ARCHIVED REVIEWS (F)
Family Man, the
Fantasia 2000
Far From Heaven
Fast and the Furious, the
feardotcom
Felicia's Journey

Femme Fatale
15 Minutes
Fight Club
Final Destination
Final Destination 2
Final Fantasy
Finding Forrester

Flawless
Flintstones in Viva Rock...
For Love of the Game
Formula 51
Forsaken, the
40 Days and 40 Nights
Four Feathers, the
Frailty
Freddy Got Fingered
Frequency
Frida
Friday After Next
From Hell
From Justin to Kelly

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Archived Video Reviews (F)
 

THE FAMILY MAN - B-
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Amber Valletta, Harve Presnell, Mackenzie Vega
Directed by:
Brett Ratner
Comedy, 126
min (PG) (Universal, 2000)

It's a wonderful life for The Family Man's Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage), a Wall Street bachelor with all the wealth, power and women he could ever dream of. That is, until he suddenly wakes up one Christmas morning trapped in a parallel universe where he married his college sweetheart (Tea Leoni), moved to the New Jersey suburbs and had two kids. As is fairly obvious, The Family Man is a basic reworking of the classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946), only with more of a fish-out-of-water focus and sitcom shallowness. Directed by Rush Hour's Brett Ratner, the film is too thin, too long and too familiar to be a real stocking treat, but it is still sweet and humorous enough to make for a pleasant rental. Swapping the action of Gone in 60 Seconds for his sentimental side, Cage occasionally gets a bit too teary-eyed, but his dry double takes are amusing and he is well complimented by the perfectly cast Leoni, who does a marvelous job of combining maternal instincts with feisty sexuality. (top) (back)

FANTASIA 2000 - B+
Starring: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, James Earl Jones

Directed by:
Various
Animated, 74
min (G) (Walt Disney, 2000)

Once again, music and animation make for a magical combination in this gorgeous, long-belated follow-up to 1940's Fantasia (Walt Disney originally envisioned Fantasia as a work in progress where new artwork and animated sequences would be added to the film every few years). The only sequence to make both versions of Fantasia is the Mickey Mouse short The Sorcerer's Apprentice and though it seemed grainy and bleached out when stretched to the film's original Imax-size proportions, it remains a delight on video. The same can be said for the bulk of the new sequences, including the breathtaking sight of whales learning how to fly along to the music of Ottorino Respighi, a Noah's Ark adventure starring Donald Duck and, especially, a spellbinding, lyrical tale about the beauty of the environment. Even if it doesn't quite match the artistry of the first film, Fantasia 2000 is a glorious animated spectacle in its own right. (top) (back)

FAR FROM HEAVEN - A-
Starring:
Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, Barbara Garrick, James Rebhorn, Celia Weston
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Drama, 108 min (PG) (Universal, 2002)


Though denied, Julianne Moore deserved to take home the Oscar and Dennis Quaid deserved a nomination at the very least for their exceptional work in Far From Heaven, a perfectly balanced homage to Douglas Sirk's 1950s Technicolor melodramas. Borrowing set design, plot and camera work from pictures like 1955's All That Heaven Allows, Far From Heaven features an ideally calibrated performance from Moore as a suburban Connecticut housewife who slowly comes to realize that she is being suffocated by stiff societal constraints and circumstances. She can't turn to her husband (Quaid), who has recently (and painfully) come to act on his homosexual tendencies, and her friendship with a kindly gardener (Dennis Haysbert) is doomed for failure because he is black. Writer-director Todd Haynes draws considerable inspiration from Sirk, bringing themes and issues to the surface that could only boil under the bright colours in the studio-controlled 1950s, but the joy and genius of Far From Heaven is that it aims to be more than an homage to Sirk, replicating the earlier film's visual style and storytelling techniques while at the same time enriching the emotional experience for today's audiences. It is a gorgeous and remarkable picture. (top) (back)

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS
- C+
Starring:
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Matt Schulze, Rick Yune, Ted Levine, Ja Rule
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Action, 107
min (14A) (Universal, 2001)

