ARCHIVED REVIEWS (Sh-Sl)
Shadow of the Vampire
Shaft
Shallow Hal
Shanghai Knights
Shanghai Noon
Shipping News, the
Showtime
Shrek
Sidewalks of New York
Signs
Simone
Simpatico
6th Day, the
Sixth Sense, the

61*
Skulls, the
Slackers
Sleepy Hollow

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Archived Video Reviews (Sh - Sl)
 
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE - B
Starring:
John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Aden Gillett, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Udo Kier, Eddie Izzard, Ronan Vibert
Directed by:
E. Elias Merhige
Suspense, 93 min (14A) (Lions Gate, 2000)

An attempt to draw parallels between Hollywood and vampires, this quirky and bitingly amusing film springs from a wonderfully inspired idea about the true identity of actor Max Schreck, who played Count Orlock in the silent 1922 vampire film Nosferatu. In director E. Elias Merhige's version of this bite of film history, German expressionist director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) strived for such realism with Nosferatu that he actually went so far as to cast Schreck (Willem Dafoe), an actual member of the blood-thirsty undead, as the title character. It's a trippy, amusing premise and Merhige uses it for a dissection of the whole moviemaking industry, as lines between reality and fantasy blur, often leaving bodies (either figuratively or literally) in its wake. Shadow of the Vampire comes up short in terms of thrills, but there is no faulting the performances, especially the unrecognizable Dafoe, whose Oscar-nominated performance is an exciting combination of hunger, power and loneliness. (top) (back)

SHAFT - C+
Starring:
Samuel L. Jackson, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Vanessa Williams, Busta Rhymes, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Dan Hedaya
Directed by:
John Singleton
Action, 99 min
(14A) (Paramount, 2000)

Isaac Hayes' cool-cat theme still has attitude to burn and Samuel L. Jackson looks smashing in his Armani wardrobe, but the rest of John Singleton's update misses the mark in trying to capture the tone and image of the classic 1971 original. Much of this has to do with social changes of the last three decades - the sight of a black hero isn't nearly as novel, political correctness undermines the hero's sexual side - but the greater deal of the blame can be placed on the script. Jackson plays the original Shaft's nephew, an NYPD detective out to nab a Latin druglord (Jeffrey Wright) and a murderous rich boy (Christian Bale), and both Bale and Wright give performances that hit just the right tone of parody and venom. The screenplay, however, does nobody any favours, stuffing too many villains, stunted supporting players and lame twists into a rather rudimentary story. As a result, this Shaft doesn't so much excite as bore, a victim of contrivance and overfamiliarity. (top) (back)

SHALLOW HAL
- B-
Starring:
Jack Black, Gwyneth Patrow, Jason Alexander, Susan Ward, Joe Viterelli, Tony Robbins, Zen Cesner, Rene Kirby, Laura Kightlinger
Directed by: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Comedy, 114 min (PG) (20th Century Fox, 2001)


They may be best known for the comedic raunch of There's Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber, Me, Myself & Irene and Osmosis Jones, but Peter and Bobby Farrelly also have a softer side that fully comes into focus with Shallow Hal. The story of a womanizer who falls for an obese woman believing her to be a svelte supermodel-type, Shallow Hall could have easily stuck to fat jokes, but it instead balances its crass humour with a sweet message and marvelous comedic performance by Gwyneth Paltrow. Jack Black plays the title character, a superficial bachelor who is put under a trance by Tony Robbins that enables him to only see inner beauty. Because of this, he falls head over heels with Rosemary, a superplus-sized woman seen in Hal's eyes only as the rail-thin Paltrow. All too often, Shallow Hal's screenplay falls a little too far on the thin side, favouring spongy, predictable gags over sharp ones, and Black's High Fidelity energy has been diluted almost to the point of blandness. Nonetheless, enormous adoration must be given to Paltrow, who does a remarkable job of projecting Rosemary's patient dignity, sensitivity and levels of self-protection against being hurt. She's the heart of Shallow Hal and her warmth is wonderful. (top) (back)

SHANGHAI KNIGHTS - B
Starring: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Donnie Yen, Fann Wong, Aiden Gillen, Fan Man-Fong, Tom Fisher, Aaron Johnson, Gemma Jones
Directed by: David Dobkin
Comedy, 114 min (PG) (Touchstone, 2003)


