, John Lithgow
He is mean, green and far from lean, but he's still the most appealing leading man to appear in movies since Toy Story's Woody. Shrek, the cranky creature at the center of this delightful and yet totally subversive animated feature from DreamWorks, is an ogre who lives in a swamp and, like Garbo, vants to be alone.
Shrek's problem is that he suffers from low self-esteem. He figures that his appearance (pea-soup coloring, bald pate, hulking yet stumpy build) puts people off. Rather than suffer the heartbreak of rejection, he has convinced himself he is happier alone. But as this computer-animated movie progresses, Shrek (voiced by Myers) learns that there are advantages to being different and that he can make friends, fall in love and, best of all, be loved in return.
Shrek imparts these worthy lessons with such rude humor and snarky cleverness that it never seems pedantic or preachy. This is one of the few family films that will keep adults as entertained as postkindergartners—honest—because it works on so many levels. At its simplest, it tells the story of how Shrek and a smart-mouthed donkey (Murphy), whom Shrek reluctantly allows to become his sidekick, rescue the lovely Princess Fiona (Diaz) from imprisonment in a castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.
At a deeper level, the movie tweaks the standard fairy tale by its tail. Shrek signals its intentions early: The first scene shows a close-up of a dreamy, ethereal princess in a storybook, only to have the camera pull back to reveal Shrek impatiently tearing pages out of the volume for toilet paper. Finally, Shrek is a Hollywood inside joke, with DreamWorks producer-studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg taking swipes at his former employer, Disney, with sly visual references to such Disney animation staples as Pinocchio, Cinderella and Snow White. No matter which level of the movie a viewer responds to, anyone past the age of 5 who doesn't laugh repeatedly while seeing Shrek needs to have his funny bone examined. (PG)
Bottom Line: Monstrously clever
Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Shannyn Sossamon, Rufus Sewell, Alan Tudyk
It's highly doubtful that fans attending jousting matches back in the 14th century broke into rousing choruses of Queen's "We Will Rock You" accompanied by the Wave. But that's the sort of thing that happens in A Knight's Tale, a gleefully anachronistic, teen-centric look at medieval days of yore.
When his master dies, William (Ledger, a likable actor), who's Tiger Beat-cute but a lowborn servant, impersonates the older knight so that he can compete in jousts open only to those of aristocratic birth.
William, it turns out, wields a mean lance, and his horseback heroics win the heart of a comely princess (Sossamon, who's stiff as a board). What will happen when his true identity is discovered?
Tale's plot is plodding and its characters too one-dimensional to hold strong appeal for adult filmgoers, but director-writer Brian Helgeland (Payback) is aiming squarely at MTV's legions. Think of Tale as Total Request 700 Years Ago. Hence the scene at a formal ball where William and his princess rock out to David Bowie's "Golden Years." Also of questionable authenticity but darned amusing are Sossamon's eyecatching hairdos and costumes, including a dress so daring Jennifer Lopez
will want to consider wearing it to her next awards show. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Knight errant
Two former high school classmates, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman, started an Internet company in 1998. Within a matter of months they had 233 employees and had raised $50 million. Their business, GovWorks.com, would allow folks to pay for parking tickets via e-mail. When the dot-com bubble burst last year, so did GovWorks.
Startup.com, a timely documentary by Jehane Noujaim and Chris Hegedus (The War Room), follows Tuzman and Herman as they pitch venture capitalists, wrestle technical kinks, clash over business problems and watch their dream go down the tubes like those of so many other netrepreneurs. Startup.com makes a fitting epitaph. (R)
Bottom Line: Click on this
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer, Bruce Davison
A disparate band of contemporary European and American travelers are stranded in an African desert when their bus driver gets lost. As their situation becomes more desperate, they stage an amateur version of King Lear. (Did I miss this episode of Gilligan's Island?) Spurred by their roles in Shakespeare's tragedy, they begin acting out their own personal dramas, arguing and having sex. The King Is Alive adheres to the strict tenets (no fake lighting, guns or extraneous music) of the Dogma '95 filmmaking school, founded by a group of Danish directors in 1995. Directed by Kristian Levring, King is by turns annoying, intriguing, boring and insightful. And always sandy. (R)
Bottom Line: Arid histrionics
>Bridget Jones's Diary Sassy fun. Ms, Jones (Renée Zellweger) must decide between rival beaus (Hugh Grant and Colin Firth). (R)
The Mummy Returns He's back and still baaad, but sequel is uninspired retread. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz return; wrestling's The Rock signs up. (PG-13)
Time and Tide Hong Kong action thriller with dizzyingly good camera work and an instantly forgettable plot. Something to do with bodyguards, hit men and drugs. (R)
The Trumpet of the Swan Weird, charmless cartoon (based on an E.B. White book) about a mute swan who plays the horn in the style of Chuck Mangione. (G)
Animated, with the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy,