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W. (2008)
Starring: Josh Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Oliver Stone
Plot: A review of the turning points in the adult life and controversial presidency of George W. Bush.
Review: Titled for the nickname George W. Bush was given by his wife, W. is not your standard political biography of the 41st President of the Unites States. Indeed, it's hard to think of a more irreverent, comic (if not to say nasty) view of a US presidency. The narrative goes back and forth from the present struggle with the Iraq war to Bush's younger days as he paved the road to becoming Commander in Chief all, if the screenwriters are to be believed, to gain the love and respect of his father. As depicted with sly amusement by famed director Oliver Stone (JFK, Wall Street, Platoon) one is never sure how seriously to take any of it; sure, the people around Bush himself are complete caricatures of themselves (or perhaps represented as Bush himself may view them?) and while some parts are factual, recounted events while others are clearly exaggerated. But even in its most grotesque moments - from his hard-drinking, womanizing days to his decision to invade Iraq - one somehow expects that the scariest part is that it's mostly pretty accurate. Indeed, culled from investigative accounts from the press, the internal meetings between Bush and his close advisers to preemptively strike at Saddam Hussein are said to be true, even if any sane person could only take this as farce. As characterized and caricaturized by an amazingly capable cast including Richard Dreyfuss as VP Dick Cheney, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld, James Cromwell as George Bush Sr., and an unrecognizable Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, all the political players in Bush's entourage get what they deserve - this is as close as you can get to character assassination without getting into complete parody. Only one person comes out with his reputation unscathed: Colin Powell, as played by Jeffrey Wright, who was by all reports the only man with a conscience in the White House. As the leading man, Brolin plays Bush pretty much as Bush probably sees himself, a man of action and clear beliefs; what comes out though is that he was a man with limited experience, wit or knowledge who somehow - by influence and circumstance - managed to ingratiate himself to a nation. The final picture of the man isn't a good one, nailing the fact that the US had a born-again president who was disconnected from reality and whose misguided attempts at leading the country into war failed us all. If this first film out of the gate is any indication, time is bound to see W.'s presidency as a shameful moment in US history.
Drama: 7/10

*Classic* The Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la Peur) (France - 1952)
Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Plot: A small group of expatriates in a forgotten village are hired to transport truckloads of nitroglycerin over treacherous South American roads to help stop a raging oil fire.
Review: A faithful adaptation of the classic novel by Georges Arnaud, The Wages of Fear is both a nail-biting adventure film and a startling, gritty drama with real emotional impact attached to the thrills. The first hour may be devoid of action, but the tense character interaction between these despicable beings, these anti-heroes, living in their own little dead-end world is necessary to make the second half that much more gut-wrenching. They are so vividly portrayed that their inevitable tragic end is still emotionally poignant. The young Montand is absolutely terrific playing the well-formed protagonist as a charismatic, egotistical, dangerous individual. The rest of the cast is also superb, especially veteran actor Vatel who does the most impressive, convincing performance as the outwardly cool, suave ex-gangster who crumbles under pressure. And pressure is the what the razor-sharp script delivers in spades: It's an intense thriller, both psychologically in its nihilistic depiction of human nature at its worst, and in its suspenseful set-pieces during the nail-biting journey to their destination, one filled with many opportunities for disaster. Joining them in their ill-advised pursuit there's a real sense of foreboding, as well as unbearable suspense for each of the finely crafted sequences. Director Clouzot (Diabolique) brings a distinct flavor to the production, giving a constant feeling of discomfort and uneasiness throughout the narrative, but one that makes the story all the more visceral for it. The Wages of Fear is a classic French thriller, one where all the elements combine in just the right way to make it an unforgettable experience. (Check out the extended review!)
Drama / Entertainment: 9/10

Waking Life (2001)
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Director: Richard Linklater
Plot: A college teen wanders about town entering into philosophical discussions with some bizarre denizens only to find out that he is stuck in a dream.
Review: With Waking Life director Linklater (Slackers, Dazed and Confused) has managed to create a disjointed, animated, meandering film full of free-wheeling ideas set in the backdrop of a dream-like environment and make it all fascinating. The narrative is clearly based on the idea of free-association and not straight-forward story-telling, offering up a collection of rambling monologues on different existential and philosophical subjects, from ruminations on the concept of conscience and free-will to the meaning of dreams and the future of mankind, to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Each cast member (and there a lot of cameo appearances) only have one or two scenes but present their opinions with such vehemence and energy that it's hard not to be taken in by their passion for their topic. Most impressive, though, is the way the film uses a computer process that paints over each image, each frame, of the live-action production turning the actors into cartoons and the universe into a surreal dynamic painting turning the proceedings into one very abstract, dream-like, hallucinatory trip. The animation style also changes constantly, bringing something new to every scene, with influences ranging from Impressionism to line drawings, keeping our interest not only on the dialogue but on the background and settings as well. In sum, Waking Life is experimental film-making at its best: original, creative, interesting, and thought-provoking.
Drama / Experimental: 8/10

Walk on Water (Israel - 2004)
Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Knut Berger, Caroline Peters
Director: Eytan Fox
Plot: An Israeli intelligence field operative is assigned to act as a tour guide in the hopes of befriending the grandchildren of an aging Nazi war criminal and finding his location.
Review: Though it has the obvious makings of one, Walk on Water is less a political thriller than an examination of the strained bonds between Germans and Jews - among other lively topics. Yet despite the somber subject matter that includes references to the Holocaust, the tensions between Arabs and Jews, dealing with life in a country plagued with terrorism, and even the issue of sexual identity, the tale works because it eschews any answers and melodramatics to provide for an intimate look at the two very different men from two very different worlds. Though much of their relationship is based on deceit, the story takes its time to let them forge an unlikely friendship and, though as spy and target Ashkenazi and Berger make for an unlikely pair, both expertly manage to make it believable. There are also some nice poetic moments along with the surprisingly emotional ones, and Israeli director Fox ensures it's all structured enough to avoid obvious traps (except, perhaps, for a plot-convenient clash with skinheads) even if it's obvious that events will boil to a head to force the protagonist's crisis of conscience. Perhaps there are too many layers and issues to be properly addressed, and - to keep things moving along - the dense script doesn't take enough time to give any of these ideas their due, but it's nice to have a film that's ambitious in its scope that still manages to come off as a very personal drama. And if nothing else, at least Walk on Water is a surprisingly watchable, satisfying take on complex issues that is bound to raise discussion.
Drama: 8/10

Walking Tall (2004)
Starring: The Rock, Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough
Director: Kevin Bray
Plot: Finding his rural hometown overrun by drugs and gambling, an ex-Special Forces sergeant single-handedly goes up against the criminals of the local Casino and the town's crooked cops.
Review: A remake of the harrowing 1973 B-movie, itself a re-telling of the now-legendary real-life exploits of Sheriff Buford Pusser, Walking Tall is a sanitized, modernized version of the tale that retains little of its source material. And that's not a bad thing, considering its origins. From the get-go this is clearly a by-the-numbers affair, but much like The Rock's own The Rundown, this is fast-food, Hollywood style: straightforward in its storytelling, crisp and efficient in its narrative, and - at a short 75 minutes - a brain-free ride that doesn't overstay its welcome. Thankfully, the usual small-town drama and dynamics are kept to a bare minimum, the tight script throwing in family struggles, crooked cops, back-stabbing childhood friends, a courtroom scene, and a scantily-clad romantic interest into the picture in rapid succession, quickly setting up the stage for our protagonist's eventual payback. As a modest-budget action flick, the thrills remain very much low-key and down-to-earth - some fist fights and a gun battle make up most of the action - but they're interspersed well enough that it doesn't matter. The real saving factor, though, is The Rock once again playing a smart, sympathetic bruiser - this guy is a class act among beefcake action heroes, and his presence alone makes this affair entirely watchable. Of note as well is crazy-man Knoxville who steals most of the scenes as the likable comic-relief sidekick. Though never quite filling, Walking Tall makes for a decent diversion for fans of its hulking hero.
Entertainment: 6/10

Walk the Line (2005)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin
Director: James Mangold
Plot: Chronicling the rise to fame of country-music legend Johnny Cash, from his early days raised on a cotton farm to his marriage to country starlet June Carter.
Review: A "warts-and-all" bio-pic of the legendary country singer Johnny Cash based in part on his own auto-biography, Walk the Line avoids glossing over any of the more troubling aspects of Cash's rise and hard living. The rather petty personal demons, drug problems, and father issues are raised to mountainous heights, better to show how he succumbed to alcoholism and drug abuse, and Cash's early life seems to be delineated by these issues, issues unfortunately stretched to a point where it all becomes a bit maudlin. Director Mangold (Girl, Interrupted, Copland) does slick, mainstreamed drama well but this lack of a real outer conflicts, and the fact that there's little sense of a particular style all its own, makes the re-telling fall a bit flat, especially as it does following closely in the footsteps of the more impressive and interesting Ray. At its best, however, the film takes many opportunities to see Phoenix rendering some of Cash's biggest chart hits, and there's great energy in those musical sequences. It definitely helps that he embodies the persona of Cash with conviction, capturing the look, moves and baritone of his subject. If he has little real chemistry during the romantic flirtations with Witherspoon (who won an Oscar for her performance as singer and show-woman extraordinaire June Carter), when they're on stage it definitely clicks together - perhaps very much like in real life, too. If Walk the Line is a little overlong and sometimes a bit too stale, it does lovingly pay homage to Cash's life's work and, if nothing else, it'll make audiences want to go out and re-play their Cash albums.
Drama: 6/10


Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Starring: Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter
Directors: Steve Box, Nick Park
Plot: A local inventor and his loyal mutt take charge to capture a mutated rabbit that is causing chaos in the village at every full-moon and threatens to ruin the annual giant-vegetable contest.
Review: Following his many Oscar awards in short animation for the witty adventures of Wallace and Gromit (The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave), creator / director Nick Park (Chicken Run) has finally crafted a full-length adventure that is both clever and imaginative. Influenced by both the 60's Hammer B-movie horror films and the old Universal monster movies like Frankenstein and The Werewolf (and throwing in some King Kong winks in the mix), the film pokes fun at the many genre clichés (the atmospheric lighting, the sensationalized pseudo-frights, etc). The painstakingly-created and magnificently detailed stop-motion claymation animation harkens back to an earlier time, before CGI, and it is surprisingly smooth and fluid. In fact, the entire production is simply gorgeous, the sets are colorful and detailed, the mad-scientist-type inventions are flamboyant... and the bunnies are just too damn cute. Puns, visual gags and slapstick routines all fly fast and furious making most of the film zip by, and though it is indeed very British humor, the wit and and comedy is universal and just right for all ages. The very daft, stereotypically English characters (voiced by the likes of Fiennes and Carter) are endearing, but the real hero is the silent, resourceful Gromit, the ultimate "man's best friend" who communicates so much with only a frown or an exasperated look. Despite the care put into the script there are some occasional lags, but the hilarity and inventiveness ensures that these are easily forgotten. All told, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is an an exciting, delighful adventure for the whole family and a splendid way for movie audiences to discover the plasticine magic of Wallace & Gromit.
Entertainment: 8/10

