"White Oleander" -- A compelling chronicle of a teenage girl trying to grow up in a world of foster homes and troubled people after her mother is sent to prison for killing her lover. Astrid (played by newcomer Alison Lohman) is a good kid, talented, thoughtful and devoted to her mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a free-spirited artist and domineering though loving mom. After Ingrid draws a 30-to-life prison sentence for the murder of her boyfriend ("We made love and then he said he had a date," she angrily explains), Astrid goes into the uncertain network of foster homes. First stop is with the family of an ex-stripper turned Bible-thumping Christian named Starr (Robin Wright Penn), but things grow violent because she suspects Astrid is out to steal her man. Next comes Claire (Renee Zellweger), a lonely, insecure former B-movie star who fears her often-absent husband is having an affair. She and Astrid hit if off well but Ingrid, from prison, manages to help botch that up and, in so doing, reveals her true nature to her daughter. Ingrid is like the flower of the title, beautiful, seemingly fragile but hearty and poisonous. And Pfeiffer does a splendid job. 2002. 110 minutes. Warner Home Video. Rated PG-13 (mature themes, drug content, language, sexuality and violence).
"Moonlight Mile' -- This intriguing drama is about life, love and loss and how to deal with the emotion of unexpected tragedy, dedicated to "all our loves, departed or yet to arrive." Ben and JoJo Floss (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon) are trying to cope with the death of their daughter, an innocent victim of a diner shooting, insisting that her fiance, Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal), stay with them during this period of readjustment. They obviously see him as a main link to their lost daughter and desperately do not want to "lose" him. Ben pushes it even further by making Joe a partner in his real estate business, something Joe has little interest in but goes along with -- until he meets another young woman, Bertie (Ellen Pompeo), who has had a loss of her own. And, as we suspected, there's a closely guarded secret that will cause more upheaval. Writer-director Brad Siberling, who based the script on a personal loss of his own, develops his characters well as he takes them through tricky territory and gets solid acting from a top-notch cast that also features Holly Hunter as an attorney. 2002. 112 minutes. Touchstone Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (some sensuality and brief strong language).
"I Spy" -- Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson are a couple of mismatched spies looking for a stolen invisible plane in this humorous, often silly spoof based on the 1960s TV series that helped propel Bill Cosby to stardom. It's fun watching the boys go through their frantic, lighthearted antics in what otherwise would be a rather routine comedy-adventure. Murphy is Kelly Robinson, a motor-mouth middleweight boxing contender, recruited to help Wilson's bumbling spy Alexander Scott find the missing jet and halt the generic evildoer (Malcolm McDowell) from using it to cause international havoc. Famke Janssen plays a beautiful agent whose loyalties, like the spy plane, keep shimmering in and out of focus. (Fans of the old TV show may notice the racial switch: Robert Culp played Robinson, who used tennis as his cover, and Cosby was Scott, his "trainer.") 2002. 96 minutes. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (action violence, some sexual content and language).
"Below" -- Ghost stories work best when the potential victims have no place to run to escape the unknown terror that may await them. Where better to stage a tale of horror than a damaged World War II submarine with its natural claustrophobia and tension, its men trapped in the murky ocean depths with the enemy above trying to finish the job. Scary enough as is but then add the fact that the boat may be haunted. Bruce Greenwood, Matt Davis and Olivia Williams co-star in Director David Twohy's suspenseful, spookily atmospheric film that begins with the USS Tiger Shark rescuing three survivors of a torpedoed British hospital ship. Among them is a nurse (Williams) prompting some crew members to fear a woman aboard means they are in for bad luck. And, they are. 2002. 105 minutes. Dimension Home Video. Rated R (language and some violence).
"Inspector Gadget 2" -- That super cyber cop, Inspector Gadget, equipped with more built-in do-dads than a Swiss army knife, returns for a second go at his arch enemy Claw, who has just escaped from prison, in this kid-friendly, direct-to-video comedy adventure. Unfortunately, Gadget's gadgets keep malfunctioning, sidelining him for repairs and opening the way for his new pretty partner to have her shot. French Stewart (TV's "Third Rock from the Sun") takes over the lead role. 2002. 89 minutes. Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Rated G.
Coming up: "8 Mile," "Swimfan," "Just A Kiss," "Abandon" and "Welcome to Collinwood"... "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is making hefty tracks along video way as it continues as the No.1 rental across the land...
New on DVD: Two superior World War II era movies are being released in the Columbia TriStar's high-quality SuperBit process. One is the Oscar-winning "From Here To Eternity" (1953), spotlighting Army life at Pearl Harbor just before and after the Japanese attack with a terrific cast topped by Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra and Ernest Borgnine. The other is Wolfgang Petersen's "Das Boot," the 1981 German nail biter about a U-boat trying to survive against fierce wartime challenges. One of the best sub movies ever, graphically capturing the claustrophobic underwater world of the submarine, its boredom, filth, and sheer terror. Jürgen Prochnow does a bang-up job as the captain...
Trekkie alert: "Star Trek IV -- The Voyage Home" (1986) one of the best of the films based on the TV series, returns in a two-disc special edition on DVD, a fun-filled, informative excursion. Included are a breezy conversation between co-stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, who also directed, and an interesting discussion of time travel... Coming March 18: the first season of "NYPD Blue"...
Looking for another "Bond-anza," MGM brings back to theaters in May "Die Another Day," the latest James Bond spy thriller, but the emphasis will be different this time. Variety says the studio will be promoting the June 3 DVD version of the film with a 30-second commercial at more than 900 theaters nationwide... Warner has pulled a scheduled April 29 double-disc special edition release of "The Matrix." No reason given.