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Alexander isn’t just one of the worst movies of the year - it’s the worst film ever made by Oliver Stone, an immensely talented filmmaker who, three Oscar wins notwithstanding, has never received enough credit for a strong filmography. But he’s gone terribly astray with Alexander. Colin Farrell gets trampled under the weight of Stone’s expectations in tackling the role of Alexander, the warrior king whose claim to fame was conquering most of the known world by the time he was Ashton Kutcher’s present age. Farrell’s a lightweight in this movie - imagine if Lawrence of Arabia had been cast with Tab Hunter instead of Peter O’Toole and you get the idea. Anthony Hopkins provides the doddering exposition - lots and lots and lots of exposition - as Alexander pal Ptolemy, who, 40 years later, relates their adventures with all the enthusiasm of a theater employee removing bubble gum from under the armrests. As Alexander’s parents, Angelina Jolie (sporting an accent that suggests she’s channeling Bela Lugosi) and Val Kilmer get to bellow and howl and gnash their teeth, to little avail. The homoerotic content (Alexander was bisexual), which had been receiving more gossip-rag ink than any other aspect of the film, is conveyed through an endless series of demure looks between the male players; this skirting around the issue may make the movie more palatable to a nation that’s passing anti-gay measures with Aryan expediency, but it also adds a campy quality that’s furthered enhanced by laughable dialogue.


There’s a certain crazy appeal to the central thrust of National Treasure, which suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers did such an exemplary job of hiding a sizable bounty that the only way to find it is to unscramble the clues that have been hidden on the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell and other mainstays of American History 101. Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford have been searching for a screenplay worthy of providing the backbone for an Indiana Jones 4, and in the proper hands, this might have been the one. Instead, the resumes of National Treasure’s director (Jon Turteltaub) and five writers are littered with the likes of Bad Boys II, Snow Dogs and Disney’s The Kid, so instead of another Raiders of the Lost Ark, we get to watch plunderers of a lost art. This finds Nicolas Cage (as the do-gooder who seeks to protect the treasure from greedy foreigners) again turning his back on his talents to sleepwalk through yet another undemanding part. The only treasure connected with this film is the gargantuan paycheck the actor received for his somnambular contribution.


It’s not entirely accurate to state that Annette Bening is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show in Being Julia, but let’s just say that without her presence, the curtain would fall a lot faster on this adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Theatre. Bening is awfully fun to watch as she whirlwinds her way through this backstage yarn about an aging actress in 1938 London. Julia Lambert (Bening) is an unqualified success in front of an audience, but the rigors of her profession and her own insecurities about growing older suggest that a nervous breakdown is just around the corner. Her manager-husband (Jeremy Irons), her best friend (Bruce Greenwood), her loyal dresser (Juliet Stevenson) and even the spirit of her former mentor (Michael Gambon) all try to be understanding, but Julia’s lust for life only becomes awakened once she engages in an affair with a young fan named Tom Fennell (Shaun Evans). But is this American kid really in love with her, or is he only using her to help further the career of the aspiring actress (Lucy Punch) who’s sharing his bed behind Julia’s back?


Based on John Grisham’s book Skipping Christmas, this stars Jamie Lee Curtis (who deserves better) and Tim Allen (who doesn’t) as a suburban couple who elect to bypass Christmas altogether and use the money to treat themselves to a 10-day Caribbean vacation over the holiday season. It’s a decision that draws instant revulsion from friends and neighbors, as everyone unites to make the couple’s lives miserable in an attempt to force them to renounce their decision. Simply on a comedic level, the movie would earn one star for failing to deliver a single, solitary laugh (the slapstick sequences are especially painful to endure), but dig a little deeper and what you’ll find is a repugnant yarn whose idea of morality wouldn’t be out of place at the Nuremberg rallies. The Kranks aren’t allowed to think or act for themselves lest they upset their upper-middle-class burg’s status quo, and the intrusive, overbearing, conformist neighbors are ultimately depicted as heroes for “converting” the pair to their narrow-minded way of thinking.


