Reviewed by Deborah Young
It's raining in what appears to be a huge deserted field. The camera
zooms in on a mud-covered milk carton lying on the ground. As the rain
continues to fall, it washes enough mud from the cartons surface
to reveal the picture of a missing child and the childs name.
Thats how Suspect Zero begins, with an image that at first
seems a hokey device to foreshadow kidnapping or murder or both. On the
heels of this image comes another: a drenched Ben Kingsley (as Benjamin
O'Ryan). Hes walking into a diner to confront a portly traveling
salesman whos sitting at one of the tables.
The eerie soundtrack punctuates Kingsleys arrival and tells viewers,
in clichéd thriller fashion, something bad is about to happen.
The salesman senses trouble immediately (too quickly). He exits the diner
and almost runs to his car. When he gets to the car, he fumbles the keys
several times in premature panic. It becomes obvious that not only has
the actor read the script, apparently the fictional character has too.
At that point, its easy to see the master plan of the films
architects (director E. Elias Merhige and screenwriters Zak Penn and Billy
Ray). They want us to be scared right at the start, but their attempt
to stir immediate fear is a feeble one, because its too obvious.
It is, after all, hard to be afraid when you see a benign hand pushing
a plastic skeleton in your direction.
A few bizarre camera shots are thrown in to accent the creepy effect.
Theres one, for instance, that focuses on a mans shoes and
pants legs at the threshold of the door. The strange perspective of the
shot creates the illusion that the owner of those shoes is hanging upside
down, walking into the room on the ceiling, which is more funny than creepy.
Its a slow and painful start for a film that winds up being about
something offbeat and more than a little interesting. A killer of serial
killers lures an FBI agent into a bizarre search for suspect zero.
The search involves tricks of the mind, visions and, for the agent, self-
doubt. As the story unfolds theres also a slow, seductive revelation
that the FBI agent empathizes with the killer. The two men share a similar
gift (or curse).
The film is short on dialogue and long on bizarre images of dead serial
killers whose bodies bare the strange markings of their common killer.
The camera catches the two main characters crimson visions of things
past, present and things to come. It captures frames of a child in a swing,
a woman (who we assume to be the childs mother) hanging laundry
on the clothesline, and then an empty swing cutting through the air.
In another scene, the camera projects the image of two men in a sienna
desert talking, and then one shoots the other in the stomach at close
range. Theres an image of a boy in the cab of an 18-wheeler, on
the drivers side, his palms to the window, his mouth locked in the
oval shape of a desperate scream. Then comes the final image, a sketch
of a mans head and torso, the lines jagged as if scribbled with
urgency, the urgency of a killer with a purpose.
In this film, the images are everything. Theyre sometimes unreliable
and sometimes telling. But connected, they form an entertaining and, in
many ways, unconventional story. The artistry outweighs the flaws of plodding
pace and occasional clichés. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 8/30/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Great is a term that folks all too often throw about casually.
(What a great song. That was a great meal. Hes
a great dog.)
Film fanatics overuse it too, but they usually do so by specifying a genre.
(That was a great horror movie.) The word has lost a lot of
its power as a result of this misuse. That makes it difficult when something
truly great comes along.
Hero may well be a great movie. Already the most popular film in
Chinese history, this martial arts epic from director Zhang Yimou (The
Road Home) has depth, scope and action to spare. Its a wonder
that it has taken so long (two years) for it to receive the wide U.S.
release it deserves. (Reportedly, Quentin Tarantino championed the film,
signed on as producer, and convinced Miramax to release it.)
A mythical drama that rivals Homer in its scale, Hero takes place in the
3rd century BC, before the unification of China. Jet Li (Cradle to
the Grave) stars as Nameless, a warrior who has been summoned to receive
an honor from the King of Qin (Chen Daoming).
Nameless, you see, has killed three assassins who threatened the life
of the king. Those he has dispatched were legendary in their skill. Nameless
explains to the king how he eliminated Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword
(Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). These stories also involve
Broken Swords apprentice, Moon (Zang Ziyi). The king is skeptical
of Nameless explanations and motives, and offers some possible scenarios
of his own.
The film shows these various versions Rashomon-style, depicting similar
scenes through differing perspectives. Each story is cloaked in a different
thematic color (red, blue, white green, etc.), adding an intriguing symbolic
overlay into what is essentially a visual narrative.
Director Zhang Yimou, cinematographer Christopher Doyle and fight choreographer
Ching Siu-Tung have mounted some impressive, highly memorable scenes.
The battle between Nameless and Sky plays like an action-packed chess
match. A swordfight between Moon and Flying Snow is a lush, grandiose
spectacle where the colors of the leaves on the trees regularly change
in a visual chorus of operatic proportions.
This kind of martial arts opus is a staple of Eastern culture, but Western
audiences may not find it quite so alien now that Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon has broken through.
