he’s aces. Qualls is very funny in this occasionally funny comedy about a sad sack high school student who gets a make-over and returns as “The New Guy.” The plot is totally preposterous, but watching Qualls go through the motions is hilarious. When his senior year proves to be a dud, Dizzy Harrison (Qualls) gets himself expelled, and with the help of a prison inmate friend (Eddie Griffiths), enrolls in the rival high school with a new attitude and confidence. Or is it just a facade? You might have to kill off a few brain cells to fully appreciate this nonsense, but when has that been a problem? (Columbia-TriStar)


Extreme zaniness from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. There are plenty of laughs and unexpected moments in this tale of a group of small town State Troopers who find themselves battling the local cops over much-needed funding. Whereas the police take their job seriously, a day doesn’t go by when the troopers aren’t pulling a prank on some unsuspecting motorist. Things really heat up in their small Vermont town when someone is murdered and a drug smuggling ring is uncovered. Brian Cox is hilarious as the trooper’s bewildered captain. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)


Okay, I’ll be honest. I didn’t watch all of this animated direct-to-video premiere from Walt Disney Home Entertainment. However, I plopped the kids down in front of the tube, and they were thoroughly enchanted. You don’t have to know the story of Tom Thumb or Thumbelina, but most kids will, and they’ll find plenty to enjoy in this tune-filled, colorful and exciting story about what happened with the two pint-sized teenagers finally meet and find themselves on a amazing journey together. The voice talent is quite impressive, from Elijah Wood and Jennifer Love Hewitt as the leads, Peter Gallagher as the villain Mole King, plus Bebe Neuwirth, Rachel Griffiths, Michael Chiklis, Robert Guillaume, Esai Morales, Jane Leeves and Jon Stewart. Available for sell-through at $19.99 video, $24.99 DVD. (Walt Disney)

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