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Anthony Hinde (Sydney, Australia)

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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2-Disc Collector's Edition) (Bilingual)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2-Disc Collector's Edition) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Johnny Depp
Price: CDN$ 8.00
113 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Long live the Swash-Buckler, Feb. 16 2004
I actually went on the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride at Disney Land as a kid. And apart from a few scenes, (especially on the extended DVD version), there’s only a vague derivation between the ride and the film. To be honest, the film is much better.
Johnny Depp steals the show as the down-on-his-luck pirate captain, Jack Sparrow. A lot has been made of his bizarre take on this character, supposedly based on Keith Richard’s drug induced eccentricities. What he has created is a complex and intelligent soul, who also manages to lighten every scene in which he appears. Jack assumes a mentoring role for the young Will Turner, (Orlando Bloom), after they discover a shared desire to track down the legendary pirate ship, the Black Pearl.
Orlando performs well, successfully capitalising on his newly earned reputation from The Lord of the Rings. Will Turner may not get many of the good lines but he make a good fist of what he gets. As does Keira Knightley in her role as the Governor’s daughter and Will’s love interest. Her role is fairly predictable; an atavistic modern woman plopped into the eighteen hundreds.
The production values for this film are truly excellent and have been transferred flawlessly to DVD. The film’s special effects are very necessary to the plot, showing cursed pirates transforming into cadavers once in moonlight. These effects are both impressive and seamless. The DVD special features goes to quite some length to explain the creating of these images; maybe not ground breaking but interesting none the less.
All in all the film makes for a solid base which should support a long-running series of sequels/prequels. So long as they manage to keep the film’s sense of humour I feel it’s a formula that should continue to prove entertaining. “The Curse of the Black Pearl” is a wonderful stand-alone experience but I for one will enjoy seeing Jack, Will and Miss Swan taking on their next challenge.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Widescreen)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Gregory Peck
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 44.33
22 used & new from CDN$ 6.90

5.0 out of 5 stars A small town lesson for the whole world, Nov. 17 2003
It's easy to think "To Kill a Mockingbird" is older than it is. Released in 1962, the same year James Bond was immortalised in "Dr. No," director Robert Mulligan chose to film in black & white, despite Hollywood's rush to adopt the new Kodachrome II color film. Since the story is set in the 1930's, the classic look of the film adds weight to its historic reality.
Adapted from Harper Lee's only book, which won a Pulitzer prize, the script itself won an academy award. Added to this is a stellar cast who manage to hold their own against the amazing performance given by, Gregory Peck, an actor at the peak of his abilities. For those who also enjoy Robert Duvall's huge body of work, it may be interesting to note this film as his first, in a non-speaking but pivotal role as Boo Radley.
It would be easy to dismiss an old film that deals with the race issue in Alabama. Some might think this topic has been done to death and, to an extent, they are right. But To Kill a Mockingbird is not solely about racism. It deals with honesty, justice, fear, childhood, quick judgements and parenthood. Even the race card is dealt with fairly, without blowing things out to sensational proportions. It shows that minor, selfish decisions, which rely on the racism in others, can breed larger evils.
An adult Jean Louise 'Scout' Finch narrates much of the story but it is her father, Atticus, around which the narrative hinges. Played with subtle dignity by Peck, Atticus is a small town Lawyer who agrees to defend Tom Robinson against charges of Rape. He agrees, in the full knowledge that many of his neighbours will hate him for defending a black man and still others will expect him to put up only a token effort. Instead, Atticus does what we know he will... his best.
There is an interesting contrast between what we see of Atticus and how his two children describe him. Apparently he's too old to do anything, like play ball, and they are a bit embarrassed by his quite ways. The trial and its associated moral battles put their father squarely in the spotlight and not in a good way. He and they are attacked and ridiculed but in the end Scout and Jem see a different picture of their old Pop. A man who is strong enough to stand against hatred, and brave enough to highlight the weaknesses of flawed white girl against the strengths of an honest black man.
The name of the film is taken from one of Attcus's rules relating to using a rifle. Jem relates his father's instruction "to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird...Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncribs, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us."
There are several Mockingbirds in this movie; the misunderstood Boo Radley, Tom Robins and even Atticus. For me though, the film is defined when Reverend Sykes asks Scout to stand up in the court gallery, after a failed defence, saying "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin."

