Library
Sajid Nawaz Khan
Collection Total:
752 Items
Last Updated:
Aug 2, 2012
7 Days
21 Grams
Alejandro González Iñárritu * * * * - Sean Penn and Benecio Del Toro, two of the most gripping actors around, play wildly different men linked through a grieving woman (Naomi Watts) in 21 Grams. Del Toro delves deep into the role of an ex-con turned born-again Christian, a deeply conflicted man struggling to set right a terrible accident, even at the expense of his family. Penn captures a cynical, philandering professor in dire need of a heart transplant, which he gets from the death of Watts' husband. 21 Grams slips back in forth in time, creating an intricate emotional web out of the past and the present that slowly draws these three together; the result is remarkably fluid and compelling. The movie overreaches for metaphors towards the end, but that doesn't erase the power of the deeply felt performances. —Bret Fetzer
24 Hour Party People
Michael Winterbottom * * * - - Beginning during the dawn of Factory Records—as Tony Wilson throws himself off a cliff for Granada TV—24 Hour Party People attempts to capture the essence of the ill-fated label which spawned Joy Division/New Order, The Happy Mondays and the venue that started modern Club Culture, the Hacienda in Manchester. Director Michael Winterbottom takes a very different approach to most music biographies, by making the film self-aware that it is a film and ironically looking at its own role within the history of the "Mad-chester" scene.

Inspired by Wilson's autobiographical musings, the film is narrated in character by Steve Coogan as Wilson. He offers sporadic moments from his life—his "career" as a presenter at Granada and his several marriages—which in turn influence the destructive nature of the label he founded. Coogan's Wilson gives monologues to camera which remind the audience that what they are watching is only his perspective. Yet with Coogan in the title role it's impossible to ignore the similarities between Wilson and Alan Partridge; and although this adds instant humour to the film it also instantly pins Wilson with the comic "Partridge" tag of fated fool. The cinematography, on the other hand, tries faithfully to embody the feeling of the times, from grainy celluloid for the punk-like Joy Division gigs to bright, clean-cut images for the birth of the Hacienda. The film also benefits from an amazing soundtrack and strong supporting characters. It all adds up to a picture that's purely British in character: imbued with irony, down-and-out inspiration, and a touch of the surreal.

On the DVD: 24 Hour Party People comes as a two-disc set, but there really is little need. Disc 1 is loaded with great extras, such as the deleted scenes, commentaries and Mad-chester musings, but the second disc is a little on the dull side. This really could have been just a single great DVD. There's an excellent screen and audio transfer that brings both the music and the lurid colours to life and the disc also offers that all-important function for hardcore clubbers: a hard of hearing option. —Nikki Disney
40 Year Old Virgin
Judd Apatow * * * * - Cult comic actor Steve Carell—long adored for his supporting work on The Daily Show and in movies like Bruce Almighty and Anchorman—leaps into leading man status with The 40 Year-Old Virgin. There's no point describing the plot; it's about how a 40 year-old virgin named Andy (Carell) finally finds true love and gets laid. Along the way, there are very funny scenes involving being coached by his friends, speed dating, being propositioned by his female manager, and getting his chest waxed. Carell finds both humour and humanity in Andy, and the supporting cast includes some standout comic work from Paul Rudd (Clueless, The Shape of Things) and Jane Lynch (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), as well as an unusually straight performance from Catherine Keener (Lovely & Amazing, Being John Malkovich). And yet... something about the movie misses the mark. It skirts around the topic of male sexual anxiety, mining it for easy jokes, but never really digs into anything that would make the men in the audience actually squirm—and it's a lot less funny as a result. Nonetheless, there are many great bits, and Carell deserves the chance to shine. —Bret Fetzer
The 51st State
Ronny Yu * * * * -
300
Zack Snyder * * * * - Like Sin City before it, 300 brings Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel vividly to life. Gerard Butler (Beowulf and Grendel, The Phantom of the Opera) radiates pure power and charisma as Leonidas, the Grecian king who leads 300 of his fellow Spartans (including David Wenham of The Lord of the Rings, Michael Fassbender, and Andrew Pleavin) into a battle against the overwhelming force of Persian invaders. Their only hope is to neutralise the numerical advantage by confronting the Persians, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), at the narrow strait of Thermopylae.

More engaging than Troy, the tepid and somewhat similar epic of ancient Greece, 300 is also comparable to Sin City in that the actors were shot on green screen, then added to digitally created backgrounds. The effort pays off in a strikingly stylised look and huge, sweeping battle scenes. However, it's not as to-the-letter faithful to Miller's source material as Sin City was. The plot is the same, and many of the book's images are represented just about perfectly. But some extra material has been added, including new villains (who would be considered "bosses" if this were a video game, and it often feels like one) and a political subplot involving new characters and a significantly expanded role for the Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey). While this subplot by director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) and his fellow co-writers does break up the violence, most fans would probably dismiss it as filler if it didn't involve the sexy Headey. Other viewers, of course, will be turned off by the waves of spurting blood, flying body parts, and surging testosterone. (The six-pack abs are also relentless, and the movie has more and less nudity—more female, less male—than the graphic novel.) Still, as a representation of Miller's work and as an ancient-themed action flick with a modern edge, 300 delivers. —David Horiuchi
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick * * - - - Confirming that art and commerce can co-exist, 2001: A Space Odyssey was the biggest box-office hit of 1968, remains the greatest science fiction film yet made and is among the most revolutionary, challenging and debated work of the 20th century. It begins within a pre-historic age. A black monolith uplifts the intelligence of a group of apes on the African plains. The most famous edit in cinema introduces the 21st century, and after a second monolith is found on the moon a mission is launched to Jupiter. On the spacecraft are Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Poole (Gary Lockwood), along with the most famous computer in fiction, HAL. Their adventure will be, as per the original title, a "journey beyond the stars". Written by science fiction visionary Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, 2001 elevated the SF film to entirely new levels, being rigorously constructed with a story on the most epic of scales. Four years in the making and filmed in 70 mm, the attention to detail is staggering and four decades later barely any aspect of the film looks dated, the visual richness and elegant pacing creating the sense of actually being in space more convincingly than any other film. A sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two (1984) followed, while Solaris (1972), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Abyss (1989) and A.I. (2001) are all indebted to this absolute classic which towers monolithically over them all.

On the DVD: There is nothing but the original trailer which, given the status of the film and the existence of an excellent making-of documentary shown on Channel 4 in 2001, is particularly disappointing. Shortly before he died Kubrick supervised the restoration of the film and the production of new 70 mm prints for theatrical release in 2001. Fortunately the DVD has been taken from this material and transferred at the 70 mm ratio of 2.21-1. There is some slight cropping noticeable, but both anamorphically enhanced image and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (the film was originally released with a six-channel magnetic sound) are excellent, making this transfer infinitely preferable to previous video incarnations. —Gary S Dalkin
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Steven Spielberg * * * * - History will place an asterisk next to A.I. as the film Stanley Kubrick might have directed. But let the record also show that Kubrick—after developing this project for some 15 years—wanted Steven Spielberg to helm this astonishing sci-fi rendition of Pinocchio, claiming (with good reason) that it veered closer to Spielberg's kinder, gentler sensibilities. Spielberg inherited the project (based on the Brain Aldiss short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long") after Kubrick's death in 1999, and the result is an astounding directorial hybrid. A flawed masterpiece of sorts, in which Spielberg's gift for wondrous enchantment often clashes (and sometimes melds) with Kubrick's harsher vision of humanity, the film spans near and distant futures with the fairy-tale adventures of an artificial boy named David (Haley Joel Osment), a marvel of cybernetic progress who wants only to be a real boy, loved by his mother in that happy place called home.

Echoes of Spielberg's Empire of the Sun are evident as young David, shunned by his trial parents and tossed into an unfriendly world, is joined by fellow "mecha" Gigolo Joe (played with a dancer's agility by Jude Law) in his quest for a mother-and-child reunion. Parallels to Pinocchio intensify as David reaches "the end of the world" (a Manhattan flooded by melted polar ice caps), and a far-future epilogue propels A.I. into even deeper realms of wonder, just as it pulls Spielberg back to his comfort zone of sweetness and soothing sentiment. Some may lament the diffusion of Kubrick's original vision, but this is Spielberg's A.I., a film of astonishing technical wizardry that spans the spectrum of human emotions and offers just enough Kubrick to suggest that humanity's future is anything but guaranteed. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

On the DVD: A perfect movie for the digital age, A.I. finds a natural home on DVD. The purity of the picture, its carefully composed colour schemes and the multifarious sound effects are accorded the pin-point sharpness they deserve with the anamorphic 1.85:1 picture and Dolby 5.1 sound, as is John Williams's thoughtful music score. On the first disc there's a short yet revealing documentary, "Creating A.I.", but the meat of the extras appears on disc two. Here there are good, well-made featurettes on acting, set design, costumes, lighting, sound design, music and various aspects of the special effects: Stan Winston's remarkable robots (including Teddy, of course) and ILM's flawless CGI work. In addition there are storyboards, photographs and trailers. Finally, Steven Spielberg provides some rather sententious closing remarks ("I think that we have to be very careful about how we as a species use our genius"), but no director's commentary. —Mark Walker
About Schmidt
Alexander Payne * * - - -
The Abyss
James Cameron * * * - - Meticulously crafted but also ponderous and predictable, James Cameron's 1989 deep-sea close-encounter epic reaffirms one of the oldest first principles of cinema: everything moves a lot more slowly underwater. Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as formerly married petroleum engineers who still have some "issues" to work out, are drafted to assist a gung-ho Navy SEAL (Michael Biehn) with a top- secret recovery operation: a nuclear sub has been ambushed and sunk, under mysterious circumstances, in some of the deepest waters on earth, and the petro-techies have the only submersible craft capable of diving down that far. Every image and every performance is painstakingly sharp and detailed (and the computerised water creatures are lovely) but the movie's lumbering pace is ultimately lethal. It's the audience that ends up feeling waterlogged. For a guy who likes guns as much as Cameron (his next film after all, was the body-count masterpiece Terminator 2: Judgment Day), it's interesting that the moral balance here is weighted heavily in favour of the can-do engineers; the military types are end-justifies-the-means amoralists, just like the weasely government bureaucrats in Aliens. —David Chute
Ace Ventura - Pet Detective
Tom Shadyac * * * * - The 1994 box-office hit that turned comedy maniac Jim Carrey into Hollywood's first $20-million man, this gag-filled no-brainer stars Carrey as the titular rubber-faced gumshoe who tracks down lost pets for his heartbroken clients. Ace's latest case involves the apparent kidnapping of the Miami Dolphins' team mascot, Snowflake the dolphin. His investigation is a source of constant aggravation for Miami police lieutenant Lois Einhorn (Sean Young), who turns out to be packing more than a pistol under her skirt. Friends fans will appreciate the presence of Courtney Cox, who remains admirably straight-faced as the Dolphins' publicist and Ace's would-be girlfriend, but of course it's Carrey who steals the show with shameless abandon. One viewing may suffice for a lot of people, but Carrey's hyper antics made Ace Ventura: Pet Detective one of the bestselling videos of the 1990s. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Alien
Ridley Scott * * * * - By transplanting the classic haunted house scenario into space, Ridley Scott, together with screenwriters Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, produced a work of genuinely original cinematic sci-fi with Alien that, despite the passage of years and countless inferior imitations, remains shockingly fresh even after repeated viewing. Scott's legendary obsession with detail ensures that the setting is thoroughly conceived, while the Gothic production design and Jerry Goldsmith's wonderfully unsettling score produce a sense of disquiet from the outset: everything about the spaceship Nostromo—from Tupperware to toolboxes-seems oddly familiar yet disconcertingly ... well, alien.

Nothing much to speak of happens for at least the first 30 minutes, and that in a way is the secret of the film's success: the audience has been nervously peering round every corner for so long that by the time the eponymous beast claims its first victim, the release of pent-up anxiety is all the more effective. Although Sigourney Weaver ultimately takes centre-stage, the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. The remarkably low-tech effects still look good (better in many places than the CGI of the sequels), while the nightmarish quality of H.R. Giger's bio-mechanical creature and set design is enhanced by camerawork that tantalises by what it doesn't reveal.

On the DVD: The director, audibly pausing to puff on his cigar at regular intervals, provides an insightful commentary which, in tandem with superior sound and picture, sheds light into some previously unexplored dark recesses of this much-analysed, much-discussed movie (why the crew eat muesli, for example, or where the "rain" in the engine room is coming from). Deleted scenes include the famous "cocoon" sequence, the completion of the creature's insect-like life-cycle for which cinema audiences had to wait until 1986 and James Cameron's Aliens. Isolated audio tracks, a picture gallery of production artwork and a "making of" documentary complete a highly attractive DVD package. —Mark Walker
Aliens
James Cameron * * * * - James Cameron's Aliens digests all the virtues of Alien and regurgitates them bigger, louder and brasher than before. By the simple expedient of turning the singular beast of the original into a plural, Cameron transforms the franchise's focus from horror to all-out action. Sigourney Weaver's Ripley—one of the strongest roles for a female lead in mainstream cinema—is centre-stage throughout, more than able to hold her own either among the butch Marines and insectoid aliens. Although the director later revealed that there were only ever six alien costumes in any one shot, rapid-fire editing makes it seem like hundreds. Aliens is one of the most dynamic, viscerally exciting movies of the decade and, as a bug-fest, remained unsurpassed until the glorious Starship Troopers in 1997.

On the DVD: The Director's Cut reinstates 17 crucial minutes of footage deleted from the theatrical release. It reveals how the colony on LV-426 encountered the aliens, and more importantly why Ripley's maternal bond with Newt is so strong, which adds an extra dimension to the film's climax. Also included is a short, fairly bland interview with James Cameron, recorded at the time of the cinema release, as well as some background explanation on how specific special effects were created. Unlike the Alien disc, there is no directorial commentary. —Mark Walker
All The King's Men
Sean Penn, Frederic Forrest, Steve Zaillain * * - - -
All The Right Moves
Michael Chapman * * * - -
Alpha Dog
Nick Cassavetes * * * * -
American Beauty
Sam Mendes * * * * * From its first gliding aerial shot of a generic suburban street, American Beauty moves with a mesmerising confidence and acuity epitomised by Kevin Spacey's calm narration. Spacey is Lester Burnham, a harried Everyman whose midlife awakening is the spine of the story, and his very first lines hook us with their teasing fatalism—like Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis, Burnham tells us his story from beyond the grave. It's an audacious start for a film that justifies that audacity. Weaving social satire, domestic tragedy and whodunit into a single package, Alan Ball's first theatrical script dares to blur generic lines and keep us off balance, winking seamlessly from dark, scabrous comedy to deeply moving drama. The Burnham family joins the cinematic short-list of great dysfunctional American families, as Lester is pitted against his manic, materialistic realtor wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening, making the most of a mostly unsympathetic role) and his sullen, contemptuous teenaged daughter, Jane (Thora Birch, utterly convincing in her edgy balance of self-absorption and wistful longing). Into their lives come two catalytic outsiders. A young cheerleader (Mena Suvari) jolts Lester into a sexual epiphany that blooms into a second adolescence. And an eerily calm young neighbour (Wes Bentley) transforms both Lester and Jane with his canny influence. Credit another big-screen newcomer, English theatrical director Sam Mendes, with expertly juggling these potentially disjunctive elements into a superb ensemble piece that achieves a stylised pace without lapsing into transparent self-indulgence. Mendes has shrewdly insured his success with a solid crew of stage veterans, yet he has also made an inspired discovery in Bentley, whose Ricky Fitts becomes a fulcrum for both plot and theme. Cinematographer Conrad Hall's sumptuous visual design further elevates the film, infusing the beige interiors of the Burnhams' lives with vivid bursts of deep crimson, the colour of roses—and of blood. —Sam Sutherland
American History X
Tony Kaye * * * * * Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay to Edward Norton is that his Oscar-nominated performance in American History X nearly convinces you that there is a shred of logic in the tenets of white supremacy. If that statement doesn't horrify you, it should; Norton is so fully immersed in his role as a neo-Nazi skinhead that his character's eloquent defense of racism is disturbingly persuasive—at least on the surface. Looking lean and mean with a swastika tattoo and a mind full of hate, Derek Vinyard (Norton) has inherited racism from his father, and that learning has been intensified through his service to Cameron (Stacy Keach), a grown-up thug playing tyrant and teacher to a growing band of disenfranchised teens from Venice Beach, California, all hungry for an ideology that fuels their brooding alienation.

The film's basic message—that hate is learned and can be unlearned—is expressed through Derek's kid brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), whose sibling hero-worship increases after Derek is imprisoned (or, in Danny's mind, martyred) for the killing of two black men. Lacking Derek's gift of rebel rhetoric, Danny is easily swayed into the violent, hateful lifestyle that Derek disowns during his thoughtful time in prison. Once released, Derek struggles to save his brother from a violent fate, and American History X partially suffers from a mix of intense emotions, awkward sentiment and predictably inevitable plotting. And yet British director Tony Kaye (who would later protest against Norton's creative intervention during post-production) manages to juggle these qualities—and a compelling clash of visual styles—to considerable effect. No matter how strained their collaboration may have been, both Kaye and Norton can be proud to have created a film that addresses the issue of racism with dramatically forceful impact. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
American Pie
Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz * * * * - Anyone who's watched just about any teenage film knows that the greatest evil in this world isn't chemical warfare, ethnic cleansing, or even the nuclear bomb. The worst crime known to man? Why, virginity, of course. As we've learned from countless films—from Summer of '42 to Risky Business—virginity is a criminal burden that one must shed oneself of as quickly as possible. And while many of these films have given the topic a bad name, American Pie quietly sweeps in and gives sex some of its dignity back. Dignity, you may say? How can a film that highlights intercourse with fruit pies, premature ejaculation broadcast across the Internet and the gratuitous "gross-out" shots restore the dignity of a genre that's been encumbered with such heavyweights as Porky's and Losin' It? The plot of American Pie may be typical, with four high-school friends swearing to "score" before the prom, yet the film rises above the muck with its superior cast, successful and sweet humour and some actually rather retro values about the meaning and importance of sex. Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Eddie Kaye Thomas make up the odd quartet of pals determined to woo, lie and beg their way to manhood. The young women they pursue are wary girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid), choir girl Heather (Mena Suvari), band geek Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and just about any other female who is willing and able. Natasha Lyonne as Jessica, playing a similar role as in Slums of Beverly Hills, is the general advisor to the crowd (when Vicky tells her "I want it to be the right time, the right place," Jessica responds, "It's not a space shuttle launch, it's sex"). The comedic timing hits the mark—especially in the deliberately awkward scenes between Jim (Biggs) and his father (Eugene Levy). And, of course, lessons are learned in this genuinely funny film, which will probably please the adult crowd even more than it will the teenage one. —Jenny Brown
American Psycho
Mary Harron * * * * *
Amityville 3-D: The Demon
Richard Fleischer * * - - -
The Amityville Horror
James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Stuart Rosenberg * * * - -
Animal Factory
Steve Buscemi * * * - -
Apocalypse Now Redux
Francis Ford Coppola * * * - - In the tradition of such obsessively driven directors as Erich von Stroheim and Werner Herzog, Francis Ford Coppola approached the production of Apocalypse Now as if it was his own epic mission into the heart of darkness. On location in the storm-ravaged Philippines, he quite literally went mad as the project threatened to devour him in a vortex of creative despair but from this insanity came one of the greatest films ever made. It began as a John Milius screenplay, transposing Joseph Conrad's classic story "Heart of Darkness" into the horrors of the Vietnam War, following a battle-weary Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a secret upriver mission to find and execute the renegade Colonel Kurtz(Marlon Brando), who has reverted to a state of murderous and mystical insanity. The journey is fraught with danger involving war-time action on epic and intimate scales. One measure of the film's awesome visceral impact is the number of sequences, images and lines of dialogue that have literally burned themselves into our cinematic consciousness, from the Wagnerian strike of helicopter gunships on a Vietnamese village to the brutal murder of stowaways and the unflinching fearlessness of the surfing warrior Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), who speaks lovingly of "the smell of napalm in the morning." Like Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, this film is the product of genius cast into a pit of hell and emerging, phoenix-like, in triumph. Coppola's obsession (effectively detailed in the riveting documentary Hearts of Darkness, directed by Coppola's wife, Eleanor) informs every scene and every frame, and the result is a film for the ages. —Jeff Shannon
Apollo 13
Ron Howard * * * * - NASA's worst nightmare turned into one of the space agency's most heroic moments in 1970, when the Apollo 13 crew was forced to hobble home in a disabled capsule after an explosion seriously damaged the moon-bound spacecraft. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton play (respectively) astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise in director Ron Howard's intense, painstakingly authentic docudrama. The Apollo 13 crew and Houston-based mission controllers race against time and heavy odds to return the damaged spacecraft safely to Earth from a distance of 205,500 miles. Using state-of-the-art special effects and ingenious film-making techniques, Howard and his stellar cast and crew build nail-biting tension while maintaining close fidelity to the facts. The result is a fitting tribute to the Apollo 13 mission and one of the biggest box-office hits of 1995. —Jeff Shannon
The Aristocrats
Paul Provenza, Penn Jillette * * - - - As a film, The Aristocrats is quite straightforward. At its heart is what’s renowned as the dirtiest, filthiest joke in the room, one so unpleasant that it can never be performed on stage or on screen. As the numerous talking heads testify, it’s a comedian’s joke to tell to other comedians, rather than to be shared with audiences. And the joke at heart, as they all know, isn’t all that funny. Fortunately, the telling frequently is.

The film thus rounds up a who’s who of comedy, and gets them to both discuss the infamous joke, and to commit their rendition of it to film. What the viewer then gets from it all is an at-times fascinating comparison of how different comedians can tackle pretty much the same material in wildly different ways. And with contributions from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Eric Idle and Paul Reiser, this isn’t a tired scrape around the C-list circuit by any means, and it’s all the better for it.

With 100 comedians ultimately repeating their own version of the gag throughout the film’s running time, it’s perhaps unsurprising that The Aristocrats does slightly outstay its welcome. And the warning that the joke in question is offensive really shouldn’t be taken lightly at all—taboos aren’t just broken here, they’re shattered into umpteen pieces. If you can stomach all that though, the end result is still worth your time.—Simon Brew
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Andrew Dominik Of all the movies made about or glancingly involving the 19th-century outlaw Jesse Woodson James, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the most reflective, most ambitious, most intricately fascinating, and indisputably most beautiful. Based on the novel of the same name by Ron Hansen, it picks up James late in his career, a few hours before his final train robbery, then covers the slow catastrophe of the gang's breakup over the next seven months even as the boss himself settles into an approximation of genteel retirement. But in another sense all of the movie is later than that. The very title assumes the audience's familiarity with James as a figure out of history and legend, and our awareness that he was—will be—murdered in his parlor one quiet afternoon by a back-shooting crony.
The film—only the second to be made by New Zealand–born writer-director Andrew Dominik—reminds us that Dominik's debut film, Chopper, was the cunningly off-kilter portrait of another real-life criminal psychopath who became a kind of rock star to his society. The Jesse James of this telling is no Robin Hood robbing the rich to give to the poor, and that train robbery we witness is punctuated by acts of gratuitous brutality, not gallantry. Nineteen-year-old Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) seeks to join the James gang out of hero worship stoked by the dime novels he secretes under his bed, but his glam hero (Brad Pitt) is a monster who takes private glee in infecting his accomplices with his own paranoia, then murdering them for it. In the careful orchestration of James's final moments, there's even a hint that he takes satisfaction in his own demise. Affleck and Pitt (who co-produced with Ridley Scott, among others) are mesmerising in the title roles, but the movie is enriched by an exceptional supporting cast: Sam Shepard as Jesse's older, more stable brother Frank; Sam Rockwell as Bob Ford's own brother Charlie, whose post-assassination descent into madness is astonishing to behold; Paul Schneider, Garret Dillahunt, and Jeremy Renner as three variously doomed gang members; and Mary-Louise Parker, who as Jesse's wife Zee has few lines yet manages with looks and body language to invoke a well nigh-novelistic back-story for herself. There are also electrifying cameos by James Carville, doing solid actorly work as the governor of Missouri; Ted Levine, as a lawman of antic spirit; and Nick Cave, composer of the film's score (with Warren Ellis) and screenwriter of the Aussie western The Proposition, suddenly towering over a late scene to perform the folk song that set the terms for the book and movie's title.
Still, the real co-star is Roger Deakins, probably the finest cinematographer at work today. The landscapes of the movie (mostly in Alberta and Manitoba) will linger in the memory as long as the distinctive faces, and we seem to feel the sting of its snows on our cheeks. Interior scenes are equally persuasive. Few westerns have conveyed so tangibly the bleakness and austerity of the spaces people of the frontier called home, and sought in vain to warm with human spirit. —Richard T. Jameson
Atonement
Joe Wright * * * * * Atonement reunites Keira Knightley with her Pride & Prejudice director, Joe Wright, for the movie based on Ian McEwan’s book of the same name. The result? Once of the most widely acclaimed pictures of 2007.

Atonement tells the story of Cecilia Tallis (Knightley), and the housekeeper’s son, Robbie Turner (played by the increasingly prevalent James McAvoy). Set during the heat of 1935, their coming together and the ensuing drama brings in Cecilia’s thirteen-year old sister, Briony, whose actions prove to have far-reaching repercussions.

With a terrific cast and superb direction from the aforementioned Wright, it’s utterly understandable as to how Atonement has earned itself such praise. Diligently told, with some superb photography, Wright is blessed by terrific central performances by Knightley and McAvoy, both of whom have never been better. His trick also is to get the pacing of the film bang-on, taking his time to build up and layer events before he looks for any kind of pay off.

As a result, as Atonement heads into its latter stages, it proves itself as a top quality drama, with a real emotional punch. Furthermore, it’s one of the increasingly rare breed of films that sticks in your head for days after.

As a result, for once, it really is worth seeing what critics the world over have been raving about: Atonement really is something very special indeed. —Jon Foster
Audition
Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Takashi Miike Much of the controversy surrounding Takashi Miike's Audition centres on the disturbing nature of the later part of the film—understandable when you consider the imprint these admittedly horrific images leave on the viewer—but fails to note the intricate social satire of the rest. This is a film that offers insight into the changing culture of Japan and the generation gap between young and old. Shigeharu Aoyama is looking for an obedient and virtuous woman to love and asks, "Where are all the good girls?"—a comment that seals his fate. A fake audition is organised to find Aoyama a wife. Asami Yamazaki is introduced as the virtuous woman he is looking for, dressing for the majority of the film in white and behaving with the courtesy of an angel, especially when juxtaposed against the brash stupidity of the other girls at the audition. Although his friend takes an immediate "chemical" dislike to her, Aoyama begins a love affair to end all love affairs. But as Asami's history unfolds we see her pain and torture and slowly understand that the tortured in this instance holds the power to become the torturer. Aoyama is slowly drawn away from his white, metallic and homely environment into the vivid- red and dirty-dark environment of Asami's sadistic world.

Audition can be viewed on a number of levels, with important feminist, social and human rights issues to be drawn from the story. However, the real power of this film is its descent into the subconscious, to a point where reality is blurred and the audience is unable to decide whether the disturbing images on screen are real or surreal. This refined, hard-hitting and essentially Japanese style of horror is ultimately much more powerful than anything offered by Hollywood. This is a film that will get under your skin and infect your consciousness with a blend of fearless gore and unimaginable torture. It is not for the faint-hearted. —Nikki Disney
Avatar
Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron * * * * - After 12 years of thinking about it (and waiting for movie technology to catch up with his visions), James Cameron followed up his unsinkable Titanic with Avatar, a sci-fi epic meant to trump all previous sci-fi epics. Set in the future on a distant planet, Avatar spins a simple little parable about greedy colonizers (that would be mankind) messing up the lush tribal world of Pandora. A paraplegic Marine named Jake (Sam Worthington) acts through a 9-foot-tall avatar that allows him to roam the planet and pass as one of the Na'vi, the blue-skinned, large-eyed native people who would very much like to live their peaceful lives without the interference of the visitors. Although he's supposed to be gathering intel for the badass general (Stephen Lang) who'd like to lay waste to the planet and its inhabitants, Jake naturally begins to take a liking to the Na'vi, especially the feisty Neytiri (Zoë Saldana, whose entire performance, recorded by Cameron's complicated motion-capture system, exists as a digitally rendered Na'vi). The movie uses state-of-the-art 3D technology to plunge the viewer deep into Cameron's crazy toy box of planetary ecosystems and high-tech machinery. Maybe it's the fact that Cameron seems torn between his two loves—awesome destructive gizmos and flower-power message mongering—that makes Avatar's pursuit of its point ultimately uncertain. That, and the fact that Cameron's dialogue continues to clunk badly. If you're won over by the movie's trippy new world, the characters will be forgivable as broad, useful archetypes rather than standard-issue stereotypes, and you might be able to overlook the unsurprising central plot. (The overextended "take that, Michael Bay" final battle sequences could tax even Cameron enthusiasts, however.) It doesn't measure up to the hype (what could?) yet Avatar frequently hits a giddy delirium all its own. The film itself is our Pandora, a sensation-saturated universe only the movies could create. —Robert Horton
The Aviator
Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Martin Scorsese * * * * - From Hollywood's legendary Cocoanut Grove to the pioneering conquest of the wild blue yonder, Martin Scorsese's The Aviator celebrates old-school filmmaking at its finest. We say "old school" only because Scorsese's love of golden-age Hollywood is evident in his approach to his subject—Howard Hughes in his prime (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in his)—and especially in his technical mastery of the medium, which reflects his love for classical filmmaking of the studio era. Even when he's using state-of-the-art digital trickery for the film's exciting flight scenes (including one of the most spectacular crashes ever filmed), Scorsese's meticulous attention to art direction and costume design suggests an impassioned pursuit of craftsmanship from a bygone era; every frame seems to glow with gilded detail. And while DiCaprio bears little physical resemblance to Hughes from the film's 20-year period (late 1920s to late '40s), he efficiently captures the eccentric millionaire's golden-boy essence, and his tragic descent into obsessive-compulsive seclusion. Bolstered by Cate Blanchett's uncannily accurate portrayal of Katharine Hepburn as Hughes' most beloved lover, The Aviator is easily Scorsese's most accessible film, inviting mainstream popularity without compromising Scorsese's artistic reputation. As compelling crowd-pleasers go, it's a class act from start to finish. —Jeff Shannon
Awake
Hayden Christensen, Lena Olin, Joby Harold * * - - - Now here’s an intriguing premise for a horror-thriller. What if you were entirely aware of what was happening mid-operation, when you were supposed to be under anaesthetic? That’s just what happens to Hayden Christensen in Awake, a tidy, intriguing little film that makes a few interesting choices as its storyline evolves.

Christensen plays Clay Beresford, born into a rich family and dating a woman that he hides from his mother. He also is in need of heart surgery, and as he heads in for his operation, he gradually seems to be tying his life together. But there’s more to Awake than that, and writer-director Joby Harold’s screenplay throws in a couple of fairly obvious rug-pulls, although it’s still decent fun spotting them nonetheless.

What’s surprising about Awake is that it’s less interested in its central concept than perhaps it should be. It also hinges a too-challenging role on the shoulders of Jessica Alba, although supporting players such as Terence Howard, Lena Olin and Fisher Stevens do carry some of the weight.

With a concise and to-the-point sub-90 minute running time, Awake knows not to outstay its welcome, and generally delivers an entertaining, if ultimately shallow night in front of the box. There was, however, potential here for a more interesting movie than the one we got. —Jon Foster
Babel
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu * * * - - Brilliantly conceived, superbly directed, and beautifully acted, Babel is inarguably one of the best films of 2006. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his co-writer, Guillermo Arriaga (the two also collaborated on Amores Perros and 21 Grams) weave together the disparate strands of their story into a finely hewn fabric by focusing on what appear to be several equally incongruent characters: an American (Brad Pitt) touring Morocco with his wife (Cate Blanchett) become the focus of an international incident also involving a hardscrabble Moroccan farmer (Mustapha Rachidi) struggling to keep his two young sons in line and his family together. A San Diego nanny (Adriana Barraza), her employers absent, makes the disastrous decision to take their kids with her to a wedding in Mexico. And a deaf-mute Japanese teen (the extraordinary Rinko Kikuchi) deals with a relationship with her father (Koji Yakusho) and the world in general that's been upended by the death of her mother. It is perhaps not surprising, or particularly original, that a gun is the device that ties these people together. Yet Babel isn't merely about violence and its tragic consequences. It's about communication, and especially the lack of it—both intercultural, raising issues like terrorism and immigration, and intracultural, as basic as husbands talking to their wives and parents understanding their children. Iñárritu's command of his medium, sound and visual alike, is extraordinary; the camera work is by turns kinetic and restrained, the music always well matched to the scenes, the editing deft but not confusing, and the film (which clocks in at a lengthy 143 minutes) is filled with indelible moments. Many of those moments are also pretty stark and grim, and no will claim that all of this leads to a "happy" ending, but there is a sense of reconciliation, perhaps even resolution. "If You Want to be Understood... Listen," goes the tagline. And if you want a movie that will leave you thinking, Babel is it. —Sam Graham
Baby's Day Out
Patrick Johnson * * * - - Only a mother could love John Hughes' comedy Baby's Day Out. For anyone else, the nappy soon starts to stink. Baby Bink is kidnapped by three inept crooks, but the child escapes from their hideaway, leading to a chase through the city. Bink's journey follows the story line of his favourite bedtime book, Baby's Day Out: he goes to a zoo, a construction site, and a retirement home. Hughes, though, is following his accountant's favourite bedtime tale, "Let's rewrite Home Alone again", but with very little of the humour or impact of that smash. A number of scenes revolve around the crushing or incineration of Joe Mantegna's groin, not exactly average family fare. By way of small compensation there are some moments of levity with the crooks and a gorilla. —Keith Simanton, Amazon.com
Back To The Future Trilogy
Robert Zemeckis * * * * *
The Basketball Diaries
Scott Kalvert * * * * * The pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jim Carroll, the poet and musician who spent much of his adolescence addicted to heroin and shooting hoops with fellow Catholic high-school kids. As a biography, the film doesn't amount to more than the sum of its gritty scenes of smack use, violence, perversions (poor Bruno Kirby plays a lecherous coach who comes on to young Jim), and the usual scream-and-puke dramas that go along with a cold-turkey session. Director Scott Kalvert doesn't seem to realise that most people don't know who Carroll is and therefore can't possibly understand why they should care about his gutterball youth. DiCaprio, having nowhere to go with his performance but maintain Carroll's tailspin, is boring and redundant. Some kind of allusion to the literary and rock & roll life that follows the mess we're watching might have been helpful. The DVD release offers the choice of a full or widescreen (letterbox) picture, plus interviews. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan * * * * * Batman Begins 2- Disc Special Edition with 8 Movie Still Postcards
Batteries Not Included
Matthew Robbins * * - - - Quite possibly the nadir of Steven Spielberg's career as a producer, this piece of sentimental junk from 1987 concerns five little spacecraft which arrive on Earth just in time to help out some New Yorkers getting kicked out of a tenement. The script's goo just sticks to the viewer, and the cast looks silly by trying not to be silly. You get the feeling that Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment was pretty much throwing stuff at the wall to see what would hang there, and they came up with this ridiculous thing. —Tom Keogh
Battle Royale
Kinji Fukasaku * * * * * With the Japanese currently leading the way in thought-provoking cinematic violence it’s only fitting that Kenta Fukasaku’s Battle Royale is being touted as A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century. Based on the novel by Koshun Takami, the film opens with a series of fleeting images of unruly Japanese school kids, whose bad behaviour provides a justification for the "punishments" which will ensue. To be honest, anyone who has grown up with Grange Hill will view these aggressive teenagers’ acts as pretty moderate, but in the context of Japanese culture, their lack of respect is a challenge to the traditional values of respecting ones elders.

Once the prequel has been dispensed with, the classmates are drugged and awaken on an island where they find they have been fitted with dog collars that monitor their every move. Instructed by their old teacher ("Beat" Takeshi) with the aid of an upbeat MTV-style video, they are told of their fate: after an impartial lottery they have been chosen to fight each other in a three-day, no-rules contest, the "Battle Royale". Their only chance of survival in the "Battle" is through the death of all their classmates. Some pupils embrace their mission with zeal, while others simply give up or try to become peacemakers and revolutionaries. However, the ultimate drive for survival comes from the desire to protect the one you love.

The film looks like a war-flick on occasions, with intense Apocalypse Now-style imagery (check out the classical score blasted over the tannoys with sweeping shots of helicopters). Yet, Battle Royale works on many different levels, highlighting the authorities’ desperation to enforce law and order and the alienation caused by the generation gap. But whether you view the film as an important social commentary or simply enjoy the adrenalin-fuelled violence, this is set to become cult viewing for the computer game generation and beyond. —Nikki Disney
Battle Royale 2 - Requiem
Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku * * * - -
The Beach
Danny Boyle * * * * * Leonardo DiCaprio sought to distance himself from the cloying wholesomeness of his character in Titanic, and his role in The Beach is in many ways a polar opposite. As Richard, a young American seeking to "suck in the experience" of freestyle travel in Thailand, he is a chronic liar, a pot-smoking hedonist, an amoral lover and ultimately an unstable snake in a doomed Garden of Eden. This crazy descent might be expected from the filmmakers of Trainspotting, but The Beach is a movie without a rudder, venturing into fascinating territory, promising a stimulating adventure and then careening out of control.

After receiving a not-so-secret map to a secluded island from a stoned-out loony (Robert Carlyle, full of dark portent and spittle), Richard sets out to find the hidden paradise with a young French couple (Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet). What they find is a tropical commune existing in delicate balance with Thai pot farmers, and before long—as always—there is trouble in paradise. There is trouble in the movie, too, as DiCaprio is reduced to histrionics when the plot turns into a muddled mix of Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, with shark attacks tossed in for shallow tension. Director Danny Boyle attempts perfunctory romance and a few audacious moves (notably DiCaprio's vision of life as a violent video game), but what's the point? Tilda Swinton registers strongly as the commune's charismatic leader, but her character—and the entire film—remains largely undeveloped, and pretty scenery is no guarantee of a laudable film. —Jeff Shannon
A Beautiful Mind
Ron Howard * * * * - A Beautiful Mind is an award-winning movie if ever there was one. This biopic of mathematician John Forbes Nash is two parts Shine to one part Good Will Hunting. Scripted by Akiva Goldsman (Lost in Space) and directed by Ron Howard (The Grinch)—both trying to get sincere and serious after previous movies—it showcases a big, compelling performance from Russell Crowe as a genius whose eccentricities turn out to be down to a genuine mental illness. Though his early work as a student offered a breakthrough that eventually won him the 1994 Nobel Prize, Nash goes off the deep end in later life.

The film works better in the early paranoid stretches—which include a wonderful 1950s spy movie parody as Nash is sucked into an imagined world of fighting commie atom spies—than it does with the inspirational ending, where Nash’s handicaps are overcome so he can triumph at the end. Crowe's genuinely fine work still seems a bit Shine/Rain Man/Forrest Gump-ish in mannerism, yet experience shows this can be a powerful career move. Crowe gains sterling support from Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany and Christopher Plummer—some playing a mere character in Nash’s world. —Kim Newman
Beetlejuice
Tim Burton * * * * - Before making Batman, director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton teamed up for this popular black comedy about a young couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) whose premature death leads them to a series of wildly bizarre afterlife exploits. As ghosts in their own New England home, they're faced with the challenge of scaring off the pretentious new owners (Catherine O'Hara and Jeffrey Jones), whose daughter (Winona Ryder) has an affinity for all things morbid. Keaton plays the mischievous Beetlejuice, a freelance "bio-exorcist" who's got an evil agenda behind his plot to help the young undead newlyweds. The film is a perfect vehicle for Burton's visual style and twisted imagination, with clever ideas and gags packed into every scene. Beetlejuice is also a showcase for Keaton, who tackles his title role with maniacal relish and a dark edge of menace.—Jeff Shannon
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Sidney Lumet * * - - -
Being John Malkovich
Spike Jonze * - - - - While too many films suffer the fate of creative bankruptcy, Being John Malkovich is a refreshing study in contrast, so bracingly original that you'll want to send director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman a thank-you note for restoring your faith in the enchantment of film. Even if it ultimately serves little purpose beyond the thrill of comedic invention, this demented romance is gloriously entertaining, spilling over with ideas that tickle the brain and even touch the heart. That's to be expected in a movie that dares to ponder the existential dilemma of a forlorn puppeteer (John Cusack) who discovers a metaphysical portal into the brain of actor John Malkovich.

The puppeteer takes a job working as a file clerk on the seventh-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan office building; this idea alone might serve as the comedic basis for an entire film, but Jonze and Kaufman are just getting started. Add a devious co-worker (Catherine Keener), Cusack's dowdy wife (a barely recognisable Cameron Diaz), and a business scheme to capitalise on the thrill of being John Malkovich, and you've got a movie that just gets crazier as it plays by its own outrageous rules. Malkovich himself is the film's pièce de résistance, playing on his own persona with obvious delight and—when he enters his own brain via the portal—appearing with multiple versions of himself in a tour-de-force use of digital trickery. Does it add up to much? Not really. But for 112 liberating minutes, Being John Malkovich is a wild place to visit. —Jeff Shannon
Bend It Like Beckham
Gurinder Chadha * * * * - For all its light-hearted comic interludes, Bend it like Beckham tackles contemporary issues of cultural clashes, female independence and the importance of family. Director Gurinder Chaddha tells the story of Jess Bhamra (Parminder K Nagra), a young girl brought up within the traditional boundaries of a Sikh family who manages to live out her fantasies in an uproarious way. Despite her parent's grounded roots the anglicised Jess joins the Hounslow Harriers and, with the help of her friend Jules (Keira Knightley), sneaks out of the house to follow her dream of playing alongside all-time hero David Beckham.

The film draws interesting parallels between the two girls, one British and one Asian, highlighting that although their colour may be different many of their ideals are the same. Jules' British mother is no less horrified by her daughter's natural talent in soccer than Mrs Bhamra, and even mistakes one embrace between the girls as a lesbian relationship. Refreshingly, though, for once the parents are not portrayed as unreasonable: their disapproval of Jess' chosen path is a result of their concern for her, and in the end they can't help but to give in to her dreams. All in all, this is a film that shows the meaning of being British Asian today—and how it is possible for Asian girls to make round chapattis as well as to bend it like Beckham. —Anika Puri
Bhaji On The Beach
Gurinder Chadha * * * * - Bhaji on the Beach is the directorial debut of Gurinda Chadha, which—like her next film, What's Cooking—features women as the central characters and seems to involve food at every turn. It's an ensemble piece, which takes a while to establish the characters' relationships with each other. But eventually the focus of the film—based on a story by Meera Syal—gets distilled to a group of women taken on a day trip to Blackpool by a progressive thinking "sister". The skies are suitably grey as they arrive in the English resort town, with the amusement arcades, takeaways and shop fronts looking tacky and run down. There's Ginder (Kim Vithana), who has run away from her violent husband, Hashida (Sarita Khajuria), who has a major decision to make and conservative aunties Asha (Lalita Ahmed) and Pushpa (Zohra Sehgal), not to mention youngsters Ladhu (Nisha K Nayar) and Madhu (Renu Kochar) who are just along for the excitement. As the day wears on, tension mounts between the different generations as secrets come out into the open. It matters little that the plot feels a touch contrived—particularly the convergence of significant characters towards the end—as there's a lot of energy in the performances. The result is a bit rough around the edges, but there's a lot to amuse here, not least in the colourful nod to Bollywood contained in Asha's many dream sequences. —Emma Perry
Big
Penny Marshall * * * * * A perfect marriage of novel but incisive writing, acting and direction, Big is the story of a 12-year-old boy who wishes he were older, and wakes up one morning as a30-year-old man (Tom Hanks). The script by Gary Ross(Dave) and Anne Spielberg finds some unexpected ways of attacking obvious issues of sex, work, and childhood friendships, and in all of these things the accent is on classy humour and great sensitivity. Hanks is remarkable in the lead, at times hilarious (reacting to caviar just as a 12-year-old would) and at others deeply tender. Penny Marshall became a first-rate filmmaker with this 1988 work. —Tom Keogh
Big Fish
Tim Burton * * * * * After a string of mediocre movies, director Tim Burton regains his footing as he shifts from macabre fairy tales to southern tall tales. Big Fish twines in and out of the oversized stories of Edward Bloom, played as a young man by Ewan McGregor and as a dying father by Albert Finney. Edward's son Will (Billy Crudup) sits by his father's bedside but has little patience with the old man's fables, because he feels these stories have kept him from knowing who his father really is. Burton dives into Bloom's imagination with zest, sending the determined young man into haunted woods, an idealised southern town, a travelling circus and much more. The result is sweet but—thanks to the director's dark and clever sensibility—never saccharine. The film also features Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito and Steve Buscemi. —Bret Fetzer
The Big Lebowski
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen * * * - - The Big Lebowski, a casually amusing follow-up from the prolifically inventive Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel), seems like a bit of a lark and the result was a box-office disappointment. It's lazy plot is part of its laidback charm. After all, how many movies can claim as their hero a pot-bellied, pot-smoking loser named Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) who spends most of his time bowling and getting stoned? And where else could you find a hair-netted Latino bowler named Jesus (John Turturro) who sports dazzling purple footgear, or an erotic artist (Julianne Moore) whose creativity consists of covering her naked body in paint, flying through the air in a leather harness, and splatting herself against a giant canvas? Who else but the Coens would think of showing you a camera view from inside the holes of a bowling ball, or an elaborate Busby Berkely-styled musical dream sequence involving a Viking goddess and giant bowling pins?

The plot—which finds Lebowski involved in a kidnapping scheme after he's mistaken for a rich guy with the same name—is almost beside the point. What counts here is a steady cascade of hilarious dialogue, great work from Coen regulars John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, and the kind of cinematic ingenuity that puts the Coens in a class all their own. —Jeff Shannon
Big Trouble in Little China
John Carpenter * * * * - Trying to explain the cult appeal of John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China to the uninitiated is no easy task. The plot in a nutshell follows lorry driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) into San Francisco's Chinatown, where he's embroiled in street gang warfare over the mythical/magical intentions of would-be god David Lo Pan. There are wire-fu fight scenes, a floating eyeball and monsters from other dimensions. Quite simply it belongs to a genre of its own. Carpenter was drawing on years of chop-socky Eastern cinema tradition, which, at the time of the film's first release in 1986, was regrettably lost on a general audience. Predictably, it bombed.

But now that Jackie Chan and Jet Li have made it big in the West, and Hong Kong cinema has spread its influence across Hollywood, it's much, much easier to enjoy this film's happy-go-lucky cocktail of influences. Russell's cocky anti-hero is easy to cheer on as he "experiences some very unreasonable things" blundering from one fight to another, and lusts after the gorgeously green-eyed Kim Cattrall. The script is peppered with countless memorable lines, too ("It's all in the reflexes"). Originally outlined as a sequel to the equally obscure Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Big Trouble is a bona fide cult cinema delight. Jack sums up the day's reactions perfectly, "China is here? I don't even know what the Hell that means!".

On the DVD: Big Trouble in Little China is released as a special edition two-disc set in its full unedited form. Some real effort has been put into both discs' animated menus, and the film itself is terrific in 2.35:1 and 5.1 (or DTS). The commentary by Carpenter and Russell may not be as fresh as their chat on The Thing, but clearly they both retain an enormous affection for the film. There are eight deleted scenes (some of which are expansions of existing scenes), plus a separate extended ending which was edited out for the right reasons. You'll also find a seven-minute featurette from the time of release, a 13-minute interview with FX guru Richard Edlund, a gallery of 200 photos, 25 pages of production notes and magazine articles from American Cinematographer and Cinefex. Best of all for real entertainment value is a music video with Carpenter and crew (the Coupe de Villes) coping with video FX and 80s hair-dos.—Paul Tonks
Billy Elliot
Stephen Daldry * * * * * Foursquare in the gritty-but-hearwarming tradition of Brassed Off and The Full Monty comes Billy Elliot, the first film of noted British theatrical director Stephen Daldry. The setting is County Durham in 1984, and things 'oop North are even grimmer than usual: the miners' strike is in full rancorous swing and 11-year-old Billy's dad and older brother, miners both, are staunch on the picket lines. Billy's got problems of his own. His dad's scraped together the fees to send him to boxing lessons, but Billy's discovered a different aptitude: a genius for ballet dancing. Since admitting to such an activity is tantamount, in this fiercely macho culture, to holding up a sign reading "I AM A RAVING POOF", Billy keeps it quiet. But his teacher, Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters, wearily undaunted) thinks he should audition for ballet school in London. Family ructions are inevitable.

Daldry's film sidesteps some of the politics, both sexual and otherwise, but scores with its laconic dialogue (credit to screenwriter Lee Hall) and a cracking performance from newcomer Jamie Bell as Billy. His powerhouse dance routines, more Gene Kelly than Nureyev, carry an irresistible sense of exhilaration and self-discovery. Among a flawless supporting cast Stuart Wells stands out as Billy's sweet gay friend Michael. And if the miners' strike serves largely as background colour, there's one brief episode, as visored and truncheoned cops rampage through neat little terraced houses, that captures one of the most spiteful episodes in recent British history. —Philip Kemp
A Bittersweet Life
Ji-Woon Kim * * * * *
The Black Dahlia
Aaron Eckhart, Josh Hartnett, Brian De Palma
Black Hawk Down
Ridley Scott * * * * * Beginning with a quote from T.S. Elliott—"All our ignorance brings us closer to death"—the hope that Black Hawk Down will offer an intelligent war film to a world after September 11, 2001 is high. Based on a true story which led to a bestselling book, the film focuses on the 1993 American mission to Somalia which went terribly wrong. To a certain extent it succeeds with its opening promise, but all too quickly falls under the spell of American national pride—possibly the reason why the film was brought forward from its original release date. One might hope that with a British director, Ridley Scott, and a high percentage of British and Australian actors on board, Black Hawk Down would present an outsider's view on the American politics of war, but produced by the team who brought us Pearl Harbor the end result is a traditional American-Heroic war movie, relying more on special effects, gore and gun battles than character, emotion and politics.

In its favour Black Hawk Down does make an attempt to represent the views of the Somalian people. In one of its strongest scenes, a high-powered Somalian gun seller states; "This is our war not yours", but by the end of the film it's clear that this is merely a token gesture towards a non-Western perspective on the conflict. Many American soldiers lost their lives during this battle, and this movie is a fine tribute to these amazing men in one of the first big-budget films to expose modern Warfare.

As far as top billing goes, Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor hold no greater role than the rest of the cast. The standout performance comes from Ewen Bremner, who offers an unexpectedly comic turn against the bleak backdrop; but otherwise the limited character development highlights one of the film's main issues—that although these men are fighting for their country, when on the battlefield they stand together and no man is more important than any other (unless you're on the wrong side!). —Nikki Disney
Blade Runner
Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Ridley Scott To call this cut of Blade Runner ‘long awaited’ would be a heavy, heavy understatement. It’s taken 25 years since the first release of one of the science-fiction genre’s flagship films to get this far, and understandably, Blade Runner: The Final Cut has proved to be one of the most eagerly awaited DVD releases of all time.

And it’s been well worth the wait. Director Ridley Scott’s decision to head back to the edit suite and cut together one last version of his flat-out classic film has been heavily rewarded, with a genuinely definitive version of an iconic, visually stunning and downright intelligent piece of cinema. Make no mistake: this is by distance the best version of Blade Runner. And it’s never looked better, either.

The core of Blade Runner, of course, remains the same, with Harrison Ford’s Deckard (the Blade Runner of the title) on the trail of four ‘replicants’, cloned humans that are now illegal. And he does so across an amazing cityscape that’s proven to be well ahead of its time, with astounding visuals that defied the supposed limits of special effects back in 1982.

