Revenge is a dish best served cold, but piping hot will do if the entrée—in this case a meat pie—includes the remains of your worst enemy's two beloved sons. Such grisly flourishes are a staple of Titus, director Julie Taymor's visually dazzling but ultimately uninvolving take on William Shakespeare's blood-soaked Titus Andronicus.
Taymor, the innovative stage director who won a Tony Award for her Broadway production of The Lion King, fills her debut film with striking images: weary, mud-spattered soldiers marching home from battle; imperial banners unfurling like rivers of blood from atop a stark white palace; a man chopping off his own hand and the table beneath the lopped limb going crimson.
Taymor's go-for-the-big-picture approach engages one's eyes more than one's heart and mind. Not that Taymor was working from primo source material. Titus Andronicus, a tale of political intrigue in ancient Rome, is one of Shakespeare's earlier, lesser tragedies. It is of interest mostly because its two vengeful leading characters, Titus (Hopkins), an ousted general, and Tamora (Lange), the ruthless queen who engineered his downfall, are considered early models for the playwright's later masterpieces of mayhem, Lear and Lady Macbeth. Although Shakespeare managed moments of haunting eloquence in Titus Andronicus, his usual poetry is overwhelmed by all the amputations (both voluntary and not), beheadings, rapes and ghastly repasts.
Of the cast, Hopkins plays it large and mostly gets away with it. Lange, encased in a gee-that's-gotta-hurt gold-metal bra, gets better the more malicious she becomes (she is the enemy whose offspring Titus serves up in his macabre meal). Titus's freshest performance, though, comes from Lennix as Aaron, a Moor consumed by free-floating malevolence after too many years spent living with racism. (R)
Bottom Line: Proves even Shakespeare had his off plays
In Mr. Death, documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) trains his unblinking camera on geeky Fred A. Leuchter Jr. and lets him talk and talk and talk. Leuchter proudly explains how he went from repairing electric chairs to designing them, then on to building lethal-injection machines in an oxymoronic attempt to make executions more humane. He didn't stop there. Based on scant scientific training and evidence (the failure of a lab to find significant traces of gas on wall fragments Leuchter covertly removed from an Auschwitz death chamber), he declared the Holocaust a fiction. By the end of this fascinating film, Leuchter has been revealed as a pathetic, clueless—and dangerous—dweeb. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Chilling portrait
Angela Bassett, James Spader, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robin Tunney
Sci-fi films are so educational. In Supernova, one learns that it is necessary to strip naked if the space ship you are traveling in is about to jump dimensions. (Bet you'll never grumble again about having to fasten a seat belt before an airplane takeoff.) Why, exactly, Supernova's crew must disrobe for such a maneuver (other than to allow its buff stars to display the results of long personal-training sessions) is never explained. But much of what goes on in this thoroughly mediocre film is never explained or—more to the point—defies explanation.
A putative thriller set in the 22nd century, the film stars Spader and Bassett as crew members on a medical rescue vehicle. The ship answers a distress signal and comes to the aid of a mysterious stranger (Peter Facinelli). Faster than you can fall asleep, several others on board meet nasty endings. Spader and Bassett must stop the evil before the universe as they know it is destroyed. All of which plays out even more boringly than it reads. The movie is edited, particularly in its final scenes, in a herky-jerky fashion, which may be why last-minute replacement director Walter Hill (48 Hours) took his name off the final credits after the studio took control of the film. (Hill's nom de bomb here is Thomas Lee, instead of the now too widely recognized Alan Smithee.) Bassett and Spader do what they can, but their lines are so wooden even Gepetto couldn't make this stuff come alive. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: A black hole
>Cradle Will Rock Ambitious, passionate and sprawling film by writer-director Tim Robbins focuses on artistic ferment during the Great Depression. (R)
The End of the Affair Radiant Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes star in an affecting romance set in World War II-era London. Stays with you. (R)
Galaxy Quest Smarter-than-it-looks comedy features Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver as has-been stars of a Star Trek-like TV show who find themselves lost in actual space. Sure cure for winter blahs. (PG)
Girl, Interrupted Winona Ryder heads for the loony bin, where the actress finds her best role in years. (R)
Magnolia Prodigiously talented director-writer Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) will make a great movie someday, but this three-hour ensemble drama tries too hard. Tom Cruise
, however, gives an electric performance. (R)
Next Friday Drug, sex and potty jokes abound in a dumb comedy that's entirely skippable this Friday and every other day of the week. (R)
Play It to the Bone Woody Harreison and Antonio Banderas play rival boxers in a rambling, disappointing noncontender from sportscentric director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham and Tin Cup). (R)
Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Harry J. Lennix