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Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (South Korea - 2004)
Starring: Dong-Kun Jang, Bin Won
Director: Je-gyu Kang
Plot: The fate of two brothers become tied to the country's history when both are forcibly removed from their quiet rural lives and embroiled in the Korean War in the early 1950's.
Review: Don't let the trailers fool you; the popular blockbuster Tae Guk Gi aims to be more than just a Korean version of Saving Private Ryan, and for the most part succeeds in capturing both the hardships of the populace flung into war and the tragic consequences on the country's psyche. To its credit, it does also capture the frenetic, horrifying, and bloody battles between the the US-backed South against its communist brethren in the North. Sure, the "war is hell" theme is one that's been repeated umpteen times, but - thanks to the biggest production budget in the country's history - the well executed, two-fisted combat sequences are spectacular and bring an exotic feel for those raised on WW2 films. And the film also wants to do and be more than that: the conflict, love, and loyalty that binds and then divides the two brothers is an obvious metaphor to the events and history that shaped the two Koreas as well. If the characters are given pretty stereotypical outlines, all the better to define the inner and outer struggles they face. Atrocities done on both sides are given equal running time, and neither side gets off easy. Director Je-gyu Kang is no stranger to big-budget affairs, having helmed on of the first true Korean blockbusters, Shiri, a film that also dealt with the disparity between the two countries only in a modern setting. At two and a half hours, he takes ample time to revisit the conflict and to add a lot of telling commentary on the broken soul of the country, but in the end it's still a mainstream affair at heart, tugging at the heart strings and getting caught up in the pyrotechnics of war. Still, if there's little here that filmgoers haven't seen done elsewhere in some form or another, Tae Guk Gi is a telling portrait of a conflict Westerners know only by name as well as a grandiose war movie that takes no prisoners.
Drama: 7/10

Taken (2009)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Director: Pierre Morel
Plot: When his 17-year old daughter gets kidnapped while on vacation in Paris, an ex-CIA operative turns the French criminal underground upside-down in a desperate - and methodical - search for her before she disappears into the slave trade.
Review: A surprisingly effective, unpretentious little action thriller, Taken has just the right ingredients (and leading man) to make for a smarter-than-average production. With a story co-written by France's most renown genre auteur Luc Besson (The Professional, La Femme Nikita), this parent's nightmare turns from melodrama to a refreshingly straight-forward, take-no-prisoners affair. On the downside, there are perhaps too many instances where coincidences and far-fetched luck play into the equation, and the anti-immigrant sentiment that pervades the film (and the villains), something that does mar some of the appreciation for the tale. French cinematographer Morel, who made a splash helming the future action thriller District B13, goes a very different route for his sophomore directorial effort; taking more than a few tricks from the Bourne series to good effect, the camerawork is tight, the action editing frenetic, the viciousness startling, all providing a tense, gritty and often claustrophobic experience. Of course, little of this would have been half as much fun if it weren't for the choice of leads: Neeson may not have been an obvious choice for an action flick, but you quickly realize he makes for a perfect protagonist; you believe him as a doting father and retired CIA spook, and - amazingly enough - you really do believe he is one bad-ass mother when the cards are down; knocking heads, torturing or simply shooting his way in (and out) of trouble, he's never less than methodical and mesmerizing. What you end with is an efficient actioner that's low on drama but high on octane thrills - and sometimes, that's just what the doctor ordered.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Tailor of Panama (2001)
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Lee Curtis
Director: John Boorman
Plot: An expatriate tailor reknown for his tall tales is recruited by an English intelligence officer to gather inside information on the supposed sale of the Panama canal to the Chinese.
Review: Director Boorman, who created some terrific films with Excalibur and Deliverance, only produced an able, well produced, but rather uninvolving film with his adaptation of The Tailor of Panama. There are a few nice touches, and the occasional views of Panama itself are exotic enough, but we never get a sense of immediacy or of any kind of suspense, and the story's many potential aspects for political or human commentary, as well as some interesting sub-plots, are never fully realized. Indeed, the wit and sly comedy of the novel by popular spy auteur Le Carré is exaggerated here into practical buffoonery and the characters, and the interaction between them, are barely formed. The cast is promising, with Brosnan in a very un-Bondish role, as a suave, swearing con artist and Rush quite suited for the role of the mousy, aggrandizing tailor, but neither really get much of a chance to shine. The Tailor of Panama isn't a bad film by any means and can be mildly entertaining for more uncritical fans of spy thrillers, but it can't help feeling shallow and disappointing.
Entertainment: 5/10

Taking Lives (2004)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Tchéky Karyo
Director: D.J. Caruso
Plot: A female FBI profiler is assigned to help the French Canadian police track down a serial killer who takes the identity of his victims and who has remained uncaught after 20 years.
Review: Based on a novel that probably had all the elements for yet another twisted whodunit in the female profiler / serial-killer genre, Taking Lives is full of familiar names in front and behind the camera. Too bad all this talent is rather wasted in a rather tepid affair that's not even quite successful as an exercise of style over substance. Though Jolie pouts and broods and Hawk tries to show some appeal, there little in the way of character development and it feels that, much like Drowning By Numbers with Sandra Bullock, this is a star vehicle that doesn't know how to use its star very well or that hasn't set its sights very high. There's also a steamy, and rather gratuitous, sex scene between Jolie and Hawk which seems at odds with their otherwise timid demeanors. And why they had to choose French actors vs. Canadian ones is beyond comprehension; however the trio of Olivier Martinez, Tchéky Karyo and Jean-Hugues Anglade is a good one even if they don't look or act anything like Canucks. There's also some cameos by both vet Gena Rowland and character actor Kiefer Sutherland for good measure, but their way underused. And perhaps that's the hint of why this doesn't work: director Caruso has the atmosphere and pacing down pat, with a subdued cinematography that makes the film appear bleak and dark, but he's working with a tired script. We don't really care for any of these people and the plot has too many big gaps in logic and / or narration. Indeed, the red herrings are ultimately ridiculous, and the ending leaves too many questions unexplained. Perhaps something was lost in the adaptation, or maybe there wasn't enough to begin with but it's so painfully obvious and predictable, audiences will wonder why the detectives haven't figured it out. Mind you, though the necessary "shocking" twist isn't, there's a decent surprise ending which ends the film on a higher note. Though it does keep one's interest, Taking Lives is only an average thriller which makes little use of its "foreign" setting or its fine cast, and in the end is only a time-waster for undiscerning audiences.
Entertainment: 4/10

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Starring: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director: Anthony Minghella
Plot: A dapper, quiet young man is sent to Italy to retrieve a rich man's son only to be enticed by his carefree, playboy's life and decides to actually become his charge. 
Review: The focus of the film is, of course, on Ripley, and a large part of the success of the story rests squarely on the convincing performance of Matt Damon who manages to portray him as nice and endearing at first, and finally quite sinister. The drama starts slowly, increasing the audience's unease bit by bit, seeing the change in Ripley's demeanor, his longing for a life he's never had. Then a fateful incident occurs, and his life becomes unto a dream and turns the film into a suspense/murder-mystery akin to Hitchcock's Dial "M" for Murder, building the events to a powerful, dramatic climax. Of course, some things are always lost in the translation of a novel to the screen, and some of the larger ideas of the film seem a little rushed, but the film succeeds in showing the self-loathing of the disenfranchised rich, and the desperation of the people being burnt by their perceived glory. The movie itself is also beautiful to look at, with delicately photographed scenes of Italian life, full of soft colors and beautiful scenery, and the deft direction of Minghella (The English Patient) is impeccable. In the end, The Talented Mr. Ripley works admirably both as an intelligent thriller and an interesting character study.
Drama: 8/10

Tangled (2010)
Voices: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy
Directors: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Plot: Kidnapped as an infant and locked in a hidden tower, a long-haired princess gets a chance to finally leave her prison and discover the world when a dashing bandit, being pursued by his former cohorts, stumbles on her lair.
Review: The classic tale of Rapunzel gets a modern update in Tangled, Disney's most successful film in years. Better than Disney's last effort The Princess and the Frog, the tale of girl empowerment and romantic fluff harkens back to the best of Disney's modern golden '90s era like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, with the added virtue of some superb computer animation - and the 3D (for once) isn't too shabby either. Famed Disney composer Alan Menken was brought back for the soundtrack, but sadly it all sounds pretty generic - there are no memorable tunes to be had. Thankfully the rest of the film makes up for this: Visually, this is up there with the latest blockbuster CGI productions - the sequence with thousands of paper lanterns floating in the skies above the castle is simply splendid, but there's lots of occasions for the animation to shine. There's also lots of laughs, with comedy highlights including Rapunzel trying to stash an unconscious Flynn in her dresser, and a sing-and-dance routine in a tavern filled with ruffians. But all the bluster, humor and visual delights are second to the well-rounded characters and their relationships - the evil, manipulative (false) mother, the dashing young rogue, the wide-eyed princess and, of course, the ever-present animal sidekicks, in this case a crime-fighting horse and a pet chameleon. They all sound like stereotypes, but the writers managed to get something more out of them than the typical rehash. In the end, there's enough high-energy action and adventure to keep young ones engaged, and enough cute teen romance to keep all young princesses captivated - their parents will just enjoy what a smart, visually splendid and amusing affair this is. Sure, Tangled sticks close to the familiar Disney formula but it's a refreshingly bright, earnest and enjoyable experience that's grand entertainment for the whole family - heartily recommended.
Entertainment: 8/10

Tape (2001)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman
Director: Richard Linklater
Plot: A young indie filmmaker returns to his Michigan hometown and meets an old high-school buddy, now a small-time drug pusher, who accuses him of raping his ex-girlfriend.
Review: Obviously based on a play, Tape may have the same set boundaries but it's a definitely a gritty cinematic experience. The narrative proceeds in real time, is entirely limited to the confines of this dingy motel room and is shot completely on video - all of which succeeds in giving the film an intimate feel. The low-budget roots actually runs in its favor. The two friends are very different, but an old grudge holds them together. From quick cajoling and small talk, the conversation soon takes on a serious turn into psychological game of cat and mouse. Things quickly turn ugly, especially when the victim in question arrives, unprepared for such a confrontation. When the awaited confession finally comes, it goes awry and the story takes a turn in an unpredictable direction. The plot may be simple but the script and direction by Linklater (who also made the interesting Waking Life) make this story of human failings very engaging. The camera is constantly moving to keep things dynamic, sometimes a little too much especially when it swings between players in a conversation. But the true success is the terrific dialogue delivered with impeccable precision by three fine actors. All three make a convincing show of their characters' awkwardness, of going through a range of emotions, and wrestling with their demons as well as with one another - especially Hawke as a down-and-out loser trying to play everyone else at his own expense. With such a strong cast and tight script, Tape may be a small film, but it sure packs a punch.
Drama: 7/10

Targets (1968)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Tim O'Kelly, Arthur Peterson
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Plot: Agreeing to make one final guest appearance at a local drive-in to promote his latest film, a retiring horror movie actor comes face-to-face with a psychologically-damaged sniper who has gone on a killing spree.
Review: Acclaimed at the time of its release, the B-movie thriller Targets feels much too passé in both style and substance to be of concern to anyone but die-hard genre fans, but there's some interesting items to be had for those with the required patience. The film was originally intended as an excuse to use Karloff's remaining contractual time to make one final film, but writer / director Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), making his official debut, made the best of it. Working on a shoestring budget and following mentor / producer Roger Corman's school of cheap and speedy speedy movie-making, the film mostly transcends its limitations. The first of the two very distinct stories revolves around the aging actor and his need to retire from Hollywood life. It's a very different role for Karloff, an actor pigeon-holed into playing the heavy in classic B&W (and not-so-classic color) horror films. Performing a part that amounts to playing himself, it comes off as a sweet swan song for a man and his career, and multiple clips of his older films add to the homage. The second story is loosely based on events that occurred with a real-life University of Texas sniper in the late 60's. Crossing paths only in the very end, the two tales collide as the youth's rampage ends up at the drive-in visited by Karloff. The plot is tenuous at best and stretches perhaps more than we care to watch, with many probably asking what is the point of all the irrelevant goings-on. Yes, the film has too many long staged shots of prosaic family life and highway driving, all of which could have easily been trimmed into a one-hour genre episode. But there are some interesting themes and ideas that come out of it, from the question of the relevancy of old-style horror movies when society breeds such horrific real-life violence, to the boredom of youth, to a very aptly captured criticism of America's gun laws. With little real suspense and too-long running time, Targets is terribly dated as a serial killer thriller by modern standards, but fans of Karloff will appreciate the attention put on the classically-trained, legendary actor. 
Entertainment: 4/10

Tarzan (1999)
Starring: Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver
Director: Chris Buck, Kevin Lima
Review: As is usual for a Disney film, the animation is superb this time showcasing a new animation technique that gives objects and scenes a greater 3D aspect - very impressive. Unfortunately the plot is contrived and predictable, the songs hardly memorable, and the villain and situations unoriginal (but then, what can you expect from a film that was written by a committee of a DOZEN writers?). Still, the characters are fun to watch, and the first half of the film moves along nicely. Not as good as recent Disney offerings such as Mulan or The Lion King, but still good entertainment.
Entertainment: 7/10

Task Force (Hong Kong - 1997)
Starring: Leo Koo, Charlie Yeung, Eric Tsang
Director: Patrick Leung
Plot: During a sting operation, a young sensitive cop and his tight-knit department meet up with a charming hooker who happens to be the main squeeze of a vicious killer.
Review: Despite its title, Task Force is not another police procedural. Though the film starts off as a rather typical, light farce, it slowly picks up momentum to end up as a rather engaging mix of different genres. Indeed, the story manages to successfully dip into the elements of the romantic comedy, the urban melodrama, the triad crime thriller, and even the bullet-laden action film, all to good effect. The main reason for this is that the action is quite secondary to the story and emotions of its protagonists, relying more on a series of vignettes from the life of the people around our dour, kind-hearted hero. The multiple intertwined stories, as seen from his point of view, feature characters that are all interesting and multi-faceted, with relationships between them that are allowed to break the expected boundaries. The cast is up to the challenge, and give some fine performances, from the two leads to the array supporting actors and the singular cameo appearances, including one by director John Woo as a police captain. In the end, Task Force is an engaging film that ends up as a rather romantic take on the usual crime drama.
Drama / Entertainment: 6/10

Taste Of Cherry (Iran - 1998)
Starring: Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Plot: A middle-aged man, Baddi, drives around a Tehran quarry looking for someone who will accept a large sum of money in return for a favor - that of burying him if he is successful in a suicide attempt, or to rescue him if he is not.
Review: Taste of Cherry is a slow-moving, silent, languid film, and yet it is one that eventually becomes a fascinating adult fable. Though the cinematography may seem detached, by alternating between close-ups of the characters and long shots of the desolate, almost surreal wasteland surrounding them director Kiarostami actually enhances the aspects of the film to good effect. But what makes Taste of Cherry so powerful is how well it manages to meditate on its subject of life and death with a complete lack of melodrama; it never pushes the audience one way or the other, does not try to explain itself and presents the events and people in a very real, vivid manner. The characters Baddi picks up and drives around, and Baddi himself, ring true in their conversational meanderings and in their simplicity. In fact, we are never told why Badii wants to kill himself, it is something we must just accept. The open-ended conclusion leaves room for thought, though the very last sequence, some video takes of the actual film crew rehearsing, seems like a rude awakening to an otherwise dreamlike experience.
Drama: 8/10

Taxi (France - 1998) 
Starring: Samy Naceri, Frédéric Diefenthal, Marion Cotillard
Director: Gérard Pirès
Plot: A taxi driver who dreams of grand-prix racing is forced to help a rookie cop apprehend a gang of hot-wheeling bank robbers who seem to disappear after every caper.
Review: With a script signed Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), Taxi is a light, action-filled cop / buddy-movie that proves again that French film-making can imitate bigger Hollywood productions. Mind you, that's not necessarily a good thing: the characters are shallow, the plot thin, and the jokes flat. But multiple cars are wrecked with wild abandon, the action is constant, the actors loud and boisterous, and the pacing fast-enough that you rarely have time to realize that you've seen this all before. An entertaining little film that's more of a junk-food fix than a meal.
Action: 5/10
Entertainment: 5/10

Taxi 2 (France - 2000)
Starring: Frederic Diefenthal, Marion Cotillard, Samy Naceri
Director: Gerard Krawczyk
Plot: A speed-freak taxi driver and his cop buddy must stop a gang of Ninja / Yakuzas from destroying Franco-Nippon relations by retrieving a Japanese minister kidnapped in Marseilles.
Review: Riding on the surprise success of the comedy thriller Taxi, this quickly churned-out sequel isn't going to make it's famed writer / producer Luc Besson (director of Nikita or The Fifth Element) new fans, but neither will it tarnish his reputation too much. The script is at times either juvenile or simply dumb, and there's very little of redeeming value here except for the few well-choreographed martial arts fights and the neat cars. On the plus side, the car chases are actually quite fun and well-choreographed, if repetitive and rather unspectacular, and the campy action is at times amusing enough to be acceptable, plus it does provide one of the biggest cop car pile-ups since The Blues Brothers. There are also a few clever, funny touches to be found, but it's mostly a lot of been-there-done-that. The characters barely have time to make their mark on screen before being upshot by another car chase, which isn't a bad thing considering most of them are either silly comic caricatures or simply trying too hard to be sympathetic. What made the first installment half-way fun was the comic interactions between the two leads, something which has almost completely disappeared here in the quest for more grandiose action set ups. For those looking for another shot of car thrills and comedy, Taxi 2 can be a decent time-waster, but those expecting entertainment of the caliber of Besson's previous works will be sorely disappointed.
Entertainment: 4/10