A Walk in the Clouds [Repackaged] (Widescreen) [Import]
A Walk in the Clouds [Repackaged] (Widescreen) [Import]
DVD ~ Keanu Reeves
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 5.51
32 used & new from CDN$ 1.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Magical, romantic, meaningful., July 14 2003
When I use the term Adult Fairytale, some might think of films like, "The Princess Bride" or "Ever After" but "A Walk in the Clouds" is a more suitable example. Director Alfonso Arau has created a magical story peopled by outsized characters and placed in a spiritual world called the Aragon Estate. The film permits we mere mortals to visit this world, a Spanish style winery nestled in California's Napper Valley. We arrive along with Paul Sutton, Keanu Reeves; a stranger in a strange land.
Paul's background is economically exposed at the start of the movie. A man returns from World War II, hoping to greet his wife whom he met and married just before shipping out. He dreams of a meaningful life, surrounded by a loving family. His small goals are those of an orphan who has had a lonely life and whose ordeals in battle have condensed his wishes to the simple, important things. Sadly his wife, Betty, is more interested in money and its trappings. She has a lot of spirit but little heart or interest for Paul's modest ambitions. He no sooner arrives than he is pushed out the door to earn some money selling chocolates; a job he wasn't enthusiastic about even before the war.
At this point we are still grounded in the real world, although Paul has an unearthly element to him that is hinted at. For example, any soldier that writes a letter to his wife every day, despite receiving virtually no replies, has more than the average dose of hope and optimism. The real world serves as a backdrop for the rest of the film, contrasting starkly with the soft images, haunting score and honest dialogue that characterises life at the Aragon Vineyard. On a train journey to one of his sales calls, Paul meets Victoria Aragon. She forms a bridge, between these two worlds, that Paul traverses in a series of jerks and lurches. A run of accidents result in Paul volunteering to help the beautiful but miserable young woman. I'm certain these accidents represent fate taking a hand in the lives of two who are destined for love.
Victoria is played by Aitana Sanchez-Gijon in her first English speaking role. Victoria's problem, being unmarried and pregnant, is magnified by having to face a traditionalist family and a strict and passionate father, Alberto. The solution seems obvious to the chivalrous Paul. He suggests playing the part of her husband, a man who fears responsibility and will soon leave her. In this way Paul hopes her honour will be maintained in the eyes of her family and any bitterness will, instead, fall on his absent shoulders. It is a good plan, only complicated in execution by the couple's growing love and Paul's desire for the rich family life that Victoria takes for granted. The turning point seems to come during a family ritual, performed after picking the harvest. All the married women are enticed into a large wooden vat to crush the grapes. This prosaic activity is actually a lusty and sensual attempt to harness the ancient powers of some fertility god. Not even Paul can stand against Victoria's almost unwitting seduction. This is truly one of the sexiest pieces of footage I can remember seeing; and all without resorting to nudity or the sharing of body fluids.
Another rope around Paul's neck is the family's patriarch, Don Pedro Aragón, played with amazing assurance and grace by Anthony Quinn. Don Pedro seems to see through all deceptions, going straight to the heart of the matter. He guides, prods and manipulates Paul to discover, and even pursue, his love of Victoria. In fact if I have any criticism of the film it is that next to Anthony Quinn, Keanu seems like a wooden doll, particularly during the preparations for the drunken serenade. But even this seems appropriate for Paul's character, so inexperienced in the ways of family.
Several Journeys take place in the film; Paul's path from orphanage to family, Victoria's reluctant steps from deception to honesty, her father Alberto's change from taskmaster to loving parent. Even the audience takes a journey. We start out wanting to escape our troubles with a little light entertainment and walk away looking inward, trying to decide if we are on a path as fulfilling as that of Paul and the Aragón family. "A Walk in the Clouds" clearly rejects mindless materialism, a philosophy mirrored by Paul's war-bride rejecting him. Instead we are asked to believe that family, honest labour and honour make up the soil our soul should take root in. We may not all have root stock as steeped in tradition as the Aragon's but like Paul, perhaps we will have the sense to recognise rich earth when we see it.

