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Justice League 1900 - extremely ordinary guys and a gal
11 July 2003
In the twilight months of the 19th Century a madman known as `The Phantom' kidnaps the brightest minds of the time to develop the next generation of weapons. Using this newfound arsenal, this evildoer carries out a series of attacks calculated to both the plunge the world's superpowers into a global conflict and produce a market ripe for arms dealing. A group of `heroes' - each with his or her own special talents - dubbed the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is drawn together to halt the impending cataclysm. As with all intrigue, some things are not what they seem, and betrayal is an essential element of the game.

Unlike `The Hulk' or `Daredevil' - well-known comic heroes with a long lineage - `The`League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' is a graphic novel, a niche market in the comic biz. While the title may not spark instant recognition, the characters within undoubtedly will, drawn as they are from literature: Allan Quartermain, Mina Harrker, and Dr. Jekyll but to name a few. The movie, however bears only passing resemblance to Alan Moore's graphic novel and includes `extra' characters that appear to have been added to give an American angle (to boost potential box office?)

If you enjoy watching Sean Connery manhandle people, then you will be well served: not since his days as Bond, James Bond (the one, the only in my humble opinion) has Connery kicked this much butt. As crusty Allan Quartemain, Connery is truly in his element, delivering gruff lines and flippant humor (`My, that was naughty') almost single-handedly carrying the film. Peta Wilson is appealing as Mina Harker, the devoted wife turned vamp by none other than the toothy Transylvanian Count. Detemrined to be a force for serving good, she's not averse to stopping for a snack if the situation presents itself (while Buffy might not approve they are bad guys after all aren't they?). Stuart Townsend is dashing and debonair as Dorian Grey, but, much like the film itself, lacks any real substance.

TLOEG (you try typing the title a few times.) suffers because there is so little to it: the story is weak, rambling and ultimately fails to stimulate your interest. This is exacerbated by characters that don't mesh well, or simply don't make sense (sorry, but accepting Tom Sawyer as a Secret Service agent is up there with believing in Santa Claus, and responsible government), lame, lifeless dialogue, and special effects that are of notoriously variable quality. Add misguided uber villains, horribly telegraphed surprises and an abysmal attempt at a sequel inspiring ending and there is little to root for.

If you are a huge fan of the graphic novel, you'll undoubtedly be hugely disappointed. If not, why bother at all?

Matinee it at your own risk.
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Abandon all misgivings ye who enter
8 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Say `Pirate Movie' in a crowded theater and you're likely to be facing a mutiny or a stampede, and for good reason: the rollicking adventures popularized by Robert Louis Stevenson and brought to life by Errol Flynn have, of late been replaced by overblown soulless drivel along the lines of Polanski's `Pirates' or `Cutthroat Island'. Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp to the rescue.

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is quite likely the unluckiest pirate alive: after having suffered the ignominy of mutiny and being marooned, he finds his way to port in the one town that has a serious hate on for pirates. If that weren't enough to spoil his already bad day, Sparrow is thrown back into the fray when he promises young Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) that he will help rescue Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the young woman kidnapped by Sparrow's old enemies. Oh, and there's that pesky little curse to contend with…

Let me state from the outset - this is a fantastic movie that epitomizes what a summer movie should be. It features oodles of action – both in the form of swashbuckling sword fights and big time explosions, is packed full of accessible humor, boasts great special effects (note: not gratuitous), has beautiful and eerie locations, nasty villains, reformed heroes and fantastic performances. Am I making it clear that I liked this movie?

Orlando Bloom is solidly low key in his first post `Lord of the Rings' outing, and makes good use of the martial skills he leaned while filming the trilogy. His character is equal parts tragic and noble, and he balances these the facets well. While Elizabeth could be rightly classified as the obligatory damsel-in-distress of the piece, she most certainly is not helpless – Knightley brings the same determined empowerment that she displayed in `Bend it Like Beckham'. You have to give props to any woman who can act and kick butt while bound in a corset and frilly fluffy dresses (and yet somehow manages to look even more beautiful while doing so – forgive me, I'm only human…). Geoffrey Rush is deliciously devilish as Captain Barossa the dark hearted scoundrel of the piece, the, who dispenses death the with a smile. You know he's bad just by looking at the man's teeth! And then there's the Depp factor.

Johnny Depp could long ago have been a major Hollywood star – he certainly has the charisma, the drive and enough talent for a few careers – however he's made a conscious decision to stick with character driven films, which are often only found in artsy or edgy films. Thankfully he chose to tackle this role with the same fervor– Depp is hilarious as John Sparrow, the glib roguish pirate cursed with a streak of goodness and bad luck, who seemingly dances between madness and lucidity. To say that his portrayal binds the film would not be indulging in hyperbole, as he brings all the elements of the story and the characters together. Is that all there is you might ask? Not even close.

****Okay, I'm going to give you a warning here – if you haven't seen the trailers some potential spoilers lay ahead****.

The CGI work in this films is remarkable on several fronts: the film does not rely upon them, they are not excessive and they actually enhance the film. The characters' transition from human to skeleton and back (there sequences are rapid and many) are amazingly fluid and realistic. Need more? The swordfighting are beautifully choreographed, the city sets are brilliant, the pyrotechnics in the battle scenes are pure Buckheimer (read: big, loud, and many) and the film is also fit for the youngsters.

If you're in the market for a film that will appeal to anyone between the ages of 5 to 95 , look no further.
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Pure silliness wide open!
3 July 2003
The summer movie season runs the gamut of ideas with something for everyone, from insightful dramas, to multimillion dollar CGI showcases, or sequels to the movies that you enjoyed in summers past. But when you're looking for something that will help you forget the stress of your everyday life there's nothing better than a brainless popcorn flick with lots of flash (both pyrotechnic and skin).

When two special rings (they hold an important secret) are stolen and about to be auctioned off to the highest bidders, the Angels - Natalie, Dylan and Alex - are called into action. In their mission to recover the rings, they discover that one member of the group has been harboring a hidden secret, and that a former superstar Angel may have played a part in the heist.

The trio of film Angels have returned for the sequel: Cameron Diaz is even ditzier as Natalie the pretty dork, Drew Barrymore's tough gal Dylan continues her track record of bad choices, and Lucy Liu is back with a passion as gorgeous bombshell Alex. The trio works well together and obviously have fun with the roles as evidenced by their onscreen chemistry and humorous outtakes. Bernie Mac takes over the role of Bosley from Bill Murray and infuses the film with its best humour via a series of solid one liners and visual gages. Supplying the villainy is a collection of ne'er do wells capped by Demi Moore as the deliciously evil Madison, a former Angel with a seriously bad attitude (and damn if she still doesn't look incredible in a bikini!).

Full Throttle distinguishes itself as the film that takes the concept of over-the-top over-the top: there is nothing subtle about anything in this film - the dialogue sounds like it was spit out by a computer, the plot is predictable, and the jokes are juvenile. It also includes numerous shameless cameos (Eve, Pink, the Olsen twins, and an original Angel to name a few), blatantly steals scenes from the classics, and parodies popular tv shows. And so what? Original doesn't always mean better.

The soundtrack is loud and all over the musical map showcasing thrash, techno, classic headbanger rock and love ballads which match both the flow and spirit of the film. The insane action sequences border on the surreal - the motocross chase was hands down the best I've seen in years and the fight scenes are simply smoother versions of the worst Hong Kong chop sockey movies. And let's not forget the ladies - the producers pushed the ratings envelope with acres of near nudity, (don't worry ladies, there's some buff beefcake for you as well) including some saucy sequences with a touch of light S&M.

Please note: this is not a film you go to see if you want to be enlightened or admire solid moviemaking. But if you're in the mood for some silly escape, get your Gobstoppers and pull up a chair.
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Nolte finds his niche
5 April 2003
When lady luck and sister morphine just aren't the companions they used to be, Bob Montagnet (Nick Nolte), gentleman crook and do-gooder nudges up against rock bottom. Busted and in hock, he needs to get back into the game, but he knows that the risk has to be worth the reward: if he gets busted once more, he'll be living the low life in a none too quaint French penitentiary. Complicating matters is Bob's reputation – his recent stint as junkie-gambler notwithstanding, his status as jewel thief extraordinaire has earned him his very own police shadow. Throw in a street smart waif, a couple vengeance clichees, a convoluted plan and the necessary Judas for a little cross/doublecross and things start to get interesting.