Almost one year after being treated to a delightful live-action version of Peter Pan, we now get a fanciful tale that seeks to explain how playwright J.M. Barrie initially came up with the idea for this children’s classic. What ends up on the screen is as much fiction as fact, but it’s the sort of inspirational saga that will make audiences wish this was the way it really happened. A gentle Johnny Depp is just right as Barrie, who, as the story begins, is unhappy with both his work and with his marriage to a beauty (Radha Mitchell) who doesn’t share his passions. He eventually finds inspiration through a widow (Kate Winslet) and her four sons, but these newly formed friendships are hampered by interference from the widow’s stern mother (Julie Christie) as well as his own neglected wife. Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) and scripter David Magee have made a film that’s bursting with warmth and wit, and the sequence in which an ailing Winslet gets drawn into an impromptu staging of Peter Pan should moisten the eyes of every ticketholder in the auditorium.


Bridget Jones is back, wobbly bits and all. Unfortunately, this follow-up to the delightful 2001 comedy Bridget Jones’s Diary is the laziest sort of sequel, lifting episodes wholesale from the first film before spinning off in directions that don’t even begin to make sense. Therefore, even though the movie opens where the original ended, with single Brit Bridget (Renee Zellweger) at last finding true love with dashing lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the screenwriters hastily create a series of unlikely conflicts between the couple simply so they can rehash the same scenario where Bridget finds her attention divided between Darcy and womanizer Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Only this time, Bridget’s antics are often annoying, Darcy’s sultry smolder has been reduced to ashes, and a venal action on Cleaver’s part renders the character despicable.


As a celebration of the beauty of Salma Hayek, After the Sunset surely ranks as a four-star affair, lovingly photographing this earthbound Aphrodite as she sashays around the film’s tropical setting in any number of bikinis and low-cut gowns. Oglers of Pierce Brosnan should also find this a thumbs-up affair: While the retiring James Bond has apparently made the switch from martinis to milkshakes, he’s still dashing enough to provide the necessary yang to Hayek’s sensual yin. But beyond the eye candy, there’s little else that’s memorable about this disposable tissue of a movie. Brosnan and Hayek play Max and Lola, lusty lovers who decide to retire to the Bahamas after successful careers as jewel thieves. Yet several factors impede their best-laid plan, including their pursuit by an FBI agent (Woody Harrelson) who got burned by the couple during their last heist.


1966's Alfie starred Michael Caine as a callow bachelor whose womanizing ways finally catch up to him. The plotline that had censors howling involved an illegal abortion sought by one of Alfie's conquests. The new Alfie, with Jude Law in the title role, also includes scenes centering around an abortion, but because the act is now legal, the moment doesn't carry the same charge that its 1966 counterpart did. In fact, though Alfie '66 may still hold import as an artifact of its era, but Alfie '04 likely won't be remembered as anything more than one more unnecessary remake. And yet, as far as these things go, this one's not bad at all. w

The setting has been curiously switched from London to New York, and Alfie's escapades now seem almost tame in a nation that frequently celebrates its sexual predators in film and on television. Yet the key to this movie's success rests in the central performance by Jude Law - this easily represents his best acting to date, and he's aided by a letter-perfect supporting cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei and Nia Long as various sack partners.


Just how good is Jamie Foxx's performance in Ray? Let's just say that without him, this new biopic about music legend Ray Charles would possess only marginally more value than a film about, say, Tiffany or The Village People. Director Taylor Hackford, who has never met a movie he can't stretch well past two hours, wastes an awful amount of screen time going over variations on the same themes: Throughout the first part of his adult life, Ray (blind since age seven) alternates between taking drugs, cheating on his wife (sympathetically played by Kerry Washington) and -- oh, yeah -- emerging as a musical genius. Despite an occasional sameness to these scenes the film skips along thanks to the inherent drama in many of the presented conflicts. Yet shouldn't a movie named Ray give us a complete portrait of the man? Still, it's easy to overlook the flaws in the storytelling with Foxx commanding our attention in virtually every scene. The actor loses himself so thoroughly in the role that it's impossible to tell where Ray Charles ends and Jamie Foxx begins.


Michael Caine, going through the motions, plays an old codger who divides his 20 minutes of screen time between regaling his grandson (Josh Charles) and great-grandson (Jonah Bobo) with homespun homilies and hiding the boners he gets whenever his Danish nurse (Glenne Headly) enters the room. He then drops dead at the local KFC around the time that his long lost son (Christopher Walken), who’s been cooling his heels behind bars. Well-intentioned but not even remotely involving, Around the Bend leaves plenty of time for either dozing or daydreaming.


