Timeline


The aforementioned nifty battle scene.

The aforementioned nifty battle scene.

(2003) Science Fiction (Paramount) Paul Walker, Billy Connolly, Frances O’Connor, Gerard Butler, Matt Craven, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough, Anna Friel, Ethan Embry, Michael Sheen, Lambert Wilson, Marton Csokas, Rossif Sutherland, Steve Kahan, David La Haye, Richard Zeman, Patrick Sabongui, Mike Chute, Lois Dellar. Directed by Richard Donner

The late Michael Crichton’s novel have always translated  well to the silver screen; Timeline  is one of his best novels and with director Richard Donner at the helm, it should be a recipe for success, no?

No. Young Chris Johnston (Walker), the son of a renowned archaeologist (Connolly) is visiting his dad on the site of a medieval French castle. Chris is not much for history; he’s watched it consume his father. Chris is more interested in Kate (O’Connor), one of his dad’s students. Although Chris finds a sympathetic ear in Andre Marek (Butler), one of his father’s colleagues, there is a gulf between father and son that neither man quite knows how to bridge.

That all has to wait however as Professor Johnston has been summoned back to ITC, the high-tech corporation that funded the digs that has helped in leading the researchers to different finds with almost uncanny precision. Professor Johnston intends to find out why.

Kate is seeking a rumored tunnel that led from the castle to the monastery below. Marek relates the story of the castle’s fall: How when the English lord who held the French castle hung the Lady Claire from the battlements; rather than demoralizing the French, this spurred the Gallic troops to greater fury and they overwhelmed the castle.

Meanwhile back at the monastery, a hidden room has been discovered. And in that hidden room, which has not been seen by human eyes since the 14th Century, an even more amazing find: an eyeglass spectacle, and a note, in the Professor’s handwriting, with a date and the words “Help me.”

This causes all sorts of consternation among the dig team. And when they are unable to contact the professor, they become considerably upset. Finally, they force a face-to-face meeting with Robert Doniger (Thewlis), the CEO of ITC, and his top scientist, Dr. Kramer (Craven).

It turns out that ITC’s big project is a teleportation device, something that will send physical objects from one location to another, which Kramer likens to “faxing.” Except that it doesn’t work exactly the way they intended. They inadvertently opened a wormhole to the past. However, they are only able to go to a specific time and place; you guessed it, 14th-century France — and the very castle which is doomed to be overrun by the French. It turns out that Professor Johnston was sent there and then, but is unable to return. A rescue team is needed, and who better than the experts on the area where the Professor is trapped?

Most of the group agrees to go, and Doniger insists on sending three security men with them, including head of security Gordon (McDonough). The team is warned not to bring any modern items with them, especially weapons; but they must keep electronic markers with them at all times, so they will be able to return to the 21st century.

Things go wrong immediately, when the team is attacked by English knights who mistake them for French spies. One of the security team panics and returns back to the future, with a loaded grenade he incomprehensibly smuggled. The grenade predictably goes off, destroying the time machine and stranding the rest of the team in the past. While ITC’s technicians frantically work to repair the time machine, Marek, Kate, Francois (Sutherland), Chris and Gordon work on finding the professor while staying alive.

They are aided by a plucky French girl (Friel), but eventually are captured by an evil English lord (Sheen) who immediately kills Francois, the only one of them who speaks French (fortunately, nearly everyone in the movie speaks English — modern English at that).

Soon after, they anti-climactically find the Professor, but are unable to return to the future (where is Christopher Lloyd when you really need him?) and spend most of the rest of the movie believing that one or another of them is dead, evading dastardly English knights and discovering Doniger’s real treachery. All this on the eve of the big blow-out battle. And, if you haven’t already seen it coming a mile away, the plucky French girl turns out to be the ill-fated Lady Claire — and Marek has fallen head over heels in love with her.

The novel Timeline is a taut, thrilling and well-researched book. Crichton paid special attention to the details of the time. How the characters in the book were able to handle things such as communicating with people who don’t speak any language we currently understand, for example, is part of the book’s charm. That’s all jettisoned in favor of dumbing down the plot to its lowest common denominator.