Years of substance abuse, a recent run of bad luck and a voice that sounds like he's got the world's longest running case of strep throat may not be in Nick Nolte's best interests as a person. It does however give him a distinct advantage when tackling the character of Bob, as Nolte doesn't have to delve too deep for the source material. He is surprisingly suave despite his rough edges, which makes Bob's transformation all the more credible. Aside from the personal failings, Bob is a solid human being which makes the audience root for him.

The supporting cast works well as a whole, due to an ease and familiarity in their interactions, which in turn helps the story flow. This meshing of minds is distilled to its purest form in the scenes with Nolte and Tchéky Karyo, the inspector out to nab Bob. Their exchanges are so smooth and natural- from their facial expressions and body language to their zingers and pithy asides - that it's easy to accept them as friends who are simply improvving their dialogue. There are, however, some notable problems with the story.

Most annoying for me was the anemic subplot with Ralph Fiennes as an `art entrepreneur'. A poor contrivance that adds nothing to the story it becomes an annoying vanity cameo that adds nothing to the film (and don't even get me started on his little I-want-to-be- Rafe-not-Ralf petulance…). I can only assume that the continuous use of freeze frame shots were intended to be dramatic or artistic, but fail on both levels, and quickly become an annoyance (I thought that there was a problem with the projector the first two times it happened). The biggest sin however is the plot – while Neil Jordan tries to infuse the film with suspense his delivery is worse than a drunken street mime. Consequently the little plot twists and parallel storylines fall flat.

In spite of great dialogue, solid acting and an eclectic cast of characters, `The Good Thief' ultimately falls victim to a predictable plot. Not even the mini homage to `The Crying Game' could rise above it. Wait for it on the small screen – it probably won't take too long.
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Phone Booth (2002)
One ringy dingy.
5 April 2003
Anyone who doubts that people are as easily programmable as Pavlov's pets need look no further Graham Bell's little box. While most of us generally don't start salivating at the sound of a ringing phone, few people (unless they work for a software help desk) can resist the urge to answer one. Pray that the darkest force that dials your number is a telemarketer.

For Stu Shephard, sincerity is little more than a fuzzy concept. A shady publicist, his life consists of spinning interconnecting webs of lies to further the careers of clients and raise his stature. In his spare time he enjoys abusing his assistant, and ignoring his wife. Stu is, is also determined to give an impressionable young actress a test run on the casting couch. When he enters the one functioning pay phone in a ten-block radius in the hopes of setting up a liaison, the phone rings. It turns out to be Stu's conscience on the line. With a sniper rifle aimed at Stu's head.

When you take into account that `Phone Booth' was filmed in just ten days, on a limited budget with a dearth of special effects, one principle actor and a single venue you could be forgiven for questioning the potential success of this film. The original November 2001 release date might give one pause - films that sit on the shelf usually do so for a reason - read `straight to video'. In this instance the studio wanted to wait until Farrell was more familiar to moviegoers. He achieved this with a little film called `Minority Report' (the name of his co-star escapes me at the moment...). `Phone Booth's' new release date had to be pushed back once again after the sniping episodes in Washington. Some things are worth the wait.

While he stole the spotlight as the maniacal hit man in `Daredevil', Farrell is faced with a different animal in `Phone Booth', an 80-minute soliloquy which lives or dies on his performance (several A-list stars walked away from the project for this very reason). Reminiscent of his much-lauded turn in `Tigerland', Farrell confirms that he isn't a one trick pony, proffering a wide-ranging display of emotions, from cocky to cathartic without straying into soap opera or comic territory. He delivers his lines with a solid fluidity rare among his peers, no simple feat when one takes into account that he's suppressing a harsh brogue. Farrell also demonstrates a presence, beyond mere charisma - his good looks can only inspire interest for so long - that draw the viewer into the story.

While the supporting cast - Katie Holmes as the naive ingenue and Forrest Whitaker as the good cop - fulfill their purpose, it is Keifer Sutherland who takes up what little slack there is. While the audience doesn't get to see Sutherland, he is amply menacing as the cold, otherworldly voice on the other end of the phone. The audience is never privy to who he is (`Just call me Bob') or what his motives are, but it is inconsequential - he sees all, knows all, and is clearly in charge. Unlike S&M, there are no safe words. And for a control freak like Stu nothing could be more terrifying.

Although tied to a static location, deft camera work provides action, perspective and mood with such techniques as quick pans, compressed zooming, and picture in picture sequences, while careful not to cross the gimmickry line . Enhanced sound editing bolsters the visuals: ringing phones are jarring, Bob's quietly booming voice is unsettling, and the sound of a round being chambered is deafening.

`Phone Booth' could easily have been a quirky novelty flick that played well amongst the art house set. Thanks to Farrell's performance it makes for good mainstream cinema (normally an oxymoron) and may actually make a few top ten lists.
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From tears of boredom to tears of laughter
8 March 2003
One would be hard pressed to find a medium that has not glorified the institution of war. It has credited with turning boys into men, spurring economic and social revolutions, and delivering the oppressed from enslavement. Amazingly, the downsides –destruction, famine and of course death – often get overlooked. It wasn't until Oliver Stone's `Platoon' hit the big screen that laymen got a glimpse into the real ugliness of war. I remember an interview with a Vietnam Vet who after seeing a preview screening of "Platoon" stated (I'm paraphrasing) `If I had seen this instead of `The Green Berets' I never would have gone to Vietnam in search of heroism.' Hopefully this generation will not have to learn this lesson first hand.

When a violent coup pushes Nigeria to the brink of civil war, Lieutenant AK Water (Willis) and his crew of navy SEALS are sent in to extract Lena Hendricks (Belluci), an American doctor doing missionary work in the country. Dr. Hendricks is reluctant to leave her charges, and demands that they also be evacuated, leading to a cross country race to escape the vicious hordes of the rebel army.

The timing of this film's release is quite fitting given the prevailing global climate, but don't worry I'm not about to launch into a polemic about international events, this is a movie review after all. Suffice it to say I'm sure the distributor is counting on this to stimulate some box office. That's about the only thing that will save this film.

The first thing that struck me was that although `Tears of the Sun' is being billed as an action film, it plods along at a snails pace for the first hour and fifteen minutes. The movie also embodies everything that can go wrong with a war film: it is jingoistic, filled with scowling stock villains, is nonsensically simplistic reducing everything to black and white and limps along with ridiculous dialogue eg. After Willis' character is slashed with a machete and blood is literally flowing down his hand he dismisses attempts to help him saying `Don't worry I'm okay.' Let's not forget the classic disposable armies – we're expected to accept that in spite of vastly superior numbers and firepower, the enemy soldiers are notoriously poor shots losing at least a hundred soldiers for every good guy that bites the dust. There's also the genocide - or should I say "ethnic cleansing" to help offend your moral senses.

Even if I could get past all these failings, I can't forgive the crux of the story, that Waters' epiphany that leads him – a dedicated and stoic soldier's soldier -to countermand a direct order. Normally this would earn one a court martial and an all expenses paid trip to Leavenworth to turn big rocks into little rocks. In this case however, even though he essentially sparks a war and unnecessarily risks the lives of his men, he still gets the girl, the glory and hero's homecoming. It boggles the mind.

I was going to address the performances, but what is there left to say? I've always enjoyed Bruce Willis whether he was being self-mocking in `Die Hard' or serious in `The Sixth Sense'. Unfortunately he is forced to utter some of the most ridiculous dialogue I've heard in a long time and his attempts to sound dramatic come off as cartoonish. His co-stars fare no better.

I can't leave without mentioning two screw-ups that I couldn't help dwell on: first how is it that the SEAL's facial camouflage magically disappears (the only time I tried it it took forever to wash off); second despite rain, sweat, and tramping through jungle foliage and muck Belucci's character's lipstick is always perfectly applied.

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Daredevil (2003)
I dare you to pay full price!
7 February 2003
Back in the dark ages BT (Before Television), when kids walked ten miles uphill both ways to school there were limited entertainment options. One of the cheapest avenues of escape was the comic book: often crudely drawn, with simple storylines they provided a pleasant diversion without all that pesky reading. Their success continued on the small screen - who could forget the campy 60's Batman with its ubiquitous Biffs! and Kapows! - but their transition to the big screen was definitely hit or miss. While comic to screen films like Batman did boffo box office they spawned a legion of comic megabombs like Howard the Duck and The Punisher, and superheroes dropped off the studios' radar. It would take more than a decade for the quirky X-Men to rejuvenate the genre, and inspire A-list actors and directors to jump back on the bandwagon.

