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Rabid (1977)
Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver
Director: David Cronenberg
Plot: After a horrible accident, a woman is given an experimental skin graft leaving her with a craving for human blood that unleashes a plague that turns people into mindless killers.
Review: Though the plot of Rabid is almost non-existent, director / writer Cronenberg's (Dead Ringers, Videodrome) usual themes pop up again, adding more sexually deviant bizarreness and stabs at the medical profession. Though never adequately explained, porn-star Chambers plays a modern-day medical vampire who has the ability to suck blood from (and infect) her victims through an vagina-like orifice in her armpit! Unfortunately, what starts off as another bizarre, twisted film unfortunately veers into familiar zombie-movie territory mid-way through. Not that it's badly done; the whole exercise looks slicker than most pictures of the genre, the rabid killers go on an appropriately violent rampage, and the martial law in Montreal is well depicted (with body disposal crews in biohazard gear roam the streets in garbage trucks!). There's also a great sense of dread throughout, and Cronenberg shows his growing mastery of the medium, from the direction of the cast, to the more refined camera shots, to the better general flow of the film compared to his earlier Shivers. And let's not forget the gratuitous amount of nudity and ample amounts of required gore, of course. Thanks to Cronenberg's touch, Rabid is more interesting than the usual living-dead fare and for fans of horror it's an interesting outing.
Horror: 6/10

The Raid (Hong Kong - 1991)
Starring: Dean Shek, Tony Leung, Jacky Cheung 
Director: Ching Siu-Tung, Tsui Hark 
Plot: During the 1930's time of turmoil, a rag tag team of people led by a retired healer join China's revolutionary army to stop the forces of the dethroned emperor and his Japanese allies from unleashing a deadly poison gas upon his enemies.
Review: Based on a popular Asian comic series, The Raid offers up a great deal of fun for those in the mood for some Hong Kong mayhem. Produced and co-directed by Tsui Hark (Peking Opera Blues, Once Upon a Time in China), the film shows his fingerprints all over the screen: above average production values, high on entertainment, humor, and crowd-pleasing moments, and filled with epic-like Hollywood sequences inventively done on a low-budget. In fact, the movie is less a recreation of 1930's China than it is a fantasy world of lawless bandits and diabolical military men, co-existing with spies, ninjas and martial arts masters. Much like the Indiana Jones series it tries to emulate (including its own Temple of Doom-styled musical number), the film is filled with cliffhanger moments akin to the old serials, including impossible escapes. Better still, the pacing is surprisingly steady even through the slower moments (give or take a few exceptions). Though nothing particularly original, the action set pieces involving gunfights, swordplay and multiple explosions are numerous, engaging, and energetic relying on wires, stuntmen, and a good measure of suspension of disbelief. There are also the "necessary" comic moments as well, including some bedroom hi-jinks, as well as an amusing (and thankfully short-lived) interlude where romantic misunderstandings abound. These are incredibly familiar, but they work better than those found in most HK offerings. Also important, the entire cast is just right, hamming it up and exaggerating the silliness and seriousness of the moment as required. There's nothing to really set The Raid apart from many of its contemporaries, but for some entertaining action / comedy as only HK can provide, it's another fine example of the genre.
Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot: In 1936, an adventurous archeologist, helped by an old flame, is hired by the US Government to find the biblical Ark of the Covenant in Egypt before the Nazis can take possession of it to drive their war effort.
Review: More so than any other action film, perhaps, Raiders of the Lost Ark deserves it's high ranking in audience's hearts: it's a rarity, a thrill-a-minute crowd pleaser that gained high critical praise, and one that still works as well now as it did over 20 years ago. Conceived as a loving homage to the B&W cliff-hanger shorts, the film plays out like a mix of the best Saturday matinee serials and the most modern action flicks. From the get-go, the movie is structured like a series of short 10-15 minute films, with every chapter ending with one of these cliff-hanging moments. This is a Spielberg picture through-and-through, however, and the director's patent humor, energy and fine story-telling talent developed over his previous projects (Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is obvious in every scene. The pulp-like feel of the narrative, the larger-than-life characters and adventure, and the exotic locales (helped by some terrific production values), all add to the successful mix. Relying less on special effects and more on impressive stunts and story, the script imbues the classic adventure yarn with enough daring-do, witty repartee, and smarts to make it watchable over and over again. Harrison Ford's performance makes Indiana Jones the ultimate action hero blending macho hero with a self-effacing manner. The spunky Allen does a good job of keeping up her end by being just as smart and aggressive as her companion. Even the supporting characters, villains and allies alike, have personality to spare, a rarity in this sort of affair. The ending is the only low point of the film, providing what is probably the ultimate deus ex machina ever put to screen, leaving our hero's fate to a greater power. Much-copied but never equaled, Raiders of the Lost Ark brought together the best talents and elements possible for a terrific, joyful bit of entertainment that has become a tried-and-true classic. (See extended review).
Entertainment: 10/10

The Rainmaker (1997)
Starring: Matt Damon, Danny DeVito
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Plot: An idealistic young lawyer fresh out of school goes up against some powerful lawyers to expose an insurance company's refusal to pay a claim for a young man dying of leukemia.
Review: The Rainmaker follows The Firm as best adaptation of best-selling author John Grisham's novels. Trying to encompass "important" issues, the film is more a drama than a thriller, one lacking any surprises in the narrative or the typical courtroom battles. The story simply provides another rather tepid, rehashed take on the "good, inexperienced" lawyer vs. the "bad, powerful" ones. What it lacks in originality, though, it makes up in good storytelling and the use of a fine cast, especially a then-unknown Matt Damon as the wet-behind-the-ears lawyer and Jon Voight as his nemesis. Danny DeVito arguably has the best role here as his cynical street-wise partner, and easily has the most memorable moments of the film. This is a step backward for famed director Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now), but his keen eye and filmmaking sense are still obvious. The Rainmaker may not be a great film, but in its engaging plot and characters it manages to keep our interest, and ends up being much more enjoyable than one would expect.
Drama: 6/10

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julia Nickson, Richard Crenna
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Plot: An incarcerated veteran is given another chance to return to his old battleground to retrieve photographic evidence of US soldiers still being kept prisoner in Vietnam.
Review: Whereas First Blood was an action-oriented anti-war film that presented us with a veteran lost and outcast in his own country, Rambo immediately and whole-heartedly distances itself from its dramatic predecessor from the get-go offering up an un-apologetic, jingoistic fervor. After his role as Rocky, Rambo is Stallone's trademark character, the sneering, muscle-bound machine that can fire a .50 caliber machine-gun with one-hand, one that has become an international icon for the '80s. Poorly made by modern standards, with rather cheap production values apparent throughout, it's a movie that aims for carnage and violence, one that knew how to satisfy an American public desperate for a hero to win them a Vietnam victory. Considering the success of the film, a template for countless cheaper imitators, it definitely hit a nerve. Looking at it now, one can only roll one's eyes at the dumb script (by Stallone and a post-Terminator James Cameron), an efficient pastiche of atrocious dialogue and ridiculous situations that constantly ups the ante for energetic blood-letting. There are knifings, bullets flying, a myriad variety of explosions, all culminating into a helicopter showdown as Rambo goes up against Vietnamese, Russian commandos, and even traitorous US officials before our protagonist can bring his MIAs home. As a mindless action flick, Rambo set the standard for the genre and though its hard to call it a classic, it still provides some satisfying moments for those willing to leave their brains at the door.
Entertainment: 6/10


Rambo (2008)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Plot: After American aid workers are captured by Burmese soldiers, a Vietnam veteran living in seclusion in Thailand grudgingly leads a group of mercenaries into Burma to rescue them.
Review: Fair warning: this ain't your Pop's Rambo. Using the Burmese genocide / civil war as a backdrop, this latest installment of the iconic Rambo is much more gritty in tone and execution than the last, mainstream action sequels of the 1980's. Much like last year's Rocky Balboa, co-writer / director / star Stallone revisits another one of his icons and provides some (albeit limited) depth to the character, mostly in the form of flashbacks to previous movies. Stallone plays the older, supposedly wiser Rambo as a stoic, dangerous man who has seen too much, whose eyes reflect the worse of humanity. This persona has always been of a man of few words - and here even that is a challenge - and his steroid-enhanced physique looks scary, but he still has what it takes. Better yet, even if the 61-year old Stallone is in his last legs in terms of heroic performances in front of the camera, there is no doubting the effectiveness of his hammer-to-the-head style of directing - like it or not. The film is grisly in its scenes of flaying bodies, vicious in its violence, but also incredibly efficient as a hard-hitting, straight-forward action flick. The supporting cast made up of Christian do-gooders and hard-nosed mercenaries are just filler, but then they're just a set-up for the main character's final rampage. And yes, the bad guys are Bad: the soldiers are faceless, depraved young men who rape and pillage villages, then play deadly games with their captives, while their leader is a cigarette-smoking, shade-wearing sadist and pedophile. All the easier to accept Rambo's vicious comeuppance. While such evil seems ready-served to make for some morally-justified revenge, the truth is that it is just too heavy-handed. Even taking a page from newspaper headlines, and using actual footage of the atrocities of the Burmese-Karen conflict to open the film, the message (if there was one) is somewhat lost in the dizzying orgasm of blood and guts that make up the final act, a sequence where Rambo does literally battle against a battalion - and the body count is the highest it's ever been. Then again, the word "balanced" isn't a word in the Rambo vocabulary and, despite all the deplorable audience manipulation and exploitative blood-letting, the movie delivers on its premise as a kicker of an action flick. Rambo will definitely not be to everyone's taste, but as a trip to nostalgia for those who grew up with the character it's nice to know there's still some fight left in him.
Entertainment: 6/10

Rambo III (1988)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna
Director: Peter Macdonald
Plot: When his former commanding officer gets captured in Afghanistan by invading Russians, Rambo joins up with local freedom fighters to plan out a daring rescue.
Review: Though nowhere near as popular as its genre-initiating predecessor, Rambo 3 has as much, if not more, of the stuff that action fans crave without the unnecessary calories - or plot. In the 80`s, before 911, the Afghan struggle was ripe for film exploitation, a place to find allies in the fight against Soviet aggression. Surprisingly, the cinematography of the desolate landscapes and of the people is actually pretty good, though director MacDonald's preference for tight close-ups is distracting. Nevertheless, he's also got a good sense of the cinematic requirements for mindless action; even if this is just a repeat of the last installment in a different setting, replete with all the gunfire, explosions and other requisite violence we've come to expect (including more torture scenes than we'd care to see), the film does up the ante considerably. A veritable one-man army, Rambo takes on (almost) single-handedly not only hundreds of trained Soviet troops, jeeps, trucks and heavy machineguns but tanks and armored helicopters, too, all without batting an eye. Sure, there's nothing really new to be had in all this but the superior production values and non-stop mayhem in the second half of the film make up for the script and meandering, maudlin half-hour intro. Of course, none of this would make much of an impression if it weren't for the buff, toned, steely-gazed Stallone at the very center as the unstoppable uber-hero. The character may have become a caricature, but he does deliver the goods. And so does the movie. `Nuff said.
Entertainment: 7/10

Random Hearts (1999)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Sydney Pollack
Plot: A detective becomes obsessed with finding out the depth of his wife's betrayal after a fatal plane crash leads to the revelation that she was having an affair with a congress woman's husband.
Review: Random Hearts starts off with an interesting premise that could have played well on the subjects of loss and betrayal, but the mystery and intrigue only lasts for the first half-hour or so. From then on, the film tries to be both sentimental and dramatic, but ends up being only bad romantic junk-food. There is even a bad-cop sub-plot tacked on to the main story that is not only badly done, but is completely out of place with the rest of the narrative. The worst offender, though, is the forced romance that builds between the two leads. It doesn't help that Ford is just wooden here; thankfully Thomas makes up for his short-comings and even for the bad dialogue when she's on screen. The pace is slow but never ponderous, but the lack of either deeper emotional resonance or more melodrama will alienate viewers. There's the seed of a good script somewhere, but by avoiding any challenges inherent to the story it just fails on all counts. As it is, Random Hearts might have made a decent TV-movie, but with the caliber of creative people behind this it should have been much better.
Drama: 4/10

Ransom (1996)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise
Director: Ron Howard
Plot: An airline tycoon becomes desperate after his only child is kidnapped by an experienced band of criminals and starts to believe that they have no intention of returning his son alive after the ransom is paid.
Review: Ransom, an updated remake of the 1956 crime drama, is director Howard's (Apollo 13, Backdraft) first try at a conventional thriller, and in everywhere it counts, it's quite effective. By eliminating the mystery behind the kidnapping and showing both sides, the film becomes much more of a suspense piece, playing out a mostly tense game of cat and mouse between its two male players. There's an appropriate amount of suspense, human melodrama, and surprises to the proceedings, and the plot twists are believable and well set-up. The film aims for more than this, however, by inserting a few sub-plots to round out the characters, and even adding some hints at social class struggles, but these are unfortunately quickly discarded once used. The cinematography also enhances the shadowy, urban mood and sense of claustrophobia. As for the performances, they are solid all around, especially by a chilling turn by Sinise and a surprisingly emotive Gibson. The film could have dwelled a little more on the relationships between the kidnappers, especially the bond between Sinise and his criminal girlfriend, something that would have made the conclusion more powerful. As well, the climax pitting the two adversaries is a little too convenient and takes the conventional Hollywood "way out". Still, Ransom is a tightly plotted, well made film with enough twists and turns to make for a smarter than usual crime thriller.
Entertainment: 7/10

*Classic* Rashomon (1950)
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Takashi Shimura
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Plot: In ancient Japan, a brutal rape and murder in a forest is recounted by four witnesses, each with a very different perspective as to what actually happened.
Review: Rashomon first garnered Kurosawa (The Seven Samurai, Ran) widespread international attention, and with just cause. What starts off as a simple story, soon becomes a complex character study, combining the best aspects of a finely crafted mystery and a deliberately paced drama to create a veritable cinematic tour-de-force. The cast is excellent, providing very different, stirring performances as the events are retold. It is soon obvious that trying to piece together the actual events in the woods is futile: the film does not provide an answer. Instead, it plays with the idea that perspective distorts reality, that the truth is a subjective thing, and a universal Truth impossible. The film ends on a note of hope, which seems at odds with the dark, often cynical, tone of the rest of the film. Winner of countless international prizes, including the 1952 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Drama: 9/10

Ratatouille (2007)
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano
Director: Brad Bird
Plot: Dreaming of actually becoming a chef despite his family's objections, a rat finds the opportunity to cook a storm in a once-famous Parisian restaurant by making an unusual alliance with the new garbage boy.
Review: A sort of Cyrano de Bergerac for restaurateurs, Ratatouille is the latest family-friendly computer-animated success from those brilliant folks at Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo), following a somewhat disappointing Cars. Writer / director Bird did some real magic with the super-hero spoof The Incredibles, and here he's switched gears completely, but never loses that sense of humor, pathos and love for detail with a clever, witty script that is a real delight. Younger kids may not "get" the movie's gastronomical eloquence, and some of the kitchen preparations and politics may be slow-going, but they will enjoy the slapstick adventures, the familial struggles for acceptance and the bright, colorful visuals. For adults, however, this is a delectable concoction that will whet appetites and tickle the funny-bone. Not to say there aren't the requisite romantic bits (this is Paris after all) as well as a couple of dynamic chases through some of the more scenic streets to add some spice, but the real kudos go to the team for making high-end cooking an experience that can be savored - and understood - by anyone. Some rat scenes may disturb some - there's a terrific moment when a slew of rats are captured in the moment of preparing a full-course dinner in the restaurant's kitchen that's priceless - but they're all rendered anthropomorphic enough that they look more cuddly than gross. To go with the always exceptional, lively animation, the voice cast is up to the task, with leads Oswalt and Romano, ably helped with such familiar names as Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo and even Peter O'Toole as supporting characters. All told, Ratatouille may not have the re-watch factor that some of the previous entries had, but it's clear that this love letter to food will touch a chord in just about everyone.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Raven (1935)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Irene Ware
Director: Louis Freidlander
Plot: A brilliant, spurned surgeon seeks revenge on his peers by using Edgar Allan Poe's literary torture devices and the help of a hideously disfigured criminal.
Review: Though named after Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem, with the exception of the torture device from "The Pit and the Pendulum" The Raven has little to do with Poe's stories. Done under the infamous 1930's Production Code guidelines (a sort of Hollywood-imposed censorship), the film lacks the thrilling sense of its earlier contemporaries. In fact, this is less a horror film than a murder / thriller, and for all intents and purposes it feels like a quick, cheapie production meant to be sold on the strength of its two leads. There is little here that is the least bit memorable: the production values are minimal, the plot predictable, and the script lacks any wit or defining style. To be fair, the story does move along well, and despite its failings, is quite watchable despite its derivative plot. One of a handful of collaborations between icons Karloff and Lugosi, at a time when both their stars had already started to wane from the heights of Frankenstein and Dracula, respectively. The movie lacks a meaty role for either performer, though Lugosi, as an obsessed eccentric driven to madness, does have his moments. One of the lesser efforts of the classic Universal age, The Raven is really only recommended to fans of the B&W genre or late-movie insomniacs.
Entertainment: 4/10

