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ON THE SCREEN

The following movies are playing this weekend at local theaters. The Tech suggests using http://www.boston.com for a complete listing of times and locations.

HHHH Excellent

HHH Good

HH Fair

H Poor

American Beauty (H1/2)

An extremely annoying movie: this deadpan black tragicomedy is a laughable failure as a work of art, being pretentious, simplistic, and self-important. Excepting a truly remarkable performance by Kevin Spacey (whose part is disappointingly small), there’s nothing to this movie beyond tortured metaphors, caricatures instead of characters, and a messy pile-up of red herrings instead of a plot. -- Vladimir Zelevinsky

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (HHH)

Hardly a sequel but rather two hours of completely indulgent Austin Powers fun. This film succeeds because it’s well aware of what a farce it is and it doesn’t try to be anything more than purely entertaining. It seems to be too much of the same, with very little new material, but there’s enough pure slapstick, absurd comedy, and gross humor to satisfy the fans. -- Teresa Huang

Autumn Tale (HHH1/2)

Veteran French filmmaker Eric Rohmer continues his gentle, thoughtful, and detailed studies of romantic confusion in this delightful comedy about a middle-aged woman’s search for love and happiness. A vintage Rohmer film with all the sophistication, depth, and intricacy that makes his films so irresistible. Without doubt one of the best movies of the year. -- Bence Olveczky

Big Daddy (HH1/2)

Adam Sandler attempts to grow up as an actor playing a complete loser who gets transformed into a more respectable and lovable loser when he adopts a five-year old kid. The film starts out strong with great humor and some genuine acting from Adam Sandler, but eventually spills over the top with sappiness. -- TH

The Blair Witch Project (HHH)

A nearly brilliant character study of three student filmmakers getting lost in the woods while shooting a documentary about a local legend -- and a solid but hardly outstanding horror picture. The horror is good but superfluous, and it only distracts from the heart of the picture, but that heart remains highly affecting and haunting. Contains probably the best performance of the year so far by Heather Donahue. -- VZ

Bowfinger (HHH1/2)

Bobby Bowfinger has an eager cast, a script about an alien invasion, and no star. Unfazed, he decides to film action star Kit Ramsey on the sly, sending his actors out to interact with him. With a quick-witted script that skewers Hollywood and actors alike, Bowfigner is a very entertaining ride. Murphy in particular is grand in a second role as the meek Jiff, and Bowfinger’s dog Betsy is not to be missed. -- Roy Rodenstein

Deep Blue Sea (HHH)

Deep Blue Sea may be Hollywood junk, but it is Hollywood junk at its finest. While the plot, editing, and visuals are somewhat lacking, the film nonetheless captures the audience in the moment with its excitement and suspense, and it pleasantly surprises with its refusal to use seasoned movie clichÉs. Though severely lacking in quality, this movie makes for good entertainment. -- VZ, Rebecca Loh

Dick (HH1/2)

A fictional story of two teenage girls getting mixed up in the Nixon-Watergate scandal. Poor pacing and an underdeveloped script hinder what could have been the next Wag the Dog. -- Heather Anderson

Eyes Wide Shut (HHH1/2)

Enjoy the great, nearly forgotten feeling of being in the hands of a master storyteller, with him guiding a story that is paced just right, and with surprises lurking behind every corner. A gradual descent into a half-comic, half-surreal nightmare -- and then a period of awakening and attempting to recall the dream. A visual, excellently acted, and often funny tale. A frequently self-indulgent auteur work. The most optimistic of all Kubrick films. All of the above and more. -- VZ

The Haunting (H)

Not your usual garden-variety bad movie: it does not merely cause the viewers cringe in pain and abject anguish at the sheer awfulness of it; no, it squarely lands into the “so bad it’s good” area, being not merely terrible but laughably so. This supposed horror movie is not horrifying for a second, and its ineptitude is much more broad in scope. It shows the total misunderstanding of even basic facts of filmmaking and storytelling -- and the result is wretched, from its very first to its very last minute. -- VZ

An Ideal Husband (HH)

An Ideal Husband is an example of how not to direct a movie. With such superlative resources at his disposal -- star-studded cast (Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver), great source play, lush production design -- all that director/writer Oliver Parker manages to create is a particularly joyless, visually bland, narratively pedestrian, weird mixture of light comedy and somber drama, with these two halves desperately fighting each other. -- VZ

Illuminata (HHH)

A beautiful and elegant movie about a theater company that is set in turn-of-the-century Manhattan -- and a mess of seemingly meaningless and unresolved subplots. Largely redeemed by fantastic sets and costumes. -- Zarminae Ansari

Island of the Sharks (HHH)

Island of the Sharks is a remarkable achievement on the visual front, providing some sequences which feel hyper-real, out of this world, and literally larger than life. This solid Omnimax documentary puts the viewer right in the middle of shark-infested waters, without even a danger of getting one’s feet wet. It succeeds as a travelogue, showing the sights that most of us would never get a chance of seeing otherwise. If you aren’t satisfied with just looking, but also want to learn something, I suggest looking elsewhere, however. -- VZ

The Matrix (HHH1/2)

A wildly imaginative ride. The plot is nicely complex, the visuals and the special effects are out of this world. As the computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) dashes through a succession of interlocked dreams in the quest to find true reality, the film launches into a full-throttle mode of inventive action sequences. By combining cyberpunk ethos with anime style, The Matrix breathes new life into the genre of sci-fi action films. -- VZ

The Muse (HHH)