When a freak accident robbed Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) of his sight it also enhanced his remaining senses and allowed him to `see' in a whole new way. A lawyer by trade, Murdock lives a dual life, defending the disadvantaged, and in the guise of DareDevil, meting out his own brand of justice for those thugs that live beyond the reach of the law. His solitary existence is shattered when he meets the beautiful Elektra a strong willed kindred spirit with a secret. Alas, hero bliss is usually short-lived.

Daredevil is a unique character in the comic universe, as he possesses neither classical superpowers (he can't fly or change shape) nor is he a reclusive billionaire who can buy all kinds of really cool gadgets. He also doesn't fit in the everyman category as he belongs to a group that is classically considered disadvantaged. I believe it is these very distinctions that led to his tenure as a hero, because readers find it much easier to relate to his character. Luckily Daredevil won't be seeing this movie anytime soon.

Fleshing out a comic book character onscreen is a delicate balancing act between humor and drama - stray too far in either direction and what you're left with is parody .Ben Affleck often pegged as Hollywood's next big leading man, plays Murdock with soft-spoken amiability, providing a character that audiences will easily accept. If only he devoted the same attention to the character's alter ego. Every time Affleck dons the mask he slips into melodrama delivering his lines with such overblown self-importance and mock menace that they simply fall flat - several serious scenes spawned outbursts of laughter. The supporting cast offers equally mixed performances.

Jennifer Garner is disarming as the beautiful Elektra, simultaneously delicate and deadly. Garner demonstrates remarkable screen presence which begs the question why wasn't her character more thoroughly developed? If we knew a little more about Elektra it would have given some much needed balance to the story. Instead, Electra is essentially reduced to window dressing. Pity. This also extends to the big villain of the piece: in spite of his menacing physical presence, Michael Clarke Duncan is tepid as Kingpin, hampered both by poor writing and pedestrian delivery. Audiences are supposed to hate the bad guy. The most I could muster was apathy. Mercifully Colin Farrell rises to the challenge as Bullseye, the maniacal Irish hitman who can turn anything into a weapon. Farrell's over the top portrayal also helps to infuse the film with some intentionally humorous moments (his mini tantrum elicited ongoing laughter from those who could decipher his thick brogue).

I could dwell at length on the noticeable plot gaps (like how is it that a blind orphan would develop preternatural acrobatic abilities and fighting skills with no training?), the dark setting, or the none too subtle ironies (Daredevil seeking refuge in a church), - but let's be honest, no one's going for the story. Thankfully there are several well choreographed fight sequences (courtesy of Cheung Yan Yuen of Matrix fame) to help distract the viewer from these piddling details. Although Affleck noticeably stumbles a few times, Garner's movements are virtually flawless, no doubt honed during her time on Alias. Nothing like a leather clad bombshell kicking butt to keep you mesmerized (works for me anyways). Mix in some above average (and sparingly used) fluid CGI for added eye candy, an energetic soundtrack, and a few comic creator cameos and you're left with a mediocre watchable popcorn flick. Just don't hold your breath for the sequel.
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City of God (2002)
Scarface goes to Rio.
2 February 2003
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you nothing, you do what you can. For the inhabitants of Cidade de Deus (the City of God) one of the most notorious favelas (slums) outside of Rio de Janeiro that often means relying on crime to survive. The inhabitants' problems are exacerbated by indiscriminate gun battles waged by gangs trying to control the drug trade, and cops whose interrogation techniques consist of shooting first and beating confessions out of the survivors.

The City of God is a pseudo-documentary based on real individuals and events that dominated the affairs of the slum in question for a period of two decades. The cast of characters includes Rocket, the kid who hopes to use his camera to escape the slums, Bene, the gentleman gangster and diplomat, Knockout Ned, one of the `good guys' who gets caught up in the maelstrom of madness, and Li'l Ze the sociopathic crime lord who's always ready to dole out death. The performances in the film are top notch, especially when you realize that most of the participants aren't actors, consequently the emotions on display are raw, edgy and true to life. While several scenes initially appear overblown you quickly realize that the seemingly senseless violence is such that to play it any other way would be disingenuous.

The gritty texture, harsh lighting and occasional jerky camera sequences enhance the film's documentary feel, rather than appearing gimmicky (unlike the host of cinema verite flicks of the past few years…) The director also makes use of Pulp Fiction style folding time lines, and snappy editing to ensure that the pacing doesn't stagnate, and is careful not to leave any loose ends.

City of God treats the viewer to a brutal firsthand view of the poverty/crime cycle that thrives in the worlds slums. Its in-your-face approach and disturbing ending begs the disturbing question, what happens if this destructive juggernaut ever organizes and decides to leave the confines of the ghetto?
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The sorrow is in the watching.
2 February 2003
Marketing a film can be just as important as making it – fail to publicize it properly, and people may not hear about it, or you might miss the demographic you're aiming for. The print ad for The Bay of Love and Sorrows features a dark-haired beauty staring out with a brooding look and an enigmatic half smile, yet gives no hint of what the film could be about. The ad is also peppered with several vague testimonials and, try as you might, you probably won't recognize the sources (they would do as well to quote the Sheboygan Bugle or Gnome Gazette). Luckily for the marketing department, they won't have to shoulder all the blame when this film fails to dazzle at the box office.

Based on the much-beloved book (or so I'm told) of the same name by David Adams Richards, The Bay of Love and Sorrows is set in 1970's New Brunswick, Newcastle to be precise. The story follows several young people who've been unable to improve on their lot in life post high school: there is the sexy and rugged Madonna, who, along with her sheepish brother Silver survives on menial jobs and a bit of poaching, conservative Tom who tries to make ends meet on his dirt farm while he watches his `special' brother Vincent, and Tom's innocent down home girl Carrie. The tempo of their boring lives change when Michael, the world travelling son of a judge (apparently only the rich kids have parents) comes back to town with tales of exotic locales. Enter the scheming ex-con Everette (who may as well have been named Iago) and chaos ensues.

It's hard not to root for an underdog – believe me when I say I tried. Unfortunately there simply isn't anything about this film that makes the viewer sit up and take notice- in a good way that is: the dialogue lacks spark, the pacing is positively glacial, the characters are poorly (if ever) developed and the acting is average at the best of times. The story itself is an ongoing game of one-upmanship, with each new plot element more far fetched and melodramatic that the last, culminating in the violent disorganized mess that is the final act. Save yourself some sorrow and find another film.
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The Recruit (2003)
Still in training...
2 February 2003
Over twenty five hundred years ago, Sun Tzu, author of the seminal work The Art of War, wrote that `Spies are a most important element in war…' Every wise ruler since then, whether monarch, despot or elected has hearkened to these words. The cat-and-mouse spy game reached it's nadir during the Cold War when thousands of undercover operatives spanned the globe, trying to gather information, spread disinformation and sow discord where they could. With the fall of the Wall, many of these geopolitical gamers were assigned desk duty, only to be reactivated when the post 9-11 world brought their skill sets back into vogue.

James Clayton (Colin Farrel) and his colleagues have designed an innovative communications software program that could revolutionize the computer industry and make them rich. It also brings James to the attention of one Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a spook recruiter for the CIA. Burke tells James that he has the perfect combination of attitude and aptitude to be a great operative. Burke also alludes to possible information relating to the disappearance of James' father, who may or may not have worked for `the Company' leaving James with a no-brainer choice: go for the sure thing, which promises wealth and security, or opt for a life lived in the shadows, marked by danger and double crosses. And the winner is…

One of the main attractions for this film is the subject matter - who isn't curious about the recruitment and training of the best and brightest spooks who act as the first line of defense in global intrigue (I think they're on our side)? The answer to the first part of that question is quite facile – the CIA holds recruitment drives on university campuses (applications have risen over 300% in the past year) . The training is more intriguing, running the gamut from explosives deployment to learning to disguise oneself in both actions and mannerisms.

