BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE - HANGING UP
BOILER ROOM - HOLY SMOKE
THE WHOLE NINE YARDS
THE BEACH - PITCH BLACK


BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Bosnian expatriate Jasmin Dizdar makes his feature film debut as writer/director with "Beautiful People," a modern tale about chaos and coincidence in today's melting pot London. This tale of love, hate, difference and understanding spans the lives of many as we meet and get to know the players in this world of change in today's England.

Robin's review of 'Beautiful People':
Griffin Midge (Danny Nussbaum) is tearing out the hearts of his parents because of his delinquent behavior with his hooligan soccer pals. Portia Thornton (Charlotte Colemann) is a doctor-in-training and the daughter of an upper middle class political family. Pero (Edin Dzandzanovic) is a poor Bosnian refugee who gets hit by a car and ends up in Portia's care. Jerry Higgins is a war correspondent heading to Bosnia to cover the conflict, but his mind is critically concerned with downsizing at the BBC. Dr. Mouldy (Nicholas Farrell) is an overworked National Health Service physician whose wife has left him to care for their two boys. There is a young Bosnian couple who is facing the imminent birth of an unwanted child, a child conceived in the violence of civil war. Finally, there are two Bosnians, one Serb and one Croat, who blame each other for the suffering in their homeland and continue their fight, with fists, in their adopted country.

These different tales represent a lot for newcomer Dizdar to wrap his arms around and the Bosnian helmer is only partly successful. He attempts to tell many stories and weave them together into a complete tapestry. The result is an uneven work, overall, that has some intriguing moments and ideas, but is too muddled to keep you captivated for its length. The best of the tales follows Griffin. He's a drug-using slacker who follows the lead of his equally slack, red-necked friends. The chums mug a young guy to get money to go to Rotterdam to see England versus Holland in the World Cup. Along the way to the airport, Griffin, groggy from a hit of heroin, lays down on a palette to nap. The next thing he knows, he and the palette are being airdropped into Bosnia as part of the UN relief effort. The naove Griffin undergoes a dramatic change because of his experience in the war-torn country and turns out a pretty decent bloke, to the relief of his concerned parents.

The other stories are more lightweight than Griffin's tale. Portia falls for Pero and they have to deal with the stigma of their social differences - she an educated professional who benefited from her upper middle class upbringing, he an uneducated, penniless soul who speaks little English and doesn't understand the welfare system he is now a part of. The romance that takes place is the sweet part of the film but doesn't evoke any real sympathy. Dr. Mouldy's story is sad and sometimes amusing in a study of a man, exhausted, who has to cope with too many crises at one time. Jerry Higgins, who wants to have his leg amputated in sympathy for those suffering in Bosnia, has the least compelling yarn. The battling Serb and Croat provide the film's comic relief in their ongoing fight through the streets of London and into the hospital, where each tries to tear out the other's intravenous tubes. The whole thing ends with several parties taking place in parallel and all is right with the world as peace descends on all.

There is simply too much going on in "Beautiful People" to allow any of the stories to be fully realized. A bit of judicious editing of the material before the camera started rolling would have given us a chance to meet fewer beautiful people, but to get a chance to know them better. It's an uneven debut work, but one that shows promise for its creator, Dizdar.

I give "Beautiful People" a C+.

Laura's review of 'Beautiful People':
Written and directed by feature film debuter Jasmin Dizdar, "Beautiful People" can stake claim to being the first comedy about the Bosnian civil war, although most of the action occurs in London. The film opens when a Serb boards a bus to find his former Croatian neighbor a fellow passenger. Fisticuffs ensue, they get thrown off the bus, and continue to hunt each other down until they both end up in the hospital - sharing the same room. A nurse now unwittingly keeps one from killing the other, while their third roommate loudly complains.

In the same hospital, doctor in training Portia Thornton (Charlotte Coleman, "Four Weddings and a Funeral") tends to Serbian refuge Pero (Edin Dzandzanovic) and a tentative romantic attachment is formed between the upper class bohemian and the former basketball player. Dr. Mouldy Nicholas Farrell, "Plunkett and Macleane") is barely hanging on while his estranged wife attempts to wrest their two young boys from him. While he fights to keep his children, he's faced with a young Bosnian couple about to become parents who want him to destroy the child because it was conceived duirng the rape of the mother in their homeland.

