ARCHIVED REVIEWS (I)
I Am Sam
I Dreamed of Africa
I Spy
Ice Age
Ideal Husband, an
Identity
Importance of Being...
Impostor
In Crowd, the
In the Bedroom
In the Mood for Love
Insider, the
Insomnia
Iris
Iron Monkey

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Archived Video Reviews (I)
 

I AM SAM - C
Starring:
Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest, Laura Dern, Loretta Devine, Richard Schiff, Doug Hutchinson
Directed by: Jessie Nelson
Drama, 120 min (PG) (New Line, 2001)


If Sean Penn were the type of actor to woo the Academy, his work in I Am Sam as a mentally challenged father fighting for custody of his daughter would be first-class Oscar bait, all manipulation and sentiment buried beneath an accomplished performance. Since he isn't (even when nominated, Penn shies away from the ceremony), it is only the rest of the film that seems programmed to win awards. Directed by Jessie Nelson (Corrina, Corrina) as an unabashedly mawkish Forrest Gump-meets-Kramer Vs. Kramer melodrama, the film stars Penn as Sam, a single father with the intellectual capacities of a second grader who is in danger of losing his little girl, Lucy (Dakota Fanning), to child welfare workers and courts a high-powered, highly stressed lawyer (Michelle Pfeiffer) to fight for him. The film follows some familiar tracks, but it is never fully convincing in background (How did Sam take care of Lucy for seven years?), character (Pfeiffer makes a good bitch, but her thawing out is too simple) or even Sam's case itself (Is being sweet enough to make one a good father?). Throughout, one actor consistently stands above the material but, surprisingly, it isn't Penn so much as little Fanning, an expressive, genuine and adorable young actress. (top) (back)

I DREAMED OF AFRICA - C-
Starring: Kim Basinger, Vincent Perez, Eva Marie Saint, Liam Aiken, Allison Daugherty Smith, Robert Loggia, Garrett Strommen 
Directed by: Hugh Hudson

Drama, 115
min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

When a film is based on a true story, it automatically earns its stripes of respectibility. When a film is as poorly plotted, directed and written as I Dreamed of Africa, all true story-respectibility goes flying out the window, skimming along the desert and lost in the muck. In her first role since winning an Oscar for L.A. Confidential, Kim Basinger gives a blank performance as Kuki Gallmann, a European socialite who travels to Africa with her new husband (Vincent Perez) only to encounter a seemingly endless stretch of tragedies. Nowhere here do we get any indication of the conservationist that Kuki is to become, instead being subject to the lumbering travelogue direction of Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) and one achingly predictable adversity after the next. Worse yet, I Dreamed of Africa offers no sense of the energy or flavour of the continent on which it's based. Rent Out of Africa instead. (top) (back)

I SPY - C
Starring:
Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell, Mike Dopud, Viv Leacock, Gary Cole
Directed by: Betty Thomas
Comedy, 97 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)


It may draw its title and some basic elements from the a ground-breaking '60s TV show starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, but in no way does that excuse I Spy from simply recycling laughs, concepts and characters from virtually every buddy movie released since Cosby and Culp hit the airwaves. Eddie Murphy, once again using his ego for laughs (Showtime, Bowfinger, Boomerang, …) plays Kelly Robinson, a wealthy boxer who is enlisted to collaborate with a government agent (Owen Wilson) to recover a stolen invisible jet in Budapest. Director Betty Thomas, who served Murphy well with 1998's Dr. Dolittle, does nothing here to advance the cultural clash buddy movie genre, for the most part forgetting that an action comedy requires action, and the by-committee screenplay is all over the map, with only an occasional laugh here or there (like Gary Cole's hilarious impression of a Steven Seagal-like hero) actually hitting its mark. Murphy virtually defined the culture-clash buddy genre with 1982's 48 HRS and Wilson found success in the similar Shanghai Noon franchise, but the two actors' comic styles don't compliment each other well, actually leaving the brilliantly dazed Wilson to try and fail to play the straight man. (top) (back)

ICE AGE - B+
Voices:
Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Visnjic, Jack Black, Diedrich Bader, Jane Krakowski, Kristen Johnston
Directed by: Chris Wedge
Animated, 81 min (PG) (20th Century Fox, 2002)


Ice Age may not have the dazzling wit of Shrek, the gorgeous detail of Monsters, Inc. or the heart of the Toy Story films, but that's not to say that it doesn't have its charms of its own, smoothly combining story elements of Shrek (massive antisocial protagonist with nattering sidekick) and Monsters, Inc. (lost human child) with - here's where the picture really succeeds - the inspired slapstick of early Looney Tunes shorts. Ice Age tracks a woolly mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) who unwillingly teams up with a chattering sloth (John Leguizamo, lisping away like Sylvester) and an untrustworthy saber-toothed tiger (a menacing Denis Leary) to return a human baby to its tribe. There are some mini adventures as the unlikely trio makes its journey, but the real conflict is at the heart of the cat whose natural instincts, after all, tell him to eat his partners. Encounters with some dingbat dodos and a wild ride through an ice cave make for mammoth pleasures and, though the story occasionally loses some momentum, the filmmakers compensate nicely with the addition of Scrat, a neurotic saber-toothed squirrel whose repeated failed attempts at burying an acorn leave him resembling an ancestor in hopelessness of Wile E. Coyote. (top) (back)


