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Based on a sizable chunk of John Irving’s A Widow for One Year, this outwardly melancholy but inwardly hopeful movie reunites Nadine stars Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger as Ted and Marion Cole, silently suffering parents who, years later, are still unable to cope with the deaths of their two teenage sons. Ted, the author of popular but eerie children’s books, suggests a trial separation that involves both parents shuffling back and forth between two properties to each spend time with their young daughter (Elle Fanning); this decision coincides with the arrival of Eddie (Jon Foster), a young man who’s been hired for the summer to apprentice under Ted but who ends up spending more time in the sack with Marion. The Door In the Floor is one of those movies that screws up the small details while tapping into the larger issues — we may carp over the plot-friendly fact that nobody in this household apparently understands the concept of locks (which leads to the interruption of two masturbatory exercises and one doggy-style coupling between woman and boy), yet we’re affected by the varying measures of cruelty and compassion that Ted and Marion fling at each other in their futile efforts to make their own pain go down a little easier. The “coming of age” angle involving Eddie is the weakest part of the story; far more potent are the sequences in which Bridges (terrific), Basinger (touching) and/or young Fanning illustrate the difficulties in holding together a family when obligations are in arrears.


Harold and Maude Go to White Castle might have been a better bet, but this is nevertheless a gross-out comedy with a difference — it tosses some sharp social satire into the usual mix of horny guys, amiable dopeheads, repulsive rednecks and homosexual bit players. And instead of making its lead characters typical morons like Bill and Ted or the Dude, Where’s My Car? pair, this one gives us two smart kids in Korean-American Harold (John Cho), a mild-mannered employee at an investment firm, and Indian-American Kumar (Kal Penn), a more rebellious type who isn’t quite ready to become a medical grad student like his dad desires. The plot is lifted from the Cheech and Chong playbook, as Harold and Kumar spend a Friday night getting high and then deciding that their munchies can only be satisfied by the burgers and fries at White Castle. So they’re off on an all-night road trip, one which finds them coming into contact with a Bible-thumping hillbilly named Freakshow, a pair of college girls prone to engaging in a bathroom variation on Battleship (the film’s nastiest gag), and Doogie Howser star Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself as a drug-addled party animal on the hunt for hookers. The crass humor alternates between funny-stupid and stupid-stupid, but the movie’s knowing digs at the casual racism witnessed by the pair provide it with a whiff of added subtext.


There’s a funny moment in De-Lovely when, after a screening of the Cole Porter biopic Night and Day (starring Cary Grant), Cole (Kevin Kline) turns to his wife Linda (Ashley Judd) and cracks, “If I can survive this movie, I can survive anything.” Cole Porter will not only survive De-Lovely but may well find his already lofty reputation enhanced by it — at least to a younger generation. As a musical, it’s a dandy, using an innovative framing device and sharp cameos by today’s music stars (Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole and more) to capture the passion that Cole poured into his tunes. Cole’s homosexuality isn’t MIA as it understandably was in the Grant version from 1946, and Winkler and scripter Jay Cocks paint a rich picture of a life marked by success and excess.

I, ROBOT ***

I, Robot finds Will Smith shoehorned into a high-tech yarn “inspired” by Isaac Asimov’s collection of loosely related stories. Faithfulness to the source material isn’t a strong point — and that makes it different from other Hollywood adaptations exactly how? The important thing is that on its own terms, this delivers the goods as a zippy piece of sci-fi pulp. Will Smith stars as Del Spooner, a detective in 2035 Chicago who’s convinced that a scientist has been murdered by one of his own robot creations. Only thing is, robots are programmed not to harm humans — ever — and Spooner’s suspicions are dismissed as prejudice and paranoia. But he — and the audience — knows better.


As a chauvinistic news anchor in 1970s San Diego, Will Ferrell gets to wear ugly clothes, make silly faces, and lust after the ladies, but unless you hold the opinion that the actor is a comic genius worthy of Chaplin or Keaton comparisons, then this sort of obnoxious oafishness gets stale quickly.


