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28 DAYS LATER Is 28 Days Later a title or a threat? A follow-up to 28 Days, Sandra Bullock's "feel-good" film about alcohol addiction? Pass the booze, indeed. Thankfully, though, this has nothing to do with zombies (the rum'n'brandy variety) and everything to do with zombies (the flesh-eating kind). It's been a while since we've had a decent genre flick of this nature, and while this effort from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) doesn't add much to the canon of the undead, it's still a worthy entry. Each zombie flick creates its own version of what turns ordinary citizens into the walking dead; here, it's a virus feeding off of people's "inner rage." But instead of turning green like the hulking creature in another new release, this rage transforms them into mindless ghouls with a nasty desire to nibble on the uninfected. The film can be split into three acts, and, as the saying goes, two out of three ain't bad. The first part captures that fever-dream sensation of being one of the only people left alive (Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris play the survivors), while the second chunk ratchets up the suspense by placing the protagonists out on the open road. But much of the energy drains during the third act, which comes off as a lackluster imitation of a similar scenario in George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead. Still, the grainy shooting style adds to the ambience, and those seeking contemporary subtext will have no problem equating the plague with SARS or any other recent epidemic.
WHALE RIDER A star is born in Whale Rider: New Zealand actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, who proves to be the best young import from that part of the world since Anna Paquin in The Piano. In writer-director Niki Caro's adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's 1986 novel, Castle-Hughes stars as Pai, a 12-year-old girl who had survived a difficult birth that killed her mother and twin brother. Pai is a descendant of Paikea, who, as the legend goes, first arrived in what would become the clan's village riding on the back of a whale. Pai certainly displays all the characteristics that would enable her to one day become the village's latest leader, but because she's female, her tradition-minded grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) dismisses her from consideration, showing controlled love for her as his flesh and blood but lashing out at her whenever she attempts to step outside what he perceives as her lot in life. Employing dashes of fantasy in what is largely a realistic family drama (in many respects, it begs comparison to John Sayles' equally enchanting The Secret of Roan Inish), Whale Rider is above all a moving drama about a young girl's efforts to find her place in the world while simultaneously seeking the love and respect of a patriarch whose own stubbornness blackens an otherwise noble spirit. As Pai, Castle-Hughes delivers a clear-headed performance that, like the film which embraces it, never succumbs to cloying sentiment but instead finds heartbreak and hope in a naturalistic manner.
LARA CROFT, TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE: Angelina Jolie, Noah Taylor.
L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou.
SEABISCUIT: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges.
SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER: Antonio Banderas, Sylvester Stallone.
THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1970) For their latest showstopper, the folks behind The Criterion Collection have dragged out a cult item whose reputation far exceeds the Trivial Pursuit tidbits that it was a personal favorite of Francois Truffaut, or that Martin Scorsese was the original director until he was fired 10 days into production. The movie's writer, Leonard Kastle, ended up taking control (after a second director was also let go), and to this day it remains his only screen credit. His minimalist approach is largely what earned the film instant notoriety -- rather than wallow in sensationalism (an easy route, given the sordidness of this based-on-fact story), he shoots it straight, with the same sort of chilled reserve seen in latter-day offerings like Henry ... Portrait of a Serial Killer and Man Bites Dog. As Ray Fernandez, a con man who woos lonely women with the sole purpose of bilking them out of their money, and Martha Beck, a 220-pound nurse who hooks up with Ray and helps him murder the women who don't "cooperate," Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler are wholly believable, and the film's murder set pieces remain among the most startling ever committed to celluloid. DVD features include an interview with Kastle, the theatrical trailer, and, best of all, an essay that relates the entire true-life tale (thus allowing for easy comparison with the screen version's accuracy). Movie: / Extras: