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Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse
Director: Lars von Trier
Plot: In 1964 a Czech immigrant works in a factory through her impending blindness to save up enough money to provide an eye operation for her son and manages to keep depression at bay thanks to her love of Hollywood musicals.
Review: Dancer in the Dark is another installment in director von Trier's series of films dealing with innocent, courageous women falling into the depths of despair. But where Breaking the Waves was a particularly bleak and powerful film, Dancer goes the way of forced melodrama to show the fall of its lead. And there lies the main problem - by trying too hard for emotional wallops the film eventually loses the audience. The startling ending makes up for much, though, and un-expecting viewers may find it disturbing but it seems a shallow statement compared to Kieslowski's Thou Shalt Not Kill. Trier's trademark "cinéma-vérité" style and use of handheld cameras is still evident but thankfully a little more stable. The musical numbers that crop up more and more often as the film develops are interesting and creative in their choreography, backed by Bjork's distinctive song style, and are stark as is necessary for the depiction of her dreams, but lack the energy of the Hollywood productions they are inspired from. The cast, though, is good across the board, especially Bjork who does a convincing performance as the waif-like single mother, and whose innocence and passion lightens up the screen, and Deneuve, classy and charming as always. Love it or hate it, it's difficult to be left indifferent by Dancer in the Dark and in his quest to polarize his audience, von Trier has definitely succeeded.
Drama: 6/10

Dans une galaxie près de chez vous - Le film (Quebec - 2004)
Starring: Guy Jodoin, Stéphane Crête, Claude Legault
Director: Claude Desrosiers
Plot: After Earth's ozone layer has been destroyed by pollution, a spaceship and her Canadian crew is sent to explore the galaxy to find a new home for humanity.
Review: The popular four-year-old local TV series (roughly translated as "In A Galaxy in Your Neighborhood") is given a boost in its first full-length feature. Not that the production values are impressive (they're not), but the low-budget antics, cheesy special-effects, and way, way over-the-top acting by the comic cast all add to the charm of this well-scripted, amusing parody. Taking obvious cues from such TV series stalwarts such as Star Trek and Space 1999 in its mission and crew interactions, and even the idea of Lost in Space's evil doctor, the film is an amusing romp into the familiar sci-fi adventures of our youth. Though the story feels slightly "episode"-based, the different acts are strung together well. The writers even add in some socially relevant themes, though these are presented in a form that's too shallow for anyone but kids. Still, the show might have originally been aimed for a more young-teen audience, but as more and more adults have turned to fans of the series the script has somewhat matured as well - not to say it's not immature at times as necessary, but it never insults its audience making the jokes and general silliness quite effective. There are also lots of visual gags to be found and it's obvious everyone had a ball doing the film. Some of the terrific language puns and innuendos might be lost in translation, but afficionados of B-movies will be entertained throughout. As a humorous take on sci-fi themes and a welcome extension to the cult series, Dans une galaxie près de chez vous has lots to offer those willing to give it a chance.
Entertainment: 6/10

Daredevil (2003)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Plot: A blind New York lawyer with super-human senses fights for justice as a leather-clad vigilante but meets his match when he falls for a skilled heiress who is the target of a crime lord and his deadly henchman.
Review: The adaptation of comic hero Daredevil goes for a more gritty look than recent such efforts (shades of the original Batman come to mind), with the dark atmosphere and dark characters both intensified to ridiculous extremes. There are also a lot of clichés to be had, of course, but it does take a few risks and there are good things to be had: the origin story is left pretty much intact, the human element of the plot is more engaging than not, and there's some wild, over-the-top stuff to make almost anyone (and DD fans especially) giddy with excitement. The tone is indeed black, and the shadows pervade everything (often way too much, in fact), creating a "dark" comic-book tone that seems rather bland and overused, copying more of the tried-and-true than reaching for its own voice. The stunts and special effects are adequate, and the fight choreography is impressive, but it's just too bad that the frenetically-paced action is spoiled by low lighting and an editing-on-speed process, making us miss much of the razzle-dazzle. The main problem is that all the parts just don't gel together with the consistency of the scenes wildly uneven: some are clever, exciting and engaging, while others are badly drawn, amateurish, or just plain bland. A particular "boo" goes to the terrible choice of music, a soundtrack that can't decide between heavy metal and violin strings. As for the cast, Affleck and Garner do just fine as the leather-clad leads (striking the right poses in all the right places) and Duncan is a different genre of Kingpin, but it's really Colin Farell who steals the show with a real psychotic turn as the deadly Bullseye. There's a touch of humor included with the mayhem and violence, too, as well as a decent dose of necessary romance. The pacing, though, isn't always assured, as if writer / director Johnson tried to force too many aspects of the comic books into a single movie. To be fair, this concoction comes out a lot better than one would expect, but not as good as the more light-hearted and engaging Spider-Man. Still, the film sets itself up for the inevitable sequel, and one can only hope that Daredevil has a chance of becoming a better franchise.
Entertainment: 6/10

Dark Blue (2003)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames, Scott Speedman
Director: Ron Shelton
Plot: In the midst of the Rodney King trial, a dirty, veteran LAPD cop and his rookie partner investigate a quadruple homicide that leads straight to their crooked chief.
Review: Following in the footsteps of classic police dramas, Dark Blue plays it straight and offers up a typical working of the genre film who's high point is definitely it's main star. With the tense shadow of the 1992 LA riots rising in the background (and eventually in the foreground), the story makes parallels to the trial of the four policemen charged with the Rodney King beatings and the story's players. There are no real surprises to be had for those familiar with any of the many police dramas of the last few years, but though it's a small-scale film that doesn't have any high expectations, it's consistently engaging and provides some powerful punches. Not surprisingly, the script was co-written by L.A. Confidential author James Ellroy and was adapted by David Ayer who scripted Training Day: the same dark side of the badge is explored through the eyes of a rookie cop and his veteran (read unethical) partner. Though nothing here is subtle, at least most of the narrative had an intensity and grittiness that grabs our attention. The heavy-handed final act, as the city burns and our anti-hero spills his guts in front of his distanced family and peers is a Hollywood cop-out that mars the rest of the film. If the direction isn't quite stellar, at least Shelton (best known for his sports-themed features such as Bull Durham and Tin Cup) works the story's important scenes in an efficient manner and captures well the inner demons of the main characters. Lead man Russell finally finds a film where he can shine and provides a textured, complex dramatic role as the failed investigator, repugnant and sympathetic in equal doses. His performance adds much to the film. As his bigoted, crooked boss, Brendan Gleeson is gleefully evil and dangerous and gives the film's real stand-out performance. After all is said and done, Dark Blue comes off as an average, well-made police drama and, though it delves into familiar territory, makes for an engaging and worthy effort.
Drama: 6/10

Dark City (1998)
Starring: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Alex Proyas
Plot: Having lost all memory of who he is, a man finds himself blamed for murder and goes on the run from a homicide detective and some mysterious beings with alien telekinetic powers who have their own dark plans.
Review: An original science-fiction flick, Dark City will probably have as many detractors as fans thanks to a concept that's quite risky for a feature film: think of a big-budget Twilight Zone episode, one that puts more emphasis on making a statement than on providing mainstream thrills. Set as a mystery, the story quickly revolves around the theme of identity and self-awareness as the present reality crumbles and another, darker one takes form. It's a theme that was later successfully approached in The Matrix, and its obvious much of the latter film's ideas stemmed from this one. After making such a splash with his first Gothic effort The Crow, director and co-writer Proyas (I, Robot) steps up to the bat with his second feature and shows a definite maturing in his approach. The visuals and retro-style are reminiscent of film noir, the imaginary night-time world a depressing mix of imposing architecture and lost hope. The idea of German Expressionism continues past the sets with the alien creatures, who have a stunning resemblance to the classic 1920's vampire character Nosferatu - bald, sickly-skin, and afraid of the light. Their existential search for humanity - and the way they go about it - makes for an interesting twist, and elevates the film past its kin. A nice cast helps move things along, and if hero Sewell comes off as kind of bland at least his supporting cast, including an Igor-like Sutherland, hard-nosed dick Hurt and the always luscious Connelly, make up for it. If it can't quite sustain its pacing or its ideas until the end, Dark City remains a thought-provoking, stylish SF that's arguably a cult classic in the making.
Entertainment: 7/10

Dark Days (2000)
Director: Marc Singer
Plot: Documentary following a small group of homeless who live in makeshift shelters in an abandoned Amtrak railway tunnel under Manhattan.
Review: Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance 2000, Dark Days is an unflinching, honest documentary on the lives of a small homeless community. Inexperienced director Singer lived with them on and off for years and used his own subjects to help him shoot the film. This bond allowed him to shoot a series of interview and conversations that are amazingly candid and revealing, creating a surprising intimacy with them. The stories of drug abuse, family loss, unemployment that have brought them here is sometimes harrowing, sometimes heart-wrenching, none of these more so than the one by Dee who lost her two children to a fire while she was in prison and now takes crack to forget the painful memory. There's a definite sadness and desperation here amidst the apparent normalcy of their everyday lives, but they don't want pity; this is their life and they have come to terms with it. And so they also talk about food, scrounging, setting their makeshift homes, defining their plights. The film breaks the usual anonymity and presents them not as helpless victims but as normal people who have faced hard luck and difficult circumstances and are now doing the best they can. The "silent" scenes, of trains passing above, or of the squalor of the surroundings, however, are the most effective: without the need for dialogue or voice-overs, we can see the desolation of these caverns and of its people hidden away from society. The stark visuals made up from black and white, stark, grainy 16mm footage isn't always professional-looking, but that only makes it all more immediate. The effective, moody electronic soundtrack by DJ Shadow only enhances the feeling. The film's final segment, quickly showing a legal battle with Amtrak who wants to forcibly evict them from their shacks and finally being relocated to temporary housing, is a little heavy-handed and a bit abrupt compared to the rest of the film. One can't begrudge the need for the upbeat ending, but after everything that's come before, it seems a little too easy; they seem happy and full of hope now, but will it last? Still, for most of its length, Dark Days is a fascinating, worthwhile document.
Documentary: 7/10

The Dark Knight (2008)
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Director: Christopher Nolan
Plot: With the help of the new district attorney and police commissioner, the costumed vigilante Batman takes on The Joker, an unpredictable, murderous psychopath who is turning the city into a chaos.
Review: Forget the simplistic tag of "superhero flick" - The Dark Knight is a full fledged assault, an epic crime drama of mythical proportions, where costumed characters take part in a brilliant, Shakespearean-level tale full of daring-do, surprises and tragedy. Make no mistake, it has all the summer blockbuster requirements: cool gadgets, dastardly villains, explosive action sequences, style to burn, superb production values and lots of spectacle. But in the hands of returning co-writer / director Nolan (Memento, The Prestige) the film takes chances and goes beyond a mere comic-book adaptation; this is deep stuff where the palpable tension is barely lifted by the few touches of humor, or the bevy of gunfire and explosions. The psychological, almost existential, exploration of its main characters and themes of Evil - and the limits even good people will go to when pushed to extremes - is richly defined. And the film isn't just dark, it's positively black, with a viciousness and a moral complexity that's clearly meant for adults only - don't bring the kids. The performances are excellent across the board, but the late Ledger's final performance is the obvious standout. Indeed, under minimal but effective makeup and in character as a force of anarchy, Ledger is completely unrecognizable; his Joker isn't a clown but a demented, unpredictable psychopath and his performance is absolutely electrifying - and bloody scary. Aaron Eckhart is a new addition to the cast, and he's bang-on as the fierce district attorney who tragically becomes the villain Two-Face. Even at over 2.5 hours, the film is so dense with ideas, characters and plots, and so assured in its pacing and how it revs up tension that one feels the whole affair simply zips by. A tour de force of comic book adaptations, The Dark Knight is the new standard against which all superhero films will be compared. (See extended review)
Entertainment / Drama: 9/10

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard
Director: Christopher Nolan
Plot: Eight years after Batman retired his cowl, a new terrorist threat led by the ruthless, muscle-bound Bane comes to Gotham, one that will tear both Bruce Wayne and the city apart. 
Review: Grand, epic in scope but also unnecessarily bloated, The Dark Knight Rises is the final - and weakest - installment in the immensely popular and critically acclaimed Batman trilogy from writer / director Nolan. There sure is plenty of eye candy to enjoy, from the luscious cinematography, to the blockbuster-level action sequences (a night chase across Gotham, the "money-shot" of a crumbling football field, etc.) all the way to the sleek new Bat-Plane and Hathaway's skin-tight Catwoman leotard. Gone, however, is the multi-layered, complex tale of The Dark Knight, replaced by epic melodrama on such a grand canvas that's so convoluted even by comic book standards that it flounders under its own self-importance, while the political and social commentaries only add shallow sub-text. The film loses all sense of urgency mid-way - the bad guys are just waiting for Batman to come back, so we get an abundance of sub-plots that could have been excised completely. The climactic action sequence - as everyone runs around trying to disarm and otherwise stop the military truck carrying the fusion device - is well enough executed but uninspiring. The film is at its best when it works on a smaller scale, hinting at an interesting love triangle that, unfortunately, never materializes between Wayne / Batman and businesswoman Cotillard and Hathaway's fun and sexy jewel thief. The rest of the cast is also back, most in fine form; leading man Bale is convincing in both roles, and Oldman, Caine and Freeman round out the supporting roles just fine. Unfortunately, their characters act in a way that confounds what we know of them, partly to get them to do what is required of the story instead of the other way around. As for arch-nemesis Bane, he's the man who (literally) broke Batman and you can feel the physical savageness in Tom Hardy's take on the character, yet when they fight, there's no feeling that he's a power-house or that every blow could crack bones. Nolan does bring a bold, epic feel to the classic character akin to a tale from Greek mythology, but the script just doesn't add up. It's still boisterous, engaging Hollywood entertainment that will surely please mainstream audiences. It's just a profound disappointment Nolan can't manage to top himself (see extended review).
Entertainment: 7/10

Darkman (1990)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Larry Drake
Director: Sam Raimi
Plot: A disfigured scientist forced to hide under cloaks, perfects a radical skin-graft technique that allows him to change his face and seek revenge on the vicious criminals who destroyed his lab and left him for dead.
Review: Darkman is a super-hero movie as only co-writer / director Sam Raimi could do it. Not wanting to be shackled by existing fan perceptions, the filmmakers have created a new, somber super-hero that's gruesome and comic at the same time, allowing the film to take its own chances and avoiding comparisons. Showing a great flair for a material, it delivers a very dark take on the genre, full of stylized, over-the-top violence, exaggerated villains, and inventive all with visuals and cinematography that marry the style of the genre it evokes. Even though done on a modest budget, the influence of Raimi's own Evil Dead 2 is eminently visible in both the dynamic (some would say crazed) camera work and the almost cartoon-like surreal imagery. The pacing is also excellent, blending pathos and grand melodrama with clever situations, suspense, a good dose of action, and some of Raimi's trademark gallows humor without missing a beat. Taking a cue on the shadowy world of Batman, the film displays some great imagery that seems to come right off the comic page such as the figure of Darkman amidst the shadowed gargoyles, trench coat flowing. The fake backgrounds, the energy, the colorful over-stylized shots, it just looks like a comic-book should. In fact years later Raimi used the experience here to good effect on Spider-Man. As the titular character, Neeson shows off anguish and anger in an over-the-top manner befitting the rest of the film and its required comic-book emotional range. Even when he's cloaked and bandaged he shows the battle with the growing monster inside him, coming off as much avenger as victim. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, with baddie Drake really hamming it up to extremes. As a modern take on the Phantom of the Opera, it may not be terribly original, but with Raimi's unusual approach - a mix of the dramatic and the high-camp - Darkman is a film that has all the verve and inventiveness to make it a cult classic.
Entertainment: 7/10

Darkness Falls (2003)
Starring: Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Andrew Bayly
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Plot: A photographer returns to his home town to protect the young brother of an old flame from a vengeful spirit who was lynched 150 years earlier by the townspeople and has come back to haunt them in the form of the Tooth Fairy.
Review: Darkness Falls starts off with a decent premise, but ends up as just another bad genre attempt that's too predictable and familiar to be enjoyable. The story is a pretty banal re-hash of other films, a by-the-numbers tale that doesn't even try to be anything but a quick thrill - we never get a feel for the characters and even the community is but a a generic American-small-town fabrication. It's also full of the usual horror clichés without bringing anything new, which may have been fun the first time, but loses its charm (or its surprise) at the umpteenth repetition. There are some good effects and camera work editing to make the creature look supernatural, but the monster just doesn't cut it - she's just not very scary. In fact she looks like a generic monster, very much like the costume in Scream, actually. And though there's an effective scene in the police station as the cops try to defend themselves to little avail from a ghost-like entity, the thrills in general are quite limited. To be fair the direction by first-timer Liebesman is efficient and decent, the cinematography is good and the production is decent, giving a fine sense of darkness and creepiness to this slick B-movie. The two leads actually do much better than expected here, but the young boy isn't very convincing. Finally, the last stand in a lighthouse builds some suspense, but the heroes' attempts at gathering light to stave off the creature becomes downright silly. What is also worth mentioning is that there's little or no blood whatsoever to be found on-screen, despite lots of killings. Mildly entertaining, an eminently forgettable, Darkness Falls is just junk food entertainment.
Entertainment / Horror: 3/10

Dark Shadows (2012)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green
Director: Tim Burton
Plot: Entombed by a love-scorned witch in the 18th century, a vampire re-awakens in the 1970's and returns to his ancestral home to return the family fortunes after his dysfunctional descendants have fallen on hard times.
Review: The late-1960's TV show Dark Shadows was first a soap opera, with the ever-increasing complexities and machinations of dozens of characters interacting within the typical mechanics of a TV soap; the twist was that it included vampires, werewolves, witches and all matter of supernatural tidings, heavily influenced by Hammer horror films. 2012 must have seemed a ripe time to revisit a cult classic and snub its nose at the current craze of big-screen vampire movies. With gothic horror films like Sleepy Hollow under his belt, director Burton was a dream choice to helm such a modern take on the "classic" hit show, especially with his muse Depp in front of the camera. But while the original material was done "straight" (or as straight as could be done considering the ludicrous set-up), this homage is done as fish-out-of-water comedy - one that knows it's silly. poking fun as it does to the 1970's - with the affair raised to high camp. There's lots of ghoulish fun to be had, especially in Burton's capable hands, but the script, co-written by genre novelist Seth Grahame-Smith, tries to distill the show's 1,225 episodes into feature length; it's a "favorite hits" amalgam of half-baked ideas and amusing moments thrown in among the convoluted plot and eccentric personalities, giving the narrative a tone that isn't always consistent. Still, it may not be up to par to Burton's more colorful features, such as Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it still brims with effervescent energy, slick bubble-gum visuals, strong production values, able art direction and only-slightly-bridled imagination. And what a great cast: Depp as the vampire ancestor returning from the grave, an indomitable pitch-perfect Pfeiffer as the family matriarch ready to do anything for her clan, Helena Bonham Carter as the drunken in-house psychiatrist, Chloë Grace Moretz as the wily teenager, and more. But the real standout is the always fetching Eva Green, in full, sizzling vamp mode as the love-scorned witch and nemesis; when she strides into a town party in a red dress, women better lock-up their husbands. With typical Burton visual panache, an entertaining script and a truckload of gags, Dark Shadows may not be a summer standout but it sure is a sweet confection that's worth biting into.
Entertainment: 6/10

Dark Star (1974)
Starring: Dan O'Bannon, Brian Narelle
Director: John Carpenter
Plot: A four-man crew on a 20-year mission into deep space to discover and destroy habitable planets starts being affected by boredom and cabin fever, and must face - among other issues - a sentient A-bomb that wants to blow up the ship.
Review: A certified cult classic, the campy, ultra-low-budget 70's-ear sci-fi comedy Dark Star proves to have more laughs and suspense than many more recent Hollywood fare. Directed by genre veteran Carpenter when he was still a film student (before going on to such classics as Halloween, Escape From New York and The Thing), the film was created to show the flip side of the optimism of the Star Trek TV series and of 2001's clean aesthetics. Originally made for under $5,000 (and later enhanced for theatrical release), the film boasts some imaginative garage-level special effects (there's some cool space effects and ship miniatures, as well as a trailer-truck bomb and a menacing beach-ball alien), wood and cardboard production design, and grainy video... but that's all part of the charm. To be sure, Carpenter's mastery of mood and pacing aren't quite evident yet - the first half, underlying the crew going stir-crazy from boredom, is pretty slow going and talky. But it all gets more exciting, funny and downright odd as things go progressively worse for our hapless crew. There's a hilarious sequence - complete with bizarre camera angles - where one of the guys, chasing an alien around the ship, ends up teetering over an elevator shaft, and can't get out. Then there's a talking computer run by defective lasers, and a climax as the captain tries to convince a sentient bomb no to detonate, with expected results. The disaffected crew, made up of fellow students and friends, aren't professional actors but make do with the requirements of the script. A stalwart of late-night movie viewings, Dark Star is a treat for low-key comedy and sci-fi buffs and a must for fans of its director.
Comedy: 6/10

