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Galaxy Quest (1999)
Starring: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
Director: Dean Parisot
Plot: Mistaken for true heroes, the cast of a science-fiction show are whisked away to the far corner of the galaxy and end up helping an alien race fight an evil despot.
Review: Galaxy Quest is a wonderful, affectionate, hilarious send-up of Star Trek, Trekkies, actors and TV shows in general, and it's a great adventure-comedy to boot. It's obvious that the writers are as much fans of the original material as the people they poke fun of, making you laugh at the endearing material, and even bringing the occasional pang of nostalgia. The film is an exciting roller-coaster ride full of sci-fi clichés with a smart script that manages to make them all seem fresh and funny. Of course, many other episodic elements are included: there's melodrama, action, adventure, silly heroics, lots of special effects, and a whole lot of FUN (did I say that already?). The cast is just perfect and Allen, Weaver and Rickman have never been funnier. If you've ever seen Star Trek you'll laugh yourself silly, and even if you haven't, there's still much to enjoy in Galaxy Quest.
Comedy: 9/10

The Game (1997)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Deborah Unger, Sean Penn
Director: David Fincher
Plot: A wealthy but cold-hearted businessman accepts a gift from his brother for a live-action game, but things go awry when the game becomes a little too real and too dangerous.
Review: The apt thriller The Game has lots more going for it than what one would have expected from the premise. The main reason for this isn't the capable if only average script, but it's choice of helmer: At the hands of sophomore feature director Fincher (fresh off the disastrous Alien 3), the film exudes style and slick production values, showing a great visual flair and narrative pacing. Sure it's still Hollywood fluff that never quite reaches the expectations posed half-way through, but it does show those elements that made Fincher's future works like Seven and Panic Room such engrossing thrillers. The action scenes are ably executed, as is the suspense and growing feeling of paranoia. The mystery and the thrill of its premise, of course, is not knowing what is part of this dangerous "game" and what is reality, and just where the conspiracy ends. If the logic of the proceedings and actual workings of the game aren't fool-proof, especially during the disappointing "not-so-surprise" ending, the script does give some good twists and turns, and works just fine as a well-executed thriller. Perfectly suited for its off-again-on-again leading man, Douglas fits into the role like a glove as a man used to being in control breaking under the pressure of events outside his reckoning. Unger is an always-interesting choice as the troubled romantic interest who's more than what she seems, and a mousy Penn as his always-in-trouble younger brother is an added bonus. Sure, The Game is a slice of Hollywood hokum, but at least it's well-done hokum that's sure to please fans of the genre and fans of Douglas.
Entertainment: 7/10

Game of Death (USA / Hong Kong - 1978)
Starring: Bruce Lee, Colleen Camp, Gig Young
Director: Robert Clouse
Plot: An actor threatened to get in line by an international crime syndicate feigns his own death and vows revenge on the gangsters.
Review: Game of Death is but a shameless attempt to collect on martial-arts hero Bruce Lee's reputation and can only be called his "last film" thanks to a few minutes of actual Lee footage taken out of original context. The newly created plot is banal and flat to the point of disdain, created to fit in with the little actual footage available - and to make sure that there was enough padding to get us to the thrilling climax. As such, there's a lot of long shots of Lee's character, with either his head turned from the camera or deep in shadow to avoid us realizing that it's not Lee on screen. Yet the camera rarely even tries to hide the fact that this isn't Lee!  There's a miserably few entertaining fight sequences with each of the three (yes, three!) Lee stand-ins used including Hong Kong legend Yuen Biao.  To add to the running time, there's even an extended ring-match with Sammo Hung fighting one of the villains. Though director Clouse who worked with Lee on Enter the Dragon was brought in to take care of production, this has all the makings of a 70's cheapie production when two-bit Lee imitators vied for audiences, and even he can't make a leaden, stupid script work. Those that can stay awake until the end will be rewarded, however. Lee only got to do three fight scenes before his untimely death, but the undeniable charm, agility and energy shown by the "real" Bruce Lee in the climax, as well as the obvious inventiveness and stellar choreography (and the classic yellow jump suit) - all of which barely make up 20 minutes - are easily worth the whole film. See Lee battling a nun chuck-welding attacker, a judo master, and 8 foot tall basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!  A definite treat that makes us regret Lee's absence and puts the rest of this trashy film to shame. This whole exercise is but an excuse to use the little remaining Lee footage to make a quick buck, but admittedly the final bits of Game of Death are a worthy way of remembering the star's real talent.
Entertainment: 3/10 (last 20 minutes: 8/10)

Game Over - Kasparov and the Machine (2003)
Starring: Garry Kasparov, Jeff Kisselhof
Director: Vikram Jayanti
Plot: In May 1997, Gary Kasparov, the world's best chess player, took on a re-match against IBM's Deep Blue - and lost amidst a slew of accusations.
Review: A documentary on a chess game might not appear to make for an exciting subject, but Game Over - Kasparov and the Machine almost manages to make it so. More than a scientific experiment or simple tournament, the media portrayed the match between Kasparov and super-computer Deep Blue as a confrontation between Man and Machine, with the prize being nothing less than intellectual domination. Using a blend of news footage, interviews with experts and journalists that covered the event, and of course the larger-than-life Kasparov himself, the filmmakers dive into the history behind the competition and the stakes on both sides of the board. It's too bad that in the enthusiasm for attacking IBM, the film throws in too many shots of an 18th century "chess machine" (one that was obviously controlled by human hands), hammering the point that there was "obvious" human interference in the match. If it's all a bit ham-fisted, the film ends up being as much a portrait of an ego-centric yet charming genius as it is a condemnation of a bullying IBM and its pressure tactics. Chess aficionados will enjoy the battle of wits and the tension involved in one of the most media-publicized games in history. Big Business conspiracy theorists will have a field day with the obvious insinuations of competition tampering and fraud for the benefit of stock price. Everyone else will appreciate - if not enthuse over - the blend of paranoia and the telling insider details, making Game Over an interesting look into a controversial event.
Documentary: 6/10

Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris (Japan - 1999)
Starring: Yukijiro Hotaru, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Plot: Gamera (the monstrous flying turtle) is back, fighting his nemeses the Gyaos. But this time he must also face the new challenge of Isis, a monster brought back to life by a girl bent on revenge.
Review: Though Gamera was originally created as a kid's version of Godzilla, the recent film adventures have been anything but infantile. Great special effects, decent acting, and good direction go hand-in-hand with an interesting story-line. This latest offering ups the ante with two impressive pyrotechnic sequences of urban destruction as the monsters battle it out. This time, the camera captures the huge casualties such battles incur, and adds a bit of reality not normally seen in this type of movie. Of course, parts of the story remain silly, and some of the interesting plot points are left in the air, but as far as monster movies go, this is one of the best.
Entertainment: 7/10

Gangs of New York (2002)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz
Director: Martin Scorsese
Plot: A young Irish lad vows revenge for the death of his father at the hands of the local crime lord who controls the immigrant slum of Five Points as the Civil War looms large and New York City faces the Draft Riots of 1863.
Review: Based on historical accounts, the ambitious, dramatized tale of Gangs of New York has been a dream of director Scorsese for years, and it's been worth the wait. Scorsese (Goodfellas, Raging Bull) is one of the best American directors still alive today, and he brings all his cinematic and story-telling skills to bear. There is never any doubt that this is indeed an "epic" in every sense of the term, historically, dramatically and emotionally, a brutal, bloody, and intense retelling of the growing pains of a nation. The photography is excellent, the production values (be it the costumes or the stunning, gritty sets) are impeccable, the dialogue crisp, and the cast direction solid, giving an overall effect of opening our eyes into a little-known part of American history. These were tumultuous times for New York (and for America), as the Civil War raged, the Conscription incited riots in the streets, and immigrants invaded the shores of the city and tried to carve a niche for themselves. Amazingly enough, the script manages to incorporate the main story of revenge with greater themes (of class, of race, of religion) and a fine grasp of the times while still moving along briskly and keeping the focus on its main characters. DiCaprio has matured since his last outings, and does a fine turn as the Irish lad out for vengeance. Diaz has a rather thankless role, however, and doesn't really get a chance to make much of an impression. But the real heart and soul of the picture is Day-Lewis who is absolutely unforgettable, a real force of nature as The Butcher, the complex villain of the piece: cruel, sadistic, and blazingly intense, this is a performance with which Oscars are won. The film isn't perfect, however, as there are some awkward moments and on occasion it feels as though the filmmakers try too hard to pack all the symbolism, struggles, and historical commentary they can into the narrative (a reason, perhaps, why the film was in the editing room for over a year). But these are minor points, and though Gangs of New York may not quite rate as one of Scorsese's best, it's still the work of a master craftsman, and a powerful, fascinating experience.
Drama: 8/10

Gaz Bar Blues (Quebec - 2003)
Starring: Serge Thériault, Gilles Renaud, Sébastien Delorme 
Director: Louis Bélanger
Plot: At the end of 80's, an aging father afflicted with Parkinson's runs his gas station - a local hang out for the locals - with his three sons with whom he has a strained relationship.
Review: A character study of a man striving to keep things right despite his weaknesses, the low-key family drama Gaz Bar Blues is very much rooted in its era and its local setting. It's a deliberate, slow exercise that details the small everyday events between the endearing neighboring oddballs and misfits who have made the gas station their social gathering place. Depicting the tail end of the 1980's as seen through the eyes of a working-class community, writer / director Bélanger (Post-Mortem) seems to channel his own experiences to bring this slice of everyday life to the screen. The issues of impending globalization and the loss of small, neighborhood commerce are depicted in a microcosm of larger events (from Corporation bosses and the fear of computerization to a hold-up and small thieveries) through the slow degradation of this family-run corner store / gas station. The aging proprietor - played superbly by Thériault who won a Jutra for his role - is a man fighting against a tide of change, an upstanding man who wants only to pass on the shop to his sons, both of whom have other aspirations. The eldest son's insights into the fate of East Germany (all told through postcards and letters) is appropriate to his father's own life, their small community a parallel the political upheavals of the the fall of the wall of Berlin. There are few clichés here, save for the quirky locals, and that helps make Gaz Bar Blues a truer, more fulfilling tale.
Drama: 7/10

The General's Daughter (1999)
Starring: John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe
Director: Simon West
Plot: An army detective investigates the sordid rape and murder of an important general's daughter.
Review: The script runs along at a decent pace, but doesn't show us anything we haven't seen before. There are some very powerful scenes here, but the movie itself just doesn't seem to gel them together well enough. The ending is a let-down, as the mystery's resolution seems rushed and contrived. Travolta does a decent (but not a great) job with his character but the other main actors (especially James Woods and Madeleine Stowe) are severely under-used, which is a shame. All in all, a decent summer thriller, but one that could have been much better - and which should have been, having been co-scripted by Hollywood legend William Goldman.
Drama: 5/10
Entertainment: 6/10

Gen-X Cops (Hong Kong - 1999)
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Stephen Fung
Director: Benny Chan
Plot: Three rebellious police cadets go undercover to take down a local gangster and his Japanese connection before they can use re-sell some stolen, high-powered explosives.
Review: Not as engaging as director Chan's last feature (Big Bullet), Gen-X Cops retains the big-budget Hollywood flavor imbued in more recent HK offerings. The idea of rebellious young cops is not new, and the use of one-dimensional heroes with typical "teen" attitude (à la The Mod Squad), the banal storyline, and the terrible dialogue really break apart the film. The cast is well chosen, at least, and are for the most part engaging. The crime plot, though, is convoluted and pointless with little dramatic tension. Worse, much of the story focuses on their klutzy mentor and here the film falls flat, as he fights to gain respect in the department. Thankfully the action sequences, including martial arts, acrobatics and extended gunfights, are pretty good and the finale is appropriately big, loud and fast - and that's the main reason to see the film. It's too bad that the whole film seems more a product of marketing than inspiration - as it stands Gen-X Cops is mostly decent but uninspired fun, and it's disappointing that everything around the action scenes just falls flat.
Entertainment: 6/10

Gerry (2003)
Starring: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon
Director: Gus Van Sant
Plot: Two hikers get horrendously lost in the American desert and look for a way back to the highway.
Review: How’s this for a concept? In Gerry, two guys are lost in the desert and try to find their way back to their car. That’s it. And at first, it's about as boring as it sounds. All you see for two hours are two guys climbing up hills, walking (and walking, and walking) in the desert in close-ups and wide shots, breathing hard, looking down-trodden and lost, and eventually breaking down emotionally. The incredibly languid pacing and repetitive scenes will put most people to sleep, and indeed most mainstream audiences will be bored to tears what with the long, static moments, the silent scenes that go on for minutes on end. There’s little in terms of plot or story, with little actually happening, nor is there much character development. And yet slowly (and slow is the operating word here), we start feeling their desperation, the hardships, the slow dawning realization that they may not make it out alive. It’s definitely not the unmentioned goal, nor the end of the movie, that makes it worth watching but in its simplicity, there's a certain Zen-like quality to it. There’s a great notion of silence in the air, and even the limited, improvised dialogue has little to do with the story – which is exactly what director Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, Good Will Hunting) seems to be looking for. Often, this looks and feels like Art for Art’s sake, not so much an existential film as an experimental one. The title, Gerry, is meant as an all-purpose word – both protagonists call each other Gerry, and the word is used just as often to mean “fuck-up”. Getting into the subtext of the film, be it a metaphor for our hurried society, or something else is up to the viewer’s subjective guess. Audiences expecting to see actor Damon in a meaty role will be non-plussed, as there's little acting involved in the film, though he and Affleck (brother of Ben) show an undeniable bond. The cinematography, however, is a real highlight, with some absolutely stunning scenery of the barren desert landscapes, accelerated shots of the sky, the salt flats, the desert, all accompanied by minimalist music to accompany this minimalist film. Indeed, the movie, much like its visuals, is at times haunting, mesmerizing, and incredibly dull, and what you get from Gerry might be dependent on your patience.
Drama: 6/10

Get Carter (2000)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Alan Cumming
Director: Stephen T. Kay
Plot: A determined enforcer is the target of his Las Vegas boss' wrath when he leaves town to investigate and take revenge for his estranged brother's death in another town.
Review: A remake of the British film starring Michael Caine, Get Carter is another chance for its star Stallone to make a come back, one with mixed results. For sure, it's a slick piece of work, and director Kay makes it zip along well enough thanks to the gritty cinematography, efficient camera work and some energetic editing. Too bad there's really little substance to be found in the actual story amongst the tired melodrama, boring car chases and rare actual bursts of violence. Though the original story blocks are still there, this modern version just oozes macho revenge flick over drama and mystery, adding some ill-defined subplots that are never satisfyingly resolved. Gone is any nuance in the roles or the situations, any sense of tension that made the 1971 version so watchable. The tough-guy gangster is a role that was made for Stallone, but his first impression as a well-tailored, dangerous shark loses some of its allure when the story decides to make him into a "good guy", showing off his weaknesses and his softer side especially towards his niece. Cumming, as a shady, weak-kneed, filthy-rich Silicon Valley nerd makes for some silly interaction with Stallone's hulking, cold bad guy front that sometimes amusing to watch. Rourke, playing another ill-defined villainous role, he makes for a decent adversary but there's little energy evident. Caine however, in a small cameo role, is completely wasted here. All told, this Get Carter rehash isn't a terrible film, but then there isn't anything here that justifies this remake either.
Entertainment: 4/10

Get Shorty (1995)
Starring: John Travolta, Rene Russo, Gene Hackman
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Plot: A Miami enforcer for the mob discovers his talent in the movie business when he arrives in Los Angeles to collect a casino debt from a B-movie producer who is in over his head with crooks.
Review: With two things going for it - a great cast and a sense of smart, light-hearted fun - the movie medium finally had its first good adaptation of the works of master crime novelist Elmore Leonard with Get Shorty. Using the book as a strong basis and taking verbatim some of the best of his delectable dialogue, the film is an amusing clash between East Coast mob and West Coast show business, showing one is as cut-throat as the other. Though the story ends up being a convoluted mix of drug bust, gangster power-play, showbiz jealousy and stargazing, the script stays on track and keeps the flow going strong. It's not very filling, and the Hollywood satire is déjà vu, but the complete package comes off as darn amusing. And Travolta's character's love for movies is downright contagious, especially for movie buffs! Director Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) knows how to spotlight his characters and it shows, allowing each one of them to stand out in their own way. He also has an impeccable sense of comic timing which, added to a nice flair for the material, makes for an engaging, light-hearted affair. Best of all, he managed to get a really first-class cast, and the performances are just right, from the charming, ultra-cool tough-guy performance by Travolta (coming off his comeback role in Pulp Fiction) and Delroy Lindo's pusher turned wannabe filmmaker, to Russo's B-movie queen and Hackman's sleazy producer, it's obvious they're all having fun with the material, and none more so than Danny DeVito playing a Prima Donna actor. Capturing its source material just right, Get Shorty is an entertaining, clever ensemble comedy.
Entertainment: 7/10

Get Smart (2008)
Starring: Steven Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp
Director: Peter Segal
Plot: When an evil organization uncovers the identities of a secret agency's active members, it's up to a desk-bound intelligence operative with dreams of being a field agent - along with a more competent female colleague - to save the day.
Review: With Get Smart, yet another TV series gets the big-screen treatment bringing the (mis-) adventures of Maxwell Smart, agent for CONTROL, and his battles against KAOS with Agent 99 at his side. Nostalgic fans of the 60's TV show will get a kick out of seeing it all revamped, but it's a mitigated success as a summer action-comedy vehicle, for one because the film is never really as smart, slick, exciting or as funny as it probably wanted to be, or could have been. Sure, even the TV series itself was an often frivolous - but mostly amusing - spoof on James Bond and The Man from UNCLE, but a modern take with a larger budget should have given this effort some added oomph, and not only in the action sequences. The derivative script plays on some other spy comedies like the superior True Lies and the gags (both visual and dialogue-driven) are rarely laugh-out-loud funny, though at least they never fall flat. Bar none, the real attraction and highlight is by far the stellar cast assembled for the film; they're far better than the script deserves, and save the movie from being another hum-drum TV adaptation. Both charismatic in their own way the leads, funny-man Carell and the sublime Hathaway, have strong chemistry and great comic timing, and their interaction - from squabbling to final attraction - is quite enjoyable. Even the supporting cast impresses, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as super-agent 23 and Alan Arkin as the ever-frowning Chief being the real highlights. In the end, Get Smart is worth a few chuckles and provides some nice escapist entertainment; let's just hope an inevitable sequel does right by its cast.
Entertainment: 6/10

Ghostbusters (1984)
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Director: Ivan Reitman
Plot: Fired from their university, three parapsychology professors go into business catching ghosts but soon find more work than they can hadle and end up fighting a powerful age-old menace terrorizing New York.
Review: With Ghostbusters, writers / actors Aykroyd and Ramis have gone from an original premise (for its time) of mixing a supernatural ghost story with slapstick comedy to create an amusing, widely appealing, comedy adventure. The elements all work perfectly, from the character caricatures, to Reitman's no-nonsense direction, to the clever script full of witty dialogue, clever moments, and some laugh-out-loud comedy. The amusing plot unfolds at a good clip, and the gags, one-liners, great sets and special effects are perfectly suited to the story. True, though the F/X may not be as impressive as they were on the film's release, they are still adequate by today's standards, and rarely detract enough from the engaging story - the arrival of the towering Stay Puft Marshmallow monster in the climactic scene, for one, is still priceless. Heck, with the popular logo uniforms, psychedelic weapons and cool car, and the still-catchy title track by Ray Parker Jr., they made a generation wish they could go out and fight ghouls and goblins! The interaction between the team-mates is often hilarious, and the three leads are delightful in their constant banter. The flippant, sarcastic Murray especially shines here in what is probably the best role of his career, delivering one the '80s most famous movie lines: "He slimed me!". There's not much left over for the rest of the cast to do, but Sigourney Weaver does a passable job as the lady in distress and Rick Moranis, as her nerdy neighbor, steals every scene he's in. Ghostbusters was created at a time when all involved were a the height of their creative powers, and they have managed to produce a vastly entertaining comedy classic that still holds up well.
Comedy: 8/10

Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (1999)
Starring: Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Isaach de Bankolé
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Plot: A small-time mob hit-man who follows the teachings of the Samurai must fight against the mafia after an incident marks him for death.
Review: Director Jarmusch (Mystery Train, Dead Man) is in full form here with his most commercial cinematic outing to date, combining the crime drama with comedy and an independent film-maker's sensibilities. Most of the characters are exaggerated satires, like the aging Italian mobsters who all love watching cartoons. The only serious character is Whitaker who seems a bit jarring at first as the hit man, but quickly makes for a great depiction of the lone assassin. De Bankolé is a also real treat here, playing a secondary role of (what else?) a Frenchman selling ice cream, never speaking in English, but hilarious in his gesticulating. The inter-cutting of passages from the " Book of the Samurai" and the ensuing filmed sequence is particularly appropriate, showing the stark difference between the serious, honor-bound hit-man and the usually vapid, white-trash he comes in contact with. Ghost Dog is an intelligent, funny, and ultimately sad story of the state of the human condition, and of the loss of ancient values.
Drama: 7/10
Entertainment: 8/10

Ghosts of the Abyss (2003)
Starring: Bill Paxton
Director: James Cameron
Plot: Documentary follows an international research team going back to the wreck of the Titanic to explore the insides of the ship thanks to a pair of self-propelled robots with camera eyes.
Review: In Ghosts of the Abyss director Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2) got to re-explore the infamous wreck that seems to have captured his imagination (and the world's). Hiring a Russian scientific vessel and its crew, his camera brings audiences on a trip of discovery. The 3D IMAX images of the wreck are stunning, powerful, even haunting and these are the real reason to see this documentary in the first place. The footage of the sunken corridors and lavish rooms fade into recreated scenes of the Titanic (many seemingly taken from the movie itself). Cameron decided to use Titanic actor Paxton to provide narration, to provide the "everyman" point of view, and at first we can follow him in the awe that inspired them to go back over 12,000 feet beneath the waves to see this. After a while though all this gets repetitive and even annoying, relying too much on Bill Paxton's overly scripted text and the poor dramatic set-ups such as the repeated shots of the crew's reactions through the submersible's portholes - all obviously shot on the surface and edited in. There are some brief mentions of the technology that went on to create the robots that manage to capture these images, but apart from wallowing in this technology, the scientists are relegated to the sidelines and barely make an appearance on screen - why were they even invited? As such, too many interesting points are left hanging. The doc mainly suffers from wanting to be too mainstream and melodramatic in recreating personal events, relying too much on fiction storytelling techniques to enhance the pathos, aiming squarely at the people who enjoyed the 1997 film. At other times, this feels more like a James Cameron home video than it does a documentary. Too much time is spent on things that have little importance to the subject matter, and even a brief parallel to the events of 9/11 don't make this as relevant as Cameron would want us to think. In the end Ghosts of the Abyss is an interesting glimpse into the director's obsession but disappointing in its shallow overview of the tragedy and the scientific exploration.
Documentary: 4/10

Ghost in the Shell (Japan - 1995)
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Plot: A female cyborg cop and her partner get involved in a high-tech interdepartmental conflict while chasing leads to a mysterious and powerful hacker called the Puppet Master who is able to control humans and androids alike.
Review: Loosely based on the terrific pulp Manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell is a superbly crafted, high-brow anime that has become a classic of the genre. Of immediate note is the terrific animation work and the stylish futuristic visuals which create a dark and brooding atmosphere, elevating the film from the get-go. Yet, though the premise is ripe for the usual hi-tech thrills, there's a deliberate pacing to be found here as well as a strange sadness to the proceedings, something of a trademark in director Oshii's work (Avalon, Angel's Egg). The dialog, and perhaps the very reason for the film, is mostly made up of deep philosophical meditations on what it is to be human and how technology has changed our perceptions. These scenes are rather quiet and static, contrasting the handful of extended, thrilling action sequences. Though few and far between, these keep things moving and show a definite cinematic flair. As you may have guessed, like many such features from Japan this is not to be confused with a family film: with its blatant images of the naked female form, its violence and its overly intricate plot, this is a mature story meant for an adult audience. There is a downside, however: the characters are interesting but barely realized, and there's more here akin to a Hollywood buddy movie than one would expect. At a short 80 minutes, however, the whole thing moves along briskly, satisfying our need for an adrenaline rush while keeping our brains at attention. While too entrenched in the requirements of the genre to be a true masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell was ahead of its time and definitely pushed the limits of cyberpunk fictional worlds to new heights, joining Akira in the annals of great Japanese SF anime.
Entertainment: 8/10

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society (Japan - 2006)
Starring: Koichi Yamadera, Osamu Saka
Director: Kenji Kamiyama
Plot: A high-tech special police task force investigates a rash of peculiar suicides and child kidnappings, all seemingly coordinated by a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master.
Review: Originally released as a television movie following the success of the Stand Alone Complex anime series, Solid State Society continues the adventures of Section 9, following Mamoru Oshii's ground-breaking cult classic Ghost in the Shell. The movie expects viewers to be already familiar with its world of cyber-terrorists and bionic-powered police force. Though it's simple enough to follow, the story does assumes that one knows the characters and history. The story is surprisingly mature and complex, involving politics, high-tech, social commentary, police procedurals and a heady dose of sci-fi. Unfortunately, to get all this story in, the pacing suffers through lots of heady dialogue and explanations - in other words, this is way too talky for adrenaline buffs, and kids will simply be bored. Oh, there are some decent action set-pieces to be had, including a final assault on a government complex, but there are enough to break the monotony, even with the movie's short 75 min running time. As for the animation, it's clean and stylish with a mix of cel and CGI animation, and it's good enough to get the story across. In the end, the continuing themes and interests of the series are well thought out, and definitely make for an intriguing premise and the films does have the thriller tropes down pat and though Solid State Society falls somewhat short of being the brainy entertainment it hopes to be it's not for lack of trying. Just don't bring the young ones.
Entertainment: 6/10

Ghost Rider (2006)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Plot: Twenty years after selling his soul to save his father's life, a motorcycle stunt man is forced into service as Satan's bounty hunter to fight the Devil's rebellious son.
Review: Adapting a minor Marvel comic-book character, a very Christian-themed one born from the 1970's fascination with motorcycles and Evel Knievel-like stunts, allowed the filmmakers to do just about anything, an opportunity to really go "out of the box". Add an A-list actor Cage to the mix (a guy who's been trying to make a super-hero film for ages) and you could have had a winner. Unfortunately, Ghost Rider is another opportunity squandered, a film that's too cheesy to be taken seriously and not thrilling enough to be entertaining. Too much time and effort is taken into the mechanics of the Origin Story, leaving little time to face the real demonic threats. When our Hell-spawn hero does, he manages to dispose of his opponents with nary a thought, limiting whatever tension might have been. The biggest miss is the acting, which is pretty horrid from all involved, even Cage who does try to infuse his bland performance with a bit of humor. Fonda, as the Devil himself, is an interesting bit of casting, but he's completely wooden - much like everyone else. At least the always-hot Mendes makes up for some of the drab exposition and romantic bits, and the always-dependable Sam Elliott makes an appearance as the wise mentor. The real culprit, however, is co-writer / director Johnson who barely made it through his previous comic-book adaptation of Daredevil - here, he's forgotten all the lessons learnt and dawdles through some banal melodrama, tired characters, and a rather un-involving story. Not to say there aren't some very "cool" stuff: the Ghost Rider persona is well captured, the ghost-bike is a beautiful machine, the special effects work pretty good (if not always believable) during the supernatural confrontations, there are some memorable visuals (like the two Ghost Riders of different eras speeding across the desert nightscape) and even some decent cinematography. It's just that the parts just don't add up to something audiences can care about. In the end, this would probably have worked better as a static set of pictures (just add word balloons!) than as a movie. And yet despite its bad acting, predictable plot and sub-par directing Ghost Rider still somehow provides some amusing bits and will keep mainstream thrill-seekers engaged for the duration.
Entertainment: 4/10

Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Starring: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham
Director: John Carpenter
Plot: A group of cops set to escort a dangerous criminal from a Martian colony outpost are overrun by the townspeople who have been turned into blood-thirsty savages by an ancient, alien presence. 
Review: Trying for dark fantasy, perhaps, Ghosts of Mars is more a Western in space, for all intents a big-budget remake of Carpenter's own Assault on Precinct 13, but without the low-budget verve and ingenuity of the original. The directing effort by B-movie mogul Carpenter is nowhere near as masterful as his earlier features such as The Thing or Christine and sadly this effort seems to confirm that he has lost his touch in recent years; Slow moving, surprisingly badly staged and crafted, this is terribly derivative and boring. Heck even the action, made up of gunfights and screaming zombies, is uninteresting. In fact, there's no redeeming feature to be found here: the script sucks, the characters are unsympathetic grotesque caricatures, the villains are laughable, the dialogue is trite, and the sets look like cardboard. To top it off, another major problem is the narrative, told in constant flashbacks that destroys any flow or tension. Ice Cube's "dangerous" character is about as believable (or scary) as the Marshmallow Man, and the rest of the cast gives a blatantly amateurish effort. Even blaxploitation star Pam Grier gets a short-lived (pun intended) sorry cameo. The only bright spot is lead Hendstridge who actually appears to be a far better, more charismatic actress than she's given credit for, and is due better material than this. In the end, Ghosts of Mars is a bad sci-fi flick that would probably have been better off with less money and more invention.
Entertainment: 2/10

The Gift (2000)
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves
Director: Sam Raimi
Plot: A young Southern small-town widow, equally shunned and respected for the use of her psychic "gift", is embroiled in a crime investigation when she envisions details of a grisly murder.
Review: Director Raimi (Evil Dead 2, A Simple Plan) continues his foray into mainstream cinema with The Gift, a self-styled "Southern Gothic" supernatural mystery-drama. The film builds up slowly, doing a good job of setting events into place capturing the essence of Southern small-town life, of its communities and its people, thanks to a script by denizen co-writer Billy Bob Thornton. Yet, though Raimi manages to infuse the proceedings with some effective spooky moments and even a healthy dose of suspense and dread, the thriller aspects of the story are pretty routine and predictable, and one can't help be non-plussed by the necessary twist-ending. No fault can be layed on Blanchett, however, who embodies her character admirably, doing a believable and engrossing performance that anchors the film and makes every scene undeniably watchable. The rest of the big-name cast is also first-rate, and do a good job on their respective roles, especially Reeves in a surprising bad-guy role as a menacing white-trash womanizer, and Ribisi as a troubled young man. There's nothing really original here, but thanks to some strong acting by Blanchett and Raimi's steady directing, The Gift manages to be a rather interesting foray.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller
Director: Stephen Sommers
Plot: An elite, secret international team of operatives take on a powerful, hi-tech weapons firm ready to take over the world.
Review: Following in the footsteps of other Hasbro toy-to-movie phenomenon (think Transformers), G.I. Joe continues its decades-long trip from toy soldier in the 70's and cartoon adventure series in the 80's to big-budget, live-action theatrical fare. And surprisingly enough, it's not as mind-numbing as its premise leads one to believe - sure, it's still silly, comic-book level fare, but it's engaging and fun, too. Director Sommers, with his propensity for slick action vehicles that are densely-packed with special-effects set pieces, juvenile laughs and tons of cool stuff (such as The Mummy and Van Helsing), was probably the best person for the job. In his hands, the toy franchise has been adapted into a kid's dream come true: an international world-domination scheme to be foiled, secret bases to be discovered, state-of-the art weaponry and military vehicles (on land, sea and air) blowing each other up, all stitched together in a non-stop string of thrilling, well-executed action sequences. Oh, and there's fan-favorite Snake Eyes, too, who gets somewhat of an origin story. For fans of the original TV series, or anyone looking for an action movie with no holds on reality, there's lots to like. If the one-dimensional characters never come alive, there are some rays of light in Sienna Miller's slinky femme-fatale role as The Baroness or Brit actor Chris Eccleston's take on Destro. While watching this, it might be hard to shrug off a feeling that this was exactly the film being parodied by Team America (along with its Paris-street-level mayhem and toppling of the Eiffel tower) - if that film hadn't actually been done back in 2004. Nevertheless, while G.I. Joe may quickly be forgotten as typical summer fare, it's big, loud popcorn entertainment like only Hollywood can create. A definite guilty pleasure for those that still remember what it was like at 10 years old.
Entertainment: 6/10

Ginger Snaps (2000)
Starring: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isobel, Mimi Rogers
Director: John Fawcett
Plot: The close relationship between two death-obsessed teen-age siblings becomes tense when one of them, after being bitten by a werewolf, starts showing off some blood-thirsty hungers.
Review: Ginger Snaps is something of a rarity, a small-budget Canadian horror picture that's actually quite clever and audacious. A lot of genre elements are in place, and some of the scenes could be attributed to dozens of other similar features, with its high-school girl rivalry, blood-letting, eviscerated corpses and building tension. Thankfully, the script is savvy enough to put a different spin on things while also providing a good dose of drama, smart suspense, dark humor, and some creepy thrills as well. The film's real strength is in the portrayal of the sisters' relationship, one that goes beyond the usual fright-fest stereotypes. Another is its particularly feminist approach to a genre that has always been male-centered. The metaphor of the sibling's curse and gradual animalistic changes coinciding with her first period (the other "curse") is evident, her usual natural urges being pushed to violent extremes, elements that reinforce the story's impact. After such a great development of themes, the expected climax is disappointingly typical for this kind of fare, with a fitting chase sequence aided by decent (if obviously low-budget) effects to portray the final transformation and confrontation. The two leads, however, are convincing and altogether excellent as the two weird, morbid sisters and much of the film's success rests on their performances. The supporting cast is also good, especially the perfectly suited Rogers as their flaky, clueless suburban mom. For the most part, Ginger Snaps is an original, entertaining take on the werewolf story that, thanks to a good script and effective direction, belies its bargain-based origins.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Gingko Bed (Korea - 1998)
Starring: Suk-kyu Han, Hee-Kyung Jin, Hye-jin Shim
Director: Je-kyu Kang 
Plot: 1,000 years after their first encounter, two lovers separated by death and time have one last moment together in present-day Korea but must first overcome an evil, jealous spirit.
Review: Some say The Gingko Bed, with its blend of romantic legend, fantastic elements and beautiful cinematography, put Korean cinema on the map. Whatever the case, the film provides some suspense, and even a touch of horror, but it is the love story between two lost souls spanning a thousand years and many resurrections that is the true heart of the film. The most beautiful moments are from the colorful, soulful flashbacks of 1,000 years in the past, and the lovers' last incarnation as two Gingko trees growing one next to the other. To Western eyes, the melodramatic moments and the cheesy special effects may appear a little disconcerting, but the mood of the film is still maintained. The first directorial effort by Kang (who later went on to direct another Korean box-office smash, the thriller Swiri) The Gingko Bed has won quite a few awards internationally. Not a great film, but a well done, charming one.
Entertainment: 7/10

Girlfight (2000)
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Santiago Douglas, Jaime Tirelli
Director: Karyn Kusama
Plot: Against her father's wishes, a troubled, tough teenager from Brooklyn decides to focus her rage and frustration to training as a female boxer while facing the ridicule and incredulity of her peers.
Review: Girlfight, a film that turned heads at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, is a low-key independent film that explores the themes of gender equality and social acceptance through the sport of female boxing, one that works much better and feels much grittier and believable than just about any Hollywood offering. Calling this a female version of Rocky would be missing the point - yes, we do see training but it doesn't come easy and often shows the frustration involved, and as for the matches themselves there's no real fancy camerawork or editing and most of them (except for the climactic cross-gender fight) isn't very spectacular. On the contrary, this is more of a coming-of-age film, a well-thought-out drama about social and personal redemption than anything else. This is neither a feel-good film in the typical sense; though our heroine beats the odds and succeeds in break away from the social and familial chains that kept her under, she still has to pay for each step and each small personal victory with real emotional turmoil, real pain, and real consequences. The inter-racial teen-age romance between the male jock and the broad-shouldered heroine thankfully centers on them as two young human beings, their views and hopes on boxing, and their hopes for a future more than on the issue of race. Well written with some solid dialogue, with able direction by first-timer Kusama, and helped by some heart-felt performances by all involved, the film gives a sense that true feelings and emotions are being laid out on the screen. Girlfight eschews easy melodrama and instead embraces its characters' harder personal dramas making it one of the more captivating "sports" drama or recent memory. 
Drama: 7/10

Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Starring: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall
Director: James Mangold
Plot: Following a possible suicide attempt, a young woman is prescribed rest at a private mental hospital where she meets other patients with more troubled mental issues than her.
Review: Based on Susanna Kaysen's memoir on her 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s, Girl, Interrupted promises to be a potent look at the psychological community of the era, and for the most part it delivers. True, our narrator / heroine faces what amounts to a depression more than anything, and it's hard to root for someone with that kind of failing, but the real interest is the bond and relationships that form in such a strange setting with such uncommon people. A lot of the running time is also taken to explore the idea of social conformity and the concepts of institutionalization and treatment. The potential for drama is inescapable in such a setting and in the hands of director Mangold (Walk the Line, Identity), what could have been another ensemble melodrama actually is transformed into a perfectly watchable window into the 60's. It's unfortunate, then, that its penchant to keep things "mainstreamed" and glossy doesn't quite allow it to reach the depths it really wants to attain - think of it as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Lite, a film that will immediately come to mind as the film progresses. Ryder may be the star - and she does a appropriate turn - but it's Jolie who gets a career-making (and Oscar-winning) opportunity to play a role she's perfectly suited for, as a charismatic, perturbed, sociopathic trouble-maker. The rest of the female cast is strong, as well, and their portrayals of "damaged" people is one of the real redeeming features of the film. A harsher look at institutionalization than one would have expected from a Winona Ryder vehicle, Girl, Interrupted is a worthy Hollywood drama that knows how to play off its stellar cast.
Drama: 7/10

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård
Director: David Fincher
Plot: A reclusive Swedish-industry tycoon hires a veteran investigative reporter who, assisted by a fiery, socially-challenged young computer hacker, attempts to uncover the murderer of a 16-year-old girl who disappeared almost 40 years before.
Review: Aimed at bringing Stieg Larsson's best-selling crime thriller to English-speaking audiences that can't take sub-titles, this latest cinematic adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as close a remake to Niels Arden Oplev's 2009 Swedish version as you can get from Hollywood. The setting is left intact, a small Swedish town with its secluded island of rich, off-kilter family, a place where the cold - both human and environmental - is palpable. With a strong sense of place, the film attempts at European sensibilities with its narrative, too, but it's clearly a mainstream American product despite its subject matter. For sure, director Fincher is in his element having helmed similar grisly thrillers like Se7en and Zodiac, and he brings all his skills to bear in what amounts to a slick, visually polished almost shot-for-shot remake of the 2009 film. In terms of procedurals, the film does a better job at the CSI stuff and getting a sense of the information-gathering side of the investigation. It also has better production values and rich, technically-savvy cinematography. Yet, where the 2009 version lacked budget it made up with a more revelatory and honest view of its central characters and the depraved, psychopathic nature of the crimes, something that is lost in the translation. Less weight is also put on the dark part of Sweden's history of Nazi sympathizers, the moral corruption surrounding the family and the misogynistic aspects of the killer (the original book's title was The Men Who Hated Women) - it's there, yes, but it feels like an afterthought. Most importantly, the very heart of the film is based on the choice of actress to take on the young punk hacker Salanger, the exciting, stand-up-and-take-notice character that made the novels such a hit. In the title role, Mara tries hard to evoke the Euro-girl, looking moody in her black outfits and multiple piercings, getting naked repeatedly, and suffering both internally and externally (a brutal rape scene is just as anguishing here), but doesn't quite show the seething anger or the "hear me roar" feeling we got from the fierce, unforgettable Noomi Rapace; she's a too-pretty, high-class model playing a crass role; a good actress who doesn't always convince. As her mentor and lead investigator, Craig comes off with the same charm and presence as his Bond films in the older journalist role, albeit with less physical confidence. They're also well-supported by the likes of Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård and Robin Wright as some of the less loathsome family members. In the end, Fincher's adaptation ends up a dazzling but soulless re-make of Oplev's movie. For audiences who have not had a chance to see the latter, The Girl will be a revelation of what a mature thriller can be; for those who have, it's a pale, albeit super-slick, reminder of the superior original.
Entertainment: 7/10