Ray (2004)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Regina King, Kerry Washington
Director: Taylor Hackford
Plot: Biography of the early years of music legend Ray Charles who, though blind since childhood, became one of the most successful musicians of the 20th century.
Review: A recap of key events in the blind musician's incredible career during his rise to fame in the 50's and 60's, Ray is both an inspirational portrayal of an R&B legend and a loving homage of the times. Though evidently dramatized for cinematic effect, the script recalls his addiction to heroin, his philandering ways, his love for his family, and the demons that haunted him throughout his life without excusing his ways or his decisions. If the real complexity of the man gets short-changed for expediency's sake, well, at least his music shines through. Director Hackford (who did a similar stellar job with the life of Ritchie Valens in La Bamba) brings the era to life with a good sense of what made him special, capturing the period details and intimate relationships, along with the sweeping political and social events that encompassed his rise to fame. But though the film itself is well done - solid production values, strong cast, rich cinematography, lots of terrific, toe-tapping musical numbers - it's star Jamie Foxx who really makes this exercise special. In an amazing performance, he manages to make us believe he really is the young Ray Charles, capturing the mannerisms and unbridled energy of the man at his peak while always keeping both his disability and his emotional struggles clearly in the forefront - this is what Oscars are made of. Even if the movie, clocking at 2 1/2 hours, does seem to stretch a bit the terrific music and its leading man's charisma make sure it never outstays its welcome. And for that alone, Ray is a must-see.
Drama: 7/10

Real Steel (2011) 
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly and Dakota Goyo
Director: Shawn Levy
Plot: In a time when human boxing has been replaced by fighting machines, a former two-bit boxer and his estranged son pin their hopes on a discarded, older-generation robot to get back in the ring.
Review: The robot-boxing, special-effects-driven Real Steel was probably pitched as a blend of Rocky and Transformers, but ends up more like a mix of B-movie films like Over the Top and Robot Jox, only given a blockbuster budget and sheen. Not that it's a bad thing if you're looking for a flick that captures the video-game thrill of robot-on-robot bashing; the fights are fast and furious, and they're filmed and choreographed well, while the effects of the giant machines are mostly seamless with the live action world. Not so the plot that has more holes than a piece of gruyere cheese, and whose script - loosely based on Richard Matheson's short story - finds the lowest common denominator of its better influences (the aforementioned Rocky, Rocky III, The Champ, Terminator 2, etc.) but can't get past all the dramatic clichés. Still, if the story is banal and predictable, the execution by family-friendly director Levy (The Pink Panther, Night at the Museum) makes up for much; he's captured the manipulative rah-rah aspects of those films, and audiences will find themselves cheering for the robot underdog and his human family as he pummels his way into the inevitable showdown with Zeus, the high-tech mechanical version of Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV (heck, even his owner is Russian!). Even anchored with bland dialogue and a character that's more zero than hero, Jackman's performance is engaging as the aging boxer. His supporting cast helps, too, including the natural Lilly as his long-suffering girlfriend and Goyo as his estranged son (finally a kid you don't want to see get killed off in a genre movie!). So forget pathos and reason; by playing the ridiculous completely straight, Real Steel is frivolous, low-brow Hollywood entertainment that's fun while it lasts.
Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* Rear Window (1954)
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Plot: Confined to his New York apartment, a wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his rear window and starts to suspect that one of them may just have committed murder.
Review: One of Hitchcock's best suspense thrillers, Rear Window is a superbly constructed movie that manages to use its limited setting to best effect. From a simple premise, the film unfolds into a cleverly orchestrated and well set up series of events, that not only gives us a glimpse of the lives of the surrounding neighbors from afar, but soon focuses on a possible murder as well. The suspense and tension builds slowly, interspersed with some interesting, but rather tepid, romantic moments between the two leads, and we never know for sure if a crime truly occurred or if the characters are only overreacting. The camera moves inside the apartment but is always trapped alongside the main character, showing every scene outside from his point of view, as we join in his voyeuristic, and totally passive, experience. In fact, this forced immobility, this lack of control over his surroundings, is what creates the suspense in the latter part of the film. This point is driven into us during the tense scene when the supposed murderer returns to his abode while the protagonist's girlfriend is still there, and he stays unmoving, terrified, powerless to do anything but watch. The script, pacing, cinematography, and directing are top notch and, with a well created urban setting, help make the story intriguing and believable. Stewart, one of Hitchcock's favorite actors, does a fine job with the limited range of the role portraying both the boredom of someone trapped in his room, as well as the terror when things go terribly wrong. Gene Kelly is radiant, as always, though she has rather limited material to work with here. Rear Window remains a classic of Hitchcock suspense and as such it is also one of the great works of Hollywood cinema.
Entertainment: 9/10

Recount (2008)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban
Director: Jay Roach
Plot: A dramatization of the five weeks following the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election and the attempts by both parties to gain a legal foothold on the recounts in a handful of influential Florida districts.
Review: A made-for-HBO film, the docudrama Recount tries to bring some understanding to the events surrounding the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election of George W. Bush vs. Al Gore, and it does a bang-up job at creating a legal thriller to boot. Just trying to explain the intricacies of the U.S. election system, its flaws, and its complexities is a task on its own, and though the film doesn't quite tackle that monster, kudos go to the filmmakers for bringing the five weeks of legal battles by both parties to the mainstream in such a fascinating, engaging way. Not since The West Wing was on the air has there been such flair at capturing American politics. The amount of under-handed "politicking", strategizing, legal struggling and down-right nastiness over such previously-perceived minor things as hanging chad, dimpled ballots and confused older citizens is scary - all the more so because it's true. Director Jay Roach (he of Austin Powers fame) wouldn't seem to the first choice for the material, but he brings an energy to the clever, darkly comic script that are just what the doctor ordered. The standout cast, led by Spacey and including such luminaries as Laura Dern (frantic and bimbo-esque as the Florida Secretary of State), John Hurt, Denis Leary (as the foul-mouthed Dem lawyer) and Tom Wilkinson (as the lead of the Bush team), is impeccable. Sure, the Democratic characters get to be more sympathetic, but all the participants - be they Democrats or Republicans - are presented as being smart, dedicated and absolutely convinced that they're candidate is the right one for the country. In the end, the election was the tightest in American history, with only 300-odd votes separating the candidates in the hotly-contested Florida district. Recount provides a startling, eye-opening account of what truly happened behind the scenes and how easily the democratic process broke down.
Drama: 7/10

The Recruit (2003)
Starring: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan
Director: Roger Donaldson
Plot: A gifted and athletic MIT graduate gets recruited by the CIA and ends up in a covert operation to apprehend a double agent working in Langley, a woman he has fallen for during training.
Review: Much of The Recruit will feel familiar to just about any movie-goer who has seen his share of spy thrillers, but then the real selling point here is its two leading men (and leading lady). The thriller elements are well in place, including the paranoia, the backstabbings and the usual twists, though the identity of the film's true villain is much too predictable, eliminating much of the suspense. Still, those willing to excuse a sometimes lazy script will enjoy the cat-and-mouse game played out, even if the characters aren't quite believable. Despite the fact that the movie touts the fact that it had expert advice to make it as true as possible, the sense of realism is in short supply here, with the needs for a more cinematic feel taking precedence. And in that the movie works: it moves along well without ever being boring, the training scenes are well set up, and though there's nothing that's really memorable, it's an entertaining enough 90 minutes. Though not nearly as satisfying as his own political thriller Thirteen Days, director Donaldson knows the tricks of the trade (Dante's Peak, No Way Out, Species) and offers up a professional, controlled mainstream flick. As for the cast, Farrell makes for a charismatic hero, Moynahan feels like a fresh face, and Pacino does a surprisingly restrained performance (save for a misbegotten climactic monologue). For those in search of some light entertainment, or who get a kick out of seeing its two leads, The Recruit is an effective enough little thriller that will fit the bill.
Entertainment: 6/10

Red (2010)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich
Director: Robert Schwentke
Plot: Targeted for assassination, a retired black-ops agent reassembles his team of aging ex-CIA operatives to uncover the reason behind the sanction.
Review: Based on the DC graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer, Red is an entertaining action comedy that has its characters live up to its title: Retired and Extremely Dangerous. The premise would be rife for old-fart jokes and commentary about growing old and being seen as useless by the younger generation, but the script thankfully skips over the Grumpy Old Men shtick and concentrates on the action, with the retirees still acting like they're in their 30's. Clearly, none of this is taken very seriously; the actors are having way too much fun for that, and there's lots of winks to the audience throughout. Director Schwentke knows to keep it light and clean, zipping through the "road trip"-based narrative without putting down any roots. The action set pieces are capably done, including the obligatory car chase, explosive shootouts and a break into CIA HQ, all climaxing in the kidnapping of the Vice-President. The plot - involving hit squads, the military-industrial complex, a presidential hopeful, a 1981 Guatemalan atrocity and a romantic date - is really only a macguffin to get the old merry crew together again, provide lots of snappy dialogue and generally play off the characters. And that they do: leading man Willis still has a gleam in his eyes that made him a sympathetic action star in Die Hard, Malkovich is at his insane best, and Freeman has a lively step. Throw into the mix a swell supporting cast including a determined Karl Urban as the pursuing agent and old-timers like Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine and, sporting a thick accent, Brian Cox as a KGB agent, and you've got a fun little exercise that's milked of all its comic potential. The greatest casting coup, however, is getting Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren to play a petite wet-works hit-woman who enjoys firing big guns. Delightful! The film isn't perfect - there's some lulls in the pacing, and some of the jokes aren't as funny as was intended - but there's enough here to curl up to and enjoy, making Red the best popcorn movie of the fall season.
Entertainment: 7/10

Red Cliff (Part I of II) (Hong Kong - 2008)
Starring: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen
Director: John Woo
Plot: As the ambitious Prime Minister goes to war with neighboring regions to consolidate his power over the empire, two of his rivals join forces to oppose him.
Review: Part one of a two-part film release, Red Cliff (alternately, and more appropriately, entitled The Battle of Red Cliff) is the first half of a 4 1/2 hour epic film based on the momentous historical battles and events during the end of the Han Dynasty in ancient China. Boasting the largest budget ever for an Asian film, it's clear no expense was spared to prove its "epic" stature: with massive deployments of armies, grand sets, high production values and a superb cast the film is large in scale in both narration and emotions. Famed director Woo, having made his name on brooding modern-day action thrillers like Face/Off and Hard Boiled, gets back to his early 80's roots after years in Hollywood. His trademark doves do appear, but fans will be surprised to discover that there's little else here to show off his sense of style and kinetic energy. Not to say there isn't any action or that any of it is dull; as historical epics go this one is satisfyingly grandiose, bringing a sense of Kurosawa's own Japanese samurai epics, and it even delves a step into more wire-fu fantasy from what is otherwise a straightforward historical drama by aggrandizing the figures to cinema-hero proportions, each facing and easily defeating dozens of opponents with their skills and courage. There's also a lot of painstaking detail on accurately presenting the strategies on these historically decisive battles, as soldiers confront each other as the strategists look from far away. Though the battles take up much of the running time, there's also some downtime for exploring the relationships between these historical characters. The cast, led by Leung and Kaneshiro, don't always seem to be comfortable but they do look good. Yet something is missing here; perhaps it's the necessary emotional attachment to any of these characters, despite their plotting, allegiances and strong friendships, or it may be that the historical relevance of the period is lost to non-Asian viewers. Or perhaps (surprisingly enough) it's the overlong battlefield sequences that are undeniably well executed and often engaging, but take their toll on viewer interest, especially when the same battle has waged for 20 minutes. Still, this is grand stuff and a nice return for Woo, with the most disappointing thing being the "to be continued" banner as things really get into high gear. There's no denying, however, that as pure spectacle this first part of Red Cliff delivers the goods. Here's hoping the second part is even better.
Entertainment: 7/10

Red Dragon (2002)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Brett Ratner
Plot: To catch a vicious serial-killer whose victims are entire families, a retired FBI profiler must seek the help of a dangerous, manipulating murderer who he helped put behind bars.
Review: Instead of the over-the-top visual gore and caricature that marred Hannibal, Red Dragon safely goes back to the chilling formula of Silence of the Lambs with a script from the same Oscar-winning writer. And it's a hit. More than just a remake of Michael Mann's critically acclaimed 1986 adaptation Manhunter, this is another version of the Thomas Harris novel. The story might be rather formulaic, including an agile plot with some required surprises and double ending, but what elevates the film is its attention to atmosphere, one that inescapably gets under your skin. This prequel finds the more interesting psychological suspense and horror of the material instead of relying on bloody shock value. For sure, though for the most part it is more alluded to than seen, the violence quotient is still high: there are shootings, stabbings, and even a bizarre death in a flaming wheelchair! Director Ratner, who made his name with a very different type of movie material (Rush Hour, Family Man), does a surprisingly effective job at conveying the tension inherent in the various situations and sets up well the required mood along with the thrills and brutal action sequences. The assured, stylish cinematography also helps increase the unease. Kudos, of course, go to the stellar cast who make this Hollywood effort a fine addition to the series. The pairing of Hopkins opposite the affable (and perhaps too-young) Norton is good, with Hopkins easily slipping back into the role of the wicked, brilliant doctor - it's a pleasure to see him playing the mannered cannibal once again. As for Fiennes, he does a great turn as the depraved schizophrenic serial killer, and Emily Watson, as his blind would-be girlfriend / victim, is convincing and raises the supporting part to an important role. Red Dragon may not be as impressive as Silence of the Lambs, but it is, on its own, a smart, memorable thriller that's sure to make an impression.
Entertainment: 8/10

Red Eye (2005)
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams, Brian Cox
Director: Wes Craven
Plot: On a national flight, a young hotel manager is threatened by another passenger to assist in the assassination plot of a high-ranking politician.
Review: A speedy, efficiently paced affair that is at times clever, at times clichéd, Red Eye is another in a series of modestly-budgeted thrillers released in the down period of the movie-going year. Despite its larger scope of homeland security, terrorists, etc the real focus is on the two characters, the menacing villain and the plucky young woman, and our society's new-found fear of flying. Thankfully, Murphy and McAdams work well enough off each other that even the rather predictable scenes of attempted escape during the flight provides some suspense. Once the story gets grounded (pun intended) there's a bit more action, with a game of cat and mouse in a large house as a climax, a sequence where Craven's experience comes in handy. Unfortunately, one can't help feel like something more should be happening, that there's something missing in the linear progression of events, one with no twist or turns to bring it out of the ordinary. Director Craven, better known for his horror flicks like The Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, extends his range to the suspense thriller and comes up roses, but the material clearly isn't up to what he's capable of. The main culprit is that the script lacks any real punch, and - apart from having one of the most inefficient assassination plots in recent memory - at a brief 75 minutes the film is surprisingly short and lightweight, never taking the time to flesh out its situations. In other words, Red Eye is the cinematic equivalent of junk-food: amusing while it lasts yet leaving little lasting impression.
Entertainment: 5/10

Red Heat (1988)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi
Director: Walter Hill
Plot: A cynical cop and a tough Soviet police officer have to put their differences aside to stop a violent Russian criminal from finalizing a major drug deal in Chicago.
Review: The by-the-numbers Red Heat is another take on the tired "high-concept" cop-buddy genre, a specialty of director / writer Hill. A terrible clichéd plot that drops into what seems to be inadvertent self-parody takes the place of any actual tension, suspense or characterization. The paper-thin story is there only as an excuse for the two leads to swagger around and tie together some ineffective shoot-outs and car chases. The dialogue is atrocious and any witty banter between the two is limited to lots of swearing - this may have worked on Hill's own 48hrs because Eddie Murphy could get away with it, but here it's just tiring and un-amusing. Some violent action sequences are provided, including a rather fun finale as the two Russian adversaries chase through Chicago streets and play chicken in twin buses, but there's more posturing than action here and none of it is very original or very impressive to make up for the lack of content. For some odd reason, this is the first American production to be allowed to shoot in Moscow's Red Square, and that's one of many opportunities squandered. Worse, Belushi and Schwarzenegger lack any comic timing and, even more importantly, any chemistry whatsoever. To be sure, this is clearly efficient film-making with things moving along quickly enough, and it will hold some appeal for fans of Arnie and the genre, but it's one made with little, if any, apparent interest in the proceedings from all involved. Shallow and only occasionally entertaining, Red Heat is for aficionados only.
Entertainment: 3/10

