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Fury [aka The Samaritan] Review


Good
Set in Toronto, this noir thriller gets under the skin due to layered performances from the entire cast. It's a slow build until the final act, but it remains gripping thanks to a snaky plot that gets nastier and scarier as it develops.

After 25 years in prison, con-artist Foley (Jackson) decides to change his life. All his old friends are gone, and his best pal's son Ethan (Kirby) now works for vicious businessman Xavier (Wilkinson). But Ethan brings back the issues Foley is trying to put behind him. Worse, Ethan needs Foley's help for a "samaritan" grift, which involves coming to the aid of the mark to win his trust. Then Foley meets vulnerable young call-girl Iris (Negga), who manages to get under his skin.

Continue reading: Fury [aka The Samaritan] Review

Sunshine (2000) Review


Excellent
Now that the 20th century is finally over, I guess it's time to start re-interpreting it. Hopefully, summarizers of the century will follow the example of Hungarian director Istvan Svabo and honestly face the truth, no matter how painful. (Unfortunately, many intellectuals don't always seem interested in the truth --- especially about subjects like communism, which many continue to embrace.)

In Sunshine, Svabo looks back through the last 100 years of his country's history for meaning, and finds some --- enough to fill a three-hour, soapy epic about the century's chaos. The film mostly works, and is a worthy addition to Svabo's art.

Continue reading: Sunshine (2000) Review

Fateless Review


Excellent
In recently occupied Budapest, 1944, the Nazis are implementing the Final Solution, and the reality of it is understandably difficult to comprehend. Seen through the eyes of Gyura Koves (Marcell Nagy), a 14-year-old Jew sent to the camps not long after his father, Fateless eschews the methods of many Holocaust-set dramas by avoiding the dramatic escalation to the final Nazi roundup. The bricks of the genocide are set in place bit by bit, and almost entirely by ordinary people not cloaked in horror-film SS garb, but who are instead everyday Hungarians thinking they're just following orders or doing what they have to do to survive. The villainy is all around - the film is steeped in death - but rarely personified, as that would seem almost too easy a way out. It's a defining choice on the filmmakers' part and one that elevates this difficult work to near-classic status.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertesz (who also wrote the screenplay), Fateless is for the most part an impressionistic story of one boy's journey through Hitler's death camps. When we first see him, the olive-skinned, shaggy-haired Gyura is your average callow teenager who doesn't seem all that interested in much besides the neighbor girl, and even when his father is sent away to the camps, can barely muster up a tear for the occasion. By happenstance, he's on a bus run by a policeman who's rounding up all the Jews he can for deportation to the camps. While being herded through the city streets to their fate, the policeman catches Gyura's eye after a few of the captives have snuck away and, ever so slightly, he cocks his head as though giving Gyura permission to escape. Frozen either through indecision or incomprehension, Gyura passes up the opportunity and is packed into the train with everyone else.

Continue reading: Fateless Review

Existenz Review


Excellent
Well, Cronenberg is back, and after a couple of misfires like Crash, M. Butterfly, and well, pretty much the last ten years of his oeuvre, he's got a solid flick with eXistenZ. In fact, I'd say it's his best work since 1983's Videodrome.

The story is straight outta modern/near-future pop culture: Using a "bioport," you can jack your body and mind into an immersive game world--a world served up by a handheld bio-engineered creature called a "game pod" that is essentially a blood-pulsing Nintendo. There are no computers in the film: just the mutated organisms that are Cronenberg's trademark. And oh does he put them to good use.

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Max Review


Good
Going into Max I knew nothing at all of what it was about. With such a title (and let's face it, a truly awful one at that), Max could have been a story about anything. The last thing I would ever have expected would be that it was a semi-fictionalized tale of a young Adolf Hitler after the close of WWI, when he was trying to make it as an artist.

The Max in question is Max Rothman (John Cusack), an amalgam of various art dealers and teachers who mentors the young Corporal Hitler (Noah Taylor) in the ways of art. Max himself is an artist too (an early performance artist, it seems, based on a bizarre skit seemingly inspired by Pink Floyd: The Wall) and sees potential in the young Adolf, urging him on while watching him grow more political as forces turn him in the direction he ultimately took. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Max is a Jew (not to mention a one-armed cripple), the hatred of which becomes the centerpiece of Hitler's ideology.

Continue reading: Max Review

Sunshine Review


Excellent
Now that the 20th century is finally over, I guess it's time to start re-interpreting it. Hopefully, summarizers of the century will follow the example of Hungarian director Istvan Svabo and honestly face the truth, no matter how painful. (Unfortunately, many intellectuals don't always seem interested in the truth --- especially about subjects like communism, which many continue to embrace.)

In Sunshine, Svabo looks back through the last 100 years of his country's history for meaning, and finds some --- enough to fill a three-hour, soapy epic about the century's chaos. The film mostly works, and is a worthy addition to Svabo's art.

Continue reading: Sunshine Review

Formula 51 Review


Grim
If you were suffering from a nasty cold, would you settle for a less-than-soft, generic tissue to soothe your chapped snout, or would you pay a little more to get the plusher brand name? Of course, nothing beats the real thing! Formula 51 is like that sub-standard nose rag - it's just an artificial substitute for a much better British action-comedy.

The plot is loosely framed around the kilt-wearing master chemist Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson) who has developed a new illegal drug that produces a high that is 51 times better than cocaine, acid, or ecstasy. When McElroy attempts to sell the drug's formula to a mobster named The Lizard (Meat Loaf), the deal goes bad and McElroy flees to Liverpool with only his golf clubs. While there, he meets up with Yankee-hating thug Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle) assigned to help McElroy score $20 million for the drugs from a local gangster (Ricky Tomlinson). Unfortunately, this deal also fails. DeSouza and McElroy must now find new buyers while staying clear of other rogue groups who want the formula, and an assassin (Emily Mortimer) hired by The Lizard to return McElroy to the states.

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Owning Mahowny Review


OK
If there's any actor today who's blessed with being born at the right time, it's Philip Seymour Hoffman. Roly-poly, anxious, and pathetic-looking, in the '30s he'd play a bit role in noirs as a heavy. In a '50s western, he'd be the fellow in the corner of a saloon who got shot first. In an '80s teen exploitation flick, he'd be the fat fraternity pledge forced to perform some sort of humiliating rush antic. But in the Miramax era, where clinging to one last shred of dignity is a heroic character trait, Hoffman gets to be our new Brando. His role as a desperate gambling addict in Owning Mahowny is custom-made for him. It's a shame he's thrust into a film that seems more than a little desperate itself.

Based on a true story set in the early 1980s, Hoffman plays Dan Mahowny, a middle manager at a Toronto bank who finds himself swamped by gambling debts. To square matters with Frank (Maury Chakin), a bookie with a snow globe fetish, he uses his job's authority to set up fake loans and cash transfers. Hoffman doesn't play Mahowny as outwardly desperate; sitting at his desk with a loan approval form he's about to fake, he sweats and stares, but he's committed to feeding his addiction. There's a gleam of opportunity in his eyes, and you can feel him thinking: X amount of dollars means Y hours at the blackjack table in Atlantic City. Little else matters, including moral qualms.

Continue reading: Owning Mahowny Review

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