In order to ensure accuracy in their depictions, the filmmakers went to the source - CIA spokesperson Chase Brandon (a covert agent for 25 years) provided basic information on the induction and molding of recruits, as well as location stills from Langley . In true CIA fashion Brandon acknowledged that the training takes place at a clandestine location that he could `…neither confirm or deny exists'. A helpful fellow that Brandon.

The Recruit has several things going for it: a slick marketing campaign, the timeliness of the subject matter, and bankable talent that appeals to a wide demographic. Colin Farrell, in all his perpetual five o-clock shadow glory is not only a hit with the women (of all ages apparently, having been linked to both Demi Moore and Britney Spears in the past month) he's cut his teeth on several solid roles. For the boys in the audience we have the statuesque Bridget Moynahan, probably best known as Mr Big's wife on Sex In the City. Finally there is Al Pacino, the consummate actor, known for his intense portrayals of many a hero and villains. How could this film possibly go wrong?

Even with a collective pool of talent, elaborate set design and solid camerawork there isn't enough story to sustain The Recruit. The script is uneven, and flat leaving the actors with little of substance, and the film's pacing is sporadic, changing tempo too often without reason. The relationship between Farrell's and Moynahan's characters is poorly developed, and they lack chemistry – I'm not a CIA agent and I sure as hell didn't buy it. Also, any sense of suspense is destroyed by repeatedly hammering home the notions that you can `Trust no one' and `Nothing is what it seems' leaving little doubt as to what will happen next.

Ultimately, what could have been a suspenseful thriller ends up being an exercise in banality, wasting the talents and efforts of those involved. A wholly average film it's worth the cost of a rental if you're left with nothing to do on a Tuesday night.
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A Guy Thing (2003)
Scriptless in Seattle
18 January 2003
Marriage is a sacred union between two people that lets them share their commitment to one another with those they hold dear. Or at least that's what it's supposed to be. With today's `trial marriages', you're just as likely to have spent a few hours getting to know your significant other and have your nuptials presided over by an Elvis impersonator with Jack Daniels as your best man. Even if the ceremony goes perfectly, there's always a 50/50 chance that you could become one of the jaded statistics that is dragged through a soul shattering divorce and doomed to join the ranks of the permanently emotionally scarred. Love is a wonderful thing.

After a mediocre time at his bachelor party, Paul Morse awakens to a nightmare – naked beside him is a beautiful woman who isn't his fiancée, whose name is a mystery and he has no idea what happened. Wracked with guilt he debates whether or not he should tell the love of his life, but at the advice of his best friend decides to bury the incident and marry the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately Paul continues to bump into his temporary bedmate, and her infectious smile and carpe-diem approach lead him to call his straitlaced `safe' approach to life into question.

I'm accustomed to the persona that Jason Lee has cultivated in Kevin Smith films – dark, brooding intellectual slackers who have little use for anyone else. In contrast, Paul is about as average as you can get - content to blend in with the background he is a yes man at work, in love and in life. Lee manages the transition well, with a palpable shy awkwardness that keeps Paul off balance yet believable. Playing Yin to Paul's Yang is Julia Stiles' Becky. Stiles, who shone in such films as `10 Things I Hate About You' and `o' has yet to find the role that will give her the exposure she deserves. She won't find it here. Stiles is effervescent as the quirky, unrestrained Becky and she maintains a bubbly enthusiasm that is infectious without becoming obnoxious. Unfortunately, she, like her fellow cast members, is confined by the limits of a weak script. The first two thirds of the film play well: the characters are engaging, the pacing is even and there are many funny scenes (the scene that inspired the title is hilarious). My friend and I also enjoyed playing `Spot the shot' (my apartment faces the back of the record store, ending months of speculations on my part regarding what they were filming…) as Vancouver once again stood in for Seattle. Unfortunately that can only hold one's attention for so long. The movie's momentum wanes in the final act, marked by stale, stilted dialogue, and a plot device - that is drawn out far too long – that culminates in the shamelessly hijacked wedding sequence at the end of the film. A Tuesday night date movie or weekday video rental.
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Narc (2002)
What exactly is justice?
11 January 2003
While it sounds like a cliché, every cop goes to work with the knowledge that this could be `The' day - they could get shot pulling over a speeder, stabbed responding to a domestic dispute or killed in a high speed chase. Consequently nothing galvanizes a cop more than one of their own going down in the line of duty and investigators are often willing to bend the rules to get their man. For others capturing the guilty party and securing a jail sentence isn't what they have in mind.

As an undercover narcotics officer Nick Tellis' job is to immerse himself in the hazy netherworld of drug dealers and junkies. Unfortunately for Nick, he took the work to heart, and after sampling one too many products made a fatal judgement call and was thrown off the force. When the murder investigation of an undercover agent goes cold, Nick is asked to use his street connections to see if they can provide some leads. He teams up with Henry Oaks - the dead cop's partner – the man most familiar with the case, who was initially banned from the investigation for his bull-in-the-China-shop approach.

For many people Jason Patric is probably best remembered as the man that supposedly broke up the intended nuptials between Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland. It is interesting that his most recent `breakthrough' should be playing another narc after his brilliant work in `Rush' over a decade ago. Patric makes the role his own and is not afraid to look shabby and wrung out, as he plumbs the depths of his character and tries to realign his moral compass. Although he stumbles along the way, he never loses sight of his goal. He receives solid backup.

Ray Liotta, known for his congenial bad guys, is decidedly low key (for him) as Henry and turns in one of his best performances (there have already been Oscar rumblings). Henry is a cop's cop and the embodiment of the classic 70's cop – a gritty no nonsense renegade with no stomach for bureaucracy, who wants to be left alone to do his job. In addition to Liotta's trademark steely gaze, Henry has the benefit of being physically intimidating (in part courtesy of padding which they forgot in one scene) and will not hesitate to lash out if he feel the situation demands it.

The editing techniques used in the film sometimes seem to be at odds: the split screen shots coupled with some flashy editing that scream `Hollywood!' are offset by the blue-tinged gritty flair that dominates the bulk of the film and give it a seedy realistic feel. The film is also hard to watch at times, both literally - the all too familiar bouncing camera shots - and emotionally - the opening salvo that documents why Nick's initial downfall and the demise of the undercover cop.

In spite of the great acting and film work, Narc could easily have joined the pantheon of virtually indistinguishable good cop/bad cop movie-of-the-week films that are quickly forgotten. It escapes this fate thanks to deft writing and a clever twist that questions the very concepts of guilt, innocence and justice, and in the process turning a six star video rental into an eight and half star big screen must see.
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Crime doesn't pay! Unless of course you're really good at it...
25 December 2002
People have always delighted in the exploits of those individuals that flout convention (and the occasional law) often living vicariously through them. How else can one explain the fascination with gentleman skyjacker DB Cooper, who, in 1971, jumped out of an airplane with a $200 000 ransom and vanished. No one – with the exception of law enforcement – wanted him to get caught. But next to Frank Abagnale Jr. Cooper looks like a piker - half a decade earlier, Abaganalemade off with a far greater sum with nothing more than chutzpah, fast-talking and a great smile. So what if he got caught?

Frank Abagnale Jr. learned early on that looks could be deceiving: his parents' fairy tale romance didn't include a `happily ever after' ending and although Frank Sr claimed to know the secret to success, it continued to elude him. Rather than be discouraged, Frank Jr. embraced these lessons and adopted deceit as his career, assuming the guise of doctor, lawyer, and pilot (among others). Not content to look like a jet setter, Frank embarked on global cheque bouncing spree to the tune of $2.5 million that earned him a spot on the FBI's Most Wanted List - quite a feat for a 17-year-old high school drop out.

Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr's dalliances with the law as a teen con man, `Catch Me If You Can' is both adventure and comedy with a touch of cynicism (the whole collapse-of-the-nuclear-family angle). The film has a bouncy, spirited soundtrack that supports and enhances the lightweight subject matter. This, along with wonderful set and costume design help to faithfully establish that sixties feel. Subtle scoring, fluid editing and tight camerawork ensure that the pacing is consistent and flows smoothly. This attention to detail is carried on by the cast.