If Western audiences do embrace a brilliant piece like Hero that
would indeed be great. (PG-13) Rating: 5; Posted 8/27/04
The Hunt For the Blood Orchid
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Every once in a while a film comes along that is so bad that it transcends
its awfulness and blossoms into unintentional hilarity. This phenomenon
is known throughout film-buff circles as the Ed Wood phenomenon.
Anacondas: The Hunt For the Blood Orchid is so dreadful that audiences
will find themselves entertained and amused by the slithery spectacle.
The film should have been called Anacondas: Pretty Twenty-something
Soap Stars in Peril because the plot is just an excuse to get a
lot of young people in the jungle.
A group of scientists charter a boat to take them through the jungles
of Borneo. (The role of Borneo is expertly played by Fiji.) The sole purpose
of this excursion is to find the blood orchid, a flower that blooms once
every seven years and is the key to immortality. How the scientists know
it blooms every seven years after just discovering it is one of many plot
Unfortunately, the flower is located in the exact spot that giant man-eating
anacondas have designated as their mating place. (Youre telling
me theres some snake orgy in the jungle? one cast member mournfully
wails.) Unfortunately, the writers failed to consult an encyclopedia because
there are no anacondas in Borneo (or Fiji for that matter.) The CGI snakes
proceed to devour one hunk after another. Will the crew survive the journey
while keeping their perfect hairstyles intact?
The character development is as thin as shed snakeskin. Theres the
ex-military captain, Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner) whose primary character
attribute is that hes unshaven. Perhaps we can attribute his stubble
to the fact that he tends to shave with a bowie knife while brazenly delivering
lines like, Havent you ever seen a man shave before?
Hes also good at glowering, killing alligators bare-chested and
scaring the women with his mischievous monkey.
Joining him in the hunt is a cast of beefcakes. Theres the blond
southern graduate student, Sam (KaDee Strickland), the evil British corporate
scientist, Jack (Matthew Marsden) who dryly explains, I like science.
I just like money better. The African-American comic relief, Cole
(Eugene Byrd) who cries out winning lines like, Were just
going to walk toward the head hunters? Not away? and many of todays
chiseled actors (soon to be tomorrows snake poop.)
Yet, somehow, despite all the snake bile thrown at them, the audience
loved it. They cheered on the doomed expedition while screaming and heckling
in all the right places. This film may have the intelligence of a gherkin
but it certainly was more fun than The Exorcist: The Beginning
or Suspect Zero. In many respects, its nice to see a scary
movie that recognizes that its not going to change the genre or
create a mythos but instead simply tries to elicit a few jumps, screams
and laughs. That certainly is refreshing. (PG-13) Rating: 2; Posted 8/27/04
Don't Live Here Anymore
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
When embarking on an adulterous affair, you would think that smart, well-educated
people would take a moment to consider the consequences.
All too often, they do not.
So it is with the characters in We Dont Live Here Anymore,
a credible, well-acted drama based upon a couple of short stories by Andre
Dubus (In the Bedroom).
Four friends (all intelligent thirtysomethings who should have enough
savvy to avoid self-destructive behavior) decide to embark on extramarital
adventures. Their motives, of course, are all quite different.
Jack Linden (Mark Ruffalo) is a college professor who is striving to keep
his head above water and provide for his wife, Terry (Laura Dern) and
their two kids. Their struggles are similar to those of millions of other
middle-class families, but Terry does tend to drink a bit too much.
Their best friends are Jacks literate colleague Hank Evans (Peter
Krause) and his wife Edith (Naomi Watts) who often join them for dinner,
drinks and videos. At any opportunity, Jack and Edith slip off to run
an errand. Theyre having a transparent affair.
Being modern and sophisticated people, these friends dont make
a scene in front of one another, but allow their marriages to strain at
the seams. One thing leads to another and, inevitably, Terry and Hank
begin a loveless liaison.
Slowly and deliberately, the film illuminates the issues that drove these
individuals into this situation. You may often feel the need to slap some
sense into these characters, but youll never doubt their self-delusion.
These characters are painfully real.
Ruffalo (Collateral) conveys an acute sensitivity without ever
making Jack seem to be fey or weak. Watts (21 Grams) is equally
good as Edith, a woman obviously smitten with Jack even though she holds
out hope for her philandering husband. Krause (TVs Six Feet Under)
is believably self-possessed to the exclusion of others, while Dern (I
Am Sam) displays a frightening, bitter anger at the hand shes
These are basically good people who are grasping at straws for a few hints
of happiness. Ones reaction to their conflicts may well depend on
how much of their whining you can take.
Director John Curran (Praise) and screenwriter Larry Gross (Prozac
Nation) dont hit us over the head with a moral, but allow us
to put ourselves in the delicate position of their characters.
