Boys of Sudan
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Early on in the new documentary, Lost Boys of Sudan, a refugee
says to a friend headed for America, "This journey is like you are
going to heaven."
Naturally, that is hardly the case. In this absorbing and melancholy film,
we follow several teenagers as they become strangers in a strange land,
experiencing additional hardships in their already harsh lives.
In over twenty years of civil war, 2 million Sudanese have been killed
and some 4 million displaced. The Islamic fundamentalist government brutally
cracked down on Christian tribes like the Dinkas. In the 1980s, the Dinka
fathers were killed and the women and girls enslaved. The surviving boys
fled into the countryside and ultimately marched to Kenya where 20,000
live in the Kakuma refugee camp.
In 2001, the US government allowed 4,000 of the "Lost Boys"
to emigrate. Documentarians Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk followed a handful
of them on their journey to find a better life in America. Eschewing voiceovers
and interviews, the filmmakers take a fly-on-the-wall approach, allowing
the boysí experiences to unfold before our eyes. Their initial
stop is Houston, Texas.
With initial amusement that soon turns to compassion, we watch as the
young men experience severe culture shock. Unfamiliar with the trappings
of modern society and speaking little English, the boys cope with tall
buildings, deodorant, garbage disposals and strange customs. (They quickly
learn that their tradition of walking hand-in-hand is frowned upon in
The film concentrates on two individuals. Santino Majok Chuor remains
in Houston, taking an assembly line job for meager pay. The careworn lad
struggles to make ends meet while attempting to obtain a driver's license
and insuranceboth necessary for him to maintain employment.
His friend Peter Myarol Dut fares somewhat better, moving to Olathe, Kansas.
A family that has learned of his fate through a Christian charity takes
Peter in, and he enrolls at Olathe East. He tries out for the basketball
team and does his best to fit in. He takes a job at Wal-Mart in hopes
of sending some money to his familybut the meager pay leaves him
with little to spare. Hopes of a higher education hinge on scholarships
that he seems unlikely to procure.
The power of this extremely low budget production is in its unblinking
scrutiny of this sad situation. Even though they are surviving, these
boys are still displaced, lonely and often expressing little hope. As
one character forlornly observes, "Now its clear. There is no heaven
on Earth." (Not rated) Rating: 3; Posted 4/23/04
Whole Ten Yards
The Whole Ten Yards may be lucky to elicit a whole ten laughs from
filmgoers. This follow-up comedy to the fairly-received The Whole Nine
Yards is so unfunny and falls so flat that audiences may look for restitution
on this extra yard. Its not even a good bad movie; rather its
the kind of misguided mess that will leave viewers dazed and depressed.
Despite eight months of still pending, this duds an easy shoe-in for
Top Ten Worst lists of 2004.
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Thanks to falsified dental records, hitman Jimmy "The Tulip" Teduski
(Bruce Willis) is living a quiet life of domesticity in Mexico with his
wife Jill (Amanda Peet) who is a hitman wannabe. Jimmys old dentist
friend Oz (Matthew Perry) is now married to Jimmys ex-wife Cynthia
(Natasha Henstridge), and when Cynthia gets kidnapped by a Hungarian mob,
Oz tracks down the only person he thinks can help. Jimmy is reluctant however,
preferring these days to butcher for cuisine purposes only. Although he
and Jill commit their assorted skills to Ozs efforts to free Cynthia,
the various loyalties are as nebulous as the final script. Kevin Pollak
as mob boss Lazlo is the weakest character in a flimsy cast; his performance
is reminiscent of a second grader telling a long joke with no punch line.
One of the biggest flaws of The Whole Ten Yards is the attempt to
use black humor, which falls somewhere closer to a murky gray. The shtick
is simple and stiff, the character quirks appear completely contrived, and
the satire is sadistic. In one scene, Jimmy bashes an obnoxious father who
is sitting with his son in a restaurant, and then cites his actions as proof
of his ability to be a good parent. In another, Strabo (Frank Collison),
a mobster, who has been slapped across the face in every scene in which
he appears, gratuitously forwards the violence onto Cynthia, literally slapping
her across the floor. A farting Hungarian granny rounds out these yucks
and since this film has been downgraded from the R rating of the first installment,
parents might not be entirely grateful that their children can now experience
such humor too.
When the fab four finally defeat the mob, we see them driving around in
a convertible discussing their futures as newly pregnant parents. Lets
just hope they decline to deliver another sequel.(PG-13) Rating: 1; Posted
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Sometimes it is evident that Stan Lee and the folks at Marvel Comics
just don't know when to stop.
The latest graphic novel to get the big screen treatment is The Punisher,
another revenge opus that leaves many corpses littering the cinematic
Thomas Jane (61) is appropriately steely in the title role, but
that is about all that is good in this otherwise grim entry. Even the
presence of John Travolta as a particularly nasty villain fails to elevate
Adapted from Gerry Conway's noted Marvel series, The Punisher concerns
a successful FBI undercover agent named Frank Castle (Jane) who is in
charge of a sting operation that results in the death of a novice arms
dealer. Trouble is, the slain gangster is the son of a notorious money
launderer named Howard Saint (Travolta) whose angry wife (Laura Elena
Harring) demands vengeance.
Upon taking early retirement, Frank, his wife and son attend a beachside
family reunion that includes dozens of relatives. Naturally, Saint's machine
gun-toting thugs catch up with the peaceful gathering and the entire clan
is rubbed out. All, that is, but Frank. He is merely wounded and is rescued
by a local who finds him washed up on the beach. Once recovered and realizing
he has nothing left to lose, he becomes a one-man vigilante squadand
a remarkably talented one at that.
