Library
Conall O'Brien
Collection Total:
1426 Items
Last Updated:
Dec 15, 2012
10 Things I Hate About You [1999]
It's, like, Shakespeare, man! This good-natured and likeable update of The Taming of the Shrew takes the basics of Shakespeare's farce about a surly wench and the man who tries to win her and transfers it to modern-day Padua High School. Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is a sullen, forbidding riot grrrl who has a blistering word for everyone; her sunny younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is poised for high school stardom. The problem: overprotective and paranoid Papa Stratford (a dryly funny Larry Miller) won't let Bianca date until boy-hating Kat does, which is to say never. When Bianca's pining suitor Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets wind of this, he hires the mysterious, brooding Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to loosen Kat up. Of course, what starts out as a paying gig turns to true love as Patrick discovers that underneath her brittle exterior, Kat is a regular babe. The script, by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, is sitcom-funny with peppy one-liners and lots of smart teenspeak; however, its cleverness and imagination doesn't really extend beyond its characters' Renaissance names and occasional snippets of real Shakespearean dialogue. What makes the movie energetic and winning is the formula that helped make She's All That such a big hit: two high-wattage stars who look great and can really act. Ledger is a hunk of promise with a quick grin and charming Aussie accent and Stiles mines Kat's bitterness and anger to depths usually unknown in teen films; her recitation of her English class sonnet (from which the film takes its title) is funny, heartbreaking and hopelessly romantic. The imperious Allison Janney (Primary Colors) nearly steals the film as a no-nonsense guidance counsellor secretly writing a trashy romance novel. —Mark Englehart
13 Going On 30 [DVD] [2004]
Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Gary Winick Jennifer Garner glows like a rising star in 13 Going on 30, a girly version of the Tom Hanks classic Big. Jenna (Garner, Alias, Daredevil), a frustrated teenage girl, just wants to skip past all those annoying adolescent years and arrive at a glamorous adulthood—and thanks to some inexplicable wishing dust, she does. But once she re-orients herself to a life as a high-end magazine editor with a sports-star boyfriend, she discovers that in the 17 years she skipped she became a not-so-nice person, including casting aside her best friend Matt (played as an adult by Mark Ruffalo, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). There's no question that Jenna will rediscover her lost innocence, but Garner rises above the lack of suspense. 13 Going on 30 floats along, buoyed by her goofy sweetness. Her lovely looks are made accessible by her unfettered silliness; it's a winning combination. —Bret Fetzer
17 Again [DVD] [2009]
Zac Efron, Michelle Trachtenberg, Matthew Perry, Burr Steers
21 [DVD] [2008]
Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, Robert Luketic An unconvincing exercise in moral complexity, 21 is based on Ben Mezrich's book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) plays brilliant blue collar scholar Ben Campbell, whose doubts that he'll win a scholarship to Harvard Medical School compel him to join a secret, M.I.T. gang of math whiz kids. Under the silky but chilling command of a math professor (Kevin Spacey), Jim and the others master card counting —the statistical analysis of cards dealt in blackjack games. The team lives a humdrum existence during the week, but on weekends in Sin City the students are rolling in cash, frequenting exclusive clubs and feeling on top of the world. Ben even gets the girl: a comely fellow card counter played by Kate Bosworth. Despite all the success, Ben feels ethically compromised and indeed director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, Across the Universe), in the old tradition of American movies, plays it both ways where fun vices are concerned. On the one hand, it feels so good —on the other, ahem, we know it's wrong. That studied ambivalence proves wearing after a while, making the most interesting character in the film a casino watchdog played by Laurence Fishburne. A master at reading the emotions of gamblers beating the house with a scam, he's admirable for being good at his job, but repellent for wrecking the faces of counters in casino dungeons. He's all about moral complexity in the tradition of anti-heroes, and a truly provocative element in an otherwise superficial movie. —Tom Keogh
28 Days [DVD] [2000]
Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Betty Thomas To appreciate 28 Days, it's best to be thankful that director Betty Thomas hasn't forced Sandra Bullock into a remake of Clean and Sober. Instead Thomas has balanced her comedic sensibility (evident in Dr. Dolittle and Private Parts) with the seriousness of alcoholism and substance abuse, and she succeeds without compromising the gravity of the subject matter. Some critics have scoffed at the movie's breezy, formulaic portrait of 27-year-old boozer and pill-popper Gwen Cummings (Bullock), but this smooth-running star vehicle does for Bullock what Erin Brockovich did for Julia Roberts, focusing her appeal in a substantial role without taxing the limits of her talent. It's no wonder that Susannah Grant (who wrote both films) was one of the hottest new screenwriters of 1999. She writes "Hollywood Lite" without insulting anyone's intelligence.

As played by Bullock, Gwen is an alcoholic in denial whose latest bender with boozer boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West) ruins the wedding of her sister (Elizabeth Perkins) and lands her in a month-long rehab program with the requisite gang of struggling drunks and junkies. Newcomer Alan Tudyk steals his scenes as a gay German rehabber who might've dropped in from a Berlin performance-art exhibit, and Steve Buscemi aptly conveys the weary commitment of a counsellor who's seen it all. Thomas has surrounded Bullock with a sharp ensemble, and the addition of singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III (as a kind of Greek chorus crooner) is sublimely inspired. Certainly no surprises here—the warring sisters will reconcile, and at least one rehabber will fail to recover—but there's ample pleasure to be found in Bullock's finely tuned performance, and in Thomas's inclusion of flashbacks and tangents that add depth and laughter in just the right dosage. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
50 First Dates [2004]
50 First Dates is a sweet-natured vehicle for sweet-natured stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, and their track record with The Wedding Singer no doubt factors in its lowbrow appeal. But while the well-matched lovebirds wrestle with a gimmicky plot (she has no short-term memory, so he has to treat every encounter as their first), director Peter Segal (who directed Sandler in Anger Management) ignores the intriguing potential of their predicament (think Memento meets Groundhog Day) and peppers the proceedings with the kind of juvenile humour that Sandler fans have come to expect. The movie sneaks in a few heartfelt moments amidst its inviting Hawaiian locations, and that trained walrus is charmingly impressive, but you can't quite shake the feeling that too many good opportunities were squandered in favour of easy laughs. Like Barrymore's character, you might find yourself forgetting this movie shortly after you've seen it. —Jeff Shannon
The 51st State [2001]
Ronny Yu
300 [2007]
Zack Snyder Like Sin City before it, 300 brings Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel vividly to life. Gerard Butler (Beowulf and Grendel, The Phantom of the Opera) radiates pure power and charisma as Leonidas, the Grecian king who leads 300 of his fellow Spartans (including David Wenham of The Lord of the Rings, Michael Fassbender, and Andrew Pleavin) into a battle against the overwhelming force of Persian invaders. Their only hope is to neutralise the numerical advantage by confronting the Persians, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), at the narrow strait of Thermopylae.

More engaging than Troy, the tepid and somewhat similar epic of ancient Greece, 300 is also comparable to Sin City in that the actors were shot on green screen, then added to digitally created backgrounds. The effort pays off in a strikingly stylised look and huge, sweeping battle scenes. However, it's not as to-the-letter faithful to Miller's source material as Sin City was. The plot is the same, and many of the book's images are represented just about perfectly. But some extra material has been added, including new villains (who would be considered "bosses" if this were a video game, and it often feels like one) and a political subplot involving new characters and a significantly expanded role for the Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey). While this subplot by director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) and his fellow co-writers does break up the violence, most fans would probably dismiss it as filler if it didn't involve the sexy Headey. Other viewers, of course, will be turned off by the waves of spurting blood, flying body parts, and surging testosterone. (The six-pack abs are also relentless, and the movie has more and less nudity—more female, less male—than the graphic novel.) Still, as a representation of Miller's work and as an ancient-themed action flick with a modern edge, 300 delivers. —David Horiuchi
2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]
Stanley Kubrick Confirming that art and commerce can co-exist, 2001: A Space Odyssey was the biggest box-office hit of 1968, remains the greatest science fiction film yet made and is among the most revolutionary, challenging and debated work of the 20th century. It begins within a pre-historic age. A black monolith uplifts the intelligence of a group of apes on the African plains. The most famous edit in cinema introduces the 21st century, and after a second monolith is found on the moon a mission is launched to Jupiter. On the spacecraft are Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Poole (Gary Lockwood), along with the most famous computer in fiction, HAL. Their adventure will be, as per the original title, a "journey beyond the stars". Written by science fiction visionary Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, 2001 elevated the SF film to entirely new levels, being rigorously constructed with a story on the most epic of scales. Four years in the making and filmed in 70 mm, the attention to detail is staggering and four decades later barely any aspect of the film looks dated, the visual richness and elegant pacing creating the sense of actually being in space more convincingly than any other film. A sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two (1984) followed, while Solaris (1972), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Abyss (1989) and A.I. (2001) are all indebted to this absolute classic which towers monolithically over them all.

On the DVD: There is nothing but the original trailer which, given the status of the film and the existence of an excellent making-of documentary shown on Channel 4 in 2001, is particularly disappointing. Shortly before he died Kubrick supervised the restoration of the film and the production of new 70 mm prints for theatrical release in 2001. Fortunately the DVD has been taken from this material and transferred at the 70 mm ratio of 2.21-1. There is some slight cropping noticeable, but both anamorphically enhanced image and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (the film was originally released with a six-channel magnetic sound) are excellent, making this transfer infinitely preferable to previous video incarnations. —Gary S Dalkin
About a Boy [2002]
The film version of Nick Hornby's novel About a Boy takes a deeper though no less entertaining approach than the easy laughs of Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. The "coming together" of idle playboy Will (Hugh Grant) and put-upon loner Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) is a revealing tale of self-understanding and role reversal. Will finds that being yourself is of little consequence without a defining human context, while Marcus finds that pleasing others counts for little without a degree of self-confidence. How they arrive at this complementary awareness is the intriguing subject matter of the film, involving well-meaning single mothers, difficult adolescents and helpless older adults. Yet there's a wider significance to all this in the guise of human stereotypes—how we fall into them and how we can try to get out of them.

The film's wit and amusement comes down to deft and understated directing from Chris and Paul Weitz, and a snappily crafted screenplay from Peter Hedges and the Weitz brothers. Grant clips his hair as well as his vowels for a believable and ultimately sympathetic Will—by far his best performance since Four Weddings and a Funeral. As Marcus, Hoult is convincingly self-dependent, but could have been even more self-absorbed. Toni Colette is a dead-ringer for the well-meaning but ineffectual hippie mother Fiona, while Rachel Weisz gives her best screen performance to date as the attractive and vulnerable Rachel, with whom Will comes of age emotionally. Badly Drawn Boy's soundtrack will delight those who enjoy his brand of reconstituted 1970s Dylan; the title track has a wistful charm and there's a gem of an instrumental in the "Countdown" sequence. About a Boy is in the best traditions of British comedy: enlightening as it amuses, it's a film to enjoy and come back to. —Richard Whitehouse
Addams Family Values Dvd [1993]
Barry Sonnenfeld This slightly more cohesive follow-up to The Addams Family has the same director, Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black), but a better story line. Joan Cusack plays a busty gold digger who ingratiates herself into the Addams home and convinces Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) that she wants to marry him. Besides Lloyd, the cast includes Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia, ideal as those Brontëan lovers, Morticia and Gomez. But Christina Ricci again walks away with the best moments as the chilly Wednesday Addams, making life miserable for two camp counsellors (Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski) who want her to fit in with other kids. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
The Adjustment Bureau - Triple Play
Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, George Nolfi
Adventureland [DVD] [2009]
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Greg Mottola A sweet and slap-happy mix of indie coming-of-age drama and Judd Apatow’s scatological but heartfelt manchild comedies, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland is a winning look at the pleasures and frustrations of dead-end jobs and teenage kicks as viewed through a filter of mid-‘80s pop culture. The underutilized and always watchable Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) is a sheltered, introspective New York college grad who discovers that his parents' financial woes will not only quash his dream of a summer in Europe (to enjoy its more "sexually permissive" nations) but require a move to Pittsburgh, where he lands a job at a dilapidated amusement park. There, he’s thrown in with a motley crew of eccentrics, small-town types and a few genuine free spirits, most notably co-worker Em (Kristen Stewart), whose complicated past proves irresistible to his repressed psyche. Mottola, who directed Superbad, and once worked in a similar park as a teen, doesn’t shy from the crude laughs that make Apatow’s features so popular, but he tempers it with a wistful tone and layered characters that hew closer to his earliest work, The Daytrippers. Though ill-matched at first, Eisenberg and Stewart make a likable on-screen couple, and they’re well-supported by a terrific cast that includes such die-hard scene-stealers as Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the park’s offbeat owners, Martin Starr as a Russian lit aficionado, and Ryan Reynolds as a former town tamer, now reduced to working as the park’s handyman. A soundtrack performed by underground faves Yo La Tengo and filled with a smart mix of hip cuts (Hüsker Dü, the New York Dolls, the Replacements) and period faves (Falco’s "Rock Me Amadeus") underscores the film’s blend of tentative emotions and broad laughs. — Paul Gaita
Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express [DVD] [1974]
Albert Finney, Anthony Perkins, Sidney Lumet Just the name "Orient Express" conjures up images of a bygone era. Add an all-star cast (including Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset and Lauren Bacall, to name a few) and Agatha Christie's delicious plot and how can you go wrong? Particularly if you add in Albert Finney as Christie's delightfully pernickety sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Someone has knocked off nasty Richard Widmark on this train trip and, to Poirot's puzzlement, everyone seems to have a motive—just the set-up for a terrific whodunit. Though it seems like an ensemble film, director Sidney Lumet gives each of his stars their own solo and each makes the most of it. Bergman went so far as to win an Oscar for her role. But the real scene-stealer is the ever-reliable Finney as the eccentric detective who never misses a trick. —Marshall Fine
Alias - Complete Season 5 [2005]
Alias - Season 4
Alias - The Complete First Season
Karen Gaviola Sydney bristow is a part-time grad student and a full-time spy for the c.I.A.s super-covert sd-6 division. One problem sd-6 isnt really a division of the c.I.A. Once sydney learns this secret her life will be in constant danger as she sets out to bring the terrorist leaders of sd-6 to justice. Studio: Buena Vista Home Video Release Date: 12/26/2008 Starring: Jennifer Garner Michael Vartan Run time: 990 minutes Director: J.j. Abrams
Alias - The Complete Third Season
Karen Gaviola Sydney bristow is an international spy recruited out of college and trained for espionage and self-defense. Studio: Buena Vista Home Video Release Date: 12/26/2008 Starring: Jennifer Garner
Alias: Complete Season 2 [2002]
It was a family affair in the second series of JJ Abrams' wonderfully inventive Alias, as super secret agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) came face-to-face with the mother of all super secret agents—her own mother, Irina Derevko (Lena Olin), a former KGB agent, presumed dead, and more dangerous than ever. After shooting poor Syd, Irina later shows up at the doorstep of the CIA, offering to turn herself in and work for the good guys. But can she be trusted? Alias set up so much duplicity in its second series that it might have been hard to keep track of who was doing what to whom, but thanks to a great ensemble cast, fast-paced writing and direction, and some cannily cast guest stars, the show rode a stunning emotional roller-coaster and never broke its momentum, even when halfway through the season, it reinvented itself. With episode 13, "Phase One" (which aired after the Super Bowl to the show's biggest audience), Syd's original nemesis (and employer) SD-6 changes forever, yet the kick-butt agent still finds herself going up against the malevolent leader Sloane (Ron Rifkin) and his ever-changing set of henchmen. Action fans got plenty of fighting, while romantic Alias watchers swooned as Syd and the dashing Vaughn (Michael Vartan) finally consummated their unrequited love.

The critically acclaimed show owed a debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer for its mix of action, romance, mystery, and moral quandaries, but in this series Alias truly came into its own—with a climax that came as a total shocker and prepped the show for an emotionally volatile third series. Guest stars included the phenomenal Amy Irving as Sloane's wife, Faye Dunaway as a nefarious bigwig, Christian Slater as a kidnapped scientist, and Ethan Hawke as a fellow CIA agent (or rather, two of them), but it was the dysfunctional nuclear family of Syd, Irina, and father Jack (Victor Garber) that gave Alias its heart and its strength, whether the three perfectly cast actors (all Emmy nominated) were just bickering or undertaking deadly hand-to-hand combat. —Mark Englehart
Along Came Polly [2004]
John Hamburg Opposites are forced to attract in Along Came Polly. Ben Stiller is a newlywed insurance risk-assessment analyst whose wife (Debra Messing, in a throwaway role) betrays him on their honeymoon. His uptight, play-it-safe lifestyle (which includes acute aversion to germs and irritable bowel syndrome) makes him seemingly incompatible with the spontaneous, free-spirited Polly (Jennifer Aniston), but writer-director John Hamburg (whose writing credits include the previous Stiller hits Meet the Parents and Zoolander) is determined to give them at least the appearance of romantic potential. No such luck. You will, however, get a few laughs from supporting players Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bryan Brown, and Alec Baldwin. The film is a dose of featherweight fluff that could've been better and could've been worse—surely no pairing of Stiller and Aniston can be a complete waste of time, right? Faint praise, perhaps, but fans of these mainstream funny-folk will enjoy this movie as a lazy weekend distraction. —Jeff Shannon
Amelie (Two Disc Special Edition) [DTS]
Jean-Pierre Jeunet With its use of special effects to express the main character's internal emotions, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie could have been mistaken for a French version of Ally McBeal; however, unlike Ally—"woe is me for I cannot find a man"—McBeal, Amelie is not distressed by the lack of men in her life, in fact the whole idea of sex seems to amuse her no end. Basic pleasures such as cracking the top of a Crème Brule offer her all the sensual satisfaction she needs and her existence in the "Paris of Dreams" is the stuff of fairy tales. Indeed, this cinematic treat must have worked wonders for the Paris tourist board: Jeunet's beautiful interpretation of Parisian life is depicted in all the vibrant colours you would expect from the director of Delicatessen.

On the DVD: Amelie has received an additional disc for this special edition release. Disc 1 is the same as the original single-disc release, with a choice of DTS or Dolby 5.1 sound and an 16.9 anamorphic widescreen picture with optional director's commentary. The second disc contains the new special features and, just like original disc, a lot of thought has gone into the access menu with its lavish graphics offering the choice of entering the Café, the Canal or the Station. Yet the most exciting extra in name—"Audrey Tautou's funny face"—is simply a series of out-takes which does little more than allow you to warm to Tautou as a person. The home movie includes the transformation of Tautou into Amelie and the creation of the "photo-booth album". There are also interesting interviews with Jeunet and the cast and crew, and a nice little section themed around the gnome and his travels. Along with this is a storyboard-to-screen exposition, behind-the-scenes pictures, scene tests, teasers and trailers. All in all a decent enough package, but hardly warranting the special edition label. It's hard not to wonder why Momentum didn't offer this set two months earlier. —Nikki Disney
America's Sweethearts [2001]
Joe Roth
American Beauty [2000]
Sam Mendes From its first gliding aerial shot of a generic suburban street, American Beauty moves with a mesmerising confidence and acuity epitomised by Kevin Spacey's calm narration. Spacey is Lester Burnham, a harried Everyman whose midlife awakening is the spine of the story, and his very first lines hook us with their teasing fatalism—like Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis, Burnham tells us his story from beyond the grave. It's an audacious start for a film that justifies that audacity. Weaving social satire, domestic tragedy and whodunit into a single package, Alan Ball's first theatrical script dares to blur generic lines and keep us off balance, winking seamlessly from dark, scabrous comedy to deeply moving drama. The Burnham family joins the cinematic short-list of great dysfunctional American families, as Lester is pitted against his manic, materialistic realtor wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening, making the most of a mostly unsympathetic role) and his sullen, contemptuous teenaged daughter, Jane (Thora Birch, utterly convincing in her edgy balance of self-absorption and wistful longing). Into their lives come two catalytic outsiders. A young cheerleader (Mena Suvari) jolts Lester into a sexual epiphany that blooms into a second adolescence. And an eerily calm young neighbour (Wes Bentley) transforms both Lester and Jane with his canny influence. Credit another big-screen newcomer, English theatrical director Sam Mendes, with expertly juggling these potentially disjunctive elements into a superb ensemble piece that achieves a stylised pace without lapsing into transparent self-indulgence. Mendes has shrewdly insured his success with a solid crew of stage veterans, yet he has also made an inspired discovery in Bentley, whose Ricky Fitts becomes a fulcrum for both plot and theme. Cinematographer Conrad Hall's sumptuous visual design further elevates the film, infusing the beige interiors of the Burnhams' lives with vivid bursts of deep crimson, the colour of roses—and of blood. —Sam Sutherland
American Dreamz [DVD]
American Gangster - 2 Disc Extended Collector's Edition Steel Book [2007]
Ridley Scott A slow burning, yet entirely gripping, mobster film, American Gangster pits Denzel Washington's Frank Lucas against Russell Crowe's law enforcer Richie Roberts. Spread over a necessarily prolonged running time, their story is then brutally, expertly, told.

And while American Gangster isn't in the league of prime Scorsese and Coppolla classics (such as Goodfellas and The Godfather), it's the nearest we've come in quite some time to something of that ilk. It's all based on a true story, which does mean you need to forgive it some of its obvious narrative conventions, yet this also lends it a gravitas that the film eagerly makes the most of.

It's great too to see British director Ridley Scott tackling meatier material again. This is the man, after all, who gave us Blade Runner, Alien and Gladiator, and he duly delivers with American Gangster. His finest work it isn't, but an engrossing, explosive and hard-as-nails drama it absolutely is.

What's more, American Gangster is powered by two of the finest leading men working in Hollywood right now, and it's terrific to see Washington and Crowe on top form here. And while in cinematic terms it's hardly a film that treads new ground, it's nonetheless a proper, grown-up and engrossing movie, and a very good one at that. —Jon Foster
American History X [1999]
Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay to Edward Norton is that his Oscar-nominated performance in American History X nearly convinces you that there is a shred of logic in the tenets of white supremacy. If that statement doesn't horrify you, it should; Norton is so fully immersed in his role as a neo-Nazi skinhead that his character's eloquent defense of racism is disturbingly persuasive—at least on the surface. Looking lean and mean with a swastika tattoo and a mind full of hate, Derek Vinyard (Norton) has inherited racism from his father, and that learning has been intensified through his service to Cameron (Stacy Keach), a grown-up thug playing tyrant and teacher to a growing band of disenfranchised teens from Venice Beach, California, all hungry for an ideology that fuels their brooding alienation.

The film's basic message—that hate is learned and can be unlearned—is expressed through Derek's kid brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), whose sibling hero-worship increases after Derek is imprisoned (or, in Danny's mind, martyred) for the killing of two black men. Lacking Derek's gift of rebel rhetoric, Danny is easily swayed into the violent, hateful lifestyle that Derek disowns during his thoughtful time in prison. Once released, Derek struggles to save his brother from a violent fate, and American History X partially suffers from a mix of intense emotions, awkward sentiment and predictably inevitable plotting. And yet British director Tony Kaye (who would later protest against Norton's creative intervention during post-production) manages to juggle these qualities—and a compelling clash of visual styles—to considerable effect. No matter how strained their collaboration may have been, both Kaye and Norton can be proud to have created a film that addresses the issue of racism with dramatically forceful impact. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
American Pie [1999]
Anyone who's watched just about any teenage film knows that the greatest evil in this world isn't chemical warfare, ethnic cleansing, or even the nuclear bomb. The worst crime known to man? Why, virginity, of course. As we've learned from countless films—from Summer of '42 to Risky Business—virginity is a criminal burden that one must shed oneself of as quickly as possible. And while many of these films have given the topic a bad name, American Pie quietly sweeps in and gives sex some of its dignity back. Dignity, you may say? How can a film that highlights intercourse with fruit pies, premature ejaculation broadcast across the Internet and the gratuitous "gross-out" shots restore the dignity of a genre that's been encumbered with such heavyweights as Porky's and Losin' It? The plot of American Pie may be typical, with four high-school friends swearing to "score" before the prom, yet the film rises above the muck with its superior cast, successful and sweet humour and some actually rather retro values about the meaning and importance of sex. Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Eddie Kaye Thomas make up the odd quartet of pals determined to woo, lie and beg their way to manhood. The young women they pursue are wary girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid), choir girl Heather (Mena Suvari), band geek Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and just about any other female who is willing and able. Natasha Lyonne as Jessica, playing a similar role as in Slums of Beverly Hills, is the general advisor to the crowd (when Vicky tells her "I want it to be the right time, the right place," Jessica responds, "It's not a space shuttle launch, it's sex"). The comedic timing hits the mark—especially in the deliberately awkward scenes between Jim (Biggs) and his father (Eugene Levy). And, of course, lessons are learned in this genuinely funny film, which will probably please the adult crowd even more than it will the teenage one. —Jenny Brown
The American President [1995]
What sounds like a high-concept romantic comedy pitch from hell—widower president falls for smart lobbyist while the world watches—is actually intelligent, charming, touching and quite funny. Granted, it's wish fulfilment all the way (when was the last time you saw a president who was truly presidential?) but in the capable hands of writer Aaron Sorkin (TV's Sports Night) and director Rob Reiner, TheAmerican President is incredibly enjoyable entertainment with quite a few ideas about both romance and the government. Michael Douglas stars as the president, who after three years in office starts thinking about the possibility of dating. When he auspiciously encounters cutthroat environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), sparks begin to crackle and the two begin a tentative but heartfelt romance. Of course, his job gets in the way—their first kiss is interrupted by a Libyan bombing—but darn it if these two kids aren't going to try and make it work! However, they hadn't counted on the president's Republican antagonist (Richard Dreyfuss), who starts carping about family values. The predictable plot—Douglas finally goes to bat for his lady and his country—is leavened by Sorkin's wonderful, snappy dialogue and a light touch from the usually subtle-as-a-sledgehammer Reiner. Both manage to create a believable White House-office atmosphere (with a crack staff including Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Anna Deavere Smith and Samantha Mathis) as well as a plausible and funny dating scenario. The true success of the movie, though, rides squarely on Douglas and Bening; this is unequivocally Douglas's best comedic performance (ergo his best performance, period) and Bening, usually such a good bad girl, takes a standard career-woman role and fleshes it out magnificently. You can see in an instant why Douglas would fall for her. One of the best unsung romantic comedies of the 90s. —Mark Englehart
American Psycho [2000]
Mary Harron
Angel - Season 5
Angel Season 1
Angel Season 2
Angel Season 3
Angel Season 4
Animal Attraction [2001]
Tony Goldwyn
Anne of Green Gables [1985]
Kevin Sullivan This gorgeous adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic children's story is well worth watching with the whole family. Produced for Canadian television, it's one of those rare productions that actually sticks to the book and even enhances it through first-rate performances and an excellent script. Set on bucolic Prince Edward Island in the late 19th century, Anne of Green Gables is the story of Anne Shirley, an imaginative and headstrong orphan. When brother and sister Marilla and Mathew Cuthbert decide to adopt an orphan boy to help Matthew work the farm, they are astonished when Anne arrives at the train station by mistake. "What use is she to us?" grumbles the gruff Marilla. "We might be of some use to her", answers Matthew, who has taken an instant liking to the talkative Anne. As Anne grows up, her adventures are both hilarious and moving. It's a delight to watch as she forms a friendship with the beautiful Diana and her admirer—the dashing Gilbert Blythe—then dyes her hair green, cracks a slate over Gilbert's head when he calls her "Carrots", and finds a sympathetic teacher who encourages her to attend college. Richard Farnsworth is perfect as the shy and gentle bachelor Matthew, who confides to Anne that he never went courting because "I would have had to say something". Colleen Dewhurst delivers a nuanced and powerful performance as Marilla, a seemingly cold-hearted spinster whose no-nonsense exterior conceals a warm heart. And as Anne, Megan Follows strikes the perfect note, maturing from freckle-faced orphan to elegant and poised young woman. —Elisabeth Keating
Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story [DVD] [2000] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Megan Follows, Jonathan Crombie, Stefan Scaini In a departure from the LM Montgomery book series, the third television instalment, Anne Of Green Gables, The Continuing Story, jumps ahead to World War I and puts Anne and her beloved Gilbert smack in the middle of it. Instead of marrying Gilbert after her teaching days, as she does in the books, the couple spends a disillusioning year in New York City and then quickly marry before the good doctor ships out to France. (In the book Rilla of Ingleside, Anne's sons go to war and her youngest daughter is separated from her sweetheart.) Impetuous as ever, Anne joins the Red Cross and crosses the pond to track down her husband when his letters are returned unread. What follows is an adventure that takes her through battle zones—where the bodies pile up faster than you can say Saving Private Ryan—and on to London with a half-orphaned baby, her best friend's injured husband and a tangle of international intrigue. Fans of the 10-book series may balk at the divergences and the fact that very little time is spent on Prince Edward Island. But the book's unrestrained romanticism and unapologetic sentimentality remain intact, as well as the surviving cast of the prior two films, most notably Megan Follows as Anne and Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert. This film, produced in 2000, clocks in at 185 minutes and is suitable for ages nine and up. —Kimberly Heinrichs, Amazon.com
Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel [DVD] [1987] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, James Lahti, Kevin Sullivan
Apocalypse Now Redux
In the tradition of such obsessively driven directors as Erich von Stroheim and Werner Herzog, Francis Ford Coppola approached the production of Apocalypse Now as if it were his own epic mission into the heart of darkness. On location in the storm-ravaged Philippines, he quite literally went mad as the project threatened to devour him in a vortex of creative despair, but from this insanity came one of the greatest films ever made. It began as a John Milius screenplay, transposing Joseph Conrad's classic story "Heart of Darkness" into the horrors of the Vietnam War, following a battle-weary Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a secret upriver mission to find and execute the renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has reverted to a state of murderous and mystical insanity. The journey is fraught with danger involving wartime action on epic and intimate scales. One measure of the film's awesome visceral impact is the number of sequences, images, and lines of dialogue that have literally burned themselves into our cinematic consciousness, from the Wagnerian strike of helicopter gunships on a Vietnamese village to the brutal murder of stowaways on a peasant sampan and the unflinching fearlessness of the surfing warrior Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), who speaks lovingly of "the smell of napalm in the morning." Like Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, this film is the product of genius cast into a pit of hell and emerging, phoenix-like, in triumph. Coppola's obsession (effectively detailed in the riveting documentary Hearts of Darkness, directed by Coppola's wife, Eleanor) informs every scene and every frame, and the result is a film for the ages. —Jeff Shannon
The Assassin [1993]
John Badham This is one of those Hollywood remakes of a European hit in which one can visualize a committee of studio executives sitting around and saying, "Okay, we know what made the original film unique and different and fun. How can we make that same movie and do exactly the opposite?" For-hire director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) took La Femme Nikita, Luc Besson's undeniably sexy, original, and kitschy French film about a female assassin, and translated it into The Assassin, a calculating, mechanistic American thriller with no distinctive style. Bridget Fonda gamely plays the willowy street punk who becomes a high-society killer, but once that provocative irony is in place, the movie is pretty much a series of by-the-numbers action set pieces. Until, that is, Dermot Mulroney shows up as a love interest; but even that twist can't save this film. You're much better off with the original, subtitles and all. The DVD release has optional full-screen and widescreen presentations, production notes, theatrical trailer, optional French and Spanish soundtracks, and optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
At First Sight [1999]
Irwin Winkler The tagline states, "Only love can bring you to your senses." Well, your senses have to be pretty dulled to love At First Sight. On paper the story—based on the writings of medical writer extraordinaire Oliver Sacks (Awakenings)—is intriguing: a blind man regains sight after surgery yet can never connect with what he sees, including a lovely new girlfriend. Indeed, maybe blind was better. From such interesting stuff (and a talented cast) comes a tepid love story and an unconvincing drama.

Val Kilmer plays Virgil, a serene resort worker who plays hockey in the dark and is the best masseur this side of the Catskills. Onto his table comes Amy, a bone-weary NYC architect (Mira Sorvino) who cries the first time Virgil does his magic. Instead of a voyage into the world of blindness, Amy's first instinct is to take Virgil to an eye doctor who can restore sight (Bruce Davison). Virgil receives sight, crumbling the trust between him and Amy. The clichés start building up and by the time Amy is wooed by her ex-husband (Steven Weber), her boss no less, one's patience wears thin.

The medical curiosities of the story—Virgil can see an item but can't grasp what it is until he touches it—do not translate well on screen. The film's liveliest character is Nathan Lane as a teacher of the blind. A scene with Virgil that gets to the heart of his ailment is so filled with spontaneity, one wonders if it was scripted or simply Lane's own extemporaneous dialogue. After an admirable start as a director (Guilty by Suspicion), Oscar-winning producer Irwin Winkler has not been able to put cinematic highs or believable angst into his films (The Net, Night in the City). At First Sight may look good but it is blind where it counts. —Doug Thomas
Austin Powers - International Man Of Mystery [1997]
Jay Roach If you don't think Austin Powers is one of the funniest movies of the 1990s, maybe you should be packed into a cryogenic time chamber and sent back to the decade whence you came. Perhaps it was the 1960s—the shagadelic decade when London hipster Austin Powers scored with gorgeous chicks as a fashion photographer by day, crime-fighting international man of mystery by night. Yeah, baby, yeah! But when Powers' arch nemesis, Dr. Evil, puts himself into a deep-freeze and travels via time machine to the late 1990s, Powers must follow him and foil Evil's nefarious scheme of global domination. Mike Myers plays dual roles as Powers and Dr. Evil, with Elizabeth Hurley as his present-day sidekick and karate-kicking paramour. A hilarious spoof of 60s spy movies, this colourful comedy actually gets funnier with successive viewings, making it a perfect home video for gloomy days and randy nights. Oh, behave! —Jeff Shannon
Austin Powers - International Man Of Mystery [1997]
Jay Roach
Austin Powers - The Spy Who Shagged Me [1999]
Jay Roach "I put the grrr in swinger, baby!" a deliciously randy Austin Powers coos near the beginning of The Spy Who Shagged Me and if the imagination of Austin creator Mike Myers seems to have sagged a bit, his energy surely hasn't. This friendly, go-for-broke sequel to 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery finds our man Austin heading back to the 1960s to keep perennial nemesis Dr. Evil (Myers again) from blowing up the world—and, more importantly, to get back his mojo, that man-juice that turns Austin into irresistible catnip for women, especially American spygirl Felicity Shagwell (a pretty but vacant Heather Graham). The plot may be irreverent and illogical, the jokes may be bad (with characters named Ivana Humpalot and Robin Swallows, née Spitz), and the scenes may run on too long, but it's all delivered sunnily and with tongue firmly in cheek.

Myers's true triumph, though, is his turn as the neurotic Dr Evil, who tends to spout the right cultural reference at exactly the wrong time (referring to his moon base as a "Death Star" with Moon Units Alpha and Zappa—in 1969). Myers teams Dr Evil with a diminutive clone, Mini-Me (Verne J Troyer), who soon replaces slacker son Scott Evil (Seth Green) as the apple of the doctor's eye; Myers and Troyer work magic in what could plausibly be one of the year's most affecting (and hysterically funny) love stories. Despite a stellar supporting cast—including a sly Rob Lowe as Robert Wagner's younger self and Mindy Sterling as the forbidding Frau Farbissina—it's basically Myers's show, and he pulls a hat trick by playing a third character, the obese and disgusting Scottish assassin Fat Bastard. Many viewers will reel in disgust at Mr Bastard's repulsive antics and the scatological jokes Myers indulges in, including one showstopper involving coffee and—shudder—a stool sample. Still, Myers's good humour and dead-on cultural references win the day; Austin is one spy who proves he can still shag like a minx. —Mark Englehart
Austin Powers in Goldmember [2002]
Jay Roach
Avatar Extended Collector's Edition [Blu-ray] [2009]
Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron After 12 years of thinking about it (and waiting for movie technology to catch up with his visions), James Cameron followed up his unsinkable Titanic with Avatar, a sci-fi epic meant to trump all previous sci-fi epics. Set in the future on a distant planet, Avatar spins a simple little parable about greedy colonizers (that would be mankind) messing up the lush tribal world of Pandora. A paraplegic Marine named Jake (Sam Worthington) acts through a 9-foot-tall avatar that allows him to roam the planet and pass as one of the Na'vi, the blue-skinned, large-eyed native people who would very much like to live their peaceful lives without the interference of the visitors. Although he's supposed to be gathering intel for the badass general (Stephen Lang) who'd like to lay waste to the planet and its inhabitants, Jake naturally begins to take a liking to the Na'vi, especially the feisty Neytiri (Zoë Saldana, whose entire performance, recorded by Cameron's complicated motion-capture system, exists as a digitally rendered Na'vi). The movie uses state-of-the-art 3D technology to plunge the viewer deep into Cameron's crazy toy box of planetary ecosystems and high-tech machinery. Maybe it's the fact that Cameron seems torn between his two loves—awesome destructive gizmos and flower-power message mongering—that makes Avatar's pursuit of its point ultimately uncertain. That, and the fact that Cameron's dialogue continues to clunk badly. If you're won over by the movie's trippy new world, the characters will be forgivable as broad, useful archetypes rather than standard-issue stereotypes, and you might be able to overlook the unsurprising central plot. (The overextended "take that, Michael Bay" final battle sequences could tax even Cameron enthusiasts, however.) It doesn't measure up to the hype (what could?) yet Avatar frequently hits a giddy delirium all its own. The film itself is our Pandora, a sensation-saturated universe only the movies could create. —Robert Horton
Back To The Future Trilogy (4 Disc Ultimate Edition) [1985]
Has Hollywood produced many more rounded, enjoyable trilogies such as this? We think not, and it's real testament to the quality of the Back To The Futuretrilogy that it all holds up so spectacularly well over twenty years since the first film appeared.

The films, as you probably know, following the time-travelling antics of Marty McFly, played by Michael J Fox, and Dr Emmett Brown, brought wonderfully to life by Christopher Lloyd. Across the three films, Marty and the Doc head back to the old west, meet Marty's kids in the future, nearly ruin the meeting between his parents in the past, and all the while deal with the unwelcome interference of Biff Tannen and his family tree.

Bluntly, for sheer excitement, these movies are hard to beat. Mixing in tightly woven scripts with good effects, lively direction and an endearing set of performances from a superbly-chosen cast, the whole trilogy is just tremendously good fun. Fox and Lloyd must take a good chunk of credit for that, as their on-screen partnership is in many ways the glue that sticks everything so firmly in place, but conversely, it feels odd singling them out when so much else has gone right.

A worthy addition to any DVD collection, the Back To The Future Trilogyis what can happen when Hollywood really works. From the carefully layered screenplays through to the proliferation of standout moments, you can only hope that the occasional rumours of a fourth instalment continue to prove false. After all, how can the filmmakers possibly match their achievements with these three?—Simon Brew
Bad Boys 2 [2003]
Michael Bay Bad Boys IIfulfils every audience expectation and then some: no-one goes to a movie directed by Michael Bay for delicacy and grace; you go because Bay (Armageddon, The Rock) knows how to make your bones rattle during a high-speed chase when a car flips over, spins through the air and smacks another car with a visceral crunch. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence may be mere puppets amid all this burning rubber and shrieking metal, but they actually provide a human core to the endless cascade of car wrecks and gunfights. Their easy rapport makes their personal problems—a running joke is Lawrence's attempts at anger management—as engaging as the sheer visual hullabaloo of bullets and explosions. The plot is recycled nonsense about drug lords and dead bodies being used to smuggle drugs, but the orchestration of violence is symphonic. If that's your thing, then this is for you. —Bret Fetzer
Bad Boys [1995]
Michael Bay Slick to a fault, this glossy action flick takes place in sunny Florida, where Martin Lawrence and Will Smith play two cops—one married with kids, the other a swinging bachelor. The two are forced to trade places to foil criminal mastermind Fouchet (Tchéky Karyo) who has stolen $100 million worth of heroin from a police lockup. Violent, illogical and filled with wall-to-wall profanity, Bad Boyswas the last film produced by the hit-making team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer before Simpson's untimely death and marked the directorial debut of Michael Bay who followed up with The Rock. Bad Boyswill be of interest to action buffs and fans of Téa Leoni, who makes one of her early screen appearances in the central supporting role. —Jeff Shannon
Bad Mother's Handbook [DVD] [2006]
Catherine Tate, Robert Pattinson, Robin Shepperd
Bad Mother's Handbook [DVD] [2006]
Catherine Tate, Robert Pattinson, Robin Shepperd
The Bank Job [DVD] [2008]
Jason Statham, David Suchet, Roger Donaldson A cheerful, energetic, and completely entertaining movie, The Bank Job follows some small-time hoods who think they've lucked into a big-time opportunity when they learn a bank's security system will be temporarily suspended—little suspecting that they're being manipulated by government agents for their own ends. The result is that the movie doubles its pleasures: While the robbery itself has the usual suspense of a heist film, when the robbery is over the hoods find themselves being hunted by the police, the government, and brutal criminal kingpins who were storing dangerous information in a safety deposit box. The Bank Job won't win any awards, but it's enormously fun. Director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Species) propels the action along with vigour, zippy editing (with perfect clarity among multiple story-lines) and various colourful characters. Jason Statham (Snatch, The Transporter), as the leader of the bank robbers, successfully steps away from his usual bone-crunching roles to a more human presence. The rest of the cast—including Saffron Burrows (Deep Blue Sea), Keeley Hawes (Tipping the Velvet), David Suchet (Poirot), and many faces familiar from British film and television—give their characters the right degree of personality and flavour without getting fussy or detracting from the headlong rush of the story. A little sex, a lot of action, a sly sense of humour, and a twisty plot. If more movies had these basic pleasures, the world would be a happier place. —Bret Fetzer
Barbarella - Queen of the Galaxy - Paramount Originals (includes Limited Edition reproduction film poster) [1968]
Roger Vadim
Basic [DVD] [2003]
John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, John McTiernan Basic is a military mystery that offers multi-layered deception as its dramatic raison d'etre, but with plenty of machismo attitude as befitting a semi-effective thriller from Die Hard director John McTiernan. John Travolta stars as an ex-Army Ranger-turned-DEA agent, recruited by an Army investigator (Connie Nielsen) to solve the fratricide of a reviled Sergeant (Samuel L Jackson) who was allegedly killed while commanding a Special Forces training mission in the hurricane-swept rainforests of Panama. Two survivors (Giovanni Ribisi in a showboat role and Brian Van Holt) recall the ill-fated mission as the truth unfolds, Rashomon-style, in a series of repetitive flashbacks. Tricky enough to hold one's attention as it grows increasingly irrelevant, Basic is so enamoured of its bogus ingenuity that its ultimate twist is a letdown. A second viewing might prove rewarding, if only to confirm that it all holds together. —Jeff Shannon
Batman
Tim Burton Thanks to the ambitious vision of director Tim Burton, the blockbuster hit of 1989 delivers the goods despite an occasionally spotty script, giving the caped crusader a thorough overhaul in keeping with the crime fighter's evolution in DC Comics. Michael Keaton strikes just the right mood as the brooding "Dark Knight" of Gotham City; Kim Basinger plays Gotham's intrepid reporter Vicki Vale; and Jack Nicholson goes wild as the maniacal and scene-stealing Joker, who plots a takeover of the city with his lethal Smilex gas. Triumphant Oscar-winning production design by the late Anton Furst turns Batmaninto a visual feast, and Burton brilliantly establishes a darkly mythic approach to Batman's legacy. Danny Elfman's now-classic score propels the action with bold, muscular verve. —Jeff Shannon
Batman & Robin
Joel Schumacher Following Val Kilmer's portrayal of the caped crusader in Batman Forever, the fourth Batmanfeature stars George Clooney under the pointy-eared cowl, with Chris O'Donnell returning as Robin the Boy Wonder. This time the dynamic duo is up against the nefarious Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is bent on turning the world into an iceberg, and the slyly seductive but highly toxic Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), who wants to eliminate all animal life and turn the Earth into a gigantic greenhouse. Alicia Silverstone lends a hand as Batgirl, and Elle McPherson plays the thankless role of Batman/Bruce Wayne's fiancée. A sensory assault of dazzling colors, senseless action, and lavish sets run amok, this Batman & Robinoffers an overdose of eye candy, but it is strictly for devoted Bat-o-philes. —Jeff Shannon
Batman Begins - 1 Disc Edition [2005]
Batman Beginsdiscards the previous four films in the series and recasts the Caped Crusader as a fearsome avenging angel. That's good news, because the series, which had gotten off to a rousing start under Tim Burton, had gradually dissolved into self-parody by 1997's Batman & Robin. As the title implies, Batman Beginstells the story anew, when Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) flees Western civilization following the murder of his parents. He is taken in by a mysterious instructor named Ducard (Liam Neeson in another mentor role) and urged to become a ninja in the League of Shadows, but he instead returns to his native Gotham City resolved to end the mob rule that is strangling it. But are there forces even more sinister at hand?

Co-written by the team of David S. Goyer (a veteran comic book writer) and director Christopher Nolan (Memento), Batman Beginsis a welcome return to the grim and gritty version of the Dark Knight, owing a great debt to the graphic novels that preceded it. It doesn't have the razzle dazzle, or the mass appeal, of Spider-Man 2(though the Batmobile is cool), and retelling the origin means it starts slowly, like most "first" superhero movies. But it's certainly the best Bat-film since Burton's original, and one of the best superhero movies of its time. Bale cuts a good figure as Batman, intense and dangerous but with some of the lightheartedness Michael Keaton brought to the character. Michael Caine provides much of the film's humor as the family butler, Alfred, and as the love interest, Katie Holmes (Dawson's Creek) is surprisingly believable in her first adult role. Also featuring Gary Oldman as the young police officer Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman as a Q-like gadgets expert, and Cillian Murphy as the vile Jonathan Crane. —David Horiuchi, Amazon.com
Batman Begins [Blu-ray] [2005][Region Free]
Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Christopher Nolan Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy.Christopher Nolan (Director)
Batman Forever
Joel Schumacher When Tim Burton and Michael Keaton announced that they'd had enough of the Batmanfranchise, director Joel Schumacher stepped in (with Burton as coproducer) to make this action-packed extravaganza starring Val Kilmer as the caped crusader. Batman is up against two of Gotham City's most colorful criminals, the Riddler (a role tailor-made for funnyman Jim Carrey) and the diabolical Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), who join forces to conquer Gotham's population with a brain-draining device. Nicole Kidman plays the seductive psychologist who wants to know what makes Batman tick. Boasting a redesigned Batmobile and plenty of new Bat hardware, Batman Foreveralso introduces Robin the Boy Wonder (Chris O'Donnell) whose close alliance with Batman led more than a few critics to ponder the series' homoerotic subtext. No matter how you interpret it, Schumacher's take on the Batmanlegacy is simultaneously amusing, lavishly epic, and prone to chronic sensory overload. —Jeff Shannon
Batman Returns
Tim Burton The first Batmansequel takes a wicked turn with the villainous exploits of the freakish and mean-spirited Penguin (Danny DeVito), whose criminal collaboration with evil tycoon Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) threatens to drain Gotham City of its energy supply. As if that weren't enough, Batman (Michael Keaton) has his hands full with the vengeful Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who turns out to be a lot more dangerous than a kitten with a whip. As with the first Batmanfeature, director Tim Burton brings his distinct visual style to the frantic action, but this time there's a darker malevolence lurking beneath all that extraordinary production design. —Jeff Shannon
Beetlejuice [1988]
Tim Burton Before making Batman, director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton teamed up for this popular black comedy about a young couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) whose premature death leads them to a series of wildly bizarre afterlife exploits. As ghosts in their own New England home, they're faced with the challenge of scaring off the pretentious new owners (Catherine O'Hara and Jeffrey Jones), whose daughter (Winona Ryder) has an affinity for all things morbid. Keaton plays the mischievous Beetlejuice, a freelance "bio-exorcist" who's got an evil agenda behind his plot to help the young undead newlyweds. The film is a perfect vehicle for Burton's visual style and twisted imagination, with clever ideas and gags packed into every scene. Beetlejuice is also a showcase for Keaton, who tackles his title role with maniacal relish and a dark edge of menace.—Jeff Shannon
Before Night Falls
Julian Schnabel Based on the posthumously published memoir by Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Fallsis artist-director Julian Schnabel's second exercise in artist biography, but where Schnabel's earlier film Basquiatwas relatively conventional, this film is bolder in both style and execution. Schnabel is perhaps too enamored of his subject as a noble martyr, lending the film a somewhat inflated sense of importance. Still, it's rare to see an artist's life and work so elegantly interwoven, and Before Night Fallsuses all of Arenas's life as its canvas, from impoverished youth to lively gay freedom in mid-1950's Cuba; imprisonment during Castro's antigay regime; and to New York City in 1980, followed by Arenas's battle with AIDS and subsequent suicide (depicted here as assisted) in 1990.

Through these extreme rises and falls, Arenas is always writing, his typewriter his most faithful lover and weapon (by way of smuggled manuscripts) against the dark forces that surround him. As Timemagazine's Richard Corliss wrote, Arenas is "a serious actor's dream role: to be a gay Jesus in a modern Passion Play," and Javier Bardem—the first Spanish actor to receive an Oscar nomination—inhabits the role with subtle ferocity, charting this emotional odyssey with outer reserve but blazing infernos of internal passion. And while Schnabel suffers from a hyperactive camera, there's poetry here—visual, dramatic, and literal—and vibrant humor to temper the deep tragedy of Arenas's life. Schnabel also uses his actor friends to good advantage: a nearly unrecognizable Sean Penn adds an ironic touch to his brief appearance as a peasant, and Johnny Depp is both funny and fearsome in dual roles as a drag queen and vicious army interrogator. —Jeff Shannon
Being John Malkovich [2000]
While too many films suffer the fate of creative bankruptcy, Being John Malkovichis a refreshing study in contrast, so bracingly original that you'll want to send director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman a thank-you note for restoring your faith in the enchantment of film. Even if it ultimately serves little purpose beyond the thrill of comedic invention, this demented romance is gloriously entertaining, spilling over with ideas that tickle the brain and even touch the heart. That's to be expected in a movie that dares to ponder the existential dilemma of a forlorn puppeteer (John Cusack) who discovers a metaphysical portal into the brain of actor John Malkovich.

The puppeteer takes a job working as a file clerk on the seventh-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan office building; this idea alone might serve as the comedic basis for an entire film, but Jonze and Kaufman are just getting started. Add a devious co-worker (Catherine Keener), Cusack's dowdy wife (a barely recognisable Cameron Diaz), and a business scheme to capitalise on the thrill of being John Malkovich, and you've got a movie that just gets crazier as it plays by its own outrageous rules. Malkovich himself is the film's pièce de résistance, playing on his own persona with obvious delight and—when he enters his own brain via the portal—appearing with multiple versions of himself in a tour-de-force use of digital trickery. Does it add up to much? Not really. But for 112 liberating minutes, Being John Malkovichis a wild place to visit. —Jeff Shannon
Bend It Like Beckham [DVD] [2002]
Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Gurinder Chadha For all its light-hearted comic interludes, Bend it like Beckham tackles contemporary issues of cultural clashes, female independence and the importance of family. Director Gurinder Chaddha tells the story of Jess Bhamra (Parminder K Nagra), a young girl brought up within the traditional boundaries of a Sikh family who manages to live out her fantasies in an uproarious way. Despite her parent's grounded roots the anglicised Jess joins the Hounslow Harriers and, with the help of her friend Jules (Keira Knightley), sneaks out of the house to follow her dream of playing alongside all-time hero David Beckham.

The film draws interesting parallels between the two girls, one British and one Asian, highlighting that although their colour may be different many of their ideals are the same. Jules' British mother is no less horrified by her daughter's natural talent in soccer than Mrs Bhamra, and even mistakes one embrace between the girls as a lesbian relationship. Refreshingly, though, for once the parents are not portrayed as unreasonable: their disapproval of Jess' chosen path is a result of their concern for her, and in the end they can't help but to give in to her dreams. All in all, this is a film that shows the meaning of being British Asian today—and how it is possible for Asian girls to make round chapattis as well as to bend it like Beckham. —Anika Puri
Benny And Joon [1993]
Jeremiah S. Chechik Longing for a romantic Hollywood film that will make your heart leap but not have you reaching for the sick bucket? Try Benny & Joon. Few mainstream US films manage to walk the thin line between emotion and schmaltz, but here is one film that pulls it off admirably. In the wrong hands the concept of marrying love and mental illness could have been a disaster but, as with the low-budget British film Some Voices, Benny & Joon manages to extract genuine humour and warmth from the subject. As the brother and sister of the title, the relationship between Aidan Quinn and Mary Stuart Masterson is central to the story, Benny desperately trying to keep home and job together while looking after the sick Joon. Their lives take an unexpected turn with the arrival of Sam, a brilliantly comic turn by Johnny Depp, as gradually the characters learn that the happiness that all thought beyond them is within their grasp. Depp adds yet another character to his liturgy of slightly odd outsiders but plays it with such panache, this time drawing heavily on Buster Keaton, that you cannot help but fall for him. Indeed, there is not a single character here that you would not wish well.

On the DVD: The usual scene selection and a very clear audio track, given the film's musical moments a huge boost. Few will probably be able to resist The Proclaimers' "(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles" which opens the film. Excellent picture quality too. —Phil Udell
Bewitched [DVD] [2005]
Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Nora Ephron As one of many in the ongoing trend of resurrecting old TV shows and turning them into contemporary Hollywood product, Bewitched tries awfully hard to distinguish itself. It succeeds in lots of surprising ways, not least of which is the star power brought by Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. Even if they don't create the kind of romantic chemistry that would have elevated the already high concept, they act as delightful foils to each other, but more often to themselves. The conceit of this Bewitched is that it's a self-reflexive look at the entertainment business, with Ferrell playing Jack Wyatt, an actor starring in an updated version of the classic TV show. Out of favour with the Hollywood elite and desperately in need of a hit, he insists on an unknown to play Samantha, as he wants the show to be about him, since if something doesn't come his way soon, he's going to be hearing a lot of no's, despite the yes-men surrounding him. While his agent gets him the "unknown Samantha" deal, it's Jack himself who discovers his own leading lady in the delightful figure of Isabel Bigalow, who possesses just the right nose wiggle, not to mention other wiggles.

But wouldn't you know it, Isabel really is a witch, and exactly the kind of "good" witch trying to rely less on her magical powers that Samantha Stevens was back in her "real" world. Instead of a cranky mother like Endora, Isabel has a distinguished father, Nigel who lurks around her as a constant reminder that she can't be who she's not, and she certainly can't be the star of some zany TV show. As the plot thickens and the movie's reflexivity grows more convoluted, Nigel falls for the non-witch actress who plays Endora, and Jack and Isabel fall for each other. Here's where the Ferrell/Kidman gel doesn't quite become aspic, but her perkiness and his goofiness are more than enough to make the entirety of the proceedings a delectable trifle. Director Nora Ephron has fun skewering her own business in the script she co-wrote with her sister Delia, and her eye for quality craft makes everything sparkle as it should. Even if we have yet to see the definitive remake of an old TV show on the big screen, at least Bewitched is well more than run-of-the-mill as so many adaptations have been, and so many will be.— Ted Fry
Bicentennial Man [1999]
Big Fish [2004]
Tim Burton After a string of mediocre movies, director Tim Burton regains his footing as he shifts from macabre fairy tales to southern tall tales. Big Fishtwines in and out of the oversized stories of Edward Bloom, played as a young man by Ewan McGregor and as a dying father by Albert Finney. Edward's son Will (Billy Crudup) sits by his father's bedside but has little patience with the old man's fables, because he feels these stories have kept him from knowing who his father really is. Burton dives into Bloom's imagination with zest, sending the determined young man into haunted woods, an idealised southern town, a travelling circus and much more. The result is sweet but—thanks to the director's dark and clever sensibility—never saccharine. The film also features Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito and Steve Buscemi. —Bret Fetzer
The Big Lebowski [1998]
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen The Big Lebowski, a casually amusing follow-up from the prolifically inventive Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel), seems like a bit of a lark and the result was a box-office disappointment. It's lazy plot is part of its laidback charm. After all, how many movies can claim as their hero a pot-bellied, pot-smoking loser named Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) who spends most of his time bowling and getting stoned? And where else could you find a hair-netted Latino bowler named Jesus (John Turturro) who sports dazzling purple footgear, or an erotic artist (Julianne Moore) whose creativity consists of covering her naked body in paint, flying through the air in a leather harness, and splatting herself against a giant canvas? Who else but the Coens would think of showing you a camera view from inside the holes of a bowling ball, or an elaborate Busby Berkely-styled musical dream sequence involving a Viking goddess and giant bowling pins?

The plot—which finds Lebowski involved in a kidnapping scheme after he's mistaken for a rich guy with the same name—is almost beside the point. What counts here is a steady cascade of hilarious dialogue, great work from Coen regulars John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, and the kind of cinematic ingenuity that puts the Coens in a class all their own. —Jeff Shannon
Black Books Complete Box Set
Black Books One of the few genuinely outstanding British comedy shows of the past decade, Black Books unites excellent comedic performances, very funny scripts, and plenty of rewatch value. The concept is simple enough. Bernard (expertly played by Dylan Moran) runs a bookshop. The only problems are he can't stand people, hates customers, and would far prefer to be barking out cutting remarks and drinking wine. Still, it's after drinking much of the aforementioned wine that he offers Manny (Bill Bailey, again in terrific form) a job. Manny accepts, and finds his daily life involves taking abuse from Bernard, while remaining strangely and resolutely upbeat. Fran (Tamsin Greig) meanwhile also likes her wine, and finds herself stuck between the two of them, with a few odd encounters of her own thrown in too.

So far nothing particularly out of the ordinary, right? Well, mix in some of the creative force behind Father Ted, combine those aforementioned performances, and simmer to the point where episode after episode garners a cocktail of sniggers and belly laughs, and you have something really rather special. Like many of the best shows, the curtain has come down on Black Books after only three series. But the long-lasting legacy are episodes that are set to be enjoyed for a long, long time to come. —Simon Brew
Black Hawk Down (2 Disc Set) [2002] [DVD]
Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Ridley Scott Beginning with a quote from T.S. Elliott—"All our ignorance brings us closer to death"—the hope that Black Hawk Down will offer an intelligent war film to a world after September 11, 2001 is high. Based on a true story which led to a bestselling book, the film focuses on the 1993 American mission to Somalia which went terribly wrong. To a certain extent it succeeds with its opening promise, but all too quickly falls under the spell of American national pride—possibly the reason why the film was brought forward from its original release date. One might hope that with a British director, Ridley Scott, and a high percentage of British and Australian actors on board, Black Hawk Down would present an outsider's view on the American politics of war, but produced by the team who brought us Pearl Harbor the end result is a traditional American-Heroic war movie, relying more on special effects, gore and gun battles than character, emotion and politics.

In its favour Black Hawk Down does make an attempt to represent the views of the Somalian people. In one of its strongest scenes, a high-powered Somalian gun seller states; "This is our war not yours", but by the end of the film it's clear that this is merely a token gesture towards a non-Western perspective on the conflict. Many American soldiers lost their lives during this battle, and this movie is a fine tribute to these amazing men in one of the first big-budget films to expose modern Warfare.

