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I have something of a personal rule about horror movies, developed over the ages of my horror movie expertise. Basically, any movie that depends heavily on pentagrams, either as part of the box art or within the movie itself, is going to be an incredible exercise in misery.
Everything Must Go
As their careers develop, many comedians yearn to cross over into serious dramatic roles, if only on occasion. This has happened with John Cleese, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, and Adam Sandler. Some are more successful than others, but expectations play as big a part in the actor's reception as the actual performance. Everything Must Go is not Will Ferrell's first "straight" part (previous serious - or at least semi-serious - endeavors include Stranger than Fiction and Winter Passing), but it's the first time he has consciously leeched all but the most subtle humor from his character. There are not a lot of laughs in Dan Rush's directorial debut, nor are there intended to be. Rush keeps the tone as light as possible, but no one would mistake this for anything other than a quirky, character-based drama.
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Breaking and Entering
Perhaps the kindest way to describe Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering is to say it's evident as being broken fairly early during the proceedings. There's no shortage of candidates for the fatal flaw: the artificial storyline; the presence of a ridiculously cliched character; the lack of chemistry between illicit lovers. Blaming one of these problems is probably unfair. The movie's failure is likely based on a fusion of all these, and perhaps a few others. Minghella has become known as a director of "chick flicks," primarily because of The English Patient and Cold Mountain. When viewed from a distance, Breaking and Entering would appear to fit into the same category, but there is a stark difference. In his previous efforts, Minghella created believable relationships between interesting characters. The same cannot be said of Breaking and Entering, where the situations are contrived and the key characters don't connect.
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49 Up continues Michael Apted's extraordinary Up Series, which began 42 years ago in 1964 with Seven Up and has continued every seven years since. The latest (and hopefully not the last) installment progresses as expected, with updates on the lives of those interview subjects who are still participating. Seeing each new segment of the Up Series is like spending time with old friends. We're interested to see what has happened to them in the past seven years. There's an element of voyeurism to this, but it's more than that. Whether we actually "know" these individuals or not is beside the point; we feel we do, and this enriches the experience of watching the most ambitious documentary project ever committed to celluloid.
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With Cassandra's Dream, we may finally be seeing confirmation of what many have suspected for years: that Woody Allen's period of greatness as a filmmaker is over. A few years ago, Match Point provided hope that we might be observing a re-invention of the director - that he was turning away from neurotic comedies to more weighty material. Match Point revisited Crimes and Misdemeanors, and did so in spectacular fashion. Now, in the wake of the complete failure of the would-be comedy Scoop, we have Cassandra's Dream, a movie that returns to the essence of Match Point like a dog to its vomit.
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Where the Truth Lies
Welcome to the lurid world of Atom Egoyan, B-grade schlock filmmaker. Until seeing Where the Truth Lies, I never would have considered applying this title to Egoyan, the eclectic filmmaker of some of the '90s most compelling features (Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, to name a pair). But the evidence speaks for itself. Where the Truth Lies is a potboiler (based on the novel by "Pina Colada" songwriter Rupert Holmes) - a whodunnit/whydunnit filled to the brim with genre clichés. It's compelling in the way many B-movies are - cheap, sleazy, and lacking the depth we have come to associate with this director.
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Jurassic Park III
Relatively speaking, Jurassic Park III is a disappointment of behemoth proportions. With Steven Spielberg gone from the director's chair (replaced by Jumanji's Joe Johnston), the Jurassic Park saga has sunk down to its B-grade monster movie roots. The concept of a human character has been replaced by a cardboard cut-out, each of which serves one of two purposes: to run away from the dinosaurs or to be eaten by them. The "synthespians" of Final Fantasy would have been perfectly at home in Jurassic Park III. There's no need whatsoever for human actors.
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Claude Lelouch's Les Miserables is one of the year's motion picture triumphs: an epic drama that takes the themes of Victor Hugo's novel and transplants them to the twentieth century. Rather than merely re-telling a story that has previously been brought to life in a variety of different incarnations (including a hugely popular musical), Lelouch has chosen to take ideas, plot strings, and themes from the novel and apply them in a unique and tremendously effective manner to the greatest tragedy of this century: World War II and Hitler's Final Solution.
