The Great Escape

Chain Gangs! Cast Aways! Kung Fu! Chocolate! ... It's Time for the Holiday Film Previews

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Star Power

Brad Pitt and Benicio del Toro star in the latest from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels director (aka "Mr. Madonna") Guy Ritchie, Snatch, a crime thriller with a spider-web storyline about jewel thieves and boxers... Nicolas Cage takes a break (thank god) from high-octane actioners to make Family Man, a fable about a Wall Street hotshot who wakes up one day as a father. Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, and Jeremy Piven co-star in this tearjerker from Rush Hour director Brett Ratner... Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) stars in The Gift as a small-town psychic in the 1950s helping to track down a missing woman (Katie Holmes). Keanu Reeves plays a suspect who beats his wife, played by Hilary Swank, making her first screen appearance since her Oscar win for Boys Don't Cry. Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan) directs this Southern thriller, co-written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson... Mel Gibson knows What Women Want. The Parent Trap's Nancy Meyers directs the Aussie stud's first romantic comedy (or does Bird on a Wire count?), in which Gibson is a man with the ability to read the minds of the opposite sex. Helen Hunt makes her fourth appearance this year (following Pay It Forward, Dr. T and the Women, and Cast Away)... A screening was recently provided for Vertical Limit -- only it wasn't to promote the film, exactly, but to promote 30 minutes of the film's special effects. This mountain-climbing adventure stars Chris O'Donnell as part of an unlikely rescue team scaling K2 to save O'Donnell's trapped sister (Robin Tunney). Directed by GoldenEye's Martin Campbell.


Foreign Flavor

Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore returns to familiar territory with Malèna, about a 13-year-old Sicilian boy and his life-changing encounter with a stunning young war widow... Premier Brazilian filmmaker Carlos Diegues revisits the 1959 Marcel Camus film Black Orpheus with Orfeu, setting the tale in modern-day Rio. Both are based on the legend of the bard Orpheus and his love, Euridyce; here Orpheus is played by Brazilian pop star Toni Garrido... Australia makes its bid for Full Monty fame with Bootmen, about an industrial worker and visionary tap dancer in Sydney... Non-Stop is a 1996 Japanese film directed by Hiroyuki Tanaka (sometimes known as Sabu) that literally follows three men as they chase each other.


Documentaries

Kevin Macdonald's One Day in September tells the harrowing story of the Palestinian terrorist attack during the 1972 Munich Olympics. The film won the Oscar last year for Best Feature Documentary... Dame Judi Dench narrates Into the Arms of Strangers, written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris, a documentary about the little-known story of the Kindertransport -- in which 10,000 Jewish children escaped the Holocaust when the Nazis commissioned a train to take them from their homes in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to the safety of England... Sound and Fury is Josh Aronson's documentary about the controversial cochleal implants, innovative devices which allow deaf children to hear... Marcy Garriott (sister of Origin founder Richard) directs Split Decision, the story of Jesus Chavez, a promising boxer deported to Mexico for an old crime.


'Tis the Witching Season

Remember Mazes and Monsters? The 1982 Tom Hanks made-for-TV movie that had parents everywhere chucking their kiddos' favorite fantasy role-playing game straight into the fireplace? Well, Dungeons & Dragons won't be quite so incendiary. Instead, it pays homage to the imaginative alternate universe of D&D and brings to life all the orcs, red dragons, dwarves, and wizards who rule over the land. Jeremy Irons and American Beauty's Thora Birch star in the directorial debut of D&D fanatic Courtney Solomon... Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000 finds Bram Stoker's blood-sucker re-released in modern-day society. Directed by Patrick Lussier, the cast includes Jonny Lee Miller, Christopher Plummer, and the screen debut of Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick (graduation ditty popstress Vitamin C).