WALL-E (2008)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger
Director: Andrew Stanton
Plot: 700 years after the last humans have left Earth to be cleaned by an army of machines, the last remaining, working robot lives a drab life, dreaming of a mate... until the landing of a sleek spacecraft changes his lonely life forever.
Review: You have to be impressed by a production company that can take chances like Pixar - from Toy Story to Finding Nemo, they've made gold out of unlikely material. With Wall-E, they created an end-of-the-world science-fiction tale that's appropriate for the whole family, full of humor, pathos, and romance. The almost dialogue-free first half of the tale is a masterpiece-worthy mix of silent-era comedy, clever details, superb computer animation, and surprisingly effective modern sentimentality, all buoyed by the terrific scripting and comedy flair that has become a trademark of Pixar productions. There's poetry here, in this heart-rending ode to the disappearance of humanity. Even the vast amount of sci-fi movie references and winks actually flow well into the narrative. And Wall-E himself is a surprisingly effective creation: you can see and feel his loneliness amongst the desolation of the empty city, the emotional expressions of the rusty little robot clearly lined in his binocular-like eyes. The unlikely romance that blooms between Wall-E and the more advanced-model Eve is not quite subtle, perhaps, but few in the audience will be able to resist a smile of affection. Unfortunately, once our duo gets to their destination - a ship filled with the leftovers of humanity, stereotypically obese and self-absorbed - the film becomes yet another (admittedly above-average and very entertaining) CGI flick. Oh, the adventure, action and comedy does come fast and furious in the final act, and there's no denying it's all great fun, but that emotional bond is severed, and the ecological message gets lost in the simple-minded aftermath (you know, the required happy ending for mankind). It's as if the filmmakers weren't confident of their own ambitions and were forced to fall back on a more familiar, crowd-pleasing fare to ensure success. Still, no matter this small slip that falls short of greatness: Wall-E is still head-and-shoulders above its peers, and easily the most affective and visually exciting animated film that will come out this year.
Entertainment: 8/10

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella
Director: Oliver Stone
Plot: A young Wall Street trader is taken under the wing of a former corporate raider, his future father in law, in the hopes of taking down the man responsible for his former mentor's suicide.
Review: A sequel 23 years and a few economic scandals in the making, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is quite pertinent following the 2008 economic bust, and Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK), one of Hollywood's most politically-minded mainstream writer / directors, is eager to chime in with his own social critique. There's another suave, reprehensible villain who gets his due, there's some unnecessary sentimentality (with the glowing young Mulligan as the center of attention of both fiancé LaBoeuf and father Douglas), and there's a devious plot to milk someone out of millions, while all the while the sub-prime mortgage fiasco bubbles in the background. The first half is filled with confident, fast-talking power-brokers making dirty deals in the hey-day of 2007 and looking at the next big money maker; it's a gruesome look at the stock market and the people in it, especially with our knowledge of the future. Too bad, then, that the message is diluted in cinematic conventions; whereas the first film was a resounding, commercially successful indictment on "Greed is Good", the latest film feels shallow and too eager to resolve complex issues in time for the movie's happy ending. On occasion, Douglas manages to find the shark of old, the perfect example of the lack of ethics or decency on Wall Street - his time on screen makes the two hour film worthwhile. However, Michael Sheen's eager young maverick from the first film is replaced here by LaBoeuf's genius young upstart, and it's clear he's just an excuse for Stone to lay bare the intricacies of Wall Street. He's too wide-eyed and straight-arrow, with little personal conflict apart from a spat with his girlfriend. The film is at its best when sneaking into the corridors of economic power, and showing us a peek at how the greediest of CEO's walked off with Government bailouts. For these power brokers, the stock exchange and company dealings are a game played with someone else's money. Money Never Sleeps ends up being a stylish, high-rolling piece of mainstream entertainment; audiences looking for a more substantial analysis of Wall Street's byzantine workings and despicable opportunism should look at the documentary Inside Job instead.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

Wanted (2008)
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Plot: A young, self-loathing office worker discovers incredible powers as he gets recruited into a 1,000 year-old secret society after the murder of his estranged father, a formidable assassin killed by a rogue member. 
Review: The gritty, intense Wanted is a breath of fresh air for action fans who have become tired of the usual formulaic affair. Let's get one thing out of the way: Mark Millar's original comic series from Image is a cruel, vicious, narcissistic tale of a repulsive hero doing truly despicable things, a story that pushes reader's buttons and the boundaries of the "super-hero" medium. For obvious marketing reasons, the film version is nowhere near as hard-hitting or nasty as the source material - for one, McAvoy makes our hero's plight rather sympathetic - yet it nonetheless keeps the basic premise intact and surprises in taking more chances (and kicking more butt) than normal Hollywood productions usually do. These are super-heroes (or super anti-heroes) perfectly suited for a more cynical, grittier world, where the moral lines are blurred - just take a gander at their training exercises or their facile way of killing. The choice of director Bekmambetov was therefore ideal for the material, following his success in his native Russia with the Night Watch series, films that similarly (and just as seamlessly) blend character drama and special-effects-driven action. It's all enhanced by an engaging visual style that makes you feel involved in the proceedings. The story itself could be quickly shrugged off as a a mainstream mix of Fight Club meets X-Men - with considerable satire and black humor dolled on - with our underdog hero turning the tide of his life, from victim of all the psychological grief of being a small cog in modern society to having power of a god, and making those around us pay for years of humiliation. Thankfully, the script manages to keep a good balance between caring for its main character and looking out for the next superhuman feat without losing its audience. Sure, it helps that the action set-pieces are well-conceived and executed, and provide some "wow!" factor even to jaded viewers with two stand-out sequences: one, a gunfight in a speeding train that ends in disaster, and another as our hero takes on the Fraternity's best assassins single-handedly. And even if the influence of The Matrix and its ilk can be seen in these moments, it somehow serves it up with its own brand of style and subdued anger. Rounding out the leads are the always-reliable Jolie - as mistress of mayhem - and Freeman - as the enigmatic leader - who finely play out what are rather limited, stereotypical roles. If the morality here is questionable, Wanted is still a smarter-than-expected actioner that goes against summer blockbuster conventions - and that's always something to look forward to.
Entertainment: 8/10

War (2007)
Starring: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone
Director: Philip G. Atwell
Plot: A cocky FBI agent seeks revenge on a mysterious Asian assassin who murdered his partner.
Review: Don't be fooled by the title or the leads' past experience in past high-octane actioners like The Transporter or dozens of HK flicks: War lacks the energy, smarts or down-and-dirty thrills to make it anything more than a tired retread of better, far more entertaining films. Typical of dozens of too-cool, overly slick cop action thrillers, the plot (stolen straight out of A Fistful of Dollars) seems to have come from a paint-by-numbers script that throws out fast cars in dull chases, loose women, gunfights, and lots of predictable clichés that all get lost in the shuffle. At least if there was some energy to the narrative, but it's all slow going, especially when it gets to the filler between action scenes (of which there's a lot); what we get instead of story is lots of posturing and testosterone, but little actual tension during the confrontations or face-offs. The routine action scenes are ably enough done but they are too few to be found, too quickly edited and downright disappointing to think they're from legendary fight choreographer Corey Yuen (The Matrix, Iron Monkey). The expectation throughout is to at least get a chance to see a balls-to-the-wall brawl between the two leads, but when it finally comes, it's a terrible disappointment - too short-lived, and nowhere near interesting enough. Even if the acting is uniformly second rate, Statham and Li come out of this relatively unscathed though they deserve better than this mindless effort. But if they come out of this intact, the filmmakers who produced this vapid effort may not. Of note are the two lousy surprise twists at the end that just make matters worse. Flashy, shallow and bland, War is one of those action films that didn't need to be made.
Entertainment: 3/10

The Warlords (China / Hong Kong - 2007)
Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro
Director: Peter Chan
Plot: In 17th-century China an out-of-favor general and two bandit chieftains become blood brothers, taking their stalwart new-formed army into battle but as their success in military glory increases, so does the tension between them.
Review: The Warlords was a big winner at the 2008 Hong Kong Film Awards (including Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Actor for Jet Li) and it's easy to see why this epic anti-war film was an awards darling what with its large-scale production (thousands of extras and 500 stunt horses were actually used), stylish artistic direction and impeccable costumes, big-name stars (Asian stars don't get any bigger than thespian headliners Li and Lau) and message in its tragic ending. Based on a historical events about the killing of general Ma Xinyi during the 17th-century Qing Dynasty, the story was first filmed as The Blood Brothers in 1973 by director Zhang Che. It's clear that director Chan (who came to international attention with the classic HK drama Comrades: Almost a Love Story) has consciously embraced the commercial, big-budget tropes in crafting this grandiose large-scale period action flick. The battle scenes are many, each exciting, violent and all very well handled, rarely getting repetitive - for most movie-goers, this will be the main attraction, and its worth the price of admission. Surprising is that the movie's crux, the tale of brotherly love and loyalty among the three men, is nowhere near as refined as would one would have expected from the director's pedigree for gushy love stories, and even the love triangle with the film's only female character fails to ignite except as a plot device for the ultimate downfall of its trio. It's a vehicle that also allows Li to show off not only his (albeit limited) acting skills (his award is probably based on the surprise that he can more than growl at the screen) but especially his martial arts talents to better effect than most of his recent non-HK fare, and for that - if nothing else - it's a blessing for his many fans. The rest of the recognizable cast also provide some solid performances, even if it's pretty much a one-note affair. The final message may be that everyone eventually succumbs to war, be it from political treachery or pride, but its one that most will miss despite the melodrama and unconvincing love triangle, especially after such stirring, thrilling and downright heroic sequences of bloodletting. All told, The Warlords is efficient, effective entertainment that's sure to please a wide audience, even those not used to HK genre fare. Too bad it never really reaches to the height of its ambitions.
Entertainment: 7/10

The War of the Worlds (1953)
Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne
Director: Byron Haskin
Plot: A series of strange meteorites falling to Earth ends up being an invasion force from Mars whose technological vehicles of destruction are no match for our modern weapons.
Review: 50s sci-fi flicks are best known nowadays for their low-budget inventiveness, their bad special effects, and their spoof factor. War of the Worlds, however, based on the classic 1898 H.G. Wells novel and updated for its modern audience, made to change all that: a big-budget Technicolor production, it featured impressive special effects, large sets, and a story that avoided any sense of camp. With its effective mood of dread and terror, its depiction of mankind's powerlessness in the face of forces beyond its control, and its general reveling in scenes of destruction, it helped pave the way for future disaster films and was definitely influential in such modern invasion fare such as Independence Day. The story moves along quite nicely, if rather predictably, though the script gets quite hokey when it tries to put a religious spin on things. As for the necessary, forced romance, added piece-meal to the original material, it does seem kind of ridiculous but was probably necessary for a mainstream Hollywood feature. The cast is for the most part barely adequate for the job but that's OK as they obviously play second fiddle to the major goings-on around them. The best reason to see this, of course, are the high-end production design and the Oscar-winning effects. These may seem a tad crude compared to the latest whiz-bang stuff, but they still hold remarkably well within the confines of the film; indeed, the look of the sleek alien war machines is still a landmark design for modern sci-fi films. War of the Worlds is a definite classic of modern science-fiction cinema; it may not be as engaging or thrilling as it once was, but it's still got some kick to it.
Entertainment: 7/10

