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March 2001

Rise and Shine

Upcoming screen gems — not a snoozer in the bunch

At the height of the Cold War, in October 1962, American spy planes discovered missiles being set up in Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida, something the Russians promised they would never do. The Russians now had first-strike capabilities and could annihilate any city in the United States. President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood), Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Steven Culp) and adviser Kenny O’Donnell (Kevin Costner) are the three men who must decide what to do. Plenty of guys in suits and military uniforms give a number of options, none of which seems likely to work. At just under two and a half hours long, Thirteen Days doesn’t have an iota of downtime. Powerful performances by all the cast members and a gripping storyline make for a film that is intelligent, thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable. Though firmly entrenched in 1960s Cold War politics, it is more a timeless example of courage under fire.

Loosely adapted from The Emperor’s New Clothes, this animated gem tells the story of a cocky young prince named Kuzco (David Spade), who rules over an ancient kingdom in Central America. Kuzco’s not above throwing a minion out a castle window for simply disrupting his “groove,” or displacing an entire village to build a mountaintop resort. A power-hungry court adviser by the name of Yzma (Eartha Kitt) schemes to usurp the throne and tries to poison him. Instead, the potion turns Kuzco into a llama, which then escapes into the jungle. Eventually, the prince-turned-llama must depend on an amiable but downtrodden peasant (John Goodman) to reclaim his identity and his place in the world. As one might have guessed, his experiences along the way make him a more compassionate monarch. A smart Disney film, devoid of pointless songs, or a time-consuming love story? It’s true, and it’s about time. The Emperor’s New Groove also features a funny cross-dressing scene, nodding to Fantasia and The Fly, among other films. But, best of all, it’s smart, funny and is enjoyable for all ages.

In 1959, a quiet little French village prides itself on an all-pervading sense of moderation. The locals aren’t having much fun. A hard-core strain of Catholicism has turned them into nothing more than well-behaved survivalists. The town’s mayor, Reynaud (Alfred Molina), sees to it that no one deviates from a strict moral code. One day Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her young daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), blow into town on the north wind and the status quo is broken. Vianne rents a shuttered patisserie from crusty Armande (Judi Dench) and turns it into a chocolate shop. Vianne knows more than just how to make elegant confections; she knows the effect that different chocolates have on emotions, and she prescribes them like medicine. The mayor regards her as a threat to the civic and religious establishment. Not only does unwed mother Vianne have the audacity to open her shop during Lent, but she also refuses to attend church, and she opens her home to Josephine (Lena Olin) after leaving her abusive husband. Reynaud tries to convince the upstanding citizens of the town to boycott the chocolate shop. Vianne manages to hold her ground despite her enemies, and her inspired creations begin to change lives. When another stranger, Roux (Johnny Depp), arrives in town, it’s Vianne’s life that changes. Director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules) is adept at interweaving fantasy and reality, and Robert Nelson Jacobs’ screenplay elicits many a laugh. The international cast is excellent. Like its real-life namesake, Chocolat is sweet and delightful.

Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is anything but a typical woman. As a gun-toting, martial-arts trained FBI agent, any attention to her physical appeal and feminine nature would mean a blow to her self-respect. Unfortunately, Gracie’s aggressive nature has branded her as a loose cannon, and the only one who believes in her is fellow agent and friend, Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt). When a notorious terrorist threatens to bomb the Miss United States beauty pageant, Eric gives Gracie the assignment of going undercover as a one of the contestants. The assignment appalls Gracie, not least because the contestants are judged solely on their physical appearance. But Gracie is also terrified of the challenge to act and look like a lady. Enter Victor Melling (Michael Caine), a beauty consultant, whose task is to transform Gracie into a beauty queen within 48 hours, infiltrate the pageant and nab the terrorist. This movie is all about Sandra Bullock, who is also its producer. If you like her, her personality, her vibrance, her humor, her goofiness, then Miss Congeniality is a winner.

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