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Jackass: The Movie (2002)
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Plot: Plotless documentary about a group of amateur stuntmen getting hurt in novel ways and doing pranks on an unsuspecting public. 
Review: Let's get this straight from the beginning: Jackass: The Movie is rude, crude, immature, disgusting and sometimes downright repulsive and is not meant for people with faint hearts or artistic leanings. That said, it's also hilarious, unpredictable, and amazingly, morbidly fascinating to behold. Forget slapstick - this is the real thing. Based on the controversial MTV series, the team (the term "fraternity" would seem more appropriate) of part-time actor and full-time "Jackass" Johnny Knoxville has gone all-out for its first outing on the big-screen, doing things that would make a TV censor lose his lunch. Some might decry it as irresponsible filmmaking, but these guys are just in it for a laugh, mostly at their own expense. Starting off with a slo-mo scene of the entire team riding a shopping cart down a bridge to the music of Carmina Burana you know you're in for something special. Some of the craziness includes getting hit in the gullet by a riot-control pellet (on purpose), throwing oneself on a running ceiling fan and playing smash derby with golf carts. Not all of it involves pain: there are also some Candid Camera like moments as well as some amusing scenes of a trip to Japan. It's all mostly shot in grainy digital with handheld video cameras, giving it the necessary grittiness. There is no plot or narrative to speak of - this is just a series of stupid stunts and puerile gags, which includes a journal of the everyday joking around of the crew, as well as some of the mishaps (such as Knoxville getting stitches in a hospital). As the warning says, don't try this at home. The final sequence after the credits, which blows most of its low budget, is a real treat. Jackass: The Movie is a low-brow, downright subversive piece of outrageous filmmaking that will shock you until you can't help but laugh at the idiocy or the daring-do (take your pick). Teenagers will definitely love it, but adults should be forewarned...
Entertainment: 8/10

Jalsaghar (The Music Room) (India - 1958)
Starring: Chhabi Biswas, Padma Devi, Pinaki Sen Gupta
Director: Satyajit Ray
Plot: An aging noble land-owner tries to maintain his lifestyle and his obsession with music even as his lands and wealth erode. When tragedy strikes, he locks his favored music room and slips into depression until his pride calls for one last grand evening.
Review: Jalshagar examines with an unusually cold eye the life of Huzar, the "master" who's ego and spending binges drive his family to ruin. Actor Chhabi Biswas' performance is in fact the very center of the film, and he brings subtlety and emotion to the role. The film is also a study in contrasts, between the land-owning nobility still living in the past and the rich "commoners" looking towards the future, bringing up questions of pride, class, and privilege. Director Ray shows his feelings of these distinctions early on with a very visual style, and though he portrays Huzar's pampered life of decadent luxury and excess with an unsympathetic eye, so too does he show the occasional nostalgia for this class that has always been a part of Indian society but that hasn't been able to change with the times. It is a fascinating look at Indian culture, and a beautiful, dramatic film.
Drama: 8/10

Jam (Taiwan - 1999)
Starring: Cai Xinghung, June Cai, Vina Xu
Director: Chen Yiwen
Plot: Two teenagers get in over their heads after stealing a car that had already been stolen and used in a mob hit.
Review: Jam is an amusing tale of life in Taiwan, with a great array of quirky characters, including a film producer, a hit man, and the two teenagers drifting through life. The stolen car is the recurring theme that brings people from different backgrounds and different walks of life into the story, coming full circle as the character's lives all intertwine. The film's style is fresh and uncluttered, playing with time and perspective to show the three different stories, and the entertaining story makes up for the stylized acting, low-budget sets, and other little inconsistencies.
Entertainment: 7/10

Jarhead (2005)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Sam Mendes
Plot: A newly-trained Marine sniper and his company get sent to Kuwait during the Gulf War but the constant state of alert and readiness takes its toll after months of boredom as the troops wait to meet the enemy.
Review: Based on the best-selling Gulf War memoir of former Marine Anthony Swofford and his experiences during the Gulf War, Jarhead doesn't play out so much as an anti-war film as it does an anti-Army film. There are no political statements here, no commentary on the vagaries of war, only a portrait of young men itching for a fight but stuck with interminable waiting, much like The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, where everyone waits to affront this implacable, unseen enemy. The tedium weighs heavily – stuck in the scorching desert, drinking and in fighting become the only way to release the pent-up testosterone, becoming their own worst enemy. As the weeks turn into months, their life becomes a cruel joke, demoralized by cheating wives left back home and the sheer boredom of waiting for something to happen, their self-worth plummeting for lack of a war as proving ground. As you can tell, this isn’t your typical war film; in fact, nothing much happens - and that's the point. There’s not but a hint at an actual conflict until the very end when our “heroes” are in a position to chalk up one kill to validate their existence - and even then, things don’t come out right. In the hands of director Mendes (American Beauty, The Road to Perdition) the material exudes a certain cynicism yet even if the script is marked by lots of dark, ironic humor, it never lowers itself to satire always keeping its characters, the grunts, very human and very fallible. The stark, crisp cinematography is especially impressive, with the scenes involving the burning oil fields darkening the skies, as the darkened faces of the soldiers are put in close-up, coming out as downright eerie. In a film such as this, the cast is key: Gyllenhaal, playing the rather naïve narrator-slacker who slowly breaks down, gets the right tone for his performance, bringing the paranoia, depression and angst to the fore. He’s well supported by the likes of Sarsgaard as his teammate and Foxx as his tough superior. The film reminds one of a lighter version of Full Metal Jacket and of Three Kings, an adventure film that tackled the Gulf War of 1991 in more interesting fashion. Yet if the film doesn’t quite manage to be this generation’s answer to Apocalypse Now – and not for lack of trying – it’s perhaps that there’s little comparison to be made with the horrors of Vietnam. In the end, Jarhead is a worthy adaptation and if it doesn’t quite reach its lofty goal, it’s certainly succeeds where it counts, and that’s bringing a human dimension to what history has now deemed a minor conflict.
Drama: 7/10

