Now in theaters: Die Another Day, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Frida and Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
Die Another Day — This is the 20th James Bond film in 40 years. The most successful franchise in movie history has racked up $7 billion in international ticket sales (in present-day dollars). It ain't broke, so they didn't fix it.
They did make a few improvements. When Halle Berry shows up on the screen, wearing a bikini and a knife, the theater full of New York critics I watched this movie with burst into applause. She's tough, she's smart and she's got attitude — not to mention the funniest line in the film.
A huge bad guy asks, "Who are you working for?"
"Yo' mama," Berry says.
Pierce Brosnan is the best Bond since Sean Connery — and this is the best Bond movie since Connery's run. At least until the fall-apart ending, which is too big and too silly, even for Bond. It's so long and loud you leave the theater shaken, not stirred. Still, this 007 is a 0010. Grade: B as in Bond.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — The secret is out — the second movie in the Harry Potter series is better than the first. It's got more magic, and it's more magical.
The first film was rushed to make its pre-Thanksgiving opening, and it did almost a billion dollars around the world. In Chamber, the special effects are state of the art. The Quidditch game, disappointing the first time around, is breathtaking.
The kids are better, too. But they're maturing so fast, the fifth installment might be re-titled Harry Potter Collects Social Security. Still, Kenneth Branagh is delicious as a vain wizard whose spells turn out wrong. Director Chris Columbus' spells turn out right. Grade: A-.
Frida — Director Julie Taymor, who brought The Lion King to Broadway, paints with an incredible palette. She's created a work of art about the works of art of two Mexican artists — Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
There are moments in Taymor's surreal representations of New York and Paris when the art draws too much attention to itself. But she gets profound performances from a fine cast. There is Oscar buzz for Selma Hayak's Frida. But Alfred Molina as Rivera, truly brings his bigger-than-life character to, well, bigger-than-life. Grade: B+.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown — If they gave an Oscar for movies that made you smile and stamp your feet, this documentary on the Funk Brothers — the back-up band on every Motown hit — would win hands down.
These guys played behind the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder — and had more No.1 hits than the Beatles, the Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis put together.
Mixing old footage and soundtracks with interviews and new performances, it's a treat watching guys in their 70s get a groove on. When I think about the great things that happened to me when I was a kid, these guys were playing on the soundtrack. Grade: A