Then there are the Midges. Fluttering Felicity (Heather Tobias, "High Hopes") desperately acts the part of nuturing wife and mother while staid schoolteacher Roger (Roger Sloman, "Loch Ness") fumes at the waste of a life embodied by their junkie slacker son Griffin (Danny Nussbaum, "TwentyFourSeven") who spends his time with two punk buddies with criminal tendencies. They get into the Bosnian action when Griffin, in a drugged stupor, falls asleep in an airdrop shipment being flown to Bosnia. Once there Griffin will cross paths with BBC cameraman Jerry Higgins (Gilbert Martin, "Rob Roy") whose artist wife Kate (Siobhan Redmond, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein") begged him not to take this dangerous assignment.

Dizdar does a fair job keeping all these storylines in the air while crossing his characters' paths and ties up all his loose ends with varying degrees of satisfaction. Griffin's Bosnian odyssey is perhaps the funniest segment, recalling "M.A.S.H." in its absurdity (Roger and Felicity watch the news agog as their son is described as a hero smuggling in much needed drugs to a medical field unit). Mouldy creates a shangri-la for the Bosnian couple who name their baby 'Chaos,' Pero charms the snobbish upper crust Brits before making a startling revelation at his wedding to Portia, and in the film's weakest segment, Jerry returns with what a psychiatrist diagnoses as 'Bosnian syndrome.' Dizdar also has some fun revealing the cause of that third Welsh hospital roomie's injury.

Technically, the film is rough around the edges, with grainy photography and sequences often editted too abruptly. While "Beautiful People" is an interesting lark which makes obvious conclusions in a comical manner, it's questionable how well this material will play in the U.S., which, unlike Britain, rarely got up close and personal with the victims of the Bosnian conflict.

B-


HANGING UP

Eve (Meg Ryan) can barely keep control of her own life, which includes a husband, precocious son and fledgling party-planning business, when she gets a phone call that her dad (Walter Matthau) has been taken to the hospital. Eve calls her older sister Georgia (Diane Keaton) and younger sister Maddy (Lisa Kudrow), but both are, as usual, unavailable to help. As Eve stuggles to cope with the decline of her handful of a father, familial relationships are reexamined in "Hanging Up."

Laura's review of 'Hanging Up':
At its core, "Hanging Up" has some moving things to say about elderly parental care. Unfortunately, cowriters Nora and Delia Ephron ("You've Got Mail"), also feel compelled to embed the good bits in a standard Hollywood structure that's a bit of a shriekfest and push their cell phone symbolism (and Nixonian references) until you want to strangle them with a phone cord.

Meg Ryan is the only actor in this film who comes away having created the semblance of a human being, and if her wrinkly-nosed warmth doesn't appeal to you, you won't buy her character either. Eve is operating on overload, quickly causing her third car accident of the year when distracted by her cell phone conversation. (That she smashes the Mercedes owned by a doctor who provides his mom to her as 'a shoulder,' and mom tells him Eve shouldn't have to pay for the damages, is a true fairy tale of a subplot.) She alternates among caring for Dad ('he's dead!' she exclaims every time her phone rings), moving an event for 500 women to the Nixon Library in the two weeks before its occurrence, and being astonished at the lack of support she gets from her sisters.

Dad Lou (Matthau), a former Hollywood screenwriter with a John Wayne fixation, appears to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's, but can still get giggles out of his Evie. Flashbacks gradually fill in his character, presenting a man who's attempted suicide and has been depressed since his wife left him over 10 years earlier. He's also a womanizer and an alcoholic who Eve's husband Joe (Adam Arkin) banished from their home when he destroyed his grandson's birthday party in a drunken stupor and hurled a painful disclosure into his daughter's face. Eve also remembers the good times with him, though, which makes this relationship complex and worth exploring.