Therein lies the major flaw of Timeline. Crichton never talked down to his readers, but screenwriter Jeff Maguire finds it easier to just gloss over whatever obstacles you would think time travelers would face in favor of setting up nifty battle sequences. And nifty they are; flaming arrows rise into the night sky, balls of fire are launched by ballistae, exploding against the castle walls. The battle sequences are visually inspiring, and it’s amazing they were accomplished without CGI, which is rare even in 2003.

Butler and O’Connor are quite good in their roles, as is Wilson as a French knight. But there are plenty of big, big holes. For example, the time travelers in this film kill people with abandon, without thought as to how what they are doing might affect the future to which they hope to return. These are themes being explored in movies like A Sound of Thunder and The Butterfly Effect far more effectively and logically and when someone says that A Sound of Thunder is far more logical than your movie, you should cringe.

While there are some cool moments (such as when Marek realizes that the grave he discovered in the 21st century is his own), the time travel here is mainly the means to set up the big action sequences. And if that’s all that you’re going to use time-travel for, why not just set the movie in 14th century France?

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty battle scenes. Butler, O’Connor, Connolly and Wilson all perform admirably.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The screenwriters are talking down to you. Lapses in logic and consequence.

FAMILY MATTERS: Brief foul language and some fairly intense battle sequences that while not terribly gory still might give the more sensitive a bit of trouble.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Some of the French knights carried shields emblazoned with the flag of Quebec; some of the film was shot in the Canadian province.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.9M on an $80M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Captain Phillips

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The Matrix Revolutions


The Mtatrix Revolutions

I’m swinging for his brains…just swinging for his brains, what a gloriou feeling I’m happy again!

(2003) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Monica Bellucci, Jada Pinkett Smith, Harold Perrineau, Lambert Wilson, Daniel Bernhardt, Harry Lennix, Stuart Wells, Matt McColm, Collin Chou, Mary Alice, Ian Bliss. Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

 

Early on in The Matrix Revolutions, the Oracle (Mary Alice, taking over for Gloria Foster, who died shortly after filming The Matrix Reloaded) tells Neo “Everything that has a beginning also has an end.” If that’s true (and the line is repeated at least once more, so the filmmakers must believe it), then perhaps it is a good thing that this trilogy of groundbreaking movies called it a day.

Picking up almost immediately where Reloaded ended, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Bane (Ian Bliss) are in coma-like conditions, although Neo’s brainwaves read like he’s jacked into the Matrix, though there are no signs of him in the computer construct. Where he is, actually, is an in-between place, a train station controlled by the Merovingian (Wilson), for moving illegal programs from the machine world into the Matrix.

Much of this is explained by a couple of low-level programs who want their daughter, the oh-too-cute Sati (Atwal) to survive in the Matrix because she would be deleted from her own world. You see, machines need love too.

Trinity (Moss) and Morpheus (Fishburne) are ordered by the Oracle to go rescue Neo (inasmuch as she orders anybody). She sends her personal bodyguard, Seraph (Chou) to accompany them. They confront the Merovingian and get him to release Neo in a most unsatisfying way; it seems like somebody got written into a corner and couldn’t quite figure a way out.

Neo knows that everything is coming to a head. The machines are hours away from breaching the walls of Zion and time is running out. The human city is preparing for a last stand, hoping to hold out in the dock (where the breach will come), but most know the odds are against them, including defense commander Lock (Lennix). Neo announces that he must go to the Machine City in order to save humanity. He and Trinity leave, with Morpheus and Niobe (Smith) piloting the craft back to Zion in a desperate race against time.

Meanwhile, Agent Smith (Weaving) has become more and more powerful, having taken over the Matrix, and is now threatening both the machine and human worlds in order to end an existence he believes to be pointless. It is Neo’s destiny to face Smith with all three worlds hanging in the balance.

If the plot summary above sounds confusing, consider that this is a condensed version of what goes on. Part of the main problem with The Matrix Revolutions is that the Wachowski brothers are trying to tell too many stories at once. Most of the subplots are unnecessary and get in the way of the main story. Sure, the effects are out of this world, and there are some fine performances (Fishburne is definitely one of those guys who highlights any film he’s in), but the overall effect is a bit overwhelming.

