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31 reviews in total 
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Hope (1997) (TV)
6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Delightful and original characters, 24 April 2005
10/10

HOPE plays out an embarrassingly bad civil rights drama against the backdrop of some truly delightful southern eccentrics led by Christine Lahti as a bible toting and loving but imbalanced woman taking care of her stricken wheelchair bound sister and her sister's strong willed teenage daughter. The daughter, Lily Kate Burns, spends her time begging for dance scholarships that will get her out of town based on delusions about what she had learned from a former rockette who lives nearby. Her partner is a pixyish boy with dyed hair who's Mother gave him the last name of October because she didn't know who the Father was and that was the month he was born.

Both are intelligent kids bored by school and determined to get out of their burned out town. The film takes place during the Cuban missile crisis, with frequent school drills about bomb safety. As Lily notes, the Russians wouldn't think of bombing their town because it looks like it had already been destroyed. When she quizzes Billy about whether or not they are normal, he stares at her in surprise and asks: "Who wants to be normal?" Their teacher, who spends most of her time drunk when she isn't bedding the girl's uncle, tries to gently tell Lilly that she wasn't going to get any scholarship but it doesn't keep the kids from whooping it up or this film from being a lot of fun even with the heavy-handed racial story running in the background. This is a fun movie with a little meat on its bones in the way of interesting characters and situations with a good feel for the environment portrayed.

30 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
A sweet tale of courage, honesty, and wisdom, 17 December 1999
10/10

A sentimental tale about an elderly captain who wants to bring his grandson to sea with him, but refuses to compromise his duty to his ship and crew even though it costs him everything he loves. Lionel Barrymore plays Captain Bering Joy as a sometimes-foolish old man vying for his grandson's affection with his first mate. Dean Stockwell plays the grandson who loves the sea and his grandfather, but is failing academically. Richard Widmark plays the young first mate who has been assigned the onerous task of teaching the boy his schoolwork. The beauty of this film for me is the way it celebrates wisdom, courage, fairness, and honesty in life. In the end, it is the log of a person's life and actions that matter more than their ability to fit any prevailing standard of knowledge or trendiness. Barrymore's character is old, ignorant, autocratic, and uncompromising, but he is also an example worthy of respect that the grandson can value for the rest of his life if he is wise enough to do so.

1 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Artistic yes, but not a dramatic masterpiece, 10 December 1999
10/10

It is hard to judge the quality of a movie like this. Any comparison to later films is doomed at the start because the techniques and features are so different. I did not feel the acting was at all remarkable, but the total composition was quite moving. I appreciated Dreyer's blend of cynicism, faith, hope, anger, and pity in the performances of the judges. He showed Joan's piety more in their changing reactions to her than in Falconetti's performance. I could not imagine her leading troops in battle. The trial probably did take a lot of Joan's self-confidence away, but Falconetti's wide-eyed woebegone tentative Joan, doing her duty despite her fear, generated only pity and respect for her courage. Who would follow a person like that? Christ after his betrayal kept a commanding presence. It was almost as if Dreyer looked at all the martyr sculptures, created a consummate victim for his film play, and forgot about the real person who caused the controversy in the first place. Falconetti's Joan would fit in well with the Children's Crusade, but was no Deborah or Boudicca leading troops, or even the Joan who passed muster with the King's counselors before being sent off to battle.

The "Voices of Light" soundtrack and the composition as a whole worked beautifully together on the DVD as a fascinating work of art. The end result was like a Ken Burns special or a video catalog of images, giving a two-dimensional detailed look at a time and place. Is it the best Joan ever? Perhaps it is more authentic than some, but it has a clear emotional bias that makes it no different than any other well-made agenda-driven film. I purchased it rather than seeing "Messenger" because of the almost universal praise for the older film from critics reviewing Besson's version. I am not sorry that I bought the film but would not recommend it except to those interested in the craft of filmmaking or attuned to medieval music.

Heat (1995)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Haunting portrait of sacrifices made on the altar of success, 10 December 1999
10/10

A fascinating portrait of two obsessed careerists and their neglected loved ones in a world of high-stakes crime. Robert De Niro plays a brilliant thief and Al Pacino plays an equally clever detective out to track him down. Both men are highly principled and protective of their crew, but each is addicted to their chosen professions to the point that nothing is allowed to get in the way. Michael Mann delineates the alienation felt by the detective's family and the thief's girlfriend in scintillating dialogue and rich performances. The overall effect is haunting and stayed with me many hours after the film was over. Quite separate from the cops and robbers story, it reflects our modern age of success-at-all-costs and tallies the damage left behind in broken lives.