Dave (1993)
Starring: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella
Director: Ivan Reitman
Plot: After the President is incapacitated by a stroke, a part-time actor who closely resembles him is forced to take his place and act as a puppet for a Machiavellian aide.
Review: Director Reitman (best known for Ghostbusters) takes an benevolently cynical attitude towards American politics and the Presidency with Dave, a tale of mistaken identity and associated shenanigans, and manages to make it one of the better movies of his career. There's nothing spectacular to be had, and much of it is derivative of other genre films, but it moves along pretty well and it's polished enough to make for an above-average mainstream genre film. Though there are few really memorable moments, the situations are mostly amusing, especially those of the fish-out-of-water variety as the good-natured everyman Kline tries to break into his new role. Indeed, Kline is at his best here as the innocent, patriotic idealist forced into a pit of wolves, and Weaver, as the regal First Lady, does wonders with the little she has to work with. Unfortunately, the characters are your basic caricatures, and never get much to do - you've got the evil, Machiavellian right-hand man (played to great effect by Langella), the bright but easily manipulated aide, etc. The ridiculous amount of cameos from real-life politicians starts getting a little tiring at times, but should be a hoot for political junkies. As satire, Dave is too toothless to really have any political bite, but as comedy it's warm-hearted and good-natured enough to appeal to most audiences.
Comedy: 6/10

Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2006)
Starring: Dave Chappelle
Director: Michel Gondry
Plot: Dave Chappelle brings together his own brand of comedy and loads of hip-hop / rap stars to Brooklyn for one massive all-day block party.
Review: A slightly different idea on the concert movie, funnyman Dave Chappelle's Block Party is a sort of thank you to his community, in the hopes of bringing people together - it's also just an excuse to make a low-budget film to show he still has what it takes for showbiz after a publicized psychological breakdown. On the plus side, the video cameras are everywhere, giving us a good sense of being part of the crowd while still having the best seats of the house. With such names as The Fugees (reunited), Common, Kanye West, Mos Def, Dead Prez and Lauryn Hill all jamming on stage, the film pretty much works on its own. Too bad, then, that Chappelle needs to make this film about himself, often interrupting the flow with some tired social or political commentary and half-baked comedy. There's a definite sense of spontaneity that's been captured on screen, but it also seems that much of the idea and work behind the scenes was pretty haphazard, with Chappelle and company stumbling along trying to get enough interlude material to fill in a full-length documentary. What we get is a lot of wandering around his Ohio birthplace, shooting the shit with locals, and then the same in Brooklyn. They should have stuck to the music and the energetic dynamics of the performers, or thought of getting more comics to help him along. As it stands, fans of rap and hip-hop - or of Chappelle's off the cuff humor - might get a kick from seeing some strong talents work their magic live, but this Block Party doesn't have universal appeal.
Documentary: 5/10


The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen
Director: Ron Howard
Plot: A symbologist professor and a female cryptologist get entangled in a race against time to find a secret that could destroy the Church after the curator for The Louvre is found murdered next to the Mona Lisa.
Review: A semi-fictional treasure-hunt into Christianity's history, the film adaptation of the virtual pop phenomena that is Dan Brown's international best-seller The Da Vinci Code should have been so much more. The script is a rather faithful adaptation, but though the "mystery revelations" have been kept intact, the most interesting aspects of the book (the extended exposition scenes that reveled in the fascinating historical facts and the author's clever but tenuous links) had to go by the way-side. The problem is that seen solely as a thriller it all comes off as a bit dull - not that it's ever boring, but the pacing is erratic, the visuals are uninteresting, and there's too little intrigue. Worse, when it tries for action it's rather scattershot. With director Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) at the helm, this should have been a fast-paced guilty pleasure, but he's decided to shoot it in the straightforward and soulless manner one would have expected from a TV movie, not a big-budget production. We also only get brief glimpses at the churches and the Da Vinci paintings, yet lots of uninteresting close-ups of the actors. One nice touch are the short, color-blind historical flashbacks that add some much needed spice. The characters never get any kind of personality, their back stories told in supra-edited flashbacks. French actress Tautou is terrific and McKellan is at his campy extreme, but Hanks seems too demure and quiet to make any impression. Thankfully, there are interesting supporting roles by a bevy of B-list actors like Molina as the Opus Dei priest and Paul Bettany as the Albino monk / assassin. In the end, much like the book, the movie is high concept commercial entertainment broken down for easy popular consumption. On its own The Da Vinci Code is a decent enough, smart enough thriller that's worth the trip if only to present a different view of accepted history. (Check out the extended review!)
Entertainment: 6/10

Dawn of the Dead (1979)
Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger
Director: George A. Romero
Plot: As the dead come back to life hungering for flesh, four survivors seek shelter in a zombie-infested shopping mall as the world crumbles around them.
Review: A "sequel" of sorts to the genre's precursor, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead is regarded as director Romero's zombie masterpiece. Once again the film starts off with the world in panic with the reasons for the macabre events are kept obscure, leaving the story to Romero's obvious pet subjects of racism in society, the brainwashing of the American public and our rampant consumerism. But even without the in-your-face sub-text the film delivers, combining black comedy and a multitude of body horror sequences and unflinching special-effects gross-outs. True, though the effects may have seemed incredibly real when the film first came out, and some of it is still quite effective, modern audiences with experience in state-of-the-art gore will probably laugh more than squirm. There are some down-sides, including the bad acting by all parties, the uneven pacing and the slow, dragging middle section of the film when the small group sets up a home in the mall. The last third makes up for everything, though, with a no-holds barred gore-fest interspersed with some great gags. Highly recommended for horror fans, but others may want to pass.
Entertainment: 6/10

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Starring: Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley, Jake Weber
Director: Zack Snyder
Plot: When a strange epidmeic turns corpses into flesh-eating zombies, a handful of survivors escape and barricade themselves in a deserted shopping mall for shelter.
Review: A remake of George Romero's cult classic, the new Dawn of the Dead is a surprisingly fun horror flick that sticks to the basics. The filmmakers do take some liberties with its modernization by updating the slow-moving undead with faster, nastier zombies, and adding in some better bloody effects and make-up - all of which is a good thing. Teen audiences will probably enjoy the fact that it has a larger body-count, more violent tendencies, lots of well-done gore, a good dose of necessary black humor, and a much quicker pace. Of note, especially, are the harrowing first 5 minutes (the end of domestic normalcy) and the high carnage of the last 20, a chaotic struggle to reach port amidst hundreds of zombies. Director Snyder has created a slick commercial product, one that grabs attention and plows through with rarely a slow moment. The one disappointing part is the removal from the mix of the social themes made evident in the original (and which made it a superior horror film) such as the issue of racism and our rampant consumerism. Some of the scenes are still there, but they lack any of the sub-text. Perhaps it's just a sign of the times, but 70's horror carried more punch than just the visceral kind of recent fare. The leads are a pleasant surprise for such a B-type effort, including indie star Polley and fan-favorite Rhames, but the script doesn't allow much in the way of characterization, and just about everyone is just food for slaughter. Still, as a straight-forward zombie movie this Dawn of the Dead delivers the good gory fun one expects, if nothing more.
Horror: 6/10

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm
Director: Roland Emmerich
Plot: After the world leaders fail to heed his warnings, an expert climatologist must face the elements to reach his son trapped in a frost-covered New York after the Northern Hemisphere is plunged into a new Ice Age.
Review: The socially-conscious blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow follows the Irwin Allen school of disaster films: high on concept, effects and destruction, low on believable drama. Some environmental groups have claimed it's a statement on US environmental policy (and we do see our current politicians parodied to no end when faced with the dilemma of what to do) but the movie never actually talks about why we now face global warming, or what we should do about it. Sure, the premise is just another marketing excuse to justify another effects-laden summer outing, but surprisingly, more than just thrills, there's also a feeling of justifiable scariness in the proceedings. We can stop madmen from blowing up the world, but how do you overcome Mother Nature gone wild? The science (which is only briefly touched upon) is more fantasy than fact but still possible, apart of course for the "artistic liberty" of having a new Ice Age come upon us in a matter of weeks instead of centuries. More importantly, the scenes of natural destruction are stunning and grandiose and worth watching on a big screen. Once again, cinema's love for destroying its two favorite cities takes the cake: be it seeing LA buildings being torn asunder by tornados (Twister, eat your heart out), or New York streets being gutted by a huge tidal wave and its people frozen instantly by a sudden cold snap, it will leave most audiences riveted. Suffice to say there's a definite fascination at seeing things gets wrecked big-time, and writer / director Emmerich (Independence Day, Stargate) knows it well. In fact, he's at his best overseeing the spectacles and frenzied mobs. When it comes to the more individual dramatic moments, however, he seems more at a loss though it does come out better than his previous outings. Despite the obviously little effort put into the human drama, which takes a large chunk of the film's running time, the film remains engaging enough, the pacing surprisingly balanced between the large-scale and small-scale moments. Quaid as the Hero scientist in search for his son is amazingly stiff, if not downright wooden, and looks to be sleepwalking in the role. Gyllenhaal, as the son, is only a tad more convincing, as are the rest of the supporting cast. Only Brit actor Holm manages to rise above the material in a limited performance. To be fair, the actors or their stories aren't the reason to see the movie - they're only window-dressing (filler?) in-between the computer-generated sequences. So enjoy this latest summer popcorn film for what it is: an impressive Hollywood-styled cautionary tale, one to be enjoyed for the terrific visuals and not the forgettable characters.
Entertainment: 7/10

*Classic* The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe
Director: Robert Wise
Plot: An alien spaceship lands in Washington with a warning for the world, but fear and human nature force the messenger to escape into the city and mingle with a young boy and his mother, while his all-powerful robot prepares to destroy the world.
Review: "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!" And with those words, along with the image of the massive stark silver 7'7" robot, The Day the Earth Stood Still became cinematic history. One of the main reasons it's such a respected SF classic is that it promotes ideas and themes from SF literature (it being an adaptation of the story "Farewell to the Master" from Astounding magazine itself) instead of the campy ray-gun and space-monster B-movies that have since been the norm. It's also one of the first serious SF films from Hollywood; more literate-minded than later '50s products, it also works better than most and remains just as relevant today. The opening sequence, as the alien lands and confronts the power of the US Army and reduces it to slag (all to a terrific musical score), is particularly thrilling and even the rather limited SFX are still quite effective, as is the suspense of the last moments. However, this is story made as a commentary on human nature, as well as one on the times, and in an era when the atomic bomb was a new-found fear, the film tried to promote a message of peace by showing us how insignificant our hatreds and differences really are. Robert Wise is perhaps best remembered for directing such classics as The Sound of Music and West Side Story, but he also did well with science fiction thrillers from The Andromeda Strain to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and his abilities show even in this, one of his earlier forays into film. The cast is also pretty good for such an endeavor and Rennie especially, as the human-like visitor, does a fine job of making it believable. The precursor to a slew of '50s efforts, and the daddy of modern screen SF, The Day the Earth Stood Still stands tall as one of the true SF cinema classics.
Entertainment: 8/10

Days of Being Wild (Hong Kong - 1990)
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Plot: Indifferent with his relationships and the people who come in and out of his life, a self-obsessed, disillusioned young man living off his adoptive mother tries to fill the emptiness in him by seeking his natural mother in the Philippines.
Review: Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love) got a lot of notice for his second film, Days of Being Wild, and for good reason. As in Kar-Wai's other works, the standard story structure takes a back seat to emotions and feelings, in this case presenting the wandering life of its anti-hero and his slow, predictable, self-destruction. The film is stylishly directed with Kar-Wai's trademark cinematography and long takes, managing to sustain an atmosphere of abandonment and melancholy thanks to minimal almost claustrophobic sets, a reduced color palette and some good use of shadows. The protagonists who become entangled in his life are all ably presented, thanks to a strong cast that manages to portray the characters with little dialogue but very expressive looks and body movements. Exceptional performances by both Leslie Cheung and Maggie Cheung also help lift an otherwise dreary exploration of failed relationships into a fascinating, if altogether depressing, search for identity and human comfort. The final two-minute sequence with Tony Leung (who appears only then, alone, without making a sound) is a complete head-scratcher, but then, Wong Kar-Wai knows how to get everyone talking.
Drama: 7/10

Day Watch (Russia - 2006)
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Mariya Poroshina
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Plot: A guardian of Light who helps maintain the balance against the Dark forces living in Moscow attempts to steal an ancient device of great power in order to re-unite with his son, a teen with world-shattering supernatural abilities who has turned to Darkness.
Review: Based on the best-selling Russian dark fantasy series, Day Watch is the second of three chapters following the splendid, refreshing dark fantasy thriller Night Watch - and it's superior in just about every way: the stakes are higher, the plot more epic in scope, the imagination on display wilder, the effects more impressive, and the action more intense. From the gritty streets of Moscow to flights of fancy, the filmmakers have created a well-rendered epic fantasy world, where creatures of light and dark co-exist in an uneasy truce. The production values are superb, the cinematography slick, the direction dynamic, the visuals superb and the cast bang-on... and in terms of spectacle it rivals anything Hollywood could muster (including the destruction of Moscow). The many FX-laden action sequences (like a gravity-defying car race on the sides of buildings) would indeed put some of the latest US blockbusters to shame, but the action revolves around the story and thankfully not the other way around. Best of all, there's an added dimension to the characters - both heroes and villains - and though they all have set sides in the battle, each of them is tinged with grey, something that makes the confrontations all the more engaging because audiences feel there's something at stake. Perhaps it's that sense of fatalism that is pure Russian - even with the story's two romantic subplots and the father-son relationship - or the European knack for flawed characters, but there's a humor along with the oodles of melodrama that's a breath of fresh air in the genre. It's unfortunate, then, that this may well be director Bekmambetov's swan song to his Russian roots now that he's become a hit in Hollywood with Wanted, as we may never see him helming the last chapter of the series. Audiences expecting wall to wall action will be disappointed by the downtime between set pieces, but those willing to give this amalgam of Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings, vampire movies and Russian melodrama a go will be pleasantly surprised by the epic scope and delicious, smart goings-on. Highly recommended.
Entertainment: 8/10

Dead Again (1991)
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Plot: A private investigator tries to discover the identity of a woman fallen prone to amnesia but regression hypnosis to a past life seems to indicate the two are connected to a murder committed in the 1940's.
Review: From an interesting premise, director / actor / screenwriter Branagh offers up a delightful homage to Hitchcock with Dead Again, his second feature after Henry V, keeping the essence of the Master's works and yet imbuing it with a style and easy intrigue all his own. Though this type of mystery relies on surprising its audience with clever revelations, the film is more than its admittedly original, and memorable plot twists. The story incorporating the themes of chance and fate is excellent, paralleling the stories of the tragic romance of its characters in the 1940's with the re-incarnated couple's lives in 1991 L.A. with perfect editing and pacing. Indeed the narrative keeps the intrigue throughout with a perfect mix of exposition, charismatic performances, a good dose of suspense, and even Hollywood-style romance. One of the reasons for this is that the smart, deft script allows for enough uncertainty and even the occasional red herring to keep audiences guessing, and the material lively enough to keep us entertained. Branagh and Thompson (who were married at the time) have great chemistry together and pull their dual roles off brilliantly. Robin Williams, in a cameo appearance as a down-and-out psychiatrist is also a hoot to watch in a darkly humorous role. Dead Again is a terrific supernatural mystery with an intelligent script whose elements of romance, humor, and suspense make it one of the best thrillers in a long time.
Entertainment: 8/10

Dead Alive (aka. Braindead) (1993)
Starring: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody
Director: Peter Jackson
Plot: After seeing his overbearing mother turned into a zombie, a young man tries to prevent her from assimilating others by locking her up in the basement with disastrous results.
Review: Director Peter Jackson has managed what is probably the pinnacle of "splatstick" film-making, a vivid, no-holds-barred combination of silent-era slapstick comedy and splatter horror. Influenced by previous genre films such as The Night of the Living Dead series and Evil Dead 2, Dead Alive one-ups them all in its excesses and in its reach of gore-comedy. The film is not for the squeamish as the blood and guts literally fly but, thanks to some inventive but relatively crude special effects and the cartoonish style of the proceedings, what could have been stomach-churning manages to stay fascinatingly watchable. There are many memorable scenes here, including the middle-aged priest using his kung-fu skills to fight off some restless zombies while screaming "I kick ass for the Lord!", the zombie-baby in the park, and the climactic lawn-mower sequence. The constant sight gags, inventive special effects and clever use of camera angles makes Dead Alive an incredibly exploitive, but hilarious, horror spoof. A true cult classic. Note: make sure you see the unrated version that includes an extra 12 minutes of footage.
Horror: 8/10

Dead or Alive Final (Japan - 2002)
Starring: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Richard Chen 
Director: Takashi Miike
Plot: In a future world where reproduction is outlawed, a battle-android helps a small gang of rebels rise up against the totalitarian regime.
Review: Let it be said right off the bat: Dead or Alive: Final is a cheaply-made quickie that's shockingly banal. Taking the theme of Blade Runner (replicants wanting to be human) and The Handmaid's Tale (a world where birthing is illegal) without any of the context, throwing in an embarrassingly lazy screenplay, and adding some bad computer effects, one would be hard-pressed to call it either a sci-fi film or an action flick. A pinch of uninteresting fight scenes does nothing to alleviate the tired script and slow-goings-on of the film, which seems to have been made for midnight-TV audiences. It's a surprisingly boring and half-assed effort from director Miike (Audition, Visitor Q) a prolific master of the strange and unexpected. Gone is the excitement of the hyper-kinetic over-the-top original chapter, or even the stylish fantasy of the second. It creaks along with no narrative goal, no story resolution, and perhaps worse for a Miike film, no artistry or energy whatsoever. And the "memorable" 30-second ending is just plain idiotic. The two leads, the only real link between each installment of the series, have little to do and even less interest to do it. DOA: Final is simply trash, a slap in the face for Miike fans, and a waste of celluloid.
Entertainment: 2/10

Dead End (2003)
Starring: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye
Directors: Fabrice Canepa, Jean-Baptiste Andrea
Plot: After taking a shortcut to get to a family Christmas dinner, the members of a dysfunctional family start dying one by one as they try to find their way past a deserted, never-ending road.
Review: For a low-budget horror flick, Dead End delivers on its modest ambitions. As such, there's the tension of the never-ending road, the mystery of the Lady in White and some brief gruesome scenes, though most of the gore is off camera. The real focus, and most of the dark humor, rests on the inevitable destruction of the family unit, a theme that was popular in 70's horror genre. Most of the action might revolve around a country road, a jeep and its unsympathetic passengers but first-time directors Canepa and Andrea have created a briskly paced tale out of a Twilight Zone-type tale. If the rest of the cast seems a bit off, mainstay character actor Wise is perfectly at ease in this kind of film and really holds the film together. Sure, the linear, predictable climax ends up being a retread of the much-used twist of Jacob's Ladder, and the script thinks itself perhaps more clever than it really is, but at a brief 80 minutes Dead End never overstays its welcome. 
Horror: 4/10

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Starring: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Carl Reiner
Director: Carl Reiner
Plot: An inept, fast-talking private eye in 1940's Los Angeles comes to the aid of, and eventually falls for, a wealthy woman who hires him to find her father.
Review: A silly, half-hearted attempt at spoofing the film noir genre, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is a typical, rather bland Carl Reiner comedy. Steve Martin, as the wise-cracking gumshoe, has had better roles and, as co-screenwriter, could have done better to create a more engaging story. Rachel Ward, however, is stunning as the "straight man" to Martin's antics. The comedy is sometimes amusing, but by trying to milk this one-joke movie for cheap laughs instead of the real comic potential of the premise it never finds its funny streak. What the movie is, though, is clever - clever in the way the script suits various moments from other "real" Hollywood film noir films of the '40s and '50s, and in the way Martin interacts with some famous actors by the inter-cutting of clips, including scenes with Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, etc. It's also clever in its dialogue, and the way it recreates the cinematic feel and scenes of some classic films of the era. Unfortunately, the film itself, and the characters in it, are nowhere near as interesting as the sum of its parts. In the end, Dead Men Don't wear Plaid is a mildly entertaining pastiche, and an amusing parody / homage for film noir buffs, but only a so-so comedy.
Comedy: 5/10

