Under Suspicion
Undercover Brother
Up at the Villa
Urban Legends: Final Cut
Vanilla Sky
Vertical Limit
View From the Top
Virgin Suicides, the

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Archived Video Reviews (U-V)

U-571 - B
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Bill Paxton, Jon Bon Jovi, David Keith, Jake Weber, Matthew Settle, Terrence "T.C" Carson
Directed by: Jonathon Mostow
Action, 117
min (PG) (Universal, 2000)

He has only two major pictures under his belt, but writer-director Jonathon Mostow is already making waves as a genre wizard. Mostow's last picture, 1997's taut road thriller Breakdown, succeeded because he took overly familiar situations and turned them upside down. He does the same thing with U-571, taking what could have been a hoary Das Boot rip-off and infusing it with inventive close calls and nail-biting suspense. Matthew McConaughey headlines the cast as Lieutenant Tyler, a WWII submarine officer who leads his men on a top secret mission to steal an encryption device from a stranded German sub. As the film goes on, the marines must survive increasingly severe situations and Mostow uses the simple concept of a submarine - basically a sardine can in a giant bathtub - for full dramatic effect. Sure, Mostow could have spent some more time developing Tyler's men, but the film is so involving it offers little time to complain. (top) (back)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Charlayne Woodard, Spencer Treat Clark, James Handry
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Suspense, 107
min (PG) (Touchstone, 2000)

The fact that Unbreakable stands as writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up to The Sixth Sense is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, Shyamalan has established himself as quite the storyteller, a master at bringing credibility and weight to out-there genres (the ghost story with Sixth Sense, superheroes here). Problem is, The Sixth Sense was so well liked that people couldn't help but have overwhelming expectations for Unbreakable and, unsurprisingly, the film falls short. Seen on its own terms, Unbreakable is a morose but involving thriller, the story of a withdrawn security guard (Bruce Willis) who escaped a fatal train crash without a scratch and has drawn the attentions of a comic book collector (Samuel L. Jackson) with extremely fragile bones. As Willis' character struggles to find the meaning of his accident, the pieces of Unbreakable delicately come into place and, though Shyamalan might want to stop taking things so seriously, one can't help but be fascinated by the film all the same. (top) (back)

Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Monica Bellucci, Miguel A. Suarez, Nydia Caro, Luis Caballero
Directed by:
Stephen Hopkins
Suspense, 110
min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

It's hardly a surprise that Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman are the executive producers of Under Suspicion. After all, where else are these two fine character actors going to find meaty lead roles that allow them to chew on the scenery for a couple of hours? Based on the 1981 French film Garde a Vue, the film casts Hackman as Henry Hearst, a filthy rich lawyer living in Puerto Rico that Freeman's cop believes may be to blame for the rape and murder of two young girls. The entire film takes place during one night, with Hackman and Freeman taking turns barking at each other and their characters trying desperately to avoid being backed into a corner. Because they are such masterful actors, Hackman and Freeman are riveting to watch and the film's climax is especially powerful. It's a shame, however, that director Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space) is unable to jazz up the film's stagey and ponderous structure beyond gimmicky camerawork and padded out flashbacks. (top) (back)

Starring: Eddie Griffin, Aunjanue Ellis, Denise Richards, Dave Chappelle, Chris Kattan, Chi McBride, Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
Comedy, 83 min (PG) (Universal, 2002)

Undercover Brother fancies itself as an African-American Austin Powers and, in this case, the comparison works in Brother's favour. Baring more than a slight resemblance to Austin Powers in Goldmember in terms of tone, story and approach, Undercover Brother makes its mark as the more inventive of the two pictures and, in many ways, is the comedy that the disappointing Goldmember should have been. Based on an animated Internet series, Undercover Brother stars Eddie Griffin as the title character, a stuck-in-the-'70s, Afro-sportin', flashy jumpsuit-lovin' crime fighter who hooks up with an underground organization to fight for the African-American way. His first assignment is stop The Man and his henchman, Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan), from whitewashing influential black Americans, all the while avoiding the allure of the villainous White She Devil (Barbie-esque Denise Richards). Drawing almost all of its laughs from black and white stereotypes, Undercover Brother occasionally loses some of its groove with dry and repetitive patches, but its attitude is infectious and there are strong supporting turns from Dave Chappelle as an agent known as Conspiracy Brother and Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris, as a hopelessly white intern. (top) (back)

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Falk, Fisher Stevens, Michael Rooker, Wes Studi, Jon Seda, Ed Lover, Master P
Directed by: Walter Hill
Drama, 89 min (14A) (Miramax, 2002)

