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The Whistleblower, Conan the Barbarian, Spy Kids
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Here's some pertinent information about DynCorp, culled from various sources: "DynCorp International is a United States-based private military company [which] has provided services for the U.S. military in Bolivia, Bosnia, Somalia, Angola, Haiti, Colombia, Kosovo and Kuwait ... Throughout the world, DynCorp employees have been accused (and frequently found guilty) of murder, torture, fraud, and paying for male child prostitutes."

And the sickening punchline: "DynCorp currently receives more than 96% of its $2 billion in annual revenues from the US federal government." (The times they are not a-changin' fast enough, Mr. President.)

Why is this relevant to a review of The Whistleblower? Here's why: "DynCorp had a $15 million contract to hire and train police officers for duty in Bosnia at the time Kathryn Bolkovac reported such officers were paying for prostitutes and participating in sex-trafficking." Although the name DynCorp has been changed for the film, the name Kathryn Bolkovac remains, and this picture relates her harrowing experiences while working in Bosnia.

Needless to say, this is a prime example of feel-bad cinema, and one scene in particular -- a teenage girl who tried to escape is punished for her actions -- is practically unwatchable. But film has a responsibility to educate as well as entertain, and for those up to the task, The Whistleblower is an ofttimes powerful experience, with Ukrainian-Canadian writer-director Larysa Kondracki (making her feature debut, as is co-scripter Eilis Kirwan) avoiding unnecessary embellishments and letting the story speak for itself.

As Kathryn Bolkovac, Rachel Weisz brings the same no-nonsense demeanor and steely conviction that informed her Oscar-winning performance in The Constant Gardener. The stateside scenes showing how the divorced Kathryn lost custody of her daughter to her ex-husband because of her workaholic tendencies as a Nebraska police officer are doubtless meant to present her as a flawed human being, since movies selling their protagonists as complete saints are generally prone to disparagement.

But these sequences are useless in this regard because, make no mistake, Kathryn is a hero, and we share her frustrations when dealing with sexist U.S. peacekeepers and unctuous h.r. personnel as well as Bosnian police officers who chuckle and crack jokes when confronted with battered or murdered women.

For all its righteous indignation, The Whistleblower never soars as high as comparable titles like The Killing Fields and the aforementioned The Constant Gardener. But those needing a break from such imbecilic fantasies as The Smurfs and Transformers: Part Trois won't mind subjecting themselves to its uncomfortable truths.



Seriously, this chatter about the 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian being some sort of classic needs to stop. John Milius' treatment of author Robert E. Howard's pulp hero was a lumbering bore, with a wooden Arnold Schwarzenegger not yet seasoned enough to work up the charisma that would serve him well in later pictures.

Still, I'm now forced to recall the '82 model with at least some smidgen of fond nostalgia after sitting through the perfectly dreadful 2011 reboot.

A humorless endurance test from the director (Marcus Nispel) who previously desecrated horror staples both good (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and bad (Friday the 13th) with so-what? remakes, this Conan fails in practically every respect. Despite being presented in 3-D, this sports characters who barely fill out one dimension. The battle sequences are staged with little variance and no imagination.

There is one nifty FX scene involving an army of monsters made out of sand, but even this becomes idiotic once it's apparent that a single tap will cause them to fall apart (guess they should have been fashioned from adamantium instead).

As the title warrior who makes it his life's mission to avenge the death of his father (Ron Perlman), Jason Momoa has the requisite six-pack abs but otherwise comes off as such a contemporary jock that you half-expect him to eventually forget about the bloodletting and start discussing Cam Newton's chances as the Carolina Panthers' new quarterback. And speaking of Perlman as his pop, am I the only one who thinks his facial hair makes him look like the title creature from that dreadful ‘80s family flick, Harry and the Hendersons?

Perlman isn't the only decent actor wasted here: Providing the narration is no less than Morgan Freeman, who sounds so bored and distracted that it's likely he was reading his lines while simultaneously making an omelette or putting away his laundry.

As the daughter of Conan's nemesis (an unrecognizable Stephen Lang), Rose McGowan, never more freaky, sports a receding hairline and talons that would make Freddy Krueger jealous. Her character is also blessed with an incredible sense of smell, although obviously not strong enough to keep her away from this suffocating stinkbomb.



What's there to say about a movie when Jessica Alba is the best thing about it? Not much, obviously.
Alba, perpetually as rigid as a surfboard, at least is inoffensive -- even likable -- in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, which automatically makes her easier to take than practically everything else in this insufferable kid flick.

A desperate attempt by writer-director Robert Rodriguez to resuscitate a franchise that was already running on fumes by its third entry back in 2003 (head to our website for reviews of the Blu-ray releases of the original trilogy), this casts Alba as Marissa Cortez, a retired spy whose husband Wilbur (Joel McHale) and stepchildren Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook) don't know about her former profession (they think she's always been an interior decorator). But when her arch-nemesis, the dastardly Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven), reappears on the scene with a master plan to speed up time until it runs out and the world ends, Marissa is called back into action and subsequently forced to let her stepkids join her on the mission.

The "4D" in the title refers to the fact that this is presented in "Aroma-Scope," which means that patrons are handed scratch'n'sniff cards meant to be rubbed at designated times throughout the film. This is hardly a new idea: Like most cinematic gimmicks, it originated in the 1950s, and its most recent employment was in John Waters' 1981 Polyester (not Pink Flamingos, thankfully).

The first smell deployed is bacon, and it's all downhill from there, with a couple of the spots reserved for flatulence odors. This, of course, is right in line with the rest of the movie, which has an unhealthy obsession with all things stinky: A robotic dog (voiced by Ricky Gervais) deploys "butt bombs," Cecil hurls used barf bags at villainous henchmen, Marissa wallops other goons with dirty diapers, and so on.

It's nice to see the original Spy Kids, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara), as young adults, although they wear out their welcome around the time that Carmen wipes boogers on Juni's shirt. As for the original Spy Parents, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez, they're nowhere to be seen, and the presence of Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino is sorely missed. Then again, more power to them for staying away from a movie that, like Conan the Barbarian, would smell in any dimension.