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Eagle Eye (2008)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton
Director: D.J. Caruso
Plot: Chased by the FBI, two innocent strangers are forced to do the diabolical bidding of an enigmatic female caller who seems to be able to know their every move.
Review: There's no denying that Eagle Eye, the Spielberg-produced mainstream action thriller that preys upon social fears of technology, delivers some solid entertainment value along with its throwaway plot. Sporting the most tired of SF tales that has appeared in movies from Frankenstein to Colossus: The Forbin Project, the film plays out like a 21st-century, higher-tech version of Enemy of the State. And it's a mess of half-baked ideas, Big Brother paranoia and an offhand homage to Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Thankfully, if the tale is sometimes grating and awfully familiar, the cast and direction make up for a lot. Following his breakout effort in the popular urban suspense Disturbia, director Caruso (better known for his off-the-radar efforts like The Salton Sea and Taking Lives) ensures a breakneck speed to the proceedings. Indeed, to make audiences keep a blind eye to the logical short-cuts and dramatic contrivances, the film offers up a frenzy of daring escapes, metal-crunching car chases and other moments of energetic mayhem that helps move the otherwise plodding story along. The droopy-eyed LaBeouf, the latest Tinsel town hot commodity, and a feisty Monaghan do a fine job as the strangers thrown into an impossible situation and do their best to go with the flow. Vet Thornton and Rosario Dawson add some zip to the casting as the federal agent and Army detective on their trail. In the end, the film's biggest disappointment is that it squanders its potential as a social commentary and can't even follow it's own internal logic. For audiences forewarned of the banal plot, Eagle Eye is a slick, fun popcorn flick like only Hollywood can afford and produce. Just leave your mind at the door.
Entertainment: 6/10

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis
Director: Fred F. Sears
Plot: A scientist and his team must come up with a new weapon that will help defend mankind against technologically superior aliens who demand the complete surrender of Earth's governments.
Review: One of the quintessential Alien Invasion films of the 50s, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was the B&W B-movie answer to 1953's big-budget The War of the Worlds. More so than the former, the film was very much a precursor to modern alien invasion flicks, and was a heavy influence on Independence Day. Even for nostalgic thrill-seekers, it's important that things move along quickly and the film provides a story with a good dash of paranoid happenings as well as some no-nonsense death and destruction from the get-go. Though the scientific exposition is occasionally slow, there's lots of gee-whiz ideas that are developed, from primitive computers to decode the alien language to mind-reading devices, and more. But it's really the spectacular final half-hour - the battle between the army and the flying saucers within the US capital and the destruction of most of the Washington monuments - which makes the film a standout. The whole thing may have been done on the cheap but it doesn't look it thanks to the inventive ways it makes up for its limited means. Much of the accolades must go to legendary effects wiz Ray Harryhausen (best known for his work on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans) who manages to blend in the live-action bits as well as stock footage of planes and buildings being destroyed with his exceptional use of stop-motion miniatures. Sure the great technical effects of the time are dated now, and some of the science can come off as pretty campy, but it's an entertaining flick that surprisingly still packs a punch, making it a '50s SF cult classic.
Entertainment: 7/10

Eastern Condors (Hong Kong - 1987)
Starring: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah
Director: Sammo Hung
Plot: Three years after U.S. troops have left Vietnam, a rag-tag team of Asian-Americans convicts are sent in to destroy a depot of weapons left behind before the Vietcong can grab it.
Review: Actor / director Hung's Eastern Condors is a mix between The Dirty Dozen and Missing in Action with a decidedly Hong Kong flavor. The film boasts a high body count and is chock-full of exciting action pieces filled with blistering gun battles, big explosions, and some brutal fight choreography that's sure to make audiences wince ("boy, that's gotta hurt!"). If there's a problem here it's that the characters are basically thrown into the situation within minutes of the film starting and we never get a chance to really sympathize with any of them before they are killed off in true Dirty Dozen fashion. Too bad, since the film has an impressive cast of HK personalities. Of course, this doesn't happen to the two leads: Hung comes off well, showing off some impressive stunt work and moves, but it's Biao who really shines this time around with a meatier role than in his past collaborations with Hung, easily taking center stage in both some high-kicking acrobatics and in his half-serious, half-comic role. Even if the story (a mish-mash of American flicks) is quite banal, and the ensuing events border on the ludicrous, the pace rarely falters and none of it really detracts from the film's straight-forward goal of being an entertaining war / action movie. For fans of mindless action, this is a real treat.
Entertainment: 8/10

East-West (Est-Ouest) (France - 1999)
Starring: Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Menshikov, Catherine Deneuve 
Director: Régis Wargnier 
Plot: On the promise of amnesty by Stalin, a Russian doctor, his French wife and their son return to the USSR, only to realize that it was all a sham. Living a torturous life under the iron thumb of Communism, their only thought is to escape back to France.
Review: East-West shows an intimate portrayal of the emotional upheavals of a family's life under Stalin rule. Bonnaire and Menshikov are splendid in the roles of two people in love who grow distant in the face of adversity. Director Wargnier (who made the beautiful Indochine) wants to make a sweeping story focusing on the misery of the Russian population, encompassing a bevy of minor characters, ideological commentary, and melodrama but it doesn't quite come together. There are some intense, heart-breaking moments here mingled with some heart-warming ones, but it all seems too quick, too clean, like a made-for-TV movie that ultimately fails to promote true sympathy or understanding.
Drama: 6/10

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Director: David Slade
Plot: As graduation approaches, a high school girl finds herself struggling to choose between her love for her vampire paramour and her werewolf friend, just as a vampire army is amassing for a sinister act of revenge.
Review: Based on the hugely popular teen vampire series by Stephanie Meyer, the equally hugely popular film franchise shows renewed life in Eclipse, the third chapter in the Twilight saga. Director Slade did the creepy thing with 30 Days of Night but shows a surer hand at the elements - and the franchise - here, easily besting the previous installment in style, visuals and action know-how. Don't be fooled, though: there's still oodles of romantic tension in the love triangle between swooning Stewart, teen vampire heartthrob Pattinson and werewolf beefcake Lautner ("doesn't he own any shirts?"), the latter two even get lots of opportunity to jealously squabble over their love interest (I'm definitely hotter than you" is an actual line, showing the series is at least able to have some self-referential humor). All this fervent chaste gushing may enamor the young female demographic - and to be fair there's some decent chemistry between the young cast - but for the rest of us it gets pretty grating after a while. Thankfully the action quotient and pacing are a huge step up from the last, stale entry, New Moon. Following in the footsteps of the Underworld series, we get lots of blood-sucking, running around, vampire-on-vampire and werewolf-on-vampire fights; if none of them are really original, at least each of them is as thrilling and well executed as the next. And for those of us who aren't fans, the inherent campiness makes for some good fun, too. For anyone keeping tabs, the mythology is explored a bit more in a few short flashbacks detailing the supporting characters' start, though these interesting bits seem to have been cut short to give more air time to the main leads and their love triangle. The cast also feels more comfortable, with Billy Burke as the protective dad getting the best lines in one of the few "adult" roles. If the first entry is still probably the best of the lot as a whole, Eclipse makes for decidedly better summer fare for a mixed audience. It's not great cinema, but it's a worthwhile popcorn flick in its own right.
Entertainment: 7/10

Edge of Darkness (2010) 
Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
Director: Martin Campbell
Plot: When his daughter gets brutally killed in front of him, a veteran Boston cop launuches his own investigation into her workplace, a nuclear-weapons manufacturer, leading to a far-reaching conspiracy.
Review: Ever since the Hollywood adaptation of the acclaimed BBC series Traffic made a splash at the Oscars, it seems producers have been grasping at Britain's TV successes with a view at an easy buck. With Edge of Darkness, what we get is a dilution of the 1985 BBC mini-series of the same name to its most shallow thriller aspects. The more recent State of Play has much in common with this adaptation - both put a strong leading man at the forefront, but leave them with little in terms of character development or real mystery to wade through. In a way, this one is worse, feeling like one of many quickly forgotten forays into the genre made in the 80's - including nefarious, second-rate politicians and industrialists, unconvincing dialogue and situations, and little suspense or action. There's little of interest in the by-the-number plot, the directing is pedestrian, and even the cinematography seems to be quite bland. This is quite a disappointment for fans of helmer Campbell's original material and his recent effort in the James Bond reboot Casino Royale, a film that was full of pent-up energy and tension. Clearly, this is meant to be a gritty, intelligent thriller and not an action film, even with obvious pressures to make it more palatable to the mainstream within feature-length limitations. As it stands, however, the commentary on nuclear production and crooked politicians feels outdated (and oh so '80s!) and trivial, defeating the point of the original work. There is, however, some pleasure to be had in letting a grizzled Gibson (in his first lead role in 8 years) playing the tough-as-nails, grieving father out for blood; as he goes against larger forces, his everyman cop shines through despite the script weaknesses. On its own merits and despite its flaws, Edge of Darkness is a decent time-waster, but for smart entertainment, better to stick to its award-winning predecessor.
Entertainment: 5/10

Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Dianne Wiest, Winona Ryder
Director: Tim Burton
Plot: Created but unfinished by his inventor-father, a teenage boy with scissors for hands shuns society until a sales woman discovers him alone in a deserted mansion and decides to bring him home to live with her family.
Review: With Edward Scissorhands, what amounts to another take on that classic theme of "being different" takes on the aspect of a light-hearted fairy-tale in the hands of director Burton. Based on the Frankenstein mythos, Burton takes the original 1930's film and subverts them to his own ends. As homage it's cute to a fault, from its visual cues to its take on the original's mob lynching, even allowing for the use of horror-meister Vincent Price in his last screen role. The twist comes from throwing the "monster" into a 1960's suburban landscape, complete with the era's social mores and a flurry of bored housewives. This makes for some amusing moments as the suburbanites are first entranced by such a creature's uniqueness, his differences making him in high demand as (among other things) a hairdresser, before the film descends into tragedy as the same people then rally against him. Coming off the success of Batman, director Burton reverts back to the style of his earlier films such as Beetlejuice with a similar twisted look at the family entity. The production design is reminiscent of all his films with stylish visuals, colorful sets, imaginative flair that make it all feel like a world slightly off-kilter to our own. Unfortunately, when compared with his other films, it's also a rather slow-going affair, one that doesn't quite have the creative juices or energy to really be a classic. Though he doesn't really have much to do but look lost and robotic, Depp brings an affable innocence to the role of the lonely, misunderstood misanthrope. The rest of the cast, including Ryder, Wiest and some familiar faces, are also fine. Edward Scissorhands isn't one of the filmmaker's more memorable features, but it's an entertaining and well-executed adult fairy-tale that's still worth a look.
Entertainment: 6/10

Eight Below (2006)
Starring: Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Moon Bloodgood, Jason Biggs
Director: Frank Marshall
Plot: Weather conditions force a small Antartic team to leave their sled dogs behind to endure the bitter cold and fend for themselves until a rescue mission can be called.
Review: A fictional re-interpretation of the true events that happened to an ill-fated Japanese expedition to Antarctica in 1958 (itself retold in the aptly-named 1983 film Antarctica), Eight Below sheds the bit of believability it might have had for family-friendly adventure - and actually succeeds better than most of Disney's live-action affairs. The story's real heroes are the Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies that make up the pack - they're beautiful animals, and their too-human bonding and team-work against starvation and the cruel elements is too scripted, perhaps, but works wonders. Star producer Marshall has had a hit-and-miss career as a director (Alive, Congo), and this is not much more than a workmanlike effort, but he knows how to direct the animal action and the Antarctic scenes are splendid. While older kids might enjoy the wildlife and icy escapades (some of which may be a little intense for young ones - including a disturbing encounter with a killer sea lion), the human sub-plots aren't nearly as interesting, even for adults. It doesn't help that they get most of the screen time, stretching the film almost to the point of exasperation. Thankfully the cast is amiable enough, including eye-candy pair Walker and Bloodgood, the always dependable Greenwood, and Jason Biggs, as a wisecracking cartographer, thrown in for comic relief. Eight Below may not be a Disney classic, but the dogs are wonderful and it's got its heart in the right place, provided you can sit through the boring human dilemmas.
Drama: 6/10

Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Starring: David Arquette, Scarlett Johansson, Kari Wuhrer
Director: Ellory Elkayem
Plot: A dying mining town is invaded by hundreds of giant spiders, the result of a toxic-waste spill.
Review: In style and substance, Eight Legged Freaks harkens back to the old '50s monster movies like Them! and Tarantula, but with a bigger budget and an '80s throwaway feel. What made the old insect films so much fun is that they took themselves seriously, and the added camp value was increased by the tacky special effects. The problem, as in all these modern retellings, is that they try to be too much tongue-in-cheek. As such there are a few shallow laughs here and there, but it's nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is, and comes off more cheesy than anything. The minimal plot is there just to hang the spider sequences off of, and these are cliché ridden. Feels like just another expensive B-movie, but it should have taken better notes from another genre flick, Tremors. To be fair, the production is slick, the spider CGI effects (and there are a lot of them) are decently done, and things are quite lively after the slow half-hour exposition. The filmmakers never shy away from a chance to show many different kinds of arachnids, and some gruesome, over-the-top (if bloodless) deaths. Heck, it feels like a PG-rated, Saturday-matinee affair. The dynamics between the characters is completely bland; the cast plays along, but they all lack personality so we don't mind if any of them bite the dust (ergo, no suspense or scares). Arquette may have what it takes to be a leading man, one day, but it's not here. In the end, Eight Legged Freaks is a pretty straight-forward monster movie, but it's not witty enough to make an impression - as second-rate fluff to pass the time it's passable, but soon forgotten.
Entertainment: 4/10

Election (Hong Kong - 2005)
Starring: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Louis Koo
Director: Johnnie To
Plot: Tensions within a powerful Hong Kong Triad crime organisation threaten to escalate to open war during a fiercely contested election for the top position between two rival members.
Review: With never a gun in sight, Election is a surprisingly low-key crime drama that eschews the usual genre action. Instead, the script concentrates on the power struggle between two men who are complete opposites in their demeanor, but both ruthless in their own way, and the machinations involved in their quest for power. Much of the focus is actually on the complex and code-laden traditions and (albeit distorted) loyalties involved, and the extent at which each party is ready to go to retrieve the symbol of the lead position: a carved, wood baton. The message is clear: the Triads, which had been created as a secret society to rebel against the old Chinese empire, has turned to greed and violence for their members' own selfish gains. Director To is one of the last great filmmakers still left in Hong Kong, and his approach to any film - no matter the script - is always solid and engaging. In style and pacing, this effort is much more akin to The Mission than To's more explosive action productions like Breaking News or Fulltime Killer, and shows a maturing - and more dramatic - approach to his cinema. Yet despite the slick storytelling, the epic feel to its Godfather-like struggles, there's surprisingly little running time to bring it all to life and really little to make it a real stand out - until the final act. But it works thanks to a cohesive narrative that brings forth some interesting points and great ensemble cast including the cool-as-ice Yam, the brazen Leung, pretty-boy Koo as well as some familiar faces including Lam Suet and Nick Cheung. If Election may come off feeling like a one-trick pony with its shocking ending, it still an effective job of giving a little-seen "inside" view of Asia's growing criminal Mafia. Winner, Best Picture, Director and Screenplay at the 25th Hong Kong Film Awards.
Drama: 6/10

Election 2 (Triad Election) (Hong Kong - 2006)
Starring: Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Nick Cheung
Director: Johnny To
Plot: As the elections for the Triad crime syndicates nears, the current chairman faces competition from his former proteges, especially from one who wants to turn legitimate businessman at all costs.
Review: Election 2 follows two years after the events of Election, To's slick, smart tale of the politicking, maneuvering and violence in the criminal world to choose a leader, and the sequel - though it retreads some of the material of its predecessor - is a worthy effort of its own. The dispute between candidates and the influence they try to exert to get votes first follows the criminal underworld's code and process, but soon enough Machiavellian plotting and treachery are the order of the day. Though there's some rare instances of violence, these are all brutally real (there's a horrifying scene of hacked arms and legs), yet not a single gun fired; the true weapons, however, are cell phones, deception and lies. Throughout, the sharp script provides some well-observed scenes of criminals at play, all elbowing for a better position - it may be bloody, but it's all business. In the end, the film's theme stays the same, echoing the concerns of many societies, as tradition gets pushed aside by the modern world. The pacing is actually more dynamic than the first, and director To (PTU, The Mission) shows again a mastery of any genre he puts his mind to. Even if the final twist isn't as hard-hitting as the original, it's a fine effort that seethes tension. And the able, familiar Hong Kong cast is terrific: Yam is perfectly suited as an evil, greedy man hiding behind a composed, smiling face and Koo brings a fine dramatic performance, following his usual comic co-operations with To. His is the real focus this time around, and his descent from straight, well-meaning entrepreneur into pure barbarism to gain control of his "legitimate" business is scary. There isn't much new in terms of material or approach, but Election 2 is another fine crime drama, either as a sequel or a standalone.
Entertainment / Drama: 7/10

Election (1999)
Plot: Election stars Reese Whitherspoon (last seen in Cruel Intentions) as a teen-age overachiever determined to win the election for school president. Mathew Broderick, perfectly cast here, is the teacher dead-set on seeing her fail.
Review: Like Rushmore before it, Election is a slightly subversive comedy that seems to aim more at adults than teen-agers, with a biting satire of politics and high school life. Funny without ever being crude (and that seems to be quite an accomplishment these days), Election is the type of small-budget, intelligent film that deserves a wider audience.
Comedy: 8/10
Entertainment: 8/10

Elektra (2005)
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout
Director: Rob Bowman
Plot: A female assassin helps protect her latest marks, a handsome widower and his teenage daughter, from a ruthless clan of Ninjas with supernatural abilities.
Review: A spin-off from the semi-successful comic adaptation Daredevil, Elektra brings the dead character back to life to help start a new franchise, but as it stands it may have been better to leave her for dead. No "red-horned-devil" references here, as the film makes a clean break from the previous outing. Director Bowman (The X-Files: Fight the Future, Reign of Fire) is a capable director, but he isn't given much to work with and it shows. The film works well enough during the fight scenes, but the dramatic elements are sorely lacking if not downright dull, especially the slow-as-molasses middle section as our heroine, stuck in a lakeside cabin, gets involved with a single-father and his bratty daughter. Fans expecting an Elektra that is a silent, deadly killing machine, might roll their eyes as the story adds a romance and even a mothering theme to the mix, all of which does the film a disservice. Worse, Elektra doesn't even keep the spotlight. Though the cinematography looks superb and the flowing robes motif is nice, the film doesn't quite have the polish that one would expect from an A-list film, with some iffy effects, minimalist sets, and tired pacing. Thankfully, there's enough decent super-hero type action, ninja-style mayhem and oodles of ninja deaths thrown into the mix at appropriate times (all with a strong Hong Kong wire-fu influence) to satisfy. Also of note are the too-cool super-villains such as Typhoid Mary whose touch is poison or the man with the living tattoos, all of which are well represented, but don't have enough screen time. As for the leading lady, Garner still looks the part in the rather impractical red outfit and she definitely has all the right moves, but though she does her best reprising the role the character has been so sanitized as to be devoid of interest. The best supporting part has to be by Terence Stamp as her blind Yoda-like mentor. Thanks to some entertaining action sequences this is not a complete loss, but with the bland TV-like drama Elektra is the type of Marvel adaptations that give comic hero films a bad name.
Entertainment: 4/10

Elephant (2003)
Starring: John Robinson, Alex Frost, Elias McConnell
Director: Gus Van Sant
Plot: A typical day in the life of an American high school in Portland, Oregon is shattered when a violent shooting incident involving two students occurs.
Review: Obviously inspired by events from the Columbine massacre, Elephant is an observant half-fictionalized dramatization of what might have happened on that fateful day. The first two-thirds of the movie are a test of patience: the narrative is slow as molasses, moving back and forth to focus on ten students as they go about their daily activities, the film looping back to the point where they all interconnect, the point where the shooting starts and the tragedy begins. Too much of the film insists on capturing small details as they walk down empty corridors, the camera looking over their shoulder in long (long, long...) tracking shots, catching instants of life and conversations. We get the idea of "normality" quickly, and the repetition gets frustrating after a while; audiences will be itching to hit the fast forward button after the umpteenth such shots. Once the film turns its attention to the life and plans of the psychologically-bruised pair, entering the school in camouflage gear and loaded with automatic rifles, a certain tension builds. We realize there's method to this long, banal, deliberate process of getting audiences into the school surroundings and into the lives of the kids and faculty: it's to make the horror of their meaningless deaths poignant and harrowing. Director Van Sant once again eschews his mainstream efforts (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting) to give in to the slow, Dogma 95 - styled execution much as he did in Gerry. Using only available lighting, shooting with video cameras, and using untested actors makes it all feel raw and very much in tune with the reality of teen life. Surprisingly, the film doesn't pass judgment so much as depict an environment where these mild-mannered, "average" kids could become so alienated and foster such insouciance for themselves and others. Winner of the Palme d'Or and Best Director prizes at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, Elephant is a thoughtful, timely commentary on American teens that never explains them but does capture their complexity, and the hardships of being raised in America. It's just too bad a powerful half-hour short was dragged out to a ponderous full feature film.
Drama: 5/10

The Elephant Man (1980)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud
Director: David Lynch
Plot: A surgeon comes to the aid of a monstrously deformed man being abused in a carnival freak show in Victorian London, and discovers in him a man of great inner sensitivity.
Review: Loosely based on the accounts by Sir Frederick Treves, The Elephant Man relates the true story of the 19th century British celebrity Joseph Merrick and his ascension from circus freak to refined socialite. Part horror tale, part period piece, part social commentary, the tale and facts have been altered to dramatize some of these elements and events, but it is masterfully done. This is likely director Lynch's most conventional tale to date, yet it's not hard to believe this is the man responsible for such bizarre, disturbing fare as Blue Velvet and Eraserhead. Here, he seems to have taken a hint from past Hollywood fare, capturing the essence that made the 1932 Freaks such an oddity - and such a cult classic. As for the beautiful B&W cinematography, it manages to convey the crushing horrors of the industrial age and makes the somber, nightmarish moments and the stark imagery all the more effective. It all culminates in a powerful, moving scene as - cornered by an accidentally provoked, angry mob at a train station - the poor soul cries out in anguish "I am not an animal! I am a human being!"; it's one of cinema's great moments. Made from casts of Merrick's own body, the effective make-up of his horrid deformities proved so effective that it prompted the creation of a new Award category. For managing to impart a great pathos underneath all prosthetics and makeup, the unrecognizable Hurt was also nominated for an Oscar, and deservedly so. The rest of the cast also does well, from the young Hopkins as the physician, to Bancroft as the supportive high society matron, and Freddie Jones as the detestable carnival entertainer. Beyond the able direction, visuals and acting what truly remains from The Elephant Man is its statement on the power of human dignity. Great stuff.
Drama: 7/10