Gladiator (2000)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Director: Ridley Scott
Plot: Betrayed by the new emperor, an enslaved general seeking revenge returns to Rome to fight as a gladiator in the arena and defies the young tyrant by raising the crowds against him.
Review: Director Ridley Scott is a master visual story-teller, and Gladiator, though not on par with his masterpieces such as Blade Runner, is still another feather in his cap. Though comparisons to true classics such as Ben Hur and Spartacus may be unavoidable, film-making-wise Gladiator is more modern in its sensibilities and its style. The cinematography is often stunning to look at making it reminiscent of grand old-era-Hollywood spectacle, with its grand scenes of Rome, of the Coliseum, and of the great battles in Germania. Unfortunately, the use of quick edits similar to the ones in Saving Private Ryan during the savage, bloody fighting sequences makes for a visceral, fascinating, but utterly confusing, experience. Russell Crowe's star is rising fast and here his performance is archetypal heroic - strong, silent, and intense - and is easily the best thing of the film. The rest of the cast (especially Nielsen and the late Oliver Reed) is also good, but end up playing only supporting roles to Crowe's. The film uses some powerful surreal dream sequences to show the main character's search for inner peace, and this is really the only interesting plot-point in the otherwise simplistic storyline. It would have been nice to have more depth to the story and more than a cursory detail of Roman life, but it may be enough that the film avoids many (if not all) of the tired clichés and provides a thoroughly entertaining blockbuster. In the end, though more style than substance, Gladiator is still an exciting and visually striking sword-and-sandal epic adventure.
Entertainment: 8/10

Glory (1989)
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman
Director: Edward Zwick
Plot: At the height of the American Civil War, a young liberal officer trains and leads the nation's first all-black Army unit facing prejudice, ridicule and other difficulties from both his Union superiors and his own troops.
Review: Based on the letters of Colonel Robert G. Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment during the American Civil War, Glory recounts the story of one of the first all-black units in the US Army and the struggle they faced from all sides to be taken seriously. As expected, it's as much a story of the white abolitionists and the unit's white officers as it is of the struggle by the black soldiers to find their own identity and be treated as equals. With particular attention to historical detail and an insistence on creating fully-rounded characters, the film tackles these issues head on without talking down to its audience. The battle scenes and period setting are well realized, but it's the powerful, excellently rendered climactic battle scene depicting the Union's almost-suicidal attack on Fort Wagner that really lingers in the mind. Director Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) has always embraced stories that allow for a blend of popular mainstream filmmaking and storytelling with a smart script that allows for interesting characters and a cerebral exploration of moral issues. It sure helps that he's working with an ace cast and gets powerful performances from the likes of the inimitable Morgan Freeman, Broderick in a a rare dramatic turn and a young Washington who walked away with an Oscar for his portrayal of a hot-headed, self-centered soldier who has a problem with authority. An emotionally potent look at a little-known piece of American history, Glory is a sterling example of Hollywood drama done right.
Drama: 8/10

Go (1999)
Starring: Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Timothy Haynes
Director: Doug Liman
Plot: Three teenagers get mixed up in the criminal underside of LA's nightlife with repercussions on other people's lives.
Review: The characters in Go blunder into each other's lives at the very beginning of the film and then diverge into three completely different stories, each with its own tone and narrative, before intertwining once again. The film is an energetic, suspenseful, black comedy with a great sense of pacing that manages to mix a gritty sense of realism with its humor. Some scenes are quite intense and disturbing, keeping your nerves frayed before allowing you to let it out in a sigh of relief and a good laugh. Director Liman (Swingers) has style to burn and it shows on screen. Aided by a talented young cast, and a witty, intelligent script, Go is a vastly entertaining film.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Godfather Part III (1990)
Starring: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Plot: A mafia godfather tries to take control of a Vatican-owned corporation to legitimize his name and his business dealings but his enemies have different ideas.
Review: 16 years after his Oscar-winning success on The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II, director Coppola (Apocalypse Now) once again teams with author Mario Puzo to revive one of his greatest achievements and bring it into the modern era. Unfortunately, it doesn't fare well on almost every point. To say this is the weakest of the trilogy is to do the previous two a disservice, as this one is nowhere near the revolutionary, indeed iconic, crime drama of its predecessors. Fans and critics alike were equally disappointed, with good reason: too wordy, too theatrical, too introspective and too melodramatic, this is a bloated exercise in film-making that would have needed a good editing. And with its attempt at mainstream violence, romance, and twisted back-stabbings ` la Hollywood machine mixed in with its attempt at re-capturing the epic scope, it feels like nothing but a parody of its former selves, an excuse to make a buck on the back of a revered series. Coppola seems to be at a loss on how to regain that cinematic magic; there are moments that remind one just how good he really is, and others that leave us wondering if a hack took his place. Not helping matters is the soap-opera-tinged script and shameful second-rate acting considering the cast involved, with Pacino giving his now-familiar over-the-top performance. Of note is Coppola's daughter as the main squeeze, who's almost as bad as she's usually made out to be. Not to say this is a terrible movie - the cinematography is excellent (if too reliant on close-ups), the narrative and pace well balanced, the intrigue relatively engaging, and the production just as lavish as the previous ones - but none of this can really save the film from audience expectations. In the end, The Godfather, Part III is decent enough entertainment, but it's also a disappointment from the same talented people who gave us the previous grand efforts.
Drama / Entertainment: 5/10

God Of Cookery (Hong Kong - 1996)
Starring: Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Ng Mang Tat
Director: Stephen Chow
Plot: A con-man passing himself off as a master chef ends up losing everything to his ambitious understudy, but with the help of a disfigured street vendor hopes to reclaim his place in the next cooking competition.
Review: God of Cookery is another good example of actor / director Stephen Chow's trademark comedy work. Mixing over-the-top farce with parodies of cooking competitions, kung-fu films, and revenge films, the film throws everything at the screen to get a laugh and, for the most part, it works. The highlights of the film, though, are the imaginative dishes with ridiculous names and the creative ways they are prepared reminding one of some classic moments of other fantasy Hong Kong films. Indeed, these cook-offs are fascinating and quite hilarious, especially the final showdown between the two adversaries. The pacing of the film doesn't always flow well, though, and in fact slows way down in the middle of the story as we are treated to a gang war satire, a spoof on romantic comedies, and lots of low-brow slapstick. Still, the whole proceeding is quite entertaining and original, and makes God Of Cookery a tasty way to spend a few hours.
Entertainment: 7/10

God of Gamblers (Hong Kong - 1989)
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Andy Lau
Director: Wong Jing
Plot: Chow Yun Fat (Asia's answer to Clint Eastwood) plays the world's greatest gambler who loses his memory before getting a chance to beat a corrupt rival. 
Review: Part drama, part action, part slapstick comedy, and showcasing some fascinating gambling scenes, this movie revitalized the gambling movie in Hong Kong cinema. The different genre elements work together pretty well, and Chow Yun Fat (as usual) has great screen presence.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Goddess of 1967 (2000)
Starring: Rose Byrne, Rikiya Kurokawa, Nicholas Hope
Director: Clara Law
Plot: A Japanese man travels to Australia to buy the car of his dreams, a vintage 1967 Citroen DS, only to become entangled in the life of the owner, a blind young woman who insists on being driven far into the country. 
Review: With The Goddess of 1967, director Law (Autumn Moon) has created a feature that is beautiful, dream-like, harsh and at the same time innocent and one that makes it impossible for the audience not to be moved. With a constant use of interesting cinematography, as well as vivid, surreal imagery with stark colors, the film is quickly mesmerizing. The main story is an interesting clash of cultures and experiences, of contrasts between the two main characters - Japanese / Australian, city-dweller / country girl, seeing / blind, man / woman... In fact all the characters are slightly bizarre, and are all trying to strive for something they cannot reach. As charming, witty, and touching as the socially inept pair's relationship is (both terrifically cast and portrayed by Byrne and Kurokawa), it is again contrasted with her past. As her story unfolds backwards, from present to recent past to distant past and back again, her life is carefully presented as a spiral of desolation, incest and possible murder. Running the gamut from being emotionally disturbing to delicately humorous, The Goddess of 1967 is a real gem from a fascinating director.
Drama: 8/10

*Classic* The Godfather (1972)
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Plot: After his father is critically wounded by a rival Mafia Don vying for power, a decorated war hero is sucked into the violent world of organized crime and forced to do his part in the family business.
Review: The American crime drama of the decade - if not of all time - and the precursor to a slew of similar crime epics, The Godfather one of the high marks of American cinema. Winner of numerous awards (including an Oscar for Best Picture), as well as garnering critical acclaim and popularity, the film opened up a hidden world, a little-known underworld society called the Mafia, and brought it to mainstream attention. At the outset, the story follows the lives of a crime family as it attempts to maintain its empire despite the violent, treacherous competition from other mobs and betrayals from within and without. But what really elevates the film to classic status is that it is also a superb, epic ensemble drama that explores such universal themes as the immigrant experience, generational strife, filial loyalty and more. All these themes coalesce into a seamless whole that climaxes into a devastating conclusion, as new values replace that of the old. Director Coppola (who went on to direct Apocalypse Now, among others) shot to legendary status with his brilliant, almost Shakespearen take on the American Mafia. From the tight, far reaching script by writer Mario Puzo, to the lavish production values, to the masterful pacing, and down to the memorable score from Marricone, everything clicks perfectly into place. The operatic violence is extreme but appropriate, a necessary view into this ruthless "business" that destroyed lives and split families apart. The film is also characterized by the strong character development, especially in the unwanted rise of the ambitious, youngest Corleone brother to head of the family. Even the cast is sublime, including a young Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, the mousy John Cazale and the volatile James Caan, each out-doing their previous performances. But the most memorable part, of course, rests on Brando's excellent portrayal of the aging Don Corleone ("I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"). Dramatic, elegant, well-produced, lavish, and epic in scope The Godfather is an engrossing tale of a crime family bound by loyalty, fear, and love. A tour de force.
Drama: 10/10

Godzilla (1998)
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno
Director: Roland Emmerich
Plot: A towering monster created by French atomic testing rampages through Manhattan and defies the entire US Army, leaving only a young scientist, his journalist ex, and a foreign special agent to stop it.
Review: With Godzilla, the popular Japanese monster, seen with such camp on this side of the ocean, gets the American make-over. What we get is a thundering, loud, fast-paced effort from the team that brought us Independence Day, bringing with it the entire baggage of what's right and wrong with the Hollywood blockbuster. What's right: terrific special effects, fun crowd-pleasing moments and lots of carefully detailed destruction. The beast itself is an interesting take on the original monster, and as a change to its foreign brethren, it's no longer a man in a suit but a full-fledged digital creation, allowing it to be a tad more realistic. New York is once again the target of destruction, and in this Emmerich excels and gives us the film's real highlights. What's not: dumb script, bland characters, and a complete miss as to what made the original Gojira films so timeless. Needless to say, there's nothing original here. Broderick plays to type as a love-lorn innocent and just doesn't make for a necessary hero. The rest of the cast are a bunch of miscellaneous misfits, though Reno's presence as the French secret agent makes up for a whole lot, even if it's ridiculous. An annoying trait comes from the depiction of the Army: while in their previous effort the troops were simply over-matched, here they're simply incompetent. There's lots of silly stuff too, including a taxi chase to outrun the monster, and the way everyone just plain "loses" such a goliath in Manhattan. Yawn. Even one of the better bits, a sequence where our heroes get chased by the Big-G's hundred-odd offspring (yes, you read right, it's a mommy), is a scene straight out of Jurassic Park's velociraptor fight - albeit on steroids - but without that film's sense of suspense. But at the end of the day Godzilla wasn't made to have any refinement or meaning, it was meant to make money. It's a popcorn movie, one that's loud, fast, big and extremely well made, and for some that'll be enough.
Entertainment: 5/10

Godzilla 2000 (Japan - 2000)
Starring: Takehiro Murata, Naomi Nishida
Director: Takao Okawara
Plot: The gigantic lizard Godzilla returns to terrorize Tokyo once again to fight off not only the new weapons of the Japanese army but to defeat a brutal extra-terrestrial monster as well.
Review: Godzilla 2000 marks the return of the men-in-rubber-suits monsters to the big screen, destroying scale models and facing off in true wrestling match fashion. The film uses many F/X techniques to convince a the audience, and though some scenes show off a good use of computer effects, others (notably the destruction of whole city blocks) are even less convincing than the 60's films. The necessary inclusion of the banal characters to the storyline for added "human drama" is once again only filler, but the quick pacing, decent acting, and even occasional suspense make these moments pass a bit better than expected. The highlight of any Godzilla film, of course, are the scenes of destruction and here they are entertaining but not as fun as in some of the previous orgies of chaos and debris, and nowhere near as impressive as the ones shown in the other re-modernized competing series Gamera. In trying to imitate Independence Day-style effects the film comes up a bit short, but with a well-paced and entertaining entry to the series Godzilla 2000 does succeed in bringing the famous monster to a new generation of movie-goers.
Entertainment: 5/10

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Japan - 2002)
Starring: Yumiko Shaku, Shin Takuma, Kana Onodera
Director: Masaaki Tezuka
Plot: To protect Tokyo from the rampaging rage of a new Godzilla monster, government agencies build a giant robot using the skeleton of the original creature which is piloted by an officer who still grieves for her fallen captain.
Review: Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, director Tezuka's second installment in his own modern-day Godzilla trilogy (following the decent Godzilla vs. Megaguirus) is a certified hit for connoisseurs of the series. Starting the Godzilla story from scratch once again (that is, eliminating all the ones that followed the original 1954 Gojira), allows the script to start afresh without 50 years of baggage and come up with a neat twist to the "ultimate Godzilla-killer". All the usual hallmarks of the series are still here - the non-related human drama, the larger-than-life theatrical intensity, the ridiculous plot - but thankfully we get one of the more engaging "human backdrop" story of the series thanks to a tighter script and some interesting (if stereotypical) characters (the stern scientists, the expert but broken female pilot, the spirited young kid, etc.). But all this is really only filler before getting to the stuff that audiences of any Godzilla movie wants to see, and that's mega-monster mayhem. More money seems to have been thrown on this latest installments and the digital special effects are definitely getting better - sure it's still guys in rubber suits, but the action here is spectacular, explosive, and for fans of monster movies, downright joyful in its excess. To be fair, there's perhaps less actual scenes of Tokyo being destroyed building-by-building than we're used to, but we do get some great giant-lizard-on-robot slugfests, lots of sci-fi-styled mechanized weaponry on display, and lots of Saturday-morning type of cartoon battles. With its plentiful genre action sequences, brisk pacing, and even decent human intermissions, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla is one of the better installments of this re-invented series.
Entertainment: 7/10