Teacher's Pet (2004)
Starring: Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer, Shaun Fleming
Director: Timothy Bjorklund
Plot: A dog, posing as a human boy, longs to become the real thing and embarks on a quest to find a mad doctor who might make the transformation happen, all to the chagrin of his young master who simply wants him to play fetch.
Review: Based upon the Emmy-winning Saturday-morning show of the same name, Teacher's Pet might just re-invigorate the Disney's cel-animation genre, if it doesn't have parents screaming out of theaters first. This comic reinterpretation of the story of Pinocchio (with a dash of Frankenstein and Big) has at its basis the common themes of loyalty and friendship. What makes it special is the unusual, almost grotesque visual style of The New Yorker cartoonist Gary Baseman which is far removed from the clean lines we've come to expect from family films. The film is chock-full of self-referential gags, grossly exaggerated (and some just plain gross) sequences, and some really crazed, inventive surreal imagery all delivered with an over-the-top animated chaos. The rapid-fire voice acting from the likes of Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer, Jerry Stiller and Paul Reubens also brings the witty dialogue and surprisingly enjoyable, humorous musical numbers to life. However, the film has some inexplicable slow spots, mostly when conveys a feeling of sentimentality trying to show the bond between dog and boy. In these moments, the zippy pacing grinds to a halt, and so does the film. Still, Teacher's Pet is different enough, and inventive enough, that at a breakneck 68 minutes it doesn't overstay its originality remaining a welcome diversion for both young ones and more mature audiences alike.
Entertainment: 6/10

Team America: World Police (2004)
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Directors: Trey Parker
Plot: An American counter-terrorist super-team adds an actor to their ranks to infiltrate a Middle-East cell, leading them to a diabolical plan for world destruction by a North Korean dictator and a band of Hollywood liberals.
Review: The creators of the R-rated TV cartoon South Park are at it again with Team America: World Police, a genre-bending politically-stroked action / musical parody that aims to offend just about everybody. Obviously "inspired" by the popular 60's era marionette show The Thunderbirds, the film has the occasional wink to the series, but this is by no means an "homage": while the original series was very much family fare, this isn't meant for the weak-hearted: much of the humor is scatological, immature and foul-mouthed, all of which adds to its appeal for a teen fan-base. With a sense of disaster-film cinematic, the intentional low-tech effects - the plastic puppets that explode in bleeding chunks, the obvious model vehicles, etc. - play well to the impressive sets created for the film. And it all starts off strong, with the Team's inept attempt at stopping some Arab terrorists from detonating a Weapon of Mass Destruction in Paris by blowing up landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre while chewing the scenery with cliché action dialogue and little regard for citizenry. Taking aim at the Bush administration's War on Terror and America's attitudes for policing the rest of the world, the script is meant to rile up both sides of the coin, and everyone else along the way. Problem is, they try too hard and the whole affair quickly loses steam, even ending up being rather repetitive. What would have made an excellent, entertaining 45 minute spoof just drags at 90 minutes. Aiming at easy targets, it's political statement ends up almost timid, which means most US viewers might even miss the joke: North Korean leader Kim Jung II, the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.'s, get it?), even liberal Michael Moore are all lambasted but no-one worthy of note like, say, the current politicians. Of note is the great soundtrack which includes the ballad "I'm Lonely" as sung by Kim Jung II and the theme song "America, Fuck Yeah!", and an X-rated sex scene with two physiologically-challenged dolls. As a lewd and crude satire of over-the-top Bruckheimer-style action flicks, Team America delivers enough absurdity to make it work. As a political commentary, however, it's a wet firework.
Entertainment: 6/10

Tears of the Sun (2003)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Plot: After civil war breaks out, a team of Navy Seals must get a female doctor, as well as 70 of her patients, out of the Nigerian jungle as rebel militia start closing in.
Review: Tears of the Sun, an attempt at mixing the gung-ho war thriller with a new breed of international conscience, is a film with a message. It's unfortunate, then, that this message is lost with its final display of pyrotechnics. The narrative is slow moving in its first half, as if it wants to set up a meatier showdown, but when the pace finally starts up the script veers into standard action territory. The drama, and consequences, feel and sound as fake as any of the mass-produced products out of Hollywood, with the heroes once again white and American, the "bad guys" never fleshed out, and the plot force-fed to the audience. The screenplay doesn't really delve much into the whys and hows of things, keeping things simple and straight-forward, and irritably allowing some major plot flaws and clichés to creep in. Not that it's a complete failure: The suspense not badly drawn and the fights are well staged, especially the final 15 minute confrontation allowing for the requisite explosions, gunfire and heroism. The filmmakers also deserve some credit for trying to bring up a subject that is rarely touched upon, that of the bloody ethnic wars raging in Africa - a butchery that is shown with horrifying detail on the screen. It's too bad it's all brought to the screen in such a melodramatic form to fit a mainstream action flick that it provides but a shallow take on a very complex issue. After the surprising, gritty cop-drama Training Day, director Fuqua seems to have taken a step back to his usual mainstream tricks that failed him in Bait and The Replacement Killers. However, it's impeccably shot, the film taking a break every occasion it gets to let the screen bathe in the lush green beauty of the surroundings. Willis can play these roles in his sleep, and seems to here. Bellucci seems completely unlikely as a doctor, and never really acts the part. Well-intentioned, but summarily shallow, Tears of the Sun might provide an action fix to those in the need, but disappoints those expecting more than over-the-top melodrama in the end. For a better take on similar themes, see Black Hawk Down.
Entertainment / Drama: 4/10

The Terminal (2004)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot: Stuck for an indefinte period in the terminal of a New York airport when a coup in his homeland makes his papers invalid, an Eastern European traveler takes up residence as best he can.
Review: Though seemingly implausible, the story of The Terminal is loosely based on the sad, real-life situation of an Iranian stuck in a Paris terminal since 1988. Of course, this was made as a summer movie venture and the events here are nowhere near reality and much of it is rather preposterous, but the third teaming between director Spielberg and Hanks (after Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can) makes for enjoyable fare. The closed eco-system of the airport (a huge set recreates every detail of JFK) and its denizens is supposed to play as optimistic allegory to a post-9/11 America. Sure, the story offers up loads of sweet sentimentality, facile stereotypical traits and easy solutions to the main character's woes; throw in some multi-ethnic supporting characters into the mix and you get a politically-correct dramedy that's pure fantasy. Still, that it's lightweight and rather vapid doesn't make a difference: the uplifting Capraesque tale is told with Spielberg's usual story-telling flair and assurance, the cast seems to breeze through the material effortlessly, and there's really no villain apart from political red-tape - that is, if you discount Tucci's uptight but infinitely civil airport chief. At the center of it all, of course, is Hanks who seems to be in Forrest Gump mode half the time, naive to the ways of America but not so dumb when it comes to human nature. His is an exaggerated, sprightly performance that keeps the protagonist - and the film - charming enough and interesting enough to keep our attention as our hero finds some inventive ways to beat the terminal doldrums. If The Terminal ends up being a sweet, unmemorable comedy it wins thanks to Spielberg's obvious touches and his ease with mainstream formulas, and for that at least it's worth the trip.
Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* The Terminator (1984)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton
Director: James Cameron
Plot: To ensure its survival in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by machines, a sentient computer sends a robot assassin back in time to kill the woman whose unborn son will be the leader of humanity's rebellion.
Review: Originally dismissed as a low-budget exploitation action flick, The Terminator proved to be a breakout film for both Cameron (Aliens, Terminator 2) and Schwarzenegger. The plot, culled from stuff like the Outer Limits and Frankenstein, sets the premise for a film that has all the makings of a B-movie. And yet Cameron manages to constantly surprise with his guerilla filmmaking, fabulous story-telling ability and an interesting script. The main drive for the film is action and suspense, and with a bevy of thrilling set pieces (including violent gun battles, scorching car chases and futuristic warfare) and interesting plot twists, it delivers this in spades. Due to the film's low budget there's an economy of special effects, yet the ones on display are perfectly set-up and well-produced, working wonderfully to create the mood necessary to push the story forward. Thanks to Schwarzenegger the human version of the Terminator is a frightening, believable killing machine. Biehn, however, really carries the picture, exuding energy and presence. In all its guilty pleasures this is indeed the ultimate B-movie: Though done quickly and on the cheap, it is nonetheless entertaining, intense, deftly crafted and satisfying. More than a simple cult film, The Terminator is one of the most influential films of the 80's and a true sci-fi classic. (Check out the extended review!)
Entertainment: 9/10

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Director: James Cameron
Plot: A rebel leader sends a killing machine in human form back in time into the present to protect 
himself as a child from an even more advanced Terminator model.
Review: Terminator 2 is easily one of the most memorable and most thrilling action films ever made. A direct sequel to the film that put both Schwarzenegger and director Cameron (Aliens, Titanic) on the map, T2 became the most expensive film ever made - and every dollar spent is shows on screen. From the chaotic action-packed prologue set in the future, to its jaw-dropping daredevil stunts, the film provides one terrific nail-biting roller-coaster ride. The real clincher, though, is that the film keeps the excitement and interest going even between these adrenaline-pumping moments with a solid script, humorous moments, clever touches and good character interaction. Though the computer effects may not be as impressive now as they were during the movie's release, they are still convincing and only add to a great story. No doubt about it, Terminator 2 is Cameron's masterpiece - a compelling and fascinating piece of Hollywood-styled blockbuster filmmaking, and one that only gets better with repeated viewings. 
Entertainment: 9/10

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Plot: 10 years after escaping certain death, humanity's would-be savior John Connor must once again escape a powerful Terminatrix sent from the future and shut down Skynet, aided by an obsolete Terminator robot.
Review: A decade in the making, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had a lot to live up to. On the one hand it does provide some of the most impressive action sequences of the series (and of the summer), but completely gone is the magic that made the first Terminator such a classic. Director Mostow (U-571) does a fine, efficient job at getting things rolling, and knows to linger on the action bits, but the film can't find a way to provide a smooth transition between the explosive and quieter moments. Gone as well is that uneasy, creepy feeling of neo-noir that marked James Cameron's work replaced by an over-reliance on CGI and a too-slick sheen. The atmosphere is also more tongue-in-cheek (like the opening parody to T2) and, added to the lack of effective characterization, reduces the necessary tension to make us care for what's happening. There are a few attempts at an overall plot, including a bit of romance and some twists (and winks) to the previous story (including a set-up for a sequel), but the script just isn't up to making this anything more than a standard (if above average) summer fare. All this is not to say this isn't a solid action flick, on the contrary there's much to appeal jaded fans including some first-rate special effects, an impressive car chase featuring a huge mobile crane / truck that destroys a few city blocks, and more. Unfortunately, much of it feels like just a re-hash of Terminator 2, including the mano-a-mano fight between the two Terminators, and Arnie's shoot out with an army of cops. Schwarzenegger is still excellent after so many years, showing off the same presence in the role that made him a star. Stahl and Danes don't stretch their acting chops, but they hold their own. For those fans of the original, Terminator 3 may be somewhat of a disappointment, but for less demanding viewers it's a fine addition to the summer's entertainment.
Entertainment: 7/10

Terminator Salvation (2009)
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood
Director: McG
Plot: In a post-apocalyptic world where machines and humans battle it out for survival, a group of resistance fighters led by John Connor prepare a final assault against Skynet.
Review: 25 years after the original low-budget Terminator hit theatres by storm and elevated Schwarzenegger to stardom, the appeal of the dystopian world has not abated and the time may have seemed ripe for another entry in the undying franchise. Enter Terminator Salvation, a film meant to bring the series to a new generation. Maybe so, but it's an excess of sound and fury, kinetic action sequences sold under the auspices of a darker reboot of the franchise (it's not), one that blasts its audience senseless in the best tradition of video games, but not of engaging cinematic experiences. Not that director McG (Charlie's Angels) doesn't want to pound his audience into submission with all the blockbuster techniques and pyrotechnics he can muster, but with all the mind-numbing excesses, it's clear that he's missed the point. Surprisingly, parts of it feels like it's cribbing off Resident Evil: Extinction albeit with war machines instead of zombies. The script offers little to care about apart from the next battle and even Bale, as the adult John Connor, has little character development, relegated to lots of posturing and a dour demeanor as his only trait. But this isn't even a movie about Connor, really - the central character is a new one, ably played by Worthington as a man who wakes up 15 years after being executed. The mystery is telegraphed early, and anyone who is familiar with the series will find the revelations predictable, but it's a nice twist that is relegated to a banal resolution. Fans of no-holds barred explosive, futuristic action will be in for a treat thanks to some great special effects, numerous explosions, dynamic camera work and editing, and strong (if bland) production values - and it does look like, well, 100 million bucks. There's also a slew of new Terminator types, from gun-toting motorcycle models to six-story tall monsters, and they're all well rendered. But those looking for the simple - but much more effective - B-movie thrills and chills of the original Terminator, or the engaging storyline and characters that went along the superb action bits of the sequel, will be sorely disappointed. The dialogue is minimal, the atmosphere pervasive, and the plot reheated. Gone also is any of the humor; the familiar lines are in place ("I'll be back", "Come with me if you want to live") but they're throwaway moments. In fact the only laughs to be had are unintentional. By the time the climactic scene is over, a mano-a-mano fight between cyborg, terminator and human amongst a Skynet assembly line - a rip (sorry, "homage") to the one in Terminator 2 - it's clear that this whole affair was done by people who were fans of the originals, but didn't really understand what made them tick. In the end, Terminator Salvation shows a dearth of imagination and risk-taking by the part of the filmmakers and their production company. It's a slick, dark, popcorn film with no soul - and a vapid addition to the franchise.
Entertainment: 6/10

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1978)
Starring: Katsuhiko Sasakai, Tomoko Ai
Director: Inoshiro Honda
Plot: Godzilla must battle two alien-controlled monsters intent on destroying Tokyo while Interpol agents seek out the whereabouts of the invaders.
Review: An average, but entertaining, Godzilla flick. As usual, it takes a little while to get going with the presentation of the throw-away characters, the megalomaniacal rantings of the villains, and the bumbling of the "forces of good". The second half is the real show, as the monsters battle it out mano-a-mano, with the guys in rubber suits swaggering and fighting like Saturday-morning wrestlers. The fake-looking miniature sets are also blown up with such wild abandon that its easy to excuse the low-budget effects throughout the film. Full of unavoidable bad dialogue, primitive, silly effects, and even sillier plot, Terror of Mechagodzilla still manages to be a fun installment in the Japanese Gojira series of the '60s and '70s.
Entertainment: 5/10

Thank You for Smoking (2006)
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, William H. Macy, Cameron Bright
Director: Jason Reitman
Plot: A charming big-tobacco lobbyist and spokesman spins the truth on the dangers of cigarettes while trying to be a good role model to his twelve year old son.
Review: An independent production that's terrifically engaging and never loses sight of its message and characters, Thank You for Smoking is a well-executed satire that comments on both the underhanded ways of the Tobacco industry as well as the people who oppose them. Kudos, too, for a filmmaker to delve into our pre-conceived notions of Big Tobacco with some dead-on parodies while other moments give food for thought. It's a satire that comments on both the underhanded ways of the cigarette makers as well as the people who oppose them, never missing a beat to roast both sides. The real message here is on our right to choose, and if Americans should be listening to either side. The script - a crisp, tightly plotted script adaptation of Christopher Buckley's take-no-prisoners novel - never takes itself too seriously and provide for some great entertainment and, when required, some real dramatic heft. But it's in the way that it cares for its main character that makes it comes up aces. Working from such good material, freshman director Reitman (son of Ivan) creates a slick-looking and effective affair thanks to some warm and inviting cinematography and a good sense of pacing and storytelling. And let's face it: leading man Eckhart is simply an engaging guy, one of these still unrecognized actors who continuously has interesting roles, always coming off as charismatic, sympathetic, and smart. The rest of the cast - including a bevy of star cameos ranging from Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall and Katie Holms - is also quite strong, especially Bright as the son who gives a glowing performance as a student of his father's techniques. For filmgoers tired of the usual stuff, Thank You for Smoking is (excuse the pun) a breath of fresh air that is as likely to tickle as it is to provoke discussion.
Comedy / Drama: 8/10