Red Planet (2000)
Starring: Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Carrie-Anne Moss
Director: Antony Hoffman
Plot: A six-astronaut research team sent to Mars to determine why terra-forming attempts have failed, but after a freak accident leaves them stranded on the Martian surface it becomes a more personal struggle for survival.
Review: Red Planet may have been a flop at the box-office but it still keeps up audience interest, managing to move the narrative along nicely with the help of some terrific visuals. It's a nice change of pace from the typical outings of the genre - though there's a decent dose of action, there aren't any real villains and it does try, at least, to keep everything within pseudo-scientific bounds. In fact, it feels very much like an update to the '50s-era Mars sci-fi films. The desert cinematography is excellent and does a fine job of placing the action on another world. There are some convincing, first-rate special effects throughout that are surprisingly low-key and judiciously used in service of the film instead of the other way around. The crash landing on Mars, for one, is particularly effective. Of course, the film's occasional stabs at originality are marred by the dreary B-movie plot points and themes such as the traitor in the midst, machinery going against its creators, a bit of God-over-science gibberish, the crew dying off one by one, all this on top of an unsatisfying romance and some terrible characterizations. Yet there are more similarities to 2001 than Star Wars, as the main struggle and goal isn't so much survival but on discovering why the massive amounts of transplanted algae have disappeared without a trace. It's too bad the suspense isn't really kept up, and that there are so many ill-fated attempts at making the film more akin to more high-minded science-fiction. The resolution is relatively satisfying, with no bug-eyed aliens to diminish the more cerebral approach to the narrative. Kilmer does a decent, subdued performance as the hero, and Moss is excellent as the tough commander. Others, like Terence Stamp, are severely underused and only fodder for the mill. Red Planet is perhaps a second-rate story told better than its script deserves, but all told it's a surprisingly entertaining straight-forward adventure yarn.
Entertainment: 6/10

Red Scorpion (1989)
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, M. Emmet Walsh, Al White
Director: Joseph Zito
Plot: A Soviet commando sent to infiltrate and assassinate an African rebel leader ends up joining the freedom fighters to help liberate their country from Russian rule.
Review: Made as a major vehicle for its imposing star, the Cold War thriller Red Scorpion comes out as one of the more successful imitations of its obvious template, Rambo. Sure the storyline is completely forgettable, the plot (involving Cubans (!) taking over an African country) is ridiculous, the dialogue laughable and the sidekicks (even one as over-the-top as Walsh) are annoying, but when it gets to the nitty-gritty - which it does often - it's a definite guilty pleasure. For true connoisseurs of action schlock, this holds everything you'd hope for from an 80's action movie: a macho, no-nonsense hero who gets beaten to a pulp and then gives some of that back, overly-violent combat, dozens of gunfights involving tanks and helicopters, and lots and lots of explosions. To play it safe, they even throw in a "noble cause" (fighting for the tiny country's independence no less) and a dash of Bushmen mumbo-jumbo into the mix. Though the pacing isn't perfect, most of the film zips pleasantly by, the slow parts being an excuse to capture the desolation of the African desert. Director Zito (Missing in Action) is no stranger to low-brow testosterone flicks, and here he brings all his limited skills to bear. That is, the dramatic or interpersonal sequences are plain lousy, but the action sequences are well worth the show - they're a bit repetitious and predictable, perhaps, but there's a definite aim to please its target audience. As the Soviet version of Stallone's most famous role, Lundgren plays to his strengths: he looks the part and drawls with a thick, hilarious Russian accent. Red Scorpion can't really hold up to more recent action blockbusters, for sure, but for those nostalgic for the good old days of mindless action flicks, this one's a hoot.
Entertainment: 6/10

Red Shadow (Akakage) (Japan - 2001)
Starring: Masanobu Ando, Megumi Okina, Jun Murakami
Director: Hiroyuki Nakano
Plot: A love triangle brings complications amongst three young ninja warriors, friends from childhood, who try to bring peace among warring clans by going on various missions for their Samurai lord.
Review: A kind of modern re-telling of a popular Japanese television show, Red Shadow wants to be a swords flick for the pop generation. Director Nakano is an interesting talent who showed his mettle in his debut feature Samurai Fiction - his work is clever, sometimes inspired and usually quite entertaining. This is evident as the film begins, an affair that's so light-hearted and enjoyable that we're immediately taken in. Indeed, the first half is a pleasantly fast-moving, tongue-in-cheek affair with CGI-enhanced action and acrobatics galore wrapped around a semi-serious plot filled with silly antics, slapstick comedy and over-the-top anachronisms (check those leather mini-skirts!). Fans looking for more "serious" ninja movies may be disappointed by the lack of blood (this is almost a PG-rated affair), but everything else is definitely on display: super-powers, ninja tricks, sword fights, flying stars, etc. Add to this a very modern-sounding track, from groovy to pounding, and you know you know it's going to be boffo entertainment. The whole production feels more like something out of an, admittedly slick, made-for-TV series with its colorful tones and zippy pacing, and the director's music video roots are quite obvious, mostly working in the film's favor. The lead cast is fine, taken more for their clean good looks than their acting talent, and the supporting actors know to have fun with their roles. Unexpectedly however, the second half changes tone, humor and pace and doesn't fare anywhere near as well, a schizoid attitude change that leaves the fun and frolic behind and will leave most audiences disappointed, with only a half-decent showdown to make up for it. Still, Red Shadow is half of an amusing, light-hearted action / comedy and for some that might be enough.
Entertainment: 5/10

The Red Violin (1999)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi, Carlo Cecchi
Director: Francois Girard
Plot: The life and events surrounding a famous violin is followed through the centuries and the continents as it changes owners, from its creation in 17th century Italy to its final auction in present-day Montreal.
Review: The Red Violin by second-time director Girard (32 Short Films About Glenn Gould), is a remarkable, ambitious and well composed anthology surrounding the title instrument. Five different eras and places are visited, each with its own flavor, style, and story. The episodes all surround the famed red violin, but in fact the events are completely unrelated save for the object tying them together, as if we were watching five separate films with the instrument acting as focus for each protagonist's passion for music. Cramming so many stories in two hours would seem difficult, but apart from the segment during the Chinese cultural revolution which feels rushed, each manages to grasp the richest most important elements of each period, of each culture to work within the tight time limits. The final, suspenseful ending, played almost like a mystery and a crime caper with Jackson in the role of the expert called in to verify the violin's origins, tops off a production that has already run through the dramatic range. It's a surprisingly lavish production, with a great use of costumes and decor to set the tone of the piece without distracting from the human emotional and intellectual conflict present on screen. The inventive, sometimes stunning cinematography also adds much to the appeal of the film, as does the extensive, and accomplished, international cast, all well chosen for their roles. Of course, a film on music must have some of its own and the score by John Corigliano is haunting and beautiful. The Red Violin may reach for epic scope yet it stays intimate and fascinating throughout its trip through time and place.
Drama: 8/10

Reign of Fire (2002)
Starring: Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco
Director: Rob Bowman
Plot: After mythological dragons and atomic fallout have razed civilization, a small community of survivors encounter a group of well-armed soldiers who plan on killing the largest creature in London.
Review: Mixing post-apocalyptic visions with fantasy may seem a bizarre choice, but Reign of Fire tackles the job in true block-buster manner. The plot may not be convincing, the character development near zero and the plot holes big enough to drive a tank through, but thanks to the steady hand of director Bowman (The X-Files: Fight the Future) and the very dark, gothic look and tone of the production, it works well enough. One of the reasons, perhaps, is that everyone takes the events deadly seriously (for good or bad) as the rag-tag band of humans try desperately to survive, and the story never dips into any kind of campiness - in fact, there's little humor to be had here. The real attractions, of course is to see humans and monsters battling it out. There are a few good action sequences helped by some terrific creature computer effects (especially an intense hunt involving motorcycles, net-toting parachuters jumping off a helicopter and a whaling spear gun mid-way through), but there aren't quite enough of them. What's really missing, though, is what audiences expect to see: dragons flying around and burning cities. The civilized world is destroyed as a quick prologue in a quick newspaper montage that feels a bit disappointing. The real focus of the story is on the uneasy alliance between its two protagonists, a beefed up, haunted Bale and a head-shaved, cigar-chomping McConaughey who, as the insanely intense commander of the remains of a US Army battalion, comes out as a genius casting choice. In the end Reign of Fire isn't quite as fun as it could have been, but those looking for some serious summer fare could do worse.
Entertainment: 6/10

Reindeer Games (2000)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise
Director: John Frankenheimer
Plot: An ex-convict pretends to be his dead cellmate to romance his gorgeous pen pal but only ends up entangled with her brother's criminal gang who wants him to help them rob a casino where his deceased friend worked.
Review: The concept for Reindeer Games, though not original, is promising but the script just isn't up to it. It tries to be too clever in its plot twists while still mixing in film noir and black comedy elements, a combination that would be hard to maintain even for the best of films. It's unfortunate that this small-scope thriller / caper movie came off so poorly. It's not badly done, but it all seems to have been done by-the-numbers - a real shame considering the talent involved, notably director Frankenheimer whose films such as The Train and The French Connection II showed a real mastery for storytelling and film technique. Here, it all seems like he's trying to learn new tricks, and it doesn't come off right. Theron has a thankless role here, but Sinise is appropriately crazed and villainous, Affleck makes a decent hero with just the right amount of charm, and the rest of the cast is stereotypically fun to watch. Reindeer Games isn't a terrible film, but with its schizophrenic script and bland directing, it's a big disappointment.
Entertainment: 4/10

Remember the Titans (2000)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris
Director: Boaz Yakin
Plot: A black football coach is placed at the head of a high-school team and tries to lead them past their bigotry and onto victory during the early days of racial integration in 1971 Virginia
Review: With Remember the Titans director Yakin (Fresh, A Price Above Rubies) tries to mix sports, drama and social commentary into an easily-digestible package, and it works. The film knows the exact formula that is required for this type of crowd-pleasing drama - a good cast of characters given just enough depth to care for, a nostalgic soundtrack, some spontaneous comic moments, and a tad of melodrama. The story, mostly invented from its "true story" roots to allow for a more widely acceptable movie, is nothing we haven't seen before and is desperately predictable, but the script has good pacing and enough twists, melodramatic moments and rousing spirit to make up for it. Its unfortunate that the socially-conscious message of prejudice, though ever-present throughout the film, is delivered in so diluted a form, but it's obvious it would have taken away from the "feel-good" Hollywood mould the film attains. Where the film really shines, though, is in the scenes where the team actually plays ball. Taking a cue from recent football films like Any Given Sunday, the football plays are rough and tumble, with quick-cut editing of dynamic camera shots to make us feel the confrontations in the field. Denzel Washington does his standard forceful and confident job, and Will Patton does a good subdued performance as the demoted head coach. The rest of teen-age cast is also fine, but the real scene-stealer is undoubtedly the young Hayden Panettiere as Patton's 9-year-old daughter who prefers vociferating about football than playing with dolls. It may not be a memorable portrait on race relations in the 1970's, but as a feel-good sports movie, Remember the Titans succeeds in all the places that count.
Entertainment / Drama: 7/10

Renaissance (France - 2006)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Christian Volckman
Plot: In a Paris of the future where youth and beauty are prized above all, a maverick detective tries to find a kidnapped scientist who has uncovered a terrible secret which the state's largest corporation - a power unto itself - is desperately trying to uncover.
Review: A superbly represented future dystopia, replete with retro-future cars and lots of smoky visuals, Renaissance will be remembered for its arresting visuals, if not for its insubstantial plot. A film noir in every sense - the perpetual rain and darkness make for a constantly shadowy atmosphere - the tale and visuals owe as much to Blade Runner (a movie it won't escape being compared to) as it does to thrillers like The Third Man, European comics and Miller's Sin City graphic novels. The film boldly uses stark contrasts to give it its individuality, making a superb use of black & white computer animation (there are no grays) that feels fresh and startling. Indeed, the stylish animation actually looks and feels more impressive than some of the latest CGI blockbusters thanks to an appropriate use of motion capture techniques and minimal lines that capture the essence of characters and locations while limiting actual details. The mentioned influences also make for a very slick, well conceived sci-fi thriller. Alas, the story and characters aren't quite up to par with the execution. Oh, here's some interesting stuff, to be sure - and a nice array of effective action sequences, including a handful of shoot outs and a car chase - but the theme of the villainous Big Corporation, of the on-the-run scientists, of the honorable cop, all seem derivative and for the most part quite predictable. As for the voice acting by the likes of Craig and McCormack, it's solid if unimpressive. Despite some failings in the narrative department, the amazing visuals and solid pacing of Renaissance will keep one absorbed throughout the proceedings. And sometimes, that's enough for a recommendation.
Entertainment: 7/10

Rendition (2007)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep
Director: Gavin Hood
Plot: When an Egyptian physicist gets arrested and taken to a secret detention facility in the Middle-East where a young CIA analyst is assigned to interrogate him, while the captive's pregnant American wife struggles in Washington, D.C. to find his whereabouts.
Review: One of a handful of Hollywood films focusing on the headline debates of US policies regarding torture in the aftermath of 9/11, Rendition clearly wears its heart on its sleeve. Taking on multiple points of view - from an engaged terrorist, a CIA agent, politicians, to a desperate housewife and many others in between - the film carefully weaves the narratives together in an attempt to personalize the issues faced by America's war on terror and the moral quagmire of freedoms vs. security. Director Hood, fresh off his Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Tsotsi, here seems to be balancing the aspiration for a gritty, hard-hitting commentary and the pressures to deliver a palatable, politically correct Hollywood production for less discerning audiences. The camerawork is atmospheric, the topic examined on its many sides, but the story somehow never comes alive. A forced narrative twist right at the end feels like a cheat instead of a revelation, completely undermining the drama instead of making it more palatable. The impressive cast (including Alan Arkin and Peter Sarsgaard in supporting roles) isn't convincing in their roles, and even Streep - as a hard-nosed Homeland Security guru - can't quite make up for a ho-hum script. Part of the issue is that the characters are only cardboard cutouts, playing their parts to allow the film to give its all-too-clear message of the dangers and traps of the US's politic of rendition of suspected terrorists. Good intentions alone do not make a good movie; still, Rendition's message is an important one and for that it's worth a gander.
Drama: 6/10

RENT (2005)
Starring: Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Anthony Rapp
Director: Chris Columbus
Plot: Down-and-out New Yorkers living bohemian-style in the squalor of the East Village struggle with prejudice, drug use and AIDS - and paying the rent.
Review: A movie version of the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical RENT that debuted on Broadway in 1996, itself loosely based on Puccini's opera La Bohème, it's a musical overview of the major American social topics of the 1980's. As a look into the angst and pathos in the relationships of a group of young New York bohemians trying to survive both prejudices, drugs and AIDS, it's perhaps a tad too much, especially when they burst into song. Unlike the Oscar-winning Chicago, there's very little "razzle-dazzle" and little inventiveness to the choreography even if it does move some of the show to the streets and subways; this is one place where being too faithful to the stage show has its drawbacks. The score is for the most part adequate if not quite memorable with its rock ballads and guitar solos, but two showstoppers (The Tango Maureen and La Vie Boheme) stand out, but these only show how much energy missing from the rest of the film. One can see why director (and strong RENT fan) Columbus was attracted to the material, a way to be taken as a more "serious" filmmaker following the successes of family-friendly fare like Mrs. Doubtfire and Harry Potter. But if he expected the same popular success, he too the wrong road - the gritty subject matter and often depressing storyline will ensure that it will never enter into the mainstream. A good-looking cast, including six of the eight original stage stars and - as a new addition - the seductive Dawson who impresses as a drug-addled stripper. If some of the actors are getting a little old for the roles, but they do emote with particular gusto. It's an able effort, and audiences who would never get a chance to see RENT on Broadway will be pleased to get a version they can watch on TV. For a better approach to the same themes, see the more dramatically and more beautifully rendered (non-musical) mini-series Angels in America.
Drama / Musical: 6/10