The ensuing mayhem is yet another plunge into the realm of sadistic violence
weíve become all too accustomed to.
The comic originally appeared in the 70s and had a Vietnam War era perspective
that gave it resonance. This version has been updated and set in Florida,
which lacks the gloomy urban underbelly that might have added some welcome
grit. The filmmakers also throw in some colorful neighbors and make some
half-hearted attempts at humor. The result is a movie that lacks a consistent
The film also has some plot holes that detract mightily. Why, for example,
is Frank so hard for Saint to kill when he makes little attempt to conceal
himself? And why doesn't Frank simply cut off the head of the snake instead
of futzing around with Saintís minions?
This is the second attempt to cinematically dramatize Conway's hero. The
first attempt starred Dolph Lundgren in 1989, but that production was
a direct-to-video release. It seems clear that the new version of The
Punisher is bound to join its predecessor on the video shelves very
soon. (R) Rating: 2; Posted 4/23/04
Going on 30
Anyone who once sported leg warmers and wished that she were Jessies
Girl will identify at once with 13 Going on 30. Nostalgia for past
eras however, is nothing new in filmmaking. Nor is the concept of a child
stuck in an adult body. (Think Big, Freaky Friday, and Jack.) Because nostalgia
has achieved a certain vogue (and commercial potential) modern audiences
tend to collude in re-igniting the popular culture and icons of eras not
their own. While 13 Going on 30 will have universal appeal, filmgoers
aged about 35-45 will find special remembrances of times past. And the premise
of a young teen getting to try on an adult life without real consequences
will play into the wish fulfillment of audiences of any age.
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Jenna Rink is a girl on the outside of the in-group. She's the kind of wholesome
girl who sports acrylic sweaters with pink hearts and offers to do homework
for the popular crowd, known in this case as The Six Chicks. She does have
one great friend in Matt, who in contrast, is entirely comfortable with
his own non-conformity. Hes the kind of guy who prefers Talking Heads
to Belinda Carlisle, which is cause for reproach by the less eclectic watchdogs
of cool. When the Six Chicks cruelly abandon Jenna at her thirteenth birthday
party, Jenna wishes that she was "Thirty, Flirty and Thriving,"
just like the people in her favorite teen magazine.
Waking the next morning in a 30-year old body, Jenna (Jennifer Garner from
TVs Alias) is surprised to find that she has the life she always
wished for, at least superficially. Not only does she now have breasts and
a hunky boyfriend, she is actually an executive at Poise, her favorite magazine,
along with now best friend Lucy (Judy Greer), the one-time leader of the
Six Chicks. However, the success of the magazine is in jeopardy from a competitor
and it appears that an inside spy has been scooping ideas. Jenna uses her
13-year old's knowledge and timely retro chic to save the magazine, but
in the process discovers that her current and past selves have behaved ignominiously.
Tracking down the still singular, but no longer single Matt (Mark Ruffalo),
Jenna develops an awareness of what is truly important and acquires some
maturity along the way.
The strength of 13 Going on 30 rests with Jennifer Garner, who is
compelling and immensely likable, nailing the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies
of a young teen. Jenna's bountiful exuberance encourages considerable shared
delight in youthful innocence. And watching her eat with gusto at every
turn is both funny and insightful. Although over-promoted in the trailers,
the Thriller dance scene is priceless.
Be sure to also watch for Andy Serkis (aka gollum) as Jennas Editor-in-Chief.
(PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 4/23/04
Kill Bill Vol.
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
If you're looking for a textbook example of the triumph of style over
substance, you need look no further than Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.
Amoral, utterly derivative and as empty as downtown Kansas City on a Monday
night, Tarantino's bloody tale of revenge reaches its completion with
volume two. Yes, ií's maddeningly unethical in its comedic glorification
of violence, but it's also sensational filmmaking that is often wildly
Uma Thruman is back as "The Bride," a hired killer once an integral
member of an elite assassination squad fronted by Bill (David Carradine).
In volume one, "The Bride" tries to retire and leave Bill's
deadly team after she becomes pregnant. As a reward, Bill and his crack
killers (Michael Madsen, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah and Lucy Liu) beat,
shoot, and leave her for dead at her wedding rehearsal. After awaking
from a coma that left her incommunicado for four years, she seeks revenge
and picks off those who wronged her, one-by-one.
Tarantino depicts her rampage as an over-the-top bloodbath, as the amazingly
talented killer leaves literally scores of mutilated corpses in her wake.
In volume two, our lovely antihero continues her quest to wipe out her
enemies and ultimately take out the man who ordered her assassination.
Strangely enough, the movie takes a bizarre and circuitous route as it
evolves into a twisted love story.
Tarantino's opus is a homage to the drive-in features that he loved as
a kid. There are elements from Hong Kong martial arts films, Japanese
samurai thrillers, spaghetti westerns, "women in chains" flicks
and even bad 70s TV cop shows. (His affection for contemporary anime is
also evident here.)
He imaginatively mixes his film stock, creating a look that echoes the
movies he's eluding to. He even goes so far as to lift the music from
many of those films and TV shows. (Sonny Chiba, a star of innumerable
samurai sagas and cop thrillers, has a memorable role in volume one.)
Although the movie is nearly plagiaristic in its imitative nature, it
also has a screenplay that crackles with snappy dialogue. We're never
expected to take anything seriously, but to simply go along for the goofy
The irritating thing about Kill Bill is its incessant tastelessness
and brutality. We're expected to say, "Oh, it's all just a joke."
If you can do that, then you'll find the movie extremely diverting. If
not, you'll just have to grudgingly accept the fact that it is expertly
made crap. (R) Rating: 4; Posted 4/23/04