Volume 12, Issue 5 ~ January 29-February 4, 2004

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If winter comes, can spring be far behind?


Chesapeake Chip, our reliable source in Kudzu Valley, tells us that we’ve got it all wrong regarding the early February habits of groundhogs. Chesapeake Chip also wants to know what we’re doing paying attention to a Pennsylvania whistle pig, anyway.

Groundhogs, Chip says, know perfectly well how long winter endures. It’s humans who are confused. Cut off from their cultural roots, humans are subconsciously struggling to revive their the lost mid-winter cross-quarter holiday. Spring has May Day. Midsummer has Midsummer’s Night. Autumn has Halloween. Winter has … well … Winter once had Candlemas, but that lacks a certain modern-day pizzazz. So now, midwinter has Groundhog’s Day.

What’s up with this notion that groundhogs are irrepressibly jumping out of their burrows and welcoming spring? It’s a fraud, brought to you by the same Homo Sapiens famous for trodding down fellow species. If you see a groundhog peeking up this time of year, Chip says, there’s only one piece of business she or he is about. That’s off to the store on the errand of replenishing the colony’s supply of popcorn and movies for another six weeks hunkered in the warmth of a cozy burrow.

To satisfy your colony until the spring thaw, the many minds and diverse tastes of Bay Weekly conspire to choose 30 great, good or merely entertaining movies, spanning six decades. Our picks are divided into 10 watchable categories and arranged by date, from oldest to newest. All these flicks carry the groundhog’s seal of approval — except for the last, an 11th category, Don’t Bother.

So stoke the fire, pop in a movie (or wait for one of our picks on your satellite), cozy up and stay snug in your burrow through these last weeks of winter. And don’t forget the popcorn.

This genre is high-octane, top-gear action. With fast cutting, steep slopes and hard edges, it comes at you like a roller coaster. In some of the best of type, quick minds augment fast feet, fists and guns.

Fists of Fury
1971 • NR (think R) • 101 mins. (Dubbed and sub-titled)
Directors: Wei Lo and Wu Chia Hsiang
Bruce Lee’s star power matches his flying kicks in this martial arts movie filmed in Hong Kong. The action is slow to build, and the quality is amateur by U.S. standards. A young man comes to the city to work in an ice factory. He tries to stay out of trouble but is soon thrown into the arms of a prostitute. It’s halfway through the movie before he throws himself into the thick of the fighting against the dastardly big boss and his henchmen. Then the movie explodes. With Lee’s intensity, kung fu becomes a beautifully choreographed dance of vengeance.
— Sonia Linenbaugh

1989 • R • 114 min.
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Mullets and mayhem abound in this raucous action-drama about Dalton (Patrick Swayze), an NYU philosophy grad turned bar-room bouncer. Dalton — who can wax Socratic as quickly as he can crush knees — is hired to “cool” the Double Deuce, a rough-and-tumble honky tonk in Jasper, Missouri. His first night at the Deuce, Dalton takes a knife to the chest and is stitched up by the beautiful Doc Clay (Kelly Lynch). Because bouncers and doctors have so much in common, Dalton and Doc hit it off. Then enters Dalton’s nemesis, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Wesley is a crime boss who has everyone in Jasper under his thumb, except for the folks at the Double Deuce and the sexy Doc. Wesley promises to teach Dalton a lesson, while Dalton is determined to take down Wesley and clean up the town along with the Double Deuce. Sam Elliott makes an appearance as Dalton’s mentor, Wade, another laid-back, philosophical, “get enough sleep when I’m dead” pugilist. Leading the Double Deuce house band is blind blues-rock guitarist Jeff Healey.
— Matthew Pugh

Enemy of the State
1998 • R • 131 mins.
Director: Tony Scott
Who can resist political intrigue, especially set so close to home? In this spy thriller, Georgetown lawyer Robert Dean (played by Will Smith) unwittingly stumbles onto evidence in a Congressman’s assassination. In no time flat, National Security Agency super-villains begin bugging, recording, and satellite-imaging every moment of Dean’s life as they attempt to destroy him. Dean seeks help from a buggy former NSA operative played by Gene Hackman. Together they race through South Baltimore, genteel Mount Vernon, and the streets of Washington, D.C. The high-tech surveillance catapults this creepy movie through its breakneck pace and feels eerily all too real.

