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Divide And Conquer

A.I. awed many, irritated others


Landing on dozens of critics' "10 Best" lists but also dismissed by multitudes of moviegoers as much ado about nothing, A.I. Artificial Intelligence ( out of four) jockeyed for position with Moulin Rouge and Vanilla Sky as 2001's premiere love-it-or-leave-it title. The sort of cerebral fare that invariably always does better with the Europeans ­ indeed, at $156 million, its international take was exactly double its stateside $78 million haul ­ Steven Spielberg's realization of his friend Stanley Kubrick's pet project (an adaptation of Brian Aldiss's short story, "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long") may be seriously flawed, yet it remains one of last year's more intriguing enterprises. Set in a future in which robots have become a part of everyday life, the movie casts Haley Joel Osment (in an excellent, underrated turn) as David, a robotic child who, like Pinocchio, longs to become a real boy. In telling his story, the film unfolds in three distinct acts. The first part, with its suburban setting and sense of childlike wonder, is pure Spielberg, while the second, which finds David lost in the real world, allows Spielberg and Kubrick to co-exist harmoniously (the emotional pull may belong to the former, but the hard-edged characterizations and imagery draw from the latter). It's during the unnecessary third act that things turn disastrous, as Spielberg's inability to nail abstract ideas that would have been right down Kubrick's alley drains the film of much of its power. A.I. is clearly worth experiencing at least once; just don't expect a film for the ages. The two-disc DVD offers a bonanza of supplemental material: behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, storyboards, trailers, you name it.

Nobody will ever confuse the high-mindedness of A.I. with the low-brow hi-jinks of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (***), but the latest comedy from writer-director Kevin Smith offers its fair share of dum-dum pleasures. At one point in this ode to America's favorite slackers, a director (Chris Rock) claims that the movie he's shooting will make "House Party look like House Party 2." Actually, Jay and Silent Bob is a house party in itself: Not only do characters from Smith's previous films (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma) appear, but other fixtures on the Miramax lot also turn up at unexpected moments. The end result is a scattershot comedy that's endearing in its own oafish way, as Smith's obsession with pop culture results in some hilarious vignettes and a handful of clever cameos. Thematically, this is like a profane Pee-wee's Big Adventure, as Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself) head from their New Jersey turf to Hollywood to stop production of a film based on their comic book alter-egos, Bluntman and Chronic. Extremely vulgar but undeniably funny, this movie relies on Smith's good-natured self-effacement to make itself seem sweet in spite of its potty mouth. The double-disc DVD contains an almost absurd amount of extra material, including 42 deleted scenes, music videos (including Afroman's "I Got High"), a gag reel, a Comedy Central special, and a hidden "Easter Egg" featuring Jason Mewes' gonads (don't ask ­ and don't look).

Far from being the year-end contender that its studio had doubtless anticipated, Hearts In Atlantis (***) proved to be both a critical and commercial dud, a far cry from the reception that greeted other non-horror Stephen King adaptations like The Green Mile and Stand By Me. Yet its minor pleasures worked their magic on me, and I'd take it in a heartbeat over director Scott Hicks' previous works: the overrated Oscar winner Shine and the deadly dull Snow Falling On Cedars. Set in 1960, the film casts Anthony Hopkins as Ted Brautigan, a mysterious figure who moves into a boarding house also occupied by struggling single mom Liz Garfield (Hope Davis) and her young son Bobby (Anton Yelchin). Liz is suspicious of Ted, but Bobby develops a friendship with the soft-spoken man, who, in between providing valuable life lessons, asks the lad to keep an eye out for shady characters he insists are after him. This isn't the smoothest King adaptation out there ­ scripter William Goldman has minimized the supernatural aspects of the tale so that their erratic appearances feel jarring and intrusive. But in addition to providing Hopkins with a formfitting role, the movie does an exquisite job of conveying the flush'n'blush of that first childhood romance: The scenes between Bobby and his sweetheart Carol (Mika Boorem) are beautifully handled, thanks in no small measure to the late Piotr Sobocinski's luminous cinematography and the wonderful performances by the two young actors. DVD extras include audio commentary by Hicks, an interview with Hopkins, and the theatrical trailer.

Josh Hartnett turns out to be unexpectedly charismatic in the current 40 Days and 40 Nights, but he was stiff and ill-at-ease in his handful of 2001 features, including Pearl Harbor and the Othello update O (**). Shakespeare's tragic tale of the Moor who "lov'd not wisely but too well" was given an overhaul in this version, but the end result proves to be as irrelevant as 2000's Hamlet, which clumsily transferred the story to the world of New York conglomerates. Here, the setting is a Charleston high school, as Odin (Mekhi Phifer), the sole black student, and his girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles) find themselves manipulated by their evil classmate Hugo (Hartnett). Tim Blake Nelson, whose performance as Delmar (one of the Soggy Bottom Boys) in O Brother, Where Art Thou? demonstrated a lot more creativity than his direction of this film, may have been trying to connect his movie to the present dilemma of school violence, but in the process, he and writer Brad Kaaya have stripped the Bard's tale of its power. The high school setting isn't remotely believable (at least in the Taming of the Shrew update 10 Things I Hate About You, the teens really sounded like teens), and with Shakespeare's delicious dialogue replaced with modern vernacular, the character of Othello/Odin has been trivialized, essentially coming off as a grandstanding teen who succumbs to the brutal instincts residing within him. Phifer and Stiles try to add import to their roles, but Hartnett's approach to Hugo/Iago is all wrong: I chortled when someone stated that his character is liked by everyone, since it's inconceivable any self-respecting clique would put up with this sullen creep for even a minute. Yet another double-disc DVD, extra features include deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, and a restored silent version of Othello.

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