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Thursday, July 17, 2003 02:20 pm

Movies

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

"I'm waiting to be impressed," says Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) when confronted with the concept of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And, frankly, so was I after the negative buzz about the project, including a notorious on-set physical confrontation between Connery and director Stephen Norrington.

This cross between "Classics Illustrated" and The Dirty Dozen is based on a popular comic book series by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. It falls into the "men-on-a-mission" subgenre of adventure films, enlisting a handful of disparate and highly trained adventurers--each with his or her specific talent--to embark on a mission to save the world. The terrific gimmick here is that each League member is a character from a popular 19th-century novel.

In addition to great white hunter Quatermain, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen consists of Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng); Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), a vampiric chemist who battled Dracula; the insouciant Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend); invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran); and the lone American, Tom Sawyer (Shane West).

It's 1899, the dawn of a revolutionary new century, and the League is recruited by M (Richard Roxburgh) to battle the evil machinations of The Fantom, a scarred megalomaniac. Our team follows the Fantom to Paris, Venice, and finally to his massive Tibetan stronghold, all while seeking out a traitor within their ranks.

Carol Spier's production design should be remembered at Oscar time. The Victorian look of the picture is startlingly atmospheric. It's unfortunate that the special effects aren't as up to the task.

Connery turned 72 during shooting, but shows little sign of slowing, even though his stunt double spends nearly as much time on-screen as he does. Each cast member is given a scene or two in which to shine; League may be the best-acted blockbuster of the summer.

Where League goes astray is in its screenplay by noted comic book writer James Dale Robinson (The Golden Age), who nicely sanitized the comic book's graphic elements and created little character moments for the heroes. But he failed to craft a coherent plot. The Fantom's ultimate motives remain sketchy, and the entire story feels forced.

(Running time 1:52, rated PG-13)

Grade B

White Oaks, Showplace

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What other critics are saying . . .
Edited by Imran Siddiquee

Anger Management A judge orders Adam Sandler to undergo anger management therapy led by eccentric counselor Jack Nicholson. "The concept is inspired. The execution is lame." (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times) "You keep asking yourself, 'I could be laughing at this. So why aren't I?'" (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com) Esquire

Bad Boys II Two cops in Miami uncover some funny business. "Could be the most vile creation to come out of Hollywood since Patch Adams." (Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine) Chuck's grade: F. Parkway Pointe, Showplace

Bruce Almighty Jim Carrey is granted sovereignty over his hometown by God. "A smart, surprisingly thought-through blockbuster, with a decent grasp of the theological implications of its idea. . . . It's a subtle societal critique that it never occurs to Bruce to think of others." (Nev Pierce, BBCi) "A fable overwhelmed by special effects and outsized spectacle." (Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times) Route 66 Drive-in

Chicago Picture-of-the-year musical about the murder trial of an up-and-coming singer. "Without a doubt the best movie musical since Cabaret, Chicago improves upon the long-running Broadway show by Kander and Ebb in many ways." (Jonathan Foreman, New York Post) "A narrative that remains the same stale blast of self-congratulating showbiz cynicism." (Dennis Lim, Village Voice) Chucks grade: B+. Esquire

The Dancer Upstairs "Filmed before 9/11 [director John Malkovich's movie] is based on a novel published in 1997, but has an eerie timeliness in its treatment of a terrorist movement that works as much through fear as though violence. Filmed in Ecuador, it stars Javier Bardem [and] is inspired by the Shining Path, a terrorist group in Peru. But this is not a docudrama; it is more concerned with noticing the ways in which terrorism takes its real toll on a nation's self-confidence." (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times) "Sheer wooliness undermines the sober political stance of Malkovich's overexcited directorial debut." (Bob Campbell, Newark Star-Ledger) White Oaks

Finding Nemo Animated underwater tale. "An upbeat, sentimental fable about a fearful father fish and a rebellious son who recklessly breaks away from the school. . . Visual imagination and sophisticated wit raise Finding Nemo to a level just below the peaks of Pixar's 'Toy Story' movies." (Stephen Holden, New York Times) "It's all beautiful, all right. But before long I began to feel beaten against the rocks of that beauty--Finding Nemo smacks of looky-what-I-can-do virtuosity, and after the first 10 minutes or so, it's exhausting." (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com) Chuck's grade: A. White Oaks, Showplace