Backed up with a staggering extra features package that varies depending on which version of this Blade Runner release you opt for (two-, four- and five-disc versions are available), the highlight nonetheless remains the stunning film itself. Remastered and restored, it remains a testament to a number of creative people whose thinking was simply a country mile in advance of that of their contemporaries. An unmissable purchase. —Jon Foster
Blade Trinity
David S. Goyer * * - - - Even skeptical fans of the Blade franchise will enjoy sinking their teeth into Blade: Trinity. The law of diminishing returns is in full effect here, and the franchise is wearing out its welcome, but let's face it: any movie that features Jessica Biel as an ass-kicking vampire slayer and Parker Posey—yes, Parker Posey!—as a vamping vampire villainess can't be all bad. Those lovely ladies bring equal measures of relief and grief to Blade, the half-human, half-vampire once again played, with tongue more firmly in stone-cold cheek, by Wesley Snipes. With series writer David S. Goyer in the director's chair, the film is calculated for mainstream appeal, trading suspenseful horror for campy humour and choppy, nonsensical action. The franchise still offers some intriguing ideas, including Drake (Dominic Purcell), the original vampire, whose blood contains the secret that could destroy all blood-suckers in a plot that incorporates a sinister "blood farm" where humans are held—and drained—in suspended animation. And Biel's wise-cracking sidekick (Ryan Reynolds) in her cadre of "Nightstalkers" provides comic relief in a series that's grown increasingly dour. All of which makes Blade: Trinity a love-it-or-hate-it sequel... supposedly the last in a trilogy, but the ending suggests otherwise. —Jeff Shannon
Blood Diamond
Edward Zwick * * * * * Leonardo DiCaprio puts a handsome face on an ugly industry: In parts of Africa, diamond mining fuels civil warfare, killing thousands of innocents and drafting preteen children as vicious soldiers. DiCaprio (The Departed) plays Danny Archer, a white African soldier-turned-diamond-smuggler who gets wind of a large raw jewel found by Solomon Vandy, a native fisherman (Djimon Hounsou, In America) recently escaped from enslavement by a brutal rebel leader. Archer offers a deal: He'll help Vandy find his war-scattered family if Vandy will share the diamond with him. Drawn into this web of exploitation is journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, Little Children), who agrees to help if Archer will tell her the details of how conflict diamonds make their way into the hands of the corporations who sell them to the Western world. DiCaprio is compelling because he never flinches from Archer's utter ruthlessness; Archer ends up doing the morally justifiable thing, but only because his desperate greed has led him to it. Hounsou and Connelly, though saddled with all the moral and political speeches, rise above the cant and keep the movie's treacherously formulaic plot rooted in human characters. But in the end, the story won't stick with you as much as the dead stillness in the child soldiers' eyes; the horror of African civil strife refuses to be contained by Blood Diamond's uplifting message—and the movie is all the more potent as a result. —Bret Fetzer
Blow
Ted Demme * * * * - A briskly paced hybrid of Boogie Nights and Goodfellas, Blow chronicles the three-decade rise and fall of George Jung (Johnny Depp), a normal American kid who makes a personal vow against poverty, builds a marijuana empire in the 1960s, multiplies his fortune with the Colombian Medellín cocaine cartel, and blows it all with a series of police busts culminating in one final, long-term jail sentence. "Your dad's a loser," says this absentee father to his estranged but beloved daughter, and he's right: Blow is the story of a nice guy who made wrong choices all his life, almost single-handedly created the American cocaine trade and got exactly what he deserved. Directed by Ted Demme, the film is vibrantly entertaining, painstakingly authentic... and utterly aimless in terms of overall purpose. We can't sympathise with Jung's meteoric rise to wealth and the wild life, and Demme isn't suggesting that we should idolise a drug dealer. So what, exactly, is the point of Blow? Simply, it seems, to present Jung's story as the epitome of the coke-driven glory days, and to suggest, ever so subtly, that Jung isn't such a bad guy, after all. Anyone curious about his lifestyle will find this film amazing, and there's plenty of humour mixed with the constant threat of violence and paranoid anxiety. Demme has also populated the film with a fantastic supporting cast (although Penelopé Cruz grows tiresome as Jung's hedonistic wife), and this is certainly a compelling look at the other side of Traffic. Still, one wishes that Blow had a more viable reason for being: like a wild party, it leaves you with a hangover and a vague feeling of regret. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Blue Planet : Complete BBC Series
David Attenborough * * * * * It’s hard to rain too many superlatives on The Blue Planet, surely one of the finest and most fascinating nature documentaries ever made. But nonetheless, we’re going to try.

Long in the making, the idea behind the show was to, using some cutting-edge technology, film previously unseen areas of the ocean, and to investigate life beneath the waves. And in doing so, it pretty much encompasses the full spectrum of creature size. From the staggering, gigantic whale of the first episode, through the miniscule life that’s documented as the programme progresses, it’s a jaw-dropping experience.

It’s also a very, very accessible one. Thanks to a diligent, warm narrative from Sir David Attenborough, there’s plenty of fact married up to the sheer spectacle of The Blue Planet, although in many ways the stunning photography almost needs no accompaniment. It’s timeless work, too, with immense rewatch value, uncovering both life that’s never been photographed previously while charting the habits of the more familiar. Icing The Blue Planet’s cake is a series of short pieces documenting just how some of the incredible pictures were captured, and these are almost as interesting as the main feature.

Enough of those superlatives, though. Because The Blue Planet simply demands to be seen and enjoyed. Prepare, like many before you, to be mesmerised. —Simon Brew
The Bodyguard
Petchtai Wongkamlao, Panna Rittikrai * - - - -
Boiler Room
Ben Younger * * * * - The intense soundtrack of Boiler Room is a fitting underscore for this movie, which pulses with the vigour of young, rich, amoral men wreaking havoc. This is not the anti-societal havoc of Fight Club, but the more deliberate mayhem that comes from greed run amok. The testosterone-junkie brokers of JT Marlin (the only female in the office is Abby, the receptionist and love interest, played by Nia Long) are out to make the sale, and whether that sale is legal or ethical doesn't matter.

Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) is a 19-year-old college dropout who strives for approval from his father (Ron Rifkin), a judge who is horrified that his son operates a 24-hour illicit casino. When an old friend visits the casino with a fellow broker, Davis is impressed by their wads of money and yellow Ferrari, and decides to join the firm. In no time he's making sales and settling into the groove of the office and all the after-hours perks, but the dream fades when Davis discovers the scam that is making all of the brokers wealthy beyond their dreams.

Borrowing heavily from Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross, Boiler Room is at its best when dealing with matters of money, and powerful scenes of Davis learning to be a "closer" showcase the significant talent of Ribisi, Nicky Katt, and Vin Diesel. The movie flounders when developing the relationship between Davis and his father, becoming sentimental and trite. However, as a fable of modern society and a nostalgic vehicle about the days of yuppies past, Boiler Room is right on the money. —Jenny Brown, Amazon.com —This text refers to another version of this video.
The Bourne Identity
Doug Liman * * * * - Freely adapted from Robert Ludlum's 1980 bestseller, The Bourne Identity starts fast and never slows down. The twisting plot revs up in Zurich, where amnesiac CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), with no memory of his name, profession, or recent activities, recruits a penniless German traveler (Run Lola Run's Franka Potente) to assist in solving the puzzle of his missing identity. While his CIA superior (Chris Cooper) dispatches assassins to kill Bourne and thus cover up his failed mission, Bourne exercises his lethal training to leave a trail of bodies from Switzerland to Paris. Director Doug Liman (Go) infuses Ludlum's intricate plotting with a maverick's eye for character detail, matching breathtaking action with the humourous, thrill-seeking chemistry of Damon and Potente. Previously made as a 1988 TV movie starring Richard Chamberlain, The Bourne Identity benefits from the sharp talent of rising stars, offering intelligent, crowd-pleasing excitement from start to finish. —Jeff Shannon
The Bourne Supremacy
Paul Greengrass * * * * - Good enough to suggest long-term franchise potential, The Bourne Supremacy is a thriller fans will appreciate for its well-crafted suspense, and for its triumph of competence over logic (or lack thereof). Picking up where The Bourne Identity left off, the action begins when CIA assassin and partial amnesiac Jason Bourne (a role reprised with efficient intensity by Matt Damon) is framed for a murder in Berlin, setting off a chain reaction of pursuits involving CIA handlers (led by Joan Allen and the duplicitous Brian Cox, with Julia Stiles returning from the previous film) and a shadowy Russian oil magnate. The fast-paced action hurtles from India to Berlin, Moscow, and Italy, and as he did with the critically acclaimed Bloody Sunday, director Paul Greengrass puts you right in the thick of it with split-second editing (too much of it, actually) and a knack for well-sustained tension. It doesn't all make sense, and bears little resemblance to Robert Ludlum's novel, but with Damon proving to be an appealingly unconventional action hero, there's plenty to look forward to. —Jeff Shannon
The Bourne Ultimatum
Paul Greengrass * * * * * There’s no getting around it: there was simply no better summer blockbuster in 2007 than the astonishing The Bourne Ultimatum.

It’s a film that defies expectations in many ways. Firstly, it’s a third entry in a trilogy that by some distance in the best in an already-compelling franchise. Secondly, whenThe Bourne Ultimatum kickstarts with a ferocious energy and pace, you sit there and rightly expect it not to keep the momentum going. But it does. And does it astonishingly well. Just witness the breathless sequence through Waterloo Station, convince yourself that the film has peaked then, then go and watch them top it later on in the movie.

The film itself has many trump cards, not least its leading man. Matt Damon fits the character of reluctant lead Jason Bourne perfectly, but the trick is to give him some excellent supporting players to work against. Thus, The Bourne Ultimatum also stars the excellent pair of David Straitharn and a returning Joan Allen, along with Albert Finney, Paddy Considine and Julia Stiles too.

But the hidden hero of The Bourne Ultimatum is director Paul Greengrass. Arguably one of the most interesting and talented directors working today (he was rightly Oscar-nominated for his haunting United 93), Greengrass has fashioned a genuinely thrilling action thriller, that bursts with an energy and relentlessness that you simply have no right to expect. That he also managed to wrap up the story Jason Bourne’s quest for his identity in the midst of it is all the more astonishing.

A terrific end to an already-impressive trilogy, there’s little else ot say about The Bourne Ultimatum, which is simply a near flawless piece of blockbuster entertainment. Put simply: don’t miss this movie. —Simon Brew
Bowling For Columbine
Michael Moore * * * - - An Oscar-winning documentary based on a 1999 massacre at an American High School in Colorado, Bowling for Columbine is film-maker Michael Moore's take on the culture of firearms violence that is, apparently, peculiar to the USA. Significantly, this is no detective investigation into the psychology and motives of the two students who randomly opened fire on their classmates, killing 12 of them; Moore regards such particulars as practically irrelevant. Rather, it's an attempt to counter the moral panic and right-wing diagnoses that followed the massacre, with people such as rock star Marilyn Manson blamed by some.

Using a mixture of roving interviews, statistics, historical documentary footage, cartoon animation and the set-ups familiar to fans of his TV Nation series, Moore teases out appalling truths about gun proliferation in America. He's able to obtain a rifle by opening a bank account and shows that the bullets used in the Columbine massacre were still available at K-Mart—until he confronts their management with victims of the shootings. But it's not just gun proliferation that's the problem. Canada, Moore discovers, is similarly rife with firearms yet has a far lower murder rate. The problem with the US, Moore believes, is an irrational climate of fear that has driven the country to reactionary extremes since the days of the pioneers, persuading citizens that they need to be armed to the teeth.

In a film short on lowlights, the highlight is Moore's confrontation with NRA President Charlton Heston. Moore's deceptively genial, shambling, regular American dude appearance (as well as his NRA membership) wins Heston's confidence and Moore teases from the actor an inadvertently racist slip of the tongue, before turning up the heat, at which point Heston terminates the interview. In this moment, the sort of anger Moore demonstrated at the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony surfaces briefly as he brandishes a picture of a gunshot victim to the retreating Heston. Funny, shrewd, righteous, hard to deny, Bowling for Columbine is uncomfortable and irresistible film-making. —David Stubbs

On the DVD: This two-disc special edition of Bowling for Columbine contains an updated voice-over introduction from Michael Moore on the first disc, as well as a direct-to-camera talk on the second disc in which he discusses reactions to the film and his reaction to winning an Oscar. (He has to recite his celebrated acceptance speech because the Academy refused permission for him to show a clip.) Other extras are good, thoughtful, funny and provocative interviews with ex-Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart and with film critic Charlie Rose, plus a moving return to Littleton, Colorado—home of Columbine High School—to find out what local people thought of the documentary. —Mark Walker
Braveheart
Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau * * * * - A stupendous historical saga, Braveheart won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for star Mel Gibson. He plays William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish commoner who unites the various clans against a cruel English King, Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan). The scenes of hand-to-hand combat are brutally violent, but they never glorify the bloodshed. There is such enormous scope to this story that it works on a smaller, more personal scale as well, essaying love and loss, patriotism and passion. Extremely moving, it reveals Gibson as a multitalented performer and remarkable director with an eye for detail and an understanding of human emotion. (His first directorial effort was 1993's Man Without a Face.) The film is nearly three hours long and includes several plot tangents, yet is never dull. This movie resonates long after you have seen it, both for its visual beauty and for its powerful story. —Rochelle O'Gorman
The Breakfast Club
John Hughes * * * * - John Hughes's popular 1985 teen drama finds a diverse group of high school students—a jock (Emilio Estevez), a metalhead (Judd Nelson), a weirdo (Ally Sheedy), a princess (Molly Ringwald), and a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall)—sharing a Saturday in detention at their high school for one minor infraction or another. Over the course of a day, they talk through the social barriers that ordinarily keep them apart, and new alliances are born, though not without a lot of pain first. Hughes (Sixteen Candles), who wrote and directed, is heavy on dialogue but he also thoughtfully refreshes the look of the film every few minutes with different settings and original viewpoints on action. The movie deals with such fundamentals as the human tendency toward bias and hurting the weak, and because the characters are caught somewhere between childhood and adulthood, it's easy to get emotionally involved in hope for their redemption. Preteen and teenage kids love this film, incidentally. —Tom Keogh
Brick
Rian Johnson * * - - -
Brick Lane
Sarah Gavron * * * * -
Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee * * * - - A sad, melancholy ache pervades Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's haunting, moving film that, like his other movies, explores societal constraints and the passions that lurk underneath. This time, however, instead of taking on ancient China, 19th-century England, or '70s suburbia, Lee uses the tableau of the American West in the early '60s to show how two lovers are bound by their expected roles, how they rebel against them, and the repercussions for each of doing so—but the romance here is between two men. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are two itinerant ranchers looking for work in Wyoming when they meet and embark on a summer sheepherding job in the shadow of titular Brokeback Mountain. The taciturn Ennis, uncommunicative in the extreme, finds himself opening up around the gregarious Jack, and the two form a bond that surprisingly catches fire one cold night out in the wilderness. Separating at the end of the summer, each goes on to marry and have children, but a reunion years later proves that, if anything, their passion for each other has grown significantly. And while Jack harbours dreams of a life together, the tight-lipped Ennis is unable to bring himself to even consider something so revolutionary.

Its open, unforced depiction of love between two men made Brokeback an instant cultural touchstone, for both good and bad, as it was tagged derisively as the "gay cowboy movie," but also heralded as a breakthrough for mainstream cinema. Amidst all the hoopla of various agendas, though, was a quiet, heartbreaking love story that was both of its time and universal—it was the quintessential tale of star-crossed lovers, but grounded in an ever-changing America that promised both hope and despair. Adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana from Annie Proulx's short story, the movie echoes the sparse bleakness of McMurtry's The Last Picture Show with its fading of the once-glorious West; but with Lee at the helm, it also resembles The Ice Storm, as it showed the ripple effects of a singular event over a number of people. As always, Lee's work with actors is unparalleled, as he elicits graceful, nuanced performances from Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway as the wives affected overtly and subliminally by their husbands' affair, and Gyllenhaal brings surprising dimensions to a character that could have easily just been a puppy dog of a boy. It's Ledger, however, who's the breakthrough in the film, and his portrait of an emotionally repressed man both undone and liberated by his feelings is mesmerizing and devastating. Spare in style but rich with emotion, Brokeback Mountain earns its place as a classic modern love story. —Mark Englehart
A Bronx Tale
Robert De Niro * * * * -
Bullet Boy
Ashley Walters, Luke Fraser, Saul Dibb * * * * -
Bully
Brad Renfro, Nick Stahl, Larry Clark Bully, the third feature film from photographer-turned-director Larry Clark, follows the pattern laid down by his debut movie Kids: deploring the amoral fecklessness of today's American teens while lingering (some might say gloating) over their naked bodies—or at least, the naked bodies of the better-looking ones. The plot's based on a real-life murder case that took place in Florida in 1994. High school teenagers Bobby Kent and Marty Puccio have been best friends from infancy—or so Bobby insists. But their friendship consists of Bobby bullying and humiliating Marty. Marty's new girlfriend Lisa decides this has to stop—especially after Bobby rapes her and her friend Lisa. Bobby, she announces, must be killed. She ropes in a few friends to help—none of them over-endowed with brains or savvy—and recruits a supposed "Mafia hitman" who's scarcely any older or brighter than the rest of them.

Though there's an air of moral condemnation hanging over the film, Clark avoids any obvious "society's to blame" angles. His killers are from middle-class homes, not noticeably deprived, and their parents (one of them played by Clark himself) are well-meaning if helplessly unaware of what their kids are up to. Maybe the rap music on the soundtrack—such as the Ghetto Inmates' "Thug Ass Bitch"—gives some clue, but essentially Clark seems to be suggesting that these kids are morally bankrupt because that's just how they are these days. Bully is well shot and well acted, and there's a dark humour to be savoured—especially in the farcically inept murder scene—but in the long run it's a dispiriting experience. –-Philip Kemp
The Business
Nick Love * * * - -
Butterfly Effect/Butterfly Effect 2
Eric Bress * * * * *
Cabin Fever
Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong, Eli Roth A sneaky and surprisingly smart horror flick, Cabin Fever sets up all the clichés of its particular subgenre (what might be called the "sexy young people go into the woods" horror movie, featuring hostile redneck locals, dead animals on hooks, cars that suddenly stop running, and so on) and by the end has played a clever twist on every standard element, often to darkly comic effect. What's the plot? Well, five sexy young people (Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Joey Kern, Cerina Vincent, and James DeBello) go to an isolated cabin where they contract a nasty bacteria that eats their flesh; this, combined with a bad-tempered dog and a party-loving police deputy (Giuseppe Andrews, giving a particularly funny performance), leads everyone into confusion and bloody chaos. Some of the ironic twists are a little obvious, but most of them effectively subvert your expectations to entertaining effect. —Bret Fetzer
Caddyshack
Harold Ramis * * * - - A purely tasteless, moronic, guilty pleasure. Director Harold Ramis employs a mixture of Mad magazine National Lampoon maturity and Saturday Night Live sarcasm in this goofball golf comedy set on the grounds of a posh country club. Somewhere buried in the slapstick antics, drug references, Marx Brothers-like insults, and gratuitous sex scenes are the intertwined, forgettable subplots of a poor caddie (Michael O'Keefe) trying to earn enough cash to attend college, and golf-tournament and class battles between rich and even richer snobs. Mainly, Ramisjust lets his colourful group of eccentrics crash into each other, relying on several inspired performances to create several hilarious moments of sketch comedy. Most come from the trio of Bill Murray (playing a vile, obsessed groundskeeper engaged in a one-man war with a charismatic and very stuffed gopher), Rodney Dangerfield (basically recreating his crude stand-up routine), and Chevy Chase (who looks bemusedly stoned throughout). Quotable favourites include Murray's acted-out fantasy of winning the Masters, his tall tale about caddying for the Dalai Lama, an overreaching priest's rain-soaked golf game, Dangerfield's verbal assault on the club's uptight dining patrons, and Chase's lesson on the essence of golf ("Be the ball, Danny"). A perfect double feature with other comparably crass films such as National Lampoon's Vacation or Stripes. —Dave McCoy
Cape Fear
Martin Scorsese * * * - - Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 thriller dabbles a bit in some fascinating psychological crosscurrents between its characters, but it finally trades in all that rich material for extensive and gratuitous violence. Robert De Niro plays a serial rapist released from prison after 14 years. Angry because his appalled attorney (Nick Nolte) made it easy for him to be convicted, this monster is out to hurt Nolte's character through his wife (Jessica Lange) and daughter (Juliette Lewis). The themes of interlocking guilt and anger between these people suggests a smart film in the making. But the final act, set on a boat with De Niro's vengeful pervert attacking Nolte and the two women, takes a more unfortunate direction. Stick with the original (which starred Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, each of whom make a cameo appearance in this film). —Tom Keogh
Carla's Song
Robert Carlyle, Oyanka Cabezas, Ken Loach
Carlito's Way
Brian De Palma * * * * * Al Pacino cuts a noble figure in this very enjoyable drama by director Brian De Palma (Scarface), based on a pair of books by Edwin Torres. Pacino plays a Puerto Rican ex-con trying hard to go straight, but his loyalty to his lowlife attorney (a virtually unrecognisable Sean Penn) and enemies on the street make that choice difficult. Penelope Ann Miller plays, somewhat unlikely, a stripper who has a romance with Pacino's character. The film finds De Palma tempering his more outlandish moves (think of Body Double or Snake Eyes) just as he did with the popular Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. But while Carlito's Way was not as commercially successful as those two movies, it is a genuinely compelling work graced with a fine performance by Pacino and a surprising one from Penn. —Tom Keogh
Carrie
Brian De Palma * * * - - This terrifying adaptation of Stephen King's bestselling horror novel was directed by shock maestro Brian De Palma for maximum, no-holds-barred effect. Sissy Spacek stars as Carrie White, the beleaguered daughter of a religious kook (Piper Laurie) and a social outcast tormented by her cruel, insensitive classmates. When her rage turns into telekinetic powers, however, school's out in every sense of the word. De Palma's horrific climax in a school gym lingers forever in the memory, though the film is also built upon Spacek's remarkable performance and Piper Laurie's outlandishly creepy one. John Travolta has a small part as a thug, De Palma's future wife, Nancy Allen, is his girlfriend, and Amy Irving makes her screen debut as one of the girls giving Carrie a hard time.—Tom Keogh
Casino
Martin Scorsese * * * * * Director Martin Scorsese reunites with members of his GoodFellas gang (writer Nicholas Pileggi; actors Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent) for a three-hour epic about the rise and fall of mobster Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), a character based on real-life gangster Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. (It's modelled on Wiseguy and GoodFellas and Pileggi's true crime book Casino: Love and Honour in Las Vegas.) Through Rothstein, the picture tells the story of how the Mafia seized, and finally lost control of, Las Vegas gambling. The first hour plays like a fascinating documentary, intricately detailing the inner workings of Vegas casinos. Sharon Stone is the stand out among the actors; she nabbed an Oscar nomination for her role as the voracious Ginger, the glitzy call girl who becomes Rothstein's wife. The film is not as fast-paced or gripping as Scorsese's earlier gangster pictures (Mean Streets and Good Fellas) but it's still absorbing. And, hey—it's Scorsese! —Jim Emerson, Amazon.com
Casino Royale
Martin Campbell * * * * * The most successful invigoration of a cinematic franchise since Batman Begins, Casino Royale offers a new Bond identity. Based on the Ian Fleming novel that introduced Agent 007 into a Cold War world, Casino Royale is the most brutal and viscerally exciting James Bond film since Sean Connery left Her Majesty's Secret Service. Meet the new Bond; not the same as the old Bond. Daniel Craig gives a galvanising performance as the freshly minted double-0 agent. Suave, yes, but also a "blunt instrument," reckless and possessed with an ego that compromises his judgment during his first mission to root out the mastermind behind an operation that funds international terrorists. In classic Bond film tradition, his global itinerary takes him to far-flung locales, including Uganda, Madagascar, the Bahamas (that's more like it) and Montenegro, where he is pitted against his nemesis in a poker game, with hundreds of millions in the pot. The stakes get even higher when Bond lets down his armour by falling in love with Vesper (Eva Green), the ravishing banker's representative fronting him the money.

For longtime fans of the franchise, Casino Royale offers some retro kicks. Bond wins his iconic Aston Martin at the gaming table, and when a bartender asks if he wants his martini "shaken or stirred," he disdainfully replies, "Do I look like I give a damn?". There's no Moneypenny or "Q," but Dame Judi Dench is back as the exasperated M who, one senses, admires Bond's "bloody cheek." A Bond film is only as good as its villain, and Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, who weeps blood, is a sinister dandy. From its punishing violence and virtuoso action sequences to its romance, Casino Royale is a Bond film that, in the words of one character, 'makes you feel it', particularly during an excruciating torture sequence. Double-0s, Bond observes early on, "have a short life expectancy". But with Craig, there is new life in the old franchise yet, as well as genuine anticipation for the next one when, at last, the signature James Bond theme kicks in following the best last line ever in any Bond film. To quote Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin, "now I know what I've been faking all these years". —Donald Liebenson
Cast Away
Robert Zemeckis * * * * - Cast Away reunites star Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis in their first collaboration since the heavy-handed sentimentality of Forrest Gump. Thankfully, this time their film's life-affirming message is delivered with more subtlety, attributable both to an extraordinarily committed, physically demanding central performance from Hanks and to Zemeckis' technically masterful but carefully understated direction. It's also a film with three distinct "acts" or, to be old-fashioned about it, a proper beginning, middle and end. The story follows schedule-obsessed but fulfilled FedEx supervisor Chuck Noland (Act 1) on a personal journey into the bleakest, most solitary despair (Act 2), before Helen Hunt, in the thankless role of ex-girlfriend, unwittingly allows him to glimpse an optimistic future full of untapped possibilities (Act 3).

Hanks' sojourn on the island is the centrepiece, but this is no tropical island idyll: following a terrifying plane crash (the one sequence in the film where Zemeckis shows off his uncanny ability to choreograph action), life on the island is seen to be a depressing and bitter experience filled with disappointment, danger and suicidal despair. Having lost all hope of rescue, ultimately Noland's greatest test is not to survive, but to find a reason to survive. He has no Man Friday for company, just a volleyball named "Wilson" that is both a narrative device allowing Hanks to deliver dialogue and an intriguingly pagan personification of the island's spirit under whose protection Noland is finally able to summon fire (significantly, and heartbreakingly, Wilson leaves him as he regains contact with the world). In an era of MTV-style film editing, Zemeckis and Hanks fearlessly take their time establishing with total conviction the grim realities of Noland's situation, his devastating loss of hope and the means by which he achieves his escape. Like Contact before it, Cast Away is a refreshingly thoughtful piece of mainstream cinema that explores weighty existential issues but retains a warm human intimacy.

On the DVD: The luminous anamorphic print with vivid Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is accompanied on the first disc by a technical commentary from Zemeckis and key crew personnel. It's plenty insightful for budding filmmakers, although for pure listening pleasure one might have preferred a more relaxed piece with just the director and Tom Hanks. The second disc includes a 30-minute making-of documentary in which the director sums up the moral of the movie—"Surviving is easy but living is difficult". This draws on material from the three other mini-documentaries about survival skills, Wilson the volleyball and the Fijian island location of Monu Riki respectively. There's also a section on the sometimes surprising use of CGI effects and a storyboard-to-film comparison sequence. Tom Hanks chats with American TV host Charlie Rose about this movie and his career in the extensive 50-minute interview. Trailers, artwork and stills round out a valuable two-disc set. —Mark Walker
Catch Me If You Can
Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg * * * * -
The Catherine Tate Show - Series 1 & 2 Box Set
Gordon Anderson (IV) * * * * * Even though her career pinnacle may now be getting the British Prime Minister to utter her catchphrases on television, there’s much gold to be found in this Catherine Tate, which brings together the first two series of her popular sketch show.

The format of the programme is fairly traditional, as Tate lends her writing and performance magic to a broad spectrum of characters. The headliners, of course, are the foul-mouthed Nan (and new viewers be warned, she’s a very foul mouthed Nan!) and Lauren the schoolgirl, replete with her impenetrable chav-talk and infamous "Bovvered" catchphrase. But plenty of other delights lie beneath the surface, and while some elements of The Catherine Tate Show drag on a little past their welcome, there are umpteen laughs to be had in this set.

To some extent, The Catherine Tate Show has lived in the shadow of the other sketch show of the moment, the wildly popular Little Britain. But that’s unfair. Tate has plenty up her sleeve to give Messrs Lucas and Walliams a run for their money, and frequently does. A little bit more work on the script editing could really make the difference.

But for now, The Catherine Tate Show has far more going for it than it has problems, and the delights across the two series packaged together here more than justify the asking price. Even Tony Blair is likely to agree…—Jon Foster
Child's Play
Tom Holland * * * - - Horror maestro Tom Holland (Fright Night) brought wit and devilish energy to this 1988 scarefest about a murderer (Brad Dourif) who wills his soul into an innocuous doll named Chucky, and reveals himself only to the toy's owner, a frightened little boy. Catherine Hicks plays the child's mother, and Chris Sarandon a detective; neither of them knows what to make of the kid's story. Monster-doll stories are always wonderfully surreal, and Child's Play is no exception. Holland oversees some finely tuned special effects that allow Chucky to express himself and do some damage—it is truly unnerving but somehow good, subversive fun. —Tom Keogh
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Ken Hughes * * * - - This remastered, pan-and-scan 30th-anniversary edition of that kiddie-car caper is flawed, but nevertheless a solid family fare. It retains a quaint charm while some of the songs—including the title tune—are quite hummable. A huge plus is Dick Van Dyke, who is extremely appealing as an eccentric inventor around the turn of the century. With nimble fingers and a unique way of looking at the world, he invents for his children a magic car that floats and flies. Or does he? The special effects are tame by today's standards and the film is about 20 minutes too long—but its enthusiasm is charming. The script was cowritten by Roald Dahl and based on the novel by Ian Fleming, best known for his James Bond adventures. —Rochelle O'Gorman
City Hall
Harold Becker * * * - - This complex 1996 drama directed by Harold Becker (Sea of Love) attempts to explore big-city corruption and the flexibility of what's right and wrong in the political arena. John Cusack plays the senior aide to mayor John Pappas (Al Pacino), a popular and seasoned politician whose administration is threatened when what seems to be an accidental shooting of a child reveals a nest of corruption and lifelong personal debts. This tests Cusack's loyalty to the man he thought he knew. Pacino turns in a finely textured performance as a man who has his own lofty ideals, but whose pragmatism sets in motion a series of events with tragic results. Cusack admirably captures the essence of someone polished and savvy at his job but must cope with fundamental disillusionment. This political thriller suffers at times from a lack of focus, but still offers an insightful and poignant treatise on the quagmire of politics in the modern age and the human toll it sometimes exacts. —Robert Lane
City Of God (Cidade De Deus)
Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund * * * * * Like cinematic dynamite, City of God lights a fuse under its squalid Brazilian ghetto, and we're a captive audience to its violent explosion. The titular favela is home to a seething army of impoverished children who grow, over the film's ambitious 20-year time frame, into cut-throat killers, drug lords and feral survivors. In the vortex of this maelstrom is L'il Z (Leandro Firmino da Hora—like most of the cast, a non-professional actor), self-appointed king of the dealers, determined to eliminate all competition at the expense of his corrupted soul. With enough visual vitality and provocative substance to spark heated debate (and box-office gold) in Brazil, codirectors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund tackle their subject head on, creating a portrait of youthful anarchy so appalling—and so authentically immediate—that City of God prompted reforms in socioeconomic policy. It's a bracing feat of stylistic audacity, borrowing from a dozen other films to form its own unique identity. You'll flinch, but you can't look away. —Jeff Shannon
City Of Men
Darlan Cunha, Douglas Silva, Paulo Morelli Action-packed and fueled by Brazilian funk, City of Men returns the makers of City of God to the scene of their first success. In this case, the search for family supersedes the search for identity—not that there isn't a correlation between the two. Though produced by Fernando Meirelles, Paulo Morelli's feature isn't a sequel, but a follow-up to the four-season series of the same name. While Meirelles's movie takes place in Rio de Janeiro's past, Morelli's transpires in the present (not counting flashbacks from the show). Days away from turning 18, boyhood friends Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha, a.k.a. Wallace (Darlan Cunha), grew up without fathers. Ace has a wife and child; Wallace has a steady girl. The duo gets along with the gang that rules their labyrinthine hillside neighborhood or favela, but hoodlum life holds little appeal. Ace struggles to raise his young son—his security guard father was murdered during a robbery—while Wallace tries to track down the dad he never knew. With Ace's assistance, Wallace solves the mystery of his genealogy, but at great cost to their friendship (and lives). Despite the South American pedigree, City of Men suggests the South Central of Boyz N the Hood more than City of God. It's not that Morelli's kinetic film looks like John Singleton's more classically composed enterprise, but that it deals with similar inner-city concerns. That said, Silva and Cunha are every bit as charismatic as Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr.—if not more so. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
City Of Men (TV Series)
Jay Bonansinga, Kátia Lund, Cao Hamburger, Philippe Barcinski, César Charlone * * * * -
Class Action
Michael Apted * * * - -
Clerks
Kevin Smith * * * * - Before Kevin Smith became a Hollywood darling with Chasing Amy, a film he wrote and directed, he made this $27,000 comedy about real-life experiences working for chump change at a New Jersey convenience store. A rude, foul-mouthed collection of anecdotes about the responsibilities that go with being on the wrong side of the till, the film is also a relationship story that takes some hilarious turns once the lovers start revealing their sexual histories to one another. In the best tradition of first-time, ultra-low budget independent films, Smith uses Clerks as an audition piece, demonstrating that he not only can handle two-character comedy but also has an eye for action—as proven in a smoothly handled rooftop hockey scene. Smith himself appears as a silent figure who hangs out on the fringes of the store's property. —Tom Keogh
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Steven Spielberg * * * - - Released in 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was that year's cerebral alternative to Star Wars. It's arguably the archetypal Spielberg film, featuring a fantasy-meets-reality storyline (to be developed further in E.T.), a misunderstood Everyman character (Richard Dreyfuss), apparently hostile government agents (long before The X-Files), a sense of childlike awe in the face of the otherworldly, and a sweeping feel for epic film-making learned from the classic school of David Lean. Contributing to the film's overall success are the Oscar-winning cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond, Douglas Trumbull's lavish effects and an extraordinary score from John Williams that develops from eerie atonality à la Ligeti to the gorgeous sentiment of "When You Wish Upon a Star" over the end credits.

Not content with the final result, Spielberg tinkered with the editing and inserted some new scenes to make a "Special Edition" in 1980 which ran three minutes shorter than the original, then made further revisions to create a slightly longer "Collector's Edition" in 1998. This later version deletes the mothership interior scenes that were inserted in the "Special Edition" and restores the original ending.

On the DVD: CE3K is packaged here with confusing documentation that fails to make clear any differences between earlier versions of the film and this "Collector's Edition"—worse, the back cover blurb misleadingly implies that this disc is the 1980 "Special Edition" edit. It is not. A gorgeous anamorphic widescreen print of Spielberg's 1998 "Collector's Edition" edit occupies the first disc: this is the version with the original theatrical ending restored but new scenes from the "Special Edition" retained.

The second disc rounds up sundry deleted scenes that were either dropped from the original version or never made it into the film at all—fans of the "Special Edition" can find the mothership interior sequence here. The excellent "making-of" documentary dates from 1997 and has interviews with almost everyone involved, including the director speaking from the set of Saving Private Ryan. Thankfully the superb picture and sound of the feature make this set entirely compelling and more than compensate for the inadequate packaging. —Mark Walker
Cloverfield
Michael Stahl-david, Lizzy Caplan, Matt Reeves * * * * * One of the first things a viewer notices about Cloverfield is that it doesn't play by ordinary storytelling rules, making this intriguing horror film as much a novelty as an event. Told from the vertiginous point-of-view of a camcorder-wielding group of friends, Cloverfield begins like a television soap opera about young Manhattanites coping with changes in their personal lives. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving New York to take an executive job at a company in Japan. At his goodbye party in a crowded loft, Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) hands a camcorder to best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), who proceeds to tape the proceedings over old footage of Rob’s ex-girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman)—images shot during happy times in their ex-relationship. Naturally, Beth shows up at the party with a new beau, bumming Rob out completely. Just before one's eyes glaze over from all this heartbreaking stuff (captured by Hud, who's something of a doofus, in laughably shaky camerawork), the unexpected happens: New York is suddenly under attack from a Godzilla-like monster stomping through midtown and destroying everything and everybody in sight. Rob and company hit the streets, but rather than run with other evacuees, they head toward the center of the storm so that Rob can rescue an injured Beth. There are casualties along the way, but the journey into fear is fascinating and immediate if emotionally remote—a consequence of seeing these proceedings through the singular, subjective perspective of a camcorder and of a story that intentionally leaves major questions unanswered: Who or what is this monster? Where did it come from? The lack of a backstory, and spare views of the marauding creature, are clever ways by producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves to keep an audience focused exclusively on what’s on the screen. But it also makes Cloverfield curiously uninvolving. Ultimately, Cloverfield, with its spectacular effects brilliantly woven into a home-video look, is a celebration of infinite possibilities in this age of accessible, digital media. -Tom Keogh
Clueless
Amy Heckerling * * * - - Alicia Silverstone won everyone over with her portrayal of a Beverly Hills teen, Cher, whose penchant for helping others with their relationships and self-esteem is a cover for her own loneliness. Director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) made a smart, funny variation on Jane Austen's novel Emma, sweetly romantic and gently satirical of 90210 social manners. The cast is unbeatable: Dan Hedaya as Cher's rock-solid dad, Wallace Shawn as a geeky teacher, Paul Rudd as the boy who has always been Cher's surrogate brother—and the true holder of her most secret wishes. —Tom Keogh
Coach Carter
Thomas Carter * * * - -
Cocoon
Ron Howard * * * * - In 1985 Cocoon was a significant trend-bucker amongst summer blockbusters. Whereas other genre efforts were devised to lure a teenage audience into FX extravaganzas, this looked like one for their grandparents. Except that it turned out to be a gentle, affecting tale for all ages. Adapted from David Saperstein's novel, director Ron Howard took great delight in focusing on family relationships and the encroachment of old age (themes that reappeared in nearly all his work from here on).

The plot is rather surreal in summary: a group of Florida OAPs befriend aliens in next-door's swimming pool and are rejuvenated to youthful well-being. It's in the FX and characterisations that the story comes alive. Both were acknowledged with Academy Awards; with Don Ameche's supporting role deserving praise for more than just the moment when he does some bodypopping on the dance floor. Wilford Brimley is the real star, a bluff old codger wanting to do right by everyone. Steve Guttenberg provides comic support and allows for a little non-wrinkly nudity with foxy space gal Kitty (Tahnee Welch). ILM's visuals remain polished and inspired, but never allowing us to lose sight of the characters basking in their dazzle. —Paul Tonks
Collateral
Michael Mann * * * - - Collateral offers a change of pace for Tom Cruise as a ruthless contract killer, but that's just one of many reasons to recommend this well-crafted thriller. It's from Michael Mann, after all, and the director's stellar track record with crime thrillers (Thief, Manhunter, and especially Heat) guarantees a rich combination of intelligent plotting, well-drawn characters, and escalating tension, beginning here when icy hit-man Vincent (Cruise) recruits cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) to drive him through a nocturnal tour of Los Angeles, during which he will execute five people in a 10-hour spree. While Stuart Beattie's screenplay deftly combines intimate character study with raw bursts of action (in keeping with Mann's directorial trademark), Foxx does the best work of his career to date (between his excellent performance in Ali and his title-role showcase in Ray), and Cruise is fiercely convincing as an ultra-disciplined sociopath. Jada Pinkett-Smith rises above the limitations of a supporting role, and Mann directs with the confidence of a master, turning L.A. into a third major character (much as it was in the Mann-produced TV series Robbery Homicide Division). Collateral is a bit slow at first, but as it develops subtle themes of elusive dreams and lives on the edge, it shifts into overdrive and races, with breathtaking precision, toward a nail-biting climax. —Jeff Shannon
The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg * * * * * Steven Spielberg, proving he's one of the few modern filmmakers who has the visual fluency to be capable of making a great silent film, took a melodramatic, DW Griffith-inspired approach to filming Alice Walker's novel. His tactics made the film controversial, but also a popular hit. You can argue with the appropriateness of Spielberg's decision, but his astonishing facility with images is undeniable—from the exhilarating and eye-popping opening shots of children playing in paradisiacal purple fields to the way he conveys the brutality of a rape by showing hanging leather belts banging against the head of the shaking bed. In a way it's a shame that Whoopi Goldberg, a stage monologist who made her screen debut in this movie, went on to become so famous, because it was, in part, her unfamiliarity that made her understated performance as Celie so effective. (This may be the first and last time that the adjective understated can be applied to Goldberg.) Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture and actress (supporting players Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery were also nominated), it was quite a scandal—and a crushing blow to Spielberg—when The Color Purple won none. —Jim Emerson
Coming To America
John Landis * * * * - Eddie Murphy's 1988 vehicle Coming to America was probably the point at which his status as a mainstream big-screen comedian finally gelled, following the highly successful 48 Hours pairing with Nick Nolte. Never mind the hackneyed storyline: under John Landis's tight direction, he turns in a star performance (and several brilliant cameos) that is disciplined and extremely funny.

Murphy plays an African prince who comes to New York officially to sow his wild oats. Privately, he is seeking a bride he can marry for love rather than one chosen by his parents. With his companion (Arsenio Hall, who pushes Murphy all the way in the comedy stakes), he settles in the borough of Queens and takes a job in a hamburger joint. A succession of hilarious satire-barbed adventures ensue, plus the required romantic conclusion. The script is crammed with ripe one-liners , but "Freeze, you diseased rhinoceros pizzle" has to be the most devastating hold-up line of all time. Film buffs will appreciate a brief appearance by Don Ameche as a down-and-out, but this is Murphy's film and he generates warmth enough to convert the most ambivalent viewer.

On the DVD: The only—rather pointless—extra on offer is the original theatrical trailer which adds nothing apart from a rapid recap of the story. But the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation (the picture quality is diamond sharp) and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack recreate the original authentic cinematic experience. The choreography of 1980s pop diva Paula Abdul in the lavish wedding scenes and Nile Rodgers' pounding musical score are the main beneficiaries. —Piers Ford
Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind
George Clooney * - - - - Showbiz autobiographies don't come any stranger than Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a fractured kaleidoscope of film styles—from sitcom to paranoid horror—accompanied by an infectious musical mosaic. It's based on a memoir by Chuck Barris—the mastermind behind The Dating Game (the format we know in the UK as Blind Date) and The Gong Show—which interweaves a fairly straight account of his toils in the television industry with outrageous fictions about his secret life as a CIA hit man. First-time director George Clooney takes Barris' bizarre book and—working with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who similarly mutated the truth in Adaptation—makes an extraordinary picture, with an awards-quality performance from Sam Rockwell as Barris.

Clooney takes the secondary role of Barris' enigmatic boss, and there's sterling work from Drew Barrymore as Barris' ditzy regular girlfriend and Julia Roberts as an espionage dragon lady. It's an acidly witty film that consistently turns the tables on its hero and the audience. Priceless tiny gags include: a silent Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as contestants of The Dating Game and Barris coming up with the idea for a TV quiz show while half-listening to a CIA instructor explaining torture techniques. —Kim Newman
The Constant Gardener
Fernando Meirelles * * * * - The Constant Gardener is the kind of thriller that hasn't been seen since the 1970s: Smart, politically complex, cinematically adventurous, genuinely thrilling and even heartbreaking. Mild diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient, Schindler's List) has a loose cannon of a wife named Tessa (Rachel Weisz, The Shape of Things, The Mummy), who's digging into the dirty doings of a major pharmaceutical company in Kenya. Her brutal murder forces Justin to continue her investigation down some deadly avenues.

This simple plot description doesn't capture the rich texture and slippery, sinuous movement of The Constant Gardener, superbly directed by Fernando Meirelles (Oscar-nominated for his first film, City of God). Shifting back and forth in time, the movie skillfully captures the engaging romance between Justin and Tessa (Fiennes shows considerably more chemistry with Weisz than he had with Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan) and builds a vivid, gripping, and all-too-justified paranoia. And on top of it all, the movie is beautiful, due to both its incredible shots of the African landscape (which at times is haunting and unearthly) and the gorgeous cinematography. Featuring an all-around excellent cast, including Bill Nighy (Love Actually), Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father), and Danny Huston (Silver City).—Bret Fetzer
The Contender
Rod Lurie * * * - - After years of yawn-inducing testosterone displays in the political arena, The Contender is a uniquely intelligent feminist statement. Written and directed by Rod Lurie, the plot is concerned with appointing a female Vice President (Joan Allen as Senator Laine Hanson) to the White House. Barring her way are the collective prejudices and petty-minded historical grudges that mire all politics. For her, they're all focused in the repellent form of an unrecognisable Gary Oldman as Sheldon Runyan. Several other performances stand alongside these two excellent leads: a commanding President from Jeff Bridges, a fresh-faced do-gooder from Christian Slater and an incendiary moustache-free presidential aide from Sam Elliott. Beneath the extremely engaging surprise-filled plot, there are also several layers of commendable moral thematics. Effectively put on trial for being who she is and what she may or may not have done in her past, Allen's character stands for much more than a position in the Office. Viewers are presented with the thought-provoking statement: "principles only matter if you stick by them when they're inconvenient."

On the DVD: a trailer, four TV spots, an interview with Joan Allen and 10 deleted scenes (totalling 16 minutes) with optional commentary from director Lurie, all worthy of your attention. But the enthusiastic commentary from Lurie and Allen is the real treat. Crammed with information about the advice on re-editing given by Steven Spielberg, Lurie reveals the fall-out it caused with Gary Oldman. Gossip aside, it's also fascinating to hear him explaining his feminist standpoint after having become father to a daughter.—Paul Tonks
Control
Anton Corbijn * * * * - Musicians have long proven to be a well of inspiration for film makers, and so it proves again with director Anton Corbjn’s telling of the story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, Control.

Based on the book of the same name, the first of Control’s many successes is to make prior knowledge of the subject matter unnecessary. And while music is an important part of the film, the movie ultimately focuses in on the relationship between Curtis and his wife, Deborah. It’s a moving and emotional rollercoaster, and one realised with exceptional skill and grace by Sam Riley and the ever-astonishing Samantha Morton in the lead acting roles. The former is someone very much to watch, the latter is surely long overdue an Oscar.

Credit too must go to director Corbjn, though, who builds up Control with diligence and discipline. He shapes a musical biopic that distinguishes itself from its numerous contemporaries, and while it perhaps doesn’t spend enough time with the Joy Division side of the story, it’s a film that’s otherwise hard to fault.

Control, ultimately, not only managed to sidestep many of the contrivances of the genre, but it also offers a raw, electric and emotional experience, and proved to be one of 2007’s finest films. Don’t miss it. —Jon Foster
Cool Runnings
Jon Turteltaub * * * * - Based on an improbable but true story, Cool Runnings concerns the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Director Jon Turteltaub (Phenomenon) does a fine job with both the absurdity of the situation (the athletes had never even seen snow) and the passion behind it (their desire to compete and win). John Candy, in one of his last roles, is touching as a disgraced coach who seizes the opportunity to work with the Jamaicans as a chance for redemption. The bobsled scenes look good and the races are exciting. The climax, which is entirely unexpected, takes the film to a wholly different level, even if events in the story don't quite match the facts. —Tom Keogh
The Count Of Monte Cristo
Kevin Reynolds * * * * * Retelling a story that has made it onto the silver screen more than most, this latest adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo makes yet another swashbuckling attempt to win over a new generation of cinema goers. A dashing James Caviezel takes the role of the Count, who is driven by a desire for revenge after being betrayed by his best friend Fernand (played by a dishevelled Guy Pearce) and landed with 16 years of solitary confinement in Chateau D'If, a damp cavernous prison. Thus the scene is set for a good old-fashioned romp.

The trouble with this "re-imagining" (to borrow a phrase from Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes) is that it's never quite sure whether to take itself seriously or not. Alexandre Dumas's original story is a traditionally melodramatic tale of deceit and double-crossing, with clear-cut bad guys and a moral lesson to be learned at the end. Here, director Kevin Reynolds appears unsure about whether to stick with tradition or bring the story up to date and turn it into a post-modern play on the old Victorian values and style. When the Count and his heavy-breathing loved one are reunited, their kiss is actually framed as a cameo. Both lead actors are also prone to heavy bouts of overacting, garnishing their performances with exaggerated baroque gestures.

Clearly this is a film in which the actors could over-indulge themselves and (almost) get away with it, were it not for the fact that—bar Richard Harris as the "Priest"—none of them seem to have the faintest idea about how to conduct themselves in a period drama. This Count of Monte Cristo will leave the audience a little confused as to whether they should cry along with the story or laugh along with the actors. —Nikki Disney

On the DVD: The Count of Monte Cristo on disc offers no escape from the dry drawl of director Kevin Reynolds, who features in almost every element of the extensive extras package. With a shy studio disclaimer before his commentary, he's got a refreshingly frank attitude to explaining a movie's making. Also included are details of the ambitious swordfight choreography, the origins and adaptation of Dumas's classic book and how the sound was developed as well as a behind-the-scenes feature on location. Quite often the footage feels like a tourism promo for Malta. The 5.1 sound mix is superbly utilised (when Reynolds isn't talking) and the transfer (1.85:1) is as pristine as you'd hope and expect. —Paul Tonks
Crash
Paul Haggis * * * * * Movie studios, by and large, avoid controversial subjects like race the way you might avoid a hive of angry bees. So it's remarkable that Crash even got made; that it's a rich, intelligent, and moving exploration of the interlocking lives of a dozen Los Angeles residents—black, white, latino, Asian, and Persian—is downright amazing.

A politically nervous district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his high-strung wife (Sandra Bullock, biting into a welcome change of pace from Miss Congeniality) get car-jacked by an oddly sociological pair of young black men (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges); a rich black T.V. director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) get pulled over by a white racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his reluctant partner (Ryan Phillipe); a detective (Don Cheadle) and his Latina partner and lover (Jennifer Esposito) investigate a white cop who shot a black cop—these are only three of the interlocking stories that reach up and down class lines.

Writer/director Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby) spins every character in unpredictable directions, refusing to let anyone sink into a stereotype. The cast—ranging from the famous names above to lesser-known but just as capable actors like Michael Pena (Buffalo Soldiers) and Loretta Devine (Woman Thou Art Loosed)—meets the strong script head-on, delivering galvanizing performances in short vignettes, brief glimpses that build with gut-wrenching force. This sort of multi-character mosaic is hard to pull off; Crash rivals such classics as Nashville and Short Cuts. A knockout. —Bret Fetzer
Crazy/Beautiful
John Stockwell * * - - -
Creep
Christopher Smith * * * - -
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee * * * * - Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is so many things: an historical epic on a grand scale, an Asian martial-arts flick with both great effects and fantastic fighting (choreographed by The Matrix's guru Yuen Wo Ping), a story of magic, revenge and power played with a posse of star-crossed lovers thrown in for good measure. Set during the Qing dynasty (the late 19th century), the film follows the fortunes of righteous warriors Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien (Asian superstars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, respectively) whose love for one another has lain too long unspoken. When Li Mu Bai's legendary sword Green Destiny is stolen by wilful aristocrat's daughter Jen (exquisite newcomer Zhang Ziyi), who has been trained in the way of the gangster by Li Mu Bai's arch-rival Jade Fox, the warriors must fight to recover the mystical blade. The plot takes us all across China, from dens of iniquity and sumptuous palaces to the stark plains of the Western desert. Characters chase each other up walls and across roof and treetops to breathtaking effect, and Tan Dun's haunting, Oscar-winning East-West inflected score.