There are many good things about the movie. Trinity’s character goes in an unexpected direction, and Moss really nailed the role, even more so than in the first two movies. Mifune (Lees), the Trainman (Spence) and Link (Perrineau) turn out well in brief roles, and Seraph and Niobe are awesome. However, there are too many characters that just flit across the screen. Bellucci is barely evident (which is nothing less than disappointing), and did we really need the kid in this movie at all?

Things blow up, lots of things. The battle for Zion is as spectacular as you can imagine, even more so. The final fight between Smith and Neo is everything it was meant to be, but I spent a lot of time in the dark theater trying to will the story forward through the many interminable subplots.

The first Matrix was successful in large part due to the directness of its storytelling. Sometimes a director’s scope can exceed the grasp of the storyline, and this is one of those occasions. Initial critical reaction has been awfully harsh on The Matrix Revolutions and I suspect unduly so, but maybe the movie is so disappointing because it wouldn’t have taken much for it to be a hell of a lot better. There is some talk of the series continuing, although much of the Neo plotline is neatly wrapped up here. Still, there remain some loose ends. Frankly, I’m more ambivalent about the idea of a fourth Matrix installment than I was about the second two, and maybe that’s where the Wachowskis ultimately failed.

WHY RENT THIS: More amazing visuals. Final battle between Neo and Agent Smith is as advertised.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many subplots. Confusing storyline. Doesn’t really add anything to the mythos. Completely unsatisfying.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a whole lot of violence and brief sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The first film to premiere in the Walt Disney Concert Hall (brand spankin’ new at the time) in downtown Los Angeles.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The White Rabbit feature on the The Matrix Reloaded disc is also present here.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Chronicles of Riddick

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Peep World

The Matrix Reloaded


The Matrix Reloaded

Definitely not “Singing in the Rain.”

(2003) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Monica Bellucci, Daniel Bernhardt, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Anthony Zerbe, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gloria Foster, Lambert Wilson, Harry Lennix, Randall Duk Kim. Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

 

Movies like this create a lot controversy by their very nature. A messianic figure, cutting-edge special effects and an overall hipper-than-thou feel. All of this and being the most eagerly-anticipated movie of the year, sure to be a box-office bonanza. No pressure here.

Those who saw the “Animatrix” episode that played before the theatrical version of Dreamcatcher (or downloaded it off the internet) know what is revealed early on in the picture. Some time has passed since the events of the first Matrix movie, and changes are coming to both the computer-generated world of the Matrix, as well as the bleak world of reality. Neo (Reeves) is responsible for the “awakening” of an unprecedented number of humans, swelling the population of Zion. However, one of the hoverships has discovered that the machines are drilling — directly above Zion — and hundreds of thousands of Sentinels follow the drills. Should the drills arrive at Zion, millions will die. Possibly the entire human race will be wiped out.

The Oracle (Foster in her final role; she died in 2001) has urgent information for Neo, but Agent Smith (Weaving) is close on Neo’s tail, and Smith has become a rogue program in the Matrix (a virus, maybe?), out of control and self-replicating, leading to a spectacular sequence in which Neo takes on hundreds of annoyed-looking Agent Smiths.

There are others who don’t want those questions answered, but Neo knows that the only way to save humankind is to access the machine world’s mainframe, source of the Matrix, and take it on. In order to do that he will have to rescue the Keymaker (Kim) and get a specific key from him. However, he must find the Keymaker first to do that and he’ll have to take on the Merovingian (Wilson) to get there. Once he finds the key, what’s behind the door it unlocks calls into question everything we knew, or thought we knew about the world of the Matrix.

The movie ends on a cliffhanger note, which leaves the viewer vaguely unsatisfied. Still, there’s a lot to digest, a very complex storyline and some of the most amazing visuals imaginable. As action movies go, this one may be the one that takes the cake – at least in terms of the first part of the decade.  The freeway chase scene which features lots of leaping onto and from moving vehicles is one of the most thrilling ever filled and is worth the price of buying the DVD or Blu-Ray all by it’s lonesome.

