Yards, the

You Can Count on Me

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Archived Video Reviews (X-Z)

X-MEN - B-
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Directed by:
Bryan Singer
(PG) (20th Century Fox, 2000)

Bryan Singer's film adaptation of the 37-year-old Marvel Comics series The X-Men is visually stunning, packed with enough impressive effects, awesome action and directorial invention to outstretch a spandex suit. The film tells the story of a group of mutants led by the wheelchair-bound, telekinetic Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who must protect humanity from a group of evil mutants led by Ian McKellen's Magneto and Singer brings enough visual oomph to the proceedings to entertain. X-Men ultimately falls short of other comic book adaptations such as the first two Batmans and Superman II, however, because many of the characters are given little definition beyond their powers. Hugh Jackman is a real find as the darkly heroic Wolverine, Stewart brings a welcome crispness to the proceedings and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' evil, shape-shifting Mystique is fun, but the bulk of the other characters (Jean Grey, Storm, Cyclops, Toad…) just get lost in the razzle-dazzle. (top) (back)

Starring: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, Marton Csokas, Eve, Danny Trejo, Tom Everett, James Babson
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Action, 124 min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)

XXX has been programmed to be the ultimate spy movie for the Playstation generation but, truth be told, there are more thrills, laughs and entertaining characters in a game of Pac-Man than there are in all 124 minutes of XXX. Vin Diesel, an interesting actor in films like 2000's Boiler Room and Pitch Black who now seems destined to become this decade's answer to Sylvester Stallone, mumbles through XXX as Xavier Cage, a rebellious extreme-sports nut who is recruited by an NSA agent (Samuel L. Jackson) as a U.S. secret agent. His mission: To infiltrate a group of Russian anarchists based in Prague that is planning on releasing a weapon of mass destruction. His problem: A lunkheaded screenplay with dialogue that is pure cheese and a story far too conventional and bland to be disguised by thrashing rap-metal and a lead actor who seems to full of himself to actually give a performance (as Cage's love interest, Asia Argento just seems irritated). If that wasn't enough, director Rob Cohen (who worked with Diesel on the surprise hit The Fast and the Furious) overplays the big stunt sequences - snowboarding in front of an avalanche, zipping past explosions on a motorcycle - to the point of exhaustion. All in all, XXX adds up to little more than Zzz. (top) (back)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, James Caan, Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunaway, Steve Lawrence, Victor Argo
Directed by:
James Gray
(14A) (Miramax, 2000)

Early in The Yards, Mark Wahlberg, playing an ex-con who has recently been released from prison, says "You know I can't get into no trouble." But even if you've never seen The Godfather, Mean Streets, On the Waterfront, or any other New York City crime drama that The Yards rips off, it's pretty easy to predict where Wahlberg's character is headed: directly into trouble. Instead of accepting a straight job offer, Wahlberg hooks up with his childhood buddy (Joaquin Phoenix), the boyfriend of his cousin (Charlize Theron) and the bribe dispenser for the unscrupulous owner of a subway repair company (James Caan). Needless to say, things soon go wrong - very wrong - and this overworked drama takes all the expected turns before reaching its too-tidy conclusion. Considering the quality of the cast (Wahlberg has patented the tough-but-sweet persona, Phoenix makes for a nice lizard and Caan has fun as a big shot), it's a shame cowriter-director James Gray didn't take his story along any new tracks. (top) (back)

Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Tenney, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin
Directed by:
Kenneth Lonergan
(14A) (Paramount, 2000)

Considering the flash, style and bang of many of today's films, a quiet, dialogue-driven picture like You Can Count on Me comes across as something of a sweet surprise. Nowhere here are there any blunt visual gymnastics or even the hint of an inflated budget. Instead, this superb drama stands out from the crowd thanks to a masterful, honest screenplay by playwright Kenneth Lonergan and note-perfect performances all around. Laura Linney, who deserved her Best Actress Oscar nomination and possibly even the trophy itself, gives an amazingly natural performance as a small-town banker and single parent whose life takes on some new problems with the arrival of her charismatic drifter brother (the magnificent Mark Ruffalo). Writer-director Lonergan, whose previous credits include writing The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, does a lovely, delicate job of exploring the ties between adult siblings, presenting all of the emotions and characters with an ideal amount of heart, subtlety, gentle humour and intimacy.
(top) (back)

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, Jon Voight, David Duchovny, Vince Vaughn
Directed by:
Ben Stiller
Comedy (14A) (Paramount, 2001)

With very few exceptions (only the first Wayne's World comes to mind), Hollywood has shown us time and time again that it isn't easy to turn a five-minute sketch into a successful full-length film. Unfortunately, Ben Stiller learned that the hard way with this attempt to expand a spoof devised for the 1996 Vogue Fashion Awards into an 80-minute comedy that only intermittently establishes the laughs. Stiller (also serving as writer and director) plays Derek Zoolander, an empty-headed male supermodel too dense to realize he is a joke, too incompetent to be able to turn any direction besides right, and too clueless to realize he is being brainwashed by a foppish designer (Will Ferrell) into killing the prime minister of Malaysia for outlawing sweatshops. Also along for the ride are the droll Owen Wilson as Zoolander's competition, Jerry Stiller (Ben's father) as a corrupt fashion mogul, Christine Taylor (Ben's wife) as the love interest, and an assortment of celebrities making quick cameos (Winona Ryder, Billy Zane, Natalie Portman…), but though Stiller works hard at scurrying along all the caricatures and outlandish plot points, the belly-laughs are sporadic and, sadly, Zoolander never amounts to much more than a dim cinematic blonde joke. (top) (back)

All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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