Review: Michael Clayton

September 25, 2007

Lawyer tries to protect colleague involved in a shady case. Crisp corporate drama is a sleek knock-out.

Tightly plotted, expertly acted, Michael Clayton is a challenging, satisfying corporate thriller about a disillusioned lawyer forced to confront the compromises in his life. As brisk and ruthless as the attorneys it portrays, the film presents a vivid, seductive world in which power is inevitably tainted by corruption. It also offers George Clooney one of the most rewarding roles of his career.

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Review: Resident Evil: Extinction

September 25, 2007

Dwindling survivors of a deadly virus fight zombies in a satisfying end to the Resident Evil trilogy.

The third installment of the Resident Evil trilogy finds Alice, the genetically modified subject of evil experiments by the Umbrella Corporation, battling devil dogs, zombies, and mad scientists in a post-apocalyptic Wild West. Written by series guru Paul W.S. Anderson and directed by action journeyman Russell Mulcahy, Resident Evil: Extinction is a grimly efficient horror thriller that delivers exactly what the other two entries did: monsters, gore, and a heavily armed Milla Jovovich in boots and garters.

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Review: Silk

September 25, 2007

European smuggler of silkworm eggs is torn between his wife and an Asian beauty. Plushly mounted but stultifying adaptation of Alessandro Baricco’s best seller.

By writing a period romance that was simultaneously chaste and erotic, intellectual and melodramatic, best-selling author Alessandro Baricco’s 1997 novel Silk targeted a more upscale audience than typical bodice-ripper readers. Director Fran├žois Girard is after that same crowd, one that appreciates a close attention to historical detail, a sweetly melancholic score from a world-class composer, and the sort of lush, exotic landscapes found on greeting cards and jigsaw puzzles. His adaptation of Silk, co-written with Michael Golding, offers a tasteful, sedate story with more sighing than heaving, more averted glances than clinching, more pregnant pauses than confessions of love. It’s a film that manages to remove just about everything that makes soap operas entertaining.

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Review: Shoot ‘Em Up

September 7, 2007

Loner battles assassins to protect an orphaned infant. High-decibel action with more style than substance.

Breakneck pacing and relentless action propel Shoot ‘Em Up, a grungy, belligerent pulp thriller with next-to-no redeeming social values. Allegedly inspired by John Woo’s kinetic, deeply sentimental Hard-Boiled, Shoot ‘Em Up actually owes a lot more to Chuck Jones’s elemental battles between the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Tune into the cartoon imagery, and the film can be a blast of adrenaline. Try to make sense of the plot and characters, and the whole thing might fall apart right before your eyes.

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Review: War

September 7, 2007

Stateside triad takes on Yakuza boss, with the feds after both. Dark, moody thriller with satisfying fight scenes.

Add War to the list of solid B-movies that will fare better on DVD than in theaters. The film lacks the glitz and fire of bigger budget movies, but delivers enough action and drama for hardcore fans. Dark in tone and almost devoid of humor, it proves that a serious, workmanlike effort can still pay off.

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Review: Illegal Tender

September 7, 2007

Puerto Rican gangster tries to wipe out a Bronx family who once dealt drugs. Derivative crime melodrama with a simple-minded plot.

Pitched as a crime movie for and about Latinos, Illegal Tender proves that bad filmmaking doesn’t discriminate along racial lines. Alternating between torpid and laughable, it offers a vision of drug dealing as a battle between vengeful parents, with their honor-student offspring the victims. With its self-righteous sermonizing and ineptly staged gunfights, the movie isn’t manic enough to qualify as pulp or coherent enough to serve as a social critique.

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Review: Manda Bala

September 7, 2007

Documentary connects rising crime in Brazil with corrupt politicians in a style more glib than enlightening.

Winner of a grand jury prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) uses fractured narrative style to address the very real problems of class inequity, rising crime, and corrupt government in Brazil. While these are worthwhile subjects, peculiar structural decisions result in a documentary that alternates between mildly informative and grossly voyeuristic.

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