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
Starring: Anthony Head, Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Plot: In a future where organ replacements are financed and just as easily repossessed, the self-appointed king of an all-powerful biotech company discovers he's dying and puts plans in motion to set up a new heir, bypassing his distasteful offspring.
Review: With the recent revival of Hollywood movie musicals - from Chicago to Mamma Mia! - there was bound to be an attempt at bringing an off-Broadway adaptation of the Goth rock opera Repo! The Genetic Opera. It's a dark, wicked spectacle full of blood and guts (there's a ridiculous amount of organ removals), overblown family tragedies and hatreds, little character development, all meant to be high on style if not on content; who better, then, to adapt the stage musical than Bousman, the helmer of the visceral Saw sequels. Taking some tricks from Sweeney Todd et al and taking it to exploitation-horror extremes the filmmakers seem to have a clear ambition to be a 21st century Rocky Horror Show. For sure, there's lots of the right stuff to go around, from the cheesy settings and art direction, to the campy feel of the production, to the comic-book characters and events. Varying in quality from terrible to toe-tapping, the tunes and lyrics are a mixed bag from ballads to heavy-metal grunge, even allowing for a real opera number that grinds things to a halt. As for the cast, it's an interesting roster including Buffy's Anthony Head as the Repo Man, acting vet Paul Sorvino as the villainous CEO and Spy Kids' Alexa Vega as the innocent heroine. Of course singer Sarah Brightman comes off best voice-wise but the rest of them make do and don't embarrass themselves, including a perfectly cast Paris Hilton as the bitch heiress. With its silly get-ups, dance numbers, copious blood and surreal color scheme, it's destined to be a cult classic. So if high-camp, gore and music are all up your alley, Repo! will provide you with a delectable meal. Everyone else may be scratching their heads.
Entertainment: 6/10

Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Plot: Four Brighton Beach inhabitants - a widowed mother, her twenty-something son, his girlfriend, and his cohort - all see their modest dreams shattered by a slow descent into self-destruction due to their own brand of addiction.
Review: Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem From a Dream from the director of the dark, paranoid indie hit Pi, is an incredibly depressing and thoroughly unsettling tale of fevered addiction. The narrative bears witness to the disastrous effect the addiction has on the lives of these different people, how their dreams drift further away to be replaced by their single-minded, primal need for another fix. The intensity builds up into a horrifying, harrowing crescendo - the last 20 minutes rapidly inter-cuts scenes of the foursome's final individual fates, a final, devastating climax. There's a shocking brutality and bleakness to these psychologically disturbing images and a clinical honesty in the script that makes for a film experience that is painful to watch and yet morbidly captivating. Aranofsky demonstrates an excellent grasp of visually dramatic methods to make us experience how their drug use is affecting them psychologically and physically. There's a raw, edgy style to the proceedings that actually borders on the surreal and that is deliberately cut and paced to disturb, providing an amazing interpretation of the dementia of their burned-out psyche. Even the choice of colors, of lighting, of camera shots are simply terrific. Wayans and Leto are surprisingly convincing in straight, dramatic roles, and Connelly does an incredible, heart-wrenching performance. But it's Burstyn who really stands out in a bravura role that is simply superb. With its shocking visuals and uncompromising portrayal of physical and mental degradation, Requiem For A Dream is just an amazing piece of work that gets under your skin and stays in your mind. (Check out the extended review!)
Drama: 9/10

The Rescuers (1977)
Starring: Eva Gabor, Bob Newhart, Geraldine Page
Directors: Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery
Plot: Two mice from an international rescue society answer the bottled call of a young orphan girl who desperately seeks to escape the clutches of an evil woman and her two pet crocodiles.
Review: The animated Disney flick The Rescuers, taking its cue from the children's books by Margery Sharp, may not be a classic, but it has its share of fans, and for good reason. The beginning is more than a little slow going, as the mice (and the audience) rev up for the actual rescue, but once past the half-hour mark, it moves along nicely. Some of the meanderings are rather silly, and much of the thrills and humor might best be suited for very young children. However, the unnecessary addition of sappy songs may induce sleep or boredom to younger, more modern audiences. This is still a Mouse House production, though, and the film has its moments of delirious fun and good-natured humor, including a scene when the mice try to hide from the crocs in an organ, and the frantic fireworks-filled 10 minute finale. The characters aren't nearly as memorable as Disney's best efforts, and even the villainess is a rather bland copy of 101 Dalamations' Cruella DeVil, with expressions and body movements intact. As for the animation, though a tad crude perhaps, it is fluid and well done throughout even if the backgrounds lack detail, and the voice acting is just fine, thank you. Easy-going, light-hearted, and just as easily forgettable Disney animated adventure, The Rescuers is still worth a look for those looking for some family entertainment.
Entertainment: 6/10

Resident Evil (2002)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, James Purefoy
Director: Paul Anderson
Plot: A crack commando team must enter a secret biological laboratory run by a shady corporation to shut down the murderous computer that has turned the lab personnel into mindless zombies.
Review: Another video game-turned movie, Resident Evil takes a cue from its predecessors by offering up a shallow, stylish effort that tries to keep the action rolling. Indeed, the film jumps into the gunplay almost immediately, and the first 20 minutes of the film promise one hell of a ride, one that the rest of the film fails to deliver. The film wants to be a modern-day zombie thriller, taking a heavy cue from Night of the Living Dead and its sequels and there's a bit of guilty pleasure here, and it's all visually well presented, but one can't shake off the feeling of déja vu. The problem is that the essence of the zombie movie has been diluted giving us a series of well executed action scenes (for the most part), all tied together with a very loosely plotted script that never makes good use of the possibilities of the material. The special effects are well-enough done, and there's some good stuff here, but the action becomes quickly repetitive and the horror quite limited. Jovovich, in the role of the heroine, stands out as the very center of the film. Unfortunately the effort to create engaging character interaction fails miserably thanks to some hopeless stock personalities and utterly predictable plot twists. Resident Evil does have its moments, but with its unengaging plot and characters, it's another wasted effort.
Entertainment: 3/10

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Thomas Kretschmann
Director: Alexander Witt
Plot: After a secret lab experiment goes horribly wrong, an elite soldier with enhanced powers meets up with a small group of survivors making their way through a zombie-infested city to rescue a young girl trapped in a grade school. 
Review: Part Terminator, part George Romero-inspired zombie flick, Apocalypse is a sci-fi zombie action flick that relies heavily on its video-game roots for its semblance of plot and action. Surprisingly enough, it's better than one would expect, and much more fun than the original Resident Evil adaptation. Whereas the first film felt derivative and bland, this latest installment is more excessive, more over-the-top, and a lot more fun than the first. It's still derivative, mind you, and the genre clichés abound but there's an obvious energy and willingness to please that its target audience will gobble it up. First-time helmer Witt has lots of second-unit director experience with such impressive films as Speed, Gladiator, and The Bourne Identity, and here he brings a "who cares as long as it's cool?" attitude and style which works fine for much of the running time despite the large plot holes. There's also a solid variety in the action sequences, and most of it is fast and furious, if sometimes not perfectly executed. If there's a downside it's that he seems so eager to show-off in his first outing that he packs it on a bit too thick to the detriment of pacing and cohesion. Running in tight-fitting costumes or mini-skirts and packing large weaponry, model-turned actress and returning lead Jovovich and series newcomer Guillory make a great pair of "Chicks with Guns". Despite circumstances they, and all the other supporting players, are typically genre cut-outs which voids any tension to their outcome. The climactic fight scene, a mano-a-mano fight against the hulking Nemesis is a bit long-winded, and the final wrap-up is altogether sillier than the rest of the film. But then Apocalypse isn't high filmmaking by any means, as audiences going into the film will know, and as a big screen video game it makes for decent fast-food entertainment.
Entertainment: 5/10

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Plot: Travelling across the Nevada desert hoping to escape the zombies now inhabiting the world, survivors of a deadly plague meet up with a woman with superhuman powers who is being chased by corporate scientists. 
Review: With its mix of action, horror and sci-fi, the Resident Evil franchise is proving to be quite sturdy and this latest installment, Resident Evil: Extinction, is bloody great popcorn fun. Surprisingly enough, the sequels are proving to be more fun than the creaky original, and each has taken a very different take on the subject. Taking the video games on which its based on as a jumping off point, the script steals from The Road Warrior, Hitchcock's The Birds and other genre films to provide for some nasty entertainment. The expected elements are all here, too: the undead, the Evil Corporation still chasing after our heroine, bizarre plot twists, etc. For sure, there's none of the social commentary of more "profound" zombie flicks (like director Romero's works), nor (thankfully) is there the viciousness seen in recent fare. Of course, apart from the pretty, silky, tough-as-nails, ass-kicking Jovovich returning as Alice, the main attraction is the zombie-killing action of which there's much in evidence. If it gets a little repetitive despite some new monster types (zombie dogs and ravens make a mark), it's all done with great skill, strong pacing and good computer effects - and a strong focus on the things that matter to its audience, namely splattering brains. With his previous genre experience with the Highlander series and Resurrection, among others, director Mulcahy knows the drill and he does some capable, dynamic work here. Apart from Jovovich, the rest of the cast does OK, with TV's Heroes' Larter making the best impression as the leader of the rag-tag survivors, but none of them are really asked to do much in the acting department. Of note is the impeccable, gorgeous cinematography that gives the production an unexpected amount of polish; sure, it's mostly style over substance, but there's a lot to like here... if you're into zombie action flicks. Extinction ends on an open note, promising future installments. If they continue to be mindless fun like this one, then bring it on.
Entertainment: 6/10

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller 
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Plot: A female survivor set on destroying the evil corporation that turned the world into a zombie apocalypse teams up with other survivors to locate a rumored safe haven known only as Arcadia.
Review: Very much a product of the video game on which it is based, the fourth chapter in the Resident Evil live-action movie adaptations continues the tried-and-true formula of its predecessors; chicks-with-guns, lots of displays of firepower, The Matrix-inspired action sequences and zombies. Lots of zombies. This time around, the filmmakers are jumping on the 3D band-wagon, and the experience in clearly in mind when watching the film; too bad it's mostly relegated to the in-your-face 3D mechanics of the 50's, when red-and-blue-glasses were the fad and the experience required lots of things being thrown at the audience; submersive, this isn't. Cool zombie mayhem is served up, however, along with lots of slow-motion video-game type action, and that's exactly what one looks for in the franchise. Lucky plus, the two leading ladies (that is, veteran Jovovich and Larter) make it look like second-nature. Getting back behind the camera for the first time since the original flick, hack genre director Anderson (Event Horizon, Death Race) knows what fans want and delivers it - too bad there's nothing to make it palatable to a larger audience. The production values are decently done, if quite austere, and the art direction is slick enough. The film is book-ended by two great action sequences - the first is a kick-ass opening as a battalion of Jovovich clones infiltrate the Japanese HQ of returning villains the Umbrella Corp; the second is a more personal fight as our heroine takes on The Matrix's Mr. Smith in a bullet-time ballet - oh, wait, wrong bad guy. In between, we get the necessary zombie action and a rather dull exposition of new one-dimensional characters that then get disposed of by various strains of zombie monsters. Afterlife is low-brow entertainment, for sure, but it's decently made and decently shot, moving through its story with enough gusto to make for an entertainment late-night romp. If all this doesn't quite feel like a theatrical release, it's not bad for a direct-to-DVD flick with the cliffhanger, of course, promising yet another installment.
Entertainment: 6/10

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Plot: In order to escape the Arctic base of the evil organisation that turned the world's population into the undead, zombie-slayer Alice must fight through recreations of capital cities infested with assorted monsters.
Review: Not unexpectedly, there's nothing new here in Retribution, the fifth installment of the Resident Evil series, except for pushing the lunacy another yard. Fans of the franchise probably won't want it any other way. Starting immediately where the previous sequel left off, the film opens with a promising all-out aerial attack against a cargo ship and our waif-like black-leathered heroine, first done in slow-motion reverse as the credits role, then repeated in normal playback. It's just downhill from there. With barely any new story in the battle against the evil Umbrella Corporation and their undead creations, the series has never been so much a video game put to the screen. In fact, it's pretty much the same film and familiar RE-zombie action tropes packaged in a slightly different way. There's a car chase in a Rolls in the dark streets of a re-created Moscow (one of the highlights), but apart from that it's pretty much re-heated stuff: past characters make an appearance (including Rodriguez in an entertaining dual role), some slick Matrix-like action sequences give it some cool factor, there are ludicrous gunfights and brain-bustings galore, bizarre monstrosities from past films get an encore presentation, and we even get a repeat scene of a scantily clad Jovovich waking from unconsciousness (a must, it seems, for the series' returning writer / director - and Jovovich husband - Anderson). Oh, and she needs to escape from a secret underground facility. Again. Give it to Jovovich, though: she won't win any acting awards, but she does the kicking, spinning and shooting as well as ever, and without batting an eye. It all makes for a fast-paced, loud and utterly mind-numbing experience for this rather unnecessary chapter with a cliff-hanger to the finale (?). Retribution is exploitive schlock, capably enough realized but utterly forgettable - take that as you will.
Entertainment: 5/10

Resurrection (1999)
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Rick Fox, Robert Joy
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Plot: Two cops are on the trail of a twisted serial killer who is dismembering his victims, hoping to use the body parts to recreate a complete corpse and bring about Christ's resurrection.
Review: Though the idea sounds ripe for a supernatural thriller, Resurrection (once again pairing Highlander vets Mulcahy and Lambert) is actually played as a straight-out crime drama. Though the first half of the film will immediately bring another similar movie, Seven, to mind, there are some interesting bits here, but also a lot of unused potential. The film actually seems to be two very different movies tied together, and the effect is a bit jarring, before finally breaking down in the end. Still, the movie progresses at a good clip with the help of some great camera shots, some shocking moments, and a decent script. Predictable, yes, but mostly entertaining.
Entertainment: 6/10

Return of the Dragon (1973)
Starring: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris
Director: Bruce Lee
Plot: Using his martial arts expertise, a Chinese man comes to Rome to help his family protect their restaurant from criminals.
Review: Probably the cheesiest of all Bruce Lee films. The first half of the film is dreadfully slow, as Lee goes through the motions of being the "fish out of water" in a new city. Once past this, the action quickly picks up, showing off some of his best work on screen, especially the final showdown with the very young Chuck Norris.
Action: 6/10
Entertainment: 3/10 

Return of the Jedi (1983)
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Director: Richard Marquand
Plot: Now a Jedi, Skywalker must save Han Solo from the clutches of an evil warlord and help the Rebellion stop the Empire from rebuilding another planet-buster battle station.
Review: A disappointing step back from the dark, mature The Empire Strikes Back, and easily the weakest of the original trilogy, the warm-and-fuzzy Return of the Jedi is the flashiest, most mainstream of the lot, but the least character-driven and least innovative. The story continues, but the originality is no longer in evidence, the risk-taking replaced with what feels like a canned exercise. The rather silly prologue in Jabba the Hut's abode (meant to top the original's space-port Canteen sequence) comes off as tired and false, filled with new creatures that are without character. And what's with Princess Leia in a harem costume and chains? The worst offender is by far the excessive amount of forced humor inherent in the unbearingly cute 'n cuddly Ewoks (creatures created to boost toy sales) which dampens much of the excitement of the proceedings. The space-opera basics are still in evidence, however, and the action scenes are bigger and showier, the production values are high and, like the others, it's fast-paced and full of great-looking stuff. Technically, the special effects have been upped a notch, and the space battles are suitably complex and spectacular. The assault on Jabba the Hut's anti-gravity barge and the final attack on the Death Star are especially fun to watch. Still, it's the Skywalker / Vader scenes that are the best part of the film, and there's a palpable tension between them along with the solid swordplay. To be sure, much of the enjoyment of the film comes from seeing these characters back together again for one last adventure, and the maturing actors seem quite comfortable in their roles. Of note is Ian McDiarmid, as the evil Emperor, who is fabulously villainous. Though missing the magic of the first two installments, Return of the Jedi is still part of the Star Wars mythology and, as such, is still an engaging space-opera adventure that's a step above the usual Hollywood fare.
Entertainment: 7/10

Return to Me (2000)
Starring: David Duchovny, Minnie Driver
Director: Bonnie Hunt
Plot: A lonely widower falls in love with a waitress without either of them knowing that his deceased wife's donated heart now beats inside her.
Review: Return to Me is yet another entry in a long series of straightforward Hollywood romantic-comedies with a low-key and typical ho-hum story. There's really nothing new here - the characters are suitably charming, the supporting cast equally eccentric, and the occasional amusing situation peppers the otherwise banal plot. Indeed, apart from the idea of the heart moving from one woman to another and the implication that part of the wife's soul went along with it, there's nothing really exciting or interesting here. Thankfully, Duchovny and Driver are well cast and fun to watch on screen, and director Hunt does an adequate job of providing all the expected ingredients for the genre. Watchable but a bit slow-moving, Return to Me is only a minor effort.
Romantic-Comedy: 4/10