This is the other Leonardo DiCaprio Christmas movie – the one with a modest budget, that wasn't years overdue, and didn't have everyone's tongue wagging about late night parties and blow-ups on the set. After solid work in `What's Eating Gilbert Grape?' and `The Basketball Diaries', DiCaprio became the flavor of the moment with `Titanic' (one of the most overrated movies of all time) and his credibility went into decline with roles in `The Beach' and the abysmal `Man in the Iron Mask'). I braced myself for the worst and was therefore pleasantly surprised with his performance in this film: DiCaprio carries the role of Frank Jr. with aplomb, infusing Frank with the perfect balance of charisma, ballsy impertinence, humor and when necessary, gravity (without resorting to the broody scowling we've seen before). His colleagues are no slouches either.

His role as the spectacled ubergeek in `Blast From the Past' notwithstanding, Christopher Walken's characters are best known for their villainous tendencies. As Frank Sr., Walken is decidedly under whelming, a pitiable dim shadow of a man who labours under delusions that salvation is just around the corner. Walken ensures that his character doesn't cross the line into useless pathetic, rather he exists as a cautionary tale to blind optimism. Equally understated, and yet simultaneously outstanding, is Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, Frank Jr's dogged FBI foil. Carl – a composite of several of the individuals who tracked Abagnale – is a quiet, determined loner who carries a few too many pounds and revels in the chase. Hanks brings the same quintessential every-man quality to the role that he is famous for, without looking like his character is a rehash from some other film.

This is one of those rare films that has virtually no swearing, violence or nudity (there are a few suggestive scenes) and yet doesn't moralize or try to drown the viewer in saccharine. In addition, it is fun, engaging, and well acted. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to be entertained.
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Jackson defeats the bane of the blockbuster
20 December 2002
Beware what you wish for. Words I'm sure Peter Jackson has reflected on many a time in the past two and a half years. After finding a studio to back his dream to bring The Lord of The Rings to the screen, Jackson spent 18 months and a quarter billion dollars to create his vision. Lurking in the back of his mind must have been the realization that the failure of the first chapter would have meant the possible ruination of a studio and the knowledge that the remaining two chapters would sit in the can, never to see the light of day. Luckily for Jackson, The Fellowship of the Ring went on to earn over $800 million dollars and unanimous accolades from fans and critics alike. Now all he has to do is repeat this success two more times.

With the fellowship dissolved, things are indeed looking grim. Frodo and Sam have set out for Mount Doom, and must rely on Gollum, the devolved, delusional, former owner of the ring, to guide them. Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli, meet new allies to their cause and rediscover lost friends, but the joyful reunion is short-lived when they learn that Saruman has dispatched his minions to destroy the stronghold at Helm's Deep, the first assault in the all out battle for Middle Earth.

Anyone expecting the contemplative, leisurely pacing of `The Fellowship Of The Ring' with it's in-depth character development, and ethereal venues will be shocked - action is the watchword for `The Two Towers'. Jackson wastes no time with the obligatory drawn out flashbacks, opting to jump straight into the fray, and notches up the adrenaline quotient in the process. The editing is quick, and deliberate, the settings dark and oppressive, and battles are many.

Once again the cast turn in solid performances. Just as Viggo Mortenson imbues Aragorn with a regal charisma that shines through his bedraggled appearance, Ian McKellen's reinforces Gandalf's evolution, commanding your attention whenever he is onscreen. I especially enjoyed Gimli's role as comic foil - quick with his axe or a zippy zinger - he adds the only real humor to the proceedings. Elijah Wood is the standout once again, demonstrating an even a wider range of emotions and ability. I must admit that I feel sorry for him - he has managed to do such an outstanding job as Frodo that he is going to be typecast for eternity (not that there are many roles for hobbits in other films.) I would be remiss if I failed to mention Brad Dourif who exudes putrescence as the diabolically reptilian Grima Wormtongue - I kept waiting for his forked tongue to peek out when he was speaking. There are two additional new characters of note.

I was unsure how Jackson et al. were going to flesh out Treebeard, the leader of the Ents - I had no difficulty imagining how he should look while reading the book, but didn't know how they would bring him to the screen. I needn't have worried - the CGI work is smooth, natural and avoids being cartoonish (some of the other Ents do not fare as well). And then of course there is Gollum.

Arguably the most important character in the novel - nothing could have transpired without him - it was essential that he be properly rendered (with regards to appearance that is). Rather than talk to a ball on a stick (a favorite prop when dealing with CGI characters), Jackson had Andy Serkis, the actor who delivers Gollum's lines, wear a motion capture suit while he acted his scenes with Wood. The digital wizards at Weta works then turned to custom designed software to create the final screen character. The results are exceptional - Gollum's expressions, movements, and speech are fluid and realistic. On to the action.

While editing the initial footage that had been shot for the Helm's Deep sequence, Jackson decided that they did not impart the spectacle that he intended, so he gathered cast and crew together and went back to New Zealand to shoot additional footage. His instincts proved right. The final product - a combination of live footage and CGI (driven by MASSIVE, his special effects department's customized AI software, which allows the characters to `think' and `act' independently) blend seamlessly. The entire sequence is superbly scored and further enhanced by the sound effects - a cacophony of thunderous chanting, metal on metal, and screams of agony and victory - plunging the audience into the midst of epic orgy of destruction. Phenomenal.

I do have a few caveats however.

I'll start with my pet peeve, the 360 pan shot (where the camera spins around the characters). Whether showcasing vistas or highlighting dramatic moments, this can be a highly effective technique - when used sparingly. But when it gets used at least a dozen times in the first twenty minutes of the film, I say enough already (I was starting to feel a tad queasy). `Two Towers' is definitely not a standalone film - those not familiar with the books (or even the first film), are bound to miss not so subtle references and risk being left out altogether in other scenes. This was evident from the several people, including the friend that I took to the screening, who kept turning to companions for explanations. Also, the battles between Gollum's dual personalities (Slinker and Stinker as Sam Gamgee calls them) are too frequent - the intended dramatic moments become almost slapstick, diminishing their intended effect. One of two `battles' would have sufficed. The Tolkien purists however are sure to cry the loudest.

Jackson takes more substantial liberties with the source material than he did in his first outing. And we're not just talking about incorporating appendix material here (the Aragon/Arwen debate) - there are several fundamental changes. While these do not detract from the story - indeed some actually enhance the story (it is after all a screen adaptation), it took me awhile to get used to them. Stay out of any LOTR chat rooms for the next few months.

Ultimately, Jackson has produced an apt `sequel' to the first film, which is engaging, enjoyable and exciting and he deserves to be lauded for his efforts. But I'll bet even money that he gets stood up again come Oscar time.
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Rub & Tug (2002)
Rubbed the right way
1 November 2002
By Greg Ursic

Everyone, whether they want to or not, remembers their first job: trying to figure out what to wear to the interview, being worried that you'd do the wrong thing or that someone would find out that you really had no clue as to what you were doing. Now imagine your stress level if you happen to be a bookworm, with limited social skills and your first job involves managing sex trade workers.

For Conrad - professional student and recent university grad - having a job has, up until recently, been a novel concept. Determined to learn all he can he decides that a great place to learn about business and develop his people skills is to manage a massage parlour. After all, how difficult could it be? All he has to do is answer the door, treat the customers nicely, and ensure that the women follow the rules. Unfortunately for Conrad, the women have other ideas, and in the battle between book smarts and street smarts, there are bound to be some nasty casualties.

Before I proceed, there's a dirty little secret that has to be revealed - this is a Canadian film. But put your fears to rest, this isn't some esoteric experimental bouncing handy cam feature that can only be understood by fine arts post docs. The title alone should be enough to pique people's interest and dispel anyone's notions of a stodgy boring film: the name refers to the service provided at the full-body massage parlours, or as it's known in the trade a "massage with a happy ending" (in this case a hand job).

Don McKellar, Canada's hardest-working actor, is brilliant as Conrad, deftly capturing the character's blunt shell-shocked naiveté both in speech and actions. Conrad is so clearly out of his element that it is painful to watch as he stumbles from one situation to the next, clearly unaware of what he's supposed to be doing. One of the film's funniest moments is a take on DeNiro's classic "You talking to me?" tough guy scene. McKellar (for whom the role was literally written) also manages to make Conrad's gradual transformation believable. The supporting cast also does a terrific job.

Tara Spencer-Nairn is commanding (think dominatrix) as Betty the brassy business savvy street-smart leader of the group. While we get to see her tough exterior (figuratively speaking), Betty's soft and silly sides also peek out. Lindy Booth's Lea defines quirky as the happy-go-lucky member of the group whose interest in the business is driven more by her desire to feel a "skinship" with the patrons rather than cash. And how can you not love a girl with a nipple fetish? The last member of the group is Cindy, the newcomer played with a fresh wide-eyed innocence by Kira Clavell. Rounding out the players is the collection of customers who infuse the film with ribald humor.