As far as top billing goes, Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor hold no greater role than the rest of the cast. The standout performance comes from Ewen Bremner, who offers an unexpectedly comic turn against the bleak backdrop; but otherwise the limited character development highlights one of the film's main issues—that although these men are fighting for their country, when on the battlefield they stand together and no man is more important than any other (unless you're on the wrong side!). —Nikki Disney
Blackadder - Complete Collection
* * * * - One of the best comedy series ever to emerge from England, Black Adder traces the deeply cynical and self-serving lineage of various Edmund Blackadders from the muck of the Middle Ages to the frontline of World War I. In his pre-Mr Bean triumph, British comic actor Rowan Atkinson played all five versions of Edmund, beginning with the villainous and cowardly Duke of Edinburgh, whose scheming mind and awful haircut seem to stand him in good stead to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury — a deadly occupation if ever there was one. Among tales of royal dethronings, Black Death, witch-smellers (who root out spell-makers with their noses), and ghosts, Edmund is a perennial survivor who never quite gets ahead in multiple episodes. Jump to the Elizabethan era and Atkinson picks up the saga as Lord Edmund, who is perpetually courting favour from mad Queen Bess (Miranda Richardson) and is always walking a tightrope from which he can either gain the world or lose his head. Subjected to bizarre services for her majesty (at one point, Edmund is asked to do for potatoes what Sir Walter Raleigh did for tobacco), Edmund — like his ancestor — can never quite fulfill his larger ambitions. The next incarnation we encounter is in late-18th-century Regency England. This time, Blackadder is a mere butler to the idiotic Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie in a brilliantly buffoonish performance) and is caught in various misadventures with Samuel Johnson, Shakespearean actors, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and William Pitt the younger. With a brief stop in Victorian London for a Christmas special, the series concludes with several episodes set during the Great War. The new Edmund is a career army officer, but a scoundrel all the same. Shirking his duties whenever possible and taking advantage of any opportunity for undeserved reward, this final, deeply sour, and very funny Blackadder negotiates survival among a cadre of fools and dimwits. No small mention can be made of Atkinson's supporting cast, easily among the finest comic performers of their generation: besides Laurie and Richardson, Stephen Fry, Tony Robinson, and Tim McInnerny. —Tom Keogh
Blade [1998]
The recipe for Bladeis quite simple; you take one part Batman, one part horror flick, and two parts kung fu, and frost it all over with some truly camp acting. What do you get? An action flick that will reaffirm your belief that the superhero action genre will never die. Bladeis the story of a ruthless and supreme vampire slayer (Wesley Snipes) who makes other contemporary slayers (Buffy et al.) look like amateurs. Armed with a samurai sword made of silver and guns that shoot silver bullets, he lives to hunt and kill "Sucker Heads". Pitted against our hero is a cast of villains led by Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a crafty and charismatic vampire who believes that his people should be ruling the world, and that the human race is merely a food source. Born half-human and half-vampire after his mother had been attacked by a bloodsucker, Blade is brought to life by a very buff-looking Snipes in his best action performance to date. Apparent throughout the film is the fluid grace and admirable skill brought by Snipes to the many breathtaking action sequences that lift this movie into a league of its own. The influence of Hong Kong action cinema is clear, and you may even notice vague impressions of Japanese animesprinkled throughout. Dorff holds his own against Snipes as the menacing nemesis Frost, and the grizzly Kris Kristofferson brings a tough, cynical edge to his role as Whistler, Blade's mentor and friend. Ample credit should also go to director Stephen Norrington and screenwriter David S. Goyer, who prove it is possible to adapt comic book characters to the big screen without making them look absurd. Indeed, quite the reverse happens here: Blade comes vividly to life from the moment you first see him, in an outstanding opening sequence that sets the tone for the action-packed film that follows. From that moment onward you are pulled into the world of Blade and his perpetual battle against the vampire race. —Jeremy Storey
Blade II [2002]
Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Guillermo del Toro Aptly described by critic Roger Ebert as "a vomitorium of viscera", Blade II takes the express route to sequel success. So if you enjoyed Blade, you'll probably drool over this monster mash, which is anything but boring. Set (and filmed) in Prague, the plot finds a new crop of "Reaper" vampires threatening to implement a viral breeding program, and they're nearly impervious to attacks by Blade (Wesley Snipes), his now-revived mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), and a small army of "normal" vampires who routinely combust in a constant conflagration of spectacular special effects. It's up to Blade to conquer the über-vamps, and both Snipes and director Guillermo del Toro (Mimic) serve up a nonstop smorgasbord of intensely choreographed action, creepy makeup, and graphic ultra-violence, with the ever-imposing Ron Perlman as a vampire villain. It's sadistic, juvenile, numbing, and—for those who dig this kind of thing—undeniably impressive. —Jeff Shannon
Blade Runner (Remastered Directors Cut) [1982]
Ridley Scott
Blade Runner: The Final Cut [Blu-ray] [1982][Region Free]
Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmet WalshDirector: Ridley Scott
Blade: Trinity (Extended Version) [2004]
David S. Goyer
Blades of Glory (2007) [DVD]
Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Speck, Josh Gordon Take two male figure skaters, throw in a preposterous storyline, and you've got Blades of Glory, a surprisingly funny film that almost makes you forgive Will Ferrell for his back-to-back 2005 clunkers Kicking & Screaming and Bewitched. This time around, Ferrell eats the scenery in his role as a sex-addicted, cocky skating champ named Chazz Michael Michaels. When he gets into an on-podium fight with his nemesis and co-gold medallist Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite), both skaters are banned from competing in men's figure-skating events. Forever.

Their fall from grace is brutal. Chazz is forced to work for a D-list skating show, while pampered Jimmy is disowned by his wealthy and cold-hearted adoptive father (excellently played by William Fichtner), who only wants to be around winners. When Jimmy points out that he tied for gold, his dad cruelly says, "If I wanted to share, I would've bought you a brother." Flash forward 3-1/2 years and Jimmy's No. 1 stalker Hector (Nick Swardson) says he's found a loophole. Jimmy's been banned from men's singles events, but there's nothing that says he can't compete in pairs skating. After a chance meeting with Chazz, mayhem ensues as the two rivals team up to go against the brother-and-sister team of Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (played by Will Arnett and his real-life wife, Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live and Mean Girls fame). The Van Waldenbergs will stop at nothing to beat the competition, even if that means literally beating up the competition. They have no qualms manipulating their sweet little sister (Jenna Fischer, The Office USA) to seduce both men to try to break up the team.

The finale will be no surprise to moviegoers who know that comedies like this aren't set up to make its leading men losers. But there is one brief skating sequence set in North Korea that will surprise (and shock) many viewers because of its brutality. Ferrell and Heder make a great comedy team. Though he has been accused of playing the same role since his breakthrough performance in Napoleon Dynamite and, to a certain extent, plays a similar type of role here, Heder is spot-on as Jimmy. He manages to convey innocence, bitterness, and longing—all within the span of a few seconds and while wearing a peacock unitard (You can understand why Hector is so enthralled with him). Look for guest appearances by real-life skating champs Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, and Sasha Cohen, who gets to sniff Chazz's jockstrap. —Jae-Ha Kim
Blast From The Past [1999]
Hugh Wilson Coasting on the successes of Gods and Monstersand George of the Jungle, Brendan Fraser turns in yet another winning performance in this fish-out-of-water comedy in which Pleasantvillemeets modern-day Los Angeles, with predictably funny results. Fraser stars as Adam, who was born in the bomb shelter of his paranoid inventor dad (a less-manic-than-usual Christopher Walken), who spirited his pregnant wife (Sissy Spacek, in fine comic form) underground when he thought the Communists dropped the bomb (actually, it was a plane crash). Armed with enough supplies to last 35 years, the parents bring up Adam in Leave It to Beaverstyle with nary any exposure to the outside world. When the supplies run out, and dad suffers a heart attack, Fraser goes up to modern-day LA for some shopping and long-awaited culture shock. More of a cute premise with lots of clever ideas attached than a fully fleshed out story, Blast from the Pastis also supposed to be part romantic comedy, as the hunky Adam hooks up with his jaded Eve (Alicia Silverstone) and tries to convince her to marry him and go underground. The sparks don't fly, though, because Silverstone is saddled with the triple whammy of being miscast, playing an underwritten character, and suffering a very bad hairdo. Fraser, however, carries the film lightly and easily on his broad, goofy shoulders, mixing Adam's gee-whiz innocence with genuine emotion and curiosity; only Fraser could pull off Adam's first glimpse of a sunrise or the ocean with both humour and pathos. Also winning is Dave Foley as Silverstone's gay best friend, who manages to make the most innocuous statements sound like comic gems. — Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
The Blind Side [Blu-ray] [2010][Region Free]
Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, John Lee Hancock
Blow [2001]
Ted Demme A briskly paced hybrid of Boogie Nightsand Goodfellas, Blowchronicles the three-decade rise and fall of George Jung (Johnny Depp), a normal American kid who makes a personal vow against poverty, builds a marijuana empire in the 1960s, multiplies his fortune with the Colombian Medellín cocaine cartel, and blows it all with a series of police busts culminating in one final, long-term jail sentence. "Your dad's a loser," says this absentee father to his estranged but beloved daughter, and he's right: Blowis the story of a nice guy who made wrong choices all his life, almost single-handedly created the American cocaine trade and got exactly what he deserved. Directed by Ted Demme, the film is vibrantly entertaining, painstakingly authentic... and utterly aimless in terms of overall purpose. We can't sympathise with Jung's meteoric rise to wealth and the wild life, and Demme isn't suggesting that we should idolise a drug dealer. So what, exactly, is the point of Blow? Simply, it seems, to present Jung's story as the epitome of the coke-driven glory days, and to suggest, ever so subtly, that Jung isn't such a bad guy, after all. Anyone curious about his lifestyle will find this film amazing, and there's plenty of humour mixed with the constant threat of violence and paranoid anxiety. Demme has also populated the film with a fantastic supporting cast (although Penelopé Cruz grows tiresome as Jung's hedonistic wife), and this is certainly a compelling look at the other side of Traffic. Still, one wishes that Blowhad a more viable reason for being: like a wild party, it leaves you with a hangover and a vague feeling of regret. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Blow Dry [2001]
Paddy Breathnach Despite a gifted Anglo-American cast, Blow Drystrikes an uneasy balance between sentiment and camp. It aims for the same sort of high-wire act that Strictly Ballroomand Priscilla, Queen of the Desertpulled off so effortlessly, but melodrama wins the day. The comic moments are suitably over the top (as expected in a film about duelling hairdressers), but rarely as amusing as intended. The relationships between barbershop owner Phil (Alan Rickman), ex-wife Shelley (Natasha Richardson) and Sandra (Rachel Griffiths), "the other woman", could be more fully developed but are affecting nonetheless. The setting is West Yorkshire. The event that brings them together is the British National Hairdressing Championships. Phil initially resists the urge to compete as it reminds him of the success he and Shelley once enjoyed, but his son Brian (Josh Hartnett) convinces him to give it a go. Hartnett and Rachael Leigh Cook (She's All That), as the daughter of Phil's old nemesis, seem like peculiar casting choices for a British film, but Hartnett's accent is passable (Cook plays an American) and they don't embarrass themselves as much as supermodel Heidi Klum, who plays a tacky, two-timing hair model. The screenplay is by Simon Beaufoy of Full Montyfame. Although not up to that standard—and certainly no match for Shampoo(the greatest hairdressing movie of all time)—Blow Dryis still a good showcase for the talents of its three leads. —Kathleen C Fennessy

On The DVD:Blow Dry's on disc anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer holds a great spectrum or colour. A film about hairdressing needs to faithfully recreate the lavish, over-the-top barnets in all their glorious Technicolor detail and luckily the result is a rich and detailed film with excellent colour saturation throughout. In terms of extras, the film is pretty much left to speak for itself. A blink and you’ll miss it "making of" documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew and an eclectic collection of trailers for such other comedies as She's All Thatand Muriel's Weddingare all that you get to while away the post feature presentation minutes. –-Kristen Bowditch
Blue Crush [2003]
John Stockwell With refreshing energy, Blue Crushis the kind of movie that girls and young women deserve to see more of. It's mostly for them (although nice tans and bikinis will attract the guys), and it rejuvenates the surf-movie tradition by showing real girls with real friendships, coping with absent parents, borderline poverty, rocky romance, and the challenge of raising a kid sister. For young Hawaiian Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), those responsibilities are motivations to excel as a champion-class surfer—if she can overcome the fear of drowning, which she nearly did in a previous wipeout. Supportive friends (Girlfight's Michelle Rodriguez, and Sanoe Lake) help her reach the climactic competition on Oahu's infamous Bonzai Pipeline, and like Saturday Night Fever, this engaging film uplifts the working class without condescension, riding high toward the joy of achievement. As an amateur surfer, director John Stockwell (Crazy/Beautiful) captures the extreme thrill of the sport while respecting the forces of nature and human behaviour. —Jeff Shannon
Blue Velvet [1986]
David Lynch
The Blues Brothers [DVD] [1980]
John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Landis After building up the duo's popularity through recordings and several performances on Saturday Night Live, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd—as "legendary" Chicago blues brothers Jake and Elwood Blues—took their act to the big screen in this action-packed hit from 1980. As Jake and Elwood struggle to reunite their old band and save the Chicago orphanage where they were raised, they wreak enough good-natured havoc to attract the entire Cook County police force. The result is a big-budget stunt-fest on a scale rarely attempted before or since, including extended car chases that result in the wanton destruction of shopping malls and more police cars than you can count. Along the way there's plenty of music to punctuate the action, including performances by Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, and James Brown that are guaranteed to knock you out. As played with deadpan wit by Belushi and Aykroyd, the Blues Brothers are "on a mission from God," and that gives them a kind of reckless glee that keeps the movie from losing its comedic appeal. Otherwise this might have been just a bloated marathon of mayhem that quickly wears out its welcome (which is how some critics described this film and its 1998 sequel). Keep an eye out for Steven Spielberg as the city clerk who stamps some crucial paperwork near the end of the film.— Jeff Shannon
The Boat That Rocked [UK Import]
Richard Curtis Vereinigte Königreich Edition, PAL/Region 2.4 DVD: TON: Englisch ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), Englisch ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), Ungarisch ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), Arabisch ( Untertitel ), Dänisch ( Untertitel ), Englisch ( Untertitel ), Finnisch ( Untertitel ), Holländisch ( Untertitel ), Isländisch ( Untertitel ), Norwegisch ( Untertitel ), Schwedisch ( Untertitel ), Ungarisch ( Untertitel ), ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN (2.35:1), BONUSMATERIAL: Anamorphic Widescreen, Gelöschte Szenen, Kommentar, Szene Zugang, Wechselwirkendes Menü, SYNOPSIS: England in den 1960ern: Von Bord eines Schiffes startet eine DJ-Crew mit ihrem Piratenradiosender "Radio Rock" einen Feldzug gegen das brave, mit Jazz "verwöhnte", England, indem sie den Jugendlichen neue musikalische Stilrichtungen offenbaren: Rock'n'Roll und Popmusik. Dass sich diese schrägen Vögel rund um ihren Boss Quentin damit den Zorn der Regierung zuziehen, die zum Schutz der Jugend diesen "Schandfleck" mit allen Mitteln auszumerzen versucht, ist nur die logische Konsequenz. Unter all den schrulligen Typen an Bord lebt auch Carl, ein Schulaussteiger, der Inspiration für seine Zukunft sucht und findet.
Bond Ultimate Collectors Set
How can one single review possibly do justice to what's on offer in this spectacular Bond Ultimate Collectors' Set? Contained within it are not only all 21 of 007's big screen adventures, but also an equal number of extras discs that dig behind the movies themselves. And those extras alone will happily rob you of hour after hour of your life.

What's more, the Bond Ultimate Collectors' Set has been brought right up to date by the inclusion of the recent rebooting of the franchise, Casino Royale. This alone is a terrific film, and offers some exciting glimpses into where the franchise can go now with Daniel Craig in the title role.

But let's not forget the fine actors who preceeded him. The Bond Ultimate Collectors' Set goes right back to that first appearance of 007 in the form of Sean Connery in Dr. No. From there, enjoy George Lazenby's sole outing as Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the Roger Moore era commencing with Live and Let Die before arriving into the 80s with Timothy Dalton's pair of movies in the lead role. The franchise then received another reboot of sorts with Pierce Brosnan in the excellent GoldenEye, before he eventually—and reluctantly—passed the mantle onto Daniel Craig.

What's so pleasing though is how so many of these films hold up. Not only are you getting a pretty much unrivalled journey through cinema's most enduring action franchise, there's also so much to enjoy. Everyone will have their favourites in the Bond Ultimate Collectors' Set: for this reviewer, count From Russia With Love right up there at the top. And even if that's not your own choice, there are plenty of other candidates in this superb and highly collectable set. —Jon Foster
Bones - Season 2 [2006]
David Duchovny, Jesus Trevino, Kate Woods Beginning with the death of a senator and ending with a marriage, the second season of Bones builds on the momentum created during the first season. The second season centres on the collaborations between FBI special agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), whom Booth has nicknamed "Bones." While Booth doesn't completely believe in Bones' method, he can't argue with her success rate at solving crimes. As for Bones, she is meticulous at what she does and is a borderline genius, but she has issues. Seemingly oblivious to her own good looks, she is all but socially inept. Booth may be blunt, but he's comfortable dealing with the public. Bones, on the other hand, would rather be sequestered away with the dead, trying to figure out what happened before their uncertain deaths. Of course, while viewers can see that Bones and Booth would be a perfect couple, the characters aren't quite there yet. Their friendship becomes a little more complicated this season when it turns out that Bones' new demanding boss, Dr. Camille Saroyan (Tamara Taylor), is a former girlfriend of Booth's. And the two women aren't getting along.

Still, everyone is able to work together to solve a series of crimes, such as identifying the remains of an all but unidentifiable teenage boy and dealing with a serial killer who is emulating the crimes depicted in Bones' latest mystery novel. (Yes, she's not only a brilliant scientist but also an ace author.) Like many television dramas where forensic evidence is a driving force in the plots, Bones offers up the gross-out autopsies. But it also serves up a lot of humanity in the way the characters interact with one another. It is giving nothing away to reveal that Bones and Booth are not the couple getting married in the season finale. But the episode does reveal that beneath their tough exteriors, marriage and all that it implies is something they wouldn't mind... perhaps even with each other. —Jae-Ha Kim
Bones - Season 3 - Complete [2007]
Bones - Season 4 - Complete [DVD]
Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz A show that continues to go from strength to strength, Bones is based around the character of forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (a creation of author Kathy Reichs) and FBI Special Agent Seely Booth, who between them must use forensic science to get to the bottom of some particularly gruesome crimes.

Season four of Bones finds the show in particularly rich form. Brennan and Booth have a variety of different cases to tackle, as you’d expect, backed up with exposition about earlier events and many interesting new developments. It’d be remiss to spoil them here, but Bones, to its credit, manages to be as fresh and as interesting as when it first arrived.

What helps gives the show a distinction is its marriage of genres. At its heart, it’s a hard-nailed crime show, but it effortlessly weaves in comedy, romance and some very impressive twists, with an undercurrent of unpredictability that serves it well. The writers clearly had their thinking caps on for season four, too, and while there are one or two lulls, they’re easily compensated for by some very impressive episodes. The relationship between Brennan and Booth clearly sits at the core of the show, and even that—appreciating that television has taken us down similar roads in the past—is interesting to watch, and well realised.

Bones might, at first glance, be easy to dismiss as just another crime show. But there’s genuinely impressive work going on here, and some very smart writing. If it’s at this level of quality four seasons in, then Bones has a very bright future ahead of it. —Jon Foster
Bones: Season 1
The Borrowers - Series 2 [DVD]
Ian Holm, Penelope Wilton United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2.4 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital Stereo ), English ( Subtitles ), SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes, Cast/Crew Interview(s), Interactive Menu, Making Of, Photo Gallery, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: The second in the series of The Borrowers based on the books by Mary Norton. The Borrowers are a family of tiny people who live under the stairs in an old house populated by the larger version of the human being. One day a tiny member of the family befriends a member of the 'bigger' household... SCREENED/AWARDED AT: BAFTA Awards, ...The Borrowers - Series 2 ( The Borrowers - Series Two )
The Bourne Identity [2002]
Doug Liman After years of increasingly farcical action movies, the old-school of espionage thriller makes a welcome return in The Bourne Identity, director Doug Liman's take on Robert Ludlum's bestseller. Though this story of a US government assassin with amnesia on the run across Europe has previously been filmed as a Richard Chamberlain mini-series, this version is much more in the spirit of John Frankenheimer's ice cool nail-bitters (indeed, Frankenheimer made the previous Ludlum cinema adaptation, The Holocroft Covenantback in 1985). The plot here more reflects Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate(1962), while the Paris setting and superb car chase evoke, though not quite surpass, Ronin(1998).

It's a great pleasure to find a blockbuster that's intent on real suspense; and while The Bourne Identityhas plentiful action, the set-pieces are played straight to tellingly tense effect. Damon is compelling and there's excellent support from Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and Clive Owen. If a couple of questions are left unanswered, there are no gaping plot holes to destroy credibility, and the merciless, cold-blooded battle for survival delivers a chilling, gripping two-hour ride. Oddly enough, Damon's buddy, Ben Affleck, simultaneously starred in The Sum of All Fears, a virtual remake of Frankenheimer's electrifying Black Sunday(1977).

On the DVD:The Bourne Identityis presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 in a near flawless transfer that perfectly captures the bleak, wintry look of Oliver Wood's cinematography and there are DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Extras include an alternative ending and one extended scene, all in poor non-anamorphic 2.35:1, which add little or nothing. A Moby video is strictly for fans, and a 14-minute featurette is a shallow MTV-style promotional piece. Also included is the theatrical trailer and sneaks for The Hulkand Johnny English, as well as a section of DVD-ROM material. The only extra of substance is Doug Liman's commentary; fortunately the director proves a great host, packing his track with fascinating information. —Gary S Dalkin
The Bourne Supremacy [2004]
Paul Greengrass Good enough to suggest long-term franchise potential, The Bourne Supremacyis a thriller fans will appreciate for its well-crafted suspense, and for its triumph of competence over logic (or lack thereof). Picking up where The Bourne Identityleft off, the action begins when CIA assassin and partial amnesiac Jason Bourne (a role reprised with efficient intensity by Matt Damon) is framed for a murder in Berlin, setting off a chain reaction of pursuits involving CIA handlers (led by Joan Allen and the duplicitous Brian Cox, with Julia Stiles returning from the previous film) and a shadowy Russian oil magnate. The fast-paced action hurtles from India to Berlin, Moscow, and Italy, and as he did with the critically acclaimed Bloody Sunday, director Paul Greengrass puts you right in the thick of it with split-second editing (too much of it, actually) and a knack for well-sustained tension. It doesn't all make sense, and bears little resemblance to Robert Ludlum's novel, but with Damon proving to be an appealingly unconventional action hero, there's plenty to look forward to. —Jeff Shannon
The Bourne Ultimatum [2007]
Paul Greengrass There's no getting around it: there was simply no better summer blockbuster in 2007 than the astonishing The Bourne Ultimatum.

It's a film that defies expectations in many ways. Firstly, it's a third entry in a trilogy that by some distance in the best in an already-compelling franchise. Secondly, whenThe Bourne Ultimatumkickstarts with a ferocious energy and pace, you sit there and rightly expect it not to keep the momentum going. But it does. And does it astonishingly well. Just witness the breathless sequence through Waterloo Station, convince yourself that the film has peaked then, then go and watch them top it later on in the movie.

The film itself has many trump cards, not least its leading man. Matt Damon fits the character of reluctant lead Jason Bourne perfectly, but the trick is to give him some excellent supporting players to work against. Thus, The Bourne Ultimatumalso stars the excellent pair of David Straitharn and a returning Joan Allen, along with Albert Finney, Paddy Considine and Julia Stiles too.

But the hidden hero of The Bourne Ultimatumis director Paul Greengrass. Arguably one of the most interesting and talented directors working today (he was rightly Oscar-nominated for his haunting United 93), Greengrass has fashioned a genuinely thrilling action thriller, that bursts with an energy and relentlessness that you simply have no right to expect. That he also managed to wrap up the story Jason Bourne's quest for his identity in the midst of it is all the more astonishing.

A terrific end to an already-impressive trilogy, there's little else ot say about The Bourne Ultimatum, which is simply a near flawless piece of blockbuster entertainment. Put simply: don't miss this movie. —Simon Brew
Boys And Girls [2000]
Robert Iscove Behind the generic title of Boys and Girlslies a surprisingly enjoyable and nuanced romantic comedy. Teen heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr plays Ryan, a dorky, emotionally sincere young guy who keeps crossing paths with Jennifer (Claire Forlani), an independent and wilfully unattached young woman. Their chance meetings coincide with relationship traumas and they start to confide in each other, which leads to a more genuine friendship and, in the midst of their college years, a romance. It's a bit of a stock plot line to have their friendship threatened by sexual attraction, but Boys and Girlshas just enough genuine feeling to make it compelling. Meanwhile, Jason Biggs (from American Pie) plays Ryan's roommate, a compulsive liar and would-be scam artist, who carries off some pretty funny scenes. Forlani and Prinze work together quite well. Their performances hearken back to the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s, with the repressed male simultaneously attracted and horrified by a footloose dame. Some kooky moments are a little strained, but at other times the movie has a refreshing realism about human emotions. —Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
Braveheart
Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning 1995 Braveheartis an impassioned epic about William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish leader of a popular revolt against England's tyrannical Edward I (Patrick McGoohan). Gibson cannily plays Wallace as a man trying to stay out of history's way until events force his hand, an attribute that instantly resonates with several of the actor's best-known roles, especially Mad Max. The subsequent camaraderie and courage Wallace shares in the field with fellow warriors is pure enough and inspiring enough to bring envy to a viewer, and even as things go wrong for Wallace in the second half, the film does not easily cave in to a somber tone. One of the most impressive elements is the originality with which Gibson films battle scenes, featuring hundreds of extras wielding medieval weapons. After Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight, and even Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, you might think there is little new that could be done in creating scenes of ancient combat; yet Gibson does it. —Tom Keogh
Breakfast At Tiffany's [1961]
Blake Edwards No film better utilises Audrey Hepburn's flighty charm and svelte beauty than this romantic adaptation of Truman Capote's novella. Hepburn's urban sophisticate Holly Golightly, an enchanting neurotic living off the gifts of gentlemen, is a bewitching figure in designer dresses and costume jewellery. George Peppard is her upstairs neighbour, a struggling writer and "kept" man financed by a steely older woman (Patricia Neal). His growing friendship with the lonely Holly soon turns to love and threatens the delicate balance of both of their compromised lives. Taking liberties with Capote's bittersweet story, director Blake Edwards and screenwriter George Axelrod turn New York into a city of lovers and create a poignant portrait of Holly, a frustrated romantic with a secret past and a hidden vulnerability. Composer Henry Mancini earned Oscars for the hit song "Moon River" and his tastefully romantic score. The only sour note in the whole film is Mickey Rooney's demeaning performance as the apartment's Japanese manager, an offensively overdone stereotype even in 1961. The rest of the film has weathered the decades well. Edwards's elegant yet light touch, Axelrod's generous screenplay and Hepburn's mix of knowing experience and naivety combine to create one of the great screen romances and a refined slice of high-society bohemian chic. —Sean Axmaker
The Breakfast Club [1985]
John Hughes
Bride Wars [DVD] [2008]
Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, Gary Winick How important is the perfect wedding? Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Liv (Kate Hudson) have been best friends since childhood and each has always dreamed of an extravagant wedding at the Plaza hotel. When both friends get engaged in the same week, they rush to the exclusive wedding planner Marion St. Claire (Candice Bergen) to book the perfect weddings at the Plaza hotel. The reservations get mixed up and both weddings end up scheduled on the same day and, since there are no other suitable openings available at the Plaza, the friends find themselves in the impossible situation of having to decide who will sacrifice her long-held dream and change venues. It turns out that neither woman is willing to give up her plans for a perfect wedding and the friends turn against one another in a hilarious battle that results in everything from blue hair to rumours of pregnancy and embarrassing home videos accompanying one bride's walk down the aisle. Can even a life-long friendship survive the emotional turmoil of two weddings gone wrong? Bride Wars is an amusing look at the trials of friendship and love that's sure to inspire laughter and perhaps even a tear or two. —Tami Horiuchi, Amazon.com
Bridget Jones 2: The Edge of Reason [2004]
Beeban Kidron Although it's been three years since we last saw Bridget (Renée Zellweger), only a few weeks have passed in her world. She is, as you'll remember, no longer a "singleton," having snagged stuffy but gallant Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at the end of the 2001 film. Now she's fallen deeply in love and out of her neurotic mind with paranoia: Is Mark cheating on her with that slim, bright young thing from the law office? Will the reappearance of dashing cad Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) further spell the end of her self-confidence when they're shoved off to Thailand together for a TV travel story? If such questions also seem pressing to you, this sequel will be fairly painless, but you shouldn't expect anything fresh. Director Beeban Kidron and her screenwriters—all four of them!—are content to sink matters into slapstick, with chunky Zellweger (who's unflatteringly photographed) the literal butt of all jokes. Though the star still has her charms, and some of Bridget's social gaffes are amusing, the film is mired in low comedy—a sequence in a Thai women's prison is more offensive than outrageous—with only Grant's rakish mischief to pull it out of the swamp. —Steve Wiecking
Bridget Jones's Diary [2001]
Sharon Maguire
Broken Arrow [1996]
John Woo John Travolta is Vic Deakins, a bomber pilot who launches a devilish plan to hijack two nuclear missiles for big-time extortion. Vic never sweats, spews out great one-liners, knocks off money men with glee, toys with killing half a million people ... he even smokes!

If you giggled at his "Ain't it cool" line from the trailer, you're in the right frame of mind for this comedic action film. Never as gritty or semi-realistic—or for that matter as heart-thumping—as the original DieHard, Broken Arrowstill delivers. If Travolta is cast against type, everyone else is by the numbers; Christian Slater as Hale, the earnest copilot looking to foil the plot, Samantha Mathis as the brave park ranger caught in the middle, Frank Whaley as an eager diplomat and Delroy Lindo as a right-minded colonel. As with his previous script (the superior Speed), writer Graham Yost moves everything quickly along as Hale and the ranger try to cut off Deakins's plan over a variety of terrains. There are plane crashes, car chases, a pursuit through an abandoned mine, a helicopter-train shootout and lots of fighting between boys. Each time Hale finds himself perfectly in place to foil Deakins, you're suppose to laugh at the unbelievable situations. That's where Broken Arrowis deceptive: its tone is right for the laughter compared to the mean-spirited Schwarzenegger and Stallone action films with laboured jokes. Hong Kong master director John Woo (TheKillerand Hard Target) pulls out all the stops—slow motion of Hale and Deakins' gymnastic gun play, nifty stunts, countdowns to doomsday. Woo may know action but he needs more guidance in creating unique and stunning special effects. This is action entertainment at its cheesiest. Travolta and Woolater reteamed for Face/Off. —Doug Thomas
Bruce Almighty [2003]
Tom Shadyac
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1
Bruce Seth Green, Stephen L. Posey, Joss Whedon Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) looks like your typical perky high-schooler, and like most, she has her secret fears and anxieties. However, while most teens are worrying about their next date, their next zit, or their next term paper, Buffy's angsting over the next vampire she has to slay. See, Buffy, a young woman with superhuman strength, is the "chosen one," and she must help rid the world of evil, namely by staking demons. The exceptional first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduces us to the treacherous world of Sunnydale High School (where Buffy moved after torching her previous high school's gym). The characters there include "watcher" Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and the original "Scooby Gang" members—friendly geek Xander (Nicholas Brendon), computer whiz Willow (Alyson Hannigan), and snobbish popular girl Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter)—who aid Buffy in her quest. Those used to the darker tone that Buffy took in its later seasons will be surprised by the lighter feeling these first 12 episodes have—it's kind of like Buffy 90210 as the cast grapples with regular teen problems in addition to saving the world from demonic darkness. Fans of the show will enjoy the crisp writing, the phenomenal chemistry of the cast (already well-established within the first few episodes), and the introduction to characters that would stay for many seasons, including moody vampire Angel (David Boreanaz). Through it all, Gellar carries the series with amazing confidence, whether conveying the despair of high school or dispatching various demons—she's one of TV's most distinctive and strongest heroines. —Mark Englehart
Bullitt [1968]
Peter Yates San Francisco has been the setting of a lot of exciting movie car chases over the years, but this 1968 police thriller is still the one to beat when it comes to high-octane action on the steep hills of the city by the Bay. The outstanding car chase earned an Oscar for best editing, but the rest of the movie is pretty good, too. Bullittis a perfect star vehicle for cool guy Steve McQueen, who stars as a tenacious detective (is there any other kind?) determined to track down the killers of the star witness in an important trial. Director Peter Yates (Breaking Away) approached the story with an emphasis on absolute authenticity, using a variety of San Francisco locations. Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Duvall appear in early roles, and Robert Vaughn plays the criminal kingpin who pulls the deadly strings of the tightly wound plot. —Jeff Shannon
Casablanca : The Movie & More (2 Disc Special Edition) [1942]
Michael Curtiz
Casino [1996]
Martin Scorsese Director Martin Scorsese reunites with members of his GoodFellasgang (writer Nicholas Pileggi; actors Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent) for a three-hour epic about the rise and fall of mobster Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), a character based on real-life gangster Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. (It's modelled on Wiseguyand GoodFellasand Pileggi's true crime book Casino: Love and Honour in Las Vegas.) Through Rothstein, the picture tells the story of how the Mafia seized, and finally lost control of, Las Vegas gambling. The first hour plays like a fascinating documentary, intricately detailing the inner workings of Vegas casinos. Sharon Stone is the stand out among the actors; she nabbed an Oscar nomination for her role as the voracious Ginger, the glitzy call girl who becomes Rothstein's wife. The film is not as fast-paced or gripping as Scorsese's earlier gangster pictures (Mean Streetsand Good Fellas) but it's still absorbing. And, hey—it's Scorsese! —Jim Emerson
Casino Royale (2 Disc Collector's Edition) [2006]
Martin Campbell The most successful invigoration of a cinematic franchise since Batman Begins, Casino Royale offers a new Bond identity. Based on the Ian Fleming novel that introduced Agent 007 into a Cold War world, Casino Royale is the most brutal and viscerally exciting James Bond film since Sean Connery left Her Majesty's Secret Service. Meet the new Bond; not the same as the old Bond. Daniel Craig gives a galvanising performance as the freshly minted double-0 agent. Suave, yes, but also a "blunt instrument," reckless and possessed with an ego that compromises his judgment during his first mission to root out the mastermind behind an operation that funds international terrorists. In classic Bond film tradition, his global itinerary takes him to far-flung locales, including Uganda, Madagascar, the Bahamas (that's more like it) and Montenegro, where he is pitted against his nemesis in! a poker game, with hundreds of millions in the pot. The stakes get even higher when Bond lets down his armour by falling in love with Vesper (Eva Green), the ravishing banker's representative fronting him the money.

For longtime fans of the franchise, Casino Royale offers some retro kicks. Bond wins his iconic Aston Martin at the gaming table, and when a bartender asks if he wants his martini "shaken or stirred," he disdainfully replies, "Do I look like I give a damn?". There's no Moneypenny or "Q," but Dame Judi Dench is back as the exasperated M who, one senses, admires Bond's "bloody cheek." A Bond film is only as good as its villain, and Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, who weeps blood, is a sinister dandy. From its punishing violence and virtuoso action sequences to its romance, Casino Royale is a Bond film that, in the words of one character, 'makes you feel it', particularly during an excruciating torture sequence. Double-0s, Bond observes early on, "have a short life expectancy". But with Craig, there is new life in the old franchise yet, as well as genuine anticipation for the next one when, at last, the signature James Bond theme kicks in following the best last ! line ever in any Bond film. To quote Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin, "now I know what I've been faking all these years". —Donald Liebenson
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (2 Disc Deluxe Edition) [DVD] [2005]
Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, Tim Burton Director Tim Burton’s take on Roald Dahl’s classic story is undeniably more faithful to the source material than the 1975 musical retelling of the same story. His Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is also a slightly darker, visually inventive film, and is ultimately a tasty treat that the whole family can enjoy.

Filling the coat of Willy Wonka is frequent Burton collaborator Johnny Depp—the pair have previously worked together on the likes of Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow—and what fun he clearly had. His Wonka is a kooky, isolated figure, extremely distrusting and clearly uncomfortable around the children who win a golden ticket to look round his factory. Burton invests time in his main character, giving him a rounded back story that pays dividends, and while some will inevitably prefer Gene Wilder’s edgier take on the same role all those years ago, Depp nonetheless is on strong form. The cast around him also perform well, particularly Freddie Highmore in the title role.

The story is as you’ll likely remember it, with five children given the chance to visit Willy Wonka’s mysterious chocolate factory. And what a visual treat that factory is, bursting with colour and vibrancy. Along the way, they encounter chocolate lakes, industrious squirrels and the infamous oompa loompas, and truthfully, it’s fun to be along for the ride.

Is it better than that aforementioned 1975 version? Actually, it’s just different. Each film will no doubt have its legion of fans, but the bottom line here is that Roald Dahl’s classic has provided the source for an enjoyable, well pitched movie with plenty of rewatch value. Now if only they’d go and film Charlie & The Great Glass Elevator…—Simon Brew
Charlie Wilson's War [2007]
Mike Nichols Overlooked in the end at the Academy Awards, and not ratcheting up the box office you'd perhaps expect of a Tom Hanks movie, Charlie Wilson's Waris nonetheless a challenging, entertaining and underappreciated film, that deserves to find a bigger audience on DVD.

Starring Hanks in the title role, the strength of Charlie Wilson's Waris in some talented people doing what they do best. Hanks eases into his part, as the Texas congressman who uses his extensive contacts book and unorthodox nature (which is putting it mildly) to initiate and wage a secret war. Alongside him is Julia Roberts on fine form in a small part, and the excellent Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is at the heart of the film's best, and funniest, moments.

Gluing Charlie Wilson's Wartogether is an assured turn behind the camera from veteran director Mike Nichols. Nichols, still best known for The Graduate, is confident enough to let the comedy in a deathly serious story play out, while not shirking the drama either. It's a tender balancing act, that only flusters a little near the end.

It's not a perfect film, and the tone may be a little uneasy for some. But Charlie Wilson's Waris, nonetheless, a very strong piece of American cinema, that has questions to ask, and manages to entertain at the same time. Well worth discovering. —Jon Foster
Chocolat [2001]
Lasse Hallström Chocolat is an enchanting, moving and heart-warming tale of love and temptation, a big-budget movie with its roots in European art house cinema. Magical and almost fairytale-like in theme, it's the story of the mysterious Vianne and her arrival in a quiet, old-fashioned French town at the end of the 1950s. Gradually her attitude to life and the delicacies that she prepares in her chocolate shop have a marked effect on the local people, bound as they are by the twin forces of religion and politics.

Juliette Binoche is perfect in the role of the sensuous, captivating Vianne—a masterstroke of casting matched by the performance of Judi Dench as the splendidly grumpy but ultimately inspiring matriarch Armande. Very much an ensemble piece, the whole cast are indeed excellent, with Johnny Depp (making a fair fist of an Irish accent) superb as the drifter Roux, the one man capable of unlocking Vianne's own desires. From its majestic opening swoop to the final, joyous scene, Lasse Hallström's film, based on the bestselling novel, is nothing short of a masterpiece.

On the DVD: As befits such a film, the DVD is an elegant, well thought out package. The movie itself is a visual feast, a combination of a beautiful setting, rich, opulent colours and textures and a mystical atmosphere. There's a range of documentary features examining the style of the film and its background, as well as an audio commentary and some excellent scenes deleted from the final cut. More in-depth notes are to be found in the accompanying booklet and the whole thing adds up to one of the most satisfying DVD releases in a long time. In one of the accompanying documentaries, Depp wonders if it is possible to create art through cinema. It may be a difficult task, but Chocolat is proof that it can be done.—Phil Udell
Chuck - Complete Season 1 [DVD] [2007]
Zachary Levi, Sarah Lancaster Zachary Levi was born to play Chuck. A computer nerd who finds himself thrust into the role of a Government secret agent, it’s a career-making role in a television show that’s got plenty to offer, whether you’re along for the action or the comedy.

Every episode from Chuck’s first season is gathered together in this set, and thus we get to see how a geek effectively became a wannabe-Jack Bauer. It goes without saying that Chuck has a lot of fun with its premise, and it happily asks you to suspend your disbelief as plausibility quickly goes out of the window. But so what? For when the action and comedy are as strong as they are with Chuck, that proves to be no price to pay whatsoever. Mix in the surprisingly high production values and the very witty scripts, and you have a surprise hit of a show that’s hard not to warm to.

One of the chief reasons for this is Levi in the title role, but Chuck also boasts good supporting turns from the likes of Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski. It also packs a surprising amount into its 13 episodes, and displays an ambition and verve that serves the show exceedingly well. What’s more, it also leaves you positively thirsting for more. Highly recommended. —Jon Foster
Chuck - Season 2 [DVD] [2008]
Zachary Levi
Chuck - Season 3 [DVD]
Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick The controversy that surrounded Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel A Clockwork Orangewhile the film was out of circulation suggested that it was like Romper Stomper: a glamorisation of the violent, virile lifestyle of its teenage protagonist, with a hypocritical gloss of condemnation to mask delight in rape and ultra-violence. Actually, it is as fable-like and abstract as The Pilgrim's Progress, with characters deliberately played as goonish sitcom creations. The anarchic rampage of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a bowler-hatted juvenile delinquent of the future, is all over at the end of the first act. Apprehended by equally brutal authorities, he changes from defiant thug to cringing bootlicker, volunteering for a behaviourist experiment that removes his capacity to do evil.

It's all stylised: from Burgess' invented pidgin Russian (snarled unforgettably by McDowell) to 2001-style slow tracks through sculpturally perfect sets (as with many Kubrick movies, the story could be told through decor alone) and exaggerated, grotesque performances on a par with those of Dr Strangelove(especially from Patrick Magee and Aubrey Morris). Made in 1971, based on a novel from 1962, A Clockwork Orangeresonates across the years. Its future is now quaint, with Magee pecking out "subversive literature" on a giant IBM typewriter and "lovely, lovely Ludwig Van" on mini-cassette tapes. However, the world of "Municipal Flat Block 18A, Linear North" is very much with us: a housing estate where classical murals are obscenely vandalised, passers-by are rare and yobs loll about with nothing better to do than hurt people.

On the DVD:The extras are skimpy, with just an impressionist trailer in the style of the film used to brainwash Alex and a list of awards for which Clockwork Orangewas nominated and awarded. The box promises soundtracks in English, French and Italian and subtitles in ten languages, but the disc just has two English soundtracks (mono and Dolby Surround 5.1) and two sets of English subtitles. The terrific-looking "digitally restored and remastered" print is letterboxed at 1.66:1 and on a widescreen TV plays best at 14:9. The film looks as good as it ever has, with rich stable colours (especially and appropriately the orangey-red of the credits and the blood) and a clarity that highlights previously unnoticed details such as Alex's gouged eyeball cufflinks and enables you to read the newspaper articles which flash by. The 5.1 soundtrack option is amazingly rich, benefiting the nuances of performance as much as the classical/electronic music score and the subtly unsettling sound effects. —Kim Newman
Cocktail [1989]
Roger Donaldson First and foremost a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, this paper-thin Horatio Alger story of a young bartender with dreams of get-rich-quick success is notable only for Cruise's immense likeability in contrast to a creaky plot and thinly drawn characters. Cruise plays Brian Flanagan, a young entrepreneur and ladies' man who with his mentor (Bryan Brown) takes the New York bar scene by storm. Through setbacks and tragedy, Brian eventually realises there's more to life than a quick buck, and fights for the woman he loves (Elisabeth Shue). Despite its shortcomings, a worthwhile viewing for Tom Cruise fans. —Robert Lane, Amazon.com
Collateral - 2 Disc Collectors Edition [2004]
Michael Mann Collateraloffers a change of pace for Tom Cruise as a ruthless contract killer, but that's just one of many reasons to recommend this well-crafted thriller. It's from Michael Mann, after all, and the director's stellar track record with crime thrillers (Thief, Manhunter, and especially Heat) guarantees a rich combination of intelligent plotting, well-drawn characters, and escalating tension, beginning here when icy hit-man Vincent (Cruise) recruits cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) to drive him through a nocturnal tour of Los Angeles, during which he will execute five people in a 10-hour spree. While Stuart Beattie's screenplay deftly combines intimate character study with raw bursts of action (in keeping with Mann's directorial trademark), Foxx does the best work of his career to date (between his excellent performance in Aliand his title-role showcase in Ray), and Cruise is fiercely convincing as an ultra-disciplined sociopath. Jada Pinkett-Smith rises above the limitations of a supporting role, and Mann directs with the confidence of a master, turning L.A. into a third major character (much as it was in the Mann-produced TV series Robbery Homicide Division). Collateralis a bit slow at first, but as it develops subtle themes of elusive dreams and lives on the edge, it shifts into overdrive and races, with breathtaking precision, toward a nail-biting climax. —Jeff Shannon
The Commitments [1991]
Alan Parker An irresistible, comic drama from director Alan Parker (Evita, Mississippi Burning), overflowing and alive with passion, humor and music, The Commitmentsshowcases some old R&B standards in a new light. A headstrong, fast-talking, ambitious young Dubliner (Robert Arkins) fancies himself a promoter of talent, and sets about assembling and packaging a local Irish R&B band. His group of self-absorbed, backbiting, but stunningly talented individuals begin to succeed beyond his wildest dreams, until petty jealousies and recrimination threaten to scuttle the whole deal. A moody, vivid and soulful exploration of the Dublin club scene as well as a showcase for some wonderful unknown actors, the film (and its wonderful soundtrack) also features the actual band covering classic soul tunes from the likes of Otis Redding and Sam and Dave. It's that combination of soul and soul music that makes The Commitmentsa special little film. —Robert Lane, Amazon.com—This text refers to the VHS edition of this video
Con Air [1997]
Confessions of a Shopaholic [DVD] [2009]
Isla Fisher, Krysten Ritter, P.J. Hogan It’s way past time that Isla Fisher bagged herself a leading role, after solid supporting turns in the likes of Wedding Crashers and Definitely, Maybe and finally, in Confessions Of A Shopaholic, the ex-soap star gets her chance.

She seizes it quite well, too. Based on the Sophie Kinsella book of the same name, Confessions Of A Shopaholic is a fairly conventional romantic comedy, but it’s still a very enjoyable one. It’s directed by PJ Hogan, who previously gave us the excellent double bill of Muriel’s Wedding and My Best Friend’s Wedding, and it follows Fisher’s character Rebecca as she tries to cover up her dedication to shopping, while yearning for a job on a fashion magazine.

The plot goes through the fairly standard shenanigans of the genre, but there are one or two things that lift Confessions Of A Shopaholic above the norm. Firstly, it’s breezy and very good fun. Secondly, PJ Hogan knows this genre better than most, and fashions (no pun intended) a quite tight movie. And thirdly there’s Fisher. It may not be a role that makes her an outright movie star, but there’s compelling evidence here that she’s got the talent to be a leading lady in her own right. This, her first stab at headlining such a film, works really quite well, and her charm and enthusiasm is the best thing in it. Worth taking a look at. –-Jon Foster
Couples Retreat [DVD] [2009]
Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau team up after their '90s career-making hit, Swingers, to write and costar in Couples Retreat, a romantic comedy that's heavy on the satire, but is also knowing and wry, as Swingers is at its best. Vaughn and Favreau are joined in the top-notch cast by the always engaging Kristin Bell (whose appearance with Vaughn, in a romantic tropical setting, may remind viewers of Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), Faizon Love, and Jean Reno. Fans of romantic comedies, and comedies of manners, will be delighted at the snappy interaction among the actors, and the zingers delivered by the script.

"You are not buying some 20-year-old broad a motorcycle!" yells Vaughn's character, Dave, to Love's character, Shane, who's having an early midlife crisis. "She's a kid! Buy her a Hello Kitty book!" Turns out that all the couples in Dave and Shane's circle are having issues, and decide to take a group tropical vacation. Ah, but there's a catch: the island getaway comes with mandatory couples counseling and bonding events. Most of the film's laughs come from cringe-worthy fish-out-of-water moments, though there are some pretty great fish-in-water moments, too: Dave begins to panic during a test involving swimming with sharks. "It's time to get the gun, and shoot some fish!"

Reno is also a standout, as the unctuous New Age-y director of the retreat, fearless in spewing half-nonsense yet having the almost admirable courage to stand behind his convictions. The film was directed with a light hand by Peter Billingsley, who starred as young Ralphie in A Christmas Story, and who has acted with Vaughn in Four Christmases and The Break-Up. And somehow, among the lunacy and the beauty of nature, friends and soulmates may just find the way back to each other. Just steer clear of the Jet Skis. —A.T. Hurley
Cowboys & Aliens - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)[Region Free]
Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford, Jon Favreau The Old West... where a lone cowboy leads an uprising against a terror from beyond our world.

1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don't welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford).

It's a town that lives in fear. But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he's been.

  Actors

Olivia Wilde, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Clancy Brown, Ana de la Reguera, Keith Carradine, David O'Hara, Walton Goggins, Abigail Spencer, Adam Beach, Toby Huss & Chris Browning Director

Jon Favreau Year

2011 Screen

Widescreen Languages

English
Coyote Ugly - Extended Cut [DVD] [2000]
Piper Perabo, Maria Bello, David McNally
Crash [2004]
Movie studios, by and large, avoid controversial subjects like race the way you might avoid a hive of angry bees. So it's remarkable that Crash even got made; that it's a rich, intelligent, and moving exploration of the interlocking lives of a dozen Los Angeles residents—black, white, latino, Asian, and Persian—is downright amazing.

A politically nervous district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his high-strung wife (Sandra Bullock, biting into a welcome change of pace from Miss Congeniality) get car-jacked by an oddly sociological pair of young black men (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges); a rich black T.V. director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) get pulled over by a white racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his reluctant partner (Ryan Phillipe); a detective (Don Cheadle) and his Latina partner and lover (Jennifer Esposito) investigate a white cop who shot a black cop—these are only three of the interlocking stories that reach up and down class lines.

Writer/director Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby) spins every character in unpredictable directions, refusing to let anyone sink into a stereotype. The cast—ranging from the famous names above to lesser-known but just as capable actors like Michael Pena (Buffalo Soldiers) and Loretta Devine (Woman Thou Art Loosed)—meets the strong script head-on, delivering galvanizing performances in short vignettes, brief glimpses that build with gut-wrenching force. This sort of multi-character mosaic is hard to pull off; Crash rivals such classics as Nashville and Short Cuts. A knockout. —Bret Fetzer
Crimson Tide [1995]
Tony Scott
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon [2001]
Ang Lee Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragonis so many things: an historical epic on a grand scale, an Asian martial-arts flick with both great effects andfantastic fighting (choreographed by The Matrix's guru Yuen Wo Ping), a story of magic, revenge and power played with a posse of star-crossed lovers thrown in for good measure. Set during the Qing dynasty (the late 19th century), the film follows the fortunes of righteous warriors Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien (Asian superstars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, respectively) whose love for one another has lain too long unspoken. When Li Mu Bai's legendary sword Green Destiny is stolen by wilful aristocrat's daughter Jen (exquisite newcomer Zhang Ziyi), who has been trained in the way of the gangster by Li Mu Bai's arch-rival Jade Fox, the warriors must fight to recover the mystical blade. The plot takes us all across China, from dens of iniquity and sumptuous palaces to the stark plains of the Western desert. Characters chase each other up walls and across roof and treetops to breathtaking effect, and Tan Dun's haunting, Oscar-winning East-West inflected score.

Directed by Taiwanese-born Ang Lee and co-written by his longtime collaborator American James Schamus, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragonjoins the ranks of the team's slate of high-quality, genre-spanning literary adaptations. Although it superficially seems like a return to Ang's Asian roots, there's a clear throughline connecting this with their earlier, Western films given the thematic focus on propriety and family honour (Sense and Sensibility), repressed emotions (The Ice Storm) and divided loyalties in a time of war (Ride with the Devil). Nonetheless, a film this good needs no prior acquaintance with the director's oeuvre; it stands on its own. The only people who might be dismissive of it are jaded chop-socky fans who will probably feel bored with all the romance. Everyone else will love it. —Leslie Felperin

On the DVD: As might be expected this superb anamorphic widescreen version of the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio presents Peter Pau's spellbinding cinematography in its full glory; the same goes for the Dolby 5.1 audio track that showcases Tan Dun's haunting score. Annoyingly, however, the default language option is the dubbed English soundtrack, which means you have to select the original Mandarin version before playing. The extra features are good but not exceptional, with an obligatory "making-of" documentary and commentary from Ang Lee and James Schamus being the best options: the director and producer/cowriter chat amiably and in some detail about their martial arts version of Sense and Sensibility. But it's the breathtaking delight of the seeing the movie in such quality that really counts, and this disc does not disappoint. —Mark Walker
Cruel Intentions [1999]
This modern-day teen update of Les Liaisons Dangereusessuffered at the hands of both critics and moviegoers thanks to its sumptuous ad campaign, which hyped the film as an arch, highly sexual, faux-serious drama (not unlike the successful, Oscar-nominated Dangerous Liaisons). In fact, Cruel Intentionsplays like high comedy for its first two-thirds, as its two evil heroes, rich stepsiblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe), blithely ruin lives and reputations with hearts as black as coal.

Kathryn wants revenge on a boyfriend who dumped her, so she befriends his new intended, the gawky Cecile (Selma Blair), and gets Sebastian to deflower the innocent virgin. The meat of the game, though, lies in Sebastian's seduction of good girl Annette (a down-to-earth Reese Witherspoon), who has written a nationally published essay entitled "Why I Choose to Wait." If he fails, Kathryn gets his precious vintage convertible; if he wins, he gets Kathryn—in the sack.

When the movie sticks to the merry ruination of Kathryn and Sebastian's pawns, it's highly enjoyable: Gellar in particular is a two-faced manipulator extraordinaire, and Phillippe, usually a black hole, manages some fun as a hipster Eurotrash stud. Most pleasantly surprising of all is Witherspoon, who puts a remarkably self-assured spin on a character usually considered vulnerable and tortured (see Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons). Unfortunately, writer-director Roger Kumble undermines everything he's built up with a false ending that's true to neither the reconceived characters nor the original story—revenge is a dish best served cold, not cooked up with unnecessary plot twists. —Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button [DVD] [2008]
Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, David Fincher The deservedly multi-award nominated The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button sees David Fincher team up with his Fight Club star Brad Pitt. Pitt plays Benjamin Button, a man born in an old peron's body who in turn ages backwards. While the premise may seem a little mind-boggling for some, Eric Roth (the writer behind Forrest Gump) and Robin Swicord's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story is poetic, epic and intimate all at once. Critics have moaned about its length, but for the story and the characters to become a part of you, this film could not have been any shorter. The Currious Case Of Benjamin Button is a magical tale about love, understanding and acceptance, all themes ridiculously relevant in our time. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's chemistry lights up the screen. Together with Fincher and the outstanding supporting cast (inlcuding Tilda Swinton, Oscar nominated Taraji P. Henson and Julia Ormond), the tale of little Benjamin Button is uplifting and original. Giving away any scenes or technical effects would be ruining the magic. —Jennifer Kilchenmann
Daredevil [2003]
Mark Steven Johnson Whether or not one likes Daredevilthe movie probably has a lot to do with whether or not one likes Daredevilthe comic book. To its credit (or, depending upon your perspective, its detriment), Daredevilis one of the most faithful comic-book adaptations to make it to the big screen. Yet in a world where the red-suited crimefighter is hardly a cultural icon in the same league as Batman and Spider-Man, that will mean very little to most filmgoers.

Daredeviltells the story of Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck), a young lawyer who spent his youth getting kicked around by life in Hell's Kitchen, NYC. He's blinded at an early age in an industrial accident, but when he recovers, he discovers that his remaining senses are superhumanly acute. When his father, a boxer, is killed by gangsters for refusing to throw a fight, Matt Murdock vows to dedicate his life to fighting for what's right. To that end, he becomes a lawyer by day and a masked vigilante by night—Daredevil, the Man Without Fear.

Using as its source material a classic (well, to comics fans, at least) Frank Miller story line, the film manages to find room for Daredevil's origin, his love affair with Elektra (Jennifer Garner) and his first meetings with his two arch-nemeses, Bullseye (Colin Farrell) and Kingpin (Michael Clark Duncan). Colin Farrell has fun with the psychotic Irish assassin Bullseye, who can use nearly any object as a deadly projectile (and who, as he proudly states, never misses). Michael Clark Duncan adds stone-cold menace to the Kingpin of Crime, the criminal mastermind at the nexus of New York's underworld. Yet Daredeviltries to cram too much into its relatively short running time, and ultimately it's the relationship between Matt Murdock and Elektra that suffers—Garner does all she can with the character, but she could have benefited from a bit more screen time. And the action sequences—particularly the faster-paced, Matrix-style wire fights—only succeed in making Affleck and Farrell look a bit awkward (unlike Garner, neither are natural martial artists). Still, Daredevilis a film by comic-book fans, for comic-book fans, packed with cameos and in-jokes sure to appeal to the die-hards. If that's you, then there's much to love here. —Robert Burrow
The Dark Knight (2 Discs) [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Christopher Nolan Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric RobertsDirector: Christopher Nolan
Davina: Power of 3 [2004]
The Day After Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich Supreme silliness doesn't stop The Day After Tomorrowfrom being lots of fun for connoisseurs of epic-scale disaster flicks. After the blockbuster profits of Independence Dayand Godzilla, you can't blame director Roland Emmerich for using global warming as a politically correct excuse for destroying most of the northern hemisphere. Like most of Emmerich's films, this one emphasizes special effects over such lesser priorities as well-drawn characters and plausible plotting, and his dialogue (cowritten by Jeffrey Nachmanoff) is so laughably trite that it could be entirely eliminated without harming the movie. It's the spectacle that's important here, not the lame, recycled plot about father and son (Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal) who endure an end-of-the-world scenario caused by the effects of global warming. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the awesome visions of tornado-ravaged Los Angeles, blizzards in New Delhi, Japan pummeled by grapefruit-sized hailstones, and Manhattan flooded by swelling oceans and then frozen by the onset of a modern ice age. It's all wildly impressive, and Emmerich obviously doesn't care if the science is flimsy, so why should you? —Jeff Shannon
De-Lovely [2004]
Irwin Winkler
Dead Man on Campus [DVD] [1998] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Tom Everett Scott, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Alan Cohn Well, it's a good idea—so good two separate films have used it, this one, Dead Man on Campus, and Dead Man's Curve. Dead Man on Campus mines more dark comedy out of the premise: two students at a prestigious university are flunking out. However, due to a provision in the school's charter, if they had a roommate who committed suicide, they'd both get straight As as a form of reparation for grief and trauma. So, to stay in school, they seek out the most depressed student on campus and transfer him into their three-person dorm room. Unfortunately, rather than satirising the real issues—academic narrow-mindedness, parental pressure, the obsessiveness of late adolescence—the movie is a compilation of frat-boy clichés and jokes that want to be in bad taste but are actually quite tame. The leads (Tom Everett Scott and Mark-Paul Gosselaar) are pleasant and the soundtrack (produced by the Dust Brothers) has some very hip selections, but after a snappy opening-credit sequence, the movie stumbles along, aimless and sluggish. Alyson Hannigan (American Pie, Willow in the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has a small role and is her charming geeky self. —Bret Fetzer
December Boys [2007]
Rod Hardy
Definitely, Maybe [2008]
Adam Brooks The latest romantic comedy from the Working Title production line, Definitely, Maybe got a little forgotten on its original cinematic release in early 2008. Yet beneath the covers here is a smart, enjoyable film, that does Ryan Reynolds' potential as a romantic lead no harm whatsoever.

The story of Definitely, Maybe is mainly told in flashback, as Reynolds' daughter in the film (played by Little Miss Sunshine's Abigal Breslin) quizzes him as to how he met his mother, who he's in the process of getting a divorce from. Reynolds' tale follows three failed romances, and the film holds back on revealing the answer to its mysteries until pretty much the final reel.

Deftly written and directed by Adam Brooks (who previously had scribing credits on Practical Magic, Wimbledon and Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason, among others), Definitely, Maybe has several factors in its corner. Firstly, the script is witty, well layered, and engaging. Secondly, the casting is good, too. Reynolds is in good form here, and Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz turn in fine performances as the three women in his life. And finally, while only slightly outstaying its welcome, Definitely, Maybe achieves a satisfying balance of wit and romance, and then manages to squeeze in a great Kevin Kline cameo on top. Can't be bad.