Directed by Taiwanese-born Ang Lee and co-written by his longtime collaborator American James Schamus, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon joins the ranks of the team's slate of high-quality, genre-spanning literary adaptations. Although it superficially seems like a return to Ang's Asian roots, there's a clear throughline connecting this with their earlier, Western films given the thematic focus on propriety and family honour (Sense and Sensibility), repressed emotions (The Ice Storm) and divided loyalties in a time of war (Ride with the Devil). Nonetheless, a film this good needs no prior acquaintance with the director's oeuvre; it stands on its own. The only people who might be dismissive of it are jaded chop-socky fans who will probably feel bored with all the romance. Everyone else will love it. —Leslie Felperin

On the DVD: As might be expected this superb anamorphic widescreen version of the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio presents Peter Pau's spellbinding cinematography in its full glory; the same goes for the Dolby 5.1 audio track that showcases Tan Dun's haunting score. Annoyingly, however, the default language option is the dubbed English soundtrack, which means you have to select the original Mandarin version before playing. The extra features are good but not exceptional, with an obligatory "making-of" documentary and commentary from Ang Lee and James Schamus being the best options: the director and producer/cowriter chat amiably and in some detail about their martial arts version of Sense and Sensibility. But it's the breathtaking delight of the seeing the movie in such quality that really counts, and this disc does not disappoint. —Mark Walker
Cruel Intentions
Roger Kumble * * * * * This modern-day teen update of Les Liaisons Dangereuses suffered at the hands of both critics and moviegoers thanks to its sumptuous ad campaign, which hyped the film as an arch, highly sexual, faux-serious drama (not unlike the successful, Oscar-nominated Dangerous Liaisons). In fact, Cruel Intentions plays like high comedy for its first two-thirds, as its two evil heroes, rich stepsiblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe), blithely ruin lives and reputations with hearts as black as coal.

Kathryn wants revenge on a boyfriend who dumped her, so she befriends his new intended, the gawky Cecile (Selma Blair), and gets Sebastian to deflower the innocent virgin. The meat of the game, though, lies in Sebastian's seduction of good girl Annette (a down-to-earth Reese Witherspoon), who has written a nationally published essay entitled "Why I Choose to Wait." If he fails, Kathryn gets his precious vintage convertible; if he wins, he gets Kathryn—in the sack.

When the movie sticks to the merry ruination of Kathryn and Sebastian's pawns, it's highly enjoyable: Gellar in particular is a two-faced manipulator extraordinaire, and Phillippe, usually a black hole, manages some fun as a hipster Eurotrash stud. Most pleasantly surprising of all is Witherspoon, who puts a remarkably self-assured spin on a character usually considered vulnerable and tortured (see Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons). Unfortunately, writer-director Roger Kumble undermines everything he's built up with a false ending that's true to neither the reconceived characters nor the original story—revenge is a dish best served cold, not cooked up with unnecessary plot twists. —Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
Cruel Intentions 2 - Manchester Prep
Roger Kumble * - - - - There's a reason you haven't heard of Cruel Intentions 2, a straight-to-video "sequel" to the seamy teen romp that had Ryan Phillippe baring his polished behind: it's twice as bad as the first one and is only worth a look to see just how embarrassingly trivial it can get. Writer-director Roger Kumble's original was no classic, but at least the game, nubile cast knew how to smack its lips—his follow-up (which, in tamer form, was to be the pilot for a proposed series called Manchester Prep) can't even pout properly. Phillippe's Sebastian character (here played by a bland, doughy Robin Dunne) is carted back out to be reintroduced to scheming stepsister Kathryn, enacted by a woefully unsexy Amy Adams (Sarah Michelle Gellar played Sebastian's ripe cousin in the first film). The two don't hit it off, and Sebastian—far more sentimental than his big-screen counterpart—immediately decides he's all for love, in the form of pristine deb Danielle (Sarah Thompson). It all amounts to a ponderously cartoonish nothing, and includes a twist ending that renders everything proceeding it completely incomprehensible. Kumble has the film spouting homilies on love and self-esteem, then randomly throws in bare breasts; it's like a horny Saved by the Bell, without the kick or pace of good camp. —Steve Wiecking, Amazon.com
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Grave Danger (The Tarantino Episodes)
Quentin Tarantino * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 1 Part 1
William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * * The latest in a long line of successful US police dramas, the forensic cop show Crime Scene Investigation varies the formula by focusing on a team of civilian scientists who work the night shift in Las Vegas, poring over crime scenes for fingerprints, blood spatters, DNA-laced mucus and (especially) maggots.

Star William Petersen plays a variation of his role from Manhunter, the cool puzzle-solving genius who can rattle off mystifying speeches with aplomb, while his contrasting partner is Marg Helgenberger, cast as a single mother/ex-stripper who is as concerned with the emotional as well as the physical mess left by crime.

While most US cop shows (witness NYPD Blue) tend towards soap, neglecting the cases in favour of personal crises, CSI gives its regulars enough life to make them human but is essentially puzzle-based, with individual episodes following two or three cases à la Homicide: Life on the Street. The occasional special focuses on a major job with the team investigating the slaughter of a whole family ("Blood Drops") or a death in first class on a plane over Vegas ("Unfriendly Skies"). A few continuing threads are laid down, with a recurrent villain who gets away, but will inevitably return, but on the whole these shows play pretty well as one-offs. Very high-tech in style, with lots of zooms into microscopic examinations of hair follicles or stomach contents and distinctive visualisations of the different stories told by witnesses and evidence, this is one of the best shows currently airing.

On the DVD: CSI's first DVD box set contains the show's first 12 episodes: the pilot followed by "Cool Change", "Crate & Burial", "Pledging Mr Johnson"; "Friends and Lovers", "Who Are You?", "Blood Drops"; "Anonymous", "Unfriendly Skies", "Sex Lies and Larvae"; "The I-15 Murders" and "Fahrenheit 932". In addition to inventive menus, the three-disc set offers character profiles, a trailer, some B-roll on-set footage, a subtitle option, and snippet-like interviews with the cast and creatives. —Kim Newman
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 1 Part 2
William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * * The second half of CSI's first year takes Grissom and his untiring team down some darker paths than before. Nick finally gives in to his urges and sleeps with the hooker who has a crush on him in "Boom"—with predictably disastrous consequences. Sarah is badly affected by the rape and attempted murder of an unknown woman in "Too Tough to Die"; and even Grissom is shaken when dealing with the sudden death of an infant in "Gentle, Gentle". The final episode of the year, "Strip Strangler", is a real shocker, as the team track a brutal serial killer.

Elsewhere, the morbid business of investigating corpses and crime scenes is enlivened with flashes of welcome humour: when a horse is found dead with packets of uncut diamonds concealed in its uterus, Grissom deadpans "This horse is a mule". Throughout, the show remains focused on its scientific remit, only revealing enough of the characters' private lives to provide added piquancy to each investigation: Sarah's complete lack of a life outside her work; Warrick's old gambling habit; Catherine's attachment to her daughter and troubles with ex-husband Eddie; Nick's over-eagerness to please. Grissom, meanwhile, like the Dalai Lama, is the model of inscrutable wisdom. The show itself, like a millennial antidote to a decade of X-Files, is relentlessly empirical: everything that initially seems mysterious—from spontaneous human combustion to an apparent case of vampirism—is always explicable and explained by the team's scientific dedication.

On the DVD: CSI, Series 1 Part 2 contains 11 episodes on three discs. Extra features consist of a brief promo featurette, production notes and a series of on-set interviews with the cast. Oddly for such a cutting-edge show, picture is old-fashioned 4:3 with basic Dolby stereo sound. —Mark Walker
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 2 Part 1
William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * * These first 12 episodes from the second series of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation consolidate the show's well-deserved popular appeal, while beginning to explore (gently at first) beneath the slickly professional surface of the investigators themselves. Gradually we learn more about what makes Grissom and his astonishingly gifted forensics team tick, beyond merely that they're workaholics who seem to require no sleep at all.

The show's trademark reveals of vital evidence—be it on the autopsy slab or under the microscope—add a fresh spin to what is, at heart, a good old-fashioned whodunit series. William Petersen brings the requisite air of antiquarianism to a character whose meticulous demeanour and love of order consciously inherits the mantle of Sherlock Holmes (whose vast collection of tobacco samples and bottles of chemicals are the ancestors of CSI's high-tech crime lab). This is a series in which scientific evidence-gathering is elevated to the status of a religion. "When a tree falls in the forest, even if no one is around to hear, it does make a sound", affirms Grissom with the calm assurance of a yogi on the path to Enlightenment.

And just when CSI starts to seem a little too pat, just when the trail of clues seems too neat, the show always seems able to throw a surprise or two at us: perhaps there has been no crime after all; perhaps the evidence concerns a completely different crime altogether; or perhaps, as in one brave episode concerning brothers implicated in multiple murders, the evidence simply isn't good enough to convict the right man, even when Grissom knows which one really is guilty. As a result, every episode is simply compulsive viewing.

On the DVD: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Series 2 Part 1 comes in a three-disc set with several worthwhile extras. There are cast and crew interviews, an on-set tour, a peek at the workshop where all the bloody body parts are created, and, most informative, selected episode commentaries featuring writer-creator Anthony E Zuiker and director and producer Danny Cannnon among others. Picture and Dolby Digital sound are impeccable. —Mark Walker
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 2 Part 2
William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * * Thanks to its focus on more single-case episodes, the second half of CSI's second series is an even more highly concentrated dose of forensic puzzle-solving from the Vegas science sleuths. With the whole team working together on one puzzle crime (or series of crime puzzles), the group dynamic is elaborated and the audience drawn deeper into each investigation. The first three episodes are all single cases: "Identity Crisis" sees the return of Grissom's nemesis, serial killer Paul Millander; in "The Finger", Catherine is caught up in an elaborate kidnap plot; while in "Burden of Proof", a stray body in a "body farm" leads to a difficult case of child abuse. After a brief return to the two-investigation-per-episode format, the team unite once more for one of their most intriguing cases, "Chasing the Bus", in which they must unravel the mystery of a bus crash in the desert. "Stalker" is possibly the show's most terrifying episode to date, with a woman found murdered behind the safely locked doors of her apartment.

The season concludes with "Cross Jurisdictions", a rather unsubtle way of introducing the spin-off show CSI: Miami and, finally, "The Hunger Artist", a somewhat strained attempt to comment on our society's obsession with glamour and self-image, which is most notable for Grissom's devastating discovery that his hearing problems are not only congenital, but irreversible. —Mark Walker
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 3 Part 1
William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * * Now firmly established as the top-rated US drama, by its third year CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a show positively glowing with confidence. Even when individual cases seem either too contrived or too easily resolved, the indefatigable night shift at the Las Vegas PD crime lab always look the part, solving conundrums and discovering microscopic damning evidence while, apparently, never shedding their own loose hair or skin cells all over the supposedly quarantined crime scenes. In reality, Catherine Willows' flowing blonde locks would contaminate any evidence she collected, but in the world of CSI only the bad guys leave body parts behind—the CSIs themselves are so good they're positively pristine.

The first 12 episodes of season 3 on this three-disc set present more deliciously bizarre situations for the problem-solving sleuths: cannibalism, snuff movies, dwarfs, death while drag racing, bodies falling from the sky, and various dismemberments all tax the team's acumen. These are all double or multiple-case episodes, though in a characteristic trick of the writing sometimes apparently unrelated murders turn out to be connected (or vice versa, as in "Blood Lust", where a road accident victim is not what he seems, and the death of the driver at the hands of an angry mob is made all the more tragic.) The mix of genuine forensic science with the glossiest Jerry Bruckheimer production values, plus the virtues of a good ensemble cast headed by William Peterson's modern-day Sherlock Holmes, remains as compelling as ever. —Mark Walker
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 3 Part 2
William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * * The second half of CSI's third season serves up generous amounts of the bizarre and depraved for our voyeuristic viewing pleasure: a man driving with a wooden spike in his head, ultra-violent Robot Wars, decomposing bodies in toxic waste drums and violent death during foam-soaked debauchery all add up to a typical night's work for the Las Vegas crime lab. Standout episodes include the 90-minute special, "Lady Heather's Box", in which Grissom renews his acquaintance with the sultry bordello madam and her world of S&M. But is the delightful dominatrix the murderer? In "Night at the Movies" the plot hinges on a reworking of a Hitchcock classic and in "Play with Fire" an explosion in the lab has disastrous consequences for the team.

Personal concerns come to the fore in these 12 episodes more prominently than ever before (a contrast to the show's original single-minded focus on the cases). Here, Sara Sidle's paramedic boyfriend unwittingly reveals a guilty secret when he is involved in a devastating car accident ("Crash & Burn"); Warwick witnesses his boyhood mentor falling apart when the older man's daughter is killed in a drive-by shooting ("Random Acts of Violence"); Catherine Willows' daughter and ex-husband are caught up in more violence and mayhem; and Grissom finally has to admit that his hearing problem can no longer be ignored. A welcome development is the expansion of the CSI unit and the introduction of some new, albeit secondary, team members. Guest stars include Elizabeth Berkely ("Lady Heather's Box") and Bobcat Goldthwait ("Last Laugh"). The show remains unrivalled for slick, fast-paced entertainment.

On the DVD: CSI, Series 3 Part 2 is a three-disc set with a handful of minor extra features. It has two frankly rather uninspiring episode commentaries featuring the directors, scriptwriters and other crew. Better are the two small featurettes—"Making It Real" and "The Writer's Room"—that shed more light on the making of the show. —Mark Walker
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 4 Part 1
William L. Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 4 Part 2
William L. Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 5 Part 1
William L. Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 5 Part 2
William Petersen, Marg Helenberger, Gary Dourdan, Jorja Fox, Paul Guilfoyle * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 6 Part 1
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 6 Part 2
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 7 Part 1
William L. Petersen, Marg Helgenberger * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 7 Part 2
Robert David Hall, Marg Helgenberger * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 8 Part 1
William L. Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Kenneth Fink, Richard J. Lewis, Jeffrey G. Hunt, Alec Smight, Paris Barclay * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 8 Part 2
William L. Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Michael Slovis, Richard J. Lewis, Kenneth Fink, Jeffrey G. Hunt, Christopher Leitch * * * * *
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Las Vegas - Season 9
Laurence Fishburne, Marg Helgenberger, Alec Smight, Brad Tanenbaum, Christopher Leitch, Jeffrey G. Hunt, Kenneth Fink
Dangerous Minds
John N. Smith * * * * * This "To Ma'am with Love" is much more an escapist popcorn movie than the inner-city document its marketing suggested. Michelle Pfeiffer plays real-life former Marine Louanne Johnson, a high school English teacher who meets resistance from kids and administration alike at a tough urban school in Northern California. Pfeiffer is good and her character's overall development even survives various post-production story cuts. (A romance with Andy Garcia's character was completely eliminated before release; Garcia is nowhere in sight.) The actors who play Johnson's students are also fine and the whole film becomes the latest in a long tradition of sentimental movies about teachers who change the lives of kids. —Tom Keogh
The Dark Knight
Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight arrives with tremendous hype (best superhero movie ever? posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger?), and incredibly, it lives up to all of it. But calling it the best superhero movie ever seems like faint praise, since part of what makes the movie great—in addition to pitch-perfect casting, outstanding writing, and a compelling vision—is that it bypasses the normal fantasy element of the superhero genre and makes it all terrifyingly real. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is Gotham City's new district attorney, charged with cleaning up the crime rings that have paralysed the city. He enters an uneasy alliance with the young police lieutenant, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and Batman (Christian Bale), the caped vigilante who seems to trust only Gordon—and whom only Gordon seems to trust. They make progress until a psychotic and deadly new player enters the game: the Joker (Heath Ledger), who offers the crime bosses a solution—kill the Batman. Further complicating matters is that Dent is now dating Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, after Katie Holmes turned down the chance to reprise her role), the longtime love of Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne.

In his last completed role before his tragic death, Ledger is fantastic as the Joker, a volcanic, truly frightening force of evil. And he sets the tone of the movie: the world is a dark, dangerous place where there are no easy choices. Eckhart and Oldman also shine, but as good as Bale is, his character turns out rather bland in comparison (not uncommon for heroes facing more colorful villains). Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan (Memento) follows his critically acclaimed Batman Begins with an even better sequel that sets itself apart from notable superhero movies like Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man because of its sheer emotional impact and striking sense of realism—there are no suspension-of-disbelief superpowers here. At 152 minutes, it's a shade too long, and it's much too intense for kids. But for most movie fans—and not just superhero fans—The Dark Knight is a film for the ages. —David Horiuchi
Dark Water
Hideo Nakata * * - - - Dark Water is Japanese horror auteur Hideo Nakata's return to the genre after his Ring cycle made you too scared to watch television ever again. Where Ring dealt with a supernatural force wreaking revenge via technology, Dark Water is a much more traditional ghost story. After winning a custody battle for her daughter, single mother Yoshimi moves into what she thinks is the perfect apartment with her daughter Hitomi. No sooner have they unpacked than strange things begin to disturb their new life. A water leak from the supposedly abandoned apartment above gets bigger and bigger, a child's satchel reappears even though Yoshimi throws it away several times, and she is haunted by the image of a child wearing a yellow mackintosh who bears a striking resemblance to a young girl who disappeared several years before.

The conventional narrative follows Yoshimi's increasingly desperate attempts to discover who or what force is haunting her daughter, but the story's execution is far from predictable. Nakata is the master of understated suspense: there's always a feeling of motiveless malignancy that runs like an undercurrent through his films—far more frightening than out and out shocks—and here he also practically drowns his audience in water imagery. The film is saturated; the relentless dripping in the apartment, the constant rain outside and the deliberately washed-out photography make any colour, such as the yellow coat, seem incongruous and unsettling. Nakata also clears the film of unnecessary characters—this is an almost deserted Tokyo—preferring to concentrate the action on Yoshimi's rising hysteria as she struggles to understand what is happening and how to save her daughter. Granted, the special effects are somewhat unconvincing and the ending confused, but even so the result is a stylish and disquieting chiller that will do for bathtubs what Ring did for video recorders. —Kristen Bowditch
Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure
Gareth Carrivick * * * * -
The Day After Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich * * * - - Supreme silliness doesn't stop The Day After Tomorrow from being lots of fun for connoisseurs of epic-scale disaster flicks. After the blockbuster profits of Independence Day and Godzilla, you can't blame director Roland Emmerich for using global warming as a politically correct excuse for destroying most of the northern hemisphere. Like most of Emmerich's films, this one emphasises special effects over such lesser priorities as well-drawn characters and plausible plotting, and his dialogue (cowritten by Jeffrey Nachmanoff) is so laughably trite that it could be entirely eliminated without harming the movie. It's the spectacle that's important here, not the lame, recycled plot about father and son (Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal) who endure an end-of-the-world scenario caused by the effects of global warming. So sit back, relax and enjoy the awesome visions of tornado-ravaged Los Angeles, blizzards in New Delhi, Japan pummelled by grapefruit-sized hailstones, and Manhattan flooded by swelling oceans and then frozen by the onset of a modern ice age. It's all wildly impressive, and Emmerich obviously doesn't care if the science is flimsy, so why should you? —Jeff Shannon
Dead Poets Society
Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, William M. Anderson, Peter Weir * * * * - Robin Williams stars as an English teacher who doesn't fit into the conservative prep school where he teaches but his charisma and love of poetry inspires several boys to revive a secret society with a bohemian bent. The script is well-meaning but a little trite, though director Peter Weir (The Truman Show) adds layers of emotional depth in scenes of conflict between the kids and adults. (A subplot involving one father's terrible pressure on his son—played by Robert Sean Leonard—to drop his interest in the theatre reaches heartbreaking proportions). Williams is given plenty of latitude to work in his brand of improvisational humour, though it is all well-woven into his character's style of instruction. —Tom Keogh
Deathproof
Quentin Tarantino Loud, fast, and proudly out of control, Grindhouse is a tribute to the low-budget exploitation movies that lurked at drive-ins and inner city theaters in the '60s and early '70s. Writers/directors Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) cooked up this three-hour double feature as a way to pay homage to these films, and the end result manages to evoke the down-and-dirty vibe of the original films for an audience that may be too young to remember them. Tarantino's Death Proof is the mellower of the two, relatively speaking; it's wordier (as to be expected) and rife with pulp/comic book posturing and eminently quotable dialogue. It also features a terrific lead performance by Kurt Russell as a homicidal stunt man whose weapon of choice is a souped-up car. Tarantino's affection for his own dialogue slows down the action at times, but he does provide showy roles for a host of likable actresses, including Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rose McGowan, Sydney Poitier, and newcomer Zoe Bell, who was Uma Thurman's stunt double in Kill Bill. Detractors may decry the rampant violence and latch onto a sexist undertone in Tarantino's feature, but for those viewers who grew up watching these types of films in either theaters or on VHS, such elements will be probably be more of a virtue than a detrimental factor. —Paul Gaita
Deep Impact
Mimi Leder * * * - - A great big rock hits the earth, and lots of people die. That's pretty much all there is to Deep Impact, and most of that was in the trailer. Can a major Hollywood movie really squeak by with such a slender excuse for a premise? The old disaster-movie king, cheese-meister Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake), would have made a kitsch classic out of this, with Charlton Heston, rather than a resigned and mumbly Robert Duvall, as the veteran astronaut who risks several lives trying to blow up the comet that's headed right this way! As stiffly directed by Mimi Leder, this thick slice of ham errs on the side of solemnity. It may be the most earnest end-of-the-world picture since Stanley Kramer's atomic-doom drama On the Beach. There are a couple of classic melodramatic flourishes: an estranged father and daughter who share a tearful reconciliation as a Godzilla-sized tidal wave looms on the horizon; and an astronaut, communicating on video with his loved ones back on Earth, who follows whispered instructions from a buddy lurking just off camera—so that his little girl won't realise that he's been struck blind. Deep Impact stars Morgan Freeman as the president of the United States. —David Chute
Deja Vu
Tony Scott * * * - - In his most effective thriller since Enemy of the State, Tony Scott makes time travel seem plausible. It helps that his New Orleans hero, ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington in his third go-round with the director), spends more time in the present than the past. In order to catch a terrorist, FBI Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) invites Carlin to join forces. They have the technology to see the past. He has the expertise to interpret the data. Unfortunately, the bomb has already gone off and hundreds of ferry passengers have died. Then there's the body of a beautiful woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton, Idlewild), that turns up in the vicinity of the blast. Evidence indicates she was killed beforehand. Since the FBI enables him to observe Claire prior to her murder, Carlin gets to know what she was like and finds himself falling in love. He becomes convinced that the only way to solve the case—and prove her innocence—is to travel to the past. But as Pryzwarra's colleague, Denny (Adam Goldberg), argues, "You cannot go back in time. It's physically impossible." Or so he says. Déjà Vu is constructed around a clever script and executed by a top-notch cast, notably Washington, Patton, and an eerie Jim Caviezel (miles away from Passion of the Christ). In shedding the excesses of recent years—the sadism of Man on Fire and weirdness of Tarantino favorite Domino—Scott re-affirms his rep as one of the action movie's finest practitioners. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
The Departed
Martin Scorsese * * * * - Martin Scorsese makes a welcomed return to the mean streets (of Boston, in this case) with The Departed, hailed by many as Scorsese's best film since Casino. Since this crackling crime thriller is essentially a Scorsese-stamped remake of the acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the film was intensely scrutinized by devoted critics and cinephiles, and while Scorsese's intense filmmaking and all-star cast deserve ample acclaim, The Departed is also worthy of serious re-assessment, especially with regard to what some attentive viewers described as sloppy craftsmanship (!), notably in terms of mismatched shots and jagged continuity. But no matter where you fall on the Scorsese appreciation scale, there's no denying that The Departed is a signature piece of work from one of America's finest directors, designed for maximum impact with a breathtaking series of twists, turns, and violent surprises. It's an intricate cat-and-mouse game, but this time the cat and mouse are both moles: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is an ambitious cop on the rise, planted in the Boston police force by criminal kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a hot-tempered police cadet who's been artificially disgraced and then planted into Costigan's crime operation as a seemingly trustworthy soldier. As the multilayered plot unfolds (courtesy of a scorching adaptation by Kingdom of Heaven screenwriter William Monahan), Costigan and Sullivan conduct a volatile search for each other (they're essentially looking for "themselves") while simultaneously wooing the psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga) assigned to treat their crime-driven anxieties.

Such convenient coincidences might sink a lesser film, but The Departed is so electrifying that you barely notice the plot-holes. And while Nicholson's profane swagger is too much "Jack" and not enough "Costello," he's still a joy to watch, especially in a film that's additionally energised by memorable (and frequently hilarious) supporting roles for Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and a host of other big-name performers. The Departed also makes clever and plot-dependent use of mobile phones, to the extent that it couldn't exist without them. Powered by Scorsese's trademark use of well-chosen soundtrack songs (from vintage rock to Puccini's operas), The Departed may not be perfect, but it's one helluva ride for moviegoers, proving popular enough to become the biggest box-office hit of Scorsese's commercially rocky career. —Jeff Shannon
Derailed
Mikael Hafstrom * * - - - With a nasty villain and a plot twist that will take many viewers by surprise, Derailed is the kind of potboiler that's enjoyable in spite of its flaws. It's basically two-thirds of a good movie, with a convincing set-up and a barely plausible payoff that... well, you've just got to see it and decide for yourself. Like Fatal Attraction, it's a good-enough thriller that turns infidelity into every man's nightmare, beginning when Charles (Clive Owen), a well-to-do Chicago advertising director with a sickly, diabetic daughter and a slightly troubled marriage, has a chance encounter with Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), a lovely and quick-witted financial advisor who's also stuck in a marital rut. Their chemistry is instant (between both characters and stars), but their eventual hotel tryst is interrupted by a mugger (French actor Vincent Cassel at his vile, despicable best) who's out to milk Charles for every dollar he's got. Of course, one phone call to the police would solve everyone's problems, but as he did with Collateral (albeit more convincingly), screenwriter Stuart Beattie turns up the tension with such manipulative skill that you're willing to skate past the plot holes and go along for the ride. With lively supporting performances by rappers Xzibit and RZA, Derailed marks a commercially slick American debut for Swedish director Mikael Håfström, whose 2003 thriller Evil was a Best Foreign Film Oscar-nominee. —Jeff Shannon
The Descent
Neil Marshall * * * * -
Desperate Housewives: Season 1
Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman * * * * * Audiences were captivated by the women of Wisteria Lane in the first season of Desperate Housewives, the breakout hit from ABC that almost single-handedly lifted the network from its ratings doldrums and brought back the classic TV soap, remixed now with satire, comedy, and mystery. An affectionate yet darkly tinged send-up of suburbia that skirted Twin Peaks territory as much as that of Knots Landing, Desperate Housewives opened with a bang—literally—as perfect-seeming housewife Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) went through her picture-perfect day before putting a handgun to her temple and pulling the trigger. Mary Alice's sudden suicide leaves her four closest friends, all housewives of a sort, with a surfeit of grief, a re-examination of their own lives, and a mystery to solve. It also proves to be a catalyst for a seamy study of what goes on inside the finely appointed homes of Wisteria Lane—the tales of which Mary Alice narrates from beyond the grave with a sardonic tone dipped in both honey and arsenic.

There's Martha Stewart-perfect Bree (Marcia Cross), who rules her household with an iron fist in a tailor-made garden glove and seems to have it all, until she finds out her husband (Steven Culp) is cheating on her-–and has a serious fetish habit to boot. Sultry Gaby (Eva Longoria), the youngest of the set, is a bored trophy wife whose predilection for shopping and clothes are the perfect decoy for her affair with the hunky teenage gardener (Jesse Metcalfe). Former career woman Lynette (Felicity Huffman) is the most stereotypical housewife, raising four (or was it five?) kids and frustrated at using her cutthroat business skills for suburban politics. And daffy Susan (Teri Hatcher), the divorcee looking for love, sees her prospects brighten with the arrival of hunky plumber Mike (James Denton), who has some desperate secrets of his own. And did we mention the neighborhood hussy (Nicollette Sheridan), the snotty busybody (Christine Estabrook), and Mary Alice's increasingly agitated son (Cody Kasch)?

It was a fast and wild mix of plot and characters that gave Desperate Housewives the zing that made it a number one hit, as it never got too bogged down in any dilemma before moving on to the next. And though it was neither as hard-hitting nor salacious as it was trumpeted to be, the show nevertheless breathed fresh, funny air into comedy television, for even though it hewed to the hour-long soap format, the content was far more dark comedy than sudsy drama. There were fun bright spots to be had, but the story behind Mary Alice's death—which included drugs, murder, blackmail, secret identities, and vengeance in equal amounts—hovered over all the characters, tingeing the farce with the specter of danger. The show's other source of strength is in its peerless ensemble cast, headed by four perfect leading ladies, all Emmy-worthy. Hatcher received the (deserved) lion's share of praise (and a Golden Globe), but her co-stars–-especially the underrated Longoria-–matched her scene for scene. And though the mystery of Mary Alice's death was ultimately solved (no Twin Peaks teasing here), it was just the beginning of the troubles on Wisteria Lane, where no life went unexamined for too long. —Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
Devil's Advocate
Taylor Hackford * * * * - Too old for Hamlet and too young for Lear—what's an ambitious actor to do? Play the Devil, of course. Jack Nicholson did it in The Witches of Eastwick; Robert De Niro did it in Angel Heart (as Louis Cyphre—get it?). In The Devil's Advocate Al Pacino takes his turn as the great Satan, and clearly relishes his chance to raise hell. He's a New York lawyer, of course, by the name of John Milton, who recruits a hotshot young Florida attorney (Keanu Reeves) to his firm and seduces him with tempting offers of power, sex and money. Think of the story as a twist on John Grisham's The Firm, with the corporate evil made even more explicit. Reeves is wooden, and therefore doesn't seem to have much of a soul to lose, but he's really just our excuse to meet the devil. Pacino's the main attraction, gleefully showing off his—and the Antichrist's—chops at perpetrating menace and mayhem. —Jim Emerson
Diner
Barry Levinson * * * - - Barry Levinson's debut film as a writer-director nearly got lost in the shuffle before New York critics rescued it from oblivion. Set in his native Baltimore in 1959, it focuses on a group of pals coping with life post high school. Each of them has problems with women, it seems, whether it's Steve Guttenberg (as a guy about to get married who forces his fiancée to pass a test about the Baltimore Colts), Mickey Rourke (as the womanising hairdresser with a gambling problem) or Daniel Stern (as the married one who makes his wife miserable with his carefully catalogued record collection). The only time these guys seem like they have got it together is when they gather at the diner to sling the bull. The cast also includes Ellen Barkin, Timothy Daly, Paul Reiser and Kevin Bacon—each in a breakthrough role. —Marshall Fine
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Rawson Marshall Thurber * * * - - How's this for impressive trivia: Dodgeball faced off against The Terminal in opening-weekend competition, and 29-year-old writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber aced Steven Spielberg by a score of $30 to $18.7 in US box-office millions. That's no mean feat for a newcomer, but Thurber's lowbrow script and rapid-fire direction—along with a sublime cast of screen comedians—proved to be just what moviegoers were ravenous for: a consistently hilarious, patently formulaic romp in which the underdog owner of Average Joe's Gym (Vince Vaughan) faces foreclosure unless he can raise $50,000 in 30 days. The solution: A dodgeball tournament offering $50K to the winners, in which Vaughan and his nerdy clientele team up against the preening, abhorrently narcissistic owner (Ben Stiller) of Globo Gym, who's threatening a buy-out. That's it for story; any 5-year-old could follow it with brainpower to spare. But Thurber, Vaughan, Stiller, and their well-cast costars (including Stiller's off-screen wife, Christine Taylor) keep the big laughs coming for 96 nonsensical minutes. With spot-on cameos by champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong, David Hasselhoff, Hank Azaria, Chuck Norris, and William Shatner, and a crudely amusing coda for those who watch past the credits, Dodgeball is no masterpiece, but you can bet Spielberg was unexpectedly humbled by its popular appeal. —Jeff Shannon
Dogma
Kevin Smith * * * * * Bored of being eternally banished to earth, two errant angels hatch a plan to sneak back into heaven. Unfortunately, if they use the required loophole in religious Dogma, they'll prove God fallible and undo the very fabric of the universe, ending all existence. Bummer. Enter the distant grand niece of Jesus Christ and an army of angels, beautiful mythical figures, saintly apostles and all entities good and holy. And Jay and Silent Bob.

The phrase "it's a religious comedy" must have caused Hollywood to have a sacred cow. And, as Smith's first attempt to move away from the early lo-fi, character-centred, relationship-based comedies (Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy) toward the narrative-led big-budget spectacular, Dogma is not without problems. Proving controversial on release, stones were cast by churchgoers and Smith devotees alike. Frothing-mouthed extremists levelled charges of blasphemy at the more colourful elements (a Malcolm X-style 13th apostle, the crucifix being binned as uncool and God not being a white-bearded patriarch), leaving the devoutly Catholic Smith, who's intentions were to celebrate the mystery and beauty of religion, completely bemused. Equally, the Luddite Clerks obsessives who wrote it off as "Smith-gone-Hollywood" should have recognised that the script was written way before he gave us his black-and-white debut.

More ambitious than his previous mates-roped-in cheapies, the apocryphal and apocalyptic Dogma is still blessed with water-into-wine performances, pop culture gags, postmodern self-referencing and stoopid shagging jokes. Though it may not be wholly miraculous, this is still a righteous movie; and, in comparison with the average big-buck formulaic Hollywood evil, it's practically saintly.

On the DVD: Dogma's budget outstripped the early Smith films by miles, and the 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer does it justice, with divine colour and heavenly sound. The picture quality of the extras—including trailers, TV spots and cast and crew interviews—is not so good and pixilation occurs throughout. The interviews are provocative enough, though, giving huge insight into the film. And it's quite something to see Smith looking all "Clark Kent" in his civvies. —Paul Eisinger
Donnie Darko
Richard Kelly * * * * -
Doubt
Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Patrick Shanley It's always a risk when writers direct their own work, since some playwrights don't travel well from stage to screen. Aided by Roger Deakins, of No Country for Old Men fame, who vividly captures the look of a blustery Bronx winter, Moonstruck's John Patrick Shanley pulls it off. If Doubt makes for a dialogue-heavy experience, like The Crucible and 12 Angry Men, the words and ideas are never dull, and a consummate cast makes each one count. Set in 1964 and loosely inspired by actual events, Shanley focuses on St. Nicholas, a Catholic primary school that has accepted its first African-American student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), who serves as altar boy to the warm-hearted Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Donald may not have any friends, but that doesn't worry his mother, Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis in a scene-stealing performance), since her sole concern is that her son gets a good education. When Sister James (Amy Adams) notices Flynn concentrating more of his attentions on Miller than the other boys, she mentions the matter to Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the school's hard-nosed principal. Looking for any excuse to push the progressive priest out of her tradition-minded institution, Sister Aloysius sets out to destroy him, and if that means ruining Donald's future in the process—so be it. Naturally, she's the least sympathetic combatant in this battle, but Streep invests her disciplinarian with wit and unexpected flashes of empathy. Of all the characters she's played, Sister Aloysius comes closest to caricature, but she never feels like a cartoon; just a sad woman willing to do anything to hold onto what little she has before the forces of change render her—and everything she represents—redundant. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
Dreamgirls
Beyonce Knowles, Danny Glover, Bill Condon * * * - - The spirit of Motown runs through the long-awaited film adaption of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, which centres around a young female singing trio who burst upon the music scene in the '60s, complete with bouffant hairdos, glitzy gowns, and a soul sound new to the white-bread American music charts. Sound familiar? You aren't the first one to draw comparisons to the meteoric rise of the Supremes, and despite any protests to the contrary, this is most definitely a thinly veiled reinterpretation of that success story. The Dreamettes—statuesque Deena (Beyonce Knowles), daffy Lorell (Anika Noni Rose) and brassy Effie (Jennifer Hudson)—are a girl group making the talent-show rounds when they're discovered by car salesman and aspiring music manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx). Sensing greatness (as well as a new marketing opportunity) Curtis signs the Dreamettes as backup singers for R&B star James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy). But when Early's mercurial ways and singing style don't mesh with primarily white audiences, Curtis moves the newly-renamed Dreams to center stage—with Deena as lead singer in place of Effie. And that's not the only arena in which Effie is replaced, as Curtis abandons their love affair for a relationship with star-in-the-making Deena.

Besides the Supremes comparison, one can't talk about Dreamgirls now without revisiting its notorious Oscar snub; though it received eight nominations, the most for any film from 2006, it was shut out of the Best Picture and Director races entirely. Was the oversight justified? While Dreamgirls is certainly a handsomely mounted, lovingly executed and often vibrant film adaptation, it inspires more respect than passion, only getting under your skin during the musical numbers, which become more sporadic as the film goes on. Writer-director Bill Condon is definitely focused on recreating the Motown milieu (down to uncanny photographs of Knowles in full Diana Ross mode), he often forgets to flesh out his characters, who even on the Broadway stage were underwritten and relied on powerhouse performances to sell them to audiences. (Stage fans will also note that numerous songs are either truncated or dropped entirely from the film.) Condon has assembled a game cast, as Knowles does a canny riff on the essence of Diana Ross' glamour (as opposed to an all-out impersonation) and Rose makes a peripheral character surprisingly vibrant; only Foxx, who never gets to pour on the charisma, is miscast.

Still, there are two things even the most cranky viewers will warm to in Dreamgirls: the performances of veteran Eddie Murphy and newcomer Jennifer Hudson. Murphy is all sly charm and dazzling energy as the devilish Early, who's part James Brown, part Little Richard, and all showman. And Hudson, an American Idol contestant who didn't even make the top three, makes an impressive debut as the larger-than-life Effie, whose voice matches her passions and stubbornness. Though she sometimes may seem too young for the role, Hudson nails the movie's signature song, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," with a breathtaking power that must be seen and heard to believe. And for those five minutes, if not more, you will be in Dreamgirls' thrall. —Mark Englehart
E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg * * * * * Steven Spielberg's 1982 hit about a stranded alien and his loving relationship with a fatherless boy (Henry Thomas) struck a chord with audiences everywhere, and it furthered Spielberg's reputation as a director of equally strong commercial sensibilities and classical leanings. Henry Thomas gives a strong, emotional performance as E.T.'s young friend, Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore make a solid impression as his siblings, and Dee Wallace is lively as the kids' mother. The special effects almost look a bit quaint now with all the computer advancements that have occurred since, but they also have more heart behind them than a lot of what we see today. —Tom Keogh
East Is East
Damien O'Donnell * * * * * A surprise hit internationally, Damien O'Donnell's feature debut is a warm, richly funny portrait of the cultural and emotional collisions of a multiracial family in 1971 Salford, where curry meets fish-and-chips and the threat of a spacehopper lurks around every corner. Adapted by Ayub Khan-Din from his own stage play, the film centres on Pakistani immigrant George Khan (huge Bollywood star Om Puri) still deeply attached to the moral and political mores of his homeland, but married to Englishwoman Ella (Linda Bassett). Despite her protestations, Khan is adamant their six sons and daughter, raised to respect traditional Muslim values, must enter into arranged marriages. Meanwhile, the children are more intent on pursuing the secret pleasures of interracial dating, bacon sandwiches and midnight forays to the nearest club.

O'Donnell's direction fully exploits the often bawdy humour in the family's everyday struggles, while bringing an unexpected emotional punch to the scenes of violent confrontation which erupt as Khan becomes ever more dictatorial. The film also maintains comic momentum and dramatic intensity throughout thanks to excellent performances by Puri, Bassett and the remaining cast, including soap stars Chris Bisson (Coronation Street) and Jimi Mistry (EastEnders). Against a backdrop of 1970s pop culture, the many highlights include an oversexed dog and a giant sculpted pudenda.
Eastern Promises
Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, David Cronenberg * * * * * David Cronenberg's signature obsessions flower in Eastern Promises, a stunning look at violence, responsibility, and skin. Near Christmas time in London, a baby is born to a teenage junkie—an event that leads a midwife (Naomi Watts) into the world of the Russian mob. Central to this world is an ambitious enforcer (Viggo Mortensen) who's lately buddied up with the reckless son (Vincent Cassel) of a mob boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl, doing his benign-sinister thing). Screenwriter Steve Knight also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, and in some ways this is a companion piece to that film, though utterly different in style. The plot is classical to the point of being familiar, but Cronenberg doesn't allow anything to become sentimental; he and his peerless cinematographer Peter Suschitzky take a cool, controlled approach to this story. Because of that, when the movie erupts in its (relatively brief) violence, it's genuinely shocking. Cronenberg really puts the viewer through it, as though to shame the easy purveyors of pulp violence—nobody will cheer when the blood runs in this film. Still, Eastern Promises has a furtive humour, nicely conveyed in Viggo Mortensen's highly original performance. Covered in tattoos, his body a scroll depicting his personal history of violence, Mortensen conveys a subtle blend of resolve and lost-ness. He's a true, haunting mystery man. —Robert Horton, Amazon.com

Stills from Eastern Promises (click for larger image). Photos by Peter Mountain.

Vincent Cassel (left) and Viggo Mortensen (right).

Armin Mueller-Stahl.
Viggo Mortensen (left) and Naomi Watts (right)
Viggo Mortensen (left) and Naomi Watts (right).
Naomi Watts.
Armin Mueller-Stahl (left) and Naomi Watts (right).
Mina E. Mina (left), Vincent Cassel (center) and Viggo Mortensen (right).
Vincent Cassel.
Viggo Mortensen.
Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton * * * * - Edward Scissorhands achieves the nearly impossible feat of capturing the delicate flavour of a fable or fairy tale in a live-action movie. The story follows a young man named Edward (Johnny Depp), who was created by an inventor (Vincent Price, in one of his last roles) who died before he could give the poor creature a pair of human hands. Edward lives alone in a ruined Gothic castle that just happens to be perched above a pastel-coloured suburb inhabited by breadwinning husbands and frustrated housewives straight out of the 1950s. One day, Peg (Dianne Wiest), the local Avon lady, comes calling. Finding Edward alone, she kindly invites him to come home with her, where she hopes to help him with his pasty complexion and those nasty nicks he's given himself with his razor-sharp fingers. Soon Edward's skill with topiary sculpture and hair design make him popular in the neighbourhood—but the mood turns just as swiftly against the outsider when he starts to feel his own desires, particularly for Peg's daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). Most of director Tim Burton's movies (such as Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman) are visual spectacles with elements of fantasy but Edward Scissorhands is more tender and personal than the others. Edward's wild black hair is much like Burton's, suggesting that the character represents the director's own feelings of estrangement and co-option. Johnny Depp, making his first successful leap from TV to film, captures Edward's child-like vulnerability even while his physical posture evokes horror icons like the vampire in Nosferatu and the sleepwalker in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Classic horror films, at their heart, feel a deep sympathy for the monsters they portray; simply and affectingly, Edward Scissorhands lays that heart bare. —Bret Fetzer
Election
Alexander Payne * * * * * Matthew Broderick makes up for years of wet-noodle performances with his low-key but unsparing characterisation of Jim McAllister, a high-school teacher at George Washington Carver High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Driven by a strange mixture of loathing and lust for pathologically overachieving student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), McAllister encourages a dim but popular athlete, Paul (Chris Klein from American Pie), to run against her in the election for student-council president. Director/co-writer Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth) turns this deceptively simple premise into a complex and scathing comedy of ambition, corruption and desire, all at its most naked and petty. Every scene contains some painfully funny nuance that will make you wince in a mixture of astonishment and empathy. Witherspoon flips effortlessly back and forth from adolescent vulnerability to steely-eyed strength; she is becoming a contemporary Carole Lombard. The movie itself feels like a magnificent throwback to the richly layered comedies of the 1930s, which drew their humour from sharply drawn characters and twisting plots instead of explosions of bodily fluids. With a wealth of smart, cutting details, Election rewards multiple viewing. —Bret Fetzer
Empire Records
Allan Moyle * * * * -
Erin Brockovich
Steven Soderbergh * * * * * A lone woman, armed only with indomitable sass and her native wit, goes up against the corporate big boys and beats the bejesus out of them. As a story line it's hardly new, but Steven Soderbergh's film keeps it exhilaratingly fresh and lively—thanks not least to his lead actress. Seizing the role of the smart, mouthy, aggressively working-class Erin Brockovich with both hands, Julia Roberts gives it everything she's got and then some. She's well matched by Albert Finney as her grouchy but good-hearted boss and Aaron Eckhart as a sympathetic biker. The story's based—by all accounts fairly closely—on actual events, when the real Erin (who appears briefly in the film as a kindly waitress) brought a massive lawsuit against utilities giant Pacific Gas and Electric for spreading toxic pollution. Rather than confine the action to courtroom shenanigans, Soderbergh takes us out under Southern California's pitiless skies and along the dirt-poor roads where most of PG&E's blue-collar victims live, letting us feel the ground-down exhaustion of their lives. But though it's rooted in reality, the film's anything but solemn. The script's sharp and funny, full of unexpected twists; and Roberts, flaunting herself outrageously in an eye-popping array of push-up bras and micro-miniskirts, has never been better. —Philip Kemp
Escape From Alcatraz
Don Siegel * * * * - One of Clint Eastwood's two most important filmmaking mentors was Don Siegel (the other was Sergio Leone), who directed Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara and this enigmatic, 1979 drama based on a true story about an escape from the island prison of Alcatraz. Eastwood plays a new convict who enters into a kind of mind game with the chilly warden (Patrick McGoohan) and organises a break leading into the treacherous waters off San Francisco. As jailbird movies go, this isn't just a grotty, unpleasant experience but a character-driven work with some haunting twists. —Tom Keogh
Escape From New York
Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, John Carpenter * * * - - In the future, crime is out of control and New York City is a maximum security prison. Grabbing a bargaining chip right out of the air, convicts bring down the President's plane in bad old Gotham. Gruff Snake Plissken, a one-eyed warrior new to prison life, is coerced into bringing the President, and his cargo, out of this land of undesirables. Kurt Russell puts his Disney days (he played the squeaky clean hero in such films as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1970) behind him as the nicest bad guy in the picture. All comic-book sensibilities and macho posturing, this is one of writer/director John Carpenter's better brainless escapades, brimming with snappy one-liners and explosive action scenes. However, the film lacks tension and some believability even within the realm of SF fantasy. Even when it fails to gel, though, it always manages to amuse, thanks in great part to a varied and unusual supporting cast (watch for Ernest Borgnine as a cabdriver and Isaac Hayes, one-time soul singer and now best known as South Park's chef, as The Duke of New York). Followed in 1996 by Carpenter's overdone and campy Escape from L.A. —Rochelle O'Gorman
The Escapist
Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Rupert Wyatt Continuing the trend of making engaging productions out of the concept of a prison break, The Escapist earns extra bonus points by throwing in a meaty role for Brian Cox in the process. He plays Frank Perry, a prisoner who’s 12 years into his sentence with no hope of parole. Yet when his daughter becomes ill, he realises that he needs to be on the other side of the walls, and sets about hatching a plan to make that possible. In short, the break is on…

Naturally, the master plan involves bringing together a mismatch of fellow prisoners to help, and The Escapist then follows their attempts to break out. Standing in their way? Damian Lewis’ sinister turn as Rizza, a threat more potent than any guard.

Grounded on a solid script, The Escapist has plenty in its corner. Debut director Rupert Wyatt (who co-wrote the script) knows not to overcook his ingredients, and thus demonstrates commendably restraint, which really pays off when he needs to ratchet up some menace and tension. And then there’s the cast, led superbly by Brian Cox. Cox deserves far more roles of this quality, because he’s quite magnificent here, single-handedly lifting the film from a firm rental to a must-see.

That said, The Escapist works in many different ways, and proves that Britain can deliver a prison break as compelling and interesting as any Hollywood can offer. An easy recommendation. —Jon Foster
Essex Boys
Terry Winsor * * * - - Essex Boys constructs a fictional story around the infamous Range Rover murders in Rettenden, Essex, in which three local drug dealers were found blasted to death by shotguns. Driving for ex-con Jason Locke (Sean Bean) was just another job for Billy Reynolds (Charlie Creed-Miles). But fresh out of a five-year stretch, Locke is looking to make up for lost time and begins a turf war. He stalks his manor with a menacing leer and a bottle of acid to throw in the face of anyone who gets in his way, and is given to Locke and his drug-dealing gang rely on brute strength to enforce their will, but when they decide to expand their game they underestimate the wiles of Billy's boss, countrified crime gent John Dyke. Southend's sunset strip of neon-fronted clubs and arcades, but fails to lift the plot of his film out of the Brit-gangster ghetto. That said, Winsor laudably plays it straight, avoiding the style over substance affectations of the genre, while coaxing believable performances out of his cast. —Chris Campion

On the DVD: the anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is good with little obvious grain and an above average level of detail. But it is the soundtrack that's really the star of this DVD. The intensity of the film and the relentless action from the outset (where you are thrust into the middle of a crowded nightclub) is really upped by the brilliant Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix, resulting in the viewer feeling every gunshot. It's a good job that the soundtrack is so spectacular, since there are no special features except the usual suspects, the original theatrical trailer and scene access. —Kristen BowditchEssex Boys constructs a fictional story around the infamous Range Rover murders in Rettenden, Essex, in which three local drug dealers were found blasted to death by shotguns. Driving for ex-con Jason Locke (Sean Bean) was just another job for Billy Reynolds (Charlie Creed-Miles). But fresh out of a five-year stretch, Locke is looking to make up for lost time and begins a turf war. He stalks his manor with a menacing leer and a bottle of acid to throw in the face of anyone who gets in his way, and is given to humiliating publicly his long-suffering wife Lisa (Alex Kingston). Locke and his drug-dealing gang rely on brute strength to enforce their will, but when they decide to expand their game they underestimate the wiles of Billy's boss, countrified crime gent John Dyke. Director Terry Winsor makes good use of locations, especially Southend's sunset strip of neon-fronted clubs and arcades, but fails to lift the plot of his film out of the Brit-gangster ghetto. That said, Winsor laudably plays it straight, avoiding the style over substance affectations of the genre, while coaxing believable performances out of his cast. —Chris Campion
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry * * * - - Screenwriters rarely develop a distinctive voice that can be recognized from movie to movie, but the ornate imagination of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has made him a unique and much-needed cinematic presence. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a guy decides to have the memories of his ex-girlfriend erased after she's had him erased from her own memory—but midway through the procedure, he changes his mind and struggles to hang on to their experiences together. In other hands, the premise of memory-erasing would become a trashy science-fiction thriller; Kaufman, along with director Michel Gondry, spins this idea into a funny, sad, structurally complex, and simply enthralling love story that juggles morality, identity, and heartbreak with confident skill. The entire cast—Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, and more—give superb performances, carefully pitched so that cleverness never trumps feeling. A great movie. —Bret Fetzer
Event Horizon
Paul W.S. Anderson * * * * - Drawing from Andrei Tarkovsky's heady science fiction meditation Solaris by way of Alien and Hellraiser, this visually splendid but pulpy piece of science fiction schlock concerns a mission in the year 2047 to investigate the experimental American spaceship Event Horizon, which disappeared seven years previously and suddenly, out of nowhere, reappeared in the orbit of Neptune. Laurence Fishburne stars as mission commander Captain Miller and Sam Neill is Dr. Weir, the scientist who designed the mystery ship. Miller's T-shirt- and army-green-clad crew of smart-talking pros finds a ship dead and deserted but further investigations turn up blood, corpses, dismembered body parts and a decidedly unearthly presence. It turns out that the ship is really a space-age haunted house where spooky (and obviously impossible) visions lure each of the crew members into situations they should know better than to enter. The ship is gorgeously designed, borrowing from the dark, organic look of Alien and adding the menacing touch of teeth sprouting from bulwark doors and claw-like spikes inexplicably shooting out of the engine room floor. Unfortunately the film is not nearly as inventive as the production design—it turns into a woefully inconsistent psychic monster movie that sacrifices mood for tepid shocks—but the special effects are top-notch and ultimately the movie has a trashy B-movie charm about it. —Sean Axmaker
Evil Dead 2
Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Sam Raimi * * * * - Writer-director Sam Raimi's extremely stylized, blood-soaked follow-up to his creepy Evil Dead isn't really a sequel; rather, it's a remake on a better budget. It also isn't really a horror film (though there are plenty of decapitations, zombies, supernatural demons, and gore) as much as it is a hilarious, sophisticated slapstick send-up of the terror genre. Raimi takes every horror convention that exists and exaggerates it with mind-blowing special effects, crossed with mocking Three Stooges humour. The plot alone is a genre cliché right out of any number of horror films. Several teens (including our hero, Ash, played by Bruce Campbell in a manic tour-de-force of physical comedy) visit a broken-down cottage in the woods—miles from civilization—find a copy of the Book of the Dead, and unleash supernatural powers that gut every character in sight. All, that is, except Ash, who takes this very personally and spends much of the of the film getting his head smashed while battling the unseen forces. Raimi uses this bare-bones story as a stage to showcase dazzling special effects and eye-popping visuals, including some of the most spectacular point-of-view Steadicam work ever (done by Peter Deming). Although it went unnoticed in the cinemas, the film has since become an influential cult-video favourite, paving the way for over-the-top comic gross-out films like Peter Jackson's Dead Alive.—Dave McCoy
Evil Dead 3 - Army Of Darkness
Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Raimi It's hard not to feel there's something wrong when Army of Darkness, the third entry in Sam Raimi's lively Evil Dead series, opens with a 15 certificate. And indeed, this is not quite the non-stop rollercoaster of splat we're entitled to expect.

