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10/10
Fabulously Written and Gloriously Executed
17 March 2005
When you take time out to see a movie, it is always a great blessing when the film is cleverly written, seamlessly executed, and wonderfully acted. Such is the experience you take home when viewing "The Upside of Anger".

One might have described the genre as a classic melodrama years ago when the term was used to characterize family dramas where women struggled with their situation or gave voice to once- repressed desires. However, I would describe it as a comedy-drama with a wonderful mix of characters, plot, and extraordinary flow.

Galvanized by a wonderful and clever script, and stimulated by truly incredible performances by Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, "Upside of Anger" is a welcome and inspired account of a family struggling with the unexpected abandonment by the father of four girls. Writer/director Mike Binder deserves all the tribute the fans and critics will likely bestow upon him for this superbly rendered comedic drama, which is at once traditional and iconoclastic as well as absorbing and entertaining, as it is essentially human. It is a perfect blend of humor and sadness, consistent with real people that anyone can identify with. Each character is uniquely and expertly developed into several complex layers, each of which is interesting in its own right.

The tale commences when the alcoholic matriarch of a well to do Detroit family discerns that her husband has abandoned her thus leaving her to raise four determined daughters, all of who are in various stages of young adulthood. She feels lost being on her own, without any obvious means of support. Her angry, drunken rants fuel her already combative parenting style, and the story kicks off its comical meandering through a complex familial matrix when Costner, as a middle-aged, quirky yet real and perfectly lovable neighbor, makes a play for her attention. Mike Binder, who also is the director of this film, skillfully plays a character that at first you have to laugh at, later despise, and finally sympathize with as well as laugh at once more. The supporting cast, which includes Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, and Alicia Witt, skillfully facilitate this exquisite interpretation of a family's emotional transformation to become one of the most pleasurable and surprisingly unpredictable romantic dramas I have seen in a very long time.

This clever and rare comedy should not be missed. Although the average American film-goer may be disappointed with it's absence of car chases and gratuitous violence, the fine quality of the acting and the superb story may ultimately speak to the culturally deprived and vacuous mentalities that may hopefully mature and broaden their fertile minds.
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Collateral (2004)
8/10
A summertime implausible action film with wit, brains, style, and character.
8 August 2004
In this half crime thriller and half surprisingly comical buddy pix, Michael Mann's "Collateral" smashes full-bore through LA in one night of murder and mayhem. Tom Cruise stars as Vincent, a cold-blooded hitman who picks Jamie Foxx ‘s cab as his vehicle for the night to slaughter five would-be witnesses scheduled to testify in an upcoming Drug King Pin's trial. The highly talented Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans) brings to the screen one tight-fisted, yet highly implausible crime thriller that delivers generous doses of high-end action amidst compelling character moments. Foxx plays an aimless, yet intelligent and kind-hearted, young cab driver named Max. Max becomes increasingly anxious as the bodies begin piling up, while the police are just beginning to pick up the crime's scent.

Plot wise, the story is highly unlikely and implausible, yet Mann and screenwriter Stuart Beattie manage to elevate the material beyond simplistic gimmickry. Vincent promises Max 700 dollars to be his wheelman while he dispatches his victims one-by-one. It does not take a genius to figure out that Max is most likely doomed once Vincent's dirty little mission is accomplished. This is the backbone of the tension and terror that runs throughout the film. Although it has a formulaic finale involving a lot of running through deserted office buildings and streets, a subway train, and some really bad shooting of a supposed expert hitman.

Mechanically, the film seems to have been shot mostly on digital video, yet maintaining a starkly striking style. Collateral is fascinating to watch, notwithstanding the killings and far-fetched gunplay. Cruise seems to be really relishing his Bad Guy role that you cannot seem to resist watching his every move. He is quietly evil, yet he is infinitely fascinating and peculiarly likable. Collateral is not exactly profound or even a novel crime story. However, it is remarkably satisfying and thrilling.

It is great to see an action fantasy so mature and refined during this summer's goofy spectacles and mindless dramas. This is a fun and good-looking movie, with a strangely haunting and original concept. It has the cast to pull it off and a talented director doing his part to carry the theme to an electrifying new level.
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The Village (2004)
5/10
A Foray Into Fear and Utopia
8 August 2004
At first glance this supposed late nineteenth century village seems picture perfect--a handful of Villagers living harmoniously in an idyllic setting. However, this close-knit community lives with the frightening belief that a race of frightening creatures resides in the woods surrounding their village.

The sanctity of 'The Village' is held in constant check by a sort of an unwritten treaty with the creatures referred to by the townspeople as 'Those We Don't Speak Of.' The villagers live in a state of constant fear of the evil and foreboding force that lurks outside their tranquil settlement. So terrified are the people that no one dares venture beyond 'The Village' perimeter into the darkness of the woods.

Despite the advice of his elders, a curious and determined Lucius Hunt (JOAQUIN PHOENIX) has a burning desire to step beyond the boundaries of the town into the unknown to bring back supplies and medicine from neighboring villages. Town leader, Edward Walker (WILLIAM HURT) warns Lucius of the danger beyond the town's outskirts, and Lucius' mother, Alice Hunt (SIGOURNEY WEAVER) begs him to stay at home and spare himself the greed and desires that exist in the outside world.

Lucius' strength and courage is matched only by Ivy Walker (BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD), a beautiful and mesmerizing young blind woman with a profound wisdom well beyond her years. Her fearless nature and gift-like perceptions are beyond anything Lucius has ever known. Both Lucius and the mischievous village idiot, Noah Percy (ADRIEN BRODY) admire Ivy passionately, though her heart only has room for one of them. Her devotion eventually leads her down a tortured forbidden path where terrifying truths are revealed and sudden violence plays out its fearful hand. The so-called truce between 'The Village' and the creatures seems to be ending and the ominous presence of the unknown force ultimately boils over into chaos for the town. And so, the story begins to unfold.

Brilliantly directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this haunting saga's music and direction sends terrifying chills and conjures up horrifying images waiting at every turn only to turn out as ordinary events or things. Much like his previous movie, 'Sixth Sense', Shyamalan has a knack for creating tension and fear without having to produce a terrifying giant lizard such as in 'Jurassic Park' to justify the terror.

The fear and respect given to these unseen creatures seems analogous to what early man must have gone through as beliefs were formed as the result of real and/or imagined forces that ultimately set up certain behaviors that were thought to placate these forces. In 'The Village', the people learned to avoid the color red and would go about destroying any red plants. Occasionally a slaughtered animal was left at the edge of the Village to appease the creatures. They learned to wear certain colors they were led to believe would keep the creatures away. Essentially, the effect was to create an artificial religion that may have ultimately bloomed into a fully formed and organized faith, much like island natives who worshiped and sacrificed animals and people to volcano gods in order to appease them.

The acting was superior to most films, however, nowhere near the level of an Academy Award. The film is to be admired for its ability to keep you terrified and involved; however, after a while it became quite wearisome when no bogeymen appeared to justify all that uproar and tension. Once the plot unfolded, it held many surprises, although somewhat implausible. Basically a fairy tale, the 'Village' is worthy of attendance as long as there is plenty of popcorn available to dispel the tension of two hours of fright.
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9/10
The Dirty Harry Senior Citizen of Japan Crushes A Bevy of Bad Guys
8 August 2004
Take a blind, aging, shuffling masseur in 19th century Japan who still possesses incredible and deadly precision and match him against several gangs of bad guys and ex-Samurais and voila, you have a mixed bag of comedy and a series of blood baths. The Japanese auteur Takeshi Kitano, director of such masterpieces as `Fireworks' and `Sonatine', embraces the iconic character of Japan's longest-running and best-loved film series, `The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi' as the lead actor and the director.

Best known for his gripping Yakuza gangster films and as a famous comedian, Kitano has laid down his guns and taken up the keen edge of the Samurai sword, slicing and dicing the bad guys in Shakespearean quantities. This white-haired, shuffling and bowlegged masseur masquerades as a harmless old man, however quickly dispatches the villains with lightening speed without remorse or hesitation.

