Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Pairing monsters from separate hit horror films is a time honored Hollywood
tradition. (1943s Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman is a minor
classic. Last years Freddy vs. Jason was also a box office
So, it should come as no surprise that two of cinema science fictions
premier creatures should come finally together. (An Alien trophy
head displayed in Predator 2 was intended as a joke for film buffs,
but can now be viewed as foreshadowing.)
Although a popular comic book series about ongoing battles between these
two space baddies has been around for a few years, no mention is made
of it in the films press notes. They give credit to the movies
writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) for coming up
with the story idea.
The mayhem takes place in 2004, as weather satellites pick up a heat impulse
emanating from Antarctica. Billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland
(Lance Henriksen) quickly assembles a crack team to explore the area.
They discover a recently dug tunnel that leads 2000 feet under the ice
to an ancient pyramid similar to those built by antediluvian civilizations
in Mexico and Cambodia.
As it turns out, the highly advanced Predator species has visited Earth
many times in the past, enslaving humans and forcing them to erect these
edifices. Under these structures, theyve placed Queen Aliens to
produce offspring for their young sportsmen to hunt and prove their mettle!
By the time Weylands team of explorers figures out whats going
on, its too late to avoid a lot of multi-species bloodshed.
Climber Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan from Out of Time) and archeologist
Sebastian de Rosa (Under the Tuscan Sun s Raoul Bova) eventually
conclude that theyre going to have to choose sides in order to survive.
The casting, with the exception of Henriksen, is uninspired. The actor
played Bishop, the helpful robot, in Aliens and Alien 3.
(We can now assume that this robot character from those films was ultimately
modeled after the industrialist tycoon whose company would eventually
Lathans character is a strong, action-oriented female lead, very
much in Sigourney Weavers Ripley mode. Unfortunately, shes
asked to carry a movie that is burdened with some silly histrionics, hackneyed
dialogue and computer game-inspired dramatics.
But the movie has terrific production values, and its fun to see
these two cutups in the ultimate death match. In the final analysis, AVP
is suitably agreeable drive-in fare. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5; Posted 8/13/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
When Melvin Van Peebles shocking, X-rated drama Sweet Sweetbacks
Baadassss Song opened in 1971, it was a unique and revolutionary film.
It inspired a whole new genre of filmmaking that became known as blaxploitation.
Van Peebles son, Mario (New Jack City) had a small but significant
part in the film. Baadassss! is the younger Van Peebles homage
to his old man and that landmark film, a respectful but sometimes critical
dramatic chronicle of the movies creation.
Melvin Van Peebles wrote, directed, produced, starred in and scored (along
with Earth, Wind and Fire) Sweetback. Mario handles many
of the same chores here, playing his father and giving an account of how
the movie came to be made.
In 1969, the elder Van Peebles had just finished a modestly successful
Hollywood comedy called Watermelon Man, starring Godfrey Cambridge.
He now hoped to strike out in a new direction and make a film that addressed
the social ills facing black America. The studios balked.
His convictions became an obsession, one that fueled both his considerable
ego and his ongoing self-doubt. In spite of the seemingly insurmountable
obstacles that continually plagued him, Van Peebles got the film made
and distributed independently.
In a dramatic treatment that often plays like a documentary, the younger
Van Peebles depicts these conflicts in an interesting, if sometimes self-indulgent
fashion. This unblinking portrait shows the elders tenacity as well
as his occasional cruelty.
Mario gives a convincing portrayal, and he is aided by a fine cast that
includes Ossie Davis (Bubba Ho-Tep) as Melvins father and
David Alan Grier (TVs Life With Bonnie) as Clyde Houston,
a porn producer who helps get the movie made. Rainn Wilson (TVs
Six Feet Under) is also memorable as Bill Harris, a white stoner
who aided Van Peebles in putting together a racially diverse crew to make
the movie on a shoestring budget.
The film provides some interesting revelations (Bill Cosby saved Sweetback
with a last minute infusion of cash, the Black Panthers were early champions)
and serves as both an inspiration and cautionary tale for wannabe filmmakers.
But mostly, Baadasssss! is a sons story of his complicated
relationship with his dad. That aspect of the film...probably the reason
it was made as a drama instead of a documentary...is the one that needed
more fleshing out.
The pseudo-documentary approach makes one long for a real documentary
about Sweetback. What the younger Van Peebles has made, however,
is still a modestly entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the making
of an iconic film. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 8/13/04
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
The movie Yu-Gi-Oh! is the latest chapter in the phenomenally
successful series of cartoons, books and most importantly cards. The cartoon
follows the adventures of a boy, Yugi, who is possessed by an Egyptian
pharaoh who assists him in playing other young boys at an elaborate card
game that brings forth monsters. No, its not a David Lynch film,
but the latest concept from Japan, an advanced and noble country that
brought us Kurosawa, Godzilla and sushi.
