Movie Review Library - U

Home / Latest Reviews / Review Library
Now Playing / Coming Soon / BLOG / Top 20 Lists
Hong Kong Cinema!Film Fests / FAQ / Favorite Links

Make sure you see the Latest Video Reviews page as well!

U-571 (2000)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Bill Paxton
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Plot: After a daring mission to steal a coding machine goes wrong, a U.S. Navy crew is left to navigate enemy waters in a damaged German submarine.
Review: After a good half hour of exposition to the plot points and the large cast of characters, U-571 really hits high gear. Liberally taking ideas and situations from better films (especially from the ultimate of submarine epics, Das Boot), U-571 shows off all the right tricks, with a sense of claustrophobia, lots of quick editing, and underwater battle scenes full of energy, tension and furious action. Historical realism goes out the window very early in the story, but the suspense builds just as quickly. Indeed, the whole exercise is in the tight pacing and suspense, and in that U-571 succeeds brilliantly though some of the sequences do drag on a bit and just end up being confusing and loud. The one-dimensional character developments also appear to be tacked on to the narrative, but the un-stellar ensemble cast is effective and manages to keep the focus on the real hero of the film: the submarine. Disappointingly after so much white-knuckle suspense, the ending seems very abrupt and way too easy. Still, U-571 may end up being a little shallow, but it's a real nail-biter and a good summer thriller while it lasts.
Entertainment: 7/10

Ultraman Tiga & Ultraman Dyna & Ultraman Gaia: Inter-dimensional Battle (Japan - 1999)
Starring: Takeshi Yoshioka, Gaku Hamada, Mai Saito
Director: Kazuya Konaku
Plot: A young boy discovers a magical orb that allows him to wish the alter-ego of Ultraman into our reality. Things turn ugly when the school bully takes possession of the orb and creates a formidable monster to crush Ultraman.
Review: What can be said of an Ultraman movie? Incredibly popular since its inception in the '60s as a kids TV show, this Ultraman adventure won't disappoint fans of the genre. Starting from an amusing premise, the film quickly jumps into an extended and entertaining monster fight sequence with some impressive effects. Of course, it's still guys in rubber suits, and some of these effects are really cheesy, but that only adds to its charm. Made for kids, but with true nostalgia content for adults.
Entertainment: 6/10

Ultraviolet (2006)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Cameron Bright, Nick Chinlund
Director: Kurt Wimmer
Plot: In a dystopian future where mankind fights against rebels infected with a vampire-like disease, a female killer finds herself protecting a young boy from both sides. 
Review: The slick, video-game / The Matrix inspired sci-fi actioner Ultraviolet isn't all good, but ends up making a perfect B-movie accompaniment to Aeon Flux. The opening credits, featuring a bevy of fake comic book covers by industry artists promises a tongue-in-cheek super-hero romp. And for a short while, it runs with the concept: the first half hour is great as a zany, silly, fun action-adventure taking place in a bubble-gum colored futuristic cityscape, with our heroine getting to change hair color and clothes with infinite ease. There's also a wild abandon in the over-the-top action sequences inspired by Hong Kong flicks, as our heroine slices, dices, and mows down countless faceless adversaries in some impressively choreographed scenes of gun-fu. Sure, it becomes ridiculous, but then that's the whole point. This is a children's comic-book run wild, providing lots of violence but no blood, and a paper-thin plot that tries to imitate better films. If it had kept to that it would have been a passably entertaining trifle. Unfortunately, the rest of the film as our heroine tries to take care of a boy takes itself way too seriously and blows it. Inspired by John Cassavetes's 1980 cult classic Gloria - minus any of the drama - it tries to squeeze mother-hood theme from its kick-ass character, something that ain't going to happen, especially since the slinky Jovovich just doesn't look the type. Perhaps its also intentional that the acting by all involved is so wooden and the dialogue so horrendous; there's comic-book bad, and there's movie-bad, and this one hits both. By the mid-way point it's clear that director Wimmer took a step in the wrong direction from his earlier sci-fi flick Equilibrium; yes, it's a pretty slick production, but it's bland and utterly soulless, relying solely on the visuals to keep our attention. It doesn't help, then, that either by intent or by budget restrictions, many of the computer effects look choppy and downright crude. It would be charitable to say that its filmmakers definitely meant well with all the stylish action and cool visuals, but that's not enough to make Ultraviolet a good movie.
Entertainment: 4/10

Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The (Parapluies de Cherbourg, Les) (1964)
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo
Director: Jacques Demy
Plot: Two young lovers are separated by his leaving for his army service.
Review: Deemed a classic of French cinema, and the film that launched Catherine Deneuve's career. The film's dialogue is entirely done in song which is one of the things that makes this film so special, but also makes some moments seem forced. The plot is simple, but the film is a sweet, romantic story of love, loss, and accepting change. The scenes are photographed in vibrant colors and the score in particular is haunting and memorable.
Drama: 8/10

The Umbrella Story (Hong Kong - 1995)
Starring: Chow Chi Fai, Law Koon Lan, Alice Lau 
Director: Clifton Ko
Plot: The story of a famed Chinese umbrella store that opened in 1886 and the three generations of the family and their employees that worked to make it a success through various hardships.
Review: The Umbrella Story is akin to a live TV broadcast, using only a brief number of extended scenes to provide background information and a lot of dialogue to recap major events in the history of the region and how it affected the family. There are a few amusing and even endearing moments here, but they are few and far between. By trying to distill a long, probably detailed novel, encompassing an extended period and a wide variety of characters, the film touches only on the broad plot points and barely scratches the surface of the family and workers, only providing the typical melodramatic moments and banal hardships without any of the intimacy or charm inherent in the material. The producers have also mixed in old footage of popular Hong Kong actors with the film's cast (as an homage?), but these are jarring and completely useless to the story. For amateurs of (bad) Chinese soap-operas only.
Drama: 3/10

Unagi (The Eel) (1997)
Stars: Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu
Director: Shohei Imamura
Plot: A white-collar worker stumbles on his wife having an affair and kills her. After eight years in prison, he is paroled and decides to open a barber shop in a small community. Afraid that his past will come out, he stays away from most of the villagers, talking only to the eel he befriended while in prison. Then one day he finds the unconscious body of a woman attempting suicide, and he is drawn into her life.
Review: The Eel is a low-key, sentimental and utterly fascinating story of personal redemption, a film full of delicate moments and of interesting characters. The pace is slow, but the tension and interest is expertly maintained by legendary Japanese director Shohei Imamura. Well-deserved winner of the Golden Palm at the Cannes film festival in 1997 (co-winner with A Taste of Cherry).
Drama: 9/10

Unbreakable (2000)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Plot: The sole survivor of a train wreck slowly discovers that he might possess special superhuman powers with the help of a frail comic book dealer, his physically polar opposite.
Review: Unbreakable has many similarities to director Shyamalan's last film, the blockbuster The Sixth Sense: it is a slow, brooding, dark, supernatural tale that is at times clever, suspenseful, and always fascinating in both style and content, only this time it's a story straight out of a comic book reader's dream. With a solid script and a narrative that refuses to be predictable, the story quickly reveals itself as a much more mature and realist take on the subject of the "superman", with many homage sequences to previous films of the type but without retreading on the jaded expectations of its audience. Like its predecessor, the film also ends with a Twilight Zone-type ending that adds greatly to the proceedings and brings a new set of questions. Bruce Willis once again plays the hero, and his stoic, quiet expression works well for the role but Jackson does a much more impressive and interesting performance as the man with the fragile bones. Unbreakable is an accomplished piece of clever, well produced popular entertainment from what is quickly becoming one of Hollywood's more interesting directors.
Entertainment: 8/10

