say your piece

1594 DECEMBER 2003

At the Cinemas
(Not Just This Weekend for a Change)

By Jeremy Mathews

on’t fear! While there won’t be a print edition of RED for the next month, will be up-to-date with films opening each Friday (or, on some occasions, Wednesday).

  O P E N E D L A S T W E E K E N D

While RED was on hiatus over Thanksgiving, quite a few films came out. Here’s a rundown of the big, if not so impressive, efforts. (A full-length article on the best re-viewed film of the weekend, “Bad Santa,” is available online in the archives at here.)

“The Haunted Mansion”
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG
(out of four)

Following Disney’s adaptation of rides like “Pirates of the Carib-bean” and “The Country Bears” comes the family comedy, “The Haunted Mansion.” Eddie Murphy plays a workaholic real estate agent in business with his wife (Evers and Evers, nudge, nudge). He decides to stop to look at a big, fancy house in what’s supposed to be a family trip, and ends up in a ghost’s trap.

Murphy, Terence Stamp as the butler and Jennifer Tilly as a crys-tal ball all give enjoyable family performances, and the film will be fun for older kids, although some scenes, one in which zombies chase Murphy and his daughter in a crypt, might scare the young-sters. Overall, however, the film is flat, with nothing but a fun checklist of haunted-house clichés to move it along. It might make a good first ghost movie for the kids, but the comedy doesn’t go as far as it could and simply leaves the film…well, lifeless.

“The Missing”
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Rated R
(out of four)

The normally sentimental direc-tor Ron Howard has proved that he can work effectively in a dark tone at the same time he’s failed to make a good movie. “The Missing” is a hardened Western that de-grades into a stagnant work by the second of two and a half hours.

The film starts out interestingly enough, with Cate Blanchett as an all-purpose doctor and widowed mother in New Mexico during the 1800s whose estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) pays a surprise visit. The father has adopted the culture of the American Indians, still looked at as savages by most, and Blanchett’s character, Maggie, won’t forgive him for abandoning her and her mother. Aaron Eckhart plays a man who helps with the cattle and loves the doctor, al-though she only allows him in the bedroom for quick sex.

Once a big, ugly American Indian witch kidnaps Maggie’s city-adoring daughter to take her on his caravan to Mexico to sell his hostages into prostitution, the father, whom Maggie initially chased away, suddenly becomes useful as a tracker.

In what seems to be an effort to apologize for having American Indians be the bad guys, we not only have Jones’ character, but also some helpful Indians, white men working with the kidnappers and a statement explaining that despite selling the women as sex slaves, the kidnappers don’t have sex with them.

And so the film trudges on, becoming increasingly uninterest-ing with false ending after false ending. While Blanchett and Jones have some nice scenes together, there’s no real character develop-ment like Ethan Edwards in John Ford’s “The Searchers,” a much better film dealing with the same subject matter. Several well writ-ten and beautifully acted scenes keep the film from becoming a complete failure, but it simply becomes too unbelievable and immobile as it progresses to be worthwhile.

Paramount Pictures
Rated PG-13
(out of four)

The battle sequences in “Time-line” look impressive, unlike some of the computer generated fakery in many action films, but unfortu-nately, all the fakery is in the plot. You can hear the time travel setups clanking along from the references to mysterious finds at a medieval French archaeological site. The slapdash tale of corporate greed during the time travel, however, surpasses all the other stupidity.

The usually skilled action direc-tor Richard Donner (“Superman,” “The Goonies,” “Lethal Weapon”) lets the script (based on a Michael Crichton novel) get the best of him. A group of archaeology students in Castleguard, France, have to rescue their professor, who is trapped in 14th-century France after team-ing up with a sinister technol-ogy company. The company was trying to develop a transportation device, à la “Star Trek,” to put the other shipping companies out of business, but progress became as slow as a UPS delivery truck when it started sending things through a wormhole and to France. So they sent an archaeologist through it.

So far, this all makes sense. But nothing interesting happens in 14th-century France. You’d think there’d be a certain interest and wonder that went beyond stan-dard action, but it’s just a tradition-al period action film with boring characters, led by Paul Walker as the professor’s son.

The only time-travel rule our he-roes don’t follow is “don’t change anything because it might alter the world as we know it.” These guys help determine the outcome of a historic battle like Marty McFly got his dad to stop being a loser.

  O P E N I N G T H I S W E E K E N D

(out of four)
See review

  Jessica Alba's choreographer in "Honey" prepares her troupe for a dance-off with Michael Jackson. danununu danununu da! Honey!

Universal Pictures
Rated PG-13
(Not reviewed)

Jessica Alba of “Dark Angel” plays “Honey’s” titular role, a torso-exposing music video choreographer whose life changes when her mentor threatens to blacklist her from the industry if she doesn’t sleep with him. Expect as much sexiness as is allowed in a PG-13 film.

“The Last Samurai”
(out of four)
See review

“Party Monster”
Strand Releasing
Not rated
Opening at Madstone
(out of four)

The same lonely mind that conquered the New York City party scene in the ’80s may be the mind of a psychopath. “Party Monster” chronicles the rise and fall of an arrogant, drug-addled hipster who grew dangerous as his fame inflated. It’s surprising how much a film about partiers resembles the structure of a gangster film.

Documentarians Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who made a documentary of the same name in 1998, have created an interesting, uneven, amusing and disturb-ing dramatization of the real-life events.

James St. James (Seth Green), who wrote the novel Disco Blood Bath on which the film is based, introduces Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin) to the party world and teaches him how to stage interest-ing theme parties that people will attend. Then he watches Alig go mad with the power of being a popular hipster, delving into drug abuse and displaying a sexual preference for anything. Alig collects people for his entourage, ordering them to do things like dress like a drag queen angel and deal drugs.

The film’s uneven form, some-times with Alig and St. James fighting about whose film it is, creates an interesting mood as a light-hearted atmosphere becomes the home of horrific actions. Culkin, in his first film performance since “Richie Rich,” works bravely, if not perfectly, to represent a reprehensible charac-ter. This film might make you start staying home on the weekends.

“The Weather Underground”
Shadow Distribution
Not Rated
Opening at the Broadway
(Not reviewed)

Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s documentary, “The Weather Underground,” explores the highs and lows of the endeavors of the radical political group from the ’60s. In protest of the Vietnam War, the group went as far as to stage such direct actions as bomb-ings. Find out if it was worth it.

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