Chick Flicks
In the stereotype, Woman has been very good, very bad or very sorry. In the true chick flick, our heroine steps out of the stereotype. At last, she has a good time and — though she may not get everything she wants — she gets what she needs. No penalty attached.

Norma Rae
1979 • PG • 117 mins.
Director: Martin Ritt
Sally Fields gives an Oscar-winning performance in the true story of Norma Rae Webster, the scrappy, saucy, Southern mill worker who finds determination within herself when she teams up with a New York union organizer (Ron Liebman) to bring her fellow workers into the Textile Workers Union. Nobody can drag her down when she stands up to management with her Union sign. Beau Bridges is the husband who sticks with her, in spite of dirty dishes, unfinished laundry and the fact that he never quite gets what she’s all about.
—Martha Blume

Tequila Sunrise
1988 • R • 114 mins.
Director: Robert Towne
Director Robert Towne creates his usual tangle of twisted plots in Tequila Sunrise, placing Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfieffer) between two best friends. On one side is Dale McKussic (Mel Gibson), the shy, handsome drug dealer trying to go straight to maintain custody of the young son he adores. On the other is Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell), the suave, rugged sheriff’s drug detail head who believes McKussic will try to score one more drug deal when the notorious Mexican drug kingpin Carlos comes to town. In the middle is Vallenari, wondering if she is being wooed — or used — by Frescia or McKussic or both. Pfieffer is very good (as well as very pretty) as she makes her choice. At the end, it’s hard to tell whether she gets everything she wants — but she gets what she thinks she needs.
—Maureen Miller

Mrs. Dalloway
1998 • PG-13 • 97 min.
Director: Marleen Gorris
Anyone fascinated by the unbearably sad truths of women’s lives in The Hours, but wondering who the heck Mrs. Dalloway was, must see Virginia Wolff’s complex Clarissa Dalloway, brought wonderfully to life by Vanessa Redgrave. By 1923, Mrs. Dalloway has been dipped and dried in the heavy starch of upper crust London society, mostly by her own choice of the “safe” husband. The character is not only an individual but also a metaphor for a society’s stiffness. The choices are to “take the plunge” into a new, softer way of thinking and living — or to take a plunge out an upper story window like the troubled World War I veteran played poignantly by Rupert Graves.
—Sonia Linebaugh

Classics & Epics
After half a century, these three 50th-anniversary films still set their genre’s standard. If you haven’t seen them, prepare to be thrilled; if you have, flip on one of these golden oldies that still deliver.

On the Waterfront
1954 • NR • 108 mins.
Director: Elia Kazan
Fifty years later, this tough but sweet movie still draws fans to Marlon Brando again and again. Though director Elia Kazan created the gritty feel of life on the city docks, it’s Brando whose combination of street toughness, emotional vulnerability and good looks are at the center of an array of excellent performances by Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint and Karl Mauldin. In one unforgettable scene, Brando’s character, Terry, picks up the dropped glove of Saint’s good Catholic girl, then sits on a kid’s swing while fingering and pulling the glove onto his own hand. It’s a moment so sweet, natural, innocent and full of sexual longing that no matter what his faults, the audience will remain on Terry’s side. Kazan’s movie of dock workers, unions, petty strong men and fear of speaking out was a slice of life in 1954.