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Starring: Noboru Kaneko, Miho Yoshioka
Director: Masaki Tezuka
Plot: Aiding the pride of Japan's defense force, a giant robot created from the bones of a previous Godzilla incarnation, a giant moth returns after a 40-year absence to do battle with the rampaging Godzilla for the fate of Tokyo.
Review: Though it's all terribly familiar to anyone who's seen any such fare this decade, Tokyo S.O.S. is still much more fun than what most audiences would expect from a monster movie, with a decent budget and mayhem to match. Its only real failing is perhaps that the uninspired script makes it feels like more of a rush-job than some of the latest entries. A direct sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (a first this decade), the film doesn't quite live up to its predecessor despite some obvious higher-than-expected production values and the apt, if lackluster direction from Masaki Tezuka, the man who revived the Gamera series. It doesn't help that Mothra - a giant moth - is a pretty lame monster that even colorful padding can't save, and its battle moves are pretty lame. Thankfully Mechagodzilla, bristling with high-tech weapons, does join the fray to provide some pretty good destruction. Sure, the men-in-rubber-suits thing is pretty obvious, and the miniature work is sometimes iffy, but some of the special effects (including some judicious use of CGI) do enhance the clashes and there's no lack of pyrotechnics in place. If the human plot remains rather monotonous and kid-friendly (something that's on par for the course) at least the story isn't quite as cutesy as some, and for older fans the mythology of the original Mothra movie is revived, featuring the original actor and the appearance of twin fairies (yes, it's as silly as it sounds). The acting is typically sub-par, but then none of them are expected to turn in any kind of Oscar performance. Though Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is only an average installment in the franchise, and the sum total of the chaos is nowhere near its predecessor, fans of the genre will get a kick with these further adventures of everyone's favorite giant lizard.
Entertainment: 5/10

Golden Chicken (Hong Kong - 2002)
Starring: Sandra Ng, Eric Tsang, Hu Jun
Director: Samson Chiu
Plot: Trapped in an ATM booth by a power outage with a down-and-out would-be burglar, a prostitute relates her varied, strange and raunchy career from the mid-1980's to present day.
Review: The comedy / drama Golden Chicken, the Chinese slang term for successful prostitute, isn't a film that would have worked as anything but a Hong Kong production. As an ode to the city's last 20 years, it parallels a woman's life and career in the local sex trade with the ups and downs of the economic and political history of Hong Kong itself, from the rich 80's, to the problems of mainland workers pouring in from the mainland, to the Asian stock-market crash. The film proceeds like this in an episodic manner through events of the 80's and 90's in the best mainstream manner, managing to bring out pathos, comedy and sentimental drama while tackling what would usually be a daring subject matter . Sure, the sex trade is seen here through rose-colored glasses as our heroine progresses from prostitute to self-made entrepreneur, all portrayed as just another mainstream job (!), but with a light-hearted and good-humored touch it keeps it all quite enjoyable. But whatever appreciation may come from the script or direction, it would all be for naught were it not for comic leading lady Sandra Ng. Ng is just spectacular in every scene, be it in the many slapstick sequences (imitating Jackie Chan while wearing a tacky dress, having to please her Johns in strange fashions, etc.), or the many touching moments, such as when she's forced to give up her child (an occupational accident), or falls for a too-cool mainland hood in scenes that are surprisingly erotic. While these are all milked to get audiences to sympathize with the character, Ng makes sure it doesn't feel like a cheat by making the role her own and playing a courageous woman who actually cares for her work, and who gets by with her wit and sincerity rather than her looks. Lots of scene-stealing cameos from vets like Eason Chan and Tony Leung as a buck-toothed, horny professor add a little spice. There's also a hilarious tongue-in-cheek moment when Andy Lau, playing himself as a spokesman for a new re-invigorated HK, walks out of the TV set to show her how to "show pride and heartfelt passion for your customers" by moaning convincingly in the presence of her new clients, be they old or ugly. In the end, Golden Chicken is a surprising success for all involved but that's a real winner thanks to its leadings actress' superb portrayal.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Golden Compass (2007)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards
Director: Chris Weitz
Plot: In a world parallel to our own, a young girl comes into possession of a magical compass and travels to the frozen Pole to save a group of kidnapped children taken by a mysterious organization.
Review: Much like the first film in the Harry Potter series, the adaptation of The Golden Compass is a well conceived introduction to a new potential franchise. With a style and some fine special effects that convincingly portray a sense of place, the film creates an exciting new universe without the exposition that hampers many a fantasy. Director Weitz's first effects-laden film (he was well attuned to down to earthly characters in About a Boy) shows a quirky brand of characterization, making even the stereotypical players a little more interesting than the norm. The sense of adventure permeates and - if the narrative doesn't quite flow with perfect pacing - it's a film that has a very particular look and feel, making it stand out of the pack. Unfairly compared as the flip side of The Chronicles of Narnia in regards to its supposed atheistic tone (none of which seems evident here), the film is undeniably darker than most pre-teen genre films. Despite its target audience, the film is rightly set with a PG-13 rating for its scenes of terror, its more mature subject matter, and the stylized violence - especially in the climax of a fierce polar bear-to-bear fight to the death. As the young heroine, Richards is downright refreshing, playing a feisty, smart kid who has her own strong morals with attitude to spare, and who can stand her own against grown-ups. She faces two co-stars: Kidman is superb as a slightly deranged villainess, but Craig sadly has little more than a supporting role. The film, meant to capture the first part of author Phil Pullman's The Dark Materials trilogy, doesn't even complete the first book, leaving the tale hanging, unfinished. Alas, the lukewarm box-office reception to the film may have dashed any hope of seeing any continuing adventures. Still, even as a stand-alone, The Golden Compass is an entertaining fantasy film that's sure to please mainstream viewers.
Entertainment: 7/10

GoldenEye (1995)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Izabella Scorupco, Sean Bean
Director: Martin Campbell
Plot: Super-spy 007 chases international high-tech Russian terrorists led by a rogue British agent trying to steal a Soviet satellite capable of causing city-wide chaos.
Review: There was a lot at stake in making Goldeneye after the dismal failure of the last Bond film, License to Kill and there's an interesting undercurrent here: does Bond still have a place in a post-Cold War era? Of course, the answer is yes, with a bang. The most important ingredient is Pierce Brosnan as the latest actor to take on the reigns of the classic character and he pulls it off with a fine performance, full of charisma, panache and a killer streak. All the typical Bond fixings are back in full swing as well, including a psychotic henchman (or woman) in Famke Janssen, a bevy of new gadgets, diabolical villains, and a dastardly plot. The action sequences are exciting, original and mostly well-done especially the one with Bond driving a tank through St-Petersburg. Occasionally the film seems to try a little too hard to make itself memorable and spectacular and comes out short, while other scenes (especially the conversations) don't seem to fit properly into the story, pacing-wise. Still, with its thrill-a-minute script and impressive stunts, Goldeneye may not be the best Bond adventure of the series but it does succeed in bringing the world's most famous spy back into action for a new generation.
Entertainment: 7/10

Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall
Director: Dominic Sena
Plot: A retired legendary car-thief must return to the city and his crew to steal 50 high-end cars in a single night in order to save his small-time hood brother from being killed.
Review: Fast-paced, fun to watch, full of loud, pedal to the metal action, witty banter and smart-ass one-liners, this remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is exactly what the audience comes to expect from producer Jerry Buckheimer high-concept films (The Rock, Con Air). True, the large cast of characters are way under-developed, and Duvall and Jolie barely seem to have any screen time. Cage manages to imbue the proceedings with a bit of his typical charm and energy, but really doesn't have much in the way of dialogue to work with. The camera also seems to prefer the sleek, polished cars to the cast. The paper-thin plot, of course, is but secondary and thankfully it reaches its crescendo barely 15 minutes into the film and immediately revs up to the real fun, that of seeing, and stealing, the cars themselves. The heist itself isn't nearly as much fun as would be expected, either, but the action sequences peppered in the film between rival gangs, and the rapid-edit car chases, especially the climactic 20 minutes, make up for a lot. As a comprehensible character-driven story, the film just doesn't work, but as a mindless, adrenaline-pumping summer film Gone in 60 Seconds delivers.
Entertainment: 7/10

Gone With the Wind (1939)
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia De Havilland
Director: Victor Fleming
Plot: Grand epic story of Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern belle who tries desperately to recover everything she lost during the Civil War.
Review: Seen by many as the greatest movie ever made, this sweeping Civil War epic still works after more than 60 years, mostly because it remains a great story, with familiar characters well portrayed with their greater-than-life tragedies and triumphs, vivid colors, impressive cinematography, and famous musical score. Gone With the Wind is really a story in two parts. The first half is a dark, depressing account of the Civil War and the hardships faced by the once-prosperous Southern families and how Scarlett's family is driven to the brink of starvation. Some memorable, epic scenes of destruction help make the point, including one where Scarlett wanders through a town street filled with the wounded and the dead, and races past a great blaze depicting the fiery destruction of Atlanta. The second half is more of a soap opera, as all the characters end up, one way or another, under the influence of Scarlett whose only dream is to rebuild her family's estate at any cost. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler is a powerful, charming screen presence here as the rich Southern rogue, and easily the most sympathetic character of the film. But it is Scarlett O'Hara the true hero of the film who goes from a spoiled child to a strong-willed woman, her strength forged in the heat of want and desperation, although her childhood petulance and amorous fantasies remain throughout to her detriment. Clark Gable probably has the most famous line of dialogue in movie history with his parting "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn". Hard to say the same about the film, which garnered many Oscars, classic movie status, and may well be the top box-office draw in film history.
Drama: 8/10

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
Director: Sergio Leone
Plot: The "Man With No Name" is back, this time in an uneasy truce with a bandit and a mercenary to find a hidden cache of $200,000 in gold in the background of the Civil War. 
Review: This third "Dollars" installment uses the style, camera, and story-telling techniques of the first two (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More), enhanced ten-fold, to very good effect. The film is absolutely beautiful to look at, making full use of the wide-screen canvas. With lots of staring, posturing and wild, dramatic camera work alternating between long shots and extreme close-ups, you can just feel the desolation, suspense and quick death that hides in every corner. The evocative score by Morricone just adds to a film that already reeks of atmosphere. The much higher production values, sets, and epic scale are evident in every scene, especially the ones depicting the Civil War. The problem is that Leone pushes everything to extremes, turning the film into a parody of the first two, with wild coincidences, scenes played for morbid laughs, characters that are all complete anti-heroes, and long takes that are supposed to add to the suspense but just end up, well, long. Still, the characters are fascinating to watch, the adventure story and script interesting, the action over-the-top (especially the memorable destruction of the bridge), and the cinematography top-notch. Many consider this one of the ultimate Westerns, and it's easy to see why: diluting all the style and substance of the genre into one grand operatic tale, Leone has made here a grand "Spaghetti Western".
Entertainment: 8/10

The Good German (2006)
Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Plot: Assigned to cover the Allied leader summit in post-war Berlin, an American military journalist becomes entangled in a murder involving his former German mistress and a missing scientist.
Review: A post-war-themed film noir thriller with modern sensibilities, The Good German is a great showcase for its director's technical expertise and passion for classic movies, but one that misses the mark in terms of getting an emotional involvement from its audience. Indeed, director / cinematographer Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) is no newcomer to experimenting with styles (see Bubble or Schizopolis) and here he affectionately recreates the style of the Hollywood films of old. In fact, knowingly using the style, filmmaking techniques, effects, distinct score and even editing of old he provides a sharply rendered homage that gives all the right impression of a 1940's film noir, one that not only looks the same but also moves along its narrative path in very much the same manner. The script however is much more contemporary in terms of its depiction of sex, violence, and swearing, things that wouldn't have passed censors at the time. If there's a problem, though, it's the aforementioned script that provides all the right elements of a complex mystery and daring intrigue but can't seem to keep its character motivations clear; these soon just become murky and inconsistent with what has come before. The final revelation, as the two leads say goodbye in a moment straight out of Casablanca, isn't that surprising or interesting and the big, "shocking" finale just isn't. One of the main interests, as well, is the A-list cast, forced to emulate the almost-theatrical style of acting of the period: Clooney, playing the patsy who gets constantly beaten up while seeking the truth, is pure Clooney and he doesn't disappoint; Maguire surprises in a very different, unsavory role as the black-market entrepreneur and military driver; and Blanchard gets the femme fatale role down pat, keeping a calculated distance with everyone and everything. In the end though, that's the problem: Soderbergh has created a film that looks great, but is as cold as its characters. Still, if some of these faults can be dismissed, it's easy to get taken in by the B&W intrigue, solid performances and craftsmanship that is evident in every frame. The Good German isn't going to revive the film noir for a new audience, but it's a fine homage to a bygone age.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Frank Langella
Director: George Clooney
Plot: In 1950's America, during the early days of broadcast journalism, CBS television news pioneer Edward R. Murrow takes on Senator Joe McCarthy and the House of Unamerican Activities in his weekly broadcast.
Review: A tribute to the journalistic integrity of CBS television news pioneer Edward R. Murrow and his team in the face of government retaliation, Good Night, and Good Luck is a slickly made, headstrong commentary on the need for a free and independent press. Even in the 50's it was clear that TV and its three main US stations were there to ensure their sponsors were happy, and that their audiences were made complacent to the issues at hand and the freedoms that were being trampled on (as Murrow put it: TV had become an instrument to "distract, delude, amuse and insulate"). Fast-forward 50 years later as Americans face the Patriot Act and Fox News and it's clear that not much has changed. After a directorial debut that was as brilliant as it was surprising with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, star actor Clooney once again surprises in his sophomore turn as director and co-writer, giving us an even-handed and confident drama about the goings-on in the CBS newsroom during the Communist witch-hunts. And it's all inspirational stuff, how a few men of conscience stood up for what was right against the character assassinations and paranoia that swept the nation, yet the story never falls into sensationalism or hero-worship, keenly aware of the failings of its real-life characters. Though made on a low-budget by Hollywood standard, it's impeccably shot in glorious black & white, the narrative is efficiently paced (the short 90 minutes running time simply zips by), and the combination of stock news footage (most of which is of McCarthy himself) with the staged events provides an added note of realism. Stratham has never been a big star, but this role is definitely one of the highlights of his career and his reading of the integral texts from Murrow, editorials that had a candor that is rarely seen on mainstream TV these days, is note-perfect. The rest of the stellar cast, including a stalwart Clooney as his producer, Ray Wise as a fellow newscaster along with Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson and others, also make strong impressions with little screen time. Good Night, and Good Luck may not be a great film but as an homage to some quiet heroes it does provide an engaging look into a shameful era, with a message that is still relevant today.
Drama: 7/10

