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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth


  1. "King Kong"

A monument to excess, Peter Jackson's "King Kong" is the kind of grand entertainment that Hollywood so often promises, but fails to deliver. The spectacle is merely a complement to the empathetic relationship between Ann Darrow and the gorilla that forms the emotional core of the film. It's an epic (and most likely definitive) update to a classic story.

  1. "The Upside of Anger"

Joan Allen gives one of the year's best performances as an unlikable, self-destructive mother of four who drifts into alcoholism after her husband leaves her. The comedy is witty and fresh, with Kevin Costner at the top of his game as her equally adrift and entirely smitten next-door neighbor.

  1. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"

Who could have guessed that a high-concept gross-out comedy could also be so touching? Steve Carrell, who also wrote the script, evokes a genuine sympathy for his title character, while delivering big laughs in the process. This film and "Wedding Crashers" mark the triumphant return of the R-rated comedy. Keep 'em coming!

  1. "Oldboy"

Korean director Park Chan-wook delivers one of the best revenge films in years with this morality tale about a man released from imprisonment after 15 years and given only five days to track down his captor. The film generates the best kind of suspense, the kind that focuses not on what will happen to the characters, but on the choices they will make. You won't see the twists coming.

  1. "Layer Cake"

When I first heard that a scraggly-looking, no-name British actor would be donning the mantle of 007, I was skeptical. But the successor to Mr. Brosnan, Daniel Craig, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Steve McQueen, put all those fears to rest with his cool, collected portrayal of a British gangster whose flair for crime and management would be better used in a corporate board-room than in the company of low-grade drug runners. Although it belongs squarely in the "Ocean's 11" school of cinema -- slick, stylish, and entertaining -- "Layer Cake" carries more menacing undertones, some of which come through in the final scenes

  1. "Munich"

If you didn't see his name on the credits, you wouldn't be able to tell this is a Steven Spielberg film. Having abandoned his proclivities for feel-good cinema, the popular director jumps into gritty thriller territory with his story of a secret hit squad charged with tracking down and killing the eleven Palestinian perpetrators of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The film is complex and treats its subject-matter with a seriousness that accentuates its contemporary urgency: its exploration of the moral and ethical costs of fighting terrorism is sure to provoke much-needed discussion. Like "Syriana," it offers no easy answers, but asks all the right questions.

  1. "A History of Violence"

David Cronenberg's story of a small-town patriarch haunted by sins of the past is the Canadian director's best work yet. The film's portrayal of small-town America is at once familiar and alien, inviting and unsettling. In every scene, Cronenberg challenges our sensibilities by catering to our basest instincts with over-the-top, but intensely satisfying, movie carnage, followed by extended shots of its victims. He exacts a price for every laugh and every scene of action-hero bravura, exposing our culture's fetishization of violence.

  1. "Good Night & Good Luck"

A film that could have too easily drifted into soapbox territory is elevated by David Straithairn's mesmerizing performance as crusading journalist Edward R. Murrow who dared to challenge authority in the McCarthy era. George Clooney, in his second outing behind the camera, has delivered an instant classic. The climate of fear is palpable in every frame as the blowing cigarettes, dark rooms and cool demeanours hide the underlying feeling of terror. Like Oliver Stone's "JFK," "Good Night & Good Luck" captures not just the look, but the mood of the period it portrays and the fearful disposition of its principal characters. This is the kind of activist film-making with a message that Hollywood too often shies away from.

  1. "Syriana"

"Syriana" is a throwback to the taut, politically-conscious film-making of the 1970s. Its complex narrative deals with the forces of oil, money, power and politics that shape our world. Behind the camera is "Traffic" screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, who once again adopts the interlocking storylines approach, injecting frustration and curiosity into every frame as he halfway guides us through the often baffling developments in this rather sinister world. The attentive moviegoer is rewarded with greater insight, but trying to make complete sense of a system none of its participants understand is futile. The focus is on an entrenched global system powered by individual (and national) interests that satisfy the secular greed for oil; if any one person actually figured out the details, the system couldn't stay in place. Gaghan excels in the intricacies -- political enthusiasts and economic junkies will be delighted at the authenticity of the economic jargon, political power-plays and depictions of Middle-Eastern societies. Tim Blake Nelson's monologue about the warmth of corruption is one for the ages.

  1. "Millions"

Released early last year to great critical acclaim but a paltry public response, "Millions" is the story of 7-year-old Damian and his 9-year-old brother Anthony who chance upon a large sum of money and find creative ways to distribute the windfall. "Millions" is a family film, but director Danny Boyle, best known for the deliciously lewd "Trainspotting" and zombie horror-fest "28 Days Later," treats the entire audience like adults, never forsaking authenticity and intelligence for cheap laughs or emotional bullying (take note Disney). The film is spiritual (Damian often has conversations with Catholic saints) without being religious and says its message with clarity and conviction; it's a true revelation and a complete joy in a rather bleak year.