War of the Worlds (2005)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Justin Chatwin, Dakota Fanning
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot: A divorced dock worker and his two kids attempt to flee after the sudden arrival of mechanized alien war machines, witnessing and narrowly escaping countless engagements between frenzied mobs and ineffective troops.
Review: Based on the classic 1898 science-fiction tale by H.G. Welles, this contemporary retelling of War of the Worlds could be seen as a rebuttal to the usual rah-rah alien-invasion epics such as Independence Day, a sort of polar opposite to director Spielberg's own Close Encounters. The film goes back to the roots of the novel - seeing the destruction of the Earth and the feeble attempts by the armies of Man to fight the invader as seen by a common man - and the style is very much in line with the flavor of the original tale with its dark tone, sense of dread and desperation (there's even 9/11 imagery to stress the point), right down to the closing narration. Even the monstrous tentacled machines spewing disintegrating rays are pure Welles. Yet, for all the spectacular sequences and impeccable special effects, the pacing and wonderment isn't quite up to Spielberg's story-telling talents. There are many slow points here, as the dysfunctional family make their way through crazed mobs and blood-soaked vistas, none more so than an overlong suspense sequence in the basement of a farmhouse, enclosed with a mad survivor (played in eye-bugging manner by Tim Robbins) as the aliens search for survivors. It's a sort of homage to George Pal's remarkable 1953 original adaptation, but it worked better then than now. It's decent sci-fi fare for fans of disaster films and their focus on family melodrama set in the background of earth-shaking upheavals, but it's hard to shake the feeling that we've seen this all before (Shyamalan's successful Signs comes to mind). This isn't so much "entertainment" as a gritty, anxiety-inducing experience that has more in common with his own Saving Private Ryan, though his usual penchant for mainstream sentimentality is still very much on screen. And be ready for an anti-climactic ending, which is very much in line with the book. As for the two leads, Cruise telegraphs his acting as the everyman, and he and the young prodigy Fanning are never completely convincing, but they're good enough to keep us engaged with their fate. In the end however this War of the Worlds is something of a disappointment from Spielberg, but audiences looking for a different take on summer thrills should be pleased.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

WarGames (1983)
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Ally Sheedy
Director: John Badham
Plot: A teenage computer hacker inadvertently connects into NORAD and starts playing a game of nuclear war with a super-computer that can't tell the difference between game and reality, starting a dangerous process.
Review: An efficient little feature, WarGames is a family adventure / thriller which seems to have used Fail-Safe as a template for many of its plot points (think of it as a sort of Fail-Safe light). At the time, of course, the issue of Global Nuclear warfare was much more prevalent than it seems to be now, and the computer hardware shown on screen seems to be laughably primitive compared to our modern fare, something that just gives an added feeling of nostalgia to the proceedings. As per the usual Hollywood fare aimed at kids, the adults are shown as intransigent and rather stupid, with the kids facing insurmountable odds (and a dangerous super-computer with lots of flashing lights) which they have to outsmart. It's a bit slow going at first but the last half hour, as the countdown for nuclear destruction closes to zero, is satisfyingly tense. The final message, delivered with the tact of a jack-hammer, is clear: there is no winner in a thermonuclear exchange. Director Badham (Saturday Night Fever) does a good job of keeping things moving along, and the script has enough going for it that audiences will accept some of the more ludicrous events with barely a chuckle. Broderick alternates between the passable to the annoying here, as if he can't quite get the teenager act right. Sheedy comes off much better, as do the rest of the cardboard supporting cast. Discerning viewers looking for a more mature take on the subject may want to look elsewhere, but for a pleasing, breezy look back at the '80s, WarGames is still pretty solid entertainment.
Entertainment: 6/10

A War Named Desire (Hong Kong - 2000)
Starring: Francis Ng, Daniel Chan, Dave Wong, Gigi Leung
Director: Alan Mak
Plot: A young man arrives in Thailand with his girlfriend in tow searching for his brother, a well-respected criminal leader, but gets embroiled in the local power struggle and framed for the murder of a triad boss.
Review: Dark and brooding like other, very similar Hong Kong crime dramas, the genre film A War Named Desire doesn't bring anything new to the table. The story of brotherly attachment, loyalty, and underworld conspiracies isn't strong enough or original enough to keep us interested even with the predictable back-stabbings, melodrama and obvious tragedy that ensue. There's a few action scenes, of course, mostly of the bullet-ridden variety, but these gunfights are for the most part rather uninspired. In fact, from start to finish, the whole thing is dreadfully familiar and rather unmemorable. on the plus side, despite looking like (and being) a low-budget production, the movie is ably produced with some good cinematography and correct direction with a few stylish flourishes keeping things interesting - there's just not enough to really recommend it. This is definitely a study of "style over substance", and it looks like everyone involved tried too hard to make things look cool that it becomes just cold. One exception might be the one visually splendid scene of the streets of Thailand during the New Year celebrations that reminds one of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Ng does his usual stoic, ultra-cool persona, and a delightful Gigi Leung makes an against-type appearance as a gun-toting femme fatale, but the rest of the cast barely registers, perhaps because there's little meat to be had in the script. There's little character development to be had - in fact they're pretty much interchangeable with just about every other HK crime drama of recent years. As such, the ending is meant to be tragic, but without getting a chance to really know these characters and their motivations, it's hard to get involved in any of this or care for what happens to them. For those new to HK crime dramas, A War Named Desire may be an interesting find, but for fans of the genre it's all way too familiar to be worth the effort.
Entertainment: 4/10

War Photographer (2001)
Starring: James Nachtwey
Director: Christian Frei
Plot: Documentary on American war photographer James Nachtwey.
Review: War Photographer is a portrait of James Nachtwey, a modest man considered one of the best photo-journalists in the field, a man of few words whose self-imposed job it is to give a human face to suffering in the harshest of places. Swiss director Frei followed Nachtwey into war-zones and poverty-stricken territories like Kosovo, Indonesia and Palestine, all in the search for the "perfect" moment to capture on camera. These often harrowing, almost dispiriting moments are a video diary of some of Nachtwey latest pictures. Shot on video, presented with limited music and little dialogue, it allows the events and surroundings to provide its own impact. The film aims to be as much about the man as it is on his work, and it's a fascinating look at the type of person who can immerse themselves in such tragedy and misery. This is a man whose monk-like self-control allows him to dash through a bullet-strained Gaza or a corpse-ridden East European village, in stunning contrast to the stereotypical characterization often portrayed in cinema. We only get bits and pieces of what makes him tick, of how he can be so intimately involved in these events and still appear distant. Even interviews with associates and editors (one of which happens to be a past girlfriend) and archival footage of his time in Rwanda and Somalia, only make him more of a mystery, never exposing his psyche or techniques. Still, though it ends up keeping audiences at a distance, there's a strong humanist streak in War Photographer - much like Nachtwey's own startling pictures - and that at least makes you stand up and take notice.
Documentary: 7/10

The Warriors (1979)
Starring: Michael Beck, James Remar
Director: Walter Hill
Plot: After a messiah-like street leader gets murdered during a rally, the blame is placed on a small teen gang who must battle their way through Manhattan to reach their home turf before the night is over.
Review: Since its release, The Warriors has garnered cult classic status, and with its mix of 70's and 80's sensibilities, venerable machismo, stylistic violence and rebellious edge, it's easy to see why. It's a one-night journey that feels something like a comic-book version of Homer's Odyssey, with all its strange and dangerous encounters. Meant to be as far from realistic as possible, this highly stylized affair comes off as Hollywood's idea of misbegotten youth and is almost sci-fi in its excess, from the strangely thematic-gang colors and dress style (one gang is made up of mimes in suspenders, another of baseball-wielding thugs in KISS makeup) to its nihilistic code of honor. Even the landscape of after-hours New York appears like a post-apocalyptic setting that would work just as well in a Carpenter flick like Escape from New York. Better known for his muscular, low-brow action flick of the '80s such as 48 Hrs and Red Heat, director Hill showed some real promise here, creating a fictional world with enough imaginative elements to make it work. It also helps that its a technically slick, good-looking production that's well-paced and exciting. The cast of relative unknowns making up the multiracial rough-and-tumble titular gang play to stereotype but the broad performances actually is in line with the rest of the film's vision. Sure, The Warriors comes off as being pretty cheesy on occasion, but as an urban fantasy it has a mythical quality that works in its favor. As the main man would say "Can you dig it?"
Entertainment: 8/10

Warriors of Heaven and Earth (China - 2003)
Starring: Jiang Wen, Kichi Nakai, Wang Wueaqi
Director: He Ping
Plot: In 7th Century China, a Japanese lawman makes a truce with his quarry, a rogue Chinese warrior, to escort a caravan of camels and its young monk along the Silk Road and ensure a brutal warlord doesn't get his hands on a fabled artifact.
Review: Following the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, one would have expected this latest historical, sword-wielding super-production from China to be much the same. Surprisingly enough, Warriors of Heaven and Earth harkens back to the old stalwart genre that is the American Western with its caravan besieged by evil-doers, the handful of honorable hardened veterans, and the impressive desert vistas. Unabashedly made for the mainstream, it's generic to the extreme but its colorful and easy-going stuff - Kurosawa this isn't. The first few minutes are densely packed with background, but the story quickly eases to the familiar, and occasionally even drags a bit. Most of the film is very much old-fashioned: there's very little fancy camerawork, no computerized effects, no wire-work, just straight, solid story-telling, greater-than-life heroism, and rousing music. It also helps that the cinematography, mostly of the famed Gobi desert is superb. Of note is the attention spent on its stock characters; they may not be well-rounded, and their interaction is quite banal, but eventually there's a strong sense of a warrior bond between them. The many fight sequences, full of clanging steel and occasional fantasy, are well done if unspectacular, and the final stand, a violent, fire-lit battle in an abandoned fort at night is a highlight. Unfortunately, the final scene - a supernatural conclusion straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark's literal deux ex machina - undoes most of the good-will one would have had for the film. Still, if not for the disappointingly anti-climactic ending, Warriors makes for a fine epic adventure that may not be memorable but is entertaining enough.
Entertainment: 5/10

Wasabi (France - 2001)
Starring: Jean Reno, Ryoko Hirosue, Michel Muller
Director: Gérard Krawczyk
Plot: A brutally efficient but heart sick French cop returns to Japan after 19 years to bury his one true love only to discover that she was murdered by dangerous thugs and has left him a spirited teenage daughter.
Review: Written and shot in short order, and shot on a small budget, Wasabi is another quirky, but rather unoriginal exercise signed Luc Besson, much like Taxi was. Though it delivers some expected tough-guy fisticuffs, the action scenes aren't really interesting, mostly made up of video-game shoot-outs of bad guys. There is one well-choreographed fight sequence that stands out with Reno beating up a ton of bad guys with golf clubs, a tongue-in-cheek homage, perhaps, to Hong Kong filmmaking. Then again, this is more a cartoon comedy adventure taking its humor from the father-daughter relationship and the fish-out-of-water gags inherent in a Parisian stepping out into Tokyo than an action flick. And in that it works OK, with lots of instances of Japanese urban culture exaggerated and served up to get a chuckle. Reno plays (once again) the straight guy with stoic efficiency but he's definitely not in his prime here, looking a little tired and more than a mite chubby. Thankfully, the young Hirosue has enough manic energy as the eccentric, colorful Japanese teenager jumping from hyper-excitability to tears in a heartbeat, and Muller, as Reno's cowardly partner, has the right comedic sensibility to add the right amount of spice to the film. Besson, the consummate French purveyor of B-films for mass appeal, knows his target audience will gobble Wasabi up, providing a decent pacing and a high enough amusement factor that we can accept the clichés, dumbed-down plot, and vapid characters.
Entertainment: 5/10