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid
Director: George Lucas
Plot: The evil would-be Emperor uses a raging Civil War to take over the Republic and destroy the Jedi Order that opposes him, manipulating a young but powerful adept in the Force to become his apprentice, Darth Vader.
Review: With Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith at last, the whole story is now told and the curtain closes on an amazing pop phenomenon. Though very much in the spirit of the first two prequels, it's much darker and grimmer in tone, both visually and story-wise - the stakes are higher, the tale more serious - and a comparison with the series' high point, The Empire Strikes Back, is not uncalled for. Technically speaking, this is another masterpiece of digital special-effects filmmaking: the art direction, cast of alien characters, and impossible landscapes blend seamlessly with the gee-whiz vehicles and live actors. If it's perhaps too much at times (there's a feeling that everything is pushed to extremes into over-production), it never fails to amaze. And there's loads of action set-pieces, too: from the sprawling opening sequence, a roller-coaster ride of a space battle, to the many lightsaber duels and more, there's little time for humor or reflection. If the dialogue sometimes provides some clunkers, the story at least never pauses, and the script ties all the pieces together to make them all fit into place with the classic trilogy. Of course it's all predictable - we've all seen Chapter IV: A New Hope (the new title for Star Wars), so we know how it all ends. But there's a true epic grandeur to it all, from the startling combat scenes to the wide-ranging political changes, to the larger-than-life emotional turmoil of Anakin's turn to the Dark Side that reminds one of Shakespearian tragedy. And what fan won't get a thrill from seeing the appearance of the quintessential Vader costume? The acting is on par with the previous chapters, with McGregor really getting into the skin of Obi-Wan and McDiarmid as the dreaded Emperor, really playing it to the hilt. Not so impressive is the now-lovelorn Portman and the dreadful emoting by Haydenssen, which puts a damper on much of the film's enjoyment. And, surprisingly enough, much of the battle sequences are too much, too fast, providing commercial (almost cartoon-level) overload. Yet despite its faults, there is no denying that this is Space Opera at its finest. As the final chapter in this generation-sprawling saga, creator / director George Lucas has come full circle with one of pop culture's greatest creations, and for that Revenge of the Sith is definitely worth the trip.
Entertainment: 8/10

Revolver (2005)
Starring: Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore, André Benjamin
Director: Guy Ritchie
Plot: After seven years in solitary confinement, a gangster gains riches and power, all the better to set his sights on the vicious casino owner that got him incarcerated, but soon finds himself over his head when two con men come calling.
Review: A veritable mind fuck of a British crime noir thriller, Revolver tries to give the age-old genre a different (if not completely original) metaphysical twist. If that goal doesn't quite succeed, it's not for lack of trying and no matter the outcome, it's quite a ride. Indeed, for much of the running time, it's an exhilarating ride from one of Britain's modern crime auteurs, proving that director Ritchie hasn't lost his touch in bringing this mesmerizing, super-cool and super-stylish crime drama (signed Luc Besson) to life. Mixing his knack for direction and editing of his earlier films like Snatch with a twisted psychological cat and mouse game that touches on ideas in Kabala, Nietzsche and other esoteric sources isn't your average fare, and that only makes it all the more intriguing. A failing for some, the final act will have some scratching their heads; it's a twisted, and eventually almost incomprehensible conclusion, what with its psychobabble regarding how the Ego sees itself as its own worst enemy and the like, replete with interview spots with specialists like Deepak Chopra during the closing credits. Nonetheless, it moves along so well and brings such delectable characters and situations, along with some trademark brilliant dialogue, that we're taken in by the game - and playing games, we're told, is all part of the plan. The casting helps greatly, with prolific genre actor Statham - sporting a mass of greasy hair instead of his usual baldness - leading this bunch of criminals including Vincent Pastore (of Sopranos fame) and André Benjamin as two mysterious, super criminals, plus an over-the-top Liotta back to form as the morally barren, but insecure, villain of the piece. Sure, it's a bizarre concoction that won't please all audiences, but those willing to give Revolver some leeway will have a blast.
Entertainment: 8/10

Righting Wrongs (Hong Kong - 1986)
Starring: Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock
Director: Corey Yuen
Plot: After witnessing the bloody murder of his mentor, a young prosecutor turns vigilante to bring the murderers to justice but is soon pursued by a female detective who doesn't agree with his methods.
Review: Corey Yuen (Fong Sai Yuk, Enter the Eagles) offers up another great action-fest pitting Yuen Biao against Cynthia Rothrock. Rothrock is good but she's easily eclipsed by Biao - with his incredible acrobatic and martial arts skills, he brings a vitality and energy to the screen that is unmatched. The fists fly, the choreography is impressive, and the action sequences intense. Though the fighting is first-rate, there's nothing terribly new here, and the thin plot is once again just an excuse for some good pummeling. Righting Wrongs delivers just what Hong Kong action filmgoers expect: some great action with minimal distractions.
Action: 7/10
Entertainment: 6/10

The Right Stuff (1983)
Starring: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris
Director: Philip Kaufman
Plot: Trying to catch up with the Russians in the "race for space", The U.S. launches an experimental program in the late 50's and early 60's to train the best test pilots to become astronauts.
Review: Well acted and beautifully crafted, The Right Stuff is a humorous, fascinating, and exhilarating look at the very beginnings of America's bid into space. Based on Tom Wolfe's semi-journalistic account of the men behind the Mercury space program, the film manages to retain much of the irreverence of the original material. It was an era where the race for space against the Russians made the world cheer at these media-hyped heroes; by placing these men off their pedestal the film brings out the real human beings behind the glitz, warts and all, making their drive, valor and courage all the more important. Adding to director Kaufman's usual fluid and interesting story-telling is some excellent cinematography which captures the larger-than-life events and the intimate moments equally well. Due to the large cast, each individual is painted with only brief but descriptive characterizations, clearly outlining the life of these early astronauts. Much of the success of the adaptation is also due to the absolutely first-class cast, but most especially Sam Shepard as the legendary Chuck Yeager. The Right Stuff may be epic in length as well as drama, but it manages to remain fascinating throughout.
Drama: 9/10

The Ring (2002)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman
Director: Gore Verbinski
Plot: An investigative reporter tries to track down the source of a videotape that seems to kill anyone who watches it.
Review: Based on the modern J-Horror classic Ringu that spawned a new horror genre (and more than a few nightmares), the US remake of The Ring is a rarity, a well-made, big-budget Hollywood affair that actually keeps the original's premise and out-does it for pure chills. Made for TV, the original masterpiece was a ghost story with limited special effects but superbly-maintained tension. With its mainstream US-market intentions, director Verbinski (The Pirates of the Caribbean) has still kept the essence and suspense that made the original so frightening and downright unsettling added his own brand of slick filmmaking to the mix. The eerie, green-tinged visuals add a lot to the constant feeling of dread and allow for some darn effective scenes: victims' faces grotesquely twisted out of shape, the walk of the dark-haired girl (one of modern cinema's scariest inventions), the titular "ring" and the videotape itself, all are well-composed visions of terror. But all this would be moot without an effective script, and here we're in luck; smarter than most, this a serious adaptation of the material (no winks, camp or humor here), relying on the fear of the unknown and unknowable to give it a sense of tension and unease. Even if the story is familiar to those who have seen the Japanese version, the writers have added some background and thrills to make it more palatable to its core audience yet also giving connoisseurs of the genre much to much on such as the age-old genre themes of alienation, the destruction of the family unit, and other fine subtext. Hats off as well to the superb Naomi Watts who, leading a professional cast, is the real heart of the film and really gives it that extra boost of believability. Strong in both substance and production values, The Ring is a top-notch, well-crafted horror tale that's a modern genre highlight - it deserves wide attention on its own merits.
Horror / Entertainment: 8/10

The Ring Two (2005)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Simon Baker, David Dorfman
Director: Hideo Nakata
Plot: Haunted by their escape from the clutches of a supernatural force, a journalist and her son relocate to a small coastal community only to realize that a videotape of the vengeful spirit has resurfaced - and it's become personal.
Review: To Ring Two's credit, the filmmakers decided to push aside the slick thrills of the US remake by trying to bring the original Ringu style to a Hollywood production, including lots of ominous atmosphere, and some occasional creepiness. The problem is that the Americanized production of the initial installment of Ring was smarter, scarier, and much more captivating while Ring Two is, well, rather boring. Surprisingly, director Nakata is the man who brough the original Japanese effort to the screen and he keeps the minimalist approach of his original Ringu classic to this one, but it doesn't work as well. Too bad, because even Ringu 2 (also by Nakata) got into more depth of the story. The long-winded tale of big-town girl trying to adjust in small-town community may have been added to enhance the idea of the horrific elements (the theme of the break in normalcy) but it doesn't bring anything new to the table and feels more like filler. It doesn't help that the script insists on getting reactions from its characters that border on the stupid; after everything that they've lived through in the first installment, you'd think mother and son would be acting differently to events but their lines seem to force them to standard clichés. What comes out is a staid, unnecessary sequel that owes more to Poltergeist and The Exorcist than the original Ring mythology. Not that it's necessarily bad, mind you. Those looking for more subtle terror and genuine creepiness will fare better here than most recent gore-filled horror offerings. And, though answering the mysteries of the child fiend makes it less scary, it does have its share of chills. Watts is back and she does a great war effort to make it all seem relevant, but she's probably here more for contractual reasons than because of a good script. On the plus side, we've got some interesting, short supporting roles from Elizabeth Perkins, Sissy Spacek, and Gary Cole. All told, while Ring Two may be at odds with its predecessor and its Japanese origins, it still delivers where it counts.
Horror: 4/10

Ringu (Japan - 1998)
Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: Hideo Nakata
Plot: After hearing rumors linking a mysterious video cassette to some horrible deaths in rural Japan, a reporter searches for clues to the origins of the tape to help avert her death and that of her son's.
Review: One of the most unsettling, creepy, well-crafted films I have ever seen. The direction and camera work is impeccable, the story is intelligent and scary, and the editing is superb. The film has no scenes of gore or the grotesque, relying instead on the audience's innate fears and imagination. I still have shivers remembering some of the scenes! A smart horror film that will delight any fans of the genre.
Horror: 10/10

Ringu 2 (Japan - 1999)
Starring: Nakatani Miki, Matsushima Nanako, Sanada Hiroyuki
Director: Hideo Nakata
Plot: More people are falling prey to the "video curse" that kills anyone who watches it. One of the victim's assistant decides to discover the reason behind the deaths and befriends a young orphaned boy who is inhabited, and being taken over, by an evil spirit. The race is on to stop the spirit and the propagation of the tape.
Review: The producers were obviously trying to one-up the previous film and had more resources at their disposal, but the sequel seems a bit contrived and not nearly as scary. Where Ring had a constant sense of foreboding which made the scary scenes truly frightening, the sequel seems to have gone for the more conventional Hollywood approach (quicker pacing, more killings, more in-your-face horror scenes) limiting its effect. True fear comes from the unknown - once explained or seen, it does not hold the same power. Taken on its own, though, Ring 2 has much to offer, providing a captivating story and enough disturbing and frightening scenes, helped by some good camera work and editing, to give most people nightmares. Not as good as the original, but still far, far better than the standard horror fare.
Entertainment: 8/10

Rio (2011)
Voices: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Plot: When a domesticated blue macaw from small-town Minnesota is sent to Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last female of his kind, he goes on an incredible adventure to escape local bird smugglers and their evil aviary henchman.
Review: The latest animal-focused, family-friendly, 3D computer animated outing Rio isn't looking to up-end expectations, and it doesn't. Taking a premise from The Defiant Ones, our two heroes take flight (or not, as our city dweller can't fly) while chained together, allowing for an adventure through the (clean and unclogged) streets of Rio de Janeiro. As expected, there's slapstick, romance, sentimentality and lots of incredibly detailed cartoon action on hand, with a bevy of human and animal characters (criminal monkeys, a slobbering dog, an evil parakeet...). The Brazilian setting makes for an exotic locale, glossing over the real sights through vivid, multi-colored glasses, including swooping aerial sequences past the imposing Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city (for the 3D punch) and the all-important glamour and ritz of Carnaval. Director Saldanha (himself a Rio native) has had plenty of opportunity for over-the-top silliness after helming the Ice Age trilogy and here, thankfully, he tones it down ever so slightly, making it more palatable for a children's film. Unfortunately, the silliness takes over for actual humor - there's little in the form of visual gags or rapid-fire wit, and the featherweight plot is reheated and predictable. Making up for it are many colorful scenes, a handful of musical numbers and enough Saturday-morning-type action pieces to keep it all moving along. As for the voice acting, lead voice talents Eisenberg and Hathaway are OK if unexceptional, but a crooning Jamie Foxx impresses in a supporting macho tweety-bird role. Rio is not quite a flight of fancy, but it's a capable, amusing fluff piece that will keep children and adults busy while waiting for the summer's real animated blockbusters.
Entertainment: 6/10

Ripley's Game (2003)
Starring: John Malkovich, Dougray Scott, Ray Winstone
Director: Liliana Cavani
Plot: To get even with a local villa owner, a slippery, amoral con artist intices an innocent neighbor dying of leukemia to take up a contract to kill a Russian druglord for an old acquaintance.
Review: One thing is clear: Ripley's Game was not meant as a sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley but as a new adaptation of a series of books by Patricia Highsmith involving the same protagonist. Yet it's hard not to make the connection, to the film's disadvantage. So much more interesting, insidious, and morally deviant was Anthony Minghella's version, and so much more vibrant its cinematography. What we get here, a film made with a much more modest budget and intentions, can only pale by comparison. The story is still involving in that we know some of Ripley's character and are curious of the final outcome. Other than that it's a rather banal, though never boring, thriller that has all the right elements but comes off as a very formal, British-TV take on the material. No surprises, no real new insight, and as cold in its execution as its anti-hero. Not to say it's badly done - the direction is professional and tight, the production suitable, and the pacing adequate. But there lies the real issue: The plot may be dastardly in concept but the emotions are tame, the narrative lacking a certain energy and soul. Cast-wise, there's no mistake as Malkovich makes for a great, older version of Matt Damon's character (think Hannibal), and he sleepwalks through the role with an agreeable menace. Scott, as the innocent forced into a life of crime, shows off an innocence and desperation that's tangible. Too bad the story isn't quite as interesting, and the character interaction not quite up to the original material.
Drama / Entertainment: 5/10

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 
Starring: James Franco, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Andy Serkis
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Plot: Trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's, a scientist gives rise to a genetically-enhanced chimpanzee who he raises as a son, but when things turn sour the simian uses his greater intelligence to lead other apes to freedom from their human oppressors.
Review: A prequel to the "classic" sci-fi adventure Planet of the Apes, a replacement of 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and a reboot of the franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes had a steep hill to climb. For one, the original series was for the most part pretty silly (only getting more so in its sequels), and it's not a series that has endured, nor has its allusions to social issues of its time. For two, the 2001 reboot of the series failed miserably. So it's a pleasant surprise to get a solid tale that stands on its own, with enough heft and dramatic chops to keep us engaged and enough monkey action to give it blockbuster status. Most of this is thanks to a mostly smart script that keeps its focus on its main character, the simian Caesar, and his rise from infant to the Che-type leader of a revolution. Where it does show some weaknesses is when it gets away from the character-driven stuff and tries to cover too much other ground, such as in the epic failings of its scientists who bring about the end of human civilization, and the corporate mindset that lets it happen. Despite this, director Wyatt (The Escapist) gives the film a vibrant, dynamic feel that only intensifies in its second act, as Caesar adjusts and finally takes over an ape sanctuary, and the third as the apes fight back on top of a fogged over Golden Gate Bridge. The human cast, including Franco, Lithgow and Cox, don't make much of an impression but then they're really only meant as supporting cast. The real surprise is Andy Serkis, the man behind the motion-captured Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, who provides a superbly expressive performance for the computer animators as the sympathetic ape. Those who remember the original film will guffaw at the few references to the original film, but for the most part this reboot to the Planet of the Apes series is brand new and well worth a gander.
Entertainment: 7/10

Rising Sun (1993)
Starring: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel
Director: Philip Kaufman
Plot: Two detectives become immersed in a high-tech business conspiracy when they investigate the murder of a young prostitute in the American offices of a Japanese corporation.
Review: Based on Michael Crichton's best-selling novel, Rising Sun is a mostly faithful adaptation of the corporate thriller. The usual Hollywood blockbuster formula seems an odd fit for director Kaufman (The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and the seams do show. This is true during the various (necessary?) mainstream elements, such as the required action scenes and confrontations - these are well done but for the most part they seem tacked on to the main story to keep mainstream audiences interested. When the film focuses on the crimes of corporate culture, and specifically the frightening details of the business war between Japanese and American concerns, it really shines and provides a narrative that's both fascinating and scary with real-life commentary. It's in presenting this culture clash that Kaufman shows his real talents. Though the book worked as a scathing comment on the cut-throat Japanese way of business and its ethically weak American targets, the film tones down the controversial anti-Japanese sentiment. However the real emphasis was never on differences of race or traditions but on those in business culture, attacking not only the way Japanese do business, but on the hypocrisy of America's own principles. To make this more palatable, the film presents this with all the trimmings of a typical thriller and it's a fine little murder-mystery to boot, a complex tale replete with dangerous people, red herrings and violence. The high-tech video gadgetry on display - an important part of the plot - seemed impressive just 10 years ago, and still works. The best part, however, might well be the pairing of Snipes and Connery, both of whom play slightly against expectations. Snipes, then a rising star, never gets relegated to being a sidekick and Connery, ever suave and charming, simply has a mesmerizing screen presence as the . Throw in a strong cast (including the emotionally-charged Keitel as a bigoted cop), and some great dialogue and you've got a film that provides for some great character interaction. Though high in production values and well-paced, Rising Sun doesn't quite get it all right but it's got smarts and it's got Connery, and that's enough to make for an above-average thriller.
Entertainment: 7/10

