Arnold Rifkin

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Deception (2008) Review


Grim
According to web reports, this Hugh Jackman/Ewan McGregor thriller was originally titled The Tourist and The List before the filmmakers and/or studio finally settled on Deception. The alternates are not exactly the most eye-catching or original titles, but both would be just as appropriate for this particular film. I can't imagine what the impetus was to find something even more generic -- or if it's even possible to come up with a more bland thriller title. Betrayal, perhaps? Dark Secrets?

This is a film that starts off with some agreeable, professional trashiness before settling into routine. This is not to say that the opening, with meek, lonely accountant Jonathan (McGregor) striking up a friendship with the slick Wyatt (Jackman), is entirely smooth going. Almost immediately, the movie suffers from casting the sly, handsome McGregor as a fumbling nebbish. The guy has both acting chops and charisma; naturally, several of his Hollywood roles ask him to trade both for an American accent. Hopefully he meets up with Colin Farrell and James McAvoy to commiserate -- or maybe he swapped stories on-set with Jackman, another good-looking overseas bloke who has alternated terrific performances with bouts of blandness.

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Timber Falls Review


Terrible
Mike (Josh Randall) and Sheryl (Brianna Brown) have traveled to West Virginia to escape the stress of Washington, D.C. Armed with the essential camping supplies, they begin a hiking adventure in the scenic Appalachian Mountains. With little knowledge of the hiking trails, they consult a local woman named Ida (Beth Broderick) for advice. She recommends Timber Falls, the most beautiful path, but the least frequently patrolled.

They accept Ida's advice. While hiking Timber Falls, Mike and Sheryl encounter stunning waterfalls, pristine lakes, and a mountaintop campsite with gorgeous Appalachian views (though camera crews never stepped foot in West Virginia; the film was shot in Romania). They set up camp and go to sleep. The next day, Sheryl goes missing. Mike suspects mischief from the rifle-wielding backwoods boys they met the previous day.

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Live Free or Die Hard Review


Extraordinary
He's back. The fly in the ointment. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the... well, since Len Wiseman's Live Free or Die Hard is the franchise's first installment saddled with an audience-friendly PG-13 rating, we'll have to dance around that last quote. But that's about the only thing toned down as Bruce Willis resurrects his iconic blue-collar cop character John McClane for a timely, terrifying, and terrifically entertaining popcorn flick.

Chances are I enjoyed this new Die Hard, the fourth in the series, more than you will. Full disclosure time: The original Die Hard is my favorite film. Not my favorite Bruce Willis film. Not my favorite action film. My favorite film, period. And Willis' invulnerable but impossibly human John McClane is, to me, the quintessential movie hero -- a street-smart civil servant with a knack for disrupting the best-laid plans of vicious malcontents.

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Just My Luck Review


Terrible
When I've mentioned to people that I like Lindsay Lohan, the actress, I've gotten the same looks as if I've said I like the taste of light bulbs. Though she's become a staple in Us Weekly because of her partying ways and the fluctuating weight, it's easy to lose sight that her talent, not her figure, got her in the door. Does anyone remember Freaky Friday? Anyone? With the right script, she can shine. I stand by that.

My job will become that much harder if the 19-year-old keeps appearing in fare like Just My Luck. Lohan stars as a P.R. agent living a life in which good luck sticks to her like dandruff. Give her a lottery ticket to scratch, she'll win something. One elevator door closes; another one opens. Meanwhile, elsewhere in New York City, a young music promoter (Chris Pine) has nothing but bad luck, which we find out courtesy of a drawn-out sequence.

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The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course Review


OK
Steve Irwin brings his popular Animal Planet antics to the big screen in The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. Irwin plays a hardly fictionalized version of himself in which he tackles the wildest of outback prey. The film's poorly constructed plot centers on a crocodile that has gobbled a key piece from a U.S. spy satellite that has blown up and fallen into the Australian bush. The CIA wants it back so they send some bumbling agents down under to find it. Bad news for them, because Steve Irwin and his wife Terri think they're poachers who want the crocodile dead in order to make handbags and belts.