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Starring: Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Raoul Bova
Director: Audrey Wells
Plot: Fighting both writer's block and depression, a recently-divorced literary critic goes on a European trip and buys a rundown villa in the Italian countryside on a whim hoping that repairing it will turn her life around.
Review: Loosely based on Frances Mayes' best-selling memoir, the sweet paint-by-numbers melodrama Under the Tuscan Sun is a diary of a divorcee going through the mid-life blues. With its soft cinematography, beautiful countryside scenery, and its eccentric European characters, it's a pretty, Americanized view of Italian life and culture. This US-centric point-of-view continues throughout the story, too: while the first half has that sense of desperate personal adventure, the interminably clichéd second half - as things just seem to all work out for the best - just rings false. But then this isn't a Fellini film, despite its many references: it's meant to be a light romantic melodrama infused with comic moments, all meant for easy digestion, and as such director Wells delivers. Following a gritty turn in Unfaithful, Lane carries the film with ease and it's nice to see her light up the screen in such mainstream fare. Also of note is Oh as the lesbian friend and soon-to-be-mother who arrives at her doorstep. If Under the Tuscan Sun doesn't end up being much more that a predictable romantic comedy, it's still an easy-going, charming affair that's sure to please.
Entertainment / Drama: 5/10

Underworld (2003)
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly
Director: Len Wiseman
Plot: A female vampire warrior goes out of her way to protect a human who has become an important pawn in a secret centuries-old war between vampires and werewolves.
Review: Pitting two classic supernatural species against each other is one of those concepts that's sure to bring loads of attention. Adding a promise of The Matrix style gunplay and cinematics would be just icing on the cake. And yet, Underworld fails to live to its potential. This would all make a great comic book, for sure, but as a movie it's way too amateurishly scripted and staged, with a paper-thin plot that lacks any sensibility or originality. In fact, there's little here that's not derivative from better films such as Blade or even The Howling series, minus the sexual tension, social subtext, and anything else that might have made this interesting. And don't be fooled by the Romeo-and-Juliet promos: what romantic bits there are come out of left field and feel thrown in (or cut from the edit). Despite the vampire point of view, you're also soon left cheering the underdog bad-guys (the werewolves), who really don't seem to be much of a threat. Most surprising is the fact that the action is actually quite bland, with little to make an impression. Oh, things move, guns roar, and the metal soundtrack pounds, but there's little in the way of actual vampire-werewolf fighting (if you don't count gunplay and posturing), and apart from the odd acrobatic take, even the vampires don't seem that supernatural. Its main failing is that the whole affair is so fond of it's cool nature that it's practically lifeless, the narrative made up of a series of well defined poses that are set up for publicity shots. An a positive note, the visuals for this darkly lit, blue-tinted world are absolutely gorgeous, and the production values are absolutely superb, much better than the film deserves. The cast is adequate, but doesn't provide any spark whatsoever: it's lots of pretty people parading around, or running around needlessly. Even the svelte Beckinsale might look good in a leather-tight outfit, but she plays a single emotion: moody. It's all about attitude, of course, and the film positively drips attitude - character development isn't really necessary. To be fair, Underworld is an adequate if disappointing time-waster that ends up being a movie high on concept but low on actual entertainment. It might impress a cult teen following, but that doesn't mean it's worth the effort.
Entertainment: 4/10