Jason X (2002)
Starring: Kane Hodder, Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder
Director: James Isaac
Plot: After being frozen for four centuries, unstoppable serial killer Jason is thawed out in 2455 on board a spaceship full of teenage students and quickly turns on his hosts.
Review: Jason X, the tenth installment in the long-running low-budget slasher series, held the promise of parodying the exploitation genre as well as giving it a much needed upgrade to the usual formula. Though there are bits that show an added touch of tongue-in-cheek humor, especially when it starts taking things to ridiculous extremes, most of it is exactly the same as the nine previous chapters: stupid, expendable characters (made up mostly of over-sexed teenagers and stupid scientists) doing idiotic things and getting slaughtered. It just gets tedious and boring very quickly. Even the slicing and dicing of its characters, usually the best part of these genre flicks, isn't very imaginative, or even graphic. The sci-fi part of the film is a rather lame take-off on the usual culprits Alien and The Terminator, and is pretty much a half-assed addition to the franchise. On some rare occasions the computer effects are quite good, but for the most part the sets and costumes are just bland. The cheap production values simply makes the whole thing come off like a cheap '60s TV version of what the future will be. The film just lacks any sort of surprises or even a style of its own to redeem it and comes off as just as inane and silly as all the previous ones. Worse, though, is that the pacing is so deathly slow, and the turn of events so predictable, that there's no real suspense left; we know who's going to be killed from the get-go, and that whatever happens, Jason will be back. To be fair, the filmmakers know the ridiculousness of the material and occasionally some tongue-in-cheek humor does rub off, like Lisa Ryder as a butt-kicking android; unfortunately there's not enough of it. Jason X is simply "Jason in space"; fans of the series will gobble it up no matter the camp value and ludicrous script, but everyone else will be grabbing the remote.
Entertainment: 3/10

*Classic* Jaws (1975)
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot: A police chief, a shark expert and an old-hand fisherman hunt down a deadly Great White shark after it terrorizes a vacation town during a busy July 4th weekend.
Review: From the opening sequence as the shark drags its first victim beneath the waves with the first notes of John William's atmospheric score, to the thrilling hunt of man versus monster, Jaws is a truly engaging experience. The film single-handedly created the "summer blockbuster" phenomenon and put its young director, Steven Spielberg, on the map. The first-rate script, great dialogue, and flawless film-making imbues the story with enough tension, suspense, and thrills that go way beyond the original novel by Peter Benchley. There are few special effects here, using instead good cinematic and story-telling techniques to move the story along. By the time the monster shark does appear in the climactic showdown, a final confrontation that is as intense and action-packed as one could hope for in a film, we are too much involved in the story to be jaded by the (admittedly) primitive creature effects. The three main characters and the camaraderie that bonds them together is a definite highlight of the film, and the cast is excellent, especially Shaw as the craggy boat captain. The film works so well probably because it plays on our fears of sharks, of what lies hidden beneath the waves, and of Nature run amok. Indeed, Jaws has become the boogeyman of the beaches, scaring enough of its audience to put some truth in the movie's tagline that "You'll never go into the water again!". Entertaining, intelligent, visceral, Jaws is a true classic adventure / suspense film that will endure the test of time.
Entertainment: 9/10

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Starring: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck
Director: Kevin Smith
Plot: Two New Jersey slackers embark on a cross-country road trip to stop Hollywood from making a film version of a comic-book based on them and ruining their reputation.
Review: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the latest from writer / director Smith's (Chasing Amy, Dogma) series of films featuring his second-fiddle infamous slackers, is a zany road movie/ comedy full of geeky wit, lowbrow comedy and in-jokes for fans which comes off as juvenile junk with moments of clever hilarity. Helped by a plethora of great celebrity cameos by old and new favorites alike such as Mark Hamill, Jason Biggs, etc., it provides a gleeful ribbing of Hollywood (and Miramax in particular), with some great parodies of Planet of the Apes, The Fugitive, road movies, and countless other popular films. The film's main problem however is that it's incredibly uneven, the loose structure allowing for tons of quick comic skits and ideas but also making the whole proceedings lack story cohesion, and so there are as many amusing slapstick spoofs and witty diatribes as there are dead spots and moronic situations which may cause audiences to lose interest. There are just a little too many tangents, silly character ramblings, and long-winded scenes, the very things that hurt Smith's previous film Dogma as well. Smith always shows he's got writing talent, great imagination, and an ear for good dialogue, but his directing and visual style is just not up to par. Another point is that these two one-note characters can't even carry a movie as pastiche-ridden as this one. But the worst element is the foul-mouthed, unsympathetic character of Jay as the protagonist of the film - at first his crude remarks are funny by their very own expletive excess, but they soon get stupid, boring and repetitive and his antics become just downright embarrassing. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back may indeed be very much hit and miss eliciting as many groans as laughs, and your appreciation of it may well be dependent on your mood going in, but there's a good half hour of very funny stuff here jammed inside a rather monotonous package.
Comedy: 5/10

