Small Time Crooks
Snow Day
Snow Dogs
Snow Falling on Cedars
Someone Like You
Sorority Boys
Soul Survivors
Space Cowboys
Spirit: Stallion of the...
Spirited Away
Spy Game
Spy Kids
Spy Kids 2: The Island...

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Archived Video Reviews (Sm - Ss)

Starring: Woody Allen, Tracy Ullman, Hugh Grant, Elaine May, Jon Lovitz, Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow, Brian Markinson, Elaine Stritch
Directed by:
Woody Allen
Comedy, 95 min
(PG) (DreamWorks, 2000)

Woody Allen plays tribute to both his 1969 crime farce Take the Money and Run and TV's Honeymooners with this modestly amusing comedy. Allen casts himself (unfortunately, given his increasingly irritating mannerisms) as Ray Winkler, an inept bank robber whose latest scheme involves opening a cookie shop for his wife, Frenchy (Tracy Ullman), as a front for his plan to tunnel into the bank two doors down. Not surprisingly, his plan backfires, but Frenchy's cookie business takes off, launching them into the high class even though they have very little of it themselves. The themes in Small Time Crooks - money vs. happiness, celebrity vs. reality - are familiar sights in Woody-land, but the screenplay has enough laughs to ensure that you don't feel robbed yourself and there are strong supporting performances from comic chameleon Ullman, Elaine May as Frenchy's ditsy cousin and Hugh Grant, sending up his classy persona as an art dealer/scam artist. (top) (back)

Jason Stratham, Brad Pitt, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Jason Flemyng, Benicio Del Toro, Rade Serbedziga, Mike Reid, Alan Ford
Directed by:
Guy Ritchie
Comedy, 104 min (18A) (Columbia Tristar, 2001)

If it were considered a crime for a man to steal from himself, this violent, tough-guy comedy from director Guy Ritchie (aka Mr. Madonna) would be a good candidate for imprisonment. After all, Snatch doesn't so much bare a resemblance to Ritchie's last film, the enjoyably foul-mouthed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, as it does rip it off every step of the way. As before, Ritchie's film focuses on a bunch of colorful low-level crooks as they all stumble about trying to get rich while dodging bullets and each other (this time around, the focus is on a stolen diamond and crooked boxing). As before, Ritchie throws every music video trick he knows into the blender, tossing in an abundance of blood and coincidences in the hopes that whatever comes out will stick. As with Lock, Stock, Snatch is enjoyable on its own terms - a particular highlight is the wonderfully incoherent performance by Brad Pitt as a Gypsy - but is nonetheless the lesser film, thanks primarily to Ritchie's refusal to reach into a new bag of tricks. (top) (back)

Starring: Chevy Chase, Chris Elliot, Mark Webber, Jean Smart, Schuyler Fish, Pam Grier, Iggy Pop, Zena Grey, Emmanuelle Chriqui
Directed by:
Chris Koch
Family, 89 min
(PG) (Paramount, 2000)

Only in the movies could a snow day as eventful as the one in this Nickelodeon family film be more tepid than a two-hour math class. Chevy Chase, looking more desperate and bored with every consecutive picture, plays an unappreciated meteorologist whose eldest son (Mark Webber) chooses a snow-filled day without school to be the one where he wins his dream girl (Emmanuelle Chriqui). In the meantime, Chase's daughter (Zena Grey) tries to thwart the efforts of the dentally challenged Snowplowman (Chris Elliot) in order to successfully earn two snow days in a row. Filmed in the Calgary area in 1999, Snow Day is a tedious children's comedy that doesn't even have believable snow, let alone realistic characters, actors or storylines. The romantic angle of the film is numbingly predictable, Chase is doing little more than showing up for a paycheck, and any scenes in which little brats battle a severely awful-looking Elliot come across as second-rate Home Alone hijinks. Beware. (top) (back)

Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn, Sisqo, Joanna Bacalso, Graham Greene, Brian Doyle Murray, Nichelle Nichols
Directed by: Brian Levant
Comedy, 99 min (G) (Walt Disney, 2002)