Elf (2003)
Starring: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart
Director: Jon Favreau
Plot: A man raised as a Christmas elf at the North Pole is sent to Manhattan to search for his true identity.
Review: The comedy Elf is another one of those Hollywood high-concept premises mixing Christmas-movie lore with over-the-top silliness. The real surprise is that it's a feature that actually has heart and is actually quite funny, and justifiably rocketed Saturday Night Live comic Ferrell into the spotlight. The fish-out-of-water tale isn't new, yet there's a bubbling, comic energy in evidence and the script is clever enough to know when to keep things straight and when to add a dash of nonsensical mirth. Director Favreau (Swingers) manages to make even the most clichéd of situations seem fresh and mostly avoids the pratfall of turning the material into dreary sentimentality. As played by the irreverent Ferrell - all dolled up in green-and-red elf suit - the title character is a child trying to make sense of an adult world, much like Tom Hanks did in Big. He's so sweet, innocent and down-right sincere that you can't help but sympathize even as he's getting into embarrassing situations - and somehow, in the most unexpected manner, comes up roses. The typical father-son relationship also gets a quirky boost in the hands of Caan, playing the Scrooge dumbfounded by the news of having a somewhat deranged son. All in all, a pleasant, amusing effort by all involved.
Comedy: 7/10

Elizabeth (1998)
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Plot: The young Protestant queen of England must learn to survive the political and religious forces from within and without that would see her disposed or married off and her country divided.
Review: Far from the stifling period picture too often the norm, Elizabeth offers up a fascinating mix of court intrigue, politics, religious strife, and personal drama in its exploration of its title character. The story is about the events that led to the public's image of Elizabeth I, the struggle of the young monarch to learn and stand her ground against those who saw in her only a problem to be disposed of, and her eventual transformation into the Virgin Queen. The complex, multi-layered story plays fast and loose with historical facts, and especially chronology, to provide a more dramatic and entertaining spectacle, even going so far as adding a a good deal of modern feminism to its narrative. Some may be disappointed by this, but it should best be taken as an account of what might have happened, and succeeds brilliantly in making a period of England's past come alive. Director Kapur (Bandit Queen), best known for being a producer of Indian films, grasps the necessary focus and mood for the picture, filling the screen with colorful costumes, impressive sets, and general wickedness, all impeccably set under some terrific cinematography (at times even hanging from the ceilings or upside-down) and a careful, atmospheric display of light and shadows. However it's the spirited, bravado performance by Blanchett that really makes the film such a joy to watch; she makes the role hers from start to finish and brings the historical figure splendidly to life. Rush, as the head of the Queen's intelligence arm, plays his role to perfection, with just the right amount of the sinister and the mysterious to come across as a dangerous character. Eccleston, as the evil Catholic Duke, and Attenborough as her faithful advisor also stand out, but the rest of the international cast (including Fiennes, Fanny Ardant and Vincent Cassel) are all top notch. A well-crafted, engaging production, Elizabeth is a fine example of a lavish period piece done right.
Drama: 8/10


Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Plot: As England prepares for a religious war with Spain, Queen Elizabeth I get smitten by the pirate / adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh just as an assassination conspiracy against her makes takes its toll.
Review: Nine years after the success of Elizabeth, describing the Virgin Queen's ascendance to the throne, cast and crew return to explore (and perhaps exploit) a second chapter of her reign in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. If the sequel, of sorts, isn't quite up to the first it nonetheless captures all the elements that made its predecessor so wonderful to watch: the impeccable decor, the startling camera work, the cinematic visuals, all are splendid and larger-than-life, much like its characters and situations, with its romantic entanglements, its palace intrigues, and its re-imagining of the relationship between Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh. If the film takes some historical liberties to provide additional drama (and truth be told, a good dose of melodrama), it's no more than many of its contemporaries, and it does make a period of English history that much more interesting to discover. Indeed, the third act, as the machinations and plots are finally revealed and war breaks between Spanish and British Empires, is grand entertainment. Through it all, Blanchett's bravura performance stands front and center; it might not be the best showcase for her skills, but it certainly is a great example of her showmanship; vested in a colorful array of rustling gowns and eventually trading it in for armor, she's always riveting. The macho-looking Owen, as the pirate / adventurer who steals her heart, gives off the dashing presence of a modern day Errol Flynn, while Rush, returning in his role as advisor and black-ops chief to the Queen, remains as good as ever. Director Kapur's Bollywood influence is clearly in evidence and that's a good thing, invigorating a staid genre with buoyant energy and fancy. The only downside is that the style and splendid production so easily trumps the actual story, as the script can't match the intricacies and intimacy of the first effort. Still, The Golden Age looks so sumptuous, so deliriously fetching that one can easily get lost in the storytelling and in Blanchett's mesmerizing acting - and for most, that's what cinema is all about.
Drama / Entertainment: 7/10

Elizabethtown (2005)
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon
Director: Cameron Crowe
Plot: On a trip to Kentucky to retrieve his father's body, a suicidal young shoe designer who has just lost his job after a major commercial fiasco falls for a local flight attendant.
Review: A deliberately disjointed affair, Elizabethtown mostly disdains the traditional formula of the romantic-comedy and offers up an example of what a smart entry in the genre should be. It's a tale of redemption from life's big failures, and how love and family can make you whole; not exactly an original message, and writer / director Crowe once again tackles some favorite themes such as life, love, happiness, and father-son relationships. After some standout works in the romantic-comedy-drama genre like Almost Famous, Crowe seems to be on cruise control with this one, yet even his middling effort is still above average, thanks to some literate humor, endearing characters, and great dialog, all timed to a truckload of favorite tunes. Bloom doesn't do much of an acting stretch as the down-trodden elder son, but gives the right sense of a character who's pretty much dead on the inside. As the cute "substitute" flame, Dunst plays the perky worldly waif with ease. But though they make a nice pair, brought together by an all-night heart-pouring cell-phone chat (a fresh look at connecting in the modern era), he doesn't seem to be worth the effort she pours into him. Still, that's a minor quibble. As for the barely outlined supporting cast, their only existence is to help create that feeling of stereotypical Southern family eccentricity and warmth, something that's captured with a few broad, and amusing, strokes. From the satirical opening sequence (a death march through the corridors of Big Business), to the missed date with the patented hara-kiri exerciser, to the Chuck & Lucy all-night wedding party, the film takes lots of occasions to comment on our current culture. If the message isn't quite clear in the film's final road-trip, an extended montage that acts as travelogue through the heart of the US of A that aims to inspire the small successes in American life, it adds yet another feather in the whimsical nature of the film. Through all the clichés, Elizabethtown still works to produce an affectionate, breezy piece of entertainment that will leave a smile on all but the most hardened soul.
Entertainment / Drama: 7/10

El Mariachi (Mexico - 1993)
Starring: Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gómez, Peter Marquardt
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Plot: Mistaken for a hit-man who conceals his weapons in a guitar case, a peaceful mariachi just arrived at a small Mexican town tries desperately to survive both sides of a gang war while the real killer runs loose.
Review: First meant as a direct-to-video cheapie for the Mexican market, the cool action flick El Mariachi has proven to be a veritable international hit. Apart from the main twist the general story might seem to be rather banal, but the details and the execution are anything but. Made on a shoe-string budget of about $7,000, this easily looks like something made with a hundred times that, and is more enjoyable and inventive than other, similar films made with 1,000 times the money. Though the production values are low, the film manages to surprise often thanks to Rodriguez's stylish flair and good use of what little he had to work with, showing off a high energy level throughout, as is the violence quotient (and the graphic depiction of it). But much of its appeal rests on the fact that this isn't a Hollywood-styled flick and, unlike other similar flicks, there's a lot of heart and effort that comes across, with a lot more depth than one would expect amid the large dose of gunplay and Western-style shenanigans. Even on his first "amateur" film, writer / director Rodriguez (From Dusk to Dawn, Spy Kids) shows a keen visual sense and an apt directorial talent which quickly brought him to the attention of studios (which asked him to remake the film with a higher budget as Desperado). A tight script that's continuously clever, amusing and humorous brings new life to the tired action genre, adding a bit of comedy, too, as the case of mistaken identity runs rampant, mixing it well with the action bits and even some well-realized romantic entanglements. Some creative camera work, accompanied by some fast-paced editing, also helps move things along. The characters, all played by competent amateurs (many of which are the director's friends), are given a chance at some personality thanks to quickly defined quirks. All told and simply put, El Mariachi is highly entertaining filled with the kind of stuff movie lovers and action fans will revel in.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
Starring: David Spade, John Goodman
Directors: Mark Dindal, Roger Allers
Plot: A young, selfish and cocky Inca emperor is turned into a Llama by his power-hungry administrator and must gain the friendship of a good-natured peasant to bring him back to the city and his throne.
Review: Eschewing the typically grand animated features, The Emperor's New Groove is a low-key, lighthearted romp with a typical family moral, and it's a big disappointment compared to the latest Disney releases such as Aladdin, The Lion King or Mulan. But then, this isn't an animated musical either - except for the entertaining opening number sung by Tom Jones, there isn't a song to be heard. The film mostly focuses on the characters, using a myriad of close-ups with no backgrounds to cut on the work required for the film's animation (or so it seems). There are a few interesting depictions of South American styled backgrounds and artwork, but the lavishness of past Disney offerings are missing. Worse, the characters aren't even well drawn! The scripted dialogue does save it, though - amusing, clever, and self-referential, it provides some great moments, and at least one good character (the bland villain's lovable but mentally deficient right-hand man) but the inconsistent pacing bogs things down. In the end, because of its small scale, and its so-so animation, The Emperor's New Groove makes for an entertaining video rental, but doesn't quite impress for a feature Disney release.
Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Director: Irvin Kershner
Plot: Separated after an attack on their hidden base, a band of rebels must flee the empire's evil henchmen and defeat the trap set for their last remaining hope, a young jedi in training.
Review: After the phenomenal success of Star Wars, creator George Lucas had carte blanche to create a sequel, and The Empire Strikes Back bucks the usual trend to provide a film that is superior to, and far more ambitious than, the original in every way. In fact, every element has been carefully judged and implemented for best effect. The visual splendor, the incredible production values, detailed sets, and imaginative locales are, in themselves, worth marveling at. The terrific, impressive special effects that are on constant display also still hold up well in this age of computer effects and are still convincing. The great cast of classic heroic and evil characters, from the terrifying Darth Vader to the strange, yogi-like Yoda are some of the most memorable ones in cinema. Even more satisfying, the fast-paced story full of spectacular, mythic-like situations, is much darker in tone and yet retains a constant feeling of fun and adventure, all topped off with a dash of humor, that makes for a tale that is much more emotionally involving than its predecessor or the following sequel. As well, memorable cinematic moments abound - from the ice-battle against Imperial Walkers on Hoth to the light-saber duel between the young Skywalker and Darth Vader the film. And who can forget the shocking final revelation that still sends a chill down audiences' spines? A truly rousing pulp adventure, The Empire Strikes Back may very well be the best space opera yarn, and one of the most entertaining movie experiences, ever made.
Entertainment: 10/10