Comic Relief

Miss Congeniality, filmed in and around downtown last summer, stars Sandra Bullock (she produced as well) as a frumpy FBI detective who sasses up to go undercover at a beauty pageant. The film co-stars Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, and William Shatner... That 70s Show writer and UT grad Phillip Stark makes his feature film screenwriting debut with Dude, Where's My Car?, about two burners who awake after a late-night blowout to find they have lost their pot, their girls, and their car. Ashton Kutcher (Down to You) and Seann William Scott (American Pie's Stifler) star as "the dudes"... Snarkmeister David Spade joins jolly John Goodman for Disney's 39th animated feature, The Emperor's New Groove, about the adventures of a young emperor who is turned into a llama on his 18th birthday. Directed by Mark Dindal, whose only other film was the overlooked valentine to Warner Bros. animation, Cats Don't Dance... Irishman and struggling thespian Barry McEvoy staged readings of his original script, An Everlasting Piece, in Manhattan pubs prior to catching the interest of DreamWorks, who signed Barry Levinson to direct this humble comedy about rival toupee salesmen in Belfast: one Catholic (McEvoy) and the other Protestant (Brian F. O'Byrne).


Novel Ideas

The Claim is purportedly based on The Mayor of Casterbridge, but this Michael Winterbottom (Jude) period piece looks mighty different from that stodgy old 1886 Thomas Hardy snoozer about a mayor who sells his wife and child for gold. Then again, how would we know? We never read that book. Regardless, The Claim is a Western set during the California gold rush and the building of the nation's railroads. The compelling cast includes Wes Bentley (in his first role since American Beauty), Sarah Polley, Natassja Kinski, and Milla Jovovich... Sean Penn's latest film, The Pledge, is a loose adaptation of a book by Swiss playwright Friederich Dürrenmatt about a police chief bent on catching the killer of a young girl. The ensemble includes Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Aaron Eckhart, Vanessa Redgrave, Benicio del Toro, and Sam Shepard... The X-Files' Gillian Anderson stars in Terence Davies' adaptation of Edith Wharton's turn-of-the-century comedy of manners, The House of Mirth... Julian Schnabel (Basquiat) directs Before Night Falls, about novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas, from the memoir of the same name. Played here by Javier Bardem, Arenas was imprisoned in Castro's Cuba for his poetry and his homosexuality, and the film depicts his struggle to decide whether to stay with family in Cuba or seek exile in New York. Johnny Depp plays dual roles as a transvestite and a Cuban military officer, and Sean Penn appears as a Cuban peasant... Vatel is a lush period piece directed by Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields) and adapted from French by playwright and eminent wit Tom Stoppard (who won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love). Gerard Depardieu plays the title character, a steward competing with King Louis XIV (Tim Roth) for the hand of the lovely Anne de Montausier (Uma Thurman).


Based on a True Story

Based on a 1998 Vanity Fair article by William Prochnau called "Adventures in the Ransom Trade," Proof of Life is the story of a woman's desperate struggle to rescue her husband, who is being held for ransom in Latin America. When Ryan hires handsome hostage negotiator (Russell Crowe), things get worse before they get any better. The film is directed by Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman), but the film's notoriously embattled shoot -- in which a stunt double was killed and rumors swarmed about Ryan's affair with co-star Crowe -- threatens to overshadow the movie itself... "You'll never believe how close we came" -- that's the tagline to 13 Days, the political thriller dramatizing 1962's Cuban missile crisis. Bruce Greenwood, last seen as Ashley Judd's handsome, philandering hubby in Double Jeopardy, plays John F. Kennedy, though Kevin Costner heads the cast as a presidential aide. Directed by Roger Donaldson, whose last real hit was No Way Out.


Coming of Age

Save the Last Dance sounds like your standard light teen fare, but our hopes are buoyed by the fact that Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, Hamlet) stars in it. She plays a young dancer in an interracial relationship with Derek, played by Sean Patrick Thomas, not be confused with Sean Patrick Flanery, not to be confused with Shawn Michael Patrick... Tamra Davis (Billy Madison) directs Skipped Parts, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as the mother of Sam, a sexually precocious 14-year-old... In Knockaround Guys, a group of Hollywood upstarts play the sons of mobsters, traveling to Minnesota in search of a bag of cash. The young thesps include Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), Seth Green (Austin Powers), and Vin Diesel (Boiler Room), who are joined by vets John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper for the directorial debut of Brian Koppelman and David Levien, co-writers of the 1998 Matt Damon-Ed Norton film, Rounders... Seinfeld's Jason Alexander makes his directorial debut with Just Looking, a sweet period piece about a Bronx teenager hoping to catch two people in the world's most natural act.

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