"Panic Room" -- Jodie Foster is Meg, a recently divorced mother who moves with her teenage daughter into a large Manhattan brownstone expecting to begin a new life but confronts a night of terror instead in this superior cat-and-mouse thriller. The house is massive, four stories, six fireplaces, an elevator and a "panic room," a steel-enforced, self-sufficient hiding place designed to keep intruders out. Meg and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are spending the first night in their new home when three men break in looking for millions of dollars supposedly stashed there by the former owner. Meg and Sarah flee to their hideaway and lock themselves in -- but, of course, that's where the money is. Hence a standoff and nobody can afford to give in. In the end, it's not who makes the biggest blunder but who outthinks the other. Forest Whitaker is the most formidable of the invaders, a quiet, sensitive man lured by the promise of a big payoff but with his hands full trying to keep his loose-cannon cohorts (Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto) from killing one another or anyone else. Foster's Meg, meanwhile, is cool, confident, not one to panic, even in a panic room. Director David Fincher keeps the suspense taut throughout, a real pulse-pounder. 2002. 112 minutes. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Rated R (violence, language).
"Death to Smoochy" -- This tale of of two clowns is a dark comedy that satirizes children's television shows but while on the right road to parody never quite gets there because of its many detours. While Danny DeVito's film has its moments -- and funnyman Robin Williams -- it's often off the mark. Williams plays Rainbow Randolph, disgraced former star of KidNet's most popular kiddie show, a big fan favorite who's really a mean-spirited, boozing blackmailer who got dumped from his lofty perch when he got caught extorting money from stage parents. The network promptly replaces him with obscure, too-goody-goody-to-be-true Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) who prances about in costume as Smoochy the Rhino (shades of Barney!) and is an instant sensation. Meanwhile, an increasingly obsessed Rainbow is doing everything he can to destroy Smoochy with about as much success as the coyote against the roadrunner. As Mopes takes control of his career and Smoochy's fame grows, a lot of menacing people show up; there's even a murder or two and other misdeeds of all sorts before a windup reminiscent of "The Manchurian Candidate" with an unlikely hero emerging. DeVito also co-stars as Sheldon's conniving agent and Catherine Keener provides the love interest. 2002. 93 minutes. Warner Home Video. Rated R (profanity, sexual situations, violence).
"Frailty" -- It's a dark and stormy night, naturally, as this weird tale unfolds. Told mostly in flashback, the strange story is about the Meiks family, which seemed normal in every respect but in truth, or so we are told, was definitely not. Bill Paxton, who has turned out a well-crafted, disturbing thriller in his impressive directorial debut, plays a widowed auto mechanic, a good father, a very religious man who goes off the edge. One night he tells the boys, Fenton and Adam, that he has been visited by an angel and instructed, direct from God, to begin killing "demons" masquerading as ordinary humans to make ready for the coming final Judgment Day battle. The boys are horrified as they are forced to watch as he carries out his grisly task (mostly off camera). Adam seems to go along with it after a while but Fenton tries to stop it but no one will listen to him. That's the account told years later by the adult Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) to an FBI agent (Powers Boothe), who's investigating a series of recent serial killings, and says he will prove who's behind it all. Proving anything at this point is difficult, though, as the story takes a series of sudden swerves and keeps you guessing. 2001. 99 minutes. Lions Gate Home Entertainment. Rated R (violence, some language).
"Kissing Jessica Stein" -- A sprightly girl-meets-girl romantic comedy. A refreshing look at a still somewhat controversial subject, handled lightly and carefully, neither risky nor risqué, just a love story involving two young people, both of whom happen to be female. However, neither is a lesbian. Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) is straight, fluttery and flighty and having a devil of a time finding the right guy. Helen (Heather Juergensen) is cool, always in control and bisexual. When they meet, the attraction is obvious but they are friends first before straying into the sexual realm. Jessica's main problem is trying to keep it a secret. The film has solid appeal for most everyone who likes this sort of movie, gay or nay. 2002. 94 minutes. Fox Home Entertainment. Rated R (sexual content and language).
Coming up: the Sandra Bullock thriller "Murder by Numbers," Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending," the romantic thriller "Enigma" and the charmer from India "Monsoon Wedding" ... "We Were Soldiers" remained No. 1 among the nation's video renters this week. But, "The Rookie" is warming up... And, for your future book: "Stuart Little 2" is set for a Dec. 10 bow on video...
Making its DVD debut, Godfrey Reggio's spellbinding visual poem "Koyaanisqatsi," Hopi for "life out of balance," is a hypnotically beautiful film looking even better in its digital presentation. The film, first released in 1983, soars across the United States searching for things, both man-made and natural, the journey accompanied by a memorable Philip Glass score. Also making its entrance on DVD is the second in the series, "Powaqqatsi," which focuses more on man-made beauty and industry and is no less fascinating...
On television this year, the entire first season of the unique Fox action series "24" took place over one 24-hour period in real time, one hour at a time. Now, in an unusually early debut on DVD, "24" takes place on six discs, four episodes per disc, still one hour at a time. It's a rousing yarn starring Kiefer Sutherland as anti-terrorist agent Jack Bauer trying to prevent an assassination of a presidential candidate while looking for his kidnapped daughter and a spy within his ranks and, with treachery everywhere, trying to stay alive in the process.
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