RKO 281 (1999)
Starring: Liev Schreiber, James Cromwell, John Malkovich
Director: Benjamin Ross
Plot: A semi-fictional account of the creative and production woes behind the making of young Orson Welles' masterpiece Citizen Kane, made against the wishes of powerful newspaper mogul Hearst.
Review: The made-for-HBO feature RKO 281 is an amazing, insightful look at the production woes of a major Hollywood epic, of the lives that were swept up in the battle to create it and show it to the public, and of a young man whose creation and ideas were ahead of their time. The story of the Kane character may have been based on Randolph Hearst, as portrayed in the film, but it's also a fitting, parallel examination of Orson Welles himself. True, the film, whose title was the production name of Citizen Kane, is a fictionalized account, based on probable conjecture and rumors as much as actual events. Still, it makes for a successful character-driven drama due in large part to the the top-notch script and the first-rate cast. Indeed, Schreiber, Malkovich and Cromwell are terrific, as is the rest of the all-star cast. Well acted, well staged, and fascinating, combining politics, conspiracies, and personalities, RKO 281 is a vignette of Hollywood at a turning point in American history as well as a fascinating look at the making of a film classic.
Drama: 7/10

The Road Home (China - 2001)
Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Sun Honglei, Zheng Hao
Director: Zhang Yimou
Plot: A Chinese businessman returns to his native village for his father's funeral and reminisces about his parents' courtship, of how the prettiest girl caught the eye of the new village teacher.
Review: The Road Home is a surprisingly chaste romantic melodrama, with a rather straight-forward story, especially considering director Yimou's previous politically-charged works such as Ju Dou or Raise the Red Lantern. But Yimou is a talented artist and, thanks to some wonderful cinematography, an engaging script, and the performance of his then-unknown young leading actress, the film comes off as a well realized, beautiful romance. The story that bookends the tale of the parent's courtship, and the fable itself, are very different in style and content. The present is seen as drab black and white, while the past recollections are given the fairy-tale treatment with lush colors, bright exteriors, beautiful vistas, and a heart-warming, simple tale. This latter segment, which makes up most of the film, relies much more on the visuals on screen than on any dialogue to advance the narrative, while the body language and facial expressions of its terrific lead actress gives us the emotional bond to the story. Here the film reaches the level of cinematic poetry, offering a very sentimental story that encompasses universal themes of perfect love, tradition, filial obligations, and inevitable change. Politics mostly take a back seat here, though it is an everyday aspect of Chinese life that still eventually comes up to separate the young lovers. As for the actors, they are all convincing, but Ziyi clearly outshines them all with a joyous innocence that the lingering camera captures perfectly. Though not as powerful as any of his earlier films, The Road Home still captures the audience and provides a simple, charming love story.
Drama: 8/10

The Road to El Dorado (2000)
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Kline
Director: Don Michael Paul, Will Finn
Plot: Animated tale of two second-rate Spanish conmen who accidentally end up in South America during the Conquistador period and their ensuing misadventures in the Lost City of Gold.
Review: Dreamworks seems to be trying for a piece of the Disney pie here, only with slightly more mature sensibilities, including some scenes that may seem a little risqué for U.S. children raised on Disney-only films. There's nothing really new to the plot or situations but there are some funny and clever moments, just not enough of them. The animation is good, incorporating some flamboyant fantasy elements and the use of computer animation to enhance parts of the scene. There are quite a few particularly nice scenic shots in the first half of the film, though the lengths of the sequences will probably bore youngsters. Branagh and Kline do a good job with the voices, as does most of the cast. Unfortunately, the songs by Tim Rice and Elton John, the winning team who's work on the Lion King was so admired, are mostly quite forgettable, with some of them being downright terrible. With some dull moments and uneven pacing, The Road to El Dorado is not quite as good as the first Dreamworks animated effort Prince of Egypt but it's still entertaining enough.
Entertainment: 5/10

The Road to Perdition (2002)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law
Director: Sam Mendes
Plot: After his son witnesses a mob killing, a hitman and his eldest son escape the murder of their family and take to the road looking for revenge and a path to redemption.
Review: Based on a graphic novel of the same name by crime writer Max Allan Collins, The Road to Perdition, director Mendes' second feature after his Best Picture effort American Beauty, is a real treat. Revisiting the 1930's gangster flick, the film eschews the usual summer action direction and brings an evenly-paced, sometimes touching father-son drama to the fore, along with its stylized, violent gunfights and underworld dealings. The look of the film is terrific - dark, brooding, the colors seemingly washed out by rain - and the cinematography is top notch, giving a real sense of the Depression-era. Best of all, the story itself, a kind of mix between the Japanese Lone Wolf and Cub and Beatty's Bonnie and Clyde, is a solid, straight-forward tale of betrayal, revenge, and eventual redemption with a good touch of humor and the occasional sentimentality added in. There are no real surprises to be had and there's not enough character development to really make any of it outstanding, perhaps, but it is constantly engaging. Though it's no stretch for the Oscar-winning actor, Hanks takes up the role of the kind-hearted family guy who happens to be good at being a hitman and renders the character sympathetic. Law also does an eerie (if one-dimensional) take as a corpse photographer who moonlights as a killer. The young Tyler Hoechlin, the narrator and son, is good and believable. Newman, however, gets the best, most complex role here as a conflicted father and mob boss who really does seem torn between his real son and his adopted one. All in all, The Road to Perdition is a fine addition to the American gangster lore and, though not as memorable as classics of the genre like The Godfather, it's an enjoyable, light crime drama.
Entertainment / Drama: 8/10

*Classic* The Road Warrior (1982)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence
Director: George Miller
Plot: In post-apocalyptic Australia where petrol is more precious than gold, a mysterious drifter becomes involved in a battle between a small community and a band of savage marauders over an oil refinery.
Review: The sequel to the cult hit Mad Max, The Road Warrior almost single-handedly spawned the post-apocalyptic action/adventure genre. The action is relentless, reckless, and violent, with motorized vehicles being destroyed with amazing abandon. A young Mel Gibson plays the likable anti-hero, and it's easy to see here the attributes that made him a star. The characters and the larger-than-life struggles seem to be heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell's mythology books, and it's played to the hilt. The camera-work, costumes, and even the scenery adds to the eerie, mythic-like quality of the film. A violent, exciting film that easily tops the lists of best action films anywhere.
Action: 8/10
Entertainment: 9/10

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Plot: An English nobleman returns from the crusades to find his father killed and his castle destroyed and rallies a band of displaced peasants against the tyrannical local sheriff who plans to overthrow the absent King.
Review: An Americanized, modern re-telling of the classic legend, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves includes the familiar elements and characters but gives them all a darker updating, creating a much grittier and violent picture than one would expect. The film is definitely entertaining, with a good dose of humor, stunts, and amusing characters, but the tone switches from grim to campy constantly, ending up with an uncomfortable mix of slapstick laughs and distasteful scenes. The plot is a little tired as well but the script tries hard to wring some freshness into the oft-told story by putting forth as many far-fetched alterations to the original story and crowd-pleasing moments as it possibly can, and often enough they work fine. Director Reynolds (Waterworld) evidently created this as a vehicle for Costner, who plays the role in his usual easy-going manner, never convincing and never really stretching his acting abilities. This new Robin is more of a guerilla fighter than the usual classic role of thief and all-around do-gooder. Alternately, Rickman's Sheriff is a joy to watch, flamboyant, incensed, and wicked, his performance and dialogue is completely wrong for the period and yet fits in nicely with the rest of the story's inconsistencies. As for Freeman, he is a consummate actor, and he plays the role of the fish-out-of-water Moor to perfection with the right degree of nobility and panache. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is more a silly action blockbuster than a swashbuckling adventure, and the fairy-tale charm of the legendary tale is somewhat missing from the proceedings, but as mindless popcorn fare, it's an entertaining version of a popular tale.
Entertainment: 7/10

Robocop (1987)
Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Plot: A slain police officer is recreated by a mega-corporation as a new breed of cop, half-human, half-machine, to battle it out against the criminal element ravaging a near-future Detroit.
Review: Like most of Verhoeven's Hollywood films, Robocop is a violent, disturbing, and extremely exploitive satire of American society - especially its huge Big Money corporations and its dumbed-down media-for-the-masses. Mixing a dark story-line of overpowering big business presence with some impressive, but incredibly graphic, even repulsive, action sequences and some tongue-in-cheek black humor, the film manages to stay exciting and fresh even through some clichéd plot twists. An interesting, well-told and visually striking vision of the standard action / crime story that's both entertaining and provoking.
Entertainment: 9/10

Robocop 2 (1990)
Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O'Herlihy
Director: Irvin Kershner
Plot: In the middle of a city-wide police strike, a half-man, half-robot cop must face an increasingly uncotrollable crime wave as a violent, messia-like drug lord brings a new addiction to the streets.
Review: Robocop 2, the sequel to the near-future satire Robocop, goes for Hollywood's "more is better" credo of blockbuster sequel creation. Comic-book writer Frank Miller (who brought the "Dark" to Batman) and screenwriter Walon Green (The Wild Bunch) are the perfect pair to raise the bleak cartoon urban future up a notch. They imbed the proceedings with some tongue-in-cheek black humor, and a lot of interesting moments and subplots. Unfortunately, with so much thrown in it seems there wasn't any time (or apparent need) to flesh it all out. Even the human drama evident in the first film is gone, except for some minor melodramatic moments at the very beginning that appear more than a tad forced. It tries hard to one-up the original's satire quotient (in its take at corporate greed vs. public need, bleak look at the future, etc.) but lacks the freshness of the original. To be fair, the film offers up exactly what crowds want to see: violent excesses combined with dark humor, and in that it delivers in spades. While the first film was disturbing in its ultra-violence, the violence found here is more showy and presented for "fun" - it's harrowing, but you're supposed to chuckle, too. The story seems a mishmash of ideas and unrealized potential, but the last third is a no-holds barred battle between Robocop and his would-be successor, featuring some furious fire-power and lots of carnage. The extended use of stop-motion model animation à la Ray Harryhausen is definitely a step ahead of the previous installment in its implementation. As for the returning cast, it's obvious they're only going through the motions and following the would-be clever script. It's surprising to think that Kershner (of The Empire Strikes Back fame) directed this, but he does coordinate the stuntmen, effects and animators efficiently. While the first movie was a vicious satire, Robocop 2 comes off as a violent, desensitizing cartoon; it's a vicious, often campy affair, but it does deliver the goods.
Entertainment: 6/10

Robots (2005)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Robin Williams
Directors: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
Plot: In a world populated solely by robots, a young mechanical inventor tries to find his destiny in the big city only to come up against a corporate tyrant bent on power.
Review: The latest computer-animated feature from the folks who brought us Ice Age, Robots is an energetic vehicle that's cold at heart but sleek in execution. The coming-of-age story makes obvious parallels to the "real" world, from corporate greed to the theme of being true to one's self, but none of it is particularly original. In fact, the script is but an amalgam of ideas, plot points, and more from dozens of different films. But so what? What we get is a huge scrap-heap of amusing stuff for those willing to give up on story: there's the imaginative details of the mechanical world; the witty, pun-infested dialogue; and the sequences involving a Rube Goldberg like transportation system, an inspired roller-coaster ride that will make kids gape in awe. Indeed, with such stylish and spectacular animation with color-scheme to match, retro has never looked so good. It's all presented in such break-neck pacing that even attentive-deficient children won't be able to keep their eyes off the screen. The jokes also comes on so fast and furious that audiences are sure to miss a few, including a slew of referential gags that only adults or real sci-fi fans will get. Berry and McGregor do a workmanlike job as the two leads, but it's the large supporting cast that really shines as the eccentric blend of robotic characters brought to life by the great voice acting of such luminaries as Mel Brooks, Jim Broadbent, and Drew Carey. But the real attraction is the zany motor-mouthed Robin Williams who is in top comic form as the cranky, cynical Fender getting all the best lines and even the best musical number with "I'm Singin' in Oil". True, there's a complete lack of any emotional core, but for fans of CGI animation and stand-up routines there's enough stuff in Robots to keep anyone entertained for repeat viewings.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Rocket (Maurice Richard) (Quebec - 2006)
Starring: Roy Dupuis, Stephen McHattie, Patrice Robitaille
Director: Charles Binamé
Plot: The true tale of the rise of one hockey's most famous and influential players, the Canadiens' Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, and his struggle on the ice, at home, and against the NHL.
Review: If there's a homegrown hero in Quebec's modern history, it's Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, the hockey player that started from rags to become a cultural legend. Much like American boxer Jim Braddock, he brought back pride to the often downtrodden working-class. His real-life struggles and frustrations as a French Canadian in the National Hockey League, a sports club dominated by Canadian Anglophones was (and was most probably intended to still be) a metaphor for an oppressed population crying for a national identity. Richard was a man dedicated first to his sport, who wasn't looking for the spotlight and took awkwardly the idolatry that followed him outside the rink, pushing him to become a political barometer and cultural icon. But inside that rink, there was no doubt who was king, and the many scenes of hockey action are superbly staged capturing the essence of his speed and passion, and bringing the visceral, often violent aspects of the game to the fore in some of the best hockey action ever put to film. Though the tale works without the need for embellishment, director Binamé (Séraphin) knows how to milk the melodrama to its full extent and definitely hits all the right cues. It doesn't hurt that the atmospheric cinematography, helped by some strong production values, allows the filmmakers to re-create the 50's that lies in our collective memories if not in actual reality, giving a glossy appeal to the era. As the crusty Anglo coach Dick Irvin, McHattie does a scene-stealing performance, and the rest of the cast (including some actual hockey players as his teammates) is just fine. But as the fiery-eyed titular character, it's really Dupuis who owns the film revealing the simmering intensity behind the legend's stoic facade. As an ode to a man who was an inspiration for an entire generation, The Rocket elevates him to almost mythical levels; the real success is that it does it so passionately and so effortlessly.
Drama: 7/10

Rocketship X-M (1950)
Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen
Director: Kurt Neumann
Plot: Man's first flight to the moon runs into trouble when a slight miscalculation pulls them toward Mars instead, and the discovery of the remanants of a dying race.
Review: Taking advantage of the publicity surrounding another space movie, Destination Moon, Rocketship X-M was made quickly to beat its competitor out into theatres, giving it the dubious credit of being the first of many "serious" '50s sci-fi productions. In fact, it mostly stands as an example of the cheaply made junk that swarmed the B-movie circuit in that decade. The production itself seems to have been created to make for an interesting trailer only: See! Spectacularly bad blast-off effects! See! The rocket swarmed by meteors that resemble popcorn! See! Zero-gravity affect a harmonica - and nothing else! See! A post-nuclear Mars inhabited by outcasts from a bad caveman movie! See! The shocking displays of '50s misogyny towards the lone female on board! See! Ridiculous amounts of jabber and bunk passed on as "science"! If all this sounds mildly exciting, well, it isn't. To keep costs down (way down) most of the action is confined to the main cabin, giving rise to usual silliness like a ludicrous romance between smarmy fighter jock pilot and the ice-cold "girl" / doctor, suspense that's limited to looking at "air speed" (yes, air... in space) and fuel dials, and other laughable filler. The one good idea was for the filmmakers to switch the B&W stock to sepia for the adventures on Mars, where Death Valley stands in well for the rocky planetary surface. Oh, and having the ship runs out of fuel, hence crashing into Earth and killing everyone on board made for a great ending, too. The rest, however, is laughably bad meaning Rocketship X-M will be limited to die hard SF completists only.
Entertainment: 3/10

