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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
It's not what you see that's scary, it's what you DON'T see., 27 July 1999

Despite what some people say, slasher movies can deliver quite a jolt. It always gives a slight pulse-quickening when Jason drives a machete into his first victim. But for that extended grab-the-armrest-until-your-knuckles-turn-white fear, only three different themes do that for me: religious-based horror, clowns (don't ask), and dread, the feeling that things aren't right and the cause of it is just out of reach, but coming closer. All the best frighteners did it, from the two notes on the cello to denote the appearance of Jaws, to the silhouette of Ma Bates stalking up the stairs, to the wry grin of Vincent Price, to HAL telling his superior that he "can't do that, Dave". The latest addition to this is The Blair Witch Project, which does it so well that almost half the audience I saw it with had difficulty breathing.

The movie is shown as a documentary showing three film students, Heather, Josh, and Mike, preparing a documentary on a local legend known as the Blair Witch. They film their documentary, but also videotape their experiences, too. After interviewing a few locals, they learn, with the audience, that there was a disappearance of some children back in the 1940s in the woods surrounding the town, and that people have mysteriously dying all the way back for 300 years. They then go out into the woods to film some scenes at different sites of the killings, and during this time, they describe the design of twigs that would accompany the killings. Starting on the second day, they realize that they are lost and when they camp down for the night, they begin to hear voices and disturbances, and when they wake the next morning, they find three rock formations outside their tent. Josh and Mike begin to blame Heather for getting them lost, since she was the one who put the whole thing together, and never bothered to scout the area first. After the third night, they change from being a little worried to completely terrified. They frantically try to backtrack out of the woods, until they realize how lost they are....

First of all, I have to give kudos to the plot. Documentaries in documentaries have been done before, but it works very well here, as they are still taping themselves in hope that if they don't make it out alive, at least their film will. The premise of a local legend as the backdrop serves as an overarching fear. Many areas have that urban or backwoods legend like the Jersey Devil, and this will remind anyone who has ever went into the woods as a youth and tried to find the truth in the rumors. The whole trick is, you never actually see it, you just see what possibly is the outcome. The use of a simple black & white camera and a camcorder only heightens the worry, with the lower technology reinforcing the idea of just regular people. There is a scene near the end when Heather holds the camera up to her face and apologizes to Mike's, Josh's, and her parents as she is so overcome by terror she can't speak without crying hysterically and running her nose. The three of them show real fear as they face their own doom, and you can't help but feel slightly voyeuristic watching this.

The main question of movie is if this is real or not, so if this is pressing you, stick around for the end of the credits. This movie draws on the most primal fears we all have: the unknown, the things you can't explain, and the things that go bump in the night. Not seeing what is happening is what creates that feeling of dread. It's the watching of things unfolding and the anticipation that delivers the fear, i.e. the hunt being much more visceral than the actual kill. This delivers one hell of a scare and considering the lack of true horror movies of this decade, I would rank this up there with Jacob's Ladder and It (the whole clown thing) as the best fright-inducers of the decade. It's biggest flaw might be word-of-mouth hype, because if you don't allow yourself to taken into a horror movie as a viewer, then nothing would scare you. I also had to ask myself why would they bother to keep taping if they thought they were in such mortal danger, but obviously, the movie would fall apart if this aspect is noted. I rate this a 7 out of 10, (definitely worth the price of admission) because this is a great original concept executed with great results, not perfect, and it is certainly not the scariest movie ever made, but it does sparkle. This is a movie to see if you want to get a real pit in your stomach, and if you let it, it will. After seeing this, you might think twice before going out in the woods ever again.

