1 SHALL WE DANCE? (Miramax) Director: Peter Chelsom. Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Saran-don. (PG-13)
Take One: U.S. remake of a popular Japanese film stars Gere as a world-weary lawyer whose spirit is stirred by the daily sight of an elegant young dancer glimpsed from his commuter train in the window of a dance school. Soon he's secretly taking classes and discovers that one of his coworkers is also a regular student.
Take Two: Deprived of the rigid social code of the original Japanese setting, the story can't make narrative sense of motivations and behavior, and characters act in unconvincing ways. Macho attitudes about dancing lead to jokes involving negative attitudes toward homosexuality, which are basically harmless until a very brief last-minute sop to homosexual viewers. Some profanity and offensive language; suspicion of infidelity.
Final Take: Despite flaws, the film's ultimately romantic view of a long-standing marriage of an older couple (and climactic wedding bells for another character) is winsome and could make for an okay date movie for mature viewers.
2 SHARK TALE (Dream-Works) Director: Bibo Bergeron et al. Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger. (PG)
Take One: So there's a shark who doesn't eat fish. Shark Tale is as different from Nemo as the Shrek flicks are from the Toy Story movies. Set in a coral-reef Times Square, it's breezy, satirical and allout anthropomorphic. Smith plays a broke young street fish who works at a whale wash but wants to make it big and gets tangled up with a loan-shark mob boss (De Niro).
Take Two: With its hip-hop milieu and Angelina Jolie's bad-girl piscine temptress (think of sultry Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), this Tale may be inappropriate for youngsters. There's some crude humor and, while it avoids Shrek 2-style cross-dressing jokes, adults may not appreciate (though kids won't notice) themes involving a sissy shark who at one point “dresses” like a dolphin as a disguise, to his macho father's chagrin.
Final Take: High-energy storytelling with jokes and culture references every five seconds, and decent messages about not needing riches to be someone, the foolishness of get-rich-quick schemes and gambling, telling the truth and taking pride in oneself and one's family make Shark Tale a good bet for 'tweens and up.
3 THE FORGOTTEN (Columbia) Director: Joseph Ruben. Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinese. (PG-13)
Take One: What the father-son bond was to Frequency and the marital bond and doctor-patient relationship were to The Sixth Sense, mother love is to this Twilight Zone/X-Files—“esque thriller with a pro-life twist. Moore stars as a grieving mother who lost her son in a plane crash and is now inexplicably losing every sign that he ever existed.
Take Two: The Forgotten has a great premise and a couple of terrific “gotcha” moments, but in the end, the story turns on a “black box” plot device that exists solely to explain away improbable goings-on, but which can't itself be satisfactorily explained. At least the story plays fair with its secret, tipping its hand early enough to avoid an abrupt last-reel genre switch (a la Vanilla Sky). Some violence, profanity and offensive language; and sexual references.
Final Take: Despite gaps in narrative logic, the emotional power of the premise and Moore's performance make The Forgotten far more enjoyable than other recent thrillers (e.g., The Village). And pro-life viewers will cheer a climactic moment that turns on a mother's bond with her child preceding birth, in which the memory of life growing inside her gives the heroine strength to hold on.
4 SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (Paramount) Director: Kerry Conran. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Angelina Jolie. (PG)
Take One: A wide-eyed tribute to the pulp-adventure era of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Sky Captain puts real actors into a beguilingly unreal computer-generated world. It's a soft-focus, retro—“sci-fi dream of the 1930s, with dirigibles and pulse blasters, intrepid girl reporters and dashing ace-pilot heroes, giant robots and doomsday devices.
Take Two: Sky Captain entertains and impresses, but never really engages; unlike Raiders or Star Wars, its heroes never become more than types. And why, in a tame PG action film that could easily have been fine family entertainment, did the filmmakers add a gratuitous lewd remark and a few suggestive elements glaringly inconsistent with the nostalgic milieu?
Final Take: More or less must viewing for golden-age Hollywood buffs and computer-imaging enthusiasts; others may enjoy it if they keep their expectations in check.
5 THÉRÈSE (Luke Films) Director: Leonardo Defilippis. Lindsay Younce, Defilippis, Linda Hayden. (PG)
Take One: Catholic actor-director Defilippis's reverent, uplifting, straightforward biopic covers the major events in the life of Thérèse of Lisieux, portraying her not as a typical movie saint, off-puttingly otherworldly and ethereal, but an ordinary girl, if a pious and devout one, who gets hurt feelings and struggles with math.
Take Two: The film offers little insight into Thérèse's teaching, little exploration of her “little way” of spiritual childhood. In its zeal to honor her virtue, it neglects the natural obstacles she had to overcome. As a result, there's little sense of why she is reckoned modernity's greatest saint — let alone only the third female doctor of the Church in 2,000 years.
Final Take: Despite its flaws, it's sweet, inspirational movie-making that will be enjoyed by Catholics who love the Little Flower, or who are open to learning about her. It lacks the psychological depth and spiritual insight that attracts non-Catholics to Story of a Soul. But nominal or lapsed Catholics could be moved by its simple portrait of devotion and piety.
Steven D. Greydanus is editor and chief critic of DecentFilms.com.
- October 3-9, 2004