The Dead Zone (1983)
Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt
Director: David Cronenberg
Plot: After waking up from a 5-year coma, an embittered high-school teacher discovers he has the power to see the future fate of anybody he touches through disturbing visions.
Review: Up-and-coming director Cronenberg was perhaps a great choice for adapting Stephen King's best-seller The Dead Zone and the film is indeed one of the better moves from King book to screen. However the feature is surprisingly tame and restrained for the man who had made a name for himself with disturbing low-budget offerings such as Rabid and Scanners, the director's strong visual style and shocking imagery being rarely in evidence. In fact, his work here is rather impersonal and workmanlike. Yet his experience in the medium still shines through, and he does allow the story and its main characters to take center stage. The artistic sense during the visions, however, do make up for some of the cooler bits. Of course, much of the original novel has been cut down and other parts beefed up, but though some might argue that the essence of the work is no longer there, the film still works rather well as a low-key supernatural thriller with its share of light drama. More than anything, however, it's Walken's eerie, sympathetic performance as the teacher cursed with visions he cannot control that really makes this a keeper. The rest of the cast is fine, and includes an over-the-top turn by Sheen as the maniacal senatorial candidate. One of the better King adaptations, The Dead Zone is an efficient piece of work, and one of the better genre films of the 80's.
Entertainment / Horror: 7/10

Death Proof (2007)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Plot: A charming, sociopathic stuntman kills his young female victims using his modified muscle car, but the tables get turned when he picks on a group of no-nonsense women out for a joyride.
Review: Originally part of the Grindhouse double-bill with director Rodriguez' Planet Terror, the woman-empowerment-exploitation-revenge-flick Death Proof is a superb homage and throwback to the 70's car flicks. Written and directed by maverick helmer Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill) it's a showcase for what Tarantino does best - cool dialogue that feels real and makes you giddy at being in on the conversation (even when it's mostly small talk), badass characters doing badass things (especially in the strong, smart, sexy female characters part), a fun script full of events that makes you wonder what's coming next, and some vehicular mayhem that tries to up the bar. Apart from a spectacular, old-fashioned car crash, the action is relegated to the final act and it goes all out - taking cues from the '70s and early '80s car chases from Vanishing Point (a recurring reference) and The French Connection to Mad Max, the film relies on real cars doing real stunts real fast, and it works. The cinematography is clean and straight-forward, devoid of fancy camerawork or overt stylishness, which actually helps the film. Note that the theatrical cut had the occasional "missing reel", scratches and changes in film stock and color - all intentional in keeping with the film's exploitation premise. Serial-killer Stuntman Mike is a great creation, and Russell - at his charming, sleazy best - embodies him gloriously. The female victims - made up of some solid, familiar actresses like Dawson and Rose McGowan - are all also pretty good at giving Tarantino's written dialogue life. But the real attraction here is stunt-woman-and-first-time-actress Zoe Bell (who doubled both Lucy Lawless on Xena and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) playing, well, herself and boy is she something. She's got a bubbly, down-to-earth personality that shines through and - surprisingly for an acting novice - she keeps her own among the more experienced actresses. The best part, of course - and the intention of the casting choice - is that she does her own stunts, something that really sells the part and ratchets up the tension, like when she's holding on to the hood of a muscle car doing 80 miles an hour and being rammed by another. Great stuff. All told, genre fans who lived through the B-movie period of the 70's and 80's, or anyone who enjoys good cinema no matter the genre, will get a kick at the fun, fast and take-no-prisoners attitude that is Death Proof. It's another feather in Tarantino's cap. 
Note: Extended from the 87 minute theatrical release to almost two hours for the DVD, the film adds additional dialogue and a "missing reel' in the form of a lascivious lap dance. The added stuff actually makes it less an exploitation flick than a Tarantino oeuvre and it does slow down the pacing, but it doesn't damage the film much.
Entertainment: 8/10

Death Race (2008)
Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane
Director: Paul Anderson
Plot: In the not so distant future, an innocent man is forced by a brutal prison warden to compete in a series of brutal televised races where challengers ride armed cars and only the survivor gets his freedom.
Review: Forget the nihilistic, 70's low-budget Roger Corman-produced exploitation flick Death Race 2000 with its sly social commentary and cartoon-like violence. Death Race, the latest update, is a straight-up, cliché-ridden action flick devoid of any redeeming social values, but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up in high-budget brawn and pure mayhem. Mixing cars, high-caliber guns and gladiatorial combat isn't exactly high-concept and the prison drama is pretty much filler, and thankfully the film doesn't pay much attention to it. Sure, the plot, narrative, directing and editing are more akin to a latest-generation video game but that doesn't stop it from being an unabashedly efficient, visceral and downright entertaining. Though it may not be saying much, this is by far director Anderson's (Alien vs. Predator) most entertaining flick - even if the action does get repetitive at times, he's clearly taken a page from The Road Warrior film handbook; the sense of speed, the destruction as vehicles get perforated and blow up, the larger-than-life machismo (and the requisite babes) make it for one entertaining package. The leads - both action-star Statham and fish-out-of-water Allen - do their parts justice, but it's really the super-charged cars bristling with armor and weapons that are the real characters, and the real attraction. Death Race delivers exactly what you'd hope and expect from the film's action-movie premise and as long as that's what you're looking for, you won't be disappointed.
Entertainment: 7/10

Death Trance (Japan - 2005)
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Kentaro Seagal, Honoka Asada
Director: Yuji Shimomura
Plot: A young monk embarks on a quest to stop a battle-crazed martial-arts master dragging a stolen mystical coffin from unleashing the Goddess of Destruction upon the Earth.
Review: Death Trance wants to repeat the successful formula of its spiritual predecessor, the low-budget cult flick Versus, and comparisons with it will be inevitable. But while the latter had fight scenes with definite energy and an infectious eagerness to please, this latest entry fails in the most important part: the action. With an art direction, plot and camera work heavily inspired by Japanese Manga, this contraption unabashedly jumps from one scene to the next without much interest in its characters or story. Still, though the plot is paper-thin there are some good ideas peppered throughout, like the use of guns (and - yes - even a bazooka) in a fantasy setting, a beautifully set-up final showdown with the Goddess where blood flows like literal rose petals, and the cool final scene of angels falling from the sky. The real reason for the film's existence however is supposed to be the no-holds barred action and in that department, unfortunately, it just isn't up to par - though there are a half-dozen set pieces here, the choreography is lack-luster at best, and the fighting simply too repetitive or not energetic enough to keep our attention. No matter how much tongue-in-cheek the film is (and at least it's abundantly clear it doesn't take itself seriously) there's only so much senseless pummeling of interminable faceless figures one can take. Perhaps the fault lies in what some define as "fun", or in the attempts at clever filmmaking that simply fall flat, and the entire affair by virgin director Shimomura can't help but shows a very amateurish gait. The cast led by a stiff, unappealing Sakaguchi as the disinterested destroyer barely makes an impression, but then they aren't really here to emote. For action aficionados, there are worse things you can do than catch Death Trance as it does include some interesting bits that might keep fans of Japanese martial flicks entertained, but even at a short 90 minutes, it seems to go on too long.
Entertainment: 5/10

Deathwatch (2002)
Starring: Jamie Bell, Hugo Speer, Andy Serkis
Director: Michael Bassett
Plot: Caught behind enemy lines at the height of World War 1, a small company of British soldiers seek refuge in a German trench only to discover that something unholy is turning them against each other.
Review: A joke, perhaps, on the line that "War is Hell", Deathwatch mixes the elements of a war flick with those of a haunted house (or in this case a haunted trench) to interesting effect. Using the background of The Great War gives the film some added interest, as cinematic views of the conflict are now rare. The themes required of any war drama all make an appearance, from the abuse of power, the savagery and madness of war, to the instinct for survival. The cast, based around the young Bell (who was acclaimed for his role in Billy Elliott), is solid and convincing, and the team member dynamics and interpersonal confrontations are well presented, if rather generic. With a combination of dark, damp, muddy trenches, shadowy cinematography and ominous music, writer / director Bassett creates a strong sense of dread and mystery. If he can't quite keep the tension revved up throughout, the film remains an effective low budget exercise in atmospheric dread, ably creating a strong sense of paranoia and fear. Yet there's little payoff to the tension, and though limiting the use of usual horror tropes may be a good thing, it's also backfired somewhat. The obvious parallels between the genres are there - the gore, the psychological breakdown, the paranoia, etc - it's just that the addition of the horror elements to the story aren't as well presented or convincing for an entry in the genre. Still, though it ends up getting a bit lost along the way between its commentary on War and its use of the horror tropes, the film itself is well executed and for that alone Deathwatch is worth a look.
Horror / Drama: 5/10

D.E.B.S. (2004)
Starring: Jordana Brewster, Sara Foster, Meagan Good
Director: Angela Robinson
Plot: Part of a secret agent academy, a schoolgirl's loyalty is put to the test when she falls for a nefarious, sexy female crime boss, to the detriment of her teammates.
Review: Plaid-skirted schoolgirls with guns, secret government agencies and Bond-like villains all come together in DEBS, a mildly amusing spoof of spy flicks, grrrl style, with a bigger agenda up its sleeve. Best described as Clueless meets Charlie's Angels, and based on a playful 10-minute short film by director Robinson, there's some fun to be had but it's more of the cult-flick type: The girls-with-guns action bits (what little there is) are definitely sub-par and rather throw-away silly; the jokes are clean but low brow, with most of the twisted geek humor will go right over the head of most adults; and the acting downright lame. The real surprise comes in the form of the tender lesbian love affair between teen spy and female villain that turns one genre into a sweet, if coy, tale of forbidden love. The ups and downs of the relationship are approached with such great understanding that one wonders why its squeezed into such a ludicrous shell of a film. Then again. what better way to get the point across to the mainstream? Unfortunately it's clear that the entire thing is pretty much a one-trick pony padded to feature-length, and the film is plagued with such clichés, tepid melodrama and bland set-pieces that it quickly falters. So don't let the titillating premise of DEBS fool you: see it for the well-handled teen romance and low-level silliness, and forget the rest.
Entertainment: 5/10

Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Starring: Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Renny Harlin
Plot: Three huge genetically enhanced sharks create havoc in the underwater research laboratory where they were confined, and start hunting the humans inhabiting it.
Review: My main problem with Deep Blue Sea is that it tries way too hard to create suspense by exaggerating every possible predicament, and by using unbelievable coincidences to the detriment of the main characters. Director Harlin (veteran of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) knows how to keep the pace going full throttle, though, and the film is quite entertaining, if only for some great shark effects, good scenes of destruction, and (my favorite part) the indiscriminate killing of most of its protagonists (in full view, no less). In other words, mindless big-budget B-movie fun.
Action: 7/10
Entertainment: 5/10

The Defender (Bodyguard from Beijing) (Hong Kong - 1994)
Starring: Jet Li, Christy Chung, Kent Cheng
Director: Corey Yuen
Plot: A rich businessman hires a by-the-book Chinese police officer to protect his beautiful, spoiled girlfriend until she can testify against some notorious thugs.
Review: Heavily influenced by (read "an outright copy of") Kevin Costner's The Bodyguard, The Defender (Bodyguard from Beijing in its original title) is a pure Jet Li vehicle that gives the American version a Hong Kong twist, providing frenetic action sequences and dynamic camera work in-between all the usual run-time filler shenanigans. Though the plot feels tired, the pacing is solid and action director Yuen (The Transporter) is at his best staging the imagined, well-choreographed fighting sequences, of which the film boasts a few shining examples such as the opening staged training exercise to a spectacular shootout in a mall. But forget finding any romantic tension here despite the repeated attempts of the story - it's clearly not Yuen or leading man Li's forte. In fact, the stone-faced Li's special agent isn't even an interesting character, but what made him a star in the first place are his martial skills and they're in abundance here. The rest of the cast is more in place for the required filler moments, either comic relief (the bungling HK inspectors), bubble-gum romanticism (the pretty Chung) or dramatic purposes (why do these movies always have to have a dumb kid?). Thankfully the blend of dynamic action, goofy humor and easy melodrama all make for a fun concoction from HK's golden 90's era. Though not a classic by any means, The Defender is a welcome addition to any Jet Li library and a tasty treat for action aficionados.
Entertainment: 7/10

Deja Vu (2006)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton
Director: Tony Scott
Plot: Invited by the FBI to help them catch a terrorist involved in a terrible ferry bombing using a technology that allows them to view past events, a veteran New Orleans officer falls for one of the victims and tries to alter the past.
Review: The time-travel aspect is given a neat twist in the thriller Deja Vu, mixing crime procedural with the ability to do a sort of retro-surveillance, opening up some interesting potential. Much of the impetus of the film is the underlying fact that you can't change the past despite our meddling, and the feel is that the tragic events are inevitable. There's the required action set pieces, like the occasional gun battle, a car chase following a ghost image through heavy highway traffic as our hero dons a portable hi-tech helmet that allows him to see past images, and of course some spectacular explosions. Until the final act, the blend of sci-fi and thriller works pretty well. Sure the technology involved is glossed over, and some of the goings-on don't really make sense but those are quibbles if you accept the whole ball of yarn. Unfortunately, this being a Hollywood film, there has to be a happy ending and so out goes the film's own internal logic (that of one-way time-travel) to plop our hero into the past to change the future - from that point on, the film flounders in paradox. Even the budding romance with its shades of the noir film Laura, as our hero falls for a beautiful dead woman, sets the stage for some very un-cop-like behavior and the movies denouement. But whatever failings the story may have, director Scott (Enemy of the State, Man on Fire) knows all the tricks to produce a slick, mainstream product and they're all in effect here, save perhaps (thankfully) for his recent use of too-quick-to-follow edits. Of note, shot in post-Katrina New Orleans, the film exploits the locale without bringing anything to the story, which is somewhat disappointing. The grinning, fiery Washington skates through the film with little trouble, using his easy charm to make us believe this is a better movie due to his presence. The rest of the cast, from a chubby Kilmer to the beautiful Patton and the eerie Jim Caviezel, only really orbit around his performance. For action with a neat twist and an agreeable performance from its leading man, Deja Vu is stylish, if rather vapid, fun while it lasts.
Entertainment: 6/10

De-Lovely (2004)
Starring: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Irwin Winkler
Plot: A biography of popular songwriter Cole Porter as he reviews a dream stage play of his life and musical career, from his introduction to the rich divorcee who became his wife to his last days. 
Review: Though it portends to be a biopic retelling of the life and music of popular 30's and 40's songwriter Cole Porter, De-Lovely is really a thinly disguised homage to his legacy and his music more than the man. Director Winkler (My Life as a House) uses Porter's greatest hits to provide episodic snapshots of his life, creating a rather formulaic but nonetheless engaging biography told as a stage musical. In fact, much of the dance choreography is clearly recreated for the stage (much like their original Broadway venues), and these numbers are engaging and fun. The producers have also managed to get an impressive variety of modern-day singers to perform some of his more popular tunes, like Alanis Morrissette, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall and even Natalie Cole. There isn't much drama to be had here, and so the film focuses on the marriage difficulties between Porter and wife Linda Lee with which he shared a platonic relationship while he seeked male companionship. Not quite gripping stuff, but then the memorable songs are the real treat here, including "Night and Day", "Let's Misbehave" and "Be A Clown". The film does much to show off the glamorous lifestyle he was accustomed to, made up of grand parties around the world, and the lavish art direction does a fine job. Forget about the supporting cast and even Judd who comes out just fine as the loving wife, as this is really a showcase for a sophisticated, charming Kline who sings, dances, and tries hard to get the man's mannerisms just right. As a biography, De-Lovely misses the mark by giving only a shallow representation of its subject, but as a musical it really sings and, if nothing else, will have audiences looking for more of Porter's work.
Drama / Entertainment: 6/10

The Delta Force (1986)
Starring: Lee Marvin, Chuck Norris
Director: Menahem Golan
Plot: An elite commando team enter Beirut after Islamic terrorists hijack a TWA flight in Athens and take tjhe passengers hostage.
Review: The 80's were plagued with a slew of cheap action productions, mostly from co-writer / director Golan's own production house: B-movie quality, badly directed and acted fare, that was meant for direct-to-video shelves. As far as these action flicks go, The Delta Force was one of the better ones, despite sets that all look pretty cheap and cheesy, and lots of ridiculous histrionics. a staple of such films. If it had been shorter, it would have been an effective time waster. Unfortunately at two hours it's plain tedious to get to the action: the first hour sets-up the tale as one-dimensional Islamists hijack a commercial airliner and terrorize its passengers, with all the out-pouring of melodrama that the script can muster. Surprisingly enough, it's the same victims cast in the disaster-movie The Poseidon Adventure - in fact, playing the same characters, too - like Shelley Winters, Robert Vaughn and others, all clearly slumming it. If you can withstand all this boring character drama (or can fast-forward through it), the final half-hour act is engaging, mindless fun, full of no-holds barred machine-gun and rocket-launcher-totting mayhem, as the cardboard-cut-out Delta Force invades Beirut and inflicts American-style revenge. You get dune buggies mounted with heavy-artillery, motorcycles built with mini-missiles, and more GI Joe-cartoon-level silliness than you would expect from a slew of rotten Norris action vehicles, and enough explosions and gunfire (all with no logical sense) to ensure giddy enjoyment by pre-teens everywhere. Acclaimed martial-artist Norris is completely wasted here and has only one lame hand-to-hand fight, but at least he looks the tough-guy part, crashing through a window on his motorbike to punch a bad guy in the face. Not so for action veteran Marvin, as the team leader, showing that age has not been good to him. One of the more expensive of the '80's action quickies, The Delta Force's last act is a hoot but discriminating viewers should enter forewarned.
Entertainment: 4/10

Demolition Man (1993)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock
Director: Marco Brambilla
Plot: A cop is thawed out of suspended animation to stop his nemesis, a violent super-criminal, now loose in a future Los Angeles that has been turned into a non-violent society ill-equipped to stop him.
Review: Mixing humor and mayhem, Demolition Man is another high-concept action vehicle that manages to work well using its main actor's strengths and decided weaknesses. The action scenes full of gunfights, car chases, and myriad explosions are intense and violent, if incredibly bloodless, and are well executed if not particularly original. What gives the film its saving grace is its decidedly comic overtones, which adds a much needed fresh take on the typical Stallone action flick. The future setting is quite ridiculous and unbelievable, yet it allows for many hilarious moments, and some clever bits such as the automated fines that stack up due to the hero's use of profanity, as well as the usual fish-out-of-water routines. Stallone knows his acting limitations and takes up the role of the muscle-bound cop without taking anything too seriously while Snipes attacks his role with joyous glee and is appropriately over the top as the super-human psychotic killer. Bullock, still relatively new to the screen then, is well cast and displays the needed energy as the sidekick and love interest. Denis Leary as the revolutionary leader, however, doesn't add anything to the plot except some heavy-handed, cliche, and totally unnecessary social-political commentary. Sure, Demolition Man is a rather low-brow action / comedy, but the resulting mix is still quite entertaining for genre fans ready for something different.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Departed (2006)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson
Director: Martin Scorsese
Plot: Violence follows when an undercover cop high in Boston's Irish mafia and a fast-rising police officer who is actually a criminal mole realize each other's existence and struggle to reveal each other's identity before their cover is blown.
Review: An excellent remake of the popular Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs retooled for an "Irish cop" setting, The Departed is easily one of the most rewarding crime dramas in years. From the get go, as the characters are introduced with the opening notes of a Rolling Stones tune, you know to make yourself comfortable in the hands of a master craftsman. Director Scorsese has a lot of this sort of movies under his belt - the classic GoodFellas, Mean Streets, and more - but there's never been one quite as entertaining as this one. Much of the essence (and key moments) of the original's clever cat-and-mouse game, one where loyalties are put into question and moral certainties blur, is still very much in evidence but Scorsese has made the film his own adding his trademark style and enhancing the themes of sacrifice, betrayal, and self-identity. An added romantic triangle doesn't quite work as well, but that's a minor quibble. As expected, the film is very violent, indeed almost sadistic in its bloodshed - from gunfights, beatings, and general pummelings - but there's a lot of black humor to level it out. The tale also captures well the psychological pressures and constant peril faced by both men to maintain their cover, keeping the tension cranked up until the bloody ending. Throughout, the narrative hits with machine-gun efficiency thanks to some tight editing and a smart, ruthless screenplay filled with razor-sharp, colorful dialogue - even at over two hours, there's nary a dull moment to be had. But the whole affair would not be half as interesting if it weren't for the "wow" cast, beginning with Nicholson; he creates a memorably sleazy character with a largely improvised role as the virtual crime emperor of Boston, hamming it up, playing it over the top, and generally giving in to the sort of role he's been stereotyped in. More impressive is DiCaprio who has a seething rage about him that is just amazing and, though perhaps less convincing, Damon makes a great nemesis as the smug, cool bad cop trying to go straight. Vera Farmiga as the love interest of both parties seems too ephemeral to be believable, but the rest of the cast is a nice surprise from Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and especially Mark Wahlberg as a high-strung asshole-cop who appears to have great pleasure verbally blasting his colleagues. Filled with intensity, bloodshed, and tortuous situations, The Departed is simply a class act that's a joy from start to finish.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Descent (2006)
Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza
Director: Neil Marshall
Plot: Trapped under the earth while exploring uncharted caves, six women desperately try to find a way out and soon realize that the caverns harbor strange, predatory creatures.
Review: A surprisingly character-driven affair that provides as much genuine fear as it does inevitable violence, The Descent isn't your typical monster movie. Indeed, with a whip-smart script and fine story-telling sense it manages on a modest budget to have more thrills and chills than any six-pack of usual Hollywood drivel. Following the footsteps of 70's horror flicks like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes, this is an old style horror flick given the modern, slick treatment, where the horror elements aren't explained, and don't need to be for them to be effective. The extended set-up is never dull, doing a fine job of setting up the group of friends harboring both recent loss and a bitter secret, creating a tight-knit bond between them. It only helps make the breakdown of "normalcy" all the more frightening when bad things start happening, heightening the tension and the final pay-off. The visuals are terrific, like scenes of our heroine rising out of a stagnant pool of blood or reaching out for a lonely beam of sunlight, but it's at its best when it sticks to the creepy, tight tunnels and passageways, creating a foreboding sense of doom and an intense feeling of claustrophobia that is downright nerve-wracking. If it had just been that, it would have been terrifying enough, even before the film presents us with the cannibalistic terrors. Spelunking has never been this scary. The lurking creatures themselves - pasty, horrid looking caricatures of men with very pointy teeth - are passably frightening, if not wholly convincing. The battle between women and creatures, however, is vicious and realistic, full of fear and panic, allowing for lots of crushed skulls and bloodletting. Marshall has made a name for himself directing low-budget but high-octane horror flicks like Dog Soldiers, and here he's cranked up the tension a great deal. Though he avoids most of the familiar cinematic tricks, he can't help throwing in some of the usual clichés - but that's a minor fault compared to all that's done right, from the constant air of menace to the relentless confrontation. As for the relatively unknown cast, the women manage to make their characters genuine and smart, all the more to gather our empathy at their perils. Gruesome, chilling and intense, The Descent proves that there's still some life left in a genre that desperately needs some new blood.
Horror: 7/10