On the minus side, Reeves continues to be one of the most wooden actors ever. He’s unconvincing as a messiah, and his relationship with Trinity (Moss) generates no chemistry. Thankfully, the other players – Morpheus (Fishburne), Link (Perrineau), Niobe (Smith), Persephone (Bellucci), Seraph (Chou), the Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment), Commander Lock (Harry Lennix), the Merovingian (Wilson) and Counselor Hamann (Zerbe) – more than make up for Reeve’s lack of emotions.

This is a great action movie that set the standard for that genre circa 2003. That said, it isn’t perfect, and go in knowing there are some fairly major flaws. However, after seeing it in theaters back in the day I was left anticipating the final chapter – The Matrix Revolutions – which came out later that same year and therefore the movie accomplished mostly what it needed to.

WHY RENT THIS: Incredible action sequences. Some great supporting performances. Visionary and unique.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t live up to the first film. Relationship between Neo and Trinity lacks heat. Reeves still curiously flat as Neo.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of violence and a little bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Aaliyah was originally cast in the movie to play Zee but she died in a plane crash before filming began. Nona Gaye was cast in her place.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a 22-minute featurette on the making of the freeway chase scene, one of the best in history. There’s a making-of featurette on two promo commercials for product tie-ins (yes, really) and a parody skit from the opening of the 2004 MTV Movie Awards. The Blu-Ray edition includes a music video from P.O.D. and a look at the making of Enter the Matrix, the videogame that served as a compliment to the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMNCE: $742.1M on a $150M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Lightkeepers

Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux)


Of Gods and Men

Brother Christian is none to happy that the liberalized Vatican guidelines don’t allow him to administer corporal punishment any longer.

(2010) True Life Drama (Sony Classics) Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin, Loic Pichon, Xavier Maly, Jean-Marie Frin, Abdelhafid Metalsi, Sabrina Ouazani, Abdallah Moundy, Olivier Perrier. Directed by Xavier Beauvois

 

Courage isn’t necessarily picking up a gun or a weapon. Sometimes it isn’t even uttering a cross word. Fighting for what you believe in takes a special type of courage, I’ll grant you but refusing to fight for it sometimes takes even more. Sometimes the greatest courage is to allow events to run their course.

In a small village in Algeria (not named in the movie but where the actual incident took place) in 1996, there was a remote Trappist Monastery made up of seven aging French monks. Although the village was completely Islamic, the monks live a serene pastoral life of raising their own crops and honey, praying and singing daily (the soundtrack is actually breathtaking with beautiful Gregorian chants), and dispensing medicine and clothing to the impoverished villages. They are not attempting to convert anyone to Catholicism, they simply do what they can to help and otherwise show their devotion to God through their simple lifestyle and their will to do good for those around them.

But the outside world isn’t necessarily a perfect place and Islamic fundamentalist violence has begun to show its ugly head. A group of Bulgarian construction workers are viciously attacked and murdered, their throats slit. Another woman is murdered for not wearing a veil. The violence is escalating throughout the country and the government is concerned for the well-being of the monks. They offer to relocate them somewhere that is at least temporarily safer.

However, Brother Christian (Wilson), the monk elected leader and spokesman of their little group, feels that their place is in the village where they can continue to do good work. The government offers them protection, volunteering to station military men at the monastery but Brother Christian believes this would be inappropriate. Despite the growing danger, he wants to stay. Not all the monks are on board with this idea, however.

Despite the fact that the monks live in harmony with the villagers and offer care free of charge, despite the high regard in which their neighbors hold them, the inevitable happens and terrorists begin to turn their keen eyes on the monastery. It soon becomes obvious that the monks are in mortal danger, with each one reacting in his own way to the prospect of their own deaths staring them in the face. The monastery’s doctor, the 70-something Brother Luc (Lonsdale) is sanguine but others are less so.

This was France’s official entry into the 2011 Foreign Language Film Oscar sweepstakes and it’s easy to see why. Not only is this beautifully filmed – the composition of the various scenes is as close to paintings as film gets – but it is beautifully acted as well. Lonsdale in particular will grab your attention; he is at turns cantankerous and serene. Wilson, best known as the flamboyant Merovingian in the Matrix trilogy, is a quiet leader who persuades rather than commands. His relationship with the village elders is based on trust and respect, and he knows the Koran as well if not better than the terrorists who quote it.