AN IDEAL HUSBAND - B
Starring:
Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Jeremy Northam, Tamara Beckwith
Directed by:
Oliver Parker
Comedy, 98 min (PG) (Miramax, 1999)


With his wit and smooth mischievousness, Rupert Everett was born to speak the scathing words of Oscar Wilde and he effortlessly towers above his costars in this adaptation of Wilde's 1895 play, quite the accomplishment when one considers the significant talent involved. Everett plays Lord Gorling, "the idlest man in London" and the object of affection for Mabel (Minnie Driver), the sister of a widely admired politician (Jeremy Northam) whose career and marriage to Lady Gertrude (Cate Blanchett) are about to be shaken by the scandalous secrets of Lady Gertrude's ex-classmate (Julianne Moore). Director Oliver Parker has done a suitable job of adapting Wilde's play beyond its stage origins, but in streamlining of the narrative, he puts too much emphasis on the scandal when it should be resting clearly on Wilde's still clever and piercing wit. Nonetheless, the actors here clearly relish their parts - Moore is crisp and bracing, Blanchett and Northam make a charming couple - and their enthusiasm is infectious. (top) (back)

IDENTITY - B-
Starring:
John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Clea DuVall, Alfred Molina, John C. McGinley, Rebecca DeMornay, Jake Busey
Directed by: James Mangold
Suspense, 90 min (14A) (Columbia, 2003)


Identity's groundwork has certainly been seen before: On a dark and stormy night, 10 strangers are stranded in a creepy hotel with no communication to the outside world. One by one, people start dying and every guest - plus the shifty hotel clerk (John Hawkes) - is a suspect (think Agatha Christy's Psycho). That said, though, director James Mangold (1999's Girl, Interrupted) is able to bring some new material to the structure, outclassing recent horror efforts like Wes Craven's They and Final Destination 2 with a moderately compelling story and fine performances from a group of character actors. It's too bad that Mangold drops his biggest twist too early in the proceedings and doesn't keep the editing tight enough, causing Identity to lack the narrative punch of an effort like Frailty (2002). Still, something has to be said for a suspense film that appears to be as concerned about engaging the mind as it is in murder and all the usual shocks. Starring, among others, John Cusack as a limo driver, Ray Liotta as a law officer, Amanda Peet as a prostitute, Jake Busey as a prisoner, Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott as newlyweds, Rebecca De Mornay as an actress, John C. McGinley as a grieving father and enough rain to sink the Titanic. (top) (back)

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST - B-
Starring:
Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Frances O'Connor, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey, Edward Fox
Directed by: Oliver Parker
Comedy, 94 min (PG) (Miramax, 2002)


The combined forces of Rupert Everett, director Oliver Parker and Oscar Wilde made for a delightful concoction with 1999's An Ideal Husband but, though the key players have all returned for this adaptation of a 1895 romantic trifle by Wilde, the results are decidedly less effervescent. Colin Firth plays Jack Worthing, a wealthy English landowner with a teenage ward named Cecily (Reese Witherspoon) in the country and a second life in the city as Ernest Worthing, best friend to the rascally Algernon Moncrieff (Everett) and wannabe husband to Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor), the rebellious daughter of grand society dame Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench). When Algernon learns of "Ernest's" second life, he then rushes out to the country, calls himself Jack's brother Ernest, starts wooing Cecily and then things get really complicated. Considering the light-as-air structure and drenched-in-wit dialogue of Wilde's original play - as much a sharp zing at society as a feathery farce - it's difficult to really mess up the material, but Parker sure tries, staging everything with an unnecessary screwball score and plot extravagances - a hot air balloon, chase sequences, visits to tattoo parlours and gambling clubs - that are little more than noisy clutter. (top) (back)


IMPOSTOR - C
Starring:
Gary Sinise, Madelein Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Mekhi Phifer, Tony Shalhoub, Gary Dourdan, Lindsay Crouse, Elizabeth Pena
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Suspense, 96 min (18A) (Dimension, 2002)


