The following, rated on a system of 0 to 4 stars, are by Rick Groen and Liam Lacey. Full reviews appeared on the dates indicated. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner**** Forget about its awards and honours, the Camera d'or from Cannes and that raft of Genies. There are really only three things you need to know about Atanarjuat: (1) It is a superb and dynamic film, not merely a cultural document; (2) It is both intriguingly exotic and uniquely Canadian; (3) Although based on an ancient Inuit myth, and set on a frozen shore a thousand years ago, it speaks eloquent volumes about the way we live now. AA (April 12) -- R.G. Blade II**½ Flashy surfaces and gore galore make for an effectively mindless package in director Guillermo del Toro's slick-as-spit Marvel Comics-derived tale of a half-human, half-vampire killer who sets out to hunt and kill the undead. In this sequel, the vampires and humans alike combine to destroy a new, even more lethal species of bald creatures with grotesque jaws, who don't even have vampire ethics. Wesley Snipes's solid presence, and strong supporting work by Kris Kristofferson as his macho mentor, make this an exercise in always watchable carnage. R (March 22) -- L.L. Changing Lanes** The fender-bender that begins Changing Lanes sets off quite the chain reaction: The ensuing plot (featuring a subdued Samuel L. Jackson and the ever-pleasant Ben Affleck) careers wildly to and fro, bumping up against three or four different movies. They all have their moments in the headlights but, when the dust settles and the air clears, not one of them proves to be much good. AA (April 12) -- R.G. Clockstoppers** A throwback to the science-comedy kids' films of the early sixties, Clockstoppers is about a teen (Jesse Bradford) who takes a watch from his scientist father, and discovers it has the ability to make everyone except himself move very slowly. The freeze-frame effects are pretty but the comic pranks are banal, and the movie soon degenerates into too many long chases. Paula Garces co-stars as the girlfriend interest, with French Stewart as the mad scientist. PG (March 29) -- L.L. Frailty** In this unpleasant but superficial bit of Stephen King-style creepiness, Matthew McConaughey plays the adult son who comes to a troubled FBI agent with an extraordinary story. Bill Paxton ( Titanic, A Simple Plan) directs and plays an insane father who involves his children in a series of religiously motivated killings. AA (April 12) -- L.L. High Crimes** This thing's got more plot than an Alliance convention. Unfortunately (to extend the comparison), not a whole lot of it makes a lick of common sense. With Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, it's adapted from one of those political thrillers long on narrative line. Very long, with plenty of your favourite movie tropes -- mysterious husbands, courtroom dramas, corruption in high places. Yet, for all its surface frenzy, High Crimes should be charged with loitering -- so much on view, so little to offer. AA (April 5) -- R.G. Kissing Jessica Stein*** Men may be gay by nature, but women are lesbians by choice -- for them, it's a simple matter of trading up. Such is the implied message of Kissing Jessica Stein, the kind of small movie that's hardwired to become a big hit. Structurally, it's just a basic romance-comedy, co-scripted by Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen (who also play the lead roles). However, the writing is imaginative enough (clever without being taxing) and the plot adroit enough (innovative without being threatening) that the film rings some lively variations off a tired theme. AA (March 13) -- R.G. Last Orders*** Adapted from Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel, Fred Schepisi's prismatic memory film features a wonderful, understated cast -- Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, David Hemmings, Tom Courtenay and Helen Mirren -- as long-time Cockney friends, on a trip to the English seaside to cast a friend's ashes in the water. Partly a generation portrait and a memory play, the film is at its best when the actors, all icons of the Brit wave of the sixties, are bellied up to the various pub bars, and the sad-funny banter crackles. AA (March 29) -- L.L. Monsoon Wedding*** This is an India you've never seen before. In an upper-class suburb of cellphones and e-mails, an extended family gathers for a massive wedding, whereupon the plot splinters off on multiple tangents while the tone shifts neatly from comic to dramatic and back again. All the characters speak in a delightful babel of English and Hindi, and director Mira Nair skips the movie along to a similarly unique beat. Ultimately, Monsoon Wedding is itself a genial marriage of Western ironies and Eastern melodrama -- think Robert Altman meets Bollywood. AA (March 1) -- R.G. Monster's Ball*** As befits an American film that touches on the open sore of racism, Monster's Ball is raw in emotion, graphic in direction, and intense in performance (especially from Halle Berry). Yet if the Southern tale is explicit in its gothic content, it's admirably restrained in the telling, and that tension makes the movie quite gripping to watch. So gripping that it's easy to overlook a central flaw: Ultimately, the picture is a thematic cheat -- it ends up simplifying a complex subject. R (Feb. 1) -- R.G. Panic Room*** David Fincher is a talented director, and he stoops to conquer here. Starring Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker, Panic Room is a straight-ahead suspense flick, a Hitchcockian exercise designed solely to put a shiver up the spine and push bums to the edge of seats. Its single purpose is to entertain. Nothing wrong with that goal, but how's his aim? Pretty good -- not unerring, but he does have his dead-eye moments. AA (March 29) -- R.G. Red Green's Duct Tape Forever** Steve Smith's backwoods philosopher Red Green makes the transition from television with some discomfort, in a family-friendly story about how the Possum Lodge gang needs to win third prize at a duct-tape competition to save the lodge. The wisecracks are fine, the slapstick and disorganized direction don't stick together. PG (April 12) -- L.L. The Rookie*** Once in a long while, a good Hollywood movie sneaks in beneath the radar, underpromoted and undervalued. This is such a movie. Rarer still, it's a sports flick, a notoriously unreliable genre, especially when the story embraces that most cornball of athletic myths -- aging jock gets one last shot at the majors. But it works for three reasons: (1) naturalistic dialogue; (2) actors (notably Dennis Quaid) who can deliver it well; (3) direction that underplays the big moments, giving us what we need from any resurrection myth -- a reason to believe. F (March 29) -- R.G. The Sweetest Thing*½ Cameron Diaz is cute, gangly and kooky, but her energy isn't enough to lift The Sweetest Thing into anything resembling a coherent comedy.
Diaz is a party girl who goes on a road trip with her girlfriends (Selma Blair and Christina Applegate) to catch the man who got away -- this is the excuse for a succession of Farrelly brothers-style bathroom gags which feel as though they were peeled off the There's Something About Mary editing-room floor. AA (April 12) -- L.L.