Watchmen (2009)
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman
Director: Zack Snyder
Plot: In an alternate universe where costumed crime-fighters helped shape the Cold War era America, a masked vigilante investigates the murder of an ex-superhero colleague that leads him to a much vaster, more terrifying conspiracy.
Review: In 1986, the 12-part comic book Watchmen helped usher in a darker more adult-oriented wave of super-hero stories. On the surface, it's a detective story played out to a background of the Cold War fear of nuclear destruction; what makes it noteworthy is the bleak, uncompromising turn given to every aspect of this world and its flawed heroes; they are victims of their own vanity, psychoses, human impulses and complexes that everyone else is. The film adaptation has been marred by years of production limbo and with the huge amount of buzz and anticipation given the adaptation, it was bound to disappoint some while delighting others. Die-hard fans of the original material could not do better than director Snyder, a young director who came to fame similarly adapting the graphic novel 300. If this isn't as "visionary" a cinematic version as one could have hoped from a more experienced director, this is probably the most faithful one. Obsessively following the comic panels as a basis for shooting each scene, Snyder mostly succeeds at getting the visuals and dialogue as close to the book as possible while infusing his own brand of energy. Unfortunately, while Snyder is right at home with the stunning computer imagery, action set-pieces, the gloomy atmosphere and the visually compelling sequences he is, unfortunately, not an actor's director. The real thrill in the original novel was the nuanced interaction between the characters, the sharp dialogue, the subtle, all-too-human relationships and failings; alas, even clocking at almost 3 hours the narrative and rich character detail of the book gets often side-swiped. Oh, some of the scenes are magnificently brought to life, the action quotient has been kept high to satisfy mainstream filmgoers with some terrific, vicious slo-mo fights, but others only leaden the narrative pace. Still, there's never been anything quite like Watchmen, and for those coming in without preconceived notions it's bound to be startling. (see extended review)
Entertainment: 8/10

Water (2005)
Starring: Lisa Ray, John Abraham, Seema Biswas
Director: Deepa Mehta
Plot: Widowed at the age of eight, a feisty young Indian girl is outcast to a local commune with other, older shunned women who must live the rest of their lives in peity and despair, as dictated by Hindu tradition.
Review: Set in 1938, as Mahatma Gandhi's popular movement struggled against British colonial rule and oppressive Hindu traditions, the politically-minded Water takes aim at the injustices faced by Hindu widows whose options, as dictated by Hindu Scriptures, are limited to death by funeral pyre or a life of solitude. Faced with fundamentalist pressures during production that included violent protests, destruction of the sets and death threats, filming was halted in 2000 and restarted in Sri Lanka in 2004. Despite the setbacks, the final chapter in writer / director Mehta's elemental trilogy (following Fire and Earth) is a fine concluding chapter that once again grapples with a controversial subject. Without being distracted too often by melodrama, the story follows the different women, each a victim of social prejudice, forced into solitude by economic sanction disguised as religious belief, marked forever as pariahs by an inconceivable stigma. Yet there are some quiet, beautiful moments and some small joys amid the greater sadness that pervades the film, all enhanced by a cinematography that is both delicate and otherworldly. If there's one false step it's the romance between the two idealized lovers - he, high-caste but open-minded; she, lovely but suffering, a classic tale of mismatched castes. Despite efforts by Indian stars Ray and Abraham, their relationship shows little passion and comes across as bland and impersonal, even as the evidence of their impossible situation comes across. The film's most poignant dramatic elements come instead from the 9-year-old Sarala, thrown into a life of desperation, and the formidable Biswas as a stern but motherly widow conflicted between the demands of her faith and her own conscience. The film ends on a predictably tragic note, and a small one of hope as well. One thing is for sure, however, it's that Water makes the plight of these women immediate and heart-breaking, a plight that's all the more shameful knowing it continues to this day.
Drama: 7/10

Watership Down (1978)
Starring: John Hurt, Richard Briers, Michael Graham Cox
Director: Martin Rosen
Plot: After a dire premonition of devastation, a small group of rabbits takes a dangerous journey away from their doomed warren to find another where they can live in safety and comfort.
Review: Based on the acclaimed 1972 novel by Richard Adams, Watership Down is a haunting tale of hardship and hope. First off, let it be said that this is definitely NOT for kids: though wrapped in an adventure-like format, this is an allegory of our own social and political situation with most of the story involving some mature subject matter. It is also surprisingly brutal in its portrayal of violence and of ever-present death (there are many bloody fights amongst rabbits, and one with a vicious dog). Yet there are also moments that are quite poetic, especially in its depiction of a rabbit mythology. Like Orwell's Animal Farm, this is a take on our own society but one with an up-lifting ending showing its author's belief that religion can offer hope in our troubled times. The adaptation gets the tone of the novel right while greatly simplifying and truncating its length. The downside to this is that the character development is rather limited and the pacing is sometimes abrupt, feeling as though many important events would have improved with some added attention. The standard cel animation over watercolor-like backgrounds is good, if a bit rough, with particular attention taken to the natural movement of the animals. It really shines, however, when the animators allow free reign to their imagination to depict nightmarish scenes of human devastation or the dreamy spiritual encounters as seen by their protagonists. As for the voice cast, made up of some of the more popular British actors of the 1970's, they are for the most part appropriate, though Hurt comes off inappropriately soft-spoken. A moving and fascinating adventure, Watership Down helped show that animated features could tackle mature subject matter and succeed.
Drama: 7/10

Waterworld (1995)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Plot: In a future world covered in water, a lone Mariner protects a child and her keeper from a vicious band of well-armed nomads seeking the secret location of dry land.
Review: Following their popular swashbuckling Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Costner and director Reynolds spent over $200M to create Waterworld, an ambitious epic post-apocalyptic adventure. Surprisingly, though it often comes across as a bloated Mad Max wannabe, it isn't quite the disaster everyone expected following rumors of the plagued production. Despite a heavy-handed, unoriginal script that feels like a bad attempt at The Road Warrior on water, the film moves briskly and veers a lot towards cartoon camp, especially in the form of the evil "smokers" who burn gasoline and constantly light-up stocked cigarettes. The real attraction, however, are the many large-scale action sequences and stunt-work (most involving Sea-Doos) which are darn fun, and one can't help but be impressed with the complex choreography that must have been required. Also of note is the Mariner's Bond-like sail-boat, an impressive, versatile creation that gets lots of attention. As for the look of the movie, if the art direction is a tad exaggerated in its attention to fake grime, the cinematography is simply impeccable with some magnificent under-water shots. Costner plays the honorable loner close to the vest, but it's Hopper's over-the-top, one-eyed villain who - at the other end of the spectrum - really gets the best lines along with precocious young star Tina Majorino. True, Waterworld may have passed on into the realm of the forgotten but it's still spectacular, if silly, entertainment that deserves some cult status.
Entertainment: 6/10

Wedding Crashers (2005)
Starring: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken
Director: David Dobkin
Plot: Two womanizers spend their days crashing weddings and taking advantage of singles looking for mister right but fall into trouble when one of them actually falls in love with a Senator's daughter.
Review: The year's commercially successful raunchy comedy, Wedding Crashers is funny without breaking new ground and lacks the oomph to make it memorable. Despite the entertaining premise, and the joyously irreverent opening collage of wedding crashes (the film's best half hour), the film finally settles on rather routine comedy and staggers to an only mildly satisfying conclusion. Perhaps it's the rather drab romance at the center of the buddies' conflict and the time spent on fleshing it out that slows the film's center part. Or perhaps it's the fact that Vaughn's fast-talking antics are really the film's highlights, the rest of the film paling in comparison. Still, director Dobkin does an assured turn with the comic elements and does his best with the many (often unresolved) sub-plots. The "adult" humor (per the naked breasts and sex jokes) is often crass but thankfully not gross and, though probably aimed at teens sneaking into theaters more than their parents, there's an amiable mood throughout with enough chuckles to keep things rolling along. The real treat, however, is cheering the two sympathetic womanizers (a very un-PC thing to do) with Wilson and Vaughn perfectly cast as the carefree and morally-devoid duo, their antics showing real chemistry between them. Not that any of the male characters get off easy, though Walken, in his most relaxed role in ages, comes close and an amusing cameo from funnyman Will Ferrell adds some spice to the film's fourth-act down-turn. It might not be everyone's idea of a honeymoon, but Wedding Crashers is an entertaining frolic.
Comedy: 6/10

The Wedding Date (2005)
Starring: Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams
Director: Clare Kilner
Plot: A single woman hires an expensive male escort to pose as her boyfriemd at her sister's London wedding in order to face her family and drive her ex-fiancé, the best man, jealous.
Review: As one can tell from its premise, The Wedding Date is an unabashed chick flick and audiences ready to watch it know not to expect anything more than that. With a wave to Pretty Woman (albeit with the tables turned) and a dash of My Best Friend's Wedding, this romantic comedy is terribly familiar fluff that plays like a reheated Harlequin novel. The UK setting is just an excuse to show off some rich, snobbish wedding parties and poke fun at the "silly English" - let's get this straight: it's not funny. The two leads are adequately charming, if shallow, but there's no real connection between them; indeed, it's a real mystery as to how and why they actually fall for each other. That said, director Kilner shoots the film in the usual genre manner, meaning its mostly inoffensive and doesn't overstay its welcome at a quick 80 minutes. WIth its usual blend of eccentric family members and friends, of syrupy romantic bits, predictable twists and obvious happy ending, The Wedding Date is a mildly amusing romp that is quickly forgotten.
Entertainment: 4/10

The Wedding Planner (2001)
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey
Director: Adam Shankman
Plot: A wedding coordinator falls for the doctor who saved her from being crushed by a dumpster only to find out that he's the groom of her next function.
Review: The Wedding Planner by first-time director Shankman is another romantic comedy right off the assembly line. Sure, it knows the formula for creating a romantic comedy: add two appealing leads, throw them together, add eccentric supporting characters and watch the sparks fly. Unfortunately, the film never takes chances, and, though all the expected elements and situations are in place, it just lacks the brio to make it work. The first part of the film works better, starting off with an amusing, tongue-in-cheek look at the working of a wedding planner with a very in-control, professional-looking Lopez as the perfect example. The second part, however, gets to be more serious and melodramatic, and never quite re-captures the right tone. The genre isn't exactly known for originality, true, but even for a the script is rather bland and tired, lacking any kind of excitement, funny dialogue, or even enough romantic tension to make it worthwhile. Because of this, the audience never invests in the characters. One redeeming point is that the two leads work well together, and Lopez has a great sense of comic timing as well as being wonderful to watch, but there's just no chemistry evident, a sure sign of trouble. The appealing Lopez makes up for a lot here, but The Wedding Planner is just a forgettable tale, one without the necessary touch to elevate it above the ordinary.
Entertainment: 4/10