The interactions between the characters feel natural which is essential, given the comedic nature of the film - if the situations seem forced, they won't achieve the desired effect. Soo Lyu, the film's writer/director, achieved this through a well-written script and by allowing the actors leeway to improvise both on and off camera.

As most of the action happens indoors, you would be hard pressed to guess that this film was made on a limited budget: the production values are solid, the editing is tight, and the story is evenly paced. Add a lively soundtrack (with a touch of porno chic), punchy writing that flows well, interesting subject matter with a side of voyeurism, and you have the ingredients for a thoroughly enjoyable film.
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The Transporter delivers!
19 October 2002
Frank Martin, provides the platinum standard among couriers: he will deliver any package, any where to any one, on time, no questions asked. Understandably, his rates are a bit steeper than FedEx and his rules a bit more stringent. When he agrees to deliver a duffel bag Frank breaks Martin rule # 3 – never look in the package – only to discover that the contents are alive, kicking and beautiful. What's a guy to do ? Throw her back in the bag and complete the contract of course! Unfortunately Frank's employer is unhappy the indiscretion and his idea of a customer service complaint is to eliminate the server.

The opening frantic car chase through the streets and along the boardwalks of Nice, sets the tone for the for the rest of the movie – infused with equal parts action and humor you quickly realize that this is not a film that takes itself seriously. Co-written and produced by Luc Besson (The Professional and The Fifth Element) it follows in the vein of his earlier films: reluctant protagonist who bends the rules to do his job, shows a little humanity inadvertently becoming a champion for the oppressed, and having to dodge bullets, bombs and badmen along the way. . The lead captures this spirit.

Jason Statham's Frank is a no nonsense ex-special services minutia obsessed professional who refuses to be rattled even as the world is coming down around him (literally in one scene). Statham, best known as the fast talking Turkish in Snatch, possesses both the bulk and matter of fact glib finesse necessary to be an action hero. The intricately choreographed and numerous marital arts sequences - the best I've seen in a non Asian film – bear the trademarks of its Hong Kong predecessors and confirm that he also possesses the requisite physicality to carry a film in this genre. Statham may well turn out to be the next Bruce Willis (or at least his British counterpart.)

There are several glaring problems with this film: the people smuggling subplot seems to have been an afterthought, the dialogue is often unintentionally laughable, and then there are those pesky laws of physics … But none of that matters - I wanted high octane fun and pyrotechnics, and I wasn't disappointed.. Pass the popcorn please.
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Hell House (2001)
Pure terror! And the play was a bit unsettling as well...
16 October 2002
What the Hell? For Christians it has long been represented as lakes of fire where the damned are tortured for all eternity. It's interesting to note that this view is a combination of repeated incorrect translations from the original Hebrew, and visions of hell that traders brought back with them from Asia. Hell, even the Catholic Church admitted that it was a theoretical concept as opposed to a physical place. A hundred million fundamentalists seemed to have missed the bulletin.

For the past 10 years the Trinity Church in Cedar Hill Texas has put together a Hell House for Halloween. It is hoped that the graphic depiction of bloodied sinners being dragged off by demons will help to convert the unbelievers in the audience.

The project begins in August and students compete for such roles as `abortion girl', `drug dealer' and of course the much coveted `rape victim/suicide' (best because it combines acting with dancing in the rave scene). But it isn't the cartoonish performances or buckets of fake blood that I found to be unsettling.

Many of the `actors' reveal personal traumas - rape, divorce, abandonment – and it is evident that the program serves as a form of catharsis (even though they are unaware of it). They can regurgitate the evangelical fire and brimstone rhetoric that they've been subjected to but when asked simple questions they make about as much sense as the `touched' few speaking in tongues.

The skewed list of `sinners' includes a passenger killed in a DUI, a gay incest victim dying of AIDS and a bullied young man who kills himself., only serves to highlight the intolerance of this group. The skits themselves range from the laughable to the ludicrous, but the standout involves a young woman who is drawn to the dark side after reading Harry Potter novels. The centerpiece in the occult sacrificial dungeon is a pentagram which upon closer inspection turns out to be the Star of David. That mistake (which I believe was unintentional) says more than any words ever could.

What makes this film even more frightening is that the designers of Hell House have converted over 15,000 to their way of thinking.
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The Ring (2002)
Could have been a ringing endorsement. Too bad...
16 October 2002
It's that time of year again when the leaves are turning kaleidoscopic colors, the air is tinged with the crisp scent of renewal and brain busting midterms are once again a distant painful memory. It also means that we will be bombarded with ads for half-baked horror flicks that have been gathering dust on studio shelves, in the vain hope of scaring up some cheap Halloween thrills. Worse yet, the gullible masses will inevitably take the bait.

Everyone is shocked when Rachel Keller's teen aged niece literally drops dead for no apparent reason. An investigative reporter, Rachel's curiosity is piqued when she is hears that Katie and three of her friends died after watching a cursed videotape. Determined to debunk an urban legend and make great copy in the process, Rachel inadvertently stumbles upon a sinister secret. If she doesn't solve the ensuing mystery in seven days, not only will she blow her deadline, she dies. Nothing like a little incentive.

Based on the 1998 Japanese film of the same name, The Ring rises above it's contemporaries: it doesn't rely on elaborate eviscerations, naked nubile teenagers or multimillion dollar CGI effects. The first hour of the film is a pure Hitchockian-style thriller with a supernatural bent, mixing disturbing surreal imagery with quick cut away shots and an eerie score to devastating effect (there were moments where the hairs on the back of my neck literally stood on end). It's too bad that the remaining fifty minutes are a different movie.

The second half of the film serves as a caveat for film makers on what not to do: introduce irrelevant characters, lose sight of your plot and allow it to ramble aimlessly, have a fake climax (that's never a good thing), and wrap with a predictable ending. The biggest glitch however is the `villain' of the piece.

Whether demon, psycho, monster or serial killer, there needs to be some underlying motivation that drives the antagonist to seek vengeance. While the killer in The Ring was indeed wronged, it is never fully explained why this happened, and the victims are in no way associated with these events. Consequently, the antagonist's actions make no sense within the context of the film, especially when efforts to ameliorate these injustices only serve to magnify her rampage.

Regardless whether you prefer the thinking person's subtle horror stylings of The Sixth Sense or the pea soup expectorant head spinning of The Exorcist, The Ring will leave you unfulfilled and annoyed for having let you down.
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Hwasango (2001)
My kind of martial arts movie
2 October 2002
Volcano High

By Greg Ursic

Being the best at something is great (or so I hear): you get to bathe in the limelight, be adored by legions, and quite possibly get loads of cash. But whether you're the heavyweight boxing champ or king of the tiddly-winks set, there's one annoying downside - someone is always trying to knock you off your throne. Throw superpowers into the mix and things get even more complicated.

Expelled yet again for fighting, Kyeong-su Kim is transferred to Volcano High, a cross between Hogwarts and Xavier's school for gifted children: the students possess a stunning range of martial and mental skills. Unfortunately for Kyu, who has sworn off fighting, he finds himself caught between warring sports clubs vying for control of the school and a secret book of magic. And as the powerful new kid everyone wants Kyeong-Su on their team or out of the way. And you thought your high school was tough.

From the opening sequence with its pounding score and action teaser you know that this film is going to be a lot of fun. Boasting a retinue of strutting characters with pompous sounding names, hilarious slapstick, physical humor, strong female roles, leather clad villains, intricate, over-the-top Matrix-style wire work and great CGI, this film offers the martial arts aficionado everything they could want. There's even a fleshed out subplot that addresses the rote style learning and nonconformist obedience typical of old-style Asian schooling. But I digress. The fight sequences are carefully parsed out, leaving the viewer wanting for more, but the payoff is well worth the wait - the final showdown has the best combination of choreography/visual effects/mood/scoring that I've seen in a film in this genre.

My only concern was that the subtitles were very dim and placed low on the screen making them difficult to read. Unless you're trying to make notes like I was, this won't be a big problem.

If you like your martial arts films loud and flashy (and who doesn't?), this is one you definitely want to see on the big screen. I'm already waiting for the sequel.