86 out of 106 people found the following review useful:
Required viewing for anyone elected or appointed for public office., 2 June 1999

Since the beginning of the art form, movies have generally fallen into two categories: the realistic, and the fantastic (fantasy-based). There are some that point out that the films of Frank Capra unduly fall into the latter, that they are completely far-fetched and fastened in their own time, and even invented a pejorative term "Capra-esque" to describe any non-cynical, heartwarming picture that has a message. His great films, like It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, and of course, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, however, are not fixed in a single era, but all eras, the truest definition of a classic. And considering it was released among true powerhouses in 1939, a year as important to movies as 1998 was to baseball, its ideals, story, and general excellence shine as bright today as it did over 60 years ago.

A Senator from an unnamed, middle America state dies and a new one must be appointed by Governor Hubert Hopper, a puppet whose strings are held by newspaper magnate Jim Taylor. They need to find one that would be easily controlled by the now-senior Senator Joseph Paine (played brilliantly by Claude Rains), so a bill allowing a building of a dam near land by the Willett Creek owned by Taylor can pass in the Senate. After his initial choice is rejected by Taylor, and Taylor's handpicked man is shot down by the public, the governor chooses Jefferson Smith, played to perfection by James Stewart, a boy scout leader and local hero who is both wholly idealistic in his patriotism for America but naive and blind to the actual process. After he gets embarrassed by the local print media, Mr. Smith begins to learn the harsh realities of DC. Paine, Smith's boyhood hero, takes him under his wing and suggests that Smith try to create a bill. Smith agrees, and with his assistant, Clarissa Saunders (played by Jean Arthur), they create a bill to create a campground for boys from all over the country to learn about each other and the civic process, much to the initial dissuasion by Saunders. Smith then wants to choose a site near the Willett Creek, the same site where the dam is to be built and when his superiors and true string-pullers find that out, major complications ensue.

Although the basic premise is David vs. Goliath, the story is wholly originally and was probably one of the earliest pictures to suggest the government as corrupt. The characters are played excellently by all principal actors, with Mr. Smith you root for whole-heartedly, Mr. Taylor you root against for his sheer arrogance and greed, and Mr. Paine, who you pity as you see a man who lost his initial zest to serve the public and is now a jaded shell of his former self. A great performance was given by Harry Carey, Sr., who plays the Vice President/President of the Senate for comic relief. The lines where completely believable and the parts of Smith's final filibuster that were shown give the most impact. There is a beautifully shot scene with images of the monuments and sights of Washington with several national anthems synchronized as the score. The climax is as tension-packed as drama can get, and while the ending may seem rather sudden, and everything isn't completely or neatly resolved, it works perfectly and ends the movie on a happy note.

Obviously, few if any people elected to public office has the moral character, conviction, and general good heartedness of Jefferson Smith, and I doubt whether the government would be better if it was. The movie showed an ideal, a supposed "lost cause" of truth in government. And although it is next to impossible for Capra and the eternal good guy Jimmy Stewart to ever fully change the world of politics with just a motion picture, at least it shows that maybe once in a great while, being the good guy has its definite rewards. If (using the same analogy of the 1998 baseball season) The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa of 1939 moviemaking, then this would be like Cal Ripken voluntarily ending his Iron Man Streak, something done with full class and the highest respect in mind, and that elevates an ideal of being the good guy and sticking to your dedication brings the greatest of riches. This picture is flawless in all respects and a true classic, with thought-provoking ideas, wit, a little bit of platonic romance, and an excellent cinematography and score, and deserves the rank as a 10 out of 10. And in giving this rating, either I'm damn right or I'm crazy.

The Force IS strong in this one!, 20 May 1999

Joy came to the movie-going world when on May 19, 1999, Star Wars Episode I became a reality. It labored under intense scrutiny in following the most popular and successful movie franchise, and then trying to preface the entire story. It endured 16 years of anticipation and expectation, and it has to carry the weight of the most intense hype blitz in the history of popular entertainment. Could it stack up? Would people feel disappointed after taking off work for six weeks to wait in line? Will all of its die-hard (or demented) fans, who show up to the premiere dressed in full Imperial or Rebellion regalia declare a revolution on George Lucas after his first fully directorial effort in 22 years? Well, coming from someone who is more than a casual Star Wars observer (no, I don't go to conventions; I don't even have a single poster from the trilogy) I can say I wasn't but the slightest bit disappointed, and it exceeded some of my wildest imaginations.