JCVD (2008)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Plot: After losing a custody battle for his young daughter, aging action star Jean-Claude van Damme returns to his native Belgium where he falls right into a post office heist while the local cops think he's the culprit.
Review: Titled for the initials of its international star, JCVD is unlike any movie you'd associate Van Damme with. It's a sort of post-modern take on, well, Jean-Claude Van Damme himself.  Unexpecting viewers looking for a low-grade action thriller will be miffed - indeed, apart from a solidly choreographed 3 minute single-take movie-within-a-movie action sequence that starts the movie (proving the "Muscles from Brussels" still has what it takes at 47, kicking and shooting his way through a military camp) there isn't any significant fighting to be found. What we get instead is a clever piece of auto-biography within fictional trappings, a "warts-and-all" look at the man behind the screen persona, without the limelight, the layers of his life peeled away to its raw center for popular consumption. Having been relegated to direct-to-DVD purgatory from his once-international Hollywood B-level movie fame, with his best years now behind him, it seemed like the right time for Van Damme to re-invent himself, or at least dust-off his image as a cocky charmer, and he does so with a surprisingly affable, self-deprecating way that completely disarms. For sure, it may not be an Oscar-wining performance, but all his past ham-fisted acting and hackneyed dialogue disappear from our minds in a single empathic soliloquy as he examines his own life and career. Though Van Damme does play himself, the rest of the characters are all actors (including his "parents", "daughter", etc) and you never know quite what is true, what is regurgitated tabloid trash, and what is pure fantasy. What we get is a look at what a day-in-the-life might be for a star who has fallen on hard times - movie parts are hard to come by, strangers met on the street have pre-conceived notions, and he just can't seem to get a break. Much of the kudos must also go to Belgian writer/ director El Mechri who managed to convince producers (and his star) to actually make such a clever, audacious film, all things considered. Oh, the film is by no means perfect, and even at a brief 90 minutes the film does slow down in the middle act, as if there wasn't quite enough material to make for a feature film. Thankfully, even in this dark, depressing take, Van Damme is an energetic, sympathetic presence on screen, and the European feel of the film - along with a healthy dose of dark humor - makes for a nice change to his filmography. A revealing look at a second-rate actor, and an intriguing film on its own merit, JCVD is not to be easily dismissed.
Drama: 8/10

Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Starring: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Patricia Belcher
Director: Victor Salva
Plot: On a cross-country drive, two college students suddenly find themselves being relentlessly pursued after running afoul of a malevolent century-old creature.
Review: A mite darker than the current slew of self-conscious teen slasher flicks, Jeepers Creepers is a stylish, well-shot effort that stays true to form but never manages to rise above it. Though never straying too far from genre conventions (and making a show of it), it's a fun, low-key feature for aficionados that's different enough from the norm to provide some decent thrills along with its intended dose of humor. The narrative follows a rather simple, straight-forward story, and that's not a bad thing if it actually had something more to show for it, but it fails to deliver on its promise. The story starts well with an intense, thrilling Duel-like car chase in a deserted Southern state back road as the two kids run into a vicious, supernatural hillbilly with a souped-up pick-up truck, but soon after loses steam. There are some effective moments as the un-killable being pursues the teens and hacks up those that end up in its way (including many a cop and even a caricatural psychic), but it can't help ending up as typical monster fare. It doesn't help that the clichés abound of course, first as a tongue-in-cheek nudge to the genre, and then as almost self-parody. As for the cast, they're OK showing off their hysterics and conveying the silliness of their horror-protagonist fate, though none of them are ever quite convincing. The issue lies in the central idea: The mystery of the murderous creature, the fact that it stays hidden from us and unknown, actually elevates the tension and suspense. The second half, unfortunately, brings the supernatural creature out into the light (with some admittedly decent special effects) eliminating the uneasiness we first felt in its presence and devolving into typical gory monster mayhem. Jeepers Creepers is still a fun frolic with its share of scares and thrills, one with an appropriately gory final shot which answers the question "Jeepers Creepers, where d'ya get those peepers?", but one that doesn't really bring anything new.
Horror / Entertainment: 4/10

Jersey Girl (2004)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin
Director: Kevin Smith
Plot: After the death of his wife during childbirth, a music executive gets fired from his job, moves in his with widowed father and decides to take care of his precocious daughter as best he can.
Review: A warm-hearted ode to fatherhood, Jersey Girl is a kind of departure for writer / director Smith who provided more entertaining and more provocative cult-classic stuff in films like Clerks or Chasing Amy. Imitating a gaggle of similar-themed films events are surprisingly as clichéd as it gets, from diaper-changing to making it to the school play, yet Smith manages to imbue even the most schmaltzy scenes with his own stamp, and with his own brand of humor. The dialogue still has the amiable touches we've come to expect from Smith's writing style though much of his usual sharp wit has been dulled to provide a more family-acceptable effort. While many fans of his earlier works will already be screaming "sell-out", this is just an exercise by an accomplished storyteller trying his hand at mainstream fluff and character development, and as such it's well above-average. As always, he also gets the best from his cast: Affleck is engaging and sympathetic when playing a normal guy, and he gets it right here again. Tyler plays the vixen waif without too much effort, Carlin gives another fine grumpy performance, and Jennifer Lopez does a nice intro cameo as the wife, but it's young Raquel Castro as the precocious daughter who really comes out roses. Jersey Girl may comes off as minor Kevin Smith fare but it's got its heart in the right place, even if it's terribly syrupy stuff.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

La Jetée (France - 1962)
Starring: Helen Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jean Négroni
Director: Chris Marker
Plot: As the last hope for mankind in a post-apocalyptic world, scientists experiment on a man to force him to travel through time using only his memory of a distant event.
Review: The experimental film La Jetée, the inspiration for 12 Monkeys, is barely what one would expect from the classic notion of cinema: the film is short (barely 28 minutes), there is no sound but the narrator's voice and the indelible music, and the story unfolds through a series of still pictures. And yet, New Wave director Marker has created a strong, influential, and involving science-fiction film here with little budget and some big ideas. The first is the use of an innovative montage of photographs. Though the pictures may be static, the camera frame moves around them with the usual cinematic procedures, from zooms and pans to dissolves and quick edits, making the narrative much more dynamic that one would expect. This, however, only adds to a story that belies the low-tech techniques involved, a story that is both an exploration of memory and a sort of metaphysical Twilight Zone episode. Melancholic, paradoxical, and finally tragic, the narrative plays like a kind of adult fairy-tale, one that is rather cold and intellectual in parts, perhaps, but that also strangely affecting. In the end, the haunting power of its images lies in their simplicity and in their context, and though short, La Jetée is a fascinating piece of story-telling.
Science-Fiction / Experimental: 8/10

