Shia LaBeouf and Will Smith in I, RobotI, ROBOT

I, Robot is perfectly titled, because it's about as mechanical and impersonal as Hollywood entertainment gets. That's not to say it's completely unenjoyable - Alex Proyas' sci-fi work, inspired by a series of Isaac Asimov stories, features some nifty set pieces, including an exciting mid-film sequence involving a hundred 'bots doing considerable damage on an underground freeway - but the film progresses with so little inventiveness that you'll have better luck tallying up the film's numerous influences (Blade Runner, A. I., Minority Report ... ) than finding an original idea.

Chulpan Khamatova and Daniel Bruhl in Good-bye, Lenin!GOOD BYE, LENIN!

Around this time last year, while local audiences were flocking to Pirates of the Caribbean and Bad Boys II, the Brew & View presented the area debut of 2003's finest film to that point - the extraordinary Capturing the Friedmans - and, amazingly, the Rock Island venue has done it again this summer.

As a screed against George W. Bush to justify the feelings, suspicions, and thoughts of people who already dislike the president and plan on voting against him in November, Fahrenheit 9/11 is strikingly effective.
During the screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 that I attended, someone opened the door of the theatre and screamed into the auditorium, "Liberals suck! Michael Moore's a bitch!" and ran off. Moore has, once again, obviously touched a tender nerve with his latest production.

Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2SPIDER-MAN 2

Spider-Man 2 might not be, as many critics have concluded, the greatest comic-book movie ever made, but it's entirely possible that Sam Raimi is the greatest director the genre has ever had.

President George W. Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11FAHRENHEIT 9/11

I have several friends, including professed liberals, who can't stand Michael Moore, and it's not hard to see why: Even if you're on-board with Moore's politics, his glibness, bullying tactics, self-promotion, relentless simplifying, and anything-for-a-laugh gags can get in the way of his Bigger Picture, to the point where his methods overcome his message.

Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman in The Stepford WivesTHE STEPFORD WIVES

As crummy movies go, Frank Oz's remake of The Stepford Wives is pretty darned terrific. The film has been plagued by rumors of trouble on the set and post-production nightmares and general confusion throughout, and you can practically see these turmoils on the screen; the movie is bizarrely assembled and terribly edited - characters' motivations change from scene to scene with little rhyme or reason - and it all falls apart before your eyes. Oz doesn't seem to have a clue how to treat the material, but one person does: screenwriter Paul Rudnick. He knows exactly what he's up to - a bitchy, campy tale involving a group of nerdy men who enact revenge on the successful women they feel inferior to - and individual scenes in this Stepford Wives are so hilarious and dead-on smart that you wind up enjoying the movie despite being aware of how awful much of it is. Like last summer's Rudnick-written Marci X, it's a perfect example of a comedy in which individual set pieces far exceed the whole, and it can be blissfully enjoyed on its own underwhelming terms.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter & the Prisoner of AzkabanHARRY POTTER & THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

Anyone interested in the distinction between routine direction and inspired direction - anyone who has ever wondered what, exactly, it is that a director brings to a movie - should compare Chris Columbus' first two Harry Potter films with Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, helmed by Alfonso Cuaron; Columbus' films are the work of a by-the-numbers craftsman, and Cuaron's is the work of an artist. (Which isn't to say that everyone will prefer Cuaron's style; many people would rather dine on Big Macs than filet mignon.) Cuaron isn't quite able to overcome the series' built-in limitations - the familiarity of the storytelling arc, the "surprising" character reversals that aren't really much of a surprise, the fact that all three movies are too damned long - but for those viewers, like me, who've never been overly enamored of the Harry Potter film series, Azkaban is as fine an entertainment as you could hope for, a visually audacious work with moments of true magic, and it improves on Chris Columbus' vision tenfold.

The Day After TomorrowTHE DAY AFTER TOMORROW

Despite all the hullabaloo about the film re-opening vociferous debate about global warming and its possible effects, Roland Emmerich's disaster saga The Day After Tomorrow winds up begging exactly one question: Just how much stupidity are mass audiences willing to accept in their summer blockbusters? In any disaster movie, rolling your eyes at the ridiculous onscreen events comes with the territory, but the enjoyable ones temper that reaction with speed and laughs; Emmerich's cheeky, entertaining Independence Day managed the feat of making the end of the world look like an absolute hoot, and that film, within its sci-fi format, is probably the most sheerly pleasurable disaster flick of the past 20 years.

Shrek 2SHREK 2

If a sequel manages to make any improvements on the original, it's usually cause for at least minor celebration, so I was pleased to see a few changes for the better in Dreamworks' computer-animated Shrek 2.

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