Them! (1954)
Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon
Director: Gordon Douglas
Plot: A local Arizona cop discovers a nest of giant ants mutated by atomic bomb tests in the desert and soon finds himself joining an FBI agent and the entire resources of the US army to help destroy a colony bent on overrunning Los Angeles.
Review: The main precursor to the "atomically revived or mutated beings" that plagued the '50s sci-fi movie genre (think Tarantula, Godzilla, The Deadly Mantis, etc.), Them! is quite arguably the greatest, best giant mutated insect movie ever made. It also brought about the standards used later such as the fear of radiation in the Atomic Age, the threat against civilian centers, etc. One of the reasons it works so well even now is that it avoids the camp of other flicks by taking itself and its subject matter quite seriously, following its own logic, and providing some real tension and thrills. It also helped that it had an obviously big budget to work with, something its successors lacked. The narrative which keeps its monstrous stars a mystery until a good way into the film, showing only the results of their rampage, works well to provide a certain suspense. As formulaic as it may seem now, the approach was actually quite original at the time. When we finally see the ants, obviously full-size mechanical contraptions, they might seem quite laughable to modern audiences raised on computer effects in films such as Eight Legged Freaks, but the filmmakers wisely limit their movements and keep them mostly in the shadows. Sure the logic and various plot holes may make us groan on occasion (ants wouldn't be able to support their own weight at that size, for one) but despite these moments the film still remains engaging. Director Douglas keeps things moving along and manages to bring a creepy atmosphere to the proceedings, especially when entering the ant's nests. The cast is made up of the usual characters - the gruff everyman, the handsome FBI agent, and the eccentric, absent-minded professor. One nice surprise is that the requisite damsel is a smart cookie (she's a Doctor in Anthropology) and doesn't provide an excuse to be rescued. Despite its dated effects and now-silly premise, Them! still remains a classic of the 1950's sci-fi era thanks to its smart script and its thriller sensibilities.
Entertainment: 8/10

There's Something About Mary (1998)
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller
Director: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Plot: A long-lasting crush leads a man to hire a private investigator to find his high-school sweetheart. But when the crude investigator falls for her too, complications set in.
Review: The Farrelly brothers (Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin) have always exhibited a sense of very low brow humor in their films. This one may well top all of them: it's crude, often gross, and even shocking. A handful of memorable scenes will even make most people cringe (the zipper and gel scene immediately come to mind!). But the story is consistently inventive and funny and you can't help yourself but laugh at the politically incorrect, and sometimes plain mean, humor that populates the film. The cast is terrific, and all the characters play their parts with over-the-top intensity and great comic timing. But above all There's Something About Mary ends up, surprisingly, being a warm and very endearing romantic comedy. Definitely recommended if you're able to put up with some occasionally crass humor. 
Comedy: 8/10

They Came Back (France - 2004)
Starring: Geraldine Pailhas, Jonathan Zaccai, Frédéric Pierrot
Director: Robin Campillo
Plot: Overnight a small French town tries to cope as best it can when it is overrun with thousands of the recently dead, eager to reintegrate into society.
Review: They Came Back is not your typical zombie film, that's for sure: no gory limb rendering, no flesh-eating, no decomposed corpses - this is a drama first and not a horror film. Think Night of the Living Dead with a European twist. Focusing on three generations of returnees - a young son, a thirty-something lover, and a middle-aged wife - the film promises to explore the deep social and emotional ramifications of their return to their families. What are the perceptions of the living, seeing them again after having dealt with their initial loss? How do they deal with them coming back? How does society as a whole survive with thousands of people coming back into the world and wanting to reintegrate? The idea and concept are terrific and could have made for an exceptionally challenging film despite its obvious budget restrictions. Unfortunately the execution and script are somewhat lacking, keeping everything at a shallow level without going into real specifics or taking any chances with the issues at hand. It's also pretty slow going with not much dialogue, preferring to linger on series of long, deep looks of grief and regret. The cast is good and they do give the necessary sense of sadness but though they may be affecting, all these internalized emotions do not make for an interesting exploration into the issues raised. The climax sees these "zombies" go on a rampage, with the army called in to intervene and blow them away, but there's no apparent reason for this sudden change. The ending is rather anti-climactic, with them going back to the beyond and leaving only shattered people in their wake. And there's never a reason given for their appearance in the first place - did they return only to provide solace to their grieving loved ones? They Came Back is clearly meant as a drama, a fairy-tale for adults more than a typical zombie film and for that alone it earns some extra marks; too bad the filmmakers couldn't follow-through with their set-up to make it truly special.
Drama: 5/10

They Live (1988)
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
Director: John Carpenter
Plot: A drifter seeking work stumbles on a group of rebels fighting a conspiracy between free-enterprising aliens and the human elite to subjugate Earth's population and exploit its resources.
Review: Made at the peak of writer / director Carpenter's (Halloween, The Thing) B-movie / exploitation flick career, They Live is an over-the-top satire on 1980's corporate greed wrapped in a sci-fi confection. Sure the "aliens among us" theme has been revisited countless times before, but never this single-mindedly. The action and story are well-paced, and the crew does pretty well on what was obviously a limited budget, with just the right amount of effects (and bad alien make-up) to make the premise convincing enough. The highlight, though, is when our hero first puts on the special sunglasses that let him see his surroundings unclouded by the alien hypnosis and walks around in a black-and-white world where billboards actually scream messages like "Obey", "Marry and Reproduce" and dollar bills are inscribed with "This is your God". Sure, in trying to present the dangers of subliminal messages and media bombardment (TV is shown as an electronic narcotic) Carpenter's message is damn obvious, but this is a film that screams exploitation excess. Unfortunately, the mood of the film does a sharp turn mid-way through once the aliens are revealed and the socially-conscious elements take second-seat to an (admittedly fun) piece of silly shoot-'em-up mayhem, starting off with a absurd five-minute long brawl. Surprisingly, former pro-wrestler Piper plays the blue-collar everyman pretty well, coming off naive and dewy-eyed or chewing the scenery as necessary. Character actors David and Foster work off him pretty well, too. As an amusing piece of shlock cinema, and an over-the-top satire of corporate greed, They Live is simply a whole lot of giddy, campy fun.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Thing (1982)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter
Director: John Carpenter
Plot: An Arctic research expedition, cut off by the start of winter, discovers that a terrifying shape-changing alien once frozen in the ice is now amongst them, infecting and killing each team member in order to survive.
Review: After Alien in 1979 it's probably The Thing that helped to redefine the horror film most by placing the action in a science-fiction setting, playing on the classic themes of isolation and fear of the unknown. An adaptation of the classic Joseph Campbell science-fiction short story "Who Goes There?", this version is in fact much more faithful to it than another popular '50s sci-fi film, The Thing From Another World. Though the premise may be purely sci-fi, the film is really a pure horror film that delivers the kind of experience that elicits an emotional response from the audience with the use of its dark, creepy atmosphere, its grisly, other-worldy terror, the claustrophobic interiors, the remote and desolate snow-filled landscapes plus an eerie, minimalist score from Ennio Morricone. Carpenter (Dead Zone, Prince of Darkness) is a master at unnerving, even disturbing, mainstream horror and knows how to keep his audience on the edge of their seats, and this is his masterpiece. Using some effective film-making techniques along with good camera work, some clever contrasts of lights and shadows, an efficient pacing, and just the right amount of authenticity in the proceedings makes it all the more exciting. The idea of having the shape-changing Thing ignore any specific form allows for some truly outrageous Awards-winning special effects scenes that are repeated during the movie with increasing horror and imagination. These sequences are usually graphically violent and shocking in its disruption, and raise the film another notch in the appreciation scale. The cast of character actors are briefly, but adequately, defined so that their feeling of dread towards this unknown force is almost palpable. Indeed, the members of the Antarctic community fall into an ever-increasing paranoia, and its the dynamics of this breakdown that really drive the narrative and make the film such a successful entry in the horror genre. Indeed, the film has an intelligent, intriguing story that is well told, with a tight script that delivers some intense thrills, and a good level of suspense and unpredictability, as well as some terrific, memorable movie dialogue. Finally, the film ends on a very ambiguous, even morbid, note as all good horror films should and leaves many questions unanswered, keeping the mystery intact. With its constant feeling of tension, a smart script, and some gruesome effects, The Thing is clearly the best, and most interesting, American horror film of the '80s, and a true classic of the genre. (For a slightly academic take on the film, check out my essay on Modern Horror in Science Fiction written a while back.)
Horror: 9/10

Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (2000)
Starring: Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Calista Flockhart
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Plot: A woman's suicide interconnects the stories of five women of different ages, professions and social situation trying to cope with their relationships and their loneliness.
Review: Passing through the cracks of normal, mainstream dramas, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her is more akin to popular, critically acclaimed TV fare such as If These Walls Could Talk, and as such never had a chance at a theater release. The film consists of five loosely connected stories of women, their relationships, and a general modern female malaise. Thanks to an extensive A-list cast, director Garcia manages to get us involved in each one of these stories with seeming ease, and the subtleties and freshness of the script, even through some heavy-handed moments, allow for a compelling experience. Yet there isn't enough time to properly flesh out these instances and it all ends up only as well-made, intimate vignettes that don't quite allow us to really delve into the characters and their stories completely. Still, this is a powerful, deeply felt drama that, if nothing else, is an excellent showcase for these terrific actresses, giving them a chance to truly shine in roles that are rarely seen in American movies. Though the likes of Cameron Diaz and Flockhart provide some compelling stuff, Bates as a single-mother romantically intrigued by her new dwarf neighbor and Hunter as a tough bank manager faced with having an abortion are the real highlights. As a portrait of the lives of a standard mix of modern-day women, Things You Can Tell is a poignant, small-scale drama that will be remembered for its satisfying performances.
Drama: 7/10

*Classic* The Thin Man (1934)
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Plot: A former detective and his wealthy wife take time out of their busy socializing to investigate the disappearance of a rich inventor that turns into a case of multiple murder.
Review: The first and best in a popular series, The Thin Man introduced a new character in the gentleman-detective and quickly became a classic. Half comedy, half mystery, this is thoroughly enjoyable and engaging stuff that's well told, well acted and all in all an accomplished piece of Hollywood fare. Dashiell Hammett is renown for his tough-guy detective novels that helped create the Film Noire, but here he plays with the genre to give a surprisingly light-hearted take on the usual characters and mystery, exchanging his hard drinking loner-type for a glamorous, drunken team of wealthy urbanites. The script, based on his book, keeps all the witty dialogue we've come to expect and adds some remarkably playful repartee, especially between the two part-time sleuths and full-time dilettantes who are more prone to another drink than solving the case. The murder-mystery is rather familiar to anyone who has seen any sort of detective film of the last few decades, but more than the mystery - which is resolved in very Agatha Christie like fashion around the dining room table with all the suspects at hand - it's the camaraderie, debonair attitude and sizzling banter between the married sleuths that make this such a hit. Even as all the usual stereotypes make an appearance, it's the interaction with our laissez-faire heroes that really makes it so entertaining. In fact, the teaming of Powell and Loy is an absolute delight, and they made such a terrific pair that the two co-starred in countless movies afterward. Hats off as well to the easy-going, swift direction by - and able comic timing of - Van Dyke which ensures that there's never a dull moment to be had. Nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, The Thin Man is fast-paced and universally appealing, making it classic fare that stands the test of time.
Entertainment: 9/10

Thirteen Days (2000)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Roger Donaldson
Plot: In October 1962, president Kennedy and his White House staff face impending nuclear war when the Soviet Union installs nuclear missiles in Cuba, 5 minutes away from the U.S. mainland.
Review: Thirteen Days is a penetrating dramatization of The Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the tensest moments not only of JFK's career, but of the Cold War era as well. Even though the outcome is a historical fact, the interesting, nail-biting script slowly but consistently builds the suspense while always keeping a grasp on the human element (and inner politicking) at every stage of the conflict, from the military, to the diplomats, to the families. True, some parts are over-simplified, others barely alluded to (such as The Bay of Pigs, the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba, an important event that pushed the installation of the weapons in the first place), and the military is seen as simple gung-ho patriots, but it does a good job of giving an overview of the men and events that shaped this game of cat and mouse. The cast is convincing all around, even Costner in his Texas drawl, but it's Greenwood as JFK and Culp as his brother that are the real stand-outs here. Thirteen Days is solid, classic filmmaking in the best sense and a harrowing view of how close the world came to nuclear war.
Drama: 8/10

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary
Director: John McTiernan
Plot: For the thrill of the game, a wealthy businessman steals a priceless Monet from the Metropolitan museum only to be seduced by the veteran female investigator in charge of retrieving the painting.
Review: A superior remake to the original 70's film starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, The Thomas Crown Affair is efficient escapist fun that gives the story a modern twist and some much-needed spice. This is an adult date movie with a two-word summary: fun and sexy. Showing a definite sense of playfulness at the situations, and allowing some steamy scenes between its two protagonists, it deftly manages the changes in settings and pacing (from the business world to the art world, with a detour into paradise along the way). For much of the running time, it's trip into how the rich spend their weekends - incredible mansions, jet-setting lifestyle, and expensive presents. The rest, it's a cat-and-mouse game of criminal intent, half the fun being in guessing in what clever way the painting will be replaced in the heavily guarded museum in the end. For director McTiernan (best known for his powerhouse action / thrillers like Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October) this is a refreshing departure. Though it's no surprise he has the eye for getting the heists just right, he also manages the more intimate settings and romantic moments just as well, making for a smooth, slick affair. Brosnan is at his Remington Steele best, the incredibly suave and debonair gentleman thief. But it's Russo who steals the show: she's terrific and though she vamps it up a tad, it's nice to see a more mature woman taking the role and really pushing it. Of primary importance to this type of film, however, it's that they have good chemistry together, and they do making a great pair of dueling adversaries. Check out Faye Dunaway in a fun throwaway cameo role as the psychiatrist. All told, The Thomas Crown Affair might not be very filling, and much of it is quite forgettable once the credits roll, but it's an engaging little caper while it lasts.
Entertainment: 6/10

Thor (2011) 
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Plot: Exiled for his disobedience and stripped of his powers, the god-warrior Thor must find a way to stop his brother Loki from taking over the kingdom of Asgard while protecting his new-found companions on Earth.
Review: Of all the classic Marvel Comics super-heroes of the Silver Age created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc) Thor was definitely the biggest challenge to bring to the screen: a golden-haired Viking god of thunder, with all the high-fantasy trappings of Asgard and its myriad of monsters and heroes, mixed in with the modern-day adventures on Earth. To make it work, you needed a story and a helmer that both knew how to balance the mythological with the mundane, the kitsch with the pathos. Enter director Branagh - he of the superb Shakespearean adaptations of Hamlet, Henry V and others - an inspired choice to take the well-tuned (and fan-friendly) script and characters to the screen. There's no origin story, but in less than two hours audiences get an introduction to Norse mythology and its pantheon of characters, a budding romance, fish-out-of-water humor, and enough adventure to satisfy even jaded movie-goers. The fight with the aptly-named The Destroyer is particularly well done. Sure, the use of sets and CGI are obvious, especially in the city of the gods, but Branagh impresses there with splendid, regal visuals full of pageantry and eye-popping colors, and with an eye for action that keeps the focus on his characters and the story at hand. Fans of the comics may twitch at the way the filmmakers have cleverly side-stepped the reliance on "magic", making the Asgardians a technologically-superior race and their powers only "appear" to be god-like, but it works. The leads are great: as the titular hero, Hemsworth's physique, piercing eyes and shit-eating-grin will win the hearts of women everywhere, and he exudes an easy charm and presence that makes him perfect for the part, and who can resist Portman as the scientist-turned-love-interest? The supporting cast also stands out, from a grand-standing Hopkins as father Odin, to the villainous, twisted, scene-stealing performance by Tom Hiddleston as half-brother and trickster Loki. It's not perfect, however: the characters are barely developed, the Earthly adventures are stuck in a second-rate desert town, and there's a certain lack of focus - it's fun to see cameos and sub-plots tying in to the rest of the Marvel universe, but the insistence on setting up next year's The Avengers takes up too much space. But that's nit-picking; the producers wanted a cool, entertaining start to a new franchise and that's exactly what we got. Thor is big, loud and fun, making it a perfect stepping stone for the next chapter in the series.
Entertainment: 7/10

Three Colors: Blue (France/Poland - 1993)
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Benoit Regent, Florence Pernel
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Plot: The wife of a famous composer, who died with their daughter in a car crash, tries to disappear in anonymity but is haunted by the memories around her and his last, unfinished composition.
Review: Emotional and vivid, Blue is another mature, well-crafted film by director Kieslowski (The Double Life of Véronique, The Decalogue). Juliette Binoche does a bravura performance as a character still in shock, trying to expunge her past, her memory, her own identity to be free from the emotional burden of her family's death and realizing she can no longer feel any emotional attachment to anything or anyone. The script is subtle and contemplative, using simple visual cues, expressions and color instead of overbearing dialogue to pack an emotional wallop as we try to break into the mystery of the widow's thoughts. Kieslowski uses the film to broach ideas of liberty, not in a social context but on an individual one. Aided also by his habitual striking visual style, interesting images, and delicate cinematography, the film edges into the surreal. Powerful and delicate at the same time, Blue is a captivating drama. Part of the Three Colors trilogy, followed by White and Red.
Drama: 9/10