It may not be talked about in the same breath as other Working Title successes such as Notting Hill and Love Actually, yet Definitely, Maybe is very worthy of DVD discovery. With good rewatch value too, it's a recommended buy. —Simon Brew
The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese Martin Scorsese makes a welcomed return to the mean streets (of Boston, in this case) with The Departed, hailed by many as Scorsese's best film since Casino. Since this crackling crime thriller is essentially a Scorsese-stamped remake of the acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the film was intensely scrutinized by devoted critics and cinephiles, and while Scorsese's intense filmmaking and all-star cast deserve ample acclaim, The Departedis also worthy of serious re-assessment, especially with regard to what some attentive viewers described as sloppy craftsmanship (!), notably in terms of mismatched shots and jagged continuity. But no matter where you fall on the Scorsese appreciation scale, there's no denying that The Departedis a signature piece of work from one of America's finest directors, designed for maximum impact with a breathtaking series of twists, turns, and violent surprises. It's an intricate cat-and-mouse game, but this time the cat and mouse are both moles: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is an ambitious cop on the rise, planted in the Boston police force by criminal kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a hot-tempered police cadet who's been artificially disgraced and then planted into Costigan's crime operation as a seemingly trustworthy soldier. As the multilayered plot unfolds (courtesy of a scorching adaptation by Kingdom of Heavenscreenwriter William Monahan), Costigan and Sullivan conduct a volatile search for each other (they're essentially looking for "themselves") while simultaneously wooing the psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga) assigned to treat their crime-driven anxieties.

Such convenient coincidences might sink a lesser film, but The Departedis so electrifying that you barely notice the plot-holes. And while Nicholson's profane swagger is too much "Jack" and not enough "Costello," he's still a joy to watch, especially in a film that's additionally energised by memorable (and frequently hilarious) supporting roles for Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and a host of other big-name performers. The Departedalso makes clever and plot-dependent use of mobile phones, to the extent that it couldn't exist without them. Powered by Scorsese's trademark use of well-chosen soundtrack songs (from vintage rock to Puccini's operas), The Departedmay not be perfect, but it's one helluva ride for moviegoers, proving popular enough to become the biggest box-office hit of Scorsese's commercially rocky career. —Jeff Shannon
The Devil Wears Prada [UK IMPORT]
David Frankel
Devil's Advocate [1998]
Too old for Hamlet and too young for Lear—what's an ambitious actor to do? Play the Devil, of course. Jack Nicholson did it in The Witches of Eastwick; Robert De Niro did it in Angel Heart(as Louis Cyphre—get it?). In The Devil's AdvocateAl Pacino takes his turn as the great Satan, and clearly relishes his chance to raise hell. He's a New York lawyer, of course, by the name of John Milton, who recruits a hotshot young Florida attorney (Keanu Reeves) to his firm and seduces him with tempting offers of power, sex and money. Think of the story as a twist on John Grisham's The Firm, with the corporate evil made even more explicit. Reeves is wooden, and therefore doesn't seem to have much of a soul to lose, but he's really just our excuse to meet the devil. Pacino's the main attraction, gleefully showing off his—and the Antichrist's—chops at perpetrating menace and mayhem. —Jim Emerson
Die Hard (Two Disc Special Edition) [1989]
John McTiernan
Die Hard 2: Die Harder [1990]
Director Renny Harlin (Cutthroat Island) took the reins of this 1990 sequel, which places Bruce Willis's New York City cop character in harm's way again with a gaggle of terrorists. This time, Willis awaits his wife's arrival at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, when he gets wind of a plot to blow up the facility. Noisy, overbearing and forgettable, the film has none of the purity of its predecessor's simple story; and it makes a huge miscalculation in allowing a terrible tragedy to occur rather than stretch out the tension. Where Die Hardset new precedents in action movies, Die Hard 2is just an anything-goes spectacle. — Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Die Hard 4.0 (2 Disc Special Edition) [2007]
Len Wiseman Twelve years after Die Hard with a Vengeance, the third and previous film in the Die Hardfranchise, Die Hard 4.0finds John McClane (Bruce Willis) a few years older, not any happier, and just as kick-ass as ever. Right after he has a fight with his college-age daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a call comes in to pick up a hacker (Justin Long, Dodgeball) who might help the FBI learn something about a brief security blip in their systems. Now any Die Hardfan knows that this is when the assassins with foreign accents and high-powered weaponry show up, telling McClane that once again he's stumbled into an assignment that's anything but routine. Once that wreckage has cleared, it is revealed that the hacker is only one of many hackers who are being targeted for extermination after they helped set up a "fire sale," a three-pronged cyberattack designed to bring down the entire country by crippling its transportation, finances, and utilities. That plan is now being put into action by a mysterious team (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood, and Maggie Q, Mission: Impossible 3) that seems to be operating under the government's noses. Die Hard 4.0uses some of the cat-and-mouse elements of Die Hard with a Vengeancealong with some of the pick-'em-off-one-by-one elements of the now-classic original movie. And it's the most consistently enjoyable installment of the franchise since the original, with eye-popping stunts (directed by Len Wiseman of the Underworldfranchise), good humour, and Willis's ability to toss off a quip while barely alive. Yippee-ki-ay! —David Horiuchi
Die Hard With A Vengeance (Two Disc Collector's Edition) [1995]
John McTiernan
Dollhouse - Season 1 [DVD] [2009]
Eliza Dushku, Tahmoh Penikett It’s fair to suggest that there are television series that have sprung out of the blocks with more confidence and momentum than Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. The latest show from the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly centres on Eliza Dushku as Echo, a woman who has different personalities transplanted into her depending on the mission she’s been hired for. It’s a tremendous premise, and one laced with just the kind of threads that Whedon has shown real skill at exploiting. But the first half of the season is a muddle. It takes some time for the show to settle down and find its feet, and the first couple of episodes in particular are more disappointing than anything else.

But then Dollhouse suddenly finds its feet. And while it doesn’t iron out all of the creases, once the show slips into gear, it finally begins to realise some of the immense potential here. What’s interesting too is that this first season DVD set includes the terrific missing episode that was never broadcast when the show debuted in the US.

A second season of Dollhouse is incoming, and given how soundly all concerned recover their footing with season one, that’s something to genuinely look forward to. This maiden season? It has its problems, but when it finally hits top gear, it rewards both your financial and time investment. —Jon Foster
Domino [2005]
Loosely based on the real life story of the late bounty hunter Domino Harvey, Keira Knightley quickly sheds her softer image here with an unflinching performance in the title role. As Domino, she brandishes guns, reacts against anyone who crosses her, and isn't above a lapdance to get her out of a tight spot. Yet it's the partnership she forms with Mickey Rourke's Ed Mosbey, her leader and effectively surrogate father, that sits at the core of this good-but-uneven movie, and allows both actors to excel in their roles.

The story is told in flashback, as Domino is interrogated by Lucy Liu's police detective. From there, it follows the story of Domino's life, from her tragic early days, through to meeting Mosbey and her subsequent life as a bounty hunter. And, laced with strong performances and some nicely-constructed sequences, for long periods the film works well. Working against it at times though is director Tony Scott's (Man On Fire, Crimson Tide, True Romance) over-fussy directorial style, which is very much take it or leave it, but does at times get in the way of the storytelling. At the point where you want him to focus on what's happening, there's just one too many flashy shots or quick edits.

Still, Dominoworks, and is suitably removed from the glossy, vacuous action movie you may be expecting. It's very stylised, but the script from Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly covers its bases well. And while the film itself isn't without a couple of problems, the end result is still well worth watching.—Simon Brew
Don Juan De Marco [1995]
Jeremy Leven You might not get a thrill from the sight of Faye Dunaway and Marlon Brando throwing popcorn into each other's mouths, but that didn't stop this movie from gaining a new lease on life thanks to cable television and home video. It's a quirky romantic comedy about a mental patient (Johnny Depp) who claims to be Don Juan, the world's greatest lover, and he gets quite a few women to believe it's true. Brando plays the psychiatrist who tries to analyze his patient's apparent delusion, and Dunaway plays Brando's wife, who wants to inject some Don Juan-ish romance into their marital routine. Walking a fine line between precious comedy, wistful drama, and delicate fantasy, the movie gets a big dose of charm from its esteemed cast, with Depp delivering dialogue that would have sounded ludicrous from a lesser actor. Don Juan DeMarcomay not be a great movie, but it is guaranteed to put you in an amorous mood. —Jeff Shannon
Donnie Darko - Director's Cut (Two Disc Set) [2002]
Donnie Darkois a thought-provoking, touching and distinctive offering from relative newcomer, Richard Kelly (II). It's 1988 in small-town America and Donnie, a disturbed teenager on medication and undergoing psychoanalysis for his blackouts and personality disorders, is being visited by a being in a rabbit suit whom he calls Frank. It's this anti-Harvey that saves Donnie from being crushed to death when an airplane engine falls from the sky onto his house. This is the beginning of their escalating relationship, which, as Donnie follows Frank's instructions, becomes increasingly violent and destructive. Added to this is Frank's warning of the impending apocalypse and Donnie's realisation that he can manipulate time, leading to a startling denouement where nearly everything becomes clear.

"Nearly everything", because Donnie Darkois a darkly comic, surreal journey in which themes of space, time and morality are interwoven with a classic coming-of-age story of a teenage boy's struggle to understand the world around him. The film leaves the viewer with more questions than it answers, but then that's part of its charm. Performances are superb: Jake Gyllenhaal underplays the mixed-up kid role superbly and Donnie's episodes of angst positively erupt out of the screen. There are also some starry cameos from Mary McDonnell as Donnie's long-suffering mother, Patrick Swayze as Jim Cunningham, the personal-development guru with a terrible secret, and Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore as Donnie's progressive teachers. Undoubtedly too abstruse for some tastes, Donnie Darko's balance of outstanding performances with intelligent dialogue and a highly inventive story will reward those looking for something more highbrow than the average teenage romp. —Kristen Bowditch
Down Periscope [1996]
David S. Ward
Dr. Strangelove - The Reel Collection [1964]
Stanley Kubrick
Easy Rider [1969]
Dennis Hopper This box-office hit from 1969 is an important pioneer of the American independent cinema movement, and a generational touchstone to boot. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper play hippie motorcyclists crossing the Southwest and encountering a crazy quilt of good and bad people. Jack Nicholson turns up in a significant role as an attorney who joins their quest for awhile and articulates society's problem with freedom as Fonda's and Hopper's characters embody it. Hopper directed, essentially bringing the no-frills filmmaking methods of legendary, drive-in movie producer Roger Corman (The Little Shop of Horrors) to a serious feature for the mainstream. The film can't help but look a bit dated now (a psychedelic sequence toward the end particularly doesn't hold up well) but it retains its original power, sense of daring and epochal impact. — Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton Edward Scissorhands achieves the nearly impossible feat of capturing the delicate flavor of a fable or fairy tale in a live-action movie. The story follows a young man named Edward (Johnny Depp), who was created by an inventor (Vincent Price, in one of his last roles) who died before he could give the poor creature a pair of human hands. Edward lives alone in a ruined Gothic castle that just happens to be perched above a pastel-colored suburb inhabited by breadwinning husbands and frustrated housewives straight out of the 1950s. One day, Peg (Dianne Wiest), the local Avon lady, comes calling. Finding Edward alone, she kindly invites him to come home with her, where she hopes to help him with his pasty complexion and those nasty nicks he's given himself with his razor-sharp fingers. Soon Edward's skill with topiary sculpture and hair design make him popular in the neighborhood—but the mood turns just as swiftly against the outsider when he starts to feel his own desires, particularly for Peg's daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). Most of director Tim Burton's movies (such as Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman) are visual spectacles with elements of fantasy, but Edward Scissorhands is more tender and personal than the others. Edward's wild black hair is much like Burton's, suggesting that the character represents the director's own feelings of estrangement and co-option. Johnny Depp, making his first successful leap from TV to film, captures Edward's childlike vulnerability even while his physical posture evokes horror icons like the vampire in Nosferatu and the sleepwalker in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Classic horror films, at their heart, feel a deep sympathy for the monsters they portray; simply and affectingly, Edward Scissorhands lays that heart bare. —Bret Fetzer
Edward Scissorhands [Blu-ray]
Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Nigel Hawthorne, Cherie Lunghi Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy BakerDirector: Tim Burton
Enemy at the Gates [2001] [DVD]
Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Jean-Jacques Annaud Enemy at the Gates opens with a pivotal event of World War II—the German invasion of Stalingrad—recreated in Saving Private Ryan-like epic scale as ill-trained Russian soldiers face German attack or punitive execution if they flee from the enemy's advance. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud captures this madness with urgent authenticity, creating a massive context for a more intimate battle waged amidst the city's ruins. Embellished from its basis in fact, the story shifts to an intense cat-and-mouse game between a Russian shepherd raised to iconic fame, and a German marksman whose skill is unmatched in its lethal precision. Vassily Zaitzev (Jude Law) has been sniping Nazis one bullet at a time, while the German Major Konig (Ed Harris) has been assigned to kill Vassily and spare Hitler from further embarrassment. There's love in this war, too, as Vassily connects with a woman soldier (Rachel Weisz), but she is also loved by Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), the Soviet officer who promotes his friend Vassily as Russia's much-needed hero. This romantic rivalry lends marginal interest to the central plot, but it's not enough to make this a classic war film. Instead it's a taut, well-made suspense thriller isolated within an epic battle, and although Annaud and cowriter Alain Godard (drawing from William Craig's book and David L Robbins' novel The War of the Rats) fail to connect the parallel plots with any lasting impact, the production is never less than impressive. Highly conventional but handled with intelligence and superior craftsmanship, this is warfare as strategic entertainment, without compromising warfare as a man-made hell on Earth. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

On the DVD: with a choice of Dolby 5.1 or DTS the sound is suitably spectacular (James Horner's Prokofiev-inspired score comes up well amid whizzing bullets and explosions), while the 2.35:1 anamorphic picture makes the best of the epic battle sequences. "Through the Crosshairs" is a standard 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, which is complemented by "Inside Enemy at the Gates", a 15-minute montage of interviews with the stars and director. There's also a 25-minute French-made documentary (with English subtitles) about the real battle that includes a short interview with the real Vassily Zaitsev. Eight brief deleted scenes can be played separately or neatly inserted into the movie by pressing Enter when the gun sight icon appears on screen. The commentary by director Jean-Jacques Annaud is as informative as might be expected from a director who always seems passionate about his film projects. Storyboards, posters, a trailer and filmographies round out an excellent disc package. —Mark Walker
Enemy Of The State [1998]
Tony Scott
Equilibrium [2003]
Kurt Wimmer A broad science fiction thriller in a classic vein, Equilibriumtakes a respectable stab at a Fahrenheit 451-like cautionary fable. The story finds Earth's post-World War III humankind in a state of severe emotional repression; if no-one feels anything, no-one will be inspired by dark passions to attack their neighbours. Writer-director Kurt Wimmer's monochromatic, Metropolis-influenced cityscape provides an excellent backdrop to the heavy-handed mission of John Preston (Christian Bale), a top cop who busts "sense offenders" and crushes sentimental, sensual, and artistic relics from a bygone era. Predictably, Preston becomes intrigued by his victims and that which they die to cherish; he stops taking his mandatory, mood-flattening drug and is even aroused by a doomed prisoner (Emily Watson). Wimmer's wrongheaded martial arts/duelling guns motif is sheer silliness (a battle over a puppy doesn't help), but Equilibriumshould be seen for Bale's moving performance as a man shocked back to human feeling. —Tom Keogh
Eraser [1996]
Chuck Russell If you're going to submit yourself to a dazzling example of mainstream action, this thriller is as good a choice as any. Eraseris a live-action cartoon, the kind of movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger can survive nail bombs, hails of bullets, an attack by voracious alligators ("You're luggage," he says, after killing one of the beasts), and still emerge from the mayhem relatively intact. Arnold plays an "eraser" from the Federal Witness Protection Program, so named because he can virtually erase the existence of anyone he's been assigned to protect. His latest beneficiary is an FBI employee (Vanessa Williams) who stumbled across a secret government group involved in the sale and export of an advanced weapon capable of shooting rounds at nearly the speed of light. Fantastic action sequences are handled with flair by director Charles Russell (The Mask), so it's easy to forgive the fact that this movie is almost completely ridiculous. —Jeff Shannon
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind [2004]
Michel Gondry Screenwriters rarely develop a distinctive voice that can be recognized from movie to movie, but the ornate imagination of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has made him a unique and much-needed cinematic presence. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a guy decides to have the memories of his ex-girlfriend erased after she's had him erased from her own memory—but midway through the procedure, he changes his mind and struggles to hang on to their experiences together. In other hands, the premise of memory-erasing would become a trashy science-fiction thriller; Kaufman, along with director Michel Gondry, spins this idea into a funny, sad, structurally complex, and simply enthralling love story that juggles morality, identity, and heartbreak with confident skill. The entire cast—Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, and more—give superb performances, carefully pitched so that cleverness never trumps feeling. A great movie. —Bret Fetzer
The Exorcist [1974]
Director William Friedkin was a hot ticket in Hollywood after the success of The French Connection, and he turned heads (in more ways than one) when he decided to make The Exorcistas his follow-up film. Adapted by William Peter Blatty from his controversial best-seller, this shocking 1973 thriller set an intense and often-copied milestone for screen terror with its unflinching depiction of a young girl (Linda Blair) who is possessed by an evil spirit. Jason Miller and Max von Sydow are perfectly cast as the priests who risk their sanity and their lives to administer the rites of demonic exorcism, and Ellen Burstyn plays Blair's mother, who can only stand by in horror as her daughter's body is wracked by satanic disfiguration. One of the most frightening films ever made, The Exorcistwas mysteriously plagued by troubles during production, and the years have not diminished its capacity to disturb even the most stoical viewers. —Jeff Shannon
Face/Off [1997]
John Woo At his best, director John Woo turns action movies into ballets of blood and bullets grounded in character drama. Face/Off marks Woo's first American film to reach the pitched level of his best Hong Kong work (Hard-Boiled). He takes a patently absurd premise—hero and villain exchange identities by literally swapping faces in science-fiction plastic surgery—and creates a double-barrelled revenge film driven by the split psyches of its newly redefined characters. FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) must play the villain to move through the underworld while psychotic terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) becomes a perversely paternal family man, while using every tool at his disposal to destroy his nemesis. Travolta vamps Cage's tics and flamboyant excess with the grace of a dancer after his transformation from cop to criminal, while Cage plays the sullen, bottled-up agent excruciatingly trapped behind the face of the man who killed his son. His attempts to live up to the terrorist's reputation become cathartic explosions of violence that both thrill and terrify him. This is merely icing on the cake for action fans, the dramatic backbone for some of the most visceral action thrills ever. Woo fills the screen with one show-stopping set-piece after another, bringing a poetic grace to the action freakout with sweeping camerawork and sophisticated editing. This marriage of melodrama and mayhem ups the ante from cops-and-robbers clichés to a conflict of near-mythic levels. —Sean Axmaker
The Faculty [1999]
Robert Rodriguez Okay, you knew everyone in high school was just a little different: everyone looked at you strangely, the teachers were freaky, and you never could find the right groove to fit into. What if it turned out that it was all because your school was inhabited by creepy aliens from outer space? That's the enjoyably cheesy B-premise for this fun and scary flick from the pen of Scream's Kevin Williamson, the master of the post-modern teen horror film. Directed by Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), it's The Breakfast Clubmeets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as six disparate students from Herrington High School band together when they discover that an alien life form is invading both the student and faculty bodies, with plans to take over the world.

Each of the heroes represents a different high school type: popular babe (Jordana Brewster), picked-on geek (Elijah Wood), goth girl (Clea DuVall), sensitive jock (Shawn Hatosy), new kid in town (Laura Harris), and bad-boy rebel (Josh Hartnett). The plot isn't much—a basic kill-or-be-killed premise spiked with a healthy shot of paranoia—but Willliamson and Rodriguez do a great job of building the tension slowly but surely. The suspense set pieces are genuinely frightening, and the film pokes fun at itself without deflating its scares; Williamson is a master at shifting gears from comedy to horror quickly and adroitly. The young cast doesn't have a weak link among them (with special kudos to Wood, DuVall and heartthrob-in-the-making Hartnett), and Rodriguez gets maximum mileage from the titular faculty, which includes Jon Stewart, Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek, Bebe Neuwirth, and Robert Patrick of Terminator 2. Go to the head of the class, Mr. Williamson. —Mark Englehart
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas [1998]
Terry Gilliam
Ferris Bueller's Day Off [1987]
Like a soda pop left open all night, Ferris Bueller's Day Off seems to have lost its effervescence over time. Sure, Matthew Broderick is still appealing as the perennial truant, Ferris, who takes one memorable day off from school. Jeffrey Jones is nasty and scheming as the principal who's out to catch him. Jennifer Grey is winning as Ferris' sister (who ends up making out in the police station with a prophetic vision of Charlie Sheen). But there's a definite sense that this film was of a particular time frame: the 80s. It's still fun, though. There's Ferris singing "Twist and Shout" during a Chicago parade, and a lovely sequence in the Art Institute. But don't get it and expect your kids to love it the way you did. Like it or not, it's yours alone. —Keith Simanton, Amazon.com
The Fifth Element [1997]
Luc Besson Ancient curses, all-powerful monsters, shape-changing assassins, scantily-clad stewardesses, laser battles, huge explosions, a perfect woman, a malcontent hero—what more can you ask of a big-budget science fiction movie? Luc Besson's high-octane film The Fifth Elementincorporates presidents, rock stars and cab drivers into its peculiar plot, traversing worlds and encountering some pretty wild aliens. Bruce Willis stars as a down-and-out cabbie who must win the love of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) to save Earth from destruction by Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) and a dark, unearthly force that makes Darth Vader look like an Ewok. —Geoff Riley
Fight Club - Two Disc Set (1999)
All films require a certain suspension of disbelief, Fight Clubperhaps more than others; but if you're willing to let yourself get caught up in the anarchy, this film, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, is a modern-day morality play warning of the decay of society. Edward Norton is the unnamed protagonist, a man going through life on cruise control, feeling nothing. To fill his hours, he begins attending support groups and 12-step meetings. True, he isn't actually afflicted with the problems, but he finds solace in the groups. This is destroyed, however, when he meets Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), also faking her way through groups. Spiralling back into insomnia, Norton finds his life is changed once again, by a chance encounter with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), whose forthright style and no-nonsense way of taking what he wants appeal to our narrator. Tyler and the protagonist find a new way to feel release: they fight. They fight each other, and then as others are attracted to their ways, they fight the men who come to join their newly formed Fight Club. Marla begins a destructive affair with Tyler, and things fly out of control, as Fight Club is transformed into a nationwide fascist group.

The depiction of violence in Fight Clubis unflinching, but director David Fincher's film is captivating and beautifully shot, with camerawork and effects that are almost as startling as the script. The movie is packed with provocative ideas and images—from the satirical look at the emptiness of modern consumerism to quasi-Nietzschean concepts of "beyond good and evil"—that will leave the viewer with much food for thought to take away. Pitt and Norton are an unbeatable duo, and the film has a great sense of humour too. Even if it leaves you with a sense of profound discomfort this is a movie that you'll have to see again and again, if for no other reason than to just to take it all in. —Jenny Brown, Amazon.com
Fight Club [Blu-ray] [1999]
Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, David Fincher Edward Norton, Brad PittDirector: David Fincher
Finding Nemo (2 Disc Collector's Edition) [DVD] [2003]
Albert Brooks, Vicki Lewis, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich A delightful undersea world unfolds in Pixar's animated adventure Finding Nemo. When his son Nemo is captured by a scuba diver, a nervous clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) sets off into the vast—and astonishingly detailed—ocean to find him. Along the way he hooks up with a scatterbrained blue tang fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who's both a help and a hindrance, sometimes at the same time. Faced with sharks, deep-sea anglers, fields of poisonous jellyfish, sea turtles, pelicans and much more, Marlin rises above his neuroses in this wonderfully funny and thrilling ride—rarely do more than 10 minutes pass without a sequence appearing that's destined to become a theme-park attraction. Pixar continues its run of impeccable artistic and economic successes (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc). Supporting voices here include Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush and Allison Janney. —Bret Fetzer
Finding Neverland [2004]
Sweetness that doesn't turn saccharine is hard to find these days;Finding Neverlandhits the mark. Much credit is due to the actors: Johnny Depp applies his genius for sly whimsy in his portrayal of playwright J. M. Barrie, who finds inspiration for his greatest creation from four lively boys, the sons of widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet, who miraculously fuses romantic yearning with common sense). Though the friendship threatens his already dwindling marriage, Barrie spends endless hours with the boys, pretending to be pirates or Indians—and gradually the elements of Peter Pantake shape in his mind. The relationship between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family sparks both an imagined world and a quiet rebellion against the stuffy forces of respectability, given physical form by Barrie's resentful wife (Radha Mitchell, High Art) and Sylvia's mother (Julie Christie, McCabe and Mrs. Miller). This gentle silliness could have turned to treacle, but Depp and Winslet—along with newcomer Freddie Highmore as one of the boys—keep their feet on the earth while their eyes gaze into their dreams. Also featuring a comically crusty turn from Dustin Hoffman (who appeared in another Peter Pan-themed movie, Hook) as a long-suffering theater producer. —Bret Fetzer
Firefly - The Complete Series [2003]
Much praised and much missed after its premature cancellation, Fireflyis the first SF TV series to be conceived by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffyand cocreator of Angel. Set five centuries in the future, it is a show where the mysterious personal pasts of the crew of the tramp spaceship Serenitycontinually surface. In fact, it's a Western in space where the losers in a Civil War are heading out to a barren frontier. Mal Reynolds is a man embittered by the war, yet whose love of his comrades perpetually dents his cynicism—even in the 14 episodes that exist we see him warm to the bubbly young mechanic Kaylee, the preacher Book, the idealistic doctor Simon, even to the often demented River, Simon's sister, the psychic result of malign experiments.

Fireflyis also about adult emotional relationships, for example Kaylee's crush on Simon, the happy marriage of Mal's second officer Zoe and the pilot Wash, the disastrous erotic stalemate between Mal and the courtesan Inara. Individual episodes deal with capers going vaguely wrong, or threats narrowly circumvented; character and plot arcs were starting to emerge when the show was cancelled. Fortunately, the spin-off movie Serenityis planned; and in the meantime, what there is of Fireflyis a show to marvel at, both for its tight writing and ensemble acting, and the idiocy of the executives who cancelled it.

On the DVD:Fireflyon DVD is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 with Dolby Surround Sound. It includes commentaries on six episodes by various writers, directors, designers and cast members as well as featurettes on the conception of the show and the design of the spaceship Serenity, four deleted scenes, a gag reel, and Joss Whedon singing the show's theme tune, more or less. One of the things that emerges from all of this is how committed to the project everyone involved with it was, and is—unusually, you end up caring as much for the cast and crew as for the characters.
Firefly - The Complete Series [Blu-ray] [2002]
Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres Much praised and much missed after its premature cancellation, Firefly is the first SF TV series to be conceived by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and cocreator of Angel. Set five centuries in the future, it is a show where the mysterious personal pasts of the crew of the tramp spaceship Serenity continually surface. In fact, it's a Western in space where the losers in a Civil War are heading out to a barren frontier. Mal Reynolds is a man embittered by the war, yet whose love of his comrades perpetually dents his cynicism—even in the 14 episodes that exist we see him warm to the bubbly young mechanic Kaylee, the preacher Book, the idealistic doctor Simon, even to the often demented River, Simon's sister, the psychic result of malign experiments.

Firefly is also about adult emotional relationships, for example Kaylee's crush on Simon, the happy marriage of Mal's second officer Zoe and the pilot Wash, the disastrous erotic stalemate between Mal and the courtesan Inara. Individual episodes deal with capers going vaguely wrong, or threats narrowly circumvented; character and plot arcs were starting to emerge when the show was cancelled. Fortunately, the spin-off movie Serenity ties up some of the ends; and in the meantime, what there is of Firefly is a show to marvel at, both for its tight writing and ensemble acting, and the idiocy of the executives who cancelled it.

On the DVD: Firefly on DVD is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 with Dolby Surround Sound. It includes commentaries on six episodes by various writers, directors, designers and cast members as well as featurettes on the conception of the show and the design of the spaceship Serenity, four deleted scenes, a gag reel, and Joss Whedon singing the show's theme tune, more or less. One of the things that emerges from all of this is how committed to the project everyone involved with it was, and is—unusually, you end up caring as much for the cast and crew as for the characters.
Fool's Gold [DVD] [2008]
Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Andy Tennant
Forgetting Sarah Marshall [DVD] [2008]
Kristen Bell, Russell Brand, Nick Stoller Breaking up is hard to do—but that doesn't mean you can't have some belly laughs about it. Forgetting Sarah Marshall provides that rare treat: a romantic comedy about breakups, that is both romantic and funny. The laughs, especially from writer-star Jason Segel, are both heartfelt and raunchy, and the film is just unexpected enough that it keeps the viewer's attention till the end. The touches of producer Judd Apatow, who's famously retooled rom-coms to appeal to guys as much as women, are woven throughout the film, but Segel's script, reportedly based on many of his own experiences, is fresh and original. And adult. Forgetting Sarah Marshall features male genitalia laffs presented in unexpected and human ways (the nude breakup scene is played for giggles but also deep poignancy), and the language and sex scenes are strictly for grownups—and rightly so. Segel's script, and his performance as Peter, show that he understands the true nature of adult relationships, which provides the refreshing difference between this film and some of Apatow's other crude creations. The cast is sublime; Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) plays title character Sarah, a self-absorbed actress, and Russell Brand is her new British honey who accompanies her to—what are the chances?—the exact same Hawaiian resort as Peter, who's nursing his broken heart. Mila Kunis plays Rachel, the resort employee who gives Peter a reason to hope, and Paul Rudd is the surfing instructor who gives him his own brand of heartfelt advice ("When life gives you lemons, just say 'F—- the lemons' and bail," he says cheerily). The pacing is screwball, and the absurdities fly (a "Dracula" musical puppet show, and a surprisingly lovely Hawaiian version of "Nothing Compares 2 U"). Nothing the viewer will forget any time soon.—A.T. Hurley
Forrest Gump (2 Disc Special Collector's Edition) [1994]
Robert Zemeckis If you read the label on a box of chocolates you'll know exactly what you're gonna get. Life isn't like that in Forrest Gump, however, which is one of the reasons why this movie divided appreciative audiences from hard-hearted critics like few others before it. Audiences responded to the Frank Capra-style sentimentality of this warm-hearted tale of a good ol' American boy making his way in the world without ever losing his pure and simple innocence. Critics, however, were made uneasy by the apparently reactionary subtext to the parallel lives of Forrest and his girlfriend Jenny. Her fate, contrasted with his, suggests a triumph for plain ol' American values over dangerous freethinking hippies and liberals. Whether the movie is just unadulterated sentiment or right-wing propaganda, one thing at least was acknowledged by all: that Forrest Gumpdisplays all the craftsmanship of one of Hollywood's most inventive directors and features a central performance from an actor renowned for his total commitment to every role. Thanks to Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks, even the most cynical critic will find it hard not to shed at least one tear by the end of this undeniably engrossing movie. The soundtrack is great, too.

On the DVD:another good two-disc set gives fans of Gumpand budding filmmakers alike plenty to enjoy. The anamorphic picture and Dolby Surround on Disc 1 do full justice to Zemeckis' vision, which is accompanied by two commentaries: one from the director, producer Steve Starkey and production designer Rick Carter, and another one from producer Wendy Finerman. Disc 2 has the usual making of documentary (30 mins), plus some neat featurettes on the production and sound design and the many special effects shots (including how they made Gary Sinise lose his legs). In addition there are some screen tests of Robin Wright and a very young Haley Joel (The Sixth Sense) Osment, plus trailers and a photo gallery. All in all this is a worthwhile package. —Mark Walker
Four Weddings And A Funeral [1994]
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel [DVD] [2009]
Dean Lennox Kelly, John Snowden, Gareth Carrivick
From Dusk Till Dawn / Full Tilt Boogie
Robert Rodriguez Sarah Kelly From a match made in heaven comes a movie spawned in hell! From Dusk Till Dawnsees young hotshot director Robert Rodriquez (El Mariachi, Desperado) team up with Pulp Fictionauteur Quentin Tarantino (offering his services as writer and costar) to make this outrageous, no-holds-barred hybrid of high-octane crime and gruesome horror. Tarantino plays Richard Gecko, a borderline psychopath who breaks his career-criminal brother, Seth (George Clooney), out of prison, after which they rob a bank and leave a trail of dead and wounded in their bloody wake. Then they hijack a mobile home driven by a former Baptist minister (Harvey Keitel) who quit the church after his wife's death and hit the road with his two children (played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Heading to Mexico with their hostages, the infamous Gecko brothers arrive at the Titty Twister bar to rendezvous for a money drop, but they don't realise that they've just entered the nocturnal lair of a bloodthirsty gang of vampires! With not-so-subtle aplomb, Rodriguez and Tarantino shift into high gear with a non-stop parade of gore, gunfire and pointy-fanged mayhem featuring Salma Hayek as a snake-charming dancer whose bite is much worse than her bark. If you're a fan of Tarantino's lyrical dialogue and pop-cultural wit, you'll have fun with the road-film half of this supernatural horror-comedy, but if your taste runs more to exploding heads and eyeballs, sloppy entrails and morphing monsters, the second half provides a connoisseur's feast of gross-out excess. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

On the DVD:the DVDs lavish features on us. The outtakes and deleted scenes are more of the same—exploding bellies, pus, blood and naked women with large teeth. The documentary "Full Tilt Boogie" is entertaining enough; the row with the unions, which it faithfully records, raises real issues about independent filmmakers and their work force. There are two music videos, a stills gallery, a reasonably acute commentary by Rodriguez and Tarantino and material about the art direction. The film is presented in Dolby Digital and a widescreen ratio of 1.85:1 as well as an ordinary one of1.33.1. —Roz Kaveney
From Hell
Allen Hughes Albert Hughes
The Full Monty [1997]
Peter Cattaneo Overtaking Jurassic Parkas the UK's biggest box office attraction of 1998, and winning one of its four Academy Award nominations, The Full Montywas the surprise world-wide smash of the year, it's unexpected success reflecting the underdog inspiring message of the film itself. Leading a strong cast, it was Robert Carlyle's appearance here which propelled him to sex-symbol superstardom and brought him high-profile Hollywood roles in Angela's Ashes, The World is Not Enoughand The Beachamong others. The story revolves around the attempts of five unemployed grafters from the recession-hit industrial North to reclaim some of their dignity, which they attempt to do by the unlikely expedient of becoming male strippers. The film follows their struggle to become The Chippendales for real women, from their shambolic beginnings to their euphoric debut appearance in front of 300 hungry lasses! Saucy and spicy with a rocking soundtrack, The Full Montytells of the triumph of spirit over adversity, reminding us that everyone can be special, no matter what their shape ... or size. This is British independent film making at its very best, exhibiting the heart-warming truthfulness captured by many UK directors, yet eschewing their often gloomy negativity for an altogether more optimistic outlook: it's a modern fairy tale in which all five Cinderellas get to go to the ball. —Paul Eisinger
Futurama: Complete Seasons 1 - 4
Susie Dietter Wesley Archer Rich Moore
Galaxy Quest [2000]
Dean Parisot You don't have to be a Star Trekfan to enjoy Galaxy Quest, but it certainly helps. A knowingly affectionate tribute to Trekand any other science fiction TV series of the 1960s and beyond, this crowd-pleasing comedy offers in-jokes at warp speed, hitting the bull's-eye for anyone who knows that: (1) the starship captain always removes his shirt to display his manly physique; (2) any crew member not in the regular cast is dead meat; and (3) the heroes always stop the doomsday clock with one second to spare. So it is with Commander Taggart (Tim Allen) and the stalwart crew of the NSEA Protector, whose intergalactic exploits on TV have now been reduced to a dreary cycle of fan conventions and promotional appearances. That's when the Thermians arrive, begging to be saved from Sarris, the reptilian villain who threatens to destroy their home planet.

Can actors rise to the challenge and play their roles for real? The Thermians are counting on it, having studied the "historical documents" of the Galaxy QuestTV show, and their hero worship (not to mention their taste for Monte Cristo sandwiches) is ultimately proven worthy, with the help of some Galaxy geeks on planet Earth. And while Galaxy Questserves up great special effects and impressive Stan Winston creatures, director Dean Parisot (Home Fries) is never condescending, lending warm acceptance to this gentle send-up of sci-fi TV and the phenomenon of fandom. Best of all is the splendid cast, including Sigourney Weaver as buxom blonde Gwen DeMarco; Alan Rickman as frustrated thespian Alexander Dane; Tony Shalhoub as dimwit Fred Kwan; Daryl Mitchell as former child-star Tommy Webber; and Enrico Colantoni as Thermian leader Mathesar, whose sing-song voice is a comedic coup de grâce. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Garden State [2004]
Zach Braff Zach Braff (from the TV show Scrubs) stars in his writing/directing debut, Garden State—normally a doomed act of hubris, but Braff pulls it off with unassuming charm. An emotionally numb actor in L.A., Andrew (Braff) comes back to New Jersey after nine years away for his mother's funeral. Andrew avoids his bitter father (Ian Holm) and joins old friends (including the superb Peter Sarsgaard) in a round of parties. Along the way he meets a girl (Natalie Portman) with demons of her own; bit by bit the two offer each other a little healing. Plotwise, Garden State is familiar stuff, a cross between The Graduate and a Meg Ryan movie, but Braff has an eye for goofy but resonant visual images, an ear for lively dialogue, and a great cast. The result is surprisingly fresh and funny. —Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties [2006]
Tim Hill
Garfield The Movie - Single Disc Edition [2004]
Peter Hewitt Every now and then, the CGI effects in Garfield: The Movieare less than perfect—which makes you realize of how astonishingly seamless the rest of the effects are. When Garfield's owner Jon (Breckin Meyer) agrees to take in a homeless dog so as to flirt with a sexy veterinarian (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Garfield does his best to oust the dog from the house. But when a greedy television performer (Stephen Tobolowsky) kidnaps the mutt for his own nefarious purposes, Garfield sets out on a rescue mission. Garfieldis a terrible movie, yet there's something weirdly compelling in its awfulness. Bill Murray, who voices the fat cat, has mastered a comic style that wallows fondly in ridiculousness. Perhaps, seduced by the siren call of Murray's voice, the audience can only marvel at the sublime junk of our culture. —Bret Fetzer
Girl, Interrupted
Gladiator (2000) - Two Disc Set
Ridley Scott's glossy historical epic Gladiatorrevitalised the classic sword 'n' sandal genre, bringing both a modern pop-culture sensibility and state-of-the-art computer-generated special effects to what had seemed like a worn-out formula. Essentially a remake of Anthony Mann's stodgy 1964 Fall of the Roman Empire, Gladiatoralso borrows heavily from Saving Private Ryanin its stunning opening sequence, and employs Ridley's brother Tony Scott's rapid-fire editing style for the remarkably staged Colosseum fights. The overall effect is a hugely impressive but emotionally empty spectacle complemented by Hans Zimmer's bestselling but derivative score.

Russell Crowe cements his star status with a brooding, muscular performance helped along by lots of pithily quotable mock-Shakespearean dialogue. But Crowe's Maximus, along with everyone else in the film, is a disappointing two-dimensional stereotype: there's also the ridiculously melodramatic villain (Joaquin Phoenix), the old flame who's still in love with her hero (Connie Nielsen) and the trusty companion (Djimon Hounsou—who seems stuck in these roles). Richard Harris lacks the gravitas to convince as the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, and only Oliver Reed, in his very last film, brings some depth to his world-weary ex-gladiator. Still, if Scott's film lacks the profundity of Ben-Hur, Spartacusor even Cleopatra, it remains a kinetic, exciting thrill ride that gives us some sense of what it must have been like to fight and die with a gladiusin hand.

On the DVD:Gladiator's two-disc set quickly became a must-have on its first release and remains one of the absolute essential DVD purchases. It set the standard both for picture and sound quality (Dolby 5.1 or DTS) as well as providing a second disc fully loaded with excellent special features. Scott's audio commentary is on the first disc, and the second has documentaries about both the history and the film, deleted scenes, storyboards, hidden "Easter Eggs" and more. —Mark Walker
Gnomeo & Juliet
James McAvoy, Emily Blunt It's the age-old story of forbidden love between feuding families, but Shakespeare's classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet becomes quite a comedy when the young lovers in question are different-coloured gnomes from backyards on opposite sides of a tall wooden fence. Lured out of their respective gardens by wanderlust and an exotic orchid, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) meet and instantly fall in love. Their forbidden love blossoms with a little help from a plastic pink flamingo named Featherstone (Jim Cummings), and soon life-threatening lawnmower races ensue, an epic battle is staged, and wisteria trees and gnome hats are hacked to bits in the process. Shakespeare himself (Patrick Stewart) makes an appearance and declares that, while this story bears a marked resemblance to one of his own, he's not sure it will end in quite the same way. Shakespunian nuggets of wisdom include "A weed is by any other name, still a weed," and that fairness demands "a hat for a hat," and of course the philosophical question "What's in a gnome?" just has to be asked. Executive producer Elton John's penchant for over-the-top showmanship finds a perfect home in the gnomes' elaborate backyard sets, and his musical score is an effective blend of classic and original songs, including a new collaboration with Lady Gaga called "Hello, Hello." Other legendary musicians lending their talents to the voice cast include Dolly Parton and Ozzy Osbourne. This film is funny, engaging, and, with the possible exception of one particularly scantily clad gnome, appropriate for the whole family. (Ages 5 and older) —Tami Horiuchi
Go [1999]
Director Doug Liman's follow-up to the winning Swingersis a rollicking adventure that, while lacking in any substantial plot, speeds along with non-stop adrenaline and style to burn. Taking a cue from Pulp Fiction, Liman plays tricks with time and overlapping plots, all of which play out in L.A. and Las Vegas in a 24-hour period sometime between Christmas and New Year's. Slacker grocery-store clerk Ronna (Sarah Polley) is trying to score rent money by selling hits of Ecstasy at a rave party, but winds up inadvertently double-crossing a ruthless dealer (sexy and scary Timothy Olyphant). She's also invading the dealing turf of her coworker Simon (Desmond Askew), a Brit on his first trip to Vegas, which turns nightmarish after a jaunt with pal Marcus (Taye Diggs) to a "gentleman's club" turns violent. And then there's the two soap-opera actors (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf) who cross paths with Ronna more than once in their attempts to divest themselves of a drug-related charge by participating in a sting. The way Liman and writer John August layer these stories owes a huge debt to Quentin Tarantino, but the comedy and action sequences rocket like a bat out of hell with energy, humour, and genuine surprise. In addition to some hilarious dialogue exchanges—including a classic scene between Ronna's stoned friend (Nathan Bexton) and a Zen cat—Liman works wonders with one the most winning ensembles in recent memory, a cast that includes both established actors and TV cuties. Mohr, Diggs, and especially Polley (doing a 180 from her turn in The Sweet Hereafter) are as excellent as you'd expect, but it's Wolf (of Party of Five) and Dawson's Creek's Katie Holmes (as Polley's best bud) who turn in revelatory work; Holmes especially seems poised to be a breakout star. An amazing cinematic ride—like a roller coaster, you'll want to go back again and again. —Mark Englehart
The Godfather Trilogy (5 Disc Box Set)
Francis Ford Coppola
The Golden Compass [DVD] [2007]
Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Chris Weitz Perhaps it didn’t ignite the box office in quite the way it’d been hoped, but that’s little reason to pass over the qualities of The Golden Compass now it arrives on DVD. Based on the Phillip Pullman novel His Dark Materials—itself the start of the Northern Lights trilogy, the film isn’t without a few problems, but emerges as a quality adaptation.

And you certainly can’t fault The Golden Compass for sheer ambition. The story, for those new to the series, is primarily that of 12-year old Lyra, who is in search of her friend who has been kidnapped. Naturally, this proves to be quite a challenging adventure, not least because it’s through Pullman’s vividly imagined world, crossing dimensions as Lyra travels. The film, while toning down and fiddling with some elements of the source material, stays quite close to the book, and it proves to be a good, if not Lord Of The Rings-standard, adaptation.

What helps The Golden Compass, on top of the strong effects work and scope of the production, is a solid cast, featuring the likes of Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards. And it certainly whets the appetite for the next instalment in the series. Whether the muted box office returns put pay to that remains to be seen: for now, at least, The Golden Compass is a good, solid family movie that’s easy to enjoy. —Jon Foster
Gone In 60 Seconds - Director's Cut [2000]
Good Morning, Vietnam [1988]
Barry Levinson Good Morning Vietnam is a more than usually human take on America's most controversial war, an often poignant and always entertaining fictionalisation of the Vietnam years of DJ Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams). Cronauer is employed as the voice of the US Armed Forces radio in South East Asia, but it soon emerges that his idea of entertaining the troops and the Army's are poles apart. This isn't a biopic—director Barry Levinson doesn't give any detail of Cronauer's life before Vietnam—instead it's about Cronauer discovering a better understanding of the war, the people and himself. Interspersed with the radio sequences is a gentle plot which follows Cronauer as he teaches English to some Vietnamese kids, falls for a local girl and narrowly misses being killed in a terrorist attack. However, it is the sheer frenetic genius of Williams' largely improvised radio monologues that account for the film's box office success.

On the DVD: Good Morning Vietnam gets the special edition DVD with digitally remastered audio and picture. Extras include a couple of previews—both the theatrical and a teaser trailer—as well as a production diary which contains interviews with director Levinson, crew and the real Cronauer. But the best feature by far is the "Raw Monologues": introduced by Levinson, this featurette shows the process that Robin Williams went through to improvise the radio slots and is a valuable insight into the comedic talents of the film's star.—Kristen Bowditch
Good Will Hunting [1998]
Gus Van Sant Robin Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck nabbed one for Best Original Screenplay, but the feel-good hit Good Will Hunting triumphs because of its gifted director, Gus Van Sant. The unconventional director (My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy) saves a script marred by vanity and clunky character development by yanking soulful, touching performances out of his entire cast (amazingly, even one by Williams that's relatively schtick-free). Van Sant pulls off the equivalent of what George Cukor accomplished for women's melodrama in the 1930s and 40s: He's crafted an intelligent, unabashedly emotional male weepie about men trying to find inner-wisdom.

Matt Damon stars as Will Hunting, a closet maths genius who ignores his gift in favour of nightly boozing and fighting with South Boston buddies (co-writer Ben Affleck among them). While working as a university janitor, he solves an impossible calculus problem scribbled on a hallway blackboard and reluctantly becomes the prodigy of an arrogant MIT professor (Stellan Skarsgård). Damon only avoids prison by agreeing to see psychiatrists, all of whom he mocks or psychologically destroys until he meets his match in the professor's former childhood friend, played by Williams. Both doctor and patient are haunted by the past and, as mutual respect develops, the healing process begins. The film's beauty lies not with grand climaxes, but with small, quiet moments. Scenes such as Affleck's clumsy pep talk to Damon while they drink beer after work, or any number of therapy session between Williams and Damon offer poignant looks at the awkward ways men show affection and feeling for one another. —Dave McCoy
A Good Year [DVD] [2006]
Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Ridley Scott A feel-good movie that highlights the beauty of France as much as it does its stars, A Good Year provides a languid, gorgeous viewing experience. Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe—who first worked together on the Academy Award-winning Gladiator—are reunited in this romantic film, which is based on Peter Mayle's book A Year in Provence. Crowe plays Max, a workaholic London bonds trader who doesn't know the meaning of vacation. When his uncle dies, leaving him a picturesque estate in the south of France, Max views it as an opportunity to cash in the vinery and pocket the profits. The film is reminiscent of Diane Lane's Under the Tuscan Sun in the way the scenery plays as much of a role in the film as its characters. The lush village and streaming sunlight portray Provence as an idyllic, magical place. Even Max falls under its spell. While not a particularly likeable character, especially in the early part of the film, Max also isn't a bad guy. When he gets the chance to live life at a less manic pace than which he is used to, he finds that a good year isn't dependant on a financial windfall. Though Scott tries to drum up some suspense in the film (Is the beautiful visitor really Max's illegitimate cousin? Will Max fall in love with the feisty local woman he trades quips with?) nothing that happens comes as much of a surprise. Still, while the film doesn't fully utilise Crowe's range of skills, the actor is charming in his role and A Good Year provides fine viewing. —Jae-Ha Kim
Goodfellas
Martin Scorsese Martin Scorsese's 1990 masterpiece GoodFellasimmortalizes the hilarious, horrifying life of actual gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), from his teen years on the streets of New York to his anonymous exile under the Witness Protection Program. The director's kinetic style is perfect for recounting Hill's ruthless rise to power in the 1950s as well as his drugged-out fall in the late 1970s; in fact, no one has ever rendered the mental dislocation of cocaine better than Scorsese. Scorsese uses period music perfectly, not just to summon a particular time but to set a precise mood. GoodFellasis at least as good as The Godfatherwithout being in the least derivative of it. Joe Pesci's psycho improvisation of Mobster Tommy DeVito ignited Pesci as a star, Lorraine Bracco scores the performance of her life as the love of Hill's life, and every supporting role, from Paul Sorvino to Robert De Niro, is a miracle.
Grease (Singalong) [Special Collector's Edition]
Green Lantern (Extended Cut) [Blu-ray]
Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Martin Campbell
Grosse Pointe Blank [1997]
Hit man Martin Q Blank (John Cusack) is in an awkward situation. Several of them, actually. He's attending his high school reunion on an assignment; he's got a rival hit man (Dan Aykroyd) on his tail; and he's going to have to explain to his old girlfriend (Minnie Driver) why he stood her up on prom night. Grosse Pointe Blankis an amiable black comedy, cowritten by Cusack and directed by Jonathan Demme protégé George Armitage (Miami Blues), has the feel of Demme's Something Wildand Married to the Mob—which is to say its humour is dark and brightly coloured at the same time. Cusack and Driver are utterly charming—as is the leading man's sister, Joan, who plays his secretary. (Cusack received an Oscar nomination for her next role, in In & Out.) Alan Arkin is also very funny as Martin's psychiatrist. —Jim Emerson
The Guard [Blu-ray] [2011]
Don Cheadle, Brendan Gleeson, John Michael McDonagh This Blu-Ray Is Brand New Factory Sealed - Region B/2 - Becoming Very Sought After. ThIs Blu-Ray Arriving Every Day Mon-Fri - Will Be Posted From The UK.
Hackers [1996]
Iain Softley As a depiction of the computer-hacker underground, this movie is bogus to the bone. As a thriller, it's cartoonish and conventional. The premise (computer-happy kids hack into the wrong system, and the Forces of Repression come after them) is recycled from John Badham's 1983 WarGames. And the corporate-creep bad guy, played by Fisher Stevens, steeples his fingers and growls mossy villainous clichés. ("By the time they realize the truth, we'll be long gone with all the money.") For all its postmodern trappings the movie is working with sub-prehistoric storytelling tools. But it does succeed on one level, as a movie about adolescent bonding and alienation. The director, Iain Softley, helmed the Beatles-in-Hamburg biopic Backbeat, and he seems to have an instinct for the emotions that pull kids together around common interests and the insecurities that drive them apart. The familiar crises of loyalty and betrayal have an ache of real loneliness. It doesn't hurt that the two stars, Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy in Trainspotting) and Angelina Jolie (Gia), are just about equally gorgeous and charismatic; their longing glances steam up the screen. —David Chute
Hancock (2 Disc Edition with Bonus Digital Copy) [2008]
Peter Berg Hancock turns the standard superhero movie inside-out. The titular character, played by Will Smith, can fly, has super strength and is invulnerable. But he's also a sloppy, arrogant alcoholic who causes millions of dollars in property damage whenever he bothers to fight crime. When he saves the life of a PR agent named Ray (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development), Ray decides to improve Hancock's image—starting by having Hancock surrender himself to the authorities and go to prison for his lawless behaviour. The idea is that once he's in prison, the crime rate will go up and people will start realising Hancock might be of value after all. This is only the first act of Hancock though—from there, the film takes several surprising turns that shouldn't be revealed. Hancock isn't a great movie, but it is an extremely entertaining one. The script, which holds together far better than most superhero movies, has a propulsive plot, good dialogue, some compassion for its characters, and even an actual idea or two. The spectacular action at least gestures towards obeying the laws of physics, which actually makes the special effects more vivid. The three leads (Smith, Bateman, and Charlize Theron as Ray's wife, Mary) deftly balance the movie's mixture of comedy, action, and drama. All in all, a smart subversive twist on a genre that all too often takes itself all too seriously. —Bret Fetzer
The Hangover [DVD] [2009]
Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips If you like your humour broadside up, hold the subtlety, you'll want to nurse this Hangover with your best mates. The ensemble cast meshes perfectly—it's like a super-R-rated episode of Friends: silly, slapstick, and completely in the viewer's face. When four pals go to Vegas to celebrate the imminent nuptials of one of them, they partake in a rooftop toast to "a night we'll never forget." But they're in for a big surprise: their celebration drinks were laced with date-rape drugs, so when they awake in their hotel room 12 hours later, not only are they hung over, but they can't remember what they did all night long. Oh, and they're missing the groom-to-be.

The film is so cheerfully raunchy, so fiercely crude, that the humour becomes as intoxicating as the mind-altering substances. The standout in the ensemble is Zach Galifianakis, who is alternately creepy and hilarious. Ed Helm (The Office), in addition to his memory, loses a tooth in uncomfortably realistic fashion, and Bradley Cooper (He's Just Not That into You) has deadpan comic timing that whips along at the speed of light. "Ma'am, you have an incredible rack," he blares to a pedestrian from the squad car the guys have "borrowed." "I should have been a [bleeping] cop," he tells himself approvingly.

Director Todd Phillips brings back his deft handling of the actors and the dude humour that worked so well in Old School, as well as the unctuous Dan Finnerty, memorable as a lounge/wedding singer in both films. But it's the nonstop volley of jokes—most cheerily politically incorrect—that grabs the audience and thrashes it around the hotel room. Just watch out for the tiger in the bathroom. —A.T. Hurley
Happy Gilmore [1996]
Dennis Dugan Adam Sandler fans are sure to enjoy this no-brainer comedy, but everyone else is strongly advised to proceed with caution. Before scoring a more enjoyable hit with his 1998 comedy The Wedding Singer, the former Saturday Night Livegoofball played Happy Gilmore, a hot-tempered guy whose dreams of hockey stardom elude him. But when he discovers his gift for driving golf balls hundreds of yards, he joins a pro tour to win the prize money needed to rescue his beloved grandma's home from repossession. The trouble is, Happy's not so happy. He's got a temper that frequently flares on the golf course (he even dukes it out with celebrity golfer Bob Barker), but a retired golf pro (Carl Weathers) and a compassionate publicist (Julie Bowen) help him to perfect his putting game and adjust his confrontational attitude. How much you enjoy this lunacy depends on your tolerance for Sandler's loudmouthed schtick and a shocking number of blatant product-placement endorsements, but if you're looking for broad comedy you've come to the right tee-off spot. —Jeff Shannon
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [2002]
Chris Columbus The world's most famous boy wizard dives straight into a darker and more thrilling magical adventure in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It's practically the same set-up—something evil's afoot at Hogwarts; Harry and his pals must put it right—but fans of the books won't be disappointed. Director Chris Columbus, whose artistic licence is necessarily limited by the demands of adapting JK Rowling's phenomenally popular novel, does a spectacular job rendering Rowling's imaginary world: the production design and costumes are fascinating in their own right; such is the impressive attention to detail.

Daniel Radcliffe gives a more assured performance here as Harry, though he's not quite strong enough to carry the film without the aid of an excellent ensemble cast of experienced adults, notably a twinkly-eyed Kenneth Branagh. Of course, most viewers will already know what's going to happen as far as the story is concerned, so for them the pleasure in watching The Chamber of Secrets lies in the visualisation of Rowling's magical creations and the verve brought to the action sequences. It's fantastic fun for kids and a good excuse to regress back to childhood for the rest of us. —Laura Bushell

On the DVD: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets's first disc offers the film in all its fine widescreen (2.35:1) and surround-sound glory—it's a shame they didn't think of adding a commentary.

The second disc's special features are sparse compared to last year's release, most notably the games, which are simpler and dull in comparison to The Philosopher's Stone. Gilderoy Lockhart's classroom offers nothing magical, and the interviews with teachers and students offer only snippets of the actors' thoughts on their characters. Don't get over excited about the "Build a Scene" feature as, unfortunately, this is not a miracle of modern DVD technology, but a simple featurette. The real gem on the disc is a 16-minute interview with JK Rowling and Steve Kloves about the transfer from book to screen. —Nikki Disney
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets [DVD] [2002]
Daniel Radcliffe, Maggie Smith, Chris Columbus The world's most famous boy wizard dives straight into a darker and more thrilling magical adventure in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It's practically the same set-up—something evil's afoot at Hogwarts; Harry and his pals must put it right—but fans of the books won't be disappointed. Director Chris Columbus, whose artistic licence is necessarily limited by the demands of adapting JK Rowling's phenomenally popular novel, does a spectacular job rendering Rowling's imaginary world: the production design and costumes are fascinating in their own right; such is the impressive attention to detail.
Daniel Radcliffe gives a more assured performance here as Harry, though he's not quite strong enough to carry the film without the aid of an excellent ensemble cast of experienced adults, notably a twinkly-eyed Kenneth Branagh. Of course, most avid fans will already know what's going to happen as far as the story is concerned, so for them the pleasure in watching The Chamber of Secrets lies in the visualisation of Rowling's magical creations and the verve brought to the action sequences. It's fantastic fun for kids and there's plenty of childhood nostalgia for the rest of us. —Laura Bushell
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Limited Edition Triple Play Steelbook (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)[Region Free]
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, David Yates Correctly billed as the beginning of the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 kicks off the two-part finale to the massively popular movie franchise, and it does it with some style.

It shoots out of the traps, too. It’s established in double-quick time that the evil Lord Voldemort is closing in on his play to kill Harry Potter, and courtesy of a tremendous opening escape sequence, the chase is soon on. This means that Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, spends the film away from the sort-of-safe grounds of Hogwarts, and they’re up against some sizeable dangers.

It does all present Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 with a bit of a problem, though. Already having to contend with being the first half of a story that many are craving the ending to, it’s an elongated road movie for long periods, and not always one that’s able to sustain the full sense of menace and excitement.

But when it does perform, as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 often does, it’s excellent blockbuster entertainment. There’s a boldness to large sequences of it, too, not least a terrific animated segment, and you get a lot of entertainment for your money, here. And, without question, it looks stunning in high definition. No corners have been cut here at all, and the cinematic quality of the picture and sound is reference standard.

It ends with a bit of a sudden application of the brakes rather than a natural lead in to the next film, and it’s too long, certainly. Yet the pentultimate Harry Potter movie keeps the standard high, and most certainly whets the appetite for the final reckoning to come… —Jon Foster
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) [2011][Region Free]
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, David Yates
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (2 Disc Edition) [2005] [DVD]
Daniel Radcliffe, Maggie Smith, Mike Newell The latest entry in the Harry Potter saga could be retitled Fast Times at Hogwarts, where finding a date to the winter ball is nearly as terrifying as worrying about Lord Voldemort's return. Thus, the young wizards' entry into puberty (and discovery of the opposite sex) opens up a rich mining field to balance out the dark content in the fourth movie (and the stories are only going to get darker). Mike Newell handily takes the directing reins and eases his young cast through awkward growth spurts into true young actors. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, more sure of himself) has his first girl crush on fellow student Cho Chang, and has his first big fight with best bud Ron. Meanwhile, Ron's underlying romantic tension with Hermione comes to a head over the winter ball, and when she makes one of those girl-into-woman Cinderella entrances, the boys' reactions indicate they've all crossed a threshold.