The Bourne Identity (Widescreen Collector's Edition) [Import]
The Bourne Identity (Widescreen Collector's Edition) [Import]
DVD ~ Franka Potente
Offered by First Choice Video
Price: CDN$ 7.97
51 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Jason's not paranoid, he's just in a tough spot., April 30 2003
I'll be honest, I haven't read the Robert Ludlum novel, nor do I remember seeing the original film staring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith. So I'm not able to point out differences or inconsistencies, if indeed there are any. Having said that, I can't imagine its predecessor's topping Doug Liman's version of "The Bourne Identity." This is the sort of film I like to watch pretty often and each time I find something new to enjoy.
The plot, while nothing very original, provides a useful framework around which we get to enjoy some of the most believable action sequences I've seen. Let's face it, an assassin suffering from amnesia is not going to lead a dull life, particularly not after his "friends" decide he's gone rogue. There's only so many ways you can film stunts and action sequences like a car chase but Liman has managed to somehow make the many action scenes seem fresh. I particularly liked seeing what looked like a mini-minor out driving the police using skill and good planing, rather than a high-powered engine or death-defying jumps.
Most of the movie follows Jason Bourne, (Matt Damon), as he tries to reclaim his life and survive to see each new day. In this way, the audience is allowed to discover the pieces of the puzzle along with him. On the way he forms an unequal partnership with Marie Kreutz, (Franka Potente). It is good to see a female lead portrayed without either weakness or an unrealistic macho streak. Hopefully, this film will launch Franka's Hollywood career because she has more than earned her stripes in German cinema.
Jason and Marie inevitably bond but despite not taking a major part of the narrative, I felt their stop-start romance suited the film. Perhaps a woman with no home makes a good match for a man with no past. I also liked the several times the couple tried to split up, to get Marie out of Bourne's troubles but I especially liked the realism when they finally managed to part. The plot really doesn't need her but it seems Liman used Marie as a means of reminding Bourne that there is more to life than survival.
To some it would be nice to wake up one day and discover you were a sort of superman; able to speak half a dozen languages, had tens of thousands in a Swiss bank account and could out-fight Bruce Lee. His boss said it best when he described Jason as a $30,000,000 weapon. But more than advanced skills, Jason was gifted with intelligence and the experience of years of spy craft, even if he couldn't remember it. The thoughtful approach taken to achieve each objective, even on the spur of the moment, made the film almost educational. Hey, read a map before running from the police, use distraction and decoys to sidetrack you opponent, use the resources around you and think laterally. It's all good stuff for budding spies.
While Matt Damon played the part with little emotion, deliberately I assume, some of the smaller roles were outstanding. Each seemed to wring so much depth from so few minutes of screen time that I felt like watching a spin-off movie for each of them. Probably the most affecting was the performance of Clive Owen, a fellow assassin who dies describing his constant headaches and bitter loneliness. Also of note is Julia Stiles, the overworked safe-house administrator; she exudes competence while com­plaining of limited resources. All of these perform­ance gems must be a credit to Liman's direction.
It would be easy to dismiss "The Bourne Identity" as just another action flick. The action was great, but the true heart of the film was Jason's odyssey to reclaim his soul from the depths of a CIA black-ops hell. He used to be an amoral machine, doing his job without questioning the rightness of his work, just like the rest of them. But amnesia gave him the chance to step back from the abyss and evaluate his fate, eventually choosing to tear a new path into the future. The moral? Perhaps it's that "freedom" is more important than "patriotism."