It's never a sign of comedic smarts when animals start wearing sunglasses, so be forewarned that this is one of many low-inspiration touches in Snow Dogs, an obvious and gratingly hyperactive Mystery, Alaska-meets-Cool Runnings family picture. Cuba Gooding Jr., who was hopefully shown a lot of money for signing up here, gives a frantic and frighteningly over-the-top performance that makes his work in Rat Race seem subtle. The slumming Oscar-winner plays Ted Brooks, a Miami dentist who learns he was adopted after his birth mother dies and she wills him her pack of sled pooches. So it's off to Alaska for the beach-loving doc, where he hopes to make some money off of his new possessions and maybe learn a little more about himself. Of course, it is all just an only-in-the-movies set-up to get a fish out of water, with Ted going through all of the usual big city-to-small hamlet predicaments, finding love, freezing his butt off, repeatedly sliding on the ice and encountering a ornery Grinch you just know will eventually show his real heart (James Coburn). As directed by Brian Levant, there's desperation to the proceedings that has an unpleasant aftertaste and, though kids may enjoy these pups, most adults will agree that Snow Dogs is movie mush. (top) (back)

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Youki Kudoh, Max Von Sydow, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins, James Rebhorn, Sam Shepard, Eric Thahl
Directed by:
Scott Hicks
Drama, 128 min
(14A) (Universal, 1999)

In Snow Falling on Cedars, there's a lot of snow and a lot of cedars, all of it captured with a sumptuous beauty by cinematographer Robert Richardson. What the film doesn't have, however, is much in terms of compelling drama. As it turns out, director Scott Hicks, in his first film since 1996's Shine, has turned David Guterson's meditative novel into a ponderous, slow-moving drama about Japanese-American relations in the 1950s. Ethan Hawke, whose melancholy drone should never be employed in a film this quiet, plays Ishmael, a small-town journalist covering the trial of a local Japanese fisherman who has been accused of murder and who also happens to be the husband of Ishmael's old sweetheart (Youki Kudoh). The film, enveloped in a blank of snow so thick few emotions can peek out, wants to tug at the heartstrings with its story of race and love but, with the exception of Max Von Sydow's hammy turn as a lawyer, it's too low-key to be involving. (top) (back)

Starring: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Ulrich Tukur, Donna Kimball, John Cho, Morgan Rusler, Michael Ensign
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Drama, 99 min (PG) (Fox, 2002)

After the one-two-three-four punch of Ocean's Eleven (2001), Traffic (2000), Erin Brockovich (2000) and The Limey (1999), director Steve Soderbergh has every right to get a big head. That said, the goodwill he's generated thus far still isn't enough to make up for Solaris, a pompous and ponderous sci-fi drama that runs only 99 minutes but feels twice as long (particularly considering his last anemic effort, Full Frontal). Based on a Polish novel by Stanislaw Lem that was turned into a 1972 Russian movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris stars George Clooney as a psychologist in the near future who sets out for a distant space station in order to investigate the mental stress of its inhabitants (including a fidgety-to-the-point-of-exhaustion Jeremy Davies). When Clooney's character arrives, the place is virtually deserted, but he gets a surprise visitor in his wife (Natascha McElhone), despite the fact that he is still mourning her suicide. From here, Solaris turns into an isolating look at love, life and death through a string of flashbacks, dreams and moments of emotional panic. Unfortunately, it all adds up to surprisingly little, with Soderbergh obviously aiming for the tone of 2001, but coming up all cold, shiny, metallic and dramatically sealed. (top) (back)

Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman, Ellen Barkin, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Dent, Donna Hanover, Sabine Singh
Directed by:
Tony Goldwyn
Comedy, 97 min
(PG) (20th Century Fox, 2001)