But don't worry, there's plenty of wizardry and action in Goblet of Fire. When the deadly Tri-Wizard Tournament is hosted by Hogwarts, Harry finds his name mysteriously submitted (and chosen) to compete against wizards from two neighboring academies, as well as another Hogwarts student. The competition scenes are magnificently shot, with much-improved CGI effects (particularly the underwater challenge). And the climactic confrontation with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, in a brilliant bit of casting) is the most thrilling yet. Goblet, the first installment to get a PG-13 rating, contains some violence as well as disturbing images for kids and some barely shrouded references at sexual awakening (Harry's bath scene in particular). The 2 1/2-hour film, lean considering it came from a 734-page book, trims out subplots about house elves (they're not missed) and gives little screen time to the standard crew of the other Potter films, but adds in more of Britain's finest actors to the cast, such as Brendan Gleeson as Mad Eye Moody and Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter. Michael Gambon, in his second round as Professor Dumbledore, still hasn't brought audiences around to his interpretation of the role he took over after Richard Harris died, but it's a small smudge in an otherwise spotless adaptation.—Ellen A. Kim, Amazon.com
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince [DVD] [2009]
Helena Bonham-Carter, Robbie Coltrane, David Yates The sixth installment of the Harry Potter series begins right where The Order of the Phoenix left off. The wizarding world is rocked by the news that "He Who Must Not Be Named" has truly returned, and the audience finally knows that Harry is "the Chosen One"—the only wizard who can defeat Lord Voldemort in the end. Dark forces loom around every corner, and now regularly attempt to penetrate the protected walls of Hogwarts School. This is no longer the fun and fascinating world of magic from the first few books—it's dark, dangerous, and scary.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) suspects Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) to be a new Death Eater recruit on a special mission for the Dark Lord. In the meantime, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) seems to have finally removed the shroud of secrecy from Harry about the dark path that lies ahead, and instead provides private lessons to get him prepared. It's in these intriguing scenes that the dark past of Tom Riddle (a.k.a. Voldemort) is finally revealed. The actors cast as the different young versions of Riddle (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane) do an eerily fantastic job of portraying the villain as a child. While the previous movies' many new characters could be slightly overwhelming, only one new key character is introduced this time: Professor Horace Slughorn (with a spot-on performance by Jim Broadbent). Within his mind he holds a key secret in the battle to defeat the Dark Lord, and Harry is tasked by Dumbledore to uncover a memory about Voldemort's darkest weapon—the Horcrux. Despite the long list of distractions, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) still try to focus on being teenagers, and audiences will enjoy the budding awkward romances. All of the actors have developed nicely, giving their most convincing performances to date.

More dramatic and significant things go down in this movie than any of its predecessors, and the stakes are higher than ever. The creators have been tasked with a practically impossible challenge, as fans of the beloved J.K. Rowling book series desperately want the movies to capture the magic of the books as closely as possible. Alas, the point at which one accepts that these two mediums are very different is the point at which one can truly enjoy these brilliant adaptations. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no exception: it may be the best film yet. For those who have not read the book, nail-biting entertainment is guaranteed. For those who have, the movie does it justice. The key dramatic scenes, including the cave and the shocking twist in the final chapter, are executed very well. It does a perfect job of setting up the two-part grand finale that is to follow. —Jordan Thompson
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone [2001]
Chris Columbus As the first Harry Potter film of the celebrated series, this is a must for ardent fans and newcomers to the global fantasy phenomenon. An adaptation of J. K. Rowling's enchanting, funny debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (known as the Sorcerer's Stone in the US), it's our first big-screen encounter with the series' well-loved characters and the goings-on at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

We meet orphan Harry Potter (played by a young Daniel Radcliffe) while he's as yet unaware of his magical powers and is living a miserable existence with his horrible Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. A mysterious letter arrives, delivered by the friendly giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane in fine acting form), inviting Harry to study at the exclusive Hogwarts School and he soon discovers his true heritage as the son of a wizard and a witch. He's also gained widespread notoriety, being the only survivor of an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort that killed both his parents. The film explores Harry's growing realisation that there are two worlds: the non-magical world of humans, called "Muggles", in which he used to reside and the magical fantasy world of wizardry that is his destiny.

The greatest strength of the film comes from its faithfulness to the novel, and this new cinematic world is filled with all the details of Rowling's imagination, thanks to exuberant sets, elaborate costumes, clever makeup and visual effects, and a crème de la crème cast, including Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman and more. Especially fine is the interplay between Harry and his new schoolmates Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) as they club together to fight the forces of evil. —Sally Giles
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban [DVD] [2004]
Daniel Radcliffe, Julie Christie, Alfonso Cuaron In this adaptation of the third book in JK Rowling's best-selling series, Harry Potter (Danielle Radcliffe) and his best friends Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), must face the dangerous convict Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who has ties with their enemy Lord Voldemort and has escaped from Azkaban prison in search of Harry Potter. A scarier, darker story than the first two, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban is the first instalment to be directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También), who demonstrates remarkable versatility and proves a perfect choice to guide Harry, Hermione, and Ron into treacherous puberty as the now 13-year-old students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The dark and dangerous mystery of Sirius Black's motive for revenge drives the action, but the film is full of stand-out moments courtesy of the flying hippogriff Buckbeak (a marvelous CGI creature), the benevolent but enigmatic Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), horrifying black-robed Dementors, sneaky Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall), and the wonderful advantages brought by having a Time-Turner just when you need one.
The familiar Hogwarts staff returns in fine form (including Michael Gambon, replacing the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore, and Emma Thompson as the goggle-eyed Sybil Trelawney), and even Julie Christie joins this prestigious production for a brief but welcome cameo. Technically dazzling, fast-paced, and chock-full of Rowling's boundless imagination (loyally adapted by ace screenwriter Steve Kloves), The Prisoner of Azkaban is a Potter-movie classic. —Jeff Shannon
Harry Potter Collection - Years 1-6 [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Alfonso Cuarón, Chris Columbus, David Yates, Mike Newell Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Jarvis, Fiona Shaw, Daniel Radcliffe, Helena Bonham-CarterDirectors: Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, David Yates, Chris Columbus
The Haunted Airman [DVD] [2006]
Robert Pattinson, Chris Durlacher
Heartbreakers [2001]
David Mirkin
Heat
Michael Mann Sylvia Miles is a fading, practically unknown star, given to game shows, TV movies and studs. Joe Dallesandro is a one-time child actor who lives in a sunbaked motel, where the obese landlady gives cut rates for service and complains about the star
Heist [2001]
David Mamet Like a famous DIY product, Heistdoes exactly what it says on the box—no less and certainly no more—but is an enjoyable crime drama nonetheless. The story is a familiar one with ageing criminal (Hackman's Joe Moore) determined to pull off one last job before retiring. The usual sub-plots that accompany such a theme are all there (those in whose interest it is for him to continue, the realisation of growing old, the impact of the decision on those around him) and, to be honest, Heistoffers us very little that hasn't been seen before. It is, however, still a hugely watchable movie. Hackman may be sleepwalking through the role but he is still capable of dominating a screen in a way few of his contemporaries have been able to emulate. Delroy Lindo is superb as main foil Bobby, certainly more convincing than Rebecca Pidgeon's pouting wife Fran and Danny De Vito's overplayed crime boss. As with all such movies (Soderbergh's Ocean's Elevenbeing a prime example), the real joy comes in the planning and execution of the heist itself and the conflict between the prime movers. Heistcertainly has more than its fair share of twists and turns and is full of bluff, deception and double-crossing, keeping the viewer more than a little hooked right to the end. No work of genius, then, but certainly worth a look.

On the DVD:Heiston disc contains nothing here to get particularly excited about, aside from the interactive menu and theatrical trailer. Picture and sound quality are good, although there is no option to change the audio settings. Unimpressive extras are limited to a perfunctory list of main cast members.—Phil Udell
Hellboy (Director's Cut) [2004]
Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Guillermo Del Toro Based on the comic book series by Mike Mignola, Guillermo del Toro's gleefully eccentric film follows the supernatural adventures of Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a cigar-chomping, horn-filing demonic hero enlisted by an occult scholar (John Hurt) to fight evil in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Along with the fire-throwing Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and the amphibious psychic Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, with the voice of David Hyde Pierce), Hellboy is joined by new recruit John Myers (Rupert Evans), a squeaky-clean FBI agent assigned to keep the big red devil's exploits in check. Things get out of hand, however, when a vicious monster is unleashed by the villainous Rasputin (Karl Roden), leading to events that may set off an apocalyptic nightmare for humanity. Echoing Peter Jackson's passion for THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, HELLBOY is a labour of love from del Toro, a longtime fan of the comic and its creator. The director's enthusiasm shows, since HELLBOY is a wondrously strange slice of pulpy adventure, mixed with horror and humour, and enhanced by stunning visual effects. In the title role (and lots of red makeup), Perlman is pitch-perfect, giving the good-natured misfit a powerful yet surprisingly sensitive presence. Blair, Evans, Hurt, and other actors are similarly well cast, rounding out an ensemble intent on retaining the movie's dark yet superbly entertaining tone.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2 Disc Special Edition) [2008]
Guillermo del Toro The feverish Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is a very busy sequel that might have looked unhinged in the hands of a less visionary director than Guillermo del Toro. Ron Perlman returns as Hellboy, aka "Red," the Dark Horse Comics demon-hero with roots in the mythical world but personal ties in the human realm. Still working, as he was in Hellboy, for a secret department of the federal government that deals (as in "Men In Black") with forces of the fantastic, Red and his colleagues take on a royal elf (Luke Goss) determined to smash a longtime truce between mankind and the forces of magic. Meanwhile, Red's relationship with girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), who can burst into flames at will, is going through a rocky stage observed by Red's fishy friend Abe (Doug Jones), himself struck by love in this film. Del Toro brilliantly integrates the ordinary and extraordinary, diving into an extended scene set in a troll market barely hidden behind the façade of typical city streets. He also unleashes a forest monster that devastates an urban neighborhood, but then—interestingly—brings a luminous beauty to the same area as the creature (an "elemental") succumbs to a terrible death. Del Toro's art direction proves masterful, too, in a climactic battle set in a clockworks-like stronghold tucked away in rugged Irish landscape. But it's really the juxtaposition of visual marvels with not-so-unusual relationship issues that gives Hellboy 2 a certain jaunty appeal hard to find in other superhero movies. —Tom Keogh
Heroes - Season 1 Complete [2006]
It's hard to remember a science fiction series that has hit so big so quickly. Yet by the end of the first series of Heroes, it feels—for all the right reasons—that the show's been around for longer than it has, such is the huge amount of success it's enjoyed.

The setup is simple, yet undeniably intriguing. It essentially tells the stories of a series of people who discover they have legitimate, differing superhero powers. On top of that, these people then gradually appreciate that these powers are needed for reasons that soon become apparent, and the story of Heroes builds up from there.

Heavily influenced by comics both in its structure and story, Heroes sustains interest through a number of story arcs of different magnitudes, skilfully weaving them throughout the 23 episodes that make up the season. It's contained enough to keep you interested, yet offers enough threads to make several more seasons a very appealing prospect.

Heroes, though, really gels because the basics are right. It's plotted intelligently, written and directed with real nerve and talent, and has a cast who you can't help but get emotionally involved with. It's also, for the overwhelming majority of its episodes, utterly compelling television. Ironically, its few miss-steps of any note come right at the back end, by which time you really would forgive it pretty much anything.

Heroes is rightly being heralded as a sci-fi classic in the making. Yet even if subsequent seasons don't fully do justice to those words—and at the time of writing, season two is still some way from debuting—this boxset will serve as a glowing testament to just how good television can be when it's just done right. Quite brilliant. —Jon Foster
The History Boys [2006]
Nicholas Hytner Based on the acclaimed play of the same name, The History Boys is a faithful, intelligent piece of cinema, even if it is a little reluctant to stray from its theatrical roots.

Penned by Alan Bennett and set in 1982 Yorkshire, The History Boys follows a group of `A' Level students as they're schooled through their attempts to get into Oxbridge. Under the tutelage of Richard Griffiths' liberal Hector and Campbell Moore's Irwin, there's plenty here to admire. Firstly, the script crackles along, with snappy dialogue and characters well worthy of your interest. Secondly, the performances from the predominantly young cast are well worthy of note. And then there's the deft directorial touch of Nicholas Hytner (The Madness Of King George, The Crucible), all of which lifts The History Boys into a film of real merit.

There are questions to be asked over whether you're expected to sympathise with one or two characters in the film, of course, and there's the aforementioned issue that it's far too faithful to the source play (which results in an overlong running time). But ultimately, The History Boys is a witty, challenging and testing film, whose qualities outweigh its problems. —Jon Foster
History Boys [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Nicholas Hytner Based on the acclaimed play of the same name, The History Boys is a faithful, intelligent piece of cinema, even if it is a little reluctant to stray from its theatrical roots.

Penned by Alan Bennett and set in 1982 Yorkshire, The History Boys follows a group of ‘A’ Level students as they’re schooled through their attempts to get into Oxbridge. Under the tutelage of Richard Griffiths’ liberal Hector and Campbell Moore’s Irwin, there’s plenty here to admire. Firstly, the script crackles along, with snappy dialogue and characters well worthy of your interest. Secondly, the performances from the predominantly young cast are well worthy of note. And then there’s the deft directorial touch of Nicholas Hytner (The Madness Of King George, The Crucible), all of which lifts The History Boys into a film of real merit.

There are questions to be asked over whether you’re expected to sympathise with one or two characters in the film, of course, and there’s the aforementioned issue that it’s far too faithful to the source play (which results in an overlong running time). But ultimately, The History Boys is a witty, challenging and testing film, whose qualities outweigh its problems. —Jon Foster
Hitch [2005]
Andy Tennant Will Smith's easygoing charm makes Hitchthe kind of pleasant, uplifting romantic comedy that you could recommend to almost anyone—especially if there's romance in the air. As suave Manhattan dating consultant Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, Smith plays up the smoother, sophisticated side of his established screen persona as he mentors a pudgy accountant (Kevin James) on the lessons of love. The joke, of course, is that Hitch's own love life is a mess, and as he coaches James toward romance with a rich, powerful, and seemingly inaccessible beauty named Allegra (Amber Valetta), he's trying too hard to impress a savvy gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) with whom he's fallen in love. Through mistaken identities and mismatched couples, director Andy Tennant brings the same light touch that made Drew Barrymore's Ever Afterso effortlessly engaging. As romantic comedies go, Hitchdoesn't offer any big surprises, but as a date movie it gets the job done with amiable ease and style. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (2 Disc Steelbook Collector's Edition) [DVD] [2005]
Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Garth Jennings After twenty years stuck in development (a mere blink compared to how long it takes to find the answer to life, the universe, and everything), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has finally been turned into a movie. Following the radio play, TV series, commemorative towel, and books, this latest installment in the sci-fi-comedy franchise is based on the screenplay and detailed notes by Douglas Adams.

For those unfamiliar with the story, everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman)wakes up one morning to discover that his house is set to be demolished to make room for a bypass. Little does he know the entire planet Earth is also set to be destroyed for an interplanetary bypass by the Vogons, a hideous and bureaucratic race of aliens realized in the film by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Whisked off the planet by his best friend, alien-in-disguise Ford Prefect (Mos Def), Dent embarks on a goofy jaunt across the galaxy accompanied by his trusty Hitchhiker's Guide, which looks like a really fancy PDA.

The guide itself provides some of the funniest bits of the movie, little animated shorts that explain the ludicrous life forms and extraterrestrial phenomena our heroes encounter. Along the way Arthur meets the two-headed party animal/president of the galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and develops an unrequited crush on fellow earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). The creatures and sets are inspired and answer to the sci-fi fan's primal need to see lots and lots of cool stuff. In particular, there's John Malkovich's creepy, CGI-enhanced Humma Kavula. He's a guru leading a religion that worships the gigantic nose that allegedly sneezed the universe into existence (naturally all their prayers end not with "Amen" but with "Bless you.") The aliens the team encounters are inspired creations, eminently worthy of action figure-ification, and the sets belie an attention to detail worthy of freeze-framing. Fans of the other Hitchhiker... manifestations, namely the British TV series, will be amused by a number of in-jokes sprinkled throughout the movie.

Where the story stumbles is in the telling—as books, the Hitchhiker's Guide... was foremost about goofy and brilliant ideas that raised questions about our place in the universe while getting a laugh. The cast seems at times bewildered, at least when Sam Rockwell isn't picking pieces of scenery out of his teeth, perhaps a natural reaction to an adaptation of a book with no traditional plot. The movie has enough trouble figuring out how to get the characters from one fantastical location to the next that Adams's funniest concepts often feel left in the dust. While the reverence the filmmakers felt toward Adams's legacy is apparent, one wonders what we could have expected had the creator of this science fiction universe lived to see it with his own eyes. —Ryan Boudinot
Hitman - Extreme Edition [2007] [DVD]
Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Xavier Gens It's hard not to feel like one has entered a certain dimension of video-game logic while watching Hitman, a lightly enjoyable action-suspense movie indeed based on a popular and bloody game about a mysterious hired gun with a bar-code tattoo on his bald head and a number (47) in lieu of a name. Living like a chaste monk while slipping past borders to kill his targets, 47 (Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood) moves like a determined shark and speaks softly to his contact at the enigmatic "the Organization," which raises cast-off children to become well-paid assassins. Fruitlessly pursued by an Interpol cop (Dougray Scott) who can never get sovereign governments to cooperate, 47 has no trouble slipping in and out of countries to ply his trade. Until, that is, he's set up to take a fall in Russia by shooting a national leader who is promptly replaced by a lookalike double. Suddenly on the run, 47 has to retrace his steps and formulate a lethal plan for extricating himself from a trap. Caught in the chaos is the lovely Nika (Olga Kurylenko), forced into sex slavery by 47's new enemies and the one person who seems uniquely qualified to break through 47's many personal barriers.

Directed by France's Xavier Gens, Hitman features loads of bloody mayhem and unabashed moments of pulp absurdity, such as a scene in which 47 and three other Organization killers agree to fight one another respectfully, then proceed to pulverize each other with swords and fists. As fodder for gamers, however, Hitman is packed with visuals and dramatic moments that seem so odd on the big screen until one realizes they are basically placemarkers for the video-game edition. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
The Holiday [2006]
Nancy Meyers As a pleasant dose of holiday cheer, The Holiday is a lovable love story with all the Christmas trimmings. In the capable hands of writer-director Nancy Meyers (making her first romantic comedy since Something's Gotta Give), it all begins when two successful yet unhappy women connect through a home-swapping website, and decide to trade houses for the Christmas holiday in a mutual effort to forget their man troubles. Iris (Kate Winslet) is a London-based journalist who lives in a picture-postcard cottage in Surrey, and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) owns a movie-trailer production company (leading her to cutely imagine most of her life as a "coming attraction") and lives in a posh mansion in Beverly Hills. Iris is heartbroken from unrequited love with a cad of a colleague (Rufus Sewell), and Amanda has just broken up with her cheating boyfriend (Edward Burns), so their home-swapping offers mutual downtime to reassess their love lives. This being a Nancy Meyers movie (where everything is fabulously decorated and romantic wish-fulfillment is virtually guaranteed), Amanda hooks up with Iris's charming brother Graham (Jude Law), and Iris is unexpectedly smitten with Miles (Jack Black), a super-nice film composer on the downside of a failing relationship. —Jeff Shannon
Hot Fuzz (2 Disc Special Edition) [2007]
Edgar Wright A major British hit, a lorryload of laughs and some sparkling action? We'll have some of that. It's fair to say that Hot Fuzz proves that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's brilliant Shaun Of The Dead was no one-off, serving up a superbly crafted British homage to the Hollywood action movie.

Deliberately set in the midst of a sleepy, quaint English village of Sandford, Pegg's Nicholas Angel is sent there because, bluntly, he's too good at his job, and he's making his city colleagues look bad. The proverbial fish out of water, Angel soon discovers that not everything in Sandford is quite as it seems, and joins forces with Nick Frost's lumbering Danny Butterman to find out what's what.

Hot Fuzz then proceeds to have a rollicking good time in both tipping its hat to the genre films that are clearly its loving inspiration, and coming up with a few tricks of its own. It does comedy better than action, with plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but it's no slouch either when the tempo needs raising. One of the many strong cards it plays is its terrific cast, which includes former 007 Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey, Paddy Considine, Edward Woodward and Jim Broadbent.

Hot Fuzz, ultimately, just falls short of Shaun Of The Dead, but more than does enough to warrant many, many repeat viewings. It's terrific fun, and in the true hit action movie style, all-but-demands some form of sequel. That said, with Pegg and Wright now with two excellent, and suitably different, genres ticked off, it'll be interesting to see what they do next. A period drama, perhaps...? —Simon Brew
Hot Shots & Hot Shots Part Deux! [1993]
Jim Abrahams
House - Series 1-3 - Complete
Is there a finer medical programme on television right now than House? Sure, ER continues to grab the attention and acclaim, but even a powerhouse show such as that doesn't have such an ingenious creation at the heart of it as Hugh Laurie's award-winning Dr Gregory House.

The premise of House centres each episode around a diagnostic challenge for the blunt, brilliant, rude and unconventional Doctor and his team. The investigations into the various ailments even have a pseudo-CSI feel to them, generally set against the time-pressure of a rapidly degenerating patient.

Yet while the medicine enthrals, House is all about the characters. The superb supporting cast, including Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard and Lisa Edelstein, of long-suffering colleagues and staff are strong, providing the nucleus of a fair few story threads themselves. Yet it's Hugh Laurie's astonishing performance in the title role that makes it all work.

In Laurie's hands, Dr Gregory House becomes one of the most memorable television characters of recent times, replacing snide comments and sarcasm at a point where a calm bedside manner would be far more appropriate. Across the three seasons in this terrific boxset, therefore, he makes more than his fair share of enemies, including a police detective intent on sending him down and a patient or two who look to exact some form of revenge.

Anchored by razor-sharp writing, House is, undoubtedly, a major success and a highly enjoyable television programme. And with over 60 episodes to enjoy here, this collection of the first three seasons is a terrific investment. —Simon Brew
How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days [2003]
Donald Petrie Kate Hudson twinkles as the heroine of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. She's a magazine writer assigned to date a guy, make all the mistakes girls make that drive guys away (being clingy, talking in baby-talk and so on) and records the process like a sociological experiment. However, the guy she picks— Matthew McConaughey—is an advertising executive who's just bet that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days; if he succeeds, he'll win a huge account that will make his career. The set-up is completely absurd, but the collision of their efforts to woo and repel creates some pretty funny scenes. McConaughey's easy charm and Hudson's lightweight impishness play well together and the plot, though strictly Hollywood formula, chugs along efficiently. At moments Hudson seems to channel her mother, Goldie Hawn, to slightly unnerving effect. —Bret Fetzer
Hunt For Red October Special Edition [1990]
John McTiernan Before Harrison Ford assumed the mantle of playing Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan hero in Patriot Games, Alec Baldwin took a swing at the character in this John McTiernan film and hit one to the fence. If less instantly sympathetic than Ford, Baldwin is in some respects more interesting and nuanced as Ryan, and drawing comparisons between both actors' performances can make for some interesting post-movie discussion. That aside, The Hunt for Red Octoberstands alone as a uniquely exciting adventure with a fantastic co-star: Sean Connery as a Russian nuclear submarine captain attempting to defect to the West on his ship. Ryan must figure out his true motives for approaching the US. McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard) made an exceptionally handsome movie here with action sequences that really do take one's breath away. —Tom Keogh
I Am Legend [2007]
Francis Lawrence A mainstream Hollywood actor who seems committed to igniting science fiction features, Will Smith chalked up another sizeable hit in the shape of I Am Legend, the latest cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson's book of the same name.

This time, Smith plays Robert Neville, the last man on an Earth emptied by a deadly virus that he continues to try and find a working vaccine for. With just his dog for company, and the fear of the vampires that haunt the night never far away, I Am Legendquickly establishes itself as a taut, highly watchable blockbuster, with plenty of reasons to gnaw at your nail.

Where I Am Legendreally scores is in the excellent first half. The scenes of a deserted New York are quite staggering, and it's also to Smith's immense credit that he holds the attention even though for the most part he's the only person on the screen. It's a quite wonderful opening hour that the film enjoys, and one that easily stands repeat viewings alone.

The back half of I Am Legendis, almost inevitably, not quite the match of what's gone before, as the threats of the night don't, when you finally see them, live up to expectations. Nonetheless, for Smith's performance, and the sheer quality of the build up, I Am Legendcan stand side-by-side with the last take on the story, the Charlton Heston-starrer The Last Man On Earth. Take either home, and you're in for a rollicking good night in front of the telly. —Jon Foster
I, Robot
Alex Proyas As paranoid cop Del Spooner, Will Smith (Independence Day, Men in Black) displays both his trademark quips and some impressive pectoral muscles in I, Robot. Only Spooner suspects that the robots that provide the near future with menial labor are going to turn on mankind—he's just not sure how. When a leading roboticist dies suspiciously, Spooner pursues a trail that may prove his suspicions. Don't expect much of a connection to Isaac Asimov's classic science fiction stories;I, Robot, the action movie, isn't prepared for any ruminations on the significance of artificial intelligence. This likable, efficient movie won't break any new ground, but it does have an idea or two to accompany its jolts and thrills, which puts it ahead of most recent action flicks. Also featuring Bridget Moynahan (The Sum of All Fears), Bruce Greenwood (The Sweet Hereafter), and James Cromwell (Babe, LA Confidential). —Bret Fetzer
Ice Age [DVD] [2002]
Denis Leary|Kirsten Johnson|Jack Black|Andrea Bowen, Chris Wedge It's 20,000 years ago and there's a bit of a nip in the air as the Ice Age kicks off. Manfred the well-meaning mammoth, Sid the fast-talking sloth and Diego the duplicitous sabre-tooth tiger form a reluctant and unlikely alliance when they come across a helpless human baby. As they try to return the tot to his migrating tribe, the trio must battle more than just the elements in this harsh world of predators and prey. There's plenty of light relief from the dramatic tension and superb action sequences, notably in the form of the brilliant comic invention Scrat, an apparently insane sabre-tooth squirrel who steals any scene in which he—and his acorn—appear (although a flock of keen but hapless dodos give him a close run for the film's comic laurels).

Featuring the voice talents of Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo, Ice Age is a thrilling, chilling comedy adventure that's undeniably cool.

On the DVD: Ice Age on DVD boasts a whole host of special features, including commentary by director Chris Wedge and co-director Carlos Saldhona, deleted scenes and trailers. The highlight of the bonus material is the exclusive short "Scrat's Missing Adventure" but for the real nitty-gritty go to "Under the Ice". This contains numerous featurettes of varying lengths, including "The Making of Ice Age", "Behind the Scenes", "Art of Effects" and "Sid's Voice Development". These tell you pretty well everything there is to know about the film and its creation. For additional humour check out the brief "Scrat Reveals" segment and Sid's commentary sequences. —Helen Baker
In Bruges [2008]
Martin McDonagh The considerable pleasures of In Bruges begin with its title, which suggests a glumly self-important art film but actually fits a rattling-good tale of two Irish gangsters "keepin' a low profile" after a murder gone messily wrong. Bruges, the best-preserved medieval town in Belgium, is where the bearlike veteran Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and newbie triggerman Ray (Colin Farrell) have been ordered by their London boss to hole up for two weeks. As the sly narrative unfolds like a paper flower in water, "in Bruges" also becomes a state of mind, a suspended moment amid centuries-old towers and bridges and canals when even thuggish lives might experience a change in direction. And throughout, the viewer has ample opportunity to consider whose pronunciation of "Bruges" is more endearing, Gleeson's or Farrell's. The movie marks the feature writing-directing debut of playwright Martin McDonagh, whose droll meditation on sudden mortality, Six Shooter, copped the 2005 Oscar for best live-action short. Although McDonagh clearly relishes the musicality of his boyos' brogue and has written them plenty of entertaining dialogue, In Bruges is no stageplay disguised as a film. The script is deceptively casual, allowing for digressions on the newly united and briskly thriving Europe, and annexing passers-by as characters who have a way of circling back into the story with unanticipatable consequences. That includes a film crew—shooting a movie featuring, to Ray's fascination, "a midget" (Jordan Prentice)—and a fetching blond production assistant (Clémence Poésy) whose job description keeps evolving. There's one other key figure: Harry, the Cockney gang boss whose omnipotence remains unquestioned as long as he remains offscreen, back in England, as if floating in an early Harold Pinter play. Harry has reasons inextricably tender and perverse for selecting Bruges as his hirelings' destination, and eventually he emerges from the aether to express them—first as a garrulous telephone voice and then in the volatile form of Ralph Fiennes. By that point the charmed moment of suspension, already shaken by several eruptions of violence, is pretty well doomed. But In Bruges continues to surprise and satisfy right up to the end. —Richard T. Jameson
In the Name of the Father
Jim Sheridan Based on a true story, this rousing and tough-minded film details British overzealousness in prosecuting an IRA bombing in the 1970s. Grabbing up a pair of small-time thieves (Daniel Day-Lewis and John Lynch) and their families, the government concocts a conspiracy case against them and tosses them all in jail. Until then, Day-Lewis has been a ne'er-do-well, an apolitical goof looking for a quick score. But confronted with the toughness of his own father (Pete Postlethwaite) in the face of British torture, he begins to realize just what the stakes are. In the Name of the Father is at times grueling and never less than compelling, with a complex performance by Day-Lewis and a strong one by Emma Thompson, as the lawyer who finally cracks through the British obstructions to the truth. —Marshall Fine
Inception - Triple Play
Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Christopher Nolan Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian MurphyDirector: Christopher Nolan
Independence Day
Roland Emmerich
Inside Man [2006]
An intelligent thriller with a healthy few twists up its sleeve, The Inside Manmarks strong, although hardly career-best, work from all concerned.

The plot is simple, and hardly fresh. On one side, you have a sophisticated team who walk into a bank, take everyone hostage and issue demands. On the other, you have a team of cops trying to apprehend those responsible and get the hostages out safely. In the middle, you have the owner of the bank, who's willing to bring in a bit of extra help to get the situation resolved. And yet what could have been a standard two-dimensional Hollywood blockbuster gets brains and substance thanks to those in front of and behind the camera.

The talent in front is led by a consummate Denzel Washington, as the cop leading the situation. Then there's the increasingly impressive Clive Owen and the always-excellent Jodie Foster, with sterling support from the likes of Christopher Plummer and Willem Dafoe.

Behind the camera, much has been made of the fact that this is the least Spike Lee-like film that Spike Lee has directed, yet that misses the point. The Inside Mansees a skilful, diligent and clever director utterly comfortable with what's going on, and wringing out plenty from the simple premise.

It's not a flawless film by any means: the last reel doesn't quite match up to what preceded it, and the script doesn't really get you near the skin of the characters (even if it does serve up some delicious, not entirely expected moments). Yet as heist movies go, this is one of the better examples of recent times, with plenty of reasons to recommend it. —Simon Brew
Inside Man [Blu-ray] [2006][Region Free]
Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Spike Lee Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Wakis Ahluwalia, Ashlie AtkinsonDirector: Spike Lee
Intermission [2003]
John Crowley (III)
Iron Man (2-Disc Ultimate Edition) [2008]
Jon Favreau You know you're going to get a different kind of superhero when you cast Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role. And Iron Man is different, in welcome ways. Cleverly updated from Marvel Comics' longstanding series, Iron Man puts billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (that's Downey) in the path of some Middle Eastern terrorists; in a brilliantly paced section, Stark invents an indestructible suit that allows him to escape. If the rest of the movie never quite hits that precise rhythm again, it nevertheless offers plenty of pleasure, as the renewed Stark swears off his past as a weapons manufacturer, develops his new Iron Man suit, and puzzles both his business partner (Jeff Bridges in great form) and executive assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow). Director Jon Favreau geeks out in fun ways with the hardware, but never lets it overpower the movie, and there's always a goofy one-liner or a slapstick pratfall around to break the tension. As for Downey, he doesn't get to jitterbug around too much in his improv way, but he brings enough of his unpredictable personality to keep the thing fresh. And listen up, hardcore Marvel mavens: even if you know the Stan Lee cameo is coming, you won't be able to guess it until it's on the screen. It all builds to a splendid final scene, with a concluding line delivery by Downey that just feels absolutely right. —Robert Horton
Iron Man 2 - Double Play (Blu-ray + DVD) [2010]
Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke The return of Tony Stark, in the guise of Robert Downey Jr, in Iron Man 2 proves to be a welcome one. For Downey Jr utterly owns the dual role of Stark and Iron Man, and in this entertaining superhero sequel, he’s given a tricky nemesis to fight.

The foe is Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko, introduced properly in a staggering action sequence set at Historic Grand Prix of Monaco. Director Jon Favreau stages this superbly, and Iron Man 2 manages to pack plenty into its opening 40 minutes as a result.

The foot does go off the gas, though, in the middle part of the film, when Iron Man 2 does get bogged down by a few too many characters and plot points. But there’s regularly something to keep the attention up, before all bets are off for the entertaining finale.

Iron Man 2 may not be a perfect sequel, but it’s certainly a good one. And it’s a thorough and rigorous home cinema workout, too. Boasting spectacular visuals and a thunderous surround sound mix, the Blu-ray edition of the film is a thrilling ride, and the best way to enjoy an already-worthwhile movie. —Jon Foster
Iron Man 2 [DVD]
Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Jon Favreau
Iron Man [Blu-ray] [2008][Region Free]
You know you're going to get a different kind of superhero when you cast Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role. And Iron Man is different, in welcome ways. Cleverly updated from Marvel Comics' longstanding series, Iron Man puts billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (that's Downey) in the path of some Middle Eastern terrorists; in a brilliantly paced section, Stark invents an indestructible suit that allows him to escape. If the rest of the movie never quite hits that precise rhythm again, it nevertheless offers plenty of pleasure, as the renewed Stark swears off his past as a weapons manufacturer, develops his new Iron Man suit, and puzzles both his business partner (Jeff Bridges in great form) and executive assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow). Director Jon Favreau geeks out in fun ways with the hardware, but never lets it overpower the movie, and there's always a goofy one-liner or a slapstick pratfall around to break the tension. As for Downey, he doesn't get to jitterbug around too much in his improv way, but he brings enough of his unpredictable personality to keep the thing fresh. And listen up, hardcore Marvel mavens: even if you know the Stan Lee cameo is coming, you won't be able to guess it until it's on the screen. It all builds to a splendid final scene, with a concluding line delivery by Downey that just feels absolutely right. —Robert Horton
The IT Crowd - Series 1 [2005]
The IT Crowd - Series 2
It's A Boy/Girl Thing [DVD] [2006]
Samaire Armstrong, Kevin Zegers, Nick Hurran
The Italian Job [1969]
Peter Collinson The greatest Brit-flick crime caper comedy of all time, 1969's The Italian Jobtowers mightily above its latter-day mockney imitators. After Alfiebut before Get CarterMichael Caine is the hippest ex-con around, bedding the birds (several at a time) and spouting immortal one-liners ("You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"). The inheritor of a devious plan to steal gold bullion in the traffic-choked streets of Turin, Caine recruits a misfit team of genial underworld types—including a lecherous Benny Hill and three plummy public-schoolboy rally drivers—and uses the occasion of an England-Italy football match as cover for the heist.

In his final screen appearance, Noel Coward joyfully sends up his own patriotic persona, and there are small though priceless cameos from the likes of Irene Handl and John Le Mesurier. But The Italian Job's real stars are the three Mini Coopers—patriotically decorated red, white and blue—that run rings round every other vehicle in an immortal car-chase sequence, which preserves forever the British public's love affair with the little car. Quincy Jones provided the irreverent music, naturally, while the cliffhanger ending thumbs its nose at anything so un-hip as a resolution. It's all unashamedly jingoistic—ridiculously, gleefully, absurdly so—but the whole sums up the joie de vivreof the 1960s so perfectly that future historians need only look here to learn why the decade was swinging.

On the DVD:The Italian Jobdisc contains three all-new documentaries—"The Great Idea" (conception), "The Self-Preservation Society" (casting), and "Get a Bloomin' Move On" (stunts)—which dovetail into a good 68-minute "making of" featurette. Contributors include scriptwriter Troy Kennedy Martin and Producer Michael Deeley, who also crops up on the sporadically interesting commentary track with author of The Making of The Italian Job, Matthew Field. The deleted "Blue Danube" waltz scene is also included, with optional commentary. The print is a decent anamorphic transfer of the original 2.35:1 ratio, and the soundtrack has been remastered to Dolby 5.1. The animated Mini Cooper menus set the tone perfectly. —Mark Walker
Jack And Sarah / When Harry Met Sally / French Kiss [1995]
Essential Love Collection
Jackie Brown - 2 Disc Collector's Edition [1998]
Quentin Tarantino The curiosity of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brownis Robert Forster's worldly wise bail bondsman Max Cherry, the most alive character in this adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch. The film is more "rum" than "punch", though, with a slow, decaffeinated story of six characters glued to a half million dollars brought illegally into the country. The money belongs to Ordell (Samuel L Jackson), a gunrunner just bright enough to control his universe and do his own dirty work. His just-paroled friend Louis (Robert De Niro) is just taking up space and could be interested in the money. However, his loyalties are in question between his old partner and Ordell's doped-up girl (Bridget Fonda). Certainly Federal Agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) wants to arrest Ordell with the illegal money. The key is the title character, a late-40-ish flight-attendant (Pam Grier) who can pull her own weight and soon has both sides believing she's working for them.

Tarantino changed the race of Jackie and Ordell, a move that means little except that it allows him to heap on black culture and language, something he has a gift and passion for, though the film is not a salute to Grier's blaxploitation films beyond the soundtrack. Unexpectedly the most fascinating scenes are between Grier and Forster: glowing in the limelight of their first major Hollywood film after decades of work. —Doug Thomas
Jerry Maguire [1997]
Cameron Crowe Jerry Maguire, the film that launched the careers of writer-director Cameron Crowe and actress Renée Zellwenger, is accurately regarded as one of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s. It's an unconventional tale about the paradoxical nature of success in which a top sports agent (Tom Cruise) is forced to reassess his life when he is unceremoniously dumped by his employer. After falling in love with single mother Dorothy Boyd (Zellwenger), and supported by loyal client and second-rate football star Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Maguire attempts to rebuild his fractured life.

At times the film's lightweight, pop-sociology view of the hungry nature of the modern day workplace is clichéd to say the least. However, because Crowe is able to develop meaningful characters, his contradictory lunges against capitalism are submerged by the excellent performances of Cruise and company. There are also top notch supporting roles from Zellwenger's screen son Ray (child star Jonathan Lipnicki) and dictatorial older sister Laurel (Bonnie Hunt).

On the DVD:Jerry Maguire's animated menus are created in the style of a messy desk with Post-It-Note selection icons but these don't function as anticipated. As well as the audio commentary over the main feature, the bonus disc unnecessarily includes live action visual footage of Cruise, Crowe, Gooding and Zellwenger providing the same remarks. Unfortunately, the visuals only add to irritability of the exclusive banter between the four. There's also a short "making-of" featurette along with Cameron Crow's documentary Drew Rosenhaus: Sports Agent, which highlights the inspiration behind the film's character Bob Sugar. The "Mission Statement", reproduced in its entirety, isn't a quick and easy read. The music video for Bruce Springsteen's "Secret Garden" adds a mellow, atmospheric twist to the bonus disc. There are also exclusive DVD-ROM extras tucked away, including the screenplay and photo gallery. —John Galilee
Josie And The Pussycats [2001]
Harry Elfont Deborah Kaplan Shrewdly concocted by codirectors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, Josie and the Pussycatsis a wildly comedic update of the Archie comic book (and early 1970s cartoon show). "Oh my God, I'm a trend pimp!" cries rocker Josie McCoy (Rachel Leigh Cook) when she discovers that she and her best friends Melody (Tara Reid) and Val (Rosario Dawson)—collectively known as the Pussycats—have been recruited in a plot to brainwash America's youth into a frenzy of mindless consumerism. Unbeknown to the Pussycats, subliminal messages in their chart-topping hit "Pretend to Be Nice" are forcing kids to follow the latest prefab trends as if their lives depended on it. Josie's going to be the "Next Big Thing", and to her manager (Alan Cumming) and Megarecords mogul Fiona (Parker Posey), the other Pussycats are expendable baggage in their scheme to dictate the cool quotient of teenagers everywhere. Blatant product placements dominate virtually every colourful scene as Josie and the Pussycatsgamely embraces the cultural blight it claims to criticise, but this isn't Hollywood hypocrisy. In this deliriously entertaining assault on pop-cultural flotsam, with its disposable boy-band (aptly named "Du Jour") and cross-product marketing ploys that perpetuate blind conformity among gullible teens, Elfont and Kaplan wilfully bite the hand that feeds them, and they're having loads of fun while advocating independent opinion. Cook and her pals are more honestly sexy than Britney Spears, and they make genuinely catchy music (although Cook's vocals were dubbed). It's pure fluff, but Josie and the Pussycatswas conceived in such high spirits that it's hard to imagine how it could be improved. Even the obligatory end-credit outtakes are utterly irresistible. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

On the DVD: Some nicely designed and colourful menus lead you to the extras. The obligatory "Behind the Scenes" is a lot more than just an extended promo with footage of the Pussycats learning their instruments and playing them live on stage. Strangely enough though, there's not one mention throughout of the characters' comic book and cartoon origins. There are a few pointless deleted scenes and the usual production notes plus the video for Josie and the Pussycats' single "Three Small Words" (good enough to play on MTV!) and two hilarious music videos from the movie's fictitious boy band DuJour. —Jon Weir
Julie & Julia (Giftset With Cookery Book) [DVD] [2009]
Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Nora Ephron Julie & Julia is a film that should be relished with gusto—accompanied by the freshest and best ingredients, pounds of butter, and bottles of the very best wine. It lovingly celebrates the life of one of American food's most influential and beloved figureheads: Julia Child—played here with zest, humor, and a sweet, subtle respect by Meryl Streep, whose performance is spectacular. Julie & Julia is based on the book by Julie Powell, a frustrated New York bureaucrat who wants to be a writer. "But you're not a writer until someone publishes you," she moans. So she gives herself a challenge: to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, and to blog about it. As Powell (played with chirpy determination by Amy Adams), begins to find her groove as a cook, and her voice as a writer, the project takes on a life of its own—and in the end it does provide the struggling young woman with her life's purpose, to her very pleasant surprise. But mostly, Julie & Julia is a valentine to Child, to Child's amazing love affair with her dashing husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci, as divine as any soufflé in the film), and to her outlook on embracing life, and ordering seconds. Streep throws herself into the Child role with real affection for her character, and while certain of Child's idiosyncrasies—including her warbly voice and unflappable haphazardness in the kitchen—are retained, it's Child's character and vision which form Streep's portrayal, and which make the film so involving and rewarding. Nora Ephron directs with deftness and a light touch, though she seems at times to be encouraging some of Meg Ryan's onscreen tics in Adams (the self-conscious head tilt, for one). But mostly she simply allows Streep to channel Child and her love of food, her husband, and 1950s Paris. And that is a recipe for something truly sublime. —A.T. Hurley
Jumper [2008]
Doug Liman As preposterous action movies go, Jumper is pleasantly unpretentious and breezily entertaining. A young man named David (Hayden Christensen) discovers he has the power to teleport (or "jump") anywhere he can visualize. After using this power to steal and make a comfortable life for himself, he pursues the girl he longed for in school (Rachel Bilson, The O. C.). But as he does so, another jumper (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot) and a pack of fanatical jumper-hunters called paladins (led by a white-haired Samuel L. Jackson) crashes into David's freewheeling life. Jumper wastes no time trying to explain how jumping works or delving into the hows and whys of the paladins; this is an alluring fantasy of power directed at a pell-mell pace by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Go). There's a brief moment when it feels like the movie will bog down in romance and vague gestures towards character development—happily, that's the moment when Bell appears and the whole movie shifts into overdrive. You might wish that Bell and Christensen had swapped roles; Bell has a far more engaging personality, and Christensen's bland good looks might better suit a more aggressive character. Nonetheless, Jumper has oodles of dynamism and nifty visual effects to propel its comic-book storyline forward. A variety of recognizable actors in bit parts (such as Diane Lane and Kristen Stewart, Panic Room) suggest that the filmmakers are laying the groundwork for sequels. Based on a critically-acclaimed science-fiction novel by Steven Gould. —Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
Juno [2007]
Jason Reitman Somewhere between the sharp satire of Election and the rich human comedy of You Can Count On Me lies Juno, a sardonic but ultimately compassionate story of a pregnant teenage girl who wants to give her baby up for adoption. Social misfit Juno (Ellen Page, Hard Candy, X-Men: The Last Stand) protects herself with a caustic wit, but when she gets pregnant by her friend Paulie (Michael Cera, Superbad), Juno finds herself unwilling to terminate the pregnancy. When she chooses a couple who place a classified ad looking to adopt, Juno gets drawn further into their lives than she anticipated.

But Juno is much more than its plot; the stylised dialogue (by screenwriter Diablo Cody) seems forced at first, but soon creates a richly textured world, greatly aided by superb performances by Page, Cera, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as the prospective parents, and J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man) and Allison Janney as Juno's father and stepmother. Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) deftly keeps the movie from slipping into easy, shallow sarcasm or foundering in sentimentality. The result is smarter and funnier than you might expect from the subject matter, and warmer and more touching than you might expect from the cocky attitude. Page's performance is deceptively simple; she never asks the audience to love her, yet she effortlessly carries a movie in which she's in almost every scene. That's star power. — Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
Just Friends [2005]
Roger Kumble Manic energy and an agreeable level of comic insanity turn Just Friendsinto the kind of brainless comedy you can enjoy as a modest guilty pleasure. If you liked director Roger Kumble's previous comedy The Sweetest Thing(and let's face it, that movie had some reallyfunny moments), chances are you'll get at least a few solid belly-laughs from this not-so-high-concept premise, in which a formerly fat high-schooler named Chris (Ryan Reynolds) is transformed, ten years later, into a womanizing music executive with a high-profile client (Anna Faris) in the Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera mold.

As it zips along with some broad-stroked slapstick and snappy one-liners, the screenplay by Adam Tex Davis contrives to reunite Chris with Jamie (Amy Smart), the former cheerleader who was the great, unrequited love of Chris' miserable high-school life. By his narcissistic logic, he'll seduce her by treating her badly (i.e. she'll want what she thinks she can't have), but he gets unexpected competition in the form of a "Mr. Sensitive" type (Chris Klein, from American Pie), and it's pretty much Hollywood formula from there on, as Just Friendsloses momentum without losing its basic appeal. And while Reynolds invests his character with an unexpected degree of emotional nuance, Faris (Scary Movie 3) pulls out all the stops, going deliriously over-the-top to maintain her reputation as a rising comedy starlet with a (hopefully) promising future. We're not talking rocket science here, folks... just sit back, take off your thinking cap, and have some fun. —Jeff Shannon
Just Like Heaven [2005]
Mark Waters * * * * - Bad romantic comedies make you scoff at their absurdity; good ones make you wish your life was that absurd. Just Like Heavenis just smart and likable enough to trigger that wishing. David (Mark Ruffalo, Collateral, You Can Count On Me) finds an amazing apartment in San Francisco—only to discover it's haunted by the spirit of the previous tenant, an overachieving doctor named Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde, Election).

There's something not quite right about Elizabeth's afterlife; against his better judgement, David agrees to help her investigate her life...but finds himself digging into his own as well. The plot takes a twist that some viewers will see coming, but Just Like Heavendoesn't rely on the surprise alone; the revelation takes the story in a new and just as entertaining direction. Witherspoon and Ruffalo are two of the best romantic leads around, but the surprise is how well their contrasting flavors (perky and moody, respectively) mesh, creating a sparky, engaging chemistry. Also featuring Dina Waters (Freaky Friday), Donal Logue (The Tao of Steve), Ben Shenkman (Angels in America), and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite). Crisply directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls), who carefully keeps the supernatural from getting silly and the romance from getting gooey. —Bret Fetzer
Kate And Leopold [DVD] [2002]
Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, James Mangold On its theatrical release, James Mangold's romantic comedy Kate & Leopold was rightly panned for holes in the logic of its time-travel plot. Stewart (Liev Schreiber) finds a portal to 1876 and goes to observe his ancestor Leopold, Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) who then follows him back to 2001. Since Leopold is responsible for inventing a key component in lifts, this instantly causes problems.

The gallant Leopold charms, and is charmed by Stewart's ex, Kate (Meg Ryan), a hard-boiled cynical marketing expert who finds in Victorian idealism a corrective to her view of the world. And this is part of the problem with the film—we cannot entirely believe in Meg Ryan as a cynic, or that her problems can be resolved by going off to 1876 to be with her aristocratic sweetie, and much of the film has an oddly sour hostility to its heroine. Hugh Jackman is a delight in the fish-out-of-water scenes and Breckin Meyer is also very funny as Kate's actor brother, who assumes Leopold is a colleague sunk deep into the creation of a part.

On the DVD Kate and Leopold has crisp Dolby 5:1 sound, which allows the very different acoustics of the two historical periods to be neatly contrasted, and is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. We get both the theatrical and Director's cut, both offered with commentary, though the Director's cut audio track is more polemical. The Director's cut restores some expository material and makes more sense. —Roz Kaveney
The Kids Are All Right [Blu-ray]
Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Lisa Cholodenko Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mia Wasikowska, Mark Ruffalo, Josh HutchersonDirector: Lisa Cholodenko
Kill Bill, Volume 1 [2003]
Quentin Tarantino Proudly billed as "the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino", Kill Bill, Volume 1is actually half of it (if you include his chunk of Four Roomsit's really the fourth and a quarterth). If Jackie Brownachieved a certain maturity beyond callous cool, then this is his Mr Hyde's trash picture, which relishes all the things in cinema that are supposed to be bad for you. The opening Shaw Brothers logo and cheesy "our feature presentation" card, redolent of rancid Kia-Ora and stale Wrestlers, sets this up as defiantly a movie-geek's movie, whose touchstones are spaghetti Westerns, comic books, kung fu/samurai quickies and second-hand vinyl albums. If Kill Billwas a dog-eared paperback, it'd be confiscated by a teacher.

Tarantino's favoured flashback-and-forth structure means we begin with a shuffle between past and present as the Bride with No Name (Uma Thurman) is shown being apparently murdered at the climax of a Texas wedding chapel massacre and alive again tracking down the secondperson on her to-kill list. The bulk of the film takes place between these plot points as the Bride carries a vengeance feud to the firstof her enemies, yakuza queenpin O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). Like its soundtrack—everything from Nancy Sinatra to the RZA, with the Green Hornettheme along the way—it's an eclectic picture, with sequences done as a gruesome anime, particularly genocidal stretches in black and white, and segues from cheerful kung fu massacre to Kurosawa-look poised duelling. Tarantino holds back on his trademark motormouth pop culture references; in fact, much of the film is in sub-titled Japanese.

You have to lock your brain into trash-film mode to get the most out of it, but its cliffhanger fade-out—unlike the dispiriting "to be continued" at the end of Matrix Reloaded—makes you want to come back. It's not a spoiler to reveal that Bill (a barely glimpsed David Carradine) hasn't been killed yet, and Thurman needs to take out Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen before she gets to him. —Kim Newman
Kill Bill, Volume 2 [2004]
Quentin Tarantino "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) gets her satisfaction—and so do we—in Quentin Tarantino's "roaring rampage of revenge", Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Where Vol. 1 was a hyper-kinetic tribute to the Asian chop-socky grindhouse flicks that have been thoroughly cross-referenced in Tarantino's film-loving brain, Vol. 2—not a sequel, but Part Two of a breathtakingly cinematic epic—is Tarantino's contemporary martial-arts Western, fuelled by iconic images, music and themes lifted from any source that Tarantino holds dear, from the action-packed cheapies of William Witney (one of several filmmakers Tarantino gratefully honours in the closing credits) to the spaghetti epics of Sergio Leone. Tarantino doesn't copy so much as elevate the genres he loves, and the entirety of Kill Billis clearly the product of a singular artistic vision, even as it careens from one influence to another. Violence erupts with dynamic impact, but unlike Vol. 1, this slower grand finale revels in Tarantino's trademark dialogue and loopy longueurs, reviving the career of David Carradine (who plays Bill for what he is: a snake charmer), and giving Thurman's Bride an outlet for maternal love and well-earned happiness. Has any actress endured so much for the sake of a unique collaboration? As the credits remind us, "The Bride" was jointly created by "Q&U", and she's become an unforgettable heroine in a pair of delirious movie-movies (Vol. 3 awaits, some 15 years hence) that Tarantino fans will study and love for decades to come. —Jeff Shannon
King of Queens - Season 1
In the sitcom The King of Queens, comedian Kevin James has created a new archetype: the sensitive lug. This deceptively simple comedy bounces along because delivery man Doug Heffernen (James), though completely a guy's guy, constantly struggles to keep the world around him in a delicate emotional balance. Meanwhile, his wife Carrie (Leah Remini), though utterly feminine (and one of the sexiest women on television), uses the kind of no-nonsense rational approach that's usually a man's province. Add to this mix Carrie's father Arthur (Jerry Stiller), whose life as a fussy, self-absorbed retiree makes him more like their child than an adult, and you've got the building blocks for an excellent and durable show.

The first season of The King of Queens quickly found its voice with stories firmly rooted in the everyday world, rarely spinning off into absurdity—and why should it, when there's such a wealth of humor to be found in petty neuroses (when Doug gets assigned an attractive young woman as a trainee at work, he gets hurt when Carrie isn't remotely jealous), ill-advised scheming (to weasel out of a traffic ticket, Carrie agrees to go out on a date with the cop who pulled her over), and juggling obligations to friends and family (just about every episode). Brilliant comic bits abound; one classic moment features Doug and Carrie having a furious argument in absolute silence at a cello concert—a scene that fuses deft physicality, well-developed characters, and sheer silliness. The King of Queens is a delight. —Bret Fetzer
The King's Speech [Blu-ray] [2010]
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Hooper
Kingdom of Heaven (2 Disc Special Edition) [2005]
Ridley Scott It's hard to believe Ridley Scott's handsome epic won't become the cinematic touchstone of the Crusades for years to come. Kingdom of Heaven is greater than the sum of its parts, delivering a vital, mostly engrossing tale following Balian (Orlando Bloom), a lonely French blacksmith who discovers he's a noble heir and takes his father's (Liam Neeson) place in the center of the universe circa 1184: Jerusalem. Here, grand battles and backdoor politics are key as Scott and first-time screenwriter William Monahan fashion an excellent storyline to tackle the centuries-long conflict. Two forward-thinking kings, Baldwin (Edward Norton in an uncredited yet substantial role) and Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), hold an uneasy truce between Christians (who hold the city) and Muslims while factions champ at the bit for blood. There are good and evildoers on both sides, with the Knights Templar taking the brunt of the blame; Balian plans to find his soul while protecting Baldwin and the people.

The look of the film, as nearly everything is from Scott, is impressive: his CGI-infused battle scenes rival the LOTR series and, with cinematographer John Mathieson, create postcard beauty with snowy French forests and the vast desert (filmed in Morocco and Spain). An excellent supporting cast, including Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis, also help make the head and heart of the film work. Many critics pointed out that Bloom doesn't have the gravitas of Russell Crowe in the lead (then again, who does?), but it's the underdeveloped character and not the actor that hurts the film and impacts its power. Balian isn't given much more to do than be sullen and give an occasional big speech, alongside his perplexing abilities for warfare tactics and his wandering moral compass (whose sole purpose seems to be to put a love scene in the movie). Note: all the major characters except Neeson's are based on fact, but many are heavily fictionalized. —Doug Thomas, Amazon.com
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [DVD] [2005]
Robert Downey Jr, Michelle Monaghan, Shane Black With smart scribe Shane Black both penning the script and behind the camera, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was never going to be ordinary. Yet it's far better than you could have hoped for, marrying in comedy, action, a bit of a detective work and a constant, knowing wink to the audience.

Cruelly underperforming at the box office, the film finds Robert Downey Jr as a small time thief, who quite literally finds himself stumbling into the world of acting. With a potential role as a private detective in the offing, his agent arranges for him to spend his time with private investigator Val Kilmer. All is fairly light, until a dead body crosses their paths and a genuine mystery presents itself.

And that then sets the scene for a pacey, energetic film spearheaded by a trio of strong performances. The main plaudits should go to the interplay between Kilmer and Downey Jr, who both eat up their respective best roles in years. Meeting them head on though is Michelle Monaghan, who plays a wannabe actress with a talent for fast talking, and looks that Downey Jr's Harry can't help but resist.

Now it's fair to argue that the setup itself doesn't feel particularly fresh. Yet the execution most certainly is, with Black savvy enough to know when to avoid the genre clichés, and when to drive his script right through the middle of them with a great big grin on his face. Grounded by a splendidly witty narration from Downey Jr, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is, at the point this review is being written, an underappreciated gem. Hopefully time, and DVD, will see it right.—Simon Brew
A Knight's Tale [2001]
Brian Helgeland There's no rule against rock anthems from the 1970s in the soundtrack for a movie about a medieval jousting champion, but if you're going to attempt such jarring anachronisms, you'd better establish acceptable ground rules. Writer-director Brian Helgeland does precisely that in A Knight's Taleand pulls off this trick with such giddy aplomb that you can't help but play along (upon witnessing a crowd of peasants at a jousting match, singing and clapping to the beat of Queen's "We Will Rock You," you're either going to love this movie or dismiss it altogether). Other vintage rock hits will follow, but Helgeland—the Oscar®-winning co-writer of L.A. Confidential—handles this ploy with judicious goodwill, in what is an otherwise honest period piece about a peasant named William (Heath Ledger) who rises by grit and determination to the hallowed status of knighthood.

As if the soundtrack weren't audacious enough, Helgeland (recovering from the sour experience of his directorial debut, Payback) casts none other than Geoffrey Chaucer (wonderfully played by Paul Bettany) as William's cohort and match announcer, along with William's pals Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), and feisty blacksmith Kate (Laura Fraser). Of course there must be a fair maiden, and she is Jocelyn (newcomer Shannyn Sossamon), with whom William falls in love while battling the nefarious Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell) on the European jousting circuit. Add to this an inspiring father-son reunion, Ledger's undeniable charisma, a perfect supporting cast and enough joyful energy to rejuvenate the film's formulaic plot and A Knight's Talebecomes that most pleasant of movie surprises—an unlikely winner that rises up, like its hero, to exceed all expectations. —Jeff Shannon
La Haine (Special Edition) [1995]
Las Vegas - Season 1
Slick, stylish, and fast-paced, Las Vegas is a high-tech hybrid of 1970s' Vega$ and 1980s' Hotel. Set in the fictional Montecito Resort and Casino, the show revolves around surveillance expert and ex-Marine Danny McCoy (Josh Duhamel, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton). McCoy reports to the president of operations and ex-CIA operative "Big" Ed Deline (the inimitable James Caan). If Duhamel is the show's charisma, Caan is the gravitas. The attractive cast is rounded out by Vanessa Marcil as casino host Sam Marquez, Nikki Cox as event coordinator Mary Connell, James Lesure as valet Mike Cannon, Marsha Thomason as pit boss Nessa Holt, Cheryl Ladd as Deline's wife Jillian, and model Molly Sims as Deline's daughter Delinda.

From the start, Las Vegas has attracted a diverse array of guest stars, from musicians, like Little Richard ("New Orleans"), to movie stars, like Sean "Samwise" Astin ("You Can't Take It With You"). Even "Mr. Las Vegas" himself, Wayne Newton, puts in an appearance ("Pros and Cons"). Other notable guests include Elliot Gould ("Jokers and Fools"), Jean-Claude Van Damme ("Die Fast, Die Furious"), and Alec Baldwin ("Hellraisers and Heartbreakers"), hot off his Oscar-nominated turn in The Cooler.—Kathleen C. Fennessy
Las Vegas - Series 2 - Unseen And Exposed
Michael Watkins, Kevin Hooks, Timothy Busfield, Guy Norman Bee, Greg Yaitanes
Last Castle, The [DVD] [2001]
Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Rod Lurie
The Last Samurai (Two Disc Edition) [2004]
Edward Zwick The Last Samuraigives epic sweep to an intimate story of cultures at a crossroads as Japan undergoes tumultuous transition to a more Westernised society in 1876-77. In America, tormented Civil War veteran Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is coerced by a mercenary officer (Tony Goldwyn) to train the Japanese Emperor's troops in the use of modern weaponry. Opposing this "progress" is a rebellion of samurai warriors, holding fast to their traditions of honour despite strategic disadvantage. As a captive of the samurai leader (Ken Watanabe), Algren learns, appreciates, and adopts the Samurai code, switching sides for a climactic battle that will put everyone's honour to the ultimate test.