Three Colors: White (1994)
Starring: Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Plot: When his French wife divorces him and leaves him penniless, a hairdresser living in Paris is forced to return to his native Poland where he plots his return, and his revenge.
Review: The second part of director Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy (Blue, White and Red), White is a lighter comedy / drama on the theme of equality. The story revolves around the inequality of a doomed relationship, of the hardships of the Pole in a foreign country, and his redemption and success in his own land. The parallels between the protagonist and Kieslowski's own experiences with France, a land that he loved and admired but which he said didn't really understand him, is quite telling. Evoking this twisted love-story and its main character's weaknesses, the script is full of irony, charm, and some funny moments as the Pole plunges into the black-market economy to fulfill his need for money. The ending though, with its use of faintly surreal circumstances and the sometimes jarring narrative jumps required to fulfill the scorned husband's Machiavellian plot, leaves us unconvinced. Still, the subtle, evocative style and cinematography along with the interesting use of colors that we expect from the series is still quite evident. Though not as successful as its predecessor Blue, White is still an engaging, amusing tale.
Drama: 7/10

Three Kings (1999)
Starring: George Clooney, Mark Walhberg, Ice Cube
Director: David O. Russell
Plot: At the end of the Gulf War, four soldiers decide to raid an Iraqi bunker to steal gold bullion taken from Kuwait and find themselves in the middle of the failed civil uprising.
Review: Three Kings starts in the same vein as some of the great war satires (like M*A*S*H and Catch-22), with some exaggerated character antics, and disturbingly funny situations all helped by an interesting film style. The drama quickly takes center stage and vividly shows the dark side of the Gulf War's aftermath with the message that while the US patted itself on the back, the Iraqi civilians were the real victims of this war. Unfortunately, the film quickly loses steam less than half-way through the movie. By trying to become an "important"TM movie, Hollywood-style, it ponders along, becomes preachy, turns into a gung-ho action film, and loses all of its satiric and visceral power. Some moments do shine through, but they can't help overcome the shallowness of the last half of the story or the Hollywood ending that diminishes its pointed message. A good film, with good intentions, that falls short of its aspirations.
Drama: 5/10
Entertainment: 7/10

Throne of Blood (Japan - 1957)
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Plot: Tempted by greed and fear, a loyal Samurai turns against his master and comrades when a forest witch prophesizes that he will rule over his Lord's castle.
Review: Replacing the setting from the Scotland Middle-Ages to feudal Japan, legendary director Kurosawa (The Seven Samurai, Rashomon) has created with Throne of Blood an interesting adaptation of Shakespeare's bloodiest work, Macbeth. The script does take liberties, of course, but the essence of the play, the journey through darkness and despair, remains. Eschewing the wordy dialogue of the original story, he presents the tale in the formal, highly stylized manner of a traditional Japanese Noh drama. As such, the actors show exaggerated emotions and body language, from Mifune's electrifying performance in the Macbeth role, full of crazed looks and enraged movements, to the cold stoicism of his wife, our attention focused on them thanks to the shadowy, minimal interiors. The exteriors, however, show off the play's dark, supernatural elements with the use of some stunning visuals, such as the gloomy labyrinthine forest leading to the castle, or the swirling mist surrounding the mountains and impeding those who cross it, an army of heavily armored soldiers on horseback disappearing into the bizarre fog. Unlike most of the director's works, the film is more "Japanese" in its use of long takes and minimal camera movements, all still showing off some fine cinematography. The final death scene, as Mifune agonizingly collapses under streams of arrows from his own troops, is a classic moment of cinema. While Throne of Blood isn't as dynamic or "westernized" as Kurosawa's more popular films, it is a powerful, evocative offering.
Drama / Entertainment: 8/10

Thunderbirds (2004)
Starring: Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Brady Corbet
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Plot: A billionaire ex-astronaut and his elder sons form an international rescue team equipped with fantastic rocket-based vehicles, but when a diabolical villain has them trapped in space it's up to the youngest sibling to save the day.
Review: Thunderbirds is the long-awaited live-action adaptation of the much-loved 60's "Supermarionation" series. Hoping to entice a new, younger crowd it only ends up marring our memory of the original show. On the plus side, there's still a nostalgic thrill from seeing the CGI ships go into action and hearing the cry of "Thunderbirds are go!". Kudos also for the gorgeous production of the Island and sets. The opening credits are great, especially since it retains the original theme and pokes fun at the premise with some amusing animation. Even the opening rescue operation promises some good times, but it's all downhill from there. Fans of the original series will be disappointed to see that the real Team is only relegated to the background (as victims, no less) while the series' secondary characters (and mostly the uninteresting kids) take the spotlight. When the action revolves around the adults (and a particularly serious Bill Paxton as the patriarch) it's actually quite effective, but when it moves on to the kids (for the majority of the running time) it loses it. Part of the problem is that the young actors just don't have what it takes, and they're not helped by the shallow, lame-duck script and the banal "coming-of-age" drama. Oh, there's lots of neat gadgets and colorful vehicles show up (probably to sell another line of toys), but there's little actual inventiveness, originality or real chutzpah to these proceedings. The makers were perhaps aiming to grab some of the Spy Kids franchise popularity but with none of the charm or energy it's only a toned-down, dumbed-down version of that family gem. Director Franke (Star Trek: First Contact) does great on the "serious" stuff but he can't get the rest to be anything other than pedestrian. With its lack of hoodwinks, wit and its limited action, this isn't really a family film but a kids film - anyone over five will probably be non-plussed. Not helping things are the silly villains, with Kingsley just hamming it up to ridiculous excess. One high point is Sophia Myles who does a terrific 60's Avengers Emma Peel imitation as Lady Penelope. Too bad the movie isn't focused on her. In the end, there are some high points, but it's for naught: this ho-hum Thunderbirds is a sad way to remember the classic series.
Entertainment: 4/10

Thunderbolt (Hong Kong - 1996)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen, Michael Wong
Director: Gordon Chan
Plot: A master mechanic and part-time auto racer must compete on the race track against a psychotic killer who has kidnapped his sisters.
Review: Preceding recent American car movies by a few years, Thunderbolt is a different sort of action film for its international star, and sometimes a disappointing mainstream effort. Best known for his rather clownish, bumbling characters, Chan plays the role straight here and is much better for it. The acrobatics and intricate fight scenes, however, remain the best set pieces of the film, particularly the fight scene where the hero, ridiculously outnumbered, takes on a gang of Yakuza in a gambling parlor - it isn't terribly original from the man who gave us Drunken Master 2, but with the help of fight choreographer Sammo Hung it sure is exciting and well done. Though nitpicking fans might notice that some of these scenes use stunt doubles, Chan still shows he's still the Man. The problem is in the other stuff: The film shows off some decent car chases here and there, but though this was the biggest budgeted Hong Kong film of its time, it can't quite match the quality of its Hollywood counterparts. The final car race may be a bit too long, with the accidents and mishaps looking terribly fake and unconvincing; though it wants to be, it just isn't as spectacular as more recent efforts such as Driven. Still, while the story is rather bland, as are the characters, things move along in a sprightly fashion, director Gordon Chan (2000 A.D.) having produced another slick product. Though a rather pedestrian feature for Chan, Thunderbolt is still a rather fun flick for those looking for a dose of light Hong Kong entertainment.
Entertainment: 5/10

Tiger Cage (Hong Kong - 1988)
Starring: Jacky Cheung, Donnie Yen, Simon Yam
Director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Plot: Two young cops become mired in betrayals, murders and double-crosses when they realize that officers in their department are working for an international drug trafficker.
Review: Tiger Cage is vintage 80's Hong Kong action flick where low budgets only accentuated the need for fast pacing, theatrics, and two-fisted violence. A lot of the story and plot twists are pretty much by-the-numbers, with the necessary romantic melodrama as well as some occasionally silly antics thrown in to a rather ho-hum "police corruption" story. But that's not the point: from a solid beginning involving a scene with lengthy gunplay, to the kick-ass conclusion, director Yuen Woo Ping (Iron Monkey, The Matrix) shows off his talent for this sort of stuff with a good half-dozen violent, furious fight sequences, making even Cheung look like a natural. The choreography isn't as expert or original as some of his other films, but it does deliver, and the intensity always builds up a notch. The film also does well with a good cast of up-and-coming stars, with a special note to an over-the-top Yam and to Donnie Yen who, though he doesn't get nearly enough screen time, is spectacular in one impressive martial arts scene. Though not great, Tiger Cage is an above-average action thriller that has all the ingredients for a good, mindless action outing.
Entertainment: 6/10

Tigerland (2000)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Plot: Before being shipped out to Vietnam in 1971, a group of young draftees endure the hardships of a Louisiana boot-camp training and get influenced for good and bad by a charismatic anti-war recruit.
Review: Tigerland is one of those little-seen and little-known productions that sneak up on you and just plain surprise you. Though it takes place during the era of the Vietnam War, the film isn't about the conflict so much as it is about the young people joining the Army against their will and conscience, and a look at the tension when thrown in with strangers, and what makes them all go on or crack. It also differs in most similarly-themed films in that it limits its surroundings to the camp grounds in the States. It's a rather low-key effort, perhaps, but it's a surprisingly effective one. There's a certain simplicity and realism to the goings-on that makes this one far more interesting than than other recent bigger-budget efforts (We Were Soldiers comes to mind), allowing audiences to really get involved in the the recruits' daily struggle. Block-buster director Schumacker takes a step back from his usual slick, large production offerings (Batman Forever, Bad Company) to take on a story with a more gritty and intimate approach with this low-budget drama with independent roots. Using hand-held 16-mm cameras and grainy film stock, the film attains a certain doco feel, limiting the superfluous and . It might not be pretty to look at, but it's very efficient filmmaking and thanks to a finely-edited and tightly scripted narrative, it's an engaging piece of work. Populated mostly by an unknown cast helps make things more credible, and the supporting cast is solid, each of them getting a chance to shine in their own story. But this is more than an ensemble film, in fact it really focuses on a single character, a maverick soldier whose intentions are not quite obvious, and the film is all the better for not telegraphing his intentions and character. As such the attention is on Colin Ferrel's charismatic anti-hero and in his first starring role he is a real revelation showing that his rising star is no surprise. Despite the familiar subject, Tigerland succeeds admirably in setting forth its themes and bringing its characters to life and in doing so makes this a worthwhile effort.
Drama: 7/10

Time and Tide (Hong Kong - 2001)
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Wu Bai, Anthony Wong
Director: Tsui Hark
Plot: A young barman joins an unlicensed security guard agency and befriends his latest client's son-in-law who happens to be a one-time mercenary for a Brazilian cartel now out for revenge.
Review: With Time and Tide Tsui Hark proves that, after sinking in the Hollywood mire with two Van Damme action vehicles, he hasn't lost the touch that made him one of Hong Kong's most admired and respected directors. This new film is actually two halves of two very different films; the first part works as a sentimental romantic comedy with some crime drama elements thrown in with its focus on idyllic young Tse. This beginning is a bit of a confusing, narrative mess, using shades of Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express) film-making, shifting our attention between half-formed characters and events but finally picking up some cohesion. The second part changes the perspective to Wu Bai, loses much of the plot of the first half, and reverts to a violent, guns blazing, large-scale action movie with many of Hark's imaginative cinematic techniques, and quick editing, very much on display. These impressive, energetic action sequences abound, especially in the high-powered cat-and-mouse game between Bai and the Brazilian mercenaries set in a huge appartment complex as they rappel down the sides of the building and exchange gunfire, or in the carefully staged explosive battles in various crowded HK landmarks. Hark doesn't really stretch himself here, and it's nothing like his inspired takes in Once Upon a Time in China or Peking Opera Blues, but it's a fast-moving, occasionally even adrenaline-racing, blend of favorite Hong Kong genres and a typically slick production. All told, Time and Tide doesn't aspire to be anything other than an entertaining action movie with enough story elements and inventiveness to please even the most jaded audience.
Entertainment: 7/10

Timecode (2000)
Starring: Jeanne Tripplehorn, Salma Hayek, Stellan Skarsgard
Director: Mike Figgis
Plot: The lives and relationships of a myriad of would-be stars and film executives surrounding a film's tense casting auditions is interrupted by a series of earthquakes.
Review: Filmed in four continuous takes with digital cameras, the four simultaneous stories of Timecode (shown on a screen split into four windows) converge, detract, and come back again on each other as it follows the different characters and situations. It takes a bit of effort to get used to following four different events at the same time, but thankfully the audio track for the important segment (the one we're supposed to watch) is brought to the fore to help us get the salient points of the ongoing story. As well, much of the other three parts usually devolves to uninteresting "downtime", showing people simply going about their business, small talk, walking around, etc. All of the cast improvised around a predetermined story structure, and its understandable how so many good actors would have flocked for such an opportunity to stretch their skills and try something new. For the audience, it's fun to see so many familiar faces in such an ensemble piece, and it's obvious everyone involved had a great time making it. Though the story (a half-baked satire on the Hollywood system, its executives and its stars) is rather bland déja vu and characters mere stereotypes, the experimental nature of the proceedings is what makes the film a worthwhile exercise. The execution is interesting and the logistics and preparation for such an undertaking must have been formidable - kudos to all involved for making it work. The use of digital cameras and natural lighting give the proceedings a more immediate and almost documentary feel. Still, though it is technically remarkable, the story is never really engaging apart from being an intellectual exercise. And that's too bad, since director Figgis made his name from some emotionally brazen fare such as Leaving Las Vegas. In the end, Timecode comes off as an interesting experiment, if not quite a good film.
Drama: 4/10

Timeline (2003)
Starring: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler
Director: Richard Donner
Plot: Trying to save their professor trapped in 14th Century France, a group of archeological students use a time travel machine and find themselves in the midst of a historical battle between French and English armies.
Review: Loosely based on true events that unfolded during the Middle Ages, Timeline is a sci-fi film that is high on cheese factor and low on actual thrills. An adaptation of what is probably high-concept author Michael Crichton's (Jurassic Park) most throwaway novel, the story follows the general outline but loses all the period detail and scientific credibility that made the original work a good read. Indeed, the script takes an interesting premise (modern period experts getting a chance to live in the era) and dumbs it down to such an extent that it loses all its appeal. Even the focus on tired action and a silly romance seem to be an afterthought, its protagonists limited to being chased around encampments and villages. The various subplots, including a battle of wills between scientists in the modern era, aren't very satisfying and the time-travel paradoxes are rather silly. Even the production itself, which is appropriately grand in scale, all looks much too clean. In films such as the Lethal Weapon series and Superman director Donner proved he could energize a wide genre of stories. Unfortunately here he does only a very workmanlike adaptation. Though it moves along well, there's nothing to really keep our interest or make us care for any of it. The highlight of the movie, the final assault on the castle between the two armies, is technically accomplished with what appears like thousands of extras and an attention to period warfare, but also way too long-winded. We've seen better battles elsewhere. As for the cast, well, they sure don't look the part of archeological students and for most of them trying to come off as Indiana Jones isn't the highlight of their careers. In the end, Timeline is a shallow version of the adventure film it could have been, a film that has its moments but gets mired in the cliché and the commonplace.
Entertainment: 4/10

The Time Machine (2002)
Starring: Guy Pearce, Mark Addy, Phyllida Law 
Director: Simon Wells
Plot: After the murder of his fiancee, a Victorian-era scientist hopes to alter the past by inventing a time machine but unwittingly travels 800,000 years into the future where humans have evolved into two very different races.
Review: The second adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic tale The Time Machine (the campy 1960 George Pal version was the first) proves once again that classic works can't get no respect. Director Wells (the original author's great-grandson) makes the usual Hollywood mistake of wanting to embellish and "re-imagine" the original work to make a more mainstream adventure from a book that needed no adjustments. A good third of the film is taken up, unfortunately, by a long, plodding romantic tragedy of an introduction that gives the hero a reason for undertaking his journey, something that was never included in the original novel. Though it's all presented with terrific period detail, it robs running time that would have best been used for the main story. And that's the main fault of the film: the most important elements feel rushed and underdeveloped, as if a more interesting film was shot and then gutted in the editing room, leaving only the most banal but spectacular stuff to bear. Some things do work: The machine's design is absolutely fabulous, as are the special effects scenes depicting the passage of time beyond the machine's sphere, and the art direction is just plain spectacular. The action sequences are also well conceived and directed, helping to make the film pass by at a fair pace. But though the production values are excellent, and the classic story holds much promise, the script itself is lacking, with plot holes, inaccuracies, and plain silly or illogical stuff that not only mars the film but makes it bloody irritating. There are also a few humorous moments thrown in for good measure, mostly thanks to Orlando Jones' shtick as a sarcastic computer hologram. Pearce is affecting as the aptly gentleman scientist, part nerdy, part dashing enough to make the character work. Irons, who makes what amounts to a cameo appearance, is good, but brings up questions and sub-plots that never come to fruition. The rest of the cast isn't really worth mentioning. In the end, some terrific effects and splendid visuals can't save this concoction from being another tired Hollywood effort. This is not a bad outing, and there's enough adventure computer effects to please most viewers, but this new version of The Time Machine never comes close to its potential.
Entertainment: 6/10

