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Return to Paradise (1998)
One of the most underrated movies of the past decade
Return To Paradise is one of the best films you've never heard of. It was buried in the summer of 1998 to mostly positive reviews and was later unsuccessfully reinvented 9 months later here in the UK on the back of Psycho which also starred Vaughn and Heche. Its been unfairly treated by the now defunct Polygram as it is a quite incredible little drama with some superb performances and some moments of great power.
The premise is relatively simple. Three friends on holiday in Malaysia. Two leave. The police arrive and find hash where they were staying. The third is put in jail. Two years later a lawyer finds the two remaining men in New York and tells them that their friend was found guilty of trafficking. They must go back to share the punishment or he will die in 7 days.
Its a frightening dilemma and you can't help but ask yourself the same question. Would you go back? If one goes back they go to prison for 6 years. If both go they will have 3 years each. All of the arguments are put forward, making the answer not seem as clear as originally imagined.
The timeframe is made even tenser with titles reminding us of how many days are remaining. Vince Vaughn plays our hero who doesn't always act in the morally correct way we expect him to do. He doesn't immediately decide to go back, making us question if we would either. Vaughn gives the finest performance of his career as the not completely likeable 'Sheriff'. Anne Heche plays the increasingly desperate lawyer who will do anything to save her client from execution. And her desperation is made completely believable by Heche's multi-faceted performance.
And then Joaquin Phoenix plays the imprisoned Lewis who has little screen time but whenever he's on he totally captivates. His video message to his two friends is heartbreaking. There are numerous twists which serve to further the emotional capital which is placed in the conclusion.
And by the time the suspenseful court scene arrives, you will find yourself nervously hoping for a happy ending. Needless to say the film ends with a succession of unspeakably powerful scenes. Its hard to remember a film which I found as moving as this. It serves as a very poignant anti-drugs message. Its impact will stay with you for days, making it really quite unforgettable. Hunt this down. You will be richly rewarded.
Conspiracy Theory (1997)
Surprisingly moving and involving romantic thriller
I have to confess that I have quite a soft spot for this film. Its taken a while for it to grow on me but I really do like Conspiracy Theory. Its a glossy thriller with the requisite action,'funny' lines and intrigue but there's just something else which makes it memorable. The chemistry between Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts is great and they both give excellent performances. They kind of play inverted versions of each other. Gibson is manic and eccentric, never stopping for breath while Roberts is more muted (Pelican-Brief style). What gives Conspiracy Theory more of an impact than your average Richard Donner blockbuster is the emotional edge. The final half hour plays more like a tragic love story than an action thriller. You'll be surprised at just how sad the film is (Julia Roberts is the 'best fake crier in the world). And the final scene is bound to leave you with a goofy smile on your face. Flawed and not for everyone (as proved by the horrid reviews) but its up there with the best for me. All together now...I love you baby and if its quite alright.....
Disgracefully Entertaining Popcorn Thriller
Enough has been brutalised by pretty much every critic. Yet its one of those films which clearly isn't aiming for critical acclaim. A serious and thought-provoking drama about spousal abuse it is NOT. Yet a crowd-pleasing suspense thriller with a satisfying climax it is. The opening scenes are cheesy yet they're thankfully rushed so the real story can begin. And when the first act of violence occurs against the improbably named Slim, it does come as quite a shock. Audience members actually gasped in the cinema. From then on the tension rarely falters. There are some incredibly successful suspense moments (Slim's initial escape, the hotel room, staying at Joe's, the car chase). And while the morals of the climax are debatable (fighting violence with violence) its still great fun. Jennifer Lopez (Jenny as we now call her) does give a good performance despite what people have said. Illogical and unintentionally funny it may be, but its also an incredibly entertaining Friday night thriller.
Mr. Wrong (1996)
Pitch Black Comedy With Numerous Funny Moments
Mr.Wrong has been unfairly reviewed. Designed as a vehicle for the considerable comic talents of Ellen Degeneres, this perhaps wasn't what many people were expected. Okay so its got a glossy sheen and typical 'madcap' comedy music but its tone is much darker than your average comedy.