Jackie Chan has essentially staked his American career on buddy action-comedies but though his Rush Hour pictures with Chris Tucker generate more press and box office bounty, Shanghai Knights proves once again that Chan's perfect comic foil is the quizzical Owen Wilson. A sequel to 2000's Shanghai Noon that improves upon the original with sharper gags and deft action, Knights sees Chan's Chinese Imperial Guard-turned-Western lawman play skillfully off Wilson's second-rate outlaw as the duo travel to Victorian England to avenge the murder of Chan's father by a power-hungry madman bent of offing almost everyone in the Royal Family. Some of Shanghai Knights' comic touches feel strained - few more so than the unneeded Charlie Chaplin allusion - but high-spirited moments like Chan's Singing in the Rain-inspired battle sequence act as rousing compensation. Director David Dobkin (1998's Clay Pigeons) has an even lighter touch than the original's Tom Dey, fitting for a story that crams in everything from high-kicking romance to Jack the Ripper to a climatic Big Ben battle to Iron Monkey's Donnie Yen. Holding it all together are Chan and Wilson, clearly enjoying each other and inviting us along for the ride. (top) (back)

SHANGHAI NOON - B
Starring:
Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Lui, Rafael Baez, Roger Yuan, Curtis Armstrong, Xander Berkeley, Brandon Merrill
Directed by:
Tom Dey
Comedy, 110 min
(PG) (Touchstone, 2000)

Jackie Chan delivers all the expected laughs and stunts in his second major Hollywood picture (his first was the underwhelming Rush Hour), but the real draw of this western comedy is Chan's costar, Owen Wilson. The sometime actor (The Haunting, The Minus Man) and sometime screenwriter (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket) brings a wonderfully low-key charm to the proceedings, effectively transforming Shanghai Noon into something that's hard to come by these days - a buddy comedy that's genuinely fun to watch. Chan plays Chon Wang (say it out loud), a 19th-century imperial guard who travels to the American Wild West to rescue a kidnapped Chinese princess (Ally McBeal's Lucy Liu) and winds up partnering with a wannabe outlaw (Wilson). The two actors ignite a goofy comic spark in one another and, though he lets the film run at least 20 minutes two long, director Tom Dey shows an appropriately light touch. (top) (back)

THE SHIPPING NEWS - C+
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Scott Glenn, Pete Postlethwaite, Rhys Ifans, Jason Behr, Gordon Pinsent
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Drama, 111 min
(14A) (Miramax, 2001)

When Kevin Spacey plays the smartest man in the room - be it the narrator in The Usual Suspects, the killer in Seven or even the "spaceman" in K-Pax, - he can be a complex and invigorating performer. It's when he aims for the mediocre that his work falls apart and in The Shipping News, much as in Pay It Forward, his attempts at average-man sincerity strip him of charisma, leaving only an unconvincing and bland schlump. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx and marking the first Lasse Hallstrom picture in three years to not get a Best Picture Oscar nod (the others being The Cider House Rules and Chocolat), The Shipping News casts Spacey as Quoyle, a loser whose wife (Cate Blanchett) runs off on him and who moves back to Newfoundland with his aunt (Judi Dench) to reconnect with his roots. Thankfully, Hallstrom douses everything in only a smattering of Chocolat's sugar, Julianne Moore is touching as Quoyle's love interest and, as usual, Dench steals every scene she's in, consistently fighting the stark Newfoundland scenery for the viewer's attention. Despite some surprising developments and revealed secrets though, the drama here - not to mention Spacey's performance - is awfully thin. (top) (back)

SHOWTIME
- C
Starring:
Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, Pedro Damian, Drea De Niro, William Shatner, Frankie Faison, Mos Def
Directed by: Tom Dey
Comedy, 95 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2002)


The thoroughly mediocre Showtime is a casebook study of what happens when a film is all set-up and no follow-through. No doubt pitched as a 48 HRS-meets-Meet the Parents comedy that aims to both satirize and cash in on the reality TV craze, Showtime gets so caught up in its initial premise that the storyline and characters have virtually nowhere to turn, effectively draining all of the thrills and most of the laughs out of the enterprise. In one of many parallels to 15 Minutes, here Robert De Niro plays yet another disgruntled detective, only this time his character is unwillingly partnered with a fellow officer/wannabe actor (Eddie Murphy) for a reality cop series (think a Lethal Weapon-style COPS). In one of the film's funniest segments, William Shatner shows up to parody his T.J. Hooker past, but Rene Russo is poorly cast as the show's producer and, all too often, it seems like De Niro and Murphy are just going through the motions. Worse, director Tom Dey (who found much better buddy movie success with Shanghai Noon) almost couldn't care less about the crime the partners are currently working on (some nonsense about a super-powerful gun), leaving the picture with virtually no driving momentum or worthwhile suspense. (top) (back)