Jet Lag (Décalage Horaire) (France - 2003)
Starring: Jean Reno, Juliette Binoche, Sergi López
Director: Daniele Thompson
Plot: Stuck in a Paris airport due to a 24-hour strike, a tired frozen-food chef and a beautician on the run from her beau fall for each other after repeatedly crossing paths.
Review: Jet Lag is a light-weight European romantic comedy, a confection that takes the typical genre clichés and gives them a fresh turn. For one, confining events to the Charles de Gaulle airport actually provides a more interesting decor and possibilities than one would expect. For two, the script takes great care not to throw the two together for a simple romantic tryst, even if it ends up in typical fairy-tale fashion. Sure, the story is predictable but the dialogue flows well and the direction takes a page from its American cousins to keep everything light-hearted and agreeable. Thankfully, there's also an admirable restraint evident in most of the situations, be they amusing or poignant, and the characters are sympathetic not only for their foibles and idiosyncrasies but for their quiet dignity as well. As such it's the two charming leads, with Binoche and the world-weary Reno both giving nicely nuanced performances, that really make it worthwhile. Jet Lag may disappoint those looking for something meatier, but as easy-going fluff it proves to be as successful as any of Hollywood's generic fare with some beguiling French wit and manner for added taste.
Entertainment: 6/10

JFK (1991)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci
Director: Oliver Stone
Plot: Three years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, a District Attorney launches his own investigation and becomes obsessed with finding the truth.
Review: Continuing director Stone's (Platoon, Salvador) interest in showing the pulse of the '60s, JFK presents an ambitious re-examination of the Kennedy assassination. The film offers up a disturbingly persuasive view of the events leading to, and the following cover-up of, the fateful day. The virtuoso script includes all the now-popular elements, all presented as one large, vast, convoluted conspiracy and manages to keep it all accessible. The conclusions may be utter fabrication, but in the end that's not the point. The film wants to evoke the bewilderment, the anger of a whole country and point out the ludicrousness of the Warren Commission Report's finding that Oswald acted alone. And in that it succeeds brilliantly. Costner, as Garrison, plays his role well with down-to-earth charm and all the likability he can muster. Pesci plays the weasel with surprising energy, and Gary Oldman, as Oswald, is downright eerie. The rest of the huge cast is a veritable who's-who of Hollywood, filled with an eclectic cast of familiar faces (Jack Lemmon, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, etc.) all playing their roles to perfection. Despite the extended length of the film, the filmmakers have an uncanny ability to suck you into the story, making the time fly by. Technically, as well, the film is an absolute marvel: from the award-winning cinematography, to the imaginative editing, to the first-rate directing. Stone manages to capture the pervasive unease and paranoia of the times, bringing a subtle creeping tension as things progress. All these things combine to create a fast-paced production that is as stimulating and exciting as any thriller. JFK is a towering achievement in filmmaking not for its concepts or truths but in its technique and its vision. This is Stone's masterpiece. (Check out the extended review!)
Drama: 9/10

Jiang Hu (Hong Kong - 2004)
Starring: Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Shawn Yu 
Director: Wong Ching-Po
Plot: A crime boss searches for the young punk contracted to be his assassin and faces his loyal, violent second as well as his own lieutenants on the night he becomes a father.
Review: Jiang Hu, the latest in a long line of similar crime flicks, is an exercise of accomplished style over (very little) substance. For anyone remotely familiar with the genre this an achingly familiar gangster drama with little redeeming value. Setting up its plot in two different worlds, the two parallel stories eventually overlap but both are only paper-thin ones that are just too emotionally shallow to grab our interest. A psychological chess game played between the two partners over a dinner table begins promisingly, but is too quickly played through. In fact, it feels as if there wasn't enough material to stretch into a full feature, even with its short running time. The characters are bland and their actions fated by the necessities of the script rather than a natural necessity of circumstance. The two usually stellar leads, Lau and Cheung, sleepwalk through this, their exotic hair-styles actually providing more interest than their exaggerated performances. And the final, rather predictable "twist" ending will leave one cold. It almost seems as if the filmmakers were relying purely on the surprise effect of the climactic revelation to make this effort special. Unfortunately for them, this is no The Sixth Sense. All this is not to say that the movie is bad, as Jiang Hu is a consistently watchable exercise in style, with clever camera work and gorgeous cinematography. Too bad it's just so banal.
Entertainment: 4/10

Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone (Hong Kong - 2000)
Starring: Tony Leung Kar-fai, Sandra Ng, Anthony Wong
Director: Dante Lam
Plot: A respected triad boss is suddenly forced to take account of his life and of the eccentric people around him after someone puts a contract on his head in the form of a mysterious assassin.
Review: Jiang Hu: the Triad Zone is a smorgasbord of a film, full of ideas, cinematic exercises, and plot elements dissecting the popular Hong Kong gangster movie. The film starts on a hilarious tone as the triad boss knocks out a younger rival and disco-dances on the table, promising a smart, tongue-in-cheek parody of the typical triad film. Soon however, the film's ambitions turn to a surprisingly touching relationship drama, which for the most part succeeds. However this isn't enough for director / writer Lam who continues a blending of genres, from the triad drama, to the anti-triad comedy, to the action film, where some things are exaggerated to the point of silliness. There's even a touch of the fantastic as a Chinese God interferes with an assassination plot (a wonderful cameo by veteran HK actor Wong)! Unfortunately, the film can't keep up with these wild changes in tone and styles, from comic to serious, and the narrative struggles at times, especially towards the end where the action scenes are a bit too long and savage, bringing us back from an amusing and engaging comedy to a more typical triad flick. The two leads, however, are perfectly matched and ooze charisma and charm throughout the over-the-top proceedings, making the film all the more enjoyable. By trying to be too many things at once, Jiang Hu loses its audience in the end, but there are still enough fun, imaginative set pieces and zany entertainment packed in to make it well worth watching.
Entertainment: 7/10

