Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Picture yourself in Los Angeles. The weather is gorgeous. Everything
is bathed in sun and the smell of sage permeates the air. There are sandy
beaches and winding hills. The sky is perpetually blue and theres
a gentle breeze off the ocean. What could spoil such a natural paradise?
The answer is people. The massive overcrowding of LA has lead to some
pretty obnoxious elements. Arrogant lawyers, unnecessary road construction,
pushy security guards, awful retail service, loud music and lousy traffic
all terrorize the population and cause citizens to bang their heads in
frustration on a daily basis.
Wouldnt it be fun to smash up all of LAs annoyances? Better
yet, wouldnt it be great to have permission or justification for
ignoring and crashing through these problems (say...to rescue a kidnapped
Welcome to the world of Cellular, a fun new suspense romp from
former stuntman David Ellis.
When science teacher Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) is kidnapped by thugs
and thrown into a dusty old attic, she manages to get a ruined phone to
dial a random number. The phone belongs to the cell phone of Ryan (Chris
Evans) an irresponsible twenty-something with a handsome physique and
a toothy grin. When he discovers that Jessicas life is in the balance,
he disregards most of societys rules searching for a way to keep
her family and her safe and his phone charged.
What makes Cellular so much fun is the joyful glee of newcomer
actor Chris Evans. Evans Ryan is downright hammy, and his charisma,
charm and reaction shots all make him a hero worth rooting for. Its
a blast watching Ryan escaping construction traffic, purchasing a phone
charger with a weapon or stealing a Ferrari from a smarmy lawyer (played
to perfection by character actor Rick Hoffman.)
What is less entertaining is watching the kidnappers and the heroine.
Basingers performance is downright dull and she does little to flesh
out her two-dimensional character. Her character also transforms from
a crying victim into a cold-hearted action hero so quickly that, youll
wonder if a reel of the film got lost.
The kidnappers appear to be lifted straight from the Die Hard films,
and while Jason Statham adds some meat to his role as the lead kidnapper,
the rest of the villains spend their screen time snarling and looking
menacing. Their reason for kidnapping Basinger is ridiculously unrealistic.
Once again, we are presented with dreary villains who die easily.
The bottom line is watching Evans battle the city of Los Angeles is infinitely
more entertaining than watching Evans fight the standard cookie-cutter
kidnappers. Cellular, while never entirely satisfying, is still
a great way to release some urban angst.
So go see Cellular, obey the traffic lights, listen to an audiobook
if youre stuck in traffic, and just in case, dont forget to
keep your cell phones charged. (PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 9/10/04
Reviewed by Deborah Young
There has been an incident. The citizens of Raccoon City have been exposed
to the T-virus and an alarming number of them have turned into cannibalizing
zombies. So begins the second installment of Resident Evil, the
game-based action flick directed by Alexander Witt.
The disaster is the result of experiments gone wrong at the powerful Umbrella
Corporation. Now the city must be locked down and the evidence of Umbrellas
dangerous shenanigans wiped out.
After the citys lockdown, things get interesting. Genetically altered
superwoman Alice (played by Calvin Klein model Milla Jovovich) commences
to kick some butt, fighting Nemesis (one of Umbrella Corporations
walking viral weapons) and trying to get the heck out the city. Shes
joined by supercop Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Carlos Olivera (Oded
Fehr) and Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann).
Together they run through the city on a quest to save the daughter of
Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris), one of Umbrellas scientists. If they
save the girl, theyll reap Ashfords promised reward
a way out of the city. As they carry out their mission, they dodge zombies
and viral weapons. As the plot unfolds, the audience gets more information
about why Alice can sprint down walls and fight better than a bionic man.
This movie is definitely a genre film, replete with creepy, loud music
to jar the nerves and lapses in logic. (How is it, for instance, that
people with the T-virus are brought back to life after dying but can be
easily killed by bullets?) But its got some things going for it
as well. Its full of nerve-tingling action, engrossing fight scenes
Mike Epps is a hoot as L.J., a gold-plated gun-toting fast-talker who
just happens to find himself on lockdown in Raccoon City during the crisis.
He handles the one-liners hes given with a cool naturalness that
makes his persona funny but not buffoonish.
Basically, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is what it is: a horror film,
but its a horror film written and directed with finesse, and its
just plain fun to watch. (R) Rating: 2.5; Posted 9/10/04
Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
In Japan, Zatoichi is a household name, a cultural icon and an all-time
favorite...hes the equivalent of our Lone Ranger.
Between 1962 and 1989, the late actor Shintoaro Katsu played the title
character in 26 films and hundreds of TV episodes. These stories centered
on Zatoichi, an aging vigilante samurai with frighteningly deadly skills.
He also happens to be blind.