SHREK - A-
Starring:
The voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassel, Conrad Vernon, Linda Hunt
Directed by:
Andrew Adamson, Victoria Jenson
Comedy, 93 min
(G) (Dreamworks, 2001)

Take everything you know about fairy tales, turn it inside out and twist it around and you still won't have a glimpse of the inspiration and wonderful sense of invention that went into this monstrously entertaining computer animated tale. Designed as both a tribute and satire of classic Disney films and fairy tale staples, this Oscar-nominee focuses on the title character, an ugly green ogre (charmingly voiced by Mike Myers) who wants nothing more than to be left alone. Unfortunately, the evil Lord Farquaard (John Lithgow) has banished all fantasy characters to Shrek's swamp and the only way to get rid of them is for Shrek to team up with a wisecracking donkey named Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and rescue a princess (Cameron Diaz) held captive by a dragon. Like A Bug's Life, Antz and the Toy Story films, Shrek looks magnificent, glowing with bright colours and flawless detail, and it takes full advantage of the all-star cast, with Diaz making for a feisty heroine even in animated form and Murphy stealing every scene with his refusal to keep quiet. Even more so than those other films, however, Shrek takes its kid-friendly story and jokes to a whole new level, resulting in truly magical entertainment that will undoubtedly appeal to parents as much as young ones. (top)

SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK -
C+
Starring: Edward Burns, Heather Graham, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Stanley Tucci, David Krumholtz, Dennis Farina, Aida Turturro
Directed by:
Edward Burns

Comedy, 108 min (14A) (Paramount, 2001)


Having seemingly exhausted his own voice on relationships and family with The Brothers McMullen (1995) and various copycat follow-ups like She's the One (1996) and No Looking Back (1998), Edward Burns now seems eager to enter Woody Allen territory with Sidewalks of New York, an overly familiar and unenlightening ensemble drama that bares more than a small debt to the work of the Woodman. Burns leads the cast as Tommy, an infotainment TV producer who has recently started seeing a schoolteacher (Rosario Dawson) whose ex-husband (The Mexican's David Krumholtz) is now pursuing a cute waitress (Brittany Murphy) who is having an affair with a sleazy married man (Stanley Tucci) whose wife (Heather Graham) is Tommy's real-estate agent. The lives of these intertwined New Yorkers are tracked with the use handheld camera confessions straight out of Husbands and Wives (1992), but despite the genuine appeal of some of his actors (particularly Murphy, Graham and Krumholtz) and the shrewdness of others (Tucci and Dennis Farina as an aging Lothario), Burns' screenplay feels shallow and forced, rooted more in Allen-esque mechanics than real feeling or emotion. At least the pre-9/11 New York backgrounds are lovely. (top) (back)

SIGNS -
B
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Showalter
Directed by:
M. Night Shyamalan

Suspense, 106 min (PG) (Touchstone, 2002)


Except perhaps when it comes to box office haul, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan seems to favour thinking small. After, even when he is dealing with an oversize theme like death (The Sixth Sense) or superheroes (Unbreakable), Shyamalan tends to take a more intimate approach to story. Signs, the filmmaker's latest exploration of faith and family, is no exception, a risky but rewarding film that bares a slight resemblance to an alien invasion blockbuster like Independence Day (1996) but opts out of big thrills to focus on a single family dealing with the threat. Signs stars Mel Gibson as Graham Hess, a father of two and former reverend who lost his belief in a higher being following the death of his wife. Tragedy looms large when crop circles appear in Graham's corn fields and, unlike the circles we've all come to treat as a hoax, these one appear to be an intergalactic signal of some sort, particularly so once strange occurrences start happening across the planet. As Signs proceeds, Shyamalan coaxes a compelling performance from Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix (as his brother), smoothly building suspense and playing with our sense of anticipation. If the conclusion feels overly diagrammed and explanatory, the build-up is palatable. (top) (back)

SIMONE -
C+
Starring: Al Pacino, Rachel Roberts, Catherine Keener, Elias Koteas, Winona Ryder, Evan Rachel Wood, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jay Mohr
Directed by:
Andrew Niccol

Comedy, 117 min (14A) (New Line, 2002)