Underworld: Evolution (2006)
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran
Director: Len Wiseman
Plot: A female vampire warrior is thrown back into the centuries-old war between vampires and werewolves when a powerful mutant vows to release the progenitor of modern-day lycans onto the world.
Review: Following immediately after the climax of the first Underworld, Evolution delivers another slick, Gothic horror action fest that's long on style and short on substance. Warning, however: The convoluted story will be utterly confusing to anyone who hasn't seen the first film, and the attempt at redefining and expanding on the mythology of the first film hampers the enjoyment of the film. Even if the rest of the film can't quite live up to its intriguing opening sequence set in the Middle-Ages, so what: The Matrix-inspired action sequences are fast and energetic, the CGI monster effects are good, the sex and gore are cranked up a notch, and it all looks spectacular - all in all fans of the first installment will definitely be pleased with this one. Returning director Wiseman has a great flair for this material and knows what works and what's expected of him: some crisp, atmospheric visuals, carefully choreographed stunt work, loads of character posing, and lots of cool flash. If those moments tagged to flesh out the characters and history tend to slow things down and relies heavily on its own difficult-to-swallow internal logic, at least it all looks good, a fact that is as much due to the careful art direction as it is to the film's leading lady. As the iconic figure of every male Gothic-geek's fantasy, Beckinsale looks sharp in her tight lycra outfit and she approaches the role with utmost seriousness. On the other hand, Speedman's attempts at playing catch up aren't as effective, even when he goes "feral". Evolution is basically mainstream fast-food fun and those ready to accept it as such will find some enjoyment in its blend of vampire epic and intense gunplay, one that plants the seeds for an inevitable sequel.
Entertainment: 6/10

Unfaithful (2002)
Starring: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Olivier Martinez
Director: Adrian Lyne
Plot: A middle-aged suburban mom becomes obsessed in a secret adulterous affair with a young, seductive French bookseller, arising the suspicions of her husband and putting her marriage in jeopardy.
Review: International cinema has always had a field day with the subject of adultery as cautionary tale, but rarely has it been rendered so subtly and deliberately in a Hollywood film as in Unfaithful. Largely based on Claude Chabrol's film La Femme Infidèle, it's a rather simple story but in portraying the slow disintegration of a marriage, in showing the unforgiven passions involved, it hits the mark. There's little dialogue, but the silent moments tell all: the released passions, the broken confidences, the desperate sense of betrayal. There's no reasoning to the wife's philandering, but then there doesn't need to be, and there's no excuse given. The many love scenes between Lane and Martinez display a sense of passion, erotic but always tasteful. Of course, the tale turns predictably sour as prophesized by one of her friends: "Someone always gets hurt", and someone inevitably does. From its beginnings as a potential sexual thriller, the story veers halfway into more dramatic territory. Director Lyne has specialized in tales of infidelity and sexual mores, from the popular suspense thriller Fatal Attraction to the moral dilemma of Indecent Proposal, but here he treats the same subject with a more refined (some would say more mature, even European) sense and fine visual style. Most importantly, it's the way he captures the married couple's relationship when all the cards on the table that really makes the film, and these moments are kept true and painful. The ending is open-ended and it's up to the audience to make up their own minds as to the couple's future. Gere, in a nice change of role as the cuckold husband, is convincing and sympathetic in the role. Martinez, meanwhile, plays the lover with both arresting charm and a careless attitude. No mater what else is said, however, this is Lane's movie, and she is downright perfect portraying the hesitancy, the seduction, the fear of her character in brutally honest fashion. If there isn't anything particularly new to be had in Unfaithful, at least it's a pleasure to see a mainstream film telling an adult tale, and doing it with such confidence.
Drama: 6/10

United 93 (2006)
Starring: Christian Clemenson, Trish Gates
Director: Paul Greengrass
Plot: Dramatization of the tragic events that occurred on United Flight 93 as the passengers and crew tried to overtake before it crashed in a deserted field on September 11, 2001.
Review: A chilling retelling of an event that will forever mark Americans of all ages and creed, United 93 is a raw, brilliantly executed drama that strives - and attains - a amazing level of veracity. There's an undeniable visceral impact in seeing each minute unfold, almost in real time, the film capturing the confusion and fear of those trapped in the air. Brave or desperate, whatever they may have been, the passengers of the doomed flight went through an unimaginable ordeal, and the cast - made up supporting actors, unknown faces and in many cases the actual men and women who lived through the events - makes the recreation utterly believable. Yet the film's real success is that it doesn't limit itself to the hijacked flight but encompasses the greater picture of those involved in the immediate event - from air traffic controllers to the military - superbly summarizing the chaos, mistakes, and powerlessness of the people on the ground. The material doesn't lend itself to further dramatization, and the filmmakers know to keep the story unfettered by the conventional trappings. As directed by Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), the film moves relentlessly, tension building to its inevitable, foregone conclusion. There's a very gritty, very realistic feel to the proceedings, as if we were watching a documentary, a feeling that's enhanced by the use of improvised dialogue and handheld cameras in the claustrophobic quarters. The incident of 9/11 may still be raw in our collective memory, but it's a masterful, emotionally powerful document of that infamous day, and a terrific homage to the men and women of United 93 who made sure their lives were not lost in vain.
Drama: 9/10