Tin Cup (1996)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Don Johnson
Director: Ron Shelton
Plot: With an eye on the girlfriend of a successful golf rival, a has-been driving-range pro aims to qualify for - and win - the US Open.
Review: Though nowhere near as effective or clever as it could have been, as a romantic / sports movie (and one involving golf, of all things) Tin Cup has its moments. The first half of the film is mostly done for humorous effect, with some broad comic moments. The pacing falters occasionally, and the clichés do abound, but it's mostly kept afloat by its cast. By the mid-way point, the story switches gear to an all-out sports competition and, though it does get somewhat irreverent with the game, it mostly sticks to all the required conventions. The US Open scenes are a tad long and only golf amateurs will remain thrilled throughout, yet they're as engaging as any golf film can be. If the script and soft direction by Shelton (re-uniting with his star after the terrific Bull Durham) stay mostly pedestrian in nature and execution, there's no denying the fine dialogue and infectious fun being had on-screen. The chemistry between the head-liners Costner (the washed-up drunk) and Russo (a wannabe shrink) isn't quite there, but the two are adequately charming and show off the quirky aspects of their characters well. Rounding out the leads, Johnson makes for a slick, sleazy nemesis as the pro-golfer, and sidekick Cheech Marin (in something of a come-back) has a great role as the irritable caddy. In the end, Tin Cup may have required a bit more editing but as it stands it's an adequate, if forgettable, comic effort by all involved.
Entertainment: 5/10

Titan A.E. (2000)
Voices of: Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman
Directors: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Plot: Years after the Earth is destroyed by evil energy beings, a young man must join a small group of survivors to find a spacecraft named Titan, humanity's last hope for rebuilding a home.
Review: Titan A.E. aims for the teen crowds with a slightly more mature take on the typical American animated feature, and mostly succeeds. It's too bad that the plot itself is so banal, with many of the story elements straight out of Star Wars, many others really clichéd sci-fi "adventure" conventions, and the characters typical one-dimensional cookie-cut outs. The real strength of the film is actually in its animation, mixing some decent character animations with some spectacular computer effects, immediately starting off with the destruction of the Earth and Moon (!). Another plus is that the paper-thin story is fast-paced, and the film is filled with constant movement, action, and something interesting to look at on-screen. The use of too many alternative rock songs at the most inappropriate times gets irritating at times, but thankfully they don't last long. Titan A.E. may not be an animation classic, but it's a fun, larger-than-life sci-fi adventure.
Entertainment: 7/10

Titanic (1997)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane
Director: James Cameron
Plot: A starving artist and a young socialite meet and fall in love during the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic and face both her spurned fiancée and the disaster that sinks the luxury liner.
Review: Countless versions of the infamous disaster already existed on film before Titanic came along (Titanic in 1953 and A Night to Remember in 1958 to name a few), but in every way that counts - from popularity, to pathos, to special effects, to sheer scale - Cameron's version has them all beat. At $200M, this was the most expensive production in history and it’s easy to see why: there's never been quite such a lavish production or such an impeccable recreation of the luxury that was the Titanic. The film made Winslet and especially DiCaprio into household names, and for good reason - a large part of the success of the film rests on its two stars. The romance might be saccharine at times and wholly improbable, but the two have an undeniable chemistry. The film uses the lovelorn pair to interact with true-life historical characters and provide some facts that led to the disaster. There are also countless re-enactments of individual, documented human stories. The self-proclaimed "unsinkable ship" was faced with so many calamities, coincidences, and instances of human error that hitting an iceberg was only the instigator for the real disaster, and only a small part of the real story. That writer/ director Cameron (best known for his sci-fi thrillers such as Aliens and Terminator 2) achieves just the right balance between all these elements makes the story all the more involving. But the film’s most impressive achievement comes in the final hour, in a mesmerizing recreation of the ship's final moments. The incredible use of state-of-the-art special effects make us relive the breath-taking terror by giving us a first-person view as the ocean liner goes into its final death-throes. These scenes make for an incredible, vivid ride that’s both thrilling and harrowing. Even those immune to the manipulations of the script will be struck by one of the most awe-inspiring sequences ever put on film. With such sumptuous décor, stunning visuals, and impressive effects Titanic is a rarity among mainstream blockbusters: it’s a sweeping epic, a romantic adventure and a though-provoking recreation of a terrible disaster (see extended version).
Drama / Entertainment: 8/10

To Catch a Thief (1955)
Starring: Grace Kelly, Cary Grant
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Plot: A reformed cat burglar living in the South of France must outwit the police, his old comrades in arms, and a mysterious burglar after he becomes the prime suspect in a series of diamond robberies.
Review: To Catch a Thief is a surprisingly light-weight thriller from the legendary Master of Suspense, but one that hits all the right notes. One of director Hitchcock's most mainstream affairs compared to such classics as Psycho or The Birds, the film combines his talents for suspense and mystery with a seductive display of French locales, surprising romanticism, and humor. The look of the film is also gorgeous and colorful, the rich cinematography mixing well with his usual inventiveness. The sprightly script offers up some terrific dialogue, witty banter and - for a 1950's flick - quite a bit of risqué double-entendres, along with some usual chases and orchestrated show-down. All of it, of course, is but an excuse for audiences to spend some time with the two leads in an exotic locale. The always elegant Grace Kelly really lights up the screen and pairing her with the always debonair and suave Grant is a match made in Hollywood. Their playful repartee is as much fun as the cat and mouse game being played out between reform thief and his impostor, a game that culminates on a mansion rooftop following a grand costume ball. To Catch a Thief might be seen as a minor work in Hitchcock's career, but with its lover's view of an exotic European setting and its capable whodunit tale it can't help but charm.
Entertainment: 8/10

*Classic* To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Starring: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham
Director: Robert Mulligan
Plot: A widowed lawyer practicing in a Depression-era Alabama town balances raising his two children with defending a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman.
Review: Based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird has long been considered a Hollywood classic. On the coat-tails of the Great Depression, the film tackles some strong dramatic elements and finds pointed social commentary as it superbly describes small-town American prejudice in its many forms. Small town racism may take the forefront, but its fear of the "different" isn't limited to racial context but encompasses social ones as well. The film revolves around a narrator recounting memories of her childhood during one fateful year and the various subplots gives a rounded impression of local life. For his best known work director Mulligan didn't venture far from this television roots, keeping the camera work and set-up down to earth in perfect accord with the necessities of the script. And in 1962, the subject - especially the idea of a father raising children on his own and the subject of the trial itself - were probably downright shocking and the narrative more effective. Alas, most of the film has not aged well; for modern tastes, it's pretty slow going, especially as it follows the village life and adventures of its young protagonists - there's seemingly little here to make for critically-acclaimed stuff. In truth, the film is probably best remembered as one of the best courtroom dramas - when the story finally gets there - and the closing remarks by Peck make up a highlight of Hollywood cinema. Sure, the child cast led by the precocious Badham is good, as is the rest of the supporting cast (check out a cameo by Robert Duvall in his screen debut), but this is lock, stock and barrel acting legend Gregory Peck's movie. Peck, a strong, sympathetic actor, gets one of his career highlights as the small town lawyer with a strong sense of honor and law. The issues and strong message of tolerance in To Kill a Mockingbird are just as resonant as they were back then, and those willing to slug through some small-town drama are sure to be rewarded.
Drama: 7/10

Tokyo Raiders (Hong Kong - 2000)
Starring: Tony Leung, Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung
Director: Jingle Ma
Plot: After being stood up at the altar, a woman joins up with an interior decorator and a playboy detective to find her fiancé in Tokyo, a hotshot who seems to have been involved with the local Yakuza.
Review: Tokyo Raiders is a tongue-in-cheek gangster / spy / action / comedy / thriller, managing the each part of the mix with equal aplomb. The story drifts occasionally and becomes quite convoluted with an over-abundance of plot twists, but the cast and action still manages to keep the film going along at a good pace. The two main actors, two of the most recognizable faces in HK cinema of recent years (especially since so many others have now run off to the U.S. to try their luck in Hollywood), are always fun to watch on screen and this outing is no exception. With lots of interesting shots, good editing and a strong sense of style, along with some interesting, inventive action sequences and a bit of romantic shenanigans, Tokyo Raiders ends up being a charming and entertaining film.
Entertainment: 7/10

Tomb Raider (2001)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight
Director: Simon West
Plot: Lady Lara Croft, a young archeologist-adventurer, must follow her long-lost father's clues to stop a powerful secret society from recovering an ancient artifact that will give them power over Time itself.
Review: Tomb Raider, the big-screen adaptation to the popular video game starring Lara Croft, the modern-day female version of Indiana Jones, delivers exactly what it promises to be: quite literally a video game brought to life, with all the pratfalls that it entails. The ridiculous greater-than-life plot to save the universe is in place with all the mumbo-jumbo and computer effects required to provide the film with its four long action pieces. These action sequences, which includes a bungee-jumping Lara taking on commandos invading her mansion and Lara battling a 30-foot statue straight out of a Sinbad movie, are indeed thrilling and impressive thanks to some good special effects and some wonderfully imaginative sets. These remind one immediately of the type found in the game itself, and if they look a tad far-fetched, well, that's the idea. Unfortunately there's little to go on beyond these well-executed segments, but the film still tries to fill in the down time by throwing in some dopey drama, showing off its lead actress, both in terms of padded physique and attitude, some exotic locales including Cambodia and Siberia, and lots of expensive toys. These moments aren't quite interesting, but at least they pass quickly enough before becoming boring. As for Jolie, she makes a convincing Lara Croft, kicking, shooting and snarling like a real action star, with no need for any of her actual acting talents. Comparing it to Indiana Jones would be doing the film a disfavor - Tomb Raider is just a mindless summer popcorn flick, and for movie-goers looking for that kind of entertainment that's just fine.
Entertainment: 6/10

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds
Director: Jan de Bont
Plot: A female archeologist / adventurer travels around the globe searching for clues to Pandora's Box to stop a biological weapons expert from recovering it and unleashing a biblical plague on the world.
Review: While the first Tomb Raider played on the fact that it was an adaptation of a popular video-game and delivered some tongue-in-cheek adventure, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life seems to have been stung by the sequel-itis bug: it's silly, loud, and uninspired. Not to say it's a complete write-off: the production values are good, and the action sequences are capably done, but there's no originality in any of it. It just blurs from one moment to another. The cinematography is still impeccable, but the many exotic locales are never used to their potential. The filmmakers might have been trying for that true video game experience, and get the same emotional detachment and lack of tension one gets from looking at someone else playing. Jolie still enchants as Lara Croft, but every other character is a mere cutout and the dramatic (and even so-called "romantic") moments are so cold that nothing engenders our sympathy. The real culprit is the lazy script that never even pretends at trying to give its audiences anything but derivative summer fare such as tired gun fights, CGI-enhanced stunts, and clichéd plot twists. Oh, it all moves along with breakneck speed from one scene to another, and the stunts are impressive in themselves, but with so little real tension or suspense it's hard to get involved. After two terrific films (Speed and Twister) director de Bont should have known better than to fling episodic sequences such as these at his audience. At two hours the entire film overstays its welcome, but it's the last half hour that crashes the whole affair with a ridiculous and tedious finale. While the original had its own peculiar style and made for an exciting Indiana Jones-styled adaptation of the digital character, the narrative here is completely devoid of joyful playfulness, to the film's detriment. Imminently forgettable, The Cradle of Life is still entertaining and well-enough done for those in the mood for yet another soulless summer action flick.
Entertainment: 5/10

Tombstone (1993)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Plot: Legendary gunman Wyatt Earp and his brothers take up arms on the side of the law to confront a gang of low-life criminals who are victimizing the small frontier town of Tombstone.
Review: Going against the grain of the modern-day gritty, somber Westerns, Tombstone vies for a more traditional old-fashioned re-telling of the Wyatt Earp legend. The script, written by Glory writer Kevin Jarre isn't quite up to his ambitions. Though it tries to make its characters a little more human than we've seen in the past, the story is still romanticized, with the Earps still portrayed as gallant heroes fighting for justice against the wicked "cowboys", and the events leading up to the legendary battle of Tombstone and the OK Corral presented in a terribly simplified manner. Then again, the film's main reason for being seems to be to provide an entertaining effort over a realistic one. As directed by Cosmatos of Rambo fame, it's a crowd-pleasing effort whose pacing moves along nicely, where the melodrama and relationships between the men are engaging, and the myriad gunfights are well staged and, though repetitive, still exciting enough. The surprisingly varied cast of B-list actors is impressive for a film of this genre, with names such as Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, a chubby Billy Bob Thorton (!) and even Charlton Heston in a cameo role all peppering the screen. All of them are adequate but for Russell who, as the lead, is the only one who seems out of place and unconvincing. Kilmer, however, gives an energetic and defining performance as Doc Holliday but then, of all the available roles, his is the most interesting, colorful and complex, allowing for the best role definition and tuning by the actor. Tombstone isn't a memorable Western, perhaps, but it clearly knows how to use the working formula and definitely sticks to its guns.
Entertainment: 6/10

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Plot: Super agent James Bond teams up with a female Chinese operative to stop a Machiavellic media baron from starting a war between England and China to improve his ratings.
Review: One of the most action-oriented features of the series, Tomorrow Never Dies never stops in bringing all the Bond elements audiences have come to enjoy from each new installment: amazing stunts, great gadgets, despicable villains, and another devious earth-shattering plot. In fact, the film actually has one of the best, and most memorable, Bond action sequences as our hero is chased through a garage in his souped-up, gadget-laden BMW. There are many other inventive and thrilling moments throughout the film, but unfortunately the film does lose some of its vigor in the final show-down with its Rambo-like excesses. Still, though the character development is limited, this is by far the best of the post-Moore installments and great fun to boot. Brosnan has really come unto his own with the character and the addition of the high-kicking Hong Kong action star Yeoh makes a nice change from other Bond films. The script for Tomorrow Never Dies is jam-packed with events and interesting touches and though it makes for more of an action buddy-movie than a "secret agent" film, it still delivers a vastly entertaining movie experience.
Entertainment: 8/10

Top Gun (1986)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer
Director: Tony Scott
Plot: Striving for Top Gun status, a maverick flyboy meets his match at a school for the Navy's top pilots where he falls for one of his teachers and faces his own demons.
Review: A product of the 1980's American jingoism and a massive hit at its release that propelled Cruise to stardom, the male teen fantasy Top Gun is a text-book case of style over substance. The story runs through predictable hoops with characters following the typical Hollywood archetypes (not to say stereotypes). The romantic bits lack any subtlety whatsoever, as exemplified during a sultry (and overlong) sex sequence with shades of 9 1/2 Weeks. And the melodrama, from our hero's loss of his father to an accident with his partner, barely register. But forget that. If you can restrain from questioning the many logic gaps in the story or groaning at some really painful dialog, there's much to like in the very slick, gorgeous production from commercial-fare ace Tony Scott (Spy Game, Man on Fire): the pacing is fast, the plot easy to follow, and the narrative engaging. But the real attraction are the jets. Staging it all using real planes charging across the sky, the many dog-fighting sequences are well shot and edited, giving a real sense of flight and of speed. It's a nice change from the blatant, often ill-conceived CGI exercises of today. Sure, most of the film plays like a recruitment video for Navy pilots (which is probably why it got so much access to the Navy's equipment) but what a show. As the top-gun fighter jocks, Cruise and Kilmer posture a lot and bring some energy to the roles but it's not their finest performances. McGillis, as the love-interest, has a thankless job that's just above embarrassment level. With few lines to share, little-known actors like Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, Michael Ironside and others barely register. On the plus side, the pumping soundtrack, including the hit songs Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away, adds to the guilty pleasure. Often imitated but never surpassed, Top Gun was the quintessential fighter-jock flick - it may not be a classic tale by any means but as a nostalgic bit of 80's film-making it's a keeper.
Entertainment: 6/10

Topsy-Turvy (1999)
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall
Director: Mike Leigh
Plot: After their latest musical comes under fire by critics for its lack of originality, Gilbert and Sullivan's long co-operation is severely strained before finally embarking in their greatest success.
Review: Topsy-Turvy presents a slice in the life of Gilbert and Sullivan, the famous "operetta" creative team of the late 19th century. The film presents an interesting look at the the creative process, the back-stage preparations, and the lives of the cast and crew behind a turn-of-the-century London musical, "The Mikado". The cast is excellent, and Broadbent and Spall are charming to watch, catching the nuances of their characters to perfection. The problem is the film feels long, with too many unnecessary musical numbers (a few would have been sufficient) and gets into so much minute detail, both in the lives of the secondary characters and G & S's daily routine, that many plot points and raised questions remain unexplained. It is as if large portions of the film ended up on the cutting room floor to keep it under extravagant length. A fascinating and quite amusing period piece from director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies), but one that aims to be too grand in scope for its own good.
Drama: 7/10

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Starring: Martin Balsam, So Yamamura, Jason Robards
Directors: Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda
Plot: Dramatization of the events that led to the devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor as seen from both the Japanese and American viewpoints.
Review: Tora! Tora! Tora! was made to be the ultimate picture oF the infamous attack, and in many ways it provides a well-done, damning portrayal of the failings of America's Army and Navy. By filming the perspective of the Americans and of the Japanese as two separate films (with two sets of directors and crews) and then splicing them chronologically, the film manages to present both sides in an even-handed manner. With an almost documentary feel, the film shows the political maneuvering, bureaucracy, incompetence, and series of misfortunes that occurred leading to the Japanese's incredible success. Indeed, the actual facts are all laid out with a careful attention to details but by jumping between so many characters and locations the whole exposition half of the film can't help but comes out as being a very dry dramatization of events. The cast is truly secondary here, and though there are many recognizable faces they barely register enough to keep the narrative going. The second half of the film, showing the actual attack, again with great attention to the real-life sequence of events, is absolutely spectacular even by today's standards (and even in comparison with the recent Pearl Harbor), realistically recreating the destruction on the ground with a series of well-staged explosive confrontations and flame-filled stunts. It's all the more impressive when one realizes that most of these scenes used full-scale mock-ups. This large-scale production is helped by some well set-up cinematography, including some beautiful scenes with dozens of Japanese Zeroes taking off from carriers and flying over Hawaii. Basing itself solely on facts, Tora! Tora! Tora! is as close to a real-life account of the attack as has ever been made, but by trying to encompass too much diverse minutiae it doesn't quite bring it all to life.
Drama: 6/10