Desperado (1995)
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Plot: A notorious gun-toting ex-guitarist arrives in a small Mexican town seeking revenge for the man he holds responsible for the murder of his lover.
Review: A big-budget Hollywood remake-slash-sequel of the original low-budget Mexican action flick El Mariachi, Desperado once again blends a tale of guns and guitar-playing - it seems an odd mix, but it works. For one, it's got one of the best opening scenes of the past decade, thanks to Buscemi's excitable, earnest on-screen story-telling at a seedy bar. The film never quite lives up to that beginning, but there's lots of dynamite stuff to enjoy. Taking his original work into the big leagues, director Rodriguez (who would go on to greater things with continued vigor with Spy Kids and the startling Sin City) wrote, directed, produced and edited the film allowing his vision to come untarnished to the screen. As such, it all zips by with perfect tempo, through the rougher patches and the obvious silliness. And it helps to have two such leads to work with: Banderas is great, all intensity and controlled anger and makes a cool-looking action hero, but the real note is the first American appearance by screen siren Hayek, who makes a real splash here. True, the chemistry between Hayek and Banderas might be tepid and the characters are nothing but molded caricatures, but what the movie lacks in romantic flair it more than makes up for in gutsy, wildly entertaining action bits. And that's what this is really all about: It's bloody, it's violent, and it's an obvious effort from a filmmaker who loves action movies; in fact, the gunplay sequences are straight out of John Woo's bullet ballets such as A Better Tomorrow or The Killer, only pushed to ridiculous extremes for comic effect. It's also an homage to the tough-guy Westerns of the '60s, with its small-town Mexican locale, sun-bleached streets, evil-looking banditos, and sleazy "saloons" - and, of course, some Mexican stand-offs. The tale is at its best when it stays within the genre confines, but the filmmaker can't help but try his hand at a typically explosive finale (with a supporting role by the original actor toting dual guitar-case-machine-guns). Desperado may not be as accomplished story-wise or as a whole compared to his first indie effort or his future endeavors, but for a young director flexing his new-found muscle, it's a promising big-league debut that's both cinematically interesting and just plain fun.
Entertainment: 7/10

Deterrence (2000)
Starring: Kevin Pollak, Timothy Hutton, Sean Astin
Director: Rod Lurie
Plot: An appointed President faces a growing crisis when, stuck in a Colorado diner during a raging snowstorm, he engages in a battle of wills over the phone lines to defuse a potential nuclear confrontation in the Middle-East.
Review: First-time writer-director Lurie was probably trying to present a modern version of Fail-Safe with his low-budget thriller Deterrence, but falls far short. The story is an interesting one, and the first twenty minutes piles on a series of promising sub-plots and moral dilemmas, from election politics to the ethics of nuclear use. Limited production values means that the scenario has to be engaging, the character interaction vivid and / or the issues brought to life. Unfortunately the script seems to aim more for some low-key tension than an exploration of ideas, and by avoiding or simply glancing over these issues it just feels shallow, unpolished and simplistic. The cast is fair, but their acting, and the fact that the film is confined to a simple, single set, makes the whole proceedings appear too theatrical. The use of stock news footage only acerbates the fact and doesn't help us find that suspension of disbelief the story needs. Worse, the twist ending, though admittedly set-up mid-way through, makes everything that has passed before it a sham. Deterrence is at its best when it sticks to the game of diplomatic cat and mouse, but in the end it's only a minor dramatic effort.
Drama / Suspense: 4/10

Devdas (India - 2002)
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali 
Plot: In the early 1900's Calcutta, two childhood sweethearts are torn apart because of their family's class differences, leading one to an unhappy arranged marriage to a rich, older widower and the other to find solace in alcohol.
Review: In many ways Devdas is the ultimate Bollywood picture, raising the stakes for romantic mush in a genre that is rife with such excesses. It's a romantic epic with large, lively choreographed dancing numbers, enchanting music, where emotions such as love, joy, sadness are sung, not talked about, an extravagant melodrama encompassed in classic musical surroundings. This fourth adaptation of the popular and influential Indian novel is another terribly melodramatic romance about an impossible love, a story of pride and despair that Bollywood does so well. Overly sentimental, gushing in its emotional melodramatic excess, subtlety goes out the window from the get-go, yet only the heartless can fail to be dragged into the story. Forget logic, too, the operatic storyline is more akin to a fairy-tale where the emotions are greater than life, full of impossible romance and pathos - that's what counts here. There's also an exploration of one of India's favorite themes, that of overcoming (or not) the country's social restrictions, its barriers of class and wealth. At three hours, though (a length typical for Bollywood films) it does get a little overdrawn, and the pace is sometimes somewhat uneven. Still, Bhansali is a capable director and, despite its faults, the film is technically and cinematographically impeccable. The fact that this is the most expensive Indian film ever made is immediately obvious: the film is awash in luxury, from the lavish sets, to the detailed glasswork and rich tapestries that enliven the backgrounds to the colorful, gloriously detailed costumes everything is visually grand and impressively caught on film. Khan occasionally hams up the drunken scenes alcohol ultimately consumes his character, but he is always a charming performer. It's the two female leads that really shine, however: The graceful Rai (a previous Miss World) is splendid while Dixit, another familiar face, also does a fine turn. The tragic love story may not be to every Western audience's taste, but the splendid visual quality will impress anyone and it always manages to hold our intention thanks to the charming leads and its lyrical narrative.
Entertainment / Drama: 7/10

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
Director: Carl Franklin
Plot: Out of work, a lower-class African-American accepts a job to find a missing woman but soon finds himself caught up in deadly political intrigue in 1940's Los Angeles.
Review: Devil in a Blue Dress, based on the Walter Mosley novel, sets its tone early on as an atmospheric and moody modern film noir, one that owes much to the early '40s genre and its Chandler-esque heroes. The story is typical of the genre and includes all the necessary ingredients - femme fatale, dirty secrets, political intrigue, double-crosses, and a bevy of dangerous characters. Where the film deviates from the standard, though, is in its depiction of black life in post-war L.A., a continuing social commentary that sets the mood of the film and soon becomes more than just a background issue, but the real driving force of the narrative. The naive hero as well, in a fine understated performance by Washington, is very different from the standard white private eye, as he is forced to move among different social circles, mistrusted, beaten by cops, learning the secrets of surviving as a private investigator by trial and error. The rest of the cast of characters are all up to type, especially the comically violent Don Cheadle as his temporary side-kick. In the end, the twists and turns of the plot, as well as its resolution, aren't anything special but it's the way Devil in a Blue Dress progresses and presents us this fictionalized, noir world filled with interesting characters that makes it worthwhile. 
Entertainment: 7/10

The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron
Director: Taylor Hackford
Plot: A hotshot young criminal lawyer is invited to work for a prestigious New York firm, but as he is seduced by the money, fame and power he slowly realizes that his boss is Lucifer himself.
Review: A mix of The Firm and Angel Heart that could have coasted as an easy morality play ("all lawyers work for the Devil"), The Devil's Advocate proves to be far more clever and provides more efficient chills than one might expect. The plot itself doesn't hold any surprises, and the climactic revelation is predictable, but the script milks it for all its worth, grabbing our attention with some impassioned theological monologues, downright creepy moments, and its fair share of sinful temptations - Evil has never been this tempting! Sure the rants on God, Humanity and free will aren't meant to be as convincing as they are amusing, and the commentary on corporate villainy and legal abuse is rather shallow, but what a show. Director Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray) really does a rousing job establishing the horrific elements of the material and imbuing the narrative with constant menace while keeping the special effects to a minimum. As Satan himself, Pacino is the true attraction, playing the part with complete abandon and relishing it - it's a role he was born to play. Reeves gives in his best performance to date as the crack attorney. The real surprise is then-unknown Theron who is simply radiant as his wife, and - in a situations that reminds one of Rosemary's Baby - is quite effective in portraying the paranoia over her new surroundings. The Devil's Advocate is one of those films that really gets the commercial aspects just right: slick, entertaining, and smart - and Pacino is worth the price of admission alone.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Devil's Backbone (Spain - 2001)
Starring: Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Plot: During the Spanish Civil War a young boy is forced into an orphanage with other refugees his age and soon discovers that on top of the regular bullying, there's both a hidden treaure and a child ghost to contend with.
Review: Part period film, part coming-of-age drama, part mystery, part ghost story, The Devil's Backbone is a low key supernatural film that's far more a piece of Art than it is a mainstream horror flick - and at times, that's not a bad thing. Thrill-seekers looking for gory fun from the director of Blade 2 will probably be disappointed by the deliberate pacing and low body count as well as the slow, gradual mounting of tension. From the unexploded bomb in the courtyard, to a steamy love triangle, to the hierarchical life of an orphanage, to the indirect presentation of the pain created by the Spanish Civil War, there are quite a few interesting things going on. The payoff is rather predictable, as is most of the story, and even the interaction and growing bond between the orphans feels terribly familiar. But if it ends up a tad conventional it's nonetheless an evocative and interesting experience, the locale and time period giving the events a definite exotic flavor. With the unlikely horror films Cronos and Mimic under his belt, director del Toro proved that he could create an engaging concoction, and he does so again here. Working on an indie-level budget, there's more attention to characters and situations than effects or downright scares. In fact, this is all about atmosphere. The beautiful, yellow-tinged cinematography captures the heat and sun-drenched courtyard and provides a fairy-tale like quality to the film. There's also an indisputable European flair to be had in the storytelling, something that adds to the film's charms, especially to North American audiences. For cinema buffs ready for something different, and genre fans willing to take a chance, The Devil's Backbone is sure to please. It may not be perfect, but it's definitely different from recent mainstream hokum.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

Dial M for Murder (1954)
Starring: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Plot: Having prepared the perfect murder, a man decides to hire an old college acquaintance to kill his rich wife, but soon finds himself desperately improvising when things don't go quite as planned.
Review: A great example of Hitchcock's masterful hand at film-making, full of nerve-wracking scenes, quick wit, intelligent scripting and dialogue, and good acting. In fact, you may find yourself at odds, rooting for both the murder and the victim, as the lies and intrigue start piling up! The ending is a bit anti-climactic in comparison to Hitchcock's masterpieces (Vertigo, North by Northwest), but Dial M for Murder is an entertaining by-the-numbers suspense film with a very British flair.
Entertainment: 7/10

Dick Tracy (1990)
Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna
Director: Warren Beatty
Plot: Super-detective Dick Tracy finds his hands are full when he must battle a ruthless mob boss who has manages to unite the cities worst criminals while splitting his affections between his loyal girl-Friday and a sultry cabaret star.
Review: Based on the popular comic-strip detective created by Chester Gould back in in the 1930's, who was as famous for his radio watch as he was for the colorful denizens / criminals inhabiting his city, Dick Tracy is un unfortunate example of style over substance. As director, Beatty hits all the right notes in the visual department, capturing the cool factor of the classic strip to a T. Using a Sunday newspaper-strip styled 4-color palette, there's a wonderful art direction that's present in every aspect of the film from the vibrant cinematography, to the boldly stylized sets, the square shouldered costumes and the dollops of character makeup effects, all of which make the 2-D world of Dick Tracy come to brilliant life. If the ineffectual-seeming Beatty can't quite do justice to the forceful, square-jawed title character as an actor, the rest of the supporting cast is bang-on, and it's a joy to see them interpret some of Tracy's most notorious / infamous villains. Of prime note is main bad guy de Niro who is in fine over-the-top form as Big Boy Caprice and Madonna (in her best film performance to date), perfectly cast as the sultry femme fatale. Add to these a bevy of other denizens including the superbly-realized The Rodent, The Brow, Flattop, and Mumbles (a perfectly understated Dustin Hoffman) played by a great ensemble cast with the likes of Kathy Bates, Colm Meaney, James Caan, Dick Van Dyke and Paul Sorvino and its clear that no expense or effort was spared. Add to this a strong score, some song-and-dance routines (including the Oscar-winning Sooner or Later), and a good dose of comic-book humor - how can it go wrong? Unfortunately, despite all these efforts, and despite getting all the right elements in place, the end product just isn't up to the sum of its well-executed parts. Sure, there are some terrific set pieces, with shootouts, cliff-hangers, et al as Tracy battles it out on the streets but as a whole the film fails to generate any real excitement, and the pacing alters from action-packed to slow-as-molasses. At least the story, while minimal, is for the most part above-average for the course, especially in the hit-and-miss era of 1990's comic adaptations. As a stylish, beautiful-looking adaptation, Dick Tracy wins big. Too bad it's not consistent enough to warrant repeat viewings.
Entertainment: 6/10

Die Another Day (2002)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens
Director: Lee Tamahori
Plot: With the help of a sexy American agent, James Bond follows the trail of a rogue North Korean officer leading him to a dangerous diamond magnate bent on ultimate power.
Review: Die Another Day, the 40th anniversary installment to the 007 franchise, tries to instill some fresh ideas to the clichéd Bond formula, and at times recalls the best of the Connery Bond adventures while adding its own modern-day style of action. The classic "Bond" elements are still here, from the beautiful women, the dastardly (if forgettable) villains, the exotic locales (Cuba, Korea, Iceland) and the gadgets are once again outlandish (an invisible car!). The filmmakers have also added a little extra for veteran Bond fans, too, peppering the films with winks to the past 19 films and 40 years of Bond history. The story starts off dark and tense, as Bond takes on an edge we haven't seen since the early Connery days, especially as he's thrown into a dungeon and tortured, coming out as a broken, vengeful man (truly some un-Bond like stuff!). Unfortunately, the fine start to the film soon degrades to camp and contrived silliness as soon as Jinx arrives on scene, which starts some sexual innuendo and terrible one-liners that will make you cringe. The second half, when the movie settles into the Iceland cold, is more an over-the-top, cartoonish action ride catering to audiences of xXx-style pyrotechnics (including at least one terrible CGI sequence) than it is the classy Bond. Another irking point is that the opening theme is grating and the Madonna cameo is just dreadful. There are some highlights, however: the opening action sequence, a bullet-ridden chase on board military-style hovercrafts over a mine field, is quite exciting; a terrific, intense sword fight punctuates the enimosity between the two opponents well; and a battle using souped-up, weapon-laden vehicles is quite fun. Director Tamahori (best known for the indie drama Once Were Warriors) also manages to infuse the narrative with some infectious energy right from the start and does a good job overall. Brosnan once again does a fine performance, fitting comfortably in the 007 role. Berry, who might have won an Oscar and certainly looks the part (her much-ballyhooed Ursula Andress-coming-out-of-the-ocean homage to Dr. No is fine), but she isn't either convincing or very good here. Though the schizophrenic script gives an inconsistent mix of style and tone, Die Another Day is a successful venture in the world of the world's greatest secret agent, and for the most part a fine action / adventure flick.
Entertainment: 7/10

Die Hard (1988)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
Director: John McTiernan
Plot: In the wrong place at the wrong time, a lone New York cop must stop terrorists holding hostages in an L.A. office building from stealing millions in bearer bonds.
Review: Die Hard ushered in a new breed of action films one that starts with a simple premise and proceeds to offer up slick, exciting entertainment. Bruce Willis, in his first action role, is absolutely splendid and convincing as the wise-cracking, sympathetic cop trying to make the best of a bad situation. The bad guys are a bit incongruous, heavily-accented, buff, long-haired "terrorists" but they are cautious, professional, and more than just canon-fodder. But one of the best elements, one that the genre usually lacks, is a great villain to contrast the hero with and here villainy is personified by Rickman, a nemesis who's smart, cunning, cultured, and deadly. Director McTiernan is a veteran of the genre (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) and helped by ace cinematographer Jan De Bont (who went on to direct another great action film, Speed), he grabs our attention from the get go with some great visuals, fine directing and delivers a non-stop roller-coaster thrill ride. It also helps that the film has some very impressive pyrotechnics as well and single-handedly raised the bar for grandiose cinematic explosions and urban demolition. The crowning achievement of the film, however, is its wonderful script, one that is filled with interesting twists and turns, solid suspense, well-plotted action sequences, great character interactions and still manages to keep the usual action clichés to a minimum. Die Hard is what action movies are all about - a good cast of characters, a strong story, well-shot action sequences, and a sharp script full of interesting plot twists and good dialogue. One of the best action films to come out of Hollywood, period.
Action / Entertainment: 9/10

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia
Director: Renny Harlin
Plot: An off-duty cop is forced to battle a group of cold-blooded black-op mercenaries intent on freeing a captured South American dictator by seizing control of Dulles Airport.
Review: Die Hard 2 is typical of action sequels, boasting greater danger, bigger explosions, a larger body count and a more ambitious setting. Though the all-important action scenes including gun battles, spectacular explosions (including two commercial planes being consumed in giant fireballs) are still well done and the proceedings are great fun, the story doesn't quite unfold as well as the first film, and much of the narration just seems muddled. Willis returns in his best hero role with as many quips as ever, but this time around his dialogue seems a tad too self-conscious. The terrorists, though just as professional, well equipped and vicious as before, have very little personality, something that added much to the interaction between Rickman's villain and Willis in the first film. Thankfully, the film is still well constructed and Harlin's direction assured and fast-paced enough that we can often overlook some of the weaker plot points. It may not be as suspenseful as the previous one, but the mounting tension and constant action sequences are well orchestrated. Though not quite up to the standards of the original Die Hard, Die Hard 2 knows what its audience expects and delivers it quite efficiently, standing head and shoulders above the standard summer blockbuster action flick.
Entertainment: 7/10

Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons
Director: John McTiernan
Plot: Wise-cracking super cop John McClane is back, this time on the track of a terrorist planting bombs in New York as a cover for a gold heist of the Federal Reserve.
Review: Die Hard With a Vengeance (Die Hard 3) changes the focus of the series from Christmas to Summer, expands the playing field to New York, and goes for the tried-and-true formula of the buddy movie. Thankfully, teaming Willis and Jackson actually works, and the chemistry and interaction between the characters is surprisingly fun to watch. Irons also makes a terrific megalomaniacal villain in the little time he has on screen. The first hour has some good chase sequences and some decent suspense, but also lacks consistent pacing and occasionally drags due to a large amount of exposition. Director McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October) knows how to deliver the goods for this type of movie, though, and the second hour makes up for the slow start in spades with enough gunplay, explosions, and stunts to fill three other summer films. The first-rate "action film" script moves along at a break-neck pace, with some good dialogue and the stalwart humor of the series still very much in evidence. True, the plot of Die Hard 3 is very similar to the first, with the same kind of villains and similar caper, but what it lacks in originality it makes up in thrills and fun. Fast-paced and consistently entertaining, Die Hard With a Vengeance is a great way to cap off the series.
Action / Entertainment: 8/10


Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant
Director: Len Wiseman
Plot: As a criminal organization hacks its way into the country's mainframes and shuts down the US, a maverick cop takes matter into his own hands to stop them.
Review: The popular franchise lives again in Live Free or Die Hard, with the violence and explosions very much in evidence, though what made the original outing so brilliant (namely the plot, villain, suspense, believability factor and R-rating) is now left far behind. The benchmark for the Die Hard films are the wild stunts and impressive action work; dispensing with the usual set-up, the action gets going quickly with shoot-outs and situations that are for the most part well-staged and gripping (McClane taking out a helicopter with a cop car, or driving down an elevator shaft are highlights). Some of it may be too referential, perhaps, but the humorous banter is there as are the one-liners we've come to expect. At least for the first hour. When the evil plot gets into focus, the film takes a turn into 24 territory, with way too much uninteresting exposition that has the film screeching to a halt (a cameo by director Kevin Smith as a geeky super-hacker is utterly pointless). The Y2K-like doomsday plot is ridiculous no matter the mumbo-jumbo, and so predictable that one can hardly find the sense of urgency - losing the time and location restriction of the other films kills all the tension. When it starts up again, the film gets lost in CGI-enhanced mayhem in the final act as McClane goes up against an F-35 fighter plane (echoes of True Lies, here) - it's fun, but it ain't Die Hard. Director Wiseman (best known for the brooding, stylish Underworld franchise) is no McTiernan but he's not the one to blame - that would be the script; he does well with the material, capturing the mood, set-pieces and mayhem - too bad that the palette is so visually bland, though. As for our star, yes, Willis is getting a little old and it's been 20 years since he first stepped into the shoes of the character, but he's still in good shape, hasn't lost any of his edge, grit or sly smile, and still has the hero thing down pat. Giving him a sidekick is adding dead weight, but for fast help on the computer jargon Long isn't too bad. Not so for the slick Olyphant, who just doesn't cut it as a villain mastermind. Thankfully, one of the henchmen is French action star Cyril Raffaelli (of District 13 fame) whose acrobatic skills verge on the incredible. If the film doesn't sustain the kinetic energy required to really tag the name of Die Hard to it, it is for the most part a slick and effective throwback to the 80's action flick - and that's a good thing.
Entertainment: 7/10

Dil Se (From the Heart) (India - 1998)
Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Manisha Koirala, Preity Zinta
Director: Mani Ratnam 
Plot: While on assignment, a young journalist falls in love with a mysterious woman and discovers she is part of a terrorist cell dead-set on assassinating the president.
Review: For most North American viewers not used to Indian films, Dil Se will be a pleasant surprise and an exotic experience. Original, imaginative and beautiful to look at, the film sometimes verges on the artsy but without ever falling to the pretentious. More serious (dramatically speaking) than the usual mainstream production, it still maintains the necessary Bollywood ingredients, namely an engaging story and characters, song-and-dance routines, and a dose of humor. The real highlights are a duo of superb musical numbers featuring some extremely hummable songs presented in slick, classic MTV-video style with an Indian twist: the first (Chal Chaiya Chaiya) sees colorful dancers gyrating on top of a moving train, and another (the title track) is one long, imaginative dream-like sequence. Thanks to producer Kapur's influence, perhaps (a man best known to the West as the director of Elizabeth), the cinematography (capturing both the character's intensity and the country's incredible vistas), fabulous dancing sequences and general aspect of the film look very refined and slickly made. The two leads, and Khan in particular, are quite sympathetic - in fact the whole cast is quite good. Its only fault, unfortunately, is the script: though it is engaging and interesting enough, we never have a real feel for the characters and their relationship, and what could have been an intense political commentary gets drowned out in sketchy melodrama. The film moves away from the love story to one of suspense towards the end, but the last half hour, which ups the ante with crude, violent fist fights and a surprisingly downbeat ending, feels completely at odds with the rest of the film. Sadly, Dil Se wasn't a hit with audiences seeking pure escapism, but despite its failings and long running time this is a beautifully made, at times even mesmerizing, feature.
Entertainment: 7/10

Dinosaur (2000)
Starring: D.B. Sweeney, Ossie Davis
Directors: Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag
Plot: An orphaned Iguanodon is raised by lemurs in a secluded island. After a disaster strikes the land, he joins a convoy of dinosaurs trying to flee the devastation and find new breeding grounds.
Review: Dinosaur brings another family animated adventure from Walt Disney, though some scenes may be a bit too violent for younger kids. The computer-generated creature animation mixed in with real-life scenery is very impressive, and many of the long shots and vistas are really stunning and beautifully put together. The opening sequence is spell-binding and promises a terrific adventure. As is usual for a Disney film, though, the premise is an interesting one, but the plot and script lack any drama or originality in its execution. By trying to humanize these creatures and make them identifiable to kids, the characters become cartoons and not the dinosaurs that are promised from the title, the ones that would have carried the film. Mind you, this is not National Geographic, and real-life accuracy has never been a strong point of Disney pictures. As a technical feat, a visual feast, and an entertaining children's film that even adults can enjoy, Dinosaur still delivers and stays interesting enough throughout.
Entertainment: 6/10

The Dish (2001)
Starring: Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Harrington
Director: Rob Sitch
Plot: A four-man technical team in charge of a large radio telescope in a remote Australian town become a crucial part of the NASA's historical 1969 mission to the moon by relaying images of the event to the world.
Review: The Dish, based on real-life events, is a light sentimental drama, a look at "ordinary people in extraordinary situations", about some of the many unsung heroes of the Apollo 11 moon-landing. Like most of these light-hearted films taking a nostalgic look back at the 60s, events are seen through a pair of pink glasses revealing a time when things were more innocent and the adventure of space travel was still experienced with a keen sense of awe. The character dynamics are kept simple, but the entire cast, headed by an affable Neil, is definitely sympathetic. Apart from experiencing a slice of life in a small Australian town with its multiple little subplots, there isn't much going on here that's particularly noteworthy, and the little suspense available (in the shape of a power failure and high winds arriving at the worst times) seems rather diluted. Yet the story is interesting enough and, thanks to a some decent pacing and a great sense of setting and mood, quite engaging. What makes the film work so well is the combination of the everyday made special by the historical events taking place, and, cutting in actual footage of the week-long trip and, finally, of Man's first steps on the moon, the film carries us back to another time. The Dish doesn't have high ambitions, but with its laid back demeanor, good-natured humor and its definite Aussie charm it's a fine effort.
Drama: 7/10

District 9 (2009)
Starring: Sharlto Copley, 
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Plot: 20 years after a ghetto is created in Johannesburg to segregate the million inhabitants of an alien spaceship, a human bureaucrat with the alien-relocation bureau gets infected with alien DNA and is forced to go on the run from the government and a weapons corporation that wants to use him for testing alien armament.
Review: A surprisingly effective, smart mash-up of Alien, Independence Day, The Fly and more classic sci-fi themes, District 9 distinguishes itself by using an appropriately exotic locale with a script rife with sub-text on Apartheid and the Holocaust. Much like the successful Cloverfield, the film uses a clever concept, strong imagination and an effective in-your-face type of filmmaking to enthrall, thrill and terrify despite its modest budget. Young FX-guy turned writer / director Blomkamp's first effort will make the film community (and audiences) take note - drawing on his own experiences growing up in Johannesburg with its omnipresence of racism, he uses a documentary style of shaky hand-held cameras and fake video reportings to capture the immediacy of events, and some effective use of computer effects to make it believable. The film works on many levels - as horror, as its protagonist desperately tries to escape his own body's transformation into something terrifying, as sci-fi with its fancy technology and alien spaceships, as social commentary, and finally as a bang-up action flick - and things do get an opportunity to blow-up thanks to some neat alien weaponry, including an impressive display with a mecha suit. The cast of mostly unknowns do a fine job, but big kudos go to relatively new actor Copley, who's convincing transformation from annoying company drone to desperate fugitive keeps the movie centered. With its smart script, mix of genres and engaging narrative, District 9 is a rarity in mainstream cinema - a socially relevant film that hides itself as a sci-fi actioner. It's this summer's most memorable film.
Entertainment: 8/10

District B13 (Banlieue 13) (France - 2004)
Starring: David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli
Director: Pierre Morel
Plot: Paris 2010: In a cordoned-off ghetto, an undercover cop and an acrobatic local team up to retrieve a stolen neutron bomb from a drug dealer and his well-armed gang.
Review: Another high-concept action French flick from the Luc Besson mill, District B13 is a quick shot of adrenaline to the arm of the buddy-movie genre. It's a mash of sci-fi premise from Escape from New York, a zippy narrative reminiscent of Hong Kong efforts, and martial-arts moves straight out of Ong-Bak. Indeed, as per the latter, most of the amazing stunt sequences and intensely-choreographed, bone-crushing fight scenes were done without the use of wires or CGI and it shows. Two of the dynamic chase sequences up building faces and across rooftops is a depiction of an urban style called "parkour" that uses the urban environment to its advantage. Director Morel cut his teeth as cinematographer on Besson-produced films like The Transporter and Unleashed, and he's taken his lessons well, disregarding any pretense of melodrama, glossing over the exposition, and focusing on keeping things in motion. It's also the first real appearance by its two leads, Belle and Raffaelli, whose past experience as stuntmen prepared them well for the physical exertions demanded in the script, and whose personable charm and acrobatics (yes, they do they're own perilous stunts) remind one of the young Jackie Chan. The plot is definitely throw-away-level silly, an excuse to stick action sequences together. More gratifying is the tongue-in-cheek tone that makes it clear that the film doesn't take itself too seriously - this is, first and foremost, a crowd-pleaser. Yet there's a strong political commentary regarding the very real social problems faced by the inhabitants of these Paris suburbs, including poverty, discrimination and rampant crime - a point that was made clear when major riots actually erupted in the city a year after the film's release. Despite these quick interruptions, District B13 is a breezy exercise, a highly effective piece of turbo-charged action hokum that's sure to please.
Entertainment: 7/10

District B13 - Ultimatum (Banlieue 13 - Ultimatum) (France - 2009)
Starring: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Philippe Torreton
Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Plot: In a future Paris where "districts" have been created to keep out the more violent, undesirable elements, a disgraced super-cop and a local hero try to uncover a high-level conspiracy to force the French Government to destroy the gang-controlled ghettos to make way for high-priced condos.
Review: A sequel signed Luc-Besson (who also penned the script), Banlieue 13 - Ultimatum is a pretty decent sci-fi actioner that proves that the French can do this kind of thing just as well as Hollywood. The story itself is dreadfully familiar, with flashes from everything from Robocop to Escape From New York, and there's no real attempt to make for a logical plot. Though not quite as accomplished or as original as the first, Ultimatum nevertheless has its fair share of thrilling action sequences, from death-defying Parkour acrobatics across rooftops and along the side of buildings, to some fine martial arts fights and over-the-top car stunts. At its best, the movie rolls off the screen like one of the better homage to 80's Hong Kong action / comedy fests. Just like its Asian brethren, the stunts are real, not CGI, and that's thanks to its two returning leads (and real-life urban acrobats) Raffaelli and Belle who make it all look so easy - much like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung did. Case in point, a superb opening sequence (in fact, the movie's highlight) where super-cop Raffaelli slips in a den of thieves disguised as a call-girl (cross-gender jokes, another HK specialty) and ends up taking down the entire gang of criminals single-handed, while protecting a priceless Van Gogh painting. Unfortunately, director Alessandrin can't keep the energy levels up during the moments between the stellar action bits, all of which are too talky and too lengthy, with the story re-treading on itself, spoon feeding each obvious detail in flashbacks. If that wasn't bad enough, the over-handed social commentary on class warfare, the corrupt government, etc. are just plain silly. Nevertheless, the film has enough spunk in its action and the leads enough charisma to move this fluffy contraption past the finish line. And sometimes, that's good enough.
Entertainment: 6/10

Disturbia (2007)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss
Director: D.J. Caruso
Plot: After losing his father and punching his teacher, a troubled teen living under house arrest passes time peeping on his neighbors, soon becoming convinced his neighbor is a serial killer.
Review: A clever, modern, teen-centric remake of sorts of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window, Disturbia serves up a fitfully mainstream suburban thriller that actually ends up being pretty satisfying. The film's more tense moments don't get going, really, until mid-way but both halves of the film have something going for it; the first, the long-winded set-up that works thanks to new-leading-man LaBeouf's soulful, angst-ridden teen and other neighborly hi-jinks (including spying on the hot new neighbor), the second the more suspense-filled (and action-prone) act filled with the expected twists and scares as the sleuth and his two friends realize they're being watched, too. Sure, it's familiar stuff for those who have sat through the countless, cookie-cutter serial killer flicks of late (from Scream onwards) but one-time TV director Caruso (Salton Sea, Eagle Eye) manages to get the the most out of the confined spaces, young cast and smarter-than-average script that packs humor, romance and terror in equal doses. Added bonus, veteran bad-guy Morse who's perfectly creepy as the neighbor who may or may not be a killer. There's no genre-defining element here, but If you can avoid screaming at the clichéd ineptness of our heroes when things get serious ("aargh, why do they always do that!"), there's lots of fun to be had in Disturbia.
Entertainment: 7/10

Diva (France - 1982)
Starring: Wilhelminia Fernandez, Frederic Andrei, Richard Bohringer
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Plot: A Frech mail courier makes an illicit concert tape of an American opera diva and soon becomes embroiled with a vicious criminal gang when it is mistaken for a recording impicating a high-ranking police officer.
Review: The first film from director Beinix (Betty Blue, Mortal Transfer), Diva is a clever, visually impressive thriller. It's a fun, sometimes campy, sometimes irreverent tongue-in-cheek film with underlying moments of garish, violent neo-noir at its core and a surreal atmosphere throughout. Though slow to start as the story elements and protagonists are put into place, the action eventually revs up as the search for the postman escalates, including one well-done, original motorcycle chase through the Paris Metro system and the climactic showdown. It's unfortunate that this part of the story relies on too many cases of incredible coincidence and last-minute saves. But more than its thriller genre conventions, the film allows for some romance as a touching, platonic relationship develops between the young man and his opera idol allowing for some of the film's most enchanting, quiet scenes. Most of the characters, especially the supporting ones such as Bohringer, are mostly caricatures though amusing ones and the acting is generally pretty bad, if not plain amateurish, but American star Fernandez as the title character has definite presence on screen. Still, it's the movie's stylish excesses, its impressive New Wave visuals that make the difference here, bringing a very modern cinematic look to the proceedings giving us an exotic look at Paris and a few of its more colorful denizens, as outsiders may imagine them to be. Even the music, with its opera theme and disco-esque tunes, is especially haunting and adds much to the film. Diva may be a bit slow-moving at times but its stylish production values, great cinematography and cult status make it worth the trip.
Entertainment: 7/10

Divided We Fall (Czech Republic - 2000)
Starring: Bolek Polivka, Csongor Kassai, Martin Huba
Director: Jan Hrebejk
Plot: During the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, a couple decide to hide an old acquaintance who escaped from the concentration camps in their pantry, but the frequent visits from a Nazi sympathizer makes their everyday lives quite strained.
Review: Divided We Fall, a portrait of Nazi collaboration and low-key resistance, is as complex in its sentiments as are its denizens. One is never sure if to take the engrossing story as a satire, a dark comedy, or a very human portrait of life during the occupation but there lies its strength. The film balances humor and drama, peppering the film with dire, emotional situations as well as bizarrely absurd scenes and events without teetering into either melodrama or downright silliness. In fact the desperation evident throughout the town, in the dire situations and in the real dramatic tension exhuding from every tightly drawn scene makes the lapses into humor all the more startling. The characters portrayed are all too human never defining any as heroes or villains, and everyone is painted in different shades of gray. These are normal people trying to live through abnormal times, balancing their conscience with their need for survival. Their actions are rarely predictable, and moments of courage or cowardice are not always done for the right reasons. Polikva as the reluctant hero is excellent, as is the rest of the cast, breathing depth into their characters without ever falling into the trap of stereotyping. An intelligent, harsh, and finally uplifiting film, Divided We Fall is a brilliantly conceived and executed moral examination of what normal people can do in abnormal situations.
Drama: 8/10

DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
Starring: Natassia Malthe, Jaime Pressly, Eric Roberts
Director: Corey Yuen
Plot: After being invited to a tropical island to fight against the most fearsome martial artists in the world, four beautiful, but deadly, women find out that there's a nefarious plot behind the competition.
Review: Based on the popular video game of the same name, the film DOA: Dead or Alive is anchored by a critic-friendly moniker, but won't stop fans of inane plots, bad acting, silly (but energetic) action and generally major cheese from gobbling this up. Think of it as Charlie's Angels Light, just without the laughs. This is a pedestrian effort from Hong Kong director Yuen, who had much better success in the kick-ass-women genre with So Close, without mentioning his other successes like The Transporter, Enter the Eagles, and a series of solid Jet Li associations (The Enforcer, The Bodyguard from Beijing, etc). The plot is vague and video-game worthy (i.e. nil), and it's clearly made for pubescent Gen Y gamers in mind what with all the nubile flesh at hand and the many gratuitous ass shots. Still, even if he's not in top form (it's clear this was made for a fat paycheck) and there's an obvious silliness, childishness in the character interactions and keen lack of originality, there's still enough spunk, hard-hitting (and utterly bloodless) wire-fu and scantily clad babes to make up for its other shortcomings. And to be fair the gals are pretty darn good fighters (or at least they fake it real well). DOA is not a good film by any means (and it's impossible to resist calling it "Dead On Arrival") but it's one that delivers on its premise - just don't expect any more than that.
Entertainment: 4/10

Dr. Dolittle (1998)
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis, Oliver Platt
Director: Betty Thomas
Plot: A workaholic doctor discovers he can communicate with all types of animals, an admission which throws him in hot water with his cabinet associates and risks breaking his family apart.
Review: Dr. Dolittle isn't a modern remake of the 1967 family musical but a low-brow comedy that only takes the most basic premise of the original. Essentially, this is another formulaic, mildly vulgar comedy of the type that now seems to be prevalently aimed at the young. As expected the animals, all of whom are opinionated and brash, really steal the show with the best scenes and the best lines delivered by an impressive array of recognizable voices including Chris Rock and Albert Brooks. The live-action and creature effects are well blended in as well, and make some of the scenes all the more amusing. Amongst these moments, the saccharine sentimentality and the constant beating of the "be yourself" moral, along with the lack of a decent plot and characters to care for, is almost acceptable. However, the comedy is very hit-or-miss and one's enjoyment is dependent on one's endurance / enjoyment of low-brow humor. Eddie Murphy actually shines here, though it's sometimes a struggle not to be outdone by the menagerie, and shows he can be a solid straight-man as well as a physical comedian. Dr. Dolittle ends up feeling like an overlong, forgettable comic skit, but it's one amusing enough to partake.
Comedy: 5/10

Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001)
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, Steve Zahn
Director: Steve Carr
Plot: A doctor who can talk to animals must help integrate a circus bear back into the wild to stop a lumber company from destroying a forest and forcing its animal inhabitants to relocate.
Review: Dr. Dolittle 2 keeps the same formula that made the original a box-office success. Unfortunately, much like the first Dr. Dolittle, motor-mouthed funny-man Murphy is constrained here, reduced once again to be the straight man to the animals' antics. The menagerie, brought to life with some excellent effects, delivers some funny lines and amusing moments, but way too many of the expected laughs come from four-year-old level toilet jokes while lots of bad, unoriginal puns litter the dialogue. The idea of the trained / city bear coping with the wild in anthropomorphic terms is amusing for the most part, but there doesn't seem to be enough for a whole film, so there are a number of ill-fitting and un-amusing story elements band-aided in to fill up the already short film. The relationship sub-plot with Dolittle and his eldest daughter, for one, is worse than filler, it's boring with a bad sense of sentimentality thrown in. Of course, this being aimed squarely at kids, the humans are universally shown as imbeciles and the loggers as simplistically evil men. Thankfully the brisk pacing at least ensures that audiences don't have time to think about how bad some of the scenes are, or sit through any long-in-the-tooth jokes for very long. Dr. Dolittle 2 is an able sequel with some good moments, but by limiting its appeal to young ones and to low-brow jokes it misses some truly funny opportunities.
Comedy: 5/10