There's a lot of speed but not much fury in this street-racing melodrama, a wannabe high-octane thriller that, for all its flashy camera work and flashy cars, never comes across as more than 1991's Point Break on wheels. Blonde and bland Paul Walker, who previously worked with director Rob Cohen on last year's hollow The Skulls, plays Brian, an undercover cop/car lover who is assigned to infiltrate a group of speed freaks on the suspicion that they may be involved in a variety of truck hijackings. Pitch Black's Vin Diesel leads the pack of street racers and, with his burly charisma and commanding voice, he's easily the most interesting actor on screen, with Walker seemingly channeling Keanu Reeves and Girlfight's Michelle Rodriguez unfortunately wasted as "the girlfriend." There are, of course, plenty of hot wheels here to capture the interest of car junkies and, though not as thrilling as the races in Driven, Cohen keeps the street action moving at a fast clip. It's in the non-racing scenes that The Fast and the Furious slips into reverse, with dialogue so cheesy you would expect mice to chase after it and a "brotherhood" that supposedly holds these characters together that is more silly than gripping. Diesel and the souped-up vehicles deserve better. (top) (back)

FEARDOTCOM - D+
Starring:
Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea, Gesine Gukrowski, Udo Kier, Amelia Shankley, Nigel Terry, Jeffrey Combs
Directed by: William Malone
Horror, 101 min (R) (Warner Bros., 2002)


In feardotcom, Internet visitors to the titular website have a tendency to gush blood from their eye sockets, become blubbery with madness and die within 48 hours of their worst fear. Unless your worst fear is ugly and ludicrous horror claptrap, you likely won't experience the same fate watching feardotcom, but you may just die of absolute boredom. Stephen Dorff gives a wooden performance here as Mike Reilly, a New York City homicide detective who teams up with a health investigator (Natascha McElhone) to investigate a series of strange deaths all linked to cyberspace and a sadistic doctor (an understandably depressed-looking Stephen Rea) who takes pleasure in torturing and murdering women for his on-line audience. As silly as it sounds, this premise could have been used as a launching pad for a commentary on cyberporn and exploitation, but director William Malone, who also unleashed the inanity of 1999's House on Haunted Hill, spends all his time ripping off visuals from Nine Inch Nails videos and grim thrillers like Seven and 8mm. The result is not only painfully exploitive, but also deadeningly dank, dark, silly and utterly devoid of any real scares. Someone please pull the plug on this ridiculous domain. (top) (back)


FELICIA'S JOURNEY - B
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Arsinee Khanjian, Peter McDonald, Gerard McSorley, Sidney Cole

Directed by:
Atom Egoyan
Suspense, 111
min (PG) (Artisan, 1999)

With The Sweet Hereafter, Canadian director Atom Egoyan was able to take someone else's material (in this case, a novel by Russell Banks) and use it for a deeply personal picture. He accomplishes a similar feat - though to a lesser result - with Felicia's Journey, an adaptation of William Trevor's work of the same name. In this psychological chiller, Bob Hoskins plays Mr. Hilditch, a dull, mild-mannered catering manager who also happens to be a serial killer. The woman of the title is Mr. Hilditch's new friend Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), a naïve and pregnant Irish lass searching for the father of her child. Fans of Egoyan's meditative style and insight into psychological disturbances will likely enjoy Felicia's Journey for its strong visuals and dark themes, but the film nevertheless doesn't stand up to the director's best work. Missing from this picture is the intellectual surprise of a film like The Sweet Hereafter or Exotica and the journey moves so slowly it is easy to have a wandering mind. (top) (back)

FEMME FATALE -
C-
Starring: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Gregg Henry, Rie Rasmussen, Eriq Ebouaney, Sandrine Bonnaire
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Suspense, 112 min (18A) (Warner Bros., 2002)