This film is distinctly an oddity. It combines awesome and mesmerizing swordplay, corny humor, wonderfully choreographed and delightfully performed Japanese dances, cross-dressing, a creative glimpse into classical Japanese culture, combined with captivating cinematography and spiced with one gore fest after the other. It is fascinating that the gore has such an innocent and comical quality to it that even the most squeamish of us would not take it too seriously

While wandering through villages earning his living as a masseur and using his unique senses to beat the gambling casinos all the while posing as a shuffling old man, it comes as a amusing surprise that he is a Samurai warrior without parallel. At the one village, he finds the mountain people there at the mercy of Ginzo, a ruthless gang leader. Typical of such gangsters, Ginzo disposes of anyone in his way. Ginzo goes so far as to hire the out-of-work Samurai, Hattori (Tadanobu Asano), to annihilate a rival gang. After befriending a deadbeat gambler and breaking the bank in the primitive gambling hut, Zatoichi is forced to dispatch the entire gambling crew, who are also in Ginzo's gang. He then meets the lovely Geisha brother-sister team who have come to town to avenge the killing of their parents at the hands of Ginzo.

The storyline is really not all that original, however the execution and style are fascinating to behold. Instead of six-gun justice, the swift and deadly swordplay emanating from the incongruous blind old man is sort of a delight in of itself. After a while, the spurting blood takes on a persona much like the old westerns where dozens of evil cowboys would clutch their chests and fall off their horses after being shot by the dude in the white hat. Interwoven in all this triteness, rises the unique Japanese culture, music and dance that trump all the violence. A captivating and absorbing saga that delivers a delightful variety and a symphony of beauty, culture, and humor.
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8/10
A Wrenching Tragedy Shatters A Happy Marriage
8 August 2004
This well-acted tragedy pulls us through an exploration of the complexities of love in both the darkest and brightest corridors. Adapted from John Irving's best-selling novel, `A Widow For One Year', the film carefully weaves its way through the painful and tragic aftermath of a deadly accident, alternating between comedy and disaster.

The setting is in the privileged beach community of East Hampton on Long Island, New York where our hero, a children's book author, Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) resides with his beautiful wife Marion (Kim Bassinger). Once upon a time, they had a happy marriage until the bliss was shattered by the accidental death of their two sons. The aftermath resulted in a general despondency and bizarre infidelities that did little to assuage the pain and dysfunction of their deteriorating relationship. The remnants of a once great love are hinted at in almost every scene, although alas are clouded over by their inability to regroup to face the future and put away the past.

Eddie O'Hare, (Jon Foster) the college junior Ted hired to work as his summer assistant and protégé, becomes the couple's unwitting, yet willing pawn, who ultimately evolves into the catalyst in the transformation of their bitter lives. Ted's recent children's book, `The Door In The Floor' in due course becomes the surviving metaphor for transforming their lives.

The evolving story seems to beg for something really horrific to happen, yet offers a kind of relief when this fear is unrealized. One senses that if this couple had only handled their loss differently, a far better result would have followed. It is also a poignant tale of a young boy's rite of passage becoming a man and another man sinking into an emotional immaturity and then hopefully climbing back out.

Directed and written by Tod Williams, this tale is quite apart from the usual Hollywood drivel that may leave you mired in an introspective quandary for quite some time.
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Catwoman (2004)
8/10
A Purr-fect Setting For Clichéd Merriment
8 August 2004
Imagine a beautiful and talented actress like Halle Berry cast as the timid, frumpy graphic artist Patience Phillips, whose curiosity ultimately gets her murdered by her evil boss. Restore her back to life by way of a mystical cat until she morphs into this super human hunk of gorgeousness who can leap enormous heights in the blink of an eye and voila, you have Catwoman, the new super heroine.

The thrust of the clichéd plot is that her evil boss, the tyrannical George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his icy supermodel wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone), have created this fantastic anti-aging beauty cream, albeit actually disfigures the user after a period of time, which they plan to unleash upon the public. Patience discovers the plot and is killed by the wicked henchmen of Laurel. A mystical feline and her furry friends restore patience back to the living whereupon she realizes that she has these amazing powers and strength.

Unfortunately, while fighting crime in her skin-tight, leather, slinky, sado-masochistic cat outfit, the world mistakenly believes she is actually the criminal. Now where have I heard that one before? Anyway, she becomes enamored with the local police detective, Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) while she secretly leaps from building to building--higher, faster and with more agility than the fabled Spiderman. The underworld and the police now have a new nemesis in the form of an extraordinarily seductive crimefighter with the agility and special senses of a cat.

Do not expect too much in the way of acting, plot, or direction and you will have a lot of fun while the adrenaline pumps chaotically through your veins.

Of course, there is also the visual feast of Ms Berry in leathers for the red-blooded American males in the audience and the women can fantasize and identify with her as a metaphor for freedom and release from the oppressiveness of a male-dominated society. Kids will delight with her romps amongst the skyscrapers of New York a la Spiderman and Superman. There is fun and excitement for everyone as long as you do not take the movie too seriously. For me Halle Berry is always worth the price of admission.
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7/10
Once More Into The Breach
16 July 2004
The basic theme of this documentary, `The Hunting of the President', is that Bill Clinton was the target of an opportunistic right-wing campaign to dishonor and undermine him. When the so-called conspirators were unable to destroy him through overboard exposure of the `Whitewater' fiasco, they leaped on the alternate scheme involving his sexual escapades beginning while he was governor of Arkansas and in the White House that ultimately resulted in an impeachment trial by the US Senate, which was plainly a disguised attempt to oust Mr. Clinton instead of the traditional coup d'etat.

I must say that although I am sympathetic with Clinton being so maliciously hounded and persecuted; however, he was indeed substantially the philanderer they made him out to be. The facts the film presented have already exhaustively been presented during the impeachment years leaving very little novelty in the film.

As a historical piece, it would offer some insight to future generations who did not experience the public hysteria. Some of the comments by David Brock, the former conservative reporter who first exposed the Paula Jones sexual harassment contentions, demonstrates that most of the media networks of so-called rich conservatives were determined to break Clinton's back any way they could.

It is almost impossible to determine whether the mainstream conservatives initiated the inquisition into Clinton's financial and sexual affairs or whether they were the result of opportunistic right-wing wacko investigators who presented their evidence to the conservative media. Under either theory, the mainstream snapped it up and ran with it. The rabid conservative elements seem to be constantly on the lookout for any tidbit of information that would tend to discredit or otherwise harm any of their imagined liberal protagonists.

Susan McDougal is presented as an obscure woman who was sent to prison for contempt of court because she would not cooperate with the Starr investigation, suggesting that she knew more than she let on. At the guest screening itself, Ms McDougal in person came across as sincere and unassuming, willing to tell all to a hungry liberal audience who viewed the film at the Roxy in the Mission District of San Francisco. She still professes her original stance that special prosecutor Kenneth Starr had offered her immunity or some sort of leniency if she would lie for them in their case against the Clintons. She refused then and continues to rebuff any assertion that Clinton had done something wrong. Accordingly, Starr had her cited and imprisoned for contempt of court. What she did not tell us was that she was suddenly moved to Sybil Brand Institute, Los Angeles County's jail for women, to face California criminal allegations that she stole money while working for the famous conductor, Zuben Mehta, and his wife in Los Angeles. She was subsequently acquitted with the assistance of celebrated criminal attorney, Mark Geragos.

Some of the tales she spun at the theater about the cruelty and torture she observed and personally endured are highly suspect, particularly when she was an inmate at Sybil Brand county jail in Los Angeles. I cannot imagine imparting any veracity to some of her claims since Los Angeles has more hungry attorneys just chomping at the bit to sue the jail for much less heinous malfeasance on the part of the jailors than the sweet Ms McDougal related to us. It is also inconsistent and surprising for someone to relate such extraordinary tales of horror without more cynicism or bitterness.