Dr. Lamb (Hong Kong - 1992)
Starring: Simon Yam, Danny Lee
Director: Danny Lee
Plot: A reclusive taxi driver is arrested after getting some gruesome pictures developed. During his interrogation, the true story and details of his brutal killings come to light.
Review: A terrible film from start to finish. What is intended to be startling and shocking ends up being only a cheap gross-out interspersed with what amounts to slapstick comedy. Yam does a truly over-the-top performance as the deranged serial killer, and there is never a dull moment in the film, but the other performances are so bad, the cinematography so amateurish, and the whole script so disjointed, that, apart from the unintentionally funny moments, there is nothing to recommend this film. If you're interested in delving into the mind of a serial killer, try Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer instead, and stay away from this one.
Drama: 2/10
Entertainment: 2/10

Dr. No (1962)
Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman
Director: Terence Young
Plot: Sent to investigate the death of a British agent, suave secret agent 007 is sent to Jamaica where he uncovers the machinations of a mysterious criminal organization to divert rockets from Cape Canaveral.
Review: Loosely adapted from the 1958 novel by Ian Fleming, Dr. No kicked off the long-standing, popular franchise of the adventures of super spy James Bond, and the series has never looked back. Though done with modest means, the film captured the essence of the character that would capture audience imagination to this day. Apart from the catch phrase "Bond, James Bond" and the distinctive theme, the film also introduced many distinctive themes, such as the exotic locales, the narrow escapes, dastardly villains and quirky henchmen, SPECTRE, vast secret lairs, vodka martinis, and the inescapable Bond Girls. As the first of these, Andress embodied , and the scene of her coming out of the clear blue Jamaican waters in two-piece bikini is a classic movie moment. If the film isn't quite as action-packed as future chapters like Goldfinger - with few explosive stunts, death-defying feats and barely a car chase - it does allow for a more realistic tone, and a more realistic depiction of the Bond character, one that relied more on his wits than on the ingenious gadgets that have marked (or plagued) following installments. It's also surprisingly more brutal and yes, even sadistic, than one would have expected - something that got lost in ensuing years. Director Young also manages a rather dynamic film for something from the early 60's, one that provides solid tension and thrills aplenty, setting the trend for the series. But perhaps even more important than all that, the film brought charming Scottish actor Connery to world-wide attention, and for many his performance as the virile, dangerous and womanizing Bond remains the watermark for all those that came after. A solid start to a terrific series, Dr. No will remain a hallmark of the action-adventure genre.
Entertainment: 7/10

*Classic* Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Plot: At the height of the Cold War, a fanatical U.S. general decides to send a fleet of bombers to nuke the Soviet Union seeking to catch them unawares while the President and his entourage in the War Room try frantically to stop him.
Review: A classic anti-war film that happens to be a clever, sardonic black comedy, Dr. Strangelove (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) captures both the political and military insanity of the times - and makes it funny. Maverick producer / co-writer / director Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) had achieved fame for another anti-war film Paths of Glory, and here he would sign his first outright comedy. Originally meant to be a serious thriller akin to Fail-Safe, Kubrick deemed the subject matter so grim that he deemed it couldn't be pulled off as anything but a satire and so turned what is a dark, scary cautionary tale of nuclear holocaust into an exercise in absurdity. Add to the thriller satire some now-classic lines ("You can't fight here! This is the War Room!"), strong sexual imagery (from two planes re-fueling in mid-air to Sterling Hayden's fluid-obsessed maverick general), its director's keen eye for the perfect shot, and what you get is a formula for success. There's a strong sense of suspense and tension during the aircraft scenes, and these are done with a look at verisimilitude - too bad they also lose the comic tempo of the film and seem rather long, the only real hiccup to the film. And even if the plane effects are rather primitive and the humor sometimes silly or very dry, it doesn't stop its ultimate message from coming through loud and clear. It's also a star showcase: Sellers in a triple role as the meek President, the steadfast RAF officer and the ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove astonishes with his gift for improvisation making for some hilarious monologs, especially during his hot-line conversations with the Russian premiere. The real winner, however, is Scott in a fabulous, frantic, and way over-the-top comic performance as the patriotic, juvenile general giving the President lame-brained warmongering advice. And who can forget character actor Slim Pickens, playing the gung-ho Texas pilot, immortalized in the phallic image of the cowboy captain riding an atomic bomb, rodeo-style, to its ultimate target ending in an orgasmic mushroom cloud. Though perhaps not as hilarious as it was upon its release on an unsuspecting public, Dr. Strangelove still amazes with its provocative take on a frightening subject.
Entertainment / Drama: 8/10

Dr. Wai in the Scripture With No Words (Hong Kong - 1996)
Starring: Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Takeshi Kaneshiro
Director: Ching Siu-Tung
Plot: With the help of his assistants, a modern-day pulp writer come to terms with his upcoming divorce by setting up his alter ego against an evil, fictionalized version of his wife.
Review: The plot tries to go for a constant '30s cliff-hanger type feel, obviously influenced by repeated viewing of the Indiana Jones series (or the slew of bad imitations). There's a lot of action and story twists here, including some decent wire-fu action set pieces (particularly one of Jet Li's fantasy character fighting off some ninjas), and even some destruction of large scale sets akin to Hollywood productions (one has a runaway steam train destroying half a town) but its mostly less than spectacular. One of the main reasons is probably that the narrative constantly jumps back and forth from the "real life" of the authors to the fantasy setting of the King of Adventurers, a clever idea that just doesn't work here. By trying to put in too many different pulp clichés into the mix, Dr. Wai ends up being a film whose parts are better than the whole. It's entertaining enough, but the interesting concept, and the talents of Jet Li, deserved a better script.
Entertainment: 5/10

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Plot: A group of social misfits enter a dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas for the $50,000 payoff that would save their run-down gym from a take-over by a glossy fitness center and its narcissistic owner.
Review: There might not be much substance, style or even originality in the sports comedy Dodgeball, apart perhaps from its geeky premise, but somehow all the elements come together to make it a funny, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable comedy. Though the plot is terribly derivative of all sports films and many of its "underdog-wining-the-day" parodies, the script is light on its feet moving quickly through the story and its various acts. These include some of the funniest, most pain-inducing training sequences of any sports movies (you try dodging wrenches!). Even the requisite romantic bits - thrown in out of genre necessity - have been trimmed down to its bare essentials. The real meat of the flick is the hilarious tournament itself; apart from being inherently funny to see grown men play a school playground game and taking it "seriously", the international status given the competition (including reporting by mock-ESPN commentators) and the ridiculous teams themselves adds a large dose of laughs. The comedy is definitely not high-brow stuff, but it is effective: with equal parts silliness and high camp, the humor is often crude but never gross, and it always keeps its heart in the right place. Vaughn doesn't stretch his abilities, but he's in fine form as the charming cad with little aspiration. However, the real star turn is Stiller's performance: in a nice change of pace, he is completely over the top as the narcissistic, slick and despicable villain. The rest of the second-ier cast are all terrific, making the team a sympathetic bunch of losers. And check out the handful of amusing cameos, from a self-parodying David Hasselhoff to real-time athlete Lance Armstrong. All told, Dodgeball is an unexpected treat, a hilarious spoof of standard sports films that will have you cheering despite yourself.
Comedy: 7/10

Dogma (1999)
Starring: Linda Fiorentino, Ben Affleck, Chris Rock
Director: Kevin Smith
Plot: The last scion, aided by a Muse, the 13th Apostle, and a couple of weird "prophets", must stop two fallen angels from passing through the doorway of a 100-year old church and using a loophole in Christian theology to re-enter Heaven.
Review: A mix of juvenile slapstick comedy, theological meanderings, cartoon action, and funny characters, Dogma delivers a scathing, hilarious comedy that pokes fun at Catholics, the Bible, Faith, and even God. But behind the often profane joking and the vulgar humor, director and writer Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy) still shows a strong religious conviction, one that is tempered with some spiritual exploration of his own. The all-star cast is fun to watch (especially Affleck and Damon as the Angels and Alan Rickman as Metatron, the Voice of God), and the script is wonderful, but Dogma has a hard time setting itself free of its independent-film roots, with low production values and sometimes too-long diatribes. Still, it remains an entertaining, funny, and even endearing, satire on the idea of religion.
Comedy: 7/10

Dog Soldiers (2002)
Starring: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby
Director: Neil Marshall
Plot: A squad of British Army soldiers out for a routine exercise in the Scottish countryside are forced to make a last stand in an isolated farm house when they are attacked by a pack of bloodthirsty werewolves.
Review: After the indie horror flick Ginger Snaps, it seems that werewolves are back in vogue. The horror / action flick Dog Soldiers is a low-budget affair that rises above its B-movie roots thanks to a strong cast, a careful set-up and the filmmakers obvious love for the material. Taking the best elements of both The Howling and Aliens - and referencing films like The Evil Dead - writer / director Marshall has created an exemplary genre flick with some clever moments and a nice British flair, keeping things moving at a brisk pace until the explosive climax. And, of course, like the best of them, there's no lack of gallows humor and bloody gags to be had. The production values are quite decent, as is the overall look of the film, and the monster effects are pretty good, even if most of their presence is off-screen. Although we know the soldiers are mere fodder for the camera, to be killed off one by one in gruesome and spectacular manner, there's a good level of tension to be had as the script gives us a chance to believe in these guys before pulling the rug from under them. All the members of the cast, including some familiar B-list faces, give up some good, taut performances. Sure, there are some logic gaps in the story, many unanswered questions, and it might not be terribly original, but it's all so constantly engaging that fans of the genre will be eating this up and asking for seconds. All told, Dog Soldiers reinvigorates a tired genre and is proof that European genre filmmaking is still alive and well.
Entertainment / Horror: 7/10

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar
Director: Paul Schrader
Plot: Sent to uncover an ancient church in deepest Africa shortly after the end of World War II, a doubting priest turned archeologist rediscovers his faith when he discovers Evil lurking in the catacombs.
Review: Before the studio decided to re-create and re-shoot the film that became Exorcist: The Beginning, there was another completed version that just didn't suit their needs called Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Thanks to the world of DVD, audiences can now compare the two for themselves. Looking at it subjectively, it's an interesting experiment in directorial vision when compared to its twin brother (both use the same setting, plot, and lead actor), but that's nowhere near enough to recommend it. Trying his hand at the genre with an attempt at focusing and uncovering the theological angst of its progenitor, director Schrader (he of the memorable drama Affliction and cult-classic Cat People) was originally given the responsibility to re-start the franchise. But while he has created a version that is undoubtedly more thoughtful and low-key than his successor's, there's little mystery, few scares, and only a modicum of entertainment value - in fact, apart from a very few images, there's little in terms of horror here. To be fair, there's nothing terribly bad here - for a film that should have come out in the 1970's. The problem is that there is no real sense of urgency or conflict, and little suspense save perhaps for a confrontation between de-frocked priest and a maddened British captain that turns deadly. Even the case of demonic possession and the inevitable exorcism isn't nearly as interesting (or gory) as in the 1973 original. Even the cast seems to sleep-walk through this, missing the earnestness that would at least have made it all believable. Watching it, there's no doubt as to why the Studio decided to re-tool the film so completely for modern viewers. Though nowhere near "good", Harlin's inherently commercial version is much more interesting, both in a narrative sense and as a horror film. Dominion ends up being a talky, uninspired affair that works hard to provide some needed creepiness but ends up just being dull. For Exorcist completists only.
Horror: 3/10

Don Juan DeMarco (1995)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway
Director: Jeremy Leven
Plot: A mental patient claiming to be Don Juan, the world's greatest lover, entices his soon-to-be-retiring psychiatrist to add some spice into his own marital routine by telling him romantic tales of his would-be life. 
Review: With all the requirements for a light-hearted romantic comedy, Don Juan DeMarco aims for poignant romantic fantasy and melodrama, and for much of the film its playful tone works thanks to its surprising casting. Ex-psychotherapist-turned-writer / director Leven doesn't really give any insight into the field of analysis, aiming more for the fantasy aspects of our hero's delusions (or are they?) and if the present-day drama is staged in pretty ho-hum manner, the flashbacks - from a childhood in Mexico to the adventures in a Middle-Eastern harem - are given a nice Hollywood 40's-serial touch. The movie's intention is on being an ode to Love and hope at any age, but comes crashing when it comes to the wide-girthed Brando who seems to be either drunk or stoned, telegraphing his lines as if he were reading them (which he probably was); it's a crushing disappointment to see a legendary actor in such a pitiful state. Thankfully he's surrounded by much more capable performers in Depp who is simply superb in the title role, charming in his delusional personality, delivering the Harlequin romance-like dialogue with conviction, and the brilliant Dunaway who manages to lift up the marital interludes. In the end, this is Depp's movie and it's his presence that really makes Don Juan DeMarco an endearing, if ultimately not very satisfying, film that's sure to please lovelorn romantics.
Entertainment: 6/10

Donnie Darko (2001)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore
Director: Richard Kelly
Plot: A psychologically troubled high school teen is plagued by visions of a six-foot rabbit who predicts the impending end of the world within the next few weeks.
Review: Donnie Darko is one of those rather original films that defy putting into a niche, an intelligent effort that offers up a lot to those willing to follow its lead. There's a constant feeling of dread and uneasiness here, as the story vacillates the fine line between the teen horror flick, the psychological thriller and sci-fi fantasy. Indeed, the story starts off as a little odd, like a dysfunctional family and a teen angst drama rolled in one, and quickly ups the ante in terms of strangeness. On top of all this, there's quite a few moments when the script allows for satirizing of the carefully recreated late 80's suburban social climate and bits of black comedy, à la Heathers. Balancing a film with both levity and nightmarish scenes is not always easy, so it's a particular treat to see first-time writer / director Kelly combine all these disparate elements rather successfully to give us something really strange and weird and yet with the feel and look of a very mainstream production. Shot on a modest budget, the film still looks good, with a fine visual flair, able direction, and some decent production values even using a minimal amount of special effects to drive the story. One of the more interesting things about the narration is that the film keeps us in the dark as to whether we are witnessing the protagonist's delusions or a bizarre sequence of time-travelling events. The Twilight-Zone ending is effective and is sure to create discussion among viewers as to what really happened. Gyllenhaal, a Tobey Maguire look-alike if there ever was one, is perfect for the role of the shy, paranoid schizophrenic geek with heavy psychological problems (including pyromania and sleep-walking) trying to cope with normal high school problems and what might well be the end of the world. The rest of the ensemble cast is effective, especially McDonell in a well-rounded performance as his mom. Perhaps because the film avoids categorizing, Donnie Darko might be shooed into the cult classic genre and that's too bad: this is a bizarre, fun, smart, and it's one of the more interesting, entertaining indie experiences in a while.
Entertainment: 8/10

Don't Look Now (1973)
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Plot: A grief-stricken couple still mourning the loss of their young daughter are caught up in some strange events while working in Venice when the wife meets an elderly English woman who claims to be psychic.
Review: Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, Don't Look Now is an occult thriller with a lot of startling visual elements. Director Roeg does a great job of splicing different scenes with the same actions, making the recurring theme of clairvoyance an especially powerful one. The story moves along at a slow pace, giving the audience time to know the characters, and build up the tension. Venice, here, seems dull and flat, filled with almost ghost-like denizens, increasing the feeling of fore-boding that is constant throughout the film. The film may have seemed overtly erotic (mostly for an intense, lengthy love scene between Sutherland and Christie) and even violent (for its bloody climax) when it first came out but it doesn't really stand up well to modern pictures in those respects. Recommended for viewers who enjoy watching interesting, slow-paced, psychological horror.
Horror / Drama: 6/10

Don't Say a Word (2001)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Famke Janssen, Sean Bean
Director: Gary Fleder
Plot: A band of ruthless jewel thieves kidnap a wealthy New York psychiatrist's young daughter to force him to get a six-digit number from the mind of a teenage mental patient.
Review: Another starring vehicle for Douglas, Don't Say a Word could have been an interesting psychological thriller if it didn't drop the bag and removed any mystery from the story within its first twenty minutes. Just like director Fleder's previous endeavor Kiss the Girls, the film moves along well enough, but there's nothing here that we haven't seen before, and better done, in countless other films of the type. The suspense is decent, and some scenes with Janssen, crippled by a ski injury, taking on the criminals while stuck in her appartment, are quite effective in creating tension and are easily the best moments of the film. Unfortunately the dangerous teen in rendered harmless almost instantly after a strong set-up and the rest of the film just seems to be empty of anything that would keep our interest - the relationships aren't explored, the characters are pretty one-dimensional and uninteresting, the psychology dreadful and over-simplified, and the minimal twists and turns to the plot clichéd. The script seems to have taken the least interesting bits of the story and placed them at the forefront to make a drab, overlong thriller that quite simply fails to thrill. Worse still, it's one with gaping plot holes that verge on the ridiculous (for example, how did the thieves place cameras in the apartment so quickly?), leaving many unanswered questions after its predictable finale - ones that, in the end, we don't really care to have explained. To be fair, Don't Say a Word isn't as terrible as it could have been, and the actors do their best in the poor roles, but then it's not quite that good either.
Entertainment: 4/10

Doom (2005)
Starring: The Rock, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Plot: After receiving a strange distress call, an elite commando unit is sent to a research facility on Mars where they confront vicious monsters with super-human capabilities.
Review: A passable horror / sci-fi / action flick loosely based on the video-game series of the same name, the adaptation of Doom summarizes many of the failings of video-game adaptations, but does provide some worthy qualities. Better known as a cinematographer in better films, Bartkowiak seems to be making his name as a director of just-average, cookie-cutter action films (Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds); as expected, the visuals are terrific but there's something missing with the narrative, a fault perhaps more due to the screenplay than with the actual directing. If it does get some points by trying to provide at least one twist to expectations (hint, The Rock actually isn't the hero this time around) the script is pretty standard, the characters so completely stereotyped as to be laughable, and the dialogue just plain silly. Much of the film is also focused on re-creating another gore-filled zombie film (taking too many cues from the failed Resident Evil, in fact) instead of the monster mayhem we've come to equate with the franchise. The CGI creatures themselves don't make much of an appearance until late in the proceedings, and even then they are usually cloaked in darkness. Some of the classic elements that made the original game such a hit do make the transition, such as the dark corridors and tension-filled atmosphere (and there's the BFG and the chainsaw, for those in the know), but gone is the religious symbology and supernatural aura of the original game (which was a real trip to Hell), to be replaced with a forgettable "genetic" explanation and an easy morale of corporate wrong-doing. Still, if the film takes its time to get to any real action, playing the bit on the horror-suspense to aggravating levels, there are some intense action scenes involving the various characters before they bite it. Better yet, the last act redeems the film somewhat with an extended sequence that involves lots of gunfire and a brilliantly realized recreation of the first-person-shooter experience of the interactive version. If the cast doesn't make much of an impression, at least Urban and The Rock come out of this with their reputation unscathed. For those who haven't experienced the game, Doom will come out as an expensive, shallow Alien knock-off; for those who have, Doom only disappoints for all its missed opportunities.
Entertainment: 5/10

Doomsday (2008)
Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins
Director: Neil Marshall
Plot: In search of a possible cure to a deadly virus threatening to devastate England, a team of special forces and scientists enter the quarantined territory of Scotland where they must face the brutal survivors.
Review: Completely, consciously derivative of a multitude of post-apocalyptic action flicks, Doomsday is a clear homage to the exploitation flicks of the 70's and 80's done with modern effects, camera techniques and a big budget. That it ends being such a lackluster effort is simply disappointing. The prognosis should have been different: Writer / director Marshall made his mark with two well-received low-budget genre films - the Werewolf flick Dog Soldiers and the claustrophobic spelunking nightmare The Descent - that established him as a talent to watch for. Here, he seems to have been given carte blanche to recreate his childhood fantasies of bad-ass mayhem all brought with loving visuals and appropriate art direction to the screen with a conscious sensibility of the narrative tropes (and occasional silliness) of the times. The archetype characters and usual cannon fodder types are also in place, of course, but the real hero is tough-as-nails commando Mitra, an amalgam of nihilist anti-hero Snake Plissken and Linda Hamilton's Terminator-killer. Unfortunately, something seems to have been lost in translation to current times: there's lots of movement and violence, yes, but it's rarely thrilling despite its attempts at visceral moments. By attempting to recreate the best sequences of cult classic films - from Romero's zombie flicks, to a plot straight out of Escape From New York, to a climactic chase inspired by The Road Warrior, to a bizarre shift into Middle-Age Robin Hood territory, along with other influences from a multitude of Z-movie copies - Marshall may have forgotten his roots and his own style, making this all feel like a hodge-podge of loosely related, un-inspired moments. Still, even if it's generic Doomsday is capably made and does deliver an entertaining-enough vehicle, especially for viewers not raised on the film's forebears.
Entertainment: 5/10