Wonder Boys (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
Wonder Boys (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Michael Douglas
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 33.66
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Prof. Tripp is over 50 and just coming of age., Feb. 15 2003
Many creative people strive for perfection, especially in their first true work. Amongst other things, "Wonderboys" explores what might happen if perfection was actually achieved. Professor Grady Tripp, (Michael Douglas), is a lecturer in Creative Writing whose first novel was a critical success. That was seven years ago and he is still working on his follow-up work. Many of his students admire him, he smokes a lot of dope, is having an affair with his boss's wife and occasionally becomes unconscious for no apparent reason. He is a man without ambition, coasting through life. Mildly jealous of those who still show a passion for life, he becomes entangled in the world of one of his students, James Leer (Toby Maguire), who manages to show even less passion for existence than the professor.
James is recognised by his peers as being both weird, in an introverted semi-postal way, and yet more talented than the rest of them put together. Their half-hearted attempts to pull him down to their level are ignored, leaving James mired in his own depressing view of reality. It's even possible that he has chosen Professor Tripp as his mentor; somehow hoping that someone, almost as disconnected from reality as himself and yet capable of publishing a seminal work, might be able to show James a way through the maze. In a way, this is exactly what happens, but not in any sort of linear fashion. While the film largely follows the professor's point of view, James is often the one our sympathies are drawn to. He lies constantly, in such a creative and self-consistent way, that no one truly knows what is going on in his life. It's as if he is testing plot lines on an unsuspecting audience in an effort to hone his story-telling skills.
Despite concentrating on these two characters, the film is an ensemble piece, chock full of minor but lovingly crafted people that, for the most part, we'd love to get to know better. Tripp's Editor, Terry Crabtree, (Robert Downey Jr.), is an unsuccessful man who has little confidence but an irrepressible energy; seemingly determined to dance until someone shuts off the stage lights. Tripp's student boarder, Hannah Green, (Katie Holmes), is one of the saner characters in the film. She feels a natural admiration for her teacher; a feeling which she tries to promote into a more adult relationship following the off-screen departure of his young wife. How any flesh and blood man could reject Hannah's scantily clad advances is beyond my understanding, nevertheless that's exactly what Grady does.
The dean of the college, Sara Gaskell, (Francis McDormand), who is also Professor Tripp's girl friend, is married to the Dean of English, Walter Gaskell, (Richard Thomas), a clueless boor who obsesses over Marilyn Munroe and Joe DiMaggio. Sara truly loves Tripp and yet sees him for the rudderless ship he is. She is very centered, confident and assertive; firmly placing the emotional ball in Tripp's court. He must decide what he wants or loose the only thing he still seems to enjoy in his post novel depression. As you might imagine, when all of these interesting people are thrown into the mix; along with a murdered dog, stolen memorabilia, an enormous novel that can't find an ending and a determined ex-jockey car thief possibly named Vernon; nobody can predict the result. The only certainty is that it will make for an interesting ride. As Director Chris Hanson says, "All the characters are disparate and yet similar in certain ways. They're all mucking around trying to figure out their lives, just like we are - only they're more amusing along the way."

Partners In Necessity
Partners In Necessity
by Sharon Lee
Edition: Paperback
28 used & new from CDN$ 5.14

