Recent Reviews

Bon Voyage
Dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau; writ. Gilles Marchand, from a novel by Patrick Modiano; feat. Isabelle Adjani, Gerard`acute accent over e` Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal, Gregori`acute accent over first e`Derangere,`grave accent over next-to-last e` Peter Coyote (PG-13)
In 1940, following the "phony war" in which the French military stood serenely behind what it assumed was the unbreachable Maginot Line, German forces routed all resistance en route to taking Paris. More than 60 years later, memories of capitulation and collaboration still trouble the French collective conscience. Causing more tumult in Bon Voyage than even the German invaders is Viviane Denvers (Adjani), a self-absorbed, amoral movie star who is probably meant as a metaphor for Vichy France itself. She is an alluring femme fatale, and the first of many men we meet who have succumbed to her charms is soon stuffed, lifeless, into the trunk of a car. Unlike Two Men Went to War, the current British feature that veers between mockery and mush in its account of an unauthorized sortie into Normandy during the German occupation, Bon Voyage manages to be both serious and ludicrous simultaneously. SGK

Dir. Guillermo del Toro; writ. del Toro, Mike Mignola (orig. comic); feat. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, David Hyde Pierce (voice) (PG-13)
Mexican native Guillermo del Toro has devoted his career to the many facets of horror. The director approached this material as a true fan, and it shows. He respects his characters, from the big red fella (played by Ron Perlman, one of the few real-life men who could match the comic creature's physical presence) to fish-man Abe Sapien, pyrotechnically challenged Liz Sherman, and the human doctor who has cared for Hellboy through an adolescence that is only now in its final phases. Fans of the comic will be surprised at the changes del Toro has made. But the changes (all endorsed by comic creator Mike Mignola) are all in the service of bringing out human truths latent in the source material. Yet around all this mushy stuff is an honest-to-goodness comic book romp, full of action and monsters and Nazi soldiers made of sawdust and clockwork. It's silly and fun, and provides Hellboy opportunities to smash things with that Buick-sized red right hand. The characters are brought to life as vividly as can be imagined. JD

I'm Not Scared (Io non ho paura)
Dir. Gabriele Salvatores; writ. Niccoló Ammaniti, based on his novel; feat. Giuseppe Cristiano, Mattia Di Pierro, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Dino Abbrescia, Giorgio Careccia, Diego Abatantuono (R)
I'm Not Scared (lo non ho paura) is a pensive thriller about - though not for - children, and it takes awhile for our protagonist, 10-year-old Michele (Cristiano), to understand the grown-ups who define his world. Michele lives with his parents and his younger sister amid a cluster of decrepit houses at the margin of a vast expanse of wheat. His father, a truck driver, is often gone, but when Pino (Abbrescia) is home he is both tender and tough with his son. Riding his bike one day through empty amber fields, Michele discovers a captive boy, Filippo (Di Pierro), who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom from his wealthy parents. Without condescending to its juvenile characters or to the audience, I'm Not Scared traces the growth of moral awareness in a child who senses that his parents have been doing wrong. Director Salvatores, who is best known for the 1991 Mediterraneo, has made a coming-of-age film that respects the maturity of its viewers and the complexity of its characters. From its opening images of broken glasses and a tortured bird to its powerful final frames, this is an irresistible child's-eye peek at ethical choices and their consequences. I'm not afraid to admit that I was moved. SGK

Kill Bill, Vol. 2
Dir. & writ. Quentin Tarantino; feat. Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks (R)
Joyless dialogue is one reason Vol. 2 feels fairly anticlimactic after the first half's thrill ride. Another reason is that there simply was nothing the filmmaker could do to top the violent spectacle of the first film's "House of Blue Leaves" sequence. Instead, there's almost no fight at all once the Bride (Thurman) meets Bill (Carradine); the conflict is more emotional than violent. Still, there's a lot to like about the film, including a showcase fight scene that takes place not in a cavernous Japanese restaurant but in a cramped trailer home whose dimensions make swordfighting a challenging proposition. Vol. 2 ends with an overextended credits sequence in which many actors (from both chapters) get their names in lights twice, and even the gaffer gets a full-screen acknowledgment. Maybe this installment's long goodbye will make more sense as part of some future Director's Cut, in which the Bride meets all her enemies in one four-hour stretch - but here it's just one more small, questionable decision keeping Vol. 2 from its better half's greatness. JD