Having already explored the concept of manipulated reality as screenwriter of The Truman Show (1998) and writer-director of Gattaca (1997), Andrew Niccol continues his theses with the media satire Simone, even if the result could only dream of being as sincere and magical as Truman was. In Simone, Al Pacino takes an uncharacteristically comic turn as Viktor Taransky, an arty, in-the-dumps Hollywood director whose latest project is put on indefinite hold - leaving him without a contract - when his spoiled leading lady (Winona Ryder) walks off the set. Frustrated with the movie star game, Taransky decides to change the equation, casting a computer-generated starlet (played by Canadian model Rachel Roberts) in his picture and passing her off as a flesh-and-blood performer. Thanks to a strong supporting cast, it is rarely dull watching Taransky wind the gears of his trickery, fooling everyone from his ex-wife studio executive (Catherine Keener) to a tabloid reporter (Pruitt Taylor Vince) to the worldwide movie audience, but Niccol's story ultimately gets away from him, with several Microsoft-sized plot improbabilities and worn-down Wag the Dog-style satire that doesn't provide nearly enough variety or bite. (top) (back)

SIMPATICO - C-
Starring:
Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone, Catherine Keener, Albert Finney, Shawn Hatosy, Kimberly Williams, Liam Waite
Directed by:
Matthew Warchus
Drama, 112 min
(14A) (Fine Line, 2000)

Based on Sam Shepard's 1994 play, this high-strung and overwrought tale is so poorly put together that none of the characters seem to exist in the same universe. In one world, there's Jeff Bridges wasting his time as a wealthy horse breeder. In other, there's Sharon Stone, playing Bridges' wife as though she was starring in a gaudy Southern soap opera. Then there's Nick Nolte, who apparently raided his old Down and Out in Beverly Hills closet to play a Los Angeles loser still fraught with anguish over a horse racing scheme from 20 years ago. Let's not forget Albert Finney, who provides the film's only adequate performance as a once blackmailed horse official, and Catherine Keener, who was thrown into this mess for who knows what reason as a nice supermarket clerk. Perhaps all the showy dramatics in Simpatico were symbolic and affecting on the stage, but what comes through here is nothing but nonsense. (top) (back)

THE 6TH DAY - C+
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Duvall, Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rapaport, Wendy Crewson, Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter
Directed by:
Roger Spottiswoode
Action, 124 min
(14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

At its best when having fun with the technological advances of the near future (fridges that order their own food, cars that drive themselves) and at its worst when making pace-deadening speeches about the dangers of playing God, The 6th Day is standard Arnold Schwarzenegger fare all the way. The action star plays Adam Gibson, a daredevil helicopter pilot and family man who returns home to find that his clone has replaced him and some merciless killers (many of whom are clones themselves) are trying to kill him. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), The 6th Day has crisp action scenes and some inventive touches but, like the superior Demolition Man before it, the film eventually succumbs to overblown futuristic action film clichés. Worse, the outsize personality of Schwarzenegger is much too big for rest of the film, never once making us believe that this average family is anything less than an invincible action hero with a plethora of lame one-liners. (top) (back)

THE SIXTH SENSE - B+
Starring:
Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Glenn Fitzgerald
Directed by:
M. Night Shyamalan
Suspense, 107 min
(14A) (Hollywood, 1999)

You don't need a sixth sense to know that M. Night Shyamalan, the writer-director of this expertly handled, Oscar-nominated ghost story, is a talent to watch. Baring a resemblance to the Bruce Willis dud Mercury Rising on surface only, this quiet psychological puzzle casts Willis as an emotionally distant child psychologist whose latest patient, a disturbed 11-year-old boy (Oscar-nominee Haley Joel Osment), is tormented by ghostly spirits (or, as he puts it, "I see dead people"). Willis is nicely modulated and there's strong emotional support from Toni Collette as the boy's single mother, but the real stars here are Osment and Shyamalan. Osment, who previously spoke to invisible people in the Whoopi Goldberg comedy Bogus, avoids the case of cutes that affects most young actors and, as a result, gives a haunting and thoughtful performance. Shymalan's feat is even more stunning, expertly pulling off the delicate nuances of the story and slapping the audience with one of the best surprise endings in recent history. (top) (back)

61* - B
Starring:
Barry Pepper, Thomas Jane, Richard Masur, Bruce McGill, Jennifer Crystal Foley, Chris Bauer, Christopher McDonald
Directed by:
Billy Crystal
Drama, 128 min (PG) (HBO, 2001)


