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NEW RELEASES

BEYOND THE SEA Kevin Spacey serves as actor, co-writer, director and producer -- and probably caterer, key grip and best boy, if we search the closing credits hard enough -- on this misguided vanity project that's so in love with its creator (as opposed to its subject), it makes Yentl look like a model of modesty and restraint. The problems start with the casting of Spacey as Bobby Darin, whose life was a series of peaks and valleys as he fought a crippling illness since childhood, became a beloved singer via such hits as "Splish Splash" and "Mack the Knife," married popular actress Sandra Dee (and later divorced her, although the movie conveniently omits this fact on the way to a happy ending) and even emerged as a respected, Oscar-nominated actor. Spacey is 45 years old, yet here he's playing Darin from his late teens(!) up until his death at the age of 37; the effect is at once creepy, comical and impossible to digest. The film-within-a-film framing device, meant to deflect criticism of the distortions ("He was born to play the role!" someone says of Darin, though the line of course is really about Spacey), is almost as clumsy as the flat-footed musical numbers, and a good supporting cast that includes Kate Bosworth (as Sandra Dee), Bob Hoskins and John Goodman is left stranded with little to play. I'd recommend skipping the movie and buying the soundtrack instead, except that Spacey does his own singing as well -- not bad, but why settle for an imitation when the original is on hand? Best then to just order The Ultimate Bobby Darin CD, which features the genuine article performing his catchy signature tunes. 1/2

 

CURRENT RELEASES

ALEXANDER Suddenly, Caligula is starting to look good. Alexander is unremittingly dull, visually unappealing, narratively muddled, inadvertently campy, indifferently acted -- and that's just for starters. Colin Farrell gets trampled under the weight of director Oliver Stone's expectations in tackling the role of the warrior king whose claim to fame was conquering most of the known world by the time he was Ashton Kutcher's present age. Anthony Hopkins provides the doddering exposition -- lots and lots of exposition -- and, as Alexander's parents, Angelina Jolie (sporting an accent that suggests she's channeling Bela Lugosi) and Val Kilmer get to bellow and howl and gnash their teeth, to little avail. As for the murky battle sequences, they seem to have been shot by a camera while it was tumbling around inside a dryer.

THE AVIATOR This sprawling biopic about Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), the notorious billionaire-industrialist-producer-flyboy, employs all the cinematic razzle-dazzle we’ve come to expect from Martin Scorsese, yet there’s an added layer of excitement as the eternal cineaste finally gets to step back in time via his meticulous recreations of the sights and sounds of Old Hollywood (look for Cate Blanchett in a show-stealing turn as Katharine Hepburn). Still, the behind-the-scenes movie material takes a back seat to other aspects of Hughes’ life — namely, his adventures in the field of aviation and his lifelong battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. At its best, the film is a stirring tale about a man whose inner drive allowed him to climb ever higher and higher, grazing the heavens before his inner demons seized the controls and forced the inevitable, dreary descent. 1/2

BLADE: TRINITY Blade II was that rare sequel that managed to trump the original, but the franchise ascension ends there. Blade: Trinity is easily the least of three, an overlong action yarn that has nothing fresh to say on the subject of vampires nor on the curious holding pattern of Wesley Snipes' career. Snipes again plays the taciturn Blade, the half-man, half-vampire whose mission to wipe out all bloodsuckers leads him to Dracula (dull Dominic Purcell), recently resurrected to help his demonic descendants take over the world. Or something like that. Except for the amusing inclusion of a vampire Pomeranian, writer-director David S. Goyer's thudding screenplay lacks a sense of the fantastic -- who wants to see endless car crashes in this context, or a foot chase between Dracula and Blade? 1/2

CLOSER How much one enjoys Closer fully depends on how charitable one feels toward the characters at the center of Mike Nichols' lacerating film, in which four people (Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen) in messy relationships take the notion of "brutal honesty" to such an extreme that their words suddenly qualify as deadly weapons. Viewers not interested in shifting through the rubble of these people's immorality in an effort to locate some common truths will have no use for this picture, the most divisive film about modern relations since Eyes Wide Shut. Others willing to dig deeper in an attempt to understand (if not always empathize with) these recognizably flawed human beings will be rewarded with some choice dialogue and a quartet of finely etched portrayals -- not to mention a heady buzz that will remain long after the movie's over. 1/2

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