The film itself has a clear message that some unsavory and powerful right-wing Americans had the power and the desire to almost `take over the throne' so to speak. For the conservatives, they needed a Clinton to hate since they no longer had the Communists to rant at. However, the film falls short in presenting facts showing why it was so easy for the right to sway the country against Clinton. The allegations concerning Monica Lewinsky were hardly touched upon, nor was the impeachment process adequately presented. Clearly, there were many reasons the people lost faith in Clinton. So, when he actually did tell the truth, we could not or would not really believe him. Thus, when it began to become obvious that Bill was actually the victim, how could the people consider him to be an innocent one?

Directed by well-known Clinton friend Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry, the film has some unique effects such as using old film clips from classic black & white films to illuminate a point. Together with `Fahrenheit 9/11', this picture show should wake up some of those complacent people who think `the king can do no wrong'. Otherwise, the film mainly preaches to the `liberal choir' who most likely will make up the lion's share of the audience. As for the conservative audiences, I doubt that they will give it much credence. I found the movie itself a bit tedious and somewhat redundant, thus aiding my sporadic cat-napping. Otherwise, it had an important message to deliver, albeit in a container that could have been better conceived.
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9/10
A Courageous Peek At Our Own WMD-George W. Bush
5 July 2004
It took someone like Michael Moore to finally come out in all his blazing audacity to present to the American people how they have been burying their heads in the sand about our glorious leader. I recently wrote criticizing Reagan (Reagan Tributes-Enough Already! June 13th, 2004) and said that even with Reagan's blighted record, I would still rather have him than 'Herr Bush'.

'Fahrenheit 9/11' ventures into territory only suggested or hinted at by the other media. No one had the balls to say it like it really is. In fact, I thought Moore's film had in fact been somewhat kind to 'Der Fuhrer' when considering the damage he has done to America and it's image around the world. There is hardly a country on the planet where Bush is not despised, laughed at, or held in awe that such an obvious asshole could be the president of the mightiest land in the world. And let us not forget his blessed cabinet, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice and the worst choice of all, John Ashcroft. Each one of these gems could be fodder for another film by themselves. Anyway, don't get me started.

Moore's film is perhaps the wakeup call America needs in these chaotic times. Of course, I could criticize the mechanics of the film such as the editing, directing, etc., but I will not. The film makes a powerful statement on how things are and that I will not sully. The people who saw the movie laughed, they cried, they fumed, and they cheered for what the man was trying to communicate and that should be enough said by itself. It took a lot of courage to defy the wrath of the ridiculous right by presenting Bush and his gang of thieves as they really are without whitewashing them Hollywood style.

This could be the 'shot heard 'round the world' and indeed it has been setting all sorts of box office records for a documentary film. It is something that really needed to be said and said right now. The press has been remarkably silent and ignoring Bush's betrayal of his country, his incessant lying, and his ineptness in office. The special interests Bush has been serving, such as 'Big Oil' and the Bin Laden family has finally been given the exposure they have so richly deserved. It is now up to the American people to shout "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.' (Made famous in the old movie 'Network' in 1976).

I have heard criticism from other reviewers that the film presents certain matters as though they are true without any support in fact. Obviously, the reviewer either has not really seen the film or is so taken in by the propaganda that they cannot or will not believe that such a blatant abuse of power could exist in this country. Well I have news for you. It can exist and it does exist and you better get aboard and do something about it.

The power has always been in the people; however, when they choose not to use it, the 'evil empire' will fill the void with its own special interests and take the rights and freedoms that were earned by the people away from them again. I sincerely hope we heed this wakeup call and not go back to complacency and apathy. We each have the power vote this fall, get rid of this idiot in the White House, and have a real 'Regime Change' for the better. Outstanding Mr. Michael Moore!
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Spider-Man 2 (2004)
7/10
A Superhero With Human Frailties and Boyish Antics
2 July 2004
Dumb, loud, and cynical blockbusters have long brutalized movie audiences. 'Spiderman 2' illustrates that a superhero film can always stand to strike a chord of what vibrant, intelligent, and heartfelt popular film-making could look like. Directed by Sam Raimi and adapted from a story whose many scribes include the novelist Michael Chabon; the sole screenwriting credit belongs to Alvin Sargent, who wrote "Ordinary People" and "Paper Moon". The new Spider-Man 2 is replete with dazzling colors, deafening noises and elaborate special effects. Of course this is what we expected.

What distinguishes this film, I am pleased to report, is solid character development with sincere emotions. Much like its Marvel Comic book kin, "X-Men 2," this sequel, free from the dreary weight of excessive exploitation, is somewhat better than its predecessor as well as better than most other comic-book-based feature films.

However, what disturbs me about this Super hero is his lack of maturity, looks, and good judgment. It would more aptly be called Spider Boy than Spider Man. His continuous child-like thinking and boyish appearance belong more in a high school teenathon than as the omnipotent Spiderman of comic book fame. This frail looking teenager hardly presents the image of a super hero who is able to attract the likes of a Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) or any other adult female.

In the comic book, the hero is depicted as much older, more muscular, and able to assert himself wherever and whenever needed. I would suppose that the powers that be selected Tobey Maguire for those boyish looks since they would more likely appeal to the teenagers who would more likely provide the bulk of the film's attendance. Whenever Peter Parker kisses the mature-looking Mary Jane, it almost makes you cringe that he is about to be sexually abused.

At the end of the film, the hero was forced to choose between his superhuman powers and the heady charms of Mary Jane. However, it was extremely irritating and difficult to sympathize as to why poor Peter Parker could not have both. True to action-hero clichés, he felt the world needed Spider-Man, and so Peter hardened his resolve and surrendered his despairing, life-long love of Mary Jane Watson.

The dutiful web-slinger, although adored by the people, is unjustly scorned, and maligned in the Daily Bugle, led by the angry and abusive editor J. Jonah Jameson, played with fanatic passion by J. K. Simmons. However, his alter ego Peter Parker is the one who suffers the deeper emotional wounds. Jameson continuously insults, cheats, and badgers poor Peter while he is desperately scrambling to balance the demands of a normal life along with nocturnal forays into crime fighting. Perhaps even more insulting to Peter is the negative mirror image of Spider-Man he is forced to bear, being routinely hounded as penniless, lazy, selfish, and unreliable.

His poor aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who is still grieving from the loss of her husband, (Uncle Ben previously played by Cliff Robertson, in a brief flashback), is in grave danger of losing her home, and her devotion to Peter is eroded by palpable disappointment when he confesses his negligent role in her husband's death. Even Mary Jane, whose career as a model and actress has been recently quite successful, is fed up with what appears to be Peter's consistent selfishness and unbelievable excuses. To make matters ever worse for Peter, she has become engaged to an astronaut, who just happens to be Jonah Jameson's son.

All of this hoopla moves us to the film's midpoint when the pitiful Spider-Man, his webs drying up because of Peter's depression, dumps his Spidy suit into a back-alley garbage can. In the meantime, a brilliant scientist named Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is presenting a dangerous and ambitious fusion project financed by Peter's best pal and who incidentally is also another Spider-Man nemesis, Harry Osborn (James Franco). A disastrous malfunction leaves Octavius not only a widower, but transforms him into a monster. Malevolent, intelligent mechanical legs that seem to have diabolical minds of their own now propel his body. Doc Ock, as Jamison in the Bugle characterizes him, is now Spidey's enemy. Unlike Spidey, poor Ock is not the master of his octopus mechanical arms; rather he is their servant.

Sam Raimi, the director who cut his teeth on the gory, low-budget horrors of the "Evil Dead" franchise, is not totally an aficionado of fancy computer-generated special effects (CGI). Nevertheless, they remain an integral part of the film. (No filmmaker working in this genre can afford not to). Yet, the digitized scenes of New York City's Spiderman flights and fighting are not the strongest parts of the movie, since Raimi does not yet have Peter Jackson's or Steven Spielberg's talent for a seamless combination of CGI with conventional movie-making. Instead, he attempts to develop the characters more and provide more of a storyline than other action films.