Like Evil Dead II, it opens with a digest-cum-remake of the original movie, taking geeky Ash (Bruce Campbell) back out to that cabin in the woods where he is beset by demons who do away with his girlfriend (blink and you'll miss Bridget Fonda). Blasted back in time to 12th century England, Ash finds himself still battling the Deadites and his own ineptitude in a quest to save the day and get back home.

Though it starts zippily, with Campbell's grimly funny clod of a hero commanding the screen, a sort of monotony sets in as magical events pile up. Ash is attacked by Lilliputian versions of himself, one of whom incubates in his stomach and grows out of his shoulder to be his evil twin. After being dismembered and buried, Evil Ash rises from the dead to command a zombie army and at least half the film is a big battle scene in which rotted warriors (nine mouldy extras in masks for every one Harryhausen-style impressive animated skeleton) besiege a cardboard castle. There are lots of action jokes, MAD Magazine-like marginal doodles and a few funny lines, but it lacks the authentic scares of The Evil Dead and the authentic sick comedy of Evil Dead II.

On the DVD: Army of Darkness may be the least of the trilogy, but Anchor Bay's super two-disc set is worthy of shelving beside their outstanding editions of the earlier films. Disc 1 contains the 81-minute US theatrical version in widescreen or fullscreen, plus the original "Planet of the Apes" ending, the trailer and a making-of featurette. Disc 2 has the 96-minute director's cut, with extra slapstick and a lively, irreverent commentary track from Raimi, Campbell and co-writer Ivan Raimi, plus yet more deleted scenes and some storyboards. The fact that the film exists in so many versions suggests that none of them satisfied everybody, but fans will want every scrap of Army in this one package. —Kim Newman
The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi * * * * -
Extras - The Special
Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant * * * * * Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown of celebrity. Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) is back and more miserable than ever in this darker and devastatingly funny finale to the Emmy-winning series. Though his sitcom When the Whistle Blows rates six million viewers, he is, as ever, mindful of the critics' barbs and jealous of colleagues landing the prestige film roles he covets. "I'm not proud of having Britain's No. 1 catchphrase," he grouses (actually, he has sunk to No. 3, now trailing "You are the weakest link, goodbye"). Worse, he has become a right bastard, arrogantly treating crewmembers and his one true friend, Maggie (a heartbreaking Ashley Jensen), like dirt. Andy finally drops his clueless and incompetent agent (series co-creator Stephen Merchant) and quits the show. "Don't worry about me," he proclaims. "The phone won't stop ringing."

Unlike the finale of The Office, this super-duper-sized episode really has no loose ends to tie up. In Andy's humiliating comeuppance (he sinks to portraying an alien on Dr. Who and joins the desperate housemates on Celebrity Big Brother), Gervais has the perfect vessel with which to rail against soul-sucking celebrity, degrading tabloid culture, and "the gutter press." As for Andy and Maggie, those longing for some kind of Tim/Dawn hookup may not get exactly what they want, but they will get what they need in the lovely final scenes. A-listers having a laugh at their own images have always been one of Extras' special treats. The finale features jaw-dropping cameos by Clive Owen and George Michael, performing community service yet again. —Donald Liebenson
Extras : Complete BBC Series 1 & 2 Boxset
Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant * * * * * Both series of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s triumphant Extras are united in this box, and with nothing more than a Yuletide special planned beyond these episodes, it’s a great chance to catch up with this star-packed, offbeat programme.

Unlike their previous The Office, Gervais and Merchant have delivered a less accessible but no less rewarding programme with Extras. It starts with Andy Millman, a ‘background artist’, sitting in the shadows of a variety of different shows, before, in the second series, he gets his own spot in the limelight.

What’s helped characterise the series, of course, has been the continued presence of star names in cameo roles. These range from Hollywood bigshots—Samuel L Jackson, Kate Winslet and Harry Pott.., sorry, Daniel Radcliffe—and continue through to familiar faces from British TV—step forward Les Dennis, Ross Kemp and Barry from EastEnders. Most of the plaudits, though, rightly go in the direction of the splendid Ashley Jensen, who emerges as the most likeable and rounded of all the show’s characters.

There’s little danger, it seems, that Extras will dethrone The Office from the top of its creators’ CVs, but thanks to its strong writing, its measured mix between melancholy and amusement, and some superb performances, it more than carves a very strong niche for itself. —Jon Foster
Fahrenheit 9/11
Michael Moore * * - - - To anyone who truly understands what it means to be an American, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 should be seen as a triumph of patriotic freedom. Rarely has the First Amendment been exercised with such fervour and forthrightness of purpose. After subjecting himself to charges of factual errors in his gun-lobby exposé Bowling for Columbine, Moore armed himself with a platoon of reputable fact-checkers, an abundance of indisputable film and video footage, and his own ironically comedic sense of righteous indignation, with the singular intention of toppling the war-ravaged administration of President George W. Bush. It's the Bush presidency that Moore, with his provocative array of facts and figures, blames for corporate corruption, senseless death, unnecessary war, and political favouritism toward Osama Bin Laden's family and Saudi oil partners following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Moore's incendiary film earned Palme d'Or honours at Cannes and a predictable legion of detractors, but do yourself a favour: ignore those who condemn the film without seeing it, and let the facts speak for themselves. By honouring American soldiers and the victims of 9/11 while condemning Bush's rationale for war in Iraq, Fahrenheit 9/11 may actually succeed in turning the tides of history. —Jeff Shannon
Falling Down
Joel Schumacher * * * - - Falling Down, about a downsized engineer (Michael Douglas) who goes ballistic, triggered a media avalanche of stories in the USA about middle-class white rage when it was released in 1993. In fact, it's nothing more than a manipulative, violent melodrama about one geek's meltdown. Douglas, complete with pocket protector, nerd glasses, crewcut and short-sleeved white shirt, gets stuck in traffic one day near downtown LA and proceeds to just walk away from his car—and then lose it emotionally. Everyone he encounters rubs him the wrong way—and a fine lot of stereotypes they are, from threatening ghetto punks to rude convenience store owners to a creepy white supremacist—and he reacts violently in every case. As he walks across LA (now there's a concept), cutting a bloody swath, he's being tracked by a cop on the verge of retirement (Robert Duvall). He also spends time on the phone with his frightened ex-wife (Barbara Hershey). Though Douglas and Duvall give stellar performances, they can't disguise the fact that, as usual, this is another film from director Joel Schumacher that is about surface and sensation, rather than actual substance. —Marshall Fine
Fame
Alan Parker * * * * * This early effort by director Alan Parker is lively but jagged as it follows four students through their years in the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. Rather predictably, the kids fall into four clearly defined stereotypes: brazen, gay and hypersensitive, prickly, shy. Fame makes up for a disjointed presentation with a lot of heart and a great soundtrack (for which it won two Academy Awards). The hopes and disappointments, failures and successes of these teens are fodder for emotional scenes and exuberant dancing in the streets. It also turned out to be the first of many imitators and spawned a popular television series. (It was the breakout film for the short-lived feature-film career of Irene Cara, who sang the title song.) —Rochelle O'Gorman
Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest
Dominic Polcino * * * * - What better way to commemorate Star Wars' 30th anniversary than with this double-length Very Special Episode, a full-scale, awesomely animated spoof that recasts George Lucas's saga with Family Guy's galaxy of characters: Chris (Seth Green) is Luke; Lois (Alex Borstein) is Princess Leia; Peter (Seth McFarlane) is Han Solo, but not, as expected, Jabba the Hut; Brian (Seth, again) is Chewbacca; Quagmire (and again, Seth) is C3PO; Cleveland is R2D2; Herbert, the creepy senior paedophile, is Obi-Wan (both voiced by Mike Henry); and, of course, Stewie (Seth, one more time) is Darth Vader ("My diapers have gone over to the dark side"). Poor Meg is reduced to a cameo as the hideous reptilian creature that haunts the garbage compactor.

Blue Harvest is reverently faithful to A New Hope, while engaging in typical Family Guy pop-culture references (everything from old commercials to Doctor Who, Airplane, Dirty Dancing, and Deal or No Deal) and bizarre digressions (the iconic opening crawl detours into an appreciation of a "way naked" Angelina Jolie in Gia). Along for the wild ride are Judd Nelson, who contributes a voice cameo as John Bender for a Breakfast Club gag, Rush Limbaugh railing against futuristic affirmative action on Tatooine talk radio, and Beverly D'Angelo and Chevy Chase as the vacationing Griswolds observing the rebellion from their orbiting station wagon. A Star Wars spoof in 2007 isn't exactly uncharted territory. As Chris Griffin notes in this episode's final moments, Robot Chicken brilliantly did it months earlier (and let us not forget Mel Brooks's Spaceballs from 1987; or, on second thought...). But the Force is strong with Family Guy, and who could resist the opportunity to hear the Muzak playing in a Death Star elevator? —Donald Liebenson, Amazon.com
Fantastic Four
Tim Story * * * - - Fantastic Four is a light-hearted and funny take on Marvel Comics' first family of superherodom. It begins when down-on-his-luck genius Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) has to enlist the financial and intellectual help of former schoolmate and rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) in order to pursue outer-space research involving human DNA. Also on the trip are Reed's best friend, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis); his former lover, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), who's now Doom's employee and love interest; and her hotshot-pilot brother, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). Things don't go as planned, of course, and the quartet becomes blessed—or is it cursed?—with superhuman powers: flexibility, brute strength, invisibility and projecting force fields, and bursting into flame. Meanwhile, Doom himself is undergoing a transformation.

Among the many entries in the comic-book-movie frenzy, Fantastic Four is refreshing because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Characterisation isn't too deep, and the action is a bit sparse until the final reel (like most "first" superhero movies, it has to go through the "how did we get these powers and what we will do with them?" churn). But it's a good-looking cast, and original comic-book co-creator Stan Lee makes his most significant Marvel-movie cameo yet, in a speaking role as the FF's steadfast postal carrier, Willie Lumpkin. Newcomers to superhero movies might find the idea of a family with flexibility, strength, invisibility, and force fields a retread of The Incredibles, but Pixar's animated film was very much a tribute to the FF and other heroes of the last 40 years. The irony is that while Fantastic Four is an enjoyable B-grade movie, it's the tribute, The Incredibles, that turned out to be a film for the ages.—David Horiuchi, Amazon.com
Fantastic Four - Rise Of The Silver Surfer
Tim Story * * * * - Offering a real improvement on its predecessor and successfully introducing one of the world of comics’ most popular characters in the process, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer easily warrants some attention on DVD to go with its impressive box office take.

Picking up where the surprisingly tepid original left off, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer finds the Marvel Comics Universe’s first family dealing with the celebrity that their powers have brought them, to the point where even a simple wedding can’t take place without interruption.

The film then takes a little while to re-establish its characters and re-introduce some of the issues that underpin them. But it’s not too long before the Silver Surfer arrives, and things really get into gear. For make no mistake: it’s the Surfer who ignites the film and provides some of the very best moments of Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. Backed up by some superb special effects work, he’s a far more interesting draw that the returning Julian McMahon as Dr Doom.

While there are, inevitably, various problems that each of the characters in Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer must face, the film never opts to go knee-deep into them. Instead, it chooses a light, breezy tone, that’s suited well to family viewing yet not without some genuine blockbuster moments.

It’s no classic, but Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is most certainly fun. And it’s equally certain that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this quintet of heroes... —Jon Foster
Fargo
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen * * * * - Leave it to the wildly inventive Coen brothers (Joel directs, Ethan produces, they both write) to concoct a fiendishly clever kidnap caper that's simultaneously a comedy of errors, a Midwestern satire, a taut suspense thriller and a violent tale of criminal misfortune. It all begins when a hapless car salesman (played to perfection by William H. Macy) ineptly orchestrates the kidnapping of his own wife. The plan goes horribly awry in the hands of bumbling bad guys Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare (one of them being described by a local girl as "kinda funny lookin'" and "not circumcised"), and the pregnant sheriff of Brainerd, Minnesota, (played exquisitely by Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) is suddenly faced with a case of multiple murders. Her investigation is laced with offbeat observations about life in the rural hinterland of Minnesota and North Dakota, and Fargo embraces its local yokels with affectionate humour. At times shocking and hilarious, Fargo is utterly unique and distinctly American, bearing the unmistakable stamp of its inspired creators. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Fatal Attraction
Adrian Lyne * * * - - Fatal Attraction was the most controversial hit of 1987, a film nominated for six Oscars that launched a whole up-market psycho sub-genre. In an elaboration of Play Misty for Me (1971), Michael Douglas plays a married middle-class everyman who has an opportunistic weekend affair with New York publishing executive, Glenn Close. The twist is that Close's Alex is a borderline psychotic. She won't let go, and the film moves from a study of modern sexual mores to an increasingly tense thriller about neurotic obsession. The performances are exceptional and two set-pieces, one which gave us the term "Bunny Boiler" and another in a fairground, provide metaphorical and literal rollercoaster rides. Only a laughable sex scene—in a sink, anyone?—and a melodramatic finale shamelessly ripping-off the 1955 French classic Les Diaboliques and Psycho (1960) prevent a good thriller being a great one. Even so, Fatal Attraction is still a film worth seeing again, even if it's hard to wonder what all the fuss was about in 1987.

On the DVD: Fatal Attraction on disc has a new 28-minute documentary featuring the principal players explaining how wonderful each other are. More substantial is a 19-minute feature on creating the visual look, with sections on cinematography, costume and make-up design. A worthwhile 10-minute piece examines the social impact of the movie and the controversy it generated. Seven minutes of the three stars in rehearsal is intriguing, but more interesting is the opportunity to see the original, low-key ending, rejected after test screenings. Much of the best documentary material focuses on how the finally released ending came about, while Lyne's commentary is thoughtful and illuminating. The original trailer is included and there are 16 sets of subtitles, including English for the hard of hearing, as well as an alternative German dub. The sound has been remixed from stereo into a subtly involving Dolby Digital 5.1, and the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks fine, though there is some very minor print damage. —Gary S Dalkin
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas / Where The Buffalo Roam
Terry Gilliam, Art Linson * - - - - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The original cowriter and director of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was Alex Cox, whose earlier film Sid and Nancy suggests that Cox could have been a perfect match in filming Hunter S. Thompson's psychotropic masterpiece of "gonzo" journalism. Unfortunately Cox departed due to the usual "creative differences," and this ill-fated adaptation was thrust upon Terry Gilliam, whose formidable gifts as a visionary filmmaker were squandered on the seemingly unfilmable elements of Thompson's ether-fogged narrative. The result is a one-joke movie without the joke—an endless series of repetitive scenes involving rampant substance abuse and the hallucinogenic fallout of a road trip that's run crazily out of control. Johnny Depp plays Thompson's alter ego, "gonzo" journalist Raoul Duke, and Benicio Del Toro is his sidekick and so-called lawyer Dr. Gonzo. During the course of a trip to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race, they ingest a veritable chemistry set of drugs, and Gilliam does his best to show us the hallucinatory state of their zonked-out minds. This allows for some dazzling imagery and the rampant humor of stumbling buffoons, and the mumbling performances of Depp and Del Toro wholeheartedly embrace the tripped-out, paranoid lunacy of Thompson's celebrated book. But over two hours of this insanity tends to grate on the nerves—like being the only sober guest at a party full of drunken idiots. So while Gilliam's film may achieve some modest cult status over the years, it's only because Fear and Loathing is best enjoyed by those who are just as stoned as the characters in the movie. —Jeff Shannon

Where the Buffalo Roam

Bill Murray is in his early-career, shambling glory as Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist with a fondness for Wild Turkey and firearms. While Murray does not do as exact an impersonation of Thompson as Johnny Depp (in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), he does capture Thompson's dazed, anarchic nature. Unfortunately, the movie around him is just anarchic: a series of episodes (true or invented) from Dr. Thompson's career, circa 1968-72. The haphazard structure is probably meant to suggest the spirit of the counterculture or something, but it's just flabby storytelling. Thanks to Murray's blissful delivery, there are scenes that have a stoned giddiness to them: Thompson and his attorney (Peter Boyle) terrifying an unsuspecting hitchhiker, or Thompson alone in a men's room with Richard Nixon. Neil Young contributes some music, and Murray warbles "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" while drunkenly piloting a plane. —Robert Horton
Ferris Buellers Day Off
John Hughes * * * * * Like a soda pop left open all night, Ferris Bueller's Day Off seems to have lost its effervescence over time. Sure, Matthew Broderick is still appealing as the perennial truant, Ferris, who takes one memorable day off from school. Jeffrey Jones is nasty and scheming as the principal who's out to catch him. Jennifer Grey is winning as Ferris' sister (who ends up making out in the police station with a prophetic vision of Charlie Sheen). But there's a definite sense that this film was of a particular time frame: the 80s. It's still fun, though. There's Ferris singing "Twist and Shout" during a Chicago parade, and a lovely sequence in the Art Institute. But don't get it and expect your kids to love it the way you did. Like it or not, it's yours alone. —Keith Simanton, Amazon.com
A Few Good Men
Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Jurgen Prochnow, Susan Sarandon Astonishingly, Jack Nicholson's legendary performance as a military tough guy in A Few Good Men really amounts to a glorified cameo: he's only in a few scenes. But they're killer scenes, and the film has much more to offer. A US soldier is dead, and military lawyers Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) want to know who killed him. "You want the truth?" snaps Colonel Jessup (Nicholson). "You can't handle the truth!". Cruise also shines as a lazy lawyer who rises to the occasion, and Demi Moore gives a command performance. Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, JT Walsh and Cuba Gooding Jr round out the superb cast. Director Rob Reiner poses important questions about the rights of the powerful and the responsibilities of those just following orders in this classic courtroom drama. —Alan Smithee, Amazon.com
The Fifth Element
Luc Besson * * * * - Ancient curses, all-powerful monsters, shape-changing assassins, scantily-clad stewardesses, laser battles, huge explosions, a perfect woman, a malcontent hero—what more can you ask of a big-budget science fiction movie? Luc Besson's high-octane film The Fifth Element incorporates presidents, rock stars and cab drivers into its peculiar plot, traversing worlds and encountering some pretty wild aliens. Bruce Willis stars as a down-and-out cabbie who must win the love of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) to save Earth from destruction by Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) and a dark, unearthly force that makes Darth Vader look like an Ewok. —Geoff Riley
Fight Club
David Fincher * * * * * All films take a certain suspension of disbelief. Fight Club takes perhaps more than others, but if you're willing to let yourself get caught up in the anarchy, this film, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, is a modern-day morality play warning of the decay of society. Edward Norton is the unnamed protagonist, a man going through life on cruise control, feeling nothing. To fill his hours, he begins attending support groups and 12-step meetings. True, he isn't actually afflicted with the problems, but he finds solace in the groups. This is destroyed, however, when he meets Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), also faking her way through groups. Spiralling back into insomnia, Norton finds his life is changed once again, by a chance encounter with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), whose forthright style and no-nonsense way of taking what he wants appeal to our narrator. Tyler and the protagonist find a new way to feel release: they fight. They fight each other, and then as others are attracted to their ways, they fight the men who come to join their newly formed Fight Club. Marla begins a destructive affair with Tyler, and things fly out of control, as Fight Club grows into a nationwide fascist group that escapes the protagonist's control. Fight Club, directed by David Fincher (Seven), is not for the faint of heart; the violence is no holds barred. But the film is captivating and beautifully shot, with some thought-provoking ideas. Pitt and Norton are an unbeatable duo, and the film has some surprisingly humorous moments. The film leaves you with a sense of profound discomfort and a desire to see it again, if for no other reason than to just to take it all in. —Jenny Brown
Final Destination 3
James Wong * * * - - Giddily gruesome and perversely entertaining, Final Destination 3 proves, yet again, that horror franchises will thrive as long as teenagers keep finding spectacular ways to die. A stand-alone sequel to the first two Final Destination thrillers, this one begins when a group of seven high-school graduates luckily escape from a deadly roller-coaster disaster, only to discover that their own deaths have been only temporarily avoided. Cute brunette Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) spots clues of impending doom in digital photos of her soon-to-be-expiring classmates, and an ill wind follows her everywhere, suggesting the presence of a supernatural force that makes her a catalyst for gory events, as each of her friends is dispatched in the order they were meant to die. Returning to give their brainchild a suspenseful, low-budget makeover, franchise creators and former X-Files writers James Wong and Glen Morgan cleverly play on our collective fears (the roller coaster sequence is genuinely terrifying) with a knowing nod to violent urban legends, which explains their inclusion of the '70s hit "Love Roller Coaster" on the soundtrack when two stuck-up girlfriends pay an ill-fated visit to a tanning parlor. And that's just for starters: With Wong as director, FD3 serves up its grisly deaths with tight pacing and humor, and the cathartic carnage is discreetly edited yet gory enough to satisfy hardcore horror buffs. When morbid mayhem is this much fun, it's a safe bet that another sequel is just around the corner. —Jeff Shannon
Final Destination 5
Emma Bell, Nicholas D'Agosto
The First Wives Club
Hugh Wilson * * * * - Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton prove revenge is a dish best served cold. Former college buddies, they reunite at the funeral of a dear friend who took a swan dive onto Fifth Avenue. All three discover they share the same unhappy history of husbands who dove into middle-age by dumping them for trophy wives. Forming a warring triumvirate, they decide to get even, and along the way remind themselves of long-forgotten capabilities. The action gets a little too "wacky" at times, but the gals are great. Portraying an ageing actress, Hawn is sometimes a little too flamboyant, but there is much fun to be had in her flashiness, especially when she pokes fun at Tinseltown and her persona. Instead of her usual brashness, Midler stretches herself and shows us a woman who is not just unhappy, but also deeply sorrowful. Not that she isn't quick with a wisecrack, but her expressive face alone tells the story of her marriage. As the repressed and guilt-ridden spouse of a self-involved ad executive, Keaton finds her anger, and her voice, when her psychiatrist (Marcia Gay Harden) oversteps ethical boundaries. Watching Keaton grow from an ineffectual homemaker into a powerful businessperson reminds us that it has been far too long since she has done a comedy. Director Hugh Wilson smartly chose supporting players who each brought something unique to the film. However, he does not maintain the first hour's effervescent humour throughout the film, as the ending is weakened by a softening of the wives' resolve. —Rochelle O'Gorman
Flight Of The Navigator
Randal Kleiser * * * * -
The Fly / The Fly 2
David Cronenberg, Chris Walas * * * * *
Football Factory
Nick Love * * * - -
Forrest Gump
Robert Zemeckis * * * * * If you read the label on a box of chocolates you'll know exactly what you're gonna get. Life isn't like that in Forrest Gump, however, which is one of the reasons why this movie divided appreciative audiences from hard-hearted critics like few others before it. Audiences responded to the Frank Capra-style sentimentality of this warm-hearted tale of a good ol' American boy making his way in the world without ever losing his pure and simple innocence. Critics, however, were made uneasy by the apparently reactionary subtext to the parallel lives of Forrest and his girlfriend Jenny. Her fate, contrasted with his, suggests a triumph for plain ol' American values over dangerous freethinking hippies and liberals. Whether the movie is just unadulterated sentiment or right-wing propaganda, one thing at least was acknowledged by all: that Forrest Gump displays all the craftsmanship of one of Hollywood's most inventive directors and features a central performance from an actor renowned for his total commitment to every role. Thanks to Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks, even the most cynical critic will find it hard not to shed at least one tear by the end of this undeniably engrossing movie. The soundtrack is great, too.

On the DVD: another good two-disc set gives fans of Gump and budding filmmakers alike plenty to enjoy. The anamorphic picture and Dolby Surround on Disc 1 do full justice to Zemeckis' vision, which is accompanied by two commentaries: one from the director, producer Steve Starkey and production designer Rick Carter, and another one from producer Wendy Finerman. Disc 2 has the usual making of documentary (30 mins), plus some neat featurettes on the production and sound design and the many special effects shots (including how they made Gary Sinise lose his legs). In addition there are some screen tests of Robin Wright and a very young Haley Joel (The Sixth Sense) Osment, plus trailers and a photo gallery. All in all this is a worthwhile package. —Mark Walker
Four Feathers
Shekhar Kapur * * * * * The seventh filming of AEW Mason's classic 1902 novel, this near-epic production of The Four Feathers looks great, sounds great and feels rather average. It would be difficult to diminish the rousing adventure of Mason's novel and director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) certainly gets more bang for his buck, with massive battle scenes and rugged, sun-baked harshness enhanced by Robert Richardson's masterful cinematography. Kapur preserves the universal appeal of the story, set in the 1880s, in which a promising soldier (Heath Ledger) resigns on the eve of battle in Britain's Sudanese campaign, is labelled coward by his fiancée (Kate Hudson), and redeems himself by posing as a Muslim warrior to rescue his best friend Jack (Wes Bentley) from certain death in the desert. For all its heroics, however, the film seems oddly passionless; Djimon Hounsou is excellent as Ledger's desert guardian, but these young Hollywood stars lack the authenticity of Zoltan Korda's 1939 film, which remains the definitive version. —Jeff Shannon
Friday The 13th
Sean S. Cunningham * * * * - No matter how many sequels they've made or how big a hit it was in 1980, it's difficult to view the first Friday the 13th as anything but a quickie designed to cram in as many elements from horror movies that had been hits in the late 1970s—most obviously, Halloween and Carrie—while adding as little as possible to the formula. Director Sean S Cunningham has an archetypal plot at his disposal as a group of attractive, shallow teenagers out in the woods to reopen a once-cursed summer camp are murdered in manners designed to show off Tom Savini's gore effects. Kevin Bacon, killed early (arrow through the throat), is the only player who went on to have a career, and he hardly stands out from the strip-Monopoly-playing, goon-acting meat-on-the-hoof teens who fall prey to the mostly unseen murderer. That it's not a total write-off is down to a few neatly edited bits of classical suspense and, two decades on, a simmering nostalgia for a world of bouffant-haired bubbleheads in short shorts (and that's just the guys) observed by edgy subjective camera as the music hisses "kill kill kill".

On the DVD: Friday the 13th may be the least worthy of all horror "classics", but it's still nice to have an edition that (unlike earlier video releases) offers a 16x9-enhanced 1.85:1 restored image and a healthy dose of extras. The hard-sell trailer gives away most of the big scares, and so should be sampled after the film. The making of the movie is covered by a 20-minute "Return to Crystal Lake" featurette and a commentary track with input from many of the creatives (Cunningham, composer Harry Manfredini, stars Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer, writer Victor Miller). Some anecdotes get repeated, but there's a lot of solid background material. —Kim Newman
From Dusk Till Dawn
Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Robert Rodriguez, Sarah Kelly * * * - - From a match made in heaven comes a movie spawned in hell! From Dusk Till Dawn sees young hotshot director Robert Rodriquez (El Mariachi, Desperado) team up with Pulp Fiction auteur Quentin Tarantino (offering his services as writer and costar) to make this outrageous, no-holds-barred hybrid of high-octane crime and gruesome horror. Tarantino plays Richard Gecko, a borderline psychopath who breaks his career-criminal brother, Seth (George Clooney), out of prison, after which they rob a bank and leave a trail of dead and wounded in their bloody wake. Then they hijack a mobile home driven by a former Baptist minister (Harvey Keitel) who quit the church after his wife's death and hit the road with his two children (played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Heading to Mexico with their hostages, the infamous Gecko brothers arrive at the Titty Twister bar to rendezvous for a money drop, but they don't realise that they've just entered the nocturnal lair of a bloodthirsty gang of vampires! With not-so-subtle aplomb, Rodriguez and Tarantino shift into high gear with a non-stop parade of gore, gunfire and pointy-fanged mayhem featuring Salma Hayek as a snake-charming dancer whose bite is much worse than her bark. If you're a fan of Tarantino's lyrical dialogue and pop-cultural wit, you'll have fun with the road-film half of this supernatural horror-comedy, but if your taste runs more to exploding heads and eyeballs, sloppy entrails and morphing monsters, the second half provides a connoisseur's feast of gross-out excess. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
On the DVD: the DVDs lavish features on us. The outtakes and deleted scenes are more of the same—exploding bellies, pus, blood and naked women with large teeth. The documentary "Full Tilt Boogie" is entertaining enough; the row with the unions, which it faithfully records, raises real issues about independent filmmakers and their work force. There are two music videos, a stills gallery, a reasonably acute commentary by Rodriguez and Tarantino and material about the art direction. The film is presented in Dolby Digital and a widescreen ratio of 1.85:1 as well as an ordinary one of1.33.1. —Roz Kaveney
The Fugitive
Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Andrew Davis Do you know anyone who hasn't seen this movie? A box-office smash when released in 1993, this spectacular update of the popular 1960s TV series stars Harrison Ford as a surgeon wrongly accused of the murder of his wife. He escapes from a prison transport bus (in one of the most spectacular stunt-action sequences ever filmed) and embarks on a frantic quest for the true killer's identity, while a tenacious U.S. marshal (Tommy Lee Jones, in an Oscar-winning role) remains hot on his trail. Director Andrew Davis hit the big time with this expert display of polished style and escalating suspense, but it's the antagonistic chemistry between Jones and Ford that keeps this thriller cooking to the very end. In roles that seem custom-fit to their screen personas, the two stars maintain a sharply human focus to the grand-scale manhunt, and the intelligent screenplay never resorts to convenient escapes or narrative shortcuts. Equally effective as a thriller and a character study, The Fugitive is a Hollywood blockbuster that truly deserves its ongoing popularity. —Jeff Shannon
The Game
Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, David Fincher * * * - - It's not quite as clever as it tries to be, but The Game does a tremendous job of presenting the story of a rigid control freak trapped in circumstances that are increasingly beyond his control. Michael Douglas plays a rich, divorced, and dreadful investment banker whose 48th birthday reminds him of his father's suicide at the same age. He's locked in the cage of his own misery until his rebellious younger brother (Sean Penn) presents him with a birthday invitation to play "The Game" (described as "an experiential Book of the Month Club")—a mysterious offering from a company called Consumer Recreation Services. Before he knows the game has even begun, Douglas is caught up in a series of unexplained events designed to strip him of his tenuous security and cast him into a maelstrom of chaos. How do you play a game that hasn't any rules? That's what Douglas has to figure out, and he can't always rely on his intelligence to form logic out of what's happening to him. Seemingly cast as the fall guy in a conspiracy thriller, he encounters a waitress (Deborah Unger) who may or may not be trustworthy, and nothing can be taken at face value in a world turned upside down. Douglas is great at conveying the sheer panic of his character's dilemma, and despite some lapses in credibility and an anticlimactic ending, The Game remains a thinking person's thriller that grabs and holds your attention. Thematic resonance abounds between this and Seven and Fight Club, two of the other films by The Game 's director David Fincher. — Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Gangs of New York
Martin Scorsese * * * - - Almost obliged to be huge, Gangs of New York marks the return to work of three much-admired creatives missing-in-action for the past few years: director Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis. Vast, impressive and challenging, it's unlike anything Scorsese has done in look and manner even as it is exactly the material he has obsessively turned over since his first films. A terrific 1846 prologue depicts a battle for supremacy over a district known as the Five Points between the "native-born American" mob led by William "Butcher" Cutting (Day-Lewis) and an Irish immigrant crew headed by "Priest" Vallon (Liam Neeson). The bloody outcome is the death of Priest and the rise to godfather-like prominence of the literally eagle-eyed Butcher (an eagle-marked marble replaces an eye he fished out in homage to his enemy!). Sixteen years later, Priest's son Amsterdam (DiCaprio) shows up intent on revenge, but finds himself distracted as he is drawn into the Butcher's inner circle much as another Scorsese Irishman hooked up with the mob in Goodfellas.

The film covers an array of New York historical topics—from the corrupt government of William "Boss" Tweed to the riots that rocked the community when President Lincoln tried to impose military conscription—while the actual plot wobbles slightly as Amsterdam gets involved with a winsome pickpocket (Cameron Diaz) and wavers in his vengeful resolve. DeCaprio and Diaz aren't quite strong enough characters or players to hold things together—as in a few other recent Scorsese films, heroes are let off easily though they seem guilty of as many appalling crimes as the villains—but they have to compete with an award-worthy study in moustachioed menace and corruption from Day-Lewis and an array of the best supporting actors from either side of the Atlantic (Jim Broadbent, John C Reilly, Brendan Gleeson, David Hemmings). —Kim Newman

On the DVD: Gangs of New York comes with a decent set of extras on this two-disc set. Most notable is Martin Scorsese's commentary, the first of its kind on DVD. Taking a concise approach with some moderate pauses, Scorsese avoids a scene-specific analysis, but his rich knowledge both of the historical period and of cinema history is phenomenal, as is the account of his 30-year struggle to get the film made. Documentaries include costume and set design; a tour of the set with Scorsese and production designer Dante Ferretti (with optional 360-degree view); and a well-researched and insightful historical Discovery Channel documentary. "The History of the Five Points" is accompanied by some study notes and a vocab guide, all adding to the rich historical background that this extra material provides. Less insightful and more glossy are the obligatory trailer and "Making of" documentary, complete with husky voiceover. A choice of Dolby or DTS mixes are on offer sound-wise and, as you'd expect from such a beautifully filmed epic, the transfer is superb. —Laura Bushell
Gangster No.1
Paul McGuigan * * * * - Gangster No. 1 is without doubt the most stylish British violent crime thriller from the many produced at the end of the 20th century. For all the pop-video glamour of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, neither have anywhere near as much a sense of danger as is shown here. Paul Bettany ignites the screen with a fury that explodes far more than it smoulders beneath his tautly kept temper. The tale concerns his ascent to the titular position of primacy in 1960s London, told in flashback by his present-day self (an equally riveting Malcolm McDowell). A lust for power won't allow anything to stand in either incarnation's way, especially the foppish posturing of established crime boss Freddie Mays (David Thewlis). What distinguishes this from many other tales of greed is that the never-named Gangster actually wants to be Freddie, not simply replace him. Saffron Burrows plays the suffering trophy moll in the middle of this personality clash and provides about the only level head and gentle tongue in what is otherwise a super-violent and super-profane script. This is what The Krays should have been, and therefore not for the squeamish. —Paul Tonks
Gattaca
Andrew Niccol * * * * - Confidently conceived and brilliantly executed, Gattaca had a somewhat low profile release in 1997, but audiences and critics hailed the film's originality. It's since been recognised as one of the most intelligent science fiction films of the 1990s. Writer-director Andrew Niccol, the talented New Zealander who also wrote the acclaimed Jim Carrey vehicle The Truman Show, depicts a near-future society in which one's personal and professional destiny is determined by one's genes. In this society, "Valids" (genetically engineered) qualify for positions at prestigious corporations, such as Gattaca, which grooms its most qualified employees for space exploration. "In-Valids" (naturally born), such as the film's protagonist, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), are deemed genetically flawed and subsequently fated to low-level occupations in a genetically caste society. With the help of a disabled "Valid" (Jude Law), Vincent subverts his society's social and biological barriers to pursue his dream of space travel; any random mistake—and an ongoing murder investigation at Gattaca—could reveal his plot. Part thriller, part futuristic drama and cautionary tale, Gattaca establishes its social structure so convincingly that the entire scenario is chillingly believable. With Uma Thurman as the woman who loves Vincent and identifies with his struggle, Gattaca is both stylish and smart, while Jude Law's performance lends the film a note of tragic and heartfelt humanity.—Jeff Shannon
Ghost
Jerry Zucker * * * * * Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze are the passionate lovers whose romance is undone when the latter is murdered during a bungled hit arranged by a rival. The clever concept by screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin extends into comedy (Swayze's character communicates through a sassy medium played by Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar for this role), horror (the afterlife is populated by hell-bound demons and the like) and romantic complications (a handsome suitor, played by Tony Goldwyn, comes on to Moore while Swayze's spirit is still hanging around). Directed by Jerry Zucker, previously best known for co-directing Airplane! and similar broad comedies, Ghost is a careful balancing act of strong commercial elements, but at heart it is a timeless Hollywood tearjerker that easily gets under one's skin. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Ghost Dog - The Way Of The Samurai
Jim Jarmusch * * * * * Forest Whitaker makes an unlikely modern samurai with his laser-sighted pistols, shabby street clothes, and oddly graceful gait—but then Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is an unusual film. Quirky, contemplative and at times absurd, it is just the kind of offbeat vision we have come to expect from the fiercely independent Jim Jarmusch (Stranger than Paradise, Dead Man). Whitaker is Ghost Dog, a mysterious New York hit man who lives simply on a tenement rooftop and follows a code of behaviour outlined in : Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai (passages of this book are interspersed throughout the film). When the local mob marks him for death in a complicated code of Mafiosi-style honour, Ghost Dog sends a cryptic message to his foes. "That's poetry. The poetry of war", remarks mobster Henry Silva, with sudden respect upon reading the verse. He could be describing the ethereal beauty of Jarmusch's vision, full of wonderful imagery (a night drive across town seems to float in time) and off-centre humour. Though it briefly stalls in a series of assassinations (Jarmusch is no action director), it settles back into character-driven drama in a quietly epic showdown, equal parts samurai adventure, spaghetti western and existential crime movie. The film is likely too unconventional and offbeat for general audiences, but cult-movie buffs and Jarmusch fans will appreciate his idiosyncratic vision. He finds a strange sense of honour in the clash of Old World traditions, and salutes his heroes with a skewed but sincere respect. —Sean Axmaker
Ghost Rider
Mark Steven Johnson * * - - - Once intended as a feature for Johnny Depp, the long-germinating feature film adaptation of Marvel Comics' cult title Ghost Rider stars Nicolas Cage as motorcyclist Johnny Blaze, who transforms into a skull-faced angel of vengeance to battle the forces of evil. Though perhaps a bit too mature for the role, Cage brings a degree of humour to the outrageous proceedings; he's well matched by the Easy Rider himself Peter Fonda, amusingly cast as Mephistopheles, the demon with whom Blaze strikes a bargain to save his father, and in turn, causes his transformation into Ghost Rider. Wes Bentley is also fine as Blackheart, the rebellious offspring of Mephistopheles, and Blazes' chief opponent in the film. They're joined by a solid supporting cast which includes Donal Logue, Eva Mendes, and Sam Elliott, but their participation and a relentless barrage of CGI effects can't hide the fact that the story itself, though largely faithful to its comic origins, is rife with clichéd characterizations and glum B-movie dialogue. Fans of the venerable title may cry foul over this adaptation (as they did over helmer Mark Steven Johnson's previous comic-to-movie feature, Daredevil), but less stringent viewers may enjoy the fiery visuals and Cage's typically quirky performance. —Paul Gaita
Ghostbusters
Ivan Reitman * * * * * Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the script, but Bill Murray gets all the best lines and moments in this 1984 comedy directed by Ivan Reitman (Meatballs). The three comics, plus Ernie Hudson, play the New York City-based team that provides supernatural pest control, and Sigourney Weaver is the love interest possessed by an ancient demon. Reitman and company are full of original ideas about hobgoblins—who knew they could "slime" people with green plasma goo?—but hovering above the plot is Murray's patented ironic view of all the action. Still a lot of fun, and an obvious model for sci-fi comedies such as Men in Black. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Ghostbusters 2
Ivan Reitman * * * * * Much less fun than its predecessor, this 1989 sequel starts off on a bleak note by telling us our heroes from Ghostbusters have been on the skids for five years and Bill Murray's lead character never did hook up with Sigourney Weaver's lovely symphony-musician character. What's more, she has a kid by somebody else. Everybody's on an uphill climb, and Ghostbusters II never soars the way the first film did, despite having the same director, Ivan Reitman (Dave, Kindergarten Cop). The lame plot finds the boys attempting to prevent a disaster on New York City caused by too many bad vibes in the Big Apple. Yikes! Fortunately, screenwriters Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis have penned enough good one-liners to keep Murray busy, and if the ghostly special effects no longer surprise as they did in Ghostbusters, they're at least inventive. — Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Alfredson It takes a while, but the saga of one of the more fascinating characters put on the page or the screen in recent years comes to a satisfying conclusion with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the last installment of the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's so-called Millennium Trilogy. That character is Lisbeth Salander, the computer-hacking, Goth-loving, dark angel of revenge, played by Noomi Rapace with the same black stare and taciturn charisma that were so riveting in the first two films (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, both also released in 2010). When we last saw her, Lisbeth was trying to kill her father, a Russian defector and abusive monster; in the process, the girl was seriously wounded by her half-brother, a hulking freak with a strange condition that renders him impervious to physical pain. As the new film opens, all three are still alive, and she's being taken to a hospital to recover while waiting to stand trial for attempted murder. Meanwhile, her champion and erstwhile lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), sets about uncovering the full extent of the conspiracy responsible for (among other crimes) Lisbeth's being sent to an asylum at age 12 while her father was protected by evil forces within the government. This investigation, which puts not only Lisbeth but also Blomkvist and his colleagues in considerable danger, leads to "the Section," a thoroughly repellent bunch of aging liars, killers, thieves, and perverts with a great many secrets they'd like to keep (the oily Dr. Peter Teleborian, who was responsible for Lisbeth's "treatment" as a child, emerges as the most vile antagonist since the guardian who brutally assaulted her in the first film). Although much of the exhaustive detail about these and other matters has been eliminated by director Daniel Alfredson (who also helmed The Girl Who Played with Fire) and screenwriters Jonas Frykberg and Ulf Ryberg for the purpose of adapting the novel to the screen, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is still quite long (148 minutes), and less kinetic and violent than the earlier films; there are some exciting sequences, but Lisbeth, previously an unlikely but magnetic action heroine, is seen mostly on a hospital bed or in a courtroom, and much of the film is spent on procedural matters. Still, the fact that the loose ends are wrapped up in fairly conventional fashion doesn't make the conclusion any less satisfying. In fact, the only real letdown comes from knowing that we won't get to see Noomi Rapace play Lisbeth Salander again. —Sam Graham
The Girl Who Played With Fire
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Alfredson
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Niels Arden Oplev * * * * *
Gladiator
Ridley Scott * * * * * Ridley Scott's glossy historical epic Gladiator revitalised the classic sword 'n' sandal genre, bringing both a modern pop-culture sensibility and state-of-the-art computer-generated special effects to what had seemed like a worn-out formula. Essentially a remake of Anthony Mann's stodgy 1964 Fall of the Roman Empire, Gladiator also borrows heavily from Saving Private Ryan in its stunning opening sequence, and employs Ridley's brother Tony Scott's rapid-fire editing style for the remarkably staged Colosseum fights. The overall effect is a hugely impressive but emotionally empty spectacle complemented by Hans Zimmer's bestselling but derivative score.

Russell Crowe cements his star status with a brooding, muscular performance helped along by lots of pithily quotable mock-Shakespearean dialogue. But Crowe's Maximus, along with everyone else in the film, is a disappointing two-dimensional stereotype: there's also the ridiculously melodramatic villain (Joaquin Phoenix), the old flame who's still in love with her hero (Connie Nielsen) and the trusty companion (Djimon Hounsou—who seems stuck in these roles). Richard Harris lacks the gravitas to convince as the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, and only Oliver Reed, in his very last film, brings some depth to his world-weary ex-gladiator. Still, if Scott's film lacks the profundity of Ben-Hur, Spartacus or even Cleopatra, it remains a kinetic, exciting thrill ride that gives us some sense of what it must have been like to fight and die with a gladius in hand.

On the DVD: Gladiator's two-disc set quickly became a must-have on its first release and remains one of the absolute essential DVD purchases. It set the standard both for picture and sound quality (Dolby 5.1 or DTS) as well as providing a second disc fully loaded with excellent special features. Scott's audio commentary is on the first disc, and the second has documentaries about both the history and the film, deleted scenes, storyboards, hidden "Easter Eggs" and more. —Mark Walker
The Godfather I
Francis Ford Coppola * * * * * Generally acknowledged as a bona fide classic, this Francis Ford Coppola film is one of those rare experiences that feels perfectly right from beginning to end—almost as if everyone involved had been born to participate in it. Based on Mario Puzo's bestselling novel about a Mafia dynasty, Coppola's Godfather extracted and enhanced the most universal themes of immigrant experience in America: the plotting-out of hopes and dreams for one's successors, the raising of children to carry on the good work, etc. In the midst of generational strife during the Vietnam years, the film somehow struck a chord with a nation fascinated by the metamorphosis of a rebellious son (Al Pacino) into the keeper of his father's dream. Marlon Brando played against Puzo's own conception of patriarch Vito Corleone, and time has certainly proven the actor correct. The rest of the cast, particularly James Caan, John Cazale, and Robert Duvall as the rest of Vito's male brood—all coping with how to take the mantle of responsibility from their father—is seamless and wonderful. —Tom Keogh
The Godfather: Part II
Francis Ford Coppola * * * * *
The Godfather: Part III
Francis Ford Coppola * * * * -
Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant * * * * * Robin Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck nabbed one for Best Original Screenplay, but the feel-good hit Good Will Hunting triumphs because of its gifted director, Gus Van Sant. The unconventional director (My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy) saves a script marred by vanity and clunky character development by yanking soulful, touching performances out of his entire cast (amazingly, even one by Williams that's relatively schtick-free). Van Sant pulls off the equivalent of what George Cukor accomplished for women's melodrama in the 1930s and 40s: He's crafted an intelligent, unabashedly emotional male weepie about men trying to find inner-wisdom.

Matt Damon stars as Will Hunting, a closet maths genius who ignores his gift in favour of nightly boozing and fighting with South Boston buddies (co-writer Ben Affleck among them). While working as a university janitor, he solves an impossible calculus problem scribbled on a hallway blackboard and reluctantly becomes the prodigy of an arrogant MIT professor (Stellan Skarsgård). Damon only avoids prison by agreeing to see psychiatrists, all of whom he mocks or psychologically destroys until he meets his match in the professor's former childhood friend, played by Williams. Both doctor and patient are haunted by the past and, as mutual respect develops, the healing process begins. The film's beauty lies not with grand climaxes, but with small, quiet moments. Scenes such as Affleck's clumsy pep talk to Damon while they drink beer after work, or any number of therapy session between Williams and Damon offer poignant looks at the awkward ways men show affection and feeling for one another. —Dave McCoy
Goodfellas
Martin Scorsese * * * * * Martin Scorsese's 1990 masterpiece GoodFellas immortalises the hilarious, horrifying life of actual gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), from his teen years on the streets of New York to his anonymous exile under the Witness Protection Program. The director's kinetic style is perfect for recounting Hill's ruthless rise to power in the 1950s as well as his drugged-out fall in the late 1970s; in fact, no one has ever rendered the mental dislocation of cocaine better than Scorsese. Scorsese uses period music perfectly, not just to summon a particular time but to set a precise mood. GoodFellas is at least as good as The Godfather without being in the least derivative of it. Joe Pesci's psycho improvisation of Mobster Tommy DeVito ignited Pesci as a star; Lorraine Bracco achieves a career-defining performance as the love of Hill's life; and every supporting role, from Paul Sorvino to Robert De Niro, is a miracle.
The Goonies
Richard Donner * * * * * You may be surprised to discover that the director of the Lethal Weapon movies and scary horror flick The Omen, Richard Donner, also produced and directed this classic children's adventure (which, by the way, was written by Donner's screen-wizard friend Steven Spielberg). Then again you may not. The Goonies, like Donner's other movies, is the same story of good versus evil. It has its share of bad guys (the Fratelli brothers and their villainous mother), reluctant-hero good guys (the Walsh bothers and their gang of friends), and lots of corny one-liners. Like in an old-fashioned Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew plot, the Goonies need to solve a problem: a corrupt corporate developer has bought out their neighbourhood and plans to flatten all their homes. Luckily, the beloved gang stumbles on a treasure map. In the hopes of finding the treasure to buy back their houses, the Goonies embark on their quest through underground passages, aboard pirate ships, and behind waterfalls. This swashbuckling and rollicking ride was also a great breeding ground for a couple of child actors who went on to enjoy numerous successes in adulthood: Sean Astin (Rudy, Encino Man) and Martha Plimpton (Pecker, 200 Cigarettes). —Samantha Allen Storey, Amazon.com
Gossip
Davis Guggenheim * * * - - Gossip is one of a spate of movies that owe a lot to Cruel Intentions. This time it's rich kids in college, but other than that Gossip stays well within the beautiful-young-people-doing-awful-things-to-each other formula. Lena Heady plays Jones, obviously the Smart Girl because she is briefly seen wearing glasses. Jones hangs out with Arty Guy Travis and Handsome Rich Guy Derrick, who finances their adventures and has a little bit of a lying habit. The three are all in the same journalism class (acidic monologist Eric Bogosian plays the acidic professor) and decide to start and track a rumour for their term papers. They pick rich and beautiful couple Beau and Naomi (Joshua Jackson and Kate Hudson) as the focus of the rumour, and before you know it their juicy story starts spinning out of control into ugly territory and a truly ludicrous climax. There are attempts at making sledgehammer points about the slippery task of finding Truth, but mostly Gossip is about the guilty pleasure of watching pretty young actors be mean to each other. You'll hate yourself in the morning, but watch it anyway. —Ali Davis, Amazon.com
Gothika
Mathieu Kassovitz * * - - - The title of Gothika prepares you for a spooky, atmospheric thriller with an emphasis on supernatural mystery. The best way to appreciate the movie itself is to understand that it's a waking nightmare that needn't make sense in the realm of sanity. Making a flashy Hollywood debut after his superior 2000 thriller The Crimson Rivers, French actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz pours on the dark and stormy atmosphere, trapping a competent psychologist (Halle Berry) in the prison ward where she treated inmates (including Penelope Cruz) until she was committed for killing her husband (Charles S. Dutton), who was also her boss. Did a car crash cause her to suffer ghostly delusions, or is a young girl—dead for four years—sending clues from beyond the grave? Berry has to prove her innocence while Kassovitz keeps everything—including the viewer and costar Robert Downey Jr. (as Berry's colleague)—in the dark about just where the nonsensical plot is leading. There's a better movie in here somewhere, among the catwalks and crannies of the impressive prison-castle setting, and Berry gives 100% in a performance that's consistent with the movie's overwrought tone. Attentive viewers will identify the killer early on, and the ending is anticlimactic, but Gothika serves up a few good shocks for ghost-story connoisseurs. —Jeff Shannon
Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley
Grease 1 & 2 Box Set
Patricia Birch, Randal Kleiser * * * * - John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Michelle Pfeiffer, Maxwell Caulfield, Stockard Channing Directors: Patricia Birch, Randal Kleiser
The Green Mile
Frank Darabont * * * * * "The book was better" has been the complaint of many a reader since the invention of films. The Green Mile is Frank Darabont's second adaptation of a Stephen King prison drama The Shawshank Redemption was the first) and is a very faithful adaptation of King's serial novel. In the middle of the Depression, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) runs death row at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Into this dreary world walks a mammoth prisoner, John Coffey (Michael Duncan) who, very slowly, reveals a special gift that will change the men working and dying (in the electric chair, masterfully and grippingly staged) on the mile.