Actor Tony Goldwyn (Bounce), who last directed Diane Lane to the best performance of her career in Walk on the Moon, takes several artistic steps backwards with this contrived romantic comedy, a Sex and the City-wannabe that pretty much defines the word "predictable." Ashley Judd, an engaging performer when given the right material, plays Jane, the talent booker for a Manhattan-based talk show who is hopelessly lost when it comes to matters of the heart. That is, until she gets hers broken by her show's executive producer (Greg Kinnear), becomes roommates with a womanizing friend (X-Men's Hugh Jackman), and formulates a theory comparing men to bulls and women to cows. Someone Like You attempts to make us believe that this theory becomes something of a national sensation, but it is all a bunch of only-in-the-movies nonsense and, though Jackman is a charmer, Judd doesn't have the same dazzling spark that makes someone like Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock so endearing in their romantic adventures. Goldwyn's fuzzy, soft-focused direction certainly isn't much help, placing far too much emphasis on wordless musical montages that suggest people falling in and out of love rather than showing how or why. (top)

Starring: Barry Watson, Michael Rosenbaum, Harland Williams, Melissa Sagemiller, Heather Matarazzo, Tony Denman, Bree Turner
Directed by: Wally Wolodarsky
Comedy, 94 min (14A) (Touchstone, 2002)

Imagine Tootsie: The College Years or The Bosom Buddies Movie and you'll know what to expect from Sorority Boys, a raunchy comedy that is a drag in all sense of the word. With an outlook on higher education life so unbelievable it makes National Lampoon's Van Wilder look like Wonder Boys, Sorority Boys stars Barry Watson (TV's 7th Heaven), Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) and the only-funny-in-very-small-doses Harland Williams as three popular fraternity brothers who, after being framed for stealing money from their friends, decide to slip into dresses and pledge loyalty to a sorority house for free room and board. For an understanding of Sorority Boys' complete lack of wit, it is worth noting that the party-hearty frat house here is Kappa Omega Kappa (or KOK) and the girl's house, home to the campus losers, is Delta Omicron Gamma (or DOG) and that anytime someone even mentions these names on screen, director Wally Wolodarsky seems to think it is hysterical (it isn't). Of the leading "ladies," Rosenbaum earns the few laughs, Watson seems more comfortable in a dress than in trying to romance the DOGhouse leader (Soul Survivors' Melissa Sagemiller) and the whiny Williams is definitely an acquired taste. (top) (back)
Starring: Melissa Sagemiller, Wes Bentley, Eliza Dushku, Casey Affleck, Luke Wilson, Angela Featherstone, Allen Hamilton
Directed by: Steve Carpenter
Horror, 85 min
(14A) (Artisan, 2001)

The video and DVD boxes of this abysmal picture promise "more blood, more sex, more terror" than the theatrical release, but what the filmmakers and studio should have really focused on is establishing more coherence, more depth and less random editing. Another stake in the coffin for recent teen idol-heavy horror pictures, Soul Survivors chronicles the story of a college freshman (Get Over It's Melissa Sagemiller) tormented by visions of her recently deceased boyfriend (Casey Affleck) and growing increasingly wary over the intentions of her two best friends (Wes Bentley and Eliza Dushku), both of whom were involved in the car crash that killed Affleck's character. Directed with about zero interest in structural integrity by Steve Carpenter, Soul Survivors opens with a random act of violence that makes no sense when linked with the rest of the story and it quickly goes downhill from there. The actors, many of whom have done better work elsewhere (Bentley in The Claim and American Beauty, Dushku in Bring It On and Jay and Silent Bob) are clearing slumming here and their remote performances do little to disguise this. Sagemiller really gives it her all but, considering the murky material, not much can - or does - come of it. (top) (back)

Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner, James Cromwell, Marcia Gay Harden, Loren Dean
Directed by:
Clint Eastwood
Drama, 130 min
(PG) (Warner Bros., 2000)