Enchanted (2007)
Starring: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden
Director: Kevin Lima
Plot: When an animated fairy-tale character gets thrown into real modern-day New York by her evil step-mother, she becomes caught between her affection for Prince Charming and a more practical, handsome city lawyer.
Review: A spoof of its own 50-year history of Happily-Ever-After tales, Disney's Enchanted doesn't live up to its potential but does manage to be enjoyable fluff for the whole family. Opening up with a throwback to 2D cel-animation, we meet our damsel in a number straight out of Snow White, with all the forest animals helping to clean her abode. Switch to live, grimy, modern-day Big Apple, and you've got our intrepid (and stunningly naive) heroine still singing and getting the animals to help clean up her temporary loft - only the city's denizens - including rats, pigeons and cockroaches - aren't as cute as their cartoon counterparts. There are a lot of other winks at the animated tales, especially during a series of sudden musical numbers, including an exuberant one in the middle of Central Park. Of course, it would have been remiss to not include clear influences from the plethora of the revered animated Disney pantheon from Snow White to Cinderella, poking fun at the well-known Disney archetypes - that might be more fun for adults who grew up on the stuff, but even younger audiences will find much to enjoy in this family flick. Animation veteran Lima (Tarzan, 102 Dalmatians) directs the film pretty much like a cartoon, which works more often than not. Yet there's something missing in both the execution and the humor; the fish-out-of-water jokes are a dime a dozen here, and while some hit the mark others are just too obvious, and the slapstick gets downright iffy after an hour's worth. The character motivation has never a forte in animated flicks, and - being a live-action version of the classic fairy-tales - there's no surprise there's none here, either. Still, the cast do their Disney best: Dempsey does fine as a romantic lead, Marsden as Prince Charming is amusing and naive, and Susan Sarandon as the evil witch is simply an inspired choice of casting. But the real heart of this affair is Adams; she's amazingly earnest and sweet at every moment, but her ditz act feels too forced, ending up more grating than endearing. At its heart, the plot wants to be the reverse of the ironic Shrek, trying to make us believe that this story-book romance can work; that's a hard sell for anyone over 10, and the film doesn't quite make it. In the end Enchanted has an interesting enough twist to fill a feature-length film, it's just too bad it keeps too close to the usual formula, missing the opportunity to be truly special.
Entertainment: 5/10

End of Days (1999)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollak
Director: Peter Hyams
Plot: A drunk, down-on-his-luck ex-cop must stop the human incarnation of Satan from bringing about the Apocalypse by protecting an innocent woman marked as the Devil's mate.
Review: Director Peter Hyams (Outland, The Relic) makes the most out of little, but the script, full of clichés, ridiculous, unexplained events and predictable plot twists, is sorely lacking. Whatever suspense, or interest, is generated in the first few minutes of the film is quickly dispelled. True, nobody sees a Schwarzenegger film expecting high art, and the film is saved from being dismal by a decent, if un-memorable, 30 minute climax of carnage, explosions, and special effects. Obviously, there's no acting stretch on Schwarzenegger's part here. Byrne, the only good actor in a bad cast, is sorely misused, playing a watered-down version of Al Pacino's Satan from The Devil's Advocate. Trying to be both a horror film, a supernatural thriller and a typical Hollywood action film at the same time, End of Days fails in every category, and ends up being an unoriginal, sometimes stupid, and often boring film.
Action: 5/10
Entertainment: 3/10

Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Starring: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Plot: During the brutal siege of Stalingrad during World War 2, a successful young Russian sniper who is the focus of national propaganda campaign is targeted by an elite Nazi marksman.
Review: Loosely based on a minor real-life event during World War 2, Enemy at the Gates feels a tad disjointed by wanting to be a combination of realistic war movie, thrilling adventure film, and war-time romance. The war scenes are mostly unconvincing and feel excessively staged, though the washed-out cinematography and impressive sets occasionally give a sense of the ravage and desperation felt by the conscripted army and the population, as well as a sense of the importance of the battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest confrontations in the history of modern warfare. The film's main interest really lies in its showing a little-seen perspective of WW2, that of the Russian-German front. Indeed, there are some vivid, terrifying details that show the desperation of the ill-prepared and ill-equipped Red Army against the much stronger Nazi war machine. The addition of a rather silly romantic triangle adds a truly unnecessary and ridiculous bit of melodrama that bogs the rest of the story down. Unfortunately, any suspension of disbelief is shattered early on as we are introduced to the characters, a fine group of actors who are besieged by bad dialogue and are just completely unconvincing as Russian soldiers. Harris, however, manages to portray the German sharp-shooter as an efficient, somewhat sympathetic character. Where the film shines, however, is in portraying the tense game of cat-and-mouse between the two snipers, a game of patience and cunning played within the confines of the sprawling, bombed ruins of the city, a duel that was portrayed by Russian propaganda as a class struggle between the farmer-boy and the enemy aristocrat. Unfortunately, these moments should have been the focus of the film and yet are too few and far between, leaving room instead for more long-winded melodrama. Despite its flaws, Enemy at the Gates does have some good, even powerful moments within an interesting historical backdrop that makes it a worth-while experience.
War / Drama: 6/10

The End of the Affair (1999)
Starring: Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes, Stephen Rea
Director: Neil Jordan
Plot: A jealous, obsessed London novelist hires a private investigator to follow the wife of a friend, a woman he had a passionate affair with during the War and who abruptly ended their relationship.
Review: With The End of the Affair, writer / director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) has produced a thoughtful, beautiful and incredibly intimate adaptation of the Graham Greene novel. The acting is superb all around, and the cinematography full of close-ups and intimate takes makes the film a pleasure to watch. But it is really the script, the simple story of a love affair and it's triumvirate of characters, with the narrative shifting from past to present between their affair during the London bombings and their re-acquaintance two years later, that makes for a mesmerizing film. It is an intelligent, passionate romantic drama, that focuses on the subjects of love and faith with an unflinching eye and with a deft and mature hand. A perfect, touching adult love story.
Drama: 9/10

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Director: Alex Gibney
Plot: A look at the criminally manipulative tactics of Enron's management inner circle, at their incredible rise as business darlings to their meteoric collapse to bankruptcy.
Review: Based on the best-selling book by two Fortune magazine reporters, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room carefully details one of the biggest corporate scandals in US history - the imploding of one of the 10 largest companies in America. The material, taken from the headlines, doesn't need much of a push to be a gripping exposé on white-collar crime at its most despicable: billions of stockholder and customer dollars robbed and thousands of lives destroyed, among which the 20,000 company employees. Filled with insider interviews, news footage, and unbelievable video and audio material from the vaults of Enron itself, the film presents a story not only of greed and power as corporate philosophy, but it's also one of hubris and self-aggrandizing. Stock price was the sole focus, and any way to keep it up was allowed, no matter the consequences or the legalities. As such, they created wealth from "ideas" and energy trading not actual production, leading them to show great results in their books thanks to a tricked-up accounting system that let them publish hypothetical future profits as actual cash. It becomes clear that there was a complete lack of integrity at all levels of the company and that the entire firm was just a house of cards, ready to be blown over at any time - the most shocking thing, perhaps, is not only the extent of their manipulations but that it managed to fool so many for so long, despite the industry safeguards. The film superbly peels away at the secrecy, explains the complex financial manipulations, and delves into the lives (and possible motives) of the instigators to reveal the dark side of corporate culture. CEO Kenneth Lay definitely gets his due, among others, but none are worth demonizing more than the brains behind all the company's dastardly money-grubbing, the smart, ego-tripping, insecure Jeffrey Skilling, the man who ran Enron for all intents and purpose. While one was lobbying for deregulation on the energy market, the other was pillaging California, forcing blackouts and artificially elevated sky-high prices (among other schemes). Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is simply a must-see bit of cinematic journalism, a fascinating cautionary tale for executives and a wake-up call for the rest of us on the misdeeds and mishandling of corporations left unchecked.
Documentary: 8/10

*Classic* Enter the Dragon (1973)
Starring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Kien Shih
Director: Robert Clouse
Plot: A martial-arts master agrees to help the British secret service infiltrate the island complex of a dangerous Asian crime lord by participating in a private tournament.
Review: The first American foray into big-budget martial-arts films following the popularity of Lee's previous Hong Kong features such as Fist of Fury and The Chinese Connection, Enter the Dragon is by far Lee's most successful film, and the one that really brought "Kung-Fu" flicks to our shores. Unfortunately, it was also his last before his untimely death, something that only fueled the legend behind the man and the movie itself. For those raised on recent high-flying and wire-aided productions, this straight, non-enhanced approach to the fighting may startle. It doesn't help that the plot is rather silly and that the overall feel of the film might appear more than slightly campy. Those that can see beyond this and see it for the entertainment vehicle it is will be amply rewarded, however. The choreography, by Lee himself, shows off his incredible abilities and speed with a few sparse battles at first until the no-holds barred free-for-all ending, with enough energy to put many modern action films to shame. The climax, as Lee battles the claw-wielding villain in a hall of mirrors, is a classic movie moment. Director Clouse managed to blend all the the noticeable James Bond influence - the over-the-top villain, impressive sets and productions, and overall intrigue - and the martial arts elements just right. Of course, none of this would be memorable if it wasn't for the participation of Lee. Though his acting is usually rather wooden, there's no mistaking his abilities or his inherent charisma both of which shine on screen. Surprisingly, much of the running time goes to his talented competitors, then-renown champions Saxon and Jim Kelly. Though it's clearly a vehicle for Lee - who gets to do all the "secret agent" stuff - it's kicking co-star Saxon who gets all the best lines and shows off the Bond-like way with the "fairer sex". Enter the Dragon was a high-point for the genre in its time propelling Lee to international stardom, but it's the lasting impression over the years that makes it a true classic.
Entertainment: 7/10

Enter the Eagles (Hong Kong - 1998)
Starring: Shannon Lee, Michael Wong, Anita Yuen
Director : Corey Yuen
Plot: A band of professional thieves, hired by a dangerous gangster, run into a pair of small-time pickpockets during their attempts at stealing a valuable diamond. 
Review: The action is kind of slow and none too impressive at first, but once the thin storyline gets pushed aside, this film really gets into gear, delivering some very impressive stunts and non-stop, finely choreographed action sequences. The action really doesn't let up and here Shannon Lee (yes, the daughter of Bruce Lee) absolutely steals the show as the professional killer of the group, dealing kicks and gunfire with equal aplomb. What is most surprising of this Hong Kong film, is that most of the characters are Caucasian and that the film was actually shot in English! Definitely recommended for people who love action films.
Action: 9/10
Entertainment: 8/10