The Good Shepherd (2006)
Starring: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro
Director: Robert De Niro
Plot: At the dawn of World War II, a privileged Yale graduate starts a career in the US intelligence services and becomes an integral part of the creation and early history of the CIA, to the detriment of his family life.
Review: Forget the action credits of its leads: The Good Shepherd isn't your typical spy thriller. As seen through the eyes of one fictional agent, it's an intelligent, meticulously detailed, surprisingly subdued drama that is an always-intriguing look at the beginnings and early history of the Central Intelligence Agency. It's a film that feels like an adaptation of a complex LeCarré novel put to the screen - and that's a compliment. Set against the backdrop of the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, the agent's tale (played with almost stoic seriousness by Damon) is told in flashback, highlighting his rise in the organization, a rise that is paralleled by his alienation to his trophy wife (a surprisingly demure Jolie) and son, and the personal cost of his own moral degradation for carrying such a heavy burden of secrets. Though this is only his second film behind the camera (his first was the sweet drama A Bronx Tale) DeNiro surprises by capably directing his cast and producing a visually distinctive atmosphere; here he's created a handsome, thoughtful indictment of the agency's WASP culture of self-righteousness and paranoia. At almost three hours it's a stretch for those needing a faster paced effort but for those willing to give in to the deliberate, effective narrative it's a spell-binding, harrowing trip into the dark heart of espionage and counter-intelligence. With all its twists, double-crosses, complex plots and conspiracies, there's the inevitable sale of one honorable man's soul. Much of the script by Eric Roth gives tidbits of impeccably researched information, mixed in with news footage, historical evidence and fabricated scenes and personalities to give a sweeping view of the first 20 years of the agency. The film is also crammed with interesting characters, played with panache by such actors as Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, John Turturro and Joe Pesci, among others. Unfortunately, if all of them make do admirably, none of them really get a chance to make much of an impression, relegated to moving the epic story along. Not only an ambitious, well-executed film that manages to bring the enthralling real-life spy-game to the big screen, The Good Shepherd also provides a political message that is still relevant today.
Drama: 8/10

Good Work (Beau Travail) (1999)
Starring: Denis Lavant, Gregoire Colin, Michel Subor 
Director: Claire Denis
Plot: A French Foreign Legion officer's petty jealousy towards a new charismatic recruit in his East-African based outfit flares into hatred as he becomes obsessed with breaking the young man's spirit.
Review: Beau Travail is a war movie without a war, an existential fable where the usual soldierly companionship has turned sour. The story takes us with them on their daily training and maneuvers, making it real, the repetitive cycle of their days, coping with a very different culture in which they were dropped, the tiring, mind-numbing routine of their lives. There's strong drama here on the sometimes difficult, complex relationships between men from different backgrounds forced to live together in close proximity. All the more impressive that this male bonding, fear, and hatred has been so well captured by one of France's best female directors. Many have discussed the film's suggestive eroticising of the male body, but there's more to it than that: Denis shows the raw emotions, the stark, depressing reality of their lives with an amazing economy of words. She gets inside their minds, their lives, and it's not always a pretty place. Thanks to the stunning cinematography, these sentiments are presented and reinforced visually instead of through dialogue. Indeed, shot on location in Djibouti, the dramatic imagery, stunning visuals of the group are set against the stark desert landscapes. The camera keeps them all at a distance, however; it's all mesmerizingly beautiful, like a crisp surreal dreamscape, but also shallow and cold. Loosely based on Melville's novella Billy Budd, the film has different goals than its source material, for one Denis' blunt commentary on the military's dehumanization of its people and France's blatant imperialism in foreign lands. The film, however, succeeds the most when showing impressionistic glances at the Legionnaire's life, the psychological and physical hardships that they must face. The cast is solid, but it's the impressive, difficult performance from Lavant who, while recounting his vain / glorious past life, brings an emotionally charged, unsympathetic role to life that stands at the very center of the film. Despite its coldness, Beau Travail is a lyrical, haunting drama that touches a chord that won't be soon forgotten.
Drama: 8/10

A Good Year (2006)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore
Director: Ridley Scott
Plot: A self-centered British financial broker inherits his uncle's chateau and vineyard in French Provence, a place where he spent much of his childhood, and can only think of selling the estate as quickly as he can - but the locals might just change his mind.
Review: A laid-back, ultimately frivolous romantic drama based on Peter Mayle's book A Year in Provence, A Good Year seems to be an odd choice from the acting / directing team that gave us Gladiator, and it's clear that nether is really in their element. The story itself echoes many of the themes already touched upon in Under the Tuscan Sun, with Diane Lane playing the fish-out-of-water role, and the script is predictable with its sense of nostalgia and critique of modern urban life. And yet, it's hard not to get caught up in the laid-back narrative, ridiculous romantic turn-arounds, and gorgeous scenery. It's clear that this was always meant as a languid affair and the filmmakers are slumming it, getting a chance to work on a low-key, low stakes affair, and getting to enjoy the French countryside while they're at it. As presented here, Provence is seen with amber-colored glasses, true, but it looks and feels fabulous, and the writers know enough to revel in familiar territory; you can understand wanting to stay here. Scott's directing is just fine, as it always is no matter the subject (from Alien to Kingdom of Heaven), and the film looks slick and visually sumptuous. Comedy, however, is not his forte; it's all in the comic timing, as the film says, and everyone here is a little off. Crowe may not have been the most obvious choice for the role - his smug grin shows up to a disconcerting degree - but he does a nice, charming job as the horribly self-centered bloke who manages to be oddly sympathetic. Veteran actor Finney, as his uncle, is a joy to behold, a veritable force of nature and Highmore, as the young version of our protagonist, capably paves the way for what the man will become. In the end, A Good Year makes a great tourist video of the French countryside and its famous vignobles, and if its tale is rather shallow, it's still a well-made affair that goes down well.
Entertainment: 6/10

The Goonies (1985)
Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman
Director: Richard Donner
Plot: Faced with forced eviction from their homes, a group of Oregon kids puts all their hopes in finding pirate treasure in a hidden cove only to find that they're chased by a family of crooks looking for the same.
Review: A product of 80's brat-pack filmmaking that taps into the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark for a family crowd, The Goonies is equal measures Treasure Island, Indiana Jones and Hardy Boys. As penned by Steven Spielberg himself and directed by acclaimed action director Donner (Lethal Weapon, Superman), the film unfortunately starts off slow, taking way too long to set up its situations and multiple characters. It also suffers from an uneven pacing and too many rough patches as if too many cooks spoiled this broth. Though the cast is made up of lots of familiar child-actors, led by a very eager Sean Astin, the kids are plain stereotypes - there's the fat kid, the Asian kid, the smart-mouthed kid, etc. with personalities to match. Its enduring popularity and cult-classic status may be more akin to its Gen-X roots than any actual originality or cleverness. Yet despite its plot holes, its corny dialogue, its dated special effects and its hammy acting the film still manages to be an amusing enough family adventure. There are some redeeming moments, like the imaginative (if terribly silly) traps and riddles, the giant waterslides, and the finale on board a hidden pirate ship that's worth the wait. The skeletons, spiked floorings and darkened caves might frighten youngsters, but the villainous, dysfunctional family of crooks are just plain ridiculous and as nasty as befits a kids film, providing ample slapstick-comedy relief. Credit goes to the evidence of some of the old Spielberg magic, then: The Goonies might not have aged well but it's an entertaining enough affair while it lasts.
Entertainment: 5/10

Gorgeous (Hong Kong - 1999)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Qi Shu
Director: Vincent Kok
Plot: A successful but lonely corporate magnate falls for a strong-willed but naive young country girl but must first battle on the stock market and with his fists against his rival who is out to humiliate him.
Review: Jackie Chan has been in some of the most jaw-dropping action films ever made, including Drunken Master 2 and Project A. With Gorgeous, he aims for a lighter, less intensive, and more PC role and it just doesn't work. The film just seems too saccharine-sweet, with everyone being "nice", including the villain, who only wants to embarrass his old friend. The comedy elements, mostly limited to slapstick, are occasionally amusing (if often banal) but the romantic bits, vying for a sort of Pretty Woman are completely absent - Chan just doesn't convince when sparks are required. The martial arts star may be getting old, but he hasn't lost any of his acrobatic skills, though. The always impressive and original fight choreography is still evident, if lacking a bit of energy to make them really great. Unfortunately, these action sequences are few and are basically made up of two very civilized kick-boxing sequences against a young foreign champion. Combining romantic comedy with a dash of action, Gorgeous does manage to be occasionally entertaining, but only as vapid fluff.
Entertainment: 4/10

Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Bryan Brown, John Omirah Miluwi
Director: Michael Apted
Plot: Dramatization of the life of Diane Fossey, a female scientist who left the trappings of modern society to study mountain gorillas in remote parts of Africa and fought for the preservation of the species.
Review: Though based on the true-life account of Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist is made more palatable for American audiences by providing a dramatized version of events. Shot on location in Rwanda in the jungle and house home to Fossey herself, the film occasionally manages to make us feel for what inspired her to stay here, far from human society, and make a new life. The relationship between Fossey and "her" gorillas are the highlight of the film, and the set-up, documentary-like cinematography and general care given to these scenes deliver some genuinely tender and revealing moments that makes the film click. The great animal effects mixed in with real-life footage of the gorillas at ease, including some of the young ones walking all over Weaver, make the scenes quite convincing. The film tries to be the story of Fossey herself, presenting her as an eccentric character, but also a strong-willed one. The drama is real enough, and some moments are quite effective in portraying the helplessness and desperation of Fossey in her later years as well as her alienation to the outside world, but the script doesn't allow for any real understanding into her character. Her love affair with a photographer, though true, is played out in a very Hollywood manner and seems tacked on and unconvincing. Sigourney Weaver, however, does a wonderful performance in a role well suited to her, and manages to convey strong emotions and longing, often without any dialogue whatsoever. Despite its faults, Gorillas in the Mist is a film that tries to bring more to the table than most mainstream biopics, and despite its melodramatic leanings and limited viewpoint on the subject, one that is worth seeing.
Drama: 6/10

Gosford Park (2001)
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Maggie Smith
Director: Robert Altman
Plot: A hunting weekend at the mansion of a wealthy British host sees an intermingling with the upper class guests and their servants followed by an unveiling of old secrets that ends up in murder.
Review: Taking an obvious inspiration from Renoir's classic Rules of the Game, director Altman's (The Player, M*A*S*H) Gosford Park is a mostly light-hearted affair part comedy, part drama that takes most of its running time setting the stage for a Clue-like mystery. There's only the occasional seriousness here, Altman relying more on the broad caricature-esque attributes of his characters to parody the British upper class. Mind you, there isn't much new here that we haven't seen before in one form or another, but it's all consistently entertaining and well done that we are quickly taken in. The main problem of the film is that there are just too many characters, each with their own interesting story, and though played superbly by some of the best English actors around, even the two-plus running length is too short to tell all their stories, ensuring that they are all underused to some extent. And yet even with such a vast cast and so many intertwining storylines the script never gets lost amidst the proceedings, staying intriguing from beginning to end while Altman keeps everything moving along smoothly. If nothing else, Gosford Park comes off as a superb, complex ensemble piece with a great cast, witty dialogue and a seamless execution.
Entertainment: 7/10