Georgia (director Diane Keaton) is a self-absorbed celebrity who's creating the 5th anniversary edition of her magazine, named 'Georgia.' She wears power suits and talks (or deigns not to) on her cell phone all day. Maddy (Lisa Kudrow, TV's 'Friends') is a self-absorbed soap star who complains about her 5x10x52 work life and thinks nothing of dumping her St. Bernard on Eve because the dogs needs four pills daily to treat its Lyme disease (and a chance for the filmmakers to do cute big dog slapstick montages). A sequence where Eve tries to get her mom (Cloris Leachman) to return 'home' to see her dying dad is pretty strange. Mom simply declares that 'motherhood was never a reason...' and that it 'didn't take.' In other words, Eve gets the maternal brushoff.

It's difficult to determine whether the film's psychosis comes from director Keaton or the Ephron sisters' script. Diane Keaton previously directed a very moving film about parental loss, "Unstrung Heroes," so I suspect she may be responsible for making the Eve/Lou relationship as moving as it is. Nora Ephron, on the other hand, has a history of derivative, feel-good flicks like "Sleepless in Seattle." The sisters' relationships are mended with a couple of jokes after presumable years of growing strain.

Tech credits are first rate. The film's color scheme has been paid particular attention to (Eve always has yellow flowers around, a nice touch when we learn her mother grew yellow roses), although it gets a little heavy handed when the sisters all happen to wear black when they're finally reunited.

"Hanging Up" is Hollywood paint-by-the-numbers filmmaking with some surprises up its sleeve.

C+


BOILER ROOM

Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) is a 19 year-old college dropout who runs an illegal casino in his apartment, catering to the sons of the neighbors and colleagues of his father (Ron Rifkin), a highly placed Federal court judge. Seth is recruited, at one of his card games, by a fast-talking stock broker, Greg (Nicky Katt), who promises the young man that, if he comes on board at J.T. Marlin Trading, he will make a million dollars within three years. The promise of a "legit" job in the stock market could give Seth the two things he wants most from life: a whole lot of money and the respect of his father in writer/director Ben Younger's feature film debut, "Boiler Room."


Robin's review of 'Boiler Room':
Newcomer Younger's screenplay owes much to the high-powered, billion dollar stock market finagling of Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" and the machine gun dialog, no-hold-barred grittiness of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross." The fledgling helmer takes his work down a level and gives a unique look into the fly-by-night world of hyper-aggressive young Turks whose only goal is to be a player and make money - lots of it. The twenty-somethings that populate the rarified atmosphere of the hard-sell brokerage firms are out to make big bucks and will say anything, do anything to make the sale. The firm that Seth joins, J.T. Marlin, is a microcosm of the unscrupulous side of the business. It doesn't matter if the stocks they are shilling are bogus - the mark that buys them stands to lose everything - as long as they can collect their big commissions.

Ribisi's Seth is a willing babe-in-the-woods when he joins Marlin Trading. He already dabbled in the illegitimate with his casino venture. As he delves into his new world, he finds that his fast-talking, fast-thinking nature is perfect for his new career. He starts making money quickly, first for the firm, then for himself. The faceless pigeons that he cons over the phone with his cold-calls and fast closings are meaningless to him, until he dupes one poor schmuck - a young father scrimping to buy a new home. The damage that Seth's sale brings down upon the man and his family is a catalyst for the young broker's change of heart and mind. When Seth also sees and overhears plans by the firm's owner to move the brokerage operation - to keep his shady shop one step ahead of the SEC and the Feds - he realizes that there is more bad than good in the business.

Ben Younger makes a solid first entry with "Boiler Room" and shows a good sense of storytelling. The structure and pace in the telling of his tale shows a good understanding of his chosen craft. He handles his large cast of ambitious young actors playing ambitious young brokers with maturity, building up his characters and their persona along the way. The result is that you get to know the principles of the story and see what makes them tick. The changes Seth experiences, particularly when his conscience wins out over the desire to make money, are palpable. The sale of bogus stock to the hapless young father eventually drives him to see his world for what it is. You agree with and laud Seth when he finally does the right thing.

