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Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Dawn, Ridley Scott’s blistering examination of a real U.S. military mission that occurred in Somalia in 1993, is a haunting indictment of American hubris. By focusing on combat instead of sentiment, Scott presents an impressionistic interpretation of war. Aided by a top-notch ensemble cast and plenty of gut-churning violence, the director comes closer than he ever has to meshing documentary-like realism with the sophisticated photography for which he is known, and he actually benefits from the pared-back human interaction of the screenplay. What’s more, Scott hasn’t made anything this socially relevant since Thelma & Louise more than a decade ago.

The Shipping News

While I didn't really like E. Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News, I did appreciate its treatment of life as a sort of savage ballet performed by people with two left feet. Having seen Lasse Hallström's film version, I like the book a whole lot better, if only because Hallström made its air of discomfort and melancholy something to wallow in, like a comfy four-poster bed. In short, it’s the kind of movie at which trendy filmgoers get a warm-fuzzy fix. Then again, how engaging can a movie be whose protagonist (Kevin Spacey) spends nearly every moment submerged in a kind of psychic drowning pool? What’s best about this movie are the glorious images of stark landscapes of Newfoundland.

Snow Dogs

One could be forgiven for expecting a movie set in Alaska and called Snow Dogs to be about, well, snow dogs. While there are a number of handsome four-legged animals in this unfortunate picture, they place a distant second in screen time to the two-legged, talking, upright variety of creature. The story, concerning a Miami dentist (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who travels to Alaska to learn about his parents after discovering he was adopted, is incoherent and juvenile. The enervating spectacle of watching adults act like children would have gone unnoticed if the rest of film were funny. It’s not. Making a film with animals is not exactly rocket science, and one would think that the Disney people could handle it. Apparently, they can’t.

Brotherhood of the Wolf

Certainly the strangest foreign flick to enjoy a wide American release in some time, Brotherhood of the Wolf is an arresting blend of costume drama, horror, action and romance. It also boasts one of the most preposterous stories ever filmed, which makes it a love-hate proposition: Some may adore its reckless mix of disparate elements and its robust energy, while others will detest the senselessness of the whole endeavor. With its fast-moving narrative about 18th-century martial artists chasing a murderous, mysterious beast, Brotherhood of the Wolf offers something akin to the nonstop stimulation of contemporary American action movies, rather than an inventive take on cinematic combat.

The Mothman Prophecies

Director Mark Pellington, who helmed the great paranoid thriller Arlington Road, confidently returns to the genre with this eerie piece that concerns supernatural mothlike beings that supposedly appear in the days before a disaster. Richard Gere is sympathetic as a reporter who finds himself drawn into a paranoid, nocturnal world. Impressionable viewers beware: Pellington has a knack for insinuating his creepy moods and eating holes in one's sense of security.

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