The plot doesn't matter (and even Crocodile Dundee took care of that). Irwin is the real show here - everything else just distracts from him. The movie is just another episode of his popular television series. While in the Outback, he gets up close and personal with spiders, lizards, crocodiles, and snakes. Speaking directly to the camera, he gives us a fairly useful education about these different animals while Terri provides additional commentary (think commercial spokesperson). It's all very interesting stuff and Irwin's humor and quick wit is enough to keep the lessons entertaining and the action scenes believable.

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Hostage Review


Terrible
Near the end of this chaotic and clich├ęd movie, Bruce Willis' character is told, "The less you know, the better." While he may be better off not knowing a damn thing, we would be better off knowing something about this film. Hostage is predicated on an interesting concept, but it is quickly lost with the familiar, violence-heavy plot that typifies below average thrillers.

Willis plays Jeff Talley, a former LAPD hostage negotiator who resigns his guilt-ridden, big city post for a quiet, safe position as chief of police in the small town of Bristo Camino. Even with the new surroundings, Talley has yet to heal the emotional scarring he's inflicted on his wife and daughter. Instead of reconciling the damage at home, he runs from it: "See you next weekend" he tells his family before scurrying off to work. It's hardly the behavior you'd expect from someone touted as an expert in mediation.

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Hart's War Review


Extraordinary
I must admit I had preconceived notions regarding Hart's War. I was expecting to see a blood-and-guts WWII P.O.W. flick with Bruce Willis kicking Nazi butt, just like Audie Murphy. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by this strange mixture of The Verdict and The Great Escape that delivers on all fronts, with a cunning script, great acting, and subtle directing.

The story resembles one of those studio pictures of the 1940s and 1950s made famous by the likes of William Holden and Gary Cooper. Willis plays Col. William McNamara, the highest-ranking officer in German prisoner camp Stalag IV during the tail end of the WWII. McNamara retains the dignity of his fellow American soldiers held captive and silently plans to strike back against the enemy under the suspicious eyes of German Col. Werner Visser (Marcel Iures). When a murder occurs in the camp, McNamara sets in motion a plan of attack against his German counterparts by orchestrating a court martial headed by Lt. Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell), an Army desk jockey with a senator for a father who was recently captured in Belgium. As the tensions mount and sides are taken, both friend and foe uncover duplicities within their own ranks, values of lives are weighed against the duties of soldiers, and the question of honor versus freedom plays out to the final whopper of an ending.

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Bandits (2001) Review


Grim
If you start a movie by telling people how it's going to end, well, telling us how it gets there better be one hell of a good time. And to be sure, Bandits begins with its ending, but the story leading up to the dramatic finale is just about as lame as they come.

Doing time for unknown crimes, Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thornton) are milling about the clink one day when our hunky inmate Joe engineers a daring escape, taking his milquetoast pal Terry along for the ride. Within a few nights on the lam, they've engineered a plan for a new kind of bank robbery -- kidnap the bank manager at his home, spend the night at his house, then waltz in with him first thing in the morning and abscond with all the money.

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Tears of the Sun Review


Good
A priest, two nuns, and an American doctor tend to wounded refugees in a Nigerian mission. No, this isn't the first line from one of your grandfather's old jokes. It's the launch pad for Antoine Fuqua's Tears of the Sun, a proper military potboiler that catapults blue-collar Bruce Willis back into the hero seat he's grown accustomed to over the years.

Civil war is tearing Nigeria in two. Without warning, the country's president is overthrown by infidels, who assassinate the deposed leader along with his immediate family. Amidst the political upheaval, our government orders a U.S. Navy SEAL platoon led by Lt. A.K. Waters (Willis) to infiltrate the African jungles and extract Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) and her assistants.

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Arnold Rifkin

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