Fortunate, too, is the casting of the young Turks populating "Boiler Room." Ribisi shows that he can play more than just a wisecracker can as he tackles the role of Seth, showing the changes in the character as awareness of his actions creeps into the picture. Vin Diesel steals nearly every scene he is in as Chris, one of the top earners in the firm and the only one who still has a heart. As ruthless as he is to make his precious commissions, he still shows compassion and understanding as he befriends and mentors Seth. Nicky Katt, as the conniving Greg, is two-dimensional, but a fair bad-guy/foil for Seth. Ron Rifkin does a yeoman's job as Seth's disappointed and disapproving father, but that aspect of the screenplay is not fully explored. Ben Affleck, basically, reprises the role that Alec Baldwin so ably handled in "Glengarry Glen Ross." Nia Long is the only woman of any note in the film and her relationship with Seth is perfunctory and forced, at best.

Technically, the film captures the excitement and tensions of a business that is only for the strong of heart and weak of morals. The temporary look of the boiler room environment achieves its goal in showing an environment that could be moved in a matter of hours, if need be, to avoid a police raid. The scenes in J.T. Marlin's brokerage pit are fast and free flowing. The use of hand-held camera in some other scenes is distracting. Overall, though, the look and feel of the film belies its relatively small budget.

It's exciting to see new people come into the movie business, especially when they show good talent for storytelling, which is what it's all about, anyway. Ben Younger could, too, be a player.

I give "Boiler Room" a B.

Laura's review of 'Boiler Room':
College drop out Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi, "Saving Private Ryan") makes his living running an illegal 24 hour casino out of his Queens apartment which enrages his father (Ron Rifkin, "Substance of Fire"), a judge. When Seth's buddy Adam (Jamie Kennedy, "Scream") shows up late one night with Greg (Nicky Katt, "The Limey") in a Ferarri and asks to play a $5,000 game, Seth's intrigued. As much to gain his father's respect as to make easy money, Seth becomes the newest recruit at J.T. Marlin, located one hour from the New York Stock Exchange on Long Island. He's dazzled by Ben Affleck's promise that he'll be making a million within two years and by the showboating of his mentor Greg and senior broker Chris (Vin Diesel, "Saving Private Ryan").

These young Turks travel in packs, picking fights in bars and gathering at the senior guys ostentatious homes to parrot the lines to "Wall Street." The recruits cold call 'whales' to talk up junk stocks before their mentors make the final sale for huge 'rips' (commissions). Once they've generated forty sales and passed the Series Seven, they become brokers themselves. The owner of J.T. Marlin (Tom Everett Scott, "That Thing You Do!") the sells the shares his firm has inflated and the investors lose their money. When Seth bilks an average Joe (Taylor Nichols, "Barcelona") of his life savings, he has a crisis of conscience and cooperates with the FBI, who've been investigating J.T. Marlin.

This is an assured debut film that features snappy dialogue and terrific technical credits, although two of its major subplots are clunkily executed. Nia Long is Abby, the firm's $80,000 receptionist, whose immediate attraction to Seth is inexplicable. She's a plot device who's supposed to drive a wedge between Seth and Greg, her former lover, but it just doesn't work. The real wedge between Seth and his father is resolved way too patly, with Rifkin making an abrupt character change. Ribisi has his best role yet, Affleck's brief appearances are amusing and Vin Diesel shines as the only broker with anything resembling compassion. Jamie Kennedy gets to show off his talent for mimicry and Tom Everett Scott embodies the essence of an Ivy League shark.

Anne Stuhler's ("Walking and Talking") production design is outstanding, truly capturing the non-Manhatten burroughs and outskirts of New York City, from the bargain basement feel of J.T. Marlin's boiler room fronted by its posh reception area to the huge homes of the senior brokers filled with pricy toys and little else.

Writer/director Ben Younger has fashioned a "Wall Street" for the fast-paced, get-rich-quick 90's in his debut film. Younger was recruited by a 'chop shop' brokerage and given the same type of speech he has Ben Affleck make in his film. Hopefully, he'll find another subject this intriguing to explore on the big screen.