A comedy about a modern Muse, the immortal daughter of Zeus, inspiring a washed-out screenwriter, this is essentially one elaborate and consistently funny Hollywood in-joke. Features a great performance by Sharon Stone in the title role and a wonderful Mozartesque score by, of all musicians, Elton John. -- VZ

Mystery Men (HHH)

Part Batman, part Blade Runner, part Naked Gun, part something entirely new and original, Mystery Men is both a spoof of an over-directed over-produced over-merchandized superhero genre and an attempt to genuinely thrill and wow the audience. It is enjoyable, funny, rather sweet, and very inventive -- but rarely exciting, and somewhat hampered by the by-the-numbers story. -- VZ

Notting Hill (HHH)

A rare case of an intelligent romantic comedy, this is a noteworthy -- but not exceptional -- tale of romance in adversity. Julia Roberts plays the world’s most famous movie star and Hugh Grant is the owner of a small and unprofitable bookstore. The pair’s meeting is followed by a series of wonderfully awkward encounters and the expected budding of a romance. Richard Curtis’s script only occasionally rises above formula, but when it does, the results are astounding and memorable.--Fred Choi and VZ

Outside Providence (HHH)

It’s Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the ’70s, and the Farrelly brothers are at it again. The writers of There’s Something About Mary show a broader scope here, moving from visual comedy to funny, affecting dialogue. Recreational junkie Tim Dunphy’s run-in with a parked police car nets him a transfer to strict Cornwall Academy, where he makes a new set of goofball friends. Dunph’s old man (Alec Baldwin) stays home with Tim’s three-legged dog and his card-playing buddies, who try to be bigots but can’t really pull it off. The precarious plot leaves center stage to a clever dose of lowbrow humor, perfectly delivered by a bunch of earnest simpletons. -- RR

Runaway Bride (HHH)

Sparkling chemistry between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts saves Runaway Bride from drowning in sappiness. The film tells the story of a bride who has left a string of fiancÉs at the altar and the smug journalist who writes a story about her. While the setup is riddled with enough movie clichÉs to make a person sick, Gere and Roberts shine on screen, affirming themselves as one of the more successful screen duos of the 90’s. -- TH

Run Lola Run (HHH)

Lola’s boyfriend needs $100,000 in twenty minutes, or else he’s dead. Lola’s motorbike was just stolen, so she has to run if she wants to be there on time. A minor plot detail: she doesn’t have the money. So she needs to run really fast. The result is a streamlined movie possessing an unstoppable sense of motion, and giving the visceral pleasure of seeing a tightly-wound plot unfold. -- VZ

The Sixth Sense (HHH1/2)

Cole Sear is a young boy whose special power, “the sixth sense,” enables him to perceive the ghosts which, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, walk among us every day. Bruce Willis plays the psychologist trying to help him. The strength of their performances carries the movie past its slight flaws, making The Sixth Sense one of the best movies of the summer. -- Tzu-Mainn Chen

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (HHH1/2)

An R-rated animated musical comedy adventure satire, starting when four kids sneak into an R-rated movie, and steadily increasing in scope and barrage of satirical barbs. Don’t be deterred by the fact that this movie features copious amounts of profanity, full-frontal nudity, and giant glowing talking sex organs -- it’s probably the funniest movie in quite a while, and it’s definitely the best animated musical of the last several years. -- VZ

Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace (HHH)

This simplistic motion picture with lumpy storytelling, inane dialogue, wooden acting, and poor editing is one of the most exciting experiences to come in quite a while to the movies. By firmly adhering to the world-view created in Episodes 4 through 6, and by utilizing the best special effects and art direction money can buy, writer/director George Lucas succeeds, despite the film’s obvious shortcomings, to take us once again to that galaxy far, far away, and provide an adventure-filled playground for our imagination. -- VZ

Tarzan (HHH)

A good, solid, workmanlike movie from the Mouse House; just about as good as anything they made in the last few years, and not better. The overall story of the orphaned boy Tarzan who’s brought up by the African apes is so tired that it really doesn’t matter much. What lingers in the memory is the more than usually affecting love story and the amazing visuals. --VZ

The Thomas Crown Affair (HHH)

A cross between a star vehicle and an old-fashioned heist movie: a bored zillionaire steals priceless paintings for fun, and a dedicated insurance investigator tries to trap him, falling for him in the process. Excellent opening and ending sequences, largely expendable middle; but that Monet-Magritte-Escher inspired climax is spectacular. -- VZ

Trick (HHH1/2)

At last! A queer romantic comedy in which the main characters are simply regular, well-adjusted gay people going about their everyday lives. A stellar trio of main characters and an excellent supporting cast, along with thoughtful pacing and a wonderful, quirky script, make this not only one of the best gay flicks in a long while, but also a romantic comedy that can hold its own against any straight comedy. -- FC

Wild Wild West (HH)

WWW tries to be absolutely everything to absolutely everyone. It’s a western, a parody of James Bond movies, a sci-fi adventure, an action flick, a buddy film, a slapstick comedy, and a dark rumination on the American history. It ends up, of course, being none of the above -- just an extravagant way to spend its gargantuan budget. -- VZ

The Winslow Boy (HH1/2)

For all of its dramatic intensity and clarity, visual elegance and beautiful shot composition, intricate multi-personal conflicts, and stylized dialogue, this David Mamet film doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of its opening half hour. This is probably the fault of the source play, which didn’t age very well and which seems to be content to be merely engaging and entertaining in a low-key way than to go for either shattering drama or penetrating social critique. -- VZ