Gothika (2003)
Starring: Halle Berry, Penelope Cruz, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Plot: After a strange supernatural encounter, a criminal psychologist wakes up to find herself locked up as a patient in the same mental institution in which she works, accused of having brutally killed her husband.
Review: Gothika, a would-be supernatural thriller / ghost story is just about what one would expect from a low budget flick, a trite, dime-book tale told with little attention or style - not what one would expect from a supposedly grade-A production. Instead of frightening, the film seems to rely mostly on cheap scares. And when it tries for a sense of dread and creepiness, the effect is often hijacked by a plot which gets mired in either a tired cliché or a conventional plot requirement. In fact, it has more bad dialogue and more screaming and running around than it should, and just not enough spooky elements. The whole thing becomes quite predictable at the half-way point, and even the final revelation (and confrontation) lacks the necessary oomph. The most surprising thing, though, is the lack of attention to detail and common sense. That and the script is lazy, the dialogue is often silly, and the characters are unconvincing. Director Kassovitz (best known for his auteur work on Hate and the cool Seven-like thriller Crimson River) creates another slick product here, but it's devoid of any particular flair and only ends up looking like a generic Hollywood product. There's a few adequate slasher and ghostly moments, but there's not enough to raise it above looking and feeling like a B-movie affair - indeed it almost verges on the camp, what with its try at being both Girl Interrupted and What Lies Beneath in one. After an Oscar win Berry seems to be slumming it in her latest roles, and this one is only the latest. As a supposed brilliant psychologist sprouting pop psycho-babble, she doesn't always manage the part. Cruz, as the misunderstood patient and later ally, is completely disfigured but manages. Downey does OK, and actually comes out the best of the lot but even he's only here as set decoration. Still, there's a certain tension that's evident, and the mystery (at least until the final act) is relatively engaging if typical for this sort of vehicle. Add this with the diligent pacing and you get a film that will keep an audience's attention but will be forgotten minutes after the ending credits roll. Considering the talent involved, Gothika is a disappointing entry in the mainstream horror genre especially considering the talent in front of and behind the cameras, but the attraction of its main star will be enough to get people to watch this anyway.
Entertainment / Horror: 4/10

Goya's Ghost (2006)
Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman
Director: Milos Forman
Plot: After his innocent muse is labeled a heretic by the Spanish Inquisition, famed painter Francisco Goya gets caught between the young woman's noble family and the Church.
Review: Meant as a searing historical commentary, or an exploration of heady moral arguments, or even a depiction of a great artist and his times, the pretty period drama and fictional account that is Goya's Ghost falls short. Oscar-winning director of Forman (One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus) has done some interesting, socially-conscious works in the past, and this is his first movie since the acclaimed Man on the Moon. Too bad, then, that despite some nice if unimpressive production values, fine performances and an interesting setting the film is unimpressive, coming off as just average drama, neither affecting enough despite the melodrama nor intriguing enough despite it's historical allure. Part of the blame lies in the script that spans from the Inquisition to Napoleon's invasion and consequent defeat, yet stays on shallow ground despite fertile territory, never allowing us to be close to the characters or the larger events. There's no blaming the cast, however - Bardem is superb as a foolhardy man of the cloth who is forced into a crisis of conscience, and Portman is entrancing in a dual role. If there's one hiccup it's Skarsgard, an odd choice to portray the subversive Spanish painter Goya; he plays the role as decent man, but it's an uninteresting depiction of the man. Part of the problem is that Goya himself is relegated to be but a witness to events among his acquaintances, his participation barely required for the story except as a historical figure that anchors events. It all ends in tragedy, of course, and the ending is pinged with sadness. Goya's Ghost does have some merit, but considering the pedigree of the talent involved, one would have expected a better film.
Drama: 5/10

La Grande Séduction (Quebec - 2003)
Starring: Raymond Bouchard, David Boutin, Benoît Brière
Director: Jean-François Pouliot
Plot: A dying, tiny fishing village joins together to seduce and deceive a big city doctor into staying on permanently to ensure a factory is built to revive their sagging economy.
Review: Balancing social issues with a sentimental and comic flair, La Grande Séduction for the most part succeeds, thanks to its gallery of eccentric characters, good-natured rubbing, and fanciful (and funny) situations. It's not always terribly original in concept, it still has a definite inventiveness and an engaging charm about it. Indeed, as the web of lies increases and gets more complicated so, of course, does the humor as the villagers rush to keep up appearances, and there are some really laugh-out-loud scenes that pepper the film (such as the villagers pretending to play cricket without really knowing how, or inviting the doctor to savor their Strogonoff festival). Sure, it's rather shallow and it often takes the easy road, but it also pushes all the right buttons and works hard to be a crowd-pleaser. The misery and loss of pride felt by the unemployed villagers, lining every month for their welfare checks, makes for a great set of underdog characters, and you can't help but cheer them on as they try to regain their dignity - even if it is to get a plastics factory built. With a nice who's-who of Quebec actors, headed by the terrific Bouchard as the acting town mayor, some clever dialogue, and a story that allows some very amusing moments to rise up from the premise, you can't help but be taken in by the fun. The filmmakers take a hard subject (a dying fishing village) and, though never making light of their situation, create a community spirit that makes for an ultimately up-lifting little tale. It may not aspire to be anything more than a light-hearted, mainstream comedy, but La Grande Séduction works rather well and will guarantee a smile on everyone's face.
Entertainment: 7/10

Grave of the Fireflies (Japan - 1988)
Starring: Akemi Yamaguchi, Ayano Shiraishi
Director: Isao Takahata
Plot: During the last days of World War II, a young boy must provide for his baby sister after his home is destroyed and his mother killed in an American bombing raid.
Review: A seemingly strange choice for an animated feature, Grave of the Fireflies is a slow, delicate, and often depressing portrayal of the hardships the young brother and sister must face to survive in wartime Japan, in a time when food and goods are in short supply. As they gradually succumb to hunger and the elements, the siblings to an imaginary world to escape this reality. The animation is superb, the story at times heart-wrenching, sweet and always haunting, and the community and all the characters vividly portrayed. Grave of the Fireflies is definitely an adult drama, one that has universal appeal as a poignant and beautifully rendered horror story of the War.
Drama: 8/10

The Great Debaters (2007)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Nate Parker
Director: Denzel Washington
Plot: In 1935, a determined literature professor at an African-American college in the deep south trains his team of brilliant students to ultimately challenge Harvard in the national debate championship.
Review: Based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at the all-black Wiley College Texas circa 1935, The Great Debaters sets up its story with all the right expectations. We've seen this kind of underdog movie countless times in sports films, all with the common theme of strong, courageous black men (and on rare occasions women) who defy the racial segregation and prejudice to gain their rightful place in society. Taking a very similar approach, actor-director Washington brings a decidedly more literate twist to the Civil Rights Movement while staying, unfortunately, too close to the other genre platitudes. To be sure Washington does create an effective mainstream melodrama, even adding an interesting sub-plot involving labor union politics that, unfortunately, never gets enough attention (though it does provide for the film's most powerful scene). The script also takes many liberties with events to ensure that audiences will have an easy time to root for them, especially as our heroic debate team always seems to have the politically correct side of any argument, so the white debaters can be easily reviled for their stances. A more even approach might have made this all the more interesting, instead of re-treading the same platitudes regarding race relations. Even being relegated to a supporting role, Washington the actor - as the inspiring professor, coach and moonlight labor organizer - is captivating as always but it's really Whitaker, as the college's Dean and preacher that really shines through, even if the capable young actors making the debate team are the real focus of the story. In the end, The Great Debaters is hard not to like but it's ultimately just another average, forgettable Hollywood social drama.
Drama: 6/10

The Great Escape (1963)
Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough
Director: John Sturges
Plot: Placed in what is called an escape-proof prison camp, allied prisoners plan a daring escape from their German captors into the countryside at the height of World War II.
Review: Loosely based on true story from World War II, the epic war movie The Great Escape has had many admirers but may come off as too dated for most audiences. Meant more as an entertainment vehicle, much of the first half of the film is played for laughs, as the newly-arrived prisoners do some half-hearted attempts at escaping, diverting their captors from the real work of digging tunnels out of the camp. On the plus side, it does try to capture what prison life could have been like, from the gentlemanly understanding between the British and German officers, to the black-market exchanges done with the guards. But though there are lots of interesting and telling details to be told, many of which were true - the film often lingers on the elaborate details of the digging, the preparation of the disguises, and more - the whole thing is much too long-winded and repetitive. Cutting down the (almost) three hour film to a manageable two hours would have done wonders for the pacing. At the same time, trying to get an ensemble view of too many characters leaves them all as un-memorable stereotypes, even for top-billed McQueen. Despite the epic production and scope, Sturges (the director of such macho Hollywood epics as The Magnificent Seven and The Eagle Has Landed) only does what amounts to a very linear, pedestrian effort here displaying little of the flourishes or storytelling prowess that would have elevated it to classic status. Indeed, when things get more serious in the second half, the emotional connection just isn't there. Too bad also that the dramatization of the events, as well as the required Hollywood treatment given it, only dampen what must have been a truly terrifying ordeal for the real-life prisoners. As for the cast, of note is the fact that the rather flippant McQueen - as one of the handful of American prisoners - agreed to do the film only if he could show-off his motorcycle skills, his escape providing the film's most lasting cinematic images. The rest of the cast is able enough, and much of it is made up of a who's-who of 60's era tough guys including Charles Bronson and James Coburn, among others. Though The Great Escape can't help but be rather dated, it's still decent escapist drama. For better entries, try Stalag 17 or La Grande Illusion.
Drama / Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* Greed (1925)
Starring: Gibson Gowland, ZaSu Pitts, Jean Hersholt
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Plot: McTeague, a simple country man, finds success in the city and marries a young woman who ends up winning a huge sum in gold from the lottery. Afraid of losing this new-found wealth, his wife quickly becomes obsessed with saving money. After losing his livelihood, she forces them to live in abject poverty, slowly driving McTeague to desperation and madness.
Review: Greed, as the title implies, is a dark, brooding film that shows the slow decay and debasement of a trio of characters over their greed for money. Director Erich von Stroheim's use of symbolism, of imagery, of oppressive locales (especially the final scene in Death Valley), and of very modern-looking camera-work intensifies the drama of the story. Adapted from the Frank Norris novel "McTeague", the released film was cut down by the studios from Von Stroheim's final 5-hour version to fit 2 hours. Despite this, Greed is not only a classic silent film, but remains even by today's standards an impressive, powerful film experience.
Drama: 9/10

The Green Mile (1999)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Patricia Clarkson, James Cromwell
Director: Frank Darabont
Plot: A prison guard recounts an amazing event that occurred on his Death Row watch during the Depression after the arrival of a particular inmate with an amazing ability.
Review: The Green Mile is a good, faithful adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Though not the Oscar contender people expected it to be, the film is still an enjoyable experience, and the length (clocking in at over 3 hours) doesn't bother thanks to the capable hand of director Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, another King adaptation) and a very watchable cast. The main role, that of the decent working-class guy in an extraordinary situation, fits Tom Hanks like a glove and follows his other recent castings (Philadelphia, Apollo 13). The real marvel in this film is that the slow-paced story brings in all the standard Hollywood building blocks, the required melodrama, heavy-handed emotions, cast of two-dimensional characters, and still manages to be a decent sentimental, character-driven drama.
Drama: 7/10

The Green Slime (1968)
Starring: Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, Luciana Paluzzi
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Plot: After placing bombs on a strange incoming asteroid headed for Earth, a team of astronauts inadvertently bring an alien slime aboard a space station which starts to grow into tentacled monsters.
Review: The Green Slime must have been a brainstorm of producers looking to milk the efforts of the myriad Godzilla sequels and the silly plots of Z-grade 50's flicks for a drive-in audience. A Japanese / American / Italian co-production, it meant a bevy of macho American actors (with an Italian leading lady) took the screen under Japanese tutelage and effects. And what a great mess this is! What we get is two films in one: the first is an obvious inspiration for Armageddon, as the astronauts place warheads on an asteroid headed for Earth, while the second reminds one of the Alien movies as the creatures start overrunning the ship. As the title can attest, this is a supremely cheesy affair, from the primitive special effects (wires hold up the model spaceships, the asteroid looks like a giant meatball) to the rubber monster suits and fake backgrounds. Yet in our Gen X youth - that is before the advent of Star Wars - this was the kind of film we craved: laser blasts, scary monsters, rocket ships, and lots of ensuing carnage and mayhem. Sure, most of the film is just plain laughable and is now only worth a look for the incredible camp value, but at the time it was pretty scary and cool. Prolific Japanese director Fukasaku (who went on to do popular gangster films such as The Yakuza Papers and Graveyard of Honor, as well as his most famous effort, Battle Royale in 2000) suffuses the proceedings with a surprisingly energetic pacing and seriousness. Through the interpersonal clashes, the romantic triangle and the inevitable screaming the cast, led by TV vet Horton as the hero whose hair never gets messed up and the character actor Jaeckel as his ex-friend and current captain, plays it straight. Though it's unconditionally a "bad" flick, The Green Slime is also a cult-classic B-movie that delivers its low-budget sci-fi thrills and is just a hoot to watch.
Entertainment: 5/10

Green Street Hooligans (2005)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Charlie Hunnam
Director: Lexi Alexander
Plot: Unjustly expelled from Harvard, a journalist student travels to London to visit his sister and gets involved with the local charter of football hooligans through his charismatic brother-in-law, entering a world of violence and camaraderie that is bound for tragedy.
Review: A gritty, engaging portrait of British sports hooliganism, Green Street Hooligans is a well-intentioned affair that unfortunately stumbles in its last act. European Hooligans have always had a bad rep (for good reason) and though the film never quite gets into analyzing the psychological need for such Firms throughout England, it might explain better (to a non-European audience) what the special attraction to the violence and chest-thumping is all about. These are intense sports fans that put their American counterparts to shame - putting a face to them is part of the success of the film. The one disappointment is that by trying too hard to stick to a mainstream (read Hollywood) approach the film feels forced to get into convoluted, coincidence-prone sub-plots about old unsettled scores, easy redemption, and other pratfalls, losing some of its punch along the way. Still, if the script may have some faults, first-timer Alexander does a bang-up directing job, creating a visceral energy with a series of brutal, flash-cut confrontations and some convincing moments of rowdy, infectious camaraderie. Indeed, the film is at its best when it focuses on the everyday activities and obsessions of these die-hard "football" fans, all told through the eyes of our frail-looking, dewy-eyed protagonist. Wood may seem to be an odd choice for a bruiser, but he makes an interesting case as an outsider getting initiated into a very alien subculture. With its shades of Fight Club-like exploration into violence, its solid local cast, and fine filmmaking, Green Street Hooligans makes for an engaging offbeat drama.
Drama: 7/10