*Classic* West Side Story (1961)
Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn
Director: Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins
Plot: A loose musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in 1950's New York City, where two gangs, one Anglo-Saxon and the other Puerto Rican, fight for control of shared territory.
Review: Based on the Broadway musical, West Side Story is more than a retelling of the classic Shakespeare play in a different setting. Full of beautifully choreographed, energetic dance numbers, as well as classic music and songs by Leonard Bernstein, it is a film with a deep social conscience. The lyrics not only set the mood of the film, with songs of love and high hopes, but also bring up the anger at the prejudice and anxiety for the future the newly arrived immigrants must face. It also tackles the subjects of teenage rebellion, juvenile delinquency, and racial strife, problems that are still present on urban streets today. The cast is good, going above the overly theatrical performances required and the obvious melodrama. West Side Story earned 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture) all well deserved. One of the best musical productions ever put to screen.
Entertainment: 9/10

What Dreams May Come (1998)
Starring: Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, Cuba Gooding Jr., 
Director: Vincent Ward
Plot: After losing her family in two separate traffic accidents, a woman commits suicide only to have her dead husband travel the afterlife to save her from eternal damnation.
Review: Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come is a sumptuously designed metaphysical tale of life - and love - after death. It probably took courage to create a romantic tale like no other for the screen, knowing it might not be to everyone's taste. Taking the idea of "paintings come to life" quite literally, the whole film is never anything but immensely beautiful, finding our protagonist floundering in still-fresh oil paint as he walks through a cozy Impressionist-like cottage scene or wading through a Renaissance rendition of both Heaven and Hell. Each scene is a delicate balance of rich colors and stage design, the interesting Oscar-winning special effects helping the overall art production render its retro vision of the afterlife - and it's a marvel. With all the effort that went into the look of the film, it's too bad the script itself relies so heavily on New Age mumbo-jumbo and unconvincing melodrama, wearing its heart on its sleeve to the point of being ridiculous: God simply is, death is easy, Hell is what you make of it, and Heaven is an angelic commune. Director Ward (The Navigator, Map of the Human Heart) knows how to work with this kind of sentimental material and here he tries his best with what he has in hand. For the most part it's engaging and effective enough thanks to a capable mise-en-scene and rich cinematography, but the film can't quite rise above its simplistic approach to the deep theological themes it brandies about. Star Williams eschews his normal comic routine for a more serious role and he's as sympathetic as ever as the everyman discovering the spirit world, and Sciorra is an able actress who can pass on the pain and desperation of her character to make the premise believable. Yet even they can't help save the film: Any ending would have been anti-climactic, perhaps, but this one pushes the limits. Still, if What Dreams May Come ends up being overly sappy and its ideas behind the after-life are pure silliness, the magnificent visuals more than make up for it.
Drama: 6/10

What Lies Beneath (2000)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Plot: A professor's wife believes she is losing grip on reality when she starts witnessing strange, supernatural happenings in their country home.
Review: The script for What Lies Beneath is typical Hollywood and telegraphs almost all its twists way ahead of time, but what it lacks in originality it makes up in classic, well set-up supernatural thrills and some great red herrings. Director Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Contact) doesn't hide the fact that the whole production owes much to the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock and indeed many scenes are not only "homage", but practically taken right out of films such as Rear Window and Psycho. But Zemeckis is a consummate director in his own right, and thanks to a wonderful sense of storytelling and some impressive, even innovative cinematography what could have been only a decent thriller actually rises above its roots to a suspense-filled romp of the camera and the mise-en-scene. The mostly subdued effects also help to create a very tense atmosphere, and some great moments. Though Ford plays an important role in the film, his character is mostly aloof and ill-formed relegating the spot-light to a wonderful, subtle and convincing performance by Pfeiffer who is, in fact, the very focus of the story. Alas, the banal ending mars an otherwise fine film. Still, as entertainment goes What Lies Beneath is an interesting and effective supernatural thriller.
Entertainment: 8/10

What Planet Are You From? (2000)
Starring: Garry Shandling, Annette Bening
Director: Mike Nichols
Plot: A technologically superior, but sexless, alien planet sends one of their own to Earth to impregnate a human female to help conquer the world from the inside, but the volunteer soon finds out his training lacks the subtlety he requires to fulfill his mission.
Review: What Planet Are You From? wants to be a sci-fi comedy and it does have some witty lines and many amusing scenes, like the recurring gag of the alien's crotch humming when he's excited, but there's not enough here to make a great comedy, nor even a full-length film. TV funny-man Shandling makes a great emotionless alien who's totally inept at relationships, and Bening is absolutely charming as the emotionally crippled recovering alcoholic who falls for him. The supporting cast members, including Ben Kingsley as the alien leader and John Goodman as an obsessed FAA inspector, also make a great comic turn. The main problem is that the film suffers from a simplistic script that just doesn't really engage the audience and that doesn't take any chances with its subject matter. Still, as a commentary on human relationships it may be bland, but as a lighthearted comedy it's entertaining enough.
Comedy: 5/10

What Women Want (2000)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei
Director: Nancy Meyers
Plot: A rich, successful male chauvinist accidentally becomes able to read women's thoughts and tries to use his new-found powers to remove a female business competitor but finds himself falling for her instead.
Review: What Women Want is a conventional, light-hearted romance with a new twist, and one that allows for some amusing situations. But what elevates the film to more than mere rehash and clichés is the talents of its two leads. The very heart of the film is Mel Gibson, and his comedic performance is nothing if not endearing, even when his character is at his worst. Hunt is a charming foil to his misogynistic antics, elevating what could have been a very bland role. The script may be predictable, but it keeps things moving along nicely, with some well-written dialogue, blending just the right amount of comedy and melodrama to keep it interesting and entertaining. Some events are particularly hilarious, ranging from the random thoughts "dropped" by the women around him (from his daughter to his co-workers) to the slapstick events that Gibson ends up in. The ending is a little awkward, and alters the mood of the film somewhat, but it does try for something different. What Women Want doesn't aim to be more than pure entertainment, and as such it's a fine, well-made piece of romantic fluff that will paste a smile on everyone's face.
Comedy: 8/10

Wheels on Meals (1984)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung
Director: Sammo Hung
Plot: Two owners of a fast-food van join a private investigator in training to protect a beautiful pick-pocket from ruthless kidnappers.
Review: Wheels on Meals (don't you love these translations?) is another great martial-arts comedy romp starring the "Three Hong-Kong Musketeers". Chan, Biao and Hung are in the top of their form in a film full of incredible acrobatics, impressive martial arts sequences, slapstick comedy, and plain good-natured fun. Having the film set in the streets of Barcelona is a nice touch and could have been used to better effect. The pacing is sometimes uneven, but the entertainment is constant with nary a dull moment, all culminating to a no-holds-barred climax between Chan and American kickboxer Benny "The Jet" Urquidez. The production values are a bit low, and the plot hokey, but the energy visible on screen, and the constant touches of humor, easily make up for it. One of the most entertaining films from this trio's association, which also included Dragons Forever and Winners and Sinners.
Entertainment: 8/10

Where a Good Man Goes (Hong Kong - 1999)
Starring: Lau Ching-wan, Ruby Wong, Lai Yiu-cheung
Director: Johnnie To
Plot: On his first day out of prison, a hot-tempered gangster gets into trouble with a belligerent cop after beating up a taxi driver and causes problems to the owner of a small Macau motel who vouches for him when he decides to stay.
Review: Where a Good Man Goes is a much more low-key and mellow gangster drama than we're used to seeing from director Johnnie To (The Mission, A Hero Never Dies), though shot in his typical slick, effective fashion using some long shots and a standard, straight-forward narrative. In fact, it's a rather typical relationship melodrama for the director / screenwriter team of Wai Ka-fai and To (who did the smart romantic / comedy Needing You), but a solid one nonetheless, one much more character-driven than their usual offerings. Slow moving though it is, even veering occasionally on the melodramatic, there are still enough sub-plots and emotional confrontations to keep audience interest. The two leads do fine individual portrayals here, Ching-wan delivering another mesmerizing performance as a violent conflicted ex-con forced to mature and cope with the changing times, and Wong carefully under-playing the widow / hotel keeper facing hard times with a strong under-current of strength and courage. However the reasons for their mutual attraction is never really evident or simply not well captured on film and feels rather forced solely for the story's purposes, especially after a jarring (and rather un-necessary) attempted rape scene that makes the "hero" (or anti-hero) less than sympathetic. The story or situations don't really cover any new ground, but Where a Good Man Goes is a decent well-done film for fans of its main actor.
Drama: 6/10

Where Eagles Dare (1968)
Starring: Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure
Director: Brian G. Hutton
Plot: A small group of Allied commandos set up a daring raid on an Alpine Nazi castle to rescue an American General held prisoner, but a possible traitor within their ranks makes things worse.
Review: Though it might feel a bit dated to younger crowds, Where Eagles Dare is a solid WWII adventure which ushered a new era of action movies. Though the opening act is somewhat slow, director Hutton quickly picks up the pace. For a film that's 35 years old, it has an amazing (or appalling) similarity to modern-day Rambo imitators, and is full of all the elements modern audiences might expect, including dangerous stunts, intense gunfights, car (jeep?) chases, and lots of gratuitous explosions. See our heroes mowing down Nazis by the truckload and single-handedly infiltrating an "impregnable" fortress! Based on Alistair MacLean's thrilling best-seller (his previous success to screen had been the novel The Guns of Navarone), the script mostly follows the twists, turns and double-crosses of the novel with lots of cloak-and-dagger interludes to the action. However this big-budget production is less interested in the drama and tension as it is on the action / adventure bits (with an emphasis on the action on the latter half). Like most popcorn features there's little real sense of tension, lots of logic holes, and some sore points here and there, but then so do so many other similar flicks. On the winning side, the production values are high for the times, and the narrative fat-paced. The young Eastwood makes for a great action hero - stoic, cool, imposing - and it was a nice departure from his Spaghetti Western fame. Burton, better known as a dramatic actor, make a leap into the action genre and does OK, giving the film some needed class. Still, some might notice that the acting is surprisingly wooden for such as strong cast. Whatever the case, Where Eagles Dare is a grand adventure flick, a war movie in the mainstream blockbuster tradition: big, loud, and fun.
Entertainment: 7/10