Ellen plays Martha, a single women who thinks shes found the man of her dreams in Whitman, played with creepy assurance, by Bill Pullman. After making the mistake of telling him to act like himself, it becomes clear that he is completely insane.
He makes her shoplift, sends her endlessly random gifts, steals mexican kids for her and in the most uncomfortable scene of all, in an effort to show her how much he loves her, he breaks his finger for her.
For some people this may sound more like the plot of a thriller and some critics did find the film a little distasteful but for black comedy fans, this is great fun. Degeneres is fantastic as the goofy heroine, providing most of the films laughs.
The random humour of the film is what makes it really funny. Disgruntled ex Joan Cusack's attempts to strike back at Degeneres are great. 'Do you want gum in your hair?', 'Prepare to be consumed by ants!', 'Don't be nice to her! Pull her hair!'
It may not be to everyone's tastes but this is a real comedy gem.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Resurrects The British Horror Genre With One Foul Swoop
Dog Soldiers is a shamelessly deriative yet disgracefully enjoyable werewolf movie which has its tongue firmly in its cheek and its finger firmly on the trigger. Its fast pace and relentless energy means you will barely notice the cracks and the occasionally risible dialogue. The low-budget is admirably well-spent and the cast are surprisingly excellent. The full-on gore is also mixed with a wicked streak of black humour-the superglue, whiskey and intestines scene is grossly funny.
Wearing its B-movie status with pride, this is a first-rate Friday night movie which has all the makings of a cult classic.
4 stars out of 5
Joy Ride (2001)
Quite Simply A Minor Classic
Joy Ride is an adrenaline-pumping Duel meets I Know What You Did Last Summer thrill-packer which wears its B Movie status on its bloody sleeve and is goofily proud of it.Placing believable characters who do ALL the right things in terrifying situations put this a cut above the usual teen slashers.Walker is less bland than usual while Sobieski and Zahn are excellent.Sobieski once again proves that she is one of the most versatile teen actors around and Zahn is frequently hilarious. From one tense scene to another,this is a ride which does not relent. Packed to the brim with cleverly constructed situations,jump out of your seat shocks(believe me,you will become scared of the sound of a phone ringing), funny moments and nail biting chases, this is perfect escapist entertainment. Disgracefully and deliriously enjoyable. This deserves its incredible reviews.
The Most Violent Film I Have Ever Seen-Really!
On paper Kolobos looks like your average post-scream slasher film. It is in fact much more than that. If you found Scream a little formulaic and economical in its gore usage, you will not be disappointed. A series of undescribably brutal deaths are shown in their full gory-glory. Nothing, NOTHING is left out and despite the low-budget, these deaths are horrifically realistic. The ending may be slightly incomprehensible but this is one to seek out. Its refreshingly non-ironic, unspeakably violent and actually pretty entertaining-in a weird kinda way. If you have a strong stomach then go find it.
Silly Yet Deliriously Entertaining Thriller
Shattered is a Hitchcock meets Sunset Beach style thriller which plays its silly premise and story straight and comes up trumps.The audience are wisely kept in the dark of the story, so we learn about everything at the same time as our protaganist, played with a nice ambiguity by Tom Berenger.All the twists and turns finally pay-off in probably my favourite twist of all time.Really.Completely unguessable and ridiculous yet wholly satisfying, it helps to make Shattered into a thrilling Saturday Night Movie.Take it as it is and you won't be disappointed
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
You've Never Seen Anything Like It Before
Despite all the bad reviews I was truly captivated by AI.Its mix of Spielberg warmth and Kubrick coldness works brilliantly together.The film starts off almost like a horror movie while Monica adjusts to David.Im not going to give much away after this but the scene in the forest is heartbreaking.Haley Joel Osment is such a fantastic actor.Jude Law is good but he has little to do.The film is so visionary, the flesh fair a surprisingly nasty yet awesome spectacle.