The storyline, although much more interesting than the usual action extravaganza, still is a bit juvenile for my taste. The film is fun, yet often frustrating when the immaturity of Peter contaminates the hero mood.
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8/10
An Icy Digression Into The Frozen North
15 June 2004
Take an alienated, bald, Albino teenager named Nói (Tómas Lemarquis) in the frozen fjord of northern Iceland and blend together an estranged ineffectual father while a grandmother who does not say much is raising him and the story is destined to be tragic and dark. Although Nói is well intentioned, he lacks motivation and is prone to having spells of exceptional bad luck. He is disruptive at school if he bothers to show up at all. Ultimately he is expelled and his alcoholic dad finds Nói a job working for a priest in a graveyard. As the scenario unfolds, he woos another somber and beautiful teen named Iris (Elin Hansdóttir), who works as a gas station attendant and café clerk. His relationship to Iris appears to be the only thing going well in Nói 's life; still it is just a fragile illusion.

It is winter in Iceland, such that the fjord is cut off from the outside world, while surrounded by an ominous mountain, and buried under a shroud of snow. Beautiful shots of glaciers and chilly seasides allow the tedium of this desolation to be a lot more tolerable. If you have ever been in a dead town out in the boonies somewhere, this one is even more comatose by comparison. It is hardly surprising that everyone is so somber and alienated from one another during the dark three-hour days of winter.

Please remember that this is not simply another typical bored teenager film--underneath it all Nói seems to have real promise, although his motivation is virtually non-existent. The walls of snow and ice surrounding his village give the illusion of a natural prison. Nói's desperate plans to break out fail miserably during a ludicrous failed bank robbery and an aborted car theft, further adding to his despair.

The movie directed by Dagur Kári is largely bleak and sometimes slow moving, yet it is temperamental, seductive, and distinctive. There are no cheap thrills, sexy scenes, car crashes, or violence, however the cinematography and the unfolding human drama draw you in like bees to honey and hold you there to it's amazing finish. It is not until a natural disaster so totally shatter Nói's universe that the film begins to offer the hope of a new beginning for Nói.

Nói is completely believable for anyone who ever recalls being a teenager. He is the embodiment of a disturbing reflection of the aspirations, naivety and unmanageable emotions many teens feel at that age. This film kept me enthralled and touched in equal measures right down to its startling climax. This movie is a must see for anyone who appreciates that life is different when you are just 17.
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9/10
A Triumph of Aberrant Weather Over Genuineness
5 June 2004
Giant tornados slash across Los Angeles, snow falls in New Delhi, hailstones as big as coconuts deluge Tokyo, and polar ice shelves crack off and float away. What is this all about? Easy--global warming has accelerated to such an extent that massive aberrant weather patterns are appearing all across the globe. World leaders are alarmed, yet the US vice-president Becker (Kenneth Welch remarkably resembling Dick Cheney) scoffs at climatologist Jack Hall's (Dennis Quaid) theory that global warming will produce another ice age of disastrous proportions.

When the situation worsens and the matter comes before US president Blake (Perry King), who incidentally is a dead ringer for Al Gore, all the Pres. can say is 'what do you think we should do?' to his VP. This sort of corny dialogue is typical for film, nevertheless with such awesome and fantastic special effects, who really pays that much attention?

Much of the film centers on Jack Hall's brilliant and handsome son Sam (Jake Glyllenhaal) and his two friends who have gone to New York City for an educational decathlon. After a massive hurricane unleashes a gigantic wave sweeping across New York Harbor, nearly submerging the Statue of Liberty; it rages through the streets of Manhattan, destroying everything in its path and drowning or crushing tens of thousands of panicked New Yorkers in a matter of minutes. Sam and his friends are now trapped in the flooded New York library on Fifth Avenue with hundreds of other survivors. After an almost underwater phone call to his Dad, Sam is promised by Jack that he will come to New York to rescue him.

After the hurricane has subsided, a blizzard with sub, sub-freezing temperatures covers the city in thirty feet of snow and kills anyone caught outside without the proper clothing protection. Through all these whiteout condition, Jack Hall and his buddies stomp through the blizzard to rescue his son trapped in the library. What he plans on doing once he makes it through the fiendish weather is too absurd to speculate. Naturally, in the meantime, his pretty son brilliantly uses his ingenuity and courage to fight the elements and other mishaps to save his colleagues. The plot is clearly an expensive adventure in cornball and predictable lines that one needs to forgive as we are jolted with one splendid and horrendous catastrophe after the other. The picture is spellbinding, yet could have been vastly improved by some serious editing of the more clichéd and unnecessary scenes.

Roland Emmerich, the director of this $125 million movie, has wreaked havoc on New York twice before, once with the help of aliens in "Independence Day" (1996) and two years later with a big lizard in "Godzilla." Yet, those movies were made before the 9/11 attacks forced movie producers to rethink plots involving deadly mayhem. Warner Brothers delayed the release of "Collateral Damage," with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Los Angeles firefighter tracking down Colombian terrorists to appease the wounded nation shocked by the mayhem in New York.

This film had an excellent opportunity to reveal and demonstrate the cause and effects of global warming; however, Emmerich instead chose to exploit the extraordinary effects by making the film an implausible scientific fluke. The real effect of global warming is a very slow process, not virtually overnight as depicted here. Nevertheless, the film is an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to anyone.
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9/10
A Triumph of Aberrant Weather Over Genuineness
2 June 2004
Giant tornado's slash across Los Angeles, snow falls in New Delhi, hailstones as big as coconuts deluge Tokyo, and polar ice shelves crack off and float away. What is this all about? Easy--global warming has accelerated to such an extent that massive aberrant weather patterns are appearing all across the globe. World leaders are alarmed, yet the US vice-president Becker (Kenneth Welch remarkably resembling Dick Cheney) scoffs at climatologist Jack Hall's (Dennis Quaid) theory that global warming will produce another ice age of disastrous proportions.

When the situation worsens and the matter comes before US president Blake (Perry King), who incidentally is a dead ringer for Al Gore, all the Pres. can say is 'what do you think we should do?' to his VP. This sort of corny dialogue is typical for film, nevertheless with such awesome and fantastic special effects, who really pays that much attention?

Much of the film centers on Jack Hall's brilliant and handsome son Sam (Jake Glyllenhaal) and his two friends who have gone to New York City for an educational decathlon. After a massive hurricane unleashes a gigantic wave sweeping across New York Harbor, nearly submerging the Statue of Liberty; it rages through the streets of Manhattan, destroying everything in its path and drowning or crushing tens of thousands of panicked New Yorkers in a matter of minutes. Sam and his friends are now trapped in the flooded New York library on Fifth Avenue with hundreds of other survivors. After an almost underwater phone call to his Dad, Sam is promised by Jack that he will come to New York to rescue him.

After the hurricane has subsided, a blizzard with sub, sub-freezing temperatures covers the city in thirty feet of snow and kills anyone caught outside without the proper clothing protection. Through all these whiteout condition, Jack Hall and his buddies stomp through the blizzard to rescue his son trapped in the library. What he plans on doing once he makes it through the fiendish weather is too absurd to speculate. Naturally, in the meantime, his pretty son brilliantly uses his ingenuity and courage to fight the elements and other mishaps to save his colleagues. The plot is clearly an expensive adventure in cornball and predictable lines that one needs to forgive as we are jolted with one splendid and horrendous catastrophe after the other. The picture is spellbinding, yet could have been vastly improved by some serious editing of the more clichéd and unnecessary scenes.

Roland Emmerich, the director of this $125 million movie, has wreaked havoc on New York twice before, once with the help of aliens in "Independence Day" (1996) and two years later with a big lizard in "Godzilla." Yet, those movies were made before the 9/11 attacks forced movie producers to rethink plots involving deadly mayhem. Warner Brothers delayed the release of "Collateral Damage," with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Los Angeles firefighter tracking down Colombian terrorists to appease the wounded nation shocked by the mayhem in New York.