All of which makes director Edward Zwick's noble epic eminently worthwhile, even if its Hollywood trappings (including an all-too-conventional ending) prevent it from being the masterpiece that Zwick and screenwriter John Logan clearly wanted it to be. Instead, The Last Samuraiis an elegant mainstream adventure, impressive in all aspects of its production. It may not engage the emotions as effectively as Logan's script for Gladiator, but like Cruise's character, it finds its own quality of honour. —Jeff Shannon
Layer Cake [2004]
As its title suggests, Layer Cakeis a crime thriller that cuts into several levels of its treacherous criminal underworld. The title is actually one character's definition of the drug-trade hierarchy, but it's also an apt metaphor for the separate layers of deception, death, and betrayal experienced by the film's unnamed protagonist, a cocaine traffic middle-man played with smooth appeal by Daniel Craig (whom you probably don't need reminding is the latest James Bond). Listed in the credits only as "XXXX," the character is trapped into doing a favor for his volatile boss, only to have tables turned by his boss's boss (Michael Gambon) in a twisting plot involving a stolen shipment of Ecstasy, a missing girl, duplicitous dealers, murderous Serbian gangsters, and a variety of lowlifes with their own deadly agendas. As adapted by J.J. Connolly (from his own novel) and directed by Matthew Vaughan (who earned his genre chops as producer of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrelsand Snatch), Layer Cakeimproves upon those earlier British gangland hits with assured pacing, intelligent plotting, and an admirable emphasis on plot-moving dialogue over routine action. Sure, it's violent (that's to be expected) and not always involving, but it's smarter than most thrillers, and Vaughan's directorial debut has a confident style that's flashy without being flamboyant. This could be the start of an impressive career. —Jeff Shannon
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2-disc Special Edition) [2004]
Brad Silberling If you spliced Charles Addams, Dr. Seuss, Charles Dickens, Edward Gorey, and Roald Dahl into a Tim Burtonesque landscape, you'd surely come up with something like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Many critics (in mostly mixed reviews) wondered why Burton didn't direct this comically morbid adaptation of the first three books in the popular series by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. "Lemony Snicket," played here by Jude Law and seen only in silhouette) instead of TV and Casper veteran Brad Silberling, but there's still plenty to recommend the playfully bleak scenario, in which three resourceful orphans thwart their wicked, maliciously greedy relative Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who subjects them to... well, a series of unfortunate events. Along the way they encounter a herpetologist uncle (Billy Connolly), an anxious aunt (Meryl Streep) who's afraid of everything, and a variety of fantastical hazards and mysterious clues, some of which remain unresolved. Given endless wonders of art direction, costume design, and cinematography, Silberling's direction is surprisingly uninspired (in other words, the books are better), but when you add a throwaway cameo by Dustin Hoffman, Law's amusing narration, and Carrey's over-the-top antics, the first Lemony movie suggests a promising franchise in the making. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Leon [1995]
Luc Besson Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) made his American directorial debut with Leon, a stylised thriller about a French hit man (Jean Reno) who takes in an American girl (Natalie Portman) being pursued by a corrupt killer cop (Gary Oldman). Oldman is a little more unhinged than he should be, but there is something genuinely irresistible about the story line and the relationship between Reno and Portman. Rather than cave in to the cookie-cutter look and feel of American action pictures, Besson brings a bit of his glossy style from French hits La Femme Nikitaand Subwayto the production of The Professional, and the results are refreshing even if the bullets and explosions are awfully familiar.—Tom Keogh
Lethal Weapon [1987]
Mel Gibson set aside his art-house credentials to star as a crazy cop paired with a stable one (Danny Glover) in this full-blown 1987 Richard Donner action picture. The most violent film in the series (which includes three sequels), Lethal Weaponis also the edgiest and most interesting. After Gibson's character jumps off a building handcuffed to a man, and Gary Busey (as a cold, efficient enforcer) lets his hand get burned without flinching, there is a sense that anything can happen, and it usually does. Donner's strangely messy visual and audio style doesn't make a lot of aesthetic sense, but it stuck with all four movies. —Tom Keogh
The Libertine [2005]
Laurence Dunmore The beautifully sculpted face of Johnny Depp fits right in with this masterpiece of design. The Libertine—filmed in a grainy, color-muted chiaroscuro—captures the lush costumes, extravagant decor, and remarkable filth of Restoration England. John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester (Depp), warns the audience at the very beginning of the film that they will not like him. From there, he treats his wife cruelly, drinks to relentless excess, abuses his friendships, and generally wallows in dissipation, much to the dismay of King Charles II (John Malkovich, Dangerous Liaisons), who hopes that Rochester will write a play glorifying his reign.

But Rochester finds his true inspiration (and the movie comes to life) when he sees a young actress named Lizzie Barry (Samantha Morton, Minority Report, Morvern Callar). Rochester sets out to make her the greatest actress of their time—and she, with some reluctance, submits to his teaching. The weakness of The Libertine is not that Rochester is unlikable; it's that he doesn't want to do anything. Barry galvanizes the movie because she burns with ambition, but Rochester's only apparent aim in life is an agonizingly slow self-destruction.

Still, The Libertine has lurid Saturnalian visions, Morton is superb, Malkovich gives a typically insidious turn, and Depp, as always, finds moments of sad poetry in the bitterest of speeches. —Bret Fetzer
The Librarian - Quest For The Spear [DVD] [2004]
Peter Winther
Life Is Beautiful [1999]
Roberto Benigni Italy's rubber-faced funnyman Roberto Benigni accomplishes the impossible in his World War II comedy Life Is Beautiful: he shapes a simultaneously hilarious and haunting comedy out of the tragedy of the Holocaust. An international sensation and the most successful foreign language film in US history, the picture also earned director-cowriter-star Benigni Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor. He plays the Jewish country boy Guido, a madcap romantic in Mussolini's Italy who wins the heart of his sweetheart (Benigni's real-life sweetie, Nicoletta Braschi) and raises a darling son (the adorable Giorgio Cantarini) in the shadow of fascism. When the Nazis ship the men off to a concentration camp in the waning days of the war, Guido is determined to shelter his son from the evils around them and convinces him they're in an elaborate contest to win (of all things) a tank. Guido tirelessly maintains the ruse with comic ingenuity, even as the horrors escalate and the camp's population continues to dwindle—all the more impetus to keep his son safe, secure and, most of all, hidden. Benigni walks a fine line mining comedy from tragedy and his efforts are pure fantasy—he accomplishes feats no man could realistically pull off—both of which have drawn fire from a few critics. Yet for all its wacky humour and inventive gags, Life Is Beautiful is a moving and poignant tale of one father's sacrifice to save not just his young son's life but his innocence in the face of one of the most evil acts ever perpetrated by the human race. —Sean Axmaker
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels: Directors Cut [1998]
Cockney boys Tom, Soap, Eddie and Bacon are in a bind; they owe seedy criminal and porn king "Hatchet" Harry a sizeable amount of cash after Eddie loses half a million in a rigged game of poker. Hot on their tails is a thug named Big Chris who intends to send them all to the hospital if they don't come up with the cash in the allotted time. Add into the mix an incompetent set of ganja cultivators, two dimwitted robbers, a "madman" with an afro, and a ruthless band of drug dealers and you have an astonishing movie called Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Before the boys can blink, they are caught up in a labyrinth of double-crosses that lead to a multitude of dead bodies, copious amounts of drugs, and two antique rifles.

Written and directed by talented newcomer Guy Ritchie, this is one of those movies that was destined to become an instant cult classic à la Reservoir Dogs. Although some comparisons were drawn between Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino, it would be unfair to discount the brilliant wit of the story and the innovative camerawork that the director brings to his debut feature. Not since The Krayshas there been such an accurate depiction of the East End and its more colourful characters. Indicative of the social stratosphere in London, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrelsis a hilarious and at times touching account of friendships and loyalty. The director and his mates (who make up most of the cast) clearly are enjoying themselves here. This comes across in some shining performances, in particular from ex-footballer Vinnie Jones (Big Chris) and an over-the-top Vas Blackwood (as Rory Breaker), who very nearly steals the show. Full of quirky vernacular and clever tension-packed action sequences, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrelsis a triumph—a perfect blend of intelligence, humour and suspense. —Jeremy Storey
London Boulevard [Blu-ray]
Keira Knightley, Sanjeev Bhaskar Keira Knightley, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Colin Farrell, Anna Friel, Ray WinstoneDirector: William Monahan
Long Way Round
UK DVD (PAL/Region 0). Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman begin a twenty thousand mile trip by motorcycle around the world, travelling through Europe, Mongolia and Canada. Seven one hour episodes. Long Way Round documents the adventures of film stars Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge, Star Wars) and Charley Boorman on their 20,000 mile motor bike trip around the world. Departing from London on 14th April 2004 the pair travelled through Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada arriving in the USA just over 3 months later. Along the way the intrepid pair encountered Kalashnikov-toting gangsters and extreme cuisine, survived numerous motorised scrapes often whilst traversing non existent roads days from the nearest hospital and found themselves alarmingly close to a hungry grizzly bear. They arrived at their final destination, New York, on 29th July and this DVD release with companion soundtrack tells the story from the eyes of the two film stars. CD soundtrack also available. EMI. 2005. Please note you will need an All Code DVD player to view.
Lost In Translation [2004]
Sofia Coppola Like a good dream, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translationenvelopes you with an aura of fantastic light, moody sound, head-turning love, and a feeling of déjà vu, even though you've probably never been to this neon-fused version of Tokyo. Certainly Bob Harris has not. The 50-ish actor has signed-on for big money shooting whiskey ads instead of doing something good for his career or his long-distance family. Jetlagged, helplessly lost with his Japanese-speaking director and out of sync with the metropolis, Harris (Bill Murray, never better) befriends the married but lovelorn 25-year-old Charlotte (played with heaps of poise by 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson). Even before her photographer husband all but abandons her, she is adrift like Harris but in a total entrapment of youth. How Charlotte and Bill discover their soul mates will be cherished for years to come.

Written and directed by Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), the film is far more atmospheric than plot-driven: we whiz through Tokyo parties, karaoke bars and odd nightlife, always ending up in the impossibly posh hotel where the two are staying. The wisps of bittersweet loneliness of Bill and Charlotte are handled smartly and romantically, but unlike modern studio films, this isn't a May to December fling film. Surely and steadily, the film ends on a much-talked-about grace note, which may burn some, yet awards film lovers who "always had Paris" with another cinematic destination of the heart. —Doug Thomas
Love Actually [2003]
Richard Curtis With no fewer than eight couples vying for our attention, Love Actually is like the London Marathon of romantic comedies, and everybody wins. Having mastered the genre as the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary, it appears that first-time director Richard Curtis is just like his screenplays: he just wants to be loved, and he'll go to absurdly appealing lengths to win our affection. With Love Actually, Curtis orchestrates a minor miracle of romantic choreography, guiding a brilliant cast of stars and newcomers as they careen toward love and holiday cheer in London, among them the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who's smitten with his caterer (Martine McCutcheon); a widower (Liam Neeson) whose young son nurses the ultimate schoolboy crush; a writer (Colin Firth) who falls for his Portuguese housekeeper; a devoted wife and mother (Emma Thompson) coping with her potentially unfaithful husband (Alan Rickman); and a lovelorn American (Laura Linney) who's desperately attracted to a colleague. There's more—too much more—as Curtis wraps his Christmas gift with enough happy endings to sweeten a dozen other movies. That he pulls it off so entertainingly is undeniably impressive; that he does it so shamelessly suggests that his writing fares better with other, less ingratiating directors. —Jeff Shannon
Love And Distrust [DVD]
Robert Pattinson, Sam Worthington
Lucky Number Slevin [2006]
How boring it is to label a movie Tarantino-esque anymore. The thing is, when it comes to an offering like Lucky Number Slevin, the shoe fits, and the result is anything but boring. Gruesome killings, arid wit, self-reflexive pop culture references, an A-list cast, and style-heavy production values abound, which gives the proceedings an epoxy bond that seals the Q.T. homage factor. Josh Hartnett—who spends a lot of buffed-up time with his shirt off—is Slevin Kelevra, a hapless fellow visiting his New York friend Nick. But Nick has disappeared, which sets off a mistaken-identity thrill ride when two goons grab Slevin (he's in Nick's apartment so he must be Nick) and take him to their crime lord boss, the Boss (Morgan Freeman). The Boss doesn't care about Slevin's wrong-man protests; he just wants the $96,000 Nick owes him. In one of many offers he can't refuse, Slevin has to agree to murder the son of the Boss's felonious arch rival, the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) or take the bullet himself. But Slevin turns out to be no ordinary patsy. Thrown into the ingeniously designed production, clever plot twists, and academic nods to Bond, Hitchcock, and obscure old cartoons are Lucy Liu as a sexy coroner, Stanley Tucci as an obsessed cop, and Bruce Willis as a wily hit man with his finger in many pots. With so much visual and narrative trickery, there's almost too much to absorb in one viewing of this convoluted jigsaw puzzle of revenge and entertaining mayhem. Lucky Number Slevinisn't quite up to par with similarly brainy thrillers like Mementoand The Usual Suspects, but the prospect of seeing it again in order to get your bearings is just as appealing.—Ted Fry
M*A*S*H - The Martinis & Medicine Collection [DVD] [1972]
Alan Alda, Loretta Swit This M*A*S*H-tastic 36-disc collection is one for the television time capsule. It contains all 11 seasons of this multi-Emmy Award-winning series.

Adapted for television by legendary comedy writer Larry Gelbart, the series has long since supplanted Robert Altman's film in the public's consciousness. Life and death at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War doesn't seem like ripe fodder for a comedy series, but M*A*S*H masterfully balanced laughter and tears (less so in its later, more preachy seasons). It often does play better without a laugh track (a viewing option for all episodes). During its run, M*A*S*H survived several delicate operations, including the departure of Gelbart after season 4 and the loss of core ensemble members McLean Stevenson as Col. Henry Blake and Wayne Rogers as Trapper John (after season 3), Larry Linville as Frank Burns (after season 5) and Gary Burghoff (a veteran of the original film) as Radar (after season 8). The show thrived with the introduction of some new blood, Henry Morgan as "regular Army" Col. Potter and Mike Farrell as compassionate BJ (season 4) and David Ogden Stiers as elitist Charles Emerson Winchester III (season 6).

M*A*S*H was honored with the prestigious Peabody Award "for the depth of its humour and the manner in which comedy is used to lift the spirit and, as well, to offer a profound statement on the nature of war." This was a sitcom that did not always leave you laughing, as witness the classic season 3 episode "Abyssinia, Henry." And throughout its run, M*A*S*H broke the sitcom mould with several episodes, including "The Interview" (season 4), in which Clete Roberts interviews the staff of the 4077th, "Point of View" (season 7), subjectively seen through the eyes of a wounded soldier and "Life Time" (season 8), which unfolds in real time. M*A*S*H boasted one of television's greatest ensembles, fully embodied characters who each became icons, most notably Alan Alda, who served with distinction as Hawkeye, the series' soul and conscience. But a special salute to Loretta Switt, whose Margaret Houlihan went from "Hot Lips" to nobody's pushover. From the "Pilot" to the feature-length finale, "Goodbye, Farewell & Amen," still the most-watched episode in history, this essential (but not so much if you bought the individual season sets) collection honours one of television's greatest half-hours. —Donald Liebenson
M.A.S.H. [1969]
Robert Altman MASH—a 1970 comedy-drama set among surgeons drafted into the Korean war—was a breakthrough not just for director Robert Altman but for movie-making in general. Although set in the 50s, there are few who did not realise that the film's anti-war messages were directed at the US involvement in Vietnam. Indeed, the Pentagon banned US servicemen from seeing the film.

Starring Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye Pierce and Elliot Gould as Trapper John McIntyre, two hip young surgeons drafted against their will. Their general attitude—while never corroding either their humanity or their professionalism as surgeons—is one of insolence towards military authority and the arbitrary structures and regulations continually droning from the tannoy system. The film, too, thrives on a lack of attention to conventional order, with its cross-dialogue and random, episodic style reflecting the vivacious and unbuttoned feel of the content.

However, MASHhas dated and much of what seemed like "liberating" high jinks, today smacks of sexist, frathouse boorishness and harassment, especially at the expense of Major "Hotlips" Hoolihan (Sally Kellerman), while the episode in which "Painless" plans a suicide out of a fear of being gay reflects the persistence of homophobia even in 60s counterculture. Despite this MASHfeels ahead of its time and certainly sharper and blacker than the too-cute sitcom it spawned.

On the DVD:this is an excellent restoration, overseen by Altman himself, in which any obfuscation from the original have been cleaned up, especially the sound quality. As well as a commentary from Altman, there are three separate documentaries, featuring interviews with Altman, the cast and screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr, who had been blacklisted during the anti-Communist witch-hunt which swept through Hollywood in the 1950s. We learn he was initially appalled at how little of his script Altman actually used but was mollified by the Academy Award he received. Altman is candid about the making of the movie ("It wasn't released by Fox, it escaped from Fox"). There's an abundance of similarly rich, anecdotal material here. —David Stubbs
Mad Max [1979]
George Miller The story of Mel Gibson's stately anti-hero begins in Mad Max, George Miller's low-budget debut, in which Max is a "Bronze" (cop) in an unspecified post-apocalyptic future with a buddy-partner and family. But, unlike most films set in the devastated future, Mad Maxis notable because it is poised between our industrialised world and total regression to medieval conditions. The scale tips towards disintegration when the Glory Riders burn into town on their bikes like an overcharged cadre of Brando's Wild Ones. Representing the active chaos that will eventually overwhelm the dying vestiges of civil society they take everything dear to Max, who then has to exact due revenge. His flight into the same wilds that created the villains artfully sets up the morally ambiguous character of the subsequent films. —Alan E Rapp, Amazon.com
Mad Men - Complete Season 1 [Blu-ray]
Jon Hamm Welcome to a world where Monday has a three drink minimum. Mad Men exists here and it's a fabulous place to visit, back before Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique really made much of an impact and before there were health warnings on cigarettes. It was an America on the brink of social explosion and Mad Men, which tells the story of a group of Madison Avenue advertising executives in the early 1960s, captures that surface stillness perfectly, complete with the growing tension barely contained below the surface. The show succeeds on every level. HBO famously passed on Mad Men, created by former Sopranos executive producer and writer Matthew Weiner. AMC picked it up, and thank goodness they did. From the first episode, season one becomes an essential, utterly addictive television-watching experience. Beautifully filmed and masterfully written, the show manages to present the period honestly but with little nostalgia, and as soon as you get over the constant smoking, drinking and treatment of women as little more than "girls" who get coffee and answer the phone, the complexity of these characters (especially the dashing Jon Hamm as Creative Director Don Draper) will leave you completely captivated. Season one features clandestine office romances, shadowy pasts, a ton of adultery, closeted homosexuality and a lot more drama that seems risqué even now. But again, one of the most impressive things about Mad Men is that everything is executed with absolute class, style and elegance. A bonus for the DVD viewer is that, like The Sopranos, Mad Men has a ton of little moments and hints leading up to character revelations and plot twists that make watching the episodes over and over continually rewarding. –-Kira Canny
Mad Men - Complete Season 2 [Blu-ray]
Jon Hamm
Madagascar and Penguin Christmas Caper (Two disc set) [ASSORTMENT PARENT]
Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
Man On Fire [2004]
Style trumps substance in Man on Fire, a slick, brooding reunion of Crimson Tidestar Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott. The ominous, crime-ridden setting is Mexico City, where a dour, alcoholic warrior with a mysterious Black Ops past (Washington) seeks redemption as the devoted bodyguard of a lovable 9-year-old girl (the precociously gifted Dakota Fanning), then responds with predictable fury when she is kidnapped and presumably killed. Prolific screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential) sets a solid emotional foundation for Washington's tormented character, and Scott's stylistic excess compensates for a distended plot that's both repellently violent and viscerally absorbing. Among Scott's more distracting techniques is the use of free-roaming, comic-bookish subtitles... even when they're unnecessary! Adapted from a novel by A.J. Quinnell and previously filmed as a 1987 vehicle for Scott Glenn, Man on Fireis roughly on par with Scott's similar 1990 film Revenge, efficiently satisfying Washington's incendiary bloodlust under a heavy blanket of humid, doom-laden atmosphere. —Jeff Shannon
Marley & Me [DVD] [2008]
Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, David Frankel When a dog wriggles his adorable rear end into a human's life, the human will never be the same. And both Marley, the dog, and Marley & Me, the movie, manage to endear themselves deeply despite a few wee flaws. Readers of the John Grogan bestseller already know the raffish charm of the incorrigible yellow lab puppy, Marley, adopted by Grogan and his wife because she's "never seen anything more adorable in my life." But Grogan's simple tale of love, in all its forms, shines on the big screen, thanks to deft comic turns by Jennifer Aniston—in top form here—and Owen Wilson. Their chemistry is utterly natural and believable as Marley's owners, as is their interaction with the very naughty but ultimately irresistible Marley. As Marley grows up, the film follows his escapades—flunking out, spectacularly, from puppy training at the hands of a wickedly funny Kathleen Turner. And as Marley grows up, John and Jenny build their life together and weather some tough emotional blows. Like My Dog Skip, which it resembles in its affection for its subject, Marley & Me is a tear-jerker, but in the sweetest, most lovely way—because it, and its four-legged star, have wriggled into our hearts. Good boy. —A.T. Hurley, Amazon.com

Stills from Marley and Me (Click for larger image)
Mars Attacks [1997]
Tim Burton It's enlightening to view Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! as his twisted satire of the blockbuster film Independence Day, which was released earlier the same year, although the movies were in production simultaneously. Burton's eye-popping, schlock tribute to 1950s UFO movies actually plays better on video than it did in cinemas. The idea of invading aliens ray-gunning the big-name movie stars in the cast is a cleverly subversive one, and the bulb-headed, funny-sounding animated Martians are pretty nifty, but it all seemed to be spread thin on the big screen. On video, however, the movie's kooky humour seems a bit more concentrated. The Earth actors (most of whom get zapped or kidnapped for alien science experiments) include Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rod Steiger, Michael J Fox, Lukas Haas, Jim Brown, Tom Jones and Pam Grier. —Jim Emerson
Marvel Avengers Assemble (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray)[Region Free]
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Joss Whedon Please note this is a Region Free Blu-ray and will play on all Blu-ray players

 

When Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of an international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., encounters an unexpected enemy that threatens global safety and security, he finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Spanning the globe, a daring recruitment effort begins for Earth’s mightiest heroes. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and two of the world’s greatest assassins, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), must assemble to defeat Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the darkest villain the Earth has ever known.     Special FeaturesDeleted ScenesGag ReelMarvel One-Shot: item 47A Visual Journey
The Matador [DVD] [2005]
Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Richard Shepard, Bob Yari Pierce Brosnan gives one of his finest performances in The Matador, a low-key buddy comedy with an agreeably sinister twist. Light-years from his former James Bond image, Brosnan is unshaven, unnerved and unpredictable as freelance assassin Julian Noble, who encounters desperate businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) in the bar of a modern Mexico City hotel. Danny is intrigued when Julian reveals that he's a "facilitator of fatalities," and his wife "Bean" (Hope Davis) is equally fascinated when Julian shows up unexpectedly, six months later, at Danny's home in Denver. Having lost his touch as a reliable hit-man, Julian needs Danny's help with "one last job," but the logistics of Julian's lethal profession (involving an employer played by Philip Baker Hall) are secondary to writer-director Richard Shepard's offbeat, slightly uneven character study, which gives Kinnear and Brosnan a memorable opportunity to riff on their established screen personas. In making Julian a likable yet tormented drifter who's made a habit of "running from any emotion," Brosnan creates an edgy yet sympathetic character as mysterious as he is fun to be around; if you're going to befriend a hired killer, you could do far worse than a guy like Julian. As Brosnan plays him, he's worthy of a sequel, but The Matador is the kind of entertainingly quirky movie that's a hard act to follow. —Jeff Shannon
The Matrix [1999] (REGION 1) (NTSC)
The Wachowski Brothers'The Matrixtook the well-worn science fiction idea of virtual reality, added supercharged Hollywood gloss and a striking visual style and stole The Phantom Menace's thunder as the must-see movie of the summer of 1999. Laced with Star Wars-like Eastern mysticism, and featuring thrilling martial arts action choreographed by Hong Kong action director Yuen Woo Ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), The Matrixrestored Keanu Reeves to genre stardom following virtual reality dud Johnny Mnemonic(1995), and made a star of Carrie-Anne Moss, who followed this with the challenging perception twister Memento(2000). Helping the film stand out from rivals Dark City(1998) and The Thirteenth Floor(1999) was the introduction of the celebrated "bullet time" visual effects, though otherwise the war-against-the-machines story, hard-hitting style and kinetic set-pieces such as the corporate lobby shoot-out lean heavily on Terminator 2: Judgment Day(1991). Elsewhere the influence of John Woo, from the ultra-cool near real-world SF of Face/Off(1997) to the raincoats and sunglasses look of bullet-ballet A Better Tomorrow, is clearly in evidence. The set-up isn't without its absurdities, though—quite why super-intelligent machines bother to use humans as batteries instead of something more docile like cows, for example, is never explained, nor is how they expect these living batteries to produce more energy than it takes to maintain them. The Matrixis nevertheless exhilarating high-octane entertainment, although as the first part of a trilogy it perhaps inevitably doesn't have a proper ending.

On the DVD:the anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 image is virtually flawless, exhibiting only the grain present in the theatrical print, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is demonstration quality, showing off the high-impact sound effects and Don Davis' fine score to great effect. Special features are "data files" on the main stars, producer and director and "Follow the White Rabbit", which if selected while viewing the movie offers behind the scenes footage. This is interesting, but gimmicky, requires switching back from widescreen to 4:3 each time, and would be better if it could be accessed directly from one menu. There is also a standard 25-minute TV promo film which is as superficial as these things usually are. —Gary S Dalkin
The Matrix [Blu-ray] [1999][Region Free]
Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria FosterDirectors: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Max Payne [Blu-ray]
Olga Kurylenko, Mila Kunis, Ludacris, Mark Wahlberg, Chris O'DonnellDirector: John Moore
Memento [2000]
Christopher Nolan An absolute stunner of a movie, Memento combines a bold, mind-bending script with compelling action and virtuoso performances. Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, hunting down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The problem is that "the incident" that robbed Leonard of his wife also stole his ability to make new memories. Unable to retain a location, a face, or a new clue on his own, Leonard continues his search with the help of notes, Polaroids, and even homemade tattoos for vital information. Because of his condition, Leonard essentially lives his life in short, present-tense segments, with no clear idea of what's just happened to him. That's where Memento gets really interesting; the story begins at the end, and the movie jumps backward in 10-minute segments. The suspense of the movie lies not in discovering what happens, but in finding out why it happened. Amazingly, the movie achieves edge-of-your-seat excitement even as it moves backward in time! , and it keeps the mind hopping as cause and effect are pieced together.

Pearce captures Leonard perfectly, conveying both the tragic romance of his quest and his wry humour in dealing with his condition. He is bolstered by several excellent supporting players including Carrie-Anne Moss, and the movie is all but stolen by Moss' fellow Matrix co-star Joe Pantoliano, who delivers an amazing performance as Teddy, the guy who may or may not be on his side. Memento has an intriguing structure and even meditations on the nature of perception and meaning of life if you go looking for them, but it also functions just as well as a completely absorbing thriller. It's rare to find a movie this exciting with so much intelligence behind it. —Ali Davis, Amazon.com

On the DVD: this amazing movie looks crisp and clean in a good anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) picture accompanied by Dolby 5.1 sound. The menu is almost as baffling as the movie itself, but once you master the navigation you'll find interviews, biographies, a tattoo picture gallery and the shooting script among other extras. Most mind-boggling of all, however, is the "Memento Mori" option in the special features menu, which allows you to play a specially re-edited version of the movie in chronological order, beginning with the end credits running backwards! —Mark Walker
Men In Black Collector's Edition (1997)
Barry Sonnenfeld This imaginative comedy from director Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty) is a lot of fun, largely on the strength of Will Smith's engaging performance as the rookie partner of a secret agent (Tommy Lee Jones) assigned to keep tabs on Earth-dwelling extra-terrestrials. There's lots of comedy to spare in this bright film, some of the funniest stuff found in the margins of the major action (a scene with Smith's character being trounced in the distance by a huge alien while Jones questions a witness is a riot.) The inventiveness never lets up, and the cast—including Vincent D'Onofrio doing frighteningly convincing work as an alien occupying a decaying human—hold up their end splendidly. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com

On the DVD: This Collector's Edition disc contains a "Visual Commentary" that features director Barry Sonenfeld and actor Tommy Lee Jones in an anecdotal conversation, but with the unique twist that they are displayed as silhouettes on your TV screen (imagine you're sitting in the back row of the cinema and they are up front) using a pointer to highlight particular events on screen. If you have a widescreen TV, the menu prompts you to switch to 4:3 mode to see this. There is also a "Visual Effects Scene Deconstruction" in which the tunnel scene and the Edgar Bug fight scene are dissected into their constituent parts; an in-depth documentary, "Metamorphosis of MIB", which charts the progress of the concept from comic book to screen; five "Extended and Alternate" scenes; trailers, including a teaser for MIB II; and Will Smith's "Men in Black" music video. —Mark Walker
Men In Black II [2002]
An exercise in by-numbers sequel-craft, Men in Black IIreheats the mix that made a hit of Men in Blackbut leaves the ingredients in the oven a little too long. Returning director Barry Sonnenfeld throws all the pieces up in the air and has them come down more or less in the same way. An evil alien takes the form of lingerie model Lara Flynn Boyle, when it isn't a large ball of snakes, and searches the Earth for a mysterious whatsit that can turn the tide of a galactic war. The only person who knows the current whereabouts of the Light of Zartha is Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), whose memory was wiped at the end of the first film. Agent Jay (Will Smith) has to recruit his old mentor away from his new job at the post office—where he amusingly deals with spilled cups of coffee in exactly the way he used to handle interstellar crises—then proceeds to run around until he remembers how the plot works.

It's the sort of sequel that assumes walk-on-gag characters, who got a laugh last time round, deserve to be brought back and given bigger roles, which means the talking dog and cigarette-fiend worms show up again and wear out their welcome. Smith, a bigger star now than he was in MiB, unhappily has to play straight leading man rather than whacky sidekick, and his end credits rapping hasn't improved either. Its acceptable in-flight entertainment (and miles better than the Smith-Sonnenfeld Wild Wild West), but nothing here hasn't been done before and better. —Kim Newman

On the DVD:Men in Black IIboasts a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that positively jumps out of the screen, while the Dolby Digital soundtrack hums with alien activity and Danny Elfman's classic spy film-inspired score. Disc 1 contains the film, "Frank's Favourites" (a selection of trailers for both films and videogames), a commentary from director Barry Sonnenfeld and "Alien Broadcast" (an in-movie feature that allows you to stop the film and watch a making-of feature connected with that scene). Disc 2 is packed full with a pick and mix of featurettes, detailing everything from the distinctive aliens to sound and audio looping. There is also an expansive outtake reel (most of which consists of Will Smith cracking up and Tommy Lee Jones getting annoyed), a somewhat highbrow but nonetheless entertaining documentary about Barry Sonnenfeld's comedy style, plus multi-angle scene deconstructions such as the subway worm and car chase. An alternative ending and Will Smith's music video and filmographies complete this expansive special edition. —Kristen Bowditch
Minority Report —Two Disc Set (DTS) [2002]
Steven Spielberg Full of flawed characters and shot in grainy de-saturated colours, Steven Spielberg's Minority Reportis futuristic film noirwith a far-fetched B-movie plot that's so feverishly presented the audience never gets a chance to ponder its many improbabilities. Based on a short story by Philip K Dick, Minority Reportis set in the Orwellian near-future of 2054, where a trio of genetically modified "pre-cogs" warn of murders before they happen. In a sci-fi twist on the classic Hitchcockian wrong man scenario, Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the zealous precrime cop who is himself revealed as a future-killer. Plot twists and red herrings drive the action forward and complications abound, not least Anderton's crippling emotional state, his drug habit, his avuncular-yet-sinister boss (Max Von Sydow), and the ambitious FBI agent Witwer (Colin Farrell) snapping at his heels.

Though the film toys with the notion of free will in a deterministic universe, this is not so much a movie of grand ideas as forward-looking ones. Its depiction of a near-future filled with personalised advertising and intrusive security devices that relentlessly violate the right of anonymity is disturbingly believable. Ultimately, though, it's a chase movie and the innovative set-piece sequences reveal Spielberg's flair for staging action. As with A.I.before it, there's a nagging feeling that the all-too-neat resolution is a Spielbergian touch too far: the movie could satisfactorily have ended several minutes earlier. Though this is superior SF from one of Hollywood's greatest craftsmen, it would have been more in the spirit of Philip K Dick to leave a few tantalisingly untidy plot threads dangling.

On the DVD:Minority Reporton disc brings up Janusz Kaminski's wonderfully subdued cinematography in an ideal anamorphic widescreen print. John Williams's Bernard Herrmann-esque score is the major beneficiary of Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS sound options. There is no commentary, and the movie plus everything on the second disc, which contains five short featurettes and an archive of text and visual material, could probably have been squeezed onto just one disc. The featurettes are: "From Story to Screen", "Deconstructing Minority Report", "The Stunts of Minority Report", "ILM and Minority Report" and "Final Report: Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise". There are subtitles in English and Scandinavian languages. —Mark Walker
Miss Congeniality [2001]
Donald Petrie It's a good thing Sandra Bullock knows her strengths and weaknesses, because without Bullock as star and producer, Miss Congeniality would be an insufferable mess as opposed to being a mildly enjoyable trifle that is custom-made for Bullock's established screen persona. Here she plays nerdy FBI agent Gracie Hart, who is given the horrific pseudonym Gracie Lou Freebush (one example of the film's juvenile tendencies) when assigned to infiltrate a beauty pageant to investigate threats of a terrorist attack. Transforming Bullock from frumpy to stunning is a piece of cake (although she gives pageant coach Michael Caine a run for his money), so the film's premise is trivial at best. More enjoyable is her character's uncouth disdain for pageant contestants and her mistaken perception that they're all a bunch of bimbos. The film nicely charts Gracie's realisation that her pageant makeover provides a much-needed ego boost. In addition to Caine's effortless scene-stealing, pageant host William Shatner and organiser Candice Bergen are smart choices for comedic support (Shatner is a perfect Bert Parks wannabe), but the film desperately needs a credible foundation for its comedy to really pay off. None of the plotting is as smart as predecessors like Beverly Hills Cop in combining procedure with laughs. That leaves Bullock to carry the burden of a comedy that barely works in her favour. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Mona Lisa Smile [DVD] [2004]
Julia Roberts|Kirsten Dunst|Julia Stiles, Mike Newell Julia Roberts' command of the screen is so effortless, it's easy for moviegoers to take her for granted—but we shouldn't. Mona Lisa Smile—about a non-comformist teacher at a private school who encourages students to pursue their individuality—is pretty much an all-girls version of Dead Poets Society that mixes 50s fashions with 70s feminist thought. However, its lack of ambition doesn't diminish the talent that's gone into it: the writing and directing are well-honed and skilful; the actors—a talent-studded cast featuring Marcia Gay Harden, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julia Stiles and Juliet Stevenson—are uniformly excellent. But without question, Mona Lisa Smile rides on Roberts' shoulders and she carries it with ease. She's possibly the only contemporary actor who simply owns a movie the way Bette Davis, Jean Arthur, or Claudette Colbert once did, radiating a engaging mix of intelligence, drive, and emotional warmth that cannot be matched. —Bret Fetzer
Monty Python: The Monster Box Set
Terry Jones Monty Python's Flying Circus

... this collection is really worth owning for the material that never quite registered in the popular consciousness. Sketches such as the Summarise Proust Competition, the misunderstanding over the Hungarian phrasebook and John Cleese's manically embittered architect with a grudge against the Freemasons are every bit as funny as the more familiar hits and, free of any associated baggage, they will startle and delight the younger viewer as much as Python must have startled and delighted their parents when first broadcast in the 1970s.

And Now for Something Completely Different

And Now for Something Completely Different, Monty Python's first feature, is a reworking of their best skits from the first two seasons of the TV series. Originally made for the US market (where the show had yet to be aired), it was shot on film outside the usual studio sets ("Nudge Nudge", for example, is set in a tavern filled with passers-by). The writing and performances are fine and the film is packed with some of their best bits: "How to Avoid Being Seen", " Hell's Grannies", "Blackmail", "The Lumberjack Song" and "The Upper Class Twit of the Year", among others. Many of the sketches have been shortened, however, and the loss of the overly bright video sheen (the film has a muddy, dull look to it) and the invigorating presence of a live audience leaves the film sluggish at times. They're still feeling out the possibilities of the feature length, which they conquered with their next movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974). —Sean Axmaker

Life of Brian

There is not a single joke, sight-gag or one-liner in Monty Python's Life of Brian that will not forever burn itself into the viewer's memory as being just as funny as it is possible to be, but—extraordinarily—almost every indestructibly hilarious scene also serves a dual purpose, making this one of the most consistently sustained film satires ever made.

Like all great satire, the Pythons not only attack and vilify their targets (the bigotry and hypocrisy of organised religion and politics) supremely well, they also propose an alternative: be an individual, think for yourself, don't be led by others. "You've all got to work it out for yourselves", cries Brian in a key moment. "Yes, we've all got to work it our for ourselves", the crowd reply en masse. Two thousand years later, in a world still blighted by religious zealots, Brian's is still a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

Aside from being a neat spoof on the Hollywood epic, it's also almost incidentally one of the most realistic on-screen depictions of the ancient world—instead of treating their characters as posturing historical stereotypes, the Pythons realised what no sword 'n' sandal epic ever has: that people are all the same, no matter what period of history they live in. People always have and always will bicker, lie, cheat, swear, conceal cowardice with bravado (like Reg, leader of the People's Front of Judea), abuse power (like Pontius Pilate), blindly follow the latest fads and giggle at silly things ("Biggus Dickus"). In the end, Life of Brian teaches us that the only way for a despairing individual to cope in a world of idiocy and hypocrisy is to always look on the bright side of life.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Could this be the funniest movie ever made? By any rational measure of comedy, this medieval romp from the Monty Python troupe certainly belongs on the short list of candidates. According to Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide, it's "recommended for fans only," but we say hogwash to that—you could be a complete newcomer to the Python phenomenon and still find this send-up of the Arthurian legend to be wet-your-pants hilarious.

It's basically a series of sketches woven together as King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail, with Graham Chapman as the King, Terry Gilliam as his simpleton sidekick Patsy, and the rest of the Python gang filling out a variety of outrageous roles. The comedy highlights are too numerous to mention, but once you've seen Arthur's outrageously bloody encounter with the ominous Black Knight (John Cleese), you'll know that nothing's sacred in the Python school of comedy.

From holy hand grenades to killer bunnies to the absurdity of the three-headed knights who say "Ni—!," this is the kind of film that will strike you as fantastically funny or just plain silly, but why stop there? It's all over the map, and the pace lags a bit here and there, but for every throwaway gag the Pythons have invented, there's a bit of subtle business or grand-scale insanity that's utterly inspired. The sum of this madness is a movie that's beloved by anyone with a pulse and an irreverent sense of humour. If this movie doesn't make you laugh, you're almost certainly dead. —Jeff Shannon

The Meaning of Life

Perhaps only the collective brilliant minds of the Monty Python film and television troupe are up to the task of tackling a subject as weighty as the Meaning of Life. Sure, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, and their ilk have tried their hands at this puzzler, but only Python has attempted to do so within the commercial motion picture medium. Happily for us all, Monty Python's the Meaning of Life truly explains everything one conceivably needs to know about the perplexities of human existence, from the mysteries of Catholic doctrine to the miracle of reproduction to why one should avoid the salmon mousse to the critical importance of the machine that goes ping!

Using fish as a linking device (and what marvelous links those aquatic creatures make), The Meaning of Life is presented as a series of sketches: a musical production number about why seed is sacred; a look at dining in the afterlife; the quest for a missing fish (there they are again); a visit from Mr. Death; the cautionary tale of Mr. Creosote and his rather gluttonous appetite; an unflinching examination of the harsh realities of organ donation, and so on.

Sadly, this was the last original Python film, but it's a beaut. You'll laugh. You'll cry (probably because you're laughing so hard). You may even learn something about the Meaning of Life. Or at least about how fish fit into the grand scheme of things. —Jim Emerson
Mr. & Mrs. Smith [2005]
Released amidst rumors of romance between costars Angelina Jolie and soon-to-be-divorced Brad Pitt, Mr. and Mrs. Smithoffers automatic weapons and high explosives as the cure for marital boredom. The premise of this exhausting action-comedy (no relation to the 1941 Alfred Hitchcock comedy starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery) is that the unhappily married Smiths (Pitt and Jolie) will improve their relationship once they discover their mutually-hidden identities as world-class assassins, but things get complicated when their secret-agency bosses order them to rub each other out. There's plenty of amusing banter in the otherwise disposable screenplay by Simon Kinberg, and director Doug Liman gives Pitt and Jolie a slick, glossy superstar showcase that's innocuous but certainly never boring. It could've been better, but as an action-packed summer confection, Mr. and Mrs. Smithkills two hours in high style. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Mrs Henderson Presents [2005]
Stephen Frears The blitz-bombing of London in World War II provides the serious backdrop for the uplifting entertainment of Mrs. Henderson Presents, a delightful comedy anchored by the flawless performances of Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins.

After losing a son in World War I, and becoming a widow in 1937, the wealthy and respectable Mrs. Henderson (Dench) decides that the best way to support soldiers going off to battle is to give them a wartime send-off they'll never forget. Thus, she buys and renovates the Windmill Theatre in London's Soho district, hires Mr. Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) as the impresario of an all-day musical variety show called "Revudeville," and secures permission from the censorious Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest) to include naked women in the stage show—on the condition that the ladies remain still onstage to qualify as "art," like nude portraits in a gallery, with the "foliage" of their "midlands" discreetly obscured. "Revudeville" is an instant hit, British propriety remains tastefully intact, and as The Windmill's fortunes rise, fall, and rise again, Mrs. Henderson Presents develops an emotional depth and good-natured nobility that's perfectly matched to the comedy of tweaking British manners.

Working from an eloquently witty, fact-based screenplay by Martin Sherman, director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity) brings out the best in a well-chosen cast, and Andrew Dunn's cinematography (enhanced by judicious use of digital effects to show the London blitz in progress) casts a warm, inviting glow over this winning tale of show-biz tenacity in the best and worst of times. —Jeff Shannon
Music and Lyrics [DVD] [2007]
Campbell Scott, Brad Garrett, Marc Lawrence Music & Lyrics is frothy and sweet, like the top of a perfect cappuccino shared a deux. Hugh Grant is a self-professed "happy has-been," playing his befuddled, adorable persona more spot-on than he has since Four Weddings and a Funeral. As Alex, former member of an '80s pop band who years later is playing at water parks and high school reunions, he's settled into a life of lesser expectations. Drew Barrymore, quietly radiant, is Sophie, the underachieving girl Friday who arrives to water—make that overwater—Alex's plants—and to explode him out of that comfy rut. If the plot's a bit farfetched, it matters not, since the two lead characters are so likable—and make such beautiful music together. Big bonus: the supportive role of Kristen Johnston as Rhonda, Sophie's older sis (and longtime Alex fan) whose hilarious performance threatens to steal the show whenever she's onscreen. (The owner of a chain of successful weight-loss centers, Rhonda tries to comfort a rattled Sophie: "Want to do some stress eating?") The film also marks the remarkable debut of Haley Bennett, who plays a pop star of Britney/Cristina proportions with deadpan sincerity radiating through her skimpy outfits and mega-extensions. As Alex and Sophie work on crafting musical magic, something else is taking hold. It's music to the ears of anyone needing a sweet romantic comedy that hits all the right notes. —A.T. Hurley
My Boy Jack
My Super Ex-Girlfriend [2006]
Girl power (or if you prefer, woman power) gets a goofy boost in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, a breezy rom-com that's as fun as it is forgettable. As devised by former Simpsonswriter Don Payne and directed by comedy veteran Ivan (Ghostbusters) Reitman, the premise is certainly promising, and much of that promise is gamely fulfilled. When a New York building designer named Matt (Luke Wilson) discovers that his new girlfriend Jenny (Uma Thurman) is actually a crime-fighting, disaster-solving superhero named G-Girl who's also needy, neurotic, and unpredictably volatile, he realises he's got to dump her as politely as possible or face the potentially deadly consequences. Since he's really in love with a cute colleague (Anna Faris), and since the arch-villain Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard) has been in love with G-Girl since they were outcast pals in high school, you can easily figure out where the comedy is going. But getting there is surprisingly enjoyable, given the rather flat execution of a pretty good idea. The shark-tossing scene is a highlight, and other memorable scenes compensate for Reitman's embrace of a bitchy female stereotype that's either insulting or truthful, depending on your own romantic experience as the dumper or dumpee. Rainn Wilson (from the American version of The Office) performs the obligatory sidekick duties, and comedian Wanda Sykes is just plain annoying in a shrill and unnecessary role. Silly? You bet. Go in expecting that, and you won't be disappointed. —Jeff Shannon
Nacho Libre [DVD] [2006]
Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Jared Hess This Jack Black vehicle seems, on the surface, like a perfect fit for the actor: an opportunity to showcase Black's unique style with the extreme facial gestures and exuberant physicality that have become his forte. Black plays Ignacio, a lowly cook in a monastery in central Mexico who feeds orphans by day, and wrestles in the town square at night. Ignacio teams up with Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez), a street urchin who tormented him, to form a tag-team duo that goes up against the strangest wrestlers Mexico has to offer. Besides doing it for money to feed the orphans, Ignacio is also fighting to win the forbidden affections of Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera) with predictable difficulty. While the movie has likeable characters and the plot is enjoyable enough, it can’t overcome its plodding pace and formulaic structure enough to keep the movie interesting throughout. Jack Black is a very strong comedic actor, and the wrestling scenes offer plenty of chances for slapstick, physical comedy, but watching him run around in red briefs and blue tights amounts to half the laughs in the movie, and there’s just not enough here for him to really work with. When he plays a more well-formed character, as in School of Rock and High Fidelity, his strengths really show. But in Nacho Libre he’s saddled with a caricature. Weighed down by too much low-brow humour and a script that goes nowhere, Nacho Libre just can’t make full enough use of Black’s talents to overcome the obstacles. —Daniel Vancini
The Name Of The Rose [1987]
Jean-Jacques Annaud Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Name of the Rose is a flawed attempt to adapt Umberto Eco's highly convoluted medieval bestseller for the screen, necessarily excising much of the esoterica that made the book so compelling. Still, what's left is a riveting whodunit set in a grimly and grimily realistic 14th-century Benedictine monastery populated by a parade of grotesque characters, all of whom spend their time lurking in dark places or scuttling, half-unseen, in the omnipresent gloom. A series of mysterious and gruesome deaths are somehow tied up with the unwelcome attention of the Inquisition, sent to root out suspected heretical behavior among the monastic scribes whose lives are dedicated to transcribing ancient manuscripts for their famous library, access to which is prevented by an ingenious maze-like layout.

Enter Sean Connery as investigator-monk William of Baskerville (the Sherlock Holmes connection made explicit in his name) and his naive young assistant Adso (a youthful Christian Slater). The Grand Inquisitor Bernado Gui (F. Murray Abraham) suspects devilry; but William and Adso, using Holmesian forensic techniques, uncover a much more human cause: the secrets of the library are being protected at a terrible cost. A fine international cast and the splendidly evocative location compensate for a screenplay that struggles to present Eco's multifaceted story even partially intact; Annaud's idiosyncratic direction complements the sinister, unsettling aura of the tale ideally. —Mark Walker
The Nanny Diaries [DVD] [2007]
Laura Linney, Chris Evans, Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film version of The Nanny Diaries is a chick flick, but it lacks the witty tone of the novel, which took time to flesh out the characters. The tone is set early on when the narrator notes, "In Africa they have the saying: 'It takes a village to raise a child.' But for the tribe of the Upper Eastside of Manhattan, it takes just one person: the nanny." Recent college graduate Annie Braddock (a brunette Scarlett Johansson) becomes the nanny for Mr. and Mrs. X, a narcissistic and selfish couple who have no clue that what their precocious son Grayer really needs is a mum and a dad who will pay attention to him. At first, Annie can't believe her good fortune. Caring for Grayer a few hours each day in the X's luxurious apartment seems like a dream job. But as her job turns into a 24/7 nightmare, she loses her identity and becomes Nanny. Annie's attempts to befriend her oddly charismatic boss are met with rebuffs by Mrs. X (Laura Linney). When Annie mentions her home life, Mrs. X is stunned. "Nanny, you never mentioned you had a mother," she says, as if she expected that nannies were shot out of giant pods. Despite the film's flaws, Linney is a standout. Like Meryl Streep, who made an unlikeable character sympathetic in The Devils Wears Prada, Linney brings humour to her role. Unfortunately, Paul Giamatti (as the philandering Mr. X) and singer Alicia Keys (as Annie's best friend Lynette) are wasted in their thankless roles. While we are meant to feel sorry for Annie, we are left wondering why a beautiful and educated young woman would allow herself to be manipulated into working ridiculous hours for less than minimum-wage pay. When Annie finally does stand up to her employers, it's a little too late. For everyone. —Jae-Ha Kim
Natural Born Killers [1995]
Oliver Stone
NCIS - Seasons 1-8 Box Set [DVD]
Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly
Ncis: Season 2 [DVD]
Mark Harmon, Sasha Alexander NCIS takes the CSI formula, throws in a good dose of JAG, and comes up with an entertaining series that takes advantage of the actors' likeability. The season begins with the introduction a couple new regulars—agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) and assistant medical examiner Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen). And one cast member departs the show by the end of the season. The six-disc set includes all 23 episodes, which aired on CBS during 2004-2005. The show's sophomore year begins with "See No Evil," in which a Navy officer (guest star David Keith) is forced to embezzle millions of dollars, or risk having his wife and blind daughter killed by a kidnapper (played by Tom Cruise's cousin William Mapother). Led by Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), the crack NCIS team comes through to save the day and reveal the mastermind behind the twisted case. Gibbs doesn't display much more emotion this season than he did in the show's debut, but he's just as sarcastic (and even tempered) when being threatened. During one altercation, the mafia threatens to kill his father, brothers and uncles. Non-plussed, Gibbs calmly says that while he has no male relatives still alive, he'd be happy to fax over the numbers of his three ex-wives.

With the help of his ace medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum from The Man from U.N.C.L.E), Gibbs and his team are almost invincible when it comes to solving complicated crimes. Whether he's piecing together the bones of a body, or performing an autopsy on a crisply burnt poodle, Ducky is matter-of-fact as he talks to his dead "clients." Of his nervous but eager assistant Jimmy, Ducky notes, "He means well, but sometimes I have an overwhelming urge to slap him." This season, viewers get to see the romantic (and slightly gross) side of Ducky as he briefly romances a doctor half this age. Also on hand to aid (and annoy) Gibbs are happy-go-lucky Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), former Secret Service agent Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander), and forensics expert Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), who can solve anything if you say "please" and bring her a Big Gulp to sip. Look for a gentle guest appearance by Charles Durning as a Medal of Honor recipient who wants to turn himself in for killing his best friend and fellow comrade during World War II. While the plot twists won't surprise most viewers, the acting, writing, and spirit of the episode leaves the viewer feeling satisfied. —Jae-Ha Kim
The Negotiator [1998]
Although it eventually runs out of smart ideas and resorts to a typically explosive finale, this above-average thriller rises above its formulaic limitations on the strength of powerful performances by Samuel L Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Both play Chicago police negotiators with hotshot reputations, but when Jackson's character finds himself falsely accused of embezzling funds from a police pension fund, he's so thoroughly framed that he must take extreme measures to prove his innocence. He takes hostages in police headquarters to buy time and plan his strategy, demanding that Spacey be brought in to mediate with him as an army of cops threatens to attack, and a media circus ensues. Both negotiators know how to get into the other man's thoughts, and this intellectual showdown allows both Spacey and Jackson to ignite the screen with a burst of volatile intensity. Director F Gary Gray is disadvantaged by an otherwise predictable screenplay, but he has a knack for building suspense and is generous to a fine supporting cast, including Paul Giamatti as one of Jackson's high-strung hostages, and the late JT Walsh in what would sadly be his final big-screen role. The Negotiatorshould have trusted its compelling characters a little more, probing their psyches more intensely to give the suspense a deeper dramatic foundation, but it's good enough to give two great actors a chance to strut their stuff. —Jeff Shannon
Nikita - Season 1 [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Maggie Q, Shane West In Nikita, the CW Network has developed another resounding hit on its roster of solid dramatic series that do a nice job of grabbing viewers from a variety of demographics. With season two starting in late September 2011, this slick package of the 22 episodes of season one is a great way of diving into a show that's among the best looking, most tightly produced, and intensely cinematic on the small screen. The title and the premise both come from the 1990 French feature film and early style-setter from writer-director Luc Besson, La Femme Nikita. The character of Nikita was a beautiful, troubled young criminal who was essentially abducted from prison and inducted into covert intelligence to become a sleeper assassin used at the will and the whim of the government. There was an American remake in 1993, Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda, then a TV adaptation in 1997 that used the original French title and ran for just over four seasons on the USA Network. This reworking maintains the basic premise of a black ops organization that has largely gone rogue from US government control, with the title character of a dangerous, sexy assassin having escaped its clutches and gone rogue herself. After six years as its most expert operative, this Nikita (Maggie Q, who is very dangerous and very sexy) uses all her training and black ops wiles to destroy the unit known only as Division. Division is run from a high-tech bunker by the evil, calculating Percy (a steely-eyed Xander Berkeley) as a kind of top-secret consulting firm for the high-paying interests of those in need of murder, protection, or other sundry cleanup or coverup services. It employs a stable of young, buffed, highly trained male and female "recruits" who, like Nikita, have been plucked from prison and indentured to lives dedicated to Division's devious details. But the pilot episode reveals that Division's latest recruit, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), is Nikita's mole, and she runs Alex from the outside, getting intel on Division's nefarious operations in her effort to bring it all down. The depth of Nikita's (and Alex's) malice toward Division is revealed over the course of the season, along with her ambivalence toward Percy's lieutenant, Michael (Shane West). Their cat-and-mouse includes a fair amount of personal heat within the missions that Nikita tries to disrupt, especially the one that becomes Division's top priority: eliminate Nikita. Michael has his own mixed feelings for his former protégé, and even as the intrigue among Michael, Nikita, Alex, and the other assorted characters both within and without Division becomes more elaborate, it's clear that there's a lot of gray for everyone. Except Percy, that is, who remains deliciously black throughout. The final episodes set up a suspenseful scenario of character maneuvering, compromised loyalties, and convoluted conspiracies that bodes very well for a new season.

Every installment of Nikita is paced and plotted like a mini thriller, with production values and heavily styled good looks to match. As series creator Craig Silverstein and many other behind-the-scenes contributors confirm in the extensive supplemental materials, incredible attention is given to the details of art direction, design, wardrobe, cinematography, scoring, etc. in order to make what are essentially mini action movies. And action is definitely a key word. There is gunplay aplenty, with a level of physical violence that's about as powerful as anything on TV these days. But all of it is expertly staged and carefully motivated to serve the needs of brainy, quick-witted scripts. Maggie Q certainly has the background chops to bring integrity and authenticity to her smooth martial arts moves; that's really her chopping and shooting up there. She is eminently appealing not only for her beauty and grace, but also her soulful stare. Silverstein admits that the CW Network was looking for a shoehorn series to capture not just action fans, and they all thought the Nikita brand could be adapted into a version of something like Alias. It makes sense with all the secret agent stuff going on and with Maggie Q making herself a rousing antidote for Jennifer Garner fans. But she's also uniquely Nikita as she guides an exciting show that gives equal weight to brain and brawn with a precise combination of restraint and exuberance. —Ted Fry
The Ninth Gate [2000]
Roman Polanski For a while it looks like Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate, adapted from the novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, might recapture the beautiful uneasiness of such masterpieces as Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. The horror of a Roman Polanski picture is not about spectacle and shock but a goose-pimply sense of evil lurking just outside the frame and hidden behind the faces of slightly unsettling characters. Here, a calm, almost sleepy Johnny Depp plays cynical, unscrupulous rare-book hunter Dean Corso, who's hired by demonologist Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to authenticate a rare volume that, legend has it, was co-written by Lucifer himself. Dean leaves a Gothic looking New York (re-created in Europe by Polanski as a sinister city of shadows) for Portugal and Paris to compare Balkan's volume with the two copies known to be in existence and uncovers a mystery with unholy ramifications. He also finds himself at the centre of a conspiracy that involves Balkan, a widow who will stop at nothing to retrieve Balkan's book (Lena Olin, who gleefully bites and claws her way through the part), and a mysterious guardian "angel" (Polanski's wife, Emmanuelle Seigner) who shadows his every step. The Ninth Gate is full of rumbling menace and deliciously unsettling imagery, but Polanski's languorous direction and purposefully vague story render a film that's eerie without every becoming thrilling. It's perpetually on the verge of becoming interesting—right up to its obscure final image.-Sean Axmaker, Amazon.com

On the DVD: Roman Polanski provides us with his first ever DVD commentary here, and makes his eye for detail and atmosphere very apparent in talking about design and his use of the camera. He also announces his love for the quality of DVD since he's always hated VHS. You also see him briefly amongst other interviewees in a two-minute featurette. There's also a trailer, 10 pages of production notes, and generous cast and crew information. One novelty is a gallery of The Nine Gates books' spot-the-difference satanic drawings. Best of all is an isolated track of Wojciech Kilar's excellent score, which is as well preserved by this transfer as the rich palette of earthy browns used by Polanski to paint the screen. —Paul Tonks
No Country For Old Men [2007]
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen The Coen brothers make their finest thriller since Fargo with a restrained adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, but No Country for Old Men is their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day Western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam veteran who needs a break. One morning while hunting antelope, he spies several trucks surrounded by dead bodies (both human and canine). In examining the site, he finds a case filled with $2 million. Moss takes it with him, tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for awhile, and hits the road until he can determine his next move. On the way from El Paso to Mexico, he discovers he's being followed by ex-special ops agent Chigurh (an eerily calm Javier Bardem). Chigurh's weapon of choice is a cattle gun, and he uses it on everyone who gets in his way—or loses a coin toss (as far as he's concerned, bad luck is grounds for death). Just as Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a World War II veteran, is on Moss's trail, Chigurh's former colleague, Wells (Woody Harrelson), is on his. For most of the movie, Moss remains one step ahead of his nemesis. Both men are clever and resourceful—except Moss has a conscious, Chigurh does not (he is, as McCarthy puts it, "a prophet of destruction"). At times, the film plays like an old horror movie, with Chigurh as its lumbering Frankenstein monster. Like the taciturn terminator, No Country for Old Men doesn't move quickly, but the tension never dissipates. This minimalist masterwork represents Joel and Ethan Coen and their entire cast, particularly Brolin and Jones, at the peak of their powers. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
Notting Hill [1999]
Roger Michell They don't really make many romantic comedies like Notting Hillanymore—blissfully romantic, sincerely sweet, and not grounded in any reality whatsoever. Pure fairy tale, and with a huge debt to Roman Holiday, Notting Hillponders what would happen if a beautiful, world-famous person were to suddenly drop into your life unannounced and promptly fall in love with you. That's the crux of the situation for William Thacker (Hugh Grant), who owns a travel bookshop in London's fashionable Notting Hill district. Hopelessly ordinary (well, as ordinary as you can be when you're Hugh Grant), William is going about his life when renowned movie star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) walks into his bookstore and into his heart. After another contrived meeting involving spilled orange juice, William and Anna share a spontaneous kiss (big suspension of disbelief required here), and soon both are smitten. The question is, of course, can William and Anna reconcile his decidedly commonplace bookseller existence and her lifestyle as a jet-setting, paparazzi-stalked celebrity? (Take a wild guess at the answer.) Smartly scripted by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and directed by Roger Michell (Persuasion), Notting Hillis hardly realistic, but as wish fulfilment and a romantic comedy, it's irresistible. True, Roberts doesn't really have to stretch very far to play a big-time actress who makes $15 million per movie, but she's more winning and relaxed than she's been in years, and Grant is sweetly understated as a man blindsided by love. Together, in moments of quiet, they're a charming couple, and you can feel her craving for real love and his awe and amazement at the wonderful person for whom he has fallen. The only blight on the film is its overbearing pop soundtrack, though Elvis Costello's heart-wrenching version of "She" gets poignant exposure. With Rhys Ifans as Grant's scene-stealing, slovenly housemate and Alec Baldwin in a sly, perfectly cast cameo. —Mark Englehart
Office Space [1999]
Mike Judge Office Spaceis a movie for anyone who's ever spent eight hours in a "Productivity Bin", had to endure a smarmy, condescending boss, had worries about layoffs, or just had the urge to demolish a temperamental printer or fax machine. Peter (Ron Livingston) spends the day doing stupefyingly dull computer work in a cubicle. He goes home to an apartment sparsely furnished by IKEA and Target, then starts for a maddening commute to work again in the morning.

