Jul 192002
 
Authors: Ben Koerselman

With the summer movie season upon us, and lots of stars’ names on the marquee, it can be difficult to separate the gems from the garbage. Here’s help in the form of five 30-second reviews of recent releases rated from one to five stars.

Insomnia

A Los Angeles detective (Al Pacino) loses sleep and his integrity investigating a murder in a small Alaskan town. Pacino proves once again that the sun hasn’t set on his brilliant career and Robin Williams delivers a creepy performance as a mystery novelist turned killer. The film is a well-made thriller by Christopher Nolan (director of “Memento” the best film of 2001) that shows the slow decline of a good cop who has lost his ethics, his partner and his way. Hilary Swank is great as a local cop who assembles all of the clues but does not like the picture they paint of her one-time hero. **** stars

Spider-Man

If you have not already seen this $350 million-plus grossing mega-hit, you probably are not going to. But just in case you were waiting for the crowds to dissipate, here goes: the action sequences look like an expensive computer-generated cartoon, the characterizations are stiff and the movie tries for emotional depth it doesn’t earn. Peter Parker (played with a surprising lack of angst by Tobey Maguire) is a pathetic teenage every-geek who, after getting bit by a radioactive spider and losing his uncle to a random act of violence, becomes the webslinging superhero. Enter the arch-villain Green Goblin (Willem Defoe wearing an annoyingly static green mask) a defense contracting scientist gone insane, his son (Parker’s best friend… of course) and a love interest (Kirstin Dunst). None of this adds up to a good movie, not even as throwaway summer popcorn fare. * 1/2 stars

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

A traditionally animated film (with some digital assists) meant for the kids and the kid in all of us. “Spirit” tells the tale of a wild horse in the American West before it was won. The filmmakers take a risk, and mostly succeed, by telling the story through narration and song without having the horses utter a word. The carefully rendered body language of the majestic lead stallion is enough to convey all the emotion needed in most scenes. The music by Brian Adams doesn’t always work, but the strength of the story and the exquisite animation carries the day. Unfortunately the movie ends on an overly manufactured happy note (much like Dreamworks’ “Prince of Egypt”) without following the story through to its true conclusion, where a once wild and untamed West became the place we now call home. *** stars

Star Wars- Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Watching Yoda kick ass in the final reel is worth the price of admission. In those few minutes when he spins and twirls with a lightsaber and leads a massive army into battle the new “Star Wars” movie regains some of the magic of the first trilogy. The rest of the film is an uneven, and sometimes confusing, mess. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) fall in love apparently because they are supposed to considering the lack of any emotional sparks between the actors, the Jedi Council seems to be deliberating misreading the signs leading to its destruction and Jar Jar makes a cameo appearance. The special effects are as good as expected and the visual design is impressive, but the acting is wooden and the dialogue is sometimes painful to the ears. If you are going to see this one, see it for the images (and for Yoda), forget the story and acting, they are beyond redemption. ** stars

The Sum of All Fears

This movie could probably not be made in a post-Sept. 11 world, especially with warnings our nation’s leaders constantly issuing warnings of more and worse terrorist attacks to come. Just such a disaster is the centerpiece of “The Sum of All Fears,” a passable action thriller starring Ben Affleck as a low-level CIA analyst. Perhaps, though, this is the kind of movie people should see in this time of increasing fear and wariness. In the film the neo-Nazi terrorists (they were Islamic extremists in the Tom Clancy book of the same name upon which the movie is based) get theirs and the world ends up a better and safer place. This is a fantasy world that most of us would not mind escaping to, if only for a couple of hours. *** stars

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