This film had an excellent opportunity to reveal and demonstrate the cause and effects of global warming; however, Emmerich instead chose to exploit the extraordinary effects by making the film an implausible scientific fluke. The real effect of global warming is a very slow process, not virtually overnight as depicted here. Nevertheless, the film is an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to anyone.
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5/10
A Garbled Tale – A Lot of Fluff
2 June 2004
So here we are with number three in the series of a now older 13 year-old Harry Potter that badly limps in story content. Sure, the movie is full of neat special effects, cute scenarios, and spectacular sets; however, as far as a good tale is concerned, this screenwriter must have been absent during writing 101. This fable keeps bouncing around from one implausible and twisted situation to another without rhyme nor reason to fortify its transitions. If I wasn't enthralled by the effects presented on the giant IMAX screen at the Loew's IMAX, I probably would have spent considerably more time at the snack bar and the restroom.

Many of the special effects seem to be a rip-off of the Lord of the Ring's last adventure. Especially the Werewolf whose face, color and body is virtually identical to the incoherent, naked dwarf in LOTR who if you remember treks along with the heroes throughout the other movie. The `Hippogriff', half bird and half horse, also seems similar to some creatures featured in LOTR. Frankly, I was not too impressed with the rest of the CGI monsters made for the film. The dreaded `Dementors', who ostensibly suck the soul out their victims, never seemed to be able to accomplish that task. They seem far better suited for an animated film than a feature.

There were some funny moments, especially at the beginning when Harry casts a spell on his shrew of an Aunt by causing her to inflated grotesquely and float off into the sky over London. His antagonists were lamely presented without nearly the intensity of the prior Potters. In this muddled presentation it was difficult to establish who in fact the actual heavies were. The movie jerks you back and forth until you don't know whom to hiss at any more, nor do you care.

Had this film been better crafted, it would have been quite memorable in the IMAX format. Now the format and the scenery are the star, leaving the film a mediocre children's tale. I query whether even a child would be entertained by the confusion and ambiguity. The stunning scenery and special sets are a delight to see; nevertheless, I would still pass on this puppy, unless of course you get to see it on the IMAX screen.

Opens June 4th, 2004.
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Ghost River (2002)
9/10
The Promise of Life
20 April 2004
"La Vie Promise" ("The Promised Life") is among the French actress' Isabelle Huppert's finest accomplishments. This amazing masterpiece presents Huppert in a character, which is a combination abrasiveness and vulnerability, she is both exasperating and at the same time pathetic, monstrous, and saintly. It is difficult to envision another actress who could embrace the complexity of her character and yet still present her persona in such an intriguing paradigm of humanity who magically captures our full attention while taking our breath away.

It seems palpably unfair when such other female film stars as Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, or Renee Zellweger win Academy Awards, whereas Isabelle Huppert has never been nominated for an Oscar. Over the last thirty years, this effervescent French actress has put forth a series of remarkable performances, capturing every aspects of the human experience with style and panache. Check out her brilliant performances in "Madame Bovary," `Merci pour le Chocolat' and "The Piano Player" or the delightful weirdness of "8 Women'.

Huppert's role is that of Sylvia, a sullen prostitute walking the streets of Nice in France, seemingly frozen in time with an obsolete sense of her rebellious prerogative. When the cameras dolly in for a close-up, her heavy cosmetic attempt to preserve the illusion of youth reveal their exercise in futility. Her brittle, oftentimes hostile attitude is typical of what one would expect of a seasoned hooker.

Sylvia seems in charge of her life until the appearance of her 14-year-old epileptic daughter Laurence (Maud Forget). Laurence is in foster care and Sylvia would prefer to have her out of her life, which becomes obvious by her callous rejection and disrespect even though it was Laurence's birthday. Laurence, desperate for attention, turns up again unexpectedly in Sylvia's apartment and observes her mother's pimp pummeling her. When the pimp's associate turns his attention to Laurence by sexually attacking her, she fatally stabs him, thus compelling mother and daughter to hastily leave town.

Eight years earlier, Sylvia had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized after giving birth to a son. The boy's father (whether he was married to her or not is not clear) lived in the north of France. Out of some sort of mysterious compulsion, she and Laurence journey North, traveling by train, on foot and hitching rides with strangers; in order to seek out her long abandoned son and his father, who represent perhaps a new beginning or sanctuary. It is on this journey that mother and daughter begin to experience each other as the seeds of love kindle what had been lost over the harsh years. While hitchhiking they encounter Joshua, (Pascal Greggory), a car thief and escaped convict who has taken an interest in the well being of Sylvia and Laurence and ultimately takes the time to bring them to their final destination.

The film has the inspiring appeal of a half-told chronicle where significant and intriguing passages are casually left unexplained. The full meaning and resolution of Sylvia's relationship with Laurence and Joshua's criminal career remain delightfully obscured; leaving us just enough information to maintain our interest, yet preserving the mystery that tweaks our attention. The audience must search their own repertoires of imaginations to conclude the story.

Director Olivier Dahan is daring enough to bring his camera into tight close-ups leaving Huppert's character displayed in unflattering poses while wearing harsh make-up and in poor lighting. Huppert does not attempt hide behind the cheap make-up in order to present a good performance. Her talent is sufficiently powerful to reveal Sylvia's inner strength and bring her true character bubbling to the surface. Her painted exterior suggests one stereotype while her eyes tell yet another story. This is an extraordinary film not to be missed.
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7/10
A Splendid Romp in Fairland
4 April 2004
Given Hollywoodâ?Ts penchant for mean-spirited violent films, â?oElla Enchantedâ? is a refreshing frolic into imagination and fun. The film is basically a spoof of Cinderella in which the title character Ella (Ann Hathaway of â?oPrincess Diariesâ? fameâ?), who has been stricken with a spell that compels her to be obedient to any command, spends her free time along with her cousin Mandy (Minnie Driver), protesting discriminatory practices against the kingdoms of elves and ogres. She quickly becomes enmeshed with the soon-to-be-king, Prince Charmond (Hugh Dancy) who is unaware of the evil machinations of his uncle (Cary Elwes). What Ella really wants is not love; instead, she wants to become free of the obedient spell that her evil stepmother and stepsisters have unreasonably exploited.

In spite of the action taking place in a land hundreds of years ago, the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and the music is very twenty-first century. Much of the shtick is quite humorous with scenes such as the ogres wearing their pants with the crack of their buttâ?Ts exposed like present-day gang members or your local plumbing contractor. The film should not be taken too seriously. It is just simple fun, with many so-so funny one-liners, and the opportunity to escape without being hammered by blood and guts.

The film was adapted from the novel written by Gail Carson Levine and is directed by Tommy Oâ?THaver (â?oGet Over Itâ? and â?oBilly Holidayâ?Ts Screen Kissâ?). The cast also includes Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulousâ?), Eric Idle (Monty Pythonâ?) and Steve Coogan (â?o24 Hour Party Peopleâ?). This little fairy tale wonâ?Tt win any academy awards, but itâ?Ts good clean fun set off by a really nasty and evil uncle you learn to hate rather early in the movie. Unfortunately, Minnie Driverâ?Ts role is quite subordinate to Ellaâ?Ts and very little of her fine talent is exposed. Ella may seem a little too sweet, but she is feisty in her own right and delivers quite a nimble exhibition of retaliation against the wickedness of the kingdom.
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Taking Lives (2004)
9/10
Tracking of a Serial Killer With Beauty and Brains
18 March 2004
A series of brutal slayings in Eastern Canada over a twenty period, leads Chief Inspector LeClair (Tchéky Karyo) of the Montreal Police to send for his friend, top FBI profiler Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) to help find this vicious murderer. She uses her unconventional and intuitive mind to get into the mind of the cunning killer, hopefully to uncover his identity. Working meticulously under the eyes of the scoffing French-speaking detectives, she finds that the killer has been not only brutally murdering his victims, he is also stealing their identities, using their credit cards, and even going as far as living in the dead victim's homes.

Her uncanny abilities alienate her from the traditional detective underlings who jealously resent her interference. She has a deep passion for her work, unlike the other detectives sneering at the sidelines. However, when an unexpected romantic interest takes over, she begins to doubt her objectivity and her instincts. This is when her world begins to unravel.