Not only did On the Waterfront win the year’s best movie Oscar, but Brando, Kazan and Eva Marie Saint won their own Oscars for their roles.
—Sonia Linebaugh

Rear Window
1954 • NR • 112 mins.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Shot in Technicolor with ’50s fashion styles oddly similar to today’s tight-fitting hip-wear, this Hitchcock classic doesn’t feel 50 years old. True, Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly have passed, but the magic they created in this nail-biter lives on. Stewart plays L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jeffries, a newspaper photographer laid up at home with a broken leg; Kelly plays Lisa Fremont, his colleague and girlfriend. Stuck in his apartment during the heat of summer, Stewart passes the time watching his neighbors through the rear window. And so he witnesses — or so he thinks — a henpecked husband, played by Raymond Burr, murdering his bedridden wife. Nothing appears in the news, none of Stewart’s cop friends have found a body and no one’s reported the woman missing. Is Stewart on to something? Or is it the ennui of a trapped mind entertaining itself? Considered by many to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Rear Window sets the bar for mystery-suspense thrillers.
—J. Alex Knoll

1954 • NR • 113 mins.
Director: Billy Wilder
Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn), the chauffeur’s daughter, is in love with David Larrabee (William Holden), the fun-loving younger son of the family her father works for. David hardly notices the awkward girl, who is sent to Paris to forget him. Two years later, Sabrina returns a beautiful, sophisticated woman. David is smitten, but he’s engaged to an heiress and their marriage will ensure a corporate merger arranged by David’s serious, workaholic older brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart). To protect his business deal, Linus decides to woo Sabrina away from David and then dump her. Linus’ plans go awry and all the characters must decide whom they truly love.
—Nancy Hoffmann

Comedy has many forms. From the smile of delight to the side-splitting wrench, all of them get inside you. Each of the trio chosen by this year’s critics will grab you in a different place. After you’ve watched them, let us know where.

1980 • PG • 88 mins.
A hilarious takeoff on the film Airport, which is remembered mostly for its sense of awkward self-importance. The setting of Airplane! is a commercial airliner where virtually everyone aboard — passengers and crew — has a story to tell. There’s the war vet who was so traumatized by battle (revealed in flashbacks) that he has a “drinking problem.” He cannot drink anything, because he keeps missing his mouth with the glass. Such is the humor, and the stories fall one on top of the other. This is a funny movie that flies, but you won’t get off the ground with it unless you see it as a joke.
—Dick Wilson

Joe Versus the Volcano
1990 • PG • 102 mins.
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Hypochondriac Joe (Tom Hanks) is limping along, losing his soul to the medical supply company where he works in advertising when he learns he has only six months to live. To make the most of his remaining days, he agrees to jump into a volcano as a sacrifice to save an island and its natives from destruction by their angry god Woo. Along the way he finds love, courage and some very resilient luggage. Meg Ryan co-stars in a triple role as Dee Dee the Long Island wallflower, Angelica the Valley Girl and Patricia, who follows Joe into the fire.
—Martha Blume

The Cable Guy
1996 • PG-13 • 96 mins.
Director: Ben Stiller
Jim Carrey reveals his dark and sinister comedic abilities as Chip Douglas — a stalker disguised as a cable installer — in this under-appreciated cinematic gem. Stewing over his recent breakup with girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann), Steven (Matthew Broderick) moves into a new apartment that needs cable installed. Chip shows up, installs a free, illegal channel upgrade, and suddenly, Steven has a new best friend. Steven tells Chip that he doesn’t have room for a new best friend, however, and Chip goes psycho. Soon Steven’s life is turned upside down by Chip, who uses the seducing power of cable to manipulate his schemes. Steven’s true friend, played by Jack Black, sees through Chip’s illusions and helps Steven uncover the phony cable contractor. Director Ben Stiller makes cameo appearances throughout this black comedy.
—Matthew Pugh

These are the movies that make converts. Like religion, they inspire their faithful in ways that heathens can’t fathom.

Taxi Driver
1976 • R • 118 mins.
Director: Martin Scorsese
The release of Taxi Driver coincided, more or less, with a major shift in the American public consciousness. The country was rejecting the Peace and Love, anti-war idealism of the hippie youth culture and turning toward a more realistic world view. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is a Vietnam war veteran working as a cab driver in New York. Repelled by the big city ugliness he sees everywhere, Travis sinks into psychosis, and he eventually, inevitably, metamorphoses into someone who is as lunatic as the world he hates. This movie — which propelled John Hinkley into his obsession with Jodie Foster, leading to his assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan — is a disturbing masterpiece.
—Dick Wilson