His co-workers in the cube farm are an annoying lot, his boss is a snide, patronising jerk, and his days are consumed with tedium. In desperation, he turns to career hypnotherapy, but when his hypno-induced relaxation takes hold, there's no shutting it off. Layoffs are in the air at his corporation and with two colleagues (both of whom are slated for the chute) he devises a scheme to skim funds from company accounts. The scam soon snowballs, however, throwing the three into a panic until the unexpected happens and saves the day.

A little bit like a US version of The Office, director Mike (King of the Hill) Judge's debut movie is a spot-on look at work in corporate America circa 1999. With well-drawn characters and situations instantly familiar to the white-collar milieu, he captures the joylessness of many a cube denizen's work life perfectly. Jennifer Aniston, a waitress at Chotchkie's, a generic beer-and-burger joint, plays Peter's love interest and Diedrich Bader has a minor but hilarious turn as Peter's moustached, long-haired, drywall-installin' neighbour. —Jerry Renshaw
Once [DVD]
Orange County [2002]
Jake Kasdan While it invites charges of Hollywood nepotism, Orange County overcomes that stigma with a delightful cast of newcomers and veterans alike. It's no better or worse than many teen comedies, but director Jake Kasdan (son of director Lawrence Kasdan) astutely combines teen-flick staples (stoner gags, raucous parties) with a biting undercurrent of southern California absurdity. This comedic texture helps Colin Hanks (son of Tom) and Schuyler Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) to prove their big-screen promise. They play (respectively) an Orange County teen and aspiring writer named Shaun who yearns for admission to Stanford, and his sensible girlfriend who knows just how to nurture his dreams. Much of the comedy arises from the foibles of Shaun's dysfunctional family (played to perfection by Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara and John Lithgow), while unbilled cameos by Ben Stiller and Kevin Kline add zest to a movie that tries to be different, and mostly succeeds. —Jeff Shannon
Out Of Sight [1998]
Steven Soderbergh Out of Sightwas one of the best movies of 1998 but ironically this superior crime comedy was a box-office disappointment. Fortunately the movie can enjoy a long life on home video and DVD, where it can be savoured by anyone who missed its original release. Making one of his strongest films since his 1989 debut Sex, Lies, and Videotapeand his recent hit Erin Brockovich, director Steven Soderbergh pays tribute to the signature wit and intricacy of Elmore Leonard's novel, brilliantly adapted by Scott Frank, the gifted screenwriter who previously adapted Leonard's Get Shorty. The movie is primarily a showcase for the talent and chemistry of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, respectively playing a career bank robber who has escaped from jail and the federal agent who falls for his charms while tracking him down. Soderbergh directs with confident visual flair, shifting timelines (à la Pulp Fiction) to weave together subplots and maintain vivid focus on Leonard's splendid characters and smooth-as-silk dialogue. While the sexy repartée between Clooney and Lopez recalls the vintage interplay of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Ving Rhames and Steve Zahn add ample comic relief as Clooney's accomplices. Dennis Farina is memorable as Lopez's father and Albert Brooks is almost unrecognisable as a Wall Street crook whose mansion—and a cache of uncut diamonds—provides the setting for the film's climactic caper. As orchestrated by Soderbergh, the film offers a feast of plot twists and surprises but it never loses track of its delightful characters and the clever wit that brings them so vividly to life. —Jeff Shannon
Pan's Labyrinth [DVD] [2006]
Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Guillermo del Toro Inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Jorge Luis Borges, and Guillermo del Toro's own unlimited imagination, Pan's Labyrinth is a fairytale for adults. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) may only be 12, but the worlds she inhabits, both above and below ground, are dark as anything del Toro has conjured. Set in rural Spain, circa 1944, Ofelia and her widowed mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil, Belle Epoque), have just moved into an abandoned mill with Carmen's new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López, With a Friend like Harry). Carmen is pregnant with his son. Other than her sickly mother and kindly housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú, Y Tu Mamá También), the dreamy Ofelia is on her own. Vidal, an exceedingly cruel man, couldn't be bothered. He has informers to torture. Ofelia soon finds that an entire universe exists below the mill. Her guide is the persuasive Faun (Doug Jones, Mimic). As her mother grows weaker, Ofelia spends more and more time in the satyr's labyrinth. He offers to help her out of her predicament if she'll complete three treacherous tasks. Ofelia is willing to try, but does this alternate reality really exist or is it all in her head? Del Toro leaves that up to the viewer to decide in a beautiful, yet brutal twin to The Devil's Backbone, which was also haunted by the ghost of Franco. Though it lacks the humour of Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth represents Guillermo Del Toro at the top of his considerable game. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
Paul Triple Play
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Greg Mottola Everything you know about aliens from pop culture is true. At least that's the message from Paul, a swift, sharp, and very funny movie from the creative minds that also brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Superbad, and Adventureland. The British stars of the first two, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, also wrote the snappy screenplay, and director Greg Mottola shows that he can make human and sentimental both the slapstick and the subtle, self-referential humour the same way he did in Superbad and Adventureland. The premise Pegg and Frost have laid out for themselves as likable, sci-fi fanatic supernerds is a dream vacation starting at Comic Con, then continuing through the American Southwest in an RV visiting historic UFO sites like Area 51, the Black Mailbox, and Roswell, and finishing up at Devil's Tower in Wyoming, the iconic centerpiece from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After their inauspicious start, they happen upon an escaped alien who is 4 feet tall, and has the big head, classic diamond eyes, and features we've come to recognize as both the benevolent and evil kinds of space aliens from movies and TV. He is also the titular character, and as voiced by Seth Rogen, this CGI creature spouts a never-ending string of wisecracks, insider secrets, and frat-boy humour that comes loud and clear as classic Rogen in tone and attitude. As an aside and terrific example of the very clever throwaway punch lines that run throughout, there's a brief flashback to 1980 showing Paul on a conference call with Steven Spielberg (really), giving him advice about script development issues for E.T.

Paul crash-landed in the late 1940s and has been held prisoner by the government's men in black. They've not only been pumping him for knowledge, they've also leaked the fabric and features of his being to people who want to believe, especially the ones in Hollywood. Now Paul wants to go home, and he's found the perfect getaway with the want-to-believe team of Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), who take him to his rendezvous (at Devil's Tower, of course). The road movie that unfolds is consistently hilarious, moving nimbly through one-off gags and inside jokes, but also creating larger relationships and drawn-out humour that relies on us believing that the little CGI Paul is real. And mostly we do, again thanks to Rogen's delivery and distinctive vocalizing. Paul constantly quips, makes fun, gets drunk, smokes dope, and spouts a steady stream of patter about how aliens have been bowdlerized and reimagined in entertainment and the minds of people like Graeme and Clive. There's a jam-packed supporting cast that complements and complicates the story (in a good way), including Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as the bumbling men in black, and Jason Bateman as the scary man in black. Also passing through are some fun familiar faces like Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, and an iconic sci-fi actress who shall remain unnamed. Especially good is Kristen Wiig as a fundamentalist Christian whose mind is literally blown by Paul. Amid the broad humour and nonstop punch lines there's also a sweetness that stays with each finely drawn character (including Paul) and gives Paul an amiable sentimentality that runs throughout. Everyone clearly had fun making this movie, and that's exactly how it is to watch. —Ted Fry
Paycheck [2004]
John Woo The brainy, paranoid science fiction of writer Philip K Dick has inspired one visionary classic (Blade Runner) and two above-average action movies (Total Recalland Minority Report). Paycheckaspires to follow in their footsteps: an engineer (Ben Affleck) routinely agrees to have his memory erased after every job so that he doesn't know what he's done. But after the biggest job of his life, he discovers that not only has he refused a 90 million-dollar paycheck, he's sent himself an envelope full of things he doesn't recognise—and he doesn't remember doing any of this. As he unravels the plot, he discovers he's also fallen in love (with Uma Thurman) and invented a dangerous device for his former boss (Aaron Eckhart). Affleck is bland, the script ruins a cunning idea and the direction—from the normally dynamic John Woo—plods along, aimless and bored. —Bret Fetzer
Peacemaker, The [DVD] [1997]
George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Mimi Leder It seems that thrillers these days—even good ones—are all about scene-chewing bad guys, cute retorts fit for the Dennis Miller show and one big special effect to end the movie. Well, something like The Peacemaker, the first feature film from DreamWorks, puts the record straight. Here is an expertly paced thriller with a sensible villain, smart instead of cute dialogue, and a focus on action instead of special effects. It's not original, just solid. It's the second of these energetic and effective thrillers that writer Michael Schiffer (Crimson Tide) has penned. The White House Nuclear Smuggling Group tracks down 10 stolen nuclear bombs after a suspicious train wreck in Russia. The acting head of the department (Nicole Kidman) and her military field officer (George Clooney) are off to Europe to track down the bombs. Instead of a Gary Oldman-Bruce Dern madman, The Peacemaker's heavy is an unknown Romanian actor (Marcul Iures) playing a Bosnian rebel who works passionately and quietly. This may be a popcorn movie, but it uses the ripe emotions of the Bosnian War to create tension. This is the best film vehicle yet for the overwhelming charisma of George Clooney as a quick-witted, generally warm Oliver North type who will seek deadly vengeance without pause. He's matched very well by the professional polish of Nicole Kidman who is showing great flexibility in dividing her roles between serious and fun fare. —Doug Thomas

On the DVD: Extras are pretty minimal, with just two very brief featurettes. The first has director Mimi Leder talking about her two stars in between blooper reel outtakes; the second has some behind-the-scenes footage of two stunt sequences, the Viennese car chase and the New York street chase (the latter of which shows George Clooney doing all his own running). Two theatrical trailers complete the package. The feature itself is well presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 5.1.with the choice of English or German language options. —Mark Walker
Pirates of the Caribbean 3 : At World's End - Limited Edition With Character Art Cards (Exclusive to Amazon.co.uk)
Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End is a rollicking voyage in the same spirit of the two earlier Pirates films, yet far darker in spots (and nearly three hours to boot). The action, largely revolving around a pirate alliance against the ruthless East India Trading Company, doesn't disappoint, though the violence is probably too harsh for young children. Through it all, the plucky cast (Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush) are buffeted by battle, maelstroms, betrayal, treachery, a ferocious Caribbean weather goddess, and that gnarly voyage back from the world's end—but with their wit intact. As always, Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow tosses off great lines; he chastises "a woman scorned, like which hell hath no fury than!" He insults an opponent with a string of epithets, ending in "yeasty codpiece."

In the previous The Curse of the Black Pearl, Sparrow was killed—sent to Davy Jones' Locker. In the opening scenes, the viewer sees that death has not been kind to Sparrow—but that's not to say he hasn't found endless ways to amuse himself, cavorting with dozens of hallucinated versions of himself on the deck of the Black Pearl. But Sparrow is needed in this world, so a daring rescue brings him back. Keith Richards' much ballyhooed appearance as Jack's dad is little more than a cameo, though he does play a wistful guitar. But the action, as always, is more than satisfying, held together by Depp, who, outsmarting the far-better-armed British yet again, causes a bewigged commander to muse: "Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?" As far as fans are concerned, it matters not. —A.T. Hurley
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl [2003]
Gore Verbinski You won't need a bottle of rum to enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, even if you haven't experienced the Disneyland theme-park ride that inspired it. There's a galleon's worth of fun in watching Johnny Depp's androgynous performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, a roguish pirate who could pass for the illegitimate spawn of rockers Keith Richards and Chrissie Hynde. Depp gets all the good lines and steals the show, recruiting Orlando Bloom (a blacksmith and expert swordsman) and Keira Knightley (a lovely governor's daughter). They set out on an adventurous quest to recapture the notorious Black Pearl, a ghost ship commandeered by Jack's nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), a mutineer desperate to reverse the curse that left him and his (literally) skeleton crew in a state of eternal, undead damnation. Director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) repeats the redundant mayhem that marred his debut film Mouse Hunt, but with the writers of Shrek he's made Pirates of the Caribbean into a special-effects thrill-ride that plays like a Halloween party on the open seas. —Jeff Shannon
The Pixar Short Films Collection [DVD] [1984]
Alvy Ray Smith, John Lasseter, Bud Luckey, Mark Andrews, Andrew Jimenez Pixar's unprecedented string of hit animated features was built on the short films in this collection. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull used these cartoons the way Walt Disney used the "Silly Symphonies" during the 1930s: as a training ground for artists and a way to explore the potential of a new medium. Although it's only 90 seconds long, "Luxo, Jr." (1986) ranks as the "Steamboat Willie" of computer animation: For the first time, audiences believed CG characters could think and feel. (It was also the first CG film to make audiences laugh.)

When the artists began work on Toy Story, they had learned so much from the shorts, they were ready to undertake that landmark creation. In the later shorts, the viewer can see the artists continuing to experiment: with a more realistic human figure in "Geri's Game" and with new ways of suggesting atmospheric effects in "Boundin'." Some of the more recent shorts continue the adventures of the characters from the features. "Jack-Jack Attack" reveals what happened to the hapless baby-sitter while the Incredibles were off fighting Syndrome, while "Mater and the Ghost Light" shows that life goes on for the inhabitants of Radiator Springs. When Sully from Monsters, Inc. tries to adjust his seat in "Mike's New Car," the animators prolong the moment to wring every drop of humour from the situation—just as an earlier generation of animators milked Wile E. Coyote's antics for all they were worth. The long-unseen films for Sesame Street are an unexpected bonus. A delightful collection of entertaining shorts, and a significant chronicle of the growth of computer animation. —Charles Solomon
Point Break [1991]
Kathryn Bigelow A rash of daring bank robberies erupt in which the bad guys all wear the masks of worse guys—former presidents (nice touch). Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), an impossibly named former football star who blew out his knee and became a studly crime-busting fed instead, figures out that none of the heists occur during surfing season and all of them occur when, so to speak, surf's down. So obviously, he reasons, we're dealing with some surfer-dude bank robbers. He goes undercover with just such a group, led by a very spiritual, very guru-type guy played by Patrick Swayze, who has some muddled philosophies when it comes to materialism. If you can buy all that, this efficiently directed (by Kathryn Bigelow) action flick has some diverting moments (credit it, for example, for anticipating the extreme-sports fad). But Reeves' intelligent-sounding lines don't make him seem remotely intelligent and that plot makes him look positively brilliant. —David Kronke
Point Break [Blu-ray] [1991][Region Free]
Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Kathryn Bigelow A rash of daring bank robberies erupt in which the bad guys all wear the masks of worse guys—former presidents (nice touch). Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), an impossibly named former football star who blew out his knee and became a studly crime-busting fed instead, figures out that none of the heists occur during surfing season and all of them occur when, so to speak, surf's down. So obviously, he reasons, we're dealing with some surfer-dude bank robbers. He goes undercover with just such a group, led by a very spiritual, very guru-type guy played by Patrick Swayze, who has some muddled philosophies when it comes to materialism. If you can buy all that, this efficiently directed (by Kathryn Bigelow) action flick has some diverting moments (credit it, for example, for anticipating the extreme-sports fad). But Reeves' intelligent-sounding lines don't make him seem remotely intelligent and that plot makes him look positively brilliant. —David Kronke
Practical Magic [DVD] [1999]
Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Griffin Dunne Actor Griffin Dunne improves a bit on his first film as a director, Addicted to Love, with this drama-comedy about a family of witches. Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play spell-casting sisters of different temperaments: the former is a high-living, free-spirited sort, while Bullock's character is a homebody who can't get around a family curse that kills the men in their lives. A widowed single mom, Bullock gets into a jam with an abusive Bulgarian (Goran Visnjic) and is helped out by her sibling, but the result brings a good-looking, warm, inquisitive cop (Aidan Quinn) into their lives. The film has a variety of tonal changes—cute, scary, glum—that Dunne can't always effectively juggle. But the female-centric, celebratory nature of the film (the fantasies, the sharing, the witchy bonds) is infectious, and supporting roles by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing as Kidman and Bullock's magical aunts are a lot of fun. —Tom Keogh
Pride & Prejudice - 2005
Joe Wright Rightly winning wide acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, this latest take on Jane Austen's classic Pride & Prejudice is a real, all-round triumph. The age-old story still holds real resonance, and it follows the tale of five sisters dealing with love, and the many trials and tribulations that brings.

There are so many delights to director Joe Wright's take on the story, and his direction is a strong place to start. In spite of having to condense the tale to fit a movie running time, he nonetheless injects a real energy and intelligence to his retelling, and he's served supremely well by his cast. Backed up by strong support by the likes of Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland, it's Keira Knightley in the lead turn who's a real surprise here. Her performance is a real joy, and very much at the core of the film's success.

The film inevitably draws comparison with the superb 1995 BBC adaptation, and while arguably it doesn't quite scale the same peaks, it's to the credit of the filmmakers that their version still holds strong. For this is a tremendously enjoyable drama, and one that should continue to find an audience for a long time to come. An excellent film.—Simon Brew
Pride And Prejudice : Complete BBC Series - 10th Anniversary Edition [1995]
In spite of the quality of the more recent Keira Knightley-starring big-screen interpretation, it's the mid-90s BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice that's still regarding by many as the definitive telling of Jane Austen's classic.

Featuring, as many swooning admirers will already know, Colin Firth in a career-topping performance as Mr Darcy, Pride and Prejudice is the timeless tale of seemingly impossible romance. On one hand, there's the wealthy, single Mr Darcy, and on the other is Elizabeth, a woman Darcy believes is beneath him. Across six sumptuous hours of this classic mini-series, their story then slowly bubbles, aided by some excellent supporting performances. Nods must go to the likes of Jennifer Ehle, Susannah Harker, Anna Chancellor and Julia Sawalha, to highlight but a handful.

It's not just in front of the camera where Pride and Prejudice scores, though. The production values are absolutely outstanding, with this really a watermark for BBC costume drama production. Add in Simon Langton's diligent direction, and this is one of those rare occasions where everything seemingly effortlessly falls into place, with outstanding end results.

Over ten years since it was first broadcast, the particular take on Pride and Prejudice remains as vital, moving and compelling as it was first time round. And if it's ever topped, it's going to take something really, really special to do it… —Jon Foster
The Proposal [DVD] [2009]
Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Anne Fletcher Rom-com favourite Sandra Bullock and the affably charming Ryan Reynolds’s superb chemistry turn The Proposal from otherwise standard romantic-comedy fare to one that is entertaining and sure to garner laughs. Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is a workaholic, tyrannical book editor (reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada) who suddenly finds her career in jeopardy as she faces deportation back to Canada. Her solution is to simply fake an engagement to her unsuspecting assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), who in turn blackmails her for a promotion. However, when Margaret is forced to head to Alaska with Andrew to visit his family in an effort to make their story believable to the deportation officers, they soon realise that their plan may not be so simple after all. The supporting cast of Dad (Craig T. Nelson), Mum (Mary Steenburgen), and kooky Grandma (Betty White, still a scene-stealer at 87) is great casting that makes for many amusing scenes. Bottom line: witty Reynolds and Bullock are perfect sparring partners for each other and not half bad to look at either. —Lisanne Chastain
Pulp Fiction (2 Disc Collector's Edition) [1994]
Quentin Tarantino With Pulp Fictionwriter-director Quentin Tarantino stunned the filmmaking world, exploding into prominence as a cinematic heavyweight contender after initial success with 1992's Reservoir Dogs. But Pulp Fictionwas more than just the follow-up to an impressive first feature, or the winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival, or a script stuffed with the sort of juicy bubblegum dialogue actors just love to chew, or the vehicle that re-established John Travolta on the A-list, or the relatively low-budget ($8 million) independent showcase for an ultra-hip mixture of established marquee names and rising stars from the indie scene (among them Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Julia Sweeney, Kathy Griffin and Phil Lamar). It was more, even, than an unprecedented $100-million-plus hit for indie distributor Miramax. Pulp Fictionwas a sensation. It packs so much energy and invention into telling its non-chronologically interwoven short stories (all about temptation, corruption and redemption among modern criminals, large and small) it leaves viewers both exhilarated and exhausted—hearts racing and knuckles white from the ride. (Oh, and the infectious, surf-guitar-based soundtrack is tastier than a Royale with Cheese.) —Jim Emerson
The Punisher [2004]
Jonathan Hensleigh The impressively muscular chest of Tom Jane is the focal point of The Punisher, a movie based on a Marvel Comics superhero. Frank Castle (Jane, Deep Blue Sea) retires from the FBI, which means—as any moviegoer expects—that his family is toast. Howard Saint (John Travolta, Face/Off), a shady Florida businessman whose son was killed in Castle's last mission, orders a hit not only on Castle's wife and child, but also on his parents and a whole bunch of aunts, uncles, cousins, and so forth. The killers shoot Castle himself in the chest, but he inexplicably survives and—as any moviegoer expects—sets out to even the score. Implausibly, given his sometimes curious and roundabout methods, he succeeds. Also featuring Will Patton (Armageddon) as an oily thug, Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive) as Saint's fleshpot wife, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men) as a waitress with bad taste in men. —Bret Fetzer
The Pursuit Of Happyness [2006]
Gabriele Muccino A heartwarming film that demonstrates how good, hard-working people can become homeless almost overnight, Pursuit of Happynessis a tour-de-force showcase for Will Smith, who convincingly portrays a down-and-out dad trying to better his family's life. Smith, who usually is cast in effortlessly boyish roles (Men in Black, Independence Day), is wonderful in the film—even in the scenes that shamelessly tug at viewers' heartstrings. Based on the true-life story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman forced at times to shelter his young son (played by Smith's adorable look-alike offspring Jaden Smith) in a men's room, there is little suspense to the film in terms of Chris' outcome. (His story and eventual success a successful and wealthy Chicago businessman was well-publicized on the newsmagazine show 20/20.) And let's face it, Hollywood's not too keen on making feel-good movies with unhappy endings.

The beauty (and suspense, to a certain extent) of this film is in the way the story is told. Though he is constantly rushing around to get to appointments and pick up his child, things do not happen quickly for Chris. When he accepts an internship with a prestigious stock brokerage firm, there's a catch: The position is unpaid, suitable more for trust-fund children than single parents with no other source of income. In many scenes, the viewer panics along with Chris, wondering how he's going to feed his child. While Smith and his son, Jaden, share many tender moments together, Thandie Newton has the thankless role of playing Chris' shrill wife, who deserts her family early in the film. It's not a particularly challenging part for the talented actress, and her departure doesn't impact the storyline much at all. As for the movie's misspelled title, it's inspired from a scene in the film. (Seeing a mural drawn by the children at a daycare center, Chris points out to the proprietor that "happiness" is spelled incorrectly. She notes that it doesn't matter how the word is written—just that the kids have it.) With Pursuit of Happyness, Smith has come out of his safety zone and, in turn, ends up playing his most heroic role to date. —Jae-Ha Kim
Pushing Daisies - Complete Season 1 [DVD] [2007]
Anna Friel, Lee Pace Ignore the fact that ITV, bizarrely, decided to meddle with its UK transmission of Pushing Daisies by lopping out an entire episode. Instead, consider giving this box set a chance, which brings together every episode—fully in tact!—of one of the most interesting new shows to come out of the States.

The concept behind Pushing Daisies is quite simple, but unsurprisingly, it doesn't take long before it gets more complicated. It follows Ned, a young man who discovers he can bring the dead back to life for a short period of time. Inevitably, he starts using his gift on humans, solving crime as he goes along. Yet things get far more troubled when he then brings the love of his life back from beyond the grave.

In lesser hands, Pushing Daisies could so easily have gone wrong. But in the mits of Bryan Fuller, the man who previously gave us the terrific Dead Like Me, it really does work. The concept gels exceptionally well—thanks also to a cast led by Lee Pace and Anna Friel—and it's an unpredictable programme that you simply can't help but enjoy. On the downside, this maiden series is just nine episodes long, and that's a pity, but a promised second series—off the back of this first run—is a very welcome prospect. —Jon Foster
Pushing Daisies - Complete Season 2 [DVD] [2008]
Lee Pace, Anna Friel If you’re looking for proof of the questionable taste of US television programming decision makers, then the scandalous decision to scrap Pushing Daisies after two memorable seasons is a good place to start. As this second season demonstrates, the show is a cauldron of originality, startlingly good writing and real imagination, and it’s well worth trying, even if you’re new to the series.

Pushing Daisies isn’t the easiest show to explain, but the central concept is that Ned, a pie-maker by trade, has a special ability: he can raise the dead with a single touch. A second touch will kill them outright, and there are other repercussions to his gift that crop up, too. This is then the starting point for an intriguing fantasy series, that’s not short on laughs. Ned is teamed up with a private investigator, and the show then becomes what its creators describe as a “forensic fairy tale”.

But that sells Pushing Daisies short. Under the watchful eye of its creator, Bryan Fuller—whose CV also includes the superb Dead Like Me and a lot of work on the maiden season of Heroes, this second season is at times just flat-out brilliant. Across the 13 episodes that make up the series, there are the cases of a nun who was suspected to be murdered, a magician looking to track down who’s killing his animals and the mysterious death of a lighthouse keeper. But if you’re expecting any of these to be standard whodunits, you’re in for quite a surprise.

It’s hard to oversell the qualities of Pushing Daisies, and thus there’s inevitable disappointment that these are the last episodes of the show that we’re ever likely to see. But television this good simply doesn’t come along very often, and it’s really something you don’t want to miss out on. —Jon Foster
Pushing Tin [1999] [DVD]
John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Mike Newell Blessed with a fantastic cast and slick direction by Mike Newell, Pushing Tin is one of those invigorating movies (like Wall Street or All the President's Men) that takes you behind the scenes of a dramatic profession—in this case, the high-stress world of air-traffic controllers—and throws in a source of conflict to ramp up the tension. For ace "tin-pusher" Nick Falzone (John Cusack), that conflict arrives in the form of Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton), whose Zen-like control of air traffic immediately puts Nick on the defensive. Add an incident of infidelity and Nick's subsequent self-loathing and guilt and Pushing Tin turns into a macho contest, with Nick's and Russell's spouses (Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie, respectively) stuck in the middle.

At that point, this otherwise splendid comedy-drama turns almost fatally silly and hits additional turbulence by lapsing into a predictable series of pat resolutions. Fortunately, the jazzy cast avoids a nosedive into the tarmac, and if you recall Blanchett's Oscar-nominated performance in Elizabeth, you'll be amazed by her flawless transformation into a smart and sweetly devoted New Jersey housewife. Dialogue is a major asset here, and the script (by TV veterans Glen and Les Charles) gives Cusack & co. plenty to chew on. That makes Pushing Tin a breezy good time, and its flaws are easily forgiven. —Jeff Shannon
Quantum of Solace [DVD] [2008]
Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Marc Forster
Ransom [1997]
Ron Howard When it comes to ramping up to vein-bursting levels of tormented anxiety , Mel Gibson has a kind of mainstream intensity that makes him perfect for his heroic-father role in director Ron Howard's child-kidnapping thriller. When you think of Ransom, you automatically think of the scene in which Mel reaches his boiling point and yells, "Give me back my son!" to the kidnapper on the other end of a phone. Trapped in the middle of any parent's nightmare, Mel plays a self-made airline mogul whose son (played by Brawley Nolte, son of actor Nick Nolte) is abducted by a close-knit group of uptight kidnappers. But when a king's ransom is demanded for the child's safe return, Mel turns the tables and offers the ransom as reward money for anyone who provides information leading to the kidnappers' arrest.

Thus begins a nerve-racking battle of wills and a test of the father's conviction to carry out a plan that could cost his son's life. The boy's mother (played by Rene Russo, reunited with Gibson after Lethal Weapon 3) disapproves of her husband's life-threatening gamble, and a seasoned FBI negotiator (Delroy Lindo) is equally fearful of disaster as the search for the kidnappers intensifies. Through it all, Howard maintains a level of nail-biting tension to match Gibson's desperate ploy, and the plot twists are just clever enough to cancel out the overwrought performances and manipulative screenplay. Ransommay not be as sophisticated as its glossy production design would suggest, but it's a thriller with above-average intelligence and an emotion-driven plot that couldn't be more urgent. Adding to the intensity is a superior supporting cast including Gary Sinise, Lili Taylor and Liev Schreiber as the kidnappers, who demonstrate that even the tightest scheme can unravel under unexpected stress. Remade from a 1956 film starring Glenn Ford, Ransomis diluted by a few too many subplots, but as a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, it's a slick and satisfying example of Hollywood entertainment. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Red [Blu-ray]
Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Robert Schwentke
Red Dwarf : Complete BBC Series 5
Doug Naylor Rob Grant Juliet May It's brown alert time all over again for Red Dwarffans with the fifth season of the much-loved sci-fi/comedy series. Episode-wise, it's business as usual for the crew of the Red Dwarf—that is, if one considers encountering an alien squid that squirts a despair-inducing hallucinogen ("Back to Reality", later voted the best episode of the series by viewers and Stephen Hawking!), evil (and not particularly bright) versions of the crew ("Demons and Angels"), a virus that causes insanity ("Quarantine"), and a trip to a moon created entirely from the mind of the insufferable hologram Rimmer ("Terrorform") business as usual.

In short, it's six hilarious episodes, highlighted by the typically terrific writing of creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (who also direct two episodes). As with the previous deluxe DVD releases, Series Vfeatures a wealth of supplemental features, the most intriguing of which is a look at the failed attempt to recreate the show in America (with U.K. cast member Robert Llewellyn and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Terry Farrell as Cat). Also included are cast and fan commentaries, featurettes on the show's "science" and villains, special effects tests, blooper reels, and a sampling of Grant and Naylor's BBC 4 radio sketch "Dave Hollins, Space Cadet", which served as the inspiration for Red Dwarf. Dedicated DVD owners will also be rewarded by Easter eggs lurking throughout the menus. —Paul Gaita
Red Dwarf : Complete BBC Series 6 [2005]
Andy DeEmmony Series 6 is possibly the most eagerly awaited of the Red DwarfDVD sets, due to its acclaimed third episode, "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", which earned the program an International Emmy Award in 1994. However, the five other episodes in the series have their own share of absurd laughs, and the two-disc set features enough supplemental features to keep even the most demanding RDfan happy. The crux of series 6 is that the Red Dwarfhas been stolen (no thanks to Lister, who can't remember where he left it), and the crew must recover it; their pursuit brings them in contact with brain-consuming aliens ("Psirens", with guest star Jenny Agutter), a polymorph that turns Rimmer and Cat into their alternate identities from Series V ("Emohawk—Polymorph II"), the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse tricked out as gunslingers ("Gunmen of the Apocalypse"), an army of Rimmer clones ("Rimmerworld"), and finally, their own future selves, who turn out to be particularly awful (worse than the present-day ones, that is), and cause a cliffhanger ending that just might spell the end for the Red Dwarf crew.... In short, series 6 more than earns its popular status among Red Dwarf's fanbase, thanks to its sharp writing (sadly, it would be the last series to feature scripts by co-creator Rob Grant) and energetic performances. And the double-disc set matches the quality of the programs with some terrific extras, including commentaries by the RD crew and fans (the latter on "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" only), and featurettes on composer Howard Goodall and series director Andy de Emmony; these are rounded out by the usual collections of "smeg-ups" (bloopers), deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and another episode of the "Dave Hollins, Space Cadet" radio sketch that inspired the show. And again, the most patient of viewers will find Easter eggs on the menus (happy hunting). —Paul Gaita
Red Dwarf : Complete BBC Series 7 [2005]
Andrew Ellard
Red Dwarf : Complete BBC Series 8 [2003] [1988]
Eric Haynes Graeme Hart
Red Dwarf: Series 1
Ed Bye Notoriously, and entirely appropriately, the original outline for Doug Naylor and Rob Grant's comedy SF series Red Dwarfwas sketched on the back of a beer mat. When it finally appeared on our television screens in 1988 the show had clearly stayed true to its roots, mixing jokes about excessive curry consumption with affectionate parodies of classic SF. Indeed, one of the show's most endearing and enduring features is its obvious respect for the conventions of SF, even as it gleefully subverts them. The scenario owes something to Douglas Adams's satirical Hitch-Hiker's Guide, something to The Odd Coupleand a lot more to the slacker SF of John Carpenter's Dark Star. Behind the crew's constant bickering there lurks an impending sense that life, the universe and everything are all someone's idea of a terrible joke.

Later series broadened the show's horizons until at last its premise was so diluted as to be unrecognisable, but in the six episodes of the first series the comedy is witty and intimate, focusing on characters and not special effects. Slob Dave Lister (Craig Charles) is the last human alive after a radiation leak wipes out the crew of the vast mining vessel Red Dwarf (episode 1, "The End"). He bums around the spaceship with the perpetually uptight and annoyed hologram of his dead bunkmate, Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie, the show's greatest comedy asset) and a creature evolved from a cat (dapper Danny John Jules). They are guided rather haphazardly by Holly, the worryingly thick ship's computer (lugubrious Norman Lovett).

On the DVD:Red Dwarf Iarrives in a two-disc set, with all six episodes on the first disc accompanied by an excellent group commentary from Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John Jules and Norman Lovett. (There's also a bonus commentary on "The End" with the two writers and director Ed Bye.) The 4:3 picture is unimpressive, but sound is decent stereo. The second disc has an entertaining 25-minute documentary on the genesis of the series with contributions from the cast, writer Doug Naylor and producer Paul Jackson. Navigate the animated menus to find a gallery of extra features, including isolated music cues, deleted scenes, outtakes ("Smeg Ups"), a fun "Drunk" music montage, model effects shots, Web links, audiobook clips, the original BBC trailer and even the entire first episode in Japanese. —Mark Walker
Red Dwarf: Series 2 [1988]
Ed Bye The second series of Red Dwarfis, as Danny John-Jules says in the accompanying DVD commentary, "the one where it really went good". First broadcast in the autumn of 1988, these six episodes showcase Rob Grant and Doug Naylor's sardonic, sarcastic humour to perfection. The writing has matured, no longer focussing solely on SF in-jokes and gags about bodily functions, instead allowing the humour to develop from the characters and their sometimes surprisingly poignant interactions: Lister's timeless love for Kochanksi, for example, or Rimmer's brief memory-implanted love for one of Lister's ex-girlfriends. The cast had gelled, too, and there's even more colour this year as the drab sets are spiced up, a little more money has been assigned to models and special effects, and the crew even go on location once in a while.

"Kryten" introduces us to the eponymous house robot (here played by David Ross), although after this first episode he was not to reappear until Series 3, when Robert Llewellyn made the role his own. Then in "Better Than Life" the show produced one of its all-time classic episodes, as the boys from the Dwarf take part in a virtual reality game that's ruined by Rimmer's tortured psyche. Other highlights include "Queeg", in which Holly is replaced by a domineering computer personality, the baffling time travel paradox of "Stasis Leak", the puzzling conundrum of "Thanks for the Memory", and the astonishingly feminine "Parallel Universe".

On the DVD:Red Dwarf, Series 2has another chaotic and undisciplined group commentary from the cast, all clearly enjoying the opportunity to reminisce. The second disc has a host of fun extras, including an "A-Z of Red Dwarf", outtakes, deleted scenes, a Doug Naylor interview, model shots, and the full, unexpurgated "Tongue Tied" music video. As with the first set, the animated menus are great fun and the "Play All" facility is the most useful little flashing button ever created. —Mark Walker
Red Dwarf: Series 3
Ed Bye The third series of Red Dwarfintroduced some radical changes—all of them for the better—but the scripts remained as sharp and character-focussed as ever, making this a firm candidate for the show's best year. Gone were the dull metallic grey sets and costumes, gone too was Norman Lovett's lugubrious Holly, replaced now by comedienne Hattie Hayridge, who had previously played Hilly in the Series 2 episode "Parallel Universe". New this year were custom-made costumes, more elaborate sets, the zippy pea-green Starbug, bigger special effects and the wholly admirable Robert Llewellyn as Kryten.

The benefits of the show's changes are apparent from the outset, with the mind-bending hilarity of "Backwards", in which Kryten and Rimmer establish themselves as a forwards-talking double-act on a reverse Earth. After a modest two-hander that sees Rimmer and Lister "Marooned", comes one of the Dwarf's most beloved episodes, "Polymorph". Here is the ensemble working at its best, as each character unwittingly has their strongest emotion sucked out of them. Lister loses his fear; Cat his vanity; Kryten his reserve; and Rimmer his anger ("Chameleonic Life-Forms. No Thanks"). "Body Swap" sees Lister and Rimmer involved in a bizarre attempt to prevent the ship from self-destructing. "Timeslides" delves deep into Rimmer's psyche as the boys journey haphazardly through history. Finally, "The Last Day" shows how completely Kryten has been adopted as a crewmember, when his replacement Hudzen unexpectedly shows up.

On the DVD:Red Dwarf, Series 3two-disc set maintains the high standard of presentation and wealth of extra material established by its predecessors. Among other delights there are the usual "Smeg Ups" and deleted scenes, plus another fun commentary with the cast. There's a lengthy documentary, "All Change", specifically about Series 3, a tribute to costume designer Mel Bibby, Hattie Hayridge's convention video diary, and—most fascinating—the opportunity to watch "Backwards" played forwards, so you can finally understand what Arthur Smith's backwards-talking pub manager actually says to Rimmer and Kryten in the dressing room. —Mark Walker
Red Dwarf: Series 4
Ed Bye By the end of this fourth year, Red Dwarfhad completed its metamorphosis from a modest studio-bound sitcom with a futuristic premise to a full-blown science-fiction series, complete with a relatively lavish (by BBC standards) special-effects budget, more impressive sets and more location shooting. Despite the heavier emphasis on SF, the character-based comedy remained as sharp as ever. Witness the Cat's reaction to Lister's pus-filled exploding head; Kryten's devastatingly sarcastic defence of Rimmer; or, the classic scene that opens the series, Lister teaching Kryten to lie.

In "Camille", Robert Llewellyn's real-life wife plays a female mechanoid who transforms into something else entirely, as does the episode, which by the end becomes a delightful skit on Casablanca. "DNA" comes over all SF, with lots of techno-speak about a matter transmogrifier and a RoboCophomage—but in typical Dwarffashion, turns out to be all about curry. "Justice" sees Rimmer on trial for the murder of the entire crew, while Lister attempts to evade a psychotic cyborg. Holly gets her IQ back in "White Hole", but wastes time debating bread products with the toaster. "Dimension Jump" introduces dashing doppelganger Ace Rimmer for the first time—he was to return in later series, with diminishingly funny results. Here his appearance is all the better for its apparent improbability. Finally, "Meltdown" goes on location (to a park in North London) where waxdroids of historical characters (played by a miscellaneous selection of cheesy lookalikes) are at war. Only intermittently successful, this episode is really memorable for Chris Barrie's tour-de-force performance, as Rimmer becomes a crazed, Patton-esque general.

On the DVD:Red Dwarf, Series 4, like its predecessors, comes as a two-disc set complete with full cast commentary for every episode, an extensive retrospective documentary (mostly featuring the cast reminiscing), deleted scenes and lots of other fun bits of trivia. —Mark Walker
The Remains Of The Day [1993]
James Ivory The Remains of the Dayis one of Merchant-Ivory's most thought-provoking films. Anthony Hopkins is a model of restraint and propriety as Stevens, the butler who "knows his place"; Emma Thompson is the animated and sympathetic Miss Kenton, the housekeeper whose attraction to Stevens is doomed to disappointment. As Nazi appeaser Lord Darlington, James Fox clings to the notion of a gentleman's agreement in the ruthless political climate before World War Two. Hugh Grant is his journalist nephew all too aware of reality, while Christopher Reeves gives a spirited portrayal of an American senator, whose purchase of Darlington Hall 20 years on sends Stevens on a journey to right the mistake he made out of loyalty. As a period drama with an ever-relevant message, this 1993 film is absorbing viewing all the way.

On the DVD:the letterbox widescreen format reproduces the 2.35:1 aspect ratio with absolute clarity. Subtitles are in French and German, with audio subtitles also in English, Italian and Spanish, and with 28 separate chapter selections. The "making-of" featurette and retrospective documentary complement each other with their "during and after" perspectives, while "Blind Loyalty, Hollow Honour" is an interesting short on the question of appeasement and war. The running commentary from Thompson, Merchant and Ivory is more of a once-only diversion. —Richard Whitehouse
Remember Me [DVD] [2010]
Robert Pattinson, Chris Cooper
Requiem For A Dream [2001]
Darren Aronofsky Fantasy mixes with the harsh reality of addiction and the desire for hope in Requiem for a Dream. Beginning at the dawn of a new summer in Coney Island, the film charts the relationship of Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) and her son Harry (Jared Leto)—two characters who are lost with in a world of the self-absorbed desire to feed their addictions at the cost of hope and love. With a sublime score (performed by the Kronos Quartet) accompanying some intense visual imagery, the film sets up an almost fairy-tale wash over the characters' lives, with every hit of their chosen drug turning them into beautiful people surrounded by a haze which enhances all their features. However, unlike films such as Trainspottingwhich turn the dream into a nightmare then end with a huge dose of hope, Requiem for a Dreamforces the viewer through all loss of hope and the descending madness of reality, as winter begins.

Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to the critically acclaimed Piis a movie which exposes not only the terror caused by addiction of any kind—be it TV or Heroin—but also offers a powerful insight into the destruction caused by the desire to achieve "the American Dream". Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr, the film sacrifices dialogue in favour of imagery and movement: the editing and cinematography are reminiscent of MTV, however the movie takes this very aggressive style and moulds it to its own needs, adding a beautifully haunting narrative and powerful performances by its four main characters (Burstyn just missing out on an Oscar for Best female lead to Julia Roberts). Ultimately the viewer is left with a sense of desperation and despair: Requiem for a Dreamexposes drugs and addiction in the most powerful and truthful way a film has ever managed, leaving no stone unturned.

On the DVD: This disc is bursting with excellent special features. The anamorphic widescreen picture makes the most of the film's stylish visuals, and the soundtrack offers choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. As well as offering the obligatory theatrical trailer, scene selection and a fantastic director's commentary, there's also a "making-of" featurette, TV trailers charting the reviews and success of the film, an "Anatomy of a scene", and a wide range of deleted scenes. By far the best feature is Hubert Selby Jr's interview with Ellen Burstyn, which offers the writer a chance to put across not just his opinions on his work but also on life as a whole. All these features are placed within an impressively formatted menu. —Nikki Disney
Reservoir Dogs (1 Disc Edition) [1991]
The Rock — Two-Disc Special Edition [1996]
Michael Bay In director Michael Bay's filmography, The Rockcame between his high-octane debut Bad Boysand 1998's Armageddon, and consolidated his dubious reputation as thepurveyor of crowd-pleasing action extravaganzas. Here, a psychotically disgruntled war hero (Ed Harris) seizes the island prison of Alcatraz and threatens to wage chemical warfare against nearby San Francisco unless the government publicly recognises the men who were killed under Harris' top-secret command. Nicolas Cage plays the biochemist who teams up with the only man ever to have escaped from Alcatraz (Sean Connery) in an attempt to foil Harris' terrorist scheme. As one might expect, what follows is an action-packed barrage of bullets, bodies and climactic confrontations, replete with enough plot contrivances to give even the most jaded action fan cause for alarm. It's a load of hooey, but the cast is obviously having a grand old time, and there's enough wit to make the recycled action sequences tolerable. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

On the DVD:The Rockspecial edition two-disc set presents the movie on Disc 1 with a selection of subtitles and a cut-and-paste group commentary with director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, ex-Navy Seal Harry Humphries, Ed Harris and Nicolas Cage. The editing together of separate comments is a frustrating experience and the energy of conversation, which often enlivens a DVD commentary, is lost. Picture is anamorphic 2.35:1 and sound is vivid Dolby Digital 5.1.

The special features are contained on Disc 2. "The Production Secrets" section includes an interview with the Navy Seal adviser on set, who demonstrates the correct way to shoot your gun, and special effects secrets. "The Secrets of Alcatraz" offers a short history of the infamous prison. There's also an interview with Jerry Bruckheimer which simply demonstrates how little he has to say. Storyboards, production designs and out-takes (including a stressed Ed Harris) are also included. But nothing here really excites or informs and most of it is very Americanised, making this a special edition that doesn't seem all that special. —Nikki Disney
Rocknrolla [DVD] [2008]
Gerard Butler, Thadie Newton, Guy Ritchie The film career of Guy Ritchie has endured a few bumps in recent years, with a collection of generally forgettable films from a man clearly capable of so much more. Thank goodness then for RocknRolla, which marks a smashing return to form, as he heads once more to the criminal underworld of London.

This time, Ritchie is playing far closer to the likes of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and while RocknRolla may see the director playing on safer ground than of late, it doesn’t take long for the decision to be vindicated. The plot surrounds a real-estate job with millions at stake, and it gives ample excuse to unleash a collection of raw gangsters and tough guys into the mix, who each fancy a bit of the action.

Thus, RocknRolla brings together Gerard Butler’s Scottish gangster, Tom Wilkinson’s London crime lord, Toby Kebbell’s drug-addicted musician and the likes of Thandie Newton, Mark Strong and Jeremy Piven too. And Ritchie’s cast serve him really well, making ample mileage out of the lines they’re given.

Granted, all of this is hardly fresh territory for the director, but RocknRolla is nonetheless funny, action-packed and a good British mob film to while away an evening with. Welcome back, Mr Ritchie… —Jon Foster
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Jim Sharman If a musical sci-fi satire about an alien transvestite named Frank-n-Furter, who is building the perfect man while playing sexual games with his virginal visitors, sounds like an intriguing premise for a movie, then you're in for a treat. Not only is The Rocky Horror Picture Showall this and more, but it stars the surprising cast of Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick (as the demure Janet and uptight Brad, who get lost in a storm and find themselves stranded at Frank-n-Furter's mansion), Meat Loaf (as the rebel Eddie), Charles Gray (as our criminologist and narrator) and, of course, the inimitable Tim Curry as our "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania".

Upon its release in 1975, the film was an astounding flop. But a few devotees persuaded a New York cinema to show it at midnight, and thus was born one of the ultimate cult films of all time. The songs are addictive (just try getting "The Time Warp" or "Toucha Toucha Touch Me" out of your head), the raunchiness amusing and the plot line utterly ridiculous—in other words, this film is simply tremendous good fun. The downfall, however, is that much of the amusement is found in the audience participation that is obviously missing from a video version (viewers in cinemas shout lines at the screen and use props—such as holding up newspapers and shooting water guns during the storm and throwing rice during a wedding scene). Watched alone as a straight movie, Rocky Horrorloses a tremendous amount of its charm. Yet, for those who wish to perfect their lip-synching techniques for movie cinema performances or for those who want to gather a crowd around the TV at home for some good, old-fashioned, rowdy fun, this film can't be beat. —Jenny Brown
Roman Holiday [DVD] [1953]
Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, William Wyler The three-way combination of ingénue Audrey Hepburn, admirable Gregory Peck and the Eternal City itself guarantees that Roman Holiday (1953) still knocks the socks off any modern rom-com you might care to name. Add to this stellar triumvirate the meticulous, loving direction of William Wyler and a warm-hearted original story by Dalton Trumbo (blacklisted and uncredited at the time) and the result is assuredly one of Hollywood's timeless classics.

At the leading man's own suggestion, newcomer Hepburn was generously accorded equal above-the-title billing with Peck: he knew that the film belonged to her anyway and wasn't one to stand on ceremony. As the princess who chafes at stuffy responsibility Hepburn's appealing girlishness is suffused with a will and wilfulness that rubs delightfully against Peck's more earnest mannerisms (even playing light-hearted comedy, he's still Atticus Finch at heart). The then-unusual decision to shoot entirely on location provides the movie with its glorious travelogue backdrop, and stalwart character-actor Eddie Albert is a fine foil for the two leads. Although Wyler is best known now for the grander vistas of The Big Country and Ben-Hur, none of his epics have as much heart as this.

On the DVD: Roman Holiday comes to DVD in a good digitally restored print—in itself a powerful reason to acquire the movie on disc. Sound is clean Dolby mono. Extras include a brief piece on the film restoration process, and a short documentary about costume designer Edith Head, which isn't specifically about this movie. The 25-minute making-of featurette has recent and archive interviews with cast members, including Peck and Eddie Albert, as well as William Wyler's daughter, plus Hepburn's screen test footage. Still-photo galleries and trailers complete a pleasant selection. —Mark Walker
Romeo And Juliet [1996]
Baz Luhrmann While perhaps not the defining moment in the making of Leonardo DiCaprio's career, his appearance in this dazzling take on William Shakepeare's Romeo & Julietback in 1996 did the careers of both Clare Danes and himself no harm at all. Perhaps the real star of the show here though is director Baz Luhrmann, who employs a frenetic, at times downright-brilliant style to the age-old tale of tale of star-crossed lovers. Luhrmann would go on to make Moulin Rougea few years' later.

From the off, his take on Romeo & Julietexplodes unpredictably onto the screen, bubbling with vision and originality, accompanied throughout by an excellent score and soundtrack that rightly spawned two spin-off CDs. There are sacrifices made along the way to support Luhrmann's vision though, with the text being stripped down to leave the core of the story in tact, and that's just one of a number of complaints that Shakespeare purists may have.

And yet, perhaps more than any other attempt to bring the work of the Bard to the screen of late, this is an extremely accessible entry-point to Shakepeare's work. That it's also by turns breathtaking, dazzling and a sheer joy to watch doesn't harm its cause either. The two leads are charming, the support cast backs them up superbly, and the end result is one of the most interesting visual treats that Hollywood mustered up throughout the 1990s.—Simon Brew
Romy And Michele's High School Reunion [1997]
Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino play ditzy best friends who decide to attend their 10-year high school reunion, but they completely make over their styles and identities first in order to impress the people who tormented them. The two stars keep Romy and Michele's High School Reuniongoing despite various lapses and potholes in David Mirkin's direction and despite a sneaking sense that the idea can't sustain the length of an entire feature. A midsection dream sequence underscores the latter problem through blatant padding, but Sorvino and Kudrow—both of whom became established stars playing airheads on other projects—are worth the weaknesses. —Tom Keogh
The Royal Tenenbaums [2002]
Wes Anderson Wes Anderson's satirical yet tender tragicomedy The Royal Tenenbaumsis a defiantly offbeat movie, but its sheer originality makes it a winner. As Philip Larkin famously said, "They fuck you up, your mum and dad". Well, it's Dad, the opulently named Royal Tenenbaum himself (Gene Hackman in twinkly mode), who gets all the blame here. The precocious achievements of the Tenenbaum offspring are amusingly documented: teen tycoon Chas (a perpetually snarly Ben Stiller), tennis star Richie (Luke Wilson, alienation personified in his Björn Borg get-up) and Margot—adopted and never allowed to forget it—a prize-winning playwright by ninth grade (Gwyneth Paltrow lurking under a ton of eyeliner and a sulky pout). Then there's Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), the kid from over the road who always wanted to be a Tenenbaum and nowadays makes his living writing trashy but successful Westerns.

After two decades of going their own way, to unfailingly disastrous effect, the Tenenbaums find themselves reunited in their old house, as idiosyncratic and illogical a place as the family itself, with Etheline Tenenbaum (touchingly played by Anjelica Huston) about to marry her accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). The action loops forward and backward, with the background detail on each character beautifully rounded out by narrator Alec Baldwin. This, and the device of dividing the film into chapters, gives it the feel of a fairy story, and like the best in the genre, it has a satisfying, if not entirely happy, resolution.

On the DVD:The Royal Tenenbaumscomes with extra features that really do add to the enjoyment of the film. These range from the whimsical (a gallery of all the fictitious book and magazine covers that involve the Tenenbaum family and a slide show of behind-the-scenes photos by set-photographer James Hamilton) to the enlightening (a 26-minute film about writer/director Wes Anderson, his ideas behind the movie and an insight into his way of working, which is illuminating particularly for the sheer detail of his vision—if he's a control freak, he comes across as a nice control freak). There are also brief interviews with the main players, excerpts from Anderson's annotated script pages and background details on the artwork that appears in the film by Miguel Calderon and Eric Chase Anderson (brother of Wes). Less than two minutes of deleted scenes is hardly exciting, though the offbeat humour of the "Peter Bradley Show" is a distinct plus. —Harriet Smith
Run Lola Run [1999]
It's difficult to create a film that's fast paced, exciting and aesthetically appealing without diluting its dialogue. Run Lola Run, directed and written by Tom Tykwer, is an enchanting balance of pace and narrative, creating a universal parable that leaps over cultural barriers. This is the story of young Lola (Franka Potente) and her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). In the space of 20 minutes, they must come up with 100,000 deutsche marks to pay back a seedy gangster, who will be less than forgiving when he finds out that Manni incompetently lost his cash to an opportunistic vagrant. Lola, confronted with one obstacle after another, rides an emotional roller coaster in her high-speed efforts to help the hapless Manni—attempting to extract the cash first from her double-dealing father (appropriately a bank manager), and then by any means necessary. From this point nothing goes right for either protagonist, but just when you think you've figured out the movie, the director introduces a series of brilliant existential twists that boggle the mind. Tykwer uses rapid camera movements and innovative pauses to explore the theme of cause and effect. Accompanied by a pulse-pounding soundtrack, we follow Lola through every turn and every heartbreak as she and Manni rush forward on a collision course with fate. There were a variety of original and intelligent films released in 1999, but perhaps none were as witty and clever as this little gem—one of the best foreign films of the year. —Jeremy Storey, Amazon.com
Run, Fat Boy, Run [2007]
Simon Pegg is clearly, right now, someone who can do little wrong at the box office. Run Fatboy Runfollows hot on the heels of Hot Fuzz, and again finds its star delivering a quality comedy turn, in a film that boasts a good few laughs too.

Directed by Friendsstar David Schwimmer, Run Fatboy Runcasts Pegg as a security guard fed up of being outrun by the people he's supposed to catch. He's also determined to try and prove to his ex-fiancee (Thandie Newton) that he's a changed man, and thus decides to take on the London Marathon, where he'll be up against the new man in her life (Hank Azaria).

Pegg is on good form in Run Fatboy Run, and genuinely delivers a character you want to root for. Yet it's the supporting players who walk off with the plaudits too. Dylan Moran in particular is in great form, as is Harish Patel, while the likes of Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria and David Walliams also turn in good work.

Cleverly knowing not to outstay its welcome, and only occasionally stuttering under the weight of some laboured work behind the camera from Schwimmer, Run Fatboy Runis an easy, quite funny and light on the brain comedy, that helps cement Pegg's growing status as a quality leading actor. Worth checking out. —Jon Foster
Saint The - Dvd [1997]
Phillip Noyce Lightly enjoyable but a disappointment in the context of author Leslie Charteris's popular character, the Saint—who has been played by several actors, most notably George Sanders—this 1997 film is more in keeping with the requirements of high-octane contemporary action than it is the requirements of a particular legacy. Val Kilmer plays Simon Templar, the mercenary spy, who is hired to steal a fusion formula but falls in love with the scientist (Elisabeth Shue) who cooked it up. Kilmer's portrayal bears little resemblance to Charteris's rakish hero, and the film itself becomes increasingly improbable and ponderous the longer it goes on. —Tom Keogh
Save The Last Dance Dvd [2001]
Thomas Carter (II) Save the Last Dance enjoyed a profitable release in early 2001, with box-office earnings that exceeded anyone's expectations. Its performance illustrates the staying power of a formulaic film that avoids the pitfalls and clichés that would otherwise render it forgettable. Since there's nothing new here, you'll appreciate the original quirks in a character-based plot that's just around the corner from Flashdance, and just as familiar. Sara (Julia Stiles) gave up a promising ballet career when her mother was killed while rushing to attend her daughter's crucial audition to Juilliard; Sara blames herself for the accident, and at her new, mostly African-American high school in Chicago, she's uncertain of her future.

Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) has no such doubts; his own future is bright, and his attraction to Sara is immediate; they connect (predictably), and Sara's dormant funk emerges, with Derek's coaching, as she learns hip-hop dancing in a local club. Obligatory subplots are equally routine: Derek's sister (Kerry Washington) is a single mom struggling with her child's absentee father; Derek's best friend (Fredro Starr) feels trapped in his gangster lifestyle; and Sara's once-estranged father (Terry Kinney) is doing his best to correct past mistakes. Within the confines of this standard follow-your-dream drama, director Thomas Carter capitalises on a script that allows these characters to be real, intelligent, and thoughtful about their lives and their futures. It's obvious that Stiles's dancing was intercut with that of a professional double, but that illusion hardly matters when the rest of the film's so earnestly positive and genuine. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
A Scanner Darkly [2006]
Richard Linklater How well you respond to Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darklydepends on how much you know about the life and work of celebrated science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. While it qualifies as a faithful adaptation of Dick's semiautobiographical 1977 novel about the perils of drug abuse, Big Brother-like surveillance and rampant paranoia in a very near future ("seven years from now"), this is still very much a Linklater film, and those two qualities don't always connect effectively.

The creepy potency of Dick's premise remains: The drug war's been lost, citizens are kept under rigid surveillance by holographic scanning recorders, and a schizoid addict named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is facing an identity crisis he's not even aware of: Due to his voluminous intake of the highly addictive psychotropic drug Substance D, Arctor's brain has been split in two, each hemisphere functioning separately. So he doesn't know that he's also Agent Fred, an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate Arctor's circle of friends (played by Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, and Robert Downey, Jr.) to track down the secret source of Substance D. As he wears a "scramble suit" that constantly shifts identities and renders Agent Fred/Arctor into "the ultimate everyman," Dick's drug-addled antihero must come to grips with a society where, as the movie's tag-line makes clear, "everything is not going to be OK."

While it's virtually guaranteed to achieve some kind of cult status, A Scanner Darklylacks the paranoid intensity of Dick's novel, and Linklater's established penchant for loose and loopy dialogue doesn't always work here, with an emphasis on drug-culture humor instead of the panicked anxiety that Dick's novel conveys. As for the use of "interpolated rotoscoping"—the technique used to apply shifting, highly stylized animation over conventional live-action footage—it's purely a matter of personal preference. The film's look is appropriate to Dick's dark, cautionary story about the high price of addiction, but it also robs performances of nuance and turns the seriousness of Dick's story into... well, a cartoon. Opinions will differ, but A Scanner Darklyis definitely worth a look—or two, if the mind-rattling plot doesn't sink in the first time around. —Jeff Shannon
Scarface (2 Disc Special Edition) [1983]
Brian De Palma Brian De Palma's update of the classic 1932 crime drama by Howard Hawks, Scarfaceis a sprawling epic of bloodshed and excess that sparked controversy over its outrageous violence when released in 1983. It's a wretched, fascinating car wreck of a movie, starring Al Pacino as a Cuban refugee who rises to the top of Miami's cocaine-driven underworld, only to fall hard into his own deadly trap of addiction and inevitable assassination. Scripted by Oliver Stone and running nearly three hours, it's the kind of film that can simultaneously disgust and amaze you (critic Pauline Kael wrote "this may be the only action picture that turns into an allegory of impotence"), with vivid supporting roles for Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Robert Loggia. —Jeff Shannon
Scent Of A Woman [1993]
Martin Brest Hoo-ah! After seven Oscar nominations for his outstanding work in films such as The Godfather, Serpicoand Dog Day Afternoon, it's ironic that Al Pacino finally won the Oscar for his grandstanding lead performance in this 1992 crowd pleaser. As the blind, blunt, and ultimately benevolent retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, Pacino is both hammy and compelling, simultaneously subtle and grandly over-the-top when defending his new assistant and prep school student Charlie (Chris O'Donnell) at a disciplinary hearing. While the subplot involving Charlie's prep-school crisis plays like a sequel to Dead Poets Society, Pacino's adventurous escapades in New York City provide comic relief, rich character development, and a memorable supporting role for Gabrielle Anwar as the young woman who accepts the colonel's invitation to dance the tango. Scent of a Womanis a remake of the 1972 Italian film Profumo di donna. In addition to Pacino's award, Scent of Womangarnered Oscar nominations for director Martin Brest and for screenwriter Bo Goldman. —Jeff Shannon
Se7en
David Fincher
Secretary [2002]
Serendipity [2002]
Peter Chelsom
Serenity [2005]
Serenityis a film that, by rights, shouldn't have been made. For starters, it's spun out of the short-lived and quickly-cancelled TV series Firefly, which has only itself got the full recognition it deserves on DVD. It then marries up two seemingly incompatible genres, the western and science fiction, has no major stars to speak of, and pretty much has `hard sell' written all over it.

