Developer: Stormfront Studios Publisher: UbiSoft (SSI) Platform: PC (system requirements below) ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
The words “pool or radiance” serve as a kind of litmus test for hardcore computer role-playing gamers. Equally powerful is the phrase “gold box game.” If you remember when a badass machine had VGA graphics and a 286/16 processor, and are a fan of CRPGs, then you likely know of and probably played at least one of SSI’s legendary “gold-box games.” A series of games based on the popular Dungeons & Dragons pencil-and-paper game, the gold box games were a serious evolution of what role-playing meant on the PC. Along with the Bard’s Tale and early Might & Magic games, they set the standard for decent computer role-playing.
So naturally, when SSI stepped up and said they were going to bring the first computer game compatible with the spankin’ new D&D rules set, I was psyched. As were thousands of other gamers that remembered fondly the hours invested in the old gold-box series. It was going to be huge. However, as is increasingly the case with computer games today, the hype wrote checks that the software can’t cash. Buggy, sluggish, and tedious, the new Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor had a good chunk of the gamers that invested in it’s first-day release screaming for their money back, or worse, threatening legal action against UbiSoft.
Written by: James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai, Hui-Ling Wang, based on the book by Du Lu Wang Directed by: Ang Lee Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Pei-pei Cheng
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat) is a warrior who has had enough. Despite the fact that his master’s murderer, Jade Fox, is still loose out there somewhere, he’s tired of the warrior’s path. Because of how set he is on retiring, he is entrusting his sword, the Green Destiny, to his old compatriot, Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh). She takes the sword to their mutual friend, Sir Te (Sihung Lung), as a gift on Li Mu Bai’s behalf. But when the Destiny is stolen by a mysterious thief with magical fighting techniques, Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien are going to be drawn into a web of mystery and violence that involves not only a young princess (Ziyi) and an outlaw (Chen), but Jade Fox as well.
Written by: Stephen Gaghan, based on the original BBC miniseries by Simon Moore Directed by: Steven Soderbergh Starring: Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio del Toro, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid
My Advice: Matinee
The macrocosm of worldwide drug trafficking condensed into the microcosm of a theatrical release film. A judge (Douglas) gets appointed to be the new U.S. drug czar, only to learn that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is addicted to the very stuff her dad now is in charge of stopping. The wife (Zeta-Jones) of a businessman (Steven Bauer) learns that her husband’s real business was trafficking drugs into the U.S.–after he’s been arrested, leaving her and her family in dire straits. A Mexican cop (del Toro) has to fight the system and his own ethics when dealing with the drug trade.
My primary beef with Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is that it’s just so long and drawn out. It had a very powerful message, and dealt it the way my favorite “message films” have done. They say, “Here’s the scenario–now here is it from every angle. You figure out what to think.” The problem with this film is that it takes forever to get to where it’s going. Granted, when it finally gets there, it’s a hell of a bomb to drop.
Five videos: “Hush,” “Sober,” “Prison Sex,” “Stinkfist,” “Ã†nema”
Bonus CD with eight tracks
Released by: Volcano Region: 1 Rating: NR, but don’t let your kids pop it in Anamorphic: N/A; videos appear in their original 1.33:1 format.
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Own it.
Many, many moons ago, when I was in a band, Tool’s Opiate EP was one of the CDs I would use as a vocal warm-up on my way to gigs. People would ask me if I listened to Tool, due apparently to lead singer/vocal god Maynard’s influence on my particular stylings. That would always fill me with a sense of pride. When their next album, Undertow, came out, they had this disturbing little video for their single, “Sober,” which fascinated me. Featuring a deformed stop-motion puppet being tormented in a what appeared to be a blasted-out shell of a dead house, it was something I could watch over and over again, always finding some little bizarre nuance I had missed before.
Written by: Robert Nelson Jacobs, based on the novel by Joanne Harris Directed by: Lasse HallstrÃ¶m Starring: Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Judi Dench
My Advice: Wait and Rent It.