The Terminator
1984 • R • 108 mins.
Director: James Cameron
This is the movie that started it all — a trilogy of blockbusters, a genre of dystopian futuristic visions and, of course, the skyrocketing career of now-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The plot revolves around a simple premise: In the future, machines gain cognizance and take control. Humans retreat underground, until a leader comes to liberate them and overthrow the machines. To stop this leader, the machines send a cyborg — Schwarzenegger — to the past (modern-day 1984) to kill the mother of the future leader before he can be born. In response, the human rebels send their own man, Michael Biehn, back to stop the Terminator. Perfectly paced, dark and bleak, this is Arnold’s only role as a villain, and he aces it with classic lines, including the prescient and now-famous, “I’ll be back.” Biehn, the movie’s hero, is basically never seen after this role.
—J. Alex Knoll

The Tick
2001 • NR • 201 mins. (nine episodes)
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld & Danny Leiner
This comic-book-gone-live-action television series gone DVD is for those stirred by the battle cry “Spoon!” The Tick (Patrick Warburton of Seinfeld fame) is the Big Blue Bug of Justice, a muscle-bound superhero dressed in blue whose ever-moving antennas perfectly reflect his mood. He is better known for his ability to stack cliché upon cliché than for his crime-fighting. Nevertheless, with sidekick Arthur The Moth (David Burke) and co-superheroes Batmanuel (Nestor Carbonell) and Captain Liberty (Liz Vassey),the Tick fights the never-ending battle between good and not-so-good, waging war against such criminals as Apocalypse Cow, the Red Scare and Destroyo. Even Arthur’s mother must be vanquished when she and the family institutionalize Arthur for quitting his job as a CPA to wear tights and fight evil. Exaggeration and spoof make The Tick a silly, quirky series that steps right out of the comic book. Sometimes sexual innuendo borders on risqué as Batmanuel woos the ladies.
—Betsy Kehne

Dramas give our emotions a workout, putting us in the shoes of characters whose pathways are different from our own. For that difference we’re often fervently grateful, for the rules of drama are harsh as the Book of Job, demanding reversals of the sort we most profoundly hope to be spared in our own lives. Through pity and fear, our emotions are washed and wrung out. Maybe, we come out cleaner.

1963 • NR • 112 mins.
Director: Martin Ritt
When a dead cow raises fears of foot and mouth disease on the Bannon ranch, patriarch Homer (Melvyn Douglas, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor) asks the government to inspect his herd while son, Hud (Paul Newman), who Homer blames for the death of his other son, will sell the cattle before the illness is discovered. A quarantine is imposed, and Hud, rebellious and amoral, threatens legal action to take the ranch from Homer even as worry over losing the herd wears the old man down.

Caught in the middle is Lon (Brandon DeWilde), Homer’s grandson and Hud’s nephew. Lon is drawn to Hud’s troublesome ways, while Homer struggles to teach him kindness and decency.

Housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress) adds warmth to the home until a drunken Hud attempts to rape her. You won’t see a more despicable Paul Newman.
—Nancy Hoffmann

Raging Bull
1980 • R • 129 mins.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Considered by many critics and reviewers as Martin Scorsese’s best movie, Raging Bull is surely in the Greatest-Film-of-All-Time competition. Filmed in black and white, the movie depicts the up-and-down boxing career of the self-destructive Jake LaMotta, played by Robert DeNiro, who intentionally gained 40 pounds for this role. From champion to chump, LaMotta battles with himself as brutally as with his opponents in the ring. Scorsese depicts the fight scenes with an intense realism that puts the viewer right in the middle of the bloody, sweaty, spit-flying action.
—Dick Wilson

Empire of the Sun
1987 • PG • 145 mins.
Director: Steven Spielberg
This Steven Spielberg production is often overlooked next to his blockbuster hits, like E.T. and Schindler’s List. It shouldn’t be. It is the powerful story of 11-year-old Jim Graham (Christian Bales) who gets separated from his wealthy parents when the Japanese invade Shanghai during World War II. A spoiled brat, Jim is ill prepared to survive. Yet he does. Attaching himself to an unscrupulous yet shrewd American named Basie (John Malkovich), Jim learns to navigate the deprivations and inhumane treatment of the internment camp. Jim’s young spirit transcends while surrounded by pressing brutality. Moments of poignant kindness and triumph manage to emerge.
—Vivian Zumstein

Fantasy / Sci-Fi / Horror
This three-headed genre has something in common with Cerberus, the hound of hell. Each head has its own character, and each sinks its teeth in your imagination. But the same heart beats for them all, throbbing with the question What if?

