Review: Live Free or Die Hard

June 29, 2007

Veteran cop and naive computer hacker battle digital terrorists who are destroying the economy. Sharp updating of a venerable series should be a box-office bonanza.

John McClane saves the day once again in Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth entry in a series that started in 1988. Vastly superior to the gimmicky Die Hard with a Vengeance, the film rescues the franchise from irrelevance by returning to what made the original a hit: spectacular set pieces, brutal action, and crisp acting.

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Interview: John Dahl on You Kill Me

June 26, 2007

Director John Dahl established his career with low-key but razor-sharp thrillers like Kill Me Again and Red Rock West. With The Last Seduction, about a femme fatale who pockets the proceeds of a drug deal, he fashioned one of the most precise and cunning film noirs in the modern era. After a series of studio films, You Kill Me marks Dahl’s return to his earlier style of low-budget, independent filmmaking. Starring Ben Kingsley as an alcoholic hit man going through rehab and Téa Leoni as the slightly neurotic businesswoman who falls for him, it meshes perfectly with Dahl’s strengths as a director.

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Review: You Kill Me

June 7, 2007

Hit man’s life changes after he enters rehab. Sharp black comedy with a surprisingly uplifting message.

Anchored by a magnetic performance by Ben Kingsley, You Kill Me addresses the question of whether hit men deserve compassion. Played largely for laughs but with a discomfiting edge, the movie marks a stunning return to form for director John Dahl, a film noir specialist who has been mired recently in big-budget Hollywood projects. A niche item on every level, You Kill Me needs good word of mouth to find the audience it deserves.

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Review: Exiled

June 6, 2007

Hit men stranded in Macau are double-crossed by a gangster. Sly homage to spaghetti Westerns from virtuoso Hong Kong director Johnnie To.

The latest Johnnie To film to reach the United States, Exiled finds the Hong Kong director in a playful mood, applying a Sergio Leone gloss to themes and situations he’s worked with before. Filled with the sort of set pieces that have marked To as one of the premiere action directors in the world, the film is also fairly lighthearted, or at least as lighthearted as a story about over-the-hill crooks trapped in an existential nightmare can get. The relatively simple plotting helps make this one of To’s more accessible films, a sign that Exiled might win the director a larger audience.

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Review: Triad Election

June 6, 2007

Competition over a triad leadership spot erupts into a gang war. Complex, brutal, and fascinating gangster epic from Hong Kong’s best director.

Gangster stories may seem a dime a dozen, but Triad Election operates on a far different level than the average mob tale. A sequel to the equally excellent Election, Johnnie To’s film is largely shorn of the melodrama and sentiment that let viewers off the hook while witnessing the crimes that the genre demands. Triad Election‘s version of the underworld, based on meticulous research and populated by unusually convincing characters, seems as real as a documentary, only one filmed with the technical mastery, formal beauty, and inexorable logic of a world-class director.

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Profile: Barbara Stanwyck Centenary

June 4, 2007

What made Barbara Stanwyck a star? Her looks helped, of course, but there were scores of beauties who never got out of the chorus line. She could sling it as well as any other sexpot, but even in her loosest roles she held something back from her costars, and from her customers. She tapped into the neuroses that helped define film noir, but she played her most famous femme fatale as an icy blonde who was as dismissive of her new lover as she was of the victim he was replacing.

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Interview: Johnnie To on Election and Exiled

June 1, 2007

Since the handover in 1997, no Hong Kong filmmaker has been as consistently successful and influential as Johnnie To. An increasingly prominent figure on the festival circuit, the fifty-three-year-old To has had trouble cracking the United States market. But the release this spring of his three most recent films, Election, Triad Election, and Exiled, may finally bring him the recognition he deserves.

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