Who Am I? (1998)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Michelle Ferre
Director: Jackie Chan, Benny Chan Muk-Sing
Plot: Left for dead after a black operation double-cross, an agent struggles to regain his memory and races to stop a group of ex-CIA from selling an incredibly destructive new weapon.
Review: Jackie Chan's biggest-budgeted Hong Kong film plays more like an American production, a clichéd take on the espionage thriller, than any of his earlier films. The typical Chan comedy is still present, but it takes a back seat to the Bourne Identity - type story. But as the hero stumbles along from one action scene to another trying to regain a sense of who he is, it's hard to think of this as any kind of real mystery, especially since the viewer knows his real identity and the events leading up to his amnesia from the opening sequence. In the end, Who Am I? works on the strength of the impressive and inventive action scenes, and there are quite a few, from an amusing car chase to some incredible Chan acrobatics to an exciting, extended climactic fight scene. It may not be among Chan's best, but it's still a vastly entertaining offering from a master of the genre.
Action: 8/10
Entertainment: 7/10

Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)
Director: Chris Paine
Plot: A look at the rise and fall of the electric car, and most specifically the EV1, a consumer model that was ahead of its time and was mysteriously by General Motors.
Review: Can anyone remember the electric car, that sneaky, strange vehicle that blipped into existence in the late 90's and quietly disappeared from public conscience? Well then, conspiracy buffs and environmental activists rejoice: Who Killed the Electric Car? manages to be both an astute documentary on the under-handed events that (quite literally) trashed it and the impact of our gas-guzzling society while still tickling the funny bone. The film focuses most of its attention to one model in particular, General Motor's EV1, a stylish first generation vehicle that proved too popular for its own good - why, after such a big marketing push, was the car quietly phased out, its leases cancelled, and then secretly destroyed? Beginning with a mock funeral for the car, the film shows its true colors when it starts digging for answers. The narrative works like a tongue-in-cheek murder mystery, with the evidence being brought forth against various suspects from big-business, to consumers, to the US government and even to the Hydrogen initiative (touted as the "next generation" of vehicles but whose technology is still decades away from being effective). Through interviews with electric car owners (some of which include Hollywood stars) and key players in the life and death of the EV1, the facts are laid out, a verdict taken, and more than one party is to blame. As always, the reasons are more complicated than one would expect at first glance and though this could be taken as a political call to arms - director Paine is clearly concerned but isn't a die-hard by any means, as his predilection for playfulness shows - the real fascination is in figuring out the real reasons for the disappearance of such a promising technology. Coincidence this occurred at the same time as the successful entry of the gas-guzzling SUV? Despite all the setbacks, the film ends on an optimistic note, looking at future hybrid technology and how independent small businesses are tackling the issue despite interference. Eye-opening.
Documentary: 7/10

Why We Fight (2005)
Starring: Gore Vidal, John McCain
Director: Eugene Jarecki
Plot: A view of the forces that shape America's decisions to go to war, from Dwight D. Eisenhower's words of warning in his farewell address to the current state of American foreign policy and invasion of Iraq.
Review: Though it's not as politically savvy as The Fog of War nor quite as entertaining (and manipulative) as Fahrenheit 9/11, Why We Fight has been hailed as one of the great documentaries on the subject of the invasion of Iraq and there's no doubting the relevance of its message on the dangers of the "military-industrial complex". The term was first coined by president Dwight D. Eisenhower in his prescient farewell address to the nation in 1961 where he warned Americans of the dangers faced by an association of power-hungry politicians, military and a too-profitable industry. Filmmaker Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger) has a penchant for the material and - despite a few failed attempts at cinematic tension and explosive finale in setting up the opening bombing salvo in Baghdad - he brings a journalist's view to the subject. The story that unfolds with facts, archival footage and some eye-opening interviews of Capitol and Pentagon insiders and critics alike is a country where foreigh policy is dictated by an association of forces that is determined not only to profit from war but to ensure wars continue to happen. The film does lag on occasion when it decides to interview a new recruit regarding his intentions to fight, or gather a father's rage at losing a son in 9/11 and being fooled to accept the country's entrance into another ill-fated war. But these are balanced with some scathing accounts of the goings-on in the corridors of power, or the damning news footage of Donald Rumsfeld himself, the instigator of the invasion, shaking hands with the one the US treated as an ally (and supported militarily) against Iran until 1990, none other than Saddam Hussein himself. There are many questions left unanswered, of course, and it would have been nice to see more of the historical implications of the film's treatise instead of its quick survey of military conflicts in the latter half of the 20th century. Focused as it is on the Bush administration - and specifically VP Dick Cheney and his entourage - it's still an eye-opener to anyone who still thinks the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 instead of the imperialistic intentions - and greed - of a handful of Washington politicians and neo-con think-tanks. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
Documentary: 8/10

The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Plot: A dissatisfied, cowardly dentist has his life turned upside down when a whistle-blowing hit man with a price on his head moves in next door.
Review: The Whole Nine Yards starts off with a great premise and an interesting location (Montreal, for once being itself!), trying to mix both film noir and slapstick comedy, and mostly succeeds in giving exactly what its audience expects. This is by no means a great film - the characters are insipid, the script (which could have been a great parody of the genre) is banal and the low production values quite obvious. Even the acting is sub-par, with Perry getting a little silly here with his constant tripping up and Willis' stoic portrayal becoming tiring after a while. And yet, there's a certain charm to the light-hearted proceedings along with the occasional funny moments and intriguing premise, with lots of expected twists and double crosses, and the cast is obviously having a good time. It's a rather pedestrian effort considering the star power involved, but with its infectious fun, interesting cast, and decent pacing, The Whole Nine Yards is worth a rental.
Comedy: 5/10

The Wild (2006)
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, James Belushi, Eddie Izzard
Director: Steve Williams
Plot: Helped by his New York Zoo animal friends, a tamed lion must escape and track down his young son accidentally shipped back to the African wild.
Review: In one of what one expects are many similar CGI features from the new Disney studio after sacking their classic cel-drawn department, The Wild attempts valiantly to be energetic, fun and sentimental but suffers from a lack of originality and heart. For one, the movie can't escape the fact that the same premise - that of tamed zoo animals longing for the African wild - was done first and far more successfully in Madagascar, a film that came out just months before, or that its story is a Frankenstein mix of Finding Nemo, The Lion King and others. For two, the film takes a good half hour of bland exposition out of its 75-minute running time, and it practically stalls on departure. Thankfully taking a hint from Pixar, the CGI animation is startling, especially the photo-realistic fur effects, something that will keep adults busy for a few moments. Things do pick up when everyone arrives to their destination and get caught up in a bizarre plot involving a confrontation with wildebeests looking to climb the food chain, a koala given godhood and an erupting volcano. As for the humor, it's a hit-and-miss affair, but with so much stuff desperately thrown in there's bound to be some clever, laugh-out-loud funny bits, and the misses are quickly forgotten - kudos, too, for keeping the pop references to a minimum. Add to this the usual dash of eccentric characters - most notably Izzard as a disgruntled cowardly Koala and William Shatner as the leader / choreographer of the wildebeests - and you've got a confection that's inconsistent but amusing enough. Note to Disney: The Wild hits many familiar crowd-pleasing notes, but you need more than imitation and haphazard comedy to make for a successful feature.
Entertainment: 6/10

Wild Things (1998)
Starring: Matt Dillon, Denise Richards, Neve Campbell
Director: John McNaughton
Plot: A high school counselor is accused of raping one of his students but as the case goes to trial the investigating detective starts to believe that things are not what they seem.
Review: As a slick neo-noir thriller, Wild Things is too trashy. As satire, it takes itself way too seriously. Either way, trying to be the Scream of the teen thrillers, it just doesn't work. Sure it's got all the ingredients of mainstream success - gratuitous sex and nude scenes, beautiful people, quick edits and even a decent pacing and execution but it's all rather dull and quite forgettable. The one-dimensional, throw-away characters are all presented only to look good (and they have lots of cheesy opportunities to do just that) and to go through the paces, providing necessary filler between ridiculous plot twists. By the half-way mark, these turns come on fast and furious, trying to keep the audience off-balance and surprised until the end, but the convoluted scheme doesn't stand up to any kind of sense, not even a comic one. Not to say there aren't some slightly redeeming features here, such as the exercise of guessing what comes next or, what is the cleverest part of the film, the ending credits tying up loose ends in flashbacks. The hands-down highlight of the film, however, is the appearance of Bill Murray as the comically sleazy lawyer. If there was more of him, this would have been much more watchable. As it stands, Wild Things is a disappointing affair from director McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) who should have known better than to play down to his audience with this stylish but vapid piece of fluff.
Entertainment: 4/10

Wild Wild West (1999)
Director: Barry Sonnenfield
Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Brannagh
Plot: Two government agents must stop a diabolical mastermind from using his machines to take over the United States, circa 1880.
Review: This movie has everything going for it: three good actors, some great effects, a high concept, and terrific production values. So how could it miss? Well, it does. The script is terrible, the situations contrived, and the laughs are non-existent. As for the actors, Will Smith doesn't look like he wants to be there and Kevin Kline is sorely, sorely misused. The saving grace here is Kenneth Brannagh, who does a delicious turn as a megalomaniac evil genius. The film has its moments, and it's still entertaining enough, but hardly anything special.
Entertainment: 4/10

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Director: Mel Stuart
Plot: Five children and their charge win a coveted tour of the world's most wonderful candy factory after finding golden tickets in a huge chocolate bar lottery.
Review: Adapted from Roald Dahl's classic children's cautionary tale, the family musical Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was no doubt successful because of its clever mix of comic absurdity and surprisingly unsettling tone. A good third of the film only builds up to our poor young hero's entrance into the magical Chocolate Factory, but once inside the real fun begins. Much time and effort was spent to create every child's dream world, a carnival-colored place made of candy and chocolate, filled with dancing gnomes and impossible machines, where everything is new and thrilling. As the tour guide and circus headmaster, the eccentric Willy Wonka (a well cast Gene Wilder) is very much an image of his factory: delightful and amusing on one side, with an undercurrent of menace and cynicism lurking behind the facade, ready to swoop the four other ill-behaved brats into perdition. The film has perhaps lost some of its wonder in our more jaded era: the effects are dated, the sets aren't as impressive as they once looked, and the pacing is uneven making this feel longer than it should. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the appeal of the basic story which remains an imaginative take on a simple moral tale (if you're bad, you won't get the goodies) and a social commentary on modern society's way of raising children. Add to this some nice visual compositions, solid story-telling and an evident charm and it's clear to see why Willy Wonka is still a popular favorite with pre-teens and parents.
Entertainment: 6/10

Windtalkers (2002)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater
Director: John Woo
Plot: At the height of World War II, a decorated Marine is ordered to protect a Navajo code-talker at all costs, while being secretely ordered to kill his charge if he should fall into Japanese hands.
Review: At first glance Windtalkers appears to be quite a different picture for director Woo (Face/Off, Hard Boiled), but those familiar with his Hong Kong work will immediately see similarities: the roughly drawn characters, the theme of male bonding and friendship, Cage's super-heroics as a one-man GI war machine with heavy (and one-dimensional) psychological baggage, the flying bullets, the slow-motion deaths, etc. The film's main attraction are the large-scale war scenes which are impressively staged, and though a little long, are always thrilling. Trying to reach the bar set by Saving Private Ryan, the film is brutal and bloody in its violence, but not enough to make you feel ill at ease or fail to enjoy the action going on-screen - as per some older war movies, this is a flick meant as entertainment. There is relatively little "down time" from these extended confrontations, and what is there isn't as dramatic or convincing as the writers may have envisioned. The premise is an interesting one, and in describing these code-talkers the film does try for some authenticity. Unfortunately, the potential is wasted here, with the script's statements on racism and war coming off as clichéd and about as subtle as a sledgehammer. This being a showcase for battles and not for characters, the acting is about as good as could be expected from its ensemble cast, with a noteworthy turn by Slater. Cage does a decent (if rather shallow) action-man here, but though Beach gives as good a performance as he can with the dialogue he's given, the role seems too blatantly fake in its wholesomeness. Windtalkers doesn't put anything new to the table, but Woo's trademark craftsmanship is still evident, and it's still a solid action-heavy war pic for those in the mood for it.
Entertainment: 6/10