Enter the Phoenix (Hong Kong - 2004)
Starring: Daniel Wu, Eason Chan, Karen Mok
Director: Stephen Fung 
Plot: Finding hismelf head of a powerful Hong Kong criminal society upon his father's death, a gay cook allows his straight roommate to take his place with unfortunate results.
Review: Enter the Phoenix starts off with a silly premise, poking obivous fun at the Triad genre, but very quickly loses steam. All the elements are here - crime melodrama clichés, comedy set-up, romantic entanglements, a good cast, a capable director - but with such a lazy script that both takes too long to get anywhere and can't really makes any of this really interesting, it's just another bland affair that's instantly forgettable. Droll without ever being actually funny, the film is never quite boring, but neither does it ever sustain anything but mild amusement. For one, there's too many "gay" jokes, situations and sous-entendres that aren't particularly new or clever, and too many good opportunities missed - even the "mistaken identity" gag gets real tired real fast. Still, there are some highlights, like some solid wire-fu action which is relegated only to the climax, the odd love relationship between the three leads, and (for fans of 80's stars) Yuen Biao in a rare modern film appearance. Actor-turned-director Fung, who actually play the villain of the piece, does an adequate job for a first effort and the production looks slick. He's helped by his many acquaintances as is evident from the the amusing cameos by some big Hong Kong stars. Too bad the main cast isn't that great, though they do provide the right kind of slapstick performances. All told, Enter the Phoenix could have been a solid mainstream affair but as it stands it's just banal, below-average fluff.
Entertainment: 4/10

Equilibrium (2002)
Starring: Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Dominic Purcell
Director: Kurt Wimmer
Plot: In a future society where emotions are repressed by drugs, an elite law enforcer who stops his daily doses and starts to feel decides to start looking for the rebellion.
Review: Billed as a thinking man's SF action flick, Equilibrium definitely has its moments but the shallow script just can't quite make it a complete success. Probably sold to studios as a combo of the dystopian society from George Orwell's 1984 revisited by The Matrix, the film avoids some of the clichés of most genre films (the guy doesn't get the girl, for one) while basking in others. The premise is a rather sly way for writer / director Wimmer to put in some sub-text (feelings are forbidden, and Art in all forms is banned) but the themes are simplistic, and there's too much silliness and unintentional laughs to take this all seriously. Yet for all this, it's quite watchable capturing that low-budget British sci-fi feel of old. The action sequences present an imaginary training form mixing martial arts and gunplay (literally "gun-fu"), and the handful of slo-mo fights interspersed in the movie work very well and are top notch. It's too bad the same energy isn't really found in the rest of the narrative, which has many a problem with pacing. The final Machiavellian revelation isn't that surprising, but it does provide a perfect release for the film's entertaining and fast-paced showdown. What also elevates this effort from the dozens of other derivative genre films are the fact that it's well shot, has some slick production values (the stylish cityscapes are memorable), and has an excellent cast. Bale works out well in the role of a once-stoic government agent now conflicted between emotion and duty, and carries off both the dramatic and stunt requirements well. Diggs, as his nemesis, is all smiles and Barely making an impression are Sean Bean and Emily Watson who have top billing but only do quick (and unnecessary) cameos here. Compared to most would-be-SF movies lately, the film does take a few chances and those have to be appreciated. It doesn't always work, but at worst Equilibrium is an interesting, if flawed, piece of story-telling.
Entertainment: 7/10

Eragon (2006)
Starring: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich
Director: Stefan Fangmeier
Plot: After uncovering a dragon egg in the forest, a farm boy becomes magically attached to the last of the dragons and is thrown into an uprising against the evil king.
Review: Following in the footsteps of the success of fantasy novel adaptations like The Chronicles of Narnia, Eragon - the latest attempt at creating a franchise - proves that both source material and execution can fail a film. While there's an obvious attempt to imitate the approach (and appearance) of The Lord of the Rings, the film by first-time director (and ex-SFX guru) Fangmeier actually comes off closer to Dungeons & Dragons in terms of storytelling and production values, albeit slightly less silly. Blame it on the original novel by teenaged writer Christopher Paolini, perhaps, that takes its simplistic, derivative plot from a melting pot of previous fantasy works ranging from McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern to Star Wars without really adding anything new to their tales of Good vs. Evil. Or blame it on the script that chokes on numerous sequences of static dialogue, or the amateurish film-making and so-so productions that never gives a sense of time or place. Or wave it all off to the fact this is a Saturday-morning-like effort aimed at 10-year olds. On the other hand, the film is nicely shot with some beautiful vistas, there are some decent dragon effects, there's the occasional impressive scenery, and enough action and fantasy elements - including a well-done final dragon fight - to provide a few hours of family viewing for undemanding audiences. Speleers is appealing enough in the Luke Skywalker-type role, all dowey-eyed and blond top; Irons, as the mentor and ex-rider, actually comes off quite well, considering the circumstances; second headliner Malkovich (in what amounts to more of a cameo appearance) barely registers in a retread of previous roles; Djimon Hounsou seems ill at ease in a wasted role as the rebel leader; and Rachel Weisz, as the voice of the dragon, gets by. Though the luke-warm theatrical reception of Eragon clearly dispels the idea of seeing the following chapters of the trilogy (a sequel is expected from the film's final scene), those looking for light, bloodless entertainment may find some fantasy relief here until the next big book-to-movie adaptation comes along. Or, if you're in need of a dragon fix, catch Dragonheart.
Entertainment: 4/10

Eraser (1996)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vanessa L. Williams, James Caan
Director: Chuck Russell
Plot: An expert U.S. marshal working for the Federal Witness Protection Program is forced on the run with his latest charge when they get involved in stopping a high-tech gun-smuggling operation.
Review: A blatant vehicle for its star, Eraser gives its audience exactly what they expect to see from an Arnie flick (i.e. mindless script, lots of explosions), and little else. A huge budget (over $100 million) went into making this mess, but you can't tell by the look of it. If at least any of this derivative fluff would actually elicit any interest would be even better, but it doesn't. Where the film rises above its piddling roots is in two thrilling, well-executed SFX-laden sequences: one, a spectacular aerial escape and the other a shoot-out in a zoo where Arnie comes face-to-face with giant crocs. There are some other less impressive moments to be had here and there, including an overlong climax on the docks where everything gets blown to pieces. Unfortunately, everything in-between is a tired rehash of Hollywood over-cooked blockbusters, with lousy dialogue, silly situations, and a rather unimpressive storyline. Still, director Russell (The Mask, The Scorpion King) shoots this affair with workmanlike efficiency and does the best he can with the predictable script. It's just not enough. As for the cast, Williams has the looks, but barely registers here. Caan doesn't get out of this mess unscathed either, but at least he seems to be having fun in the villain role. There's also a try at some comic relief in the form of Robert Pastorelli as a small-time hood, but even this comes out pretty flat. Fans of the muscular actor, however, won't come out disappointed: Arnie still looks the part, mows down the bad guys and has the best one-liners. For actions fans, Eraser will provide a diverting if instantly forgettable two hours, but for those who want to see Arnie in action, stick to his better '80s flicks.
Entertainment: 5/10

Erin Brockovich (2000)
Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Plot: A struggling law clerk uncovers a toxic waste cover-up and builds a lawsuit against the giant utility company responsible for contaminating a small community's water supply.
Review: Director Soderbergh, who has always been at the forefront of clever filmmaking with Kafka, Out of Sight and The Limey, has offered up here a low-key, cinematically unimpressive work, all the better to showcase his protagonist. And what a heroine: Julia Roberts really sinks her teeth in the role as the title character, swearing, charming, showing cleavage, and always getting the last word in. Thankfully, the film focuses on her relationships with her family, co-workers and especially the afflicted towns people instead of turning the story into another lame courtroom drama. Part A Civil Action, part Pretty Woman, Erin Brockovich (based on a true story) is a good example of fine, if un-memorable, Hollywood productions - a crowd-pleasing, up-lifting film that knows how to manipulate our emotions and tug on the heartstrings, but one that is pleasant enough and interesting enough that audiences will enjoy the ride.
Drama: 7/10

*Classic* Escape from New York (1981)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef
Director: John Carpenter
Plot: In a near-future US, an ex-special forces - now a hardened criminal - is given the task to rescue the president after Air Force One crashes into the lawless Manhattan which has been turned into a maximum security prison.
Review: It's easy to see why Escape from New York has become a cult classic since its first appearance: over-the-top acting, trashy but impressively large and believable sets (check the plane crash!), macho adventure, snappy one-liners, and tongue-in-cheek humor mixed in with its violence makes for both an entertaining and clever effort. Of course this is pure exploitational, inventive fun, with low-budget thrills that will keep undemanding viewers giddy with its buoyant pacing. It's a step up from director Carpenter's earlier movies like Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween and shows him maturing as a genre director, showing his best work until his masterpiece The Thing soon afterwards. His dystopian, pitch-black future is as terrifyingly imaginative as it is ludicrous, and is impeccably realised visually-speaking considering his working limitations. There's also a truck load of conventions to keep things interesting, including zombie-like cannibals, lynch mobs, kooky characters, and lots of general lawlessness. Even the score (also by Carpenter) adds just the right mood to the proceedings. Sure, it's too campy to be taken seriously, but anyone looking for logic or profundity should look elsewhere. Russell, in probably his most famous role, plays a great anti-hero, a man who could care less if the whole world gets blown to Hell. Here he's a cocky, cynical, eye-patch-wearing badass who gives and receives pummelings like a pro. He's surrounded by some likable character actors who really ham it up, too, including Cleefe, Ernest Borgnine, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, singer Isaac Hayes (as "The Duke" of NY), and of course B-movie vet Donald Pleasance as the vile president. Apart from confirming Carpenter's reign as genre filmmaker, Escape from New York proved that despite a shoe-string budget, movies could be entertaining and popular. The success of the film harkened a long series of post-apocalyptic action / adventure films, but none could outdo this one.
Entertainment: 7/10