Double Team (1997)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke
Director: Tsui Hark
Plot: A retired agent is called back to action to stop his nemesis, a mercenary-terrorist who now has taken a personal interest in getting revenge for the death of his son.
Review: Double Team excels at arranging the loosely based plot with some terrific action set-pieces. Van Damme is still in top form here, basketball superstar Rodman is just plain terrible, and Mickey Rourke, having fallen from grace in recent years, does a good turn as the stylish villain. There's nothing really original here, but there's little to get in the way of the constant fights, shoot-outs and explosions. There are some tedious moments in the middle of the film as Van Damme is trapped on an island and trains back to shape, Rocky-style, but that soon passes. Director Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China), in his first foray into Hollywood productions, knows how to keep the audience entertained and gives the film his standard visual flair. It's mindless fluff, but with the over-the-top stunts, fast-paced action, international settings, and a story swaying from melodrama to goofball comedy, Double Team will please fans of Van Damme movies and Hong Kong films. 
Action: 8/10
Entertainment: 6/10

Downfall (Germany - 2004)
Starring: Bruno Ganz, Ulrich Matthes
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Plot: Hitler's personal secretary witnesses the final days of the Third Reich while entenched in a bunker with his most loyal officers as the Allied forces marched on Berlin.
Review: Based on the book Inside Hitler's Bunker as well as the true account by Hitler's young stenographer, Traudl Junge, Downfall is a harrowing dramatic depiction of the final days of Nazi Germany. It's a deft tale of the self-destruction of the Nazi regime, when armed children were sent out as cannon fodder to defend their Fuhrer while his mistress Eva Braun held lavish, decadent parties and Goebbels wife made the most horrifying act of sacrifice in guise of loyalty to her master. Hirschbiegel rightly directs the drama of these final moments straight, without embellishment or melodrama, and without adding commentary or discussing the atrocities of the Holocaust. Indeed, he doesn't have to; recreated the events in careful detail as Hitler lost his grip on reality and his officers lost power on the battlefields, the actions and casual words reveal the monstrousness of the characters. Most of the action takes place in the bunker itself, a setting that is convincingly reconstructed from historical accounts, giving it a claustrophobic atmosphere that only enhances the feeling of desperation. In a controversial move, the Fuhrer himself is mesmerizingly portrayed by Ganz as a surprisingly complex human being: charming and gentle to his dog and the women around him yet ruthless and brutal with everyone else. Faced with defeat, his psychological breakdown has him swing from inept defiance of his enemies to obsession with self-preservation, all to the detriment of his subjects who he believed deserved to die for his defeats. As pathetic and weak he may have been, his decisions and ideals make him all the more atrocious. Both fascinating and terrifying, Downfall has all the makings of a horror film, only all the more macabre because it depicts real events. It is a sobering portrait of Evil, of a madman and his followers that history will never forgive or forget.
Drama: 8/10

Down to Earth (2001)
Starring: Chris Rock, Regina King, Chazz Palminteri
Directors: Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz
Plot: After being mistakenly sent to heaven and returned into the body of an old, white billionaire, a young black comic still insists on realizing his dream of performing at the Apollo theater.
Review: Down to Earth retreads the plot of Heaven Can Wait with a decidedly "black" twist, but can't for the life of it make it work. This is a surprisingly bland work from the directors of American Pie, one that never uses its star's evident charisma or energy to good effect. To start off, the script is poor, the acting horrible, and the characters blandly uninteresting, not to say anything about the complete lack of romanticism and chemistry between the two leads. From start to finish, the story prefers to stay within the safe boundaries of tired clichés and stereotypes, making this is a poor excuse for Rock to do some stand-up comedy aimed at mainstream audiences. The only laughs to be had are when he's on stage, and even that is nowhere near as good as his unrated material. There's a chance here to let Rock loose on some scathing racial commentary, but apart from completely wasting all the potential from similarly-themed films, there's little in the form of substance or even entertainment on display. In the end, Down to Earth is a one-joke film that quickly becomes tired and boring, one whose only saving grace it's smart-ass lead. Better to rent some of his taped performances instead.
Comedy: 3/10

Downtown Torpedoes (Hong Kong - 1997)
Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jordan Chan, Charlie Yeung
Director: Chan Teddy
Plot: After the theft of UK currency plates from MI5 goes sour, a group of high-tech industrial spies go after the crooked government agent that betrayed them and killed one of their own.
Review: Slick, stylish, fun, and with a charismatic cast, Downtown Torpedoes delivers a convoluted story of betrayals and double-crosses blended in with some good, inventive, high-flying action sequences and impressively choreographed capers. A jaunt to Budapest also adds a bit of international flavor to the finale. Some of the high-tech mumbo-jumbo does get to be a bit far-fetched, as are the countless leads that the team must follow to recover the plates, but it all moves along so briskly, and the film is so efficient in its story-telling and its thrills, that one can't help but put their common sense aside and enjoy the ride. An entertaining, mostly mindless, action thriller in the best Hong Kong tradition.
Entertainment: 7/10

Down with Love (2003)
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce
Director: Peyton Reed
Plot: A playboy journalist for a men's magazine goes undercover as an astronaut to seduce (and destroy) the pretty young author of a bestseller that advises women to avoid relationships and not fall in love.
Review: Down with Love, an over-the-top comedic homage to the classic Doris Day / Rock Hudson battle of the sexes romantic comedy, is a slick, retro look back at the crazy era of Women's Lib, as seen though some pretty pink-colored glasses. It might appear to emulate the mold of those dearly-remembered films, but without the sly sexual innuendo of the '50s and '60s flicks it tries to emulate (in fact there's no innuendo at all, it's all pretty much right in the open), and without all the pesky seriousness that always leadened those older films. The whole proceedings should be taken with a great big grain of salt, as this is a revision of the '60s era as seen by 21st-century eyes. For example, while the protagonist seems to argue for female independence from male subjugation, what with a bizarre call for sexual freedom, the female role models still center on fashion and other home-maker abilities. To be fair, this is all a send-off to American attitudes and giddy optimism of the early '60s, and in modernizing and making the times seem much hipper than they actually were, director Reed provides a buoyant and droll picture that has its share of entertaining moments. With its tongue-in-cheek humor, its theatricality, its various '60s trappings, its energetic score, and its constant story rebounds, there's a very engaging quality to all the fakery and suave insouciance on display. As for the look of the film, the CinemaScope cinematography is impressively mounted, with scenes full of bubble-gum colored sets and infinite dress changes. As the two leads, Zellwegger and McGregor seem to have a ball with the script, and though there characters are about as deep as a live-action Ken and Barbie dolls they make for an amusing pair when they're at odds and trying to one-up the other. The rest of the supporting cast, including a type-cast Pierce, do rather well but are quickly forgettable. In the end this battle of the sexes comes off as yet another ditzy affair - there's a ridiculous, convoluted climax and final revelation to be had, proving that our heroine's ultimate goal is just to be live in the status quo, albeit with Her Man. However the final musical number as the credits roll, it must be said, is really the highlight and well worth sitting through to the end. Down With Love isn't a great film, but as an entertaining throwback it's well enough made and has enough fun moments to deserve a look.
Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* Dracula (1931)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners
Director: Tod Browning
Plot: Escaping his Eastern European castle, a vampire lands in a New World city where he quickly takes to feeding on the populace.
Review: A phenomenon upon its release, Dracula is the monster classic that started the horror craze of the 30's and Universal's mastery of the genre. To modern audiences, there's more laughs to be had than scares in the campy proceedings, what with the cheesy, primitive effects and the blatant overacting, yet on its release Dracula was as scary a film for era audiences as Psycho was in the 60's. Based more on the Broadway play than directly on the novel by Bram Stoker, its obviously been influenced by the stage in its presentation and delivery. Though we get to see some terrific Gothic images, much of the the cinematography is quite accomplished like the great shot of the winding staircase, and there are some instances of dense atmosphere (especially in the opening sequence's castle) there are few real cinematic instances here. Director Tod Browning (who went on to do another classic, Freaks) gained popularity with silent-era films, and he seems ill at ease with the use of sound. Indeed, the film is full of silent-era sensibilities, quiet moments, static long shots, and the occasional brilliant visual cue (such as the bug coming out of a miniature coffin). True, 10 years before, F.W. Murnau's silent Nosferatu wowed audiences as the definitive vampire movie, and in many ways it's much more artistically impressive than its later counterpart. Yet this film was obviously made for thrills, and considering its popularity it worked. The sexual undertone so prevalent in the original novel and future adaptations is quite subdued, limited to the shots of the vampire closing in on his sleeping female victims, though the censors of the era might have had something to do with that. Of course, there's the inevitable battle between Dracula and the vampire hunter Van Helsing, but it's more a battle of wits than a fight. If there's one real disappointment, however, it's that the creature's final moments are off-camera and anti-climactic. Surprisingly as well, the film has no music at all - no moody score at all, which makes it feel a little dry. Lugosi has a definite screen presence here, and literally creates the iconic character - flowing cape, strange accent and noble exterior. His incredibly hammy acting only adds to the exotic feel of his Dracula. The rest of the cast is pretty wooden, though Dwight Frye as the monster's crazed assistant really pushes the idea of over-acting. Though one can't argue over the absolute influence it had over the ensuing horror genre (especially Lugosi's iconic vampire), it hasn't aged as well as later efforts. Nowadays, it's a movie fans will appreciate for its significance in movie history more than really enjoy, but at a short 75 minutes it's worth a look.
Note: For its 1999 release, a new soundtrack by composer Philip Glass was added, but the minimalist score doesn't add very much but a background layer to the film.
Horror: 6/10

Dracula 2000 (2000)
Starring: Gerard Butler, Justine Waddell, Christopher Plummer
Director: Patrick Lussier
Plot: A band of high-tech thieves break into a vault and free Dracula into the modern era, forcing the original vampire-hunter Van Helsing to go to New Orleans to destroy him before he reaches Helsing's daughter.
Review: Though produced by horror maven Wes Craven and directed by his one-time editor, Dracula 2000 has little of his usual creative wit. From the very start it's obvious this is a direct-to-video effort, a grade-B horror flick, parts slick production, parts campy Hammer films. The scares are non-existent, as is almost any suspense or sense of atmosphere (something that is primordial in a vampire or horror film), but the pacing is quick, the action involving some neat vampire-killing weapons works well enough, and the usual nubile victims, touch of gore, and superhuman feats are all on display to make for a watchable, if uninspired flick. The main problem, of course, is the script, clichéd and rather bland, with very few surprises except for an interesting twist on the origins of Dracula, however, that ties up many of the legendary facts. The worst offense of the production, however, is the blatant and constant ad placement for the Virgin stores and label - enough, already! As the main man himself, the handsome but boring Butler oozes everything but actual charisma. Omar Epps does a short supporting role and feels wasted here, and Plummer, as the age-old Van Helsing, is just too good for the film. The rest of the cast take the events much too seriously for such a silly exercise. As mindless, mildly watchable fluff it could have been worse, but for those in need for a modern hit of vampire lore, Dracula 2000 isn't it.
Entertainment: 3/10

Dragonheart (1996)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite
Director: Rob Cohen
Plot: The last of the dragon slayers and the last of the great dragons join forces, aiding the peasants to overthrow the ruthless, evil king that has violated the "Old Code" of honor they both abide to.
Review: A second-rate Hollywood fantasy affair that disappointed in the box-office, Dragonheart has breathed new life on cable and video. In an otherwise intriguing twist, the film plays out more like an odd buddy-cop movie than a fantasy film, with the camaraderie and taunting between Hero and Beast making up for the lack of story. Unfortunately, there's no hiding the fact that the plot is tired and clichéd and the production values unimpressive, while the action and battle scenes are pretty tame for anyone over 10 years of age, and even kids will get antsy at the amount of tiring exposition. It's soon clear that the target audience will prefer things kept as linear and predictable as possible, with an easy humor that makes for decent family fare that won't surprise anyone. Director Cohen, prior to doing some of his better-known works like The Fast and the Furious and xXx, cut his teeth on minor fare like this and he's great at getting the money shots - some of the ones with the dragon are pretty nice - but not so talented when it comes to the drama. It doesn't help that the character motivations never really ring true - why do the two join forces to con money from gullible peasants? - and Quaid never convincingly shows us why he's such a "great" warrior. To be fair, Quaid does his best as the fearless dragon slayer who has seen better times, and Thewlis and Postlethwaite make fine, over-the-top villains. The real redeeming point of the film, however, is the great casting of Sean Connery as the voice of the Last Dragon. Also of note, the CGI effects (limited to the dragon himself) are pretty good for a mid-90's affair, even if it now looks too cartoonish for modern audiences. For those in need of a fantasy fix filled with gallant heroes and fire-spewing dragons, there are worse movies than Dragonheart - too bad the film's enjoyment will be mostly limited to youngsters.
Entertainment: 4/10

Dragon Inn (Hong Kong - 1992)
Starring: Tony Leung, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung
Director: Raymond Lee
Plot: An evil eunuch leader tries to use his elite government swordsmen to take control of China but is opposed by a group of powerful warriors. The two forces meet and battle it out at an inn in the middle of the desert hosted by a murderous thief.
Review: Dragon Inn is an impressive reworking of director King Hu's Dragon Gate Inn (1966). It is an extravagant production by Hong Kong standards, sporting some dynamic camera shots, beautiful cinematography, rapid editing, and dizzying, surreal fighting sequences almost all happening within the walls of the inn as the three groups clash. Maggie Cheung has the best role here, playing the thief Jade King, but Tony Leung and the cross-dressing Brigitte Lin are equally captivating. Mixing fantasy, comedy, romance, and even horror, Dragon Inn manages to provide an interesting story with some good intrigue amid the constant, amazing action. The over-the-top finale with the three heroes battling the head eunuch (played by martial arts expert Donnie Yen) is really something to see. Another excellent Tsui Hark production.
Action: 9/10
Entertainment: 9/10

Dragons Forever (1988)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao
Director: Sammo Hung
Plot: A lawyer, with the help of two old friends, must stop a factory run by a vicious mobster before it destroys a peaceful communal lake.
Review: The first hour of the film runs along briskly, with a lot of silly shenanigans, minimal plot, some corny romantic moments, and a few well choreographed action scenes. The last half-hour, though, makes up for the otherwise average beginning with an astounding and often outrageous non-stop display of fighting skill and acrobatics. Jackie Chan is in top form here, and so is Sammo Hung, but the real treat is Yuen Biao whose flips and jumps will leave you slack-jawed. The comedy may be too much of a slapstick affair, but Dragons Forever is definitely an impressive martial arts action film.
Action: 8/10

Dragon Tiger Gate (Hong Kong - 2006)
Starring: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue, Dong Jie
Director: Wilson Yip
Plot: Two long-lost brothers with superb martial-arts skills find themselves at odds when they are caught between two rival triads, each vying for the possession of a powerful magical amulet.
Review: To prove that Hollywood isn't the only one milking the printed page for ideas, the Hong Kong adaptation of the manga Dragon Tiger Gate comes out with fists flying. The comic-book inspired story, settings and characters all are up to the part, as is the bubble-gum decor, just don't expect any more than that to the plotting. To be safe, there's a vague Romeo and Juliette dual-romance thrown in to the tale of two warring gangs and a magical gate, some slow bits regarding the two lost brothers with a flashback to when they were bullied kids, and other filler that obviously worked better on the page than on the screen. Thankfully, these take up only a small portion of the film's running length. What director Yip (who met his first big success with Kill Zone, also starring his leading man) delivers is an effective live-action manga with lots of artfully prepared shots and camera work. Best of all, there's a splendid series of kinetic fantasy fight sequences (a massive close-quarter battle in a quiet Japanese restaurant is a highlight) that harkens back to Hong Kong's golden '80's hits, all served up with the latest in computer effects and slick production values. While heart-throb Tse and the other young stars posture, pout and look the part, perhaps the biggest stretch may be having forty-something martial arts guru and action choreographer Yen playing a twenty-something, but that's a quibble among all the other logic stretches required to enjoy this affair. For sure, no-one can deny that Yen is still in fine form, a fact showcased by the many splendidly executed wire-fu sequences in which he is center-stage. Dragon Tiger Gate adds up to nothing more than a commercially-driven action fix but it's been a dry spell for Hong Kong aficionados and, for now, this will have to do, and it still beats out most State-side fare.
Entertainment: 7/10

Dragon Wars: D-War (2007)
Starring: Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks
Director: Hyung-rae Shim
Plot: An L.A. reporter finds himself helping a young woman who holds the secret to stoping a giant, evil snake of Korean legend from destroying Los Angeles, and the world.
Review: An inexplicably huge hit in local Korean cinemas, D-War is a smack of sci-fi, martial-arts, sword and sorcery - everything thrown in to make it a sure-fire hit at the box-office, or so you'd think, with US characters thrown in to make it more palatable to international audiences. No doubt, it's to be expected that a big-budget film about massive, mythical dragons attacking LA would be bad, but that it's also lame, flaccid and boring just makes it painful to watch. In fact, it starts off hokey and gets worse from there, like someone's bad idea of a pre-teen Korean version of a Godzilla movie, with all the worst aspects brought to bear. There's little of note in the first half, save a one-sided battle sequence with lumbering creatures that reminds one of Star Wars Episode I, and lots of silly situations. Thankfully, things pick up half way and there are a handful of decent scenes of destruction, of army-against-dragon-army action, and it's certainly cheesy fun when the war drags into the city streets, helicopter gun-ships dog-fighting with bus-sized winged reptiles, and tanks being blown apart by fiery meteors, climaxing in a giant serpent-against-serpent battle that's ably rendered, if uninteresting. And throughout, there's a childhood glee at seeing things blow-up (repeatedly) for no apparent reason. All this may not be well done, perhaps, despite some efforts in the CGI department, but it's entertaining enough while it lasts. Alas, like too many monster movies of this genre, the dumb characters, their lives and romances are just plain boring - the film would have been more engaging without it. A few familiar faces that have since their heyday lost favor with audiences do make an appearance, but it sure doesn't help to see such horrible performances from the American actors, something that probably comes off better with Korean subtitles. The fault undoubtedly lies with writer / director Hyung-rae Shim did himself (or his audience) no favors in wearing both hats: a staid plot, cardboard characters, horrid dialogue, inept attempts at humor and the bad pacing are all par for the course in a script and an execution devoid of any cleverness or creativity. Kids may get a kick out of all this, but most audiences will be wondering what the fuss was about. Forget B-movie-bad - D-War is just plain bad.
Entertainment: 3/10

Dreadnaught (Hong Kong - 1981)
Starring: Yuen Biao, Kwan Tak-hing
Woo-ping Yuen
Plot: A violent killer hides from the police in a theater troupe, and becomes obsessed with killing a cowardly laundry man who keeps escaping him. The coward finally realizes he can't hide forever and overcomes his fears with the aid of his new master.
Review: Director Yuen Woo Ping is now famous for helping choreograph the action scenes in The Matrix, and his skill in directing action pieces shows here. There's a particularly impressive acrobatic sequence where two rival teams fight while donned in Chinese dragon costumes (only in HK films can you get this type of stuff!). Yuen Biao is good, as always, but Kwan Tak-hing, who had been playing the role of master Wong Fei Hung for over 30 years by the time this movie came out, still steals the show.
Action: 7/10
Entertainment: 7/10