Superstar Beat Takeshi (Brother) steps into Katsus sandals
in this new, outlandish and over-the-top action opus, playing the itinerate
swordsman who roams the early 19th century Japanese countryside to dispense
justice with nearly supernatural aplomb.
But Takeshi (who acts under the name Beat and writes and directs
under the name Takeshi Kitano) is a director who has made a name for himself
as more than just a movie tough guy. Like Clint Eastwood, hes now
perceived as an art house director. So, naturally, The Blind Swordsman:
Zatoichi has an artistic punch you might not expect from this kind
of genre piece.
The story involves a couple of geishas (one a man in drag) who are out
to avenge the murder of their parents at the hands of gangsters when they
were tykes. Through a set of coincidences, they find themselves aided
by a strange, white-haired old man who claims to be a masseur.
The corrupt mob bosses have hired a skillful samurai (yet another big
Japanese star, Tadanoubu Asano) to protect them. Far from being a mere
hired killer, this expert mercenary has been forced into this life because
of the illness of his beloved wife.
This story serves as an excuse for a lot of bloody mayhem, and Takeshi
serves it up with style. Some of it is for thrills, but much of it is
for laughs. He utilizes computer-generated blood splattering to enhance
the fight scenes, but, most interestingly, also uses the percussive score.
It seems the name Beat in this context refers not to violence, but to
rhythm. His use of the musical soundtrack to underscore the battles gives
new meaning to the term fight choreography. Ultimately, all
this musical madness culminates in a lengthy, overblown tap dance sequence
that serves as the films finale and curtain call. It comes off like
the Japanese version of Riverdance meets Stomp!
Overlong and sometimes convoluted, The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
is a mixed bag of action, artistic pretensions and musical numbers. Sometimes
entertaining and sometimes maddening, it is at the very least original.
(R) Rating: 3; Posted 9/10/04
If youve seen La Cage aux Folles and Play It Again, Sam,
play them back in your mind as a single film. Youll then have a pretty
good image of what youre in for with A Touch of Pink.
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the makers of those
films should indeed feel complimented. So should Ang Lee, whose The Wedding
Banquet it also borrows liberally from.
Jimi Ministry (The Guru) stars as Alim, a young gay man living with his
boyfriend, Giles (Kirsten Holden-Reid) in contemporary London. Alim, a Pakistani
Muslim raised in Canada, has kept his sexual orientation a secret from his
domineering mother, Nuru (Suleka Mathew).
Nuru is feeling a bit left out during the preparations for her nephews
wedding back in Toronto. She decides to hop on a plane to England to convince
Alim to return to Toronto for the wedding and to get married himself and
give her some grandchildren. Fearing his mothers wrath, Alim puts
on an elaborate charade, claiming Giles is only a roommate and that Giles
sister Delia (Liisa Repo-Martell) is his fiancÈe.
All of these plot contrivances are fairly routine, but first-time filmmaker
Ian Iqbal Rashid has another gimmick up his sleeve. Alim has an imaginary
friend who pops up at opportune moments to give him advice. Its none
other than the spirit of Cary Grant (Twin Peaks' Kyle MacLachlan)!
Cary offers Alim guidance based upon his film characters, his Hollywood
experience and expertise on style. Does Alim ultimately find wisdom in the
words of Tinseltowns most suave leading man? (What do you think?)
Most of the conflicts in the film are smoothed over with the kind of haste
found in TV sitcoms. Even Alims mother Nuru has an all too rapid change
of heart. At one point she admits that she moved to London because of a
Doris Day film. (Heres another flick Rashid has borrowed from, 1962s
That Touch of Mink, starring Day and Grant.)
But this trifle cant be so easily dismissed because of one strong
attribute. MacLachlan is quite good as Cary Grant! He may not have seemed
an ideal candidate for the role, but his accent, delivery and comic self-deprecation
are all in keeping with Grants stylish spirit. After a short time,
one is able to completely accept the fact that Alim is indeed consorting
with the ghost of the deceased star.
Still, its not quite enough. Touch of Pink ultimately comes
off as a well meaning but labored attempt to be charming. (R) Rating: 2.5;
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Why are we so fascinated by the con artist? Perhaps we envy the grifters
freedom to go anywhere he wants to go and do anything he wants to do.
Perhaps we take pleasure in watching someone who lives a life of danger.
In films like The Grifters and The Spanish Prisoner, we
see these men and women living life on the edge, and constantly risking
Primarily though grift films are popular because audiences enjoy the playful
game-like aspects of the con. We love films like House of Games
and McQueens The Thomas Crown Affair because we enjoy elaborate
and amoral games of cat and mouse we love trying to figure out who is
tricking whom. Viewers become excited watching thieves trick hard working
shmoes out of their hard earned cash. In short, these movies really keep
audiences on their toes.