Yu-Gi-Oh! presents itself as a kids movie with monsters,
and this only partially accurate. In point of fact, this film has more
monsters, creatures and warriors than any film this year. There are dragons,
mummies, demons, comic book people, witches, wizards, robots, princesses,
queens, kings and children with mutated, wide eyes. (That last one may
be a misconception of mine due to the Japanese animation)
But Yu-Gi-Oh! is less a monster movie than a documentation of a
game of cards. The last movie that so completely documented a game was
the four-hour Indian cricket epic, Lagaan. Every single round,
card and turn is documented with tremendous accuracy. The game appeared
infinitely more complex than Chess or Go! Do kids really play this game?
They do, and many children in the audience were well versed in the rules.
The child behind me analyzed the match with the rigor and tenacity of
a chess fanatic interpreting a Kasparov-Spassky match. Another boy insightfully
whispered to his mother the merits of each card played. In the 80s,
the Soviet Union developed chess schools for children where all other
curriculum was dropped in favor of chess instruction. Perhaps we should
be developing Yu-Gi-Oh schools here in the states.
Of course, this will never happen because of the tendency of Yu-Gi-Oh!
to elicit powerful headaches in adults. (Yu-Gi-Oh translates from the
Japanese into Intense migraine in elders.) The films
shoddy animation, loud soundtrack, painful dialogue and stupefying inanity
will make grownups feel their IQs dropping by the second and long
for anything else even Pokemon! (PG) Rating:0; Posted 8/13/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Eternal conflicts, emotional, sociological and political, are at the
heart of the new Israeli film, The Holy Land from first-time filmmaker
Eitan Gorlin. The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film
Festival, The Holy Land exposes us to a side of the country that
weve not seen before.
Oren Rehany plays Mendy, a young rabbinical student at an Orthodox school
in the city of Bnei Brak. Although he is earnest and wants to please his
conservative and devout parents, the young man has other things on his
Mendy, you see, is feeling his hormones. Hes becoming extremely
horny and distracted, taken to slipping copies of erotic literature into
his books of scriptures while in school. When his teacher notices his
erratic behavior, hes given a unique option.
His Rabbi suggests that he go to Tel Aviv and find a Gentile prostitute
in order to get it out of his system. Mendy heeds the advice
and heads to a local strip club. There, he meets a beautiful Russian émigré
named Sasha (Tchelet Semel) who promptly gives him an erotic massage.
Mendy becomes hopelessly infatuated with Sasha, and she becomes the object
of his obsession. After meeting Mike (Saul Stein), the owner of a seedy
Jerusalem bar where Sasha hangs out, Mendy moves there to be near her
and takes a job behind the bar. The naïve Mendy then becomes an unwitting
participant in some shady dealings with the people he meets in the saloon.
The film immerses the audience in a foreign world and culture, especially
the dark underbelly of the Holy Land that few Westerners have experienced.
(Reportedly, Mendys experiences are loosely based upon those of
Rehany is aptly oblivious as the lovesick Mendy, and Stein is intimidating
and sleazy as the bar owner he befriends. Albert Illuz, who portrays an
Arab smuggler that the duo become associated with, adds some unorthodox
theology into the mix.
The acting honors go to Semel, however. She is heartbreaking in the role
of the Russian girl whose hopes for a better life are consistently dashed.
Although the premise is intriguing, the story meanders as it deals with
the problems, both contemporary and ancient, that Israeli residents face.
In addition, the story becomes quite predictable, sapping it of some of
its emotional resonance.
Although it isnt as absorbing as one might hope, The Holy Land
has elements of classic tragedy suggesting that theres nothing new
in human relationships. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 8/13/04
Full of Grace
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Films about drug trafficking usually revolve around gritty, tough-guy
mobsters, slimy inner city dealers and corrupt cops. The action
has a wholly male aspect, and heroes and antiheroes alike are elevated
to iconic status, often undermining any inherent anti-drug messages.
Female characters are either romantic pairings or crack whores,
in either case, obligatory adjunct trimming. Maria Full of Grace
offers a divergent orientation, putting a female face on the drug
trade in a rather more chilling than cool look at the other side
of the War on Drugs.
Catalina Sandino Moreno is remarkable as Maria, a young and spirited
Columbian woman working on a factory line. Her job is to assemble
rose bouquets, the kind oblivious Americans snap up in places like
Sams Club. The irony of packing beautiful flowers with bleeding
fingers for meager earnings is not lost on Maria, who chafes at
her dead-end situation and is frustrated by the people who heedlessly
box her in.
I dont know why everything is so difficult for you,
laments her mother.
Her boyfriend is also baffled by Marias need to break out.
When she climbs to a rooftop and urges him to join her, he responds,
You can come down the way you went up alone.
Marias choices are thus outlined in unambiguous terms: conform
to a lackluster prescribed destiny or jettison the established order
for solitary precariousness. Her options for escape are regrettably
few; poverty defines her choices and her decision to become a drug
mule is a statement about the exploitation of womens bodies
for commercial enterprise.
