THE MATRIX RELOADED, DIRECTED BY THE WACHOWSKI
If you can survive the first 40 minutes or so, you'll be just fine. What
once was spectacular in a just-wait-'til-you-see-what-we'll-do-next kinda
way has now ground down to a high level of craftsmanship and execution.
Keanu Reeves has found himself in this role - his more-with-less acting
centers the whole film. If we're stuck with (sigh) council meetings, then
we're also blessed with a highway car chase that reminds you of great
ones past and then blows 'em all away. If we lose the twists and turns
of the original, then we gain some great new characters. And if we get
to complain that this one ain't as amazing as the first, then we should
be able to enjoy the proficiency and care that's been shown here. It'll
help you forget those council scenes and Jada Pinkett Smith. B+
DOWN WITH LOVE, DIRECTED BY PEYTON REED
A triumph of look and nostalgia. It mimics an era without satire or commentary
- it loves the Hudson-Doris pictures and hopes the date-movie crowd will
have at least heard of them. Free of the burden of Obi-Wan, Ewan McGregor
grins, relaxes, and keeps the whole thing together. He embodies the swingin'
'60s without condescension; he's never quite commanded a movie like he
does here. That, and a whole lot of pretty surface, is enough for a diverting
M. WARD "TRANSFIGURATION OF VINCENT"
Indie purists love their underdogs - those just-me-and-my-songs oddballs
who crawl out of the small towns and weird bogs that make up most of America:
Sparklehorse, Conor Oberst, even Spoon. These misfits' distinct, though
not always worthwhile, voices give comfort that there are things out there
not yet mass-marketed by Clear Channel. And into that world stumbles Mr.
Ward. From its impenetrable title to the insular instrumental segues between
the real songs, the man's second record risks coyness at every turn. What
saves him is sincerity and uncalculated emotion - even the '80s Bowie
cover refuses to wink at the knowing hipsters in the room. He's warm and
romantic and heartbroken. What any of this has to do with Vincent I'll
happily leave to the obsessives on the Internet and the albinos who run
'zines everywhere. A-
YEAH YEAH YEAHS "FEVER TO TELL"
Karen O's angry even though she isn't always articulate, liberating, or
cleansing. But she and her band refuse to be one-note, either. Her voice
has shadows of PJ Harvey and Chrissie Hynde, underloved and vulnerable
without giving an inch. She isn't to the level of either of them yet -
songs that accompany the vengeful riffs 'n' noise will go a long way toward
helping on that front. But when she connects on "Maps," it gives
us all hope that she'll go beyond the shock tactics to something more
permanently human. And, in another sign of progress, her album improves
with each play - and gains in momentum and depth as it rolls along. B+
50 CENT "GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN'"
If this walking bullet wound wasn't produced by Dre and Em, would you
care as much? His casual ferocity can't be questioned, but his hype sure
can. Here is one more inner-city thug who discovered he could make a ton
in hip-hop without risking jail. He sings about vendettas, drugs, the
5-0 - nothing too surprising there. But his ripped-from-his-own-headlines
routine gets tiresome over 19 tracks. And what does it mean that my favorite
moments are when Em cameos or when "In Da Club" comes back on
- songs, in other words, that have nothing specific to do with 50 Cent?
THE MUSIC "THE MUSIC"
These total poseurs get by more on charisma than they do hooks. Multi-taskers
will be happy to know that you can read a book, call your loved ones,
balance your checkbook, and work on your memoirs with this humming
in the background - such weightless guitar bravado never taxes your brain
but also never sounds less than pleasant. And upon closer inspection,
the sheer force of this band's attitude washes over you, giving you the
impression that there's some mighty rockin' occurring. Insubstantial but
also unpretentious. B