The testosterone spits off the screen in Walter Hill's Undisputed, an entertaining-on-its-own-terms prison-set boxing drama that may not score a knockout, but benefits from some heavyweight performances. Ving Rhames plays George "Iceman" Chambers, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world who has been sent to prison after being found guilty of rape (sound familiar?) and Wesley Snipes is Monroe Hutchen, a former boxing prospect who was put in lockdown 10 years earlier for murder and has been the prison's boxing champion since then. It is only a matter of time before these two - their egos butting like rams for a girl - step into the ring, but Hill smartly doesn't stack the deck too much in favour of one over the other and the two actors step into the ring with intense polish (Snipes) and commanding bravado (Rhames). There is some solid secondary work from the likes of Wes Studi (as the Iceman's cellmate) and Michael Rooker (as the head guard) and Hill's hip-hop slick camerawork keeps the pace moving with a volatile briskness, but the screenplay risks becoming a parody of itself with the inclusion of Peter Falk as an aging mobster caricature who desperately wants to see one "champeen" fight the other. (top) (back)

Starring: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Olivier Martinez, Erik Per Sullivan, Myra Taylor, Erich Anderson, Zelijko Ivanek, Chad Lowe
Directed by: Adrian Lyne
Drama, 124 min (14A) (20th Century Fox, 2002)

Since his career has been marked by lust-fuelled dramas like 9 Weeks (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987), Indecent Proposal (1993) and Lolita (1998), there are certain elements that one has come to expect from director Adrian Lyne, be it passionate sex scenes set in public places, moments of jealousy-clouded judgment or characters that mistakenly toss aside domestic bliss for a moment of hunger. The surprise of Unfaithful isn't that such elements have been dropped (they haven't), but that Lyne has put a spin on these staples to make them even more rooted in reality - and, by extension, real emotions - than any of his previous efforts. Based on the French film La Femme Infidele, Unfaithful presents the story of a happily married mother (Diane Lane) who has no real reason to stray from her loving husband (Richard Gere) with a French stud (Olivier Martinez) and, as a result, the affair takes on compelling directions of guilt, conscience and pure sexual desire, all of it exquisitely captured by the luminous Lane (whose last great performance was an adulteress in 1998's A Walk on the Moon). Once the affair comes to light, it is Gere's understated performance that primarily fuels the film and, even though it is ultimately a little uneven, Unfaithful keeps you hooked. (top) (back)

- C+
Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, Jeremy Davies, James Fox, Derek Jacobi, Massimo Ghini
Directed by: Philip Haas
Drama, 115 min (14A) (USA Films, 2000)

Will Kristin Scott Thomas ever strike up romantic chemistry with an actor other than Ralph Fiennes? Ever since she came to prominence as Fiennes' lover in The English Patient (1996), Scott Thomas has seemed to have her Thermostat on permanent cool, never warming under the gaze of people like Robert Redford (The Horse Whisperer) or Harrison Ford (Random Hearts). Here the object of her affections is supposed to be Sean Penn, but even an actor as riveting as Penn barely gets more sexual electricity out of Scott Thomas than an elastic band. Mannered and remote, Up at the Villa casts Scott Thomas as a widow living in pre-WWII Florence who, though wooed by an older diplomat (James Fox), is tempted by a wealthy American (Penn) and a grungy refugee (Jeremy Davies). Director Philip Haas (who also worked with Scott Thomas on 1995's Angels and Insects) frames this adaptation of W.Somerset Maugham's novel with gorgeous scenery, but he never establishes a set tone and it all just seems far too familiar. (top) (back)

Starring: Jennifer Morrison, Hart Bochner, Joseph Lawrence, Anthony Anderson, Loretta Devine, Jessica Cauffiel, Michael Bacall
Directed by: John Ottman
Horror, 98
min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

If you thought Scream-wannabes couldn't get much worse than 1998's anemic Urban Legend, check out this bloody mess of a sequel to see how ugly things can really get. With the exception of Loretta Devine, who returns as a security guard, everyone associated with the original film is nowhere to be seen here, either because a) their characters were killed off or b) they wanted nothing to do with this muck. Because of this, Final Cut shares only the thinnest connections to the original film, instead stealing the film-within-a-film aspect of the Scream sequels and never realizing that it has no idea what to do with it. Jennifer Morrison, Joseph Lawrence and Hart Bochner are among the nubile victims this time, all of them playing film school students working on a picture about urban legends whose crew and classmates are mysteriously disappearing and/or being brutally murdered. As the students meet one gruesome death after another, there's nary an iota of wit or invention to be found. (top) (back)

David Boreanaz, Denise Richards, Marley Shelton, Katherine Heigl, Jessica Capshaw, Jessica Cauffield, Lauren Lee Smith
Directed by:
Jamie Blanks
Horror. 96 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2001)