Brian De Palma's biggest problem as a filmmaker used to be that he couldn't help but rip-off Hitchcock in films ranging from Body Double (1984) to Snake Eyes (1998). With Femme Fatale, however, not only does the filmmaker continue in this tradition, but he now seems so caught up in the gliding camera work, mystery women and high-concept questions of image and identity that he's evolved into an overly stylized parody of himself, one who barely seems to be in on his own joke. Though Femme Fatale's high-concept opening sequence, filmed at the Cannes Film Festival, is playful and engaging, it isn't long before De Palma's picture devolves into an incoherent mess of twists and unintentional laughs. X-Men's Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays another shape-shifter, this one a leggy sex bomb willing to transform herself into a slick lesbian, a disheveled widow and a Lana Turner vamp if it means getting her hands on riches or getting out of trouble. Antonio Banderas is also on hand as a paparazzo that gets caught up in Romijn-Stamos' web, but it takes a considerable amount of wasted time for his storyline to kick in and, once it does, it all plays like convoluted mind-games and idiot characters far too familiar of Banderas' drippy Original Sin. (top) (back)

15 MINUTES - C-
Starring:
Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Melina Kanakaredes, Avery Brooks, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktorov
Directed by:
John Herzfeld
Suspense, 121
min (14A) (New Line, 2001)


Writer-director John Herzfeld (2 Days in the Valley) wants to say a lot of things with 15 Minutes, most of them stemming from observations about the media, exploitation, and how even the most callous criminals can manipulate and feed from the media to meet their demands. Unfortunately, however, these ideas are barely given any shape in 15 Minutes, with Herzfeld's storyline jumping all over the place, often taking awkward shifts in characterization, structure and tone, particularly when he unforgivably uses the film's cold-blooded killers for comic relief. Starring a lazy Robert De Niro and completely unconvincing Edward Burns, 15 Minutes tells the story of a celebrated New York cop (De Niro) who hooks up with a young arson investigator (Burns) when bodies start piling up. Problem is, the murderers (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktorov) aren't just thirsty for blood, but rather for the fame and fortune they think they can get by filming their crimes, selling them to a tabloid TV host (Kelsey Grammer) and then making book and movie deals. It is all supposed to be a damning indictment of the media, but the absurdities in the story cause great harm to the moralistic plea and everything falls apart by the ludicrous Dirty Harry-inspired final quarter.
(top) (back)


FIGHT CLUB - B+
Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday, Jared Leto

Directed by:
David Fincher
Drama, 139
min (18A) (20th Century Fox, 1999)

With its anger-fuelled nihilism and arresting visual style, Fight Club strikes the viewer like a punch in the gut. Based on a dark novel by Chuck Palahniuk and directed with MTV-meets-Seven style by David Fincher, the film tells the story of a group of disenchanted men who find a release from their dreary day-to-day existence by forming an underground boxing club that gives them the opportunity to beat up on one another. The most love-it-or-hate-it movie of its time, Fight Club is dank and dirty picture that explores existential issues while unleashing a steady stream of switchblade-sharp dialogue and bleak humour. Fincher fuels the film with an intoxicating visual adrenaline, unleashing directorial flourishes at all angles, and he draws rich performances from Brad Pitt and, especially, Edward Norton. As an office dweeb who hooks up with a magnetic outsider (Pitt) to form the club, Norton is a fascinating combination of everyday normality and brutal action. (top) (back)

FINAL DESTINATION - B-
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Kristen Cloke, Amanda Detmer, Seann W. Scott, Chad Donella, Daniel Roebuck, Tony Todd
Directed by: James Wong
Horror, 98
min (18A) (New Line, 2000)

This teen suspense film, produced and directed by a couple of X-Files alumni, wants nothing more than to provide an unabashedly silly good time. Provided you are in the mood for gimmicky thrill ride, Final Destination does just that. Starring teen faves Devon Sawa (Wild America), Ali Larter (Varsity Blues) and Kerr Smith (Dawson's Creek), the film tells the story of group of high school students who get kicked off a flight to Paris after one of them (Sawa) has an eerie premonition that the plane is going to explode. After the accident actually occurs, the survivors begin getting pegged off in elaborate, Rube Goldberg-style accidents and it is up to Sawa to once again find a way to cheat death. Sure, Final Destination would have been more memorable if it featured characters instead of just types (the jock, the class clown, the isolated beauty...), but coming after the recent I Know What Chucky’s Idle Hands Screamed Last Halloween period, it is refreshingly entertaining. (top) (back)

FINAL DESTINATION 2 - C-
Starring:
Ali Larter, A.J. Cook, Andrew Downing, Michael Landes, Terrence "T.C." Carson, Tony Todd, Enid-Raye Adams, Lynda Boyd
Directed by: David Ellis
Horror, 91 min (18A) (New Line, 2003)


