CAST AWAY (A-2, PG-13)
rethinks the Enoch Arden story, in which a shipwreck survivor returns
after many years to his beloved and finds her happily married to another
man. The story has been filmed many times. On its own it is both romantic
and tragic (or hilariously comic, as in My Favorite Wife with
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne). This poignant Y2K version glows in the
detail and humanity provided by star Tom Hanks and his Forrest
Gump director, Robert Zemeckis.
Hanks is Chuck Noland,
an intense, Memphis-based FedEx executive obsessed with saving minutes
on delivery schedules. He is robbed of four years in his life when
a harrowing company plane crash deposits him on a deserted South Pacific
Most of the film is
Chuck alone in the wild, acting out with wit and patience his survival
in a virtual prehistoric setting. He’s ready to use whatever opportunity
washes up on shore, make fire, kill fish and crabs, paint the walls
of his cave and build a raft that will navigate the pounding surf.
Chuck doesn’t seem to
be a religious man, but he’s compassionate and kind, which makes us
root for him. Despite his courage, he considers suicide. He keeps
hope alive with two objects: “Wilson,” a volleyball he humanizes into
a silent companion, and a gold heirloom watch (time symbol), a gift
from his fiancée, Kelly (Helen Hunt). When Chuck returns, he discovers
that Kelly is happily married to somebody else.
Hanks and Hunt make
the film hurtful and almost credible. But in some scenes Zemeckis
and writer William Broyles work too hard to make the audience feel
good. Classic tale, while ultimately a strain, is much fun along
the way; solid entertainment for youth and adults.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN
DRAGON (A-3, PG-13) is also a romance but with an immense “Wow!” factor.
This return to his Taiwanese roots by director Ang Lee (The Ice
Storm) is a martial-arts swashbuckler designed to seduce audiences
of all ages with its miraculous mano a mano combats (bouncing
on treetop branches, skittering over roof-tops like flying squirrels)
and exotic Chinese locales. This mythic adventure has a Star Wars-in-Asia
sort of feeling.
Lee won a Golden Globe
Award for his direction of this action film in which three of the
five major characters are women with in-your-face athletic fighting
capability. There are also three or four major love stories, two with
poetic, heart-cracking, transcendent endings, all set to subtle, classical
The generic plot line
could apply as well to westerns or cop movies. Aging warrior-hero
Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) is retiring his legendary 400-year-old sword
Green Destiny (“too many have died”) to meditate and perhaps woo his
longtime co-warrior Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh of James Bond memory).
Their love is shy and understated but the stuff of legends.
Complicating their plans
are Jade Fox, a stealthy female villain, and her pupil Jen, a diminutive
beauty and spoiled politician’s daughter who is one heck of a fighter.
This rebellious prodigy, who dreams of the life of a warrior instead
of wife in an arranged marriage, steals Li’s sword. Complicating her
plans is a Fairbanks-type desert bandit, the charismatic Lo, who kidnaps
and fights Jen endlessly until they fall memorably in love.
The good vs. evil struggle
focuses on who will tame Jen (played with zest by Zhang Ziyi) and
her amazing talent. It’s displayed in prettily choreographed, light-footed,
high-flying fantasy rumbles with practically everybody, marked by
blurry-fast sword play, flipping, twirling and levitating. Stylized
violence; subtitled dialogue; overall, an exhilarating movie experience.
WHAT WOMEN WANT
WHAT WOMEN WANT (A-3,
PG-13): If only he/she knew what I was really thinking is a
common enough thought in relationships, slight and profound, between
the sexes. What Women Want is a contemporary fairy tale in
which a cocky macho male (Mel Gibson) magically gets the ability to
“hear” women’s thoughts. What an opportunity! At first he shamelessly
exploits it, but slowly the gift mellows him into the ideal sensitive
The parable is primarily
feminist: Men need to listen—especially to the stresses and inequalities
women suffer in the workplace—and to understand what they need and
value, if they are to be better friends, husbands, fathers, colleagues.
On a moral level, the issue is compassion. You can’t truly love unless
you “feel with” the other person. But honestly, this movie never credibly
gets that serious.
It’s an excuse for Gibson
to star in a romantic comedy and he operates several gears above normal.
If his Chicago ad-exec character were a car, he would be a Ferrari.
His flat-out best moments, though, are in a warm comedy montage of
him as a dad taking his estranged 15-year-old daughter shopping for
a prom dress.
