Starring: Dario Grandinetti, Javier Camara, Rosario Flores, Leonor Watling, Roberto Alvarez, and Geraldine Chaplin
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Writer: Pedro Almodovar
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics (USA 2002)
MPAA Rating: R for nudity, sexual content and some language

There is perhaps no contemporary international filmmaker like Almodovar. For unlike many of his contemporaries, Almodovar has actually improved from film to film, both as a storyteller and as a director, over the last twenty years. After winning more than fifty awards for his last film, the sumptuous All About My Mother (including the Foreign Film Oscar), Spain's cinematic alchemist of passion, comedy, and regret has returned with an even more provoking meditation on loss and loneliness.

In comparison to Almodovar's other films, the most striking difference in TALK TO HER is the awe-inspiring writing; his career-long dalliances with camp and farce are held almost completely in check, employed only when they can support and deepen the plot. It's definitely not for everyone; TALK TO HER is as intense as it is meditative, as disturbing as it is passionate. The tale of two men who find they share a unique experience -- caring for two women who are in comas due to tragic accidents -- is a mix of absurdity and pathos that fits this director so well.

As in many of his films, Almodovar has stacked the deck by casting some of the world's best actors. The only real question about Dario Grandinetti, as the conflicted and overemotional Marco, and Javier Camara, as the pathetic romantic Benigno, is whether they could both win the Oscar. Grandinetti and Camara create tortured, heartbreaking characters more developed than any you'll see in 2002. The distressing ethics that Begigno and Marco apply to their relationships are fueled by their destructive natures and self-delusions, in some way...but they also lay bare the need for connection, which ultimately they find in each other.

Among Almodovar's collaborators on this film are three superb artists: Pina Bausch, whose dances form the prelude and coda of the film; Caetano Veloso, whose breathtaking song transforms the film's middle section; and Geraldine Chaplin, who makes a rare screen appearance. The title of the film is the easy answer; the struggle to communicate and express one's heart is the timeless battle that Almodovar illuminates so poetically.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rick Yune, Toby Stephens, Judi Dench, John Cleese, and Madonna
Director: Lee Tamahori
Writer: Neil Purvis and Robert Wade
Distributor: MGM (USA 2002)
MPAA Rating: R for action violence and sexuality

First, a disclaimer: I am a Bondaholic. I've got the books, got the DVDs, still got the Junior Spy Kit from my childhood. So it is not without a significant bit of excitement and trepidation that I approach the subject of DIE ANOTHER DAY, the 20th film in the James Bond franchise. Because when I tell you it's good, believe me -- I've seen them all, and I know what I'm talking about.

Disclaimer done, let the praise begin for director Lee Tamahori, the dynamic director (Once Were Warriors) who electrifies Brosnan's Bond, propelling him into personal danger of a sort we've not seen before...and to the best 007 outing in modern times. Arguably, this DNA-swapping thriller is the best since Roger Moore's debut in Live And Let Die almost thirty years ago.

Why, you may ask? Because DIE ANOTHER DAY is the kick in the pants the Bond franchise so desperately needs. Sure, it's still got gadgets, guns, and girls...not to mention those so-implausible-they're-cool action sequences. (An ice palace! A Cuban fortress!) But it's also got 007 in a desolate Korean prison camp -- tortured, bloody, fighting for his life, his reputation, and his job. While this subversion of the cool-as-ice history may upset those who like their Bond familiar and cozy, I say, with all of my critical faculties at hand...tough noogies. Tamahori's world makes for a much better film experience than, say, A View To A Snore, I Mean Kill.

Supported by Oscar winner Halle Berry as a sexy-but-not-dumb secret agent, and fighting two worthy adversaries in Toby Stephens and especially Rick Yune, Brosnan finally assumes the mantle of the world's favorite spy with the right combination of wit and sincerity. It's not everyday a Bondaholic like me can say this: see the new James Bond film, because it's hands-down the best action film of the year.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Rade Serbedzija, Do Hai Yen, and Do Thi Hai Yen
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writer: Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan
Distributor: Miramax (USA 2002)
MPAA Rating: R for images of violence and some language

Graham Greene's classic THE QUIET AMERICAN is really a moderately-entertaining war tale than aspires to epic greatness; Phillip Noyce's new film, similarly, is a low-budget Apocalypse Now that wants to be The English Patient. Admirable, certainly, but not much fun to watch.

The awards buzz has already begun for Michael Caine's performance as a British correspondent covering the French occupation of Vietnam in 1952. His complacency is shattered when the Pyle, the titular American charmingly played by Brendan Fraser, makes a play for his Vietnamese girlfriend Fong (Do Thi Hai Yeh). Against the backdrop of wartime horror and atrocity, a rather lackluster mystery is unraveled by Caine, without much payoff or excitement.

Director Phillip Noyce, who seems to be on something of a roll these days, brings an uninspired weariness to the proceedings, making even street bombings and a secret ambush duller than they should be. The beautiful Do Thi is not much of an actor either, a real problem for a film about a love triangle. For Caine Lovers Only.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2002 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

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