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Post-Standard, The (Newspaper) - January 28, 2005, Syracuse, New York Friday. January 28.2005 THE POST-STANDARD PAGE E 3 I CNY Movie Movies aren't getting worse or better ByMickLaSalle San Francisco Chronicle Qlt seems that the quality of films (at least U.S. films) is steadily declining. How many in last year's top 10 would have made the cut 20 or 30 years ago? Ten years ago? Ed Mitchell, Belmont, Calif. A Here was my top 10 for 2004: "Dog- "Before "Fahrenheit "The "Stage "Callas Forever, "Hotel "Being Julia" and "We Don't Live Here Anymore." Here was my 1994 top 10: "Savage "Quiz "Pulp "The Cement "The Last "The "Mrs. Par- Now let's see what made Gene Siskel's list that didn't make Ebert's: "Once Upon a Time in "Entre "A Pas- sage to "Micki Maude" and "The Natural." These lists suggest to me that movies were no better in 1984 than they are today. Certainly, American movies were no better. Now let's go to 1974. Ebert's list: "Scenes From a "The Mother and the "Ama- "The Lasi Deiaii, "Day for "Mean "My Uncle Antoine" and "The Conversation." Titles that Siskel included were "Lacombe "Harry andTonto" and "Wed- ding in Blood." the quality drops back down, so we're not on a downward slide. Rather, the early 1970s were especially good. Most years have a similar number of great movies. However, one could argue that the cinematic health of a particular era has nothing to do with how great the great mov- ies are, but rather with how good the good movies are. I have a feeling that the true measure of 1974, for example, is that the average good movie in that period was pitched to an audi- ence of sentient, intelligent beings. That hasn't been true for at least 25 years. Foreign films have always had a promi- nent place on critics' lists. We're not getting oc TTtonTT Citric m T TmrpH 3S TWO THUMBS UP. INSPIRED BY ATRUE STORK "Naked Killer." If I were to combine both lists into a top 10, I'd definitely keep "Before "The Dreamers" and "Stage Beauty" from this year. Maybe I'd keep "Hotel Rwanda." So, at least on my list, 2004 stacks up evenly with 1994. I wasn't a critic in 1984, so let's go with Roger Ebert's list: "Amadeus." "Paris. "Love "This is Spinal Tap." "The Cotton Club." "Secret Heav- en." "The Killing Fields." "Stranger Than "Choose Me" and "Purple Rain." Sams: "The Little Theatre of Jean "Ali Fear Eats the "Man Is Not a "Young Frankenstein" and "The Front Page." Keep in mind all three left out "The Godfather, Part II." I'd say 1974 was a better year than or 2004. So what do we glean from this? A few tilings: Movies are no better or worse today than they've been for 20 years, but they were probably better 30 years ago. But if you go back another 10 years, to 1964. you'd see we lu. Are foreign films not as good as they once were? Well, Bergman's retired, and Truf- faut, Fassbinder, Fellini and Eustache are dead, so maybe that's the case. But I doubt it. Finally, to give you the short answer: Movies aren't getting worse or better, and this isn't z good time for movies or a bad time, it seems, boringly enough, to be an av- erage time. Ask Mick LaSalle at Include your name and city for publication, and a phone "for verification. Courtesy of Twentieth Csnt-jry Fox ROBERT De JWIO tries to get at the truth beh.ind his daughter's imaginary friend afterthey move into a big house in the horror film, "Hide and Seek.'5" takes Slow route By Chris Hewitt Knight Ridder News Service Preteen actress Dakota Fan- ning is at her most terrifying when she's supposed to be funny or cute, so it's wise of "Hide and Seek" to acknowledge her terrifyingness. Fanning plays a girl, haunted by her mom's death, who makes Wednesday Addams look chip- per It's great casting. "Hide and Seek" taps into undercurrents of truth audiences will relate to: the enormous emo- tional power children have over their parents, the fear of a parent who sees his happy kid morph into a sullen Goth-tot and can't figure out how to get back to happy. "Hide and Seek" is a varia- tion on the evil-kid movie Robert De Niro cranked Roger Ebert's view The movie's setup is convincing and involving, the performances are right on tone, but then the third act goes on autopilot with a horror twist we're afraid we can see coming, and we're right. (R) Rating: out last year, with some "Sixth Sense" tossed in and a setting that appears to be on tne same block as that trouble-prone cou- ple from "What Lies Beneath." The two-person family of De Niro and Fanning moves into a gargantu-home that could easily accommodate both houses of Congress, apparently to suggest that nothing awful could happen in a house so luxe and lovely. But, of course, awful things do happen when the little girl's imaginary friend turns violent. Aside from its sharp, relatable themes, "Hide and Seek" has several things going for it: a script that mostly plays fair with us; authoritative actors (Elisa- beth Shue, Meiissa Leo and Famke Janssen) appear as an as- sortment of red herrings: and di- rector John Poison goes light on the cat-jumping-in-the-night jolts, favoring instead a more