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  • 2004-12-09
This week - The Manchurian Candidate - Alexander - Christmas with the Cranks

The Manchurian Candidate

Director: Jonathan Demme

This movie might be a remake of the 1962 "The Manchurian Candidate," but it's different in many ways from the original movie and is a powerful work in itself. It's an all-together intelligent, thought-provoking and atmospheric thriller and is probably director Jonathan Demme's strongest movie since "The Silence of the Lambs," depicting its characters with precision and delivering its message with conviction. Demme has successfully updated the original to fit today's political world, and even if you've seen the original, his remake certainly doesn't lack suspense or surprises. One thing that especially makes this perceptive thriller stand out are the finely tuned performances from Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber, who handle their roles with intensity and credibility. **** (Julie Vinten)

John Frankenheimer's 1962 "The Manchurian Candidate" is a masterpiece in American filmmaking. This reviewer's first thoughts were: "Why remake a classic?" Not to worry, Jonathan Demme's updated version is chilling, pulse-pounding entertainment from start to finish. Basically it relates the same conspiratorial plot to control the American presidency. This time the brainwashing takes place in Iraq not in Korea; the perpetrator is a big business conglomerate in place of a Chinese communist hypnotist. The subject matter remains just as controversial today as it was over 40 years ago. Stepping into Frank Sinatra's role, Denzel Washington is electrifying. Although a veteran of over three-dozen film productions, the little known Liev Schreiber is perfect as the unwitting political pawn. Meryl Streep delivers a brilliant performance as a power-hungry senator (and mother).**** (Laimons Juris G)

Alexander

Director: Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone hasn't been his great self as a director for a while, and "Alexander" is yet further proof of this. "Alexander" wants to be edgier than other epics, but it's all rather unremarkable and nothing we haven't seen before. A movie's length (174 long minutes) doesn't alone make it epic, and although "Alexander" isn't a complete disaster, it lacks direction and purpose and achieves very little of what it sets out to. It's somewhat messy and repetitive, and fails in particular to place the audience in the world of Alexander the Great and make us feel the importance of his story. Strangely, the otherwise charismatic Colin Farrell doesn't quite seem able to cope with the demanding role. Do we believe in Alexander? Do we care for him? Not really. **1/2 (Julie Vinten)

Alexander the Great said: "I'd rather live a short life of glory than a long one of obscurity." This movie is a major disappointment unworthy of the legend. It's a stunning cataclysm of epic proportions - shame on Oliver Stone for making this abysmally horrid mess. A talkative Anthony Hopkins sets the pace by droning monotonously. Poor Colin Farrell, trapped inside the bullshit dialogue, trying desperately to rise above it. However, even the gifted Irishman can't save this unwatchable dreck from disaster. Clocking in at three hours, Stone's nightmarish rambling feels like 300 years. Then there's the hodge-podge of accents - everything from Farrell's Irish brogue, mixed with American, to Angelina Jolie's Russian inflection as Alexander's mother. Stone's frenetic portrayal of the greatest military commander in history is unintelligent and insulting. As bad as it gets.(Laimons Juris G)

Christmas with the Cranks

Director: Joe Roth

This is a stinker of a movie if ever I saw one. John Grisham - the famed author of exciting courtroom thrillers - might have written the novel on which this monstrosity is based, but I bet he never wrote the script for this. He couldn't have. I bet the filmmakers took the idea, forgot the point, and went for stupid slapstick and outrageous sentimentality instead. All the actors come off as complete morons in this sugar-coated piece of crap, which is a little sad, since we know from other films that not all of them are. This movie can't cough up even a single decent laugh. Not even a chuckle. Joyless, humorless and idiotic, it's painfully obvious that this film was made by someone with a minimal knowledge of moviemaking. Don't expect it to boost your Christmas spirit. 1/2 (Julie Vinten)

It is a sad sight indeed when capable actors are associated with such witless shenanigans. After her success in "Freaky Friday" Jamie Lee Curtis hits rock bottom with this not very funny comedy. At the same time, Tim Allen would have been better off if he had made the third part to "The Santa Clause." Since their only child is in Peru with the Peace Corps, the Kranks (Curtis and Allen) decide to skip Christmas and take a Caribbean luxury cruise instead. Naturally, at the last minute their daughter decides she's coming home for the holidays after all, bringing her new fiance along as well. Unfortunately, there is nothing even resembling a laugh in this routine and cheerless effort. "Christmas with the Kranks" only goes from awful to worse.* (Laimons Juris G)

***** Excellent. Don't miss it!

**** Very good. See it!

*** Good. It's up to you.

** Average. Nothing special.

* Waste of time. Forget it.