When the newly pregnant Maria meets Franklin (John Álex
Toro), he offers a glimpse of freedom, connecting her to a drug
exporter who promises her $100 per roll of film she
successfully transports across the U.S. border. Under the tutelage
of a fellow mule, Maria painfully learns to swallow the huge pellets,
sacrificially planning for the fruits of her labors to bless fruit
of her womb.
Her mission is not the routine trip she is promised. Maria careens
from the horrific dangers of drug trafficking to issues of survival
as an illegal immigrant. Her resolve and strength propel her and
she ultimately emerges with the grace to determine a new life, but
not before audiences have also been scarred by the experience.
By exposing the canard of the War on Drugs, Maria Full of Grace
becomes an instructive and bona fide commentary unsullied by hypocrisy.
(R) Rating 4; Posted 8/13/04
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
How does director Michael Mann capture urban twilight so well? Driving
in a city after the sun has gone down is such a specific and dynamic experience,
and he captures it flawlessly in many of his films. Mann captured the
essence of Chicago in Thief, and Miami was more a developed character
than Crocket and Tubbs ever were on his television hit, Miami Vice.
Now Mann has aimed his sights on Los Angeles for Collateral, an
exciting and engaging thriller with more charisma than anything released
The films premise is basic. Cabdriver Max (Jamie Foxx) picks up
sociopath contract killer Vincent (Tom Cruise) who forces him to drive
from one hit to another. This is the kind of plot we might find in an
HBO original movie, but what makes this film brilliant is that the characters
and locations are so perfectly refined that the film becomes a pure thriller
with few distractions.
When a character is on screen for the majority of a movie, the actor playing
that role has tremendous control over the project. Their performance must
be flawless or the film itself will magnify and intensify those flaws.
Foxx shines as Max, creating a sympathetic and heroic lead that struggles
to keep himself (and later others) out of harms way. Foxx manages
to simultaneously show Max struggling in killer Vincents web, while
giving him a moral and emotional strength that raises a strong level of
empathy in the audience.
As Vincent, Cruise, like Denzel Washington in Training Day, uses
his incredible charisma as a weapon. His killer is ruthless and without
feelings, yet we are less intimidated by his ability to kill without conscience
and more intimidated by his attempts to befriend and gain acceptance from
Max. His ultimate goal is to take Maxs soul and conscience.
Recent action-adventure thrillers like I Robot and Catwoman
use flashy MTV visuals, elaborate CGI effects and unrealistic escapes
from danger to keep the audience engaged. Collaterals strategy
is exactly the opposite. Quiet scenes and haunting moments propel the
audience through this nightmarish experience. One scene that is particularly
effective takes place when Vincent takes Max to a quiet half-empty club.
For a moment, Max lets his guard down and consequently the audience does
as well. Just when everyone is feeling a little safer, the film really
lets us have it! (R) Rating: 4; Posted 8/11/04
Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
When Disneys comic fantasy The Princess Diaries opened
in 2001, it took in well over $100 million at the box office. Not bad
for an innocuous, derivative sitcom directed with indifference by Garry
Marshall (Pretty Woman).
But little girls love fantasies about princesses and their parents appreciate
wholesome entertainment even when it lacks originality. So, naturally,
a sequel is just what the accountant ordered.
The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement picks up the action
five years after our heroine, a klutzy American teenager named Mia Thermopolis
(Anne Hathaway), discovers that she is the rightful heir to the throne
of a tiny European country called Genovia. The reluctant royal must now
go to Genovia and learn how to rule.Luckily, she has her grandmother to
aid her. Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews) is a bit weary of the
demands of her reign and is ready to relinquish her crown. Unfortunately,
Genovian law demands that the 21-year-old princess be married in order
to take over as Queen. When the parliament decrees that the princess marry
within 30 days, grandma and her court snap into action to find a suitable
Of course, there is a villain who is out to thwart their plans. Vicount
Mabrey (John Rhys-Davies from The Lord of the Rings) wants his
nephew, Sir Nicholas (newcomer Chris Pine) to inherit the crown. A fan
of Machiavelli, Mabrey schemes to prevent any nuptials from taking place...unless
Sir Nicholas is involved.
The initial film was based upon a popular series of novels by Meg Cabot
but the story that screenwriter Shonda Rhimes (Crossroads) came
up with for this sequel has taken the familiar characters in another direction,
one that might anger purists.
Luckily, Hathaway is likeably clumsy as Mia. She also is a natural beauty
who possesses a self-deprecating appeal that is beneficial to Marshalls
But it is the regal presence of Julie Andrews that ultimately elevates
the movie. Looking splendid at age 69, Andrews glides through the film
with an easy grace that befits movie royalty. She even gets to sing a
tune...the first time shes attempted to do so since botched surgery
on her vocal nodes a few years back nearly stole her voice forever. The
song, Your Crowning Glory, hardly taxes her (and shes aided on the
vocals by The Disney Channels Raven), but it is still a treat
to hear her have a go at it.
There isnt a second of originality in The Princess Diaries 2.
If youre an eight-year-old girl, that wont matter one bit.
(G) Rating: 2.5; Posted 8/11/04