The film centers around four people whose lives are inextricably entwined. They come together, offer redemption and salvation to each other, then are ripped apart. The outsider is Henri Fortin (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a former middleweight boxing champion-turned-truck driver who has agreed to aid a Jewish family in their flight from Nazi occupied France to Switzerland. The refugees are Andre Ziman (Michel Boujenah), a renowned defense attorney; Elise Ziman (Alessandra Martines), a premiere ballerina; and their young daughter, Salome (Salome Lelouch).
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Move aside, Dennis Hopper. Step down, Alan Rickman. I am now convinced that no one can match Jon Voight when it comes to playing a thoroughly detestable bad guy. With his calm, sinister demeanor and menacing facial expression, Voight has the ability to cause everyone in the movie theater to loathe his character. Viewers hiss when he comes on screen and cheer when he gets his comeuppance. His role as the amoral, egotistical Coach Bud Kilmer in Brian Robbins' Varsity Blues is such a part.
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Burnt by the Sun
Burnt by the Sun, the winner of 1995's Best Foreign Film Oscar, attempts, with only limited success, to combine two segments of radically different pacing and temperament. The movie's resolution represents forty-five minutes of taut, arresting drama. The setup, which weighs in at an overlong ninety minutes, has a tendency to meander. The overall effect is to limit the impact of the picture, primarily because half the audience may be asleep by the time the climax arrives.
The film takes place in 1936 Russia, nineteen years after the Communist Revolution and well into Stalin's reign of terror. We are introduced to Colonel Serguei Kotov (Nikita Mikhalkov), hero of the Revolution, and his family: young wife Maroussia (Ingeborga Dapkounaite) and six-year old daughter Nadia (Nadia Mikhalkov). They are spending a happy, peaceful summer at a rural retreat. Into this idyllic setting comes Dimitri (Oleg Menchikov), an old lover of Moroussia's who was once in exile and whose current occupation is unknown. His appearance irrevocably alters the loving relationship between Kotov and his wife as secrets, both new and old, come to light, and buried jealousy bubbles to the surface.
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The Fifth Element uses one of the newest tricks in the science fiction motion picture handbook: perform a visual and aural assault on viewers in the vain hope that they won't notice the lack of substance, logic, and intelligence. For a few recent examples of where this tactic has been employed, check out Stargate and Independence Day. The Fifth Element, the summer of 1997's first big-budget disappointment, is right at home in such company. A lot of money was spent on this film, but $100 million doesn't guarantee a good product. Maybe someone should have thought of spending a few more dollars on a better script.
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Team America: World Police
The North American anti-terrorist force Team America attacks a group of terrorist in Paris. Later, the leader of the organization, Spottswoode, invites the famous Broadway actor Gary Johnston to join his world police and work undercover in Cairo in a terrorist organization and disclose their plan of destroying the world. The Team America destroy the cell of terrorists, but then the Panama Canal is attacked by the criminals as a payback. Gary feels responsible for the death of many innocents and leaves the counter-terrorism organization. When the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong II, joins a group of pacifist actors and actresses with the intention of using weapons of massive destruction, the Team America tries to avoid the destruction of the world. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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Kill Me Later
Blair plays Shawn, a suicidal loan officer at a bank. She is having an affair with the bank vice-president, who is married; after discovering that his wife is pregnant, she goes to the roof to kill herself. In the meantime bank robbers hijack an armored car. When the police arrive to break up the robbery, one of the robbers, Charlie Anders (played by Beesley) , takes Shawn hostage.
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Grand Champion weaves the tale of a spunky young boy named Buddy and his prize-winning calf, Hokey, as they climb from the underdog position and up through the ranks of several Texas stock shows to ultimately win the coveted title of Grand Champion. People from all walks of life help Buddy and Hokey make their way across Texas by cheering them on to a toe-tapping surprise ending.
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A mysterious new girl arrives in a posh suburban neighborhood and quickly sets out to terrorize the town. As she starts breaking into homes and torturing the occupants, they begin to realize that she isnt just another girl next door.