B


HOLY SMOKE

Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet, "Titanic") is searching for something in India and alarms her girlfriend Prue when she succumbs to religious ecstasy when held by the eyes of Guru Chidaatma Baba. Prue returns to their hometown of Sydney and galvanizes Ruth's mum (Julie Hamilton) to rescue her daughter by travelling to India with false news that her father is dying. It's not until Mum's health is injured by her own hysteria, though, that Ruth boards the plane that returns her to her family awaiting with a trap - American cult deprogrammer PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel, "The Piano").

Laura's review of 'Holy Smoke':
After two period pieces ("The Piano," "Portrait of a Lady"), director Jane Campion (who also cowrote with her sister Anna) returns to the present with this audacious film. Any themes of religion just become a smokescreen for Campion's primary theme - another battle of the sexes.

Ruth reluctantly agrees to spend three days with PJ in a remote hut in the Australian Outback (his method is to gain respect on Day One, provoke the subject on Day Two and wait for the breakdown on Day Three). He quickly gets her to begin to reassess herself, by pointing out that her behavior is not as filled with love as she professes it to be. However Ruth's strength and spirit force her to 'win' this game, and she turns the tables on PJ on the eve of Day Two when she appears broken and naked from the desert dark and seduces him.

Kate Winslet should be inspiring strong Oscar talk for her performance in this film, but "Holy Smoke's" muddled wackiness is probably working against her. This is her purest work since her debut in "Heavenly Creatures," another film set Down Under (her Aussie accent is dead on). She's fierce, flawed and a natural earth mother, ripe to the point of bursting. Campion and her cinematographer Dion Beebe capture her essence in one glorious visual as a sari-clad Ruth dances with abandon while listening to "You Oughta Know" on a walkman beside a pen of emus.

Keitel just gives himself over to his female costar and director and allows himself to be debased until he's lying battered in red dirt wearing a tight red dress, lipstick and one cowboy boot. At lease he makes his entrance in high style, strutting into the baggage claim all clad in black to Neil Diamond's "I Am..I Said." (Campion could start a Diamond revival with her splendid use of this tune and Ruth's Indian experience set to "Holy, Holy.") PJ, who claims to have 189 successes under his belt, shows his weakness early on, when Ruth's married sister Yvonne (Sophie Lee, "The Castle"), comes on strong to the exotic stranger. Keitel gets high points from me for remaining sympathetic, even as he admits to Ruth that 'I'm a dirty old man.'

Strong support is given by Hamilton as cluelessly flustered, but well-meaning Mum and Lee as the trashy fantasizer. Campion milks a lot of comedy from Ruth's loser family. Yvonne is so entranced by PJ, her youngster jumps from the back of a pickup and falls onto the ground instead of her distracted arms. Ruth's brother, suggested as an assistant to PJ, slams into a metal pole. Ruth rips Dad's toupee from his skull on the golf course when she discovers his lie. In the end, Mum is the only one Campion allows to be resuced from this sorry lot.

"Holy Smoke" looks stunning, with Campion's now trademark fantastical reveries being particularly effective - Ruth's hallugenic episode as Baba annoints her forehead, or PJ's vision of Ruth as the multi-armed Indian goddess as he lies in the desert.

This film is certainly not for all tastes, and if the ending doesn't quite ring true, it's a fine display of wishful thinking. However flawed, "Holy Smoke" is always fascinating in one way or another.

B+


THE WHOLE NINE YARDS

Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky (Matthew Perry) is an unhappy expatriated American dentist living in Montreal with his shrewish, money-grubbing wife, Sophie (Rosanna Arquette), and her equally repellent mother. One day, coming home from work, Oz sees a new neighbor moving in next door. Being the friendly type, the dentist drops over to say "hi" and welcome the newcomer to the neighborhood. Oz comes to the sudden realization that his neighbor is, in fact, Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis), a hit man hiding out from a dangerous Chicago crime family in "The Whole Nine Yards."