The trail becomes twisted, full of suspense, red herrings, and numerous surprises. A suspect, (Keifer Sutherland) leads Scott into a hair-raising chase and dead end. A witness to one of the murders, James Costa (Ethan Hawke), is haunting as he describes the act of the cold-blooded killing. Scott's cool and collected demeanor never betrays her true feelings as Costa weaves his tale of horror. The killer's mother, Mrs. Asher (Gena Rowlands), is chilling as she later recounts to Scott the twisted childhood that formed the evil monster her son has become.

The beat of the movie, driven by director D.J. Caruso, never lets you rest. Even the leisurely scenes leave you on the edge of your seat with anticipation and dread of the next move. Yet, at the same time, the energy of the film leaves you impatient for the next scene to emerge. The plot weaves its way through the Canadian capital with unexpected scenarios that are both unnerving of your equilibrium and fascinating at the same time. The surprise ending is totally unexpected and consists of several surprises within each revelation. This is a brilliantly conceived and well-executed piece of cinematic production, and enhanced by the superb acting by the cast. Well-done Mr. Caruso.
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Spartan (2004)
6/10
An Anally Retentive Rescue of the President's Daughter
18 March 2004
Career special military officer Robert Scott (VAL LILMER) is summoned along with his highly secretive special operations force, to find Laura Newton (KRISTEN BELL), the President's missing collage-age daughter in Boston. Scott is paired with his novice protégé, Curtis (DEREK LUKE) of Antwone Fisher fame. Leading the task force are some highly placed politicos from the President's cabinet like Burch (ED ONEILL) and Stoddard (WILLIAM H. MACY), who relentlessly drive the crew to find the President's daughter before the press must be notified.

Curtis and Scott are rapidly closing the gap to Laura's whereabouts, when a news broadcast announces that Laura and one of her professors have been found dead at sea from an alleged boating mishap. Scott returns quietly to his ranch somewhere out west. Curtis, dissatisfied with the account of Laura's demise, finds Scott at his ranch and induces him to come with him to find Laura.

All this drama sounds like it could be quite a story, however, in spite of director DAVID MAMET's brilliant expertise in constructing an edge-of-the-seat woman hunt, the implausible happenings leaves you confused and righteously skeptical. This flick is as improbable as a 007 James Bond adventure without the fun of sexual interludes, gadgets, special effects, or humor.

The wooden character of Scott has no regard for human life or individual rights and, like Bond, seems to have a license to kill. And kill he does with impunity as the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and who knows whatever other agency casually are along for the ride. It seems that anything is acceptable to justify the end. Without the humor of a James Bond, this movie takes itself much too seriously. It is one of the rare times when sympathies gravitate more to the villains than the anticipated squeaky-clean government law enforcers.

Macy's role as Stoddard does not quite live up to his usual standard of performance. His exceptional talents are sadly wasted in a mediocre role of a corrupt political operative. Nevertheless, I must say that the film entertains in a curious way, notwithstanding its unbelievability. For the first time in a movie, a gunshot sounds like a real gun. That in of itself is quite unsettling. The action is brisk and the suspense is highly involving. Yet much of the images of the unfeeling Scott would have best been left on the cutting room floor and an extended exposition of Curtis' talents would have made this yarn much more palatable.
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7/10
A Trip Down Memory Lane With Lots of Laughs
7 March 2004
How refreshing! Good old-fashioned entertainment - just what the doctor ordered. The crime fighting duo of the 70's TV hit, Starsky & Hutch, comes to the wide screen with more laughs and fun than the small tube provided when most of you were either not born yet or still in swaddling clothes. Played by Ben Stiller as Starsky and Owen Wilson as Hutch, they provide a more exaggerated and fun contrast in personalities than the original video cast.

The implausible plot does not mean much, since it is just a vehicle to provide situations where absurd, improbable, and oftentimes hilarious situations can flourish to evoke laughter and a tongue-in-cheek parody of traditional buddy-cop movies. Platinum-selling rapper, Snoop Dogg, is well cast as Hutch's informant, insider, and friend, Huggy Bear.

The villain in this piece, Vince Vaughn, is a little miscast, since he comes across more as a shoe clerk than as a king-pin drug dealer. Nevertheless, that incongruity itself is laughable and does not distract from the hilarious antics of pair. The director, Todd Phillips, provided just the right amount of bouncy pulchritude and sexuality to decorate the settings as a prelude to the next set of giggles.

The film is fun, fast, and nostalgic; however, it is not nearly as hilarious as Ben Stiller's 1998 film, `There's Something About Mary'. A good night's entertainment, without the possibility of Oscar nominations. So what!
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1/10
An Endless Blood Fest In The Name of God
7 March 2004
There is little positive I can say about this orgy of cruelty that ostensibly is an accurate chronicle of the last twelve hours of Jesus' life. I would apologize however, if I offend any Catholics readers. It was reminiscent of a film I saw many, many years ago called `The Fixer'. It too was unrelenting in the suffering of the principal character. Hour after hour of sadistical, cruel, and excruciating punishment is depicted and inflicted upon the hapless Jesus and those of us forced to see it.

The story is an ancient one that of Jesus captured by the high Priests of Jerusalem and brought before Pontius Pilot, the Roman Governor to be punished for his evangelical activities and beliefs. The Governor preferred to release him, however, the priests and the angry mob demanded death for his supposed sacrilegious ministry. Pilot finally compromised and ordered Jesus flogged by sadistic Roman guards, first with canes then with cat o' nine tails tipped with nails. This incessant flogging continued until there was not a part of Jesus' body that was not covered with bloody wounds and oozing sores. Of course we had to sit through every gory minute of it.

Nearly dead from that ordeal, he was dragged up again in front of the Jewish High Priests and Pontius Pilot. Pilot wanted to let him go, but the priests wanted him crucified. Politician that Pilot was, and wishing to avoid a riot, he complied, ordering Jesus to be crucified on the cross. We were then treated to further intermittent beatings, a crown of thorns hammered into his head, and his never-ending dragging the cross across town. During his cross dragging, he was being subjected to further beatings, insults, kicking, and spitting. We endured this endless trauma until finally he arrived at the execution site where further torture and humiliation awaited him.

While being nailed to the cross, every bodily torment was graphically shown in detail again and again. It seemed to be an endless chain of torture, mutilation, and cruelty. It was such a relief for him to finally die, both for the viewer and no doubt for Jesus, if in fact that was really how it all happened. There are many versions of these last hours, some written hundreds of years after his death. I do not trust the accuracy of the local newspaper after a couple of weeks let alone after two thousand years.

Is this picture anti-Semitic as alleged by many critics? I would say not anti-Semitic in the classical sense; however, the Jews were cast as the real heavies instead of the Roman Governor. Not only did the Jewish High Priests scream for his death, but the throngs of Jewish citizens also clamored for his death. We will never know whether this version is true or just some abstraction of facts selectively chosen by Mel Gibson to satisfy the bigoted belief system of his `Old Catholic' upbringing.

Many years ago, this saga was presented in a movie called `the Robe' with Richard Burton. Although essentially the same story, it was much more inspiring and religiously uplifting. `The Passion of the Christ' left a horrible taste in my mouth for a long time afterwards. It no doubt will be remembered forever, albeit a depressing experience. I would say ninety percent of the graphic violence should have hit the cutting room floor. The film is nothing more than a two-hour murder scene. The way it is now, it should all be trashed.
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Secret Things (2002)
8/10
A Banquet of Sexual Manipulation Gone Awry
2 February 2004
The opening scene in Secret Things slams you with its voyeuristic impact suggesting that this is a soft-porn exploitation in someone's private bedroom; however, the scene turns out to be an autoerotic exhibition onstage in a bar in Paris. Nathalie (Coralie Revel) is a gorgeous exotic dancer headlining in a dank bar in Paris. She is fired after a tiff with the calloused owner together with a naïve bartender Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou). The two ladies vow not to be used by men again. Nathalie encourages Sandrine to loosen her sexual inhibitions to get more out of life. She instructs Sandrine how to awaken her sexuality both in the bedroom and at public places such as a tunnel in the Metro. The pair decides to room together and scheme on how they will better their lot in life by using men to climb the ladder of success and become free spirits.