Rock Star (2001)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Timothy Spall
Director: Stephen Herek
Plot: The obsessive lead singer of a heavy metal tribute band has his dream come true when he is asked to join his idols on tour as a replacement to their departing front man.
Review: Full of big hair and studded leather wear, Rock Star is an unabashed, light-hearted nostalgic trip to the "me" decade of music mayhem. To be honest, ridiculing the '80s heavy metal movement is like shooting fish in a barrel, and the story is satisfied with going for the rather banal rags-to-riches story and fluffy melodrama that comes with the territory (surprisingly, loosely based on a true-story): young fan gets his wish to perform with his idols, lives life of debauchery, comes to his senses and grows up. And yet the film is done by people who are obvious fans of metal-mania's hey-day, carefully poking light-hearted fun at the obvious stereotypes while showing off, indeed sharing with the audience, the energy and fantasy that made it so popular, especially in the lively well-choreographed stage numbers. The main reason for the film's success is Wahlberg, oozing a certain innocent charm and dogged earnestness that is perfect for the role, one that easily garners audience sympathy as our guide to this fantasy world of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. The cast, which includes members of real metal bands, is solid with Aniston playing our hero's girlfriend / manager with more smarts than we'd expect. Though not as charming or clever as Almost Famous' look at the '70s, Rock Star is surprisingly fun and enjoyable as a hard rock fairy-tale.
Entertainment: 7/10

Rocky Balboa (2006)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Plot: After media attention is sparked by a boxing simulation pitting one of the sport's stalwarts and the current heavyweight champion, an aging, nostalgic boxer agrees to go back in the ring for one final exhibition match.
Review: 30 years after the first Rocky won Oscar for Best Picture, and after many tepid sequels, Rocky Balboa promises a return to the the iconic character that made Stallone a household name. Surprisingly enough, though it's not classic material, it is a fine swan song to the franchise and it's also the most affecting and dramatic Rocky installment since the first one explored the downtrodden Philly streets. For one, this one doesn't go mainstream, taking its time to set up the character, a man who's best years are behind him, living on past glories and much nostalgia. It's as much an exploration of the Rocky character as it is, perhaps, of Stallone himself who never quite managed to live up to the expectations following Rocky and Rambo. If this film is any indication, writer / director / star Stallone isn't down for the count quite yet. Much like the Rocky character in his final fight, Stallone surprises by bringing an affecting, return to his roots, if not his box-office success. Those expecting lots of boxing action will be disappointed, as this is a much more reflexive, melancholy Rocky than we've come to expect. The climactic fight is more of a conclusion to the dramatic events rather than the entertaining, adrenaline-pumping exploitation affair of the earlier sequels. As expected after such a big set-up the bout goes for all 10 rounds, and Stallone looks amazing for his age - you believe he can take on just about anybody. If there's one minor disappointment, it's the lack of real tension because his adversary really doesn't look like a fighter, or at least not one of "Rocky" caliber. Still, Rocky stories have always been about Heart as much as they've been of a simple man being able to take an amazing amount of beating, and the film ends on just the right note. proving that, at any age, one can still fight for what one believes in. A nice way to close off the inspirational series.
Drama: 6/10

Roger & Me (1989)
Starring: Michael Moore, Bob Eubanks
Director: Michael Moore
Plot: Documentary revolving around a working-class filmmaker's attempts at getting a video interview with the Chairman of General Motors regarding a recent auto plant shut down and the devastating effect on the small town.
Review: The unlikely popularity of Roger & Me is most likely due to its blue-collar first-time director, Michael Moore, a man who has become synonymous with mainstream shock-documentaries after Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. The tenacious Moore is quite a character, and he brings a certain guerilla film-making and snarky interviewing style to the proceedings with a certain sense of defacing, if always cynical, humor. The film takes us on a short history of Flint, Michigan, along with his own life story, from its ups as a booming GM hub to its descent into a virtual ghost town, peeling the veneer of 80's Reaganomics and shows the ugly face of corporate America. It's a very socialist take on the problems of giant corporations and the government system's responsibilities to its citizens. The left-wing politics may jar some die-hard capitalists (industry is seen as this soulless monster, and the real "evil" behind it - the shareholders who push for profits above all else - is never addressed) but there's no mistaking Moore's patriotism or his intentions to bring these events to light. Though his quest to talk to the mysterious CEO never bears fruit, his attempts garner some occasional laughs, and the movie works better this way: the constant rebuttals and blank walls makes the film all the more engaging. If Roger & Me is packaged with some humorous elements and many of its denizens - no matter the social status - are rarely seen in a pretty light, it remains a very humanistic and damning look at the social devastation of a town that was left in the wake of GM's decisions, and a strong statement on the issues of globalization and big business.
Documentary: 7/10

Rollerball (2002)
Starring: Chris Klein, Jean Reno, L.L. Cool J
Director: John McTiernan
Plot: A star player in a violent game involving motorcycles and roller-blades has a hard time leaving the when the discovers the owners have started staging accidents to increase their ratings.
Review: The latest unnecessary remake, the stunts-driven Rollerball, comes off as a cheap rip-off of the original 1975 film and is too simplistic even for Hollywood. The film does have its rare moments of entertainment value, especially the well-paced climax, but for the most part this is a blatantly silly, stupid, and often ridiculous affair. Too much kitsch, decadence, fast cars and fast women make this big-budget film look more cheap than it actually was. There's an off-hand attempt at the original film's social commentary (violence sells, the masses play sheep to the media, sports are crooked, gambling is evil, etc.) but it's all so shallow as to be practically irrelevant. Worse, the arena scenes are so quickly edited and shots done at such close-up that the whole action part of the film comes off as a confused jumble that's barely exciting and never gives a sense of speed. In other words, another disappointing product from action-meister director McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October) who seems to have lost his touch. The cast doesn't embarrass itself too much, though, and lead star Klein may not be terribly convincing, but he's not that bad. Unfortunately, we never get any real sense of team spirit (or that there's even a team, for that matter), something that would appear to be a necessity for a sports flick. With a better script this could have been interesting, but as it stands the paper-thin plot, bad characterizations and bland action only make Rollerball a third-rate experience.
Entertainment: 3/10

Romancing the Stone (1984)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Plot: A mousy romance novelist travels to Columbia to trade a treasure map in exchange for her kidnapped sister and falls for a dashing, but opportunistic, rogue who helps her escape countless perils.
Review: Romancing the Stone hit the 80's Raiders of the Lost Ark-wannabe band-wagon running with a different take on the adventure genre. The story, full of eccentric, barely-defined caricatures and campy dialogue, provides a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor combined with some surprisingly violent stuff. The Indiana Jones-type action bits are decently realized and entertaining enough, with some clever moments throughout. The real attraction however is the inclusion of the light-hearted romantic push to the story, helped along by the terrific chemistry between Douglas and Turner, something that still works better than any other aspect of the film. There isn't much meat here for repeated viewings, but with its fine cast and easy-going pace Romancing the Stone is an amusing piece of fluff.
Entertainment: 6/10

Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Plot: Two teenage lovers from opposing clans secretly meet and marry but they cannot escape their families' long-lasting hatreds, leading their lives to tragedy.
Review: A dazzling re-imagination of the classic Shakespeare play, Romeo + Juliette has been unjustly maligned by critics for "dumbing down" Shakespeare's play. But making it broadly appealing has made the story accessible to a whole new generation of film-goers. Though the popularity of its young charismatic stars made it a box-office draw, there's more to it than pretty faces. Shot in Mexico, the Verona of old has become a kind of Miami, where the beach is primordial, a world slightly different from our own where criminal gangs fight for territory and where emotions run high; it's a finely-tuned alternate reality that makes the events of the play sound true, where guns and blades exist with souped-up sports cars and riot police. With director Luhrman's (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge) flair for the dramatic and technical prowess, the film takes on a life of its own, and his famous, stunning visuals are evident from the get-go. As per most of Luhrman's films, the art direction is brilliant (both figuratively and literally); the colors and textures are rich and bold, the camera work dizzying, and the effect sometimes breath-taking. This is meant to be radically different from other versions, and sometimes the magnificent style is almost enough to drown out the story, but Luhrmann takes careful control to ensure that audiences get a chance to focus on the text just as much as the imagery. Shakespeare's mostly unaltered prose doesn't necessarily flow easily, but the script and dynamic camera work allows audiences with short attention spans to stay attentive even during long-winded speeches. Even through the rough patches the filmmakers have hit on the right combination of talent and inventiveness to provide an adaptation that proves that the Bard's tales are indeed timeless. One disappointment, however, is that the romance between the two lovers isn't always convincing, the two not quite have the chemistry to really pull it off together (too bad, since this is the crux of the story), but apart they shine in their respective roles. DiCaprio, before his Titanic stardom, proves he's a fine actor, as does Danes, but its the supporting cast that elevate the work to a real pleasure. Of note are the inimitable Leguizamo as the hot-blooded Latino cousin, Pete Postlethwaite as Fatgher Laurence and Paul Sorvino as the Capulet patriarch. Purists may have seizures viewing the dizzying, hard-rock adaptation, but for everyone else, this is an engaging ultra-cool modern updating of the classic romantic tragedy. Beautiful people, great soundtrack, and a fantastic look, is there any doubt that this grand version of Romeo + Juliette was so popular?
Entertainment: 7/10

Romeo Must Die (2000)
Starring: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Plot: An ex-cop escapes from a Hong Kong prison and comes to America to avenge his murdered brother, only to land in the middle of a gang war and falling in love with the rival leader's daughter.
Review: Romeo Must Die is a film that tries to tie in Hong Kong action films, and especially star Jet Li, into American mainstream hip-hop films. The scenes with Li are a joy to watch. It may not be his best martial arts work, but they're definitely worth the price of admission. Everything else, though, reeks of a typical haphazard gangsta film, with a terribly banal, slow-paced script and even worse dialogue, a constant barrage of rap / hip-hop tunes, unconvincing cookie-cutter characters (especially pop-singer Aaliyah who makes a bad Juliet), and worse, no romantic moments! From a film that wants to assume even a passing reference to the Shakespeare play, there is just no romance, the producers seemingly shying away from any interracial intimacy between the two leads, very much to the film's detriment. The film wants to be something for everyone, and ends up disappointing just as universally. Still, the first 30 chaotic minutes, and the last 15, are great fun, and so are the amazing action sequences - enough to make Romeo Must Die worth a look.
Entertainment: 5/10

*Classic* Rome, Open City (1945)
Starring: Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Plot: A leader of the Italian Resistance tries to escape capture during the German occupation of Rome in 1944 by finding refuge with other people involved in the underground movement.
Review: Deemed the first true Italian Neo-Realist film, Rome, Open City is an emotionally powerful production. Co-written by Rossellini and Federico Fellini using actual witnessed events as the basis for much of the story, the film captures the lives and the suffering of the different characters with a gritty and realistic style. Indeed, the success of the film comes from the depiction of the characters as normal people, living their day to day lives under oppression and seeing how the war has affected their lives. The film was actually shot during the Nazi occupation with scraps of film stock and many non-professional actors with an almost documentary feel to many of the scenes, all of which only adds to the effect of making the events depicted on screen seem true. Some images, such as the scene where Magnani races after the truck taking her husband away, leave an indelible mark. The acting by all involved is just right for the tone of the film, with star Magnani shining brightest of all. There are some spots where the "realism" is pushed aside for dramatic purposes, but the film always remains poignant and fascinating. A masterpiece of Italian cinema.
Drama: 9/10

Ronin (1998)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone
Director: John Frankenheimer
Plot: A group of ex-intelligence agents are brought together by an Irish terrorist faction to steal a mysterious silver case before it can be sold to the Russians.
Review: Ronin is a convincing, edge-of-your-seat thriller that has more suspense and white-knuckled action sequences than any six-pack of standard genre films combined. The film quickly immerses us into the world of these modern-day Ronin, men who, after the end of the Cold-War, find themselves and their training ready to be hired out to the highest bidder. Famed director Frankenheimer is a master at this sort of thing (The Manchurian Candidate, The Train) and here he shows that even after 40 years he hasn't lost his touch. The first hour leaves one breathless in exhilaration. The pacing slows down a bit after that as the story begins its complex twists of crosses and double-crosses with more high-powered action sequences thrown in. There are many spectacular, well-choreographed high-speed pursuits through the streets of France and Italy that leaves the audience breathless. Indeed, these may well be some of the best car chases and action scenes ever put to film. The impressive camera shots and the professional editing during these moments only increase the tension and the sense of deadly speed. The intelligent script and razor-sharp dialogue, trademarks of un-credited screenwriter David Mamet, help this action extravaganza leap into the annals of classic thrillers as an excellent example of vastly entertaining, well-created cinema. The gritty filming style also enhances the experience by giving off a sense of realism throughout, as well as a constant atmosphere of danger and paranoia. The cast is superb and give compelling performances across the board, especially De Niro as the tough-as-nails ex-CIA veteran who has as many witty quips as he does sensible life-saving advice. Tense, suspenseful, and impeccably executed, Ronin is a masterpiece of the action / thriller genre.
Entertainment: 9/10

The Rookie (2002)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez
Director: John Lee Hancock
Plot: Though in his mid-thirties, a high-school chemistry teacher and part-time baseball coach tries out as pitcher for the Major Leagues after his students' team win their division.
Review: Depending on your tastes, The Rookie is either a heart-warming inspiration tale or yet another baseball movie. There's nothing really new here that other baseball films from Bull Durham to The Natural haven't done with better style and drama, from the facile sentimentality to the big-game climax. Yet it made it to the screen because this true-life story of Jim Morris, the second-oldest recruit ever to play in the Major Leagues, is one of those classic tales Hollywood never seems to get tired of: reaching one's dreams if we're willing to push hard enough. It's a little slow going, and the melodrama isn't very convincing, but this straightforward product, being passed on as a kind of folk tale, does have its rewards: the actor direction is OK, the edited baseball scenes are typically well done and full of slow-mo, the progression, though predictable, is still interesting enough to watch unfold, and there's enough humor to help through the rough spots. Much of the film's watchability, however, rests on Quaid's easy-going manner and one-note acting (the serious, silent type) and, stealing each scene he's in, on the bubbly young Angus T. Jones as his 8-year-old son. The Rookie isn't going to win any prizes, but it's another passable flick on the Great American Pastime.
Drama: 5/10

Rouge (Hong Kong - 1987)
Starring: Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Alex Man
Director: Stanley Kwan
Plot: The ghost of a cultured 1930's concubine returns from the underworld and convinces two newspaper clerks to help her seek her old flame, a dashing young store owner, lost since they both took part in a lover's suicide pact.
Review: Despite its supernatural premise Rouge is really a romantic tragedy, and the filmmakers have consciously given a familiar tale of forbidden love a very Artsy approach. Yet even if it raked in the HK Film Awards for Best Picture, Director and Actress, this isn't a film that will likely make it into the hearts and minds of modern mainstream audiences. Oh, there's a deep sense of nostalgia for a bygone age, and it's obvious director Kwan (Center Stage) was indeed looking to make an Art film. Some of the early scenes come out well, especially those in the brothel house where the ubiquitous use of red comes out, but the low-budget - a problem that faced all HK productions in the 1980's - makes the film look cheap despite some interesting staging and apparently careful cinematography. There are no special effects here, the idea of the ghost appearing in modern times is but a gimmick to make parallels with our own ideas of Love. The mystery of what happened to her beau keeps the narrative going, but this Asian retelling of Romeo and Juliette is pretty slow going and there's little real passion or detail to make it come alive. The usually flamboyant Mui has gone completely against her image in getting into her role as a demure, wispy concubine but often her subtle emotional changes make her seem stoic and cold, leaving little real impression. Cheung has an easier role and, as always, marks himself well. Coincidently, both actors have actually committed suicide since. The story's end is truly sad, elevating what would have otherwise been another forgettable entry in the genre. That it doesn't quite work for all audiences isn't so much a surprise, especially after such sublime works like In the Mood for Love have jaded audiences, yet Rouge remains a critically-acclaimed part of Hong Kong cinema's most prosperous period and for that alone is worth a look.
Drama: 6/10

Royal Warriors (1986)
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Michael Wong
Director: Chung Chi Man, David Chung
Plot: While on an airplane back from Japan, a policewoman foils a hijacking aided by a Tokyo cop and an air security agent. Back in Hong Kong, they are targeted by the criminals' comrades who have vowed revenge.
Review: Though the story of Royal Warriors seems to ask for more suspension of disbelief than others of the genre (including accepting a gunfight on a plane and other goofiness, including some lame romantic bits), the action sequences are well worth it. A young Michelle Yeoh first wowed audiences here by kicking, punching and being thrown around like the best of her male co-stars. The hokey plot usually runs along pretty well, but the true highlight is the amazing car chase mid-way through the film (you'll never see so many flying cars in a month's worth of American action flicks!), and the spectacular destruction of a nightclub. There are quite a few more action set-pieces, with some typically impressive stunts, and even a flying coffin (!), but the finale, set in a quarry, just seems to want to be over-the-top without quite succeeding. Still, an impressive and very entertaining HK actioner.
Entertainment: 7/10