Robin's review of 'The Whole Nine Yards':
This third entry into this recent spate of mob comedies - "Analyze This" and "Mickey Blues Eyes" paved the way previously - shows that this genre is already nearing exhaustion. "The Whole Nine Yards" is formula filmmaking at its best, and I don't mean that as a necessarily good thing. The characters are likable enough, with Matthew Perry reprising his patented Chandler Bing character from TV's "Friends." Perry does get to stretch a bit, performing well nearly all of the slapstick comedy in the film. Bruce Willis, Michael Duncan Clarke and Kevin Pollack give by-the-numbers perfs, while Natasha Henstridge and Amanda Peet provide pretty window dressing. Rosanna Arquette has the most fun as Perry's money-grubbing wife with an outrageous French Canadian accent.

The story revolves around $10 million and a plot by all of those involved with the money to get rid of the other players. It's all pretty routine stuff done in a pretty routine way by director Jonathan Lynn, who can be blamed for bringing us "Sgt. Bilko." This inevitable, good-guy-gets-the-girl-and-the-loot and the bad-guy-gets-his-just-dessert tale is better left for cable or rental. You can always binge and rent the other ones, too, and have a modern mob comedy fest. Then again, maybe not. I give "The Whole Nine Yards" a C+.


THE BEACH

Scottish filmmaking trio - director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew MacDonald and screenwriter John Hodge (all of "Trainspotting" fame) - have taken on the task of providing wunderkind Leonardo DiCaprio with his first acting outing since the big boat sank to the tune of a billion dollar box-office. Adapted from the novel by Alex Garland, we meet Richard (DiCaprio), in voice-over narration, as he begins his journey of self-fulfillment and self-destruction in "The Beach."

Robin's review of 'The Beach':
Richard starts out a babe in the woods, landing in Bangkok, Thailand and seeking adventure. While staying in a low-cost hotel, he has a chance encounter with Daffy (Robert Carlyle), a tremendously weird, hyperactive, paranoid loonie who leaves a secret map for the American just before slashing his own wrists. The map shows the way to a place Richard thought to be just a Thai urban legend, a locale that is supposed to be paradise on Earth. He enlists the assistance of a French couple and they journey, using the map - which Richard pointedly copies, against his better judgment, and leaves for a couple of doper/surfer dudes - to an island known as "the Beach."

Once on the island, the trio is confronted with AK-47 toting "farmers" who guard the island's vast marijuana crop and are saved only by leaping off of a 120-foot high waterfall. They wind up in a safe haven at the other end of the island - a Utopian community of about 30 like-minded people who have rejected the harsh reality of their old lives and have moved to the pacific beauty of the Beach. But, as always, there is trouble in paradise as the lies that Richard has told along the way turn against him and the rest as their perfect world comes crashing down around them all in a violent finish.

Richard's story, as told by Boyle and company, is compared to the classic "Lord of the Flies," but where the earlier work dealt with things primal, "The Beach" deals with losses and gains of more esoteric needs like attaining paradise, then destroying it in order to save it. This is the most compelling aspect of the story, but the near total focus on DiCaprio detracts from the fuller possibilities if other characters were more fleshed out.

Acting is, by and large, centered on DiCaprio as Richard. The young thespian has shown promise from the beginning in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," solidifying his international acclaim - and $20 million paycheck - with "Titanic." His choice of "The Beach," following the blockbuster boat pic, as his next starring vehicle is a sound one. DiCaprio gets to delve into the psyche of a young man seeking adventure and happiness in exotic Thailand. As Richard finds his paradise, you see his earliest actions - copying a secret map and giving it away - become a burden and a reason to lie. The deception, to himself and to those around him, causes changes in Richard as he tries to cover one lie with another and another until he finally trips up completely and destroys the paradise he so eagerly sought. DiCaprio gets a chance to give a layered, evolving (actually, for Richard, devolving) character study with a talented understanding of the material.

While the supporting cast is large, it is also a pretty faceless mass of beautiful people in a beautiful place. Pretty Virginie Ledoyen and charming Guillaume Canet play the French couple, Francoise and Etienne, who become fellow travelers with Richard in the search for paradise. The young couple is given nothing of substance to do as they journey to Utopia with the obsessed American, coming across only as symbols of trust and doing the right thing. Tilda Swinton has the striking angular features and carriage to portray the clan leader, but she, too, is deprived of anything that tells us why the community would so obediently follow her dictates. Only Robert Carlyle, as the crazy Daffy, gets a chance to do some solid acting in a small role. He is both demon and muse to Richard, as he gives the young man the key to paradise. Fortunately, his short-lived perf in the beginning is complemented with his return in Richard's dreams and waking fantasies.