Torque (2004)
Starring: Ice Cube, Martin Henderson, Monet Mazur
Director: Joseph Kahn
Plot: Framed for the murder of a gang leader's brother, a biker goes on the run from both the gang and the FBI to clear his name and stop a drug-dealer from getting his stash.
Review: Flashy, slick to a fault, and never taking itself too seriously Torque is junk-food for the brain that knows the genre and works with the conventions. Basically The Fast and the Furious on motorcycles, the film is in love with its subject and approaches it like a teen fantasy showing off its flashy bikes, scantily-clad women, swaggering macho men, and exaggerated cool. Yet, it manages to remain an extremely fun, silly, over-the-top adrenaline rush. It's by no means a "good" movie, and the filmmakers add the occasional wink in the dialogue (amongst the groaners) to show they're in the know. Most of the stunts are executed with very heavy CGI enhancements which enhances the feel that this was shot and executed like one big video game (take the bike chase on top of a moving train, or the jet-powered cycle zooming across LA). Director Kahn cut his teeth on music videos and it shows in the vertigo-inducing editing, camera shots and vivid, rich (and altogether fake) colors. Cut and paced for attention-deficient teens means there's no boring or talky parts, with the character development and any kind of plot set to a minimum to allow the eye-candy and ridiculous (but inventive) vehicle action to take the entire focus. The cast, made of virtual unknowns, were chosen not so much for their acting abilities but to look the part, and they do. At less than 90 minutes, Torque never overstays its welcome and audiences who can go in knowing this is only brainless popcorn fun will get a kick out of it.
Entertainment/ Action: 5/10

Total Recall (1990)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Plot: A happily-married construction worker takes a virtual reality vacation on Mars only to realize that his fantasies of being a secret agent are real and that someone has tampered with his memories.
Review: With Total Recall, author Philip K. Dick's works have once again been mined for the movies. Unlike Ridley Scott's masterful SF take on Blade Runner, though, this adaptation of the low-key short story was tailor-made for its star and altered into a large, loud summer action / adventure flick. The story has an interesting premise and some nice little twists that explore the themes of memory and identity, but though the script is superior to what one might expect, it doesn't quite live up to its sci-fi potential. The action sequences, however, are grand and well-executed, and more visceral than the usual bullets-and-explosions variety, including some memorable moments like the exploding head scene and a cat-fight with the then-relatively-unknown Sharon Stone as the "wife". Add this to some lively pacing, and you've got a muscle-charged affair that's always entertaining. Much like his classic Robocop a few years earlier, director Verhoeven presents us with a rough, thankless future world, where the violence is extreme and where a certain dark edginess surrounds the characters and situations. This is a very much R-rated affair, and the freedom that gives provides some interesting stuff, even with his usual penchant for visual excess. The Oscar-winning special effects may seem a tad dated in this computer age, but the overall style looks pretty slick. This marked a return to form for leading tough guy Schwarzenegger but then, even with the huge build he's always been at his best playing decent guys pushed to the limit, and given half a chance he's an engaging actor. If the Arnie trademark one-liners seem out of place, it's a small price to pay. With its solid plotting and testosterone action sequences Total Recall comes out as an above-average vehicle for its larger-than-life star.
Entertainment: 6/10

Touching the Void (2003)
Starring: Joe Simpson, Simon Yates
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Plot: Retelling of events following a climb up the difficult west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes by two young mountain climbers in 1985, the accident on their way down and their survival against all odds.
Review: Based on Joe Simpson's own book recounting an event that has now become a legend in mountaineering circles, Touching the Void is a chilling story that graphically details the edge of one man's endurance and his dominating instinct of survival. Though it's a documentary, calling this film one would be a disservice for those who think of them as dry, boring affairs. This is a harrowing story, all the more immediate and thrilling in that it's all true, and one that is definitely worth the retelling. Though the arduous (and never repeated) climb up the Siula Grande is but briefly described, an excess of detail is given to the inhuman hardships that Simpson - leg destroyed, bruised, body in shock and suffering from both hypothermia and severe dehydration - endured on his way down. Yet none of it is dramatized or embellished: the account of both the events and the people involved is clear and straight-forward. The passionate Simpson and his more down-to-earth companion Yates approach the recounting with a no-nonsense, brutally honest approach, and we quickly get a feel for their then-youthful insouciance (read recklessness) and their camaraderie, both of which make the ensuing disaster all the more personal and immediate. Inter-cutting some thrilling re-enactments with their narrative ensures that the tension remains palpable and the story utterly gripping. The stunning cinematography of the Peruvian Andes only adds to the telling, capturing the awe-inspiring beauty of its glorious wind-swept white peaks and its dangerous crevasses, convincingly showing us the insignificance of Man in front of Nature. Touching the Void is an incredible story, and one that the filmmakers have managed to recreate with some powerful story-telling.
Documentary / Drama: 8/10

The Town (2010)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm
Director: Ben Affleck
Plot: The subject of an FBI manhunt, a professional Boston bank robber is torn between his relationship with a bank manager connected to a previous heist and the demands of his crew.
Review: Just like its protagonist, The Town is torn between the two extremes of this sort of crime drama, and the question turns to: Is it a drama with too much action, or is it an action film with too much drama? Either way, there seems to be something amiss in the balance of what is for the most part another fine accomplishment for actor-turned-director Affleck. As a director, he proved his worth with the gritty, gut-wrenching Gone Baby Gone, a film that surprised many. Here, he takes a step back into the mainstream, setting a heist movie in his Boston hometown that's slicker, louder and less memorable than his previous effort. Adapted from Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, there's ample opportunity to relish in the town's under-belly and accented slang, but more importantly the film still works well thanks to some sharp direction, decent melodrama, and excellent action set-pieces that only increase in violence, especially a central guns-blasting car chase through narrow streets. The able cast also does wonders, especially a scary Renner as his sociopathic best friend and colleague-in-crime, and an even scarier Jon Hamm as the opportunistic, obsessive FBI detective. In comparison, Affleck as actor just seems to coast along without much investment; yes, he's given lots of emotional baggage, but there's no sense of relationship between him and the other characters despite the attempts at dramatic friction. And that dilutes the evident complexities that he attempts to squeeze into the two hour time frame. Still, as crime-thrillers go The Town plays its cards right, delivering a suspenseful, engaging crime-thriller that's well worth a look.
Entertainment / Drama: 7/10

Toy Story (1995)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen
Director: John Lasseter
Plot: An old-fashioned cowboy doll runs into conflict with a new space ranger toy when his master chooses the newer one as his favorite.
Review: Toy Story hit theatres and audiences with a bang, ushering in a new era of intelligent, kid-friendly cartoon features. True, the dazzling show-stopping computer effects were fresh when the film came out in 1995, but have now been overtaken by newer technology. Thankfully the film relies on much more than the trick of using computer animation - though the techniques are still impressive, it's the script, sound effects, characterizations, and blend of family-type comedy and sophisticated humor that makes it a hit with kids and adults alike. Hanks and Allen are the perfect voices for their respective roles, and the rest of the cast is just as well chosen. The whole menagerie of toys are all equally memorable, from the cowardly dinosaur to the cynical Mr. Potato-Head, and are all brought to life with some great dialogue. Fast, furious, and funny, Toy Story throws enough stuff in the story department and enough likable characters to make it a Disney classic and one that is prone to repeated viewings.
Entertainment: 9/10

Toy Story 2 (1999)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen
Director: John Lasseter
Plot: Woody, the toy cowboy, is stolen by a collector to be sold to a Japanese museum, and its up to Buzz, the space-age figurine, and the other childhood toys to find him and bring him back.
Review: Few sequels stand up to the original, but Toy Story 2 manages to surpass it. The film sports a richer, more exciting, and funnier script that pokes fun at its own commercialization, at popular films (especially Star Wars) and is full of little touches that will bring back a sense of nostalgia to all grown-up kids (the fake recreation of the 1950's "Woody Show" is particularly funny). The computer animation is smoother, more detailed, and even more impressive, and the scenes are grander in scale. The use of animation has also allowed for some otherwise impossible "virtual camera" movements that add to the action and comedy. Fun, exciting, hilarious, Toy Story 2 is highly recommended for kids of all ages.
Entertainment: 9/10

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
Director: Lee Unkrich
Plot: With their owner preparing to leave for college, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toy gang are accidentally dropped off in a day-care where they have to survive a roomful of screaming toddlers and a posse of mean toys.
Review: 11 years after Toy Story 2 (the better-than-the-original sequel to the film that started the CGI-movie craze), studio Pixar unveils the final (?) 3D-enhanced sequel, Toy Story 3. It's a nice return of the now-classic characters in a new adventure that's sure to please for kids young and old - but with a caveat. If the plot is new, the trappings feel somewhat familiar; there's a villain out to destroy them (Sid in Toy Story, here another toy), there's the theme of abandonment (Toy Story 2) and the loyalty between toys (recurring in Toy Story 1 and 2). As entertainment, it's hard to beat the trademark energy and storytelling prowess, what with all its fast pace, one-liners, action set-pieces and gags (none better than Buzz' "Spanish Mode"). As for the animation, it's still excellent with the 3D - though enhancing some of the thrills - unnecessary for the film's enjoyment. Yet despite all the slick, clever things we expect, the film often feels more referential than truly imaginative. There's a sense of lost innocence, with the added sexual innuendo, dire traits, brutality, meanness and implications of more than just peril but death - the climactic sequence, as the gang gets thrown into a garbage compactor and face incinerator doom, plays on fears that may be too intense for youngsters. Added to the mix is a a vague social commentary on how the industrialized nations' livelihood depends on the suffering of less fortunate societies, as the toys are forced into labour with the daycare's younger kids. It all makes for a thrilling adventure akin to The Great Escape with toys, but it's in the last 10 minutes that the movie redeems itself as a Pixar film, giving a dollop of sweet sentimentality that could bring a tear to the eye, as the toys get a last taste of play with their owner before being passed on to a new generation. The studio has made a rousing, fun, ultimately poignant film for the new century that's bound to be popular, but older audiences will feel a pang of lost nostalgia to its predecessors. Still, if neither the tale, animation or script really feel fresh, any Pixar film is light-years ahead of its computer-animated brethren in terms of pathos and humor, and Toy Story 3 is no exception. All complaints are only a sign of too-high expectations.
Entertainment: 7/10

Traffic (2000)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Plot: Crime drama follows various people, from cops, to dealers, to politicians as they deal with the world of drug-trafficking on both sides of the U.S. / Mexican border.
Review: Based on the UK television series Traffik, Traffic manages successfully to squeeze in the various, complex aspects, both personal and political, of the drug war problem into a two-hour running time. The film's greatest asset is the way it manages to keep the events and situations convincing, never floundering in typical Hollywood preaching, keeping the ethical questions in a bleak gray area and ending without any easy solutions. Director Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Kafka) has never lost his cutting edge or his ability to experiment with his filmmaking techniques, and here it's obvious he was looking for a stark, documentary-like feel, switching from grainy violent colors for Mexico to the washed-out tones of the U.S. scenes. Added to this is some mesmerizing cinematography and sharp editing that make the events all the more vivid. The narrative switches constantly between four inter-related stories and a vast array of characters, and it is another feather in the script's cap that it all manages to fit into a cohesive whole. True, the pacing isn't as smooth as it could have been, and there are times when the film seems to drag on a bit, but it's all necessary for the exposition of the myriad issues that are necessary to the film's success. Adding greatly to the film are the convincing performances from the all-star ensemble cast, most particularly Del Toro as a Mexican policeman caught in the cross-fire and Zeta-Jones as a drug lord's wife out to save her incarcerated husband. Traffic is an ambitious, stylish film finally tackling a complex subject and handling it with the maturity it deserves, making it as much a powerful drama as a stark reality-check of the issues in dealing with the drug trade.
Drama: 8/10

The Train (1965)
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield
Director: John Frankenheimer
Plot: As the Allies retake Paris in the dying dies of World War II, French Resistance fighters must prevent a train loaded with art treasures from crossing the border into Germany.
Review: The Train takes a great premise and builds upon it to create an exciting adventure that leaves even more modern action films wanting thanks to an excellent, intelligent script and great direction. The action sequences are simply amazing, from a massive air-raid on a train depot to an wild train engine collision, and all using real trains! Burt Lancaster is terrific as the Resistance fighter ready to gamble it all, and Scofield makes a convincing turn as the Nazi officer hell-bent on getting the art into Germany. Director Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) knows how to create a combination of edge-of-your-seat suspense and impressive action sequences like no one else, and there's no better example of it than here. A great war film, and a superb, tense, large-scale action film the way they should be done.
Action / Adventure: 9/10

Training Day (2001)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Plot: Transferred into a crack D.E.A. team, a rookie cop must spend a dangerous first day with his supervising officer, a crooked cop who's playing both sides of the law. 
Review: Training Day is a captivating police drama, a gritty crime thriller, such as haven't been put to film in ages. It's also an, at times, troubling, morally ambiguous look at what it takes to fight the underworld and how easy it is to be attracted by it. Despite some strong violence this is not an action film, and the dilemmas presented here feel real, if highly stylized. The script avoids most, if not all, clichés of the boys-in-blue genre and creates some incredibly suspenseful moments, such as when the rookie cop is pressured to kill an unarmed man by his peers, or when Hawke, sitting at a card game with a gang, realizes that they're about to kill him. The ending is a bit contrived, relying on a ridiculous coincidence, it's final outcome satisfying to mainstream audiences but somehow too easy after the hard road the story has followed. This is a surprisingly strong effort from director Fuqua whose previous films, The Replacement Killers and Bait, had a strong sense of style but little dramatic sense. Here he imbues a restless energy, a palpable tension in almost every frame, much of which should also be credited to the film's solid cinematography and choice of diffused palette, as well as its dangerous lead actor. The cast, including Hawke, Scott Glenn, etc. are good, but Washington's powerful, Oscar-winning performance as the surprisingly charismatic, multi-layered villain simply steals every single scene, hands down. The character dynamics, the well-detailed relationship between the two cops, is the primary motivation for the film's momentum, and events occur to surround it, to define it. Training Day takes a hard look at some tough problems and, though the ending is pure Hollywood, it's a refreshing take on the cop drama.
Drama: 8/10

Trainspotting (1996)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle
Director: Danny Boyle
Plot: A Scottish youth immersed in the local drug scene struggles to kick his heroin dependence despite the allure of escape and the influence of his doped-up friends, with varied success.
Review: Though the subject may not be new, Trainspotting manages to offer up a fascinating, violent diatribe against modern-day society with a stomach-churning, hyper-active and intimate look at heroin addiction. The script, based on Irvine Welsh's novel, is top-notch easily going from drama to hilarity and brings alive these disaffected youths trying to escape the banality of life. Thankfully, the film stays away from moral preaching and director Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, The Beach) never flinches from depicting the terrible effects of heroin use, capturing both the allure and the depressing after-effects admirably, using a cinéma-vérité style as well as surrealistic visuals, leaving the subject open for the viewer to interpret. The film boasts some memorable dialogue, fascinating characters and a great cast, especially Ewan McGregor as the screwed-up narrator ("I choose NOT to choose life!"). The Scottish accent may be a little hard to follow at first, but it's well worth the effort. Accompanied by a great musical score (no pun intended), great cinematography and a wonderful cast, the exuberant and cynical Trainspotting is truly a landmark film.
Drama: 9/10