The moderate shocks of 2000's fun Final Destination came from the intricate, Rube Goldberg-style moments of death, with elaborate traps of gruesome murder set into motion by even the most mundane of things that, as a result, could be viewed with hesitation and horror. Final Destination 2 uses the same launching pad - one of the first deaths involves a microwave, a ladder, a clogged sink and a pot of macaroni and cheese - but here the surprise and, by extension, the thrills are gone. It's as though the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to set up the suspense when a good old head-chopped-off-by-elevator trick would do. In the original film, Devon Sawa foresaw a horrible plane crash that proceeded to take place moments after his friends were kicked off the plane. Death then proceeded with its original plan, offing one survivor after the next. Ali Larter, Sawa's girlfriend in Final Destination, is back for the sequel as the only remaining survivor and here she gets involved in a similar situation, this one involving a teenager (A.J. Cook) who envisioned a car crash and saved the lives of a group of strangers. The group then tries to figure out a way to cheat death, but as they all start dying, the film feels as programmed and exciting as a calculator. (top) (back)

FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN -
B-
Starring:
The voices of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Keith David
Directed by:
Hironobu Sakaguchi
Action, 106 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2001)

First things first: This sci-fi thriller, inspired by the bestselling video game series, does not have a high score in terms of plotting, characterization or dialogue, telling a derivative and often murky story about a scientist babe (voiced by Mulan's Ming-Na) trying to save the Earth from an extraterrestrial menace. Throughout, it is all too obvious that the film's director, Hironobu Sakaguchi, hails from the video game world and that his skills as a dramatist still need several points in order to proceed to the next level. Now that that's out of the way, we can get to the real strength of Final Fantasy and the real reason it secures a place in cinematic history: dazzling computer graphic visuals, with every landscape, battle and gadget rendered with a fluid and thrilling vision. Sure, the computer-generated characters occasionally look like mannequins that have come to life, but there is a real beauty in details as minor as the characters' hair, fingers and five-o'clock shadows. Even better are the film's evil beasties and shiny technological devices, all of which look so tangible and realistic you want to reach into the screen and grab them. Final Fantasy may not be a great film but, even on video and DVD, the visuals will take your breath away. (top) (back)


FINDING FORRESTER - B-
Starring:
Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes, Tom Mullica, Zane Copeland Jr., Lil' Zane
Directed by:
Gus Van Sant
Drama, 136
min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

Many of the themes in Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting get highlighted once more with this overlong and predictable, but nonetheless stirring, teacher-student drama. Sean Connery plays the teacher, a J.D. Salinger-type recluse who disappeared after writing "the great American novel," and newcomer Rob Brown is the student, a 16-year-old budding writer from the Bronx whose lost notebook draws the two characters together as mentors and friends. Thoughout Finding Forrester, there is no doubt that Van Sant borrows a great deal from Good Will Hunting (not to mention the hoo-ahh of Scent of a Woman) and many of the secondary characters are either unnecessary (Anna Paquin's romance with Brown goes nowhere) or downright silly (F. Murray Abraham has a stock role as a jealous teacher bent on ruining Brown). That said, though, the film displays a strong understanding of what it means to be a writer, all of it captured with unforced, moving and compelling work from Connery and Brown. (top) (back)

FLAWLESS - C+
Starring: Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Miller, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Wanda De Jesus, Rory Cochrane, Chris Bauer
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Drama, 111
min (14A) (MGM, 1999)

The storyline is the drag in this strongly acted but poorly constructed transvestite drama, written and directed by Joel Schumacher (who took big-budget camp to new levels with Batman and Robin). Robert De Niro plays a retired bank guard who suffers a stroke and has to befriend the local drag queen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in order to get his speech back. De Niro's method acting techniques could have easily gone over-the-top, but his performance is wisely understated here, and Hoffman (a human chameleon who directly went from this to completely different roles in Magnolia and The Talented Mr. Ripley) offers a character as wonderfully emotional as he/she is eccentric. Unfortunately, though, there's this nagging aspect of Flawless that ensures the film doesn't live up to its title and it's called a plot. Despite De Niro and Hoffman's best efforts, Schumacher mucks everything up with a silly stolen money storyline so strained and unnecessary that it implodes in his face. (top) (back)

THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS - C-
Starring:
Mark Addy, Stephen Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Kristen Johnston, Joan Collins, Alan Cumming, Harvey Korman, Thomas Gibson
Directed by: Brian Levant
Comedy, 91 min (PG) (Universal, 2001)


No one would ever expect a live-action Flintstones movie to be realistic, but The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, much more so than the 1994 original, doesn't even come to life on a fantasy level, instead looking and feeling like actors on Styrofoam sets. A flashback to when the brawny Fred Flintstone met the wealthy Wilma Slaghoople, Viva Rock Vegas replaces the original well-considered cast with low-grade alternatives, including The Full Monty's Mark Addy, who barely contains his British accent as Fred (sorely missing is John Goodman's bulky personality) and Stephen Baldwin, who actually succeeds in making Barney Rubble too stupid (at least 3rd Rock From the Sun's Kristen Johnston and Ally McBeal's Jane Krakowski add some colour to Wilma and Betty, respectively). Ultimately, returning director Brian Levant never develops the picture beyond bad puns and misguided ideas (Why on Earth did they bring back the alien Gazoo?) and Viva Rock Vegas adds up to one big Yabba-Dabba-Don't. (top) (back)

FOR LOVE OF THE GAME - C+
Starring: Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Jena Malone, Brian Cox, J.K. Simmons, Vin Scully, Steve Lyons, Bill Rogers
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Drama, 138
min (PG) (Universal, 1999)

After finding sports movie success with Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and Tin Cup, Kevin Costner returns to the playing field with this story of an aging pitcher who, during what may be his final major league game, looks back at his life and his relationship with his longtime girlfriend (Kelly Preston). With A Simple Plan director Sam Raimi on his team, you would think For Love of the Game would mark another hit for Costner but, alas, the film falls victim to many of the same handicaps as recent Costner films like Waterworld, The Postman and Wyatt Earp, namely a lagging pace, a too serious tone and a lead character too noble to be believed. Costner is likeable and, considering her awful performance in Holy Man, Preston does better than expected, but the love story lacks both definition and curveballs. Thankfully, Raimi handles the baseball scenes really well, effectively capturing both the excitement and pressure of the sport. It's enough to make you wish the film had less love and more game. (top) (back)

FORMULA 51 - C
Starring:
Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer, Rhys Ifans, Meat Loaf, Ricky Tomlinson, Sean Pertwee
Directed by: Ronny Yu
Comedy, 93 min (18A) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


The title of Formula 51 refers to the chemical formula of a new wonder drug that is 51 times more potent than cocaine or heroin, but it may as well be underlining the film's strict adherence to the Tarantino-formula, seen in virtually ever quirky, down and dirty comic thriller since Quentin's heyday. Essentially Lock, Stock and a Black Man in a Quilt, Formula 51 stars Samuel L. Jackson as an outlaw chemist who heads to England to sell his miracle drug - composed entirely of substances that can be bought over the counter - to anyone willing to fork up $20 million. Along for the deal are Robert Carlyle, essentially nabbing a paycheck as a football-loving hooligan, and a hitwoman played by the non-threatening Emily Mortimer (Disney's The Kid) who seems about as dangerous as a nun. Throughout Formula 51, Jackson keeps his cool, but director Ronny Yu (1998's The Bride of Chucky) throws so many routine elements onto the screen (blaring car chases, screaming fits from Meat Loaf, profanity for the sake of profanity, Rhys Ifans flittering about, overcooked British gangsters) that it hardly comes as a surprise when virtually none of them stick to the screen. This been-there-done-that thriller should have been called Formula 101. (top) (back)


THE FORSAKEN - D
Starring:
Kerr Smith, Brendan Fehr, Johnathan Schaech, Izabella Miko, AJ Buckley, Simon Rex, Alexis Thorpe
Directed by:
J.S. Cardone
Horror, 90 min (18A) (Columbia Tristar, 2001)