As with King's book, Darabont takes plenty of time to show us Edgecomb's world before delving into John Coffey's mystery. With Darabont's superior storytelling abilities, his touch for perfect casting, and a leisurely 188-minute running time, his film brings to life nearly every character and scene from the novel. Darabont even improves the novel's two endings, creating a more emotionally satisfying experience. The running time may try patience, but those who want a story, as opposed to quick-fix entertainment, will be rewarded by this finely tailored tale. —Doug Thomas
Green Street
Lexi Alexander * * * * - After the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Elijah Wood could've opted for further big budget epics, but took a sharp left turn with this better-than-average B-movie. Released just after Everything is Illuminated, another offbeat entry, Wood plays journalism student Matt Buckner. In the prologue, he's expelled from Harvard when his over-privileged roommate sets him up to take the fall for his own misdeeds. With nowhere to go, Matt decides to visit his sister, Shannon (Claire Forlani), in London. He's already got a chip on his shoulder when he falls under the sway of Shannon's brother-in-law, Pete (Charlie Hunnam), head of West Ham's football "firm," the Green Street Elite. Matt soon gets caught up in their thuggish antics—to tragic effect. In her feature debut, German-born Lexi Alexander makes a mostly convincing case for the attractions of violence to the emotionally vulnerable, as opposed to the emotionally numb pugilists of the more satirical Fight Club. Unlike David Fincher (by way of Chuck Palahniuk), she plays it straight, except for the stylised fight sequences. Consequently, humour is in short supply, but the young Brit cast, especially Leo Gregory as the surly Bovver, is charismatic and Wood makes his character as believable as possible, i.e. he may seem miscast, but that's the point. Although there's no (direct) correlation between the two, Green Street makes a fine taster for Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, the ultimate dissection of the hooligan mentality. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
Gremlins/Gremlins 2 - The New Batch
Joe Dante * * * * * Cross It’s A Wonderful Life with ET and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and you’ll get something close to these entertaining and occasionally grotesque tales from producer Steven Spielberg, writer Chris Columbus and director Joe Dante.

In the first film we meet Billy Peltzer (played by Zach Galligan), a young man whose inventor father (Hoyt Axton) gives him an odd Christmas present in the shape of a tiny, adorable furry creature called a Mogwai, which is named Gizmo. The pet comes with a set of rules: don't get him wet, don't feed him after midnight and keep him away from direct sunlight. But Galligan breaks the first rule and the damp little critter pops out a dozen smaller offspring. Then the offspring break the second rule and, overnight, turn from cute furry guys to malevolent scale-covered trolls with world domination on their mind. The only way to stop them: rule three. But it's an anxious (and extremely funny) battle to make it to daylight, with the bad gremlins finding ingenious ways to multiply over and over until they’re a force to be reckoned with.

In the sequel, Zach Galligan is back, along with Phoebe Cates, his girlfriend from the first film. They're both working in an ultramodern skyscraper owned by a Donald Trump clone (a hilarious John Glover). Galligan's furry little buddy is captured by a mad scientist, who not only helps it multiply, but invests the nasty, scaly offspring with intelligence and the ability to talk. What follows is imaginative mayhem that spoofs old movies, modern television, and the conveniences of postmodern technology. In many ways, the sequel is even more inventive and laughter-inducing than the original.

Both films are packed with special effects, all the most impressive when you consider the gremlins are puppets, not computer generated imagery. Expect a wild and fun-packed (if occasionally dark and scary) ride.
Grosse Pointe Blank
George Armitage * * * * - Hit man Martin Q Blank (John Cusack) is in an awkward situation. Several of them, actually. He's attending his high school reunion on an assignment; he's got a rival hit man (Dan Aykroyd) on his tail; and he's going to have to explain to his old girlfriend (Minnie Driver) why he stood her up on prom night. Grosse Pointe Blank is an amiable black comedy, cowritten by Cusack and directed by Jonathan Demme protégé George Armitage (Miami Blues), has the feel of Demme's Something Wild and Married to the Mob—which is to say its humour is dark and brightly coloured at the same time. Cusack and Driver are utterly charming—as is the leading man's sister, Joan, who plays his secretary. (Cusack received an Oscar nomination for her next role, in In & Out.) Alan Arkin is also very funny as Martin's psychiatrist. —Jim Emerson
A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
Channing Tatum, Shia LaBeouf, Dito Montiel * * * * * A film adaptation of Dito Montiel's memoir of the same name, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a compelling, thoughtful movie based on Montiel's childhood growing up in 1980s Queens. A writer and director who understands his limitations, Montiel wisely left the acting to the pros. Shia LaBeouf (Holes) plays him during his adolescence, while Robert Downey Jr. (Good Night, and Good Luck, Wonder Boys) portrays the grown-up Dito. Never mind that there is absolutely no physical resemblance between the two actors; LaBeouf and Downey are so convincing in their roles it doesn't matter. Switching effortlessly from present day (where Dito is a successful author) to the past (where he is a tough little kid trying to figure out if there is life beyond New York), A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints tackles Dito's complicated relationship with his parents (Chazz Palminteri and Dianne Wiest), as well as the friends he left behind. Eric Roberts is magnificent in a small role as one of Dito's tough, childhood buddies. His powerful performance makes viewers remember there was a time when Roberts was better known for his acting skills than for being Julia's big brother. Montiel—a first-time filmmaker—won the Director's Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival for his autobiographical movie. Raw, gritty, and honest, Saints makes a strong impact and leaves the viewer curious as to how the rest of Montiel's life will work out. —Jae-Ha Kim
La Haine
Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Mathieu Kassovitz La Haine is an angry, anti-authoritarian French film that concerns three young guys (a Jew, an Arab, a black) who decide to take on the police after a friend is brutally beaten. There isn't much going on in this black and white drama beyond its violence (which can be pretty hard to watch, such as an interrogation scene that incorporates torture) and gritty observations of wayward youths hanging out on the fringes of Paris. Certainly, there isn't much in the way of insight, and director Mathieu Kassovitz seems to have absorbed more of the excesses of America's independent film scene, especially Spike Lee at his most indulgent, than its blessings. But if it's edge and rawness you want, this has it—with subtitles. —Tom Keogh
Half Nelson
Ryan Fleck * * - - - Sometimes people are attracted to each other because of their differences. When there's a nebulous attraction between a teacher and a young teenage child—as in the superb Half Nelson—the relationship has all the makings of confused disaster. Though there are a few uncomfortable moments when it's not obvious whether Dan (Ryan Gosling) and Drey (Shareeka Epps) might cross the line, the attraction between the pair is culled less from sexual tension than desperation. Dan is an idealistic history teacher in an inner-city school. Drey is one of his brightest students.

For both, drugs represent something that may help them escape their worlds. He takes drugs to dull his dissatisfaction with himself. She views drugs as a possible way to better her life, even though she knows her brother's foray into that trade landed him in jail. Bleakly filmed and well told, Half Nelson soars because of the immaculate acting by Gosling and Epps. With his impish smile, Gosling provides a character that is at once disarming, alluring, and pitiful. As the young girl who's already seen too much hardship in her life, Epps plays her part with just the right amount of hardened raw emotion. While the ambiguous ending may not please fans weaned on happy Hollywood finales, it's a fitting and believable close to a thought-provoking film. —Jae-Ha Kim
Halloween
John Carpenter * * * - - Halloween is as pure and undiluted as its title. In the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, a teenage baby sitter tries to survive a Halloween night of relentless terror, during which a knife-wielding maniac goes after the town's hormonally charged youths. Director John Carpenter takes this simple situation and orchestrates a superbly mounted symphony of horrors. It's a movie much scarier for its dark spaces and ominous camera movements than for its explicit bloodletting (which is actually minimal). Composed by Carpenter himself, the movie's freaky music sets the tone; and his script (cowritten with Debra Hill) is laced with references to other horror pictures, especially Psycho. The baby sitter is played by Jamie Lee Curtis, the real-life daughter of Psycho victim Janet Leigh; and the obsessed policeman played by Donald Pleasence is named Sam Loomis, after John Gavin's character in Psycho. In the end, though, Halloween stands on its own as an uncannily frightening experience—it's one of those movies that had audiences literally jumping out of their seats and shouting at the screen. ("No! Don't drop that knife!") Produced on a low budget, the picture turned a monster profit, and spawned many sequels, none of which approached the 1978 original. Curtis returned for two more instalments: 1981's dismal Halloween II, which picked up the story the day after the unfortunate events, and 1998's occasionally gripping Halloween H20, which proved the former baby sitter was still haunted after 20 years. —Robert Horton
Harold And Kumar Get The Munchies
Danny Leiner * * * - -
Heat
Michael Mann * * * - - Having developed his skill as a master of contemporary crime drama, writer-director Michael Mann displayed every aspect of that mastery in Heat, an intelligent, character-driven thriller from 1995, which also marked the first onscreen pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The two great actors had played father and son in the separate time periods of The Godfather, Part II, but this was the first film in which the pair appeared together, and although their only scene together is brief, it's the riveting fulcrum of this high-tech cops-and-robbers scenario. De Niro plays a master thief with highly skilled partners (Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore) whose latest heist draws the attention of Pacino, playing a seasoned Los Angeles detective whose investigation reveals that cop and criminal lead similar lives. Both are so devoted to their professions that their personal lives are a disaster. Pacino's with a wife (Diane Venora) who cheats to avoid the reality of their desolate marriage; De Niro pays the price for a life with no outside connections; and Kilmer's wife (Ashley Judd) has all but given up hope that her husband will quit his criminal career. These are men obsessed, and as De Niro and Pacino know, they'll both do whatever's necessary to bring the other down.

Mann's brilliant screenplay explores these personal obsessions and sacrifices with absorbing insight, and the tension mounts with some of the most riveting action sequences ever filmed—most notably a daylight siege that turns downtown Los Angeles into a virtual war zone of automatic gunfire. At nearly three hours, Heat qualifies as a kind of intimate epic, certain to leave some viewers impatiently waiting for more action, but it's all part of Mann's compelling strategy. Heat is a true rarity: a crime thriller with equal measures of intense excitement and dramatic depth, giving De Niro and Pacino a prime showcase for their finely matched talents. —Jeff Shannon
Heist
Gene Hackman, Rebecca Pidgeon, David Mamet * * - - - Like a famous DIY product, Heist does exactly what it says on the box—no less and certainly no more—but is an enjoyable crime drama nonetheless. The story is a familiar one with ageing criminal (Hackman's Joe Moore) determined to pull off one last job before retiring. The usual sub-plots that accompany such a theme are all there (those in whose interest it is for him to continue, the realisation of growing old, the impact of the decision on those around him) and, to be honest, Heist offers us very little that hasn't been seen before. It is, however, still a hugely watchable movie. Hackman may be sleepwalking through the role but he is still capable of dominating a screen in a way few of his contemporaries have been able to emulate. Delroy Lindo is superb as main foil Bobby, certainly more convincing than Rebecca Pidgeon's pouting wife Fran and Danny De Vito's overplayed crime boss. As with all such movies (Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven being a prime example), the real joy comes in the planning and execution of the heist itself and the conflict between the prime movers. Heist certainly has more than its fair share of twists and turns and is full of bluff, deception and double-crossing, keeping the viewer more than a little hooked right to the end. No work of genius, then, but certainly worth a look.

On the DVD: Heist on disc contains nothing here to get particularly excited about, aside from the interactive menu and theatrical trailer. Picture and sound quality are good, although there is no option to change the audio settings. Unimpressive extras are limited to a perfunctory list of main cast members.—Phil Udell
Hellboy
Guillermo del Toro * * * - - In the ongoing deluge of comic-book adaptations, Hellboy ranks well above average. Having turned down an offer to helm Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in favor of bringing Hellboy's origin story to the big screen, the gifted Mexican director Guillermo del Toro compensates for the excesses of Blade II with a moodily effective, consistently entertaining action-packed fantasy, beginning in 1944 when the mad monk Rasputin—in cahoots with occult-buff Hitler and his Nazi thugs—opens a transdimensional portal through which a baby demon emerges, capable of destroying the world with his powers. Instead, the aptly named Hellboy is raised by the benevolent Prof. Bloom, founder of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, whose allied forces enlist the adult Hellboy (Ron Perlman, perfectly cast) to battle evil at every turn. While nursing a melancholy love for the comely firestarter Liz (Selma Blair), Hellboy files his demonic horns ("to fit in," says Bloom) and wreaks havoc on the bad guys. The action is occasionally routine (the movie suffers when compared to the similar X-Men blockbusters), but del Toro and Perlman have honored Mike Mignola's original Dark Horse comics with a lavish and loyal interpretation, retaining the amusing and sympathetic quirks of character that made the comic-book Hellboy a pop-culture original. He's red as a lobster, puffs stogies like Groucho Marx, and fights the good fight with a kind but troubled heart. What's not to like? —Jeff Shannon
Hero
Yimou Zhang * * * * - Director Zhang Yimou brings the sumptuous visual style of his previous films (Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad) to the high-kicking kung fu genre. A nameless warrior (Jet Li, Romeo Must Die, Once Upon a Time in China) arrives at an emperor's palace with three weapons, each belonging to a famous assassin who had sworn to kill the emperor. As the nameless man spins out his story—and the emperor presents his own interpretation of what might really have happened—each episode is drenched in red, blue, white or another dominant color. Hero combines sweeping cinematography and superb performances from the cream of the Hong Kong cinema (Maggie Cheung, Irma Vep, Comrades: Almost a Love Story; Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, In the Mood for Love, Hard Boiled; and Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The result is stunning, a dazzling action movie with an emotional richness that deepens with every step. —Bret Fetzer
Hidalgo
Joe Johnston * - - - - Director Joe Johnston has always had an entertaining sense of adventure, and with Hidalgo he proves it in spades. It's yet another underrated film for Johnston (along with such enjoyable popcorn flicks as The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III), dismissed by many critics but a welcome treat for anyone drawn to good ol'-fashioned movie excitement. In his first role since playing Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Viggo Mortensen brings handsome appeal to his low-key portrayal of Frank T. Hopkins, a real-life long-distance horse racer who, as the movie opens, has witnessed the appalling massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890. Drifting into Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, he agrees to compete, with his trusty mustang, Hidalgo, in "The Ocean of Fire," a treacherous 3,000-mile horse race across the Arabian desert. Toss in a bunch of conspiring competitors, a noble sheik (Omar Sharif), his lovely daughter (Zuleikha Robinson), and enough fast-paced danger to fill 133 minutes, and you've got a rousing, humorous, and lightly spiritual adventure that's a lot of fun to watch. It hardly matters that it's almost pure fiction (the real Hopkins was known by many as "a pathological liar"). More important is the love of movies and moviemaking that Johnston so delightfully conveys. —Jeff Shannon
High Fidelity
Stephen Frears * * * - - Transplanted from England to the not-so-mean streets of Chicago, the screen adaptation of Nick Hornby's cult-classic novel High Fidelity emerges unscathed from its Americanisation, idiosyncrasies intact, thanks to John Cusack's inimitable charm and a nimble, nifty screenplay (co-written by Cusack). Early-thirtysomething Rob Gordon (Cusack) is a slacker who owns a vintage record shop, a massive collection of LPs, and innumerable top-five lists in his head. At the opening of the film, Rob recounts directly to the audience his all-time top-five breakups— which doesn't include his recent falling out with his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), who has just moved out of their apartment. Thunderstruck and obsessed with Laura's desertion (but loath to admit it), Rob begins a quest to confront the women who instigated the aforementioned top-five breakups to find out just what he did wrong.

Low on plot and high on self-discovery, High Fidelity takes a good 30 minutes or so to find its groove (not unlike Cusack's Grosse Pointe Blank), but once it does, it settles into it comfortably and builds a surprisingly touching momentum. Rob is basically a grown-up version of Cusack's character in Say Anything (who was told "Don't be a guy—be a man!"), and if you like Cusack's brand of smart-alecky romanticism, you'll automatically be won over (if you can handle Cusack's almost non-stop talking to the camera). Still, it's hard not to be moved by Rob's plight. At the beginning of the film he and his coworkers at the record store (played hilariously by Jack Black and Todd Louiso) seem like overgrown boys in their secret clubhouse; by the end, they've grown up considerably, with a clear-eyed view of life. Ably directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons), High Fidelity features a notable supporting cast of the women in Rob's life, including the striking, Danish-born Hjejle, Lisa Bonet as a sultry singer/songwriter, and the triumphant triumvirate of Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter, and Catherine Zeta Jones as Rob's ex-girlfriends. With brief cameos by Tim Robbins as Laura's new, New Age boyfriend and Bruce Springsteen as himself. —Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
High School Musical
Kenny Ortega * * * - - The Disney Channel's High School Musical is a combination of backstage action and Grease without the unwholesome habits. Scoring record ratings at the time of its January 2006 broadcast, it's a smash hit with tween audiences (ages 6 to 10), but appealing for all ages. At a New Year's Eve party, Troy (Zac Efron) has a chance meeting with Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) when they share a karaoke song. Lo and behold, when school resumes, they discover that Gabriella has just transferred to Troy's East High School, a campus divided into tight cliques of jocks, cheerleaders, brainiacs, and skater dudes. Eager to recapture the magic they'd discovered during karaoke, Troy and Gabriella consider auditioning for the school's upcoming musical, much to the dismay of the school's frost queen/theater goddess, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale). Problem is, Troy is also the star of the basketball team and Gabrielle is being recruited to compete in the Scholastic Decathlon. Will they give up their cliques to start something new, or will they do as the show's first big anthem urges and "Stick to the Status Quo"? Well, this is a Disney movie, so maybe the sacrifices won't be that hard, and even the hints of romance are mild.

The bestselling soundtrack is catchy in that Disney-pop kind of way, mixing in a dash of hip-hop ("Getcha Head in the Game," punctuated by squeaky basketball shoes and other sound effects), salsa ("Bop to the Top"), and the endearingly hammy ("What I've Been Looking For" performed by Sharpay and her brother, Ryan, played by Lucas Gabreel). It's not hard to imagine High School Musical becoming a semi-staple for high school groups to perform themselves. DVD bonus features include sing-along subtitles; a 9-minute featurette discussing casting, recording sessions, and rehearsals; a multi-angle look at a rehearsal of "Bop to the Top"; and music videos for "We're All in This Together" and a song that didn't make it into the final film, "I Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," performed by Efron, Hudgens, Tisdale, and Gabreel. —David Horiuchi
High School Musical 2
Kenny Ortega * * * * - Disney’s huge hit franchise of the moment never has, and perhaps never will, see the inside of a cinema. But given the millions upon millions of followers across the globe, the DVD release of High School Musical 2 will nonetheless rival the sales of any blockbuster you care to mention.

And why shouldn’t it? Grounded firmly in the family spirit that classic Disney movies are renowned for, High School Musical 2 isn’t the most radical movie you’re ever likely to see, but it’s had few recent rivals where outright fun is concerned. The plot this time sees Troy, Gabriella, Ryan, Chad, Taylor and Sharpay in the midst of organising a talent competition during their school holidays, which proves all the excuse the film needs to bring on the musical entertainment.

Packed in with insanely addictive tunes, and playing very firmly to its fan base, it’s hard not to conclude that High School Musical 2 is a success. What’s more, there’s immense respin potential to the disc, and given the raging success of the first movie, this one too is set to be enjoyed time and time again.

Not jumped on the High School Musical wagon yet? Here’s a perfect place to start. is a fun family movie, and one that sits both as a worthy sequel, and a warm slice of entertainment in its own right. —Jon Foster
Highlander
Russell Mulcahy * * * - - This 1986 fantasy/action thriller has since spawned two sequels, a TV series, numerous comic-book spin-offs, and a loyal (if somewhat oddly obsessive) following of fans. Directed by music-video veteran Russell Mulcahy (which explains the dizzying camera work and soundtrack contributions from Queen), the original theatrical release made a hash of an intriguing story about an "Immortal" from 16th-century Scotland (Christopher Lambert) who time-leaps to modern-day America with his arch-enemy (Clancy Brown) in hot pursuit. It becomes a battle to the death (yes, Immortals can die) and Lambert seeks survival training from an Immortal mentor played by Sean Connery. Highlander is dazzling, energetic and altogether confusing. —Jeff Shannon
The Hills Have Eyes
Alexandre Aja * * * * - Boasting an upgrade in production values, The Hills Have Eyes should please new-generation horror fans without offending devotees of Wes Craven's original version from 1977. There's still something to be said for the gritty shock value of Craven's low-budget original, made at a time when horror had been relegated to the pop-cultural ghetto, mostly below the radar of major Hollywood studios. With the box-office resurgence of horror in the new millennium—and the genre's lucrative popularity among the all-important teen demographic—it's only fitting that French director Alexandre Aja should follow up his international hit High Tension with a similarly brutal American debut to boost his Hollywood street-cred. Working with cowriter Gregory Levasseur, Aja remains surprisingly faithful to Craven's original, beginning with a bickering family that crashes their truck and trailer in the remote desert of New Mexico (actually filmed in Morocco), where they are subsequently terrorized, brutalized, and murdered by a freakish family of psychopaths, mutated by the lingering radiation from 331 nuclear bomb tests that were carried out during the 1950s and '60s. After several killings are carried out in memorably grisly fashion, it's left to the survivors to outsmart their disfigured tormentors, who are blessed with horrendous make-up (especially Robert Joy as freak leader "Lizard") but never quite as unsettling as the original film's horror icon, Michael Berryman. In Aja's hands, this newfangled Hills is all about savagery and de-evolution, reducing its characters to a state of pure, retaliatory terror. It's hardly satisfying in terms of storytelling (since there's hardly any story to tell), but as an exercise in sheer malevolence, it's undeniably effective.— Jeff Shannon
The History Boys
Nicholas Hytner * * * * * Based on the acclaimed play of the same name, The History Boys is a faithful, intelligent piece of cinema, even if it is a little reluctant to stray from its theatrical roots.

Penned by Alan Bennett and set in 1982 Yorkshire, The History Boys follows a group of ‘A’ Level students as they’re schooled through their attempts to get into Oxbridge. Under the tutelage of Richard Griffiths’ liberal Hector and Campbell Moore’s Irwin, there’s plenty here to admire. Firstly, the script crackles along, with snappy dialogue and characters well worthy of your interest. Secondly, the performances from the predominantly young cast are well worthy of note. And then there’s the deft directorial touch of Nicholas Hytner (The Madness Of King George, The Crucible), all of which lifts The History Boys into a film of real merit.

There are questions to be asked over whether you’re expected to sympathise with one or two characters in the film, of course, and there’s the aforementioned issue that it’s far too faithful to the source play (which results in an overlong running time). But ultimately, The History Boys is a witty, challenging and testing film, whose qualities outweigh its problems. —Jon Foster
Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Chris Columbus * * * * * Now and forever a favourite among kids, this 1990 comedy written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) and directed by Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire) ushered Macaulay Culkin onto the screen as a troubled 8-year-old who doesn't comfortably mesh with his large family. He's forced to grow a little after being accidentally left behind when his folks and siblings fly off to Paris. A good-looking boy, Culkin lights up the screen during several funny sequences, the most famous of which finds him screaming for joy when he realises he's unsupervised in his own house. A bit wooden with dialogue, the then-little star's voice could grate on the nerves (especially in long, wise-child passages of pure bromide), but he unquestionably carries Home Alone. Billie Bird and John Candy show up as two of the interesting strangers Culkin's character meets. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are entertainingly cartoonish as thieves, but the ensuing violence once the little hero decides to keep them out of his house is over-the-top. —Tom Keogh
Home Alone 2 - Lost In New York
Chris Columbus * * * * * This somewhat unpleasant 1992 sequel to the blockbuster Home Alone revisits the first film's gimmick by stranding Macaulay Culkin's character in New York City while his family ends up somewhere else. Again, the little guy meets up with colourful people on the margins of society (including a pigeon woman played by Brenda Fricker) and again he gets into a prop-heavy battle with Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. The latter sequence is even worse than the first film in terms of violence inflicted on the two villains (director Chris Columbus, who also made the first film, can't seem to emphasise the slapstick over the graphic effects of the fight). The best running joke finds a concierge (Tim Curry) at the swank hotel where Culkin is staying trying and failing to prove that the boy is on his own. —Tom Keogh
Honey
Bille Woodruff * * * - - Jessica Alba swivels and pops her way to the top (or at least into Missy Elliot's heart) in hip-hop dance flick Honey. Honey Daniels (Alba, Dark Angel) dances in nightclubs; when she accidentally gets videotaped, a hip-hop video director spots her unique talent and hires her first as a dancer, then as a choreographer. But when he wants her body as much as her talent, how will she sustain her career? And how will this affect her dream of creating a dance studio for the local street kids? Honey is the usual Hollywood silliness, executed with sincerity but not much imagination. For some reason, Alba's sexy gyrations are supposed to be more empowering than other dancers' sexy gyrations, while being no less titillating. Featuring Mekhi Phifer, David Moscow, and cameos by hip-hop stars like Missy Elliot and Ginuwine. —Bret Fetzer
Hook
Steven Spielberg * * * * * Hook is Steven Spielberg's most spectacular film of the 90s. It is also seriously underrated, arguably the equal of ET, (1982) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (1977). An unofficial sequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Hook adopts the startling premise of what happened after "the boy who never grew up", grew up. Robin Williams, in his career best performance, is the corporate suit forced to remember he once was "The Pan", returning to Neverland to battle nefarious Captain Hook (a splendid Dustin Hoffman), for his children's love.

This is a ravishingly beautiful, stunningly designed film, at once highly imaginative and with a genuinely magical atmosphere which ranges from exquisite, delicate fantasy to slapstick tomfoolery. There is fine support from Maggie Smith, Julia Roberts and Bob Hoskins, and John Williams' rapturously romantic score is yet another career high. Slated upon release, and dubbed a flop though it grossed $200 million, Hook reacted against the "greed is good" 80s by upholding family values and responsibility while evoking a genuine sense of wonder. Only the somewhat pantomime final showdown disappoints, but alongside Legend, (1985)and Labyrinth, (1986), Hook is ripe for reassessment as a fantasy classic. The DVD transfer is superb and the disc, though not packed with additional features, has some interesting extras. —Gary S. Dalkin
The Hot Chick
Tom Brady * * * - -
Hot Shots
Jim Abrahams * * * * -
House Of Flying Daggers
Yimou Zhang * * * - - No one uses colour like Chinese director Zhang Yimou—movies like Raise the Red Lantern or Hero, though different in tone and subject matter, are drenched in rich, luscious shades of red, blue, yellow, and green. House of Flying Daggers is no exception; if they weren't choreographed with such vigorous imagination, the spectacular action sequences would seem little more than an excuse for vivid hues rippling across the screen. Government officers Leo and Jin (Asian superstars Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro) set out to destroy an underground rebellion called the House of Flying Daggers (named for their weapon of choice, a curved blade that swoops through the air like a boomerang). Their only chance to find the rebels is a blind women named Mei (Ziyi Zhang, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) who has some lethal kung fu moves of her own. In the guise of an aspiring rebel, Jin escorts Mei through gorgeous forests and fields that become bloody battlegrounds as soldiers try to kill them both. While arrows and spears of bamboo fly through the air, Mei, Jin, and Leo turn against each other in surprising ways, driven by passion and honour. Zhang's previous action/art film, Hero, sometimes sacrificed momentum for sheer visual beauty; House of Flying Daggers finds a more muscular balance of aesthetic splendor and dazzling swordplay. —Bret Fetzer
House On Haunted Hill
Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, William Malone * * * - - House on Haunted Hill is one of the new breed of waste-no-time thrill machines, like Deep Blue Sea, and a particularly effective example at that. The plot is pure contrivance: For a party stunt, a wealthy amusement-park manufacturer (Geoffrey Rush) offers five people a million dollars if they spend the night in a former insane asylum where the patients murdered the sadistic staff. But it turns out the five people who arrive aren't the five he invited—did his wife (Famke Janssen), who hates him, make the switch? From there events unfold with a smart combination of human and supernatural machinations; spooky jolts are dispensed at regular, but not entirely predictable, intervals. The visual effects owe a considerable debt to Jacob's Ladder, a much more ambitious movie; House on Haunted Hill just wants to get under your skin, and succeeds more than you'd expect. Rush is his entertainingly hammy self; Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter and Bridgette Wilson are attractive and reasonably straight-faced about it all; and Chris Kattan is genuinely funny as the house's neurotic owner. Some elements of the plot seem to have been lost in the editing process, but it hardly matters. More bothersome is that the scares go flat when computer effects take over at the end—the digital images just aren't as creepy as the more suggestive stuff that came before. But that's just the very end; most of the movie has a lot of momentum. Watch until the end of the credits for a final bit of eeriness. —Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
The Hudsucker Proxy
Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen * * * * - The Coen brothers (Raising Arizona, Fargo) have become the most consistently original filmmakers in the land. In a salute/reworking of the fast-talking comedies of the 40s, we follow Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) and his amazing rise to the top. But he's only a puppet for the evil Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), who wants the company for himself. The Coens' design is the real star and their first big-budget film will stimulate movie fans. The story weakens in the middle but you will find very few films that move with this much imagination. As a Kate Hepburn-hybrid, Jennifer Jason Leigh is wonderful in an almost unplayable role. The less you know about the film, the better it plays, so just think of it as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying mixed with Brazil and every journalistic drama made before 1960. Sam Raimi co-wrote the screenplay. —Doug Thomas
Hulk
Ang Lee * - - - -
Hustle: Series 1
Bharat Nalluri, Minkie Spiro, Robert Bailey * * * * -
Hustle: Series 2
Alrick Riley, John Strickland, Otto Bathurst * * * * *
Hustle: Series 3
Otto Bathurst * * * * - The third series of the con drama Hustle finds the team in confident form. The premise remains pretty much unaltered, as a team of con artists plan and execute an increasingly elaborate and well-plotted collection of jobs. But the fun as always is in the execution, with a lively cast making the show hard to resist.

Season three features six episodes, with some real highlights to be found. As always, the series finale is just brilliant, leaving you salivating for the fourth season, but surely the episode finding Mickey and Danny naked in the midst of London will go down as one of the best that Hustle’s ever managed to rustle up.

Running richly through the duration of the series though are the trademark features that have made Hustle as popular as it is: tightly woven plots, carpet-pulling twists, clever writing and a cast who seem to be having a whale of a time making the show.

Is series three up to the standards of the two that preceded it? Absolutely it is, with Robert Vaughn and Adrian Lester on top form, and even the likes of Richard Chamberlain dropping in too. Both consistent, and hugely entertaining, it leaves you positively salivating for Hustle series four… —Jon Foster
Hustle: Series 4
Lee MacIntosh, Stefan Schwartz, Alrick Riley * * * - -
I Heart Huckabees
David O. Russell * - - - - Billed as "an existential comedy," I Heart Huckabees is a flawed yet endearingly audacious screwball romp that dares to ponder life's biggest questions. Much of director David O. Russell's philosophical humor is dense, talky, and impenetrable, leading critic Roger Ebert to observe that "it leaves the viewer out of the loop," and suggesting that Russell's screenplay (written with his assistant, Jeff Baena) is admirably bold yet frustratingly undisciplined. Russell's ideas are big but his expression of them is frenetic, centering on the unlikely pairing of an environmentalist (Jason Schwartzman) and a firefighter (Mark Wahlberg) as they depend on existential detectives (Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman) and a French nihilist (Isabelle Huppert) to make sense of their existential crises, brought on (respectively) by a two-faced chain-store executive (Jude Law) and his spokesmodel girlfriend (Naomi Watts), and the aftermath of 9/11's terrorism. No brief description can do justice to Russell's comedic conceit; you'll either be annoyed and mystified or elated and delighted by this wacky primer for coping with 21st century lunacy. Deserving of its mixed reviews, I Heart Huckabees is an audacious mess, like life itself, and accepting that is the key to enjoying both. —Jeff Shannon
I.D.
Philip Davis * - - - - Intense, ferocious and deeply unsettling, I.D. is an excellent examination of Britain's unsavoury contribution to global culture: football hooliganism. Whereas Alan Clarke's The Firm showed the violence that lurked behind a seemingly normal façade, I.D. posits football hooliganism as a feral temptation. Dedicated, ambitious undercover policeman John (Reece Dinsdale) becomes seduced by the violence of an East London gang, ultimately becoming lost from his regular life with his wife (Clare Skinner). Dinsdale delivers a measured performance that sees him spiral from committed, right-minded policeman to shaven-headed, Nazi-saluting monster, revelling in the violent impulses he embraces with glee and, alarmingly, becoming a hero amongst those he is infiltrating. Warren Clarke is absolutely monstrous as the leader of the hooligan gang, a paragon of bigoted hatred and the embodiment of John's future. Often unnervingly realistic, director Phil Davis is adept at creating riotous mob scenes that chillingly accentuate the world into which John is drawn. It could be said that I.D.'s premise is too thin, and that hooliganism is not addressed in an effective manner, but it is without doubt a chilling character study of the temptation of violence and the horrific influences that lurk in the heart of society. —Danny Graydon
Ichi The Killer
Takashi Miike * * * * -
Inception
Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Christopher Nolan * * * * *
The Incredibles
Bud Luckey, Brad Bird, Roger Gould * * * * - After creating the last great traditionally animated film of the 20th century, The Iron Giant, filmmaker Brad Bird joined top-drawer studio Pixar to create this exciting, completely entertaining computer-animated film. Bird gives us a family of "supers," a brood of five with special powers desperately trying to fit in with the 9-to-5 suburban lifestyle. Of course, in a more innocent world, Bob and Helen Parr were superheroes, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. But blasted lawsuits and public disapproval forced them and other supers to go incognito, making it even tougher for their school-age kids, the shy Violet and the aptly named Dash. When a stranger named Mirage (voiced by Elizabeth Pena) secretly recruits Bob for a potential mission, the old glory days spin in his head, even if his body is a bit too plump for his old super suit.

Bird has his cake and eats it, too. He and the Pixar wizards send up superhero and James Bond movies while delivering a thrilling, supercool action movie that rivals Spider-Man 2 for 2004's best onscreen thrills. While it's just as funny as the previous Pixar films, The Incredibles has a far wider-ranging emotional palette (it's Pixar's first PG film). Bird takes several jabs, including some juicy commentary on domestic life ("It's not graduation, he's moving from the fourth to fifth grade!").

The animated Parrs look and act a bit like the actors portraying them, Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Lee also have a grand old time as, respectively, superhero Frozone and bad guy Syndrome. Nearly stealing the show is Bird himself, voicing the eccentric designer of superhero outfits ("No capes!"), Edna Mode.

Nominated for four Oscars, The Incredibles won for Best Animated Film and, in an unprecedented win for non-live-action films, Sound Editing.

The Presentation
This two-disc set is (shall we say it?), incredible. The digital-to-digital transfer pops off the screen and the 5.1 Dolby sound will knock the socks off most systems. But like any superhero, it has an Achilles heel. This marks the first Pixar release that doesn't include both the widescreen and full-screen versions in the same DVD set, which was a great bargaining chip for those cinephiles who still want a full-frame presentation for other family members. With a 2.39:1 widescreen ratio (that's big black bars, folks, à la Dr. Zhivago), a few more viewers may decide to go with the full-frame presentation. Fortunately, Pixar reformats their full-frame presentation so the action remains in frame.

The Extras
The most-repeated segments will be the two animated shorts. Newly created for this DVD is the hilarious "Jack-Jack Attack," filling the gap in the film during which the Parr baby is left with the talkative babysitter, Kari. "Boundin'," which played in front of the film theatrically, was created by Pixar character designer Bud Luckey. This easygoing take on a dancing sheep gets better with multiple viewings (be sure to watch the featurette on the short).

Brad Bird still sounds like a bit of an outsider in his commentary track, recorded before the movie opened. Pixar captain John Lasseter brought him in to shake things up, to make sure the wildly successful studio would not get complacent. And while Bird is certainly likable, he does not exude Lasseter's teddy-bear persona. As one animator states, "He's like strong coffee; I happen to like strong coffee." Besides a resilient stance to be the best, Bird threw in an amazing number of challenges, most of which go unnoticed unless you delve into the 70 minutes of making-of features plus two commentary tracks (Bird with producer John Walker, the other from a dozen animators). We hear about the numerous sets, why you go to "the Spaniards" if you're dealing with animation physics, costume problems (there's a reason why previous Pixar films dealt with single- or uncostumed characters), and horror stories about all that animated hair. Bird's commentary throws out too many names of the! animators even after he warns himself not to do so, but it's a lively enough time. The animator commentary is of greatest interest to those interested in the occupation.

There is a 30-minute segment on deleted scenes with temporary vocals and crude drawings, including a new opening (thankfully dropped). The "secret files" contain a "lost" animated short from the superheroes' glory days. This fake cartoon (Frozone and Mr. Incredible are teamed with a pink bunny) wears thin, but play it with the commentary track by the two superheroes and it's another sharp comedy sketch. There are also NSA "files" on the other superheroes alluded to in the film with dossiers and curiously fun sound bits. "Vowellet" is the only footage about the well-known cast (there aren't even any obligatory shots of the cast recording their lines). Author/cast member Sarah Vowell (NPR's This American Life) talks about her first foray into movie voice-overs—daughter Violet—and the unlikelihood of her being a superhero. The feature is unlike anything we've seen on a Disney or Pixar DVD extra, but who else would consider Abe Lincoln an action figure? —Doug Thomas
Independence Day
Roland Emmerich * * * * - In Independence Day, a scientist played by Jeff Goldblum once actually had a fistfight with a man (Bill Pullman) who is now president of the United States. That same president, late in the film, personally flies a jet fighter to deliver a payload of missiles against an attack by extraterrestrials. Independence Day is the kind of movie so giddy with its own outrageousness that one doesn't even blink at such howlers in the plot. Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is a pastiche of conventions from flying-saucer movies from the 1940s and 1950s, replete with icky monsters and bizarre coincidences that create convenient shortcuts in the story. (Such as the way the girlfriend of one of the film's heroes—played by Will Smith—just happens to run across the president's injured wife, who are then both rescued by Smith's character who somehow runs across them in alien-ravaged Los Angeles County.) The movie is just sheer fun, aided by a cast that knows how to balance the retro requirements of the genre with a more contemporary feel. — Tom Keogh
Infernal Affairs
Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Alan Mak, Wai-keung Lau With Infernal Affairs, Hong Kong filmmakers Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak have successfully taken a smart script and a great cast, added some stylistic cinematography, and dual-fistedly given a new twist to a formulaic genre. Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau), a young, loyal gangster, is ordered by his Triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang) to join the police force. While on the inside the young mole can keep a close eye on police activity, ensuring the gang's activities will not be interrupted. Police Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) has a similar plan. He takes a bright, ambitious police cadet Yan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and makes him an undercover cop with plans to get him inside the Triads. Years pass and both are now deep into their assigned roles. Undercover cop Yan, more or less living the life of a gangster, is now a member of Boss Sam's group, and "Officer" Lau has all the appearance of a good cop trying to bust up the Triads' drug ring. During a bust that could finally bring down Boss Sam, the moles inadvertently become aware of each other's existence, and each is left wondering who is on the inside. What follows is a unique and exciting twist on the classic cat and mouse chase in which each man is not fighting for his life, but for his anonymity. In addition to its plot twists, what lifts Infernal Affairs above the standard cop story is its subtle exploration of the relative nature of good and evil. Part action, part psychological examination, Infernal Affairs is a sharp and fresh take on the classic crime story, and the inspiration for a 2006 Martin Scorsese remake (The Departed). Not to be missed. —Rob Bracco
Infernal Affairs II
Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Andy Lau, Alan Mak
Innocent Moves
Steven Zaillian * * * * -
Inside I'm Dancing
Damien O'Donnell * * * - -
Inside Man
Spike Lee * * * * - An intelligent thriller with a healthy few twists up its sleeve, The Inside Man marks strong, although hardly career-best, work from all concerned.

The plot is simple, and hardly fresh. On one side, you have a sophisticated team who walk into a bank, take everyone hostage and issue demands. On the other, you have a team of cops trying to apprehend those responsible and get the hostages out safely. In the middle, you have the owner of the bank, who's willing to bring in a bit of extra help to get the situation resolved. And yet what could have been a standard two-dimensional Hollywood blockbuster gets brains and substance thanks to those in front of and behind the camera.

The talent in front is led by a consummate Denzel Washington, as the cop leading the situation. Then there's the increasingly impressive Clive Owen and the always-excellent Jodie Foster, with sterling support from the likes of Christopher Plummer and Willem Dafoe.

Behind the camera, much has been made of the fact that this is the least Spike Lee-like film that Spike Lee has directed, yet that misses the point. The Inside Man sees a skilful, diligent and clever director utterly comfortable with what's going on, and wringing out plenty from the simple premise.

It's not a flawless film by any means: the last reel doesn't quite match up to what preceded it, and the script doesn't really get you near the skin of the characters (even if it does serve up some delicious, not entirely expected moments). Yet as heist movies go, this is one of the better examples of recent times, with plenty of reasons to recommend it. —Simon Brew
The Interpreter
Sydney Pollack * * * * - Director Sydney Pollack delivers megawatt star power, high gloss, and political passion to The Interpreter, his first thriller since The Firm. With Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn delivering smooth, understated performances, the film more closely recalls Pollack's 1975 Robert Redford/Faye Dunaway paranoid thriller Three Days of the Condor, trading conspiratorial politicians for potential assassination in the United Nations General Assembly (this being the first film ever granted permission to use actual U.N. locations). Kidman plays a U.N. interpreter who inadvertently overhears hints of a plot to kill the reviled, tyrannical leader of her (fictional) African homeland; Penn is the Secret Service agent assigned to protect her, or to determine her role (if any) in the assassination scenario. By distancing itself from real-life politics, The Interpreter softens its potential impact as a thriller about contemporary globalization and threats to international peace, but the Penn/Kidman personal drama (between two people who gain a deep appreciation for shared anguish, without being artificially forced into romance) adds a richly human dimension to Pollack's expert handling of the thriller elements of a complex yet easily-followed plot. Indie-film stalwart Catherine Keener shines in her supporting role as Penn's sarcastic by sympathetic Secret Service partner. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau * * * * * You know you're going to get a different kind of superhero when you cast Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role. And Iron Man is different, in welcome ways. Cleverly updated from Marvel Comics' longstanding series, Iron Man puts billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (that's Downey) in the path of some Middle Eastern terrorists; in a brilliantly paced section, Stark invents an indestructible suit that allows him to escape. If the rest of the movie never quite hits that precise rhythm again, it nevertheless offers plenty of pleasure, as the renewed Stark swears off his past as a weapons manufacturer, develops his new Iron Man suit, and puzzles both his business partner (Jeff Bridges in great form) and executive assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow). Director Jon Favreau geeks out in fun ways with the hardware, but never lets it overpower the movie, and there's always a goofy one-liner or a slapstick pratfall around to break the tension. As for Downey, he doesn't get to jitterbug around too much in his improv way, but he brings enough of his unpredictable personality to keep the thing fresh. And listen up, hardcore Marvel mavens: even if you know the Stan Lee cameo is coming, you won't be able to guess it until it's on the screen. It all builds to a splendid final scene, with a concluding line delivery by Downey that just feels absolutely right. —Robert Horton
Irreversible
Gaspar Noé * * - - - Irreversible begins with the closing credits running backwards before the film begins (or ends) with Marcus (Vincent Cassell) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) being escorted out of a gay s/m club by the cops, Marcus with his arm broken and Pierre in handcuffs. The "story" proceeds to unwind in a series of single-take scenes that unfold Memento-style, with each scene giving more context to what we have seen previously.

Each scenario depicts actions, dialogue, incident, behaviour and circumstance that the lead characters might have wished didn't happen, ranging from extreme violence through awkward social situations to mild embarrassment. The central character (and possible dreamer of this whole what-if story) emerges as Alex (Monica Bellucci), who suffers the worst in a very hard-to-watch rape sequence in an underpass. Semi-improvised, the scenes all have attack and power as themes, with later/earlier conversational sequences that suggest life isn't all sexual assaults in the dark, showing equal cinematic imagination with the horrors. Arguably, this is not a film most would subject themselves to twice, but it is something that stays in the mind for days after viewing, sparking far more ideas and emotions than most wallow-in-nastiness pictures. —Kim Newman
The Island
Michael Bay * * - - - An intriguing action adventure set in the near future, The Island finds those who survived a mass global contamination living in a contained and highly controlled world. Their actions are controlled, their lives are routine, and the only hope is to win lottery and be sent to a mysterious island, the so-called last surviving, uncontaminated paradise on the planet.

Naturally enough, things are quite what they initially seem, at least in the eyes of Ewan McGregror’s Johnny Two Alpha. Along with Scarlet Johansen’s Jordan Two Delta, they soon find out what happens when you don’t fully comply with the rules of this deeply controlled world, and the stage is thus set for some action-packed cinema.

Given the film’s disappointing box office returns though, you could be forgiven for thinking that all is not well with The Island, and truthfully, it’s a movie with problems. Its pacing feels a little off, and there are moments when the script does the film no favours at all.

Yet take The Island as a popcorn flick, and you’ll more than likely find yourself enjoying a good couple of hours of solid entertainment. Sure, ultimately they could have made more of the premise, and produced a tighter movie. But what’s on screen usually works well enough, and the two stars don’t do badly with the material at their disposal.—Simon Brew
Jackie Brown
Quentin Tarantino * * * * - The curiosity of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown is Robert Forster's worldly wise bail bondsman Max Cherry, the most alive character in this adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch. The Academy Awards saw it the same way, giving Forster the film's only nomination. The film is more "rum" than "punch" and will certainly disappoint those who are looking for Tarantino's trademark style. This movie is a slow, decaffeinated story of six characters glued to a half million dollars brought illegally into the country. The money belongs to Ordell (Samuel L Jackson), a gunrunner just bright enough to control his universe and do his own dirty work. His just-paroled friend—a loose term with Ordell—Louis (Robert De Niro) is just taking up space and could be interested in the money. However, his loyalties are in question between his old partner and Ordell's doped-up girl (Bridget Fonda). Certainly Fed Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) wants to arrest Ordell with the illegal money. The key is the title character, a late-40-ish flight-attendant (Pam Grier) who can pull her own weight and soon has both sides believing she's working for them. The end result is rarely in doubt, and what is left is two hours of Tarantino's expert dialogue as he moves his characters around town.

Tarantino changed the race of Jackie and Ordell, a move that means little except that it allows Tarantino to heap on black culture and language, something he has a gift and passion for. He said this film is for an older audience although the language and drug use may put them off. The film is not a salute to Grier's blaxploitation films beyond the musical score. Unexpectedly the most fascinating scenes are between Grier and Forster: glowing in the limelight of their first major Hollywood film after decades of work. —Doug Thomas
Jarhead
Sam Mendes * * * * - Based on Anthony Swofford’s excellent memoir about his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I, Jarhead is a war movie in which the waiting is a far greater factor upon the characters than the war itself, and the build up to combat is more drama than what combat is depicted. To some viewers hoping for typical movie action, this will seem like a cruel joke. But it’s not. It’s just the story as it was written, and if you liked the book, you will probably like the movie. If you didn’t, then the movie won’t change your mind.

The movie follows the trajectory of Swofford (played with thoughtful intensity by Jake Gyllenhaal) from wayward Marine recruit (he joined because he "got lost on the way to college") to skilled Marine sniper, and on into the desert in preparation for the attack on Iraq. No-nonsense, Marine-for-life Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx), the man who recruited Swofford and his spotter Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) into the sniper team, leads them in training, and in waiting where their lives are dominated by endless tension, pointless exercises in absurdity (like playing football in the scorching heat of the desert in their gas masks so it will look better for the media’s TV cameras), more training, and constant anticipation of the moment to come when they’ll finally get to kill. When the war does come, it moves too fast for Swofford’s sniper team, and the one chance they get at a kill—to do the one thing they’ve trained so hard and waited so long for—eludes them, leaving them to wonder what was the point of all they had endured.

As directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), the movie remains very loyal to the language and vision of the book, but it doesn’t entirely work as the film needs something more than a literal translation to bring out its full potential. Mendes’ stark and, at times, apocalyptic visuals add a lot and strike the right tone: wide shots of inky-black oil raining down on the vast, empty desert from flaming oil wells contrasted with close-ups of crude-soaked faces struggling through the mire vividly bring to life the meaning of the tagline "welcome to the suck." But much of the second half of the movie will probably leave some viewers feeling disappointed in the cinematic experience, while others might appreciate its microcosmic depiction of modern chaos and aimlessness. Jarhead is one of those examples where the book is better than the movie, but not for lack of trying. —Dan Vancini
Jerry Maguire
Cameron Crowe * * * * * Jerry Maguire, the film that launched the careers of writer-director Cameron Crowe and actress Renée Zellwenger, is accurately regarded as one of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s. It's an unconventional tale about the paradoxical nature of success in which a top sports agent (Tom Cruise) is forced to reassess his life when he is unceremoniously dumped by his employer. After falling in love with single mother Dorothy Boyd (Zellwenger), and supported by loyal client and second-rate football star Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Maguire attempts to rebuild his fractured life.

At times the film's lightweight, pop-sociology view of the hungry nature of the modern day workplace is clichéd to say the least. However, because Crowe is able to develop meaningful characters, his contradictory lunges against capitalism are submerged by the excellent performances of Cruise and company. There are also top notch supporting roles from Zellwenger's screen son Ray (child star Jonathan Lipnicki) and dictatorial older sister Laurel (Bonnie Hunt).

On the DVD: Jerry Maguire's animated menus are created in the style of a messy desk with Post-It-Note selection icons but these don't function as anticipated. As well as the audio commentary over the main feature, the bonus disc unnecessarily includes live action visual footage of Cruise, Crowe, Gooding and Zellwenger providing the same remarks. Unfortunately, the visuals only add to irritability of the exclusive banter between the four. There's also a short "making-of" featurette along with Cameron Crow's documentary Drew Rosenhaus: Sports Agent, which highlights the inspiration behind the film's character Bob Sugar. The "Mission Statement", reproduced in its entirety, isn't a quick and easy read. The music video for Bruce Springsteen's "Secret Garden" adds a mellow, atmospheric twist to the bonus disc. There are also exclusive DVD-ROM extras tucked away, including the screenplay and photo gallery. —John Galilee
Jerry Springer - The Opera
Stewart Lee * * * * *
John Grisham's The Rainmaker / The Firm / Changing Lanes
Thriller/Legal Box Set * * * * *
Jonathan Creek - Complete Series 1-4 Boxset
Alan Davies, Caroline Quentin, Chris Hainstock * * * * *
Jumpin' Jack Flash
Penny Marshall * * * * -
Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg * * * * - On remote Isla Nuba entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has built the ultimate theme-park, populated by genetically engineered dinosaurs painstakingly reconstructed from DNA extracted from prehistoric amber... and, of course, frogs! Adapted from Michael Crichton's novels, Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park blockbusters became a cultural and commercial phenomenon thanks in part to the enduring appeal of all things prehistoric. But the films' extraordinarily realistic digital dinosaurs also showcased the spectacular computer-generated effects that have since become ubiquitous in Hollywood filmmaking. Indeed, in the years since 1993 it is debatable whether any films have revolutionised special effects to such an extent, and this DVD box set offers the perfect opportunity to relive both movies' visual and aural splendour (the original film was also the first to be released with a DTS soundtrack).