Royce (1994)
Starring: James Belushi, Miguel Ferrer, Peter Boyle 
Director: Rod Holcomb
Plot: An out-of-work agent is the only one who can stop a cadre of ex-spies from stealing a Russian nuke and exacting revenge on the American senator who closed their department.
Review: A made-for-TV spy/action movie, with mostly poor made-for-TV production values, Royce feels like a pilot for a series that was, thankfully, never made. Belushi, in a part that seems to have been written for someone else, plays a super secret-agent with zero social skills, a role he performs with little conviction. The tone of the film is confusing, presenting its villains, supporting characters (many played by otherwise decent supporting TV actors) and situations with a serious tone, but leaving Belushi to add his typical blend of self-deprecating humor to the proceedings - something that just doesn't work here. Worse, there's some added bit of pointless melodrama and silly comedy thrown in that only hampers the otherwise straight-forward, if banal, story. When it sticks to the conventional cloak and dagger plot and devices of the two-bit thriller, all peppered with some mild action sequences, it manages to be watchable. Royce is a tired espionage thriller, but for non-demanding viewers it's a passable time-waster.
Entertainment: 3/10

The Ruins (2008)
Starring: Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey
Director: Carter B. Smith
Plot: A group of friends vacationing in Mexico decide to explore a remote Mayan temple only to find there's more than meets the eye when they meet the unfriendly natives.
Review: Hollywood or teen audiences may not be quite tired of seeing young, vapid college types getting into stupid situations during their Mexican vacations, but most of us will be after The Ruins. The premise of an old Mayan temple, of modern Mayans protecting a "secret", could have amounted to something - surely something better than this, anyway. Forget the title; there's little temple exploring going on, and absolutely nothing related to Mayans or their culture - heck, there isn't even any nice local scenery. The cast of boring characters would usually mean that we could look forward to some inventive deaths, at least, but there's no even that here. What ensues after a banal set-up are much hysterics and self-mutilation, as the small group starts to lose their grip on sanity, but it's little fault of anything supernatural. The "monster" of the piece - and sorry for the spoiler - is a flesh-eating vine; gardeners may see the terror in its crawling on the ground, picking up pieces of dead flesh while its flowers sing eerily, but for the rest of us its pretty laughable. With such limited tension, lame dialogue and a silly monster, one can't fathom how this got green lit. Blame it on the script that removes any character development that may have been found in Scott Smith's novel on which it's based. Either way, director Carter B. Smith has little to work with and never captures the required atmosphere of foreboding or isolation required, dragging the tale on for longer than we care to watch. A dull, zero-thrill horror piece that would normally have been relegated to true B-movie status - and not in a good way. For a far superior take on what this should have been, see The Descent.
Horror: 3/10

Rules of Engagement (2000)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones, Guy Pearce
Director: William Friedkin
Plot: After a military extraction of an American diplomat in the Middle-East ends in numerous deaths of unarmed protesters, a retiring army lawyer must defend the highly decorated Marine colonel who was in charge of the operation.
Review: Taking bits from The Verdict, A Few Good Men, and other such films, Rules of Engagement wants to be an electrifying military drama, but it soon becomes simply unconvincing in its acting, story, and realted events. There are a few interesting core issues here, that of politics versus justice, of the perception of the US military internationally, but its all quickly muddled and lost. In its attempt to make this into an easily digested table-thumping, flag-waving endeavor, the script fails to make the proceedings engaging during both the in- and out-of-court scenes. Veteran filmmaker Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) directs with a steady hand, and the firefight sequences at the beginning of the film are ably conveyed, but even this can't save the film from falling flat. As for the two A-list leads, playing cardboard roles as a lawyer looking for redemption and a warrior looking for confirmation of purpose, they can't do anything to make this appear as anything more than a bad made-for-TV melodrama. Supporting actors Pearce and Bruce Greenwood, as the sharp adversarial attorney and underhanded National Security advisor, respectively, are too good for the film and lend some much needed energy to the screen. Despite its potential, Rules of Engagement ends up being a rather simplistic, and blandly made courtroom military drama.
Drama: 4/10

*Classic* Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu) (France - 1939)
Starring: Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Jean Renoir
Director: Jean Renoir
Plot: A rich marquis invites friends and acquaintances to his chalet for a holiday of hunting and high-society enjoyments. It is a week in which a series of romantic intrigues are brought to light and where events will leave the cast of vapid, shallow characters reeling.
Review: The film's many characters each play "the game" of social niceties, a life of frivolity and of masking one's true emotions and thoughts. In the end, the characters are so enslaved by their social conventions that when events start getting out of their control, they are forced to fall back on their façades to their detriment. Rules of the Game mixes comedy of manners and melodrama in equal measures to create a scathing commentary of French society. Much maligned when it came out before the war, it has since been hailed as a classic of French cinema. The film seems to have lost much of its power since then, but none of its cinematographic quality. A classic, but not as memorable as Renoir's La Grande Illusion.
Drama: 8/10

Runaway Jury (2003)
Starring: John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman
Director: Gary Fleder
Plot: With his accomplice, a juror on a high-profile civil trial involving a gun manifacturer offers to sway the jury's decision to the highest bidder which puts an unscrupulous defense lawyer's own plans to manipulate the verdict in jeopardy.
Review: An engaging look at jury tampering, Runaway Jury, the latest law-based thriller from the mind of best-selling author John Grisham, is perhaps the best adaptation of his work since The Firm. Think of it as 12 Angry Men, in reverse. The story's tackling of the gun control issue is only on surface-deep, and isn't really a priority. The real focus is on what companies, faced with huge monetary losses, are willing to do to control the outcome of a trial. Sure, it's pure junk-food for the mind and about as subtle as a kick in the head, but it's a good premise that's really worked out to its proper conclusion. Though the final twist (for once one that doesn't feel cheap) makes all the difference in our perceptions of the protagonists, there might be too much misdirection involved from the get-go to really make it all work. Still, thanks to the talents of director Fleder the narrative moves along well, and it's all professionally executed, entertaining and consistently engaging. Even through some of the plot's rougher spots, it remains an intriguing cat-and-mouse game that will keep audiences guessing. Despite it being a very star-heavy exercise, the film finds the right balance between all its different characters. The ever-charming Cusack and the talented Weisz make a terrific team and keep our attention despite the script's resitance to making them sympathetic. Also, having it's two veteran actors finally play against each other, the expected confrontation between Hackman's cynical legal consultant and Hoffman's idealistic attorney in a lavatory is fun, but it's a single scene that's way too brief. Sure, some of the real-life legal details have been glossed over for the sake of movie-making, but for those who can't resist a courtroom drama, and for those who are ready for a different twist on the usual stuff, Runaway Jury is an entertaining, well-made thriller.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Rundown (2003)
Starring: The Rock, Seann W. Scott, Christopher Walken
Director: Peter Berg
Plot: A veteran L.A. bounty hunter meets his match when asked to retrieve the son of a gangster deep in the Amazon jungle and gets involved in a hunt for a priceless artifact while being pursued by both local thugs and rebels.
Review: The Rundown takes the standard buddy action / comedy, throws in a bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark for good measure, and provides a surprisingly effective action vehicle for its imposing star. In fact, from the terrific opening sequence onwards, one could say it's a perfect text-book action film: fast-paced, engaging, and fun. Sure, the plot might be generic, but the script is excellent, tightly paced and efficiently written with enough good-natured humor (except perhaps for the monkeys) and adventure to make audiences forget that we've seen all this before. The film itself is much smaller scale than one would expect from a would-be blockbuster, and that plays to its advantage - it's a nice change of pace seeing an action film that relies more on story, characters and very physical stunt work than on the myriad of special effects-laden productions being churned out. It also helps that the action sequences are brilliantly executed, including some well-choreographed Hong Kong-influenced wire-work fight scenes. The only disappointment, perhaps, is the explosive but pedestrian final showdown / shootout. Actor-turned-director Berg has definitely found his calling here and creates a very dynamic movie-going experience that rarely lets up even in its quieter moments. The Rock has undeniable presence and makes a great modern action hero, one that's more modest, downright polite, even, and doesn't take himself too seriously but proves that when the cards are down he can kick ass with the best of them. The buff Scott plays the comic relief very reminiscent to his most popular role in American Pie, while Walken plays the "heavy" well and gives the tyrannical villain some added dimension. The Rundown might sound familiar but it's a pleasant surprise for those blasé with action flicks: it's got enough charm, thrills and laughs to provide a very pleasant diversion.
Entertainment: 7/10

Run, Lola, Run (Lola Rennt) (1998)
Starring: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu
Director: Tom Tykwer
As the title would suggest, this German film is definitely frenetically paced! It's a combination of three "what if?" stories starting from the same plot point (Lola has 20 minutes to get 100,000 marks or her boyfriend gets killed), and, diverging slightly at first, how the outcome and the characters are altered. The director seems to use a multitude of tricks to keep the audience on their toes, playing with music, camera shots, and even animation to provide an often original view of the story without losing any of the pacing. This film has been hailed as one of the most entertaining German movies in recent history (garnering many awards in the process) and it's easy to see why. Highly recommended!
Entertainment: 8/10

Running Out of Time (Hong Kong - 1999)
Starring: Lau Ching-Wan, Andy Lau, Waise Lee
Director: Johnny To
Plot: A dying man decides to take revenge against a gang of thugs who killed his father, but must manipulate a police negotiator into helping his plans along.
Review: Like other Johnny To productions (Where a Good Man Goes and A Hero Never Dies), the film is well shot and has many interesting touches, but in this case, it just doesn't live up to its potential. What starts off as another in the series of HK favorite good guy / bad guy camaraderie, with some stylish Matrix-like visuals and a good premise, eventually descends into a dragged out, slow-moving affair. The melodrama abounds, there is little action, and the suspense is non-existent. The film even tries its hand at a doomed romance, which is actually the high point of the story. Lau Ching-Wan and Andy Lau are always great to watch, and it's one of the redeeming things of the film, but even they aren't enough to save it. Running Out of Time seems to try to be more of an homage to other HK classics, but all it does is really run out of steam. 
Entertainment: 4/10

Running Out of Time 2 (Hong Kong - 2001)
Starring: Ching Wan Lau, Ekin Cheng, Kelly Lin
Directors: Johnny To, Wing-cheong Law
Plot: An inspector desperately tries to catch a brilliant thief who taunts him into a game of cat-and-mouse for his amusement.
Review: For many, Running Out of Time was a perennial and critical favorite. Milking dry the very same cash cow for another go-around, Running Out of Time 2 doesn't bring anything new and clearly shows a lack of new ideas. It's only mildly entertaining as a caper-comedy, and nowhere near To's other films (Fulltime Killer, Needing You), in fact feeling more like a contractual obligation; one wonders if he actually had his hand in this at all, or if co-director Law took the reigns on his own. Maybe that's why some decent camerawork and easy pacing are in evidence, but gone is any semblance of inventiveness or energy. The cat-and-mouse game itself - the selling point of the film - is just plain silly, with lots of pointless running around and a handful of ridiculous set pieces thrown in. Of these, there's a 15 min chase after an eagle in downtown Hong Kong that's actually more boring than it sounds, though a foot-and-bicycle chase between inspector and thief does have its moments. But the main problem is that the film lacks any drama or suspense, having been made purely for laughs (hint: there are but few). It's made clear that the police are bumbling fools whereas the thief is a veritable Houdini, a master at illusions and acrobatics who can get out of any predicament, such as disappearing from a locked taxi, vanishing into thin air when dropping off a skyscraper, or any number of un-satisfyingly portrayed escapes. One good point is that the sympathetic Ching Wan Lau is back as the inspector, but his nemesis this time around is pretty-boy Cheng who plays the cocky, super thief who thinks himself a modern-day Robin Hood but who lacks any real charm - he just ain't no Andy Lau. And we're never quite sure what connection the two adversaries have, if any. Gone, too, is the back story (or the theme) that gave the first movie it's title. There's even a throwaway sub-plot involving HK supporting vet Suet Lam as a down-on-his-luck cop with a gambling problem that also goes nowhere and was clearly added as filler to get to a 90 min running time. So no, the disappointing Running Out of Time 2 is clearly not worth the effort to find at the video store, and that's just too bad. 
Entertainment: 4/10

Rush Hour (1998)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker
Director: Brett Ratner
Plot: A stalwart Hong Kong detective is forced to team up with a loud-mouth L.A. cop when the daughter of the Chinese consul is kidnapped by an old enemy.
Review: In Rush Hour, his first American outing in many years, Chan finally proves he can be as popular and as charming an actor in America as international fans have always known him to be. There's no denying that this entry in Hollywood's tried-and-true buddy genre isn't anything new, the villains and kidnap plot are as tired and derivative as it gets, and the supporting cast is wooden. But this is all just a good excuse to see the two leads interact, and what a blast it is to see them at it, on one side the nimble, straight-arrow Chan and on the other Rock's sly, fast-talking antics. The two work wonders with a ho-hum script that plays on the exaggerated cultural differences between the two mismatched cops, and both make this effort much more interesting than it deserves. One unfortunate thing: fans of Chan's spectacular stunt work and mesmerizing martial fights will be disappointed by the little amount of action to be found here, though what's included (a few quick fight scenes, some gunplay, a couple of trademark Chan stunts) is decently done. There's a much greater emphasis on the comic potential of the duo, and director Ratner knows well enough to focus on that aspect of the film while still providing enough thrills to keep all audiences interested. In the end, Rush Hour is a standard buddy flick with a forgettable story, but one that's made engaging by the amusing banter and evident chemistry of its two stars.
Entertainment: 6/10

Rush Hour 2 (2001)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Zhang Ziyi
Director: Brett Ratner
Plot: After an American embassy in bombed, an LAPD cop and a Hong Kong detective uncover a dangerous counterfeiting ring that is using a Las Vegas casino to launder its cash.
Review: The box-office success of Rush Hour required a mandatory sequel, but bucking the usual trend, Rush Hour 2 is actually more fun than the original. Thankfully there's less of the motor-mouth comedy from Tucker and more martial arts acrobatics and inventive hand-to-hand combat sequences from Jackie Chan this time around, showing off the skills that made him an international star - there's nothing fans of his haven't seen before, but it's energetically done and nonetheless impressive. The rants from Tucker are occasionally amusing, if border-line racist in tone (especially towards Chinese), but thankfully there's a bit more to the film's comedy aspects than this, including the usual fish-out-of-water jokes (in both Hong Kong and Vegas), a dash of slapstick, and some hilarious outtakes with the end credits. The two leads have some good chemistry together as the odd-buddy cops and they seem much more comfortable here than in the previous installment, and the film wouldn't be half as much fun without them. Ziyi, meanwhile, lends a bit of class to the proceedings and gives off a fine dragon-lady performance in a rather two-bit role, and John Lone as the villain is charmingly at ease. Though the actual story and events are formulaic to the extreme and rather banal, Rush Hour 2 moves along at a good clip, blending its comic moments, pinches of character melodrama, and action bits into one consistently entertaining, if unoriginal, piece of summer blockbuster fare. Sometimes, that's enough.
Entertainment: 7/10

Rush Hour 3 (2007)
Starring: Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, Max von Sydow
Director: Brett Ratner
Plot: A Chinese detective teams up with a an LA detective once again in an investigation that takes them to Paris to uncover the entity of the leader of the criminal triads.
Review: The unfortunate final sequel to a decent franchise, Rush Hour 3 shows the signs of a creative dead-end. It's quickly evident that the film clearly doesn't care about any kind of story; the vapid plot and character interactions are but an excuse for a comic setup or an action set piece. But that could be excusable - who comes to see this movie for story? If the action isn't up to par with the second installment - and nowhere near as exciting as Chan's Hong Kong efforts - Chan still demonstrates the acrobatic chops that made him famous, and some of the choreography is fun to watch. The comedy doesn't fare as well, what with Chan attempting to "talk black" or an annoying, unsympathetic Tucker making an ass of himself in front of a bevy of women. These forced attempts at humor may have worked once, but that shtick has grown old, and so has the brain-numbing dialogue. Even the Paris locale is poorly used. In fact most of the movie just creaks along until the next action scene, a surprise considering helmer Ratner has proven himself a competent commercial director both in the rest of the series and films like The Red Dragon and X-Men 3. Even the actors in supporting roles have embarrassing turns: director Roman Polanski gets to be an annoying French policeman and celebrated actor Max Von Sydow gets short-changed as a two-bit villain. The one redeeming value is Yvan Attal as a Parisian taxi driver who hates Americans, who gets all the best scenes. A lazy, inept sequel that is sure to put an end to the franchise, Rush Hour 3 is a great disappointment in what should have been an easy attempt at an action-comedy vehicle. Shame.
Entertainment: 4/10

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