Criminal is the latest venture in this genre and the directorial
debut of Gregory Jacobs, the assistant director of Traffic and
Millers Crossing. The movie is an English language version
of the Argentinean film Nine Queens, and offers a more character
driven perspective to the world of fraud.
In Criminal, we are introduced to Richard (John C. Reilly) a professional
con man. Hes the sort of guy that would steal money from your grandmother.
He observes Rodrigo (Diego Luna) failing to con a waitress in a casino
and takes him under his wing as a partner. Richard tries to show Rodrigo
the ropes and together they attempt to scam a billionaire out of a large
ton of money.
Reillys performance is beautifully crafted. Like Richard Widmark,
he is an excellent character actor who can convey both likeability and
pathetical desperation simultaneously. His Gregory is amoral and slippery,
and one gets the sense that despite his capability of ripping off anyone
and everyone in his life, he still longs for companionship.
His only real familial relationship is his sister, Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Its not going so well however, because they are rapped up in a horrible
legal dispute with each other. Gyllenhaal is a mesmerizing actress who
conveys so much with her eyes. Her role in the film subtly shifts midway
through the film and she handles the change with incredible skillfulness.
Diego Lunas Rodrigo is a perfect foil to Richard. He is charming,
sweet and instantly likable. With a face like a young Paul McCartney,
he is an alluring young man and we instantly feel protective of his fate.
He is, essentially, the person the audience wants to see come out of this
okay and watching his fate is a source of tension and drama.
In essence, Criminal stands out from such con-films like Confidence
and Matchstick Men because of the compelling characters and their
wonderful interactions. There are no special effects, car chases, gunfights
or dramatic pulsing Guy Ritchie-esque music. Yet Criminal manages
to keep its audience apprehensive, focused, entertained and perhaps a
little played too. (R) Rating: 4; Posted 9/10/04
Hollywood is rife with good ideas, or so the saying goes. But good ideas
arent enough to carry a film.
Reviewed by Deborah Young
Evergreen, the debut feature of director and writer Enid Zentelis,
proves that point. It starts on familiar ground. Poor girl Henri (newcomer
Addie Land) meets well-to-do boy Chat (Noah Fleiss). She falls for him and
then tries moving into his world.
Zentelis adds a couple of potentially interesting elements to the universal
theme of love across boundaries. Theres the situation of a family
coping with a seemingly normal mothers agoraphobia. On top of that,
there are two potentially interesting and entertaining characters: a jolly
Native American casino dealer (Gary Farmer), who built his raggedy car from
parts he smuggled out of an auto plant in his lunchbox, and a Latvian grandmother
(Lynn Cohen), who entertains the audience by pelting her family with biting
insights that are, at times, an absolute crack up.
Unfortunately, the movie is just a skeleton of ideas that Zentelis never
fleshes out. The story starts when Henri and her mother, Kate (Cara Seymour),
move into grandmoms less-than-humble abode. The roof leaks. Its
junky. Mother and daughter have to sleep on the floor. And to top it off,
Henri has to put up with her grandmothers old school advice and interference.
Grandmom thinks the girl should get a job in a factory to help the family
Enter Chat, a SUV-driving teen hunk who lives in a nice house and has a
father with a good job and a mother who stays home and cooks. But alas,
the family that Henri thinks has everything turns out to be as miserable
as Henris own poverty-stricken clan.
Thats what this film seems to be about, misery. Zentelis has created
a film that almost obsessively focuses on it. A verbal exchange between
Henris mother and grandmom seems to capture the filmmakers approach
to this movie.
Henri, Kate and grandmom are watching a TV game show. One of the contestants
has just missed a question, and grandmom has remarked about how dumb the
contestant is. Then Kate asks, Are there any shows where the people
have everything they need and are happy? Grandmom replies in a heavily
accented monotone, Not interesting to watch.
But its also not interesting to watch flat characters who seem to
have no motivations other than reacting to their miseries, which is what
we have here for the most part. The actors do a fair job of portraying the
limited characters, but the screenwriter hasnt given them much to
Sadly, the most interesting thing about this film has nothing to do with
the story and everything to do with distribution. Thanks to AMC Theatres
Digital Theatre Distribution System (DTDS), this independent film premiered
in 115 AMC theatres on Sept. 10. AMC will use the digital system to transmit
the movie to theatres via satellite. The system makes it possible for theatres
to play the movie live as its transmitted via satellite or save it
in digital format for future screenings.
Digital transmission of films might be a godsend for independent filmmakers
because it cuts the cost of film distribution by eliminating the need to
send costly spools of film via traditional transportation to many theatres.
So when this technology gains wider usage, it should become possible for
more independent filmmakers to gain wider distribution for their films.
(PG-13) Rating: 2; Posted 9/10/04