Assume for a second that your friends are all getting murdered and that you have just received a Valentine's Day card containing a threatening line about needing dental records to identify you. Do you a) panic and go tell the cops, or b) slouch it off and go on with your business, especially if it involves a creepy new man in your life. If you chose the second option then congratulations, you have earned your place alongside the morons in Valentine, a scare-less slasher film about a group of snotty young women (led by Denise Richards and Sugar & Spice's Marley Shelton) who are being terrorized by the little dork they all teased in junior high. All throughout Valentine, Urban Legend director Jamie Blanks repeatedly fires blanks when it comes to surprises and suspense, and the screenplay makes the mistake of treating everyone on screen as nothing more than pretty bodies with a handful of brain cells among them. As it would be said in a card: "Roses are red. Violets are blue. Avoid Valentine if you know what is good for you." (top) (back)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Tilda Swinton, Noah Taylor, Timothy Spall, Alicia Witt
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Drama, 135 min
(14A) (Paramount, 2001)

Any joint effort between Tom Cruise and his Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe cannot be easily dismissed, but Vanilla Sky, a half-realized remake of the 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes (by The Others director Alejandro Amenabar) makes it pretty darn tempting. A jumble of sci-fi, fantasy, romance and ego, Vanilla Sky casts Cruise as David Aames, a Manhattan playboy and Maxim-style magazine publisher whose harsh rift with his cute casual-sex buddy (Cameron Diaz) - just as his romance with an aspiring dancer (Penelope Cruz) begins taking off - leaves him questioning who he is and what life really means. It's pretty heady stuff but, though there are some strong scenes here (a deserted Times Square, an affecting final sequence), all the psychoanalysis and mind games never really add up to much and it is difficult to feel a lot of sympathy for a spoiled brat like David. Crowe, who last directed the sweet and wonderful Almost Famous, draws a tasty and malicious performance out of Diaz and, even when the story meanders, the film has an undeniable what-the-heck-is-going-on hook. Had the over-explanatory screenplay not answered all of its questions before it had the chance to ask them, Vanilla Sky may have actually meant something. (top) (back)

Starring: Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, Izabella Scorupco, Nicholas Lea, Temeura Morrison, Sidding El Fadil
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Suspense, 124
min (PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

It takes quite the movie to make one yearn for the intelligence and sophistication of Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger, but Vertical Limit, unfortunately, is such a movie. Puppy dog Chris O'Donnell headlines this logic-defying, character-impaired adventure as Peter Garrett, a former world-class climber who hung up his axe following the death of his father, but now has to rush 26,000 ft above sea level to rescue his sister (Robin Tunney) who fell into a crevasse on K2. Director Martin Campbell previously flexed his action muscles with The Mask of Zorro and GoldenEye and his opening scene is a doozy, as several climbers fall down a cliff, knocking one another down in the process. For the rest of the film, however, Campbell comes up drastically short, all too often piling on layer after layer of standard thriller bombast (massive fireballs, revenge fantasies, trite villainy, a nothing romance) when a moderate amount of awe-inspiring visuals and realistic dangers would have taken the picture to far greater heights. (top) (back)

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Christina Applegate, Candice Bergen, Marc Blucas, Mike Myers, Rob Lowe, Jon Polito, Kelly Preston
Directed by: Bruno Barreto
Comedy, 87 min (PG) (Miramax, 2003)

Like Shallow Hal (2001), View From the Top has clearly been designed to illustrate that Gwyneth Paltrow can step away from her Oscar-prestige to play a woman with less than a star's glow. In the case of View From the Top, that means that she is playing a modest young woman who snaps gum and grew up in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere. The problem with the film, however, is that director Bruno Barreto (1997's Four Days in September) is so overly eager to show Paltrow slumming it that he piles on the hoop earrings, big hair and leopard print mini-dresses with such overly broad strokes that it jars with Paltrow's generally sweet performance. Here the Shakespeare in Love star plays a dreamer whose fantasies see her flying the international skies as a stewardess, but the film's central conflict - should she follow her ambition and risk losing her love (embodied by You Can Count on Me's Mark Ruffalo) - seems dated and pedestrian (why can't she have both?). Mike Myers shows up as a cross-eyed flight attendant trainer and Candice Bergen is welcome as Paltrow's mentor, but this is such an awkward little film - the grating "colourful" comic tics rub roughly against the drab story - that neither of them should have bothered. (top) (back)

Starring: James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Scott Glenn, Hanna Hall, Chelsea Swain, AJ Cook, Danny DeVito
Directed by: Sophia Coppola
Drama, 97
min (14A) (Paramount Classics, 2000)

Sophia Coppola's performance in her father's Godfather, Part III may have been a major blemish in the Corleone history, but she proves to be a far better director than actor with this moody art piece. Set in the 1970s, The Virgin Suicides is all about an intoxicating mood of mystery, as Coppola reconstructs the lives of the five Lisbon sisters, beautiful blondes who had the neighbourhood boys bowing at their feet yet whose strict family life likely led to the suicides of every one of them. Based on a 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, the film practically begs for more character definition and insight (of the Lisbon sisters, only Kirsten Dunst's Lux really comes into focus), but Coppola delicately stages it as a somber daydream that is difficult to turn away from. Just as noteworthy is the bracing romance between Lux and one of the local jocks (Josh Hartnett), a relationship that rings so true one wishes it played a larger and more important role in the story. (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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