In this age of cookie cutter thrillers, here’s one that, for better or worse (or a bit of both), stands apart from the pack. Most moviegoers didn’t want to spend even two minutes discussing the imbecilic likes of Taking Lives or Twisted, yet they’ll be endlessly jawboning after seeing this grisly serial killer opus that clearly aspires to be the next Seven. Two men, a doctor (Cary Elwes) and a photographer (Leigh Whannell, who co-wrote the script with director James Wan), wake up to find themselves shackled to the plumbing in an abandoned building’s bathroom. Realizing that they’re the prisoners of a notorious serial killer who’s fond of playing mind games with his victims, they decide to work together in an attempt to outsmart their captor. But their suspicions of each other’s motives — as well as the specific guidelines laid out by their torturer — work against their success, and the involvement of an emotionally scarred detective (Danny Glover) doesn’t seem likely to help them.


David O. Russell’s movie is a noteworthy effort, with enough engaging hi-jinks — not to mention a high-wattage cast — to distract us from the frequent fuzziness of its psychobabble. Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) handles what is ostensibly the lead role: Albert Markovski, an activist who hires a pair of “existential detectives” (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to help him discover if a series of coincidences is actually an indication of some deeper meaning behind life itself. As the private eyes go about their business, Albert continues to lock horns with Brad Stand (Jude Law), a rising executive with the Huckabees super-store chain and Albert’s nemesis on environmental matters. Brad’s model girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and an emotionally distraught firefighter (Mark Wahlberg) are also drawn into the fray, and matters become even more heated with the arrival of a French anarchist (Isabelle Huppert) whose nihilistic outlook affects Albert. The philosophical musings espoused by Russell’s characters are ultimately about as deep as those found in fast-food fortune cookies, yet the passion with which these folks rail against their unbearable lightness of being is inspiring.


The title outfit — super-macho warriors willing to destroy the world in order to stop the terrorist threat (there goes the Eiffel Tower; there go the pyramids) — is a Republican president’s wet dream, as is the notion of depicting liberal Hollywood actors like Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin as anti-American stooges who suffer gruesome deaths for opposing our valiant heroes (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a puppet Sean Penn ripped apart by a kitty cat posing as a panther). But wait, there’s more! A Broadway show featuring the song “Everybody’s Got AIDS,” terrorists who speak entirely in gibberish (though we can frequently make out “jihad”), an explicit sex scene between anatomically incorrect dolls, and the longest vomiting scene ever recorded. Juvenile? Sure. Funny? Certainly — though not nearly as often as one might reasonably expect. w


Robin Williams continues his exploration of the dark side of human nature in this sci-fi saga that’s set at a point when microchips installed in individuals serve to record their entire lives. Williams plays Alan Hakman, whose job as a “cutter” requires him to go through the memories of recently deceased people, edit out the sins, and present loving montages that can be screened at funerals. But the stakes are raised when it turns out that his latest job involves a slimeball whose chip is sought by those who will stop at nothing to obtain it. For a movie that often feels like it’s cobbled together from pieces of Minority Report, Blade Runner and other futuristic odysseys, this one’s weirdly engrossing, and so in thrall with its own big ideas that the occasional plotholes can easily be overlooked.


Slumming Julianne Moore stars as a woman who, after mourning the death of her son for 14 months, is suddenly told that she never had a child and that he only existed within her own delusional mind. What begins as an unsettling psychological thriller eventually morphs into a sci-fi curio that becomes less intriguing as it plays out. Certainly, this was one way to go, but scripter Gerald DiPego never plays fair, changing the rules based squarely on the demands of his storyline. Director Joseph Ruben manages to stage some genuinely creepy moments here and there, but they’re squandered in a movie that ultimately drowns itself in an ocean of inconsistency.


A true-life yarn that was dubbed by Sports Illustrated as “one of the greatest sports stories of all time” has now been turned into one of the dullest sports films of recent years. Peter Berg has adapted his cousin H.G. Bissinger’s acclaimed novel but in the process stripped it of any complexity, leaving only a generic pigskin tale.