Unfolding in real minutes (about 80 of them), this follow-up finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke), now a published author, and Celine (Julie Delpy), an environmental activist, again crossing paths, this time in Paris. This lovely film does an exemplary job of conveying the manner in which the freedom and naivety of youth inevitably fall by the wayside, leaving only cherished memories, present regrets, and the rigor mortis of a future that can only be avoided by those willing to take risks.


No superheroes, no car crashes, no sword-swinging knights, no animated critters — for older viewers not interested in the glamour and glitz of the summer season, The Clearing would appear to be the winning ticket. Unfortunately, there’s also no urgency in the execution and no point to the resolution — all in all, a major disappointment.


While many scholars now believe there’s a historical basis for the age-old legend, I doubt many of its components worked their way into this piece of Hollywood hokum. Yet as fictional filmmaking goes, King Arthur offers top-flight entertainment for about half its length before slipping into pure formula. As Arthur, Clive Owen (Croupier) continues to radiate genuine star power, but Pirates of the Caribbean’s Keira Knightley gets shortchanged by her limited screen time as a warrior Guinevere.


A sucker who never gets an even break, Napoleon (Jon Heder) is a case study in high school geekiness. Luckily, he has two friends to call his own: Pedro (Efren Ramirez), a soft-spoken, slow-witted Mexican immigrant who decides to run for Student Body President against a popular blonde cheerleader (Haylie Duff, Hilary’s older sister), and the sweet, shy Deb (Tina Majorino). Napoleon Dynamite is an odd little movie that often seems as unsure of itself as its protagonist.


Set two years after the first film, we rejoin Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in a particularly difficult time of his life. Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the woman he loves, has gone on to become a model of national renown and an actress of, uh, no renown. Peter’s growing desire to give up the whole web-swinging shtick arrives at an inopportune moment. Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a scientist with a genuine wish to serve mankind, has just made a breakthrough in the area of fusion, yet after his experiment goes awry (as it inevitably must), he transforms into Doctor Octopus, a madman who’s controlled by the four imposing metallic arms that are now permanently grafted onto his body. All too often, Maguire seems to be playing Superman rather than Spider-Man, and the exaggerated nature of both his swinging abilities (a couple more feet and he could probably touch an orbiting satellite) and his strength (his attempts to stop a runaway train are simply absurd) all too often takes us out of the story and reminds us that, yes, we’re merely watching a movie. But somehow, the human element always pulls us back in.

FAHRENHEIT 9/11 ***1/2

As agitprop, this film has few equals, and as a humanist drama, it conveys the convictions of its creator, a man who clearly loves his country and hates to see it so thoroughly destroyed from within. Starting with the 2000 presidential election, Fahrenheit 9/11 then proceeds to document the dismantling of a government. As is often the case with Moore, the movie works best when he removes himself from the equation and lets his subjects hang themselves through existing news footage. w


The marble-mouthed anti-hero (Vin Diesel) finds himself waging a personal war against a race of conquerors known as Necromongers. Deadly dull at the outset, the picture improves as it progresses, though not enough to warrant two hours of invested time.


The second screen version of Ira Levin’s popular novel stars Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick as big-city dwellers who move to a quiet Connecticut suburb where everyone appears to lead happy, stress-free lives. But while he immediately takes to their new surroundings, she and two other newcomers, a blowsy author (Bette Midler) and a gay pal (Roger Bart), immediately become suspicious of the fact that the town is almost exclusively composed of nerds married to beautiful women who will do anything they request. Director Frank Oz and writer Paul Rudnick are satisfied to turn this chilling cautionary tale into a swishy camp outing.


Hard to believe, but it’s possible to have too much plot. Tom Hanks plays the accidental tourist Viktor Navorski, and as we watch him settle into his new “home” by establishing daily routines around JFK, we’re delighted by the rich vein of humor and moved by Hanks’ compassionate performance. But sensing (wrongly, I’m sure) that audiences might get bored with this lack of dramatic conflict, Spielberg and his three writers shamelessly gum up the works by adding extraneous characters and schmaltzy situations.

More by Matt Brunson

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