Cinematography is elegantly and beautifully provided by Darius Khondji, whose striking style helped accentuate such films as "Seven" and "Delicatessen." Khondji captures the lush warmth of the paradise presented and gives the flick a crispness that makes the photography a major asset for "The Beach." In addition to the great overall look are some particularly brilliant moments of cinematography. One sequence has Francoise photographing the stars, showing Richard the wonders of the universe. This image of celestial beings segues into a psychedelic sequence that is visual eye-candy. A nighttime water-born, love-making scene between Richard and Francoise is also a visually stylistic delight of darkness and light.

The limited attention paid to the story of those other than Richard is a large problem for "The Beach." The lack of anything more than two-dimensional portrayals and blatant use of symbolism instead of character development make the film less than stellar. DiCaprio comes out of the fray in pretty good shape, showing his ability to act and create a real, if not totally likable, person in Richard. It would have been nice if he had someone to talk to besides stick figures. Direct references to "Apocalypse Now" and "The Deerhunter" can be accepted as imitation being the highest form of flattery.

"The Beach" is a beautiful looking film, but one that has a less than complete tale. It should get a good draw from Leonardo fans and those who want a glimpse of paradise. But, according to the film, paradise ain't what it's cracked up to be. I give it a B-

Laura's review of 'The Beach':
After all the hoopla regarding Leo's return to the screen after "Titanic," "The Beach" ends up being an interesting failure based on a not-so-great book with a solid performance from DiCaprio while practically every other character barely registers.

John Hodge's ("Trainspotting") adaptation of Alex Garland's book improves the story in some ways, particularly the climatic ending, but shallowly skims over the story's midsection which explores the politics and character dynamics of a utopian society. He also creates not just one, but two sexual relationships for Leo's Richard, fumbling both attempts by losing the sexual tension that existed in the novel.

Director Danny Boyle's biggest successes with "The Beach" are its look (cinematographer Darius Khondji also shot "Seven") and his staging of the story's horrific elements (armed pot farmers with a trained guard monkey, two shark attacks - the second truly frightful in its aftermath). They also get some mileage out of the beginning of Richard and Francoise's romance, using stars and nighttime photography, and then the shimmering of agitated shrimp in an evening sea. Unfortunately, he takes the "Apocalypse Now" elements over the moon - the references didn't work that well in the book and Boyle's restaging of them seem out and out silly here (when DiCaprio eats a caterpillar, I almost burst out laughing - not the intended effect, I'm sure). Placing his lead into a video game looks cool, but hasn't been sufficiently set up to work.

Except for his Captain Benjamin L. Willard impersonations, DiCaprio is strong as the American tourist who yearns to be anything but a tourist by straying off the beaten path. He's lost his boyish look and is still, thankfully, willing to take chances, even if they don't always work. Robert Carlyle is amusingly manic as Daffy, the Scottish nut job who leaves Richard a map to the infamous beach before committing a spectacularly bloody suicide. Tilda Swinton ("The War Zone") provides her least interesting performance as Sal, the leader of the beach community, presenting a poker face throughout. Virginie Ledoyen ("A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries") and Guillaume Canet attempt to flesh out their underwritten characters as the French couple who Richard invites on his journey.

So, Darius Khondji once again proves his worth behind the lens and DiCaprio's abilities cannot be discounted, but I believe the only long term effect of "The Beach" may be felt by Thailand's tourism industry.

C+


PITCH BLACK

A crippled ship porting colonists to a distant planet is forced to crash land on a deserted planet. The survivors - the pilot, a bounty hunter and convicted killer, among others - struggle for survival amid the three suns that circle the planet. The constant, burning sunlight is not the only problem they have to survive as they learn that the suns are due to eclipse. But darkness is not the thing they need to fear. Deep in the bowls of the planet are fearsome nocturnal creatures that can come to the surface only during the eclipse cycle. And, they are the real problem that faces the stranded survivors in "Pitch Black."

