2 Days in the Valley John Herzfeld  
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Overlooked in theaters but gaining a modest cult following in video release, writer-director John Herzfeld's underrated 2 Days in the Valleyhas a lot going for it, not the least being a variety of interesting characters played by a superb ensemble cast. The complex plot centers on a mild-mannered hit man (Danny Aiello) who is hired by an icy killer (James Spader) to assist him on his latest job. Eric Stoltz and Jeff Daniels play the vice cops who stumble on the murder scene. Their investigation leads to a colorful array of San Fernando Valley denizens, including a has-been director (played by director Paul Mazursky) and a snobbish art dealer (Greg Cruttwell) whose lives come together in unexpected and interesting ways. Emphasizing characters that consistently hold our attention with humor and poignant desire, this clever thriller fits nicely into the eccentric category of "Only in California."—Jeff Shannon

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2 Fast 2 Furious John Singleton  
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Like the high-revving imports and American muscle cars that roar down the streets of its south Florida setting, 2 Fast 2 Furiousis tricked out to the max. While Vin Diesel opted for his XXXfranchise, this obligatory sequel to The Fast and the Furiousbenefits from Diesel's absence, allowing returning star Paul Walker to shine while forging a lively partnership with rising star Tyrese, who fulfills his sidekick duties with more vitality than Diesel could ever muster. The Miami/Dade locations are another bonus, lending colorful backdrop to the most dazzling street-racing sequences (both real and digitally composited) ever committed to film. The plot is disposable—former cop Walker and jailbird Tyrese are recruited by the FBI to dethrone a thuggish kingpin (Cole Hauser)—but director John Singleton keeps the adrenalin pumping, enlisting a rainbow coalition of costars (including rapper Ludacris and Chanel supermodel Devon Aoki) to combine a hip-hop vibe with full-blown action while showcasing hot babes, edgy humor, and some of the coolest cars that ever burned rubber. Heed the movie's warning, kids: Let the stuntmen do the driving. —Jeff Shannon

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The 6th Day Roger Spottiswoode  
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For a movie about cloning, it's only appropriate that The 6th Day, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is instilled with a strong sense of déjà vu, namely from Arnold's previous "Who am I?" outing, Total Recall. In that movie, Arnold is a normal Joe who discovers that his entire reality has been co-opted by an evil conspiracy, and has to take his life back by force. The same premise applies here for Roger Spottiswoode's clever if overlong sci-fi thriller—Arnold thinks he's a regular guy leading a regular life, until a twist of fate puts him on the lam from a vast conspiracy that's replaced him with a clone. While he's trying to evade the evil genetics corporation—and its trendy, deadly, clone-friendly assassins (who don't care how many times they're killed: there's more where that came from)—his double is snuggling at home with his wife and daughter. And new legislation outlaws the existence of human clones, so somebody's got to go. But who gets to be live and who gets to be the dead Memorex man?

Why does said genetics corporation want to clone people? How does the kindly scientist (Robert Duvall) fit in? What's the mystery behind the slick billionaire (Tony Goldwyn) who runs everything? It's all kind of irrelevant in the end, as long as it provides a chance for Arnold to indulge in some energetic mayhem and explosive action. What distinguishes The 6th Dayis its sneaky, humorous—and chilling—look at the near future, taking everyday technological advances and turning them up just a couple notches, envisioning an era with cloned pets, virtual girlfriends, and computers running most everything, from the refrigerator to your car. Arnold is supposed to be a throwback to the "real" world—you can tell because he cherishes his vintage, navigation-system-free Cadillac—but as usual, he just brings his behemoth presence to the role and not much else. Still, he's a friendly enough hero, and he rolls with the punches (literally) all the way through to the end. Too bad the film overstays its welcome by about half an hour—a little shorter and it could have been a breezy sci-fi/action romp. With scene stealers Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter, and Rod Rowland as the trio of cloned assassins who always come back—again and again. —Mark Englehart

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8 Mile Curtis Hanson  
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Rap star Eminem makes a strong movie debut in 8 Mile, an urban drama that makes a fairly standard plot fly through its gritty attention to detail. Jimmy Smith (Eminem), nicknamed B Rabbit, can't pull himself together to take the next step with his career—or with his life. Angry about his alcoholic mother (Kim Basinger) and worried about his little sister, Rabbit lets out his feelings with twisting, clever raps admired by his friends, who keep pushing him to enter a weekly rap face-off. But Rabbit resists—until he meets a girl (Brittany Murphy) who might offer him support and a little hope that his life could get better. Under the smart and ambitious direction of Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) and ably supported by the excellent cast and the burnt-out environment of Detroit slums, Eminem reveals a surprising vulnerability that makes 8 Milevivid and compelling. —Bret Fetzer

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12 Angry Men (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] Sidney Lumet  
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12 Angry Men, by Sidney Lumet, may be the most radical big-screen courtroom drama in cinema history. A behind-closed-doors look at the American legal system as riveting as it is spare, the iconic adaptation of Reginald Rose’s teleplay stars Henry Fonda as the initially dissenting member of a jury of white men ready to pass judgment on a Puerto Rican teenager charged with murdering his father. What results is a saga of epic proportions that plays out in real time over ninety minutes in one sweltering room. Lumet’s electrifying snapshot of 1950s America on the verge of change is one of the great feature-film debuts.