4.0 out of 5 stars An easy read that will stay with you for a long time., Jan. 20 2003
This review is from: Partners In Necessity (Paperback)
Originally published in 1988 it took twelve more years for a commercial following to gather for the Liaden Universe. The first three books, "Conflict of Honors", "Agent of Change" and "Carpe Diem," were then compiled into a single volume and sold as "Partners in Necessity." During the mild aftermath of their first being published, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller continued to write, but mostly for themselves. If the general public didn't embrace what they wrote, at least they enjoyed writing it.
The strange thing here, is that those three novels were excellent. It's a mystery to me why it took so long for them to succeed, as they should have from the first day. The book market can be an unpredictable battleground. If it weren't for all the positive ratings awarded on, even I would not have read these quality novels.
Written in the vein of space opera, each of the Liaden Universe books, six so far, centre on the Liaden clan Korval. A non terrestrial but human family that ensures its survival in a universe of cut-throat politics with commercial acumen, a fleet of ships and a generations long breeding program aimed at producing pilots, (a rare bread of individual that has the reflexes of a cat and the courage to match). Each book tends to concentrate on one couple, typically as they meet, fall in love and life-bond. All this tends to happen under adverse circumstances; running from secret government agents, duelling with mad ship captains, targeted by a futuristic crime family or just being attacked by a mindless race of aggressive aliens known as the Yxtrang.
The Clan Korval is not always fighting alone however. One of their more fascinating allies is the Clutch Turtles, linked to Korval through an unspecified and mysterious adoption. These aliens are an old race, long lived, slow to act, fascinated by art and possibly the most deadly creatures in known space. There are so many factions, families, races and species involved in the Liaden universe that we need every book these talented authors can produce just to scratch the surface. I just hope their growing popularity gives them enough reasons to continue writing.

Donnie Darko (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
Donnie Darko (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Jake Gyllenhaal
Offered by kingoftradeonline
Price: CDN$ 17.97
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Confusing and bleak but ultimately, rewarding., Nov. 3 2002
Some films are impossible to categorize. Donnie Darko can be seen as horror, science fiction, drama or social satire but in truth it is just art. This is the sort of entertainment that is best experienced in a relaxed state of half dreaming. The plot defies analysis and the bizarre situations that arise are strangely suited to the audience's mood. After my first viewing, I didn't know what I had seen but I knew I liked it. In fact, it took several sessions to reach a solid hypothesis as to the narrative cause and effect.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays the title character, a troubling but not troubled young man who lives in a different world to the rest of us. His average family offers him all the support they can but even Donnie's psychiatrist struggles to understand his situation. The prescription of antischizophrenic drugs seems to do little to blunt his visions, nor do they stop his nocturnal missions. I particularly like the way the soundtrack was gently used to separate the normal from the abnormal. The film's mournful version of "Mad World", (originally made famous by Tears for Fears), was one of the musical highlights.
One of Donnie's most interesting qualities is that he has no fear of the common-place terrors that exist for the rest of us. He tells his teachers where to shove it, asks the beautiful Gretchen to go steady after only a day, speaks out against the school's guest brain-washer and even copes calmly with murderous bullies. He is however, afraid that the world will end in 28 days and is concerned about dying alone, but then who isn't.
The story is interwoven with several mysteries, only some of which are even partially explained in the film. One of the most important of these occurs while Donnie is out one night on the local golf-course, talking to a six foot rabbit named Frank. I don't know if this is an allusion to the James Stewart film, "Harvey," but it is certainly not played for laughs, as Frank is quite sinister. Sometime during this meeting Donnie's bedroom is demolished by a falling jet engine. No one knows where it came from and no airline claims their lost property, but one thing is certain, if Donnie hadn't been AWOL, he'd be very dead.
Life quickly resumes. The family's notoriety fades and school life once again regains its position of central torment in Donnie's life. His beautiful and sensitive English teacher, along with his grounded and caring science teacher, (Barrymore & Wylie), fail to offset the damage done by the stressed and misguided gym teacher, Kitty Farmer. She is a disciple of Jim Cunningham, (Swayze), a motivational speaker who reaks of charm and paternalistic love; so much so that Donnie, and the audience, just can't buy into his simple solutions.
The film's cast is huge but of an impressive quality, for an ostensibly independent production. All the major characters seemed to go beyond what is expected and create three dimensional beings with quirks, fears and emotions that are subtly alluded to. I particularly enjoyed Gyllenhaal's performance as Donnie. When he is in the sway of one of his visions, the cast of his eye is more disturbing than any million dollar special effect. Beth Grant, playing the Gym teacher, is also outstanding. Her new-age zealotry is the perfect representation of what is truly dangerous in our politically correct society.
Along with a great cast, the script is amazing. Not just in its creativity but that it ever managed to get funding. Chock full of unlikely theories, small but convoluted set pieces and thought provoking dialogue, it made the film entertaining, even after several viewings. Small touches bring Donnie's world home to us; like the discussion of the sexual mores of Smurfs, Ms Pomeroy forcing the new girl to sit next to the guy she likes best and an old lady suffering a life-threatening obsession with checking her perpetually empty mailbox.
In the end though, it is the greater plot devices that twist our minds like some drug induced mobius loop. Is Donnie some sort of psychotic super-hero? Did everyone remember an alternative future, at the end? Were Grandma Death's theories on time-travel true? If you like pat answers in your entertainment, then you'll be frustrated with Donnie Darko. If however, like me, you like to solve puzzles, you may be prepared to dive into the depths of Donnie's world. Come on in; the water's dark.

