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Cinema Scoop

New out on DVD/Blu-ray this week

     New out on DVD/Blu-ray for Tuesday October 2.

     Dark Shadows

In 1752, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was living the good life as a wealthy English playboy, master to Collinwood Manor. However, when he broke the heart of vindictive witch, Angelique (Eva Green), he was turned into a vampire and imprisoned in a tomb for nearly 200 years. When he's accidentally freed in 1972, he finds the world a much different place. His Maine manor is now in ruins and inhabited by his dysfunctional descendants, all harbouring twisted family secrets. Can Collins adjust to the times and his new family?

The latest collaboration between director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp doesn't really know what it wants to be since it's a mish mash of gothic horror, comedy and melodrama. I know it's based on a gothic soap opera that ran from 1966-1971, but nothing overly original is being brought to the table here and it seems like everyone involved was just going through the motions.

Other than the top notch set designs and production values there is just not that much here to get excited about. It's not scary, nor very funny and the drama isn't particularly compelling because the characters are sorely underdeveloped, which is a total waste of a stellar supporting cast.

Dark Shadows is quite lacklustre and ultimately forgettable.

     Sound of My Voice

In this mystery drama, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), a young couple and documentary filmmaking team, infiltrate a mysterious cult led by an enigmatic young woman named Maggie (Brit Marling), who claims to be from the future, specifically 2054. Intent on exposing her as a charlatan and freeing the followers from her grip, Peter and Lorna start to question their objective and each other as they unravel the secrets of Maggie's underworld.

Sound of My Voice is a taut, suspenseful film that is very intriguing and well done, and I would have given it a high recommendation if not for the sudden, abrupt ending where the viewer is left hanging with absolutely no resolution to the film whatsoever. It's one thing to leave the outcome to your imagination, but in this case they just didn't bother to answer any questions at all and it felt like a cop out. It becomes very frustrating and unsatisfying when you're invested in the story and it just stops dead in its tracks. There is 3/4 of a really good film here but that's it.

     Iron Sky

The science fiction comedy Iron Sky tells the story of Nazi Germans who, after being defeated in 1945, fled to the dark side of the Moon where they built a space fleet to return in 2018 and conquer Earth.

Yup, you heard that right, Nazis in space. This film is as ridiculous as it sounds and where I at least thought they could have had some fun with this premise and made it fairly entertaining, sadly it's just a really bad and dopey b-movie. There are some impressive special effects I suppose, but the humour is groan worthy and the story is just plain stupid. Iron Sky is an ill conceived mess.

Also out this week is the dramedy People Like Us starring Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks, the historical drama Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler, the family film Cowgirls n' Angels with James Cromwell and the latest nature documentary from the French filmmakers who brought us Microcosmos, The Field of Enchantment.

     Blast From the Past

     Continuing on with my lists, here are my top ten films of 1998.

10. Simon Birch - Sure it's mushy and overly sentimental but there was something about this story that just struck a chord with me personally. The film is loosely based on the John Irving novel A Prayer for Owen Meany and it's definitely one you need to have some tissues handy for. This is just a nice film for the whole family to enjoy.

9. Pleasantville - This fantasy drama starring Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen and William H. Macy is a really unique and creative film. It's about two young people who get magically transported into a 1950's black and white television show and how they affect change in this new environment. It has wonderful visuals and it actually makes a statement about how personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression. Pleasantville is well worth seeking out.

8. Out of Sight - This clever crime film about an escaped bank robber being tracked down by a U.S. Marshal features George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, not to mention a slew of great supporting characters. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Out of Sight is another cracking yarn based on an Elmore Leonard novel. This one has style, great writing and superb performances. There is definitely no shortage of cool factor in Out of Sight.

7. American History X - This is one heck of a powerful and harsh film. Edward Norton was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for playing a neo-Nazi skinhead who is sent to prison after brutally killing two black gang members. While in prison he starts to see the error of his ways and he tries to prevent his younger brother from following in his footsteps. I can't ever erase the image of the infamous curb stomping scene out of my head and there are many strong affecting moments in this incredible drama. This is a very tough but ultimately rewarding film experience.

6. A Simple Plan - This great suspense drama starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda is anything but simple. It's a tightly woven, taut thriller about three men who find over $4 million in the wreckage of a crashed plane in the woods. They make a pact to keep it a secret but of course nothing goes as planned and things start going from bad to worse. Director Sam Raimi stepped away from his usual horror and fantasy films to make this excellent character driven crime drama. I highly recommend A Simple Plan.

5. Run Lola Run - This brilliant German film about a young woman who has to race against time to obtain 100,000 marks in order to save her boyfriend's life is a pulse pounding, pure shot of adrenaline. It wastes no time getting to the point and punctuates the action with a driving techno soundtrack that kept my head bobbing along with it. Franka Potente (who was in the Bourne Identity with Matt Damon) is Lola and the film is shot in 3 segments, essentially repeating what happens each time but with slight variations that change the outcome of each scenario. There is a whole lot of philosophical theories I could discuss about this film but that would take too long. Just go and seek out Run Lola Run.

4. The Big Lebowski - This hilariously offbeat comedy by the Coen Brothers features Jeff Bridges in the role that has become a cult favourite - "The Dude". He's a slacker and avid bowler who gets mixed up in a case of mistaken identity and a kidnapping scheme. It features quirky characters, funny dialogue and a host of strange moments that make you laugh and sometimes scratch your head in bewilderment. I love The Big Lebowski though for its audacity and originality, not to mention its eclectic soundtrack as well. Heck, there's even a religion that has been created called Dudeism devoted to spreading the philosophy and lifestyle of The Dude. "The Dude abides man, the Dude abides."

3. The Truman Show - This wonderful satirical look at the media and the obsessive nature of celebrity and reality TV programming stars Jim Carrey as a man who is unaware that he is living his life in a constructed reality television show that is being broadcast to billions of people across the globe. When he starts to become suspicious of his surroundings he embarks on a quest to discover the truth about his life. It's a fascinating and thought-provoking film that manages to strike a fine balance between comedy and drama and features one of Jim Carrey's best performances. The Truman Show is a creative original and I love everything about it.

2. Life is Beautiful - A beautiful and sometimes whimsical tale of a man who uses his imagination to shield his son from the horrors of the holocaust inside a Nazi concentration camp. Roberto Benigni won the Best Actor Oscar in what was easily his best role to date. I'm not usually a Benigni fan since I find his over-the-top slapstick antics somewhat annoying most of the time, but here he dials it back a notch to show real grace and humanity in the face of pure evil. This film really is about the power and resolve of the human spirit and the lengths some parents will go to protect their children and keep their innocence intact. This is another film you'll need to have tissues handy for. La VIta è Bella is a pure delight.

1. Saving Private Ryan - I can not for the life of me figure out how in the heck this film did not win Best Picture at the Oscars. Shakespeare in Love? Really? You've got to be kidding me right? This is without a doubt one of the greatest cinematic depictions of World War II ever filmed. This masterpiece by Steven Spielberg is set during the Normandy invasion and the first 30 minutes of the film showcase the Omaha Beach assault with such brutal realism it makes you feel like you are actually witnessing the real thing. Saving Private Ryan is a sprawling epic that features great performances in it as well. It is a powerful experience to watch what is one of the best war films ever made. There wasn't a better movie in 1998, that's for sure.

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