The movie begins with a cabal called the Trade Federation blockading a peaceful planet called Naboo. The (Old) Republic sends in two ambassadors, Jedi Knight Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and Jedi Knight in Training Obi-wan Kenobi (McGregor) to the orbiting Command Craft to negotiate. Qui-Gon suspects that this act is not the work of the Trade Federation, but rather an unseen manipulator, hence "the Phantom Menace". The commander of the fleet in fear sends droid warriors to attack the pair, but the well-trained knights escape into the landing bay of the craft and realize they are preparing an attack. The pair escape onto the planet to warn of the pending invasion but they are too late. They run into (literally) a creature named Jar-Jar Binks. His race lives under the water on Naboo, and he explains that the only way into the capital city is underneath the water. They eventually find Queen Amidala, ruler of the planet and flee in a transport. It is put under attack by the blockade, but thanks to some help by a familiar blue droid, they escape. They send their damaged craft to a little out-of-the-way desert planet named Tatooine, where they meet a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker.....

The beginning act now becomes set. To start off with my critical review, the CG effects are absolutely mind-blowing. It is apparent with technology now, any vision in a director's mind can be captured on film. From the threatening urban canyons of Coruscant, to the lush grasslands of Naboo, to the underwater caves of the Gungins (possibly the first race of Rastafarian aliens ever), to the familiar desert planet of Tatooine, the scenery is stunning. The action sequences cannot be described with words, but rather experienced like a rollercoaster that never slows to a stop. The best sequence is the homage to the chariot race from Ben-Hur (minus the bronze fish), where the audience dipped, turned, oohed and ahhed during the whole scene. The end sequence jumps between four battles: a massive battleground between armies of the Gungins and the attack droids, a lightning-fast dogfight on the command ship above the planet, a break-in at the Queen's former castle to insurrect the Trade Federation, and a swashbuckling lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon versus the demonic-looking Darth Maul, an enemy so bad@$$ that his lightsaber has two blades. The John Williams score is excellent as always (no Imperial March, though). Even Jar Jar, while at times annoying, made a good, albeit naive, comic relief, but admittedly not as good as two bickering droids.

Unfortunately, the movie does have noticeable flaws. The acting of the good guys is solid if not spectacular. Neeson plays an excellent teacher and part Jedi Maverick, one that defies the Jedi Council regularly and has a penchant for trickery and gambling. McGregor works the wide-eyed, sometimes brash but clean-hearted student. However, save the plotting Senator Palpatine (a very capable Ian McDiarmid), the more nefarious ones have little depth. Darth Maul, although definitely evil in appearance, had only a few lines and not even the slightest history. Samuel L. Jackson is only a fleeting character as Jedi Councilor Mace Windu, but maybe his part was simply an introduction. The writing of the lines however, was neither dramatic enough to quote nor hammy enough to enjoy. Also, maybe since Episodes IV, V, and VI dealt with a more imminent sense of dread, namely the Death Star, the tension never really reached an absolute fever pitch like the Death Star battles in IV and VI, or the asteroid field in V. A final criticism is the movie lacked a little bit of charm, like fuzzy dice hanging from the cockpit or restarting the Millennium Falcon's motor Fonzie-style or the abject stupidity of Lando ("That shot came from the Death Star! That must mean it's operational!").