Dreamcatcher (2003)
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Tom Sizemore
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Plot: Four childhood friends with strange supernatural abilities are caught in the middle of an alien invasion while vacationing in a snow-packed cottage away from all civilization.
Review: Dreamcatcher is another in a long line of Stephen King adaptations, and (for good and bad) at least this one feels like you're reading a King book. The first half is actually quite interesting and engaging, setting up a certain mood and eeriness, as well as a good feel for the camaraderie between these childhood friends touched by supernatural abilities they can't quite understand. Here the touch of Goldman's screen-writing abilities almost shine through. The use of some Stand By Me-type flashbacks actually enhances the film and are well realized, as are the setting up of the various mysterious events. Unfortunately, the film dies a slow Hollywood block-buster death when the story advances to an alien-invasion thriller, the core of the movie. Sure, there are some terrific sequences here and there, but they just don't add up to a fulfilling whole. Taking its cues from just about every other popular sci-fi flick that successfully integrated the horror aspects, from The Thing to Alien, the production values are fine, as are the sets, and the special effects are mostly well done (though the alien worms look rather un-scary), but there isn't really anything new here. Co-writer / director Kasdan tries to bring life to the film, but only partially succeeds; for one, the proceedings don't always keep to a good pace, and the suspense is brought about by some ridiculous stuff (like deciding your life is worth getting up for a toothpick). The actors are for the most part slumming it here, all playing what eventually ends up as cardboard characters, and none more so than Freeman as the perennial bad guy (an interesting switch for the actor). One can't help but feel some slight disappointment when the film ends, and not just from the anti-climactic ending. Coincidences are the basis of the story and that doesn't make it bad, but what does are the groan inducing clichés, the silly coincidences, irksome sentimentality and the fact that such high stakes (the destruction of the Earth) being fought in a rather silly manner. One would have wished far better from such strong talents that gave us Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Empire Strikes Back movies. If you squint you might catch some of that talent being wasted, but overall what started as a promising horror / sci-fi flick ends up as just another fun but instantly forgettable exercise.
Entertainment: 5/10

Dreamgirls (2006)
Starring: Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy
Director: Bill Condon
Plot: From their small-time beginnings, a trio of black female singers rises up the pop charts to stardom in the early 1960's but their success promises to tear them apart.
Review: Based on the hit Broadway musical, Dreamgirls is a pastiche of stories meant to reflect the success, drama and music of such real-life acts as Diana Ross and the Supremes from their budding career to ultimate fame, capturing the essence of the musical and historical era in broad strokes. There's no denying that in general the movie looks terrific, the costumes and huge wigs are great and it's a knowingly slick production. Director Condon  proves he can bring Broadway musicals to the big screen with verve and energy. But while he does a good job during the intermediate dramatic scenes that move the plot along, he doesn't fare as well during the musical numbers, just the moments that are meant to really carry us away: the choreography is limited, the sets uninspiring, the level of energy nowhere near toe-tapping levels, and the R&B and pop songs aren't as moving as they should be. Oh, some numbers (especially those with Murphy letting loose) are entertaining, others do move the story along and show the emotional state of the characters, but many more are just too bland, often appearing for no good reason (a leftover from the original theatrical version, where these things are more excusable). The cast is solid, if not spectacular: headliner Beyonce gets a chance to strut her vocal talents as the group's new lead singer, Foxx does a decent but unimpressive job as the producer / patriarch, and the rest of the supporting cast does a good effort. Two exceptions: Murphy who is actually quite impressive as the James Brown-like singer bursting with soul but stuck crooning to sell records, stealing every scene he's in, in both the singing and non-singing parts, and newcomer Hudson who is the real stand-out as the real force behind the singing trio. As a Motown rags-to-riches story, Dreamgirls rolls out the clichés and the over-bearing heartfelt moments yet still comes off as a decent piece of entertainment. If only the un-memorable musical numbers had been better edited, this would have been a much tighter, more engaging affair. 
Entertainment: 6/10

Drive (2011)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Plot: Trying to help out his pretty neighbor's dead-beat husband, a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a wheelman ends up in a heist gone wrong and has to go after the culprits to protect her.
Review: For those looking for an action fix, Drive will feel more like an existential version of The Transporter. A more mature audience, however, will appreciate for what it is: a finely tuned crime drama adapted from James Sallis' novel that's more in the tone and spirit of '70s fare like Steve McQueen's Bullitt or the French The Samurai. There's action for sure, and bloody effective sequences they are; the car stunts and chases are anchored in reality as are the brief but violent personal confrontations. But by limiting the action quotient to what is necessary to drive the story instead of the other way around, it actually revs up the tension. There's a plot involving a robbery gone wrong, a double-cross and revenge, but the real story is that of two lonely souls connecting, only to have external events push them away. The hero's attempts at making things right is the real tale, and - as is the case in crime dramas - it gets complicated. Winning a Best Director award at Cannes for his first Hollywood effort here, Danish filmmaker Refn shows masterful control of the different dramatic and action elements, providing just the right balance of flourishes to the visual and narrative aspects without taking us out of the immediacy of events unfolding. An interesting, unexpected cast makes it all riveting with minimal dialogue: as headliner, Gosling takes another stab at elusive stardom as the mysterious loner whose driving skills are next to none, and he's just right, likable enough and a tad scary; Mulligan is radiant as the single mother; Albert Brooks, far from his usual funnyman shtick, is stunning as the crime boss; and genre vet Ron Perlman doesn't disappoint in an over-the-top performance as his loose-cannon partner. For discerning viewers, Drive is terrific cinema and well worth a look.
Drama / Entertainment: 8/10 

Driven (2001)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Kip Pardue, Burt Reynolds
Director: Renny Harlin
Plot: A retired race car driver is given the chance to return to the track on the condition of mentoring a young, talented upstart who is having a hard time beating a more experienced champion.
Review: Written by Stallone, Driven is another attempt at reaching past glories, this time focusing on the trials and tribulations of Grand Prix-style drivers. The multiple-angle shots of the speeding race cars taken across the globe at actual events is a sure rush, and on their own make for an occasionally exhilarating documentary. And, let's face it, the major appeal of the film are its spectacular crashes, of which there are many, and not for its rather tired, by-the-numbers scenario. Unfortunately, the obviousness of the computer-created special effects removes all possible suspension of disbelief and lose much of their appeal. The rather banal, uninteresting story thankfully zips along from one caricature to another, and inadvertently ends up having its audience root for the bad guy (who's actually not so bad) instead of the unappealing young rookie hero. The aging Stallone does a decent turn as a down-on-his-luck has-been getting another chance at the big leagues, but he often takes the back seat to the other, younger (and more glamorous) protagonists. Driven isn't a terrible film, and director Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) knows to keep things racing along, but with some vapid characters and silly melodrama, it's only good as a slick, mildly entertaining ride.
Entertainment: 5/10

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Ellen Barkin
Director: Michael Patrick Jann
Plot: Mock documentary of a small town beauty pageant, where one mother and daughter team will stop at nothing to win top prize.
Review: Drop Dead Gorgeous pokes great fun at small town America, at beauty pageants, at teenagers and at whatever else crosses its path. The film crew captures the lives of the contestants (and their families) at their worst. The script is clever, full of quirky characters and odd moments, and downright hilarious. A pleasant surprise for those people in the audience who enjoy a different vein of comedy from the norm.
Entertainment: 7/10

Drunken Master (Hong Kong - 1978)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Yuen Hsiao Tien
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Plot: A talented but undisciplined young man is sent to train with a notorious drunken kung fu master only to be embroiled in a fight to the death when a powerful assassin is sent ot kill his father.
Review: A prequel of sorts to the popular and absolutely stunning Drunken Master II, the original Drunken Master was the vehicle that really established Jackie Chan as a rising star. All the elements that made 1970's Hong Kong martial arts fare so popular in the mainstream are in evidence: the finely choreographed fights, the sweat-inducing training sequences, and the languorous melodrama. Thankfully, it also includes a heavy dose of the acrobatic slapstick comedy that Chan was to become renown for, and though the mix of action and comedy isn't as cohesive as in his later works, it's still effective. But the real attraction remains the same, and that's the fighting bits, and director Yuen Woo Ping (Iron Monkey) better known for his work on The Matrix, provides a great showcase for the bone-breaking stunt-work and martial artistry of his actors without any effects or special equipment. To be fair, the film hasn't aged that well, the cheap production values are obvious, and the comedy doesn't usually hit the mark. Fans of old-style kung-fu flicks or those looking for some classic '70s Jackie Chan, however, will surely be pleased.
Entertainment: 5/10

Drunken Master II (1994)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Anita Mui
Director: Lau Kar Leung, Jackie Chan
Plot: A young man must use his technique of Drunken Fighting to stop a gang of English criminals from trafficking in precious Chinese art.
Review: This is by far Jackie Chan's most impressive martial arts film, and easily one of the best martial arts films ever committed to celluloid. The action choreography seems more like a complex, violent dance than simple fighting, with some inventive, bone-crunching, jaw-dropping sequences that will mesmerize and astound any kind of audience. If you've ever wondered why Jackie Chan is considered an action icon, look no further. Drunken Master II's mixture of physical comedy, acrobatics, period sets and martial arts make for a truly memorable experience. One of the best action films, period.
Action: 10/10
Entertainment: 9/10

Drunken Master 3 (Hong Kong - 1994)
Starring: Andy Lau, Michelle Reis, Willie Chi
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Plot: In turn of the century China, revolutionaries kidnap the future emperor's would-be wife forcing his armies as well as a powerful secret society to search for her and the jade ring in her possession.
Review: Drunken Master 3 tries hard to remind us of the previous installments by using the same characters and attitudes as the last one, as well as trying to add a larger epic scope to the narrative. But without Jackie Chan's superb martial arts performance from Drunken Master II, without the original, terrific cast, and without any sense of pacing, cleverness or originality, the film just pales in comparison. Not that it doesn't try hard, adding more colorful pageantry, more characters, and a more complex story, but it just doesn't deliver. For one, the film lacks a proper script and good pacing. Worst of all, it's tediousness is only occasionally relieved by a few un-energetic fight scenes. The final chaotic confrontation is well choreographed and mildly entertaining, but it still leaves the audience feeling unimpressed by the whole proceedings. For undemanding fans of the genre only.
Entertainment: 3/10

Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Seann W. Scott, Jennifer Garner
Director: Danny Leiner
Plot: Two dudes wake up without recollection of the past 12 hours where they seem to have trashed their girlfriend's house, been chased by cultists, misplaced their car, and lost a device that could destroy the universe.
Review: A dumbed-down, spritzy, and totally sophomoric attempt at creating a Bill & Ted adventure for a new generation, Dude, Where My Car? still manages a few genuine laughs and some imaginative bits that keep you entertained, even despite yourself. The story revolves around the zonked-out, moronic but likable duo looking for their lost car, but its mostly a series of sketches filled with bizarre characters (transvestites, neighborhood bullies, evil alien chicks, UFO cultists, crazed ostriches, sadistic cops, etc.) and a few un-amusing cameos from character actors Brent Spiner, amongst others. The pacing is definitely brisk, and the filmmakers do everything but throw the kitchen sink at the audience, adding one silly pop reference on top of another wacky plot twist, trying to win us over by its desperation to please. Yet even with these attempts and a short running time (around 85 minutes), the chaotic plot feels thin. This being aimed at young teenagers, every second gag is based on either breast jokes or the pair's vain attempts at having sex with just about anyone, and some of these become quickly repetitive. Still, the absurdity of the situations, taking cues from B-movie classics like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, to more contemporary fare such as American Pie and Revenge of the Nerds, hit the mark more than they miss. Dude, Where My Car? won't be to everyone's taste, for sure; it's moronic, but light-heartedly funny, and you're either won over by the crass attempt at tongue-in-cheek inventiveness - or not.
Comedy: 5/10

Duel (1971)
Starring: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot: A traveling salesman is caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a mysterious figure driving a massive gasoline truck on a deserted stretch of highway.
Review: First-time director Spielberg made his mark with the low-budget made-for-TV movie Duel, delivering some palpable tension and fine suspense. The premise also manages to touch on real fears - who hasn't been scared at one time or another of those huge 18-wheelers on the road? The film also shows many of his now-familiar touches and for the most part, gives a real sense of speed and desperation, as the test of nerves gets more urgent. With a narrative that reminds one of a modern Western-style duel (but with modern weapons, aka vehicles), the minimalist script by author Richard Matheson and fine directing from the up-and-coming Spielberg make it into an effective little B-movie thriller. With little dialogue, the visual story-telling is key, and this is a particularly well-shot TV feature, with some great small-screen cinematography. There may not be much meat to be found in terms of characterizations or plot, but the on-going battle of wits and wills is well enough done that as a thrill-ride alone, it's worth the trip. There really is no cast to speak of, except for the protagonist, and as the only real character here Dennis Weaver is just fine as the horrified everyman caught up in a very dangerous game. Even with comparisons with today's more effects-driven car chases, the low-budget Duel is as effective today as it was in the 70's.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Duel (Hong Kong - 2000)
Starring: Andy Lau, Ekin Cheng, Nick Cheung
Director: Wai Keung Lau
Plot: A martial-arts master of royal blood challenges a reclusive young experts sowrdsman to a duel atop The Forbidden City, while the leader of the imperial guard tries to unearth a seeming conspiracy behind the event.
Review: The big-budget fantasy action flick The Duel may have its intentions in the right place, but its execution is tepid at best. This is obviously a high-end production from the people who brought us the terrific, exciting, CGI-laden The Storm Riders and A Man Called Hero, and the sets, costumes, cinematography and computer effects are in place. Alas, the film may want to be epic in show, but the script is tryingly familiar and generic, padding the overlong film with boring soap opera (including a 5-minute bath scene), lame romance, and way too much slapstick and low-brow humor that non-Asian audiences have a hard time to swallow. All this long-winded stuff would have been acceptable, however, if the climactic battle was worth the wait, but it's not: a few wire-fu acrobatics, a few clanging swords, and it's over. To be fair, the all-too-few action sequences and swordfights are well-enough done, if uninspiring and way too short-lived. When it gets to the nitty-gritty, that is the main focus of the story and its main protagonists, it's passable entertainment, but it's just too replete with dumb character interactions and lousy dialogue. A lot of the film has nothing to do with the actual duel, but with the minor characters running about in preparation, placing bets and vying for tickets. Oh, there's a minor plot about a bunch of brothers seeking revenge and a conspiracy to overthrow the emperor, but it gets lost in the shuffle. Director Lau has obviously fumbled the ball here in this very loose adaptation of a popular novel, and by trying to appeal to a larger audience he's put in too many different elements that just don't work well together. The large cast doesn't seem to be putting much of an effort, either, as if they know this is an absurd and worthless effort. For undemanding viewers The Duel might be just the ticket but action fans or Hong Kong novices should let this one pass.
Entertainment: 3/10

*Classic* Duel to the Death (Hong Kong - 1982)
Starring: Norman Chu, Damian Lau, Cheung Tin-Oi
Director: Ching Siu Tung
Plot: An honorable Japanese master swordsman and a saintly Chinese martial arts expert are set to fight in an important mainland competition but are beset by an evil band of Ninjas who aim to capture all the contestants for their own ends.
Review: Duel to the Death is one of those classic martial arts features that embody the very essence of Hong Kong filmmaking. The fantasy martial arts sequences are some of the best of the '80s flicks, and mark it as one of the best of the "old-style" kung-fu films before director Tung's own A Chinese Ghost Story changed the face of HK period action cinema. Though the scenes are pure unadulterated fantasy, the script and dialogue plays like a serious drama, a strange combination that actually works well. Sure, the characters are one-dimensional entities depicting the values of their country and are only there as reflection on the film's themes of honor, loyalty, and patriotism, and violence. The story itself is peppered with some good ideas and is full of deception, betrayals, and blood helping to move the narrative along. But as pure mayhem, the film more than delivers with countless scenes of frenetically paced combat and blistering sword-play, some very inventive and superbly choreographed stunts, over-the-top violence, ground-breaking use of wires, crazily imaginative magical Ninja tricks (exploding Ninjas, disappearing Ninjas, kite-flying Ninjas, a giant Ninja that splits himself into five, etc), and more! The final duel, overlooking wind-swept ocean-front cliffs, is spellbinding. No doubt about it, this is an innovative, superior production, visually rich, well cut, where flowing costumes and bright colors abound. Duel to the Death has aged a tad compared to some of the recent HK offerings, but it's still invigorating, no-holds-barred martial arts entertainment like they just don't make 'em anymore.
Entertainment: 9/10

Dune (1984)
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart, Jose Ferrer
Director: David Lynch
Plot: After seeing his family slaughtered, the heir to a noble house becomes a messiah to the nomadic inhabitants of a desert world whose spice trade is at the center of a universe-spanning empire.
Review: Considered far and wide as an ambitious failure, Dune is ambitious, epic, stylish to a fault, and a convoluted mess that bordered on the hubris. Frank Herbert's classic, influential 1965 SF novel of the same name - considered one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time - is a complex story involving politics, religion, ecology and many other heady themes. While still in keeping with the bizarre vision of Lynch's other works (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet), the film has an impressive flair for show and grandiose epic adventure all its own, with its violent, disturbing world of tyrants, psychics, cults and drug fiends, showing certainly more courage than many of its Hollywood ilk. There's no denying that his was a grandiose, opulent vision helped by superb production values, lavish sets and costumes, solid SFX (for the time, at least - the giant sand worms are spectacular) and a serious approach to the dense material, even if there's some intentional and unintentional camp to be had. The film's emphasis is as much on the adventure as it was on the politics, the complex social interactions, the almost Shakespearian drama and conspiracies, with the obvious religious overtones and controversial drug use kept intact from the book. Alas, trying so hard to be a literate translation of the book meant losing many of the intricacies of the novel along the way, a detriment to having a cohesive film for the mainstream audience. Though the characters themselves are sometimes lost in the pageantry and events, it's important to note the international ensemble cast: Apart from earnest first-timer MacLachlan as the Messiah, there are well-known actors in supporting parts, such as Jose Ferrer, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow and Sting in a minor role as a vicious killer. A notorious, resounding critical and box-office flop on its release, the film has since gained cult status, and for good reason: after all is said and done, Dune is an ambitious failure, a SF film with its own sensibilities and particular look, and a valiant attempt at capturing a difficult book for a wider audience. (See extended review)
Entertainment: 7/10

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan
Director: Courtney Solomon
Plot: Two bumbling thieves inadvertently come between an idealistic young empress and a powerful tyrant mage as they all seek a magical rod that can control dragons. 
Review: Supposedly a lot of effort went into making Dungeons & Dragons, the adaptation of the immensely popular fantasy role-playing game, a reality. One couldn't tell from the final output, though. This is an amateurish effort in every respect, promising an epic tale but suffering from a terrible script, awful directing, and a low-end TV-worthy production, akin to syndicated shows like Hercules or Xena. Worse still, one doesn't get the feeling of fun or adventure anywhere in the proceedings, though there are the required (lame) sword fights, magic effects, and even a mildly interesting passage through a maze of traps. The atrocious acting from all involved doesn't help things either, hampered by some of the corniest, cliché-ridden lines ever put to screen. Jeremy Irons hamming it up as the maniac mage seems completely out of place here, and he should have stayed far away from this production. The final dragon battle scene, giving us a much-needed 10-minute dose of decent computer-generated animation, would be the only reason to see the film but it still can't excuse what came before it. The Dungeons & Dragons universe has the makings of a great film, but this one just doesn't do it justice.
Entertainment: 3/10

Dynamite Warrior (Thailand - 2006)
Starring: Jaran Ngamdee, Dan Chupong
Director: Chalerm Wongpim
Plot: In the 1880's, a Robin Hood-type buffalo thief bent on revenge uses his martial arts and rocket-making skills to find his parents murderers, only to get involved in a diabolical scheme to sell tractors to starving peasants.
Review: Contrary to Thailand's other popular action export Ong-Bak starring Tony Jaa, Dynamite Warrior is more of an action / comedy than a straight-out martial arts showcase. Indeed, it's a throwback to Hong Kong productions of the '80s, mixing historical references, the supernatural and martial arts with a heady dose of slapstick comedy. The pacing is good and there's no denying inventiveness and spirit that went into creating it. The rocketry angle gives it a nice twist giving a chance to see our hero rides a rocket across the plains, or dispatches his enemies with fireworks, along with a multitude of flips and elbow / knee hits. And there's little downtime between action set-pieces, except for a 10-min comic-romance sequence when half the cast awaits the menstruating cycle of the lovely young romantic interest (see, they need the blood of a virgin to stop the magical abilities of the man who killed our hero's father, who actually didn't... you get the idea). If the different elements and plots don't quite gel well, it works as a live-action cartoon, replete with impossibly over-the-top villains and events. But most important is the action choreography, and there's where it disappoints: oh, it's inventive and the action sequences are cool, but nowhere near as hard-hitting as we've come to expect, with direction and editing that aren't up to par. There's no denying there's some impressive stunts on display, all shown in slow-mo (and repeated in case you missed it) but even as we marvel at the arobatic skills of the performers, there isn't that sense of speed or believability that we've come to expect from Asian genre films; it just looks too staged, with many instances of amateurish wirework. Leading man Chupong is clearly a much better martial artist than he is an actor, and one hopes he will find an even better vehicle for his skills in the future. Despite its faults, it's clear the filmmakers want to provide a very fun experience - as long as you keep your expectations low and your brain at the door, Dynamite Warrior is pretty entertaining (if downright silly) stuff.
Entertainment: 6/10

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