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001)
Starring: Debi Derryberry, Rob Paulsen
Director: John A. Davis
Plot: A boy genius must organize an interstellar rescue mission when a message from his toaster-satellite inadvertently causes all the town's adults to be kidnapped by evil aliens.
Review: Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is another entry in the now-popular digitally-animated feature category and, though not as successful as its recent kin, it's an entertaining one. The vibrant colors and retro designs help provide the 50's look that establishes this space-age world, a mix of old styles and values with pulp sci-fi devices. The computer animation isn't near the quality of photo-realism that we've come to expect from big-budget features, but the plastic, almost squeegy-toy look to the exaggerated characters and creations give it an added personality. The CGI does allow for some impossible camera shots and unbelievable situations, but this concoction is really at its most imaginative and amusing when showing off Neutron's underground lab and all its bizarre inventions. The plot, another kids-save-adults type of affair, is appropriately tongue-in-cheek if a bit run-of-the-mill, but the kids' misadventures in the first half are entertaining, and the space adventure is suitably exciting. This is a Nickelodeon feature, and as such is more aimed at kids than grown ups, but though there may not be as many winks or subtleties for adults apart from a few homages to a diverse set of "geek" films, there's a definite sense of fun to be had and the crazy energy is indeed infectious. As for the voice acting, it's decent enough, and Star Trek's Patrick Stewart does a cameo role as the alien king. With its short running time, Jimmy Neutron is a breezy family effort that's funny and inventive, and one that doesn't overstay its welcome.
Entertainment: 6/10

Jin-Roh (Japan - 1998)
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Plot: In the 1950's, in a world where World War 2 had a very different outcome, a young Japanese commando, part of a heavily-armed police force, is caught between government forces and terrorist dissidents.
Review: Jin-Roh regroups the team that created the popular Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell. The animation here is striking in its style, using soft lines for the characters, with detailed, almost photo-realistic backgrounds. The story recounts and parallels the fable of Little Red Riding Hood to good effect, creating many interesting (and sometimes ambiguous) moments. unfortunately, the story tries too hard to make a political as well as social statement regarding the inhumanity of people who lose sight of their duty towards society, but gets marred in a banal story of political double-crosses. Still, the film has some great visuals and a decent story and is a must-see for fans of mature anime.
Entertainment: 7/10

Joe Gould's Secret (2000)
Starring: Ian Holm, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis
Director: Stanley Tucci
Plot: A writer for the New Yorker decides to follow a strange character named Joe Gould, a writer who decided to live his life as a hobo to write a "world history" and who befriended many artists in New York during the 40s and 50s.
Review: Based on real events described by New Yorker columnist Joseph Mitchell, Joe Gould's Secret is the story of his relationship with the homeless writer / philosopher Joe Gould, and the search for Gould's mysterious, closely-guarded works. The very heart and soul of the film is Ian Holm who manages a bravura performance as the eccentric bohemian Joe Gould, running around town, soliciting money for the "Joe Gould fund", entertaining strangers, and even making a nuisance of himself. It's a character study, of course, and a remarkable, occasionally fascinating one at that, but it wants to be more, trying to come to grasps with the very idea of artistic creativity, journalistic ethics, and other broad subjects. The film also tries to capture the relationship, and stark differences, between the two writers - one established and making small pieces for a respectable magazine, the other an outcast with much loftier goals. It ultimately fails in its aspirations, maybe because it always tries to remain so low-key, or because none of the characters or events outside of Gould himself are seen with the same perceptive eye. In the end, Joe Gould's Secret is a small film about a strange character and his effect on the people around him, and one that seems to lack some required spark to make it memorable.
Drama: 4/10

Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Starring: Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson
Directors: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Plot: A garage band's meteoric rise to the top of the pop charts from complete anonymity is only part of an evil company-run brainwashing experiment that ends up putting a strain on their friendhsip.
Review: Based on the popular Archie comics and 1970's cartoon, Josie and the Pussycats follows a bevy of more-or-less successful adaptations to the big screen. Updated for the new millennia, the characters finally fight against company mentality and commercial trends that suck up kids' individuality. Right. But is this really a satire on our product-driven society or is it a thinly-veiled excuse for product placement heaven? Evian, Revlon, McDonald's, an countless other household trademarks bombard every inch of the screen for much of the film's running time. The government conspiracy plot is ludicrous, and the boring romantic and "friend forever" bits are terribly clichéd, but the bubble-gum music-video style camera-work and editing marks the fact that this is just a teeny-bopper fun-fest, with enough giddy energy to make it work. There's also some hilarious moments of easy parody on advertising, boys bands, and the music industry that make up for a lot. The trio of actresses do a fine job of imitating their wholesome (and slightly ditzy) comic-book role models, and Alan Cumming as the foppish, villainous record company exec is delightful in another two-bit over-the-top characterization. True, there's little of substance to be found anywhere, and the "moral" is as ridiculous as the mass-produced story, but for a piece of amusing fluff, Josie and the Pussycats delivers.
Entertainment: 5/10