After the ladies land a job at the same firm, they plot on how to advance their positions using their sensuality as a manipulative tool. Nathalie quickly maneuvers a job as personnel assistant and Sandrina is now an executive secretary. Sandrina, currently an apt pupil in sexual prowess, manages to manipulate her superiors until she finally lands a position as secretary to the main supervisor. This formerly monogamous married man, who is twice Sandrine's age, falls madly in love with her to his detriment as they secretly hump their way across the screen both on the job and at other more acceptable venues. Sandrine flagrantly uses him to advance her career, yet plans on dumping him once she conquers the young CEO, a handsome and clever womanizer.

As the affair with her boss hardens, she begins to back off and he becomes more desperate to possess her. Nathalie on the other hand has fallen hard for an unrevealed lover, who apparently has dumped her. Sandrine attempts to console Nathalie and ultimately winds up in the sack with her. Now the plot begins to deteriorate as the newfound freedom they were both relishing begins to erode. Trapped by the amorous attention of her boss, Sandrine now imposes upon him to promote Nathalie to their office where they eventually indulge in a ménage à trois. This scenario further crumbles when the three are discovered in hot embrace in the restroom by the young stud of a CEO, who is even more Machiavellian than they are.

The plot now totally disintegrates into a banquet of ruthlessness, group sex, lesbian sex, three-way sex, and masturbation. Our heroines, now suffering much more than they did before they decided upon their quest to manipulate men, go along with the bizarre program foisted upon them. The story unfolds into some off the wall twists and unexpected ironies. However, when mixed with the continual bombardment of sexual exploitation, it adds little to the theme of the story. The film appears to take away more than it provides.

The first three quarters of the film are fun and interesting as we observe the women taking charge of their lives and maneuvering through office politics. The movie eventually falls apart dropping to the level of a soft-core porn movie, without rhyme or reason until the plot regresses to something secondary to the sexploitations. The director, Jean-Claude Brisseau presents quite a banquet of sexuality, turning on both men and women audiences throughout the film, while maintaining a nice balance of story and visual indulgence. This picture, in French with English subtitles, is deftly crafted so that you easily forget that you are reading everything instead of listening to the dialogue. Nathalie is so stunning and sexual on the screen that it is by itself well worth the price of admission. It is too bad the story falls apart in the third act; nevertheless, I would still recommend it for its visual arousing energy and remarkable premise.
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Osama (2003)
10/10
Plight of the Muslim Woman – A Journey Into Despair
26 January 2004
The winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes last night is the first feature-length film from Afghanistan. Shot by fledgling writer/editor/director, Siddiq Barmak, "Osama," the film exposes the desperation and terror of a beautiful twelve-year-old girl (Marina Golbahari) during the Taliban era in Afghanistan. She becomes her widowed mother (Zubaida Sahar) and grandmother's only hope for survival since the Taliban rule decreed that her female family and thousands of others like them cannot appear in public without a male relative as escort. The Taliban has also decreed that women would not be permitted to work.

The girl, her mother, and a young street urchin, Spandi, (Arif Herati) survive a violently suppressed demonstration launched by Afghan women. The girl and her mother had secretly worked in a hospital until the Taliban dismissed all the staff and closed its doors. Faced with imminent starvation, the girl's mother decides to disguise her daughter as a boy, so that she will have an opportunity to work. They decide upon the name Osama as the disguised young male. The film reaches critical mass when Osama, as a boy, along with Spandi, are taken to a Taliban training camp where it becomes increasingly difficult to keep her sex a secret. Marina Golbahari's innocent beauty and ability to express a wide range of emotions is sure to flower into the making of a talented and beautiful actress.

The film is the epitome of everything negative surrounding the Muslim world's treatment of women. You cannot help but to despise the Taliban's inhuman treatment of women and the palpable fear that even the men experience in a land run by religious and hypocritical zealots. You could consider the film a downer, however, it plays like a thriller, with tensions kept high by focusing intently on the girl. It presents a believable and disturbing window into the soul of a society devastated by repression and war.

Director Barmak shot this film on a shoestring budget with inexperienced actors, and created a cinematic masterpiece. He incredibly elicits professional performances from amateurs, building tension and intensity from the first opening scenes of the Taliban spraying crowds of women clad in shapeless blue Burkas. Since Barmak received much of his training in Iran, the film is typical of the Iranian style of filmmaking by ending abruptly with no resolution of the conflict. It is a film worthy of high praise; however, be prepared for experiencing a great deal of anger and anguish by witnessing the subjugation of Muslim women and children without much resolution or hope.

Opens in the Bay Area on February 27, 2004 and on Feb. 6th in Los Angeles and New York
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Secret Things (2002)
8/10
A Banquet of Sexual Manipulation Gone Awry
26 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
>Spoiler The opening scene in Secret Things slams you with voyeuristic impact suggesting that this is a soft-porn exploitation in someone's private bedroom; however, the scene turns out to be an autoerotic exhibition onstage in a bar in Paris. Nathalie (Coralie Revel) is a gorgeous exotic dancer headlining in a dank bar in Paris. She is fired after a tiff with the calloused owner together with a naïve bartender Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou). The two ladies vow not to be used by men again. Nathalie encourages Sandrine to loosen her sexual inhibitions to get more out of life. She instructs Sandrine how to awaken her sexuality both in the bedroom and at public places such as a tunnel in the Metro. The pair decides to room together and scheme on how they will better their lot in life by using men to climb the ladder of success and become free spirits.

After the ladies land a job at the same firm, they plot on how to advance their positions using their sensuality as a manipulative tool. Nathalie quickly maneuvers a job as personnel assistant and Sandrina is now an executive secretary. Sandrina, currently an apt pupil in sexual prowess, manages to manipulate her superiors until she finally lands a position as secretary to the main supervisor. This formerly monogamous married man, who is twice Sandrine's age, falls madly in love with her to his detriment as they secretly hump their way across the screen both on the job and in other more acceptable venues. Sandrine flagrantly uses him to advance her career, yet plans on dumping him once she conquers the young CEO, a handsome and clever womanizer.

As the affair with her boss hardens, she begins to back off and he becomes more desperate to possess her. Nathalie on the other hand has fallen hard for an unrevealed lover, who apparently has dumped her. Sandrine attempts to console Nathalie and ultimately winds up in the sack with her. Now the plot begins to deteriorate as the newfound freedom they were both relishing begins to erode. Trapped by the amorous attention of her boss, Sandrine now imposes upon him to promote Nathalie to their office where they eventually indulge in a ménage à trois. This scenario further crumbles when the three are discovered in hot embrace in the restroom by the young stud of a CEO, who is even more Machiavellian than they are.

The plot now totally disintegrates into a banquet of ruthlessness, group sex, lesbian sex, three-way sex, and masturbation. Our heroines now suffering much more than they did before they decided upon their quest to manipulate men go along with the bizarre program foisted upon them. The story unfolds into some off the wall twists and unexpected ironies; however, when mixed with the continual bombardment of sexual exploitation, adding little to the theme of the story, the film takes away more than it provides.

The first three quarters of the film are fun and interesting as we observe the women taking charge of their lives and maneuvering through office politics. The movie falls apart somewhere to the level of a soft-core porn movie, without rhyme or reason until the plot develops to something secondary to the sexploitations. The director, Jean-Claude Brisseau presents quite a banquet of sexuality, turning on both men and women audiences throughout the film, while maintaining a nice balance of story and visual indulgence. This picture, in French with English subtitles, is deftly crafted so that you easily forget that you are reading everything instead of listening to the dialogue. Nathalie is so stunning and sexual on the screen that it is by itself well worth the price of admission. It is too bad the story falls apart in the third act; nevertheless, I would still recommend it for its visual and arousing energy and interesting premise.