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Starring: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace Stone, Drew Barrymore
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot: A scared extraterrestrial stranded in California by his mother ship gets adopted by a young boy who tries to hide him from government agents long enough to send a message to his homeworld.
Review: The widely appealing feel-good family film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial struck a chord with audiences when it was first released and has gained since then legendary status. It's not quite the masterpiece people remember it to be, but nor is it a complete fluff piece. An extension of his previous film Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its benevolent aliens, E.T. is Spielberg's take on a much more family-oriented, intimate story. It tries to touch the inner child in all of us; cynics may gag at the easy sentimentality, but it's hard not to admire the engaging fantasy story, the fine cast of young actors, and Spielberg's magic touch that made this one of the biggest blockbusters in cinema history and easily one of his most beloved films. Even though it's sci-fi at its most mainstream and simplistic, at his hands the film basks in its Hollywood commercial sensibilities and heart-tugging, and still comes off as an innocent, engaging experience that rarely insults. The effects, limited to blue-screen sequences and an animatronics little creature, may look a bit primitive to modern audiences but they are still adequate for the tale. And who can forget the film's more exhilarating sequences, such as the flying bicycle sequence, the chase scenes, or even the moment when the midget creature says that memorable line "E.T. phone home". Sure, it's a unrepentant tear-jerker, but the script doesn't wallow too much in melodrama, though it does have its share of obvious manipulation (accented by John Williams' bombastic score). Spielberg once again directs with his usual assuredness and the film's minor failings are easily overlooked thanks to the film's easy-going touch, melodramatic fervor and finely-paced story-telling abilities, the real reasons why this feature still flies today. A fine cast of young actors makes all the difference (check out a young Barrymore in her best role yet), and lead Hardy does a convincing performance as the lonely boy who finds a strange new friend. Some of the film's moments may seem a little dated, but seen as a modern take on a fairy-tale, E.T. is a fine success, a childhood fantasy like only Spielberg could make them, and one that even nostalgic grown-ups can enjoy.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Eternal Evil of Asia (Hong Kong - 1995)
Director: Chin Man-Kei 
Starring: Ellen Chan, Kwok-Bong Chan, Ben Ng
Plot: On a trip to Thailand for sexual kicks, four friends accidentally kill the sister of a powerful sorcerer who finds them in Hong Kong and has vowed to avenge her death by terrible means.
Review: Unlike many of its peers in Category III (Hong Kong's adult advisory for typically sexually explicit, immoral features) The Eternal Evil of Asia is a bawdy supernatural horror/ comedy moonlighting as a soft-core porn flick that actually works rather well. Taking its cue from the Asian beliefs in spirits and enchantments, it has everything that makes HK flicks so attractive to Western audiences: it's politically incorrect, ridiculously silly, and unflinchingly over-the-top. What makes this effort rise above the norm are the impressive production values (higher than this sort of gratuitous trash usually gets) and a very good cast that takes the tongue-in-cheek proceedings with distinct seriousness. Though far from a perfect mix, some of its elements are great, especially when it decides to be serious with its horror potential; in these moments the excellent genre cinematography, moody atmosphere and creepy score take cues from Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street and other modern American horrors. This also extends to the revenge murders involving some creative, graphic, and humorous supernatural curses (starting with bizarre hallucinations to having a victim eat his own arm). Of course, this is also a Cat III film for its allocation of skin, and any occasion to see its lead actress in the nude is a good one, with some, er, interesting scenes (such as her giving fellatio to a ghost, or taking it doggy style from a spirit while hanging off a chandelier) that will make connoisseurs of that type of cinema (and you know who you are) enjoy the film for its "lighter" moments. The comedy, however, is more problematic with the laughs either of the infantile sexual nature (one of the friends is literally turned into a "dick-head") or of the bloody dark humor kind - take your pick as to which one is more fun. To be honest, this is a misogynistic, crude (surprise!) film, but it's also quite inventive, very slickly made, and often quite fun - it's exploitative trash, for sure, but it's surprisingly well-done exploitative trash. The Eternal Evil of Asia is a sleazy, twisted guilty pleasure for those into this kind of thing, and (though it will definitely offend some) is worth a look for immature adults looking for well-done cheesy entertainment, too.
Entertainment / Adult: 7/10

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo
Director: Michel Gondry
Plot: After realizing that his ex-girlfriend has had her memories of him erased, a man decides to follow the same procedure only to realize once the irreversible process has started that he doesn't want her erased.
Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a brilliant, tender and challenging effort that plays on the Hollywood idea of the romance and redefines it. Let's first be clear on what this is NOT: This is not a Jim Carrey movie; though there's a sci-fi premise it's not sci-fi; and though it has some obvious romantic moments and dark humor, it's definitely not a romantic comedy. What it IS is a love story, and one of the most beautiful, engaging and believable ones in a long time. Everything here is deliberate to get us intimately involved with the characters and the ups and downs of their relationship. Taking the time to observe these two sad, weak people allows the camera to capture their vulnerabilities. Teetering on the border between reality and recollection, it's an exploration of what relationships are really made of: a combination of both good and bad remembered moments. The chase-like sequence through our protagonist's mind as he tries to elude memory eradication is on par with the best thrillers. But this maze-like exploration through his brain really underlies the importance of the emotional depth of this relationship, culling his deepest childhood memories and his most humiliating moments to understand how this shy individual tics. And though we only really see fragments of strong memories these eventually draw a picture of an ultimately tender romance. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) proves once again why he's become the most inspired scribe working in Hollywood with another unpredictable, slightly twisted but dashingly original script. Director Gondry has made here a film that looks and breathes the idea of stolen moments and forgotten memories that define the lovelorn pair. Thanks to some gorgeous cinematography, the filmmakers find some extraordinary, imaginative ways of exposing on screen the tenuous concept of memories and how they work, and what happens when they slowly get erased. There's a few minor subplots allowing the film to discuss some ethical issues involving the procedure and the doctors performing it and these, played out with such a great supporting cast, round off the film well. But it's the relationship between the two leads that's the real focus and the real heart of the film. This might well be Carrey's bets, most endearing performance; he's boyishly affable, self-effacing, and oh so vulnerable. Yet it's really Winslet in another stunning performance who steals the show - we can fully understand how this lonely, shy man could have fallen so in love with her. The story ultimately digs into its characters' souls, into the deepest and darkest corners of their psyche to get to their emotional core, slowly piecing together the fragments of their lives. But the real success is that in so doing, in taking us along for the ride, it makes a statement on all of us. Though it may not look like it, this is science-fiction at its best, using a simple concept to explore a theme of human nature, in this case how our memories affect who we are. ESSM is a bittersweet, highly eccentric film that's challenging to watch but leaves an indelible impression.
Drama: 9/10

Evan Almighty (2007)
Starring: Steven Carell, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman
Director: Tom Shadyac
Plot: A junior congressman, fresh on the job, gets a visit from God and gets little choice to build an ark in his backyard to avoid a coming flood, much to the consternation of his family and colleagues.
Review: After playing a memorable bit part as news-reader Evan Baxter in Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty, up-and-coming funnyman Carell returns as the lead in Evan Almighty, a family-friendly sequel in name only. Working on the adage that God works in mysterious ways, the movie offers up a straightforward plot involving a workaholic dad, a corrupt Congressman and impeding doom. Like many of the biblical characters, Evan is but a pawn in God's master plan, a plan that seems kind of petty once it all comes to fruition. As a modern-day Noah, gets to be the butt of jokes and overt skepticism; part of the joke is on the vain business-suit-and-tie Evan getting his outward appearance changed to the scruffy, robed look of old - hilarity at his expense is supposed to ensue. Alas, the humour is simplistic and sometimes crass (there's an animal-penis joke and a bird-shit joke or two) with a bevy of standard, predictable jokes that lack any form of subtlety. This would all have been destined for minor PG-rated amusement if it wasn't for the always sympathetic Carell's impetus and fine comic delivery. Oh, he's severely underused as he prances about with his animal co-stars but even with limited material he manages to make the film his own. When the flood actually happens (and it must) it gives the opportunity for a ludicrous, CGI-heavy but entertaining sequence as the ark gets launched into the waters and crosses Washington D.C. straight for Capital Hill. Director Shadyac at least knows who his demographic is, and keeps the pacing dynamic, even if the proceedings (and script) are rarely engaging. He also directs the blue-screen and effects well, something he got lots of practice on here with the film's excess of computer-created animals, giving rise to perhaps the best bits, scenes of the family unit and a whole bunch of real trained elephants building the ark. There's no faulting the cast, however: The charming Freeman is back as the good-natured God - and wouldn't we all like to think of the Divine as being just like him? John Michael Higgins, Wanda Sykes, and Jonah Hill make up Evan's loyal and wise0cracking staff, and Goodman rounds off the leads as the greedy politician in a throwaway bad guy role. All told, Evan Almighty is an agreeable but passionless, clichéd affair that producers hoped would swim on the coattails of its predecessor. Not so. Of note: The best, most energetic part of the film is the end-credit sing-along by cast and crew to "Everybody Do It Now". And someone needs to mention just how atrocious the product placement is - let's hope this is a trend that stops soon.
Entertainment: 5/10

Event Horizon (1997)
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan
Director: Paul Anderson
Plot: A deep space rescue crew boards a deserted experimental vessel which disappeared with its crew seven years before while trying to achieve faster-than-light travel, a ship that has brought something back with it.
Review: Event Horizon was probably pitched as a mix of both Alien and Hellraiser, taking some of the sci-fi and horror elements from both and mixing it together, but what comes out is only a mitigated success. The first half of the film, as the crew first enters the deserted ship and the set-up is established, is a finely crafted science-fiction thriller, complete with good special-effects and apt sense of foreboding. The production values are sometimes a bit iffy, perhaps, but the artistic design of the ship's core is impeccable, reminding one of a medieval death trap. Though it might be derivative, the movie does have its moments, and director Anderson (Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat) knows the techniques and tricks of the genre by using the right camera shots, careful editing and shadowy cinematography to make most of it work. When it gets to the nitty-gritty of its horror aspect, however, it breaks down; oh, it's got some imaginative use of gore, some good chills and even some decent suspense, but by making it a trip into Hell (literally) it all eventually becomes a rather ludicrous contraption. Neill, usually an actor with a little more class, gets lambasted in a production of this sort, getting a chance to say some really silly lines. Fishburne comes off quite a bit better as the stalwart captain, though he's still just a cardboard cut-out. As for the rest of the familiar cast, they're typical fodder for the evil presence. Event Horizon won't be placed in the same category as its peers, but it's an slickly-made, entertaining (and sometimes even disturbing) Friday night horror flick.
Horror / Entertainment: 6/10

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott
Director: Andy Tennant
Plot: After the death of her father, a young girl is forced to become a servant to her evil stepmother. While disguised as a courtesan to save a member of the household from being sold, she accidentally meets the young Prince who grows increasingly fond of her, unaware that she is not part of the nobility.
Review: Ever After offers up a politically-correct updating of the classic Cinderella fairy-tale, minus the fairy-godmother and magic pumpkin. Exchanging legend for down-to-earth realism and light comedy makes for an enjoyable romantic fable with its share of funny scenes and charming moments, but it ends up seeming a little forced and overly simplistic. Though shot on location in France with the backdrop of lush forests and historical castles, the production values are on par with a low-budget TV movie, something that doesn't help in convincing the audience of its setting and period. The script, full of anachronisms and modern slang, also seems a little uneven in its mixing of romance, melodrama and comedy, though it is effective in playing with the genre to predictable ends and occasionally endows its characters with a semblance of depth. Drew Barrymore is a good choice for the role and gives a convincing performance as an educated, feisty, strong-willed, but invariably charming young woman and its quickly obvious that she's the one really carrying the film. Huston, who seems to be making a career out of these secondary roles, makes for a deliciously evil step-mother. Ever After may not be as enchanting as it may wish to be, but it's still an entertaining retelling of the classic Cinderella story.
Entertainment: 6/10

Everyone Says I Love You (1997)
Starring: Alan Alda, Goldie Hawn, Woody Allen
Director: Woody Allen
Plot: A family of upper-class New Yorkers of different generations struggle with their complicated romantic lives.
Review: Quirky independent filmmaker Woody Allen does another stab at his usual ensemble drama / comedy with Everyone Says I Love You, but with a new twist: the film is also a musical. The first half of the film is mostly uninteresting, with a series of badly staged and poorly executed musical numbers. The actors do their own singing, something which may add to the realism Allen was looking for, but which distracts terribly due their obvious amateur status. Thankfully, the film gets its groove later on and the musical numbers become a little more original, such as the dead grandfather sitting up from his casket and starting a jig, or the final dance with Hawn, aided by wires, flies around Allen. The story itself is completely unoriginal but by providing such a vast array of quirky characters, with the typical Allen zaniness, it manages to keep our interest. The cast is quite competent and, as usual in the director's latest endeavors, is quite a dream including Tim Roth as a criminal, Julia Roberts as Allen's love interest, and Drew Barrymore and Ed Norton as a love-struck couple. Though not nearly as funny or dramatic as Woody Allen's past productions (Manhattan, Hanna's Sisters), Everyone Says I Love You is still amusing, if somewhat bland.
Entertainment: 5/10

Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin
Director: Liev Schreiber
Plot: A young American collector travels to the Ukraine in search of a long-forgotten village in the hopes of finding the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during the war.
Review: Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's best-selling novel, Everything Is Illuminated is just the type of project to attract a first-time director, and that's just the case here with actor Liev Schreiber's confident handling of a familiar, yet still quirky tale of the Holocaust. Indie films are usually more personal affairs, and it's clear that a lot of care and attention was put into getting the novel's concerns translated to the screen. Languidly paced but easy to like, the film is both beautiful and touching with its dreamlike visuals and sometimes surreal narrative. The search for our eccentric protagonist's roots becomes more of a road trip, a sometimes humorous adventure into the country's past, giving audiences a chance to take a look at an Eastern European country that seems to have lost track of time. By the end, it's a sad, but very thoughtful human story on the atrocities of the War and the victims who survived. It's too bad, then, that by trying to be a little too earnest in its eccentricity and its penchant for emotional resonance, the film actually comes up a bit drab, especially in its first acts. Though they're effective in the few bits of dialogue and sentimental looks, the story requires little acting from the cast. Wood especially, objectively looking and experiencing this new world through Coke-bottle glasses like an astronomer looking at lunar craters through a telescope, is no more than a stand-in for the story unfolding around him. The real find is Hutz who plays both narrator and oddball local guide to perfection. Everything Is Illuminated isn't a revelation, but with its interesting characters and (in the end) moving story, it's a pleasant, life-affirming tale.
Drama: 6/10

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry
Director: Sam Raimi
Plot: Stuck in a log cabin in the middle of the woods, a party of five must survive the onslaught of a malicious, evil spirit and find a means to destroy it.
Review: This low-budget, high-concept horror / comedy, features ludicrous, cheesy special effects, over-the-top acting, no plot to speak of, tons of gore, and absolutely off-the-wall camera shots, action, and situations. Director Sam Raimi uses almost every trick in the book to keep the audience on its toes. Its tongue placed firmly in cheek, the script lampoons the clichés of '70s and '80s horror pictures, all delivered with such energetic gusto that everything works perfectly, delivering both chills and slapstick comedy in one neat package. The best of the series, and a must for genre fans.
Horror: 8/10

Evil Words (Sur le Seuil) (Quebec - 2003)
Starring: Michel Côté, Patrick Huard, Catherine Florent
Director: Eric Tessier 
Plot: A disillusioned psychiatrist assigned to the strange case of a suicidal horror novelist discovers that the man's writings may be strangely linked to a series of some bizarre, murderous incidents.
Review: Based on the novel by Patrick Senécal, Evil Words is one of Quebec cinema's rare explorations in the genre, and a welcome one at that. The opening and closing sequences are as scary and suspenseful as any horror film of recent memory and will definitely give goose bumps. There's lots of graphic imagery but the film is limited in actual gore (some off-screen, some only hinted at metaphorically or in quick cuts) until its final act when, in a crescendo of violence, it's pretty much in your face. Considering the source (and limited budget) these scenes are pretty good. Better still, first-time director Tessier sticks mostly to hinting at occult forces which creates a fine atmosphere of dread. The pacing is a little uneven in the middle act but picks up again as we flashback to the atrocities that occurred in a rural church 36 years previously. Here the story gets a chance to provide some gruesome scenes while flogging the concept of the Church (something of a preferred pastime in the province). These moments are ably handled, but it feels too generic in its execution and commentary. The story also delves into the popular genre theme of Church vs. Science, and the idea of Pure Evil - one which unfortunately doesn't get much screen time or discussion. Fans of the genre may see parts of the plot as taking some fringe ideas from other works such as The Omen and The Exorcist, but putting more focus on the psychological aspects of the patient-doctor relationship and our protagonist's internal struggle with his vocation. Plus, the French Canadian setting just gives the whole thing an added flavor. The cast is solid if unimpressive, though leading actor Côté as the unbelieving psychiatrist plays the "Donald Pleasance" role to the hilt (that is to almost campy seriousness). In the end, Evil Words isn't an exceptional horror film but with it's reliance on story more than cheap scares it's an above-average one.
Horror: 6/10

Evolution (2001)
Starring: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott
Director: Ivan Reitman
Plot: After a meteor crashes near a small Arizona town, two college professors face the threat of single-celled alien organisms that are evolving at a terrifying rate producing an eco-system that may well drive humanity to extinction.
Review: Comparisons with director Reitman's own Ghostbusters is inevitable, but whereas that movie was original, hilarious and entertaining, Evolution barely registers as more than a half-baked copy of it and only as low-brow hum-drum amusement. A lot of money was thrown into the production, and it shows in the sets and creature effects, but with such an infantile script it delivers nothing but a string of neat moments sewn together with a lot of ridiculous, dumb material and soon flounders in its own intentional silliness. There are a few good laughs, but most of the gags is of the juvenile (very juvenile) variety, and one can't help but wonder at what kind of audience they were aiming for. Indeed, the high point of the film is an emergency rectal operation which is truly uproarious thanks to Jones' hyper performance and one memorable line, but the film never manages to rise above the lowest denominator, and doesn't even succeed in even playing that well. As for the characters, they're a bunch of gonzo scientists and / or imbeciles with no redeeming features and little to like, and the actors show their reticence to be a part of this mess. Duchovny gives an embarrassing turn and Julianne Moore plays a thankless ditsy role, but Jones proves he can be a very funny guy if given the opportunity. With a lame story, lazy script, and only the occasional funny skit, Evolution tries hard to be likable but ends up as a forgettable and only mildly entertaining comedy.
Comedy / Entertainment: 4/10

Executioners (1993)
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui
Directors: Ching Siu-tung, Johnnie To
Plot: After a nuclear holocaust, three female super-heroes must band together once again to protect the citizenry from a Machiavellian entrepreneur who controls the only water-supply.
Review: The rushed sequel to the cult classic Heroic Trio, Executioners once again teams up three of Hong Kong's great actresses but in a very different environment. Unfortunately, this sequel is missing many of the components that made the previous film so endearing, namely a fast pace, interestingly developed characters and lots of over-the-top action sequences. Sure, there's the occasional typical wire-fu, explosions and lots of chaotic shooting, but it's nowhere near as thrilling, or as prevalent, as the previous installment. The filmmakers were perhaps trying for something different, more epic in scope (or just didn't have the funds?), but little of the original's appeal, frenetic energy or invention remains. This is much more a dark, brooding, downbeat melodrama than the comic-book-inspired action film one would expect considering the super-hero characters involved. With an unnecessarily convoluted story requiring too much exposition and throw-away secondary characters, it quickly loses momentum and its audience's interest. The actresses do a decent job but unfortunately don't have a decent-enough script to carry them through. Executioners has its moments, and it's not a bad film as far as action/adventure films go, but it is a disappointment considering its inherent potential.
Entertainment: 5/10

Executive Decision (1996)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Halle Berry, John Leguizamo
Director: Stuart Baird
Plot: After a mid-air accident leaves the team without a leader, an intelligence operative with no field experience is forced to lead a commando team against terrorists who have hijacked an in-flight 747 and have converted it into a weapon of mass destruction. 
Review: Impressions of the hijack thriller Executive Decision have taken on a different spin since 9/11 which give the film a very different connotation. Putting that aside, it's still an entertaining mainstream movie that tries to provide a different take on the action / suspense genre. From the beginnings of the high-tech air rescue, the film builds well with a great sense of a chess game being played all behind the scenes, before the final confrontation breaks into chaotic action. It's still very much a Hollywood affair, and the final moments as our hero (an amateur pilot) actually single-handedly lands the behemoth is a little too much. Then again, these films always require a certain suspension of disbelief and, despite some glaring instances, this one make do better than most. For the most part, the script is tight and works rather well as a smart action flick that takes a few chances and provides a few few unexpected twists that rev up the tension. The middle act as the team prepares to make their move feels so padded and has so many false starts, however, that it gets a tad tiring. But if there's one thing that really mars the film it's that the terrorists are portrayed as way too sophisticated; what should have been a straight-forward rescue mission becomes incredibly convoluted, to the point of being almost ridiculous - no instance more so than the scenes involving the defusing of a bomb so complex and laden with traps that it becomes downright silly in its complexity. Despite this, director Baird's (U.S. Marshals, Star Trek: Nemesis) debut shows a good control of the material and, playing it all straight and serious, brings to the table a good load of real suspense. Russell comes out of this as a solid lead, and it's one of the highlights of his later career. The rest of the cast, including a fine young Berry and a take-no-prisoners Leguizamo, is also effective if not impressive. Watch for Steven Seagal who does a great, literally short-lived supporting role. While the film could have done with some editing, Executive Decision is still a polished, above average thriller that provides some solid entertainment value.
Entertainment: 6/10

Exit Wounds (2001)
Starring: Steven Seagal, DMX, Isaiah Washington
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Plot: After an inauspicious rescue of the vice-president, a maverick cop is booted down to a rough precinct where he faces a mysterious, resourceful drug lord and a corrupt police force.
Review: Most importantly for fans of its aging star, Exit Wounds shows Seagal is back in form after a few flops, kicking, punching, and otherwise giving out justice the way he used to in his heydays of Above the Law. The story skitters through the usual topics of racial prejudice, honor, police corruption, double-crosses, etc. and though the script is full of potholes, thanks to the novel the film is based on it does contain more of a plot than the usual action flick. Director Bartkowiak limits the wire-fu martial arts scenes so evident in his Romeo Must Die and provides a decent dose of action to the proceedings, including some decent hand-to-hand combat, gun-fights and the necessary car chases. Add to this some decent camera work, some bits of sly humor (and some not so sly), and a funny scene of Seagal in an anger management class, and you've got some passable entertainment value. As for the cast, DMX does a decent turn as the drug dealer with a secret, but it's Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson with their motor-mouthed antics that really steal the scene. There's nothing special or original to Exit Wounds, but those nostalgic for an '80s style Seagal flick will be happy to see it delivers as promised.
Entertainment: 5/10

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson
Director: Scott Derrickson
Plot: A veteran lawyer gets more than she expected when she defends a small-town Catholic priest accused of negligent-homicide after trying to perform an exorcism on a young woman.
Review: Loosely based on events that actually happened in Germany in the 70's, The Exorcism of Emily Rose gives the story a contemporary American turn and embarks in a little-seen hybrid of the horror genre, the courtroom / horror drama. Taken separately, the two aspects would not have made for anything but an average film, but the combination makes for interesting entry in both genres. Taking a cue from The Exorcist, the demonic possession and exorcism rituals are well presented with minor but effective special effects and provides a few good jolts, but the horror elements are secondary to the court-room proceedings and the drama surrounding the events, opening up a debate on religious belief. The story is presented like a real case, including subjective witnesses to misguide or keep the audience in suspense, the horror aspects told in flashback. The narrative sets up both sides by providing a possible scientific explanation as well as a supernatural one. For the most it tries to stay ambiguous as to the real happenings though it tends to prefer the supernatural version, of course. Making do without a hefty budget, director Derrickson approaches the film with a clean, minimalist approach that keeps things in perspective without the recent commercially-slick trappings we've come to expect. The cast, including nominated actors Linney as the doubting lawyer and Wilkinson as the suspect priest, is way above par for this kind of film and they lend a large dramatic depth than much more exploitive fare would. But the hardest part is in the hands of the young Carpenter who is frighteningly effective at convincing us of her debilitating condition. It may not start a trend of similar movies, but The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a solidly made, low-key horror flick.
Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* The Exorcist (1973)
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair
Director: William Friedkin
Plot: A young girl afflicted with a strange mental and physical behavior becomes the center of a battle between a priest questioning his faith and the demon possessing her.
Review: Sensationalistic and very graphic for its time, The Exorcist is a landmark film that, for good and bad, has had great influence on the horror genre. Based on William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel, director Friedkin (The French Connection) has created a frightening production, with nauseating, horrendous special effects and some terrific cinematography. What made the film so shocking is that it slowly builds tension, taking quite a bit of exposition time to familiarize us with the key characters before shattering the normality of the setting, of the family, and playing with the idea of the innocent becoming the embodiment of Evil. And what made audiences love the film so much was seeing our own repressed social tendencies explode from an innocent 12-year old girl (well played by first-timer Linda Blair). The adaptation is also filled with subtext and sub-plots from the book that warrant more than one viewing. The Exorcist may have aged a bit compared to recent increasingly gory and effects-laden films, but its atmosphere of quiet dread still gives chills. A true classic of horror cinema.
Horror: 9/10

