Ken Leung

Ken Leung

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Inside Man Review


Extraordinary
Let's just say this now: the heist movie is tired, kaput, over. Maybe it was the endlessly upgraded arms race in cinematic heists trying to outdo each other. One time it's a $50 million job, the next $100 million. Every time the perps are armed with increasingly high-tech gadgetry pitted against One Lone Cop who must say at some point early in the film, "These guys are good." Ocean's 11 and 12 didn't help, playing the whole thing for a lark and tossing around astronomical sums of money like so many imaginary zeros. So with all this to consider, how is it the new heist movie Inside Man - featuring some pretty smart bank robbers facing off against a possibly smarter hostage negotiator - turns out to be such spiffy entertainment?

For one, the film seems located in a neighborhood that's at least adjacent to the real world. For another, it features Clive Owen vs. Denzel Washington; like Batman vs. Superman but with fewer KAPOW!s. Lastly, it's got a sense of humor, remember those? There are those who will say that Spike Lee is the absolute last person you'd call up to direct a heist movie, since he'd never done anything remotely like it before. Ignore them, as he was the perfect director to bring in on this one, Inside Man being almost more a film about New York's gloriously messy welter of ethnicities than it is about a bank robbery. Though the robbery itself is something to behold, too.

Continue reading: Inside Man Review

Sucker Free City Review


Good
Even the most ardent Spike Lee fans may have missed Sucker Free City when it came and went on Showtime as a two-hour pilot for a series that never made it. Well, it's time to catch up and lament what might have been if Lee had been able to commit to directing more episodes. SFC is a tight, tense, multifaceted slice of San Francisco gang life that shows what happens when black, white, and Asian gangs stray from their traditional turf and start to bump up against each other.

Actually, the first to stray is the Wade family, when hippy dippy Mom (Kathy Baker) and Dad (John Savage) and their two teenage kids are forced out of their Mission rental due to rising real estate prices. They relocate to Hunter's Point, a tough gang-controlled black neighborhood where random gunfire is the norm. Mom and Dad are so full of liberal guilt that they express sympathy for the hoodlums who immediately ransack their house. Young Nick (Ben Crowley), who steals credit card numbers and deals coke at the finance office where he works, doesn't share his parents' views. Despite the fact that he likes to dress and act like a gangbanger, as so many white teens do, he considers the guys across the street to be animals.

Continue reading: Sucker Free City Review

Saw Review


Weak
You know how some movies have perfect trailers -- so imaginatively cut together that you can't help but have to see the movie when it comes out? And then you see the movie and it kinda sucks?

Saw is that movie.

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Rush Hour Review


Good
I'll be the first to admit that I didn't used to like Jackie Chan or Chris Tucker. I have never seen either of them in a movie I liked -- until now. Rush Hour, the 1998 action comedy directed by Brett Ratner, successfully blends two immensely different personalities. The film also works because it contains the perfect amount of action and comedy. By themselves, Chan and Tucker do not provide anything inspiring or refreshing, but when they are combined, they form a surprisingly entertaining comedic duo.

Chan and Tucker are truly opposites. Jackie is known for his modest demeanor and amazing physical abilities, but not for his amazing grasp of the English language. Chris is boastful and outspoken, a shameless motormouth that just will not shut up. The pairing of these two actors works well. Chan provides us with the action and Tucker provides us with the witty comic relief.

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Red Dragon Review


Good
Red Dragon has just about everything going against it.

It's the third movie in a series that won an insane number of Oscars (The Silence of the Lambs) and was promptly followed by one of the worst films in recent memory (Hannibal). It's a prequel... and its big star (Anthony Hopkins) is about 20 years too old. And it's a remake of a minor cult classic (Manhunter), a fantastic film which will invariably stomp the crap out of Red Dragon in the history books.

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Face (2002) Review


Weak
The concept of "losing face" is the titular reference made by Bertha Bay-Sa Pan's Face, the story of three generations of Chinese-American women living in Queens (during both the 1970s and 1990s) whose lives are forever altered by an adherence to outmoded beliefs. Earnest and intermittently poignant despite its obvious construction, Bay-Sa Pan's drama is yet another in a long line of cinematic stories about immigrant families struggling to simultaneously assimilate and retain their ethnic heritage. And while it brings little freshness to the burgeoning sub-genre, this minor film - mildly affecting even considering its uneven performances and some grating use of music - nonetheless conveys the intractability of long-held attitudes and the frequent impossibility of cross-generational reconciliation.

The life of demure, respectful teenager Kim (Bai Ling) is forever altered when, after being raped by acquaintance Daniel (Will Yun Lee), she discovers she's pregnant and is forced by her mother Mrs. Lieu (Kieu Chinh) - who blames Kim for the situation, and who's eager to minimize her own dishonor - to marry her spiteful attacker. Desperate to escape this miserable betrothed life, Kim eventually snaps, leaving the baby girl in her mother's care before fleeing for Hong Kong. Nineteen years later, Kim returns to Queens to attend her resentful daughter Genie's (Kristy Wu) high school graduation, only to find tradition-rejecting history repeating itself. Ignoring her grandmother's disapproving stance toward anything modern or American, Genie surreptitiously wears belly shirts that display her forbidden naval piercing, hangs out with non-Chinese friends, and has begun dating Michael (Anthony "Treach" Criss, frontman for Naughty by Nature), an African-American DJ whose skin color makes him, in the eyes of Genie's elderly guardian, an unacceptable boyfriend.

Continue reading: Face (2002) Review

Keeping The Faith Review


Good

A deftly updated homage to the screwball comedy stylings Howard Hawks, George Cukor and Billy Wilder, "Keeping the Faith" acknowledges right away that its plot, about two men of the cloth falling in love with the same girl, sounds like a lame bar joke.

It opens with the fantastic and versatile Edward Norton ("Fight Club," "American History X") playing a spiritually conflicted -- and at the moment, completely sauced -- Catholic priest, pouring his soul out to a patient bartender. "So there's this priest and this rabbi, and they're best friends, see...," he slurs into his beer.

The rest of the story goes something like this: Ben Stiller co-stars as the padre's rabbi rival for the affections of the magnetic Jenna Elfman, a long-lost friend from their shared Brooklyn childhood who pops back into their lives 20 years later, all grown up, sexy, sweet and irresistible.

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SAW Review


OK

Sclock-horror maestro Roger Corman constantly reminded his writers of the vital importance of the first ten minutes of a film. That's when you capture the audience and set the tone for the entire film. Many filmmakers waste time with a useless montage or shots of a cityscape, etc. With the new horror film "Saw," we start exactly when the characters do: we suddenly wake up in a bathtub full of water in a dark room with no memory of how we got there. It's literally a birth into a new and uncertain world.

Two other recent films started this way, "Cube" and "Dark City," and both have become cult classics. "Saw" may be destined for the same.

First-time writer/director James Wan and co-writer/actor Leigh Whannell unfold their story slowly, giving information only as it's required -- or when it's unexpected. Adam (Whannell) climbs out of the bathtub and takes in his surroundings. It's a disgusting industrial bathroom with lots of huge pipes winding all over the walls and ceiling. He has no shoes on and his ankle is locked and chained to one of the pipes. A man lies in a pool of blood in the middle of the floor, a gun in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. A third man, a live one, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) is chained to the opposite side of the room.

Continue reading: SAW Review

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