After From Dusk Till Dawn, Near Dark and John Carpenter's Vampires, the world hardly needed another film about bloodsuckers living off the poor saps that stumble across them in the desert. After I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Halloween: H20 and so on, it could safely be said that there was even less desire for another TV star-heavy slasher film. Nonetheless, along comes The Forsaken to fill the void that didn't exist, trying to make due with secondary TV stars (Dawson's Creek's personality-less Kerr Smith, Roswell's Brendan Fehr) and a bloody awful screenplay written by director J.S. Cardone. Smith, who costarred with Fehr in Final Destination, has the lead here, playing a film editor who, while driving cross-country, picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a vampire slayer (unfortunately, it's Fehr, not Sarah Michelle Gellar's Buffy) and a frequently naked young woman (Coyote Ugly's Izabella Miko) who is about to make "the change." For what seems like forever, the three of them are tracked by a group of vampires led by Johnathan Schaech (a long way from That Thing You Do!) and, thanks to Cardone's dank visuals, haphazard editing and reliance on exploitation, this bloodless film never even gets a pulse. (top) (back)


40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS - C+
Starring:
Josh Hartnett, Shannyn Sossamon, Vinessa Shaw, Paulo Costanzo, Griffin Dunne, Monet Mazur, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Comedy, 95 min (14A) (Miramax, 2002)


40 Days and 40 Nights is centered on the premise that men only have one thing on their minds (sex) and, though this may be true in many cases, that doesn't give the film the right to simply follow suit. In not expanding in any directions beyond its primary conceit, 40 Days and 40 Nights unfortunately remains a rather one-joke comedy, a disappointment considering a lead performance by Pearl Harbor flyboy Josh Hartnett that is more complex and charming than the movie deserves. Here Hartnett plays Matt Sullivan, a San Francisco web programmer who, to get over the torment of a major breakup that has left him prone to panic attacks, vows to give up all forms of sex (including the solo variety) for Lent. As Matt is eventually reduced to a squirmy bowl of Jell-O, Hartnett actually succeeds in making us believe he will benefit from the task at hand, even if it means resisting the temptations of a cute girl he met at the Laundromat (Shannyn Sossamon). As in A Knight's Tale, however, the entirely unimpressive Sossamon fails to bring any sparks to the love story and, though no doubt inspired by the famous Seinfeld episode, "The Contest," 40 Days and 40 Nights never comes close to the giddy, orgasmic humour of that TV classic. (top) (back)


THE FOUR FEATHERS - C
Starring:
Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen, Alex Jennings, Rupert Penry-Jones, Kris Marshall
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur
Drama, 130 min (14A) (Paramount, 2002)


In the years since A.E.W. Mason's The Four Feathers was printed, the 1902 novel has seen at least four prior screen adaptations and, as this latest version illustrates, the story's central issues - particularly its proclamation of the glory of English imperialism - have become perilously dated. The biggest problem facing director Shekhar Kapur, however, isn't the story's themes seem ancient, but that he doesn't quite know what to do with them - The Four Feathers is part buddy picture, part romance, part military thriller, part coming-of-age drama and all confusion. Heath Ledger is a blank as Harry, a young British officer who resigns his commission after learning that he is about to be shipped off to war in 19th-century Sudan. Marked as a coward, Harry heads out to the African desert to prove his courage to himself, his friends (led by a overly dramatic Wes Bentley) and his fiancée (the poorly miscast Kate Hudson) and there he befriends a native bodyguard (Gladiator's Djimon Hounsou) who is supposedly one of the "primitives" his friends are there to conquer. Though Kapur showed great epic skill with 1998's Elizabeth, here the sheer scope of the story seems to overwhelm him, leaving many of the characters as little more than noble outlines. (top) (back)

FRAILTY
- B
Starring:
Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Matthew O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, Powers Boothe, Luke Askew, Derk Cheetwood, Alan Davidson
Directed by:
Bill Paxton
Horror, 100 min (14A) (Lions Gate, 2002)