The Incredible Shrinking Man
1957 • NR • 81 mins.
Director: Jack Arnold
Set in 1950s middle America, this sci-fi classic explores the perils of the nuclear age while delving into some pretty deep territory. After a dousing from radioactive mist while boating, Scott Carey (played by Grant Williams) begins shrinking. At first, his clothes are too big, but soon his wife Louise (played by April Kent) has rigged him up a room in a dollhouse. As he continues to shrink, Carey struggles first to somehow regain his stature, but before long his only hope is to survive and maintain his humanity. Along the way Carey has to avoid winding up prey to his housecat, Butch, and he battles a gargantuan spider. By today’s standards, the over-sized props appear low budget, which actually makes the black-and-white movie somehow seem more real. The action, suspense and even terror hold up after four decades, and the final scene is a metaphysical, existential puzzler sure to keep you thinking well after you’ve returned this rental.
—J. Alex Knoll

1998 • R • 85 mins
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Headache sufferers, don’t try this at home. Sean Gullette co-wrote and stars in a film as crazy as the character he plays. A genius mathematician searches for a secret formula expressing a golden spiral that controls the universe while envisioning a hoard of competitors in the guise of Kabbalistic Jews, a Wall Street analyst with a powerful computer and his own mentor. At the same time, the genius tries remedy after futile remedy for his excruciating headaches, even resorting to an electric drill. Reinforced by somber black-and-white, close-up, jolting camera work and eerie music, true science is bent to the needs of movie madness. Director Darren Aronofsky won a 1998 Sundance Award and saw his film earn $3.2 million from a budget of $60,000.
—Sonia Linebaugh

2000 • NR • 270 mins.
Director: John Harrison
Frank Herbert’s futuristic novel is finally brought to life in this six-hour mini-series produced by the Sci-Fi Channel. Duke Leto Atreides (William Hurt) is given power to rule over an isolated desert planet that produces the universe’s most valuable commodity, called the Spice. When the rival Harkonnen family invades, the Duke’s mistress/witch (Saskia Reeves) and her son Paul (Alec Newman) are driven into the desert to die. There they stumble through the dunes, evading enemy soldiers and giant worms, to discover the secret behind the Spice. Murder, politics, religion, action and intrigue all mix in a complex but spell-binding story with great special effects. Don’t mistake this for the 1984 movie by David Lynch!
—Betsy Kehne

Used to be Hollywood made the movies the world watched; now, we’re watching movies made round the world. Instead of settling for Hollywood’s imagination of how life must be in faraway places, we can see the far corners of the world through the eyes of the people who live there.

Das Boot (The Boat)
1981 • R • 149 mins. (German with subtitles)
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
From Germany comes this exercise in stark realism. Das Boot unsentimentally and realistically portrays the claustrophobic life aboard a German submarine during World War II. The crew are depicted as real human beings who live in a cold and fearsome world where death is always close at hand but where boredom is also a constant. Watch this, and you’ll realize what it’s like to live in a closet or bathroom.
—Dick Wilson

Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)
1999 • R • 105 mins. (Spanish with subtitles)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Transsexuals, a pregnant nun and Blanche DuBois. What are three things that would send me running to the hills screaming? That would be the correct Jeopardy answer for filmgoers not familiar with the work of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. But for his fans, it is a tantalizing idea. Though this film about women in desperate need of healing is more emotional than some of his work, it remains colorful and vibrant despite an undercurrent of sadness and loss. Barcelona, the dark and heady Spanish city in the north, provides the perfect backdrop for this brilliantly told and well acted tragedy that is more realistic than anyone, including Almodovar, cares to believe. It is a worthwhile rent for those who can put aside prejudices and enjoy a story of friendship and the human spirit that will, at times, shock.
—Louis Llovio