To sum it up, though, it's unfair to try and judge this with the other three, only because the first three revolutionized the movie industry and completely created a new world, while this one thrived in the familiarity of it. It would be like if the Chicago Bulls became NBA champions again in 15 years, but then trying to compare them to Michael Jordan and Company. Granted, it had its flaws, but it's a wild ride, the best "popcorn movie" since Jurassic Park. I looked at this more as an appetizer to Episodes II and III, even though we all know what will happen. The little kid fathers A New Hope for freedom and then becomes the most threatening force in the galaxy, Obi-Wan becomes a hermit and is later killed by the Jedi Formerly Known as Anakin, Palpatine gets older, wrinkled, and shoots lightning bolts from his fingers, Yoda ages some more and still talks backwards, and R2D2 and C-3PO become the most famous nitpicking couple in movie history. Who cares, though, it's an enjoyable ride, one that turns even the most jaded of movie-goers into a cheering 7 year old. As a blockbuster, this would rate as a 10, as a movie this would be about a 7.5, which for me means flawed, but very good and definitely recommended. (I rated the first three as 10, 10, and 7). Being a betting man, I give this an even money chance to break Titanic's domestic box office record, and a 5-3 favorite to break the worldwide mark. In closing, sit down, strap in, grab a tub of the most buttery popcorn around and hang on.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The greatest Anti-War, no, the greatest War movie ever, bar none!, 31 March 1999

Although I heard several times the quality of The Bridge on the River Kwai, no review can prepare you for the sheer jaw-dropping, absolute perfection that this movie is.

The movie, set in World War II, begins with a pan down to a batallion of British soldiers whistling a very recognizable tune, and marching in step into a Japanese POW camp in the jungles of modern-day Burma. The camp is run by Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakowa, a part-time artist and wine connoisseur, and full-time prison warden and sadist. Colonel Saito tells his captives, members of the Royal Armed Corps of Engineers, that they must build a rail bridge over the Kwai River, or be executed "without honor". He also orders the officers of the corps, led by Colonel Nicholson, played by Sir Alec Guiness, to assist in the manual labor. Colonel Nicholson resists, citing a book of the rules of warfare written by the League of Nations forbiding captured officers to serve manual labor. In honorable protest, they stand at full attention in a hunger strike for a full 24 hours until Colonel Saito relents.

Colonel Nicholson goes to the construction site and realizes that the bridge should be built on more solid ground further downstream. He convinces Colonel Saito that they should build in another site. If his men are being forced to work, Nicholson argues, they will work to build the best possible construction. During the second construction, an American soldier Shears escapes the camp and ends up in Ceylon, a British Territory at the time. His British liberators use him and his knowledge of the project, and they assemble a small team to go back to the bridge to destroy it.

And therein lies the conflict. In most movies, there is a person or group that you can "root" for without conviction, like the Americans in Saving Private Ryan. If you root for Shears and his team, they are destroying something that their countrymen slaved hard labor to build. Rooting for Nicholson means you are upholding the Japanese in their goal of expansion. Even Saito, although very brutal, is honorable. He fights and does what he does for his country, not his own glory. Honor is usually a virtue, but here it is a fatal flaw. The pointlessness of war becomes completely apparent. Pardon the cliche, but there are no winners in this movie, or in war, just degrees of losing. Two points drive this home. The first is Shears's exclaimation "'re all worrying about the proper way to die, when you should be worrying about the proper way to live!" The second is after the bridge is completed, Colonel Nicholson gives a final lookover and sets a placard on the bridge that states that although it is under a Japanese flag, it was build by the hard work of the Royal Armed Corps of Engineers. The final end sequence is totally gripping, and one that you will never forget.

This movie won 7 Oscars, and it deserved every one. Every element, the plot, acting, characterization, editing, is stunning. The cinematography of the jungle and the bridge itself is among the best ever, and is a real treat in widescreen. It's 2:45 running time will amaze you when you realize it after you are over, because it doesn't seem the least bit overlong. Even the visual effects do not seem dated, and it was made over 40 years ago. I don't give out 10's very often, but this movie more than earns it. There are absolutely no flaws in this movie, and is director David Lean's (Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia) masterpiece and is truly timeless. A perfect movie that marries blockbuster entertainment with cinematic artistry, this should not be missed. And you'll be whistling that tune for days after seeing it.