Given their rather insipid human prey (including Dickie Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum) there is little doubt that the dinosaurs are the real stars, from the benign majesty of the towering brachiosaurus to the reptilian menace of the velociraptors. Most memorable of all is the T-rex, displaying a spine-chilling combination of physical ferocity and child-like bewilderment in the face of its reincarnation in the modern world. While Jurassic Park still retains a unique power and a seminal place in film history, Spielberg's The Lost World sequel exceeds its predecessor in almost every respect: the digital dinos are more populous, faster and meaner, the set-pieces have more bravura, and the special effects raise the benchmark even higher in blending CGI and live action spectacle. Overall, the first film's sense of awe and almost stately contemplation of its own visual splendour are replaced with a more visceral style and darker tone, as the raptors and rexes attack with a predatory ferociousness more reminiscent of Aliens than Godzilla. Highlights include the T-rexes' cliff-top assault on a trailer van, the trails of attacking raptors as they move silently through a field of tall grass, and the safari-style dinosaur round-up by the marauding hunters, led by a grizzled Pete Postlethwaite. —Steve Napleton
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham
Karan Johar * * * * - Amazon.co.uk Review The 2001 romantic Bollywood drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham ("Happiness and Tears") proved to be even more successful than Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the highest-grossing Indian film of all time and one which was also directed by Karan Johar. Starring veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan and wife Jaya, this tells the story of an Indian family who live in palatial comfort but who are riven when the eldest, adopted son Rahul marries Anjali (Kajol) a feisty and attractive woman but whose "lower breeding" causes his father to disapprove of her. Breaking his mother's heart, Rahul moves to Britain with Anjali before younger brother Rohan tries to go after him and end 10 years of estrangement to reunite the family. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is packed with contemporary trappings and production values but is in every way a traditional and generic Hindi movie. Those new to Bollywood might be disconcerted by some of the fashion statements or the mixture of drawn-out, lachrymose melodrama and slightly overplayed comedy-romantic interplay between Rahul and Anjali. There are also some scenes around Leicester Square and Westminster that are almost insulting in their stereotyping of hot, swinging London. However, K3G—as it has become affectionately known—is a riot of joyful colour, music and choreography (an embarrassing version of "It's Raining Men" is an exception). This is not a crossover movie, perhaps but a sumptuous treat for Bollywood fans.
The Karate Kid
John G. Avildsen * * * * -
Kill Bill, Volume 1
Quentin Tarantino * * * * * Proudly billed as "the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino", Kill Bill, Volume 1 is actually half of it (if you include his chunk of Four Rooms it's really the fourth and a quarterth). If Jackie Brown achieved a certain maturity beyond callous cool, then this is his Mr Hyde's trash picture, which relishes all the things in cinema that are supposed to be bad for you. The opening Shaw Brothers logo and cheesy "our feature presentation" card, redolent of rancid Kia-Ora and stale Wrestlers, sets this up as defiantly a movie-geek's movie, whose touchstones are spaghetti Westerns, comic books, kung fu/samurai quickies and second-hand vinyl albums. If Kill Bill was a dog-eared paperback, it'd be confiscated by a teacher.

Tarantino's favoured flashback-and-forth structure means we begin with a shuffle between past and present as the Bride with No Name (Uma Thurman) is shown being apparently murdered at the climax of a Texas wedding chapel massacre and alive again tracking down the second person on her to-kill list. The bulk of the film takes place between these plot points as the Bride carries a vengeance feud to the first of her enemies, yakuza queenpin O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). Like its soundtrack—everything from Nancy Sinatra to the RZA, with the Green Hornet theme along the way—it's an eclectic picture, with sequences done as a gruesome anime, particularly genocidal stretches in black and white, and segues from cheerful kung fu massacre to Kurosawa-look poised duelling. Tarantino holds back on his trademark motormouth pop culture references; in fact, much of the film is in sub-titled Japanese.

You have to lock your brain into trash-film mode to get the most out of it, but its cliffhanger fade-out—unlike the dispiriting "to be continued" at the end of Matrix Reloaded—makes you want to come back. It's not a spoiler to reveal that Bill (a barely glimpsed David Carradine) hasn't been killed yet, and Thurman needs to take out Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen before she gets to him. —Kim Newman
Kill Bill, Volume 2
Quentin Tarantino * * * * - "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) gets her satisfaction—and so do we—in Quentin Tarantino's "roaring rampage of revenge", Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Where Vol. 1 was a hyper-kinetic tribute to the Asian chop-socky grindhouse flicks that have been thoroughly cross-referenced in Tarantino's film-loving brain, Vol. 2—not a sequel, but Part Two of a breathtakingly cinematic epic—is Tarantino's contemporary martial-arts Western, fuelled by iconic images, music and themes lifted from any source that Tarantino holds dear, from the action-packed cheapies of William Witney (one of several filmmakers Tarantino gratefully honours in the closing credits) to the spaghetti epics of Sergio Leone. Tarantino doesn't copy so much as elevate the genres he loves, and the entirety of Kill Bill is clearly the product of a singular artistic vision, even as it careens from one influence to another. Violence erupts with dynamic impact, but unlike Vol. 1, this slower grand finale revels in Tarantino's trademark dialogue and loopy longueurs, reviving the career of David Carradine (who plays Bill for what he is: a snake charmer), and giving Thurman's Bride an outlet for maternal love and well-earned happiness. Has any actress endured so much for the sake of a unique collaboration? As the credits remind us, "The Bride" was jointly created by "Q&U", and she's become an unforgettable heroine in a pair of delirious movie-movies (Vol. 3 awaits, some 15 years hence) that Tarantino fans will study and love for decades to come. —Jeff Shannon
The King's Speech
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Hooper
Kingdom Of Heaven
Ridley Scott * * * * * It's hard to believe Ridley Scott's handsome epic won't become the cinematic touchstone of the Crusades for years to come. Kingdom of Heaven is greater than the sum of its parts, delivering a vital, mostly engrossing tale following Balian (Orlando Bloom), a lonely French blacksmith who discovers he's a noble heir and takes his father's (Liam Neeson) place in the center of the universe circa 1184: Jerusalem. Here, grand battles and backdoor politics are key as Scott and first-time screenwriter William Monahan fashion an excellent storyline to tackle the centuries-long conflict. Two forward-thinking kings, Baldwin (Edward Norton in an uncredited yet substantial role) and Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), hold an uneasy truce between Christians (who hold the city) and Muslims while factions champ at the bit for blood. There are good and evildoers on both sides, with the Knights Templar taking the brunt of the blame; Balian plans to find his soul while protecting Baldwin and the people. The look of the film, as nearly everything is from Scott, is impressive: his CGI-infused battle scenes rival the LOTR series and, with cinematographer John Mathieson, create postcard beauty with snowy French forests and the vast desert (filmed in Morocco and Spain). An excellent supporting cast, including Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis, also help make the head and heart of the film work. Many critics pointed out that Bloom doesn't have the gravitas of Russell Crowe in the lead (then again, who does?), but it's the underdeveloped character and not the actor that hurts the film and impacts its power. Balian isn't given much more to do than be sullen and give an occasional big speech, alongside his perplexing abilities for warfare tactics and his wandering moral compass (whose sole purpose seems to be to put a love scene in the movie). Note: all the major characters except Neeson's are based on fact, but many are heavily fictionalized. —Doug Thomas
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black * * * * - With smart scribe Shane Black both penning the script and behind the camera, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was never going to be ordinary. Yet it’s far better than you could have hoped for, marrying in comedy, action, a bit of a detective work and a constant, knowing wink to the audience.

Cruelly underperforming at the box office, the film finds Robert Downey Jr as a small time thief, who quite literally finds himself stumbling into the world of acting. With a potential role as a private detective in the offing, his agent arranges for him to spend his time with private investigator Val Kilmer. All is fairly light, until a dead body crosses their paths and a genuine mystery presents itself.

And that then sets the scene for a pacey, energetic film spearheaded by a trio of strong performances. The main plaudits should go to the interplay between Kilmer and Downey Jr, who both eat up their respective best roles in years. Meeting them head on though is Michelle Monaghan, who plays a wannabe actress with a talent for fast talking, and looks that Downey Jr’s Harry can’t help but resist.

Now it’s fair to argue that the setup itself doesn’t feel particularly fresh. Yet the execution most certainly is, with Black savvy enough to know when to avoid the genre clichés, and when to drive his script right through the middle of them with a great big grin on his face. Grounded by a splendidly witty narration from Downey Jr, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is, at the point this review is being written, an underappreciated gem. Hopefully time, and DVD, will see it right.—Simon Brew
The Kite Runner
Khalid Abdalla, Atossa Leoni, Marc Forster * * * * - Like the bestselling book upon which it's based, The Kite Runner will haunt the viewer long after the film is over. A tale of childhood betrayal, innocence, harsh reality, and dreamy memory, The Kite Runner faces good and evil—and the path between them, though often blurry and sorrowfully relative. Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) presents a painterly vision of Afghanistan before the Soviet tanks, before the Taliban—lush, verdant, fertile—in its landscape and in its people and their history and hopes. The story follows two young boys' friendship, tested beyond endurance, and the haunting of their adult selves by what happened in their youth—and what horrors befall their country in the meantime. The performances of the two boys—Zekeria Ebrahimi (Amir) and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada (Hassan)—are the film's strongest, unforced and gently evocative. The penance paid by their adult selves is foreshadowed, but never predictable—and the metaphor of innocence lost, a common theme in Forster's work, keeps the film, like the title kites, truly aloft. —A.T. Hurley
The Krays
Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Peter Medak
Kung Fu Hustle
Stephen Chow * * * * - Movie-kinetics genius. Kung Fu Hustle takes the gleeful mayhem of Hong Kong action movies, the deadpan physical humor of silent comedies, and the sheer elasticity of Wile E. Coyote cartoons and fuses them into a spectacle that is simple in its joys and mind-boggling in its orchestration. A run-down slum has been poor but peaceful until a bunch of black-suited gangsters called the Axe Gang show up to cause trouble—and discover that, hidden among the humble poor, are three kung fu masters trying to live an ordinary life. But after these martial artists repulse the gang with their flying fists and feet, the gang leader hires a pair of assassins, whose arrival leads to the unveiling of more secrets, until both the screen and the audience are dizzy with hyperbolic fight artistry (choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, who also choreographed The Matrix). Weaving through this escalating fury is a loudmouthed loser (writer/director/actor Stephen Chow) who suddenly finds himself having to live up to his bragging. Kung Fu Hustle more than lives up to the promise of Chow's previous film, Shaolin Soccer: it's a movie made by an imagination unfettered by the laws of physics. Hugely entertaining. —Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
L.A. Confidential
Curtis Hanson * * * * * In a time when it seems that every other movie makes some claim to being a film noir, LA Confidential is the real thing—a gritty, sordid tale of sex, scandal, betrayal and corruption of all sorts (police, political, press—and, of course, very personal) in 1940s Hollywood. The Oscar-winning screenplay is actually based on several titles in James Ellroy's series of chronological thriller novels (including the title volume, The Big Nowhere and White Jazz)—a compelling blend of LA history and pulp fiction that has earned it comparisons to the greatest of all Technicolour noir films, Chinatown.

Kim Basinger richly deserved her Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a conflicted femme fatale; unfortunately, her male costars are so uniformly fine that they may have canceled each other out with the Academy voters: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey and James Cromwell play LAPD officers of varying stripes. Pearce's character is a particularly intriguing study in Hollywood amorality and ambition, a strait-laced "hero" (and son of a departmental legend) whose career goals outweigh all other moral, ethical and legal considerations. If he's a good guy, it's only because he sees it as the quickest route to a promotion. —Jim Emerson
Labyrinth
Jim Henson * * * * * Sarah (a teenage Jennifer Connelly) rehearses the role of a fairy-tale queen, performing for her stuffed animals. She is about to discover that the time has come to leave her childhood behind. In real life she has to baby-sit her brother and contend with parents who don't understand her at all. Her petulance leads her to call the goblins to take the baby away, but when they actually do, she realises her responsibility to rescue him. Sarah negotiates the Labyrinth to reach the City of the Goblins and the castle of their king. The king is the only other human in the film and is played by a glam-rocking David Bowie, who performs five of his songs. The rest of the cast are puppets, a wonderful array of Jim Henson's imaginative masterpieces. Henson gives credit to children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, and the creatures in the movie will remind Sendak fans of his drawings. The castle of the king is a living MC Escher set that adults will enjoy. The film combines the highest standards of art, costume, and set decoration. Like executive producer George Lucas's other fantasies, Labyrinth mixes adventure with lessons about growing up. —Lloyd Chesley
Lady Vengeance
Chan-Wook Park * * * * - It's rare that a movie combines extreme violence, visual panache, and gut-wrenching emotion, but Lady Vengeance is just such a movie. Geum-ja Lee (the lovely Yeong-ae Lee, Joint Security Area) is sent to prison at the age of 19 for kidnapping and murdering a 5-year-old boy. She becomes a model prisoner, apparently converting to Christianity and helping care for ill prisoners—but in fact, she's slowly making connections that will allow her to wreak revenge on the man responsible for her imprisonment. The first half of Lady Vengeance, in which Geum-ja Lee's plans are laid and her victim captured, spins to and fro in time with dizzying speed, moving fluidly among multiple narrative tracks. But once the man is in her clutches, the movie takes a turn that proves more harrowing and more emotionally complex than the previous films in writer/director Chan-wook Park's "vengeance trilogy," Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy—and if you've seen either of those films, you'll understand what a feat that is. These movies have much in common with the revenge tragedies written by contemporaries of Shakespeare; ornate plots full of extreme violence and perverse sex that delve into the darkest—yet often most vulnerable—sides of humanity. For all its sensational aspects, Lady Vengeance observes the toll of vengeance on the revenger; there's nothing cheap or easy about it. This movie, even more than Oldboy, demonstrates that Chan-wook Park is one of the most vital filmmakers of our time. —Bret Fetzer
The Ladykillers
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen * * * - -
Laputa - Castle In The Sky
Hayao Miyazaki * * * * - Inspired by Gulliver's Travels, the fantasy-adventure Castle in the Sky was Hayao Miyazaki's third feature, and helped to establish his reputation as a visionary in both Japan and America. The orphan Sheeta inherited a mysterious crystal that links her to the legendary sky-kingdom of Laputa. With the help of resourceful Pazu and a rollicking band of sky pirates, she makes her way to the ruins of the once-great civilization. Sheeta and Pazu must outwit the evil Muska, who plans to use Laputa's science to make himself ruler of the world. Castle echoes elements in Myazaki's earlier Nausicaä, and anticipates imagery in his later films, from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away. Disney's new English dub, which features Anna Paquin (Sheeta), James Van Der Beek (Pazu), and Cloris Leachman (pirate matriarch Dola), is lively and close in tone to the original Japanese, if a bit talkier. The exciting flying sequences, appealing characters, and fantastic vision of a steam-powered future Jules Verne might have imagined make Castle in the Sky a must-have for fans of Japanese and Western animation. —Charles Solomon , Amazon.com
The Last King Of Scotland
Kevin Macdonald * * * * - As the evil Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker gives an unforgettable performance in The Last King of Scotland. Powerfully illustrating the terrible truth that absolute power corrupts absolutely, this fictionalised chronicle of Amin's rise and fall is based on the acclaimed novel by Giles Foden, in which Amin's despotic reign of terror is viewed through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a Scottish doctor who arrives in Uganda in the early 1970s to serve as Amin's personal physician. His outsider's perspective causes him to be initially impressed by Amin's calculated rise to power, but as the story progresses—and as Whitaker's award-worthy performance grows increasingly monstrous—The Last King of Scotland turns into a pointed examination of how independent Uganda (a British colony until 1962) became a breeding ground for Amin's genocidal tyranny. As Whitaker plays him, Amin is both seductive and horribly destructive—sometimes in the same breath—and McAvoy effectively conveys the tragic cost of his character's naiveté, which grows increasingly prone to exploitation. As directed by Kevin Macdonald (who made the riveting semi-documentary Touching the Void), this potent cautionary tale my prompt some viewers to check out Barbet Schroeder's equally revealing documentary General Idi Amin Dada, an essential source for much of this film's authentic detail. —Jeff Shannon
The Last Samurai
Edward Zwick * * * * - The Last Samurai gives epic sweep to an intimate story of cultures at a crossroads as Japan undergoes tumultuous transition to a more Westernised society in 1876-77. In America, tormented Civil War veteran Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is coerced by a mercenary officer (Tony Goldwyn) to train the Japanese Emperor's troops in the use of modern weaponry. Opposing this "progress" is a rebellion of samurai warriors, holding fast to their traditions of honour despite strategic disadvantage. As a captive of the samurai leader (Ken Watanabe), Algren learns, appreciates, and adopts the Samurai code, switching sides for a climactic battle that will put everyone's honour to the ultimate test.

All of which makes director Edward Zwick's noble epic eminently worthwhile, even if its Hollywood trappings (including an all-too-conventional ending) prevent it from being the masterpiece that Zwick and screenwriter John Logan clearly wanted it to be. Instead, The Last Samurai is an elegant mainstream adventure, impressive in all aspects of its production. It may not engage the emotions as effectively as Logan's script for Gladiator, but like Cruise's character, it finds its own quality of honour. —Jeff Shannon
Layer Cake
Matthew Vaughn * * * * - As its title suggests, Layer Cake is a crime thriller that cuts into several levels of its treacherous criminal underworld. The title is actually one character's definition of the drug-trade hierarchy, but it's also an apt metaphor for the separate layers of deception, death, and betrayal experienced by the film's unnamed protagonist, a cocaine traffic middle-man played with smooth appeal by Daniel Craig (whom you probably don't need reminding is the latest James Bond). Listed in the credits only as "XXXX," the character is trapped into doing a favor for his volatile boss, only to have tables turned by his boss's boss (Michael Gambon) in a twisting plot involving a stolen shipment of Ecstasy, a missing girl, duplicitous dealers, murderous Serbian gangsters, and a variety of lowlifes with their own deadly agendas. As adapted by J.J. Connolly (from his own novel) and directed by Matthew Vaughan (who earned his genre chops as producer of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), Layer Cake improves upon those earlier British gangland hits with assured pacing, intelligent plotting, and an admirable emphasis on plot-moving dialogue over routine action. Sure, it's violent (that's to be expected) and not always involving, but it's smarter than most thrillers, and Vaughan's directorial debut has a confident style that's flashy without being flamboyant. This could be the start of an impressive career. —Jeff Shannon
Leon
Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Luc Besson * * * * *
Life In The Undergrowth
David Attenborough * * * * *
Little Miss Sunshine
Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris * * * - - Pile together a blue-ribbon cast, a screenplay high in quirkiness, and the Sundance stamp of approval, and you've got yourself a crossover indie hit. That formula worked for Little Miss Sunshine, a frequently hilarious study of family dysfunction. Meet the Hoovers, an Albuquerque clan riddled with depression, hostility, and the tattered remnants of the American Dream; despite their flakiness, they manage to pile into a VW van for a weekend trek to L.A. in order to get moppet daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) into the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Much of the pleasure of this journey comes from watching some skillful comic actors doing their thing: Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents (he's hoping to become a self-help authority), Alan Arkin as a grandfather all too willing to give uproariously inappropriate advice to a sullen teenage grandson (Paul Dano), and a subdued Steve Carell as a jilted gay professor on the verge of suicide. The film is a crowd-pleaser, and if anything is a little too eager to bend itself in the direction of quirk-loving Sundance audiences; it can feel forced. But the breezy momentum and the ingenious actors help push the material over any bumps in the road. — Robert Horton
Little Monsters
Richard Greenberg * * * * -
The Little Rascals
Penelope Spheeris * * * * *
Little Shop Of Horrors
Frank Oz * * * * - The off-Broadway comedy-horror-musical hit that ran for years makes a successful transfer to film with a bevy of big-name cameos and two perfectly cast leads. Rick Moranis is the nebbish Seymour, who pines for flower-girl Audrey (Ellen Greene) while living in the basement of florist Mr Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia). Things start turning around for Seymour, though, after he buys a little plant during a solar eclipse, christens it Audrey II, and discovers that it likes to drink blood. Soon enough, though, Seymour finds out that Audrey II, now grown to epic proportions, is in actuality a "mean green mother from outer space" that is hell-bent on world domination. Based on the 1960 Roger Corman cheapie that featured a young Jack Nicholson, Little Shop boasts a hilarious, amazing score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who would go on to revitalise Disney's animation arm with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Greene, the lone holdover from the original cast, is a ravishing, goofy Audrey, whose awkward demeanour belies a voice that could knock Ethel Merman off her feet. She's ably matched by Moranis, whose lack of a singing voice is perfectly in sync with Seymour's nerdiness. And Levi Stubbs Jr of the Four Tops provides the low-down, nasty-minded voice of Audrey II; his rendition of the Oscar-nominated "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" is a showstopper. As for those celebrity cameos, Steve Martin's sadistic dentist is a masterful creation, as is Bill Murray's masochistic patient; John Candy, James Belushi, and Christopher Guest also pop up. And there was never a lovelier and funkier Greek chorus than the three Motown-fuelled girls (Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks and Tisha Campbell) who appear throughout the film. —Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
Guy Ritchie * * * * * Cockney boys Tom, Soap, Eddie and Bacon are in a bind; they owe seedy criminal and porn king "Hatchet" Harry a sizeable amount of cash after Eddie loses half a million in a rigged game of poker. Hot on their tails is a thug named Big Chris who intends to send them all to the hospital if they don't come up with the cash in the allotted time. Add into the mix an incompetent set of ganja cultivators, two dimwitted robbers, a "madman" with an afro, and a ruthless band of drug dealers and you have an astonishing movie called Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Before the boys can blink, they are caught up in a labyrinth of double-crosses that lead to a multitude of dead bodies, copious amounts of drugs, and two antique rifles.

Written and directed by talented newcomer Guy Ritchie, this is one of those movies that was destined to become an instant cult classic à la Reservoir Dogs. Although some comparisons were drawn between Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino, it would be unfair to discount the brilliant wit of the story and the innovative camerawork that the director brings to his debut feature. Not since The Krays has there been such an accurate depiction of the East End and its more colourful characters. Indicative of the social stratosphere in London, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a hilarious and at times touching account of friendships and loyalty. The director and his mates (who make up most of the cast) clearly are enjoying themselves here. This comes across in some shining performances, in particular from ex-footballer Vinnie Jones (Big Chris) and an over-the-top Vas Blackwood (as Rory Breaker), who very nearly steals the show. Full of quirky vernacular and clever tension-packed action sequences, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a triumph—a perfect blend of intelligence, humour and suspense. —Jeremy Storey
Logan's Run
Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Michael Anderson * * * * -
The Long Good Friday
John Mackenzie * * * - -
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Peter Jackson * * * * * In every aspect, the extended edition of Peter Jackson's epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is superior to the theatrical version. No-one who cares at all about the film should ever need to watch the original again. Well, maybe the impatient and the squeamish will still prefer it, because this extended edition makes a long film 30 minutes longer and there's a wee bit more violence. But the changes—sometimes whole scenes, sometimes merely a few seconds—make for a richer film. There's more of the spirit of JRR Tolkien, embodied in more songs and a longer opening focusing on Hobbiton. There's more character development, and more background into what is to come in the two subsequent films, such as Galadriel's gifts to the Fellowship and Aragorn's burden of lineage. Some additions make more sense to the plot while others are merely worth seeing, such as the wood elves leaving Middle-earth or the view of Caras Galadhon (but sorry, there's still no Tom Bombadil).

On the DVDs: The Fellowship of the Ring—Extended Version comes in two distinct packages: choose either the four-disc set itself, handsomely presented in a hardback book-style fold-out, or the huge and more expensive Collector's Box Set, which has the same four-disc set accompanied by two chunky "polystone" sculpted Argonath bookends, both of which are solid enough to support either your DVD or Tolkien book collection. The discs themselves have extremely useful chapter menus that indicate which scenes are new or extended. The only drawback is that the film is now spread over two discs, with a somewhat abrupt break following the council at Rivendell, due to the storage capacity required for the longer running time, the added DTS ES 6.1 audio, and the commentary tracks. But that's a minor inconvenience. Of the four commentaries those with the greatest general appeal are the one by Jackson with cowriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and the one by 10 cast members; but the more technically orientated commentaries by the creative and production staff are also worth hearing.

The bonus features (encompassing two complete DVDs) are far superior to the largely promotional materials included on the theatrical release, delving into such matters as script development, casting, and visual effects. This extended edition DVD set is the Fellowship to rule them all. —David Horiuchi
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Peter Jackson * * * * * The greatest trilogy in film history, presented in the most ambitious sets in DVD history, comes to a grand conclusion with the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Not only is the third and final installment of Peter Jackson's adaptation of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien the longest of the three, but a full 50 minutes of new material pushes the running time to a whopping 4 hours and 10 minutes. The new scenes are welcome, and the bonus features maintain the high bar set by the first two films, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.

What's New?
One of the scenes cut from the theatrical release but included here, the resolution of the Saruman storyline, generated a lot of publicity when the movie opened, as actor Christopher Lee complained in the press about losing his only appearance. It's an excellent scene, one Jackson calls "pure Tolkien," and provides better context for Pippin to find the wizard's palantir in the water, but it's not critical to the film. In fact, "valuable but not critical" might sum up the ROTK extended edition. It's evident that Jackson made the right cuts for the theatrical run, but the extra material provides depth and ties up a number of loose ends, and for those sorry to see the trilogy end (and who isn't?) it's a welcome chance to spend another hour in Middle-earth. Some choice moments are Gandalf's (Ian McKellen) confrontation with the Witch King (we find out what happened to the wizard's staff), the chilling Mouth of Sauron at the gates of Mordor, and Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) being mistaken for Orc soldiers. We get to see more of Éowyn (Miranda Otto), both with Aragorn and on the battlefield, even fighting the hideously deformed Orc lieutenant, Gothmog. We also see her in one of the most anticipated new scenes, the Houses of Healing after the battle of the Pelennor Fields. It doesn't present Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) as a savior as the book did, but it shows the initial meeting between Éowyn and Faramir (David Wenham), a relationship that received only a meaningful glance in the theatrical cut.

If you want to completely immerse yourself in Peter Jackson's marvelous and massive achievement, only the extended edition will do.
And for those who complained, no, there are no new endings, not even the scouring of the Shire, which many fans were hoping to see. Nor is there a scene of Denethor (John Noble) with the palantir, which would have better explained both his foresight and his madness. As Jackson notes, when cuts are made, the secondary characters are the first to go, so there is a new scene of Aragorn finding the palantir in Denethor's robes. Another big difference is Aragorn's confrontation with the King of the Dead. In the theatrical version, we didn't know whether the King had accepted Aragorn's offer when the pirate ships pulled into the harbor; here Jackson assumes that viewers have already experienced that tension, and instead has the army of the dead join the battle in an earlier scene (an extended cameo for Jackson). One can debate which is more effective, but that's why the film is available in both versions. If you feel like watching the relatively shorter version you saw in the theaters, you can. If you want to completely immerse yourself in Peter Jackson's marvelous and massive achievement, only the extended edition will do.

How Are the Bonus Features?
To complete the experience, The Return of the King provides the same sprawling set of features as the previous extended editions: four commentary tracks, sharp picture and thrilling sound, and two discs of excellent documentary material far superior to the recycled material in the theatrical edition. Those who have listened to the seven hours of commentary for the first two extended editions may wonder if they need to hear more, but there was no commentary for the earlier ROTK DVD, so it's still entertaining to hear him break down the film (he says the beacon scene is one of his favorites), discuss differences from the book, point out cameos, and poke fun at himself and the extended-edition concept ("So this is the complete full strangulation, never seen before, here exclusively on DVD!"). The documentaries (some lasting 30 minutes or longer) are of their usual outstanding quality, and there's a riveting storyboard/animatic sequence of the climactic scene, which includes a one-on-one battle between Aragorn and Sauron.

One DVD Set to Rule Them All
Peter Jackson's trilogy has set the standard for fantasy films by adapting the Holy Grail of fantasy stories with a combination of fidelity to the original source and his own vision, supplemented by outstanding writing, near-perfect casting, glorious special effects, and evocative New Zealand locales. The extended editions without exception have set the standard for the DVD medium by providing a richer film experience that pulls the three films together and further embraces Tolkien's world, a reference-quality home theater experience, and generous, intelligent, and engrossing bonus features. —David Horiuchi
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Peter Jackson * * * * * With significant extra footage and a multitude of worthwhile bonus features this extended version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is as colossal an achievement as its predecessor, The Fellowship of the Ring. There are valuable additions to the story, including two new scenes which might appease those who feel that the characterisation of Faramir was the film's most egregious departure from the book; fans will also appreciate an appearance of the Huorns at Helm's Deep plus a nod to the absence of Tom Bombadil. Seeing a little more interplay between the gorgeous Eowyn and Aragorn is welcome, as is a grim introduction to Eomer and Theoden's son. And among the many other additions, there's an extended epilogue that might not have worked in cinemas, but is more effective here in setting up The Return of the King. While the 30 minutes added to The Fellowship of the Ring felt just right in enriching the film, the extra footage in The Two Towers at times seems a bit extraneous—we see moments that in the theatrical version we had been told about, and some fleshed-out conversations and incidents are rather minor. But director Peter Jackson's vision of JRR Tolkien's world is so marvellous that it's hard to complain about any extra time we can spend there.

While it may seem that there would be nothing left to say after the bevy of features on the extended Fellowship, the four commentary tracks and two discs of supplements on The Two Towers remain informative, fascinating, and funny, far surpassing the recycled materials on the two-disc theatrical version. Highlights of the 6.5 hours' worth of documentaries offer insight on the stunts, the design work, the locations and the creation of Gollum and—most intriguing for avid fans—the film's writers (including Jackson) discuss why they created events that weren't in the book. Providing variety are animatics, rough footage, countless sketches and a sound-mixing demonstration. Again, the most interesting commentary tracks are by Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and by 16 members of the cast (eight of whom didn't appear in the first film, and even including John Noble, whose Denethor character only appears in this extended cut). The first two instalments of Peter Jackson's trilogy have established themselves as the best fantasy films of all time, and among the best film trilogies of all time, and their extended-edition DVD sets have set a new standard for expanding on the already epic films and providing comprehensive bonus features. —David Horiuchi
Lord Of War
Andrew Niccol * * * * - The lethal business of arms dealers provides an electrifying context for the black-as-coal humor of Andrew Niccol's Lord of War. Having proven his ingenuity as the writer of The Truman Show, and writer-director of Gattaca and the under-appreciated Simone, Niccol is clearly striving for Strangelovian relevance here as he chronicles the rise and inevitable fall of Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), a Ukrainian immigrant to America who makes his fortune selling every kind of ordnance he can get his amoral hands on.

With a trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan) who's initially clueless about his hidden career, and a younger brother (Jared Leto) whose drug-addled sense of decency makes him an ill-chosen accomplice, Yuri traffics in death the way other salesman might push vacuum cleaners (he likes to say that alcohol and tobacco are deadlier products than his), but even he can't deny the sheer ruthlessness of the Liberian dictator (a scene-stealing Eamonn Walker) who purchases Orlov's "products" to expand his oppressive regime. Niccol's themes are even bigger than Yuri's arms deals, and he drives them home with a blunt-force lack of subtlety, but Cage gives the film the kind of insanely dark humour it needs to have. To understand this monster named Yuri, we have to see at least a glimpse of his humanity, which Cage provides as only he can. Otherwise, this epic tale of gunrunnng would be as morally unbearable as the black market trade it illuminates.— Jeff Shannon
Lost In Translation
Sofia Coppola * * * - - Like a good dream, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation envelopes you with an aura of fantastic light, moody sound, head-turning love, and a feeling of déjà vu, even though you've probably never been to this neon-fused version of Tokyo. Certainly Bob Harris has not. The 50-ish actor has signed-on for big money shooting whiskey ads instead of doing something good for his career or his long-distance family. Jetlagged, helplessly lost with his Japanese-speaking director and out of sync with the metropolis, Harris (Bill Murray, never better) befriends the married but lovelorn 25-year-old Charlotte (played with heaps of poise by 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson). Even before her photographer husband all but abandons her, she is adrift like Harris but in a total entrapment of youth. How Charlotte and Bill discover their soul mates will be cherished for years to come.

Written and directed by Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), the film is far more atmospheric than plot-driven: we whiz through Tokyo parties, karaoke bars and odd nightlife, always ending up in the impossibly posh hotel where the two are staying. The wisps of bittersweet loneliness of Bill and Charlotte are handled smartly and romantically, but unlike modern studio films, this isn't a May to December fling film. Surely and steadily, the film ends on a much-talked-about grace note, which may burn some, yet awards film lovers who "always had Paris" with another cinematic destination of the heart. —Doug Thomas
The Lost World - Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg * * * - - In the low tradition of knockoff horror flicks best seen (or not seen) on a drive-in movie screen, Steven Spielberg's sequel to Jurassic Park is a poorly conceived, ill-organised film that lacks story and logic. Screenwriter David Koepp strings along a number of loose ideas while Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcolm, the quirky chaos theoretician who now reluctantly agrees to go to another island where cloned dinosaurs are roaming freely. Along with his girlfriend (Julianne Moore) and daughter, Malcolm has to deal with hunters, environmentalists, and corporate swine who stupidly bring back a big dino to Southern California, where it runs amok, of course. Spielberg doesn't seem to care that the pieces of this project don't add up to a real movie, so he hams it up with big, scary moments (with none of the artfulness of those in Jurassic Park) and smart-aleck visual gags (a yapping dog in a suburb mysteriously disappears when a hungry T-rex stomps by). A complete bust.—Tom Keogh
Lost: Season 1 - Part 2
Daniel Attias, David Grossman, Greg Yaitanes, Jack Bender, Kevin Hooks * * * * * Bringing together the final thirteen episodes from its maiden series, Lost: Series One Part Two answers some of the key questions left from Series One Part One, and in the true style of the show, manages to pose a whole lot more.

Continuing the compelling marriage of tense, edgy narrative with meaty flashbacks, the episodes here deliver some of the finest moments of the season. Without giving the game away, they cover more of the build up to the doomed flight, and the increasingly fractured relationships between the reluctant inhabitants of the deserted island.

Yet if anything, it’s the island itself that takes centre stage more here. As more of its secrets begin to become uncovered, the drama intersperses key twists and character development to compelling effect. And if there are moments where the momentum sags a little—certainly there are a couple of slower episodes in the set—then it’s all adequately compensated for by the time the credits on the final episode roll.

In all, a strong second half to the first season of an already-essential TV show. Bring on season two…—Simon Brew
Lost: Season 2 - Part 1
Emilie De Ravin, Matthew Fox, Maggie Grace * * * * * If you were one of the many complaining that the ending of the first series of Lost was something of a damp squib, that fear not. Going against the more measured and tempered pacing of what had gone before, the first few episodes of the second season waste little time getting down to business, cleverly setting up a selection of fresh posers to consider. In true Lost fashion, there are more questions asked than questions answered, and the twelve episodes in this box set capture much of the spirit of what’s made the show the success it is.

Continuing the formula of dividing each episode into a flashback and current events, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. Fresh characters are brought in, some more of the Island’s mysteries are discovered, and the relevance of those numbers continues to puzzle. There are some fairly sizeable developments to watch out for too, none of which we’ll spoil for you here.

What’s clear is that the show has very much found its feet. While some episodes frustrate, seemingly moving things on not a jot, there’s a lot of careful layering at work here, and that gives much of the material in this set added rewatch value. And, when the show does hit top form—as it frequently does across these twelve episodes—then it’s highly compelling television. Don’t expect all the answers just yet though, eh?—Jon Foster
Lost: Season 2 - Part 2
Lost * * * * * By the second half of the second series of Lost, the debates are really hotting up. Is it the most cleverly plotted, densely packed television programme of recent times, cunningly working on many levels and lacing lots of hidden clues as it moves along? Or is it pretentious, slow-moving tosh, that's desperately trying to stretch out a simple concept to fill as many seasons as possible?

Maybe it's a mixture of all of those, yet whichever side of the fence you park yourself, Lost is undoubtedly an intriguing, and hugely successful, show. Its blend of past and present narrative continues with these episodes, and it's a loyalist and a half who won't admit that one or two of them are tepid at best. But there's some great stuff in here, with eye-opening character development, fresh discoveries and a superb end of season double episode that, in true Lost fashion, answers some questions and poses many more.

It's going to be a real challenge for the creative minds behind the programme to keep the momentum going, and surely the point will come soon where even more answers need to be forthcoming. But for now, Lost remains compelling viewing, and there's much to watch and rewatch in the episodes contained here. Even if it may drive you nuts trying to figure everything out… —Simon Brew
Lost: The Complete Fourth Season
Evangeline Lilly, Dominic Monaghan * * * * * Anybody whose faith in Lost was beginning to waiver will surely appreciate the fourth season of the show. For this is Lost firing on all cylinders, showing a willingness to answer a few more questions than usual, while not being afraid to deepen elements of the mystery of Ocean 815.

The big new idea for Lost season four, as introduced in the cliffhanger at the end of the previous run, is flash-forwards, where we see some of the characters after they?ve left the island. This freshens the show immensely, and gives the writers some much-needed new meat to chew on. As a result, characters are more convincingly fleshed out, and more fun is had with the narrative in general.

There are still a few of the ailments that have hindered Lost in the past. Whenever Matthew Fox?s Jack takes centre-stage, for instance, it still tends to be an episode to forget, while one or two sub-plots are allowed to meander a little more than they should. Yet it?s a transitionary season, moving the show towards its final two years by beginning to fill in some of the blanks we?ve been lacking. And with a cliffhanger at the end that, once more, has the potential to firmly pull the rug from under your feet, it?s very clear that Lost has plenty more tricks up its sleeve to come. A terrific season of an increasingly bold show. —Simon Brew
Lost: The Complete Third Season
Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly * * * * * There’s a steady pattern forming to seasons of Lost, where the narrative by turns manages to enthral and frustrate with equal measure. And the show’s makers are clearly wise to this, as while elements of the third season revert to type, there’s a clear and genuine effort to energise a programme that continues to stretch its simple premise as far as it can.

So while Lost still compromises of a group of plane crash survivors marooned on a mysterious island, there’s plenty else being thrown into the pot. Season three finds new characters, greater exposition of the mysterious ‘others’, the obligatory background character work, and a pronounced fracturing of relations between many of the survivors.

It too also manages to hint at some answers to the many conundrums that it continues to pose, not least a concluding episode that itself should keep fan debates fuelled until well into the next series. And, chief among its accomplishments, Lost still manages to keep us interested, and leaves plenty in the tank for the future as well.

In short, there’s little danger you’ll be short-changed by Lost season three thanks to its ideas, its nerve, and the continued clues it teasingly leaves along the way. As fascinating as it always was. —Jon Foster
Love, Honour And Obey
Sadie Frost, Ray Winstone, Dominic Anciano, Ray Burdis It must have seemed like fun at the time: a group of mates got together to play gangsters, ran around London's streets waving guns, dishing out beatings and shouting profanities at the top of their mockney lungs. It's the kind of game that any group of lads with a camcorder and a six-pack might indulge in on a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, these particular mates happen to be famous, so the result—Love, Honour and Obey—actually saw the dark of cinemas.

Ray Winstone is Ray, head honcho of a North London crime outfit; Sean Pertwee is Sean, leader of the South London pack. Their organisations co-exist with a minimum of fuss, based on respect for each other's turf. Then Ray's nephew, Jude (Jude Law), introduces his mate, Jonny (Jonny Lee Miller), into the firm and the equilibrium goes up in gun smoke. Jonny's a hothead who disrespects Ray's rules and instigates a private feud with Matthew (Rhys Ifans), his opposite number in Sean's gang, and soon there are gun battles raging through the capital.

Perhaps directors Dominic Anciano and Ray Burdis regard their work as avant-garde, a deconstruction of the movie-making myth or a dissection of genre—or maybe they are just having a laugh at our expense. Either way the result is tortuous, egotistical film making. To be fair, Love, Honour and Obey is at least a step up from their last effort, Final Cut, in which much the same cast again paraded under their own names and made utter fools of themselves, but that's like saying the Zeebrugge ferry disaster wasn't as bad as the Titanic. Still, at least it's not all boys playing with their penis extensions: there's also Sadie Frost and Denise Van Outen. —Jamie Graham
The Lovely Bones
Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Peter Jackson Director Peter Jackson takes a personal, risky leap in his direction of the film version of Alice Sebold's bestselling novel The Lovely Bones. Yet the leap pays off, in emotional depth and riveting visuals that transport the viewer to other worlds—even ones the viewer may not want to visit. The Lovely Bones is lofted by its star-making performance by the young Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), who plays Susie Salmon, the 14-year-old girl who is murdered early in the film, and who narrates the action from her "in-between place" after dying but before going to heaven. Ronan makes Susie as earthy and awkward as any young teen, yet her presence, and her gorgeous pale eyes, remind viewers that she's otherworldly too. The Lovely Bones takes some big departures from the book, as many critics have pointed out, but it works well on its own merits. The drama involves how (even whether) Susie's family will recover after her ghastly murder, and what happens to her killer and the futile-seeming search for justice and closure. The entire cast is stellar, including Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie's nearly destroyed parents; the composed young New Zealand actress Rose McIver, who plays Susie's younger sister, whom Susie watches grow up to be the young woman that Susie will never get to be; and Susan Sarandon, the boozy, wisecracking grandmother who may or may not be able to help keep the family from splintering into a million pieces. The other true standout is Stanley Tucci, almost unrecognisable as the quiet, creepy neighbour who kills Susie, obsessing over every detail and perhaps having left a whole trail of gruesome murders in his shambling wake. Jackson's deft direction keeps the mourning humans moving along believably, numbly, and gives breathtaking life to the afterlife, in scenes of fantasy and dread that recall his Heavenly Creatures. —A.T. Hurley
Lucky Number Slevin
Paul McGuigan * * * * - How boring it is to label a movie Tarantino-esque anymore. The thing is, when it comes to an offering like Lucky Number Slevin, the shoe fits, and the result is anything but boring. Gruesome killings, arid wit, self-reflexive pop culture references, an A-list cast, and style-heavy production values abound, which gives the proceedings an epoxy bond that seals the Q.T. homage factor. Josh Hartnett—who spends a lot of buffed-up time with his shirt off—is Slevin Kelevra, a hapless fellow visiting his New York friend Nick. But Nick has disappeared, which sets off a mistaken-identity thrill ride when two goons grab Slevin (he's in Nick's apartment so he must be Nick) and take him to their crime lord boss, the Boss (Morgan Freeman). The Boss doesn't care about Slevin's wrong-man protests; he just wants the $96,000 Nick owes him. In one of many offers he can't refuse, Slevin has to agree to murder the son of the Boss's felonious arch rival, the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) or take the bullet himself. But Slevin turns out to be no ordinary patsy. Thrown into the ingeniously designed production, clever plot twists, and academic nods to Bond, Hitchcock, and obscure old cartoons are Lucy Liu as a sexy coroner, Stanley Tucci as an obsessed cop, and Bruce Willis as a wily hit man with his finger in many pots. With so much visual and narrative trickery, there's almost too much to absorb in one viewing of this convoluted jigsaw puzzle of revenge and entertaining mayhem. Lucky Number Slevin isn't quite up to par with similarly brainy thrillers like Memento and The Usual Suspects, but the prospect of seeing it again in order to get your bearings is just as appealing.—Ted Fry
Ma Mere
Christophe Honoré * - - - -
The Machinist
Brad Anderson * * * * - As a bleak and chilling mood piece, The Machinist gets under your skin and stays there. Christian Bale threw himself into the title role with such devotion that he shed an alarming 63 pounds to play Trevor Reznik (talk about "starving artist"!), a factory worker who hasn't slept in a year. He's haunted by some mysterious occurrence that turned him into a paranoid husk, sleepwalking a fine line between harsh reality and nightmare fantasy—a state of mind that leaves him looking disturbingly gaunt and skeletal in appearance. (It's no exaggeration to say that Bale resembles a Holocaust survivor from vintage Nazi-camp liberation newsreels.) In a cinematic territory far removed from his 1998 romantic comedy Next Stop Wonderland, director Brad Anderson orchestrates a grimy, nocturnal world of washed-out blues and grays, as Trevor struggles to assemble the clues of his psychological conundrum. With a friendly hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and airport waitress (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) as his only stable links to sanity, Trevor reaches critical mass and seems ready to implode just as The Machinist reveals its secrets. For those who don't mind a trip to hell with a theremin-laced soundtrack, The Machinist seems primed for long-term status as a cult thriller on the edge. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Magnolia
Paul Thomas Anderson * * * * - A handful of people in California's San Fernando Valley are having one hell of a day. TV mogul Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is on his deathbed and his trophy wife (Julianne Moore) is stockpiling tranquilliser prescriptions all over town with alarming determination. Earl's nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is trying desperately to get in touch with Earl's only son, sex-guru Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise), who's about to have his carefully constructed past blown by a TV reporter (April Grace). Whiz kid Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) is being goaded by his selfish dad into breaking the record for the game show What Do Kids Know? Meanwhile, Stanley's predecessor, the grown-up quiz kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) has lost his job and is nursing a severe case of unrequited love. And the host of What Do Kids Know?, the affable Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), like Earl, is dying of cancer, and his attempt to reconcile with his cokehead daughter (Melora Walters) fails miserably. She, meanwhile, is running hot and cold with a cop (John C. Reilly) who would love to date her, if she can sit still for long enough. And over it all, a foreboding sky threatens to pour something more than just rain.

This third feature from Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) is a maddening, magnificent piece of film-making, and an ensemble film to rank with the best of Robert Altman (Short Cuts, Nashville)—every little piece of the film means something, solidly placed for a reason. Deftly juggling a breathtaking ensemble of actors, Anderson crafts a tale of neglectful parents, resentful children, and love-starved souls that's amazing in scope, both thematically and emotionally. Part of the charge of Magnolia is seeing exactly how many characters Anderson can juggle, and can he keep all those balls in the air (indeed he can, even if it means throwing frogs into the mix). And it's been far too long since we've seen a film-maker whose love of making movies is so purely joyful. This electric energy is reflected in the actors, from Cruise's revelatory performance to Reilly's quietly powerful turn as the moral centre of the story. While at three hours it's definitely not suited to everyone's taste, Magnolia is a compelling, heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful meditation on the accidents of chance that make up our lives. The soundtrack features eight wonderful songs by Aimee Mann, including "Save Me", around which Anderson built the script. —Mark Englehart
Mallrats
Kevin Smith * * * * * The "sophmore jinx" hit hard for this second film by Kevin Smith, whose debut Clerks transcended the limits of its setting and budget to become memorably funny and a cult classic. (Smith followed Mallrats with the wonderful Chasing Amy, only to be cursed again with the appalling Dogma. Clearly he's settling into the same one-off rhythm that afflicts the Star Trek movies.) A ramshackle comedy set in a mall, Mallrats follows several storylines involving lovers, enemies, friends, goofballs, and Smith's own character "Silent Bob", who also appeared in all the other Smith films. A heavy self-consciousness weighs on everything, as if Smith forgot how to make obscenity funny instead of tedious. Still, it's nice to see some of the director's film family on screen, among them Ben Affleck before he was famous, Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams. —Sally Chatsworth
The Man In The Iron Mask
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, Randall Wallace * * * * - Footnotes in film books are likely to reduce this swashbuckling adventure down to a simple description: it was the first movie to star Leonardo DiCaprio after the phenomenal success of Titanic. As such, The Man in the Iron Mask automatically attracted a box-office stampede of Leo's young female fans, but critical reaction was deservedly mixed. Having earned his directorial debut after writing the Oscar-winning script for Mel Gibson's Braveheart, Randall Wallace wrote and directed this ambitious version of the often-filmed classic novel by Alexandre Dumas. DiCaprio plays dual roles as the despotic King Louis XIV, who rules France with an iron fist, and the king's twin brother, Philippe, who languishes in prison under an iron mask, his identity concealed to prevent an overthrow of Louis' throne. But Louis' abuse of power ultimately enrages Athos (John Malkovich), one of the original Four Musketeers, who recruits his former partners (Gabriel Byrne, Gérard Depardieu, and Jeremy Irons) in a plot to liberate Philippe and install him as the king's identical replacement. Once this plot is set in motion and the Musketeers are each given moments in the spotlight, the film kicks into gear and offers plenty of entertainment in the grand style of vintage swashbucklers. But it's also sidetracked by excessive length and disposable subplots, and for all his post-Titanic star power, the boyish DiCaprio just isn't yet "man" enough to be fully convincing in his title role. Still, this is an entertaining film, no less enjoyable for falling short of the greatness to which it aspired. —Jeff Shannon
The Manchurian Candidate
Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jonathan Demme * * * - - The Manchurian Candidate, a classic of paranoid cinema from the 1960s, gets a cunning update, rife with hot-topic references to corporate war profiteering and electronic voting machines. Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington, Training Day) has been haunted by nightmares ever since a firefight during the first Gulf War—a battle in which he believes he was saved by the heroism of Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, Kate & Leopold). But Marco's nightmares suggest otherwise and drive him to investigate what happened, which may threaten Shaw's candidacy for vice-president. Meryl Streep plays Shaw's mother, a senior senator who manipulates everyone around her with an iron will and a sharp tongue. The Manchurian Candidate loses steam towards the end, but up until then director Jonathan Demme keeps the movie rolling fluidly, crafting some creepy paranoia of his own while Streep tears into everything in her path. —Bret Fetzer
The Mask Of Zorro
Martin Campbell * * * * -
The Matrix Reloaded
Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski * * * * - The Matrix Reloaded delivers added amounts of everything that the first film had, with the exception of surprises. We see more of the "real world" in the "last human city" of Zion and we go back to the 1999-look urban virtual reality of the Matrix for more encounters with artificially intelligent baddies and—the real reason you've turned up—a lot more martial arts superheroics.

The downside is that this is just part one of a two-pack of sequels, with Revolutions required to tie up the story and sort out a great deal of plot confusion. There are other problems: none of the stars have much good material to work with outside the fights and stunts, which makes the film sorely miss the mix of science fiction thrills and character interplay that makes X-2 more satisfying all round in the blockbuster stakes.

However, the Wachowski Brothers still deliver more than enough stand-alone instant classic action sequences to make you ignore their duff script: in particular, Reeves and Hugo Weaving square off in a rumble that gets dicey, as more and more identical Weavings come out of the woodwork to pile on the lone hero, and a full quarter of an hour is devoted to a chase through the Matrix that lets Fishburne shoulder the heroic business. A last-reel encounter with a virtual God, the architect of the Matrix, finally delivers some major plot advances, but the scene is so brilliantly shot and designed—with Reeves framed against a wall of TV screens that show multiple versions of himself—that it's easy to be distracted by the decor and miss the point of what's being said. —Kim Newman
The Matrix Revolutions
Andy & Larry Wachowski * * * - - The opening reels of Matrix Revolutions do nothing to dispel the feeling of exhausted disappointment that set in during the second half of The Matrix Reloaded. There's plenty more talky guff combined with the picking-up of hard-to-remember plot threads as Neo (Keanu Reeves) lies in a coma in the "real" world and is stranded on a tube station in a limbo "beyond the Matrix" while his allies do a reprise of the shooting-their-way-past-the-bodyguards bit from the last film (this time, the baddies can walk on the ceiling). A new Oracle (Mary Alice) makes some pronouncements about the end being near and more things happen—including the evil Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) manifesting in reality by possessing a minor character and perfidiously blinding our hero, who wears a becoming ribbon over his wounded eyes and perceives the world in an impressive "flaming truth vision".