The Cup
2000 • G • 91 mins. (Chinese with subtitles)
Director: Khyentse Norbu
An infectious tale of adolescent initiates at a Tibetan monastery who are as passionate about soccer as their spiritual practices. Led by 14-year-old Orgyen (played with engaging spirit by Jamyang Lodro), the boys sneak out at night to watch soccer at a shop in town. Then they cook up a scheme to hook up a satellite dish to watch the World Cup between Italy and France. The seemingly naive head abbot allows the boys their small rebellion and trusts their better nature to bring them through. The plight of an older boy, who has landed in the monastery by family circumstance rather than by choice, gives Orgyen his chance to grow in compassion. Everything about this film is natural and unforced.
—Sonia Linebaugh

What will happen next? You hold your breath, so wrapped up in the stories, scenes and characters unfolding on the screen that a summons from real life — barking dog, ringing phone, crying child — can so startle you that you bump your head on the ceiling of your burrow.

The Night of the Hunter
1955 • NR • 93 mins.
Director: Charles Laughton
This psychological chiller pits good against evil: Psychopathic killer versus vulnerable — but not weak — women and children. Robert Mitchum plays the psychopath Harry Powell, who learns that fellow inmate Ben Harper (Peter Graves) has hidden a huge stash of money on the family farm. Powell gets out of jail, and, posing as a preacher, manipulates Harper’s desperate widow (Shelley Winters) into marrying him. Slowly and methodically he learns that her two children know where the money is — and they are all that stands between a madman and his fortune. As the false preacher’s grip grows tighter, the two children escape to an orphanage run by Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), a proud woman who’s devoted her life to defending children — and the Scripture. Mitchum’s deep-throated spiritual song will send shivers up your spine as he stalks his victims.
—Betsy Kehne

Play Misty for Me
1971 • R • 102 mins.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood made his directorial debut with this sexy thriller set in Carmel, California (where he was later mayor). Eastwood plays an emotionally cool DJ stalked by a psychotic woman who constantly calls the request line with a throaty voice, “Play Misty for me.” The Errol Garner classic underpins the entire movie, including the anguished finale. But it’s Jessica Walter’s strong, devious, sultry character who carries the movie through its alternating seductive and scary knife-wielding scenes. With its vulnerable madwoman and vicious slashing, this movie created the model for Fatal Attraction and every female stalker movie since.
—Sonia Linebaugh

Dead Again
1991 • R • 107 mins.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
In post-WWII Los Angeles, Roman Strauss’ (Kevin Branagh, who also directed) fingerprints are found on the scissors used to murder his wife, Margaret (then-wife, Emma Thompson), and he is sent to the electric chair.

Fast forward to 1990s Los Angeles where investigator Mike Church (Branagh) must discover the identity of an amnesiac woman (Thompson). Under hypnosis, the woman recalls a former life, that of Margaret Strauss.

The characters slowly realize they are the Strausses reincarnated. Now, for wrongs committed in the past life, the murderer must pay in the present. But are Church and the woman destined to replay the Strauss tragedy? If so, was Roman really the murderer?
—Nancy Hoffmann

Not Just For Kids
These films feature young people, but they’re full of appeal for all ages. This year animals co-star as partners in the journey of growing into the world.

That Darn Cat!
1965 • G • 116 mins
Director: Robert Stevenson
Delightful Hayley Mills is Patty, an earnest young woman who is sure her cat DC has the key to a kidnapping and robbery case when he appears wearing a woman’s wristwatch instead of his usual collar. Convincing FBI agent Kelso (Dean Jones) isn’t easy, especially since he’s allergic, but he takes his job seriously, even when it requires photographing, fingerprinting and trailing DC, the reluctant informant, with consequences that keep everybody laughing. Several hilarious chase scenes ensue involving cats, FBI agents, boyfriends, the police and a busybody neighbor ably played by Elsa Lanchester.
—Martha Blume

