1 ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (Miramax) Director: Michael Gondry. Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood. (R)
Take One: Existential comedy screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) is back with his characteristic blend of slacker angst, black comedy and magical realism in a story of lost memories and searches for love. Yet in place of the scaldingly misanthropic tone of his earlier films, this one has a promising new note of humanism and hope.
Take Two: It might be more hopeful than Malkovich or Adaptation, but it's just as R-rated, with profane language, sexual references and immorality, drug use and characters in various states of undress.
Final Take: Objectionable content is the big problem, but at least Kaufman's cinephile following will get a break from narcissistic self-loathing and self-gratification in a story about characters daring to reach out to one another in the hope that ignorance is not a prerequisite for bliss.
SECRET WINDOW (Co -lum bia) Director: David Koepp. Johnny Depp, John Tuturro. (PG-13) Take One: Johnny Depp stars in a suspense thriller based on a Stephen King novella about a reclusive writer harassed by a creepy stalker (John Tuturro) who claims Depp's character plagiarized his story.
Take Two: The King-based story effectively plucks at primal anxieties, but the story is thin and repetitive, the “twist” unsurprising — and goodness, I hope that, in the real world, when the body count gets high, enough people like Andy Griffith know to call in people like Columbo. The film squeaks by with a PG-13 rating by keeping gore to a minimum, but there's still some nasty business and quite a bit of crude language.
Final Take: If you haven't figured out who's behind it all by the tim e a house burns down — or if you care after that — you probably don't see many movies. And this isn't the movie to be starting with.
HIDALGO (Disney) Director: Joe Johnston. Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif. (PG-13)
Take One: Back in the saddle in his first post-Aragorn role, Viggo Mortensen plays real-life cowboy Frank Hopkins in a film based on Hopkins' tall tales about riding his great horse Hidalgo in the made-up Ocean of Fire race in the Arabian desert.
Take Two: While painting a surprisingly mixed picture of both Arab and Western culture and characters, the film does make the one explicitly Christian character the big villain and dishes up yet another helping of Disney-style American Indian spirituality (Pocahontas, Brother Bear, etc.). Action violence, some innuendo and depictions of drunkenness.
Final Take: Despite drawbacks, Hidalgo manages to be a reasonably entertaining yarn.
4 AGENT CODY BANKS 2: DESTINATION LONDON (MGM) Director: Kevin Allen. Frankie Muniz, Anthony Anderson, Hannah Spearritt. (PG)
Take One: Welcome to the third annual spring Frankie Muniz Spy Kids rip-off movie (previous entries: Big Fat Liar and Agent Cody Banks). This year, Cody takes his junior 007 act to London to stop a world-domination plot involving mind control.
Take Two: Less morally problematic than Muniz's last two flicks (which had significant issues with lying and lust, respectively), Cody Banks 2 is by far the lamest of the trio. The mostly British supporting characters are pointlessly eccentric, bizarre and mincing, and scene after scene is jaw-droppingly stupid, with limp pratfalls, rote action and no wit.
Final Take: It took James Bond decades to get as tired as Cody Banks' second film. Even Austin Powers flicks made me care more about the story than this.
5 MY ARCHITECT (New Yorker) Director: Nathaniel Kahn. (No rating)
Take One: Part documentary, part home movie, My Architect is an inquiry into the life of pre-eminent architect Louis
I. Kahn, who died in 1974, survived by a wife and daughter — and two mistresses with one child each. Filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn, one of the illegitimate children, was 11 when his father died and wants to know who his father was.
Take Two: Studies in architecture and interviews with colleagues and acquaintances help bring Lou Kahn's life into focus; some disparage his treatment of women, others make excuses. A startlingly frank interview with Nathaniel's mother serves as an eloquent exposé of his father's philandering and his mother's denial.
Final Take: My Architect isn't a moral film per se, but the moral is there for those who wish to draw it. Adventurous art-house moviegoers might just find this son's journey worth tagging along.
Steven D. Greydanus, editor and chief critic of Decentfilms.com, writes from Bloomfield, New Jersey.
Spotlight: Recent Receipts Speak — Hear That, Hollywood?
Weeks after its record-shattering opening, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ not only shows little sign of slowing down, but it also continues to surpass expectations and confound box-office pundits at every turn. Consider the following:
For three straight weeks, The Passion of the Christ has not only ruled the U.S. box office but also has attracted more viewers and made more money than all new releases combined. Last weekend the film enjoyed the fifth-best third weekend in history, behind Spider-Man and Star Wars: Episode I but ahead of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Jurassic Park.
This weekend, in only its fourth week of release, Passion is on track to surpass The Matrix Reloaded as the highest-grossing R-rated film in history. On March 10, after just 15 days of release, it surpassed Signs as the top-grossing film of Gibson's career.
Current estimates suggest a final gross of $350 million to $400 million, putting it in The Return of the King territory. However, every weekend so far The Passion has outperformed estimates, consistently doing better when the money was actually counted than bean counters guessed during the weekend.
Last weekend, not even the combined star power of Pirates of the Caribbean's Johnny Depp and indie fave John Tuturro could power Stephen King thriller Secret Window's opening to much more than half of The Passion's third-frame success.
With Holy Week and Easter season still ahead, The Passion could continue to confound the pundits for weeks to come.
Other good news at the box office: After dipping out of the top 10 for just one week, The Return of the King bounced back after its big night at the Oscars. After two weeks back on the top 10 list, The Return of the King sits at No. 6 on the all-time box-office blockbuster charts, right behind Spider-Man. (Titanic remains a virtually un-catchable No. 1, well ahead of the No. 2 film, Star Wars.)
Though no blockbuster on the scale of The Passion or Lord of the Rings, Kurt Russell's Miracle, the rousing real-life story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's upset victory over the unstoppable Soviet juggernaut, has done quite well at the box office. Dropping off the top 10 list last weekend, it's made more than $60 million and counting. Still playing in most areas, it's well worth catching.
- March 21-27, 2004