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Cube Zero (2004)
Inventive and nearly as good as his latest film -- Progress!
While not nearly up to par with his latest feature They Wait (which is working at a sort of "Hollywood Standard" level), this is a pretty strong third sequel, which is a rare thing. Especially at this budget level. This is a director who's on the way up with each film a step up from the last.
Cube Zero was being advertised as a prequel to Vincenzo Natali's sci-fi classic Cube, but this would appear to be some kind of marketing ploy; there's nothing here to indicate any of the film's events transpire prior to Natali's version. But the most surprising thing about Cube Zero is how effective it is, particularly when compared to its predecessor; writer/director Ernie Barbarash employs many of the same elements that made the original so enjoyable (ie incredibly brutal deaths), while also peppering the story with some new elements (the one thing Barbarash doesn't have on his side is freshness, as there's already been one direct-to-video sequel in this franchise).
Instead of focusing entirely on a group of characters stuck inside the cube, Barbarash throws in a subplot involving two low-level employees who are responsible for keeping an eye on the cube's victims. As a result, we do learn more about the cube's existence - though Barbarash smartly refuses to divulge everything, occasionally contradicting certain revelations with something entirely different (this is in addition to the appearance of certain elements within the cube that go unexplained). There's even an appearance by an odd, robotic-eye sporting executive named Jax (Michael Riley), who seems as though he'd be more at home in a David Cronenberg flick.
Cube Zero opens with a fantastic sequence in which a hapless victim trudges into one of the cube's many rooms, and finds himself sprayed with a water-like substance (suffice it to say, it's not water). It's something that one expects out of a Cube flick - ie flamboyant on-screen deaths - and in that respect, the movie does not disappoint. But, like Natali's original (which is, admittedly, superior), there's more to the film than just blood and gore; it's the escape efforts of these disparate survivors that proves to be the most intriguing aspect of the story.
The performances are surprisingly strong, with Stephanie Moore and Zachary Bennett the obvious standouts (the latter is particularly effective as an employee of the cube who makes the mistake of questioning its very existence). And while it would've been nice if the film had answered a few more questions than it posed, there's no denying that Cube Zero is a worthy addition to the franchise.
Cold Mountain (2003)
Anthony Minghella seems to have cornered the market in slow, overlong period flicks - with The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and now Cold Mountain providing ample evidence of this. Despite some admittedly impressive visuals (thanks to cinematographer John Seale), Cold Mountain never quite manages to engage the viewer - primarily due to an abundance of characters and a few too many pointless subplots. The story, set during the American Civil War, follows a soldier named Inman (Jude Law) as he attempts to return home to his sweetheart, Ada (Nicole Kidman). It's a decent setup that is diluted and eventually destroyed by Minghella's refusal to remain focused on the two characters; this is exemplified by the presence of Ray Winstone's Teague and his ridiculously evil posse, who appear to have been included for the sole purpose of forcing Inman into a showdown at the film's close. Law is very good in the central role, while the continuous cavalcade of stars eventually becomes distracting - though Natalie Portman briefly injects some life into the film with her turn as a single mom. As for Oscar winner Renée Zellweger, the actress seems to be channeling Yosemite Sam here - a bizarre choice that is kind of entertaining, but ultimately jarring and out-of-place. Finally, there's the ending, which is deeply unsatisfying in so many ways - further cementing Cold Mountain's status as an ill-advised adaptation (Charles Frazier's Pulitzer Prize winning novel must be better than this).
Van Wilder (2002)
National Lampoon's Van Wilder is yet another comedy that isn't all that funny. It's packed with hundreds of so-called jokes, but few of them are able to elicit anything other than groans. Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is the big man on campus at his college, having been attending for seven years (and no, he's not going for his doctorate). But things start to go wrong after he raises the ire of a well-connected frat guy by hitting on his girlfriend (Tara Reid), and in between vicious pranks against said frat guy, Van Wilder comes to the realization that maybe it's time for him to graduate. The film belongs to that dying comedy sub-genre, the gross-out flick. And this one takes things particularly far, forcing characters to eat dog semen. That'd all be fine, if any of this stuff was in the least bit funny - which it isn't. Reynolds is charming enough to hopefully survive this mess, but Reid just looks completely out of place here (wearing about a pound of make-up and speaking her lines with a sultry whisper, she seems to be auditioning for a Joe Eszterhas flick). Still, I will admit to having chuckled at an Erik Estrada cameo and the whole thing isn't as painfully boring as, say, American Pie - so you really could do worse.
Enemy of the State (1998)
fast and the silly
Distinctly uneven but generally entertaining, Enemy of the State casts Will Smith as Robert Dean - a Washington-based attorney who inadvertently finds himself at the center of a far-reaching conspiracy involving the murder of a well-known congressman. Director Tony Scott - working from David Marconi's screenplay - infuses the film with an expectedly kinetic sense of style, while producer Jerry Bruckheimer's presence can be felt in even the smallest moments (something that's particularly true of the random bits of quirkiness among the supporting characters). And although costar Gene Hackman - essentially reprising his Conversation role - acts circles around Smith, Smith's charisma and likability certainly goes a long way towards engendering the viewer's empathy. But at a running time of almost two-and-a-half hours (!), there's simply no denying that Enemy of the State is right on the verge of being disastrously overlong (the inclusion of a needless third-act sting probably doesn't help matters, although it does lead into a ludicrous yet enjoyable climax that's oddly similar to the finale of Scott's True Romance). Still, the movie is - on the whole - an astonishingly fast-paced and sporadically intelligent thriller that's generally as mindlessly engaging as Bruckheimer undoubtedly intended.
Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
Slick and Empty
A remake of the eponymous cult classic, Gone in Sixty Seconds follows a ragtag group of car thieves - led by Nicolas Cage's Memphis Raines - as they attempt to steal 50 cars over a 72-hour time period. Director Dominic Sena infuses the movie with precisely the sort of glossy style that one expects from a Jerry Bruckheimer production, while screenwriter Scott Rosenberg peppers the story with a whole host of quirky characters and clever instances of dialog. The film is consequently entertaining but senseless; the inherent slickness of virtually every aspect of the production eventually becomes mind-numbing, and there comes a point at which one can't help but crave something (anything) of substance. Having said that, Gone in Sixty Seconds is certainly teeming with charismatic performances (Cage is at his oddball best here) and there's simply no denying the effectiveness of the climactic car chase that finds Raines on the run from dozens of determined cops.
They Wait (2007)
Sleeper Hit of Toronto Festival
I caught this at the Toronto Festival like the other reviewer and was very surprised by how entertaining it was. A terrific ghost story. Jaime King puts in a very strong performance and the whole cast is solid. It's been a while since I've witnessed entire audiences jumping in fright and screaming. There is incredible atmosphere in the film and the underlying story is actually quite brilliant in the way it combines multiple cultures, the immigrant experience, Chinese folklore and actual history and fuses it into a genuine crowd-pleasing genre film. Highly original on that front. I'm a pretty well-rounded J-horror freak-boy and I couldn't see any clichés here which was amazing. Great work from director Barbarash as well.
I'm giving it an 8 as it was certainly the cream of the Canadian film crop at the festival (not withstanding Eastern Promises, which is not a Canadian story with Canadian actors). There is an obvious very large audience for it and it's well made. Looking at the IMDb scores, while I write this, there's a couple dozen 1's dragging the score down. How could that be? This is a pretty good film! Is this because Uwe Boll has his name attached as an executive producer? People are rating it with 1's and trashing it on their blogs without even seeing it. Sad. What a shame for the sincere filmmakers behind this quality movie.