Transformers (2007)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel
Director: Michael Bay
Plot: A teen looking to impress the hottest girl in the school realizes his new car is more than meets the eye when he's thrown into the middle of a war between alien shape-changing robots that could destroy the Earth.
Review: Based on a line of toys and a mid-'80s cartoon about sentient alien robots capable of disguising themselves as everyday machines, Transformers is perhaps the ultimate giant-robot movie, a real child fantasy brought to life - if only there wasn't so much filler. A superb opening sequence as a Decepticon ravages an army base in Qatar in a high-tech inferno promises exactly what we were hoping for in such an adaptation. Unfortunately, the film seems to have been pitched as a movie about "a boy and his car", with too much downtime following a nerdy rich-kid whose only interest is getting the attention of the school's hottest chick - lucky for him, his new car decides to play match-maker for him (Herbie, anyone?). The film stumbles along for what seems ages prepping up its character in teen romantic- comedy scenes that, though never quite dull, are just uninteresting. Clearly influenced by the worst parts of Men in Black and Independence Day the script remains ridiculous and unoriginal. However, when it sticks to the tried-and-true formula of the summer blockbuster - that of blowing things up and defining the universe of the franchise - it attains the required giddy spirit. Indeed, when the robots show up, either in slick vehicle form or battling it out in a bevy of absolutely spectacular money shots, the premise takes flight. There's no denying that Bay is the master of cinematic disaster, and he knows how to make these robot battles exciting and impressive, especially in the climactic mano-a-mano fight in the LA streets. The action sequences are perhaps edited too frenetically, but the robots are very well realized and the effects are almost seamless. On occasion it even stays serious enough to be exciting, but the script's inexplicable propensity for inane gags and low-brow humor at the most inopportune times just kills it; scenes include the building-sized robots bumbling about in the parent's backyard to avoid detection, or one of them literally pissing on a human agent - this much money on the table, and this is the script they came up with? The film goes on a good hour too long (it clocks in at 150 minutes) and would clearly have been better without all the flotsam that has to do with the human entities, and especially the moments between LaBoeuf and the admittedly very hot Fox; it sure doesn't help that there's no chemistry between them or motivation for any interest on her part. A bevy of recognizable actors are also thrown in, including the likes of Jon Voight and an over-the-top John Turturro, all playing their parts by rote. Still, anyone trying to make sense of it will miss the point: this is a kids cartoon at heart, with all the tongue-in-cheek excess that Hollywood mavens can muster. Thankfully, people will remember the superb battle scenes, and for those alone Transformers is worth the price of admission - just remember to leave your brain at the door.
Entertainment: 6/10

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich
Director: Michael Bay
Plot: The Earth-bound Autobots learn that the Moon-landing of one of their spacecrafts has been keep a secret by the US, and it becomes a race against their robotic enemies the Decepticons to uncover its secrets.
Review: First off, let's admit that nothing said here will change anyone's mind about seeing - or not seeing - Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It's the third colossally excessive, mind-numbing, live-action adaptation of a line of Hasbro toy robots, first made popular as a kid's cartoon, and it delivers more of the same - lots more. Now if you're into slick, shallow, immature, action-packed, sci-fi eye-candy, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, with director Bay at the helm, a master at the Hollywood blockbuster (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor), we're in good hands. Starting from a premise that the Apollo moon landings were naught but attempts to recover a crashed spaceship (giving the film it's coolest moments), things never let up and the camera is in constant movement, even for banal conversations, ensuring even ADD kids stay stuck to their seats. There's a huge untapped mythology to support future chapters, but the paper-thin plot - inspired by any of the TV series' episodes - is soon forgotten anyway. The action is rather limited to opening sequences and the final hour, with some blah human sub-plots, melodrama and vapid romance with LaBeouf reprising his hapless hero bit taking up much of the running time. At least this time around these get more points in the fun department. But the real reason audiences show up is that Bay still blows up stuff better than anyone, this time putting his sights on destroying Chicago in an all-out war with plenty of new evil Transformers. Made for 3D, the effects are something of a hit and miss, but the set pieces are grand and technically brilliant, all climaxing in a visceral, if over-long, escape from a collapsing office tower. All the original characters make an appearance, save for girlfriend Megan Fox whose been replaced by another even blander one, and some new ones, including some amusing supporting appearances from John Malkovich, Frances McDormand (a foil to the returning ex-agent Turturro) and Patrick Dempsey as the villain. Extra points also go for getting Leonard Nimoy to do the voice of Sentinel, though the obvious ribbing to his Vulcan counter-part seems forced. Sure Transformers 3 is shallow, predictable and occasionally infantile, but this is exactly what summer audiences expect and Bay offers it up in spades; you have to bask in the silliness, accept it as a guilty pleasure, and remember that no one does giant robots better than this.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Transporter (2002)
Starring: Jason Statham, Qi Shu, Matt Schulze
Director: Corey Yuen
Plot: An ex-commando turned driver for the highest bidder gets caught up in an explosive confrontation when he breaks his most important rule and becomes curious of his cargo, a young Chinese woman stuffed into a duffel bag.
Review: For those action junkie in the need for a quick fix, the tongue-in-cheek, internationally-produced The Transporter might be just the ticket. One of the film's claim to fame is that it's written and produced by Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element), who's become France's answer to Hollywood's mindless, high-testosterone film-making with such fluff action flicks as Taxi and Kiss of the Dragon. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the film continues his recent escapades into the world of Hong Kong-inspired action. Much like its Asian counter-parts, the film is low on plot and high on car chases, explosions, hand-to-hand combat and over-the-top fight scenes. In fact, it disdains any pretense of story about the mid-way point and gets mired in silliness. Still, as directed by now-famed Hong Kong action choreographer / director Corey Yuen (Enter the Eagles, Dragons Forever), the movie never loses steam, even in the slower moments. Even jaded viewers will appreciate some of the originality and energy to be found in the fight sequences (including one on an oil slick) and the myriad stunts. Though Shu and the rest of the cast barely register, Statham really impresses with his moves and presence showing a real knack for the genre. Of note though is the horrible soundtrack, which kills off much of the mood. Thankfully, there's enough kicking and martial-arts acrobatics to satisfy even the more demanding fans, and if you're able to put your brain on hold, The Transporter will provide some fine-fisted entertainment.
Entertainment: 6/10

Transporter 2 (2005)
Starring: Jason Statham, Amber Valletta, Alessandro Gassman
Director: Louis Leterrier
Plot: An ex-special forces soldier turned professional driver accepts a replacement job for a powerful US drug enforcement official but when his employer's son is kidnapped and infected with a deadly virus it's up to him to get the boy back.
Review: For those that thought the first Transporter was too slow and spent too much time on story well, Transporter 2 is your movie. More so than the original, the film pushes things beyond all credibility, from the ridiculous stunts to the just-as-ridiculous story. But it's this style of over-the-top action sequences that made its Hong Kong ken so popular, from the imaginatively choreographed fight scenes by Corey Yuen (the original film's co-director) using water hoses, pipes, and even coconuts as weapons to the CGI-enhanced stunts involving impossible car and sea-doo acrobatics. Add some vicious cartoon villains, a plot out of a story randomizer, and some slick visuals and you've got an affair that has no excuse for being anything more than a live-action video game. Returning director Leterrier (Unleashed) cranks things up a notch by keeping the action and humor elements that made the first one a success while glossing over the story by director-turned hack writer Luc Besson. Sure, there's even less logic and characterization this time around, but boy does it all look good. And as action goes, we get gobs of it in gleeful, unrepentant excess. Doing many of his own stunts as he reprises his role as the title character, Statham really shows off a great panache for action roles, with the cool demeanor and moves to prove it. The other real star is, of course, the souped-up Audi A8 which manages to survive gunfire and crashing through cement walls without a scratch. Transporter 2 doesn't pretend it's anything but ludicrous trashy fare, but it's so damn amusing that adrenaline fans will gobble it up.
Entertainment: 7/10

Transporter 3 (2008)
Starring: Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, Francois Berleand
Director: Olivier Megaton
Plot: A driver-for-hire is blackmailed into transporting the kidnapped daughter of a Ukrainian official to Odessa turning the table in short order against the evil mastermind pulling his strings.
Review: Continuing in the same dumb-but-fun vein as its predecessors, Transporter 3 is perhaps the least effective of the series but still pretty solid action entertainment. Upping the silliness quotient with some downright frivolous filler material and throwaway plot by series writers Luc Besson and co., it's all an excuse for some comic (or comic-book) relief between the ludicrous but thrilling set-pieces. It's unfortunate that director Megaton (no joke) isn't a better helmer and that the choppy editing doesn't allow for proper appreciation of the action choreography, but when it comes down to it the action is a blast, as inventive and over the top as its predecessors. Apart from the otherwise standard fight sequences (this time in a garage), of note is a furious bicycle chase after our hero's carjacked Audi through busy streets, warehouses and broken glass. Having made a name for himself as the go-to guy for this kind of action vehicle, Statham seems to be game for anything and he's in fine form here - baring his chest at the earliest opportunity and kicking heads with proper aplomb. As the necessary moll, Rudakova may have the pre-requisite look for the part but her personality has little wattage, playing the part as anchor to our hero more than effective romantic interest. Their banter is supposed to be romantic and their interaction sexy, but it just putters along to the next high-speed chase. Returning in supporting role, Berlean, as the friendly police chief, gets the brightest moments. In the end, Transporter 3 doesn't try to be anything other than light, punchy fun and in that it succeeds. It might be completely forgettable, but it does keep viewer interest while it lasts.
Entertainment: 6/10

*Classic* The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston
Director: John Huston
Plot: Three American expatriates search for gold in the desert reaches of Mexico, but when they find it a battle of wills ensues as mistrust and greed starts to reign between them.
Review: More than just the usual Western fare, The Treasure of Sierra Madre (adapted from the popular novel by B. Traven) is an adventure story as well as an intense drama, a complex, penetrating character study of one man's psychological disintegration. As such this is a terrific character-driven story of greed, of the corruptive power of gold, and of the fickle nature of fate acting on these tough, wary prospectors. The male-bonding of the first half turns into human conflict as, consumed by greed, their suspicions growing as their gold reserves increase, the three gold-diggers end up in a murderous scheme. There's a palpable tension that builds with each passing scene, and a real sense of suspense. In fact, the whole exercise is so fascinating, so wrenching and so well played out that it's quite impossible to think of it done any other way. This was an endeavor of love and sweat from legendary director Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen) and it shows off all his storytelling and cinematic skills to perfection. Huston insisted on an extra degree of realism and shot on location in Mexico, and it works; the black and white photography is excellent showing the desert locales and gritty interactions well, and the production values are quite impressive for the times. The three leads, though, count for much of the film's success: Going against type after such successes as Casablanca, this is hands-down Bogart's bravura performance, utterly convincing in his slow degradation from a friendly, generous chap to a paranoid, greedy bastard. Walter Huston, the director's father, does a show-stealing turn as the grizzled, fast-talking prospector in a performance that won him a Best Supporting Oscar. By adapting a difficult novel and giving it so much cinematic heft, director Houston has created here his masterpiece, actually winning two Oscars for the film for both directing and screenwriting. The Treasure of Sierra Madre is a classic Hollywood drama that put the Western on its ear, a grim, unrelenting portrait of greed that shows off Bogart's true acting chops.
Drama: 10/10

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
Starring: Michele Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Plot: When her charge is kidnapped during the Tour de France, a Portuguese grandmother and her beloved pooch cross the ocean to a sterling metropolis, teaming up with three aging music-hall stars to rescue him.
Review: As an original comedy / adventure and an animated homage to the '20s, from its be-bop music to its silent-movie-era narrative structure, The Triplets of Belleville is a pure delight from start to finish. Its most obvious feature is the impeccable, rich animation which has a very unique style, one that clearly marks its individuality from the usual Disney or from the recent spate of CGI. The titular theme song, often repeated, is catchy and amusing and with its scarcity of dialogue and jazzy soundtrack it's an ode to visual storytelling which also means that the humor and story are truly universal. The actual plot is strange, as are the inhabitants of this exaggerated and rather cynical view of the metropolis (an amalgam of cities which the art direction sees with a twisted eye). In another finger to the usual American endeavors, the heroines are all grandmotherly women, all past their prime but still very much alive. It's an almost absurd take that remains light-hearted and inventive despite some unpleasant situations. This is clearly a mature animated effort - though there isn't anything truly inappropriate for kids, younger audiences might be put off by the dark, dreary atmosphere and slower moments. For those who can get over that, there's lots to appreciate and enjoy here - from the clever details of this off-kilter world, to the choice of character design, to the surreal atmosphere, the great use for hand grenades to catch dinner (!) and a climactic (and hilariously original) chase sequence across town. At a swift 80 minutes, the show that is The Triplets of Belleville is over much too quickly but it's a mesmerizing trip while it lasts.
Entertainment: 8/10

Tristan & Isolde (2006)
Starring: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Plot: The love of a British lord's son for an Irish princess promised to his father sparks a jealousy that threatens the tenuous peace between the two countries.
Review: Based on - but sorely deviating from - the age-old Celtic tale that must have influenced Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, the romance Tristan & Isolde is given the modern mainstream treatment to ill effect. The movie's best asset is definitely the cinematography: shot mostly in Eastern Europe with a medium-sized budget, the sumptuous forest and rocky shore-line scenery is breath-taking, and the production values aren't too shabby either. Too bad, then, that this version of the story is so bland, made even more so by the predictable script and banal dialogue that keeps the romantic entanglements and sacrifices to the level of teenage angst. Director Reynolds has come a long way down from his lighter adventure fare like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Count of Monte Cristo; though there's some minor entertainment in the lackluster TV-scale fight scenes, this is a humorless and emotionless re-telling despite some solid performances, including the lovely Myles as the object of affection. But if the supporting cast is effective (especially Sewell as the sympathetic Brit King) there's little chemistry or passion between the two pretty-but-boring lovers making it hard for anyone to swallow the overwrought sentimentality. Blame it on headliner Franco who just doesn't make for a very convincing (or affecting) leading man, his role seemingly limited to moping around town. Still, as a vehicle for its unconvincing star the film might be a wash, but for those looking for luscious scenery and who don't mind a middling romantic / action flick, Tristan & Isolde may be just the thing.
Entertainment: 4/10

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006)
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Plot: An independent film production attempts to bring an 18th-century novel to the screen but the project seems to elude both the filmmakers and the actors.
Review: An inventive adaptation of Laurence Stern's "unfilmable" 18th century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Tristram Shandy is an experiment in narrative and comedy. Right off the bat, it's clear that it accepts the fact that it can never do the book justice and so goes about it haphazardly, mixing in the period tale of the character's birth (told in spectacularly non-linear fashion) with the present-day behind-the-scenes making-of itself. The story is constantly interrupted not only by the book's narrator but by the on-set antics as well: re-shoots, personal grudges, budget cuts, and actor rivalry all make it in. As leading man in both narratives, Coogan plays an insecure, ego-centric, narcissistic version of himself, yet he's oddly sympathetic enough to bring out laughs from his inept behavior and his own real-life tabloid history. He and Brydon, his usurping co-star, have lots of opportunities to riff and play on creating a silly version of themselves, but the shtick does get tired fast. Some nice cameos from a bevy of Brit actors (and the very American Gillian Anderson) also livens things up. But the real star is the script by always-interesting helmer Winterbottom (Code 46, 24 Hour Party People) that effortlessly moves from one story to another, parodying the industry while providing a flavor for the genius of the novel. There are some truly surreal moments, like when our actor is inserted head-down into the blown-up mock-up of a vagina to re-enact his character's birth, and the in-jokes fly fast and furious. But if one can objectively appreciate the British wit and cleverness in creating the film, in the end its parts never make up an agreeable whole. Still, adventurous viewers looking for a bit of a change from the mainstream will definitely enjoy Tristam Shandy's convoluted narrative, quirky humor and fictional look at backstage tomfoolery.
Entertainment: 6/10

Tropic Thunder (2008)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black
Director: Ben Stiller
Plot: Sent out unaccompanied in the Asian jungle to make the ultimate Vietnam flick, a group of self-absorbed actors portraying US soldiers find themselves in real trouble as they come face-to-face with a local drug lord.
Review: Though the premise and posters of Tropic Thunder scream high-concept spoof of Vietnam movies like Apocalypse Now, the film is really meant as a hilarious parody of Hollywood magnates, producers, directors and - of course - ego-driven stars. The surprise is that it works this well on both counts. From the faux-trailers that start the movie to the nutty, explosive-laden ending, the movie is a blast. Sure, it's not terribly new or completely fresh but the broad humor has some real zingers and even if some of the comedy bits fall flat there's enough of them in quick succession that some hit the mark. Actor / director Stiller may be biting the hands that feed him, but oh what joy to be able to create a zippy, R-rated comedy that works on different levels. It's not quite classic material like Altman's seething black comedy The Player, but there's a wild abandon here that mixes both the recent exaggerated comedies of Stiller and his comic cohorts like Will Ferrell, some wild action, and some clever commentary, even using the lurid caricatures for the stereotyped characters. And he couldn't get a better cast, eager to make fun of themselves: in the spotlight is Downey Jr. who chews the scenery as the Australian actor who does a pigmentation surgery to get the role of the black soldier, proving he can take on just about any role. There's also Black, who's always over-the-top as the comic who wants to get into "drama" and some great supporting comic roles from Matthew McConaughey as Stiller's agent, Steve Coogan as the inept director and most especially Mr. Tom Cruise himself as the grating, foul-mouthed uber-producer, doled up in makeup and a fat suit that makes him almost unrecognizable - and a real hoot. Amazingly enough, Stiller - as the has-been action-hero - is the only one who gets short-changed in a role that feels like a repeat of his Zoolander persona. Still, though Tropic Thunder has its weaknesses (the pacing and comedy sometime falter in the middle) it's rough-and-tumble entertainment that's sure to tickle the funny-bone.
Comedy: 7/10

Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Starring: Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Plot: A couple, a world-famous thief and a con-artist, experience romantic difficulties when they insinuate themselves into the life of a beautiful rich widow to better rob her of an important sum of money.
Review: A delightful comedy, full of wonderful dialogue, and comic situations. Director Lubitsch controls the screen with a deft, masterful touch. The three leads give a solid, and often even sensuous, performance with great comic timing. The mature, light-hearted script is full of sexually-charged innuendo, witty repartee, and classic comedy. Produced before Hollywood embarked on its crusade of self-censorship, Trouble in Paradise's elements all combine to create a sophisticated comedy that belies its age.
Entertainment: 8/10