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12 Monkeys Terry Gilliam  
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Inspired by Chris Marker's acclaimed short film La Jetée (which is included on the DVD Short Cinema Journal, Volume 2), 12 Monkeys combines intricate, intelligent storytelling with the uniquely imaginative vision of director Terry Gilliam. The story opens in the wintry wasteland of the year 2035, where a virulent plague has forced humans to live in a squalid, oppressively regimented underground. Bruce Willis plays a societal outcast who is given the opportunity to erase his criminal record by "volunteering" to time-travel into the past to obtain a pure sample of the deadly virus that will help future scientists to develop a cure. But in bouncing from 1918 to the early and mid-1990s, he undergoes an ordeal that forces him to question his own perceptions of reality. Caught between the dangers of the past and the devastation of the future, he encounters a psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe) who is initially convinced he's insane, and a wacky mental patient (Brad Pitt in a twitchy Oscar-nominated role) with links to a radical group that may have unleashed the deadly virus. Equal parts mystery, tragedy, psychological thriller, and apocalyptic drama, 12 Monkeys ranks as one of the best science fiction films of the '90s, boosted by Gilliam's visual ingenuity and one of the finest performances of Willis's career. The Collector's Edition DVD includes a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary (The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys) in addition to the theatrical trailer, production notes, and a 12 Monkeys archive of still photos, design concepts, and storyboards. —Jeff Shannon

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12 Monkeys [HD DVD]  
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Inspired by Chris Marker's acclaimed short film La Jetée(which is included on the DVD Short 2: Dreams), 12 Monkeyscombines intricate, intelligent storytelling with the uniquely imaginative vision of director Terry Gilliam. The story opens in the wintry wasteland of the year 2035, where a virulent plague has forced humans to live in a squalid, oppressively regimented underground. Bruce Willis plays a societal outcast who is given the opportunity to erase his criminal record by "volunteering" to time-travel into the past to obtain a pure sample of the deadly virus that will help future scientists to develop a cure. But in bouncing from 1918 to the early and mid-1990s, he undergoes an ordeal that forces him to question his own perceptions of reality. Caught between the dangers of the past and the devastation of the future, he encounters a psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe) who is initially convinced he's insane, and a wacky mental patient (Brad Pitt in a twitchy Oscar-nominated role) with links to a radical group that may have unleashed the deadly virus. Equal parts mystery, tragedy, psychological thriller, and apocalyptic drama, 12 Monkeysranks as one of the best science fiction films of the '90s, boosted by Gilliam's visual ingenuity and one of the finest performances of Willis's career. —Jeff Shannon

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The 13th Warrior John McTiernan Michael Crichton  
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What happened to The 13th Warrior? Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), it's the tale of young Arab ambassador Ahmahd ibn Fahdalan (Antonio Banderas), who's vanquished from his homeland for loving the wrong woman. On his journeys he associates with a ragtag group of Vikings who are traveling back to their homeland to confront a nefarious threat that's cloaked in such superstition they're forbidden to speak its name. It is prophesied by a witch doctor that 13 warriors must confront the evil; however, the 13th chosen man must not come from the north. Suddenly Banderas is forced into the breach, somewhat against his will. More poet than battle-worn warrior, he must not only fight the aggressors but come to terms with the unfamiliar Norse culture. What follows is a vigorous and brutal adventure reminiscent of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Sumptuous and invigorating battle sequences fill the screen from beginning to end as the brave Norsemen battle insurmountable odds.

Sounds good. So why did this film, once known as the Eaters of the Dead, sit on studio shelves for two years? Presumably because of the thoughtless editing that trimmed down the film to its bare bones, crafting an actionfest out of an epic. It's not often that you crave for a movie to be longer, but The 13th Warriorcould've benefited from fleshing out of its subplots and characters. On the surface it's good eye candy with some fine pulse-quickening moments, and Banderas and the accompanying cast turn in sympathetic performances, epitomizing camaraderie in the face of impending doom. However, if you're looking for a good thematic tale from the Dark Ages (akin to Braveheart), you may be disappointed. —Jeremy Storey

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20 Million Miles to Earth (Ws Sub B&W) Nathan Juran Richard Schickel  
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Special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion talents and "Dynamation" (rear-projection) process are the highlights of the '50s-era creature feature 20 Million Miles to Earth. An American spaceship returns to Earth after a mission to Venus and crashes into the sea near Sicily. A sole survivor (William Hopper) is rescued, along with a specimen that quickly grows into a reptilian biped called the Ymir. The being eventually grows to 20 feet high and escapes its confines, whereupon it rampages through Rome before a showdown with the military. Despite lacking much of a personality, the Ymir is a marvelous showcase for Harryhausen's skills. Unfortunately, the rest of the film does not match his level of excellence; direction by Nathan Juran is perfunctory (his later collaborations with Harryhausen, including The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, are more lively), and performances and scripting are flat. Still, Harryhausen fans should enjoy this opportunity to see this phase of his career before he created his most enduring works. —Paul Gaita

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32 Short Films About Glenn Gould François Girard  
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François Girard originally conceived 32 Short Films About Glenn Gouldas a biography to try to explain the bizarre genius of the master pianist who stopped touring in 1963 at the height of his success. The 32 parts play out key moments of Gould's life without stringing them together. They go from realistic (a scene in a Hamburg hotel in which Gould turns a maid on to the wonder of music) to nihilistic (a segment solely made up of the drugs Gould presumably took). Stratford actor Colm Feore is quite good as the slyly introverted, soft-spoken figure, although this film is more of an examination of loneliness than of music. The key question is, Does this docudrama enlighten us better than a straightforward documentary on Gould would? Probably not. —Doug Thomas

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