P.S. I hear that Resurrection of the Little Match Girl is even better!
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Beware the prints of darkness
27 August 2002
One Hour Photo

By Greg Ursic

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife or thy neighbour's goods. One needn't be religious to accept the wisdom of these words, which although penned over 5000 years ago, hold true today. While everyone likes to think they're above such pettiness, we've all experienced it– whether you're admiring your neighbour's new Porsche or your buddy's Baywatch clone girlfriend – if only fleeting. In its mildest form these desires can lead to bitterness, at its worst, it may require a visit from the coroner.

Sy Parrish is an unassuming nebbish whose life is upholstered in beige: friendless, clueless and stuck in a nowhere job (he's a photo clerk at the local SavMart ) he readily fades into the background. While the customers who bring their film in for developing barely acknowledge him, Sy has an all access pass into their most private moments. W hen someone tampers with his favorite happy shiny family, the Yorkins, Sy's not prepared to stand by and watch as his vision of perfection is sullied.

It took Robin Williams - a Juilliard graduate and standup icon - nearly a decade to get accepted as more than a one trick pony (of course the drugs, alcohol and disastrous flops a la `Popeye' didn't help). With his breakthrough performance in The Dead Poets Society Hollywood finally began to take him serious and several acclaimed performances followed, culminating in his 1997 Oscar . Unfortunately the past few years saw Williams lapse into a succession of roles so banal and sickeningly sweet they had audiences reaching for their insulin. Whether or not this motivated his most recent choices – deranged childrens show star in Death to Smoochy and killer in Insomnia – is debatable (Williams claims it didn't). But with Sy, Williams reaches new heights (or more appropriately depths).

Within moments of Sy's appearance you forget that you are watching Williams: there are none of the classic mannerisms, indeed Sy is hyper subdued. It is also quickly apparent that there is something seriously amiss; Sy is the atypical bad guy, guided not by money or global domination, but a desire to `do the right thing' (however warped that happens to be). It is a tribute to William's talent that as Sy's descent into the sinister grows the audience is simultaneously squirming in discomfort and feeling sorry for him. While the supporting cast helps to provide perspective, it is the physical elements of the film that qualify as the co-stars.

The feel of the story is dramatically enhanced by the cinematography: the blandness of Sy's monochromatic existence appears even starker when juxtaposed next to the color flushed surroundings of the SavMart. Several shots mimic the through the lens view of a still camera, turning the viewer into a voyeur, and careful framing gives sections of the film a photo album quality . The final polish comes from the score which meshes flawlessly with the film, augmenting the dramatic elements without pandering to melodrama.

If you see only one Robin Williams film this year, make it this one.
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xXx (2002)
James bond meets the X-games...
13 August 2002
By Greg Ursic

Mention the word "spy" and for most people it conjures up British accents, tuxedos and martinis – shaken, not stirred of course. While I've been a Bond fan for longer than I care to admit, let's be realistic for a moment; it's pretty hard to relate to a polished pseudo aristocrat who beds supermodels, battles supervillains and saves the world on a weekly basis. Where are all the regular Joe average superspies?

Xander Cage is an attitude riddled adrenalin junkie who is always looking for the next big fix. His fun comes to an abrupt stop when his latest stunt catches the attention of the wrong person in the NSA and Xander gets shanghaied. It seems that a certain anarchist group, composed of earthy ex-Red Army regulars is intent on ushering in a new era, and suave, sophisticated spies stick out like, well, suave sophisticated spies. The NSA feels that this is a task that Xander, a tattooed delinquent, deemed to be the `best and brightest of the bottom of the barrel' would be perfect for. Well, with a few exceptions.

With Schwarzenegger contemplating a run for Governor, and Willis finally being accepted as a `serious' actor, the Action Hero genre has been left bereft of a genuine successor. Enter Vin Diesel, a man of few words, who first popped up on Hollywood's radar when his indie film `Multi-facial', which he wrote, directed and starred in received great reviews at Caanes. Most importantly, Diesel caught the attention of Steven Spielberg, who cast him in `Saving Private Ryan' as Private Caparzo. His breakout role as Dominic Toretto in `The Fast and the Furious' (a film intended to showcase Paul Walker) proved his power as a box office draw and he was soon being hailed as the go to action hero for the next millennia (Revolution Studios is betting huge that he will be- they signed him to a three picture deal and will pay him $20 million for the first sequel).

As Xander, Diesel is surprisingly low key – he is pensive, humorous, growly and explosive when necessary - and there is no doubt that `XXX' is his vehicle. Diesel dominates every scene that he appears in with an understated cockiness, and those ever-bulging biceps. Asia Argento (daughter of horror meister Dario Argento) affects a Courtenay Love style persona – her Yelena is tough, b*tchy, no nonsense and cold as ice. Yelena, like Xander, is edgy, rough, and quick-witted. The supporting cast, with the exception of Samuel Jackson as Xander's slick and slimy protégé, are largely unremarkable.

The action sequences are for lack of a better word, extreme: from the opening base jump (okay, technically it's not a base jump in the strictest sense of the term) with a twist sequence, to the amazing freestyle motocross sequence to the boarding, the stunts are amazing. I also appreciated the fact that neither the spies or the gadgets have much polish – the Q equivalent in `XXX' is a total geek/frat boy wannabe whose gadgets lack subtlety, and are largely untested (XXX's retrofitted GTO requires a `Gadgets for Dummies' guide). There are several elements that hamstring the film however.

The actors are constantly hemmed in by lackluster dialogue – it doesn't matter how charismatic a character is, they are ultimately defined by their writing. There were no pithy catch phrases or witticisms – a necessity for any action hero. There are also too many lulls in the film – I appreciated the action sequences but repeatedly found myself getting bored with the filler in between. Also, the `secret' plot elements were far too obvious and easily divined. Finally, I was largely unimpressed with the FX used in several sequences (especially the avalanche).

If you are looking to give the old gray matter and inject some excitement into your weekend, splurge on a matinee.
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S1m0ne (2002)
Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "Showbiz people are so phony"
12 August 2002
By Greg Ursic

Many people bemoan the loss of the Hollywood mystique, when contract actors were essentially owned by the studios and lived glamorous, carefully tailored lives, and were surrounded by an air of mystery. The public however is just as much to blame for this - our insatiable need to know everything - how much the stars earn, who they're dating, what they're addicted to ... - has left them then without any semblance of privacy. It's amazing that today's superstars don't immolate under the spotlight's glare. While the days of discovering the next screen legend in ice cream parlours may be over, they may soon be created over a banana split...

For Viktor Taransky bad things do indeed come in threes, in his case, movies: a former Oscar nominated director, his last three films have been box office dogs. His comeback attempt is apparently dashed when the star ("A supermodel with a SAG card") of his latest film walks out on him citing creative differences. Replacing her seems impossible - as an agent eloquently notes "[For my client] having no credits is better than having a Taransky credit." He also learns that rock bottom can always be adjusted when the studio chief - who also happens to be his ex-wife - lets him know that he's being fired. Distraught and demoralized, Viktor's salvation appears in the guise a seemingly deranged genius who offers him the ultimate software for the director who can't find a star - who says you can't make em like you used to?

For those accustomed to Al Pacino's typical cast of characters -serious, dark and brooding, with an intensity level that never drops below 10, Viktor Taranksy is a refreshing change. As the real (read: flesh and blood) star of the film, Viktor is a man with a quandary - a director with integrity and vision, who actually sees beyond the box office, he must perpetrate a hoax, to get his film made and salvage his career. Pacino is appropriately low key and morose- even when Viktor should be bathing in the glow of success there is a palpable manic undercurrent and sense of foreboding. The supporting cast is a mixed blessing.

Catherine Keener, who plays Elaine, Viktor's ex-wife (her second role as a Hollywood executive in as many months), has suprisingly little presence in the film - her dialogue is light and her character is relatively inconsequential. I can only assume that this was done so as not to detract from the other adult female lead (see below). Evan Rachel Wood, delivers a solid performance as the daughter, supplying maturity and offering sage advice to her self-involved immature parents. Of course the real star is Simone.