Freeway (1996)
The anarchist's book of moral virtues, 5 December 1999
10/10

This glorious comic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood strips away polite society's version of morality and builds a robust alternative universe on the streets that is just as virtuous and a lot more demanding. Reese Witherspoon plays an illiterate state-raised teenager with a Ph.D. in street smarts. Her nemesis, Kiefer Sutherland, plays a university-educated pillar of society with a few hidden bad habits. Their lives intersect on the road to grandma's house and a no-holds-barred contest between two remorseless antagonists takes off from there.

Nothing is soft-pedaled in this film. Child abuse, vicious fights, and murder all take place in an environment where they appear commonplace. Every character is drawn with an eye towards basic humanity rather than good or bad. Vanessa Lutz knows the system as well as the folks running it. Anyone feeling smug or superior to her is usually in for a rude awakening. The only virtues lauded are that no one has a right to treat another badly without repercussions and that respectability is in the eye of the beholder.

The acting in this film is terrific. Both Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland give insightful performances and the supporting performances are generally low-key and believable. The comedy is in the contrast between real life on the streets and the middle-class bureaucratic dreamland portrayed on the evening news. Witherspoon's Vanessa Lutz has a long juvenile record including theft arson prostitution and attempted murder, but comes across as openhearted and innocent. She had to use a lot of empathy and intelligence to make her character as interesting and as full-bodied as she was.

16 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Thought-provoking small town drama, 17 November 1999
10/10

This film asks, and, to its credit, does not answer questions about madness, community responsibility, and the moral judgment of children as opposed to adults. It begins with a young girl packed up for a visit with her small-town grandparents by her urban Mother. Her grandfather's household includes his mentally ill son, his son's wife, and their son with whom the girl has a close relationship. Her uncle, is a quiet gentle man who can't handle the absurdities of life. He fixes watches for a living and embarrasses the family by his unorthodox/childish reactions to things that bother him. His son and niece idolize the purity of his world, his sensitivity, and his kindness. The resent his treatment by his wife, and the niece suspects his wife is having an affair with a neighbor.

Among the issues addressed are forcing a local Amish population to send their children to public school, the life of an embittered old woman who provides witch spells to the girl's young cousin, and the betrayal of confidence that destroys two relationships over the course of the film. No relief is given to adults or children in the way of clear answers other than the fragility of friendship and trust, and the imprecise definition of right and wrong in human affairs. This film was probably intended for a young adult audience, but it takes a deeper look into moral questions than most adult dramas I can remember and is one of the most thought-provoking community and family studies I have ever seen.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The bond between them works, but the conflict falls flat., 15 November 1999
8/10

This is a pleasant little movie with excellent actresses that meanders around various crises and doesn't make a lot of sense. The book spent much more time covering Adele and Ann's struggles to make ends meet than the film did. You see the lights go out and hear that they have very little money, but do not really see many sacrifices in the film. Even the loss of electricity is explained as a forgotten bill rather than as an inability to pay. It is never clear how they make it when Adele is between jobs. The one-time sale of a prized possession doesn't come near to rectifying the financial obligations at the end of the picture. Why not allow Ann to earn money as a television actress as she did it the book rather than make her a grocery store employee who would be able to save very little? The one-night stand with Dr. Spritzer and Adele's unrealistic hopes about it do not make sense to me except in their desperate need for steady income. All the film allows is that Ann needed braces. How can you have Natalie Portman play Ann and expect anyone to buy that one?

The emotional traumas and the bond between Adele and Ann do work except in the end where it is hard to tell who is more devastated. At best they have a codependent relationship where Ann has at least as hard a time functioning without Adele as Adele does functioning without Ann. It is Adele who plays the unforgivable trump card of abandonment on occasion and risks her relationship with Ann by her life choices. Ann can't get 50 feet from her Mother without caving in. I found it hard buying that the Ann shown in the first two-thirds of the film really wanted what she got in the end. The most affecting performances for me were when they interacted with other people and when they comforted each other. The carpet salesman, the dam painter, Peter, and Benny added a little life to the picture. The whole scene in the restaurant where Adele finds the first workable apartment and Ann falls apart with the finality of it was beautifully played. The casting audition and the phone call to Ann's Father were heartbreaking as were Adele's fears of being shut out of Ann's life. Every time Ann and Adele made connections the film took off. The personality conflicts along the way felt like sitcom window-dressing.