What about the action? The equivalent of the last film's freeway chase scene is a huge face-off as the Sentinels (robot squids) finally breach the caverns of Zion, "the last human city", and swarm against a battalion of pilot-manipulated giant robots: here, the effects are seamless and the images astonishing, though the fact that none of the major characters are involved and the whole thing goes on so long as if designed to top any previous robot-on-robot screen carnage means that it becomes monotonously amazing, like watching someone else play a great computer game. After a too-easily-managed major realignment of the enmities, the film—and the series—finally delivers a sign-off sequence that's everything you could want as Neo and Smith get into a kung fu one-on-one in a rain-drenched virtual city, flying as high as Superman and Brainiac in smart suits. It comes too late to save the day and the wrap-up is both banal and incoherent, but at least this single combat is a reward for hardy veterans who've sat through seven hours of build-up. —Kim Newman

On the DVD: when the first Matrix DVD was released, with never-before-seen features such as the "Follow the White Rabbit" option, it set a benchmark against which subsequent discs were judged. But neither sequel has lived up to the original's high standards. The Matrix Revolutions two-disc set is an unexceptional package, with a routine "making of" featurette being the main bonus item. Amid all the usual backslapping guff about how great everyone is and what a great time they've all had, it's possible to glean some nuggets of useful information about the baffling plot—though cast and crew can't repress a note of weariness creeping in when discussing the horribly protracted shooting schedule. The feature on the CG Revolution is the most informative for people who like to know how everything was done, and, in the same vein, there's also a multi-angle breakdown of the Super Burly Brawl. A 3-D timeline gives a handy summary of the story so far, and there's a plug for The Matrix Online game. The anamorphic 2.40:1 picture is, of course, a real treat to look at, even if the movie is mostly shades of dark grey and dark green; soundwise the dynamic range of the Dolby Digital surround is extreme: all conversations are conducted in throaty whispers, while the action sequences will push your speakers to the limit. No DTS option, though. And as with Reloaded, there's no audio commentary either: the Wachowski's policy of not talking about their creation begins to seem like a ploy to avoid answering awkward questions. —Mark Walker
The Matrix/Matrix Revisited
The Wachowski Brothers * * * * * The Wachowski Brothers' The Matrix took the well-worn science fiction idea of virtual reality, added supercharged Hollywood gloss and stole The Phantom Menace's thunder as the must-see movie of the summer of 1999. Laced with Star Wars-like Eastern mysticism, and featuring thrilling martial arts action choreographed by Hong Kong action director Yuen Woo Ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), The Matrix restored Keanu Reeves to genre stardom, and made a star of Carrie-Anne Moss. Helping the film stand out from its rivals was the introduction of the now celebrated "bullet time" visual effects, though otherwise the war-against-the-machines story, hard-hitting style and kinetic set-pieces such as the corporate lobby shoot-out lean heavily on Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).—Gary S Dalkin

The original feature-packed single-DVD release of The Matrix became one of the format's early bestsellers and a must-have purchase for every new DVD owner. In anticipation of The Matrix 2 the movie has been re-released in this two-disc set, which combines the original disc with a companion two-hour documentary, The Matrix Revisited, that covers each and every aspect of the making of this ground-breaking movie in enough detail to satisfy even the most demanding of fans. There are contributions from all the principal cast and crew, who guide us from the story's inception in the minds of the Wachowski brothers right through to the preparatory work for the next two instalments. Also on the disc are: a teaser montage of behind-the-scenes footage for the follow-up movies, a section on the newly commissioned Japanimation "Animatrix" features, fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping's blocking tapes, a piece about the fans, a breakdown of the bathroom fight and wet-wall sequence, a plug for the Web site and DVD-ROM extras. If that's not enough, there are even hidden extra "Easter eggs", including one about the woman in the red dress. Plenty, in fact, to keep fans satisfied until the second instalment arrives in cinemas.—Mark Walker
Mean Creek
Jacob Estes * * * * *
Mean Girls
Mark Waters * * * * * The cutting wit of Tina Fey (the first female head writer for US comedy breeding ground Saturday Night Live) brilliantly fuses pop culture and smart satire. Fey wrote Mean Girls, in which a formerly home-schooled girl named Cady (Lindsay Lohan) gets dropped into the sneaky, vicious world of the Plastics, three adolescent glamour-girls who dominate their public high school's social heirarchy. Cady first befriends a couple of art-punk outsiders who persuade her to infiltrate the Plastics and destroy them from within—but power corrupts, and Cady soon finds the glory of being a Plastic to be seductive. Mean Girls joins the ranks of Clueless, Bring It On, and Heathers, cunning movies that use the hormone-pressurized high school milieu to put the dark impulses of human nature—ambition, envy, lust, revenge—under a comic microscope. Fey manages to skewer everyone without forgetting the characters' hapless humanity; it's a dazzling and delightful balancing act. —Bret Fetzer
Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese * * * * - After Martin Scorsese went to Hollywood in 1972 to direct the low-budget Boxcar Bertha for B-movie mogul Roger Corman, the young director showed the film to maverick director John Cassavetes and got an instant earful of urgent advice. "It's crap," said Cassavetes in no uncertain terms, "now go out and make something that comes from your heart." Scorsese took the advice and focused his energy on Mean Streets, a riveting contemporary film about low-life gangsters in New York's Little Italy that critic Pauline Kael would later call "a true original, and a triumph of personal filmmaking." Starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in roles that announced their talent to the world, it set the stage for Scorsese's emergence as one of the greatest American filmmakers. Introducing themes and character types that Scorsese would return to in Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, Casino, and other films, the loosely structured story is drawn directly from Scorsese's background in the Italian neighbourhoods of New York, and it seethes with the raw vitality of a filmmaker who has found his creative groove. As the irresponsible and reckless Johnny Boy, De Niro offers striking contrast to Keitel's Charlie, who struggles to reconcile gang life with Catholic guilt. More of an episodic portrait than a plot-driven crime story, Mean Streets remains one of Scorsese's most direct and fascinating films—a masterful calling card for a director whose greatness was clearly apparent from that point forward. —Jeff Shannon
Meet Joe Black
Martin Brest * * * * * Meet Joe Black seemed almost fated to fail when it was released in 1998, but this romantic fantasy—a remake of 1934's Death Takes a Holiday—deserves a chance at life after box-office death. Although many moviegoers were turned off by director Martin Brest's overindulgent three-hour running time, those who gear into its deliberate pace will find that Meet Joe Black offers ample reward for your attention.

Brad Pitt plays Death with a capital D, enjoying some time on Earth by inhabiting the body of a young man who'd been killed in a shockingly sudden pedestrian-auto impact. Before long, Death has ingratiated himself with a wealthy industrialist (Anthony Hopkins) and pursues romance with the man's beautiful daughter (newcomer Claire Forlani), whom he'd briefly encountered while still an earthbound human. Under the assumed identity of "Joe Black", he samples all the pleasures that corporeal life has to offer—power, romance, sex and such enticing pleasures as peanut butter by the spoonful.

But Death has a job to do, and Meet Joe Black addresses the heart-wrenching dilemma that arises when either father or daughter (the plot keeps us guessing) must confront his or her inevitable demise. The film takes its own sweet time to establish this emotional crisis and the love that binds Hopkins's semi-dysfunctional family so closely together. But if you've stuck with the story this far, you may find yourself surprisingly affected. And if Meet Joe Black has really won you over, you'll more than appreciate the care and affection that gives the film a depth and richness that so many critics chose to ignore. —Jeff Shannon
Memento
Christopher Nolan * * * * - An absolute stunner of a movie, Memento combines a bold, mind-bending script with compelling action and virtuoso performances. Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, hunting down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The problem is that "the incident" that robbed Leonard of his wife also stole his ability to make new memories. Unable to retain a location, a face, or a new clue on his own, Leonard continues his search with the help of notes, Polaroids, and even homemade tattoos for vital information. Because of his condition, Leonard essentially lives his life in short, present-tense segments, with no clear idea of what's just happened to him. That's where Memento gets really interesting; the story begins at the end, and the movie jumps backward in 10-minute segments. The suspense of the movie lies not in discovering what happens, but in finding out why it happened. Amazingly, the movie achieves edge-of-your-seat excitement even as it moves backward in time! , and it keeps the mind hopping as cause and effect are pieced together.

Pearce captures Leonard perfectly, conveying both the tragic romance of his quest and his wry humour in dealing with his condition. He is bolstered by several excellent supporting players including Carrie-Anne Moss, and the movie is all but stolen by Moss' fellow Matrix co-star Joe Pantoliano, who delivers an amazing performance as Teddy, the guy who may or may not be on his side. Memento has an intriguing structure and even meditations on the nature of perception and meaning of life if you go looking for them, but it also functions just as well as a completely absorbing thriller. It's rare to find a movie this exciting with so much intelligence behind it. —Ali Davis, Amazon.com

On the DVD: this amazing movie looks crisp and clean in a good anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) picture accompanied by Dolby 5.1 sound. The menu is almost as baffling as the movie itself, but once you master the navigation you'll find interviews, biographies, a tattoo picture gallery and the shooting script among other extras. Most mind-boggling of all, however, is the "Memento Mori" option in the special features menu, which allows you to play a specially re-edited version of the movie in chronological order, beginning with the end credits running backwards! —Mark Walker
Memoirs of a Geisha
Rob Marshall * * * * - Chicago director Rob Marshall's pretty but empty (or pretty empty) film has all the elements of an Oscar contender: solid adaptation (from Arthur Golden's bestseller), beautiful locale, good acting, lush cinematography. But there's something missing at the heart, which leaves the viewer sucked in, then left completely detached from what's going on.

It's hard to find fault with the fascinating story, which traces a young girl's determination to free herself from the imprisonment of scullery maid to geisha, then from the imprisonment of geisha to a woman allowed to love. Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo), a young girl with curious blue eyes, is sold to a geisha house and doomed to pay off her debt as a cleaning girl until a stranger named The Chairman (Ken Watanabe) shows her kindness. She is inspired to work hard and become a geisha in order to be near the Chairman, with whom she has fallen in love. An experienced geisha (Michelle Yeoh) chooses to adopt her as an apprentice and to use as a pawn against her rival, the wicked, legendary Hatsumomo (Gong Li). Chiyo (played as an older woman by Ziyi Zhang), now renamed Sayuri, becomes the talk of the town, but as her path crosses again and again with the Chairman's, she finds the closer she gets to him the further away he seems. Her newfound "freedom" turns out to be trapping, as men are allowed to bid on everything from her time to her virginity.

Some controversy swirled around casting Chinese actresses in the three main Japanese roles, but Zhang, Yeoh and Gong in particular ably prove they're the best for the part. It's admirable that all the actors attempted to speak Japanese-accented English, but some of the dialogue will still prove difficult to understand; perhaps it contributes to some of the emotion feeling stilted. Geisha has all the ingredients of a sweeping, heartbreaking epic and follows the recipe to a T, but in the end it's all dressed up with no place to go.—Ellen A. Kim
Michael Jackson - Moonwalker
Jerry Kramer, Jim Blashfield, Colin Chilvers * * * - -
Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil
John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Clint Eastwood * * * - - Readers of John Berendt's bestselling novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, were bound to be at least somewhat disappointed by this big-screen adaptation, but despite mixed reaction from critics and audiences, there's still plenty to admire about director Clint Eastwood's take on the material. Readers will surely miss the rich atmosphere and societal detail that Berendt brought to his "Savannah story," and the movie can only scratch the surface of Georgian history, tradition and wealthy decadence underlying Berendt's fact-based murder mystery. Still, Eastwood maintains an assured focus on the wonderful eccentrics of Savannah, most notably a gay Savannah antiques dealer (superbly played by Kevin Spacey), who may or may not have killed his friend and alleged lover (Jude Law). John Cusack plays the Town & Country journalist who arrives in Savannah to find much more than he bargained for—including the city's legendary drag queen Lady Chablis (playing "herself")—and John Lee Hancock's smoothly adapted screenplay succeeds in bringing Berendt's characters vividly to life with plenty of flavourful dialogue. —Jeff Shannon
Miller's Crossing
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen * * * * - Arguably the best film by Joel and Ethan Coen, the 1990 Miller's Crossing stars Gabriel Byrne as Tom, a loyal lieutenant of a crime boss named Leo (Albert Finney) who is in a Prohibition-era turf war with his major rival, Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito). A man of principle, Tom nevertheless is romantically involved with Leo's lover (Marcia Gay Harden), whose screwy brother (John Turturro) escapes a hit ordered by Caspar only to become Tom's problem. Making matters worse, Tom has outstanding gambling debts he can't pay, which keeps him in regular touch with a punishing enforcer. With all the energy the Coens put into their films, and all their focused appreciation of genre conventions and rules, and all their efforts to turn their movies into ironic appreciations of archetypes in American fiction, they never got their formula so right as with Miller's Crossing. With its Hammett-like dialogue and Byzantine plot and moral chaos mitigated by one hero's personal code, the film so transcends its self-scrutiny as a retro-crime thriller that it is a deserved classic in its own right. —Tom Keogh
Million Dollar Baby
Clint Eastwood * * * * - Clint Eastwood's 25th film as a director, Million Dollar Baby stands proudly with Unforgiven and Mystic River as the masterwork of a great American filmmaker. In an age of bloated spectacle and computer-generated effects extravaganzas, Eastwood turns an elegant screenplay by Paul Haggis (adapted from the book Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner by F.X. Toole, a pseudonym for veteran boxing manager Jerry Boyd) into a simple, humanitarian example of classical filmmaking, as deeply felt in its heart-wrenching emotions as it is streamlined in its character-driven storytelling. In the course of developing powerful bonds between "white-trash" Missouri waitress and aspiring boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), her grizzled, reluctant trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), and Frankie's best friend and training-gym partner Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman), 74-year-old Eastwood mines gold from each and every character, resulting in stellar work from his well-chosen cast. Containing deep reserves of love, loss, and the universal desire for something better in hard-scrabble lives, Million Dollar Baby emerged, quietly and gracefully, as one of the most acclaimed films of 2004, released just in time to earn an abundance of year-end accolades, all of them well-deserved. —Jeff Shannon
Millions
Danny Boyle * * * * * Millions wears its heart on its sleeve, and it wears it well. Two boys, still grieving the death of their mother, find themselves the unwitting benefactors of a bag of bank robbery loot in the week before the United Kingdom switches its official currency to the Euro. What's a kid to do? Director Danny Boyle takes a simple premise and, with the help of Frank Cottrell Boyce's sweet, smart script, finds something special to say about the hopes everyone has for the future of a changing world. Brothers Anthony and Damian have vastly different agendas for the stash, and then have to deal not only with the money's original thief but with the disarming woman who seems to be stealing their widowed father. The film is full of quirks that work—seven-year-old Damian (an endearing Alex Etel) has private conversations with a collection of eclectic religious saints—and a technically spirited way of commingling both the scary realities and fanciful imaginings of young minds. —Steve Wiecking, Amazon.com
Mischief Night
Penny Woolcock * * * * -
Mission Kashmir
Vidhu Vinod Chopra * * * * -
Mission To Mars
Brian De Palma * * * * - If Brian De Palma directed Mission to Mars for 10-year-olds who have never seen a science fiction film, he can be credited for crafting a marginally successful adventure. Isolated moments in this film serve the highest purpose of its genre, inspiring a sense of wonder and awe in the context of a fascinating future (specifically, the year 2020). But because most of us have seen a lot of science fiction films, it's impossible to ignore this one's derivative plot, cardboard characters and drearily dumb dialogue. Despite an awesome and painstakingly authentic display of cool technology and dazzling special effects, Mission to Mars is light years away from 2001: A Space Odyssey on the scale of human intelligence.

After dispensing with a few space-jockey clichés, the movie focuses on a Mars-bound rescue mission commanded by Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise), whose team (Tim Robbins, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O'Connell) has been sent to retrieve the sole survivor (Don Cheadle) of a tragic Mars landing. During the sequence en route to Mars, De Palma is in his element with two suspenseful scenes (including a dramatic—albeit somewhat silly—space walk) that are technically impressive. But when this Mission gets to Mars, the movie grows increasingly unconvincing, finally arriving at an alien encounter that more closely resembles an astronomical CGI video game. But this is a $75 million Hollywood movie, and no amount of technical wizardry can lift the burden of a juvenile screenplay. Kudos to Sinise, his co-stars, and the special effects wizards for making the most of hoary material; shame on just about everyone else involved. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Monsoon Wedding
Mira Nair * * * * * Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding is a return to the form of Salaam Bombay!, her 1988 feature. Nair's gift for observation of the everyday and love for her characters makes for a delightful film, with the whole web of family relationships that knit and break during a wedding being spun at a perfect pace.

The excellent performances exceed the often stereotypical roles on offer; the incomparable Nasiruddin Shah as the harassed father, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as the comic uncle, or Shefali Chaya as the orphaned cousin. Nair's sympathetic eye for the unnoticed and the harassed is at its best when showing the tender romance between the servant and Dube (Vijay Raaz), the marigold-munching upwardly-mobile wedding coordinator, who brings pathos and humour to the often unseen servant classes. The handheld camera gives a docu-drama feel to this celebratory look at the upper middle class Hindu Punjabi joint family, while paying tribute to modern Indian public culture of music, television and of course "Bollywood".

On the DVD: The viewer should watch the film once with Dolby Digital 5.1, then again with the director's commentary, with its excellent social analysis and fascinating anecdotal history. The trailer and behind the scenes are much less interesting. It would have been good to have had a full soundtrack of the songs but the viewer will have to buy the CD. —Rachel Dwyer
Mrs Doubtfire
Robin Williams, Sally Field, Chris Columbus * * * * - This huge 1993 hit for Robin Williams and director Chris Columbus (Home Alone), based on a novel called Alias Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine, stars Williams as a loving but flaky father estranged from his frustrated wife (Sally Field). Devastated by a court order limiting his time with the children, Williams's character disguises himself as a warm, old British nanny who becomes the kids' best friend. As with Dustin Hoffman's performance in Tootsie, Williams's drag act—buried under layers of latex and padding—is the show, and everything and everyone else on screen serves his sometimes frantic role. Since that's the case, it's fortunate that Williams is Williams, and his performance is terribly funny at times and exceptionally believable in those scenes where his character misses his children. Playing Williams's brother, a professional makeup artist, Harvey Fierstein has a good support role in a bright sequence where he tries a number of feminine looks on Williams before settling on Mrs Doubtfire's visage. —Tom Keogh
My Beautiful Laundrette
Stephen Frears * * * - -
My Cousin Vinny
Jonathan Lynn * * * * - 1992's My Cousin Vinny is a delightful comedy-cum-courtroom drama set in Alabama. Joe Pesci stars as Vinny, the garage mechanic recently turned lawyer, who finds himself straight in at the deep end when his young cousin is unjustly arrested, along with his buddy, for the murder of a store clerk. From the opening scenes in which the hapless arrestees labour under the impression they've been booked for stealing a can of tuna, My Cousin Vinny's comedic pace never slackens, even as the drama builds. Much of the fun derives from raw, Brooklyn native Vinny's coping with the cultural backwaters of the Deep South, from its lardy grits to the 5.30 am "alarm call" of the factory horn. There's a good running gag involving retrieving $200 from a recalcitrant local redneck, while his clashes with the court judge, played by the late Fred Gwynne are priceless. Pesci goads this stickler for procedures by mumbling expletives in court, turning up in a leather jacket, then a mauve frock coat and arousing the judge's suspicions as to his bona fides. However, it's Marisa Tomei who surprisingly, but justly, took an Academy Award for her performance as tomboyish Lisa, Vinny's girlfriend. Tart rather than tarty, she more than matches Pesci for Noo Yoik sass and mechanical knowledge, delivering a court lecture on limited slip differential and independent rear suspension that oozes improbable sexiness.

On the DVD: a decent presentation in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, though it's only Tomei's bizarrely eye-catching costumes which especially merit DVD enhancement. There's also a commentary by director (and co-creator of Yes Minister) Jonathan Lynn, in which—though at times seeming to struggle for interesting things to say—he reminisces on the fear in shooting the film's prison scenes adjacent to Death Row in a maximum security prison. —David Stubbs
Mystery Men
Kinka Usher * * * - - Ever wonder if there was a class system in the world of superheroes? After all the big names like Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, who were the supporting players assigned to the less-than-stellar gigs of saving only a small part of the world? According to this intermittently successful send-up of comic-book heroism, there are indeed masked heroes who struggle and toil for their moment in the super sun. Based on the Dark Horse comic book series, Mystery Men follows the travails of three B-list avengers—Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), the Shoveler (William H. Macy) and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria)—as they fight to make themselves known to the citizens of Champion City, quite difficult to do when the flashy Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear, never better) takes all the plum jobs and has the market in product endorsements sewn up. According to them, it's all a matter of timing—never mind that Mr. Furious never rises above a snit, or that the Blue Raja wears green. Their big break comes when Captain Amazing is abducted by the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), and it's up to this motley crew to save Champion City.

Blessed with a wondrously gifted comic cast and full of droll details, Mystery Men struggles in fits and spurts towards its climax. Transcendently witty in parts, it's also woefully sophomoric in others. Still, when this movie is rolling, it's gleefully on target, thanks primarily to the mordantly cocky Stiller and Janeane Garofalo as a latecomer to the superhero gang; her secret weapon is a bowling ball in which her dead father's head is encased. The comic chemistry between these two is fierce, and when you add the dryly funny Macy and the endearing Azaria (who finally gets a chance to let loose with his comic gifts), it's a hilarious joyride. Too bad that the gas tank is only half-full; this stunning cast deserves a first-rate vehicle. It also stars Tom Waits as a weapons expert, Claire Forlani as the requisite babe and Paul Reubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman) as the Spleen, the world's most flatulent superhero. —Mark Englehart
Mystic River
Clint Eastwood * * * - - Superior acting, writing and direction are on impressive display in the Oscar-winning Mystic River, Clint Eastwood's 24th directorial outing and one of the finest films of 2003. Sharply adapted by LA Confidential Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland from the novel by Dennis Lehane, this chilling mystery revolves around three boyhood friends in working-class Boston—played as adults by Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon. They're drawn together by a crime from the past and a murder (of the Penn character's 19-year-old daughter) in the present. These dual tragedies arouse a vicious cycle of suspicion, guilt and repressed anxieties, primed to explode with devastating and unpredictable results. Eastwood is perfectly in tune with this brooding material, giving his flawless cast (including Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden and Laurence Fishburne) ample opportunity to plumb the depths of a resonant human tragedy, leading to an ambiguous ending that qualifies Mystic River for contemporary classic status. —Jeff Shannon
Nacho Libre
Jared Hess * * - - -
The Naked Gun
Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, David Zucker * * * * * Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, the creative troika behind Airplane!, scored another hit with this big-screen adaptation of their short-lived television show Police Squad!. Deadpan as ever, Leslie Nielsen revives his TV role of Lt Frank Drebin, the idiot with a detective's badge. The jokes come thick and fast, gathering a momentum that lasts until the final act. Ricardo Montalban is a perfect foil as a villain whose aquarium is invaded by Drebin during routine questioning, and George Kennedy is delightful in a self-parodying part as an earnest but obtuse lawman. There's a hilarious bit when Drebin—wearing a live police wire while going to the bathroom—can be overheard over the loudspeakers at a speech given by a flustered mayor (Nancy Marchand). And yes, that's OJ Simpson as a detective who ends up on the wrong side of numerous Drebin blunders. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
National Lampoon's Animal House
John Belushi, Karen Allen, George Folsey Jr., John Landis * * * * * A groundbreaking screwball caper, 1978's National Lampoon's Animal House was in its own way a rite of passage for Hollywood. Set in 1962 at Faber College, it follows the riotous carryings-on of the Delta Fraternity, into which are initiated freshmen Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst. Among the established house members are Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert and the late John Belushi as Bluto, a belching, lecherous, Jack Daniels guzzling maniac. A debauched house of pranksters (culminating in the famous Deathmobile sequence), Delta stands as a fun alternative to the more strait-laced, crew-cut, unpleasantly repressive norm personified by Omega House. As cowriter the late Doug Kenney puts it, "better to be an animal than a vegetable".

Animal House is deliberately set in the pre-JFK assassination, pre-Vietnam era, something not made much of here, but which would have been implicitly understood by its American audience. The film was an enormous success, a rude, liberating catharsis for the latter-day frathousers who watched it. However, decades on, a lot of the humour seems broad, predictable, boorish, oafishly sexist and less witty than Airplane!, made two years later in the same anarchic spirit. Indeed, although it launched the Hollywood careers of several of its players and makers, including Kevin Bacon, director John Landis, Harold Ramis and Tom Hulce, who went on to do fine things, it might well have been inadvertently responsible for the infantilisation of much subsequent Hollywood comedy. Still, there's an undeniable energy that gusts throughout the film and Belushi, whether eating garbage or trying to reinvoke the spirit of America "After the Germans bombed Pearl Harbour" is a joy.

On the DVD: Animal House comes to disc in a good transfer, presented in 1.85:1. The main extra is a featurette in which director John Landis, writer Chris Miller and some of the actors talk about the making of the movie. Interestingly, 23 years on, most of those interviewed look better than they did back in 1978, especially Stephen "Flounder" Furst. —David Stubbs
National Lampoon's Vacation
Harold Ramis * * - - - Vacation paved the way for the John Hughes movie dynasty of the 1980s. Written by Hughes (who would go on to write, direct, and/or produce The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Uncle Buck, Home Alone, and so on) and directed by Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Stuart Saves His Family), the first Vacation movie introduces us to the all-American Griswold family: father Clark (Chevy Chase), mother Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), son Rusty (future Hughes staple Anthony Michael Hall), and daughter Audrey (Dana Barron). They all pile into the car for a cross-country road trip to Walley World, stopping along the way to view the world's biggest ball of twine. John Candy, Imogene Coca, and Randy Quaid (as yokel Cousin Eddie) pop up along the way. The movie was a big hit, and was followed by several sequels—National Lampoon's European Vacation, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation—but this one is still probably the freshest and funniest of the bunch. —Jim Emerson
Neverending Story - Vol. 1 - The Beginning
Mark Rendall, John Dunn-Hill * - - - -
Neverending Story - Vol. 2 - The Gift
Mark Rendall, John Dunn-Hill * - - - -
The NeverEnding Story
Wolfgang Petersen * * * * * Wolfgang Petersen (In the Line of Fire) made his first English-language film with this 1984 fantasy about a boy (Barret Oliver) visualising the stories of a book he's reading. The imagined tale involves another boy, a warrior (Noah Hathaway), and his efforts to save the empire of Fantasia from a nemesis called the Nothing. Whether or not the scenario sticks in the memory, what does linger are the unique effects, which are not quite like anything else. Plenty of good fairy-tale characters and memorable scenes, and the film even encourages kids to read. —Tom Keogh
The Neverending Story
Wolfgang Petersen * * * * * Wolfgang Petersen (In the Line of Fire) made his first English-language film with this 1984 fantasy about a boy (Barret Oliver) visualising the stories of a book he's reading. The imagined tale involves another boy, a warrior (Noah Hathaway), and his efforts to save the empire of Fantasia from a nemesis called the Nothing. Whether or not the scenario sticks in the memory, what does linger are the unique effects, which are not quite like anything else. Plenty of good fairy-tale characters and memorable scenes, and the film even encourages kids to read. —Tom Keogh
Nil By Mouth
Gary Oldman * * * * - Gary Oldman took a break from acting to write and direct this unflinching family drama out of the kitchen-sink British school. Oldman doesn't appear in the film, instead handing the heavy lifting to the remarkable Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast, Cold Mountain) and Kathy Burke, who won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival for her work. The scummy drug trade of lower-class London is Oldman's turf, but he puts special focus on the miserable cycles of violence that fuel a family's struggle within this world. The results are not always easy to watch, but they are devastating (and the final sequence is chilling). Oldman may be guilty of indulging his actors a bit, but it's forgivable, given the big, roaring performances. —Robert Horton
No Country For Old Men
Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen * * * - - The Coen brothers make their finest thriller since Fargo with a restrained adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, but No Country for Old Men is their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day Western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam veteran who needs a break. One morning while hunting antelope, he spies several trucks surrounded by dead bodies (both human and canine). In examining the site, he finds a case filled with $2 million. Moss takes it with him, tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for awhile, and hits the road until he can determine his next move. On the way from El Paso to Mexico, he discovers he's being followed by ex-special ops agent Chigurh (an eerily calm Javier Bardem). Chigurh's weapon of choice is a cattle gun, and he uses it on everyone who gets in his way—or loses a coin toss (as far as he's concerned, bad luck is grounds for death). Just as Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a World War II veteran, is on Moss's trail, Chigurh's former colleague, Wells (Woody Harrelson), is on his. For most of the movie, Moss remains one step ahead of his nemesis. Both men are clever and resourceful—except Moss has a conscious, Chigurh does not (he is, as McCarthy puts it, "a prophet of destruction"). At times, the film plays like an old horror movie, with Chigurh as its lumbering Frankenstein monster. Like the taciturn terminator, No Country for Old Men doesn't move quickly, but the tension never dissipates. This minimalist masterwork represents Joel and Ethan Coen and their entire cast, particularly Brolin and Jones, at the peak of their powers. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
Not Another Teen Movie
Joel Gallen * * * * *
Notes On A Scandal
Richard Eyre * * * * - Gold stars to all for this taut psychological thriller based on Zoe Heller's novel that that gets more insidiously twisted as it unfolds. Oscar-nominated for her chilling performance, Dame Judi Dench gives a master class as schoolteacher Barbara Covett, a frumpy, friendless, and flinty spinster who lives with her cat. A formidable presence, Barbara is standoffish with colleagues and not one for students to trifle with (not that they'd dare). Cate Blanchett, also an Oscar nominee and winner of several critics society awards for her impassioned performance, costars as Sheba Hart, the new, overwhelmed art teacher who first becomes enthrall to Barbara after she steps in to help Sheba discipline unruly students. Barbara cultivates a friendship, and insinuates herself into Sheba's chaotic life, which includes her older husband (Bill Nighy), teenage daughter, and a son with Down's syndrome. Then, Barbara catches the reckless Sheba in a compromising position with a 15-year-old student (Andrew Simpson). Seizing her opportunity, the calculating Barbara does not turn her in. Rather, she wants to "help" her. "She's the one I've been waiting for," she writes in the journals she meticulously keeps, and which provide, in voiceover, her corrosive commentary. This all sounds very Fatal Attraction, but no boiling rabbits, please; we're British. Philip Glass's Oscar-nominated score accentuates the growing menace. Though there is little in these characters to admire, (one would think GLAAD would have something to say about the predatory turn Barbara's character takes), Notes on a Scandal is a compelling tour-de-force for its Grade-A cast. —Donald Liebenson
O
Tim Blake Nelson * * * * *
Ocean's Eleven
Steven Soderbergh * * * * - Ocean's Eleven improves on 1960's Rat Pack original with supernova casting, a slickly updated plot and Steven Soderbergh's graceful touch behind the camera. Soderbergh reportedly relished the opportunity "to make a movie that has no desire except to give pleasure from beginning to end", and he succeeds on those terms, blessed by the casting of George Clooney as Danny Ocean, the title role originated by Frank Sinatra. Fresh out of jail, Ocean masterminds a plot to steal $163 million from the seemingly impervious vault of Las Vegas's Bellagio casino, not just for the money but to win his ex-wife (Julia Roberts) back from the casino's ruthless owner (Andy Garcia). Soderbergh doesn't scrimp on the caper's comically intricate strategy, but he finds greater joy in assembling a stellar team (including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Carl Reiner) and indulging their strengths as actors and thieves. The result is a film that's as smooth as a silk suit and just as stylish. —Jeff Shannon

On the DVD: Ocean's Eleven on disc is hardly swarming with special features, but just like all good heists it's quality not quantity that counts. Although the DVD-ROM feature is simply a game of computer blackjack, the cast list simply that and the HBO special just a standard Hollywood promo, the two refreshing and honest commentaries more than compensate. The cast commentary is lively and it's nice to hear intelligent comments coming from Hollywood's big league for a change. However, it's the director and writer's commentary that is the real gem; it's funny, enlightening and most of all it allows Ted Griffin to put the case forward for all screenwriters across the world as to the importance of their craft. The main feature has an impressive transfer of sound and visuals, making the suits sharper and David Holmes' soundtrack even funkier. —Nikki Disney
October Sky
Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Joe Johnston * * * * * Based on the memoir Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam Jr., October Sky emerged as one of the most delightful sleepers of 1999—a small miracle of good ol' fashioned movie-making in the cynical, often numbingly trendy Hollywood of the late 20th century. Hickam's true story begins in 1957 with Russia's historic launch of the Sputnik satellite, and while Homer (played with smart idealism by Jake Gyllenhaal) sees Sputnik as his cue to pursue a fascination with rocketry, his father (Chris Cooper) epitomises the admirable yet sternly stubborn working-man's ethic of the West Virginia coal miner, casting fear and disdain on Homer's pursuit of science while urging his "errant" son to carry on the family business—a spirit-killing profession that Homer has no intention of joining.

As directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer), this wonderful movie is occasionally guilty of overstating its case and sacrificing subtlety for predictable melodrama. But more often the film's tone is just right, and the spirit of adventure and invention is infectiously conveyed through Gyllenhaal and his well-cast fellow rocketeers, whose many failures gradually lead to triumph on their makeshift backwoods launching pad. Capturing time and place with impeccable detail and superbly developed characters (including Laura Dern as an inspiring schoolteacher), October Sky is a family film for the ages, encouraging the highest potential of the human spirit while giving viewers a clear view of a bygone era when "the final frontier" beckoned to the explorer in all of us. —Jeff Shannon
The Office: The Complete First Series
Ricky Gervais, Mackenzie Crook * * * * * It feels both inaccurate and inadequate to describe The Office as a comedy. On a superficial level, it disdains all the conventions of television sitcoms: there are no punch lines, no jokes, no laugh tracks and no cute happy endings. More profoundly, it's not what we're used to thinking of as funny. Most of the fervently devoted fan base that the programme acquired watched with a discomfortingly thrilling combination of identification and mortification. The paradox is that its best moments are almost physically unwatchable.

Set in the offices of a fictional Slough paper merchant, The Office is filmed in the style of a reality television programme. The writing is subtle and deft, the acting wonderful and the characters beautifully drawn: the cadaverous team leader Gareth, a paradigm of Andy McNab's readership; the monstrous sales rep, Chris Finch; and the decent but long-suffering everyman Tim, whose ambition and imagination have been crushed out of him by the banality of the life he dreams uselessly of escaping. The show is stolen, as it was intended to be, by insufferable office manager David Brent, played by cowriter Ricky Gervais. Brent will become a name as emblematic for a particular kind of British grotesque as Alan Partridge or Basil Fawlty, but he is a deeper character than either. Partridge and Fawlty are exaggerations of reality, and therefore safely comic figures. Brent is as appalling as only reality can be. —Andrew Mueller

On the DVD The Office, Series 1 is tastefully packaged as a two-disc set appropriately adorned with John Betjeman's poem "Slough". The special features occupy the second disc and consist of a laid-back 39-minute documentary entitled "How I Made The Office by Ricky Gervais", with co-writer Stephen Merchant and the cast contributing. Here we discover that Gervais spends his time on set "mucking around and annoying people", and that actress Lucy Davis (Dawn) is the daughter of Jasper Carrott; as well as seeing parts of the original short film and the original BBC pilot episode; plus we get to enjoy many examples of the cast corpsing throughout endless retakes. There are also a handful of deleted scenes, none of which were deleted because they weren't funny. —Mark Walker
The Office: The Complete Second Series
Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman * * * * * The second series of the award-winning BBC2 mockudrama The Office exceeded even the sky-high standards of the first. Indeed, it ventured beyond caricature and satire, touching on the very edge of darkness. Ricky Gervais was once again excruciatingly superb as David Brent, a subtly shaded modern English comic grotesque in the desperate and self-deluding tradition of Alan Partridge and Basil Fawlty.

In this series, however, Brent's to-camera assertions concerning his man-management qualities and executive capabilities are seriously challenged when the Slough and Swindon branches are merged and his former Swindon equivalent Neil takes over as area manager. To compensate Brent cultivates his pathologically mistaken image of himself as an entertainer/motivator/comedian whose stage happens to be the workplace. This culminates in a comically disastrous motivational session ending with a sing-along of Tina Turner's "Simply the Best", which is greeted, typically, with stunned, appalled silence.

Meanwhile, Tim, who can only maintain his sanity by teasing the priggish, puddingbowl-haired Gareth, continues to wrestle with his yearning for receptionist Dawn, a sympathetic character persisting with a relationship with a yobbish bloke about whom she still maintains unspoken reservations. As ever, it's the awkward, reality TV-style pauses and silences, the furtive, meaningful and unmet glances across the emotional gulf of the open-plan office, that say it all here.

As for Brent, his own breakdown is prefaced by a moment of hideous hilarity—an impromptu office dance, a mixture of "Flashdance and MC Hammer" as Brent describes it, but in reality bad beyond description. Then, when his fate is sealed, he at last reveals himself as a humiliated and broken man in a memorable finale to perhaps the greatest British sitcom, besides Fawlty Towers, ever made. All this and Keith too. —David Stubbs

On the DVD: The Office, Series 2 is a single-disc release unlike the more generous Series 1. Extra features are enjoyable nonetheless. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant feature in a gleefully shambolic video diary—highlights of which include Gervais flicking elastic bands at his cowriter and taping their editor to his swivel chair. The ubiquitous Gervais also mockingly introduces some outtakes (mostly of him corpsing throughout dozens of takes) and a series of deleted scenes, notably of Gareth arriving in his horrendous cycle shorts. —Mark Walker
Oldboy
Chan-wook Park * * * * *
The Omen Trilogy - The Omen/Damien - Omen 2/Omen 3 - The Final Conflict
Richard Donner, Don Taylor, Graham Baker * * * * * In 1976 The Omen scored a hit with critics and audiences hungry for more after The Exorcist with its mixture of Gothic horror and mystery and its plot about a young boy suspected of being the personification of the anti-Christ. Directed by Richard Donner (best known for his Superman and Lethal Weapon films), The Omen gained a lot of credibility from the casting of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as a distinguished American couple living in England, whose young son Damien bears "the mark of the beast". At a time when graphic gore had yet to dominate the horror genre, this film used its violence discreetly and to great effect and the mood of dread and potential death is masterfully maintained. It's all a bit contrived, with a lot of biblical portent and sensational fury but few would deny it's highly entertaining. Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score works wonders to enhance the movie's creepy atmosphere. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

Damien: Omen II takes place several years after the mysterious events that claimed the life of the US Ambassador and his wife as the now teenaged and militarily enrolled Damien Thorne is slowly being made aware of his unholy heritage and horrific destiny. Woe is he (including anyone in Damien's adoptive family and his classmates) who suspects the truth or gets in his way. While not as unrelentingly frightening as its blockbuster predecessor, this more-than-competent sequel raises some interesting questions about the nature of free will (can the anti-Christ deny his birthright?) before falling into a gory series of increasingly outlandish deaths, the best of which is a terrifyingly protracted scene beneath the ice of a frozen lake. Jerry Goldsmith (who won an Oscar for his work on the first film in the series) contributes another marvellously foreboding score. —Andrew Wright, Amazon.com

The series concludes with The Omen III: The Final Conflict, starring Sam Neill as the adult Damien—aka the son of Satan—in a battle with the heavens for control of mankind. The film ends up depending more heavily on effects and spectacle than on the kind of basic horrors that made the first movie in the series so unsettling but at least this one gives some closure to the seemingly endless saga. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com

On the DVDs: On the original movie disc there is an all-new 45-minute documentary, "666: The Omen Revealed", with contributions from all the major behind-the-scenes players, including director, editor, screenwriter (who confesses the movie was only set in England because he wanted a free trip to London!), producer and composer. The latter, Jerry Goldsmith, has his Oscar-winning contribution to the movie recognised with a separate feature in which he talks through four key musical scenes in the score. There's also a thought-provoking short called "Curse or Coincidence?" in which the many bizarre accidents that happened during shooting are related, including the terrible story of what happened to the girlfriend of the man responsible for designing the decapitation scene. Director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird provide a chatty audio commentary to the movie. The second and third films lack as many extra features, being content with audio commentaries and theatrical trailers: the commentary for Omen II is by producer Harvey Bernhard, that for Omen III by director Graham Baker. —Mark Walker
Once Upon A Time In America
Robert De Niro, James Woods, Sergio Leone * * * * - Once Upon a Time in America has a chequered history, having been chopped from its original 229-minute director's cut to 139 minutes for its theatrical release. The longer edition presented here benefits from having the complete story (the short version has huge gaps) about turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants in America finding their way into lives of crime, as told in flashback by an ageing Jewish gangster named Noodles (Robert De Niro). On the other hand, it's almost four hours long, and this sometimes-indulgent Sergio Leone film is no Godfather. Still, it is notable for the contrast between Leone's elegiac take on the gangster film and his occasional explosive action, as well as for the mix of the stoic, inexpressive De Niro and the hyperactive James Woods as his lifelong friend and rival. —Marshall Fine
Once Upon A Time In The Midlands
Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Shane Meadows * * * - - Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is credited as the closing part in a loosely connected trilogy by director Shane Meadows. A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) and Twenty Four Seven (1997) preceded it, and ultimately the viewer will be hard pressed to discern anything other than the British Midlands locale linking them together. That and the generally grim tone. Here we have what boils down to a tale of a girl (Shirley Henderson) who can't decide between two guys (her ex, Robert Carlyle, or her current boyfriend, Rhys Ifans). Wrapped up in some easy comedy and framed in the occasional nod to the spaghetti western genre, the movie initially has plenty in its favour. Unfortunately, the intrusion of a B-plot, involving some Scottish thugs, overpowers the more pleasant family portrait. As a result, the stellar performances by Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson get lost in the drama of the love triangle. After swinging back and forth indecisively, Shirley's conclusion to the tale doesn't have the emotional punch that it should have. This third Midlands tale may be the most accessible in terms of familiar characters and aspects of contemporary British life, but it isn't the kind of escapist movie experience suggested by its title. —Paul Tonks
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Milos Forman * * * * -
One Hour Photo
Mark Romanek * * * - - One Hour Photo marks Robin Williams' third film running as the bad guy, following on from Insomnia and the straight-to-video (in the UK) Death to Smoochy. It's also his most chilling role to date. Playing "photo guy" Sy Parrish, obsessed by the seemingly perfect family who are his most regular customers, he paints a desperate image of a lonely, fanatical man whose only comfort lies in imagining himself a part of the lives of the wealthy, happy Yorkins family (headed by Connie Nielsen). Devastated by being fired from his job at the processing lab, and making a shocking discovery on his exit, he descends into psychosis.

Director and screenwriter Mark Romanek, previously best known for his Nine Inch Nails and Madonna music videos, has made a stylish, distinctive entry into the world of mainstream movies; the film combines an ever-intensifying sense of menace with some unconventional shocks that never descend into clichés. Refreshingly, the film is presented from Parrish's point of view rather than the Yorkins', and it's a real (if disquieting) treat to see Williams ditch his usual bumbling buffoon character and get another meaty role to sink his teeth into. Eschewing the formulas and devices of the standard thriller with bleak effectiveness, One Hour Photo is a far more intelligent proposition than most of its peers—though it may be a disappointment to those expecting visceral thrills.

On the DVD: One Hour Photo's beautifully austere photography and skilful use of colour translates excellently to the DVD's anamorphic widescreen format. The stylish menu screens have a photo-processing theme with stills and film footage; the extras comprise an informative and often amusing commentary from Romanek and Williams, a 25-minute Sundance Channel "Anatomy of a Scene" feature, a 12-minute Cinemax featurette, and an in-depth and entertaining half-hour interview with director and star from New York's acclaimed Charlie Rose show. The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and both movie and commentary are subtitled in English only. —Rikki Price
Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro * * * * * If you're after something a bit more magical than the current crop of gory, torturous horror movies, this Guillermo del Toro Collection might be just what you're looking for. Del Toro weaves together dark fairy tales with bleak reality in each of these three movies, creating films which are clever, beautiful and incredibly haunting. Although del Toro has made more high profile movies—Hellboy and Blade 2, specifically—his Spanish language movies are clearly his real passion. More personal than his superhero movies, each of these films has something to say.

The earliest of the movies is Cronos. Released in 1993, it's a story of family loyalties as well as alchemy and vampirism. 2001's The Devil's Backbone sees a group of orphans battling for survival in a world populated by bullies and ghosts, with war torn Spain providing a stunning background; while Pan's Labyrinth, released in 2006 to critical acclaim, mingles real life politics and social drama with fantasy and magic to create a masterpiece. Pan's Labyrinth won three Oscars, though it also deserved the other three it was also nominated for.

With each successive film, Del Toro's filmmaking has grown ever more mature and powerful, and this boxset perfectly showcases an incredible talent.—Sarah Dobbs
Payback
Brian Helgeland, John Myhre * * * * - If it weren't for the fact that John Boorman's Point Blank was already a definitive take on Richard Stark's novel The Hunter (reissued under the title Payback), Payback would be a well-above-average 90s action movie. The original toughness is diluted: Mel Gibson's Porter, replacing Lee Marvin's Walker and Stark's Parker, comes on like a hardnut but turns into a softie when he hooks up with call-girl Maria Bello (and he even likes dogs). Double-crossed and wounded after shifty Gregg Henry dupes Porter's wife (Deborah Kara Unger) into betraying him, Porter sets out to get back the $70,000 share of a heist that he feels he is owed. Because Henry has used the money to buy his way into "the Outfit", he has to deal not only with the squirming scumbag but a hierarchy of corporate mobsters (William Devane, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson) for whom it would be bad business practice to hand over even the trivial sum. Director-writer Brian Helgeland gives it a steely-blue look and gets good performances all round (with room for Lucy Liu as an amusing dominatrix) while constructing a story in which everything fits. But it's just a good thriller, since the masterpiece potential has already been staked out. —Kim Newman
Pearl Harbor
Michael Bay * * * - -
Philadelphia
Jonathan Demme * * * * - Philadelphia wasn't the first movie about AIDS (it followed such worthy independent films as Parting Glances and Longtime Companion), but it was the first Hollywood studio picture to take AIDS as its primary subject. In that sense, Philadelphia is a historically important film. As such, it's worth remembering that director Jonathan Demme (Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs) wasn't interested in preaching to the converted; he set out to make a film that would connect with a mainstream audience. And he succeeded. Philadelphia was not only a hit, it also won Oscars for Bruce Springsteen's haunting "The Streets of Philadelphia," and for Tom Hanks as the gay lawyer Andrew Beckett who is unjustly fired by his firm because he has AIDS. Denzel Washington is another lawyer (functioning as the mainstream-audience surrogate) who reluctantly takes Beckett's case and learns to overcome his misconceptions about the disease, about those who contract it, and about gay people in general. The combined warmth and humanism of Hanks and Demme were absolutely essential to making this picture a success. The cast also features Jason Robards, Antonio Banderas (as Beckett's lover), Joanne Woodward, and Robert Ridgely, and, of course, those Demme regulars Charles Napier, Tracey Walter and Roger Corman. —Jim Emerson
The Pianist
Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Roman Polanski * * * * * Winner of the prestigious Golden Palm award at the 2002 Cannes film festival, The Pianist is the film that Roman Polanski was born to direct. A childhood survivor of Nazi-occupied Poland, Polanski was uniquely suited to tell the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew and concert pianist (played by Adrien Brody) who witnessed the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, miraculously eluded the Nazi death camps, and survived throughout World War II by hiding among the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. Unlike any previous dramatization of the Nazi holocaust, The Pianist steadfastly maintains its protagonist's singular point of view, allowing Polanski to create an intimate odyssey on an epic wartime scale, drawing a direct parallel between Szpilman's tenacious, primitive existence and the wholesale destruction of the city he refuses to abandon. Uncompromising in its physical and emotional authenticity, The Pianist strikes an ultimate note of hope and soulful purity. As with Schindler's List, it's one of the greatest films ever made about humanity's darkest chapter. —Jeff Shannon
Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End
Gore Verbinski * * - - - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is a rollicking voyage in the same spirit of the two earlier Pirates films, yet far darker in spots (and nearly three hours to boot). The action, largely revolving around a pirate alliance against the ruthless East India Trading Company, doesn't disappoint, though the violence is probably too harsh for young children. Through it all, the plucky cast (Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush) are buffeted by battle, maelstroms, betrayal, treachery, a ferocious Caribbean weather goddess, and that gnarly voyage back from the world's end—but with their wit intact. As always, Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow tosses off great lines; he chastises "a woman scorned, like which hell hath no fury than!" He insults an opponent with a string of epithets, ending in "yeasty codpiece."

In the previous The Curse of the Black Pearl, Sparrow was killed—sent to Davy Jones' Locker. In the opening scenes, the viewer sees that death has not been kind to Sparrow—but that's not to say he hasn't found endless ways to amuse himself, cavorting with dozens of hallucinated versions of himself on the deck of the Black Pearl. But Sparrow is needed in this world, so a daring rescue brings him back. Keith Richards' much ballyhooed appearance as Jack's dad is little more than a cameo, though he does play a wistful guitar. But the action, as always, is more than satisfying, held together by Depp, who, outsmarting the far-better-armed British yet again, causes a bewigged commander to muse: "Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?" As far as fans are concerned, it matters not. —A.T. Hurley
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Gore Verbinski * * * * * You won't need a bottle of rum to enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, even if you haven't experienced the Disneyland theme-park ride that inspired it. There's a galleon's worth of fun in watching Johnny Depp's androgynous performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, a roguish pirate who could pass for the illegitimate spawn of rockers Keith Richards and Chrissie Hynde. Depp gets all the good lines and steals the show, recruiting Orlando Bloom (a blacksmith and expert swordsman) and Keira Knightley (a lovely governor's daughter). They set out on an adventurous quest to recapture the notorious Black Pearl, a ghost ship commandeered by Jack's nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), a mutineer desperate to reverse the curse that left him and his (literally) skeleton crew in a state of eternal, undead damnation. Director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) repeats the redundant mayhem that marred his debut film Mouse Hunt, but with the writers of Shrek he's made Pirates of the Caribbean into a special-effects thrill-ride that plays like a Halloween party on the open seas. —Jeff Shannon
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
John Hughes * * * * * Given the presence of both Steve Martin and John Candy, one would expect this John Hughes comedy to be much, much funnier than it is. Certainly it's not for lack of effort on the part of its stars. Martin is an uptight businessman trying to get home from New York for the holidays. But one thing after another gets in his way—most of it having to do with Candy, a boorish but well-meaning boob who takes a liking to him. Together they travel all over the map; no matter how hard Martin tries to shake him, he can't. But Hughes's writing is never as sharp as it should be and this film winds up being only intermittently humorous. —Marshall Fine
Planet Earth : Complete BBC Series
Alastair Fothergill * * * * * David Attenborough Directors: Alastair Fothergill
Planet of the Apes
Franklin J. Schaffner * * * - - A genuine genre classic whose impact remains undimmed either by time, increasingly dire sequels, or Tim Burton's lacklustre 2001 "reimagining", the original Planet of the Apes richly deserves this 35th Anniversary special edition. Here you'll find a glorious anamorphic presentation of Franklin J Schaffner's painterly CinemaScope framing, accompanied by a new DTS 5.1 soundtrack that makes the movie seem even more vibrant and immediate than ever before. On disc one the film is accompanied by two audio commentaries: one from composer Jerry Goldsmith, and another with Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Natalie Trundy and make-up artist John Chambers. These are reasonably interesting, though with a few too many gaps. Better is Eric Greene's exhaustive text commentary. Better still are the features on the second disc.

