Laura Linney and Kevin Spacey in The Life of David GaleTHE LIFE OF DAVID GALE

Reading the reviews for Alan Parker's The Life of David Gale, you might assume that it's the most staggeringly offensive cinematic release since Freddy Got Fingered. (Glenn Kenny of Premiere magazine and Roger Ebert gave the film a combined total of zero stars.) And upon realizing that the film in question boasts the considerable acting abilities of Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, and Laura Linney, not to mention direction by two-time Oscar nominee Alan Parker, you'd have every right to wonder: Can the movie be that god-awful? The short answer is: No, it's not. Parker's film is bad, yes, but it's bad in typical Hollywood fashion, especially for a paranoid thriller; the plot twists are ludicrous, the dialogue, especially when dealing directly with the film's polemic over the death penalty, is clunky, and it's so high on its do-gooder mentality that it comes off as vaguely embarrassing. But despite what you might have read, it's not the work of Lucifer, merely the work of talented individuals acting uncharacteristically like hacks.

Sulley in Monsters, Inc.MONSTERS, INC.

Saying that Pixar's Monsters, Inc. is the weakest of its quartet of computer-animated feature films is like bitching that you got a Jaguar for Christmas when you really wanted a Porsche; instead of achieving the genius-level greatness of the Toy Story films and A Bug's Life, the studio's new work is just brilliantly designed, cleverly plotted, and funny as all get-out. What's to complain about?

Johnny Depp in From HellFROM HELL

You can be forgiven for assuming that From Hell, Allen and Albert Hughes' re-telling of the Jack the Ripper saga (based on the immensely popular graphic novel), is a follow-up to Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, what with its previews focusing on a shadowy murderer, lots of fog and mist, Johnny Depp's investigator speaking in a British accent (Cockney this time), and Heather Graham in the Christina Ricci role of the Corseted Love Interest.

D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, and Bernie Mac in The Original Kings of ComedyTHE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY

If The Original Kings of Comedy, the filmed preservation of the wildly popular comedy revue, were merely as funny as it is, it would probably stand as the best American movie of the year so far. But director Spike Lee has done something incredibly savvy with the project. Aided by the terrific editor Barry Alexander Brown, Lee has given the material true cinematic fluidity. The editing rhythms are all right on, the camera is always right where it should be to give the performers their biggest laughs (and it seems that Lee has about a hundred different cameras at his disposal), and there are just enough segments with the performers joshing and relaxing off-stage to give the film true dimension; we're aware that their stand-up personas only hint at who they are.

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