Many of actor Bill Paxton's early successes were horror films like Near Dark (1987) and Aliens (1986), so it only seems fitting that he returns to the genre for his directorial debut, Frailty, a deliberately paced shocker that wisely opts for thick atmosphere and impending dread over in-your-face gore. A patient and sweaty Matthew McConaughey plays Fenton Meiks, a mystery man who walks into an FBI office late at night to help them find a serial killer that has been terrorizing Texas and recount his harrowing past to agent Wesley Doyle (a contentedly hammy Powers Boothe). In flashback, we see Fenton as a preteen whose happy childhood was shattered when his loving, widowed father (Paxton) came to believe that God asked him to slay demons by murdering strangers, hiding their bodies in the garden, and enlisting his two boys, Fenton and Adam, as accomplices. As can be expected in these post-Sixth Sense days, there's a jumpy twist at the end, but even if it isn't entirely convincing, the lead-up is undeniably involving, with solid work from Domestic Disturbance's Matthew O'Leary as the unwilling young Fenton and Paxton compellingly shifting from honest father figure to creepy religious psycho. (top) (back)

FREDDY GOT FINGERED - F
Starring:
Tom Green, Rip Torn, Harland Williams, Marisa Coughlan, Julie Hagerty, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Anthony Michael Hall
Directed by: Tom Green
Comedy, 87
min (18A) (20th Century Fox, 2001)

He may have had his moments in Road Trip, but the one film that will undoubtedly be forever linked to Tom Green is Freddy Got Fingered, an incompetent exercise-in-torture that may go down in history as the worst comedy ever released. Were his fingers not all over the picture as director, writer and star, it would almost be enough to make you feel sorry for the Canadian shock comic. Not that it matters (it clearly didn't matter to anyone making the picture), but Freddy Got Fingered focuses on Gord (Green), a wannabe cartoonist whose slacker attitude and insane antics infuriate his father (poor Rip Torn) and charm his disabled girlfriend (poor Marisa Coughlan). Throughout, Gord fondles a stallion's genitals, wraps himself in a bloody deer carcass, swings a newborn baby over his head by the umbilical cord (which he cut with his teeth), sprays his dad with elephant semen and engages in a variety of other sick set-pieces that, though no doubt as gross as Green intended, are more boring and utterly devoid of inspiration than actually amusing. Problem is, every time the film even begins approaching coherence, Green douses everything in body fluids, licks it and shoves it down the toilet. That's exactly where this cinematic excrement belongs. (top) (back)

FREQUENCY - B-
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich, Shawn Doyle, Michael Sera
Directed by: Gregory Hoblit
Drama, 119
min (14A) (New Line, 2000)

Back to the Future fans will have difficulty overcoming the time paradoxes in Frequency, but everyone else – particularly those who get a warmth in their heart from male bonding – should enjoy this sci-fi fantasy. Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line) plays a world-weary cop who starts fiddling with his dad's old ham radio only to discover that he can talk to his dad over the machine – despite the fact that his pop (Dennis Quaid) died thirty years earlier. This speaking-through-time device provides for more than a few story and logic flaws, but director Gregory Hoblit (Fallen) wisely treats it as a sincere and only slightly mushy parable about the love between a father and his son. Hoblit draws emotional and honest performances out of Caviezel and the constantly underrated Quaid, allowing the two actors to share a surprising amount of warmth with one another despite the fact that their characters exist in different timeframes. (top) (back)

FRIDA - C+
Starring:
Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Valeria Golino, Mia Maestro, Geoffrey Rush, Roger Rees, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton
Directed by: Julie Taymor
Drama, 123 min (18A) (Miramax, 2002)


In 1999, Julie Taymor - best known as the visionary behind the celebrated Broadway interpretation of The Lion King - brought distinct and memorable visual flourish to an adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus. Based on the strength of that work, one would think that Taymor would be a splendid choice for a biopic about an artist as revolutionary as Mexico's Frida Kahlo but, though an Oscar winner in some technical categories and a nominee for star Salma Hayek, Frida disappoints. Rather than apply a specific vision to the entire picture, Taymor only adds visual flourish in isolating set pieces and she spends too much of the film focusing on the fiery relationship between Kahlo and womanizing artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) rather than fleshing out the title character. As a result, Frida is annoyingly vague and all too conventional in its structure, despite reasonable work by Hayek - proving that there is more to her than the slinky body of Desperado and Wild Wild West - and Molina, who outshines his surroundings with a full-bodied, spirited and authentic portrayal. Throughout Frida, there are cameos and small roles filled by major actors - Geoffrey Rush, Edward Norton, Antonio Banderas - but they all mostly act as distractions. (top) (back)