The promos talked about how Ann was practical and Adele was irresponsible, but the film didn't show Ann taking care of anything that Adele missed. She groused about her Mother's lame attempts at levity when things were bad but never came up with better answers. The only thing Adele did that made me angry was her abandonment of Ann when she couldn't handle the criticism. Otherwise, the film gave her a full-blooded understandable existence. Ann, on the other hand, was a cipher. What did she want besides friends, escape from her Mother, and an understanding of why her Father left her? You never learn what makes her tick or what she possesses that draws Peter to her in the first place. I wish the film had enlivened her role with actions, thoughts, or desires separate from grousing about her Mother or laughing at Peter's lame jokes.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Guilt and justice denied., 8 November 1999
8/10

This horror story about a small group of elderly successful conscience-stricken men works on several levels. The horror builds slowly as you learn more about the reason for it until the enormity of the original crime equals or exceeds the ghostly revenge sought. Each man is a "good man;" all have led exemplary lives in their community. Their prominence broadens the impact of their ancient crime when compared to the superior abilities of the woman they wronged. Social position, strong minds and wills, and fear of humiliation all play important roles and have a life all their own in the story line.

The troubled young writer, son of one of the men, adds an additional conflict as he tries to find answers from his Father's friends. Neither side fully understands, or trusts the intelligence character and motives of the other, nor do they wish to surrender any aspect of their power or independence. The men tell him only what they think he needs to know, but they are trapped in their desire to see him survive them as a legacy. I enjoyed watching the closed-mouthed elders try to manipulate the incompetent son, while the son tries to pry information out of the obtuse old farts before all their lives collapse around them.

The best part of the film, for me at least, was the care taken to develop the character and intelligence of the original victim. She is shown as better by any measure than the men in the film. Unlike most horror films I can remember, she is not demonized because of her ghostly search for justice. Her cold fury seems justified, she gains revenge as much by confronting them with her horror as by any other method, and relief is available if they choose to seek it. There are many horror films with better special effects and a few with better scripts, but this is one of the most chilling evocations of a long dead victim crying out for justice that I ever remember seeing.

6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Enduring just because you can, 25 October 1999
8/10

Westerns about the 19th and early 20th century are almost by definition American mythology, but one has the choice of a wide variety of sub-genres. Many are focused on the individuals protecting others from violence, another group centers on the brave pioneers or the abused Native-Americans, and most of the rest expand on a sensationalistic version of the West. Films in this last category include the "Lonesome Dove" series, all the Jesse James/Younger brothers/Billy the Kid/O.K. Corral epics and recent films like "Unforgiven." The common denominator in all these films is some extraordinary circumstance that forces one individual or group of individuals to stand out in some heroic way. The few exceptions are generally family films that tell about daily life and difficulties along the way, but find a way to make you feel good about the world when all is done.

"Bite the Bullet," "Monte Walsh," "Ulzana's Raid," and films like them tell a different story where animals and people suffer, people die for no good reason, and there are no heroes. The emphasis in these films is on telling a true story with all the mundane unpleasantness left intact. "Bite the Bullet" is not a feel-good film, but it does offer a realistic portrayal of an endurance race by choosing an assortment of standard western types and evaluating them through the eyes of one reluctant participant. I can't fault those who criticize the movie cliches in this film, because they are there and they are annoying, but I still admire this film for showing the race itself was a worthless and destructive enterprise for all the casual participants. Considering the support given cliché-driven movies like "Silverado" and sensationalistic extravaganzas like "Lonesome Dove," "Bite the Bullet," in my opinion, deserves a larger audience and a better overall IMDB rating than it has gotten.

8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Stolen dreams and empty futures, 7 October 1999
8/10

Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a psychologically devastated young woman who has inherited an adult club from her recently deceased uncle. She initially remembers only his kindness to her, and wants nothing to do with his past business life. Her goal is to transform the closed building into a dance club and to try to make it on her own. She sets up housekeeping in her uncle's former living quarters, and pays a contractor to oversee the renovation. The film contains some graphic sexual content, but it adds to the horror rather than plays a purely exploitive role. The story is about the irreparable harm caused by abuse and it is a powerful celluloid indictment of sexual predators who leave few obvious physical scars on their victims.

The movie died a quick box office death. It was not designed for the fans of X-rated fun & games, and it was too dark and unsettling for most regular viewers looking for a pleasant night out. Leigh's character is the only role fully developed. Most of the other acting is B-movie quality at best and the dialogue is often wooden. Nonetheless, her performance and the story are good enough to carry the picture.

The story functions best as a psychological horror story and the cinematography contains some truly frightening visual images of things she sees or thinks she sees. These elements work well to underline her insecurity and instability. They also highlight her courage in trying to make it on her own in a world ready to accept that she is merely weak-minded and unable to cope. The script is not at the same level as that of "Spoorlos" or "Sixth Sense," but it is as good as many quality thrillers. There are very few pictures that deal with this subject area in more than an oblique way and rarely from the perspective of the abused. Give this movie a chance to work. Realism in cinema is hard to find, and this is an imperfect but realistic exploration of a difficult topic.


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