Also based on a story by Philip K. Dick and also about a not-so-distant future in which replicants are hunted down to be destroyed, Impostor is basically a low-budget carbon copy of Blade Runner (1982), only with more rudimentary visuals and even less of an emotional stake in the characters. Gary Sinise, all stretched muscles and facial expressions, plays Spencer Oldham, an elite military scientist in 2079, a time at which most of earth has been destroyed by an alien civilization. The aliens have devised new clone weapons that mimic their human counterparts, right up to the moment when they blow up, and Oldham has the grave misfortune of being identified as one of them by a hard-nosed special agent (Vincent D'Onofrio). It's Fugitive time when Oldham goes on the run to protect his name, but the shortcomings of the screenplay and Gary (Don't Say A Word) Fleder's direction can be easily noted by the fact that, throughout the film, little attention is given to the central dilemma over whether or not Oldham really is an alien bomb. Considering the unnecessary fat here that could have been trimmed from the story, it is worth noting that Imposter was originally devised as a 37-minute short film that was to be part of a sci-fi anthology. (top) (back)

THE IN CROWD - D
Starring: Lori Heuring, Susan Ward, Matthew Settle, Nathan Bexton, Ethan Erickson, Kim Murphy, Jay R. Ferguson, Katharine Towne
Directed by:
Mary Lambert
Thriller, 105 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2000)

All tease and no follow-through, The In Crowd is like an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 crossed with I Know What You Did Last Summer and doused in a lot of soft-porn innuendo (but, it should be noted, very little sex or nudity). Frozen faced Lori Heuring plays the blonde heroine, a former nuthouse patient whose rehabilitation involves working at a ritzy country club. It's there that she meets Brittany (Susan Ward), a rich bitch that mysteriously befriends Heuring but may not be the pal she seems to be (you think?). When things are going sunnily, director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary) bathes her photogenic cast in bright light, but as soon as the story takes a dark turn, it's all murky blandness and one hoary horror cliché after the next. Worse yet, Lambert takes forever setting up the story, offering tepid supporting characters and enough plot contrivances (identical twins, lucky moments of eavesdropping, jealous lovers…) to embarrass a daytime soap opera. (top) (back)

IN THE BEDROOM -
A-
Starring:
Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei, Nick Stahl, William Mapother, William Wise, Christopher Adams, Karen Allen
Directed by:
Todd Field
Drama, 130 min (14A) (Miramax, 2001)

Grief can be devastating to domestic happiness and in the Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom, as in 1980's Ordinary People before it, grief is all-encompassing, dividing loved ones with a cloak of sadness, anger and helplessness. Marking the feature directorial debut of actor Todd Field (he was Tom Cruise's buddy in Eyes Wide Shut), In the Bedroom casts a deliberate and wrenching spell in its story of a content Maine couple (Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson) whose relationship and lives are torn to shreds when their only son (Nick Stahl) gets involved with a single mother (Marisa Tomei) and, unfortunately, her estranged husband (William Mapother). Focusing in on the characters to the point that one almost feels like a voyeur, Field lets the emotions run raw and deep, never settling for concrete answers or simplified responses. The cast responds exceptionally, with Spacek often speaking volumes without so much as opening her mouth, Wilkinson underplaying faultlessly (if anything, he's even better than the much-celebrated Spacek) and Tomei finally putting the jokes to rest with her career-reviving turn. Not all viewers will agree with the film's resolution, but there is still no denying the heart-breaking pain that precedes it. (top) (back)


IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE - B+
Starring: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Lai Chen, Rebecca Pan, Sium Ping-Lam
Directed by:
Wong Kar-wai
Drama, 98 min (PG) (USA Films, 2001)

Oftentimes, unrequited passion is the most passionate of passions and this is heartbreakingly apparent in In the Mood for Love, a wonderfully understated and glorious romance from Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. Set in 1962 and subtitled in English, In the Mood for Love focuses on two married neighbors, a newspaper writer (Tony Leung) and secretary (Maggie Cheung), who are clearly attracted to one another but keep at a distance. Once they learn that their respective spouses are having an affair, the two lonely souls embark on their own romance but, restricted by a culture that demands discretion, loyalty and modesty, they refuse to consummate what is clearly a strong sexual and emotional bond between them. Working with breathtaking cinematographer Christopher Doyle and a luscious musical score, Wong moves slowly, but he artfully draws romantic tension from even the most mundane acts - eating dinner, smoking a cigarette - and, as a result, his film builds passion with an almost unbearable intensity. (top) (back)

THE INSIDER - B+
Starring: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Gina Gershon
Directed by:
Michael Mann
Drama, 155 min (14A) (Touchstone, 1999)