Otherwise, the joy comes
mostly from slapstick, like Mel trying to squirm into pantyhose (don’t
ask why). The ubiquitous Helen Hunt is convincing but overqualified
as the vulnerable hotshot creative director who is Mel’s competition
and love interest. But most of what the women in this movie think
is (sadly) just as dull as what men think. Some sexual situations
fly past in the general airiness; otherwise O.K. for mature teens
TRAFFIC (A-4, R) takes
on the drug war and some of its complexities. This packed, intense
two-and-a-half-hour film directed by Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich)
follows three sets of characters, peripherally and unknowingly connected:
a prominent judge (Michael Douglas) about to be appointed head of
U.S. anti-drug forces and his troubled suburban family in Cincinnati,
Ohio; a socialite matron (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in La Jolla, California,
whose affluent husband faces trial as a drug cartel kingpin; and two
Tijuana cops working amid the risky corruption of Mexican law enforcement.
The Cincinnati judge
and his wife (Amy Irving) discover their teenage daughter and her
preppy friends are moving deeply into hard drugs. The daughter battles
exposure and resists treatment. Eventually she has to be rescued in
the dregs of an urban slum.
In La Jolla, the innocent
wife-mother realizes that she’s about to lose her wealth and social
position. She moves quickly to survive. She manipulates her lawyer
and the feds assigned to watch her, and coolly takes over her husband’s
The stronger Mexican
officer (riveting Puerto Rico-born character actor Benicio Del Toro),
constantly on the edge of betrayal and sudden death, also has survival
skills. After his less cautious partner is killed, he perseveres and
focuses on exposing the villainous general, the brutal military boss
directing his government’s anti-drug war.
all this with gripping art and understatement. The situation is a
mess but not hopeless; there are small victories, but no quick fixes.
As the recovering teenager tentatively assesses her own prospects:
“I’m pretty sure I’ll make it through today.” Wake-up call material;
gritty, often graphic depiction of narcotics trade and its effects;
violence, problem language; recommended for mature viewers.
JAZZ (PBS miniseries):
Critics tend to pick at Ken Burns’s stuff (The Civil War, Baseball)
for various reasons (pretentious, too long, etc.) but it never quite
sticks. Burns is a long-form guy in a short-form world. You have to
be patient, you have to see and hear it all, like his description
of the death of Charlie Parker, which is no footnote but an extended
elegy. It’s history in audiovisual form. Never before have the images
and details been organized and put in one place with such passion.
Jazz (10 parts,
almost 19 hours total), which aired in January, was a gift. Maybe
it isn’t all there: There has to be some limit. But Burns includes
all the good footage and stills he couldn’t bear to leave out, describing
the universe of sounds, the geniuses and heroes, the tough truths,
the light and heavy sides of this remarkable indigenous art form.
Of course, like his earlier documentaries, it is also a disturbing,
sometimes nearly unbearable (to the conscience) history of race in
Above all, you hear
the music. The various commentators express their own enthusiasms
and now and then exaggerate. Was Louis Armstrong really “a messenger
sent by God to make people happy”? Maybe not, but he could play. Burns
is also a poet: as in that wonderful footage of a lighted riverboat
gliding down the dark Mississippi, with the distant sound of Armstrong’s
band and horn floating to shore (a re-creation, actually of musician
Jack Teagarden’s memory).
CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
(CBS, Thursdays) is a sleeper new police drama that has enough freshness
and skill to merit attention. It doesn’t offer the range of characters
or seem capable of the writing depth that now and then pushed a cop
series like Homicide into moving and unforgettable dimensions.
But it has a new twist or two, most notably its focus on science and
forensic evidence, allowing it to avoid the familiar car-chase-and-shootout,
knocking-on-doors and precinct-house-interrogation grind.
The setting is a little
different (Las Vegas), but the key asset is producer-star William
Petersen, 47, who has carried enough “small but cool” crime movies
(To Live and Die in L.A., Manhunter) to give authenticity
to his role as totally dedicated senior forensic expert Gil Grissom.
To him, it’s not a job but a vocation—seeking truth in blood, hair,
fingerprints, the detritus of the unknown, unseen act of violence.
His younger team members,
including costar Marg Helgenberger, may be less obsessed, but they’re
bright by definition. You can say it’s a buggy occupation with a high
“ick” quotient and more skeletons and rotting body parts than usual
in prime time. But at least the worst violence has already happened.
(Gil’s reconstructions are shown in artsy out-of-focus flashbacks.)
It’s all very 21st century, but the cerebral style has traces of Sherlock