The Passion of the Christ
Dir. Mel Gibson; writ. Benedict Fitzgerald, Gibson; feat. James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Hristo Jivkov, Hristo Shopov, Rosalinda Celentano (R)
By restricting itself to the final 12 hours of Jesus' life, The Passion of the Christ revels in distress devoid of context. Watching Jim Caviezel methodically transform into a barely ambulant corpse oozing blood from every pore, one might reasonably ask: What is the point? Christian theology responds: the ministry and the resurrection. But Mel Gibson's movie offers neither. A few fleeting flashbacks to the Sermon on the Mount are insufficient to establish faith, hope, and charity as counterweights to the ferocious malice on display for all but a couple of minutes. The film provides no basis for understanding the fury that drives the Temple priests and the crowds in the streets to demand the death of a supremely loving man. It is pain without purpose, the spectacle of savage violence ravaging the Prince of Peace. At the end, a momentary image of Jesus on his feet and washed of his wounds points to the resurrection, but it hardly redeems this bloody film. SGK

Shrek 2
Dir. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon; writ. Andrew Adamson and Joe Stillman based on the book by William Steig; with Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders (PG-13)
With Shrek 2, the creative team that concocted the perfect antidote to all that saccharine fairytale princess crap Disney hawked to a generation of impressionable little girls has left the youth audience entirely behind. This sequel to the 2001 hit continues to satirize "happily ever after" by following the newlywed ogres home to meet Fiona's parents - who are under the impression that the spell has been broken by the Prince Charming of lore in favor of her human incarnation. To support what might otherwise be a tired storyline, Shrek 2 digs deeper into Mother Goose and the Bros. Grimms' pockets and comes up with the Gingerbread Man, the Muffin Man, and, most deliciously of all, Puss in Boots, played by Banderas as a fabulous Zorro parody. The second round of obvious jabs at Beauty and the Beast are a little strained, but the kingdom of Far Far Away is a funny, if somewhat gentle, spoof of Hollywood. A cross-dressing barmaid known as the Ugly Stepsister, who predictably eyes the lip-gloss-wearing Prince at the end further hammers home the message that this is a love story for alternative families of all stripes. EMW

Dir. Wolfgang Petersen; writ. David Benioff; feat. Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Peter O'Toole
Don't go to Troy expecting Homer's Iliad. The battlefields of the 10-year Trojan War at times evoke the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan; at other times the kitschy, recent WWF match-up "Live From Baghdad," where real wrestlers entertained the battle-weary troops in Iraq. While Homer focused on Achilles' rage, the filmmakers prefer the Trojan prince Paris' abduction of Helen, wife of the Spartan Menaleus. The poetic dialogue is reduced to soap operatics. Orlando Bloom as Paris is superb window-dressing as is Diane Kruger's Helen but neither is any more convincing than a mannequin. Pitt's physique is so buff that his armor looks lame in comparison. He has also been strapped with Nike promotional one-liners for dialogue. "Immortality is yours, take it." Lost in this mêlée are fine, even Oscar-worthy, performances by Peter O'Toole and Eric Bama. The forsaken, prophetic Cassandra warned Priam to beware the Greek bearing gifts. Well, she has been left on the cutting room floor. Maybe she told the gods to beware Hollywood geeks bearing booty. GB

Films reviewed by:
GB: Gregg Barrios
JD: John DeFore
LMF: Laura Fries
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
AL: Albert Lopez
JM: Jonathan Marcus
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
JW: Joe Weiss
EW: Elaine Wolff

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