Aside from being a successful actor and stand-up comedian, Billy Crystal is a real baseball fan and it is a fan's sensibility that he brings to 61*. Crammed to the bleachers with nostalgia, period detail and old-fashioned charm, 61* tells the story of Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and Roger Maris (Barry Pepper), the New York Yankee legends who, during the 1961 season, made twin bids for Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. Problem was, America only loved one hero, fawning over the charismatic, womanizing Mantle and generally deriding Maris, a shy family man light on media-friendly personality. With 61*, Crystal sets out to redeem Maris' reputation along with shedding light on the relationship between the M & M boys. Both competitive and protective of one another, Maris and Mantle were hardly the bickering foes the press made them out to be and the performances here courtesy of Jane (Deep Blue Sea) and Pepper (Battlefield Earth) are exemplary when it comes to establishing their counterparts' complex personalities and relationship. It would have been nice had Crystal downplayed the maudlin score and avoided the sentimental Saving Private Ryan-esque flashback bookends but, aside from a few fouls, this is a winning game. (top) (back)

THE SKULLS - C-
Starring: Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker, Hill Harper, Leslie Bibb, William Peterson, Craig T. Nelson
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Thriller, 107 min
(14A) (Universal, 2000)

Canadian kid Joshua Jackson steps away from the melodrama of Dawson’s Creek to take his first starring role in this laughable Ivy League thriller. He plays Luke, a bright college student who is chosen to be a member of a secret society only to discover that the organization may have played a role in his roommate’s death. The Skulls aspires to be a fresh-faced teen version of The Firm, but, unfortunately, it is simply too far-fetched and overheated to warrant such a comparison. Director Rob Cohen (Daylight) makes a crucial mistake by not realizing just how boneheaded the story is and, instead of allowing it to stand as good dumb entertainment, he treats it all with cold-faced seriousness. On the plus side, Jackson has chemistry with Leslie Bibb (TV’s Popular), who plays his girlfriend. Too bad his regular guy charms are lost here, leaving the film to hobble its way to the ludicrous climax (featuring nothing less than a good old-fashioned duel). (top) (back)

SLACKERS - D+
Starring:
Jason Schwartzman, Devon Sawa, James King, Jason Segel, Laura Prepon, Michael C. Maronna, Mamie Van Doren, Cameron Diaz
Directed by:
Dewey Nicks
Comedy, 86 min (14A) (Screen Gems, 2002)


It's hardly a good thing when one spends an entire movie trying to find more than one likeable character, but that is exactly what is called for with Slackers, a bottom-of-the-barrel teen comedy more Freddy Got Fingered than American Pie 2. Jason Schwartzman may have earned a lot of goodwill from the delightful Rushmore, but he smears it all over the bottom of his shoe here with a forcefully creepy and unfunny performance as "Cool Ethan," a college nobody infatuated with the beautiful Angela (James King). Ethan blackmails a group of cheaters (led by Final Destination's Devon Sawa) in an effort to win her affections and, for some insane reason, director Dewey Nicks feels that this storyline calls for penis puppetry, the naked breasts of aging '50s movie siren Mamie Van Doren and an embarrassing performance by That '70s Show's Laura Prepon as Angela's slutty roommate. On the plus side, King does show some fresh-faced appeal (the model-turned-actress last appeared in Pearl Harbor), but the hopelessly inept screenplay has her character playing off nothing more than a bunch of losers. Oh well, what do you expect from a film that, considering the lengths that these people go to cheat, doesn't even stay true to its own title? (top) (back)

SLEEPY HOLLOW - B
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Walken
Directed by: Tim Burton
Suspense, 105 min
(14A) (Paramount, 1999)

This adaptation of Washington Irving's 1819 Headless Horseman story stands as an entertaining reminder that offbeat actor Johnny Depp and eccentric director Tim Burton are a match made in movie-making heaven. In Sleepy Hollow, which ranks as Depp and Burton's third collaboration (after Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood), the oddball duo's styles perfectly complement each other, with Burton telling the tale of Ichabod Crane (Depp), a detective in 1799 America who has been sent to investigate a sleepy village tormented by a black, decapitated knight. Aside from the excess violence, Burton's visual style meshes wonderfully with the darkly humourous material and he makes great use of Depp, who gives a charming performance as a hero more inclined to faint than fight. Sleepy Hollow may be inferior to previous Depp-Burton pairings (the central mystery is lukewarm and Christina Ricci is bland as the love interest), but it is never less than amusing. (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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