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Starring: Richard Burton, Linda Blair
Director: John Boorman
Plot: A priest obsessively searches around the globe for answers to help defeat the demon living inside the young girl, a demon that already cost the life of another exorcist.
Review: Acclaimed director Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur) set out to do something different with the anticipated sequel to what may be the greatest horror film ever made: The Exorcist. Instead of the claustrophobic, tight-knit, mysterious and personal horror of the original, Exorcist 2 draws on a larger palette, including exotic locales and people, bizarre characters and a story that is more complex, and much larger in scope. Unfortunately, there lies the problem - by trying to be too different, by explaining the demon, by putting in too much material, events, action, and special effects Boorman has lost what made the first film so terrifying: the mystery, the pervasive atmosphere, the suspense, and the feeling of familiarity with the characters. It doesn't help either that the story is convoluted and jumps back and forth constantly. The cast here is barely adequate (including Richard Burton, trying to recapture his glory days and a young James Earl Jones), and their characters all stay one-dimensional and distant. Boorman does seem to try for some impressive visuals here, and some of them are quite interesting, if a little overbearing for a horror picture. Exorcist 2 isn't a terrible fantasy film, just a disappointing horror one considering the talent involved.
Entertainment: 3/10

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Izabella Scorupco, James D'Arcy
Director: Renny Harlin
Plot: In 1949, a former priest who has lost his faith travels to East Africa to help uncover the secrets of a buried 1,500-year-old church and the demonic powers that surround it.
Review: Exorcist: The Beginning, a tepid prequel to the classic 70's horror film, is very much a product of blockbuster thinking pitched as a mix of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Exorcist. Though the premise might have impressed backers, the final product isn't up to snuff. The film had a very troubled production - indeed original director Paul Shrader's version was deemed un-releasable. Enter action director Harlin (Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea) - whose name has most recently been associated with ably made but hack-styled offerings - who almost completely re-shot the film to give it a more standard set of chills and thrills. He brings to the film many of the tired clichés expected of the genre, including trying to retread its precursor's scares, with a touch of style but little substance. Gone is the psychological angst, disturbing imagery of the original film, or even any genuine tension - but then it's obvious it doesn't even try for anything but matinee-type thrills. From the poor effects to the laughable make-up, the film often looks like it was done on the cheap, though there is a nice moody cinematography. The real downer, though, is that none of this really delivers any scares despite having what appears (on paper at least) to be the right ingredients. Even the bloody carnage of the climax, and the final battle between priest and demon, can't really bring about anything but mild interest. One can't really blame the cast, and Skarsgard specifically is better than the film deserves as the tortured ex-priest, showing both a humility and dignity that belies the poor characterization. There's also an interesting subplot involving his involvment in a horrendous event during Nazi occupation, a dramatic scene that provides the only true angst in the film, but even this delivers little actual payoff. A disappointing entry in the series, Exorcist: The Beginning is passable enough for those looking for a none-too-scary horror flick to pass the time.
Horror: 4/10

Expect the Unexpected (Hong Kong - 1998)
Starring: Lau Ching Wan, Simon Yam
Director: Patrick Yau
Plot: An elite group of the Hong Kong police must stop two different groups of criminals, one a band of amateur jewelry-store thieves, the other a gang of heavily armed, vicious killers.
Review: The pacing is excellent throughout, mixing the lives of the characters with the progress of their investigations with an even hand. The film is violent, as is required by the subject matter, but never passes into the level of usual Hong Kong excess. The plot has some great twists, which raise it above that of similar HK films. The movie itself is well produced in all respects, and seems to display a more mature style of Hong Kong cinema.
Drama: 7/10
Entertainment: 8/10

The Expendables (2010)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Plot: A team of veteran mercenaries are hired to overthrow a South America dictator only to realize they've been thrown into an internal squabble between the CIA and one of its own agents gone rogue.
Review: Though marketed as a nostalgic action fest, The Expendables thankfully limits its side-trip into nostalgia and works just fine as a throwback to the better action blockbusters that came to define '80s cinema. Co-written with an eye on the '60's western The Professionals and directed by Mr. Rocky himself, Stallone imbues the film with all the action bravado and over-the-top machismo he can muster. But whereas his last Rambo was a vicious blood-and-guts swansong to his action persona, the present film opens up the possibility of a new franchise, keeping things light and in perspective with tongue firmly planted in cheek, with the humor infectious, if often juvenile - this is meant for pure entertainment, folks, and there's little pretention to a dramatic core. The one exception is a reflective scene when Mickey Rourke, as a retired mercenary, talks about how he lost his soul in the battlefield; it's a startlingly poignant scene that proves him to be a stellar actor, no matter the film's circumstances. The pacing is generally quite laid-back, considering, and the set-up involving CIA rogue agents (giving an opportunity for a couple of nice cameos), South American dictators, the drug trade and other usual tropes of A-Team-like internal dynamics, glides along nicely. The characters, of course, all have a penchant for cool collector cars, tattoos, knives, guns and other manly things - women are only a distraction, apart from a necessary friendship with a feisty local maiden. Yet if the first two acts provides only three action sequences of note, the final act is a blast (quite literally) as the team storms a well-defended fortress à la The Dirty Dozen; there's enough stabbings, wrestling, gunfights, explosions and general gleeful mayhem to satisfy any action junkie, with each teammate getting a chance to shine. Indeed, one of the biggest draws of the film is how Stallone managed to cajole such a 1980's action dream team together - Stallone leads a cast that includes Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Steve Austin and others, with Statham the only newcomer - only Jean-Claude Van Damme is conspicuously missing. And if most of them are past their prime, they still deliver the goods; heck you can almost smell the testosterone. The Expendables is by no means a classic, or by any standards a "good" movie, but for action fans young and old(er) it's more than a trip down memory lane: it's an action fest that delivers the goods.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Experiment (Germany - 2001)
Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu, Justus von Dohnanyi, Christian Berkel
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Plot: A 10-day research study on the psychological effects and behavior of prisoner and guard dynamics done with paid volunteers in a mock prison turns into a nightmare experience for those involved.
Review: Inspired more than based on an infamous behavioral experiment done in the early 70's, The Experiment expands on the original case to create a stunning, terrifying psychological drama that is tense, realistic and scary. What begins as a "game" for the participants, starting with a joking camaraderie between the two camps, quickly becomes a vicious power struggle that becomes all too serious. From the mid-way point, the film becomes a nightmarish record of our animal psyche behind the veneer of civilization let loose, as the test subjects on both sides get swept into the realities of their roles. Personalities clash and individual failings make even small grievances spiral into a dangerous, psychotic climax. Even the researchers, supposedly controlling the experiment and observing through their video screens, soon become all too involved. Director Hirschbiegel (Downfall) handles the ratcheting suspense with surprising ease, creating a sense of horror at the guards' increasingly inventive methods of humiliation and brutality hits new lows, creating a record of a spectacularly de-humanizing experience. The semi-documentary look of the film - shot and directed with a gritty, no-nonsense style - brings a deep sense of claustrophobia and paranoia to the proceedings making the anguish palpable. The ensemble cast is downright excellent, but it's the personal, violent conflict between main protagonist Bleibtreu as the undercover reporter-turned "prisoner" trying to create a better story and nemesis von Dohnanyi as the at-first shy "guard" who soon takes a sadistic turn that really makes this an edge-of-your-seat experience. A taut thriller and a brutal commentary on our hold on civilized behavior, The Experiment makes for sometimes uncomfortable viewing, but it's one film audiences aren't likely to forget.
Drama: 8/10

The Eye (Hong Kong - 2002)
Starring: Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou
Directors: Danny Pang, Oxide Pang Chun
Plot: After getting a cornea transplant, a formerly blind woman starts seeing terrifying apparitions and embarks on a strange journey to discover the identity and troubled history of the donor.
Review: At times clever, at times haunting but always unsettling, The Eye is a stylish and effective supernatural horror flick that squarely put the writing/director team of the Pang brothers (Bangkok Dangerous) on the international map. Launched under the coat tails of the new Renaissance of the horror genre initiated by The Ring - and though some audiences may see too much of The Sixth Sense in the premise this is very much its own affair. Relying heavily on many of the cinematic subtleties (rather than expensive CGI) that made Japanese supernatural fare so effective, it conveys mounting atmosphere of creepiness and tension. Some good plotting raises the tension levels, especially towards the inevitable climax where precognition and tragedy merge in spectacular fashion – it’s one that's pretty impressive by any standard. But while it's incredibly effective during its more frightful sequences, it loses steam when focusing on the crumbling life of its protagonist. Still, while some of it may be slow going for audiences expecting shocks every few minutes, the Pang Bros technical virtuosity is clear in the spooky cinematography and surreal visuals, providing for lots of scary stuff. A good performance from Lee that captures the fright and despondence of our heroine also helps to convince. If the end product is more style than substance there's enough meat here to give an added punch to the usual horror tropes, making The Eye merit a good looking-over.
Horror: 6/10

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Plot: A jealous rage over his wife's admission of an erotic fantasy sends a young doctor in search of sexual adventure in the bowels of New York where he ends up finding more than he bargained for.
Review: As famed director Stanley Kubrick's (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey) last film, the controversial Eyes Wide Shut has become one of the most talked about, and most misrepresented, films ever to reach the screen. Expecting sexual shenanigans between its two stars, or at least erotic-charged material throughout, most audiences will come out disappointed. Though there are a lot of sexually explicit scenes, the story is one of the mind, of how sex has become an impersonal commodity in our modern society. No matter what one thinks of the narrative progress, strange encounters or sharp dialogue of the story, it's impossible not to be impressed by the craftsmanship present in every shot. Kubrick is a master storyteller and sets up a rich, deviant tapestry full of morbid, dark atmosphere, crafting a surreal, dream-like world that is slightly off-kilter to our own. Kidman does a delicious, bravura performance here, capturing the essence of the film in one mesmerizing scene, and it's unfortunate that more time is not spent on her character. By comparison Cruise is decent in the role, but not nearly as interesting. He is the straight-man in Kubrick's comedy of human nature, the "everyman" protagonist. Unfortunately the exquisite production values, careful cinematography and larger-than-life settings only make the actual story seem small by comparison. Eyes Wide Shut is his swan song, a beautiful, fascinating piece of Art, an adult film with adult themes who's only flaw is that the script just can't measure up to the visual splendor on screen. (Check out the extended review!)
Drama: 8/10


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