The film is never boring(ignore the people who say it is)and the controversial ending is actually quite brilliant.Its the most satisfying emotional pay-off that they could have created.Its also extremely sad.
Unlike most of the other films this summer, AI raises many questions and deliberately doesn't answer them, leaving the audience to discuss them.
Entertaining and Thought-Provoking.Love it or hate it-an instant classic. 9/10
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
An uncompromising love story
Forget Pretty Woman or Sleepless In Seattle, this is a film about real love. Two people, who have habits which are going to destroy them accept each other for who they are, knowing that their time together may be very short. Ben is an alcoholic and Sera is a prostitute. From the moment when Ben asks Sera if he can pay money just to talk, they fall in love. They carry on with their painful lives, made better only with the relationship they share together. This is a downbeat, brutal film which isn't an easy watch. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue are both excellent in the main two roles, instantly inducing our sympathy and making us hope for a happy ending. Overall, this is one of the most powerful and touching romances we've seen in the past decade. Only the hardest cynic would be without a lump in his throat by the inevitable ending. 10/10
The Hole (2001)
A Solid Attempt At A British Scary Movie
Its nice to see the teen thriller/horror genre being experimented with by the Brits for once.This is being touted as the Brit Blair Witch, and while its certainly not that, its an incredibly enjoyable night out. The cast are surprisingly good, Thora Birch is a talented lead and the other 3 newcomers are very promising. After the first scene and the following horrific flashbacks, audience expectations are very high for a truly terrifying film. On this level, the film doesn't deliver. Unlike the Blair Witch, this isn't that scary. It jumpy, violent and memorable yet not scary. The premise is great and ingeniously explored through uneven flashbacks and the film is nicely directed with some flair. the film also has a clever twist which is deliciously nasty. Overall, this is much better than a lot of the crap that the Americans get away with and this deserves to do well. A thoroughly entertaining film, which will guarantee your undivided attention. 8/10
Final Destination (2000)
I managed to see FINAL DESTINATION on a recent trip to America and I had high expectations as I had heard the premise and I was intrigued by the possibility of a horror film with an enemy that was impossible escaping from, Death. The film starts with a cracking opener. Alex Browning is (Sawa) about to take a flight to Paris with his school. He has an horrific premonition where the plane explodes mid-air, killing everyone on board. He then wakes and is desperate to get off. Him and a couple of others, including a teacher, get thrown off the plane. As they are waiting at the airport they witness what Alex feared would come true. Soon after this, they soon start dying in mysterious and gruesome circumstances. The death scenes are highly inventive and much more violent than anything SCREAM or URBAN LEGEND could come up with. The film lets you down in one respect as you hope after the opening scene, the film would be a mysterious thriller. All you realise it is used for is a gimmick for a teen slasher movie, without a slasher. But, compared to other teen slasher flicks, FINAL DESTINATION stands head above its peers. The acting is surprisingly great (LARTER is definitely one to watch), the pace is breakneck, the film is well shot and there are some genuine shocks. Think SAMUEL L's nasty surprise in DEEP BLUE SEA. Plus there is a great cliffhanger final scene. An added bonus is the film's non-Hollywood style. The slogan, You Can't Cheat Death is wonderfully cynical and no character, despite their place in the credits is above a gruesome execution. All, in all FINAL DESTINATION is a great teen horror film. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)
A Forgotten Classic
Why did everyone hate this film? It seems that the press love to hate any Julia Roberts film as quick as possible. I have to admit that I find Julia Roberts a fine actress and Sleeping With The Enemy is a fine example of this. She shines in a compelling and powerful thriller, that despite relying on overused shock tactics, builds up an incredible sense of excitement towards the overwrought finale. The opening scenes are shocking and the escape of the abused wife and the discovery of her husband's reappearance are undeniably moving. A forgotten classic