Troy (2004)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Plot: Headed by the undefeatable hero Achilles, the largest Greek army ever assembled crosses the sea to take on the impenetrable fortress-city of Troy to reclaim their Queen.
Review: Inspired by the success of Gladiator, the mega-production Troy is more a throwback to those massive '50s era the sword and sandals epics like Ben Hur and The Robe. Loosely "inspired" by Homer's poem The Illiad, the filmmakers have opted for a more realistic, gritty approach to the legend of Troy doing away completely with the implication of the gods of old and the other supernatural aspects of the story. Worse, they've also sped up the war to weeks instead of years. In so doing, they have also reduced the legend to pure historical fiction, and it's a shame. Putting the "epic love story" on the back-burner, the real selling point to audiences are the battles, and these are well staged and impressive in scale, but remain for the most part emotionally uninvolving. Individual fights fare better, and none more so that the exciting one between Hector and Achilles. There is a single poignant, dramatic moment that comes between O'Toole and Pitt, as the old king requests his son's body from his enemy. The rest of the film unfortunately falls into the Hollywood gunk category, a grand production that could have used more attention to the script as the movie's downfall is the lack of a believable or engaging story. In other words, the visuals are splendid and lots of money is thrown on the screen, but the characters are only caricatures, the story simplistic, the melodrama bland, and everyone seems forced to spout laughable platitudes. Director Petersen has gone from his success on his masterful Das Boot to more Americanized fare such as Air Force One and The Perfect Storm, and now he's gone completely Hollywood in this, his most disappointing film. For sure, this is grand spectacle, what with the hundreds of extras, detailed costumes and sumptuous art direction and sets (with special note going to the formidable Trojan Horse). But though the scenes of conflict are ably handled, the human aspect, the pathos, the drama and the storytelling are all shallow, playing second fiddle to the massive deployments. What we do get a lot of is "beefcake" in the form of Pitt, Bana, and the supporting players. Pitt, usually given to some fine performances, has little range here and is mostly asked to play to his pretty-boy reputation: oh, he looks handsome for sure, and he fights convincingly but there's too many shots of his cold and determined poise above all else. Cox's Agamemnon, meanwhile, is a one-dimensional parody. Faring better are Bana and Bloom as the Trojan princes, and O'Toole as their kind but foolish father. In the end, it's easy to appreciate the blockbuster elements and go with the flow, but it's hard to take any of this seriously. As such, Troy is yet another of a slew of summer popcorn films that will be quickly forgotten.
Entertainment: 6/10

True Grit (2010)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Plot: A young woman hires a veteran, tough-as-nails U.S. Marshall to track down her father's murderer through Indian territory and bring him to justice.
Review: Based on the novel by Charles Portis, this second film incarnation of True Grit outshines the first crowd-pleasing outing from 1969 starring John Wayne in just about every way. For one, the script is much more in tune with the tone of the book, and unlike the earlier film version, the comic elements are less present; there's still a humorous tone to some of the proceedings, especially in the impressive gumption of its head-strong 14-year old teen, but no one will mistake it for a comedy. Alongside their Oscar winning No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers show that their new forte may well be the literary adaptation; the dialogue is snappy and smart, keeping the rich language of the original novel; there's a flair for fleshing out these characters; and the whole affair moves along at just the right pace. Visually, the vistas, atmosphere and sweeping feel of the Western imbue every frame. The mythology of the Wild West takes a beating, though, with its flawed cowboys who - though they should be epitomizing self-reliance of the US Marshall or Texas Ranger - end up being somewhat of a caricature of their perceived self. And the case is a hoot: Damon does an amusing turn as a mildly pompous tracker who isn't very sharp, getting some good lines in, but the real star - of course - is the grizzled old Bridges, playing the one-eyed drunken Marshall like something out of his aging Dude persona. If the film is a bittersweet tale of the New Frontier, just as it was transforming itself - and its denizens - from the Wild West to the Old West, then Bridges embodies that metaphor whole-heartedly. Of the three male actors top-billed, Brolin barely makes a supporting appearance as the dim-witted criminal who gives everyone chase; it's the only disappointment. The story's real focus and heart, however, is the 13-year-old actress who puts them all together, and occasionally all in their place: Hailee Steinfeld. Smart, capable, willfully determined and thrust into adulthood, she's the essence of the new order that infuriates and then impresses all the hard men she comes into contact. Behind the witty banter and the sweeping adventure, however, lies a thoughtful, dark window into violence and revenge, giving True Grit a place next to classics of the genre like Unforgiven and The Searchers.
Drama / Entertainment: 8/10

True Lies (1994)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis
Director: James Cameron
Plot: A tough, suave secret agent has a hard time keeping his real job hidden from his wife and daughter until his latest assignment, chasing nuclear terrorists, forces them to become entangled into his dual life.
Review: Half comedy, half action, True Lies may not seem to be up to director Cameron's usual high standards (Aliens, Terminator 2) but it's still a big, joyous juggernaut that manages to amuse and entertain. The action sequences of the film are often original, very well done and quite exciting, with stunts involving a motorcycle jumping into a roof-top pool, a horse in a hotel lobby, the usual explosive gunfights, and even a showdown with a Harrier jet. The comedy elements, though, are more of a mixed bag. The events surrounding the agent's dual life and the problems that ensue are for the most part quite funny, but some of the situations seem to tend towards the misogynistic. Then there's the usual slapstick involving the bumbling Arab terrorists, portrayed with Hollywood's typical exaggerated one-dimensional fanaticism, which occasionally falls into the puerile. Schwarzenegger is actually well suited for the half-Rambo half-James Bond spy / family man caught between two worlds, but it's Tom Arnold as the comic relief who steals most of the scenes. The only real hiccup of the movie is the subplot done only for laughs of the used car salesman trying to seduce the hero's wife by pretending to be a spy, a sequence that drags on a bit, cutting the pacing of the story. That, and the constant close-ups of Schwarzenegger's stunt double which mars the fantasy a tad. Still, despite its blemishes one can't help but be entertained by the proceedings and True Lies is indeed an amusing, big, loud, action-packed summer blockbuster.
Entertainment: 8/10

The Tuxedo (2002)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Isaacs
Director: Kevin Donovan
Plot: The shy chauffeur of a rich, suave master spy must put on his boss' ability-enhancing, gadget-laden tuxedo to stop an evil mastermind from contaminating the world's water supply.
Review: The Tuxedo is, of course, a spoof on the James Bond formula with diabolical villain bent on world domination, gadgets galore and sexy dames, one where an innocent geek gets a chance to turn things around and live the high-life. The idea of a suit that can do anything from fighting to dancing and make anyone a super-hero is a good one, and the script makes good use of the premise for comedic effect. Like any of these light, fluffy comedies, the plot is a ludicrous excuse for a movie with the parts more impressive than the whole. As such, some scenes do stand out, like Chan bringing the house down with his James Brown impersonation or battling goons with his pants down. Thanks in large part to martial-arts phenomena Jackie Chan, who for once isn't playing second fiddle in a Hollywood production, the film actually succeeds in delivering what it promises. Chan's comic timing has always been excellent, and it's nice to see him still able to pull it off. As for the trademark acrobatics, though limited in its physical prowess and not quite as well choreographed as Chan's Hong Kong efforts, they still show off its aging lead's impressive skills. Sure, much of the show is made up of expensive special effects, wires and stunt doubles than what fans may be used to but the over-the-top action is entertaining. As for the humor, it does tend towards the usual teen jokes and cheap gags but thankfully others work well enough to have audiences burst out laughing, and there's no mistaking the gleeful attitude on display. Hewitt also does a decent straight-man foil as the inexperienced field agent to the inept spy amateur Chan and, though it's not always smooth, their teaming allows for some funny moments. In the end, though it's not exactly memorable, The Tuxedo is a light, fluffy Chan action / comedy that's well-paced and delivers some decent entertainment value.
Entertainment: 6/10

Twilight (2008)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Plot: Moving to a small town with her divorced father, a teenage girl falls in love with a mysterious classmate who turns out to be part of a local vampire family.
Review: Based on the best-selling novel by Stephanie Meyer, Twilight is unabashedly aimed squarely at the teen girl demographic; and it's pure teen girl wish-fulfillment, a complex, platonic relationship with a brooding, handsome young man amidst a feeling of social alienation - how a monster may well be the only person who can understand what they're going through. No matter how well or how badly the film is, the series' fans would have gobbled it up. A pleasant surprise, then, that the filmmakers have managed to create a typically slick mainstream adaptation that's actually better than most teen romances of late, harkening back to some of the more entertaining Hollywood features of old, where foreplay was everything. As genre film, it's definitely not an original take on the subject of vampires in high school - think of it as a more dramatic (and chaste) version of TV's Buffy's relationship with Angel. There is, however, a lot of teen angst and lust on display, but little that's actually risqué apart from one kissing scene, and there's little blood or violence, apart from the climactic scene - most of the more horrible aspects are kept off-screen. Some highlights make up for a lot of the standard cliché stuff, like what must be one of the most awkward "meet the parents" situations in cinema history, a super-powered game of baseball, and hints at an interesting overall mythology. With her previous experience exploring the social lives of teen girls in Thirteen, director Hardwicke was a strong choice to direct the film. She brings a particular attention to a topic that includes straightforward dramatic bits of an estranged father-daughter dynamic and mixes some deliberate humor to the mix with workmanlike efficiency. There's no denying that the teen cast is bang-on for the tale: a rather cold, no-nonsense Stewart and the quirky, affable Brit Pattinson have a simmering chemistry between them and their growing relationship moves in appropriate fits and starts; there's a certain intensity in their performances that makes up for a lot and, as the real focus of the tale, it's also what works the best. It's way too talky for most horror and actions fans but for its dedicated fan base, Twilight is a vampire romance that definitely delivers the goods. For everyone else, this may well be a guilty pleasure.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (2011)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Director: Bill Condon
Plot: Falling pregnant on her wedding night, a teen and her vampire beau must contend with her difficult pregnancy and the threat of a pack of werewolves who believe her unborn child poses a threat to the local town.
Review: Now in the final stretch of the immensely popular Twilight Saga series, the penultimate entry Breaking Dawn - Part 1 knows its audience and delivers exactly to expectations. It's also better than any of these films probably has a right to be, and the best yet since the original installment. Splitting the book into two films seems to be a decision based more on profits than artistry and, considering this first part only tackles the first quarter or so of the novel, little seems to actually occur by the ending's obvious cliffhanger. A bit of vampire-on-werewolf action, a dash of Rosemary's Baby tension, a dollop of teen angst and a lot of rose-tinted-glasses ogling at the supernatural coupling doesn't quite seem enough. And yet it mostly works, mainly thanks to the addition of director Condon to the mix, who shows off the skills used on Gods and Monsters and Dreamgirls; it's not up to those standards, perhaps, but it was never meant to be anything but a sleek, overly produced teen melodrama with horror overtones. Clearly, the whole concept of the vampire mythos has been used in Meyer's series as a metaphor for woman's passage into adulthood; except here it's bloody scary stuff, pun intended. There's the fairy-tale (and virgin) wedding at 18, the break with parents, the Honeymoon (in a gorgeous isolated Brazilian island no less), the life-threatening consummation (and fretting about pre- and post-), and the evil repercussions of it (instant pregnancy of a devil baby!). It's probably never been so delicately (and sumptuously) captured in a vampire film before, and - if you think of it - it's pretty damn scary stuff to throw at its teen audience. The romantic triangle isn't as interesting, and Lautner has little to do but be a brooding, damp emotional fire cracker in the light of the intensity between real-life couple Stewart and Pattinson. But then, what do I know - I'm a dad over forty; I'm not meant to get the teen heart-throb thing. Still, the film is engaging, well acted and well-paced, making for an engaging vampire soap opera. the producers could have sat on their laurels and still made it a blockbuster; by taking some chances, and exploring scary grown-up themes with some aggressive visuals, this blood-sucking romance actually is a stand-out in an over-crowded genre, setting the stage for quite a final showdown.
Entertainment: 7/10

Twilight - Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Director: Bill Condon
Plot: Having been recently turned into a vampire, a young woman and her new coven must gather witnesses from around the world to help protect her half-human daughter from an ancient vampiric order set on destroying them.
Review: The final installment of the insanely popular series starts exactly where Twilight - Breaking Dawn Part 1 left off. It's more slick, forgettable Hollywood entertainment filled with beautiful people, supernatural special effects and soap opera, vampire-style. To finish off in style, we ge to meet countless new characters coming out of the woodworks, all of whom seem to have an interesting story to tell but get but a perfunctory exposé. Then again, they're just canon fodder; the real attraction is the no-longer-whining Bella and annoyingly-smiley Edward, and their affair gets to ramp up in the boinking department, with lovey-dovey dialogue like "I will love you forever and ever", while the rest of the family actually takes care of their young - and quickly maturing - daughter. It seems being a vampire is teen wish fulfillment: always beautiful, no need to sleep, and oh, the sex!, plus you belong to a group of special, superior people who are just like you. Yup, downsides like bloodsucking, frying by sunlight and being an outcast aren't an issue in this world. Kind of wonder why Bella wasn't changed into a vampire from the get-go in the first chapter if all this was so darn perfect. But then, logic was thrown out quite a few installments ago. In his second Twilight outing, director Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey) doesn't miss a beat with the energetic pacing, gleefully purveying the excesses of a tale where the romantic aspects that made so many teenage girls swoon get mashed with family melodrama, political conspiracies and - in the end - a veritably bloody monster mash-up. Indeed, with the approval of author Meyer herself (now with a "producer" credit), the ending adds a decidedly thrilling, impressively staged coven vs. coven battle that's worth the price of admission, an interesting twist to the book's original climax that's sure to gain popularity with its male audience, what with all the violence, fights and beheadings galore. Stewart and Pattinson may have decent actor creds in other films, but it's still Billy Burke, as her hapless father, that shows any true heart while Michael Sheen, as the chief of the Volturi, hams it up to such tongue-in-cheek levels to make it clear this is all silly stuff despite all the apparent seriousness from the rest of the supporting cast. Everything's good in the end, of course, like any self-righteous fairy-tale, all the loose ends neatly tied together. But then, fans wouldn't have it any other way.
Entertainment: 6/10

Twister (1996)
Starring: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Jan De Bont
Plot: A soon-to-be-divorced couple, both meteorologists, chase after tornadoes with their rag-tag team of scientists to send experimental sensors into a twister before a corporate-sponsored competitor can do the same.
Review: For his second feature, Speed director De Bont tackled Twister a decidedly furious roller-coaster ride of a disaster flick that promises and delivers a pure effects-laden spectacle, big, loud and fast. Popular author Michael Crichton's prints are all over this fast-paced script, putting scientific fact in layman's terms for pure entertainment purposes just as he did with another roller-coaster science ride, Jurassic Park. The competition with the "evil" corporate sponsors adds a bit of a sub-plot that is barely realized, but then the whole story is merely a construct on which to hang some terrific, and terrifying, tornado effects and impressive scenes of destruction, though at times some of these look a little too obviously computer-generated. The film keeps moving along even when the violent weather isn't on center stage, and Hunt and Paxton have enough screen presence and crisp chemistry together to keep us interested even though the characterizations are barely glossed over. There's also an infectious energy coming from this group of crazed tornado chasers, with a solid cast that gives us the feeling of being part of the team. But the real attraction is still the adrenaline-pumping chase after increasingly strong forces, as our heroes dodge everything including the kitchen sink, providing an exciting, if forced, suspense throughout. It does get a tad repetitive but it's always impressive. A rush of fast edits and good cinematography definitely helps to capture the sensation of being close to these terrible, fascinating storms. Entertaining, fast, and decidedly impressive, if a little shallow, Twister is an effective piece of blockbuster pop-corn fun.
Entertainment: 7/10

Two Weeks Notice (2002)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant, Alicia Witt
Director: Marc Lawrence
Plot: A spoiled and irresponsible big-business tycoon desperately tries to convince his new Harvard-educated lawyer to remain in his employ after she decides to quit being taken for his own personal assistant.
Review: Two Weeks Notice is another piece of amusing and entertaining fluff, as only Hollywood can produce it. This is a cookie-cutter stab at an audience-pleasing effort, and it's obvious no one involved really put a big effort to create this. Yet despite it's lack of originality and its un-hidden familiarity, it does make up in casual charm. Some clever dialogue, a fun (if ever-so-predictable) script, some necessary eccentric supporting cast, and a zippy pacing make for a pleasing (if easily forgotten) romantic comedy. Though the outcome is predictable there's the usual stopping blocks to the relationship, of course, which add to some funny and embarrassing moments. None of these are very interesting, but director Lawrence keeps things moving along at a good pace. The highlight and real selling point of the film, however, is the team up of Grant and Bullock. The pair has great chemistry together on screen, and they do nothing if not play to their strengths, albeit their now stereotypical ones. Indeed Grant can do the typical naive, oh so handsome English charmer in his sleep and Bullock goes back to her roots as the working-class outcast turned into a big-business belle. Audiences for this film know exactly what to expect and won't be disappointed, and even those not into this type of fare will be hard pressed not to laugh occasionally and be, however mildly, taken in.
Entertainment: 5/10

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