Wing Chun (1994)
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Catherine Hung
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Plot: A woman who learnt martial arts to escape a forced marriage must face both a new suitor and a gang of bandits who have kidnapped a beautiful widow.
Review: In Wing Chun, Yeoh plays the role of a real-life character from the Ming Dynasty who invented a fighting style that bears her name, but the film has less interest in history than it does in cheap laughs and PG-rated entertainment. The most interesting aspect is that the script is intent on providing a feminist twist on the typical Hong Kong action-comedy, as Yeoh must endure sexist comments from the townspeople before proving even to the toughest of them (the bandit leader) that her power is superior. Though director Yuen shows off his skills once more in the good action sequences, both exciting and well executed, they are nowhere near his more pleasurable (and violent) works such as Iron Monkey or even Tai Chi Master (another Yeoh collaboration). The fights are worth the wait and the last half hour brings some much anticipated fighting mayhem (with lots of wire work and acrobatics) that's well choreographed and well edited, but it's not exactly classic material. The main problem is the story, made up of derivative, uninteresting filler focusing on some bland characters - Yuen just can't give these any spark. The mixed-identity humor (a staple in HK flicks, unfortunately) and embarrassing sexual innuendos fall rather flat, and even the slapstick comedy isn't quite up to par. Still, the best reason to catch this effort is to see Yeoh, and she doesn't disappoint, displaying some terrific moves and some real star power. It's too bad ace-fighter Yen is relegated to secondary status, however. Nowhere near its potential, Wing Chun is an adequate action flick that's required viewing for fans of its star.
Entertainment: 4/10

Winged Migration (France - 2002)
Director: Jacques Perrin
Plot: Documentary following the migratory path of different species of birds.
Review: A wildlife documentary that seeks the poetic over the educational, Winged Migration is simply inspiring. Spanning the globe from the plains of Africa to the Arctic, from the meadows of Europe to the New York metropolis, the filmmakers have followed a myriad of species - from Canadian Geese to Flamingos and Pelicans - on their migratory flights through thousands of kilometers and all seven continents. With only on-screen titles to inform on the species and location, and little narration to explain provide additional details on their habits, this is not a PBS-type documentary as much as it is a vibrant emotional, visual journey. Filming this was an awesome undertaking that was three years in the making, but all the work is clearly on the screen: the colorful scenes are awe-inspiring and the imagery literally soaring, but it is the innovative techniques and camera work that allow us to be part of the flock in flight that really startles. This is as close as audiences will probably ever get and the shots are simply incredible - it's as if you could raise your arm and touch them. Director Perrin (who did the equally impressive Microcosmos) has created as intimate a voyage as could be made and, thanks to some incredible footage, has captured both the freedom, beauty, and the continual fight for life of these denizens of the skies. Sure, many of these shots have been staged and, in fact, many of the birds have been raised just for the realization of this film but there's nothing fake about the birds themselves or their flight. With such haunting imagery and epic sweep, Winged Migration a film that quite literally takes flight, and one that is worth watching again and again on a big screen.
Documentary: 9/10

Wings of the Dove (1997)
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliott
Director: Iain Softley
Plot: In turn-of-the-century England, a young woman dependent on her wealthy aunt encourages her financially-strapped fiancé to seduce her friend, a rich American heiress who she discovers is terminally ill.
Review: Wings of the Dove is based on the classic Henry James novel that dramatized the conflict between the fading morals of the 19th and those of the emerging 20th century, as well as damning the English society that created social monsters. This interesting adaptation leaves the basic theme intact, but does take some liberties to make the story more cinematic. This is a lush, well-conceived period piece, with its contrasts of muted and brilliant colors, of stuffy, dark spaces and illuminated rooms, as well as the careful cinematography that takes you in from the get-go. The involving script focuses on the emotional aspects of the story, showing the cold-blooded manipulation of the two lovers, and then detailing how the consequences of their actions tears at their soul. Despite the technical and writing merits of the film, it would all be for naught if not for the superb, convincing performances by its three leads who use facial expressions and body language to imply more feelings than can be talked about. Indeed, these well-defined, contemplative, complex characters, make the narrative all the stronger by allowing us to feel sympathy for them, and be horrified by their human failings. Bonham-Carter is especially impressive as a sympathetic, flawed character caught between her desires and fears who shows an honest caring for the dying heiress, yet whose manipulations are distasteful. By letting us in on these weaknesses, by providing a mature depiction of the moral ambiguities inherent in their plan, the film doesn't let us, or the protagonists off the hook with easy choices or an easy conscience. The narrative in fact takes great pains to harken back to a time when social standards were higher, when society had clear expectations of moral behavior for social acceptance, all this to slowly build to an emotionally devastating final scene. Henry James never wrote uplifting stories and this one is no exception, but with its strong character-based drama, strong technical merits and fine acting, Wings of the Dove is a vivid, powerful one.
Drama: 8/10

Winter Sleepers (Germany - 1997)
Starring: Ulrich Matthes, Marie-Lou Sellem, Floriane Daniel
Director: Tom Tykwer
Plot: A drunken joy ride in a stolen car leads to the death of a young girl, an event that has varying impact on the lives and loves of five denizens of a small skiing village.
Review: Though Winter Sleepers is a much more subdued work in both subject and pacing than director Tykwer's internationally acclaimed Run, Lola, Run, his style so richly served in that movie is also definitely evident here. The prevailing idea is the role of coincidence in shaping the events of our lives, in bringing such disparate people together and apart, a theme that is too often exaggerated to easily swallow. As for the characters, they are interesting and well drawn (and the performers quite photogenic) but ultimately the film focuses too much on their rather tepid romantic entanglements to be anything more than a shallow ensemble piece. Still, technically speaking, the film keeps our attention - there's never a static moment thanks to some terrific, dynamic camera work, splendid cinematography of both the interiors and the sweeping snowy mountains. Color plays another large role, with individual ones associated with the different protagonists to set a tone to each moment. The final scene, that of falling into an endless void, is the film's final flourish and a heady one at that, no matter what it means to say. Ultimately, Winter Sleepers is a slow, stylish drama that will have its followers, but one that is best seen as a springboard for a fresh new director's future endeavors.
Drama: 6/10

*Classic* The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger
Director: Victor Fleming
Plot: During a frightful storm, a farm-girl is whisked away to a dream-like land full of munchkins, witches and wizards and, accompanied by three magical companions, must reach the city of Oz to find a way to return to Kansas.
Review: The 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz (another had been done in 1925) was one of the more ambitious adaptations of its time and the fact that it still enthralls is a witness to the talent of its makers. With its constant sense of adventure, wonder, and imagination, the wide appeal of the film is no surprise. One of the more startling aspects is the change from B&W to Technicolor as we enter Oz, something that must have been all the more startling to audiences when the film first came out. The enchanting characters have also become part of our culture, from the Scarecrow who needs a brain, the Tin Man who needs a heart, the Lion who needs courage, to the Wicked Witch of the West and, of course, Dorothy herself. Judy Garland plays the innocent, naive farm-girl to perfection, and her role here made her a Hollywood star. Of course, the charm and spirit alive on screen belies the problem-ridden production that, among other things, went through four different directors, something that isn't surprising considering the evident discontinuity of styles found as the film progresses. Yet much of the magic of Frank L. Baum's story is still in evidence throughout in the shape of its amusing story and universal themes of childhood fears. Add to this some memorable songs such as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" mix in some energetic musical routines, lavish sets and a creative production and you have a film that attains magical fairy-tale status, and brings the colorful world of Oz to life. All told, The Wizard of Oz is undoubtedly one of the most beloved musicals of all time, a family classic that has timeless appeal.
Entertainment: 9/10

The Wog Boy (2000)
Starring: Nick Giannopoulos, Vince Colosimo, Lucy Bell
Director: Aleksi Vellis 
Plot: A good-natured, unemployed lamer gets unwanted media attention when he gets into a fender-bender with the Minister of Employment and decides to send her the repair bill.
Review: Giannopoulos brings his popular stage blend of Australian-Greek ethnic humor to the big screen. The stereotypical ethnic characters (all good-natured loser types) are all exaggerated, and the formulaic story sticks to mainstream humor and conventions, but it's hard not to get caught up in many of the crowd-pleasing moments, laugh at many of the jokes (the half-Serbian half-Croatian character has a particularly funny line), and end up rooting for the underdogs. The Wog Boy may not a great film by any means, but it's a fun Aussie comedy nonetheless.
Comedy: 5/10

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston
Director: Gavin Hood
Plot: Wolverine, a mutant who has lived and fought through all the wars of the last century, is duped into joining a secret military program in order to seek revenge against his step-brother, a cold killing machine who murdered his girlfriend. 
Review: At long last, one of Marvel's most popular characters gets his own movie in Wolverine, a prequel to the successful X-Men movies, but it's a mixed bag. For sure this is first and foremost a summer popcorn flick and no expense was spared on the action sequences that range from the average (the many mano-a-mano fights between the two leads) to the spectacular (standouts include a motorcycle confrontation with jeeps and a gunship, and a climax atop a Three-Mile Island stack) - though some do go right through the preposterous, too - and the special effects are expectedly impressive, if not completely convincing. The fault lies in trying to tie together decades of comic-book back-story into an needlessly convoluted two-hour film; in doing so, the screenwriters have missed the mark, and not only because they've un-satisfyingly altered the storyline. Starting with an interesting opening sequence that breezes through our hero's escapades in every war since the mid 1800's, the film struggles to find its narrative focus and both de-mystifies the mythology and makes it feel tripe. Heck, this was all more intriguing and better executed when it stayed a subplot in X-Men 2. With his pedigree of intense personal dramas like Rendition and the Oscar-winning Tsotsi, director Hood seems a strange choice to direct a comic-book action flick, but one can see how the idea of such a pairing could have been a hit, and there's a clear sense that the filmmakers were taking every opportunity to seriously define the character. Unfortunately, the final product has the faults of two sides: the drama isn't convincing or emotionally involving, and the pacing isn't quite punchy enough. Not that the action set-pieces aren't well executed, on the contrary this is where the movie is at its most brainless fun. It's just too bad the filler isn't up to the performances of its leads. Returning to the role that launched his career, Jackman proves again that no one could do it better - snarling, sneering, growling and often ending up in a tight t-shirt, he's got real star wattage. As for co-star Schreiber, he makes a bizarre career move in an action film, and is not quite convincing as the murderous nemesis Sabretooth, though he does ham it up to the proper levels. Add to this a slew of familiar characters from fan-favorite Gambit to the Blob, including a teen Cyclops and a cameo from a familiar X-Man, without missing the ultimate bad guy in the form of the assassin Deadpool (a severely underused Ryan Reynolds) and you've got a film that's really trying to please fans yet feels like it's trying to throw everything hodge-podge into the pot. Still, despite its failings Jackman manages to carry the movie almost exclusively on his broad shoulders; with the solid FX-driven action sequences that makes Wolverine a decent start to the blockbuster season.
Entertainment: 6/10

