The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door
It's sad to see legends get old. As this generation of geeks raised on 1980's action movies advances in years, so do the actors we used to idolize. Some embrace it while others drop gracefully out of the spotlight. Others still refuse to let go, appearing in second-rate reality TV programs or direct-to-DVD action retreads. Some even run for public office. But when The Spy Next Door opens with a credit sequence filled with some of Jackie Chan's finest stunts from past films – all set to "Secret Agent Man," no less – it's hard not to compare the young, agile martial artist with the much older, much slower figure who appears on-screen directly after.

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Black Dynamite

Black Dynamite
Amid the documentaries and dramas and short film programs playing at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival right now, there are a handful of genre films that seem to have built up a name recognition factor already. The tongue-in-cheek tribute to/spoof of the blaxploitation genre of the '70s, Black Dynamite, is one of those movies. Co-writer Michael Jai White -- the actor who is best known for his turns in Spawn and The Dark Knight -- also stars as the ass-kicking title character in what is essentially a mash-up of Grindhouse and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka with a dash of online viral video flavor thrown in for good measure.

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Midnight Bayou

Midnight Bayou
In all honesty, “Nora Roberts’ Midnight Bayou” is not all that easy to describe, but I’ll give it a shot…

Jerry O’Connell is Declan Fitzpatrick, a Boston attorney who broke up with his fiance and moved to New Orleans to buy Manet Hall, a haunted antebellum mansion that Declan felt a connection to when he visited eight years before.

But soon, Declan is feeling another connection to Lena Simone (Lauren Stamile). But Lena has a stormy past that she can’t seem to shake and even with her grandmother’s (Faye Dunaway) urging, she’s hesitant to start something with Declan.

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The Lodger

The Lodger
The modern serial killer thriller, as established in 1991 by Jonathan Demme's expert The Silence of the Lambs and then further in 1995 by David Fincher's superb Se7en, has deteriorated into an uninventive collection of familiar tricks, tropes and tiresomely murky cinematography. If regurgitation has become the genre's guiding principle, there are far worse sources to plagiarize than the canon of Alfred Hitchcock, which is more or less what first-time writer-director David Ondaatje does with The Lodger, a modern update of the 1913 Marie Belloc Lowndes-penned mystery that was the basis for Hitch's 1927 silent film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. Predictably, the results aren't nearly as inspired when viewed in direct comparison. Worse still, they're also not inspired when viewed through the prism of the past two decades' worth of likeminded cinema (and the network-TV behemoth C.S.I.). Stolidly including every cliché in sight while failing to keep things tense or intriguing, it's a film that deviates not an inch from its rickety template and, consequently, disallows its sturdy cast from maneuvering in ways that might bring some novelty to the cat-and-mouse tale.

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Flight of the Intruder

Flight of the Intruder
Flight of the Intruder is an old-fashioned, red-blooded war film, a guts n' glory actioner that looks with unwavering pride at the heroic actions of its masculine heroes. It fuses the patriotic fervor of a John Wayne war flick with a clear affection for Tony Scott's Top Gun. Particularly odd that it would apply such techniques to a movie about the Vietnam War, a conflict that has traditionally been portrayed as either horrific or extremely horrific. Coming not too long after such films as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, the jingoistic nature of Flight of the Intruder rubbed many the wrong way. While I don't find the movie as morally reprehensible as something like Wayne's The Green Berets (for one thing, this film is far more honest about the war than that one), it certainly seems more than a bit misguided in terms of tone.

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Cheri
Watching Cheri, I felt like someone had turned back the clock by about 15 years. The early-to-mid-1990s were a fertile time for literate, lavish adaptations of period piece literature, with frequent destinations being Europe between the early-1800s and the mid-1900s. Cheri, based on the novel by Colette (actually two novels: Cheri and Le Fin de Cheri), would have been perfectly at home amidst the stately company of Merchant-Ivory, Scorsese's The Age of Innocence, and the endless adaptations of Jane Austen novels. Considering the screenwriter, this should not be a surprise. Christopher Hampton has made a living out of plundering the past, with titles like Dangerous Liaisons and Carrington on his resume. And, while Cheri is not in the same league as either of those giants, it is a respectable and satisfying historical romantic melodrama.

