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- Firewall - Like Rip Van Winkle with a $25 million per picture deal, nap-addled gruff boy Harrison Ford has seen his career hibernate for more than a decade now, scoring hit upon forgettable hit. Ford's latest variation on a theme is, like the bulk of his post-Indiana Jones filmography, predictable formula fare, and therein lies its broad appeal. In what ultimately feels like a diluted remake of Ron Howard's 1996 thriller, Ransom, he plays a bank security expert whose family is held captive in exchange for his aid in electronically liberating $100 million. Bad guy Paul Bettany sneers and jeers so much that we know from the moment he turns up that Ford is going to heroically beat him and his dirty, dirty bastards, and our belief that goodness triumphing over ee-vil will be renewed. Able British stalwart Richard Loncraine, who directed Bettany in Wimbledon, paints this one by-the-numbers, and anyone looking for what might be their last Harrison Ford fix before Indy 4 (and presumed retirement) will get what they paid for, though very little more.
- Glory Road - Cast in the stringent mold of Disney's recent spate of family-friendly sports dramas Remember The Titans (football), The Rookie (baseball) and Miracle (hockey) is this nonetheless rousing hoop tale. Josh Lucas plays tenacious Texas Western basketball coach Don Haskins, who bucked convention and assembled an unprecedented all-black starting line-up ... in 1965. Of course, the team goes on to win, and faces the kind of conflict we expect seven black men to encounter, Deep In The Heart Of Texas, but pegging the movie as cliché and humdrum is missing the point. The younger-skewing audience for a movie like this may not have a clear view of what the Civil Rights Movement was all about, and while no movie can really claim to be a one-stop shop for such information, a good one, like this, leaves viewers with the right questions and the feel-good, adrenalin-fueled drive to find answers on their own.
- The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things - Horror fans will know Asia (AH-see-ya) Argento as the daughter of Italian master Dario Argento, and from her role as Slack, the zombie ass-kicker in George Romero's Land Of The Dead; they will know her in a whole new way after this kick in the balls. The Italian beauty's gutsiest career move to date is this icky drama, based on the untrue story by literary hoax J.T. Leroy. Argento wrote the screenplay, directed and stars as the slutty, drug-addicted mother who turns out her young son (played at different ages by Jimmy Bennett and Cole and Dylan Sprouse), dressing him in her clothes and making him up to turn tricks in truck stops. The effort is uneven, though consistently grim in its portrayal of a life that would have had far more impact on us if it were not completely made up. The film benefits somewhat from decent supporting performances by Peter Fonda, Jeremy Sisto, Michael Pitt and the still-lovely Ornella Muti, with curious cameos by shock rockers Lydia Lunch and Marilyn Manson (sans make-up).
- Hollow Man 2 - Sony's sequel to Paul Verhoeven's modest 2000 sci-fi hit is nothing special, which is the reason the studio showed its lowered expectations (like New Line is doing with their now Kutcher-less Butterfly Effect franchise) by releasing it direct-to-video. The script is stale, and star Christian Slater is fourth-billed because he is little more than a voiceover and digital rotoscope model for the overused invisibility effects. Let the wave of Kevin Bacon nostalgia begin.
- Running Scared - It may be chock full o' clichés, but this effectively moody noir action piece from The Cooler writer-director Wayne Kramer, about a small-time hood (Paul Walker) who gets involved with corrupt cops and gangsters, is so well-played that it puts us in the middle of the action in a very palpable way. The scene in which Walker's wife (Vera Farmiga) discovers the horrible secret of a seemingly normal couple is powerful and haunting.
- Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic - Liam Lynch's concert film of sassy Sarah Silverman's Off-Broadway solo show captures the essence of the delightfully dark former SNL writer/performer, even if it may have been better suited as an HBO special (like George Carlin's recent button-pusher Life Is Worth Losing). At just 72 minutes -- and that includes the obligatory introductory set-up and the various sketches and musical cutaways -- it is not so much a film aimed at her fans as it is a call for new ones, a modest introduction to the brassy trailblazer.
- The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - Tommy Lee Jones goes to the gallows to riff on the human condition with this hardcore drama he directed, produced and stars in. He plays a (not gay) cowboy who forces a bigoted border guard (Barry Pepper) to own up to his killing of a Mexican illegal, and it makes for a pretty heady march into the heart of darkness.
- Underworld: Evolution - In matter-of-factly suggesting that an epic war between vampires and werewolves has been raging for centuries, one had better have more in the arsenal than some menacing creatures, rousing fights and pixie-cute Kate Beckinsale vamping it up dressed in tight leather. Not so in this -- oh, man -- anemic sequel to the minor 2003 hit, which stars Beckinsale (who is married to director Len Wiseman) as a crusading bloodsucker, again opposite Scott Speedman as a lycanthropic stud. The kind of tongue-in-bloody-cheek fun that Joss Whedon parlayed into seven seasons of the kitschy-good Buffy the Vampire Slayer is sorely lacking here, replaced by a kind of flat, faux-Shakespearean bluster made only more ridiculous when delivered by a guy wearing 40 pounds of latex through an awkward and silly dental appliance while covered in stage blood.