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem
Director: Eric Brevig
Plot: With his estranged teen nephew in tow, a geology professor undertakes a trip to Iceland to find the whereabouts of his long-lost brother only to be trapped along with their mountain guide in a strange, lost world far beneath the Earth's surface.
Review: The latest adaptation of Jules Verne's classic sci-fi / adventure novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, has really one gimmick up its sleeve - it's been shot in 3D, the latest rage (again) of CGI features. It's all very much in the spirit of the '50's 3D movies, too, where plot was minimal and purely revolved around getting objects to stick out to the audience. Oh, the effects are much more elaborate to be sure - the CGI backgrounds, virtual sets and creatures are nicely rendered but simplistic, there are lots of roller coaster-type sequences, including a mine-cart ride copied straight from Temple of Doom, the action (when applicable) is frenetic, and familiar tropes make their appearance, including carnivorous plants, sea monsters, a T-Rex, some perilous rock formations, etc. First-time feature director Brevig shows his roots as a visual effects supervisor, and character-driven performances are not his forte. The script plays it very tongue-in-cheek, the chacracters even using an annotated paperback copy of Verne's novel as a roadmap, but any wit or charm is quickly relegated to the back of the 3D band-wagon. The limits of the film as even popcorn entertainment are that much more obvious when watching it in standard "2D" on TV. Harkening back to the 1959 adaptation starring Pat Boone and James Mason, the previous outing had more wit and adventure than this one despite the smaller budget and primitive special effects. Perhaps the lack of any heart and soul comes from a feeling this was created by committee on order for an FX-driven family film rather than by any sense of creative input. As for the cast, Fraser contends with regurgitating a mix of his hero from the Mummy movies and his goofy demeanor that he brought to a slew of comic duds and Hutcherson and Briem are really only in for the ride. Of note, though it's clearly meant for family viewing, there are some pretty intense scenes for smaller kids but teens and adults won't find the thrills all that memorable. A rather bland and banal feature, better made for a theme park ride than a movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth was meant to be watched only in 3D to appreciate the filmmakers' technical - rather than cinematic - accomplishments.
Entertainment: 4/10

Judge Dredd (1995)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider
Director: Danny Cannon
Plot: Falsely convicted for murder, an elite cop acting as judge, jury, and executioner in a dark future society escapes his sentence and goes head to head with his sadistic counterpart.
Review: American comic book heroes had been deemed quite successful (mostly due to the Batman and Superman franchises) that it was only a matter of time before UK's own bad-ass, nihilistic hero Judge Dredd was offered his own big-budget film. To say this was a disastrous affair from first-time director Cannon would be somewhat unfair; though it was reviled by critics and fans on its release, the campiness and amateur efforts somehow come off better on the small screen than it did in theatres. Sure, it's awfully derivative, as most of these "blockbusters" are, but it's got its own quirky sense of frivolity. The future Mega-City is adequately created, somewhat of a visual cartoon in its capturing of the grime and over-population of the place; it's no Blade Runner, but it works. The action is, of course, made up of macho pummeling, gunfire and lots of explosions, some intentionally overdone, but thankfully even the excesses are amusing. Even the unspectacular special-effects are adequate for the task, as is the art direction, and both help flesh out the filmmakers' ambitious (if failed) take on the subject. The plot had potential, but the rather dumbed-down script isn't anything to write home about. Stallone is actually pretty well suited for the part of the square-jawed law-giver, though it's really Assante who steals the show as the mad villain. Von Sydow adds some much-needed class to this affair. Rob Schneider as the humorous, down-on-his-luck side-kick gets some laughs but the levity seems out of place. Though fans of the British comics have cried "foul!" with this adaptation, it holds its own well enough; Judge Dredd isn't as dark and cynical as the original strip was, but as a Hollywood outing it's faithful enough and delivers some decent (if uninspired) entertainment value.
Entertainment: 5/10

*Classic* Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell
Director: Stanley Kramer
Plot: A Southern judge is sent to occupied Germany to oversee a war-crime trial indicting four Nazi judges, chief among them being an internationally respected scholar defended by an eager young lawyer.
Review: A dramatic re-enactment of one of the many Nuremberg war-crimes trials, Judgment at Nuremberg raises some important questions on the subject of blame and responsibility. Are the paper-pushers who advocated Hitler's policies guilty or were they just doing their jobs as government workers? This is courtroom drama at its best: there are no easy answers here, no right or wrong, with both sides aiming for the high moral ground. This is a stirring, intense and important work that in large part succeeds in bringing the judicial and legal complexities of the trial to light, while political pressures were put to bear at the same time. Though clocking in at three hours, thanks to the crackling dialogue and fine, Oscar-winning script the film never feels long-winded and never fails to keep our attention. True, there are a few lagging moments but these are necessary to give an overall perception of the subject. Shot in black and white to give the film an added layer of authenticity, director Kramer (On the Beach, Inherit the Wind) keeps the shots clean, the cinematography crisp and precise, keeping the audience focused on the story. Tracy, as the grizzled old judge, does another fine career turn. As for Lancaster, when he finally takes the stand his monologue is absolutely electrifying. Schell won an Oscar for his powerful role as the young German defense lawyer who passionately argues his case not only for his reluctant client, but for all of the German people as well. The film also boasts a fine cast of legendary actors in supporting roles such as Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift and Marlene Dietrich. Judgment at Nuremberg is a compelling, sometimes harrowing and always intense drama that will provide much food for thought and discussion long after the film's end. (Check out the extended review!)
Drama: 9/10