How to Deal Teenage romance. "[Mandy] Moore's whinier here than in churchy weepie A Walk to Remember, but playing opposite Trent Ford, who, as her rakish beau, affects a chin-down, three-quarter boffo stare in every shot regardless of circumstance, her spunky resolve still brands like honesty." (Laura Sinagra, Villiage Voice) White Oaks, Showplace

Identity Strangers at a seedy motel are getting murdered. "It can make for an exasperating ride, since the filmmakers fudge the line between earnest manipulation and flip self-mockery." (Jan Stuart, Newsday) "Delighting in his own considerable cleverness and cineast's knowledge of movie history, Mangold shuffles the elements like a three-card-monte pro." (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) Chuck's grade: D+. Esquire

Johnny English Spy spoof with Rowan Atkinson. "Smug with timely zingers like 'The only thing the French should be allowed to host is an invasion,' the movie's recommended strictly for Bush advisers." (Jessica Winter, Village Voice)"A likeable parody that, while never quite as side-splitting as it thinks it is, still contains a good number of well-worked comic set-pieces." (Neil Smith, BBCi) White Oaks, Showplace

Legally Blonde 2 Lovable brainiac heads to Congress to fight for animal rights. "Moves at such a brisk, easy clip that there isn't much time to linger over its flaws. . . . What's interesting here isn't what Elle is fighting for but the unshakable smile with which she wages her war." (Manhola Dargis, Los Angeles Times) "The first one was silly fun, amusing and oddly inventive; the second is plodding, unfunny and almost cringe-worthy." (Claudia Plug, USA Today) Marty's grade: D+. Parkway Pointe

The Lizzie McGuire Movie Film version of the popular television show about a typical California teenager. "By filling in what the story lacks in originality with easy attractions like pretty faces set to fluffy music, the filmmakers lose the outsider edge the Lizzie McGuire franchise was built on." (Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune) "It beats the Olsen twins. But not by much."

(Ty Burr, Boston Globe) Marty's grade: B. Esquire

Muppets From Space "Smart and winning, this sixth Muppet feature film comes closest to recapturing the pure joy of the 1979 original!" (Robin Rauzi, Los Angeles Times) "This new Muppet movie is the funniest I can remember!" (Jeff Miller, Houston Chronicle) Esquire

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl "In . . . a movie based on a Disney theme-park ride--the most high-flying, jaw-dropping special effect of the summer is . . . Johnny Depp." (Ty Burr, Boston Globe) "Depp keeps the film delightfully off balance with his unpredictable comic weave. . . . The unexpectedly light touch of director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) gives the film a playful tone without sinking it into self parody." (Sean Axmaker, Seattle-Post Intelligencer) Chuck's grade: B+. Parkway Pointe, Showplace

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back, again, as a android fighting another, more advanced robot. "A taut, exciting science-fiction thriller that pumps up our adrenaline without forgetting to engage our heads. . . . The movie also plays as a more palpable cautionary tale about humans' ceding control to machines than The Matrix Reloaded." (Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune) "Mainly the problem is a weak story that throughout seems to be building toward something it never quite reaches." (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle) Chuck's grade: B. Parkway Pointe, Showplace

28 Days Later A virus creates a world of zombies, except for the few people on the run. "Director Danny Boyle, back in Trainspotting form, puts real zip in the zombie step. These buggers snap to at the scent of human flesh and take you down like a stealth bomber." (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) "A gory, depressing affair that bears an ultra-Darwinian message in its blood-stained hands." (Philip French, The Observer) Chuck's grade: C. Parkway Pointe

X2: X-Men United Cartoon superheroes fight each other. "The movie is in a different league from the standard Hollywood comic-book blockbuster. It's never as simple as good versus evil: The three male titans--X, Magneto, and Stryker--are each convinced his way is right, and Singer turns the movie into an epic chess match." (David Edelstein, Slate) "Stuffed with esoteric detail for the sake of pleasing fans of the Marvel Comics series, the movie is over plotted, a soulless maze of special effects and relentless action." (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle) Chuck's grade: B. Route 66 Drive-in

 

 

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