Clint Eastwood takes his dear old time getting this geezers-in-space epic off the ground, but once liftoff is accomplished, everything slips neatly into place. Of course, it certainly helps that Eastwood has surrounded himself with a group of veteran actors so accomplished, familiar and at ease in their roles they even manage to soften up Dirty Harry once and a while. The film casts Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner as four retirement-age aviation pioneers who, having been shorted of their chance to visit space back in their heyday, have now negotiated themselves onto a ship headed for a wayward Russian satellite. Together, the actors are all clearly having a blast and their charm goes a long way, particularly when it comes to the too leisurely paced scenes of the foursome preparing for takeoff. It's in space that Eastwood's direction matches the performances, effectively channeling the gentle comic aspects of the early scenes into a rousing and friendly sci-fi adventure. (top) (back)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Action, 121 min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)

It took years of legal wrangling to finally get Spider-Man to the screen, but in the end, the wait was worth it: thanks to advances in computer technology and playful direction from Sam Raimi, Spider-Man surpasses both the Superman and Batman franchises as a true comic book come to life. Tobey Maguire's voice occasionally seems a little too tentative coming from Spider-Man's mask, but the actor does a note-perfect interpretation of the hero's alter ego, Peter Parker. When the film begins, Parker is a shy high school photographer nursing a serious crush on girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst, with whom Maguire shares considerable chemistry) but after being bitten by a genetically altered spider, he develops into the web-slinging crusader we all know, swinging colourfully between skyscrapers and scampering up walls. Spider-Man's first archenemy is the mad-with-power Green Goblin and, unfortunately, this is where the film is a touch of a letdown. Though Willem Dafoe brings an appropriately snarly Jekyll and Hyde spin to the role, the character's mask is too restrictive for any dimension. As a result, the Green Goblin never seems to be more than a hammy retread of Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman (1989). (top) (back)

Voices: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi.
Directed by:
Lorna Cook, Kelly Ashbury

Animated, 82 min (G) (Dreamworks, 2002)

As anyone who has doodled a very ugly dog can tell you, it isn't easy to draw a horse, but the animators behind Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron have done a dazzling job of bringing equines to life thanks to skilled animation and a lush palette of colours. Even more amazingly, they have done so without the use of dialogue, skipping the talking animal approach of, say, Bambi or The Lion King and choosing to have the picture's four-legged animals speak primarily in neighs and grunts, with only sporadic voice-over narration by All the Pretty Horses' Matt Damon as the title animal, a wild mustang in the Old West who refuses to be tamed or corralled by the likes of army soldiers or railroad workers. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron wisely shows no need for standard-issue comic sidekicks or cutesy jokes, but it does dedicate far too much time to bland soft-rock tunes written and sung by Bryan Adams that almost make one yearn for the subtlety of the Canadian singer's mushy ballad from 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The galloping story - following Spirit as he is captured by humans and makes repeated attempts at finding freedom - is a little too square to appeal to all viewers, but horse lovers will eat it up like a mare with a fresh apple. (top) (back)

Daveigh Chase, Michael Chiklis, Jason Marsden, Susan Egan, Lauren Holly, David Ogden Stiers, Suzanne Pleshette
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Animated, 132 min (G) (Walt Disney, 2002)

Disney may have released a charming 1951 animated adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, but for a truly fantastic Lewis Carroll-inspired piece of art, look no further than Hayao Miyazaki's dazzling and memorable Spirited Away. An Oscar-winner for Best Animated Feature and the highest grossing film in the history of Japan, Spirited Away stands as Miyazaki's creative peak as it transports viewers of all ages to a magical and haunting world of spirits, bravery and heart unlike any ever seen before. Unlike, say, Miyazaki's beautiful 1999 effort Princess Mononoke (which was diminished by flat voice work), Spirited Away has been translated skillfully into English, telling the empowering story of Chihiro (Lilo & Stitch's Daveigh Chase), a mopey 10-year-old who gets trapped in the world of a bathhouse for the spirits after her father (Michael Chiklis) decides to explore some old ruins and, along with her mother (Lauren Holly), is turned into a pig. The universe that Chihiro soon becomes engulfed in is one of slime monsters, lonely ghosts, giant babies and good-and-bad twin witches (Suzanne Pleshette) and Miyazaki shapes all the dream-like visuals into an enrapturing, mysterious, gorgeous and inspiring coming-of-age story. (top) (back)

Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Kimberly Paige
Directed by: Tony Scott

Suspense, 127 min (14A) (Universal, 2001)

Robert Redford already directed Brad Pitt to a Robert Redford-esque performance in A River Runs Through It (1992), but in the crafty Spy Game, the passing of the torch from one movie-star hunk to another reaches a new level. Redford, far more compelling here than he was in the patriotically stoic The Last Castle, plays Nathan Muir, a 30-year veteran of the CIA who, on the verge of retirement in 1991, learns that a former protégé he recruited and trained (Pitt) has been captured by the Chinese and is to be executed within 24 hours. Without leaving CIA headquarters or tipping off his superiors (they plan on sacrificing Pitt for improved Sino-American business relations), Muir must somehow save the life of the younger agent. Structured with a series of flashbacks that illustrate the backgrounds behind the characters and how they got to where they are, there is a nimbleness and elegance to the proceedings that doesn't require the overly flashy visual flourishes of director Tony Scott (Enemy of the State). That said, there is a clear and satisfying grasp here on the CIA during a moment of transaction (the politicians are replacing the cowboys) and the two leads crackle with chemistry whenever they share the screen. (top) (back)

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alan Cumming, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Tony Shaloub, Danny Trejo
Directed by:
Robert Rodriguez
Comedy, 88 min (PG) (Miramax, 2001)

Desperado director Robert Rodriguez wrote, conceived, directed and designed this James Bond-meets-Willy Wonka adventure and, from its gee-whiz gadgetry to Playskool special effects, it is clear this is one filmmaker who clearly understands the wondrous imagination of a child. Rodriguez regular Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino play secret-agent parents who, lured back into the spy game, are kidnapped by an evil kiddie TV-show host (Alan Cumming). It is up to their preteen children (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) to save them, even if it means learning how to use rocket packs, submarines and aircraft while on the move. Say what you will about Rodriguez' script (I'll say it is packed with blueprint catchphrases and predictable twists), but the real draw here - and the one factor that makes Spy Kids so cool for the young ones - is the sense of joy and invention that Rodriguez crammed into the film's visuals. Looking like it sprung directly from the most wacky portion of his imagination, the film moves from one delightful character, set and gizmo to the next, with highlights including the robots made entirely out of thumbs, the Chocolate Factory-on-acid castle and the kind of inspired doodads the Inspector Gadget film was sorely lacking. (top) (back)

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alex Vega, Daryl Sabara, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Mike Judge, Matthew O'Leary
Directed by:
Robert Rodriguez

Comedy, 99 min (PG) (Dimension, 2002)

Having seemingly exhausted much of his imagination and sense of childlike wonder with the original Spy Kids, writer-director Robert Rodriguez (who also acts here as producer, editor, cinematographer, composer and production designer) now seems all too willing to let the gadgets and CGI wonders run the show, even if it is to the detriment of the screenplay and lasting entertainment. Spy parents Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino (who brought much of the charm to the original) here take a backseat to the adventures of their eager offspring, Carmen and Juni (Alex Vega and Daryl Sabara), now junior spies of their own right who are off to a Dr. Moreau-esque island of mutant animals and a nutty scientist (Steve Buscemi) to protect an electric thingamabob from falling into the wrong hands and from a pair of spotlight-stealing rival spies (Frailty's Matthew O'Leary and Haley Joel's sister, Emily Osment). Rodriguez was on to something when he expanded the generational scope of Kids to include the Cortez grandparents (a scene-stealing Richardo Montalban and Holland Taylor), but it is dispiriting to see a sequel to such an inventive film fall back on overly familiar gizmos and effects. Here's to hoping Spy Kids 3 taps into some new ideas. (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