For movie lovers, it always seems to be feast or famine. Either there are so many good films to chose from that you might as well sleep in the lobby, or you’re so desperate you’re actually considering seeing Slackers.

In the final weeks of 2001 you could gorge on the likes of A Beautiful Mind, The Royal Tennenbaums, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone and Monsters Inc., just to name a few.

So far 2002 has been leaner and for awhile it was looking like it was coming down to choosing between Kevin Costner obsessed with the memory of his late wife in Dragonfly or Arnold Schwarznegger obsessed with the memory of his late wife in Collateral Damage – and this just after Richard Gere obsessed with the memory of his late wife in The Mothman Prophecies. (Costner and Gere run scared from flying insects while tough guy Arnold kills people willy-nilly as a heart-felt tribute to his recently departed.)

Of course, there is still Slackers – I don’t think anybody dies in that one; you just wish they would. But wait – there’s hope on the horizon.

First up is Storytelling, directed by Todd Solondz (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse) and featuring John Goodman, Selma Blair, Julie Hagerty and Paul Giamatti. Storytelling began wider release Feb. 8. It is comprised of two separate stories “set against the sadly comical terrain of college and high school, past and present. Following the paths of its young hopeful/troubled characters, it explores issues of sex, race, celebrity and exploitation.”

Granted, Solondz’ tales of suburban dysfunction aren’t for everyone but he’s never boring and, in my book, anything with John Goodman is worth the price of admission.

Next up is John Q, which opens Feb. 15. It stars Denzel Washington as a frantic father whose son needs life-saving emergency surgery. When the hospital refuses to operate because he has no health insurance, Denzel takes drastic measures to save his son. “This hospital is under new management,” he announces. It’s a desperation to which too many of us can relate.

Also opening Feb. 15 is Hart’s War with Bruce Willis. Based on the novel by John Katzenbach, it’s the WW II story about a rich-kid law student Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell) who enlists to fight the Nazis, gets captured and ends up defending a Black POW falsely accused of killing a white officer.

Hart’s War was obviously made before Sept. 11, as were some of the recent “modern” war stories (Behind Enemy Lines, Black Hawk Down), but you can expect the flurry of war movies to continue, including one that sounds like it will be a rewrite of history – or at least a completely one-sided retelling of events.

We Were Soldiers – based on the book We Were Soldiers Once and Young – stars Mel Gibson in the “true” story of 450 U.S. soldiers, early in the Vietnam War, who found themselves surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese regulars in the Ia Drang Valley, in what became the first major battle of that war. It opens March 1.

“It is a story about incredible leadership and the men who went and fought knowing that they would probably never get out alive,” screenwriter Randall Wallace said. “In the end, they did not fight for the flag, the ideas of patriotism, mom and apple pie. They fought and died for each other.”

That’s all very noble-sounding but after calling the book’s authors, General Harold Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway, “absolute heroes,” Wallace said of Galloway, “He flew into the battle when it was raging and ended up with a rifle in his hands, shooting and killing the enemy.”

Unfortunately, nobody seems to be telling the story of that “enemy,” the Vietnamese people, whose country the U.S. invaded, who didn’t give up and who are now rebuilding their devastated country.

That’s a quick rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly coming this month. Or go to your video store and rent Ghost World, new on video this week. It stars Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi. The only thing better than a movie with Steve Buscemi or one with John Goodman is a movie with Buscemi and Goodman (which brings us back to Monsters Inc. or leads to the wonderful, wacky world of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski.) And check out reviews on page 16 of two movies from 2001 still in limited release around the country, Lakeboat and Dinner Rush.

– Carolyn Rummel

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