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- Æon Flux - This empty sci-fi flick's listing on IMDB.com is loaded with glowing user endorsements, leading everyone else who has seen it to believe that either drugs were involved in forming these opinions, the Pod People took these users over or an army of undercover PR lackeys is spinning overtime. This cinematic equivalent of a bronzed cow pie, an unimaginative Logan's Run pretender set 400 years in the future after a global plague, stars Charlize Theron as a rebel trying to take down the corrupt government of Bregna, the only city on Earth. From the way-lazy back story title cards and opening narration to the silly costumes to the cartoonish action sequences to the awful deadpan performances, this should be called Peed-On, Sux. Maybe Theron's mother needed an operation or something, but this is a very bad and brainless example of sci-fi, a puffed-up issue movie that ultimately offers nothing but regret. Instead, check out creator Peter Chung's original, pre-anime craze animated MTV series, which was released on DVD late last year.
- Casanova - Reminding us why we loved Shakespeare In Love so much is Lasse Hallström's modest pretender about legendary stud Lord Giacomo Casanova, the insatiable 18th century Venetian jack-of-all-trades. Heath Ledger plays the dashing self-lover with great relish, matched with strength, sweetness and skill by Sienna Miller (best known as nanny-schtupper Jude Law's incredibly tolerant fiancée and Alfie co-star.) A funny script and a trio of comic performances by Jeremy Irons as the Vatican's very moral enforcer, stand-up Omid Djalili as Casanova's manservant and Oliver Platt as Casanova's unwitting benefactor make for a good time, even if its unjust R-rating keeps too much of its audience away.
- A psychosexual odyssey akin to 9 1/2
Weeks, writer-director Ann Lu manages to top it and Stanley
Kubrick's similar swan song, Eyes Wide
Shut with her story of a hurt pup sociopath (Emmanuel Xuereb)
who tempts an unhappily married yuppie (Charis Michelsen) into adultery,
breaking and entering and identity theft. Xuereb is scary, and while the bold Michelsen is a bit wooden and doesn't
quite find her groove, Lu's trip, overall, is an unsettling, calculated and ultimately cathartic one.
- Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children - Anyone not already immersed in the world (laid out in nearly two decades of video games) that this hyperkinetic CGI offering presents will be lost, even if they are dazzled by the photorealistic characters and plentiful action. At least the 2001 tanker Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within took the time to explain itself. This one, about a pandemic that ravages a planet, assumes that we are all hardcore gamers who are already at home in this world, as visually stunning as it may be. Relax, fanboys and Nipponiphiles - the original Japanese dialogue track is here, in addition to the American dub, which features Rachael Leigh Cook as bar owner/savior of sick orphans, Tifa (who also voiced her in the Disney-fied game Kingdom Hearts II.)
- Magic - Anyone who grew up with a fear of puppets may have 1978 thriller to blame. The cult favorite stars Anthony Hopkins as Corky, a mentally unstable ventriloquist whose charismatic dummy and alter ego, Fats, is out of his little wooden head when Corky's high school sweetheart, Peggy Anne (va-va-vixen Ann-Margret) comes back into his life. Nearly as memorable as the evil doll (who could out-think Chucky any day) is its tag line used so prominently in its ad campaign: "Abracadabra, I sit on his knee. Presto, change-o, and now he's me! Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed. Magic is fun...we're dead." Penned by master scribe William Goldman and directed by Richard Attenborough.
- Match Point - Woody Allen's latest -- a rare, straight-faced psycho-drama -- might have had far more of an impact if movies like Fatal Attraction or Play Misty For Me had never been made. It is about the souring of an affair between a former London tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and an unstable American actress (Scarlett Johansson), and were it not for its pedigree and the many critics inexplicably heaping praise upon it, it could pass as a made-for-cable offering. Actually, it is pretty slow, and Rhys-Meyers is shamefully boring. Beyond her drop-dead looks, Johansson is pretty unappealing, neither creating a convincing nut nor a tragic beauty. Allen is deep in film school obviousness here, between the allegorical tennis references to the operatic allusions to the half-assed attempts to indict British class structure by using it as his means of Rhys-Meyers' obstruction.
- Shopgirl - Steve Martin took a welcome break from his sad streak of safe, lightweight fare like Bringing Down The House and Cheaper By The Dozen, delivering a whammy of a romantic comedy with this quiet American beauty based on his novella (of course, he made the mange-ridden The Pink Panther after it.) He plays a rich, over-50 guy who falls for shop clerk Claire Danes, a simple and sometimes depressed Vermont girl gone Californ-i-a. Both give honest, nuanced performances, but it is Jason Schwartzman, breaking away from his comfortable slacker shtick as Danes' dorky would-be boyfriend, who is the most likeable here. Composer Barrington Pheloung's evocative orchestral score is suitably elegant, and ex-Red House Painters Mark Kozelek's songs fit well, too. A nice companion piece to Martin's 1991 L.A. Story.
- Tristan & Isolde - Days of yore have been director Kevin Reynolds' playground in the past in movies like Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and The Count Of Monte Cristo, and here he returns, with mixed results. A cross between Romeo and Juliet and Braveheart, it tells the unknown tale of a time in the 6th century when the feudal Britons feared Ireland but bravely united against them. Young lovers Tristan (James Franco) and Isolde (Sophia Myles) keep their passion a secret as long as they can while history and high drama unfold all around them. Franco is uncharacteristically dull, and Myles does a 2-hour Princess Buttercup impression. Rufus Sewell shows some humanity as Franco's father figure, Lord Marke, but while the sets and costumes and photography may be compelling, the story as presented here is just not quite so.