Disc two contains the exhaustive two-hour Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary (also to be found in the six-disc box set) as well as a host of other behind-the-scenes nuggets for die-hard fans: dailies and outtakes, make-up tests and Roddy McDowall's home movies. There's some overlap between a 1967 NATO presentation of the movie hosted by Charlton Heston and other featurettes from 1968 and 1972. Sequel directors Don Taylor and J Lee Thompson are seen in action, and there are trailers, film reviews from 1968 and picture galleries. —Mark Walker
Poltergeist
Tobe Hooper * * * * - It’s been a long time coming, but at last the digitally remastered version of the original 1982 horror movie has arrived. Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, teamed up with family-oriented producer Steven Spielberg to make Poltergeist, about a haunted suburban home in a development very much like the Arizona one in which Spielberg was raised. (Because it came out the same summer as Spielberg's E.T., it was tempting to see both movies as representing Spielberg's ambivalent feelings about childhood in suburbia. One was a fantasy, the other a nightmare.) Spielberg also co-wrote the screenplay, which taps into primal, childlike fears of monsters under the bed, monsters in the closet, sinister clown faces, and all manner of things that go bump in the night. At first, some of the odd happenings in the house are kind of funny and amusing, but they grow gradually creepier until the film climaxes in a terrifying special-effects extravaganza when five-year-old Carole Anne (Heather O'Rourke) is kidnapped by the spooks and held hostage in another dimension. Though not nearly as frightening as Hooper's magnum opus, or the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, which came along two years later, Poltergeist is one of the smartest and most entertaining horror pictures of its time. —Jim Emerson
Porky's
Dan Monahan, Wyatt Knight, Bob Clark * * * * -
The Prestige
Christopher Nolan * * * * - The Prestige attempts a hat trick by combining a ridiculously good-looking cast, a highly regarded new director, and more than one sleight of hand. Does it pull it off? Sort of. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play rival magicians who were once friends before an on-stage tragedy drove a wedge between them. While Bale's Alfred Borden is a more skilled illusionist, Jackman's Rufus Angier is the better showman; much of the film's interesting first half is their attempts to sabotage—and simultaneously, top—each other's tricks. Even with the help of a prop inventor (Michael Caine) and a comely assistant (Scarlett Johansson), Angier can't match Borden's ultimate illusion: The Transporting Man. Angier's obsession with learning Borden's trick leads him to an encounter with an eccentric inventor (David Bowie) in a second half that gets bogged down in plot loops and theatrics. Director Christopher Nolan, reuniting with his Batman Begins star Bale, demonstrates the same dark touch that hued that film, but some plot elements—without giving anything away—seem out of place with the rest of the movie. It's better to sit back and let the sometimes-clunky turns steer themselves than try to draw back the black curtain. That said, The Prestige still manages to entertain long after the magician has left the stage—a feat in itself. —Ellen A. Kim
Presumed Innocent
Alan J. Pakula * * * - - Rich with ambiguity, this smooth adaptation of Scott Turow's bestselling mystery novel stars Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich, the prosecuting attorney assigned to a case involving the murder of a beautiful, seductive lawyer (Greta Scacchi) with whom he'd been having a secret affair. After the investigation gets off to a slow start, damning evidence points to Rusty as the prime suspect. His career is destroyed when his superior and secondary suspect Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) sets him up for the fall. Bonnie Bedelia plays Rusty's wife Barbara, who is not above suspicion herself. While Ford's performance rides a fine line between presumed innocence and possible guilt, director Alan J Pakula (All the President's Men) maintains a consistent tone of uncertainty that keeps the viewer guessing. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Primer
Shane Carruth * * * - -
The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner * * * * * Screenwriter William Goldman's novel The Princess Bride earned its own loyal audience on the strength of its narrative voice and its gently satirical, hyperbolic spin on swashbuckled adventure that seemed almost purely literary. For all its derring-do and vivid over-the-top characters, the book's joy was dictated as much by the deadpan tone of its narrator and a winking acknowledgement of the clichés being sent up. Miraculously, director Rob Reiner and Goldman himself managed to visualize this romantic fable while keeping that external voice largely intact: using a storytelling framework, avuncular Grandpa (Peter Falk) gradually seduces his sceptical grandson (Fred Savage) into the absurd, irresistible melodrama of the title story. And what a story: a lowly stable boy, Westley (Cary Elwes), pledges his love to the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright), only to be abducted and reportedly killed by pirates while Buttercup is betrothed to the evil Prince Humperdinck. Even as Buttercup herself is kidnapped by a giant, a scheming criminal mastermind, and a master Spanish swordsman, a mysterious masked pirate (could it be Westley?) follows in pursuit. As they sail toward the Cliffs of Insanity... The wild and woolly arcs of the story, the sudden twists of fate, and, above all, the cartoon-scaled characters all work because of Goldman's very funny script, Reiner's confident direction, and a terrific cast. Elwes and Wright, both sporting their best English accents, juggle romantic fervor and physical slapstick effortlessly, while supporting roles boast Mandy Patinkin (the swordsman Inigo Montoya), Wallace Shawn (the incredulous schemer Vizzini), and Christopher Guest (evil Count Rugen) with brief but funny cameos from Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, and Peter Cook. —Sam Sutherland
Prison Break: Season 1 - Part 1
Paul T. Scheuring * * * * - Whatever you do, don’t give up on Prison Break. Depending on who you talk to, it either races out of the traps at speed, or is a dish that takes some while to warm up. While this reviewer verges towards the latter, by the time the show gets it first few episodes under its belt, it’s perfectly clear that this is one hell of a ride.

It’s built on a very simple concept. Michael Scofield gets himself arrested and thrown into Fox River prison. It’s a deliberate ploy, for not only was he involved in the prison’s structural design, but his brother also happens to be on death row, for a crime that he believes he didn’t commit. In short, the idea is to break in so that he can break them both out.

From this simple premise, Prison Break then builds. With game nods of the hat to the staple prison movie clichés you’d expect, it nonetheless pulls a few trump cards. Firstly, it takes time to built up interesting characters. Next, it wisely keeps a parallel storyline running outside the prison walls. And thirdly, it’s casting is quite superb.

Its final ace is the intricately plotted escape plan itself, and the numerous twists and turns along the way. This initial boxset gets you just past the halfway point of the first season, and at times it’s likely to leave you flat-out breathless. At worst, you’re likely to be relentlessly entertained, and pulling out that credit card to order the concluding boxset. For Prison Break is that rare thing—a show that accepts it’s riddled with clichés, but is clever enough to work that to its advantage. Gripping viewing.—Simon Brew
The Private Life Of Plants
Neil Lucas (II) * * * * *
A Prophet
Jacques Audiard
Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino * * * * * With the knockout one-two punch of 1992's Reservoir Dogs and 1994's Pulp Fiction writer-director Quentin Tarantino stunned the filmmaking world, exploding into prominence as a cinematic heavyweight contender. But Pulp Fiction was more than just the follow-up to an impressive first feature, or the winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival, or a script stuffed with the sort of juicy bubblegum dialogue actors just love to chew, or the vehicle that re-established John Travolta on the A-list, or the relatively low-budget ($8 million) independent showcase for an ultrahip mixture of established marquee names and rising stars from the indie scene (among them Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Julia Sweeney, Kathy Griffin and Phil Lamar). It was more, even, than an unprecedented $100-million-plus hit for indie distributor Miramax. Pulp Fiction was a sensation. No, it was not the Second Coming (I actually think Reservoir Dogs is a more substantial film; and PT Anderson outdid Tarantino in 1997 by making his directorial debut with two even more mature and accomplished pictures, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights). But Pulp Fiction packs so much energy and invention into telling its nonchronologically interwoven short stories (all about temptation, corruption, and redemption amongst modern criminals, large and small) it leaves viewers both exhilarated and exhausted—hearts racing and knuckles white from the ride. (Oh, and the infectious, surf-guitar-based soundtrack is tastier than a Royale with Cheese.) —Jim Emerson
Quadrophenia
Franc Roddam * * * - - Franc Roddam's terrifically energetic movie, set to music from the Who's Quadrophenia, is—at the very least, the best film ever based on a rock album (and, yes, that includes, Tommy, Pink Floyd: The Wall, and Jesus Christ Superstar). Actually, this tale of the battle between two early '60s youth subcultures—Mods and Rockers—in the seaside teenage wasteland of Brighton, England, isn't so much a cinematic "version" of the Who's 1979 double-record rock opera as it is a story based on the sequence of songs on the album. Quadrophenia is about that crucial time in teenhood when the lion's share of your sense of identity is tied up in the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, and the groups you hang out with. Jimmy (Phil Daniels) identifies himself with the sharp-dressing, scooter-riding Mods, who listen to American soul and British pop-rock (The Who themselves were once rather Mod). The Rockers, on the other hand, are leather-jacketed, black-booted, motorcycle-riding tough guys who listen primarily to classic American rock & roll. The film captures this minor pop-culture revolution perfectly. Look for Sting as a club-hopping slickster, who's shameful secret is that he's a hotel bellboy by day. —Jim Emerson
Queen Of The Damned
Michael Rymer * * * - - Queen of the Damned combines the plot elements from the two disappointing novels Anne Rice cranked out as the sequels to Interview with the Vampire and contrives to be better than the book it is named after, but not by much. The vampire Lestat (a pale, pretty Stuart Townsend) awakens after a century-long nap and discovers flamboyant metal music, then irritates the vampire community by "coming out" and courting celebrities. His sub-Marilyn Manson songs interest paranormal-watching human librarian Jesse (Marguerite Moreau), who looks him up in a Mile End Goth club that caters for an undead clientele, but his tunes also awaken Akasha (Aaliyah), eponymous mother of all vampires, who makes him her number one disciple and sets about devastating the world, opposed by a cadre of conservative vampires who include Lestat's sire Marius (Vincent Perez) and Jesse's Aunt Maharet (Lena Olin).

The plot is of the "one-damn-thing-after-another" variety, zipping about the world from New Orleans to Glastonbury to a huge concert in Death Valley as broody characters exchange solemn but comical dialogue and indulge in fight scenes too swift for the camera to catch. Like Blade 2, it offers some spectacular vampire combustions, but its romance is strictly 15-certificate blood-nuzzling and it's hard to take Lestat himself seriously when Townsend plays him as such a feckless twit. —Kim Newman
Queer As Folk
Charles McDougall, Sarah Harding * * * * - Television has become so much a part of our lives that it rarely surprises us anymore, so when a series like Queer as Folk comes along—truly shocking and genuinely touching—it's an event to be remembered. Originally broadcast as eight half-hour episodes on Channel 4, QAF follows the lives of three men through life, love and all the travails of such in Manchester. That the protagonists are all gay—and Nathan (Charlie Hunnam) is just 15 years old—is treated as matter of course, and were it not for the fact that every character who is introduced is so vividly realised, it would be the only point. The ultimate triumph of QAF is not that the explicit, explosive subject matter is handled (mostly) tastefully, or that it made it on screen at all—it's that the characters are so intriguing that the unflinching looks at sex and relationships almost fade completely into the background.

The series certainly starts with a bang: in the first episode, young Nathan is deflowered, Stuart (Aiden Gillen) becomes a father and Vince (Craig Kelly) pines away with an unrequited love that quickly establishes itself as the series' main theme. (That Vince spends half of QAF with a boyfriend complicates the situation some.) Nathan has already come to terms with his sexuality by the time the series starts, but that doens't mean that the rest of his family—or his fellow students—have; Stuart, the biggest (or, at least, busiest) stud in town, and QAF's approaches 30 and starts to re-examine his life; and Vince has to live with the rest of them.

The parents, families, friends and co-workers of all involved get plenty of screen time, and occasionally steal the scenes themselves—especially Denise Black (hairdresser Denise Osbourne from Coronation Street).

The DVD includes a Photo Gallery and a handful of interviews, which add little to the package. —Randy Silver
R-Point
Su-Chang Kong * * * - -
Raging Bull
Martin Scorsese * * * - - While every Martin Scorsese fan has her or his favourite movie, few would argue that Raging Bull is one of his very best. It strikes a near-perfect balance between formal experiment (it's shot in black and white and features heavily stylised, slo-mo fight sequences) and emotional content, delivered through the compelling true-life story of heavyweight boxer Jake La Motta (on whose autobiography it was based), and frequently scores high on critic and audience polls of the best films of the 20th century.

The traditional rise-and-fall biopic structure serves as a vehicle for a brutally tender distillation of most of the director's favourite themes (male violence, sexual jealousy, ambition and failure). Onscreen, it features two of his favourite leading actors, Robert De Niro (whose intense physical exertions and pasta diet for the role won him an Academy Award), and Joe Pesci, as La Motta and his brother Joey respectively. Trapped in a bubble of emotional and verbal inarticulacy, Jake and Joey's constant, repetitive bickering ("Did you fuck my wife?" La Motta asks over and over again in one scene, undaunted by however many times Joey denies it), is counterpointed by Jake's eloquence in the ring, manifestly the only place where he can express himself. As the title suggests, the guy's an animal, a real antihero in satin shorts.

The smouldering, statuesque Cathy Moriarty is on hand as Jake's long-suffering wife Vickie, as are a whole posse of Scorsese regulars. All are aided and abetted by several of Scorsese's most gifted and vital off-screen collaborators: screenwriter Paul Schrader (co-author of Taxi Driver), cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver), and the indispensable Thelma Schoonmaker, editor of almost every Scorsese film since his feature, Who's That Knocking at My Door?. They don't come much better than this. —Leslie Felperin
Rain Man
Barry Levinson * * * * - Rain Man is the kind of touching drama that Oscars are made for—and, sure enough, the film took Academy honours for best picture, director, screenplay, and actor (Dustin Hoffman) in 1988. Hoffman plays Raymond, an autistic savant whose late father has left him $3 million in a trust. This gets the attention of his materialistic younger brother, a hot-shot LA car dealer named Charlie (Tom Cruise) who wasn't even aware of Raymond's existence until he read his estranged father's will. Charlie picks up Raymond and takes him on a cross-country journey that becomes a voyage of discovery for Charlie, and, perhaps, for Raymond, too. Rain Man will either captivate you or irritate you (Raymond's sputtering of repetitious phrases is enough to drive anyone crazy), but it is obviously a labour of love for those involved. Hoffman had been attached to the film for many years, as various directors and writers came and went, but his persistence eventually paid off—kind of like Raymond in Las Vegas. Look for director Barry Levinson in a cameo as a psychiatrist near the end of the film. —Jim Emerson
The Reaping
Stephen Hopkins * * * - -
Red Road
Kate Dickie, Natalie Press, Andrea Arnold * * * - -
Requiem For A Dream
Darren Aronofsky * * * * - Fantasy mixes with the harsh reality of addiction and the desire for hope in Requiem for a Dream. Beginning at the dawn of a new summer in Coney Island, the film charts the relationship of Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) and her son Harry (Jared Leto)—two characters who are lost with in a world of the self-absorbed desire to feed their addictions at the cost of hope and love. With a sublime score (performed by the Kronos Quartet) accompanying some intense visual imagery, the film sets up an almost fairy-tale wash over the characters' lives, with every hit of their chosen drug turning them into beautiful people surrounded by a haze which enhances all their features. However, unlike films such as Trainspotting which turn the dream into a nightmare then end with a huge dose of hope, Requiem for a Dream forces the viewer through all loss of hope and the descending madness of reality, as winter begins.

Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to the critically acclaimed Pi is a movie which exposes not only the terror caused by addiction of any kind—be it TV or Heroin—but also offers a powerful insight into the destruction caused by the desire to achieve "the American Dream". Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr, the film sacrifices dialogue in favour of imagery and movement: the editing and cinematography are reminiscent of MTV, however the movie takes this very aggressive style and moulds it to its own needs, adding a beautifully haunting narrative and powerful performances by its four main characters (Burstyn just missing out on an Oscar for Best female lead to Julia Roberts). Ultimately the viewer is left with a sense of desperation and despair: Requiem for a Dream exposes drugs and addiction in the most powerful and truthful way a film has ever managed, leaving no stone unturned.

On the DVD: This disc is bursting with excellent special features. The anamorphic widescreen picture makes the most of the film's stylish visuals, and the soundtrack offers choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. As well as offering the obligatory theatrical trailer, scene selection and a fantastic director's commentary, there's also a "making-of" featurette, TV trailers charting the reviews and success of the film, an "Anatomy of a scene", and a wide range of deleted scenes. By far the best feature is Hubert Selby Jr's interview with Ellen Burstyn, which offers the writer a chance to put across not just his opinions on his work but also on life as a whole. All these features are placed within an impressively formatted menu. —Nikki Disney
Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino * * * * - Quentin Tarantino came out of nowhere (i.e. a video store in Manhattan Beach, California) and turned Hollywood on its ear in 1992 with his explosive first feature, Reservoir Dogs. Like Tarantino's mainstream breakthrough Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs has an unconventional structure, cleverly shuffling back and forth in time to reveal details about the characters, experienced criminals who know next to nothing about each other. Joe (Lawrence Tierney) has assembled them to pull off a simple heist, and has gruffly assigned them colour-coded aliases (Mr Orange, Mr Pink, Mr White) to conceal their identities even from each other. But something has gone wrong, and the plan has blown up in their faces. One by one, the surviving robbers find their way back to their prearranged warehouse hideout. There, they try to piece together the chronology of this bloody fiasco—and to identify the traitor among them who tipped off the police. Pressure mounts, blood flows, accusations and bullets fly. In the combustible atmosphere these men are forced to confront life-and-death questions of trust, loyalty, professionalism, deception and betrayal.

As many critics have observed, it is a movie about "honor among thieves" (just as Pulp Fiction is about redemption, and Jackie Brown is about survival). Along with everything else, the movie provides a showcase for a terrific ensemble of actors: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Christopher Penn and Tarantino himself, offering a fervent dissection of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" over breakfast. Reservoir Dogs is violent (though the violence is implied rather than explicit), clever, gabby, harrowing, funny, suspenseful and even—in the end—unexpectedly moving. (Don't forget that "Super Sounds of the Seventies" soundtrack, either.) Reservoir Dogs deserves just as much acclaim and attention as its follow-up, Pulp Fiction, would receive two years later. —Jim Emerson
Revenge Of The Nerds
Jeff Kanew * * * * -
Revolver
Guy Ritchie * - - - -
Ring 2
Hideo Nakata * * * - - The Ring 2 sequel further complicates the urban myth of the original tale, adding a chilling back-story concerning the origins of Sadako, the long-haired, bug-eyed living dead girl who chills her victims like a video nasty. Shell-shocked by the sudden death of her boyfriend, Koichi, Mai Takano takes it upon herself to investigate the sinister videotape that purportedly kills those who watch it after exactly one week. But the police also want to question Takano concerning her proximity to another death, that of Koichi's former father-in-law, and the disappearance of his ex-wife, Reiko, the journalist who began investigating the video tape curse. Plagued by premonitions and visions, hounded by the police, Takano stumbles upon Yoichi, Reiko's son, who after viewing the videotape has acquired strange supernatural powers. Although now mute, Takano seems able to communicate with him and wins the frightened boy's confidence in order to involve him in scientific experiments carried out by Dr Ikuma, the aims of which are to break the curse of Sadako once and for all. Director Nakata stays true to the tone of his original, tightening the plot like a piano wire around the audience, and priming them for the inevitable next episode in the series. —Chris Campion
The River King
Jaime King, Jennifer Ehle, Nick Willing * * * - -
Road to Perdition
Sam Mendes * * * * - A movie with an impeccable pedigree, Road to Perdition is director Sam Mendes' impressive follow-up to American Beauty, and features remarkable contributions from veteran cinematographer Conrad Hall, composer Thomas Newman and a cast of thespian brilliance led by Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law. Unfortunately, all their fine efforts have been lavished on an essentially predictable story, adapted from the graphic novel, which here unfolds in an overly leisurely fashion. The result is a movie that looks wonderful but feels a little too much like a contrived morality play.

Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a family man but also a hit man in the employ of mob boss John Rooney (Newman). A surrogate father-figure to Sullivan, Rooney also has a wayward real son, Connor (Daniel Craig), whose duplicity leads to a deadly alienation between the Rooney family and Sullivan. Forced to go on the run with his own 12-year-old son, Michael junior (Tyler Hoechlin), Sullivan seeks both revenge and a way to prevent his boy from one day taking the same dark road as himself. Thus the Road to Perdition becomes both a literal and metaphorical journey for the protagonists.

It wouldn't matter that there's little tension or doubt about the outcome, except that Hanks' character is all too clearly a decent chap at heart, thus undermining from the outset any sense of a real "journey" towards redemption. It remains a delight to see all the principals acting at their peak and so capably directed, but ultimately Road to Perdition seems like a series of magnificently staged set-pieces that doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts.

On the DVD: Road to Perdition is presented in an anamorphic version of its original theatrical 2.35:1 ratio with accompanying Dolby 5.1 or DTS sound options. Both picture and sound make the most of the impeccable photography and production design. Extras are a feature commentary from Mendes, a series of deleted scenes also with optional commentary, a standard HBO making of featurette, plus photos, text notes and a trailer for the CD soundtrack. —Mark Walker
Road Trip
Todd Phillips * * * - - Road Trip is a mostly agreeable, by-the-numbers teen flick with a handful of inspired sequences, most of them involving MTV's resident disturbed soul, Tom Green. It concerns a sleepy University of Ithaca student named Josh (Breckin Meyer) who accidentally mails a video of his sexual encounter with an infatuation (Amy Smart) to his long time girlfriend (Rachel Blanchard), who's seemingly avoiding him while at school in Austin, Texas. Naturally, he recruits some pals—Seann William Scott as the lech, DJ Qualls as the hopeless nerd and Paulo Costanzo as the doper genius—to hit the open highway and intercept the package. Even more naturally, mayhem ensues: a car explodes, a bus is stolen, a nerd is deflowered, French toast is horribly violated and an elderly man bogarts both pot and Viagra.

The film's humour is more democratic than politically correct, as everyone—women and minority characters, not just the hipster white guys—have a hand in the high jinks. Green plays Barry Manilow (no, not that one), a professional student (eight years and counting)—he relates the film's story to sceptical prospective students while leading them on a tour of the college. In particular, in an already justly famous sequence of scenes, he sadistically anticipates and endeavours to accelerate a mouse's demise at the jaws of a python. It's very much in the vein of American Pie, perhaps a smidgen tamer, but at least its characters don't really learn any dopey lessons in the end. Director and co-screenwriter Todd Phillips, who earlier made the much-questioned documentary Frat House, again proves he's more adept at staging fictional comic sequences than real ones. —David Kronke, Amazon.com
Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
Kevin Reynolds * * * * - Kevin Costner's lousy English accent is a small obstacle in this often exciting version of the Robin Hood fable. That aside, it's refreshing to have a preface to the old story in which we meet the robber hero of Sherwood Forest as a soldier in King Richard's Crusades, coming home to find his people under siege from the cruelties of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). After Robin and his community of outcasts and fighters take to the trees, director Kevin Reynolds (Fandango, 187) is on more familiar narrative ground, and he goes for the gusto with lots of original action (Robin shoots two arrows simultaneously from his bow in two directions). Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as Marion, makes a convincing damsel in distress and Morgan Freeman brings dignity to his role as Robin's Moor friend. Alan Rickman, however, gets the most attention for his scene-chewing role as the rotten sheriff, an almost campy performance that is highly entertaining but perhaps a little out of sorts with the rest of the film. —Tom Keogh
The Rock
Michael Bay * * * * - Between his high-octane debut, Bad Boys, and 1998's wannabe blockbuster Armageddon, hotshot director Michael Bay forged his dubious reputation with this crowd-pleasing action extravaganza. In Rock, a psychotically disgruntled war hero (Ed Harris) seizes the island prison of Alcatraz and threatens to wage chemical warfare against nearby San Francisco unless the government publicly recognises the men who were killed under Harris's top-secret command. Nicolas Cage plays the biochemist who teams up with the only man ever to have escaped from Alcatraz (Sean Connery) in an attempt to foil Harris's terrorist scheme. As one might expect, what follows is an action-packed barrage of bullets, bodies, and climactic confrontations, replete with enough plot contrivances to give even the most jaded action fan cause for alarm. It's a load of hooey, but the cast is obviously having a grand old time, and there's enough wit to make the recycled action sequences tolerable. —Jeff Shannon
Rocknrolla
Gerard Butler, Thadie Newton, Guy Ritchie The film career of Guy Ritchie has endured a few bumps in recent years, with a collection of generally forgettable films from a man clearly capable of so much more. Thank goodness then for RocknRolla, which marks a smashing return to form, as he heads once more to the criminal underworld of London.

This time, Ritchie is playing far closer to the likes of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and while RocknRolla may see the director playing on safer ground than of late, it doesn’t take long for the decision to be vindicated. The plot surrounds a real-estate job with millions at stake, and it gives ample excuse to unleash a collection of raw gangsters and tough guys into the mix, who each fancy a bit of the action.

Thus, RocknRolla brings together Gerard Butler’s Scottish gangster, Tom Wilkinson’s London crime lord, Toby Kebbell’s drug-addicted musician and the likes of Thandie Newton, Mark Strong and Jeremy Piven too. And Ritchie’s cast serve him really well, making ample mileage out of the lines they’re given.

Granted, all of this is hardly fresh territory for the director, but RocknRolla is nonetheless funny, action-packed and a good British mob film to while away an evening with. Welcome back, Mr Ritchie… —Jon Foster
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Jim Sharman * * * * - If a musical sci-fi satire about an alien transvestite named Frank-n-Furter, who is building the perfect man while playing sexual games with his virginal visitors, sounds like an intriguing premise for a movie, then you're in for a treat. Not only is The Rocky Horror Picture Show all this and more, but it stars the surprising cast of Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick (as the demure Janet and uptight Brad, who get lost in a storm and find themselves stranded at Frank-n-Furter's mansion), Meat Loaf (as the rebel Eddie), Charles Gray (as our criminologist and narrator) and, of course, the inimitable Tim Curry as our "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania".

Upon its release in 1975, the film was an astounding flop. But a few devotees persuaded a New York cinema to show it at midnight, and thus was born one of the ultimate cult films of all time. The songs are addictive (just try getting "The Time Warp" or "Toucha Toucha Touch Me" out of your head), the raunchiness amusing and the plot line utterly ridiculous—in other words, this film is simply tremendous good fun. The downfall, however, is that much of the amusement is found in the audience participation that is obviously missing from a video version (viewers in cinemas shout lines at the screen and use props—such as holding up newspapers and shooting water guns during the storm and throwing rice during a wedding scene). Watched alone as a straight movie, Rocky Horror loses a tremendous amount of its charm. Yet, for those who wish to perfect their lip-synching techniques for movie cinema performances or for those who want to gather a crowd around the TV at home for some good, old-fashioned, rowdy fun, this film can't be beat. —Jenny Brown
Rogue Trader
James Dearden * * * * -
Romeo And Juliet
Baz Luhrmann * * * * - Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom) takes a shot at reinventing Shakespeare's story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet as a visual pastiche inspired by MTV imagery, Hong Kong action-picture clichés, and Luhrmann's own taste for deliberate, gaudy excess. The result is explosive chaos, both in terms of bullets and visual sensibility, which some may find impossible to stick with for more than a few minutes. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play the leads, though not with much distinction, while Pete Postlethwaite makes a huge impression as this movie's version of Friar Laurence. The film is successful in spots, but overall its fever-dream game plan is difficult to ride out. —Tom Keogh
Ronin
John Frankenheimer * * * - - Robert De Niro stars as an American intelligence operative adrift in irrelevance since the end of the Cold War—much like a masterless samurai, aka "ronin". With his services for sale, he joins a renegade, international team of fellow covert warriors with nothing but time on their hands. Their mission, as defined by the woman who hires them (Natascha McElhone), is to get hold of a particular suitcase that is equally coveted by the Russian mafia and Irish terrorists. As the scheme gets underway, De Niro's lone wolf strikes up a rare friendship with his French counterpart (Jean Reno), gets into a more-or-less romantic frame of mind with McElhone and asserts his experience on the planning and execution of the job—going so far as to publicly humiliate one team member (Sean Bean) who is clearly out of his league. The story is largely unremarkable—there's an obligatory twist midway through that changes the nature of the team's business—but legendary filmmaker John Frankenheimer (Seconds, The Manchurian Candidate) leaps at the material, bringing to it an honest tension and seasoned, breathtaking skill with precision-action direction. The centrepiece of the movie is an honest-to-God car chase that is the real thing: not the how-can-we-top-the-last-stunt cartoon nonsense of Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) but a pulse-quickening, kinetic dance of superb montage and timing. In a sense, Ronin is almost Frankenheimer's self-quoting version of a John Frankenheimer film.There isn't anything here he hasn't done before but it's sure great to see it all again. —Tom Keogh
Running On Empty
Sidney Lumet * * * * -
Sandlot Kids
Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, David M. Evans * * * * *
Sandlot Kids 2
James Earl Jones, Sean Berdy, Karen Allen, Wilfred Brambell, Joan Chen * * * * -
Saving Private Ryan
Steven Spielberg * * * * * Since its release in 1998, Steven Spielberg's D-Day drama Saving Private Ryan has become hugely influential: everything, from the opening sequence of Gladiator ("Saving Marcus Aurelius") to the marvellous 10-hour TV series Band of Brothers, has been made in its shadow. There have been many previous attempts to recreate the D-Day landings on screen (notably, the epic The Longest Day), but thanks to Spielberg's freewheeling hand-held camerawork, Ryan was the first time an audience really felt like they were there, storming up Omaha Beach in the face of withering enemy fire.

After the indelible opening sequence, however, the film is not without problems. The story, though based on an American Civil War incident, feels like it was concocted simply to fuel Spielberg's sentimental streak. In standard Hollywood fashion the Germans remain a faceless foe (with the exception of one charmless character who turns out to be both a coward and a turncoat); and the Tom Hanks-led platoon consists of far too many stereotypes: the doughty Sergeant; the thick-necked Private; the Southern man religious sniper; the cowardly Corporal. Matt Damon seems improbably clean-cut as the titular Private in need of rescue (though that may well be the point); and why do they all run straight up that hill towards an enemy machine gun post anyway? Some non-US critics have complained that Ryan portrays only the American D-Day experience, but it is an American film made and financed by Americans after all. Accepting both its relatively narrow remit and its lachrymose inclinations, Saving Private Ryan deserves its place in the pantheon of great war pictures.

On the DVD: Saving Private Ryan on disc comes in a good-quality anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer with a suitably dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix in which bullets fly all around your living room. Extra features are pretty minimal, with a standard 30-minute "making of" piece called "Into the Breach" and two trailers. There are text notes on the cast and crew as well as the production, and a brief message from Mr Spielberg himself about why he decided to make the movie. —Mark Walker
Saw
James Wan * * * * * Adam (Leigh Whannell) wakes up in a dank room across from Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and the body of a guy who has blown his own brains out. Not a happy place, obviously, and it gets worse when both men realize that they've been chained and pitted against one another by an unseen but apparently omniscient maniac who's screwing with their psyches as payment for past sins. Director James Wan, who concocted this grimy distraction with screenwriter Whannell, has seen Seven and any number of other arty existential-psycho-cat-and-mouse thrillers, so he's provided Saw with a little flash, a little blood, and a lot of ways to distract you from the fact that it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Wan and Whannell (who's not the most accomplished actor, either) pile on the plot twists, which after some initially novel ideas become increasingly juvenile. Elwes works hard but looks embarrassed, and the estimable Danny Glover suffers as the obsessed detective on the case. The denouement will probably surprise you, but it won't get you back the previous 98 minutes.—Steve Wiecking
Saw 2
Darren Lynn Bousman * * * - - Given the haste in which this sequel followed the original, hopes may not have been particularly high for Saw 2. Yet the film itself proves to be a welcome surprise. For while it has moments where it needlessly attempts to out-gore the original, and while it’s not as clever, there’s plenty here to lift it above the status of lazy cash-in.

The premise, once again, contrives to put a series of apparent strangers into one location, surrounded by various traps and clues to get out. That location, a dilapidated house in this instance, is locked up, and slowly filling with nerve gas. In short, thanks to the work of deadly serial killer Jigsaw, the collection of people inside have two hours to live. This time though, their plight is being watched remotely via a video link by police officers, specifically Detective Eric Matthews, who quickly discovers his son is one of those caught in Jigsaw’s deadly trap.

With a tempered running time that allows little time for waste, where Saw 2 scores is in simply getting on with the job. It’s a slightly bumpier ride than first time round, but again, it’s hard not to get drawn into the fun.

One notable word of warning though: Saw liked its gore, and so does this sequel. No doubt the imminent third entry in the series will be fond of it too. Still, if you’re wary of the need for a strong stomach, there’s a lot to enjoy in this surprisingly strong second instalment.—Simon Brew
Say Anything
John Cusack, Ione Skye, Richard Marks, Cameron Crowe * * * * - Seven years after he earned his first screen credit as the writer of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, former Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe made his directorial debut with this acclaimed romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Ione Skye as unlikely lovers on the cusp of adulthood. The casting is perfect and Crowe's rookie direction is appropriately unobtrusive, no doubt influenced by his actor-loving, Oscar-winning mentor, James L. Brooks. But the real strength of Crowe's work is his exceptional writing, his timely grasp of contemporary rhythms and language (he's frequently called "the voice of a generation"), and the rich humour and depth of his fully developed characters. In Say Anything, Cusack and Skye play recent high-school graduates enjoying one final summer before leaping into a lifetime of adult responsibilities. Lloyd (Cusack) is an aspiring kickboxer with no definite plans; Diane (Skye) is a valedictorian with plans to further her education in Europe. Together they find unlikely bliss, but there's also turbulence when Diane's father (John Mahoney)—who only wants what's best for his daughter—is charged with fraud and tax evasion. Favouring strong performances over obtrusive visual style, Crowe focuses on his unique characters and the ambitions and fears that define them; the movie's a treasure trove of quiet, often humorous revelations of personality. Lili Taylor and Eric Stoltz score high marks for memorable supporting roles, and Cusack's own sister Joan is perfect in scenes with her on- and offscreen brother. A rare romantic comedy that's as funny as it is dramatically honest, Say Anything marked the arrival of a gifted writer-director who followed up with the underrated Singles before scoring his first box-office smash with Jerry Maguire. —Jeff Shannon
Scarface
Brian De Palma * * * * * Brian De Palma's update of the classic 1932 crime drama by Howard Hawks, Scarface is a sprawling epic of bloodshed and excess that sparked controversy over its outrageous violence when released in 1983. It's a wretched, fascinating car wreck of a movie, starring Al Pacino as a Cuban refugee who rises to the top of Miami's cocaine-driven underworld, only to fall hard into his own deadly trap of addiction and inevitable assassination. Scripted by Oliver Stone and running nearly three hours, it's the kind of film that can simultaneously disgust and amaze you (critic Pauline Kael wrote "this may be the only action picture that turns into an allegory of impotence"), with vivid supporting roles for Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Robert Loggia. —Jeff Shannon
School Of Rock
Richard Linklater * * * * - Turbo-charged comic Jack Black shakes School of Rock to its foundations, wailing with born-again metalhead passion as Dewey Finn, a guitarist who gets kicked out of a band because he grandstands too much—or, to put it another way, enjoys himself. Through an intercepted phone call, Finn gets a job as a substitute teacher for a fifth grade class at a private grade school. Neither students nor teacher quite know what to do with each other until Finn discovers that some of his young charges can play instruments; at once he starts turning them into a blistering rock & roll troupe that can crush his former band at an upcoming competition. School of Rock is silly and formulaic, but director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), writer Mike White (The Good Girl), and especially Black and co-star Joan Cusack invest the formulas with such glee that the movie is irresistibly fun. —Bret Fetzer

On the DVD: Like the movie, the DVD extras are smarter and a lot more entertaining than your average flick. The making-of feature ("Lessons Learned") has the usual behind-the-scenes banter but Jack Black is in fine form—that is, something special—interviewing as much as being interviewed about the making of the film. His unique pitch to Led Zeppelin to use their song is alone worth the price of the DVD. Black is more his maniacal self and a bit more grating in MTV's Diary segment, but his commentary track with director Richard Linklater is as insightful as it is funny. Ok, it's a lot more funny, but entertaining throughout. The commentary track featuring just the kid actors is less so, but any preteen would love listening to it. To top it off, the DVD-ROM has Dewey Finn's instantly famous blackboard history of rock. You can drill down to the bands mentioned and get a brief history of each. —Doug Thomas
Scream
Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Wes Craven * * * * * With the smash hit Scream, novice screenwriter Kevin Williamson and veteran horror director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) revived the mouldering corpse of the teen horror picture, both creatively and commercially, by playfully acknowledging the exhausted clichés and then turning them inside out. Scream is a postmodern slasher movie, a horror film that cleverly deconstructs horror films, then reassembles the dead tissue, and (like Frankenstein's monster) creates new life. When a serial killer starts hacking up their fellow teens, the media-savvy youngsters of Scream realise that the smartest way of sticking around for the sequel is to avoid the terminal behaviours that inevitably doom supporting players in the movies. They've seen all the movies, and the rules of the genre are like second nature to them. One of the scariest and funniest setups features a kid watching John Carpenter's seminal Halloween on video. As Jamie Lee Curtis is shadowed by Michael Meyers and the kid on the couch yells at her to turn around, Craven reverses his camera and we see that the kid should be taking his own advice. The fresh-faced young cast (including Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette) is fun to watch, and their tart dialogue is sprinkled with enough archly self-conscious pop-culture references to make Quentin Tarantino blush. —Jim Emerson
Scrooged
Richard Donner * * * * * Most critics couldn't get behind Bill Murray's modern retelling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, finding it too unfocused at times and not nearly wicked enough. Still, if you are a Murray fan, you have to enjoy his deliciously nasty portrayal of the world's meanest TV executive, who has his cathartic moment one cold Christmas night in New York City. The various ghosts lead him on a ghost-town tour of Manhattan, with stops at holidays past, present and future and a Kumbaya moment when Al Green and Annie Lennox sing "Put a Little Love in Your Heart". The effects are otherworldly, but one wishes the writing were as sharp as Murray's edgy portrayal. —Marshall Fine
Seven
David Fincher * * * * * The most viscerally frightening and disturbing homicidal maniac picture since The Silence of the Lambs, Seven is based on an idea that's both gruesome and ingenious. A serial killer forces each of his victims to die by acting out one of the seven deadly sins. The murder scene is then artfully arranged into a grotesque tableau, a graphic illustration of each mortal vice. From the jittery opening credits to the horrifying (and seemingly inescapable) concluding twist, director David Fincher immerses us in a murky urban twilight where everything seems to be rotting, rusting, or moulding; the air is cold and heavy with dread. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are the detectives who skillfully track down the killer—all the while unaware that he has been closing in on them, as well. Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey are also featured, but it is director Fincher and the ominous, overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere of doom that he creates that are the real stars of the film. It's a terrific date movie—for vampires. —Jim Emerson, Amazon.com
Shattered Glass
Billy Ray * * * * -
Shaun Of The Dead
Edgar Wright * * * * * It's no disparagement to describe Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s zombie-rom-com Shaun of the Dead as playing like an extended episode of Spaced. Not only does the movie have the rather modest scope of a TV production, it also boasts the snappy editing, smart camera moves, and deliciously post-modern dialogue familiar from the sitcom, as well as using many of the same cast: Pegg’s Shaun and Nick Frost’s Ed are doppelgangers of their Spaced characters, while Jessica Stevenson and Peter Serafinowicz appear in smaller roles. Unlike the TV series, it’s less important for the audience to be in on the movie in-jokes, though it won’t hurt if you know George Romero’s famous Dawn of the Dead trilogy, which is liberally plundered for zombie behaviour and mythology.

Shaun is a loser, stuck in a dead-end job and held back by his slacker pal Ed. Girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is exasperated by his lack of ambition and unceremoniously dumps him. As a result, Shaun misses out on what is apparently the end of the world. In a series of beautifully choreographed and edited scenes, including hilarious tracking shots to and from the local shop, he spectacularly fails to notice the death toll and subsequent zombie plague. Only when one appears in their back garden do Shaun and Ed take notice, hurling sundry kitchen appliances at the undead before breaking out the cricket bat. The catastrophe proves to be the catalyst for Shaun to take charge of his life, sort out his relations with his dotty mum (Penelope Wilton) and distant stepdad (Bill Nighy), and fight to win back his ex-girlfriend. Lucy Davis from The Office and Dylan Moran of Black Books fame head the excellent supporting cast. —Mark Walker
The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont * * * * * When The Shawshank Redemption was released in 1994, some critics complained that this popular prison drama was too long (142 minutes) to sustain its plot. Those complaints miss the point, because the passage of time is crucial to this story about patience, the squeaky wheels of justice and the growth of a life-long friendship. Only when the film reaches its final, emotionally satisfying scene do you fully understand why writer-director Frank Darabont (adapting a novella by Stephen King) allows the story to unfold at its necessary pace.

Tim Robbins plays a banker named Andy who is sent to Shawshank Prison on a murder charge, but as he gets to know a life-term prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman), we soon realise his claims of innocence are credible. We also realise that Andy's calm, quiet exterior hides a great reserve of patience and fortitude, and Red comes to admire this mild-mannered man who first struck him as weak and unfit for prison life. So it is that The Shawshank Redemption builds considerable impact as a prison drama that defies the conventions of the genre (violence, brutality, riots) to illustrate its theme of faith, friendship and survival. Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor and Screenplay, it's a remarkable film (which many movie lovers count among their all-time favourites) that signalled the arrival of a promising new filmmaker. —Jeff Shannon
She-Devil
Susan Seidelman * * * * -
Sherlock - Series 1
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman * * * * *
Sherlock - Series 2
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman * * * * *
Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law If you’ve got too many pre-conceptions of just how a Sherlock Holmes movie should pan out, then it’s probably best that you check them in before popping this latest version in your player. Starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role and accompanied by Jude Law as Watson, this film dispenses with some of the conventions of Holmes, and instead starts turning him into something of a period action hero.

Downey Jr. is more than up to the challenge too. Early scenes in Sherlock Holmes are more Fight Club than sleuth-influenced, with the hand of director Guy Ritchie behind the camera being very clear. But the film soon settles down and starts to have some fun, with the able assistance of Mark Strong and Rachel McAdams, among the supporting cast.

Yet this is Downey Jr.’s show, and he doesn’t waste the opportunity. He’s an engaging leading man at the worst of times, and he’s clearly having a ball here. What’s more, it’s immensely satisfying when his Sherlock Holmes gets down to the business of solving crimes, even though there are some really quite impressive action sequences to work through first.

There are problems, of course. There’s not enough flesh on the bones of some of the characters, and the early part of the film feels very different from the latter stages. But there’s solid groundwork here for the inevitable franchise, and watching Downey Jr. reprise the role of Sherlock Holmes over the next few years should be really quite good fun too. —Jon Foster
The Shining
Stanley Kubrick * * * * - Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is less an adaptation of Stephen King's best-selling horror novel than a complete re-imagining of it from the inside out. In King's book, the Overlook Hotel is a haunted place that takes possession of its off-season caretaker and provokes him to murderous rage against his wife and young son. Kubrick's film is an existential Road Runner cartoon (his steadicam scurrying through the hotel's labyrinthine hallways), in which the cavernously empty spaces inside the Overlook Hotel mirror the emptiness in the soul of the blocked writer settled in for a long winter's hibernation. As many have pointed out, King's protagonist goes mad, but Kubrick's Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is Looney Tunes from the moment we meet him—all arching eyebrows and mischievous grin. (Both Nicholson and Shelley Duvall reach new levels of hysteria in their performances, driven to extremes by the director's fanatical demand s for take after take after take.) The Shining is terrifying—but not in the way fans of the novel might expect. When it was redone as a TV mini-series (reportedly because of King's dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film), the famous topiary-animal attack (which was deemed impossible to film in 1980) was there—but the deeper horror was lost. Kubrick's The Shining gets under your skin and chills your bones; it stays with you, inhabits you, haunts you. And there's no place to hide... —Jim Emerson, Amazon.com
Shooting Fish
Stefan Schwartz * * * - - Shooting Fish is the kind of movie that evaporates once the end credits roll, but it's lightweight fun while it lasts. An amusing prologue sets the tone: two young orphan boys—one in America, one in England—demonstrate their precocious ability to subvert the strict rules of society. Eighteen years later, the clever Yankee schemer Dylan (Dan Futterman) and techno-geek Jez (Stuart Townsend) are fast friends in London, pulling off a series of royal scams to finance their dream of building a luxurious home for orphans—of course, it's a selfish cause since they're the orphans. Their newly hired secretary Georgie (played by the delightful Kate Beckinsale) goes along with their con games in the belief that their intentions are good, and when she discovers their selfish motivations... well, let's just say the boys (who are both smitten with the charming medical student Georgie) manage to rise to the occasion and do the right thing. Despite a few clever twists, this frothy plot meanders too much to be very involving, but the three young co-stars make it all worthwhile. (Futterman had already played Robin Williams's son in The Birdcage and Beckinsale made a strong impression in The Last Days of Disco.) It's one of those featherweight British comedies that's so good-natured you feel Scroogey if you resist it, and director and co-writer Stefan Schwartz has made the movie just smart enough to hold its own against a wall-to-wall soundtrack of kitschy pop songs. If you don't consider "cute" a derogatory term, this movie will offer an agreeable diversion. —Jeff Shannon
Short Circuit
John Badham * * * * - John Badham's family-orientated adventure comedy Short Circuit, though obviously hatched in the wake of E.T. and Star Wars, manages to create its own identity through a sweet tone and an affectionate sense of fun. Military robot Number 5, a well-armed killing machine, is zapped by lightning during a test and emerges with a wacky sense of humour and a new peace-loving philosophy. Ally Sheedy (who debuted in Badham's hit WarGames) is the animal-lover whose home is sanctuary for a zoo-full of strays and who adopts the adolescent robot. Steve Guttenberg is the goofy but reclusive robotics designer who goes off in search of his creation to save him from the gun-happy army.

The mix of gentle slapstick and innocent romance makes for a harmless family comedy. It veers toward the terminally cute, what with Number 5's hyperactive antics and E.T.-ish voice, and the mangled grammar of Guttenberg's East Indian sidekick (Fisher Stevens) threatens to become offensive, but Badham's breezy direction keeps the film on track. Sheedy and Guttenberg deliver spirited and engaging performances, but most importantly the robot emerges as a real person. Give credit to designer Syd Mead, an army of puppeteers and robotics operators, and the cartoony voice of Tim Blaney: Number 5 is alive. —Sean Axmaker
Shortbus
John Cameron Mitchell * - - - - In his aim to make an honest film about sex, John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) has taken a somewhat documentary approach to Shortbus, a film describing various New Yorkers' sexual pathos. Framed by shots roving a homemade diorama of the city, Shortbus is comprised of vignettes featuring actors who helped craft this story of people's disconnect in sexual endeavors. Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and James (Paul Dawson), a gay couple experiencing a lull in their relationship, visit Sophia (Sook-Yin Lee), a sex therapist whose inability to orgasm results in her clients inviting her to a sex club after which the film is titled. Sophia's husband, Rob (Raphael Barker), is also willing to experiment, so the two independently embark on adventures in self-pleasure. Dominatrix Severin (Lindsay Beamish) plays a crucial role in Sophia and Rob's lives, as her search for real humanity overlaps with their desire for passion.

As each character's plot complicates, the viewer sees a similar melancholy bulldozing its way into these seemingly disparate lives. The depression is repeatedly used in comedic scenes, such as when James is asked on a date while still hospitalised for his attempted suicide. Yo La Tengo's score, which includes Animal Collective among others, lends this film a graceful ambience. Unlike porn, Shortbus has a resonance that encourages the viewer to consider one's own sex life as an important aspect of happiness. —Trinie Dalton
Shrek 2
Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon, Andrew Adamson * * * * - The lovably ugly green ogre returns with his green bride and furry, hooved friend in Shrek 2. The newlywed Shrek and Princess Fiona are invited to Fiona's former kingdom, Far Far Away, to have the marriage blessed by Fiona's parents—which Shrek thinks is a bad, bad idea, and he's proved right: the parents are horrified by their daughter's transformation into an ogress, a fairy godmother wants her son Prince Charming to win Fiona, and a feline assassin is hired to get Shrek out of the way. The computer animation is more detailed than ever, but it's the acting that make the comedy work—in addition to the return of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz, Shrek 2 features the flexible voices of Julie Andrews, John Cleese and Antonio Banderas, plus Jennifer Saunders as the gleefully wicked fairy godmother. —Bret Fetzer
Shutter Island
Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Scorsese * * * * -
Sister Act / Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit
Bill Duke, Emile Ardolino * * * * *
The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan * * * * * "I see dead people," whispers little Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), scared to affirm what is to him now a daily occurrence. This peaked nine-year old, already hypersensitive to begin with, is now being haunted by seemingly malevolent spirits. Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is trying to find out what's triggering Cole's visions but what appears to be a psychological manifestation turns out to be frighteningly real. It might be enough to scare off a lesser man, but for Malcolm it's personal—several months before, he was accosted and shot by an unhinged patient, who then turned the gun on himself. Since then, Malcolm has been in turmoil—he and his wife (Olivia Williams) are barely speaking, and his life has taken an aimless turn. Having failed his loved ones and himself, he's not about to give up on Cole. The Sixth Sense, M Night Shyamalan's third feature, sets itself up as a thriller, poised on the brink of delivering monstrous scares, but gradually evolves into more of a psychological drama with supernatural undertones. Many critics faulted the film for being mawkish and New Age-y, but no matter how you slice it, this is one mightily effective piece of filmmaking. The bare bones of the story are basic enough, but the moody atmosphere created by Shyamalan and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto made this one of the creepiest pictures of 1999, forsaking excessive gore for a sinisterly simple feeling of chilly otherworldliness. Willis is in his strong, silent type mode here, and gives the film wholly over to Osment, whose crumpled face and big eyes convey a child too wise for his years; his scenes with his mother (Toni Collette) are small, heartbreaking marvels. And even if you figure out the film's surprise ending, it packs an amazingly emotional wallop when it comes, and will have you racing to watch the movie again with a new perspective. You may be able to shake off the sentimentality of The Sixth Sense but its craftsmanship and atmosphere will stay with you for days. —Mark Englehart
Skins: Series 1
Adam Smith, Paul Gay, Minkie Spiro, Aysha Rafaele * * * * *
Skins: Series 2
Nicholas Hoult, April Pearson * * * * * Picking up six months after the end of Skins’ maiden season, this second series maintains the terrifically high standard set by the first. In its basic form a drama about teenagers, the trick to Skins is that it sidesteps the many, many clichés of the genre, and instead offers gritty, quite brilliantly written television.

What’s more, Skins is viewing that pulls no punches. By turns very funny, gripping and dramatic, it picks up the story of a group of under 20s in Bristol, dealing with issues of religion, sexuality and sex, among others. But it does this through a cast of three dimensional characters (each facing tough challenges of their own), suitably well realised by the primarily young cast. A selection of guest stars, including Harry Enfield, Bill Bailey and Shane Richie also appear.

But is the second series of Skins better than the first? Yes, not least because it’s willing to take risks, to evolve and darken the narrative a little, yet still remember to put its characters at the fore. It’s still a show that may baffle an older audience, but stands as a shining beacon as to what Channel 4 can achieve when it backs proper British dramas. Roll on series three. —Jon Foster
Sky Captain & World Of Tomorrow
Kerry Conran * - - - -
Sleepers
Barry Levinson * * * * * The first thing you need to know about Sleepers is that it's based on a novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra that was allegedly based on a true story. The movie repeats this bogus claim, which was attacked and determined by a wide majority to be misleading. Knowing this, Sleepers becomes problematic because it's too neat, too clean, too manipulative in terms of legal justice and dramatic impact to be truly convincing. And yet, with its stellar cast directed by Barry Levinson, it succeeds as gripping entertainment, and its tale of complex morality—despite a dubious emphasis on homophobic revenge—is sufficiently provocative. It's about four boys in New York's Hell's Kitchen district who are sent to reform school, where they must endure routine sexual assaults by the sadistic guards. Years after their release, the opportunity for revenge proves irresistible for two of the young men, who must then rely on the other pair of friends (Brad Pitt, Jason Patric), a loyal priest (Robert De Niro), and a shabby lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) to defend them in court. Despite the compelling ambiguities of the story, there's never any doubt about how we're supposed to feel, and the screenplay glosses over the story's most difficult moral dilemmas. At its best, Sleepers grabs your attention and pulls you into its intense story of friendship and the price of loyalty under extreme conditions. The movie's New York settings are vividly authentic, and Minnie Driver makes a strong impression as a long-time friend of the loyal group of guys. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Sleepy Hollow
Tim Burton