Aspects of the film can be a bit too somber and annoying, but its
a skillfully acted ensemble piece that serves as a chilling cautionary
tale. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 8/27/04
Best Two Years
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Hollywood is still the movie capital of America, but there is another
place that is responsible for a lot of film production. Because it is
the center of the LDS church, Utah churns out scores of Mormon-friendly
The Best Two Years is one example. Made, financed and distributed
by Mormons, this lighthearted comedy is one of their higher quality features
and its getting a somewhat wider release than usual.
Writer/director Scott S. Anderson adapted the film from his stage play,
which, in turn, was based upon his experiences as a Mormon missionary
serving in Holland.
Young Mormon men, you see, are encouraged to spend two years in the mission
field...and most of them do. Theyre given extensive training in
doctrine and language at the Missionary Training Center in Utah, and then
sent out to proselytize in pre-determined areas throughout the world.
Naturally, some are more enthusiastic about their calling than others.
The Best Two Years centers on four young men who experience highs
and lows while serving in the cities of Amsterdam and Haarlem.
K.C. Clyde plays Elder Rogers, one of four missionaries who share a tiny,
squalid apartment in Haarlem. Rogers is a dispirited fellow, utterly lacking
motivation. His former mission companion, you see, has returned home and
stolen his girl.
His roommates are the upright Elder Johnson (David Nibley) and the vain
Elder Van Pelt (Cameron Hopkins). Although they seem to be constantly
at odds, at least theyre doing their jobs. Elder Rogers spends most
of his time moping and photographing flowers.
Things get stirred up when Elder Rogers new companion arrives. Elder
Calhoun (Kirby Heyborne) is a nerdy, awkward sort, a convert from Catholicism
who is nervous but eager to spread the word. His utter lack of finesse
is matched only by his weak grasp of Dutch.
Although initially dismayed at being paired with this geek, Elder Rogers
slowly discovers that this companions zeal may provide just the
inspiration he needed to get him out of his funk.
Clyde is very good as Elder Rogers, managing to be likable even when hes
a whining sloth.
Heybornes role is more difficult to pull off. Elder Calhoun, as
written, is a stereotype that Anderson has saddled with utterly clichéd
behavior. Ones reaction to this whole movie will depend upon whether
or not you buy his knotty performance.
Although The Best Two Years is aimed at providing confirmation
to the faithful, it is a rather cheery comedy for the rest of us. (PG)
Rating: 3; Posted 8/27/04
Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
If you werent at private house party screenings sponsored by MoveOn.org
or at the recent Reel Democracy festival at the Screenland Theatre, you
may not have gotten the message. Here it is: Fox News is biased.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdochs War on Journalism is a low-budget,
77-minute video assault on the cable news network that bills itself as
Fair and Balanced. The fact that Fox is actually a mouthpiece
for the Republican Party really shouldnt come as a surprise to anyone.
The real revelation is how phenomenally effective it has become.
An incisive documentary by Robert Greenwald (Uncovered: The War on
Iraq), Outfoxed shows how Fox, as conceived and executed by
media mogul Murdoch and former Republican media operative Roger Ailes,
has turned journalism on its head.
Under normal circumstances, a TV news gathering organization relies on
its reporters to find a story, develop it with their editors and present
it on air. Instead of this usual progression from bottom to top, Fox dictates
how the news will air from the top down.
As Greenwald illustrates, Fox Senior VP John Moody sends out a daily memo
directing his underlings on what stories to pursue and how to present
them. Naturally, theyre encouraged to show President Bush in a positive
light and to hold up the Democrats to critical scrutiny.
In reaction to this approach, veteran newsman Walter Cronkite (not a man
known for hyperbole) is blunt in his assessment of Fox News. He characterizes
it as a far right-wing organization.
Greenwald uses a lot of talking heads to make his point. Not only does
he present the perspectives of media watchdogs (David Brock, Jeff Cohen,
John Nichols, Robert McChesney, etc.), but many former Fox reporters and
producers as well.
Greenwald also shows a lot of Fox footage to demonstrate the blatant conservative
spin employed by the likes of Sean Hannity, Bill OReilly and Brit
Hume. It also exposes Fox reporters ubiquitous use of phrases like
Some people say
so that they can make a point without
having to cite a source.
But perhaps the films most effective exposé is a video of
a pre-interview chat between Fox White House correspondent Carl Cameron
and President Bush. Their lovey-dovey dialogue centers on Camerons
wife...an employee in Bushs campaign!
Greenwalds film eschews the flashy, comedic approach employed by
Michael Moore, but has a similar agenda in presenting an unapologetic
perspective from the left. In this regard, Outfoxed is no more
fair and balanced than Fox is. (Where are the examples from
other media outlets? What political parties do other media moguls belong
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation regards Foxs profitability
and its profound influence on other networks. Bias is one thing. Changing
the face of journalism is quite another. (No MPAA rating. Outfoxed
can be obtained on DVD at www.outfoxed.org)
Rating: 4; Posted 8/23/04