Unleashed (Danny the Dog) (2005)
Starring: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins
Director: Louis Leterrier
Plot: After a mob hit, a scarred, child-like man raised from infancy by a gangster as a pit bull suddenly finds himself in the care of a blind piano tuner and his teenage step-daughter.
Review: Unleashed gives the familiar themes an interesting twist, one that comes out better than it would have any right to thanks to a refreshing execution and a fine cast. The real shock is the script by director-turned-hack-writer Luc Besson, one that is far superior to his recent output. Sure, the melodrama is almost childish in its simplicity but the dialogue and events won't make you smirk in derision despite the logic flaws. Thank director Leterrier (The Transporter) for not only a film that's great to look at, but also for keeping all of the story's varying elements moving, even during the slower moments. And while the middle section is a bit smarmy (albeit charmingly so) as Danny bonds to his adopted family, the confrontations with Hoskins (always accompanied by swearing and brutal acts) show that the real core of the film is anything but - there's some real punch behind the velvet glove. Speaking of which, action junkies will be happy: the many action sequences from master martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo Ping are vicious, fast, and dazzling save perhaps for the one where Danny fights a squad of gladiators in the ring, a scene that seems out of whack with the efficient combat of the rest of the film. Created as one of his better starring vehicles, Li plays the innocent with a convincing puppy-dog face while proving he's still no slouch when it comes to delivering in the action parts either. Even his still-limited grasp of English actually comes in handy for the role. As the blind, good Samaritan Freeman exudes an easy warmth that makes the dramatic bits palpable. But it's Hoskins who really steals the show with a deliciously despicable performance as the mean-spirited crime boss - he's the guy you just love to hate. A simple tale well-told, Unleashed is a stylish mix of bone-crunching action and sentimental melodrama that amounts to a pleasant surprise.
Entertainment: 7/10

The Untouchables (1987)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro
Director: Brian De Palma
Plot: Special government agent Elliott Ness, charged with taking down Chicago's most notorious crime lord, takes on Al Capone's bootleg empire with only a handful of incorruptible cops.
Review: Based on now legendary events of how a handful of G-men brought down Chicago's most notorious criminal, The Untouchables is one of the best, and definitely the most entertaining, modern depiction of the gangster era. Of course, it's all dramatized and loosely adapted to provide a cinematic experience, but - from a screenplay by the talented David Mamet - the film moves along at such a solid pace, developing its characters and situations with such clockwork efficiency that one can easily forgive the fictional account. Amidst a string of average films such as Carrie and Body Double, this effort stands out as director De Palma's (Scarface) undisputed masterpiece, with all the elements coming together perfectly, from the bloody violence in the streets (including Tommy-gun fights to knifings), to the final legal battle. Even the art direction, sets, costumes, overall production and rich cinematography bring us back to an imaginary roaring '20s as they should have been, the Ennio Morricone score adding to the ambiance. De Palma always has a penchant for Hitchcockian cinematics and he offers up once again some decent suspense. A shoot-out sequence choreographed to perfection on the steps of Chicago's Grand Station, an homage to the baby carriage scene in Battleship Potemkin, stands out as a now-classic cinema moment. The cast is a dream, from Costner in his break-out role as crime-fighter Elliott Ness, to the incomparable Sean Connery (in an Oscar-winning performance), to the supporting players notably a young Andy Garcia and a hefty, over-the-top De Niro as Al Capone. Thanks to the talents of all involved, The Untouchables is an exemplary Hollywood affair portraying larger-than-life events in a stylish, grand manner.
Entertainment: 8/10