Remember The Titans (Bilingual)
Remember The Titans (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Denzel Washington
Price: CDN$ 8.88
43 used & new from CDN$ 1.28

4.0 out of 5 stars A lesson in teamwork that the world should learn, Aug. 3 2002
Like most cinematic versions of true-life stories, "Remember the Titans," is an idealized version of reality. The main theme focuses on the two-sided coin of racial tension and racial harmony. Such moralistic tales can be heavy going but in this case, using school football as a backdrop, director Boaz Yakin creates a moving and entertaining parable.
Set in Virginia around 1971, the story primarily involves the football team at T.C. Williams High. The school is in the middle of a racial integration process and seems to find the concept, of blacks and whites in physical contact, objectionable. Thrown into this already volatile mix is Coach Boone, a black man from out of state and from a lower grade of football. Boone is placed above Coach Yoast, the current, and white, head of the football department. This strange form of affirmative action is seemingly aimed at political, rather than social, goals.
Not surprisingly Coach Yoast, solidly played by Will Patton, takes umbrage at this obvious slight to his tenure, experience and standing in the community. His young daughter, Sheryl, takes the news with even more disgust. Played by Hayden Panettiere, Sheryl steals every scene she's in, creating a funny and memorable character; a small curly haired girl who loves football more than life itself.
Seeing the danger of his team abandoning university scholarships just to show solidarity, Yoast steps back onto the team in a subordinate role to Boone. Densel Washington gives us another strong performance as the forceful, and borderline abusive, Coach Boone. His credo seems to emphasise offence, both on the field and off. This is made clear after he challenges the worst elements of the town to face him, following an incident involving bricks flung through his home's windows.
Boone's first act as head coach is to undo the racial divide among his players. Instead, the team is split along offensive and defensive lines. This forced integration soon causes conflict, allowing the audience to explore the large cast of characters in more depth. It is remarkable that so many minor characters stand out in memory and if some of them seem a little shallow, there are limits to what can be achieved in under two hours.
True reconciliation, perhaps even racial harmony, does not begin building until the team is lead on a crippling morning run that finishes at the Gettysburg battle ground. Boone, who set up the event, gives a shaming speech comparing the "cause" that their forefathers fought and died for, to the smaller battles still being fought within their team. In addition, each player was given an ongoing assignment to get to know each and every other member of the team, forcing some level of understanding in most of these young men.
There is a fair amount of football in the film but for me, it was the character expositions and interpersonal conflict that held my interest. I'm sure those who enjoy the game will get a lot more out of the film but the game does not overshadow the strong narrative, creative cinematography and moving soundtrack. In the end, the film's value rests on the shoulders of the two leading men rather than on football. These two honourable men may start out as adversaries but, like the team's offensive and defensive captains, they eventually become life-long friends.