But this is not about terrorism or even death. It’s about belief and faith, and how powerful those things can be even in the face of pain and death. This is a movie that invites quiet contemplation. Much of the first part of the film depicts the daily life of the monks; it makes the second half so much more powerful because of it. American audiences might have trouble sitting through the first part but I found it to be very evocative. Who wouldn’t love a lifestyle so simple and so fulfilling?

This is a depiction of humanity both at its worst and at its best. You may recoil at the inhumanity and cruelty of men, but you will be uplifted by the courage and nobility of men as well. Catholics have taken their fair share of shots lately. This is a fictionalized version of these events but nevertheless I must confess that this movie made me prouder to be Catholic than I have been in a very long time.

WHY RENT THIS: Heartbreaking and soul-stirring. Marvelous performances all around but particularly by Lonsdale and Wilson.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very understated.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images including one scene of devastating violence and also  bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Won three Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in 2011, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Lonsdale.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a featurette in which the actual monastery where these events took place is visited, and also another one in which author John W. Kiser, who wrote a book on the events, discusses the real Tibehirine monks at Merrimack College with Augustine academics.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $42.2M on an unreported production budget; this was undoubtedly a big hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Where Do We Go Now?

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: I’m Still Here

New Releases for the Week of April 8, 2011


April 8, 2011
Russell Brand is looking for his Ginger Rogers.

 

ARTHUR

(Warner Brothers) Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Luis Guzman, Nick Nolte, Geraldine James, Evander Holyfield, Christina Calph. Directed by Jason Winer

The heir to a billion dollar fortune has lived a charmed life, having every need met instantly, cared for by a tough, sensible but ultimately caring nanny. When his mother determines that he must marry in order to increase the family fortune, he is at first reluctant; he has always wanted to marry for love but hasn’t found the right girl yet. So when the right girl shows up and turns out to be a poor tour guide, he is caught in between the age-old struggle between love and money.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references)

Born To Be Wild 3D

(Warner Brothers) Morgan Freeman (narration), Dr. Barute Galdikas, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. As the interrelationship between humanity and nature becomes closer as we learn more about how our planet works, the urgency of protecting wildlife and the environment becomes greater. This movie examines several extraordinary people who take wild animals that have been orphaned and train them to survive in the wild.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G

Hanna

(Focus) Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jason Flemyng. A young girl, raised to be the perfect assassin by her rogue operative CIA father goes on a mission that will take her across Europe. It will also bring her face to face with her past, most of which is unknown to her and force her to re-examine her future – all the while pursued by a ruthless agency operative who has her own agenda and her own hidden secrets.

See the trailer, featurettes, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language)

Miral

(Weinstein) Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave. A Palestinian orphan in a refugee orphanage at the emergence of the state of Israel becomes involved in the Palestinian underground resistance. Eventually she is sent to teach at another orphanage where she becomes romantically involved with a political activist.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic appeal and some violent content including a sexual assault)

Of Gods and Men

(Sony Classics) Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Lauderbach. A monastery in North Africa in the 1990s has never had any problems with their Muslim neighbors. After an Islamic fundamentalist group massacres a crew of foreign workers, tensions begin to escalate. When they are ordered to leave by their church for their own safety, they make the decision to stay despite terrible risks.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama Based on a True Story

Rating: PG-13 (for a momentary scene of startling wartime violence, some disturbing images and brief language)

Soul Surfer

(TriStar/FilmDistrict) Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, AnnaSophia Robb, Carrie Underwood. A young girl with dreams of surfing superstardom has her dreams cut short by a horrific accident. Driven by her own ambitions, her fierce will to overcome any obstacle, she beats the odds by getting back in the water, recovering from her terrible injuries and proving an inspiration to others not only as a surfer but in her devotion to helping others in the aftermath of the 2004 Christmas Eve tsunami.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material) 