Perhaps that explains its modest box office performance back in 2005. What it fails to reflect, however, is that this is one of the most energetic, downright enjoyable sci-fi flicks in some time. Not for nothing did many rate it higher than the Star Warsmovie that appeared in the same year.

It follows renegade captain Mal Reynolds and his quirkily assembled crew, as they work on the outskirts of space, trying to keep out of the way of the governing Alliance. That plan quickly changes when they take on a couple of passengers who have attracted the attention of said Alliance, and thus the scene is set for an action-packed, cleverly written movie that deserves many of the plaudits that have rightly been thrust in its direction.

What's more, Serenityworks whether you've seen the TV series that precedes it or not. Clearly fans of the Fireflyshow will be in their element, but even the casual viewer will find an immense amount to enjoy.

The only real problem is that given the film's box office returns, further adventures of Reynolds and his crew look unlikely. Unless Serenityturns into a major hit on DVD, that is. It's well worth playing your part in making that happen.—Simon Brew
Serenity [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres Nathan Fillion, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz, Michael Hitchcock, Sarah PaulsonDirector: Joss Whedon
Shaun of the Dead
Amazon.com

British horror/comedy Shaun of the Dead is a scream in all senses of the word. Brain-hungry zombies shamble through the streets of London, but all unambitious electronics salesman Shaun (Simon Pegg) cares about is his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who just dumped him. With the help of his slacker roommate Ed (Nick Frost), Shaun fights his way across town to rescue Liz, but the petty concerns of life keep getting in the way: When they're trying to use vinyl records to decapitate a pair of zombies, Shaun and Ed bicker about which bands deserve preservation—New Order they keep, but Sade becomes a lethal frisbee. Many zombie movies are comedies by accident, but Shaun of the Dead is deliberately and brilliantly funny, while still delivering a few delicious jolts of fear. Also featuring the stealthy comic presence of Bill Nighy (Love Actually) and some familar faces from The Office. —Bret Fetzer

From The New Yorker

It is only natural to be scared of zombies, and to prevent them from laying waste to your home. A more relaxing approach, however, is to be bored and vaguely annoyed by them, or, better still, not to notice them in the first place. This is the premise of Edgar Wright's British comedy, which may be responsible for kicking off a new and specialized genre of slacker horror. Shaun (Simon Pegg) lives a supremely uneventful life, which revolves around his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield), his mother (Penelope Wilton), and, above all, his local pub. This gentle routine is threatened when the dead return to life and make strenuous attempts to snack on ordinary Londoners. The finale, in which the pub turns into an Alamo, is the bloodiest, most orthodox, and least witty part of the movie; far sharper are the early scenes in which Shaun wanders happily to the local store along a battered, zombie-dotted street and pulps his attackers with a cricket bat. The central joke is so snappy and well sustained that you barely catch sight of the ominous vision on offer: a country that already feels like death. -Anthony Lane

Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont
She's All That [1999]
Robert Iscove
Sherlock Holmes (1 Disc) [Blu-ray] [2009][Region Free]
Robert Downey Jnr, Guy Ritchie If you’ve got too many pre-conceptions of just how a Sherlock Holmes movie should pan out, then it’s probably best that you check them in before popping this latest version in your player. Starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role and accompanied by Jude Law as Watson, this film dispenses with some of the conventions of Holmes, and instead starts turning him into something of a period action hero.

Downey Jr. is more than up to the challenge too. Early scenes in Sherlock Holmes are more Fight Club than sleuth-influenced, with the hand of director Guy Ritchie behind the camera being very clear. But the film soon settles down and starts to have some fun, with the able assistance of Mark Strong and Rachel McAdams, among the supporting cast. Yet this is Downey Jr.’s show, and he doesn’t waste the opportunity. He’s an engaging leading man at the worst of times, and he’s clearly having a ball here. What’s more, it’s immensely satisfying when his Sherlock Holmes gets down to the business of solving crimes, even though there are some really quite impressive action sequences to work through first. There are problems, of course. There’s not enough flesh on the bones of some of the characters, and the early part of the film feels very different from the latter stages. But there’s solid groundwork here for the inevitable franchise, and watching Downey Jr. reprise the role of Sherlock Holmes over the next few years should be really quite good fun too. —Jon Foster
Sherlock Holmes [DVD] [2009]
Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Guy Ritchie If you’ve got too many pre-conceptions of just how a Sherlock Holmes movie should pan out, then it’s probably best that you check them in before popping this latest version in your player. Starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role and accompanied by Jude Law as Watson, this film dispenses with some of the conventions of Holmes, and instead starts turning him into something of a period action hero.

Downey Jr. is more than up to the challenge too. Early scenes in Sherlock Holmes are more Fight Club than sleuth-influenced, with the hand of director Guy Ritchie behind the camera being very clear. But the film soon settles down and starts to have some fun, with the able assistance of Mark Strong and Rachel McAdams, among the supporting cast.

Yet this is Downey Jr.’s show, and he doesn’t waste the opportunity. He’s an engaging leading man at the worst of times, and he’s clearly having a ball here. What’s more, it’s immensely satisfying when his Sherlock Holmes gets down to the business of solving crimes, even though there are some really quite impressive action sequences to work through first.

There are problems, of course. There’s not enough flesh on the bones of some of the characters, and the early part of the film feels very different from the latter stages. But there’s solid groundwork here for the inevitable franchise, and watching Downey Jr. reprise the role of Sherlock Holmes over the next few years should be really quite good fun too. —Jon Foster
The Shining [1980]
Stanley Kubrick Stanley Kubrick's The Shiningis less an adaptation of Stephen King's best-selling horror novel than a complete re-imagining of it from the inside out. In King's book, the Overlook Hotel is a haunted place that takes possession of its off-season caretaker and provokes him to murderous rage against his wife and young son. Kubrick's film is an existential Road Runner cartoon (his steadicam scurrying through the hotel's labyrinthine hallways), in which the cavernously empty spaces inside the Overlook Hotel mirror the emptiness in the soul of the blocked writer settled in for a long winter's hibernation. As many have pointed out, King's protagonist goes mad, but Kubrick's Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is Looney Tunes from the moment we meet him—all arching eyebrows and mischievous grin. (Both Nicholson and Shelley Duvall reach new levels of hysteria in their performances, driven to extremes by the director's fanatical demand s for take after take after take.) The Shiningis terrifying—but not in the way fans of the novel might expect. When it was redone as a TV mini-series (reportedly because of King's dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film), the famous topiary-animal attack (which was deemed impossible to film in 1980) was there—but the deeper horror was lost. Kubrick's The Shininggets under your skin and chills your bones; it stays with you, inhabits you, haunts you. And there's no place to hide... —Jim Emerson, Amazon.com
Shoot 'Em Up [2007]
Michael Davis Relax, switch your brain off, stick your tongue in cheek and settle down. If you can do all of these things, then Shoot Em Upis one of the most downright fun movies you're likely to have seen in some time. Just make sure you've adhered to the aforementioned checklist to the letter first.

Shamelessly over the top, and boasting a carnival of action sequences that each seemingly try to out do the other, the core of Shoot Em Upis Paul Giamatti (Sideways) and Clive Owen (The Inside Man) pitted against each other. In the middle is some nonsense over saving a newborn child, and Monica Belluci's call girl gets put into the mix too.

That said, all plot is thrown out of the window at every opportunity in favour of more action, upping the body count and - heck, why not? - a bit more action. And you know what? Shoot Em Upworks, and it does so because everyone is in on it. This is no postmodern pretentious reworking: this is a fun, stylish action movie, and proud of it. It boasts a trimmed-to-the-wire running time, some outrageous sequences, a few bum notes but a whole lot of energy. And while it is, all considered, an excitable action movie and nothing more, Shoot Em Upis also uproarious entertainment, and the kind of film that Friday night was invented for. —Jon Foster
Shooter [2007]
A movie that would not have been out of place in the run of paranoid-political thrillers of the 1970s, Shooterworks an entertaining variation on the assassination picture. Mark Wahlberg, carrying over good mojo from The Departed, slides neatly into the character of Bob Lee Swagger, master marksman. Swagger has retreated from his duty as an off-the-books hired gun for the military, having become disillusioned with his government (switching on his TV at his remote mountain cabin, he mutters, "Let's see what kind of lies they're trying to sell us today."). Ah, but the government needs Swagger to scope out the location of a rumored attempt on the life of the president, so a shadowy government operative (Danny Glover) begs Swagger to use his sniper's skills to out-fox the assassin. From there—well, spoilers are not fair, since the movie has a few legitimate shocks and a very nice wrong-man scenario about to unfold.

A novel by the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Stephen Hunter gives the movie a logical spine, even if the premise itself is the stuff of conspiracy theorists. Wahlberg gets support from Michael Pena, as a skeptical FBI agent; Kate Mara, as a trustworthy widow; and Ned Beatty, trailing along memories of Network, as a supremely cynical Senator. Along with the well-executed action sequences (the previously unreliable director Antoine Fuqua gets it in gear here), the movie includes a few potshots at the Bush administration. No, that doesn't put Shooterat the level of The Parallax Viewor All the President's Men, but it provides some tang along with the flying bullets. —Robert Horton
Shopgirl [2005]
Anand Tucker Based on the novella by Steve Martin (who also pens the screenplay), Shopgirl centres on Mirabelle Buttersfield (played by Claire Danes), a lonely young woman working in the glove department of a vast department store. Working by day and occasionally spending time on her art at night, Mirabelle craves company, and that leads her to accept an offer of a date from Jeremy, a manic and slob-like character, and not one who's instantly particularly likeable. And then the very wealthy Ray Porter (Martin) comes on the scene. He too asks Mirabelle out, and the rest of the film follows her relationship with the two men who are effectively fighting for her affections.

In lesser hands, Shopgirl could easily sink under a wave of clichés, yet Martin's script never lets that happen. Mixing in a gamut of emotions, and charting the highs and lows of romance, there's a searing honesty to it all that makes the film hard to resist. Martin and Danes both give excellent performances too, although Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy does have a tendency to overcook his part in what's primarily a quiet, diligent film. Yet without resorting to big grandstand moments or contrived situations, Shopgirl manages, with little fuss, to tell an intriguing story in a very warm manner.—Simon Brew
Shrek 2
Conrad Vernon, Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury The lovably ugly green ogre returns with his green bride and furry, hooved friend in Shrek 2. The newlywed Shrek and Princess Fiona are invited to Fiona's former kingdom, Far Far Away, to have the marriage blessed by Fiona's parents—which Shrek thinks is a bad, bad idea, and he's proved right: the parents are horrified by their daughter's transformation into an ogress, a fairy godmother wants her son Prince Charming to win Fiona, and a feline assassin is hired to get Shrek out of the way. The computer animation is more detailed than ever, but it's the acting that make the comedy work—in addition to the return of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz, Shrek 2 features the flexible voices of Julie Andrews, John Cleese and Antonio Banderas, plus Jennifer Saunders as the gleefully wicked fairy godmother. —Bret Fetzer
Shrek [2001]
Andrew Adamson Full of verve and wit Shrek is a computer-animated adaptation of William Steig's delightfully fractured fairy tale. Our title character (voiced by Mike Myers) is an agreeable enough ogre who wants to live his days in peace. When the diminutive Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) evicts local fairy tale creatures (including the now-famous Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and the Gingerbread Man), they settle in the ogre's swamp and Shrek wants answers from Farquaad. A quest of sorts starts for Shrek and his new pal, a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy), where battles have to be won and a princess (Cameron Diaz) must be rescued from a dragon lair in a thrilling action sequence. The story is stronger than most animated fare but it's the jokes that make Shrek a winner. The PG rating is stretched when Murphy and Myers hit their strides. The mild potty humour is fun enough for the 10-year-old but will never embarrass their parents. Shrek is never as warm and inspired as the Toy Story films, but the realistic computer animation and a rollicking soundtrack keeps the entertainment in fine form. Produced by DreamWorks, the film also takes several delicious stabs at its cross-town rival, Disney. —Doug Thomas, Amazon.com

On the DVD: DVD could have been invented to showcase Shrek's stunning computer animation—admirably served here by 16:9 anamorphic widescreen presentation—while the exuberant soundtrack comes alive in 5.1 Dolby Digital.

There are plenty of extras to choose from on this DVD, from The Tech of Shrek and fake Character Interviews to the amusing Swamp Karaoke Dance Party featuring the whole cast. However, none of these features have much depth, nor do they last long and it would be easy to feel slightly disappointed—were it not for the excellent Shrek's ReVoice Studio. This first-of-its-kind feature requires a computer running Microsoft Windows 98SE or higher, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher, an Internet connection and a DVD-ROM drive. However, once the DVD-ROM is up and running, the instructions could not be clearer and within minutes the whole family will be dubbing their voices over favourite characters and scenes—rendering the other extras almost irrelevant.—Helen Baker
Silence Of The Lambs [1991]
Jonathan Demme
Sin City [2005]
Frank Miller Robert Rodriguez Brutal and breathtaking, Sin Cityis Robert Rodriguez's stunningly realized vision of Frank Miller's pulpy comic books. In the first of three separate but loosely related stories, Marv (Mickey Rourke in heavy makeup) tries to track down the killers of a woman who ended up dead in his bed. In the second story, Dwight's (Clive Owen) attempt to defend a woman from a brutal abuser goes horribly wrong, and threatens to destroy the uneasy truce among the police, the mob, and the women of Old Town. Finally, an aging cop on his last day on the job (Bruce Willis) rescues a young girl from a kidnapper, but is himself thrown in jail. Years later, he has a chance to save her again.

Based on three of Miller's immensely popular and immensely gritty books (The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard), Sin Cityis unquestionably the most faithful comic-book-based movie ever made. Each shot looks like a panel from its source material, and director Rodriguez (who refers to it as a "translation" rather than an adaptation) resigned from the Directors Guild so that Miller could share a directing credit. Like the books, it's almost entirely in stark black and white with some occasional bursts of color (a woman's red lips, a villain's yellow face). The backgrounds are entirely digitally generated, yet not self-consciously so, and perfectly capture Miller's gritty cityscape. And though most of Miller's copious nudity is absent, the violence is unrelentingly present. That may be the biggest obstacle to viewers who aren't already fans of the books and who may have been turned off by Kill Bill(whose director, Quentin Tarantino, helmed one scene of Sin City). In addition, it's a bleak, desperate world in which the heroes are killers, corruption rules, and the women are almost all prostitutes or strippers. But Miller's stories are riveting, and the huge cast—which also includes Jessica Alba, Jaime King, Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Nick Stahl, Michael Clarke Duncan, Devin Aoki, Carla Gugino, and Josh Hartnett—is just about perfect. (Only Bruce Willis and Michael Madsen, while very well-suited to their roles, seem hard to separate from their established screen personas.) In what Rodriguez hopes is the first of a series, Sin Cityis a spectacular achievement. —David Horiuchi, Amazon.com
A Single Man [DVD] [2009]
Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Tom Ford
The Sixth Sense [1999] (REGION 1) (NTSC)
Sleepy Hollow [2000]
The secret to "getting" Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollowis appreciating that it's the film he's wanted to make his whole life. After the intimately expressive Edward Scissorhands, this is his most personal venture. Burton's Gothic style—apparent through all his work—stems from a childhood misspent watching the horror movies of Roger Corman, Hammer studios, and anything featuring his idol Vincent Price. For Sleepy HollowBurton surrounded himself with his usual collaborators and friends; the production was almost entirely shot on location outside London to reunite him with key members of the crew he'd used a decade earlier in Batman, and also to capture the atmosphere of Hammer horror on its own turf.

Johnny Depp's Constable Ichabod Crane warmly emulates the mannerisms and enunciation of Peter Cushing. In a prologue scene Burton plays out a long-held fantasy by pitting Depp against Christopher Lee. And it is fantasy that categorises the film throughout, from the mythical fireside telling of the Hessian Horseman's origin (a mesmerising Christopher Walken), to the bright spots of colour saturating Crane's childhood dreams (featuring Burton's real-life love Lisa Marie). These moments literally shine out amid a meticulously crafted look for the film, which underwent a bleaching process to tone things down to an almost monochrome hue. The Scooby Doo-like whodunnit plot, concerning family lineage and petty vengeance, is naturally secondary to what Burton is aiming to achieve through photography and performance, which includes expressive cameos from Michael Gambon, Michael Gough, Jeffrey Jones, and Iain McDiarmid. Yet despite all these subtleties, it's also his best action movie: the swordplay betters anything from his earlier work, while the windmill escape and subsequent coach chase is truly breathtaking in choreography and execution. If you find a cheesy grin on your face for most of the film, you've "got" it. If not, see Hammer's Draculaat once! —Paul Tonks
Sliding Doors Dvd [1998]
Peter Howitt Nice concept, shaky execution—that about sums up the mixed blessings of British actor Peter Howitt's intelligent but forgivably flawed debut as a writer-director. It's got more emotional depth than most frothy romantic comedies and its central idea—the parallel tracking of two possible destinies for a young London professional played by Gwyneth Paltrow—is full of involving possibilities. It's essentially a what-if scenario with Helen (Paltrow) at the centre of two slightly but significantly different romantic trajectories, one involving her two-timing boyfriend (John Lynch)and the other with an amiable chap (John Hannah) who represents a happier outcome. That's the film's basic problem, however: the two scenarios are so romantically unbalanced (one guy's a total cad, the other charmingly sincere) that Helen inadvertently comes off looking foolish and needlessly confused. Still, this remains a pleasant experiment and Howitt's dialogue is witty enough to keep things entertaining. It's also a treat for Paltrow fans; not only does the svelte actress handle a British accent without embarrassing herself but she gets to play two subtle variations of the same character, sporting different wardrobes and hairstyles in a role that plays into her glamorous off-screen persona. —Jeff Shannon
Smokin' Aces [2006]
Snatch - Two Disc Set [2000]
Guy Ritchie Snatch, the follow-up to the Guy Ritchie's breakthrough film—the high-energy, expletive-strewn cockney-gangster movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels—hardly breaks new ground being, well, anotherhigh-energy, expletive-strewn cockney-gangster movie. Okay, so there are some differences. This time around our low-rent hoodlums are battling over dodgy fights and stolen diamonds rather than dodgy card games and stolen drugs. There has been some minor reshuffling of the cast too with Sting and Dexter Fletcher making way for the more bankable Benicio Del Toro and Brad Pitt, the latter pretty much stealing the whole shebang as an incomprehensible Irish gypsy.

Moreover, no one can complain about the amount of extras featured on this DVD that includes 15 minutes of deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, trailer, storyboards, production notes and commentary from Ritchie himself. And, sure, people who really, really liked Lock, Stock—or have the memory of a goldfish—will really, really like this. The suspicion lingers, however, that if the director doesn't do something very different next time around then his career may prove to be considerably shorter than that of 'er indoors. —Clark Collis
The Social Network (2-Disc Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray] [2010][Region Free]
Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, David Fincher Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones, Malese JowDirector: David Fincher
Spaced - Definitive Collectors' Edition
Edgar Wright Spaced is a sitcom like no other. The premise is simple enough: Daisy (Jessica Stevenson) and Tim (Simon Pegg) are out of luck and love, so pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat together. Downstairs neighbour and eccentric painter Brian suspects someone's fibbing, and almost blows their cover with their lecherous lush of a landlady, Marsha. Fortunately he soon falls for Daisy's health-freak friend Twist, while Daisy herself goes ga-ga for pet dog Colin. Tim remains happily platonic with lifemate Mike; a sweet-at-heart guns 'n' ammo obsessive. The series is chock-full of pop culture references. In fact, each episode is themed after at least one movie, with nods to The Shining and Close Encounters of the Third Kind proving especially hilarious. Hardly five minutes goes by without a Star Wars reference, and every second of screen time from Bill Bailey as owner of the comic shop where Tim works is comedic gold. The look of the series is its other outstanding element, with slam-zooms, dizzying montages, and inspired lighting effects (often paying homage to the Evil Dead movies). It's an affectionate fantasy on the life of the twenty-something that's uncomfortably close to the truth.

The second series finds the gang at 23 Meteor Street a little older, but definitely none the wiser. Tim's career is hampered by severe hang-ups over The Phantom Menace. Daisy's career is just plain non-existent. There is still a spark of sexual tension between them, but it's overshadowed by Brian and Twist getting it on. Propelling the seven-episode series arc is the threat of Marsha discovering that none of the relationships are what they seem, Mike's increasing jealousy and a new love interest for Tim. That's the basis for a never-ending stream of in-jokes and references that easily match the quality of the first series. Tim has a Return of the Jedi flashback, then déjà vu in reliving the end of The Empire Strikes Back. There are spoofs of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Robocop, The Sixth Sense and comedy rival The Royle Family. There are guest spots from Bill Bailey, Peter (voice of Darth Maul) Serafinowicz and The League of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith. Every episode is packed with highlights, but this series' guaranteed geek pant-wetting moments have to be the mock gun battles, slagging off Babylon 5 and learning that "The second rule of Robot Club is: no smoking." Jessica Stevenson won a British Comedy Award for this year. It deserved a whole lot more. —Paul Tonks
Spanglish [2004]
James L. Brooks Anyone familiar with writer/director James L. Brooks (Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets) knows the man has a real feel for interesting women and a disarming way with a one-liner. The main women in Spanglish are Deborah Clasky (Téa Leoni), a moneyed SoCal mom, and non-English speaking Flor Moreno (Paz Vega), the beautiful Latina whom Deborah hires as a housekeeper. The one-liners, some of them amusing, are everywhere. Brooks provides an intriguing set-up for the two women to butt heads—Deborah's pudgy daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) needs the affection at which Flor excels, while Flor's clever, bi-lingual daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) is enamoured of the financial advantages Deborah can provide—then proceeds to make Deborah so hatefully ignorant you can't imagine why her neuroses are the main thrust of the film. And Deborah's celebrated chef husband John (Adam Sandler, way over his head) is such a perfect parent he doesn't seem human—what happened to the Brooks who had Terms of Endearment mom Debra Winger turn to her scowling little boy and grunt "Don't make me hit you in the street"? Cloris Leachman has a nifty supporting role as Deborah's boozy, ex-jazz singer mother, but it's only one offbeat chord in an earnest film that hits all the wrong notes. —Steve Wiecking, Amazon.com
Speed
Everything clicked in this 1994 action hit, from the premise (a city bus has to keep moving at 50 mph or blow up) to the two leads (the usually inscrutable Keanu Reeves and the cute-as-a-button Sandra Bullock) to the villain (Dennis Hopper in psycho mode) to the director (Jan De Bont, who made this film hit the ground running with an edge-of-your-seat opening sequence on a broken elevator). This is the sort of movie that becomes a prototype for a thousand lesser films (including De Bont's lousy sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control), but Speedreally is a one-of-a-kind experience almost anyone can enjoy. —Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Speed [Blu-ray]
Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff DanielsDirector: Jan De Bont
Speed Racer [DVD] [2008]
Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski An over-the-top, sensory overload experience determined to replicate its frantic, television-anime origins, Speed Racer is wild enough to induce a headache or wow a viewer with one dazzling effect after another. Adapted for the big screen as a live-action feature, Speed Racer is written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, the sibling team behind the intensely satisfying The Matrix and its busier, less interesting sequels. Where the rich myth-making of The Matrix was entirely accessible, however, Speed Racer's overwhelming and gratuitously complicated story exposition is an enormous challenge to follow, let alone embrace. After a while, one simply surrenders to the unbroken din of dialogue concerning corporate chicanery, corruption in the sport of racing, and a value conflict between racing as a family business versus multinational cash cow. At the same time, the film's hyper-real equivalent of the old Speed Racer cartoon's great whoosh of color, motion, and edgy production design—such as inventive uses of scene-changing wipes, bold framing, shifting perspectives—are more overbearing than fun.

Emile Hirsch plays Speed Racer, younger brother of a deceased racing legend, Rex, and son of car designer Pops (John Goodman). The latter invented Speed's Mach 5, and is singularly unimpressed by an offer from a giant conglomerate that would lock Speed into exclusive racing services. Speed opts instead for family loyalty, incurring the wrath of the conglomerate's unctuous head (Roger Allam). With family honor on the line and the affections of girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) behind him, Speed hits the track in hopes of fulfilling his destiny as a master racer. The cast is largely enjoyable, including Susan Sarandon as Speed's mom, Matthew Fox as mysterious Racer X, and a pair of chimps as the irrepressible Chim-Chim. All well and good, but in a movie that lives or dies by the excitement level of races that look like computer-animated Hot Wheels action, Speed Racer is a dreary adventure. —Tom Keogh
Spider-Man 2 [2004]
More than a few critics hailed Spider-Man 2as "the best superhero movie ever," and there's no compelling reason to argue—thanks to a bigger budget, better special effects, and a dynamic, character-driven plot, it's a notch above Spider-Manin terms of emotional depth and rich comic-book sensibility. Ordinary PeopleOscar-winner Alvin Sargent received screenplay credit, and celebrated author and comic-book expert Michael Chabon worked on the story, but it's director Sam Raimi's affinity for the material that brings Spidey 2to vivid life. When a fusion experiment goes terribly wrong, a brilliant physicist (Alfred Molina) is turned into Spidey's newest nemesis, the deranged, mechanically tentacled "Doctor Octopus," obsessed with completing his experiment and killing Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) in the process. Even more compelling is Peter Parker's urgent dilemma: continue his burdensome, lonely life of crime-fighting as Spider-Man, or pursue love and happiness with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst)? Molina's outstanding as a tragic villain controlled by his own invention, and the action sequences are nothing less than breathtaking, but the real success of Spider-Man 2is its sense of priorities. With all of Hollywood's biggest and best toys at his disposal, Raimi and his writers stay true to the Marvel mythology, honouring Spider-Mancreators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and setting the bar impressively high for the challenge of Spider-Man 3. —Jeff Shannon
Spider-Man 3 (2-Disc Edition) [2007]
Sam Raimi How does Spider-Man 3follow on the heels of its predecessor, which was widely considered the best superhero movie ever? For starters, you pick up the loose threads from that movie, then add some key elements of the Spideycomic-book mythos (including fan-favorite villain Venom), the black costume, and the characters of Gwen Stacy and her police-captain father. In the beginning, things have never looked better for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire): He's doing well in school; his alter ego, Spider-Man, is loved and respected around New York City. And his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), has just taken a starring role in a Broadway musical. But nothing good can last for Spidey. Mary Jane's career quickly goes downhill; she's bothered by Peter's attractive new classmate, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard); and the new Daily Buglephotographer, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), is trying to steal his thunder. Enter a new villain, the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), who can transform his body into various forms and shapes of sand and who may be connected to Peter's past in an unexpected way. There's also the son of an old villain, Harry Osborne (James Franco), who unmasked Spidey in the previous movie and still has revenge on his mind. And a new black costume seems to boost Spidey's powers, but transforms mild-mannered Peter into a mean and obnoxious boor (Maguire has some fun here).

If that sounds like a lot to pack into one 140-minute movie, it is. While director Sam Raimi keeps things flowing, assisted on the screenplay by his brother Ivan and Alvin Sargent, there's a little too much going on, and it's inevitable that one of the villains (there are three or four, depending on how you count) gets significantly short-changed. Still, the cast is excellent, the effects are fantastic, and the action is fast and furious. Even if Spider-Man 3isn't the match of Spider-Man 2, it's a worthy addition to the megamillion-dollar franchise. —David Horiuchi
Spider-Man [2002]
Marvel Comics fans have been waiting for this big-screen Spider-Mansince the character made his print debut in 1962, which attaches impossible expectations to a film that rates as a solid success without breaking out of the spandex ghetto in the way that Batman Returnsor X-Mendid. Tobey Maguire is ideally cast as speccy Peter Parker, a high school swot with personal problems. The suit and effects take over when he gets bitten by a genetically engineered (i.e., no longer radioactive) spider and transforms into a web-swinging superhero who finds that these super-powers don't really help him get close to the girl next door (Kirsten Dunst) or protect his elderly guardian (Cliff Robertson) from random violence. The villain of the peace is Peter's best friend's industrialist father (Willem Dafoe) who has dosed himself on an experimental serum which makes him go all Jekyll-and-Hyde and emerge as the cackling Green Goblin, who soon gets a grudge against Spider-Man.

Sam Raimi gives it all a bright, airy, kinetic feel, with wonderful aerial stuff as Spider-Man escapes from his troubles by swinging between skyscrapers, and the rethink of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's origin story is managed with a canny mix of faithfulness (JK Simmons' as the crass editor JJ Jameson is the image of the comic character) and send-up (after a big introduction, Spider-Man finally appears in a really rubbish first attempt at a spider costume). Maguire and the impossibly sweet Dunst make it work as a hesitant teen romance, but somehow the second half, which brings on the villain to give the hero someone to fight, is only exciting when it wants to be affecting too. —Kim Newman

On the DVD:Spider-Man's two-disc offering is nothing out of the ordinary, but fans will find some gems here including Stan Lee's thoughts, a gallery of comic cover art and profiles on the baddies. The two commentaries (cast and crew, and Special Effects) both have long periods with pauses, but the special effects guys are full of insight. The DVD-ROM section offers some of the more exciting features, including three comics transferred onto your computer, page by page, although be aware that the "Film to Comic" comparison is not for the original but for the new comic of the film. As you would expect from a blockbuster superhero film, the sound and vision are immaculate. —Nikki Disney
Spy Game [2001]
Tony Scott A thinking person's thriller, Spy Gameemploys dense plotting without sacrificing the kinetic momentum that is director Tony Scott's trademark. The film has the byzantine scope of a novel, focusing on veteran CIA operative Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), whose protégé Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is scheduled for execution in a Chinese prison. It's Muir's last day before retiring (cliché alert!), and Bishop is being deliberately sacrificed by oily CIA officials to ensure healthy trade with China. Muir has 24 hours to rescue Bishop and his perfunctory love interest (Catherine McCormack), and Spy Gameconnects the mentor's end-run strategy to flashbacks of his student's exploits in Berlin, Beirut and beyond. Ambitious but emotionally bland—and not as exciting as Scott's Enemy of the State—Spy Gameoffers pass-the-torch humour between leather-faced Redford and pretty boy Pitt, and although their dialogue is occasionally limp, the movie compensates with efficient style and substance. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Star Trek XI (2-Disc Edition) [DVD] [2009]
Chris Pine, Bruce Greenwood, J.J. Abrams J.J. Abrams' 2009 feature film was billed as "not your father's Star Trek," but your father will probably love it anyway. And what's not to love? It has enough action, emotional impact, humor, and sheer fun for any moviegoer, and Trekkers will enjoy plenty of insider references and a cast that seems ideally suited to portray the characters we know they'll become later. Both a prequel and a reboot, Star Trek introduces us to James T. Kirk (Chris Pine of The Princess Diaries 2), a sharp but aimless young man who's prodded by a Starfleet captain, Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to enlist and make a difference. At the Academy, Kirk runs afoul of a Vulcan commander named Spock (Zachary Quinto of Heroes), but their conflict has to take a back seat when Starfleet, including its new ship, the Enterprise, has to answer an emergency call from Vulcan. What follows is a stirring tale of genocide and revenge launched by a Romulan (Eric Bana) with a particular interest in Spock, and we get to see the familiar crew come together, including McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), and Scottie (Simon Pegg).
The action and visuals make for a spectacular big-screen movie, though the plot by Abrams and his writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who worked together on Transformers and with Abrams on Alias and Mission Impossible III), and his producers (fellow Losties Damon Lindeloff and Bryan Burk) can be a bit of a mind-bender (no surprise there for Lost fans). Hardcore fans with a bone to pick may find faults, but resistance is futile when you can watch Kirk take on the Kobayashi Maru scenario or hear McCoy bark, "Damnit, man, I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" An appearance by Leonard Nimoy and hearing the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry as the voice of the computer simply sweeten the pot. Now comes the hard part: waiting for some sequels to this terrific prequel. —David Horiuchi
Star Trek XI (3-Disc Edition) with Bonus Digital Copy [Blu-ray]
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, J.J. Abrams Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Winona Ryder, Zoe SaldanaDirectors: J.J. Abrams
Starship Troopers [1998]
Paul Verhoeven A gloriously over-the-top treat, Paul Verhoeven's Starship Trooperstakes the militaristic moralising of Robert Heinlein's pulp classic and sets about undermining it mercilessly. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) desperately wants to join the Mobile Infantry and kill some Earth-threatening alien bugs. He also desperately wants Carmen (Denise Richards), but only gets to fulfil one ambition in the second of Verhoeven's futuristic satires (also cowritten with his RoboCopscriptwriter Ed Neumeier).

Set in a fascistic future where kids must do military service to qualify as citizens, own property or even have babies, the film's dark Vietnam and Nazi-era parallels are all the more disturbing given its deceptively sunny Beverly Hills 90210teenage cast (though scenery-chewing veteran Michael Ironside steals the movie as tough-talking Lt Rasczak). The CGI arachnids are among the most convincing and dangerous-looking creatures ever seen on screen, and with the movie clocking up the highest number of blanks ever fired on a film set, it's also pretty loud! Verhoeven went on to be Executive Producer of the Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chroniclesanimated TV series a couple of years later.

On the DVD: Starship Troopersin this DVD incarnation can now be played continuously on one side of the disc (the original Region 2 release version was that crime against the DVD format, a "flipper"). You'll also feel really spoiled by the extras here: five deleted scenes (approximately six minutes) pad out Carmen's love triangle problems. There are impressive screen tests for Denise Richards and Casper Van Dien (three-and-a-half minutes). An eight-minute featurette zips by with key interviews and fact flinging. And a real treat is three scene developments with layers of FX work explained by Verhoeven. But what makes this DVD essential is the director's enthusiastic commentary alongside screenwriter Ed Neumeier: dissing astrology, making a stand for feminist issues, saying how he went nude to placate the actors for their shower scene, and drooling with praise for his FX team, Verhoeven makes a fascinating statement that "war makes fascists of us all". After a studio disclaimer, and beginning with his reaction to the film's critique in Time Magazine, this is no-holds-barred fun. —Paul Tonks
State Of Play [UK Import]
Kevin Macdonald
Stepford Wives, The [2004]
Frank Oz
Stranger Than Fiction [2006]
Marc Forster Much was written about Will Ferrell's first "dramatic role" as Harold Crick, an IRS auditor who begins hearing a voice narrating his life. But Stranger Than Fictionis hardly a drama. However, what Ferrell does—like Jim Carrey before him in The Truman Show—is handle a toned-down character with genuineness and affection: you believe he is this guy. Crick leads a lonely life filled with numbers and routines. While at first he considers the voice a nuisance, Crick decides more action is needed when it speaks of "his demise." Enter Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who takes on the absurd notion with revelry, trying to find out what kind of book Crick's life is leading. It turns out that the voice Crick is hearing belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a very real—and troubled—author who is writing a book in which Crick is a fictional character. As usual with these things, the stuffed shirt learns to live a better life—Crick even falls for one of his audits, a brash baker named Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Marc Foster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) has the right tone for the film, using great urban scenes (the unnamed city is Chicago) with interesting visualisations of Crick's world of numbers. He also directs Ferrell, Hoffman, and Gyllenhaal to their most charming performances (plus Linda Hunt and Tom Hulce pop up in two funny scenes). Ferrell succeeds in being a romantic lead you can root for; a scene where he eats Ana's freshly baked cookies is totally delightful without a hint of sarcasm. Screenwriter Zach Helm has two personal traits with his story: like Crick he followed his heart (he stopped rewriting scripts and only worked on his own) and like Eiffel, the final results are not a masterpiece, but good, and entertaining enough. Britt Daniel of the band Spoon worked on the dynamite soundtrack. —Doug Thomas
Street Kings [UK Import]
David Ayer
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip - The Complete Series
Aaron Sorkin, bless him, believes that "the people who watch television shows aren't dumber than the people who make television shows." He also believes that "quality is not anathema to profit." He puts these idealistic words into the mouth of Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), the new, impolitic NBS TV president whose first order of business is to revitalise the network's cash cow, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a long-running live late-night sketch-comedy series reeling from the Howard Beale-esque on-air meltdown of its creator (Judd Hirsch, alas, limited to the pilot episode). With this Upstairs/Backstage look at Studio 60's tumultuous network politics and stormy personal relationships, Sorkin, the creator of Sports Nightand The West Wing, once again tried to raise the bar of prime time fare. That he didn't quite clear it makes this one-season wonder a fascinating object lesson of great hopes and dashed expectations. Studio 60 was perhaps the most hotly debated series of the 2006 season and, love it or hate it, all its strengths and flaws can be savoured and savaged anew with this complete-series set. Pretty much above reproach is the ensemble. Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford head the cast as comedy writer Matt and executive producer Danny, former Studio 60 hands whom Jordan brings back to "save" the show. Steven Weber co-stars as network chairman Jack Rudolph, who clashes with Jordan over reality programming (he wants it, she doesn't), is embroiled in network negotiations with China, and must fend off angry affiliates offended by such sketches as "Crazy Christians." Jordan contends with becoming tabloid fodder after her ex-husband leaks scandalous details of their past. Meanwhile, Matt, a sardonic atheist, is in a whole Ross and Rachel thing with Harriet (Emmy nominee Sarah Paulson), who is devoutly religious and the show's galvanising star performer (she does do a mean Holly Hunter). Studio 60 has much to say about comedy in wartime, the divided states of America, the creative process, and patriotism. Some of it is deftly handled, some of it is ham-handed and some of it patronising. Most of it is delivered in Sorkin's signature chock-a-block style and with walk-and-talk urgency. But even at its most maddening, there are enough riveting moments (a performance by displaced New Orleans musicians in "The Christmas Show"), jaw-dropping developments ("I'm coming for you, Jordan," warns Danny, suddenly-turned romantic stalker), and indelible performances (John Goodman's Emmy-winning turn as a plain-speaking Pahrump, NV judge not impressed with the Hollywood types before him in the two-part "Nevada Day") to make Studio 60 a series worth revisiting, if only as a guilty pleasure. The pilot episode commentary by Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette, were produced before the show was canceled, robbing this series' fervent fans of the opportunity for some closure. —Donald Liebenson
Superman Returns - 2 Disc [DVD] [2006]
Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Bryan Singer It's fair to say that Superman Returns probably wasn't quite the blockbuster many were expecting. It concentrates its action on a handful of dazzling, audacious sequences, it spends time working with its characters, and it deliberately pays homage to the heritage of the source material. Knitted together by Bryan Singer, the man behind the camera for the first two X-Men features, it's some distance away from the last time the Man of Steel appeared on the big screen.

But that's very much a good thing. Whilst it doesn't quite, and nor did it need to, perform the major surgery that Batman Begins had to undertake on the Dark Knight's adventures, Singer nonetheless leaves distance between his film and some of its predecessors (although there are respectful tips of the hat to the first two films, not least the nostalgia-inducing credits sequence).

The plot finds Superman returning to Earth after several years away, to discover that the world has moved on in his absence. It's not as safe, Lex Luthor is out of prison, and Lois Lane now has a family. Which is the cue for a lot of soul searching, slower, tender moments and character development that divided some sections of the cinema audience.

Yet, thanks to a stirring cast, led by newcomer Brandon Routh, the end product gels extremely well. Routh's performance is a fitting tribute to the late Christopher Reeve, while Kevin Spacey chews up anything he's allowed to as key villain Lex Luthor. Further, credible, support comes in the form of Parker Posey, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth.

It'd be remiss to call Superman Returns a flawless film. After all, the running time could use fifteen minutes taking off, there's not enough Kevin Spacey and there are occasional moments when the pacing feels a little off. But it is a superb return to form for the classic superhero, with the modern day blockbuster ingredients of some meat to go with the action firmly in place. Further instalments, Mr Singer, will be more than welcome. —Simon Brew
Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street [2007]
Tim Burton After years of rumours, it turns out that Tim Burton was the perfect visionary to film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Stephen Sondheim's Broadway masterpiece, and the result is a macabre and moving musical movie as enthralling as anything Burton has ever done. The show's mix of gothic horror, Grand Guignol, very dark humor, and witty and beautiful music never was the stuff of traditional musical comedy, but it's a powerful work, and perhaps the richest of the late 20th century. In the movie, Burton's frequent collaborator, Johnny Depp, plays Todd, a wronged man whose lust for revenge drives him to murder (an 19th-century legend who has been traced to a real-life barber). Helena Bonham Carter, another Burton mainstay, is Mrs. Lovett, the barber's partner-in-unspeakable-crime. It's no surprise that Depp is an excellent choice to convey Todd's brooding intensity and volcanic rage, but he can also sing a score that is so challenging it has often played in opera houses (though not with the same style as the Broadway original, Len Cariou, and he occasionally lapses into pop style). Bonham Carter is small of voice and lacks the humour of the original Broadway Lovett, Angela Lansbury, but she sings on pitch, in rhythm, and in character at the same time, which is no small feat for a Sondheim show. Aficionados will regret the loss of certain musical passages—"The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is just an instrumental overture and the chorus is gone altogether, among others, but the reassuring presence of orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and conductor Paul Gemignani ensures that the music feels right and sounds great. And the film's depiction of a Victorian London hellhole, with cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and costumes by Colleen Atwood, also looks and feels right.

The excellent cast is filled out by Alan Rickman as the villainous Judge Turpin, Timothy Spall as his seedy Beadle, Sacha Baron Cohen as a rival barber, Jamie Campbell Bower as the young lover Anthony, Jayne Wisener as his object of affection, and Ed Sanders as the young Toby. For fans of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp who don't think they like musicals, Sweeney Todd should be a revelation (though not for the squeamish, as the gore is intense and completely appropriate). For fans of Broadway and Sondheim, it's hard to imagine getting a better adaptation than this. The fact that there's no newly composed Oscar-bait song sung by a Josh Groban-type over the end credits only makes it better. —David Horiuchi
Swordfish [2001]
The sort of action thriller for which the phrase "high octane" could have been conceived, Swordfishstars John Travolta as Gabriel Shear, an enigmatic criminal operator who is as admired as he is feared. Using sexy sidekick Ginger (Halle Berry) as bait, he pressgangs Stanley Jobson, (Hugh Jackman) the world's greatest computer hacker, into helping him relieve the world banking system of a few billion dollars to finance his own enterprises. Jackman agrees, on the promise that Travolta will help him regain custody of his daughter.

The numerous explosions and set-piece exchanges of high calibre gunfire tend at times to blowholes in the narrative fabric and sense of Swordfish, a film that nonetheless engages through its extravagant silliness. Vinnie Jones is under-used as a fearsome minder, a close-up of Halle Berry's breasts isn't entirely integral to the plotline, while Travolta enjoys himself as the dapper ringmaster of this orgy of techno-chaos, especially in scenes in which he blasts away a brace of pursuing assassins with improbable aplomb and during his opening, Tarantino-esque monologue. By the end, he has shown himself in his apparently true colours in such a way that events of September 11, 2001—although made prior to them—lent the film an eerie sense of prescience. —David Stubbs
The Taking of Pelham 123 [DVD] [2009]
John Travolta, Denzel Washington, Tony Scott John Godey's 1973 novel The Taking of Pelham One Two Three boasts a suspense situation so surefire that even the directorial bad habits of Tony Scott can't ruin this latest movie version. Four armed men seize a New York City subway train, isolate one car, and threaten to start killing passengers if a ransom isn't paid within the hour. The ransom was a million dollars in the book and also in Joseph Sargent's solid 1974 movie, in which Robert Shaw played the mercenary leading the hostage takers and Walter Matthau was the growling transit cop trying to outsmart him. In 2009, the title has gone digital—The Taking of Pelham 123—and inflation has jumped the asking price to $10 million. Where Shaw's menace was steely, John Travolta opts for manic, and shamelessly has a blast in the master villain role. His adversary, cagily underplayed by Denzel Washington, has been upgraded in civil-service rank but also demoted on suspicion of taking a bribe. This colors the dynamics of the dialogue between Washington at his control-center console and Travolta on the motorman's microphone aboard the stalled train.

So far, so reasonably good. But the director's trademark tactics keep getting between, well, everything. From the get-go, the visuals are subjected to pointless and irritating stutter effects, speeding-up/slowing-down, gratuitous camera movement, and the interposition of dirt- or light-smeared panes of glass between the camera and people we'd appreciate a clear look at. The 1974 movie settled for one police car being wrecked as the ransom is rushed uptown; Scott requires multiple collisions, each the occasion for police cruisers taking Lethal Weapon-style flight. The hostages in the earlier film were wittily individuated, a multicultural group portrait of the city at that mid-'70s moment; the ones on Scott's train—and also Travolta's fellow perpetrators, including that wonderful character actor Luis Guzmán—barely register. On the upside, John Turturro and James Gandolfini shine as two guys who (like the actors themselves) are very good at their jobs—respectively playing a hostage negotiator and His Honour, the mayor. The screenplay by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) strives intelligently, if formulaically, to add new dimensions to the main characters and to offer its own gloss on the current economic meltdown. —Richard T. Jameson

Stills from The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Click for larger image)
Tamara Drewe [Blu-ray]
Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Stephen Frears
Taxi Driver [DVD] [1976]
Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Melvin Shapiro, Tom Rolf, Martin Scorsese Taxi Driver is the definitive cinematic portrait of loneliness and alienation manifested as violence. It is as if director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader had tapped into precisely the same source of psychological inspiration ("I just knew I had to make this film", Scorsese would later say), combined with a perfectly timed post-Watergate expression of personal, political and societal anxiety. Robert De Niro, as the tortured, ex-Marine cab driver Travis Bickle, made movie history with his chilling performance as one of the most memorably intense and vividly realised characters ever committed to film. Bickle is a self-appointed vigilante who views his urban beat as an intolerable cesspool of blighted humanity. He plays guardian angel for a young prostitute (Jodie Foster), but not without violently devastating consequences. This masterpiece, which is not for all tastes, is sure to horrify some viewers, but few could deny the film's lasting power and importance. —Jeff Shannon
The Terminal [DVD] [2004]
Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Steven Spielberg Like an airport running at peak efficiency, The Terminal glides on the consummate skills of its director and star. Having refined their collaborative chemistry on Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me if You Can, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks mesh like the precision gears of a Rolex, turning a delicate, not-very-plausible scenario into a lovely modern-age fable (partly based on fact) that's both technically impressive and subtly moving. It's Spielberg in Capra mode, spinning the featherweight tale of Victor Navorski (Hanks, giving a finely tuned performance), an Eastern European who arrives at New York's Kennedy Airport just as his (fictional) homeland has fallen to a coup, forcing him, with no valid citizenship, to take indefinite residence in the airport's expansive International Arrivals Terminal (an astonishing full-scale set that inspires Spielberg's most elegant visual strategies). Spielberg said he made this film in part to alleviate the anguish of wartime America, and his master's touch works wonders on the occasionally mushy material; even Stanley Tucci's officious terminal director and Catherine Zeta-Jones's mixed-up flight attendant come off (respectively) as forgivable and effortlessly charming. With this much talent involved, The Terminal transcends its minor shortcomings to achieve a rare degree of cinematic grace. —Jeff Shannon
The Terminator (Two Disc Special Edition) [1985]
James Cameron The Terminatorwas the film that cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger's place in the action-brawn firmament, and both his and the movie's subsequent iconic status are well deserved. He's chilling as the futuristic cyborg that kills without fear, without love, without mercy. James Cameron's story and direction are pared to the bone and are all the more chillingly effective for it. But don't overlook the contribution of Linda Hamilton, who more than holds her own as the Terminator's would-be victim, Sarah Connor, thus creating—along with Sigourney Weaver in Alien—a new generation of rugged, clear-thinking female action stars. The film's minimalist, malevolent violence is actually scarier than that of its far more expensive, more effects-laden sequel. —Anne Hurley, Amazon.com

On the DVD: Rejoice, The Terminatoris back, better looking and louder than ever. After years of inferior VHS versions, the cleaned-up print of this DVD is a revelation, as is the digitally remastered Dolby 5.1 soundtrack: from the opening MGM lion's roar to the crunch of Arnie's boots and the pounding of Brad Fiedel's techno-industrial score, both picture and sound are of a quality that belie the movie's age. The first disc has the movie plus a DVD-ROM feature containing three different versions of the screenplay, which can be read scene-by-scene along with the film. On the second disc there are seven deleted scenes, including a fascinating foreshadowing of Sarah Connor's mission in T2, as well as trailers and TV spots. There are also two "making of" featurettes, one being an 18-minute piece from 1992 based around a friendly at-home chat with Cameron and Schwarzenegger ("We did the first Terminatorfor the cost of your motor home on the second film", jokes director to actor). The hour-long "Other Voices" featurette is an in-depth montage of cast and crew reminiscences covering all aspects of the production from its initial genesis as a fevered nightmare to the "guerrilla" filmmaking of getting the final shots. Script collaborator Bill Wisher neatly sums up the movie as "It's a Wonderful Life, with guns". The second disc also contains a stills archive of production photographs, James Cameron's amazing original conceptual artwork, plus his first story treatment. If you own a player, how can you resist? After all, the Terminatormovies are what DVD was invented for. —Mark Walker
Terminator 2 - Judgment Day (Skynet Edition) [Blu-ray] [1991]
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Jenette Goldstein, Edward FurlongDirector: James Cameron
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Two Disc Ultimate Edition) [1991]
James Cameron Arguably the finest movie of its kind, Terminator 2: Judgment Daycaptured Arnold Schwarzenegger at the very apex of his Hollywood celebrity and James Cameron at the peak of his perfectionist directorial powers. Nothing the star did subsequently measured up to his iconic performance here, spouting legendary catchphrases and wielding weaponry with unparalleled cool; and while the director had an even bigger hit with the bloated and sentimental Titanic, few followers of his career would deny that Cameron's true fortehas always been sci-fi action. With an incomparably bigger budget than its 1984 precursor, T2essentially reworks the original scenario with envelope-stretching special effects and simply more, more, more of everything. Yet, for all its scale, T2remains at heart a classic sci-fi tale: robots running amok, time travel paradoxes and dystopian future worlds are recurrent genre themes, which are here simply revitalised by Cameron's glorious celebration of the mechanistic. From the V-twin roar of a Harley Fat Boy to the metal-crunching Steel Mill finale, the director's fascination with machines is this movie's strongest motif: it's no coincidence that the character with whom the audience identifies most strongly is a robot. Now that impressive but unengaging CGI effects have come to over-dominate sci-fi movies (think of The Phantom Menace), T2's pivotal blending of extraordinary live-action stuntwork and FX looks more and more like it will never be equalled.

On the DVD: Oh, if only every DVD could be like this. Here is a DVD package worthy of this monumental movie, with so many extra features the viewer will spend hours simply trying to find them all (the animated menus alone are worth watching over and over again.) On the second disc there are three extensive documentaries (all good, all relatively straightforward), but things get more complicated as you burrow down through the menu layers of Cyberdyne Systems into the "Data Hub": the entire screenplay, storyboards, text features, dozens and dozens of video clips, deleted scenes, and thousands of stills.

The movie disc itself will cause even hardened surround-sound enthusiasts to gasp with joy as these explosive soundscapes come alive in Dolby 5.1 or DTS (hear that Harley roar!), while the anamorphic widescreen picture of the original theatrical 2.35:1 ratio is jaw-droppingly impressive. The exhaustive commentary is a patchwork of interviews with various key cast and crew members. The only disappointment here is that, unlike the almost identical Region 1 version, this Region 2 package does not include the DVD-ROM features nor the option to play the original theatrical release and the hidden "Ultimate Edition"—the only version here is the Director's Cut Special Edition, although the few extra scenes that make up the "Ultimate" edit can still be found in the "Data Core" section of the second disc. —Mark Walker
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Single Disc Edition) [2003]
Jonathan Mostow Terminator 3: Rise of the Machinesstarts in high gear and never slows down. The apocalyptic "Judgment Day" of T2was never prevented, only postponed: John Connor (Nick Stahl, replacing T2's Edward Furlong), now 22 and disconnected from society, is being pursued yet again, this time by the advanced T-X, a sleek "Terminatrix" (coldly expressionless Kristanna Loken) programmed to stop Connor from becoming the saviour of humankind. Originally programmed as an assassin, a disadvantaged T-101 cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger, bidding fond farewell to his signature role) arrives from the future to join Connor and future wife Kate (Claire Danes) in thwarting the T-X's relentless pursuit. The plot presents a logical fulfilment of T2's prophecy, disposing of Connor's mother (Linda Hamilton is sorely missed) while computer-driven machines assume control, launching a nuclear nightmare that Connor must survive.

With Breakdownand U-571serving as rehearsals for this cautionary epic of mass destruction, director Jonathan Mostow wisely avoids any stylistic connection to James Cameron's classics; instead he's crafted a fun, exciting popcorn thriller, humorous and yet still effectively nihilistic, and comparable to Jurassic Park IIIin returning the Terminatorfranchise to its potent B-movie roots. —Jeff Shannon

On the DVD:Terminator 3two-disc set has only one deleted scene, but it's first-class. The "Sgt Candy Scene" is a must-see and, unfortunately, the best thing on the second disc. The rushed HBO documentary shows us far more flash than substance. Better is the Visual Effects Lab that goes more in-depth with four sequences, although you need to wade through a weak interface for each segment. Making your "own" effects isn't that much fun; you can only choose a few effects that change in two scenes. Anyone looking to get the complicated backstory of the trilogy figured out should dig into the "Sky Net Database" and an intricate timeline.

Disc 1 has a 30-second intro from the Governator himself, plus two commentary tracks: director Jonathan Mostow goes into great detail on how the little things (from lighting street scenes to tricks for destroying buildings) count; the second track is pieced together from the actors recorded separately—here Mostow appears with actress Claire Danes doing her first commentary track. The anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen picture and thunderous DTS 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 sound options deliver everything you would expect. —Doug Thomas
Terminator Salvation - Extended Cut [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, McG Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas HowardDirector: McG
Terminator Salvation [DVD] [2009]
Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, McG Terminator Salvation restores some of the balance of huge explosions and emotionally compelling plot to the Terminator series. Set entirely after the nuclear assault that left the computer system Skynet in control of the world, Terminator Salvation follows John Connor (Christian Bale) as he grapples with both murderous robots and his superiors in the resistance, who aren’t sure they believe the prophecies that Connor is destined to save humanity. Into the midst of this struggle tumbles Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, who would later star in James Cameron’s Avatar); the last thing he remembers was being executed in prison decades before. Baffled, he falls into company with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek) and a mute little girl who soon get captured—but Wright then meets and bonds with Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood, Eight Below), a resistance fighter who remains loyal to the confused Wright even though Connor suspects he’s not what he seems—or what he believes himself to be. Terminator Salvation isn’t the astonishing synthesis of action and feeling that either The Terminator or T2 were. Despite this, Terminator Salvation has at least two skillfully orchestrated action sequences that will get your heart racing, and Worthington’s beguiling mixture of toughness and vulnerability gives his relationship with Bloodgood a genuine pulse. It’s imperfect, but compared with the hollow carcasses that most action movies (including Terminator 3) turn out to be, it’s worth seeing. —Bret Fetzer
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 1 [2008] [DVD]
Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker The pressure was really on The Sarah Connor Chronicles right from the start. The first spin-off from the extraordinary Terminator franchise, it picks up after the events of the second film, and finds Lena Headey in the title role, who—along with her 15-year old son, John—sets about trying to save the world from the impending threat of Skynet. Along the way too, they encounter Summer Glau (whom there's a strong chance you'll know from Firefly), who steps into the shoes of Cameron, a bodyguard Terminator who helps fight off the many threats they face. She's some piece of work.

Very deliberately paced, and intricately woven to make sure it safely fits within the Terminator universe, The Sarah Connor Chronicles works a great deal better than you'd have any right to expect. Tightly scripted, and with a terrific performance by Headey in the central role, the show packs plenty of action and narrative into the nine episodes of its maiden season, and it certainly whets the appetite for more.

Perhaps the biggest compliment to be paid, though, is that The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a worthy companion and follow-up to the first two Terminator films, and one that genuinely expands and deepens the franchise. It'll be fascinating to see where the show goes next. —Jon Foster
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 2 [Blu-ray]
Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker Things blow up. Someone you think is a human turns out to be a shape-shifting Terminator. There are confusing forays through time and discussions about what happened when in which version of the past and/or future. But really, the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles—unfortunately the final season of the series—is about family, connections, and the things we do to protect the ones we love. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) has an especially rough road, nearly dying and becoming obsessed with a three-dot symbol and detours through a world of UFO obsessives. John Connor (Thomas Dekker), a.k.a. the guy who will grow up to lead humanity's resistance to the hated machines, gets tough and gets a girlfriend. His uncle Derek (Brian Austin Green) gets a girl as well, and the women in their lives turn out to have a surprising connection. Cameron (Summer Glau), the Terminator sent to protect John, suffers some damage and reveals some surprisingly human secrets of her own as her relationship with John gets more emotional and complicated. Shirley Manson (lead singer of Garbage) joins the cast as Catherine Weaver, an icy executive ,suffice it to say that a familiar (and threatening) face shows up in her company. This is a fitting sendoff for an ambitious show. —Stephanie Reid-Simons
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau
That 70s Show - Complete Series 1
The Dark Knight [UK IMPORT]
Christopher Nolan
These Girls [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Caroline Dhavernas, Jacques Girard, John Hazlett
The Thomas Crown Affair [1999]
John McTiernan For the Hollywood remake rule, which dictates that an update of an older film be inferior to the original in almost every aspect, The Thomas Crown Affairstands as a glorious exception. The original 1968 film, starring a dapper Steve McQueen and a radiant Faye Dunaway, was a diverting pop confection of mod clothes and nifty break-ins, but not much more. John McTiernan's new version, though, cranks up the entertainment factor to mach speed, turning what was a languid flick into a high-adrenaline caper romance. Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is now a man of industry who likes to indulge in a little high-priced art theft on the side; Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) is the insurance investigator determined to get on his tail in more ways than one. If you're thinking cat-and-mouse game, think again—it's more like cat vs. smarter cat, as both the thief and the investigator try to outwit each other and nothingis off-limits, especially after they start a highly charged love affair that's a heated mix of business and pleasure.

What makes this Thomas Crownmore enjoyable than its predecesor is McTiernan's attention to detail in both the set action pieces (no surprise from the man who helmed Die Hardwith precision accuracy) and the developing romance, the witty and intelligent script by Leslie Dixon (she wrote the love scenes) and Kurt Wimmer (he wrote the action scenes), and, most of all, its two stunning leads (both over 40 to boot), combustible both in and out of bed. Brosnan, usually held prisoner in the James Bond straitjacket, lets loose with both a relaxed sensuality and a comic spirit he's rarely expressed before. The film, however, pretty much belongs to Russo, who doesn't just steal the spotlight, but bends it to her will. Beautiful, stylish, smart, self-possessed, incredibly sexy, she's practically a walking icon; it's no wonder Crown falls for her hook, line, and sinker (the Academy should too, hopefully). With Denis Leary as a police detective smitten with Russo, and Faye Dunaway in a throwaway but wholly enjoyable cameo as Brosnan's therapist. —Mark Englehart
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride [DVD] [2005]
Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Tim Burton, Mike Johnson Who else but Tim Burton could make Corpse Bride, a necrophiliac's delight that's fun for the whole family? Returning to the richly imaginative realm of stop-motion animation—after previous successes with The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, Burton, with codirector Mike Johnson, invites us to visit the dour, ashen, and drearily Victorian mansions of the living, where young Victor Van Dort, voiced by Johnny Depp, is bequeathed to wed the lovely Victoria.