Up in the Air (2009)
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
Director: Jason Reitman
Plot: A freewheeling corporate executive who travels across the country firing people for a living meets his sexy frequent-flyer alter-ego just as his company decides to ground him.
Review: Adapted from the 2001 novel by Walter Kim, Up in the Air is quite timely, capturing what people have been calling the current "zeitgeist" in these days of economic uncertainty. For those of us who have traveled for business or been on the giving or receiving end of a layoff, the entire thing is disconcerting. For general audiences, it gives a refreshing look at the another side of big business practices and the implications of the current Recession. There's a careful, assured direction by Reitman, whose Thank You For Smoking portrayed a just-as-endearing cad and was perhaps more subversive than this, but he still manages to find the funny, and the humane, in the most desperate of situations. Managing to balance both the tragic insights and lighter side (both in the satire and old-school romantic dialogue), Reitman's blend of black comedy, flighty romance and drama is just right and his social commentary is often bang-on. As the eternal bachelor and high-flyer whose job it is to travel across the country firing people for a living, Clooney gives one of the best performances of his career - oddly sympathetic, charming and vulnerable. He's a guy who loves his job and commitment-free lifestyle, and who's happiest living out of a suitcase, 320 days a year. As his female counterpart and growing soul-mate, Farmiga is a knockout, easily his equal (and sometimes even besting him) in every scene. The chemistry they have together, from their chance encounter and quick courtship over comparing hotel and airline memberships to crashing conference parties, reminds one of some of the best romantic comedies. As his sidekick (and occasional pain), the young Kendrick impresses especially during the short but beguiling, heartfelt sequences as their "victims" start getting under the apprentice's skin (and ours). If the endings for our characters are somewhat predictable (our protagonist, of course, gets what's coming to him), they're still quite fitting. The only downside is the last minute cop-out, averting the message of how our jobs have become who we are by trying to salvage an uplifiting denouement. Thankfully, that's a minor failing for a film that's this engaging, mature, clever and smart - Up in the Air may not quite be Oscar material, but it sure proves Reitman is a filmmaker to look out for.
Drama: 8/10

The Usual Suspects (1995)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin
Director: Bryan Singer
Plot: Having met in a police line-up, five crooks agree to team-up for a series of lucrative jobs only to realize they are being influenced at a distance by a notorious, legendary crime lord named Keyser Soze.
Review: A modern crime classic that, along with Pulp Fiction, reinvigorated the genre in the mid-90's, The Usual Suspects is quite simply a thriller tour-de-force. Beginning with a "fait accompli" of a destroyed boat riddled with corpses, a petty criminal - the only survivor - recounts events to the police, uncovering in flashback bits and pieces the convoluted tale of what occurred. Sophomore director Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) made a real impression with his stylistic and narrative approach to the material; there's an assured touch to creating tangible suspense and paranoia among its members, and real grit when it comes to the more volatile sequences, be it a difficult heist or the final showdown. But there's also a wink at the audience that the film is ready to bend expectations and is looking to enjoy itself, with more humor than you'd expect. It has also created a fabulous cinematic villain in the quasi-mythical criminal mastermind Keyser Soze, and much of the intrigue is knowing more about this enigmatic character. But the real fun is just twisting along with the tightly-woven, clever Oscar-winning screenplay, and wallowing in the crisp dialog and terrific interaction between the sordid but solid cast. Their defining performances deservedly gave their careers a strong boost, especially for Spacey as the mousy con-man and Byrne as a former dirty cop trying to lead the band of thieves to one last score. Incorporating so many winning ingredients, including one of the best twist endings ever, The Usual Suspects is - quite simply put - smart, grade-A entertainment.
Entertainment: 9/10

Home / Latest Reviews / Review Library
Now Playing / Coming Soon / BLOG / Top 20 Lists
Hong Kong Cinema!Film Fests / FAQ / Favorite Links