Opens in the Bay Area February 6th at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and in Berkeley at the Shattuck.
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6/10
An Orgy of Ugliness, Death, and Destruction
26 January 2004
Even though this puppy won Best Picture at the Golden Globes last night, you can no doubt surmise that I was not very taken with the (hopefully) last of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy. Although I was extremely impressed with the special effects, the story itself was as tedious as reading the book. I wasn't terribly impressed with the idea of the diminutive Hobbit heroes, Frodo (Elijah Wood), a sweet, gentle dwarf and his flabby sidekick Sam (Sean Astin), from some yah-yah land called Hobbiton, traipsing across the geography while risking life and limb so that he could ultimately drop an evil ring into an erupting volcano while wholesale death and destruction rage on nearby. It seems that the film was primarily interested in exposing the violence-hungry audiences of the world with as much death, suffering, ugliness, and gore as they could cram into their painfully long (3 ½ hours) cinematic colossus.

It is easy to cheer the slaughter of the adversaries since most of them were masterpieces of ugliness, decay, and disease. Some of the evil crowd depicted an orthodontist's fantasy come true with teeming examples of really bad dental decay and deformity exploited at every opportunity. To compound the repulsiveness, director Peter Jackson must have scoured the dermatology handbook for examples to create puffed out, discolored, and distorted skin tissue; lesions, cancerous oozings, and other disgusting aberrations. Of course, there were also the obligatory humpbacks or other physical anomalies to add to your visual distress so that when the heroic saviors sliced and diced them by hundreds you would not feel so bad.

One cannot help but admire Gandolf (Ian McKellen), the wise wizard with his flowing white beard. He is not only all knowing, omnipotent, and full of convenient magic when it suits him, but for a guy in his sixties he rides like a cowboy stuntman and brandishes his sword in battle like a twenty-something. Since this is all a fantasy, why not do something far-fetched now and then?

The good guys in this piece of prolonged carnage are extra nice and the female love objects like Arwen (Liv Taylor), are truly heavenly to look at. Frodo and Sam look like they would be terrified to walk around in downtown Carmel, let alone to take on the hideous lineup that seem to lurk behind every bush. Why they put up with the whims of the numskulls who insist on slaughtering the entire leper colony entourage is beyond my comprehension.

If you see this movie just to enjoy the special effects, it is well worth the price of admission. However, if you want to see a good film, well that is another matter entirely. If you enjoy lots of blood and destruction, this piece is for you. There is enough carnage in this flick to make war films like `Saving Private Ryan' or `War and Piece' seem like a walk in the park. It is one helluva commentary on the American public who seem to enjoy a lot more violence than they are willing to admit. It is hardly a wonder that Americans so easily rallied to Bush's deceptive war cries when the Nation ostensibly professes to be such a peace-loving people
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6/10
An Orgy of Ugliness, Death, and Destruction
19 January 2004
As you can no doubt surmise, I was not very taken with the (hopefully) last of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy. Although I was extremely impressed with the special effects, the story itself was as tedious as reading the book. I wasn't terribly impressed with the idea of the diminutive Hobbit heroes, Frodo (Elijah Wood), a sweet, gentle dwarf and his flabby sidekick Sam (Sean Astin), from some yah-yah land called Hobbiton, traipsing across the geography while risking life and limb so that he could ultimately drop an evil ring into an erupting volcano while wholesale death and destruction rage on nearby. It seems that the film was primarily interested in exposing the violence-hungry audiences of the world with as much death, suffering, ugliness, and gore as they could cram into their painfully long (3 ½ hours) cinematic colossus.

It is easy to cheer the slaughter of the adversaries since most of them were masterpieces of ugliness, decay, and disease. Some of the evil crowd depicted an orthodontist's fantasy come true with teeming examples of really bad dental decay and deformity exploited at every opportunity. To compound the repulsiveness, director Peter Jackson must have scoured the dermatology handbook for examples to create puffed out, discolored, and distorted skin tissue; lesions, cancerous oozings, and other disgusting aberrations. Of course, there were also the obligatory humpbacks or other physical anomalies to add to your visual distress so that when the heroic saviors sliced and diced them by hundreds you would not feel so bad.

One cannot help but admire Gandolf (Ian McKellen), the wise wizard with his flowing white beard. He is not only all knowing, omnipotent, and full of convenient magic when it suits him, but for a guy in his sixties he rides like a cowboy stuntman and brandishes his sword in battle like a twenty-something. Since this is all a fantasy, why not do something far-fetched now and then?

The good guys in this piece of prolonged carnage are extra nice and the female love objects like Arwen (Liv Taylor), are truly heavenly to look at. Frodo and Sam look like they would be terrified to walk around in downtown Carmel, let alone to take on the hideous lineup that seem to lurk behind every bush. Why they put up with the whims of the numskulls who insist on slaughtering the entire leper colony entourage is beyond my comprehension.

If you see this movie just to enjoy the special effects, it is well worth the price of admission. However, if you want to see a good film, well that is another matter entirely. If you enjoy lots of blood and destruction, this piece is for you. There is enough carnage in this flick to make war films like `Saving Private Ryan' or `War and Piece' seem like a walk in the park. It is one helluva commentary on the American public who seem to enjoy a lot more violence than they are willing to admit. It is hardly a wonder that Americans so easily rallied to Bush's deceptive war cries when the Nation ostensibly professes to be such a peace-loving people.
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9/10
A Funny, Poignant Tale For All
12 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Academy Award® winners Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton and Frances McDormand star with Keanu Reeves and Amanda Peet in a sophisticated romantic comedy from writer/director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, The Parent Trap). Picture an aging, 63 year-old Lothario, Harry (Jack Nicholson) with a libido much younger than his years and his sweet young plaything, Marin (Amanda Peet), on a weekend trip to Marin's parents beach house for a romantic getaway weekend. Just before their weekend begins, Marin's mom, Erica (Diana Keaton), a successful playwright, and her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand) arrive unexpectedly to spoil their weekend. After polite urgings by Marin's mother and sister, Harry reluctantly decides to spend the weekend with the entire entourage. During dinner, Harry shares his passion for dating younger women and that he would never date women his own age. Reluctantly, Erica and her sister more or less accept what is happening and begrudgingly accept the amorous goings on around them.

Marin and Harry start kissing in the other room and Harry passes out from a heart attack. Harry is then rushed to the hospital. Dr. Julian ( Keanu Reeves) tells Harry that he has to stay off his feet and cannot go back to his home in the City until he has improved. Julian then suggests that Harry spends a week at Erica's home until he is well enough to travel back to the City. Harry and Erica express some reservations, however, Erica and Harry soon find out they are really not so different from each other after all, developing a special relationship and bond together. Once she accepts her situation, she opens up an emotional reservoir within her that affects her more deeply than anything has in years. Harry becomes open to appreciating the appeal of women his own age. As they become more at ease with one another, the dialogue between them becomes crisp, fresh, and revealing of their intimate personas.

At about the very same time, Harry's 36 year-old charming doctor (Keanu Reeves) makes a play for Erica, while Harry attempts to seduce Erica with his own fading charms. Erica, caught in the middle, is amazed at all the attention placed on her. It is unfortunate that the chemistry between Harry and Erica is not quite as believable and intimate as it seems to be between Erica and Julian, the young thirty-some doctor. I can easily overlook this minor flaw and simply chalk it up to Jack Nicholson's personal lack of ability to deeply connect to a mature woman other than sexually.

`Something's Gotta Give' is well crafted with humor, poignancy, and drama. The laughs will keep you rolling in the aisles. The script is smart, fresh, and sophisticated. Jack Nicholson proves once again that he is a superb actor and can play most any type of character flawlessly. Praise is also due to Diane Keaton, portraying probably her best role in years as a delightfully sweet overworked play write. Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, and Amanda Peet create perfect supporting roles and are each played with exceptional panache and style.

Accolades are also well deserved for writer/director Nancy Meyers for attempting to challenge the system by making Harry's object of desire a 57 year-old woman. One does not see enough of that sort of thing these days. This is a film that is juicy from its very first bite and maintains its flavor throughout.

The movie may be a bit predictable at times, however the script was brisk, refreshing, and funny while maintaining just the right mix of comedy and drama. Notwithstanding that the ending was somewhat clichéd, the film itself still ended on a very meaningful note.

It opens December 12th at all theaters in the Bay Area.
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