SEABISCUIT (Universal) Director: Gary Ross. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper. (PG-13)
Take One: Based on the acclaimed nonfiction book about a legendary Depression-era race-horse, Seabiscuit offers an uplifting, character-based tale about overcoming obstacles in a summer desperately lacking films not driven by gunfire and explosions or based on comic books, video games and theme-park attractions.
Take Two: The platitudes and thematic points are a little heavy-handed, and the film is spoiled for family audiences by an unnecessary brothel sequence with some comically intended lewd behavior and a bedroom scene (no explicit nudity).
Content advisory: crude language and profanity, sports-related violence and injuries, remarriage after divorce.
Final Take: Though not great moviemaking, Seabiscuit has a great subject and a wonderful story to tell, and its winning theme of the little guy with the heart of a champion may just leave adult viewers feeling great as well.
TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF
THE MACHINES (Warner Bros) Director: Jonathan Mostow. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes. (R)
Take One: Arnold is back in the role that launched him to superstardom 20 years ago, pitted for the second time against a more advanced cyborg (Kristanna Loken) in a battle for the life of John Connor (Stahl), who is destined to lead mankind in a coming post-apocalyptic war against machines.
Take Two: Another violent film about killer cyborgs, T3 is at least less cruel than previous installments, earning its R rating with a single gory scene of impalement.
Content advisory: some profanity, obscenity, and crude language; brief rear nudity.
Final Take: The action and language are too rough for many tastes, but fans of the earlier films will probably appreciate this sequel's bravura action set pieces as well the plot-level resolution of the earlier films' past and future storylines.
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRA-ORDINARYG ENTLEMEN (20th Century Fox) Director: Stephen Norrington. Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson. (PG-13)
Take One: Action-movie adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic-novel tribute to 19th-century British fiction features the combined forces of numerous legendary protagonists, including Allen Quatermain (Connery), Captain Nemo (Shah), Mina Harker (Wilson), the Invisible Man (Rodney Skinner) and Jeckyll/Hyde (Jason Flemyng).
Take Two: After a mildly diverting “gathering” act, the film spectacularly crashes and burns, descending into meaningless action, inconsequential revelations and near-complete incoherence.
Content advisory: strong action violence, some innuendo and mild profanity, references to Hindu Kali worship and shamanist magic.
Final Take: One of the year's worst cinematic disasters, LXG's only entertainment value, beyond comic-book set design and mostly well-done effects, is the mild train-wreck fascination of watching another Battlefield Earth or Wild West West unfold on the screen despite the presence of a major star.
SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER
(Dimension) Director: Robert Rodriguez. Daryl Sabara, Sylvester Stallone, Ricardo Montalban. (PG)
Take One: Third installment in Robert Rodriguez's family series is cheerful, energetic, inoffensive, visually stimulating and even sort of colorful, within the limits of the yellow-purple spectrum dictated by the red-and-blue 3-D glasses.
Take Two: The humanity of the original is gone, the positive family spirit is reduced to a slogan and only Juni has more than a supporting role. There's no logic or coherence to the plot, even on a video-game level, and the sci-fi trappings don't touch the whimsical imagination of earlier installments.
Content advisory: stylized action violence and mild menace.
Final Take: Your call. As sheer dumb spectacle, Spy Kids 3-D isn't wholly without merit; too bad Rodriguez can no longer be bothered to offer family audiences more than that.
LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER — THE CRADLE OF LIFE (Paramount) Director: Jan de Bont. Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds. (PG-13)
Take One: Angelina Jolie returns as the video-game heroine in another Indiana Jones knockoff promising more action — and more plot — than the original. The target: Pandora's box.
Take Two: The over-the-top action is often as inexplicable as in Spy Kids 3-D — but quite a bit rougher. Why does Lara smash her own vase in her own house? Why does dropping a certain object into a certain recess make the monsters disintegrate, and how did Lara know this?
Content advisory: a steamy PG-13 near-seduction scene, some crass language and innuendo, and mild profanity.
Final Take: The onslaught of video-game inspired movies seems as unstoppable as the woes of Pandora's box. This movie is the latest example as to why such boxes should remain closed.
Steven D. Greydanus, editor and chief critic of DecentFilms.com, writes from
Spotlight: Bob Hope Memorial
According to Leonard Maltin, Bob Hope was perhaps “the most popular entertainer in the history of Western civilization.” A star of vaudeville, radio, cinematic shorts and feature films, and television, his claims to fame also include a tireless dedication to entertaining American troops abroad and many humanitarian efforts.
Seven years ago, after nearly six decades of marriage to an active Roman Catholic, Bob Hope was received into the Catholic Church and became a frequent communicant. His funeral Mass was celebrated July 30 at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood and, on Aug. 3, he was remembered at a memorial Mass celebrated by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington.
On the screen, Hope generally played rather antiheroic comic characters — vain, self-absorbed, cowardly and womanizing. In some cases, these qualities overcome other aspects of the film. For example, the otherwise enjoyable comedy Where There's Life ends on a sour note by not giving us the Hope character's long-deferred wedding to his long-suffering fiancée, instead closing with Hope kissing another woman.
His better pictures, however, keep his character's foibles in perspective, sometimes even partially redeeming him. And while his films are sometimes slightly naughty, they're never dirty or lascivious. In 1969, asked by the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee about the increasing use of sex and nudity in entertainment, Hope spoke disparagingly both about “those who are doing it and those who are watching. … I like jokes and stories. But when you see some of this stuff, it's too much.”
— Steven D. Greydanus