Film reviews

  • 2004-05-13
  • By Julie Vinten and Laimons Juris G
This week:
- Van Helsing
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- The Magdalene Sisters

Director: Stephen Sommers

"More" and "bigger" are the keywords to this movie as monster-slayer Van Helsing takes on The Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula. Director Stephen Sommers is a terrible storyteller, and in "Van Helsing" this shows more than ever. In his urge to impress with spectacular ideas (all of which he has "borrowed" from every great movie he has ever seen, be it Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings or the Bond films) he looses track of the film itself, leaving "Van Helsing" as one big mess – but it's a fun, high-speed mess at that. This movie is a two-hour action-packed computer game, campy beyond belief, and quite possibly the most expensive B-movie ever made. Everybody acts as if they are straight out of a 1930's horror classic, but "Van Helsing" at least pays homage to these movies. ***
Julie Vinten

"Van Helsing" has to be one of the most intense horror flicks this reviewer has ever seen. The only thing out of whack from the start is the actor who plays Dracula, Richard Roxburgh. He overacts, grating on your nerves every time he's on screen. At the same time likeable Hugh Jackman and sexy Kate Beckinsale give their all. Director Stephen Sommers ("The Jungle Book," "The Mummy") has made a fast moving, stylish monster show filled with adventure, excitement and tongue-in-cheek humor. The computer-generated special effects will leave you breathless as they come at you a mile a minute. Despite the cheesy dialogue and gaping flaws, this pure unadulterated entertainment will have you wound up, glued to the screen, begging for more. It's Dracula, Frankenstein and the Werewolf together again. *** ¾
Laimons Juris G

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Director: Michel Gondry

With his postmodern take on storytelling, scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman has, with films like "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation," crafted some of the most innovative stories in Hollywood of late. Here he gives the love-story genre an unconventional spin. When Joel's (Jim Carrey) relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet) ends unhappily, he decides to undergo a procedure to have her erased from his memory. But the process evokes some nice memories that he would like to keep, and in his mind he starts running around hand in hand with Clementine, as his memories with her disappear around them. The ingenious music video director Michel Gondry perfectly conveys Kaufman's unusual narrative, supporting it with imaginative visuals. Together, these two inventors have created a truly original, wise and touching film. ****1/2
Julie Vinten

Ever since the intriguing "Memento" blew our minds in a satisfying direction, a string of flicks have appeared exploring memory as a theme. Movies have always been closely linked to the subject. Though gloomy and depressing, this is a quirky love story. Playing diverse characters, from pet detective Ace Ventura to eccentric Andy Kaufman, Canadian-born Jim Carrey has dazzled and delighted audiences around the globe. The comedian has proved he really can act. The same can be said of Kate Winslet. Without these two talents "Eternal Sunshine…" would be a total loss. Not everyone will enjoy the dizzying handheld camera work, reminiscent of some insipid video from the 1980s. You may just want to look up the good doctor and have your memory erased after watching this murky nightmare. ** 3/4
Laimons Juris G

The Magdalene Sisters
Director: Peter Mullan

"The Magdalene Sisters" follows three young women at the Catholic Magdalene Sisters' Asylum in 1960's Ireland. Placed there by their families, these "fallen" girls have either become pregnant out of wedlock or have flirted too much with the boys in the schoolyard. This cruel film is about the atrocities carried out in the name of religion as the nuns seek to break the young women's sinful characters through constant physical and mental abuse. First-time director Peter Mullan has chosen a simple, straightforward visual style, which is exactly right for this film. Mullan is himself a brilliant actor, and the film's strongest side is ultimately the casting and acting. If the film sometimes lacks dramatic flow, the great acting and the story, which speaks for itself, make it a strong and thought-provoking experience. *** ½
Julie Vinten

For over 100 years the Catholic Church showed little compassion at reformatory facilities that it ran throughout Ireland. This particular film deals with the Magdalene laundries where girls were subjected to humiliating and dehumanizing treatment. Their so-called sins included being raped, having a child out of wedlock and being too pretty. The cast of unfamiliar faces does an adequate job. Geraldine McEwan is especially memorable as Sister Bridget. The former Taliban in Afghanistan looks like a happy romp in Sunday school compared to these twisted sisters in black. However, Aisling Walsh's "Song for a Raggy Boy" is a far superior film about the system's cruel inadequacies as it applied to males. The heartless, nasty Magdalene sisters are practically saints compared to "Song's" evil Brother John. ** 3/4
Laimons Juris G