psychological brand of creepi- ng that I'd argue makes good use of moviegoers' imaginations but that some will say feels a bit slow. And speaking of slow, how dumb are the many people in the movie who take one look at the haggard, wasted little girl whose entire wardrobe is drawn from the mushroom family of colors and say, "She's a cute Yeah, Dakota Fanning is cute. Cute like Satan. You should be afraid of being 'Alone in Dark' By Betsy Pickle Scripps Howard News Service By conservative estimates, there are things more enjoyable to do in the dark than watch "Alone in the Dark." They range from getting busy with George Clooney (or the hottie of your choice) to disem- boweling yourself with a dull pocketknife. "Alone in the Dark" is a stu- pefyingly bad movie that should have no trouble holding on to the title of worst of the year. When it comes to putrescence, this is an overachiever. Acting, casting, dialogue, plot, music, art direction, set decora- tion, cinematography and espe- cially direction "Alone in the rwk" ahysmal in every category. The incompetence that went into the making of this film defies belief. This is director Uwe Boll's second movie nominally based on a video game, following the zombie-island fiasco "House of the Dead." Since Boll is Ger- man, perhaps he can be tricked into thinking that two strikes Courtesy of Lions Gate Films CHRISTIAN SLATER and Tara Reid play former lovers who are re- united in a battle against evil in "Alone in the Dark." "Alone in the Dark" begins with a rambling explanation about an ancient civilization, the Abkani, who opened the portal between darkness and light and didn't live to regret it. Professor Hudgens (Mathew who obviously doesn't teach history because he hasn't learned from the past, is obsessed with recon- necting with that darkness by using Abkani artifacts. Edward Carnby (Christian Slater) is a free-lance paranormal investigator who once worked for the top-secret Bureau 713, which manages to do less with tons of money, equipment and people than Mulder did working out of a basement with a skepti- Edward grew up in an orphan- age and has a gap in his memory that drives him to leave his spa- cious but cluttered warehouse loft apartment on international adventures. He returns from one trip and, after disposing of a Ter- minator-like killer, reunites with his miffed lover, museum-cura- tor babe Aline Cedrac (Tara Edward, Aline and Edward's Bureau 713 nemesis Burke (Stephen Dorff) end up battling Edward's fellow orphanage alumni, Hudgens and a host of lizard-like creatures that rip off "Alien" and all its imitators. It's a fight to the finish as the ac- tors try to see who can give the 'Baby5 much more than just boxing BABY, FROM PAGE E-1 a deep-seated pain, that the stoic icon of all those westerns and cop flicks never dared. Frankie Dunn is a guy teaching himself Gaelic. He quotes from Yeats, and sneers unsympathetically at the skinny simpleton who hangs around his place, the Hit Pit. That character, "'Danger" Barch. played by Jay is the film's weakest: a mawkish mascot there to milk sympathy, even though every boxing movie needs, and has, its deluded dreamer. Frankie is a Catholic and a cynic, attending Mass on a daily- basis, where he happily harasses the young priest with questions of doctrine and faith. And he is a failed father, with an estranged daughter, who finds redemption in the guise of the solitary woman who shows up at his door wanting to learn how to knock people silly. As for Maggie. Swank brings both physical and psychological conviction to the role. On the far side of 30, with no friends and no future, she latches onto the notion of becoming a prizefight- er with a doggedness and a gleam in her eye that will make you smile. In fact, it makes Mag- gie herself smile, and her sunny Hftprminarion sets Frankie who insists, at first, that she's too old to train, and anyway, he doesn't teach girls to grit his teeth and grumble sideways (as only Eastwood Freeman, watchful, discern- ing, presents an old man with holes in his socks and stories to tell, and does it with effortless- j looking ease. The exchanges be- i tween Frankie and Scrap, full of j unfinished sentences and affec- tionate insults, are a pleasure to witness: two seasoned col- leagues, with decades of history, good and bad. behind them, jaw- boning and jousting leaving the important stuff unsaid, be- cause they don't have to say any- thing at all. Watching Eastwood and Freeman is, of course, a huge part of the thrill, but the two screen legends are both dili- gently into their roles. "Million Dollar Baby" is a tricky thing to write about or discuss, when you're with folks who haven't yet seen it. It j doesn't follow the standard arc of a boxing-ring melodrama, and it doesn't leave you feeling pumped up and satisfied with the cheap triumphs of a j esque yarn. Eastwood and com- pany have aimed for something i more complicated and they've hit the target. This heart- breaking film, with its rich per- formances and simple eloquence, lays claim to greatness. 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