Vianne (Binoche) comes from a long line of wanderers, spreading the good word and the good chocolate, with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) in tow. She just so happens to have wandered into a sleepy little French town circa 1959. She rents a shop and begins to get ready to open her confectionary shoppe for the benefit of the entire burg–but she’s doing all of this right before Lent, which doesn’t sit well with the town’s mayor (Molina). Before long, the battle lines are drawn: the establishment versus the iconoclastic chocoholics. Who will win? Three guesses.
Written by: Mark Protosevich Directed by: Tarsem Singh Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Dylan Baker, Jake Weber
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
Catherine (Lopez) is a former social worker who’s now finally able to get inside the mind of the child in her care. We’re talking literally here. She is able to project her mind into the minds of others using cutting edge technology, and is trying to help a catatonic child (Colton James) with his trauma. Into her life comes FBI agent Novak (Vaughn), and boy does she wish he was carrying flowers. But instead, he’s carrying Carl (D’Onofrio), a serial killer–and they need Catherine’s help to find the whacko’s latest victim.
Let’s get something out of the way first. This seems an awful lot like Dreamscape of the Lambs, with art direction by Joel-Peter Witkin. And yes, in the hands of less capable directors, that’s probably all it might have turned out to be: eye candy that wasn’t for the squeamish. However, Tarsem, he of the music videos, stepped up to the chair and brought with him much thoughts (and effective ones at that) about what the inner workings of a madman’s mind might be.
Written & Directed by: Robert Rodriguez Starring: Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alan Cumming
My Advice: Matinee.
Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Banderas and Gugino) are the world’s greatest spies. No, really. They just look like entrenched suburbanites, minivan and all. They have two very intelligent, energetic kids (Vega and Sabara). Everything’s just peachy. But when the past comes calling, and they get pulled out of retirement, they get more than they bargained for. Captured–because they’re just a little rusty–that leaves “Uncle Felix” (Cheech Marin) to get the children to safety. Alone and outgunned, the children decide that they’re going to have to claim their spy heritage–and get their parents back themselves.
The problem with movies for kids these days is that there’s very little in them for the adults that inevitably must chaperone the tykes. Hollywood, for the most part–there are exceptions, has forgotten how to give things levels. The best example, of course, are the Looney Tunes. You watch them when you’re a munchkin, and you love them. You come back to them as an adult and go: “Whoa–I had no idea–!” Such is the fun of Spy Kids, not to mention the mind-blowing concept of the man who brought us From Dusk Till Dawn doing a family movie. And doing a family movie that actually works as outlined above. Who knew?
Written and Directed by: Guy Ritchie Starring: Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Alan Ford, Dennis Farina, Benicio Del Toro
My Advice: Matinee
Turkish (Statham) is a boxing promoter. He and his partner, Tommy (Stephen Graham), just want to do their fights, make their money, and get on with it. But their search for a new trailer/headquarters leads them to a gypsy camp, which leads them to pissing off the local heavy, Brick Top (Ford), which…which, well, after several various iterations leads them to a huge, flawless diamond that nearly everybody wants. Picture It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but with a diamond instead of a hidden treasure. Oh, and British accents. And guns.
First thing that needs to be established is that this film feels almost like a highly polished version of Guy Ritchie‘s prior and debut film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Granted, a lot of the same faces make appearances: Ford, Statham, Vinnie Jones, Jason Flemyng to name a few. But the trouble is, you can’t come down too hard on it–because it’s just so damn funny. And because it’s got that damn dog. And the funniest thing about the dog was imagining the foley artist who had to work that squeak toy. No, I’m not going to explain myself–go see the movie yourself.
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch & Casey Robinson, based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Joan Allison & Murray Burnett Directed by: Michael Curtiz Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Dooley Wilson
“You Must Remember This,” a documentary hosted by Lauren Bacall
All-new introduction by Lauren Bacall
Theatrical trailer for the film, along with several other classic Bogart flicks
Released by: Warner Brothers Region: 1 Rating: NR Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 ratio