New Zealand screenwriter Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show) made his feature directorial debut with this science fiction drama, set in a future when one's life is determined by genetic engineering rather than education or experience. The wealthy can choose the genetic makeup of their descendants. People are designed to fit into whatever role is decided before birth. But what happens when someone desires another way of life? Citizens in this impersonal future-world are fashioned as perfect specimens, so those in the natural-born minority are viewed as inferior to the pre-planned perfect specimens (aka "Valids") who dominate. One of the natural-borns (aka "In-Valids"), Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), has several defects (poor vision, emotional problems, and short 30-year life expectancy), but he also develops a different outlook on his pre-ordained fate. He yearns to break free from society's constraints, and he dreams of a journey into space as a Gattaca Corp. navigator.
The time is the 1950s: seedy Brooklyn private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by shady Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to locate a pop singer who reneged on a debt. Harry ventures into Harlem, the first step of a Heart of Darkness-inspired odyssey. Each time Harry makes contact with someone who might know the singer's whereabouts, he or she is killed in a horrible, ritualistic fashion; a Satanic cult seems to be at the bottom of all the carnage. Harry solves the mystery, all right. He just didn't know that he had the answer all along – even before Louis entered his office. Also available in the "unrated" video version, Angel Heart is best known as the film that nearly got an X-rating due to a no-holds-barred sex scene involving Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet.
In 1992, Reservoir Dogs transformed Quentin Tarantino practically overnight from an obscure, unproduced screenwriter and part-time actor to the most influential new filmmaker of the 1990s. The story looks at what happens before and after (but not during) a botched jewelry store robbery organized by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney). Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is a career criminal who takes a liking to newcomer Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and enjoys showing him the ropes. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) is a weaselly loner obsessed with professionalism. Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) has just gotten out of jail after taking the rap on a job for Cabot; he's grateful for the work but isn't the same person he used to be. While Mr. Blonde goes nuts during the heist, the thieves are surprised by the sudden arrival of the police, and Mr. Pink is convinced one of their team is a cop. So who's the rat? What do they do about Mr. Blonde? And what do they do with Mr. Orange, who took a bullet in the gut and is slowly bleeding to death?
Self-involved corporate raider Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) has recently split up with his girlfriend. Seeking directions to the Beverly Hills Hotel, he makes the acquaintance of free-spirited hooker Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) and decides to put her on a 3,000-dollar retainer as his "date." He Cinderellarizes her by bankrolling a full wardrobe and cosmetic makeover. Of course, the setup will be strictly platonic. A disarming modern-day fairy tale, Pretty Woman was the picture that made Julia Roberts a superstar. As charming as she is in her "giggling" sequences, Roberts' best scene is her triumphant return to a posh Rodeo Drive shop where she'd been previously snubbed. Keeping Pretty Woman afloat throughout is the buoyant direction of Garry Marshall and the always welcome presence of Marshall's stock company of actors, including Hector Elizondo as a stuffy but golden-hearted concierge. Pretty Woman began its life as a much darker story of prostitutes and homicidal drug dealers, but more box-office-savvy heads ultimately prevailed.
English listeners went mad for Katie Melua with the release of her debut album in late 2003. Issued domestically in June 2004, Call Off the Search posits the lovely Melua pristinely in between pop, adult contemporary, and traditional American musical forms, with savvy marketing handling the finishing touches. (Think Norah Jones.) It's a comfortable, lightly melodic affair that drinks red wine safely in the middle of the road. Raised in Soviet Georgia and the United Kingdom, Melua has a beguiling accent that colors the ends of her phrases, adding character to her velvety, if occasionally only satisfactory singing voice…