Robin's review of 'Pitch Black':
"Pitch Black" is the latest entry into the pantheon of rip-off horror movies. This sci-fi actioner is little more than an "Alien" wannabe with a bunch of other genre films thrown in for good measure. I counted, direct or indirect, references to "Screamers," "Three Kings," "Mimic," "Ghost" (with its wraith-like demon creatures), "Halloween," "Starship Troopers" and "Jurassic Park." And, there may have been more that I missed, too.

Acting is at the caricature level with little character development on any substantive level. Vin Diesel (the voice of "The Iron Giant") gets to do the most with his role as prisoner Riddick. He's a badass mother who is being transported on the ship by bounty hunter Johns (Cole Hauser) because he "killed a lot of people." Diesel comes across as an anti-hero hero who was practically forced into his crimes by "the system" but is a decent guy, anyway. The meager remains of the colonists is led by Keith David in Muslim garb and spouting things like, "Belief in God has two edges: good and bad." Pretty Rahda Mitchell, as ship's pilot Carolyn Frye, does the best she can with what must be called a "stalwart" character, the person in charge who cares for her dwindling number of wards.

The derivativeness of the script keeps any tensions from building into any kind of scariness. It takes nearly an hour to set things up for the arrival of the creatures. The rest of the story revolves around the survivors trying to get to an escape ship left conveniently by a mining company that had landed on the planet 22 years earlier, just before the last eclipse. This last leg of the movie has the now decimated survivors trying to get to the ship. Typical of this kind of film, if cool heads prevailed during the action, the little party would make it with no problem. So, of course, someone has to panic, putting everyone in jeopardy. The results are anticipated well in advance and "Pitch Black" fills in the numbers and nothing more.

Technically, the most striking thing about "Pitch Black" is the cinematography by veteran Australian lenser David Eggby ("Mad Max"). The dark, moody lighting allows for some stylish shooting that gives the film a good look, at least, especially when preceded by the washed out look the triple suns give the daylight scenes, a la "Three Kings." But this good look does not save the film from its mediocre script, co-written by director David Twohy with Jim and Ken Wheat ("A Nightmare on Elm Street 4"). Creature effects are kept in the dark most of the time, so you never get any sense of their horror - except they have really big mouths.

There isn't much about "Pitch Black" to recommend it except some good looks and a decent performance by Vin Diesel (who can also be seen in "Boiler Room" and is one of the best things in that film, too). This is not enough. I give it a D+.

Laura's review of 'Pitch Black':
Australian sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black" is a jumble of "Alien," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Predator," "Lost in Space," and many more. This extremely derivative film only stands out due to its unique look and interesting co-stars.

Radha Mitchell ("High Art") is Fry, a docking pilot forced to crash land on an unknown planet with three suns and an abandoned research station. Vin Diesel ("The Boiler Room") is Riddick, a convicted murderer being transported to a high security prison who happens to have eye implants that allow him to see in the dark (how convenient for the plot!). These are the only two members of the cast of note which also includes Cole Hauser ("Good Will Hunting") as Johns, Riddick's bounty hunter who happens to be a drug addict, Keith David ("Armageddon") as a Muslim, Lews Fitz-Gerald as a hedonist with a huge wine supply, Claudia Black as a geologist and Rhiana Griffith as Jack, a teen stowaway with a secret.

The film was shot in Coober Pedy, Australia, as was "Mad Max," and features the bleached out look used so effectively in "Three Kings." When the planet's three suns go into an eclipse, everyone discovers why the planet is so barren. Creatures which resemble bats crossed with hammerhead sharks that are harmed by light devour everything in the dark.

Can the group create enough fire to make their way back to their ship with the battery power they need to get off this forsaken planet? Will Fry's earlier impulses to ditch her passengers to save her own neck resurface? Is Riddick really a murderer with a heart of gold? Writer/director David Twohy ("The Arrival") has used every cliche in the book in devising his film. Even the marketting is derivative - the SciFi Channel is airing a one hour feature offering 'background' story and separate footage during opening weekend.

C


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