As a synthespian, (or as the designer of S1MøNE software notes "The pc term is "vactor") Simone is happy with every script she receives, never complains about her perks and will never age - a director's dream. Though sultry and seductive, she projects a soothing screen presence, and you feel the symbiosis between her and Viktor. It wasn't until the credits started rolling that I realized Simone really was a computer generated image (this is confirmed by both the press kit and everything I've been able to find on the internet) and is a composite of Hollywood leading ladies from the past (drawn from the "Legends Library").

Although marketed as a comedy, "Simone" highlights the growing impact of technology on how we perceive reality. While moviegoers have come to expect special effects in their films, most don't realize the extent to which they are actually utilized - it is not uncommon for actors to be made thinner, or taller, with the click of a mouse. Several films have already employed synthespians to perform difficult stunts and last year's Final Fantasy showed how far the technology had come (bankrupting a movie company in the process). Simone demonstrates that actors themselves may soon be in jeopardy. Of course there are other issues lurking in the background: will we be faced with the spectre of Jimmy Stewart in Scary Movie 6 or Grace Kelly hawking feminine hygiene products? More disturbing is the possibility that in the near future the news reports we're watching could be wholly fictional and we would have no way of knowing? But that's more than enough paranoia for one review.

The first half of Simone is both fun and engaging as the public's thirst for knowledge about Simone grows: co-stars brag about partying with her, people say that she speaks to something in them because she is so real (irony at its best), and Simone reaches virtual demigoddess status. Unfortunately, the manic pace and almost giddy feel of the film begins to wane in the second half, meandering between different plot elements, and winding up in a too perfect conclusion.

Go for the matinee and stay for the popcorn.
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Austin Powers Meets Shaft
30 May 2002
> The 70's will best be remembered for polyester, shag carpeting, bad bumper stickers and that wonderful genre known as the blaxploitation flick. With a noticeable absence of roles for people of color, several directors took matters into their own hands and produced such classics as Blacula, Foxy Brown and of course Shaft. While the films often personified cheese, they gave many actors a chance at feature roles, when they would other wise have been bit players.

With his super fro, and Cadillac Seville Anton Jackson, aka Undercover Brother is the epitome of cool. Anton is recruited by B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. and together with Smart Brother, Conspiracy Brother, and Sistah Girl he is determined to help in the battle against The Man. When the first African American likely to win the presidency opts to pursue a 'different' path, they know that something is wrong and are determined to set things right.

I saw the trailer for this film at another premiere and laughed so hard that I was in tears. I therefore assumed that as is typical of most trailers these days, they had shown all the funny scenes. Still, when I was given tickets to the premiere, I couldn't say no. I was so happy that I didn?t.

Undercover Brother is without a doubt the funniest movie that I've seen in a very long time, and it doesn't rely on the gross-out humor that has become so tiresome (and unfunny). From the opening credits with its outlandish seventies style graphics to the ludicrous finale, there is nothing that I wouldn?t recommend.

Eddie Griffin, the best part of the recent film The New Guy (except for Eliza Dushku in her bikini modeling sequence ? I?m a guy, so sue me) is hilarious here as Anton. Griffin has a fabulous array of one liners (?Mess with the fro and you got to go?), a wardrobe that would make a disco queen look conservative and enough seventies chic, that you just have to have more. The sequences with Griffin as a pseudo white guy are uproarious. The supporting cast also does an excellent job.

David Chapelle is pure ludicrous as Conspiracy Brother, reading oppression into everything (you'll want to think twice before saying good morning to someone again) and determined to bring down The Man. Chi McBride is the stereotypical screaming captain/boss featured in such films as Beverly Hills Cop or 48 Hours, but here, the nonsensical rants make no absolutely no sense and are of course that much more amusing. Denise Richardson, as wily femme fatale White Cheetah, is cunning foe both ditzy and deadly. Neil Patrick Harris, is wonderful as Lance the token white guy in B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. ? he is so white that it can be painful to watch (he is even more painful to listen to). And how could I write a review without mentioning Billy Dee, who still manages to ooze cool as a zombie.

Undercover Brother is definitely not a PC film, but so what? Everyone that I went to the premiere with ? a very diverse crowd - complained that their sides hurt from laughing so hard. Solid!
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Love has everything to do with it!
29 January 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Don Juan DeMarco

Every movie lover/reviewer harbors a shameful little secret - while they spend their time lauding serious films with deep messages, talking about visionary cinematography or writing expository essays about tortuous characterizations, they don't tell you about that one film that they really love. It may be a B-movie starring their favorite big-busted scream queen, or trashy gross out comedy or one of dozen other genres. But be assured that that film is kept amongst the blank tapes and will never shares the same shelf space as the serious films in their collection. Well I for one won't hide my copy anymore!

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Unable to find his true love, Don Juan DeMarco, the giver of pleasure, cannot, go on living. His efforts are foiled by one Dr. Mickler, a skilled and weary physician who has grown tired of paint by the numbers psychiatry. Shipped off to a psychiatric hospital for an evaluation, Don Juan asks to be given the opportunity to recount his tragic life and convince the doctor that he is not delusional. Mickler, surprised by Don Juan's candor and apparent lack of artifice agrees to the deal. And thus begins a remarkable journey.

I first saw this movie in 1996- I had gone to get some rentals at the local video outlet and found the no brainer action flick I wanted, but needed to find something romantic for my girlfriend (I made a promise). While scouring the shelves for something that didn't look too mushy, I accidentally knocked this movie off the shelf. I did a quick scan of the synopsis, and figured "Bingo" and ran home. It was one of the most fortuitous mistakes I ever made.

Johnny Depp shines as Don Juan DeMarco - he is witty, fresh, and sincere. Depp repeatedly takes us into the realm of cheeziness, but playing Don Juan any other way would be a mistake -his message would be too hard to accept if it weren't tongue in cheek. Don Juan's exuberant spirit and ability to discern what is truly important is readily contagious. Marlon Brando is also a joy to watch as Dr. Mickler, indeed it's the most he's given himself over to a role in decades. His transformation from bitter, tired old man to vibrant wide eyed optimist open to life's gifts is thoroughly engaging. Rounding off the cast is Faye Dunaway, as Dr. Mickler's devoted. She successfully conveys the stunned amazement and joy at discovering an unknown side of a partner she has lived with for decades.

Many aspects of this film are far-fetched, indeed ridiculous, but the underlying story and its message are too hard to resist. Unless you are a dyed in wool cynic, you will find the magic in Don Juan DeMarco. I still do
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Pure entertainment!
27 January 2002
Except for novels that I had to read for English 200 back in university (unless you count the time I read "The Brothers Karamazov" for fun - don't ask), most of my exposure to the literary classics came from the Classics Illustrated comics. I always enjoyed the fact that they took great stories, cut through the chaff, made them easily accessible, enjoyable and I could be done in less than a half an hour. Apparently directors read them too.

Edmund Dantes is a simple man with simple desires, whose only goal in life is to save enough money so that he can wed his beautiful fiancee. Unfortunately, his belief in all that is good and trust in his friends are the very qualities that mark him as the perfect patsy. Convicted of nonexistent crimes, Edmund is sent to die in a hideous hellhole that masquerades as a prison. Bereft of hope, and having denounced god, there is only one thing that keeps Edmund alive -dreams of escape and revenge.

I slipped into this film hoping that it would provide me with two hours of enjoyment - it greatly exceeded my expectations. The Count of Monte Cristo is a film with something for everyone: romance, betrayal, intrigue, humor, sword fights… It embodies the spirit seen in the Indiana Jones trilogy - present the viewer with pure entertainment, and don't insult them.

James Cavaziel's past performances have been less than stellar. More importantly, they have failed to demonstrate his dramatic range. As Edmund, he is given the opportunity to create a character who undergoes stark changes, both physically and mentally: Edmund metamorphoses from a shockingly naïve, young man, to bitter, bedraggled wretch with a tenuous grasp on reality, and finally into a scheming Machiavellian rake. The transformation is both smooth and believable. Edmund's friend/foil is Fernand, played with aplomb by Guy Pearce. Pearce is so despicably roguish, that you almost admire his as you're loathing him. Richard Harris is wonderful as Faria, Edmund's grizzled sage advisor, confessor and trainer. The rest of the supporting cast also accord themselves well.

The film succeeds largely because it does not take itself seriously - even the most dramatic scenes are played with tongue planted in cheek and it is obvious that the cast were caught up in this spirit. In addition, the film is suitable for all ages - the violence is limited and largely bloodless, there is no coarse language and no nudity. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
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