Wonder Boys (2000)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand
Director: Curtis Hanson
Plot: An aging, pot-smoking university English teacher, who has a hard time following up on his debut novel, has his world turn upside down over a particularly hectic weekend after he stops his most talented student from committing suicide.
Review: Wonder Boys is an entertaining, funny, and touching film about mid-life crisis, university life, and the literary world. The film gives Michael Douglas' best role to date, and all of the supporting cast is terrific. The characters are stereotypes, true, but they are all terribly endearing thanks to a witty, charming, and intelligent script. The events fall one on top of the other, and in the chaos the film could have easily sunk to screwball comedy if not for the deliberate, gradual pace to which the characters and events are exposed, a pace that keeps the feeling of bitter-sweet drama constantly in place. Indeed, the tone of the film manages to shift from comedy to drama effortlessly without ever exaggerating either one. Director Curtis Hanson has taken a chance by choosing the adaptation of the novel by Michael Chabon after having done L.A. Confidential, and it pays off admirably.
Comedy/Drama: 8/10

The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle
Director: Michael Apted
Plot: James Bond must protect a beautiful heiress from the clutches of Renard, a Russian terrorist who no longer feels pain, while stopping his mad schemes involving stolen plutonium.
Review: The World is Not Enough starts off with a decent power-boat chase in and around the London canals, but quickly goes down from there. It tries to be original and deep, but just ends up being one of the most uninspired chapters of the series. The plot isn't grand enough, the characters barely interesting, and the script full of plot holes, coincidences and juvenile wit, though, thankfully never quite reaching the level of camp that some of the Moore Bond films did. The action sequences, the veritable crux of the Bond adventures, seem flat, static and badly staged, with no evidence of the usual breathlessness or originality we usually come to expect from a Bond film. Mind you, it is still a Bond adventure, Brosnan has slipped comfortably into the role, and there's enough going on to keep you entertained for a few hours. It's just disappointing and not very exciting.
Entertainment: 5/10

The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Iain Rea, Tessa Mitchell
Director: Roger Donaldson
Plot: An aging New Zealander with a penchant for tweaking his 1920 Indian motorcycle gets the chance of a lifetime to break the speed record by testing his bike in the Utah Salt Flats.
Review: A dramatized account of true-life New Zealander hero Burt Munro's attempts to break the world land speed record for 1000cc motorcycles in the 60's, The World's Fastest Indian is a quirky, feel-good drama on reaching for one's dreams - and that one is never too old to make it happen. Working again with his The Bounty actor, director Donaldson (Thirteen Days, No Way Out) - a Kiwi himself - brings a larger-than-life aspect to the character and his quest, never shying from throwing in Hollywood-style trappings and taking several historical liberties with the tale. Though the film itself takes its sweet time to start and then takes just as long in the journey (though never monotonous, it is slow-going), there's a fine appreciation for speed when focusing on the trials, especially with Hopkins strapped into his two-wheeled contraption. For those who get tired of the congenial atmosphere and eccentric characters Munro meets on his way to the Bonneville track, patience is amply rewarded when he finally gets there in the last act. The scenes of his trials and mishaps are perhaps a bit on the melodramatic side, but anyone interested in really fast cars and their drivers will surely get their fill, especially from the lovingly-captured photography of Utah's imposing Salt Flats. Much of the credit for the film's success goes to Hopkins himself who brings another fine performance as the 70-year old cantankerous but gentle soul who - with child-like giddiness and ample joy - allowed his obsession and good-nature to take him through such an adventure. An unabashedly affectionate account, The World's Fastest Indian strikes the right chord as a good-natured and high spirited homage to its central character, and to our love for speed.
Drama: 6/10

World Trade Center (2006)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello
Director: Oliver Stone
Plot: Rushing in to help evacuate people trapped in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, two police officers become trapped in the wreckage when the buildings collapse.
Review: The true story of two Port Authority officers buried in the remains of the Twin Towers on 9/11, World Trade Center promised to be the be-all and end-all of 9/11 dramatizations that would bring home the true spirit of the day. Well, that's not the case. What we get is an opportunity squandered on what amounts to Hollywood melodramatic hokum at its worse, a film with so many bland, cookie-cutter characters and TV-movie-of-week sensibilities that it ends up feeling like an expensive, bad 70's disaster movie. Director Stone has some important, engrossing films on his résumé ranging from Salvador to Platoon, but here he's made the most apolitical, uninteresting commercial effort of his career. As the rescue teams fight to save the trapped men, we're supposed to somehow feel warm and fuzzy about the courage and sacrifice on display, at the portrait of American unity shown. Yes, this is well intended and earnest but the blunt, shallow execution lacks that shock, that feeling of dread, that we all felt. When it rises above the individuals, the film really takes flight, and the special effects of the buildings' destruction are superb, evoking all those fears we had when watching it on the news. But as impressive as the visuals of the chaos and destruction at Ground Zero are, when the film drops to the level of its story's individuals 20 minutes in it just loses all energy and significance. For most of the film, Cage and Pena get to act and interact from under a pile of debris and if there's no doubting their nightmarish ordeal, there's little here that makes it any more than tepid melodrama as they spew Hallmark platitudes, the narrative switching back and forth between them and their anguished families - even with the historical context, it gets so prolonged that most audiences will tune out. For all its good intentions, World Trade Center isn't the movie that we'll want to revisit when talking about 9/11. A disappointing film from a great filmmaker. For a better, more poignant take on the events of 9/11, see the superb United 93 or the low-key drama The Guys.
Drama: 5/10

A World Without Thieves (China - 2004)
Starring: Andy Lau, Rene Liu, You Ge
Director: Xiaogang Feng
Plot: A thieving couple comes to odds during a train journey across China when one decides to rob a naive villager of his life's savings and the other insists on protecting him, piquing the interest of a band of professional thieves also on board.
Review: Based on a popular novel, A World Without Thieves has an engaging premise and all the right elements and clout to make it winning fare. Writer / director Feng is far from his previous endeavor, the satire on capitalism Big Shot's Funeral, proving that he is just as capable at crowd-pleasing fare by capturing the playfulness of the best of Hong Kong-cinema while tempering the proceedings with a very Chinese sense of calmness. Not to say the pacing is any less precise and light-on-its-feet - it is. The story itself may feel a bit overwrought with platitudes on spiritual karma and "doing the right thing" with a tragic ending that's rather contrived, but it's the trip that counts and for the most part it's a satisfying affair. Indeed, this is a surprisingly slick production that benefits from a decent budget and some superb cinematography. A dash of special effects help show off the "incredible" skills of the participants, replacing the usual martial arts fighting by a ballet of swift movements of deception and sleight-of-hand. The characters themselves are engaging and their interaction allows for some tense moments thanks to some good, if unexceptional, performances by the cast with veteran actor Lau playing to his usual laissez-faire image. A World Without Thieves ends up being an entertaining commercial adventure with just the right sentimental sensibilities to make it enjoyable.
Entertainment: 7/10

Wreck It Ralph (2012)
Voices: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer
Director: Rich Moore
Plot: After 30 years stuck in a videogame, a digital villain decides to become a hero by escaping into other video titles, creating chaos along the way.
Review: What if the villain of Donkey Kong was just another guy looking for a place to belong? What if the entire world within an arcade was interconnected, and characters could move from one virtual world to another? That's pretty much the amusing premise of the silly but oh-so-much-fun animated flick Wreck It Ralph, a film with the heart and imagination of Pixar's earlier works. The story of going after your dreams is standard stuff, but it also has more heart and smarts than many of its kin. Mark that up as the overseeing hand of Pixar and Disney guru John Lasseter who has given the filmmakers the chance to show their belief in the creative power of video games. Fans of 80's videogames will get a heady dose of nostalgia, pre-teens will enjoy the colorful worlds created, and teens will dig the multiple, often thrilling video-action sequences. Network cartoon director Moore, who made his start on The Simpsons, brings and infectious joy and loads of kid-friendly humor and adult in-jokes to the table, many of which are based on a plethora of cameos from the past 30 years of gaming history. But all these madcap adventures and flights of fancy wouldn't be half as engaging without the emotional relationship of its two leading hangdog characters. Voiced by everyman Reilly, Ralph is the blue collar brute in mid life crisis; as gruff as he is, he wears his heart on his sleeve and he's a touching character... almost as much as Silverman's tiny, scrappy rogue whose dream to race in her own zany, cotton-candy game gives the unlikely pair a reason to break the status quo. Original in premise, if not quite in execution, Wreck It Ralph is a surprisingly endearing and entertaining affair for the entire family.
Entertainment: 8/10

Wuthering Heights (Mexico - 1953)
Starring: Jorge Mistral, Irasema Dilián, Lilia Prado
Director: Luis Buñuel
Plot: After being treated like a slave by his adopted family, a man returns to the ranch where he was raised to seek out his true love, now married, and seek revenge on her and on everyone who mistreated him.
Review: Moving the plot from England to the harsh, arid lands of Mexico, Buñuel's adaptation of Emily Bronte's tragic romantic novel Wuthering Heights is a strange beast, indeed. For one, apart from the surrealistic first and last shot (and a few perfunctory instances in between), most everything in between fails to feel like a Buñuel film - where is the inventiveness, the harsh human commentary that we have come to expect? The director has chosen to focus exclusively on the hate between the characters; any love that might have been between its two soul mates is now shown as a weakness that devours them, driving them to anger and jealousy. To keep to this premise, Bronte's depiction of their childhood (a necessary, glorious moment in the book that better explains the passions that run in the story) never makes it into the film, their back story told in explanatory mode instead, robbing the film of a much needed emotional anchor, a sense of their past. As such, the main protagonist's general ferocity and obsession with revenge seems rather unformed. Buñuel also takes certain liberties with the ending, showing that what they couldn't have in life, the couple may yet have in death. The main problem, perhaps, is that the heavy-handed melodrama - not helped by the often hammy, theatrical acting of its cast - somehow eludes any emotional response from more modern audiences. Oh, the passions run high indeed, but the feeling doesn't quite pass on. Not to say this is a failure: it has all the makings of a low-budget Mexican weepie, but there are elements and touches that make for a superior effort, much of which is due to the film's capturing of the dark tone of the book, the brilliant visual cues (buzzards fly around, waiting for inevitable death; a helpless fly is thrown into a spider's web) and, on occasion, the evocation of the hard life of the people surrounding the cursed family. Buñuel's Wuthering Heights may not be up to the more literal adaptation of William Wyler's 1939 Hollywood version, but it's obvious that he has something different to say and that he captures the tumultuous emotions of their relationship.
Drama: 6/10

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