The Grey Zone (2001)
Starring: David Arquette, Daniel Benzali, Harvey Keitel
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Plot: Knowing their time is nigh, a group of Jews forced to work in the crematoria at the Auschwitz concentration camp prepare for a revolt against their Nazi guards.
Review: Based on the true memoirs of various participants, The Grey Zone is as difficult to absorb as it is impossible to look away, and gives the Holocaust an immediacy that has long been lost. In exchange for helping in the camps, the Jewish Sonderkommando (as they were called) were granted minor privileges and were given a few extra months of life before they, too, were sent to the crematoriums. The title refers to the moral quagmire faced by these survivors: aid in the slaughter of your own or be killed - it would be enough to drive one mad, and it often did. With its documentary-like feel and its insistence on recreating historical accuracy, director Nelson has created an intense experience that's an absolutely harrowing account of camp life without ever stumbling into sentimentality. All the horrors that can be expected from a tale of the Holocaust are in place - the crematoriums, the beatings, the slaughter - yet for all its horror there's little graphic violence or sensationalism, which in some ways makes the whole thing worse: its banal depiction of the processes of death it makes the situations all the more chilling. The uprising, when it comes, is as rousing and realistic as it is short-lived. At the core of the story is the agonizing moral dilemma of its characters, some clinging to life, others broken by the terrible acts they must commit, and others resolved to lay down their lives in redemption. As such, one of the film's great assets is its astounding cast which makes it all believable: Arquette shines in a rare dramatic role, as does Benzali and Allan Corduner. In supporting roles, Steve Buscemi and Mira Sorvino add a bit of indie power, and Keitel is plain despicable as the Nazi officer in charge. Grim and depressing, The Grey Zone is a hard, harsh look at normal people faced with impossible moral choices in horrifying situations, one that will stay with audiences long after the film has ended.
Drama: 8/10

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd
Director: George Armitage
Plot: Sent to kill a witness in his home town and heeled by competitors, a hit man takes the opportunity to attend his ten-year high school reunion party and rekindle a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.
Review: An easy-going, enjoyable affair, Gross Pointe Blank may not be a high mark in the genre but it's definitely a nice change of pace for a date flick. The build up to the high school reunion, and the reunion itself, is the stuff of alumni nightmares, but there are some nice touches that avoid it being stereotypical. And the violent intrusions of his profession to this idyllic return to his home - by a crazed European, by rogue NSA agents, by a twitchy colleague trying to get him to join a hit-man union - add to the usual difficulties of our hero "getting the girl". With a nostalgic 80's soundtrack as a background, director Armitage (Miami Blues) keeps things light and never overplays the absurdity of the situations, allowing his cast to play the scene in a way that comes out completely naturally. Throughout, there's a nice, sly wit to the movie and some bang-on dialogue - it may not be outright hilarious or as subversive in its subject matter as it could have been, but there's a nice playful undertone that never feels forced. Actor and co-writer Cusack, as the contract killer who starts having doubts about his chosen profession, and Driver, as his radio-jock ex, have great chemistry together and are both utterly charming. The supporting cast is also of note: As a rival hit man, Aykroyd is a blast in the few tense scenes he has; Joan Cusack, as the loyal secretary, is hilarious; and a brief performance by Alan Arkin as a terrified psychiatrist is simply precious. A nice twist to the standard romantic comedy, Grosse Pointe Blank is an amusing, above-average flick that any Cusack fan will embrace.
Entertainment: 6/10

Groundhog Day (1993)
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott
Director: Harold Ramis
Plot: A self-absorbed big-city TV weatherman finds himself trapped by a snow storm in a small town and forced to continuously relive the same miserable day over and over again.
Review: A romantic-comedy that delivers in both respects, Groundhog Day is a terrific little comedy with just the right fantasy premise to make it all work, and one of the best comedies of the 1990's, period. Thanks go to both director Ramis (Caddyshack, Analyze This) who hits upon the right tone and attitude, and the funny, refreshing plot by co-scripters Ramis and Trevor Albert that never over-indulges or falls into the typical comedy traps. The main question here is: What would you do if you could do anything you wanted with no consequences? The story does a great job of setting up its situations, and coming up with hilarious results. The script also has some terrific one-time gags and one-liners, while at the same time providing a rather touching blossoming romance between its two leads. Finally in a role that uses its star's character to its best advantage, this is Murray at his cynical, goofiest best. At times egotistical, charming, and pitiful he does a fine portrayal of a self-centered boob turning into a decent human being. When he finally gets the day right, we feel it's much deserved, and though a bit marmy it's amazing how effective the passage to this point was. MacDowell, playing what amounts to a supporting role, is also pretty effective as the focus of his affection. The rest of the cast amount to caricatures, but they're all so joyfully portrayed that it works. Groundhog Day is one of those rare Hollywood comedies that's good clean fun for everyone while also being witty, intelligently plotted and well set-up, and one that's good enough to be watched over and over again.
Comedy: 8/10

The Grudge (2004)
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Plot: Americans living in Tokyo are being killed by vengeful spirits after coming into contact with a cursed house.
Review: Another adaptation of an Asian supernatural revenge flick following the popularity of The Ring, The Grudge isn't nearly as scary, bit it is a surprisingly faithful remake of the original Japanese horror story. The problem is that it's a little too faithful: all the genuine scares, all the horrific moments, are all remade exactly the same by the original Ju-On: The Grudge director himself. There are a couple of genuinely creepy moments, and the tale offs enough characters in appropriately grisly ways to keep things interesting, but just like the original film version, there's nothing terribly new, and fans of Japanese horror won't find much of this particularly scary. That said, audiences new to the genre may get enough goose-bumps to make it worth the late-night viewing. One missed opportunity is the sense of cultural displacement faced by these innocent, unwanted Westerners stuck in a Japanese society that is both alien and terrifying; it's a theme that's never really played out, like Hollywood wanted to simply insert some Caucasian faces to the popular Asian export. The non-linear narrative connecting all the varied character stories together is kept intact which adds some necessary flavor, and the directing has a no-nonsense approach that makes it work. The cast, headed by ex-Buffy Gellar is adequate for the role, but are really only second fiddle to the ghostly and ghastly goings-on as blood-soaked victims. The Grudge may not have needed an American re-telling but at least this effort doesn't disappoint.
Horror: 5/10

Guarding Tess (1994)
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Nicolas Cage
Director: Hugh Wilson
Plot: A straight-arrow Secret Service agent longing for re-assignment to the White House has a strained relationship guarding a headstrong but immensely popular former First Lady in her rural home.
Review: Guarding Tess gives a new spin on the bodyguard movie with its amusing premise, and manages to stay afloat thanks to its odd pairing. There's the usual comic sketches - the First Lady insisting on playing golf in winter, the temper tantrums, the battle of wits - but it's really the love / hate relationship between agent and ex-First Lady is the real heart of the film, and makes for the funniest, and most poignant, moments. A heavy-handed kidnapping twist in the final Act shifts the tone of the story into something darker, and feels inserted to provide emotional closure. Most of it is predictable stuff, but thankfully Wilson's directing has nothing of the spectacular allowing the actors to play to their strengths. And as performed by a likable Cage and thesp MacLaine, these are two headstrong people who have a peculiar bond, even as they're at each other's throats in a muted contest of wills. Thanks to this fine pairing and a mostly good-natured script, Guarding Tess ends up being a fun, light comedy.
Comedy: 6/10

Gunmen (Hong Kong - 1988)
Starring: Tony Leung Ka Fai, Elizabeth Lee, Mark Cheng
Director: Kirk Wong
Plot: In 1920's Shanghai, a war veteran turned detective swears-in his war buddies as vice cops to take on a dangerous crime lord in order to avenge his partner's murder.
Review: Inspired by Brian De Palma's The Untouchables with its theme of police corruption, Gunmen's plot is derivative and predictable, but it's all such involving, bloody fun that audiences will go along for the ride anyway. Despite its short running time and limited budget, this feels like an epic production involving oodles of melodrama, a love triangle, the fraternal bond of warriors, an all-out opium war, lots of violent gunplay, fire stunts and even a rickshaw chase. Ably recreating the streets of 1920's Shanghai thanks to some effective production values, there's also a good sense of time and place. Influential director Tsui Hark, here acting as producer, has his hand all over the film as evidenced by the dynamic style of filmmaking and visually interesting cinematography best shown in Peking Opera Blues and Once Upon a Time in China. That high-spirited, energetic, and fast-paced style is captured perfectly by director Wong, showing a technical mastery that his later, bigger efforts (such as Crime Story and The Big Hit) sadly lacked. Ka Fai does just fine as the square jawed, heroic cop, as does the rest of the cast, especially the pretty Lee as the hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold and unfortunate love interest. Despite the stale plot, Gunmen proves to be a fine example of Hong Kong cinema at its best, a terrifically entertaining and action-packed crime drama. Highly entertaining.
Entertainment: 7/10

Guns and Talks (South Korea - 2001)
Starring: Hyeon-jun Shin, Ha-kyun Shin, Bin Won
Director: Jin Jang
Plot: Four young hitmen, chased by a tenacious detective, suffer a case of anxiety over their chosen profession when one of them falls in love with his target.
Review: Though stories of hit men seem to be a dime a dozen with most of them being of the generic variety, Guns and Talks makes a valiant attempt at being a singularly Korean take on the genre. Unfortunately, on one hand it sticks too close to the clichés while on the other it ends up being too quirky for its own good. The opening hit is well conceived and the characters well established, but from that strong, action-oriented beginning it takes a more light-hearted, languid pace and ends up feeling like a mish-mash of clever ideas that just don't add up. Apart from some odd tidbits (and I do mean odd), we never really learn much about the characters apart from the fact that they're shy slackers when not preparing their hits, ordinary blokes with an infatuation for a pretty female news reader. For the filmmakers, this is enough to explore the human side of these assassins as they run through their complex (and unlikely) hits but stumble when it comes to their personal lives in a series of quirky and romantic interludes. A final hit at an Opera house during a performance of Hamlet (a superior adaptation from all likelihood, showing off some nice theatrical set design and acting) has all the makings for a nail-biting climax - as the police try to set a trap for the killers - but ends as a rather unimpressive (and overly long) sequence that simply doesn't build the required suspense. The main issue may be the abrupt shift in genres, ranging from humorous tangents following coming-of-age drama, with the occasional overly-clever cinematic style that breaks the flow, the character voice-overs that talk straight to the audience. It just never quite knows what it wants to be - dramatic, comic, silly, suspenseful or something else. Guns and Talks ends up being not so much a constant buildup as a series of amusing vignettes, all coming together in a package that feels more like a pilot for a TV series than a movie release.
Entertainment: 5/10

The Guns of Navarone (1961)
Starring: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Plot: At the height of WWII, a band of elite Allied commandos is sent ashore to an occupied Greek island to destroy two massive German guns that are preventing the escape of 2000 British troops.
Review: A classic adventure film with high production values, and by far the best adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel to date thanks to a first-rate script by Carl Foreman. This one has it all: suspense, action, beautiful scenery, a tight script, crackling dialogue, great characters, and a terrific all-star cast headed by Gregory Peck. The then-impressive special effects may seem dated at times, but it never diminishes the enjoyment of the film. Exciting, riveting, and even dramatic, this was the template WWII adventure films were to follow, and it still puts many of the more modern action/adventure movies to shame. A rousing adventure on a grand scale, The Guns of Navarone is Hollywood storytelling at its best.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Guys (2002)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Anthony LaPaglia
Director: Jim Simpson
Plot: Shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a journalist volunteers to help a grieving, shell-shocked fire captain write eulogies for those firemen in his crew who perished when the Twin Towers collapsed.
Review: Based on the play of the same name by journalist Anne Nelson, The Guys is a sober, heartfelt drama that hits home. Though the story works at face value - writing eulogies is always hard - it is obviously all the more emotionally poignant when related to the events of 9/11. The film was meant as a tribute to the New York firefighters who died in the attacks, and the script does just that. Never putting them on a pedestal, it presents them both as herpes and more importantly as human beings with their own flaws, beliefs and aspirations. As a film adaptation of journalist Anne Nelson's play, stage director Simpson brings just the right intimacy and cinematic touch to make it work. It's obviously heavily influenced by the theatrical requirements of a two-person play, including its limited scope and settings. No matter: the subject matter and its careful dialogue is always engaging, powerful, often hitting with surprising emotional punch, one that is all the stronger for those of us who remember or were witness to the calamity and its aftermath. Thankfully, the film also stays away from any overly dramatic visuals such as the crumbling towers or the sifting of the wreckage. Here the wreckage is psychological, and the terrible burden in only heard, not seen. Yet the dialogue is so visual, and the performances and delivery so well done, that you can see the characters and events come to life. Weaver brings her stage role to the screen, and its obvious she cares for the role, but this is foremost a character study and it's a quietly efficient and down-trodden LaPaglia as the gruff working-man with emotional depth who's the real focus. As a reminder of the conscious sacrifice of all the firemen who died on 9/11 and as a tribute to all those firemen anywhere who face life and death on a daily basis, The Guys is a fine, intimate dramatic experience.
Drama: 7/10

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