Review: Minority Report (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Steven Spielberg hasn’t got Stanley Kubrick out of his system yet. In some respects, Minority Report is the sort of futuristic sci-fi chase movie that makes popcorn vendors smile. It’s also the sort of spectacular summer flick you expect a crowd-pleaser like Spielberg to excel at. But it also reflects the bleak, dystopic vision of things to come that made A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg’s realization of a project Kubrick spent years developing, so chilling and unfamiliar. Minority Report also stars Tom Cruise, who earned a place in the Kubrick canon with Eyes Wide Shut, and it puts him in a situation that calls to mind one of the more freakish and uncomfortable moments in A Clockwork Orange.

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Review: Windtalkers (dir. John Woo, 2002)

John Woo movies may be famous for their over-the-top action sequences, but what really makes them work is the way he focuses on the intense personal rivalry between his main characters. In films as varied as the Hong Kong classic The Killer and the Hollywood hit Face/Off, it’s the battle of wills between cop and criminal, and the spiritual struggle within the protagonists, that drives the gun battles and the slow-motion pyrotechnics. Like those other films, Windtalkers — a World War II movie about Navajo code talkers and their uneasy relationship with their fellow marines — is also about a conflicted friendship and a man who wrestles with his conscience. But this time, the violence takes place on such a grand scale that it dwarfs the characters, who are, after all, just cogs in a larger military machine.

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Review: Insomnia (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2002)

Memento, a smart, stylish neo-noir about a vengeful widower with memory problems that told its story backwards, proved director Christopher Nolan could work wonders with an original idea and a decent gimmick. Now Insomnia, a fairly straightforward and much more linear remake of a recent Norwegian thriller, shows Nolan can be just as compelling when he’s reworking more conventional material. This film marks one of those rare moments when a European story works fairly well in the hands of an American cast; perhaps the fact that Nolan is British helped.

The main character in both films is a cop who travels north of the Arctic Circle during the summer, when the sun never sets, to investigate a murder. There, he does something, quite by accident, that he is desperate to cover up; and thanks to the harsh, unforgiving light that never stops pouring in through his hotel room window, despite his best efforts to block it out, he is sleepless with guilt. The hallucinations he begins to have, in his sleep-deprived state, don’t help either.

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Interview: Barry Pepper (We Were Soldiers, 2002)

Barry Pepper is going back to the battlefield. The 32-year-old actor, who grew up in the Gulf Islands after sailing the South Seas with his family for five years, and who got his start working in Vancouver’s film and TV scene, became internationally famous four years ago when Steven Spielberg cast him as a Bible-quoting sniper in Saving Private Ryan. Pepper’s career since then has included some box-office hits (Enemy of the State, The Green Mile) and one huge flop (Battlefield Earth), but he bounced back with an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated performance as baseball great Roger Maris in 61*. Now Pepper is back on the big screen in another ultra-realistic war movie. This time, in We Were Soldiers (now playing at the Capitol Six), he plays a photojournalist named Joe Galloway, who witnesses first-hand the first major battle between American and Vietnamese troops in 1965. The film is based on a book by the real Galloway and Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, the commanding officer played in the film by Mel Gibson.

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Review: Black Hawk Down (dir. Ridley Scott, 2001)

The folks who brought you Pearl Harbor are now bringing you Black Hawk Down, and despite the fact that both war movies feature Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore in key military roles, the films are very different.

Where Pearl Harbor was full of saccharine romance, nostalgic production design and eye-popping special effects, Black Hawk Down is a decidedly grim and realistic account of a botched military operation that resulted in the deaths of 18 Americans and more than 1,000 Somalis eight years ago. Where Pearl Harbor was widely dismissed for its commercialism, Black Hawk Down tries very hard to earn respect. This is the film producer Jerry Bruckheimer hopes will be remembered at Oscar time.

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Review: Kate & Leopold (dir. James Mangold, 2001)

In her latest romantic comedy Kate & Leopold, Meg Ryan plays Kate McKay, a driven marketing executive with no love life who spends all her time looking for ways to sell things, from creamy butter to motion pictures. The first time we see her — well, sort of the first time we see her, but more on that below — she is at a test screening for a ridiculously saccharine movie bearing the all-too-obvious title Love For Sale. At one point, Kate argues with the film’s producers over changes to the story that could help it to sell more tickets, and when the director asks if her formulaic suggestions bear any resemblance to her own real life, she protests, “I’m not the protagonist in a major motion picture!” But of course, Kate is the protagonist in Kate & Leopold, and despite some quirky story ideas, this film is ultimately as predictable and calculating as any of the movies she may have marketed.

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