Léon the Professional (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
Léon the Professional (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Jean Reno
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 59.48
17 used & new from CDN$ 1.57

5.0 out of 5 stars An injection of life into a killer's cold heart., June 30 2002
Early in Luc Besson's film, "Leon" (aka The Professional), we learn that only master assassins work up close, with their hands or a knife. If that's true then Besson must consider himself a master director as this movie takes the audience up close and personal with some fascinating but ultimately doomed characters.
If it seems the title role was written for Jean Reno, that's only because it was. He plays an Italian hit-man who works in New York. Like many immigrants, he is isolated within the new and unfamiliar world. He shares a squalid little apartment with one plant and leaves only to buy provisions, visit his friend, (and manager), Tony, and occasionally see an old movie at the local cinema. His life would be small and insignificant if it weren't for the fact that he is a ruthless killer, working for the Mob.
The genius of this film is that it somehow convinces the audience to feel sympathy towards a brutal assassin. This "Professional" is portrayed as somehow fragile while at the same time being perfectly dangerous. He can't read English, doesn't speak much and is clearly being short-changed by Tony, a slick Italian "Family" man played gently by Danny Aiello. When trouble visits Leon's little unit block, he doesn't venture out but prefers to watch from the safety of his door's spy-hole.
This particular trouble comes in the form of detective Norman Stansfield, a crooked cop who arrives to visit one of his drug couriers who stupidly gambles his life in an effort to increase his slice of the business. Stansfield, played brilliantly by Gary Oldmam, is a pill-popping psychotic whose only redeeming feature seems to be a love of classical music. Sadly he sees parallels between famous concertos and savage gun battles. In this case, his shotgun version of Beethoven leaves the entire family dead in their apartment; all but 12-year-old Mathilda.
Natalie Portman's first major cinematic role, as Mathilda, is impressive. She has to project a broad range for a child character. After growing up as a drug dealer's daughter and then losing even that small security, she is both vulnerable and street smart. And, after convincing Leon to take her in, she also starts to explore her budding sexuality, (a foreshadowing of her role in Beautiful Women).
In our politically correct world, 12-year-old girls are not meant to be sexually attractive but that doesn't stop Besson from designing scenes where young Mathilda makes serious attempts to seduce the shy Leon. It's unclear whether she truly feels love or is simply trying to ensure her new place in the world. The result is a strong bond between the two unlikely companions, more familial than sexual. In the end, it is this bond that forces Leon to abandon his years of caution.
This is a film that combines a perfect cast with inspired direction, European cinematography and the characteristic score of Eric Serra to create a powerful, sometimes disturbing, experience that will stay with you for years to come.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Hardcover
24 used & new from CDN$ 9.45

5.0 out of 5 stars Too funny for this world, May 25 2002
Comedy is so much more likely to succeed in movies than in novel form. So there is that much more reason to celebrate good comedy novels. Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series started out as a radio serial, then went to book and was finally made into a television series. I even hear it may see the big screen soon. For me, the best format so far is the novels.
Adams writes well, has a fertile and sometimes bizarre imagination, peoples his stories with self-absorbed characters and isn't afraid to make the central hero a pessimistic boor. There has been science fiction comedy before this but Adams has earned the crown for the best Sci-Fi satirist, in my opinion at least.
This five-book trilogy revolves around Arthur Dent, supposedly a typical English loser. Poor Arthur gets thrown into one difficult situation after another, not because he is in any way special, but because his best friend, Ford Prefect, happens to be an alien reporter for the most popular book in the history of the universe, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Ford saves Arthur from Earth's immanent destruction, thus derailing Arthur's equilibrium. He doesn't regain his balance until four books later when he falls in love.
Adams is the modern day Oscar Wilde or P. G. Woodhouse. His dialogue is so witty and surprising, that when I first read these books it was impossible to hold in my laughter. And it's not just the occasional quip, sprinkled into an otherwise standard tale; the whole thing tends to build into a crescendo that is almost too funny to bear. I've read this series so many times I've almost memorised each word. Don't miss out on some of the funniest writing to be seen in the last 50 years.

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