Ju Dou (1990)
Starring: Gong Li, Li Wei, Li Bao-Tian
Director: Zhang Yimou
Plot: After marrying an aging and brutal dye mill owner in 1920's China, a young woman ends up having a long-standing affair, and eventually a son, with her husband's nephew but is forced to raise him without telling him his true father.
Review: With Ju Dou, "fifth-generation" director Yimou propels himself into the limelight. Having started as a cinematographer for Chen Kaige, it's not surprising that Yimou is such a visual director, with each frame carefully composed. As such, the film can be appreciated and understood (and the strong emotional current felt) without the need for dialogue thanks to the many visual cues, the fabulous use of color and shadows, the expression on the actor's faces, and the terrific use of the camera - this is definitely a feast for the eyes. Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern) is also a very political director, and his hard look at Chinese culture and society has made his films banned in his own country. Here in his second film, though the events occur in 1920's China and encompasses themes of adultery, family honor and social pressures, he lands a scathing commentary on the mind-set of modern-day China as well. But the film is more than this, it's also a tragedy set up as magnificent melodrama, and the deliberate pacing ensures that we are seeped into the exotic atmosphere of the place and times. The story itself, of love at odds with tradition, isn't limited to the boundaries of its country of origin and is as lurid, violent, and sometimes disturbing as any film from outside its borders. It helps that the film has a terrific cast, and that it provides another powerful role for his many-time collaborator and muse Gong Li, who does her usual fine turn. A turbulent tale told amid the backdrop of a leisurely setting, Ju Dou is a beautiful film that hits just the right chord.
Drama: 8/10

Jumper (2008)
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Doug Liman
Plot: A young man discovers he has the potential to teleport anywhere he visualizes and goes about stealing is way to a comfortable life, until his abilities catch the attention of an age-old secret society bent on eliminating his breed.
Review: Based on the sci-fi novel by Steven Gould, Jumper is an unassuming, entertaining pre-summer popcorn action flick that delivers the goods. Having The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith under his belt, one might have expected something more hard-hitting or adventurous from director Liman. but there's no doubt he knows how to make for a fast-paced, engaging affair that has all the right visual flair. And the special effects laden fights, when the film finally gets into gear half-way through, are pretty inventive and exciting, making clever use of the characters' teleporting abilities. The comic-book-level story is for the most part engaging; starting from a familiar tale of school underdog power fantasy, it slowly uncovers a subplot regarding a thousand-year war that has been raging between jumpers and paladins, along with a more intimate mystery involving our hero's mother (cameo by Diane Lane). It's all ripe for franchise material - alas, the lukewarm reception of this first installment has all but wiped the possibility of sequels uncovering more of the tale. Christensen seems to be getting more comfortable in his roles, and here he glides through both the intense action scenes and the more dramatic bits with ease. Jackson also excels here, chewing the scenery in his trademark manner as the self-righteous tracker and executioner, making for an interesting villain. Bell, as a veteran fellow jumper and altogether loose cannon with some very cool moves, is a highlight, but Rachel Bilson as the love interest barely manages to make a spark and the romantic angle with her almost bogs down the film. Despite falling short with this last, and an anti-climactic ending (clearly a set up for a next movie), Jumper has all the right stuff for a promising first chapter. Too bad it's also the last.
Entertainment: 7/10


Juno (2007)
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby
Director: Jason Reitman
Plot: Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, a head-strong, quirky 16-year old high-schooler decides to give the baby up for adoption to an over-eager young yuppie couple.
Review: The indie teen drama Juno, a surprise dramatic-comedy hit, is the kind of film that seems to be at odds with box-office success: there's no slapstick, no A-list actors, no gross-outs and no attempt for crowd-pleasing moments that would make a good trailer. What it is, is a sweet, funny, and unpretentious little gem of a film. The story is a different, if not revealing, take on teen pregnancy and one that is refreshing in its honesty and approach; for one it doesn't take sides on the issue, just presents one vivacious, outspoken teenage girl's response to an unfortunate event. It all starts with a terrific script that avoids all the clichés, allows its everyday, non-stereotypical characters to be real creations. Add to that dialogue that is vivacious and engaging, some smart one-liners, and a narrative that just feels organic. Gone is the satire and tongue-in-cheek attitude of director Reitman first film, the superb Thank You For Smoking - here the tone is sincere, sweet and playful, done with such an easygoing manner that never trips into silly emotional territory and comes off as genuine and heartfelt. The cast is admirable, and none more than Page, who has really come into her own here as the wise-cracking, Slurpy-chugging, bad-ass nerd whose snarky attitude hides her vulnerability. She's ably supported by Cera as her nerdy but supportive on-and-off boyfriend, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons as her supportive - if a tad confused - parents, and Olivia Thirlby as her best friend. But the real surprise is Garner and Jason Bateman, as the future adoptive parents, a couple that has enough problems of their own. Never overly sentimental nor laissez-faire, Juno is at times funny and touching, and completely endearing. A pleasant surprise.
Entertainment / Drama: 8/10

Jurassic Park (1993)
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot: Two researchers are invited to an incredible tropical island park where a variety of dinosaurs have been recreated and run wild, only to find that the owners don't quite have as much control over their creation as expected.
Review: Based on a novel by thriller novelist Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park is a film that promises, and most often delivers, the high amount of entertainment and thrills expected. Director Spielberg is right in his element here, and many of his overbearing sentimental brushes, as well as his typical breathless pacing, are quite in evidence. The script is also quite good, keeping our interest, and a sense of suspense, even when there are no dinos on the screen, proving that action / adventure films don't need to follow the "big guns" routine to be popular. But no matter what, the real attraction here are the dinosaurs themselves, and they are indeed a treat - running, roaring, eating... the (then) state-of-the-art special effects and associated set-ups are awe-inspiring and convincing. It's no wonder Jurassic Park was such a hit: with a good cast, thrilling story and amazing effects it's a film worth watching again and again.
Entertainment: 8/10

Jurassic Park III (2001)
Starring: Sam Neil, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni
Director: Joe JohnstonPlot: A scientist is persuaded to act as a guide over Jurassic Park's Site B for two rich thrill-seekers who are actually looking for their lost son , but when they crash land on the island things take a turn for the worst.
Review: Jurassic Park III, the sequel to the block-busters Jurassic Park and The Lost World, would have had an upwards battle to try to bring anything really new to the franchise, and finally decides not to even try. A new species does make its appearance, the Pteranodons (flying dinos), and they are well put to use, as is a T-Rex-beating Spinosaurus that has it in for the humans, but the film feels surprisingly lifeless. The story skips over the events of the second film, bringing back only Neil as the intrepid expert, but the rest of the characters, including yet another "genius" kid, are so insipid and one-dimensional that you only care for them to be eaten. The paper-thin plot between the invariable chase sequences also lacks the drama and development of the other installments, trying instead for a fuzzy sentimentality by setting up an inappropriate Disney-esque sub-plot of a broken family trying to get back together, which only raises the groan factor up a notch. The film is really quite short, and it feels as if the script can't find something else to put in to make it meatier. Ridiculous coincidences also abound, none more so than the abrupt forced ending setting up the next chapter of the franchise. Thankfully director Johnston (Jumanji) has a good command of the required action scenes and they are all effectively thrilling and well done thanks in part to some great effects, making the film breeze through its small running time. In the end, Jurassic Park III is rather shallow and unimpressive, a veritable re-hash of the last two films which will leave audiences with a feeling of "been there, done that" - it's not a bad effort in terms of entertainment, but it is an uninspiring one.
Entertainment: 5/10

Justice League - The New Frontier (2008)
Starring: Phil Morris, Neil Patrick Harris, Lucy Lawless, Miguel Ferrer, David Boreanaz 
Directors: Dave Bullock
Plot: The world's greatest super-heroes must overcome their differences and combine their efforts to defeat a gargantuan alien entity bent on cleansing the world of humanity.
Review: Based on the best-selling, critically-acclaimed graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke, The New Frontier is a '50's era re-invention of the founding of the Justice League of America - the stalwart team of DC Comics super-heroes including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and others. Cooke's nostalgic, loving homage to the Silver Age of comics didn't so much alter as bring out the iconic images of these heroes and made them face real slice-of-'50s issues, like feeling the weight of McCarthy-spread suspicion, the intolerance and prejudices of the era, the horrors of the Korean war, the Cold War paranoia, the decline of post-War optimism... and society's the fear of their own heroes. The film captures many of these and does many other things right: the style is distinctive, the jet-age retro-look is superb, the animation is at times very slick and cool-looking, the voice acting is top-notch by the likes of Lawless (perfectly cast as Wonder Woman) and Jeremy Sisto as Batman, and the tale retains its very PG-13 attitude - indeed, the violence means it's not recommended for younger kids. Alas, the rich texture of the 400-odd page books gets short-changed due to the limits of similar direct-to-DVD animated features and their short running times (in this case 75 minutes with credits); each one of the large cast of characters are given only a broad treatment (Green Lantern being the unfortunate exception - unfortunate because his origin story bogs everything down) before having to team-up to save the world from a dinosaur-spewing, island-sized monstrosity in an over-long, almost juvenile climax. Still, as a trimmed version of the original material The New Frontier conveys its sentiment of idealism while giving in to the giddy excitement of a fine, mature comic-book, and it does it with style and verve. And for that, it's worthy of attention by super-hero fans everywhere.
Entertainment: 6/10

Just Like Heaven (2005)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Heder
Director: Mark Waters
Plot: A widowed landscape architect falls for the ghost of a beautiful, workaholic doctor who used to live in his new apartment before a car accident left her between Heaven and Earth. 
Review: Like many of its ilk, Just Like Heaven takes a high-concept premise and gives it a pedestrian romantic-comedy makeover, making for some agreeable but instantly forgettable fluff. Taking material from Ghost, among others, the story mixes in ideas of fate and loss with a dash of the paranormal to make it work - in other words, nothing really new to the genre. One highlight is an amusing collage of various spiritual "exorcisms" being performed, including one from a team of Ghostbusters-like experts. The on-going gag of Ruffalo appearing to talk to himself in front of his peers, however, is a joke that quickly grows thin. Still, for the most part director Waters keeps things afloat through the genre clichés and sentimental contrivances but the just-average script has little remarkable humor and nary a memorable scene in its repertoire, save for a little twist that allows a way out for the necessary "happily ever after" ending. In fact, it's pretty clear that nobody is really trying very hard, and the film pretty much coasts on the nice performances by the two leads. Witherspoon seems to be becoming the new Meg Ryan, taking the new crown as romantic-comedy queen, and she's got the earnest pout down pat. Ruffalo does pretty well, too, as a grieving widower on a beer binge though this isn't much of a stretch. If the humor isn't up to par, at least their interaction and comic chemistry does make for a likable affair. Points, too, for the psychic goof played by Heder who spoofs the New Age industry. In the end, Just Like Heaven is pleasant enough to watch, but not much more than average fare.
Entertainment: 5/10

Just Visiting (2001)
Starring: Jean Reno, Christian Clavier, Christina Applegate
Director: Jean-Marie Gaubert
Plot: Trying to stop the murder of his beloved by magically travelling through time, a 12th-century French noble and his servant are accidentally transported to 21st-century Chicago where he meets a descendant who mistakes him for her long-lost cousin.
Review: A loose Americanized remake of the popular French comedy Les Visiteurs, Just Visiting aims to be an endearing, adventure comedy. Using the same creative team, including director Gaubert, means that the same light-hearted tone as the original is maintained. The obviously bigger budget provided for some better effects, but the plot is just as feather-weight (if not more so) with more low-brow situation humor and the expected fish-out-of-water comedy. The script never really surprises, the characters are blatantly one-dimensional caricatures, and the funny bits tend to be of the slapstick variety. Thankfully the pace is brisk, the events enjoyable, the saccharine romantic angle kept to a minimum, and there are some particularly amusing moments that lift the film up a notch. Reprising their roles, Reno and Clavier make an appropriately wide-eyed pair, but it's Malcolm McDowell, as the bumbling wizard dressed in cowpoke clothes, who really steals the show. Just Visiting is pleasant enough in its low-brow kind of way, with a dash of European sensibility added to the mix, to make for easy comedy viewing.
Comedy: 6/10

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