Win Win

(Fox Searchlight) Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Jeffrey Tambor. A struggling lawyer takes on legal guardianship of an elderly client to help keep his practice from going under. The lawyer also coaches the local high school wrestling team in order to bring in some extra cash, although the team is woeful at best. When the client’s troubled grandson comes to live with him and turns out to be a stellar wrestler, it appears to be a no-lose situation for the lawyer, but as such things usually do, things quickly begin to unravel.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Your Highness

(Universal) Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel. When the fiancée of the heir apparent of the realm is kidnapped by an evil wizard, he must go and rescue her like any prince worth his salt. However, it’s more than he can handle alone – so he must take his good-for-nothing younger brother who has absolutely no wish to go on a quest. The two are aided by a fierce amazon who has her own reasons for going after the wizard.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comic Fantasy

Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use)

Flawless (2007)


Flawless

Michael Caine and Demi Moore make their plans.

(2007) Period Crime Drama (Magnolia) Demi Moore, Michael Caine, Lambert Wilson, Nathaniel Parker, Joss Ackland, Shaughan Seymour, Nicholas Jones, David Barras. Directed by Michael Radford

Corporate stuffed shirts have always been with us, and the movies have always used them as villains; greedy, heartless and amoral. Heist films have always been a means for audiences to vicariously thrill to these individuals getting their comeuppance, although in real life they almost never do.

Then again, this isn’t real life although to the filmmaker’s credit, it sure feels that way. Laura Quinn (Moore) is a bit of a rarity; a female executive at a London diamond exchange circa 1960. While she is clearly capable and even, in many ways, superior to her peers, she continues to knock her stiff raven-shaded bouffant against the glass ceiling. She wants nothing more than to get ahead to prove to herself that she is capable and in many ways superior, but all her long nights of chain-smoking, fretting over reports and bantering with Hobbs (Caine), a friendly night janitor, have gotten her nowhere.

To add insult to injury, she discovers that she is about to be fired by the very people who stole her ideas and then took credit for them. At first, when Hobbs – who is much more than he seems – comes to her to propose a quiet little robbery of just a few gems (which the exchange would hardly miss but would set up the both of them for life), she is appalled but as she realizes that she has no future at the exchange, she finally relents.

What follows is pretty much a standard caper film. Radford, who directed the far superior Il Postino, is certainly a capable hand at the game but to be honest, the movie suffers from the same petrifaction that permeates the London diamond exchange depicted here.

Most of that is due to Moore, who operates as if a wax figure from Tussaud’s. Rarely does she betray any emotion, some of which could be attributed to the stiff upper lip mentality of the Britain of that time, but even when she is displaying emotion it rings false. Perhaps it’s her truly atrocious accent that brings that feel along.

Fortunately, the movie also has Caine, who has fun with the grandfatherly cockney who hides a brilliant strategist with an axe to grind. Caine seems to be having more fun than everyone else in the movie combined, and for my money the movie could have used a good deal more of that sense. Far too much of the movie comes off as stodgy.

While the scenes of the actual heist build credible suspense, it is the first reel and the last where the movie falls a bit. While the movie succeeds in creating the era and brings the sexual discrimination card into play, it never really captured my imagination nor grabbed the heart the way better heist films like The Bank Job and 11 Harrowhouse did. Fans of movies like The Sting and the Oceans trilogy will find this lifeless, but that’s somewhat unfair of a comparison. The movie is solid but unspectacular, and lacks the kind of twist that these types of films really call for.

WHY RENT THIS: A capably executed jewelry heist film that brings to mind The Bank Job albeit in a stuffier vein. Michael Caine is, as always, impeccable. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No new ground is broken here. Moore never really gives me a sense of who her character is.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is a bit foul in places but otherwise this is suitable for all teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.8M on an unreported production budget; My guess is that the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Objective

Babylon A.D.


Babylon A.D.

Despite the indicator on her cap, Vin Diesel still has trouble spotting Melanie Thierry.

(20th Century Fox) Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Strong, Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Jerome Le Banner. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz

In a world where survival is achieved only by the most ruthless and compassion is as extinct as dinosaurs, is it possible that someone could learn the meaning of sacrifice for the greater good?