FRIDAY AFTER NEXT -
C-
Starring: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, John Witherspoon, Don "D.C." Curry, Katt Micah Williams, K.D. Aubert, Anna Maria Horsford
Directed by: Marcus Raboy
Comedy, 85 min (14A) (New Line, 2002)


Though it certainly wasn't light on problems, the most drastic shortcomings of 2000's Next Friday - a sequel to the uneven urban comedy Friday (1995) - were the substitution of irritant Mike Epps for the original film's Chris Tucker and an appalling focus on crude sexism. In Friday After Next, the third entry in the series, the volume on the misogyny has been turned down, but the idiocy and fruitless plot have only ballooned (and Epps, unfortunately, is still no Tucker). Here Craig (Ice Cube) and Day-Day (Epps) awaken the day before Christmas to find a Santa burglar stealing their rent money. Desperately in need of cash, the two decide to take a job as security guards at an L.A. strip mall, but as soon as they slip on the outfits, the characters and gags mostly just seem to sit there, too energy-less to move or entertain. As a result, Friday After Next is essentially a string of dopey monotony far too content with its familiar themes and characters to be worth an investment (though an amusingly tiny pimp played by Katt Micah Williams does show potential). It must be said that Friday After Next is better than Ice and Epps' last joint effort - the moronic All About the Benjamins - but rarely have thoughts of a Friday been so unfulfilling. (top) (back)

FROM HELL - B
Starring:
Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng, Susan Lynch, Katrin Cartlidge, Ian Richardson
Directed by:
Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Suspense, 120 min
(18A) (20th Century Fox, 2001)


One of the most fascinating aspects of the legend of Jack the Ripper - the elusive murderer of five London prostitutes in 1888 - is that the man was never caught, his name never revealed. Working from a graphic novel by Eddie Campbell, directors Albert and Allen Hughes aim to unravel some of the myth with From Hell, a stylish and engrossing thriller in which almost every shot oozes with dread. Johnny Depp gives a canny performance as the film's fictional protagonist, an inspector and opium addict whose dark visions and intuition play more of a role in his investigations than the concrete evidence valued by his sergeant (Robbie Coltrane). The Hughes brothers, who have thus far specialized in ghetto tales like Menace II Society (1993) and American Pimp (2000), go to great lengths capturing the story's seedy Whitechapel district setting and Victorian class structure, all the while enveloping viewers in a mystery that feels more graphic and violent than it is. Heather Graham is far too cute, clean and huggable for a struggling streetwalker and the film occasionally bites of more than it can chew, even throwing in the Elephant Man for good measure, but if you are looking for gorgeously shot thrills, From Hell is bloody good.
(top) (back)


FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY - C-
Starring:
Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Brian Dietzen, Katherine Bailess, Anika Noni Rose, Jason Yribar, Greg Siff, Brandon Henschel
Directed by: Robert Iscove
Musical, 81 min (PG) (Fox, 2003)


Imagine a spring break musical starring the cast of Saved By the Bell circa 1994 and you would have From Justin to Kelly, another vapid, dim-witted and irritating attempt to capitalize on the recent glut of reality TV programming. From Justin to Kelly stars Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, the finalists from the first season of American Idol, and Guarini in particular has all the screen presence of a floor mop. That is not to say that Clarkson fares much better - the budget-stressed wardrobe and muddy lighting are especially unflattering - but at least her soaring voice compensates for an amateurish performance (Justin's, well, not so much). The disposable storyline - a little bit of Grease, You've Got Mail and West Side Story with a lot of fromage - sees Clarkson playing a Texas waitress who heads to Florida for spring break and finds herself drawn to a lady-killing party promoter improbably played by Sideshow Bob - sorry, Guarini. The only condolence of From Justin to Kelly is that, as with The Real Cancun, the film failed at the box office, barely making a pit stop before heading to video. Hopefully this has saved us from big screen careers of Richard Hatch, all those Bachelors and, of course, From Clay to Ruben. (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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