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Babel
Babel represents director Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu's conclusion to a stylistic and thematic trilogy begun in Amores Perros and continued in 21 Grams. Of the three, Babel is arguably the most accessible. As with 21 Grams (and to a lesser degree Amores Perros), this movie is constructed as a puzzle, with different pieces transpiring during different times and in different places over a five-day span. However, this one is less complicated to put together. (Think of it as the difference between assembling a 250-piece jigsaw and a 50-piece one.) The temporaral discontinuities are not extreme, and there is clear background evidence of how each sequence relates to those around it and fits into the global time-line. This allows story to take precedence over structure.

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United 93

United 93
It is not an easy thing to walk into a theater and willingly open oneself to being transported back to the blackest day (at least thus far) of the 21st century. There are those who believe this movie should not be released, that it is "too soon." I will admit to having believed there was merit to this position - until I saw Paul Greengrass' vision brought to the screen. United 93 is its own most compelling defender. There's not a whiff of exploitation to be found. This is an honest, fact-based account that exists for two reasons: to assure that we do not forget the events of that day and to remind us that amidst all the horror and tragedy, there was still room for heroism. If not for the actions of the doomed passengers of United Flight 93, the United States might not have a Capitol Building.

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Producers

Producers
The Producers is a movie based on a play based on a movie about a play. And that's probably the funniest thing about it.

In 1968, Mel Brooks made his big-screen directorial and writing debut with The Producers, a slapstick farce about how two Broadway producers concoct a scheme to get rich by making the worst play in the history of the Great White Way. Predictably, what should be a colossal failure turns out to be a smash hit. Despite a delightfully wicked premise and a couple of delicious lines, The Producers is not on par with Brooks' other early films. It's not consistently clever or funny, and there are long, tedious stretches when one obvious joke after another falls flat. Brooks would hit his stride six years later with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The Producers shows little of the humor evident in those (and other) movies.

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Innocent Voices

Innocent Voices
Innocent Voices tells a very personal story wrapped within a larger political context. Based on the memoirs of co-writer Oscar Orlando Torres, the film hearkens back to the 1980s and the brutal civil war that devastated El Salvador. Much like in many Central and South American battles, the struggle pitted an authoritarian regime against communist guerillas. The victims, as usual, were the unaligned citizens caught in between. Atrocities were documented on both sides, and the war lasted for a dozen years, ending in 1992 when both sides signed a U.N.-sponsored peace treaty.

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Guilty Hearts

Guilty Hearts
Six short stories from the heart and what made them bleed....

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Good Day for It

Good Day for It
A man forced to abandon his wife and daughter years earlier must risk his life to settle an old score and reunite his family.

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Murder Loves Killers Too

Murder Loves Killers Too
Big Stevie has a sexual problem. Murder is how he has sex. And Big Stevie knows that there is no better way for a repressed killer to blow off steam than killing a bunch of care-free free-spirited teens. After her friends are all chopped, carved, and slashed, sweet young Aggie is left alone to face off against this unreasonable psycho. Now shes got a pervert on her hands. A big one. And Big Stevies problem could become Aggies problem real fast.

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Man's Best Friend

Man's Best Friend
A genetically mutated dog is accidentally released from the lab of Dr. Jarret and ends up at the home of news reporteranimal rights advocate Lori Tanner. The dog, Max, endowed with intelligence and other special abilities, is at first lovable, but also proves to be a ferocious, unstoppable killer.

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Night Junkies

Night Junkies
Against riverfront Londons sordid backdrop of seedy nightclubs, winding streets and dark alleyways, a modern-day Jack the Ripper stalks his preymeanwhile, troubled, newly turned exotic dancer Ruby and her brooding vampire lover Vincent struggle to resist their overpowering addiction to the drug that both sustains and shatters them. BLOOD.

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Nuclear Hurricane

Nuclear Hurricane
A highly sophisticated computer system at a nuclear power plant goes crazy. To make matters worse, it develops a capacity for reason and malice while a tropical island storm is blowing into town.

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