Free Willy
1993 • PG • 112 mins.
Director: Simon Wincer
A young orphan boy looks for acceptance in his new family while helping a whale reunite with the family he’s been separated from. While fighting for freedom and acceptance, the boy and the whale form a great friendship. As Willy cries out to his family, the young boy devises a plan of escape — and the adventure begins. Free Willy is a great feel-good family adventure.
—Deborah and Justin Bell

My Dog Skip
2000 • PG • 95 mins.
Director: Jay Russell
Pulitzer prize-winning author Willie Morris has tackled controversial social issues head-on during his 40-odd-year literary career. But when it came to writing a classic story about a boy and a dog, Morris drew on his own Southern boyhood. Set in 1942 in Yazoo, Mississippi, eight-year-old loner Willie is a target for town bullies. His only pal is next-door neighbor and sports hero Dink Jenkins. When Dink is shipped overseas to War, Willie’s dad grudgingly agrees to allow the family to have a dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Skip. Skip’s hilarious misadventures turn Willie into a popular kid. And Dink’s return, though bittersweet, is a poignant foil in this tribute to the story of a boy, his canine best friend — and a bygone era.
—M.L. Faunce

Don’t Bother
Our universe is as rich with bad movies as the night sky with stars, so we limit our selections to films fresh on the mind and about which the hype might not yet have sputtered out.

2003 • PG-13 • PG-13
Director Mark Steven Johnson
Dare you? Ben Affleck is not superhero material, unless the superhero’s name is Boring Vanilla. Alas, here he is dreadfully miscast as Daredevil, a blind superhero whose remaining senses were heightened in an accident involving radioactive isotopes. By day, he is lawyer Matt Murdock, fighting injustice in the courtroom; by night, he dons his horned costume to become Daredevil, who rights wrongs the justice system overlooked. Fight scenes attempt to use Matrix-like moves and effects but fall short. The love story between Daredevil and Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) is rushed and unbelievable. The bad guys are the best thing about the movie. Colin Farrell plays a twitchy assassin named Bullseye who never misses his target, and Michael Clarke Duncan as The Kingpin is a menacing corporate scoundrel, whose signature is a single rose left on the bodies of his victims. Dare you open your wallet? Only if you don’t mind rooting for the wrong side. Save your pocket change to buy the comic book.
—Betsy Kehne and Mark Behuncik

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde
2003 • PG-13 • 94 mins.
Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Let me start by saying that if you haven’t seen the original Legally Blonde you are missing a fun film that is quirky, funny and almost original. Then there’s Legally Blonde 2. It’s a given that most sequels are bad. But this movie redefines the word idiotic. The plot, an idea obviously come up with over a martini lunch at Spagos by film executives looking to capitalize on Reese Witherspoon’s rising star, is ridiculous and far-fetched. Mr. Roberts Goes to Washington meets Clueless, without the charm, wit or slightest bit of believability. The worst part of this film is the absolute waste of such a fine actress as Witherspoon. Sure, she’s not Meryl Streep, but she is capable of carrying a film and making the 90 minutes she is on screen worthwhile. She doesn’t here.
—Louis Llovio

Star Wars Episode II, Attack of the Clones
2002 • PG13 • too long
Director: George Lucas
Like Darth Vader, a Jedi knight lured to the dark side of the Force, George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise has turned bad. It began a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when cute and cuddly koala-like Ewoks saved the day in The Return of the Jedi. The latest installment, Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, is the second episode of the first trilogy, which precedes the original three movies and — Lucas threatens — is to be followed by a third trilogy. No wonder Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobe, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewie seem like throwbacks to the Golden days of Hollywood. Everything that made Star Wars great — plot, believable characters and action — has been sucked from this lifeless dud, leaving a cadre of zombie-like actors intent on acting, and a mass of computer-generated cuties intent on being cute. If you’re too young to have seen the original Star Wars in a theater, you may not know the difference, being wooed by the special effects and the Gen-X-slacker-whatever mentality. And if you’re a fan you’ve probably already seen this one — maybe more than once. But if you’re fortunate enough to have escaped so far, don’t waste your money renting this piece of wookie waste.
—J. Alex Knoll

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Last updated January 29, 2004 @ 3:15am.