Toorop (Diesel) is a mercenary/assassin living in a squalid flat in the remains of a former Soviet Bloc city that has fallen into disrepair and decay. Guns are sold on street corners like pretzels and dinner is whatever game you can kill or steal. Toorop has lived by his principles, his wits and his ability to come out ahead whenever violence is necessary.

His flat is invaded by a bunch of goons who interrupt Toorop’s dinner to take him outside to a high-tech armored limo wherein resides Gorsky (Depardieu), a powerful ruthless Russian crimelord who Toorop owes a debt to. Gorsky tells Toorop if he can smuggle a girl to America – New York to be specific – in six days, his debt will be wiped out and Toorop, who is wanted for terrorism in the good ol’ U.S. of A. can get a new passport, the key to a new life.

The girl turns out to be Aurora (Thierry), a curiously naïve young woman living in a convent run by the Noelites, a somewhat recent addition to the religious scene. She will be accompanied by Sister Rebeka, a rather serene nun who can kick booty when the occasion calls for it. The two of them will have to make it to a train that will take them to Siberia, where they can cross the Bering Sea in a commandeered submarine. It becomes reasonably obvious that someone doesn’t want Aurora to get to where she’s going, but Toorop and Aurora herself manage to avoid bombs, traps and cage fighters in order to get across the ocean with the aid of Toorop’s friend Finn (Strong).

Crossing the automated drone-patrolled frontier of Alaska and Canada into the States proves to be a difficult, although not insurmountable problem. Once the trio makes it to New York, they discover their problems are really starting.

Kassovitz, the director of such excellent films as Metisse and The Crimson Rivers, has publically disowned the movie, complaining loudly about studio interference from the beginning and quite frankly, it’s clear that this is the work of many hands. There are nonsensical action sequences that do nothing to advance the plot, and whole chunks of exposition missing that might make the actions of the lead characters a bit clearer.

Kassovitz has a wonderful dystopian vision here; the Eastern European sequences (mainly filmed in the Czech Republic) are dreary and muddy, speaking of a society in major decay where the infrastructure has all but fallen apart. By contrasts, New York is glittering and gaudy, the very model of a futuristic city. Toorop moves through both of them with the same panther-like grace, his very muscles radiating the tension of an animal that can rip your face off at any moment without any provocation.

However, all those beautiful images are submarined (no pun intended) by a plot that is at equal turns ludicrous and muddy, hard to follow and hard to believe when you can figure it out. The appearances of Rampling as a kind of homicidal Pope and Wilson as a scientist on life support who essentially has all the answers to all the questions about who Aurora is and why she’s so damned important. Worth dying for? Apparently yes….twice.

Although critics are fond of taking shots at Vin Diesel, he is far from the reason this movie doesn’t work. His Toorop is the closest thing he’s played to his signature character of Riddick yet; he’s a little less sociopathic than Riddick but still clearly a survivor that will trample over anything getting in the way of his survival. Not particularly new territory for Diesel but he knows it well and covers it adequately.

Yeoh is also a gamer, and she is given even less to work with than Diesel, but still manages to make her character memorable and believable. Yeoh has been one of my favorite actresses for the past decade and I’ll walk many miles over broken glass to see one of her movies…well, almost. Still, I will go out of my way to check out any movie that’s she’s in, even this one.

There are some good solid concepts in here somewhere and there might have been a decent movie made if the studio had left it alone, and if the writers had made the last third a little better. Kassovitz is a very talented director who deserved better material than this which, unfortunately he had a hand in. Still, something tells me he’ll think twice before working for a big Hollywood studio again and that’s a shame; he’s got some really great movies in him that might benefit from those kinds of budgets.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the visuals are spectacular. Yeoh and Diesel give it the old college try but really don’t have enough to sink their teeth into.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is a real mess. It feels like too many hands were stirring this soup; it’s the poster child for studio interference and overly ambitious directors clashing with the final film being the ultimate loser.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of violence and foul language, as well as some implied sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The round Sigil Tattoo on Toorop’s neck is meant to be a protective ward and is known as The Gate of the Necronomicon, symbolizing Man, The Creator and The Watchers.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are full versions of the commercials playing in the background, as well as an animated “prequel” that explains some of Aurora’s backstory.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: 13 Tzameti