It may be a little on the overlong side, but there's plenty of smoke in this Oscar-nominated journalistic thriller, much of it due to the crisp, top-notch direction of Michael Mann (Heat) and a spectacular performance from Russell Crowe. Based on a true story, The Insider casts Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman, an investigative reporter with 60 Minutes. Bergman is ready to put the squeeze on the cigarette companies that are blatantly lying to the public and he appears to have found the perfect source in Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), a scientist recently fired by one of the nation's largest tobacco companies. Bergman's story and Wigand's life slowly spin out of control and Mann expertly handles both the issues and the characters, avoiding histrionics in favour of emotional and ethical immediacy (even Pacino keeps things relatively low-key). That said, the real reason to catch The Insider is Crowe, who wonderfully combines a meek physical presence with a powerful moral authority for one of the best performances of the year. (top) (back)

INSOMNIA - B+
Starring:
Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt, Maura Tierney, Paul Dooley, Jonathan Jackson
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Suspense, 118 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2002)


It isn't likely that one will get sleepy watching Insomnia, an acute and tantalizing psychological drama from director Christopher Nolan that, like the filmmaker's last picture, Memento, unspools with a satisfying understanding of character, memories and technique. Al Pacino and Robin Williams give first-rate performances in opposing cat and mouse roles here, with Pacino playing Will Dormer, a celebrated Los Angeles police detective who is on loan to a small Alaska town to consult on a murder investigation, and Williams taking on the role of Walter Finch, an unassuming novelist and Dormer's chief suspect. Unaccustomed to the 24 hours of daylight that hit Alaska during the summer, Dormer finds it difficult to get any rest and the lack of sleep acts like a psychological battering ram on his senses, decreasing his perceptions and rationalization to the point that Walter is able to play with his mind. As the film proceeds, Pacino wisely turns down the histrionics, internalizing Dormer's confusion, and Williams is an ideal counterpart, all soft-spoken nuance and creepiness. Drawing from a 1997 Norwegian movie of the same name, Nolan takes full advantage of his location and performers, confirming yet again that he is a director to watch. (top) (back)

IRIS - B-
Starring:
Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton
Directed by: Richard Eyre
Drama, 94 min (14A) (Miramax, 2001)


There's an entire garden of potent performances in Iris, but due to Richard Eyre's spotty direction and an overly slight screenplay, this true account of acclaimed Irish-born novelist Iris Murdoch never comes into full bloom. Based on memoirs by Murdoch's professor husband, John Bayley, Iris chronicles both the final years in the author's life - during which time she was struck with debilitating Alzheimer's - and her earlier years as a free-spirited libertarian who enraptured the young Bayley. Oscar-nominees Judi Dench and Kate Winslet give their all as Murdoch in the two stages of her life and, as Bayley, Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge) and young look-alike Hugh Bonneville are even better. As strong as the actors are, however, Iris still comes across as a rather minor affair. In bypassing the entire midsection of Murdoch's life and her marriage to Bayley before illness hit, the film fails to really depict the impact of disease on an academic mind (for that, see Emma Thompson in Wit) and Eyre, the former artistic director of Britain's Royal National Theatre, uses a jarring approach to structure, often flipping from one time frame to the next just as the viewer gets comfortable with a running thread. (top) (back)

IRON MONKEY - B+
Starring:
Donnie Yen, Yu Rong Guang, Jean Wang, Tsang Sze-Man, James Wong, Yuen Shun-Yee, Yan Yee Kwan
Directed by:
Yuen Woo Ping
Action, 85
min (14A) (Miramax, 1993/2001)


Long before he taught Keanu Reeves to dodge bullets in The Matrix and Zhang Ziyi to zing through the air in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, choreographer Yuen Woo Ping directed this 1993 acrobatic act, a thrilling Chinese-language picture that stands as a stunning example of its genre. Based on both factual and fictional folk heroes, Iron Monkey tells the Robin Hood-esque story of a village doctor in 19th-century China (Yu Rong Guang) who transforms himself into the mysterious title character at night, a cloaked figure that steals from the corrupt government and gives to the poor with the aid of his lovely assistant (Jean Wang). Before long, real-life hero Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) is on the monkey's trail, the safety of his real-life son Wong Fei-Hung (Tsang Sze-Man) at stake. Like most films in its genre, Iron Monkey has an unapologetically formulaic plot and goofy comedic elements, but Yuen stages everything from the bountiful action sequences to quiet moments in the kitchen with an inventive and breathtaking grace, and the central four performers are more nimble, visually stunning and elegant on their feet than one would ever hope for from a Western action star (or even a Hong Kong-style Hollywood picture).
(top) (back)

All reviews by Mike Boon.  

Looking for more? Visit Recent Video Releases, Recommended Releases or the following Archived Video sections: Aa-Am, An-Az, Ba-Be, Bf-Bn, Bo-Bz, Ca-Ch, Ci-Cz, Da-Dn, Do-Dz, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, Ma-Mn, Mo-Mz, N, O, P-Q, Ra-Rh, Ri-Rz, Sa-Sg, Sh-Sl, Sm-Ss, St-Sz, Ta-Ti, Tj-Tz, U-V, W, X-Z