But the wedding rehearsal goes sour and, in the kind of Goth-eerie forest that only exists in Burton-land, Victor suddenly finds himself accidentally married to the Corpse Bride, voiced by Helena Bonham Carter, a blue-tinted, half-skeletal beauty with a loquacious maggot installed behind one prone-to-popping eyeball.

This being a Burton creation, the underworld of the dead is a lively and colorful place indeed, and Danny Elfman's songs and score make it even livelier, presenting Victor with quite a dilemma: Should he return above-ground to Victoria, or remain devoted to his corpse bride? At a brisk 76 minutes, Burton's graveyard whimsy never wears out its welcome, and the voice casting is superbly matched the film's gloriously amusing character design, guaranteed to yield a wealth of gruesome toys and action figures for many Halloweens to come. —Jeff Shannon
Top Gun (Special Edition) [1986]
Total Recall (2 Disc Special Edition) [1990]
The Tourist
Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie use their star power to help propel The Tourist to its ultimate, satisfying destination. It just takes a little while to get there. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) sets a leisurely pace for The Tourist, which lets the film be equal parts mystery, romance, thriller, and comedy. But because of its lush cinematography and location-based shooting, The Tourist is perhaps first and foremost a valentine to the city of Venice. Jolie plays Elise, an international woman of mystery, somehow caught up with a glamorous thief who's double-crossed a gangster, Shaw (Steven Berkoff, splendidly menacing). On a train from Paris to Venice, Elise meets Frank (Depp), a schlumpy math teacher from Wisconsin on holiday. Before the train hits Venice, poor Frank has become entangled in a dangerous web that he can't begin to understand. As the plot unfolds, a group of stone-headed thugs dashes after Frank and Elise, darting through canals, across tile rooftops, and into some of the most beautiful hotel rooms in the world. The cinematography of John Seale and the score by James Newton Howard set an immersive tone. Depp and Jolie do a respectable job with their roles, though perhaps because of the mysteries in the plot, as a couple, Elise and Frank lack a certain oomph. But the supporting actors, including Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, and Rufus Sewell, are uniformly excellent, and the story (based on the French film Anthony Zimmer) wraps up nicely. Yet the true star of The Tourist is enchanting Venice—and anyone dreaming of a romantic getaway will not want to miss this trip. —A.T. Hurley
Training Day
Antoine Fuqua A powerhouse performance by Denzel Washington fuels this brutal urban police drama, in which a rookie narcotics cop learns the hard way that even good cops can go very, very bad. Washington plays veteran detective Alonzo Harris, a self-proclaimed "wolf among wolves," eager to teach his rookie partner Jake (Ethan Hawke) that normal rules don't apply on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Caught in a web of deception, Jake watches with escalating horror as Alonzo uses his badge (and the support of his superiors) to justify a self-righteous policy of corruption. In stark contrast to most of his previous work, Denzel unleashes his dark side with fearlessness and fury, and the result is excellence without compromise. Director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) won't score any points for subtlety, but gritty details (including actual L.A. gang members as extras) and Hawke's finely tuned performance are perfectly matched to Washington's frightening volatility. —Jeff Shannon
Trainspotting [1996]
Danny Boyle The film that effectively launched the star careers of Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller is a hard, barbed picaresque, culled from the bestseller by Irvine Welsh and thrown down against the heroin hinterlands of Edinburgh. Directed with abandon by Danny Boyle, Trainspottingconspires to be at once a hip youth flick and a grim cautionary fable. Released on an unsuspecting public in 1996, the picture struck a chord with audiences worldwide and became adopted as an instant symbol of a booming British rave culture (an irony, given the characters' main drug of choice is heroin not ecstasy).

McGregor, Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner play a slouching trio of Scottish junkies; Carlyle their narcotic-eschewing but hard-drinking and generally psychotic mate Begbie. In Boyle's hands, their lives unfold in a rush of euphoric highs, blow-out overdoses and agonising withdrawals (all cued to a vogueish pop soundtrack). Throughout it all, John Hodge's screenplay strikes a delicate balance between acknowledging the inherent pleasures of drug use and spotlighting its eventual consequences. In Trainspotting's world view, it all comes down to a question of choices—between the dangerous Day-Glo highs of the addict and the grey, grinding consumerism of the everyday Joe. "Choose life", quips the film's narrator (McGregor) in a monologue that was to become a mantra. "Choose a job, choose a starter home... But why would anyone want to do a thing like that?" Ultimately, Trainspotting's wised-up, dead-beat inhabitants reject mainstream society in favour of a headlong rush to destruction. It makes for an exhilarating, energised and frequently terrifying trip that blazes with more energy and passion than a thousand more ostensibly life-embracing movies. —Xan Brooks
Transformers (2007)
Michael Bay As sci-fi action blockbusters go, they don't come much bigger than Transformers. Maybe it's because of the subject matter: it's based on a toy line from the 1980s, concerning giant robots from outer space engaged in a civil war that pits the heroic Autobots against the evil Decepticons. They have the ability to disguise themselves as vehicles and other mechanical objects, transforming back into robots when it's time to stomp each other senseless. As a premise, it's rather silly. But it's also very simple, and that's why it works.

The heroes are truly heroic: the noble and powerful Autobot leader Optimus Prime is one of the most iconic characters of the 1980s, and getting the original voice actor (Peter Cullen) to give him life was a stroke of genius. The villains, meanwhile, are just plain evil: Decepticon leader Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) is motivated by absolute power, and his soldiers are not above a bit of wanton destruction to achieve their goals. Mix in a bit of mysticism in the form of the Allspark, the source of life for all Transformers, and the result is pure cinematic magic.

It's not a perfect film: there are some characters and sub-plots that are unnecessary and which go nowhere, and at almost three hours, it's a lot of movie. But the Transformers themselves, rendered in CGI, have a very realistic size and weight on screen, and look particularly good as they switch from one mode to the other. Moreover, director Michael Bay is smart enough to realise that appealing to kids doesn't mean pandering to them—the cutest robot on screen is a manic little psychotic killer with the apt name Frenzy. The humans in the film, meanwhile, keep the film grounded, whilst never detracting from the real robot stars. Unlike The Matrix trilogy, which tried to be too clever, or The Lord of the Rings films, which were too clever, Transformers is probably the best science fiction epic since the original Star Wars trilogy. —Robert Burrow
Transformers - Season 1
Transformers - Series 2 Vol.1 [UK Import]
Transformers - Series 2 Vol.2 [UK Import]
Transformers - Series 2 Vol.2 [UK Import]
Transformers - Series 3-4 [UK Import]
Transformers The Movie - Special Edition [1986]
Nelson Shin
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2-Disc) Special Edition [DVD] [2009]
Shia LaBeouf, Isabel Lucas, Michael Bay Pure. Popcorn. Entertainment. That's an exact classification of director Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The action is nonstop, with battles and explosions from start to finish. The camera (without any subtlety) exploits Megan Fox's hotness to the max. As if she weren't enough, a new sex kitten (Isabel Lucas) is thrown into the equation. Shia LaBeouf is as charismatic as ever, and fills the starring role with ease. And then there's the humour. Sam's parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) provided some semi-raunchy laugh-out-loud moments in the first movie, but now they take it to the next level. Sometimes it seems like they are trying a little too hard, but it is still hilarious.

As far as the “plot” goes, the writers didn't waste much time—it's really just a context for the giant-robot death matches and dramatic slow-mo sequences. The movie kicks off two years later where the Autobots have formed an alliance with the U.S. government, creating an elite team led by Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel), in an effort to snuff out any remaining Decepticons that show up. The bad guys keep coming, and it turns out that a much more menacing force than Megatron is out there—and it is looking for something on Earth that is tied to the very origin of the Transformers race. Fans of the franchise will be delighted by the addition of many new robot characters (there are well over 40 in the sequel, versus only 13 in the first). The second Transformers has shaped up to be one of the worst reviewed and most successful movies of all time. This strange pairing is really just an indication that this movie has one purpose: to entertain. The creators didn't want to waste time bogging down the action and drama with substance—which was arguably a good decision. —Jordan Thompson
Trap Door - Series 1 and 2 [DVD] [1984]
William Rushton, Charlie Mills, Terry Brain
Tron/Tron Legacy [Blu-ray]
Michael Sheen, Jeff Bridges, Joseph Kosinski The luminescent lines and shimmering surfaces of Tron: Legacy will tantalise anyone who's lusted after the latest smartphone. The long-ago disappearance of his computer-genius father has left Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund, Four Brothers) with existential ennui and a lot of money. When he discovers his father's secret workshop, he gets sucked into a computerised realm ruled by a megalomaniac computer program named Clu—who just happens to be his father's virtual doppelganger. To find his real father (Jeff Bridges, reprising his role from the original Tron, with a bit of his role from The Big Lebowski thrown in for kicks), Sam has to fight in gladiatorial games, drive in digital demolition derbies, and be stripped and dressed by slinky pneumatic babes. For all the techno-babble and quasi-philosophy the characters spout, this is a movie without an idea in its shiny head. It would be pointless to describe the many sillinesses because Tron: Legacy isn't actually trying to be smart; it's trying to look cool. It succeeds. Olivia Wilde (House) looks like the coolest action figure ever (if the entire movie could be nothing but the shot of her lounging on a futuristic sofa, it would be a masterpiece of avant-garde gizmo-fetishism). The facemasks are cool, the glowing skintight outfits are cool, the light-cycles are really, really cool—and let's be honest, it's all about the light-cycles. That's what the audience for Tron wants, and that's what Tron: Legacy delivers. —Bret Fetzer
Troy (1-Disc Edition) [2004]
Wolfgang Petersen
True Lies [1994]
James Cameron From The Terminatorto Titanic, you can always rely on writer-director James Cameron to show you something you've never seen on the big screen before. The guy may not consistently pen the most scintillating dialogue in the world (and, especially in this movie, he doesn't seem to have a particularly high regard for women), but as a director of kinetic, push-the-envelope action sequences, he is in a class by himself. In True Lies, the highlight is a breathtaking third-act jet and car chase through the Florida Keys. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a covert intelligence agent whose wife of 15 years (Jamie Lee Curtis) finally finds out that he's not really a computer salesman and who becomes mixed up in a case involving nuclear arms smuggling. Tom Arnold is surprisingly funny and engaging as Schwarzenegger's longtime spy partner, and Bill Paxton is a smarmy used-car salesman whom Arnold thinks is having an affair with his wife. Purely in terms of spectacular action and high-tech hardware, True Liesis a blast. —Jim Emerson, Amazon.com
True Romance
Tony Scott It was directed with energetic skill by Top Gun Tony Scott, but this breathtaking 1993 thriller (think of it as an adolescent crime fantasy on steroids) has Quentin Tarantino written all over it. True Romance is really part of a loose trilogy that includes Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, with a crackling Tarantino screenplay that rides a fine line between raucous comedy and violent excess. Christian Slater plays Clarence, the comic-book lover who meets a beguiling prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette), confronts her vicious pimp (Gary Oldman), and embarks on a cross-country odyssey with $5 million worth of Mafia cocaine. Mayhem ensues, culminating in a favourite Tarantino climax—the "Mexican standoff"—in which a roomful of guys are pointing guns at each other, waiting to see who shoots first. Brutal, profane, and totally outrageous, True Romance is not for everyone, but with a supporting cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, and Val Kilmer (as the ghost of Elvis!), you can be sure this movie will never be boring. —Jeff Shannon
Twelve Monkeys [1996]
Terry Gilliam Inspired by Chris Marker's acclaimed short film La Jetée, 12 Monkeyscombines intricate, intelligent storytelling with the uniquely imaginative vision of director Terry Gilliam. The story opens in the wintry wasteland of the year 2035, where a virulent plague has forced humans to live in a squalid, oppressively regimented underground. Bruce Willis plays a societal outcast who is given the opportunity to erase his criminal record by "volunteering" to time-travel into the past to obtain a pure sample of the deadly virus that will help future scientists to develop a cure. But in bouncing from 1918 to the early and mid-1990s, he undergoes an ordeal that forces him to question his own perceptions of reality. Caught between the dangers of the past and the devastation of the future, he encounters a psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe) who is initially convinced he's insane, and a wacky mental patient (Brad Pitt in a twitchy Oscar-nominated role) with links to a radical group that may have unleashed the deadly virus. Equal parts mystery, tragedy, psychological thriller, and apocalyptic drama, 12 Monkeysranks as one of the best science fiction films of the 1990s, boosted by Gilliam's visual ingenuity and one of the finest performances of Willis's career. —Jeff Shannon
Twilight - 2 Disc Special Edition [DVD] [2008]
Catherine Hardwicke The big-screen adaptation of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's bestselling vampire romance, is aimed squarely at its key demographic: teen girls whose idea of Prince Charming is a brooding, pale, undead teen who could kill you instantly at any moment. Such a prince is more fascinating than frightening to new girl Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who moves to the rainy-gray town of Forks, Wash., to live with her dad (Billy Burke), the local sheriff who's puzzled by a series of "animal attacks." On her first day at school, Bella appears to (visibly) nauseate her lab partner, Edward (Robert Pattinson). Turns out the scent of her blood is this vampire's "brand of heroin," and his struggle not to kill her causes an irresistible pull toward her. Whether he's attracted for the normal reasons or because she smells especially sweet to him is vague in the book and even less clear on-screen; nonetheless, Bella falls hopelessly in love with Edward, which sets her on a dangerous path when a few nomad vampires show up in town, one particularly keen on tracking the human. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), Twilight is full of funny moments—not all of which are intentional—and the casting, from Stewart to Bella's self-absorbed friend Jessica (Anna Kendrick) is spot-on. The weakest link, unfortunately, is Pattinson. While he certainly looks the part, his Edward could have used an extra injection of testosterone (Pattinson, who is British, used James Dean as a model for his American accent). In scenes where he growls about the temptation to kill those who would harm Bella, or flitting around a forest warning her how dangerous he is, he comes off more like a whimpering puppy than a debonair monster. The good news is, his chemistry with Stewart (particularly in their big kissing scene) is palpable, which, let's face it, is really what matters to Twilight fans most. —Ellen A. Kim
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse [DVD] [2010]
Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (1 Disc) [DVD] [2009]
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Chris Weitz
Two And A Half Men - Season 4 [DVD]
Charlie Sheen
Two And A Half Men - Season 5 [DVD] [2007]
Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer Now firmly established as one of America’s favourite comedy series, it’s tricky not to fall for the charms of Two And A Half Men, as it confidently hits its fifth season. At heart, it’s the story of two brothers. On one hand, there’s Jon Cryer’s Alan, who it’s fair to say is the calmer and more sensible of the two. Then there’s Charlie Sheen as, naturally, Charlie, who doesn’t have that many cares in his life, and is a natural born womaniser.

Season five of Two And A Half Men includes the 100th episode of the show, but there are many other highlights too. Season five includes Alan persuading Charlie that the women they date need to be more respectable, Charlie trying to entertain a four-year old, Alan’s attempts to steal Charlie’s girlfriend and then Charlie also seeking relationship advice.

It’s a fairly conventional mix of plotlines, granted, but Two And A Half Men mines many laughs from them. It helps that Sheen and Cryer are a really good double act, and aided by a supporting cast that includes Angus T Jones and Conchata Ferrell (along with a few surprise guest appearances), the show is hard to resist. Five seasons on, its popularity and quality shows little sign of dropping, and it’s a comedy you can consistently rely on to generate chuckles. —Jon Foster
Two And A Half Men - Season 6 [DVD]
Charlie Sheen
Two And A Half Men - Series 1
Two And A Half Men - Series 2 [2006]
Two And A Half Men: Complete Season 3
Two Weeks Notice [2003]
Marc Lawrence (II) Although Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant display little on-screen romantic chemistry in Two Weeks Notice, by having them do what they do best the film manages to work around the missing key ingredient. Bullock is on top form as a bumbling but clever woman who is left ashore by her eco-warrior boyfriend and begins to work (against her better judgement) for Grant, the well-spoken and charming yet inept public face of a multi-million-pound building empire. Although sparks conspicuously fail to fly between them, the two make for genial pals and, as a result, the fact that little romance is evident until the end is actually a bonus.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just another Hollywood star vehicle, a formulaic rom-com that could have been produced anytime in the last 50 years or so. But it is impossible to deny that, although offering nothing new, the script does at least work well. In casting the stars exactly to type, making no social comment and leaving the audience happily gorged on feel-good vibes by the end, if nothing else Two Weeks Notice at least offers universal appeal. —Nikki Disney
U.S. Marshals [1998]
Stuart Baird An ultimately futile attempt to make lightning strike twice, this so-called spin-off from 1993's blockbuster The Fugitiveavoids the label of "sequel" by forging ahead without the first film's star, Harrison Ford. The idea is to showcase the return of Tommy Lee Jones in his Oscar-winning role as tenacious U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, this time testing his mettle against a covert government operative (Wesley Snipes) accused of murdering two secret service attachés. Unfortunately, Jones and the entire cast have been trapped in a rambling plot, and the underdog status that made Ford such a compelling hero is sacrificed to an evenly matched and eventually tiresome game of cat and mouse, with a villain whose identity is far too predictable. With no dramatic build-up and several superfluous characters to distract its focus, the film's momentum plays out like a rote exercise compared to the high stakes of the earlier film. —Jeff Shannon
Underworld (Special Edition) [2003]
Underworld: Evolution [2006]
Better action, a bit of sex, and gorier R-rated violence make Underworld: Evolutiona reasonably satisfying sequel to 2003's surprise hit Underworld. Looking stunning as ever in her black leather battle gear, Kate Beckinsale is every goth guy's fantasy as Selene, the vampire "death dealer" who's now fighting to stop the release of the original "Lycan" werewolf, William (Brian Steele) from the prison that's held him for centuries. As we learn from the film's action-packed prologue, William and his brother Marcus (Tony Curran) began the bloodline of vampires and werewolves, and after witnessing centuries of warfare between them, their immortal father Corvinus (Derek Jacobi) now seeks Selene and the human vampire/lycan hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) to put an end to the war perpetuated by Victor (Bill Nighy), the vampire warrior whose betrayal of Selene turns Underworld: Evolutioninto an epic tale of familial revenge. This ambitious attempt at Shakespearean horror is compromised by a script (by Danny McBride and returning director Len Wiseman, Beckinsale's real-life husband) that's more confusing than it needs to be, with too many characters and not enough storytelling detail to flesh them all out. Aspiring to greatness and falling well short of that goal, Underworld: Evolutionsucceeds instead as a full-throttle action/horror thriller, with enough swordplay, gunplay, and CGI monsters to justify the continuation of the Underworldfranchise. If you're an established fan, this is a must-see movie; if not, well... at least it's better than Van Helsing! —Jeff Shannon
Up (1 Disc) [DVD] [2009]
Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Pete Docter, Bob Peterson At a time when too many animated films consist of anthropomorphized animals cracking sitcom one-liners and flatulence jokes, the warmth, originality, humor, and unflagging imagination of Up feel as welcome as rain in a desert. Carl Fredericksen (voice by Ed Asner) ranks among the most unlikely heroes in recent animation history. A 78-year-old curmudgeon, he enjoyed his modest life as a balloon seller because he shared it with his adventurous wife Ellie (Ellie Docter). But she died, leaving him with memories and the awareness that they never made their dream journey to Paradise Falls in South America. When well-meaning officials consign Carl to Shady Oaks Retirement Home, he rigs thousands of helium balloons to his house and floats to South America. The journey's scarcely begun when he discovers a stowaway: Russell (Jordan Nagai), a chubby, maladroit Wilderness Explorer Scout who's out to earn his Elderly Assistance Badge. In the tropical jungle, Carl and Russell find more than they bargained for: Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a crazed explorer whose newsreels once inspired Carl and Ellie; Kevin, an exotic bird with a weakness for chocolate; and Dug (Bob Peterson), an endearingly dim golden retriever fitted with a voice box. More importantly, the travelers discover they need each other: Russell needs a (grand)father figure; Carl needs someone to enliven his life without Ellie. Together, they learn that sharing ice-cream cones and counting the passing cars can be more meaningful than feats of daring-do and distant horizons. Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Peterson direct the film with consummate skill and taste, allowing the poignant moments to unfold without dialogue to Michael Giacchnio's vibrant score. Building on their work in The Incredibles and Ratatouille, the Pixar crew offers nuanced animation of the stylized characters. Even by Pixar's elevated standards, Up is an exceptional film that will appeal of audiences of all ages. Rated PG for some peril and action. —Charles Solomon
Up In The Air [DVD] [2009]
George Clooney Up in the Air transforms some painful subjects into smart, sly comedy—with just enough of the pain underneath to give it some weight. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends most of his days traveling around the country and firing people; he's hired by bosses who don't have the nerve to do their layoffs themselves. His life of constant flight suits him—he wants no attachments. But two things suddenly threaten his vacuum-sealed world: his company decides to do layoffs via video conference so they don't have to pay for travel, and Bingham meets a woman named Alex (Vera Farmiga, The Departed), who seems to be the female version of him… and of course, he starts to fall in love. Writer-director Jason Reitman is building a career from funny but thoughtful movies about compromised people—a pregnant teen in Juno, a cigarette-company executive in Thank You for Smoking. George Clooney has a gift for playing smart men who aren't quite as smart as they think they are (Michael Clayton, Out of Sight). The combination is perfect: Bingham is charming and sympathetic but clearly missing something, and Up in the Air captures that absence with clarity and compassion. The outstanding supporting cast includes Anna Kendrick (Rocket Science), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), Melanie Lynskey (Away We Go), and others, each small part pitched exactly right.—Bret Fetzer
The Usual Suspects (2 Disc Special Edition) [1995]
Bryan Singer Bryan Singer's film noir The Usual Suspectscasts a mesmerising spell, with the plot luring the viewer into ever-deeper and darker places. According to director, Singer, the premise for the film evolved from a magazine article. What does the phrase "usual suspects" actually mean, who are they and what happens when you probe their identity? Here, they are five expert criminals and a crippled con man in a line-up. The story, told via flashbacks, interrogation scenes and explosive sequences of a heist gone wrong, is a labyrinth of sub-plots and red herrings.

Kevin Spacey won a best supporting actor Oscar for his intriguing, blank-eyed turn as the crippled "Verbal" Kint. But Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin and Benicio del Toro are equally fascinating as the mismatched misfits, creating hinterlands for their characters in a single gesture. Chazz Palminteri as the special agent is our main ally in solving the puzzle, but it's really a case of the blind leading the blind. Pete Postlethwaite's bizarre accent, as the sinister legal agent Kobayashi, adds its own layer of mystery to a film that earns cult status entirely on its own merits.

On the DVD:this is a dazzling two-disc set which will both please Usual Suspectsaficionados and entice the uninitiated. The film itself is presented in widescreen format. The Dolby Digital surround sound quality throbs with tension so that you sense the dialogue and John Ottman's excellent, suspenseful music with your nerve endings rather than just experiencing them aurally. The original cinematic experience comes forcefully into your living room. Numerous extras include a fascinating director/screenwriter commentary (if you haven't seen the film yet, make sure this is turned off or it will wreck the suspense) and endless featurettes, each adding a layer of understanding to the film through observations from the actors, director and writer. A package that sucks you in, blows you out in pieces and still has you coming back for more, this is what special edition DVDs are all about. —Piers Ford
V for Vendetta [2006]
"Remember, remember the fifth of November," for on this day, in 2020, the minds of the masses shall be set free. So says code-name V (Hugo Weaving), a man on a mission to shake society out of its blank complacent stares in the film V For Vendetta. His tactics, however, are a bit revolutionary to say the least. The world in which V lives is very similar to Orwell's totalitarian dystopia in 1984: after years of various wars, England is now under "big brother" Chancellor Adam Sutler (played by John Hurt, who ironically played Winston Smith in the movie 1984) whose party uses force and fear to run the nation. After gaining power, minorities and political dissenters were rounded up and removed; artistic and unacceptable religious works were confiscated. Cameras and microphones are littered throughout the land, and the people are perpetually sedated through the governmentally controlled media. Taking inspiration from Guy Fawkes, the 17th century co-conspirator of a failed attempt to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, V dons a Fawkes mask and costume and sets off to wake the masses by destroying the symbols of their oppressors, literally and figuratively. At the beginning of his vendetta, V rescues Evey (Natalie Portman) from a group of police officers and has her live with him in his underworld lair. It is through their relationship where we learn how V became V, the extremities of the party's corruption, the problems of an oppressive government, V's revenge plot and his philosophy on how to induce change.

Based on the popular graphic novel by Alan Moore, V For Vendetta's screenplay was written by the Wachowski Brothers (of The Matrixfame) and directed by their protégé James McTeigue. Controversy and criticism followed the film since its inception, from the hyper-stylized use of anarchistic terrorism to overthrow a corrupt government and the blatant jabs at the current US political arena, to graphic novel fans complaining about the reconstruction of Alan Moore's original vision (Moore himself has dismissed the film). Many are valid critiques and opinions, but there's no hiding the message the film is trying to express: Radical and drastic events often need to occur in order to shake people out of their state of indifference in order to bring about real change. Unfortunately, the movie only offers a means with no ends, and those looking for answers may find the film stylish, but a bit empty. —Rob Bracco
Valentine [2001]
Jamie Blanks A moderately enjoyable by-the-numbers slasherflick, Valentineis more memorable for incidental characters and details than it is for its central plot or the various twists director Jamie Blanks and his large team of writers inflict on us. Years ago, in sixth grade, causal cruelty by a group of girl friends to an outsider boy had, accidentally, terrible consequences for him... and now someone disguised in a cherub mask is killing them, one after another. Most of them have more or less messy relationships—Kate (Marley Shelton) is dating the charming alcoholic Adam (David Boreanaz) and Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) has attracted the exploitative conman Campbell; as the bitchy bad girl Paige, Denise Richards has a memorable sexual charisma. All of the performances have enough depth to be readable for subtextual clues as to who the killer really is. Some sequences—the pursuit of Lily through a maze on the walls of which highly sexualised advertising images are flickeringly projected—have an impact which, sustained, would have made for a far more interesting film.

On the DVD:The DVD has a commentary by Jaime Blanks in which he talks frankly about some of the working constraints, a club reel of the song "Opticon" by Orgy, a short behind-the-scenes documentary and subtitles in English, Arabic, Romanian and Bulgarian. The film is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 visual ratio and has excellent Dolby Sound which ensures that the vigorous dance soundtrack never drowns the snappy dialogue. —Roz Kaveney
Valentine's Day [DVD] [2010]
Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Garry Marshall
Van Wilder: Party Liaison [2002]
Walter Becker Van Wilder(Ryan Reynolds) has managed to spend a decade loafing at college by deliberately failing his finals each year. When his dad wakes up and pulls his funding, Van turns to his party-organising skills and big-man-on-campus image to pay his way. Complications arise when an aspiring college-rag journo (Tara Reid—the girlfriend of the wimpy one in American Pie) shows an interest, and Van begins to question his bachelor-boy lifestyle.

Though Van Wilder: Party Liaisoncontains the occasional clever line ("at least Ms Pacman swallows") and a nice self-referential appearance from Tim Matheson—the original college lothario from the archetypal (and still the best) frat-kids movie, Animal House—it's still fundamentally flawed. It's difficult, for one thing, to believe in the appalling central character's great popularity with his peers—the Fonze he ain't. It's also evident that Reynolds has watched one too many Jim Carrey performances, while Reid's role reduces her to being little more than insubstantial eye-candy. The film's makers have been so anxious to get in all the required references (pot-smoking, bodily functions and nudity) that they've forgotten to make it any good. Worse, along the way it takes cheap gratuitous pot shots at the disabled, the ugly, the old and the obese.

Though it purports to be a "party-on" parable, then, its predictably corny denouement and the conventional values it ultimately espouses reek of Republican morality. There are probably worse ways to spend an hour-and-a-half, but it would be hard to call them to mind when watching this execrable, formulaic drivel—do yourself a favour and enjoy American Pieagain instead. —Paul Eisinger
Vanilla Sky [2002]
Cameron Crowe Vanilla Skyreunites director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) with the swoonsome Tom Cruise; adds another sexy Cruz (Penélope) and Cameron Diaz for good measure; and delivers a wildly entertaining, bizarre venture into erotic science fiction. Adapted almost exactly from Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 romantic thriller Open Your Eyes, the film follows David Aames (Cruise) as he falls from his graceful Manhattan perch of inordinate wealth, good looks and new-found love with Sofia (Cruz) because of severe facial disfigurement resulting from a car accident caused by a suicidal ex-lover (Diaz). Reduced to wearing a latex mask and spurned by his friends, what at first promises to be a conventional allegory of redemption via true love is turned on its head as Cruise's character only wins back his princess after a miracle of plastic surgery restores his former beauty. A series of plot twists follow, as waking life, technological advances and nightmares merge to dizzying effect, leaving David face to face with his own mortality. Despite a final conceit to some vague morality, the appeal of the film is the wonderfully callous message conveyed by the whole—money and physical beauty equal happiness and an unabashed vanity perfectly embodied by Cruise and Cruz. —Fionn Meade

On the DVD:Vanilla Sky's anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is practically flawless with no visible pixilation, showing off John Toll's excellent cinematography. The audio is also exemplary, particularly with music tracks such as Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place". Cameron Crowe's commentary track is excellent and the other extra's consist of a couple of trailers, a stills gallery and an interview with Paul McCartney from Entertainment Tonightin regards to his Golden Globe-nominated song "Vanilla Sky". Two featurettes are included. In the first Crowe follows the surreal theme of the film. The second, "Prelude to a Dream", a "making-of" documentary, is conspicuous for it's lack of interviews or any real material about the making of the film. —Kristen Bowditch
The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola Previously criticized for her marginal acting skills, Sofia Coppola made her directorial debut with The Virgin Suicidesand silenced her detractors. No amount of coaching from her director father (Francis Coppola) or husband (Spike Jonze) could have guaranteed a film this assured, and in adapting Jeffrey Eugenides's novel, Coppola demonstrates the sensitivity and emotional depth that this material demands. Surely the pain of youth and public criticism found its way into her directorial voice; in the story of four sisters who self-destruct under the steady erosion of their youthful ideals, one can clearly sense Coppola's intimate connection to the inner lives of her characters.

Played in a delicate minor key, the film is heartbreaking, mysterious, and soulfully funny, set in a Michigan suburb of the mid-1970s but timeless and universal to anyone who's been a teenager. The four surviving Lisbon sisters lost a sibling to suicide, and as its title suggests, the film will chart their mutual course to oblivion under the vigilance of repressive parents (Kathleen Turner and James Woods, perfectly cast). But The Virgin Suicidesis more concerned with lifein that precious interlude of adolescence, when the Lisbon girls are worshipped by the neighborhood boys, their notion of perfection epitomized by Lux (Kirsten Dunst) and her storybook love for high-school stud Trip (Josh Hartnett). Unfolding at the cusp of innocence and sexual awakening, and recalled as a memory, The Virgin Suicidesis, ultimately, about the preservationof the Lisbon sisters by their own deaths—suspended in time, polished to perfection, and forever untainted by adulthood. —Jeff Shannon
Waitress [2007]
Adrienne Shelly Much like the films of Hal Hartley, Waitress is funny in a deadpan sort of way, but a sadness lurks below the surface. After making a splash in Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, Adrienne Shelly turned to directing with Sudden Manhattan and I'll Take You There. Set in a small Southern town, her third picture revolves around waitress Jenna (Felicity's radiant Keri Russell), who works at Joe's Pie Diner (Joe is played by Andy Griffith). Jenna is the pastry genius who makes Joe's joint shine. Her co-workers include the forthright Becky (Cheryl Hines, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and insecure Dawn (Shelly). All three have man trouble, but Jenna has it the worst. Her husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto, Six Feet Under), treats her like a piece of property. When she finds out she's pregnant, Jenna fears she'll be stuck with him forever. Then, she develops a crush on her married obstetrician, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion, Serenity). With the aid of her fanciful confections, like peachy keen tarts, their flirtation develops into a full-blown affair. It appears to be a no-win situation, but Shelly finds an empowering way to bring this bittersweet story to a close. If the candy-coloured conclusion plays more like fantasy than reality, it's a fantasy worth embracing. Sadly, Shelly was murdered before Waitress ever saw the light of day (leaving behind a husband and child of her own). Fortunately, her final film is far more life-affirming than morose, although it does end with the word "goodbye." —Kathleen C. Fennessy
Wall Street [1988]
Oliver Stone In Wall Street Michael Douglas perfectly embodies the Reagan-era credo that "greed is good" and won an Oscar for his efforts. As a Donald Trump-like Wall Street raider aptly named Gordon Gecko (for his reptilian ability to attack corporate targets and swallow them whole), Douglas found a role tailor-made to his skill in portraying heartless men who've sacrificed humanity to power. He's a slick, seductive role model for the young ambitious Wall Street broker played by Charlie Sheen, who falls into Gecko's sphere of influence and instantly succumbs to the allure of risky deals and generous payoffs. With such perks as a high-rise apartment and women who love men for their money, Charlie's like a worm on Gecko's hook, blind to the corporate manoeuvring that puts him at odds with his own father (played by Sheen's off-screen father, Martin). With his usual lack of subtlety, writer-director Oliver Stone drew from the brokering experience of his own father to tell this Faustian tale for the "me" decade but the film's sledgehammer style is undeniably effective. A cautionary warning that Stone delivers on highly entertaining terms, Wall Street grabs your attention while questioning the corrupted values of a system that worships profit at the cost of one's soul. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
WALL-E (2 Disc Special Edition) [2008]
Andrew Stanton Pixar genius reigns in this funny romantic comedy, which stars a robot who says absolutely nothing for a full 25 minutes yet somehow completely transfixes and endears himself to the audience within the first few minutes of the film. As the last robot left on earth, Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt) is one small robot—with a big, big heart—who holds the future of Earth and mankind squarely in the palm of his metal hand. He's outlasted all the "Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class" robots that were assigned some 700 years ago to clean up the environmental mess that man made of earth while man vacationed aboard the luxury spaceship Axiom. Wall-E has dutifully gone about his job compacting trash, the extreme solitude broken only by his pet cockroach, but he's developed some oddly human habits and ideas. When the Axiom sends its regularly scheduled robotic EVE probe (Elissa Knight) to earth, Wall-E is instantly smitten and proceeds to try to impress EVE with his collection of human memorabilia. EVE's directive compels her to bring Wall-E's newly collected plant sprout to the captain of the Axiom and Wall-E follows in hot pursuit. Suddenly, the human world is turned upside down and the Captain (Jeff Garlin) joins forces with Wall-E and a cast of other misfit robots to lead the now lethargic people back home to earth. Wall-E is a great family film with the most impressive aspect being the depth of emotion conveyed by a simple robot—a machine typically considered devoid of emotion, but made so absolutely touching by the magic of Pixar animation. Also well-worth admiring are the sweeping views from space, the creative yet disturbing vision of what strange luxuries a future space vacation might offer, and the innovative use of trash in a future cityscape. Underneath the slapstick comedy and touching love story is a poignant message about the folly of human greed and its potential effects on earth and the entire human race. —Tami Horiuchi, Amazon.com
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2 Disc Special Edition) [2005]
Steve Box, Nick Park A decade after their last hilarious short, the Oscar-winning A Close Shave, Claymation wonders Wallace and Gromit return for a full-length adventure. Daffy scientist Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his heroic dog Gromit are doing well with their business, Anti-Pesto, a varmint-hunting outfit designed to keep their English town safe from rabbits chomping on prized vegetables. Wallace meets Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), who appreciates Wallace's humane way of dealing with rabbits (courtesy of the Bun-Vac 6000), and sets up a rivalry with the gun-toting Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, enjoying himself more than ever). Creator Nick Park, with co-director/writer Steve Box, delivers a story worthy of the 85-minute running time, although it stretches the act a bit; the formula plays better shorter, but the literally hand-crafted film is a joy to watch. Taking a chapter from classic horror films, a giant were-rabbit is soon on the prowl, and the town is up in arms, what with the annual vegetable contest close at hand. (Anyone who's seen the previous three shorts knows who saves the day.) Never content to do something simply when the extravagant will do, W&G's lives are filled with whimsical Rude Goldberg-style devices, and the opening number showcasing their alarm system is pure Aardman Animation at its finest. Even though there's a new twist here—a few mild sight gags aimed at adults—this G-rated film will delight young and old alike as Park, like team Pixar, seems incapable of making anything but an outstanding film. —Doug Thomas, Amazon.com
Wallace And Gromit – The Complete Collection [DVD]
Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, Nick Park, Peter Lord, Richard Goleszowski, Steve Box
Wanted [DVD] [2008]
Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, Timur Bekmambetov Based upon Mark Millar's explosive graphic novel series and helmed by stunning visualist director Timur Bekmambetov - creator of the most successful Russian film franchise in history, the Night Watch series - Wanted tells the tale of one apathetic nobody's transformation into an unparalleled enforcer of justice.

25-year-old Wes (James McAvoy) was the most disaffected, cube-dwelling drone the planet had ever known. His boss chewed him out hourly, his girlfriend ignored him routinely and his life plodded on interminably. Everyone was certain this disengaged slacker would amount to nothing. There was little else for Wes to do but wile away the days and die in his slow, clock punching rut.

Until he met a woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie).

After his estranged father is murdered, the deadly sexy Fox recruits Wes into the Fraternity, a secret society that trains Wes to avenge his dad's death by unlocking his dormant powers. As she teaches him how to develop lightning-quick reflexes and phenomenal agility, Wes discovers this team lives by an ancient, unbreakable code: carry out the death orders given by fate itself.

With wickedly brilliant tutors - including the Fraternity's enigmatic leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman) - Wes grows to enjoy all the strength he ever wanted. But, slowly, he begins to realize there is more to his dangerous associates than meets the eye. And as he wavers between newfound heroism and vengeance, Wes will come to learn what no one could ever teach him: he alone controls his destiny.
The Way [DVD]
Martin Sheen, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), English ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (1.85:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast/Crew Interview(s), Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: Tom is an American doctor who goes to France following the death of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St. James. Tom's purpose is initially to retrieve his son's body. However, in a combination of grief and homage to his son, Tom decides to journey on this path of pilgrims. While walking The Camino, Tom meets others from around the world (three in particular), all broken and looking for greater meaning in their lives.Along The Way, Tom discovers the meaning of one of the last things his son said (in a flashback) to his father. There is a difference between 'the life we live and the life we choose.' ...The Way
Wayne's World 2 Dvd [1993]
Stephen Surjik Wayne's World 2was a successful follow-up for Wayne and Garth's Adventures, full of the same madcap humour from their TV characters and previous film. Somewhere in the world, there are probably people who don't understand why Mike Myers' eponymous Wayne's Worldcharacter is funny—feel sorry for them. Granted, the laughs are often cheap and silly, but there's no one who can embody a comic character and riff within that character the way Myers does. Wayne and his pal Garth (Dana Carvey) were fixtures on Saturday Night Livebefore the unexpected success of Wayne' s World, a movie about what happened when they tried to take their local cable-access citywide. This time, they want to stage Waynestock, a mammoth rock festival in their little Chicago suburb, even as Wayne copes with girlfriend Tia Carrere's interest in record-company exec Christopher Walken. For extra fun, Garth gets involved with the babelicious Kim Basinger. Yes, the humour is scattershot and the plot is lame—but you'll find yourself laughing none the less. —Marshall Fine, Amazon.com
Wayne's World [1992]
Penelope Spheeris Thanks to Mike Myers' wonderfully rude, lowbrow humour and his full-bodied understanding of who his character is, Wayne's Worldproved to be that rare thing: a successful transition of a Saturday Night Livesketch to the big screen. Wayne Campbell (Myers) and his nerdy pal Garth (Dana Carvey) are teens who live at home and have their own low-rent cable-access show in Aurora, Illinios, in which they celebrate their favourite female film stars and heavy-metal bands. When a Chicago TV station smells a potential youth-audience ratings hit, the station's weasely executive (Rob Lowe) tries to co-opt the show—and steal Wayne's new rock 'n' roll girlfriend (Tia Carrere) at the same time. Like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventurebefore it (and the later Detroit Rock City), this is a film that affectionately parodies and celebrates slacker teenage culture. It's also filled with all kinds of knowing spoofs of film conventions, from Wayne talking to the camera (while forbidding other characters to do so) and hilariously self-conscious product placements, to labelling a moment a "Gratuitous Sex Scene". Dumb yet clever—and very funny. —Marshall Fine, Amazon.com
We Own the Night [DVD] [2007]
Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, James Gray In We Own the Night, Joaquin Phoenix, whose eyes burn with sullen anger even when he's looking at the woman he loves, plays Bobby Green, a nightclub manager in the 1980s who gets caught between his blood family he tried to leave behind—a long line of police officers—and his chosen family of friends and business partners, who turn out to be drug dealers. His father (Robert Duvall) and brother (Mark Wahlberg) want Bobby to help their investigation, but Bobby resists—until the conflict takes a brutal turn. Writer/director James Gray wears his influences on his sleeve; he's clearly seen every movie that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola ever made and aspires to follow in their footsteps.

The familiarity of the movie's territory dilutes its impact, but the plot of We Own the Night remains unpredictable, the performances have a clean vitality, and Gray's moody visual style brings some life to the genre. Phoenix (Walk the Line) dives into his role, sifting through layers of guilt and familial resentment; Wahlberg and Duvall play parts they've essentially played a dozen times, but do so with commitment and integrity. Also featuring Eva Mendes (Ghost Rider) as Bobby's devoted girlfriend, who questions just how much she'll have to give up for him. —Bret Fetzer
Wedding Crashers - Uncorked [DVD] [2005]
Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, David Dobkin The surprise comedy smash of 2005, Wedding Crashers has a resolutely simple set up. You take Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, cast them as a pair of thirtysomethings who spend their weekends gatecrashing weddings, and put them in search of female company while they’re there. The clue really is in the title.

Yet there are several elements that make the film a little bit special. First and foremost, there’s the cast. Vaughn and Wilson are clearly having a whale of a time here, and it’s on screen for all to see. Even in the moments where the script doesn’t quite measure up, the duo have the energy and presence to keep the film ticking over. It’s great too to see them backed up well by the likes of Jane Seymour and Christopher Walken, both of whom are on fine form here.

The film is also not shy of significant belly laughs, with plenty of comedic moments of note to enjoy. Granted, you’d be hard-pushed to call it high brow comedy, but that’s missing the point. Wedding Crashers is an accessible, highly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, and has no pretensions otherwise. And that’s its strength. In short, good, funny, energetic entertainment, and it’s got healthy rewatch potential too.—Simon Brew
The Wedding Date [2005]
The Wedding Planner [2001]
Adam Shankman The good news is, yes, Jennifer Lopez can do comedy. In The Wedding Planner Lopez is Mary, a lovable woman who believes "those who can't do, teach. Those who can't wed, plan!" Her slapstick moments are light-hearted and offer a spot-on performance as the compulsive-yet-sweet planner. The bad news is Lopez didn't get much of a vehicle in which to test drive her newfound comedic skills.

The main problem with this film is that no one wants to hurt anyone else's feelings. Everyone is just so gosh-darn nice. In a subplot, Mary's father is trying to arrange her marriage to just the nicest Italian boy. Gee, he's sweet. Golly, Mary's rival in love Fran is so nice. Yet, there is a touch of old-fashioned romance to this wholesome film, which can only be described as "cute." While things may unfold in a predictable manner, The Wedding Planner is still light-hearted fun of the sort that inspires dreamy romantic thoughts. —Jenny Brown, Amazon.com

On the DVD: The Wedding Planner on disc has a soft focus to the widescreen 2.35:1 image which is perfect for this purely entertaining romantic comedy fluff. The soundtrack is done well with both the dialogue and music coming through crisp and clear and despite the fact that this DVD doesn't set out to be a special edition there is more than enough to keep extras features fans happy. There's a good audio commentary from director Adam Shankman and writers Pamela Falk and Michael Ellism as well as a couple of rough-cut deleted scenes with commentary, and two featurettes—one on the making of the film and the second on the choreography of the tango sequence. —Kristen Bowditch
The Wedding Singer [1998]
Frank Coraci Don't just think of The Wedding Singeras an Adam Sandler comedy—though it most certainly is that. But also think of it as the tip of the wave of the 1980s nostalgia craze that followed on the heels of the 1970s nostalgia craze. Set in the post-disco, new wave era, the film tells the story of Robbie Hart (Sandler), the king of small-town wedding-band singers, who once dreamt of being a rock star. But his contentment with life shatters when his fiancée stands him up at the altar. After wallowing in self-pity (by musically attacking the next wedding couple he serenades) and swearing off women, he helps a new friend, Julia (Drew Barrymore), get ready for her impending nuptials—only to find himself falling in love with her. If you're a Sandler fan, you'll enjoy him as an actual adult, though a wise-cracking one. And dig all those kooky 80s reference jokes and that greatest-hits-of-early-MTV soundtrack. —Marshall Fine
The West Wing - Complete Season 1
Jason Ensler Aaron Sorkin's American political drama The West Wingis more than mere feel-good viewing for sentimental US patriots. It is among the best-written, sharpest, funniest and most moving American TV series of all time. In its first series, The West Wingestablished the cast of characters comprising the White House staff. There's Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), a recovering alcoholic whose efforts to be the cornerstone of the administration contribute to the break-up of his marriage. CJ (Alison Janney) is the formidable Press Spokeswoman embroiled in a tentative on-off relationship with Timothy (Thirtysomething) Busfield's reporter. Brilliant but grumpy communications deputy Toby Ziegler, Rob Lowe's brilliant but faintly nerdy Sam Seaborn and brilliant but smart-alecky Josh Lyman make up the rest of the inner circle. Initially, the series' creators had intended to keep the President off-screen. Wisely, however, they went with Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet, whose eccentric volatility, caution, humour and strength in a crisis make for such an impressively plausible fictional President that polls once expressed a preference for Bartlet over the genuine incumbent.

The issues broached in the first series have striking, often prescient contemporary relevance. We see the President having to be talked down from a "disproportionate response" when terrorists shoot down a plane carrying his personal doctor, or acting as broker in a dangerous stand-off between India and Pakistan. Gun control laws, gays in the military and fundamentalist pressure groups are all addressed—the latter in a most satisfying manner ("Get your fat asses out of the White House!")—while the episode "Take This Sabbath Day" is a superb dramatic meditation on capital punishment.

Handled incorrectly, The West Wingcould have been turgid, didactic propaganda for The American Way. However, the writers are careful to show that, decent as this administration is, its achievements, though hard-won, are minimal. Moreover, the brisk, staccato-like, almost musical exchanges of dialogue, between Josh and his PA Donna, for instance, as they pace purposefully up and down the corridors are the show's abiding joy. This is wonderful and addictive viewing. —David Stubbs
The West Wing - Complete Season 4
The West Wing - Complete Season 5
The West Wing - Complete Season 6
The West Wing - Complete Season 7
The West Wing : Complete Season 2
Jason Ensler The second season of The West Wingtakes up literally where the first season left off and, after a few moments of patriotic sentimentalism, maintains the series' astonishingly high standards in depicting the everyday life of the White House staff of a Democratic administration. The two-part opener covers the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt on President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), switching between the anxious wait on the injured and flashbacks to Bartlet's campaign for the Presidency. Other peaks in a series exceedingly short on lows include "Noel," the episode in which Alan Arkin's psychiatrist forces Josh Lynam to confront his post-traumatic stress disorder and the episodes in which President Bartlet, following a tragic car accident, rails angrily against God in Latin.

Other new aspects include the introduction of Ainsley Hayes, a young Republican counsel hired after she beats communications deputy Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) in a TV debate ("Sam's getting his ass kicked by a girl!" crow his colleagues), as well as the revelation that the President has been suffering from multiple sclerosis. Tensions grow between him and the First Lady (Stockard Channing) as she realizes, in the episode "Third State of the Union," that he intends to run for a second term in office. It becomes clear to Bartlet that he must go public with his MS, and his staff is forced to come to terms with this, as well as deal with the usual plethora of domestic and international incidents, which apparently preclude any of them from having any sort of private lives. These include crises in Haiti and Columbia, an obstinate filibuster, and a Surgeon General's excessively frank remarks about the drug situation. Thankfully, the splendid Lord John Marbury (Roger Rees) is on hand to make chief of staff Leo McGarry's life more of a misery in "The Drop-In."

These episodes, though occasionally marred by a sentimental soundtrack and an earnest and wishfully high regard for the Presidential office, are master classes in drama and dialogue, ranging from the wittily staccato to the magnificently grave, capturing authentically the hectic pace of political intrigue and the often vain efforts of decent, brilliant people to do the right thing. The West Wingis one of the all-time great TV dramas. —David Stubbs
The West Wing : Complete Season 3
There is no letdown in talent or skill for the third season of this blue ribbon drama. One could say these 22 episodes play as a continuation of the second season; there are no major new characters or earth-shattering plots and the Emmys rewarded the series with its third straight award for Best Drama (and unlike season 4, no one argued about the laurels). The third year starts with a stand-alone episode "Isaac & Ishmael", a special show created, shot, and broadcast 22 days after the 9/11 events. Although the final results tend to be sermonic, the fact the show was able to drop everything and commit to a new season opener is evident not only of talent, but of a disciplined work force operating at the top of their game.

President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) decision to run for reelection after the disclosure of suffering MS fuels the fire for the first half of the season. Depositions are filed against the staff, minor mistakes take on more significance, and the White House consul (Oliver Platt) has the run of the table warning of worst-case scenarios. The focus soon turns to the First Lady (Stockard Channing) as the potential "Lady Macbeth" of the scandal. Channing aces her role and turns her birthday celebration ("Dead Irish Writers") into one of the season's highlights. Assistant Donna (Janel Moloney), her boss Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), and press secretary C.J. (Alison Janney) all have charismatic romances, but the ace supporting player this year is John Spencer as the relentlessly loyal Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. Whether delivering the hard truth, accepting the proverbial bullet for the President, or being our guide to how Bartlet ran in the first place (in another wonderful flashback episode, "Bartlet for America"), all roads lead to McGarry. Acting Emmys went to Channing, Spencer, and Janney, but the strength of this show is that the entire cast has glorious moments (Toby's taking on the President's mode of operation, Sam's belief in government, or the President's peculiarities of Thanksgiving are just a few). Recurring guest stars—the likes of Ron Silver, Tim Matheson, Mary Louise Parker, and Mark Harmon—deliver some of their career-best work. Crack writing, a breathless pace, plus you learn a bit about government. What else do you want from a TV drama? —Doug Thomas
What's Eating Gilbert Grape? [DVD] [1993]
Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lasse Hallström Based on the novel by Peter Hedges (who adapted his own book) and directed by Lasse Hallström, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is the funny, moody tale of young Gilbert (Johnny Depp), who lives at home in a small town with his 500-pound Momma (beautifully played by non-professional Darlene Cates), his mentally retarded younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio, utterly convincing), and his sisters. Not a lot happens—Arnie keeps climbing a water tower and getting stuck; Gilbert is involved with a married woman (Mary Steenburgen), then meets a nice new girl in town who's closer to his age (Juliette Lewis). And that's exactly what makes this movie so much more than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood product: it's not about some mechanical, formulaic plot; it's about these characters, and it allows you to spend some time with them and get to know them. Depp proved yet again that he's one of the most interesting, unpredictable, and risk-taking actors in American movies; while a pre-Titanic DiCaprio deservedly received an Oscar nomination. —Jim Emerson
Wild Target [DVD]
Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Jonathan Lynn
Wild Things [1998]
John McNaughton Wild Thingsis the kind of lurid, trashy thriller that you'll either dive into with unabashed pleasure or turn away from in prudish disgust; it's entirely your choice, but we suggest the former option since it's obviously much more fun. The plot's so convoluted it's hardly worth describing, except to say that it's set in humid Florida and involves a respected high school teacher (Matt Dillon—yes, Matt Dillon as a teacher!) who is faced with accusations of rape by a student (Denise Richards, from Starship Troopers) who had been giving him the kind of attention most people would consider improper for such a "nice" young lady. Another student (Neve Campbell) raises a similar charge against the teacher, and that's when a police officer (Kevin Bacon) begins to investigate the allegations. Just when you think the movie's gone overboard with its shameless sex and absurdly twisted plot, in drops Bill Murray as an unscrupulous lawyer (of course) to spice things up with insurance scams and welcomed comic relief. As directed by John McNaughton (who has a way of making just the right moves with this kind of film noirmelodrama), Wild Thingsis a bona fide guilty pleasure—the kind of movie you may be ashamed to enjoy, but what the heck, you'll enjoy it anyway. —Jeff Shannon
Wimbledon [DVD] [2004]
Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Richard Loncraine Professional tennis makes an unlikely but surprisingly effective backdrop for a lively romantic comedy in Wimbledon. Peter Cort (Paul Bettany, Master and Commander), once ranked 11th in the world, has slipped to 119th and is heading into his last Wimbledon tournament when he runs into Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst, The Virgin Suicides, Spider-Man), a rising star. The two strike up a whirlwind romance that gives his game new life—but she insists it's going to be nothing but a passing fling. Their affair heats up and Cort finds himself steadily rising through the competition while Lizzie stumbles... Of course, the ending is never really in doubt—but Bettany is a unique cinematic presence, pale and lithe, doubtful of life but also hungry for it. Thanks to him and the ever-engaging Dunst, Wimbledon is funnier, more suspenseful, and more touching that anyone might expect, turning a conventional flick into a genuine charmer. —Bret Fetzer
Win A Date With Tad Hamilton
Robert Luketic
X-Men: First Class - Triple Play
James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Matthew Vaughn When Bryan Singer brought Marvel's X-Men to the big screen, Magneto and Professor X were elder statesmen, but Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) travels back in time to present an origin story—and an alternate version of history. While Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) grows up privileged in New York, Erik Lehnsherr (Bill Milner) grows up underprivileged in Poland. As children, the mind-reading Charles finds a friend in the shape-shifting Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Erik finds an enemy in Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), an energy-absorbing Nazi scientist who treats the metal-bending lad like a lab rat. By 1962, Charles (James McAvoy) has become a swaggering genetics professor and Erik (Michael Fassbender, McAvoy's Band of Brothers costar) has become a brooding agent of revenge. CIA agent Moira (Rose Byrne) brings the two together to work for Division X. With the help of MIB (Oliver Platt) and Hank (A Single Man's Nicholas Hoult), they seek out other mutants, while fending off Shaw and Emma Frost (Mad Men's January Jones), who try to recruit them for more nefarious ends, leading to a showdown in Cuba between the United States and the Soviet Union, the good and bad mutants, and Charles and Erik, whose goals have begun to diverge. Throughout, Vaughn crisscrosses the globe, piles on the visual effects, and juices the action with a rousing score, but it's the actors who make the biggest impression as McAvoy and Fassbender prove themselves worthy successors to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. The movie comes alive whenever they take centre stage, and dies a little when they don't. For the most part, though, Vaughn does right by playing up the James Bond parallels and acknowledging the debt to producer Bryan Singer through a couple of clever cameos. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
You've Got Mail [1999]
By now, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have amassed such a fund of goodwill with moviegoers that any new onscreen pairing brings nearly reflexive smiles. In You've Got Mail, the quintessential boy and girl next door repeat the tentative romantic crescendo that made Sleepless in Seattle, writer-director Nora Ephron's previous excursion with the duo, a massive hit. The prospective couple do actually meet face to face early on but Mailotherwise repeats the earlier feature's gentle, extended tease of saving its romantic resolution until the final, gauzy shot.

The underlying narrative is an even more old-fashioned romantic pas de deux that is casually hooked to a newfangled device. The script, cowritten by the director and her sister, Delia Ephron, updates and relocates the Ernst Lubitsch classic, The Shop Around the Corner, to contemporary Manhattan, where Joe Fox (Hanks) is a cheerfully rapacious merchant whose chain of book superstores is gobbling up smaller, more specialized shops such as the children's bookstore owned by Kathleen Kelly (Ryan). Their lives run in close parallel in the same idealized neighbourhood yet they first meet anonymously, online, where they gradually nurture a warm, even intimate correspondence. As they begin to wonder whether this e-mail flirtation might lead them to be soul mates, however, they meet and clash over their colliding business fortunes.

It's no small testament to the two stars that we wind up liking and caring about them despite the inevitable (and highly manipulative) arc of the plot. Although their chemistry transcended the consciously improbable romantic premise of Sleepless, enabling director Ephron to attain a kind of amorous soufflé, this time around there's a slow leak that considerably deflates the affair. Less credulous viewers will challenge Joe's logic in prolonging the concealment of his online identity from Kathleen, and may shake their heads at Ephron's reinvention of Manhattan as a spotless, sun-dappled wonderland where everybody lives in million-dollar apartments and colour co-ordinates their wardrobes for cocktail parties. —Sam Sutherland
You, Me And Dupree [2006]
Joe Russo, Anthony Russo There are a lot of broad comedies about men refusing to grow up, but few have the sly bite of You, Me and Dupree. Even though Carl (Matt Dillon, Crash, There's Something About Mary) is newly married to Molly (Kate Hudson, Almost Famous, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), when his best friend Dupree (Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers, The Life Aquatic) ends up homeless, Carl invites Dupree into their house—in which Dupree promptly makes himself at home, culminating in setting the place on fire during lurid sex. But though he's trapped between his wife and his best friend, Carl may have bigger problems as his boss—and father-in-law—hates him and is sneakily working against his marriage. You, Me and Dupree seems at first glance to be a frat-boy farce about men being emasculated by their wives, but the well-written script, guided with a sure hand by director team Joe and Anthony Russo (who each directed episodes of the top-notch TV series Arrested Development), successfully walks a treacherous path between multi-layered characters and comic events, and is all the funnier as a result. Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys, Fatal Attraction) turns in a sharp, nasty performance as Molly's overly-possessive father. Also featuring Seth Rogen (The 40 Year Old Virgin). —Bret Fetzer
Zoolander [2001]
Ben Stiller Ben Stiller originally created the vacuous male model hero of Zoolander for the VH1 Fashion Awards. In his big-screen appearance, Stiller's Derek Zoolander is New York's top model and proud creator of the tight-lipped "facial expression" Blue Steel. However, competition comes in the shape of equally empty-headed young buck Hansel (Owen Wilson), who wins the coveted male model of the year award, much to Derek's dismay. When Derek's vapid friends are then incinerated in an unfortunate petrol station incident he is left vulnerable and alone, perfect fodder for fashion designer supremo Mugatu (a brilliantly surreal Will Ferrell) to hatch a plot of Manchurian Candidate-sized proportions in which Derek is brainwashed into assassinating the Malaysian Prime minister at a fashion show. Derek enlists the help of investigative journalist (Christine Taylor) and even Hansel himself in an attempt to thwart Mugatu's devious plot.

Zoolander works thanks to the central performances. Stiller is endearing in his one-dimensional ineptitude, Wilson is shallow hippie cool personified, and there are some great cameos by the likes of David Duchovny as a Deep Throat-esque informer, Milla Jovovich as the eastern European sadomasochistic henchwoman and Jon Voight as Zoolander's coal mining dad. A constant parade of other celebs pop up throughout playing themselves. Admittedly it's a one-joke film, but there are some classic scenes along the way and at its best Zoolander is an entertaining dig at an industry that takes itself far too seriously.

On the DVD: Zoolander comes to DVD in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that's clear and crisp with strong colours, which perfectly shows off the cartoonish style of the film. The audio is consistently sharp. Extra junkies will find plenty of material: deleted scenes, including an extended "Mine" scene and Winona Ryder trying to pick-up Hansel; amusing outtakes; and a great commentary from Ben Stiller with writers Drake Sather and John Hamburg. Best of all is the original VH1 Fashion Show skits which were the inspiration for the film. —Kristen Bowditch